Category Archives: Reviews

Book Review- Great Britain- The Tommy Gun Story

Until the widespread introduction of the Sten gun into British service, the Thompson was the prominent sub machine gun used in the British Empire, with nearly half a million being supplied to the British government form the US. The story of this British procurement is often wrapped up in rumour and anecdote rather than fact- for instance according to popular legend most of the guns ended up at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean after the ships carrying them were sunk by U-Boats. Up until now most histories of the Thompson machine gun have concentrated on the development and manufacture of the weapon and its extensive US service. British sales have often been relegated to a few paragraphs.Capture‘Great Britain- The Tommy Gun Story’ by Brian Davis Jnr seeks to address this gap by looking at the specific purchases of guns by the British, both under the Cash and Carry scheme and under Lend Lease. Davis has gone back to the original documents and telegrams sent by the Ministry of Supply in Great Britain and he looks at each order in turn, how many guns were purchased, what spares and magazines were supplied with them and how the MoS tabulated them. From all this it seems that we finally have an accurate figure for the number of weapons acquired, rather than the guesses put forward by previous authors. Equally important is his analysis of the ships transporting the weapons and how many of these were actually sunk. By looking at the figures he comes to the conclusion that only around 4% of the weapons sent across the Atlantic actually failed to complete the journey due to enemy action. I must confess this figure was far lower than I had already assumed and shows the importance of actually looking at the original documents rather than relying on anecdote!Capture1This book is very much a history of procurement, rather than the service use of the Thompson by the British and as such does not have any information on the British combat use of the weapon. As mentioned it does not cover the development history of the weapon either, however other books have already covered this topic and this is a niche publication that sets out to look at how Thompsons were procured, how many were purchased and how these orders were fulfilled. As such this book may not appeal to every reader, however for those with a specialist interest in British small arms of the Second World War this is an invaluable volume and helps clear up several myths once and for all. One area of particular praise is the number of original documents that are reproduced in the book, either as transcripts or as copies of the originals. Primary source based history is always to be commended and it is clear the authors spent many hours going through archives to find this information.Capture2The book is a print on demand paperback title from Amazon and as such normally takes a few days for delivery. This is the first print on demand book I have purchased and I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the printing and binding and this sort of esoteric title is ideally suited for this medium as it allows it to be available on a continuous basis despite the presumably limited sales it would generate. The book can be found here.

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Till the Boys Come Home Book Review

If you have been reading this blog for any length of time you will have realised that I rather like World War One postcards, and they are a regular item on our Sunday night image slot. The number of postcards produced during World War One is quite staggering and they range from the very common to some really rare cards that were produced in tiny numbers. I am an incidental collector of these postcards, I pick them up if I come across them but I am not actively seeking them out. Despite this, reference books are always useful to have and so I was pleased to recently pick up a copy of ‘Til the Boys Come Home, The First World War through its Picture Postcards’ by Tonie and Valmai Holt.51BQbVDQx6LThis book was first published back in 1977, but a revised edition was released in 2014 by Pen and Sword and it is this copy I have. The book is surprisingly weighty for its size and this is due to the high quality paper used in its printing, this being a necessity in a book with over 700 reproductions of postcards in full colour inside. The quality of reproduction is superb and the selection of images excellent with many rare and unusual cards included from all the belligerent nations of World War One. These images are accompanied by captions for each one and a traditional body text that approaches the Great War thematically. The authors look at topics such as the machines of war, humour, women and the home front and that great love of the era, sentiment. Splitting the book thematically makes a great deal of sense and one of the things that struck me was the similarities and differences between the various nations approach to topics. This is perhaps most apparent in humour with the British publishing self-deprecating humorous cards reflecting on the conditions in the front such as the illustrations by Bruce Bairnsfather and the adaptation of many seaside comic characters to the wartime situation (the large and overbearing wife, the hen pecked husband etc.). By contrast German humorous cards seemed to have a love of toilet humour, bare bottoms and chamber pots!imageFor me however the main problem I had with this book is the dated nature of much of the supporting text. Originally written in the 1970s the book perpetuates the ‘Lions led by Donkeys’ and ‘Mud, blood and Poppycock’ portrayal of World War One. The historiography of the conflict has moved on since then and historians have been increasingly challenging this view of the war with research showing that actually junior officers led their men well and suffered disproportionate casualties as a result whilst Generals were far more innovative and open to new ideas (even if the execution of them was limited) than had been previously believed. If the book was a direct reprint of the original I could accept this far more readily, but the authors make a point of saying that the book has been revised and updated for the Twenty First century and I found some of the supporting text quite jarring.imageThis criticism aside, the book is a wonderful coffee table book that is packed full of illustrations and background information and I have no hesitation in recommending it to collectors of wartime postcards or just those who are interested in how the war was portrayed through one of the most popular mediums of its day. I have certainly learnt a lot from this book and it is currently available from Naval and Military Press for just £4.99, instead of the cover price of £24.99 here.image

