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Monty's Men: The British Army and the Liberation of Europe
Monty's Men: The British Army and the Liberation of Europe
by John Buckley
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.00

63 of 65 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful, stimulating history, 16 Oct. 2013
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I found this to be an outstanding history book - it is crisply written, challenges orthodoxy, it is not biased and, above all, it educates. Prof. Buckley has written a first class addition to the WW2 Canon.

Prior to reading this book, I have to say that it always troubled me how often and how intensely the German army continued to receive the sobriquet of "being the best army" in the war yet lost, while the British army, by contrast, has been denigrated quite viciously, yet won where required.

In this book, Prof. Buckley tries, and in my opinion succeeds, in objectively assessing the British Army's performance in Western Europe, post D-Day. His conclusions are that Britain in fact ended the war with a well honed, highly professional army equipped with excellent and innovative tactical skills and an operational doctrine which brought victories, large and small, in varied conditions and terrain against, in many cases, highly organized and motivated opposition.

Prof. Buckley fluently addresses the basic criticisms leveled at the British Army - First, German interpretations of various battles were best served by focusing on the preponderance of resources, air superiority etc of the allies rather than their own tactical and operational weaknesses.... so to state the obvious point, not to have used those resources and the advantages they conferred would have been negligent indeed, and this holds true for all the allies. But what is clear though is that, in most instances, the British managed those resources very effectively.

Second, the British adapted well and fast to tactical situations, Prof. Buckley gives many examples of this as well as examples of the dire consequences if lessons were ignored. As a result the British Army wasn't the hidebound institution that some maintain, and in becoming more "professional" as combat wore on the British replicated the same learning experience as the Americans, a process which was been well addressed in Rick Atkinson's trilogy.

Third, operationally the British, and in reality the allies as a whole, were constrained by what was considered to be acceptable losses, yet for political reasons the Army had to be shown to be doing its bit, especially as the US commitment grew.... the operational doctrine which Montgomery developed was very well suited to this conundrum. It wasn't perfect, and opportunities were lost as a result of either the wrong strategic decisions as with regard to Market Garden / Scheldt Estuary or an overly conservative approach such as that of crossing the Rhine, yet the goal of beating the Germans in fraught and aggressive engagements without the blood letting of the first would war was ultimately very successfully achieved.

Fourth, the British were no slouches in a number of areas - artillery, engineering, medicine, logistics, intelligence to name some, and as Prof Buckley shows this institutional excellence greatly helped the fighting man achieve his goals without the slaughter seen on the Eastern Front.

Prof. Buckley goes into other aspects of the Army's performance in this excellent book, but rarely if ever does he show anything but appropriate critical analysis - I was surprised for example about his rather scathing assessment of Market Garden - I had always considered it to be a glorious failure rather than the end result of operational incompetence. Similarly, he expresses trenchant and cogent views on other operations as well as on specific generals. As a result one never feels like one is reading a eulogy or an apologia.

Which perhaps brings us on to the most interesting underlying question - exactly why had the British Army's reputation slipped so much with revisionist historians? Although perhaps not Prof Buckley's direct conclusion, my own view was that Montgomery, simply by being Montgomery, was largely responsible. There is a strong argument to suggest that he was the foremost Allied Army commander in the Western European Theatre and certainly the most successful and experienced, but he seems to have been a deeply flawed personality in many ways. It is evident he created a highly effective and efficient army, yet at the same time managed to upset and alienate vast swathes of the US and British High commands. As a result, it would appear that the criticism of Montgomery which erupted post war appears to have wrongly flowed through to criticism of the actual army he led, until such point as we were left with the received, but incorrect, wisdoms which Prof. Buckley so ably corrects.

To conclude, whether or not you agree with Prof. Buckley's positions, this really is a must read. Excellent scholarship, a plethora of new ideas to explore and a challenge to conventional thinking all make this a wonderful, stimulating history.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 23, 2013 8:13 PM GMT


Give Me Tomorrow: The Korean War's Greatest Untold Story - the Epic Stand of the Marines of George Company
Give Me Tomorrow: The Korean War's Greatest Untold Story - the Epic Stand of the Marines of George Company
by Patrick K. O'Donnell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.99

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Brave men deserve better, 12 Oct. 2013
I am sorry, but I believe the men of George company deserve better. Theirs is a truly heroic story, and one is delighted that the spotlight of history has shone on them. However, one wishes that they had a better proponent for their story.

