US Aircraft in the Soviet Union and Russia Book Review

US Aircraft in the Soviet Union and Russia

By Yefim Gordon, Sergey Komissarov, and Dmitri Komissarov

Hardcover in dustjacket, 355 pages, bibliography, profusely illustrated, color profiles

Published by Midland Publishing Ltd., January 2010

Language: English

ISBN-10: ‎ 1-85780-308-6

ISBN-13: ‎ 978-1-85780-308-2

Dimensions: ‎ 8.9 x 0.9 x 11.5 inches

The Lend-Lease policy was enacted in March 1941, before America’s entry into the Second World War.  It allowed the United States to provide military and logistical material to Allied nations fighting the Axis.  While the main beneficiary of this aid was the United Kingdom, a significant portion went to the Soviet Union.  This included roughly half a million vehicles and about fifty percent of the food, ammunition and aviation gasoline consumed by the Soviets.  While this aid was officially downplayed publicly, Stalin admitted privately that the USSR would have lost the war without the vast amount of material supplied by the U.S., Great Britain, and Canada.

Part of this aid was over 11,400 U.S. aircraft.  Most types operated by the USAAF were represented, with the largest portions being the Bell P-39 Airacobra with 4,719 provided and the follow-on P-63 Kingcobra with 2,397.  Soviet pilots were enthusiastic about both types.

I expected this book to be about the Lend-Lease program.  While that is a primary focus and occupies a substantial portion of the page count, there is so much more.  The book opens with the purchase of a Wright A Flyer in 1908, and several additional pre-war types made their way to the Soviet Union under various arrangements.  A surprise (to me at least) were the Soviet efforts to acquire American heavy bombers.  These were denied under Lend-Lease, the USAAF citing the need for every bomber they could get, but several crash-landed examples were discovered as the Red Army pushed into Eastern Europe.  Many of these were repaired, and the USSR were able to operate both the B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator in squadron strength.  The story of the Tu-4 Bull, reverse-engineered from three interred B-29 Superfortresses is better known.  There is also a small section dealing with U.S. types (or components) acquired in various ways during the Cold War, and a much larger section on U.S. civilian types purchased after the end of the Soviet era beginning in 1991.

This is a beautiful book and a valuable reference.  The pages are printed on glossy stock, and there is no shortage of photographs, line drawings, and high-quality profile artwork.  Modelers looking for unusual schemes for American aircraft types will be thrilled.  Highly recommended.  If the subject interests you at all pick this one up, you will not be disappointed!




One Bullet Away Book Review

One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer

By Nathaniel Fick

Hardcover in dustjacket, 369 pages, photographs

Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt October 2005

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0-61855-613-3

ISBN-13: 978-0-61855-613-7

Dimensions: 6.0 x 1.3 x 9.0 inches

Nathan Fick was a classics major at Dartmouth when he volunteered for Marine Corps Officer Candidate School, and that is where his account begins.  He subsequently graduated from The Basic School and the Infantry Office Course.  His first assignment after completing his initial training was with the First Battalion, First Marines as the Weapons Platoon Officer of Bravo Company.  He was deployed aboard the USS Dubuque (LPD-8) when the 9/11 attacks occurred.  In Darwin for a port call, they were the closest Marine force to Afghanistan and sailed immediately.

Fick and his Marines went ashore in Afghanistan, moving quite a bit but seeing little direct combat.  They rotated out of Afghanistan during the holidays, and Fick was offered the opportunity to train to be Marine Recon.  More schools, more training.  At the end was assignment to a Platoon in the First Recon Battalion.  Instead of mission they trained for – observing objectives in small teams without being discovered – they were issued five HMMWVs.  The platoon was to spearhead one of the major thrusts of the Invasion of Iraq.

The majority of the book is a day-by-day account of First Recon’s push though Iraq from the Platoon Leader’s perspective.  Their story will be familiar to most readers, as correspondent Evan Wright rode with the platoon and his book, Generation Kill, was made into an HBO miniseries of the same name.  I read both books together to compare the perspectives.  Wright’s book focuses more on the personalities and banter of the Marines in the platoon, and things unusual to those unfamiliar with Marines or the military in general.  Fick’s account is more thoughtful and less focused on tensions between the Marines and their leadership.  Fick is an excellent writer who cares for his men, and the perspectives of history and politics are not lost on him.  This is a great read which I can recommend without reservation.

