Simon and Jonathan Forty, Tank Warfare 1939–1945 (Pen & Sword, 2020)
Is it possible to cover the entirety of tank warfare in World War II in just over 200 pages, including photographs? You might not think so, but Simon and Jonathan Forty set out to do just that by emphasizing the theatres of combat you need to know about while seeding their text with technical aspects of tanks and tactical vignettes on tactics and other useful pieces of information. The result is an engaging introductory survey that will appeal to general readers.
Forty provides tank-related abbreviations and Glossary to get the ball rolling, which is handy for the uninitiated. A potted history of tanks follows by way of an introduction, narrating the evolution of the machines and tactics by many nations through World War I and the inter-war years. Forty lingers on Nazi Germany and Heinz Guderian’s influence, which is fitting because the Nazis were ahead of the game when it came to tanks. That brings in the next chapter on the Blitzkrieg that showed what tanks could do, though Forty points out the Germans did not have things all their own way and had to evolve their tactics on the hoof. North Africa is next on this survey where the Allies persevered to overcome the Germans despite inferior tanks. The introduction of American designed tanks helped with that. The other major tank battlefield was the Eastern Front where a war of relentless attrition ensued that the Germans could not win. With the war turning in favour of the Allies, Sicily and Italy then Normandy became crucial battlegrounds for tanks and are given their due consideration. The most difficult battlefields were in the Far East where the environment often caused the problem for the Allies rather than the inadequate Japanese tanks. That concludes the narrative. Along the way, Forty injects many useful vignettes and sub-topics, including tank crews, concepts of armoured warfare and tactics, an extensive section on how tank battles were fought, and infantry cooperation with tanks. Forty closes with various appendices on Tank Guns, Gunnery, and Ammunition, Antitank Warfare, Tank Maintenance and Recovery, Tank Radios, Bridging and Bridgelayers, Amphibious Tanks, a survey of Allied Tank casualties in WWII, and Tank and SP Gun Production numbers.
The tracks could easily have come off this book because there is so much to cram into relatively few pages. Yet Simon and Jonathan Forty succeed in producing an engaging survey using elements of narrative mixed with description and analysis. They also avoid a dry and dusty text through an informal writing style that may not be to everyone’s taste but largely works. They are assisted by many interesting contemporary photographs and the vignettes sprinkled throughout. Their book is not for specialists and does not cover every aspect of WWII tanks, but for those with a general interest in the period, Tank Warfare does that job quite nicely.
Simon and Jonathan Forty, Tank Warfare 1939–1945 (Pen & Sword, 2020)
Gabriele Esposito, Armies of Ancient Greece (Pen & Sword, 2020)
The long 5th Century BCE can rightfully be called the Greek Century. This was a time when many western ideas we take for granted came into effect, for better or worse. But in addition to their contributions to culture and politics, the Greeks brought in a system of warfare that to varying degrees formed the basis of all western armies into the pre-modern era. In this book, Gabriele Esposito surveys the Greek period from 500 to 338 BCE from the military perspective.
Esposito embarks on a trip through Greek history from their beginnings down to the Polis and Hoplite era. This is where he slows down for a better look at five Greek city states: Athens, Sparta, Thebes, Argos, and Corinth. Esposito gives the background to each but opts to focus his next full chapter on Sparta, which is fitting given their martial reputation. Athens receives attention next with a similar narrative history of events. With the two main players receiving their due consideration, Esposito turns to the major Greco-Persian Wars and tells that story. That leads almost seamlessly into the Peloponnesian War then into the wars of the 4th Century and the rise of Macedonia. That is where Esposito’s narrative ends and his survey of the armies and soldiers begins. He covers hoplites, of course, Peltasts, and the Ekdromoi, Psiloi, and Hamippoi light infantry. These included slingers and archers, some of whom were mercenaries. Esposito notes that cavalry was not a main component of Greek armies except on the flat plains of Thessaly and Boeotia. He describes the Athenians as his ‘perfect’ organization for a Greek army, and adds descriptions of the Spartan army, the Theban army, and the Argive army. Esposito concludes with a chapter on the Greek panoply and tactics.
Armies of Ancient Greece is boilerplate narrative military history for the most part. The standout feature is the sprinkling of colour photographs of reenactors in Greek and their Allies’ military attire along with their replica equipment. Not all the photographs match their adjacent text, however, which might be a bit misleading, particularly when it comes to the Spartans. And that is all there is by way of illustration, which is disappointing from a culture rich in military imagery and artefacts. The text is functional, telling the history adequately, but it lacks depth of analysis – the weak bibliography gives this away before we even get to the text. The lack of referencing is also irritating, especially on contentious issues such as the Spartan treatment of their Helots, or that Marathon demonstrated that “the balance of power was changing in Greece”, which is again unsatisfactory for a culture with an abundance of military texts. Ultimately, it is difficult to determine who the audience is for this book, but if you are looking for a straightforward and lightweight military history of the period with photos of reenactors then this will do the job.
Michal Paradowski, Despite Destruction, Misery and Privations… (Helion, 2020)
Between 1626 and 1629, the Swedish and Polish fought a bitter territorial war in Prussia. This was another in a series of wars beginning in 1600. Two great commanders led the armies: Gustav II Adolf and Hetman Stanislaw Koniecpolski. The Swedes are more familiar to English-speaking audience, but in this book, Michal Paradowski examines the Polish army, including the famous Winged Hussars.
