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Posted on Oct 11, 2007 in Books and Movies, Front Page Features

World War II in Colonial Africa – Book Review

By Rich Hamilton

cover.jpgBook Review – World War II in Colonial Africa, the Death Knell of Colonialism, Richard E Osborne

This book is a broad and sweeping survey of all aspects of WWII in Africa and the beginning of the downfall of European colonial Africa.  It neither introduces new material nor in-depth analysis but for anyone looking for a single volume introduction to WWII in Africa and the role the African colonies this is your book.

The period covered is from the First East African War and the fall of Ethiopia to Mussolini’s Fascists in 1935-46  through the Fall of Germany and Japan and the unsettled peace in Africa in 1945. It covers both the land and sea campaigns in and around Africa as well as the political situation in colonial Africa.  It also covers on broad outline the use of African troops in other theaters of the war.  The maps, as well as the pictures, are varying in quality and usefulness.  The book suffers from no bibliography or footnoting making it difficult to review primary sources.  There are several factual errors that are glaring to any student of WWII.  For example when talking about the sinking of the Prince of Wales and the Repulse by Japanese airpower, the author refers to the Repulse as a ‘cruiser’ not a ‘battlecruiser’ and the Hawker Hurricane as one of the best fighter planes of the war. The Hawker performed well as a tank buster in North Africa and the ground attack role but was outclassed by the Me109 as a fighter. The Spitfire was a much superior fighter to the Hurricane.  


The book’s strength lies in its treatment of the political, social and economic aspects of colonial Africa and the effects of World War II on the colonies and the wakening aspirations of its’ people. Interspersed throughout the book are vignettes that appear outside the general flow of the book but were found interesting by the author. They range from increase in witchcraft to the first prisoner-of-war.

The naval war is better covered than the land actions including individual ship sinkings in all the seas around Africa and chronicles all of the German raiders but only mentions briefly the Mediterranean convoy battles that were so critical to the struggle for North Africa.  However, there are no Order-of-Battles for any forces, no appendices listing strengths or casualties of the forces involved.

For the gamer or game designer/developer there is little to offer at the tactical or operational level.  As previous noted, the book lacks much that is essential to the gamer including the lack of bibliography, order-of-battle, appendices of comparative force composition and losses, and useful maps.   For someone developing a strategic game, it would be useful as a reference for the socio-political and economic aspects of a game.  Is it a ‘must have’ book for the gamer or the game designer, my answer is no.

For the serious historian of WWII, there is little new material nor in-depth analysis offered.  As a general survey of WWII in Africa, it offers a decent outline of the events of the period and does a much better job of dealing with the political/social/economic aspects of colonial Africa during WWII.  It might have been more appropriate to title the book ‘The Death Knell of Colonialism ‘ with the subtitle of ‘WWII in Colonial Africa’.