Pen & Sword Books

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

The First Atomic Bomb - An Alternate History of the Ending of WW2

The First Atomic Bomb - An Alternate History of the Ending of WW2 written

by Jim Mangi and published by Frontline Books - £25 - Hardback - Pages 248

While German and Japanese scientists also laboured unsuccessfully to create

an atomic bomb, by the summer of 1945, the American-led team was ready to

test its first weapon. As the clock ticked down to the detonation time of 05.30 hours

on 16 July 1945, the nervous team of technicians and scientists waited ten miles

away from ‘Ground Zero’ deep in the New Mexico desert. No one knew how

powerful the explosion would be or whether even at such a distance they would

be safe from the blast. Even so, some chose to observe the detonation from a

point four miles nearer at the control bunker; but then no one was even sure

that the bomb would work.

What if that is actually what happened? Under schedule pressure from the White House, the scientists assembled the device in part with tape and tissue paper, knowing some components were flawed. These are verifiable facts. It means that, as many of those who gathered in the New Mexico desert feared at the time, the bomb might not have worked during that first test.

In The First Atomic Bomb, Jim Mangi explores what might happened in the event that the world’s first atomic bomb had not been ready for use when it was. How would this have affected the end of the war in the Pacific, and indeed the Second World War as a whole?

Would Emperor Hirohito’s armed forces have battled on? When might Colonel Paul W. Tibbets, at the controls of his Boeing B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay have then made his historic flight over Hiroshima – and would that city even have remained the target? How would Stalin and the Soviets have reacted to such developments, and how would this have played out in the post-war world?

These books can either be good or bad, I suppose it depends upon how well the book is written and researched. The book takes the point of the atomic bomb not being dropped and how the war could have gone on or finished. Now I found this book to be good in that the alternate possibilities were plausible and could have happened It was a good book and had some interesting possible scenarios throughout. But at the end of the day, it’s just going to be a collection of what if’s or maybe’s.

Monday, July 25, 2022

Rearming the RAF for the Second World War

Rearming the RAF for the Second World War written by Adrian Phillips and

published by Pen & Sword Books - £25.00 - Hardback - Pages 368

When the RAF rearmed to meet the growing threat from Nazi Germany's remorseless expansion

in the late 1930s, it faced immense challenges. It had to manage a huge increase in size as well

as mastering rapid advances in aviation technology. To protect Britain from attack, the RAF's

commanders had to choose the right strategy and the right balance in its forces. The choices

had to be made in peacetime with no guidance from combat experience. These visions then

had to be translated into practical reality. A shifting cast of government ministers, civil servants

and industrialists with their own financial, political and military agendas brought further dynamics

into play. The RAF's readiness for war was crucial to Britain's ability to respond to Nazi

aggression before war broke out and when it did, the RAF's rearmament was put to the acid

test of battle. Adrian Phillips uses the penetrating grasp of how top level decisions are made

that he honed in his inside accounts of the abdication crisis and appeasement, to dissect

the process which shaped the RAF of 1940. He looks beyond the familiar legends of the

Battle of Britain and explores in depth the successes and failures of a vital element in British

preparations for war.

I have to say what a fascinating book and the subject I find is so interesting. Primarily this is a book that looks at the competition and infighting in and amongst the RAF, but not only that, but also the unnecessary fighting with the other arms of the armed forces and other organisations. Quite a bit of the book revolves around what the RAF stood for or what it wanted to concentrate on, for example, it was torn between infighting over whether to concentrate on prioritising small fighter aircraft of big heavy bombers. Basically, it’s like having a kitchen and someone has employed a lot of chefs and they all have to try and work together with the right menu. 

A very good book and quite thought-provoking and sometimes I was left thinking how on earth did the RAF succeed, but I really enjoyed reading it because there was lots of research and because it made me think. Plus I’m not sure the average joe in the street realises this was how the armed forces were run, we never hear about this in the mainstream media. A blinking good read by author Adrian Phillips, one I most certainly recommend.

Friday, July 15, 2022

The Medieval Crossbow

The Medieval Crossbow written by Dr Stuart Ellis-Gorman and published

by Pen & Sword Books - £25 - Hardback - Pages 240

The crossbow is an iconic weapon of the Middle Ages and, alongside the longbow, one of the most

effective ranged weapons of the pre-gunpowder era. Unfortunately, despite its general fame it has

been decades since an in-depth history of the medieval crossbow has been published, which is

why Stuart Ellis-Gorman’s detailed, accessible, and highly illustrated study is so valuable.

The Medieval Crossbow approaches the history of the crossbow from two directions. The first is a technical study of the design and construction of the medieval crossbow, the many different kinds of crossbows used during the Middle Ages, and finally a consideration of the relationship between crossbows and art.

