Alone: Britain, Churchill, and Dunkirk: Defeat Into Victory
© 2017 Michael Korda
Judging by most World War 2 histories, the war only heats up once Hitler’s rapid takeover of northern and western Europe is accomplished in the spring of 1940, and England is left facing a continent controlled by two execrable men and Mussolini. The fall of the low countries and the fighting retreat of the Allied army happen so quickly that they’re dispatched almost as a prologue to the greater drama. Alone takes that prologue as its subject, opening at Munich and moving quickly to the invasion of Poland and the state of war which followed. Readers witness stiff desire not to fight again quickly replaced by a mixture of chivalrous indignation and less chivalrous resignation, as England again dispatches her army to Europe to check the German advance, standing alongside the even more resigned French. Here too are chronicled the desperate struggles by the Dutch and Belgian armies, who though colossally outmatched, refuse to yield . The finish, of course, is the great drama of Dunkirk, where the men of the British expeditionary force are surrounded by the German advance, but escape to safety by means of a fleet of civilian ships, a brilliant of example of England expecting every man to do his duty — even men out of uniform. Korda notes that the triumphant escape of Dunkirk sometimes overshadows the sheer awfulness of getting there and enduring it: some regiments lost as many as two-thirds of their men, and the beach itself was a spectacle from Dante, filled with burning debris, scattered bodies, and the stench of both. Alone is a personal history as well, as a very young Michael Korda was just old enough to realize something bad was happening; the Korda family’s involvement in British and later American film industry adds an interesting flair to a more familiar subject. Korda strikes a good balance between narrative and detail, and includes a generous amount of in-text illustrations of personalities and movements.
- With Wings Like Eagles: The Battle of Britain, Michael Korda. This was my favorite history read of 2011.
- The Miracle of Dunkirk, Walter Lord
- Readers may also be interested in the film Darkest Hour, in which Gary Oldman plays Winston Churchill as he takes the reins during the fall of Europe and keeps English spirits up while the Dunkirk operation is underway. I watched it earlier in the week
To end, a quote from one of Churchill’s addresses:
“…and I made it perfectly clear then that whatever happened in France would make no difference to the resolve of Britain and the British Empire to fight on, if necessary for years, if necessary alone.
We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land, and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be.”