Wednesday 3 May 2023

BOOK REVIEW: Richard Eager, A Pilot’s Story

I was lucky enough to be sent a free review copy of this excellent book. I’ve actually had it quite a while now. I was initially somewhat chary of reading it, as it has the look of a self-published work. 

And so, I believe, it is. Either that or it’s published by a small specialty publisher. Whatever the case may be, it is sometimes a bit like one might expect such works to be; a bit amateurish, and would’ve benefited from some firm but fair editing. 

Having said all of that, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. Truth be told, it’s very well written, esp’ so for someone who isn’t primarily an author or writer, but a good ol’ U.S. of A. ‘flyboy’! 

Many chapters start with Eager’s poems. And whilst they’re not Shakespeare or Longfellow, I think they’re a good inclusion, showing another facet to a military man many might’ve assumed could be lacking in sensitivity or artistic leanings. 

Occasionally it’s a tad repetitive. And when renders conversation, he does so - especially regarding his own ‘voice’ - in a somewhat stiffly formal manner. One suspects recorded transcripts of these moments might’ve been slightly less stuffy, or expository. 

Having said that, Eager was the son of a high school principal, a good Boy Scout, and a military man, through and through. So there’s a slim chance, I suppose, that he really did talk as he renders himself here. But I really suspect not. His character comes across as too human. And sometimes his speech here is almost robotically leaden!

But the thing is, he lead a very interesting life. And he was, by the sounds of it (admittedly his own self-portrait) a pretty ‘good egg’, as we Brits might say.* The book itself was written at the urging of friends and family. And they also helped bring it completion in its current form. 

How much it owes its interesting back and forth structure - it jumps around from youth to adulthood in a very engaging way - to Eager, and how much to later editorial interventions, I’m not sure. It’s a clever way to make the book more compelling, and works a treat. 

We learn about what seems to have been a pretty idyllic all-American childhood, with trips to a cottage in the mountains (built by his father and others). And then how he managed to get himself enrolled on a unique flying course, before the war brought America into the fight. 

We learn about his family. And early romances. There’s even a very funny bit about a teacher he’s fond of and a fart in her classroom that she mis attributes to poor young Dick! And then there’s a really touching and moving bit about his dog, Judge. 

All of this is woven into the more ‘officially’ significant story of how he wound up becoming Monty’s pilot, flying the victor of El Alamein around in a U.S. B-17 bomber converted into an airborne office-cum-taxi. But Richard Ernest (earnest and eager!) Evans’ life is ultimately fascinating for both his civilian and military experiences.

It’s supplemented by lots of pertinent photos, some very personal to Eager, some stock WWII ref, but still very relevant to the story this book tells. There’s also detailed ‘chronology’, lots of his correspondence, and a very useful glossary. 

This truly excellent book tells the story of a very interesting and seemingly very decent man, living through extraordinary times. I’m not a military man myself (although I love military history). But nevertheless, Richard Evans, I salute you!

I’m writing this review as I near the end of the book. The vast majority of which is given over to childhood and young adulthood (I haven’t yet read the epilogue, which I suspect summarises some of the rest of his life). I’ve really enjoyed the read, and would definitely recommend it. 

* He often refers to the various form of national linguistic peculiarities he encounters, serving in WWII alongside Canadians, Australian, Brits and his own fellow Americans.

Wednesday 31 August 2022

Book Review: The Hitler Assassination Attempts, John Grehan



I thoroughly enjoyed this pithy account of the many attempts made on Hitler’s life. In all about 60 or so are covered. 

Some of these were carried through - Elser, Stauffenberg - many were attempted, only to be aborted, and a great many were never put into action, for a whole host of reasons. 

Grehan’s writing style is solid: in fact he covers a great deal in a very succinct manner, and he seems suitably circumspect where evidence is scant, concluding that some of these alleged ‘plots’ are most likely false. 

The many attempts on Hitler’s life span almost his whole political career - 1921 to 1945 - meaning that this book not only tells the fascinating stories of the many plans to be rid of him, but also the broader history of his rise to power, international brinksmanship, with initial success both in peace and war, and finally his eventual apocalyptic downfall. 

If, like me, you’re fascinated with this era of recent history, I’d recommend this. I really enjoyed it. 

Monday 22 August 2022

Book Review: Napoleon's Infantry, Gabrielle Esposito



This follows the form and style of Esposito's very similar book on Wellington's infantry. I enjoyed both books and learned a good deal from them. So that's good! 

But there are some less good things: the plentiful 'uniform plates' (as they used to be called) bear too little relation, in terms of placement in the book, to the text, are all public domain, and are sometimes, effectively speaking, repeated (the same unit being depicted by differing artists, for example). 

Also some of the information would've been better conveyed via tables or lists rather than long form text (e.g. enumerating all the minutiae of uniform and/or equipment details), esp' as in long form the frequent repetition of certain stuff gets a bit monotonous.

