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Book reviews for - General Military or Reference


  • The Trans-Atlantic Pioneers

    Bruce Hales-Dutton
    A timely book, all about overcoming the many problems associated with crossing the Atlantic by air, made more poignant by the fact that it was being reviewed during the very week of the centenary of that first crossing. In the true spirit of similar narrative histories of pioneers, this book begins with the problem itself, and has several chapters following the earliest attempts, followed by the successful ones of the 'Nancy boat' NC4, then Alcock and Brown's successful single hop, and those of the gallant fails. There's a sympathetic coverage of airship R34's oft-forgotten double crossing only a few weeks later, but all this is set against the fact that this was 1919, barely 13 years after the Wright brothers first flight, and less than a year after the trauma of the First World War.

    The next few chapters follow the golden years of the 1920's and 30's, with different celebrity flyers trying to out-do each other and set new records, while the Graf Zeppelin serenely, and controversially because of the Nazi propaganda it inevitably created, attempted to make trans-Atlantic travel luxurious and almost routine.

    It then moves on to another oft-forgotten aspect, that of the ferry flights back and forth between the aircraft factories of the US and the theatres of operations in Europe, with the stories of the exhausting schedule of the pilots who carried out this vital and un-sung work, and the thousands of aircraft they delivered.

    The final section of the book moves into commercial aviation and covers the story of scheduled airline trans-Atlantic flights. It takes you from the basic postwar days of the prop-airliner, through the introduction of the jet, the jumbo and wide-bodies, the move to twin engine turbo-fans and, of course, Concord. Each of these latter chapters takes a particular aspect of aviation that significantly affected these routes, and while such a collection could never cover everything in detail, it manages to give a good account of why each thing matters while remaining human and anchoring itself with first-hand account from those 'who were there'. For personal preference, I would have liked more maps, for example of the various routes used to cross for the early flights, but the chronology of key events is very comprehensive, and the whole book is well paced, well constructed, enjoyable and recommended.
    Air World - an imprint of Pen & Sword, Barnsley., 2018
  • Sir Alan Cobham, The Flying Legend.

    Colin Cruddas
    Published in association with The Aviation Historian Magazine.

    This book is an important biography of an important figure in British aviation who held a pivotal position in the development of flying in the inter-war period. It begins with the early life of Alan J Cobham, born in 1894 in Camberwell to a middle class family, then outlines his work in the garment industry and farming before, in 1914, he joined up in the Army Veterinary Corps. He served with distinction in France, becoming a Veterinary Sergeant in charge of the welfare of 1,500 horses on the Western Front. It then describes how, after some childhood exposure to aircraft at Brooklands he applied to the Royal Flying Corps and, with connections and a certain degree of luck, was accepted and went on to become a flying instructor.

    The biography follows on with his post war struggle to get a job, how he set up his own company with the Holmes brothers as a taxi pilot and went on to work for Airco, then de Havilland, in the air taxi and aerial photography business. However the book doesn’t dwell on the flying itself, as that was only one facet of the future Sir Alan’s success. It makes plain his organisational and leadership talents that would typify his approach. His long distance flights, to India, Cape Town and eventually Australia (for which he gained his Knighthood) are described, again placing emphasis on his ability to organise and finance the ventures as well as fly them. It points out the contributions of his relationship with influential figures like Sir Sefton Brancker and Lord Wakefield to his successes, but also to his view of aviation. He wasn’t one of the glory-seaking record breakers, though he did indeed break records. His focus was on proving that aviation had a commercial and practical future. Hence on his long-distance tours, such as the circumnavigation of Africa in a Shorts Singapore flying boat, he was making copious notes, reports and local contacts to lay the groundwork for future commercial air routes.

    This is further shown in his next, and probably more famous venture, the National Aviation Days. During the 1930’s he led a troupe (later 2 troupes) of aircraft, ground personnel and pilots around the country giving demonstrations and experience flights to thousands of ordinary people. His purpose, again clearly shown in this book, was not to thrill or be a ‘barnstormer’ but to educate and ‘acclimatise’ the public to aircraft, and build what was termed ‘airmindedness’. It also highlights the contributions made to the Air Days by the long suffering Dallas Eskell and Hugh Thompson, without whom the venture would have come to grief several times.

