Book Reviews Looking for your next military themed book to read? Take a look at our reviews for a few ideas.
Monument to Courage - The Story behind Airmans Cross Barry Newton
Monument to Courage - The Story behind Airmans Cross Barry Newton Barry Newton. 2012
The advent of flight marked the dawn of a new age in both travel and warfare, which would be changed forever. It was during the First World War that the potential of aircraft was first properly appreciated and yet early military pioneers of flight were risking their lives in flimsy underpowered kite-like aircraft even before then, prior to the creation of the Royal Flying Corps. in 1912.
This book is about the Airmans Cross monument. A monument that is more than than just a piece of Celtic shaped granite situated at the Stonehenge Visitor site. It is a memorial to two early pioneers of the Royal Flying Corps., Captain Eustace Lorraine and Staff Sergeant Wilson, who tragically lost their lives on the 5th of July 1912 when their Nieuport 70hp monoplane crashed. This book tells their story.
Whilst there were other fatalities during that period what made Lorraine and Wilson so deserving of a monument? The book will answer this key question and explain Lorraine’s important connection to the Marshal of the Royal Air Force, 1st Viscount Trenchard, seen as the founding father of the Royal Air Force, and perhaps without which the Royal Air Force may have not even have come into being or survived the Second World War.
Written by Air Vice Marshal Barry Newton, this is a rare publication on an important jigsaw piece of the Royal Air Force’s heritage. Newton writes from a unique perspective with true passion and understanding, showing a real appreciation for the monument, its values and future importance. It reads at a good pace and is logically arranged. Delivering a thorough history of the memorial as well as the men involved.
Beautifully presented in a minimalistic designed glossy dustcover, measuring around 32cm x 14cm, it was published in hardback by Choir Press, Gloucester 2012. Whilst its content has been organised into 8 chapters, exploring the biographies of the key individuals, the crash and its aftermath, with a forward, bibliography and other interesting accompanying sections. Scattered through its pages are a mix of period imagery and modern colour photographs, with the odd newspaper or letter scan thrown in.
This hard to come by publication, on a unique topic, makes for interesting reading beyond the monument itself. If you are connected to the Royal Air Force or share an interest in military or early aviation then this book will surely prove a most enjoyable and informative read.
First Light Geoffrey Wellum Penguin. 2003 / ISBN: 9780141008141
After Dunkirk and the fall of France in June 1940, Hitler turned his beady eyes onto Britain. Prior to an invasion the Germans had to win air superiority and defeat the Royal Air Force. And so, in July the mighty Luftwaffe set about the task of destroying the country’s airfields and what aircraft they had left, in what would come to be known as the Battle of Britain. He hadn’t reckoned however on the “Brill” cream boys and the steel resolve of a nation.
First Light tells the true story of Geoffrey Wellum, one of the “few”, fresh out of school and from captaining the cricket team, to joining the RAF, undergoing training, and joining a frontline spitfire squadron. Who then fought in the Battle of Britain and made a small yet valuable contribution to saving the besieged island fortress of Malta. Sharing his thoughts, the highs as well as the lows.
Wellum has a wonderful writing style that is easy to follow, draws you deeply into his story, which reads like a novel. The narrative almost creates a three-dimensional picture in your mind, leaving you sharing his emotions and experiences. The book is also a valuable and gripping account of the Battle of Britain from the eyes of one of its youngest pilots and is hard to put down.
The Penguin paperback edition is a perfect size for reading, presented in an attractive cover showing Wellum and spitfires scrambling at first light. It is 338 pages long with two black and white photo sections showing the author and a host of aircraft, with a good dose of spits, as well as his fellow pilots, which help puts faces to names. The text itself is divided into sixteen chapters, charting his wartime career chronologically.
I must admit that this is one of my favourite books, which I have read many times, and so perhaps I am a little biased towards it, but what makes it so great is the way Wellum tells his story so honestly. For a good read it is ideal, but even more so if you wish to gain a better understanding of the mindset of the Battle of Britain boys. Squadron Leader Geoffrey Wellum DFC passed away in 2018 and so this book is a fitting legacy that honours his service and for those who also made first light sorties, especially the ones who never came home.
Children at War 1914 -1918, Vivien Newman
Children at War 1914 -1918Vivien Newman Pen & Sword. 2019 / ISBN: 9781473821071
The First World War not only rearranged the shape of the world map, governments and monarchies. It also marked a sharp development in technology and hastened in social and gender reform. It brought the world kicking and screaming into the modern age. Unfortunately war not only affects those fighting or supporting their loved ones, it has a deep impact on an often forgotten group involuntarily dragged into the conflict, whose stories get overshadowed by the brave deeds and biographies.
Children at War 1914 - 1918, broaches the topic of children's experiences during the First World War, from both sides of the barbed wire. It explores the memories, diaries and records from those at home and in the occupied territories, as well as those who sought a more active part in the fighting. The book also delves into how the patriotic march to war was addressed in a more social context, from school and play, to books and toys.
The author has thoroughly done her research, delivering a glimpse into the lives of children during the Great War from multiple angles, which is an eye opener and brings the time blurred understanding of what it was like a tad clearer. It is indeed refreshing to read up on a subject that has until now largely been eclipsed and, in the mind’s eye, more usually associated with the Second World War.
Published by Pen & Sword in 2019 this handy sized paperback totals in at 177 pages. Including a central photo section, Conclusion, Endnotes, Bibliography, and Index. Its five main chapters have been carefully thought out to explore each key theme, while the photo section shares a mix of period images of the children featured in the book, along with propaganda images of games, book covers and postcards. Together they help to build up a more personal mental picture of the narrative and give a gentle reminder that these accounts are actually true and happened.
Looking back over 100 years, at black and white photos and film clips, it is indeed hard to relate to that time from standing in the the present, to see the individuals as more than mere names and sepia faces but as real personalities. This book goes someway to cracking off this veneer and shows us that despite the time gap and dated appearances, their thoughts, hopes and feelings are not so alien to our own. The narrative is informative, tragic and touching. A difficult topic approached with sensitivity and worthy of a good sit down and read.
Codename TricycleRussell Miller Pimlico. 2005 / ISBN: 9781844130887
Dusko Popov; suave elegant womaniser, playboy and triple agent. "Codename Tricycle" tells the story of the real life James Bond, complete with glamorous women, exotic sets and an abundance of danger. However Popov is not a character from a spy novel but one of Britain's most extraordinary secret agents, whose story is unbelievably true.
Played out against the backdrop of a Europe darkening under the shadowy clouds of Nazi domination, we follow Popov, an international jet-setter of the 1930/40s, from Yugoslavia across Europe to the United States skillfully playing a cool and calcualted game of deception, that might easily end in disaster.
Popov's unheeded warning about the attack on Pearl Harbour is just one of the tragedies in this book, while his vital contribution to the D Day deception is no doubt a triumph. This book is indeed thought provoking, equally so with the inclusion of the black & white period photograph section, that not only enhance Popov's romantic image, but allows the reader to relate to the key events and personalities.
Tricycle is indeed a remarkable individual. We have a lot to be grateful to him for, as well as his handlers. Let us not forget also his fellow agents, on both sides, who were working towards the common cause.
Russell Miller's Codename Tricycle is essential reading for any armchair historian or collector, or in fact anyone that loves a good thriller. Filled with excitement, suspense and intrigue, the book is thoroughly well researched and beautifully written. I found it gripping and very hard to put down, and was honestly disappointed when I had reached the end. How shall I fill my evenings now?
A GI in the Ardennes, Denis Hambucken
A GI in the Ardennes Denis Hambucken Pen & Sword Military. 2020 / ISBN: 1526756188
A little over 76 years ago, on December the 16th 1944, the Germans launched a surprise attack on the northern sector of the line, through the lightly defended Ardennes forest. The Allies regarded the area as difficult terrain and thus less vulnerable to attack. However, the Battle of the Bulge proved to be the last dangerous throes of a dying beast, a thorn in the Allies’ side which could easily have turned gangrene and altered the course of the war. In hindsight it was the German’s last major offensive in the West.
Whilst we fight the Winter blues and try to survive the frustration of lockdown, spare a thought for the men and women who, through December and January 1944, fought a desperate holding action in snowy and freezing conditions, on the front line or in the first aid stations. Their bold actions and sacrifices allowed the Allies to stop the German momentum and push on towards ultimate victory less than 9 Months later.
“A GI in the Ardennes - The Battle of the Bulge” charts the course of the action as it unfolded then puts the honest GI under the microscope, sharing personal memories and stories of those that lived through it, such as the Angels of Bastogne and 18 year old GI Bill Campbell. As well as the more notorious events, such as German soldiers masquerading as Americans and the massacres. This, intermixed with photographs of original GI equipment, from uniforms, weapons, vehicles, rations, and personal comfort items, adds a more human element to the book and strikes a cord with the reader
Denis Hambucken’s book stands out from others as it not only shares the history but is visually stimulating and gives the reader a 360 view of the battle from the GI’s experience. A social and military observation, leaving a deeper understanding and appreciation of the human story.
The square 25 x 25cm format hardback Pen & Sword 2020 English edition is beautifully presented. Its over 140 pages are packed full with high quality coloured photographs and period imagery, cleverly inserted into the text body, on more than 100 themes. It’s rich content can be felt through the book’s weight!
“A GI in the Ardennes” is well researched and an interesting read, which will no doubt inspire fellow collectors, rewarding them on nearly each and every page. I personally love the great M1 helmets shots. However, it is not just a visual museum but an ideal book to quickly get to grips with the Battle of the Bulge. Having said that, it should not be read too quickly but instead fully appreciated and enjoyed. For what the book offers the price seems very reasonable indeed.
The Second World War Jeep is an iconic vehicle, seeing extensive use on all fronts, with the US and as lend lease with the other Allied forces, especially Great Britain. Its contribution to helping secure victory cannot be underestimated. As such it has developed an immortal reputation and a loyal and most dedicated following. Its versatile design sparked the 4x4 evolution and movement, capturing the hearts of off-roaders, military enthusiasts and modellers alike.
Lance Cole presents an enthusiastic look into the jeep from its surprising origins, through to its details, variants, and service use, with the scale modeller firmly in mind.
This Land Croft series get straight down to business, without getting bogged down with too much technical or contractual data. It is a practical visual reference for enthusiasts and scale modellers, giving tips on building and adding details. The addition of the “Key modellers essential checklist” is a valuable asset to the book, together with the jeep variants elevation illustrations.
