Walking the Western Front: The Somme 1916, The First of July

Walking the Western Front: The Somme 1916, The First of JulyWalking the Western Front: The Somme in Pictures by Ed Skelding
ISBN: 1781592020
Published by Pen & Sword Books on September 19, 2016
Genres: Battlefield Guide
Pages: 208

This book is a companion to the BBC DVD series Walking the Western Front. It includes 150 prints in color and black and white taken during multiple filming trips to the Somme. Historical photos taken 100 years ago are accompanied by shots in the exact same spot today. Many of the modern photos are beautiful, in sharp contrast to the carnage and destruction that occurred in these locations. The captions and narrative accompanying the images is well written and includes interesting historical stories.

Reviewed by Dana Lombardy, publisher of WWOI

Ancestor’s Footsteps: The Somme 1916

Ancestor’s Footsteps: The Somme 1916Ancestor S Footsteps: The Somme 1916 by Andrew Rawson
ISBN: 1473864208
Published by Pen & Sword Books on July 31, 2016
Genres: Battlefield Guide

The publisher explains that the purpose of this book is to answer “questions asked by visitors to the Somme; where did my ancestor fight?” It uses battle accounts with modern notations on historical trench maps, intended to help the reader locate individual units. The index has an impressive list of military units, but it may not be easy for someone standing on the battlefield today to locate where their ancestor’s unit actually would have been 100 years ago looking at these historical b&w maps.

Reviewed by Dana Lombardy, publisher of WWOI

A Visitor’s Guide – The First Day of the Somme: Gommecourt to Maricourt

A Visitor’s Guide – The First Day of the Somme: Gommecourt to MaricourtThe First Day of the Somme: Gommecourt to Maricourt, 1 July 1916 by Jon Cooksey, Jerry Murland
ISBN: 147382799X
Published by Pen & Sword Books on August 5, 2016
Genres: Battlefield Guide

This guidebook uses a different approach from the previous one above that covers Ypres, and it is much less effective and rather old fashioned. There are no color maps or color photos and the book is not as well organized. For example, the modern map of Serre shows twelve numbered locations, but these appear over the next 28 pages and are not easy to follow. There are many historical photos, including several of the soldiers who fought there with brief descriptions of what these men did.

Reviewed by Dana Lombardy, publisher of WWOI

Understanding the Ypres Salient: An Illuminating Battlefield Guide

Understanding the Ypres Salient: An Illuminating Battlefield GuideUnderstanding the Ypres Salient: An Illuminating Battlefield Guide by Thomas Scotland, Steve Heys
ISBN: 1911512501
Published by Helion & Company on June 19, 2017
Genres: Battlefield Guide
Pages: 291

This is a well-organized and lavishly illustrated guidebook that identifies dozens of key locations around the town of Ypres in Belgium. Three major battles were fought there, in 1914, 1915, and 1917, resulting in massive casualties but moving the frontline at most a few miles. There are dozens of color historical maps and color modern photos with key locations noted on the photos. These are interspersed with the text and are easy to follow. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Dana Lombardy, publisher of WWOI

Zeppelins Over the Midlands

Zeppelins Over the MidlandsZeppelins Over the Midlands: The Air Raids of 31st January 1916 by Mick Powis
ISBN: 1473834198
Published by Pen & Sword Books on April 14, 2017
Genres: Aviation
Pages: 224

The author’s approach is to make the single massive nine-airship raid of 31 January 1916 the center of a broader history by following the crews, their airships, and the targeted cities and towns through the war and beyond. The author’s grandmother and mother narrowly survived this raid, prompting Powis to devote years of research to this book. His appendix listing those killed is probably the first time that all their names have been published in one place.

Mick Powis’s meticulous work and unique insights are impressive to a reviewer who has studied the Zeppelin raids for almost 25 years. For example, his study of the pattern of bomb strikes shows conclusively that Zeppelins did hover to drop their bombs if weather and a lack of antiaircraft guns allowed it. He created maps from multiple sources that showed the path of each of the nine Zeppelins, often correcting errors in Britain’s official history, The War in the Air. Unfortunately, the maps as printed almost require a magnifying glass to read the town names, a minor annoyance in an otherwise excellent book.

Reviewed by Steve Suddaby, past president of WW1HA

Vintage Aviation Series

by Claude Sykes, Louis Arbon Strange, Rudolph Stark
Genres: Aviation

Casemate is republishing a number of classic pilot autobiographies and histories from World War One. These include works by James McCudden, Charles Biddle, Rudolf Stark, L.A. Strange, and others. Most of these books were originally published in the 1930s and several times since, but are now out of print. While these reasonably priced hardcover books are reprints of the originals, they are not facsimiles, so the type is clear and very readable.

