Archibald Wavell: The Life and Times of an Imperial Servant by Adrian Fort - review by Andrew Roberts

Andrew Roberts

An Officer and A Gentleman

Archibald Wavell: The Life and Times of an Imperial Servant


Jonathan Cape 512pp £25

There used to be a cruel quip about the Second World War that while the Russians defeated Germany, and the United States defeated Japan, the British defeated … er, Italy. It has a smidgeon of truth in it, at least up to El Alamein, but it was certainly true that on land and sea Britain did score some fine victories over Mussolini’s would-be New Roman legions of Africa. Archibald Wavell achieved the best of these, with victories at Sidi Barrani, Bardia, Tobruk, Derna, Benghazi and especially the battle of Beda Fomm, prompting his prep school to note laconically in the Old Boys section of the Summer Fields Magazine: ‘Wavell has done well in Africa.’

This well-researched, well-written and highly positive new biography of Wavell quotes from his own report of Operation Compass, stating how: ‘During the two months from 7 December [1940] to 7 February [1941], the Army of the Nile had advanced 500 miles. They had beaten and destroyed an Italian army of

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