David A. Wilson, The Danish Army of the Napoleonic Wars 1801-1814, v2 Cavalry and Artillery (Helion, 2021)
This is a companion volume to Wilson’s book on the Danish infantry, and while Wilson claims it is a ‘good working document’ only the diehard student of the Napoleonic wars will need to look elsewhere.
Wilson jumps right in with the Danish Regular Cavalry, their horses, harnesses, and tactics. Then he gallops on to The Royal Horse Guards, adding uniforms, arms, and equipment to the mix, then to the Heavy Cavalry with the same formula but with a small section on firearms. Similar treatment is meted out to the Light Cavalry, Dragoons, and Hussars. Wilson concludes his cavalry ridealong with a description of their standards. The Danish Artillery gets half the book. The Foot Artillery come first with an overview of their guns, uniforms (including the drivers!), personal weapons, and Pennants. That leaves significant room for Wilson to describe the Ordnance and there is a lot of it: 3pdr, 6pdr, 10pdr, and 20pdrs. The limbers are next up, then the arrangement of gun teams and harnesses for the various calibre guns. Wilson includes the ammunition chests and wagons in his descriptive sections. The Heavy Field and Siege guns are left to the end along with the Field Forges and boxouts for the 18pdr and 12pdr Fortress Pieces. The Engineers and Sappers bring up the rear as they usually seem to in books of this kind. An appendix titled The Puzzle of the Standards of the Livgarden til Hest 1720-1866 by Jorgen Koefoed Larsen might be the most esoteric essay I have read in a long time, but nonetheless still interesting.
This book is not literature, nor is it meant to be. These are almost exclusively technical descriptions, so we discover little about the men in the brightly coloured uniforms. But Wilson has left no stone unturned to bring us detailed information on all aspects of the Danish Cavalry and Artillery. He is aided in that by a dazzling array of colour plates, illustrating uniforms, saddlecloths, equipment, weapons, and all the supporting elements that kept the guns firing and horse charging. Wargamers and modelers interested in the Napoleonic period will love Wilson’s ‘working document’.
David A. Wilson, The Danish Army of the Napoleonic Wars 1801-1814, v2 Cavalry and Artillery (Helion, 2021)
The Bunker Busters
Mike Guardia, American Armor in the Pacific (Casemate, 2020)
The Pacific War in World War II conjures images of US Marines storming ashore onto beaches flayed by Japanese gunfire. We might see a tank or two, especially when dealing with Japanese bunkers. But Mike Guardia’s American Armor in the Pacific reveals that there was much more to tank warfare in the Pacific than a first glance suggests. Indeed, without tanks, the Americans would have lost many more men than they did, and the war could conceivably have ground to a halt as the Japanese intended.
After a timeline of major events, Guardia introduces us to his subject along with some background information on the causes of the war. He notes there were no tank-on-tank battles in the Pacific, but US tanks performed valuable service supporting the infantry. When Japanese tanks made an appearance, their American counterparts generally made short work of them. Guardia surveys the development of the Japanese tanks with an overview of those used in combat, moving up the size scale through the Type 94, Type 97, Type 89, Type 95, Type 97, and the light Type 98 (at the end for some reason). The American tank evolution follows. They were slow starters in developing tanks but brought some useful machines to bear in the Pacific, such as the M2, M3/M5, and of course the workhorse M4 Sherman. Guardia adds the LVT Alligator as an assault vehicle and the M3 Half-Track Gun Motor Carriage. With the opponents outlined, Guardia takes us into combat.
Guardia begins his narrative in the Philippines in 1941 where US M3 tanks fell prey to Type 95s and enemy aircraft in a bitter defeat. The US campaign in the Southwest Pacific offered revenge for the American tanks. At Guadalcanal in August 1942, the Type 97s succumbed to Marine anti-tank guns while US M3 Stuarts provided sterling support for the US infantry – it helped that the Japanese had no anti-tank guns, opting for infantry assaults with bayonets and grenades. They had magnetic mines though in New Georgia in 1943, which the US countered with wood and concrete add-on armour. By Bougainville in November, the Sherman was on station. The terrain on these islands, however, inhibited US tanks, but they worked closely and successfully with the infantry, which carried through to the Central Pacific campaign in 1943. The terrain was better there, but the big development was the flamethrower tank, ideal for clearing bunkers and caves. Shermans, Stuarts, and Alligators all took part at Tarawa in November 1943 where shell-holes from pre-invasion naval gunfire caused the biggest problems. At nearby Makin, both the M3 Lee and M3A1 Stuart took part, demonstrating the diversity of US tanks in the region. Then came the Marhsall Islands and the Mariana Islands.
