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BOOK REVIEW: The Battle of Znaim

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Wednesday, August 5, 2020

BOOK REVIEW: The Battle of Znaim

by John Gill. Hardback. 486 pages.

Subtitled: Napoleon, the Habsburgs, and the End of the War of 1809.

The author of the brilliant Thunder on the Danube trilogy about the 1809 war between Austria and France brings the war to a conclusion with the post-Wagram Battle of Znaim.


The first 100 pages traces the origins of the 1809 war and offers a quick overview of the campaign in Bavaria and Italy as well as a nice synopsis of the Battle of Wagram. It all sets up the Austrian retreat and French pursuit that resulted in the July 10-11 pinning action in and around the town of Znaim.

Gill brings you inside the command tents of Archduke Charles and Napoleon, explaining the multitude of options, hopes, and fears that descended on the commanders in chief and their senior commanders. Better yet, you also get the political influences, and especially the Austrian infighting, that accompany Archduke Charles and Napoleon as they weigh battle versus the fragmentation of their armies in retreat and pursuit.

The book is exceptionally well organized and crafted, with Gill's sparkling prose explaining events with a smooth mixture of novel-like heat and cool analysis. The endnotes alone cover pages 335 to 383, followed by various appendices, including the Order of Battle.

The book contains a full Order of Battle for Znaim, and for you Wagram buffs, a new and improved OOB of that battle, too. Did I mention that the OOBs contain not only unit names and numbers, but the number of battalions, and barring some exceptions, the number of troops in each regiment? Well done, that!

And let's talk maps! The book contains 22 black and white maps, far more than the usual half-dozen in most battle books. Better yet, they all have a scale on them -- apparently no small achievement in publisher cartography. And bestest of the bestest, you can actually find towns mentioned in the text on the maps! It's almost as if author and publisher heard the lament of wargamers and decided to go that extra step.

Great prose. Great research. Great maps. Great OOBs. Great book.

Enjoyed it!

Tags:  Napoleonic 

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BOOK REVIEWS: The Third SS Panzer Regiment: 3rd SS Panzer Division Totenkopf

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Wednesday, August 5, 2020

BOOK REVIEWS: The Third SS Panzer Regiment: 3rd SS Panzer Division Totenkopf

by Pierre Tiquet. Softcover. 128 pages.

Another in the Casemate Illustrated History series covers the 3rd Panzer Regiment of the 3rd SS Panzer Division (Totenkopf), from its formation in November 1942 in France to its final surrender in 1945. It consists almost entirely of first-person accounts, mostly about combat, and a multitude of photos and illustrations. As such, it offers a gunner's slit eye-view of the war.

Totenkopf was formed in 1939 from concentration camp guards and a 'sprinkling' of SS militia that had served in Poland. The book omits any mention of SS atrocities. After losing 80% of its troops during the 1941-1942 winter in the Soviet Union, it was sent to France in October and expanded into division status with the addition of a tank battalion, later the 3rd SS Panzer Regiment.

Casemate packs a lot of combat details into the book, mostly because the first-person accounts are in a smaller font, which means you get a comprehensive look at combat. Lots of profiles of individual soldiers and officers, complete with home front photos.

Some events seem too strange to believe, not to mention being tough to replicate on a tabletop. One tank commander, pestered by Soviet MGs, ordered the tank to drive right in front of the MG nest and had the gunner pull the pin on two M39 grenades, which the commander tossed out the open turret hatch to destroy the MG and crew. He repeated this MG nest-killing maneuver several times (p46). Not sure of the tank type, but it was likely a Panzer III.

Many of the accounts note the numerous attacks that hit mine fields. Most of the mines that detonate don't injure crew, but often blow a track, wheel, or part of the suspension, requiring a wait for a repair crew.

Of all the photos, the one with Adolf Sowe wearing sunglasses (p53) struck me as the most unusual -- you don't see too many photos of WWII soldiers with sunglasses.

Amazing friendly fire incident on August 1, 1943: As German tanks finally took a hill, massive Soviet infantry unit formed up to take it back. Just as the tankers could not hold out much longer, nine Stukas appeared and plastered the Soviets. Still, the Soviets prepared to get up and take the hill -- until Soviet aircraft arrived. To the Germans' relief, the Soviet aircraft bombed their own troops (p64). One for the scatter die mechanic.

