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4.8 out of 5 stars
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on 6 December 2002
John Bierman and Colin Smith's joint venture, 'Alamein: War Without Hate' follows hot on the heels of a number of other very good titles covering the Battle of El Alamein (Stephen Bungay's 'Alamein' and Clayton & Craig's 'End of the Beginning' to name just two). This title covers the history behind the desert campaign, the lead up to famous confrontation at Alamein and the results of that pivotal battle (at least in the eyes of the British Commonwealth).
In just over 400 pages of tense and illuminating narrative we learn more than just the 'what, why & how' of the battle. As readers we get the chance to have a glimpse into the lives of the soldiers who fought in this campaign. We read about soldiers from all parts of the Commonwealth and their German and Italian enemies and we get an idea why this campaign was known as the "war without hate".
The story was presented in a lively and interesting manner and although I have read quite a few books on this battle the story was fresh and retained my interest throughout. I found that at times the authors presented accounts with humor and sometimes a little sarcasm but at all times with fairness to soldiers on both sides of 'no-mans land'. There may not be much that is new here but this book does offer a refreshing and easy to read account of one of World War Two's more famous battles.
I also found that at times whilst reading this book I really got caught up in the lives of some of the participants and I was sadden by many of the outcomes. This is the story about the ordinary infantrymen, tankie, artillerymen, pilot, sailor and civilian, on both sides of the conflict. I really enjoyed the stories from these men and women and it was pleasing to see that the poor old Italian soldier get a fair place in this account. The author's style of writing was captivating and drew me into the narrative with ease, and I enjoyed many of the little snippets of information they provided on a range of subjects and characters...
This is a good story, well presented and well written. I am sure that many readers who enjoy WWII history will enjoy this book immensely.
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on 23 March 2004
This book is a fluent and gripping account of the North African campaign, beginning with the Italian invasion of Egypt (well prior to the arrival of Rommel), and finishing with the decisive battle of el Alamein. It's perfectly pitched on the detail, enough for those keen on the divisions and weapons, but never getting bogged down in them.
There's a great mixture of the larger picture; troop and tank movements, overall strategy; with the smaller personal details of history and experiences that fill in the gaps as far as the real people and real lives are concerned. This is augmented by footnotes throughout that fill in the details of the fates of many of the figures very satisfactorily.
Overall a fascinating account of an almost unique campaign. Heartily recommended.
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on 11 January 2003
Like their last joint effort - on Orde Wingate - Smith and Bierman have taken a challenging subject and treated it with their original blend of professionalism, humour and huge respect for their subjects (or most of them, at any rate). In addition, those elements of the book which have never been discussed before are fascinating, and must add to the book's importance.
By borrowing the subtitle War Without Hate they might have slipped into a misleading account of a soft-focus, rather comfortable sort of conflict. They make their point but leave you in no doubt just what a campaign like this means in terms of human loss. Why were we able to beat a better-equipped enemy who was also better-generalled (at least initially)? Because we had some outstanding junior officers and senior NCOs, many more of whom gave their lives in this campaign than in other armies and other wars. The account of the Rifle Brigade's action at Snipe, as well as a number of other accounts of individual acts of bravery (generally linked to a high degree of situational awareness), show how such people enabled Monty to achieve his objectives. And the stories are gripping.
I enjoyed the discussions of the generals in particular. There is some uncomfortable reading here, though, because of the comparisons between the two sides. Although the authors do not dwell on Montgomery, they leave you in no doubt how outstanding his contribution was; and, despite being a professional soldier not known for his tolerance or humanity, he understood that he needed to tailor his plan to the limitations of his citizen army.
I had the luxury of reading the book over Christmas and New Year, and so hardly put it down until I had finished it. I look forward to the next one.
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The overall scope of this excellent book is a revelation, offering new perspectives of a unique 3-year campaign with its own special character.

The title `Alamein' refers of course to the pivotal attritional battle in October 1942 following which the British finally went onto the continuous offensive against Panzerarmee Afrika (made up by then of roughly equal numbers of German and Italian troops). However the book's scope takes in the whole of the North African campaign from the Italian invasion of Egypt in 1940 until the final mass surrender of all the remaining Axis forces in Tunisia in May 1943, leading to the allied invasion of Italy and implementation of Churchill's `Mediterranean strategy.'

