Ministry of Defence
Ministry of Defence

Lest We Forget
British Legion
The Royal British Legion

2005
Section 2

Book Review by Michael D Booker
(May 2005)

 

TARGET FOR TONIGHT
Flying Long-Range Reconnaissance & Pathfinder Missions In World War ll

Author: Squadron Leader Denys A Braithwaite DFC and Bar

Pen & Sword Aviation
Pen & Sword Books Limited
47 Church Street
Barnsley
South Yorkshire S70 2AS

ISBN: 1 84415 159 X
Published in 2005

UK Price: £19.99

Under normal circumstances, an under-graduate joining the Royal Auxiliary Air Force would not have warranted the publication of a book, however as this was 1939, it was therefore a very different matter and the events of that summer resulted in what was perceived at that time to be a “weekend flying club”, becoming a fully operational Royal Air Force squadron.

This excellent recently published volume records the exceptional wartime experiences of Denys Braithwaite. This young man from a prosperous Yorkshire family who was studying at Cambridge University when war broke out, quickly found himself “in for the duration” and was soon flying with 608 Squadron on coastal patrol duties around the British Isles. This initial relatively uneventful period was followed by hazardous tours of duty with 521,139 and 45 squadrons. Piloting the famous Blenheim, Gloster Gladiator and Mosquito aircraft, he flew on a wide range of missions, that included both short and long range meteorological and reconnaissance flights as well as many daring Pathfinder operations deep into enemy territory. His remarkable wartime duties took him far and wide, operational tours around the coast of the UK and occupied Europe, pre-ceded training duties in the U.S.A., before he finally took command of a fully operational squadron based in India - flying on operations against the Japanese in Burma.

As one can imagine, Denys lost many of his colleagues and friends whilst on active service during the dark years of the Second World War, however he survived, despite being involved in several major crashes and was decorated by Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother) with the D.F.C. and Bar. He lived a long and active life and thus was able to tell his remarkable story in this superb book, which I am sure, will fascinate a wide audience of readers from the aviation and military historian to the layman alike.

Book Review by Michael D Booker
(June 2005)

 

HITLERS SPY CHIEF
The Wilhelm Canaris Mystery


Author: Richard Bassett

Publisher: Weidenfield & Nicholson
The Orion Publishing Group Ltd
Orion House
5 Upper Saint Martin’s Lane
London WC2H 9EA

ISBN: 0 297 84687 6
Published in 2005
UK Price: £20.00

Admiral William Canaris head of the Abwehr (the German Secret Service between 1935 and 1944, was described by his Russian opposite numbers as “the most dangerous intelligence man in the world!” However despite his high profile and most trusted position and originally being loyal to “the old Germany”, he gradually became disenchanted with Hitler’s Nazi regime and as evidence shows, he became involved in an aborted coup d’etat in 1938. As war broke out, it was his belief that Germany could not win and it is then, he commenced a “campaign from within” to sabotage Hitler’s war machine.

This unique volume - the first ever biography of Admiral William Canaris to be published in English, is based on original research by the author, who having spent a vast amount of time delving into both the British and German archives, tells the fascinating story of a most intriguing man, who was personally involved in a number of what many considered to be foolish acts during the Second World War. These included a secret meeting with the head of British Intelligence in Gibraltar in 1942 in attempt to bring about peace, to saving the lives of many Jews. As Canaris’s connections with Winston Churchill dated as far back as the Great War, he actually leaked the German invasion plans to Churchill and in a further attempt to delay the same invasion, he also overestimated the strength of British forces in reports back to Hitler!

Throughout the war, just one man - Reinhard Heydrich Chief of the SS Intelligence Service suspected Canaris and eventually threatened to tell Hitler of his exploits, however within a few weeks, Heydrich was assassinated by the British and Canaris lived another day. Canaris’s fate was eventually sealed in the aftermath of the 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler. He was arrested by the Nazis and executed in the last week of the war.

I enjoyed this excellent title immensely and am sure it will provide fascinating reading for those with a serious interest in military history. It includes superb photographs of the personalities involved, an organisational chart of the Abwehr as well as a detailed bibliography to assist with further reading.

Book Review by Michael D Booker
(May 2005)

 Laurence Attwell’s
LETTERS FROM THE FRONT

Author: Larence Attwell
Edited By: William Attwell

Pen & Sword Military
an imprint of
Pen & Sword Books Limited
47 Church Street
Barnsley
South Yorkshire S70 2AS

ISBN: 1 84415 233 2
Published in 2005

UK Price: £19.99

There is no doubt that the Great War was an horrific experience for the majority involved in it and as we now know, for the average soldier to survive well over four years of trench warfare, it was a remarkable feat. However Laurence Attwell, a young man from London did survive and so did the extraordinary letters he wrote home to his immediate family and now thanks to painstaking research and editing, his Great Nephew has produced this fascinating volume which I am sure will enthral military historians, family history researchers as well casual readers alike.

As war broke out, Laurie, a very capable twenty-six year was working as a Post Office clerk and like thousands of other young men at that time, answered Kitchener’s call “ Your Country Needs You” and joined the 1/15th Battalion of the Civil Service Rifles, an infantry battalion attached to 140 Brigade, forming part of 47 London Division. After several months initial training, in Watford, he was assigned to the Military Police Unit of that battalion, before sailing to France in March 1915 as part of the British Expeditionary Force.