Presented in a glossy paperback cover the book is magazine size, making it a handy reference next to the modeller’s table. It is 64 pages long, scattered generously with imagery that helps keep keeping the contents engaging and visual. Whilst its chapters have been carefully thought out and broken down into the jeep’s development, details, markings, modelling, service use, and variations.
If you are a modeller looking for guidance and inspiration then this book is a must have. Its pages are packed full of jeep goodness, giving tips and ideas for your build. It is also a great read, or coffee-time browser, if you are a vehicle enthusiast or simply love Willys / Ford jeeps and merely want to stimulate your brain and satisfy your eyes.
Self-confessed wartime jeep experts may find the book only scratches the surface, but what does that matter when you love jeeps? ... and anyway the book’s main focus is towards the scale modelling community. That said I am not a modeller but love the World War II jeep and thoroughly enjoyed this book.
Immediate Response Mark Hammond Penguin Random House UK. 2018 / ISBN: 978-1-405-93759-7
In 2001 terrorists, led by Osama Bin Laden, hijacked passenger airliners and flew them into various targets, including the World Trade Center in New York, killing thousands of people. As the attacks were planned in Afghanistan under the protection of the then government, the United, States led a coalition to attack the country and bring down the regime. The United Kingdom forming part of this coalition, sent troops to war in an involvement that would cost over 400 British lives and last more than ten years. By 2006 the situation had deteriorated. Immediate Response tells the true account of Royal Marine Major Mark Hammond DFC and his twin engined Chinook chopper crew who flew medevac and supply missions over Helmand Province in late 2006 and 2007. He shares the everyday life of a crew on operation and the rare moments of downtime, their professionalism in extremely stressful situations and their commitment to the job of saving lives. The book is unique in giving a cockpit perspective of the war in Afghanistan from a decorated and highly experienced heli pilot. Yet it goes further by placing context to procedures. It is a gripping and honest account of operational duty, even going as far as explaining crew showering routines when the crew was on operational standby. Presented in paperback, The Centenary Collection Penguin publication feels like a novel. Yet it features a central photo section, a chart of Afghanistan and illustrations detailing the ins and outs of a chinook helicopter. An additional glossary of abbreviations is interesting reading in itself. Immediate Response would appeal to younger male readers as well as those young at heart. Its gung-ho RM narrative adds to the feel of the book, helping to create a visual picture of its content and dilute its heavy serious theme. Which is supported by odd moments of comic relief, in a typical military fashion. Hammond’s book certainly gave me an insight into the difficult job that the Chinook medevavs did during the hotter days of the UK’s involvement and a deeper appreciation of our service personal.
At the end of the Second World War the major powers had quickly realigned themselves to face a new cold war threat. In the West stood the Allies: Britain, France and the USA, while facing them to the East was the USSR and Soviet Bloc. Great Britain’s status as a superpower was diminishing and old colonial territories, and protectorates, were seeking to realise their own independence and cut ties with their former European overlords.
On the surface each side projected a united front against their new foes, but differences in foreign policy and, to some extent, matters of national prestige would cause cracks in the polished veneer, causing knock on effects felt decades after. In 1956 the Hungarian Uprising and the Suez Crisis were two such pressure points.
Suez Crisis 1956 End of Empire and the Reshaping of the Middle East explores a most complex chapter of post-war modern history. What may now seem like mild coldwar sabre rattling had the ingredients to escalation into something quite serious. David Charlwood successfully unravels the history of the canal itself and the roadmap that lead to the conflict, stating the motivations and reluctances of the interested parties, which were Great Britain, France, Israel, Egypt, and of course the USA and USSR.
For the latter, the crisis presented an unwelcomed side distraction from their own internal problems. The US President was fighting a re-election campaign while the Russians were trying to quash the recent uprising in their puppet state of Hungary. The book also shows how international relations became strained and a sense of mistrust on the “special relationship” developed on both sides of the Atlantic. The quick pace and clear narrative really allows the reader to get to grips with trying to understand the crisis from various perspectives. Its contents have been condensed into just over 100 pages, not including the addition of a valuable Afterword, which puts the conflict into a modern context by examining it with the 2003 Iraq War.
Considering its subject matter, this 2019 edition is a compact size with a durable paperback cover. The cover graphics are to the point and attractive, while the insides are sprinkled with supporting imagery. The chapters have also been logically organised. Overall its format allows ease of reading and handling.
You may think that the Suez Crisis is a forgotten war from a bygone era? If so, then this book will challenge your opinion. It not only sheds light on the various sides of the conflict but also the behind the scenes wrangling and sentiments. Charlwood’s tone towards the British felt overly heavy at times but all in all the book is a well-balanced, highly interesting and valuable contribution to the reading list of any self-confessed student of history.
