BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Wreck Hunter: Battle of Britain & The Blitz’

122.

BOOK REVIEW

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: The Wreck Hunter: Battle of Britain & The Blitz

Author: Melody Foreman

Total Number of Printed Pages: 217

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

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When writing in this volume’s Foreword, Edward McManus (Historian and Committee Member Battle of Britain Monument London) states that ‘Probably the first person known to have embarked on researching and executing ‘digs’ is Terry Parsons’ and that ‘This book documents a selection of his most interesting…excavations over the years and the personalities , living and dead, that were drawn in’. It is an excellent summary of what is to follow.

The afore-mentioned Foreword is placed immediately behind the volume’s Contents page, and is followed by the book’s Introduction. Within this, the author details the both historical background to the wrecks described within the narrative and the current Governmental policies of care and protection which apply to both these unique items and their contents, with particular reference (in the latter case), to the human remains which are frequently found within such sites. The fourteen Chapters which comprise the largest part of the volume now appear. Chapter 1’s title (The First Wreck Hunters), while largely self-explanatory, does introduce the reader to the history of the recovery of crashed military aircraft (An ‘occupation’ dating back to World War I). It also introduces the volume’s ‘Hero’; Terry Parsons, and records the formative World War II events of his childhood; events which subsequently significantly affected his later life.  In Chapter 2 (Boy of the Battle) Terry Parsons himself elaborates on these events, while simultaneously using actual Air Combat Reports and reminiscences to provide authority and background to the events that he was personally effected by. Chapters 3 (My First Dig) to 14 (Flying Heroes and the Giant Teapot), while following a similar format, are autobiographical in nature (although with added eye-witness accounts which led to that particular aircraft excavation), and were (according to the author’s note on page 208) taken directly from Mr Parson’s personal notes and diaries. This gives them an immediacy which takes the reader into the at-times complex world of aircraft wreck recovery. An Acknowledgements section follows Chapter 14.Within this, the author thanks those who contributed towards its creation. A small (thirteen-entry) Bibliography section follows, and this is in turn followed by the book’s final section; its’ Index. The volume contains numerous Quotes, Reminiscences and reproductions of newspaper clippings, letters and various official documents in supportive of the narrative. As these items do not however carry any supporting citations, their authenticity inevitably comes into question. Each Chapter is accompanied by supporting Photographs.  These are monochrome in format and informatively captioned, but again, with only five exceptions, do not carry source citations. Neither the Contents Page nor the Index mentions the photographs’ existence. The volume contains no Maps.

For this reviewer, this was a ‘Muddle’ of a book; a volume trying to be several things at once and succeeding at none of them. It is simultaneously a biography, an autobiography, a reference work and (as shown in the first four sentences of Paragraph Four of Page 7), a work of uncritical adoration.  The Index is problematical, and could most politely be described as being ‘Patchy’ in its content. Random searching produced many examples where terms used within the  text were not to be found in the Index, those of Operation Nightingale, Richard Osgood, Stephen Macaulay and West Blatchington (all on page xiv) being but four examples. Curiously, the names of Harold Penketh and Vince Holyoak on the same page were accorded Index entries. The reasons for this contradiction on a single page is unknown, and as numerous other such ommissions were also found, the authority and veracity of the Index inevitably came into question. The already-noted lack of Source Citations for the numerous Quotes, Reminiscences, Letters and Official Documents together-with the book’s lack of Maps, further served to undermine such authority as the volume may have had. Is what is presented ‘true’, or imagined? In the absence of documentation to the contrary, there is no way to know! The caption A scene from Biggin Hill airfield in 1940 attached to the aircraft-related photograph appearing on page 22 also did nothing for the volume’s cause, the aircraft concerned being later model Spitfires and, on the presumption that the image is actually a genuine World War II image (rather than from a movie set) is one that was taken sometime after June 1944 (rather than as per the caption) as evidenced by the D-Day recognition stripes carried by the central machine. While it is possible that the original photograph might have been incorrectly captioned (and that a mistake made as a result), this discovery reduced confidence in the narrative still further. The author’s very-evident hero-worship and lack of objectivity was also unhelpful.