Book Review- Webley and Scott Automatic Pistols

Personally I find the early development of automatic hand guns fascinating, with many different and experimental weapons developed. Some would see great success like the Mauser C96, others were finicky and prone to breakages and dropped into obscurity. Britain was slow off the mark to create an indigenous automatic handgun and it would be the first decade of the twentieth century that finally saw the Webley and Scott company produce commercially viable guns. Before this the company had experimented in a unique concept, the automatic revolver in the form of the iconic Webley-Fosbery, which today has a cult following far in excess of its actual utility as a weapon. The automatics the company did develop had some unique features and were produced in quite large numbers, culminating in a contract to produce a large bore handgun for the Royal Navy just before World War one. It is the story of these weapons that Gordon Bruce’s book Webley and Scott Automatic Pistols covers.SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAThe book starts with a fascinating biography of William Whiting, the creative mind behind the company’s automatic revolvers and pistols, it was very much due to his combination of charisma, vision, technical competence and sheer bloody-mindedness that kept the company in the market for automatic pistols. It then continues by taking a detailed look at the Webley Fosbery and then the various iterations of the Webley automatics in a variety of calibres for both the civilian and military-police markets. The book covers in great detail all the various manufacturing variations and mechanical changes to the guns over their lifetime, as well as including a number of official reports from various testing the different models underwent in the quest for a large scale contract. If this was just text it would soon become overwhelming for the reader. Happily the book is profusely illustrated with photographs of existing guns, showing their internal workings and how their designs were modified over time. These photographs are accompanied with close ups of markings, diagrams of the internal workings taken from patent applications and pictures of the weapons stripped down to their component parts. As is typical for these books all the illustrations are in black and white, however they are clear and easy to follow and help demonstrate the more technical aspects of the text well.imageimageimageThis book was first published in 1992 and I would argue that it was and will remain the definitive tome on the subject of Webley automatics for many decades to come. There is a huge amount of detail in this book and happily the author’s writing style is engaging enough that it avoids becoming too overwhelming. For a book first published a quarter of a century ago, it is still available new from Amazon for under £40. This seems an absolute steal to me, especially when compared to the prices Collector’s Grade books of the same vintage go for. If you are interested in this subject at all, I heartily recommend you pick up a copy. Sadly I suspect I will never get to own either a Webley Fosbery or a Webley Automatic as they are now scarce and expensive weapons, but their story is fascinating and they remain one of a very few indigenous British automatic handgun designs.

Inglis Diamond, The Canadian Hi-Power Pistol Book Review

The Browning Hi Power is one of the most successful post-war 9mm military pistols of all time. Although the vast majority of these automatics were manufactured by the FN company in Belgium, during World War Two production was started in Canada at the Inglis factory with plans reconstructed from memory by FN employees who had escaped the Nazi occupation of Belgium. Production at Inglis was relatively short lived, but numerous variations within the basic design of the pistol abound and the pistol was to have a profound influence on post-war commonwealth militaries in finally persuading them to drop revolvers in favour of automatics.

The story of the Inglis manufactured Browning therefore is a fascinating one and tonight we are looking at a wonderfully detailed book on the subject “Inglis Diamond: The Canadian Hi-Power Pistol” by Clive Law, released in 2001 by specialist weapons publishing company Collector’s Grade.K1391A_a9bb7e78-000e-4340-b0c3-1e4a0e7d334cFor such a specialist topic this book is quite lengthy, coming in at 312 pages and starts with a brief overview of the pistol’s design and how Canada came to be manufacturing it. The book is profusely illustrated and covers all the contracts for pistols produced at the factory, alongside variations in design, sights and markings. Detailed photographs are provided of many different pistols as well as close ups of markings and slight mechanical changes to the design. The book also covers experimental models, prototype lightened pistols, presentation fire arms and even mentions illegally manufactured pistols created by Inglis staff who pilfered components from the assembly line! Added to this is a detailed study of the pistol’s accessories so different holsters and magazine pouches are covered which for someone who is fascinated by Canadian webbing as I am was very interesting! It is not just the Inglis made Hi-power’s career with the Canadian military that is covered, but also its service overseas with everyone from the Chinese to the Dutch. It is particularly interesting to see the weapon in its global context.image

imageimageThe book is very well written and packed full of original source documents to illustrate the political wrangling surrounding the pistol’s adoption and continued production; indeed the quantity of information in this book is astounding and if you are a collector of Hi-Power pistols then you will definitely want to get a copy; the more casual enthusiast might find the level of detail a little overwhelming however. Do not let that put you off however as it is an eminently readable book and although it has been out of print for a long time, copies are still available: Jeremy Tenniswood Militaria have copies available for £44.95 here.

