Combat and Morale in the North African Campaign: The Eighth Army and the Path to El Alamein

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Military professionals and theorists have long understood the relevance of morale in war. Montgomery, the victor at El Alamein, said, following the battle, that 'the more fighting I see, the more I am convinced that the big thing in war is morale'. Jonathan Fennell, in examining the North African campaign through the lens of morale, challenges conventional explanations for Allied success in one of the most important and controversial campaigns in British and Commonwealth history. He introduces new sources, notably censorship summaries of soldiers' mail, and an innovative methodology that assesses troop morale not only on the evidence of personal observations and official reports but also on contemporaneously recorded rates of psychological breakdown, sickness, desertion and surrender. He shows for the first time that a major morale crisis and stunning recovery decisively affected Eighth Army's performance during the critical battles on the Gazala and El Alamein lines in 1942.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"[This] book is a tremendous work of scholarship. It is an archivally driven study that impresses the reader on nearly every page with the breadth and depth of its analysis. In many respects it sets a new standard for the study of the British and Commonwealth armies in the Second World War and the study of morale more generally in the twentieth century."
James Kitchen, English Historical Review

"[A] path-breaking study … Through heroic labour in the archives in the UK and overseas, Fennell has constructed a richly detailed picture … This is an important book by a very promising historian."
Gary Sheffield, BBC History Magazine

"A groundbreaking study … This is a major contribution to the historiography of the war in the desert."
Book Review Supplement, National Army Museum

"… a model of primary investigation into a subject extensively wrapped in supposition and myth … The book makes a significant contribution not only to the history of the desert war but also to the methodology of military morale."
Dan Todman, Twentieth-Century British History

"A fine piece of scholarship … The success of Fennell’s work rests on … the scholarly effort and rigour poured into it through extensive archival investigations carried out in the UK, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa."
Craig Stockings, Journal of Military History

"[Fennell] marshals a considerable amount of evidence … [and] has made a major contribution to the debate over the desert war in this valuable study of the significance of morale in warfare."
Martin Kitchen, Cercles: Revue Pluridisciplinaire du Monde Anglophone

"… Fennell has made a decided contribution to the literature of military history."
Stuart McClung, H-War (

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521192705
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 2/28/2011
  • Series: Cambridge Military Histories Series
  • Pages: 362
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Jonathan Fennell is Lecturer in Defence Studies with King's College London, at the Airmen's Command Squadron, Royal Air Force, Halton.

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Table of Contents

Introduction; 1. Morale crisis and recovery; 2. Technology, firepower and morale; 3. Quality of manpower and morale; 4. Environment, provisions and morale; 5. Welfare, education and morale; 6. Leadership, command and morale; 7. Training and morale; 8. In search of a theory to explain combat morale in the desert; Conclusion.

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