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on 6 March 2008
Popular history recalls the Dunkirk story with a chin-up, shiny spirit of resilience and crafty British guile - the first `Great Escape'. `Dunkirk spirit' has now become a tabloid byword for cheery, bulldog tenacity in the face of adversity.

But Sebag-Montefiore's incisive history pulls no punches and wipes the grin off the face of popular myth. He shows how one of Britain's landmark historical moments of the last century was actually tarnished by desperate, bloody fighting with no quarter spared.

Accepted history concentrates on what happened on the beaches. However the author says the battles that really counted occurred several miles inland on the Dunkirk town perimeter.

Here, British troops fought a dwindling rearguard last stand, giving their lives so other troops could live. For each soldier's life lost, precious minutes were gained to aid the evacuation and ensure the British Army could live to fight another day.

And the battle didn't end with the last bedraggled Tommy boarding the last departing ship from Dunkirk. For a further fortnight, stranded British troops retreated in the face of dive-bombers and SS massacres, culminating with a final evacuation from St. Nazaire and the hushed-up sinking of the Lancastria, with the loss of 3,500 men.

In-depth research gathered from archives as far away as Russia and Czechoslovakia, together with detailed maps, fascinating photographs and stark first-hand accounts from the remaining handful of veterans, do the Dunkirk story justice.

This weighty tome is masterly and scholarly, yet its fast, clear pace makes this definitive work highly readable.
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on 8 August 2006
I inherited an interest in WW2 from my history teacher father and have read many factual accounts from both the Allied and German perspective over the years. This book stands up well against the more recognised military historians like Holmes, Keegan or Beevor.

After the introducions and background are completed this volume concentrates quite rightly on the tales of each beleagured BEF battalion as they fought a desperate rearguard action back to the French and Belgian coast. Tales of individual heroism and leadership are intermingled with corroborative texts from both British and German archives and extracts that give the bigger picture as events unfolded.

The Dunkirk evacuation ended a huge defeat for the British Army and this book does not seek to hide or diminish that fact. However what it does do is demonstrate the resolute attitude of the Officers and Soldiers on the ground that took huge casualties and made great personal sacrifiuces in order to help ensure that as many men as possible could be extracted to fight another day.
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on 29 January 2011
I think one should distinguish between the professional finish and great literary flow of this book, and its value as history. It is almost always factually correct, relates many episodes (including once obscure ones such as the SS massacre of British prisoners) and gets the imagination going. Sebag-M sits alongside Anthony Beevor as a historian of this type. On all those grounds it is worth 5 stars. However 2 hours at the National Archive reading the original RN, RAF and War Office reports, followed by a re-reading of Divine's classic "Nine Days at Dunkirk" take one closer to the people and the facts. There is something just a bit too literary, stylish and middle-class about the text to recall to mind those grimy seamen, gentleman officers, French officials, amateur and professional yachtsmen, and Prussian generals who acted out Dunkirk.
So, a very good book from a very able author, but I kept thinking "This still isn't close enough to the time and the reality".
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on 8 August 2007
The `miracle' of Dunkirk, as Churchill styled our most famous military disaster, is one surrounded by myths. This book sets out to dispel some of them, but for readers unfamiliar with the story of the fall of France in 1940, it might not be the best place to start, as it does not convey the broad picture very clearly. An entertaining opening of British soldiers visiting French brothels, like children let loose in a sweet shop, is followed later by a detailed account of the `Mechelen incident', when German plans were captured in January 1940. But the implications are less well dealt with, and Colonel-General Gerd von Rundstedt, whose forces performed the decisive German attack through the Ardennes called 'sichelschnitt', or sickle-cut, does not make an appearance until chapter 11.

