Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Massacre at Tobruk book review

So while I convalesce from having my gall bladder removed in what was anything but a routine operation, I've had time to read and wanted to share my views on what was for me a new and unique raid during WWII.

Like many of us 50-somethings, we grew up watching movies like Tobruk with Rock Hudson and George Peppard.  At the time, even I thought it was just fantasy, too outrageous to be taken seriously.  Then I came across Peter C. Smith's book, "Massacre at Tobruk." 

In September of 1942, at the urging of Churchill a series of daring raids were planned on Axis supply ports and centers, utilizing the LRDG, commandos, marines and other Commonwealth troops.  Much like in the movie maligned by me earlier, a group of anti-Nazi Germans were recruited to try to enter Tobruk as a column of POWs.  Once in they were to assist with the destruction of supply dumps.  Who knew?  The movie glosses over the main raid of course, interjecting extra characters and a "healthy" dose of antisemitism.  Still, the movie accurately reflects that overall the raid (and most of the related ones) was a failure with a huge loss of life and little or nothing to show for it.

The book goes into great detail about the background of the raid.  How is was discussed back in 1940 and rejected as impractical even with greater forces available, and how poor was the security.  While it is a myth that the Axis forces were waiting for the raid, it seems at times as if the planners were doing everything possible to tip off the defenders. 

In the end the Royal Navy lost an AA light cruiser and two good destroyers, along with numerous MTBs and light craft.  Essentially all the forces that landed were killed or rounded up.  Again, little was accomplished by the raiders, unlike in the movie where Rommel losses all his fuel reserves.  Interestingly, all the comments from the survivors spoke very highly of the treatment from the Germans, while the Italians were often brutal, having endured insults for years.

The book is well illustrated with a wealth of previously unknown pictures, maps and illustrations.  It also has a nice bibliography.  On the downside, the proof-reading is weak.  The farther into the book I went, the more simple errors there were.  Typically the simple things spell-checker won't catch but it got annoying at times.  Perhaps the proof-reader lost their interest as the book progressed. 

This book filled in a gap in the history of the fighting in North Africa for me.  Even restored a bit of my faith in Hollywood since they managed to get many things right.  Unfortunately it did little to improve my opinion of long-range planning and ability to learn from their mistakes for the British.  The fiasco at Dieppe had already occurred, but the same mistakes were repeated.   While it is a tragic fact that in war men will be placed in danger and losses will occur, in this case the brave men who executed the raid had the deck massively stacked against them.

Worth the read and it offers many ideas for wargame scenarios.

No comments:

Post a Comment