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

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

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

Author: Norman Friedman

Total Number of Printed Pages: 460

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Book Review: ‘Storm Chaser’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title: Storm Chaser

Authors: Mike Olbinski

Total Number of Printed Pages: 192*

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): Photographs: 9, Text: 2

*There are no page numbers within this volume.


If ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’, then for many people, storms of any sort are not beautiful.  Instead, they are things of fear, destruction and general mayhem. ‘They are definitely not to be appreciated as ‘Things of beauty’. Mike Olbinski would beg to differ.

This volume is unashamedly a ‘Picture book of storms’: Dust storms, Electrical storms, Thunder storms and Tornadoes. Lightning strikes abound, as towering banks of clouds, many in full-colour and of immense dimensions.  The book is beautifully illustrated and although concentrating on storms in Arizona (the author’s home state) it also contains examples of storms photographed in the adjacent states of New Mexico, South Dakota, Texas and Colorado. If a reader is seeking beautiful and impressive photographs of cloudscapes, lightning strikes, dust storms and tornados in a western-American setting, then this book will certainly meet those requirements.

If however a reader is seeking details about (for example), storm formation, cameras and ‘how to chase storms’, this volume will be of little value.

Within the book a two-page Introduction appears before the photographic section which comprises the majority of the book’s content. In the Introduction, the author explains how he came to be internationally-known for his storm photographs and about his passion for his work.  The photographic section follows. This section’s format is one where (with four exceptions),  a full-page A4-sized photograph is placed on the right-hand page and text on the facing (left-hand) page. The latter invariably consists of personal reminiscences relative to the image and how it came to be photographed. In some instances a three-page sequence of images is provided. When this occurs, only the first page of the set follows the previously-mentioned format. The images that follow invariably fill the entire pages and do not contain captions. Several black and white images appear within the volume, largely to emphasise aspects of a specific storm. On the pages where the previously-mentioned ‘exceptions’ are located, a white border has been placed above and below the images. The reason for this is not known. The volume contains no Page Numbers, Table of Contents, Maps or Index. It is a ‘picture book’ pure and simple and no effort has been made to assist the reader in any way. No attempt is made to explain the meteorological causes of the various storms that have been photographed. A Glossary to explain the technical terms, abbreviations and terminology scattered throughout the book would have been helpful. Readers aspiring to emulate the author and chase storms in their own particular region or country will look in vain for any technical information concerning cameras or for ‘how-to’ tips concerning storm chasing.

Buyers who want beautiful pictures of clouds, lightning, tornadoes, thunderstorms and dust storms are likely to be well-pleased with this book.

That this volume has spectacular photographs of storms is undeniable, but for this reviewer it  lacks what he considers to be the most basic of items, Page Numbers being a case in point. It is on this basis that he has given it the rating appearing below:

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given the Photographs: 9, the text: 2.


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Book Review: ‘Storm Chaser’

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

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title:  British Armoured Car Operations In World War One

Author: Bryan Perrett

Total Number of Pages: 157

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

Pages from a Sketchbook: Te Kereru Mining & Investment Co. Ltd. Tramway. Locomotive No.3.

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Te Kereru Mining & Investment Co. Ltd.

Locomotive Shed

(The expired locomotive is visible to the left of the shed lean-to and alongside the outfall of battery water into the tailings dam).

(Copyright 2017)

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Te Kereru Mining & Investment Co. Ltd., Part of 50-stamp Battery.

(The ‘expired’ lcoomotive is visible to the right of the ‘Primary Ore Bins’ shed).

(Copyright 2017)

It has been a while since I have posted any of my sketches on this page, but as has been explained before, I use my sketchbooks as tools, to ‘test’ possibilities before either putting them into practice or abandoning them. What results are essentially ‘Proof of Concept’ drawings, on the basis of which decisions are made.What follows is the latest example of this:

Recently Te Kereru Mining and Investment Co. Ltd. ‘s locomotive No.3 expired. As it seemed a shame to send it to the scrapmetal dealer it needed to be placed somewhere ‘out of the way’, but where? Two locations suggested themselves (at the Locomotive shed and at the Battery) and to see if they were feasible, two drawings that apear above were made. A decision is pending…

Technical Details: Unipin black-ink pen (various nib sizes) on 110gsm white cartridge paper in sketchbook form.


