Narrow Gauge in the Somme Sector – by Martin J. B. Farebrother, Joan S. Farebrother – Book Review

Something a little different for me although I guess like many wargamers, I do have at a minimum a passing interest in model railroading. My father was a fan of model railways and had an extensive layout in HO under the house in his retirement, with an Australian outline layout, particularly the New South Wales Government Railways. As a small child I had asked for a train set which I played with for about six weeks and which left my father hooked on model railroading for life. I diverged and became a wargamer but had spent many a pleasant hour with Dad talking railways, photographing them, building model kits for him and generally being one of his sounding boards when he needed some advice about some sticky issue with wiring or weathering or painting figures for his layout.

As a wargamer I have enjoyed various model railroad conventions and will from time to time pick up model railroad magazines, if only for modelling tips for terrain to use in a wargame.

This book covers a topic that crosses the boundaries between military history, model railroading and wargaming. Pen and Sword Books are releasing a series covering the Allied Railways of the Western Front (or rather more correctly I suppose, Triple Entente Railways of the Western Front). The first book in this series looked at the Arras Sector. This release covers Allied Railways of the Western Front – Narrow Gauge in the Somme Sector – Before, During and After the First World War. It has been written by Martin J. B. Farebrother and Joan S. Farebrother and is from the Pen & Sword Transport imprint. The book is 256 pages long and was published on 30 January 2019 (ISBN: 9781473887633).

The book covers the metre gauge networks built prior to the war, then the build up of the light (60cm gauge) railways around the French sector and then later the British and Dominion sectors. The book has a number of contemporary illustrations of both rolling stock as well as terminals and goods sidings. There are also illustrations of preserved narrow gauge locomotives from the period that are still existing in museums.

The book is well researched and follows a detailed process chapter by chapter where the flow of the text is secondary to the information passed along. In parts it is a difficult read however a fresh cup of a good java eases that problem.

The structure of the book is to look at the Somme Sector chronologically which shows the development of the narrow gauge rail systems from 1888 through to the commencement of the war in the Somme department as well as the Oise and Aisne departments, then during the First World War. The First World War sections are a general 60cm gauge light railways during the war (1914-1918); the light and metre gauge railways of the Somme battlefields 1916-16 March 2917; 17 March 1917 to 20 March 1918; 21 March to 7 August 1918; 8 August to 11 November 1918. This is followed by post war sections of the light railways of the Somme Sector 12 November 1918 t0 1974; metre gauge railways of the Somme department 12 November 1918 to 1955 and metre gauge railways of the Oise and Aisne departments 12 November 1918 to 1955. The main text of the book is rounded out with a chapter on things to see and do now.

To book has many maps of the railway lines and the connections between the 60cm narrow gauge and metre gauge lines. Also illustrated are the track plans to various stations. The track plans of the smaller stations and depots, many of which would provide an excellent track plan for the shunting puzzle are also mapped.

There has been a growing interest the railways of the First World War and model railways in particular with, for example, the Amiens 1918 OO9 narrow gauge railway modelled from the First World War being a good example.

This book is a very good summary of the railways of the time with a great deal of information contained. It has been well researched and from my perspective it has dominated my reading over the last few days, covering a topic that I knew nothing about but that I have now been researching further. I can recommend this book to those interested in the history of railways as well as readers into military history, particularly of the 20th century. It will also interest narrow gauge model railroaders and railway modellers who have more esoteric tastes than the regular modellers. It will also find some interest among the wargaming community, especially those taking more of an interest in the First World War.

This is a book I found particularly interesting and I am happy to recommend it. Best, it is on sale at Pen and Sword currently with a good discount (April 2019).

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Recent Book Arrivals

I had a couple of packages arrive recently with the odd book to read. OK. so there was a lot. Some interesting titles in there however and I wuill get around to reviewing when I get a chance (which means when I actually finish reading a few. The temptation is to read them concurrently rather than serially. I shall try and resist that temptation.

The first batch will be pretty quick reading:

The second batch will tale a wee bit longer I will admit:

Mind you, I started on the second batch, in particular Steve Dunn’s. Southern Thunder, The Royal Navy and the Scandinavian Trade in World War One, which frankly I new absolutely nothing about. I can see some great scenarios for a wargame or three there as well as the need to acquire some more ships. Navwar order coming up.

World Naval Review 2019 – ed. Conrad Waters – Review

Before anything else, I need to point out that I have a vested interest in this volume. There is a photograph on Page 77 of RSS Swordsman, a modernised Västergötland boat on the Singapore Navy. The photograph was taken by me at a Republic of Singapore Navy Open Day at Changi Naval Base.

Having said that I look forward each year to the release of the World Naval Review with its summary and roundup of the world’s navies. This edition is the tenth annual edition, but regrettably I have only been reading this publication since 2018. I am thinking of starting to look for copies of the previous editions.

