This is the story of the largest raid put together by British Commonwealth Forces in Burma in 1944. It represents the Apotheosis of Wavell's attempt to turn ordinary line regiments into independent, air supported brigades, ranging freely behind the lines to disrupt Japanese communication in Northern Burma, rolling up the Japanese flank from underneath whilst American-led Chinese forces pressed from the North on Myitkyina and its vital airfield.
The detail is tense and personal, Calvert was the youngest Brigadier in the British Army and this type of fighting meant that he personally participated in many of the unit actions. From the initial landing of the gliders at "Broadway" to their final withdrawal this was an epic of major proportions:
* Wavell reckoned on an average soldier fighting behind the lines without rest as having, at most, a three month capability before ultimately becoming ineffective. In reality they spent 6 months behing enemy lines in appaling conditions.
* From the initial blocking action of the railway, the action is intense. Calvert describes the actions of his East African, Gurkha and English County regiments troops in exquisite detail. We feel the quickening of the pace and our hearts beat faster as we come to realise that they are alone and there is really only one way to come out dead or wounded or alive --- the Japanese would be unlikely to take prisoners.
* Calvert covers the actions up the line as the brigade moves up towards the Myitkyina and their gradual wasting due to bad food, jungle diseases and incessent combat with Japanese troops. It is depressing to see these human skeletons that emerged at the end. In Calvert's brigade he emerged with less than 5% effectives when they were finally linked up with the Americans and Vinegar Joe Stillwell.
* Stillwell, although a tough US commander, really lets his Anglophobia cloud his judgement. His berating of Calvert and his Chindits betrays a gross ignorance about the real hell that Calvert and his men faced. Not to diminish the actions of Stillwell, but it really was beyond anything that Stillwell and his men, directly supplied and linked with base resources, ever underwent. My esteem for Stillwell, suffered severely. Calvert with typical British understatment offers us a good example of the stoic qualities of his race. Forbearance even after suffering horribly, is a lesson we can all learn.
Some may find Calvert's visceral hatred of the Japanese unappealing. But that to is an aspect of history and one that, given the circumstances, we may be able to understand.
This is one of the better personal accounts of the Burma War I have read.