|Birth||January 15, 1934|
|Death||October 10, 2004|
David Chandler was a British historian who specialized in the Napoleonic era. Chandler, who died aged 70 in 2004, was for 15 years head of the war studies department at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, and the author of a comprehensive account of Napoleon's battles which is unlikely to be improved upon, despite a legion of rivals.
David Geoffrey Chandler was born on January 15, 1934, the son of a clergyman who had lost a leg as a junior officer in the First World War. From Marlborough, where his interest in military history was ignited, he went up to Keble College, Oxford. He did his National Service with the Royal Army Educational Corps, which sent him to Nigeria.
When he was volunteered to run a course on the Duke of Marlborough and two Second World War campaigns, he received the head-start over other candidates to apply successfully for a post at Sandhurst. Joining the department of modern subjects, Chandler soon transferred to Peter Young's new department of military history, which was to include such future authors as Sir John Keegan, Richard Holmes, Keith Simpson, Christopher Duffy and Antony Brett-James.
Besides recruiting Chandler to the Sealed Knot, Young helped him to place an article on Napoleon in Egypt in History Today, which had rejected it some six years earlier; perhaps, Chandler suggested, because the manuscript now came from Sandhurst rather than Owthorne Vicarage in Yorkshire. This prompted a telegram from Macmillan in New York inviting him to write a book about Napoleon. When Chandler offered one about Marlborough, he received the reply: "Marlborough? Who's he?"
After The Campaigns came out, Chandler's reputation was made. But with three sons to educate he continued to rise early before work to produce more than 20 books, which included various studies of Napoleon and Marlborough as well as a variety of encylopaedias, dictionaries and illustrated histories.He made occasional television programmes about battles and was an adviser to the BBC's dramatisation of Tolstoy's War and Peace during the early 1970s. He was also a popular battlefields guide and general editor of Osprey's series of military campaigns, for which he produced accounts of Austerlitz and Jena complete with concluding chapters for would-be wargamers.
As with Napoleon, the strain told. When Sandhurst's military history department turned into one of war studies, with increasing emphasis on the wider social and political context, Chandler was bemused to see the maps of Marlborough's campaigns consigned to the basement; and the burden of running the department combined with ill-health began to tell on his relations with staff. Nevertheless, when he produced his volume of essays, On the Napoleonic Wars, after retiring in 1994, he dedicated it to them. David Chandler, who died on October 10, 2004 is survived by his wife Gill and their sons.
The Campaigns of Napoleon, written in 1967, which runs to more than 1,000 pages, is a clear narrative history that satisfies experts and ordinary readers alike. Chandler not only demonstrates the origins of Napoleon's "grand tactics"; he also shows how the Emperor created his forces and employed his genius for improvisation with breathtaking success, until delusions about what was achievable took him into the realm of the impossible and led to final defeat at Waterloo.
The book has been translated into several languages, though not French. Even so, General de Gaulle wrote to Chandler in French declaring that he had surpassed every other writer about the Emperor's military career. General Norman Schwarzkopf, the American commander in the Iraq war of 1991, was influenced by Chandler; and many high-ranking British officers have been his pupils. Two years ago President Putin added his praise, though, Chandler noted with amusement, the book had brought him no roubles since it had been pirated in Russia.
A large Pickwickian figure, he first enjoyed dressing up in period uniform as one of the original members of Brigadier Peter Young's Sealed Knot Society, which re-enacts battles of the English Civil War; he later often donned Napoleonic or Marlburian uniform to render his talks to astonished officer cadets and lay audiences all the more dramatic.Whether it was the discovery of a turnip patch where Marlborough had camped on the march to Blenheim, or playing war games at home with his three sons, Chandler fizzed with ideas that were always perceptive, often brilliant and sometimes eccentric.