Reviewed by Steve Suddaby, past president of WW1HA

Brief descriptions of the five books available to this reviewer follow:

Recollections of an Airman
By Lt-Col Louis Arbon Strange
224 pages, 19 photos, first published 1933

L.A. Strange was one of the original Royal Flying Corps pilots to fly to France in August 1914 and served in various capacities through the end of the war. In addition to flying reconnaissance, bombing, and fighter missions, he served in various leadership roles in RFC training schools, ending the war back in France as a Royal Air Force Wing Commander. His varied career makes this an important source for first-hand information on the RFC and RAF.

Wings of War
By Rudolph Stark
200 pages, 14 illustrations, first published 1932

Leutnant Rudolf Stark flew in Jadgstaffel 34 and commanded Jadgstaffel 35 in the last year of the war. His autobiography provides a thoughtful look at the decline of Germany, its military, and its air force in the last half of 1918. Stark was also a very good painter and his vivid paintings of aerial combat provide most of the b&w illustrations.

Fighter Pilot
By “McScotch” (William MacLanachan)
236 pages, 15 photos, first published 1936

This is a well-written description of MacLanachan’s transition from fighter pilot neophyte to expert and gives the reader a good feel for life at the front in a British squadron. It is also noteworthy in that it thoroughly describes the famous ace “Mick” Mannock during the seven months that the two flew together. The book’s clarity is enhanced by the inclusion of a map of the front during the time the author was flying there.

The Way of the Eagle
By Major Charles J. Biddle
346 pages, 21 photos, first published 1919

Charles Biddle first flew with the French Lafayette Flying Corps in summer 1917 as part of Escadrille N.73, one of the fighter squadrons in the elite “Storks” group. After the U.S. entered the conflict, he flew in the 103rd Aero Squadron and later commanded the 13th Aero and the 4th Pursuit Group, U.S. Air Service. His autobiography consists of his letters home during the war, sometimes supplemented by information he could not write originally due to censorship.

German War Birds
By “Vigilant” (Claude Sykes)
245 pages, 24 photos, first published 1931

This classic is greatly enhanced with an introduction the exceptional British historian Norman Franks, who puts this work into historical context—one of the first exposures of the English-speaking public to information about individual German and Austrian aviators. Claude Sykes’ wide-ranging book goes beyond fighter aces of the Western Front to include reconnaissance, bomber, airship, and even kite balloon aviators in Galicia, Salonika, the Middle East, and the Far East.

There are seven other books in this Vintage Aviation Series:

King of Air Fighters: The Biography of Major “Mick” Mannock, VC, DSO, MC, by Ira Jones

Immelmann: The Eagle of Lille, by Frantz Immelmann

Flying Fury: Five Years in the Royal Flying Corps, by Major James T.B. McCudden

Knight of Germany: Oswald Boelcke, German Ace, by Johannes Werner

An Air Fighter’s Scrapbook, collection of experiences by British pilot Ira “Taffy” Jones

Jagdstaffel 356: The Story of a German Fighter Squadron, by M.E. Kähnert

Night Raiders of the Air, by British bomber pilot A.R. Kingsford

The Unsubstantial Air: American Fliers in the First World War

The Unsubstantial Air: American Fliers in the First World WarThe Unsubstantial Air: American Fliers in the First World War by Samuel Hynes
ISBN: 0374278008
on October 21, 2014
Genres: Aviation
Pages: 336

My initial impression of this book by its cover, was pretty skeptical. Was it one more book about famous aces, rehashing the stories that have been told many times before? Was it one of the flood of books written quickly to cash in on the WW1 centennial? After reading just a couple dozen pages, however, I was pleasantly surprised at how wrong I had been. This is an incredibly insightful overview of what it was like to be an American pilot in the First World War. It is not simply a repeat of war stories. Using the writings of many individuals, Hynes describes the pilots’ prewar lives, their civilian and military flight training, their reactions to living in foreign countries, their time in combat, and how their experiences affected their lives afterward if they survived.

The author takes full advantage of his experience as a young pilot in WW2 to describe what the WW1 young men went through and what they thought about it. This level of understanding enables him to share these insights with his readers.

