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#Bookreview THE GREENHILL DICTIONARY OF MILITARY QUOTATIONS by Chris Riddell (Illustrator), Peter G Tsouras (Editor) (@penswordbooks) A gift for fans of quotations and military history #militaryhistory

Hi all:

I bring you a non-fiction book that I think will appeal to many of you (or will make a fabulous gift for somebody you know):

The Greenhill Dictionary of Military Quotations by Chris Riddell (Illustrator), Peter G Tsouras (Editor)

The Greenhill Dictionary of Military Quotations by Chris Riddell (Illustrator), Peter G Tsouras (Editor)

‘A massive compilation casting light not only upon the pain, suffering and sheer insanity of war, but also upon the unique comradeship and exhilaration of battle… this is a valuable addition to the literature of reference.’ – The Spectator

Peter Tsouras brings 4,000 years of military history to life through the words of more than 800 soldiers, commanders, military theorists and commentators on war. Quotes by diverse personalities – Napoleon, Machiavelli, Atatürk, ‘Che’ Guevara, Rommel, Julius Caesar, Wellington, Xenophon, Crazy Horse, Wallenstein, T.E. Lawrence, Saladin, Zhukov, Eisenhower and many more – sit side by side to build a comprehensive picture of war across the ages.

Broken down into more than 480 categories, covering courage, danger, failure, leadership, luck, military intelligence, tactics, training, guerrilla warfare and victory, this definitive guide draws on the collected wisdom of those who have experienced war at every level. From the brutality and suffering of war, to the courage and camaraderie of soldiers, to the glory and exhilaration of battle, these quotes offer an insight into the turbulent history of warfare and the lives and deeds of great warriors.

https://www.amazon.com/Greenhill-Dictionary-Military-Quotations/dp/1784384771/

https://www.amazon.com/Greenhill-Dictionary-Military-Quotations-ebook/dp/B088ZYS361/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Greenhill-Dictionary-Military-Quotations-ebook/dp/B088ZYS361/

https://www.amazon.es/Greenhill-Dictionary-Military-Quotations-ebook/dp/B088ZYS361/

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/The-Greenhill-Dictionary-of-Military-Quotations-Hardback/p/17753

About the authors:

Editor Peter G. Tsouras

Peter Tsouras has written critically-acclaimed alternate histories on D-Day, Gettysburg and Stalingrad. He was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada. After army service in the US and Germany he retired from the US Army Reserve in 1994 in the rank of lieutenant colonel. After his army service Tsouras worked for the U.S. Army Intelligence and Threat Analysis Center (now the National Ground Intelligence Center) and the Defense Intelligence Agency.

https://www.fantasticfiction.com/t/peter-g-tsouras/

Illustrator Chris Riddell

Chris RiddellOBE (born 13 April 1962) is a British illustrator and occasional writer of children’s books and a political cartoonist for the Observer. He has won three Kate Greenaway Medals as well as the British librarians’ annual award for the best-illustrated children’s book, and two of his works were commended runners-up, a distinction dropped after 2002

Books that he wrote or illustrated have won three Nestlé Smarties Book Prizes and have been silver or bronze runners-up four times. On 9 June 2015, he was appointed the UK Children’s Laureate.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chris_Riddell

My review:

I received an early hardback review copy of this book from the publishers, which I freely chose to review.

I am sure I’m not alone in my love of quotations. The best of them summarise wise opinions on a subject, are humorous, surprising, enlightening, and can sometimes make us see something (or somebody) in a completely new light. They are also memorable and can encapsulate the main points of complex theories or simply an amusing and touching thought. We might not remember a whole novel, or play, or a treatise, but will often remember a quotation that particularly connected with us. Those are some of the reasons that attracted me to this book.

Another one of the reasons is the topic. I’m not an expert in military history, but there are aspects of it that crop up everywhere. Recently, with the COVID-19 crisis, many commentators have observed that the members of the government dealing with the different aspects of it (I’m talking about the Spanish government, but I think it applies to many others as well), have used language and terminology better suited to a military campaign than to a health emergency, and that is often the case in many walks of life. In a similar way to sports, metaphors and similes from the military world are frequently used to refer to any situation involving two opposing sides or views (regardless of the enemy not being even visible to the naked eye). And, if you work in a pretty competitive environment, you’re likely to have had Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, or Machiavelli’s The Prince recommended as reading material at some point. You catch my drift.

