BOOK REVIEW: ‘Catastrophe at Spithead: The Sinking of the Royal George’



Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  Catastrophe at Spithead: The Sinking of the Royal George

Author:  Hilary R Rubinstein

Total Number of Pages: 288

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


The inexplicable sinking of the HMS Royal George and the simultaneous loss (by drowning) of its Commanding Officer (Rear-Admiral Kempenfeldt) at Spithead on 29 August 1782 was a national tragedy for the United Kingdom. Despite a subsequent enquiry to determine blame, according to this volume’s dustjacket, this book is ‘…The first comprehensive account of that calamity and is based on new research of a wide variety of contemporary sources…’ It is a reasonable precis of what is to follow.

An Introduction placed after the volume’s Contents page opens the volume. The section simultaneously summarises the life of Rear-Admiral Kempenfeldt and publicly acknowledges those who assisted the author in the volumes’ creation. The ten Chapters which form the largest section of the work now follow. Within these, two narrative-streams exist in parallel; that of the life of Rear-Admiral Kempenfeldt (Chapters One to Four) and, to a lesser-extent although simultaneously, events relating to the construction, operational service and subsequent loss of HMS Royal George. Unsurprisingly, the two narratives come together in Chapter Five (Into the Vortex), a description of the actual sinking and Kempenfeldt’s death, and remain intertwined to the volume’s final pages. Also unsurprisingly (and as the actual event was [and is] controversial), Chapters Six to Ten concentrate on the causes and effects of the events detailed in Chapter Five. Where necessary, the volume uses End-note citations to provide additional source material. These are Chapter-specific and numerical in sequence; the relevant references appearing in a designated Notes section placed after Chapter Ten (The Fate of Survivors). Due to the numerous Notes appearing within the volume, this specific section is 29 pages in length. A Bibliography placed after the Notes section lists the written material (both manuscript and published) used during the preparation of the volume. The section is followed by the book’s Index: it is its’ final section. The volume contains an eight-page long and all-colour ‘Plates’ (images) section. This contains portraits, plans, maps, landscapes and illustrations relevant to the narrative. These come from a variety of sources and are accompanied by informative captions and appropriate source citations, their existence being dignified by the statement ‘Colour plates section between pages 80 and 81 which appears at the foot of the Contents page. This is however, the volume’s only reference to their existence. Additional monochrome images, engravings, advertisements and plans also appear within the pages of the volume itself.  Although these also come from a variety of sources, a majority carry the credit citation Author despite being very evidently not by her hand, those appearing on pages 200 and 201 being but two examples of this practice. Why this should be the case is unknown. Neither the Contents page nor the Index carried reference to their existence. The volume also contains numerous Quotes. These vary in length with many carrying no authenticating and supporting source citations, with those appearing on pages 126-128 being somewhat-lengthy examples of the practice. The sheer quantity of such quotes and their lack of authenticating citations inevitably raised questions concerning their authority, ‘genuine-ness’, and usefulness as bonafide historical records.  In the absence of the necessary verification, the questions are reasonable ones. The volume contains only one Map (correctly a Chart), this carrying the caption ‘A chart of Spithead and the Solent, dated 1791, clearly showing the position of the wreck of the Royal George’. While adequate for purpose (Although perhaps the location of the hulk could have been made more obvious), an Ordnance Survey Map of at least Southern England and the Isle of Wight would have been useful to put the events and location in context. For those unfamiliar with the area, this would have been of great assistance.

While this volume is very well researched, written and readable, for this reviewer it was ‘Let down by the details’; the small things which when combined have a large effect. While the paucity of support for many of the Quotes and Images has already been alluded-to, it was the lack of entries in the Index that proved most problematical.  The section could best be described as being ‘Patchy’ with random searching finding items mentioned in the text being omitted for unknown reasons.  Examples of this practice included a lack of Index references to Gibraltar (pages 9 and 170), Kempenfeldt Bay (p.235) and Sir Edward Codrington (page 211), while several examples were found where Index entries were incomplete or inaccurate. An example (but one of several), of this latter practice was in relation to an Index entry for Horn, Betty and John. In this instance, and despite being mentioned en volume on pages 103 and 223 (but not on page 123) Horn, Betty and John received an Index entry for pages 103, and 123 (the latter being spurious) while an actual entry on page 223 was omitted completely. As already noted, there were other, similar, examples. Such discoveries did nothing to engender confidence in the accuracy of the narrative.

Although let down by the ‘technicalities’ notated above, this is a well-written and informative volume which is begs fair to become a Standard Work of Reference on its subject. It is likely to have wide appeal to Historians of several persuasions (Naval, Military, Social), and to members of the public with an interest in ‘England’s Wooden Walls’ and the Royal Navy of the ‘Nelson Era’. Modellers with an interest in the Men o’ War of Britain’s ‘Sailing Navy’ may also find the volume’s plans of interest.

