Wikipedia:WikiProject Military history/News/June 2011/Book reviews

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This is the first installment of what I hope will become a regular book review section of The Bugle. These reviews will provide an assessment recently released books on military history from the perspective of a Wikipedia editor, providing a rating out of five and highlighting their strengths and weaknesses as sources for Wikipedia articles. A selection of recent reviews of military history books published in major newspapers will also be included each month.

I plan to write two or so reviews per month (on a wide range of topics, though obviously this will be limited to what I've read!), and reviews from other editors of books, websites and other potential references would be fantastic. I'd also appreciate any and all feedback on these reviews. Thanks, Nick-D (talk) 12:09, 1 July 2011 (UTC)

Finland's War of Choice - Henrik O. Lunde[edit]

Finnish soldiers crossing the pre-1940 border with the Soviet Union during the fighting in 1941

3/5 stars
Finland's role in the fighting on the Eastern Front of World War II is little known in the English-speaking countries, and there are very few recent works on the topic. This book by American author Henrik O. Lunde is an attempt to fill this gap, and provides a solid general account of the fighting between Germany, Finland and the USSR in northern Russia and Finland. I found it ultimately disappointing, however, as it had too strong a focus on the German experience and seems to have broken little new ground.

I'll start with the positives. Lunde provides an excellent summary of the events which led up to Finland's decision to participate in the German invasion of the USSR - the Winter War and subsequent diplomatic maneuverings are covered in an appropriate level of detail. The build up of German forces is well described, and the German campaign against Murmansk which has launched from northern Finland (Operation Silver Fox) is covered in detail. The account of the Finnish-led campaigns in the south of the country during 1941 is less detailed, but is still adequate. Lunde also does a good job of describing the next two years of war in which not very much happened; he covers the surprisingly large number of German troops who were tied down in northern Finland along with the logistical and diplomatic factors which prevented any serious fighting from developing. The book ends with a solid and fairly detailed account of the Soviet campaign against Finland in mid-1944 and the subsequent Lapland War between German and Finnish forces. Throughout the book Lunde provides solid analysis of the campaigning (and lack thereof) and his argument that the Finns showed poor judgement in joining the war and Germans were mistaken in continuing to station major forces in the region after 1942 appears sound.

However, for all that the book isn't really a success. Lunde writes in the book's prologue that "my own difficulty in reading Finnish has served as a limitation on the use of Finnish sources" and unfortunately this has resulted in the book being German-centric. The main sources used are the memoirs of senior German officers who served in Finland and the few English-language works on this subject (which seem to also have relied significantly on German sources). The main Finnish source used is the memoirs of General Mannerheim, the commander of the country's military. While these sources have been used critically, more neutral references would have been invaluable, and the book appears to contain little, if any, genuinely new research. At times the book's narrative is notably weighted towards a German point of view, and seems to understate the difficult position Finland was in during the last years of the war. As a result, there's little discussion of important topics such as the political and economic strains which the war caused within Finland. The goals and structure of the Soviet forces which opposed the Germans and Finns also aren't often described.

As a result, while this book provides a good account of the campaigns in Finland and northern Russia during World War II, there remains a need for a well-rounded work on this topic. Nick-D (talk) 12:09, 1 July 2011 (UTC)

Darwin Spitfires - Anthony Cooper[edit]

Eleven young men crouching or standing in front of a propeller-driven aircraft which another man is working on. The crouching man in the centre of the photograph is gesturing with his hands and the men around him are laughing.
Flying Officer John Smithson demonstrating how he shot down two Japanese bombers near Darwin on 12 November 1943

4/5 stars
This book was also written to fill a gap in the literature on World War II, but succeeds almost completely. As Cooper notes early in the book (and I can attest from working on the No. 1 Wing RAAF article) very little has been written about the experiences of the Australian and British Supermarine Spitfire-equipped units which protected the Australian town of Darwin in 1943 since the official history of the RAAF in World War II was published in the 1960s. To meet this need, Cooper has written a remarkably detailed and highly analytic work which covers the activities of No. 1 Wing and its Japanese opponents throughout 1943.

The book's greatest strength is the level of detail it provides. Cooper has drawn on official records, unit histories and memoirs to give a blow by blow account of each encounter between Allied Spitfires and Japanese aircraft near Darwin. This includes describing the actions of almost all pilots involved in the raids. At times this becomes repetitive (almost all the battles involved the Allied aircraft scrambling, flying to a high altitude, attacking the Japanese bombers and then getting 'bounced' by fighters) but the end result is a definitive account of each and every raid and skirmish. Moreover, the level of detail lends great weight to Cooper's well considered analysis of the performance of the Allied and Japanese forces - he convincingly argues that the Allied pilots and their (defective) Spitfires were generally no match for the excellent Japanese pilots and aircraft they faced, and provides new analysis to support this. Despite the detail, Cooper also succeeds in placing the campaign in its proper perspective, noting that the Darwin area was regarded as a sideshow by both the Japanese and Allies and explaining how events in other theaters of the war effected the campaign. The book is well written throughout and, despite its length (487 pages) and level of detail is quite an easy read. The book is also well illustrated with large numbers of well chosen photos from the Australian War Memorial's collection and National Archives of Australia records and includes maps showing the track of many of the raids.

Despite that, the book does have some flaws. While it includes a map of the Darwin area, this lacks detail and doesn't include many of the locations in the book. A map of the north coast of the Northern Territory and the islands where the Japanese raids originated would have been invaluable, as would more maps of the individual raids. There are also some odd omissions - most notably, Cooper doesn't discuss how No. 1 Wing was seen by the Australian Government and public, and the inquires and public criticism which followed No. 1 Wing's heavy losses in the 2 May raid on Darwin aren't covered at all. Greater coverage of No. 1 Wing's period of training near Sydney before moving to Darwin would have been warranted given how critical Cooper is of the combat readiness of the wing's pilots. While the book was published by a university press, the end notes are quite limited, and it's not always clear where material was sourced from (particularly the highly detailed accounts of some pilots' experiences).

All up, this is a first rate book which will be of value to anyone with a serious interest in World War II air combat, and will be of great use for the relevant Wikipedia articles. Nick-D (talk) 12:09, 1 July 2011 (UTC)


Nick-D is an Australian graduate student. On Wikipedia, he has authored fourteen featured articles and fourteen A-class or good articles.

Recent external military history book reviews[edit]

  • Foreman, Amanda (2011). A World on Fire : Britian's Crucial Role in the American Civil War. New York: Random House. ISBN 037550494X. 
  • Hochschild, Adam (2011). To End All Wars: How the First World War Divided Britain. London: Pan Macmillan. ISBN 9780230013964. 
  • Kempe, Frederick. Berlin 1961 : Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons. ISBN 0399157298.