That’s why this book is such a great resource.  Lieutenant Colonel Tsouras explains in his acknowledgments the difficulties he had to find, identify, and classify all the quotations he needed when writing his books on military subjects, and how that resulted in several editions of this dictionary, always with room for improvement and expansion. Both in the acknowledgements and the preface, the author/editor (I feel although the original words are not his, the design and the careful selection of the sources represents an authorship in its own right) explains his process, his choices (there are over 6000 quotations split into almost 500 categories, in alphabetical order, but there could be very many more), and why we should not forget these men and women, their words, and their wisdom. As he says in the preface ‘They are not dead as long as they are remembered’. He makes sure that we are provided a context as well, so we don’t misunderstand the true intentions of the writer (or speaker), as we know is often the case with quotations.

The book is further enhanced by Chris Riddell’s illustrations. Those ink sketches are amusing and sharp, and rather than being generic and evenly distributed, they illustrate specific quotations and are perfectly suited to the text. I’d love to have more of them, but their scarcity makes them more compelling. This volume also contains a select bibliography and a biographical index which will be helpful to those whose interest is piqued by a particular quotation or historical (or contemporary) figure.

This is a great book to dip in and out of, and I’m sure you’ll all find some old favourites and discover some new ones. It is also a great resource to history teachers (and teachers in general), writers (not only of stories with military or action subjects), historians and those interested in such topics, fans of general knowledge, and people who love quotations and are forever looking for new sources and collections.

There are so many quotations in the book that it’s impossible to decide what to share, but here are two I’d never heard before (and that ring particularly true):

You cannot pay my Marines enough for what they do for this nation. But you sure can pay them too little.  (General Charles Krulak, testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, quoted in the San Diego Union-Tribune, 23 February 1999).

I always remember the Japanese soldier who outraged the sense of patriotism and duty of his superior officer by saying, ‘In Osaka I would get five yen for digging this gun pit; here I only get criticism.’ (General Sir Ian Hamilton, The Soul and Body of an Army, 1921).

Thanks to Rosie from Pen & Sword and to the author and illustrator for this book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review and keep safe and smiling!

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Book review Book reviews Non-fiction

#Bookreview GERMAN MILITARY VEHICLES IN THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR by Jose María Mata, Lucas Molina, José María Manrique (@penswordbooks) t for those interested in military vehicles and the Spanish Civil War

Hi all:

This book is unusual for me, but…

German Military Vehicles in the Spanish Civil War by Jose María Mata, Lucas Molina, José María Manrique
German Military Vehicles in the Spanish Civil War by Jose María Mata, Lucas Molina, José María Manrique

German Military Vehicles in the Spanish Civil War: A Comprehensive Study of the Deployment of German Military Vehicles on the Eve of WW2 by Jose María Mata, Lucas Molina, José María Manrique

A comprehensive and up-to-date study of the combat and logistics vehicles which formed part of the German contingent that fought in the Spanish Civil War alongside the rebels.

The Panzer I, which so surprised the world in the Polish campaign and initially equipped the German Panzerdivisionen, was first seen in the Spanish Civil War, together with a wide range of war materiel such as antitank guns, flamethrowers, and so on.

This book looks at a wide range of vehicles: from the humblest motorcycle to the Horch staff car; from Opel ‘Blitz’, MAN Diesel, Mercedes, and Krupp trucks to the enormous Vomag 3LR 443 truck; not forgetting all the different types of military ambulances seen in Spain during the war years.

Never has such a comprehensive, painstaking and graphical study been made of vehicles used by the German contingent in the Spanish Civil War. The book contains over 500 top quality images, most of them previously unpublished, with each model that served in Spain perfectly identified.

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/German-Military-Vehicles-in-the-Spanish-Civil-War-Hardback/p/12381

https://www.amazon.com/German-Military-Vehicles-Spanish-Civil/dp/1473878837/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/German-Military-Vehicles-Spanish-Civil/dp/1473878837/

https://www.amazon.es/German-Military-Vehicles-Spanish-Civil/dp/1473878837/

My review:

Thanks to Rosie Croft from Pen & Sword for sending me an early hardback copy of this book, which I freely chose to review.

