Archive for the ‘Cold War’ Category

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We are an astonishing species. Over the past millennium of plagues and exploration, revolution and scientific discovery, woman’s rights and technological advances, human society has changed beyond recognition.  Sweeping through the last thousand years of human development, Human Race: 10 Centuries of Change on Earth is a treasure chest of the lunar leaps and lightbulb moments that, for better or worse, have sent humanity swerving down a path that no one could ever have predicted.

But which of the last ten centuries saw the greatest changes in human history?  History’s greatest tour guide, Ian Mortimer, knows what answer he would give. But what’s yours?

Human Race: 10 Centuries of Change on Earth is really engaging.  The entire concept for the book itself is – as you can see – a very interesting one.  I don’t know of any another book that has tackled a side-by-side comparison of different eras before; certainly on so grand a scale.

As you would expect, the medieval era is where this book really shines; hardly surprising considering that this is Mortimer’s speciality.  The sections on the twelth and thirteenth century, in particular, are worthy of mention.

There are a few glitches along the way.  The pacing feels very off, with Mortimer very obviously playing favourites with the eras that particularly  interest him.  Understandable?  Yes, but a little off-putting.  Overall, it seems to work, though, as the pace of the book overall is a gentle and easy, but highly educational, read.

The plates/photos are okay, but are actually totally unnecessary, not really adding anything to the experience.  There are too few of them to be able to offer any real relevance, and – for my money – the book would have been just as good without them.

All in all, this is a highly enjoyable light read, that offers a very unique take on things, and presents lots of thought provoking observations and stories along the way.  Highly recommended for Mortimer’s existing fans, and worth checking out for fans of Bill Bryson and Tim Moore.

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The T-64 tank was the most revolutionary design of the whole Cold War, designed to provide the firepower and armour protection of a heavy tank in a medium-weight design. It pioneered a host of new technologies including laminate armour, stereoscopic tank rangefinders, opposed-piston engines, smooth-bore tank guns with discarding sabot ammunition, and gun-fired guided projectiles.

These impressive features meant that the Russians were loath to part with the secrets of the design, and the T-64 was the only Soviet tank type of the Cold War that was never exported. Written by armour expert Steven J Zaloga, this detailed technical history sheds light on the secrets behind the Cold War’s most controversial tank, revealing how its highly advanced technologies proved to be both a blessing and a curse.

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T-64 Battle Tank: The Cold War’s Most Secret Tank opens up with an explanation of the reasons behind the tank’s development, all of which make for interesting reading.  What’s really great is that it doesn’t just give you the “why”, it also gives you the “how”, detailing all the development and construction problems that plagued the T-64 pretty much from the outset.

What’s most interesting about the T-64 is what a monstrosity it is.  With all its pop-out rocket deflecting fins, and belt-fed 115 mm cannon It’s like something out of a sci-fi anime, rather than an actual war machine.  Some may say this is typical of the Russian Cold War ethos of “Make It As Big As You Can” (see the Mi-24 Hind), but the engineering involved in making it work is staggering.

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The artwork and photos are simply superb throughout.  The “centrefold” cut-away – in particular – is absolutely brilliant; a real highlight.

The history and development of the T-64 makes for interesting reading, but the artwork and photos are what really lift this book above the crowd.  Well worth picking up if you’re modelling or wargaming with the T-64.

T-64 Battle Tank: The Cold War’s Most Secret Tank by Steven J. Zaloga is available now from Osprey Publishing in paperback (£9.99) and e-book (£7.99).

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When the shadowy, notorious Spetsnaz were first formed, they drew on a long Soviet tradition of elite, behind-the-lines commando forces from World War II and even earlier. Throughout the 1960s-70s they were instrumental both in projecting Soviet power in the Third World and in suppressing resistance within the Warsaw pact. As a powerful, but mysterious tool of a world superpower, the Spetsnaz have inevitably become the focus of many ‘tall tales’ in the West.

This new book, from Mark Galeotti and Osprey Publishing, attempts to debunk these myths, uncovering truths that are often even more remarkable. Now, since the chaotic dissolution of the USSR and the two Chechen Wars, Russian forces have seen increasing modernisation, involving them ever more in power-projection, counter-insurgency and anti-terrorism and the Spetsnaz have been deployed as a spearhead in virtually all of these operations.

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The first thing to strike me about Spestnaz: Russia’s Special Forces was how much history was in there. I’d been thinking of the Spetsnaz in terms of a recent organisation, perhaps formed during the height of the Cold War, but Galeotti displays that it’s been around since The First World War – and debatably even earlier.

