David Knights' Weblog

June 7, 2017

Book review: The Doomed Expedition

Filed under: Modeling — dknights @ 8:05 pm
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Book review: The Doomed Expedition
Author :Jack Adams
Publisher :Leo Cooper 1989
286 pgs

This book covers the British army efforts in the ill-fated but endlessly fascinating Norwegian campaign.  The author has a special knowledge of the subject as he was a participant as a member of the Sherwood Foresters battalion and was deployed to Norway during April and May of 1940.

While the invasion of Norway is often times referred to as the first Air-Land-Sea combined arms operation in history, this book’s focus is just on the British Army efforts in Norway.  It does cover allied army efforts (French, Polish and Norwegian) insofar as they were connected to the British efforts. The book also touches on the naval and air efforts of the allies from time to time but by no means presents the complete history of those efforts.  The book also only lightly touches on the political and strategic issues which led up to Norway being involuntarily dragged into a conflict she wanted no part of and tried hard to avoid.  As much of the political story doesn’t reflect well on the leaders of the United Kingdom, it is understandable that a British author might not want to dwell upon this area.

As with all coverage of the Norwegian campaign, the author is faced with the challenge of how to tell the story of operations in three divergent and only slightly connected areas (Navrik, Bodo, and Central Norway).  Different books take different approaches to this problem.  This author has chosen to tell the story by operational area rather than strictly chronologically.  The author resolves any confusion this creates by periodically reminding the reader what was occurring in other operational areas at the time where necessary.

The details of the story of the British efforts in Norway are compelling and frustrating at the same time.  It’s the story of bravery and incompetence and reaction rather than action.  At the time of the German invasion the British were prepared to move in a number of army units to “peacefully” occupy parts of Norway.  Yet, when the Germans struck, the British dithered and their half-hearted response came more than a week after the Germans had invaded, giving the Axis forces time to gain their balance and consolidate their hold on the initial invasion areas.

The Brits committed troops piecemeal and never in a concentration sufficient to achieve their aims.  In many cases, the upper echelons of command had no clear idea of what their aims even were.  As always in war, the troops were the ones to suffer.  They arrived in theatre without supporting equipment such as tanks, radios, sufficient anti-aircraft and regular artillery.  In the face of the overwhelming air superiority of the enemy, these deficiencies doomed the British efforts to failure even before they began; Thus, the title of this book.

While not strictly a book related to modeling, the stories are sure to provide some inspiration and could well lead a modeler to build a model or two from Operation Weserübung.

May 23, 2017

Book review: The Mitsubishi Zero, Type 0 Carrier Fighter (A6M) “Zeke” in World War Two. (Combat Colours No. 9)

Filed under: Modeling — dknights @ 10:36 pm
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Book review: The Mitsubishi Zero, Type 0 Carrier Fighter (A6M) “Zeke” in World War Two. (Combat Colours No. 9)
Author Nicholas Millman
40 pgs
ISBN 978-1-908565-57-0

The magazine, Scale Aircraft Modelling, publishes a series of “books”, really more like pamphlets, that look like magazines.  The series is called Combat Colours and features a particular aircraft or time period and is focused on paint colours and markings.  In regard to this issue, No 9 in the series, it covers the thorny subject of the colours of the iconic A6M Japanese Zero fighter.

This particular subject is one that has been the subject of much debate over the last 20 years or so, especially as it applies to the early A6M2.  For years the early Zeros were thought to be a light gray.  However, more recent research has revealed that the original color was a taupe, somewhat akin to RLM02, and weathered, due to chalking, to a light gray.  The author of this volume, Nicholas Millman has dedicated many years to the study of the colors and markings of Japanese aircraft.  He has previously authored several of the best books in the Osprey book series, on aircraft like the Ki-27. Ki-43, Ki-44 and Ki-61. He also runs a highly informative website called Aviation of Japan.  http://www.aviationofjapan.com/

Mr. Millman, standing on the shoulders of giants such as Don Thorpe, Ian Baker, Robert Mikesh and James Lansdale, has brought together much of the latest research and organized it in a very easy to understand manner.  There are discussions of many of the different camouflage schemes the Zero wore throughout its career. All of the detail areas such as cockpits, props, cowls and undercarriage are discussed in separate sections. The author deserves credit for laying out his research and conclusions and acknowledges where there are alternate interpretations.

