Defeat Into Victory: Battling Japan in Burma and India, 1942-1945

Defeat Into Victory: Battling Japan in Burma and India, 1942-1945

by William Slim

Field Marshal Viscount Slim (1891-1970) led shattered British forces from Burma to India in one of the er-known but more nightmarish retreats of World War II.

He then restored his army's fighting capabilities and morale with virtually no support from home and counterattacked.

His army's slaughter of Japanese troops ultimately liberated India and Burma.

  • Language: English
  • Category: History
  • Rating: 4.35
  • Pages: 616
  • Publish Date: February 9th 2000 by Cooper Square Publishers
  • Isbn10: 0815410220
  • Isbn13: 9780815410225

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This book is about the Burma/India Theatre in the Second World War where the British arguably scored their first victory against the Japanese. Add to this the difficulty of sewing together combatants from different nationalities: British, Indian, Burmese, Nepalese (Gurkhas), American (airmen) and Chinese, the challenge of stopping the Japanese advance into India was formidable. On top of that, some people could be fighting for either side (especially the Indians who served in the Indian National Army) and with a foe that exhibited systematic cruelty and brutality in any theatre (pg. The central theme of this book is how the Commonwealth soldiers, with the help of the Americans airmen, eventually re-grouped, trained and through small victories scored in patrols, turned their beliefs around and came to recognise that the Japanese were not invincible. The one question that kept coming back to me as I read the book was why this theatre receive so little attention, especially given that it resulted in a convincing victory for the the British. An earlier book I read had indeed speculated that the outcome of the war might be different had the British been defeated in Burma and India, and India, while geographically huge, might not be difficult to sway towards the Japanese, given the independence movement led by the Congress Party. Interestingly, Japanese sources, both left and right-wing (Hand, 2009; Ienaga 2010; Yakuta & Watanabe, 2013), pay more attention to the defeat they tasted in Imphal, putting the blame squarely on Lieutenant General Renya Mutaguchi's lack of leadership, capabilities, and decisiveness. Even if the victory here did not serve the overall cause strategically, there are reasons for one to learn about this theatre if just to know how an army, so lacking in resources could turn defeat into victory against an enemy that seemed so invicincible.

I cannot think of anything one would desire to have in a military memoire that is missing from this work. This should be required reading for anyone desiring to obtain command rank higher than Captain, and is beneficial reading for anyone who is either professional military or a politician, or who would wish to understand the same.

Defeat into Victory is his account of the retaking of Burma by Allied forces during the Second World War first published in 1956. Slim was the commander of the British 14th Army that, in concert with American and Chinese forces, defeated the Imperial Japanese Army during the Burma Campaign. Slim's theory is that politicians give guidelines for the campaign, and generals provide the training and backup so that the soldiers can get on with their business. This is a fantastic account of how under his stewardship the army managed to stop the Japanese advance in South-East Asia, and restore morale and discipline in the army that had been humiliatingly defeated. Slim is incredibly respectful of his own native soldiers, as well as the Japanese enemy.

It has always been on my list of books Id like to read, but somehow Id never quite got round to acquiring a copy. The other engaging bit about the book was that Slim shows you the development of the army from a road bound Western linear fighting force into an all arms, all round defence, jungle fighting machine. In the beginning the British Army is out of its depth and way beyond the ken of its commanders or troops. It isnt just a story of the British Army, as well as colonial forces (Indians and Africans mostly) there is also the alliance warfare aspect of the war. In the last chapter Slim gives his opinions on why things turned out the way that they did and also on what he draws as lessons for the future.

Slim is a refreshingly blunt writer, always quick to praise superiors, subordinates, and peers while taking responsibility for his own mistakes. In fact, one of the most important lessons of Defeat into Victory is that EVERY military commander makes mistakes--lots of them. The details of the campaigns are not so salient as Slim's observations on leadership and the behavior of senior commanders. This book would benefit greatly from an annotated and illustrated edition that allowed the reader to see the tactical situation more clearly as Slim describes it.

Through perseverance and energy, Slim managed to hold the line in India, rebuild his army, learn how to fight the Japanese, and then counter-attack. This is only fair; the Imperial Japanese Army were some of the worst war criminals this planet has ever seen, and Slim's thoughts about their command structure and penchant for atrocities are only too true.