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: ‘Monitors of the Royal Navy: How The Fleet Brought the Great Guns to Bear’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title: Monitors of the Royal Navy: How The Fleet Brought the Great Guns to Bear

Author: Jim Crossley

Total No. of Printed Pages: 232

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

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Within naval circles, Monitors were a small and odd group of ships that carried very large-calibre guns and were used for the bombardment of land-based targets.   They were of an unusual design, at variance with well-established naval practice, and with idiosyncrasies that did not endear them to those used to more conventional vessels.  The type was however extremely effective in its role and contributed significantly to Allied successes during both World Wars.  Due to advances in technology, the monitor-type warship is now obsolete.

The author of this volume is an enthusiast on his subject and has written a highly detailed account of the type’s activities with the Royal Navy. While so-doing he describes the origins of the ‘Monitor’ type vessel, events relating to its development and construction, and Monitor service with the Royal Navy during the World Wars. Their post WWI activities in support of ‘White’ Russian forces makes especially interesting reading. Because of such detail and information, this work is likely to be of value to students of the Royal Navy, sea-going artillery, general military history and European inter-war politics. Twelve maps are included. These depict the areas where the Royal Navy’s monitor-type ships served.

Despite being well-researched and informative, the volume is not without its faults.  For clarity these will be dealt with under individual headings:

Photographs: Although it contains 10 photographs (located in the centre of the work), there is no ‘Photographic’ section listed in the Table of Contents.  To this reviewer, this omission limits the work’s usefulness, and reduces the authority of the Table of Contents. As the latter can influence a purchase decision, not listing this section could result in lost sales. The photographs themselves are sourced from the Imperial War Museum, and although this source is acknowledged, the location where the acknowledgement appears is remote from the images, rather than underneath them in conformance with contemporary practice

Drawings / Figures: A section designated Line Drawings appears within the Table of Contents. This contains 10 ‘Drawings’, seven of which depict the various classes of vessels appearing within the volume.  These are excellent and detailed. However, the names of vessels within each class are not listed below these drawings, somewhat negating their usefulness, As a result, the reader is required to continually move between image and text when attempting to determine which class or vessel is being referred-to.

Three other ‘Drawings’ are also included.   These depict respectively a hull cross-section, a proposed modification to be used for landing troops onto a beach and a system for finding targets at night.  The images within the Line Drawings section are numbered 1-10 with no differentiation between ships and ‘technical’. Regrettably two of the drawings (9, 10) are in reverse order and image No.2 is variously a ‘Drawing’ (p.24) and a ‘Figure’ (p.9).

Glossary: The volume contains no Glossary, the writer evidently believing that purchasers of this work would be familiar with nautical and naval terminology. For those who are not (this reviewer included), the presence of a Glossary, with simple explanations of the terminology used, would have been appreciated, and could possibly have widened the potential audience.

Sources /Bibliography: Although containing an Index, and an Acknowledgements section, the volume contains neither bibliography nor sources. and indeed states that ‘There are many other useful source books… on the First World War and… on the Second World War’. To this reviewer this is sloppy and reduces the volume’s value and usefulness still further.

Appendix: The volume contains a single Appendix. This is in a very small font, making reading difficult. In addition, several of the section’s columns are located close-to or actually on the centre binding. For some readers, accessing this information could require the breaking of the binding itself; an undesirable outcome for a recently-purchased volume.

Proof-Reading / Editing: Regrettably, the work abounds with extremely long sentences, into which the author sometimes introduces additional information or concepts. The reading of these becomes both tedious and an act of endurance, a fact not helped by spelling inconsistencies.  For this reviewer, better proof-reading and editing would have considerably improved his reading experience.

In precis, this work is admirably researched and records the activities of a little known (and now extinct) type of naval vessel. As already noted, it is likely to be of value to those interested in the Royal Navy, sea-going artillery, general military history and European politics between the two World Wars. Unfortunately it is badly let down by the faults previously described, especially in regard to the photographs. In this reviewer’s opinion, had more care and attention to detail been exercised, this volume could have been so much better. In its current form, it is, at best, mediocre.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I give it a 5.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Monitors of the Royal Navy: How The Fleet Brought the Great Guns to Bear’

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

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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

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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’

Book Review: ‘British Battlecruisers 1905-1920’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines)

Title:  British Battlecruisers 1905-1920

Author: John Roberts

Total Number of Pages: 128

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

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Compromise can sometimes have unexpected consequences, with ‘theory’ not being supported by actual experience. So it proved with the ‘Battlecruiser-type’ warship. In theory a warship which was fast enough to overtake its opponents and (by being equipped with very heavy gun armament), be able to then destroy them, was an excellent idea. The reality was somewhat different, and as with many compromises, it was ultimately unsuccessful in its application.

