Sunday, December 26, 2021

Review of "The Battle for North Africa," by John Strawson

 Review of

The Battle for North Africa, by John Strawson

Five out of five stars

The first Allied victory of World War II

 The battle for North Africa in the early years of the Second World War involved long and dramatic movements of mass amounts of men and equipment. Given those long distances that the armies moved, in many cases it came down to which side had the most available gasoline. It also featured the only German general that captured the admiration of the west, Erwin Rommel. Popularly known as “The Desert Fox,” he managed to do more with less than any other commander. He was also known for uttering the phrase, “war without hate,” and there is little doubt that the war in North Africa was the cleanest, most chivalrous campaign in World War II.

 While this book does present both sides, including excerpts from reports and diaries, there is a slight tilt towards the Allies. The history of the campaign is well done, including what was the decisive factor of the battle, the failure of the Axis forces to take the island of Malta. At one point, Malta was effectively neutralized and down to the last vestiges of their supplies, but the Allies were able to keep it in the fight. Forces based in Malta were then able to attack Axis shipping and severely reduce the supply of war material available to Rommel.

 What is made clear is that Rommel was aware of this problem, as were the Allied commanders. If Rommel had received anywhere near the resources available to the Allies, he likely would have taken Egypt before the Americans could effectively intervene. The loss of the Suez canal would have been a serious blow to the Allies, their shipping would have been forced to go all the way around Africa.

 North Africa was the only possible place where significant American and Axis forces could have met on the ground in 1942. Therefore, it was the first time in the war that an American army faced off against a German one. While the Americans emerged victorious, it was against a resource starved opponent. It is well stated here that had the Axis high command made North Africa a priority, Malta would have been taken at any cost and the fight to clear the Axis forces from Africa would have been a longer and much bloodier one.

 Montgomery is also portrayed as an extremely methodical general, always making sure to build up his forces and deploy them in ways that were designed to maintain pressure and never outrun all of the support structure. He is described as anything but dashing.

 Another very positive aspect of this book is how the Italian forces are described. Many books about the Second World War are derisive about the fighting abilities of the Italian soldier, in this one they are often praised for their bravery and effectiveness in the battles. Once they were no longer being led by incompetents.

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