on 19 February 2012
This is an outstanding Falklands book, one of the very best I have read. The account of the yomp across East Falkland and the Battle of Two Sisters had me completely enthralled. My thoughts were 'rather you than me' despite the fact that I spent 3 weeks being bombed in San Carlos Water. One walks with the men as they strive across the rough landscape carrying 100 lbs on their backs, following the man ahead in a long snake at 1 mile per hour. One feels the immense physical burden and admires their spirit to just keep going in the rain and cold and frequent lack of food and shelter. An impressive statistic was that once the initial stragglers with twisted ankles and busted backs had been sent back, all who survived the first march, kept going till the end at Port Stanley. They were in harmony with the elements and felt they could go on for ever.
This is just the central part of a fascinating book. What greatly adds to the enjoyment is the constant analysis of the human factors, the analysis of why men go to war and fight even to the point of death - not for Queen and country, not for their military leaders and certainly not for the Politicians. They fight and keep going for their mates and the human need not to be letting their mates down or to be seen to be a 'wanker'. I found the opening chapter quite fascinating as the Marines are summoned from odd spots in the world and all get back in time to deploy. More importantly, the whole war machine creaked quickly into the business of mounting an amphibious operation, coming as a complete shock to a Navy which had virtually forgotten how to do it. So many lessons had to be re-learnt and a number of organisational mistakes were made. Where there were obvious problems with command issues, these are tackled frankly but tempered with a sympathetic understanding of the huge burdens carried.
on 12 February 2012
My copy of "The Yompers" arrived on Saturday and I had finished by Tuesday; I almost couldn't put it down! I congratulate Ian Gardiner on another thoroughly excellent and absorbing read. He has a style that combines humour, pathos, and no-frills reality with a perspicacity that cuts to the quick yet displays the tact which avoids offence in commenting succinctly on the strategy, ideas, performance and quality of those who surrounded him in the Falklands Campaign of 1982: Brilliant!
There were a number of places in the book where I found myself saying "YES!" The author had hit the nail right on the head. Clearly, he is proud to have been a Royal Marine and one could only be envious of his good fortune in serving in a brigade that had an evident cohesion. It was a `joined-up' formation with Gunners, Sappers, Loggies, Helicopters etc all part of the whole. In addition, they all knew each other and, as he pointed out, they had trained together for years AND knew the Royal Navy. If one wanted two completely opposite examples of formations fit/unfit for the war we were thrust into then 3 Cdo and 5 Inf Brigades would be perfect. One hopes that history will castigate those who seriously lapsed in their responsibility when 5 Bde was structured and equipped and that there is a special place in hell for those who despatched us to war without seriously considering almost any of the lessons of ANY previous campaign. But, then, one supposes it was ever thus and Ian Gardiner has done well to be gracious about the short-comings of others. There are no 'axes' being 'ground' here, just the plain honest-to-goodness perspective of a man to whom fell the grinding, bone-tiring reality that is the lot of an Infantry Company Commander in war. For the pundits it may have been dismissed as a short war but for those involved it was bloody, it was winter, it was 8,000miles from home and it was completely unexpected. We won because of the quality of the men who took part and for whom defeat was never an option. The respect and affection that Ian had for his men is undisguised and the pride that he had in commanding them is, clearly, undiminished despite the passage of some 30 years since the events he has described. This is and excellent "Must-Read" account for anyone who has an interest in the Falklands Campaign, the Corps of Royal Marines or, importantly, the 'Actuality of War'.
on 9 March 2012
Ian Gardiner has done a masterful job telling a tough story of what it was to be a soldier and commander at war in the Falkland Islands, in a most honest, graphic, deliciously humorous and noble account. From that moment of being roused from the warmth of his own bed to heed the call of wartime service, the fears and uncertainties of the families left behind became palpable. And that combined fear was like a silent ghost dogging him and his men into every fresh advance, hovering over them with every setback -- right up until that euphoric moment when it was known with certainty they had won the war.
