THE IDES OF MAY by John Williams


Email this review


By the fifteenth of May, 1940, the French Army was beaten by the Germans. The annies had seemed evenly matched before this debacle; but French strategy was hopelessly Fixated in the World War I mold of static, defensive warfare. Williams (a British historian) stresses this obvious fact, also demonstrating that the French still suffered from that war's ""unhealed wound,"" the loss of a generation, while militarily speaking the ""truce"" years were wasted. His account, which begins with 1870 and the Franco-Prussian War, is clear and thorough. The folly of the Maginol Line; the isolating effect on France of Dunkirk and the Belgian defeats; and especially the intricate disputes among the General Staff and the High Command are reconstructed in detail for military historians. The spontaneous evacuation and Wehrmacht occupation of Paris have more general interest, and throughout the book Williams tries to indicate civilians' responses. The penultimate drama over armistice--Reynaud against, supported by Churchill and DeGaulle, defeated by Petain, Weygand and Laval--is well drawn and particularly interesting in terms of the wider war. Not an instant classic like Jackson's The Battle for Italy (1967); not brilliant, but probably the most reliable, comprehensive work on the subject; narrow, but necessary for specialists.

Pub Date: Sept. 24th, 1968
Publisher: Knopf