books monthly july 2017

This month's pick of the new Military History titles...

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Martin King & Ken Johnson: Warriors of the 106th

 

Published by Casemate 19th July 2017

 

The 106th were fresh, green and right in the pathway of the 5th German Army when the Battle of the Bulge began at 0530 hours on December 16, 1944. This book covers the history along with the individual stories of the incredible heroism, sacrifice and tenacity of these young Americans in the face of overwhelming odds. From this division 6,800 men were taken prisoner but their story didn't end there. For the ones who miraculously escaped, there was a battle to fight, and fight it they would with every ounce of strength and courage they could muster. They would fight debilitating weather conditions more reminiscent of Stalingrad than the Belgian Ardennes. They would fight a determined enemy and superior numbers and despite all adversity they would eventually prevail. One 106th GI waged his own personal war using guerilla tactics that caused serious consternation amongst the German troops. For another GI his main concern was recovering his clean underwear. These stories are heartwarming, heartbreaking, nerve-wracking and compelling. They aim to put the reader right there in the front lines, and in the stalags, during the final months of WWII.

 

King and Johnson's stirring account of the 106th is the stuff that legends are made of...

 

 

 

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John Sadler & Rosie Serdiville: Tommies - The British Army in the Trenches

Published by Casemate Short Histories 14th June 2017

British soldiers have been known as Tommies for centuries, but the name is particularly associated with the British soldier in World War I. In 1914, a small professional force of British soldiers crossed the Channel to aid the French. It soon became apparent that the war would be protracted, and a vast drive for volunteer soldiers began. By 1918 the army was transformed, fielding 5.5 million men on the Western Front alone. These Tommies were fighting an entirely new type of war, living and dying in vast trench systems, threatened by death from the air or by gas attack as well as by rifle or bayonet. This book explores the development of the ‘Tommy', and his experience of war.

On this page, the first five titles in Casemate's brilliant new series, Short Histories: other publishers have gone down this route, notable OUP and Amberley, wth their excellent "...in one hundred facts"; now Casemate jump on board this bandwagon with the first of five new titles this month, and four more later in the year. Tommies is concise, intelligently written, but contains everything you need to know to get you started on the subject of the men of the British Army who found themselves in the trenches in WW1. Superb.

Other titles in this series:

Angus Konstam: Big Gune - Artillery on the Battlefield

Published by Casemate Short Histories 14th June 2017

Ever since the first appearance of large-calibre guns in the Middle Ages, gunpowder artillery has had an enormous impact on military strategy and warfare. Cannons were initially developed to tackle fortifications, but then technology enabled the development of lighter, more manoeuvrable field artillery which could change the outcome of battles. By the 19th century most European armies had artillery, and Napoleon, originally an artillery officer, took the use of artillery to a new level, using his Grand Batteries to great effect. In the late 19th century German industrialist Krupp produced the first steel guns, paving the way for the devastatingly powerful heavy artillery of World War I, while the innovative French soixante-quinze was the forerunner of a new generation of field artillery. In WWI the use of artillery literally transformed the landscape, and shaped how armies fought, and by World War II the range of artillery had expanded to include self-propelled guns, and anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns. This book covers the development and use of artillery over the centuries to its central role in modern warfare.

Angus Konstam looks at field artillery from its earliest uses right up to the modern day in the second of Casemate's brilliant new Short HIstory series.

Gary Yee: Sharpshooters - Marksmen Through The Ages

Published by Casemate Short Histories 14th June 2017

From the Middle Ages on the most precise shooters have been employed as marksmen or sharpshooters, and equipped with the best available weapons. The German states made the first serious use of sharpshooters on the battlefield during the Seven Years War. Some of these talented riflemen were then employed as mercenaries in America, where the tactical use of the rifle in wooded terrain was valued. By the Revolutionary Wars, American riflemen were formidable, able to blend into the landscape and take out targets at long range. Their potential was noted by the British who began to train rifle units; during the Napoleonic Wars, the Green Jackets were the elite of the British army. The mid-19th century saw the advent of mass-produced high-quality firearms, and the development of optical sights, meaning that the units of sharpshooters raised in the Civil War were even more lethal. In World War I the press coined the term ‘sniper' at a time when accurate German rifle fire was terrorizing the British trenches, leading to the creation of dedicated snipers and developments in weapons technology, sniper training and counter-sniping that has continued ever since.

