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Due recensioni, una svolta

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Sull'ultimo numero della prestigiosa rivista britannica The Mariner's Mirror è apparsa la recensione, a firma di Derek Law (University of Strathclyde), del volume di Vincent P. O'Hara Six Victories. North Africa, Malta and the Mediterranean Convoy War. November 1941– March 1942, pubblicato nel 2019 dall'altrettanto blasonato Naval Institute.


La recensione, il cui testo riporto a seguire, va segnalata in quanto comprova che anche la pubblicistica specializzata britannica di tale livello inizia a porsi dei dubbi  - in particolare nei passi in grassetto - su una visione agiografica della Seconda Guerra Mondiale nel Mediterraneo



From 1940 to 1943 the Mediterranean was a key theatre of operations where two conflicting logistical needs intersected. For the Axis the capacity of their land forces to operate in North Africa depended on their ability to run supply convoys from Italy to Libya. For the Allies, the ability to sustain Malta as an offensive base and run men and materials past Gibraltar and Malta and on to Suez and Alexandria was equally essential. This work critically examines how the balance of power swung both ways in the winter of 1941–2 and in particular considers how tactical victory, or at least stalemate, in sea battles could be followed by the loss of strategic initiative.

O’Hara is the author of 11 works, with a particular interest in the Mediterranean in theSecond World War. His great strength is an unerring eye for detail and an unbiased view of all the available evidence, notably from Italian as well as British sources. Rather than select the evidence to support a particular case, O’Hara assembles all the evidence then draws conclusions. That accumulated body of evidence and a clear focus on strategy, logistics and intelligence, coupled with an inter-service view of the theatre rather than a purely naval one, offers a quite revisionist perspective on the Mediterranean war and in this particular case concludes that the Second battle of Sirte was a defeat for the Allies rather than the often proclaimed victory. This triumph of Axis sea power initiated a period of Axis domination in the central Mediterranean.

In November 1941 the Royal Navy had clear maritime superiority there. The arrival of Force K in Malta in late October led to substantial losses of Italian supply ships, with half of the Italian merchantmen sailing in November lost or damaged. This is well described, but a series of tables on shipping movements and losses is most telling. That naval success was closely linked to and followed by the success of the land-based Operation Crusader offensive in late November. Matters continued to deteriorate for the Axis both on land and sea until mid- December.

But that position was to change literally overnight. British historians have tended to focus on the battles at sea to protect Malta convoys. In this work, these events are coupled with the first battle of Sirte in which the Italians successfully escorted convoys to North Africa with supplies which were essential for the Axis forces in North Africa. However, the real turning point was the disabling of two battleships in Alexandria by frogmen and the near destruction of Forces B and K, consisting of cruisers and destroyers, in a minefield twenty miles from Tripoli.

There is an extended account of the second battle of Sirte, traditionally claimed as a great British victory. O’Hara casts rather withering scorn on a series of historians from Stephen Roskill to Correlli Barnett and assembles a wealth of detailed evidence to support his view that the battle was at best a limited tactical success and that the Regia Marina gained a strategic upper hand for the next six months. He enriches this account with a broad strategic overview. Fighting a convoy through to Malta may be seen as a tactical victory, but if the docked merchantmen are then sunk by air attack, the operation as a whole cannot be seen as a success.

There is an interesting examination of signals intelligence. While the potential value of information provided by Ultra is clearly recognized, much detail is provided on how long it took for that intelligence to reach the Mediterranean and how much further time was taken to respond militarily, regularly undermining its value. A further strength of the book is coverage of the often overlooked Italian ability to read British codes and to take corrective actions to respond to the approach of British strike forces. But for both sides the general point is that such intelligence is only of value if it is followed by swift decision making on the (re)deployment of forces.

Despite the vast amount of detail included in the text, this is a very readable work offering a wealth of new information from British and Italian archives. The book is illustrated with a good but slightly random selection of contemporary photographs. More importantly there are some excellent maps of the major actions and a large number of tables, most notably showing the damage to supply ships on both sides. There is a broad and balanced analysis of the problems the Allied and Axis powers faced in their struggle for maritime supremacy. The book’s integration of operations, logistics and intelligence with detailed descriptions of the many actions in these five months shows the hardest fought period of the Mediterranean war at sea in a different and persuasive light,

clearly linking it to the land war in North Africa. Thoroughly recommended.




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A seguire, riporto il link (https://www.naval-review.com/book-reviews/six-victories-north-africa-malta-and-the-mediterranean-convoy-war-november-1941-march-1942/) alla recensione pubblicata da poco in The Naval Review, la Rivista Marittima britannica. Vale la pena evidenziare la conclusione, in merito a una rilettura - considerata ormai indispensabile anche Oltremanica - del ruolo di ULTRA e, per converso, dei decrittatori della R. Marina:


This, and other examples, leads to the thought that perhaps Ultra’s success has blinded us to the achievements of Axis codebreakers, and that a history comparing the services of the warring nations’ cryptanalysis organisations is now due.


Per approfondire: https://digital-commons.usnwc.edu/nwc-review/vol66/iss3/9/?utm_source=digital-commons.usnwc.edu%2Fnwc-review%2Fvol66%2Fiss3%2F9&utm_medium=PDF&utm_campaign=PDFCoverPages




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