Anatomy of a Campaign
The British Fiasco in Norway, 1940
Cambridge University Press, New York, 2017, 390 pages
Book Review published on: August 24, 2018
Every year, the Command and General Staff College takes in a thousand majors and captains who are familiar with the tactical level of war but are largely innocent of the two higher levels—operational and strategic. In the early stages of the curriculum, our Department of Joint, Interagency, and Multinational Operations introduces the new students to those higher levels. It can be difficult; without experience or perspective, students may struggle with the unfamiliar concepts like strategic policy and operational art. As a history instructor, I try to remind students that the seemingly abstract joint doctrine addressing these concepts is built on experience and paid for in blood. However, John Kiszely’s Anatomy of a Campaign makes this point far better than I can.
The book’s subtitle captures its thrust: the British and French attempts to come to the aid of Norway were a debacle. When German forces attacked Norway on 9 April 1940 with landings from the sea and air, they caught the Allies completely by surprise, despite the fact that in the preceding months the British War Cabinet and service chiefs of staff had toyed with a number of half-baked plans to operate in Scandinavia. Unfortunately, as Kiszely’s analysis shows, the senior British leadership lacked the leadership, organization, and rigorous strategic thinking to align the ways and means with the fuzzy ends of such an operation. Thus, when the Germans made their assault on Norway, the British response was a model of ad hoc expedients. The resulting operation lacked trained forces, a joint command structure, a coherent plan, and, worst of all, a clear strategic goal. Through the course of operations in Norway, the British and their French allies would violate virtually every tenet of our current joint and multinational operations. “The result,” writes the author, “was a fiasco—a textbook example of how not to conduct a military campaign.”
Yet, it was not just organization and plans at fault. The author finds that key individuals in the British command structure were very much to blame. At the top, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain proved incapable of the leadership to guide a nation at war. Below him, the chiefs of staff of the Royal Navy, Royal Air Force, and British Army confined their thinking and their proposals to the narrow concerns of their service. They undervalued the role of friction in their planning, and they also downplayed the very real concerns of their staffs over the vast gaps between objectives and capabilities. Finally, the most dynamic and forceful member of the War Cabinet, Winston Churchill, proved both erratic and unrealistic in his views. Yet, ironically, he would benefit the most from the unhappy outcome, rising to become prime minister after the series of defeats in Norway led to Chamberlain’s downfall.
There is an important story here, and Kiszely is superbly qualified to tell it. He served forty years in the British Army, rising to the rank of lieutenant general with one of his most recent jobs being deputy commander of Multinational Force, Iraq. Thus, he has lived at the intersection of strategic policy and operational campaigning. Since retiring, he has served on the faculty of Kings College and Oxford University. He knows how to research, analyze, and write. These strengths are borne out in a very fine book. Had I the power, I would put Anatomy of a Campaign in the curriculum of every U.S. staff college. This is highly recommended.
Book Review written by: Scott Stephenson, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas