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


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.


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


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

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


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: ‘Armoured Trains: An Illustrated Encyclopaedia 1825-2016’


Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title: Armoured Trains: An Illustrated Encyclopaedia 1825-2016

Author: Paul Malmassari

Total Number of Printed Pages: 528

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


To the general public, the idea that trains could be weapons of war is preposterous. Trains carry freight, they do not carry and use guns, and they definitely do not engage in hostile actions against an enemy, especially not in the Twenty-first Century.  This volume proves otherwise.

It is very evident that the author of this volume knows and loves his subject.  Originally published in France in 1989, this revised and upgraded English-language version is well researched and, due to the depth of information, is likely to become the authoritative work on armoured trains.  The book covers the development and use of the armoured train as a military device.  In most of the instances described within this volume, the armoured train was essentially a very mobile ‘fortress on railway tracks’. As such it could carry the battle to the enemy and cause havoc as a result.  It was not as mobile as aircraft (which were invented later), but was a definite improvement over its horse-based contemporaries. The major European and Asian powers were inevitably the largest users of armoured trains and as such their trains form the largest section of the volume. It does not however ignore smaller conflicts and combatants, and includes and describes all and any situations where vehicles running on railway tracks were involved in aggressive military activities.

The volume describes itself as an “encyclopaedia’ and as a result is  more suited to ‘dipping into’ rather than a straight ‘cover-to-cover’ read.  An Introduction provides general background details, and precedes the largest section of the work. This consists of 72 sections (aka ‘Chapters’) arranged by country and appearing in alphabetical order. Within each section information is given concerning the armoured railway vehicles that operated in or were owned by, that specific state. To this reviewer however, some of the inclusions are at best tenuous, and he considers the inclusion of New Zealand as the owner of an ‘armoured train’ while part of British Forces in the Middle East during World War II to be drawing  a very long bow.  At least one image (frequently more) appears within each section, while numerous line drawings are included.  Drawn to HO scale (1:87) these are of both rolling stock and locomotives.  Two Appendices are included; one containing numerous art-works of armoured trains, the other ‘… Original Factory Drawings of Armoured Trains and Trolleys’.  An Index and an Acknowledgements section are also provided. Sequentially-numbered Footnotes are used within each section while a Sources sub-section replaces a designated Bibliography. No maps of any sort are provided.

Unfortunately, this reviewer has two major concerns with this volume. One is with the complete lack of maps within the work, a situation which means that, unless they are geo-politically aware, a reader will have absolutely no idea as to where the trains actually operated. As several of the nations within the volume have also changed their names, this puts the reader at a major disadvantage. The other concern relates to the Index. Although the names of specific countries (for example, France, Russia, United States of America, South Korea, Georgia) are listed as Section (Chapter) Headings on the work’s Contents page, a random search within the Index found no evidence of  either these or any other ‘country’ names within that section. While it could be argued that a Contents-page listing is sufficient for the purpose, and that most readers will turn to the Contents before the Index, observation indicates that although purchasers of such a volume will initially only peruse the Contents page, they will eventually seek additional information within the Index section.  The absence of specific ‘country’ names makes such searching at best very difficult.  To this reviewer, this is a major failing as in his opinion, the seeker of specific information  needs to be able to quickly and positively identify that train X belongs to country Y (or vice versa). For this reviewer, being unable to do so, considerably-reduced the value of both the Index, and the volume.

The limitations outlined above notwithstanding. this volume is likely to appeal to several different groups.  Railway historians and enthusiasts will probably find it of interest, especially if they are interested in military railways, while both general and military historians could also find it informative.  Irrespective of the scale they work in, model-railway enthusiasts could also find it useful, especially if their interest is in military railways.

Due to its specialisation, this volume is likely to become the authoritative one on its subject. The lack of both maps and an incomplete Index do however reduce its value considerably.  On that basis, and on a Rating Scale, where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I would give this volume a 7. It should have been higher.


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Book Review: ‘Armoured Trains: An Illustrated Encyclopaedia 1825-2016’



Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title:  The Rhodesian War Fifty Years On

Author:  Paul Moorcroft and Peter McLaughlin

Total Number of Pages: 208

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


It is rare to find an academic work that is readable. It is even rarer to find an academic work that is readable, well-written and objective. By those criteria, The Rhodesian War Fifty Years On is a rare book indeed. It is a delight to read, being well-written and well-researched, and, most importantly, objective in its narrative.

The volume is an upgraded reprint of a title originally published in 1982 as Chimurenga, a fact reflected in the provision of additional preface and analysis sections at the front of the work. It is comprehensive, well-researched and authoritative in its narrative and chronicles the Rhodesian / Zimbabwean conflict from that country’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) in 1965, to the cessation of hostilities in 1979. In addition, it also records Zimbabwean history for the period 1980-2015, during-which time this once-prosperous nation gradually acquired ‘failed-state’ status. The ‘Rhodesian’ conflict was a nasty little war with a pre-ordained conclusion and, at one level could be simply seen as European colonialism’s last gasp in Africa. Such was not in fact the situation and the work records the rise and fall of various personalities, the changing allegiances and alliances and the unique military tactics that were developed in response to an increasingly-untenable military situation. The conflict was also one of invasion and counter-invasion and of intrigues and modified ideologies where the protagonists could be simultaneously in conflict while working in harmony.  It was very definitely not a ‘little war within a little country’, but rather one in which a small nation punched high above its weight and in ways un-thought of and considered impossible by larger powers. As a feat of arms it was unique. As a political event it was ultimately, for some of the protagonists, a disaster.

All of these events, and many more besides, are carefully recorded in this work, which has to be worthy of the appellation ‘Classic’. The authors describe the events and the sub-conflicts within the larger war in detail, with care and, most notably, with objectivity and complete impartiality. It is a refreshing change.

The work is arranged in four main sections, with subsections appearing within these. Maps, tactical illustrations and photographs also appear within the work, together with two Prefaces, a Prologue, a Glossary, a Select Bibliography and an Index. Zimbabwean history for the period 1980-2015 is contained in a separate section, as are the authors’ biographical details. The need for anonymity means that quotes and the majority of photographs are unsourced.

In this reviewer’s opinion, this work will appeal to several groups of readers. On one level it will be of use to military personnel interested in tactics and responses to specific military situations and exigencies, while historians and war-gamers will also find the information it contains useful. In addition to these special interest groups (and because it explains ‘the reasons why’), this work could be of immense value to those expatriate- Rhodesians who may still be wondering why events occurred as they did. If only for that reason, this little volume would be invaluable. That it manages to do so much more, clearly, concisely and objectively must inevitably earn it the appellation ‘Classic’. In the opinion of this reviewer, that is a designation well–deserved.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I would give it a 9½.


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