Despite its lack of authenticating documentation (Which diminishes its historical value substantially), this volume may be of interest to Archaeologists of all persuasions and aviation and military Historians, Readers with an interest in the Royal Air Force, the Battle of Britain and general military history and aviation, may also find it worthy of their attention. Despite the photographs being monochrome in format, aircraft modellers may find some of these useful for reference purposes.

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

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Wreck Hunter: Battle of Britain & The Blitz’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘MI6: BRITISH SECRET INTELLIGENCE SERVICE OPERATIONS 1909-1945’

 

116.

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  MI6: BRITISH SECRET INTELLIGENCE SERVICE OPERATIONS 1909-1945

Author: Nigel West

Total Number of Pages: 290

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

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

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

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

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

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

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘MI6: BRITISH SECRET INTELLIGENCE SERVICE OPERATIONS 1909-1945’

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

111. SECTION 'D'

Reviewer: Michael  Keith

Title:  Section D for Destruction: Forerunner of SOE

Author: Malcolm Atkin

Total Number of Printed Pages: 258

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

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Sir Walter Scott’s famous quote from Marmion; ‘Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive’ is an appropriate precis for this volume.  The story narrated within this book is indeed a ‘tangled web’, with deceit and deception on almost every page, and a cast of characters that range from the highest levels of the British Government, to the lowest depths of European and Middle Eastern society. It is both a ‘Ripping Yarn’ and an insight into the machinations that accompanied Great Britain’s early World War II-era unconventional-warfare forays into Nazi-controlled Europe. It is also a long-overdue tribute to Laurence Grand; the little-known genius who successfully created the whole ‘Amateurs at irregular war’ concept.

A List of Plates follows the Contents page and reproduces the captions of the 33 images which form the ‘plates’ section of the volume; this latter being placed at the centre of the volume. A List of Figures section follows. This lists the various Tables and single Map which appear within the volume. An Acknowledgements section then thanks those who contributed to the completed volume. It is in turn followed by a two page Abbreviations and Acronyms section; a necessity in a volume abounding with military abbreviations. A Preface then relates the difficulties encountered when interpreting documentation rewritten to push particular political and personal viewpoints. An Introduction then precis’ what is to follow. The main part of the volume consists of 11 Chapters. These trace the evolution of Section D from its 1938 creation to its absorption into the Secret Operations Executive (SOE) in 1941.While the first three Chapters deal with the organisational and technical aspects of its subject, those remaining, narrate Section D’s military activities. Frequently innovative and original in concept, such activities occurred where Section D’s controllers believed that British interests could be best served.  That these might be in places hitherto ‘friendly’ towards Great Britain was largely irrelevant, but never random.  The volume’s ‘action’ Chapters are divided into geographical sections; The Balkans (Chapter 6) and Scandinavia (Chapter 9), being but two examples of this practice. Individual nations appear as subsections within the specific Chapter, their political, cultural and ethnic make-up at the time of World War II being described in depth. Such information provides background to Section D’s activities both within the nation itself and (as they were invariably interconnected), in those countries within its immediate vicinity.  A Conclusion follows Chapter 11 (Into SOE); in it the author provides an assessment of the effectiveness of Section D. An entry on the Contents page then indicates that two Appendices are to follow the previously-mentioned Conclusion. Curiously, these do not appear within the volume but have to be accessed at the author’s online address. Why this has been done is not explained. Within each Chapter, additional information is provided through sequentially-numbered and chapter-specific citations.  These are end-note in format and appear in a designated Notes section placed after the Conclusions section. A Bibliography follows the Notes section and is in turn followed by an Index; the final section in the volume. The previously-mentioned Plates section contains 33 black and white images relevant to the narrative. These range from individuals, to locations, to the equipment used when undertaking the ‘unconventional’ warfare described within the volume.  As previously noted (and despite Section D being active throughout Europe and the Middle East), the volume contains only one map (of the Balkans, on page 85). Why this should be, is unknown. At minimum, a map of Europe would have been a valuable aide memoire, if only to show the theatre of operations being discussed. An additional ‘Regional’ map at the start of each Chapter would have been even better.  In the absence of such devices, the value of this volume as a research source is inevitably reduced.

