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Britain's War Machine: Weapons, Resources, and Experts in the Second…

de David Edgerton

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1194178,204 (3.5)No n'hi ha cap
"The familiar image of the British in the Second World War is that of the plucky underdog taking on German might. David Edgerton's bold, compelling new history shows the conflict in a new light, with Britain as a very wealthy country, formidable in arms, ruthless in pursuit of its interests, and in command of a global production system. Rather than belittled by a Nazi behemoth, Britain arguably had the world's most advanced mechanized forces. It had not only a great empire, but allies large and small. Edgerton shows that Britain fought on many fronts and its many home fronts kept it exceptionally well supplied with weapons, food and oil, allowing it to mobilize to an extraordinary extent. It created and deployed a vast empire of machines, from the humble tramp steamer to the battleship, from the rifle to the tank, made in colossal factories the world over. Scientists and engineers invented new weapons, encouraged by a government and prime minister enthusiastic about the latest technologies. The British, indeed Churchillian, vision of war and modernity was challenged by repeated defeat at the hands of less well-equipped enemies. Yet the end result was a vindication of this vision. Like the United States, a powerful Britain won a cheap victory, while others paid a great price. Putting resources, machines and experts at the heart of a global rather than merely imperial story, Britain's War Machine demolishes timeworn myths about wartime Britain and gives us a groundbreaking and often unsettling picture of a great power in action"--"The familiar image of the British in the Second World War is that of the plucky underdog taking on German might. David Edgerton's bold, compelling new history shows the conflict in a new light, with Britain as a very wealthy country, formidable in arms, ruthless in pursuit of its interests, and in command of a global production system. Rather than belittled by a Nazi behemoth, Britain arguably had the world's most advanced mechanized forces. It had not only a great empire, but allies large and small. Edgerton shows that Britain fought on many fronts and its many home fronts kept it exceptionally well supplied with weapons, food and oil, allowing it to mobilize to an extraordinary extent. It created and deployed a vast empire of machines, from the humble tramp steamer to the battleship, from the rifle to the tank, made in colossal factories the world over. Scientists and engineers invented new weapons, encouraged by a government and prime minister enthusiastic about the latest technologies. The British, indeed Churchillian, vision of war and modernity was challenged by repeated defeat at the hands of less well-equipped enemies. Yet the end result was a vindication of this vision. Like the United States, a powerful Britain won a cheap victory, while others paid a great price."--… (més)
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Es mostren totes 4
When it comes to the Second World War, the British historical imagination is defined by the image of 1940: a plucky little island, standing alone against the Nazi juggernaut that had just rolled over western Europe. The underdog status suggested by this image magnified both the heroism of the Battle of Britain and the subsequent victory scored over Germany five years later. Yet such a view, as David Edgerton stresses, is wildly inaccurate. Contrary to the popular myth, Britain stood at the head of an empire of nearly half a billion people, with the resources to wage war quite easily. Moreover, it was a war waged with an advanced and heavily mechanized military effort, one even more so than that possessed by their enemy. Edgerton details all of this in his revisionist analysis of the war, one that takes a bulldozer to many longstanding misconceptions to give readers a better understanding of how the British waged, and won, the war.

Edgerton begins by describing the considerable economic resources Britain possessed during the war. Theirs was an imperial economy capable of tapping a range of resources from foodstuffs to oil, as well as the manufactures and skills provided by the colonies. This was connected to the home country by a merchant fleet which also gave Britain access to the economic might of the United States and which actually grew over the course of the conflict. Edgerton describes the good use to which these goods were put, noting the improvements in diet for millions and arguing, again contrary to the popular myth, that the war materiel produced was of equal or even superior quality to that of their enemies and often of their allies as well. All of this was managed by a state that gave considerable support to its scientists and technicians, many of whom developed the advanced weaponry which Britain used to win the war.

