BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Maginot Line: History and Guide’

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BOOK REVIEW

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  The Maginot Line: History and Guide

Author:  J.E. Kaufmann, H.W. Kaufmann, Aleksander Jankovič-Potočnik and Patrice Lang

Total Number of Pages: 308

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

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This volume narrates the story of the Maginot Line; a series of fortifications constructed along the Franco-German border after World War I. In concept, the ‘Line was well-thought-out and constructed. It was built on the premise that should hostilities ever resume between France and Germany recommence, the German invader would be contained by the supposedly-impregnable fortifications and would be unable to enter La Belle Francoise. Unfortunately for the French, when the Germans did eventually re-enter (during World War II), they did so through an area of the border which the French considered to be impenetrable and through which the ‘Line did not extend.  The much-vaunted and highly-expensive Maginot Line was thus neutralised and ineffective. Despite this, the Maginot Line did subsequently see combat, although this was between German and American forces and did not occur until the latter period of World War II,  The  Maginot Line continued to play an ever-decreasing  role in French defence plans, although it had been overtaken by technology (especially with the development of nuclear weapons). In 1968 it was deemed surplus to French military requirements, with such structures as remained being sold-off to non-military organisations and individuals. This well-written and researched book is the Maginot Line’s story, and is a reprint of a volume originally published in 2011.

A two page Contents section appears at the front of the volume. Unusually, this is followed by a single-sentence Dedication. Why this should be placed where it is, instead of in the more-usual front of the book (and ahead of the Contents pages) is not explained. An Acknowledgements page then thanks those who contributed to the volume. A Glossary of Terms section is next. It provides English-language interpretation for the numerous French-language terms that the book contains, The Glossary is followed by the eight Chapters which form the main part of the book. These are divided into two sections, The first (titled ‘Part I : the Maginot Line) consists of Chapters 1-5 and provides historical and technical ‘background. The second (titled Part II: The Maginot Line and Other Sites Today), consists of Chapters 6-8 and is intended as a ‘guide book’ for use by interested visitors. Where necessary, sub-headings appear within each chapter. Additional information is provided within each chapter by chapter-specific end-notes. These are arranged sequentially within each chapter; the citations being placed at chapter-end. To assist visitors to what remains of the Maginot defences, the second section (titled Part II: The Maginot Line and Other Sites Today) contains ‘… A list of sites that can be visited today and that we recommend’ [Author’s italics]. Associated with this is a star-based system that ‘… Indicates accessibility in the main tourist season’. Six Appendices are placed after Chapter 8. They information they contain supplements that appearing within the main part of the volume. A Bibliography then details the printed and electronic sources which were used when the volume was being written. A six-page Index completes the book. In addition to the above, this volume contains numerous Photographs, Half-tone drawings, Maps, Plans and Tables from a variety of sources. There is no mention of their existence on either the Contents pages or within the Index.

Military historians with a specific interest in either static fortifications or the Maginot Line itself, are likely to find this volume of interest. It may also appeal to both military and ‘civilian’ historians with a more generalist perspective. Readers interested in World War II’s European Theatre may also find it worthy of inspection Part II of the volume may also be useful to holiday-makers with an interest in the Maginot Line, while war-gamers and military modellers could find the volume’s diagrams and photographs of use.

This volume is impressively well-researched and full of information. As previously noted however, there is no mention of the existence of Photographs, Half-tone drawings, Maps, Plans and Tables on either the Contents pages or within the Index. This absence makes searching for specific information time-consuming, with no guarantee that the information being sought will even be found. Although this reviewer found such omissions frustrating, how important they are will depend on the individual reader.

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

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Maginot Line: History and Guide’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Children’s Homes: A History of Institutional Care for Britain’s Young’

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Reviewer:  Michael Keith

Title: Children’s Homes: A History of Institutional Care for Britain’s Young

Author: Peter Higginbotham

No. of Pages: 310

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): 8

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As is evidenced by this volume’s subtitle, it is ‘A history of institutional care for Britain’s young’.  The author notes that ‘The total number of children’s establishments that operated over the years [ran[ into many thousands and the children that lived in them probably into millions.  As a result, and by ‘Casting its net wide, this book takes a look at how these many and varied institutions operated and evolved in the context of changing views of how to best serve the needs of children in their care’.  It is a fair summary.

The volume is comprehensive in its coverage of its subject. Within it, the reader is take from the Christ’s Hospital (claimed to be ‘..England’s first institutional home for poor or orphaned children’), to the Twenty-first Century and beyond. The story that is presented between these two points is well-researched and written. it is eminently readable, and is both enlightening and (not unexpectedly), at times somewhat depressing.

