BOOKS book reviews military history book reviews focused on cracking good reads
A GI in the Ardennes - The Battle of the Bulge Denis Hambucken
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military. 2020.
Price: £25.00 / $32.95
A little over 76 years ago, on December the 16th 1944, the Germans launched a surprise attack on the northern sector of the line, through the lightly defended Ardennes forest. The Allies regarded the area as difficult terrain and thus less vulnerable to attack. However, the Battle of the Bulge proved to be the last dangerous throes of a dying beast, a thorn in the Allies’ side which could easily have turned gangrene and altered the course of the war. In hindsight it was the German’s last major offensive in the West.
Whilst we fight the Winter blues and try to survive the frustration of lockdown, spare a thought for the men and women who, through December and January 1944, fought a desperate holding action in snowy and freezing conditions, on the front line or in the first aid stations. Their bold actions and sacrifices allowed the Allies to stop the German momentum and push on towards ultimate victory less than 9 Months later.
“A GI in the Ardennes - The Battle of the Bulge” charts the course of the action as it unfolded then puts the honest GI under the microscope, sharing personal memories and stories of those that lived through it, such as the Angels of Bastogne and 18 year old GI Bill Campbell. As well as the more notorious events, such as German soldiers masquerading as Americans and the massacres. This, intermixed with photographs of original GI equipment, from uniforms, weapons, vehicles, rations, and personal comfort items, adds a more human element to the book and strikes a cord with the reader
Denis Hambucken’s book stands out from others as it not only shares the history but is visually stimulating and gives the reader a 360 view of the battle from the GI’s experience. A social and military observation, leaving a deeper understanding and appreciation of the human story.
The square 25 x 25cm format hardback Pen & Sword 2020 English edition is beautifully presented. Its over 140 pages are packed full with high quality coloured photographs and period imagery, cleverly inserted into the text body, on more than 100 themes. It’s rich content can be felt through the book’s weight!
“A GI in the Ardennes” is well researched and an interesting read, which will no doubt inspire fellow collectors, rewarding them on nearly each and every page. I personally love the great M1 helmets shots. However, it is not just a visual museum but an ideal book to quickly get to grips with the Battle of the Bulge. Having said that, it should not be read too quickly but instead fully appreciated and enjoyed. For what the book offers the price seems very reasonable indeed.
The Jeep - Second World War - Land Craft Lance Cole
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military. 2019.
Price: £14.99 / $26.95
The Second World War Jeep is an iconic vehicle, seeing extensive use on all fronts, with the US and as lend lease with the other Allied forces, especially Great Britain. Its contribution to helping secure victory cannot be underestimated. As such it has developed an immortal reputation and a loyal and most dedicated following. Its versatile design sparked the 4x4 evolution and movement, capturing the hearts of off-roaders, military enthusiasts and modellers alike.
Lance Cole presents an enthusiastic look into the jeep from its surprising origins, through to its details, variants, and service use, with the scale modeller firmly in mind.
This Land Croft series get straight down to business, without getting bogged down with too much technical or contractual data. It is a practical visual reference for enthusiasts and scale modellers, giving tips on building and adding details. The addition of the “Key modellers essential checklist” is a valuable asset to the book, together with the jeep variants elevation illustrations.
Presented in a glossy paperback cover the book is magazine size, making it a handy reference next to the modeller’s table. It is 64 pages long, scattered generously with imagery that helps keep keeping the contents engaging and visual. Whilst its chapters have been carefully thought out and broken down into the jeep’s development, details, markings, modelling, service use, and variations.
If you are a modeller looking for guidance and inspiration then this book is a must have. Its pages are packed full of jeep goodness, giving tips and ideas for your build. It is also a great read, or coffee-time browser, if you are a vehicle enthusiast or simply love Willys / Ford jeeps and merely want to stimulate your brain and satisfy your eyes.
Self-confessed wartime jeep experts may find the book only scratches the surface, but what does that matter when you love jeeps? ... and anyway the book’s main focus is towards the scale modelling community. That said I am not a modeller but love the World War II jeep and thoroughly enjoyed this book.
Suez Crisis 1956 End of Empire and the Reshaping of the Middle East David Charlwood
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military. 2019.
Era: Cold War.
Price: £14.99 / $26.95
At the end of the Second World War the major powers had quickly realigned themselves to face a new cold war threat. In the West stood the Allies: Britain, France and the USA, while facing them to the East was the USSR and Soviet Bloc. Great Britain’s status as a superpower was diminishing and old colonial territories, and protectorates, were seeking to realise their own independence and cut ties with their former European overlords.
On the surface each side projected a united front against their new foes, but differences in foreign policy and, to some extent, matters of national prestige would cause cracks in the polished veneer, causing knock on effects felt decades after. In 1956 the Hungarian Uprising and the Suez Crisis were two such pressure points.
Suez Crisis 1956 End of Empire and the Reshaping of the Middle East explores a most complex chapter of post-war modern history. What may now seem like mild coldwar sabre rattling had the ingredients to escalation into something quite serious. David Charlwood successfully unravels the history of the canal itself and the roadmap that lead to the conflict, stating the motivations and reluctances of the interested parties, which were Great Britain, France, Israel, Egypt, and of course the USA and USSR.
For the latter, the crisis presented an unwelcomed side distraction from their own internal problems. The US President was fighting a re-election campaign while the Russians were trying to quash the recent uprising in their puppet state of Hungary. The book also shows how international relations became strained and a sense of mistrust on the “special relationship” developed on both sides of the Atlantic. The quick pace and clear narrative really allows the reader to get to grips with trying to understand the crisis from various perspectives. Its contents have been condensed into just over 100 pages, not including the addition of a valuable Afterword, which puts the conflict into a modern context by examining it with the 2003 Iraq War.
Considering its subject matter, this 2019 edition is a compact size with a durable paperback cover. The cover graphics are to the point and attractive, while the insides are sprinkled with supporting imagery. The chapters have also been logically organised. Overall its format allows ease of reading and handling.
You may think that the Suez Crisis is a forgotten war from a bygone era? If so, then this book will challenge your opinion. It not only sheds light on the various sides of the conflict but also the behind the scenes wrangling and sentiments. Charlwood’s tone towards the British felt overly heavy at times but all in all the book is a well-balanced, highly interesting and valuable contribution to the reading list of any self-confessed student of history.
Confessions of a Special Agent Wartime Service in the Small Scale Raiding Force and SOE Ernest Dudley, Jack Evans
Publisher: Frontlne Books. 2019.
Price: £19.99 / $39.95
In 1940, when France fell under German occupation, many French men and women felt a great betrayal had occurred and a burning sense of duty to fight the Germans on any terms. Whilst many sought to join the resistance, sabotaging the German infrastructure and war machine, many more escaped France to continue the fight. Joining the Free French forces seemed the obvious choice; however a select few were chosen, or volunteered themselves, for more hazardous work, with irregular warfare units or in the cloak and dagger world of espionage. In doing so they were actively fighting the enemy and working to free their homeland, which was signalled by the liberation of Paris on the 25th of August, 1944.Like his countrymen, half English half French Jack Evans saw no other option but to present his services to the Allies.
2020 marks 80 years since Evans´s story first began. An extraordinary story of a young man´s desire to get to grips with the Germans on a more personal level. One that would lead him from being a lowly RAF office boy to that of secret agent and commando. A tale so amazing it can only be true. As told to Ernest Dudley in 1957, it follows Evans through his recruitment and training as an agent, including his first operational parachute jump. His subsequent training and active service as a commando, and his later capture and imprisonment as a POW. All the more fantastic considering that he was legally underage when he joined SOE and managed to keep that secret concealed for a short while.
Confessions of a Special Agent is a true novel full of excitement and tense moments. It cannot and should not be compared to a conventional war memoir because its subject and main character are far from being ordinary and conventional themselves. From the page go you get sucked into the narrative and carried along with the tide, seeing the war from a unique perspective. One that is especially interesting and valuable considering that the book was first published in 1957, when memories were still relatively fresh.
At 162 pages, divided into 16 chapters, it follows Evans chronologically through his story and includes a respectable index section. The book is a good thickness and is hardback, making it robust whilst on the go. Furthermore, the dust cover has been beautifully designed and goes a long way in capturing the feel of the book.
The story of Captain Jack Evans is certainly an intriguing one, which left me with an added admiration for SOE agents and commandos (if I was indeed needing an extra one), and wondering what became of the man himself. The latest edition, unlike the 1959 paperback "novel sized" edition, brings the story to a modern audience and through its format gives it the credibility which it rightly deserves. Not only that, it is reader friendly and compliments the written word. I would have enjoyed seeing more photos included in the book, but this does not detract in any way from this publication. Would I read it again? Without any doubt, yes I would.
The Luftwaffe Battle of Britain Fighter Pilot’s Kitbag Uniforms & Equipment from the Summer of 1940 and the Human Stories behind them. Mark Hillier
Publisher: Frontlne Books. 2019.
Genre: Fact - Reference
Price: £14.99 / $22.95
In the Summer of 1940 the so called Phoney War had become a distant memory. Belgium and Holland had been defeated by the Germans, and with the retreat and evacuation of British and French forces from Dunkirk, France had just fallen. As Winston Churchill so aptly put it, “the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin”. With that, Göring’s Luftwaffe turned its beady eyes on Britain, in what would become one of the most famous, and indeed most pivotal, battles in Britain’s history. Mark Hillier’s book, as its title suggest, gives a visual exploration into the kit, both worn and used, of BF190 and BF110s pilots during the Battle of Britain. Apart from describing each piece that is featured, it also seeks to provide a human element, in showing items in an original context. What sets his apart from other similar references books, aside from its format which is mention later, is the fact that it covers such a specific and interesting theme and can either act as a single reference book by itself, or as a companion and contrast volume to its sister book on the Royal Air Force, also by the same author. At 137 pages, printed in paperback and measuring a good handy size, it is a practical reference book with the collector in mind. Pulling it off the shelf and thumbing through its pages time and again would certainly be somewhat easier than with a heavier hardback. Furthermore, it is literally jam packed from cover to cover with high quality coloured photographs of original period pieces, which are supported by descriptive captions. The inclusion of several period uniform rank charts serve not only to enhance the feel of the book but are useful as well, while the chapters have been split up logically, aiding quick reference. “The Luftwaffe Battle of Britain Fighter Pilot’s Kitbag” is every Luftwaffe militaria collector’s dream. It is not just a great reference but a pleasure to flick through and a feast for your eyes. It does not go into the nitty gritty of a piece which more focused collectors often get caught up on, but instead seeks to identify and present the pieces in relation to each other - how they would be worn, and of course to the BoB. As such, as any collector would understand, Hillier’s book is quite an undertaking, which has been successfully realised. It would be a valuable addition to the militaria book shelf and something a general WW2 collector, curator, props manager, modeller, and/or military historian would certainly find valuable. I had a feeling that I would like the book when I first spied its cover and it does not disappoint... and I am not a Luftwaffe collector! Dorrell. August 2019. For more information or to purchase the book please visit the Pen and Sword website.
