BOOK REVIEW:’The Desert Air Force in World War II: Air Power in the Western Desert 1940-1942′

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title: The Desert Air Force in World War II: Air Power in the Western Desert 1940-1942

Author: Ken Delve

Total Number of Printed Pages: 282

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 7

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Historians have tended to view the conflict in the Middle East during World War II as being largely a sideshow when compared to the more militarily-important events in Europe. It was however a contributor towards the ultimate Allied victory and an area where air power played a significant role. The nature of that role is discussed within this volume.

Within this volume, the author describes the development of British air power from its pre-World War II beginnings to the end of 1942, when the British Imperial Military Forces in North Africa were facing defeat at the hands of the German Afrika Korps under the command of General Irwin Rommel. It is a tale of the Royal Air Force (aka The Desert Air Force), the military air arms of Italy and Germany and, to a lesser extent those of Australia, South Africa, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and the United States of America. It is a tale of men and machines operating in extremely difficult conditions and, ultimately it is also a tale of the desert itself and its local climatic peculiarities.  However, and despite its title, this volume is not a complete history of Allied air operations in the Middle East during World War II. It is instead concerned with only part of those operations, and is evidently ‘Part One’ of a multi-volume series. Regrettably the title does not convey this information, which only becomes evident in the final sentence of the final chapter. That sentence states: ‘…The clearing of North Africa and the invasion of Italy are the subject of a forthcoming book’. Whether or not that detail is an important one is something that only the reader can decide.

Within the volume, an Acknowledgements section placed immediately behind the Contents page thanks those who contributed towards this volume. It is in turn followed by 6 Chapters, with Chapter 1 being subtitled Introduction. This both summarises the volume’s content and outlines the reasons for its creation. The remaining Chapters provide detail of the aviation-based operations undertaken by the Desert Air Force until 1942. Seven Appendixes follow. Appendices I-V cover such items as Battle Honours and Awards, pets, aircrew who survived crashes in the inhospitable desert, aircraft supply route and airfields. Appendices VI and VII present a Chronology and an Order of Battle relating to the over-all narrative. Although Maps, Photographs, Tables and Technical Diagrams appear throughout the volume, there is no reference to their existence on the Contents page. No Bibliography or Index is provided. A list of the numerous abbreviations that appear throughout the volume would have been useful.

This book is likely to appeal to a variety of readers. These could include those interested in the Royal Air Force and its history, those interested in the North African military campaign of World War II, and those with a general interest in aviation. Modellers of both aviation and military persuasions could find the many photographs useful as a resource.  It is also possible that genealogists seeking information about the military service of family members within the British Military Forces may find it of use. The lack of an Index could however make this searching both difficult and tedious.

As previously noted, and contrary to the title, this is not a ‘complete’ work in respect of its subject, Although to some this will be little consequence, that fact when combined with the absence of both a Bibliography and Index, has served to reduce this volume’s value as an ‘Authoritative Source’. On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given it a 7.

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BOOK REVIEW:’The Desert Air Force in World War II: Air Power in the Western Desert 1940-1942′

BOOK REVIEW: ‘VC10: Icon of the Skies: BOAC, Boeing and a Jet Age Battle’.

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title:  VC10: Icon of the Skies: BOAC, Boeing and a Jet Age Battle

Author:  Lance Coles

Total Number of Pages: 224

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent) 8

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In commerce the adage; ’The Customer is always right; even when he is wrong’ is well known. But what happens if the ‘Customer;’ continually changes his mind? If he makes outrageous demands, yet when these are met, changes his mind once more? What happens if he then says that it’s ‘All the (metaphorical) shopkeeper’s fault anyway’ and then buys an inferior product from the opposition? Absurd?  Unfortunately no, and this is essentially the narrative presented within this book. Yet despite such actions, the result was a magnificent, much loved and very beautiful aeroplane; the Vickers (later BAC) VC10. This volume relates its story.