The main part of the volume consists of 25 Chapters preceded by an Introduction which summarises what is to follow.  Of the Chapters, 23 relate directly to the subject. Chapters 24 (Children’s Home Records) and 25 (Useful Resources) are however intended to assist genealogists and researchers seeking further information on the topic. Each Chapter covers a specific time-period, with subheadings within it providing more details about specific subjects. There are numerous informatively-captioned illustrations, although these are not sourced, and no mention of their existence appears on either the Contents page or in the Index. Endnotes are employed to provide additional information within each chapter. Chapter-specific and numbered sequentially, their citations appear in a dedicated References and Notes section placed after Chapter 25.  A Bibliography follows that section, with an Index completing the volume.

That this book is well-researched is very evident. However, for this reviewer, it was badly let down by its Index. While reviewing the volume, he had occasion to check the Index for additional information concerning British Home Children (p.209). Nothing was found. Subsequent (and random) searches for Australia, Canada and Ontario (subjects which figure prominently within the narrative) had the same result, while a final (also random) search for Hampton (p.213) also found nothing. For a volume with the potential to be an authoritative work on its subject, this discovery was disconcerting. While it cannot be known if other omissions have occurred, for this reviewer, the authority of the Index is now under question. Whether or not this is important will depend-upon the reader.

The mater of the Index notwithstanding, it is possible that this volume may become a major research-tool for those interested in British social history, orphanages, child welfare and the evolution of child foster care within Great Britain.

On a Rating Scale Rating Scale where 1: very poor, 10: excellent, I have given it an 8.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Children’s Homes: A History of Institutional Care for Britain’s Young’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘British Destroyer’s & Frigates: The Second World War And After’

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: British Destroyer’s & Frigates: The Second World War And After

Author: Norman Friedman

Total Number of Pages:  352

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

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Naval vessel-types have a very distinct hierarchy. At the top are the aircraft carriers (the Queen Bees; if you will); at the bottom, the Worker Bees; the destroyers and the frigates; the vessels that (at least in the opinions of their crews) do the actual work. This is their story; specifically, it is the story of the development and evolution of the destroyers and frigates used by both the Royal Navy and the Commonwealth navies it is affiliated to.

The story is a complex one and in the course of its narrative the reader is introduced to the multitudinous issues which effect and contribute-towards warship design. The numerous non-naval influences which must also be considered (especially in regards to ‘matters political’), are also discussed.

Although the Contents list indicates the Introduction is the first section to appear after it, a single-page List Of Abbreviations holds that honour. There is however no reference to its existence on the Contents page. That detail notwithstanding, the Introduction provides a multi-page summation of the material that appears within the Chapters which follow. A single-column Acknowledgements subsection placed within this section thanks those who assisted with the volume’s creation. The Introduction is followed by the 15 Chapters which comprise the bulk of the volume. The Chapters narrate the development of the two vessel- types over the 1939-2006 period covered by this volume.  It should be noted however that, for purposes of continuity, the volume’s narrative actually commences before World War II. Within the individual Chapter, each page consists of two columns of print. Footnotes are used within each Chapter to provide additional information. These are numbered consecutively within each Chapter, with the citations (where used) appearing at the foot of  each column. Where necessary, subsections within an individual Chapter provide additional elaboration on a specific part of the larger narrative within that particular chapter. Their existence is not however acknowledged on the Contents page. A single-page Bibliography follows the final Chapter and is itself followed by an eight-page section titled Data Tables. This section contains specifications for the vessels referred to within the volume. The information is presented in columnar and tabulated form. Relevant notes appear at the end of each individual section. These are not however in Footnote format but rather occupy the width of the individual section. Abbreviations are used throughout the section. Of these, a small number also appear on the previously-mentioned List Of Abbreviations (in one instance [DCT] with a different meaning).  The majority are however, section-specific, and their meanings are listed in a column appearing at the head of the section, A List of Ships section follows. This provides construction and paying-off details (or, if not relevant, the vessel’s fate) of every destroyer or frigate constructed by British dockyards from 1936 onwards. It also uses abbreviations (albeit in a smaller quantity) and these are placed at the front of the section. An Index completes the volume.  This book contains numerous descriptively-captioned monochrome Photographs from a variety of sources, together with plans and profile drawings of individual vessels. Tables are used for comparative purposes where required. Concept paintings have been utilised where relevant to the narrative while photographs of armaments and electronic antennae are included where necessary.  There is no reference to the existence of any of these (photographs, tables etc.) on the Contents page, although the Index does state that ‘Page references in Italics refer to illustration captions’..

