Musings on the worlds of aviation, military and international affairs.
With reviews of books that cover these topics
Horrocks – the General who led from the front
Philip Warner Pen & Sword, 2018
This is a biography of the forgotten general, which was first published in 1984. Indeed the author died in 2000, and Horrocks in 1985. I vaguely remember as a child Horrocks’ infamous documentaries on ITV, where he explained the story behind many WW2 battles, in the majority of which he had been a participant. This was but one postscript to a fascinating Army career.
Warner was helped by Horrocks having penned two autobiographies, and indeed later having good recall of his war years. This means that the book reads sometimes more like a commentary than a narrative.
Brought up with the Army ethos (his father was a defence medic of some renown), Horrocks shone neither at school nor at Sandhurst. He entered the militia battalion of the Middlesex at the outbreak of WW1. His rise through the staff ranks during WW2 was rapid, and possibly the zenith of his career was under Montgomery’s command in North Africa. The strongest sub-text in this volume is Horrocks’ admiration for the Field Marshal, both at the time and in later years when the latter's star was somewhat tarnished.
Horrocks liked to visit his men wherever they were – including the front line - so there are plenty of examples of courage under fire. Sir Brian was himself injured on more than one occasion, including being strafed by a Messerschmitt (but then Rommel suffered at the hands of the RAF), and his long-term health was in decline ever after.
The book is entertaining enough. However it really needs updating. There are one or two instances where it is plain Warner did not have the full picture:
“Unfortunately the official history of British Intelligence covering this phase of the war has not yet been published…” – well it has now.
The chapters on Arnhem are quite interesting – I wonder if Beevor has used this material in his forthcoming book on the campaign?
There are one or two very amusing anecdotes – I particularly liked the one about the 2 captured Germans who turned out to be Tibetans; a British officer who happened to speak their language gleaned that they had been captured by the Wehrmacht, given rifles and conscripted. Not understanding a word of German, they had no idea that they had fallen into WW2!
So a readable volume, but one which was very cheap to produce, and the subject matter deserves better treatment.