BOOKS MONTHLY May 2017

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

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Jim Smithson: A Taste of Sucess

 

Published by Helion 15th March 2017

 

Wedged between the Battles of the Somme and Passchendaele, the Battle of Arras has often been termed 'The Forgotten Battle' with little in the way of supporting literature. A Taste of Success is aimed at filling that void -giving the reader an insight into a battle that clearly showed the development of the British and Commonwealth Armies over the early years of the First World War, and how far they still had to go to achieve victory. Why Arras became a focal point and the political background is covered in depth - being controversial and giving the reader an insight into the divide between the military and their political chiefs. A Taste of Success shows us how infantry tactics had improved and how the use of artillery had become a fine art in supporting the men as they attacked; how a preliminary artillery bombardment left the German defenders shattered, but also created the conditions that would hinder any kind of rapid movement once the first lines were broken. The key role of the Royal Flying Corps, how tanks were used and the vital role of support units such as the Royal Engineers are all examined in detail. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that the initial success - based upon excellent planning and training - was followed by a chaotic confusion of command and control. It soon becomes evident that the development of the British Army in April 1917 had reached a point where in the Battle of Arras, they could stage a successful assault - applying perfect planning, but lacking the forethought to plan and carry out the follow-up phases. Controversially, although the performance of the soldiers carrying the fight is never questioned, that of many of their commanders is - it being clear that they were not yet ready to win the war. A great deal of the work is based upon primary material, with both British and German sources being used to deepen the analysis of events and also to challenge myths and previous descriptions of the battle. A Taste of Success presents a fresh and important reassessment of this important, yet generally ignored, battle as we approach its centenary. This book contains 16 pages colour ills & maps. Approx 35 b/w photos, approx 43 b/w maps t/out, 3-4 tables

 

 

 

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Penny Legg: Crime In The Second World War

Published by Sabrestorm Publishing 28th April 2017

Was There Crime in the Second World War? At a time of national emergency, the average person could be forgiven for thinking that crime rates would go down as everyone tried to help the war effort. However, the reality was that criminals saw the war as an opportunity to exploit the emergency conditions and those with a previously unblemished reputation found themselves tempted off the straight and narrow.

Criminal activity wasn’t just a civilian occupation. The military services had its share of crime and the influx of foreign troops added to the problem. American and Canadian troops found themselves transported to Britain in preparation for D-Day. Lonely and far from home, some rioted and many looked for other distractions with desertion being a significant problem and one which was often funded by crime.
Heavily illustrated with both contemporary and modern photographs Penny takes you back to some of the most infamous wartime crimes such as the blackout ripper, the bath chair murderer and the last person to be prosecuted in Britain for witchcraft. She also delves into the murky world of Spivs, Gangs, prostitutes and Robbers.

At a time when rationing, shortages and the blitz meant feeding the family became ever more difficult it was all too easy for the increasingly blurred line of criminality to be crossed. Penny Legg shows how and why crime was committed during the Second World War and what became of those Spivs, Scoundrels, Rogues and Worse who strayed into the underworld.

Private Walker was always one of the most popular characters in Dad's Army - a lovable rogue with a secret heart of gold.Penny Legg, in her terrific book, shows that the truth was far, far removed from what we saw in Dad's Army. Foyle's War, similarly, showed the darker side of wartime Britain... This book is a revelation, something of an eye-opener, and well worth a look.

David Nicolle et al: Wings Over Sinai

Published by Helion 15th March 20176

Sixty years since the tripartite aggression of France, Great Britain and Israel against Egypt, this is the first account about Egyptian military operations during the Suez War of 1956 (or Suez Crisis , as it is known in the West). Based on research with help of official Egyptian documentation and recollections of crucial participants, it is providing an unique and exclusive insight into the other side of a war that many consider has marked the end of British Empire . From the Western point of view, the situation is usually explained in quite simple terms: in retaliation for president Gamal Abdel Nasser s nationalisation of the Universal Suez Canal Company, and thus the strategically important waterway of the Suez Canal, France and Great Britan, operating in concert with Israel, launched the Operation codenamed Musketeer. Divided into three phases, each shaded into the other, this aimed at obliterating the Egyptian Air Force, occupying the whole of the Suez Canal, and toppling Nasser s government. From the Egyptian point of view, backgrounds were much more complex than this. Striving to modernize the country, a new and inexperienced government in Cairo launched a number of major projects, including one for construction of a gigantic Asswan Dam on the Nile. The only Western power ready to help finance this project, the USA, conditioned its support with basing rights for its military. With last British soldiers still about to leave the country and thus end Egypt s occupation by foreign powers for the first time in 2000 years, Nasser found this unacceptable. Around the same time, Egypt found itself under pressure from Israeli raids against border posts on the Sinai. Left without solution, Cairo decided to nationalize the Suez Canal in order to finance the Aswan Dam project, but also to start purchasing arms from the Soviet Union. In attempt to bolster Egyptian defences without antagonizing Western powers, Nasser concluded the so-called Czech Arms deal with Moscow, resulting in acquisition of Soviet arms via Czechoslovakia. Little known in Cairo of the time, such moves tripped several red lines in Israel, and in the West, in turn prompting aggression that culminated in a war. Wings over Sinai is foremost an account of the battle for survival of the Egyptian Air Force (EAF). Caught in the middle of conversion to Soviet-types, this proved more than a match for Israel, although hopelessly ill-prepared to face the military might of Great Britain and France too. Sustained, days-long air strikes on Egyptian air bases caused heavy damage, but nowhere near as crippling losses as usually claimed and assessed by British, French, and Israelis. The EAF not only survived that conflict in quite a good order, but also quickly recovered. This story is told against the backdrop of the fighting on the ground and the air- and naval-invasion by British and French forces. Richly illustrated with plenty of new and previously unpublished photographs, maps, and 15 colour profiles this action-packed volume is illustrating all aspects of camouflage, markings and various equipment of British and Soviet origin in Egyptian military service as of 1956.

