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BOOK REVIEW: Monguls, Huns & Vikings

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Thursday, August 15, 2019

Another from the MagWeb vault...

BOOK REVIEW: Monguls, Huns & Vikings

by Hugh Kennedy

The title should include "Arabs" and "Turks" as they make up one-third of the book, although the title would be too long. The theme running through the book centers on the rise and fall of the nomadic empires. They combined mobility, firepower, and ruthlessness to defeat "civilized" armies, but ultimately, could not offer the stability for technological prowess. The rise of gunpowder doomed them, and they fractured, faded away, or were forced to submit to other empires.

Kennedy offers a broad overview of each of these nomadic peoples, which is a good introduction. Obviously, it pales before a book about one of the peoples. For example, The Devils Horsemen (about Mongols) goes into far more depth than the portion of Monguls, Huns & Vikings devotes to Mongols. The two pair up fact-wise, but single topic books will usually carry more info then compilations. The illustrations are excellent and complement the text.

Like all books in the Cassell History of Warfare Series, you can't go wrong with a broad overview for an introduction to Monguls, Huns, Vikings, Arabs, and Turks.

Tags:  Dark Ages  Medieval 

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BOOK REVIEW: The Devil's Horsemen: The Mongol Invasion of Europe

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Thursday, August 15, 2019
Another from the MagWeb vault...

BOOK REVIEW: The Devil's Horsemen: The Mongol Invasion of Europe

By James Chambers

This reprint of the 1979 book offers an illuminating look at the Mongol warfare of Genghis Khan as it swept from East to West. On Christmas Day, 1241, a portion of the horde crossed the Danube and headed towards the balkanized kingdoms of Western Europe. Had it not been for the death of the great Khan, it's possible the horde would have reached the Atlantic Ocean. After all, few Kingdoms had resisted a first attack and none had survived a second.

Chambers weaves an impressive tale of power and prowess as he traces the Mongol conquest of Asia and eastern Europe. The army had perfected encirclement tactics on the steppes, and used conquered engineers and specialists for sieges. The more they conquered, the stronger they became. Simultaneously with the attack into Europe came an attack into the Middle East--fascinating examination since so little is known about the campaign in the West.

However, the Mongol empire, like those before it, suffered the fatal flaw of infighting, and the once coordinated movements devolved into individual power ploys. Twin losses at Ain Jalut and Hims ended Mongol advances in the Middle East, while weather and internecine warfare halted the European invasion in Transylvania and Poland.

Chambers offers an excellent book about a little known subject.

Tags:  Dark Ages  Medieval 

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BOOK REVIEWS: Flyby of Six Aircraft Books

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Monday, August 12, 2019

BOOK REVIEWS: Flyby of Six Aircraft Books

I should note that I was in the right place and right time to scarf up the following used WWII aircraft books for $1 each. Of interest was performing some spot comparisons of specifications in each book for a couple of the same aircraft. Just about everything was identical, but each book added, subtracted, or refined different specs. Just shows it's good to cross reference several sources when you're researching specifications. Most of them offered great painting references.

German War Birds: From World War 1 to NATO Ally

by K Munson. An older book (1986) with 113 aircraft profiles -- 58 WWI, 51 interwar/WWII, and four 1960s-1970s-era NATO -- each with specifications, history/anecdotes, and multiple marvelous sideview and top/bottom color illustrations. Top/Bottom meant that half the airplane is seen from the top down and the other half from the bottom up. The history and anecdotes were interesting; especially for WWI aircraft I never knew existed. Enjoyed it.

The Pocket Encyclopedia of Bombers at War

by Kenneth Munson. Compiled from two Munson books, it contained 150 pages of full color illustrations covering 147 different bombers of WWI and WWII. Short development history plus specs with great color illustrations (side plus top/bottom) plus additional details inserted in the text. Enjoyed it.

World War II Airplanes: Volume 1 (Rand McNally)

by Enzo Angelucci and Paolo Matricardi. This 1976 book covers European aircraft. Presumably Volume 2 covers US, USSR, Japan, and other countries. Digest sized, with fantastic full-color 3/4 illustrations and specifications of each major combat aircraft: 45 UK, 44 German, 34 Italian, 19 French, 3 Czech, 4 Netherlands, 3 Polish, 2 Swedish, 2 Yugoslavian, 1 Romanian, 1 Belgian, and 1 Finnish. Included foreign-made aircraft in service to the above countries, short section on camouflage patterns, and short, illustrated sections on engines. Short histories of the aircraft proved interesting enough. Enjoyed it.

