The publisher performs a valuable service by ensuring that Marder’s books continue to be available as printed paper. Marder wrote a series of incite-full books on the Royal Navy at War. As an American, he took an external perspective and this may have helped to produce histories that cut directly to the heart of the matters. In this book, he dissects a tragi-comedy of a campaign where all that could go wrong did. As a campaign it may have been an unnecessary and unmitigated disaster, but the Royal Navy personnel performed with their customary courage and determination. A valuable and compelling history from an accomplished historian.
NAME: Operation Menace, The Dakar Expedition and the Dudley North Affair
AUTHOR: Arthur J Marder
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword, Seaforth
BINDING: soft back
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: World War Two, WWII, Second World War, Vichy France, French African colonies, Free French, military disasters, amphibious forces
DESCRIPTION: The publisher performs a valuable service by ensuring that Marder’s books continue to be available as printed paper. Marder wrote a series of incite-full books on the Royal Navy at War. As an American, he took an external perspective and this may have helped to produce histories that cut directly to the heart of the matters. In this book, he dissects a tragi-comedy of a campaign where all that could go wrong did. As a campaign it may have been an unnecessary and unmitigated disaster, but the Royal Navy personnel performed with their customary courage and determination. A valuable and compelling history from an accomplished historian.
World War Two presented some special challenges for Great Britain and her Allies. After centuries of conflict, the British and French only came together for the First World War, although there had been a previous short and troubled alliance in the Crimean War. During WWI, the British and French generals worked closely and constructively together even though they had no previous experience or exercises. It was commendable and inspiring. To come together on land, at sea, and in the air in harmonious cooperation was far more than anyone could have expected and owed much to the earlier bridge building of Edward VII, who may have been the Playboy Prince, frustrated by the seemingly endless reign of Queen Victoria, but proved to be a great diplomat as King during his short and late reign.
Where WWI had been a great success of unlikely alliance, WWII became a different story through no fault of either Ally. It started well with British and French troops preparing to halt any German invasion of France, and there were a number of occasions when land, sea and air forces worked together in cooperation. Then it unravelled rapidly when the Germans attacked in much the same way as in 1914, ignoring the neutrality of Belgium to pour troops and armour across the Belgian borders and around the end of the Maginot line. That attack should have been guarded against, but the French were rapidly overrun and the small British force driven back to the coast. However, that was a continuing demonstration of Anglo French cooperation as French troops fought a determined rear guard that gave many British soldiers the time to escape to Dunkirk. As the Royal Navy performed miracles in bringing these troops off the Dunkirk beaches, and then brought out a large number of French soldiers, that cooperation continued to the end.
However, the French were given no option but to surrender to the Germans and the negotiations allowed Germany to occupy the Atlantic coastline of France to the Spanish border, while a French administration was permitted to exercise some level of autonomy from the new capital in Vichy. It also allowed the French to administer their overseas territories and colonies. While the Vichy administration was trying to walk a dangerous line between protecting French interests and collaberating with the Germans, There were some significant forces that had escaped to the British Isles and to British overseas territories and they called themselves Free French, establishing a Government in exile. The result was that Churchill continued to have some French Allies, even though relations with de Gaul were often prickly, and another group of French who were not trusted.
Churchill had very little choice but to attack the French naval units in North Adfrican ports. Had those powerful units been transferred to the Germans, the Royal Navy would have been dangerously out numbered. He did offer them a choice of surrendering or scuttling their ships, but French Naval officers serving Vichy could be expected to regard that as beyond honour, and to refuse. Inevitably, the Royal Navy was ordered to shell their former Allies and this created understandably deep resentment in some parts of the French military and the Vichy political establishment. The situation was no better between de Gaul, with his Free French, and their compatriots who served Vichy. When the Germans then marched into Vichy to take full control of all of France a confused and difficult situation developed for the French. Particularly in those overseas territories and military units beyond German control. Honourably, the French ensured that those naval units vulnerable to German seizure were destoryed or taken to other locations.
It was against this very complex situation of French loyalties and Allies concerns that the Dakar Expedition was envisaged and planned. Marder has examined all of the factors, hopes, aspirations and realities of Operaton Menace. He has produced what is probably the definitive review of a tragic episode in Anglo-French relations. Of course there were several different Anglo groups and French Groups. Part of the difficulty was that the French military contained people who still saw Britain as a natural enemy and people in Britain who over-estimated the power of the Free French and the acceptability of the Gaulists to other French figures.
There are photographs and maps through the body of the book to strongly complement the incisive text. Understanding parts of WWII history that has received limited attention, is important both to developing a firm understanding of the great conflict, and understanding the history since 1945, including the motives behind the establishment of the European Union, the progress towards the type of single European power that has driven Germans since the mid 19th Century, and the explosive tensions within that political project.