Wartime Standard Ships – Review

Wartime Standard Ships, published by Seaforth Naval and written by Nick Robins (ISBN: 9781848323766, published: 23rd August 2017) looks at the Wartime Standard Ships of both World Wars.

There are many books looking at “linchpins to victory” and “decisive contributions to the winning of the war”, be they the fleets, corvettes, rapid production, the RAF and the Battle of Britain, Dunkirk, the entry of the USA, the Soviet efforts and so on. A war cannot be won, however, if  a country is cut off from its supplies of food, raw materials and completed goods and keeping those supplies coming (as Germany and Japan failed to do in World War 2) is critical to winning the war.

This was the very real threat facing England the United Kingdom in both World Wars as the German u-boat campaigns went into full swing. The solution (apart from more and better convoy escorts) was to build ships faster than the enemy can sink them.

To rapidly build ships, standard designs become necessary and that is the theme of this book. Nick Robins discusses Standard Ships from the concept of them (austere, functional and lots of them), through the design criteria and then splitting the book into essentially two sections, looking first at the First World War and then the Second World War. In both cases he discusses ship building in Great Britain, the USA and Canada in particular. Interestingly the Australians, who owned substantial fleets in both wars in terms of numbers if not weight, and who were one of the main suppliers of food and raw materials, did not really get into the swing of building Standard Ships.

The author also looks at the Standard Ships built by the Germans in the Second World War and the limited numbers of the Japanese Standard Ships. The Liberty Ship is covered in some detail of course as is its successor, the Victory Ship.

Robins concludes by examining the successes and failures, concluding that perhaps the “unparalleled success of the American ship-building programmes in both World Wars” was a major contribution to victory. Robins quotes the United States Maritime Commission in 1943 which noted:

The Liberty ship is a product of war use. It can be classed with the tank, the fighting plane and other materials of war. It was produced to be expendable if necessary. If expended, it had served its purpose.

The 172 pages of this book are well illustrated with relevant black and white photographs as well as interesting sidebars. I have a well-known interest in naval history and the ships that form much of it and had of course heard of the Liberty and Victory ships and the contribution of the merchant marine to the overall victory but in this book it seemed that I was learning something new on every page.

There is a useful References chapter at the end of the book and index that contains among other things, a lot of references to individual vessels.

This is another good work on a little understood subject and one that will continue to keep these largely defenceless vessels in the place they deserve to be in the history of both World Wars. Recommended.

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Images of War – Hitler’s Tank Destroyers – Review

Written by Paul Thomas and published by Pen & Sword Military as part of the Images of War Books Series,  ISBN: 9781473896178 and published on 15 November 2017, this book contains 132 pages with a number of rare photographs from wartime archives, as well as photos of AFVs still existing.

The book is split into an Introduction, then three chapters covering the panzerjäger development and deployment of panzerjägers followed by a chapter on the destruction of the panzerjäger in 1945. Finally there is an Appendix which lists the various panzerjäger vehicles over the period of the war.

Vehicles included are:

  • Panzerjäger I
  • Marder I, II, and III
  • Hornisse/Nashorn
  • Sturmgeschütz IV
  • Elefant
  • Jagdpanzer 38(t) Hetzer
  • Jagdpanther
  • Jagdpanther IV
  • Jagdtiger
  • Sturmgeschütz III (technically an assault gun but also used in the Panzerjäger role
  • And the following self-propelled artillery:
    • Sturmpanzer I Bison
    • Sturmpanzer II Bison
    • Grill
    • Hummel

The book follows the usual format of the Images of War series with more contemporary photos than text. Many of the photos are rare photos from wartime archives. There are some great photos of vehicles in this book, including knocked-out vehicles.

Like previous works in this series, this book is one for the bookshelf of anyone interested in the development and deployment of AFVs though the Second World War.