Spitfire Pilot Flight Lieutenant David Crook DFC Bounty Books, 2015 / ISBN: 978-0-7537-29999-1
After the defeat and evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk in May 1940, Hitler's eyes turned towards Britain. In preparation to his planned invasion, Operation Sealion, the Luftwaffe set about the task of destroying the Royal Air Force, in what would become known as the Battle of Britain. A battle whose outcome would be decided in the air. Spitfire Pilot is a contemporary account of the B.o.B from one of the RAF's pilots. Seen through the eyes of Flight Lieutenant David Crook DFC, credited with 100 victories, the book tells the real story of the battle from the inside of 609 squadron. Beginning the narrative in August 1939, it continues through the heat of the battle till its last days in November 1940. What makes Spitfire Pilot so special is the fact that is was written as a wartime diary, while the events were still unfolding. It is open, honest and easy to read, giving an account of a pilot's daily life, as well as sharing lessons that they learnt along the way. Yet, what makes this book more poignant and valuable is that the author was tragically killed in a training incident before the war's end. The paperback edition is a practical size to hold and carry around with you. Published by Bounty Books in 2015, it has an attractive sepia styled cover that shows the beauty of a spitfire in flight, as well as a half tone photograph of the author. Measuring at just over 200 pages, the text body is split in the centre by a photographic section showing the author, his squadron and various aircraft, and has been arranged chronologically. This shows the key periods of the battle and includes a preface, introduction and a chapter written by Air Vice Marshal A. F. C. Hunter CBE, AFC, DL, concerning 609 Squadron. Spitfire Pilot is a must read for anyone wishing to understand the Battle of Britain at another level. Step inside a pilot's shoes and learn about their daily life, hopes, expectations, and experiences. Its honest POV perspective, as opposed to a historian's research or period press release only serves to underline its value. However the book is more than that, it is a great read and can stand out as a testimony to what those brave flyers accomplished and sacrificed seventy seven odd years ago.
Confessions of a Special Agent, Ernest Dudley, Jack Evans
Confessions of a Special Agent Ernest Dudley, Jack Evans Frontlne Books. 2019 /ISBN: 9781526739940
In 1940, when France fell under German occupation, many French men and women felt a great betrayal had occurred and a burning sense of duty to fight the Germans on any terms. Whilst many sought to join the resistance, sabotaging the German infrastructure and war machine, many more escaped France to continue the fight. Joining the Free French forces seemed the obvious choice; however a select few were chosen, or volunteered themselves, for more hazardous work, with irregular warfare units or in the cloak and dagger world of espionage. In doing so they were actively fighting the enemy and working to free their homeland, which was signalled by the liberation of Paris on the 25th of August, 1944.Like his countrymen, half English half French Jack Evans saw no other option but to present his services to the Allies. 2020 marks 80 years since Evans´s story first began. An extraordinary story of a young man´s desire to get to grips with the Germans on a more personal level. One that would lead him from being a lowly RAF office boy to that of secret agent and commando. A tale so amazing it can only be true. As told to Ernest Dudley in 1957, it follows Evans through his recruitment and training as an agent, including his first operational parachute jump. His subsequent training and active service as a commando, and his later capture and imprisonment as a POW. All the more fantastic considering that he was legally underage when he joined SOE and managed to keep that secret concealed for a short while.
Confessions of a Special Agent is a true novel full of excitement and tense moments. It cannot and should not be compared to a conventional war memoir because its subject and main character are far from being ordinary and conventional themselves. From the page go you get sucked into the narrative and carried along with the tide, seeing the war from a unique perspective. One that is especially interesting and valuable considering that the book was first published in 1957, when memories were still relatively fresh.
At 162 pages, divided into 16 chapters, it follows Evans chronologically through his story and includes a respectable index section. The book is a good thickness and is hardback, making it robust whilst on the go. Furthermore, the dust cover has been beautifully designed and goes a long way in capturing the feel of the book.
The story of Captain Jack Evans is certainly an intriguing one, which left me with an added admiration for SOE agents and commandos (if I was indeed needing an extra one), and wondering what became of the man himself. The latest edition, unlike the 1959 paperback "novel sized" edition, brings the story to a modern audience and through its format gives it the credibility which it rightly deserves. Not only that, it is reader friendly and compliments the written word. I would have enjoyed seeing more photos included in the book, but this does not detract in any way from this publication. Would I read it again? Without any doubt, yes I would.
The Battle for the Falklands, Max Hastings, Simon Jenkins
The Battle for the Falklands Max Hastings, Simon Jenkins Pan Books, 1997 /ISBN: 0-330-35284-9
The Falkland Islands have been a subject of much dispute since the first man set foot on them back in 1690, who was incidentally an Englishman. In its history the English, French and Spanish have settled on these remote islands, albeit for short periods of time, with the French transferring their claim to the Spanish. However, it was the English who managed to successfully establish a permanent settlement in 1833, based upon their 1765 claim. The Argentinian claim is an inheritance from the Spanish days of colonial rule.
The Battle for the Falklands explains the war from both the military stand point and from the political perspective, giving details of the to-ing and fro-ing negotiations leading up to the conflict, as well as the actually military actions and the post-war aftermath. It is a mammoth of a book written a year after the conflict by the noted military historian Max Hastings, who covered the war first hand in the field, and by Simon Jenkins, the then Political Editor of the Economist, who explores the political angle.
The 1997 Pan Books paperback edition is a practical size and a generous width. Its enlightening contents have been arranged chronologically, into seventeen chapters, featuring a central photo section as well as critically placed map charts which serve to reinforce the narrative. The thorough appendices are not only informative but add significant weight to the book’s content.
Hastings and Jenkins deliver a clear and concise examination from multiple viewpoints, which is thorough yet easy to read. They follow the events from the bare roots of the dispute through to open warfare and beyond. Clarifying why Argentina felt compelled to follow military action and how, despite geographical and logistical problems, not to mention external political pressure, the United Kingdom was able to rise to an almost impossible challenge and retake the Islands and liberate the islanders.