The second half of the book explores the history of the crossbow, from its origins in ancient China to its decline in sixteenth-century Europe. Along the way it explores the challenges in deciphering the crossbow’s early medieval history as well as its prominence in warfare and sport shooting in the High and Later Middle Ages.

This fascinating book brings together the work of a wide range of accomplished crossbow scholars and incorporates the author’s own original research to create an account of the medieval crossbow that will appeal to anyone looking to gain an insight into one of the most important weapons of the Middle Ages.

As a former Archery Coach, I was looking forward to reading this book, although the crossbow has a poorer reputation in the archery world. That is because people like to create an allure around items like the Longbow and how that is steeped in history, but the crossbow is actually one of the deadliest and most accurate weapons before the rifle. The crossbow used to have such power and accuracy, it meant the individual soldiers had very little chance of survival against them as it would pierce their armour so easily.

Although they could be more easily hidden and could be used by less skilled marksmen, their major problem was that they were so hard to load physically and often had to be used by two men. This was an excellent book which showed that the author had gone through a good bit of research, telling the tale, history, use and tactics that revolved around the crossbow. The first half of the book concentrates on the technicals and the second half concentrates on the history and the battles were influential in. A really good book, definitely one for the historical weapons buffs.

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Great Naval Battles of the Pacific War

Great Naval Battles of the Pacific War compiled by John Grehan and published

by Frontline Books - £25 - Hardback - Pages 296

The key naval battles against Imperial Japan in the Pacific during the Second World War have

been described many times by numerous diligent and skilful historians. Such histories

are, of course, the products of many years, even decades, of accumulated knowledge,

but also of a received consensus of how the war played out to its, seemingly, inevitable

conclusion. That of course is not how it was perceived at the time. Hindsight, as we know,

gives us 20/20 vision. The accounts here, compiled for and on behalf of the Admiralty,

were written either during or immediately after the end of the war before historians had

begun to give their assessments of these momentous events.

These accounts were written for internal consumption, to guide and instruct naval officers. It was never intended that they would be released to the general public. As such, there was no jingoistic drum beating, no axes to grind, no new angles to try and find. The authors of these accounts relate each battle, move by move, as they unfolded, accurately and dispassionately.

This makes these accounts so invaluable. They read almost like a running commentary, as action follows action, minute follows minute. This sensation is magnified by the absolute impartiality of the authors, their sole attempt being to provide a thorough but very clear and comprehensible record so that others in the future could understand precisely how each battle was fought.

These accounts can never be superseded and never replaced. Written by naval officers of the time for naval officers of the future, they are the permanent record of the great victories, and the sobering defeat in the Java Sea, during the struggle for control of the Pacific which, for many months, hung precariously in the balance.

This book is a very formal book really to read, mainly because it wasn’t aimed at the general public consumption, they were written by naval officials for naval officials. The book covers official reports on the Midway, Coral Sea, Java Sea, Guadal Canal and the Leyte Gulf the key battles in the naval war of the Far East. Although the reports throughout the book are official ones, they are really good, detailed and comprehensive as you would expect. Some of them are a little dry, but then that is what you would expect. This has been a really good book to read and I have enjoyed the formal approach to normal as a change.

Durer’s Fight Book

Durer’s Fight Book written by Dierk Hagedorn & Daniel Jaquet and published

by Greenhill Books - £30 - Hardback - Pages 320

Albrecht Dürer is probably the most famous German artist of the Renaissance, if not of all time.

His works are world-famous and he was a master in numerous artistic disciplines such as

woodcut, copperplate engraving, drawing and painting.

What is less well known is that he was interested in weapons and fencing throughout his life. He produced several woodcuts for a tournament book by Emperor Maximilian I, but he devoted himself much more thoroughly to the subject of duels in his own extensive fencing manuscript.

Dürer’s fight book stands out from the mass of illustrated fencing manuscripts because of its outstanding quality. In well over 100 elaborate drawings, the master uniquely depicts dynamic pairs of fighters practising contemporary combat techniques, such as wrestling or sword and dagger fighting.

Since its creation more than 500 years ago, the fight book has never been published in its entirety. This edition offers the complete contents of the manuscript for the very first time: All illustrations are reproduced in colour and the complete text is presented in a letter-perfect transcription as well as a translation into modern English.

Albrecht Dürer's fight book offers a unique, new look at Dürer the artist and Dürer the fighter.

An interesting book indeed, especially if you are interested in the art of fighting or hand-to-hand combat. This book looks at the work of Albrecht Durer, a German artist who was obviously interested in the art of combat including fighting on horseback, wrestling and fencing. The book contains a copy of the original manuscript along with the English transcription along with a large collection of artistic drawings, which actually explain some of the writing very well. The attached ribbon bookmarks were excellent in that you could easily compare the drawings with the written definitions. All in all an interesting read and ideal for anyone interesting in hand-to-hand combat. Right, I’m off now to put my sons in their place in the garden with some German hand-to-hand combat.