Images of War – Hitler’s Tank Destroyers

The Naval War in the Baltic – 1939-1945 – Review

I read Freeing the Baltic 1918-1920 about six months ago and as a result I was looking forward to The Naval War in the Baltic 1939-1945. Wow! I wasn’t disappointed.  This book arrived a couple of months ago and I finally had a week where I read rather than painted figures or headed to the pub and this was on the top of the reading pile.

The Naval War in the Baltic 1939-1945 was originally published on 17 May 2017 however it appears to have been sold out and is now due to re-release on 28 February 2018. The author is Poul Grooss. The book is 400 pages long with ISBN 9781526700001.

Poul Grooss is a retired Danish Naval Captain whose career was 40 years long. He served as an intelligence officer and Soviet analyst. He also speaks Russian. He currently is a teacher at the Royal Danish Naval Academy.

I reckoned I knew a bit about World War II and I also knew there was a lot I didn’t know. Reading Grooss’s book has reminded me of how little I do actually know. Grooss starts setting the scene in the book by describing the geography and the history of the Baltic region, then goes on to discuss the political manoeuvring and naval developments between the wars. His coverage of the 1939 to 1945 period starts with the attack on Poland then looks at the Baltic region through to 1941. Later chapters cover the attack on the Soviet Union to Spring 1942; the war between Spring 1942 and 1944; Spring 1944 to New Year 1944/1945; then from that New Year, month by month to the end of the war. He then looks at the aftermath of the war and a retrospective.

The book is easy to read and Grooss has taken advantage of his Russian language skills to collect data from sources not usually referred to western histories. Grooss was writing for the general reader but has managed to write a book that will appeal to both general readers and the more professional historian.

He covers and uncovers the degree of Swedish cooperation with the Germans. He covers the interactions between the Soviets and the Swedes and while this is a naval history of the Baltic, the land battles are included for context, especially Kronstadt and Leningrad. Hitler’s desire to hang on to Narva is also covered.

The Baltic was a training ground for German U-boat crews but what really amazed me was the quantity of mines that were laid there and the amount of shipping that suffered. I should also mention that the Swedes were not as pro-German as we perhaps think, permitting the British to build a listening station on Swedish soil, for example. Both the Germans and the British seemed to have a laissez faire attitude to Swedish neutrality.

This book is not all about Sweden though. Grooss also covers the minor states (Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia) as well as Denmark, Norway, Finland, Poland and of course the main protagonists. The book is supported by many fine photographs, most of which have not been seen in print before as well as well drawn maps. There are a number of appendices and indexes with an index of people and another of ships. There is an appendix containing a chronology of the conflict, a glossary of abbreviations, ranks, terminology and explanations. Another appendix is a cross-reference of place names in various languages as well as an extensive list of sources and bibliography. This book is one I will return to many times in the future I think. For the naval historian, the wargamer and the general reader, it is well worth waiting for this re-release and grabbing a copy.

January 2018 Summary – Work in Progress

The soon to be Polish Army circa 1975

It has been a mixed month. A longer than planned enforced stay in Australia waiting for the alignment of the juggernauts that are the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Australia Post, to return a new passport to me has meant that I have only spent a few days working on my hobbies. So, what have I achieved this month so far?

Last year I had ordered some Poles to provide an opponent for my Cold War Commander Danes, so started work on those in January, getting them ready for some paint (that is the army off to the right there).

Of course, feeling bored, I was glancing through an Heroics and Ros catalogue and decided that I should upgrade the armour in both armies so an order went off to Heroics and Ros for 12 Leopard 1 tanks for the Danes and 12 T-72M tanks for the Poles. I’m a wargamer, I plead guilty to being addicted to buying more figures. I expect the reinforcements to arrive any week now.

The Type 74

I also ordered some more ships early in January while sitting in Oz at mum’s waiting for the passport to arrive. In the fleet order are some World War 1 Russian vessels, a Soviet modern fleet and XXXXXX <– OK,  so I can’t remember the third fleet.

