Wikipedia:WikiProject Military history/News/July 2022/Book reviews

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Falklands Gunner - Tom Martin

A 105 mm light gun in action

By Hawkeye7

This book is written by Tom Martin, who was a second lieutenant with the 29th (Corunna) Battery, Royal Artillery, in the Falklands War. Although part of the 4th Regiment, Royal Artillery, the battery had the peacetime role of supporting 2nd Battalion, Parachute Regiment. When that unit was detached to join the 3rd Commando Brigade for the expedition to the Falklands, it took its support units with it, and the 29th Battery was attached to the 29th Commando Regiment Royal Artillery, which supported the 3rd Commando Brigade. It left behind computer equipment normally held at regimental level and, as a result, the battery had to do things the old-fashioned way. This actually makes the book more interesting and useful.

For the artillery to engage a target, you first need your precise location on the map, including your altitude (and GPS was not available in 1982) and that of your target. This is fed into a computer. To do it manually, you take a map and military version of a protractor and ruler, put it over your position on the map and run the ruler around to the target. That gives you the bearing to the target, for which the Army uses milliradians (mils) not degrees; there are 6,400 mils in a circle. The ruler gives you the range to the target; this gives the elevation of the gun, and also lets you know whether you need a standard charge or supercharge.

At this point, things become complicated. Additional factors to consider are the muzzle velocity of the gun, which drops off over time due to wear and tear on the barrel, and the weather (meteor): wind, air temperature and air pressure. Complex calculations are required. Or you can do the old-fashioned way and fire a round. A forward observer (spotter) will note where the round landed, and give you a correction. If you are on target, the observer will ask for a repeat, specifying the number of rounds. All guns in the section, battery or regiment, as required, will then fire, taking their settings from the ranging gun. This is how they did it in World War I and World War II. According to my father, the guns in Korea could put three shells in the air at the same time. There are different sorts of fuzes: contact fuzes detonate when they hit the ground, which was a problem in the boggy Falklands, while time fuzes have a clockwork timer. These were used back in World War I. The big innovation in World War II was the proximity fuze, which has a tiny radar in it, so it can be set to explode at a particular altitude.

One point the author makes, which is a personal bugbear of mine, is unrealistic logistical training in peacetime. Since artillery rounds cost (from memory) about twelve hundred bucks a piece (for an ordinary round; the sky's the limit for the new smart rounds), the Army is understandably reluctant to fire off too many in training. However, in wartime, the battery will be issued with thousands of rounds, and training is required in handling such large quantities. The shells and charges are normally shipped separately. In training in the UK, supercharge was seldom used; the firing ranges are not large, and the supercharge wears out the barrel more quickly. In the Falklands, supercharge firings were the norm.

This book is lavishly illustrated with colour photographs. It chronicles the adventures of the battery. It does not cover other batteries, but gives you a good idea of the campaign from the point of view of the artillery.

Publishing details: Martin, Tom (2017). Falklands Gunner: A Day-By-Day Personal Account of the Royal Artillery in The Falklands War. Barnsley, South Yorkshire: Frontline Books. ISBN 978-1-47388-121-1. OCLC 992478069.

The Ruhr 1943 - Richard Worrall

A RAF Avro Lancaster bomber before departing on one of the raids that formed part of the Battle of the Ruhr in March 1943

By Nick-D

The 24th book in Osprey Publishing's newish Air Campaign series covers the World War II Battle of the Ruhr, the first major campaign undertaken by RAF Bomber Command against Germany. It was written by Richard Worrell, a British academic historian.

This is a cut above most books published by Osprey. Worrall clearly knows his stuff at a very deep level, and has packed a lot of information into the 96 pages Osprey allows authors in this series. The book provides very good coverage of the tactics and aircraft used by Bomber Command, and less detailed but still very useful coverage of the German defences. As the campaign ran for around six month and involved dozens of major raids, Worrall didn't attempt to describe them all. Instead, he picked out some illustrative examples to cover in detail and the others are noted in passing. This approach worked quite well, and allowed Worrall to provide useful analysis: he demonstrates that the RAF became more competent across the campaign, despite suffering crippling losses, but also that it was allowed to run on for too long. In a break from the approach taken in most Osprey works, Worrall frankly discusses the moral ambiguities of the campaign (most raids explicitly targeted German civilians) and the contradictory literature on its results.

The book of course isn't perfect. There's some unnecessary repetition, and I would have liked more information on the experiences of civilians. Worrall has also pitched the book at readers with a general understanding of the history of heavy bombing during World War II, so those who are new to the topic may be confused.

Overall, this is a very useful work and its quality suggests that Osprey should commission more works from academic historians and fewer from the generalists who make up most of its crop of authors.

Publishing details: Worrall, Richard (2021). The Ruhr 1943 : The RAF's brutal fight for Germany's industrial heartland. Oxford: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 9781472846563.

Recent external reviews

The battleship USS Missouri during the Gulf War

Black, Jeremy (2021). To Lose an Empire: British Strategy and Foreign Policy, 1758-90. London: Bloomsbury Academic. ISBN 9781350216068.

McManus, John C. (2021). Island Infernos: The US Army’s Pacific War Odyssey, 1944. New York City: Dutton Caliber. ISBN 9780451475060.

  • Montesclaros, Marck (1 July 2022). "Island Infernos". Military Review. Army University Press.

Helliwell, Christine (2021). Semut: The Untold Story of a Secret Australian Operation in WWII Borneo. Melbourne: Penguin. ISBN 9780143790020.

Chris, Baker (2022). What Happened to the Battleship: 1945 to the Present. Barnsley, United Kingdom: Seaforth Publishing. ISBN 9781399070089.

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