But Gardiner does not mount a parapet of heroism. Instead, he is honest enough to admit that while he was delighted to bring home every single man who headed to the battlefront with him, there were times of confusion, and chaos, and some returned home with deep wounds -- often invisible -- but nevertheless crippling.
Despite growing up in a long line of distinguished military men and historians, I have never been given quite as intimate a portrayal of what it is actually like to be on the ground, up against the elements, deep in the midst of the melee. And I have learned a fascinating new vocabulary of 'tent rhinos' and 'guddled brown trout'! In baring his soul, and in sharing his own deepest observations, Gardiner goes such a long way to help his fellow comrades and the families left behind to understand certain behaviours then and now, and perhaps solve certain mysteries of the heart that has been to war.
on 8 March 2012
"What a great read and insight into human endurance against all the odds that the environment, hastily planned logistics, and a war setting created. A great triumph for the British Services when the odds were stacked against them, and with 'cause and effect' facts that are so brilliantly portrayed by the author who also endured the turmoil.
You will want to read it time and again!"
on 27 March 2012
If you're an historian, this is an invaluable account of the action from the point of a commander who lost no men: there is no greater tribute than this. If you want a page-turning account of the action from a man who suffered along with his mates, this is it. You can smell the turf, feel the hunger, crouch behind the rock as you follow his soldier's eye view of battle on the edge of solitude, hunger and cold. If you want analysis of the political decisions that created the agonising battle-ground of the Falklands War, you'll find it here too. This is an invaluable & riveting account of the Falklands War from someone who has a sharp eye on current defence policy. A must-read.
on 29 March 2012
This is a fabulous, thoughtful read. The range of cultural and political reference is phenomenal but very lightly offered. The historical and personal perspectives are in splendid alignment, counterpointing each other. Truth is: the book is brilliant, idiosyncratic, wonderful. Even those not interested in `war stories' will be captivated: this is a small war in its full social, political, professional and personal setting. Worth noting: don't write of one's military experience - or of anyone elese's - soon after the events, despite the many 'Andy McNab' temptations. It always looks thin in retrospect: 30 years later, after much reflection, is about right. This book is relatively short but it is not 'thin'. And ... tears are never far away.
on 20 March 2012
Just finished this book - the day after I picked it up. It is a great read. As you would expect from a man with Ian Gardiner's experience, skills and world view it is intelligent, insightful and funny. What you also get is a book of geat humanity.
He is also not stinting in his forthright criticism of some of the other leaders of men in the campaign.
In this very personal account he has captured perfectly the Commando spirit, that unique blend of hard professionalism, irreverent humour and blunt, self-deprecating pragmatism.
It made me think, it made me sad. And I laughed out loud several times.
on 29 May 2012
I knew Ian Gardiner in 1975 when he was a young subaltern in command of the twenty two Royal Marines in HMS Diomede. He used to tell very interesting and humorous stories in the ship and he has retained this attribute but now with a great deal of wisdom and experience under his belt. Ian was a company commander with 45 Commando with the rank of captain in 1982 and his account of the Falklands war from the start to the final victory is fascinating and interspersed with the rye humour, and at times black humour, one has come to respect from military personnel. The team effort was paramount and this comes through in each chapter. His respect for his men and the tribute to them is obvious throughout this book. His analysis of the preparation phase and the command structure is to be commended. He never criticizes without a very good reason and his understanding of the problems which had to be overcome in all aspects of the war on the ground is due to his considerable experience in this field. This is an excellent book and it will be of great interest to anyone who would like to know more about the Falklands war, the Royal Marines, the Royal Navy and the way land battles are fought with limited support. I really enjoyed this book and thoroughly recommend it. This book should be read by everyone in the military and anyone who is involved in sending our troops to war.
When Argentina invaded the Falklands, it seemed a foregone conclusion that there would be much wringing of hands, followed by a face-saving compromise. Thatcher would probably have to go, but that would be fine: she was already upsetting far too many establishment applecarts, and many Tory MPs feared for their seats in the next general election. The prospect of yet another national humiliation filled me with rage and despair.