All this text is supplemented with 172 black and white photos, 30 color photos, and four color side profiles (Pz III, IV, V, and VI).

If you are looking for first-person accounts of panzer warfare, here's one for your library.

Enjoyed it.

Tags:  Eastern Front  Tanks  Vehicles  WW2  WWII 

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BOOK REVIEW: Pacific Adversaries: Volume II

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Wednesday, August 5, 2020

BOOK REVIEW: Pacific Adversaries: Volume II

by Michael John Claringbould. Softcover. 107 pages.

Subtitled: Imperial Japanese Navy vs The Allies - New Guinea & the Solomons 1942-1944. Volume I covered the Japanese Army air force actions.

The 15 main chapters highlight 15 air battles between Japanese Naval aircraft and US and UK aircraft in the Pacific. Each one offers the cockpit-eye-view of the action, tailor-made for aerial scenarios on the tabletop.

The key to these vignettes is the author’s combining and comparing Japanese and Allied records of these 15 dogfights to get the ‘real story’ versus the pilots’ claims. You'll really get a kick out of the claimed enemy planes shot down versus the actual downed aircraft -- on both sides.

Included: 52 black and white photos, eight color photos, five color maps, five color illustrations, and 57 color profiles (mostly side views) of the aircraft described in the chapters.

Fast action. Well written. Details for tabletop scenarios.

Enjoyed it.

Tags:  Air  Asia-Pacific  WW2  WWII 

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BOOK REVIEW: Supermarine Seafire: Fleet Air Arm Legends # 1

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Wednesday, August 5, 2020

BOOK REVIEW: Supermarine Seafire: Fleet Air Arm Legends # 1

by Matthew Willis. Softcover. 114 pages.

The Spitfire garners all the glory, but the naval variant called the Seafire populated British aircraft carrier decks for operations in the Mediterranean and North Seas, plus some action during the latter part of the war in the Pacific.

This compact overview covers the development of the aircraft after early war difficulties pointed out the need for a better naval fighter. It had its teething problems that never quite went away, but it proved worthy enough to take on the Luftwaffe from time to time.

Among its biggest problems was a propensity for 'floating' over the capture cables and into the barriers or just nosing over when the pilot managed to snag the cable (plenty of photos of crashes). It's range was especially short, so it was more a CAP fighter over the carriers and convoys than escort fighter, and it was especially touchy to fly.

The book includes 124 black and white photos, one black and white illustration, 10 color photos, and 13 color side profiles with a variety of camouflage colorings. Short. Sweet.

Enjoyed it.

Tags:  Air  Asia-Pacific  Western Front  WW2  WWII 

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BOOK REVIEW: The End is Always Near: Apocalyptic Moments

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Wednesday, August 5, 2020

BOOK REVIEW: The End is Always Near: Apocalyptic Moments from the Bronze Age Collapse to Nuclear Near Misses

by Dan Carlin. Hardback. 270 pages.

The author hosts a podcast called Hardcore History and this book consists of a number of historical 'vignettes' of civilizations facing collapse of one sort or another. Each type of collapse, like barbarian conquest of the Roman Empire or near nuclear Armageddon during the Cuban Missile Crisis, is a chapter, and Carlin recounts the actions of various individuals and groups that hastened or mitigated various disasters.

How 'hardcore' you find the information reflects your level of reading over the years. Since the "H" in HMGS stands for "Historical," I submit we as a collective whole are far better read in history overall, and military history in specific, than the general population. So, much of this won't surprise most of us, per se, although books almost always offer something new to learn. I particularly liked the chapter on the fall of the Assyrian Empire.

That said, I had one big problem with the book -- continuous interruptions in the text with what I call "asterisked asides." You're cruising along and hit an asterisk, or a cross, or a double cross, or some other dingbat that sends you to the bottom of the page for more info. Half the time, it's some extraneous off-topic comment. Every once in a while, one of these asides will yield a nugget, but you'll wade through the many to get to the few.

