BOOK REVIEW: ‘Wartime Standard Ships’

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: Wartime Standard Ships

Author: Nick Robins

Total Number of Printed Pages: 177

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

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In wartime, the impossible tends to become commonplace, with previously-insurmountable obstacles suddenly being overcome. Such was the case with the merchant vessels of all shapes, sizes and varieties used by the combatants during both the First and Second World Wars. Large numbers of such craft were needed, quickly and at low cost. This is their story. As it was the Allies who had the greatest need for such ships (to carry all sorts of materials essential to the war effort), the main focus of this volume is inevitably on vessels produced to meet their need. Axis merchant-vessel production is not however ignored. Although primarily concerned with the ships themselves, the volume also provides the ‘…Political and military background’ that resulted in the creation of these vessels; something not previously attempted’. The result is a well-written, exhaustively researched and very readable volume about a hitherto-neglected area of maritime history.

A Preface opens the volume. It briefly summarises what follows, while also relating the reasons that this book was written. A Foreword elaborates on what has gone before, and is in turn followed by the 16 Chapters which form the main part of the book. Within these, the reader is taken in logical steps through the history and development of mass-produced wartime merchant vessels. As they epitomise the success of wartime shipbuilding (at least by the Allies) specific reference is made to the Liberty and Victory ships; arguably the best known of all the many types that were produced by any side. Chapters devoted to German and Japanese efforts to build similar cargo vessels are also included. The volume includes numerous clear, informatively-captioned and clearly-sourced monochrome photographs,. However, the Contents page carries no acknowledgment of their existence, while the Index states that ‘Page numbers in italic refer to illustrations’. Tables and half-tone illustrations also appear where necessary, but again, neither the Contents page nor the Index, acknowledge that they exist. Within some Chapters, clearly-delineated subsections contain reprinted articles that provide additional information relevant to that specific Chapter. A single-page References section is placed after Chapter 16. This acts a Bibliography and is in turn followed by the Index; the volume’s final section. Despite mentioning many shipbuilding locations, the volume provides no maps to show where these might be.

For this reviewer this volume was let down in two areas: article sources and the explanation of freely-used technical terms. Of these, the most important was the absence of source citations and, (specifically) page numbers, for the numerous articles that are quoted within the text.  Although when quoting an article, the author refers the reader to its source volume, when the latter is many pages in length, the futility of searching for a small paragraph within it becomes evident.  Provision of specific page numbers within the source volume would have been of considerable assistance. The absence of any Glossary of the nautical terms used within the volume was also surprising, the author evidently believing that he was writing to an already technically-familiar audience. Unfortunately, not all potential purchasers will be so-equipped. What, (for example), is a ‘Scantling’ (p.68) or ‘Deadweight’ (p.102)? In the absence of any definition and without recourse to a dictionary, a reader with no maritime knowledge can but guess, and, baffled by jargon, could well decline to purchase.

Although aimed primarily at those interested in wartime shipping, this book could well be of value to any merchant-shipping enthusiast. Modellers of ‘Emergency’ cargo ships could also find it of use. Finally (and despite the previously-mentioned ‘limitations’), for this reviewer it is in his (very rare), ‘Must have’ category.

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


 

 

 

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Wartime Standard Ships’

Book Review: ‘Above the Battle: An Air Observation Post Pilot At War’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title:  Above the Battle: An Air Observation Post Pilot At War

Author: Roland, Lyell, Munro

Total Number of Pages: 276

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

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In war, necessity is frequently the mother of invention, a fact attested-to by this volume. It records the origins of that arm of aviation now commonly-known as ‘Battlefield support’ and the author’s role in applying the concept while in Europe during World War II.

At its most basic, this volume is a family’s homage to a now-deceased soldier (the author having died in 2002). However, it is much more than that.  The introduction to the narrative notes that the author ‘…First wrote about his experiences… partly for his children and partly … to make sure that what he and his comrades… achieved would not be forgotten’. As such it is both autobiographical, and a reminiscence, the manuscript being finally published through the joint efforts of the author’s children, a nephew and an unnamed editor. As the work covers a largely unknown area of military endeavour, historians have cause to be thankful for their efforts. There is however even more, as the work is also a history of the development of the Air Observation Post concept of artillery support for the British Army. In that context, it details the evolutionary steps which ultimately led to the establishment of the Army Air Corps as a separate and stand-alone part of the British Defence Forces.

The main part of this book consists of nine Chapters, together with four Appendices. Maps, a Bibliography and an Index are also provided.  An introduction and Forward to the Original Manuscript give background and provide detail of the some-what convoluted path that the volume followed to its eventual publication. Where relevant to the narrative, parts of romantic correspondence between the author, and the lady whom he subsequently married appears within the volume. The work is well-illustrated, and includes two of the author’s ‘in-field’ sketches. Numerous photographs are provided, although these are small in size. Several of the photographs are noted as being from the Imperial War Museum, but the majority appear to have been from the authors own collection, although this cannot be stated with certainty.  No mention of either photographs or sketches appears on the Contents page. Where necessary, Source Notes appear within each chapter. These are of the Endnote variety, are numbered sequentially, with the appropriate reference appearing at the end of each chapter. Curiously, asterisks are used on several pages to provide additional detail; this information appearing as footnotes on the relevant page.

The author has an understated sense of humour and tells his tale well, with the various sketches and images contributing to the over-all enjoyment. The insertion of additional detail by the volume’s editor provides background information, and adds to the reader’s understanding.

This reviewer enjoyed reading this work, and believes that it is likely to appeal to a variety of interests. These could include military historians; and those with a specific interest in British Army history. Aviation enthusiasts are also likely to find the information it contains of interest, while ‘generalist’ students of World War II, and especially the D-Day landings and the Invasion of Europe will probably find it informative. Military and aviation modellers may also find it useful.

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

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

 

 

 

Book Review: ‘Above the Battle: An Air Observation Post Pilot At War’