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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best General's book from World War II, 22 Aug 2010
This review is from: Defeat Into Victory: (Pan Military Classics Series) (Paperback)
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?
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Initial post: 14 Dec 2011 10:54:53 GMT
Last edited by the author on 14 Dec 2011 10:56:21 GMT
Thankyou for this detailed review.My late Father was in the 14th Army and fought in Burma. He never spoke about it but I can now buy this book to read about what he and his fellow soldiers went through. I know he was lucky to come home, at 6'2" he had a 26" waist, and my Mother did not recognise him at first.He was later was stationed in Malaya during the uprising and was presented with a plaque and a Kukri from the 17th Gurkhas. It has pride of place on my hallway wall.He always said they were the "forgotten 14th" how true.
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