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Aussie Reader "Rick" (Canberra, Australia)

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Waterloo: A New History of the Battle and its Armies
Waterloo: A New History of the Battle and its Armies
by Gordon Corrigan
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 20.40

4.0 out of 5 stars Great Account of this Famous Battle, 10 Aug 2014
I have just finished read Gordon Corrigan’s latest military history book; “Waterloo: A New History of the Battle and its Armies”. I don’t think anything much ‘new’ can be said about this battle, however Gordon Corrigan’s account does make much of what has been written before appear fresh and interesting. The author, a retired British Army officer, brings a slightly different perspective to this famous battle and his style of writing is very engaging and without any national bias although he does like to tweak a nose or two in the narrative or in his footnotes. Like this account taken from the Introduction in regards to the 150th anniversary of Waterloo held in 1965:

"In 1965 the Allies of 1815 were invited and contingents from Austria, West Germany, Holland, Belgium, Spain and Portugal were on parade, as were the Russians, despite this being the height of the Cold War. As the occasion was officially, if not in reality, a commemoration rather than a celebration, the French too were invited. Not unnaturally they declined to attend, and the story doing the rounds was that their president, the Anglophobic General de Gaulle, had refused on the grounds that he was too busy preparing for the 900th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings the following year."

The author provides a very easy to read general overview of the Napoleonic wars and the events and people involved in the lead up to this climatic battle. I have read much of this before but I still enjoyed the details provided by the author and leant something new along the way in regards to the uniform of the Portuguese Cacadores: "For a long time this author assumed that the brown was a deliberate attempt at camouflage uniform, pre-dating khaki by nearly a century, until meeting the direct descendant of the officer who raised the first battalion of Cacadores, who explained that the only way his ancestor could obtain enough cloth to make identical uniforms for 600 men was to go into a monastery and requisition the monk's habits."

The author provides short but interesting biographies on all the major players from all the armies involved and some great details on the officers and men of those armies. For example, this account in relation to British colour sergeants: "The rank of colour sergeant was instituted in 1813, and he was the equivalent of today's company sergeant major and company quartermaster sergeant rolled into one. Although colour sergeants supposedly acted as escorts to the colours in battle, this task was more usually delegated to sergeants who had annoyed the sergeant major, as it was one of the more dangerous positions to hold in action."

I found the author to be very fair in his assessment of Napoleon, Wellington and Blucher and provides a soldiers view of what he believes occurred on the battlefield, using his military experience, his research of the numerous accounts available and what he picked up from walking the battlefield itself. I found a distinct lack of any national bias in his writing which was very refreshing.

There are ten general maps of Europe, France and the battlefield, all easy to follow and all placed within the book in the appropriate areas. There are two sections of colour plates within the book, mostly lovely paintings of the period and a few photographs of pivotal locations on the battlefield as they are today.

Overall this was a great story, easy to read and one that I would recommend to anyone who wanted to read one good book on the Battle of Waterloo.

The German Fallschirmtruppe 1936-41. Its Genesis and Employment in the First Campaigns of the Wehrmacht.
The German Fallschirmtruppe 1936-41. Its Genesis and Employment in the First Campaigns of the Wehrmacht.
by Karl-Heinz Golla
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 37.65

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well Researched - Badly Translated/Edited, 15 Jun 2013
"The German Fallschirmtruppe" had the potential to be a great book. The author is very knowledgeable about the subject matter and I dare say quite passionate as well. He has conducted extensive research into the German Fallschirmtruppe covering the period of 1936 to 1941 (to the completion of the campaign in Crete) and gathered a large range of wartime B&W photographs along with some recent colour photographs of the battlefield locations. There are a number of maps covering the campaigns discussed in the book and everything is presented in a very nice package with high quality paper and binding.

Now the problem with this book was the translation from German into English and/or the editing. At times the numerous errors or badly constructed sentences really frustrated me, for example in the section in the book where the author is describing the Germany Army's attempts to cross the Albert Canal near Kanne, initially the author mentions rubber boats, then its rubber bags, back to boats and then rubber bags again! Or this sentence; "Despite the developing success there a threat to the capital was yet to be soon."

