Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Book review - "The Heroes of Rimau: Unravelling the Mystery of One of World War II's Most Daring Raids" by Lynette Silver (1991)

If you want a book on Operation Rimau, this is the one to read - an exhaustively researched, brilliantly gripping account of one of the great epics of the war. If just one person had gotten back from Rimau alive, it would have been made into a blockbuster film, surely, for the material is so magnificent - even more so than Operation Jaywick which, while an amazing success, was a relatively drama free mission with not one shoot out.

Rimau was non stop action - 23 desperate men on a mission to blow up shipping in Singapore, hijacking a junk and dressing as natives, the mission goes pear shaped but they manage to succeed in sinking some ships then flee for their lives: shoot outs on islands, drownings, suicides, heroic last stands, pirating junks, overlooked by rendezvous subs, betrayed and/or helped by locals, being experimented on by Japanese army doctors, going mad with malaria, getting agonizingly close to safety but having dashed at the last minute...

It's page turning stuff - with the underlying sadness that not one made it back. Ten managed to be captured by they were all executed after a sham trial - again, agonisingly close to Japan's surrender. This makes it a truly tragic epic and very moving.

This book isn't just limited to Rimau - there is a recap of Australia's campaign in Malaya, the flight to freedom by Ivan Lyons (a mini epic in itself involving the hijacking of a vessel and sailing it to Ceylon), a recount of Jaywick, plus a recap of some disastrous operations by Australian special forces in Timor (more mini epics which should be better known... Z force men being captured and forced to broadcast messages luring more special forces to the island).

It really is enthralling stuff, full of heroism, brutality, and all-to-easy-to-believe stupidity. The research is ground breaking, the narrative highly involving. A modern classic.

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