Book Review Micro Book Reviews

Discussion in 'Books, Films, TV, Radio' started by von Poop, Feb 24, 2019.

  1. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake The Mayor of London's latest dress code

    The Secret Capture: U-110 and the Enigma Story

    Author Stephen Roskill
    s-l1600.jpg

    This is a well written account of the capture of the German submarine U-110 on May 1941. This was possibly one of the most important naval actions of the battle of the Atlantic, with far reaching results. Although U-110 sank on tow, its precious Enigma machine had been extracted and its secrets helped to inform British naval intelligence of German U Boat movements and route convoys to avoid them.

    The book was originally written in 1959, to rebut the claims of Rear-Admiral Daniel V. Gallery USN that his capture of U -505 in June 1944 was unique. In the official history “The War At Sea.” Roskill had downplayed the capture of U Boats. U110 merited only a single line with the statement that it had been sunk. The first third of the The Secret Capture tells the story of the other submarine captures of the Second World War. The rest of the book is a fine account of convoy OB318, its encounters with U Boats and the capture of U110 by the 3rd Escort Group under Captain Addison Joe Baker-Creswell, to whom the book is dedicated. There could be no mention of Enigma, but there are references to books, codes and enough “secret material” to fill two crates.

    It is a very readable account which covers the human story of the war at sea from the point of view of officers and men from the Royal Navy and merchant marine. Roskill went to some length to track down ex sailors and merchant seamen ten years after the events. He is a good writer and spins a good dit.

    The book has 167 pages, and sixteen black and white photographs. There are six charts and two diagrams to explain the movements and convoy formations. These are clear and helpful.

    This edition includes a new foreward by Baker-Crewsell's son Charles, with more biographical information. Professor Barry Gough has written a short new introduction that explains the context and importance of the recovery of the Enigma machine.

    There are two reservations about the work. The book doesn't quite do what it says on the cover. I would have expected to have read more about the exploitation of the Enigma machine. The 2011 edition seems overpriced with at RRP of £16.99, though you will not need to pay that to obtain it online, and the 1959 edition can be obtained for £0.80

    This is a good historic tale, told well.

    Rating 4/5
     
    Chris C likes this.
  2. hucks216

    hucks216 Member

    britswar.jpg

    Title:
    Britain's War - Into Battle 1937-1941 (848 pages)

    Author:
    Daniel Todman

    Publisher: Penguin (ISBN: 978-0141026916)

    Quick Review:
    This is Volume 1 of 2 and is an attempt to cover the British experience of WW2 from every angle. It knits together the political, financial, social & military spheres to tell a richly layered, honest and wide ranging narrative. What I particularly like about it is that it details what happened and how it affected everything else without using the benefit of hindsight so there is no fast forwarding to explain how a particular event or decision worked. As well as the big picture it also provides anecdotes from men on the spot at the time from politicians to soldiers at the front.
    Volume 2 is titled Britain's War - A New World 1942-1947.

    Rating out of 5:
    a solid 5
     
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  3. Waddell

    Waddell Well-Known Member

    Ten Fighter Boys.JPG

    Title:
    Ten Fighter Boys

    Author: Edited by Wing-Commander Athol Forbes, D.F.C and Squadron-Leader Hubert Allen, D.F.C

    Publisher: Collins, 2008 (a reprint of the 1942 original).

    Quick Review:
    A quick read, but a gem of a book. Ten Fighter Boys was the brainchild of Wing-Commander Athol Forbes of 66 Squadron RAF who decided just after the Battle of Britain that it would be a good idea for some of his pilots who had served in the battle to put their experiences down on paper, whilst they were fresh and of the moment, and, as it turned out for some of them, before they died. Accordingly the book is something of a time capsule, of which Forbes wrote in the introduction that ‘no effort has been made to alter the phraseology’. Fortunately for the modern reader Forbes included an appendix to decipher the RAF slang which included a few new to me.

    Like most books about Battle of Britain, you realise early on just how young the pilots were. It is no surprise that much of the book mentions their drinking, chasing ladies and partying and you can see how this was such a pressure release after the long days flying they were experiencing at the time. Most of the accounts are very good, though sadly some mention at the end that the writer was later killed or went missing.

    There is also mention of the Germans flying captured French Chance Vought Bombers during an attack on Dover. Something I had not come across before.

    Rating out of 5:
    5
     
    kopite, Juha, Sheldrake and 2 others like this.
  4. Robert-w

    Robert-w Well-Known Member

    According to T.C.G. James, The Battle of Britain: Air Defence of Great Britain, Volume II, there is no evidence of this other than some pilot's reports which also reported the He 113 in this raid! It's likely to be a case of misidentification
     
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  5. Markyboy

    Markyboy Member

    I’d try Jimmy Corbins stand alone memoir if you get the chance Waddell and haven’t read it already. It’s almost a companion piece to ten fighter boys. Dizzy Allen also wrote up his full memoir.
     