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

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Catastrophe at Spithead: The Sinking of the Royal George’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Hindenburg Line’


Reviewer: Michael  Keith

Title:  The Hindenburg Line

Author:  Peter Oldham

Total Number of Pages: 208

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


A note on the rear cover of this volume states that this book forms part of a series titled Battleground Europe and is ‘…Designed for both the battlefield visitor and the armchair traveller’. It provides ‘Extensive guidance on how to make the most of [a] battlefield visit and describes ‘The historical significance of each site…in detail with the aid of maps and photographs’.  In this volume specifically, ‘Peter Oldham [the book’s author] looks at the area under discussion, dividing it into manageable sections and explains its importance’. It is an accurate precis of the volume.

Within the book itself, an Acknowledgments section placed immediately after the Contents page thanks those who have assisted in the preparation of the volume. This is followed in turn by a section titled Series Introduction; the title being self-explanatory. The volume’s actual Introduction follows. This summarises the book’s content while also reinforcing its purpose; namely to be ‘…A general guide to the region in which…British troops had some major trials and tribulations’. This is in turn followed by a section titled Advice to Travellers, the title of which is also self-explanatory.  The four Chapters which form the main part of the book now appear. Chapters 1-3 are devoted to military activities around, under and over the line of defence commonly known as the Hindenburg Line during the 1917-1918 period. Chapter 4 however is intended for the visitor. Titled Driving The Hindenburg Line and described as a ‘Sectioned guide to the location of the Hindenburg Line and actions and battles in every sector’, it consists of 20 subsections (titled A-T) each of which is devoted to a particular section of the Hindenburg line. It should however be noted that Sections S and T have been combined, the nominal Section T consisting of a single Map without any supporting, section-specific and clearly-defined text. Within each section, a standardised format is followed, and consists of two clearly-defined subsections. Within the first, several pages of historical notes are provided, together with at least one contemporary area-specific map and photographs of various military fortifications, both as they were when in military use and as they currently appear. Within the section, bracketed numeric references direct the reader toward specific locations within the adjacent map. These numbers are however Volume rather than Chapter sequential. Noticeably, these Maps do not carry titles; it being evidently assumed that the reader will know to what they refer. Where appropriate, portraits of individuals mentioned within the adjacent narrative are provided. As with all images within the volume, these are monochrome in format.With the exception of that of that of Citation-winner Second Lieutenant Rambo on page 162, these are all Victoria Cross Winners. Where appropriate, additional subsections provide more detail concerning significant military operations within the specific area. The historical background thus defined, the second section (titled variously The Area Today or XX Area Today) describes what military-based remains can be seen within the area under discussion. As already noted, the volume contains both Maps and Photographs and in addition Plans and Diagrams also appear within its pages. However, neither the Contents nor Index sections carry references to the existence of any of these items.  While informatively captioned, no source-related information is provided. Where necessary, additional information is provided through end-note citations. These are volume-sequential, with the citations themselves appearing in a References section placed towards the rear of the volume. A small section titled Further Reading follows Chapter 4’s Section S/T and is in turn followed by the previously-mentioned References section. The book’s Index follows; it is the volume’s last section.

Although this volume is well-written and researched, for this this reviewer it was let down by its Index. Random searching for Index entries for (for example), Canal du Nord Line (page 94); Francilly-Selency (page 78) and Battle Nomenclature Committee (page 142) found nothing, while that for  Mt Metier, although indicating that pages 79 and 83 contained the necessary information, omitted an entry on page 80. Why this should be is unknown, but when combined with the previously-mentioned omitted entries (and others of a similar nature) did nothing to engender confidence in the Index’s authority or veracity. The lack of a large-scale general-ordnance map of France was also unfortunate as without it, it is difficult to determine the Hindenburg Line’s geographical relationship with the rest of France.

Due to its nature, this volume may appeal to a variety of readers. Military Historians and readers with an interest In World War I may find it of interest. The ‘military’ images may also be of interest to military modellers, while wargamers with an interest in World War I may find the fortification details both useful and informative.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume a 7.


BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Hindenburg Line’




Reviewer: Michael Keith


Author: Nigel West

Total Number of Pages: 290

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


In his Introduction (and when detailing the reasons for the writing of this volume), the author notes that the book ‘…Is intended primarily as a detailed description of the Secret Intelligence Service [SIS] and its operations during the last war [World War II]’, with the qualification that ‘…To do justice to the subject I have covered the events which led to the organization’s creation in 1909’ and that ‘It would also have been impossible to explain the MI6 of 1939 without describing the inter-war preoccupations of the Service…’ It is a clear summary of what is to follow.