But overall the information conveyed is pretty comprehensive, wide-ranging and thorough. The evolution of the French infantry from royal, via revolutionary, to full blown 'Napoleonic' is, to a nerdy buff like me, fascinating. And Esposito covers everything from internal auxiliary type French troops to the many foreign so,divers that France employed. 

Not perfect, but an attractive, informative and enjoyable addition to the Nappy buff's uniformology library. 

Friday 12 August 2022

Book Review: Hill 112, Tim Saunders

Another very enjoyable book by Tim Saunders, on the post-D-Day Normandy campaign (I’ve read a couple of others by him, on similar territory!. 

I’m always worried, esp’ at the outset of, that the sheer detail in a book such as this is going to overwhelm me (and in all honesty I think I retain very little of the densely packed info’ presented). But, in the end, I’m very often carried along. Such is the case here. So Saunders must be doing something right!

Hill 112 is a piece of high ground Monty’s forces battled the Germans - many of the latter being SS units - for, both sides ranting and needing the commanding position it gave. So it became a hotly contested and bloody battleground. We have Tiger-phobia, massed artillery, air superiority (Allied, of course), naval bombardments. All sorts!

I feel like I’ve read about this Hill 112 action before? Poss in another book by Saunders? Or perhaps in a book by another author? Either way, the story of the back and forth action seems quite familiar! But I don’t mind reading about the same thing multiple times. In fact I like it. That way one can gradually accrue knowledge on a subject. 

This account is detailed, well written, and liberally illustrated with both wartime photos, some more recent images of the terrain as it is now, and quite a few maps. There’s also a glossary of acronyms and initialisms. Despite this latter feature there are still instances of abbreviated terms used in the body of the text that are missing from the glossary! 

I enjoy the use Saunders makes of primary sources. They help make the action more vivid. But I also enjoyed the higher level ‘command and control’ aspects. Reading this has made me want to learn more about Monty’s D-Day and Normandy campaign. He’s often criticised (perhaps mostly because of Arnhem?), but his plan of pinning German forces in place so the Americans could break out was very successfully and effective. 

Anyway, if you have a strong interest in the Normandy campaign, as I certainly do, then this is definitely worth  reading. 

Sunday 19 June 2022

Misc: ACW in Nat Geog (again!)

I recently got a(nother) whole bunch of National Geographic magazines (150 issues!). Something I occasionally do. We have tons more, boxed up in our attic!

And I posted on here, back in (I think?) 2014-‘ish, about a quest to find several specific issues. Those particular editions dealt with the ACW - around the centenary, so mid-1960s - and featured artwork that had haunted me for decades. 

But in researching and tracking down those issues, and finding out who that elusive artiste was (David Greenspan), I became fascinated by the other forms of artwork as well. In particular that of the ‘Specials’, or special correspondents, what we would now call war artists. 

Frank Vizetelly became a particular fascination. Partly because articles about him, and even a book, were available. But anyway, I mention all this because, amongst all the Nat Geog’s in this latest haul, there’s a May 2012 one with a couple of ACW themed pieces. 

One of these concerns re-enactors. And that’s interesting in its own right. But the one that really caught my eye was about the ‘Specials’. It’s kind of funny to think that around the same time I was obsessively searching for the old ‘60s issues, NG themselves were also fondly remembering similar aspects of the history of that conflict. 

There a kind of pleasing low-level synchronicity to it all!

Tuesday 24 May 2022

Kit Build/Review: 1/72 Ho-229, Pt 1

Wow! My first model build in absolutely aeons. And this is actually already old news. As I did this several months ago now. Just didn’t get round to posting it. 

One might’ve thought with Covid and lockdowns and all that that I might be doing more mini-military stuff. But the opposite has been the case. What came to pass instead was mostly either home DIY type stuff, or pure ‘r’n’r’. And then work, as things slowly returned to normal . It’s all been kind of weird, frankly!

Most of my more recent if infrequent posts have been book reviews, but even the reading has tailed off somewhat. And I really do want to get back into building models and painting and basing wargaming armies. 

I ‘recently’ made a pilgrimage - I actually forget when this happened now - to a newly opened model shop in Hinckley, Leicestershire. It was a pretty major disappointment, to be honest. 1/72 WWII is my thing, and land warfare more than planes. The shop, MCC, had an incredibly small selection of 1/72. And what little WWII stuff they had I have already bought/built. 

But I didn’t want the nigh on four hours travelling, esp’ with the hyper-inflated cost of the fuel, to be a total waste. So I wound up buying some PM 1/72 aeroplane kits. PM are Turkish. I’m not sure I’ve seen, never mind built, a PM kit afore? They’re cheap, and rather basic! 

Like many interested in WWII from a military history buff type perspective, I find the Horten brothers’ jet projects utterly fascinating. So it was great - having wanted to buy but not feeling I could afford the super/detailed Houkai-Morai kit (see this post!) - to find two PM variants I could afford. 

