Book Review: Anatomy of a Campaign: The British Fiasco in Norway, 1940


by John Kiszely

Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017. Pp. xvi, 276. Illus., maps, appends., notes, biblio., index. $44.99. ISBN: 1107194598

How Not to Run a War

A retired British lieutenant general, now a university instructor in defense studies, Kiszely’s look at the Norwegian Campaign of 1940 is less about the troop movements and fire fights and much more about the “paper battles” in cabinet rooms and headquarters over policy, grand strategy, logistics, and planning, all of which he finds wanting.

Kiszely points out that the most critical problem with this campaign was that most of the senior officers of state had little military knowledge, and even less experience, barring Winston Churchill, the then First Lord of the Admiralty, who himself did not turn in a stellar performance, largely in his eagerness to get at the enemy. There were all sorts of problems.

The expedition consisted of British, French, and Polish troops, who would have to go into action alongside Norwegians, and no real arrangements for liaison among them. Only half the troops had been properly trained, and few had seen combat. Intelligence was sketchy, even within the British forces inter-service cooperation was poor, and there virtually no dedicated amphibious equipment, not to mention a coherent amphibious doctrine. In addition, the expedition had to operate on a shoe string at the end of a long over sea line of communications, and in a threatre in which the enemy had air superiority.

Despite these shortages and problems, a divided cabinet approved the hastily organized operation.

Kiszely’s description of the actual operations is clear, covering both Allied and German operations, and quite readable. In the end, the expedition had some impressive successes (e.g., the Norwegian sinking of the heavy cruiser Blucher, the naval battles at Narvik), but overall the campaign ended disastrously, in part due to the fact that part-way through the campaign, the Germans began overrunning France. He notes that the disaster did lead to important improvements in inter-service cooperation, the formulation of a coherent amphibious doctrine, with Churchill’s establishment of a Combined Operations headquarters, and the development of new equipment, though he oddly omits the adoption of the “command ship”, a result of the problems that resulted when various commanders and staffs were housed aboard warships that were conducting operations.

Kiszely ends Anatomy of a Campaign, a volume in the series “Cambridge Military Histories”, with some remarks on politico-military decision making that still apply, making this a good read for anyone interested in war planning.


Note: Anatomy of a Campaign is also available in several e-editions.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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