STRANGLING THE AXIS: THE FIGHT FOR CONTROL OF THE MEDITERRNEAN DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR

Reviewed by: Dr James Bosbotinis

Having seen the author of this book publicise it ahead of publication, together with an interest in the subject, this reviewer approached Strangling the Axis with much interest. Richard Hammond, a lecturer at Brunel University and a vice president of the Second World War Research Group, sets out to demonstrate how the Allies’ ability to gain command of the sea in the Mediterranean and with it, disrupt the Axis’ ability to supply and sustain its forces both in North Africa and the wider theatre. That is, the Allied anti-shipping campaign constituted the critical enabler for ultimate victory. Moreover, Hammond draws on a “unique mix of multinational source material, much of which has been underused to date”, to provide insights from the Axis perspective as well as the Allies. The depth of research undertaken, detailed in the Bibliography (divided into Unpublished Primary Sources, Published Primary Sources, newspapers, and secondary sources encompassing official histories, articles, chapters, book, and unpublished theses), is evident throughout the book.

Divided into eight chapters, plus the Introduction, Conclusion, and featuring a note on terminology, excellent maps and illustrations, comprehensive endnotes, and as mentioned, a highly detailed bibliography, Strangling the Axis follows a chronological approach. Hammond sets out the grand strategic significance of the Mediterranean to the UK, and the progression of the conflict following Italy’s entry into the Second World War in June 1940, Germany’s entry into the theatre, the struggles through 1941 and 1942, followed by the collapse of the Axis position through 1943 and 1944. Stating with regard to the Mediterranean, that “In no other theatre had combat been so defined by interdependence on the roles of air, sea and land power”, Hammond ably demonstrates the connections between the campaigns on land and at sea, highlighting the impact of anti-shipping operations, including through the use of statistical data. For example, Rommel’s offensive and subsequent defeat at El Alamein was significantly enabled by attrition of shipping and thus, the strangling of ammunition and fuel supplies.

Strangling the Axis is a very well-written and presented book, featuring valuable maps and tables of data that are clear and easy to understand, plus appropriate photographs. There are very few, and only minor, typos. This book, although an academic work (it is derived from the author’s doctoral thesis), will be accessible to the interested lay reader. This book will particularly appeal and be most valuable to those with an academic or professional interest in maritime strategy, the role of maritime power in wider strategy, and the history of the Second World War. It would also be valuable reading for those either at, or preparing to go to, Staff College. Strangling the Axis is an excellent book, providing a highly readable and detailed analysis of the contribution of maritime power to the Allied victory in the Mediterranean in the Second World War. It is highly recommended.