I am not a connoisseur when it comes to military history or military vehicles, but I have recently become fascinated by unusual documents and photographs about the war, as they have the power to make the past come to life in a vivid way even for those who never experienced it. In the case of this book, 2019 marked the 80th anniversary of the end of the Spanish Civil War, and I have watched programmes and read articles about different aspects of it. Many talked about the air raids by Italian and especially German bombers in support of the Nationalist army and against the Republic, which worked well as a testing ground of their equipment prior to WWII. When I saw this book, it struck me that I hadn’t heard anything about other German vehicles used during the Spanish Civil War, although it made perfect sense that they would also send other military equipment to aid the war effort. And I felt curious.

This book is a treasure trove of pictures of the vehicles used in the Spanish Civil War. Apart from the photographs of vehicles (and not only German, as there is also the odd captured vehicle, like some Russian tanks), there are also pictures of insignia, medals, and some fabulous illustrations, both in black and white and in colour, of the vehicles and the soldiers. The collection includes tanks, cars, buses, trucks, ambulances, motorbikes (some with sidecars), and plenty of support vehicles (signal vehicles, anti-tank, anti-aircraft vehicles, mobile communication units…), and of course, the soldiers as well.

The text is minimal, and it contains factual information about the negotiations with the Germans, the number of vehicles and men they sent to train the rebel army, where they were posted, and there are also some charts summarising the numbers and the makes of the vehicles in each unit. As the authors explain, it is difficult to be precise when it comes to numbers, and in fact, they ask readers to get in touch if they find any discrepancies or have any further information that can be updated in future editions.

The main interest for a non-expert like me, apart from seeing many pictures of vehicles I’d never seen before, was to see the soldiers and the different locations also. Many of the pictures are clearly posed, but some seem to have caught soldiers going about their everyday lives (peeling potatoes, chatting, washing by the river…). There are no overly dramatic pictures or action pictures as such, but the uniforms, insignia, and vehicles could prove invaluable to historians and writers interested in obtaining an accurate description of the era. I also read reviews that commented on how useful such a book would be for people interested in building realistic military models, and by the same token, it would also be useful to people who provide props or create sets for movies or TV programmes.

I missed an index and a bibliography, although the book seems to be based on an individual collection, that of J.M. Campesino, and that might explain why there is no detailed information.

This is a book that will delight fans of military history and military vehicles, with the added interest that many of those vehicles were tried and tested in Spain first and were later put to use in WWII. The authors have published a number of books in Spanish on historic subjects related mostly to the Spanish Civil War, and I understand that Pen & Sword are working on publishing other related titles. An informative and visually engaging book about a period of Spanish history that remains very present, and we should never forget.

Thanks to the authors and to Rosie, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, and keep reading and smiling!

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Book review Book reviews

THE SNIPER ENCYCLOPAEDIA: AN A–Z GUIDE TO WORLD SNIPING by John Walter (@penswordbooks). A must for researchers and a fascinating book for anybody interested in the topic #referencebook #militaria

Hi all:

I’m coming a bit left field with this book. I’m not a big fan of firearms, although I’ve used them in some of my books (no personal experience beyond a BB-gun my dad used to have when I was younger), but I was fascinated by this book.

The Sniper Encyclopaedia: An A–Z Guide to World Sniping by John Walter
The Sniper Encyclopaedia: An A–Z Guide to World Sniping by John Walter

The Sniper Encyclopaedia: An A–Z Guide to World Sniping by John Walter.

The Sniper Encyclopaedia is an indispensable alphabetical, topic-by-topic guide to a fascinating subject.

This is a comprehensive work that covers virtually any aspect of sniping. The work contains personal details of hundreds of snipers, including not only the best-known — world renowned gurus such as Vasiliy Zaytsev and Chris Kyle — but also many crack shots overlooked by history. Among them are some of more than a thousand Red Army snipers — men and a surprising number of women, who amassed sufficient kills to be awarded the Medal for Courage and, later, the Order of Glory. Some of the best-known victims of snipers are identified, and the veracity of the most popular myths is explored.

