The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress in Foreign Service Book Review

The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress in Foreign Service

By Jan Forsgren, illustrated by Artur Juszczak

Series:  MMP White Series

Softcover in dustjacket, 112 pages, photographs, 18 color profiles

Published by MMPBooks, July 2019

Language: English

ISBN-13: ‎ 978-8365958-21-1

Dimensions: ‎ 8.2 x 0.4 x 11.7 inches

Much has been written about the B-17 Flying Fortress.  The stories of B-17s in USAAF and RAF service fill many bookcases, and readers could be forgiven for thinking these were the only users of the B-17.  The U.S. Navy also flew the Fortress as the PB-1 in the Seach and Rescue and Airborne Early Warning roles, but this is not as well known.  The focus of this book is even more obscure, the use of the B-17 by other nations.

The book is arranged alphabetically by nations which operated B-17s; Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Dominican Republic, France, Germany, Israel, Japan, Portugal, Switzerland, Taiwan, USSR, and Yugoslavia.  Some of these countries captured their examples like Japan and Germany – both Axis nations evaluated the Fortress and Germany even used theirs operationally for special missions with KG 200.  The Soviets, denied American bombers through Lend-Lease, flew interred examples and repaired any they found as they pushed West into Europe.  The stories of B-17s in Israeli and Taiwanese service are worthy of spy novels.

Each chapter contains numerous photographs and catalogs what is known about each aircraft by serial number.  Artur Juszczak has rendered eighteen full color profiles which illustrate the colors and markings applied by the different nations.

This book is a boon to modelers looking to model a Fortress with a little something different.  There were numerous anecdotes and photographs which were new to me, and if additional details were available, several of the chapters could be made into very interesting books in their own right.  Highly recommended for modelers and enthusiasts looking for something new on the B-17 Flying Fortress.

Awesome Sh*t My Drill Sergeant Said Book Review

Awesome Sh*t My Drill Sergeant Said: Wit and Wisdom from America’s Finest

By Dan Caddy

Hardcover in dustjacket, 177 pages

Published by Dey Street Books, June 2015

Language: English

ISBN-13: ‎978-0-06-235196-8

Dimensions: ‎5.0 x 0.7 x 7.0 inches

A Drill Sergeant has three months to undo eighteen years of bad habits, and turn civilians into functioning parts of a team which can not only survive but prevail in combat.  A monumental task, but one which has been successfully completed for the most part for every member serving in the military, past or present.

This book is exactly what you would expect it to be.  It is relatively short (too short), but each page is a quote, a list, or an anecdotal story.  Many of these will be familiar to those who have served, all of them are hilarious.  A sample of the less-profane selections are printed on the back cover, which is scanned below.

The contents of this book were drawn from a Facebook page of the same name.  The Facebook page inspired an organization which helps veterans dealing with PTSD, or those who have given up dealing with the myriad government agencies tasked with “helping” veterans.  The organization is called Battle in Distress and can be found here:  https://www.facebook.com/BattleInDistress 

I found this book to be hilarious.  My wife came in to check what I was laughing about, but soon gave up after the obligatory eye-roll at my convulsions.  It is not a serious book, and the majority of the quotes cannot be repeated in polite company, but I found it vastly entertaining.  Recommended if you need a belly laugh.

B-25 Mitchell Units of the CBI Book Review

B-25 Mitchell Units of the CBI

By Edward M. Young, Illustrated by Jim Laurier

Series:  Osprey Combat Aircraft Number 126

Softcover, 96 pages, index, photographs, 30 color profiles

Published by Osprey Publishing, December 2018

Language: English

ISBN-10: ‎1472820363

ISBN-13: ‎978-1472820365

Dimensions: ‎7.33 x 0.26 x 9.8 inches

The China-Burma-India theater is the forgotten front of the Second World War.  From the Allied perspective, it was always a backwater at the far end of an over-extended supply chain, and a priority lower than Europe or even the Pacific, which suffered from its own lack of material support early in the war.  For the Imperial Japanese Army it was the primary focus and the IJA enjoyed successes up until the last year of the war.  For the Imperial Japanese Navy the theater barely existed, and for the Chinese it was the only war.  In the West little of the Chinese wartime history is known, likely due to the language barrier and the historical revisions imposed by the Communist regime after the Chinese Civil War.

