Jon Diamond, The Liberation of the Philippines (Pen & Sword, 2021)
In this latest edition of Pen & Sword’s Images of War series, Jon Diamond surveys the United States’ clearance of the Japanese occupiers from the Philippines towards the end of World War II.
The connection between the USA and the Philippines stemmed from the US invasion of the archipelago in 1898. Diamond fast-forwards to the outbreak of WWII when the Philippines presented a major obstacle to Imperial Japan’s plans for expansion. Their inevitable invasion took place in December 1941 and caught the American and Philippines defenders almost completely unprepared; surrender and the horror of the Bataan death march followed. No one was more synonymous with this defeat than General Douglas MacArthur who escaped the enemy and vowed to return. He did, in 1944. The final three-quarters of this book tell that story in words and pictures. There are many photographs of US soldiers peering into underground bunkers; tanks, artillery, and mortars firing at enemy positions before the troops move in, some with flamethrowers; urban warfare; Japanese casualties; and naval and air operations in the Leyte Gulf. Diamond discusses the main commanders on both sides, and he acknowledges the role that ordinary Filipinos played in their own liberation. Diamond concludes by noting that when the atom bombs dropped on Japan, there were still 115,000 Japanese soldiers active in the Philippines. They did not surrender until 2 September. Some of his final photographs are of General MacArthur, who had returned but at an incredible cost to all involved in the occupation and liberation.
The Images of War series works well on two levels: as an introduction to the campaign or battle and as a visual supplement to other more in-depth works. Diamond’s contribution here satisfies both requirements. His text and photographs convey the magnitude of the fighting while keeping their sense of a very human conflict often fought at close quarters. What also comes across is the variety of combat situations the Americans and Filipinos encountered, and the range of tactics used to defeat the Japanese. This is therefore a solid addition to the Images of War series.
Jon Diamond, The Liberation of the Philippines (Pen & Sword, 2021)
Andrew Lucas & Jürgen Schmieschek, For King and Kaiser (Pen & Sword, 2020)
In For King and Kaiser, Andrew Lucas and Jürgen Schmieschek return to the Saxon army in the Great War that they first featured in Fighting the Kaiser’s War. They narrate the story of the war those soldiers experienced, using their words and photographs. The result is an absorbing account of men at war.
The chapters are preceded by a useful commentary on the text and photographs to follow. This begins with the introduction of trench warfare in 1914 as the Saxons settled in for their long war. We soon join the fighting in Ploegsteert Wood and First Ypres complete with maps, drawings, and first-hand accounts, one of which relates the story of the Christmas ‘truce’. We are also introduced to some of the Saxon soldiers through brief biographies. Diary entries linked by explanatory text, take us into Second Ypres. Life in the rear areas is also given its due coverage. We enter 1916, which is signaled by the photographs of well-constructed German trenches, far removed from the desperate scrapings of 1914. Canadian sources are introduced as the Saxon opponents to provide a more rounded picture, and the authors add another layer to that by discussing the barren and depressing environment the men fought in as the war continued into 1917 and the Third Battle of Ypres. Our authors again visit the Allied lines during 1917 to enhance our view of the fighting, then we are into 1918 and the crumbling German war effort despite the best efforts of the Saxons. The book concludes, fittingly, with a survey of remembrance and how the German post-war cemeteries were established.
This is a book that could have been a dud; there are no combat photographs, and the authors are considering a comparatively small section of the German army along a quite narrow front. The authors, however, do a remarkable job of extracting a considerable amount of information from their sources. The photographs and personal accounts are judiciously chosen and full of fascinating details. Even the posed unit photographs are laden with poignancy through being marked with little crosses to signify those killed in action. In addition, the modern photographs attach current readers to the experiences of those who fought and died. As an enthusiast of military history told from the ground up, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and learned a lot from it.
Dan Spencer, The Castle in the Wars of the Roses (Pen & Sword, 2020)
The Wars of the Roses were noteworthy for their colourful cast of characters competing for the English crown, savage battles decided by close combat, and crumbling codes of medieval chivalry when loyalty and treachery clashed. Castles seem to be conspicuously missing from the scene, treated as an anachronism by many contemporary and modern chroniclers. Dan Spencer is here to address that neglect and return castles to their rightful place in the Wars of the Roses tapestry.
Spencer begins with a helpful overview of castle development from William the Conqueror to the 15th Century, demonstrating their multifunctional purpose at the heart of English military, political, and economic life. He complements that with the background story leading into the Wars of the Roses in which besieged castles play their part. And that is how Spencer proceeds, weaving a mostly familiar narrative between unfamiliar locations and events. In following him, we visit castles the length and breadth of England and Wales – having lived in Northumberland, I found the stories of those castles particularly interesting. We also find out how sieges were conducted in war – thirty-six of them apparently – and how castles were built and modified in peace. Spencer concludes that castles played a significant role in the Wars of the Roses, though in some places and times more than others. He adds appendices on notable characters, recorded and possible sieges, and recorded garrisons. It is also worth noting that Spencer includes an excellent set of notes to accompany his text and a proper bibliography.