The book pays special attention to the history and development of the many specialist sniper rifles — some more successful than others — that have served the world’s armies since the American Wars of the nineteenth century to today’s technology-based conflicts. Attention, too, is paid to the progress made with ammunition — without which, of course, precision shooting would be impossible. The development of aids and accessories, from camouflage clothing to laser rangefinders, is also considered.

Finally, The Sniper Encyclopaedia examines significant locations and specific campaigns — the way marksman have influenced the course of the individual battles and places which have played a crucial part in the history of sniping, from individual sites to sniper schools and training grounds. The book contains authors’ biographies, a critical assessment of the many books and memoirs on the world of the sniper, and a guide to research techniques.

https://www.amazon.com/Sniper-Encyclopaedia-Z-Guide-Sniping/dp/161200721X/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sniper-Encyclopaedia-Z-Guide-Sniping/dp/161200721X/

https://www.amazon.es/Sniper-Encyclopaedia-Z-Guide-Sniping/dp/161200721X/

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/The-Sniper-Encyclopaedia-Hardback/p/16001

About the author:

John Walter, born in Glasgow in 1951, is among the world’s most prolific writers on small arms—author of seventy books, translated into more than a dozen languages. Walter has worked with edged weapons, bladed tools, firearms, railway locomotives, warships, scientific instruments and even heraldry. Among his published works have been several studies of the Luger pistol; four editions of Rifles of the World; The Airgun Book; The Rifle Story and The Handgun Story; Guns of the Elite and its current successor, Guns of the Elite Forces; The German Rifle; and The Greenhill Dictionary of Guns and Gunmakers.

My review:

I thank Rosie Croft from Pen & Sword for providing me a hardback review copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

Let me be clear about this: I know next to nothing about weapons in general, and I only know about snipers and their weapons of choice what I’ve picked up in TV series and documentaries, movies, and books. So this is not an expert’s review, rather the opposite.

You’ll probably ask why I was interested in this boo. Partly, because I’ve watched movies and news items about snipers (both modern and historical), and it’s impossible not to recall certain events and think about the people and the weapons behind them. Also, because I’m a writer, and I know how important it is to have reliable sources to research topics we want to write about. I’m also a translator, and after dedicating a fair amount of my time to working on books by other writers, I’ve discovered how complicated it can be to find the right word or term to refer to an object or device you know little about, and how complex it can get to describe an action that might come natural to an expert on the field, but is anything but for somebody totally new to it. Of course, you also have to think that not all readers are going to be experts either. How do you explain something that you don’t understand yourself? After trying to make sure a fight scene in a petrol tanker sounded accurate without having any idea what it looks like inside, I can tell you it’s not easy.

So, beyond my personal curiosity, (and yes, I must confess I’ve always wondered about the kind of training and personality required for somebody to be able to focus on such a task and not think… well, you know what I mean), I thought this sounded like a great resource for researchers and writers, and the reviews from people who knew about the subject reassured me that it wouldn’t disappoint.

And it didn’t. The book is fascinating and, as you can imagine, packed with information. The author explains his methodology, and clearly states that although he has tried to include as much information as possible, the sheer numbers of people and weapons made it necessary to scale down the size of the project. The availability of data was another difficulty. The book refers mostly to USA, UK, German and Russian snipers, and mostly those in the military (Simo Häyhä, a Finnish sniper credited with somewhere between 505 and 542 kills, depending on the sources, and who proved to be a nightmare for the Russians, who called him ‘the White Ghost’, is also included, and his memoir, called The White Sniper, sounds fascinating, I must say) and/or security forces, and Walter explains that in some cases (for example when having to choose weapons and manufacturers), his personal taste has played a part. He has also included more detailed entries about snipers whose biographies have been published, as people can easily access more information. (There have been, and are, many snippers in the armies of other countries, but their details are not available to outside researchers).

The author includes a page on bibliography and sources, dividing it into general studies, genealogical details, weapons and equipment, and tactics and training. Those include online resources and books that will delight people keen on digging deeper into the topic.