Within the book itself, an Illustrations page placed immediately after its Contents page provides abbreviated captions for the images appearing within an eight-page Plates section placed in the centre of the volume. It is followed by an Acknowledgements page within which the author thanks those who contributed to the creation of the volume. A two-page Abbreviations section follows; within it appear explanations of the various abbreviations used throughout the volume. The volume’s Introduction is next. While acting as a synopsis of what is to follow, within it the author also elaborates on his reasons for writing the volume. A section titled The Wartime Organization Of The Secret Intelligence Service follows. Within this, and through the use of Maps and Tables, the author provides visual evidence of both the SIS’s organisational structure and its’ international operational network. The Table format has also been used within the volume proper to show Secret Intelligence Service Accounts for the period 1920-1921 and 1935-36. The 15 Chapters which form the bulk of the volume now appear. These are divided into two sections; the first (Part One: 1909-1940) dealing with British Intelligence operations during that time, with the second (Part Two: 1940-45) examining SIS activities during the latter period. Within each Part individual Chapters examine specific time periods (Part One) or operations, other intelligence groups or counter-espionage (Part Two). Chapter 15 (Soviet Penetration) is followed by the volume’s only Appendix. This is an English-language translation of Der Britische Nachrichtendienst described as being ‘A summary prepared by the Reich Security Agency early in 1940, in preparation for the German invasion of Britain…’ The description is self-explanatory. The Appendix is followed by a single-page Notes section. This gives source-citations for the 15 end-note-type and numerically-sequential citations that appear within the volume. The Notes page is followed by the volume’s Index; it’s final section. As previously- noted the volume contains an eight-page section of photographs (termed Plates). The images are all monochrome and are accompanied by informative captions, these being expanded versions of those contained in the previously-mentioned Illustrations section. Curiously, and although the captions on the Illustrations page carry source-citations, the actual images do not. The reasons for this are unknown. The volume contains numerous Quotes, with those on pages 42 and 43 being but two examples of the genre’. Such Quotes  are not however accompanied by authenticating citations, and in the absence of the latter, their authenticity becomes suspect.

While finding this volume to be well-researched and easy to read, this review had major problems with its Index; the absence of Index entries for numerous randomly-chosen entries raising severe doubts concerning its authority and veracity.  An example of this concerns randomly-chosen Index entries for Sandstetter, Asyut, Gaafar, Almasy and Haj Mohammed Amin-el-Husseini; all on page 204, all mentioned in the narrative yet none dignified with an Index entry. As numerous similar examples were also found within the book, the extent of the problem would seem to be significant. There is, of course, no way of knowing.

The ‘imperfections’ previously-noted notwithstanding, this book may appeal to a variety of readers. Military Historians may find its content informative, as may readers with an interest in military history, espionage and general military operations during World War II. Readers seeking a story of ‘Daring Do’, ‘Cloak and Dagger’ and ‘Spies and Counter Spies’ might also find it worthy of their attention.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume a 7.



BOOK REVIEW: ‘Uncommon Valour: The Story of the Victoria Cross’


Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: Uncommon Valour: The Story of the Victoria Cross

Author: Granville Allen Mawer

Total Number of Printed Pages: 282

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


When writing in this volume’s Introduction, the author makes the following observations: ‘…The VC [Victoria Cross] is the ultimate bravery award…’ and that ‘This book sets out to not only examine individual deeds with a view to understanding them, but to also align them collectively with the expectations of those who instituted the decoration and those who administered it thereafter’. As a precis of the book’s intent it cannot be bettered.