At one stage in the middle section of the book all the footnotes were out of sync initially by one number then it was up to two numbers out of sequence so the footnote referred to in the narrative could be two pages away! All the maps were located in one section in the middle of the book so you had to move backwards and forwards within the book to follow the action.

Overall all these issues really destroyed the reading pleasure that I hoped to gain from this book. I would recommend it as a great reference book for those who have an interest in the subject matter but it's not an easy to read book.

Uncommon Soldier: Brave, Compassionate and Tough, the Making of Australia's Modern Diggers
Uncommon Soldier: Brave, Compassionate and Tough, the Making of Australia's Modern Diggers
by Chris Masters
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 18.24

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Account of the Modern 'Digger', 15 Mar 2013
Having just put down Chris Masters latest book; "Uncommon Soldier" I must confess to have really enjoyed reading about the modern day `Digger'. Most of my reading to date on the current conflict in Afghanistan has been on British and US forces, very little available on the Australian commitment. This could make you think that maybe our forces aren't really involved in the fighting there, well how wrong could you be!

I think Chris Masters has been very fair and non-biased in his appraisal and account of the Australian soldier, having started his book looking at the Anzac legend with a slightly tainted eye and with some reservations. He covers aspects of their training, both other ranks and officers, and their involvement in Afghanistan and other missions. I think he has tried to make sure that he writes without favouritism and any jingoism. He covers their operations as part of ISAF, both conventional and Special Forces, and covers the deaths of all Australian soldiers up until the book was published (mid 2012).

His descriptions of Kapooka (Recruit Training) and Singleton (Infantry Training) and the bonding that takes place brought back memories of my own time there and his accounts of families back home ensured that the reader didn't lose sight of the other casualties of war.

In the end the author, and hopefully the reader, have come away from this book looking at our young fighting men & women with a deep and deserved respect on the level of their commitment to serving their country. This book offers a very good general overview of our modern day soldier and the Australian Army that would be well worth reading.

The Amazing Career Of Bernadotte: 1763 - 1844
The Amazing Career Of Bernadotte: 1763 - 1844
by Sir Dunbar Plunket Barton
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent but General Account of a French Marshal, 26 Jan 2013
I have just finished read "The Amazing Career of Bernadotte 1763 to 1844" by Dunbar Plunket Barton. This book was first published in 1929 and taken from three previous volumes that the author had written about Bernadotte:

"Bernadotte, The First Phase, 1763-1799"
"Bernadotte and Napoleon, 1810-1844"
"Bernadotte, Prince and King, 1810-1844"

Although written nearly one hundred years ago this is a fine telling of a very interesting an amazing Napoleonic Marshal who started his military career as a private in the Régiment de Royal-Marine under the King.

Bernadotte managed to rise through the ranks steadily, promoted to colonel in 1792 and by 1794 was a brigadier attached to the army of the Sambre et Meuse. He was later Minister of War and upon the introduction of the French Empire under Napoleon he became a Marshal. During the campaign of 1805, Bernadotte served Napoleon well, as a reward for his services at Austerlitz he became the Prince of Ponte Corvo.

Bernadotte is portrayed in this book as a man of principle and as such had many run-ins with Napoleon and some of the other Marshals. In 1810 he was surprisingly elected the heir-presumptive to King Charles XIII of Sweden and decided that he would be his own man and not to be ruled by another, including Napoleon. This obviously upset Napoleon and his followers and ever since poor old Bernadotte has been regarded as something of a traitor to France and has been presented to readers in many histories in a negative light.

In January 1812 Marshal Davout, under Napoleon's orders, invaded & occupied Swedish Pomerania. As a result Bernadotte turned towards the allied camp. After Napoleon's disastrous 1812 Russian campaign Bernadotte became the Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Northern Army and successfully defended the approaches to Berlin and was victorious in battle against Marshal Oudinot in August and Marshal Ney in September at the Battles of Grossbeeren and Dennewitz. After the Battle of Leipzig he went his own way in regards to the interests of his adopted country.

