books monthly

march 2018 - Pen and Sword Publishers

Home Page | Adult Fiction | Crime & Thrillers | SF & Fantasy | Children's books | Nonfiction | Pen and Sword | Nostalgia | The Jerry Dowlen Column


Keith Roberts: Cromwell's War Machine

Published by Pen & Sword January 2018

The New Model Army was one of the best-known and most effective armies ever raised in England. Oliver Cromwell was both its greatest battlefield commander and the political leader whose position depended on its support. In this meticulously researched and accessible new study, Keith Roberts describes how Cromwell's army was recruited, inspired, organized, trained and equipped. He also sets its strategic and tactical operation in the context of the theory and practice of warfare in seventeenth-century Europe.

If only this superb book had been available in the late 1980s when I was doing my Open University studies... It was Cromwell's assimilation of the best practices in European armies that turned the New Model Army into an unbeatable fighting machine and subsequently won the first civil war, of course. The film Cromwell with Richard Harris shows it in some detail, but Keith's magnificent study reveals all the details and nuances of Cromwell as a man and as an emerging soldier in spectacular fashion. One of the very best English Civil War books I have ever read.






Michael Harrison: High Wood

Published by Pen and Sword January 2018

Bois de Fourcaux, a luxuriant woodland covering 75 acres, set in the area of the battlefields of the Somme, dominates the surrounding landscape today, as it did in the summer of the year 1916. Known to the British Army as 'High Wood', the invading Germans had occupied the wood as it proved to be a natural field fortification and a menace that had to be neutralized if the British were to find a way forward in their attempts to breach the trench systems of the German Army and break out into the 'Green Fields Beyond'. This insightful publication will take the battlefield visitor, and also those who are unable to visit the site, on a journey through the history of the battles for High Wood and its environs. It covers the most significant dates in the British Army's struggle to eject the invader and the Germans determination to hold that which they considered to be their new National Frontier. This is the story of the largely amateur British Army of 1916. Lessons were learned in the roaring furnace of the Somme that would transform the fighting ability of the British irrevocably: High Wood was at the epicentre of that learning process.The book contains detailed maps from the time of the High Wood battles using the excellent British Trench maps and, importantly, an explanation on the use of the numbered grid system, which enables the visitor to locate, to within 5 yards, the site of an action that took place 100 years ago. Photographs are also included to enhance the visitor experience. Join us for the journey

This superbly documented account of British and French involvement in what was known as The High Wood in the battlefield area known as the Somme, doesn't mention my Grandfather's Regiment, the 13th Middlesex, although I know for a fact that that was where he died. This is a fascinating and chilling account with eyewitness testament, of one small part of the bigger battle of the Somme that occupied several months, saw hundreds of thousands of men die and achieved virtually nothing. The important thing is that it brings fresh information about the campaign which we must get into print. Michael Harrison's text is moving and informative.


David O'Mara: The Somme 1916 - Touring The French Section

Published by Pen and Sword 22nd January 2018

With a few notable exceptions, the French efforts on the Somme have been largely missing or minimised in British accounts of the Battle of the Somme. And yet they held this sector of the Front from the outbreak of the war until well into 1915 and, indeed, in parts into 1916\. It does not hurt to be reminded that the French army suffered some 200,000 casualties in the 1916 offensive. David O Mara s book provides an outline narrative describing the arrival of the war on the Somme and some of the notable and quite fierce actions that took place that autumn and, indeed, into December of 1914\. Extensive mine warfare was a feature of 1915 and beyond on the Somme; for example under Redan Ridge and before Dompierre and Fay. The French limited offensive at Serre in June 1915 is reasonably well known, but there was fighting elsewhere for example the Germans launched a short, sharp, limited attack at Frise in January 1916, part of the diversionary action before the Germans launched their ill-fated offensive at Verdun. The book covers the Somme front from Gommecourt, north of the Somme, to Chaulnes, at the southern end of the battle zone of 1916\. The reader is taken around key points in various tours. For many British visitors the battlefields south of the Somme will be a revelation; there is much to see, both of cemeteries and memorials, but also substantial traces of the fighting remain on the ground, some of which is accessible to the public. It has always been something of a disgrace that there is so little available, even in French, to educate the public in an accessible written form about the substantial effort made by France s army on the Somme; this book and subsequent, more detailed volumes to be published in the coming years will go some way to rectify this. British visitors should be fascinated by the story of these forgotten men of France and the largely unknown part of the Somme battlefield.