Within the volume, an Acknowledgments section is placed immediately after the Contents pages. Within this the author pays tribute to those who assisted him in book’s creation. A list of Illustrations follows. The title is self-explanatory. Within the book the author has used a variety of graphs to provide visualisation of statistics relating to the awarding of the Decoration. These are listed as a subsection (titled Figures) within the list of Illustrations section. The 27 Chapters which form the bulk of the book now appear. Within these the reader is led from the ‘Cross’s origins to the Twenty-first Century, With the exception of the book’s final Chapter (Chapter 27; Rules and Exceptions) each Chapter within it presents a particular aspect of the larger narrative. To reinforce that aspect, the actions of VC recipients are presented as specific examples of that particular perspective. Curiously (and in an apparent attempt to assist readers in finding specific individuals sans Index), although the names of such individuals appear under each Chapter when the latter are listed on the Contents page, the self-same names are not placed at the head of the individual Chapters within the volume itself. Why this should be so is unknown. The previously-mentioned Chapter 27 focusses both on military protocols in respect of the award and on efforts made to have deserving individuals added to the list of recipients.  Three Appendices follow Chapter 27. Appendix 1 (The 1856 Victoria Cross Warrant) reproduces the ‘Founding Document’ on which the award is based. The title of Appendix 2 (The Who, When, Where, What, Why and How of the Awards) is self-explanatory, with the information-concerned being presented in Table format. Within the table however, the recipient names are presented in a First name, Surname sequence instead of the more-usual Surname-first sequence. As result trawling through the tables to find a specific individual can be both tedious and time consuming.  By way of contrast, Appendix 3 (How I Won the Victoria Cross) is an Australian-sourced humorous recitation best described as being ‘A tale of unintended consequences’. Where necessary within the individual Chapters, additional information is provided through the use of End-notes, these being numerically-sequential and Chapter-specific.  The relevant citations appear in a designated Notes section placed after Appendix 3. The volume’s Bibliography now appears. It lists the printed sources used in its creation. The Bibliography is followed by the Index; the volume’s final section.  The book contains 49 Images that are ‘…Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons unless otherwise attributed’.  The source has resulted in a collection of pictures of varying quality, many excellent, but several seemingly from boys comics; those on pages 88, 118 and 173 being examples of the latter. There were several others. The volume contains numerous Quotes and while many carry supporting citations to verify their authenticity, others (such as those on pages 144 and 151 and 152 [for example]) do not. While wishing to believe that the latter are also authentic and accurate recitations of events, the absence of supporting citations does raise questions… The book contains no Maps.

For this reviewer poor proof-reading has served to reduce this book’s effectiveness and resultant usefulness. This is specifically evident in the Index where a lack of attention has served to destroy any pretentions of authority that that section (and, inter alia the entire book) might have had. The Index consists of 19 pages, numbered from 263 to 282. Random searching during the review process revealed that (for example) a written entry for Aaron, Arthur (incidentally the first entry in the Index itself; on page 263) could be found on page 266, and that one for Topham, Frederick (Index entry page 280) would be appearing on page 271; i.e. within the Index itself! These are but two of numerous similar examples. To find that one Index entry only leads to another Index entry raises serious doubts about what other ‘errors’ might exist. There is no way of knowing. It was also noted that at least one individual’s name (that of Moana-Nui-a-Kiwa Ngarimu) had been entered under M rather than his surname (Ngarimu) As the name is not ‘British’ this is perhaps understandable, although the name IS correctly given within the Appendix 2 table (Award No. 1238; page 238). Have other similar ‘mistakes’ been made? Again, there is no way to know.  In addition the Index is largely ‘People’-focussed, to the almost total exclusion of geographical locations or events. Notably (despite being active participants in the larger narrative and mentioned within the volume), Australia, New Zealand and Canada as geographical / political entities are not mentioned within the Index. When combined with the previously-noted issues with Images, Quotes, Maps and Award Tables the ‘Index-related’ difficulties serve to seriously-erode the volume’s usefulness as a serious work on its subject.

Although in this reviewer’s opinion the problems detailed above are of considerable magnitude, the volume is both well written and easy to read. Military Historians with a specific interest in the Victoria Cross may find it of interest, as could readers with a more ‘generalist’ interest in the British armed forces, and their awards for brave deeds. Readers seeking descriptions of ‘Feats of daring-do’ by ordinary individuals in unusual situations may also find it worth of their attention.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent I have given this volume a 6.



BOOK REVIEW: ‘Uncommon Valour: The Story of the Victoria Cross’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Britain’s Island Fortresses: Defence of the Empire 1756-1956’


Reviewer: Michael Keith Rimmer

Title: Britain’s Island Fortresses: Defence of the Empire 1756-1956

Authors: Bill Clements

Total Number of Printed Pages: 274

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


When writing within this volume’s Preface, and seeking to explain the raison d’être for what follows, the author notes that ‘The aim of this book has been to record the history and importance of a large number of British colonial fortifications’ with the intention being ‘…to bring to the reader’s attention this somewhat neglected area of historical research’. In this endeavour he has been largely successful.

