Following their collaboration on Finest Hour: The Battle of Britain (2000), Clayton and Craig study England’s military fortunes during the pivotal year 1942, drawing widely and wisely on the reminiscences of ordinary soldiers, sailors, and civilians.
Their account concentrates on the British campaign launched in late spring to destroy Erwin Rommel’s command in North Africa. Rommel’s Afrika Korps had been enjoying extraordinary success in the preceding months, as indeed had Axis armies everywhere: Hitler’s forces stood at the gates of Russia’s great cities, while Singapore and most of the islands of the Pacific had fallen to the Japanese. America’s armies had yet to enter the field in force; the English and their Commonwealth allies had had to bear the brunt of the fight alone. Yet, against the odds, they turned the tide of the war in North Africa by doggedly holding out at places like Tobruk and Malta, refusing to relinquish these thorn-in-the-side fortresses. Coupled with massive assaults on the German homeland—one British raid on Cologne resulted in “300 acres at the heart of a great modern city reduced to a pile of rubble”—and the steady destruction of the Italian and German Mediterranean surface fleets, the British command’s daring strategy in North Africa forced Rommel to stretch his lines of supply to the breaking point; midsummer found the German commander begging Hitler for reinforcements and materiel that never arrived. Even so, Rommel’s armies threatened to break through to Cairo as late as the fall, an eventuality for which some Egyptian shopkeepers prepared themselves, the authors note, by hanging out red-and-black Axis bunting that they would take down only with the great Allied victory in the epochal tank battle of October 23–November 4. “Before Alamein we never had a victory,” Winston Churchill observed. “After Alamein we never had a defeat.”
A stirring reconstruction of events, of much interest to military history buffs.