Monday, 3 July 2017

A History of the Mediterranean Air War 1940-1945 Vol 3 Tunisia and the End in Africa November 1942-May 1943 - Christopher Shores and Giovanni Massimello

This review has been submitted to The RCAF Journal

Title: A History of the Mediterranean Air War 1940-1945 Vol 3 Tunisia and the End in Africa November 1942-May 1943
Author: Christopher Shores and Giovanni Massimello
ISBN: 978-1-910690-00-0
Publisher: Grub Street
Year: 2016
Pages: 680
Photos/ Maps: 100’s/Area maps on inside covers

With this book the authors have completed the third in the Mediterranean Air War series tracing the details of the air war in the desert and its environs during World War Two. Covering the period from November 1942 until May 1943, this installment focuses upon the arrival of the United States, and the gradual but inexorable decline in the fortunes of the Axis powers as they become squeezed into a tightening ring centred upon Tunis. As with the other books in the series, this book is replete with a level of detail that will appeal to the researcher as well as a readability that will draw in the casual historian. It is interesting to note the increasing complexity of the war in Africa with the opening of new fronts and the arrival of new actors on the stage; specifically the USAAF and the US Navy. This fact is reinforced when one considers the length of the book compared with the short period of time that it covers (6 months).

The book commences with an operational overview of the situation facing the combatants as 1942 came to a close. Included in this narrative is the Order of Battle for the Allied and Axis air forces at this time. The authors also provide a solid baseline for the reader with an analysis of the Allied air plans for the operations in the eastern and western regions. The intent of the first portion of the book is to provide the reader with a big picture of the region, its challenges, the participants and the operational environment within which they operated. One of the strengths of the narrative is its ability to convey the detail and complexity of the environment while concurrently providing a real life perspective that both educates and entertains. One of the central tenants of the Allied plan was to catch the Axis forces in a pincer movement that would cut them off from a potential avenue of retreat through Tunisia. It is a testament to the professionalism and operational acumen of the Axis air forces that they were able to provide continuing support to the ground forces despite the lengthening odds against them.

The main body of the book covers the day by day activities throughout the region. This follows a standard format whereby an overall explanation of the significant events is followed by a ‘list’ of the losses and victories experienced by the various nations. The detail in this portion is phenomenal and reflects the degree of analysis and research that has gone into the development of this book. It is this type of detail that makes this work ideal for the researcher although, for the more casual, reader it can become a bit overwhelming. Nevertheless, the methodology conveys the intense nature of the combat environment even on days when operations were considered to be quiet. Where possible, the authors have included photographs of the individuals being discussed adding a degree of personality to the accounts.

The authors close with a series of narratives by pilots who participated in this theatre during the period of the book. They convey a very personal touch and outlook unavailable to a researching author by virtue of the individuals having ‘lived the adventure’. This short section adds significant depth to the descriptions provided earlier in the work and round out the book very nicely.

Grub Street has once again published a book of the highest quality. A relatively boutique publishing house, they have consistently impressed with the standards of their products both in terms of presentation and value. The knowledge and detail provided in Vol 3 of this series is truly amazing. This book is a must have for those wishing to fully appreciate the odds that faced the Axis powers in the closing months of the African Campaign and the dramatic changes that enabled the Allies to both gain and expand their dominance of the African airspace. A strongly recommended purchase.   

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