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Wavell on Allenby

ISSUE:  Summer 1941

Allenby: A Study in Greatness. By General Sir Archibald Percival Wavell. Oxford University Press. $3.00.

What we would like best to read from the pen of General Sir Archibald Wavell would be a book full of his own ideas on today’s warfare rather than yesterday’s. It is, of course, yesterday’s war— two of the most brilliantly conducted parts of it, the work of Lord Plumer’s Second Army staff in France and the Palestine Campaign—with which General Wavell chiefly deals in “Allenby: A Study in Greatness.” Actually the author does not give us a complete life of Allenby, for the present war interrupted his work as originally planned. But the book does carry Allenby’s career through to the end of the World War and thus tells of the things for which he is mainly remembered; and it gives us at the same time an insight into the mind of the author himself, in whom we are bound to be deeply interested now.

I can agree with General Wavell that Lord Allenby was a master of desert warfare and that we must number him among the great military leaders; this must be conceded, despite his uncontrollable temper which kept him from getting as close as a great leader should to the hearts and minds of the sensitive men who sometimes became his subordinates. I can also strongly concur in General Wavell’s belief, exemplified in what he writes of Lord Allenby himself, that every province of knowledge has something within its boundaries worth exploration by the mind of a military commander,

In Palestine it was an army far weaker than his own which Allenby overran through superb planning and attention to administrative detail. He had no experience there of defeat or near defeat, but there is reason to believe that he would have risen to equal stature as a leader had his own been the weaker, the hard-pressed force. For he had the moral fortitude and the flexibility of intellect that the leader of such an army must possess.

From Allenby, first as a member of his World War staff and, two decades later, as an able writer of his biography, General Wavell has learned the high attributes of a leader, There is much evidence of this in his book. There has been still more in his conduct of the Mediterranean campaign, By the time this review appears, the world will know whether the author of “Allenby: A Study in Greatness” is likewise a great leader in war—both in offensive and defensive campaigns, and both against a weaker foe and a stronger.


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