Wikipedia:WikiProject Military history/News/February 2014/Book reviews

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Target Rabaul - Bruce Gamble

Aircraft of the 3rd Bombardment Group attack Japanese ships in Simpson Harbour, 2 November 1943. The Japanese cruiser Haguro in the foreground had been damaged during the Battle of Empress Augusta Bay the previous night.

3.5/5 stars

By Hawkeye7

Bruce Gamble's Target Rabaul is the third book in his trilogy, after Invasion Rabaul (2006) and Fortress Rabaul (2010). This one covers more ground than the other two, taking the story from March 1943 to the end of the war, so it is not as detailed as the others. The land campaigns on New Britain are not covered, although the coastwatchers rate more than a passing mention. There is enough material out there for someone to write yet another volume on the period covered by this book.

The book concentrates on the fliers, especially those shot down and held captive in Rabaul. Thus a great deal of the book contains harrowing narratives of prisoner neglect, torture and execution. An appendix lists all the prisoners held in Rabaul and their fate, although it does not include British and Indian prisoners transferred from Singapore. The author repeats the false claim that more Germans were tried for war crimes than Japanese. (He also thinks that RAA is the Australian Army.)

Gamble does not flinch from the fact that both sides habitually inflated their claims of enemy aircraft being shot down. This resulted in senior officers claiming imaginary victories, while intelligence staffs attempted to reconcile large numbers of enemy losses with reconnaissance photographs that showed as many or even more aircraft in operation than before. While most of this was understandable, with many aircraft firing at the same targets, and the fact that Japanese aircraft often trailed smoke when the pilot went full throttle to get away, he also notes that some aviators, including some that were highly decorated for their feats, deliberately made false claims.

But, all in all, the book is well-researched, and there are lots of fine accounts of harrowing bombing raids. This is where the book is at its best.

Publishing details: Gamble, Bruce (2013). Target Rabaul: the Allied Siege of Japan's most Infamous Stronghold, March 1943-August 1945. Minneapolis: Zenith Press. ISBN 9780760344071. 

Broken Nation - Joan Beaumont

A group of wounded Australian soldiers in France

4.5/5 stars

By Nick-D

Broken Nation is an ambitious attempt to write a single-volume history of Australia's experiences in World War I, covering the main campaigns fought by the Australian military as well as the war's political and social consequences. The author, Joan Beaumont, is an academic historian who has previously edited and written several books on Australia in the world wars.

While many histories of Australia in World War I get bogged down in sentimentality and sideshows, Broken Nation is focused on the main aspects of the war and provides superb critical analysis. For my money, the strongest element of the book is the way in which Beaumont links the heavy casualties suffered by the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) in France with the increasingly extreme political polarisation in Australia. While many previous works are silent about the domestic consequences of the AIF's campaigns or dubiously argue that Australians stoically accepted the war's death toll, Beaumont demonstrates that support for the war eroded over time and deteriorated sharply during 1918. Her accounts of the AIF's battles are also admirably clear, and include fine analysis of the performance of the units and leaders involved. Beaumont is no protector of reputations or myths, and doesn't hesitate to point out instances of poor performance by Australians and wasteful operations. Similarly, she provides an excellent critical analysis of the performance of the Australian Government during the war. To cap it all, the text is supported by excellent maps (most adapted from John Coates' An Atlas of Australia's Wars) and well-selected photos.

Some elements of the book may not be to everyone's taste. A consequence of Beaumont's decision to focus on the AIF is that the book barely covers the experiences of the Royal Australian Navy and Australian Flying Corps, and there is virtually no material on the Australian military nurses who served overseas. I think that this is sensible given that the AIF accounted for the vast majority of the Australian military and almost all of its combat casualties, but some readers will be disappointed. The book's wide scope also means that Beaumont often doesn't go into details on individual aspects of the fighting or developments on the home front, but the references she provides to more specialist works should generally point people looking for information on these topics in the right direction.

Overall, Broken Nation is an outstanding book and the best single-volume history of Australia in the war currently available.

Publishing details: Joan, Beaumont (2013). Broken Nation : Australians in the Great War. Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 9781741751383. 

Recent external reviews

Mackenzie, S.P. (2012). British Prisoners of the Korean War. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0199656029. 

Gates, Robert M. (2014). Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War. New York City: Knopf. ISBN 0307959473. 

  • Ricks, Thomas E. (13 January 2014). "In Command". The New York Times. 

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