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: ‘Railway Guns: British and German Guns at War’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title:  Railway Guns: British and German Guns at War

Author: John Goodwin

Total Number of Pages: 122

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

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Until aircraft could be used to damage an enemy’s distant infrastructure, long-range artillery was the only option available for land-based armies to complete that task, This book chronicles the development and uses of such weapons; paying particular attention to the use of  rail-mounted super-heavy artillery in Western Europe during both World Wars.

This volume details the invention of very long-distance, ultra-heavy artillery, with particular (but not exclusive) emphasis on the railway-transportable sub-variant of that type of gun. While British use of railway guns forms the main focus of the book, American, French and German guns and experiences are also related and chronicled. Although they were fixed-position units, the German-built Cross-Channel Bombardment Batteries are also described in a separate chapter, as are the railway guns which operated alongside them.

An Acknowledgements section which appears at the front of this book thanks those who contributed to its creation. This is preceded by a Dedication page, which, curiously, is placed on the reverse side of a page instead of the more-usual page-front. The Dedication, after stating that it was ‘Written as a tribute to happy memories of my railway family in wartime…’ then proceeds to list both military and railway service by the author’s family, and five books evidently written by another family member. The Dedication is not listed on the Contents page. The largest section of the volume consists of 10 Chapters. These cover the invention of very long-distance, ultra-heavy artillery, with particular (but not exclusive) emphasis on the railway-transportable sub-genre of these weapons  Within each Chapter, subsections cover specific topics relevant to that chapter. A Bibliography at the back of the book lists sources used while writing this volume. A three page Index completes the volume. Numerous captioned Photographs, Maps, Technical Diagrams and Plans appear within the book, as do two Tables, three Pen and Ink drawings and a halftone illustration. The cover of an Official Training Manual for Siege Artillery is also reproduced, as is a page illustrating Water Cranes copied from a manufacturer’s catalogue. Although nominally placed at the end of each chapter, the locations of the photographs etc. can vary. There is no reference to these items on either the Contents page or within the Index.

Despite being very informative, this reviewer did not find this volume an enjoyable read.  This was due to a variety of factors, including the previously mentioned Dedication, the use of colloquialisms and a lack of interpretive information on maps.

The use of long sentences and a lack of commas within some sentences was also frustrating, The lack of any reference to the existence of photographs, maps etc. in either the Index or on the Contents page made searching for specific items difficult. The misidentification of several of the steam locomotives within the volume was also disappointing.

This volume may appeal to several potential purchasing groups. These could include Military Historians with an interest in both World Wars I and II or the defences and fortifications used during those conflicts. Students of British Army practices, siege weapons or extra-heavy artillery may also find this book of interest, as could military modellers or war gamers. Railway enthusiasts and modellers with an interest in ‘Things military’ may also find it to be useful for reference purposes.

Because of its specialisation, and despite the previously-mentioned limitations, this book is likely to become a standard work on its subject, On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given it a 6.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Railway Guns: British and German Guns at War’

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: ‘ British Armoured Car Operations In World War One’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title:  British Armoured Car Operations In World War One

Author: Bryan Perrett

Total Number of Pages: 157

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

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It easy to focus on the ‘Big Picture’ and ignore the small things; those details which, contribute-to and ultimately comprise the larger image. World War I is no exception, there being a tendency to focus on events in Europe to the exclusion of the smaller alarums and excursions which played a part in the larger conflict. This book, in the course of the narrative about its specific subject, deals with the ‘smaller things’, and does it well.

This is a well-written and very readable volume. It details the origins, development and operations of armoured cars used by British forces during World War I. A detailed background gives insight into the origins of the armoured-car genre. The majority of British armoured car operations during World War I occurred in obscure locations far removed from Europe and the Western Front.  As a result, the reader is taken into Russia, the Balkans, Iran, the Levant and Africa; into small places and small wars. The relevant details are well-narrated. This reviewer found the chapters relating to the Russian / Balkan experiences of the British armoured car units particularly interesting, but was left with the impression that many of the non-British participants viewed the World War as being totally irrelevant to their own particular machinations. By their free-roaming, almost piratical nature, armoured cars attracted some interesting ‘personalities’. When these individuals make their appearance within the volume, they are treated with sympathy, although their foibles are not overlooked. The volume contains a selection of contemporary and informative photographs.  Disappointingly, one of these (No.15) although notated as being ‘A rare coloured photograph…’, appears only in a monochrome format.

