Book Review Micro Book Reviews

Discussion in 'Books, Films, TV, Radio' started by von Poop, Feb 24, 2019.

  1. Markyboy

    Markyboy Member

    I remember Tom Neil discussing this when it came up during a talk in about 2010. His view was that 11 group did the fighting while 12 group turned up late and made outrageous over claims. That was it as far as he was concerned, conversation over!
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  2. Waddell

    Waddell Well-Known Member



    Author: Ludovic Kennedy

    Publisher: Cassell Military Paperbacks, 2004

    Quick Review: I sometimes think that publishers should go back and have a look at some of the better older books written about the war and point modern authors towards the reasons why they are classics. In this case it was written by a journalist who was actually there to experience events (but very much takes a back seat to the action) and lets the story evolve in a detailed and thrilling way. Kennedy wrote this book in the early 1970’s and most of the primary sources are from British sources. However, he does draw upon secondary German sources and very much tells the tale from both sides.

    The book is of a good length (228 pages) and his writing style flows easily. I won’t go into the story as most are familiar with it. As a reader I found this book to be very similar in style to Paul Brickhill’s The Dambusters. I would recommend this book as a good starting point if you are interested in the demise of the Bismarck. I came away from the book feeling sorry for the loss of thousands of men who served both on the Bismarck and the Hood and much respect for the Swordfish pilots.

    I have read some criticism that this book is a bit dated and could have looked at some of the controversies a little deeper. I tend to think that is easy to write fifty years later and is something the reader should be aware of as a limitation, rather than a criticism of the book. I found the book to be a good read.

    Rating out of 5: 4.5
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  3. Waddell

    Waddell Well-Known Member


    Journeys into Night

    Author: Don Charlwood

    Publisher: Hudson Publishing, 1991

    Quick Review: A few chapters into Journeys into Night, Don Charlwood wrote “My main Air Force interest was not aeroplanes, nor even navigation, come to enjoy it though I did, but these men whose lot I was sharing so closely. I never tired of observing their idiosyncrasies, their differing reactions to the pressures of the course, their turns of phrase, their attitudes to life”.

    For those with an interest in the lives of Bomber Command’s aircrew we are lucky that Charlwood had such an interest in his comrades. If his first book detailing his wartime experiences, the fictional No Moon Tonight, was a form of purging of the demons that haunted him only several years after the war, then Journeys into Night is a much fuller and reflective look at the lives of the twenty men with whom Charlwood initially trained with in Canada. Charlwood was close to these men and carefully put their stories together through the use of their diaries and letters and the help of their descendants.

    Whilst this is a book about the lives of aircrew I would point out that I found the record of their experiences to be very much an Australian view, from a different generation. Charlwood grew up in an era of ‘religious bigotry between Anglo-Scottish Protestants and Roman Catholics’, an era when families had been exposed to the effects of the First World War and a time when the idea of Empire had been instilled in young men. All those differences disappeared among these men once they came together as a group.

    Charlwood remarks that the Canadians were closer to severing the bonds with the old country upon his arrival in Canada. This was just prior to the Fall of Singapore and the Japanese invasion of New Guinea. Charlwood shows through selected paragraphs from letters and diaries just how much this meant to these men, who from that time onwards relished the opportunity to return and serve in the Pacific theatre. You clearly feel that shift Australians made from the Old Country to alignment with America.

    There are lots of small details in the book worth paying attention to- the descriptions of the tension and release that occurred during missions, the superstitions, the close relationships they built with the WAAFs who drove them out to their aircraft, their attitudes to bombing civilians and the characters among the men (including two members of the crew who had a penchant for poaching). Charlwood’s style is a gentle one but every now and then he drops his guard and it is clear how much the loss of comrades “seven at a time” as he puts it affected him.