The Japanese stiffened their defences with more tanks and anti-tank guns the closer the US came to the mainland, but US armour tactics were improving – of the 44 Japanese tanks on Saipan, 32 were destroyed. Arguably the most satisfying campaign in the Pacific was the recapture of the Philippines. Here some Japanese generals eschewed tanks and paid the price for that negligence. What tanks they did deploy, including innovative amphibious tanks, were destroyed quite handily – the US had also developed a semi-amphibious Sherman using snorkels on the back to keep the engines from seizing. The biggest threat to US tanks was better Japanese anti-tank guns, but they in turn were susceptible to US infantry working with the tanks. On Iwo Jima, Japanese mines and the soft volcanic sand took their toll of US tanks, but they still delivered crucial infantry support. They performed with similar distinction at Okinawa. Guardia concludes by arguing that for all their tactical ingenuity, the Japanese tanks were ‘under-armored, underpowered, and mechanically troublesome’ but that does not take anything away from American ‘tenacity, dedication, and…innovation’.
American Armor in the Pacific is an excellent little survey of tank warfare in the Pacific. Guardia’s narrative sticks closely to tank operations and he does not get bogged down in detail – he allows his profile pages to do that work. The book is also full of illuminating monochrome photographs of tanks that will keep modelers happy. A true enthusiast might want more meat on the bone, but for the average student of tanks in the Pacific War, Guardia’s book works very well.
Sukwinder Singh Bassi, Thousands of Heroes Have Arisen (Helion, 2019, 2021)
From the very beginning of World War I, Britain knew it would need all its Empire could give to beat the Germans and their allies. They sent to India to tap into that massive well of manpower. Among those who answered the call was the small but disciplined Sikh community that sent over 100,000 men to fight. Sukwinder Singh Bassi has collected an archive of 700 letters along with other sources to bring the Sikh war to life and to honour their memory.
Bassi introduces the Sikhs and their religion, and how they became loyal soldiers of the crown. They fought all over the globe in World War I and punched well above their weight. Indeed, Bassi argues, ‘bravery and heroism became synonymous with the Sikh name’. The letters begin with favourable Sikh impressions of France, which they viewed as an alien but welcoming place. Their belief in their God led to fatalism and acceptance of war and the environment in which they fought. Thei courage often got them wounded and having to convalesce in English hospitals, though many fretted at having to go back to the trenches while others lamented the cost of war on the Sikh soldiers. Bassi turns to the famed Sikh loyalty to the King that the British had manipulated, particularly through religious texts, but in most cases appears genuine. Of course, part of their desire for victory was to get home quicker.
What they were trying to escape from was the hell of the Western Front. Bassi notes that the Sikhs fought in nearly every major engagement and some were suspicious that they were being used as cannon-fodder. The British withdrew the Indian infantry from the Western Front at the end of 1915, leaving the cavalry behind, but by then many of the Sikh soldiers had seen enough of mud, freezing cold, warplanes, gas, and German shells. Bassi includes mentions from behind the lines where the men could recover from their ordeal. The Sikhs fought in the Middle East, Mesopotamia, Gallipoli, and East Africa, among other flashpoints, and Bassi takes us on a tour of the world at war through their letters. Many letters complain of deprivation compared to the comforts of France, others make brief references to fighting and those killed and wounded, and some speak of their maltreatment when made PoWs. A few Sikhs enlisted in other Imperial armies such as Canada and Australia. Bassi also highlights letters, poems, and newspaper articles from India in addition to letters to family and loved ones from the front. He curiously leaves the topic of recruitment and pay until near the end of his collection. Bassi follows that with a section on sedition and conspiracies, arbitrary British efforts to suppress dissent, and the shocking episode of the Komagata Maru. Bassi concludes with an epilogue on the maltreatment of Sikhs by the British when they returned home from the War, including the infamous Amritsar Massacre.
Bassi’s collection provides a well-rounded look at how the Sikhs understood their war. He prefaces each chapter with a useful summary of what the letters mean when taken collectively. As for those well-chosen letters, they describe a war that is at once familiar but also capture how strange most of this was to the Sikh soldiers. There is some repetition in parts that slow us down, and we’re left wondering at what the censors deleted that might have changed some of the rosy pictures being sketched by the soldiers. Nevertheless, Bassi has made an important contribution to our knowledge of the Great War in all its facets, and his editing skills along with the eloquence of many of the soldiers, makes for an enjoyable and thought-provoking read.
Yves Buffetaut, Ardennes 1944 (Casemate, 2018)
The Battle of the Bulge was Hitler’s last gamble to stave off collapse in the West and perhaps turn the tide of the war. It was doomed to failure, but only because of poor planning, a lack of resources, and the efforts of the Allies both in defence and counterattack. In Yves Buffetaut’s Ardennes 1944, he takes us on a quick tour of the battle accompanied by many excellent photographs and colour plates.
