Published online by Cambridge University Press: 24 February 2011
Where men are living and fighting in trying conditions, whether of terrain, climate or other circumstances, small grievances assume undue proportions, particularly when it may reasonably be thought that they could be removed. Even though a straw does not break a camel's back, it may profoundly irritate the animal, particularly if it thinks that its master cannot be bothered to remove it … therefore … action is called for on the lesser matters as urgently as it is on those of major importance.(Inter-Service Committee Report on Morale, 1944–1945)
As each type of terrain approaches its extreme it … tends to emphasize the personal resources of the ranks, down to the private soldier.(Carl von Clausewitz, On War)
The Second World War ‘was a truly global conflict’. Soldiers fought in climates and terrains as diverse and ‘alien’ as the jungles of Burma, the Russian steppe and the deserts of North Africa. One of the consequences of waging war in such inhospitable environments was that soldiers had to develop ways of living and fighting in the most trying of circumstances.
Literature on the North African campaign has generally acknowledged the difficulties of waging war in a desert many thousands of miles from the British, Commonwealth and Dominion homelands. The desert was a hostile environment that required armies to adapt to a tempo, style and character of warfare all of its own. Correlli Barnett referred to the desert war as ‘unique in history’.