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Book reviews for - World War 2


  • British Cruiser Warfare. Lessons of the Early War 1939-1941

    Alan Raven
    In the hundreds of book reviews I have written I don’t believe I have ever used the accolade excellent. Unreservedly this book is excellent.
    The first one hundred and fifty pages are a ‘daily diary’ listing all the cruiser actions which took place from September 1939 until December 1941. Because the information given covers nearly all engagements, instead of just the successful ones, the reader comes to understand just how many unsuccessful attacks were made by German submarines, the large number of German torpedoes which exploded prematurely, how many depth charges were dropped without result, how many bombing attacks by aircraft failed and how much ammunition was fired at aircraft with very few hits. E.g. H.M.S. Coventry was subjected to daily multiple air attacks from the 14th May until 29th May. Thousands of 4” rounds were expended, requiring re-ammunitioning twice, no aircraft were hit and Coventry had no more than a little splinter damage from near misses among the large number of bombs dropped.
    The second half of the book is a series of twenty eight of what the author calls summaries. Each is a few pages of analysis of such topics as Surface Gunnery, Weather, The Human Condition and Intelligence effects. Open the book at any one of these and be drawn in.
    The book spotlights a short section of the Second World war but is intensively researched and beautifully written up. There are photographs of the cruisers on nearly every page plus some useful maps. Towards the end of the book there are pull-out double A4 plans of four classes of cruiser. The bibliography is of original research among Admiralty and American files.
    To anyone with a slight interest or a lot of knowledge I cannot commend this book too highly.


    Seaforth Publishing, 2019
  • Arras Counter-Attack 1940

    Tim Saunders
    By late May 1940 the German Panzer spearhead had reached the coast of France. This effectively cut off the British and French armies fighting in Belgium from the main body of France. The German extended lines of communication necessitated by the nature of Blitzkrieg were ripe for counter attack. Tim Saunders’s book is an account of the major attempt to cut the German lines of communication which took place around Arras.
    The counter attack was hastily put together. A serious lack of command and control leading to a lack of coordination between infantry, armour and artillery resulted in chaos and failure. The German effective response was largely due to their superior communications net and Rommel’s grip in command. Within two days the Germans out numbered the British to the point where three British infantry brigades faced four Panzer divisions.
    When the author first looked at this event writing it up in any coherent fashion must have seemed a daunting task. In making sense, for the reader, of chaos and confusion he has succeeded brilliantly. All through the book there many first-hand accounts and a large number of maps and photographs. The final chapter is an up to the minute guide to the battlefield.
    I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it highly.

    Pen & Sword Military, 2018
  • Arnhem. Battle for the island and evacuation.

    Battlefield History TV Team
    When I saw the picture on the case of this DVD I had very low expectations of the contents. The main character in the foreground is holding a Sten gun by its magazine and aiming it when it isn’t cocked. This is very wrong firstly because when fired the magazine easily shakes loose and secondly one would need to move the weapon away from the sighting position in order to cock it.
    When I came to watch the DVD I got a pleasant surprise, proving the old adage ‘don’t judge a book [or DVD] by its cover’.
    I found a beautifully presented, accurate account of the final stages of the battle. This is the fourth film in the Operation market garden series. The strategic plan is simply told as is the tactical execution. There is a good balance of talk to camera by the experts and some veterans. The location of the battle as it is today is used as backdrop to aid the explanations of the developments. To balance the talk the film also includes maps, archive footage and re-enactor footage.
    All in all it is good material well presented which kept me interested and entertained for the whole 80 minutes.

    Pen & Sword Digital, 2013
  • United States Army Armoured Divisions of the Second World War (Images of War series)

    Michael Green
    What the title should really say is 'The organisation and structure of ...' as the text of this book is much more about how the command structures that became the US Armoured divisions came about and how they were organised. It gives a brief history of armour development before the war, and how the US Army responded to it.Then it goes into some detail on the ethos behind the various commanders' reorganisations, and how the establishments ended up. There is a very brief section at the end on the battles of the different divisions, but if you were looking for unit histories, I wouldn't choose this. Where the book comes into it's own is, as you'd expect from the series, in the imagery. Basically after the text detailing what vehicles each division was authorised to maintain, there are extensive photographs of all the vehicles and equipment mentioned, showing wherever possible each variant. Using the usual, well produced mix of contemporary black and white photos alongside modern colour images of museum exhibits and restored examples, after going through this book you'll definitely be able to spot an M4A1 from an M4A3(76) Wet. The sometimes dry main text is well balanced by the detailed annotations to the photos. All in all, a thorough coverage for the armoured enthusiast, modeller or re-enactor.
    Pen & Sword Military, Barnsley, 2019
  • A Short History of 7th Armoured Division