 

I've always thought that the term "sharpshooter" referred either to cowboys during the period we used to refer to as the Wid West, or else the guns they carried. Gary Yee sets the record straight with a brilliant account of marksmen through the ages, since the use of rifles and guns became prevalent.

 

John Sadler & Rosie Serdiville: Fighter Aces - Knights of the Sky

Published by Casemate Short Histories 14th June 2017

Just over a decade after the first powered aeroplane flight, fearless pioneers were flying over the battlefields of France in flimsy biplanes. As more military aircraft took to the skies, they were equipped with weapons and their pilots began to develop tactics to take down enemy aviators. In 1915 the term ‘ace' was coined to denote a pilot adept at downing enemy aircraft, and top aces like Albert Ball and the Red Baron became household names. Flying more advanced fighters, top aces would accrue scores of over 100 in the swirling dogfights of WWII. This book covers the history of the fighter ace from the first developments in 1915 to the jet aces of the later 20th century.

 

In the fourth of Casemate's new short histories, John Sadler and Rosie serdiville look at WW1 fighter pilots and how they changed the face of modern warfare.

 

Oscar E Gilbert & Romain Cansiere: Tanks - A Century of Tank Warfare

Published by Casemate Short Histories 14th June 2017

Tanks made their first appearance on the battlefield in September 1916 and have captured the public imagination ever since. Other countries scrambled to develop tanks of their own, and by the time war broke out again in 1939, a wide variety of tanks, and tank tactics, had been developed around the world. In World War II tanks were integral to the fighting in almost every theatre, and the war saw the vast tank battles of El Alamein and Kursk. Tank crews were feted for their fortitude and bravery in fighting in such difficult and dangerous conditions. Tank development continued apace during the Cold War and tanks have featured in most modern conflicts. From the slow and clumsy Mark IV, through the terrifying Tiger and nimble Sherman Firefly to the Challenger 2, this book covers the development of tanks, and how they have been used in warfare through the two world wars and beyond.

 

And the final title in Casemate's Short Histories series looks at tanks and how they came to be used in WW1 and how they, too, changed the face of modern warfare.

 

Mario Overall & Dan Hagedorn: The 100 Hour War

Published by Helion 15th June 2017

In July 1969, while the world was expectant about the upcoming first manned landing on the moon, two little-known Central American States crossed sabers in what was derogatorily coined by the media as 'The Soccer War'. Far from a simple out-of-hand sports passion, this conflict had its complicated origins back in the early 20th century when the North American companies United Fruit and its rival, Standard Fruit, operated in Honduras - and both deemed it necessary to import workers from El Salvador, since the locals were insufficient in numbers. What followed was an exodus of more than 300,000 Salvadorans who settled in Honduras - and for a while, the latter country's government saw this with good eyes. That is until the early 1960s, when political changes and the liberalization of the region's commerce through the Common Market Treaty made it painfully evident that the country that benefited the most from it was El Salvador, while Honduras would be destined to carry a heavy economic burden. Inevitably, it chilled the relations between the two countries and had a direct bearing in the treatment from the Hondurans towards the Salvadoran peasants.

Amidst sporadic violence against the immigrant peasants, the two governments began negotiations aimed at solving the immigration problem and signed three agreements. However, while the negotiations were taking place, clandestine armed groups were organized in Honduras with the purpose of harassing and controlling the Salvadoran people living in that country. This situation was worsened by a coup d'etat that brought to the presidency the Honduran General Oswaldo Lopez Arellano, who had a very different point of view than his predecessor regarding the immigrants' situation. Shortly after, the expelling of thousands of Salvadorans began. The return of the peasants to El Salvador brought a series of problems for that country, since all were returning unemployed and needing food, clothing and some kind of shelter - all of this in the midst of an economic crisis that not even the advantages obtained through the Common Market Treaty had been able to alleviate. Thus, it didn't take long for the Salvadoran society to begin clamoring for some sort of military response against Honduras.

