Wikipedia:WikiProject Military history/News/December 2012/Book reviews

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British Battleships of World War One - R A Burt

Orion class battleships at anchor.

4/5 stars

By Simon Harley

This is a new edition of R. A. Burt's 1986 book on the British dreadnought battleship and battle cruisers which fought the First World War. Even if this was just a reprint it would be very welcome owing to the astronomical prices the original fetches; however, this is a "New Revised Edition." I am informed by someone with the original that the pagination is different, and that more has been crammed in.

The book has a conventional structure: each class of battleship and battle cruiser (including the "large light cruisers") receives a chapter arranged in chronological order. Each chapter is sub-divided into sections: Design History; Armament; Armour; Machinery; Appearance Changes; History (for each ship). In a book of some 350 pages devoted to dozens of warships the various descriptions are necessarily (and sometimes maddeningly) brief, but there is plenty of detail to satisfy the discerning reader. Some details related to appearance changes and other modifications are annoyingly vague in places, but having looked through a Ship's Cover myself (that of the Lion class) this is perhaps unavoidable.

What makes this book worth every penny of its price are the photos reproduced therein from R. A. Burt's collection and presumably from other sources (many photos for example will be recognised from Clydebank Battlecruisers). There is an astonishing array of images that you are not likely to see anywhere else. Also of note are the various profiles and plans, which are a joy to behold.

Some annoying errors have crept into the captions. On page 11 a turret diagram is labelled as a "15in gun turret as mounted in Queen Elizabeth and Royal Sovereign class." It is clearly a 15-inch Mark II turret as fitted in Hood. A photo on page 14 of King George V, Naval Cadet Prince Albert (later King George V) and Admirals Callaghan and Beaumont aboard Neptune is stated to have been taken when the director firing system in Thunderer was trialled against Orion. This is incorrect as Neptune was under refit on that date, 13 November, 1912. The photo actually dates from 9 May, 1912. There are quite a few more. Nevertheless, for a book of such enormous scope and detail there would appear to be remarkably few errors. The lack of any form of referencing is a great shame but unsurprising given the number of foot/end notes which would be required. The Bibliography section hasn't been updated as The National Archives are still listed as the Public Record Office.

The book is published in the United States by Naval Institute Press and in the United Kingdom by Seaforth. I don't normally recommend books, but this would make the perfect Christmas present for a naval historian.

Publishing details: Burt, R A (2012). British Battleships of World War One. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 9781591140535. 

Vercors 1944 - Peter Lieb

Mountains in the Vercors region

4.5/5 stars

By Nick-D

Vercors 1944 is the 249th book in Osprey Publishing's prolific 'Campaign' series and covers the successful German offensives against the liberated 'republic' which was established by the French Resistance in the Vercors Plateau of southern France during 1944. Its author, Peter Lieb, is a lecturer at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst who specialises in German military history counter-insurgency warfare.

While the quality of Osprey books is hit and miss, this book is a clear-cut success. Lieb uses Osprey's fixed structure for the books in this series well, and provides a detailed and interesting account of the forces involved in the fighting and the events of the campaign. A particular strength is that the narrative of the fighting includes good analysis of the tactics employed by the opposing forces - I knew nothing about this campaign before reading the book, and felt that I gained a good understanding of it (and the tactics used by the resistance and occupation forces more generally). The book's many maps and photographs are excellent, and the full-page battle scene drawings are interesting and well executed (though I don't know why Osprey persists with them).

Leib's account of this fighting is also scrupulously balanced and intellectually honest. He provides excellent analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the German and French forces (as well as the handful of British and American special forces teams which assisted the resistance) as well as the wider context for the campaign - his argument that the Western Allies were not to blame for the French defeat as they'd warned against the creation of a liberated area and were unable to provide greater support due to their commitments in Normandy at the time is convincing. Unlike the many Osprey books which have an emphasis on the more 'glamorous' elements of warfare, Lieb also describes the war crimes which were committed by the German and, to a lesser extent, French forces and the influence they had on the campaign (it was interesting to note that the Resistance forces tried to avoid fighting near towns to discourage the Germans from conducing reprisals against civilians and generally sought to treat German prisoners correctly to bolster their claim to being regular forces of the French state). The only weakness to the book is that the quality of the prose is a bit awkward at times, especially in the early sections.

Overall, I'd strongly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the fighting in Western Europe during World War II.

Publishing details: Lieb, Peter (2012). Vercors 1944 : Resistance in the French Alps. Oxford: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 9781849086981. 

Recent external reviews

Lendon, J.E. (2010). Song of Wrath : The Peloponnesian War Begins. New York: Basic Books. ISBN 9780465015061. 

  • Frechette, Joseph (November 2012). "Realism or Wrath?". H-Net Reviews. H-Net Humanities & Social Sciences Online. 

Kershaw, Alex (2012). The Liberator : One World War II Soldier's 500-Day Odyssey from the Beaches of Sicily to the Gates of Dachau. New York: Crown. ISBN 0307887995. 

Niemann, Derek (2012). Birds in a Cage: Warburg, Germany, 1941. London: Short Books. ISBN 1780720939. 

Ricks, Thomas E. (2012). The Generals : American Military Command from World War II to Today. New York: Penguin Press. ISBN 1594204047. 

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