Book Review: ‘A War of Empires’ by Robert Lyman | HistoryNet

a struggle oF empires

Japan, India, Burma & Britain: 1941-45

By Robert Lyman. 560 pp. Osprey, 2021. $35.

A canopy blurb via historian James Holland broadcasts Robert Lyman’s “A War of Empires,” specializing in World War II in Burma, to be a “excellent e-book.” I respectfully disagree; “excellent” does now not do it sufficient justice.  

Japan’s seizure of Burma (as of late Myanmar) between December 1941 and May 1942, adopted via protracted Allied efforts to retake it, is thought of as via many historians to be one of the vital difficult to understand of all World War II battlefronts. Even throughout the struggle, the British Fourteenth Army — comprising gadgets from Britain, India and Africa—used to be recognized in Great Britain because the “Forgotten Army” when put next with British armies preventing in North Africa and Europe. Yet in contradiction with its ancient footprint, the Burma marketing campaign has garnered a postwar library of singularly top requirements, replete with histories via notable army students and strong memoirs via former military officials. To rank Lyman’s e-book as the most efficient of the lot, which I consider it’s, is an exceedingly top accolade.

Lyman touches on the entire components that made preventing in Burma a number of the maximum bodily tormenting, savagely primal, but in the long run consequential within the struggle. Its battlefields amalgamated fatal illnesses, wretched terrain and superheated soaking climate. Malaria, dysentery and pores and skin illnesses may just render complete armies useless. And now not handiest did Burma supply a huge battlefront via European requirements (16,000 sq. miles), however its jungles, thick with mountains and cloven via watercourses, radically shriveled the power of gadgets from platoons and divisions to habits coordinated protection or advance. Burma illuminated the Japanese Imperial Army’s ambitious strengths, together with the hardihood and valor of its infantrymen, but additionally its putting logistical weaknesses.

The struggle in Burma additionally yielded primary penalties for the Indian Army. Since its inception within the nineteenth century, the Indian Army incorporated Indian infantrymen as enlisted males, however now not as officials. In the early twentieth century, an overly restricted program started to fee Indian officials, however nonetheless rigidly barred them from commanding British infantrymen or officials. This modified with figures like Field Marshals Sir Claude Auchinleck and Sir William Slim, who now not handiest commissioned massive numbers of Indian officials but in addition approved them to go gadgets, without reference to the race of the ones underneath command. As leaders, Auchinleck and Slim additionally reworked the military’s tactical talent, logistics and well being — in flip generating a contemporary Indian Army that rose phoenix-like from over two years of serial humiliations by the hands of the Japanese. Lyman rightly emphasizes that the Indian Army equipped the “essence” of what would change into fashionable India — as of late the sector’s second-most populous country.

Lyman’s narrative is brisk but transparent, full of measured insights from strategic to tactical. While the e-book lacks a bibliography and contains sparse notes, the intensity of the analysis is apparent to these aware of the archives. Its tale could also be replete with memorably offered characters, its largest hero rightly being Field Marshal William Slim — as of late continuously deemed the struggle’s largest British common for doing extra with much less in a particularly daunting bodily atmosphere than even Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery in North Africa and Europe. Lyman additionally drops necessary observations in regards to the management, imaginative and prescient and once in a while even sanity of most sensible figures in Burma comparable to Britain’s Lord Louis Mountbatten and General Orde Wingate, and Japan’s General Renya Mutaguchi.

Overall, “A War of Empires” is a extremely readable but subtle paintings about campaigns that by no means seemed extra consequential than they do as of late. 

— Richard B. Frank is an the world over known authority at the Asia-Pacific War. The first quantity of his trilogy at the struggle, Tower of Skulls, used to be printed in March 2020.

This evaluation used to be printed in World War II in April 2022.

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