Immediate Response Mark Hammond
Publisher: Penguin Random House UK. 2018
Era: 2016 / 2017.
In 2001 terrorists, led by Osama Bin Laden, hijacked passenger airliners and flew them into various targets, including the World Trade Center in New York, killing thousands of people. As the attacks were planned in Afghanistan under the protection of the then government, the United, States led a coalition to attack the country and bring down the regime. The United Kingdom forming part of this coalition, sent troops to war in an involvement that would cost over 400 British lives and last more than ten years. By 2006 the situation had deteriorated. Immediate Response tells the true account of Royal Marine Major Mark Hammond DFC and his twin engined Chinook chopper crew who flew medevac and supply missions over Helmand Province in late 2006 and 2007. He shares the everyday life of a crew on operation and the rare moments of downtime, their professionalism in extremely stressful situations and their commitment to the job of saving lives. The book is unique in giving a cockpit perspective of the war in Afghanistan from a decorated and highly experienced heli pilot. Yet it goes further by placing context to procedures. It is a gripping and honest account of operational duty, even going as far as explaining crew showering routines when the crew was on operational standby. Presented in paperback, The Centenary Collection Penguin publication feels like a novel. Yet it features a central photo section, a chart of Afghanistan and illustrations detailing the ins and outs of a chinook helicopter. An additional glossary of abbreviations is interesting reading in itself. Immediate Response would appeal to younger male readers as well as those young at heart. Its gung-ho RM narrative adds to the feel of the book, helping to create a visual picture of its content and dilute its heavy serious theme. Which is supported by odd moments of comic relief, in a typical military fashion. Hammond’s book certainly gave me an insight into the difficult job that the Chinook medevavs did during the hotter days of the UK’s involvement and a deeper appreciation of our service personal. Dorrell. July 2019. Purchase this book from Amazon.
A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea 1682–2017 Stephen Wynn, Tanya Wynn
Publisher: Pen & Sword History 2019.
Era: 1682 - 2017.
Price: £25.00 / $49.95
The iconic image of a Chelsea Pensioner dressed in a black bicorn hat and long scarlet military tunic is recognised the world over as being something quite essentially British. British like Big Ben, the London taxi and even the red double decker bus.
You may be forgiven however for thinking that the idea of caring for our military veterans is a modern concept harping back to the First World War, far from it in fact. During the 1600s the French King Louis XIV established the Hôtel des Invalides to care for his old soldiers, then not too long afterwards the newly restored English monarch, King Charles II, felt similarly compelled to honour his veterans and ordered Sir Christopher Wren to draw up plans for the Royal Hospital Chelsea. An institution that would become as iconic as even the Monarchy itself. Whilst medical science has developed in leaps and bounds since Wren’s time the core role of the hospital and its commitment to its patients remains true to its original remit.
As it’s title states, this book takes a deep look into the history of the Royal Hospital, from it’s earliest roots to the class of 2017 (latest at time of writing), telling how it came into being and introducing the reader to the key individuals that helped shaped it.
Bound in a duck egg blue hardback cover, it’s presented in a carefully designed dust sleeve that gives a sneak preview to its subject. Inside, its chapters have been put into chronological order and scattered with pictures and photographs of the pensioners and personalities, as well as the hospital itself, which creates an added visual accompaniment to the narrative.
Over the course of writing the authors made numerous research visits to the hospital, interviewing pensioners first hand to hear how they came to be there and their views on the hospital. First hand accounts from veterans of World War II, Malaya and Northern Ireland, among others, which may have otherwise been lost to future generations. Therefore the book is a valuable insight into the life of the hospital and its authors indeed deserve congratulating for managing to cram 350 odd years of history into just over 200 pages. Despite a few date typos it reads easily and is a most interesting and informative read that should leave you with a deeper understanding of the hospital and added appreciation of the iconic Chelsea Pensioners. Dorrell. May 2019. For more information or to purchase the book please visit the Pen and Sword website.
Escaping Has Ceased to be a Sport A Soldier's Memoir of Captivity and Escape in Italy and Germany Frank Unwin MBE
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military, 2018.
Price: £25.00 / $49.95
It was with sadness that I learnt of Frank Unwin’s passing, whilst reading his memoirs of life as a POW during the Second World War. I felt as if I had come to know him on a more deeper level than that of mere author and reader.
After the British and French evacuation from Dunkirk in mid-1940 and the disastrous Norwegian action, the morale of the British people had taken a serious hit. Against the Italians in North Africa, securing Egypt and the prized oilfields beyond, the British were victorious, however, General Rommel and his newly formed Deutsch Afrika Korps. sought to change that, in a to and fro-ing campaign across the desert.
Escaping Has Ceased to be a Sport chronicles the experiences of Frank Unwin MBE, a territorial gunner in the Royal Artillery, from enlistment to being sent overseas. After arriving in Egypt he took part in the North African campaign before being captured at Tobruk in 1942. Thereafter followed three years of captivity, first by the Italians in picturesque Tuscany and then by the Germans at a backbreaking quarry in Germany. Like many POWs his years of imprisonment were filled with boredom, frustration and hardship, as well as acts of resistance. His personal story holds a special twist that would remain with him and influence the rest of his life. An unexpected taste of freedom and home comforts amidst his bitter spells in captivity.
As opposed to the numerous and exciting accounts of POW escapes from Germany, Frank’s story is a window into the experiences of many Italian POWs and also shows the feelings of many Italians after the armistice. On a side note it also provides a rare glimpse into the lifestyle of Tuscan peasant farmers before modernisation and industrialisation drove their young people to the cities in search of work, and despite the war, the genuine friendship and generosity of the Italian people.
Packaged in a highly attractive dustcover his hardback shares the usual high quality of P & S books. It is a good readable size and weight regardless of whether you want to read it on the sofa or on the move. Its chapters are chronologically ordered and split by a central photographic section, showing Mr Unwin during the war and in more peaceful times.
Frank’s memoirs are not so much an account of an escape attempt and its intricate planning but rather a multiple of escape attempts. Despite the book’s alluring dustcover it is not merely about escape at all but one man’s search for freedom amidst the chaos of war and incredibly how he managed to find it.
The Battle for the Falklands Max Hastings & Simon Jenkins
Publisher: Pan Books, 1997.
The Falkland Islands have been a subject of much dispute since the first man set foot on them back in 1690, who was incidentally an Englishman. In its history the English, French and Spanish have settled on these remote islands, albeit for short periods of time, with the French transferring their claim to the Spanish. However, it was the English who managed to successfully establish a permanent settlement in 1833, based upon their 1765 claim. The Argentinian claim is an inheritance from the Spanish days of colonial rule.
The Battle for the Falklands explains the war from both the military stand point and from the political perspective, giving details of the to-ing and fro-ing negotiations leading up to the conflict, as well as the actually military actions and the post-war aftermath. It is a mammoth of a book written a year after the conflict by the noted military historian Max Hastings, who covered the war first hand in the field, and by Simon Jenkins, the then Political Editor of the Economist, who explores the political angle.
The 1997 Pan Books paperback edition is a practical size and a generous width. Its enlightening contents have been arranged chronologically, into seventeen chapters, featuring a central photo section as well as critically placed map charts which serve to reinforce the narrative. The thorough appendices are not only informative but add significant weight to the book’s content.
Hastings and Jenkins deliver a clear and concise examination from multiple viewpoints, which is thorough yet easy to read. They follow the events from the bare roots of the dispute through to open warfare and beyond. Clarifying why Argentina felt compelled to follow military action and how, despite geographical and logistical problems, not to mention external political pressure, the United Kingdom was able to rise to an almost impossible challenge and retake the Islands and liberate the islanders.
Even if you are familiar with the Falklands War and the media events surrounding it, this book is recommended reading which, without much doubt, should leave you with a deeper understanding of the dispute and walk away having learnt something new regarding the conflict.
Secret SAS Missions in Africa C Squadron’s Counter-Terrorist Operations 1968–1980 Michael Graham
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military, 2017.
Era: 1968 - 1980.
Price: £19.99 / $34.95
The Special Air Squadron is arguably the world’s best Special Forces fighting unit, if not the most famous. The first of its kind, it was conceived during the dark days of the Second World War to conduct stealthy hit and run raids behind the enemy’s lines, causing fear and destruction, and not to mention uncountable damage to morale. Since the war’s end many nations have recognised the vital role that the SAS played and have followed suit, forming their own versions, such as the US Navy Seals. In the Commonwealth SAS regiments were setup based upon their British godfather, with the Rhodesian SAS in particular becoming more than an elite unit but an expert anti-insurgency force.
Between the 1960s and 1980 the Cold War was reaching its climax and with Britain’s relegation as a world superpower, through the independence of former colonies, a power vacuum was created in certain regions of the world. Under the pretext of liberation and self-determination Russian and Chinese backed groups fought to destabilize the old establishments and create a Soviet friendly block in Africa. Thus seeking to control the continent’s huge and valuable mineral resources. No more so than in Portuguese Angola and former British Rhodesia. “Secret SAS Missions in Africa” tells the story of Rhodesia’s struggle against the communist backed ZANU and ZAPU terrorists through the eyes of the men of C Squadron SAS, who ingeniously and successfully conducted covert missions to counter this insurgency threat.
The achievements of the SAS during World War Two and indeed in more recent times, has brought them to the forefront of public interest. However, what makes Mr Graham’s account so interesting and indeed valuable is the unveiling of the unit’s unknown, or perhaps lesser documented, missions in Africa during a most crucial period in modern history. Not only was the book written by someone who actually took part first hand but it also shares the planning and tactics that were employed with evident success, featuring some colourful characters along the way.
At exactly 200 pages, the hardback edition reads more like a novel than a military memoir. It is stuffed with 14 chapters including 16 pages of black and white imagery, while the photo adorned dustcover has been aptly designed and gets straight down to business.
If you are seeking a unit history of the Rhodesian SAS then this isn’t that book and nor does it even pretend to be. While it does enlighten the reader to the events surrounding the action, it rightly concentrates, as its title promises, on the actual missions. It is thus action packed with never a dull moment, leaving you itching to turn the next page, much like a good military TV documentary leaves you balancing on the edge of your seat. My only niggle is that I personally found the book’s end a little too abrupt, although I certainly wouldn’t let that deter you from giving it a thorough good read!