Within the volume, a Preface placed immediately after the Contents page provides background to why it was written, while simultaneously acknowledging those individuals and organisations that assisted in its creation. It is followed by a 23-page Introduction. While this section summarises what appears within the nine Chapters which form the main part of the book, it also explores contemporary (Nineteenth Century) technical developments in the areas of warships, guns, fortifications and naval mining. The section also investigates the prevailing administrative structures associated with the defence of the military facilities described within the volume, although notably it gives no indication as to why the specific dates (1756-1956) appearing within the title were chosen. The main part of the book now appears. As previously-noted, this comprises nine Chapters, with each of these being focussed on a specific island within the (then) British Empire. Curiously (and for unexplained reasons), this list is not arranged alphabetically, with (for example) Antigua (Chapter 4) following St Helena (Chapter 3) instead in of the usual alphabetical order of ‘A’ preceding ‘S’. In a similar manner Singapore (Chapter 8) precedes Hong Kong (Chapter 9). It is an unusual arrangement which does not engender confidence in what is to follow. Within the individual Chapter, a standardised format is followed. This comprises a general history of the island followed in turn by a history and description of its defences and their history. Subsections within each Chapter provide more detailed information about a specific aspect of the larger narrative, their presence being indicated through the use of subheadings.  Where appropriate within the Chapter, Photos, Maps, Plans and Diagrams are used compliment the narrative. These are accompanied by informative captions and source-indicating citations. The existence of the Photographs, Maps etc. is not mentioned in either the volume’s Index or on its Contents page. Where necessary, End-note-type Citations are used within the Chapters to provide additional information. These are numeric in sequence and Chapter-specific, with the necessary entries being placed in a designated Notes section located towards the rear of the book.  Many of these citations are Quote-related, indicating the sources of the latter, yet it was noticeable that not all Quotes are referenced, with that appearing on page 221 being but one example of the latter. An Appendix (Artillery, Guns and Mortars) follows Chapter 9 (Hong Kong). It uses a Table format to describe the various artillery pieces mentioned within the volume, and is followed by the previously-mentioned Notes section. A Glossary follows. As the volume uses a variety of technical and military terms, acronyms and abbreviations to describe its subject, such a section is essential and informative. The Glossary is in turn followed by a Bibliography. Within this, the relevant titles have been grouped under the individual islands as they appear within the book; a helpful move. The Bibliography is followed by the volume’s Index; it’s last section.

While this volume is both informative and well-written, this reviewer found the Index to be problematical. Random searching revealed surprising ommissions, with the non-appearance of Index entries for entries for Shoeburyness (page 15) and Winnipeg Grenadiers, Stanley Mound, Chung Hum Kok and Tai Tam (all on page 245) being but five examples of what was found. There were others…! What else may be omitted cannot, of course, be known, and leads to doubts about the authority of the section, and ipso facto, the larger volume. In addition (and when selecting this volume for review), this reviewer was interested in learning why the specific date of 1956 appeared within its title. However (and as previously-noted), he searched its Introduction in vain for this information, and only when reading page 213 accidentally learnt that ‘On 31 December 1956 coast artillery in Britain and overseas ceased to exist’. That despite its prominence in the title, it took 213 pages to discover such a detail was surprising and when combined with the ‘difficulties’ with the Index did little to engender confidence in the volume’s veracity.

The ‘difficulties’ mentioned above notwithstanding, this volume is well-researched, well written and very readable and begs fair to become a ‘Standard Reference Work’ on its subject. Historians with an interest in the British Empire, British Empire defence and World Wars I and II may find it of interest, while military enthusiasts and hobbyists with an interest in both unusual fortifications and military operations of the Sixteenth – Twentieth Centuries may find it worthy of their attention.

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




BOOK REVIEW: ‘Britain’s Island Fortresses: Defence of the Empire 1756-1956’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Section D for Destruction: Forerunner of SOE’

111. SECTION 'D'

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)


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.




BOOK REVIEW: ‘Section D for Destruction: Forerunner of SOE’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Fittest of the Fit: Health and Morale in the Royal Navy, 1939-1945’


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.



BOOK REVIEW: ‘Fittest of the Fit: Health and Morale in the Royal Navy, 1939-1945’

BOOK REVIEW; ‘The Last Days Of The High Seas Fleet: From Mutiny To Scapa Flow’


Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  The Last Days Of The High Seas Fleet: From Mutiny To Scapa Flow

Author: Nicholas Jellicoe

Total Number of Pages: 351

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 9


The possibility that a defeated enemy may have a final ‘victory’ even after surrendering would seem, at first glance, to be a ludicrous one, yet what if it actually occurred? This is the premise that this volume is based on; that what was, on first sight, a major ‘defeat’ was in fact a ‘victory’; in that it removed a substantial part of the defeated nation’s military hardware from the grasp of its erstwhile enemies.

This book recounts both the prior-events and aftermath of the mass, carefully planned and very deliberate sinking (scuttling) of the Imperial German Navy’s High Seas Fleet in Scapa Flow (Orkney, Scotland) on 21 June 1919. It is a very well-written, entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable book about a supposed ‘defeat’ which (it could be reasonably-argued), was in fact a ‘Victory’.

