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Mr. M. Watkins (Kent, England)

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German Battleships 1914-18 (2): Kaiser, König and Bayern classes (New Vanguard)
German Battleships 1914-18 (2): Kaiser, König and Bayern classes (New Vanguard)
by Gary Staff
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.48

22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too much spin, 16 Jun. 2010
Mr Staff evidently has a deep knowledge and admiration for the German Imperial Navy. Unfortunately he has let that get in the way in his writing of this book.

The book is generally standard New Vanguard fare, nice pictures (although the opposing fleets were probably never as close as suggested in Plate B) and some solid detail on the ships. The flaw in the book is that the author has a purely German-centric view. This colours his writing and appears to have prevented proper consideration of the merits of the ships and what, if any, flaws they had.

A minor example is the instance on referring the the "Skagerrak Battle", a phrase almost always followed by "(Jutland)". It seems to me that an approach of either using nothing but German names for operations and battles or just using those known already to the Anglo-Sacon readers would be consistent, but using both Skagerrak and Jutland seems to be an affectation.

The book is peppered with barely supported statements about why common criticisms of the Imperial Navy Ships are wrong and that the ship design was superior to that of the British or Americans. For example, much is made of the effectiveness of the German Armour at Jutland without any consideration of the quality of the shells used by the Royal Navy.

However, the greatest departure from the facts is shown in the concluding remarks on Jutland and its meaning. The claims that the Royal Navy lacked the "confidence and resolve to engage the German ships in close battle." shows an absence of knowledge of the charges by the Armoured Cruisers or the night actions, not to mention the lack of need to engage in close battle. And to say that the "High Sea Fleet was able to outmanoeuvre and outfight the British" ignores the fact that the Royal Navy twice crossed the German T and that the Germans were reduced to ordering their Battlecruisers on a death ride against the RN to cover the flight of the Dreadnoughts. The failure to understand the strategic implications of Jutland and why the High Sea Fleet was a luxury rather than "an important weapon capable of carrying out the military and political will of the admiralty staff and government." relegate this book to being no more than some pretty pictures and a useful summary of the history and technical specs of each ship. Possibly of use if you already have a good knowledge of the First World War naval actions, but otherwise I would not recommend this.

The Defeat of Rome: Crassus, Carrhae and the Invasion of the East
The Defeat of Rome: Crassus, Carrhae and the Invasion of the East
by Gareth C. Sampson
Edition: Hardcover

9 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A curate's egg, 9 Aug. 2009
The Defeat of Rome has several good parts. Sampson's coverage of the rise and history of the Parthian Empire on its on would provide a sound reason to recommend this book. The addition of the overview of the Roman Republic, and the useful reminder that when the First Triumvirate was formed Julius Caesar was the junior partner, together with a clear summary of events in the East up until 53BC makes the first 5 chapters a good, solid, read. And the Appendices are very useful.

Unfortunately, from chapter 6 on, Sampson dissolves into hero worship for the Parthian commander, Surenas. This then leads to mistakes, distortions and wild guesses and assumptions presented as fact. Examples include describing Centurions as junior NCOs (pg 115, ignoring Plutarch's clear description of Crasuss's failure to train the men over the winter of 54/53BC in favour of his own assumption that they spent the autumn, winter and spring training (pg 115) or believing that a fully armoured cataphract could long outrun a man under the mid-day sun (not for nothing did the Romans refer to such equipment as "ovens").

Sampson sees Surenas as a military genius who, based on a line in Plutarch, appears to have developed a missile weapon capable of punching through Roman shields and armour (but which never seems to have been used again) and developed a cunning plan that offered Crassus no chance of escape. Although I have doubts about any commander being that able if they can lose touch overnight with 2,00 slower moving troops leaving a trail of dead and wounded behind them. Crassus on the other hand is depicted as doing no wrong, despite marching out into the plain that suited the Parthians the best and not letting his troops properly prepare before pushing them ahead at high speed.

An alternative reading fits the sources just as well. And that is that Surenas thought his cataphracts might over awe the tired and thirsty legionaries (showing the usual mounted nobility disregard for infantry) and when that failed settled for a running fight, looking to wear down the Romans until either they retired or the main army came up. Crassus was bereft of ideas on how to respond, and shattered by the death of his son (and with him the majority of his cavalry). The raw legionaries then panic, and lacking strong leadership, begin to fall apart. Surenas then hounds them from Parthia, killing Crassus by subterfuge as he is unable to do so otherwise.

Sampson wants Carrhae to be a Blenheim, a mighty power out thought and out fought by a power of equal or greater might, thrown away only due to the ruler's paranoia. But as far as Rome was concerned, it was never more than a Majuba or an Isandlwana, an embarrassing defeat at the edge of the empire of a previously reliable general who was searching for glory.

Despite Sampson's efforts, it is still Rome's Defeat rather than Parthia's Victory.

The Myth Of The Blitz
The Myth Of The Blitz
by Angus Calder
Edition: Paperback
Price: £18.99

67 of 86 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Who needs facts when bold assertions will do?, 13 Mar. 2009
This review is from: The Myth Of The Blitz (Paperback)
There may be an interesting theory to be investigated about the creation of the myths by which we recall history, but this book isn't it. It is undermined by at least three huge flaws.

Firstly, it makes several false and mendacious claims about the French campaign in 1940. For example, that the BEF had orders to take no prisoners or that it collapsed into a rabble at the first appearance of the Germans, deserting their French allies who were still full of fight. There is even a claim that the massacre of about 170 British soldiers by the 1st SS and 3rd SS was in revenge for the murder of 400 SS troops, a massacre I can find no description of anywhere else.

Secondly, the theory being proposed seems to be that propaganda and behaviour became a self supporting feedback loop to create the "myth". Although there is a lot to describe how the Blitz was reported and the various depictions in a range of media there is almost no evidence on how it affected behaviour or how the behaviour then affected the official depiction/reporting of events.

Finally, the prejudices of the author shine through. Every book will be influenced by the views of its author, but Mr Calder seems to have a certain animus against either Britain or just the English. This comes through in various ways, from minor affectations (mention of the 1982 war in the "Malvinas" or the use of Eire) to sweeping claims that in the event of an invasion there would have been large numbers of collaborators and wide spread support for the final solution, challanging anyone who disagrees to prove that the British would have acted differently to other occupied nations. A generalisation that ignores the differing experiences of invasion by the various countries and the fundamental differences in political and social life between countries.

So in summary, an interesting idea let down by poor research, a poor structure and a lack of evidence. Buy this if you want a fulsome guide to the Blitz related reporting/film making/novel writing of the time otherwise I would advise against.
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