Archibald Wavell

Published: September 15th, 2012     
Author: Jon Diamond
Reviewed by: Marc K. Blackburn - IPMS# 42892
ISBN #: 9781849087377
Other Publication Information: Softcover, 64 pages, color plates
Price: $18.95
Product / Stock #: Command #28
Product provided by: Osprey Publishing

This is my first opportunity to look at the relatively new Osprey series called Command. As the name suggests, this series doesn't look at hardware or military units, but the commanders. As with most Osprey books, this series provides a broad overview of the commander's life, command responsibilities, leadership abilities, and legacy. I jumped at the chance to see how the Osprey formula works with personalities.

Unlike George C. Patton, Omar Bradley, Erwin Rommel, or Bernard Montgomery, Archibald Wavell is not a person who has the reputation or personality of the men who would dominate the Allied armies later in the war. At a time when British strength was at its nadir, Archibald Wavell was given command of the Middle East and Mediterranean, the only theater where the Allies could continue to be active after the fall of France in June, 1940. With little in the way of assets, he defeated the Italians in Egypt and East Africa but lost in Greece and Crete and could not save his gains when the Deutsches Afrika Korps deployed to Libya.

The portrait that emerges from his early life and career through the beginning of the Second World War is a man who was driven not by fame but a desire to understand. Unlike his well-known contemporaries who had huge egos, Wavell did not. He was a pragmatist who did the best he could with the resources that he had. When he was made General Officer Commanding the Middle East in 1939, he was eventually able to muster the necessary resources to prevent Italy from overrunning North Africa and stifle the Arab revolts in Iraq. After Wavell's incredible successes, he fell victim to the ill-timed decision to send British forces to Greece. He didn't have the resources of staying power to prevent Rommel from rolling across Libya.

After being defeated by Rommel, he was sent to India where, again faced with a paucity of resources, he used his talent for operations on a shoestring to defend Southeast Asia against the Japanese, where he failed. Unable to break the Japanese defenses in Burma, he was relieved of command in 1943 and made the Viceroy of India. Unfortunately, he again fell to political maneuvering on the eve of Independence and had to turn over to Lord Mountbatten, who received the credit. What emerges is a very sympathetic view of Wavell. You can't help but say to yourself, "Aw, shucks, this man never gets a break!"

As with most Osprey offerings, they provide a broad overview of the topic. These biographies follow that model. While I think that Osprey has a very successful business model and I enjoyed the book, I wanted more analysis and how his character molded his decision-making process. The other standard Osprey offering is their color plates. In this case, these really don't add much in the way of value to the narrative. They almost come across as window dressing. Regardless, Wavell emerges as a very sympathetic figure who fell victim to Churchill's acerbic but brilliant personality. Anyone who wants to more about this forgotten General, purchase this book.

I'd like to thank Osprey Publishing for the review copy and IPMS/USA for the opportunity to review it.

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