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East African 1940-194 by Marek Sobski

jwsleser

Administrator
Staff member
I have finished reading Marek Sobski’s East Africa 1940-1941. This review has been a challenge to write for several reasons. I am offering these thoughts to Mr. Sobski in the hope that they are considered to improve the series as the future volumes are written.
SobskiEastAfrica1.jpg

First, I want to really like this series. Mr. Sobski is taking on a very large project, an English account of the history of the Italian military in the 2GM. This is a series that needs to be written and this first entry is promising.

Second, the A.O.I. is a difficult campaign to write about. Part of that is due to the size of the campaign, the forces involved, and the complexities of the operational issues. Much Italian documentation/material was lost during the war, especially information on the Italian colonial troops and units. It is a very alien campaign to the western reader, and the author can’t depend on the reader possessing a basic level of understanding the country or its topography; it's cities, roads, its economy, etc. This not like the campaign in Africa settentrionale (A.S.) where readers likely already know the locations of Tripoli, Tobruk, and El Alamein (and many places in-between) on a map. While some readers of WW2 history might have heard about the Battle of Cheren, few would be able to find that location on a map. Many of the battles were fought near small towns and villages which have since escaped being placed on modern maps of the area.

Finally, this was a difficult book to finish reading. I am a fast reader, but it took me over two weeks to read the book. I could read several sections in a sitting, but then had to put the book down and take a break. I will explain why this was the case later in this review.

After all those disclaimers, what do I think of East Africa 1940-1941? I do recommend the book for the English reader. It really is the only book that approaches the campaign from the Italian point of view, with a small caveat that the book addresses both sides with a slight bias towards the Allies. I believe this is due to the availability of better sources on the allied side of the campaign; the Italian side really isn’t fully explored even in Italian language sources. For those who read Italian, I am hesitant to recommend this book over the two official histories of the campaign published by the USSME. While both the USSME histories and Mr. Sobski’s book share some of the same weaknesses, the USSME volumes possess numerous maps and is indexed (the 1995 edition, the 1952 edition is not indexed).

What the book provides are some good accounts of the campaign from the Italian POV. There are many quotes and discussion that use little known Italian sources. Interwoven with the Italian accounts are the UK side of the story. Together, they make a complete telling of the events in the book.

The main issue I encountered from the start was the lack of functional maps. Mr. Sobski bombards the reader with place names, describing plans and actions in some detail without a tool (maps) to assist the reader in assimilating the information. I am familiar with the campaign, yet I found myself searching through the book for maps. There were many place names I didn’t know. I finally gave up on the few maps in the book and used the maps from Playfair’s Mediterranean and Middle East volume 1 and Rovighi’s Le operazioni in Africa orientale. Playfair was easier to use as the naming convention used by Mr. Sobski was the same as that found in Playfair, but those maps didn’t have all the detail as found on the Rovighi’s maps. The maps in Rovighi contained more of the locations mentioned, but used the Italian spelling of place names. It required a few more minute to ensure the place I was looking at on the map was the same as stated in the book.

Tactical descriptions of the battles suffered for the lack of maps or sketches of the actions. The reader must form a mental picture of the battle descriptions and then hold it in their head while reading. Rovighi has 44 maps/sketches that support the discussion of the tactical actions during the during the war. These are most useful, especially for many of the smaller actions. The description in East Africa of the terrain around Cheren (Keren in the book) on 233 is accompanied by a map on p. 232. Easily half the locations named in the text are not on map (Bogos, Cub Cub, Anseba Gorge, etc.). Maps like schizzi 31 and 33 from Rovighi that depict the full scope of the Italian defense would have better supported the discussion given on p. 233. In all, East Africa provides only two maps of this high point in the Italian defense, where as Rovighi provides five tactical maps and four more providing information on the operational situation

The overall effect for me was scanning the paragraphs with heavy geographic descriptions and focused on the retelling of the battles using the maps from other books. This require a table and a constant shifting back and forth between three books.

The other problem I encountered was the lack of any attempt to organize the organizational data into a tabular form and track the changes. Lists of units were provided in the text, but none of this was captured into an order of battle format. The USSME volumes suffer the same problem. This certainly would have been challenging to do as hard data on the colonial units is often missing in the records, but an attempt would have added something new to what is currently available on this campaign. After reading lists of geographic locations with no maps, I was now reading lists of units that I had to remember how they were organized and equipped without being able to turn to a chart and see it all laid out. It was exhausting and I needed to take some breaks.