Pages from a Sketchbook: Te Kereru Mining & Investment Co. Ltd. Tramway. Locomotive No.3.

Book Review: ‘Launch Pad UK: Britain And The Cuban Missile Crisis’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title:  Launch Pad UK: Britain And The Cuban Missile Crisis

Author: Jim Wilson OBE

Total Number of Pages: 200

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


‘When ignorance is bliss, ‘Tis folly to be wise’, is a well-known and oft-repeated phrase that indicates that there are times when a lack of knowledge can be advantageous. It is also an effective summation of the events described within this volume, with the subtext that ‘Those with the political power’ are not necessarily those who are in in control.

On the weekend of 27/28 October 1962, in what became known as ‘The Cuban Missile Crisis’, the United States of America, NATO and Great Britain faced off against their mutual enemy the Soviet Union. The ‘Cold War’ was at its height and this event was the closest that the protagonists ever came to direct, nuclear weapon-using. confrontation; an event which would probably have seen the extinction of mankind. Incredibly, the political leaders of one of the protagonist countries (Great Britain) knew almost nothing about what was occurring.  How this came-about is the focus of this volume. It details and describes the political events surrounding the event, revealing both the Russian and Western Allies actions which ultimately led to the confrontation.   While this in itself is of interest, the revelation that the British participation in the conflict was ultimately in the hands of a single member of the Royal Air Force is more so. Most astonishing of all is evidence that contemporary British politicians were largely unaware of the seriousness of events occurring around them, and acted accordingly.  ‘When ignorance is bliss’, indeed!  There are two stories within this volume; while usually running in parallel, they sometimes intersect. One story is of British, American and Russian political activity at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The other is of the use by the Royal Air Force (RAF) of the nuclear-equipped (and American-built) ‘Thor’ Medium Range Ballistic Missile (MRBM), a weapon loaned to Britain by the United States of America at a time when Great Britain had no viable nuclear weapons of its own.  As they were (at least nominally) the owner/operators of the missile, the RAF’s story is the larger of the two, and is enhanced by personal reminiscences which give insights into the realities of  life and thoughts at a time of international uncertainty. Details of the interaction between the RAF and the United States Air Force are also given, and make for interesting reading. The technical development of both ‘Thor’ and the long-range, nuclear-armed missile, is also covered in depth.

The largest section of this volume consists of 16 Chapters. They are preceded by an Acknowledgements section which thanks those who contributed to the finished work. Two Appendices are included. One provides technical details of the missile itself, the other a list of the RAF units which operated it. Included in this section are details of Unit Numbers, Base (Station) locations, deployment periods and Commanding Officers. A Bibliography details reference sources, while an Index completes the volume. Sixteen pages of captioned photographs appear in the centre of the work; these are from a variety of sources.

Although this book is both well written and illustrated, no mention of its photographs appears within the Contents section. The Contents sections also contains no reference to the existence of a map (Thor and Jupiter Sites in Europe and their effective range) on page 32 or of technical diagrams on pages 36 and 37. The absence of these details was a disappointment.

In this Reviewer’s opinion, this volume is likely to be of greatest use to historians specialising in the geo-political events of the ‘Cold-War’ era (of which the ‘Cuban Missile Crisis’ was the apex), although more generalist historians may also find it of use.  It could well become a valued resource.  Aside from historians (and due to the breadth of its subject), this work may well be of interest to other groups. These could include those interested in both the Royal Air Force and the United States Air Force and the equipment and history of those organisations. Readers interested in military aviation, ‘rocketry’ space exploration and Twentieth Century technology may also find it informative.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I would give it an 8. It should have been higher.