With this delicate political background, the eliminatory rounds for the Jules Rimet World Soccer Cup (to be held in Mexico the next year) began - and during these, the national teams of El Salvador and Honduras would have to face each other in order to obtain a classification. During those games, the violence against Salvadoran immigrants in Honduras increased and caused strong protests from the Salvadoran Government, which ended in the rupturing of diplomatic relations and followed by additional border incidents, which included the strafing of a Honduran airliner while it was taking off from Nueva Ocotepeque. Eleven days later, the war began.

This book, backed by more than 20 years of research, explores meticulously the actions undertaken by both countries in the air and on the ground during this short but intense confrontation, and that saw the last dogfights between World War II-era piston-engine aircraft in the world. Besides an impressive selection of photos, the book also features a section of color profiles and markings, and a set of tables detailing the identities of the aircraft operated by both countries during the conflict.

 

A hundred-hour war seems like something of a dream, given the prolonged fighting that has taken place in the Middle East during the past quarter of a century... I would have been twenty-three when this conflict took place, but 1969 sticks in my mmemory chiefly for the Apollo Moon landings, and I don't think I was paying attention to world events that year... time to set the record straight with this excellent history by Overall and Hagedorn.

 

William Park: Beyond Adversity

Published by Big Sky October 31st 2016

In November 1941, about 100 university students began their short-term compulsory military training with the 15th Infantry Battalion. Most were aged 19-22, had daytime jobs and were evening or external students from the arts, commerce and law faculties. They were ambitious, hard-working young men anxious to make their way in the world. This book tells the story of those Queensland University students of 'U' Company, 15th Battalion during its brief existence. It covers their wartime service in all its tragedy and triumph and how they resumed their lives, studies and careers once the war was over. Most regard themselves as being very fortunate-to have survived the war, learned to cope with adversity, learned the importance of getting on with life in spite of insurmountable obstacles and in having been able to make the most of opportunities that arose. They have been fortunate to find a life beyond adversity.

 

Superb biopic of a specific group of young men from Queensland University who found themselves caught up in the worst conflict in world history.

 

Jacques R Pauwels: The Great Class War 1914-1918

Published by Formac/Lorimer March 1st 2016

Historian Jacques Pauwels applies a critical, revisionist lens to the First World War, offering readers a fresh interpretation that challenges mainstream thinking. As Pauwels sees it, war offered benefits to everyone, across class and national borders. For European statesmen, a large-scale war could give their countries new colonial territories, important to growing capitalist economies. For the wealthy and ruling classes, war served as an antidote to social revolution, encouraging workers to exchange socialism's focus on international solidarity for nationalism's intense militarism. And for the working classes themselves, war provided an outlet for years of systemic militarization -- quite simply, they were hardwired to pick up arms, and to do so eagerly. To Pauwels, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in June 1914 -- traditionally upheld by historians as the spark that lit the powder keg -- was not a sufficient cause for war but rather a pretext seized upon by European powers to unleash the kind of war they had desired. But what Europe's elite did not expect or predict was some of the war's outcomes: social revolution and Communist Party rule in Russia, plus a wave of political and social democratic reforms in Western Europe that would have far-reaching consequences. Reflecting his broad research in the voluminous recent literature about the First World War by historians in the leading countries involved in the conflict, Jacques Pauwels has produced an account that challenges readers to rethink their understanding of this key event of twentieth century world history.

 

Pauwels takes an alternative view of the causes of WW1 and the social and political upheavals that followed as a result of the conflict. Fascinating.

 

John Boileau et al: Too Young To Die

Published by Formac/Lorimer March 1st 2016

John Boileau and Dan Black tell the stories of some of the 30,000 underage youths - some as young as fourteen - who joined the Canadian Armed Forces in the Second World War. This is the companion volume to the authors'’ popular 2013 book Old Enough to Fight about boy soldiers in the First World War. Like their predecessors a generation before, these boys managed to enlist despite their youth. Most went on to face action overseas in what would become the deadliest military conflict in human history.

