Archive for the ‘war’ Category

Ardennes 1944 Hitlers Last Gamble

For most English speakers with an interest in World War Two, the German offensive through the Ardennes, or Battle of the Bulge as it is sometimes called, in December 1944 is well known and has given rise to a number of myths. The first is encapsulated in the title. Several myths are busted in this volume – those familiar with the film Hart’s War will spot one or two – which is good (both the volume and the myth-busting), but the titular myth, of offensive being Hitler’s last gamble is not examined.

Through a history that examines the course of the campaign from both sides and the top and bottom of the military hierarchy and some of the political factors, Beevor follows the Ardennes offensive over a broad timeline, explaining the general tactical situation on both sides and how it had developed since the Battle of the Falaise Pocket in August 1944 and the Liberation of Paris directly after. Thus the Allies were getting set to develop offensives both north and south of the Ardennes when the Germans struck. Beevor explains why the route which had been so successful in the 1940 invasion of France was decidedly not in 1944.

From the start there are three major players, the Germans, the Americans and the weather. The latter favoured nobody. The Americans were anticipating a spoiling attack somewhere along the front to disrupt their own offensives but the scope of the German thrust caught them off guard. The Germans failed Map Reading 101 at the planning stage. This is all explained well in the book. And while this was mostly an American-German battle, the British and Commonwealth forces were involved on the northern periphery.

Once the action starts, Beevor devotes a chapter to each day until the end of Boxing Day, 1944. Movements on both sides of the lines are examined, along with the constraints each army, commander or unit faced. In some cases these were considerable. Beevor also shows why Bernard “Monty” Montgomery is such a divisive figure when discussing the prosecution of the war in Europe. Some American generals do not escape unfavourable judgments, and likewise with the Germans.

In sum I would recommend this book to all who have an interest in the Allied liberation of NW Europe and the shock the only major German counteroffensive caused.

Penguin-Viking, London 2015

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Steve

Stoker Munro, Survivor

Some people go through war with nothing major befalling them. Others include Stoker Lloyd William Munro, HMAS Perth. He survived two shipwrecks (once by the Japanese, once by the US Navy), several Japanese prisoner of war camps and the infamous Burma Railway. Naturally, we need to understand how someone can survive this chain of harrowing circumstances.

Spiteri interviewed Munro approximately 60 years after the war, with the story starting in mid-February 1942 and ending approximately three years later. The story is mainly told in the first person, with Munro recounting life as a POW under the Japanese. Conditions were highly variable, depending exactly where a prisoner was: Changi in Singapore was quite good until late in the war, as was Cambodia and Saigon. I got the impression that generally speaking, the Japanese allowed the POWs a fair degree of liberty if they were involved in work gangs, if only because of the paucity of Europeans in SE Asia.

Munro seems to have accepted what was happening to him as not being personal, but naturally he was upset by the loss of many friends, most of whom died from disease – tropical medicine was still not great during the 1940s, especially without modern drugs. He was also determined to return home. This determination helped him survive the two shipwrecks, especially the second. Surprisingly, Munro persisted with the RAN even after being shipwrecked a third time (this time by the RAN).

I enjoyed this book, with its harrowing tale told simply. It was passed around at work, and given good comments by all who read it. Well done, David Spiteri.


Supplied by HarperCollins New Zealand

Reviewed by Steve

Least We Forget……

Posted: April 25, 2015 in war


Gallipoli 1915 – 2015

Posted: April 19, 2015 in war


A Fatal Tide

Gallipoli, 1915, and Thomas Clare is hunting the murderer of his father, a rural Queensland policeman. The trail began in Barambah Aboriginal Mission Station and continued to Turkey, and the only way for Thomas and his friend Snow to follow it was to enlist. And the story of Breaker Morant is bound up in it too. As is a piece of evidence probably written by Lord Kitchener.

Sailah deftly weaves a tale of deduction, replete with homages to Arthur Conan Doyle, misdirection and political military shenanigans going back to the Second Boer War. His characters are a believable bunch of youthful Australians with a scattering of imperial nationalities thrown in. The war and the fighting serve only as a backdrop to the story, not its central theme.

I enjoyed this story, which was a page-turner, with the name of the murderer not revealed until the final act. There is an enjoyable subplot concerning whether Breaker Morant acted under written or unwritten orders prior to his court-martial and execution. Those interested in his case should check any of a number of on-line encyclopaedias to confirm details. I have the impression the story is the beginning of a series of adventures featuring Thomas and Snow.


Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Review by Steve

the new patrol

After some R’n’R at home, 19 yr old Liam Scott returns to Afghanistan for his second tour of duty, this time with 4 Rifles company. No longer the new guy, he takes the lead to prove himself a leader. The warzone is dramatically different though and its rules have changed.

Liam’s patrol is working alongside the Afghan National Army (ANA) to train its troops to control the Taliban when the British withdraw, while facing daily attacks from insurgents. The Taliban always seem one step ahead of them though, could someone in the unit be feeding them intel?

Fast-paced and full of action, the book moves at a quick pace while being easy to understand. The characters are likeable and show the comradeship of soldiers in a warzone. The harsh realities of war are shown and it’s not glamorised but the story is still enjoyable. A quick, easy read that has plenty happening.


Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan

village of secrets

The story of Protestant Pastor André Trocmé, the village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon and the Plateau Vivarais-Lignon was first told in the American pacifist magazine Peace News in 1953. It stirred up a bit of a debate that snowballed over time, overshadowing the contribution of others in the hiding and saving of about 800 Jews and up to 3000 others in both temporary and permanent capacity from the depredations of the Nazis.

Moorehead, in this social history, explores the complex story of the Plateau Vivarais-Lignon and the village of Le Chambon. She has found a complex tale of resistance to central authority stretching back to the Reformation at least in an area of France that easily isolated from its surroundings by the weather. Moorehead picks apart some of the more obvious myths, such as the lack of concern of the Catholic Church for the Jews, fairly quickly, before moving on to the plan and execution of hiding Jews among the mainly Protestant inhabitants of this small plateau in the Upper Loire. The dramatis personae are more varied than one might imagine, with Protestant Pastors, English spinsters, rural doctors and the Melice all making appearances.

Moorehead also explains how this small plateau, and the village of Le Chambon and its environs, was able to conduct a rescue of the oppressed on relatively large scale. It was remote, there were no really large urban areas nearby, and the Protestant inhabitants had a habit of silence, both domestically and with regard to gossip. While the latter helped, the former was sometimes a barrier to communication between the locals and the refugees.

Moorehead has written a worthwhile contribution to the history of the Second World War. If I were to categorise it, it would a tale of resistance, both to a local regime as well as to the Nazis. Stylistically I have a few complaints and would like to have seen the story of the area developed first, but this is a minor quibble. Within the horror of WWII, this may put a smile on your heart.

Chatto & Windus

Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Steve