Book Review: Malta 1940-42

Osprey Publishing have recently released their newest series- Air Campaign- which discusses some of history’s greatest air battles. This is the fourth title in the series since they released four titles early this year. The book talks about the Axis air raids on the British-controlled island of Malta. Malta, a crucial naval base for the North African Campaign, sits off the coast of Sicily and prompted Mussolini’s Air Force (Regio Aeronautica) to lead multiple assaults on the island. As years dragged on, the X and II Fliegerkorps of the Luftwaffe arrived on the scene to attempt to neutralize the Allied presence in the Mediterranean. Steady reinforcements from the British mainland helped the Allies survive in a crucial campaign for North Africa and the later campaign in Italy.

Osprey’s Newest Series: Air Campaign

Praise:

The ORBAT is really nice here with information on all of the planes used in that particular squadron. There’s a description of some of the main aircraft used which is helpful for people who aren’t very familiar with planes. There are also handy charts comparing dimensions, engines, and armament of numerous planes. The illustrations and photographs are all good, as you’d expect from Osprey

Criticism:

The maps in this book look nice, but make no sense. Some of the numbers indicating units are repeated and some are completely left out. The difference between times of maneuvers or altitude isn’t specified well and they’re just extremely confusing. It feels like this book was rushed to be printed and they missed some pretty basic errors.

Rating: 3/5

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Movie Review: 7 Days in Entebbe

7 Days in Entebbe recounts the events of the 1976 Israeli Operation Thunderbolt to rescue over 100 passengers from a hijacked Air France flight. The film, directed by Jose Padilha, came to theatres in mid-March and stars Daniel Bruhl, Rosamund Pike, Eddie Marsan, and Lior Ashkenazi. I saw the movie last weekend and felt I should review it, since a lot of critics have been saying it does not live up to its expectations.

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Wilfried Bose (Bruhl) and Brigitte Kuhlmann (Pike) in front of the plane at Entebbe Airport

THERE WILL BE SOME SPOILERS IN THIS POST

First, we need to know a very basic background to Operation Thunderbolt. Air France flight 139 was hijacked by members of the PFLP (People’s Front for the Liberation of Palestine) on its way to Paris from Tel Aviv, Israel via Athens. Two Germans, Brigitte Kuhlmann and Wilfried Bose, assisted in the hijack. The plane was taken to Benghazi and refueled, before arriving in Entebbe, Uganda. A large portion of the passengers were Israelis, prompting worry from Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Over a period of 7 days, Israel teetered over whether to negotiate with the terrorists or not. Rabin launched Operation Thunderbolt in which Israeli commandos and IDF paratroopers landed at Entebbe and rescued the captives while killing all of the terrorists and a number of Ugandan soldiers sent by Idi Amin to help guard the airport.

Praise:

The variety of foreign languages in this film is fantastic. We hear Greek at the Athens Airport where the hijackers boarded the plane. Bose and Kuhlmann speak German throughout the film. The French pilots and stewardesses speak French. Palestinians speak Arabic. Israelis speak Hebrew. While this is not a major part of the film, it gives a great asthetic to it and helps convey the global reach of the incident. The personal motives of the terrorists are all explored separately; the Germans have their ideals, the other terrorists have theirs. The film jumps from a variety of points-of-view as we see Rabin’s, Defense Minister Shimon Peres’, and the view of an Israeli commando. This was a little confusing at parts, but the jumps back and forth help you understand each person clearly and what they feel. There is a lot of period style in this movie and everybody smokes. The font style, camera lighting, and other aspects all scream 1970s. The movie is also accurate. A British-Israeli is let off the plane after faking a miscarriage, just like in real life. The raid itself is not very long, just as it was in real life. Israeli commandos use AK-47s and -74s as they did in the actual raid. The portrayal of Idi Amin as a lunatic obsessed with hunting and saying he is sent from God is all true. The casting is also very well done, especially for Israelis. Yoni Netanyahu, elder brother of Benjamin, looks extremely similar to his real-life counterpart. Rabin and Peres are also very well casted. The emotional tension of both sides is captured in great detail in the film as well. Another thing I specifically liked was the use of newscasts and historical film blended into the movie to help demonstrate the raid better.