I also have the JGSDF type 74 tank (1/72 scale model) sitting on my work bench. I have started to work on that as well.

Lastly, in January, I managed to finish reading a few books and had them up for review here. So, not a bad effort overall. February target is less beer, lose weight, more hobby!

Destroyer at War – Review – The Fighting Life and Loss of HMS Havock from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean 1939-1942

HMS Havock was one of the H-class (or Hero-class) destroyers that saw extensive action through the Second World War. The H- lass were similar to the G-class but used more welding to save weight. The H-class were approved in mid-1934 and were armed with the heavier CP XVIII 4.7-inch gun mounting which were also installed in the Tribal-class.

While the destroyers were generally as good as any others around at the time, their two main failings were their design for the North Sea and Mediterranean operations (reduced endurance) and poor anti-aircraft protection.

Destroyer at War – The Fighting Life and Loss of HMS Havock from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean 1939-42 is published  by Frontline Books, written by David Goodey and Richard H. Osborne and contains 293 pages. It was published on 3 October 2017 (ISBN: 9781526709004).

I was looking for a couple of things to read on my recent trip back to Australia to spend some time with mother and this was one of the books I took with me. The book struck my interest as it was written in part by the son of of one the members of the Havock‘s crew and also involved interviews with around 50 surviving members of the crew. In many respects it is David Goodey’s tribute to his father, Stoker Alber W. Goodey.

HMS Havock was one the the Royal Navy’s most famous destroyers from the first half of the Second World War with her exploits reported regularly in the English press.

Havock saw action in the Spanish Civil War and the report of the air attack by a single “four-engined Junker Type monoplane” that proceeded to attack with four bombs from about 6,000-feet while travelling at about 90 mph is an interesting entrance the rest of the book. I did like the description of the bombing run as Havock was in company with HMS Gipsy and the report notes,

Fire was opened with 0.5 machine guns. The aeroplane altered course to counteract Gipsy‘s manoeuvre and about 1646 1/2 four bombs were seen to leave the machine.

Gipsy promptly altered course further to Starboard and Havock to Port and the bombs fell between the two ships about 100 yards from  Gipsy and 300 from Havock.

The authors then go on to provide recollections from various crew members, in this case John Thomson, the Havock‘s Signals Telegraphist, Nobby Hall, also from Signals, and Able Seaman Griff Gleed-Owen. The book follows this pattern throughout, recounting the action, talking to the men who were there, then describing where Havock went next.

Havock did see a lot of action being present at:

  • Spanish Civil War
  • The Battle for Narvik
  • The Invasion of Holland
  • Service generally in the Med
  • The Battle of Matapan
  • Convoy escorts and the Tripoli Bombardment
  • Evacuation of Greece and Crete
  • Action around Syria, Tobruk, Groundings and More Convoy Work
  • and lastly, the Second Battle of Sirte and the ship’s eventual grounding and the crew being taken prisoner

Apart from the story of Havock and her crew, the book also has a fine collection of pictures included, many from the collections of the authors.

The book is an exciting read where the prose flows and even the casual reader will find an engrossing story without resort to great quantities of technical information. Destroyer at War provides some evidence of the contribution of the hard-working H-class destroyers through the Second World War. I happily recommend this to both naval historians and general readers. It is a compelling tale and one I have enjoyed immensely reading.

Treaty Cruisers – the First International Warship Building Competition – Review

The 10,000 ton cruiser, a product of the attempt to restrict the uncontrolled growth of Post World War 1 naval building, was also a significant contributor to the Second World War naval actions. Leo Marriot discusses the genesis of the 8″, 10,000 ton Treaty Cruisers.

I’ve had this book on my bookshelf for a few years now and grabbed it to read on this trip back to Oz as it was light enough to not be a nuisance carrying on and off aircraft.

