Book Reviews - January 2017Subscribe to our RSS news feed

Books Reviews - January 2017

Battle for the Escaut 1940 – The France and Flanders Campaign

Written by Jerry MURLAND
Barnsley, Pen & Sword Military 2016
i – xiii 162 pp  ISBN 978 147385 261 7 (pbk)

A quaint little book, this publication is part of the series Battleground Dunkirk.  They are intended as guides for people wishing to explore the battlefield of the 1940 campaign involving the British Expeditionary Force in France and Flanders.

Chapter One is an twelve page introduction called ‘The First Steps to War’.  It is brief, and states wrongly that the Munich Agreement was in 1936, when it was in fact in 1938.  There is a brief overview of the higher formations and their commanders.  Chapters Two, Three and Four cover the actions of the three corps level formations on the Escaut Line, with Chapter Five about the role of artillery.  Chapter Six provides details of four car tours and two walking tours of the area.  The four chapters on the historical actions in May 1940 are interesting and informative, and obviously focus on just the actions on the Escaut Line.

The car tours and walking routes are very useful if you intend to visit the area.  They provide much detailed information, which should make visiting the area relaxing and logical.  Directions are included, and places to stop for a specific event or reason.  The book contains several useful, interesting and relevant photographs, which assist in understanding the nature of the area and what a visitor will see some seventy-six years after the event.

In conclusion, if you are considering visiting this area to view the battlefields of May 1940, I consider this book to be essential reading.  If not, the details of this battle are valuable, although readers may find other accounts more comprehensive.  My last observation is whether this format of publication is better on the internet, as changes may affect the tours that cannot be reflected in the book, and the internet is more dynamic.

Commando General – The Life of Major General Sir Robert Laycock, KCMG, CB, DSO

Written by Richard MEAD
Barnsley, Pen & Sword Military 2016
i – xv 240 pp  ISBN 978 1 47385 407 9 (hbk)

I have other books written by the same author, which I have enjoyed and found to be informative, so I was looking forward to reading this biography.  I was not disappointed.  LAYCOCK was a soldier of whom I had come across with my military reading and research, but I knew little about his actual life, or the role he played in the British Army during the Second World War.

This biography is to a large part, the history of the Army Commandos during the war.  LAYCOCK was involved in the beginning with the raising of the first commando units, rising to Head of Combined Operations by 1945.  The author has woven with skill the political and military strategic issues around the deployment, and development, of the commandos, with the personal life of LAYCOCK and the more tactical side of the operations.

The level of research is excellent, with the book based upon interviews with relevant people, primary and secondary research.  The bibliography is very useful to any military historian interested in the commandos.  There are twenty-three chapters covering the entire life of LAYCOCK, with individual chapters on Layforce, Bardia and Crete, as well as operation Husky (the invasion of Sicily) and Avalanche (Salerno).  There are four maps, and a good selection of photographs, both personal and military, in the centre of the book.

In conclusion, the author has provided what I consider to be a balanced, well researched, and informative account of the life of Bob LAYCOCK, and the instrumental role he played in the development of the commandos.  I enjoyed the book, I hope you do.

Surviving the Japanese Onslaught – A R.A.F. PoW in Burma

Written by William TATE
Barnsley, Pen & Sword Aviation 2016
i – xi 152 pp  ISBN 978 1 47388 073 3 (hbk)

I have a particular interest in the Second World War in South-East Asia, and have read many books about the experiences of those people who were held in captivity by the Japanese during the war.  William TATE compiled the book from the memoirs of his father, the late William Albert TATE, who was captured by the Japanese after parachuting successfully from his Wellington bomber over Burma.

As one of several books on the subject of Japanese captivity (with Pen & Sword alone offering ‘No Mercy from the Japanese’, ‘Life on the Death Railway’, and ‘Prisoner of the Rising Sun’ to name, but three) I was looking for something new and interesting.  Sadly, I was disappointed.  In eight chapters, the book covers the R.A.F. career of William TATE, the ninth chapter being a post-script.  Chapter 5, the main one to cover the time in Burma and captivity, runs from page 31 to 110, in other words, over half the book.

The subject served with No. 99 Squadron in Burma, and I was looking forward to reading about that squadron’s service in Burma, but of that there was very little.  There is no mention of the Operations Record Book for the squadron, which is a shame and indicates a lack of research.  When the source of the casualties incurred by Bomber Command is given as the Daily Mail, one starts to become concerned.  While TATE did serve with Bomber Command, No. 99 Squadron was not part of that command, which is not made clear in the book.  Other issues lacking were details of the other members of the aircrew aboard the Wellington when it was lost.  I had to undertake my own research to realise that they all survived, with the exception of Sgt 1384293 Paul Hilton GRIFFITHS, who now lies in the Rangoon War Cemetery, having died as a prisoner of war.

Most of the sources used are secondary ones, with about five books being quoted more than once, and use made of internet sources.  In my view, this does not invalidate the core story within the book, but it weakens its final standing significantly.  There are some pictures, the personal ones being interesting, but others are from stock images.  In conclusion, a missed opportunity, which adds little to the historical narrative of this subject.

Images of War – The RAF Air-Sea Rescue Service in the Second World War – Rare Photographs from Wartime Archives

Compiled by Norman FRANKS
Barnsley, Pen & Sword Aviation 2016
135 pp  ISBN 978 1 47386 130 5 (pbk)

The compiler of this book is a prolific author, who has written mainly on aspects of Coastal Command during the Second World War.  The title of the book is a little misleading, as the photographs contained within focus on the Walrus aircraft, and the squadrons and men who flew these ungainly amphibians, and does not cover the wider R.A.F. Air-Sea Rescue organisation during the war.  Having said that, it does not invalidate the purchase of this book, as the photographs and accompanying text is very informative and interesting.

The book comprises photographs that I have not seen before in print.  They convey a good coverage of the role of the Walrus, and the operations it undertook rescuing airmen from the sea throughout the six years of the war.  There are seven chapters, each commence with a precis of the operations of the period being covered.  The chapters cover the war chronologically, and include the Mediterranean and Italian theatres.

In conclusion, I found this book very interesting and informative.  The text is written well, and includes personal aspects as well as significant operations.  It has been added to my collection with pleasure, and I recommend it to anyone interested in this neglected area of Coastal Command during the Second World War.


Released January 23, 2017