Book Review: If By Chance

A ‘what if’ scenario in the field of history is best left to an engaging, imaginative writer and someone who has innate understanding – and, ideally, experience – of military campaigns. Some of scenarios covered in this book are familiar to us, such as the heroic and horrific disaster at Balaklava or the dithering inactivity of Marshal Grouchy eating strawberries rather than making up his mind to march towards the guns, and perhaps change the outcome of Waterloo.

Other situations are examined with interest, not least the element of luck given to so many great commanders, especially Napoleon in his early days, and, of course, Nelson.

The author, a comabatant officer in the 1939-45 war (serving in Winston Churchill’s old regiment, the 4th Hussars) has interesting points to make about that conflict, speculating as to what might have happened had Hitler (for most of his life also a beneficiary of luck) not stopped the encirclement of Dunkirk, with the possibility of invasion of this country. And what if the Allies had reached Berlin ahead of the Russians, and what, indeed, if Stalingrad had gone the other way?

There is a revealing account of the decision that Montgomery had to make in the middle of the Battle of Alamein; a decision probably imposed tactfully upon him by that great and selfless soldier Dick McCreery.

Another ‘if’, not directly mentioned, is what would have been the outcome in early 1941 should O’Connor (sometimes called the ‘Forgotten Victor’) have pushed on to Tripoli igonoring the order which deprived him of troops for the calamitous Greek campaign?

This lucid and stylish book will be read with avidity by military historians, and also, one feels sure, by the general public, who will not only gain a unique view of past events, but of how different they might have been.

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