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Special Operations South-East Asia 1942-1945

Special Operations South-East Asia 1942-1945

David Miller
ARRSE Rating
5 Mushroom Heads
Special Operations South-East Asia 1942-1945 by David Miller describes, in some depth, three special operations missions conducted in World War Two. He has conducted extensive research into them, two of which are not well-known, and brings the stories to life well.

From the title of the book, I was expecting a more wide-ranging study, perhaps including the Chindits, SOE's Force 136 and the repeated raids against Japanese shipping in Singapore. To Miller's credit, he has selected three comparatively small missions to concentrate on. One of them, the cutting-out expedition to Goa, I had heard of thanks to David Niven and Roger Moore in The Sea Wolves but the others were completely new to me.

The three missions picked are described by Miller as being one failure, one partial success and one complete success and I would agree with his analysis. The missions are Operation Minerva (to locate evaders in Sumatra and make contact with POWs in Singapore), Operations Baldhead and Hatch (operational-level reconnaissance in the Andaman Islands in the Indian Ocean) and Operations Longshanks/Creek (the cutting-out expedition against Axis shipping in neutral Goa).

Each mission described has been extensively researched by Miller (albeit Op Minerva has very little existing written record); he places each one in context and why they were important at the time. The preparations and execution are described as fully as possible and one cannot help but admire the bravery and resilience of the individuals involved. The one which stuck me the most was Op Baldhead/Hatch and how tough the teams needed to be just to survive on the islands, let alone operate there. The fact that the Japanese never suspected their presence, let alone found them, is a testament to their skill. Op Minerva could almost be a textbook example of how not to plan and execute operations behind enemy lines in very demanding conditions. Op Longshanks/Creek was essentially a deniable operation to remove a perceived threat (German merchant ships transmitting to U-Boats from a neutral port) where the participants (mainly reservists) did not know what they were volunteering for, merely that it was dangerous.

Miller's style brings out the context and the courage involved. Each mission selected tells a story of bravery and resilience and is, individually, a great read; brought together into one volume, they make a superb collection. Miller brings each story to life as best he can with the sometimes limited resources available (some of the records are simply missing, others are still sealed and some things are simply unknown). His style is fluid and engaging and makes sometimes complex subjects simple and easy to follow.

I recommend this to anyone with an interest in this area of the war, be it the operational context or the region. For those looking for some of the lesser-known episodes of the war, this is a great book and well worth a read.

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