This is a well-written and very readable volume that is likely to become the authoritative work on its subject. As such it is likely to have wide appeal. Military personnel and Historians with an interest in either World War II or ‘unconventional warfare’ may well find its contents of interest. Readers with a ‘generalist’ view of World War II are likely to find it informative, as are with those with an interest in the more unusual forms of warfare and the weapons which are employed in such situations. Those looking for ‘real life’ James Bonds’ and ‘spies’, could also find it worthy of their attention.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume an 8 ½.

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

BOOK REVIEW: ‘‘D Day’ Dakotas: 6 June 1944 ‘

109.

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: D Day’ Dakotas: 6 June 1944 

Author: Martin W. Bowman

Total Number of Printed Pages:  335

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

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The Douglas DC-3 (Especially in its military guise of the C-47) is one of the most famous aircraft of all time. Its fame rests largely on its military activities during World War II; during which-time it saw widespread use in many of that combat’s theaters of operations. Of all these the C-47 is most-closely associated with D-Day; the Allied invasion of Europe. This volume looks at both that use, and the experiences of the military personnel involved with the C-47 on 5-6 June 1944.

Within the volume, a poem titled Tribute To The DC-3 follows its Contents page, and is in turn followed by an Acknowledgements section, within-which the author thanks those who assisted with the volume’s creation. The 15 Chapters which comprise the bulk of the volume now appear.  While primarily-focused on the C-47 and its part in the D-Day invasion, these also provide background to that operation and relate the individual personal experiences of the personnel who were involved; both as aircrew and paratroops (the latter being C-47’s primary passengers on 4-5 June 1944). An Epilogue placed after Chapter 15 (‘Galveston’ and ‘Hackensack’) provides analysis of the operation, and is in turn followed by the volume’s Index; it’s final section.  The volume contains numerous quotes, some accompanied by citations indicating their source; the majority not.  It also contains two separate Images sections. The images they contain are monochrome and, in addition to various aircraft, also showing different aspects of the C-47’s D-Day operation, and, where applicable, individuals mentioned within the volume. While being informatively captioned, the majority carry no source citations and are not mentioned on either the Contents page or in the Index. It was noted however that at least one caption (That of the ‘supposed’ Chalk 43 in the second images section) was incorrect in its statement; the aircraft in this instance carrying a very obvious No.44. Whether other, similar, errors exist is unknown. Where additional information and source details are required, this is presented in the form of numbered Footnotes placed at the bottom of the appropriate page.  The numbers are sequential and volume rather than chapter-focused. The book contains no Maps, and despite the various acronyms and unique terminology within it, is not provided with an interpretative Glossary. What (for example) is a ‘Serial’ (page 60 and Chapter 7) an SOP, a DZ or an AEAF, these latter (along with others of a similar nature) being terms widely used throughout the book? Although the author evidently believes that the meanings of such terms are well-known, the average reader, especially one with no prior knowledge about such things, cannot be expected to have such information. The volume also contains no Bibliography or list of the books quoted throughout it.

Although this volume is both well-researched and written, various ‘technical’ difficulties meant that this reviewer found it very difficult to read. Of these, the most troublesome concerned the inordinate use of unsourced quotes; page after page after page of them. While to some this may be unimportant, their sheer volume and ‘convenience’ to the narrative being presented, eventually reached the stage where they became totally unbelievable and raised questions as to their origins. This is not to say that some quotes weren’t referenced; the occasional one was, with that from one Ben Ward on page 294 being one such example. Yet on the same page an unsourced quote from Major Francis Farley commences, and was followed in turn (on page 295) by even more unsourced quotes from one ‘Bob’ MacInnes and from Howard ‘Fat’ Brown. These are but two examples of a practice pervading the volume, a practice not helped by poor punctuation and the lack of the necessary ‘closing’ quotation marks at the end of a Quote.  Paragraphs 2 and 4 on page 184 are but two of many similar examples. In addition to the foregoing, the Index leaves much to be desired. It appears to be predominately ‘People’-focused, to the exclusion of almost everything else. As an example of this latter contention, a random Index search for such text-mentioned geographical locations as Portland Bill, ‘Hoboken’ marker, Contentin Coast, Portbail, Guernsey and Alderney (All mentioned on page 58) found no Index entries. As this was on a single, randomly-selected page, and similar results were found for other (also randomly-selected), subject searches, for this reviewer, the authority and veracity of the Index became extremely doubtful.

