on 24 May 2000
Field Marshall Slim provides an in-depth account of this campaign from the withdrawal into India to the final defeat of Japan. The book is a must for any would-be leader of military men and is a bible for those studying leadership. The campaign is centred on the Battle for Imphal and Kohima and then the eventual clearing of Burma and the opposed crossing of the Irrawady River, no mean feat considering it is 1.5 miles wide in places! Those that read this book will not only enjoy the style but also learn the ins and out of how the campaign was run and how thin the line was between success and defeat. The more modern copies have reduced the maps which make studying them more difficult. I would therefore recommend an older copy to get the most out of the book.
on 25 July 2004
I have read alot of military history, however this book stands out beyond most. Slim takes us through the early, tough years, and explains how 14th Army had to be built from the ground up in patient step by step moves. Slim explains how his greatest challenge, and ultimately his greatest triumph, was convincing 14th Army they could defeat the Japanese in the jungle. The force he forged defeated the Japanese at Imphal and succeeded in driving their still mighty forces all the way back to Rangoon in what Weintraub called "14th Army's Jungle Blitzkrieg".
The challenges of supply were immense. Slim spends some time heaping laurels on both his subordinates and superiors and is quick to point out his mistakes. As someone said, there is no limit to what a man can do as long as he doesn't care who gets the credit. In the long run, Slim was perhaps the finest British general officer of the war, and could compete for the title in any army. Given the 14th Army he led was last in line for everything given demands in other theaters, his personal leadership had a huge effect on turning the tables against Japan in Southeast Asia.
on 1 February 2002
This book consists of the military memoirs of Viscount Slim. Slim was only the second British soldier in the history of the British Army to advance from the rank of Private to the rank of Field Marshal (the first being "Wully" Robertson of WW1 fame). Though less well known than Monty, in my opinion he was the best British general of WW2 and could certainly compete for the title of Best Allied General. His memoirs begin with typical modesty, outlining what he feels to be the limits of historical autobiography and memoirs. He then proceeds to detail his exploits, beginning at the time he was assigned to Burma under General Alexander. The book is important both as a work of history and as a personal memoir and is written in a witty and engaging style. It also provides various general observations on command that would be of use to any serving officer - definitely one for any young subaltern to find space for in his pack! The author pays generous tribute to those he served with and at the risk of sounding somewhat sycophantic, comes over as a true gentleman. He offers objective analysis of the non-British troops he served with and against, including Americans, Chinese and Japanese and never stints on giving praise when it is due - either to allies or the Japanese. This is a splendid memoir written by somebody who was a superb general and clearly a splendid person in his own right. If you are a military officer or have a serious interest in history this book deserves (demands!)a place on your shelf.
on 28 November 2011
I have little expertise on military history and none of military tactics but I am fascinated by the tales that come out of warfare for many different reasons. Many of the reviews for this book are from miltary types, do not be put off by this because this is a cracking good read for all of an exceptional man undertaking an exceptional task.
The way Slim manages some cantankerous members of his senior staff is an object lesson in good management which we can all learn from. The exciting tale of the Battle for Burma is gripping. He conveys his feeling for the horrors endured by all the soldiers, not just Allied. It is shocking that one reviewer focuses on just one comment when Slim refers to "only" 2000+ casualities as this is not typical of his writing at all and is very selective. Throughout the book Slim clearly was looking at ways to minimise the number of Allied casualities. The same reviewer makes play also of his one reference to "slit eyed" Japenese, again this is unfair to Slim as he consistently praises the efforts of Indian, Burmese and African solidiers in his army AND consistently praises the bravery of the Japenese, also recognising when he wrongly typecasts the tactics of Japanese generals. Given this book was written in the 1950s Slim should be recognised as being ahead of his time as a military person in his attitude to different ethnic groups.
on 21 March 2007
Not only was Bill Slim probably the best British commander of the Second World War, his memoir is far and away the best examination of the demands of high command yet written. It is not self-serving and tendentious like the writings of Montgomery; in its examination of events it is factual and down to earth, but warmth of the man still shines through.
Slim was perhaps fortunate in being able to win back what had previously been lost, and did not suffer the ignominies heaped upon Wavell. This was partly because when he became corps commander in Burma during the retreat in 1942, he could not possibly be held responsible for the situation he inherited. By the time he was appointed commander of Fourteenth Army, matters were still desperate as the Japanese attempted an invasion of India. And throughout his tenure, he struggled with his command being at the bottom of Allied global priorities.
