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

a battle oF empires

Japan, India, Burma & Britain: 1941-45

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

A canopy blurb by historian James Holland declares Robert Lyman’s “A Warfare of Empires,” specializing in World Warfare II in Burma, to be a “very good e-book.” I respectfully disagree; “very good” doesn’t do it sufficient justice.  

Japan’s seizure of Burma (at present Myanmar) between December 1941 and Could 1942, adopted by protracted Allied efforts to retake it, is taken into account by many historians to be one of the crucial obscure of all World Warfare II battlefronts. Even through the battle, the British Fourteenth Military — comprising items from Britain, India and Africa—was recognized in Nice Britain because the “Forgotten Military” in contrast with British armies combating in North Africa and Europe. But in contradiction with its historic footprint, the Burma marketing campaign has garnered a postwar library of singularly excessive requirements, replete with histories by notable army students and highly effective memoirs by former military officers. To rank Lyman’s e-book as the most effective of the lot, which I consider it’s, is an exceedingly excessive accolade.

Lyman touches on all the weather that made combating in Burma among the many most bodily tormenting, savagely primal, but in the end consequential within the battle. Its battlefields amalgamated lethal illnesses, wretched terrain and superheated soaking climate. Malaria, dysentery and pores and skin illnesses might render entire armies ineffective. And never solely did Burma present a big battlefront by European requirements (16,000 sq. miles), however its jungles, thick with mountains and cloven by watercourses, radically contracted the flexibility of items from platoons and divisions to conduct coordinated protection or advance. Burma illuminated the Japanese Imperial Military’s formidable strengths, together with the hardihood and valor of its troopers, but additionally its putting logistical weaknesses.

The battle in Burma additionally yielded main penalties for the Indian Military. Since its inception within the nineteenth century, the Indian Military included Indian troopers as enlisted males, however not as officers. Within the early twentieth century, a really restricted program started to fee Indian officers, however nonetheless rigidly barred them from commanding British troopers or officers. This modified with figures like Discipline Marshals Sir Claude Auchinleck and Sir William Slim, who not solely commissioned big numbers of Indian officers but additionally licensed them to move items, whatever the race of these below command. As leaders, Auchinleck and Slim additionally remodeled the military’s tactical proficiency, logistics and well being — in flip producing a contemporary Indian Military that rose phoenix-like from over two years of serial humiliations by the hands of the Japanese. Lyman rightly emphasizes that the Indian Military supplied the “essence” of what would change into fashionable India — at present the world’s second-most populous nation.

Lyman’s narrative is brisk but clear, stuffed with measured insights from strategic to tactical. Whereas the e-book lacks a bibliography and contains sparse notes, the depth of the analysis is evident to these aware of the archives. Its story can also be replete with memorably introduced characters, its best hero rightly being Discipline Marshal William Slim — at present usually deemed the battle’s best British basic for doing extra with much less in a particularly daunting bodily setting than even Discipline Marshal Bernard Montgomery in North Africa and Europe. Lyman additionally drops necessary observations concerning the management, imaginative and prescient and typically even sanity of prime figures in Burma reminiscent of Britain’s Lord Louis Mountbatten and Normal Orde Wingate, and Japan’s Normal Renya Mutaguchi.

Total, “A Warfare of Empires” is a extremely readable but refined work about campaigns that by no means regarded extra consequential than they do at present. 

— Richard B. Frank is an internationally acknowledged authority on the Asia-Pacific Warfare. The primary quantity of his trilogy on the battle, Tower of Skulls, was printed in March 2020.

This assessment was printed in World Warfare II in April 2022.