This volume fills an important gap in knowledge about the D-Day operations, and as such it may appeal to Military and Aviation Historians, while aviation enthusiasts of all persuasions and aviation modellers may also find it of use and interest.

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

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘‘D Day’ Dakotas: 6 June 1944 ‘

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Submarines of World War Two: Design, Development and Operations’

98. SUBMARINES

Reviewer:  Michael Keith

Title: Submarines of World War Two: Design, Development and Operations

Author: Erminio Bagnasco

No. of Pages: 288

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): 8 ¾

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In what is effectively an introduction to what is to follow, the author states that ‘This book deals with thee submarines of the navies engaged in the Second World War and includes those boats or classes which had been laid down, but which never entered service, or which had not been completed until after hostilities had ceased’. As a summary it is clear and concise.

This volume was originally published in Italy in 1977, a detail which has a bearing on the way that it is laid out. It opens with a multi-columned Contents page, which is in turn followed by a multi-functional section titled Data Key / Abbreviations/ Bibliography. This clarifies the volume’s purpose and contains both a Glossary and a list of the abbreviations used throughout the book. Although what is described as a Bibliography also appears within this section, this is a somewhat-loose term to classify what a note accompanying it describes as a ‘…List of books [what] may be of value to the reader who wishes to pursue specific subjects further’ rather than a list of titles and sources used when writing the book. By way of explanation the same note states that ‘In the original Italian edition of this book the author did not furnish a bibliography’. A Preface follows. This elaborates on the statement made at the start of this review, with the author further stating that he has ‘…Endeavoured to furnish the reader with…enough material to compare the technical and operational histories of all the submarines that took part in the war’. It is an ambitious aim. The book’s Introduction is next. While primarily a highly-detailed history of both submarines and submarine warfare from the time the craft was invented, to the end of World War II, a sub-section within it details post World War 2 developments in both submarines and submerged warfare. The main part of the volume follows.  This is arranged alphabetically, and consists of eight named ‘Sections’ (somewhat analogous to ‘Chapters’) of varying size, each devoted to submarine users. Seven of the Sections are devoted to ‘major’ submarine users with the title of the final section (The Lesser Powers) being self-explanatory. According to the author each Section / Chapter’ is divided in turn subdivided into two sections. ‘The first treats of naval policy, preparations for undersea warfare, types of wartime operations undertaken and the characteristics’. The second section…gives a detailed description of the various classes of submarines…lists the names of the boats, description, principal technical characteristics, a brief history of their wartime careers and the fate of each member of the class’. It is an excellent precis. In most (but not all) instances, at least one photograph of the class under discussion is provided. Where appropriate, a profile drawing of the vessel may also (but not always) be provided; in some instances these being expanded to a three-view format. While these are not to a constant scale, the scale to which they are drawn appears alongside the individual drawing. Where there are significant differences between individual vessels within the class, smaller ‘thumbnail’ illustrations may also appear together with any modifications undergone by the specific vessel. Typically, these may include alterations made to armament, or structures. In addition to the previously-mentioned specifications etc., additional information is provided through the use of tables, technical diagrams, plans, graphs, charts and ‘detail’ photographs of equipment. The volume contains numerous unsourced photographs of individual submarines. Although all are captioned, the amount of information presented varies in quantity from image to image. Although submarines operated in a wide range of areas during World War II, no Maps are provided to indicate where these might have been.  An Index placed at the rear of the book is its last section. This lists all vessels mentioned within the volume.