The Washington Treaty was an attempt to limit the number and size of warships being built post World War 1. It was originally signed in 1922. There was later a Geneva Conference in 1927 and two London treaties, one in 1930 and the second in 1935-36. The original treaty was principally drafted to limit capital ships but cruisers also came under the spotlight and after much discussion, 8″ gun armed cruisers of 10,000 tons maximum weight were the result (the 8″ gun limit was to permit the British to keep their 7.5″ armed cruisers – no other navy had 8″ guns at the time).

The later treaties were to control the tonnage of vessels built by nation.

So, one the the unexpected consequences of the ratification of the Washington Naval Treaty was that the five treaty nations very quickly ended up building cruisers. These were built to the limits of the treaty and over the period from 1022 to 1939 the following were built:

Country Ordered Completed
Britain and Commonwealth 17 15
France 7 7
Germany* 5 3
Italy 7 7
Japan 20 18
USA 18 18

Germany is included above as not one of the 5 signatories to the treaty, there was a later British-Germany agreement.

Marriot briefly discusses the history of the cruiser, then starts a description of the political and technical aspects of the period that influenced the major powers to try and limit warship construction. He then goes on to describe how each power approached the building and modification of cruisers.

The book is broken up into parts, with part 1 discussing the rules of the treaties, part 2 the various powers (contestants in the race), part 3 looks at the cruisers at war by theatre. There are then 4 appendices covering technical data, construction programmes, eight-inch guns and aircraft deployed aboard heavy cruisers.

The book is published by Pen & Sword Maritime, with 185 pages, ISBN: 9781844151882 and was published on 30th September 2005.

Marriot’s style is easy to read and he provides a good survey of the Treaty Cruisers, covering the treaties, the building programmes and the performance in combat. This is a book I am happy to have on my bookshelf.

The Forgotten War Against Napoleon – Review

Gareth Glover’s The Forgotten War Against Napoleon – Conflict in the Mediterranean, published on 26 June 2017 by Pen & Sword Military, ISBN 9781473833951, 265 pages is a survey of the Napoleonic Wars in the Mediterranean over the period 1793 to 1815.

The Mediterranean theatre is one familiar to Napoleonic warfare buffs that but for a few engagements is generally is overlooked.

This book does not have a great deal of detail on any one engagement but rather provides a brief look at 55 or so engagements around the Mediterranean.

I’ll come out of the closet. I am a wargamer and the Napoleonic Wars are a period I keep looking at but never really get a head of steam up on a project – much as I have a deep interest in the uniforms, the ships, the battles, and the campaigns.

Glover has surveyed action around the Mediterranean and he provides between 2 and 7 pages per chapter discussing the various actions of the time. This includes both naval and land actions. Egypt is covered as is Corsica, Naples, Malta, Sicily and such. Each of the chapters provides a reasonable overview of the action and sufficient information to persuade the reader to look deeper.

For example, one action I had not heard about (or at least cannot remember reading about) is Algeciras in 1801. This was an action between the British, lead by Sir James Saumarez (the next book on my reading stack being his biography) and a Franco/Spanish fleet. The British 74s engaged a fleet consisting of 74s and Spanish 112s, capturing or sinking a couple. The following morning the French Formidable beat off the attacks of two British ships of the line and a frigate, so a mixed result for the British.

The book is full of short descriptions (the one above lasting just two pages) but will provide plenty of inspiration for either further reading or, in the case of wargamers, scenarios for future games.

The book finishes with the elimination of the Barbary pirates, using that as the conclusion of the war in the Mediterranean.

For the wargamer, a useful source for information for scenarios in the Napoleonic period. For the general reader of history, a useful summary of what went on in the Mediterranean during the Napoleonic Wars.

Images of War – Axis Tanks of the Second World War – Review

Written by Michael Green and published by Pen & Sword Military on 7th August 2017, 216 pages, ISBN 9781473887008, this publication contains a number of rare photographs from wartime archives, as well as photos of tanks still existing.

