Archive for the ‘World War I’ 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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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.

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There was a time when the United States didn’t believe in aerial warfare. Wars, after all, were for men—not flying machines. When Europe went to war in the summer of 1914, the U.S. military boasted a measly collection of five aircraft, with no training programs or recruitment procedures in place. But that didn’t mean the country lacked skilled pilots. In fact, it was just the opposite.

In The First Eagles, historian Gavin Mortimer profiles the restless, determined American aviators who grew tired of waiting for the their country to establish an aerial military force during World War I. It was these men who enlisted in Britain’s desperate and battered Royal Flying Corps when, in 1917, it opened a recruitment office in New York. After an intensive and deadly year of training that gave recruits a realistic taste of the combat they would face, 247 fresh American RFC pilots were shipped over to Europe, with hundreds more following in the next two months. Twenty-eight of them claimed five or more kills to become feted as “aces,” their involvement lauded as pivotal to the Allied victory. In this book, Mortimer compiles their history through letters, diaries, memoirs, and archives from museums in the United States and Britain—from John Donaldson, who left for France at age twenty and shot down seven Germans before being downed himself, to the Iaccaci brothers, who accounted for twenty-nine German aircraft between them.

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The First Eagles is a really great read – engaging from the start, and does an excellent job of exploring and explaining the roles of the individual pilots in the grand scheme of things.  You get a sense of not just the individuals, but how much of an impact they had on the development of the Royal Air Force, and on the First World War at large.

Some of the camaraderie and friendship displayed between the pilots is a lovely read – and some of them make for some very fun anecdotes.  The coverage given to the training programme is similarly very interesting.  The First Eagles also contains it fair share of pathos, too – hardly surprising given the conflict – but they are genuinely moving.

A great, entertaining book on an understudied part of history.

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.

Tank Battles of World War I

Posted: April 10, 2015 in Books, Tanks, World War I

A new writer joins our ranks this week, as we welcome Spike Direction, offering us the low down on Bryan Cooper’s “Tank Battles of World War I”

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According to the back cover of this book, it’s been out of print for thirty years and is highly sought after.  Well, little dust jacket, I’ll have to take your word for it on the second part, but a quick examination of the inside confirms this book was first written in 1974 and reprinted last year by Pen & Sword, presumably in time for the 100th anniversary.

This book deals with the development of the tank before and during World War I and the key battles of the Tank Brigade (brilliantly code-named The Heavy Section in the early days), as well as the struggles against the absolute indifference of certain figures in the British Army and government, who were holding out for the chance to win the war with a glorious cavalry charge, and failed to see the potential of this new machine to save soldier’s lives.

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Tank Battles of World War I is brief at eighty-four pages of text, though since the subject area in question is very specific I feel it covers all relevant information sufficiently.  Value is added by a bumload of photo pages, covering the prototype models ‘Little Willie’ and ‘Big Willie’, through to the Mark VII and Whippet tanks in action against the German A7V with it’s preposterous crew of 18, as well as appendices with schematics and vital statistics for all the British Tanks and maps of the battlefields tanks fought over.

As a history enthusiast with a basic working knowledge of the period I found this book very interesting and informative, particularly striking to me was the weird juxtaposition of the birth of modern mechanised warfare with the primitive, Flintstones-level technology being used (the cover shows this marvellously with the fellow releasing a carrier pigeon through a hole in a tank’s armour like something from Dad’s Army, also notable is the fact that the poor souls crewing the tanks often ended battles passed out on the deck with carbon monoxide poisoning!).  Also illuminating was the difference between ‘male’ and ‘female’ tanks, a description I was aware of but have only now learned the significance of.

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All in all this is well worth reading for anyone interested in WWI, and can be polished off in a day should you fancy filling your afternoon with tales of daring, very gradual, CO poisoned charges across no-man’s land, wearing chainmail masks.

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The tank played a hugely successful part in the Allied war effort during the First World War.

It is a mystery, then, why the development of the weapon took so long and was resisted so fiercely by a number of key men and government departments. The idea of an armoured vehicle was far from new by the outbreak of war in August 1914. As early as the fifteenth century Leonardo da Vinci imagined wheeled vehicles equipped with canons. In 1903, H.G. Wells described his version of the tank to be armour plated, have internal power and be able to cross trenches; characteristics that were remarkably similar to the tanks that trundled onto the Somme battlefields thirteen years later.

In his book Foley analyses key questions surrounding the tank, including the all important issue of why senior army personnel were so opposed to its development and content to continue to send wave after wave of unprotected men into the mouths of German machine guns. We also learn more about Lord Kitchener and his scepticism of the tank, which led to the weapon being developed by the Royal Navy under the watchful eye of Winston Churchill.

