BOOK REVIEW: ‘Fighters over the Fleet: Naval Air Defence from Biplanes to the Cold War’.

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title: Fighters over the Fleet: Naval Air Defence from Biplanes to the Cold War

Author: Norman Friedman

Total Number of Printed Pages: 460

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

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Aircraft carriers are essentially sea-going military airfields, tasked with both protecting the naval vessels they are associated with, and, if possible, undertaking offensive actions against an enemy. The task of protection requires the use of fighters; small, highly manoeuvrable (and usually single-seat) aircraft, designed for the specific task of protecting the ships of the fleet to which they are attached, and flown with the intention of destroying any enemy aircraft they encounter . This is their story.

As the subtitle indicates, this well-written and researched volume chronicles the development of naval fighter aircraft ‘…From Biplanes to the Cold War’. It concentrates on the activities of what the author calls the ‘Three major carrier navies’, defining these as being of Great Britain, the United States of America and ‘Pre-1941 and Second World War Imperial Japan’.  When describing these entities, the author provides detailed analysis of their individual naval histories, the technologies, ships and aircraft that were employed and the tactics developed by each navy in response to specific situations. The result is a book which is likely to be become a standard reference work on its subject. Due to the amount of information it contains, this is not however a book which can be read in one sitting, but is rather encyclopaedic in coverage and well-suited to ’dipping into’ in pursuit of specific information.

Four separate sections precede the 13 Chapters which comprise the main part of this book. They are titled Abbreviations; A Note on Sources; Acknowledgements and Introduction. The Abbreviations section provides ‘Plain English’ interpretations of the numerous military–type abbreviations appearing within the work, while the Sources section indicates the origins of much of the information it contains. Those who have contributed to the work are thanked within the Acknowledgements section, while a general overview of the place of naval aviation as part of a larger defence system is presented in the Introduction. The volume’s first two Chapters chronicle both the development of the aircraft carrier and carrier-based aircraft, the latter being largely United States focused. The remaining chapters are devoted to the technical evolution of naval aviation. These focus on technical responses to perceived crises, whether political or technological.  Where necessary, sub-sections within each chapter provide additional information on specific topics. An Epilogue discusses the political, military and technological situation as the author perceives they exist in 2016. Within each chapter, sequentially-numbered and chapter-specific citations are provided. These are endnote in format, the relevant information appearing in a Notes section placed after the Epilogue.  A Bibliography follows the Epilogue. An Aircraft Data section following the Bibliography provides technical information relating to many of the aircraft-types appearing within the volume. Curiously and although arranged in column format, the Aircraft Data section uses a modified form of footnotes to provide additional sources. As a result, citations appear at the end of an ‘individual’ section rather than at the foot of the page. An Index completes the volume. The book contains numerous photographs, half-tone illustrations and plans (the two latter termed ‘Diagrams’ in the index) from a variety of sources. Although well-captioned, there is no reference to their existence on the Contents page.

This reviewer could find little to fault with this work. He would however question the placing of the Aircraft Data section behind the Bibliography as in his view, by containing additional information, the former should have been an Appendix rather than ‘merely ‘just another section at the back of the book’. The section deserves better.

In addition, and despite their notation within the Index, the Contents page contains no reference to any of the numerous photographs, half-tone illustrations and plans (aka ‘Diagrams’) appearing within the volume. As many readers will not peruse an Index to find such information, an indication of their existence (preferably an actual list) would have been helpful and avoided unnecessary searching in pursuit of a single item. How important these ‘faults’ may be, will depend on the individual reader.

In the opinion of this reviewer, this volume is likely to have wide appeal and could be of interest to both Naval and Aviation historians and to hobbyists with an interest in ‘matters naval’ in general, naval fighter aircraft, aircraft carriers and aerial combat. Those with a specific interest in United States Navy tactics and aircraft carrier operations are especially fortunate in this regard. In addition, by providing a ‘naval’ perspective on political events, those with an interest in international affairs (such as the ‘Korean War’) could also find it worth perusing.

As previously-noted, this volume bids fair to become an authoritative work on its subject; ‘Naval Fighters’ although it does have its flaws. Despite these, and on a Rating Scale 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given it a 9.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Fighters over the Fleet: Naval Air Defence from Biplanes to the Cold War’.

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: ‘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: ‘Britains Toy Soldiers: The History and Handbook 1893-2013’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title: Britains Toy Soldiers: The History and Handbook 1893-2013

Author: James Opie

Total Number of Printed Pages: 480

Total Number of Photographs: 400

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

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The hobby of ‘collecting’ is widespread and can range from full-size machinery to very minute items. Almost anything can be ‘collected. If the interest is sufficient and the collecting fraternity large enough, eventually ‘learned tomes’ are written about the subject. Such works can cover all and any aspects of the hobby, and can themselves be worthy of collecting; if only for the sheer volume and detail of their contents.

It is this reviewer’s opinion that James Opie’s Britains Toy Soldiers: The History and handbook 1893-2013 falls into this latter category; it’s comprehensiveness and encyclopaedic detail ensuring that it is worthy of attention on its own merit.

As will be evident from the title, this volume is essentially a history of Britains Ltd., internationally-renowned makers of the small-scale figures known colloquially as ‘Toy’ soldiers.  Britains do however make other figures and objects and these (and the aforementioned soldiers) are covered within the eight chapters (and a separate sub-chapter) which comprise the majority of this work’s pages.   The author believes that there have been seven separate stages in the evolution of the Britains organisation and its models. He designates these stages ‘Ages’ and uses them to form the basis for the volume’s seven main chapters.  Within each chapter the company’s activities during that time are detailed and the models created during that period, critiqued. The previously mentioned sub-chapter (2a) investigates in detail the many variations of a specific series within the larger Britains range of models. In addition (and to quote the author) , Chapter 8 provides ‘…An encyclopaedic glossary of subjects…that are of interest to Britains collectors’. It is a fair summary.  The work also contains a Foreword, an Introduction, a Bibliography, an Appendix and an Index. Four hundred high-quality photographs are also provided.  Regrettably, the Foreword, although subtitled Auctioneering, does not detail the Auctioneering process, but rather describes the author’s experiences as an auctioneer of both toy collections and Britains figures. As it broadly outlines what the author’s activities consist of, some readers may find it of interest.

That the author knows his subject is very evident, yet it is precisely that knowledge which caused this reviewer difficulties. The work contains an incredible amount of detail, with the photographs acting as aid memoirs for the text. The information appears to be accurate and as noted, it is both comprehensive and encyclopaedic. However, the sheer volume of information tends to overwhelm the casual reader, to the extent that it is almost information  ‘overload’. This is very definitely not a volume for light reading; but is rather (as with many encyclopaedia-type books), a work which can be dipped-into when seeking specific information about a specific item. Used in that manner, this volume will be a work of great value.

This reviewer believes that this work is very-much in the ‘niche market’ category and as such will be invaluable to any specialist collector of Britain’s material. In that context, it may well become a classic, and perhaps even a ‘Collectable’ in its own right. To a lesser extent, researchers interested in toy-history and toy companies may also find it of use. The information it contains notwithstanding, it is probable that the average reader will however only read it for its curiosity value. This is unfortunate, but is a fate not unknown for similar works in other fields.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I would give it an 8.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Britains Toy Soldiers: The History and Handbook 1893-2013’