Wikipedia:WikiProject Military history/News/June 2013/Book reviews

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Fighting Spirit - Margaret McClure

Members of No. 75 Squadron RNZAF with one of the unit's A-4K Skyhawks in the Philippines during Cope Thunder in 1982

3.5/5 stars

By Nick-D

Fighting Spirit: 75 Years of the RNZAF is a generously illustrated book commissioned to mark the 75th anniversary of the establishment of the Royal New Zealand Air Force. Its author, Margaret McClure, is a New Zealand historian who has written several books on government policies and social history.

This book provides a fairly detailed account of the main events in the RNZAF's history, with a focus on its establishment and operations. One of its main themes, and the topic which will probably be of greatest interest to non-NZ readers, is the challenges the RNZAF has faced in maintaining itself as a viable force. Due to the country's small size and remote location, New Zelanders have historically been reluctant to spend much on defence (outside the world wars) and the Air Force has often struggled to keep its small fleet up to date and find opportunities to train with foreign forces. McClure's account of how the RNZAF has generally made the best of a difficult situation is especially engaging, as she clearly describes how it has managed to maintain its professional standards. I also found the chapter on the significant, but little known, role the RNZAF played in the Pacific War to be fascinating. The book includes an excellent bibliography and is amply footnoted, both of which will be helpful for editors working on NZ military history.

While McClure generally provides an unflinching account of the RNZAF's strengths and weaknesses, this is ultimately a history written from the Air Force's perspective. As a result, the book's final chapters, which include a focus on the recent contest for resources between the different branches of the New Zealand Defence Force, are unfortunately not convincing. In particular, she rues the decision to disband the RNZAF's fighter force in 2001 but doesn't evaluate the results of this action against the types of deployments the NZDF has actually undertaken since then; given that the emphasis has been on Army-led deployments in Afghanistan and the Pacific and the country has not been involved in a situation where the fighters would have been useful, the decision to reallocate funding away from the air force and towards the other branches seems sound to me, at least so far. Another limitation of the book for Wikipedia editors is that McClure is often vague about the exact date on which events took place, though it should generally be possible to determine these by cross-checking other references.

Overall, Fighting Spirit provides a useful and interesting history of this small and highly professional air force. I'd suggest reading it alongside other works on recent New Zealand military history though.

Publishing details: McClure, Margaret. Fighting Spirit : 75 Years of the RNZAF. Auckland: Random House. ISBN 9781869796105. 

The Danish Straits and German Naval Power 1905–1918 – Michael Epkenhans and Gerhard P. Groß (eds.)

Operation Albion, one of the WWI naval operations described in the book

4.5/5 stars

By Bomzibar

The Danish Straits and German Naval Power 1905–1918 is a book covering the content of an international military history conference held in Copenhagen, Denmark. It was published through the Militärgeschichtliches Forschungsamt der Bundeswehr but is written in English. It is mainly focused on military planning prior to and during World War I concerning the Danish naval straits. Beyond this, it also deals with the wider topics of warfare in the Baltic Sea as well as political and military neutrality during the war.

The first three chapters, written by Michael Epkenhans, Camilla M.B. Christensen and Jens Ole Christensen, examine the German-Danish relations and history before the war, and how the steady rise of the emerging German Empire and its military influenced the neutrality and security debate in Denmark from the early 20th century. The authors show the conflicts rising within the Danish parliament and military over how neutrality should be enforced (strict neutrality or armed neutrality) and how to defend in the event of war (defend at the border, retreat to Zealand or fortify the capital Copenhagen). As clarified in later chapters, this debate continued throughout the war, amended by conflicts between the pro-German government and senior military officers and the pro-English King Christian.

The following chapters cover a mix of different topics regarding the pre-war years and the war in the Baltic Sea. Most interesting for me was the contribution of Andrew Lambert The German North Sea Islands, the Kiel Canal and the Danish Narrows in Royal Navy Thinking and Planning, 1905−1918. This chapters discusses the operational planning of First Sea Lord John Fisher and how his naval reforms affected the German Navy's ship and coastal fortification construction programs. I was highly surprised by the naval and general military plans Winston Churchill developed during the war concerning Denmark and the Scandinavian region. They have great similarities with his 1939/40 plans about preventive strikes against, and occupation of, the Scandinavian neutrals in order to deny their ressources to the Germans and open new fronts.

Gerhard P. Groß's chapter German Plans to occupy Denmark, "Case J" 1916–1918 is another highlight of the book, and its inclusion allows readers to compare German and British plans against Denmark. While the British military planned to occupy the whole country if it was not willing to join their side, the Germans only planned small scale naval actions in the Danish Straits and the Kattegat and small landings at key positions as well as naval bombardment. In this scenario the troops in Schleswig would have only occupied a few cities along the border, and left the rest of Jutland alone as long as no Entente troops landed there. The aim of the planned German operations against Denmark was to close the Baltic for all enemy ships, especially English submarines which repeatedly attacked German merchand and warships there.

