No end save victory

Victory WW II


No end save victory

Book review by Fred Lane

Cowley, R. (Ed.) No end save victory. G.P. Putnam’s Sons: New York, 2001. 688 pp.
($69.95 Dymocks to USD$16.99 Barnes and Noble paperback.)

Some prefer their war histories laid out in infinite precise detail, backed up by footnotes and attributions, like Antony Beevor’s Berlin and Stalingrad. Others prefer broader but still well-written presentations. Robert Cowley edits this selection of 45 brilliant essays, each describing an important event or series of events in WW II.

The essays are backed up by 20 maps, but no photographs, and range from eyewitness accounts to broad strategy discussions. Each essay is prefaced by a short introduction that sets the scene and lists the essay author’s credentials.

David Balme, for the first time publicly, tells how he recovered the Enigma cryptography machine from U-110, blown to the surface by depth charges on 9 May 1941. He was the SBLT in charge of HMS Bulldog‘s boarding party but had never rehearsed the boarding evolution. With considerable trepidation he clambers up the wallowing submarine’s side and, with his communications sailor, not only secures the Enigma machine, but also an envelope containing its June settings.

Antony Beevor offers a 16-page virtual precis of his Stalingrad book (first published in 1998). All the essential details are here, but this essay lacks the meat-grinder detail of the book.

No doubt many readers will prefer this potted version.

Operation Cerberus, the escape of Scharnhorst and Gneisenau through the English Channel, 11-13 February 1942, and Ord Wingate’s Burma Campaign are described, but there is little or no mention of events closer to home, such as Kokoda, the Battle of the Coral Sea or the Battle of Milne Bay. Perhaps this is a side effect of a perceived anti-MacArthur bias. The chapters on MacArthur’s Philippines performance certainly do not praise him.

Australian contributions?

Then again, it might well be that Australian authors or those who write about Australia’s part in WW II lack the support or skill of their contemporaries. As another example of poor Australia-related reporting, a personal account of the El Alamein assault makes no mention whatsoever of the brilliant Australian Ninth Division’s assault.

On the other hand, Cowley correctly reminds us of the amazingly brave, resourceful and successful Italians of the Decima Mas. This speedboat and frogman unit created havoc from Alexandria to Gibraltar between March 1941 and August 1943.

This book is strongly recommended to all those who seek brief descriptions of many of the most seminal WWII events.