In 1940 a group of artists, sculptors, filmmakers, theater designers, and set painters came together to form the Camouflage Unit. Led by Major Geoffrey Barkas and including among their number the internationally renowned stage magician Jasper Maskelyne, the unit's projects became a crucial battlefield weapon. At the siege of Tobruk the unit made a vital desalination plant appear to have been destroyed by enemy bombers; from then on they used their storytelling skills to weave intricate webs of deception, making things appear that weren't actually there, and things that were, disappear, to deceive the enemy. Their stage was the enormous, flat, and almost featureless western desert.
The unit's schemes were so successful that in August 1942 the Unit was ordered by General Montgomery to come up with a way to hide the preparations for the Battle of Alamein, the biggest battle the 8th Army had ever fought. "Operation Bertram" was born. In six short weeks two divisions, with armour, field guns, and supporting vehicles, were conjured from the sand, while real tanks and lethal 25-pound field guns vanished from sight. Then, on the eve of the battle, the unit performed the biggest conjuring trick in military history. Right in front of the German's eyes they made 600 tanks disappear and reappear 50 miles away disguised as lorries. Rommel had been bamboozled by an army made of nothing but string and straw and bits of wood.
The Phantom Army of Alamein tells for the first time the full story of how some of Britain's most creative men put down their brushes, pencils, and cameras to join the rest of the world in the fight against the Nazis and played a vital role in the winning of the war.
©2012 Rick Stroud (P)2013 Audible, Inc.
I was a bit apprehensive about this audio book before I started listening to it as I was unsure if the subject would be of sufficient interest to keep my attention for the length of the audio. I need not have worried as it was an incredibly thought provoking, insightful and well read book looking at the work of the camouflage unit in the desert.
Within the first 5 minutes I was hooked and everything I vaguely knew about the work of the camouflage unit in the desert was soon corrected and it was even more spectacular then I had thought. Learning that Jasper Maskelyne did not play the part I had thought in the process was certainly an eye-opening and extremely well explained surprise!
The narrator was faultless throughout the book and I would listen to anther book read by him without hesitation. I cannot praise this audio highly enough and would recommend it mostly strongly to anyone with an interest in the Second World War in general and the desert battles in particular.
"NOT AS IN DEPTH AS I EXPECTED"
Overall, this book is alright if you know nothing at all about the WWII battles in North Africa. I thought there would be much more about the Camouflage Unit itself. Instead the men and their work is just a "side dish" to Rommel, Montgomery, Churchill, Hitler, Eisenhower, et. al. Even Operation Bertram and the battle at Alamein is relegated to the last 45 minutes of the story. I'm a rabid war buff and had never even heard of this critical and important military unit. So, for that reason, I'm glad that this story was told. But I feel there are so many layers that have yet to be revealed here. Also, Audible really needs to provide listeners with PDFs of photos and/or maps included in the print copies. I don't know if photos of the camouflage work are available in this book but they would go a long way towards helping us really appreciate the misleading tactics used by the Camouflage Unit.
"A Good History Book"
This book tells the story of the British Army Camouflage Unit in the North African Campaign of the Second World War (1940-43). Surprising it is quite a page turner and does have great detail without being bogged down. If you are interested in the Second World War then this is a must, but if your thing is the North African Campaign with the 8th Army, Deutsch Africa Corps and lets not forget the Italians, then you need this book. Everybody gets a mention, South African Engineers, Australian Desert Rats, British HQ in Cairo or Rommel's adjutant. A good book worth the listen too.
"There is something delightful in these mad schemer"
An interesting intimate look at the camouflage work done in North Africa by the British during World War II. The book flows quite well, it's not overwhelmed with personages, and deals with the various schemes quite well. There are speculative parts of the book like suggesting that O'Connor would have defeated Rommel which detract from the work. There is also a section near the end that gets speculative about future applications of technology to the art of camouflage which breaks the narrative flow. Otherwise, quite an interesting and lovely work. It includes a good deal of the how as well as the who and why.
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