books monthly march 2017

This month's pick of the new Military History titles...

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Charles Beresford: The Life of Lt. Col. Bernard Williams Vann, V.C., M.C., and Bar,Croix de Guerre Avec Palmes


Published by Helion15th December 2016


During the Great War over 500 ordained Anglican clergymen volunteered for service in the British and Imperial Armies other than as chaplains. Forty-six are known to have been killed or died in the conflict. Through their own merits six of them were promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel. Five of them commanded infantry battalions, three on the Western Front, including Lt. Col. Bernard William Vann, VC, MC & Bar, Croix de Guerre avec palmes, of the Sherwood Foresters. He was the only clergyman in the war to be awarded the Victoria Cross as a combatant and was the most highly decorated soldier recorded in The War List of Cambridge University. A muscular Christian from a relatively humble background, he was greatly influenced by his father's Victorian values of duty, self-help and mens sana in corpore sano. Bernard became a talented sportsman. By the age of 19 he had played centre forward as an amateur for Northampton Town, Burton United and Derby County. He scored a goal against Wolverhampton Wanderers and led the attack against such sides as Chelsea, Burnley, Aston Villa and Notts County. During the week he would sometimes also be playing hockey for Leicestershire. He became a hockey blue at Cambridge and reached the rank of sergeant in the University s OTC. He was also captain of football at Jesus College, where he was the co-founder of a debating club, the Roosters, which is still in existence. Following ordination Bernard was appointed as a curate at St Barnabas in Leicester before moving to Wellingborough School as chaplain and assistant master. With his brother Harry he volunteered for the army in August 1914. Until his death on 3 October 1918, four days after the crossing of the Hohenzollern Line, for which action he received a posthumous Victoria Cross, he remained a committed Christian at the front, holding services and communion when the brigade chaplain was unavailable. His young widow did not pass on his papers to the family and this has led to speculation and assumptions which are not borne out by the facts. A few small potted accounts of Bernard s life have been attempted but, even as early as 1919, they were peppered with inaccuracies that have been perpetuated and fail to take into account his family relationships and many faceted character. The Christian Soldier provides an overdue assessment of this extraordinary Edwardian. The author has enjoyed the co-operation of Bernard Vann s family and conducted extensive research, including tracing papers and diaries of his fellow officers, colleagues and acquaintances. Contains c 50 photos & maps.


This amazing man should be the subject of a biopic or at the very least a documentary! Dan Snow, this is one for you, I think...



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Jan Meland & Trond A Elvan: Heer & SS Visor Caps & Uniforms

Published by Mort Homme Books 30th September 2015

The book has hardcover (US legal format), 230 pages with 736 color photographs of over 50 visor caps of the Heer (army) and the SS. The book shows has also a chapter with 9 uniforms of the Heer and the SS The chapter of the SS caps contains among other a cap owned by a famous SS General. The Heer visor cap chapter are presented with all known branches and departments within the Heer. All known color cap pipings are photographed and displayed in a double page. The caps and uniforms are nicely displayed in an aestetich manner with large high quality photos through the book.

I watched the first episode of SS-GB last Sunday and found it mildly enjoyable but annoying because of the mumbling and the confusing rank of Detective Douglas Archer, who went from Inspector to Chief Superintendent several times within the same speech by the German, Huth. In this series, there are various SSofficers striding around London wearing a variety of uniforms - which brings me to this book - I have to mention first of all the fact that its published price in the UK is £70, which is outrageous. It is interesting (but chilling) to leaf through the illustrations, and it may be the first such collection of illustrations of SS uniforms and caps, but it's not worth that price. The photographs are good but in no way outstanding... This is one for collectors of Nazi memorabilia, obviously, but collectors with very deep pockets and very large budgets...

H W Brands: The General vs The President

Published by Presidio Press 10th November 2016

From master storyteller and historian H. W. Brands comes the riveting story of how President Harry Truman and General Douglas MacArthur squared off to decide America's future in the aftermath of World War II.

At the height of the Korean War, President Harry S. Truman committed a gaffe that sent shock waves around the world. When asked by a reporter about the possible use of atomic weapons in response to China's entry into the war, Truman replied testily, "The military commander in the field will have charge of the use of the weapons, as he always has." This suggested that General Douglas MacArthur, the willful, fearless, and highly decorated commander of the American and U.N. forces, had his finger on the nuclear trigger. A correction quickly followed, but the damage was done; two visions for America's path forward were clearly in opposition, and one man would have to make way.
     Truman was one of the most unpopular presidents in American history. Heir to a struggling economy, a ruined Europe, and increasing tension with the Soviet Union, on no issue was the path ahead clear and easy. General MacArthur, by contrast, was incredibly popular, as untouchable as any officer has ever been in America. The lessons he drew from World War II were absolute: appeasement leads to disaster and a showdown with the communists was inevitable--the sooner the better. In the nuclear era, when the Soviets, too, had the bomb, the specter of a catastrophic third World War lurked menacingly close on the horizon.
     The contest of wills between these two titanic characters unfolds against the turbulent backdrop of a faraway war and terrors conjured at home by Joseph McCarthy. From the drama of Stalin's blockade of West Berlin to the daring landing of MacArthur's forces at Inchon to the shocking entrance of China into the war, The General and the President vividly evokes the making of a new American era.

