This Week’s Book Review – Churchill’s Phoney War

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) After my review appears on Sunday, I post the previous week’s review here on Sunday.

Book Review

‘Churchill’s Phoney War’ a nuanced view of a leader


Feb 8, 2020

“Churchill’s Phoney War: A Study in Folly and Frustration,” by Graham T. Clews, Naval Institute Press, 2019, 360 pages, $44.95

Winston Churchill was one of the most transformational individuals of 20th-century British history. He’s credited with saving Britain from defeat at the hands of Nazi Germany as prime minister in 1940. Yet some criticize his performance during the first nine months of the war.

“Churchill’s Phoney War: A Study in Folly and Frustration” by Graham T. Clews, reexamines Churchill during that period.

Clews breaks his examination into several parts, exploring Churchill’s performance as first lord of the admiralty running the Royal Navy in the opening months of the war and his subsequent advocacy of aggressive naval action in the Baltic and North Seas.

An evaluation of Churchill’s activities in the War Cabinet follows, focused on his influence on the air war, attempts to assist Finland (attacked by the Soviet Union in November 1939) and British intervention in Norway after the German’s invaded it. Clew concludes by investigating Churchill’s relations with Chamberlain, the Prime Minister Churchill replaced.

Clews shows Churchill was far better than his critics depict but not as good as his admirers (or Churchill himself) claim. He demonstrates that while Churchill made egregious errors, almost all of them ultimately didn’t matter. They fell into the category of proposals not undertaken or had no impact on the war.

Clews also demonstrates that several things for which Churchill received criticism either didn’t happen, were examples of things beyond Churchill’s control or the result of carrying out policies directed by others. Churchill never proposed eliminating convoys, and many Norwegian campaign missteps were due to the fog of war or Chamberlain’s directives.

Clews also reveals Churchill as a restraining force on unrestricted aerial warfare proposals during this period. Even more surprising, Clews reveals Churchill as one of Chamberlain’s few supporters during the fight to remove Chamberlain. Churchill became the avatar for the remove-Chamberlain advocates but accepted rather than sought becoming prime minister.

“Churchill’s Phoney War” offers a nuanced view of Churchill. Clews reveals how Churchill’s “Phoney War” weaknesses, his energy and constant desire to do something, his stubborn loyalty and unwillingness to quit, became strengths while prime minister.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is


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