Paradowski begins with a general oversight of the complex Polish military system with all its different contingents and allies, mainly from the Austrian Habsburg Imperial forces. Then comes a discussion of the commanders where we find that Koniecpolski was not only a militarily capable Hetman (Commander), he kept a cadre of experienced officers around him for this war. Paradowski also considers recruitment and the size of the army in Prussia. How that army was formed, organized, and equipped comes next with an emphasis on the Polish cavalry. Paradowski highlights the role of mercenaries that formed the backbone of the Polish infantry, all of which were apparently musketeers, which was highly unusual for the period. They also had very little artillery and a deficient navy, a clear problem against the Swedes who were not short of both. Paradowski moves on to logistics and finds the Poles administratively ill-equipped there too, lacking resources in all areas, including food and weapons. Nevertheless, it says something about the Poles that they fought hard for three years. Battles were small affairs and sieges were more common: Paradowski provides a very good account of those actions and how the Poles fought. In his conclusion, Paradowski notes that the 1626-1629 war was transitional for the Polish, at least tactically, but logistical and financial problems continued to haunt them for the rest of the century. His book concludes with nine short appendices, consisting of various pieces of primary evidence, and a deep bibliography, though almost all of it in Polish.
I came to Paradowski’s book through my curiosity about Winged Hussars, but I found there was much more to this Polish army than meets the eye. Paradowski presents a clear analysis of the Poles at all levels of their professional competency, or otherwise. He is supported by a series of excellent colour plates by Sergey Shamenkov and many monochrome illustrations, especially of those fabulous Winged Hussars but also other colourful units. This is certainly a niche subject, but anyone interested in 17th Century warfare, and other aspects of the Polish world illuminated by the military system and processes, will enjoy this book.
A Senseless Sacrifice?
Jon Diamond, Hell in the Central Pacific (Pen & Sword, 2020)
There are many combat tasks that strike me as border-line lunacy. Storming ashore onto an island full of Imperial Japanese soldiers that you know will fight to the death is high on that list. In September 1944, this is what US Marines, supported by American soldiers, did on the Palau Islands, and then fought desperately for every yard against a fanatical enemy. Joe Diamond narrates that story in another of Pen & Sword’s Images of War series.
Diamond begins with the strategic considerations leading to the Palau Islands Campaign. Although a general overview, what it boils down to is that the Japanese had built airfields on the Palau Islands during their rapid expansion in the 1930s from which they bombed the Philippines, and the Americans wanted to neutralize them. Diamond moves onto what awaited the American soldiers tasked with taking the Palau Islands: Japanese defences and weapons, and the hostile environment. That combination provided the hell the Americans had arrived to subdue in September 1944. It would take them two months. Diamond turns to the forces involved and their commanders before narrating the actual assaults and subsequent fighting – the account of the fighting up Umurbrogol Mountain highlights a stunning military achievement. Diamond rounds things off with a summary of a campaign that cost 10,000 American casualties for what turned out to be a strategic waste of lives and resources.
Like all the Images of War books, Hell in the Central Pacific relies on the quality and variety of its images to create its impact. In that regard, this contribution to the series is a hit. The photographs of soldiers on the islands are undeniably dramatic and provide a real sense of what American soldiers endured. For me, the photographs of African-American SBs and two marines with a working dog stood out, but there are many other excellent images to choose from. However, there are also too many ‘context’ photos that have nothing to do with the Palau Islands campaign, and much of the strategic background section could have been pared down to extend the combat narrative, which is barely one-third of the book. Nevertheless, Diamond does a a good job of narrating the campaign and battle, and for those of us in awe of American sacrifice in the island-hopping campaign, that along with the images makes Hell in the Central Pacific a worthwhile addition to our bookshelves.
Ciro Paoletti, Italy, Piedmont, and the War of the Spanish Succession 1701-1712 (Helion, 2021)
The War of the Spanish Succession is known by most of us for the brilliant campaigns of the future Duke of Marlborough. The war was much broader than that; however, little has been written about it in English. That is particularly true for the war in Italy. Until now. Thanks to Helion’s willingness to publish in areas no one else has, Ciro Paoletti takes us into a theatre that proved vitally important to the French and Habsburg Empire.
The book is split into two parts. Part I is the war with the French. Paoletti sets up the convoluted background to the war before describing how wars were fought. The latter includes siege warfare, though Paoletti argues they were not the principal form of warfare in avoidance of battle as is commonly thought – there does seem to be a lot of them though in this theatre. He takes a closer look at the Duke of Savoy’s army and Piedmontese logistics, a vital factor in waging this war. Paoletti moves into the strategy phase and narrative of operations, including the battles of Carpi and Chiari. What follows is a blow by blow account of the war placed in the context of wider European politics. Part II is the War against the French and continues in the same vein as Part I: descriptions of the main events are attached to the broader themes. Logistics again played a major role in these campaigns, especially financing, along with more sieges. That included the siege of Turin in 1706 that led to a climactic battle with Eugene of Savoy emerging victorious in the most exciting passage of the book. The conquest of Lombardy followed Turin and the invasion of France with the ‘failed’ attack on Toulon. The action switches to Naples then the Alps before Paoletti exits via the Treaty of Utrecht. He adds a comprehensive bibliography if your Italian is up to scratch.
Helion strikes again! This is another excellent book on a niche subject, but one that enhances our understanding of the wider picture – Helion are good at that. Paoletti acknowledges that English is not his primary language. That shows in the style and structure, but it also adds a bit of loose enthusiasm to the text, which is quite endearing at times. Exceptional colour artwork of soldiers and flags by Bruno Mugnai and wonderful contemporary illustrations throughout add flavour to the text. The War of the Spanish Succession is undergoing something of a renaissance in interest at the moment and Paoletti’s contribution is therefore very welcome. Military history readers of 18th Century warfare will certainly enjoy this.