A “rich, intensely human story” of European cooperation during World War II.
Early on during the war, government officials and many citizens of a host of conquered European nations fled to Britain. Bestselling historian Olson (Those Angry Days: Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America's Fight Over World War II, 1939-1941, 2013, etc.) writes a vivid history of the war through the eyes of the exiles and compatriots left behind. She reveals inspiring tales of heroism, suffering, and sacrifice without ignoring too many incidents of betrayal, missed opportunities, and incompetence. First to arrive were the Poles and Czechs. That Britain had betrayed Czechoslovakia to Hitler in 1938 and remained passive while the Wehrmacht conquered Poland in 1939 did not lessen their commitment. Their military units fought with the Allies, and their prewar intelligence skills were far superior. The brilliant Bletchley Park decoders could not have succeeded without the earlier innovations of Polish codebreakers. In 1940, leaders from conquered Norway, Denmark, Belgium, and Holland formed exile governments. Though no significant French political figures came to Britain, Winston Churchill encouraged the obscure brigadier general Charles de Gaulle. Olson reminds readers that, until late 1942, none of this activity greatly inconvenienced Hitler or his plans. Britain’s victory (really a draw) in the Battle of Britain was followed by a numbing series of blunders and defeats. Joining the resistance was suicidal; even military buffs will recoil at the murderous ineptitude of early British secret operations. By 1943, however, the Allies had gotten their act together. Their armies were advancing, and the resistance was functioning efficiently.
Feel-good histories of World War II have fallen out of fashion, but Britain’s sole stand against Hitler remains inspiring. Despite the title, the occupied nations that she sheltered did not “turn the tide,” but Olson delivers an engrossing, sometimes-disturbing account of their energetic efforts.