Despite the vast geographical area involved, there was only a limited commitment of airpower in the theater, the American medium bomber component being comprised of just three groups of B-25 Mitchells.  The Allies had no access to shipping ports through China, and a limited roadway from India was not established until late in the war.  All parts and supplies, including fuel and bombs, had to be flown in over the “Hump” by transport aircraft, a costly and time-consuming process.  In addition, the monsoon season prohibited operations of any kind for several months and made life miserable for both sides.  These factors resulted in reducing the number of sorties flown by an already small force.

Most of the missions assigned were of the same type flown by medium bombers in other theaters – the interdiction of supply lines.  In the CBI this took the form of bridges, rail lines, and shipping.  Bridges were particularly problematic as only a direct hit on the piers or spans would result in damage, and the Japanese proved adept at repairs.  Only after the 341st Bomb Group perfected a glide bombing technique did the attacks become effective.  The devastation was compounded as a dropped span resulted in congestion in rail marshaling yards, the concentrated locomotives and cars providing a lucrative target for B-25s configured as strafers. This title conforms to the quality and format expectations for Osprey subjects.  The profiles, as always are superb and the highlight of the volume.  Coverage of lesser-known Groups fighting in neglected campaigns is always welcome.  I was struck by the similarities in missions flown by the Mitchells in the CBI and medium bomber Groups fighting in the Italian Campaign.  A good book and welcome addition to the series, recommended.

15 cm s.FH 18 German Heavy Howitzer Book Review

15 cm s.FH 18 German Heavy Howitzer

By Alan Ranger

Series:  Camera On Number 12

Softcover, 80 pages, profusely illustrated

Published by MMPBooks, June 2019

Language: English

ISBN-10: ‎83-65958-08-2

ISBN-13: ‎978-83-65958-08-2

Dimensions: ‎8.2 x 0.3 x 11.6 inches

The 15 cm s.FH 18 howitzer was used at the Division level by the German army during WWII.  It was also the primary armament of the Sd.Kfz. 165 Hummel self-propelled artillery vehicle.  It was designed in 1933 and initially produced in the Soviet Union to circumvent restrictions on German weapons production imposed by the Treaty of Versailles.  The number “18” in the 15 cm s.FH 18 designation was a part of this deception, the number typically indicating the year of design which therefore should have been “33”, the change was intended to convince the Allies the howitzer was an older design.  6,756 examples were produced.  It was a successful design which saw service with many nations after the war, the last examples in active service were retired by Finland in 2007.

This book is a photo essay of the howitzer in German service, the majority of the photographs being sourced from private collections and not appearing in print before this book.  They are reproduced well, usually two photos per page which makes them large enough for details of the guns and crews to be easily seen.  Where this book really shines is the captions.  Author Alan Ranger clearly knows the operation of artillery and these guns in particular, there is a wealth of detail on how they were employed in the field and serviced by their crews.

I purchased this book as a reference for building the Italeri model in 1/72 scale, I was happily surprised to find there was a volume devoted specifically to this howitzer.  The smaller 10.5 cm Field Gun (an option included in the Italeri kit) used the same carriage, so this book would be a useful reference for modelers of that gun as well.  Recommended for modelers or for readers wanting insights into the operation of heavy artillery pieces.

The Reaper Audiobook Review

The Reaper: Autobiography of One of the Deadliest Special Ops Snipers

By Nicholas Irving with Gary Brozek

Read by Jeff Gurner

Unabridged Audibook

Published by Macmillan Audio, January 2015

Length: 7 hours 40 minutes

Language: English

Nicholas Irving was a sniper with the 3rd Ranger Battalion, in this book he describes his experiences during a single deployment to Afghanistan.  On a typical operation, the Rangers would be assigned a specific objective such as capturing a Taliban operative, then inserting into the area at night.  Sgt. Irving’s role as a sniper was to provide overwatch to the assault team, supplying information and eliminating threats.  He was credited with thirty-three confirmed kills, which he modestly attributes to being in the right place at the right time.