I wasn't the only one who was galvanised by Thatcher's remarkable decision to send the fleet. Work which normally would have taken naval dockyards months to complete was done over a weekend. Although many hands were wrung, throughout Britain there was a sense of unity and mission which seemed so wholly at odds with the despondency of Callaghan's last days, and the deepening recession of Thatcher's first two years. Britain's moral fibre--the will of ordinary people and above all the armed forces--was far stronger than I had dared believe.
And this is one of Ian Gardiner's essential messages. After reading this book you will be in no doubt about the morale and professionalism of the men who fought and died yomping across the boggy, rock-strewn terrain between San Carlos and Port Stanley. They knew what I had already sensed in a handful of encounters with British servicemen: nothing could stop them. Certainly not Argentinian soldiers. The Argies were brave enough, to be sure--but as Gardiner makes clear, they were appallingly led. After the surrender, he talked to their officers before they were shipped back, and they were amazed to find that enlisted men could address officers unbidden, and even more amazed that it was perfectly normal for officers and men to carry on normal conversations with each other.
And this is the message that shines through The Yompers. As I found out later, after I had joined the Territorials, the lowliest ranks are given responsibilities that would be unthinkable in most civilian occupations. In peacetime (let alone in combat)a lance corporal may very well find himself acting as a sergeant. A lieutenant might have to step into the shoes of a major. And so it goes. Training takes this into account. And because no military plan survives the first contact with reality, everyone has to have the training and mental flexibility to respond under the most stressful conditions.
Gardiner puts it like this: "The reality is that success depends on ten thousand decisions taken at the lowest-paid level, especially when the options run out. If your people know why they are there and how it all fits into the picture, they can use their brains and initiative to make it work for you."
In the end, the Falklands war accomplished a lot more than establishing the right of 1,800 British subjects under a government of their own choosing. It sent a message to the Kremlin that we could and would fight. I do not have the slightest doubt that Brezhnev's estimation of our morale prior to the war was pretty much the same as mine.
Ironically, for all of his efforts to defeat the 'evil empire', Reagan failed to grasp this--as I recently found in Aldous's "The Difficult Relationship" (between Thatcher and Reagan), he hated war and would do anything to avoid one. Had it not been for the efforts of his Defense Secretary, Caspar Weinberger, our forces would never have received American help.
Gardiner has written an outstanding book. He understates his own role, but this isn't just modesty. He knew that once his men went into action, there wasn't too much he could do other than call for support. But I have no doubt that he is totally sincere in his admiration and even awe for his men, and that like the officers I served under, he was totally loyal to them. And that culture generally holds throughout the armed forces. You are unlikely to get promoted unless you can command the respect and loyalty of your men. Mutual respect is the key to success in any organisation or undertaking. It is a lesson which should be engraved in the minds of every politician and bureaucrat in the whole of wretchedly micro-managed Britain.
on 18 September 2014
I thought this book was brilliant and I recommend it unreservedly. It is the second book I've read from a soldier giving an account of his experiences.Interesting, too, to read the thoughts of a company commander who of course had leadership responsibilities. It was reassuring somehow to see a unit allowed to use personal, civilian clothing which was more suitable for the wet and cold winter conditions (a triumph for commons sense!). I wonder how many army units of the day would have forced soldiers to use army clothing only; in other words, no mixed dress however much sense it makes (with particular reference to gloves, gaiters, and boots)! I remember his description vividly concerning the boots, how even the latest outdoor boots of the time quickly got saturated and that the campaign involved constant wet feet - no amount of exertion, I suspect, would have warmed up the feet when they were soggy like that!
Gardiner's writing is easy to read and captures the mood from the moment he is woken up and told to mobilize. There is sufficient detail, too, and his book has answered many questions about the Falklands War and in particular the experience of the march across the Falklands by the marines. This book reinforces my firm belief that the crack troops of the Royal Marines are of the highest calibre, second only to the soldiers of the Regular Infantry battalions of the British Army.