Supplying The British Army in the Second World War

Supplying The British Army in the Second World War

Janet Macdonald
ARRSE Rating
3.5 Mushroom Heads
As the title suggests, this is a wide-ranging historical account of how the British Army was supplied in the Second World War. It should possibly be titled ‘How the Second World War changed the way British Empire Troops were supplied’. It’s naturally a huge subject to condense into one book, in my view, it’s been done pretty well – with some caveats.

The book starts off with the high-level planning required – not just by the Generals but by the Civil servants and how the ‘new’ way of waging war required supply chains to be more dynamic, not just in ‘where’ but ‘what’ and how. To illustrate these points, the book jumps around the timeline quite a lot, one paragraph can be Referring to General Wavell in North Africa whilst the next refers to The First World War and then onto Dunkirk and the Normandy landings, this can be quite jarring but in my view, necessary to convey the differences and change of scale.

There are many (verbal) illustrations in the book of where materiel had to be quickly changed, modified or replaced with items more suited to the task. As a non-loggie, the main revelation to me was that even during wartime the financial implications were as important as today's "penny pinching" by the MoD.

Whilst there are some examples of individual contributions to the effort, there are not really any ‘stories’ to give this massive undertaking a human face (some might unkindly say this is in keeping with standing on the ‘wrong’ side of the QM’s counter…) there are however, mentions of persons with significant impact, for example, A.T. Doodson, who invented a prediction machine to identify when all the favourable factors would combine for the launch of Operation Overlord.

For me, the most fascinating chapters are ‘Food’, ‘Medical Matters’ and ‘Invasion of North-West Europe – Operation Overlord’ A chapter that gives us details such as the number of sheets of toilet paper being reduced from six to five…. Also the foresight of kitbags being filled with clothing, food, arms and ammunition at the Branston Depot to be given to troops that fell into the sea during the invasion to reduce their time to becoming effective again.

Although a good book on the subject, I do feel that a few organisation charts interspersed in the text would have made for easier reading as some of the complex hierarchies involved are difficult to fully comprehend by text alone. There is a bibliography at the rear of the book but there are no reference numbers within the text to show the sources for particular facts, making further reading difficult – and I would like to read more on certain parts of the subject , at 213 pages, I felt there was room to expand a little more on some areas without making the book too imposing.

Overall it is a good book – you have to step away from it a few times, just to let the scale of the undertaking (both actually, the subject and condensing it into one book) sink in from time to time. I certainly didn’t find it a chore to read but it did take me around eight weeks on and off. That is mainly why I feel it should score 3.5 out of five, there isn’t a narrative to keep a reading pace, nor is it sufficiently collated or sources identified to make it a top-level reference book to stimulate or facilitate further reading.

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