30 JANUARY 1942, Page 15


Military Opinions

11'1n-ell in the Middle East. By Major-General H. Rowan-Robinson. (Hutchinson. 12s. 6d.)

Tanks. By Professor A. M. Low. (Hutchinson. 9s. 6d.)

HERE IS a range of military reading to satisfy most tastes,. with General Wavell and the tank as the leading characters at a time when they were never more in eye and mind. Among them these surveys cover something of the past, present and future of the British Army, and it would be difficult to find higher authority for any contemporary collection of war books. In some respects a certain divergence of view is equally marked, especially when it comes to discussing the merits of the man, the bayonet, and the machine.

For Sir George Arthur it is the man, so long as he is British, who matters—the grand little Army with half the victories. of the world flaunted from its banners. As a scientist, Professor Low is far more concerned with armour than tradition, to the extent, indeed, of being inclined to ignore the men inside it ; and from the Brigadier comes the time-honoured reflection that " fear of the glint and the steel of the British bayonet is still present in the minds of the enemy." It is curious how the mere mention of the bayonet will set opposing schools of military thought by the ears, but for all the scorn of the moderns it is still certain that the infantryman spends more time sticking his bayonet into sacks of straw than he does learning to fight against tanks and aircraft. In spite of the volume of present-day fire-power, an extraordinary amount of cold steel gets into despatches from the battle zones.

There is a compelling interest about Sir George Arthur's way of sipping at military history, and a charm about his touch. Taking Wavell as his text, as it were, he opens up little martial vistas from the past, and at the same time manages to cram a great deal of knowledge into his book. He wanders more or less as the .mood takes him in the rich pastures of military achievement, from the first Commander-in-Chief under Charles I, to a study of American generals, or a" comparison of 1914 and 1939. If there is a constant theme—and sometimes an underlying irony—it is taken from Wavell's lectures on generalship, which have since been read by millions of people, but, as he remarks, were ignored at a time when praise was being heaped on military writers with far less knowledge of war. The author's belief in Wavell is unbounded, and there is a prophetic ring about his concluding passages, written before the present appointment to the Far East, in which he writes that to the successor of the general who defeated Napoleon may fall the chance of a new and even greater Waterloo. There is delight in these pages. General Rowan-Robinson, on the other hand, has far less to say about Wavell the man than about his campaigns, which are outlined from the author's special knowledge of the Middle East without adding much to what is already known. He pays a soldier's tribute to Wavell's skill in masking his intentions before the first • Libyan campaign, and notes his daring in taking into account the possibility of living on Italian supplies, a contingency that made all the difference between a large-scale raid and a major offensive. There is a most interesting chapter on the oil war in which Hitler is seen as having to push on to the Caucasus at all costs. But in joining the critics of the withdrawal of our fighters from Crete, one wonders whether the General is aware of the true air position at the time. The number of aircraft available in Crete or Egypt was then desperately small, and, it will be recalled, the attack more or less coincided with some of the fiercest raids on this country. In tracing the evolution of the tank, Professor Low writes clearly and attractively for the layman, who, however, may not altogether agree with his conclusion that the wholly armoured army must come as surely as the bow gave place to the cannon. The two cases, anyway, are not analogous, and, even in this mechanised war, tanks in themselves have only been an arm, admittedly a decisive arm, in the winning of battles. One might equally have argued in the days of the cavalry charge that the whole of the Army must be horsed—and it is an interesting point that for all the might of the Panzer division, 70 per cent. of the German army is still horse-drawn. By armour, of course,

it is assumed that Professor Low is referring to tanks: bullet- proof transport is another matter. But few writers have told the story of the tank so attractively.

Brigadier Tollemache, with the aid of many fine illustrations, has produced a simple guide to the Army that has already proved its worth. In broad terms that fall far short even of the censor's limits he usefully describes the functions and something of the history of each arm, but the book is clearly not addressed to the