    Charlwood’s safe place was Charlwood village, where he researched his ancestry. He became friends with the vicar and his wife, consequently visiting them several times. He wrote that “Charlwood rectory was to become another home to me. I would knock at the door there one night, sick at heart after loss of a friend, and hear the rector exclaim, ‘My dear boy, I am glad to see you! It’s like having one of my own sons come home’. You can almost feel Charlwood breaking down within that sentence.

    Charlwood ends the book by stating that the war gave him everything. By that he meant finding a wife, a career, his first book and a family. I think the guilt of surviving the war, one of only five from the original twenty, drove him to honour his friends. I found the book to be a far more satisfying read than No Moon Tonight.

    Rating out of 5: 5.0
  4. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    One of the books that drifted me into 'proper' military history by reading it as a kid, Next step on from Battle Picture weekly.
    A fine example of just how important 'readability' can be, regardless of some other factors..
    Devoured it. Interest encouraged.
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  5. Waddell

    Waddell Well-Known Member



    Author: Fred Majdalany

    Publisher: Imperial War Museum Wartime Classics, 2020

    Quick Review: This is the second novel I have read from the IWM Wartime Classics series of books and like the first I found this short novel to be a very good read. Like other books in the series, to qualify for selection, ‘Patrol’ meets the criteria of being out of print and written directly from the author’s own experience. ‘Patrol’ was originally published in 1953, only eight years after the war in which Fred Majdalany had served as an officer with the 2nd Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers in both Italy and North Africa. Fred had plenty of experience of war and this comes through in the novel through the attention to detail given in explaining the reasons for the patrol and the methods in planning and carrying out the patrol.

    The patrol is seen through the eyes of Major Tim Sheldon and we see him making preparations for the patrol early in the book followed by a lengthy look at his experiences during the war up to the time of the patrol. Sheldon considers himself to be ‘born in 1939’ and consequently his only identity is that of a soldier and one who is pretty close to the point of falling in a heap. The plot follows his condition and we are made aware that his M.O considers him close to breaking and while his senior officer acknowledges his state, he cannot do much about it due to a shortage of officers and must send Sheldon out on patrol. Such is war.

    I won’t go further into the plot as I don’t wish to spoil it for others. What I will say is that Majdalany had some experience prior to the war as a journalist and theatre critic and after reading the book I am of the opinion that the way it is structured and written strays towards the theatrical. It is one of those books that starts in the macro environment to lay out the plot before moving to the micro environment (in this case the patrol) to show the gritty detail and effects of an action before moving back to the macro environment to sum up what had happened. It left me thinking that I have seen something very similar to this story before in an early British black and white movie, however, I can’t recall which one.

    The IWM have done a good job updating these old books with smart covers and solid introductions to the books. They all have the ’celebrity’ endorsements in the front cover areas and while I wouldn’t totally agree with Alan Mallinson that it is a ‘military masterpiece’, I would agree with James Holland that it is an ‘absolute gem’. I would call it a short novel done well.

    There isn’t a dearth of information on the interweb about Fred Majdalany’s life but I note in the introduction to the book it states that he had an interest in vintage motorcars and early railway prints. Has his life been written about before?

    Rating out of 5: 4.0
  6. Waddell

    Waddell Well-Known Member

    Missing presumed dead.JPG

    Missing Presumed Dead

    Author: Stanley A Hawken O.B.E

    Publisher: Hill of Content Publishing, 1989

    Quick Review: This book was an Op-Shop find I came across a few weeks ago while holidaying which turned out to be a really good read. I have an interest in RAF/RAAF memoirs and while this is no literary masterpiece, the author, Stanley A. Hawken wrote a no nonsense memoir of his life and experiences during the war as a wireless operator/air gunner in a Lancaster crew. The book starts with his childhood and upbringing and the reasons he went to war (largely due to his brother’s death at Tobruk) but does not dwell too much on the background. He followed the route of an Empire Airman and ended up flying with 630 Squadron RAF over Europe.

    The book contains the usual descriptions of training and the missions the author flew, however, where this book differs from most I have read is that he was shot down over France after eighteen missions on 19th July 1944 and remained on the run until he met up with American soldiers in mid-September 1944. During this time he spent most of the time being hidden by a Resistance family before moving into a Maquis camp.