Many historians castigate Bernadotte for his slowness or dilatory manner in the subsequent campaign however in this book the author provides a reasonable excuse - Bernadotte was loath to spill the blood of his French countrymen and for what purpose? Bernadotte tried to reign in the Allied Monarch's and spare France, to allow it to live within its `natural' barriers, but to no avail.

Although much has been made of Bernadotte's alleged treachery, even the man himself, Napoleon, stated on St. Helena that, "I can accuse him of ingratitude but not treachery."

Overall this was a very easy to read account of a Marshal that I have only ever read negative comments about in other Napoleonic histories. It's a very general account but in just under 400 pages we get to see the `other' side of the story and I came away highly impressed with Bernadotte the Marshal and the man, well worth the effort to read.

Crucible of Combat: Germany's Defensive Battles in the Ukraine, 1943-1944
Crucible of Combat: Germany's Defensive Battles in the Ukraine, 1943-1944
by Rolf Hinze
Edition: Hardcover

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars In-depth Account of German Operations, 23 Sep 2012
I don't think much an be added to the previous excellent review of this book. I'd just like to add that "Crucible of Combat" is a book well worth reading if you have an interest or passion for accounts covering the Eastern Front during WW2. In this book the author covers the period following the failed German offensive at Kursk in 1943. The books main focus is on German operations in the Ukraine as the German armed forces were steadily forced back by numerous and continuous Soviet offensives. The major battles are all covered in some detail along with many smaller unknown operations and battles, from the evacuation of the Crimean Peninsula in late 1943 to the fighting retreat of the German 1st Army in the `Hube Kessel'.

Some of the issues I found with this book are the sometimes `clunky' translation from the original German text and the bad or non-existent editing which failed to pick up misspelt words or incorrectly used words (eg: attack instead of attached). However if you can persevere with these occasional annoyances you will find a treasure trove of great information covering the fighting on the Eastern Front during this period. There are over 100 maps throughout the book and although initially hard to read (original German maps) you get use to them and the author indicates during the narrative which maps are relevant to the text. There are also a number of black & white images and Orders of Battle at the back of the book.

Overall a decent and in-depth account of German defensive operations during late 1943 to early/mid 1944 in the Ukraine. Be warned, the book is not easy to read, nor does it offer a free-flowing narrative account. At times it can be a frustrating book due to those issues mentioned above but if stick with it I am sure most people who enjoy reading about the Eastern Front with come away with a new found appreciation of the massive combat operations in this sector of the Russian Front during WW2

War in the East: A Military History of the Russo-Turkish War 1877-78
War in the East: A Military History of the Russo-Turkish War 1877-78
by Quintin Barry
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 36.20

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Military History, 3 Sep 2012
"War in the East" by Quintin Barry is an excellent account of the Russo-Turkish War that was fought between 1877 and 1878. The book is primary a military history and covers the campaigns in detail with some background information on the reasons why the war occurred, the diplomatic manoeuvring between the great powers, and the conclusion of the conflict with the treaty of San Stefano and then later the Congress of Berlin.

The author provides an easy to read account of the Russian strike to cross the Balkan Mountains and menace Constantinople before the Turkish forces can react and close the passes through this formidable mountain range. In the theatre across the Black Sea, in the Transcaucasus, we read about the Russian campaign to seize the Turkish fortresses at Kars and Erzerum and many other places in between.

The many battles for Plevna are covered in detail as is most other battles, sieges and movements in this conflict between the Russians, their allies and the Turks. There are numerous maps provided although they are all within one section of the book and are maps taken from the period, which at times can be hard to read, but they provide enough detail to follow the campaign.