Even if you are familiar with the Falklands War and the media events surrounding it, this book is recommended reading which, without much doubt, should leave you with a deeper understanding of the dispute and walk away having learnt something new regarding the conflict.
The Luftwaffe Battle of Britain Fighter Pilot’s Kitbag, Mark Hillier
The Luftwaffe Battle of Britain Fighter Pilot’s Kitbag Mark Hillier Frontlne Books. 2019 / ISBN: 9781473849952
In the Summer of 1940 the so called Phoney War had become a distant memory. Belgium and Holland had been defeated by the Germans, and with the retreat and evacuation of British and French forces from Dunkirk, France had just fallen. As Winston Churchill so aptly put it, “the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin”. With that, Göring’s Luftwaffe turned its beady eyes on Britain, in what would become one of the most famous, and indeed most pivotal, battles in Britain’s history. Mark Hillier’s book, as its title suggest, gives a visual exploration into the kit, both worn and used, of BF190 and BF110s pilots during the Battle of Britain. Apart from describing each piece that is featured, it also seeks to provide a human element, in showing items in an original context. What sets his apart from other similar references books, aside from its format which is mention later, is the fact that it covers such a specific and interesting theme and can either act as a single reference book by itself, or as a companion and contrast volume to its sister book on the Royal Air Force, also by the same author. At 137 pages, printed in paperback and measuring a good handy size, it is a practical reference book with the collector in mind. Pulling it off the shelf and thumbing through its pages time and again would certainly be somewhat easier than with a heavier hardback. Furthermore, it is literally jam packed from cover to cover with high quality coloured photographs of original period pieces, which are supported by descriptive captions. The inclusion of several period uniform rank charts serve not only to enhance the feel of the book but are useful as well, while the chapters have been split up logically, aiding quick reference. “The Luftwaffe Battle of Britain Fighter Pilot’s Kitbag” is every Luftwaffe militaria collector’s dream. It is not just a great reference but a pleasure to flick through and a feast for your eyes. It does not go into the nitty gritty of a piece which more focused collectors often get caught up on, but instead seeks to identify and present the pieces in relation to each other - how they would be worn, and of course to the BoB. As such, as any collector would understand, Hillier’s book is quite an undertaking, which has been successfully realised. It would be a valuable addition to the militaria book shelf and something a general WW2 collector, curator, props manager, modeller, and/or military historian would certainly find valuable. I had a feeling that I would like the book when I first spied its cover and it does not disappoint... and I am not a Luftwaffe collector!
Valour a History of the Gurkhas E. D. Smith Spellmount Ltd. Stroud, Gloucestershire. 1997 / ISBN: 978 1 86227 3825
The Gurkhas are a mountainous people from Nepal, whose warrior reputation has been forged in steel over centuries of bloody warfare. From the rugged slopes of the Northern Frontier to the ferocious battlefields of World War Two and beyond, they have stood firm with strength, dedication and above all valour. Their trademark Kukri knife has instilled fear into their enemies and gained them a respect from friend and foe alike.
"Valour a History of the Gurkhas" charts the story of the fighting Gurkhas, from 1815 to 1995, explaining their roots and examining their involvement in each conflict they took part in with the British Empire, through to the post WWII years and more recent deployments. The cover promises quite a thorough undertaking, especially as it includes the various regimental changes as well as war histories.
This book has the honour to be written by a veteran Gurkha Officer and CO, who served through the Second World War, Malaya and Borneo. Who could known them better? Mr Smith starts by giving a valuable observation of Nepal now and then, and then plunges into the body of text which is readable and informative. Considering the book's physical compact size the amount of information packed into its cover is quite a remarkable achievement. Far from the appendices being that part of the book added at the end, providing source materials, they give additional interesting information and excellent opportunities to learn more about the regiments.
The 2007 paperback edition by Spellmount Ltd. is a fair weight, size and thickness, especially if you read on the commute. The cover is attractive and features a Gurkha with a Kukri, which certainly hits the mark. Its 9 chapters take on a chronological order and are laced with black & white photographs and charts on almost every page. The appendix give regimental title changes, battle honours and cap badges, as well as information on the Welfare fund, not to forget also a bibliography and index.
Despite ending in 1995, the author passed away after the first edition was published, the book is nevertheless a valuable record of the Gurkha's history. It is indeed a tribute to their loyalty and sacrifice to the British army and their comrades, which is worth reading for that alone. The definition of valour is courage when faced with danger, which is more than an apt title for this book. am certainly intrigued by its story and these conflicts. It just goes to show that you should not judge a book by its cover and certainly not this book.
Jock Lewes Co-Founder of the SAS John Lewes Pen & Sword Military, 2007 / ISBN: 9781844156153
Elite special forces are an essential part of any modern army. Their harsh training, physical endurance, and expertise in survival, gives them a unique ability to operate covertly behind enemy lines. Since their inception they have become the preferred choice for difficult operations by politicians and top brass.
The Special Air Service is perhaps the oldest of all those unconventional forms of modern warfare, which marks its 75th anniversary in 2016, yet one whose history may never had happened, as it had to fight for its very existence and indeed formation.
