Tag Archives: osprey books

Italian Blackshirt 1935-1945 by P Crociani and PP Battisteli

One of the biggest myths of the years leading up to the Second World War is that of Germany being the first Facist State. We all know that after the failure of the Beer Hall Putsch in 1923 Hitler eventually came to power in 1933. Most people seem to assume that Italy became fascist on Germany’s coat-tails, but while Hitler was languishing in prison for his role in the failed putsch, Mussolini was already established as the head of the fascist Government. Hence fascism had a much longer history in Italy than it did in Germany.

As with most totalitarian regimes, Mussolini depended on loyal, committed and trustyworthy stormtroopers to seize power, and then to maintain it. Think of the Praetorian Guard. Step forward the Blackshirts – the counterparts of their much more famous German cousins, the Brownshirts. They had their ancestry in the action squads of the fascist party, and soon after coming to power in 1922 Mussolini organised them into a paramilitary force.

As with the SS, the Blackshirts went on to fight as conventional troops in Ethiopa, the Spanish Civil War, and then in a range of theatres after Italy’s entry into the war in 1940. Perhaps most well known was Italy’s involvement in the North African War, and least well known is the Italian cotingent who fought on the Eastern Front. Another great myth about the war is the performance of Italian troops – popular wisdom tells us that they all ran away. Having looked at the Blackshirts, however, I doubt very much whether these politically loyal, fearsome looking men ever did much running away.

This book follows the tried-and-tested Osprey concept of experts covering a particlar unit or battle in amazing detail. Particularly for a oftenn ignored aspect of the war, such as the Blackshirts, this approach really pays dividends. Perhaps this might not have the general appeal to a wide audience, but as someone who really does not know enough about Italy’s role in the war, reading this book has filled the gap nicely. Theres an Osprey book for every gap!

Italian Blackshirt 1935-1945 is published by Osprey Books

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Mounted Grenadiers of the Imperial Guard – Ronald Pawly

Mounted Grenadiers of the Imperial Guard

Mounted Grenadiers of the Imperial Guard

From the moment Napoleon Bonaparte emerged to prominence at the recapture of Toulon in 1793, until his final defeat at Waterloo in 1815 and his subsequent exile to Elba, the French Army had revolutionised warfare. Napoloeon developed an Army that was overwhelmingly made up of conscripts, using a large body of poorly trained men who could be easily replaced. At the head of this mass army, however, was perhaps the most formidable Royal Household unit formed since the Roman Praetorian Guard – the Imperial Guard. The Imperial Guard came to set the standard for elite Household units, a mantle picked up by the British Foot Guards and Household Cavalry at Waterloo.

The Mounted Grenadiers were the Imperial Guards heavy cavalry, imposing in their Bearskins and chosen for their physical stature. This book, by Ronald Pawly uses regimental records and is a short history of the Mounted Grenadiers, and also contains many photos of rare weapons and equipment, as well as Osprey’s trademark artwork.

This book is pretty much a historical narrative of the unit, the part that they played in the Napoleonic French Army and the wider Napoleonic Wars. If you are looking for a comparative study of Napoleonic heavy cavalry then maybe this isnt the book for you, but if you are simply interested in reading about an elite force and studying them in depth this will make for a very good read. I can imagine this being especially interesting if you are keen on military models, wargaming or military uniforms. It is packed with facts and figures, and has clearly been written by someone who has done much research on this subject.

I must warn you, however: this book is very difficult to read without hearing the Sharpe theme tune in your head, or upon closing your eyes seeing epic scenes from the film Waterloo!

Mounted Grenadiers of the Imperial Guard is published by Osprey

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British Battleships 1939-45(2): Nelson and King George V Class- Angus Konstam

Nelson and King George V Class Battleships

Nelson and King George V Class Battleships

I can recall first reading an Angus Konstam Osprey book at University, studying eighteenth century piracy. Then, some years later, I was researching an officer who served onboard a Motor Torpedo Boat on D-Day, and searching for an Osprey book on Fairmile D class MTB’s. You’ve guessed it, Angus Konstam wrote it. So to see this new book written by Konstam shows how broad his expertise runs. Versatility is a much under-rated quality for a Historian to have.

