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Struggle for the Middle Sea [Hardcover]

Vincent O'Hara
2.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
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Book Description

21 Sep 2009
The Mediterranean Sea was the most fiercely contested body of water throughout the Second World war. Its strategic importance was at the centre of Naval and wider military thinking on the part of both Allied and Axis powers, and its waters witnessed a huge variety of actions and operations. These included carrier strikes, battle-line shootouts, cruiser-destroyer engagements, convoy attacks, coastal actions, amphibious assaults and bitter submarine campaigns. Despite such immense significance, however, most recent literature concerned directly with the Mediterranean war has been sparse and incomplete. This book is a fresh study of the conflict, analysing the respective actions and performances of each of the five major naval powers involved in the Mediterranean - Britain, Italy, France, the USA and Germany. This takes place within the broader framework of a chronological, operational narrative of the entire five year campaign and further, examines without partisanship, the national imperatives that dictated much of the action. As a result, many of the popular myths that surround the modern view of the Mediterranean naval war are dispelled - for example, that Britain enjoyed a moral advantage over Italian forces, that the French were merely puppets of the German command, and that the North African campaign contributed to the eventual Allied victory. While the book concentrates on the key 1940-43 period, it also expands in scope to document the Kriegsmarine's improvised but remarkably successful fighting withdrawal at sea until 1945, an aspect of the later stages of conflict which has widely been ignored. Such fresh viewpoints, depth of detail and wider perspectives - not to mention some controversial (though well-substantiated) conclusions - are supported by extensive research drawn from Italian and French as well as British, US and German sources. It will appeal to Naval professionals and historians as well as attracting a popular readership, and contains numerous lessons concerning littoral warfare and use of the sea that have particular resonance today.


Product details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Conway (21 Sep 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1844861023
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844861026
  • Product Dimensions: 3.5 x 25.8 x 29.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 945,293 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

Vincent P. O' Hara is a naval historian and the author of The German Fleet At War (NIP, 2004) and The US Navy Against the Axis (NIP, 2007). His work has also appeared extensively in periodicals and annuals including MHQ, World War II Quarterly, Storia Militaire and Conway's own Warship. He holds a history degree from the University of California, Berkeley.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
This is a very disappointing book.

The problem is that the author seems to have an agenda of over-turning 70 years of prejudice and restore to the Italian Navy a reputation it was, in his view, unfairly robbed of during and immediately after World War 2 when it was portrayed as inept and over-cautious by both wartime propaganda and the memoirs of various admirals and politicians.

This is not an unreasonable aim. Anyone looking objectively at the problems facing the Italian Navy at the start of the Mediterranean campaign - its lack of direct air support, some shockingly poor weaponry and over-bearing political pressures as a result of Il Duce's ambitions and pusillanimous nature - can applaud the fact that it managed to wage a campaign at all, and often very courageously at that. Had Vincent O'Hara made moves in that direction this book would have been as well worth having as, say, Robert Mallett's " The Italian Navy and Fascist Expansion " or, indeed, Andrew Cunningham's memoirs.

Alas, whilst there is ample evidence from the sources on both sides of the conflict that would support such a revisionist view - and a work doing so would be welcome - Vincent O'Hara does not leave it there but regrettably seems to have decided that whilst he's at it, he'll take a few swipes at the Allies in general, and the Royal Navy in particular. This is the only book you will ever read that describes Andrew Cunningham as "over-cautious" and, as noted, "scared" - and worse, there are occasional suggestions that he was less than fully competent.

Thus in his account of the Battle of Calabria, something he also dealt with in an article in Warship 2008, O'Hara indicates that it is " unclear" why Cunningham divided his force into three non-supporting groups.
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13 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
I very much wanted to disagree with the previous reviewer. There is a lot of unfair rubbishing of the Italian Navy's performance in World War 2. However, this isn't the book to set the record straight. It is really a book in two parts: a collection of surface action narratives, and an over-arching narrative of the war at sea in the Mediterranean.

The surface action descriptions are useful, if you overlook the systemic Anglophobia that under cuts the whole work. If you have a hankering to know how many shells were fired on Tripoli or learn about the many minor actions that don't get a good coverage normally, O'Hara is your man.

But, you will notice a repeated minimising of all British achievements. The sinking of three battleships at Taranto didn't really matter because two of them were back in service in a matter of months (having sunk in shallow water). The sinking of three heavy cruisers at Matapan didn't matter because the British also lost a couple of cruisers to special forces and submarine attack around about the same time.

However, if these victories didn't count for much, it is for a reason O'Hara is unwilling to accept: that surface naval forces weren't the dominant force in naval warfare in the Mediterranean in World War Two. That long struggle was a mix of air, surface and sub-surface naval forces, light naval forces, special forces, reconnaissance and intelligence, logistics (especially fuel for the Italians), technology, and the impact of the many land campaigns in the region. O'Hara is not the master of the interplay of these factors, and his analysis is flawed as a consequence.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
Though overshadowed by the larger battles in the Atlantic and the Pacific, the conflict in the Mediterranean, as Vincent O'Hara states in the beginning of this book, was 'World War II's longest air-land-sea campaign,' one that involved five of the world's six largest navies. His book, an account of the clash between the surface forces, offers a balanced examination of the conflict that corrects many of the misconceptions which clutter our understanding of the conflict there. What emerges is a very different take on the war in the Mediterranean, one that provides far better insight into how the war developed and changed as a result.

Foremost among the myths that O'Hara pursues is that of Italian incompetence, which he dispels convincingly by noting their success in achieving their primary strategic objectives throughout most of the war, as well as the tenacious challenge they posed to the British. Though the Germans are traditionally seen as the Axis power which did the bulk of the heavy lifting in the region, O'Hara disputes this as well, noting that the Kriegsmarine's combat performance there was in fact inferior to that of the much-disparaged Regia Marina. Nor are the British and French spared from O'Hara's revisionary analysis, as he makes a strong case for the French fleet's ongoing effort to preserve their nation's sovereignty while arguing that the British only triumphed in the Mediterranean as a result of the infusion of American forces into the region in the fall of 1942.

O'Hara's points are presented in a convincing and forthright manner, one that aids the book in challenging traditional attitudes about the war there. Yet it suffers from two significant flaws.
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