Kerry Jang, Victory 100-Gun First Rate 1765 (Seaforth, 2022)
She is perhaps the most famous warship ever to fly the British flag, and she has been modelled in many scales and mediums since she first took to the high seas. HMS Victory was Nelson’s flagship, a 100 gun behemoth of her day capable of taking on the finest France or Spain had to offer. In Kerry Jang’s slim, magazine style book in the Shipcraft series, he surveys HMS Victory and offers advice on how to model this once mighty ship.
Jang begins with the design and construction, which is a bit more than the expected dry specifications of the warship and includes technical drawings and a model of Chatham dockyard where she was built in the 1760s. The he gets into Victory’s long career. And what a career that was, culminating, of course, in the Battle of Trafalgar in October1805. After being paid off and deteriorating, though still in dock at Portsmouth, Victory was restored and opened to the public in 1928 where she sits today, the perfect modellers reference.
Speaking of which, Jang devotes the rest of his guide to modelling, beginning with the problems likely to be encountered, most notably the rigging. Jang surveys some of the kits on the market for Victory from 1/1200 scale through 1/700 to Heller’s 1/100 scale in plastic, then the wooden kits, which to this potato-fingered modeller look mind-boggling. Up next is a photographic tour of Etsuro Tsuboi’s stunning scratch-built 1/300 scale Victory; Kazunobu Shirai’s magnificent 1/48 scale rendering; and Daniel Fischer’s jaw dropping construction of the Heller kit complete with crew! Jang goes on to survey how Victory has been modelled over the centuries since she was launched, allowing us to compare different appearances and modifications. Serious modellers will enjoy the section on how Victory has been painted – again, not as dry a subject as you might think. That is followed by some graphic design style illustrations for Victory. A useful little bibliography concludes Jang’s book.
I enjoyed everything about this book, from the background information and bibliography for further reading to the colour photographs of stunning models with details that make you exclaim “How did he do that?” Jang’s text is informative and well-written, but it is the modelling genius on display that captures the imagination in this excellent homage to an incredible ship.
Kerry Jang, Victory 100-Gun First Rate 1765 (Seaforth, 2022)
Tim Moreman, Japanese Conquest of Burma 1942 (Osprey, 2022)
The longest campaign of World War II took place in Burma. It occurred over three years in two main phases: a Japanese invasion and an Allied counter-invasion. It has long been known as ‘The Forgotten War’, but there is no need for that status now with many books on the Burma campaign recently published. For those late to the show, Tim Moreman’s engaging narrative takes you through the first phase of that incredible war within a war.
Nearly all traditional campaign narratives begin with the situation before the forces start moving. This one is no different. We find out how big Burma was and how poorly it was defended before the War broke out. Allied concerns grew, however, over the defence of the main road through Burma into Nationalist China. The Japanese were determined to cut it while seizing Burma in the process. British hubris over the strength of Singapore as a guard for their Far East possessions did not help matters, and they underestimated the Japanese at an almost fatal cost. Moreman considers the Allied commanders and forces and finds them wanting in almost all departments. The Japanese, on the other hand, were well organized and well led, and they had the superior air force.
It follows that the subsequent campaign was mostly one way traffic. Moreman guides us through this, from the initial Japanese invasion in December 1941 through the various battles that exhausted the Allies and sent them headlong in flight towards India. Along the way, he pauses to describe the Battle of the Sittang Bridge, the fall of Rangoon, the breakout from Yenangyaung, then the final withdrawal into India. Moreman then assesses the whole campaign from both sides and notes that while the campaign was a disaster for the Allies, they learned significant lessons that would prove useful in their counter-attack. But that’s a different story. A brief but poignant survey of the battlefield today closes Moreman’s book.
Tim Moreman’s neat and tidy but brief narrative of the opening stages of the Burma campaign is an enjoyable and informative read. But as with all ‘Ospreys’, it is the combination of text, photographs, lucid maps, and excellent colour illustrations that makes Moreman’s book an admirable foundation for students of World War II to satisfy their need to know while providing a useful platform for further research. You cannot really ask for more than that in this format.
M.C. Bishop, Roman Plate Armour (Osprey, 2022)
Pardon my ignorance, but I approached M.C. Bishop’s Roman Plate Armour with some scepticism: sixty pages on pointing out the obvious on something any casual observer of the Roman army would know about surely awaited. I was wrong! There is more to this iconic metal, personal defence system than meets the eye in this engaging and wonderfully illustrated little book.