The authors have a lively and literate style, and unexpectedly appropriate dry humour is found amid the serious subject matter. Whilst giving in-depth portraits of the commanders (the British side, like the North during the American Civil War, went through a few generals before finding a consistently effective one) this is above all the story of the ordinary infantryman and tank gunner; the choice to include details of hitherto little-known acts of heroism in minor actions makes for absorbing reading.
The book begins with a finely observed reunion between the old soldiers of both sides, the youngest now in their 70s, at the Rommel Barracks in Germany in 1999, making the reader fully aware of the ambiguity and moral complexities of the occasion. `Krieg ohne Hass' (war without hate) is a direct quote from Erwin Rommel's description of the North African campaign and refers to the fact that in this theatre no SS divisions were deployed and the few towns and villages populating the sparse landscape were left undamaged and not fought over. No civilians were bombed or brutalised. The war was fought by the combatants over the enormous, bleak desert landscape between Tunisia and Egypt, in which environment an unlikely comradeship and mutual respect developed between the two sides - the German and Italian forces on one side and the British and commonwealth forces on the other. The Geneva Convention was invariably respected, prisoner abuses were unknown and enemy combatants injured when captured were treated by each side with the same care and respect as their own. More `opponents' than enemies, this was pretty much unique during WW2 and life-long post-war friendships between survivors who had fought against each other and tried their best at the time to kill each other grew and flourished.
The authors however leave the reader in no doubt that the fighting was bloody and terrible. Men died hideously in tanks `brewed up' by anti-tank shells, were blown apart by mines, had limbs blown off by artillery blasts, died slowly and painfully. War is no bed of roses, and in this respect the North African campaign was no different to any other.

Water and supplies of all kinds were often scarce, particularly for the Axis side as Malta-based British torpedo bombers and submarines constantly intercepted and sunk the German and Italian supply ships due to information supplied by `Ultra'. The Germans believed that allied spies must be operating in southern Italian ports and had no idea their mail was being read. In similar vein an American diplomat in Cairo innocently gave continuous useful intelligence to Rommel through his un-coded messages sent to Washington about what the British were doing.
There is plenty of detail about strategy, equipment and armoured formations, order of battle and so forth to satisfy any military enthusiast, and detailed maps a-plenty. The hardback edition has dozens of interesting photos of every aspect of the campaign.
The personal and lesser-known stories are what which linger in the memory. The true story of Count Laszlo Almasy, the real `English Patient' on whom the film of that name was based; the part played by a brigade of German Jewish volunteers who came from Palestine to fight against the Afrika Korps; the full story of how an obscure old recording by Bremerhaven nightclub singer Lale Andersen, initially broadcast from German Radio in Belgrade, came to have such powerful universal appeal to the common soldiers on both sides and became the most famous song of the war. During the siege of Tobruk when British and Australian defenders first heard `Lili Marlene' drifting across the desert from a radio in the German trenches, they yelled out into the night "Hey Fritz! Louder! Turn it up!" The German troops graciously complied, and the song was subsequently adopted by allied troops as well. Such stories are vividly brought to life by the authors in this first-rate history.

I would say even if you know nothing about WW2 or have little interest in the minutiae of how the strategy was played out, you would still enjoy this book because it's so very well-written and enjoyable.

For a different but equally valuable take on the desert campaign, Stephen Bungay's `Alamein' in which the author analyses the desert campaign from the perspectives of modern strategic resource management, makes a good (and shorter) companion volume to Smith and Bierman's excellent book.
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on 5 February 2011
I enjoyed and learned much from this book. The risk with books about military campaigns for the non-military (or this one at least) is that of confusion. Perhaps it is the authors' acknowledgment that they are journalists which explains why this book avoided, in my view, that pitfall almost entirely. And the book left me wanting to know more - particularly about some of the characters involved.

But surely the reason tanks burning is called brewing up is not "curiously, the same phrase" [page 104] but an ironic connection?
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on 29 October 2012
First hand accounts of their experiences by German and Italian as well as British and Commonwealth soldiers add to the fascination of this detailed account of the first defeat of Hitler's armies. Their personal stories, whether they are generals or sappers, gunners or infantry, heighten the awareness of just how awful battlefields are. These are some of the men taken, not always willingly, from their lives as craftsmen or farmers or clerks, to become killers and possibly be killed, in an alien landscape for a cause that may not have been fully understood, and then to carry on as their friends die in a burning tank or from terrible wounds. And yet, as the sub title, War Without Hate, indicates, moments of humanity were a response to the mutual respect of the opposing soldiers. All this combines with the narrative of the grand strategies and mistakes as told in a remarkable work by two journalists who had years of experience reporting from dangerous areas of the world. Their factual research and their insights describe actions varying from heroism to incompetence on both sides with compassion and occasional irony. A significant contribution towards an understanding of how at last it seemed possible that the Germans and Italians could be defeated.
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on 17 July 2010
I have to admit that i bought this item 2 years ago and for whatever reason have only just got round to reading it. I'm glad i bought it, it's just a fantastic book and gives an excellent, comprehensive account of the war in the desert.