I'm old enough to remember the Bay of Pigs episode and the stark threat of WWIII looming over us all in 1961, but not old enough to remember the events described in this brilliant book by H W Brands - a book that reads like fiction but is, in fact, fact. This is incredible, thrilling stuff - how it panned out that MacArthur didn't run for president is, to me, something of a mystery. An absolutely enthralling slice of modern history!

John P Cann: The Paras

Published by Helion January 31st 2017

Portuguese paratroopers or paras began as a stepchild of the army and found a home in the Portuguese Air Force in 1955. Initially, the post-World War Two Portuguese Army seemed to have had mixed emotions about the need for elite, special-purpose forces that operated in small units with the attendant flexibility and elevated lethality. Shock troops have been traditionally controversial, and even the vaunted military theorist Baron Karl von Clausewitz saw little point in them. The history of the paras in the Portuguese Army is illustrative of this ambivalent view. Nevertheless, in a war of the weak in which insurgents avoid government strengths and exploit its vulnerabilities using agility, deception, and imagination, such small, crack government units are particularly well suited to counterinsurgency operations. This appreciation emerged with the threat of a new kind of war in Portuguese Africa, an insurgency, and the new and visionary Air Force well understood the potential of paras when combined with the mobility of the helicopter. The Air Force saw an urgent need for troops who could fight an unconventional war, who could not only defeat an enemy but separate him from the population in which he sought concealment and support and on which he depended for funding, recruits, and intelligence. These were specialised warfighters who in one minute were physically destroying an insidious enemy and in the next administering aid and support and protecting a vulnerable population. These were just the troops that Portugal would require for military success in its approaching battle fought between 1961 and 1974 to retain its African possessions, and this vision would be realized on the African battlefield with devastating consequences. This book tells the paras story as researched from Portuguese sources. It details how they were formed and trained and how they developed their imaginative, effective, and feared tactics and applied them in operations to protect the population from insurgent predations and destroy a vicious enemy."


A fine piece of niche history for military enthusiasts and history students.


E R Hooton et al: The Iran-Iraq War - Volume 2

Published by Helion 15th January 2017

Volume 2 takes up the account after Iraq withdrew from Khuzestan and is based upon material from both sides, from US Intelligence data, British Government documents and secret Iraqi files. Iraq's withdrawal exposed the great southern city of Basra to Iranian attack but it was shielded by fortifications based upon a huge anti-tank ditch, the so-called Fish Lake, which the Iranians tried to storm in the summer of 1982. This bloody failure left Tehran in a position where prestige prevented a withdrawal into Iran but the armed forces lacked the resources to bring the conflict to a favourable conclusion. During the next four years the Iranians tried to outflank the Fish Lake defences initially through the marshes in the north and finally through an attack on the Fao Peninsula which increased national prestige but was a strategic failure and paved the way for Iraq s massive victories in 1988. This followed a series of successful defensive battles in which the Iranians were driven back with great loss. This account describes the battles in greater detail than before and, by examining them, provides unique insights and ends many of the myths which are repeated in many other accounts of this conflict.


Chilling account of the major Middle Eastern conflict of the 1980s - the worrying thing is that all of these place names are once again cropping up, this time in connection with Isis... the region remains in turmoil, and Trump's attitude towards Iran is somewhat disconcerting, to say the least. They say that we learn from our history - will anyone learn anything fro what went on in this 1980s conflict, I wonder?

David A Powell: The Chickamauga Campaign

Published by Savas Beatie 15th October 2016

Barren Victory is the third and concluding volume of the magisterial Chickamauga Campaign trilogy, a comprehensive examination of one of the most important and complex military operations of the Civil War.

The first installment, A Mad Irregular Battle, introduced readers to the major characters of this sweeping drama and carried them from the Union crossing of the Tennessee River in August 1863 up through the bloody but inconclusive combat of the first and second days of the battle (September 18 and 19, 1863). Glory or the Grave, the second volume, focused on September 20―the decisive third day of fighting that included the Confederate late-morning breakthrough and the desperate Union final stand on Horseshoe Ridge. This installment drew to a close at nightfall. Powell’s final installment, Barren Victory, examines the immediate aftermath of the battle with unprecedented clarity and detail. 

The narrative opens at dawn on Monday, September 21, 1863, with Union commander William S. Rosecrans in Chattanooga and most of the rest of his Federal army in Rossville, Georgia. Confederate commander Braxton Bragg has won the signal victory of his career, but has yet to fully grasp that fact or the fruits of his success. Unfortunately for the South, the three grueling days of combat broke down the Army of Tennessee and a vigorous pursuit was nearly impossible. 

