This well-researched and very scholarly book will find its readership among those who specialize in military science and especially those who concentrate on World War II studies.
Archibald Wavell is a somewhat overlooked figure in the histories of World War II, perhaps in a large measure due to his conflicts with Winston Churchill.
Raugh argues convincingly that the “Churchillians” have denigrated Wavell’s record “in an attempt to enhance further the inviolability of their mentor, ‘the greatest Englishman of them all.’”
Wavell once ended a message to Churchill by saying ‘a big butcher’s bill was not necessarily evidence of good tactics.’ Needless to say such directness on Wavell’s part did not enhance his standing with the Prime Minister.
Certainly the different temperaments of Wavell and Churchill provided a basis for conflict in their relationship. Churchill was flamboyant and loquacious whereas Wavell was restrained and extremely taciturn.
One of the difficulties Raugh faces in portraying Wavell is the seeming dearth of anecdotes that illustrate Wavell’s wit and sense of humor. But by examining Wavell’s plans and resources Raugh does capture a sense of what Wavell brought as a resourceful and imaginative commander.
Some in Britain knew Wavell’s tactical abilities. In 1940 David Lloyd George, who served as Prime Minister from 1916 to 1922, told Lord Boothby, who had been Churchill’s Parliamentary Private Secretary after World War I that while Churchill might be the one person who could save the country, it would “be a one man show. He has at least one great general-Wavell. I was not so fortunate. But mark my words, he will get rid of Wavell.”
That is exactly what Churchill did after Wavell endured defeats and retreats due to a lack of men and materials and being forced to commit resources to areas where he didn’t feel they were to be used effectively but where the Prime Minister wanted them.
Even the enemy recognized Wavell’s abilities.
Of Wavell’s losing campaign, Operation Battle Axe, Rommel said, “Wavell’s strategic planning of this offensive had been excellent.
What distinguished him from other British army commanders was his great and well-balanced strategic courage, which permitted him to concentrate his forces regardless of his opponent’s possible moves.”
Raugh provides other evidence that military leaders in Britain and Germany recognized Wavell as a great general even if Churchill did not.
While Wavell’s early victories over the Italians in North Africa provided a spark that raised the spirits of his countrymen, his ultimate losses to overwhelming German forces led to his being removed from command in the Middle East and sent to be the Viceroy and Governor General of India where he served until 1947.
As history has neglected the accomplishments of Field Marshal Wavell, Raugh undertakes in this fine work to restore Wavell to his rightful place among the best military commanders of World War II and perhaps of all time.
Elby Adamson is a retired English teacher and a Clay Center resident.