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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Amazing and Extraordinary Number of Mistakes, 1 Dec 2013
L. E. May "Lester May" (Camden Town, London, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The British at War (Amazing and Extraordinary Facts) (Hardcover)
The dust jacket claims that "David & Charles publish high quality books on a wide range of subjects" but I regret to report that this is not one of them.

A look at the index gives a clue that the author has made his selections very poorly indeed. The Royal Navy has the world record for success as an armed force, insofar as Britain's Senior Service has been on the winning side of wars consistently for well over three hundred years and its foundation goes back, arguably, to the time of King Arthur, if not before. The Royal Marines, without question one of the world's elite forces, dates from 1664 and its 350th anniversary is marked in 2014. The British Army is hundreds of years old and the Royal Air Force dates from 1918. Yet the Royal Navy features in the index on just thirteen of the book's gross of pages and the Royal Marines just once (for 1 Special Service Brigade). The RAF features on fifteen pages and the British Army overwhelmingly fills the book. Like so many Britons, Jonathan Bastable is sea blind. It is perhaps no wonder that this book is to be found remaindered in book shops.

Indeed, in his introduction, the author writes of Britain that "... none has an army that has fought in more far-flung and fearsome corners of the globe than the British Army". That may be so, but I'd wager it's truer still of the Royal Navy. Nelson does feature on two pages but he writes about the great admiral as vain and silly, quoting a first impression of Wellington; it's true enough but gives a wholly biased impression. Indeed, the introduction gives a certain clue as to the author's ineptitude with matters maritime for he writes "... anecdotes about Britain's outstanding military heroes - medal winners and generals such as Nelson, Wellington and Wolfe." There were no campaign medals in the time of Wolfe!

Bastable is not much cop with modern wars either. In a section entitles "The Doomed Belgrano" (the ship's name was ARA General Belgrano), about the sinking of the cruiser in the Falklands War of 1982, he is way out of his depth. The cruiser was not, as he claims, sunk by a volley of torpedoes but by just two of the three fired by the submarine HMS Conqueror. He goes on to claim "... The question of whether it was proper to sink the ship has never been entirely resolved ...". While it was controversial at the time, owing to half-witted Labour politicians, one in particular (Tam Dalyell), and other Britons too, who seemed to prefer that British ships should continue in danger during war rather than sink the enemy's ships as the opportunity arose, the matter was never controversial to the cognoscenti. The Argentine cruiser's captain, Hector Bonzo, admitted, in recent decades, that his ship was a valid target and that she could easily have changed course to head towards the British Task Force.

He writes of the "humiliation of the Royal Navy" after what he calls the Four-Day Fight (but what all naval historians, and others, call the Four Days' Battle) in 1666. It was after the three Anglo-Dutch Wars that the Royal Navy never again was to be on the losing side in a war, thus developing a 'habit of victory' unbroken to this day. The author was too idle to bother to find any 'amazing and extraordinary' facts about the Royal Navy, or its predecessors, in its history of over 1,000 years. It's as if he preferred to downplay the international reputation of the Royal Navy (and indeed the Royal Marines, virtually airbrushed out of the picture).

It gets worse, if that's possible. In a section entitled "Top Brass - Rank and seniority in the British armed forces", he claims that the ranks of the RAF are based on those of the British Army. This is nonsense, of course, given that the stripes used by the RAF are those of the Royal Navy and the ranks of Air Commodore, Group Captain, Wing Commander and Flight Lieutenant are directly comparable to the naval ranks of Commodore, Captain, Commander and Lieutenant - nought at all in common with the Army! Pathetically, he spells the ranks of Marshal for RAF Air Officers as Marshall (a common mistake, but wholly unacceptable in a book of this nature). Worse still, he claims that a General in the Army is equivalent to Admiral of the Fleet and Marshall [sic] of the RAF! He does not even list the ranks of Field Marshal (no doubt Field Marshall to this hapless author), Admiral or Air Chief Marshal. He refers to the whole list as 'ranks' when those on the lower deck of the Royal Navy are 'ratings' whereas, in the other services, those non-commissioned are called 'other ranks'. The naval rating of Ordinary Seaman has long gone and those yet to reach Able Seaman are now just called Seaman. Frankly, this whole section is so inaccurate that it makes a mockery of the author's credibility and says little for David & Charles (in particular their claim on the dust jacket!).

Another section is called "False Craters - How Argentinian troops fooled the RAF". The author seems to delight in highlighting the enemy's besting the British yet history records that, in general, the British military was rather better than the enemy although certainly not always. I would have no quibble with this were there a sense of balance but there is not. The book has the scent of anti-British yet one cannot sense that the author is some left-wing CND-card carrying softy.

The publisher claims that one can "Discover the answers to ... questions and many other fascinating aspects of the British at war in this absorbing collection of stories and trivia." I think the intelligent reader needs to question much of the content and the unintelligent reader would be best advised to ignore the book entirely.

Some of the entries are, of course, perfectly fine or so they seem. However, I am not an army historian or a historian of military aviation, so I have to trust the author for accuracy on these matters. He has not earned that trust, in truth. Caveat emptor.
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The British at War (Amazing and Extraordinary Facts)
The British at War (Amazing and Extraordinary Facts) by Jonathan Bastable (Hardcover - 30 Sep 2011)
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