    This marks another shift in direction for the book. As the end of the 1930’s approached and Sir Alan's new company, Flight Refueling Ltd. showed more potential the book becomes more of a wider history of FRL than a biography of Sir Alan. It describes the major inventions in terms of both equipment and technique that FRL made to the in-flight refueling, including the important war-work it undertook in the 1940’s and the major developments since then.

    All in all, this is an timely reminder of the work of a key figure in the history of aviation, one often overlooked in the modern world in favour of his more attention-seeking contemporaries but one who materially helped contribute to the air industry today. I would have preferred more maps and a bibliography, but the included illustrations are useful and welcome, and the text is well-written, balanced and highly readable. Definitely to be recommended.


    Frontline Books (Yorkshire), 2018
  • Snipers at War

    Walter, John
    The subtitle to this quality volume is "An equipment and operations history" which neatly but a perhaps inadequately describes what it contains. Primarily this is a detailed history of the rifles and optical sights that sharpshooters have used around the world since the term and the technique gained popularity around the mid 1800's. There is a complicated introduction to ballistics with a considerable number of comparison example targets showing the spread of shots over measured distances for various rifles, and detailed discussions of the progress of the optics that went into producing ever more accurate and effective sights.

    However as any military tactician will tell you, the weapon is more than just the rifle. This is where the book becomes more than just a small-arms guide. It includes an introduction into how sharpshooting became a recognised specialisation, taking it from the days of crossbows to the American Civil War. It also describes how sniping went in and out of military fashion over the 20th century, and even include a number of short biographies of some of the more prominent snipers of the 'glory days' of the First World War and the Eastern Front of the Second World War. It ends with a review of modern sniper weapons in use today, along with some notes on what it takes to be a sniper and how the craft has changed over the last 150 years. The book has plenty of good quality photographs throughout to illustrate the kit and personnel involved. All in all, it is a beautifully produced, impeccably researched study of the subject by someone who definitely knows what he's talking about, with enough detail to interest the knowledgeable while still being accessible to the interested. Highly recommended.
    Greenhill Books, 2017
  • US Military Helicopters (Images of War series)

    Green, Michael
    A treat for anyone who, like me, has a passion for military helicopters, this book is very much what it appears to be, 220 pages full of useful pictures and information on the US Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps's rotor-based aircraft.

    The book is split into 4 main chapters, covering early piston-engined helicopters, later gas-turbine workhorses (like the iconic UH-1 'Huey'), Gunships, and finally, well, everything else! Each chapter starts with a short, utilitarian description of the models covered in that chapter along with their capabilities, dates of service and developments. Then you're into the photos, at least three per double page along with captions that also contain plenty of useful detail. Some are images that you may recognise if you're familiar with the type or theatre of operations mentioned, but there are a good number I've never seen before and the coverage is good, from the earliest R-4B's, through Huey's, Piasecki's, Chinook's, UH-60's, Cobra's and Apaches, to even the V-22 Osprey (tilt-rotor) and the UH-72A Lakota. Reading cover to cover, or just dipping in, for recognition, modelling or simply interest, a great book to have to hand.
    Pen & Sword Aviation, Barnsley, 2017
  • British Cruisers. Two World Wars and After

    Norman Friedman
    Wow! Another book from this author and publisher with the 'wow' factor. Lavishly illustrated with a photograph or line plan on almost every page. The text is packed with technical information, detail, and description of design, construction and application of these important ships. I read it cover to cover finding many nuggets of information on the way. e.g. One particular cruiser fresh out of dock had a range of 12,000nm; the same ship after eight months cruising was 'deep and dirty' had a range of only 8,000nm.
    This book is a must for every Royal Navy enthusiast and would be of interest to the general reader. This is the kind of reference book where you find what you are looking for and are then temped to go on reading.
    Highly recommended.
    Seaforth publishing. Pen & Sword Books Ltd., 2010
  • Victory from fighting the Armada to Trafalgar and Beyond

    Iain Ballantyne & Jonathan Eastland
    The classical curate's egg of a book. My reading was coloured by the first page of the explanation of Nautical Terms at the start of the book. There 'Bear up;Bear away' are given the same definition when they really mean the exact opposites of each other. Only 36 of the 228 pages of text are about the pre-Trafalgar ships. However having put the negatives I did read it cover to cover and found some interesting snippets. It is well illustrated and easy reading; entertaining for the generalist reader.
    Pen & Sword Maratime, 2013
  • British Aircraft Carriers

