Friday, December 8, 2017

I review almost exclusively history books (with rare exceptions). I will eagerly review any book having to do with antiaircraft or air defense. I am also interested in books on Africa, but again, mostly the history of the continent, especially in the 20th Century. Get in touch with me for more information. Most of my book reviews are also on Goodreads and Amazon.

German Night Fighter Force, 1917-1945 (Five Stars)

From 1940 on Germany faced the wrath of the RAF bomber command, which chose to conduct its raids on German cities at night. In response, the Luftwaffe not only increased the number of ground-based antiaircraft units but also formed dedicated night-fighter squadrons. Mr. Aders discusses the evolution of the force, from its reliance on sound detectors and searchlights to the employment of dedicated and purpose-built (sort of) fighters which could detect bomber streams and target individual enemy aircraft in the dark.

Aders book starts with World War One, which saw primitive aircraft attempting to intercept small-scale bomb raids at night. Prior to World War Two very little thought was put towards night fighting and when the Luftwaffe was created the emphasis was on attack, not defense. However, RAF bomber raids demanded a response and German fighter pilots were trained for the first time to fly on instruments only. From there, the history of the German night fighter force was largely one of improvisition and necessity. The Me110 was the first fighter to be relegated to the night fighter role after its disappointing performance during the Blitz. From then on the night fighter force usually employed obsolescent airframes, which, if they were lucky, had been somewhat modified for their new role. Superior aircraft designs were on the drawing board but with so many aircraft which could be used for night fighting (although not optimally) just sitting in storage or factories the Reich would not divert the resources from its limited manufacturing base for truly superior planes.

Aders clearly knows the topic. His book discusses personalities who were involved in the design of Germany's air defenses, such as General Kammhuber. His book looks at the various aircraft adopted for use as night fighters, such as the Me110, the Ju-88, the He219 and the Ar240, as well as the drawbacks to designs put forward due to lack of available engines, etc. He discusses ground-based radars such as Freya and Wurzburg and the roles they played in early warning and guidance of the fighters. He also looks at Lichtenstein and other airborne radars for targing individual enemy aircraft, not to mention efforts to use infra-red targetting. Aders' book includes discussions of individual night fighter pilots and operations of night fighters outside of the Reich.

Reading this book you will be surprised at how the defenses that threatened the RAF were hobbled together. It will make you wonder how much greater the damage might have been if the Germans had changed their priorities, even temporarily. You would be hard-pressed to find another book as good as this one on the topic of German night fighters. I found myself skipping over technical details at times but I know where to find those details if I need them. Lavishly illustrated with black-and-white photographs, maps and organizational information.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

U.S. Army in the Plans Indian Wars 1865-1891 (Five Stars)

Between the Civil War and the Spanish-American War the U.S. Army found itself primarily in the west, fighting the occasional Indian uprising. This book looks at the Army and how it was equipped, trained, armed and deployed for battle. For a small book it is an excellent resource, providing maps of Division of Missouri and the districts which came under it, tables showing the strengths of various U.S. Army regiments and many excellent photographs. It even discusses the doctrinal changes which saw the Army finally adjust to the realities of increased and accurate firepower of the individual trooper and soldier. Definitely earns a permanent spot in my library.

Intercept 1961: The Birth of Soviet Missile Defense (Four Stars)

In 1961 the USSR, after many tries, successfully intercepted a ballistic missile with an anti-ballistic missile. As the author points out, this was a significant success for the Soviets, not just for the achievement itself but for what their scientists learned from the problem: headway was made in communications, computing, radar, rocketry, warhead design, etc.

The only flaw I find in the book is its redundancy. I have no doubt after reading Intercept that Mr. Gruntman is an expert, maybe even THE expert in the west, on the topic of Soviet ABM design. However, he goes back and forth in several chapters about the exact same topic in the exact same way. He also goes into excrutiating detail about how design bureaus worked in the USSR when I believe there must have been a simpler way to discuss these topics. And he also discusses individuals involved in ABM design which at first seemed to be too much detail but when the reader gets into the internal politics of the Soviet defense budget it makes it clear that petty feuds and disagreements steered Soviet defense thinking.

This book is well illustrated, provides links to online sources and explains a lot about the Moscow defense system. An important addition to anyone's library who is interested in antiaircraft and air defense.

Fabulous Las Vegas in the 50s (Five Stars)

If you want a fun pop-culture book on Vegas this is probably the one with you. Great pictures of the old casinos, the shows, and other aspects of Las Vegas in the 1950s. Well worth spending time on.

Arcade Fever (Five Stars)

A fun book on the early video games. Absolutely loved it! Very well illustrated with color photos and artwork. I even loved Sellers' descriptions of the games. A great pop culture book.

America's First Great Eclipse (Five Stars)

This is a great book about the 1878 eclipse. This major astronomical event saw the area of totality (total eclipse) move across the American West, placing parts of Texas, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana in total darkness. This was an interesting time of contrasts: the astronomers who wanted to observe the eclipse primarily went to Colorado in part due to its accessibility by railroad. Montana, in contrast, had no astronomical expeditions because not only had the iron rails not reached the territory but the destruction of Custer's command at the Little Big Horn had taken place there in 1876.

Ruskin does an excellent job of describing some of the quirks of this event and descrobes many of the personalities involved, including an all-female expedition and inventor Thomas Edison's attempt to use one of his inventions to study the eclipse. Ruskin discusses the changes then taking place in the field of astronomy and how the Great Eclipse helped to firmly establish America's place in the field. Well-illustrated.