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Israeli commandos on a practice run of the Operation in “7 Days in Entebbe”

Criticism:

There are a number of things left out of this movie, notably the rest of the Israeli paratroopers. The only troops shown are just commandos, but that makes sense since we are mostly focused on the main terminal. There is also an obsession with interpretive dance for some reason in the movie. The commando we meet, played by Ben Schnetzer, has a girlfriend who dances and there are a lot of scenes about her. I tried to find some reason for this, but I can’t really think of any good theories to say about it. At some points, I felt the movie was trying to change your opinion on the German hijackers, making them seem much more sorry for their choices. Yes, this does show we’re all human, but they did hijack an airplane and threaten to kill 106 people. It could have done a bit better of a job on the raid itself, and not put some random dancing in it, since that sorta killed the mood.

All in all, I don’t think this movie deserves the amount of criticism it gets. I really enjoyed it, and while it is not an extremely violent and explosion-filled film, it shows the abruptness of the raid itself and focuses a lot on the motivations behind each personality involved. I would highly recommend seeing it.

Rating: 4/5

 

Grenada 1983: The Overlooked Invasion

Grenada- a small island nation near Venezuela which only gained her independence in 1974. In the early 1980s, the tiny country was the subject of immense controversy after a US-led invasion and disposal of the new Cuban-supported government. Grenada was headed by Prime Minister Maurice Bishop ever since he led a revolution to establish a People’s Government. Bishop was assassinated in a military coup a week before the invasion, and the nation was thrown into disarray. The US invaded to fulfill the Truman Doctrine and prevent the USSR from building airstrips on the island, but the invasion itself gained global attention since Grenada was a former British colony.

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American paratroopers leading away captured Grenadans.

President Ronald Reagan ordered a force of 2,000 troops to invade the island on October 26th in what is called Operation ‘Urgent Fury’. The USSR immediately jumped in on the situation, saying the US attack was a breach of international law and an act of terrorism. Grenada’s army was small and armed with little anti-air weaponry. They had a few BTR-60 APCs but no tanks. The 82nd Airborne landed and captured a large portion of their objectives, while the 75th Rangers captured and secured a LZ. The 8th Marines Regiment attacked and captured another airport and helped the US forces claim victory on the first day of the invasion. 2 Americans were killed and another 23 were wounded.

US troops had little intelligence and had to improvise constantly in order to secure positions against the Grenadan and Cuban forces. US Navy SEALS failed to take their objectives, attacking wrong buildings and becoming mixed up due to a lack of maps. The advancing American troops had no idea of the number of forces they were facing, and assumed they were heavily outnumbered by Cuban troops.

On the 27th, the US 2/325th attacked Cuban positions at Calliste, where they managed to capture a large number of weapons. This ended the Cuban forces’ ability to counter the American invaders since a large portion of their equipment was lost. Meanwhile, US Rangers safely transported over 200 American students offshore in fear of the citizens getting killed in the fighting. Marines continued to push inland the next morning and pushed Grenadan troops back while bombing runs from planes of the USS Independence strafed the enemy positions. Missiles from the USS Clifton Sprague and support from the destroyers USS Caron, Koontz, and Moosbrugger ended the resistance from Grenadan forces. 19 Americans were killed.

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American MPs standing over captured weapons.

The United Kingdon, headed by Margaret Thatcher, was furious that Reagan had attacked a member of the Commonwealth without consent. Democrat members of the US Congress disagreed with Reagan. Sen. Lawton Chiles asked if the US was “looking for a war to win?” While Democrats primarily disagreed with the invasion, Republicans supported it. Senator John Tower said “the island is strategically located and a Marxist presence there is not in our national interest.” Conflict in Congress and pressure from the UK for an explanation prompted Reagan to apologize to Thatcher later as a result of miscommunication on his part. Grenada still celebrates the invasion to this day, even though most Americans don’t remember nor learn about it.

This is a list of the American servicemen who died in Grenada:

Kenneth J. Butcher                                     Mark A. Rademacher

Randy Cline                                                 Michael F. Ritz

Gary L. Epps                                                Russell L. Robinson

John P. Giguere                                           Robert R. Schamberger

Philip S. Grenier                                         Jeb F. Seagle

Kevin J. Lannon                                          J.R. Sharver

Keith J. Lucas                                              Stephen E. Slater

Keven E. Lundberg                                    Stephen L. Morris

Marlin R. Maynard

Book Review: Soviet Paratrooper vs Mujahideen Fighter

Osprey Publishing continues its “Combat” series with a study on the Soviet Afghan War (1979-89). A Soviet invasion intended to simply pacify the nation ended ten years later with thousands of dead on both sides and an overlooked war which shaped the modern situation in the Middle East. Soviet operations were widely led by their paratroopers, whom were mostly 18 year old conscripts far from home. The Mujahideen, Afghanistan’s anti-communist rebels, fought to reclaim their home and both sides committed atrocious crimes upon one another’s troops in battles through valleys, snowy mountains, and rocky outcrops for years.