    Hawken provides good descriptions of and reasons for adapting to the situations around him. Whilst with the resistance family he decided that if they were prepared to protect him he owed it to them to go on raids with them on nights and blow up railways and the like. This differentiated Hawken from his fellow RAF crew man who also was hidden in the same residence as him but refused to get involved in resistance activities. This put tension on their relationship and it is interesting that Hawken really took to his saviours and enjoyed a long relationship with them after the war.

    His time with the maquis is also interesting as he went through a few experiences where he did not agree with events occurring around him and made a point of standing up for his beliefs, but only to a point where he realised that he might not survive among them if he pushed those points hard. It made me realise what a difficult position war could put an individual in and how sometimes survival only happens by turning a blind eye.

    He ended the war travelling towards Paris with some downed American airmen before returning home.

    I won’t go further into the story but if anyone is interested there is a good write up of Hawken’s experiences on the Kingston Council website in Victoria where he later served several terms as their Mayor-

    Well worth a read.

    Rating out of 5: 4.0
    Last edited: Jan 31, 2022
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  7. hucks216

    hucks216 Member


    Foursquare: The Last Parachutist

    Author: George Bearfield

    Publisher: Thought Four Ltd (ISBN: 978-1527286566)

    Quick Review: The author does a great job of incorporating his Czech grandfather's WW2 exploits in to the wider story of the history of Czechoslovakia from the time of the Munich Agreement through to the time immediately after WW2 and the Communist takeover. His grandfather reached the UK in 1940 via Hungary, Beirut and France and served as a radio instructor in the Czech SOE section. His cousin was one of those killed in the crypt after Operation Anthropoid in 1942 and he himself would eventually be parachuted in to his homeland on a secret mission as the war drew to a close. Although this is primarily about the author's grandfather it does do a great job of covering the missions of the other agents parachuted in to Czechoslovakia.

    Rating out of 5: 4.0 - I really want to give this a '5' but it is let down by the quality of the photos which have the look of photocopies what with being printed directly on to the same pages as the narrative.
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  8. Waddell

    Waddell Well-Known Member

    Trial by Battle.JPG

    Trial by Battle

    Author: David Piper

    Publisher: Imperial War Museum Wartime Classics, 2019

    Quick Review: A little over a week away from the 80th anniversary of the Fall of Singapore I felt it appropriate to read another account of those terrible battles. Trial by Battle is another of the IWM Wartime Classics series I have been reading and this is a particularly good novel, or should I say novella at only 160 pages.

    The author, David Piper, wrote this book in 1959, but it may as well have been written in early 1942, so immediate are its descriptions of the fear of jungle fighting and defending against the Japanese. Piper was well placed to write this book having served as a Lieutenant in the 4/9th Jat Regiment during the campaign before being taken prisoner by the Japanese. The Jats arrived in Malaya in early January 1942 and fought with the AIF from around 15th January around Muar. The book seems to follow his real life experiences with the Australians.

    The aspect that sets this book apart from others is the lead character's experiences as a very young Lieutenant dealing with a platoon of young Indian soldiers. The early chapters of the book follow him straight from officer training to his platoon and it is very clear that it was a very steep learning curve on many levels, not the least of which was language. Without going deeply into the plot, making his adaption to his new surroundings more difficult is his ongoing battle with his captain, a regular soldier, who sets about toughening up the young lieutenant and making him into an acceptable soldier. The changing relationship between the two men is the main theme throughout the book.

    I will point out that some of this book will not excite the politically correct and there are some racist aspects to it. It is of its time, as they say, and needs to be understood in that context.