This well-written and readable book tells two parallel and frequently-intertwined stories. One concerns the design and development of an aircraft; the other, the machinations, confusions and incompetency’s which repeatedly altered, stalled and frustrated the development of that particular machine. The author well-summarises the situation when he states that ‘This is the story of not just an airliner, but also the airline industry, an airline and the nation and society it served’. He then adds ‘Other national airlines have served political , as well as passenger needs, but the circumstances surrounding BOAC [the British Overseas Airways Corporation], the end of an era, and government edict to a national, yet State-supported carrier are circumstances unique to BOAC and the VC10’.

The ‘aircraft’ story relates the story of the development of the concepts and airframes which ultimately led to the design and construction of the VC10; the aviation-subject of this volume. In the process it details at length the sad and sorry story of the VC7 / V1000, an airliner with the potential to have given Great Britain a significant portion of the international aviation market during the late 1950’s – mid 1960’s period.  That it didn’t do so is largely as a result of BOAC’s actions, although experience gained with the VC7 /VC1000 contributed significantly to the VC10’s design and development. The ‘airline’ story, in contrast, narrates the attempts by BOAC to eliminate both the VC7/V1000 and the VC10 in favour of another, foreign, and less-capable machine. That the VC10 was even built under such circumstances is in itself remarkable. That it survived despite BOAC’s machinations, indecisions and (at times) deliberate opposition, is even more so; it is a most unusual tale. BOAC was not however the VC10’s only operator.

There were others (both civil and military) and their activities are described in detail. Proposed developments of the basic design are also discussed and illustrated.  Unsurprisingly, the VC10 had several competitors. These and their parent companies are analysed in detail and at length in Chapter 8 (Boeing’s Big Beast: Deltas, B-52s and Stratotanker to Stratoliner).

 Within the volume, and after the Contents page, separate Acknowledgements and Introduction sections precede the 10 Chapters which present its narrative. The former thanks those who contributed to the volume; the latter both precis’s the volume’s contents, and contains  personal reminiscences from the author. The Chapters themselves detail the development of the aircraft and the various machinations that attended its use by BOAC. They also provide background to the development of that airline and its role within the British Empire. Endnotes are used to provide additional information within the volume. They are numeric in format, chapter-specific and sequential. The relevant citations appear in a designated Notes section after the volume’s last chapter. A two-page Bibliography and Sources section then follows. Curiously, an Appendix (Designated Appendix I), is placed after the Bibliography and Sources section instead of after the final chapter; the usual place for Appendices. It records the individual Registrations of each VC10, together with some details of its airline and military service. It does not give individual airframe histories. An Index placed behind the Appendix concludes the volume. The book contains plans, schedules, monochrome photographs and half-tone drawings. There is no mention of their existence on either the Contents page or in the Index. There are no maps.

While this reviewer found the volume informative, he believes it to be let down by a lack of attention to small details, the description of the 1934 De Havilland Comet racer as being ‘Single seat’ on p.56 being a case in point (it was actually two seat), In a similar vein, diagrams within Chapter 5 do not appear on the pages which refer to them (p.84 being one such example; the statement ‘The early sketches (see below)…’  revealing only more text, not the expected diagrams). Although minor, the discovery of such details raised doubts about the veracity of the larger narrative.

These ‘imperfections’ notwithstanding, this volume may appeal to a variety of readers. Devotees of the VC10 aircraft will definitely find it of interest as will aviation enthusiasts of a more ‘generalist’ nature, particularly those interested in airline history and operations. Geopolitical researchers and Historians interested in corporate histories and Government-private sector interaction may find the machinations of BOAC of interest, while modellers may find the photographs to be a useful resource.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume an 8.

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nzcrownmines is available for book reviewing. Contact: nzcrownmines@gmail.com

BOOK REVIEW: ‘VC10: Icon of the Skies: BOAC, Boeing and a Jet Age Battle’.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Post-War Childhood: Growing up in the not-so-friendly ‘Baby Boomer’ years’.

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title:  Post-War Childhood: Growing up in the not-so-friendly ‘Baby Boomer’ years

Author:  Simon Webb

Total Number of Pages: 188

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 5

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In the opening sentence of this volume’s Afterword, the author writes the following: ‘In this book we have looked at the strange myth which has been sedulously propagated over the last few years by baby boomers about the idyllic nature of their childhood’, He then adds  ‘That they should … half believe this nonsense is perfectly understandable’ . There is more in the same vein within the chapter and these statements summarise what is ultimately a very sour and unpleasant little book.

As can be seen by the subtitle, the focus of this this book is on the ‘Not-so-friendly ‘Baby Boomer’ years’, and the possibility that the well-held viewpoints of the ‘Baby Boomers’ of the title (defined by the author as being those born between 1946 and 1964) may be incorrect, This is a reasonable possibility and one would expect a reasoned and well-presented discourse as a result. What one finds instead is that the author’ is of the viewpoint that all the ‘Boomers say is exaggerated and viewed through increasingly rose-tinted glasses. It is a hypothesis looking for a home.  To prove (or perhaps justify) the correctness his hypothesis, the author then proceeds to locate, record and then destroy (largely, it should be noted, through use of derision),  all and any stories which might just suggest that there was an element of truth in what Boomer’s might be saying.  The result is unpleasant, derisory, bitter and resentful. It rapidly becomes evident that the author is determined to find incidents to support his preconceived ideas, while coming from a curious position of both moral superiority and self-justification. If there is a fault to be found, he will find it and expose it to the light of the Twenty-first Century values, where it can be derided and ridiculed. There is no objectivity.  The result does not make for good reading.

The main part of this volume consists of nine Chapters. These cover those aspects of British society which the author has chosen to investigate in support of his hypothesis. They are preceded by a List of Plates section. This repeats the captions placed under the 15 images appearing in a dedicated 8-page section within the volume. An Introduction then records both the reasons the work was written and summarises its narrative. An Afterword placed behind the last chapter justifies the author’s stance for what he has written, and is followed by a two-page Bibliography.  An Index completes the volume.

Due to the preconceived ideas of its author, this reviewer would suggest that this volume’s value as an ‘authoritative’ work should be treated with some caution. However, those seeking confirmation of similar ideas concerning Baby Boomers and their views, will no doubt find it useful. Baby Boomers themselves might find it of interest in respect of their younger years, although with the qualification that they might find the author’s viewpoint difficult to reconcile with their known realities. The photographs might also trigger reminiscences.

Due to the author’s very evident bias against his subject, this was not a pleasant volume to read. As a result, on a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given it a 5.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Post-War Childhood: Growing up in the not-so-friendly ‘Baby Boomer’ years’.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘England’s Historic Churches by Train: A Companion Volume to England’s Cathedrals by Train’

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Reviewer:  NZ Crown Mines

Title: England’s Historic Churches by Train: A Companion Volume to England’s Cathedrals by Train

Editor: Murray Naylor

No. of Pages: 215

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): 9

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In the motor-vehicle dominated Twenty-first Century, the idea of travelling by train to a location with the expressed intention of viewing a Church is, for many people, ludicrous and ‘So Nineteenth Century’. No-one does that anymore; the motor vehicle is so much faster. For many, trains are ‘quaint’ and only to be used to commute to and from work.  Murray Naylor begs to differ.

In this well written and very-readable volume, the reader is taken through the length and breadth of England in pursuit of Church of England (Anglican) churches large and small. There are approximately 16000 such establishments within England’s borders, and of these the author has chosen thirty-two. In choosing these, he states ‘Some are great abbeys or priories…while others are…of no particular distinction but which provided a special interest for me’. To be chosen however, these churches had to fit certain specific criteria. The author wanted to use London as his base and, through the use of standard, scheduled railway services, make rail journeys over as wide a spread of England as he could. He also wanted to get to within 15 miles of each location by train, the remainder of the journey being made using either taxi or bus. With a single exception (that of Milton Abbey) these criteria were met, and the result is part railway narrative, part tourist guide, part history book and part picture book. When combined together the result is impressive.

An Acknowledgements section prefaces the book, with the author thanking those who assisted in its creation. This is followed by a Foreword by the Bishop of Carlisle, then a six-page List of Illustrations. A Summary of Railway Notes section then uses a single sentence format to précis the larger Railway Notes sections which appear within each chapter. An Author’s Note following the Summary of Railway Notes details the reasons for the book’s creation. A Preface (subtitled The Dissolution) is next. This provides an historical background to the creation of the Church of England and the Monarchy’s role within it. Finally, a two-page section titled The Journey provides helpful rail-related information for any reader wishing to visit the churches described within the volume. These sections are in turn followed by the 16 Chapters that comprise the main part of the book. These Chapters replicate England’s geographical regions (South East, Yorkshire, East Midlands etc.). Each Chapter is prefaced by a section titled Getting There. This provides clear rail-based instructions for a reader to reach the locations described within that Chapter. This section is followed by a Railway Notes section in which the author gives a ‘Presentation of information appropriate to railways…’  Sometimes a second Railway Notes section is also placed at the chapter’s end. The individual regions are subdivided into counties (Devon, Northumberland, Suffolk etc.). The chosen church or churches within that county are then described.

At the start of each descriptive section, two short passages précis the structure’s importance, physical location or other salient detail, together with its ‘Points of Note’ (windows, arches etc.). A more detailed description and history then follows.  An Epilogue is placed after the Chapters. Within it the author muses about the future of both the Churches within the book and the national railway network. A one-page Bibliography follows with an Index completing the volume. For unknown reasons, a map and an advertisement for the volume’s companion work are placed after the Index. Numerous colour photographs are provided, together with a small number of black and white images. Clear, well drawn, and easily interpreted maps appear throughout the work.

This reviewer’s only criticism of this book concerns the absence of a Glossary. As not every reader will be English, Anglican or an Architect, providing a list of the various Architectural and ‘Church’ terms used throughout the volume would have been helpful.

It is probable this volume will have wide appeal. At its simplest, and as an informative Tour Guide, it will appeal to the ‘Day Tripper’ with an interest in English history, who wants to travel by train and to see something different. Historians with an interest in Mediaeval and Tudor England, the English Monarchy and the evolution of the Church of England are likely to find this volume of interest. Architectural Historians may also find it of use. Those readers with a more general interest in the Kings of England, their times and tragedies may also find it worthy of their attention.

On a Rating Scale where 1: very poor, 10: excellent, I have given this volume a 9.

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nzcrownmines is available for book reviewing. Contact: nzcrownmines@gmail.com

BOOK REVIEW: ‘England’s Historic Churches by Train: A Companion Volume to England’s Cathedrals by Train’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘History of British European Airways: 1946-1972’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title:  History of British European Airways: 1946-1972

Author: Charles Woodley

Total Number of Pages: 206

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 8

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Formed to take over ‘…Most UK domestic and European routes under the British government\s nationalisation policy’, during the 26 years of its existence British European Airways (BEA) expanded, experimented and diversified, before being amalgamated with a sister organisation in 1972, ostensibly ‘To avoid waste and duplication’. This is its story.

Originally published in 2006, this well-researched and eminently readable volume traces the history of  British European Airways from its creation in 1946 to its demise (through amalgamation with British Overseas Airways; BOAC) in 1972; the merger resulting in the creation of British Airways. In the process the reader is introduced to such topics as mail-carrying helicopters, beach landings, air ambulances and aircraft of many types from a variety of manufacturers. Where they relate to BEA, many other topics are also detailed. Although it is possible to read this volume from cover to cover in one sitting (as this reviewer did) he believes that it is more suited for a ‘dipping’ search, an approach that proved especially useful when referring to Appendix 4 (Details of Major Aircraft Types). A chapter is devoted to the circumstances resulting in the formation of British Airways.

