I am quite impressed with the text of Gazala 1942 - Rommel's greatest victory. This campaign book fits very nicely between Tobruk 1941 (Campaign 80) and El Alamein 1942 (Campaign 158) and together they bring a very clear picture of the desert war. Especially since Gazala begins with an overview of Crusader that lifted the siege of Tobruk and ends at the First Battle of El Alamein.
Ken Ford manages to paint a clear picture of events and captures the highlights well as the reasons for them, the defiant and brave stands of the 150 Brigade of the 50 "Northumbrian" Division and the Free Franch Brigade at Bir Hacheim. Both stands showed the quality of the allied troops but the British High Command failed to utilize them to their advantage.
The different style of leadership is clearly portrayed, Rommel leading from the front and even taking command at platoon level to see an attack through while the British leaders failed time and time again, not obeying orders and failing to understand the concepts of tank warfare. At Gazala the British had for the first time a tank that could match the Germans - the Grant and a powerful enough anti-tank gun the 6 pdr. With numerical superiority their rigid and static thinking became their bane. I have read quite a few books on the Desert War and I think this one captures Gazala best in the big picture.
There are plenty of maps, and these are usually good but have a hurried feel at times since the unit markings are sometimes wrong (like Trento and Brescia are labled as tank divisions on one map but were in fact infantry divisions) so bad proof reading there. But overall the maps are plentiful and appropriate to the text.
There are only 2 colour plates in this book which is less than standard but that is fine since one is below medium and the other is plain bad and neither adds anything to the book. There are however plenty of good photographs from the battle that make up for this and the book would have been better had the colour plates been omitted altogether.
So with a well written and informative text by Ken Ford and very good photographs I recommend this book. It is good that this important battle has the attention it deserves.
First, it must be said that this account of the Battle of Gazala in 1942 should be welcomed as there are few, if any, standalone books covering this subject. Normally readers would have to go to more general histories of the Western Desert campaign or biographies of Rommel himself. Whilst there are numerous books on Tobruk and El Alamein, this crushing defeat for the British & Commonwealth forces remains mainly as a the background to Monty's eventual triumph five months later at the 2nd Battle of El Alamein.
Unlike Ken Ford's previous title covering the three battles around El Alamein, this book doesn't have to bite off more than it can chew. The scale and scope of Gazala fits very neatly into the Osprey format without is feeling either padded or compressed. As a result this is one of the better Osprey Campaign titles seen for a while.
As always with Osprey's publications, there is no room for personal accounts and testimonies by the combatants, and in this case that is a loss to what is otherwise a pretty engaging narrative. The descriptions of the battles around the 150th Brigade's stand in `The Cauldron' and the French defence of Bir Hachein both stand out. The accounts of the armour battles though are less well explained but this is probably due to the confused nature of the fighting and the limited space that Osprey permit.
In addition to the lack of personal witness accounts, the things that let this title down are the maps, which I found hard to follow but the real disappointment is the original artwork. I have criticised the work done by John White before, but of the two pieces here, one sets a new low even by the generally disappointing work done by this illustrator and I fail to understand why Osprey's Editors allowed it to go into print as it is so poor.
Despite my disappointment with parts of this publication, they are not enough to stop me recommending it as one of better Campaign titles in recent years.
Ken Ford has done several titles for Osprey about the Desert campaign in WW2. These volumes by Osprey are all characterised by crisp analysis, clear text and good illustrations. Ken Ford is very good at making sense of the tactics, the men and machines and weaving this into a clear narrative of the campaign and its importance.