Allan Mallinson

An ancient stalemate may provide lessons today

History doesn’t have to be ‘useful’ to be compelling – witness, say, Henry VIII and his six wives. Adrian Goldsworthy, however, a considerable historian of ancient Rome as well as a prolific novelist of those times and the Napoleonic (of which there is obvious connection), is at pains to emphasise the profit to be derived

The pacifists of the 1930s deserve greater understanding

As I’ve occasionally come to think is the case with The Spectator, this book is perhaps best begun at the back. Otherwise it might be taken for niche history – applied historical moral philosophy, say, or an aspect of ‘the people’s war’ usually overshadowed by the manifest imperative to defeat the unparalleled evil of Nazism.

Can the fiasco of the Dieppe Raid really be excused?

In my mother’s final days we had a long conversation about the second world war. I asked if she’d ever thought we might lose. ‘No,’ she snapped. ‘I knew we were too clever for them.’ The chief of the imperial general staff, Sir Alan Brooke, had been less sanguine. On 31 March 1942 he confided

Why did Hitler’s imperial dreams take Stalin by surprise?

The most extraordinary thing, still, about Operation Barbarossa is the complete surprise the Wehrmacht achieved. In the early hours of 22 June 1941 the largest invasion force in history, ultimately some three million men, struck at the Soviet Union on a front of nearly 2,000 miles. When Stalin was woken with the news, he wouldn’t

Old men remember: reliving the horror of Tobruk

‘Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,/ But he’ll remember, with advantages,/ What feats he did that day.’ Peter Hart quotes the St Crispin’s Day speech aptly, for as an oral historian at the Imperial War Museum, he’s done his bit over the years to record memories. By the 1980s the IWM’s sound archive

Break-out and betrayal in Occupied Europe

Für dich, Tommy, ist der Krieg vorbei. However, many British servicemen, officers especially, didn’t want their war to be over. Or, at least, didn’t want to spend it in a PoW camp. One of the enduring myths of the second world war is that officers had a statutory obligation to escape, but nothing in King’s

Their finest hour

On 22 January last year, the entrance whiteboard at London Underground’s Dollis Hill carried a brief factual statement: On this day in history On the 22–23 January 1879 in Natal, South Africa, a small British garrison named Rorke’s Drift was attacked by 4,000 Zulu warriors. The garrison was successfully defended by just over 150 British

Their dark materials

Laws and sausages, we know, are better not seen in the making; and neither are ‘black ops’. Waterloo may have been won on the playing fields of Eton, and Trafalgar on the dunes near Burnham Thorpe, but Britain’s secret war against Napoleon was won in less wholesome places. ‘This is a book about propaganda, spying

Fighting other people’s battles

What’s the point of a cover if not to judge a book by? One look at the image on the dustjacket of From Byron to Bin Laden, one of my favourite statues in Rome — Anita Garibaldi, pistol in one hand, babe in the other, galloping side-saddle to escape an ambush — and I said

Wise old war horse

It is always a delight to drive the country roads of Hampshire to see the man known throughout the army simply as ‘Dwin’ — Field Marshal Lord Bramall. Until quite recently, I was always greeted at the door in person by the last of the Chiefs of the Defence Staff (CDS) who had really seen

The German Lion of Africa

What’s going on with book reviews? Here is the Pulitizer prizewinning (for ‘criticism’) Michael Dirda in the Washington Post, on this book’s cover: Let me say straight out that if all military histories were as thrilling and well written as Robert Gaudi’s African Kaiser, I might give up reading fiction and literary bio-graphy… Gaudi writes

A fighting chance

‘We remember it not only for the rain that fell, the mud that weighed down the living and swallowed the dead, but also for the courage and bravery of the men who fought here.’ The Prince of Wales was in good voice on Monday at the centenary commemorations of the battle of Passchendaele — more

Northern exposure | 6 July 2017

Amid the shambles that was the Anglo-French campaign in Norway in April and May 1940, a French officer observed that ‘the British have planned this campaign on the lines of a punitive expedition against the Zulus, but unhappily we and the British are in the position of the Zulus’. A month later, many British officers