Yanks and Limeys: Alliance Warfare in the Second World War by Niall Barr review

Historic differences and personality clashes meant the ‘special relationhip’ was often fractious. Barr handles this complex subject skillfully and effectively, writes David Murphy

Britain’s wartime prime minister Winston Churchill Prime and US president Franklin D Roosevelt in Morocco at a war conference surrounded by British and American war correspondants. Photograph: PA

Britain’s wartime prime minister Winston Churchill Prime and US president Franklin D Roosevelt in Morocco at a war conference surrounded by British and American war correspondants. Photograph: PA

In recent years, successive British prime ministers and American presidents have made much of the “special relationship” between Britain and America in an effort to promote a closer association between these two countries. This has been especially apparent in relation to the current “war on terror”. Much emphasis has been placed on their shared history during the second World War and the Anglo-American alliance is now presented to the world as an association that grew out of mutual trust and regard during the fight against the Axis powers.

This new study of the Anglo-American alliance during the second World War by Niall Barr offers a more nuanced picture, arguing that the wartime relationship between Britain and America developed despite previous conflicts between the two countries and a level of distrust that simmered throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries.

During the early years of the second World War, nothing suggested that the Anglo-American relationship would grow so strong. In fact, previous conflicts suggested otherwise. America had broken away from Britain following the Revolutionary Wars of 1775-83 and war had broken out between the two countries again in 1812. To add further insult, during the so-called “War of 1812”, Washington DC had been seized by British troops and both the Capitol building and the White House had been set on fire, along with other public buildings.

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