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The Rise of the Tank is a fascinating read, being a full and intricate history on the development of the tank from its drawing board, all the war through to the end of the First World War.  Not a single point seems to be left uncovered, and it’s loaded with fun pieces of trivia alongside all of the key information.

The first few chapters of the book covering the development and design of the first landship/tank is especially engaging and interesting.  It seems bizarre now to think that the tank was rejected and overlooked so frequently, now that we know its merits.

This is an excellent book for both beginners and expert tread-heads alike.  Two thumbs up!


The Rise of the Tank: Armoured Vehicles and Their Use in the First World War is available now from Pen and Sword Books, priced £19.99 (Hardback) and £11.00 (eBook).

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This is a new edition of this classic book which includes, in its over 700 postcards, many new, powerful propaganda images from nations on both sides of this epic conflict. Here are cards from the Queen’s Collection, cards from America, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Britain, Bulgaria, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Egypt, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Rumania, Salonika, Serbia… All are faithfully reproduced from the original, whether in dramatic black and white or in exuberant colour and they are all at least 100 years old. But this is not just a picture book.

Here is a rich treasure trove to be dipped into for dilettante pleasure or to be read seriously as a thematic and contemporary history of the war. These cards have been collected over many years and a good number are rare and extremely valuable, both intrinsically and for the fascinating information contained in the informative running text and in the thoughtful captions.

This is essential reading for anyone who wishes to sense the feelings and emotions of those who lived through, and fought in, the First World War; readers will appreciate the Twitter-like brevity of the captions, the power of the images and enjoy the chase to understand what lies behind them.

This handsome and fascinating book uses hundreds of the immensely popular picture postcards of the ’14-’18 period to document the course and effects of the Great War, with all its dramatis personae, its humour, suffering, patriotism, sentimentality and fervour.

Thanks to our friends at Pen andSword, we’ve got a copy of Till the Boys Come Home to give away! For your chance of winning, send your name and full postal address to tiltheboys@yahoo.co.ukbefore midday on Wednesday 7th January, making sure to put “Till the Boys Come Home” as the subject. The first entry out of the electronic hat after the competition closes will receive a copy of this great book!

Don’t forget to put “Till the Boys Come Home” in the subject line. Incorrectly labelled or blank entries will be discarded.

Till the Boys Come Home is available now in hardback and e-book, courtesy of Pen and Sword.

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Written by Captain A. Radclyffe Dugmore of the King’s Own Light Infantry, this personal memoir provides an account of the Great War up to the Battle of the Somme. In 1914, Radclyffe Dugmore travelled to Belgium as a civilian observer where he was wounded before spending a brief time in German captivity. These experiences gained Radclyffe Dugmore a highly unusual viewpoint for the opening battles of the war, that of a civilian, and later as a participant on the
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Originally published under the title When The Somme Ran Red in 1918, Radclyffe Dugmore’s memoir has sadly been long out of print. Yet what the author modestly described as ‘Being a very egotistical account of my own personal experiences and observations from the early days of the war in Belgium to the Great Battle of the Somme in July, 1916’ proves to be anything but that.

Radclyffe Dugmore is, unfortunately, very much a product of his time, and reading this narrative as a casual reader, rather than an academic one, his stiff-upper-lip can get very, very grating by the end of the second chapter.  His jingoistic bullshitting and his digs at Johnny Foreigner are a realistic insight to the mind of the common man in the trenches at the time, but that doesn’t stop it from being very, very annoying.

Fortunately, by the time he reaches the front lines, he doesn’t seem to be quite such an officious prick anymore.  His descriptions of life in the trenches are vivid, and – unsurprisingly – very unpleasant.  Naturally, the whole book is intended as a propaganda exercise to rally support for the brave boys in the front lines facing off against the Hun.

Like many contemporary works, on the First World War, what the books is saying is somehow not as telling as the way in which is says it.  In reading between the lines, one is left with an actually quite staggering impression of the bravado and bluster that must have been going on all the time in the trenches; interspersed with very real fear, and very real danger.

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Lest we forget…

Posted: November 11, 2014 in World War I

In this documentary from the BBC, historian and aerial specialist Ben Robinson traces the first air attacks on Britain by the Zeppelin. From Norfolk to London, Robinson investigates how Germany’s aim – to intimidate the population and bring swift victory – failed. Told through aerial perspective, archive film, expert analysis, 3D graphics, and first person accounts (including that of a 102-year-old lady who still remembers the attacks!).

A nice, light documentary from BBC Four and well worth a watch!

Watch on iPlayer here

Watch on YouTube, here: