WISHING EVERYONE A MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR
WISHING EVERYONE A MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR
AND THE WINNER IS: MICHAEL KEITH’S TOP TEN BOOKS FOR 2019
Since 1 January 2019 I have placed 23 book reviews onto this site. Due to a period of ‘enforced idleness’ (Heart-related hospitalisation) there have not been as many reviews as in 2018, but there was still an interesting range and variety. As those who follow me will be aware, the titles reviewed cover a wide range of subjects and receive varying ratings out of a scale of 1-10, with 1 being very poor and 10 being excellent.
On the basis of the gradings / ratings received,(and continuing the tradition established in 2017) I thought that it would be fun to list the Top Ten Titles of 2019. They appear below:
Early Railways: A Guide for the Modeller (Chatham, Weston)
The Last Days Of The High Seas Fleet: From Mutiny To Scapa Flow (Jellicoe)
Castrum to Castle: Classical to Medieval Fortifications in the Lands of the Western Roman Empire (Kaufmann)
A Soldier’s Kipling: Poetry and the Profession of Arms (Erickson)
Submarines of World War Two: Design, Development and Operations (Bagnasco)
Vietnam’s Final Air Campaign: Operation Linebacker I & II May-December 1972 (Emerson)
Adrian Shooter: A Life in Engineering and Railways (Shooter)
The National Rifle Association Its Tramways And The London And South Western Railway Targets And Tramways (Bunch)
The Railway Haters: Opposition To Railways From The 19th To 21st Centuries (Brandon, Brooke)
Fittest of the Fit: Health and Morale in the Royal Navy, 1939-1945 (Brown)
As with previous compilations (and tempting though it might be), out of respect to both the titles and the authors, I will not be listing those books which received the poorest ratings. Should you wish to know what these might be, you are, of course, quite welcome to trawl through the individual entries.
A MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU ALL and thanks for visiting this site.
Reviewer: Michael Keith
Title: Section D for Destruction: Forerunner of SOE
Author: Malcolm Atkin
Total Number of Printed Pages: 258
Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent) 8½
Sir Walter Scott’s famous quote from Marmion; ‘Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive’ is an appropriate precis for this volume. The story narrated within this book is indeed a ‘tangled web’, with deceit and deception on almost every page, and a cast of characters that range from the highest levels of the British Government, to the lowest depths of European and Middle Eastern society. It is both a ‘Ripping Yarn’ and an insight into the machinations that accompanied Great Britain’s early World War II-era unconventional-warfare forays into Nazi-controlled Europe. It is also a long-overdue tribute to Laurence Grand; the little-known genius who successfully created the whole ‘Amateurs at irregular war’ concept.
A List of Plates follows the Contents page and reproduces the captions of the 33 images which form the ‘plates’ section of the volume; this latter being placed at the centre of the volume. A List of Figures section follows. This lists the various Tables and single Map which appear within the volume. An Acknowledgements section then thanks those who contributed to the completed volume. It is in turn followed by a two page Abbreviations and Acronyms section; a necessity in a volume abounding with military abbreviations. A Preface then relates the difficulties encountered when interpreting documentation rewritten to push particular political and personal viewpoints. An Introduction then precis’ what is to follow. The main part of the volume consists of 11 Chapters. These trace the evolution of Section D from its 1938 creation to its absorption into the Secret Operations Executive (SOE) in 1941.While the first three Chapters deal with the organisational and technical aspects of its subject, those remaining, narrate Section D’s military activities. Frequently innovative and original in concept, such activities occurred where Section D’s controllers believed that British interests could be best served. That these might be in places hitherto ‘friendly’ towards Great Britain was largely irrelevant, but never random. The volume’s ‘action’ Chapters are divided into geographical sections; The Balkans (Chapter 6) and Scandinavia (Chapter 9), being but two examples of this practice. Individual nations appear as subsections within the specific Chapter, their political, cultural and ethnic make-up at the time of World War II being described in depth. Such information provides background to Section D’s activities both within the nation itself and (as they were invariably interconnected), in those countries within its immediate vicinity. A Conclusion follows Chapter 11 (Into SOE); in it the author provides an assessment of the effectiveness of Section D. An entry on the Contents page then indicates that two Appendices are to follow the previously-mentioned Conclusion. Curiously, these do not appear within the volume but have to be accessed at the author’s online address. Why this has been done is not explained. Within each Chapter, additional information is provided through sequentially-numbered and chapter-specific citations. These are end-note in format and appear in a designated Notes section placed after the Conclusions section. A Bibliography follows the Notes section and is in turn followed by an Index; the final section in the volume. The previously-mentioned Plates section contains 33 black and white images relevant to the narrative. These range from individuals, to locations, to the equipment used when undertaking the ‘unconventional’ warfare described within the volume. As previously noted (and despite Section D being active throughout Europe and the Middle East), the volume contains only one map (of the Balkans, on page 85). Why this should be, is unknown. At minimum, a map of Europe would have been a valuable aide memoire, if only to show the theatre of operations being discussed. An additional ‘Regional’ map at the start of each Chapter would have been even better. In the absence of such devices, the value of this volume as a research source is inevitably reduced.
This is a well-written and very readable volume that is likely to become the authoritative work on its subject. As such it is likely to have wide appeal. Military personnel and Historians with an interest in either World War II or ‘unconventional warfare’ may well find its contents of interest. Readers with a ‘generalist’ view of World War II are likely to find it informative, as are with those with an interest in the more unusual forms of warfare and the weapons which are employed in such situations. Those looking for ‘real life’ James Bonds’ and ‘spies’, could also find it worthy of their attention.
On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume an 8 ½.
Reviewer: Michael Keith
Title: Fittest of the Fit: Health and Morale in the Royal Navy, 1939-1945
Author: Kevin Brown
Total Number of Printed Pages: 276
Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 8
In public perception, the sailors of the Royal Navy are fit, healthy and suntanned and ready at a moment’s notice to die ‘for King / Queen and Country’. But is this a true picture, and when it mattered most (During World War II), how closely did the perception equate with reality? This volume was written in an attempt to find out.
Within the book, a section titled: List of Illustrations follows the Contents page. Its function is self-evident from its title. A poem titled To Absent Friends follows; it humourously (but respectfully) summarises a sailor’s perspective on life. The poem is followed by the volume’s Preface, within which the author backgrounds to the reason for its creation. The twelve Chapters which form the main part of the book now appear. Within these the author explores all aspects of the health of sailors serving within the Royal Navy and British Merchant Marine during WWII, presenting the narrative from the perspective of the Medical Professionals involved. The scope is wide and comprehensive and is concerned with all aspects of a sailor’s life. Within the Royal Navy that life is multi-facetted and as a result (and in addition to the expected ‘surface’ operations), the subject material includes both submarines and the Fleet Air Arm (The Royal Navy’s air-defence section). Each Chapter is concerned with a particular aspect of a sailor’s health as it applied to the Royal Navy, from ‘recruitment’ (Chapter 1 Our men, Finding the Fittest) to submerged life (Chapter 7 The Waves Above), to the temptations facing a sailor ashore (Chapter 10 Neither Wives nor Sweethearts). Where appropriate, the actions of individual medical officers appear as representative of the specific narrative being discussed, while the German response to a situation is at times also noted. Invariably, the latter offers a complete contrast to British practice. Chapter 12 (Went the day Well) summarises what has gone before, and is followed by five Appendices. These are statistical and of Table format, with the subject material ranging from Naval Recruitment and Rejection, 1939-1945 (Appendix 1) to Royal Navy Sickness and Death Rates (Appendix 5). Where appropriate within each Chapter, additional information is provided through the medium of Endnotes. These are numeric in form, Chapter-specific and sequential. The associated citations appear in a dedicated Notes section placed after the Appendices. A Bibliography placed after the Notes section lists the written material used in the volume’s creation. Electronic sources are not listed. The Bibliography is followed by its Index, the book’s last section. Twelve pages of images accompany the narrative and appear in a dedicated section placed within the centre of the book. The captions are informative and reproduced within the previously-mentioned List of Illustrations section. Curiously, although the majority of the images carry authenticating citations, two do not. The reason for the ommission is not known. The volume contains numerous Quotes, many of which carry authenticating citations. Equally however, other unreferenced Quotes were also noted (That on page 208 being but one example, although ironically, that specific Quote appears under a previous Quote which has had a citation [No.51] allocated to it). The reason for the discrepancy is unknown, but the lack of supporting citations raises questions about the authenticity of the statements. The volume contains no Maps or Glossary of Naval Terms / Terminology. What (For example) is Tropical Rig (page 25) or HMHS (Page 220)? In the absence of a Glossary, a reader without naval knowledge can but speculate.