The volume opens with an extended Contents section, the Contents page itself being immediately-followed by additional pages titled List of Illustrations, Abbreviations and Rank Equivalency. While the titles of the first two of these are self-explanatory, the third concerns the similarities and differences between the two volume’s main protagonists: The (British) Royal Navy and the (German) Imperial Fleet. A subheading titled A note on ships’ name spelling within the section, clarifies the spellings used in respect of German naval vessels mentioned within the book. The Rank Equivalency section is followed by the book’s Foreword, which is in turn followed by both its Acknowledgements and Introduction sections; the former thanking those who assisted the author in its preparation, the latter providing background to what is to follow within the 13 Chapters forming the main part of the volume. These take the reader from the origins of the Imperial German Navy, to the Twenty-first Century (specifically 2019), and while so-doing provide in-depth and highly-detailed narratives about the events that form the basis for this volume; the mass sinking of the Imperial German Navy’s High Seas Fleet. Where necessary, Subsections within each Chapter provide additional information about specific aspects of the narrative. However (and in addition the latter), owever 9and (Hh within some Chapters, borders have been placed around certain blocks of text. These are item-specific and elaborate in detail on those items; The Salvage Men (pages 279-80), being but one example of this practice. Where relevant to the narrative, Tables have also been used to list both events and quantities. Chapter 13 (Scapa Flow in History and Today) is followed by a section that the Contents page states is titled Bibliography and Notes. However, according to its actual Title Page (on page 293), the section’s specific title should be Bibliography & SOURCES, yet even that is problematical, as unlike its compatriots on pages 297 and 299, on page 295 the page header merely carries the word  Bibliography. Why this should be is unknown. A section titled Appendices follows. The section is 25 pages long, and contains 10 subsections. These are numbered sequentially and cover a range of subjects. These range from lists of vessels sunk (Appendices 1-2), to President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points (Appendix 5) to Von Trotha’s 9 May Letter to Reuter (Appendix 10).  Whether the Appendices should have been lumped together within a single section or been treated as ‘Stand-alone’ items, could be debated. Within the volume, Endnotes are used to provide both information sources and, where necessary, additional details supra the main text. The associated citations are Volume rather than Chapter sequential, and appear within a designated Notes section placed after the Appendices. The Index follows; it is the volume’s final section. The book contains 36 informatively-captioned images. These cover a variety of subjects relevant to the narrative, are largely monochrome in format, and are placed in two separate sections. Curiously, two additional images appear on page 175, evidently placed there in support of the subsection relating to a specific vessel. Where known, the sources for these images accompanies the image caption. The volume contains numerous Quotes, and while many carry the necessary source citations, it was also noted that a large number were uncited. The reasons for this is unknown. The volume contains no Maps; a surprising omission.

This is undoubtedly an excellent book, but this reviewer found it to be let down by ‘the little things’; the small but important details.  Chief offender in this area was the Index, with random searching finding surprising omissions. Amongst these (for example) was New Zealand (the country). While the Index certainly carried a reference to New Zealand and indicated that these appeared on pages 27 and 86, investigation found that the reference was to the warship HMS New Zealand and not the country. Similar entries and omissions were found for both Australia and Canada, while entries for Naval Division and RNAS (both on page 120) were similarly noted as being missing. Why there should be entries for the Four Power Treaty on pages 241 and 246 but not 132 is also unknown. With such evident omissions it cannot be known what else might be missing, and as a result the authority and veracity of the Index is inevitably suspect. The lack of Maps was also unfortunate, while the ‘mislabelling’ of both the Bibliography & SOURCES section and a page header within it, did not engender confidence.

The ‘little things’ detailed above notwithstanding, this is an outstanding book of the sort that is difficult to put down. It is very well written and researched, is an easy read, and begs fair to become the Standard Reference Work on its subject. It is likely to have broad reader appeal and to be of interest to Naval and Military Historians and enthusiasts. Readers with an interest in World War I and the Royal Navy may also find it worthy of their attention, while warship modellers may find the images informative.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume a 9.


BOOK REVIEW; ‘The Last Days Of The High Seas Fleet: From Mutiny To Scapa Flow’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Convicts in the Colonies: Transportation Tales from Britain to Australia’.

90. Oz Convicts

Reviewer:  Michael Keith

Title: Convicts in the Colonies: Transportation Tales from Britain to Australia

Author: Lucy Williams

No. of Pages: 202

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


Writing in this volume’s Introduction, the authors states that, over a four-year period, ‘…She spent almost every day banished beyond the seas, out of time and space, in convict Australia’. She continues ‘This book is a collection of the tales I found there’. While an admirable precis of what is to follow, it must however be qualified by two of the author’s subsequent statements, both of which appear on page xiii of the volume. These are:

‘All the stories related here are based on original records’.

