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47 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Strategic Stepping-Stone
This is the best military history book to be published since (and I'd rank it right up there with) last year's "An Army At Dawn" by Rick Atkinson. High praise, indeed, since that book won a Pulitzer Prize. If you've read the Atkinson book, you'll find that "Fortress Malta" complements it nicely, since both books end with the Allies poised for the invasion of Sicily. Mr...
Published on 30 April 2003 by Bruce Loveitt

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11 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Okay but could have been so much better....
First I want to congratulate Jame Holland for writing this book. The heroism of the Maltese people, and all who fought to defend Malta is worth recording. I just wish it could have been a better book.

I found this book a rather curiously written affair. James Holland it is true, I think, has captured the (British) market in 'popular' military histories of WW2,...
Published on 6 Mar. 2012 by Tim62


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47 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Strategic Stepping-Stone, 30 April 2003
By 
Bruce Loveitt (Ogdensburg, NY USA) - See all my reviews
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This is the best military history book to be published since (and I'd rank it right up there with) last year's "An Army At Dawn" by Rick Atkinson. High praise, indeed, since that book won a Pulitzer Prize. If you've read the Atkinson book, you'll find that "Fortress Malta" complements it nicely, since both books end with the Allies poised for the invasion of Sicily. Mr. Holland, to judge by his photo on the dustjacket, looks to be still in his twenties.(This is his first book.) If he is indeed that young, that makes this book even more of an accomplishment. The quality of the writing and the way the book is structured demonstrate a great deal of skill and maturity. This is because the author has a lot of balls to juggle: he has to tell us about the aerial war; the surface naval battles; the submarine war; strategy and tactics, etc. This part of the story is well-told: there are many exciting sequences dealing with dogfights and convoys being stalked by submarines. But what elevates the book to the superior level is Mr. Holland's ability to bring home to us the human element. We get to know a lot of the pilots and submariners as real people- quirks and all. (Two people who "leap out" from the pages are Adrian Warburton and George "Screwball" Beurling. Warburton, despite being a reconnaissance pilot, managed the rare feat of becoming an "ace"- which means he shot down at least 5 planes. He was unorthodox. He once flew over Sicily to take some photographs, then made an unauthorized side trip to Greece to pick up some booze for the boys back at the base. He got away with such behaviour because he always got his photographs- no matter what. Beurling was the highest scoring Allied ace of the war, with over 30 confirmed kills, with an incredible 4 in one day.) The same is true regarding the civilian population. Everyone was under incredible stress- day after day, month after month, and year after year. For much of the time the island was under almost constant attack. There were severe housing and food shortages. Some people lived in underground "cubicles." Inadequate nutrition led to sickness and disease. On the military side, in the early-going, there weren't enough planes to defend the island. Often, 3-4 Hurricanes or Spitfires would go up to do battle with 50 or more enemy aircraft. As the Axis powers were in control of the areas both north and south of Malta, getting convoys through with essential supplies (planes, fuel, spare parts, food, etc.) was extremely difficult. Plus, there was the added psychological stress of being "trapped" on a small island. The entire island was awarded the George Cross, the highest civilian award for valour. The action was unprecedented. It was also well-deserved. After reading about these people for almost 400 pages I felt that I knew them. As I approached the end of the book I hoped Mr. Holland would tell us what happened to them after the siege of Malta was over. The author, once again, did not disappoint. There is a postscript which follows the lives of all the major "characters." As you might expect, this section is filled with both joy and sorrow. Some of the people led short and tragic lives, some long and happy. A surprising number are still alive today. (One is the well-known British actor Frederick Treves, known to this anglophile through his performances in the David Suchet "Poirot" and Joan Hickson "Miss Marple" stories.) The book has 7 pages of maps, placed in the beginning, which allow you to get your geographic bearings and follow the action. There are also over 80 wonderful black-and-white photographs. The dustjacket mentions that the author is working on 2 more books regarding the war in the Mediterranean. If "Fortress Malta" is anything to go by, we are in for a treat.
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39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best World War II book I've read., 11 Mar. 2004
By 
Peter Turvey (Christchurch, Dorset United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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I normally choose to read novels but during the past year I have also read three books about the Second World War : "Stalingrad" by Anthony Beevor, "A Bridge Too Far" by Cornelius Ryan, and now "Fortress Malta". The biggest compliment I can pay to "Fortress Malta" is that although the other two books have received much deserved praise, in my opinion "Fortress Malta" is the best of the three.
It tells the story of Malta's war from the moment Italy entered the war in the summer of 1940 to the summer of 1943 by which time Rommell had been defeated in North Africa and the Allies were preparing to invade Sicily.
Throughout the book the reader is kept informed of the events in Malta and their relationship to the rest of the War. But the thing that makes this book outstanding is the way the author introduces a wide range of characters : civilian workers, fighter pilots, nurses, sub-mariners etc. and tells the story of their lives.
