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Ubique: The Royal Artillery in the Second World War
Ubique: The Royal Artillery in the Second World War
by Richard Doherty
Edition: Hardcover

5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good history, well written, 5 July 2011
The achievements of the Royal Regiment of Artillery during World War Two were immense. Every commander of every formation in battle was always quick to give due praise to the work of the gunners who toiled endlessly in support of any attack. Their skill, bravery and sheer hard work kept the guns firing. The regiment, however, was not confined to simply supporting infantry on the battlefield; it also manned anti-tank, anti-aircraft and coast defence weapons and provided a myriad of other support functions to the British Army and also the Merchant Navy. As Richard Doherty's book explains, its men and guns were to be found in action everywhere there was contact to be had with the enemy. As their motto and the title of the book suggests, they were `ubiquitous'.
This book is a one stop source of how the Royal Artillery was organised, weaponed, trained and sent into action in each of the theatres of the war. The author has used his vast experience as a respected military historian to give us a sound background to the organisation and deployment of this most famous formation of British fighting men. With a Richard Doherty book you know you are on safe ground.
I found the book useful as a reference tool which illustrated the make up of the Regiment and its weapons. That aside, the inclusion of many famous actions fought by the gunners actually made the book an interesting and exciting read. The author is to be commended for keeping the great exploits of the Royal Artillery in the public eye.

Cockleshell Heroes: The Final Witness
Cockleshell Heroes: The Final Witness
by Quentin Rees
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 12.91

21 of 29 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not as brilliant as some say, 23 Feb 2011
I was drawn to this book through the extraordinary previous review of it made by `King Arthur'. I have to admit it was rather too sycophantic for me- `unbelievably brilliant' he says, `indeed an epic work' he comments; `the book is compelling stuff', `don't waste your money buying anything else'. In almost thirty years as a military historian, I have never seen a review quite like it!

However, what makes this review so interesting, and rather worrying, is that `King Arthur' has also written reviews on the only other three books on the market on the subject of the Cockleshell operation. Sadly he slates them all. Five stars for this book, only one star for each of the others! Most curious, especially when the other books are such good reads and one in particular has been regarded as a classic for over thirty years! Could it be that `King Arthur' is intimately associated with Cockleshell Heroes: The Final Witness? Is the pseudonym `King Arthur' that of the author himself, or someone close to him? Whoever he is, his actions in the scurrilous attacks on the other books have left the author's integrity as being rather suspect. It seems to me that he has not done anyone any favours by his actions.

Now for my review of the book; an `epic' it is not. The author's previous work was on the subject of military canoes. That was well received in the narrow field of those who are fascinated by canoes. This book does give the feeling that an enthusiast has written it, someone very close to the subject no doubt, but one who has had a little difficulty with the narrative and the shape of the book. It is a long book, over long for what was a very short operation. It is a shame that the editor didn't remind the author that a sign of a good writer is often what you can leave out, rather than what you can pack in. It is full of details and minutiae and has the honourable intention of correcting errors made in other books. It allegedly gets the facts right, but is that what the reader really wants, a pedantic relaying of fine details, or does he want a cracking good read? Well if it's the later, then I advise him to stick with C Lucas Phillips original Cockleshell Heroes. The original is often the best.

Since I posted this review above, I wish to add the following postscript:

It also appears that the author has indulging in some copying, known in the trade as plagiarism. As readers will know, examples of this in other books have led to the withdrawal of the book from the market and its pulping. I have found one example, but this may be the tip of the iceberg. On p 251 Rees states `The Gestapo gouged out one of his eyes, he was practically skinned alive and was literally crucified in order to try to make him talk. He was tortured beyond the limits of human endurance, but he never revealed a single name. Despite saving countless airmen, he has never been recognised by the British government.' Compare this with the passage in p. 161 of Barry Wynne's biography of Mary Lindell which says: `He was tortured beyond the limits of endurance. The Gestapo guard gouged out one of his eyes, he was practically skinned alive and was literally crucified to make him talk. He never revealed a single name. This wonderful man, who helped save countless airmen, was never, even posthumously, recognized by the British government.'

As far as I can see there is no acknowledgement in Rees' book to Wynne for copying this passage.