I have any number of issues, but chief among them are the following:

1) Right at the start of the book, Mr. O'Donnell makes the unpardonable error of making himself central to the narrative.
2) His representation of Don Carlos Faith seemed extremely churlish. Col. Faith was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions, but reading this book you would have never known it.
3) The backdrop of events and the historic detail associated with those events were off - particularly in the case of Taskforce Drysdale.
4) The devil is in the detail and the accuracy of the fact checking around those details really wasn't great - George Company's comrades in arms, for instance, were Royal Marines; not hard to get right, but Mr. O'Donnell persistently gets it wrong.
5) There were a number of peculiar footnotes, which were repetitious in nature, especially when compared to the text itself - why weren't these properly edited? This sloppiness smacks of filler when none is required in a set of stories so gripping in nature.
6) The "where are they now section" seemed sadly lacking - these are heroic men, and to know more about them and their lives would have been an honour.

In short, in my opinion, Mr. O'Donnell has taken the lazy man's approach to this book - he has simply let his heroic subjects do all the work through the brush strokes of their words alone. What he has failed to do is provide them, as was his reponsibilty as the named author, with the accurate, unobtrusive and reflective canvas on which their deeds deserve to have been painted.


Storming the Eagle's Nest: Hitler's War in the Alps
Storming the Eagle's Nest: Hitler's War in the Alps
by Jim Ring
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.95

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A well outlined bigger picture, but where was the detail?, 13 Sept. 2013
I have to say I was savouring the reading of this book but, sadly, once I finished, I ultimately came away feeling a little disappointed.

I approached this volume with enthusiasm as, to the best of my knowledge, there have been no other recent books telling the story of the Alps at war in such a holistic fashion - the region really does have a mystical and romantic feel about it (a point Mr. Ring labours) and at the same time I also have to admit that unlike the previous reviewer, my knowledge of the wartime history of the area was somewhat scanty; I for one was unclear how the history of the region might have all fitted together for example. This bigger picture scene setting was well done, especially when discussing the precarious positioning of Switzerland throughout the war.

So in the context of the above comment, I would have to say that my disappointment was twofold. First, I found the lack of depth frustrating; there simply was not enough of what looks tantalisingly like some really fascinating detail. This, to me at least, is the missed opportunity for this book - the wartime history of the region was characterised much less by the clash of the big battalions as seen on the Eastern Front or that of the logistics war with the West but much more about how individuals could and did influence events.... Guisan, Dansey, Dulles, Tito, as well as myriad of other lesser characters, are all worthy of greater exposition.

Despite the scrimping on the detail, Mr. Ring has certainly done enough to demonstrate that he knows his stuff well and so, personally, I would have happily read a much longer book encompassing much more of the story of the various resistance groups, spy rings, occupiers, invaders, refugees, locals, politicians both national and international, liberators, deserters, prisoners etc than this volume goes into.

My second issue with the book was really stylistic. Sometimes the writing style was good, but at other times it was bemusing or repetitive or flabby or simply confusing. The author / editors seem to have had the strange idea of mixing up various descriptive writing styles when in fact all that was required was for someone to apply some crispness and organisation to the prose. The other problem, as it is with most history books these days, was a lack of detailed maps.

To conclude, I would say this is an interesting book which is well worth reading (so I do recommend it), but the satisfaction derived from it was a little like eating sushi - your appetite is whetted at first, you feel satiated at the time of eating but unfortunately one is hungry for more a very short while later.


How Can Man Die Better: The Secrets of Isandlwana Revealed
How Can Man Die Better: The Secrets of Isandlwana Revealed
by Mike Snook
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.48

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Cocktail of Brilliance and Omission, 23 April 2013
First of all, I have to say that this book is one of the best pieces of battlefield analyses I have ever read. Col. Snook has applied a great deal of excellent research and combined it with his professional soldier's understanding of terrain and tactical movement, then added a huge dollop of sound commonsense to create what must be the best reconstruction of the ebbs and flows of the battle possible with the information we have available to-day. For these insights alone the book is well worth reading.

