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Customer Review

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Promises more than it Delivers, 12 Dec. 2012
This review is from: Britain's War Machine: Weapons, Resources and Experts in the Second World War (Paperback)
The author very consciously sets out to disprove myths re. the British State and its alleged lack of military preparation for the Second World War and its ability to fight the war.

Some bits are good. As he points out, Britain was not alone in 1940. It had the undefeated Empire to support it. The big disaster was not Dunkirk but the fall of Singapore, economically, as he points out (but politically, too, which he doesn't highlight). He persuasively highlights the immense difficulties of the Germans invading the United Kingdom in the immediate aftermath of the retreat at Dunkirk. The same difficulties applied in 1944 for the Allies, travelling the other way to France.

His book is about the key British politicians - Churchill very much at the helm - the engineers and the scientists who were part of Britain's War Machine. Although the book starts off very promisingly I found myself getting lost in a fog of facts and figures that dilute, rather than reinforce a point he is making. This point is made too by a Three Star Amazon reviewer of the hardback version of the book.

Although he footnotes in twenty two lines (yes: twenty two!) the movements of one ship (in Chapter 7) to make a very small point, he gives virtually no Chapter and Verse and scant footnotes to British chemical warfare preparations, which he briefly mentions. In concluding pages he makes the astounding and unproven assertion that chemical warfare was used on the Eastern front, with no evidence! The expression he uses is 'improvised poison gases'. No evidence, no footnotes!

The 'Improvised poison gases' that this reviewer is aware of were those used by the Russians in their improvised mobile killing wagons - a lesson learnt by the German SS.

His treatment of the 3 million Indians who died of starvation in Bengal in 1943 is skewered by his 'Men and the Machines' approach. To his credit he does mention this appalling famine. But he doesn't mention that was it was aggravated (some might argue caused) by political decisions by Churchill, who also blocked aid to the area. The comparisons with Stalin and the millions who died in the Ukraine are telling. (see Madhusree Murkerjee's 'Churchill's Secret War'). But all of this is irrelevant to Edgerton's 'take' on the war.

There is a lot of stimulating material, and conclusions in the book, but it is a bit like being in a touring car in a foreign land - a land you thought you knew - that gives you unexpected vistas, and then unexpectedly gets bogged down in quicksand until it is dug out, is on its way, more vistas and then more long periods in quicksand, and so on. This blunts the experience. Within the small number of books that examine the myths of Britain and the British experience in the Second World War this is very significant contribution. Having read it, you will never ever be able to think of some of the well polished myths in the same way. But it would have been even better with an effective editor.

If you are interested in the myths that cloak the role and experience of Britain and the British in the Second World War, then the book is worth reading.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 19 Dec 2012 12:22:28 GMT
Good points re evidence and other sources!

In reply to an earlier post on 21 Dec 2012 16:50:03 GMT
Pete Grafton says:
Thanks for you kind comments re. my review of 'Britain's War Machine'. I'm the author of 'You, You & You! The People Out of Step with World War Two' (1981) second-hand copies are listed on http://amazon.co.uk. I plan to e-publish the original longer version of the book by late Spring, 2013.

The interesting thing about getting closer to the historical truth is that it has no effect at all on the myths in the collective consciousness (usually fenced by belonging to a country, or religion (think Ulster). Every time I'm in Paris there are more plaques sprouting up, like mushrooms, celebrating a fallen 2nd World War resistance member. It seems to be in inverse proportion to trying to keep discussion about collaboration with the Nazis muffled.

I'd be happy to exchange views on truth, history, etc. Best wishes, Pete.

Posted on 18 Nov 2014 21:54:17 GMT
Squeeth says:
You might want to take a look at Tauger's work on the famine in India before you endorse all of Mukerjee's findings.

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Nov 2014 10:51:39 GMT
Pete Grafton says:
Thanks for that suggestion. I'll certainly follow it up.
Best wishes, Pete.
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