Churchill – Master and Commander. Winston Churchill at War 1895-1945.

ARRSE Rating
5.00 star(s)
384 pages in total; 14 pages of glossy monochrome photos; 3 pages of his military career and decorations; 30 pages of notes and references; 11 pages of bibliography and a 10 page index. But don't let these studious notes put you off the readability of the book. The real reading is an enjoyable 314 pages.

Back in April 2020 I wrote a review on 'Churchill – A Graphic Biography.' (Unashamed plug.)–-a-graphic-biography.1412/ where I said “if you don't want to read about it (Churchill) in a standard weighty tome, then this is the book for you.” Well, this is either the follow on book from the graphic biography, or the none weighty tome you are waiting for.

It deals with the young Churchill from a cadet at Harrow school, through his formative years as a cavalry subaltern and writer, often where the writing comes before the subalterning; and his times in the Indian North-West Frontier, Sudan, Cuba and South Africa where he learned lessons about going straight to the top about getting what he wanted. From there he moves into politics and learns a lesson about not taking the opposition for granted while suffering an ignoble defeat. However he is a rising star and finds positions under Asquith at the Home Office and then the Admiralty. However at the Admiralty he encourages the Gallipoli campaign during World War One and is given the blame, which both Churchill and Tucker Jones feel was wrong.

Falling from grace he turns back to the Army and finds himself in Northern France, eventually commanding 6 Royal Scots Fusiliers for a time. However he came back into favour with Loyd-George becoming Minister of Munitions. During the war he became a supporter of the use of gas, which, thankfully IMHO, never came to be used during his various interventions in military affairs later in his career. He was very much involved in the setting up of the RAF in 1918, but through this may be responsible for some of the problems of the Fleet Air Arm during rearmament in the late thirties and early years of World War Two.

The wilderness year are covered where he realises and campaigns about the horrors of Bolshevism and Hitler's National Socialist rise before his second stint as First Lord of the Admiralty. With the fall of Atlee during the Battle of France, Churchill takes on the mantle of Prime Minister and Minister of War at Britain's most perilous hour. During the Battle of Britain and further campaigns where his leadership is either inspired (Battle of Britain.) or flawed (The Greek campaign and Rommel's intervention in North Africa.) his rhetoric and leadership style helps stop his second fall from grace and here he is stoutly supported and, at times and never publicly, opposed by General Alan Brooke – who is heavily mentioned through the chapters of the Second world War.

It is through these chapters of World War Two that the weight and style of leadership becomes more focussed. He is at times irked by those who come straight to the top, just as he had done in his younger days, but at the same time recognised where it was necessary, such as what became Ultra at Bletchley Park. He had to deal not only with the UK armed forces, the Home Front, Roosevelt and Stalin. But also Ireland, Vichy France, The Free French and De Gaulle, the Japanese invasions of the Far East and British Imperialist humiliation. India (Our political masters trouble is our opportunity!), Chiang Kai Shek, Chairman Mao and most of the rest of the world, be it free or waiting to see how the dice fall. Generally he managed to chart a decent course but managed to hit rocks at times, with the last German success in the Dodecanese campaign being down to Churchill's over-reach, and perhaps his last taking of the opposition for granted.

The book reads well and is best taken at a chapter at a time within it's six sections. As it's subtitle suggests it is all about his leadership lessons, and how he becomes 'Master and Commander', not only during World War Two, but his ministerial posts before and what he learns from these. There is little about his private or family life which leads to it not being a weighty tome, and chats along well.

Down sides are generally minor. There are some prose mistakes where a correctly spelt word is used in the wrong context and the grammar check has missed it. Having served there I am worried about the spelling of 'Belleck' – possibly an alternative. While explaining the formation of the WW2 Commandos, Independent Companies formed in April 1941 seem to be in Norway in May 1940. C'est ca.

An excellent summary of Churchill's military and political life. I have no problem awarding four and a half Mr Mushroom-heads to this excellent book.

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