Additionally, Col. Snook has astutely tackled a lot of the old chestnuts and myths associated with the battle - Melville and Coghill's flight, the actions of the quartermasters, the performance of the Martini-Henry, the tactics of the Zulus (no "rush and overwhelm" in this interpretation), the ammunition "question" and so and so forth. So far very superior stuff...

So for me this should have been a five star history of the highest order.... So why wasn't it?

I have to say that while 95% of this book was superior to almost anything I have read recently, the 5% which wasn't really bothered me. The first aspect was Col. Snook's treatment of Durnford and the blame and approbation which was attached to him in the book. While I am certainly not an apologist for Durnford, I didn't get the sense that he was accorded the same rigour of dispassionate analysis which characterises so much else in this book. Instead we were getting close, at points, to hearing what Durnford was supposedly thinking at a given time as well as unsubstantiated psychological intepretations of why he acted the way he did... this type of thing doesn't make great history and given the quality of so much else in this book, just didn't seem worthy.

The second aspect that disturbed me was Col. Snook's refusal to look at Pulleine's tactical performance in any way which might be construed as critical. The rush in the book is to blame Durnford, but if there was a way Pulleine's could have fought the battalion better, what was it and why didn't he do so....? After all, one of the criticisms made of Durnford was that he was in the wrong place and therefore out of communication with his command. On the other hand, one of the reappraisals which Col. Snooks cogently makes is that Pulleine was in fact where he should have been.

Also, reading Col. Snooks own excellent analysis of troop movements, it is possible to infer that the companies of 24th remained overextended on too broad a front for too long (partly to support Durnford it is said) and at a number of points did not benefit from mutual fire support... Had Pulleine reacted more aggressively towards the beginning of the action to change his dispositions, would things have gone differently? The other observation one might have on Pulleine's performance, is that it doesn't appear to be satisfactorily explained why Pulleine didn't fortify the camp on his own recognisance when he heard of proximity of the enemy - there could be many reasons for this failure, but given Col. Snook's own reconstruction, time didn't seem to be one of them; similarly Durnford only arrived in camp in late morning.

I simply would have liked to have seen Pulleine's performance discussed with a more disappassionate eye than I felt was actually done in the book.

The third criticism I had was that the other units, aside from the 24th, did not get quite such a detailed appraisal of their performance, and in fact, with one or two exceptions, came out looking like bit part players at best and at worst cowards. Perhaps there is truth in those generalisations but given that other units, aside from the 24th, constituted more than half of the establishment at Isandlwana, it would have been good to have seen their story pieced together as well as that of Col. Snook's Regiment.....

.... and perhaps therein lies the problem. I completely understand Col. Snook's desire to do right by his Regiment but by doing so to such the extent that he did, on just a couple of key points, I felt the book tipped from objectivity into subjectivity. As a result the edge (at least for me) was taken off what could and should have been a seminal work. In short, this book is a cocktail of more than a few moments of brilliant analysis mixed in with a little too much personal bias in the interpretation on a small handful of important issues.

However, regardless of this or any other review, I do urge you to please read this book - you really will find it engaging and an excellent read. Whether you ultimately agree with Colonel Snook or not, you will have plenty to mull over!
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 28, 2015 9:55 AM GMT


Engineers of Victory: The Problem Solvers who Turned the Tide in the Second World War
Engineers of Victory: The Problem Solvers who Turned the Tide in the Second World War
by Paul Kennedy
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.01

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Strengths and Weaknesses, 7 Mar. 2013
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I have to say this volume was hit and miss for me.

I did enjoy Dr. Kennedy's premise of "looking under the hood" at various conflicts during the war, rather than just taking the more normal broad brush approach of walking through high level strategies and their outcomes... as a result, for me, there were real insights as to how a particular front was turned around to the allies' favour. I also liked the considerable effort made to be balanced - there simply were no wonder weapons developed by one person from one country as some sometimes wish to attest. It just rings true that a lot of hard graft, insight and collaboration across many discplines, people and nations went into creating the war winning weapons systems Dr. Kennedy describes.

Finally on the positive side, I do enjoy books which challenge me to think again - I find that general histories of the war understandably tend to look at bits of the conflict in relative isolation. Here Dr. Kennedy has, through the approach he has taken, been able to stich together the impact from various theatres of conflict which in turn allows one to reconsider the whole - so for me, one of the major insights from this book would be the evidence that maybe Britian's role in much of the conflict, at all sorts of levels, was more crucial than the recent rash of WW2 histories currently suggest.

