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Brian Bond

Brian Bond is the author of France and Belgium 1939-40 and British Military Policy between the Two World Wars. He is a reader in war studies at King’s College, London and is at present writing a book called War and Society in Europe.

Between the Ears of a Horse

Brian Bond, 22 December 1983

At first glance Fire-Power may seem to be a professional study by gunners about gunners and for gunners, but if readers not privileged to have served in the Royal Regiment can absorb the technical information and diagrams they will learn a lot about the realities of warfare in the first half of the 20th century. In particular, they will appreciate the extent to which fire-power has dominated combat and what techniques have been evolved to exploit it and overcome it. This is not a narrow study of artillery: the authors also discuss the development and tactics of machine-guns, trench mortars, hand-grenades and, most important of all, the radio, which exerted a truly revolutionary influence. Although this work is a joint effort, it is likely that the first part, on the First World War, was written by Professor Graham and the rest by Brigadier Shelford Bidwell.

Access to Ultra

Brian Bond, 16 June 1983

Numerous accounts, not least among them Ronald Lewin’s pioneering survey Ultra goes to war, have familiarised us with the remarkable story of Anglo-American achievements in breaking enemy codes and keeping their most valuable source of intelligence secret not just during the war but for thirty years afterwards. Yet, as both Basil Collier and Ronald Lewin stress in their new studies, neither British nor American intelligence services enjoyed high prestige or had much to boast about in the inter-war period. In his foreword to Hidden Weapons, Professor R.V. Jones recalls expressing disquiet to Lord Vansittart that MI6 was recruited on the basis of friendship rather than competence. Vansittart agreed, but added that the pay was so bad it was only your friends you could persuade to take the job. Ironically, Kim Philby was initially discouraged from joining MI6 on the grounds that he was too good for the pay on offer. As for the United States, Mr Lewin doubts whether Secretary of State Stimson actually uttered the celebrated dictum, ‘gentlemen do not read one another’s mail,’ but he was certainly outraged to discover that his agents were reading a few Japanese ciphered signals. He ordered that such unethical activity should cease forthwith and closed down the ‘Black Chamber’, with the unfortunate result that a disgruntled employee sold the story to the press. Mr Collier is equally critical of British ministers and senior officials who liked to be regaled with secret service reports but did not take them any more seriously than thrillers, and tended to be guided by preconceptions or hunches sometimes backed by unconfirmed rumours or private communications. Similarly many regular officers put in charge of intelligence sections showed a strange contempt for their stock-in-trade while fiercely reacting to external criticism. These strictures are exemplified by the misinterpretation of German air strategy in the Munich era. There was also a gross overestimation of the Luftwaffe’s bombing capacity which R.V. Jones suggests may have been due to an RAF officer’s joke that was taken seriously.

A recent bibliographical review of the Spanish Armada concluded that at last the evidence available permitted definitive judgments on the episode from both sides. Such a long interval may be comforting to scholars but it will clearly not do for journalists, politicians and, above all, defence experts who are eager to derive immediate lessons from such an unexpected but valuable proving ground as the Falklands war. Still, it is as well to remember that, despite the outpouring of instant histories, polemics and reports, there is still quite a lot we do not know. Future historians will have to reconstruct the course of political and strategic decision-making on the Argentinian side, but it is hard to believe that any startling revelations will occur. On the British side, however, we shall presumably learn much more about the activities of the SAS and SBS (particularly on the mainland), the amount of political interference in operational decisions, and the precise nature of the supplies, weapons and intelligence provided by the United States. In the meantime, the Defence White Paper presents a concise summary of the main lessons of the campaign.

Hurricane Brooke

Brian Bond, 2 September 1982

While walking down Sackville Street in London in 1942, Nicholas Jenkins’s attention was

Eclipse of Europe

Brian Bond, 3 June 1982

When a marriage disintegrates in mutual misunderstanding and recrimination, it is no good looking to either partner – or to their families – for a complete and objective explanation. The analogy with sovereign states is, of course, far from exact, and anyway historians are trained to surmount nationalist bias. Nevertheless British and French historians of the tragic termination of their countries’ ‘affair’ in 1940 have in practice found it extremely difficult to write dispassionately, and even harder to interpret controversies sympathetically from the other’s viewpoint. Some French historians, and especially surviving participants after 1945 such as Reynaud, Gamelin and Weygand, have pointed to Britain’s tardy and meagre contribution to the land battle, her refusal to send all-out air reinforcement at a critical time and her precipitate withdrawal from the Continent. The British have been equally inclined to overtook their own shortcomings in placing responsibility for defeat at the door of their allies. Both have also tended – like a quarrelling couple turning against a well-meaning third party – to place excessive blame for their military collapse on the luckless Belgian Army and its royal commander-in-chief.

Soldier’s Soldier

Brian Bond, 4 March 1982

Field-Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck, who died in Marrakesh in March 1981 aged 96, retained to the end a touching faith that History would eventually vindicate him in the controversial aspects of his career. Almost alone among the Army commanders who survived the war, he took no part in the post-war battle of the memoirs, nor indeed was he particularly willing to disclose his private sentiments to interviewers. This reticence derived from a dignified, stoical disposition and if there was an underlying bitterness it was extremely well concealed. History, however, is made by historians and, in the short run at any rate, cannot be relied upon to provide totally objective judgments. Field-Marshal Montgomery, despite his low opinion of academics, was well aware that the muse can be overpowered and seduced. In his Memoirs and self-adulatory campaign narratives, Montgomery enhanced his own undeniably great achievements by denigrating Auchinleck’s generalship and by exaggerating the poor condition of the Eighth Army when he assumed command in August 1942. Montgomery’s version of the take-over from Auchinleck and the transformation that rapidly followed has, in broad terms, recently received a powerful boost from Nigel Hamilton’s lengthy coverage of these events, buttressed by the recollections of numerous participants.

Letter

Politician’s War

3 March 1983

SIR: I do not share Mr Tam Dalyell’s political outlook (Letters, 1 April) and I did not like the polemical tone of One Man’s Falklands. I thought I expressed my reactions to the book rather mildly but I did not expect him to be pleased by what I wrote: indeed I should have been disappointed if he had been. His hostility to the Government, and to the Prime Minister in particular, is unlikely...

Unarmed Combat

Richard Usborne, 21 April 1988

When France fell in the summer of 1940, practically all Arabs of the Levant were sure that the Axis would win the war. This would probably free their countries, Syria and Lebanon, from the French...

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Boom

Arthur Marwick, 18 October 1984

‘With others of my own contemporaries,’ Denys Hay once wrote, ‘I certainly found myself in the years after 1945 still preoccupied with aspects of warfare in other times (in my...

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Mistakes

Geoffrey Best, 2 July 1981

The astounding story told in these pages is of how the country which came victoriously out of the First World War, ‘that bloody and ill-managed conflict’, with nearly two million...

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