I was just ten years old in 1956, but I do remember very well, the newspaper headlines and the news broadcasts of the time talking about the "Suez Crisis", and this fine book confirms, indeed that the crisis really was the final nail in the coffin of the British Empire. Comprehensive and very readable.

Vincent Hunt: Blood In The Forest

Published by Helion February 28th 2017

Blood in the Forest tells the brutal story of the forgotten battles of the final months of the Second World War. While the eyes of the world were on Hitler's bunker, more than half a million men fought six cataclysmic battles along a front line of fields and forests in Western Latvia known as the Courland Pocket. Just an hour from the capital Riga, German forces bolstered by Latvian Legionnaires were cut off and trapped with their backs to the Baltic. The only way out was by sea: the only chance of survival to hold back the Red Army. Forced into uniform by Nazi and Soviet occupiers, Latvian fought Latvian - sometimes brother against brother. Hundreds of thousands of men died for little territorial gain in unimaginable slaughter. When the Germans capitulated, thousands of Latvians continued a war against Soviet rule from the forests for years afterwards. An award-winning documentary journalist, the author travels through the modern landscape gathering eye-witness accounts from seventy years before piecing together for the first time in English the stories of those who survived. He meets veterans who fought in the Latvian Legion, former partisans and a refugee who fled the Soviet advance to later become President, Vaira Vike-Freiberga, A survivor of the little-known concentration camp at Popervale and founder of Riga's Jewish Museum, Margers Vestermanis has never spoken about his personal experiences. Here he gives details of the SS new world order planned in Kurzeme, his escape from a death march and subsequent survival in the forests with a Soviet partisan group - and a German deserter. With eyewitness accounts, detailed maps and expert contributions alongside rare newspaper archive, photographs from private collections and extracts from diaries translated into English from Latvian, German and Russian, the author assembles a ghastly picture of death and desperation in a tough, uncomfortable story of a nation both gripped by war and at war with itself.

 

I wasn't even born when the newspapers heralded the very end of the second world war, but I'm willing to bet there was little or no mention of the Latvian affair, as uncovered by journalist Vincent Hunt. In fact, the hundred of thousands of Latvian and Red Army soldiers who died in the dying months of the war, must have bolstered by a considerable amount the final number of casualties of the conflict! Well written, compelling drama, made all the more readable by the author's persistence in uncovering eye-witness accounts of what actually happened.

 

Robert Pearson: Gold Run - The Rescue of Norway's gold bullion from the Nazis, 1940

Published by Casemate 31st March 2017

Gold Run is the true story of arguably one of the greatest gold snatches in history. It is a tale of immense bravery, endurance and great leadership of loyal Norwegians, plus a little good fortune and help from the British against intrigue and overwhelming odds. The German invasion of Norway on the night of April 8th/9th, 1940 almost took Norway completely unawares; had it not been for the defiance of one small coastal battery, the Norwegian royal family, government, and nearly 50 tons of gold bullion would have had no chance of escape. In desperate haste the royal family fled Oslo by rail, dodging bombs and strafing, eventually reaching the port of Molde, which was subsequently devastated by fire bombing. The gold with extraordinary ingenuity was moved by road, rail and fishing boat, hotly pursued by the Germans. Its weight and the need for total secrecy created unique transportation problems. After several instances of near-disaster, the Norwegians managed to get the gold to the coast where the Royal Navy came to the rescue. Such was the difficulty of extricating the bullion that it was taken off in three Royal Navy cruisers, HMS Enterprise, Galatea and Glasgow, from different locations. The ships were attacked in port, then constantly harassed and bombed by the Luftwaffe as they made their way back to the UK. The loss of the bullion was a blow to the Germans. They had gained a country, but lost a king, a government and huge amount of bullion that would have financed their war machine. That loss is directly attributed to a visionary bank chief, a colonel, a hastily assembled body of Norwegians and the ships and men of the Royal Navy, ever resourceful, brave and loyal to their respective countries. This is their story.