British Aircraft of World War II

by David Mondey. This 1994 (originally published in 1982) book provided information and specifications on 113 UK aircraft. Provided 86 diagrams, 204 magnificent color illustrations (side, top, and front), and 126 photos. Short histories of aircraft included anecdotes of note. Enjoyed it.

British Aircraft of World War II

by John Frayn Turner. A 1976 book. No drawings, but plenty of photographs, including a central section with color photos. Covered 49 aircraft, many with variations, and including US models flown by the RAF, with short histories, specifications, and a number of Victoria Cross anecdotes. Last section contained 13 more extensive write-ups of various missions, including dam busters, sink the Bismarck, and so on. Hit or miss at times, but generally enjoyed it.

Brassey's Air Combat Reader: Historic Feats and Aviation Legends

edited by Walter J. Boyne and Philip Handleman. Offered 28 recaps of fighter, bomber, and rescue missions from WWI through Gulf War. Usual bell curve mix of good, bad, and ugly ranging from great writing to skipping to the next chapter.

 Attached Thumbnails:

Tags:  Air  reviews  WW2  WWII 

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BOOK REVIEW: The British at the Gates: The New Orleans Campaign in the War of 1812

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Monday, August 12, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: The British at the Gates: The New Orleans Campaign in the War of 1812

by Robin Reilly

The first half of this older book (1974), about 150 pages or so, provided a good overview of the causes of the War of 1812 and various campaigns and failed diplomatic efforts to end the war. The second half covered the actual British campaign to take New Orleans, including the frontal assault against Andrew Jackson's mud-wall fortifications stretching from Mississippi River to cypress swamps. More maps would be helpful. Nice OOB buried in the text.

Enjoyed it.

Tags:  1812 

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BOOK REVIEW: The First Crusade

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Monday, August 12, 2019
BOOK REVIEW: The First Crusade

by Steven Runciman.

This 1980 book offered an abridged version of the three-volume 1951 work and provided the political and religious intrigue behind the crusade. Battle descriptions were truncated, but at least it noted a full range of actions to choose from if you wanted to do more research for tabletop skirmishes, sieges, and full battles. Well illustrated with b/w drawings and photos throughout with some color (mostly illustrations from illuminated manuscripts -- nice touch).

Slow in the beginning but ultimately enjoyed it.

Tags:  Medieval 

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BOOK REVIEW: Rebel Brass: The Confederate Command System

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Monday, August 12, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Rebel Brass: The Confederate Command System

by Frank E. Vandiver.

A small, short, 126-page book from LSU Press in 1952 read like a stream of consciousness than scholarly tome. It offered an overview of the upper echelons of the CSA executive branch, from President Jefferson Davis through the multiple secretaries of Army and Navy, army commanders, and a few other key men, and their often tumultuous interactions with each other. Occasional bright spots of leadership, but it's a wonder anything got done -- and was often done ineptly.

Not a detailed look, but enjoyed the broad overview.

Tags:  American Civil War 

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BOOK REVIEW: Barbarians Within the Gates of Rome: A Study of Roman Military Policy and the Barbarians Circa 375-425 A.D.

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Monday, August 5, 2019

From the MagWeb vault...

BOOK REVIEW: Barbarians Within the Gates of Rome: A Study of Roman Military Policy and the Barbarians Circa 375-425 A.D.

by Thomas S. Burns

The "fall of the Roman Empire" is much like the fall of the Roman Republic--not so much one defining event as it is a series of gradual changes over a number of years. In Barbarians Within the Gates of Rome, Professor Thomas Burns analyzes a crucial period of 50 years to explain how the Roman military institutions evolved--or devolved if you prefer--from the unified legionary system of early and mid-empire to the fragmented barbarian discord of late empire.

Burns concentrates on the western half of the empire in analyzing the influence of "barbarians" on the "Roman" military system. The eastern half, though pressed, retained command and control long after the west collapsed. He argues persuasively that the Roman empire suffered not from any one particular calamity, for example, the disastrous loss at the Battle of Adrianople or the sack of Rome, but a steady erosion of Roman military culture resulting from interlinked internal economic, political, and demographic pressures. Indeed, he contends the policies used to deal with such pressures were typical Roman responses that had served the Republic and Empire well for a thousand years. However, while each individual decision and modification served to perpetuate Roman civilization, the collective weight of these decisions ultimately crushed the system it strove to protect.