Generation Kill Book Review

Generation Kill: Devil Dogs, Iceman, Captain America and The New Face of American War

By Evan Wright

Hardcover in dustjacket, 354 pages, photographs

Published by Putnam, 2004

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0-399-151193-1

Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches

This is the book which was made into the HBO miniseries of the same name.  Author Evan Wright was a Rolling Stone reporter embedded with the Marine’s First Recon Battalion during the invasion of Iraq.  Marine recon teams usually operate covertly, scouting out an objective and retiring, hopefully without the enemy even knowing they were there.  For this operation, First Recon was equipped with HMMWV light vehicle, more commonly known as the Humvee.  Their mission was to be the point element for one of the columns entering Iraq.

Wright rode in one of the five Humvees of Second Platoon, so he was able to observe events first hand.  His account is very personal and focuses on the actions and reactions of the twenty-three men in the platoon.  Much of the story is told in their own words.  At the Platoon level the overall strategic objectives are not always clear, the day’s plans are constantly evolving.  There is a constant cycle of moving to the next objective, maintaining equipment, eating, digging in, and moving again.  Sleep is replaced with snuff, energy drinks, and instant coffee, which the Marines eat as well as brew.

It is a messy business and Wright reports it all, both good and bad.  Some things went to plan while others did not, there are heroics and mistakes.  This is an honest and interesting account, both as a history of the war from a small unit perspective and as a study of men in combat.  I can recommend this book, even if you have watched the series.

The Unwomanly Face of War Book Review

The Unwomanly Face of War: An Oral History of Women in World War II

By Svetlana Alexievich

Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky

Hardcover in dustjacket, 331 pages

Published by Random House, July 2017

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0-39958-872-8

ISBN-13: 978-0-39958-872-3

Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches

During the Second World War the Soviet Union was faced with an acute manpower shortage.  Like other countries, the Soviets utilized women in support roles to free up men for service in combat units.  But unlike other nations women also served in combat units, often in combatant roles.  Soviet women were combat medics, snipers, tank drivers, pilots, infantrymen, – basically any job which was needed.  These women were motivated by patriotism, and often by the desire to avenge a friend or relative killed by the Germans.  In all, over a million women served in the Soviet military during the Great Patriotic War.

This book is a series of compilations of their experiences, in their own words.  Author Svetlana Alexievich conducted interviews with hundreds of veterans.  Their accounts sometimes cover several pages, sometimes single paragraphs.  They do not omit any details, describing what they saw and what they thought about it.  Many were in the thick of the action, and many were considered “tainted” by their experiences by their countrymen when they returned.

This is a unique book in many ways.  While I have read hundreds of books on military history, I had the realization that none were written by a female author, and none about women in combat.  Different things resonated with these women, and they were volunteering (often insisting) to enter an occupation dominated by and intended for men.  Many mention having to have their braids cut off and the necessity of altering uniforms and shoes which were many sizes too big.  Still, they endured the same hardships and earned the same decorations as their male comrades.

This book is at times hard to read, but impossible to put down.  Alexievich won the 2015 Nobel Prize for Literature for her works, including this volume.  Be warned, you will not be spared any of the brutality of war on the Eastern Front here.  My highest recommendation.

World War II US Cavalry Units Book Review


World War II US Cavalry Units: Pacific Theater

Osprey Elite Series Book 175

By Gordon L. Rottman, illustrated by Peter Dennis

Softcover, 64 pages, bibliography, and index

Published by Osprey Publishing October 2009

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1-84603-451-0

ISBN-13: 978-1-84603-451-0

Dimensions: 7.3 x 0.2 x 9.9 inches

A minor bit of trivia is that most nations still had horse-mounted cavalry units at the beginning of the Second World War, a few nations retaining them until the end.  For the U.S. Army, the Louisiana Maneuvers in 1941 demonstrated that the cavalry could not keep pace with mechanized units and even the most die-hard officers realized the era of the horse was near an end.  Still, the last combat actions of the U.S. cavalry were in the defense of the Philippines – the last U.S. cavalry charge was on 16JAN42 when a platoon from the 26th Cavalry Regiment (Philippine Scouts) charged a vastly superior Japanese force crossing the river at Morong and held until reinforced.  They continued to fight as cavalry until starvation of the troops at Bataan forced them to slaughter their mounts for food in March.  Thereafter they fought as infantry, many forming the nuclei of guerrilla groups rather than surrender.

