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David I. Howells "outlawcatcher" (UK)

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Crazy Horse and Custer: The Parallel Lives of Two American Warriors
Crazy Horse and Custer: The Parallel Lives of Two American Warriors
by Stephen E. Ambrose
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Crazy horse and custer, 29 July 2007
Another bestselling and fantastic book from bestselling historian Stephen E. Ambrose. A dual biography of two great nineteenth century warriors, General Custer and Crazy Horse, and the Battle of Little Bighorn. On June 25, 1876, 611 men of the United States 7th Cavalry rode towards the banks of the Little Bighorn where three thousand Indians stood waiting for battle. The lives of two Great War leaders would soon become forever linked: Crazy Horse, leader of the Sioux, and General George Armstrong Custer. This masterly dual biography tells the epic story of the lives of these two men: both were fighters of legendary daring, both became honoured leaders in their societies when still astonishingly young, and both died when close to the supreme political heights. Yet they - like the nations they represented - were as different as day and night. Custer had won his spurs in the American Civil War; his watchword was 'To promotion - or death!' and his restless ambition characterized a white nation in search of expansion and progress. Crazy Horse fought for a nomadic way of life fast yielding before the buffalo-hunters and the incursions of the white man. The Great Plains of North America provided the stage - and the prize. A great read by a great author!


The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty
The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty
by Caroline Alexander
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.22

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Blighs Bounty, 29 July 2007
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The bestselling author of The Endurance reveals the startling truth behind the legend of the Mutiny on the Bounty, the most famous sea story of all time. More than two centuries have passed since Fletcher Christian mutinied against Lt. Bligh on a small armed transport vessel called Bounty. Why the details of this obscure adventure at the end of the world remain vivid and enthralling is as intriguing as the truth behind the legend. Caroline Alexander focuses on the court martial of the ten mutineers captured in Tahiti and brought to justice in Portsmouth. Each figure emerges as a richly drawn character caught up in a drama that may well end on the gallows. With enormous scholarship and exquisitely drawn characters, the whole book is a hard to put down read. I was particularly enthralled in the account of Bligh's superb seamanship when he sails his small band of survivors on the long perilous journey to the East Indies. Written with great detail you can literally step into the shoes of the central characters of this true descriptive account of a classic seafaring adventure.


The Dieppe Raid: The Story of the Disastrous 1942 Mission
The Dieppe Raid: The Story of the Disastrous 1942 Mission
by Robin Neillands
Edition: Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Carnage of the Canadians!, 29 July 2007
The Dieppe Raid is one of World War II's most controversial military operations. In 1942, a full two years before D-Day, thousands of men, mostly Canadian troops eager for their first taste of battle, were sent across the Channel in a raid on the French port town of Dieppe. Air supremacy was not secured; the topography of the town and its surroundings - hemmed in by tall cliffs and steep beaches - meant any invasion was improbably difficult; the result was carnage, the beaches turned into killing grounds even as the men came ashore, and whole regiments literally decimated. Why was the Raid ever mounted? No-one appears to have had a clear answer, and no-one afterwards appeared to be clearly accountable, but posterity has been hard on individuals like Mountbatten, who were instrumental in its planning and the decision to go. Was the whole thing even, as has been darkly alleged, expected and even intended to fail, a cynical conspiracy to prove to the Americans, at the expense of so many Canadian lives, the impracticability of staging the Normandy landings for another two years? Now Robin Neillands goes behind the myths to tell what really happened, and why. Written in quite a dry, matter of fact way this is however an accurate account of that fateful operation in 1942...quite a depressing read as it is a factual account of what in my view is one of the worst allied disasters in ww2 and worse....it was totally avoidable!
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The Battle of the River Plate
The Battle of the River Plate
by Dudley Pope
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read., 25 Jun 2007
A brilliant military historian, Dudley Pope does not disappoint with this exceedingly well written account of the sinking of the German pocket battleship the Graf Spee in the South Atlantic during the early stages of the Second World War.

