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About the Author:
Hugh Sebag-Montefiore is a journalist and the author of Enigma: The Battle for the Code

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Editorial Reviews

Colin Jones
The story usually is told in terms of the unlikely heroism of the small-boat owners who risked -- and often gave -- their lives in the venture, scuttling round the beaches and harbor under heavy aerial bombardment as Hitler's forces closed in on the port. In his compelling new study, Hugh Sebag-Montefiore focuses instead on what he calls "the forgotten heroes of Dunkirk," the British soldiers who -- outgunned, outnumbered and against the odds -- sought to cover the Allied army's retreat to the coast. These men, he argues, responded magnificently to the order to fight to the last man and the last bullet to help evacuate their comrades. They paid for their bravery. About 25,000 British soldiers were killed or wounded during the campaign, and more than 41,000 Britons went missing or were captured.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Sebag-Montefiore (Enigma: The Battle for the Code) exploits a gap in the voluminous Dunkirk historiography for this first-rate account of the British troops that stayed behind to protect one of history's most dramatic and timely rescues. The German blitzkrieg that swept into Western Europe in May 1940 trapped the main body of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in Belgium and scattered the demoralized French army. Cut off and with their backs to the sea, the BEF miraculously slipped the German noose and made it to Dunkirk where they were evacuated. Eschewing the traditional focus on the Royal Navy and the flotilla of private vessels that rescued the BEF, the author tells the story of "the forgotten heroes" who fought "until their ammunition ran out" to cover their comrades' retreat. Against daunting odds, they undertook countless "suicide missions... to keep the corridor to Dunkirk open." And, while "[h]ardly any... made it back to the beaches," their sacrifice saved the BEF. By the time the last ship left Dunkirk on June 2, 288,000 soldiers-including 193,000 from the BEF-had been evacuated. Drawing upon exhaustive research, the author portrays rescue in vivid, often harrowing, terms. 40 halftones, 21 maps not seen by PW. (Nov.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
The Sunday Telegraph

Sebag-Montefiore's book is a narrative triumph. I have not read a better account of many modest actions—today forgotten, as all defeats are—in which British soldiers fought painfully and hard, to check the German tide. The author has brought together scores of personal accounts to impressive, moving effect.
— Max Hastings

The Times

The greatest achievement of Hugh Sebag-Montefiore's Dunkirk: Fight to the Last Man is the masterly way he brings a wealth of fresh revelation and detail to this most familiar tale, and tells a searing story. It is both meticulous military history and a deeply moving testimony to the extraordinary personal bravery of individual soldiers. By the time he is done, the evacuation of Dunkirk seems more miraculous still...Montefiore's account moves seamlessly from the growing crisis of confidence and eventual cold hostility between the French and British High Command, as the British observed the sobbing generals and disintegration of French morale, to the decisions taken in isolation by soldiers and pilots who recognised from the moment that battle was joined that their tanks and bombers were not adequate to confront the German panzers. Montefiore successfully holds together the geography of the battle, but he is most effective when he evokes the small-scale horror of the fighting, blockhouse by blockhouse, bridge by bridge, village by village and farm by farm.
— Tim Gardam

The Observer

The evacuation of more than 300,000 troops in one week in May and June 1940 has moved into the realms of myth: "little ships" and the "Dunkirk spirit" have come to stand for the British capacity to turn a disaster into a triumph. Hugh Sebag-Montefiore returns Dunkirk to history, taking in the grand sweep of strategy and numerous examples of individual heroism as entire divisions were sacrificed so that the road to Dunkirk could be kept open as an escape route...Sebag-Montefiore's level of detail, knowledge and compassion [provides] for readable wartime history.
— Campbell Stevenson

Mail on Sunday

In the chaos and horror that was Dunkirk, there are, of course, any number of compelling human stories, and Montefiore has skilfully interwoven individual tales of heroism and occasional cowardice into his narrative...Several fine books have been written about it, but none better than this.
— Andrew Roberts

