on 2 August 2006
Robert Lyman has produced a brilliant history of Slim's victory in Burma and convinces the reader that he was the outstanding British commander of the Second World War. Slim, although relatively unknown now, transformed a defeated and dejected force into the Army that would defeat the seemingly invincible Japanese Army -that had mastered the terrain in 1942- just two years after its crushing defeat in 1942.
Robert Lyman's thoroughly researched book lucidly displays his mastery of the subject with ample maps and quotes from Slim and the other commanders in the Burma chain of command. It should be read by anyone with an interest in military strategy, the Second World War or indeed the battle for Burma.
on 13 April 2009
Commanding General Officer of the 14th 'Forgotten' Army - Forgotten General? The name of Bill Slim does not normally rank alongside other WWII Allied Generals when people think of the more well known figures in the 'Western' theater of operations - the Montgomery's, Bradley's, Wavell's, Patton's and of course Eisenhower himself. Even US General McArthur is probably better known for his exploits in the Pacific than Bill Slim in Burma.
Like most aspects of the Burma Campaign, Bill Slim was/is relatively unknown in the broader context of WWII, but to those who served under him his inspired leadership was truly remembered, especially as it was through that leadership the tide of war in Burma turned against the Japanese. Robert Lyman in my opinion has thoroughly researched his subject and produced an excellent and comprehensive book giving the reader, I believe, a pretty good insight into the Man, the General, the Leader.
Would things have been different in 1942 if Bill Slim had been in charge then? Maybe not, but what the book demonstrates is that when Bill Slim was given command he pulled together what forces he had, built them up into a formidable fighting army which carried the fight to the Japanese right through to the cessation of hostilities. This happened within a period of only two years against an enemy who were still very much on the offensive and far from defeated, as compared to the 4 years between Dunkirk and Normandy in Europe.
I have read other accounts about Bill Slim, but this is by far the best and a necessary read for those interested in this quite remarkable man; or in the Burma Campaign in general. Well done and thank you Robert Lyman.
on 1 November 2012
Since the end of the Second World War the reputations of some of the generals have increased and that of others diminished. Some generals,like MacArthur and Mountbatten, maintained their own press offices to ensure that their names were always kept before the public. Of the British generals, the British Government kept the names of Montgomery and Mountbatten before the public so that the Government could show that what the Americans did, the British could do equally well. It has long however been recognized that Montgomery was competent rather than brilliant, and he was never sacked because, after the hype, that would have reflected badly on the armies of the British Empire.With regard to Mountbatten nobody found any qualities other than an ability to attribute the successes of others to himself.
Bill Slim never received public adulation during the War. There were several reasons for this. First, he belonged to 'Indian army' British-officered, but recruited from the fierce warlike castes of India. Since the days of Wellington officers in the British Army looked down on 'sepoy generals. Second, Mountbatten appropriated all the glory to himself.Third, he was an honest man who admitted the mistakes he made, and every general made mistakes, and he gave praise to his inferior officers and shared the credit with them. (According to himself, Montgomery never made a mistake.)
For various reasons, not least the ingrained belief in the British Army that the Japanese army could not fight, the British were heavily defeated by the Japanese in the Far East. Yet the Japanese were well-trained and were led by bold and very competent generals who literally walked rings round a British Army that had 300 years of experience in the East. All over the East British armies were out-marched and out-generalled by the Japanese. Nor could the senior officers and politicians agree on a policy regarding what to do in Burma.
Slim was appointed to take charge of a beaten army. He himself had a clear idea what had to be done. The first was to keep the army from disintegrating, and despite ever-changing orders, to bring as much as possible safely back to India. This he did but got no credit for it. He was luckier however than Lord Gort who had saved the army at Dunkirk but was never employed again. He was given the job of training, or re-training, the various old and new divisions. Carefully studying the strengths and weaknesses of the Japanese army he worked out how they could be beaten. Where his rules were practised the British won; where they were not they were defeated. It did not help when a general from the British Eight Army in Europe was appointed his superior though he had no experience of fighting against the Japanese. It was not the least of Slim's achievements that he was able to carry on despite the obstructions of his superior.