 

Reads like a thriller, and worthy of Hollywood attention, surely? Robert Pearson's excellent book has everything. A forgotten consequence of the Nazi occupation of Norway.

 

Tom Yarborough: Da Nang Diary

Published by Casemate 18th April 2017

In Vietnam, an elite group of pilots fought a secret air war in Cessna O-2 and OV-10 Bronco prop planes - flying as low as they could get. The eyes and ears of the fast-moving jets who rained death and destruction down on the enemy positions, the forward air controller made an art form out of an air strike - knowing the targets, knowing where friendly troops were and reacting with split-second, life-and-death decisions as a battle unfolded. For Tom Yarborough, the risk was constant, intense and electrifying. A member of the super-secret Prairie Fire Unit, Yarborough became one of the most frequently shot-up pilots flying out of Da Nang - engaging in a series of dangerous secret missions in Laos. This is Yarborough's adrenaline-pumping chronicle of heroism, danger and brotherhood in Vietnam. From the rescuing of downed pilots to taking out enemy positions, to the most harrowing day-long missions, here is the heroism, courage and skill of the fliers who took the war into the enemy's backyard...

 

I know next to nothing about the Vietnam War apart from the high profile events that made it notorious, the first conflict to incite the hatred and revulsion of an entire generation of protesters. Tom Yarborough's account of his involvement in just one aspect of the war makes for a hugely exciting read - not the kind of thing that made headline news at the time, but something quite extraordinary and amazing.

 

Mark A Smith & Wade Sokolosky: "No Such Army Since The Days of Julius Caesar"

Published by Savas Beatie 15th February 2017

In General William T. Sherman's 1865 Carolinas Campaign receives scant attention from most Civil War historians, largely because it was overshadowed by the Army of Northern Virginia's final battles against the Army of the Potomac. Career military officers Mark A. Smith and Wade Sokolosky rectify this oversight with No Such Army Since the Days of Julius Caesar, a careful and impartial examination of Sherman's army and its many accomplishments. The authors dedicate their professional training and research and writing abilities to the critical days of March 11-16, 1865―the overlooked run-up to the seminal Battle of Bentonville (March 19-21, 1865). They begin with the capture of Fayetteville and the demolition of the arsenal there, before chronicling the two-day Battle of Averasboro in more detail than any other study. At Averasboro, Lt. Gen. William J. Hardee's Confederates conducted a well-planned and brilliantly executed defense-in-depth that held Sherman's juggernaut in check for two days. With his objective accomplished, Hardee disengaged and marched to concentrate his corps with Gen. Joseph E. Johnston for what would become Bentonville. This completely revised and updated edition of "No Such Army Since the Days of Julius Caesar": Sherman's Carolinas Campaign from Fayetteville to Averasboro, March 1865 is based upon extensive archival and firsthand research. It includes new original maps, orders of battle, abundant illustrations, and a detailed driving and walking tour for dedicated battlefield enthusiasts. Readers with an interest in the Carolinas, Generals Sherman and Johnston, or the Civil War in general will enjoy this book.

 

Important addition to the library of material on American Civil War battles. Like the Vietnam War, the American Civil War is something I've never paid much attention to. Smith and Sokolosky are military historians with a particular interest in what happened in the Carolina States.What they bring to the table regarding Sherman and Johnston is remarkable, a revelation.

 

Michael McCarthy: Confederate Waterloo

Published by Savas Beatie 31st March 2017

"It could be classified as a mere skirmish, but no other fight of the entire four years' struggle was followed by such important consequences," explained former Confederate General Thomas Munford years after the Civil War. "It extinguished the campfires of the hitherto invincible army and was the mortal blow which caused the Southern Confederacy to perish forever." The Battle of Five Forks broke the long siege of Petersburg, triggered the evacuation of Richmond, precipitated the Appomattox Campaign, and destroyed the careers and reputations of two generals. Michael J. McCarthy's Confederate Waterloo is the first fully researched and unbiased booklength account of this decisive Union victory and the aftermath fought in the courts and at the bar of public opinion. General Lee's Army of Northern Virginia had been locked into the sprawling defenses surrounding the logistical stronghold of Petersburg and the Southern capital at Richmond for more than eight months when General Grant struck beyond his far left flank to break the extended Rebel lines. A series of battles led up to April 1, when General Phil Sheridan's forces struck at Five Forks. The attack surprised and collapsed General George Pickett's Confederate command and turned Lee's right flank. An attack along the entire front the following morning broke the siege and forced the Virginia army out of its defenses and, a week later, into Wilmer McLean's parlor to surrender at Appomattox. Despite this decisive Union success, Five Forks spawned one of the most bitter and divisive controversies in the postwar army when Sheridan relieved Fifth Corps commander Gouverneur K. Warren for perceived failures connected to the battle. The order generated a lifelong effort by Warren and his allies to restore his reputation by demonstrating that Sheridan's action was both unfair and dishonorable. The struggle climaxed with a Court of Inquiry that generated a more extensive record of testimony and exhibits than any other U.S. military judicial case in the 19th Century. In addition to Sheridan and Warren, participants included Gens. U. S. Grant and Winfield S. Hancock, and a startling aggregation of former Confederate officers. McCarthy's Confederate Waterloo is grounded upon extensive research and a foundation of primary sources, including the meticulous records of a man driven to restore his honor in the eyes of his colleagues, his family, and the American public. The result is a fresh dispassionate analysis that may cause students of the Civil War to reassess their views about some of the Union's leading generals.

 

Another fascinating account of a modern day siege during the American Civil War - I think the fact that wecan match photographs to people who actually took part in this conflict makes it something extraordinary, and kindles interest to an amazing degree. Fascinating.

 

Stephane Lavit & Philippe Charbonnier: The First (US) Infantry Division

Published by Histoires et Collections 9th March 2017

The 1st Infantry Division was established in 1917 to participate in the fighting in France and faced the major German offensives of 1918. During the Second World War, it effected its first assault landing in North Africa in 1942. Then followed the invasion of Sicily, D-Day in Normandy, the battle of the Bulge and the conquest of the Reich, as far as Czechoslovakia.

According to the division lore, at the time, the U.S. Army consisted of the First Infantry Division and eight million replacements! Thanks to hundreds of historical pictures, the reader will follow the Big Red One's glorious path in its most difficult assignments.

 

Superb biopic of the history and Second World War engagements of the First Infantry Division of the US. Encapsulates the entire involvement of the US in the second world war...

 

Glenn Cross: Dirty War - Rhodesia and Chemical Biological Warfare 1975-1980

Published by Helion 15th February 2017

Dirty War is the first comprehensive look at the Rhodesia's top secret use of chemical and biological weapons (CBW) during their long counterinsurgency against native African nationalists. 

Having declared its independence from Great Britain in 1965, the government--made up of European settlers and their descendants--almost immediately faced a growing threat from native African nationalists. In the midst of this long and terrible conflict, Rhodesia resorted to chemical and biological weapons against an elusive guerrilla adversary. A small team made up of a few scientists and their students at a remote Rhodesian fort to produce lethal agents for use. Cloaked in the strictest secrecy, these efforts were overseen by a battle-hardened and ruthless officer of Rhodesia's Special Branch and his select team of policemen. Answerable only to the head of Rhodesian intelligence and the Prime Minister, these men working alongside Rhodesia's elite counterguerrilla military unit, the Selous Scouts, developed the ingenious means to deploy their poisons against the insurgents. 

The effect of the poisons and disease agents devastated the insurgent groups both inside Rhodesia and at their base camps in neighboring countries. At times in the conflict, the Rhodesians thought that their poisons effort would bring the decisive blow against the guerrillas. For months at a time, the Rhodesian use of CBW accounted for higher casualty rates than conventional weapons. In the end, however, neither CBW use nor conventional battlefield successes could turn the tide. Lacking international political or economic support, Rhodesia's fate from the outset was doomed. Eventually the conflict was settled by the ballot box and Rhodesia became independent Zimbabwe in April 1980. 

Dirty War is the culmination of nearly two decades of painstaking research and interviews of dozens of former Rhodesian officers who either participated or were knowledgeable about the top secret development and use of CBW. The book also draws on the handful of remaining classified Rhodesian documents that tell the story of the CBW program. Dirty War combines all of the available evidence to provide a compelling account of how a small group of men prepared and used CBW to devastating effect against a largely unprepared and unwitting enemy. 

Looking at the use of CBW in the context of the Rhodesian conflict, Dirty War provides unique insights into the motivation behind CBW development and use by states, especially by states combating internal insurgencies. As the norms against CBW use have seemingly eroded with CW use evident in Iraq and most recently in Syria, the lessons of the Rhodesian experience are all the more valid and timely.

 

It seems highly unlikely that the Rhodesian army would have used chemical agents on their own people, but Cross presents his evidence in compelling form and seems able to support his claims in this dark book about Rhodesia's internal struggles during the late 1970s...

 


 

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