Covered in this volume are:

  1. Overview (introduction)
  2. Regional Review – North and South America
    1. Royal Canadian Navy
    2. The Peruvian Navy
  3. Regional Review – Asia and The Pacific
    1. Republic of Singapore Navy
    2. The Indian Ocean and Africa
    3. Europe and Russia
  4. Significant Ships
    1. Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carriers
    2. Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft Carriers
  5. Technological Reviews
    1. World Naval Aviation
    2. Modern Naval Communications: An Overview
    3. Autonomous Systems: A New Horizon for Surface Fleets

The introduction is a great place to start reading the Review as it lists the top 10 countries by defence expenditure over the ten years 2008-2017. It then looks at defence budgets and plans and follows that with a summary of the change in type of the Major Fleet Strengths for the ten years 2009-2018.

For example, Australia in 2009 is listed as:

  • 6 x SSK
  • 12 x CG/FFG/DDG
  • 6 x MCMV
  • 2 x AO/AOR/AFS

In 2018 this had changed to:

  • 2 x LHA/LHD/LPH
  • 1 x LPD/LSD
  • 6 x SSK (if they can keep 6 crews up to it)
  • 11 x CG/FFG/DDF
  • 6 x MCMV
  • 2 x AO/AOR/AFS

which partly reflects the change in roles of the RAN over that 10 year period.

Similar comparisons exist for the US, Royal, Brazilian, French, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean (both), and Indian navies over the same ten years.

The regional review then looks at the strengths of major regional navies. For example, the Americas lists current strengths for Argentina; Brazil; Canada; Chile; Colombia; Ecudor; Peru and the USA.

Given that the cost of regular updates from Janes is beyond most of us, World Naval Review becomes my go to publication for a review of the recent past as well as what is on the horizon for the near future. This is one of my favourite reads along with Warship.

The book is available on both sides of the ditch, published by Seaforth, an imprint of Pen and Sword and also available through the US Naval Institute Press, along with Amazon, Book Depository and so on. It was published in hardcopy, ePub and Kindle versions.

Product Details
  • Hardcover : 192 pages
  • Publisher: Seaforth Publishing (UK) and Naval Institute Press (US)
  • Date: November 15, 2018
  • ISBN-10: 1526745852
  • ISBN-13: 9781526745859

Interestingly I cannot find this on the Pen and Sword website, even though my copy came from Pen and Sword. Look for this publication at:

Highly Recommended

Maritime Operations in the Russo-Japanese War, 1904-1905, Volume 2 – Julian S. Corbett – Review

Back in September 2018 I reviewed Volume 1 of Julian Corbett’s Maritime Operations of the Russo-Japanese War, 1904-1905. Volume 2 arrived recently and replaced my reading list for a period of time as I followed the maritime operations from the Genesis of the Russian Baltic Fleet, through the Battle of Tsushima (or as Corbett describes it, the Battle of the Sea of Japan) and which completes with a look at the two Sakhalin expeditions.

So this volume covers:

  1. Genesis of the Baltic Fleet
  2. Cruise of the Smolensk and Peterburg
  3.  The Dogger Bank Incident
  4. Situation at Port Arthur to the First Attack on 203-metre hill
  5. The Blockade of Kwangtung
  6. 203-metre Hill
  7. Destruction of the Ships at Port Artur and the Torpedo Attack on the Sevastopol
  8. Fall of Port Arthur
  9. Progress of the Baltic Fleet
  10. Japanese Preparations for the Baltic Fleet
  11. Fleet Movements in March and April
  12. Concentration of and the Final Approach of the Baltic Fleet up to Contact
  13. The Battle of the Sea of Japan (Tsushima) in five phases
  14. Admiral Nebogatov’s Surrender
  15. The Sakhalin Expeditions

I will admit that in the past I have tended to stop reading the histories at the climax that is Tsushima so reading the last chapters in this book were well worth the effort.

Adding Corbett to my Kindle copies of Semenoff as well as the works by Hough, and Warner & Warner in particular, I feel I have a good view (at least as good as an historical view can get) of the Maritime side of the Russo-Japanese War (RJW). I will look for further works on the land warfare at the time but I can’t help but wonder if the performance of the Japanese against the Russians during the RJW encouraged the Japanese to take on the Soviets and Mongolians at Khalkin-gol (Nomonhan), a battle that resulted in the Japanese agreeing to a peace with the Soviets and which allowed the Soviets to concentrate on their war with Germany.

Julian Corbett (Later Sir Julian Corbett) wrote the Maritime Operations of the Russo-Japanese War as a confidential publication for the Intelligence Division of the Admiralty War Staff. It was never made available to the general reader until well after Corbett’s death. Corbett composes a picture of the war by writing a continuous narrative that weaves the interrelationship of land and sea events as they affect each other. He examines the political objectives, the geography of the area as well as the naval aspects to tell that story. Because Corbett writes in a continues narratives he is easy to read as well.

Naval Institute Press published a hardback version of Corbett’s work back in 1994. This is the first release of the history in paperback. It is also released in an eBook version (Kindle). As with Volume 1, there are none of the original illustrations that accompanied the 1914/1915 editions of Corbett’s work.

This volume is smaller than the first volume but arguably more exciting. There are 24 chapters in this volume. 11 Appendices and an Index.