They enlisted for a myriad of personal reasons -- ranging from the appeal of earning regular pay after the unemployment and poverty of the Depression to the desire to avenge the death of a brother or father killed overseas. Canada's boy soldiers, sailors and airmen saw themselves contributing to the war effort in a visible, meaningful way, even when that meant taking on very adult risks and dangers of combat.

Meticulously researched and extensively illustrated with photographs, personal documents and specially commissioned maps, Too Young to Die provides a touching and fascinating perspective on the Canadian experience in the Second World War.

 

History is peppered with stories of young men who joined up when they were under age. Boileau's book takes a look at a huge number of young men aged 14+ who joined the Canadian Armed Forces to fight in the second world war.

 

Jacques Pauwels: The Myth Of The Good War

Published by Formac/Lorimer 1st September 2015

A fresh and provocative look at the role of the USA in World War II. - Historian Jacques Pauwels attacks the widely held belief that World War II was the "good war," the war in which America led the forces of democracy and freedom to victory over fascist dictatorship and Japanese militarism. - He argues that the role of the USA in World War II was determined not by idealism, but by the interests of America's corporations and by the country's social, economic, and political leaders. - He examines the American elites response to Fascism, and looks at how American companies' collaborated with Nazi Germany, at how Uncle Joe was presented as the next enemy, at why bombing Dresden was a warning to the Soviet Union, he explores ways reasons why anti-fascists were marginalized in post war Germany, why America did little to support De-Nazification but did support German business interests. - On the non-fiction bestseller lists in Belgium for four weeks when first published in 2000. Since then it has been translated into German, Spanish, French, and English.

 

Pauwels' second book this month draws a conclusion we've all reached, surely, that there isn't and can never be a "good war"...

 

Graham Wilson: Dust, Donkeys and Delusions

Published by Big Sky Publishing 31st October 2016

Dust, Donkeys and Delusion examines and clinically debunks the myth that has grown up around Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick, the so-called ‘Man with the Donkey’, the quintessential Australian ‘hero’ of Gallipoli. While the various elements of the Simpson myth have now become popularly accepted as ‘history’, Dust, Donkeys and Delusion shows clearly, based on historical documents, both official and unofficial, that almost every word ever spoken or written about Simpson following his death is false.

There is no question that Simpson performed valuable work at Gallipoli using a donkey to transport lightly wounded men to medical facilities. However, claims made that Simpson ‘saved 300 men’; that he ‘ignored orders’ that medical personnel were not to go out to recover wounded as it was too dangerous; that, in performing his self-appointed task he was a ‘deserter’ who would probably have been court-martialled and shot had he been in the British Army; that he was an ill- behaved insubordinate with discipline problems; that he made ‘lighting dashes’ into no man’s land to rescue wounded men under enemy fire; — these and every other posthumous statement made about Simpson are examined in forensic detail, and found to be highly inaccurate. In particular, the book examines that part of the myth connected with the supposed ‘official recommendation’ for a Victoria Cross for Simpson, a campaign that continues to this day.

Dust, Donkeys and Delusion does not criticise John Simpson Kirkpatrick himself, recognising that he bears no blame for the nonsensical myth that have grown up around him. The book is very much an attack on the myth and has been written to strip away the layers of half-truth, mistruth and untruth that have surrounded Simpson since the time of his death, revealing the man himself, while at the same time correcting the historical record. Dust, Donkeys and Delusion also seeks to rehabilitate the memory of other soldiers who served at Gallipoli, particularly Simpson’s fellow stretcher-bearers.

 

I was not aware of a "Man with a donkey" at Gallipoli, which is not surprising as I have never really looked at the conflict in that much detail. The fact that campaigners still want Kirkpatrick to be awarded a retrospective Victoria Cross suggests that there may be something to this story which author Graha Wilson seeks to debunk...

