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First edition. War at the Top by James Leasor based on the Experiences of General Sir Leslie Hollis. 306 pp. With 14 b/w photographic illustrations. This is a book about the people who took the decisions on which victory rested in the Second World War. What happened behind the scenes at the great international conferences and the daily top-level meetings at Whitehall. General Sir Leslie Hollis was Assistant Secretary to the War Cabinet and the Chiefs of Staff Committee and was privy to all the great decisions. A little browning on half-title page only. Black cloth boards with gilt lettering on spine. Top and bottom of spine and corners very lightly rubbed. Overall condition VG+. In VG red illustrated dust wrapper.
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On Dec 30 2020, Eucalyption fine Secondhand Books said:
This was not quite the book I was expecting it to be. General Hollis, as described on the dust jacket of my copy, was "Assistant Secretary to the War Cabinet and the Chiefs of Staff Committee, and was priveliged to sit in at most of the major policy discussions where the great decisions were made..." so I was expecting a detailed and incisive look at how these high-level committees worked, and the back-and-forth that went on before decisions were approved by the Government.
Instead, War at the Top reads like a fireside chat between Leasor and Hollis, where Hollis expounds on the personalities of those Generals and leaders that he dealt with, tells some juicy stories, and gives his opinions on the war, and politics, with a particular British conservatism. So, in many ways, this book left me wanting.
Having stated that, it was an enjoyable book to read, precisely because it was like sitting around a fire enjoying a whisky with a person full of anecdotes. No doubt with the benefit of considerable hind-sight, Hollis shows us how gullible Roosevelt was in believing Stalin, and how un-strategic the American top brass were in their failure to understand what their designs meant for post-war Europe. Much of this book's discussion of strategy has to do with the timing and location of the Second Front, and the battle between Churchill with his plans for a Mediterranean front centred on Italy and the Balkans, versus the American plan for a frontal attack on France. Leasor and Hollis paint Churchill as being strategically smart, but too scattered in his promotion of all sorts of schemes for attacks on Norway, Rhodes, or whatever else might have been flavour of the day with him.
The first part of the book bemoans the state of preparedness of Great Britain for war, and the efforts of the likes of Lord Beaverbrook to build up production quickly, against much opposition from not only the Labour Party, but also the Civil Service. Hollis is very much on Beaverbrook's side, bemoaning the state of unionism in England, and the unwillingness to go all out for victory. He also looks at the British commitment of arms to Russia, which came at a time when Britain itself was precariously short of arms and armour, and he shows how Churchill and Brooke clashed horns over this - politics versus military needs. Needless to say, the politics nearly always wins.
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