This volume was originally published in 1997, and revised and reprinted in 2016. It covers the rise and fall of the battlecruiser-type warship within the Royal Navy.  Unlike many other works on such vessels, this book concentrates on the technical aspects of the type. Numerous Photographs, Tables, Drawings, Plans and Diagrams, contribute to the narrative. In addition, a set of Original Plans In Colour of HMS Invincible appear in the middle of the work. Looking suitably nostalgic by virtue of the colours employed, these include a fold-out section and are supplemented by an additional monochrome plan (that of HMS Queen Mary, 1913). This resides in a specially-designed pocket inside the back cover.

The volume consists of 16 un-numbered sections. A Preface to New Edition [sic] section is followed by one titled Abbreviations which is devoted to the abbreviations used throughout the work. An Introduction provides details of the World War I operational service of Royal Navy battlecruisers. Three other sections cover the history, development and construction of the battlecruiser-type vessel within the Royal Navy. Additional sections provide detailed analysis of the machinery, armament and armour that such vessels carried. A Summary of Service section details the naval service of most of the vessels referred-to within the volume, although HMS Hood is conspicuously absent.   A Sources section serves as a Bibliography. Within each chapter, sequentially-numbered endnote markers are used to provide additional source information. The relevant sources appear in a separate Notes section. An Index is provided. The existence of the previously-mentioned Photographs, Tables, Drawings and Diagrams is not mentioned within the Contents section, while the Index states only that ‘Page references in Italics denote photographs / diagrams’.

To this reviewer, this volume’s title implied a full history of the battlecruiser type of vessel. Such was not the case. He found instead a work that concentrated almost exclusively on the technical details of the type, and ignored all post-World War I service of its subjects.  He was especially surprised to find  no mention of HMS Hood  (the ultimate, and most famous British battlecruiser) in the volume’s Summary of Service section; this despite photographs and technical details of this vessel appearing within the work. As the loss of this ship forms a major part of Great Britain’s recent naval history, this is a major omission which reduces the volume’s authority.

This volume is likely to appeal to several groups. These could include those seeking technical information concerning Royal Navy battlecruisers per se’. Those interested in sea-going artillery and naval design and Historians with an interest in World War I or in naval, and military matters may find it worthy of inspection.   Warship modellers seeking details about specific vessels may also find it a useful source of information. Those seeking details of the post-World War I service of these vessels, and of HMS Hood in particular, are however, likely to be disappointed.

On a Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent), I give it a 6.


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Book Review: ‘British Battlecruisers 1905-1920’

BOOK REVIEW ‘The Fatal Fortress: The Guns and Fortifications of Singapore 1819-1956’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title: The Fatal Fortress: The Guns and Fortifications of Singapore 1819-1956

Author: Bill Clements

Total Number of Printed Pages: 199

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

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According to well-held popular opinion, the fall of the British possession of Singapore to the Japanese in 1942 was largely the result of ‘The guns facing the wrong way; out to sea, when thy should have faced ‘inland’; towards the (then) British colony of Malaya (now Malaysia)’. But was this in fact the case?

In this well-written and exhaustively-researched volume, Bill Clements seeks to clarify the situation. His narrative consists of two parallel themes; ‘Political’ and ‘Military’; the former providing ‘the reasons why’, the latter, the military response.. The tale that results is one of conflicting orders, evolving and changing international policies, self-important experts, technological development and unnecessary expense. An inability to think beyond very fixed perceptions, also contributed to what eventuated.  The miracle is that despite all the foregoing, some of the heavy artillery on Singapore was in fact able to contribute to its defence. The unfortunate aspect is that these guns could have done so much more. The facts are presented objectively and in impressive detail. The post-World War II era is also covered. A subsection in the final chapter lists what remains of the fortifications in 2016 and would be a useful guide for any visitor wishing to view what little is left.

The main part of this work consists of 11 Chapters, and three Appendices.  Several chapters contain subsections which relate to specific topics within the larger chapter. End-notes are used throughout the book and these are listed in a separate Notes section at the back of the book.  A  Glossary, Bibliography and Index are also provided. Although Maps and Photographs appear throughout the volume, the Contents page carries no indication of their existence.

