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.

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May 12, 2017

Fortitude

Filed under: General — dknights @ 8:27 am
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New episodes of the TV show Fortitude are now available on Amazon.  I highly recommend the show.

 

May 5, 2017

Fokker C.VD

Filed under: Modeling — dknights @ 12:10 pm
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For modelers with an interest in the Norwegian campaign of WWII (such as me),  this kit will be most welcome.

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.

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.

November 22, 2015

Decalmania

Filed under: Modeling — dknights @ 9:00 pm
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I want this, and this and this, all from Lima November decals.

October 2, 2015

The Great Vaagso Raid

Filed under: Modeling — dknights @ 9:39 pm
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The Great Vaagso Raid
Book and Magazine review
The Vaagso Raid by Joseph H. Devins, Jr.
After the Battle, Issue 109, The Raid on Vaagso.
By D. M Knights IPMS/USA 17656, IPMS/Canada C6091

Vaagso map

Vaagso map

The time is December 1941.  Britain has survived the blitz.  It is making pinprick bombing raids over Europe.  Its forces in North Africa are hard pressed.  Germany rules the continent and stands at the gates of Moscow.  Churchill searches for a way to strike back at the Germans.  But how?

Britain was weak in 1941.  Where could she strike?  She was locked in a death struggle in North Africa, but she had no additional troops to spare.  In addition, the war in the Pacific had broken out and was not going well.  The British had just formed the Commandos in 1941 and they were anxious to strike back at Germany. But how?

The most vulnerable point in the Third Reich in 1941 was Norway.  It had a long, hard to defend coastline.  The British had command of the sea.  The British were anxious to do something to redeem themselves for their poor performance in Norway in 1940.  It turns out that fish oil is vital for producing vitamin B for submarine crews as well as nitroglycerin for explosives.  The Norwegian fish oil plants were producing fish oil which was being used for these purposes.  Thus, the British had a target.

Vaagso Island is one of the many islands along the coast of Norway.  It had two main towns, South Vaagso and North Vaagso.  South Vaagso was the major town, and had several fish oil plants which made tempting, easy targets for a British commando raid.

In the 1970s, when I was a young kid, I loved the Bantam war series of books.  They were just the thing for a young boy interested in WWII.  The book on the Grand Vaagso raid was first published in 1968 and the Bantam edition was published in 1983.  It told the story of this raid from the viewpoint of the British commandos who took part in this first raid on Fortress Europe.  These books were written in a way to fire the imagination of the readers. It certainly did this for me.

It is a great story.  It is the first full-fledged raid by the new and untested British commando units.  The raid was planned to attack the vulnerable point on the Norwegian coast and make a dent in the larger German war effort.  The book is great and is very interesting.  The British committed their newly formed commandos.  They succeeded in their objectives.  However, the German units stationed in South Vaagso and the adjacent island of Malloy were very successful in resisting the raid.   They put up a spirited defense that caused the British to withdraw, even though they had achieved all of their major objectives.

Interestingly, even though the raid was a success and showed the vulnerability of the Germans on the Norwegian coast, few subsequent raids were laid on.  The Norwegian government-in-exile was worried that the civilians in Norway would suffer reprisals from the Germans after such raids.  A number of citizens fled with the withdrawing British forces to escape occupation or to join up with the free Norwegian forces.  As a result, the Germans reoccupied Vaagso in force and beefed up their forces all over Norway.  In fact, during WWII, the Germans maintained over 450,000 troops in Norway.  Ironic given that the Germans didn’t want to occupy Norway in the first place.

The book is an easy read.  I recommend that if you read the book you also get the After the Battle magazine, issue 109, which covers the raid.  The British sent cameramen on the raid and the After the Battle issue has many photos of the raid.  Read together, the book and magazine give a great understanding of the British raid and the German reaction.  I will say that I enjoyed reading the book and magazine. I highly recommend this little known battle in WWII to the MMCL members. I’d love to see some dioramas based on the raid. It would be cool. It is fascinating story.

September 26, 2015

Norway’s Fairchild PT-19s in Canada

Filed under: Modeling — dknights @ 9:35 pm
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Photo from March 1943 National Geographic

PT-19s

PT-19s

June 10, 2015

A smart analysis

Filed under: Politics — dknights @ 9:26 am
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A smart analysis of why Scandinavian countries can have a prosperous economy and a large cradle to grave welfare state. (Spoiler alert: Its because other, bigger countries don’t)

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