This might work in a verbal podcast, but it is a continuity killer in a printed book. It's not crappy writing, because the overall prose is just fine, but it is lazy writing, because if the info was truly important, it should be woven into the prose. The constant yo-yoing up and down the page is tiring.

If you can somehow get around the yo-yoing prose, you'll find an expansive book on apocalyptic topics. With the annoying yo-yo caveat, enjoyed it.

Tags:  Ancient  Cuban Missile Crisis  Modern  Roman Empire 

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BOOK REVIEW: The Petlyakov PE-2: Stalin's Successful Red Air Force Light Bomber

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Wednesday, August 5, 2020

BOOK REVIEW: The Petlyakov PE-2: Stalin's Successful Red Air Force Light Bomber

by Peter C. Smith. Hardback. 436 pages.

Just about everything you wanted to know about the PE-2 is packed into this book, from its development by Vladimir Petlyakov, who had been imprisoned for (bogus) anti-Soviet activities, to its front-line use, to first-person accounts (including an all-woman squadron), to specs, variants, pilot profiles, and factory production and deployments.

This twin-engine dive bomber had a checkered beginning and could be difficult to fly. New pilots wracked up an impressive accident rate, but in the hands of a seasoned pilot, it proved accurate and deadly.

The book includes 151 black and white photos, 23 black and white illustration, and one black and white map.

You have to watch the Soviet propaganda in the first-person accounts and official write-ups, but otherwise, it contains a wealth of factoids and events. The 261st Bomber Squadron was created as a penal air unit with assorted (bogus) 'slackers' accused of insubordination and cowardice, but after a discreet amount of time, was rehabilitated and the penal moniker removed (p115-116).

I never knew the Soviets attacked the Tirpitz in Norway, unsuccessfully, but attack they did (p132-133). Of import to modelers, a chapter discusses color camouflage schemes (p265-271).

Enjoyed it.

Tags:  Air  Eastern Front  Photography  WW2 

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BOOK REVIEW: Tiger Battalion 507

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Wednesday, August 5, 2020

BOOK REVIEW: Tiger Battalion 507

Edited by Helmut Schneider. Hardback. 274 pages.

Originally published in German in 2016, this 2020 English translation covers WWII German Tiger Battalion 507 from its inception in 1943 to its surrender in 1945. The years 1943 and 1944 saw it equipped with Tiger Is on the Eastern Front. After its destruction, the unit was reconstituted in early 1945 with Tiger IIs and sent to the Western Front.

Much of the book consists of first-person recollections, diary accounts, and post-war commentary by some of the men who served in the unit. As with all such books, you can glean a new tidbit or two from the turret-eye view of various combats.

I was amazed to read of the many times that a Tiger would be immobilized, usually through AT fire, but sometimes artillery, mines, or just plain mechanical breakdown, and another Tiger would pull up, open up a hatch, and let the survivors pile into the tank. Sometimes, the 'rescue' Tiger would tow the immobilized Tiger away back to the repair workshops.

On June 4, 1944, the editor was ordered to build a 'sandbox' -- a hole 4x6 meters and filled with sand. Then, he had to "cut out houses and panzers to put on it and much else" (p73) to be used as a training wargame. The actual use of said sandbox is not recorded.

As the German Army disintegrated towards the end of the war, the editor, who started out as a private and was by now experienced at all the positions in a Tiger, was promoted to junior lieutenant and sent back to officer school, where he was transferred into the panzer grenadiers and given a bicycle and panzerfaust (p79) -- and that's how he ended the war, a peddling panzerfauster. Now there's a come down from manning a Tiger.

For all you wargamers out there, among the accounts are: destroying a Soviet tank at 1200m, which is nothing too out of the ordinary, destroying an AT gun at 2200m (p81), and, although very hard to believe and labeled a 'fluke shot' in the text, destroying a tank at 8,000m (yes, eight thousand) using an elevated gun and a best guess on leading the target (p168). I can hear the tabletop treadheads screaming for longer ranges already...

The book also contains 189 black and white photos, one black and white illustration, and 11 black and white maps.