Much is known and documented about David Stirling, the founder of the SAS, however many people may never have heard of its father, a man whose background, creative imagination and high standards of training, laid the seeds for the regiment and whose legacy is still as valid today as it was 75 years ago. A remarkable man who expected high standards not only from his men but from himself. If it wasn't for Jock Lewes's untimely death so early in the Second World War, his name would have certainly received the same accolade as, quite rightly, David Stirling. Without Jock Lewes the SAS may never have been realised.
John Lewes's biography of Jock is not just an account of his wartime experiences but a revealing journey into the personality of his uncle and his family background, loves and hopes. Written from Jock's own letters between his family and friends, as well as interviews with those that knew him best, “Jock Lewes: Co founder of the SAS” is also a window into the social atmosphere of the 1930s Oxford University and pre WW2 Nazi Germany.
Mr Lewes goes into detail regarding Jock's upbringing as well as his captaincy of the Oxford rowing team which achieved victory against Cambridge after a long string of defeats. He shows how his influences helped shape his way of thinking, which culminated in success and his vision of the SAS.
The attention to detail of Jock Lewes is certainly reflected by the author who, for militaria collectors in particular, describes the rationale behind the unique SAS parachute wings, as well as the creation of the Lewes Bomb.
The 2007 edition is beautifully bound with 266 pages. The front cover successfully portrays the atmosphere of the wartime SAS, while the pictorial rear side is more of an overview of the book's content. The chapters have been well structured in chronological order of Jock's key life events, and are backed up by a central image section. Included are a Foreword by Earl Jellicoe and a comprehensive appendix. I particularly liked the fact that Mr Lewes began each chapter with a relevant quote from Jock.
“Jock Lewes: Co founder of the SAS” is well written and very informative on a range of subjects, not least the “insider's” perspective of the creation of the SAS. No doubt of value to social as well as military interest readers. Like all good biographies, the author has clearly spent a vast amount of time and effort researching Jock's life, creating a full picture of the man and indeed his personality. Resulting in a book that is a testimony to Jock's life and for what he did for the SAS. If you would like to read beyond the myth grab yourself a copy.
One of Our Submarines Commander Edward Young D.S.O., D.S.C., RNV(S)R Penguin Books / Pen & Sword Military Classics / ISBN: 9781473843516
During the First World War the development and employment of submarines reached a new level. With the attacking of enemy surface vessels and merchant ships it was to become a distasteful yet accepted face of modern warfare, and one whose effectiveness would help define the Second World War. This deadly threat to supply convoys underlined the vital tactic of starving the enemy of precious raw materials and food, yet it was not a tactic uniquely employed by the German U'Boats, but by most of the warring nations.
“One of Our Submarines” tells the true story of Commander Edward Young D.S.O., D.S.C., RNV(S)R, who was to become the first operational R.N.V. R submarine commander of World War II. Beginning in 1940 with his training, the book follows him through to the end of the war and his commission as HMS Storm's commanding officer.
Re-published by Pen & Sword Military in 2004, the 1954 Penguin edition is pocket sized and practical. My copy has obviously been well thumbed, which is a good sign and a testimony to the book itself. The content is interlaced with useful charts, diagrams and photographs, that not only help to explain the workings of the submarine but the narrative also. The book has been logically arranged and is divided into two parts; Young's apprenticeship and command of an S' Class submarine. The additional and valuable inclusion of footnotes help to further explain details mentioned in the text body.
Written soon after the war's end and first published in 1952, Young's writing style reads easily and draws you into his story, while the contents are fresh and first hand. He also addresses questions that many unfamiliar with submarines often ask, such as that of claustrophobia and general life aboard. Tense at times, yet with humorous moments, he explains the role of the Captain and his officers and various aspects of the vessel. The book's value also lies in his documentation of daily life during a “patrol”, including quiet times, enemy action and evasion, and the deadly real risk from friendly vessels.
“One of Our Submarines” is one of those books which you really feel sad about having reached the end and reluctantly realise that there are no more pages left to read. Commander Young's open and honest style goes a long way to explaining what life was like for submariner on operation, and the worries and hopes involved. I especially enjoyed reading about the geographical contrasts of his patrols and his observations of his so called allies. In short the book is a thoroughly good read and one to pick up time and time again, as I have done and will certainly continue to do so, so long as my copy holds out!
On a side note. As well as being an accomplished naval officer, in civilian life Edward Young was involved in publishing and illustration and was the designer of the famous Penguin penguin, as can be seen of his book cover!
The Complete Victoria Cross Kevin Brazier Pen & Sword Military. 2015 / ISBN: 9781473843516
Introduced over 150 years ago by royal warrant, more than 1300 Victoria Crosses have been awarded, mostly to military personnel. It is open to all ranks, however its consideration process can be long and complicated, with successful cases being awarded the medal by the reigning monarch in person. The VC's history boasts auspicious deeds and unbelievable feats, such as being it awarded twice to the same person or one instant during the Second World War, when an enemy's evidence led to the award being granted!
“The Complete Victoria Cross” from Pen & Sword Military is the most up-to-date edition of Kevin Brazier's excellent study of this most prestigious award. Not only does he provide a history and background of the medal itself, but most importantly covers each holder in order of military action, conveniently presented into key chapters. Aside from chronological order the book lists holders in alphabetical order, which aids in referencing. Furthermore, the information in the body of the text has each been presented in a uniform layout, providing where possible, the holder's rank, name, location of action, age, a brief description of the action, cause of death, and date of death.
