This is the most comprehensive coverage of the British Army from 1939 to 1945 ever undertaken in a single volume. It is lavishly illustrated and works carefully through each of the organizations that made up the British Army, including the Home Guard, the secret Resistance organization, and Special Forces. Strongly Recommended.
NAME: Churchill’s Army 1939-1945, The Men, Machines and Organisation
AUTHOR: Stephen Bull
PUBLISHER: Bloomsbury, Conway
BINDING: hard back
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: army, regiments, corps, special forces, guns, tanks, AFVs, artillery, engineers, amphibious forces, special equipment, vehicles, aviation, Home Guard, Resistance fighters
DESCRIPTION: This is the most comprehensive coverage of the British Army from 1939 to 1945 ever undertaken in a single volume. It is lavishly illustrated and works carefully through each of the organizations that made up the British Army, including the Home Guard, the secret Resistance organization, and Special Forces. Strongly Recommended.
The British Army has always been somewhat confusing because it is not really a single force. It is composed in the main of Royal Regiments and Royal Corps that are established units, each enjoying a high degree of autonomy. The Line Regiments have always recruited locally in their home Counties. When a new tactic or technology has been introduced, a new Corps is frequently established, such as the Royal Tank Corps and the Machine Gun Corps. Officers from these units may be posted to the General Staff, or to some new specialised unit. If they spend a series of postings in this detached organisation, they can miss out on promotion because their parent Corps or Regiment can forget them. However, the basic structure has served remarkably well and promotes loyalty and identification.
When WWII broke out, the Army was in need of significant re-equipment and development. Conscription was introduced to produce the large numbers of new soldiers at the speed the Army needed. New training camps were set up and a series of changes were made to training, tactics, deployment and organization. There was in parallel a major re-armament.
When the BEF went to France, it took most of the heavy equipment available to the Army and the retreat to Dunkirk, and evacuation off the beaches, meant that most of this heavy equipment had to be left behind. The RAF also lost almost half its fighters and close support bombers in supporting the French. That could have been a major disaster but it was to prove in some respects a benefit because the RAF was able to deny German air superiority over Britain and, in consequence, make a German invasion impractical.
British war production was rapidly expanded and was to produce most of the small arms required and an important percentage of necessary transport and heavy equipment. Much of the equipment left behind in France was obsolescent or obsolete, so that the units forming to replace losses and expand the size of the Army, and the existing troops that had survived the Battle of France, were equipped with arms and other equipment that was up to date. There was natural nervousness initially because the German invasion threat was very real until the end of Summer 1940. There was a further supply of very effective equipment from the US as a result of the efforts of the Purchasing Commission sent to the US to negotiate supplies of the latest US tanks, vehicles and arms. This not only helped to speed the expansion of the Army, but it meant that weapons were being developed and manufactured beyond the range of German bombers. As the Royal Navy began to contain and reduce the U-Boat threat, an increasing volume of US-originated supplies succeeded in reaching Britain and training in Canada helped in military expansion, again because it was beyond the range of German bombers.
The Army underwent considerable change. The infantry regiments increased, but armour became a major expansion and the new fighting vehicles and self-propelled artillery were combined with armoured battlefield transport, supply chain and close air support to produce all-arms units for rapid advances, on the lines of the German Blitz Krieg model. Increasingly, infantry were brought into battle and moved around the battlefield by mechanized transport, much of it protected at least against small arms fire.
However, the greatest visible changes came through the creation of airborne forces and a bewildering array of special forces and private armies. North Africa provided scope for deep penetration raids behind German lines for reconnaissance and to attack enemy resources. These became the model for special forces created around the world and today form a relatively large percentage of any modern army. There was also a need to develop large scale amphibious landing capability to enable Allied forces to land in Sicily, Italy and France. This required special vehicles, including swimming tanks, armoured flamethrowers, mine clearance tanks and a host of other types of vehicle to achieve a successful beachhead, supply that beachhead and then support the breakout from the beaches.
The author has covered all of these significant changes and can claim to have produced an extraordinarily comprehensive review of the British Army in all of its aspects. The command structure and the organization of units is detailed, together with the badges and medals the small arms and infantry support weapons, the artillery, the armour, the vehicles, special forces, auxiliary forces, followed by appendices detailing growth and typical equipment. This is a tour de force and the flowing text is supported by a very large number of illustrations in a large format single volume. Most of the illustration is in monochrome, but full colour is used where available and appropriate, carrying the illustration through the text and keeping it close to the related commentary.