Book Review: Dunkirk: Fight to the Last Man

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by by Hugh Sebag-Montefiore

Cambridge, Ma: Harvard, 2006. xxviii, 701. Illus., maps, append., notes, biblio., index. 35.00 hard cover. ISBN:978-0-674-02439-7

 

The story of the ?Miracle of Dunkirk? has been told often.  But, as the author points out, the focus has always been on the maritime side of the massive operation.  This work looks at the events on the land. 

Dunkirk: Fight to the Last Man opens with an overview of the strategic situation and respective plans of the opposing sides in the Spring of 1940.  The great battles in central Belgium and eastern France are discussed in some detail.  The book then follows the German drive to the sea, which, despite Allied efforts to halt it, succeeds in isolating substantial Allied forces in northwestern France and Belgium.

Dunkirk: Fight to the Last Man then gets into often very great detail about the situation in what might be termed the ?Dunkirk Pocket,? as Allied troops held off repeated German assaults in often desperate rear guard actions, which permitted the ?miracle? to take place.  This is the best part of the book, providing a series of excellent battle pieces that give the reader a look at a few of the many ?last stands? in which small units of British and French troops held the line against seemingly hopeless odds, often literally fighting to the last man. 

Meanwhile, of course, the amazing tale of the evacuation of nearly a third-of-a-million troops is told with equal verve (and the author thoughtfully fills us in on a number of other less-famous evacuations further along the coast in the same period that pulled out nearly 200,000 more troops). 

While the focus is naturally on Allied operations, the treatment of the German side is solid, and includes some hitherto largely overlooked instances of war crimes perpetrated on civilians and Allied prisoners. 

Anyone interested in the Second World War, and particularly its early campaigns, should not neglect this work, including the immensely valuable footnotes.  An excellent book.
 
Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   


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