For anyone remotely interested in the war, this book is a must. And don't be deceived by the title, it doesn't focus on Alamein alone but in everything leading upto it and all the key players.

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I was extremely pleased to read this fine book . My late father served as a wireless operator with the Long Range Desert Group in North Africa . This book bought alive for me the places and episodes I , now vaguely , remember him recounting to me when I was a child . I found it a deeply moving book . 'Alamein , War without Hate' is an apt title for this book . The one clear thing I remember from my childhood was that my father had respect , almost fondness , for his former German adversaries. Equally he held Rommel in high regard . I vividly remember it was his lasting conviction that 'Rommel was proper soldier , not like that old tit Montgomery ' !!!!

This is a superb book I can thoroughly recommend .
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on 11 October 2015
I primarily chose to read this particular book on Alamein because Colin Smith's book "Singapore Burning" was one of the best books on the Second World War that I have ever read. Alas I found this book was rather disappointing.

First the title, calling the book Alamein is a really a marketing ploy because this book really concerns the entire North African Campaign, with some references to the Mediterranean Campaign not simply Alamein. Whilst the book ‘Singapore Burning” concerned the entire Malayan Campaign, the campaign itself was so short, it in effect merges into one quick episode. On the other hand the North African Campaign actually lasted for years.

The book also includes some rather dubious research on issues such as Jasper Maskelyne. The authors repeated the man’s claims as though proven fact, whereas most historians consider it all nonsense. I can’t believe that the authors would not have realized this, so they appear to have included it just because they felt it sounded good.

The book also veers off in directions that whilst interesting, have no significant bearing on Alamein. There is an entire chapter devoted to László Almásy for example. The events described are of the most minor importance in the story of the campaign so in truth the chapter serves merely as a historical review of the book and film, ‘The English Patient’.

The book also indulges in some good old-fashioned officer bashing throughout. There is a constant stream of small digs, presumably because of the personal dislike of the authors towards the British officer class. This is rather unforgivable because no critical analysis is made, just smart aleck remarks. Strangely I didn’t find this to be the case at all in ‘Singapore Burning’.

Overrall, this is a reasonable book. Perhaps if you are a hobby historian, it may give you just enough information and it is written in a reasonably engaging fashion so you may like it. If you want an engaging book that also seeks to delve deeper with some critical analysis into the campaign then this really isn’t for you.
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on 12 January 2009
The Battle of Alamein is a familiar tale and the authors concur with accepted wisdom: that Montgomery rightly anticipated that the battle would be attritional, but that he was forced to switch his main attack northwards yet pretended - as always - that everything had gone to plan; that he failed to appreciate the difficulty of mine clearance (detectors and flail tanks didn't work, and Sappers and infantry resorted to arduous probing with bayonets), or the vulnerability of armour in narrow corridors. Once again the 88s wreaked devastation.

This fine narrative is a tribute to the resilience and fighting qualities of soldiers on both sides. The Allies prevailed despite never consistently mastering - unlike the Germans - close infantry/armour/artillery support, or quick tactical improvisation, or lateral communication (battalions in different divisions couldn't speak to each other directly). They prevailed because of the sinking of German supply convoys (largely through Ultra), through weight of numbers and eventual air superiority, and the bravery of the Desert Rat.

The authors have a jaunty style, often strangely appropriate to their tale. There was much humour and perkiness in the desert, tank crews would yell `Missed!' over the radio to Germans firing at them. At Snipe, Sgt. Calistan scored a hat trick of enemy tanks with his last three anti-tank shells, and then brewed a nice pot of tea on the bonnet of a burning jeep. He knew his manners and offered his wounded Colonel a cup. `As good a cup as I've ever had,' Col. Turner said politely. He had, incidently, just won the VC. Many such tales adorn this excellent and riveting read.

Jacqueline Buchanan, Guild of Battlefield Guides
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