Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Crashback (Five Stars)

Anyone familiar with the People’s Liberation Army (and its small adjuncts, the PLAF and PLAN) during the 1980s found it hard to take seriously: most of its aircraft and ships belonged in museums. It intended to rely on human-wave attacks in the event of a full-scale war. If it wasn’t equipped with nuclear weapons, it would hardly be of concern at all.

That is not the PLA or the Chinese Navy now.

China has the advantage that Germany initially had during WWII: unburdened by “legacy” warships which were out of date and consumed resources more efficiently spent elsewhere, Germany concentrated instead on warships which would prove to be of more use to her, such as heavy cruisers capable of outrunning enemy task forces sent after them and U-boats of entirely new design. China was unburdened by a legacy fleet when it began building its first real blue water navy. It has built modern warships armed with a variety of anti-ship missiles. The U.S. Navy, on the other hand, has not developed a new anti-ship missile in decades and has, in fact, removed the missile magazines on some older ships, relying on “multipurpose guns” to take on other ships and other missions.

China has been on a collision course with the United States for some time. Claiming its Exclusive Economic Zone as territorial waters, China is bullying Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan into abiding by this “interpretation” of international law. China is also showing more and more of a willingness to take on the United States itself… where will this end?
Reads like a novel while it opens your eyes. Well-illustrated with maps and photographs.

American Coastal Defenses, 1885-1950 (Five Stars)

This volume in the Osprey Fortress series looks at the Coast Artillery installations built throughout the United States and its territories to protect American soil from naval (and later, air) attack. The United States has always believed in defending its shores (the wars with the British made great use of the Royal Navy and taught some singular lessons to Americans) but this book focuses on the equipment, training, organization, fortifications and personnel of the Endicott-Taft System, the modern coast artillery created during the first half of the 20th century. Army planners spread out the modern forts, with long-range, disappearing guns, very heavy mortars, remote-controlled mines and optical aiming equipment to key harbors along the coasts, predicting that a determined enemy from across the oceans would need to seize one or more in order to sustain an army on American soil. The possibility of airborne invasion or nuclear attack doomed the fortresses into obscurity.

Well-illustrated with photographs, artwork and maps.


GAZ-66 Variants (Four Stars)

If you've ever wanted to drive a GAZ-66 or shoot a ZU-23-2 then this is certainly a good place to start. I was particularly interested in the antiaircraft gun, which is photographed in good detail while particular controls are pointed out. If you are a modeler (and that's what this book is designed for) then you can hardly go wrong with the amount of information available here. I think I personally would have liked more details on the operation of the gun, but that's my own interest.

Technicals (Five Stars)

The last few decades have seen the rise of both the high-tech and the cheap-rent when it comes to weapon systems. On the low end are the "technicals," mobile support weapons created by putting automatic weapons on the back of relatively cheap, nimble pickups and other vehicles, allowing insurgents and militia to support their troops during assaults and provide covering fire. Lacking armor, these vehicles rely a lot on mobility to prevent being plastered. And it's not the occasional antiaircraft machinegun that is pressed into service either: recoilless rifles, grenade launchers, even air-to-air rocket pods all serve to provide backup from Nissans and landrovers.
A well-done book on an obscure topic but relevent to many who have served in the Middle Eastern wars. Excellent illustrations and commentary and great original artwork.

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.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Panic on the Pacific (Four Stars)

Following the attack at Pearl Harbor the Japanese followed up with a land-and-sea campaign which netted them Malaya, the Dutch East Indies, chunks of China and several American islands. Is it any wonder that Americans living on the West Coast believed that they might be next?

Bill Yenne examines the state of defense in the 4th Army area, which included Washington, Oregon and California, both before and after the attack in Hawaii. America remained woefully unprepared despite the fact that much of the United States' aircraft production happened to be on the West Coast. Only four U.S. Army divisions were located in the far west to prevent an invasion, yet these units were badly positioned to prevent a serious incursion against the Pacific states. There were almost no Navy warships (they had mostly gone to Pearl Harbor) and there were not enough aircraft to provide fighter cover or to attack an enemy task force at sea.

Meanwhile, General DeWitt (4th Army commander) and the governors of the Pacific states made the decision to relocate and intern Japanese living in the West, including citizens. Without FDR's acquiesence such a dishonorable measure could not have been carried out and this did little or nothing to protect the West Coast.

Well-written, with maps and black-and-white photos, this book tells a little-known story of American weakness early in WWII. It also includes a a bit of speculative history about what MIGHT have happened if Japan had decided to deny the United States the industries located on the West Coast and actually invade America. Overall, a good read!

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Lincoln's Bodyguard (Five Stars)

If Lincoln had survived the Civil War things would have been different. But would they have been better?

T.J. Turner's alternate history features Joseph Foster, an Indian halfbreed who was assigned to be President Abraham Lincoln's personal bodyguard. When John Wilkes Booth attempts to murder the President in Ford's Theater he is himself killed by Foster's Bowie knife. But instead of the war ending Booth becomes a martyr to the Confederacy and the rebels do not return to their old lives but instead begin an insurgency which keeps the country from moving forward. Years later, southern raiders are attacking isolated Union units and holding trains up for ransom while the North takes the most heinous measures in retaliation. And Lincoln is caught in the middle of it all, unable to end the conflict.

Turner's book is riveting and suspenseful. The characters are well-developed and Bodyguard is a real page-turner!