One example among many will suffice to illustrate this. Hynes comments (p.212) on the common phenomenon of pilots being disgusted by their hometown newspapers’ exaggerated accounts of events in which they participated: “Pilots know that the newspaper version will miss the important details: the roles the other pilots on the patrol played, and what the Boche did, and the weather, and the way luck enters in, and fear, and nerves. Civilians won’t get it right… And so pilots at the front withdraw into their pilots’ world, where there are other young men like themselves who understand the contingencies of combat….”

One of the other joys of this book is how Hynes puts the actions and attitudes of these young pilots into their historical, cultural, and socio-economic contexts. In reading it, you start to understand for the first time how their views were shaped by such factors as contemporary concepts of manhood; an upper-class, Ivy League background (for many); grandfathers who were Civil War veterans; etc. Hynes submerges you in the American life of the turn of the last century and the result is fascinating.

The raw material for this excellent book consisted of the first-person writings of over 60 individual pilots. As I was reading, it occurred to me that a hundred writers could have started with the same raw material but that probably none of them would have interpreted it with the same insight and brilliance. Whether this will be your first exposure to World War One aviation or you’ve already read dozens of books on the subject, I can’t recommend this highly enough.

Steve Suddaby, past president of WW1HA. This is only the second time he has awarded a book five stars on an Amazon.com review.

New York Times: “…both thrilling and poignant…

The Washington Post: “A terrific book.”

Kirkus Review: “…a marvelously fluid narrative.

The First Blitz: Bombing London in the First World War

The First Blitz: Bombing London in the First World WarThe First Blitz: Bombing London in the First World War by Ian Castle
ISBN: 1472815297
Published by Osprey Publishing on October 20, 2015
Genres: Aviation
Pages: 204

Ian Castle tells the story of the Zeppelin, Gotha, and Giant air raids on London in WW1. It is one of the best overviews in print, devoting a fair amount of attention to the raids’ effects on the populace but also covering well all the other aspects of the topic.

The maps are beautiful and very helpful in guiding the reader. This reviewer walked the route taken by Heinrich Mathy’s Zeppelin L13 on its devastating September 1915 raid and visited a number of other sites described in the text. The combination of Castle’s descriptions, maps, and Christa Hook’s paintings get the reader quite close to being on the sites themselves.

Osprey reprinted and updated two of Castle’s earlier works to create this single volume. London 1914-17: The Zeppelin Menace and London 1917-18: The Bomber Blitz. If you have neither or only one of them, however, this book is well worth reading. The use of footnotes would have improved this history, but that is a small complaint about this work that is otherwise exceptional.

Reviewed by Steve Suddaby, past president of WW1HA

Oswald Boelcke: Germany’s First Fighter Ace and Father of Air Combat

Oswald Boelcke: Germany’s First Fighter Ace and Father of Air CombatOswald Boelcke: Germany's First Fighter Ace and Father of Air Combat by Rg Head
ISBN: 1910690236
Published by Grub Street on August 5, 2016
Genres: Aviation
Pages: 240

Head’s distinguished U.S. Air Force career involved flying several combat aircraft and several assignments in Vietnam. His work on Boelcke reflects Head’s insights on how aerial combat assumed a definitive role thanks to Boelcke’s leadership and legacy.

The book is a leisure read, covering aviators, the physical flying environment, and the rewards associated with combat aviation.

The formation and evolution of Germany’s air service is interweaved with Boelcke’s life. Information on aeroplanes is covered in detail, particularly the Fokker Eindecker models and Albatros series that replaced it.

Most important is the discussion of Boelcke’s Dicta, the foundation of formal German fighter tactic principles he wrote in 1916 that still apply today (although not always attributed to him). Boelcke’s concept of deploying fighters in squadron formation produced higher effectiveness and protection especially when flying together under the lead of an expert pilot.

The appendices include Boelcke’s chronology, the aces Boelcke trained (including the Red Baron), a detailed evolution of the Albatros fighter, and four of Boelcke’s contemporaries who also wrote their views on aerial tactics.

Abridged from review by Terrence Finnegan in RoadstotheGreatWar-ww1.blogspot.com/

One in a Thousand: The Life and Death of Captain Eddie McKay, Royal Flying Corps

One in a Thousand: The Life and Death of Captain Eddie McKay, Royal Flying CorpsOne in a Thousand: The Life and Death of Captain Eddie McKay, Royal Flying Corps by Graham Broad
ISBN: 1442607467
Published by University of Toronto Press on March 20, 2017
Genres: Aviation
Pages: 208

Tim Cook, a historian at the Canadian War Museum, wrote that this “well-written and deeply researched microhistory offers a detailed biography of one of Canada’s most important fighter pilots from the Great War.” Captain Eddie McKay flew with No. 24 Squadron and fought over the Somme offensive from July-October 1916, and survived “Bloody April” in 1917. McKay disappeared on 28 December as commander of “A” Flight, No. 23 Squadron. He was last seen diving on a German two-seater southeast of Ypres.