Pope covers in depth the full synopsis of the battle from both the German and the British side. He gives a detailed description of the men involved, the history of the naval vessels involved in the battle, the raiding accounts of the Graf Spee, the battle itself and the eventual scuttling of this great ship.

The raiding account is well explained especially in regard to the tactics employed by the Spee, descriptions of the vessels attacked and the bravery of the merchant radio operators per sec. These brave men sent out their distress signals despite the threat of action against them and there are several accounts of the Spee hosing radio shacks with machine gun fire and cannon shells...and the radio operators still continued with their messages. It is a shame these brave merchant men did not receive gallantry medals for their endeavours.

The detailed explanations on naval terminology and tactics are particularly useful. The explanation on gunnery tactics is particularly thorough and this helps the reader to comprehend the full and graphic account of the battle between the Spee with the cruisers Ajax, Achilles and Exeter. There is even an accurate synopsis of international naval law!

The mainstay of the book though is the overall narrative of how three outgunned British cruisers damaged a pocket battleship by their aggressive tactics and damaging it to such a degree that it had to seek shelter in Montevideo harbour. The reason why this modern powerful battleship did not wipe out the British hunting fleet will never really be known. What is known however is that the actions of the British ships that day made this into an historic encounter. Heavily outgunned they fought a desperately tenacious action that immortalised the battle into British naval folklore. This was at a high cost however with over fifty dead many more wounded and major damage to the ships involved in the action.

The culmination of the action is arrived at five days later when the Spee exits the harbour only to be scuttled by its crew under the watchful gaze of 750,000 spectators and the world wide press. The scuttling being done on the pretext that the Spee even if it defeated the waiting British ships...that again were heavily outgunned by the Spee...would not be able to reach Germany for a number of vacillating reasons. The incident is thus closed when the captain of the Spee commits suicide a few days after the scuttling.

The only negative points for me were the poor quality of the diagrams in the book. Apart from that this is a brilliantly told account of a British naval victory that should not have been. A truly great read from a great author.


The Battle of the River Plate: The Hunt for the German Pocket Battleship Graf Spee
The Battle of the River Plate: The Hunt for the German Pocket Battleship Graf Spee
by Dudley Pope
Edition: Paperback

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read., 25 Jun 2007
A brilliant military historian, Dudley Pope does not disappoint with this exceedingly well written account of the sinking of the German pocket battleship the Graf Spee in the South Atlantic during the early stages of the Second World War.

Pope covers in depth the full synopsis of the battle from both the German and the British side. He gives a detailed description of the men involved, the history of the naval vessels involved in the battle, the raiding accounts of the Graf Spee, the battle itself and the eventual scuttling of this great ship.

The raiding account is well explained especially in regard to the tactics employed by the Spee, descriptions of the vessels attacked and the bravery of the merchant radio operators per sec. These brave men sent out their distress signals despite the threat of action against them and there are several accounts of the Spee hosing radio shacks with machine gun fire and cannon shells...and the radio operators still continued with their messages. It is a shame these brave merchant men did not receive gallantry medals for their endeavours.

The detailed explanations on naval terminology and tactics are particularly useful. The explanation on gunnery tactics is particularly thorough and this helps the reader to comprehend the full and graphic account of the battle between the Spee with the cruisers Ajax, Achilles and Exeter. There is even an accurate synopsis of international naval law!

The mainstay of the book though is the overall narrative of how three outgunned British cruisers damaged a pocket battleship by their aggressive tactics and damaging it to such a degree that it had to seek shelter in Montevideo harbour. The reason why this modern powerful battleship did not wipe out the British hunting fleet will never really be known. What is known however is that the actions of the British ships that day made this into an historic encounter. Heavily outgunned they fought a desperately tenacious action that immortalised the battle into British naval folklore. This was at a high cost however with over fifty dead many more wounded and major damage to the ships involved in the action.

