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Dunkirk: Fight to the Last Man (original 2006; edition 2006)

by Hugh Sebag-Montefiore

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184464,254 (3.98)6
Member:walton.tom
Title:Dunkirk: Fight to the Last Man
Authors:Hugh Sebag-Montefiore
Info:Harvard University Press (2006), Hardcover, 720 pages
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Dunkirk: Fight to the Last Man by Hugh Sebag-Montefiore (2006)

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A must read if you're interested in the period when the phoney war became real, but it has to be said it'd be uncomfortable reading for anyone related to the Belgian and French Generals of the time who are crucified by the author. Whilst there are criticisms of the British it has to be said that the author takes a somewhat jingoistic approach with the Brits generally being heroic to the last and the other allies being inept at best if not actually cowardly. How true a picture this is is difficult to judge, but some eminent historical writers are quoted fawning over the book on its cover, so maybe it isn't seen through quite the tinted spectacles as it sometimes seems to be.
The key conclusion to be drawn from this book, however, is that the German war machine was no all conquering unstoppable sledgehammer. Time and again the forces they were facing failed and failed miserably. Actually it might be that the Germans were actually all-powerful, but this book shows that evidence for that assertion cannot be drawn from the victories in The Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium and France. ( )
  expatscot | Nov 25, 2016 |
Surprisingly badly written, I found. There's to a rather convoluted layout where lots of context is put in endnotes several hundred pages away yet referred to repeatedly in the text, which is confusing enough, but the actual text is a bit mushy. The translations are confusing, with several different phrases mapping to the same English one; and they're overdone, so that similarly named German and French units are translated directly into English and then used interchangeably, until you have no idea who's being talked about. You'd think people would trust their readers with fairly clear-from-context proper nouns, wouldn't you? And on top of that... well, it's just clunky. Bad editing, overly convoluted prose, and you need to chew hard to get through some parts.

Which is a pity, because it's an interesting story. A quick recoup of the early period of the war, then the Battle of France discussed with particular focus on the northern areas, and then a meticulous attempt to follow the British forces falling back and evacuating, with a short epilogue on the "second BEF", the forces landed in the west of France after Dunkirk.

Details of particular historic interest (in that I hadn't seen them before) were a good explanation of what happened to the 51st Division at St. Valery, along with the garrisons at Calais and Boulogne; comprehensive discussion of the War Cabinet meetings during this period, including the discussion of peace talks and the debate on how to keep France in the war; the convoluted situation over evacuating French forces; and, at the beginning, a detailed and clear explanation of the whole "German plans accidentally landed in Belgium in January" thing.

All told, clearly thoroughly researched and sheds light on some of the situation, but let down by its prose.
2 vote generalising | Apr 1, 2009 |
A fascinating and gripping account of the fall of France (and Holland and Belgium) and the subsequent evacuation at Dunkirk. The author firmly lays the blame for the defeat on the French generals and the lack of preparedness of the BEF. Incompetance is not too strong a word for some of these men...

Acts of extreme bravery on all sides provide an intimate and personal aspect to the campaign and the author makes it clear that it did not all go the Germans way.

Highly recommended. ( )
1 vote simon_carr | Aug 3, 2007 |
Showing 3 of 3
This came back to me with particular force as I turned the pages of “Dunkirk,” Hugh Sebag-Montefiore’s first-rate panoramic history, and highly affecting worm’s-eye account, of Britain’s absolutely all-time favorite disaster. Has there ever been a more obviously foredoomed military escapade (for once one can employ the word accurately) than the dispatch, for the second time in a quarter-century, of a British Expeditionary Force to defend Belgium and France from German expansionism? The name given to the army was suggestive of the tentative and the improvised, as if its very presence on the European mainland was something rather out-of-the-way and short-term. As indeed it proved to be: the chief historic achievement of the B.E.F. was to have got itself home again, if not quite in one piece. Sebag-Montefiore, the author of “Enigma: The Battle for the Code,” helps amplify and redeem the sad story, though, by telling us of those who followed the terse order that is contained in his subtitle, and who thereby made that great escape possible.
added by simon_carr | editNew York Times, Christopher Hitchens (Jan 21, 2007)
 
Sebag-Montefiore's level of detail, knowledge and compassion shows that, for readable wartime history, you can't just leave it to Holmes and Beevor.
 
The story of Dunkirk has been told many times. Following his success with Enigma, Hugh Sebag-Montefiore has chosen to highlight not the whole of the 1940 campaign, nor the details of the evacuation itself, but to focus on those British army units that held the line so that more than 300,000 Allied troops could be saved. They did not fight alone, for many French units were trapped alongside them.
 
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0674024397, Hardcover)

In May of 1940, the armies of Nazi Germany were marching through France. In the face of this devastating advance, one of World War II’s greatest acts of heroism would be a retreat: the evacuation of the British Army from Dunkirk.

In Dunkirk: Fight to the Last Man, we are given an unprecedented vision of these harrowing days. Hugh Sebag-Montefiore has created a bold and powerful account of the small group of men who fended off the German army so that hundreds of thousands of their comrades could exit this doomed land. These brave troops, members of the British Expeditionary Forces and the French army, held a series of strong points inland, allowing the rest of the battered battalions to escape to the coast. Those that remained were ordered to fight to the last man.

Much has been written about the efforts of the Royal Navy in shuttling soldiers to safety, but here we are given an unparalleled look inside this massive operation and the invaluable role played by the BEF. Without the ferocity and bravery of the officers and ordinary soldiers on the ground, the German army would likely have encircled nearly half a million Allied soldiers. The loss of these battalions, Sebag-Montefiore argues, could have dramatically changed the direction of the war, and enabled Hitler to invade a weakened Britain.

This is military history at its best: a judicious analysis of the movement of the war, and a vivid feel of what it was like to be on the front line. Sebag-Montefiore brings these men—the forgotten heroes of Dunkirk—to life, and it is their valiant exploits and devotion to their brethren that form the heart of this important book.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:24 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Hugh Sebag-Montefiore tells the story of the officers and ordinary British and French soldiers who were ordered to hold a series of strong points inland while their comrades were evacuated from the beaches at Dunkirk - and to 'fight to the last man' if necessary. Originally published: London: Viking, 2006.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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