Tangled Web Book Review

Regular readers will know that I have a bit of a ‘thing’ for Canadian webbing. Therefore I have been looking for a copy of tonight’s book, Tangled Web, Canadian Infantry Accoutrements, 1855-1985, by Jack Summers for quite a while. This book was first published in 1989 and it is, as far as I am aware, the only book covering the use of webbing and leather accoutrements by the Canadian Militia and Army. The book covers a wide variety of load bearing equipment from the earliest leather sets used with percussion muskets up to the 82 pattern design that had just been introduced when the book was published. The book is beautifully illustrated throughout, but as is often the case with books of this age all the illustrations are in black and white- this does not distract from their usefulness and many rare images of troops wearing the articles appear alongside photographs of the objects themselves.81snKx+B9uLThe book is divided thematically based on the type of weapon in use by the Canadian Army at various times in its history. This book very much focuses on the items themselves, modifications made in the field and depots and feedback on their utility based on user reports. It is not a book about Canadian manufacture of accoutrements or the specifically Canadian methods of production, so there is no coverage of companies such as Zephyr Loom and Textile Ltd or of uniquely Canadian features such as resin dipped strap ends. This however is not the aim of the book and there is plenty of uniquely Canadian information between the covers to make it worth tracking down a copy. As well as the modern sets we have covered on the blog before (the 51, 64 and 82 pattern sets) the book also covers in detail the pre-WW1 Canadian sets such as the Oliver leather equipment set and the numerous modifications made to them in Canada based on experience on the Western Front.Capture1Summers has an easy writing style and it helps that he provides context of the various conflicts Canada was involved with at the period each set was being used- I for one knew virtually nothing about the Fenian Raids on Canada in the Victorian era so this background was very much appreciated. This book covers a long period of history and it is nice to see the stop start nature of military procurement. On occasions incremental changes are made to equipment, at other times in history it is a revolutionary leap and this comes across nicely in a way that is not always the case with books covering a shorter time frame.Capture2There is no denying that this book is a specialist title, but it is packed full of information and well worth tracking down a copy if you have a particular interest in Canadian accoutrements. Sadly it seems to have been out of print for a number of years and copies are not easily available in the UK. If you are in the US or Canada this seems to be less of an issue. It is currently listed at £70 for a volume on Abebooks, however it is possible to find the book for less if you are willing to import from North America or check EBay regularly. My copy came from the latter site for £20 and this is a book well worth snagging if you can find a copy at a reasonable price.Capture3

Grenade, British and Commonwealth Hand and Rifle Grenades- Book Review

“Grenade, British and  Commonwealth Hand and Rifle Grenades” was first published back in 2001 but I have only recently added a copy to my reference library and I suspect many of you, like me, had not realised just what an excellent book it is. The book is currently selling for eye watering prices on Amazon, however far more affordable copies are available for purchase and I include a link at the end for a more sensibly priced supplier.imageGrenades have been used for many centuries, but rather fell out of favour in the nineteenth century. The Great War though brought the back to the frontline and there was a massive proliferation of these weapons in many different configurations. Happily for the authors and ourselves, these grenades were logically numbered from ‘Grenade No1’ onwards in a standard sequence and the authors look at each design in turn, drawing heavily on contemporary sources for descriptions, preparation and use of these munitions. Obviously some grenades get more detail than others- the various iterations of Mills bomb being an obvious example. The book is profusely illustrated throughout with black and white photographs and original diagrams illustrating the internal workings of each grenade. In a nice touch, many of the sections on grenades include information on the packaging of the grenades and the markings on ammunition boxes.imageThe book is slightly weaker on more modern grenades, for the simple fact that as many are still in use or covered by the thirty year ruling, they were still classified at the time of the book’s publication. With the authors hailing from Australia, there is also quite a bit of detail on Australian grenades, but less so on other commonwealth countries, although Canada is covered briefly. The book is rounded out by a section on grenade launchers and launching cartridges- an often overlooked topic as well as methods of carrying the grenades and a few examples of heroism from soldiers who won the VC with grenades.imageThis is truly an authoritative volume and I have learnt an awful lot from it- indeed I heartily wish I had access to it whilst writing some of the grenade posts on to blog as it would have helped provide me with a lot more information. I have no hesitation in recommending this book, and copies can be purchased for £40 each plus postage from here.image

Visit to Somerset Military Museum

Living in Yorkshire the Somerset Military Museum in Taunton is not somewhere I get to go very often, however owing to the need to visit family last weekend I found myself with an hour to spare whilst in Taunton so decided to revisit the museum. The museum has had a major facelift since I last went and I was eager to see the refreshed displays.

I was not disappointed as the museum is one of those rare things- a newly refurbished display that understands that what visitors actually want to see is artefacts! Display cases radiate out from the centre (which has a wonderful captured mountain gun) and they cover the various regiments of Somerset, with a definite emphasis on the Somerset Light Infantry. The other county regiments are there, but the focus is very much the SLI, which is fine with me as it was my grandfather’s regiment!

The displays cover much of what you would expect- uniforms, weapons, medals etc. A few of the more interesting artefacts include a couple of wooden grave markers from WW1, some truly impressive mess silver and a wonderfully engraved trench art waterbottle from the Great War. The display cases are densely packed with objects, but it never feels overwhelming and there is space to tell the stories of those behind the artefacts.

Finally I cannot end without mentioning that at the moment the glorious Lady Elizabeth Butler painting “Remnants of an Army”,  depicting the Retreat from Kabul in 1842 is on loan to the museum. This is one of the great pieces of military art and would be worth a trip to see alone without even considering the rest of this fantastic museum.

The Somerset Military Museum is part of the Museum of Somerset in Taunton Castle and is free to enter.