Two incidents stand out from the rest of the narrative.  One is a stand-off with a Taliban sniper known as “The Chechen”, a veteran with years of experience fighting in Afghanistan.  Irving vividly describes the terror and frustration of being on the receiving end of a sniper’s attentions, the paradox of the role reversal is not lost on him.  The other incident occurred on a raid when he suddenly realized his teammate and fellow sniper was not following behind him in the dark and no one had seen him go missing.  I won’t reveal the details (read the book), suffice to say movement in the dark can be hazardous in and of itself, and loyalty to a teammate and dedication to completing mission objectives can conflict.

There are many sniper books and many Special Operations books which have come out of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  This is the only one I have read (or in this case listened to) which was written by a Ranger.  There are some differences in the way Rangers deploy and conduct operations, but much in this book will be familiar to readers of previous accounts.   I enjoyed this book, recommended.

Spare Parts Book Review

Spare Parts: A Marine Reservist’s Journey from Campus to Combat in 38 Days

By Buzz Williams

Hardcover in dustjacket, 300 pages and photographs

Published by Gotham Books, March 2004

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1-592-40054-X

ISBN-13: ‎978-1-592-40054-6

Dimensions: ‎6.2 x 1.3 x 9.3 inches

Buzz Williams saw enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve as a way to achieve his two primary goals – serving in the Marines and going to college.  Inspired by his older brother, he wanted to go to boot camp.  Upon graduation, he drilled “one weekend per month, two weeks per year” and attended service schools on the LAV-25 Light Armored Vehicle.  His unit was activated as part of Desert Storm and participated in the liberation of Kuwait.  Afterwards, he remained in the Reserves and became a teacher, eventually leaving after realizing the constant shifting from civilian to military worlds was exasperating his PTSD from the war.

This is a very personal story, an autobiographical arc following his journey from civilian, to boot camp, Reservist, a combat deployment, Reservist, and ultimately a return to civilian life.  New Reservists go through the same boot camp alongside enlistees destined for active service.  A sizable portion of the book describes the boot camp experience in great detail, along with the eventual realization that everything in boot camp is planned and specifically designed to prepare the recruit for combat conditions.

I found the descriptions of the Reserve drills and training fascinating.  The transition from civilian to military mode can be jarring, and there is little time to preserve (or learn) the specialized military skills which may, at short notice, be required for the unit to perform well in combat.  Williams’ descriptions of dealing with his OCD and returning from Desert Storm are also interesting.

Spare Parts is well written, Williams is an excellent story teller and the book flows well.  His descriptions of his fellow Marines will be recognizable to veterans.  His insights into the Reserve program are interesting.  The Reserves are a vital part of the U.S. military, but one which is rarely described in detail.  This book is easy to read but hard to put down, I can recommend it without reservation.

Blood Red Snow Audiobook Review

Blood Red Snow: The Memoirs of a German Soldier on the Eastern Front

By Günter Koschorrek

Read by Nigel Patterson

Unabridged Audiobook

Published by Tantor Audio, July 2018

Length:  9 hours 41 minutes

Language: English

Günter Koschorrek was a 19-year-old German Army machine gunner who was sent to Stalingrad in 1942.  Assigned to a dismounted Kavallerie brigade, his unit was able to escape encirclement.  Their escape was a close-run thing, their positions were over run by Soviet armor and they were saved only by crossing the frozen Don River on foot under fire.  Koschorrek was wounded and evacuated back to Germany.

After recuperating, he was briefly assigned to Italy on anti-partisan duties, then back to the Eastern Front.  This time he was part of a well-equipped and supported “fire brigade” unit tasked with countering Soviet penetrations in the front lines.  After each action, they were withdrawn to quarters in a local village.  This inevitably came to an end as the Soviet offensives gained momentum, eventually resulting in a general retreat back to Germany.

