The Burma Campaign: Disaster into Triumph 1942-45

ISBN-10: 0300171625
ISBN-13: 9780300171624
Review Date:

The 1942 Japanese conquest of Burma was overshadowed by the fall of the symbol of British Empire in the Far East, Singapore. Thousands died on both sides as British, Indian, American, and Chinese troops slowly pushed back the Japanese, but the world focused on the final assaults on Germany and the island hopping in the Pacific Ocean. The war in Burma remained a less frequently discussed topic for the subsequent decades despite of its length and scale, and author Frank McLynn attempted to create his own narrative of the war with The Burma Campaign to remedy the situation.

McLynn focused on telling the progression of the war through the period biography of two main actors on the Burma stage, William Slim and Joseph Stilwell, and how they have interacted with the other persons of tremendous influence, Archibald Wavell, Chiang Kaishek, Orde Wingate, Louis Mountbatten, and others, during the period of 1942 and 1945. In terms of historical facts, the author presented details that I enjoyed to a great degree. The author had not set forth to create a volume of military history, thus I did not find tactical details of various engagements aside from major battles such as Kohima. The details came in with how the cast of characters engaged each other, whether it was logs of conversations of various meetings during the Cairo Conference or Stilwell's travel itinerary as he juggled between being Chiang's chief of staff and overseeing combat in northern Burma. In descriptive narratives, McLynn not only successfully allowed me to appreciate the amount of work required for military planning in Burma despite it being a sideshow to London and Washington, but it also laid out the political intrigue of Byzantine proportions that took place in Chongqing and Delhi. While this book was a collective biography of the Allied leadership in Burma, his recognition of African, Indian, and other colonial troops in general who fought under the British banner was also extremely welcomed.

One thing I noted was that, throughout the entire book, McLynn exercised his right to express his opinions on just about everybody who graced his book, and many in near-absolute terms. Slim, for example, was obviously his protagonist, acting virtuously and never worried much about glory. Chiang, on the other hand, was portrayed one-dimensionally as a fascist who was no more than a boss of street thugs. Mountbatten was a bit more favored than Chiang, but still appeared as a womanizer who only reached the positions he attained because he was royalty. I had no issue with McLynn's opinion, but the overt inclusion of his opinions would lead me to warn readers of this fact, thus this book would be best read to complement others on the understanding of the Burma war, and should not be taken as canon. Mountbatten was a shrewd politician who could manage international prima donnas, Chiang formed a united China by defeating regional warlords and held firm in the war against communism. Slim did indeed seek fame, too, demonstrated by his mad dash for Rangoon when he should have known that his troops had already tied up Japanese defenses north of Burma which ensured a successful Operation Dracula, but he nevertheless urged on his troops, who died for him, for the glory of being the liberator of Rangoon. McLynn did a great job presenting the good or bad side of many of these historical figures; a more balanced view should be attained from other sources, however, as theaters of war was not divided simply as heroes and villains like theaters of performing arts.

WW2 was full of larger-than-life characters. Not only that Burma was no exception, the theater had several of them who, collectively, shaped the progress of the war. "They seem more creatures of myth than of history, and it is unlikely that we shall ever see such a quartet [Slim, Mountbatten, Stilwell, and Wingate] juxtaposed again", McLynn noted near the end of the book. The Burma Campaign: Disaster into Triumph 1942-45 was a great study of these four leaders, plus others, that would go well to complement existing studies of the history of WW2 in the China-Burma-India theater.

Back to Main | Back to Book Reviews Index

Did you enjoy this article or find this article helpful? If so, please consider supporting us on Patreon. Even $1 per month will go a long way! Thank you.

Share this article with your friends:


Stay updated with WW2DB:

 RSS Feeds

Posting Your Comments on this Topic

Your Name
Your Email
 Your email will not be published
Comment Type
Your Comments


1. We hope that visitor conversations at WW2DB will be constructive and thought-provoking. Please refrain from using strong language. HTML tags are not allowed. Your IP address will be tracked even if you remain anonymous. WW2DB site administrators reserve the right to moderate, censor, and/or remove any comment. All comment submissions will become the property of WW2DB.

2. For inquiries about military records for members of the World War II armed forces, please see our FAQ.

A review copy or review sample of this product was provided by the publisher or vendor to WW2DB; opinions expressed in this review are not influenced by this fact.

Search WW2DB
More on The Burma Campaign: Disaster into Triumph 1942-45
Related People:
» Aung San
» Alexander, Harold
» Chiang, Kaishek
» Merrill, Frank
» Mountbatten, Louis
» Slim, William
» Stilwell, Joseph
» Wavell, Archibald
» Wingate, Orde

Related Events:
» Battle of Imphal-Kohima
» Battle of Meiktila-Mandalay
» Battle of Myitkyina
» Battle of Rangoon
» Cairo Conference
» Operation Longcloth
» Operation Thursday
» Salween Offensive
» Third Battle of Arakan

Affiliated Link:
» The Burma Campaign: Disaster into Triumph 1942-45
Famous WW2 Quote
"Among the men who fought on Iwo Jima, uncommon valor was a common virtue."

Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, 16 Mar 1945

Support Us

Please consider supporting us on Patreon. Even $1 a month will go a long way. Thank you!

Or, please support us by purchasing some WW2DB merchandise at TeeSpring, Thank you!