One very pleasant surprise was the numerous colour pages within the book containing reproductions of paintings by Vereshchagin, and other artists. These were great to look at and I continually flicked back to the paintings whilst reading the book. There are also numerous black & white drawings liberally scattered throughout the narrative, which provide some great detail to the story.

The only real problem I found with this book were a number of annoying typographic errors which seems to be a common problem now publishing houses have done away with the services of editors. Overall this was an excellent military history of this mostly forgotten war and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading about little known battles and wars.

Dam Busters: The Race to Smash the Dams, 1943
Dam Busters: The Race to Smash the Dams, 1943
by James Holland
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well Researched and Well Told Account, 23 July 2012
James Holland has once again produced a well-written and detailed account on a World War Two subject that should never be lost to history - the RAF Bomber Command's raid against The Möhne and Edersee Dams. The mission was called 'Operation Chastise' and was an attack on the German dams that was carried out on 16-17 May 1943.

The squadron raised for this mission and led by Guy Gibson, was No. 617 Squadron, subsequently known as the "Dambusters". Barnes Wallis, a quiet and unassuming man developed a special "bouncing bomb" which was revolutionary for its time and which took some convincing within the RAF hierarchy.

Eight of the nineteen Lancaster bombers sent on the mission failed to return, with the loss of most of their crews. The massive big bombers were flying as low as 50 feet off the ground in the dark, with basic navigational aids, if any! These brave men did their upmost to complete their mission, in the process suffering 40% casualties.

The book covers the idea that slowly took form with Barnes Wallis in trying something to stop the war by attacking the source of Germany's economic power. The author also covers RAF Bomber Command and its nighttime missions against the Ruhr and the men who flew those missions and also those later selected to fly with 617 Squadron.

We also read about those civilians caught in the wake of the breach of these dams and also the many sad tales of those who lost their lives flying the mission and the many they left behind. This was a great story and I really felt for those involved in this mission and the many families who lost loved ones as a result.

The author also provides information to show that this mission did indeed cause major disruption to Germany's war effort and he tells us what happen to those who survived this mission and what happen to them during the war and after. Overall a great story, well worth the time to read.

Highland Furies: The Black Watch 1739-1899
Highland Furies: The Black Watch 1739-1899
by Victoria Schofield
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 27.28

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great History of the Black Watch, 28 May 2012
"The Highland Furies: The Black Watch 1739-1899" is the first book in a two volume set covering the history of the Scottish Highland regiment that became famous as the `Black Watch'. The author, Victoria Schofield, has been allowed full access to the regiments' archives and has used diaries, letters and memoirs from soldiers and officers who served in the Black Watch to make her book a highly readable history.

This volume covers the formation of the Black Watch in 1739 from its beginnings as independent companies patrolling the highlands through to its foundation as a Regiment to fight for the King. The author follows the Regiment as part of the British Army through the many campaigns and battles fought during the 18th and 19th centuries, from the American Revolution, through the Peninsular campaign during the Napoleonic Wars, and onto Waterloo, then the Crimea, the Indian Mutiny to Egypt and finally the Sudan.

The book offers the reader a very general account of all the battles, campaigns skirmishes that the Black Watch participated in during its long and illustrious history. Too many to provide any detailed and in-depth accounts but more than enough to keep you interested and the use of many first-hand accounts makes the book a pleasure to read. There are a number of general maps covering all areas where the Black Watch served to assist the reader in following its story, from country to continent.

As stated above, do not expect a full-blown military history covering each battle in-depth, this would be near impossible to complete in 538 pages of narrative (the book is 728 pages in total) however expect some great stories and accounts from the mouths of those who were there, like this from Captain Stirling, serving in American prior to the War of Independence:

"After twelve years in North America, Captain Thomas Stirling was hoping the Regiment would be sent to Germany, `for I am heartily tired of this Country as is every officer in it'. As he wrote to his brother: `Long may Peace reign here, for sure God never intended any war should be carried on by any other besides the natives for the soldiers are wrought like horses & the officers can acquire no honour in a Country where as the New England people says, every Tree is a fort and every man a General'."