The culmination of the action is arrived at five days later when the Spee exits the harbour only to be scuttled by its crew under the watchful gaze of 750,000 spectators and the world wide press. The scuttling being done on the pretext that the Spee even if it defeated the waiting British ships...that again were heavily outgunned by the Spee...would not be able to reach Germany for a number of vacillating reasons. The incident is thus closed when the captain of the Spee commits suicide a few days after the scuttling.

The only negative points for me were the poor quality of the diagrams in the book. Apart from that this is a brilliantly told account of a British naval victory that should not have been. A truly great read from a great author.


The gates of hell
The gates of hell
by Ewart Brookes
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Arctic bravery, 21 Jun 2007
This review is from: The gates of hell (Paperback)
This is a small paperback book outlining the enduring hell the men of the arctic convoys suffered during the Second World War. In desperate need of war materials the Russians turn to the allies for help and that is what they get. Churchill and Roosevelt push forward the directives that the supply convoys from the UK be forced through to their Russian destination at Murmansk....at all cost!

Forced through they are...the convoys are faced with some of the most hostile waters in the world, abysmal conditions pertain at all times of the year and with mammoth freezing seas being the norm the convoys brave not only the weather but also the hunting strategy of their German foe. By plane, submarine and surface ships, the convoys are mercilessly attacked and sometimes decimated on their northern route.

With heart rendering losses, exceptional bravery and endurance the convoys persist and endure the natural and warring hurdles placed in front of them. The competency and aggressiveness of the Royal Navy is highlighted in a very positive way but alas so is the common complaint of being directed from a desk from far, far behind the battle scene...this causes the infamous decimation of convoy PQ17 with its bitter recriminations.

With endless action narratives the bravery of these convoy men is impressive, which is the reason I read this book in anyway as my father was a gunner on one of the Corvettes. He never talked to me about the convoys until I came back from the Falklands after the war in 82...he only talked to me then because he thought my experience was enough for me to have some sort of comprehension of what he went through in the arctic north.

The book amply describes the constant fear of attack and of a freezing death and highlights the utter exhausting living and weather conditions that the men endured on these convoy runs, which made this the most perilous convoy route in the world. My father actually said it was not a question of a constant fear of attack it was a question of being continually attacked as they were bombed, shelled, torpedoed and strafed sometimes dozens of times a day. What he told me is amply supported in this book...I still have no idea what my father went through! The spirit of duty, bravery and service displayed by these brave men is simply from the age of Nelson.

The story is rather repetitive in its details about the convoys sometimes but it is a descriptive and entertaining read through out...I enjoyed the book and must now find some more on the same topic. I don't think we will ever see the repeat of this type of conflict ever again, a fine tribute to the fortitude and bravery of these young men.


Pegasus Bridge: D-Day - the Daring British Airborne Raid
Pegasus Bridge: D-Day - the Daring British Airborne Raid
by Stephen E. Ambrose
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best of British!, 21 Jun 2007
Another book from the literary stable of American author Stephen Ambrose. I had noticed that the author always takes an obvious patriotic slant towards the American effort into the Second World War so why write about Pegasus Bridge? The book explains this as Ambrose, on a visit to the battle site of the said bridge, actually meets by chance and has a battlefield tour by the actual raid commander Major John Howard. So impressed was the author by Howard's depiction of this epic D-Day raid that he decided to write a book on the story.

What a story it is too? In this first D-Day engagement, the capture of this Normandy Bridge was reputed to be crucial to the success of the D-Day invasion. Its capture would deny a route for German reinforcements to support the defences on the stormed beaches. So the scene was set in that pre invasion dawn of the 6th June 1944 for a small airborne team of highly trained British troops to take off from the green fields of England on what was to become the most famous glider borne attack of the war.

Travelling over the English Channel in their fragile aircraft the troops are glided in with pin point precision to within yards of their objective....`Pegasus Bridge'. With complete surprise on their side Howard's men storm and take the bridge with minimal casualties and hunker down to repel the German counter attack until they are relieved by invasion troops.