For example, on page 404 is Appendix III, which contains a translation of the Instructions for the Vladivostok Squadron  sent by Vice-Admiral Stark to Rear-Admiral Baron Shtakelberg at Vladivostok  and notes:

I must point out that Japan has not subscribed to the Paris Declaration of the 16th April 1856; and therefore we shall not hesitate to inflict as much damage as possible to the enemy on the sea. Being convinced that during war the Japanese merchant vessels will not think twice about flying the flags of other nationalities, I am forwarding to your Excellency copies of the regulations laid down for Japanese merchant vessels, which may be of use in establishing the actual nationality of vessels stopped by you, of which only valuable prizes captured at no great distance from Vladivostok may be sent to that port; all the remainder must be sent to the bottom without consideration of pity and without hesitation.

This book belongs on any naval historian’s bookshelf, and now that it is available in both paperback and electronic form it is available to a wider reading audience.

As before, as a companion set to Maritime Operations in the Russo-Japanese War, 1904-1905, Vols 1 and 2, look for a copy of The Russo-Japanese War at Sea 1904-5: Volume 1-Port Arthur, the Battles of the Yellow Sea and Sea of Japan and Volume 2: The Battle of Tsushima and the Aftermath by Vladimir Semenoff These works provide a view of the war from the Russian side.

Product Details

In the same way I did with Volume 1, I highly recommend this work, especially for any naval historian, general reader with an interest in naval or Asian history, or anyone interested in the zenith of the pre-dreadnought period.

Maritime Operations in the Russo-Japanese War, 1904-1905 – Julian S. Corbett – Review

One of my favourite periods of Military History is the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 (RJW). I will also admit to an interest in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95  as well as  these were the last real naval battles of the pre-Dreadnought period (OK, so there was the First Balkan War of 1912-13 as well and the poor performance of the Turkish fleet there but I would still set the RJW as the watershed of the pre-Dreadnought naval battles).

My collection of books on this war includes the Fleet that had to Die by Richard Hough (ISBN-13: 978-1841580449 for a paperback version) and The Tide at Sunrise: A History of the Russo-Japanese War, 1904-05 by Denis Warne and Peggy Warner  (ISBN-13: 978-0714682341) but until recently I had not seen a copy of Corbett’s work

Julian Corbett (Later Sir Julian Corbett) wrote the Maritime Operations of the Russo-Japanese War as a confidential publication for the Intelligence Division of the Admiralty War Staff. It was never made available to the general reader until well after Corbett’s death. Corbett composes a picture of the war by writing a continuous narrative that weaves the interrelationship of land and sea events as they affect each other. He examines the political objectives, the geography of the area as well as the naval aspects to tell that story. Because Corbett writes in a continues narratives he is easy to read as well.

Naval Institute Press published a hardback version of Corbett’s work back in 1994. This is the first release of the history in paperback. It is also released in an eBook version (Kindle).

The publishers do note however that:

it was impossible to reproduce the illustrations that accompanied the 1914/15 edition of this work owing to their size and condition. References to maps, charts, and plates have been left in the text in order to maintain the scholarly integrity of the work. The only known originals of these illustrations can be found in the Library of the Royal Naval College and at the Naval Historical Branch, Ministry of Defense, London.

This is really the only criticism that I could make against this work but perhaps a quick side trip if visiting England could be fruitful.

After the preface, the book commences with the opening page from the 1914 report and notes that the publication is confidential. It then goes on to say:

This book I the property of H. M. Government
It is intended for the use of Officers generally, and may in certain cases be communicated to persons in H. M. Service below the rank of commissioned officer who may require to be acquainted with its contents in the course of their duties, The Officers exercising this power will be held responsible  that such information is imparted with due caution and reserve.

It then notes:

The attention of Officers is called to the fact that much of the information  which this history is based has been obtained through the courtesy of the Japanese Government in giving facilities to our Attaches, and in placing at the disposal of the Admiralty their confidential  History of the War. This was done under the understanding that the information should be kept strictly confidential, and it is therefore most desirable that the lessons learnt from this History should not be divulged to anyone not on the active list.

Japan was an ally of Britain at this time.

There are 25 chapters to the book as well as 12 Appendices. The appendices also include the fleet lists for both navies at the time of the confrontation.

This book belongs on any naval historian’s bookshelf, an now that it is available in both paperback and electronic form it is available to a wider reading audience.

I would recommend as well, as a companion set to Maritime Operations in the Russo-Japanese War, 1904-1905, Vols 1 and 2, looking for a copy of The Russo-Japanese War at Sea 1904-5: Volume 1-Port Arthur, the Battles of the Yellow Sea and Sea of Japan and Volume 2: The Battle of Tsushima and the Aftermath by Vladimir Semenoff for a view of the war from the Russian side.

The Product Details are:
Paperback : 600 pages
Publisher: Naval Institute Press (March 15, 2015)
ISBN-10: 1591141974
ISBN-13: 9781591141976

As I mentioned, highly recommended. I am now looking forward to getting  copy of Volume 2.