Graham T. Clews, "Churchill’s Phoney War: A Study in Folly and Frustration" (Naval Institute Press, 2019)


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Given the overwhelming amount of books printed in the past ten years on various (usually rather obscure) aspects of Sir Winston Churchill’s glorious career, it is of great interest that so little has been written about his activity during the Phoney War phase of the Second World War (1 September 1939-10 May 1940). It is this dearth of scholarship on Churchill and the Phoney War, that Australian scholar Dr. Graham T. Clews, author of a previous study on Churchill and the Dardanelle campaign, aims to remedy in his book: Churchill’s Phoney War: A study in Folly and Frustration (Naval Institute Press, 2019).

In a truly interesting and well-written book, Dr. Clews examines the early months of World War II when Winston Churchill’s ability to lead Britain in the fight against the Nazis was being tested. Dr. Clews explores how Churchill, as First Lord of the Admiralty, proposed to fight the war against Hitler, with particular attention given to his attempts to impel the Royal Navy, the British War Cabinet, and the French, toward a more aggressive prosecution of the conflict. This is no mere retelling of events but a deep analysis of the decision-making process and Churchill’s involvement in it. This book shares extensive new insights into well-trodden territory and original analysis of the unexplored, with each chapter offering material which challenges to some degree the conventional wisdom on Churchill during this phase of his career. Dr. Clews reassesses several important issues of the Phoney War period including: Churchill’s involvement in the anti-U-boat campaign; his responsibility for the failures of the Norwegian Campaign; his attitude to Britain’s aerial bombing campaign and the notion of his unfettered “bulldog” spirit; his relationship with Neville Chamberlain; and his succession to the premiership.

A man of considerable strengths and many shortcomings, the Churchill that emerges in Dr. Clews’ portrayal is dynamic and complicated personality. Churchill’s Phoney War adds a well-balanced and much-needed history of the Phoney War while scrupulously examining both Churchill’s successes and his manifold failures.

Charles Coutinho Ph. D. of the Royal Historical Society, received his doctorate from New York University. His area of specialization is 19th and 20th-century European, American diplomatic and political history. He has written recently for Chatham House’s International Affairs.

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