Brigadier Allan Mallinson served as an officer in the Army for 35 years, rising to command the 13th/18th Royal Hussars (Queen Mary’s Own). He is also the author of the Matthew Hervey series of historical novels and a respected writer on defence matters. These experiences and talents are brought to bear in this crisply written military history of the British Army.
A firm believer in the regimental system, Mallinson pays close attention to the Restoration of Charles II and the formation of those early regiments that, with some modifications of name, are still with us today. Historical continuity is a binding thread, and he maintains that the victories of the past have played a key role in ‘raising the bar’ for succeeding generations, and that ‘no army has so consistently fielded such all-round good soldiers ... as the British’. This understandable enthusiasm for the British fighting man does, however, tend to accentuate the victories, downplay setbacks and ignore other, broader issues in the Army’s history.
Another guiding force for Mallinson is the British Army’s long-standing operational resilience, the ability to recover after initial setbacks that might have crippled other armies. Through many well-chosen examples he puts forward a compelling argument, although in the process he sometimes overstates his case and makes some unfair national comparisons, not least with the French on the Marne in 1914 (surely, one of the great recoveries in military history) and the German General Staff (never ‘Teutonic’, typically flexible, highly durable).
But there are many strengths to be found in The Making of the British Army, especially in the final chapters charting the progress of the Army from Northern Ireland into the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. This, of course, is the period that Mallinson has had direct experience as a soldier and writer. He outlines the failures that took place in Iraq with frankness and clarity, and poses pertinent questions on the conduct of the war in Afghanistan, underscoring the fundamental problem of poorly defined objectives and a lack of sufficient resources. Overall, this is an enjoyable yet thought-provoking book. The publishers have provided some highly attractive picture inserts and several good maps (although they may wish to re-caption the 1914/1918 battle lines on p. 290).
Bantam Press, 560 pages, £20, h/b
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