After a brief timeline of events, Buffetaut gets down to business, beginning with the German objectives and the lack of belief in them among the German generals. The soldiers believed, however, but Buffetaut highlights their deficiencies compared to their early offensives. Still, they faced a weakened enemy and broke through the brittle American defences, but Buffetaut is scathing in his critique of the German operation. The Germans lacked resources for such an ambitious plan in mid-winter on muddy and congested roads. Moreover, significant sections of the US defenders would not buckle as the Germans intended. Some German units made surprising progress, notably Kampfgruppe Peiper but he ran out of petrol and stopped at Stavelot. The action flips to Saint-Vith, Houffalize, Clervaux, and of course, Bastogne, via a consideration of Skorzeny’s attempts to infiltrate American lines. Meanwhile, the Allies shook themselves out to create strong defensive lines and prepare to go on the offensive. This was helped by clear weather, allowing for Allied air superiority to take effect. Then the Allies squeezed the salient created by the offensive, known as the Bulge. The Germans withdrew while counter-attacking when they could, but the battle was all but over. Buffetaut next examines the air war over the battlefield, arguing that the Americans inflated their numbers of destroyed enemy planes and vehicles. He also highlights the British involvement on the ground, which Buffetaut gives a bit more space to than their exploits deserve compared to the Americans but is a useful reminder that this was an Allied operation. Buffetaut concludes that Hitler’s Ardennes offensive was delusional, but it prolonged the war in the west.
In Ardennes 1944, Buffetaut serves up an appetizer for anyone interested in the Battle of the Bulge. His focus is on the big picture, rarely dipping below Divisional level operations. That created a bit of an uneven structure with too much room given to the British and not enough to some parts of the battle; the bare mention of Bastogne being the most obvious casualty of that approach. Still, the text is informative and interspersed with colour plates of vehicles, accounts of war crimes, and commander profiles. The range of photographs accompanying the text is arguably the highlight of the book. Ardennes 1944 will suffice for those wanting to know what happened without diving into a detailed tome such as Beevor’s book on the battle, but there is enough here to entice further reading.
Robert Jackson, A6M Zero Mitsubishi (Pen & Sword, 2020)
When I was a wee boy growing up in the 70s, the auld men who’d been in The War mentioned only one Japanese warplane to join the usual discussion of Spitfires and Me109s: the Zero. The men who’d fought in the Far East said they feared it like no other weapon of war. That memory flooded back to me when I opened Robert Jackson’s new book on the A6M Zero. It turns out that there was much more, or maybe less, to the Zero than the auld men spoke of.
The Japanese were slow starters in developing warplanes after World War I, but by the 1930s they were catching up fast spurred on by their growing involvement in China. Jackson points out that evolution paralleled the growth of Japan’s carrier fleet. In 1935, the Japanese Navy introduced a home designed monoplane, the A5M, and the following year the army’s Ki.27 flew for the first time. That would become the standard Japanese Army Airforce (JAAF) fighter until 1942. Jackson surveys the Japanese learning on the job against the Chinese and Soviets in Manchuria where they came off worse against the Soviet planes. The Navy, meanwhile, needed a fighter to escort its bombers in China, and the A6M Zero fit the bill nicely.
Jackson gets into the specifications for the new fighter, which contained some innovative ideas to keep the weight down while producing an elegant, uncomplicated machine. The Navy Zero first saw action in China in August 1940 with stunning results against now obsolete Chinese Soviet-built fighters. The air superiority of the Zero went ominously unnoticed in the West where they were too busy with their own affairs to notice the looming threat. But they noticed them well enough, and to America’s horror, at Pearl Harbor in December 1941, though the Zeros did not get it all their own way against US fighters, perhaps a harbinger of things to come. When the Zeros attacked in the Philippines at around the same time, the Americans in their P-40s quickly developed tactics to at least put them in the fight. Other Allied warplanes fared less well against the nimble Zeros. Jackson follows the victorious Japanese squadrons around the Pacific as the war intensified, and into the Indian Ocean against the British in early 1942. But in May and June 1942, the tides of war were about to change.
Japanese naval ascendancy crumbled at Coral Sea and collapsed at Midway. That became evident over the following months. This was the time when US Wildcats took on the Zeros with innovative tactics while correctly assessing that the Japanese pool of pilots was wearing thin – Jackson also notes how the Americans used captured Zeros to work out their weaknesses for new tactics. The US was also about to bring in new planes that finally tipped the scales for good, most notably the Corsair and Hellcat. In June 1944, the Marianas Turkey Shoot proved American dominance. In desperation, the Japanese launched kamikaze attacks, of which many were in Zeros, but all that did was waste men and machines. Jackson briefly mentions captured Zeros used by other nations after the war and lists the top Japanese aces.
So much for the history of the Zero. Jackson dwells a bit too much on context and the Allies fighting the Zeros rather than the Zero pilots in success and failure, but that is not a significant flaw in a book of this kind. The joy of this book, however, is in the artwork and modelling sections. The colour illustrations of Zeros are out the top drawer as are the many photographs of them. Jackson’s modelling section is thorough with a history of model kits and photographs of some of them built to extraordinarily high standards. Modellers interested in building a Zero will love this book, while those of us who just enjoy the aesthetics of the plane and want some background on it will enjoy this book too.