This volume is informative, well-written and very entertaining. However, for this reviewer (and in addition to the previously-noted difficulties outlined above), its Index proved problematical. Random checking of the Index during the review process found several omitted entries. These included such examples as Bryan Matthews (Page 111), Medical Research Council (page 134) and Gonorrhoea (page 195). Other examples were also noted. In addition, an Index search for WRNS indicated that references to that organisation appeared on pages 9-10 and 14 18, but omitted an entry appearing on page 186. Why this should have occurred is unknown. Since by implication there is a problem in this area (although its size
As previously-noted, this is an informative, well-written and very entertaining book and the ‘Difficulties’ previously-outlined notwithstanding, is likely to have wide appeal. Medical Professionals with an interest in ‘Things Naval’ may find it worthy of their attention as might (Because it refers to a specific social group and their actions under stress and pressure), Sociologists and Phycologists. Military Historians with an interest in nautical matters and World War II as it affected the Royal Navy could also find it informative. Readers with an interest in the more unusual (and forgotten) aspects of naval warfare may also find it of interest.
On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume an 8.
Reviewer: Michael Keith
Title: ‘D Day’ Dakotas: 6 June 1944
Author: Martin W. Bowman
Total Number of Printed Pages: 335
Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 6
The Douglas DC-3 (Especially in its military guise of the C-47) is one of the most famous aircraft of all time. Its fame rests largely on its military activities during World War II; during which-time it saw widespread use in many of that combat’s theaters of operations. Of all these the C-47 is most-closely associated with D-Day; the Allied invasion of Europe. This volume looks at both that use, and the experiences of the military personnel involved with the C-47 on 5-6 June 1944.
Within the volume, a poem titled Tribute To The DC-3 follows its Contents page, and is in turn followed by an Acknowledgements section, within-which the author thanks those who assisted with the volume’s creation. The 15 Chapters which comprise the bulk of the volume now appear. While primarily-focused on the C-47 and its part in the D-Day invasion, these also provide background to that operation and relate the individual personal experiences of the personnel who were involved; both as aircrew and paratroops (the latter being C-47’s primary passengers on 4-5 June 1944). An Epilogue placed after Chapter 15 (‘Galveston’ and ‘Hackensack’) provides analysis of the operation, and is in turn followed by the volume’s Index; it’s final section. The volume contains numerous quotes, some accompanied by citations indicating their source; the majority not. It also contains two separate Images sections. The images they contain are monochrome and, in addition to various aircraft, also showing different aspects of the C-47’s D-Day operation, and, where applicable, individuals mentioned within the volume. While being informatively captioned, the majority carry no source citations and are not mentioned on either the Contents page or in the Index. It was noted however that at least one caption (That of the ‘supposed’ Chalk 43 in the second images section) was incorrect in its statement; the aircraft in this instance carrying a very obvious No.44. Whether other, similar, errors exist is unknown. Where additional information and source details are required, this is presented in the form of numbered Footnotes placed at the bottom of the appropriate page. The numbers are sequential and volume rather than chapter-focused. The book contains no Maps, and despite the various acronyms and unique terminology within it, is not provided with an interpretative Glossary. What (for example) is a ‘Serial’ (page 60 and Chapter 7) an SOP, a DZ or an AEAF, these latter (along with others of a similar nature) being terms widely used throughout the book? Although the author evidently believes that the meanings of such terms are well-known, the average reader, especially one with no prior knowledge about such things, cannot be expected to have such information. The volume also contains no Bibliography or list of the books quoted throughout it.
Although this volume is both well-researched and written, various ‘technical’ difficulties meant that this reviewer found it very difficult to read. Of these, the most troublesome concerned the inordinate use of unsourced quotes; page after page after page of them. While to some this may be unimportant, their sheer volume and ‘convenience’ to the narrative being presented, eventually reached the stage where they became totally unbelievable and raised questions as to their origins. This is not to say that some quotes weren’t referenced; the occasional one was, with that from one Ben Ward on page 294 being one such example. Yet on the same page an unsourced quote from Major Francis Farley commences, and was followed in turn (on page 295) by even more unsourced quotes from one ‘Bob’ MacInnes and from Howard ‘Fat’ Brown. These are but two examples of a practice pervading the volume, a practice not helped by poor punctuation and the lack of the necessary ‘closing’ quotation marks at the end of a Quote. Paragraphs 2 and 4 on page 184 are but two of many similar examples. In addition to the foregoing, the Index leaves much to be desired. It appears to be predominately ‘People’-focused, to the exclusion of almost everything else. As an example of this latter contention, a random Index search for such text-mentioned geographical locations as Portland Bill, ‘Hoboken’ marker, Contentin Coast, Portbail, Guernsey and Alderney (All mentioned on page 58) found no Index entries. As this was on a single, randomly-selected page, and similar results were found for other (also randomly-selected), subject searches, for this reviewer, the authority and veracity of the Index became extremely doubtful.
This volume fills an important gap in knowledge about the D-Day operations, and as such it may appeal to Military and Aviation Historians, while aviation enthusiasts of all persuasions and aviation modellers may also find it of use and interest.
On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this book a 6.