Supplying the British Army in the Second World War

2020-06-05

By Janet Macdonald

This is a very nice hardback book on a subject that does not get enough coverage, ever….. the supply and support of armies. In this particular book Janet McDonalds takes us along to the humongous efforts that were needed to keep the British armed forces and their allies supplied. I read an astounding book many years ago about the logistics required of modern war (Operation Desert Storm in this case). That was an eye-opener and the book claims it to be the biggest logistic operation ever. But I am not so sure…. Imagine a similar job but for a GLOBAL conflict, with troops dispersed through the far east, Africa, England, and later Europe. And this is only about the British effort….. the American allies added their own operations after they entered the conflict too.

Mind you, this is NOT an easy to read book. Because there are tons and tons of facts and data to consume. That doesn’t make it less of a gem in any way, but I had to put it down from time to time just to digest things.

There are many different subjects covered, and many of them have side stories again. Like all the various ‘political’ decisions that sometimes drove the practical (or impractical) side of the supply chain. And the very interesting part of all the different storage areas and production and repair facilities in England that were steering the global effort. And all of that being in England, it is also important to realize what effects this had on the local population. In terms of work, but also in terms of hardship. Sometimes entire villages were evacuated because of the need for space. Agricultural lands were confiscated to build supply dumps on…. and later to arrange for the troop build-up prior to the landings in Normandy.

In the beginning the entire supporting administrative organization was totally inadequate of course. Who would ever (want to) predict a war like the one that developed, and who would organize a huge organization in peacetime, with nothing to do. So when the war evolved the supporting organizations had to grow, diversify, split, and grow more…. Reading about it one’s head dazzles with the many different bureaus, committees, and organizations.

The book is divided into many chapters, each dealing with a specific subject (although sometimes they get intertwined), such as Planning, Movements and Transportation, Armaments, POL (Petrol, Oil and Lubricants), Maps and Surveying and many more. All of these very different disciplines and areas were complicated in itself but had to be synchronized and shared with each other.

Also interesting to read is the sometimes disconnect with what the planners and purchasers in England did, and what the commanders in the field actually needed. There was some interesting conflict there.

Generally when one thinks about war and the operations of armies, one thinks of the battles, the troops, the weapons, commanders and strategy. But behind the front line, all the way back to the homeland, there are activities to keep the troops in the frontline effective and supported. Not only the supply of weapons, ammo and fuel. Think of the food, the water, medication and medical troops, communication, engineering, police, managing prisoners, the population in the area, transport of all sorts of materials and loads….. think of the specialists gathering and analyzing information, making maps, designing plans. Think of all the administrative personnel needed to organize all this.

The number of tasks and skills needed behind the frontline and outside of the frontline units is baffling.

Janet Macdonald has done a great job bringing all this in perspective and we should be thankful for it.

The book is available directly from the publisher Pen & Sword Publishing, right here.

Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Pages: 223
Illustrations: 30
ISBN: 9781526725332
Published: 18th March 2020

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