Wavell - Soldier and Statesman, Victoria Schofield

Wavell - Soldier and Statesman, Victoria Schofield

Archibald Wavell was one of the most important British commanders of the Second World War, holding a series of crucial posts, starting as Commander-in-Chief in the Middle East from 1939 to 1941, before being moved to the Far East where for two years he attempted to hold a line against the victorious Japanese. Finally he became the penultimate Viceroy of British India, where he played a major part in the negotiations that led to post-war Independence.

In some respects Wavell's wartime career can be seen as one of decline. It began with a series of spectacular victories over the Italians in North Africa, both in the Western Desert and in East Africa, where the Italian Empire was soon eliminated and Abyssinia liberated. After that he became involved in the fighting in Greece (not against his will), a campaign that ended with the evacuations from both Greece and Crete, while at the same time Rommel undid most of his good work in North Africa. Wavell was then moved to India, arriving before the Japanese entry into the war. He was then given command of the ABDA region of South-East Asia, taking responsibility for a campaign that was already lost. Moving just ahead of the Japanese he eventually returned to India, arriving just in time to take overall command of the final stages of the defeat in Burma. Eventually the failure of his first major counterattack in Burma led to his replacement as Command-in-Chief and appointment of Viceroy of India. This last appointment moved Wavell into an entirely new career - that of the diplomat and politician, and it is clear that he adapted very well to the role, gaining a reputation for impartiality.

One of the biggest problems that Wavell faced was that he never really had Churchill's trust. Schofield examines the role that Wavell's personality had in this - a quiet man of few words he never seems to have impressed Churchill in the way that more voluble men managed (Wavell's protégé Wingate amongst them). Wavell generally emerges well from the book - hard working (even if he repeatedly claimed not to be), capable, modest and self-deprecating.

This is an impressive biography of an impressive figure and a valuable contribution to the literature on the Second World War.

Part I: The Soldiers Son
1 - A Late Victorian
2 - Life in the Army, 1901-8
3 - Staff College, Russia and the War Office

Part II: Wavell's Ascent
4 - War in 1914
5 - Palestine with Allenby, 1917
6 - Peacetime
7 - Manoeuvres
8 - Prelude to War

Part III: Commander-in-Chief
9 - Middle East Command, 1939
10 - Holding Africa, 1940
11 - All Fronts, 1941
12 - Churchill's Axe, 1941
13 - Conflict of the Hemispheres, 1941
14 - Supreme Commander, 1942
15 - Adversity's General, 1942
16 - Field Marshal, 1943

Part IV: From Soldier to Statesman
17 - Designated Viceroy, 1943
18 - Wartime Viceroy, 1944-5
19 - Viceroy at Peace, 1945
20 - Unity or Partition, 1946
21 - Dismissal, 1947
22 - The End
23 - Wavell's Legacy

Author: Victoria Schofield
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 509
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2010 edition of 2007 original

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