This book is unusual among Great War aviation titles because, as Cook comments, “[Broad] skillfully weaves… a robust defence of the historical process as he lays out the writing of the history with its successes and failures, investigative victories, and time-consuming historical dead ends. This forensic deconstruction of historical methods, tools, and approaches is first class.”

Professor Broad’s extensive notes on how to identify relevant source materials, how to pose questions, and how to assemble a book into a coherent story are invaluable.

Reviewed by Dana Lombardy, publisher of WWOI

The Last Flight of the L31 and L32

The Last Flight of the L31 and L32The Last Flight of the L31: The True Story of the Potters Bar Zeppelin by R.L. Rimell
ISBN: 978-1-906798-47-5
Published by Albatros Productions on 2016
Genres: Aviation
Pages: 24

 

 

 

The Last Flight of the L31 and L32The Last Flight of the L32: The True Story of the Billericay Zeppelin by R.L. Rimell
ISBN: 78-1-906798-47-2
Published by Albatros Productions on 2016
Genres: Aviation
Pages: 24

Ray Rimell’s two books on Zeppelins include an astounding wealth of new information and photographs. These two Zeppelins were shot down a week apart over England in 1916 and ended the lives of two of the Germany Navy’s most capable airship commanders, Heinrich Mathy and Werner Petersen.

The two slim monographs discuss the careers of Mathy and Peterson, the missions of L31 and L32, their demise in September and October 1916, the British pilots who brought down the airships, the sites where they fell, and what happened to the remains of the Zeppelin crews.

Both footnoted books are profusely illustrated with photographs (many new to this reviewer), color and B&W artwork and aircraft sketches, as well as WW1-era postcards that present a cultural view of how British and German civilians perceived the Zeppelin raids. Appendices include sources and suggestions for places to visit in England that preserve the histories of the L31 and L32.

Reviewed by Steve Suddaby, past president of WW1HA. In the 1990s he interviewed survivors of Zeppelin attacks and walked the paths of two of Heinrich Mathy’s raids.

Grim Reapers: French Escadrille 94 in World War I

Grim Reapers: French Escadrille 94 in World War IGrim Reapers: French Escadrille 94 in World War I by Jon Guttman
ISBN: 193588140X
Published by Aeronaut Books on March 15, 2016
Genres: Aviation
Pages: 94

This is an exceptional squadron history. It is based on interviews with several pilots that were conducted as far back as the 1970s. Guttman provides insightful, well-written context on the pilots, their aircraft, markings, their adversaries, and daily squadron life.

Escadrille N.94 was created in May 1917, started by flying Nieuport 24s and later transitioned to Spad 7s and 13s as Spa.94. In early 1918, N.94 was split to form a new escadrille, N.156. The latter was one of the few units to fly the Morane-Saulnier AI, a beautiful but fatally flawed high-wing monoplane. The author’s discussion of the short combat history of this little-known fighter is one of many gems in this account.

A number of Americans flew in Escadrilles 94 and 156, including the ace David Putnam and the little-known Austen Crehore. Sergent Crehore was one of the few Americans to be inducted as a Chevalier of the French Légion d’Honneur. (His story is one that deserves to be remembered.) Very highly recommended.

Reviewed by Steve Suddaby, past president of WW1HA

The Great War’s Finest: An Operational History of the German Air Service, Volume I: Western Front 1914

The Great War’s Finest: An Operational History of the German Air Service, Volume I: Western Front 1914The Great War's Finest: An Operational History of the German Air Service (Operational History of the Imperial German Air Service) (Volume 1) by Matt Bowden
ISBN: 1935881582
Published by Aeronaut Books on 2017
Genres: Aviation
Pages: 378

The Over the Front review of this extraordinary new study described it as a “large-format volume with personal accounts and large-size color and black & white photos, as well as many clear charts [also in color] and multi-color maps. The latter are important to understanding the scope and sweep of the ground war, which aviators strived to support.”

