The Crucible of War Western Desert, 1941 Bk. 1

Author(s): Barrie Pitt

Second Hand Military History

In The Crucible of War, Pitt demonstrated a strong narrative drive and a perceptive eye for character, recounting Richard O'Connor's dashing success in the Western Desert against a much larger Italian force in late 1940; the shambles in which Wavell and Auchinleck struggled with contradictory instructions from a hard-pressed Winston Churchill; and finally Montgomery's success in wearing down the Germans by weight of numbers at Alamein.



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Barrie Pitt, was a highly capable editor of popular histories, and the workmanlike author of The Crucible of War, a vivid three-volume account of the desert war.

Under the overall editorship of Sir Basil Liddell-Hart, he was responsible for the first major part-work, Purnell's History of the Second World War, a 96-instalment mass circulation series which was launched in 1966 at the Imperial War Museum.

After this success he proved a generous patron of younger historians as the editor of some 100 small volumes in Ballantine's Illustrated History of World War 2 and then Ballantine's Illustrated History of the Violent Century, for which one commission went to the novelist Rose Tremain for a work on the suffragettes.

Barrie William Edward Pitt was born in Galway on July 7 1918 and educated at Portsmouth Southern Grammar School before becoming a bank clerk.

Following the Second World War Pitt worked as a surveyor, joined 21 SAS (TA), with whom he rose to the rank of sergeant, and started to write for the magazine Adventure.

This led him, in 1958, to produce a novel, The Edge of Battle, and Zeebrugge, an admired account of the First World War raid on the Belgian U-boat base.

Coronel and Falkland, about the 1914 naval engagement in the South Atlantic, was followed by 1918, an introduction to the climax of the fighting on the Western Front.

Pitt worked for a time as an information officer at the Atomic Energy Authority establishment at Aldermaston, where he demonstrated a talent for turning scientific information into readable prose, and became one of Liddell-Hart's young protegés. He then made his name as a researcher for the BBC television series The Great War, during which he had some comically vituperative exchanges with its associate producer John Terraine.

After his account of the desert war came out between 1980 and 1982, he wrote The Special Boat Squadron and The Chronological Atlas of World War Two with his third wife Frances.

Barrie Pitt was a lively, well-liked man who mischievously kept his wartime career shrouded in mystery.

He dropped hints at various times about having served on operations with the Special Boat Service in the eastern Mediterranean and of having been captured in civilian clothes after serving with the Royal Sussex Regiment in Normandy.

He also claimed to have been a sergeant in the Royal Army Medical Corps and to have spent three years in German prison camps, in one of which he said that he had met PG Wodehouse, who asked him to read the manuscript of his novel Money in the Bank.

A devotee of Wodehouse and Dick Francis and a keen member of the Savage Club, Pitt relished Guinness, had a penchant for brocade waistcoats and sported an eyeglass; he once appeared for lunch at a Somerset pub dressed in spats.


General Fields

  • : 9780708820797
  • : John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated
  • : Wiley-Blackwell
  • : January 1981
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : Barrie Pitt
  • : Paperback
  • : 940.54/23
  • : xix, 506