The Secret Army

Review by Martin Koenigsberg

Just finished my 9th Book Review of the Year!!

As the British prepared to leave Palestine in the late 1940s, the Jews of Palestine found themselves at a disadvantage in what appeared to be a coming war. Lebanon, Transjordan, Syria, Iraq, and Egypt, alongside their Palestinian Arab allies, were all being lavishly supplied with WWII surplus Arms by the UK and USA as part of Cold War programs. The Jews needed Infantry Arms, Armoured Vehicles, aircraft, and the expertise to use them. David J Bercuson, a Canadian Academic and historian, tells the story of the international effort to collect surplus weapons and ammunition from a myriad of sources and marry it with expertise. Soldiers, especially pilots, came from a number of groups: Veteran Allied Jews making aliyah to become Israeli, Veteran Allied Jews who came to serve and return home, Veteran Allied non-Jews who came to volunteer, and Veteran Allied non-Jews who were hired by contract. The main focus is on the gathering of men and materiel, some great stories of amazing feats of ferry flying all sorts of planes around the Mediterranean- but the story of the 1948 Israeli War of Independence is also told. The military narrative is incomplete and focused mainly on the fronts where the “Ronin” made significant contributions. A very interesting story, well told, of a distant war with implications to this present day. I have to say that I took a whole point off my rating because of the total dearth of maps- in a theatre of war where they are vital. Whether it is discussing combat in areas of Israel, Egypt, Jordan, or Syria or the various routes used to fly aircraft from Holland, the then Czechoslovakia, France, the then Yugoslavia, and a number of other remote airfields – a number of maps would be really helpful. As it is, the untraveled reader may well be counseled to have a map of the Middle East and Mediterranean close at hand. WWII Military History buffs will recognize almost all of the gear discussed as being WWII stalwarts used in an early Cold War national struggle. The IDF’s Air Force’s first fighters were Czech versions of the Nazi era BF 109 Fighter that had fought the Battle of Britain – then replaced by actual surplus Spitfires. It is a fascinating look inside the passage of Israel’s forces from”Freedom fighters” against the British to creating the IDF. There are several adult themes, Nationalism, politics, and atrocities, so this is for the Junior Reader over 14/15 years. This is an interesting and contributory book for the Gamer/Modeler/Military Enthusiast, but not a central one. For the Gamer, learning about what weapons were sought, purchased, transported, and then used is interesting- but I think the narrative of the war is not enough to go by -especially without maps. For the Modeler, the photos and prose are great for diorama and building ideas, but I think a couple of color resources would be needed. The Military Enthusiast gets a great view of the various activities and motivations that brought such disparate human and military capital to the Zionist cause. I think any reader will find this a compelling story, no matter their views on today’s Middle Eastern conflicts.


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