    Captains M. Lindsay, M.E.Johnston & N.B.Harris
    There are other books about the 7th Armoured Division but non so genuine. This book was written by two serving officers and the photographs sourced by another. It covers the period from June 1943 until July 1945 and was completed and printed by the British Army of the Rhine before the Division was disbanded. The map cover is extraordinarily good being eleven large separate sheets contained in a folder at the end of the book. The reader can readily refer to the appropriate map while reading the text. This is not just a good book it is a great book due in large part to its authenticity and its insights; it is is not all dry facts but speeds along with the Desert Rats with humour and sorrow as appropriate to the action.
    Churchill said, of the story of the Desert Rats, ‘May the fathers long tell the children about this tale.’ One cannot but agreed.

    British Army of the Rhine, July 1945
  • The Story of the 79th Armoured Division

    serving officers
    This book opens with an apology. The Author says that because the book was produced in a hurry just as the war was ending some actions may have been missed out. It was written by serving officers for the officers and men who had served and were serving in the units of the 79th Armoured Division. It covers the period October 1942 until June 1945 and was printed in Hamburg in July 1945. The Author may have felt the need to apologize to comrades whose actions were not included, but he has no need to apologize to the modern reader. The whole narrative reads as a fascinating, detailed account of the actions of this very special division. The text is well supported by photographs and maps. The maps are worthy of special attention being generously distributed through the book on pages which fold out and some have tracing paper showing unit movements as overlays. Not something one would expect to find in a modern publication. All in all, this is a real gem of a book, excellent despite the haste of its publication. It would provide a firm foundation for a modern author wishing to give greater access to these brave men in their specialized fighting vehicles.
    Not lnown, July 1945
  • The Japanese Navy in World War II

    Evans, David C (Ed.)
    The subtitle for this substantial book (568 pages) is "In the words of former Japanese Naval Officers", and from their seniority in their brief biographies (in an appendix) there is a risk that this book could become either a description of grand strategy, a justification of and blame for ultimate defeat, or both. And the contributions from these professional naval men, written in some cases not long after the events they describe do indeed carry much of that. But they also contain immediate and personal details from the glinting of the sun from the wings of bombers heading for Perl Harbour, to the difficulty of abandoning a burning carrier during Midway, to the mixed emotions of setting sail upon one of the biggest battleships ever built on a one way trip to Okinawa. All this makes it book well worth reading for both the informed and the inquisitive. I found it hard to put down and had to read a whole chapter at a sitting.
    Naval Institute Press, Annapolis MD., (2nd Edn, paperback) 2017, (original) 1986
  • The Battle for the Maginot Line, 1940

    Donnell, Clayton
    If you've ever wondered what the point of the Maginot Line was, this book will tell you. It begins with a decent overview and history of the construction and layout of the forts and other works, along with a brief description of the concepts. It then jumps into an exceptionally detailed account of the battle for each fortified section including the types of casemate, the units and composition of both sides involved, and the date, time and nature of their demise. It also covers the unsung resistance of the southern section of the line which proved very successful against the Italian advance, but to me the most affecting sections are those where the interval troops, infantry support and artillery backup are withdrawn, leaving small handfuls of men to delay panzer regiments. The book concludes with a thought-provoking section on the strengths and weaknesses of the line and whether it's reputation as a military 'white elephant' is undeserved, and caught up in (and often blamed for) the whole debacle of June 1940 which was so psychologically damaging the French nation.

