The Bitter Sea: The Struggle for Mastery in the Mediterranean, 1935–1949 by Simon Ball - review by James Holland

James Holland


The Bitter Sea: The Struggle for Mastery in the Mediterranean, 1935–1949


HarperPress 416pp £25

Far too many historians continue to view the global conflicts of the twentieth century – and especially the Second World War – through the narrow prism chosen by previous generations of writers. In the case of North Africa, for example, there are reams of books, told from an Allied perspective, that begin with General O’Connor’s trouncing of the Italians in 1940 and end after the Battle of Alamein some two years later. Accounts of the war in Italy usually stop at the fall of Rome in June 1944. The ensuing long and bitter struggles that marked the culmination of both campaigns are covered with little more than a cursory nod. Reading through each new generation of campaign histories, it sometimes seems as though the authors are afraid that they might be committing some kind of historical faux pas if they venture outside the constraints established by the chroniclers of fifty or more years ago. 

Consequently, Simon Ball’s decision to widen the remit with regard to the Mediterranean is to be welcomed. He also proves himself deft at weaving his way from one end of the sea to the other and from north to south shore, and at recounting the labyrinthine webs of

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