Britain began the second world war as the worlds primary Naval power. In 1939, as in 1815, Britannia could legitimately claim to rule the waves. But, as Konstam argues, the cracks were already beginning to appear. Although she possessed 12 Battleships, 10 of them were over 20 years old and had served in the first world war. Britain had paid a heavy financial burden between 1914 and 1918, and Naval expansion was one area that looked likely to suffer. And after being out-maneouvred in several Naval treaties in the 20′s and 30′s, the Royal Navy and her ship designers were at a severe disadvantage when 1939 beckoned. An example, if every any is needed, of the dangers of politicians hampering their own armed forces.

This book looks at the story behind the construction of two classes of ships which illustrate the situation the Royal Navy found itself in. Restricted by the Washington treaty to not exceed 35,000 tons, the Nelson class was planned as a compromise. The two ships, Nelson and Rodney, had a bizarre shape, with all of their main guns forward, and the superstucture sited aft. Although they looked odd, they proved to be very capable seaboats, stable gun platforms and gave sterling service – HMS Rodney proved pivotal in finally sinking the Bimarck in 1941. A valuable insight for those who think the new Daring class Destroyers ugly – if it works, it works. Wellington’s redcoats might not have looked as smart as the Imperial Guard at Waterloo, but they beat them off all the same.

By the late 1930′s it was clear that Germany, Italy and Japan were not going to abide by their treaty obligations. Britain had stuck to her obligations for much longer, and as a result found herself severely behind with augmenting her Battleship fleet. The solution was a new class of Battleships, the King George V class. Designed on the eve of war, they were built and entered service in the early years of the war. So urgent was the need to get them into service that HMS Prince of Wales sailed to take on the Bismarck with civilian workmen still onboard. As much as the class provided a valuable boost the Royal Navy, they still had their weaknesses. Their anti-aircraft defences were woefully undergunned, as shown by the loss of the Prince of Wales off Singapore in 1941. The days of the Battleship were increasingly numbered.

This book charts the story of the second world war British battleship beautifully. Konstam has to be one of the most foremost British naval historians. With an array of action photos, and Osprey’s ubiquitous illustrations and diagrams, this is an essential read for Naval enthusiasts. I can imagine this book being of real use if I was looking to build myself a nice scale model of Nelson or Prince of Wales. Now, theres a thought…

British Battleships 1939-45(2): Nelson and King George V Class is published by Osprey

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The Anglo-Afghan Wars 1839-1919 – Gregory Fremont-Barnes

The Anglo-Afghan Wars 1839-1919

The Anglo-Afghan Wars 1839-1919

On a recent visit to Pakistan, a British military official wondered out loud why the Pakistani Army was having such trouble fighting tribal militants in the Waziristan hinterland areas. After all, the British Army was fighting exactly the same war, in exactly the same place, in the 1930′s. The training manuals are still there to be read.

This story might be apocryphal, but it does illustrate how it simply will not do to shut past events in the past and forget about them. Particularly in military history, lessons are there to be learnt. Weapons may change, but terrains and societies remain relatively unchanged. The British soldier in Helmand province fixes Bayonets and clears compounds much the same as his ancestors did in the 19th century.

Therefore, this edition in Osprey’s Essential Histories series is very timely. At a time when many commentators are doubting our role in Afghanistan and whether we can achieve our goals – usually peppered with simplistic comments such as ‘the Russians couldnt manage it’ and ‘we couldnt defeat the Afghans in the nineteenth century’. This book certainly blows apart some misleading assumptions.