An Acknowledgements section placed at the front of the book, thanks those who have contributed to its creation. An Introduction follows, providing a two-page precis of BEA’s history. The volume’s main section consists of 20 Chapters. Of these, 10 relate directly to the ‘flying’ side of the Company, while 10 describe such things as Company corporate structure, finances, crew training, and personnel. Five Appendices follow, and cover such things as BEA Chairmen, Route Maps illustrating the Development of the Networks and Technical Details of Major Aircraft Types. A Bibliography and an Index complete the volume. Numerous photographs, plans, diagrams and half-tone advertisements appear throughout the book, with a 16-page block of colour images being placed in its centre. These latter are numbered1-26, but as no complimentary numbers were found within the book itself, the reason for this is  unknown. No reference to the existence of any of the aforementioned photographs, plans, diagrams and half-tone advertisements appears on either the Contents page or within the Index.

For this reviewer, the History of British European Airways: 1946-1972 was something of a ‘mixed bag’. It is certainly well-written and researched. However, the previously mentioned lack of reference to the volume’s numerous photographs, plans and half-tone images within either the Content or Index sections made searching for specific items both difficult and tedious. In addition, by displaying very-evident pixels, several of the images within the centrally-placed ‘colour’ section (including No.’s 9, 10, 11, 14, 15 and 23, although there were others) were disappointing. While appreciating that they were possibly ‘computerised’ in origin, for this reviewer they were not of the quality he expected to find within a volume of this nature.

As BEA has a substantial ‘fan following’ such enthusiasts are likely to find this work of great interest, while those with a more ‘general’ aviation interest may also find it useful. Aviation modellers with an interest in either BEA, British aviation or airliners in general could also find this book to be a useful resource.

As it is well written and researched, and despite the limitations noted above, this volume is likely to become a standard reference work on its subject, On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent), I have given it an 8.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘History of British European Airways: 1946-1972’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Rails Across Britain: Thirty Years Of Change And Colour’

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Reviewer:  NZ Crown Mines

Title: Rails Across Britain: Thirty Years Of Change And Colour

Editor: David Cable

No. of Pages: 217

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): Photographs: 9, Text 5

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Between 1985 and 2015, the author of this volume attempted to photograph ‘…Virtually all the trains that… operated on the main lines of Great Britain…’  The result is a 217 page, A-4 sized, book of colour photographs that shows both the changing-face and use of railway rolling stock in Great Britain, and the evolving and multitudinous colour schemes carried by British trains during this time.

This book is of the ‘Railway picture book’ genre, with the photographs it contains being taken during the 1985- 2015 period. Although these images comprise the majority of this volume’s content, they are prefaced by a two-page Introduction which the author has written to provide background to what follows. It includes a short history of British railway operations and developments (described by the author as ‘…Some of the most dramatic changes to the British Railways system since its inception…). Within the photographic section, trains of many types and varieties appear. Of the 200 full-page photographs on display, 195 are of DMU’s and EMU’s and trains hauled by diesel-electric and electric locomotives. The final five images show trains hauled by steam locomotives, and were taken between 1991 and 2011. The images are presented in consecutive year-order with the number of pages allocated to each year varying from three (1985) to 15 (1986). Curiously, one image (on page 178) is un-dated, but presumably belongs to the year group (2010) within-which it has been placed. A detailed, several-sentence caption is placed beneath each image. The caption invariably provides details relating to the specific motive power appearing in the photograph, together with information concerning where the image was taken and the colour-scheme it carries. Where the author believes it to be necessary, additional facts are also given, although this does not occur in all the captions. No Index or Maps pages are provided. The photographs are not listed separately. No ‘Technical’ information is provided concerning the equipment or methods used when taking these images.

For this reviewer, this volume has three serious faults. Of these, two are ‘mechanical’ the third ‘political’. Of the two ‘mechanical’ faults, the most obvious is the lack of an Index or any means by which specific trains / locations / colour schemes (even years) can be found within its pages.  Without an Index to guide them, a reader is reduced to ‘flicking through pages’ in an at-times futile attempt to locate an image, a location, colour scheme or a locomotive. In addition, the lack of any Maps (even one of the national railway network), means that the reader has no idea as to where the images were photographed. This is particularly problematic for readers living outside Great Britain who cannot be expected to know the location of (for example) Llandevenny (Page 94). The ‘political’ fault previously-alluded to, occurs when the author, while writing his Introduction, sees fit to create a new political administration for Great Britain ‘…The Tory Government…’  As the Conservative and Unionist Party has not changed its name, the use of a derisive nickname for a formally-constituted political party lowered the tone of both the Introduction and the volume itself. This reviewer expected better.

