The Grand Alliance (The Second World War: Book 3) by Winston Churchill

The third volume in the abridged collection of Churchill’s history of the Second World War (confusingly the third volume in the unabridged series goes by the same title) follows Great Britain out of the time of their isolation in the war. From 1939 until the Germans turned their sights on Russia in 1942, England was the sole force providing continual harassment to Hitler’s swelling dominion. While many other countries were friendly and supportive to the cause, there had yet to be formed an allied front against the Axis countries – except in the Atlantic where the US had already committed to help clear shipping lanes near their own shores. With grit and ferocity of will, England stood the onslaught of the German’s might and lasted. There indomitableness was rewarded when, in 1942, both Russia and the US finally entered the war as full allies. In this, Churchill knew that the war was won.

You will never read a war history quite like Churchill’s retelling of these six, almost seven, long years of struggle. No “man at the top” as it were has written about the minutiae of what it takes from day to day to keep a country focussed toward a common goal. Churchill is both witty and serious about his responsibilities. The reader always feels as if the Prime Minister has a sincere empathy with the men that lay down their lives for freedom’s sake. And yet, Churchill was a shrewd if relatively straightforward politician. He pulls and cajoles the Russians to come to the aid of the Western powers. Stalin is supremely concerned about his own nation, yet this warmhearted Brit maneuvers the cold steely Russian into joint operations. The United States military see themselves as foremost in the world, but Churchill guides them to his points of attack. With an unbelievable aplomb, we get to look in on how a historical giant orders the players of worldwide strategy into a successful defense against Hitler’s schemes.

As a good American schoolboy, I was taught how the US came to save Britain’s bacon when we finally entered the European field. This is true – to an extent. What I never knew was how much had been prepared by the continual strategy of the British Army, Navy, and Royal Air Force. The had the ideas; they needed manpower. And the USA could not provide this at first. It took much longer for the war effort stateside to gear up than one might think. Even though America essentially entered into the war on Pearl Harbor day in 1941. The main focus was toward naval operations against Japan. It was only a small percentage of US troops that made it into the European theater before D-Day in June of 1944. Once the US became an active participant, hardly a defeat was handed to the Allied forces in the west, but this was due to the exceedingly important battle plan developed for years by Great Britain.

My grandfather served in North Africa – where the majority of the action of this book takes place. I don’t know a lot about his service as he passed away in my youth. He was an mechanic in support of air based action. It’s amazing that so many operations of vital importance happened off the continent where the supposed heart of the struggle lay. It’s as if Olympian engineers of war decided to fight somewhere that wouldn’t mess up their civilization. But it did, hundreds of thousands of men lost their lives in North Africa. The many battles of Tobruk and Benghazi, the struggle for Egypt, the swift offensive on Tunis. These are magnificent and costly battlefields that most will never walk because they are so far from our cultured world. Churchill does his best to humanize every campaign, but the scars of the war were greater than most perceive. There may not be a finer set of histories for this time, but come knowing it’s not the view that the average man had.

6.5 stars out of 10

photo: archives.gov

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