‘Using my knowledge of the period, places and criminal justice system, I have in some cases made suggestions for the most likely scenario…but…cannot know for sure’.

After reading these statements, this reviewer found himself asking ‘How much of what appears within this volume is in fact true (with ‘true’ being defined as ‘An accurate representation of what actually occurred’)? To state that ‘All the stories related here are based on original records’, implies very strongly that in fact ‘truth’ may be absent from the majority of the tales that are related, with the ‘original records’ have been used only as a foundation; the key word in this instance being ‘Based’. This is a definition supported by the Oxford Dictionary when it states that ‘Based on’ is as the foundation or starting point for something’, while the author, by then stating that ‘…I have in some cases made suggestions for the most likely scenario but cannot know for sure’, compounds the problem further. Against such a background, to question ‘How much of what is within the volume is true?’ is not unreasonable, and indeed, this reviewer found himself asking that question repeatedly during the review process. He believes that what has resulted from these two statements is a work of ‘Faction’ (defined as ‘A plausible mixture of fact and fiction’), but as there is no way to know which is which, and with ‘Scepticism’ now attending every word, the volume’s reputation and authority has inevitably suffered.

The volume opens with the expected Contents page, this is in turn being followed by an Acknowledgements section within-which the author thanks those individuals and organisations who assisted her in the creation of the work. The previously-mentioned Introduction follows. Subtitled The Lives of the Lagged, this summarises the narrative presented within the main part of the volume, while providing additional background concerning the records accessed during its writing, the individuals involved and the political and social circumstances which resulted in the ‘Transportation’ phenomenon. Where necessary, subheadings within the section deal with specific aspects of the story being presented.  The five Chapters which constitute the volume’s major section now appear. These take the reader from the process and reasons by which prisoners became ‘Transportees’, to descriptions of conditions within the penal colonies themselves. As with the Introduction, subheadings within each Chapter are used to detail specific individuals and events. A Conclusion section placed after Chapter Five (The Hothouse of Humanity on the Swan River) acts as a summary to what has gone before while presenting the author’s thoughts on the process. The Conclusion is in turn followed by a three-page Appendix. Although no background information is provided, its content appears to be three letters written by one Margaret Catchpole to two separate individuals in 1802. The Appendix is in turn followed by a five–page section titled Tracing Transportees: Resources for the Reader. The title is self-explanatory. A section titled Suggested Reading placed after that section is analogous to a Bibliography, and is followed by the Index; the volume’s final section. Twenty four Images appear in an eight-page section placed in the book’s centre. These are both colour and monochrome in format and contain reproductions of individual portraits, advertisements, documents, structures and ephemera relevant to the narrative. While each image is informatively captioned, not all carry citations to indicate their origins. Neither the Contents page nor the Index acknowledges the existence of the images section or its contents. The numerous Quotes that appear throughout the volume carry no authenticating citations and as a result could well be imaginary; there is no indication to the contrary. Curiously, and despite the immense distances involved in both the transportation process itself and on the continent of Australia, the volume contains no Maps.

As previously-noted (and by the author’s own admission), this volume is a work of faction; ‘actual’ history ‘embroidered’ and ‘imagined’ to create a pre-determined narrative. As such, it cannot be considered to be an authoritative historical work. The previously-mentioned lack of citations for any of the numerous quotes appearing within the book only serves to re-emphasise the point. The result is a potentially-valuable resource reduced to little more than a collection of interesting tales, some of which may actually be true. Regrettably, the Index does not help, being best described as ‘incomplete’ in its entries. When reviewing this volume, and in the course of random searching, this reviewer had occasion on to seek Index entries for  Millbank, Pentonville and Portland (all on page 21) and Ned Kelly (page 181). Nothing was found and subsequent equally-random searches, returned similar results. What other, similar, information may be missing cannot be known. The absence of Maps has already been alluded-to.

The difficulties’ mentioned above notwithstanding, while this volume may have little to offer for serious researchers, it is still a collection of ‘Convict Stories’, and as a result may appeal to readers seeking ‘Human interest’ tales about the transportee’s experiences. Readers seeking descriptions of ‘lower class’ life in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Great Britain, may also find its contents of interest, these suggestions being made with the qualification that what is appears before the reader may not in fact be true.

This is undoubtedly a ‘sincere’ book, written to explain a complicated situation and doing it well, but to present a narrative as ‘true’ when it is patently not, comes at a cost. Were that it was not so.

On a Rating Scale where 1: very poor, 10: excellent, I have given this volume a 5.