The book is split into fours chapters of Light Tanks; Early-War Medium Tanks; Late-War Medium Tanks; And Heavy Tanks.

Each chapter then looks at some of the background to the type of tanks and the various countries constructing them. For the German section of Light Tanks chapter for example, the Panzer I and Panzer II are naturally covered. Then the Czech light tanks and their variants in German use, Panzer 38(t), are discussed.

The chapter then moves on to the Italian Light Tanks, the various Carro Veloce marks followed by the Hungarian Toldi and Nimrod tanks. Japanese light tanks are then round out the narrative.

The 10 pages of narrative on the Light Tanks does not give more than superficial information but that is not the main purpose of this book – it is for photographs. 36 pages of photographs, most contemporary to the tanks along with some colour photos, generally of tanks in museums  and private collections.

The same format is followed for the remaining three chapters.

This book is full of interesting photographs and should be on the bookshelf of any AFV petrol or diesel heads. Best of all, it is currently on sale (October 2017).

Images of War – Axis Tanks of the Second World War

British Destroyers & Frigates, The Second World War and After – Review

It just so happened that I was reading Sixty Minutes for St George, a Nicholas Everard Thriller (Book 2) where Nick as stationed aboard HMS Mackerel, a fictional destroyer in World War I. I can recommend the Nicolas Everard series, ripping good yarns with a very accurate nautical theme. Anyway, while reading that, along came a copy of British Destroyers & Frigates, The Second World War and After by Norman Friedman. This edition is published on 17 May 2017 by Seaforth Publishing, has 352 pages and its ISBN is 9781526702821. There are also Kindle and ePub versions available.

Since the Second World War we have seen largely the disappearance of the old classes of cruisers and capital ships, with the obvious exception of aircraft and helicopter carriers. Over that same period destroyers and frigates have merged and whilst we still refer to FFGs and DDGs, these vessels have moved closer and closer, especially as Frigates have got larger. Friedman covers this transition within the British Navy well in this work, dealing with the political, strategic and tactical issues that have brought forward Royal Navy designs such as the Type 45 air defence escort.

The book itself is well illustrated with over 200 photographs (in black and white) of vessels as well as ship plans by A D Baker III and detail drawings from Alan Raven. The book not only covers the Royal Navy but also Commonwealth vessels from Australian and Canada, among others.

The book contains the following chapters:

  • Introduction
  • Beginning the Slide Towards War
  • What Sort of Destroyer
  • Defending Trade
  • The War Emergency Destroyers
  • New Destroyer Classes
  • Wartime Ocean Escorts
  • The Post-war Destroyer
  • The Missile Destroyer
  • The 1945 Frigate and Her Successors
  • The Search for Numbers
  • The General Purpose Frigate
  • The Second Post-war Generation
  • The Post-Carrier Generation
  • The Future

Friedman’s writing style is clear and easy to read and the man knows his subject. A lot of research has gone into this book and it shows from start to finish. This book is a must-have for anyone interested in the development of the Royal Navy through the second half of the 20th century.

I’m ready to start buying some more model vessels to paint after reading through this book.

The Broad Fourteens

So with the coastal forces wargame project this year (memo to self … get off a*** and get painting) I happened across an interesting piece on YouTube tonight. I came home exhausted and whilst waiting for the butter to thaw ready for dinner, I turned to YouTube and thought I would look at some others 1/1200 coastal forces painting. Well one thing led to another and before I knew it I was watching an English film from around the time of the Second World War, made with the crews from a couple of MBTs and/or MGBs that covered getting the boats ready, a little training then onto some missions in an area known as the Broad Fourteens.

The Broad Fourteens were an area of the North Sea just off the coast of Europe where the depth of water was 14 fathoms over a wide area and where a lot of these coastal actions took place.

The YouTub video is below:

And just to remind those folks who do not play with little toy soldiers and boats, here are some of my boat collection, waiting for paint (refer to the first paragraph).

The Coastal Fleets