Most U.S. cavalry regiments gave up their horses and transitioned into infantry regiments during the war.  The 112th Regiment was noteworthy in deploying to New Caledonia and equipping with Australian horses.  It was soon found that the horses were not well suited for the jungle terrain and that they did not find sufficient nourishment in the local vegetation, compelling the 112th to return their mounts and reorganize as infantry in March 1943.  A peculiarity of the horseless cavalry units is they maintained their traditions, keeping uniform articles such as specialized boots and their organizational structure.  Compared to standard infantry regiments a cavalry regiment was half the strength and lacked many of the heavier supporting weapons.  The cavalry was also organized with two rifle troops per squadron, while the infantry had three rifle companies plus a weapons company per battalion.  This made the horseless cavalry regiments weaker and less tactically flexible than standard infantry regiments.

Given the unusual subject, I found this book fascinating.  It is a standard-format Osprey Elite volume, brief but well-illustrated.  It is of the “facts and figures” style, listing the component elements of the units described and their actions, but this gives the reader a firm understanding of organization and composition of these unusual formations.  Recommended for those nostalgic for the cavalry or curious about their transition from the horse.


HMS Trincomalee Book Review


HMS Trincomalee: Frigate 1817

Seaforth Historic Ships Series

By Wyn Davies, Photography by Max Mudie

Softcover, 128 pages, bibliography, fully illustrated in color

Published by Seaforth 2015

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1-84832-221-6

ISBN-13: 978-1-84832-221-9

Dimensions:  6.9 x 0.4 x 9.6 inches

HMS Trincomalee is a Leda-class sailing frigate.  Forty-seven ships of the Leda-class were built for the Royal Navy between 1805 and 1832, of which two survive today as museum ships, Trincomalee and her sister HMS Unicorn.  Due to worsening shortages of oak suitable for shipbuilding in Great Britain, she was built of teak in Bombay, India.  The preservative qualities of the oils in teak have contributed to her preservation and survival today.

Trincomalee was built too late to serve in the Napoleonic Wars, and was laid up in reserve.  She was recommissioned from 1847 through 1857, serving on both coasts of North America for the majority of her commission.  She then served as a training ship until 1895, when she was sold.  In England there were several boarding schools which trained boys in seamanship and naval tradition, which not only provided England with sailors for her Navy and merchant fleet, but provided educations and trade skills for disadvantaged youths who might have otherwise been unemployed.  George Wheatley Cobb purchased Trincomalee and used her as a school ship, renaming her Foudroyant.  She served as a training ship until the 1980’s, when she was taken in hand for restoration and display as a museum ship.  She is currently at the Hartlepool, where she can be seen today.

The introduction of this book, divided into five parts, describes the development of frigates as a type and the general state of wooden ship construction in England at the time which led to Trincomalee being constructed in India.  The narrative then follows her service history, use as a training ship in various capacities, and eventual preservation and restoration as a museum ship.  The bulk of the book consists of fine full-color photographs, well presented and captioned in detail.  These are presented in a walk-around format and explain every detail of her construction, both inside and out.

For any reader seeking to understand the details of sailing frigates, this book is a gold mine.  The nautical terminology is uniquely foreign but well explained and illustrated, if you don’t know the difference between a binnacle and a mouse this book will make things clear.  If sailing ships or naval history interest you at all I can recommend this book, and the series as well.


Hammerhead Six Book Review


Hammerhead Six: How Green Berets Waged an Unconventional War Against the Taliban to Win in Afghanistan’s Deadly Pech Valley

By Ronald Fry with Tad Tuleja

Hardcover in dustjacket, 382 pages, photographs, notes, and index

Published by Hachette Books January 2016

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0-31634-143-6

ISBN-13: 978-0-31634-143-1

Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.3 x 9.3 inches

Afghanistan’s Pech Valley lies along the border with Pakistan, roughly between Kabul and Islamabad.  It is a major infiltration route for Taliban fighters.  In 2004 a twelve-man team of Green Berets set up operations at a site in the valley known as Camp Blessing, backed up by a platoon of Marines.

