Timely given the recent release of Christopher Nolan’s epic film “Dunkirk” is Alone: Britain, Churchill, and Dunkirk: Defeat Into Victory by prolific author and long-time book editor, Michael Korda. His gripping account is both a history of the early months of World War II and personal memoir wherein Korda tells the story of his Hungarian Jewish family who fled their homeland in the wake of advancing Nazi armies. After settling in England, the author’s father, Vincent, along with his two brothers, Alexander and Zolton achieved prominence as talented writers and directors in the film industry. Michael’s mother was noted British film actress, Gertrude Musgrove.
Effectively related are Korda’s recollections of his English childhood, coming of age as Great Britain was drawn into maelstrom of total war. It is also a fast-paced chronicle of the epic events that transpired during the early months of the war, commencing with Germany’s invasion of Poland in September 1939; continuing with its advance into Denmark and Norway, followed by its takeover of the Lowland nations of Holland and the Netherlands. As Nazi forces continued their relentless drive westward, the fall of France appeared inevitable along with the capture and/or annihilation of a British Expeditionary Force of some 400,000 troops stranded on the French seacoast at Dunkirk.
All of this set the stage for the extraordinary developments that took place during the gloomy Spring months of 1940. The British government appeared adrift. The highly controversial Winston Churchill had just been made Prime Minister, taking over from the discredited Neville Chamberlin who had disgraced himself and the nation at the infamous 1938 Munich Conference by sacrificing Czechoslovakia to Germany in a clumsy, ill-conceived effort to avoid war.
Upon becoming Prime Minister, Churchill faced the immediate crisis of the stranded British Expeditionary Force. His pacifist colleagues in Parliament lead by former Prime Minister Chamberlin urged Churchill to immediately end all hostilities with Germany in an effort to secure the safe return of the British troops. Churchill quickly rejected the appeasers’ proposal, choosing, instead, a seemingly riskier option. He assembled a flotilla of military and civilian boats to cross the English Channel to rescue the stranded force. Despite being attacked by German bombers and heavy ground artillery, the British naval force succeeded. The miraculous evacuation of British forces from Dunkirk reinforced British resolve to stand firm, even in the face of an expected German invasion, which, fortunately, never took place.
Korda’s well-crafted work is based on the comprehensive research into contemporary sources, specifically official government documents and the journals of individuals involved in these dramatic events. In sum, Alone skillfully interweaves history, politics, geopolitical intrigue, military strategy, and autobiography in chronicling what proved to be a major turning point in World War II.
Newell G. Bringhurst, a retired COS Professor of History and Political Science welcomes responses and comments at n[email protected]