This volume may appeal to several different groups of readers. Due to its very-specific time period, railway enthusiasts interested in British trains of the 1985-2015 era are likely to find it especially useful. For such individuals, it could become a standard reference work. Those railway enthusiasts with a more general interest in railways within Great Britain could also find it worth viewing, Artists and modellers portraying British railways rolling stock and stations during the 1985-2015 period may also find it useful for reference purposes.  As the book depicts the evolution of British railways over a very specific time-period, transport historians may also find it of interest. The images of steam locomotives could appeal to steam aficionados.

Although the photographs are beautiful, the lack of both Index and Maps, when combined with the unnecessary political jibe, affected the rating that this volume has received.

On a Rating Scale where 1: very poor, 10: excellent, I have given the Photographs: 9;

the Text: 5.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Rails Across Britain: Thirty Years Of Change And Colour’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Railway Guns: British and German Guns at War’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title:  Railway Guns: British and German Guns at War

Author: John Goodwin

Total Number of Pages: 122

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 6

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Until aircraft could be used to damage an enemy’s distant infrastructure, long-range artillery was the only option available for land-based armies to complete that task, This book chronicles the development and uses of such weapons; paying particular attention to the use of  rail-mounted super-heavy artillery in Western Europe during both World Wars.

This volume details the invention of very long-distance, ultra-heavy artillery, with particular (but not exclusive) emphasis on the railway-transportable sub-variant of that type of gun. While British use of railway guns forms the main focus of the book, American, French and German guns and experiences are also related and chronicled. Although they were fixed-position units, the German-built Cross-Channel Bombardment Batteries are also described in a separate chapter, as are the railway guns which operated alongside them.

An Acknowledgements section which appears at the front of this book thanks those who contributed to its creation. This is preceded by a Dedication page, which, curiously, is placed on the reverse side of a page instead of the more-usual page-front. The Dedication, after stating that it was ‘Written as a tribute to happy memories of my railway family in wartime…’ then proceeds to list both military and railway service by the author’s family, and five books evidently written by another family member. The Dedication is not listed on the Contents page. The largest section of the volume consists of 10 Chapters. These cover the invention of very long-distance, ultra-heavy artillery, with particular (but not exclusive) emphasis on the railway-transportable sub-genre of these weapons  Within each Chapter, subsections cover specific topics relevant to that chapter. A Bibliography at the back of the book lists sources used while writing this volume. A three page Index completes the volume. Numerous captioned Photographs, Maps, Technical Diagrams and Plans appear within the book, as do two Tables, three Pen and Ink drawings and a halftone illustration. The cover of an Official Training Manual for Siege Artillery is also reproduced, as is a page illustrating Water Cranes copied from a manufacturer’s catalogue. Although nominally placed at the end of each chapter, the locations of the photographs etc. can vary. There is no reference to these items on either the Contents page or within the Index.

Despite being very informative, this reviewer did not find this volume an enjoyable read.  This was due to a variety of factors, including the previously mentioned Dedication, the use of colloquialisms and a lack of interpretive information on maps.

The use of long sentences and a lack of commas within some sentences was also frustrating, The lack of any reference to the existence of photographs, maps etc. in either the Index or on the Contents page made searching for specific items difficult. The misidentification of several of the steam locomotives within the volume was also disappointing.

This volume may appeal to several potential purchasing groups. These could include Military Historians with an interest in both World Wars I and II or the defences and fortifications used during those conflicts. Students of British Army practices, siege weapons or extra-heavy artillery may also find this book of interest, as could military modellers or war gamers. Railway enthusiasts and modellers with an interest in ‘Things military’ may also find it to be useful for reference purposes.

Because of its specialisation, and despite the previously-mentioned limitations, this book is likely to become a standard work on its subject, On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given it a 6.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Railway Guns: British and German Guns at War’