Serving with distinction on the Western Front throughout the war, he saw action at Festubert, Givenchy, Loos, Vimy Ridge, Ypres, Messines, Gavrelle and also Cambrai. Here, like many others, he was exposed to the extreme dangers of war, he suffered hardships and often lived in the most atrocious of conditions imaginable, however despite these factors, Laurie always succeeded in writing regular letters home. These extraordinary personal documents written in a wonderful style, graphically recalled what life was like in the trenches for the young soldier miles away from home, so much so that his family often shared the contents of his correspondence with the extended family and friends, together with the congregation of their local church, who could not until them conceive the horrors our boys were experiencing.

Today, the reader can share the very same letters that were written by this talented young man what is now, some ninety years ago! They are now however made even more interesting, by the addition of extracts from official unit histories together with supporting foot-notes by the editor.

All in all, an excellent book – well worth buying!

Book Review by Michael D Booker
(June 2005)

 CALL TO ARMS
The British Army 1914-1918


Author: Charles Messanger

Publisher: Weidenfield & Nicholson
The Orion Publishing Group Ltd
Orion House
5 Upper Saint Martin’s Lane
London WC2H 9EA

ISBN: 0 297 84695 7
Published in 2005
UK Price: £30.00

At the outbreak of the Great War, Britain’s army was little more than an imperial police force and although it was professional in nature, it was not prepared for conflict of this magnitude. Numbering less than 250,000 men it was severely stretched, due to the requirement to serve both at home as well as in the far flung corners of the empire. Our army was also considerably smaller in size than those of our European neighbours and more often than not even at home, was considered to be the poor relation of the Royal Navy, who at that time were projected to be the true defenders of the realm.

There was now an immediate need to recruit, train and equip a new and more efficient army and as the war continued and the years passed, the number of men in uniform grew to an amazing 8.5million. This in itself brought its own problems in respect of feeding, clothing, accommodation, equipment, discipline, transportation and administration, not to mention health and fitness, together with morale issues.

The highly respected author of this most informative book has over 30 splendid titles to his credit and in this important volume, has provided the reader with a wealth of accurate and highly detailed information covering all of the above matters together with a wide variety of other fascinating subjects from the role of women in uniform through to officer selection, new weapons and arms of service, conscription, territorials and even the distribution of honours and awards.

The reader will also find many superb black and white photographs together with a full breakdown of infantry units and commands around the globe. There is a superb bibliography included and a very useful list of military acronyms too, making this splendid book not only interesting, but invaluable to military historians, laymen and family history researchers alike.

My honest opinion, is that this book is a must have. I feel sure it will soon become a standard reference work covering one of the bloodiest wars this world has known.

Book Review by Michael D Booker
(May 2005)

 VE DAY
A Day To Remember

Author: Craig Cabell & Allan Richards

Publisher: Pen and Sword Military
47 Church Street
Barnsley
South Yorkshire S70 2AS

ISBN: 1 84415 184 0
Published in 2005

UK Price: £19.99

Sixty years ago this month was one of the most significant days in history for the British nation. Although the campaign in the Far East against Japan still had some months to run, there was now at last hope, that the war would soon come to an end. This, coupled with piece of mind that Hitler’s tyranny and the evil of the Nazi Reich had at last also gone forever was cause for much celebration and euphoria.

This excellent book is an fitting reminder of this historical occasion and now, as there is perhaps only a minority of the population still alive who remember this great day themselves, it provides the reader with an excellent insight as to what it was like for our ancestors to be given renewed hope of peace and an end to several years of suffering.

My Mother told me how she danced around the outside of York Minster on VE Day with her ATS colleagues and my Grandfather also spoke of impromptu street parties, whilst uncles were still at sea with the Royal Navy celebrates in typical naval fashion – in fact, every family certainly had its own story to tell and the authors have successfully combined a unique mixture of historical analysis together with many moving accounts from individuals, civilians and servicemen and women alike, to produce this very enjoyable and historically valuable volume.

With a forward by Frederick Forsyth, there are also many photographs of street parties included. The most amazing of these in my opinion and what sums up the day so well, is an amazing picture taken in Whitehall on D Day - it pictures people as far as the eye can see – for them like many others, it certainly was a day to remember.

A good read and an important addition to any military historian’s library.

Book Review by Michael D Booker
(June 2005)

 

The Blockade Busters
Cheating Hitler’s Reich Of Vital War Supplies


Author: Ralph Barker

Pen & Sword Military
an imprint of
Pen & Sword Books Limited
47 Church Street
Barnsley
South Yorkshire S70 2AS

ISBN: 1 84415 282 0
Published in May 2005

UK Price: £19.99

This is the extraordinary story of George Binney, who at 39 years old in 1940 and too old for war service, found himself working in neutral Sweden as a civilian. As this was the time Norway was being overrun by German forces, he realised he still wanted to contribute to the war effort. Despite the cynical view taken by the Admiralty and political objections from various governments, Binney was persistent and set about breaking the sea and air blockades of Hitler’s Kriegsemarine and Luftwaffe in the North Sea area, to run vital cargoes of specialist Swedish steel to Britain.

In 1941 five of his ships successfully reached our shores with their valuable cargo intact and therefore approval was given for subsequent attempts. Unfortunately they were not always as successful as the first expeditions and sadly these daring missions ended when six ships were either scuttled or sunk.

Not being one to admit defeat, Binney later helped organise a further series of operations to and from the Swedish coast. Sailing from the Humber in often severe weather conditions and under constant threat from the much strengthened German defences, fast motor gun boats were now used, this time unusually sailing under the auspices of the Red Ensign.

This certainly is a most interesting book which has been produced thanks to the author having the unique access to Sir George Binney’s personal manuscripts and other fascinating archive documents. I am sure therefore, that it will be of tremendous value to those with an interest in matters naval, as well as the Second World War in general.

7 June 2005

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