In some ways, this is a straightforward retelling of the Wars of the Roses narrative. But it’s as if Spencer has travelled down a different road to get there. He has written an engaging text full of those little side stories that make the Wars of the Roses so interesting outside of the more obvious dynastic powerplays. A collection of diagrams and colour plates of castles helps his cause. Readers of the Wars of the Roses and castles will enjoy this book and appreciate Spencer’s contribution to both fields.
Rene Chartrand, The Armies and Wars of the Sun King 1643 – 1715 Volume 3: The Cavalry of Louis XIV (Helion, 2020)
Helion, via the talents of Rene Chartrand, brings us the third volume on Louis XIV’s Army and the wars they fought. It describes the historical events from 1685 through to the end of the Wars of the league of Augsburg and the cavalry from 1643 through to 1715.
The author starts with the persecution of the Huguenots by Louis XIV, the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, and the impact that this had on the French and Dutch armies, with large numbers of civilians and soldiers fleeing France. He then rolls straight into the Jacobite Wars in Ireland pausing briefly to mention the Scottish Jacobite’s before coming to rest at the end of the Wars of the League of Augsburg. It is a bit of a whistle stop tour, but it covers the ground in an easy to understand manner and provides background for the main focus of the book, which is the description of the French cavalry.
The book comes into its own now, and Chartrand starts by covering the development of the Gendarmerie de France, which formed a brigade sitting between the line cavalry and the Guard. The organisation, weapons, equipment, and uniforms of the Line Cavalry, Dragoons, and Hussars are all covered in sequence, and there is a real wealth of detail in these chapters which will be of interest to many. There are a couple of chapters outwith the main theme: one covering the costs of the Kings Wars, indicating what a smooth operator Louis could be, and the other describing the much vaunted Wild Geese and their place in the French army.
The book, as with all the others in the series, is supported by a large number of illustrations. There are 32 colour plates, 5 of which were specially commissioned for the book and drawn by Ed Dovey, and very nice they are too. There are far too many period black and white illustrations for me to count, but they have been carefully selected and I found that they were the ones that I studied the most. The Appendices are a bit of a mixed bag but contain some useful information, including a list of uniform colours for the more important Line Cavalry and Dragoon Regiments.
Chartrand knows his stuff and he is able to share this with the reader in an easy to digest format. Recommended for those already familiar with the army of Louis XIV who either want more detailed information on the organisation of the French cavalry across the period, a wider view of the history of the wars of Louis XIV, or a bit of both.
(Reviewed by Mike Huston)
Timothy Venning, Royal Mysteries: The Medieval Period (Pen & Sword, 2021)
Who doesn’t love a mystery? Especially where a suspicious death is involved. Throw in our seemingly endless fascination with all things Royal, and you have the recipe for an absorbing book, perfect for those dark and stormy nights of Winter. Timothy Venning dips into the medieval era to tease readers with five enduring mysteries; most of them you will have heard of, but there are always new things to learn.
The mysteries begin with the accidental death of William II in August 1100, or was it? Did his brother Henry have him bumped off for the throne? Venning analyses motive, means, and opportunity – the classic trifecta for murder – using a series of sub-topic questions to drive the investigation. That creates a rather fractured structure, which isn’t helped by a cramped writing style that feels as if Venning is rushing through the story. The mystery of Edward II’s perhaps brutal demise follows. Venning takes more space to narrate Edward’s disastrous reign, leading to his overthrow, by his queen Isabella and her lover Mortimer, and subsequent death in September 1321. But did Edward cheat death and escape to a hermit’s life on the continent? Venning quite adroitly picks his way through the evidence, but as with all mysteries, we still don’t truly know what happened.
The reign of Richard II echoed that of Edward II I some respects, but we (almost) certainly know that the former died in January 1400. But how he died is the mystery: by his own hand or was he murdered? Again, Venning covers the background leading to Richard’s overthrow and picks his way through the resultant shenanigans, but this mystery somewhat peters out. Arguably the most famous medieval mystery is up next: the Princes in the Tower. Did Richard III have these two boys, his nephews, murdered in 1483, or did they survive? Modern day Richard supporters, Ricardians, argue for his innocence, but they swim against the tide of most contemporary and modern reporting. Venning’s final medieval mystery is the alleged bigamy of Edward IV. Why did he marry a woman of no political value away from prying eyes in 1464? This anticlimactic mystery is accorded the same treatment as the more violent and dramatic affairs but with the same outcome: we don’t really know but the search for answers continues.
Venning clearly knows his material when it comes to medieval royal mysteries, and despite some avoidable editing and proofreading errors, his text is engaging and informative. I suspect most medieval readers will be familiar with these mysteries, but they will probably come away knowing more than they did. Those not conversant, however, would probably appreciate more general background information to help follow the evidence Venning lays down. He also helpfully points readers in the right direction to dig more deeply into these condensed case studies. This is, therefore, a very good gateway book for the period that requires a little bit of effort by the reader.