A Great Feat of Improvisation

Logistics and the British Expeditionary Force in France 1939-1940

Clem Maginniss

A Great Feat of Improvisation is a unique publication on a forgotten aspect of an important campaign for the British Army.
Date Published :
June 2021
Publisher :
Helion and Company
Contributor(s) :
Gary Sheffield
Illustration :
82 b/w photos, 14 color maps, 7 diagrams, 79 tables
Format Available    QuantityPrice
Binding. : Paperback
ISBN : 9781913336158
Pages : 578
Dimensions : 9.64 X 6.69 inches
Stock Status : Available


A Great Feat of Improvisation redresses the long-standing lacuna in the historiography of the BEF: logistics. Wide ranging in reach, comprehensive in scope and meticulously researched, it lucidly demonstrates, through description and analysis, not only the importance of logistics to military operations during the campaign but provides fresh evidence and analysis on the deployment sustainment, operations and evacuation of the BEF in the period 1939-1940.

A Great Feat of Improvisation examines how pre-war strategic, economic, political and defense dynamics influenced the plans to generate and deploy the BEF, before assessing how the logistic challenges were met. Many aspects of the BEF's logistic operations are described and analyzed, including the development of the BEF’s Wheeled Motor Transport capability, the establishment and expansion of the Base, the role of military and commercial railways to the BEF's capability and the organization and capability of logistics at divisional level.

The BEF’s ammunition, supply and fuel distribution systems, together with the delivery of equipment spares, recovery and repairs, are examined in addition to the logistics undermining the BEF’s growing offensive Gas Warfare capability. Logistic support to the 1st Armoured Division is described from the division’s formation to its evacuation from France, whilst the logistic aspects of denial and recovery operations are explored. Also assessed is the planning and delivery of the ‘Quartering’ requirement within the United Kingdom for the returning units of the BEF and support to the Soldier in France.

About The Author

Clem Maginniss was born in Coventry and educated at Ratcliffe College Leicester and at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Modern European History and International Relations from the University of Warwick. He served for 40 years in the Regular Army, the Territorial Army and the Army Reserve, first in the Royal Corps of Transport and then the Royal Logistic Corps. A graduate of the Army Staff College Camberley, he has held a range of fascinating National, NATO and United Nations appointments involving mobilization planning, railway operations, medical logistics, combat engineer support, tank transporting, officer training, flood relief, infrastructure development, estate management, humanitarian assistance and the Foreign Office. He has written extensively for the British Army Review and the Royal Logistic Corps Review on logistic history, doctrine, operations and equipment but An Unappreciated Field of Endeavour is his first book. His interests are Great and Second World War military and naval logistics, underwater exploration, ship-wreck research, defence archaeology, railway heritage, keeping fit and a range of outdoor pursuits. He lives in Norfolk with his wife Edwina.

Born in 1961, Gary Sheffield studied history at the University of Leeds, before beginning to lecture on war studies at the Royal Military Sandhurst Academy. He then completed his PhD at King’s College, London.

After finishing his studies, Sheffield moved into full-time academia, as Professor of Modern History at King’s College, and then the first Professor of War Studies at the University of Birmingham. He later moved to the University of Wolverhampton.

Sheffield has been published widely on military history subjects, with his second book, The Chief: Douglas Haig and the British Army (2011) widely commended in both academic and popular circles alike.

Sheffield currently serves as Vice President of the Western Front Association and sits on the Advisory Board of the Royal United Services Institute.


"This absorbing work must be read to understand those early days of the war, when Britain stood alone after Dunkirk."

- Gun Mart

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