Under Pressure

The growing influence of barbarians in the Roman army stems from recruitment problems in the core areas of the Empire. In the glory days of Republic and Empire, the Romans used barbarians as specialized forces, for example, the bulk of the cavalry, while the legions contained citizens, or auxiliaries who were granted citizenship at the end of a two-decade tour of duty. Yet in the later stages of empire, those core areas that used to pump out legionnaires increasingly came under the influence of wealthy landowners who retained immense agricultural help--and forced recruiting officers to look to the frontiers for Roman soldiers.

The Roman emperors often allowed barbarians to cross the frontier and settle on uninhabited lands inside the empire to boost the supply of soldiers and taxable wealth. Burns says this was consistant with the Roman practice of "receptio," roughly translated as surrender. However, as increased numbers of barbarians entered the empire, they had little acclimation to the Roman culture and even fewer ties to supporting the political structure.

As recruitment increased to counteract "barbarian" invasions from the outside and usurper "invasions" from the inside, the military practices of earlier generations, for example, dispersing recruits across the empire and extensive training in the Roman method of warfare, fell by the wayside. Since military power often equated with political power, barbarian leaders who could deliver the troops gained political prominence, further weakening the unifying force of Roman military culture within the army.

Chapter 5 offers an exceptional view of the recruitment, garrison, and deployment procedures in a frontier province near Italy. Backed by archeological discoveries such as grave finds and other excavations, Burns neatly advances his arguments. There is a danger of speculation by using one province and applying it to half the empire, yet Burns makes the case that all frontier provinces suffered the same fate.

Refreshing and Dry

It is refreshing to discover that Burns doesn't pretend to know everything--and indeed he admits that the archeological and literary evidence (thankfully translated into English) are often in short supply. However, he carefully constructs likely scenarios and hypotheses and offers explanations. For example (sans footnotes):

    Gratian went east in 382 as far as Viminacium in Moesia I, which probably was still within eastern jurisdiction, where he issued edicts on 5 July 382. Why Gratian was in Viminacium in 382 is a bit of a mystery, His rapid pace (not longer than two weeks between Padua and Viminacium) seems to preclude any type of military movement. Since as late as 20 June 382 Gratian was in Padua, he certainly had no trouble getting to Viminacium. If indeed Theodosius joined him there, neither did he. No army could have moved so swiftly. It is possible that Gratian hoped to meet Theodosius, but something came up and he departed after receiving only a messenger from Constantinople. Gratian could not have played any major part in a Balkan campaign. He merely turned around and returned to Italy. Illyricum was largely pacified. (p. 87-88)

A couple of footnotes within this paragraph expand on this paragraph with supplementary evidence about when and where edicts were issued. Here is Burns' strength: historical analysis mixed with literary and archeological evidence. This example was part of Gratian's role or not in Balkan military operations. When Burns tackles minutiae, he tackles it with élan and a fine grasp of not only the specific movements and policy decisions, but the interpretation of those movements and decisions.

Or take this example, in which Burns contrasts old and new practices:

    The processes of agrarian evolution to less labor-intensive crops to supply the towns and garrisons had begun in many areas of the West long before. With it came even greater difficulties in tax collection, decried repeatedly in the law codes. Nor was the problem essentially demographic or social response to military service whereby men avoided or refused service through a variety of means. The legendary citizen-soldiers of the Republic who fought without pay for family and friends were dust in their graves. Not even Vegetius could conjure up their shades as he longed for a return of the army of Julius Caesar. The limitanei and barbarian auxiliaries were about as close to those old soldiers as the times could provide...The armies of the day were small and incapable of grand operations. Even their annihilation, which never occurred, would not have drastically changed the situation. Stilicho feverishly manipulated the military and political structures to balance and control the rapidly deteriorating imperial system. (p.202)

However, without such analysis, Burns' narrative turns into a dry recitation of movement--a swirling mixture of names, places, and dates. While not exactly uninspiring, it tends to be dry and requires considerable concentration.