The Spetsnaz involvement in the Soviet-Afghan War is very interesting especially in terms of how they were used as almost “ethnic infiltrators”. Special squads were formed in terms of those who could physically pass for Afghan/Muslim.  Some of the stories and anecdotes presented from this time period are astonishingly stark and brutal.

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The latter part of Spetsnaz: Russia’s Special Forces moves onto cover the forces in Chechnya, and how the collapse of the Soviet Union affected the military in general.  As we approach the more recent exploits of the Spetsnaz (including the incidents in Ukraine and Crimea), details and information becomes notably scantier…but that’s hardly surprising.

Spetsnaz: Russia’s Special Forces ends with a round-up of the weapons and unarmed techniques currently used by the Spetsnaz, which is interesting, but doesn’t really flow with the rest of the book, and as such feels rather tacked on.

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Unusually for an Osprey book the photos are generally lacklustre, and don’t really show anything particularly interesting (various Spetsnaz members standing around, not doing anything in particular) but the illustrations are exceptionally good, showcasing the different uniforms and combat roles infinitely better than the photographs do.

A light, but engaging read – great for anyone with a passing interest, but may lack substance for those looking for greater detail.

105800 It’s hard to believe that it’s nearly two years now since Henry Hyde’s The Wargaming Compendium was unleashed upon wargamers the world over.  Now, it’s back, significantly cheaper, and significantly lighter…yet still bursting with all – if not more – of the content that made its original release so awesome.

There are many great things about The Wargaming Compendium that make it an essential purchase, but one of the things to strike me upon reading it cover to cover for the first time is how useful it is no matter if this is the first thing you’ve ever read on wargaming, or if you’re an old hand who’s devoted his spare bedroom over to a 32mm recreation of The Battle of Stamford Bridge.

Within are tips and guides for choosing which era you want to fight in, how to prep and paint figures, how to build and lay-out terrain…pretty much everything you could need. Complete games/rulesets are supplied, as well as a pretty comprehensive directory of conventions, websites, magazines and publishers.  All periods of history are covered, from Ancients to Ultra-Modern, with a fair amount of discussion also given over to fantasy and sci-fi games. I cannot recommend this book enough.

No matter what your experience level, or what aspect of wargaming you are interested in, there is plenty in here to make it worth your while.  And now it’s lighter, as well. Bonus.

Buy it with your hands.  Again.

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The history of the Cobra helicopter is a long and varied one, characterised by extensive deployment in some of the most dynamic theatres of war. Designed in 1965, we have hit the fiftieth anniversary of the AH-1’s inception into the world of combat flight, so it seems timely that we should be presented with this, a comprehensive historical account of the various landmarks of the Cobra’s service history.
ID45165_600This heavily illustrated volume relays the story of the Cobra from the days of early development and concept dissection right through to modern day uses, in both combat and civil contexts. Details of the early trials at Rucker are detailed, as is the birth of air mobile deployment, offering an illuminating insight into a most eventful period of developmental expansion. A full account of the Cobra’s service history during the Vietnam campaign is also included, describing the various tactics and weapons employed. The development of iconic variants such as the King Cobra and Supercobra is outlined, their individual histories set alongside those of lesser known and under-sung types, one off designs and oddities that add yet more colour to this fascinating history.

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The photos through Cobra!: The Attack Helicopter are absolutely incredible.  They are numerous, and all interesting (turns out you can have quantity and quality!).  The text is interesting, entertaining and informative, without getting bogged down in all the technical details that can sometimes render the text virtually unreadable among all the version numbers and sub-classifications!

The Cobra’s operational history is comprehensive, and a nice mixture of operational level overviews, and some first-hand memoirs and stories from the people who flew in the Cobra in theatre.

If you’re interested in the Cobra – or attack helicopters in general – then Cobra! – The Attack Helicopter: Fifty Years of Sharks Teeth and Fangs is an essential purchase.

Take a preview here:

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Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk Stealth Fighter

Paul F Crickmore

Osprey Publishing

Available Now

Review by Brad Harmer

Developed by the legendary Lockheed ‘Skunk Works,’ the F-117 Nighthawk was a phenomenal technical achievement. Featuring cutaways, detail plates and battlescene artwork, this book tells the incredible story of the design of the machine, from the revolutionary materials used to the highly advanced computer technology that was employed to make the Stealth Fighter invisible to enemy radar. Written by the world’s leading authority on the aircraft from Lockheed’s ‘Skunk Works’, Paul F. Crickmore, this book reveals the impact the Stealth had in combat over Panama, Yugoslavia and most notably the Persian Gulf.