In addition to carefully examining the decisions made by each army commander and the consequences, Powell sets forth the dreadful costs of the fighting in terms of the human suffering involved. Barren Victory concludes with the most detailed Chickamauga orders of battle (including unit strengths and losses) ever compiled, and a comprehensive bibliography more than a decade in the making.

David Powell’s award-winning The Chickamauga Campaign trilogy is now complete. The fighting in the hills and valleys of North Georgia has finally received the extensive treatment it has so long deserved.


An excellent, comprehensive account of one of the key campaigns of the American Civil War.

James Stejskal: Special Forces Berlin

Published by Casemate 21st March 2017

This book relays the history of a little known and highly classified US Army Special Forces Detachment that was stationed in Berlin, Germany from 1956 to 1990. It came into existence in response to the threat posed by the massive armies of the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies to the nations of Western Europe. US military planners decided they needed a plan to slow the massive Soviet advance they expected when and if a war began. The plan was Special Forces Berlin. The first 40 men who came to Berlin in mid-1956 were soon reinforced by 60 more and these 100 soldiers (and their successors) would stand ready to go to war in a hostile area occupied by nearly one million Warsaw Pact forces until 1990. If war came, some of these men would stay in Berlin to fight the enemy, while others would cross the most heavily defended border in the world and disappear into the countryside to accomplish their tasks behind Soviet lines. The Detachment were also involved in operations elsewhere, including involvement in the attempted rescue of American hostages from Tehran in 1979. When SF Berlin was disbanded, its files and records were for the most part destroyed or lost. Written by a veteran of the unit, this narrative of the unit's activities is based on the recollections of the men who served in it, coupled with what little declassified, official documentation is available.


Reads like a thriller for much of the time - a small, select force ready for action should the Soviets escalate their activities in Western Europe - nothing much has changed in the last sixty years or so!


Dan Daly: White Water - Red Hot Lead

Published by Casemate 21st March 2017

During the Vietnam war 3500 officers and men served in the Swift Boat program in a fleet of 130 boats with no armor plating. The boats patrolled the coast and rivers of South Vietnam, with the average age of the crew being twenty-four. Their days consisted of deadly combat, intense lightning firefights, storms and many hidden dangers.

This action-packed story of combat written by Dan Daly, a Vietnam combat veteran who was the Officer in Charge of PCF 76 makes you part of the Swift Boat crew. The six man crew of PCF 76 were volunteers from all over the United States, eager to serve their country in a highly unique type of duty not seen since the PT boats of WWII. This inexperienced and disparate group of men would meld into a combat team a team that formed an unbreakable, lifelong bond.

After training they were plunged into a 12 month tour of duty. Combat took place in the closest confines imaginable, where the enemy were hidden behind a passing sand dune or a single sniper could be concealed in an onshore bunker, mines might be submerged at every fork in the river. The enemy was all around you, hiding, waiting, while your fifty-foot Swift Boat works its way upriver. In many cases the rivers became so narrow there was barely room to maneuver or turn around. The only way out might be into a deadly ambush. Humor and a touch of romance relieve the tension in this thrilling ride with America's finest.


Another fine book from Casemate that reads like fiction - amazing accounts of daring and courage in one of the worst wars in living history.


Ted Fahrenwald: Bailout Over Normany

Published by Casemate 21st March 2017

A suspenseful and witty memoir of an American World War II fighter pilot shot down over France and his outrageously brave adventures behind enemy lines. A daredevil aviator in the famed 352nd Fighter Squadron, Ted Fahrenwald bailed out of his burning P-51 Mustang two days after D-day and was launched on a thrilling adventure in Occupied France. After months living and fighting with the French Resistance, he was captured by the Wehrmacht, interrogated as a spy, and interned in a POW camp—but he made a daring escape just before his deportation to Germany. Despite Fahrenwald’s harrowing experiences, nothing diminished the ace’s talent for spotting ironic humor in even the most aggravating or dangerous situations—and nothing stopped his penchant for extracting his own improvised, and sometimes hilarious, version of justice. Recently discovered but written shortly after the author’s discharge and return to the United States, Bailout Over Normandy is a remarkable memoir that reveals a rare literary talent. This WWII page-turner is an audaciously humorous tale of daring and friendship that brings vivid life to the daily bravery, mischief, and intrigues of fighter pilots, Resistance fighters, and allies in the air and on the ground.


US equivalent of Douglas Bader - Boys' Own Paper thrills in this superb account of the wartime exploits of Ted Fahrenwald...



The small print: Books Monthly, now well into its sixteenth year on the web, is published on or slightly before the first day of each month by Paul Norman. You can contact me here. If you wish to submit something for publication in the magazine, let me remind you there is no payment as I don't make any money from this publication. If you want to send me something to review, contact me via email and I'll let you know where to send it.