This is more than just an infantry officer’s memoir. Denis Forman was closely involved in the Battle School movement that transformed the British Army’s infantry training during the second world war. He then went on to serve alongside Lionel Wigram (the primary proponent and intellectual leader of the Battle School movement) in Italy. The story is as much about Lionel Wigram as it is about Denis Forman himself.
However one of the stand out pieces for me is the honest treatment of how men deal with battle. The psychological impact and how unreliable things become is often not mentioned in most memoirs, there is an unspoken need not to embarrass anyone, or bring up things better left to lie. This book manages to discuss it without shaming anyone.
Also, the appendices have copies of the reports into the lessons from the Sicily campaign drawn by Lionel Wigram. Not published at the time because they were too controversial they tell an interesting story of how the theory met reality.
More on Denis Forman’s war experiences are available on the web atÂ http://www.war-experience.org/collections/land/alliedbrit/forman/default.asp
Just before the war started Denis Forman graduated from Pembroke College, Cambridge in 1939. He was certain that there was going to be a war but didn’t want to commit himself to the Army until it started, so he took a short-term post with a shipping agency to avoid being sent to the Far East to make his fortune (which is where he was being directed by his elders). When war broke out he was in the Netherlands, and he returned to join the Argylls where he was promptly sent off to be an officer cadet.
His description of joining an infantry battalion and his efforts as a subaltern within it are priceless. He honestly shows how desperate the British Army was in the Summer of 1940 and how it was manning (and ‘leading’) its infantry battalions. More than enough to make you wonder about what would have happened if the Germans had invaded (although I like to believe that they probably had some very similar issues).
This is a campaign history written by a veteran of 5th Bn Black Watch who later became the secretary of the Highland Division Association. Direct personal accounts, both from the author and other veterans, are used to tell the story of the 51st Highland Division in a very personal way. This book offers some new perspectives on the battles of the 51st, especially those in the final months of the war in which the author was personally involved.
Continue reading Black Watch by Tom Renouf – Book Review
I actually enjoyed reading this book, even though it wasnâ€™t the book that I thought I was buying. I had ordered it expecting that it would tell me about the various special forces missions that UK forces had been up to between the first Gulf War in 1990-91 and when it was published (in 2004).
It sort of covered that, but there was no real detail to much of the early stuff, for example the Sierra Leone mission is dealt with in a couple of pages. Iâ€™ve seen some other (much more detailed) accounts of the events (from the point of view of the Paras and the kidnapped Major).
However, where it does come into its own is when it explains the issues around Kosovo and Macedonia. The author obviously had a strong interest in this period (possibly based on working there as a journalist) and had clearly spoken to several involved parties (or done some very good research). The writing style is very easy to read, clearly articulates the issues and the motivations of the various parties and also explains the background to the situations very well. You get a lot of the flavour of the conflict and the terror of villagers in the Balkans from the book. It also explains some of the behind the scenes bits that the NATO forces were involved in (not just SF types, others as well). In fact if the book had been billed as an in-depth look at Kosovo and Macedonian conflict in 1999-2004 then it would perhaps have been more honest (although perhaps with fewer sales).
There is a reasonable treatment of the early Afghanistan operations, although there wasnâ€™t apparently much going on there from a British point of view up to 2004 (we got heavily involved in 2006, two years after the book was first published). It also covers the effect on the SAS of the expansion in operations since 9/11 and also the Iraq war (which is part of the proof that the author has spoken to some of the SF community or those closely connected to it as he knew in 2004 of the impending manpower crisis that the explosion in PMC work in Iraq caused).
One of the more interesting bits is a speculative section near the end on what an operation to capture Radovan Karadzic might look like and who it might involve. This was the sort of thing that you might expect from a book about special forces missions (albeit non-speculative narratives of actual missions based on interviews with those involved).
Overall, if you are interested in the Balkans conflicts this is well worth reading, although perhaps shorter on that than a dedicated book might be.