After the defeat and evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk in May 1940, Hitler's eyes turned towards Britain. In preparation to his planned invasion, Operation Sealion, the Luftwaffe set about the task of destroying the Royal Air Force, in what would become known as the Battle of Britain. A battle whose outcome would be decided in the air. Spitfire Pilot is a contemporary account of the B.o.B from one of the RAF's pilots. Seen through the eyes of Flight Lieutenant David Crook DFC, credited with 100 victories, the book tells the real story of the battle from the inside of 609 squadron. Beginning the narrative in August 1939, it continues through the heat of the battle till its last days in November 1940. What makes Spitfire Pilot so special is the fact that is was written as a wartime diary, while the events were still unfolding. It is open, honest and easy to read, giving an account of a pilot's daily life, as well as sharing lessons that they learnt along the way. Yet, what makes this book more poignant and valuable is that the author was tragically killed in a training incident before the war's end. The paperback edition is a practical size to hold and carry around with you. Published by Bounty Books in 2015, it has an attractive sepia styled cover that shows the beauty of a spitfire in flight, as well as a half tone photograph of the author. Measuring at just over 200 pages, the text body is split in the centre by a photographic section showing the author, his squadron and various aircraft, and has been arranged chronologically. This shows the key periods of the battle and includes a preface, introduction and a chapter written by Air Vice Marshal A. F. C. Hunter CBE, AFC, DL, concerning 609 Squadron. Spitfire Pilot is a must read for anyone wishing to understand the Battle of Britain at another level. Step inside a pilot's shoes and learn about their daily life, hopes, expectations, and experiences. Its honest POV perspective, as opposed to a historian's research or period press release only serves to underline its value. However the book is more than that, it is a great read and can stand out as a testimony to what those brave flyers accomplished and sacrificed seventy seven odd years ago.
Flight from Colditz - Would the Second World War's most audacious escape have succeeded? Tony Hoskins
Publisher: Frontline Books, 2016.
Price: £19.99 / $39.95
Colditz Castle, situated deep within Germany, was the notorious high security prisoner of war camp that the Nazis deemed escape proof. It was thus considered the perfect solution for difficult serial escapers, yet there was one unforeseen flaw. The castle became a hotbed of escape specialists and indeed a cottage industry full of ingenious escape plans, some pure fantastical yet others proving quite successful, such as that of Arie Neave (read our review). For the vast majority of the castle's inmates escape was not merely a means of escape but a means of survival, through the tedium and boredom of prison life. One particular escape plan was so fantastical in its conception that it might just have worked, were it not for the war's end putting pay to the project. It was a daring plan to design and build a fully working glider, right under the very own noses of the guards! What may seem like fiction nowadays was taken very seriously by its designers and given the full support of the escape committee. So much so that the project even progressed as far as completion! In 2012 a television production company set out to determine whether this so called Colditz Cock would have actually flown and if, perhaps the most daring escape attempt ever dreamt up, could have become a reality. The company secured the skilled services of Tony Hoskins, tasking him and his team with rebuilding the glider in the exact same place and as far as possible, under the same circumstances as the original. The programme was then broadcast on mainstream television. Flight from Colditz - Would the Second World War's most audacious escape have succeeded? is Hoskins's account of the build, from first telephone call to its much anticipated launch. Since the war the Colditz Cock has been replicated several times, however none have gone so far as to give a running commentary of the build and the hurdles Hoskins's team faced along the way. Importantly the book also shows what an undertaking the building of the glider actually was, even by today's standards, with modern machinery and the full support of the castle's staff. Which serves to highlight the remarkable achievement realised by the prisoners in scrounging materials and constructing the original glider, especially in such a confined space without even being detected! Flight from Colditz was published in hardback format by Frontline Books in 2016. Inside its alluring and atmospheric dustcover lies 168 pages which have been divided into two parts. The first combines a history of OFLAG IV-C together with the original Colditz Cock, whilst the second and most important part of the book follows the building of the replica. The text is easy to read and relatively straight forward to follow, aside from the odd bit of glider "science" talk. It is intermixed with a photographic diary of the glider through its development, launch and eventual flight. The first part of the book also shares images of the original glider's plans as well as its designers and does wonders at setting the scene of the project by giving details of other escape attempts, building up to the Colditz Cock. Whilst the aim of the programme was to build a carbon copy replica of the Colditz Cock, minor problems encountered by the build team led to slight adaptations in the glider's final design. Considering the resourcefulness of the prisoners I am sure that they would have overcome any eventually successfully. So as such Hoskins's book is the closest anyone will ever come to sharing the experiences of Bill Goldfinch and Jack Best, all those years ago.To sum up, this book is more than a companion to the TV documentary but can proudly stand alone. The theme of Colditz will always be an intriguing subject and a book specifically focused on such an amazing escape plan should not be overlooked by anyone declaring an honest interest in the most famous of POW camps. Dorrell, October 2017. For more information or to purchase the book please visit the Pen and Sword website.
Deborah and the war of the tanks 1917 John A. Taylor
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military, 2016.
Price: £25.00. / $44.95
The Great War was truly an epic conflict, causing death and destruction across the world. It signalled a new age in warfare and hastened the onset of a new social order. Whilst the war was responsible for the decline of empires and several monarchies, through its gloom were born advances in medicine and technology, which would help shape the future of war itself and indeed the peace. Least of these developments was the tank which, from auspicious beginnings, would go on to decide battles in World War II and become a mainstay of every modern army. "Deborah and the war of the tanks 1917" tells the tale of one such tank, a Mark IV version designated D51. D51 saw action at Passchendaele and Cambrai then fell into enemy hands, before eventually being buried after the hostilities. In 1998 she rose again from the proverbial ashes and now serves as a memorial and as a "Weapon of Friendship". The book also takes a close look at those men who served in Deborah and gives a perspective to her tank actions as they happened. Mr Taylor's offering is thoroughly well researched, filled with personal experiences and quotes that paint a vivid picture of the part Deborah played during the war and of its personalities. Its story is indeed a unique one. The writing style reads like a documentary, with occasional flashbacks, telling more than the story of a tank but of WW1 tank warfare and tactics. It gives a view from both sides of the trench and the reality surrounding the "first great tank battle". Bound in hardback with an attractive dust cover, showing D51 in her prime and as a relic today, the book is a fair size and weight. At just over 300 pages it has been divided into six parts with 39 chapters, not to mention various supporting sections such as notes, sources and so forth. The body of the text is intertwined with key charts of the battlefield and features two photographic galleries, which naturally include period imagery of the tank and its crew. Despite the book's size, do not be fooled into thinking that it'll be a quick and easy read. It is literally bursting at its covers and needs time to be fully read and appreciated. However, the result should be well worth your patience. Whether you are a tank nut or merely interested in military history of the First World War, now, a exactly a century on, would be the ideal time to learn about Deborah.
The History of the Green Howards Three Hundred Years of Service Geoffrey Powell & John Powell
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military, 2016.
Era: 1688 - 2006.
Price: £16.99 / $32.95
Great Britain’s history is intertwined and steeped in military actions, glorious victories and famous regiments. At one point the thin red line stretched out over nearly a quarter of the globe. Yet over the last one hundred years or so, only a handful of these regiments have managed to survive changes, cuts and amalgamations.
“The History of the Green Howards Three Hundred Years of Service” tells the unique story of one such regiment, from its birth in 1688 to its amalgamation with the Yorkshire Regiment in 2006. As with similar such regimental histories, the book provides details on its evolution, its battalions and its commanders, as well as engagements and heroic actions.
Written by Colonel Geoffrey S. Powell MC, BA, FRHistS and his son, Brigadier John Powell OBE, both experienced former Green Howards. The book gives the reader an insight into the arteries of the regiment, which is revealing in regards to lesser known regimental postings and actions, as well as being an up-to-date regimental account.
The 2015 imprint is paperback and roughly measures 15 x 23cms. With just over 300 pages it is packed from cover to cover, while its chapters have been carefully organised into chronological order. The text body is also complemented by a generous Appendix section, including details on colonels, honours, medals, and more, while the inclusion of interlaced photographs, illustrations and charts, both in black & white and colour, serve to further enhance the narrative.
This book would appeal to anyone vaguely interesting in British military history, regardless of whether you are a Green Howard follower or not, as well as of course, those readers looking to delve deeper into the subject. I say that because this book is no less a regimental history of a great regiment, but indeed a military history of Great Britain, bar for a few conflicts of course, but you can’t always have everything! All in all, the book is well presented and written, with history bursting from its pages… quite literally!
The Gurkhas are a mountainous people from Nepal, whose warrior reputation has been forged in steel over centuries of bloody warfare. From the rugged slopes of the Northern Frontier to the ferocious battlefields of World War Two and beyond, they have stood firm with strength, dedication and above all valour. Their trademark Kukri knife has instilled fear into their enemies and gained them a respect from friend and foe alike.
"Valour a History of the Gurkhas" charts the story of the fighting Gurkhas, from 1815 to 1995, explaining their roots and examining their involvement in each conflict they took part in with the British Empire, through to the post WWII years and more recent deployments. The cover promises quite a thorough undertaking, especially as it includes the various regimental changes as well as war histories.
This book has the honour to be written by a veteran Gurkha Officer and CO, who served through the Second World War, Malaya and Borneo. Who could known them better? Mr Smith starts by giving a valuable observation of Nepal now and then, and then plunges into the body of text which is readable and informative. Considering the book's physical compact size the amount of information packed into its cover is quite a remarkable achievement. Far from the appendices being that part of the book added at the end, providing source materials, they give additional interesting information and excellent opportunities to learn more about the regiments.
The 2007 paperback edition by Spellmount Ltd. is a fair weight, size and thickness, especially if you read on the commute. The cover is attractive and features a Gurkha with a Kukri, which certainly hits the mark. Its 9 chapters take on a chronological order and are laced with black & white photographs and charts on almost every page. The appendix give regimental title changes, battle honours and cap badges, as well as information on the Welfare fund, not to forget also a bibliography and index.
Despite ending in 1995, the author passed away after the first edition was published, the book is nevertheless a valuable record of the Gurkha's history. It is indeed a tribute to their loyalty and sacrifice to the British army and their comrades, which is worth reading for that alone. The definition of valour is courage when faced with danger, which is more than an apt title for this book. am certainly intrigued by its story and these conflicts. It just goes to show that you should not judge a book by its cover and certainly not this book.
The Flyers - The untold story of British and Commonwealth Airmen in the Spanish Civil War and other air wars from 1919 to 1940 Brian Bridgeman
Publisher: Brian Bridgeman in association with The Self Publishing Association Ltd. England. 1989.