Printed in paperback with an atmospheric red hue sepia cover, showing a dominant VC surmounting scenes from WWI and WW2, where the majority of medals were awarded, the book is a fairly good weight and size. With a foreword from Keith Payne VC and a clearly defined contents page, it is quite literally packed to the brim. The supporting chapters are also invaluable, providing such added information as a Roll of Honour and the holder's burial location. I especially appreciate the central photographic section which presents a “rogues gallery” of holders, (and I use the term rogue in the warmest and most highly respectful way), which is helpful not only in supporting the text but also to read the interesting captions and observe that although times have changed, the unique qualities that these men hold have not.
“The Complete Victoria Cross A Full Chronological Record of All Holders of Britain's Highest Award for Gallantry”, published in 2015, is quite an achievement in research, bringing such an all-round perspective to very a distinctive theme, not merely detailing the first medals in 1854 to the most recent in 2013, but for also bringing the holder's names and stories once again to the forefront. It should be considered an asset to your military book shelf, whether you are a military enthusiast or an armchair historian.
Low Level Hell Hugh L Mills, Jr. Cassell. 2011 / ISBN: 978 - 1 - 9080 - 5903 -1
Co-written by Hugh L Mills, Jr and Robert A. Anderson, Low Level Hell recounts Mills's experiences as a scout helicopter pilot on his first tour of duty in 1969 , with the famous Darkhorse air cavalry, Hunter Killer teams.
At a glance you may be mistaken for thinking that this will be just another Vietnam War memoir but the book is no such thing and nor does it read as such. The writing style is gripping and exciting, drawing the reader in, and the way Mills relives his experiences is unimposing and honest. The book does not get embroiled with the nitty-gritty politics or infamous events of the war, instead concentrates on the comradeship between the aircraft crew and indeed even within the unit, focusing on the daily experiences of living and flying in one of the most controversial wars of recent times. The original skills of the army scout were very much valid in the age of the helicopter.
They have their exits Airey Neave DSO OBE MC Pen and Sword Books. 2013 / ISBN: 9781781594728
First published in 1953, Pen and Sword's edition of Airey Neave's ultimate Second World War escape memoir is a must for any student of history or military enthusiast, but before I delve into the book itself I must comment on its format.
Measuring a practical 16 cm x 23.5 cm in size with a flexible resilient paperback cover, the book is importantly not too heavy , making for excellent reading next to the pool or on a journey, or indeed anywhere.
The cover is well designed appealing to a new generation, as well as older, and while the price might initially appeal to your sense of caution, it is most fairly priced, considering the royalties are going to a worthy cause.
The book itself reads very much like a thriller novel and immediately draws you in, leading you from the shattered remnants of the British Expeditionary Force at Calais to the impregnability of Colditz castle, and beyond. We not only share Neave's experiences but get a glimpse into his psyche.
This is no ordinary escape memoir, for Neave was no ordinary escaper. The author relates his account through a mix of narrative and flashback, supplemented by excellent images and illustrations. His thoughts help to build a picture of this man and the circumstances he found himself in, not to mention providing a unique and rare insight into the key defendants at the Nuremberg Trials, from a fellow prisoners point of view.
Aside from the main story, what I found especially interesting was the ingenuity and resourcefulness of Neave's fellow prisoners, for without whom such escapes would have been impossible. In particular how escape aids and uniforms were fashioned, sometimes leading to humorous consequences.
They have their exits is definitely worth reading, and reading over and again. Sometimes humorous, the story is one of human resourcefulness, endurance and determination, which brings the author, as well as the reader full circle. If you only manage to pack one book this summer, make it this one.
Falklands Commando is a first hand account of the 1982 Falklands War, published only two years after the event. Captain Hugh McManners, no ordinary Royal Artillery officer, shares his experiences, views and thoughts on the war as it developed around him. The war as he saw it, from start to finish, thus creating an intimate and revealing perspective, as opposed to a historian's post event analysis.
McManners begins his narrative in April 1982 surrounding the growing tense atmosphere of the time, and we follow him on his long sea journey to the other end of the world, the long periods of boredom and preparation before eventually going into action, through to the surrender and tying up of loose ends before finally his journey home bound and the heroes' welcome at Southampton.
McManners's war wasn't that of a ordinary foot slogger or even a typical war memoir. Attached to the Royal Marine Commandos, He was part of an elite NGS (Naval Gunfire Support) team skilled at covert insertion and fieldcraft, hiding for days unobserved in cold and damp holes, working with the naval guns or artillery pieces to direct fire at enemy positions. Working in support of the SBS and SAS, as well as the advancing units.
The cover is attractive and its pocket size format is ideal to read either on the go or sat comfortably. I found it well written and enjoyable. With interesting period photos, a concise timeline of events and a valuable glossary. It does not pretend to be a thriller novel or even a work of fiction, McManners delivers an honest account of a soldier's day to day life and feelings helping the reader to understand the realities of living in a war zone and being a soldier at war, while the closing chapters describe the calm after the battle, a subject seldom written about
The book provides a unique insight and view point of the conflict which redeems the long build up, which is all the more interesting considering it was written while the events were still fresh in the author's mind.