This book starts off with a nice, solid intro, and some fantastic paintings of the Nighthawk, both in action, and displaying its multiple variants and some of its paint schemes.  Some books like this can often make the reader feel like they’ve been thrown in the deep end, and are already drowning in the stats and technical details.  Thankfully, this isn’t the case here, and the introduction gives the reader a good grounding, and at no point attempts to “blind with science”.

One of this books strongpoints is the excellent anecdotes and stories shared by the test pilots who worked on the Nighthawk’s early development.  The accompanying photos are similarly enjoyable.

The book kicks up a gear when the Nighthawk is finally deployed for combat and ends in a very exciting report of their involvement in Desert Storm.

This is an excellent book for fans of modern aviation and modern warfare, and – in an unusual (but certainly appreciated) twist – is readily read and enjoyed by a casual or new reader.

Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21

Posted: October 1, 2014 in Books, Cold War, Vietnam War

by Alexander Mladenov

Illustrated by Adam Tooby

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The MiG-21 Fishbed holds the title of the world’s most widely built and used jet fighter, with more than ten thousand units rolling off the lines of three plants in the former Soviet Union.  Designed as a Mach-2 light tactical fighter, its original prototype was first flown in 1958; with the first production variant appearing two short years later.   It was a simplified daytime short-range, clear-weather interceptor and tactical fighter.

This new entry in Osprey Publishing’s Air Vanguard series is a solid one, packed with information, art-work, and in-depth profiles of the inner workings of this iconic fighter.  A solid intro covers all of the base statistics, as well as a very detailed overview of what the cockpit contains, and its layout.

The sections on the armament options on the Fishbed presents us with a solid list of what it could have carried, but I was left feeling that I would have liked a little more information on the actual missiles themselves.  After a while, “Serial Number Blindness” sets in, a little bit of detail on key differences between these weapons would have gone a long way.

As we’ve come to expect from Osprey, the photos and illustrations are superb, with plenty of black and white action shots, load-outs, and some great depictions of the various colour schemes used for those of us who look for painting references for wargaming and modelling.  The research is – as always – second to none.

The latter half of the book is given over to the various wars and forces that used the MiG-21 Fishbed, and it’s a good solid overview, with key areas such as the Vietnam War receiving excellent write ups.

Overall, despite one (very) minor complaints, this is an excellent and highly detailed reference guide to one of Mikoyan-Gurevich’s most iconic craft.

Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 is available now in paperback and Kindle format.

Thud Ridge Minis

Posted: September 19, 2014 in Aerial, Cold War, Gaming, Vietnam War

Been basing up my ‘Nam air-war minis for Thud Ridge.

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Defence of the Realm

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The Hawker Hunter was the RAF’s answer to the swept wing Soviet fighters that emerged in the early 1950s namely the MiG-15 and MiG-17. Both Soviet aircraft were prolific in Eastern Europe and had the Cold War turned ‘hot’ in the second half of the 1950s there is no doubt that RAF pilots would have faced these aircraft in air-to-air combat. So how well would the Hunter have faired against the MiG-17F? For this comparison I am looking only at the Hunter F.6 and MiG-17F variants as these were the most common fighter variants of their respective types.

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Both aircraft were day fighters in the traditional sense of the role. In the 1950s the main threat from both sides came from armadas of bombers armed with nuclear weapons. The Hunter and the MiG-17F required radar stations on the ground to direct them to within visual range of the enemy…

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Took a trip on Friday to check out the IWM (London) and see their new WWI galleries, and I was not disappointed!  It’s a mind-blowingly good exhibition.  New technology mixes with traditional exhibition methods to show off their collections in a truly immersive way.  I’d even go so far as to say that it’s the best exhibition I’ve ever been to – regardless of theme or focus.  I grabbed a few photos (only one of the galleries, though…it needs to be seen for itself!)…hope you enjoy!

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Your devoted writer and editor.

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Large male tank toward the end of the new WWI galleries.
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Wreckage of a suicide car bomb from Afghanistan, 2013.

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Harrier Jump Jet in the main foyer.

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T-34 in the main exhibition hall.

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Monty’s staff car.

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Little Boy.  Mega Bang.

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V-1 in the main exhibition hall.