Churchill, Master & Commander, by Anthony Tucker-Jones

Rupert Hague-Holmes

The new book on the great man's strategic outlook from the Victorian era to the Second World War.
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There are many published books about Winston Churchill, but this is not yet another one. It is a quite remarkable analysis of, and insight into, Churchill’s personality traits and experiences, as a young soldier and journalist during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the impact and influence of those traits and experiences on Churchill when Prime Minister during the Second World War. It is easy to read and, as befits its author’s background as an intelligence officer, well researched and laid out. Churchill, Master & Commander

Churchill, Master & Commander would represent a great Christmas gift to any aspiring student of Churchill’s leadership style and quirky personality. Its quality is augmented by useful maps and its bite-size chapters, each covering a particular theme, rather than historical sequence. The author cleverly draws out several attributes from Churchill’s early years as a soldier-journalist – his impetuosity, willingness to take extreme personal risk and his aggression and desperation to be involved in any action. He then overlays Churchill’s experiences, as a soldier, with his early years in public office. For example, his exposure to the Boer ‘Kommando’ guerrilla tactics during the Boer War, the disaster of the Gallipoli campaign, in 1915-6, when First Lord of the Admiralty, and his support for the aerial ‘police bombing’ by the RAF of recalcitrant tribes on the North West Frontier and Middle East, during the 1920s and 1930s. Tucker-Jones then highlights how this experience shaped, and contributed to, his leadership style during the Second World War. Good examples of the drawing together of these themes are the creation of the Commando units (based on the Boer experience) to conduct raids on occupied Europe and ‘set it ablaze’, and the carpet-bombing by RAF Bomber Command of German cities – initially supported by Churchill during the early years as a means of hitting back at the Germans.

That is the uniqueness of Tucker-Jones’ book. Not a sycophantic biography, it is a balanced and thorough analysis of why Churchill was so successful as Prime Minister, particularly during the early days of the Second World War when Britain stood alone. Churchill’s desire to be in the thick of any action meant he meddled continuously in the tactical execution of the war – much to his generals’ frustration. Tucker-Jones unashamedly points out many of Churchill’s failings – particularly, his poor judgement calls: his support for Edward VIII’s desire to marry Wallis Simpson; his misreading of Japanese intentions during the Far East conflicts with China in the 1930s; the disastrous raid on Dieppe in 1942; and the costly military intervention to support Greece in 1941 – these last two operations carried out at Churchill’s direct instigation.

However, as Tucker-Jones points out, despite these failings, Churchill’s leadership was about optimism and defiance – when it was most needed – and his ability to inspire, motivate and engage a country to fight a war, which initially seemed a lost cause. That resilience was Churchill’s real leadership legacy. This is a thoroughly recommended book and important to appreciate its focus and scope as a welcome addition to the Churchill library.

Churchill Master & Commander is out now and is published by Osprey.