This pamphlet is lavishly illustrated with many black and white photos as well as colour side views as well as several colour charts.  The downside of all these colour illustrations and charts is that it has driven the cost of the pamphlet above what you might expect for, what in essence, is a 40 page magazine.  The retail price of this issue of Combat Colours No.9 is $23.  While this might seem steep, I can say that if you are at all interested in the Zero, this book is well worth it, constituting the latest thinking on the subject of how to paint you model of the Zero.

Highly recommended.

April 3, 2017

Book review: First of the Few, 5 June- 9 July 1940

Filed under: Modeling — dknights @ 8:30 am
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Book review: First of the Few, 5 June- 9 July 1940
Author: Brian Cull
ISBN 978-1-78155-116-5
256 pgs
Review by D.M. Knights, IPMS/USA 17656, IPMS/Canada C6091

Brian Cull is one of my favorite aviation authors.  I believe I’ve read nearly everything he’s written, so I was looking forward to his new book, First of the Few.  This book covers the RAF operations (including FAA) from June 5th, the end of the Dunkirk (Operation Dynamo) to July 9th, the beginning of the war over the Channel.  This is the time period where the RAF is fighting a retreat, covering the British troops as they evacuate from France.

While covering a time period of a little over a month, it was a hectic month with air operations continuing against the Germans while moving from base to base never knowing exactly when the French were going to capitulate.  The main focus is on the Hurricane squadrons which were part of the BEF and the AASF.  These squadrons had been fighting hard for over a month while constantly moving from base to base as the Germans advanced.  They had been badly decimated but still constituted the only air units which could protect the retreating British troops as they headed for the ports in Normandy and southern France to get out of France before the collapse that was inevitable after Dunkirk.

The stories of individual air combats are compelling and the author has done a good job of reconciling the records of the combatants, so that in many cases we know which pilot shot down another pilot in particular combats.  However, some of the most amazing stories are the pilots who had been wounded in combat and were recovering in France as they desperately made their way seeking any way to get out of the country.  Some pilots made their way, just like ground troops to the ports, while others stole planes from French air bases or civil airports and flew to either the Channel Islands, Britain or Africa.

Also covered in the book are the beginning of the Bomber Command’s strategic operations against both Germany and Italy.  It is amazing to read how small these initial operations were considering how big they became by the end of the war.

In addition to the 256 pages of text, the book has 10 pages of black and white photographs.  In one of the appendixes, the book lists all the Luftwaffe pilots who were released by the French after the armistice.  It includes a number of pilots who went on to become aces, in some cases many times over.

Mr. Cull has a follow-on book scheduled for release later this year.  Titled The Thin Blue Line, it covers the month of the air war over the channel in July and August.  It is unclear if he will continue on and cover the Battle of Britain proper.  I certainly hope he does. List price is $29.95 on Amazon, but shop around and you may find a better deal.

December 27, 2016

Magazine review: IPMS/USA Journal Vol.28 #6

Filed under: IPMS,Modeling — dknights @ 3:55 pm
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The latest issue of the Journal is out.  Frankly this is the best issue in a number of years.  This has nothing to do with my having a book review in the issue and one of the other articles has previously appeared in MMCL’s Tactical Notes.  If you aren’t a member, join IPMS/USA now.

December 24, 2016

Book review: Scandinavian Misadventure

Filed under: Modeling — dknights @ 8:40 am
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Cover

Cover

Book review: Scandinavian Misadventure
The Campaign in Norway 1940
Author: Maurice Harvey
ISBN: 0-946771-44-8
323 pgs

This book, as the title suggests, covers the campaign in Norway in April and May of 1940.  Given that the author is an RAF officer, it has a particularly British view on the events of this campaign.

The book does an adequate job describing the events of the 1940 campaign in Norway.  However, it tends to put more blame for the failures of the campaign on the Norwegians than they rightly deserve, though they certainly were woefully prepared for the German onslaught.  It also completely glosses over the fact that the Norwegians lost their country in no small part due to the fact that the British goaded the Germans into invading, even though the British realized they had no realistic hope of helping defend the bottom two-thirds of the country, where most of the population resided.

The German invasion plan was audacious, and was as successful as it was mainly due to failures by the vaunted British navy.  The subsequent British and French response was lackluster and confused, despite the fact that the Allies had been planning on inserting troops into Norway ever since the second week of September 1939.