    David Hobbs
    A wealth of knowledge presented in a most readable form for everyone from the novice to the initiated. Encyclopedic in scope it may be dipped into at any point but I found in reading cover to cover the fascinating story went from airships to future carriers. All aspects, design, development and service are dealt with. There are very many photographs, lots from the author's own collection, plus drawings and plans. An unusual but welcome feature are the fold out copies of Admiralty drawings which are in the middle of the book.
    At £45 this is not a cheap book, but a Rolls Royce is not a cheap car, and this is a Rolls Royce of a book.
    Seaforth Publishing. Pen & Sword Books Ltd., 2013
  • The 11th Hussars

    Richard Brett-Smith
    A very good read, informative and well written. This is one of the Famous Regiments series edited by Lt. General Sir Brian Horrocks. It tells the story of the regiment from its creation as Honywood's Dragoons in 1715 up to its amalgamation with the 10th Hussars, to become The Royal Hussars, in 1969. A history from horses to Chieftain tanks. Sadly it has been out of print for quite some time, but worth searching for.
    Leo Cooper Ltd., London, 1969
  • A History of Warfare

    Montgomery of Alemein, Field-Marshal Viscount
    The book covers, neccessarily without great depth, the whole of the world from ancient times up to the Nuclear Age. A great deal of information presented in a readable form, illustration and maps are accompanied with the military insights of one who held the highest commands.
    William Collins, Sons and Co. Ltd., 1968
  • Pilot Cutters Under Sail

    Tom Cunliffe
    Not only an authorative review of the development of these special craft but a social history of a 'special' working group. There is plenty of well researched 'meat' for the specialist but it is so well written as to be accessible and to be enjoyed by the interested reader. Some previous knowledge of small boat sailing is helpful otherwise read the last two chapters first. Although it could be a 'coffee-table book' once started I found it difficult to put down.
    Seaforth Publishing, Pen & Sword Books Ltd., 2013
  • The Battles of the British Navy

    Allen, Joseph
    The Victorian/Edwardian language and sentiments make this rewarding reading in themselves however the book also contains a wealth of detail of British navy engagements over a very wide range of time. If you can find a copy give it a try.
    Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co., Est 1911
  • A Dictionary of Battles (1816-1976)

    Young, Brig. Peter
    A very useful collection of synopses of battles over the last 200 years. The battles are separated into geographic/chronoligical chapters with individual ones for major wars and a handy set of maps in the appendix. The individual entries give dates, combatants and strengths as well as a description of the action.
    New English Library, London, 1977
  • The Battlefields of England

    Burne, A.H
    Originally published in 1950 and 1952 as two separate volumes, and can seem a little dated, it remains a classic on the major battles of England. More recent studies of the battles themselves may have revised Alfred Burne's conclusions, but they all pay hommage to his pathfinding.
    Penguin Classic Military History Series, 2002
  • A Traveller's Guide to the Battlefields of Europe Vols 1 and 2

    Chandler, David
    Full of useful detail for the Battlefield enthusiast if beginning to look a little out-dated. It is also available in a single-volume, revised format and contains plenty of numerical information on forces engaged, casualties, actual location of the battlefields again although nearly 40 years out of date. A good place to start if wanting to visit the sites.
    Hugh Evelyn London, 1965
  • The Dictionary of Battles

    Chandler, David. Ed.
    Details of a large number of battles from 480BC up to the Falklands War are supported by essays on tactics, the context and the commanders.
    Book Club Associates, 1987
  • Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World

    Creasy, Sir Edward
    A learned text originally published in 1851 with chapters on early classical battles like Marathon, Syracuse, and The Metaurus through Hastings and Orleans up to Blenheim, Valmy and Waterloo.