The Fourteenth Army in Burma, at more than half a millions soldiers, was the largest British army during the war. It was also the last in the line for supplies and equipment. Older aircraft like the Hurricane proved themselves again. Slim relied heavily on supplying from the air to keep the Japanese on the run, so planes had to be begged from the Americans. He was not allocated silk for parachutes so he had them made from jute instead in Indian factories.The victory in Burma was the greatest Anglo-Indian victory in 300 years. It was also the greatest Japanese defeat in World War II. Of the troops fighting, 64% were Indian,17% were African, and 19% were British.
The high quality of this book is let down by poor maps, and especially by the frequent failure not to mark on a map places mentioned in the text.
Altogether a book that should be read by all
This is a welcome addition to Kindle books of an account originally published some years ago. Much has been written about Slim, his imposing physical build, his determination, and the fact that he commanded the only Allied army to defeat a Japanese army on land in the Second World War.
His greatest contribution however has tended to lie hidden so it is refreshing to read in Lyman's book reference to it. It was not outstanding success on the battlefield that was his contribution to the art of war it was to demonstrate a means of linking the theory of the so called 'indirect approach' to the post 1960's doctrine of manoeuvre warfare. He was the foremost British exponent of the former doctrine which was put forward by Basil Liddell Hart. He was horrified by the strategy used in the Great War and produced this indirect approach, after a good deal of plagiarism from J.F.C. Fuller's writings, in order to avoid its recurrence in a future war. The doctrine like its successor preached the need to undermine enemy morale and will to win by a combination of surprise, concentration of force, psychological shock and moral dominance. Essentially its aim was to avoid attrition warfare. The doctrine emphasized guile, trickery, deceit and cunning. It focuses on seeking out the opponent's weaknesses and exploiting them. It owes much to the work of Sun Tzu's 'Art of War' and Machiavelli's 'Art of War' and 'The Prince'.
Slim applied these ideas against the Japanese in Burma. Unfortunately for his reputation he left very little about his methods in writing. Hence, Lyman's aim is to redress this by presenting the unknown Bill Slim . He succeeds admirably.
Slim's father was an iron merchant. Born in 1891 he was brought up in difficult financial circumstances. He served in Gallipoli and Mesopotamia in the Great War, was awarded the Military Cross, was twice wounded and transferred to the Indian Army in 1919 .In 1920 he joined the 6th Gurkha Rifles whom he had first met as a subaltern in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment at Gallipoli in 1915.
Slim spent the rest of his regimental career with the Gurkhas. Marked out for great ability he graduated as the top student at the Indian Staff College in Quetta in 1926. He did extremely well at Camberley, was liked by all and became a brevet Lt Colonel in 1935. He was noted for his character and intellect. Slim then attended at a very young age, the Imperial Defence College in London and thereafter commanded a battalion at the unusual late age of 46. The reason was because unlike others he had held several high powered jobs at an early age.
The athor details Slim's later appointment as a Brigadier, and active service in the Middle East. In 1941 he was promoted to Major General. Slim soon came to the attention of General Sir Claude Auchinleck and Wavell the C in C Middle East. In March 1942, Slim was given command of Burma Corps in Burma. The rest as they say is history.
Lyman examines Slim's successes against the Japanese. Appendices give details of Slim's appointment to Burma Corps and to Eastern Army in October 1943. The maps and notes are useful and there is a select bibliography along with illustrations.
The whole is an excellent addition to other accounts of Bill Slim's outstanding army career.
on 12 January 2014
This is a very detailed account of Slim's part in the war in Burma. There is no doubt that he rescued the British from a terrible defeat, and that it was his genius which planned and inspired the victories over the Japanese in 1944 and 1945. The book contains an enormous amount of detail,together with some maps which leave out nothing.
The writing is at times repetitive, and the author is at pains to criticise anyone who got in Slim's way. I admit I was aghast at some of the machinations at the highest level, which seemed to put careers and plaudits before the common good. I don't swallow it all. The book could have done with better editing, particularly to eliminate the sometimes tiresome repetitiveness, There is perhaps too much detail at times with lots of difficult place names thrown in, and this is not an easy read.The maps are a maze. There is a lack of balance, too. The description of the successful Japanese tactics is excellent, but once they start to be beaten, the explanation of the change is not as good as it might be. Better training was the key, but I would have liked a clearer description of the victorious period. This is a worthy book, but not as readable and organised as it might be.