    Rating out of 5: 4.0
  9. Waddell

    Waddell Well-Known Member

    Lost Graves Peenemunde.JPG

    The Lost Graves of Peenemunde

    Author: Mike McLeod and Sean Feast

    Publisher: Fighting High, 2020

    Quick Review: This book has been on my reading list since reading Martin Middlebrook’s The Peenemunde Raid and I had been looking forward to reading it. Having read it I feel a little disappointed with it and believed it could have been a better book had it been laid out better. My main problem with the book is that it is difficult to work out whose book it actually is. It is co-authored, however, it seems to be Sean Feast’s writing throughout and it is difficult to detect Mike McLeod’s voice.

    If anyone is interested in the book I would suggest listening to Sean feast’s excellent interview on WW2TV, which covers most of the content of the book. Early in that interview Sean is asked how the book came about, to which he answered that Mike McLeod had submitted his privately published version of the book to Fighting High Publishing. The book was considered promising and the publisher commissioned Sean Feast to work on the book and give life to a story that deserved to be told. That is a good introduction to the genesis of the book and should have been told within the book’s introduction, however, the book has no introduction.

    The closest you get are two small mentions on the last pages of the book within the acknowledgements and the rear cover, that Mike had started researching his wife’s lost relative in 2015. There is a brief forward by a former Bomber Command pilot who flew on the mission, however, it also neglects the book’s genesis. A good introduction would have set the ground work.

    Moving on the book briefly looks at the background of the Peenemunde factory before moving onto the airmen- the two crews that feature in the book. This section is good and shows the depth of research undertaken (I assume mostly by Mike McLeod). Each crew member’s life story is looked at individually. My only gripe with this section being that all the photographs of these young men collected during the research are contained within the centre section of the book when they would have been better served being included throughout the text. It reads nicer when you can see the face of the man being written about while you read.

    A description of the raid follows and then there is a chapter on the missing and what is known to have happened to the two aircraft and the crews. The following chapter looks at the work of the MRES (Missing Research and Enquiries Service) and I found this very informative. The final two chapters look at the identity of the well-known Lancaster in the lake, which is believed to be one of the subject aircraft of the book, and a final chapter concerning a local archaeologist who has been looking at some possible grave sites but has had little luck in finding them. The book ends on this note and leaves the location of some of the missing airmen open at this stage.

    Overall I did find the book interesting as it aligns with my interests in Bomber Commands airmen. I’m not sure what the books intended audience is as it relates specifically to the two crews. Middlebrook’s book is a far better starting point if you are interested in the raid itself but this book may fill a gap if you have an interest in some of the actual airmen.

    Rating out of 5: 3.0

    The Lost Graves of Peenemünde
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  10. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian Patron


    Title: The Long-Range Desert Group: History & Legacy

    Authors: Karl-Gunnar Norén, Lars Gyllenhaal

    Publisher: Helion and Company, 2019

    Quick Review: This relatively short book is divided into two parts. The first and larger part provides a lengthy overview of the operations of the Long-Range Desert Group in North Africa from 1940 to 1943. The second - in a sense a collection of appendices - describes a re-enactment trip that took place in 1942, and some smaller matters.

    A reasonable number of photos are provided, including colour photos from the re-enactment trip. There are five maps, which are of good quality and very helpful in following events.

    The authors drew on many accounts and wrote a very informative book. However, I found my reading enjoyment diminished by the casual style of the writing and occasional grammatical errors. For instance:

    "What about Moore’s and his comrades’ incredible marching feat? Was the decision to not surrender to the Italians not quite mad, considering the tiny amount of water they had? Well, going back would bring them to their pre-arranged rendezvous, where at least one T patrol vehicle was thought to be waiting for them, or at least some water."

    I lay part of the blame on the state of the military history publishing business, which is evidently too lean to afford copy editors.

    Rating out of 5: 3.5. A reasonable introduction, recommended with the above caveats. If you have the longer earlier books, you probably don't need this.
  11. Staffsyeoman

    Staffsyeoman Member

    My father was a platoon commander in North West Europe in 1945; the two books he rated most highly as getting to the essence of the platoon's war were "From The City, From The Plough" - also available in the IWM series - and this.

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