Scathing about Churchill's Missteps

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Christopher Catherwood, a distinguished British historian, has written an enjoyable, opinionated, highly readable but also, alas, fundamentally silly and flawed book.

Mr. Catherwood is no cheap, biased Churchill basher. He gives the legendary British leader his full due for recognizing the dangers of Nazism, warning in vain of the correct way to nip the rising evil in the bud during the 1938-39 period, and performing brilliantly as war premier in 1940-41 when Britain stood alone.

However, the main thrust of Mr. Catherwood's book is that Churchill was catastrophically wrong in delaying the invasion of Europe from spring 1943 to June 1944.

There is nothing new about these arguments. They were originally made by British and American communist followers and dupes of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin through 1942 and 1943, and they have been periodically revived by revisionist historians on both sides of the Atlantic ever since.

Mr. Catherwood has no new facts, major archival sources or even new arguments to present. He is scathing about Churchill's many tactical miscalculations, bungles and outright disasters, but these have been acknowledged and documented in mainstream British historiography now for more than nearly half a century.

It is perfectly true that Churchill's repeated determination to launch ambitious sideshow amphibious operations uniformly led to fiasco or catastrophe in Norway, West Africa, Greece, Crete and Rhodes. But on the central issue of ensuring the new American and British armies developed the professionalism and experience they needed to take on their main opponent, the German Wehrmacht in Western Europe, he was totally correct. And outstanding American military historians like Carlos D'Este and Douglas Porch have recognized it. But you will find no hint of these arguments in Mr. Catherwood's book.

Mr. Catherwood is also oddly eclectic in the previously published historians he favors. The reader will look in vain for any reference to Mr. D'Este's recent military biography of Churchill, Warlord, or to Douglas Porch's magnificent Theater of Victory - the definitive overall history of World War II in the Mediterranean Theater. There is no acknowledgment that, as Mr. Porch documents, the Mediterranean operations tied down more than 50 Wehrmacht divisions through and beyond D-Day.

Nor is there a single reference in Mr. …