by Sir DESMOND MORTON
Wavell: Supreme Commander 1941-1943 by John Connell and Michael Roberts (Collins 45s.) THE outstanding success of .1John Connell's first book about Field-Marshal Earl Wavell will not have been forgotten. Soon after publication its author died: but not before he had collected material arid, indeed, written all but two chapters of the sequel which is published on Monday. This deals with Wave11's life and actions from July 1941 on appointment as Commander-in-Chief in India, whereafter he became the first of all "Supre mos" in the Far East or anywhere else, until he succeeded Lord Linlithgow as Viceroy, in 1943.
Brigadier Michael Roberts has completed the last two chapters and edited the whole, but modestly declines title to authorship. He has done a fine job of work. The book is beautifully got up, with adequate maps and 21 excellent photographs. The reader is advised, before he dips too deeply into the text, to study the
valuable "Chronological Table" at the end, for which inspiration great credit is due-presumably to Brigadier Roberts.
This Table shows at a glance the major events taking place contemporaneously during the two years concerned, in the different theatres of war, helping to explain the atmosphere in which many telegrams and reports, quoted in the text, were written and why certain action was taken or not taken. One important contribution of this book as a whole is to demonstrate that if a country is fighting on several fronts. events on one front may deeply affect strategy on others, whence it is essential for the central overall Command to keep all local Commanders informed of the changing situation and vice versa with all possible speed.
Note should also be taken of the Directive, given in full, appointing Wavell "Supreme Commander" within a definite area over all Armed Forces of Australia, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States; an essential step for the good conduct of the war, but one which added to the Supremo's burdens as other Supremos were to discover later since he had thereafter four separate Governments to deal with instead of one. Some of these consequent difficulties are revealed with moderation
and no bitterness in the book itself.
In addition to being a great soldier and a great Commander, Woven was also a great gentleman; a fact which emerges even from his own private notes, where other
Commanders or political personages are concerned. The story of his brief encounter with Chiang-Kai-Shek and Madame Chiang bears this out. Yet he was a man of very definite opinions. His charm, politeness and imperturbability nearly always turned his adversaries and detractors into friends and admirers, especially as concerned other military Commanders. For a while he was even on cordial terms with the U.S. General Stilwell, whose soubriquet was "Vinegar Joe."
He was perhaps less successful with some political personages, who distrusted his ability; possibly mistaking his urbanity, and an absence of vituperation in his written or spoken word, as betraying a lack of decision. None of his critics and denigrators seemed to realise that, until the end of his service in command, he was never allotted forces adequate to the tasks he was called upon to perform; despite his firm, polite messages pointing this out and asking for reinforcements of men or material. It is saddening that when, in 1943, his careful planning for a "come-back" in the Far East could be launched. the credit should forcedly go elsewhere.
The discerning reader can hardly avoid realising that relations between Wavell and the British Prime Minister were
something less than easy. Neither of these great men has openly indicated a reason for this. One is perhaps reminded that Napoleon declared his detestation of an "unlucky" General. Any Tack of luck attaching itself to Wavell lay in the nature of the job he was appointed to do, and which, though seeing dearly the virtual impossibility of early victory, he quietly accepted, deeming it to be his moral duty to do so. The fact that by his subsequent conduct of an impossible situation, he not only skilfully avoided final disaster, but undoubtedly made future victory possible, seems to have escaped notice. Through all, he remained imperturbable and serenely confident. The true explanation probably resides in the mystery of personality, which must soon become apparent to anyone claiming to know both men.
The book ends effectively on Wavell's appointment as Viceroy an event which automatically set a term to his military career. One may speculate whether this appointment had, to some extent, this idea in view. Here, fittingly, one may quote from the end of this truly wonderful book: "When he looked back on his military career, it was not of himself that in the end he thought but of others."