Like most books on this campaign, this book shifts focus back and forth between the events in lower Norway and the events around the port of Narvik in the far upper reaches of the country.  The author describes the events of the campaign, but fails to truly capture the disastrous nature of the Allied efforts.  “Misadventure” hardly describes it.

The book is a good history of the campaign with detailed descriptions of some of the actions involved.  Its downfall is its failure to adequately assign responsibility for the failures, particularly those of the armed forces of the United Kingdom.

December 5, 2016

Book review: Operation Archery, Commandos and the Vaagso Raid 1941

Filed under: Modeling — dknights @ 10:49 pm
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archery-coverBook review: Operation Archery, Commandos and the Vaagso Raid 1941
By Ken Ford
80 Pages
ISBN978-1-84908-372-0

Review by D.M. Knights

After the British were driven from continental Europe in 1940, Winston Churchill realized that the British Army would not be strong enough to return for years, yet he saw the need for attacks on the continent in order to maintain a credible threat to Germany and to give hope to the occupied countries.  Churchill had an obsessive focus on Norway ever sense the outbreak of WWII, with disastrous consequences in the Norwegian campaign of April-May 1940.  Now however, Norway made sense as an area where the hit and run raids contemplated by Churchill could be implemented.

The raid on Vaagso seems a bit weird at first blush as the target wasn’t a radar, gun emplacement or airfield, but rather the target were several fish oil plants.  While fish oil plants don’t seem particularly military, the fish oil was used to make vitamin supplements which U-boat crews needed due to the lack of sunlight exposure.  Also the fish oil was used to make glycerin, a vital component of explosives.

The town of South Vaagso on Vaagso Island had 4 or 5 fish oil plans.  The island was just off the mainland of Norway and was guarded by a small infantry detachment of the Wehrmacht 181st Inf. Div. as well as some naval troops.  There were also 6 ancient 10.5cm WWI era German guns on the Island of Maaloy which lay next to the town of South Vaagso and protected its harbor.

This book does an excellent job, in its 80 pages of telling the story of the preparation for the raid, the raid itself and its aftermath.  It is an exciting tale well worth devoting an hour or two reading the book.  In addition to a well told story the book is illustrated with maps which help make the story clear, as well as many photos most taken during the raid as the British sent along combat photographers so they could exploit the propaganda value of the raid.

I particularly enjoy small unit action stories.  This makes this particular book even more enjoyable.  If you enjoy the story, you can also read the old Bantam War Book, The Vaagso Raid by Jospeh H. Devins, Jr. which was first published back in 1968.  It makes a nice companion to the Osprey Operation Archery book.

November 30, 2016

Book review: RF-8 Crusader Units over Cuba and Vietnam

Filed under: Modeling — dknights @ 12:02 pm
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rf-8Book review: RF-8 Crusader Units over Cuba and Vietnam
Osprey Combat Aircraft #12
By Peter Mersky
98 pgs
ISBN 978 1 85532 782 5

I’ve been reading a lot of Osprey books this year for a number of reasons.  I have managed to collect a lot of them over the years and they are quick easy reads.  Also, I am determined to finish more books this year than Jim Bates and the Osprey books are an easy way to boost my book count.

The format of these books is pretty much all the same, a short history of the subject aircraft, 8 or so pages of color side views and some combat stories with quotes from the participants. So of the books are better, such as the Nick Millman volumes on the Ki-27 and Ki-44 aces, and others aren’t quite of the same caliber.  Sadly this volume falls into the latter category.

The book isn’t bad, per se.  It’s not that author has gotten anything factually incorrect, as far as I can tell.  I did learn some stuff too, such as the USMC RF-8 units never operated the RF-8G, only the RF-8A.  Also, part of the problem may simply be the subject itself, as recon flights don’t lend themselves as easily to the “There I was..” type of gripping combat stories. On the plus side, this volume seems to contain more than the normal number of photographs for an Osprey book, though quality of the reproduction of the photos leaves something to be desired.

Given that the RF-8s were operated by the Navy and Marines from the early 60s to the early 90s, the color side views, the centerfolds of the Osprey series don’t provide much variety, all of them being some variation of gull grey over white.  Only the colorful squadron markings provide any variety and the recon birds were less colorful than their fighter and attack brethren.

As with all Osprey books, this one is a quick read and most readers can knock it out in a sitting or two.  For modelers, it provides some level of reference, even if there isn’t much inspiration.  (As a side note, 72nd scale modelers have been waiting for an RF-8A or RF-8G for some time. Fisher Models has released a resin conversion in 32nd scale and an email from them confirmed that they planned to scale it down to both 48th and 72nd scale.)

