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Fighting the People's War
The British and Commonwealth Armies and the Second World War

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Part of Armies of the Second World War

  • Date Published: May 2020
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107609877
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About the Authors
  • Fighting the People's War is an unprecedented, panoramic history of the 'citizen armies' of the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand and South Africa, the core of the British and Commonwealth armies in the Second World War. Drawing on new sources to reveal the true wartime experience of the ordinary rank and file, Jonathan Fennell fundamentally challenges our understanding of the War and of the relationship between conflict and socio-political change. He uncovers how fractures on the home front had profound implications for the performance of the British and Commonwealth armies and he traces how soldiers' political beliefs, many of which emerged as a consequence of their combat experience, proved instrumental to the socio-political changes of the postwar era. Fighting the People's War transforms our understanding of how the great battles were won and lost as well as how the postwar societies were forged.

    • Integrates the military, political and social histories of Britain, Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand and South Africa
    • Uses 925 censorship reports based on 17 million soldiers' letters to shed new light on their experiences, performance and political beliefs
    • Provides new explanations for the performance of the British and Commonwealth armies in campaigns, including the crises of 1940–42, Cassino, D-Day and Normandy
    • The first comprehensive history of the British and Commonwealth armies in the Second World War
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    • Winner, 2020 Duke of Wellington Medal for Military History, Royal United Services Institute (RUSI)

    Reviews & endorsements

    '[A] weighty, admirably uncomfortable account [by] an impressively diligent and thoughtful young historian … This is a fascinating and important book, which brings together a mass of information … never before assembled under one roof.' Max Hastings, The Sunday Times

    'Incredibly well-researched, brilliantly written and quite frankly, an outstanding book.' History of War

    'A richly documented, provocative and convincing study.' David French, The Times Literary Supplement

    'Fennell draws on a wide literature and deep archival research to explore how the Commonwealth armies fought key battles and campaigns, but he never loses sight of the role of citizen soldiers and how they exerted agency in calamitous defeats and gritty victories. Fighting the People's War offers new interpretations in the global fight against Fascism, and will be required reading for scholars and the historically-minded public.' Tim Cook, author of The Necessary War and Fight to the Finish

    'This is an outstanding book, based on immersion in archives across the globe. Rich in insights, it demands that we rethink the way we view the armies of the British Empire in the Second World War.' Gary Sheffield, author of A Short History of the First World War

    'Indispensable for understanding both World War II and the modern British experience. Fennell's major contribution integrates three themes usually compartmentalized. Its base is the analysis of Britain's development of an army able to fight and win a global war. That costly achievement both fostered and depended on growing cohesion within the participating societies. Wartime cohesion and comradeship in turn brought classes together in the postwar 'quiet revolution' that ended the Empire and redefined the Commonwealth.' Dennis Showalter, author of Hitler's Panzers: The Lightning Attacks that Revolutionized Warfare

    'Comprehensive, detailed and authoritative, Fennell breaks out of the national straitjackets that restrict our understanding of how the Commonwealth fought WWII - a triumph of multi-national research.' Peter Stanley, author of 'Terriers' in India

    'This is a hugely impressive, sweepingly ambitious book which brings together the military histories of all the British Commonwealth nations for the first time. It asks vital questions about the relationship between wartime experience, society, and politics in a unique transnational way. A remarkable and valuable achievement.' Alan Allport, author of Browned Off and Bloody-Minded: The British Soldier Goes to War 1939–1945

    'An absolutely fascinating and fresh account of the Commonwealth armies at war … very well written and totally accessible. It contains a wealth of information that is fresh and new, and Fennell's insights on subjects that many might imagine are familiar will be of real interest … Highly recommended.' Taylor Downing, Military History Matters

    'Jonathan Fennell's astonishing book is full of compelling arguments that complete the puzzle of British, Commonwealth and Imperial victory in WW2. It's quite fantastic and revealing … an incredible story. Absolutely recommend it.' Al Murray, Comedian and TV Personality

    'The size, scale, and significance of this book is nothing but staggering.' Munitions of the Mind (

    'Jonathan Fennell has produced a compelling and magisterial history of the British and Commonwealth armies between 1939 and 1945 … Fighting the People's War establishes Fennell as among the leaders of the next generation of Second World War scholars.' Jonathan Boff, History Today

    'This is a major contribution to the literature of the war, and a useful read for anyone interested in understanding how perceptions of war change over time.' New York Military Affairs Symposium Review

    'Fighting the People's War will serve for years to come as the standard work on the British and Commonwealth forces in the Second World War. It deserves the widest possible audience.' Mark Klobas, Michigan War Studies Review

