The Burma Campaign: Disaster into Triumph 1942-45 by Frank McLynn
|The Burma Campaign: Disaster into Triumph 1942-45 by Frank McLynn|
|Reviewer: Trish Simpson-Davis|
|Summary: The Burma Campaign through the eyes and ears of the three British and one American leader. A well-told story evaluating the place of Mountbatten, Slim, Wingate and Stillwell in Second World War History and a must-read for anyone with an interest in the period.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 532||Date: June 2011|
|External links: Author's website|
I'm no military historian; I'm not really interested in war. In the Second World War, if push came to shove, I would probably have claimed pacificism. But when this paperback version of the recently published hardback came up, by prolific and highly-esteemed historian Frank McLynn, I just had to read it. The subject is very special in our family, because Grandad was there. Grandad fought over the tennis court at Kohima, and he has carried the trauma in his head to this day. Frank McLynn describes that particular battle as ... a scene from Hieronymus Bosch out of Passchendaele. I knew I had to steel myself to read this book, and was very pleased that the author wrote sensitively about the reality of close combat for lily livers like mine.
Nearly 700,000 Allied troops fought in this theatre, mainly from Britain and India, but also Americans, Australians, Chinese, East and West Africans. It struck me forcibly that thirty thousand English and Indian soldiers died during the ferocious struggle between Japan and the Allies for Burma during 1942-5. The main killers were not tanks or guns or aircraft, but endemic diseases such as typhoid, malaria and dysentery, to which Europeans in particular had little resistance. We take so much for granted when we travel these days. Effective medications weren't available until very late on in the conflict.
This is not really a history of common soldiers. McLynn's chosen focus is the leadership of the 'Forgotten Army'. There were four main Allied leaders: Mountbatten, the egocentric playboy; Slim, brilliant tactician and soldier's man; eccentric and unstable Wingate; American 'Vinegar Joe' Stillwell. The author has made use of numerous sources to assess each man's actions and underlying reasoning during critical parts of the campaign, almost on a day by day basis. Bearing in mind the continual power-hungry squabbling of the protagonists, it's surprising that the Allied army managed any effective action at all. But it makes for a good story, because these main players are brought to life by generous splodges from their diary entries and post-war autobiographies. I was interested to find that Grandad's unwavering assertion that Slim was the best soldier and leader of the four was enthusiastically endorsed by the author. Thereafter I was very inclined to believe all his character assessments!
Probably the biggest problem the four men faced was in containing their 'ally', Chiang, the wily Chinese ruler. Propped up by Roosevelt's unrealistic view of his importance, Chiang demanded more and more airborne American resources flown in over the infamous "Hump", while avoiding engaging his troops in any battles. It seems likely that Chiang's machinations prolonged the campaign, increased the casualty lists and jeopardised the final result, before his regime fell to Mao Tse Tung.
It's a long book at 500 pages and at times I was slightly confused about the time lines. But I was pleased I'd read it, learnt a lot, and even as a general reader, I found my interest was well sustained.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending this book, which is destined for our family archives.
If you enjoy Second World War history, you might like to try Keith Lowe's: The Devastation of Hamburg, or Ben Shephard's The Long Road Home: the Aftermath of the Second World War, both of which were loved by Bookbag reviewers.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Burma Campaign: Disaster into Triumph 1942-45 by Frank McLynn at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Burma Campaign: Disaster into Triumph 1942-45 by Frank McLynn at Amazon.com.
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