ISBN: 1 85421 054 8
The interwar period between 1920 and 1939, far from being a time of peace and stability, saw a number of small conflicts across the globe, from South America to Africa, Europe to the Far East. Conflicts where both sides recognized the need for skilled men and machines. With the end of the First World War a great many pilots found themselves suddenly unemployed and with few prospects. However, these conflicts created the perfect opportunity to mix adventure with financial reward, and in doing so also had the effect of creating a new kind of soldier, that of the pilot mercenary. Motivated by money, adventure, politics and/or all of the above, these adventurers sought to sell their unique skills to the highest bidder, becoming pioneers in a new age of warfare.
"The Flyers - The untold story of British and Commonwealth Airmen in the Spanish Civil War and other air wars from 1919 to 1940" charts the varied inter-wartime experiences of such pilot mercenaries, in Abyssinia, Bolivia, China, Finland, and Spain. It details how they became involved in a specific conflict, what aircraft they flew, and when known, their backgrounds and subsequent fates.
Printed in large hardback format, the dust cover is attractive and apt to the book's subject, although it does now appear somewhat dated. The chapters have been logically arranged with their sources given directly at the end of each one. Added to this, relevant black and white photographs have been placed periodically through the text body, referring to key characters and aircraft, among other things. A large index and bibliography, divided into journals and newspapers, further adds to the book's value.
Although published in 1989, the book is a valuable account of a most interesting and important period of aviation history, a period and indeed a specific topic that is often neglected. It is clearly a work of passion which has been well researched, despite certain information proving elusive to the author. The content is gripping and delivered clearly, giving a good feeling of the "characters", not to mention an impression of early combat aviation and the Spanish Civil War.
I was initially skeptical about the book from its dust cover but from glancing through its pages and reading the inlay description, I was more than eager to give it a good read. Which after doing so I do not regret my decision for even a second. It is perhaps not the most modern book on this topic, if indeed one exists, but if you are interested in military aviation history then it is well worth reading. I am certainly intrigued by its story and these conflicts. It just goes to show that you should not judge a book by its cover and certainly not this book.
Frogmen First Battles William Schofield and P. J. Carisella
Publisher: Avon Books, New York 1989.
In 1940 the British commanded a powerful naval presence in the Mediterranean with warships, cruisers, destroyers, and aircraft carriers, not to mention the various merchant ships and tankers. Vessels such as HMS Eagle, Queen Elizabeth, Valiant and York had a choice of secure anchorages, including Alexandria, Gibraltar and Malta.
Against an inferior Italian naval fleet the might of the Royal Navy loomed menacingly, posing a real threat. However things were about to change which would readdress the balance of power, ushering in a new kind of warfare, one which the Italians not only developed but excelled at, causing British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to sit up and pay attention.
"Frogmen First Battles" charts the setup, organisation and covert operations of the notorious and elite Tenth Light Flotilla, from 1936 to Italy's Armistice in 1943. It details the use and development of frogmen and "human torpedo" submarines against enemy shipping supposedly safe at anchorage.
Unlike the classic British war film, The Silent Enemy, which is loosely based around activities of the 10th Light Flotilla, this book is pure fact and written in a thrilling way that reads like a novel, making it hard to put down. The authors, both accomplished in their fields and experienced, do sterling work in creating key scenes in your mind and make the personalises more than mere names. Through extensive research and interviews with former members they have written a unit history that challenges any work of fiction. Showing at the same time how certain individual attitudes and dog eyed determination of these commandos differed little from their opposite number, their so called "enemy".
First published in 1987, the 1989 paperback edition from Avon Books has a attractive and relevant cover. Pocket sized, with just under 200 pages, it is divided into logically arranged chapters, including a foreword, appendix, references and index, as well as an eight page central photo section that shows the weapons, targets and key personnel mentioned in the text. The book is an ideal size for reading on the move, especially if you struggle to put it down!
While Italy's military conduct during WW2 is often criticised, the bravery, daring and indeed accomplishments of the 10th, shared in this book, have to be read to be believed. It is indeed refreshing to read about the topic from the"enemy's" perspective, whilst the British film, lacking in complete accuracy, is certainly a compliment and celebration to their deeds. If you want to read a real commando story, you couldn't go wrong by getting your hands on a copy.
Elite special forces are an essential part of any modern army. Their harsh training, physical endurance, and expertise in survival, gives them a unique ability to operate covertly behind enemy lines. Since their inception they have become the preferred choice for difficult operations by politicians and top brass.
The Special Air Service is perhaps the oldest of all those unconventional forms of modern warfare, which marks its 75th anniversary in 2016, yet one whose history may never had happened, as it had to fight for its very existence and indeed formation.
Much is known and documented about David Stirling, the founder of the SAS, however many people may never have heard of its father, a man whose background, creative imagination and high standards of training, laid the seeds for the regiment and whose legacy is still as valid today as it was 75 years ago. A remarkable man who expected high standards not only from his men but from himself. If it wasn't for Jock Lewes's untimely death so early in the Second World War, his name would have certainly received the same accolade as, quite rightly, David Stirling. Without Jock Lewes the SAS may never have been realised.
John Lewes's biography of Jock is not just an account of his wartime experiences but a revealing journey into the personality of his uncle and his family background, loves and hopes. Written from Jock's own letters between his family and friends, as well as interviews with those that knew him best, “Jock Lewes: Co founder of the SAS” is also a window into the social atmosphere of the 1930s Oxford University and pre WW2 Nazi Germany.
Mr Lewes goes into detail regarding Jock's upbringing as well as his captaincy of the Oxford rowing team which achieved victory against Cambridge after a long string of defeats. He shows how his influences helped shape his way of thinking, which culminated in success and his vision of the SAS.
The attention to detail of Jock Lewes is certainly reflected by the author who, for militaria collectors in particular, describes the rationale behind the unique SAS parachute wings, as well as the creation of the Lewes Bomb.
The 2007 edition is beautifully bound with 266 pages. The front cover successfully portrays the atmosphere of the wartime SAS, while the pictorial rear side is more of an overview of the book's content. The chapters have been well structured in chronological order of Jock's key life events, and are backed up by a central image section. Included are a Foreword by Earl Jellicoe and a comprehensive appendix. I particularly liked the fact that Mr Lewes began each chapter with a relevant quote from Jock.
“Jock Lewes: Co founder of the SAS” is well written and very informative on a range of subjects, not least the “insider's” perspective of the creation of the SAS. No doubt of value to social as well as military interest readers. Like all good biographies, the author has clearly spent a vast amount of time and effort researching Jock's life, creating a full picture of the man and indeed his personality. Resulting in a book that is a testimony to Jock's life and for what he did for the SAS. If you would like to read beyond the myth grab yourself a copy.
The Fallen Few of the Battle of Britain Norman Franks, Nigel McCrery and Edward McManus
Publisher: Pen & Sword Aviation, 2015.
"What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin". Prime Minister Winston Churchill, June 18th 1940.
Just over seventy five years ago, over a four month period in 1940, the Battle of Britain took place. With the Dunkirk evacuation and the subsequent fall of France, the fate of a nation now hung in the balance.
It was up to a "few" young men, and behind the scenes women, of the RAF, Royal Navy and AAF, to name the most numerous, hailing from all corners of the British Empire, and even America, to save the motherland. Their dedication and sacrifice would be called upon to protect Britain in her hour of need and thwart the Nazi invasion plan.
It was truly a modern battle and the first where air power would prove so decisive, pitting fighter against bomber, Spitfire against Me109. A fight which would be decided by a limited number of combatants and ultimately lead Churchill to famously say, "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few".
"The Fallen Few of the Battle of Britain" presents a complete list of officers and men who lost their lives, day by day, month by month, during the battle, building a slight picture of the battle as it unfolded. It gives the aircraft types they flew as well as their squadrons, along side cause of death or aircraft loss and final resting place. Where available such details as age, family and service background have also been shared.
Aside from being a lasting memorial it also goes further by attempting to put faces to their names and a little information about each, such as their known victories, reminding us that they were indeed living personalities and not just names on a Roll of Honour. It does make for sad reading, considering all were lost but it is a living memorial to their sacrifices.
The authors have also included a list of "Battle of Britain" squadrons, giving their call signs, codes and aircraft flown, which is valuable in terms of general research as well as aiding referencing within the book. Furthermore, an alphabetical list of the casualties at the back of the book allows quick referencing and name retrieval.
Presented in a poignant yet attractive dust cover, the book is hardback with just under 200 pages. It is well structured, with each of the four main chapters arranged chronologically, focused on a single month of the conflict. The first chapters give an overview of the battle, while the last list relevant support information as described previously.
The value of this book is concerned uniquely with the personal tragedies and sacrifices made by those that failed to return, it's focus is on the individuals opposed to the aces and dogfights. It would be especially interesting to a student of history or indeed a historian, and certainly compliments any Battle of Britain history or memoir that you may have on your book shelf.
Fight the Good Fight Voices of faith from the First World War John Broom
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military. 2015.
Price: £19.99 / $39.95
The First World War was a conflict on an epic scale previously unheard of. It was a conflict that would affect everyone, not merely those sent off to fight but also those on the Home Front. During the early half of the 20th Century and indeed previously, religion had played a very important part in the everyday life and values of the British public, which no doubt prompted thousands of men and women to volunteer for war service. Most saw the war as a crusade against evil and a righteous cause to protect degraded Belgium. With a strong Christian faith, how did those fighting deal with the real aspects of warfare along side their belief is an interesting question indeed.
“Fight the Good Fight - Voices of Faith from the First World War” presents a selection of diverse experiences of the Great War from devout individuals, from the Home Front to the fighting front, from soldiers and chaplains, to women and conscientious objectors. Each individual has their own story and perception of the war in relation to their particular brand of Christianity, whether they were pacifists or seeking to justify the cause through similarities set out in the Bible.
John Broom's choice of title is apt with a clear religious undertone, and one that after reading the book can be interpreted in many ways, not just literally. Each of his chosen case study stands out unique, and from his excellent narrative their universal devotion to their belief and their dedication to those less fortunate is clearly outlined. The added inclusion of four case studies from other countries also adds weight to the book's content.
Printed in hardback with an attractive yet poignant dust cover, the book is a good overall thickness and weight, which fits in with many other titles from the publisher as well as being a practical size to read. The contents have been logically arranged with the body of the text preceded by a Foreword and Introduction, and proceeded by a conclusion chapter, with an interesting central image section which places a face to the various case studies.
Furthermore each chapter is a unique case study and has been arranged similarly, focusing on their "calling", while also giving a brief background of the person in question, as well as their subsequent fates and legacies. This not only adds consistency to the text but aids in comparing the various case studies. An extensive Appendix section which includes Notes, Further Reading and an Index, allows easier referencing and excellent avenues for further research and reading.