I did, however, struggle with Dr. Kennedy's writing style which felt a little repetitive in forcing home various points - fine for hung over graduates in a lecture hall, but I can generally pick up the import of a message by the second time of reading. At times I almost had the sense that I was reading a series of separate scholastic papers subsequently moulded together to make the whole - perhaps poor editorial? I also became concerned that the book may have been a litte wobbly on facts, especially those around D-day and the Mulberry harbours. The final thing which frustrated me a little was that after some quite masterful scene setting, especially the chapters dealing with the Battle of the Atlantic, the Air War in Europe and the conflict in the Pacific, the nitty gritty details around the actual inventions and innovations required to provide the war winning weaons systems felt a little glossed over.

I really wanted to like this book more but perhaps that is just an issue of style - I have to say that there is no doubt that this books makes for stimulating reading and so I can easily recommend it to others.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 6, 2014 12:40 PM BST


THE MIDSHIPMAN PRINCE (First Book in the Sir Sidney Smith Series)
THE MIDSHIPMAN PRINCE (First Book in the Sir Sidney Smith Series)
Price: £4.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Really rather disappointing, 5 Mar. 2013
I am always happy to read potboilers which "adapt" real history in the cause of a good yarn - Cornwall, Scarrow, Sidebottom, Riches, Stockwin, Mallinson are all great proponents of this genre. I do not expect high literature from them and nor do I see them as guardians of the historical record. What I do expect though is some attention to detail, an ability to write convincing dialogue, an avoidance of cod philosophising and at least some modicum of tastefulness.

Unfortunately Mr. Grundner fails in all four of the latter counts. There are some egregious errors concerning the British Navy as it was then and as pointed out by other reviewers. Unfortunately anyone who knows more than a little about the naval history of the period would not have made those errors. The language of dialogue is 21st century colloquial and really rather childish (to the extent that at one point I had to check whether I wasn't actually reading an adventure story written for teenagers) and frankly the diatribes about slavery and the future of the US navy were simply irrelevant and boorish. Finally, the scene where one of the main protagonists regains consciousness next to a mangled corpse while thinking he is with a favoured bed companion (and all that might entail) is simply gratuitous and borders on the seriously disturbing - aren't these types of books meant to be fun?

However, writing is not something I could succeed at and this was a new author's first attempt - the premise of the story has possibilities, it's just the execution which was so flawed. Given the enthusiasm of other reviewers, I will try the next in the series and hope for better.


Wellington: The Iron Duke (Text Only)
Wellington: The Iron Duke (Text Only)
Price: £4.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A real jewel among biographies, 5 Mar. 2013
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There is no doubt about it, Richard Holmes was a splendid writer and has written a splendid book.

Having read some works on the Napoleonic Wars I was unprepared to have the preconcieved nuances of my views on Wellington to be quite so challenged. I had carried the simplistic and certainly conventional thought that the Duke was really just an rather efficient logistician, who fought his war largely by calculating the odds and through exceptional organisation - all rather dull. At a personal level, it wasn't so much his affairs but the offhand treatment of his wife which one found a little challenging. Finally, reading about his political life, I had also found his "high" Tory views somewhat constricted. In short, I thought him a very able general, although a somewhat unlikeable individual.

However, in 300 or so pages, Mr. Holmes has caused me to go back to my book shelves once again and reconsider my somewhat naive views. There are a number of thoughts I took away from this book, but perhaps the most worthy of consideration may be the following:

1) Wellington clearly was more than a great general in the context of the Penisular; He has to be considered a great general for the ages. It is said that he was a defensive, unimaginative and somewhat uninspirational leader - none of this can be true in the context of his outstanding military achievements in both India and the Penisular. Mr. Holmes does well to bring out the strengths which made him the genius he was and hopefully this goes some way to correcting two centuries of negative propaganda around his generalship. I particularly like Mr. Holmes' even-handed approach when dealing with controversies, particularly Badajoz (where it seems apparent he lost control of his troops) and Waterloo (where he was conflicted with national imperatives and the need to support his allies).