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  6. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Well-Known Member

    Cited in part a 2019 review:
    Just found another, new review, by an American veteran in a special forces website; he concludes:
    Link: Book Review - Churchill's Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare | SOF News

    I've read Giles Milton before, two other non-military history books and they were fascinating.
     
    JimHerriot likes this.
  7. Jonathan Ball

    Jonathan Ball It's a way of life.

    Title: D-Day: The Soldiers' Story

    Author: Giles Milton

    Publisher: John Murray

    Quick Review: German water cooled 'M42' Machine Guns, 88mm Mortars, Dornier's dropping shells, Sexton Half-tracks etc etc. It's unbelievably poor.

    Rating out of 5: 1
     
  8. Robert-w

    Robert-w Well-Known Member

    Without knowing more difficult to judge. Is this a book based on accounts from eye witnesses collected some time after the event? Such accounts all too often contain disrememberings like this.
     
  9. Waddell

    Waddell Well-Known Member

    The Quiet Gunner.JPG

    Title:
    The Quiet Gunner- El Alamein to the Rhine with the Scottish Divisions.


    Author: Richmond Gorle MC, RA.


    Publisher: Pen & Sword, 2011.

    Quick Review: Richmond Gorle was just short of thirty years of age when the war started and was a professional soldier. He was an artillery officer, had spent time in India and was raising a young family. When war broke out he was initially training recruits before being sent to 51st Highland Division where he served with 128 Field Regiment Artillery. He served throughout the North African Campaigns and the landings at Sicily. At that point he was sent to Staff College and did not return to war until July 1944, indeed he watched the airborne flotilla massing above him in England on D-Day.

    When he returned to duty in July 1944 he was posted as Brigade Major with the 7th Armoured Division and ran into some trouble there with the CRA who didn’t want him there and didn’t attempt to train him. As Gorle saw it they were a closed shop and had developed their own methods and jargon which he was unfamiliar with. He could see where that was going and feeling quite demoralised agreed to leave that posting and took up one with 15th Lowland Division, with whom he saw the war out.

    What I liked about the book was that Gorle was indeed the quiet gunner who took good care of his men and equipment and ensured they were trained well and functioned as a team. There are no heroics, even when describing the Battle of Blerick, for which he was awarded the Military Cross, it was all about ‘us’, rather than ‘I’. He made a lot of careful observations about those who served with him and those concerning his driver/cook Lance-Bombardier Howarth are particularly amusing.

    The book has been edited by the writer’s son, Richard Gorle, as it was written in 1958. I understand that he wrote it for his family. Accordingly, there is little colourful language or amorous exploits, just very good descriptions of how the unit functioned, methods it used and how the individual roles of the officer’s fitted into the larger scheme of things.

    As Gorle put it- “A well-organised Battery in war is a wonderful thing. It is split into so many widely separated parts-Ops, Tac HQ, Gun Positions, Wagon Lines, for example- and all are dependent on each other. If one fails the whole unit suffers. Control and supervision is not easy and it is now that the peacetime discipline and training is apparent.”

    He was a keen supporter of the pre-war regular officer “who could maintain proper discipline without losing the personal and friendly touch”.

    I really enjoyed this book and in many ways the book’s style reminded me of another staff officer who wrote two good books concerning his pre-war activities and his WW2 experiences, that being John Masters.

    Rating out of 5: 5
     
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  10. Waddell

    Waddell Well-Known Member

    Flak.JPG

    Title:
    Flak- True stories from the men who flew in World War Two.

    Author: Michael Veitch

    Publisher: Pan MacMillan Australia, 2006.

    Quick Review: Michael Veitch is well known down here for writing about Second World War airmen and battles. Flak was his first book and although I have dipped in and out of it (being a collection of stories) I hadn’t read it from cover to cover.

    It is put together within a simple framework. Veitch, spurred on by a fellow aviation writer, made contact with twenty five Australian and British airmen and went about interviewing them about their wartime experiences. The men’s experiences varied widely from fighters to bombers and transports and across both the North African, European and South West Pacific theatres of war.

    Some of the stories are gems, however, I couldn’t help but feel that a couple of the old guys were just going through the motions of telling stories they had told and perfected many times before. Once they had told their stories to Veitch you can almost feel the sadness as they reflected upon their experiences. There are a few interesting insights into how the RAAF operated in the early days and some of the aircraft. There was even an ex-pilot who haughtily defended the much DAP Beaufort, much against the author’s own opinion.

