Book Review: The Battle for North Africa
Written by Leon Engelbrecht, Thursday, 03 September 2009
The Battle for North Africa seeks to answer that by saying by way of introduction that although the round has been exhaustively covered, there does not in condensed form appear to be an account of the land battles for North Africa which gives proper weight both to those who were in the front line and those who were in the front line and those responsible for the direction and handling of the armies engaged.
"Moreover, during almost three years of fighting, the nature and conduct of these battles unavoidable changed. The changes had many causes – commanders, equipment, logistics, support in the air and from the sea, strategic circumstances, tactical needs. The purpose of this volume, therefore, is not to summarise or reiterate previous accounts of the campaign either in general or particular, but rather, against a background of strategic and tactical development, to trace the changes in the way battles were conducted during the three years, 1940 to 1943, and to see from the viewpoint of those who did it what the fighting was actually like. Such a version of events, which have been so often and so fully related before, cannot be original, cannot be comprehensive, cannot even be select, but it can perhaps be representative."
This it then seeks to do, although as a South African who had a grandfather and father-in-law involved, one has to lament their mention only in passing.
Strawson`s main thesis is the effect the interaction between land, sea and air forces had on the outcome – for both sides. The extent of
When it was not, supplies to
It is the good fortune of history that Hitler never took the war in
Another theme explored is British fighting prowess – why were the British so bad at fighting in formations and why the penchant for motorised columns? As said by John James in The Paladins about the interwar Royal Air Force, they fought the way they did because they were not trained to fight any other way. Hence the "brigade boxes at Gazala – division commanders had never fought their brigades in divisions, corps commanders had never fought their corps and the army commander before second Alamein (November 1942) had never fought his corps as an army.
Who was the best (British) desert commander? Strawson casts his vote for Richard O`Connor, who led the Western Desert Force – this was before 8th Army days – to a famous victory over the Italians at Beda Fomm, in early 1941. It was this victory that caused the arrival of Rommel. As Strawson puts it: "It had been that rare thing, the classic armoured pursuit, a battle of annihilation. As O`Connor was later to report: ‘I think this may be termed a complete victory as none of the enemy escaped.` No one throughout he years of desert fighting which were to come, not even Rommel, was ever to repeat it."
If it as not for the subsequent withdrawal of a large part of his force and logistic support for the ill-fated expedition in
Is this book worth buying and reading? Eminently! Whether a beginner at reading history or a jaded old-timer, this book does indeed bring a new view to an old conflict.
Pen & Sword Military Classics
(First published by BT Batsford in 1969)
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