The book is clearly well researched and tackles a difficult but relevant topic; the relationship between war and religion, and the Christian attitudes to fighting evil and ultimately taking another's life. The author is more than qualified on the subject, having previously written articles for the Bible Society, while much of the research is based around letters, diaries and biographies.
"Fight the Good Fight" gives an all-round view of how the First World War was interpreted religiously and it's affect on a broad spectrum of individuals, not merely those included in the text but those that were touched by them. The underlying aspects of the war are seldom explored, yet this theme in particular is one that held heavy significance in the daily lives of those fighting the war both at home and abroad, and as such this book gives a unique and valuable insight into attitudes which are somewhat harder to relate to a century later, as Christian belief was in essence the backbone of British society and oblivious to social class, gender or organization. I especially enjoyed the case study of Louise Thuliez which focuses around helping escaping soldiers from the Germans, which is a theme more associated with the Second World War, and has sparked my interest to inform myself more on this.
Regardless of your belief or indifference to religion John Broom's book is an interesting and informative read, and a valuable study of social, military and indeed religious history.
One of Our Submarines Commander Edward Young D.S.O., D.S.C., RNV(S)R
Publisher: Penguin Books / Pen & Sword Military Classics.
During the First World War the development and employment of submarines reached a new level. With the attacking of enemy surface vessels and merchant ships it was to become a distasteful yet accepted face of modern warfare, and one whose effectiveness would help define the Second World War. This deadly threat to supply convoys underlined the vital tactic of starving the enemy of precious raw materials and food, yet it was not a tactic uniquely employed by the German U'Boats, but by most of the warring nations.
“One of Our Submarines” tells the true story of Commander Edward Young D.S.O., D.S.C., RNV(S)R, who was to become the first operational R.N.V. R submarine commander of World War II. Beginning in 1940 with his training, the book follows him through to the end of the war and his commission as HMS Storm's commanding officer.
Re-published by Pen & Sword Military in 2004, the 1954 Penguin edition is pocket sized and practical. My copy has obviously been well thumbed, which is a good sign and a testimony to the book itself. The content is interlaced with useful charts, diagrams and photographs, that not only help to explain the workings of the submarine but the narrative also. The book has been logically arranged and is divided into two parts; Young's apprenticeship and command of an S' Class submarine. The additional and valuable inclusion of footnotes help to further explain details mentioned in the text body.
Written soon after the war's end and first published in 1952, Young's writing style reads easily and draws you into his story, while the contents are fresh and first hand. He also addresses questions that many unfamiliar with submarines often ask, such as that of claustrophobia and general life aboard. Tense at times, yet with humorous moments, he explains the role of the Captain and his officers and various aspects of the vessel. The book's value also lies in his documentation of daily life during a “patrol”, including quiet times, enemy action and evasion, and the deadly real risk from friendly vessels.
“One of Our Submarines” is one of those books which you really feel sad about having reached the end and reluctantly realise that there are no more pages left to read. Commander Young's open and honest style goes a long way to explaining what life was like for submariner on operation, and the worries and hopes involved. I especially enjoyed reading about the geographical contrasts of his patrols and his observations of his so called allies. In short the book is a thoroughly good read and one to pick up time and time again, as I have done and will certainly continue to do so, so long as my copy holds out!
On a side note. As well as being an accomplished naval officer, in civilian life Edward Young was involved in publishing and illustration and was the designer of the famous Penguin penguin, as can be seen of his book cover!
The Complete Victoria Cross - A Full Chronological Record of All Holders of Britain's Highest Award for Gallantry Kevin Brazier
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military. 2015.
Price: £16.99 / $32.95
Introduced over 150 years ago by royal warrant, more than 1300 Victoria Crosses have been awarded, mostly to military personnel. It is open to all ranks, however its consideration process can be long and complicated, with successful cases being awarded the medal by the reigning monarch in person. The VC's history boasts auspicious deeds and unbelievable feats, such as being it awarded twice to the same person or one instant during the Second World War, when an enemy's evidence led to the award being granted!
“The Complete Victoria Cross” from Pen & Sword Military is the most up-to-date edition of Kevin Brazier's excellent study of this most prestigious award. Not only does he provide a history and background of the medal itself, but most importantly covers each holder in order of military action, conveniently presented into key chapters. Aside from chronological order the book lists holders in alphabetical order, which aids in referencing. Furthermore, the information in the body of the text has each been presented in a uniform layout, providing where possible, the holder's rank, name, location of action, age, a brief description of the action, cause of death, and date of death.
Printed in paperback with an atmospheric red hue sepia cover, showing a dominant VC surmounting scenes from WWI and WW2, where the majority of medals were awarded, the book is a fairly good weight and size. With a foreword from Keith Payne VC and a clearly defined contents page, it is quite literally packed to the brim. The supporting chapters are also invaluable, providing such added information as a Roll of Honour and the holder's burial location. I especially appreciate the central photographic section which presents a “rogues gallery” of holders, (and I use the term rogue in the warmest and most highly respectful way), which is helpful not only in supporting the text but also to read the interesting captions and observe that although times have changed, the unique qualities that these men hold have not.
“The Complete Victoria Cross A Full Chronological Record of All Holders of Britain's Highest Award for Gallantry”, published in 2015, is quite an achievement in research, bringing such an all-round perspective to very a distinctive theme, not merely detailing the first medals in 1854 to the most recent in 2013, but for also bringing the holder's names and stories once again to the forefront. It should be considered an asset to your military book shelf, whether you are a military enthusiast or an armchair historian.
Roll of Honour - Schooling and the Great War 1914-1919 Barry Blades
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military. 2015.
The four long years of the First World War had a huge impact on Great Britain, not merely in terms of the human sacrifice and financial burden, but most importantly on the foundation of society itself. It would herald a new modern age where old attitudes, social position and gender would be challenged.
The war was the first “total war”, a war which would affect everyone from able bodied soldiers down to the youngest school children. Yet it was not just the elite public schools who did their bit, but also those less privileged. The immensely important role played by schools should not be underestimated, for they supplied more then men and masters to the “lost generation” but galvanised a community into supporting the war effort in every way that it could.
While the majority of Great War books confine themselves to the fighting men and military strategies, Roll of Honour Schooling and the Great War 1914-1919 takes a long hard look at a theme seldom examined but of major social and historical importance; the vital contribution made by schools. The author offers a 360° perspective of the subject, giving an insight into the differences between social class, types of school and curriculum, as well as the expectations of the pupils. How the pre-war education system was geared up to cultivating patriotism and citizenship, towards the ultimate goal of serving and administering the British Empire for prosperity.
Barry Blades's offering is a triumph of research on a truly neglected subject. Its value lies not only with the military historian wishing to understand the war in greater detail, but as a social and historical examination of British society and education. The book not only tells of the sacrifices old boys and masters made during the war, but remembers those pupils and teachers killed on the Home Front.
Printed in hardback with an atmospheric sepia styled dust cover, its chapters have been organised logically into each major area of “schooling and the Great war”, from teachers to the aftermath of the conflict. A photo section serves to support the text, together with an extensive notes and bibliography section. From cover to cover its near three hundred pages are bursting with interesting information.
Roll of Honour Schooling and the Great War 1914-1919 is a very thorough read and one that enlightens a most overshadowed subject. Its explanation of the British school system prior to WWI is in itself worth a read, but put into context of the Great War is invaluable. Whilst not action packed, it is indeed refreshing to read an account of war from those on the Home Front. If you have a desire to understand the Great War and the full implications of total war then Blade's book more than offers this.
End of Empire - The Cyprus Emergency: a soldier's story. Martin Bell
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military. 2015.
The Cyprus Emergency was a complicated “domestic” affair that saw its climax in 1959. During the early postwar period Britain's empire was in steady decline, due to the financial burdens of two world wars and various growing nationalist movements sweeping across the globe. With the creation of Israel in 1948 Cyprus's strategic military importance was not longer as pivitol, however H. M. Government remained reluctant to relinquish colonial rule. This lead to the rise of the Greek Cypriot's EOKA organisation, and their goal of independence, which together with clashes against the Turkish Cypriots resulted in a tense atmosphere that would eventually reach boiling point.
End of Empire is one man's perspective of the Emergency. Martin Bell MP and veteran television journalist served out his national service as a private soldier in the Suffolk Regiment, just prior to Britain's withdrawal. Through revealing personal letters to his family back home and recently declassified government papers, Bell paints a vivid picture of the political sabre rattling and military operations of the British Colonial Government, and the Greek and Turkish Cypriots.
This publication covers a topic overshadowed by other major events in British history, and so in this respect it is a valuable addition to any modern military historian's library. The closing chapters of the British empire were in most cases volatile, and those sacrifices made by military personnel and civil servants deserve to be read about and remembered.
What makes Mr Bell's offering particularly unique is not only his writing style and humour, but his first hand experiences and uncensored observations, combined with his thorough research of the “conflict” some sixty years later. His book also offers an insight into the life of a National Serviceman in an established regiment, so close to its amalgamation. Private Bell's soldering days in a large standing army would soon be a thing of the past, as would Britain's reputation as a global superpower.
Hardback with an attractive dust cover showing the 19 year old Bell, the book's first impression was positive and it did not disappoint. At 203 pages it is a fair size and weight, making it reader friendly, while its chapters have been laid out in a chronological order. A central black & white image section also serves to re-enforce the book's contents.
I enjoyed End of Empire - The Cyprus Emergency: a soldier's story. It was an interesting and informative read on a subject of which I had no prior knowledge, and I especially appreciated Mr Bell's humour and retrospect analysis of his letters. The photo section is a valuable addition to the text, although it would have been nice to see more images of the key personalities involved in the Emergency, however this is a personal wish and does by no means whatsoever detract from the book. It certainly holds its own on my book shelf and is recommended reading.
Early on during the Second World War, at the end of the so called Phoney War and with the retreat from Dunkirk, a great many POW camps sprung up across German territory to cater for the influx of newly captured men, and the growing numbers of RAF air crew.
A Crowd is not Company tells the true story of one such RAF officer, Robert Kee, renowned writer and veteran British TV broadcaster, who was shot down in 1941 and spent the next three years as a German prisoner of war, albeit with a brief taste of freedom.
Written by Kee in 1946 as a novel but later re-classed as an autobiographical account, the book is not merely a daring escape memoir but most importantly goes into detail on such topics as prisoner psyche, their varied attitudes and the daily monotony of POW life, such as the boredom, food shortages and spells of depression. This valuable and unique insight also shows the state of mind of the enemy society so close to their imminent defeat and how the average German was no more hostile than the average British soldier.