In Britain we tend to forget that the French army was involved in the Somme just as the British army was. David O'Mara's superb book looks at the territory occupied by the French in terms of their engagements, whilst similar action was being undertaken by the British. Again, important information that has hitherto not been available.

Ken Porter: Clacton-on-Sea and the Surrounding Coastline in the Great War

Published by Pen and Sword 22nd January 2018

Clacton-on-Sea and the surrounding coastline is part of the Sunshine Coast, an area of sandy beaches and low-level cliffs facing the North Sea. This book gives a brief history of the major nearby villages Brightlingsea, St Oysths, Clacton on Sea, Holland on Sea, Frinton and Walton on the Naze as they developed from agricultural areas, to seaside resorts in the mid to late 1800s, and then into heavily defended hives of activity. They were considered by the authorities to be convenient spots for foreign invasion and, as a result, mock invasion exercises at Clacton had taken place since the early 1900s. Being close to the sea, many of the inhabitants were heavily involved with yachting and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, so it's not surprising that a great number joined the Royal or Merchant Navy. Brightlingsea became a major naval port and the Australian and New Zealander's Engineers trained there for four years. Clacton itself saw over a 1,000 men sign up, and it also had a number of Military and Convalescent Homes that treated injured men. Middlesex Hospital, for one, treated over 9,000 men. The local villages produced a considerable number of men who were awarded the Military Medal/Cross, and Walton on the Naze produced one VC in Herbert Columbine. The tremendous efforts of others are also covered, in particular those of the local women folk. A number of appropriate poems, many written at the time, are included throughout the book, as well as rarely seen photographs and insightful reports from the local papers of that period.


This series from Pen and Sword is one of their most important, looking at various towns and cities throughout the British Isles as they came to terms with and dealt with the impact of the first world war on their men, their families, and their homes. Some superb photos of a town I've visited often, and stirring and personal accounts of lives affected by the war. First class.


Steve R Dunn: Bayly's War

Published by Seaforth 30th January 2018

Bayly's War is the story of the Royal Navy's Coast of Ireland Command (later named Western Approaches Command) during World War One. Britain was particularly vulnerable to the disruption of trade in the Western Approaches through which food and munitions (and later soldiers) from North America and the Caribbean and ores and raw materials from the Southern Americas, all passed on their way to Liverpool or the Channel ports and London. After the sinking of the Lusitania in May 1915 and the introduction of unrestricted submarine warfare by the Germans, Britain found herself engaged in a fight for survival as U-boats targeted all incoming trade in an attempt to drive her into submission. Britain's naval forces, based in Queenstown on the southern Irish coast, fought a long and arduous battle to keep the seaways open, and it was only one they began to master after American naval forces joined in 1917. Vice-Admiral Sir Lewis Bayly was the man appointed to the Coast of Ireland Command. A fierce disciplinarian with a mania for efficiency, and thought by some of his colleagues to be more than a little mad, Bayly took the fight to the enemy. Utilising any vessel he could muster trawlers, tugs, yachts as well as the few naval craft at his disposal, he set out to hunt down the enemy submarines. The command also swept for mines, escorted merchantmen and fought endlessly against the harsh Atlantic weather. Relief came When America sent destroyers to Queenstown to serve under him, and Bayly, to the surprise of many, integrated the command into a homogenous fighting force. Along the way, the Command had to deal with the ambivalent attitude of the Irish population, the 1916 Easter Rising, the attempt to land arms on Ireland's west coast and the resurgence of Irish nationalism in 1917. Bayly's War is a vivid account of this vigorous defence of Britain's trade and brings to life the U-boat battles, Q-ship actions, merchant ship sinkings and rescues as well as the tireless Bayly, the commander at the centre.