    As with many military history books, this one could do with more and better maps. Most chapters contain tactical diagrams of offensives but they are quite small and difficult to read, so I had an atlas to hand (and google maps!) to get a better impression of the spatial situation. On the whole though, an excellent and very well researched read, though perhaps a little too detailed to keep the casual reader's attention. I for one, however, am already planning my next trip to SF Maubeuge, Haguenau and Ouvrage Sainte-Agnes, and this book will be in my hand-luggage.
    Pen & Sword Military, Barnsley, 2017
  • Hitler's Ardennes Offensive

    Danny S Parker Ed.
    This second book from the same stable [see 'Battle of the Bulge, a German view' reviewed earlier] follows on to deal with the period of attack and its ultimate failure. I felt a privileged and fascinating insight into the Battle of the Bulge. I particularly valued the detail about the attempts to take Bastogne. I have come to realise that the seemingly exaggerated American accounts of the 'glorious defence' are neither exaggerations nor understatements. The book suffers from the same fault as its predecessor in being short on maps, the reader needs a fairly large scale map to fully understand the detail of the manoeuvres. Reading with a map really rewards the effort.
    Our view is that this a very good piece of work by the editor and is thoroughly recommended to all who who wish to gain greater insights into the Second World War in Europe.

    Frontline Books. Pen & Sword Books Ltd., 2016
  • 21 Days in Normandy

    Angelo Caravaggio
    A curate's egg of a book. I almost gave up on the first few chapters given the density of information about the twists and turns of Canadian Army politics and then the relationships between and within the overall command. But perseverance paid off and once the description of the actions, including their planning and execution, the book came alive for me.
    My overall impression of the author's purpose in writing this book i.e. to change any negative view of the 4th Canadian Division is not wholly successful as he shows many failures to be the result of poor decisions by senior officers of the Division. But what it does spell out clearly is the bravery and determination of the lower echelons to get the job done in spite of the odds.
    I would recommend it for anyone wanting greater knowledge of the early part of the Normandy campaign but start at chapter four and maybe come back to the earlier chapters later.
    Pen & Sword Military. Pen & Sword \Books \Ltd., 2016
  • Battle of the Bulge. The German View

    Danny S Parker Ed.
    A book both enjoyable and frustrating. Enjoyable because of its insights into the complexity of planning the campaign and for the remarkable different view one gets of Hitler. In my view worth reading for that alone. The content is all meat, no padding, and rich in depth and width. A thoroughly worthy piece of work. The frustration comes with the paucity of maps for which I had to compensate with a much larger scale map. If I were Prime Minister I would make it a law that in any work of fact every place named in the text must appear on a map in the book. Also frustrating was the lack of a glossary. Many German general staff ranks are mentioned in abbreviated form and lots of formation initials are used which one has to reference elsewhere. This detracts from the enjoyment and makes reading in bed difficult.
    Even with those criticisms I would commend this book to anyone interested in a fuller understanding of how wars/battles are planned or with an interest in the Battle of the Bulge.
    Frontline Books. Pen & Sword Books \ltd., 2016
  • Luck of a Lancaster

    Thorburn, Gordon
    Now this is an excellent book. It is ostensibly the career of one Lancaster bomber – W4964 J-Johnny – which managed to survive the war but in fact it is a testament to the lives (and more often deaths) of the RAF heavy bomber crews. It introduces different crews who flew WS-J at different times for No.9 squadron and, through their particular missions and experiences, tells the story of all such crews including the shocking and saddening toll.

    While W4964 made it through to VE Day, 103 of the 244 men who flew in her at one time did not. The book covers the experience of downed aircrew escaping from France when some former ‘J’ crew are shot down in another bomber. It details the Battle of Berlin in 1943 when the RAF attempted use cunning and technology to reach their targets and quotes the German night-fighter pilots trying to shoot them down. It even covers the hunt for the Tirpitz that W4964 took part in, carrying a Tallboy bomb to try to sink the battleship. Funny, thrilling, fascinating, shocking, sobering and above all, well written. Read this book.
    Pen and Sword Aviation, 2013
  • The BEF in France 1939-1940

    John Grehan & Martin Mace
    A most interesting compilation of some of the despatches sent by the senior Army and Naval commanders involved. Here presented is the raw material, the facts, as they were seen at that time by those people without the benefit of hindsight to enable them to make any adjustments to the narrative. The material covers some of the initial deployment of the BEF and its eventual evacuations from around Dunkirk and Cherbourg. Warmly recommended with the reservation that one needs either a very good knowledge of the geography of northern France or a large scale map to hand.
    Pen & Sword Military, 2014
  • Secret Flotillas Vol 1 - Clandestine Sea Operations to Brittany 1940-44

    Richards, Sir Brook
    A fascinating insight into small-boat operations between the British south coast and northern France. This volume covers Breton fishing boats as well as naval motor gun boats and the missions they ran to insert agents, collect/deliver intelligence and pick up down'ed aircrew smuggled to the coast by the resistance. Full of detailed references and anecdotes which begin to give some idea of how information was learned the hard way. Particularly relevant, as the author was himself involved.
    Pen & Sword Military, 2012
  • Code Talker

    Nez, Chester & Avila, Judith Schiess
    A touching account of both the creation and use of the Navajo code used by the US Marines in the Pacific theatre from one of the original 29 code talkers recruited in 1942. It recounts Chester Nez's involvement in the creation and use of the Navajo code, unfathomable by anyone who wasn't a native speaker and considered impossible to learn, hence unbreakable by the Japanese.