The Green Berets were led by Captain Ronald Fry, who authors this account.  Their call sign was Hammerhead Six.  They belonged to the Utah National Guard, and were their unit’s dive team, specially trained in underwater operations.  The Green Berets are also required to be conversant in foreign languages, for Hammerhead Six the team members were all trained in various Asian languages.  In the logic of the U.S. military, Afghanistan was the natural place to deploy them.

The mission and skill set of a Green Beret team is very different from the rest of the Special Operations community.  A Green Beret team lives among the indigenous community.  Their goal is to recruit and train local fighters as allies and to win the “hearts and minds” of the people in the area, thus denying the enemy a safe operating area and support.  They do this by working directly with local leaders, offering medical help to the population, and engaging in various infrastructure improvement projects.  They also “go native”, observing and respecting the local customs and traditions. In many ways Captain Fry became the local warlord of the area and quasi-governor, settling disputes and negotiating an unfamiliar culture with very different rules and expectations.  This book is part military history, part management and governance, and part anthropological study of the Afghani society.  It is also an engaging and educational read on several levels, I can recommend it with only one reservation.  I have at least a dozen recent military books from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan which have the call sign of the unit or individual as the title, and there are easily a few dozen more.  In time it will be difficult to remember that “Hammerhead Six” is the good book about Green Berets in Afghanistan.


The Battleship USS Iowa Anatomy of the Ship Book Review


The Battleship USS Iowa Anatomy of The Ship

By Stefan Draminski

Hardcover, 352 pages, line drawings and 3-D renderings throughout

Published by Osprey Publishing, January 2020

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1472827295

ISBN-13: 978-1472827296

Dimensions: 10.2 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches

Most modelers and military history buffs are familiar with the Anatomy of the Ship series.  The majority of these books were published during the 1980’s and 1990’s, and are mainly devoted to detailed line drawings of the subject vessel and her fittings.  The publishing history is convoluted – they were published by Conway Maritime Press in Great Britain, along with both Phoenix and the U.S. Naval Institute in the United States.  After a long hiatus the series is again being produced with updated volumes on previous subjects along with new titles.

The current iterations have featured red covers up to this point.  Conway published an updated volume on the Yamato and Musashi, the next volume is published by Osprey and the subject is the battleship USS Iowa (BB-61).  The new series retains the line drawing format of the original, but adds a striking new element in the form of full-color computer rendered perspective views.  These are consistent with the style of Kagero’s Super Drawings in 3D series.  Most page spreads contain a mix of the standard line drawings and color perspective views, this proves quite effective in conveying the appearance of the specific detail.  The result is a book with two to three times the content of the original. One thing I feel is under appreciated about books such as this is that much of the equipment was standardized and was common to ships of other classes, so the drawings will be of interest even if researching an entirely different ship which utilizes the same items of equipment.

In the case of Iowa, the author has constructed nine individual computer models to present the ship during different periods.  The Iowa was frequently refitted, and her appearance changed after each shipyard availability, sometimes drastically.  The reader can follow these modifications chronologically with the turn of a page.  The renderings show many of the interior spaces of the ship, some as cut-aways, others as expanded layers.  I did my service aboard the Iowa’s sistership Missouri (BB-63) from 1985-89, so it was interesting for me to find many very familiar details.  Others were different, either due to era or the inevitable differences in construction between sisters.  There were a few strange omissions.  The main battery turrets and their interiors are covered well, but only the exteriors of the 5”/38 mounts are shown.  The interior of the bridge is absent, and only the basic layouts of Engineering spaces are represented.  Having said that, what is there is spectacular, and I’m sure I’ll be studying this book for hours.  I was a fan of the series before the addition of the color perspective renderings, given the amount and quality of the content these new books are bargains.  Highly recommended.