I found "Fortress Malta" fascinating and each evening when I got home from work I couldn't wait to pick up the book and find out a bit more about Frank Rixon, Nat Gold, Meme Cortes, John Agius, Ken Griffiths et al.
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41 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Maltese viewpoint, 9 Aug. 2003
By 
F. Valletta "franvall" (Malta) - See all my reviews
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I am Maltese in my late 30s and I always remember my parents talking about the war in Malta. The subject has fascinated me since I was a teenager and I have read a lot about it. James Holland's book is undoubtedly the best one I have ever read. It is authentic and is written with the human touch - often missing in history books. I am amazed how Holland has managed to portray not only the heroism of the persons serving in the armed forces but also of the the ordinary Maltese citizens. It is a worthy tribute to the people of my country 60 years after these dramatic events - well done!
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best World War Two books, 2 Jan. 2004
By 
Alex Davies (Brentwood, Essex United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Fortress Malta: An Island Under Siege 1940-1943 (CASSELL MILITARY PAPERBACKS) (Paperback)
James Holland has created aguably one of the greatest WWII books ever. His interpretation of the devastating seige upon the wonderful island of Malta during the years of 1940-1943 is a stirring and thought provoking tale.
Many colourful and forgotten characters spring to life within the pages. Holland paints a clear and vivid picture of the likes of Adrian 'Warby' Warburton, George 'Screwball' Beurling and George 'Shrimp' Simpson to name but a few.
Malta within three years became the most bombed place in the world, and within the pages of Fortress Malta you get a feel for the emotions expreienced by members of the RAF, the Navy and the citizens of Malta.
The most important aspect of the book is that Holland maintains the fact that there was always hope in this island of heroes and heroins.
If I could i would give this book more than 5 out of 5.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very compelling read - highly recommended, 30 July 2003
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Anyone with the slightest interest of the war in the Mediterranean should find this book a staggering achievement. It effortlessly combines the best elements of social and military history to provide a lucid and enthralling account of Malta's struggle to survive 1940-43. By following the lives of various people on the island we are given different perspectives of what life was like for those living through Malta's dark period of bitter struggle. I wasn't so sure that such an approach to writing history could be so rewarding for the reader, but Holland has done superb job. Not only do we get all the usual details of military problems (convoys/lack of military hardware etc..) but also the personal struggles of the pilots and ordinary folk living on the island. I knew that the people of Malta suffered terribly during the war, but this book also made me realise how remarkable their victory against overwhelming odds actually was. In retrospect Malta should have been a pushover for the Axis powers (the island was a low priority during the Battle of Britain), but the fact that it held out for so long is testimony to the strength and determination of it's people. This book is a fitting tribute to those who gave themselves to this struggle and a reminder of why the whole island was awarded the George Cross - the highest honour awarded for civilian bravery.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I didn't know history could be this interesting!, 24 Dec. 2003
By 
B Goodridge (Wiltshire, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
Having dropped history as a subject as soon as possible when I was at school at the age of 13 and never really having any interest in it since (and I am now 33) I was astonished by the way this book gripped my desire to keep turning the pages. I really couldn't put it down. I was given it as a gift and what a wonderful gift it was. Not only does James Holland manage to bring the whole history of Malta under seige during the war to life with his engaging and thoughtful style, he also provides the reader with an attention to detail that is second to none. This is an extremely well researched book that is an absolute joy to read and I would strongly recommend it to anyone, young or old, male or female. It really has acted as a catalyst to open my eyes more to the history of this country and I hope it will do the same for others.
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5.0 out of 5 stars "Malta has the lives of many thousands of German and Italian soldiers on its conscience" - Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, 25 Feb. 2013
By 
Darth Maciek "Darth Maciek" (Darth Maciek is out there...) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Fortress Malta: An Island Under Siege 1940-1943 (CASSELL MILITARY PAPERBACKS) (Paperback)
I read probably more than one thousand books on World War II in the last 30 years or so and this is one of the best!

"Fortress Malta" tells the story of Malta between June 1940, when Italy declared the war against France and United Kingdom to July 1943, when the last of 3340 Axis air raids against the island took place. The incredible strategic blunder of both Mussolini and Hitler who didn't seize the island immediately in June-August 1940 allowed the reinforcement of Malta in September and October - after that the eventual invasion of island became a much more difficult business and ultimately it was never attempted. Instead a 30 months long siege began, during which Malta was bombed relentlessly, on an almost daily basis, by both Regia Aeronautica and Luftwaffe. The island was also blockaded by Axis submarines and fast torpedo boats and the neigbouring waters were mined. Supplying the besieged island became more and more difficult until the great crisis in August 1942 and the dramatic and bloody sea and air battle during operation "Pedestal".