For this reviewer, this volume was something of a mixed bag. As already noted, it is well written and researched, the author’s enthusiasm for his subject being very evident. The facts are presented in an objective way and the technical details are both comprehensive and informative. There are however some serious omissions in respect of the volume’s format. Several chapters contain subsections intended to provide additional information not covered within the main body of that chapter. Their existence (and that of both maps and photographs) is not noted in the Contents section. As a result, should a specific subsection, map or photograph be required, frustrating and time-consuming searching has to be undertaken. As this Reviewer expects the Contents page of a work to accurately reflect what is within its pages, such omissions are unacceptable.

There can be no doubt that this work is authoritative, the quality of the information it contains being such that it may become the standard reference on the subject of Singapore’s defences between 1819 and 1956.  Purchasers seeking details about the ordnance used during this period will no doubt find it very useful. Military historians seeking a more generalist overview of the island and the battle which resulted in its surrender, are also find likely to find it helpful. Students of World War II, Japanese military history and the history of British South East Asia are also likely to find it informative.

In precis, this work is a well-researched and written history of both Singapore Island and the guns that were intended to defend it when it formed part of the British Empire. As such, it is of high historical value.  Unfortunately, the omission of important information from the Contents page, together with the existence of unrecorded maps and photographs within the work itself, serves to reduce the volume’s value. Were that it was not so.

On a Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent), I would give it a 7.

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BOOK REVIEW ‘The Fatal Fortress: The Guns and Fortifications of Singapore 1819-1956’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Images of War: Veteran Lancs; A Photographic Record Of The 35 RAF Lancasters That Each Completed One Hundred Sorties’

 

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title:  Images of War: Veteran Lancs; A Photographic Record Of The 35 RAF Lancasters That Each Completed One Hundred Sorties

Author: Norman Franks

Total Number of Pages: 166

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

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It is a human foible to mark special occasions, irrespective of whether they are birthdays, victories or the rescuing of animals. As proven by this volume, aircraft are not immune from the practice, especially if it is wartime and they have managed to survive long enough (despite concerted enemy actions), to have achieved a centennial; by flying 100 missions over enemy lines.

This volume is of the ‘Enthusiasts-picture book’ genre.  It uses both text and photographs to  record the service careers of  the Royal Air Force (RAF)’s 35 Avro Lancaster heavy bombers known to have completed at least 100 operational flights over Germany during World War II.  A section is also devoted to those Lancaster’s’ which ‘Either through becoming casualties, or war weary or lacking time, did not complete a hundred [missions]’.  It is noted that ‘These are examples [of such aircraft] rather than a definitive list’.

The book is arranged in six Chapters, each of which covers a specific block of month/s  during the period May 1944 -May 1945.  Within each chapter, an individual aircraft’s history is given in a sequence based on the machine’s unique RAF-allocated serial number. A photographic section appears at the end of each chapter, and this also follows the alphabetical serial number sequence. This enables a reader to locate both an individual aircraft’s history and the relevant photographs within the chapter’s images section. An Acknowledgements section provides source-information for the photographs appearing within the work.  An Introduction gives background details relating to operational and technical matters associated with the Avro Lancaster’s operational career. There is no Index.

Because of its subject, this volume is encyclopedic in nature. It is well written, and contains a wealth of information about its subjects. The lack of an Index however, requires much unnecessary time-wasting on the reader’s part especially if searching for a specific machine or individual.  For this reviewer, that is a major difficulty, and serves to reduce the volume’s usefulness.

This work may appeal to several groups of readers. These could include Lancaster-enthusiasts, those interested in the Royal Air Force and World War II aviation, together-with  aircraft modellers of all scales.  Aviation and military historians could also find it worthy of their attention.

The volume may also have some appeal to genealogists and family groups seeking images of members who served on RAF Lancaster’s during WWII. The lack of an Index may however preclude any in-depth searching by such readers.

Due to the lack of an Index, on a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I would give it a 6.  Were that it was not so.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Images of War: Veteran Lancs; A Photographic Record Of The 35 RAF Lancasters That Each Completed One Hundred Sorties’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘THE RHODESIAN WAR FIFTY YEARS ON’

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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)

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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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BOOK REVIEW: ‘THE RHODESIAN WAR FIFTY YEARS ON’