The 1982 paperback edition is a good size presented in an attractive cover, showing a POW camp scene painted during the war. It features a retrospective introduction from the author and has been set out into four main parts addressing Kee's capture, imprisonment, escape, recapture, and forced march into Germany as the war entered its final stage.
Open, honest and informative, A Crowd is not Company reads like a novel and is comic in places. It offers the reader more than many other such escape books, by sharing the actual experiences and physical realities of being a prisoner of war. I especially found the section concerning the forced march and its frenzied preparations compelling, although I would have liked to have read a more concrete ending to Kee's ordeal. That said it is a rare and valuable book on an important subject and one written fairly near to the actual events. I would consider it a must for anyone interested in POW stories.
Monty's Marauders - The 4th & 8th Armoured Brigades in the Second World War Patrick Delaforce
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military. 2008.
There were many armies, brigades and divisions associated with famous generals of the Second World War, such as Patton's 3rd Army or Rommel's 21st Panzer Division, but perhaps the most famous of them were Monty's Desert Rats.
Monty's Marauders - The 4th & 8th Armoured Brigades in the Second World War tells the record of Montgomery's own, the Black Rat 4th Armoured and the Red Fox 8th Armoured Brigades, who like the Field Marshal himself, saw action from the sand swept deserts of North Africa and olive groves of Italy, to the green bocage of Normandy and Northwest Europe. They were chosen by Monty, upon assuming command for the imminent second front, to play a major role in his strategy. A prestigious yet dubious honour.
Written by Patrick Delaforce, an officer of the Royal Horse Artillery 11th Armoured Division, who served under Monty during the war, the book not only shares personal accounts but its straight forward style is easy to follow, displaying an understanding and appreciation of the events as only someone who has experienced them could.
Aside from the narrative Delaforce explains the nature of tank warfare, both in the open desert and in the confines of the bocage. As well as the effectiveness of equipment and the steep learning curve for new tactics against unfamiliar terrain and increasingly improved enemy armour, not to mention the dreaded 88s.
As implied by its sub-title the book has been logically divided into two section, each covering a respective brigade, from its early history through to the various combat theatres. Backed up by black & white photographs and map charts the chapters have been set out in chronological order, making the book easy to follow.
Together with a concise contents, a bibliography and index, the book is a practical size and weight, and has been presented in an inspiring dust cover that gives a good indication of its subject.
For readers interested in tank warfare, WWII or indeed Monty, this book is a must. It reads like a regimental history and appears concise considering its double focus, with narrative that is vivid at times. I especially appreciated the name dropping of key commanders and combatants throughout the book, which gives it a more personal tone. All in all I found it a very informative read.
There are numerous POW escape stories from World War Two, the most famous being The Colditz Story and The Great Escape. However, some lesser known true stories also deserve credit, and it is worth remembering that a fair few of those that did escape not always made a "home run" but instead chose to remain in neutral or occupied countries where they helped to forward the Allied war effort in various ways.
"The Double Dutchman" is one such story based on the true exploits of New Zealander Roy Natusch. To his fellow soldiers he was simply Natusch, to the Dutch, Germans and Hungarians he was Captain Natusch, and to the Gestapo a non-dutch speaking Dutch Army Officer!
After several escapes Natusch found himself in Hungary, a reluctant ally of Germany but neutral. Detained albeit with a certain degree of freedom, the book follows his dealings with the Hungarian underground and other escapers, and his pivotol role in the secret plot to bring Hungary over to the Allied side. Time and again the daring New Zealander finds himself in a sticky situation yet his courage, more than his fair share of luck and trustworthy friends saw him safe, and one step ahead of the Gestapo.
Written as a novel Jones's book is easy to read and enjoyable. It does lack the usual support sections true accounts usually include; an index, sources, charts and illustrations, however the book has not been presented as such. It is a dramatisation, believe it or not, of a true story, in the way in which such classic 1950s black and white war films are. That said the characters and story are real and the explanation of Hungary's difficult political and geographic position during the war is enlightening and makes interesting reading.
Pocket sized and paperback, the 1977 book is a practical format and typical of the period. The cover design seems most relevant to the last chapter but it no doubt appeals to younger readers, which is essentially the target audience of the book. However, do not be put off by this as it is definitely worth a read.
Personally I enjoyed "The Double Dutchman" and its lighter movie style presentation. It is ideal to read on the commute and would also make an ideal holiday book. If you are unfamiliar with this particular subject then this book gives a good introduction and will no doubt spark your interest for more in depth reading.
Aden Insurgency – The Savage War in Yemen 1962 – 67 Jonathan Walker
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military. 2014.
Price: £14.99 / $24.95
With the end of the Second World War Britain faced a bleak economic future. Reconstruction and the rise of the USA and USSR as modern superpowers meant Britain's old empire, and with it her role as a superpower, was diminishing. India, once the jewel in her crown, gained independence in 1948 and over the next two decades many of Britain's colonies would follow suit. A turn of events which only strengthened Aden's importance as a staging post for Far East territories and bases. However, on the horizon a storm was brewing in the form of Nasser's Nationalist Egypt and his vision for a united Arab peninsula, free from colonial rule.
Aden Insurgency – The Savage War in Yemen 1962 – 67, as its apt title states is an in-depth study into the conflict and into a complex subject matter. It provides background history of Aden, its growing role and Britain's involvement in South Arabia. Describing the political stance of Her Majesty's Government during the last decade of British rule, as well as the political and military situation on the ground during this period. It is in short a well documented account of an old empire's conflict that has largely been overshadowed by the World Wars and more recent operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Written by Jonathan Walker, a noted military author and historian, this book is more than an chronicle of military actions but gives a panoramic perspective, taking into consideration the global and regional politics and events of the Cold War, as well as the changing attitudes of governments and detailed local incidents such as individual terrorist actions. Thoroughly well researched, Walker not only delivers details on weaponry and vehicles used, describing their effectiveness, but explains the various Arab tribes and their fierce individualism. Most importantly however, he shows the influence of Egypt and the growing nationalist movements.
What brings this book into its own, if indeed it needs any help, is the many first hand accounts, letters and records of those who lived, worked and served in Aden and the Hinterland, adding a personal aspect and added credibility to the already thorough content. An aid which also serves to remember those that lost their lives during this volatile chapter of British history.
In regard to the vast amount of research packed into its pages, the book remains a practical size. Its beautifully designed paperback cover fits ideally to the subject while its pricing is fair considering what you are getting. The chapters are layed out clearly with relevantly placed map charts clarifying key events. A central photograph section visualizes the lay of the land and certain personalities, while the addition of footnotes at the end of each chapter adds to the book's value and provides sources for further reading.
Aden Insurgency – The Savage War in Yemen 1962 – 67 is well suited for both readers with prior knowledge of the Emergency, as well as those, like myself, who had none. It is well written and covers an immense topic in detail, delivering facts in an easy to digest manner. It is indeed worthwhile taking your time to fully appreciate this book. It is pause for thought, especially regarding today's situation in Yemen.
Alex – The Life of Field Marshal Earl Alexander of Tunis Nigel Nicolson
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1973.
Genre: Fact / Biography.
Era: WW1 - WW2.
If I were to ask you to name several Field Marshals of the Second World War, then Montgomery and Rommel would most likely spring to mind first, and perhaps rightly so considering that their carefully crafted reputations and icon legacies remain very much intact.
However the name of a certain lesser known British Field Marshal, whose gentlemanly conduct, natural modesty and desire to share the credit may not seem so obvious. Field Marshal Earl Alexander of Tunis KG PC OM GCB GCMG CSI DSO MC... merits and achievements outshine those of his contemporaries, while his glittering career was not merely confined to the Second World War, or indeed the First.
His was a career that began prior to WW1 and continued fighting in the Baltic, Turkey and India during the inter-war years, unlike most British officers who were either on occupation duties or commanding a desk. A military career that reached its pinnacle in WW2 when he was appointed a Supreme Allied Commander.
Alex's optimism, calm head and natural soldiering ability saved a British army from destruction more than once, earning him the respect of those he commanded and the confidence of the Prime Minister and those he served under, resulting in command posts and opportunities available only to but a few senior officers. He was the youngest Major in the British army and was one of the youngest Generals. From his bravery and exploits during the First World War and after he was a war hero and something of a celebrity, yet all this seemed oblivious to him. He was a man of honour with a strong notion of duty.
Written by Nigel Nicolson, one of Alex's own officers, and published four years after his death, in 1973, the book is a well researched exploration into the many facets of of Alex's life and personality. Do not be put off by the fact that it was written over forty years ago, as this only adds to its value, with first hand accounts and interviews still fresh in the minds of those who knew him best, worked with him closest, such as General Mark Clark whom Alex commanded in North Africa and in Italy.
Nicolson follows Alexander's life as any good biography does. However he goes further by sharing rare insights into various situations along the way, revealing what life was like for a subaltern in a Guards Regiment prior to 1914 and the lesser known anti-Bolshevik in-fighting and political tussling in the Baltic states during the early 1920s, where Alex assumed a rather unusual command.
The biographer's skill at story telling and observation effortlessly shows what kind of man Alexander was and tells time and again of his great gift of making those he came into contact with feel appreciated and inspired, and that their cultural characteristics were respected. As far as writing style goes it is an honest and open offering, presenting the facts in an easy to understand manner, which is less of a timeline and more that of telling one man's story, with an appreciation of the military and political events surrounding key intervals in his professional life.
Written with Lady Alexander's blessing and Alexander's own permission prior to his death, The Life of Field Marshal Earl Alexander of Tunis is not an official biography but what the author termed as an “accredited” one, which allowed him to write openly and without reserve.
With 346 pages inclusive of the index, maps and black & white photographs, as well as a bibliography and reference section, the book is carefully divided into seventeen chapters that cover each major mile stone in Field Marshal Alexander's life, and it seems that professionally little has been left out. The 1973 copy is a fair weight and size, presented in a beautiful yet striking red and black dust cover, which is more suited to comfortable reading than taking out and about.
It is hard to write a review of a biography without getting distracted by the subject itself, so to fully understand the man and appreciate his vast achievements and contributions then I strongly suggest reading this book.
Falklands Commando is a first hand account of the 1982 Falklands War, published only two years after the event. Captain Hugh McManners, no ordinary Royal Artillery officer, shares his experiences, views and thoughts on the war as it developed around him. The war as he saw it, from start to finish, thus creating an intimate and revealing perspective, as opposed to a historian's post event analysis.