Gregory Fremont-Barnes is a Doctor in Modern History and a senior lecturer in War Studies at Sandhurst. Therefore, you probably couldn’t hope for a better qualified writer. And his background is crucial – this is not nostalgic history, it will make essential reading for young – and indeed older – officers serving in Afghanistan today.

The British Army has been fighting in Afghanistan since 1839, not too many years since Waterloo. British interest in Afghanistan arose from fears that Russia, just to the north, might threaten India, the jewel in the crown of the British Empire. Therefore repeated attempts were made to secure Afghanistan as a bulwark against Russian ambitions. Much as in the same way security in Afghanistan today is crucial to the security of Pakistan, and the wider region.

As with so many British campaigns, involvement in Afghanistan was hallmarked by initial failures, followed by which the local leadership rallied and secured the situation. Therefore, popular talk about the British Army failing in Afghanistan is largely inaccurate. The British Army was not trying to conquer Afghanistan, the strategic aim was to secure the north west flank of India, something that was achieved. Whilst Afghanistan has frequently been a hard fight for British soldiers, it has given some heroic tales, such as the Battle of Maiwand.

The overarching lesson from Britain’s experiences in Afghanistan seems to be that the real challenge lies in defeating the irregular forces at large in the country is a complex problem, that can be contained by military force but ultimately will be nullified by a sound ‘hearts and minds’ policy. And above all, an understanding of Afghanistan’s history, topography and society is crucial.

ISAF is not trying to conquer Afghanistan, that is the crucial difference. To do so would be impossible and counter-productive, as shown in this book. That such a learned and well-presented view is espoused by one of the very people instructing our future Army officers is very encouraging indeed. This book is well researched – as shown by the exhaustive bibliography – and contains Ospreys trademark detailed maps and fine artwork.

The Anglo Afghan Wars 1839-1919 is published by Osprey Books

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The Coral Sea 1942

The Coral Sea 1942

The Coral Sea 1942

One of the most striking effects of the second world war was the supplanting of the Battleship by the Aircraft Carrier as the most important Naval vessel. By 1945 the era of the big gun Dreadnought Battleships was long gone.

Nowhere saw more Aircraft Carrier battles than the Pacific. Former US Navy Commander Mark Stille takes a look at one of the earliest battles in the South Pacific, the 1942 battle of The Coral Sea. The US Navy’s carrier succesfully thwarted a Japanese attempt to invade New Guinea. It was pivotal in that it represented the first reverse for the Japanese since Pearl Harbour, and set the US on the long road of ‘island-hopping’. It was not perhaps as decisive a battle as Midway, fought less than a month later. But the lessons learnt by the Americans and the losses suffered by the Japanese at the Coral Sea had a profound effect on the outcome of Midway.

Mark Stille takes a very detailed look at the opposing plans, from the Japanese intent to invade New Guinea and the tactics that the US Navy deployed to frustrate them. We are given very informative biographies of the senior Naval Commanders in question, and also a glimpse into the respective Naval ethos of each country. As a former Naval Officer, Stille is well placed to write about Naval tactics and strategy. And of course, this book contains Osprey’s trademark maps and illustrations. One thing that really impresses me is the ’3D’ maps, showing the height of waves of aircraft as the attacked.

This is a rather narrow account, however, as it focusses almost exclusively on one specific battle. Although it has clearly been written for the American market, there are very broad contexts to the Battle of the Coral Sea. The Royal Navy had been using its Carriers to great effect in the Mediterranean and in the sinking of the Bismarck. Furthermore, it could be argued that the point at which Aircraft Carriers truly gained the ascendancy was the sinking of HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse when sent to Singapore without adequate air cover. Yet this episode only receives the briefest of mention. Stille does focus almost exclusively on the US Navy, and what is an interesting and thorough account does miss out on some comparative and contextual depth in this respect.

The Coral Sea 1942 is published by Osprey

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Book Review – latest releases from Osprey Books

An earlier book in the Osprey Campaign series

An earlier book in the Osprey Campaign series

Osprey have been publishing books in the field of military history for many years. I have long been a fan of their well-presented and accessible style, complete with smart looking maps and fantastic artwork. I have made a lot of use of them over the years, especially their books on Operation Market Garden and Fairmile Motor Torpedo Boats.

