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: ‘Wartime Standard Ships’

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: Wartime Standard Ships

Author: Nick Robins

Total Number of Printed Pages: 177

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

 

 

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Wartime Standard Ships’

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: ‘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 Royal Navy in Eastern Waters: Linchpin of Victory, 1935-1942’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title: The Royal Navy in Eastern Waters: Linchpin of Victory, 1935-1942

Author: Andrew Boyd

Total Number of Printed Pages: 538

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

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When writing history, it is frequently a case of ‘First up, best dressed’, with the first narrative to be published becoming the established and accepted story.  Although subsequent research may find that the initial story is incorrect, ‘Public Perception’ may be such that even the most scholarly and well-presented work will ultimately fail to alter well-held beliefs. This Reviewer suspects that this volume, despite its scholarship and authoritative and excellent content, may ultimately fall into this category; that the original narrative will remain, the ‘General Public’ being unmoved by its revelations and caring little for what is presented.

This volume is primarily concerned with the events which lead to the sinking of both HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales by Japanese aircraft on 10 December 1941. However, it also investigates and details British and Japanese naval activities in the Indian Ocean near Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Well-held British popular opinion has it that these events (especially the former), were both failures of naval ability and examples of military incompetence, a viewpoint reinforced by the writings of professional historians since 1945. The author of this publication would argue otherwise.

In his Introduction, The author states that: ‘The starting point for this book…is that the established view of Britain’s eastern naval strategy from the 1930’ is not satisfactory. It provides a one-dimensional account of the Royal Navy’s effort to counter a specific threat from Japan’. A statement in the volume’s ‘Conclusion reinforces this point. It states: ‘Three arguments lie in the heart of this book. Together they represent a fundamental reassessment of the part played by Britain’s eastern empire (defined as those British-held territories between the Suez Canal and Australia) in the Second World War and how we think about the overall contribution of the Royal Navy. Indeed, in some respects we need to view the whole first half of Britain’s war in a different way’. In the pages between these two statements the author carefully and clearly presents his case, using an impressive array of archival material while doing-so. Curiously, the actual details of the action in which HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales were sunk is not covered in depth. Rather, that event provides the ‘platform’ upon-which this volume is supported.

A List of Tables and Maps is the first section to appear in this book. It is followed in turn by a List of Illustrations, which repeats the captions appearing under the 30 monochrome images that appear in a dedicated Plate Section within the volume. A Foreword by one ‘N A M Roger’ follows the List of Illustrations. However, while well-written, a lack of information concerning that individual’s qualifications and experience vis-a-vis this title makes their contribution largely meaningless. Certainly the name N A M Roger appears in the Acknowledgements section which follows the Foreword (together with a note that he / she is a ‘Professor’; although of what is not defined), but as this is apparently in a ‘mentor and ‘encourager’ role, the reader is unable to assess the depth of authority behind that individual’s contribution. It would have been helpful to know more. As already noted, an Acknowledgements section follows the Foreword. This thanks those who contributed to the completed volume. The Abbreviations section that follows in turn interprets the many abbreviations that the work contains, while an eight-page Introduction section then précis’ the books’ content.  The largest section of this volume is divided into four Parts. These cover the development of both British (and inter alia Royal Navy) policies and tactics in response to both a perceived and actual war against Japan. Each Part is divided into subsections, and these in turn are subdivided into smaller sections where more detail about specific items/ policies is required. A Conclusion summarises what has gone before. An Appendix (termed an Annex) and titled Warships Completed by Principle Naval Powers 1930-1942 presents that information in largely Table form. Within the volume, additional information is provided through use of endnotes. These are numeric is format and chapter specific. They appear sequentially within each chapter and their citations are collected within a dedicated Notes section placed after the Annex. The Notes section is in turn followed by a 26-page Bibliography. An Index completes the book. Ten Tables and four Maps appear within the volume.

This volume is not ‘light’ reading in the accepted sense of that phrase. It is a ‘Learned Treatise’ on a specific subject and as such is probably most suited to university-level research. Researchers interested in British foreign and naval polices concerning the Japanese and the  ‘British Far East’ may find it of interest, as might naval historians and those interested in British naval tactics in World War II.  University and Public libraries may well find it a useful reference item for their political science or military history sections. The small number of photographs the volume contains may also be of use to modellers, war-gamers or those interested in the Royal Navy, the Fleet Air Arm, the Imperial Japanese Navy or World War II.

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


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

 

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Royal Navy in Eastern Waters: Linchpin of Victory, 1935-1942’