If a modelers is looking for inspiration I highly recommend Blue Moon over Cuba detailing the RF-8 flights over Cuba during the missile crisis.  While this book makes an interesting companion to that book, I am not sure that it really adds much.  I was able to pick my copy RF-8 Crusader Units over Cuba and Vietnam used off of Amazon, so it only coast me about $5 including shipping.

August 10, 2016

Book Review: J2M Raiden and N1K1/2 Shinden/Shinden-Kai Aces

Filed under: Modeling — dknights @ 12:23 am
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Book Review: J2M Raiden and N1K1/2 Shinden/Shinden-Kai Aces
Osprey Aircraft of the Aces Series #129
By Yasuho Izawa with Tony Holmes
96 Pgs, 6 pgs of color profiles
ISBN 978 1 4728 1261 2

The volumes in the Osprey Aircraft of the Aces that cover WWII Japanese Army and Navy aces and their aircraft have been consistently some of the best books in the series.  That said, this latest title is probably the best of the series, and that is a real accomplishment.

The J2M Raiden was unusual for a naval fighter.  It wasn’t designed to operate off of a carrier.  Furthermore it wasn’t really designed as a fighter, rather it was designed as an interceptor.  The Japanese knew that eventually US Bombers would appear over Japan and that the current naval fighter, the famed Zero was not very good as a bomber killer.  The Raiden was designed from the start as an interceptor, with speed, hitting power and rate of climb emphasized over turn rate.  As with many of the later Japanese aircraft, the Raiden had teething troubles mainly due to its engine.   By the time that the J2M came into service, Japan was hard pressed and there was little that could be done to stem the tide of US bombers pounding Japan.

The N1K1/2 had an even stranger development, starting life as a floatplane.  While it wasn’t overly successful as a floatplane fighter, its designers realized that it could be adapted to be a cutting edge fighter.  The initial version the N1K2, was successful from the start, but it was plagued by landing gear failures due to its overly long landing gear, a remnant of its mid-wing design as a float plane.  The plane was quickly redesigned as a low wing monoplane, the N1K2-J “Shinden-Kai”. The N1K2-J was the most effective Japanese navy fighter of the last years of the war.  It could hold its own against the F6F and the F4U, its main fighter opponents.  In fact it was so good that the Japanese Navy’s elite unit, the 343rd Kokutai, used it as its aircraft of choice.

The authors due a very good job of explaining the development of these two aircraft and their subsequent use by the JNAF (Japanese Naval Air Force).  Many JNAF aces flew the J2M or the N1K2 at the end of their careers, but both aircraft were deployed so late and in such small numbers that only 5 pilots achieved 5 or more kills while flying the J2M or N1K2.  A number of other Japanese aces claimed their last kills in one of these two aircraft.

The book has many black and white photos of pilots who are the subjects of the stories in this book or their aircraft.  In addition there are 8 pages of color profiles that will serve as inspiration to the model builder.  The book is filled with descriptions of combat by J2M and N1K2 pilots, including several in which their opponents are identified making dogfight doubles easy to produce.

There are several good kits of the J2M and N1K2 in my preferred scale 72nd, so this book served to motivate me to take a lot of detail photos of the N1K2-J at the Naval Air Museum in Pensacola during a recent visit. I am sure I’ll end up re-reading this book while building a Shinden-Kai.  In short, buy this book.

July 29, 2016

Book review: In the Skies of Nomonhan

Filed under: Modeling — dknights @ 5:03 pm
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Book review: In the Skies of Nomonhan
Japan Versus Russia, May-September 1939
By Dimitar Nedialkov
215 pgs. 8 pgs of color illustrations
ISBN:9 780859 791526

The clash between Mongolia and the Soviet Union on one side and Japan and Manchukuo on the other is a little covered precursory to the Second World War.  However, it was to have profound consequences for both major combatants.  Japanese senses were heightened to the Russian threat and thus the Japanese kept many aircraft and ground units in northern China to counter this possible threat.  The sting of the loss at Nomonhan (also called Khalkhin Gol) may have contributed to the Japanese reluctance to join Germany in the attack on the Soviet Union in 1941.  The Soviet Union got a chance to test massed tank combat and out of the battle rose the Soviet Union’s greatest general, Georgy Zhukov.