Yet he was able, through dedication, skill and force of personality to lead his multi-national army - some 750,000 comprised of Britons, a great many Africans from across the continent, but principally Indians - in the reconquest of Burma. Not only that, he achieved this in a country devoid of the means of support, crossing great rivers, jungle clad mountains and burning plains. He was a truly great leader. 'He understood men', wrote the Australian Roy McKie. 'He spoke their language as he moved among them, from forward positions to training bases. He had the richest of common-sense, a dour soldier's humour and a simple earthy wisdom. Wherever he moved he lifted morale. He was the finest of Englishmen.'
on 11 February 2001
As a serving soldier this is a truly inspiring book. If there is anybody that wants to know about leadership then this is the book for you.
on 24 July 2011
I am no soldier/General, but I am interested to know about the subject. I read this because I wanted to write a book involving war scenarios and wanted to know what it was like to run a campaign with (more or less) current technology. I guess very modern conflicts are too recent and unresolved to get such established brilliant accounts of how to do things well. I suppose we are still not sure how we ought to be conducting modern wars against abstract/elusive enemies like 'terror' and 'drugs'.
But this was about a war where the enemy and the intended objectives were a fair bit clearer. Viscount Slim's mind is a fun place to hang out for the duration of the book (it was for me) and I felt a better appreciation for the terrible risks and gambles he and others around him had to make to try to defeat a formidable opponent in the jungle. The casualties and death statistics are huge when they are mentioned later on in the book. I had no idea it was the young officers that got killed off so much - standing up to be seen and to inspire and lead their men. Willingly they would draw fire and invite their own death. They led by example and paid for it so we could live better lives. I just hope we can avoid the need to make such sacrifices (on such a scale anyway) again.
on 22 August 2010
The "Evening Standard" said this was the best general's book of World War II and I agree.
In 1942 the Japanese, in their spree of conquest, overran Burma (then part of the British Empire). Bill Slim was involved in this defeat and then commanded the Fourteenth Army in its recovery of Burma.
Slim describes his strategy and the campaigns of XIV Army. He gives most of the credit for success to his officers, soldiers and airmen and is candid about his own mistakes. Unlike the Eighth Army when Montgomery took command of it, the XIV Army was the Cinderella of all British forces, receiving much less equipment and supply. Slim's divisions had to learn to fight on only 120 tons of supplies a day compared with 400 tons in other theatres. A great deal therefore depended on Slim and his officers learning to manage and to improvise: they manufactured their own parachutes for supply-drops and built their own shipyard for constructing river transport at Kalewa on the river Chindwin.
The XIVth was a polyglot army; formed largely from the old British Indian Army, it included Sikhs, Gurkhas, Nepalese and Burmese. Later there were divisions from both East and West Africa. The comparatively few British battalions shrank in size during the fighting because too few replacements were sent out from the UK.
Slim and his officers had to train their men to fight as well, indeed better, in the jungle than the Japanese. A favourite Japanese tactic was to send outflanking forces round to establish roadblocks in the rear of British positions. The answer was to hold reserves well back ready to attack the Japanese before they could establish their blocks. (I believe that, a thousand years ago, Byzantine generals used the same tactic to counter outflanking manoeuvres by fast-moving light cavalry such as the Huns.)
After the initial defeats, low morale in the British forces was a serious problem. Slim was not a natural showman like Montgomery, but he spent about one day in three visiting and talking to the troops; not only the front-line soldiers, but also the administrative, labour and supply units. Slim's section on morale should be required reading for everyone in a managerial or leadership position in every organisation, whether public or private!
This is a long book (over 600 pages) and, after a while, the endless descriptions of engagements do become tedious. Once you have read a few times how the umpteenth brigade of X division defeated the Japanese holding abc village, killing x hundred Japanese and capturing y guns and tanks, it gets a bit monotonous. If you read this book, you should also read Ken Cooper's experiences as a platoon commander in 2nd Battalion, the Border Regiment, "The Little Men". Slim takes one paragraph (about 70 words) to describe the battle to take Satpangon - Cooper needs 45 pages and about 16,000 words to describe the same incident.
Slim concludes with some afterthoughts on lessons for future warfare. There will be a continuing need for high quality individual soldiers, with high morale, toughness, personal discipline, acceptance of personal hardship and ability to move on their own feet and to look after themselves. He also suggests that having too many vehicles restricts tactical mobility. "Unless they are constantly watched and ruthlessly cut down, vehicles ... will multiply until they bog down movement." Are these thoughts relevant to the conflict in Afghanistan? Is the emphasis on personal protection of the individual soldier reducing his tactical effectiveness?
on 28 February 2012
An army officer friend of mine sent me the book with the following endorsement "It is quite simply the best book on soldiers, soldiering and the art of warfighting that I have read". It very much lives up to that the reputation, easy to read, powerful insights and some excellent maps to follow the action on.
The last section is most definitely the best, Slim shows his depth of insight when he breaks out of the narrative (which is good narrative, but the insight is fabulous).
A friend sent me a copy of Field Marshal Bill Slim's Defeat Into Victory. It has always been on my list of books I'd like to read, but somehow I'd never quite got round to acquiring a copy. The version I have is a reading copy of the original edition, with fold out maps all through it.
The reading style is very engaging and easy to read, especially if you have the space to fold out the map at the end of the chapter so that you can follow all the places when they appear in the narrative. It was the first time I'd read about the ebb and flow of the war in Burma (even though my grandfather drove a DUKW out there). So I found it very
interesting, the nature of warfare was hugely different that both Europe and North Africa (and I suspect even the Pacific Islands). In some respects the war fought in Burma was more like recent modern wars with low troop densities, long logistics tails and a massive reliance on air power.
The other engaging bit about the book was that Slim shows you the development of the army from a road bound Western linear fighting force into an all arms, all round defence, jungle fighting machine. In the beginning the British Army is out of its depth and way beyond the ken of its commanders or troops. The Japanese have infiltration tactics that the British just can't cope with, and are so stubborn in defence that they cannot be shifted when they gain a hold. The British just dissolve and retreat rapidly out of the way (mostly).
It isn't just a story of the British Army, as well as colonial forces (Indians and Africans mostly) there is also the alliance warfare aspect of the war. He liaises with Vinegar Joe Stillwell and the Chinese Army too.
Later, the British manage to shorten their lines of communication, build defences and work out how to deal with the Japanese. Once they do, then the tables turn, although it takes much stubborn fighting to shift the enemy. There is a good narrative that explains the constraints the 14th Army was operating under, the logistics challenges and how these were overcome and also the details of the operations. Occasionally there are little personal vignettes of visits to the front, or reports of battles.
One of the things I noted was the commentary on how few prisoners were taken, mostly it was a grim fight to the death by both sides. A typical note on a Japanese attack was that there was one prisoner taken and 600 Japanese bodies recovered from the 14th Army positions.
However, great as all this is, the last section of the book is the best. In the last chapter Slim gives his opinions on why things turned out the way that they did and also on what he draws as lessons for the future. Given that this was written in 1957 he has a lot to say that I think was quite prescient about current operations (and it might also have been right for the post-nuclear exchange as well, but thankfully we've avoided that).
on 22 October 2010
A superb book by a humane, generous and perceptive man. Slim was handed the command of Burma as the Japanese army swept in - too late to do anything about it but not too late to take the blame. He was with his troops during that terrible retreat into India.
The next phase was fascinating - Slim's work to turn a defeated army into one that could first hold, and then push back the Japanese. Administration sounds dull, but Slim tackled vital issues in 1943: prevention and care of disease, jungle training and suitable equipment for his troops, the fragile supply chain (Slim's army was always at the bottom of the priority list for equipment. He was sent worn out Lee-Grant tanks and Mk2 Hurricanes, no landing craft - he had to make his own parachutes for supply drops and improvise his own navy out of patched up river boats!). These things are not enough to raise the morale of a defeated army, but they are necessary.
Then, from late 1943, the start of the great campaign that expelled the Japanese from Burma. First his push into Arakan and support of Stilwell's Chinese in northern Burma (by the famous but actually rather ineffective Chindits). The Chinese decided to stop, and the Japanese then launched their major attack in the centre against Imphal and Kohima. Slim expected this, and knew it would be the vital theatre, but he was surpised by its speed and strength. But his army was very different from the one that Mutaguchi had expected. It held, then drove back the Japanese, who had planned to live off captured supplies and were by then starving. Slim's feint to Mandalay and right hook to Meiktila was a masterstroke which shattered the Japanese army, their greatest defeat in a land battle.
Slim provides fascinating sketches of some of the colourful players in this obscure theatre of war: Stilwell, Wingate and Mountbatten among them. His judgements are always generous and often affectionate, even of those who did him no favours at all. Slim was a soldier's soldier from a humble background who rose by merit, not by influence. In one of the nastiest campaigns in WW2 his troops worshipped him because they knew he was one of them.
For a bottom-up view, please read the wonderful George Macdonald Fraser on his adventures with the Borderers in that final campaign.