Soviet Paratrooper vs Mujahideen Fighter
Osprey Publishing’s recent book

Praise:

The “Combat” series is one of my favourites because it covers so much information. The book is full of photographs of both armies and is accompanied by plates of two soldiers, a split-screen picture, and an excellent illustration of the battle for Hill 3234 by 9th company. The book contains a helpful map of Afghanistan in the introduction with each of the provinces labelled. There are plenty of explanations on the Soviet paras which are very interesting. Lots of quotes reveal the attitude of these young men and illustrates the fear of going to Afghanistan. One of the most harrowing is of Vladislav Tarasov- “when I was in my second year of college they changed the law and took me. ‘Anywhere but Afghanistan’ my mother said.” The book has plenty of descriptions of the brutality on both sides. From Russian hazing of their own recruits, to the Mujahideen human puppets they made out of captured soldiers. There are plenty of photos covering both sides of the war, which is surprising but also quite interesting.

Criticism:

My first and primary concern is a lack of background information on the Mujahideen. The author, David Campbell, has written another book about the Soviets in this series (Soviet vs Finnish Soldier in the Winter War, which is a great read), so it’s clear he prefers writing about the Soviets more. I still could have used some more information on the Afghanis. Major leaders, international support, and certain strongholds would have been very welcome. Yes, it is an introductory book to the subject, but I like balance in books, and compared to other “Combat” books, this one was not as such. The map for Hill 3234 is missing the unit numbers which bothered me. The commanding officers are all present, but I would have liked the unit designation. My last minor concern is the shoes in the Russian plate. I would have loved them to be in sneakers because many soldiers used them instead of boots on the mountains.

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‘Moskva’ Shoes- the USSR’s version of adidas sneakers, commonly worn in the war

This book is a really interesting idea, but in practice, it fell short of expectations. The artwork, photos, and quotes are superb; but a lot feels as if it is missing. This definitely expands horizons and makes me want to explore the Soviet-Afghan War in depth, and I hope you do too.

Rating:

3/5

Brief History of the Croatian War of Independence

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1990- SAO Krajina formed

July 1991- Independence

August 1991- Vukovar

Sept. 1991- Battle of the Barracks

Oct. 1991- Dubrovnik

Oct. 1991- Zagreb TV bombed

Nov. 1991- Vukovar massacre

1992- UN intervenes

Jan 1993- Operation Maslenica

Sept 1993- Operation Medak Pocket

1994- Siege of Bihać

1995- Operation Flash

1995- Zagreb attacked

Aug. 1995- Operation Storm

Nov. 1995- Erdut Agreement

Kiwis in Combat: New Zealand in WWII

While New Zealand sits some 11,000 miles (18,000 km) away from London, they gave their heart and soul for the Empire during the Second World War. Many people have heard of the contributions of Australia or Canada in the war, but never New Zealand. The NZ Division underwent tests of strength in numerous battles, most notably the Battle of Crete in 1941 as Blitzkrieg swept through the Mediterranean. New Zealand also produced an air force which would play an important role in the Pacific. From the deserts of North Africa to the chilly shores of Normandy, the Kiwis would stamp their mark on the war.

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A wartime poster for the New Zealanders

New Zealanders beared the brunt of the German Fallschirmjager attacks on Crete in May of 1941. With German and Italian troops in Greece, New Zealanders and other Commonwealth forces travelled to help protect the Balkans. Greece had been ultimately captures by Hitler’s forces and an airborne assault on Crete was imminent. Over 7,000 men of the New Zealand Division were stationed on the Mediterranean Island. Fallschirmjager landed in Crete on the 20th of May, fighting for the airfields around Malerne. A counterattack was launched three days later, but failed after their battalions became pinned around the airfields. Capt. Charles Upham, however, was awarded with a Victoria Cross for his bravery under fire. A new defensive line was organised, but German attacks on Galatas pushed them back and forced many supply issues. Another counterattack was launched, failing once more to defeat the Germans. The New Zealanders fell back once more and a new line was created at “42nd Street” named for the engineers who built it. A massive German attack on AZNAC positions was held, but the Allies retreated in the night. Many troops were sent to Egypt at night by ship once the Royal Navy arrived. By the 30th, most troops had retreated from Crete.

