Looking Back From Ninety

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The real story of Dunkirk

Well, it turns out that just about everything we believed about "the miracle of Dunkirk" is wrong! As a British Army officer, Robert Kershaw served a tour in the Bundeswehr and became fluent in German. He has delved the records of all the participants in that crucial battle -- German, British, French, and Belgian -- to produce one of the finest campaign histories I have ever read. The title is a bit unfortunate -- Dünkirchen 1940 -- and the publisher somewhat obscure. (Osprey specializes in military books along the lines of Armies of the Baltic Independence Wars, 1918-1920.)

Mr Kershaw begins with a masterful account of the German panzer blitz through the Ardennes, splitting the Allied armies in France from those in Belgium. The first tanks reached the sea in just 11 days, faster than they'd swept through Poland in 1939. Though greatly unnumbered, with tanks no better than the French and British, they had the advantages of surprise, a radio in every tank, the concept of Aufstragstatik (in which front-line units are given a goal and can decide for themselves how to reach it), faith in Adolf Hitler and the Nazi ideology, and handfuls of Pervitin (methamphetamine) pills.

But what then? The Dunkirk myth holds that Hitler, terrified by his own success, halted the panzers and let the "seed corn" of a future British Army escape. In fact, the halt order lasted a single day, May 24, after which the panzers were directed to what the high command saw as a more important goal: the French capital. Tanks don't fare well in urban fighting, and the seacoast towns were surrounded by canals, marshes, and flooded fields. Taking them was the job of der Landser, the foot soldier and his horse-drawn artillery, who by now lagged miles -- days -- behind the tanks. Nor was it only the town itself: there were 17.5 miles of white-sand beaches from which the British could embark. As for the vaunted German air force, the Stukas were hobbled by bad weather and a four-hour lag between the assigning of a target and the dropping of the bombs. And the Allied defenders, in the end entirely French, fought with the desperation of men who had no alternative but death or captivity.

But most important, the Germans regarded Dunkirk as a sideshow, compared to the 69 French and British divisions awaiting them south of the Somme and in front of Paris. More than any other factor, Mr Kershaw believes, that was what allowed the British to rescue two-thirds of their men, "an army three times the size of the present British Army." Good photos, none of which I've seen before, and excellent maps. (For release September 6.)

And other good stuff for September

Updated September 8: Join us as we audit a course on how Ukraine (and Putin's war) came to be, with Yale students and the scholar-historian Timothy Snyder.

Also reviewed this month: The Yank: The True Story of a Former US Marine in the Irish Republican Army

Israel too had its own squadron of Flying Tigers, and their combat record was almost as briliant as that of the American Volunteer Group.

And finally, for those who dote on Marcel Proust, my doppelgänger Stephen Fall is still enthralled by Neville Jason's heroic narration of Time Regained, the final volume of Proust's great novel, in a new translation by David Whiting.

Blue skies and Slava Ukraini! (Glory to Ukraine!) -- Daniel Ford. You can send humanitarian aid through Razom for Ukraine (a 501c3 charity). Or support the military through the National Bank of Ukraine.

And welcome to the forum!

Here are a thousand or so files on airplanes, pilots, and the wars of the past hundred years, grouped under these headings:

Annals of the Flying Tigers
Annals of the Brewster Buffalo
Annals of Poland: war and exile, 1939-1948
Japan at War, 1931-1945
Annals of the Chinese Air Force
Glen Edwards and the Flying Wing
Remembering Bluie West One
Annals of Vietnam
War in the Modern World

Plus these excellent places to look for more:
The Warbird's Book Club
Daniel Ford’s books
The Piper Cub Forum

Flying Tigers
revised and updated

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