    Veitch’s writing flows easily and his enthusiasm for the subject matter is noticeable. There are one or two facts Veitch mentioned that seemed a bit odd- I am pretty sure that an automotive camshaft wasn’t named after Sir Sydney Camm, great engineer as he was. Overall though I would recommend this book, particularly to anyone with just a passing interest in the Second World War or younger readers.

    Rating out of 5: 4.0
     
  11. Waddell

    Waddell Well-Known Member

    Taranto.JPG

    Title:
    Taranto.

    Author: Don Newton and A.Cecil Hampshire.


    Publisher: William Kimber, 1959.

    Quick Review: Another old classic. I have been purposely reading a few older books lately and this one was on my Fleet Air Arm reading list. The book was first published in 1959 but don’t let that worry you as the authors consulted with many of the men involved including an Italian Rear-Admiral and many of the pilots. The book is written very much in the language of its time and is put together in a very logical manner- early planning of the raid, Italy’s entry into the war, preparations, briefing, first and second strikes and then views of the effectiveness of the raid from both the British and Italian points of view.

    The descriptions of the strikes are very good and put you right into the action. What most surprised me was the sloppiness of the Italians who had put in place very good defences but during the raids never used the searchlights. The book claims that the Italians fired a total of 13,489 rounds against the Swordfish throughout the raid (and 15 minutes after) for the loss of two aircraft- not good figures.

    There are probably better books about the Taranto Raid available now but I quite enjoyed this one as an introduction.

    Rating out of 5: 4.0
     
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  12. Waddell

    Waddell Well-Known Member

    Catalina Dreaming.JPG

    Title:
    Catalina Dreaming.

    Author: Andrew McMillan.

    Publisher: Duffy & Snellgrove, 2002.

    Quick Review: This is a bit of an odd book. It is described as a history of the Catalina’s that flew from the Top End and Northern Territory coast of Australia during the war and the author certainly interviewed a few former Catalina airmen and uses their stories to sort of put together a rough chronological history of their operations during the war. The problem is that the book drifts all over the place and reads like a cross between a travel book and a novel, with a strong emphasis on the indigenous history of the areas mentioned. While some of this is definitely interesting it detracts from the book overall.

    Some of the accounts are interesting and I did learn quite a bit from the book. In particular that is was a good idea for the crews to wait for the tenders to reach their aircraft on return rather than swim to the shore- it records one man who was attacked by a shark and another reportedly lost to a croc one night after slipping off the wing.

    The most interesting account is that of a Flight Engineer who mentioned trips to Mount Nila, a volcano in the Banda Sea. Apparently they would drop high ranking army and RAAF officers there for two week stints observing the natives. They interrogated the natives and if they suspected them of passing information to the Japanese they would capture them and take them with them on their return them trip to Australia. They would often send them to Brisbane. “We often wondered what happened to those natives after they had been interrogated” are the words of the Flight Engineer- me too! And this would have been a better book if a detail like that had been further researched.

    If you have an interest in RAAF Catalinas you will be able to take something away from the book.


    Rating out of 5: 2.5
     
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2020
    Charley Fortnum likes this.
  13. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    Not explicitly wartime, but if--like me--you are fond of Catalinas and all they connote, you should take a look at this documentary by the late Alexander Frater. Frater recreates Africa's flying boat journeys from Cairo to Mozambique in a proper 'old-world' documentary.



    His book 1986 book Beyond the Blue Horizon: On the track of Imperial Airways is also worth anybody's time--especially as it has now become a nested retrospective within a retrospective: the golden years of aviation as seen from the mid-80s.
     
    Waddell likes this.
  14. Waddell

    Waddell Well-Known Member

    Forty four days.JPG

    Title:
    44 Days- 75 Squadron And The Fight For Australia


    Author: Michael Veitch

    Publisher: Hachette Australia, 2016.

    Quick Review: Michael Veitch’s ’44 Days- 75 Squadron and the fight for Australia’ is a very clearly written, sad and exciting read. It covers the six weeks between March and April 1942 when the Japanese had landed on the north coast of New Guinea and were bombing Port Moresby as a prelude to invading the port. Australia initially had no fighter aircraft there to protect two airfields there and this book covers the hasty formation of 75 RAAF Squadron and their operations in Kittyhawks in defence of the port before American fighter groups arrived.