The use of first-hand accounts conveys the confusion and desperation of the fighting, and the narrative is sometimes intensely personal. There are French and German voices early on, but thereafter it relies on British ones as the book concentrates on the efforts of the soldiers holding the defensive ring while the `little boats' and the Royal Navy set about the work of evacuation. In this it succeeds in creating a vivid impression of what it was like for those desperate men. The book's best sections are those dealing with set pieces, such as the defence of the village of Cassel, the massacres of British prisoners by SS men at Le Paradis and Wormhout, but this is at the expense of the evacuation itself which is covered in much less detail. The book finishes describing the capture of two-thirds of 51st (Highland) Division at St Valery-en-Caux, and the tragic sinking of the Lancastria with over 3,500 lives lost, but it skates quickly over the further evacuations that brought 144,000 British servicemen back from France from points south of the River Somme.
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on 14 August 2007
I did find this account of the events that culminated in the defence and evacuation of Dunkirk very interesting and readable. It uses a lot of first hand accounts but upon reflection it is too skewed towards the British experience, without providing enough German, French, Belgian and Dutch voices or sources. Whilst it is not as bad as Stephen Ambrose with his US centric view, it does detract from the work as a whole. There is just a little too much opinion of French and Belgian cowardice and incompetence. I would have loved to have seen what the German view of certain key events was and also how self-critical were the French and Belgian Generals / politicians. Overall enjoyable but could have been improved
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on 31 July 2006
To date,the most comprehensive review of the subject from British,French and German sources.Whilst containing sufficient detail at a military unit level for most students the overall handling of the time-line requires some care in following.The notes,bibliography and maps are excellentand accurate.A minor quibble is that where sources differ as to their detail Sebag-Montefiore does not follow up.Nevertheless the best on the history so far.
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on 25 January 2014
Any attempt to recount the debacle at Dunkirk founders to a certain extent on the lack of information from the French side. Inevitably the British perspective gradually takes over simply because of the availability of source material and the wilingness to examine the topic. No French historian to my knowledge has attempted to produce an overview of the 1940 campaign and the defeat of the French armies. Certainly there have been some superb histories covering the machines used by the French and the engagements in which they fought but they have only really dealt with small and isolated aspects of the overall campaign. Nothing has been attempted on the scale of Horne's 'To lose a battle' and thus one is left with a kind of vacuum. This is disappointing as the view has often been expressed that the British deserted the French in their hour of need. However, what is needed is an answer to the question (and once again no French historian has actually attempted to answer it) why should young Britsh, Dutch and Belgian men die for France when the French for the most part were not prepared to do so themselves? A detailed and well researched French perspective on this campaign is long overdue.
Sebag-Montifiore does attempt to address the French view and includes interesting details in his supeb work of the deteriorating relationships between the two allies. It is refreshing to read a history which covers the events in such detail but also does not ignore any of the human aspects. He tries to be fair to the French and includes several accounts of how French soldiers suffered from British prejudice and mistreatment as well as the other way round. Here I felt that more could have been made of the evacuation of the French troops as well - for example the 2nd DLM crossed the channel - and accounts from of this would have added an extra dimension to the book. Still one is impressed by the detail he does manage to include. One impression that shines through in his material is the professionalism of the British soldiers despite defeat and here perhaps is the vital difference between them and the French army. The latter certainly contained highly professional and competent elements but overall does not seem to have reached the same level as the British. Once again Horne also bears this out.
Is this work defenitive? Well no because a definitive account of this action would probably stretch to over 2,000 pages. However, it is as near definitive as can be expected and superceeds all other accounts of the evacuation. We can confidently describe it as a masterwork and it is one that should be read by anyone interested in the campaign in France. Do not be put off by the length as there is a lot of information and detail that needs to be included. Sebag-Montifiore has done the subject justice.
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on 4 July 2015
Good book but unreadable on kindle. Reference to maps provided is necessary throughout the book. Unfortunately, the maps are not legible on kindle. Amazon should become less paranoid and provide purchasers with PDF version of the chapter with the maps in it so they can be printed out. This must affect many books on kindle.
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on 7 December 2012
Excellent narrative history but seriously flawed in Kindle version (on iPad) with poor integration of maps which are at very low resolution and do not allow zooming. Notes not always accessible and return to text unreliable. Pictures and captions get separated.
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on 10 July 2015
This is a good book but this anniversary edition does not include the notes. The author directs you to his website or to the previous edition for these. I haven't come across this before and wouldn't have bought this edition had I known in advance.
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