Commando Raid is a slice of lurid Aussie pulp from Horwitz Publications, who were one of Australia’s leading producers of trashy thrill-a-minute stories. Sadly the likes of Horwitz no longer exist, and Australian genre fiction – although there is a surging groundswell, which I am excited about – is still pretty rare. And the old pulp novels have been discarded or fallen apart – so in some ways we are losing our heritage too. Okay, some of these stories weren’t great literature, and if you were to look at the stories of John Slater and Jim Kent, you would be justified in saying they were bottom-of-the-barrel filth, that is best left forgotten. But the writers and editors at Horwitz, and its adult offshoot, Scripts, weren’t stupid. They were writing for a market, and if the stories seem rather politically incorrect today, then it is safe to assume, that Australia in the late 1950s, through the 60s and 70s, was a politically incorrect society.
It’s hard to appreciate now, but in the 1960s, Australia’s population was only around 10 million people – well under half of what it is today. And therefore, even our big cities like Melbourne and Sydney were really only oversized country towns. Communities were smaller and more tight-knit, and the impact of the second world war was felt very deeply. And possibly because the Japanese bombed Darwin, and sent miniature submarines into Sydney Harbour to reek havoc, they were considered our greatest enemies, even more so than the Nazis. As I have mentioned elsewhere, in another post, my Great Uncle Jim was captured by the Japanese and died working on the Burma Railroad. But my family is not alone in this. Many Australian soldiers were captured by the Japanese, and were treated brutally.
The emotional impact of having had this brutality inflicted on a family member, or someone you knew, fermented in the small town, tight-knit communities of Australia in those days, creating a hell of a lot of anti-Japanese feeling. Horwitz Publishing latched on to this, releasing – and this is only a guess because accurate information of this is scarce – hundreds of titles, that showed the allied forces, and quite often Australian forces sticking it to the Japs.
Commando Raid fits that bill perfectly. The mission is laid out in the opening three paragraphs – page 7:
“Find and destroy that phantom directional beam that’s lured so many of our pilots to disaster over The Hump.”
That had been Captain John (“Pearly”) Gates briefing before he and his small commando group were flown to Putao (Fort Hertz). From here they were to fly The Hump (without following the phantom beam into a mountain peak) and parachute into the area where the remote Japanese transmitter was operating. It was the latest and most sinister menace the pilots flying over the cloud covered mountain peaks between Burma and China.
“The transmitter will have to be tracked down by ground parties,” the Colonel had said. But you can be sure it’ll be well guarded. It’s a tough assignment, Gates, but a vital one. You will be heavily outnumbered by enemy in the area and you’ll find their defences well dug in. But that transmitter has to be smashed – and as soon as possible.”
What I was pleased to see in this story, was Australian Aborigines weren’t portrayed as ignorant savages. From page 11 – as Gates discusses his team with the Pilot-Officer:
Montague grunted. “Hardly the type for an outfit like yours. You’ve got some pretty strange types in it already.”
“You mean the aborigine, Kanga Jones? He’s probably the finest recce scout in the business. What he can’t see or hear he can smell. He’s a kind of blood-hound with inbuilt radar.”
“How did you come to get him?”
“He was with an Australian unit that was practically wiped out by the Japanese 18th Div. in Malaya. He got away – and weeks later he was still carrying his rifle. I won’t have any man in my show who ever threw a rifle away.”
The remarkable thing is, not only is Kanga Jones depicted as being brave and resourceful, but this was written at a time, when Australian aboriginals didn’t even have the right to vote.
Commando Raid is not an exceptional piece of writing. But it was never intended to be. It was a piece of production line genre fiction, and as such it hits all the peaks expected in a story like this. The thing is, I can’t really recommend this story to anyone – but that is not because I don’t want to. But as I implied at the top of this review, vintage Australian fiction is disappearing at an alarming rate, and finding a copy of this book, will either be virtually impossible – or (unless you are exceedingly lucky) a very expensive proposition. Therefore I almost feel as if I am writing this review for posterity – saying that once there was a book called Commando Raid, written by R. Charlett and it wasn’t too bad!
From the Front Cover:
Captain “Pearly” Gates was forced to resort to extreme tactics on the dangerous assignment
From the Back Cover:
Somewhere, in the snow-bound, mountainous territory between Burma and China, an enemy transmitter was luring pilot after pilot to fiery death along its phantom beam.
“Find and Destroy”
had been his instructions. And Captain ‘Pearly’ Gates was well known as a man who carried out his orders – no matter how impossible the assignment.
There is also a book called Commando Assault, also written by R. Charlett, and released in 1965, which may be another “Pearly” Gates adventure. I am currently trying to track down a copy to confirm this.
For more Aussie pulp, check out: Pulp Curry.