Book Review: Struggle for the Middle Sea: The Great Navies at War in the Mediterranean Theater, 1940-1945


by Vincent P. O'Hara

Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2009. Pp. xviii, 324. Illus., maps, diagr., notes, biblio., index. $34.95. ISBN: 1591146488

Naval historian Vincent P. O'Hara, applies the methodology used in his earlier works on surface combat in the Second World War, such as The German Fleet At War, 1939-1945 (2004) and The U.S. Navy Against the Axis (2007), to the protracted naval campaign in the Mediterranean and adjacent waters. These seas were, arguably, the principal theater of the war for surface naval combat, with 55 major ship-to-ship fights, more than any other theater, and involved five of the world?s great navies, British, Italian, French, German, and American.

The book looks at each of the 55 actions in which ships of destroyer type or larger engaged in surface action, setting the fights within the framework of the political, strategic, and operational situation, with a look at the professional and technical strengths and weaknesses of the forces engaged, and at times even the personality and character of officers involved.  Each action is addressed using a standard format that sets the stage, outlines the forces involved, and details the main command decisions, the tactical movements and types of weaponry involved, and then discusses the consequences of the clash, most often with the support of a simple but clear diagrams.

In the process, O'Hara consciously strives to strip away the long-term impressions created by Allied wartime -- and German post-war -- propaganda of an inept and cowardly Italian Navy beaten at every turn by the gallant, highly professional British fleet.  O'Hara hands out praise and criticism with equal generosity to both sides, but tellingly makes eminently clear the Regia Marina kept the sea lanes across the Mediterranean open until the collapse of the Axis land forces in North Africa, despite often overwhelming enemy superiority. 

A valuable read for anyone interested in the naval side of World War II, the war in the Mediterranean and North Africa, and naval warfare in general                             

Reviewer: A.A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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