    The publishers blurb on the back cover claims that this is a story that has been ‘largely left untold’, which is a bit off the mark and makes you wonder if they ever read the book. Veitch pulls together a lot of 'untold' sources, including two rare books which were published by members of the squadron, numerous interviews of the pilots, a private diary and a documentary produced in the 1990’s by Geoffrey Robertson (whose father later served in the squadron) which contains many interviews with the pilots involved. Veitch does a good job of putting all the information together to make a very readable account. The accounts are nearly all Australian, balanced only slightly in the Japanese favour by the inclusion of material from Saburo Sakai’s book ‘Samurai’.

    The book looks at the personalities and politics that surrounded the squadron in a fair manner and doesn’t shy away from criticism of the pilots or the more senior RAAF personnel directing them. I was surprised to read that the squadron flew pretty much as a group of individuals rather than as a team using tactics. The squadron was lucky in a way that the Japanese also did not use their aircraft as efficiently and effectively as possible as well.

    If anyone is interested in 75 Squadron’s experiences at the time Geoffrey Robertson’s documentary is on YouTube and is worth watching for the interviews.

    A good read.

    Rating out of 5: 4.5

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QMxo7VD4is&pp=QADQAwE=
     
    Last edited: Aug 29, 2020
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  15. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian researcher

    Title: With the Allied Armies in Italy
    Author: Edward Seago
    Publisher: Collins, London, 1945
    Pages: 128 or so

    This is an art book containing works made by the artist Edward Seago in the fall of 1944. 104 works are represented - 42 oil paintings - 8 in colour, and one of those one being a portrait of Field Marshal Alexander at the front. The rest are wash-drawings.

    It starts with a forward by Alexander and an interesting 12 page introduction by the artist which is down to earth and interesting, partly a description of Italy at the time, and what it was like close to the front and further from it. I think it effectively conveys something of the artist's experience as an artist in 1944.

    Many of the works are landscapes. Others show trucks and convoys - when people appear they are figures, not in portrait. You definitely get an impression of the landscape, modern and ancient ruins, the mud, trucks driving up winding mountain roads, a few of men on leave in Florence, occasionally a tank or artillery piece.

    One piece filled in a little gap in my knowledge of what I've tried to read about in depth - a portrait of a great arched bridge at Cesena, the centre gone and crossed with a Bailey bridge. (And trucks crossing it.) I've read about the fighting there but never seen a picture of that bridge.

    If I have a bone to pick with the book it is based on the costs of the time. Some of the wash-drawings are in grey, some show some blue or brown. But I really wish that all of the oil paintings could have been presented in colour.

    drawings.jpg

    For instance, "8th Army in Rimini" here, is only presented in black and white.

    8thArmyRimini.jpg

    Rating: 3.75/5
     
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  16. Waddell

    Waddell Well-Known Member

    Backroom boys.JPG

    Title: Backroom Boys- Personal Stories of Britain’s Air War 1939-45.

    Author: Edward Smithies

    Publisher: Cassell, 2012.

    Quick Review: I recently finished this book written by Edward Smithies and found it a very informative read. The book was originally published as ‘War in the Air’ in 1990, and that was probably a better title. The current title would lead you to believe that the book is concerned with engineering, maintenance and production staff involved with the RAF during the Second World War, whereas this book is much broader than that. As the author puts it, it is about “the people who designed, built, serviced and flew the aircraft that were so crucial to Great Britain”.

    Smithies was the son of an aircraft engineer, born during the war, who grew up around military aircraft components and drawings. This book is centred around 300 interviews, he must have carried out before 1990, of aircraft engineering staff, factory workers (both male and female), aircraft mechanics, pilots and aircrew. Accordingly there are a lot of varied experiences in this book from aircraft mechanics who were torpedoed in the Mediterranean, to mechanics who were working up to 18 hours a day during the Battle of Britain and then working as ARP Wardens at night, to a man who was involved in production of spitfires at Castle Bromwich, to a young pilot who was first stationed with his squadron in April 1945 and flew thirteen ground attack missions in a Spitfire before being shot down and severely wounded which wrecked any chance of a normal working life after the war.

    The interviews were, I would say electronically recorded, and often the participant’s spouses were involved as well. I say this as many of the interviews end with the veterans pointing out that they had never told these stories before and you can almost sense the penny drop occasionally among the wives listening alongside.

    The book is a little odd and awkwardly arranged in places. In particular an overlong introduction that starts introducing veteran’s accounts that would be better left for later in the book. Additionally the author states that he has used pseudonyms to protect veterans’ identities, but does not indicate where he has done this. An index would have been useful as well.

    Overall though the information and accounts given by those involved in the book are very good and shed light on a lot of areas only lightly touched.

    An interesting read and I wonder what happened to Mr Smithies interviews.


    Rating out of 5: 3.5
     

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