    Definitely showing its age, written in high Victorian English but well worth the effort for the serious historian.
    Bently & Son, London, 1894
  • The Hinges of Battle

    Durschmeid, Erik

    Hodder and Stoughton, 2002
  • Regiments and Corps of the British Army

    Hallows, Ian S.
    A valuable reference book.
    New Orchard Editions, 1994
  • The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Artillery

    Hogg, Ian V.
    A good A-Z reference text of artillery, terminology and techniques mostly from the 19th century onwards but with a brief history of the development of artillery included. Also given are useful comparative tables of the guns of all the major nations.
    Quarto, London, 1987
  • The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Military Vehicles

    Hogg, Ian V. and Weeks, John
    A reprint of a 1980 work, a little out of date but comprehensive listings for all Tanks, AFV's, APC's, SP Artillery and other military vehicles from around the world up to that point. An excellent reference including a brief history of their development from World War I onwards.
    Quantum, London, 2003
  • The Oxford Companion to Military History

    Holmes, Richard Ed.
    A valuable point of reference.
    Oxford University Press, 2001
  • Redcoat

    Holmes, Richard
    Subtitled "The British Soldier in the Age of Horse and Musket" this is an account of the British Redcoat, his life, trials and tribulations from the 7 Yeasr War in the mid 18th century, to the Indian Mutiny and the Crimea in the mid 19th century. It's a Richard Holmes, so you can't go far wrong!
    Harper Collins, London, 2001
  • The Great Admirals

    Hough, Richard
    A series of accounts of the achievements of twenty one Admirals from the 16th Century to the Second World War.
    William Morrow & Co. Inc., 1977
  • Who's Who in Military History; From 1453 to the Present Day.

    Keegan, John & Wheatcroft, Andrew
    A useful reference work.
    Book Club Associates, 1976
  • Dictionary of Wars

    Kohn. George Childs,
    An impressive overview of 4000 years of conflict. A useful source of easily accessible information.
    Checkmark Books, 1999
  • The Damned die Hard, The story of the French Foreign Legion

    McLeave, Hugh
    Narative history of the Legion from it's formation in Spain in 1831 to its mutiny and withdrawal from Algieria in 1962. Short on detail such as dates and figures, but full of dramatic story.
    Saxon House, 1974
  • Battle Honours of the British Army

    Norman, C B
    A re-print of a 1911 work covering the period 1662 to 1901. It takes a campaign, details the regiments (British and Colonial) of the British Army which are permitted to bear the battle honours on their colours with a precis of the battles themselves, casualty figures by regiment (again, Crown regiments only, not their opponents) and other useful information.
    David & Charles Ltd, Devon, 1971
  • Military Uniforms 1686 - 1918

    North, Ren
    A slim volume but a rather nice overview of the development of uniforms. Well illustrated.
    Hamlyn Paperbacks,
  • English Battlefields

    Rayner, Michael
    A weighty volume incredibly listing over 500 battlefields, and it just covers England. By their nature, some of the entries are short as historical records can be sketchy, but many of the entries are lengthy, detailed and the book is full of maps, diagrams and illustrations. An essential text for anyone interested in the military heritage of England.
    Tempus, 2004
  • The Guiness Book of Military Blunders

    Regan, Geoffrey
    A number of bungled battles are grouped under eight headings. Amusement and disbelief at the immense stupidity of military people is moderated for as the introduction says; '...we must never forget that they were paid for in blood and human suffering.' Well worth a read and perhaps a re-read.
    Guiness Publishing Ltd., 1991
  • The Safeguard of the Sea

    Rodger N.A.M.
    Well written thoroughly researched story of the English Navy 660 to 1649. Left me wanting the continuation of the story 1650- ?
    Penguin Books, 2004
  • Battles in Britain 1066 - 1547

    Seymour, William
    Accounts of the battles are supported by illustrations and, in many cases, photographs and/or maps of the landscape today.
    Book Club Associates, 1975
  • The Complete Guide to the Battlefields of Britain

    Smurthwaite, David
    A page or two explains the battle and the imposition of drawings of combattants positions on to modern O.S. maps make this a useful book for the battlefield explorer.
    Michael Joseph Ltd. 1993, 1984
  • Great Raids in History; From Drake to Desert One

    Southworth, Samuel A. Ed.
    Chapters on nineteen raids are written by various authors. Interesting but will probably leave you wanting to know more.
    Sarpedon, 1997
  • Hastings to Culloden, Battles of Britain

    Young, Peter & Adair, John

    Sutton, 1998