McManners begins his narrative in April 1982 surrounding the growing tense atmosphere of the time, and we follow him on his long sea journey to the other end of the world, the long periods of boredom and preparation before eventually going into action, through to the surrender and tying up of loose ends before finally his journey home bound and the heroes' welcome at Southampton.
McManners's war wasn't that of a ordinary foot slogger or even a typical war memoir. Attached to the Royal Marine Commandos, He was part of an elite NGS (Naval Gunfire Support) team skilled at covert insertion and fieldcraft, hiding for days unobserved in cold and damp holes, working with the naval guns or artillery pieces to direct fire at enemy positions. Working in support of the SBS and SAS, as well as the advancing units.
The cover is attractive and its pocket size format is ideal to read either on the go or sat comfortably. I found it well written and enjoyable. With interesting period photos, a concise timeline of events and a valuable glossary. It does not pretend to be a thriller novel or even a work of fiction, McManners delivers an honest account of a soldier's day to day life and feelings helping the reader to understand the realities of living in a war zone and being a soldier at war, while the closing chapters describe the calm after the battle, a subject seldom written about
The book provides a unique insight and view point of the conflict which redeems the long build up, which is all the more interesting considering it was written while the events were still fresh in the author's mind.
Victoria Crosses on the Western Front August 1914 – April 1915 Mons to Hill 60 Paul Oldfield
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military. 2014.
Price: £25.00 / $44.95
Written by Paul Oldfield, a former soldier with 36 years of experience, Victoria Crosses on the Western Front August 1914 – April 1915 Mons to Hill 60 tells the story of the first Victoria Crosses of the Great War. It not only provides a narrative of these actions, which is as engrossing as it is vivid, but also gives a biography of those brave men that were awarded Britain's most prestigious and highest award for bravery, the Victoria Cross.
It is obvious when flicking past the beautifully designed dust cover and through the glossy pages that this is more than just a thoroughly well researched body of work, it is a work of passion. Don't think however that because the book only covers the first nine months of the conflict its content is restricted. During this short period no less than fifty nine VCs were awarded.
However, this book is more than just a documentary of the pre trench warfare stages of the First World War, which it coincidently explains how that came about, nor is it merely a record of those remarkable actions. It is a practical handbook for any battlefield tourist wishing to visit the locations of the actions to see for themselves the lay of the land, which in some cases has changed little over the intervening past hundred years. Oldfield not only provides maps and photographs, both period and contemporary, but gives hands-on advice for travel preparations, how best to access to the battlefields and where to park, as well as additional information on local amenities.
The book has been conveniently split into seven sections, with a clearly presented Contents. The first six chapters focus on the actions themselves while the last section is on the recipient's biographies. Further valuable and useful support information is given in the form of sections on maps, abbreviations and sources, which is backed up by a comprehensive index. Information that also bears relevance beyond the the contents of the book.
The book's publication date, being 2014, seems more coincident than an act of clever timing, considering Oldfield has been working on this project for over twenty years. However this timing does serve to bring to the forefront these VC recipients as individuals and to remember the many brave men who fought along side them in these actions, who more often than not went unrecognised for their part and were killed in the process. They all deserve to be remembered and acknowledged for their bravery.
I found Victoria Crosses on the Western Front August 1914 – April 1915 Mons to Hill 60 extremely well written and easy to read. Aside from the narrative it gives a human face to the names as well as a pictorial impression of these actions, helping the reader to understand and appreciate the deeds and men as more than just names and places on a scroll, from a battle long ago. They were remarkable soldiers who preformed extraordinary feats, in most cases to protect their unit or friends, but whose actions may have helped stem the German advance which could have turned out very different otherwise.
Canada's Pride The Ram Tank and its Variants Roger V. Lucy
Publisher: Service Publications. 2014.
Genre: Fact / Reference.
Price: $59.59 CDN.
I have been interested in WWII for decades, watching documentaries and war movies and like many Americans was brought up on how The United States was the power that won the war. Yes, I knew Great Britain had Stood Alone and was our major ally and, how the Soviets fought the Nazi's to a standstill at Stalingrad and finally turned the tide in the East. What I, and most American ignore, is the massive contribution our next door neighbor to the North contributed to the defeat of Nazi's. Perhaps once a year, when the anniversary of D-Day rolls around, we hear a soundbite of the Canadian Landings on Juno Beach.
Roger Lucy's new book on the Canadian Ram starts like an artist blank canvas to the final masterpiece and all the difficulties and changes to the final result. He starts with a major industrial nation with absolutely no history of tank production to full production of the Ram and all it's variants.
I had read and seen numerous photographs of the Ram Tank and always assumed it was a Sherman Tank but with one of those British/Commonwealth names changes like the M3 Lee Tank (USA) -Grant (UK) or the Curtis P-40 Warhawk (USA)-Tomahawk (UK). Sure it had a similar profile but in reality, this was a special hybrid tank that the Canadians designed and built with the brain and brawn of the Canadian military and industry plus some collaboration with their associates in the USA and UK.
What is also fascinating is the frustration of starting a project with an idea to getting it into production as well as actually getting it to work. Roger Lucy enlightens the reader to things that most would simply take for granted such as tread design, gun and shell size or, the radio placement plus, the politics and workmanship up to the final product.
Not only would this book with it's history, technical data and, grand portions of Photographs be of interest to WWII buffs, Armour aficionados and modelers but, also to those interested in the major undertaking of a major industrial product.
Canada's Pride would fit nicely on the bookshelf alongside Mark Zuelke's Breakout from Juno and, Arthur Herman's Freedom's Forge.
Fighting for the French Foreign Legion Memoirs of a Scottish Legionnaire. Alex Lochrie
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military. 2013.
Price: £12.99 / $19.95.
"Fighting for the French Foreign Legion" is an autobiographical account that follows the author prior to joining up and through into retirement, detailing selection and training, as well as his various postings and deployments. That said you may think, considering the subject matter, that it will be a tough nut to crack, written by a gung-ho macho type, an impression which is not necessarily dispelled by its apt title and cover. However, the book works to dispel certain myths about the Legion while strongly reaffirming its reputation as an elite and dedicated fighting unit, where such qualities as professionalism, high standards, and above all, comradeship are valued highly - Once a Legion always a Legion.
By all account the author has had a colourful life, from illustrator, policeman and pilot, to Legionnaire, and his journey far removed from the typical escapism that you would expect of someone running off to join the Legion. Yet what makes this book even more interesting and valuable is the fact that Alex Lochrie was already pushing towards the enrolment age limit as it was
Written in a relaxed and readable manner Lochrie draws you into his story, giving an open and honest account of his life in the Legion, sharing the occasional candid opinion, in a career that spanned the 1980s and 1990s, and the Legion's activities in Operation Desert Storm and the Balkans.
The attractive cover gives you a fair impression of what you can expect of the book. It is a good length and set at an equally good pace, while its format is handy and light enough to be read in a comfortable armchair or out and about. The interesting image section serves also to reinforce the mental picture that Lochrie easily builds in your mind, comprising of photographs and beautiful illustrations, created by the author himself. My only niggle was that I'd have like to see more.
To sum up, for someone like myself who knew little of the French Foreign Legion, you will gain a real understanding into what the Legion is really about, from its organisation to where it is based. I found this book hard to put down and a pleasant surprise, certainly not what I was expecting.
British Naval Swords & Swordsmanship John McGrath & Mark Barton
Publisher: Seaforth Publishing. 2013.
Genre: Fact - Reference.
The cover of British Naval Swords & Swordsmanship promises to deliver a detailed study of not only the swords themselves but also of their traditional and contemporary usage. Opening the cover you are immediately greeted by a beautiful coloured period illustration of Officer's uniform items from 1898, leading you through to the book's contents page which is clearly laid out.
Each chapter addresses a specific area if the book's complex subject, such as the various sword types, with a chapter devoted to those swords used by the great British Admiral, Horatio Nelson. The appendices are equally well presented, listing sword recipients of various actions, awards and trophies.
Browsing through the body of the book nearly each page displays a relevant image of some kind, whether it is a period illustration, a photograph of a sword or a close-up detail, or another similarly interesting photograph. This supports and visualizes the text but also creates a very positive first impression of the book, which does not disappoint upon in-depth reading.
The book is informative and educational, delivery its information easily, which is especially good news for someone new to this genre, explaining details and providing context, as well as a valuable chapter exploring such questions as dating and identification. Which is spot on as it is aimed at historians, enthusiasts, fencers and re-enactors.
The first chapter also serves well to set the scene of the book. It is interesting historical reading of how and when swords were used, even suggesting when the last sword action took place.
The Authors are well placed to write such a book, both having backgrounds in the Royal Navy, as well as being competitive fencers with an interest in Naval history, resulting in a well researched volume that presents not only the past but the naval sword's role in the late 20th and 21st Century. The book's glossary and annotated sword and components photograph proves a valuable tool for use later in the book, as well as on a broader plain.
It is said that you should not judge a book by its cover, but I think in the case of British Naval Swords & Swordsmanship, it would be safe to do so.
Convoy will Scatter, The full story of Jervis Bay and Convoy HX84 Bernard Edwards
Publisher: Pen and Sword Books. 2013.
Era: World War II.
Price: £19.99 / $39.95
The Battle of the Atlantic is a story of tragedy, courage and selfless sacrifice. The seaman manning the merchant ships faced uneven odds. With little experience of war, outclassed and out gunned they were practically defenceless to not only the enemy, but to the cruel Atlantic weather and the sea itself, facing little chance of escape or rescue should disaster strike.
The story of Convoy HX 84 is just one example of this struggle, and while the story of the Jervis Bay is known, as well as that of the battered tanker San Demetrio, this book goes further by telling the true story of how other ships and crews took on unbeatable odds to give the scattered convoy precious time to escape onslaught from the German surface raider, Admiral Scheer, resulting in their own destruction for which few, if any, of their crew were to survive, such as that of the SS Beaverford.
These selfless acts have been little documented, as too have the experiences of the Merchant Navy, but their Captains and crew deserve to be remembered and have their rightful recognition. Reading this book you will become aware of how the early years of the Battle of the Atlantic was such a close run thing, and a miracle that so many ships managed to make safe passage, not only facing Germany's pocket battleships, but her wolf pack U-boats.
Convoy will Scatter is tense and poignant reading, with each chapter addressing a specific aspect of the convoy. It is certainly well written and easily draws you in. The author, Bernard Edwards, not only delivers the facts but builds a superb visual picture of the various situations, and in some cases the key personalities involved, which is backed up by thorough research and key period photographs.
This book is a tribute to the achievements and the sacrifices of the merchant seaman, and reminds us that we owe them a huge debt of gratitude.
First published in 1953, Pen and Sword's edition of Airey Neave's ultimate Second World War escape memoir is a must for any student of history or military enthusiast, but before I delve into the book itself I must comment on its format.