Daily Telegraph

Sebag-Montefiore tells [the story of Dunkirk] with gusto, a remarkable attention to detail and an inexhaustible appetite for tracking down the evidence. The result can sometimes read like one damn thing after another, but the sense of confusion, anxiety, uncertainty and intrepid courage which characterised this disastrous campaign is captured more successfully than in any other existing account. The strength of Sebag-Montefiore's book rests on the accounts of those who fought. These are poignant in the extreme. There was no shortage of suicidal bravery. Troops at Arras were ordered to "fight to the last man and the last round," and in many cases they did so.
— Richard Overy

Daily Mail

Sebag-Montefiore's book reads like a thriller. With the aid of new material from British and Continental archives, and interviews with the last survivors, he zeroes in on critical moments in the opening battles in northwestern France and the people who planned and executed them...This book is a tour de force.
— Christopher Hudson

The Express

Hugh Sebag-Montefiore reveals how the events which have become synonymous with the name of that small French seaside town were not only about the brilliant rescue of the British Army by the Royal Navy and an armada of "little boats." He shows that the evacuation would not have been possible without the amazing tenacity of the British soldiers who remained behind to fight as their comrades retreated to eventual safety.
— Paul Callan

Booklist

While the author recurs to the progressive desperation in the Allied high command as the Germans broke through, he centers attention squarely on Allied soldiers ordered to do or die. As many went down fighting, some in Nazi massacres, the documentary traces are inevitably fragmentary. The author's recovery of some coherence to the story is a research achievement, made dramatically arresting by his excerpts of survivors' testimonies about the graphic violence of their individual experiences. Many were of the last-stand variety, which Sebag-Montefiore believes have been overshadowed in Dunkirk historiography by the desperate improvisation of the sea evacuation. Fortified with maps and photographs, this is a complex yet accomplished military history of the WWII battle symbolic of British pluck.
— Gilbert Taylor

New York Review of Books

Few readers could fail to be gripped by Dunkirk's combination of enthralling narrative and firsthand testimony. Indeed, the greatest strength of this book—greater even than its excellent maps and detail-rich notes—is the extent to which the author allows the diaries, letters, and memoirs of contemporaries to speak for themselves.
— Niall Ferguson

Seattle Times

Hugh Sebag-Montefiore, a British journalist and, together with his brother Simon, one-half of a family duo of excellent historians, has written a fascinating and finely detailed account of these momentous weeks. Dunkirk: Fight to the Last Man draws heavily on archival sources and interviews with the few remaining survivors and their families. Without ever losing sight of how the struggle would affect the fates of England and France, Dunkirk recounts many examples of personal heroism that put a human face on the fighting. Sebag-Montefiore conveys the desperate, cornered-animal atmosphere that descended over the troops and never shirks from war's gruesome realities...Discussions of the events at Dunkirk have usually focused on the action on the beaches and the little ships that ferried men out to the larger vessels offshore. Sebag-Montefiore shifts the angle, choosing to highlight the heroics of the men ordered to hold the line against the Germans and keep the pocket around Dunkirk from collapsing.
— Douglas Smith

New York Sun

Hugh Sebag-Montefiore's book, Dunkirk: Fight to the Last Man is well-judged and fascinating, providing the right background for the disastrous campaign...This book provides convincing answers to all the important questions raised by the Allied debacle. Mr. Sebag-Montefiore gives a narrative account of the whole period from May 10, 1940, a fortnight before the evacuation from Dunkirk began, until June 18, 1940, nearly a fortnight after it had ended...Mr. Sebag-Montefiore has expertly interwoven individual tales of heroism and occasional cowardice.
— Andrew Roberts

New York Times Book Review

[A] first-rate panoramic history, and highly affecting worm's-eye account, of Britain's absolutely all-time favorite disaster...The particular brilliance of this book lies in the manner in which Sebag-Montefiore interleaves the military with the political.
— Christopher Hitchens