 

Steve Bond et al: Bomber Command Battle of Berlin Failed To Return

Published by Fighting High Publishing 31st May 2017

‘Tonight you are going to the Big City. You will have the opportunity to light a fire in the belly of the enemy that will burn his black heart out.' The message from Commander-in-Chief of RAF Bomber Command Sir Arthur Harris was clear. As the Second World War continued into a fifth year, the airmen of Bomber Command were to fly deep into hostile airspace and bring the war direct to the German Nazi capital Berlin. From the autumn of 1943 to the last days of winter in early 1944, during the hours of extended darkness, the bomber crews braved the flak, the searchlights, enemy night fighters and extremes of weather, to bombard the ‘black heart'. Prior to the all-out campaign against the ‘Big City' Sir Arthur Harris firmly believed his bomber force could break the German will to wage war, but he also prophesied that ‘It will cost us between 400 and 500 aircraft'.

Fighting High Publishing brings together acclaimed Bomber Command historians to tell the story of some of the thousands of airmen who failed to return from operations as part of the 1943 and 1944 Bomber Command Battle of Berlin. The authors, utilising family archives, personal testimony and records, wartime memoirs, diaries and letters, witness recollections, logbooks, and official documents, piece together the remarkable, yet ultimately tragic events surrounding the losses described. Illustrated throughout with previously unpublished black and white and colour photographs Bomber Command Battle of Berlin Failed to Return ensures the memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice is kept alive. ‘We Will Remember Them'.

 

Superb "Bomber Harris" remains a controversial figure to this day, and Steve Bond's and others' accounts of the Battle of Berlin really don't throw that much light on the man, his motives and his methods, but it's all fascinating stuff and well worth a read.

 

William Earl & Liz Coward: Blood and Bandages

Published by Sabrestorm Publishing 28th April 2017

War changes everyone and for those lucky enough to survive there can be no return to the carefree days before the hell of war broke out. William Earl was a 26 year old Chemist's Assistant when his call up papers arrived and his life changed forever. Leaving a wife and new baby virtually alone to fend for themselves was a constant worry and circumstances grew worse as the years went by. Joining the 214th Field Ambulance Royal Army Medical Corps as a Nursing Orderly William's role was no soft posting. He was assigned to the Field Ambulance, so followed the infantry into battle to treat and recover the wounded, often under fire, before removing them from danger. Seeing action in North Africa and throughout the entire Italian campaign at places such as Salerno, Anzio and the Gothic Line William recalls his experiences in detail with the emotion of someone who lost many friends and was the last comforting voice to many a dying soldier. William is a charming, intelligent and independent man who will shortly be celebrating his 102nd birthday. Liz Coward has written his moving story with extracts from his letters home, original photographs, training manuals and official war diaries. Blood and Bandages is a very personal, honest and moving account of one man's life over 6 years of war. A war which left William asking the guilty question on many a soldier's lips: "Why did I survive when so many of my friends didn't?"

 

Superb account of William Earl's career as a Nursing Orderly in various WW2 campaigns.

 

Wieslaw Rogalski: Divided Loyalty

Published by Helion 15th May 2017

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Poland was a quasi-military State undergoing rapid political and social change. Nevertheless, Britain signed an agreement with the country as part of its decision to adopt a policy of encircling Germany: a resolution requiring an ally in the East. On the collapse of Poland in October 1939, the country's political opposition executed a coup against the Polish Government and formed a new administration, which was recognised by the Allies as the Polish Government in Exile. This regime change precipitated a feud between the supporters of the new and old governments, which lasted throughout the war. In 1945, the British removed their recognition of the exiled government - now based in London - to pave the way for the Soviet Union to impose a communist administration in Poland. However striking and fateful these events were, the history of how regime change came to Britain's Polish ally has largely been ignored until now.

 

Looks like Britain betrayed its first and most loyal ally in WW2 as Rogalski attempts to set the record straight...

 


 

The small print: Books Monthly, now well into its sixteenth year on the web, is published on or slightly before the first day of each month by Paul Norman. You can contact me here. If you wish to submit something for publication in the magazine, let me remind you there is no payment as I don't make any money from this publication. If you want to send me something to review, contact me via email and I'll let you know where to send it.