30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on 1 January 2007
This is a magnificent book. It is, extraordinarily, only the third full-length account of the war in Burma to have appeared. The first, of course, was Field Marshal Slim's magisterial and best-selling account - Defeat into Victory - first published in 1956. The second was Louis Allen's groundbreaking Burma, The Longest War, published in 1984. Slim's account was a view from the top down and Louis Allen allowed us a peek into the Japanese military mind for the first time, an approach taken up subsequently and very well by John Nunneley and Kazuo Tamayama. Now, Jon Latimer has examined the warp and woof of the war from the perspective of those who fought it, using their records and reminiscences as his primary source material. The result is a powerful and absorbing memoir of the war from its start in 1941 to its end in 1945.
Latimer has been able to this so superbly because of the existence at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London of the Burma Campaign Memorial Library, a collection brought together over the past half decade at the instigation of Gordon Graham who, as a youthful Cameronian Company Commander, won his first MC at Kohima in 1944 and his second at the Irrawaddy Crossings in early 1945. The vast extent of this material was not available to Louis Allen in 1984, but it is fair to say that it has transformed the historiography of the Burma Campaign. For the first time virtually everything ever published on the subject from around the globe is now safely stored in one location, and is an invaluable source for any serious historian. Latimer has made full use of this, as he records in his foreword, and his book is all the more powerful because of it. On every page one can hear the voices of those who experienced the campaign's long miseries, and enter into this experience, as much as one can at this distance in time. Latimer's superb narrative style is absorbing and deft, and the heaviness of much military history has been successfully avoided.
This is not just a book about the 14th Army, but an account of the war through a multitude of eyes, Burmese, Indian, British, American and Chinese. The war in Burma was one of the most comprehensive ever fought in terms of experience, with everything from small sub-tactical encounters on jungle path, forest floor and dusty plain, in searing heat and monsoon rain, to the mass movement of armoured divisions, strategic bombing and the largest sustained airlift of military supplies to an army in the field at any time in history. It contained everything from high political drama and sordid squabbling over the direction and management of the war (on all sides - British, American, Japanese and Chinese) to vicious rifle, grenade and bayonet encounters in the jungle gloom, the awful depredations of the prison camps and the long, bitter and exhausting struggle for mastery on the battlefield by troops a long way from home. Latimer has captured it all and in so doing has contributed significantly to our understanding of the complexity and scale of the war as a whole. He has not neglected the careful marshalling of his sources in extensive endnotes, which adds to the value of the book. His maps, likewise, always a difficult area for an author, are well constructed. This is a book to buy, read, enjoy and go back to time and again. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 13 December 2006
There are several approaches to writing the history of a campaign. Stephen Ambrose for example uses perhaps a journalist's approach by following a select group of individuals, quoting heavily from personal interviews, and battles are brought to life by the way it touches them. NAM Roger with his recently published naval histories devotes each chapter to a theme and carries the history forward by revisiting each theme in turn over time. With this book Jon Latimer has taken a different approach again: he has focussed more on the overall picture as it progresses, with countless detailed anecdotes to bring matters to life. Judging by the text and bibliography this book must have taken a huge amount of time to prepare.
There are so many short paragraphs on the experiences of men (with many women and children present) fighting like a vision from hell within a garden of eden. Men (and sometimes tanks) scale impossible gradients, mules fall down them, grass ticks give them diseases, people live off rice or k-rations for weeks, prisoners are murdered, strong warriors disappear and die from starvation and disease, children are bombed and all manner of other horrors. How anyone survived with their sanity intact is incredible.
The political processes behind the decisions are detailed, with the viewpoints of America, Britain, China, Burma, Japan and India carefully explained. If you wanted to know how a regiment from any nationality was involved you are sure to find them.
My overall impression was this is serious and time consuming read. However, as each page turns you are drawn further in, with hope and finally victory winning over chaos and despair. I thought I should learn something about Burma as my grandfather fought there: with this book Jon Latimer has told me everything I might wish to know. Buy it and live the experience!
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
I decided to read this as I am about to embark on a module of study on Burma and needed some background information. This book seemed an excellent choice as it was quoted as being comprehensive.
It is indeed exhaustive in its detailing of every incident of the Second World War in Burma, and if you are looking for this level of detail you will not be disappointed. If however, you are looking for an overview I suggest you look elsewhere.
I must applaud Mr Latimer for his dedication to what is clearly a complex subject, with incoming troops from all quarters of the globe and the many factions within Burma itself, both tribal and political, this was clearly never going to be straightforward.
I confess however, that I found it exhausting to read and so complex and with so much detail that I often found myself profoundly confused and having to go back and re-read sections. Coming in at nearly 450 pages, this was a considerable commitment of time.
The first hand accounts were the most interesting, but the constant amalgamation of divisions and regiments and their consequent renaming and numbering made it hard to keep track of events. I feel that the book would have been helped enormously by the inclusion of a time line and perhaps an overall picture type chapter which would have been a useful reference point to go back to.