The book consists of 11 Chapters. Maps are provided. Photographic captions are placed alongside their respective images and also appear in a separate List of Plates section in the front of the volume.  A Foreword relates the volume to a previously-published work by the author.  A Bibliography and Index are provided. No Source Notes are provided for the various quotations appearing within the work.

This book is likely to appeal to a variety of readers. These could include military historians and those with a particular interest in land-based warfare and military vehicles. Military modellers specialising in World War I would probably find the photographs of use. It may also appeal to those who simply like an enjoyable read about an unusual subject.

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

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘ British Armoured Car Operations In World War One’

Book Review: ‘Battleships of the World: Struggle for Naval Supremacy 1820-1945’

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Reviewer:  nzrownmines

Title: Battleships of the World: Struggle for Naval Supremacy 1820-1945

Author: John Fidler

Total Number of Printed Pages:  145

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

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Although the large and heavily armed naval vessel known as a Battleship is now only seen in museums, and then only rarely, there was a time when they were symbol of national pride and a yard-stick by-which international importance was measured.  This volume tells their story.

The Battleship (and its associate, the Battlecruiser) was the end-result of an evolutionary process by which sail-powered warships had become progressively larger and larger. This occurred over several centuries, with such vessels reaching their zenith in the mighty ‘Ships of the Line’ which were built in the early years of the Nineteenth Century.  Sail-power might have ‘peaked’ with such vessels, but the advent of  metal hulls and reliable mechanical propulsion, ensured that naval development did not, and over time, the ‘big-gun’ naval vessels became ever larger.   This work chronicles this growth and is well-written and easy to read. Logically, it commences with the introduction of steam-power into naval vessels and concludes with the advent of the aircraft carrier – the battleship’s nemesis and, ultimately, its replacement. Between these two events, the development of metal hulls, mechanical propulsion machinery, guns of increasing size and political machinations are covered in impartial detail.  Unsurprisingly, and as it was the largest user of the type, there is a preponderance of information about the battleships and battlecruisers used by the Royal Navy. The end of World War II was also the end of the battleship as a viable military unit, and although the work nominally ends in 1945, a final chapter provides a postscript beyond that date. It outlines the fates of those vessels which managed to survive that conflict, and provides details those that ultimately made it into preservation.

The volume consists of 13 Chapters, with these being prefaced by an Introduction which gives a two-page precis of both the Royal Navy’s large warship history and of the battleship type in general. A Bibliography lists additional titles which a reader might find of interest, while an Index provides details of Admirals, ships, and events. The work is profusely illustrated, with images appearing on most pages, where they frequently illustrate the text on the same page. However, with few exceptions, the images are not sourced. There is also no reference to their existence on the Contents page, although the inside page of the volume’s dust-jacket does state that it is ‘Illustrated with over 100 images and an eight page colour section…’

The dust-jacket reference to ‘…An eight page colour section…’ concerns a group of images which can only be described as being ‘Magnificent’ and which depict various battleships of the Royal Navy in all their Imperial splendour. Those appearing opposite page 56 are especially impressive.  However, with no prior indication of their existence, this reviewer literally found them ‘by accident’, a situation which he finds unacceptable in a volume purporting to be a serious and authoritative history of its subject.

The matter of the un-notated images notwithstanding, this volume is likely to appeal to a variety of readers. These could include those with a specific interest in ‘Battlewagons’ and very large heavily-armed warships, naval history; the various navies which used such vessels, and general military history. Warship modellers may also find the photographs a useful resource.

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

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Book Review: ‘Battleships of the World: Struggle for Naval Supremacy 1820-1945’

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’