Boarding Party: The Last Action Of The Calcutta Light Horse, by James Leasor
This book was loaned to me by a friend of mine at church who was aware of my interest in military history and the book itself is a worthy read for those interested in odd World War II history. World War II was full of secret incidents that did not get publicity because of national security, and the vast importance of intelligence and secrecy to the war effort had a lot of negative consequences in terms of governments feeling justified in behaving in a secretive manner after that. Although the writing of this book is only competent, the story is gripping enough and the primary sources and reminisces are compelling enough to make this an excellent read.
The book is an account of a top-secret mission taken by a group of members of the Calcutta Light Horse, a volunteer regiment in (where else?) Calcutta known mostly before WWII for its robust social life and love of gentlemanly horse races and rugby games to destroy a radio transmitter in a German merchant ship that was responsible for transmitting detailed and accurate information to U-boats sinking tens of thousands of tons of allied shipping in the Indian ocean each month. The book itself is in a mostly chronological fashion, looking at the point of view of the English as well as occasional glimpses of the Germans and Italians stranded in Goa harbor on their ships, as well as the occasional Indian. Bribery and corruption play a big role in the events of the book, including the bribery of a Goanese official to allow a celebration that distracts enough German sailors from defending their ships to allow for success.
Most of the book’s events take place in the preparation for the attack, showing the immense logistical efforts needed to get a small boat from Calcutta to Goa (which is an extensive trip for a small boat), as well as the efforts at bribery of officials and the owners of whorehouses to distract the Germans and Italians from their defense while the British attacked in a fairly narrow time window. Great attention is paid to the importance of preserving Portuguese neutrality (given the Portuguese hold on Goa until 1961), importance far beyond Portugal’s minimal military strength, largely thanks to its strategic location. That said, the book shines a light on a totally neglected aspect of World War II history, an area that deserves to be better known, especially because its prose is enriched by such interesting stories as the deception of a beloved fiance as well as the total lack of military glory for the heroes of the attack.