Saturday, 30 June 2012

Book review – Striking Back

Striking Back – Britain’s airborne and commando raids 1940-42, Niall Cherry, 2009, approximately 400 pages.
The book will give you a very detailed account of both the birth of the commandos and paras, their training and detailed accounts of the early raids. And I mean really detailed.
Some of the raids covered in the book:
Operation Collar – the French coast, June 1940.  A small commando raid. Not a huge success, actually quite a failure.
Operation Ambassador – Guernsey, July 1940. A total failure. One group didn’t find any enemies, but were shot at when leaving. Another didn’t even reach the Island (due to one craft starting to sink, among other things), the third party had a faulty compass, and probably landed on the island of Sark.
Operation Colossus – Italy, February 1941. This airborne raid, with about 40 men, to blow an aqueduct, was also a failure. The aqueduct was blown, but it was sturdier than expected and most of the explosives were dropped in the wrong place, so the damage was limited, and it was repaired in a couple of days. The men didn’t fare so well.
Operation Claymore – Norway, March 1941. Believe it or not, but one of the targets were a fish-liver oil factory. It succeeded, and there was much rejoicing among the children of Germany, I guess.
Operation Flipper – North Africa, November 1941. The attack of Rommel’s headquarters. It would have been a sensation, if only it had been Rommel’s headquarters…
Operation Biting - The Bruneval Raid - France, February 1942. The famous raid to hi-jack a German radar.
Operation Musketoon – Norway, September 1942. A raid to blow up a power station that supplied an aluminium smelting plant with electricity.

The first 275 or so pages detail these, and a couple of other raids, training etc of the units. All of it very interesting, and some hilarious (Like the first parachute jump of one of the men, using the pull-off method (you sit backwards in the place where the rear gun turret used to be, on a small platform about a foot square more or less in the open, release your parachute and off you go). The instructor told him how to release the parachute, the nervous chap said “OK, like this?” and in the second it took for the chute to open, heard the instructor yell “Not now, you bloody fool!”. I read that part while sitting by the bed of my youngest, waiting for her to fall asleep. She didn’t, because of my laughter...)
After that the appendixes, and these are real treasure troves (Yes, I do love details. They show that the author has done his work. A good reference list is also something of a must, in my opinion.). Everything you would need is here, in 120 pages:
Copies of letters, orders, reports, specifications on personnel, weapons, equipment (just for your knowledge; every man in Operation Colossus were to carry chewing gum and a little toilet paper, among other things), decorations received and more. Even I was satisfied.
And last, a short bibliography and an index.

This is a truly excellent book. It has everything. Very well written, full of details and well researched. You will learn something, even if you thought you knew it all. If you intend to write a scenario based on any of these raids, then this book is a must.

I cannot recommend Striking Back enough. Full marks, 5 out of 5! Read it!

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