Forcefully argued and backed by a wealth of statistics, Edgerton’s book provides a powerful corrective to many misconceptions about Britain’s war effort. Yet in some respects Edgerton deploys his arguments too broadly, often glossing over or ignoring the flaws that served as the basis of contemporary criticisms about the quality of British weapons (such as in naval air, which is mentioned only once and in passing). Moreover, his analysis raises an interesting question that is left unaddressed: if the British war machine outclassed that of the Germans in both quality and quantity, then why did the war last as long as it did? Edgerton suggest Japan’s entry (which deprived Britain of the resources of her east Asian colonies) as a key factor, but this is only a partial example and begs further analysis. Such an examination would have added greatly to the value of this already important book, which should be read by anyone with an interest in British history or the Second World War. ( )
  MacDad | Mar 27, 2020 |
Having read several of Edgerton's previous works, he's again on a mission to critique the "two-cultures" split in British academia in regards to disregarding scientific achievement unless associated with "pure" science, this time around challenging the lingering image of "Little England" gamely surviving in the face of Hitlerian might, as opposed to being a great power with great resources fighting an equal. This is fine so far as it goes, but apart from inadvertently demonstrating that British popular commitment to empire as a concept was not "all that," at least by World War II, I think I've finally figured out what Edgerton's blind spot as a historian of technology is.

Early in the book Edgerton extols the superior mechanization of the alliance against Germany in 1940, as a marker of the sophistication of the Imperial Technical-Economic complex. However, what he seems to miss is that those raw numbers of tanks, artillery and motor vehicles masked the lack of operational effectiveness in the British and (more so) the French armed forces due to inadequate concepts of operational art. Even if Edgerton wants to fume about the misguided extolling of the capacities of Nazi Germany, there are reasons why this myth came to exist.

So, while there is much of value to consider here, I have to consider Edgerton's own "Warfare State" to be a better book, besides being a better outline of the man's thinking (which is a useful corrective to much "declinist" analysis regarding modern British history). ( )
  Shrike58 | Feb 18, 2015 |
I agree with the earlier reviewer who describes this as a phd thesis. It is still a good read and the thesis it advances that it was a heavily armed and very rich nation backed by multiple allies that entered WW2 because it chose to and expected to win . Not a weak nation with no other choice that was dependent on others to stop it being defeated. Reading this I thought repeatedly of Athur C Clarke in his early short fiction he has the 3 wartime allies and Britain is very much a co-equal. ( )
  Davidmullen | Sep 25, 2012 |
This read like a PhD thesis and at times was an economic and mathematical nightmare. A pity, because I thought that this would be very interesting. If you're doing research & can dip in & out, it may be the only way to read this. I would seriously avoid. ( )
  aadyer | May 22, 2011 |
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"The familiar image of the British in the Second World War is that of the plucky underdog taking on German might. David Edgerton's bold, compelling new history shows the conflict in a new light, with Britain as a very wealthy country, formidable in arms, ruthless in pursuit of its interests, and in command of a global production system. Rather than belittled by a Nazi behemoth, Britain arguably had the world's most advanced mechanized forces. It had not only a great empire, but allies large and small. Edgerton shows that Britain fought on many fronts and its many home fronts kept it exceptionally well supplied with weapons, food and oil, allowing it to mobilize to an extraordinary extent. It created and deployed a vast empire of machines, from the humble tramp steamer to the battleship, from the rifle to the tank, made in colossal factories the world over. Scientists and engineers invented new weapons, encouraged by a government and prime minister enthusiastic about the latest technologies. The British, indeed Churchillian, vision of war and modernity was challenged by repeated defeat at the hands of less well-equipped enemies. Yet the end result was a vindication of this vision. Like the United States, a powerful Britain won a cheap victory, while others paid a great price. Putting resources, machines and experts at the heart of a global rather than merely imperial story, Britain's War Machine demolishes timeworn myths about wartime Britain and gives us a groundbreaking and often unsettling picture of a great power in action"--"The familiar image of the British in the Second World War is that of the plucky underdog taking on German might. David Edgerton's bold, compelling new history shows the conflict in a new light, with Britain as a very wealthy country, formidable in arms, ruthless in pursuit of its interests, and in command of a global production system. Rather than belittled by a Nazi behemoth, Britain arguably had the world's most advanced mechanized forces. It had not only a great empire, but allies large and small. Edgerton shows that Britain fought on many fronts and its many home fronts kept it exceptionally well supplied with weapons, food and oil, allowing it to mobilize to an extraordinary extent. It created and deployed a vast empire of machines, from the humble tramp steamer to the battleship, from the rifle to the tank, made in colossal factories the world over. Scientists and engineers invented new weapons, encouraged by a government and prime minister enthusiastic about the latest technologies. The British, indeed Churchillian, vision of war and modernity was challenged by repeated defeat at the hands of less well-equipped enemies. Yet the end result was a vindication of this vision. Like the United States, a powerful Britain won a cheap victory, while others paid a great price."--

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