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    Avatar photoGuy Farrish

    ‘A Strange Campaign: The Battle for Madagascar’

    I saw Russell Phillips’ competition to win a copy of his new book, ‘A Strange Campaign’ announced the other week. I had already won a copy of one of Russell’s excellent books in another competition so I felt I ought to put my hand in my pocket and buy a copy on this occasion!  I’m glad I did.

    ‘A Strange Campaign: The Battle for Madagascar’ chronicles one of the lesser known campaigns of the Second World War. In 1942 Madagascar, a French colony was in the hands of Vichy France and there were fears it may be occupied by Japanese forces advancing from the East or even Germans trying to surround the Middle East. This led to initial plans to seize the northern port of Diego Suarez. What happens next is best left to Russell to tell.

    He explains the background concisely for those who may not be aware of the relations between France and Britain at this time or the Japanese advance across southern Asia. The planning and execution of the assault and the campaign that proceeded from that are clearly and precisely described and explained. With the aid of the maps provided one can easily follow the course of events.

    It is far more than a narrative of a set of military actions however, and the interrelations between services, countries and commanders described give fascinating insights into why some things happen irrespective of the action on the ground.

    For someone interested in one of the few successes Britain and her allies experienced this early in the war this is a great read. Lessons learned were used later in the conduct of amphibious assaults and the value of SOE cooperation was confirmed, though not unequivocally in some quarters.

    For the wargamer this is definitely worth getting. There is everything you need to set up a challenging and interesting series of tabletop actions away from the usual suspects. There are orders of battle for the whole campaign and maps and descriptions that should allow easy replication of various actions. Replaying the whole thing as a campaign with your own ‘what ifs’  is easily done given Russell’s’ orbats and notes on why things were done as they were.

    Quibbles? Not really. A completist may wish for more detail on the Vichy French forces but Russell has provided more than I have seen elsewhere and for the wargamer there is more than enough to create realistic forces for the British, South African and East African forces to fight. The photographs are a little small perhaps in the book format but as you get a free digital download when you buy the hardcopy, they can be expanded to larger size on the screen. I was surprised that the Madagascar campaign from Christopher Buckley’s ‘Five Ventures’ book was not in the bibliography. Originally part of ‘The Second World War, 1939-1945. A Popular Military History’ pub 1954, Five Ventures was republished in 1977 as a stand alone volume. This was the book that first aroused my interest in the campaign. If I had to choose between them I’d probably now take Russell’s for the clarity of its orbat and usefulness to gamers. But why not get them both?

    ‘A Strange Campaign’ is available from Shilka books: https://shilka.uk/books/strange-campaign/


    Avatar photoSteve Johnson

    Thanks for the review Guy. Not sure if the lucky dip winners have been announced yet or not, but a book certainly worth considering for the library. The other book mentioned I’ll have a gander at later on.

    Avatar photoRussell Phillips

    Thank you for the review, Guy.

    Not sure if the lucky dip winners have been announced yet or not

    They have, and I’ve emailed the winners. I didn’t think to email the people that didn’t win :-/

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