Philadelphia Inquirer

It is odd that amid the mountains of historical reconstructions of World II there has been no large-scale study of Dunkirk until now...This is a large, successful reconstruction, full of details, properly larded with multiple reminiscences of men who were there. Many people ought to read Dunkirk beyond those interested in the military history of World War II—for whom it is a must.
— John Lukacs

Toledo Blade

[Sebag-Montefiore's] readers are off on an adventure that is not only gripping, but richly detailed. Anyone who loves World War II history is in for a rare treat.
— Jack Lessenberry

Naval History

Dunkirk: Fight to the Last Man is a book worth reading. It is as important for the new perspective it provides as it is for the new information it presents, and is both a good story and a valuable addition to the literature of World War II.
— Robert S. Bolia

International History Review

The Traditional View of Dunkirk is of a crushing defeat that, thanks to the indomitably bulldog spirit of the British, was turned into something approaching a victory; of a flotilla of small boats braving great danger to bring the boys back home to fight another day; of the senior service bailing out a less-than-competent army, made possible by the colossal blunders made by Adolf Hitler and Gerd von Rundstedt, while the British air force dominated the skies shooting down three Germans for every loss of their own. Hugh Sebag-Montefiore will have nothing to do with what might be described as the ‘Mrs Miniver’ approach. In his robustly revisionist account, he...show[s] that the escape from Dunkirk was due almost entirely to the courage and determination of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) that, in the heroic defence of a series of strong points, enabled the bulk of the army to escape.
— Martin Kitchen

Parameters

Through extensive research [Sebag-Montefiore] confidently addresses French errors and their failure to adjust the Allied defensive strategy to the realities on the ground. All of which led to the Allied collapse in the second half of May 1940. Yet as valuable as this review and understanding of the big picture is, it is merely a prelude to his central theme of dissecting the close combat action of the tactical fights around Dunkirk. This analysis combined with the author’s lavish use of firsthand accounts illustrates the experience of the frontline soldier struggling against overwhelming odds. This insight is what sets this book apart and makes it memorable...Sebag- Montefiore offers fresh insight into an oft-studied topic...Dunkirk: Fight to the Last Man is a welcome addition to the study of the early campaigns of WWII.
— James R. Oman