Battles and Leaders

Note that Barbarians Within the Gates of Rome is not about detailed battle plans, tactics, orders of battle, and the like. It is an analysis of the military structure, and the evolution thereof, of the western empire of Rome. What battle descriptions it contains, such as Adrianople, are brief and tied--rightfully so--to the overall premise.

Summary

The leap from "Hannibal et portas" (Hannibal at the Gate [of Rome]) to barbarians inside the gates is as dramatic as it is long. By focusing on a narrow point in time, Burns concentrates his considerable analytical powers on the crucial period of military evolution. He details the creeping instability of reforms and compromises that fragmented the unified Roman imperial state into numerous independent barbarian kingdoms with feudal warlord mentalities. Barbarians Within the Gates of Rome offers exceptional insight, backed by solid historical evidence, into that process. Burns' touch, while not always deft, brings us greater understanding about the processes of decline and the ultimately doomed efforts to restore the Roman empire. It is a much more complex subject to tackle than relating an individual battle or campaign, and he melds the elements of archeological finds, literary extracts, and analytical speculation into a coherent body of knowledge examining the late Roman military establishment.

Tags:  Ancient 

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BOOK REVIEW: Boiotia and the Boiotian League

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Monday, August 5, 2019

From the MagWeb vault...

BOOK REVIEW: Boiotia and the Boiotian League: 423-371 B.C.

by Robert J. Buck

I picked this up from a discount rack for a few dollars on the strength of its title. The period covered a number of internecine and inter-city-state wars.

Sadly, the military aspects of these wars receive scant attention. This is primarily a political book, which is helpful for background information. Battles garner a sentence or two, and campaigns get a paragraph--mostly about which cities changed hands and when. Numbers are rarely used.

As Boiotian background, this is fantastic. As military history, it merits but a fleeting mention.

Tags:  Ancient 

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BOOK REVIEW: Hannibal

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Monday, August 5, 2019

From the MagWeb vault...

BOOK REVIEW: Hannibal

by G.P. Baker

Reprint of 1929 book does an excellent job of furthering information about Hannibal. Favorable bio treads well worn ground with crisp prose and confident conclusions.

Dodge, Baker, and Grant are three of my favorite authors. Years and new archaeology/scholarship may make some of their conclusions obsolete, but you can’t beat them for a firm grounding in the essence of classical history. Baker’s Hannibal is a keeper.

Tags:  Ancient 

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BOOK REVIEW: Augustus: The Golden Age of Rome

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Monday, August 5, 2019

From the MagWeb vault...

BOOK REVIEW: Augustus: The Golden Age of Rome

by G.P. Baker

Cooper Square Press, 2000, $18.95, ISBN 0-8154-1089-1, 324 pages

This reprint of the 1937 edition reads pretty well after 63 years, and although scholars may have added archaeological evidence since then, the portrait of the first Roman Emperor--with apologies to Julius Caesar--remains an excellent source of information. Baker weaves a sympathetic portrait of this teenager thrust into the limelight after the assassination of Julius. How Octavian plays the political game makes for an incredible story and Baker tells it well.

Baker also outlines the reasoning behind the events, detailing the options and outcomes of political maneuverings and social reconstruction in the wake of becoming heir to Julius and emperor in his own right.

"The new attitude..., which Augustus helped to make fashionable where his influence penetrated...Not to worry, nor to attribute importance to trifles, to have faith in good sense, and to hold ourselves quiet; to follow our own genius and to enjoy what we really like best-and to accept the consequences, concerning which we most of us have shrewder ideas than we are willing to admit-this was the new attitude; perhaps a little puzzling at first until we have grasped its implications...To avoid extremes and take the middle road was the whole theory on which Augustus had worked." (page 277)

Battles and campaigns receive adequate coverage for a one-volume biography. Certainly the battle of Philippi is explained, as is the siege of Perusia, and the running campaign against Sextius Pompeius. But while important, the focus remains on Augustus' efforts to bring peace and usher in a golden age. How ironic that a man who began with a civil war against the aristocrats who had killed Julius, followed by an even larger civil war against Mark Anthony, as well as continual skirmishes and campaigns against external enemies, would also be known for his improved administration, revamped constitution, and transition from civil war to civil peace.

Late in life, he remarked that he had found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city of marble. Baker's ode to Augustus is a favorable one.

Enjoyed it.

Tags:  Ancient 

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