The volume is well-written, researched and eminently readable. It is likely to appeal a variety of readers and may well become a standard reference work on its subject. The potential readership could include both naval personnel, and those with a general interest in the Royal Navy.. Those with a more general interest in naval and maritime matters are also likely to find this volume of interest. ‘The many photographs and drawings are likely to be invaluable to both ship modellers and to marine artists with an interest in British naval vessels.

In this regard, and because of the likelihood of ‘high use’ by its purchasers, this reviewer did wonder if the volume should perhaps have been printed in a ‘hard cover’ format; if only to prolong its cover life.

For this reviewer, this volume is let down by the ‘small details. The result is a ‘Good’ book;  it could have been a ‘Great’ book.

On a Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given it a 7.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘British Destroyer’s & Frigates: The Second World War And After’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘British Warship Recognition, The Perkins Identification Albums, Volume 1: Capital Ships 1895-1939’

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: British Warship Recognition, The Perkins Identification Albums, Volume 1: Capital Ships 1895-1939

Author: Richard Perkins

Total No. of Pages: 178

Colour Pages: 162

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): 9

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Although not generally given to using superlatives when describing a book, in this instance I  made an exception, words such as ‘Remarkable’ and ‘Impressive’ coming to mind on first inspection.

The work is all the more remarkable because it was originally created as one man’s reference work for his personal use; to act as an aide memoir to his collection of naval photographs. It was never intended for public viewing. That it survived much relocation over the years before being donated to the National Maritime Museum is something for which those interested in naval history in general and the Royal Navy in particular, should be thankful.

To quote from the work’s Introduction, the volume’s author decided to ‘…Document faithfully the appearance and alterations made to…many hundreds of British warships…’. Accomplishing this required the taking of numerous images of Royal Navy vessels, which in turn led to the creation of a photographic collection of considerable size. Recognition Manuals were created to detail the alterations that each ship underwent. The scale and accuracy of the drawings within these led to the author being eventually recognised as an authority on the ships of the Royal Navy, the illustrations being both a national treasure and a research tool of immense value.

The volume’s Publisher’s Note states that ‘The aim of this published edition is to replicate as faithfully as possible the experience of consulting the beautiful original…albums. To this end, each page has been reproduced at full size having been photographed at the highest possible resolution’. In the original album, illustrations were drawn on paper rectangles which were glued to a larger page of newsprint. Time has caused both types of paper to turn yellow and when placed on this book’s larger white pages, the result adds to the overall charm of the volume, while implying the ‘history’ which lurks within.

For ease of use, the author has grouped the vessels within this work into a series of subsections (Battleships, Battlecruisers and Pre-Dreadnought Battleships). He then proceeds to deal with each family of warships appearing within that subsection, then with individual members of that family. It is at this point that this work’s value becomes apparent and its creator’s dedication to his craft very evident. A pen and ink image depicts each vessel in profile, with water-colour paints being used to give depth and shade. Clear and legible hand-written details of the vessel’s naval career appear below each image.  Although most vessels are represented by a single profile, others are portrayed through the use of two to four yearly blocks. Doing so required the creation of more hand-drawn images – all to the same high standard.  Smaller ‘scrap-type’ illustrations notate any differences between individual vessels within a class and any modifications undergone by the specific vessel. These can typically include alterations made to armament, masts, funnels and searchlights. The modifications are colour-coded. The effect is astonishing, and it is possible to follow the progress and ‘evolution’ of a ship from its service entry, through its various refits to its final withdrawal.

As would be expected, the volume contains a Table of Contents, an Index and three of the author’s photographs, together with an Introduction by the Curator of Historic Photographs at the National Maritime Museum.

As can be seen from the title, this volume ends in 1939, and as a result, those seeking details of modifications and alterations that occurred during WWII may be disappointed. What is presented is the ‘peacetime’, pre-WWII Royal Navy, with all the well-known vessels (HMS Hood, Renown, Nelson etc.) being illustrated. Despite this possible limitation, the volume should still appeal to a wide variety of readers; ship-modellers, those with interests in or connections to the Royal Navy and to students of naval warfare. For such readers this volume could prove to be a valued and much-used resource.

The work is unique and, by virtue of its accuracy, authority, and the sheer volume of detail, fills a very important gap in British naval history. It well-deserves inspection.