The Sunday Telegraph - Max Hastings
Sebag-Montefiore's book is a narrative triumph. I have not read a better account of many modest actions--today forgotten, as all defeats are--in which British soldiers fought painfully and hard, to check the German tide. The author has brought together scores of personal accounts to impressive, moving effect.
The Times - Tim Gardam
The greatest achievement of Hugh Sebag-Montefiore's Dunkirk: Fight to the Last Man is the masterly way he brings a wealth of fresh revelation and detail to this most familiar tale, and tells a searing story. It is both meticulous military history and a deeply moving testimony to the extraordinary personal bravery of individual soldiers. By the time he is done, the evacuation of Dunkirk seems more miraculous still...Montefiore's account moves seamlessly from the growing crisis of confidence and eventual cold hostility between the French and British High Command, as the British observed the sobbing generals and disintegration of French morale, to the decisions taken in isolation by soldiers and pilots who recognised from the moment that battle was joined that their tanks and bombers were not adequate to confront the German panzers. Montefiore successfully holds together the geography of the battle, but he is most effective when he evokes the small-scale horror of the fighting, blockhouse by blockhouse, bridge by bridge, village by village and farm by farm.
The Observer - Jonathan Bouquet
[Full of] exemplary research and clear-eyed analysis.
Mail on Sunday - Andrew Roberts
Hugh Sebag-Montefiore's book, Dunkirk: Fight to the Last Man is well-judged and fascinating, providing the right background for the disastrous campaign...This book provides convincing answers to all the important questions raised by the Allied debacle. Mr. Sebag-Montefiore gives a narrative account of the whole period from May 10, 1940, a fortnight before the evacuation from Dunkirk began, until June 18, 1940, nearly a fortnight after it had ended...Mr. Sebag-Montefiore has expertly interwoven individual tales of heroism and occasional cowardice.
Daily Telegraph - Richard Overy
Sebag-Montefiore tells [the story of Dunkirk] with gusto, a remarkable attention to detail and an inexhaustible appetite for tracking down the evidence. The result can sometimes read like one damn thing after another, but the sense of confusion, anxiety, uncertainty and intrepid courage which characterised this disastrous campaign is captured more successfully than in any other existing account. The strength of Sebag-Montefiore's book rests on the accounts of those who fought. These are poignant in the extreme. There was no shortage of suicidal bravery. Troops at Arras were ordered to "fight to the last man and the last round," and in many cases they did so.
The Observer - Campbell Stevenson
The evacuation of more than 300,000 troops in one week in May and June 1940 has moved into the realms of myth: "little ships" and the "Dunkirk spirit" have come to stand for the British capacity to turn a disaster into a triumph. Hugh Sebag-Montefiore returns Dunkirk to history, taking in the grand sweep of strategy and numerous examples of individual heroism as entire divisions were sacrificed so that the road to Dunkirk could be kept open as an escape route...Sebag-Montefiore's level of detail, knowledge and compassion [provides] for readable wartime history.
Daily Mail - Christopher Hudson
Sebag-Montefiore's book reads like a thriller. With the aid of new material from British and Continental archives, and interviews with the last survivors, he zeroes in on critical moments in the opening battles in northwestern France and the people who planned and executed them...This book is a tour de force.
The Express - Paul Callan
Hugh Sebag-Montefiore reveals how the events which have become synonymous with the name of that small French seaside town were not only about the brilliant rescue of the British Army by the Royal Navy and an armada of "little boats." He shows that the evacuation would not have been possible without the amazing tenacity of the British soldiers who remained behind to fight as their comrades retreated to eventual safety.
Booklist - Gilbert Taylor
While the author recurs to the progressive desperation in the Allied high command as the Germans broke through, he centers attention squarely on Allied soldiers ordered to do or die. As many went down fighting, some in Nazi massacres, the documentary traces are inevitably fragmentary. The author's recovery of some coherence to the story is a research achievement, made dramatically arresting by his excerpts of survivors' testimonies about the graphic violence of their individual experiences. Many were of the last-stand variety, which Sebag-Montefiore believes have been overshadowed in Dunkirk historiography by the desperate improvisation of the sea evacuation. Fortified with maps and photographs, this is a complex yet accomplished military history of the WWII battle symbolic of British pluck.
New York Review of Books - Niall Ferguson
Few readers could fail to be gripped by Dunkirk's combination of enthralling narrative and firsthand testimony. Indeed, the greatest strength of this book--greater even than its excellent maps and detail-rich notes--is the extent to which the author allows the diaries, letters, and memoirs of contemporaries to speak for themselves.
Seattle Times - Douglas Smith
Hugh Sebag-Montefiore, a British journalist and, together with his brother Simon, one-half of a family duo of excellent historians, has written a fascinating and finely detailed account of these momentous weeks. Dunkirk: Fight to the Last Man draws heavily on archival sources and interviews with the few remaining survivors and their families. Without ever losing sight of how the struggle would affect the fates of England and France, Dunkirk recounts many examples of personal heroism that put a human face on the fighting. Sebag-Montefiore conveys the desperate, cornered-animal atmosphere that descended over the troops and never shirks from war's gruesome realities...Discussions of the events at Dunkirk have usually focused on the action on the beaches and the little ships that ferried men out to the larger vessels offshore. Sebag-Montefiore shifts the angle, choosing to highlight the heroics of the men ordered to hold the line against the Germans and keep the pocket around Dunkirk from collapsing.
New York Times Book Review - Christopher Hitchens
[A] first-rate panoramic history, and highly affecting worm's-eye account, of Britain's absolutely all-time favorite disaster...The particular brilliance of this book lies in the manner in which Sebag-Montefiore interleaves the military with the political.
Philadelphia Inquirer - John Lukacs
It is odd that amid the mountains of historical reconstructions of World II there has been no large-scale study of Dunkirk until now...This is a large, successful reconstruction, full of details, properly larded with multiple reminiscences of men who were there. Many people ought to read Dunkirk beyond those interested in the military history of World War II--for whom it is a must.
Toledo Blade - Jack Lessenberry
[Sebag-Montefiore's] readers are off on an adventure that is not only gripping, but richly detailed. Anyone who loves World War II history is in for a rare treat.
Naval History - Robert S. Bolia
Dunkirk: Fight to the Last Man is a book worth reading. It is as important for the new perspective it provides as it is for the new information it presents, and is both a good story and a valuable addition to the literature of World War II.
International History Review - Martin Kitchen
The Traditional View of Dunkirk is of a crushing defeat that, thanks to the indomitably bulldog spirit of the British, was turned into something approaching a victory; of a flotilla of small boats braving great danger to bring the boys back home to fight another day; of the senior service bailing out a less-than-competent army, made possible by the colossal blunders made by Adolf Hitler and Gerd von Rundstedt, while the British air force dominated the skies shooting down three Germans for every loss of their own. Hugh Sebag-Montefiore will have nothing to do with what might be described as the ‘Mrs Miniver’ approach. In his robustly revisionist account, he...show[s] that the escape from Dunkirk was due almost entirely to the courage and determination of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) that, in the heroic defence of a series of strong points, enabled the bulk of the army to escape.
Parameters - James R. Oman
Through extensive research [Sebag-Montefiore] confidently addresses French errors and their failure to adjust the Allied defensive strategy to the realities on the ground. All of which led to the Allied collapse in the second half of May 1940. Yet as valuable as this review and understanding of the big picture is, it is merely a prelude to his central theme of dissecting the close combat action of the tactical fights around Dunkirk. This analysis combined with the author’s lavish use of firsthand accounts illustrates the experience of the frontline soldier struggling against overwhelming odds. This insight is what sets this book apart and makes it memorable...Sebag- Montefiore offers fresh insight into an oft-studied topic...Dunkirk: Fight to the Last Man is a welcome addition to the study of the early campaigns of WWII.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674024397
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 11/28/2006
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 720
  • Product dimensions: 6.37 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.37 (d)