2) Touching on his personal life, I am glad Mr. Holmes did not feel the need to go into prurient details, but it was evident that Wellington had an unhappy marriage. How he coped with this seems to have at least involved discretion but what I think brought his humanity to the fore was his observations following his wife's death. Sadly, it also seems clear that his relationships with his children seemed somewhat poor - perhaps, to paraphrase Douro, because they all hard a terrifically hard act to follow. Beyond his family though, there does seem to be strong evidence that he was in fact warm hearted and generous behind the public facade.

3) As to his politics he comes across as man of the times working in a framework of principles, but at least did have the flexibility of mind to shift his position on various issues. His political career was not stellar in any real sense, but I think it hard to see his goverment service as anything but a good man trying, by his lights, to do what was right for the country and his monarch.

In short, no review of mine can do justice to this excellent biography, but I just would have liked to thank Mr. Holmes for vividly showing the Duke to be a much more complex, gifited, humane, interesting and, (dare I say it since Holmes himself may not have agreed), likeable man than I had previously understood to be the case.


Flashman and the Seawolf (Adventures of Thomas Flashman Book 1)
Flashman and the Seawolf (Adventures of Thomas Flashman Book 1)
Price: £2.53

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Flashes of what we all came for, 5 Mar. 2013
As with most, I too am looking for an alternative to GMF's Flashman - can it be possible to find?

I have to say though, I enjoyed this novel and there are certainly flashes of what we all came for, but while I understand that Cochrane was quite the fellow, there are contrivences which stretched my credulity at times especially as they relate to positioning Thomas in the story. At the same time, Flashman himself wasn't quite the paltroon that his uncle was, which made what was in fact a very good book ever so slightly disappointing given the reasons for purchase in the first place - much like eating a Burger King and being disappointed that its not MacDonalds.

At time of writing I have bought and read the second book, which I am pleased to say I considered to be even better and Thomas is becoming more his own man... I personally hope that its a series that runs and grows into itself as the historical time it is set in is rich with potential and the character himself really is quite engaging.


Flashman and the Cobra (Adventures of Thomas Flashman)
Flashman and the Cobra (Adventures of Thomas Flashman)
by Robert Brightwell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.59

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A series to follow, 5 Mar. 2013
An excellent book and an improvement on an already strong debut.

Thomas is developing his own character, his writing style (as edited by Mr, Brightwell) is his own rather than his uncle's, and the backdrop he gives to the events he lived through, as well as the descriptions of people he met, appear to reflect an excellent memory for detail and time.

I have to say I really enjoyed the story... its invidious to compare Mr. Brightwell to GMF, but one can be confident that we have a series which is developing very nicely and is well worth following in its own right. The next volume is certainly something to look forward to.


Arnhem: The Battle for Survival
Arnhem: The Battle for Survival
by John Nichol
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Highly Engaging, 5 Mar. 2013
I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Lloyd Clark's "Arnhem" and Robert Kershaw's "It never snows in September" it is not, but the authors have created a very human story from what was an excuriatingly difficult military action for those who served in it.

Some say that books "compiled" from veterans' memories and under the guise of honouring those who were there represents lazy history on the part of the given author. Perhaps in certain instances that may be true, but not here - Nichol and Rennell have created a brilliantly vivid picture of the endeavour which is very easy to follow and, is as far I can tell, as factually accurate as its possible to be in the context of such a fluid and confused action. They also successfully place into context the travails of the XXX Corp's intended "Blitzkrieg" and credit is given where it is due, despite the fact that Market Garden must be considered a costly (but most definitely heroic) failure. Rennell and Nichol have achieved an excellent synethsis of the factual and the human, and have created a very readable and informative book as a result.

So why only four stars? Two reasons:

1) I personally like my history to be a little bit denser and so what is missing for me is more of the background of why Market Garden was undertaken in the first place.(This book really only covers the Arnhem "experience"). Was it really about Monty's ego as some attest? or was Market Garden a plausible war winning strategy? Was the failure of a (possibly) good idea simply the a result of bad planning? Or a combination of all three? Did Eisenhower simply "give in" to Monty or did he see clear vitues in the attempt? I came away from the book having really enjoyed their treatment of the element of Market Garden which was Arnhem, but I was in the end unsure on the Authors' opinions on the bigger picture conundrums associated with the failure of the operation as a whole.

2)The second reason for a dropped star is simply that I would have liked the book to have been rounded out from the German perspective too...

In conclusion though, I strongly recommend this book.


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