    See more reviews

    Customer reviews

    29th Jun 2019 by Hongjiahuan

    So wanterful book .You can found some really thing like in the society

    Review was not posted due to profanity


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    Product details

    • Date Published: May 2020
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107609877
    • dimensions: 227 x 153 x 52 mm
    • weight: 1.38kg
    • contains: 42 b/w illus. 38 maps 21 tables
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    List of illustrations
    List of figures
    List of maps
    List of tables
    List of abbreviations
    Overview of maps
    Part I. The Military and Political Context
    1. Interwar:
    1.1 Materiel and manpower
    1.2 Doctrine
    1.3 Training and organisation
    1.4 Politics and public morale
    1.5 Structure and contingency
    2. Mobilisation:
    2.1 The political context
    2.2 Mobilisation
    2.3 Equality of sacrifice?
    2.4 The social contract
    2.5 Rhetoric and reality
    Part II. The Great Crisis of Empire
    3. Defeat in the West:
    3.1 The 'Phoney War'
    3.2 The Norwegian campaign
    3.3 The Battle of France
    3.4 Assessments and recriminations
    3.5 Preparing for invasion
    4. The Middle East:
    4.1 Operation 'Compass'
    4.2 From East Africa to the Balkans
    4.3 The Battle for Crete
    4.4 Strategic overstretch
    4.5 Operation 'Crusader'
    4.6 Spring 1942
    4.7 Gazala
    4.8 The July battles
    5. The Far East:
    5.1 The strategic context
    5.2 Preparations
    5.3 The Malaya campaign
    5.4 The invasion of Burma
    5.5 The fall of Singapore
    5.6 Retreat to India
    5.7 The cost of failure
    6. The great imperial morale crisis:
    6.1 The anatomy of defeat
    6.2 Morale crisis
    6.3 The ideological deficit
    6.4 The soldier and the state
    Part III. Transformation
    7. Victory in North Africa:
    7.1 No retreat
    7.2 Alam Halfa
    7.3 Colossal cracks
    7.4 War Office initiatives
    7.5 El Alamein
    7.6 The Tunisian campaign
    8. New Guinea and Burma:
    8.1 The 'Battle for Australia'
    8.2 Kokoda
    8.3 Wau
    8.4 Quit India
    8.5 The Arakan
    Part IV. The Limits of Attrition
    9. The Mediterranean:
    9.1 Strategy and preparation
    9.2 The Sicilian campaign
    9.3 Opportunity lost
    9.4 The invasion of Italy
    9.5 Advance to the 'Gustav Line'
    9.6 Winter in Italy
    10. Remobilisation?:
    10.1 The British Army and the Beveridge Report
    10.2 The New Zealand Furlough mutiny
    10.3 The UDF and the 'Blue Oath'
    10.4 Procedural justice
    11. Cassino:
    11.1 Anzio and the First Battle of Cassino
    11.2 The Second Battle of Cassino
    11.3 The Third Battle of Cassino
    11.4 The Fourth Battle of Cassino (Operation 'Diadem')
    12. Transformation in the jungle:
    12.1 Training and doctrine
    12.2 Institutional reform
    12.3 The South-West Pacific area
    12.4 Operation 'Postern'
    12.5 Burma
    12.6 Second Arakan
    12.7 Imphal and Kohima
    12.8 Turn around
    Part V. Redemption
    13. D-Day:
    13.1 Training and doctrine
    13.2 Selection and morale
    13.3 The assault
    13.4 Controversy
    14. Normandy:
    14.1 The battle for Caen
    14.2 Operation 'Goodwood'
    14.3 Breakout
    14.4 Encirclement
    14.5 The trap
    15. The victory campaigns:
    15.1 Operation 'Market Garden'
    15.2 Operation 'Olive'
    15.3 Manpower crisis
    15.4 The Scheldt and the 'Siegfried Line'
    15.5 Operational and tactical transformations
    15.6 Victory in Italy
    15.7 The surrender of Germany
    15.8 The South-West Pacific area
    15.9 Burma
    15.10 Operations 'Capital' and 'Extended Capital'
    Part VI. The Post-War World
    16. Soldiers and social change:
    16.1 From combat cohesion to social cohesion
    16.2 The forces vote and the 1945 British General Election
    16.3 The forces vote and New Zealand's great experiment in social citizenship
    16.4 The forces vote and the formalisation of apartheid in South Africa
    16.5 Soldiers, veterans and the partition of India
    16.6 Soldiers, veterans and social change
    Conclusion: C.1 A deficit of political legitimacy
    C.2 Military performance
    C.3 Consequences
    C.4 Fighting the people's war
    Appendix 1. The censorship summaries
    Appendix 2. The morale reports
    Appendix 3. Quantitative indicators of morale
    Appendix 4. Defining morale
    Select bibliography

  • Author

    Jonathan Fennell, King's College London
    Jonathan Fennell is a Senior Lecturer at the Defence Studies Department at King's College London. He is a Director of the Sir Michael Howard Centre for the History of War and a Director and Co-Founder of the Second World War Research Group. His first book, Combat and Morale in the North African Campaign (Cambridge, 2011) was shortlisted for the Royal Historical Society's Whitfield Prize, was joint runner-up for the Society for Army Historical Research's Templer Medal and was selected as one of BBC History Magazine's 'Books of the Year' 2011.


    • Winner, 2020 Duke of Wellington Medal for Military History, Royal United Services Institute (RUSI)
    • Winner, 2020 Templer Medal for the History of the British Army, Society for Army Historical Research (SAHR)
    • Winner, 2020 Silver Award, Military History Matters Book of the Year
    • Shortlisted, 2020 British Army Military Book of the Year
    • One of The Guardian Readers' 'Books of the Year, 2019'

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