A friend sent me a copy of Field MarshalÂ Bill Slim‘s Defeat Into Victory. It has alwaysÂ been on my list of books I’d like to read, but somehow I’d never quiteÂ got round to acquiring a copy. The version I have is a reading copy ofÂ the original edition, with fold out maps all through it.
The reading style is very engaging and easy to read, especially if youÂ have the space to fold out the map at the end of the chapter so that youÂ can follow all the places when they appear in the narrative. It was theÂ first time I’d read about the ebb and flow of the war in Burma (evenÂ though my grandfather drove a DUKW out there). So I found it veryÂ interesting, the nature of warfare was hugely different that both EuropeÂ and North Africa (and I suspect even the Pacific Islands). In someÂ respects the war fought in Burma was more like recent modern wars withÂ low troop densities, long logistics tails and a massive reliance on airÂ power.
The other engaging bit about the book was that Slim shows you theÂ development of the army from a road bound Western linear fighting forceÂ into an all arms, all round defence, jungle fighting machine. In theÂ beginning the British Army is out of its depth and way beyond the ken ofÂ its commanders or troops. The Japanese have infiltration tactics thatÂ the British just can’t cope with, and are so stubborn in defence thatÂ they cannot be shifted when they gain a hold. The British just dissolveÂ and retreat rapidly out of the way (mostly).
It isn’t just a story of the British Army, as well as colonial forces (Indians and Africans mostly) there is also the alliance warfare aspect of the war. He liaises with Vinegar Joe Stillwell and the Chinese Army too.
Later, the British manage to shorten their lines of communication, buildÂ defences and work out how to deal with the Japanese. Once they do, thenÂ the tables turn, although it takes much stubborn fighting to shift theÂ enemy. There is a good narrative that explains the constraints the 14thÂ Army was operating under, the logistics challenges and how these wereÂ overcome and also the details of the operations. Occasionally there areÂ little personal vignettes of visits to the front, or reports of battles.
One of the things I noted was the commentary on how few prisoners wereÂ taken, mostly it was a grim fight to the death by both sides. A typicalÂ note on a Japanese attack was that there was one prisoner taken and 600Â Japanese bodies recovered from the 14th Army positions.
However, great as all this is, the last section of the book is the best.Â In the last chapter Slim gives his opinions on why things turned out theÂ way that they did and also on what he draws as lessons for the future.Â Given that this was written in 1957 he has a lot to say that I think wasÂ quite prescient about current operations (and it might also have beenÂ right for the post-nuclear exchange as well, but thankfully we’veÂ avoided that).
The thing I do wonder, is why are all our operational games about theÂ European war? The furthest East we manage is the Russian front, whenÂ there is whole load of interesting stuff going on out in the Far East. I suspect I may well return to this when I have some time to sort out another game design.