This is a very gritty tale of combat on the Eastern Front from the perspective of a common infantryman where the hardships were many.   Koschorrek was one of the very few from his original group to survive the war, and he himself was wounded six times.  He avoided being sent to the Soviet Gulags after the war by aggravating one of his wounds and being hospitalized.

The audiobook is read by Nigel Patterson, who has an English accent.  I found this a little odd at first for a German memoir but grew used to it as the book went on.  Patterson did quite well with the occasional German rank or phrase.  The translation is also very English, with German soldiers being referred to as “blokes” and that sort of thing.  An odd error is the Soviets are often described as being armed with “Kalashnikovs” instead of the expected PPSH-41s or Mosen-Nagants, perhaps another problem with the translation.

I listened to this book while travelling to the Cincinnati IPMS show, a good way to get some benefit from the dead time while driving.  The book was “loaned” from the local library to my cell phone, a very welcome option when needed.  This was an interesting book which I can recommend to anyone interested in the Second World War on the Eastern Front.

Shadows on the Horizon Book Review

Shadows on the Horizon: The Battle of Convoy HX-233

By W. A. Haskell

Hardcover in dustjacket, 192 pages, appendices, sources, photographs, and index

Published by Naval Institute Press, March 1999

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1-55750-887-9

ISBN-13: 978-1-55750-887-4

Dimensions: 6.9 x 0.7 x 9.5 inches

Shadows on the Horizon describes in great detail the sailing of Convoy HX-233 in April 1943, and its subsequent interception by eight German U-boats.  By this time the tide of the Battle of the Atlantic was turning against the Germans.  The Allied production effort was in full swing with new ships, both merchants and escorts, coming into service at a blistering pace.  Added to the sheer numbers of vessels were several technological advances in weapons and sensors.  Allied aircraft harassed the U-boats as they transited to and from operating areas, and groups of anti-submarine ships patrolled the Atlantic, acting independently to hunt U-boats or coming to the aid of convoys as needed.  In addition, the Allies had broken the German codes, giving advanced warning of their intentions.

In many ways HX-233 was a typical formation for the spring of 1943.  It consisted of fifty-eight merchant ships arranged in twelve columns, escorted by nine warships.  In addition, a support group of four Royal Navy destroyers supplemented the dedicated escorts during a portion of the transit.  Opposing them were a total of eight German U-boats which were vectored into position to intercept the convoy.

This book is a detailed technical assessment of the voyage of the convoy, and can be seen as a representative engagement of the Battle of the Atlantic during the spring of 1943.  The author has drawn on the national archives of the many nations and logs of the ships involved along with a plethora of interviews and other sources.  The appendices provide technical details and reports.  For the wargamer, this book supplies enough information to construct a Battle of the Atlantic convoy scenario.

While in reality a technical history, the narrative is interesting enough that the presentation does not bog down and remains engaging throughout.  The author’s inspiration is that he was serving aboard one of the merchant ships in the convoy, but this is not a personal narrative.  Several details were new to me, such as the organization of the merchant ships in the convoy and their Armed Guard detachments, along with the experiences of the survivors of U-boat which had been sunk.  Recommended.

First Shot Book Review

First Shot:  The Untold Story of the Japanese Minisubs That Attacked Pearl Harbor

By John Craddock

Hardcover in dustjacket, 210 pages, bibliography, notes, photographs, and index

Published by McGraw-Hill, October 2005

Language: English

ISBN-10: ‎0-07-143716-9

ISBN-13: ‎978-0-07-143716-5

Dimensions: ‎6.2 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches

The use of the five Japanese minisubs during the attack on Pearl Harbor has always been controversial.  Many Japanese naval officers opposed the idea, fearing the submarines would contribute little and risked alerting the Americans to the impending attack.  On the American side, the submarines represented missed opportunities to warn of the attack (just as many Japanese officers feared), and the penetration of the harbor revealed inadequacies of the defenses.  In the aftermath, the Japanese were convinced the minisubs had torpedoed American warships.  The American Navy insisted they had done no damage, a position which was maintained for decades.