During those 30 months of siege, resupplying Malta cost Royal Navy one battleship (HMS "Barham"), two aircraft carriers (HMS "Ark Royal" and HMS "Eagle"), five light cruisers (HMS "Cairo", HMS "Hermione", HMS "Manchester", HMS "Neptune" and HMS "Southampton") and 17 destroyers. Two more destroyers were lost by allied navies, Australian HMAS "Nestor" and Polish ORP "Kujawiak". Dozens of transports and some tankers also perished in fierce convoy battles.

But Malta was not just a besieged fortress - it was also a base from which operated allied air forces, submarines and fast torpedo boats, which mercilessly harassed and as result greatly disrupted Axis communication lines between Italy and Lybia. Allied submarines based at Malta were particularly succesful and they inflicted crippling losses on Italian and German shipping. Rommel and other German and Italian commanders cursed daily Malta and its submarines and planes when seeing how little of precious fuel and munitions they received. Malta played ultimately a key role in stopping Rommel from reaching Alexandria and Suez Canal and then assuring Axis defeat in Africa in 1943. The price paid for it was however very high. Between 1940 and 1943 no less than 38 British submarines operating from Malta were lost, frequently with all hands (including the archi-famous HMS "Upholder") and two more were lost by allied navies, "Le Narval" (Free French Navy) and "Glaukos" (Greek Navy).

This book tells this great story in a very reader-friendly way. It is really well and profesionally written, with a great care about details and respect to historical reality, but also with a considerable literary talent. This is by no means a purely military history book, as it also describes the hardships the civilians went through and the important role played by frequently forgotten people, like the Malta stevedores who in many occasions unloaded transports under bombs... Hunger, disease, privations and all other kinds of miseries on the besieged island figure prominently in this book. Author also included many real anecdotes about real people, which, albeit without great importance for the big picture, make us feel closer to the defenders of this brave, isolated allied outpost.

I greatly enjoyed reading this book and I learned a lot from it. It is a really impressive achievement by James Holland! I am keeping this book preciously - to read it again one day and for my children after that. Enjoy!
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating and well written history, 12 July 2007
By 
D. Cameron (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Fortress Malta: An Island Under Siege 1940-1943 (CASSELL MILITARY PAPERBACKS) (Paperback)
This is an excellent and very readable history of the Second World War siege of Malta. The author uses first hand accounts of the siege but includes these personal experiences within a fuller context of the overall history of the war in Malta (and in the rest of Europe). Consequently, it is a very full and involving account. Fighter pilots, submariners and other servicemen and residents of the island drop in and out of the story, as some leave, other new names arrive to take their place. What impressed me was how the reader ends up really caring about these people, and is keen to know what happens to them. Their backstories are also told, so you feel you "know" them by the time they arrive to take their place in history.
An excellent account that really added to my knowledge of the area, the war and how people on the island suffered. highly recommended.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History telling at its very best, 3 Sept. 2007
By 
M. Follows (West Midlands United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Fortress Malta: An Island Under Siege 1940-1943 (CASSELL MILITARY PAPERBACKS) (Paperback)
This is quite possibly the best history book I've read. It weaves personal accounts into the fabric of history, making for a rich tapestry. Three years after reading it I still find myself thinking about some of the characters. David Wanklyn, commander of the submarine Upholder, stands out, as does the skill and bravery of Adrian `Warby' Warburton, a reconnaissance pilot; Warby even led an enemy ship to the downed crew of another Allied plane. Warby forged a relationship with Christina Ratcliffe, a dancer. How this unravels is, for me, one of the most poignant moments of the book.

Holland strikes the correct balance between recounting history - the seige, the convoys, the blitz - and the personal accounts. I noticed one tiny error: Mtarfa is spelt phonetically (i.e Imtarfa) but it would have taken a lot more than this to persuade me to award this book anything less than 5 stars.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Genuinely a classic, 20 Jun. 2007
By 
J. Duducu (Ruislip) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Fortress Malta: An Island Under Siege 1940-1943 (CASSELL MILITARY PAPERBACKS) (Paperback)
This is it everything a history book should be, informative, accurate, descriptive and vivid.

What Holland does best is show each important moment of this conflict through a personal story so that dates and stats come alive and you find yourself caring about characters you've never met, just like great fiction only of course this all happened.

It is written in a highly readable way and is a real page turner- again a very odd thing to find in a history book. It is telling an epic story at a very human level an essential read for lovers of great fiction and non-fiction alike.

If you liked this there's more historical debate and fun at @HistoryGems on Facebook and Twitter
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