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  You are in: Home > History > A Very British Experience  

A Very British Experience
Coalition, Defence and Strategy in the Second World War

Andrew Stewart

Andrew Stewart is Senior Lecturer at the Defence Studies Department, King–s College London based at the Joint Services Command and Staff College. His first book, Empire Lost: Britain, the Dominions and the Second World War, was published in September 2008 by Continuum. His next projects are centred on the British Commonwealth military effort in East Africa during the Second World War and the North African campaign.


In terms of the Second World War and Britain’s wartime strategy three elements deserve close scrutiny: the paramount importance of defending the British mainland and its population; the challenges of building and maintaining coalitions and alliances; and the central role the African continent assumed in all British strategic planning. In considering each of these this collection of essays will also reflect more generally upon the critical role played by Winston Churchill before concluding with a review of the degree to which these themes underpinned the British experience of the conflict.
… Topics addressed include the British Empire Air Training Plan; the crisis in 1940 and plans to defend Britain; the campaign fought in East Africa; the recall of General Alan Cunningham from Libya in 1941; and the role of the Eastern Fleet during its temporary basing in Africa.

Andrew Stewart provides a compelling chapter on the loss of the Tobruk garrison in June 1942 – one of the worst military disasters suffered by the British Empire during the Second World War. The essay on Tobruk demonstrates how all three defining elements of wartime experience converged: the loss of public confidence about how the war was being conducted; its impact on the relationship with the Union of South Africa, a key partner in the Dominion wartime coalition; and the absolute necessity that existed for deep strategic planning on the African continent – subsequently to be realized at the final battle at El Alamein.

Introduction: A Very British Experience

1. Challenges of Coalition Management: The ‘Empire Air Training Scheme’ Negotiations

2. The Other ‘Battle for Britain’: Muddling Along on the Home Front

3. First Victory: Forgotten Success in East Africa

4. The Struggle of Command: Operation Crusader and the Failure of British Leadership

5. Twelve Tumultuous Months: Britain, the Dominions and the Politics of the Widening War

6. At War with ‘the Old Empire’: The Often Difficult Alliance with the United States

7. Military Defeat, Political Crisis: The Loss of the Tobruk Garrison

8. The Worst Case: The Second ‘Battle’ for Kenya

9. Blood and Treasure: Britain and the Second World War



“Andrew Stewart’s latest captures brilliantly the latest scholarship of the field and sheds new light on how Winston Churchill led Britain and the Commonwealth throughout the war. Whether it is putting overlooked campaigns in Africa in the correct perspective or demonstrating how coalition warfare especially Britain’s relationship with the United States – affected Britain’s postwar status, A Very British Experience is an important addition to our fundamental understanding of World War II. A remarkable achievement.”
Kevin W. Farrell, PhD,
Colonel, U.S. Army Chief, Military History Division
United States Military Academy
West Point

“Andrew Stewart has brought a fresh eye to the apparently familiar subject of Britain's role in the Second World War, and in the process has produced a gem of a book. In particular, his critical reappraisal of Britain's '1940 moment' is historical writing of a very high order indeed.” Gary Sheffield, Professor of War Studies, University of Birmingham

“The nine chapters address various aspects of the war, notably defense of Britain, intra-Commonwealth politics, diplomacy, and mobilization, the protracted and overlooked campaign against Italian East Africa as well as the much better documented desert war and the political crisis sparked by the fall of Tobruk, and the burden of the war on Britain’s purse. A mite disjointed at times, as some of the chapters first appeared as journal articles, A Very British Experience will be useful for those interested in the Second World War, as it throws new light on the inner tensions within Britain and its Empire and Commonwealth that helped shape events.” New York Military Affairs Symposium

“Contrary to the popular image of Britain “standing alone” against Germany during the dark years of 1940–42, Britain stood with the strength of the self-governing Dominions (Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa), as well as the Empire. Concentrating on the early war years and the fighting on the African continent – including the often ignored victories in East Africa as well as the defeats in North Africa – this study persuasively argues that Canada, Australia and South Africa pursued its own national interests when dealing with Britain in what was very much a coalition war. The Dominions went to war against Germany willingly but not blindly. In a series of essays, Stewart discusses Canada’s complicated negotiations with Britain over the establishment of the Empire Air Training Scheme; Prime Minister Arthur Fadden’s resolve to relieve Australian troops during the siege of Tobruk, and John Curtin’s well founded anxiety over Japan in late 1941; and the limitations and delicacies of employing South African troops, particularly following the fall of Tobruk in mid-1942. Britain’s fledgling alliance with the United States is also discussed. More than a battle or campaign narrative, this is readable, scholarly reassessment of Britain and the Dominions at war.” Reviewed by Karl James in Wartime

Reviewed in War in History (Sage Publications, 23(2), 2016)


Publication Details

Hardback ISBN:
Page Extent / Format:
300 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Release Date:
August 2012
  Illustrated:   Yes
Hardback Price:
£55.00 / $74.95

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