The encyclopaedia is, of course, organized in alphabetic order and full of illustrations, mostly photographs, but also drawings with details of sights and weapons. There are also lists of snipers, some about specific conflicts (WWI, for example), or even battles (Leningrad snipers is one of those), but also lists of male and female top snipers (they are both Russians, as it seems the Russian army uses snipers far more than any others). As an outsider it is a bit strange to think of what these numbers actually mean (the top male “scorer” has over 700 “scores”) and reading this book one’s mind boggles at times. I was fascinated, at the same time, by the female snippers, their pictures, and their stories. Among them, one that will stay with me is the story of Nataliya, or Natasha, Kovshova who fought during WWII and died with Mariya Polivanova after being badly injured, by pulling the pin of a grenade and taking some of the enemies with them. They were made Heroes of the Soviet Union posthumously and, although it seems there have been some questions as to what exactly happened, the basic facts are correct.

As I said, there is especial attention given to snipers who have written books about their experiences or have had books written about them, and that makes this encyclopaedia interesting to those trying to explore or find personal accounts on the topic, as it provides biographical information and also information about the content of the book, if available in English. As the back cover summarises, this book includes: 750 standard entries, 100 extended features and ‘top 20’ lists, over 400 biographies and 200 illustrations, and I recommend it to anybody who wants to gain a solid basis in the knowledge about sniping, the people involved and their weapons. Another great book by Pen & Sword.

Thanks to Rosie, the team of Pen & Sword and the author, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep smiling! 🙂

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview THE NAPOLEONIC WARS: AS ILLUSTRATED BY J J JENKINS by J J Jenkins (@penswordbooks) . A great collectable and beautiful reproduction of a fine book

Hi all:

I bring you something pretty different today. I don’t know why, but I could not resist this book (perhaps because I’m fascinated by antiques…)

Cover of the Napoleonic Wars as illustrated by J.J. Jenkins
The Napoleonic Wars As Illustrated by J J Jenkins

The Napoleonic Wars: As Illustrated by J J Jenkins by J J Jenkins.

Originally published as Martial Achievements of Great Britain and Her Allies From 1799 to 1815 this is one of the most magnificent of all period art books to have been produced. The text is pure British propaganda but is overshadowed by the rarity of the art work. Includes 54 stunning color plates including a great Wellington portrait, his coat of arms and a list of subscribers to the Martial Achievements. This is one of the finest books of its type ever produced and an absolute must for the collector of British or Napoleonic military art and literature.

https://www.amazon.com/Napoleonic-Wars-As-Illustrated-Jenkins/dp/1526717891/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Napoleonic-Wars-As-Illustrated-Jenkins/dp/1526717891/

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/The-Napoleonic-Wars-Hardback/p/15638

My review:

Thanks to Rosie Croft of Pen & Sword for providing me a hardback copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I was checking the publisher’s catalogue and read the comments about this book, that was a reproduction of the original version, and although I’m no expert in military campaigns or Napoleon (although I suspect, like most people, I’m intrigued by that fascinating historical figure) I felt this was the book to get on the subject. I love art, and a book full of illustrations of the period sounded like a must-have. And I was right.

The book, as some of the reviewers have commented, is all the better for being a straight reproduction, without added comments or attempts at bringing it up to date or explaining and contextualising it. It is old-fashioned, but gloriously so. Oh, it isn’t politically correct either, and I’m not sure any French nationals with strong feelings about Napoleon would appreciate the comments, which, as the description says, are pure British propaganda. A lot of the book centres on the campaign in Spain, for evident reasons, and the book is dedicated to the Duke of Wellington, and I think it is a great example of what books of the period on this subject would have been like, and I’m sure its original quality is reflected in the current edition.

I particularly enjoyed the illustrations, which have something of the naïveté of a talented and skilled amateur (they reminded me of the notebooks people kept in the XVIII and XIX century when they were travelling that often included watercolours or pencil drawings of the places they visited). The written accounts of the battles and episodes are aggrandising and do not go into deep analysis, but include war dispatches, lists of some of the fallen and wounded, easy-to-read descriptions of the events (how accurate is another matter), and also letters that at times can bring the real people to life for us. As a small example, the chapter “The Death of Moreau, 28th August 1813” includes a letter General Moreau addressed to his wife, three days after his wounding:

My dear Love, — At the battle of Dresden, three days ago, I had both legs carried off by a cannon-ball. That scoundrel Buonaparte is always fortunate. The amputation was performed as well as possible. Though the army has made a retrograde movement, it is not at all consequence of defeat, but from a want of ensemble, and in order to get nearer General Blücher. Excuse my hasty writing. I love and embrace thee with my whole heart. I charge Rappatel to finish. (Jenkins, 2018, pp. 117-8).

