Thursday, December 10, 2015

"Dunkirk: Fight to the Last Man" - a review..

..not too many posts lately, like everyone else mostly just too busy with work, visits by visitors, and the general run up to Christmas...

I have however just finished this, which was recommended to me as a good general history of the Fall of France in 1940 (a particular interest of mine), in addition to being almost the definitive account of the 'rescue' of the British Expeditionary Force from the beaches of Dunkirk...

It's a big old book (with very small print), so it took some time to get through - the copy I had was a second/revised version, and Montefiore has extensively updated the book,  and included quite a lot of additional/new information as a result of subsequent research.. having said that it only cost me £3.50 new (from our local Tesco's) so I'd say that classes it as an absolute bargain!

So having said all that, what do you get? 720 odd pages, of which I conservatively estimate 50% is personal testimony (from personal, and unit war diaries, reports, court testimony, etc) from those involved int he actual battle - the book is primarily a British perspective so most of this personal experience is from the British point of view..   I was reminded throughout this book of the time I read Alistair Horne's book on the same period [clicky] - they are both equally readable, and as I've always preferred the Richard Holmes approach to military history (personal viewpoints to the fore), absolutely fascinating at times, but they were both also quite hugely depressing...!

When push comes to shove, France was lost due to unpreparedness, stupidity (in some cases), and a monumental collapse in morale on the part of the French (for various and multitudinous reasons) and 600+ pages of that is going to get you down in the end. More than anything though what comes through is the fighting spirit of the British troops (and to be fair some of the French), all they wanted was an even chance to have a go at the Germans, but what they got until Dunkirk was an endless succession of withdrawals and retreats as they time after time found their flanks abandoned by other troops..  when they did get chance to fight (and the stand out is the tank lead counter attack at Arras) they had the ability even this early in the war to scare the Germans mightily..

Once the British got to Dunkirk, it was the sacrifice and fighting ability of a comparatively small rear guard force that then allowed the majority of the army to escape (almost 340,000 men, mostly British, were rescued through Operation Dynamo [clicky] as the British code named it)..

What did interest me however, was the slightly/more unknown story of what happened after Dunkirk, when the British launched Operation Aerial [clicky] which recovered a further 190,000 troops from the western Channel ports (St Nazaire primarily)...  stunning!

Brilliant book, perhaps a litle too detached to make it stand out?? Well worth a read, but the Horne book shaves it for me..  8/10


  1. I've always thought very highly of the BEF. Thank you for the review Steve. I recently picked up some Matildas and I do have some suitable figures...

    ...there are plenty of Memoir '44 scenarios for the period.

  2. CK - the book is basically one gigantic collection of scenario's... myriad small actions by the BEF, sometimes with, mostly without armour support, or sufficient anti tank weapons... a good read...