Bishop opens with the often fallacious efforts to reconstruct Roman armour from Trajan’s Column in Rome. Therefore, much of what we thought we knew, we didn’t really, but that has now been rectified by archaeological finds in recent years. Bishop continues with a survey of armour from the Regal period, through the Republican era, and then into the Imperial period where we encounter the most famous of all Roman armour: the lorica segmentata with its familiar bands of metal attached at the back. Here too, however, there are variations in the segmentata, and Bishop walks us through the different types over three chapters. The first is the Kalkriese-type discovered as recently as 2018. Bishop describes the armour and its history, and he follows that method for the Corbridge-type and the Newstead-type. Bishop moves onto other forms of Roman plate armour, which are the hybrid forms; articulated armguards; muscled cuirasses worn by officers; greaves, worn singly on the leg advanced to the enemy; and chamfrons used to protect horses’ heads. How the Romans manufactured, decorated, and maintained their plate armour is our next destination, while the vital question of how this armour was used rounds off Bishop’s survey. He closes by returning to the continuing influence of Trajan’s Column on the legacy of Roman plate armour.
I won’t make any claims that Roman Plate Armour is a riveting read, but it is more interesting than the plain title promises. Bishop explains the nuances of this armour clearly, without disappearing into technical jargon, and his text is accompanied by Osprey’s usual excellent artwork, mostly showing the armour as worn in combat. There are also many photographs of archaeological finds and reconstructions based on them. Students of the Roman army, keen to delve a wee bit deeper into the armour Roman soldiers wore, will get a lot out of Bishop’s book, but even those with a casual interest will find some surprises while enhancing their knowledge and dispelling some myths.
Tim Saunders, Salamanca Campaign 1812 (Pen & Sword, 2022)
The Battle of Salamanca was without doubt one of the British Army’s greatest victories in the Napoleonic Wars, though not without Allied help. It was a real ‘come from behind’ win that completely changed the Peninsular War’s course and helped drive the French out of Spain. It was also a brilliant tactical victory and one that showcased Wellington’s offensive genius. Now we have a new book on it, by Tim Saunders, using the latest evidence and told from the perspective of the men who fought the great battle.
Saunders sets us up on the Lines of the Torres Vedras and Wellington’s breakout that nearly failed. Considerable planning went into the Allied effort, including intelligence and logistics, before Wellington took the offensive. Saunders describes all that then gets into the opening moves of the campaign. This was a period of manoeuvring and skirmishing between two armies in close proximity with neither able to gain the upper hand. The French were undoubtedly gaining the upper hand, however, forcing the Allies into retreat. The cat-and mouse continued with Wellington running out of time to fight before French reinforcements arrived and he would have to retire to Portugal. Then came Marmont’s infamous error when he overextended his army so that his divisions could not support each other. Wellington attacked.
Saunders describes the ensuing battle, starting on the right wing where the French collapsed after an intense struggle. In the centre, things proved less clear cut, but the Allies eventually drove the French back there too. Saunders notes how only the night and Allied exhaustion saved the French, Salamanca was still a crushing defeat. Saunders then narrates the French strategic retreat, including the skirmishing and battles that continued across Spain. He closes with the Orders of Battle and Wellington’s dispatch for his great victory.
Salamanca Campaign is an excellent piece of battle history. Saunders writes well, keeping the narrative moving, but deftly steps back for the most part when required to allow the combatants to describe the action. That these are almost all English might be seen as a demerit, but that doesn’t detract from this account. The book is studded with clear maps, contemporary illustrations, and modern battlefield photographs. The numerous photographs of reenactors in Napoleonic uniforms are useful too, but the editorial decision to print them in monochrome is a severe disappointment. Nevertheless, this reviewer highly recommends this book for newcomers and those with a deeper interest in the Peninsular War campaigns.
Geoff Coughlin, McDonell Douglas F-4 Phantom (Pen & Sword, 2022)
‘You either love it, or you hate it’; so writes Geoff Coughlin about one of the most recognisable warplanes that ever saw combat. You can guess which side of the equation he is on in this lavishly illustrated guide to the F-4 Phantom.
Coughlin works his way through the design and development of the Phantom, including weapons and propulsion. The Navy and Marines snapped them up as the Vietnam War escalated, with the Navy in particular adopting bright, distinctive colour schemes as if to flaunt the power of the plane. The Royal Navy and RAF soon adopted the Phantom with some alterations. Other air forces that bought or received Phantoms included: Australia, Egypt, Germany, Greece, Iran, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Spain, and Turkey – Coughlin has photos of Phantoms from all of them. A section of graphic illustrations, showing camouflage and markings add to the excellent visual content. But the highlight of this book is the extended section on modelling Phantom kits. Coughlin is a modeller and highlights the plethora of Phantom kits on the market. He embarks on a trip through those different models, their positives, and their foibles. He is joined in this enterprise by other first-rate modellers and their spectacular finished kits.
Overall, this is a very attractive and informative survey of the Phantom F-4, and a useful addition to the Pen & Sword’s Flight Craft series. As a wee boy, I lived next to an RAF airfield, and I vividly remember the Phantoms roaring overhead on their way to intercept Soviet ‘Bears’. So, like Coughlin, I love Phantoms too! After reading his book, I might have to go out and buy a kit to build – I’m not sure I can cope with all the decals though!