by Peter Dye
Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2018. Pp. xx, 448+.
Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $44.95. ISBN: 1682473589
An Able Officer Wronged
Dye, author of a number of works in military and aviation history, gives us the first ever biography of Robert Brooke-Popham (1878-1953), who led the British Far East Command during the Japanese onslaught in the opening months of the Pacific War.
Dye not only examines Brooke-Popham’s life, career, and unfortunate fate, but also gives us insightful looks at the evolution of British military aviation from its origins into the Second World War and the development of British strategy from the Great War through the early stages of the Second World War. He reveals Brooke-Popham to have been a capable airman with a string of impressive achievements from the earliest days of military aviation. During the First World War, Brooke-Popham development of the RAF’s logistical and pilot training programs, and in the interwar period laid the foundations for the air defense of Britain and Fighter Command, even serving a stint as a colonial governor.
But Brooke-Popham’s reputation is tainted by the belief that, as theatre commander in South-east Asia in 1941-1942, he bungled the defense of Malaya and Singapore, leading to the greatest disaster in British military history. Dye argues, cogently, that the disaster was inevitable, a result of Britain’s scarce resources, an optimistic strategic analysis, a lack of “jointness”, and personality clashes, coupled with the prevailing contempt for the Japanese. These, combined with desperate attempts to reinforce the Far East even as Singapore was clearly doomed, made the disaster even worse, and someone had to bear the burden; Brooke-Popham ended his military career commanding a air training program.
“The Man Who Took the Rap”, a volume in the Naval Institute series 'History of Military Aviation', is an important read not only for those interested in opening rounds of the Asia-Pacific war, the early history of military aviation, and strategic planning.
Note: “The Man Who Took the Rap” is also available in several e-editions.