Steve Dunn's super story of Vice Admiral Sir Lewis Bayly reads like the script for one of those brilliant picture stories we used to get in Wizard and Hotspur. I had never heard of the man until now, and I am pleased to have had the opportunity to get to know him in the pages of Steve's brilliant book.

Ian Sumner: The French Air Force in the First World War

Published by Pen and Sword 22nd January 2018

The French air force of the First World War developed as fast as the British and German air forces, yet its history, and the enormous contribution it made to the eventual French victory, is often forgotten. So Ian Sumner's photographic history, which features almost 200 images, most of which have not been published before, is a fascinating and timely introduction to the subject. The fighter pilots, who usually dominate perceptions of the war in the air, play a leading role in the story, in particular the French aces, the small group of outstanding airmen whose exploits captured the publics imagination. Their fame, though, tends to distract attention from the ordinary unremembered airmen who formed the body of the air force throughout the war years. Ian Sumner tells their story too, as well as describing in a sequence of memorable photographs the less well-known branches of the service the bomber and reconnaissance pilots and the variety of primitive warplanes they flew.


It's easy to forget that any air force relies on its ground crew and mechanics - Ian Sumner's book about the French air force forgets no one, and the pictures are simply superb and unforgettable. A brilliant book.


Stephen Wynn: Against All Odds

Published by Pen and Sword 10th January 2018

Walter Tull would have been a remarkable individual no matter when he had been born, but to achieve what he did, during the time that he did, makes him even more remarkable. He was an orphan at just six years of age, and despite not wanting to, his step mother, Clara, had no choice but to place him and his elder brother, Edward, in to a children's home in the East End of London. As neither Walter or Edward had ever travelled outside of Folkestone before, the upheaval must have come as quite a shock. Two years after entering the home, Walter and Edward were split up when Edward was adopted and went to live in Glasgow. Walter's sporting prowess saw him play for top local amateur side, Clapton Football club, signing for them in 1908, but it was to be a short lived affair, as by the following year he had signed as a professional for the prestigious Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, making his first team debut against Manchester United. In October 1911 Walter was transferred to Northampton Town Football Club, where he would go on to play over one hundred first team games, before the First World War brought a premature end to his career as a professional footballer. With the outbreak of war, Walter wasted no time enlisting in the British Army, initially as a Private in the newly formed 17th (Football) Battalion, Middlesex Regiment. Further promotions followed and in no time at all he had reached the rank of Sergeant. He was put forward for a commission and passed out as a 2nd Lieutenant on 29 May 1917. He went on to become the first black officer in the British Army, to lead white troops in to battle, and was fondly regarded by the men who served under him. Walter was killed in action whilst leading his men in a counter attack against German defensive positions on Monday 25 March 1918. He died a hero. He was well liked and respected by all who knew him. Like many men of his generation his life was cut short for the greater good whilst in the service of his country, so that others might prevail.


What an amazing story! With racial tensions still prevalent during the second world war, it is incredible that a black man should have achieved what Walter Tull achieved in the early decades of the twentieth century. A brilliantly written, amazing story of a true hero.


Robert Brown: Battleship Warspite

Published by Seaforth 30th January 2018

The technical details of British warships were recorded in a set of plans produced by the builders on completion of every ship. Known as the as fitted general arrangements, these drawings documented the exact appearance and fitting of the ship as it entered service. They were very large more than 12 feet long for capital ships highly detailed, annotated and labelled, and drawn with exquisite skill in multi-coloured inks and washes. Intended to provide a permanent reference for the Admiralty and the dockyards, they represent the acme of the draughtsman s art. Today these plans form part of the incomparable collection of the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich, which is using the latest scanning technology to make digital copies of the highest quality. This book is the first of a series based entirely on these draughts which will depict famous warships in an unprecedented degree of detail complete sets in full colour, with many close-ups and enlargements that make every aspect clear and comprehensible. Extensive captions point the reader to important features to be found in the plans, and an introduction covers the background to the design. The celebrated battleship Warspite is an ideal introduction to this new series an apparently familiar subject, but given this treatment the result is an anatomy that will fascinate every warship enthusiast and ship modeller.