These three interesting looking books landed through my letterbox over the weekend, so here are my impressions of them!

The Six Day War 1967: Sinai

This volume comes as part of Osprey’s Campaign series, which now numbers over 200 publications. They are well regarded as among the best introductions to any particular battle of campaign in history.

The 1967 Arab-Israeli War was part of the long running dispute that took place in the Middle East in the second half of the twentieth century, which is arguably still smouldering today. Since its inception Israel had long lived under the threat of annihilation. Under pressure in 1967, Israel launched a devastating pre-emptive strike on its enemy Egypt, eventually reaching the Suez Canal in just five days.

This book charts the story of this short but sharp war, in particular one of the most daring and successful operations in modern military history. As with all Osprey books it contains some crisp and accurate maps, well researched original photographs and some incredibly detailed artwork of aircraft, armoured vehicles and battlefield scenes. The text itself looks at the deep political reasons behind the war, and also the complex internal politics of the Israeli state. Along with chronologies and orders of battle, this strikes a helpful balance between detail and accessibility, which in my experience is the hallmark of the Campaign series. Whilst they may not have the detail and referencing of a full academic work, if you know absolutely nothing about the 1967 war – much like myself before picking this up – then you certainly would after putting it down.

M1 Abrams vs. T-72 Ural: Operation Desert Storm 1991

This account, part of Osprey’s Duel series, focuses more on the machines that were pitted against each other, and the men who fought in them.

The Cold War often seen clashes between American and Soviet built tanks, but curiously, never directly between those two countries. Never the less, commentators and intelligence analysts took a close interest in how each sides weaponry compared.

The last armoured clash between American and Soviet produced armour took place in Iraq in 1991, during the first Gulf War. The US M1A1 Abrams battle tank, which made up the bulk of the coalition armour, was barely two years old, and certainly one of the worlds most advanced tanks. The Iraqi T-72 was built by Soviet Russia. Compared to the Abrams it fielded second-rate sights and ammunition, as well as inferior training of its crews. As such the T-72 were never going to be a match for the Abrams, as this book argues. Indeed, the first Gulf-War saw some of the most one-sided armoured fighting in history.

Tech-heads, and fans of vehicles, armour and weaponry will love this book. It delves deep into the development and design of the respective tanks, full of technical drawings, close up photographs and specifications. Crucially, however, it also looks at the human aspect, especially the training of the men who crewed the T-72 and Abrams. Without this, there is a risk that it might be something of a Haynes Manual – very interesting but narrow, only nuts and bolts. Thankfully, by combining the men and materiel, wet get a full picture. Too often the human and machine elements are separated.

Special Operations Forces in Iraq

Military History should never be confined to ‘history’, and this book brings us right up to date with a reminder that servicemen are fighting around the world right as we speak. Some of them of the ‘talking trees’ variety.

Anything to do with Special Forces is a big seller. Look at the explosion of interest in the SAS after the Iranian embassy in 1981 and after the Gulf War. And this book from the Elite series does not disappoint. Looking at the initial deployments and engagements during the first phase of the Iraq War in 2003, through to the insurgency period, the hunt for Ba’ath party officials, Al Qaeda operatives and militiamen. It looks at battles around the port of Um Qassar, in the Kurdish mountains of the North, and the urban warfare in Baghdad and Basra. Refreshingly, it doesn’t just focus on US Special Forces, as many books tend to.

One of the fascinating things about Special Forces is in their name – the special nature of their weapons, equipment and tactics. This book more than delivers, with some cracking illustrations of US, British, Australian and Polish Special Forces. Each illustration has a detailed description. If you were looking to make military models, something like this would be right up your street.

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Filed under Army, art, Book of the Week, cold war, Iraq