Luck and the Art of Writing a Winning Military History; Unpublished Diaries and Papers Add to a Gripping Account of the Victory at Alamein. the Enthusiastic Author Talks to Dean Powell

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), August 17, 2002 | Go to article overview

Luck and the Art of Writing a Winning Military History; Unpublished Diaries and Papers Add to a Gripping Account of the Victory at Alamein. the Enthusiastic Author Talks to Dean Powell


Byline: Dean Powell

THE Battle of El Alamein 60 years ago brought a sense of victory to a Britain grown weary from defeat.

The Eighth Army ended forever the see-saw desert campaign and drove the German-Italian Panzer Army across Egypt, Libya and into Tunisia. There it was destroyed by the Allied invasion of North Africa in 1943, which in turn led to the invasion of Europe.

Alamein was the high-water mark of Rommel's career, and made Monty a household name. It also changed the way the British Army fought, using concentrated artillery on a scale not seen since 1918 to break through Axis defences built in depth.

It is this fascinating chapter in British military history that is so gloriously captured in the latest treasured volume by Welsh author Jon Latimer.

Alamein (John Murray Publishers, pounds 25) tells how that major victory was far more than a land battle. Sea power was vital, providing the British with the means to fight while denying it to the Axis.

Crucial also were the air forces, largely overlooked in previous accounts. But fundamentally it was a ``soldier's battle'', in which the infantry, gunners, sappers, tank crews, airmen and their supporting arms fought it out at close quarters amid a welter of confusion - heat, sand, smoke, noise, dust, flies and blood.

As well as providing an overview of the battle in its strategic context, Latimer draws on the experience of the men who fought, and through them we experience the harshness of the desert; we share their songs and their moments of humour, fear and their pain.

It's an episode close to the heart of the author, although he was not born until 1964. His immense knowledge is far beyond his years, or for that matter his credentials, which he wryly admits don't even include an O-level in history.

Admittedly, he is no stranger to the workings of the British military, spending 16 years at Territorial Army level, and has published widely in military journals. He is also the author of Operation Compass 1940, Tobruk 1941 and most recently Deception in War. But Latimer's career as a military historian is born quite simply out of incredible enthusiasm and the sheer enjoyment of it. And believe me, enthusiasm is an understatement when talking to him.

Filled with passion for the subjects we discuss, there's no stopping him racing from one to the other in his peculiar mixture of a Welsh accent mixed with a tint of Australian which grows stronger the louder he becomes.

The ozzie twang leaves me somewhat bewildered at first, until you realise the sort of life he's led so far. …

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