Monday, July 11, 2022

Edward I and Wales 1254-1307

Edward I and Wales 1254-1307 written by David Pilling and published by

Pen & Sword Books - £25 - Hardback - Pages 256

The late 13th century witnessed the conquest of Wales after two hundred years of conflict

between Welsh princes and the English crown. In 1282 Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, the only

native Prince of Wales to be formally acknowledged by a King of England, was slain by

English forces. His brother Dafydd continued the fight, but was eventually captured and

executed. Further revolts followed under Rhys ap Maredudd, a former crown ally, and

Madog ap Llywelyn, a kinsman of the defeated lords of Gwynedd.

The Welsh wars were a massive undertaking for the crown and required the mobilisation

of all resources. Edward’s willingness to direct the combined power of the English state

and church against the Prince of Wales, to an unprecedented degree, resulted in a victory

that had eluded all of his predecessors.

This latest study of the Welsh wars of Edward I will draw upon previously untranslated

archive material, allowing a fresh insight into military and political events. Edward’s personal

relationship with Welsh leaders is also reconsidered. Traditionally, the conquest is dated to

the fall of Llywelyn in December 1282, but this book will argue that Edward was not truly

the master of Wales until 1294. In the years between those two dates he broke the power

of the great Marcher lords and crushed two further large-scale revolts against crown authority.

After 1294 he was able to exploit Welsh manpower on a massive scale. His successors

followed the same policy during the Scottish wars and the Hundred Years War. Edward

enjoyed considerable support among the ‘uchelwyr’ or Welsh gentry class, many of whom

served him as diplomats and spies as well as military captains. This aspect of the king’s

complex relationship with the Welsh will also feature.

This book looks at Edward I and his suppression of the Welsh kingdom in the 13th Century,

not only was he able to crush the will of the Welsh people, he was also able to control the

Welsh lords & leaders. One of the problems with Welsh history is that it can be underplayed

and less understood, which is why there is still animosity between the two still today. But this

book has been written very well in that it’s not stuffy and dry, but actually informative and easy

to read. Having read a couple of other books written by the same author David Pilling, he

seems to be able to sort out the complication and turn it into an easy-to-read passage, which

can help greatly on a subject like this when you have Welsh names and placenames

interspersed throughout. A good read and one I think many interested in this subject would


Sunday, July 10, 2022

Outlander and the Real Jacobites

Outlander and the Real Jacobites written by Shona Kinsella and published by

Pen & Sword Books - £20 - Hardback - Pages 224

Outlander has brought the story of the 1745 Jacobite uprising to the popular imagination, but

who were the Jacobites, really? Explore this pivotal moment in Scottish history, visiting some

of the key locations from Jamie and Claire’s travels. Discover what clan life was really like,

read about medicine in the 1700s and find out whether the red coats were really as bad as

Jack Randall. Meet Bonnie Prince Charlie and explore how he managed to inspire an uprising

from France and then storm England with a force of no more than 5,000 soldiers. Witness

the battle of Culloden and what really happened there, before exploring the aftermath of this

final attempt for a Stuart restoration.

This book looks at the rise of the Jacobite nation in the mid-1700s, looking at various aspects of life for the Jacobites during this time and the uprising against the English, which was played in a number of films/programmes such as Outlander. You often find with films/programmes based on history can often be romanticised but having read a number of books on the Jacobite rebellion this book does a good job in documenting events and being quite accurate historically. I must admit that I have not watched the Outlander series, so I can’t comment on any comparisons. A series usually has to be very well received if it’s a history-based series for me to watch it, but from this book, I found it very informative, detailed and well written so maybe I should try and watch the series. A good honest read and I would say it would go down well with television fans of the series.  

Friday, July 8, 2022

Secret Service Against the Nazi Regime

Secret Service Against the Nazi Regime written by Edward Harrison and

published by Pen & Sword Books - £25 - Hardback - Pages 256

An edited collection of peer-reviewed articles using newly-released sources - British,

German and Italian - integrated to form a fascinating narrative of the intelligence-led

fight of the British Secret Service in the existential struggle with Nazi Germany. The

main sections are: British Secret Warfare and the Nazi Challenge; Counter-

Intelligence Against Axis Spies; and Hugh Trevor-Roper and Secret Service. An

inside and authentic story with original and little-known but vital themes including the

British Military Mission to Poland, the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) in

Poland, British subversion in French East Africa, 'on secret service for the Duce',

British Radio Intelligence, and J C Masterman and the Security Service. This is a

uniquely human story of survival with all the drama of power struggles, personality

clashes, errors, heroism, human intelligence.