Hopelessly outnumbered the airborne troops fight a cornered rat type of desperate defence....never giving in despite the odds. At one point when an armoured column of six tanks are sent against them a lone soldier with a Piat stops the first one literally in its tracks. This forces the other tanks to retreat fearing that the British are supported by an anti tank gun battery. This necessitates the comment that the Piat round shot by the soldier...Sgt Thorton...might be one of the most important rounds to be fired in the war...in effect his Piat round stopped the bridge being retaken and thereby giving the Panzers a free route to the beaches to repel the allied invasion.

Even the scene of the eventual relief on the bridge, when the commandos from the invasion spearhead join up with the airborne troops, becomes one of the most legendary British scenes of the war. The commandos let by Lord Lovatt, accompanied by his piper Bill Milne, march stiffly across the bridge to the sounds of the pipes whilst ignoring heavy enemy gunfire...the scene was made famous in the film `The Longest Day'.

As all of Stephen Ambrose's books the story is told with clarity, passion and admiration. The book cover the intense training leading up to the raid, dissects the personal nature, strengths and weaknesses of the men involved and covers the dramatic battle for the bridge as well as a concise narrative of the invasion itself. A great read about a real boys own story...a true military adventure that was distinctively British.


The Battle of Hurtgen Forest
The Battle of Hurtgen Forest
by Charles Whiting
Edition: Paperback

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Carnage of the Hurtgen, 20 Jun 2007
This terrible story of the battle of the Hürtgen forest is told by the celebrated military historian Charles Whiting. It's fulcrum centres around a needless battle fought by the US army that led to the wasteful slaughter of over 30,000 US servicemen. This historically neglected battle was later overshadowed by the battle of the Bulge and its 90,000 casualties which took place soon after.

In the autumn and early winter of 1944, the US army was advancing between the Rhur river and Aachen. Instead of bypassing the dense conifered Hurtgen forest and isolating its defenders the US army entered the area to take it from the Germans. In an area broken by few roads, tracks and firebreaks and where vehicular movement was restricted, the GI's advanced against well prepared and stoutly defended German positions. The battle then commenced without the customary overwhelming allied air and armoured superiority.

On the defensive side the small numbers of routes and clearings had allowed German machine-gun, mortar and artillery teams to pre-range their weapons and fire accurately. In this defensive environment relatively small numbers of determined and prepared defenders were highly effective...as the GI's found out to their cost! The German defenders had prepared their defensive positions well with blockhouses, minefields, barbed wire, and booby-traps. There were also a number of bunkers in the area belonging to the deep defences of the Siegfried Line, which were centres of stiff and determined resistance. The dense forest also allowed infiltration and flanking movements by both sides and it was sometimes difficult to establish a front line or to be confident that an area had been cleared of the enemy. This led to a regular climate of sudden attacks and counter attacks by both sides.

As the American divisions started to take unexpectedly massive casualties, battle commanders had to put into the field inexperienced recruits as replacements. This was a cannon fodder approach to take a well defended battlefield when the pride and reputation of the US army had put on the line to take this coniferred valueless objective. The casualties continued to escalate dramatically when an easy disengagement would have been the most sensible option.

The Germans were hampered by much of the same difficulties but the German defenders had the advantage that their commanders and many of their soldiers had been fighting for a few years and had learned the necessary tactics for fighting efficiently in winter and forest. So with a determined foe set against them the ensuing battle was a cycle of horrid carnage where American units were literally wiped out. The fighting was bitter, ferocious and unrelenting in the most testing of weather conditions. The battle was eventually won only by the insertion of huge troop numbers by the Americans.

The book is very descriptive of the fighting, artillery bombardments and atrocious weather conditions, often repetitively so. The fortitude and bravery of the American GI's glistens on every page but so does the often highlighted instances of 'self preservation' and desperate self inflicted wounds. This only brings to the fore the obviously desperate horror of the forest fighting. Overall a story of military folly on what has to be one of the US army's biggest strategic and casualty costly blunders. A blunder that is not highly advertised!

An enjoyable and interesting read on one of histories least notable battles.


The Pianist: The Extraordinary Story of One Man's Survival in Warsaw, 1939-45
The Pianist: The Extraordinary Story of One Man's Survival in Warsaw, 1939-45
by Wladyslaw Szpilman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Miracle in Warsaw, 2 Jun 2007
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
As quite a few reviewers did, I read this book after watching the film. I found the book, as I do most holocaust based books, to be horrific, sad and terribly tragic. Wladyslaw Szpilman is a pianist working for a Polish radio station when Poland falls to the German invaders in 1939. The subsequent segregation and systematic annihilation of the Warsaw Jews is then described with Szpilman and his family being the obvious fulcrum of the story.

Szpilman describes in depth the formation of the Jewish Ghetto, the Ghetto uprising, the Warsaw uprising, the `relocation' of his family to the gas chambers, the beatings, shootings and the random murder of so many of his race. A story of pure savagery that even after so many books, films and documentaries still shocks the reader to the core.

The main theme of this book however concerns the miraculous survival of the author. He is picked out from the `relocation' queue by an old friend who is now a Jewish Ghetto policeman and then embarks on a hide and seek escapade through various safe houses in Warsaw. Living with an instant death sentence if discovered, Szpilman is hidden at these various locations for weeks at a time, always alone and often without food. Eventually in the courageous Warsaw uprising the author is forced to take refuge in an abandoned building which catches fire, he is then discovered by the Germans and shot at but escapes. In what is a virtually a now abandoned Warsaw he takes refuge in other abandoned buildings and is eventually caught in one foraging for food by a German Captain namely Wilm Hosenfeld. Expecting the worse Szpilman finds the opposite and his life is saved by this kind and honourable German officer. Hosenfeld befriends Szpilman, hides him, feeds him and provides him warm clothing. Hosenfeld then disappears from the story when the Russians enter Warsaw and the Germans retreat. However the story has a twist as Hosenfeld gets taken prisoner by the Russians and in the post war period Szpilman finds this out and tries to find Hosenfeld to barter for his release. Alas this humanitarian Captain dies in a Russian prison camp in the early 1950's.

A sad but miraculous story, sometime told in quite a banal matter of fact matter with not much emotion....but it is said in the book that the author wrote the book immediately after the war ended...after so much horror I doubt if the author had any emotion left!


Death Raft
Death Raft
by Alexander McKee
Edition: Paperback

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It really was a death raft!, 28 May 2007
This review is from: Death Raft (Paperback)
This life or death struggle is set against the background of the French government sending a fleet to Senegal in 1916 in order take over the administration of this French colony which had been in the hands of the British since the Napoleonic war. Sadly they entrusted the fleet into the hands of the pompous incompetent captain of the Medusa.

Having taken a route that took them close to dangerous sand banks off the west coast of Africa the fleet discreetly abandons the Medusa who when alone strikes the Anquin sandbank. The ship is abandoned and the resulting six boats and a hastily constructed raft then endeavour to reach the coast of Africa with around four hundred souls on board. The ship does not actually sink for months afterwards and of the seventeen sailors who stay on board there are only three survivors

Struggling to tow the raft, which has on board 150 people, the boats cast the raft adrift. The result is a survival epic that is worthy of a film. The occupants of the boat suffer their own ordeals and epic adventures but what takes place aboard the raft is a tale of privation, intense suffering, cannibalism and savage hand to hand fighting during several nights of mutiny. In addition the description of the execution of the weaker members of the raft towards the end of the raft journey is a tragedy beyond comprehension. Only fifteen sailors live to tell their tales from the deck of this ill fated raft. The shameful abandonment of the raft occupants to the elements by the French officers is incomprehensible. The resulting and all too graphic narrative of the suffering of the raft occupants is also beyond comparison.

The author gives an in depth account of the persons and ships involved, the story of the grounding of the `Medusa' and the subsequent boat and raft journey. The author also gives a full account of the concluding court martial of the incompetent masters of the Medusa and the famous painting of the death raft that now hangs in the Louvre.

A harrowing story but a truly great read.


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