Measuring a practical 16 cm x 23.5 cm in size with a flexible resilient paperback cover, the book is importantly not too heavy , making for excellent reading next to the pool or on a journey, or indeed anywhere.
The cover is well designed appealing to a new generation, as well as older, and while the price might initially appeal to your sense of caution, it is most fairly priced, considering the royalties are going to a worthy cause.
The book itself reads very much like a thriller novel and immediately draws you in, leading you from the shattered remnants of the British Expeditionary Force at Calais to the impregnability of Colditz castle, and beyond. We not only share Neave's experiences but get a glimpse into his psyche.
This is no ordinary escape memoir, for Neave was no ordinary escaper. The author relates his account through a mix of narrative and flashback, supplemented by excellent images and illustrations. His thoughts help to build a picture of this man and the circumstances he found himself in, not to mention providing a unique and rare insight into the key defendants at the Nuremberg Trials, from a fellow prisoners point of view.
Aside from the main story, what I found especially interesting was the ingenuity and resourcefulness of Neave's fellow prisoners, for without whom such escapes would have been impossible. In particular how escape aids and uniforms were fashioned, sometimes leading to humorous consequences.
They have their exits is definitely worth reading, and reading over and again. Sometimes humorous, the story is one of human resourcefulness, endurance and determination, which brings the author, as well as the reader full circle. If you only manage to pack one book this summer, make it this one.
Images of War – Hitler's Boy Soldiers The Hitlerjugend Story Hans Seidler.
Publisher: Pen and Sword Books. 2013.
Era: 20th Century.
Price: £12.99 / $24.95
When referring to the Hitler Youth we tend to regard it as an organisation along a somewhat similar vein to that of the Boy Scouts, or perhaps even the Boys Brigade. From its instigation however the HJ had a sinister covert purpose, to raise the German nation's boys in readiness to fight, and die, for Fuhrer, Volk & Vatherland.
Hitler's Boy Soldiers charts the development of the HJ from the early 1920s to the fall of Berlin, paying particular focus on the 12 SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend, where most HJ were destined.
As it's book series states, Images of War, it is crammed with high quality black and white images, which are as informative and interesting as they are disturbing. I say disturbing in the sense of seeing so many young faces fanatical about their cause.
However the book also serves to remind the reader that not all HJ boys were brainwashed fanatics, showing photographs of the happiness and relief of those captured by the Allies, in some cases looking not much older than thirteen in age, further highlighting the immorality of the Nazis and the desperation of their leaders.
Written by Hans Seidler, an established author and collector, the book is clearly set out and has an attractive cover. It is sensibly sized and a paperback, that makes browsing easy going. Seidler's photograph captions are informative, as are his chapter introductions, providing interesting background information and context.
Whether you want to learn about the Hitlerjugend, have an interest in the Second World War or are merely interested in wartime period photographs, then this book will certainly prove interesting.
Codename Tricycle, The True Story of the Second World War's Most Extraordinary Double Agent Russell Miller
Publisher: Pimlico. 2005.
Era: 20th Century.
Dusko Popov; suave elegant womaniser, playboy and triple agent. "Codename Tricycle" tells the story of the real life James Bond, complete with glamorous women, exotic sets and an abundance of danger. However Popov is not a character from a spy novel but one of Britain's most extraordinary secret agents, whose story is unbelievably true.
Played out against the backdrop of a Europe darkening under the shadowy clouds of Nazi domination, we follow Popov, an international jet-setter of the 1930/40s, from Yugoslavia across Europe to the United States skillfully playing a cool and calcualted game of deception, that might easily end in disaster.
Popov's unheeded warning about the attack on Pearl Harbour is just one of the tragedies in this book, while his vital contribution to the D Day deception is no doubt a triumph. This book is indeed thought provoking, equally so with the inclusion of the black & white period photograph section, that not only enhance Popov's romantic image, but allows the reader to relate to the key events and personalities.
Tricycle is indeed a remarkable individual. We have a lot to be grateful to him for, as well as his handlers. Let us not forget also his fellow agents, on both sides, who were working towards the common cause.
Russell Miller's Codename Tricycle is essential reading for any armchair historian or collector, or in fact anyone that loves a good thriller. Filled with excitement, suspense and intrigue, the book is thoroughly well researched and beautifully written. I found it gripping and very hard to put down, and was honestly disappointed when I had reached the end. How shall I fill my evenings now?
Borneo Boys, RAF Helicopter Pilots in Action Indonesian Confrontation 1962-66 Roger Annett.
Publisher: Pen and Sword Books. 2013.
Era: 20th Century.
Price: £25.00 / $50.00
Borneo Boys not only tells the story of the 1960s Borneo “Confrontation” but documents the early practical use of helicopters within the RAF, showing how this particular area developed and grew, resulting in principles and tried and tested methods that have become common practise.
It is indeed a refreshing change to read about the experiences of those who flew the lesser known helicopters in this relatively unknown theatre, compared to the exhausted subject of the Vietnam War. Aircraft such as the Bristol Belvedere, Westland Wessex, and in particular, the great Westland workhorse, the Wirlwind.
This book is an honest account of the “Confrontation”, which in reality was no less a conflict than any other hot war. Roger Annett has done a sterling job and is uniquely positioned to explore this topic, himself having served in the conflict on fixed wing aircraft. The author's first hand experience and understanding makes the book easy to read and informative, giving the historical political context surrounding the confrontation, as well as information on the mixed type of aircraft that could by found operating in the area by the Royal Air Force, Royal Navy and the Army.
However, what propels this book into something more than merely a “unit” history or war chronicle, are the excellent first hand accounts and anecdotes from that new breed of pilots who flew these somewhat primitive helicopters, charting their backgrounds from school to cockpit harness in the skies over the dense Borneo jungle. Sharing not only their operational challenges but a slice of life.
Previously unseen snapshots taken by the pilots adds to their accounts, giving a human element and understanding to this book. Aside from these excellent photographs, also included are interesting charts and maps, which the pilots had pretty much to complete as they went along, highlighting the difficult job that these mostly 20 somethings had to carry out.
Borneo Boys is a fascinating read, set at a good pace. It is well presented and clear. A marvel of aviation history as well as an important account of post-colonial upheaval in that region of South East Asia.
Badges & Uniforms of the Royal Air Force Malcolm C. Hobart.
Publisher: Pen and Sword Books. 2012.
Genre: Fact - Reference.
Era: 20th Century / 21st Century.
Price: £12.99 / $24.99.
Malcolm C. Hobart's, Badges & Uniforms of the Royal Air Force covers the broad spectrum of RAF branches, from the Royal Flying Corps. (RFC) to the Princess Mary's Royal Air Force Nursing Services. However let not the title nor the book's excellently designed cover fool you into thinking that it confines itself to this alone.
If you are expecting, as I was, an in-depth pictorial analysis of Royal Air Force badges comparing various period examples, then you may initially feel slightly disappointed, nevertheless the cover does aptly entice you to open it up and dive head first into its pages.
The book contains many colour photographs displaying various examples of cloth and metal badges, but the real treasure is the written sections. Aside from describing the imagery, they give interesting background history and details, such as why the RAF adopted the laurel wreath, as well as explaining the history of the youngest service, from its earliest days as the RFC.
As a cap collector I would have personally liked to see more start & end dates for certain badges, that said, dates are readily given and the mention of key Air Ministry Orders add significant weight to this book. Their sourcing alone is a triumph of research. A collector will indeed learn something as I have.
Hobart's evident experience with the workings of the Royal Air Force, together with his impressive research justifies his choice of images, thus creating a valuable insight into RAF badges, and the service itself.
While the photographs can be used for branch or specialist identification, especially for the more commonly encountered of RAF badges, such as cap badges, wings and brevets, the book's strength lies in reading through its glossy chapters, as opposed to a quick off-the-shelf reference.
Badges & Uniforms of the Royal Air Force is certainly not a forensic study of RAF badges, but then it has no illusions of being as such. It is an excellent and successful overview of what is essentially an immense subject. Fairly prices and conveniently sized, it would be a suitable companion for new collectors, as well as more advanced collectors who share an interest in the RAF and its uniforms.
Rommel's Desert Warriors 1941 - 42 Michael Olive & Robert Edwards.
Publisher: Pen and Sword Books. 2012.
Era: World War II.
As any avid historian or collector will know, the Afrika Korps., and indeed the North African Campaign, has been extensively analysed and studied in a volume of specialist books and publications. Rommel's Desert Warriors 1941 – 42 however is not merely another such offering.
On first impression the book appears concise and clearly presented, which does not disappoint after further reading. The foreword and introduction are well written and do a good job at outlining the historical context surrounding its core subject, while the main body is literally crammed full of high quality black and white imagery that has been set out into specific genre chapters, covering the various branches of Rommel's Afrika Korps.
Captions provide extra relevant supporting information, although in some instances the addition of a date and location would have been a welcome enhancement. However, the authors have quite rightly let the period photographs speak for themselves.
What really brings this book into its own, is how it captures the human input of the photographer and their subjects. We often hear about the chivalry of the Desert War and are familiar with photographs, memoirs and experiences, mostly from Allied perspectives, but this offering reminds us that those fighting in the Afrika Korps. were no more different than those they faced, being soldiers, and above all else, young men. The images themselves are packed with details which will no doubt surprise you even after several reads.
Rommel's Desert Warriors 1941 – 42 also features a central colour section which presents an overview of original articles of uniform and equipment used by the Afrika Korps. and their Italian allies. While this might seem a little frustrating to some collectors seeking more details, it does add an extra dimension and is indeed a compliment to the main focus of the book.
The authors' approach is genuinely refreshing, creating a book that can equally be picked up and browsed over a coffee, or studied deeper at greater length. While it is not overburdened with text the fact that the majority of period imagery are previously unpublished, and far from being press photographs or well known image stock, make it a most attractive publication.
Co-written by Hugh L Mills, Jr and Robert A. Anderson, Low Level Hell recounts Mills's experiences as a scout helicopter pilot on his first tour of duty in 1969 , with the famous Darkhorse air cavalry, Hunter Killer teams.
At a glance you may be mistaken for thinking that this will be just another Vietnam War memoir but the book is no such thing and nor does it read as such. The writing style is gripping and exciting, drawing the reader in, and the way Mills relives his experiences is unimposing and honest. The book does not get embroiled with the nitty-gritty politics or infamous events of the war, instead concentrates on the comradeship between the aircraft crew and indeed even within the unit, focusing on the daily experiences of living and flying in one of the most controversial wars of recent times. The original skills of the army scout were very much valid in the age of the helicopter.