Meet the Author

Hugh Sebag-Montefiore is a journalist and the author of Enigma: The Battle for the Code.
Read More Show Less

Table of Contents


List of Illustrations     vii
List of Maps     x
Introduction     xi
Note to Readers     xviii
Moment of Truth     1
The BEF Arrives in France     6
The Mechelen Affair     26
The Final Warning     38
The Matador's Cloak     46
Charging Bull     59
Into Battle     72
Over the River Meuse     80
Flight     96
Battle of the Bulge     109
Lambs to the Slaughter     125
The Arras Counter-Attack     142
We Stand and Fight     156
Escape from Arras     173
Boulogne and the Useless Mouths     188
Evacuation of Boulogne     200
Calais and the French Complaint     212
Calais - Fight to the Finish     225
Lucky Breaks     240
Siege at Cassel     255
Surrounded at Le Paradis     279
Massacre at Le Paradis     293
Manhunt     303
Crisis in the North     322
Up the Glosters     335
Massacre at Wormhout     345
Escape to Dunkirk     362
The DunkirkArmada     375
Beached     384
Entente Cordiale     395
Evacuation     412
Rearguard     423
Mission Accomplished     440
Payback     448
Sacrifice of the 51st Highland Division     458
The Sinking of the Lancastria     481
Epilogue     497
Maps     507
Appendices     539
Dramatis Personae     543
Abbreviations     547
Notes     549
Bibliography and Sources     645
Acknowledgements     661
Index     667
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