Because of this, I am afraid that there are reasons not to trust the honesty of some of Rees' research and for this I can only give it one star. Unfortunately, Amazon do not allow me to award `nil point' which is what I would have done had I been able. The book, sadly, given the fact that Rees has laboured long and hard on his subject, is entirely undone in my view by the canker of plagiarism that may run through its veins, and the crudely exaggerated claims to its credentials as being the last word on the subject. It most certainly is not."
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General Boy: The Life of Lieutenant General Sir Frederick Browning
General Boy: The Life of Lieutenant General Sir Frederick Browning
by Richard Mead
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 22.63

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Great General?, 9 Jan 2011
I had often wondered why there had never been a biography of `Boy' Browning. Apparently, it was because he discouraged one being written when he was alive. During my long association with writing military history I had often come across people who knew Browning and many had less than flattering things to say about him. One remarked that a biography of him would never be written because there were too many negative things about him. Well they were wrong and here it is.

Richard Mead's book is certainly impressive and well researched. It is also rather long with its 257 pages of small print. Overall it gives a very good account of Browning's military and personal life and makes a valuable addition to the history of the Second World War. Some chapters are particularly useful most notably that on the Market-Garden operation.

Can't fault the research, or the writing, but overall the book was short of some sort of excitement. It was more a progressive narrative of Browning's life, rather than a thoughtful analysis of him and his performance as an important general. I fear that something, I am not sure what, was lacking here.

Hitler's Great Panzer Heist: Germany's Foreign Armor in Action, 1939-45
Hitler's Great Panzer Heist: Germany's Foreign Armor in Action, 1939-45
by Anthony Tucker-Jones
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 14.69

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A New Look at German Tank Policy, 9 Jan 2011
The sub-title of Anthony Tucker-Jones' book is Germany's Foreign Armour in Action 1939-45 and it tells the story of the Nazis use of British, Czech, French, Italian, Polish and Soviet tanks that were taken into service by Hitler's legions. The author states that over 16,000 of these tanks were stolen from conquered territories or captured in battle to feed the dictator's war machine. This amounted to a staggering twenty-five per cent of German armour at the height of Hitler's victories.

Hitler was forced into using captured armour because German rearmament was far from completion before the war started. The fact was that Germany was not geared up for total war and the combined quantities of tanks held by its intended enemies outnumbered its own by a very wide margin. Hitler needed to supplement his tank force externally to fulfil his expansive ambitions.

Anthony Tucker-Jones's has used his considerable expertise as a writer on all aspects of military history to trace the development of Germany's foreign armour and to describe how this captured equipment was reused throughout the hostilities. He gives a good account of this armour in action in all the major German campaigns.

This is well-researched book that has unearthed some startling facts. It charts just how important Czechoslovakian tanks were during the first few of Hitler's campaigns even up to the invasion of Russian, where one in four panzers were of Czech origin. It also explains just how much armour came into German hands after each country was invaded and how it was deployed. It was not only tanks that Hitler was after, but also armoured cars, self-propelled guns, assault gun and armoured personnel carriers.

Especially interesting is how all this equipment was used. The author covers each theatre in turn and explains how it was organised by the military. Of course in a book that covers every campaign he cannot go into great detail, but he does, none the less, give a sound overview of the service obtained from these machines. The author also covers the demise of German tank production and the Nazis' compelling need to press every available piece of armour into action.

The book speaks with some authority for it contains nine appendices, fifteen pages of notes/references and a four-page bibliography. It is clear that Anthony Tucker-Jones has spent a considerable time on his research and it shows in the quality of the output.

Happy Odyssey
Happy Odyssey
by Adrian Carton de Sir Wiart
Edition: Paperback
Price: 10.49

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A remarkable Soldier, 9 Jan 2011
This review is from: Happy Odyssey (Paperback)
It is good to see this notable autobiography reissued to a new audience. First published in 1950, it tells the story of one of the most remarkable characters of the First and Second World Wars.

The one-eyed one-handed Sir Adrian Carton de Wiart VC was a Belgian national who served in the British Army for over ten years before he was naturalized and became more English than a true born Englishman. He was one of Churchill's favourite generals and, despite his age, continued to serve in various military positions until well after the Second World War.

With so much ground to cover in the book the narrative moves at an extraordinary pace. It is a fascinating, although somewhat dated read, for his style owes something to the great boys adventure stories of a previous age. De Wiart inhabited a privileged world and a lifestyle that is now long gone. His position allowed him meetings with a great number of the important personalities of the time. Unfortunately, as most of them were still alive when he wrote his biography, they are all portrayed in glowing terms and all seem to be splendid fellows. However, the book is still enjoyable for all that, for it provides us with an informative military narrative with a somewhat slanted history lesson thrown in. I enjoyed the book when I read it many years ago, and enjoyed it again today.

Bannockburn: Battle for Liberty
Bannockburn: Battle for Liberty
by John Sadler
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 18.03

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars England and Scotland at War, 9 Jan 2011
The outcome of the Battle of Bannockburn had a profound effect on the long standing enmity between England and Scotland. In his book John Sadler claims that it was one of the most decisive battles of British history in that it did much for Scottish national identity and enabled Scotland to remain a free state, independent of its much larger neighbour to the south.