BOOK REVIEW: ‘Convicts in the Colonies: Transportation Tales from Britain to Australia’.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘A Soldier’s Kipling: Poetry and the Profession of Arms’

86. a soldier's kipling


Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  A Soldier’s Kipling: Poetry and the Profession of Arms

Author: Edward J. Erickson

Total Number of Pages: 204

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


When writing in this volume’s Preface, the author notes that the book ‘…Explores a selection of Rudyard Kipling’ military poetry relating to how the British Army waged its campaigns during what are called ‘Queen Victoria’s Little Wars’. He also notes that  ‘Kipling’s military poetry offers insights into the profession of arms’  and that his ‘…Intent for the reader is…to generate an appreciation for Rudyard Kipling’s military poetry and for the timeless themes about the nature of soldiering and the profession of arms contained in these verses’. In all these endeavours, the author has been successful.

As would be expected, the volume opens with a Contents section. This is three pages in length and within in it each poem is listed under the relevant Chapter. This provides a quick reference for a specific work and obviates the need to search the Index for a specific title. In a reversal of usual practice, a Dedication is placed immediately after the Contents section, and is itself followed by an Acknowledgements section. Within this, thanks are tendered for the organisations and individuals who contributed to the volume, and the reader is introduced to Kipling’s poetry through ‘When ‘Omer smote ‘is bloomin’ lyre…’ a selection appropriate for the location. A List of Maps follows, the title being self-explanatory, and this is, in turn followed by a List of Plates. This summarises the captions found under the 20 colour images appearing within a designated section at the centre of the volume. The existence of that section is not however mentioned on the Contents page. A Foreword appears next and is in turn followed by the previously-mentioned Preface. This summarises what is to follow, and, through the use of subsections, presents the author’s viewpoint concerning his subject and outlines the volume’s themes. It also offers the author’s thoughts as to how it should be read.  The Preface is followed by the eleven Chapters which comprise the main part of the volume. As previously noted, the volume follows a specific theme; summarised as the development of a soldier from a raw, untrained recruit (Chapter 1 Becoming Tommy Atkins – Learning to Soldier), to being a professional in his field. This is not however merely a recital of military service, and there is much, much more, all examined through the lens of Kipling’s poetry. The experiences of returning veterans are investigated, as is patriotism (both real and imagined) and, in Chapter 11 a non-military section titled Kipling for Fun. The title is self-explanatory and includes many of Kipling’s well-known, non-military verses. Within each Chapter, a designated Introduction sets the scene for what is to follow. Several poems relevant to the Chapter then appear. These are presented as subsections within the Chapter and are accompanied by relevant explanatory notes and interpretation of the verses from a military perspective. Where applicable, page-specific Footnotes are provided to clarify terminology or expand / interpret words appearing within a specific poem. Two Appendices follow Chapter 11. The titles (Britain’s Wars, Campaigns and Expeditions (and covering the period 1701-1939) and Brief Biography of Rudyard Kipling) are self-explanatory. A section titled Further Reading follows Appendix 2. This is bibliographical in nature and function and is in turn followed by the volume’s Index; its final section. The volume contains 10 Maps, and, as already noted, a 20-image colour section. Although well and informatively captioned, the images in the latter section are unsourced, and not referred-to within the Index.

When reviewing this volume, this reviewer found the Index problematical. While undertaking a random search in the course of his review, he found numerous examples where events he considered worthy of inclusion within the narrative were not to be found within the Index. To take page 79 as an example; references to The Jacobite Rebellion, Williamites and the Treaty of Limerick on that page do not appear within the Index. Equally, the Index-entry to the Charge of the Light Brigade contains no reference to the evocative image that is listed as Plate 3. It would also be reasonable for the Index to record the names of the various publications in which the poems first appeared (the English Illustrated Magazine on page 101 being but one example), or even the names of collections (The Seven Seas on the same page), yet these are also missing. Such absences serve to reduce the authority and reliability of the Index, and inevitably raise questions concerning what else may be missing. There is no way to know.

The matters referred-to above notwithstanding, this reviewer found this volume a delightful, well written, informative and (above all), memorable, volume, to the extent that it bids fair to become a Standard Reference Work on its subject. Such is the universality and appeal of Kipling’s work, this volume is likely to have a wide range of readers; from literary and military scholars and students, to members of the armed forces, to both military, political and ‘generalist’ historians and those interested in ‘Queen Victoria’s Little Wars’. Military modellers may also find the colour plates useful as research tools, while readers seeking merely to be entertained on a wet Sunday afternoon could do well to peruse its content, if only to laugh at the accents and marvel at the genius of the poetry and the way things were when ‘Britannia ruled the World’.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume an 8¾.



BOOK REVIEW: ‘A Soldier’s Kipling: Poetry and the Profession of Arms’