Bowden’s well-footnoted, well-organized tome utilizes primary sources, official publications, squadron histories, after-action reports, and memoirs, many never before published in English. It is much more than a summary of German aviation activities at the start of the war. The effective relationship between Feldflieger Abteilungen (Field Flying Sections) and the advancing armies is explained in the narrative and delineated in several orders-of-battle at key points during the 1914 campaign in the West.

The importance of the Fliegertruppe was not only in reconnaissance, but also in working closely with artillery batteries that contributed to the successes of the German armies during the Battle of The Frontiers. This book is highly recommended and future volumes are eagerly awaited.

Reviewed by Dana Lombardy, publisher of World War One Illustrated

Eyes All Over the Sky: Aerial Reconnaissance in the First World War

Eyes All Over the Sky: Aerial Reconnaissance in the First World WarEyes All Over the Sky: Aerial Reconnaissance in the First World War by James Streckfuss
ISBN: 1612003672
Published by Casemate on July 29, 2016
Genres: Aviation
Pages: 240

This is not only a good book, it’s an important book. Streckfuss argues convincingly that the least-studied segment of WW1 aviation, aerial reconnaissance, was also the most important. The landplanes, seaplanes, and captive balloons devoted to observation turned artillery into a dominant force on the battlefield by extending its range and accuracy to an extent unimaginable in past wars.

Aerial photography conducted by planes and balloons became the most important intelligence source by far for battlefield commanders at all levels. For the first time in history, commanders did not have to wonder what was over the next hill—weather permitting, they had photographs and photo-based maps, some of which were only hours old.

Despite its critical role, aerial reconnaissance aircraft ended up taking a back seat to the fighters and bombers then and since. The mystique of the fighter pilot is well known, but the offensive “air power” of bombers between the wars eclipsed everything.

This well-researched history belongs on the shelf of anyone with a serious interest in the air war or the ground war of 1914-1918.

Reviewed by Steve Suddaby, past president of WW1HA

Billy Bishop VC Lone Wolf Hunter: The RAF Ace Re-Examined

Billy Bishop VC Lone Wolf Hunter: The RAF Ace Re-ExaminedBilly Bishop VC Lone Wolf Hunter: The RAF Ace Re-Examined by Peter Kilduff
ISBN: 190980813X
Published by Grub Street on October 19, 2014
Genres: Aviation
Pages: 192

Peter Kilduff is recognized as an authority on WW1 aviation and the Red Baron (Manfred von Richthofen) in particular. As an expert on German records, Kilduff describes what the German records say and don’t say regarding each of Bishop’s 72 aerial victories.

The German aviation records are incomplete due to WW2 aerial bombing, others were lost or didn’t make it into WW1 records, and some are too vague for verifying particular aerial combats.

It quickly becomes clear, however, that no conclusions about the veracity of a victory claim by Bishop or anyone else is possible simply because of a lack of German records regarding that event. This is not a hagiography, however. Kilduff points out that Bishop “inflated” the drama of his combats in his private letters home and “embellished” his stories in later years.

Billy Bishop VC contains all of the qualities that have made Peter Kilduff’s biographies such outstanding works. This is an indispensable work for anyone seeking to understand Billy Bishop’s story.

Steve Suddaby, past president WW1HA

Bill Lambert: World War I Flying Ace

Bill Lambert: World War I Flying AceBill Lambert: World War I Flying Ace by Samuel J. Wilson
ISBN: 1476664676
Published by McFarland & Company on August 12, 2016
Genres: Aviation
Pages: 266

American born Lambert apparently went to Canada in late 1915 and tried to enlist, but instead became a chemist making explosives in a factory. Before the U.S. declared war, Lambert sought to join the British Royal Flying Corps that was recruiting in Toronto. He was accepted in June 1917 and received only four rather than the standard six to eight weeks of basic training. Wilson speculates that it was shortened due to the heavy losses suffered by the RFC during “Bloody April” of 1917. Surprisingly, he was sent home to Ohio for a brief visit before being sent overseas.

Lambert flew old Avros and the single-seat Sopwith Pup (“one of the nicest machines that any pilot could want”). He disliked the Sopwith Camel, and enjoyed the SPAD although “it would fall like a brick.” Lambert scored his 22 aerial kills flying the S.E.5a in No. 24 Squadron starting in March 1918. A nervous breakdown in August ended his WW1 career.

Wilson’s book is well written, entertaining, and covers Lambert’s post-WW1 experiences without ignoring his caustic personality.
Reviewed by Dana Lombardy, publisher of WWOI