Or this account of that famous charge of the Scots Grey at Waterloo:

"At this critical moment, the Earl of Uxbridge, who famously lost his leg at the close of battle, ordered a charge of the 1st and 2nd Cavalry Brigades. As the 42nd opened ranks to let the 2nd `Union' Brigade - under General Ponsonby's command - gallop through, ` "Scotland for ever!" bursts from the mouth of each Highlander, as the Scots Greys pass through our ranks,' recalled Anton with pride. `What pen can describe the scene?' he continued graphically in his memoir. `Horses' hoofs sinking in men's breasts, breaking bones and pressing out their bowels. Riders' swords streaming in blood, waving over their heads and descending in deadly vengeance. Stroke follows stroke, like the turning of a flail in the hands of a dexterous thresher'."

Another first-hand account from the aftermath of the battle for the Alma in 1854 during the Crimean War:

"`This battle field is exactly like pictures you see', Wilkinson described to his sister, `horses and men all dead in awful positions killed instantaneously, arms and shoulders torn off, men groaning, pots and pans and thousands of packs soon ransacked ... you can't imagine how horrid the smell is. I have got quite accustomed to the horrors, dead being carried past me even now.' `What moved me most was a nice-looking young lad, about my own age,' Robb recorded, describing a wounded Russian. `He waved his hand towards us. Tom Steele stepped out to him, gave his a drink out of his water keg, took off his knapsack and laid his head on it. The poor fellow took Tom's hand and kissed it. A short time after he died'."

And finally, this description of the trials and travails of a British officer during the campaign in India to suppress the Mutiny of 1857:

"As Wilkinson related, night marches during the campaign were a trial. `Camels roaring outside and elephants, and tent pegs giving. You get up and your tent has to be packed, elephants loaded and camels. Bugles sound and you march off, after hearing 20 different lies about the enemy. Daylight appears, and you still go in clouds of dust, cavalry dashing past you making dust so that you can eat it. Out comes the sun enough to bake you, and after 14 miles you arrive on a piece of ground 2 hours before your tent is pitched. If Field Officer you post your picquets, and visit them by night and day. If you are not shot, or fall down a well you come back to bed for about 4 hours, and again the same routine, sour bread and dust, no sugar, 9 servants that drive you wild, none being fit for anything'."

These accounts and many more like them make this a great and easy book to read as we follow the Black Watch fight it's way across most of the world where the British Empire had hoisted its flag at sometime or other.

Volume two will continue the story covering the Boer War, WW1 & WW2, Korea, Malaya and the modern conflicts that blight the world today. This is a good book for those who enjoy an easy to read history of brave soldiers.

No Worse Enemy: The Inside Story of the Chaotic Struggle for Afghanistan
No Worse Enemy: The Inside Story of the Chaotic Struggle for Afghanistan
by Ben Anderson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 14.83

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What is Really Happening in Afghanistan., 26 April 2012
I had to think long and hard about what I was going to try and say in my review of this book; "No Worse Enemy". It's a good book written from the perspective of a British journalist and documentary filmmaker (The documentary; The Battle for Marjah is based on part of this book) who has been visiting Afghanistan off and on for the last few years.

This book covers the period 2007 to early 2011 starting off with the British forces on the ground and finishing with the Marines at Sangin in Helmand province. The author made the point of going out on patrol with the soldiers of both nations and to see the war through their eyes and also through the eyes of the Afghan civilians they were supposedly fighting the war for.

The book presents the reader with the contradiction between policy and statements offered by allied governments and what is actually occurring on the ground and in the villages throughout the provinces of Afghanistan. It reminded me of this famous incident:

"Writing about the provincial capital, B'n Tre, on 7 February 1968, Peter Arnett cited an unidentified U.S. military official as follows: "'It became necessary to destroy the town to save it', a United States major said today. He was talking about the decision by allied commanders to bomb and shell the town regardless of civilian casualties, to rout the Vietcong." The quote became famous, eventually becoming the more familiar, "We had to destroy the village in order to save it". - This seems to be what is happening out in the villages and fields of Afghanistan.

