by Tony Colvin
Solihull, Eng.: Helion / Philadelphia: Casemate, 2016. Pp. 824.
Illus., maps, tables, appends., notes, biblio., index. $79.95. ISBN: 1910777110
The Problems of the British Army in World War II
British independent scholar Colvin opens The Noise of Battle with an account running about 250 pages of a series of three battles between the British 3rd Infantry Division and supporting forces and the German 8th Fallschirmjaeger Division that began with a British attack near the Dutch-German border in the vicinity of Gorch, some 20 miles west of the Rhine. Over four days (Feb. 27-Mar. 2, 1945). Although the British attained their objectives, at considerable cost despite seemingly overwhelming material superiority in terms of air power and armor.
Colvin then devotes another 250 pages or so to an examination of the British units involved – the 3rd Infantry Division, the 6th Guards Tank Brigade, elements of the Royal Artillery, and the 2nd Tactical Air Force – and the 8th Fallschirmjaeger. Colvin then asks “Why?”, despite the overwhelming fire power brought to bear in support of the attack – including massive bomber raids on the German positions – did the British forces suffer so heavily.
Colvin spends over a hundred more pages answering that question. He marshal considerable evidence to make the case that problem lay with the interwar British focus on the bomber and the tank and their failure to build on the combined arms doctrine that had brought the Great War to a successful conclusion in the “Hundred Days” of 1918. He makes extensive use of personal accounts, as well as documentary materials, which not only illustrate the fighting, but helps the reader identify with the troops. He offers many profiles of individual soldiers, and good short histories of the principle units on both sides.
While apt to be controversial – other recent studies have argued that the British Army was better than many earlier accounts would have us believe – The Noise of Battle is one of the most important recent works on the British Army in the Second World War.