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Operation Compass 1940: Wavell's Whirlwind Offensive (Osprey Military Campaign, No. 73), by Jon Latimer, with plates by Jim Laurier

Osprey Publishing, 2000. Pp. 96. Illus, diagr, chorn, biblio.. 18.95. ISBN:1-88532-967-0.

The British offensive in the Western Desert that began on Decemebr 9, 1940, led by SIr Richard O'Connor, is one of the most spectacular of the Second World War, and one of the most studied. So a new book on the subject needs to be good. Instead, we have Operation Compass 1940: Wavell's Whirlwind Offensive.

The cover has a curious appeal: a map of the first phase of Operation Compass, which is repeated in greater detail on pages 30-31, both of which are an upside down rendering of a map that first appeared in the Indian Official History (not credited as a source in this book); with a crouching Australian in full 'summer' dress, before it. Curious not just because of the odd display of the map, but because Compass was fought in winter in North Africa, where greatcoats and winter dress were needed as in the plates on pages 42-43. Also the Australians did not fight for Sidi Barrani, they did not reach the Front until Bardia.

This sort of errot pretty much sets the tone for the entire volume. There isn't much text in this book. And what there is appears to be a random gathering of facts drawn from the listed sources, which convey the story (Don't look for any original research here, nor any references from the other side.), but in no way gives an in-depth look at the campaign. The holes are far greater than the space in this book given over to noticeably wide margins and blank space.

A few examples.

  • The airfields at Sidi Barrani provided an essential link to Malta; a fact never mentioned in this book. Yet one has to wonder why the author included an erroneous and superflous history of that island in his dicussion of the origins of the campaign? (By the way it was the French who expelled the Knights of St. John from Malta in 1798, not vice versa.)
  • The book mentions the June 21, 1940, bombardment of Bardia by a squdron that included a French battleship as its main component, but makes not mention of the August 17 bombardment by three British battleships!
  • The orders of battle for the campaign is a muddle! It includes such things as calling the Free French Motor Marine Battalion, a "company," putting the 12th Bersaglieri in Africa two years early, failing to note that the Gruppo Maletti was a division-sized task force, and including the whole of the "Royal Australian Artillery" in the 6th Australian Division!
  • Effectively accusing the French Marines for very common sensibly not following a squadron of British light tanks in a "demonstration" that took them across flat open ground, in daylight, in full view of the Italian guns and posts on the northwest corner of Bardia, leaidng to heavy casualties for not benefit
    • The reader might be further left wondering by the lack of mention of the capture of the plans of Bardia. This is another example of how random the text of this book is. While coverage of the British capture of Fort Capuzzo, June 14, is good, nothing is said about the operation continuing on to Sidi Azeiz, with the aim of cutting Bardia off, nor that a raid of the 11th Hussars along the main road to Tobruk led to the capture of the Chief Engineer of the Italian Tenth Army, with the plans of the defenses of Bardia. Nor mention of the fact that Italian artillery and mines enabled the Libyan defenders of Sidi Azeiz to beat off the attacking British; you won't even find Sidi Azeiz on the map!

      Amongst the 68 photos, three cry out for special attention in this the age of the Internet.

      • Pp. 60-61: "2/1 Field Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery in action outside Bardia," credited as Australian War Memorial - 044247. A check of the AWM's web site shows that photo so labeled. But the guns in this photo are not the 25 pdrs that the 2/1 Field Regiment had at Bardia, as can be seen by a picture of 25 pdrs on page 62. In fact, the same picture appears on page 64 of George Forty's The First Victory, one of this book's sources, capt

        Reviewer: Richard Garczynski   

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