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, and ruthless in pursuit of its interests. Rather than facing a mechanical Nazi monster, it had itself the world's most mechanised forces. Rather than being alone, it had not only a great empire, but allies large and small, and sat at the heart of a global production system.
Britain fought on many fronts, and depended on many home fronts, which kept it exceptionally well supplied with weapons, food and oil, allowing it to mobilise 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, engineers, and cranks profligately invented new weapons, encouraged by a government and prime minister enthusiastic about the latest machines of war.
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. Britain's War Machine , by putting resources, machines and experts at the heart of a global rather than merely imperial story, demolishes some of the most cherished myths about wartime Britain and gives us a very different and often unsettling picture of a great power in action.
This is a book to change our understanding of some of the most important aspects of the Second World War and of the history of Modern Britain.