The British Empire and the Second World War Hardcover – 9 Mar 2006
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"This book is elegantly written, superbly structured, and deserves a wide readership far beyond that of academic specialists." Reveiwed by Ritchie Ovendale in English Historical Review, February 2008
'There have been few single volume books on this episode. Ashley Jackson...has filled that gap with an insightful and deeply researched work that will be a useful source for anyone interested in the subject. The book is nicely produced and good value...Jackson has achieved something wholly admirable; he has ensured that nobody should ever again take seriously the notion of Britain "standing alone"' BBC History Magazine, Denis Judd, 01/08/2006
"engrossing and substantial study""like the british empire itself, this book is vast, sprawling and impressive"Asian Affairs, nov 2007--,
'The great merit of this well-researched book is that it provides page after page of documented detail supporting the main proposition....The book will appeal massively to readers who enjoy the simple possession of facts; and any study that encourages scepticism of too Eurocentric a view of history, especially of British history, is greatly to be welcomed.'- Gordon Johnson Times Higher Education Supplement--Sanford Lakoff "Times Higher Education Supplement "
'[a] splendid and long-overdue study...It is a thorough and comprehensive work that neither glamorizes the Imperial war effort nor cherry-picks the more dramatic contributions.'--Sanford Lakoff "Times Literary Supplement "
'an impressive work...Jackson deserves considerable congratulations for a most interesting work...Readers of this journal will find much of value here.' Jeremy Black, RUSI Journal, 2006--Sanford Lakoff
"Carefully researched and well-written, The British Empire and the Second World War is encyclopedic in its content and fills a gap in the study of World War II. It is the first single-volume of the subject." -Bowling Green Daily News
"As the title indicates, this work deals with the role 60 or more political entities more or less tied to the United Kingdom - crown colonies, Dominions, mandates, protectorates, and many more - played in the 'British' war effort...It's an impressive contribution, as he shows what even the smallest and most obscure entities within the Empire contributed to the war, from the Indian Princely States to British Honduras to the Maldive Islands and others. In the process, he also provides a unique insight into the extremely complex strategic concerns of a truly global empire in a truly global war." - New York Military Affairs Symposium Review, 2009
"engrossing and substantial study" "like the british empire itself, this book is vast, sprawling and impressive" Asian Affairs, nov 2007--Sanford Lakoff
About the Author
ASHLEY JACKSON has taught history at Mansfield College, University of Oxford.
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Top Customer Reviews
So I give it full marks. Today's readers do not understand the central importance of Empire to Britain, as indeed it was to France, beyond the mere national boundaries.
The arguments that the book makes about how Britain needed the Empire to win the war but that many of the war aims had to be dictated by maintaining access to the Empire are good. The problem is that they get lost in the mass of text. A better book of half the length is hiding in this one.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The book is split up into chapters, each of covers a region of the world. Jackson describes in detail imperial efforts in every continent (including Antarctica!) and every ocean (except the Arctic, for some reason). Of course, the battles and campaigns in each region of the world are mentioned (though often not in much detail), but a lot is also said about each colony's contribution in manpower, services, food, and raw & manufactured goods. Literally every colony is given its own section in the book, whether big or small, where its contributions to the war effort are described. Thus, this book gives a lot of insight into many of the lesser-known aspects of the British and Empire war effort.
Britain has to wage war with Germany, Italy, and Japan simultaneously. All of her prewar plans depended strongly on France helping hold the Mediterranean against Italy. When France fell to the Germans, the British Empire, with its 500 million+ people (70% of which were Indian), was "alone." But it wasn't. From the start, it had help from its dominions and empire: the Canadian navy was crucial in the Battle of the Atlantic, and ANZAC, Indian, and African troops were used heavily in Africa and the Middle East, and in Italy. The British Indian Army was in fact the largest volunteer army in history. The Royal Navy had its hands full in the Atlantic and Mediterranean and thus wasn't able to defend the Far East when Japan attacked.
It is true that the United States was the predominant power in the fight against Japan, but the British Empire's efforts were nontrivial and in fact somewhat substantial! However, even after defeat in Malaya, Singapore, and Burma, and even while still fighting the Germans and Italians in the Mediterranean and even the Vichy French in the Middle East and Africa, the Royal Navy maintained a fleet in being in the Indian Ocean. By 1944, the British were strong enough to return to the Pacific in force, retaking Burma after defeating the Japanese invasion of India (and inflicting one of the greatest defeats on the Japanese army), and assembling the British Pacific fleet, one of the largest British fleets ever. This fleet helped the Americans invade Okinawa and made raids on Sumatra and Japan itself. Meanwhile, the Australians played a major role in liberating New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, and continued by invading Borneo in 1945. These efforts were overshadowed by the American island hopping campaign, but they were also critical in the defeat of Japan.
One of the major themes of this book was the permutation of the Empire's resources among the various locations. This obviously happened to the soldiers, but it also happened to workers and goods. People all across the empire were recruited, not just to become soldiers, but to perform various ancillary work, both in their local areas and far from home. Colonial governments used their power to buy and distribute food and other goods in order to mitigate starvation and economic collapse due to the war. Of course, this was not always effective: the Bengal famine (caused in part by the loss of Burmese rice) was not adequately responded to, partly due to the lack of shipping (the Battle of the Atlantic was still raging) and partly due to Churchill's racism. Nevertheless, the Empire oversaw a very impressive effort to switch from peacetime trading to more self-sufficient economies that would rely less on shipping. True self-sufficiency wasn't achieved, but progress was made and the negative economic effects of war were mitigated.
Of course, WW2 led to the end of the British Empire. Another theme in this book is how the United States steadily gained influence in traditionally British regions of the world, including the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, the Pacific, and India. The US "encouraged" this decolonization, both in the name of freedom and self-determination and in order to expand its own world influence. But while this war was the British Empire's last gasp before it passed the torch to the Americans, it was a great gasp indeed! This quote from the book gives a fitting conclusion to this review:
"It is highly unlikely that there will ever be a repeat of the remarkable phenomenon that was the British imperial war effort of 1939-45, whatever the achievements of globalization and coalitions may be. The Empire at war attained a perplexing, paradoxical and wonderful homogeneity of political will and military purpose shaped, coloured and flavoured by the most monumental human diversity. This conclusion must surely be shared by those who choose to run up the flag and celebrate Empire as well as those who choose to associate it with the bleakest forms of human exploitation and the foundation of many of the world's current ills. A miracle of organization that lies just beyond the reach of full comprehension, it remains a humbling spectacle."