You get a lot of tactical tips, a sense of the frustrations of mechanical defects, and very little about how the overall war turned against Germany. It's all tactical action and little strategic analysis. It reads well for an English translation, so kudos to the translator Geoffrey Brooks. Enjoyed it.

Tags:  Eastern Front  Photography  Tanks  Western Front  WW2  WWII 

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BOOK REVIEW: Day Fighter Aces of the Luftwaffe: 1939-1942

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Wednesday, August 5, 2020

BOOK REVIEW: Day Fighter Aces of the Luftwaffe: 1939-1942 (Casemate Illustrated series)

by Neil Page. Softcover. 128 pages.

This mix of first-person accounts, unit histories, and short bios of Luftwaffe aces (and the Luftwaffe had lots and lots of aces) covers the Eastern, Western, and Mediterranean fronts. Once the 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union rolls around, the victory tallies start to skyrocket -- so much so that just being an ace wasn't enough to earn the Knight's Cross -- you had to shoot down 50 planes on the Eastern Front.

The focus centers on the aces, including a multitude of missions that might make for good tabletop scenarios. The book contains 169 black and white photos, 12 color photos, and nine ME-109 color aircraft profiles of various aces. Most of the photos show the aces posing beside aircraft or examining aircraft that made belly landings.

As for tidbits of interest, Lt. Krug was shot down over England on Sep 7, 1940 and sent off to a POW camp in Canada. He escaped Apr 16, 1942, avoided capture and made it across the border into the US, aided by an unidentified restaurant owner in Detroit. Krug headed to Mexico, but was captured in Texas on May 1 and sent back to Canada. The restauranteur was given life in prison (p33).

Lt. Ebeling was shot down over England on Nov 5, 1940 -- the same day he was awarded the Knight's Cross for his 18 aerial victories -- and later presented to him in the Canadian POW camp (p52).

Reinhard Heydrich, yes, that SS Gruppenfuhrer Heydrich, apparently flew a ME-109 in combat with JG 77, including being shot down in Russia, and received a pin usually given out for 60 missions. Hitler learned of this award and immediately forbade Heydrich from flying combat missions (p72).

As for easy kills in 1941 turning into more difficult flying in 1942, no less than 20 German aces with 40+ kills each were shot down and lost on the Eastern Front between June and November 1942 (p100).

The book offers an interesting overview of the exploits of the Luftwaffe's aces in the first half of the war.

Enjoyed it.

Tags:  Air  Photography  WW2  WWII 

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BOOK REVIEW: Day Fighter Aces of the Luftwaffe: 1943-1945

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Wednesday, August 5, 2020

BOOK REVIEW: Day Fighter Aces of the Luftwaffe: 1943-1945 (Casemate Illustrated series)

by Neil Page. Softcover. 128 pages.

This book continues the overview of Luftwaffe aces in the second half of the war as they battled every more numerous and competent Allied pilots and aircraft. It contains 182 black and white photos, four color photos, and nine ME-109 and FW-190 color aircraft profiles of various aces.

Enjoyed this one, too.

Tags:  Air  Photography  WW2 

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BOOK REVIEW: U.S. Army Ambulances & Medical Vehicles in World War II

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Wednesday, August 5, 2020

BOOK REVIEW: U.S. Army Ambulances & Medical Vehicles in World War II

by Didier Andres. Hardback (8.25x10.25 inches). 160 pages.


This entry into the Casemate Illustrated History series covers exactly what the titles describes. Wargamers don't often consider casualty extraction in tabletop gaming, but it you want to see the wide variety of vehicles used, this is your book.

Technically, the 378 black and white photos, 16 color photos, and five color vehicle markings profiles extend from the late 1930s to the Korean War in the 1950s. The vast majority of illustrations cover the multitude of WWII configurations used by the US Army, including 'reverse lend-lease' Austin medical buses from the UK, jeeps, the 4x4 Dodge panel truck, DUKWs, Weasels, and more. A dioramist has much to choose from, including non-standard use of marking and insignia, and even a couple of pin-ups (p130).

From ambulances to dental vans to blood container haulers, if it's medical, it seems to be in here. Enjoyed it.

Tags:  Photography  Vehicles  WW2  WWII 

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