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Just Desert

This scholarly book by James Colvin analyses the performance of the 8th Army in the North African desert until the Second Battle of El Alamein. It examines, carefully and with primary source evidence both documentary and first-hand witness commentary, how the Army and its components were led and how they fought.

The book's focus is on leadership, doctrine, and performance. The author's substantiated views are often scathing about all three. There is healthy critique of the British Army's regimental culture system that had an adverse effect on doctrine - basically, lack of one - and co-ordination between different units. This culture had a sometimes baleful influence on appointments at senior levels, and was one of the reasons for both personality clashes and a "collegiate" approach to decision-making before Monty arrived.

James Colvin contrasts the 8th Army with Rommel's approach, but as a foil, rather than as an in-depth critical contrast. In this, he focuses on the Germans, above all, and there's not a great deal on the Italian perspective, nor in similar senior leadership tussles at senior levels on the Axis side; but then again it's a book about the 8th Army.

Commonwealth forces are also covered, in particular reflecting their wariness about British command over this period.

The book also analyses how new equipment, particularly Grant tanks, impacted fighting methods and abilities, as well as perceptions of these. In addition, there's very useful and informative pieces about the attitudes of British soldiers, and pen-portraits of many of the relevant high-up British characters.

This is a very good analysis and interesting perspective on the development of British thinking about, and British practice of, war-fighting in the early part of world war 2.


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