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Book Review: ‘Launch Pad UK: Britain And The Cuban Missile Crisis’

Book Review: ‘William Boyd Dawkins and the Victorian Science of Cave Hunting: Three Men in a Cavern’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title:  William Boyd Dawkins and the Victorian Science of Cave Hunting: Three Men in a Cavern

Author: Mark J. White

Total Number of Pages: 302

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


Within the scientific world, Palaeontology (Defined as ‘The study of fossils as a way of getting information about the history of life on earth and the structure of rocks’) is now a legitimate field of research. Such was not always the case and the origins and emergence of this branch of science is the subject of this volume. It is also the biography of one of the chief protagonists within it; one William Boyd Dawkins.

The author describes William Boyd Dawkins as being ‘…One of the first … to work within a scientific framework that recognised a deep antiquity and long evolutionary context for humans and other animals’’ and this biographical volume is predicated on that statement. It describes Dawkins’ development from childhood to his pre-eminence in ‘…A field that he would practically make his own’, that of Palaeontology (although Palaeolithic archaeology was a close second). While so doing it portrays an individual who would not suffer fools gladly and was completely and utterly sure of his own infallibility. Such an attitude inevitably creates situations of controversy and Dawkins was no exception. He became embroiled in several such events (largely, it should be noted, as a result of his own actions), and these are detailed at length within this book. Although at times the author will express a personal opinion, the controversies are invariably presented objectively. Where necessary, additional information is provided to show if the line of thinking of both Dawkins and his contemporaries was subsequently proven to be correct. The famous ‘Piltdown Man’ hoax is also referred-to, although only in the context of Dawkins’ later years.

The volume consists of 10 Chapters. Within these, subject and event-specific subsections  elaborate on the over-all narrative.  An Acknowledgements section at the front of the work thanks those who gave assistance in its creation. A Preface follows, and explains how the book came to be written.  Endnotes are used to provide additional information, their citations appearing within a designated Notes section placed after the last chapter of the volume. This is followed by a Bibliography, while an Index forms the book’s final section. Photographs (termed Plates within the text); some maps and several plans appear within a 24-page section in the centre of the book, while numerous diagrams, illustrations and other relevant images appear as Figures throughout the work. A ‘Map of England and Wales showing some of the key sites and places mentioned in the text’ is included in this group. No mention of either photographs or figures appears on the Contents page.

This volume is well written and illustrated, but for this reviewer it is badly let down by both the Index and the photographic section. The former is largely Anglo-centric in its focus, and despite their appearance within the text, carries no references to those countries such as Belgium, France or Germany, in which work similar to Dawkins’ was being undertaken. Localities visited by Dawkins during his 1875 World Tour are also not mentioned. By omitting such basic information, the authority of the Index is inevitably compromised. One has to ask, what else might be missing? There is no way to know. The photographic section is equally problematical. Although the contents of that section are presented as un-numbered captioned images, within the text of the book, reference is made to Plates (Plate 11 on p.164 for example), with the strong implication that both the captioned images and Plates are one and the same.  The reader is therefore required to search through the un-numbered images within the ‘Photographic’ section until they find the caption that seems to coincide with the Plate Number given in the text. In the instance referred-to, this ‘could’ be Image No. 15 and not the Plate No.11 of the text. There is no definite way to be certain.  To further complicate matters, due to the presence of maps and drawings (which, as they are in the same section, could also be Plates), the possible Plate No. 11 (now, apparently Image No.15), could equally be Image No.19. To this reviewer, this is totally unacceptable and a situation which he did not expect to encounter in a work such as this.

Although this book is a biography, the in-depth nature of its subject and the author’s academic writing style makes it likely to be more suited to university Palaeontology / Archaeology Departments or Libraries rather than the ordinary ‘Man in the street’. That detail notwithstanding, ‘Generalist’ historians with an interest in ‘Early Britain’ or ‘Cavemen’ could find it a useful addition to their shelves, while Public Libraries could include it in their ‘Prehistory’ section. Hobbyists interested in ‘British Pre-history’, Palaeontology or Pre-historic Archaeology may also find it of use as a reference.

In respect of the history it imparts, this volume is excellent. However, the previously-outlined difficulties with both the Index and photographic sections, together-with the absence of any reference to photographs, figures or maps on the Contents page, markedly reduces both its authority and its value. Despite this, on a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given it a 7.  It should have been much higher.


