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14 of 20 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Okay but could have been so much better...., 6 Mar. 2012
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This review is from: Fortress Malta: An Island Under Siege 1940-1943 (CASSELL MILITARY PAPERBACKS) (Paperback)
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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Showing 1-7 of 7 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 6 Mar 2012, 22:21:02 GMT
MRB says:
I liked James Holland's focus on the plight of the Maltese, which I think many other general accounts of the fighting in the Med leave out - but I accept that he chose to tell the tale largely from the Allied side. I agree it would have been better had he covered both sides

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Mar 2012, 22:23:43 GMT
Tim62 says:
Thank you. To be fair to Holland - this is something he has rectified in his later book on the Battle of Britain, which does cover the fighting using diaries and interviews with soldiers, sailors and aircrew on both the Axis and Allied sides

Posted on 31 Mar 2015, 13:48:48 BST
Thomas S-R says:
There was absolutely no need to tell the story of the Germans or Italians, all you need to know is that they needed to remove Malta for strategic reasons and these are specified throughout the book. You are also kept informed about the changing availability of enemy aircraft to bomb malta and possible invasion plans. This is literally all you need to know.

The focus of this book is on the survival of this little island, the sometimes almost hopeless fight against the odds by the defenders and the struggles of the civilian population.

If you want a book that tells you the story of the Axis attempt to control the Med and take North Africa and the Middle East don't buy a book entitled FORTRESS MALTA: AN ISLAND UNDER SIEGE. Rather unsurprisingly the focus of that book is based on Malta and the island under siege!

In reply to an earlier post on 31 Mar 2015, 13:51:24 BST
Last edited by the author on 16 Feb 2016, 15:52:09 GMT
Tim62 says:
Hi Thomas S-R, sorry, but I can't agree - to cover history - you have to tell the story from both sides of the hill. This was a missed opportunity. And the title of the book doesn't really mean that you should only tell half the story - which is what Holland did here. best wishes

In reply to an earlier post on 3 Apr 2015, 16:00:32 BST
Positive says:
Hi Tim62.
I personally think it's much better than you say, just on the ground it is very well researched and well explained from the Anglo-Maltese side. I do agree though about it being yet another book all about the brave British and Maltese standing up against the awful Axis. Perhaps someone should do a book about Malta from the German or Italian point of view--or even from that of the French, Turks, etc in earlier wars. It seems to be a gap.

Posted on 13 May 2016, 14:37:41 BST
ST Donovan says:
It sounds like your expectation is that a historian should not concentrate, as Holland does here, on any particular people's subjective experience of war, but should strive at all times to `loop in' the other side, for reasons of balance. Does this mean that any history on the fascinating topic of Hitler's last days in the bunker would be invalid if it didn't include descriptions of what Churchill, Truman and Stalin were all doing at the same time? I should say not.

In my opinion, any attempt to be `comprehensive' or `even-handed' by Holland (i.e. including, for balance, the Axis experience of the war in Malta) would have fatally diluted the power of this book. As Thomas S-R says, the books is up-front about where its focus lies, and doesn't purport to be THE one-stop-shop history of Malta during WW2.

In reply to an earlier post on 13 May 2016, 15:32:27 BST
Tim62 says:
Hi ST Donovan, I am glad that you liked the book. And I am happy to disagree - life would be dull if we all felt the same way about books (or anything else come to that).

My only observation would be that in his later books James Holland has done exactly that - he has gone and got views from both sides.

As for Hitler's bunker - I'd agree with you but don't think your comparison is strictly apt. This was a chance to tell the story of the struggle for Malta. The views and struggles of the Germans and Italians were badly missed - at least by me!

But as I say, I am glad you liked it. Best wishes, Tim
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