I recommend this book to anybody interested in military history, particularly in the Napoleonic campaigns, in art of the era, or who simply enjoy books from the XIX century and would like to have an excellent quality replica of a book of the era. This is a collectable for those who love books as artworks and it brings to life an era past but not forgotten. It would make a fabulous gift as well.

Jenkins, J.J. (2018, originally published 1815). The Napoleonic Wars as illustrated by J.J. Jenkins. Barnsley, UK: Pen & Sword Military.

Thanks to Rosie and her team for this treat, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep smiling!

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog THE GREAT WAR ILLUSTRATED 1918: Archive and Colour Photographs of WWI by William Langford & Jack Holroyd (@penswordpub) (@penswordbooks) #Bookreview #MilitaryHistory

Hi all:

I bring you today the review of a book by one of my favourite non-fiction publishers, Pen & Sword.

The Great War Illustrated 2018 by William Langford & Jack Holroyd
The Great War Illustrated 2018 by William Langford & Jack Holroyd

The Great War Illustrated 1918: Archive and Colour Photographs of WWI by William Langford & Jack Holroyd. A must have for scholars, researches, and WWI enthusiasts.

The final book in a series of five titles which graphically cover each year of the war. Countless thousands of pictures were taken by photographers on all sides during the First World War. These pictures appeared in the magazines, journals, and newspapers of the time. Some illustrations went on to become part of postwar archives and have appeared, and continue to appear, in present-day publications and TV documentary programs – many did not. The Great War Illustrated series, beginning with the year 1914, includes in its pages many rarely seen images with individual numbers allocated, and subsequently, they will be lodged with the Taylor Library Archive for use by editors and authors.

While some of the images in The Great War Illustrated 1918 will be familiar, many will be seen for the first time by a new generation interested in the months that changed the world for ever.

https://www.amazon.com/Great-War-Illustrated-1918-Photographs/dp/147388165X/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Great-War-Illustrated-1918-Photographs/dp/147388165X/

Editorial Reviews

Review

“Both military miniatures enthusiasts and history buffs should be fascinated by its 1,000 black-and-white photographs and section of color plates… This 517-page book’s imagery and the writers’ narrative combine to succeed in fostering understanding of the events pictured and the global scope of the epic conflict which climaxed 100 years ago.” (Toy Soldier & Model Figure)

About the Editor

Roni Wilkinson has worked in printing and publishing for fifty years. His published works include five fictional titles, a newspaper cartoon strip, and Dark Peak Aircraft Wrecks One and Two, the top-selling guides to aircraft crash sites in the Peak District National Park (co-authored with Ron Collier). He is best known as the respected series editor and designer of the ground-breaking Pen & Sword Battleground guidebooks, of which there are now over 120 titles. He was also instrumental in the creation and development of the popular Pals series. Now semi-retired, he is actively researching and writing historical works, fictional and non-fictional, as well as contributing articles to magazines and writing reviews. He lives in Barnsley with his wife Rosalie.

About the authors:

Jack Holroyd has had a lifelong interest in military history and has given valuable input into many Pen & Sword publications. He has authored two other works of non-fiction (SS Totenkopf France 1940 and American Expeditionary Force: France 1917–1918 ) and also one work of fiction (Lost Legend of the Thryberg Hawk), all of which are published by Pen & Sword. When Jack isn’t researching military topics he spends his time cooking, reading poetry and gardening.

William Langford has been employed in printing and publishing for fifty years. His works for Pen & Sword include: The Great War Illustrated 1914; Great Push – The Battle of the Somme 1916; Somme Intelligence and They Were There! 1914.

My review:

Thanks to Alex, Rosie and the whole team at Pen & Sword for providing me a Hardback copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

Despite my interest in the topic, and although I have read some books and watched some movies on WWI, I am not very knowledgeable about it, and I am more familiar with WWII, which feels (and is) much closer. I recently read and reviewed, another one of the books published by Pen & Sword, which explored a historical topic through pictures from the period, and I found it a great way of learning about the era by bringing it to life.