The war in the remote area of the China-Mongolia border was used as a testing ground by both major combatants, though the prize itself, 80 square kilometers of barren steppe was of no real value to either party.  The war was brought on by the Kwantung Army, the Japanese army in Manchuria that the central government in Tokyo had only limited control over.  This army pushed its units forward to try and define the border between Mongolia and Manchukuo as the Khalkhin River.

The book tells the story of the air war during the six month undeclared war between the parties. The Japanese started with both a qualitative and a quantitative superiority over their opponents.  This led to early dominance over the battlefield by the IJAF.  However, in a pattern that was to be repeated in WWII, the Soviets quickly built up a quantitative superiority that allowed them to wrest control of the air from the Japanese.  Even though the Japanese aircraft remained technologically superior over the course of the war, the weight of the Soviet forces was eventually too much for the IJAF to effectively counter.

The war had some effects that were not apparent until after WWII.  Not the least among these was the loss of more than 100 experienced Japanese pilots, at a time when the Japanese training system simply could not replace them.  Each one of these pilots killed was an experienced pilot that the allies didn’t have to face in the Pacific or in southern China during WWII.

The author is apparently a Bulgarian Air Force Colonel and PhD.  While you can tell from the text he relied more on Russian rather than Japanese sources, the overall presentation is even-handed.  The author points out that both sides wildly over-claimed during air combat for propaganda purposes.  The author generally acknowledges the combat superiority of the Ki-27 fighter and the Ki-15 recon aircraft over all of their Soviet counterparts, the I-15, I-16 and I-153.

The book contains many black and white photos, mostly from Soviet sources.  Most of the photos of Japanese aircraft as stock photos that most readers will have seen before.  The color side-view illustrations are nice and interesting, though 3-view illustrations would have been better.

The text is readable, but you can tell the author’s first language is not English as some of the sentences don’t flow naturally.  It isn’t enough to make the book difficult or unpleasant to read, but it is noticeable.  The book would have benefited from a better English language editor.

I found the book a quick, easy and pleasant read.  It is on a subject that I didn’t have much knowledge about.  I can recommend this book to both the casual reader and the enthusiast looking to gain deeper insight into this little known brush war.

May 25, 2016

Book Review: Norway 1940, The Forgotten Fiasco

Filed under: Modeling — dknights @ 9:42 pm
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Book Review: Norway 1940, The Forgotten Fiasco
by  Joseph Kynoch. 174 pgs. Airlife Publishing 2002
ISBN 1 84037 380 6

I have a particular interest in the Norwegian campaign of 1940.  Only recently has this long ignored part of World War II gotten the attention it deserves.  What is even rarer is any account of the battles of the campaign written on a tactical level by the participants.  This is one of the few books I have found addressing that area.

The author was a young man of 22 when he and his regiment, the 2/5 Battalion of the Royal Leicester Regiment when in April of 1940 he was committed to the battles in central Norway.  The defeat that the British suffered in these battles, despite the bravery of the soldiers in her units was to presage the defeats in France and Belgium that were to come a month later.

Mr. Kynoch tells how his unit arrived in Norway in a slapdash fashion, with little of their heavy equipment due to plans being changed and changed again at the upper levels of British command.  The criminal folly of pulling men loaded on transports off and then onto other transports with little though to the proper loading of equipment is more than enough to reinforce the old adage that amateurs worry about strategy and tactics, but professional commanders worry about logistics.

Having arrived in Norway the author and his unit were rushed to the front lines in an attempt to provide some relief to the Norwegian army which had been fighting the Germans on their own for three weeks.  Unfortunately the British were no better equipped that the Norwegians and were forced to fall back in the face of tanks and artillery for which they had no response.

The story at the small unit level is both interesting and heartbreaking.  Time and time again the allies make a stand only to have to fall back in the face of tank attacks backed by artillery.  The authors work is very descriptive.  It suffers, however, from a lack of editing which causes the story to jump back and forth in time and location between events that the author experienced and events experienced by other British units.

The maps and photos included in the book do a reasonably good job in helping the reader understand the events being described.  It helps even more if the reader is already familiar with the battles in central Norway from a history told at an operational level.  There are several good books that can give that level of insight.

Even with the less than stellar editing and organization, it is still a great story and an important contributions to understanding this most misunderstood campaigns of World War II.  I recommend it to anyone interested.

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