Pen and Sword specialise in this kind of publication, I have reviewed titles of this nature before, so I knew what to expect. Amazing, rare pictures of this iconic warship, together with plans that were prepared for its construction. First in a new series.


Quentin and Eugenia Russell: Ali Pasha, The Lion of Janina

Published by Seaforth 1st December 2017

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the life of a petty tyrant in an obscure corner of the Ottoman Empire became the stuff of legend. What propelled this cold-blooded archetype of Oriental despotism, grandly known as the Lion of Ioannina and the Balkan Napoleon, into the consciousness of Western rulers and the general public? This book charts the rise of Ali Pasha from brigand leader to a player in world affairs and, ultimately, to a gruesome end. Ali exploited the internal weakness of the Ottoman Empire to carve out his own de facto state in Albania and Western Greece. Although a ruthless tyrant guilty of cruel atrocities, his lavish court became an attraction to Western travellers, most famously Lord Byron, and his military prowess led Britain, Russia and France to seek his alliance during the Napoleonic Wars. His activities undermined the Sultan's authority and helped bring about the Greek War of Independence. Quentin and Eugenia Russell describe his remarkable life and military career as well as the enigmatic legacy he bequeathed in his homeland both as a nationalist hero and a tyrant, and further afield as inspiration for writers and artists of the Romantic movement.


The front cover portrait doesn't look like the sort of person you might find in the Balkans, even during the time of the Napoleonic Wars, but I guess my knowledge of the Balkans and the Ottoman Empire was previously fairly sketchy. The Russells' book describes a larger than life figure, the stuff of legends, a man who became almost a cause celebre during those fascinating and bloody times, a man who was celebrated in the East and the West, and a man whose story is something quite extraordinary. It is amazing taht no one has thought to make a documentary about him, or even a major Hollywood film. An engaging and informative book that educates to the highest degree, whilst remaining eminently readable. Superb.


Keith Wilson: RAF in Camera 1970s

Published by Seaforth 1st November 2017

The 1970s were an event-filled and action packed decade for the Royal Air Force. Many events are worthy of note and all are recorded here, in words and images. Keith Wilson takes up from where he left off with RAF In Camera 1960s in order to take us on a journey through a particularly significant decade. The start of the 1970s saw the retirement of the Dakota from service, followed shortly after by the formation of the first Buccaneer NATO Squadron. In 1972, the landmark RAF Museum at Hendon was opened by HRH Queen Elizabeth. The midpoint of the decade was particularly notable due to the fact that it saw the ending of the Vietnam War and, in the dying hours of the conflict in March 1975, RAF Hercules were used to evacuate civilians from Cambodia. The Queen's Silver Jubilee Review at RAF Finningley occurred in 1977 and there are plenty of photographs of the event on display here. In 1978, the Sea King replaced the Whirlwind and the Wessex in the Air Sea Rescue role and, in 1979, the British Aerospace Hawk replaced the last Hawker Siddeley Gnats in RAF service when it became the mount of the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, the Red Arrows. All of these landmark events are referenced in this thorough, well-researched and image-packed publication. Each chapter focuses on a specific year, relaying all of the highlights that characterized it. As with the two previous releases, this new addition to the In Camera series is sure to be regarded as something of a collector's edition and a real enthusiast's favourite.


When Keith Wilson's magnificent photographic record of the RAF during the 1970s sees the emergence of the large conglomerate companies such as Hawker Siddeley (for whom I worked in the 1960s), British Aerospace and Wessex as the RAF moved into the modern era. A delightful and brilliant addition to the history of the RAF.


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.