Yangtze River Gunboats Book Review


Yangtze River Gunboats 1900–49

Osprey New Vanguard Series Book 181

By Angus Konstam, illustrated by Tony Bryan

Softcover, 48 pages, index, heavily illustrated

Published by Osprey Publishing, June 2011

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1-84908-408-4

ISBN-13: 978-1-84908-408-6

Dimensions: 7.2 x 0.6 x 9.8 inches

Foreign trade with China was opened in 1858 with the treaty of Tientsin.  While nominally one country, there was no real central authority, actual power being vested in local warlords with their own interests.  The treaty gave foreign powers the right to trade along the Yangtze River on very favorable terms, and allowed for the protection of foreign nationals and interests by their own military forces.  Along with troops in the various ports, the Yangtze saw the presence of fleets of small, heavily-armed vessels whose Captains were charged with protecting their nation’s citizens and had broad discretion to do so.  The peak period of what became known as “gunboat diplomacy” lasted from the Boxer Rebellion in 1901 to the beginning of the Second World War.

Several European nations, along with the United States and Japan, sent gunboats to the Yangtze, the local commanders often cooperating to support each other and achieve common goals.  The book describes several ship designs and military incidents, focusing mainly on the vessels of the United States and Great Britain due to space constraints.  Of these, two actions stand out for me, both of which involve Royal Navy ships.  HMS Cockchafer (illustrated on the cover) was instrumental in the rescue of two British steamers and their crews seized by a local warlord in 1926, supported by HMS Widgeon and a boarding party aboard SS Kiawo.  The second incident centered around the Black Swan-class sloop HMS Amythyst (F116), which effectively brought an end to the Yangtze Patrol in 1949.  With the Chinese Communists in power, she was engaged by shore batteries, damaged, and trapped in the river with her Captain killed.  Over the next ten weeks major diplomatic standoff ensued, which was resolved when Amethyst made a daring nighttime dash down one hundred miles of river, running the Communist gauntlet to rejoin the Royal Navy fleet at Woosung.

Like all the books in the Osprey New Vanguard series, space limitations preclude anything more than a brief overview of the topic presented.  For those interested in learning more about the Amythyst, there are several newsreels available online as well as the 1957 feature film Yangtse Incident: The Story of HMS Amethyst.  An excellent depiction events from the U.S. perspective is the 1966 film The Sand Pebbles starring Steve McQueen.  This is a fictionalized account set in 1926 which draws on several historical incidents to tell its story.

A valuable introduction to an interesting topic, I can recommend this volume.  It is well illustrated with period photographs and quality artwork specifically commissioned for this book.  While not the most attractive ships, several of the gunboats represented would make for fascinating large-scale models.


Teenage Resistance Fighter Book Review


Teenage Resistance Fighter: With the Maquisards in Occupied France

By Hubert Verneret, Translated by Sarah Saunders and Patrick Depardon

Hardcover in dustjacket, 146 pages, photographs

Published by Casemate, November 2017

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1-61200-550-0

ISBN-13: 978-1-61200-550-8

Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.5 x 9 inches

When Germany invaded Poland on 01 September 1939, Hubert Verneret was a fourteen-year-old Boy Scout living in Burgundy, France.  As the war came to France, he kept a dairy of his experiences.  The Scouts were active in civil relief efforts, helping with refugees and troops at train stations, and later rescue operations in areas hit by Allied bombing raids.  After the Allied invasion of Normandy, he and a friend decided to join the Resistance, traveling to the Mont Beuvray area to enlist in the Louis Maquis in August.

Maquis roughly means “the bush”, and the Maquis lived in camps in rough terrain where German pursuit would be difficult and easily detected.  The Marquis could then emerge to conduct ambushes or sabotage, for their part the Germans overestimated their numbers and generally avoided areas where they were operating when they could.  During the withdrawal from France roadblocks and mines funneled the Germans into routes which were more easily attacked by Allied airpower while smaller formations on lesser roads were ambushed.

Verneret kept a journal of his experiences living as a boy in occupied France and his adventures after joining the Maquis.  While he was never in actual combat, this was a matter of chance as he participated in field operations on several occasions.  The Maquis were disbanded at the end of September, its members joining the Free French or other Allied forces, or simply returning to civilian life.

The book is divided into two sections.  The first is a reconstruction of Verneret’s wartime experiences, the second a series of interviews with prominent figures associated with the Louis Marquis.  Also included are diary entries describing the German retreat from a Madame Forneret, and a summary of the Marquis contribution to the war effort.  This is a short read, but an interesting description of life in France during the German occupation and withdrawal.