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4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars
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on 3 April 2017
I bought this book because I love reading WW2 history. I hadn't read any by Mr Holland before - I know, I know...How could I not? I don't know, okay? - but I will not be so remiss in future. I read the reviews on this book and couldn't find a bad one, so that AND the fact that I realized I knew absolutely nothing about Malta's part in WW2 - other than it held the dubious title of, 'The Most Bombed Place On Earth' at one time - so decided to give it a go...
What a read! What history! What characters! What a people!
This book reads like a fictional, historical epic BUT it's all true. The author (now one of my 'must read' list toppers), writes in an uncomplicated style: yes there are facts but they serve to supplement the story, NOT smoother it. This book not only taught me history, it engaged me....How to convince you? Maybe the highest praise this amateur historian can allocate this book is to say, it's up there with ANYTHING written by Anthony Beever or Max Hastings - surpassing many of those stalwart's titles. I now wish to visit this island, to SEE the place, to FEEL the atmosphere and meet the inhabitants that carry the genes of those that inspired this book. If you ANY interest in WW2 history and if, like me, you know only little of the part played by this Mediterranean island, in the scheme of that conflict, BUY THIS BOOK! If you're not enthralled by it, tell me and I'll buy it from you.
I can not recommend this book highly . Amazing!
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on 20 July 2017
First non-fiction book written by Holland, and sets the standard/style by which his later books build. It largely concentrates on the 'little people' in any conflict, but does give coverage to the publicly recognised hero's and war commanders. However it his small stories of individual fortitude and bravery that fills in the gaps of the greater story unfolding; namely, the survival of an island and its people right under the noses of the Axis powers in the Mediterranian. Its a small miracle how it survived, with the story building up to the make or break convoy (Pedestal) taking in essential supplies. Never too technical that it would not be enjoyed by a non-military enthusiast, it unfortunately had just insufficient 'action' for me, therefore knocking a star off, but for a first book, it was an excellent read. Having read many others of his fiction and NF books, I like his style, but if forced ranked, this is not one of his best.
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on 29 May 2017
This book is a gripping read about the German/Italian onslaught on the little island of Malta during WW2. I actually read it whilst I was on holiday in Malta and visited quite a few of the places mentioned. It's a lovely, easy read and holds you throughout by following the lives of allied soldiers, sailors and airmen and, of course, the brave and resilient Maltese people in their darkest hour. Highly recommended.
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on 5 March 2015
Good history of Malta during WW2. The people suffered great hardship during the Siege. But don't lose sight of the fact that the locals had little choice because Malta was so vital to the Allies in WW2.
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on 12 May 2017
good price, prompt delivery.
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on 3 May 2017
Perfect gift.
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on 7 August 2017
An outstanding account of the defence of Malta, this reads like an adventure story, and yet manages to combine the historical and strategic background with a selection of highly personal stories.
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on 1 June 2017
Like the story of Malta during the conflict and the way James portrays this
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VINE VOICEon 6 March 2012
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, but this book I felt was below par for several reasons.

The main reason is that in wanting to tell the story of the Maltese people's sacrifices and efforts - which ARE worth recording - he has missed out half the story. We never get to to hear from the Italians or Germans. The Luftwaffe air force commander Kesselring is about the only German who gets a named walk-on part. This may be ok for a patriotic page-turner written during or soon after WW2, buit it's rather odd for a book published 60 years or so after the events.

I had to pinch myself at times and tell myself I wasn't reading a book written to accompany the 1953 film Malta Story. It is a great film, by the way, but one with a very clear patriotic narrative, and I just think that a historian must strive for some kind of objectivity.

The trouble with telling the story from one side, is that Holland misses out on the much richer book that this could have been. Just to give one example of what I mean, the book would have benefited if it had included more on Luftwaffe and Regia Aeronautica operations over the Malta. I can't believe diaries from veterans don't exist. And by missing out on half the story - it deprives us readers of a truer picture of events.

Holland's strength is his use of diaries and narratives of those caught up in the fighting - but I found his analysis of higher command decisions was at times sketchy. We are left with the feeling that senior commanders could be out of touch or fools - but we're never properly presented with the wider strategic picture which would allow us to judge those decisions for ourselves.

In this respect I think Holland's work compares poorly with works such as Simon Ball's The Bitter Sea: The Brutal World War II Fight for the Mediterranean, or even Carlo D'Este's Bitter Victory: The Battle for Sicily when the boot was on the other foot and the allies were invading Sicily.

I am glad I read the book, but I was just left feeling disappointed because it had the potential for being a great book.
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on 30 April 2003
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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