In First Shot John Craddock documents what was known about the attack and the fates of the minisubs in 2005.  The midget submarine (I-20-tou) sunk by USS Ward’s gunfire had been located, but not positively identified.  I-16-tou had not been located although she was suspected to have torpedoed the USS West Virginia (BB-48) and USS Oklahoma (BB-37) by some.  He also briefly describes the midget submarine raids against Sydney Harbor and Diego Suarez, the latter arguably their most successful operation.  Operations in the Solomons are briefly mentioned.  There is some interesting information on ENS Kazuo Sakamaki, who commanded I-24-tou and became PoW Number One.

However, for a good part of the book Craddock is exploring peripheral subjects.  Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto’s early career is described in detail, and there is an entire chapter on his assassination.  There is a chapter on Coral Sea and Midway, as well as the use of the Kaiten manned torpedoes during the last year of the war.  Another chapter discusses Japan after the war.  All interesting and well written, but not the topic of the book.

There are also some missed opportunities which are not mentioned.  For instance, Ward had a busy morning on 07DEC41, and reported depth charging a total of four submarine contacts off the entrance to Pearl Harbor – and at least three of the minisubs were known to have been damaged by depth charges outside the harbor.  Tracing her movements could have filled a chapter, and she was not the only destroyer prosecuting submarine contacts in the area at the time.  Midget submarine operations in the Solomons and the Aleutians would also be interesting, and would give some insights into the evolution of doctrine and employment of these vessels as the war progressed.

While this book is worth reading, it is limited by what was known at the time.  The author “gets out into the weeds” with topics outside of the book’s scope, and doesn’t fully explore topics which are related.  This work is a start, but there is a comprehensive book still waiting to be written on the saga of the fifty Ko-hyoteki midget submarines used by the Imperial Japanese Navy in the Pacific War.

The Coral Sea 1942 Book Review

The Coral Sea 1942: The first carrier battle

Osprey Campaign Series Book 214

By Marke Stille, Illustrated by John White

Softcover in dustjacket,  96 pages, profusely illustrated, index

Published by Osprey Publishing, November 2009

Language: English

ISBN-13: 978-1-84603-440-4

Dimensions: 7.4 x 0.2 x 9.5 inches

The Imperial Japanese Navy planned Operation Mo to seize Port Moresby on the southern coast of New Guinea for the purpose of isolating Australia and threating Allied air bases there.  This would help secure the southern frontier of their Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere and protect their bases at Rabaul.  Supporting the Japanese invasion fleet were the large aircraft carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku and the light carrier Shoho.  American and British signals intercepts warned Admiral Nimitz of the impending operation, and he decided to contest the invasion by sending all four of his available aircraft carriers, although Enterprise and Hornet did not arrive in time to participate in the battle.

The battle was the first naval engagement fought entirely by aircraft.  Although the opposing fleets were often in close proximity they never sighted each other.  The Americans lost the aircraft carrier Lexington, with Yorktown damaged, while the Japanese lost the light carrier Shoho, with Shokaku damaged.  With Zuikaku’s air group depleted the Japanese determined the landings at Port Moresby could not be supported and cancelled the invasion.

Both sides claimed victory.  On the Allied side, the threat to Australia was abated and the Japanese juggernaut was turned back for the first time in the war.  On the other hand, the Japanese thought they had sunk two American carriers.  Their own fleet carriers could be repaired and their air groups replenished, and the IJN would enjoy a two to one superiority in aircraft carriers in the meantime.  In reality, damage to the Yorktown was (quite heroically) repaired in time for her to participate in the Battle of Midway, while neither Zuikaku nor Shokaku were present.

Author Mark Stille has done an excellent job of documenting the events leading up to the Battle of the Coral Sea as well as the play-by-play of the battle itself.  Naval battles are complex affairs, but the graphics-intense format of the Osprey Campaign series shines in making a clear presentation of the ship and aircraft maneuvers.  The length of this work is just enough to present this engagement well.  This is one of the better volumes of this series and well worth picking up.