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Alamein: Managing for Victory,
This review is from: Alamein (Hardcover)
Stephen Bungay's last book, "The Most Dangerous Enemy", broke new ground in military history by analysing the strategic and organisational elements of the conflict in terms of modern management thinking. By bringing a similar approach to the most important land battle Britain fought during World War II, Bungay again demonstrates the power and the versatility of the approach, while picking up some of the more intriguing themes from his earlier work.
Here again the analysis of organisational details is scholarly and precise. It is also immensely revealing, showing the effect on the battle of contrasting management styles: the German "mission command" approach offering enormous benefits in flexibility, motivation and creativity, compared with the more feudal British style, which appears to have managed to combine bureaucratic decision-making with "permission to whinge". It is in this context that Montgomery's leadership qualities and his deliberate rhetoric and self-glorification are seen as justified by their effectiveness... His caution and thoroughness contrast strongly with the personal nobility and flair of underrated heroes like Auchinlech and O'Connor but they could not have achieved the morale boosting impact Monty did; they could not have achieved at least some semblance of cooperation between tanks and infantry as Monty eventually did; most importantly they would not have emphasised training to the point where the British army was finally and permanently transformed into at least an adequate fighting machine.
Bungay's analysis of logistics is again painstaking and insightful, showing the importance of communications (particularly of Bletchley's brilliance at decryption) and the criticality of the large "overhead" that so disturbed Churchill. It is through this analysis that one gets an understanding of many of the individually determining features of the campaign, such as the importance of Malta, the impossibility of desert fighting without plenty of petrol and the impact of air superiority on desert supply capabilities.
In all this analysis, Bungay never loses sight of the human side of war. His descriptions of the soldiers' point of view (the flies, the terror of being burned alive in a tank, the general indignity of all forms of desert death) are exceptionally moving.
In a similar vein, Bungay takes us through the impact of the many personal clashes which characterised the war for both sides: Douglas versus Park (again), Rommel versus Kesselring, Montgomery versus Lumsden. Interestingly many of the British conflicts seem to have been about style - the archetypal British public schoolboy against the pragmatic modern concept of leadership - while the Germans' were more about substance. Rommel's frustration with Kesselring has a logic which seems to be lacking in Montgomery's distaste for Lumsden. Nor does Bungay omit the disastrous effect of lionising the air hero, Marseille, on Germany's effectiveness against British bombers, another theme that echoes his analysis of the Battle of Britain.
For all this analysis, Bungay, like the best type of management thinker, never loses sight of the big picture. The strategic emphasis on Russia that caused Germany to pass up the chance of domination in North Africa and the Middle East at the start of the campaign, the importance of a victory to the political support that enabled Churchill to continue to lead the war effort, and the fundamental incompatibility of Germany and Italy as allies, are all thoroughly documented and explained and their significance demonstrated.
The deep analysis and managerial insight Bungay has brought to this work has again shown itself to be a powerful framework for gaining a revealing and fresh perspective on historical events and a refreshingly original experience for the reader. It is to be hoped that there are more such works in Bungay's pipeline.