by Peter Whelan
Warwick, Eng.: Helion / Philadelphia: Casemate, 2018. Pp. 180+.
Illus., maps, append, notes, biblio., index. $35.00 paper. ISBN: 1912390906
The Retreat of the BEF’s Rear Echelon During the Disaster of 1940
In Useless Mouths Whelan, a retired physician with an advanced degree in history, does two interconnected things. In his introduction to this somewhat curiously titled work, he gives us an overview of the history of the supply services of the British Army from the efficient system created during the Peninsular War, the disastrous failure of the Crimean War, and on through the subsequent revival through the Boer War and the First World War.
Whelan then turns to his main subject, the performance of the supply services during the Campaign in France in 1939-1940 of the British “line of communication” (LOC) troops, men often called “Useless Mouths” or worse by the combat troops. During the Allied retreat and particularly after the end of the Dunkirk operation, LOC troops actually constituted the bulk of the British forces remaining in France south of the Somme.
Despite being ill-prepared and poorly equipped for combat, by officers with little combat experience, these troops put up an impressively effective rear guard action. Whelan makes important several observations that help explain the reasons for this. One brigadier, the Jewish career officer Archibald Beauman, had acquired an impressive combat record in the Great War, before moving over to the supply services, and proved invaluable in organizing ad hoc combat teams and directing the rear guard action. In addition, because the British Army was fully motorized, including its rear-echelon elements, the retreating supply columns could successfully disengage and retreat faster than the Germans could pursue, given their largely horse-drawn transport.
Useless Mouths offers a good look at a very neglected aspect of the campaign of 1940.
Note: Useless Mouths is also available in several e-editions.
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