Book Review: Of Islands, Ports and Sea Lanes: Africa and the Indian Ocean in the Second World War


by Ashley Jackson

Warwick, Eng.: Helion / Philadelphia: Casemate, 2018. Pp. 324. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. . $49.95. ISBN: 1912390744

“Forgotten” Corners of the Second World War

Opening by noting that works on WWII focus almost exclusively on the dramatic events in the Asia-Pacific and European theatres, Prof. Jackson (King’s College London), who has concentrated on what might be called the “forgotten” corners of the global conflict in works such as Persian Gulf Command: A History of the Second World War in Iran and Iraq and The British Empire and the Second World War, makes a case that the vast expanse of sea from Africa’s Atlantic waters across the Indian Ocean to Australasia played a far more critical role in the war than the literature may suggest. He makes a good case that rather than a mere “side show”, operations in these waters and adjacent territories were critical to Allied war making. They permitted access to the oil of the Middle East and the movement of munitions to the Soviet Union, while securing communications with and the defense of such important colonies as India and Ceylon, and also preventing the Axis from coordinating their war effort in the region. The book is divided into two parts.

The first part examines the strategic setting. Jackson discusses war planning – including that of the Axis – and the development of the military and logistical infrastructure and resources that underpinned Allied – chiefly British – ability to defend the region and project power from it. His treatment is remarkably detailed, extending to such tiny, if strategically important, places as the Cocos and Keeling Islands.

The second part is more traditional military history, as Jackson examines the ebb and flow of the war in the area, including Italian and German operations and actions against the Vichy French. Naturally the war with Japan takes primacy, given that the Japanese posed the principal threat to Allied control of the region. He argues that although the great Japanese carrier raid into the Indian Ocean in early 1942 was the most serious threat to the security of the region, the possibility of a new offensive, even as late as 1944, was ever present, and Britain had to maintain a credible force to effect a strategic defense of the theatre, and prepare for the participation of the British Pacific Fleet in the final offensive against Japan.

Jackson fills his account with important asides about various personalities, the larger framework of the global war, cultural issues, and even some comments on how the war bolstered economic growth in many colonies and contributed to the decolonialization of the postwar era.

A volume in Helion’s series “War and Military Culture in South Asia, 1757-1947”, Of Islands, Ports, and Sea Lanes is an important read for those interest in the “Big Picture”.


Note: Of Islands, Ports, and Sea Lanes is also available in several e-editions.

StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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