That is why this book was a challenge for me to read. I was worn out working through lists of information and trying to organize and remember it all as I read the accounts of the campaigns. Thee were some small issues in translation, but Mr Sobski should be congratulated on the translation into English. I am sure English is not his first language and there were only a few questionable words or sentence structure issues. Picture and map placement can also be improved to better support the text.

I stated that writing on this campaign is a challenge. East Africa is a fair account of the Italian side of those events. It does add a lot on new material that previously was only available in Italian.

I do recommend this book for the English reader with the caveat that one will need to work through all the descriptions. I do plan to buy the next book in this series. I hope Mr. Sobski sees this review as assistance to improve future books in this series rather than a supercritical review to kill the series.

I am looking forward to the next volume.
 
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Marek Sobski

New Member
Hello!

@jwsleser, Thank you for your constructive review of my book! I agree with your opinions. I just want to comment two things.

1. The book has been professionally translated by Mr. Tomasz Basarabowicz, not by me.

2. If my financial situation allows it, there will of course be more maps in the books. I promise!
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In preparation Vol. 2: "Mussolini's Eastern Crusade. Italian Expeditionary Corps In Operation Barbarossa" :cool:

Color version of maps from "East Africa 1940-1941..." for download: https://files.fm/u/b8x6p4xrs

Photos of the book:

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jwsleser

Administrator
Staff member
Marek

Excellent! I look forward to your book on the C.S.I.R. It is a campaign I am currently studying.

v/r Jeff
 

FrancoFB

Member
Hi Mr. Sobski
I've read the pages from the pics, an i noted the use of roman numbers for "artillery battery", the italian use arab numbers for the batteries, so i suppose that are "gruppi", i'm in right? If so i'm not sure that battery is the right translation, probably Jeff can tell us if in the english word this ir right or could be up confusion. I've read that the translation is from Mr. Basarabowicz but i'm sure that the author can give some suggestion to translator,
My english too few for read a book in english bu surely is a good book
 

Marek Sobski

New Member
Hi Mr. Sobski
I've read the pages from the pics, an i noted the use of roman numbers for "artillery battery", the italian use arab numbers for the batteries, so i suppose that are "gruppi", i'm in right? If so i'm not sure that battery is the right translation, probably Jeff can tell us if in the english word this ir right or could be up confusion. I've read that the translation is from Mr. Basarabowicz but i'm sure that the author can give some suggestion to translator,
My english too few for read a book in english bu surely is a good book
Hi,

Everything is ok. In english gruppo = battery and batteria = troop. ;)

Regards!
 

jwsleser

Administrator
Staff member
Franco is correct. While the terminology is correct for the UK, pretty much all the other armies used battalion and battery.

Gruppo = battalion, batteria = battery.

I should have caught this. I was wondering why the Italians appeared to have less artillery, but I was focused on other things in my review. I didn't check.

Pista! Jeff
 

Webmaster

Administrator
Staff member
Franco is correct. While the terminology is correct for the UK, pretty much all the other armies used battalion and battery.

Gruppo = battalion, batteria = battery.

I should have caught this. I was wondering why the Italians appeared to have less artillery
Glad to see you can post. Even though it's a double post 😀😀
 

jwsleser

Administrator
Staff member
Marek

The issue is that the US, German, Italian, etc. terminology is universally understood around the world. The UK terminology is not universally understood.

Here is an example. Your next book is on the CSIR. You have a Italian battery, which in your book is a battalion of artillery, and you wil have a Russian battery, which is a single troop in the book. So which terms do you plan to use? Are you planning to write troop for Russian Batteries? Are German batteries written as troops?

The UK terminology is not standard and is not understood by most English readers. Only the UK (and UK colonial forces) uses that terminology. No other countries use it. It is unique and should only be used as adding national favor to the writting when describing UK forces.

This issue is similar to the other issue you will face in the next book: What geographical names do you plan to use? The Italian version? The German version? The English version (which tends to be a variation of the German), the Russian? The modern names? You want to use what is most familiar, but that might not be the best choice. This is a problem I deal with every time is write a piece of history on the R.E.

Better would be to applied either both Italian/US terms or use only the US terms. You can include a glossary of terms, allowing you to use the national terms if you so desire.

Pista! Jeff
 
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