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Author, film researcher and member of the Swedish Military History Commission.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Modern Italian View of El Alamein

M13/40 at El Alamein. Photo: No 1 Army Film & Photographic Unit, Windows (Sgt)

You have seen the classic Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) movie "Sea of Sand" as well as "Ice Cold in Alex" (both from 1958!) and are looking for some other good movies about WWII in the desert? Well, recently I saw an Italian film about El Alamein that really made an impression on me.

There have been more movies made about the war in North Africa than most can imagine, both British, US, Italian and French films. In 2008 even a Czech & Slovak production was released, "Tobruk", about two Czechoslovak soldiers fighting in Tobruk. I have not yet been able to get hold of the latter, but here follows a short review of the probably latest Italian movie, marketed as either just "el-Alamein" or "El Alamein - The Line of Fire" (In Italian: "El Alamein - La linea del fuoco"). It is a 2002 film written and directed by Enzo Monteleone that lets the viewer see the Second battle of El Alamein from an Italian perspective. This alone is refreshing, as most war movies shown here in Scandinavia have an American or British perspective. But aside from that it is quite simply a good movie - not the best war movie I have ever seen, but certainly among the ten best.

"el-Alamein" does not really focus on one soldier, although Private Serra (Paolo Briguglia), an enthusiastic student who has volunteered, holds the film together. I would say that this film is unusually good at portraying a unit, in this case a platoon in the Italian 28th Infantry Regiment. The film brings home the alien atmosphere of the desert and how the Italians adapt to it. While I am no expert at Italian uniforms, small arms and vehicles I believe the film makers have gone to unusually great lengths to give it an authentic and gritty look. In some scenes they have been forced to use modern APCs as tanks - but they have done this in a very clever way, making it difficult to recognize their true shape. Generally speaking, almost every scene in this film has an amazingly authentic look and the desert itself is filmed with great talent.

There are few scenes with German and British troops, but that is quite all right, because after a short while you really want to find out what will happen to the Italian characters.

Now, if only some film director could realize how much movie audiences need a colour movie about the LRDG. Then, if that director could find the people behind the amazing look of "el-Alamein"...

Friday, February 15, 2019

Countering Terrorism Today

Actions by counter-terrorist units in 16 different states are portrayed in this book.

If you are interested in how different countries act against terrorists, there is a new book out by Austrian investigative journalist and author Judith Grohmann. Her book Fighting the War on Terror: Global Counter-terrorist Units and their Actions provides insights into selected actions of counter-terrorism (CT) units in 16 countries.

The IS-terrorists may have lost most of their territory, but terrorism has always adapted and transformed itself. Thus the specialized CT units around the globe will hardly be disbanded anytime soon - and it is interesting to compare where these units stand today. As the book´s author is Austrian the book quite logically begins with an action of the Austrian Einsatzkommando Cobra. What the author does is to immediately make clear how many preparations are necessary to make sure a major VIP visit ends the way it should. There is, naturally, much more safety work behind these visits than you can imagine. Well, this book makes it possible to imagine a bit more.

Equipment and insignia are not so much the focus of this book (I will be reviewing such a book in the near future), but rather some of the major actions of CT units of the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Israel, Austria and eleven more states. There is also an interesting part about the European police tactical unit network called ATLAS, that has evolved since 2001, i.e. after the September 11 attacks. Too bad this exchange of proven CT practices and procedures between nations didn't start right after the catastrophe of the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. The number of units within ATLAS is currently no less than 36. The major Swedish CT unit, NI, is not really featured in this book but yours truly can here add that NI is a part of ATLAS.

Interestingly, the UK focus of the book is the Specialist Firearms Command, SCO19. The main Israeli unit featured is Yamam. The Russian chapter, focused on SOBR, is of little interest and there is only one SOBR photo. The chapters about CT units in smaller states provide more valuable information.

The copy of Fighting the War on Terror that I have reviewed is an English one but the book has also appeared or will appear in German, Polish, French, Romanian and other languages.