I was a bit confused initially, by the misnomer of the packaging, which names these airframes Gotha Go-229. It’s a bit anoraky, but the proper designation is Horten Ho-229. Gotha we’re simply a firm with a bigger manufacturing capacity than the cottage industry of the Hortens and their crew. 

Anyway, I’ve been building this model. And, as mentioned above. It’s super basic! I was tempted to leave it as is. But after looking into it, I realised that this particular kit, a V7 variant, is a type that was never even actually built; a two-seater trainer.  

As I looked into it, and thought about getting some reference material - Valiant Wings do what looks to be an excellent title on it (I reckon I’ll get that!) - I decided I had to detail the cockpit interior. I’ll do one or two other very minor things as well, such as holes on the ‘nose cones’ of the rocket, and possibly turbine fans or slats, or whatever they are…

Not sure if I’ll do the landing gear up or down!? But one of the chief attractions of these flying machines is their sleek looks. So whichever I choose, I’m looking forward to doing the painting and decals, etc. 

A pretty minimal kit!

The decals.

Getting started.

As you can see, super basic!

As these pics attest, this is a very basic kit. Hence deciding to jazz up the cockpit interior.  

The instructions.

I’ll leave this post here for now. As a ‘part one’ of a little series. I’ve already done enough to do a ‘part two’ post. And then the build stalled! Partly due to other stuff taking over, partly due to a bout of illness. 

Monday 23 May 2022

Book Review: Pz IV, Normandy Campaign Summer 1944, Dennis Oliver (Tank Craft 35)

Yet another excellent entry into Dennis Oliver’s growing library of works for the Tank Craft series in WWII German armour.

This time it’s that workhorse, the Pz IV, all too often overshadowed by it’s more glam’ brothers, the Panthers and Tigers. Specifically we have here the Pz IV, Normandy ‘44. Which, as Oliver enlightens us, mostly means the ausf. H. 

Interestingly, the Tank Craft series did previously publish a title on the Pz IV, covering the whole 1939-45 conflict. I haven’t seen that title. But it gets a few pretty critical reviews online. 

However, back to this more specialist offering. As usual with Oliver we get a comprehensive and thorough treatment: starting with a brief intro, we get the familiar maps and timelines. Then we get the unit histories, followed by the colour profiles - 10 pages with 20 profiles plus lots of other little pics/details - and model showcase. then info on models and after market stuff, wrapping up with Technical Details and Modifications. 

The unit composition diagrams are given, in a slightly different manner from other Oliver books, right at the end, after two pages of tables detailing the production and allocation of these AFVs. 

I’m always somewhat dumbfounded by the degree of detail Oliver goes into. It’s all a bit much for my ageing noggin to really take in. But I do find it fascinating. 

So far Panzers III and IV are very under represented un the Tank Craft series, compared to the Panthers and Tigers. So not only is this a great addition to this series, but I hope it’s the first in a series that redresses that imbalance! 

Great stuff!

Book Review: Panther, Eastern Front Summer 1943, Dennis Oliver (Tank Craft 34)

I’m extremely lucky, inasmuch as I’ve got this as a free review copy. I mention this mainly because if I had to buy all these books, their sheer quantity would most likely exclude me from being able to do so.

This is, as Oliver himself says, the fifth title on Panther tanks in the ever-growing Tank Craft series. For me, in Dennis Oliver, P&S have found a very capable and impressive contributor. He’s very thorough, and systematic, which gives his titles a kind of consistency lacking in some of the books in these series by other authors/experts. 

Anyway, to the particular book in hand. After a brief Introduction to his subject, Oliver presents the overall situation, in a chapter titled The Eastern Front 1943, via a map and a four page timeline style synopsis. 

Then there’s a larger chunk devoted to the units, 12 in all, issued with Panthers, on the Ostfront. As well as giving concise unit histories for the period this section includes a two-page diagram giving a visual representation of Panzer Abteilungs 51 and 52. 

Then we have the colour-profiles, aka Camouflage and Markings, and a selection of beautifully built models, in 

the Model Showcase section. 24 Panthers are profiled in the Camouflage and Markings section, 16 in full side views, and eight via turret only views. There are three 1/35 and one 1/48 models in the Showcase chapter (I always want to see a 1/72, example, as that’s my favoured scale!). These are the two most colourful and visually beguiling chapters.

Modelling Products gives a pretty thorough overview of many of the available kits and a good deal of after-market stuff (inevitably not all, as there’s a huge amount of stuff out there!). 

Technical Details returns to the AFV itself, and devotes a decent chunk of the book - 15 heavily illustrated pages; roughly quarter of the 64 page title - to all the nuts and bolts type stuff. And then there’s a single page devoted to Product Contact Details. 

Throughout the book contemporary black and photos are liberally deployed - I counted roughly 45-ish - illustrating the subject. These range from crisp full page images to some small and rather poor quality pictures. 

This is another excellent and impressively thorough addition by Oliver to what is a very useful series for the WWIII German armour buff.