In the book the author offered this comparison for readers to try and understand the difficulties the British forces had in implementing their policy of an 'Afghan Development Zone' in Helmand province during 2007:

"To begin to understand how hard it was for the British to attempt to carry out this policy, imagine an Indian dropped into Chicago, or a Brazilian dropped into Islamabad. Imagine asking them, without speaking the language or having any idea who to trust, to create, staff and monitor an entirely new system of government. What's more, imagine asking them to do this within six months, while fighting a war and after having killed several hundred civilians by mistake."

The author writes well and his descriptions of some of the firefights and skirmishes and very evocative, like this account of a one-on-one battle between a Taliban sniper and some Marine marksmen:

"Above us, the cracks of the competition between marksmen continued. Its structure was polite, like a conversation between strangers; back and forth, back and forth, sometimes in single words, sometimes in sentences. Often, the participants waited a few minutes to take their turn. In between, there was an awful silence. It was careful, considered and cerebral. There seemed to be rules, tricks, feints and a mutual respect that suggested an etiquette. Occasionally, of course, someone at either end collapsed into a lifeless heap."

The author also provided numerous accounts of how the Afghan National Army (ANA) conducted their operations under Marine guidance and on their own:

"I'd also caught a glimpse of how the Afghan National Army was likely to operate after NATO forces left. A small ANA unit had charged ahead of the American soldiers and found all the IEDs in a small village in less than an hour. `How did you do it?' asked the American captain, astounded. `Did you offer the locals $50 for each IED they revealed, like we trained you?' `No', said the ANA captain, excitedly, `we told them `show us the IEDs or start digging your own grave'."

Accounts like this one below about an Afghan interpreter attached to the Marines tend to bring home the sadness felt by those who are stuck in this hell with no hope of rotation back home:

"Rock was skinny, with bright, yellowy-green eyes and long eyelashes. Away from the marines, he revealed a sadness, at being away from his family, and seeing the suffering of the Afghans in Helmand province, that was heart-breaking. He was also sad that marines and large parts of the rest of the world saw Helmand and thought `Afghanistan'. He was from Mazar-e-Sharif, which, he kept telling everyone, was a beautiful place with no war."

In the end the book brought home to me that possibly we are losing the war in Afghanistan and it may end up being another Vietnam. Only time will tell, but I think every politician and those who send our men into harm's way should read this book and reflect on what we are supposedly trying to do and what we have actually done.

Brothers, Rivals, Victors: Eisenhower, Patton, Bradley and the Partnership That Drove the Allied Conquest in Europe
Brothers, Rivals, Victors: Eisenhower, Patton, Bradley and the Partnership That Drove the Allied Conquest in Europe
by Jonathan W. Jordan
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 17.92

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Engaging History of Three US Commanders of WW2, 21 April 2012
I have just finished reading "Brothers Rivals Victors" and what a marvellous read it was. I finished the book having really enjoyed the travel through history with three of America's greatest soldiers; Dwight D. Eisenhower, General George S. Patton, and General Omar N. Bradley.

The book does not provide an in-depth military account of the campaigns and battles that these three men fought during the Second World War. What the author does provide is an interesting, and at times funny account of the battles these men fought with each other, their British allies and the forces of the Axis nations. I really loved the author's style of writing, the book was easy to read and at times I didn't want to put it down and turn the light out for some much needed sleep.

The book tells the story of how Eisenhower, Patton, and Bradley developed into a war winning team, although their relationships were full of jealousy, insecurity, and ambition. I liked the author's use of private diaries and letters to tell the story behind many of those famous incidents that occurred during the chequered career of Patton. I also enjoyed learning more about General Omar N. Bradley, a man that I had not read much about previously.

I think this book would interest anyone who enjoys a well written and fast paced book covering the lives of three great American soldiers. Overall a very decent account and well worth the time to pick up and read.

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