For this reviewer this volume was let down by the very narrow focus of its Index. As previously-noted this section ostensibly lists all the vessels that appear within this book. In fact it doesn’t, and only lists the location of the vessel’s Class / Specifications entry, not the locations of relevant text or photographs outside that section. To use the French submarine Surcouf as but one example of this practice, that vessel’s Index entry indicates it appears on page 53; and, there is indeed an entry and technical specification for Surcouf on that page. That there are in fact other entries for that vessel on pages 42, 43, 54 and 55 is not however mentioned. As this was but one of several examples noted while reviewing this volume, this practice would seem to be widespread. In addition, the section contains no references to individuals, theatres of operation or geographical locations; ommissions which serve to limit its usefulness. Should a reader seek an individual submarine they will find at least a reference to it. However, should they wish to know why it was constructed, who commanded it, where it served or what it did, they will search the Index in vain. This is unfortunate, as it considerably reduces the volume’s usefulness and value as a research tool, removing it from the ‘Work of Standard Reference’ category as a result.

There is no doubt that this volume is comprehensive in its coverage of its subject, and, despite the ‘limitations’ listed above,  is, indeed, encyclopaedic in its coverage. On that basis it is likely to have wide appeal to readers interested in submarines, submarine warfare and general ‘things naval’. Military historians interested in submarine operations may find it of use, while warship modellers and war-gamers with an interest in submarines may find it to be a useful reference source.

On a Rating Scale where 1: very poor, 10: excellent, I have given this volume an 8 ¾.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Submarines of World War Two: Design, Development and Operations’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The History of the Port of London: A Vast Emporium of All Nations’

81. History of the Port of London

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: The History of the Port of London: A Vast Emporium of All Nations

Author: Peter Stone

Total No. of Pages: 250

Rating Scale (1: very poor; 10: excellent):

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At the time of the Great Exhibition of 1851, London was described as being ‘The workshop of the world’. It was, according to the author of this volume, ‘…The [British] Empire’s economic capital… and at the heart of the vast emporium was the Port of London’. This book is that port’s story.

To state that this book is comprehensive is to be given to understatement. It is well researched, well-written and quite readable, with the qualification that it is more thesis than light romance. Because of its subject, it is also very wide-ranging in its narrative. When reading it the reader is taken from the Ice Age and the formation of both the British Isles and the River Thames, to the Twenty-first Century (specifically 2017), and the problems attendant to redeveloping a port system which technology and commerce have now passed-by. In the course of this perambulation through time, the reader partakes in the social and maritime histories which moulded and influenced the port and its surrounds, together with the occasional dose of warfare and politics for good measure. The result, as previously noted, is comprehensive and readable. It is also extremely interesting.

The bulk of this volume consists of eight Chapters preceded by an Acknowledgements section where tribute is paid to those who assisted the author in creating the book. That is in turn followed by a Preface This is six pages in length and summarises what is to follow. The Chapters are divided into sequential blocks, with each covering a specific time period. Subheadings within each Chapter provide additional detail about a specific topic appearing within that section. Reproductions of five lithographs appear within the volume to illustrate relevant points of the narrative.  They are supplemented by sixteen photographs placed within a small section in the book’s centre. The images are informatively captioned, although several give no indication of their source. There is no reference to the existence of the images (or even of the ‘Photographic’ section per se’) on the Contents page or within the Index. The volume also contains several Maps. These show both the development of the port itself over the centuries and its relationship to Great Britain, Europe and the larger world. As with the previously-mentioned images, neither the Contents page nor the Index contains any reference to the existence of Maps within the volume. A Selective Bibliography is placed after the last chapter, the author noting that the titles it contains ‘…Have been consulted to varying degrees’. An Index completes the volume. While comprehensive, this reviewer found the presence of unexplained italicised words within the Index puzzling.

While some were evidently the names of ships, others appeared to be Latin in origin. Unsourced quotations also appear within the volume. The discovery that HMS Belfast (p. 222) was a ‘Battle cruiser’ instead of her designated class of ‘Light Cruiser’ was also of interest. This reviewer hopes that this misclassification was only an isolated aberration and not indicative of other, similar, errors. There is no way to know.

