5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 20 March 2007
In August 1939, 56-year old General Sir Archibald Wavell was appointed commander of the newly created Middle East Command. 'The Chief', as he was popularly known, performed prodigious feats of generalship; vastly outnumbered everywhere, and controlling simultaneous campaigns that eventually encompassed nine countries on three continents. He faced colossal difficulties, not least being his relationship with the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, who grossly underestimated him, and described Wavell as only 'a good average colonel'. If Churchill was a lover of romantic war, Wavell was in many ways the antithesis of the Churchillian model, and their relationship suffered accordingly. Ms Schofield succeeds in illuminating this unfortunate mutual misunderstanding, and she doesn't spare Wavell's mistakes such as the abortive expedition to Greece in 1941.
In 1936 Dudley Clarke was appointed to Wavell's staff, and was overjoyed when he was summoned once more in 1940. However, Ms Schofield misses the enormous importance of Clarke's appointment: to head a deception unit that became known as 'A' Force. This developed the principles and methods of deception that covered the Normandy Landings in 1944. That a policy of aggressive strategic deception was both desirable and possible was essentially down to Wavell, but this significant contribution to the war is overlooked. And although she has rigorously mined the private papers, Ms Schofield seems to have ignored many useful published sources, such as Eve Curie's detailed description of Wavell following her visit to his headquarters in 1942. But this is a fine portrait nevertheless. In 1943 Wavell became Viceroy of India, and with Indian independence looming was replaced by Lord Louis Mountbatten in 1947. Had Wavell remained then perhaps his thoughtful and considered approach could have avoided partition. Instead he received an earldom for his services and died, aged just 67, in 1950.
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 30 June 2006
This is a brillantly researched and well-written book, the result of many years of considerable effort. And it has paid off with a massive, readable and authoritative work.
Wavell was clearly a very capable man but flawed as a leader of men. Ms Schofield reveals how this intellectual and shy warrior lacked the chutzpah of a Patton or a Montgomery and the political skills of an Alanbrooke or an Eisenhower.
Great generals need luck. And Wavell had little if any.
He was associated with two of the worst debacles of WW2, Crete and Singapore.
And he just could not get on with Churchill (and vice-versa) - which meant he was moved around from post to post.
Wavell did however achieve some stunning successes in Africa early on in the war when Britain was starved of resources.
This book is a reminder that until Pearl Harbor, Britain and its imperial allies stood alone in the defence of civilization. The courage, tenacity and toughness of men like Wavell meant that Nazi Germany failed to prevail. It defies belief that there is apparently no statue of him in London, a national disgrace which should be rectified
as soon as possible.
Ms Scofield has achieved an historical masterpice. She writes like a dream. The research is very thorough. And for any reader with the slightest interest either in military history, World War Two or the origins of independent India and Pakistan, this is a "must read".
I think I would have liked a few more maps. Perhaps in the paperback edition?