by John Grehan
Barnsley, Eng.: Frontline / Philadelphia: Casemate, 2018. Pp. xii, 332 .
Illus., maps, appends., tables, notes, biblio., index. $39.95. ISBN: 1526724847
Saving the BEF
Grehan, who has written extensively on British military history, and was an editor of The BEF in France 1939-1940: Manning the Front through to the Dunkirk Evacuation (2014), gives us a very detailed account of the Dunkirk operation.
Grehan has the knack of managing frequent smooth transitions from the decision makers huddled around maps in London to the crews of the warships and transports and “small ships” to the men on the beaches and to those holding the line. He pays more attention than most authors on the subject to the troops holding the perimeter, covering the defense of Boulogne, Calais, and other ports as well as the main front. Grehan makes an important point often overlooked in accounts of the campaign or the evacuation, noting that the BEF had been only lightly engaged prior to the collapse of the Allied position in northern France and Belgium, and never actually fully engaged the enemy.
While Grehan offers some coverage of the French, this is primarily a British story. His most serious omission is neglecting to address the stand of the French First Army at Lille, which held off the Germans from May 21st until the 29th, in the process suffering some 60-percent casualties; this stand allowed the evacuation to proceed, so that over 330,000 troops – two-thirds British and a third French – were able to get to safety.
Nevertheless, despite this slighting of the French role, and the need for a few more maps, this is a good, detailed treatment of the Dunkirk operation.
Note: Dunkirk is also available in several e-editions.