When I saw this book, the last in a collection of five volumes, one per each year of WWI, I was curious. Although I had seen pictures from WWI, they were mostly of soldiers, who had posed in uniform for their families, or political figures, and when I think about war photography, I think of WWII, the Spanish Civil War and later conflicts. This particular volume contains over a thousand photographs, including some in colour, maps, and drawings, of the various campaigns of 1918. The authors explain that some of the images are well-known (I was only familiar with some of the politicians, well-known figures, like T. E. Lawrence and Wilfred Owen, and some of the royals), but they had never been presented as a full collection or in an organised manner. The images are numbered and people interested can obtain copies from the image library in the Taylor Library Archive, and that makes this book a great reference for scholars and other people looking for visual documentation from the period.

The volume is divided into eight chapters: 1) Zeebrugge and Ostend Raids – Naval War, 2) The German Spring Offensives –The Kaiserschlacht, 3) Salonika, Mesopotamia, Palestine, 4) The Italian Front, 5) Battles of the Aisne and the Marne Rivers, 6) Americans at Cantigny, Château-Thierry, St. Mihiel, Meuse-Argonne, 7) Battle of Amiens – The Hindenburg Line – Advance to Victory, 8) Some Consequences of this Global War. Although the big protagonists of the book are the photographs, the text guides us through the campaigns, including also the original captions from newspapers, the citations for the medals they received, and some observations that help us understand the sequence and the consequences of the events.

Although I knew that in WWI there had been a lot of destruction (of lives, animals, and buildings) because of the use of weapons unknown until then, the impact of seeing pictures of towns and cities completely destroyed, of mustard gas attacks, tanks, planes, aerial pictures, dead soldiers and civilians, and famine is overwhelming. And the stories… From inspiring bravery to incredible cruelty (or perhaps it was just a strong sense of duty, but what would make a commander launch an attack two minutes before the armistice was due, resulting in thousands of dead men on both sides is beyond my comprehension).  As I read some of the captions of the pictures and the stories behind some of the photographs, I could imagine many books and movies inspired by such events and individuals (and I am sure there are quite a few, but not as many as there should be).

I marked pages containing stories I found particularly touching, inspiring, or almost incredible, too many to mention, but I have randomly chosen a few of them to share as a sample.

The caption to a picture of plenty of smiling men brandishing their knives in page 222 explains that they are Italian soldiers of the elite Arditi Corps ‘the Caimans of the Piave’. ‘They numbered around eighty and were trained to remain in the powerful currents of the Piave for hours. Carrying only a Sardinian knife –the resolza – and two hand grenades, they acted in a communication role between the west and east banks of the Piave.’

There is a picture on page 260 of a worker with the Y.M.C.A. serving drinks to American soldiers on in the front line, and it says that one centre at a railway site served more than 200000 cups of cocoa to soldiers each month.

The book also remembers civilians who died, like those working at the National Shell Filling Factory in Chilwell that was destroyed on the 1st of July 2018, with 134 civilians dead and 250 injured.

There are stories that are the stuff of movies, like that of The Lost Battalion, the 77th Infantry Division, cut off by the Germans for five days, who were eventually relieved, but had by then lost half of the men.

Or the one of Corporal Alvin C. York ‘–later sergeant – at the place where he systematically began picking off twenty of the enemy with rifle and pistol. As an elder in a Tennessee mountain church at the beginning of the war, he was a conscientious objector, but then changed his mind to become the most efficient of killers.’ (405) He took the machine gun nest, four officers, 128 men, and several guns.

There are amazing feats by men of all nations and horrific devastation as well. The last chapter serves as a reminder of the heavy price imposed on the losing side and the consequences derived from it. The peace would be sadly short-lived, as we all know, and some of the issues of sovereignty that seemed to have been solved then would resurface once more a few years later.

In sum, this is a book for people interested in WWI (the whole collection is) at a personal level, invaluable for researchers, as it provides a good reference to a large body of archival images, and it is packed with bite-sized information that will provide inspiration to many writers and scholars. Another great addition to Pen & Sword military catalogue and one that I thoroughly recommend.

Thanks so much to Pen & Sword and to the authors, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, REVIEW, to always keep reading and smiling, and to NEVER FORGET. 

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