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Book Review: ‘William Boyd Dawkins and the Victorian Science of Cave Hunting: Three Men in a Cavern’

Book Review: ‘Victorians and Edwardians Abroad: The Beginning of the Modern Holiday’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title:  Victorians and Edwardians Abroad: The Beginning of the Modern Holiday

Author: Neil Matthews

Total Number of Pages: 135

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


The concept of package holidays is a familiar one as are the advertisements reminding us of the desirability of ‘Two sun-filled weeks in Ibiza’, or Greece or even in the Caribbean. We also think nothing of flying immense distances to, ‘soak up the rays’.  But where did it all start?  This well-written and researched book attempts to answer that question.

The British are no strangers to the concept of ‘holidays’, both at home and abroad and were sufficiently adept at it by the middle of the Eighteenth Century to create what was known as ‘The Grand Tour’. Intended as ‘… A means of education and particularly social finishing’,   the ‘Tour was effectively a journey around both Britain and Europe by the upper classes, with the added bonus that it ‘…Also came to acquire a reputation for one specific benefit; it could improve your health’. Unsurprisingly, the ‘lower orders’ were not encouraged to participate in such ventures. The rise of the British Middle Class and the development of reliable railway transport systems radically changed the situation. Prompted by the perceived health-benefits of both sea and salt air, Middle Class Britain increasingly patronised the seaside towns. Some brave souls even ventured across the English Channel into Europe. It was however Thomas Cook’s railway-based day excursions that really revolutionised British holiday-travel. They enabled the average worker to visit places hitherto reserved for those with money, while his  subsequent development of package holidays gave the British populace access to Europe. However, and although he is probably the best known, Thomas Cook was not alone in developing such concepts. Others were doing similar things and the activities of both Cook and his contemporaries are examined within this work. They are not, however, its main focus. That is reserved for an organisation called the Polytechnic Touring Association (PTA).

The Polytechnic Touring association was a natural development of a larger organisation known simply as ‘The Polytechnic’. Privately-funded and developed to provide educational ‘improvement’ for the increasing numbers of ‘White Collar’ workers within the City of London, the Polytechnic was formed in 1888 and was described as being ‘… A blend of club and classroom’.  At the time this concept was revolutionary. The Polytechnic’s founder and (initially) chief financier was a seasoned traveller, and, naturally, travel came to be part of the new school’s ethos. The PTA was the result, becoming an organisation which the author suggests was ‘One of the most enduring and successful travel agencies of the latte Victorian and Edwardian era’. Whether this statement is correct or not will be for the reader to decide.

An Acknowledgements  section at the front of the volume thanks those involved in its creation, and this is followed by an Introduction which provides a general historical background to both British holiday practices, the origins of the original Polytechnic and the PTA itself . The Introduction is followed by 10 Chapters which form the main body of the work. These are essentially detailed elaborations on the information provided in the Introduction. A section titled A Note about Money gives a small amount of information concerning currency-values and invites interested readers to peruse a website for additional calculations. This section is in turn followed by a Select Bibliography, while a two-page Index completes the work. Within the volume, two separate photographic sections provide images of persons and documents important to the narrative together-with examples of postcards relevant to the PTA story. The latter are largely uncaptioned, and no mention of their existence appears on either the Contents page or in the Index. No maps are provided.

This volume is ‘specialist’ in nature and this reviewer believes that it is likely to be of most interest and use to historians specialising in British social history, the history of British education (especially the development of ‘technical’ education), and the British Industrial Revolution. As it details the rise of British mass-travel, social-history researchers with an interest in that subject may also find this work useful, while those with a more ‘generalist’ interest in Britain may well find something to interest them.

For this reviewer, the absence of maps, captions for many of the images, and an indication of the latter’s existence on the Contents page, reduces this volume’s research value. As a result, and on a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent: I would give it a 7. It could have been higher.


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Book Review: ‘Victorians and Edwardians Abroad: The Beginning of the Modern Holiday’