Looking for a good read? Here is a recommendation. I have an unusual approach to reviewing books. I review books I feel merit a review. Each review is an opportunity to recommend a book. If I do not think a book is worth reading, I find another book to review. You do not have to agree with everything every author has written (I do not), but the fiction I review is entertaining (and often thought-provoking) and the non-fiction contain ideas worth reading.
Reviewed by Mark Lardas
September 24, 2023
“Victory to Defeat: The British Army 1918-40, by Richard Dannatt and Robert Lyman, Osprey Publishing, 2023, 352 pages, $35.00 (Hardcover), $24.50 (ebook), $17.35 (audiobook)
In 1918 the British Army was at a peak. In a hundred-day campaign, it shoved the German Army almost back to the German border – not through German exhaustion, but by outfighting and outmaneuvering them. By 1940 it abandoned World War I’s hard-earned lessons, deteriorating into the worst army of any major power.
“Victory to Defeat: The British Army 1918-40, by Richard Dannatt and Robert Lyman traces this collapse, examining the reasons behind it.
The authors open describing how the 1918 British Army developed combined-arms tactics that peeled German defensive lines apart like rotted cardboard. Artillery, tanks and aircraft played a role, but infantry armed with light machine guns and rifle grenades did the real work.
After victory Britain disassembled this army. Public, government, and army immediately forgot 1918’s lessons. The public remained fixed on the 1916 bloodlettings to exclusion of all else. The government focused on fiscal austerity. The Army wished to return to the gentleman’s club the pre-1914 army had been. All three groups remained locked in those visions into the mid-1930s.
The army served as an Imperial gendarmerie for the next two decades. In Ireland, Afghanistan, the Middle East, and even India it fought irregulars and rioters. With all recent combat experience on “little wars” the importance of fighting peer armies faded.
Untested theories absorbed the little money available and most of the attention of military thinkers. Airpower advocates of the Royal Air Force and armor advocates like J. F. C. Fuller and Basil Liddell-Hart offered beguiling visions of victory through strategic bombing and pure armor forces. Infantry was unnecessary; victory bloodless.
Britain denied the necessity of a strong army capable of fighting a continental foe until early 1939. It was then too late to build one. Troops sent to France in 1939 were inferior in training, motivation, and equipment than the army of 1916. Disaster was predictable.
What makes “Victory to Defeat” particularly worth reading is its relevance today. While a book about the British Army, readers may see disquieting parallels between the British Army of 1918-1940 to the US military of the last two decades. The book shows what happens when a military neglects its core function – defense of a nation and the ability to project power against peer rival. The book is a cautionary tale about the results of making secondary goals, such as today’s pursuit of equity and climate change by the US Military, its main focus.
Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.