The book is more than an just an account of the Battle of Bannockburn for its author spends a good deal of time placing the event into historical context as well as dealing with its aftermath and the brief period of Scottish ascendancy in the north. Nor is the battle the only action covered, the Scottish failure at Falkirk and the epic struggle at Stirling Bridge are also included in the narrative. As for the battle itself, the author's account is succinct (two chapters out of eight) and informative. This might seem short measure considering that the book's title is `Bannockburn: the Battle for Liberty', but I think that he has got it about right, for the earlier chapters are full of vital details which help us understand the action and its outcome. They include a description of the type of warfare employed and the weapons used, the strategies of the campaign and the tactics of the battle itself. Taken as a whole, this is a detailed account of an important action. The fact that the book was written by a highly regarded expert on the history of the conflict between England and Scotland gives it added authority.

Eighth Army in Italy 1943-45: The Long Hard Slog
Eighth Army in Italy 1943-45: The Long Hard Slog
by Richard Doherty
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 18.09

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Account of Italy Campaign, 9 Jan 2011
Richard Doherty's book Eighth Army in Italy 1943-1945 carries the sub-titled The long Hard Slog and this just about sums up the frustration of the painfully slow and costly journey up the length of the Italy forced upon Eighth Army by Allied planners under the main instigation of Winston Churchill. Italy was not the ideal place for modern combat; so formidable are the obstacles to waging war effectively on the Italian peninsula that military strategists have on several occasions classified it as `technically absurd'. The topography of the country most definitely favoured the defender.

Doherty paints a picture of two years of desperate fighting, slow achievement and mounting losses. The army commanders could do little to influence the course of the campaign: Monty was frustrated by having to apply First World War infantry tactics to get grind his way forward over the Biferno, Trigno and Sangro Rivers until the stalemate of the first Italian winter closed him down; Leese then had to contend with the great enemy bastions of Cassino and the dreaded Liri Valley defence lines before he left the theatre for the Far East and McCreery was confronted with the mountainous Gothic Line and the great flood plain of the River Po.

This is a sound work of military history, researched and written by a well-regarded modern military historian. Richard Doherty's has verified his narrative with good notes, a comprehensive list of sources and an excellent bibliography. He also includes a wealth of eye-witness accounts of the campaign and numerous insights into the experiences and character of many of its participants, all of which combine to make the book a very fascinating read. If you are looking for a sound understanding of the British and Commonwealth contribution towards final victory in the Mediterranean theatre during the Second World War, then this is the book you have to have on your bookshelf.

Durham Pals: 18th, 19th and 22nd Battalions of the Durham Light Infantry in the Great War
Durham Pals: 18th, 19th and 22nd Battalions of the Durham Light Infantry in the Great War
by John Sheen
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 24.94

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, 9 Jan 2011
John Sheen, author of the two well received World War One titles, Tyneside Scottish and Tyneside Irish, has turned his attention to three battalions of the Durham Light Infantry to produce the Durham Pals. The book contains a record of the service of the 18th, 19th and 22nd battalions of DLI, but it is more than just a regimental history for it includes a great collection of personal accounts and individual experiences relating to the infantryman's war in the trenches.

The book is visually attractive with virtually every page brightened up with an evocative black and white photograph, most of which are of the individuals mentioned in the narrative. When we look into the faces of these long-dead heroes we see another world, a more simple world of duty and country, now long gone, lost forever. Their letters home describe the life they were sworn to: the fear, the monotony, the desperation and the inevitability of death and injury to themselves or to some friend or comrade close by.

In a military sense the book is full of fascinating information and detail, for all the regimental actions are covered in some depth, Sheen includes a chapter on the gallantry awards won by the battalions and has provided an alphabetical nominal role of all others ranks who served in each of the three battalions of the DLI. These rolls give name, date of birth, rank, town of residence, a section on their fate whether transferred or killed, e.g. `3/3/17 buried Gommecourt British Cemetery No 2', or `1/7/16 Theipval Memorial' and a few personal notes such as `age 25 Chief Clerk at Lingfield and Co., B. Auckland'.

It seems remarkable that a book such as this can be written today for it includes so many voices from the past, all of whom are now long dead. Those men fought on the first day of the Somme on 1st July 1916, at Messines, in Italy and in Flanders. The whole of the history of the Durham Pals is here, the good and the bad, for the book also includes details of the court martial and execution of three of their number. It is heartening to find that authors and publishers are today still able to produce books like this.


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