Victoria Crosses on the Western Front Paul Oldfield Pen & Sword Military. 2014 / ISBN: 9781783030439
Written by Paul Oldfield, a former soldier with 36 years of experience, Victoria Crosses on the Western Front August 1914 – April 1915 Mons to Hill 60 tells the story of the first Victoria Crosses of the Great War. It not only provides a narrative of these actions, which is as engrossing as it is vivid, but also gives a biography of those brave men that were awarded Britain's most prestigious and highest award for bravery, the Victoria Cross.
It is obvious when flicking past the beautifully designed dust cover and through the glossy pages that this is more than just a thoroughly well researched body of work, it is a work of passion. Don't think however that because the book only covers the first nine months of the conflict its content is restricted. During this short period no less than fifty nine VCs were awarded.
However, this book is more than just a documentary of the pre trench warfare stages of the First World War, which it coincidently explains how that came about, nor is it merely a record of those remarkable actions. It is a practical handbook for any battlefield tourist wishing to visit the locations of the actions to see for themselves the lay of the land, which in some cases has changed little over the intervening past hundred years. Oldfield not only provides maps and photographs, both period and contemporary, but gives hands-on advice for travel preparations, how best to access to the battlefields and where to park, as well as additional information on local amenities.
The book has been conveniently split into seven sections, with a clearly presented Contents. The first six chapters focus on the actions themselves while the last section is on the recipient's biographies. Further valuable and useful support information is given in the form of sections on maps, abbreviations and sources, which is backed up by a comprehensive index. Information that also bears relevance beyond the the contents of the book.
The book's publication date, being 2014, seems more coincident than an act of clever timing, considering Oldfield has been working on this project for over twenty years. However this timing does serve to bring to the forefront these VC recipients as individuals and to remember the many brave men who fought along side them in these actions, who more often than not went unrecognised for their part and were killed in the process. They all deserve to be remembered and acknowledged for their bravery.
I found Victoria Crosses on the Western Front August 1914 – April 1915 Mons to Hill 60 extremely well written and easy to read. Aside from the narrative it gives a human face to the names as well as a pictorial impression of these actions, helping the reader to understand and appreciate the deeds and men as more than just names and places on a scroll, from a battle long ago. They were remarkable soldiers who preformed extraordinary feats, in most cases to protect their unit or friends, but whose actions may have helped stem the German advance which could have turned out very different otherwise.
Alex – The Life of Field Marshal Earl Alexander of Tunis Nigel Nicolson Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1973.
If I were to ask you to name several Field Marshals of the Second World War, then Montgomery and Rommel would most likely spring to mind first, and perhaps rightly so considering that their carefully crafted reputations and icon legacies remain very much intact.
However the name of a certain lesser known British Field Marshal, whose gentlemanly conduct, natural modesty and desire to share the credit may not seem so obvious. Field Marshal Earl Alexander of Tunis KG PC OM GCB GCMG CSI DSO MC... merits and achievements outshine those of his contemporaries, while his glittering career was not merely confined to the Second World War, or indeed the First.
His was a career that began prior to WW1 and continued fighting in the Baltic, Turkey and India during the inter-war years, unlike most British officers who were either on occupation duties or commanding a desk. A military career that reached its pinnacle in WW2 when he was appointed a Supreme Allied Commander.
Alex's optimism, calm head and natural soldiering ability saved a British army from destruction more than once, earning him the respect of those he commanded and the confidence of the Prime Minister and those he served under, resulting in command posts and opportunities available only to but a few senior officers. He was the youngest Major in the British army and was one of the youngest Generals. From his bravery and exploits during the First World War and after he was a war hero and something of a celebrity, yet all this seemed oblivious to him. He was a man of honour with a strong notion of duty.
Written by Nigel Nicolson, one of Alex's own officers, and published four years after his death, in 1973, the book is a well researched exploration into the many facets of of Alex's life and personality. Do not be put off by the fact that it was written over forty years ago, as this only adds to its value, with first hand accounts and interviews still fresh in the minds of those who knew him best, worked with him closest, such as General Mark Clark whom Alex commanded in North Africa and in Italy.
Nicolson follows Alexander's life as any good biography does. However he goes further by sharing rare insights into various situations along the way, revealing what life was like for a subaltern in a Guards Regiment prior to 1914 and the lesser known anti-Bolshevik in-fighting and political tussling in the Baltic states during the early 1920s, where Alex assumed a rather unusual command.
The biographer's skill at story telling and observation effortlessly shows what kind of man Alexander was and tells time and again of his great gift of making those he came into contact with feel appreciated and inspired, and that their cultural characteristics were respected. As far as writing style goes it is an honest and open offering, presenting the facts in an easy to understand manner, which is less of a timeline and more that of telling one man's story, with an appreciation of the military and political events surrounding key intervals in his professional life.
Written with Lady Alexander's blessing and Alexander's own permission prior to his death, The Life of Field Marshal Earl Alexander of Tunis is not an official biography but what the author termed as an “accredited” one, which allowed him to write openly and without reserve.
With 346 pages inclusive of the index, maps and black & white photographs, as well as a bibliography and reference section, the book is carefully divided into seventeen chapters that cover each major mile stone in Field Marshal Alexander's life, and it seems that professionally little has been left out. The 1973 copy is a fair weight and size, presented in a beautiful yet striking red and black dust cover, which is more suited to comfortable reading than taking out and about.
It is hard to write a review of a biography without getting distracted by the subject itself, so to fully understand the man and appreciate his vast achievements and contributions then I strongly suggest reading this book.