On a Rating Scale (where 1 is very poor, 10: excellent), I would give this book a 9.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘British Warship Recognition, The Perkins Identification Albums, Volume 1: Capital Ships 1895-1939’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘De Havilland Enterprises: A History’

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: De Havilland Enterprises: A History

Author: Graham M. Simons

Total No. of Printed Pages: 318

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

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For many years the De Havilland Aircraft Co. Ltd, of Hatfield, England was a builder of aeroplanes of quality and in quantity. . As the author summarises ‘… There was a time when every small biplane was a ‘Moth’, an entire air force trained on a ‘Tiger’ and a new Elizabethan age dawned with the introduction of the world’s first jet airliner’. This volume is a record of those aeroplanes, of the company itself, and of the design projects that were never constructed.

This volume’s primary focus is on De Havilland’s aeroplanes. All De Havilland aircraft from the Company’s No. 1 to its final DH.130 design are described.  These descriptions include both those actually constructed, and those created as ‘design concepts’.  Experimental types and the products of De Havilland’s Australian and Canadian factories are also included. To provide background to the aircraft, a Chapter titled The Men… records the Company’s history. This section serves as a ‘catch-all’ for anything that is not ‘aeroplane’. Within it a small section is devoted to De Havilland aero engines, but only in the context of the general narrative.

Due to the large number of designs involved, the Contents section is three pages long. Within each page four columns appear. These are titled: Type No.; Name; Quantity built* and Page No. Curiously, the headings only appear on the first page of the Contents section. Within the columns where no name was allocated to a specific type a – has been placed adjacent to the appropriate design number. In addition, where a design was an ‘idea’ only, and not proceeded with, the phrase design concept only appears in the Quantity built column alongside the appropriate design number, The * placed beside the Quantity built column-header is duplicated at the bottom of the third Contents page rather than a the bottom of each page as might be expected. It marks a paragraph which cautions that ‘Total built should be considered very much an estimate only as ‘records that date back over one hundred years are not totally reliable…’. The Contents section is in turn followed by a Dedication. Although this dedicates the volume to all those involved in the aircraft preservation movement, particular reference is made to one John Stride. An Introduction then summarises the volume. It is followed by the previously-noted chapter titled The Men…As already stated, this provides a short history of the Company. The main portion of the volume is concerned with the aircraft that De Havilland’s built. Titled The Machines…, it describes the various aircraft that De Havilland’s either produced or envisioned. A separate section is dedicated to each individual aircraft type. Within it, the specific type is both described and accompanied by a three-view line drawing. Type-specific technical data accompanies the line drawing.  Where applicable, the description is accompanied by at least one monochrome photograph. Although these are largely sourced from De Havilland archives, several are from other sources. Where variations to the basic airframe are detailed, subheadings are used to describe these. There are however no drawings for either the Company’s experimental aircraft or for the products of de Havilland’s Australian and Canadian factories.  There is also no Bibliography per se’, as according to the author `…This title is unusual in that is based entirely on contemporary material from De Havilland…’.  There is instead a chapter tiled And Finally… This is placed after The Machines… and contains reproductions of various De Havilland-related brochures and images. Curiously, it also contains a somewhat-vitriolic attack on those who have, in the past, criticised the author over the materials he has used and his sources. An Acknowledgments section completes the book. In it the author thanks those who have assisted him in its creation. Although several half-tone images and technical diagrams appear within the volume, the Contents pages contain no reference to either these or the photographs the book contains. There are no maps or an Index.

This volume is both well researched and well-written, with the author’s passion for his subject being very evident. While there are some ‘imperfections’ the majority of these are minor. However, for this reviewer, the lack of an Index severely reduces the book’s  usefulness. De Havilland’s exported many different types of aeroplanes to many countries around the world  An Index would have provided the information as to what, where, why and to whom. Its lack reduces a reader to time-consuming, frustrating (and at times fruitless) searching through innumerable pages, with no guarantee of success when doing so. Were that that was not the case!

Due to the high regard accorded to the products of the De Havilland Aircraft Co. Ltd. this book is likely to have wide appeal amongst aviation enthusiasts of many persuasions in many countries. Aero-modellers will also be likely to make use of the drawings and the images for their own purposes.

As already noted, this volume has several ‘imperfections’; the lack of an Index being the most important of these. As a result, on a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given it a 7.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘De Havilland Enterprises: A History’

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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nzcrownmines is available for Book reviewing: Contact: nzcrownmines@gmail.com

 

 

 

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