    But not only is this an account of his and his fellow Navajo specialists' traumatic war from Guadalcanal to Guam and Peleliu. It is also a moving account of life as a Native American child growing up in a harsh land in the 1920's and 30's, caught between two cultures. It deals sensitively with his post traumatic stress disorder on returning from the pacific and his tribal, community approach to dealing with it. Running throughout is a strong sense of faith in the Navajo 'Right Way' of living and of justified pride in the way the native American community contributed to the war effort.

    A unique account, from one of the originals and highly recommended for anyone studying either the Pacific Theatre of operations or pre-war America.
    Berkley Caliber, New York, Oct 2012
  • Pegasus Bridge

    Ambrose, Stephen E
    The story of a small British Airborne force who landed in France ahead of the main D-Day invasion to capture 2 vital bridges on the east flank of the Normandy landings.

    Full of first hand accounts, gripping story well written by a well recommended author.
    Simon & Schuster, London, 1997
  • Fighter Pilot; A Personal Record of the Campaign in France 1939 - 1940

    Anon
    Written and published during the Second World War as the personal account of a fighter pilot during the war in France. It is a wonderful book of its time , in the language, the sentiments and the propaganda elements. A real insight.
    B. T. Batsford Ltd., 1941
  • The Pendulum of Battle - Operation Goodwood July 1944

    Dunphie, Christopher,

    Pen & Sword, 2004
  • An Improvised War - The Abyssinian Campaign of 1940-1941

    Glover , Michael
    Michael Glover has with his "Improvised War" filled in the place of Ethiopia in the imperial wars of the 19th century and the global war in the 20th century. The engagements at Magdalla, Amba Alagi, and Adowa lead to the reinforcement of Italian interests in the Horn of Africa and, after the short occupation of British Somaliland in 1940, to the inevitable pincer movement of Allied forces and liberation of the Italian Empire in East Africa in 1941-42.

    The advance of the East African Forces from Moyale, to Mogadiscio and then to Harar and Addis Ababa serves to emphasise the nature of the country and distances covered.

    The northern pincer includes the dogged fighting of the Sudan forces around Keren and push into Eritrea supported whole heartedly by Wavell whilst he was under pressure both in the Desert and in Greece.

    A very satisfying read enhanced by an Allied Order of Battle and a good bibliography.
    Leo Cooper, London, 1987
  • Arnhem - A Tragedy of Errors

    Harclerode, Peter
    Detailed, if tragic, account of Operation Market Garden, Holland 1944.

    Presents a different viewpoint from the traditional disaster senario, and puts a good case for the defence of XXX corp and the Guards Armoured Division, arguing that they did a good job with the resources and intellegence available at the time. Also that the British 1st Airborne held out much longer than was originally intended. More in a 'Dunkirk' vein, as rescue from the jaws of defeat.
    Arms & Armour, 1994
  • Overlord - D Day and the battle for Normandy

    Hastings, Max

    Michael Joseph, 1984
  • Battlefields of the Second World War

    Holmes, Richard
    The book to accompany Prof. Holmes' excellent TV series, it covers the battles of Alamein, Monte Cassino and Operation Market Garden as well as the RAF's heavy bomber offensive against Germany.
    BBC Worldwide Ltd, 2001
  • Six Armies in Normandy - From D Day to the Liberation of Paris

    Keegan, John

    Jonathan Cape, 1982
  • Panzer Division. The Mailed Fist

    Macksey, Major K.J.
    Well researched text with good supporting maps and illustrations.
    Macdonald and Co.[Publishers] Ltd., 1968
  • Action Stations! The Royal Navy at War

    Thursfield, Rear-Admiral H.G.
    The book itself is a piece of our history published in the early days of World War II. The text and photographs are what the public ought to know about our navy during wartime. Interesting reading.
    Adam & Charles Black, 1941