Thursday, 6 June 2013

A History of the Mediterranean Air War Vol 1 June 1940-Jan 1942 - Christopher Shores, Giovanni Massimello, Russell Guest

 The information presented was written by Chris Buckham; however, it was published in The Journal of the RCAF. Therefore, the material is reproduced here by the author with the permission of the journal. If you would like to republish this information or refer to excerpts please contact the Editor RCAF Journal ( Website for the Journal is:

Title: A History of the Mediterranean Air War Vol 1: North Africa June 1940 – January 1942
Author: Christopher Shores and Giovanni Massimello with Russell Guest
ISBN- 13: 978-1-908117-07-6
Publisher: Grub Street
Pages: 560
Photo’s: 100’s b/w

With this book the authors are revisiting some very comfortable ground stemming from Shores and Ring’s original work ‘Fighters Over the Desert’ (1969) on the air war in the desert. Acknowledging that the passage of time has revealed errors of omission and has provided access to previously unavailable sources of information, they have decided that the time is right for a review. It should be stressed that this new book is not simply a rework of Shores previous but stands alone as a new look at air warfare in the desert.

Shores approaches his subject in two ways. With the commencement of each chapter he provides an overview of the strategic and operational activities impacting decision making and the execution of operations. Following this “situation of the estimate” he then provides a breakdown of the activities of the antagonists identified by date. Significant events, losses and victories are all outlined in detail down to the serial number of the aircraft involved. The degree of detail is actually quite phenomenal with a synopsis box at the end of each write-up illustrating the axis/allies claims and losses.

This storyline would be quite dry if the authors had not added numerous first person accounts of experiences (from all sides) thereby adding depth, breadth and a human face to the narrative. While these stories are fascinating and enlightening, the strength of this book remains its incredible depth and scope of detail. For a researcher, the book provides commendable insight into the nomenclature and development of the air forces of the desert. It is fascinating to see the degree of complexity in the command and control and the structure of the RAF, Luftwaffe and Italian air forces. Each chapter is predicated by an explanation of the changes that occurred within each of the services as well as a graphical representation of units and available aircraft.

Additionally, the authors provide regional context through the inclusion of discussion relating to critical theatre level challenges. I refer in this case to the impact of the Island of Malta on the desert war. In their relation of regional issues, the authors spend a significant amount of time outlining the conflict centering upon Malta and the efforts of the Axis to crush Allied capability through airpower and the concurrent efforts at strangulation of the Axis logistics support in the Mediterranean by Allied surface and air units. Shores also looks at the efforts that the Allies had to expend to deal with Vichy French and Italian forces in the ‘rear’ areas of Ethiopia, Iraq and Syria.

The authors effortlessly transition from the strategic/operational down to the tactical events of the Mediterranean air war. Much is drawn from Shores’ previous books: Malta: The Hurricane Years, 1940-41, Air War for Yugoslavia, Greece and Crete, 1940-41 and Dust Clouds in the Middle East: The Air War for East Africa, Iraq, Syria and Madagascar, 1940-42. This is very beneficial as it provides the author (and by extension the reader) with an outstanding background/baseline from which to further develop the scope of the new work. 

Shores also succeeds in succinctly identifying shortfalls within the relationships and capabilities of the different noteworthy personalities that influenced operations. Thus one is made aware of the extent to which the British government, spearheaded by Churchill, injected itself into the running and execution of Allied operations often with disastrous results. Conversely, the challenges of developing and maintaining the Axis coalition are also highlighted.

Rounding out the book, the authors have provided an extensive and very useful bibliography encompassing all of their primary and secondary sources. Highlighting another noteworthy addition, the index is one of the most detailed that I have ever come across. Finally, the book itself is of the highest quality printing and binding.

                The overall strength of this book lies in its detail. The authors have produced a work of exceptional depth and detail. There is something for everyone; for readers seeking insight into the experiences of those who participated in the Mediterranean war, it is in ample supply; for those looking for detail regarding operations and aircraft, again you will be more than satisfied, and for those who enjoy photography from the period you will not be disappointed in the least. I was very excited as both a military historian and a casual reader to have had the opportunity to read and review this book. It is a critical addition to the libraries of the academic and anyone looking for details of life in the Mediterranean theatre of war.   

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