The remaining chapters are about the naval war in the Baltic, the mining of the Danish Straits and the role of other neutral countries in Northern Europe, namely the Netherlands and Sweden, during the war. The only reason why I haven't given five stars for this really good book is its inadequate copy-editing. There are spelling errors from time to time, and differences in how references were used from chapter to chapter. All in all, this book can be used in a wide field of articles around World War I, such as Denmark in WWI, Netherlands in WWI, Sweden in WWI, Fall T and Fall E (Swedish plans to counter German or English landings in southern Sweden), Fall J (the planned German occupation of Denmark), British plans against the German coast and Denmark during WWI and a lot of biographical topics. Furthermore there are a number of excellent maps in the book about the naval war in the Baltic which can be of great use for our cartographers.

Publishing details: Epkenhans, Michael; Groß, Gerhard P., eds. (2010). The Danish Straits and German Naval Power 1905–1918. Potsdamer Schriften zur Militärgeschichte (in English) 13. Potsdam, Germany: Militärgeschichtliches Forschungsamt. ISBN 978-3-941571-11-2. OCLC 711829490. 

The Battleship Builders - Ian Johnston & Ian Buxton

Two 12-inch B.VI mountings for H.M.S. Cornwallis being erected in 1902 in No. 7 Shop at the Elswick Ordnance Company.

5/5 stars

By Simon Harley

First off I must declare an interest in that I am mentioned in the acknowledgements of this book, but I only discovered this after I bought and received it!

Ian Johnston has written histories of the great Clydeside shipbuilders William Beardmore & Co. and John Brown & Co., and recently published the gloriously illustrated book Clydebank Battlecruisers. Dr. Ian Buxton is a marine architect and author of a number of ship monographs including the seminal Big Gun Monitors.

The subtitle of this book is Constructing and Arming British Capital Ships. It covers the builders of all battleships and battle cruisers for the Royal Navy from Warrior to Vanguard (largely focussing on 1889 onwards), as well as vessels built in British yards for foreign navies. The introduction is followed by two chapters which cover the shipbuilding industry from 1860 to 1945. There is a large chapter on "The Builders" which covers shipbuilders, engine builders, and arms manufactuers. It also contains a section on company finances and potted biographies of key personalities from the era.

The titles of the remaining chapters speak for themselves; Building, Facilities, Powering, Armament, Armour and Steel, Exporting Battleships, Money, and Manpower. There are three appendices; one which covers John Brown & Co.'s tender book, a second which quotes extensively from a British House of Commons Select Committee which covered armour prices, and a third which looks at the shipbreaking industry. Very few aspects of the construction of a British battleship are not covered by this book.

The detail in this book is tremendous. There are numerous excellent drawings illustrating everything from yard plans to fitting out cranes to even material handling on slipways. The pictures are astounding—both in their number and in their detail. The book is worth the price just for the images alone. Data, of which there is plenty, is presented in clear tables and graphs. Notes are grouped at the back of the book: footnotes would be so much more helpful yet probably impractical. The endcovers feature a timeline of British shipbuilders which is a nice handy touch. The book itself is well constructed and deceptively compact.

If you have even a passing interest in British battleships then you should buy this book: you won't be disappointed. If, like me, you're a student of the period then it will be absolutely indispensable. There is so much information crammed into its 320 pages that you will have to read it a number of times to absorb everything, then refer to it constantly afterwards. I'm not saying that this book has covered everything - the scope is enormous and some of the records have disappeared - but it's one hell of a start.

Publishing details: Johnston, Ian; Buxton, Ian (2013). The Battleship Builders: Constructing and Arming British Capital Ships. Barnsley: Seaforth Publishing. ISBN 9781848320932. 

Recent external reviews

Mitter, Rana (2013). China's War with Japan, 1937-1945: The Struggle for Survival. London: Allen Lane. ISBN 1846140102. 

Atkinson, Rick (2013). The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945. London: Little, Brown Book Group. ISBN 0-8050-6290-4. 

Hansen, Stig Jarle (2013). Al-Shabaab in Somalia : The History and Ideology of a Militant Islamist Group, 2005-2012. London: Hurst. ISBN 1849042500. 
Fergusson, James (2013). The World's Most Dangerous Place : Inside the Outlaw State of Somalia. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Da Capo Press. ISBN 0306821176. 

Erickson, Hal (2012). Military Comedy Films: A Critical Survey and Filmography of Hollywood Releases Since 1918. McFarland Publishing. ISBN 0786462906. 

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Three excellent reviews this month—kudos. I now find myself desperately wanting Battleship Builders but not having money to buy it. Ed [talk] [majestic titan] 06:25, 26 June 2013 (UTC)