Because it covers a multitude of topics under the broad umbrella of being a ‘History’ of the specific Port of London area, this book it is likely to have a wider audience than just those interested in ‘ships and the sea’. By default it is also a ‘Social’ history; its descriptions of social behaviour and micro-societies associated with the Port of London being possibly useful to social historians as a result. Political Researchers investigating British politics and their effect on the Port of London and international trade may also find it interesting. Those with an interest Twentieth Century warfare in general and the World War II London ‘Blitzes’ in particular,  may also find it worth perusing.

On a Rating Scale where 1: very poor; 10: excellent), I have given it an 8½.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘The History of the Port of London: A Vast Emporium of All Nations’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Duel Under The Stars: The Memoir of a Luftwaffe Night Pilot in World War II’

70. TO USE DSCF2821 (3)

BOOK REVIEW

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: Duel Under The Stars: The Memoir of a Luftwaffe Night Pilot in World War II

Author: Wilhelm Johnen

Total Number of Printed Pages: 320

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

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In his Foreword to this volume, James Holland (According to the book’s dust-jacket fly-leaf; ‘…An award-winning and internationally acclaimed historian, writer and broadcaster’), states ‘The best war memoirs are those that feel honest and appear to be written as a cathartic process rather than for a specific audience. They are not so obviously self-conscious and the writer and his voice emerge as a clearly-defined and real character’. This is one of those memoirs. Holland continues ‘ This…book  paints a…picture of what it was like to be at the coalface of the Allied bomber onslaught and reminds us of the unquestioned courage of the Luftwaffe crew sent to meet this menace’. It is an excellent summation.

This volume is a reprint of an English-language edition first published in 1957. It is prefaced by the previously-mentioned Foreword and is followed by 19 Chapters of varying length. While Chapter One (The First Kill By Night) provides historical background for German night-fighting operations, it simultaneously introduces the author to the reader and recounts his first ‘adventures’ in night flying. In the Chapters that follow, the author takes the reader from his first aerial combat to his final operations and the end of World War II in Europe. In between these events (and to again quote Holland), what emerges is ‘Fascinating…and perhaps surprisingly humane…’ It is indeed both of those things. Although The Contents page contains no mention of their existence, the volume contains four ‘blocks’ of unsourced black and white photographs. Three of these are of aircraft-types, personnel and technologies relevant to the narrative, the fourth being of the author’s contemporary night-fighter pilots and commanders.  No Maps or Index are provided and the volume contains no Technical Specifications or Three-view drawings of the aircraft-types the author flew.

For this reviewer, the volume was let down by its lack of both Index and Maps. An Index would have simplified searching for places, personnel, aircraft-types and events within the narrative. As there are many of these, the absence of an Index means that searching for a specific object (with no guarantee of success) becomes analogous to seeking the proverbial needle within a haystack. It is unfortunate that the opportunity was not taken to create such an entity (an Index) prior to republication. In addition (and as many of the locations mentioned within the volume underwent name changes in the Post-World War II period), Maps showing where the author served (with appropriate post-war modifications) would have been helpful. The volume’s narrative ends abruptly on 28 April 1945 with the cessation of hostilities in Europe. Not-unreasonably, a reader might wonder ‘What happened next; what became of the author’? Despite there being no indication of Herr Johnen’s fate within the book itself, the dust jacket flyleaf indicates that he did in fact have a ‘Life after the War’. As dustjackets can frequently become lost, it is regrettable that this ‘fly-leaf’ information was not printed as an Addendum to the larger narrative. Specifications and Three-view drawings of the aircraft-types flown by the author would have been both useful additions to the volume and helpful to the narrative, although it is appreciated that this information may not have been available at the time of original publication.

It is probable that this volume will have wide appeal. Readers with an interest in the World war II-era Luftwaffe (especially in night operations against the Royal Air Force), military aviation or World War II in general may find it of interest. Aircraft modellers may also find the photographs a useful resource, while those seeking an undemanding, well-written and easily-read ‘War Book’ may also find it an enjoyable read.

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

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Duel Under The Stars: The Memoir of a Luftwaffe Night Pilot in World War II’