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Fallschirmjager at Crete

With NZ and British troops in Egypt, the battles for the desert began. In Operation Crusader, New Zealanders captured important coastal towns from the Germans while main British attacks by the 8th Army were underway. At Point 175, the New Zealanders suffered their heaviest casualties of the war, but they still pressed on towards Tobruk. Unfortunately, they were smashed back into Egypt, suffering 2,500 casualties total. At Second El Alamein, the NZ Division broke through German lines and forced them to retreat. They captured hundreds of German prisoners before pressing on towards Tunisia in late 1942. The New Zealanders would be sent to Italy in 1943, fighting through the country. New Zealanders were present at the disaster at Monte Cassino in 1944, eventually pressing onto Trieste. The Kiwis even had a minor presence at D-Day, protecting the fleet from the air and at sea.

In the Pacific, New Zealand felt threatened by Japan’s growing presence, especially after the 1942 attack on Darwin, Australia. Thousands of New Zealanders joined the ranks and were sent to Africa, but a fair few remained on their hemisphere. They fought in the Dutch East Indies and also provided airbases to the United States for attacks on Japan. Kiwis arrived on Guadalcanal after the battle as an occupying force and proceeded to capture more of the Solomon Islands in 1943. The 4th Division later returned home in 1944.

New Zealand’s navy, the RNZN, provided needed support to British operations in the South Pacific. HMS Achilles and HMS Leander were sent to fight at the Battle of River Plate in 1939. These ships were named HMS since the title HMZNS wasn’t created until October 1941. Some 7,000 sailors would join the Royal Navy as they helped in the Normandy Operations of 1944. The RNZN also fought in the naval battles for the Solomon Islands.

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The Maori Battalion preforming the Haka in Egypt  

Another component of New Zealand’s forces, the RNZAF, numbered a mere 102 planes at the outbreak of war in 1939. Immediately, their efforts greatly increased as they formed new pilot schools in Taieri, New Plymouth, and other locations. Some Kiwis formed a part of the RAF, becoming No. 75 squadron. More RAF squadrons were formed of New Zealanders and they managed seven squadrons total in the RAF. With Japan’s entry to the war in 1941, the NZ airmen became involved in the battle for Malaya and Singapore. Worries about an Axis invasion of the nation prompted a massive anti-invasion campaign. Kittyhawks arrived in 1942 to reinforce the RNZAF and in November, the NZ pilots engaged Japanese pilots for the first time above Guadalcanal. Over the next few years, they received better equipment and supplies. In 1945, the RNZAF mostly aided US air assaults on Japan as escorts. By the end of the war, they numbered some 42,000 personnel. Three pilots received the VC for their gallantry in the war: Lloyd Trigg, Leonard Trent, and James Ward.

One important New Zealander in the war was the aforementioned Charles Upham, who won two Victoria Crosses. Only three people, including Capt. Upham, have won multiple VCs. The Christchurch native won his first VC in Crete as he single handedly charged a machine gun nest with grenades in hand. Upham destroyed the bunker and quickly destroyed another, before finally finishing off a German Bofors gun. He soon grabbed a wounded comrade and ran back to his line. The next year, Upham won his second VC at the Battle of El Alamein. He commandeered a Jeep, driving it into the German line and firing his machine gun wildly. Despite his wounds, the captain spotted German units for the Commonwealth troops who had become separated from the main force. He was wounded again and continued to fight before his capture. He was even transferred to Colditz, one of the most notorious German prisons of the war. Upham was later quoted to have said “I don’t want to be treated differently from any other bastard,” showing how humble the soldier really was.

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Capt. Charles Upham after being awarded his first Victoria Cross in 1941

While New Zealand is not as noticeable as the USSR or Britain, they still provided much needed aid for the Allies in the war. Without contributions from minor nations, the world may have fallen to fascism and not been the way it is today. Thanks to the bravery of men like Charles Upham and other Kiwis, the world was made a safe place for all of us to live to this day.