This is an excellent book that looks at the secret service operations and plans to try and hinder the Nazi regime around Europe and Northern Africa. It’s a fascinating collection of works that really draws the reader into various worlds of danger, extremism and bravery. The members of the secret services had to show great bravery and skill as the possible end result would have been certain death. To think many of these agents were having to work secret so if anything went wrong, then everything would have been denied.

I really enjoyed this book, an ideal read for those that write about spy dramas and

espionage as this book shows exactly how it would have been. A book that they say

would be hard to put down. Well written and captivated the reader. Pen & Sword have

really got me into this spy world and espionage, with great books about some great

intelligence agencies.

Thursday, July 7, 2022

Understanding the NHS

Understanding the NHS written by Andrew Stein and published by

White Owl Books - £14.99 - Softcover - Pages 240

The NHS is more than a good idea. It is beautiful. And it is you. The importance of the

NHS – and the public’s affection for it – cannot be overstated, as seen through the

COVID-19 pandemic. The author and his family of medics have lived and breathed the

NHS, from before 1948, its birth and its history to date.

But this book is for people who do not come from this medical background and do not have this life experience. Thus there are three target audiences. Firstly, it can contribute to A level study of the NHS, and career advice for 6th form students who are applying to university for a degree in healthcare. Secondly, it will educate health and social care professionals in training and in their early years. So they can start with the knowledge that the author had when he went to university in 1979. Thirdly, the book is for everyone else, who want to know how it all fits together, and in this way, improve their healthcare, and that of their family.

Right from the start, I have to say that the NHS is a staggeringly huge machine, the way it runs and keeps going, and advancing over the years to help the public, it is just phenomenal example of how a huge medical service should be run. Yes you can always try and improve some things and it will always need lots of money but in my opinion, the NHS is genius.

This book explains about how from the very beginning of the NHS how it's structured, the disciplines involved and how they have been adapted. The buildings, the staffing, the structure and the modernisation over the years, the way it has been funded, and how it needs to roll forward with each year etc. It’s a fascinating book and you can understand something this size has been left to numerous governments who have then tried to force their ideas up on it. All I can say is that the NHS is one of the most prominent things in life in this country and even the rest of the world admires what it does. So from someone who has had a stroke and problems with my right knee, I love the NHS and I loved reading this book, I would think those wanting to move into the care/nursing profession would get a lot out of this as I did.

The Ultimate Book of Movie Monsters

The Ultimate Book of Movie Monsters written by Christopher Carton and

published by White Owl Books - £25.00 - Softcover - Pages 216

Do you believe in monsters?

We dare you to take a look inside this cursed tome containing some of the most iconic and obscure monsters from the history of cinema.

Cower in fear of Count Dracula and his dreaded children of the night. Abandon hope as the mightiest kaiju ever seen on film decimate all around them. Pray that silhouette at the end of your bed is just a shadow and not the dreaded Babadook.

Spanning nearly a century of cinematic terrors, The Ultimate Book of Movie Monsters showcases creatures from genres such as horror, fantasy, B-movies and even musicals. Along with legendary beasts like Frankenstein’s monster, Godzilla, the Living Dead and the (mostly) friendly creatures of Monsters Inc., you’ll find film facts, creature strengths and weaknesses and over 150 full-colour pictures of the monsters themselves. From the era of stop-motion beasties to the cinematic showdown of the century in Godzilla vs. Kong, film lovers and horror aficionados will find plenty to keep their lust for terror satiated.

But beware, for the beasts that dwell within these forsaken pages may just keep you up all night. You have been warned…

I’m not sure if I would be classed as a Movie Monster fan because although I have seen a great many of the monsters/films mentioned in this book, but there were a good number I had not heard of. This book is like the encyclopedia of Movie Monsters, it is very comprehensive and detailed in how much it covers. There is a great and excellent number of movie photographs throughout the book to support an enormous amount of detail and research. 

The author Christopher Carton has done a great job, researching figures and movies I wouldn’t have known or classed as being Movie Monsters. Plus he covers right from the start of movie making up to the modern day, so you have a book that covers Dracula from the b/w movies right through to colourful movies such as Monsters Inc. Which I admit I hadn’t thought of these characters, as they are so nice, I hadn’t thought of them as being monsters. A fantastic read, and certainly a book a Movie Monster fans are going to love.

Sunday, July 3, 2022

Soldier Rebel Traitor John Lord Wenlock & the War of the Roses

Soldier Rebel Traitor John Lord Wenlock & the War of the Roses - written by

Dr Alexander R. Brondarbit and published by Pen & Sword Books - £19.99

- Hardback - Pages 224

John Wenlock, first Lord Wenlock, was a leading diplomat, courtier and soldier during

the Wars of the Roses whose remarkable career offers us a fascinating insight into one

of the most turbulent periods in English medieval history. And yet he has hitherto been

overshadowed by his more illustrious contemporaries. Alexander Brondarbit’s

meticulously researched and perceptive biography is overdue. It establishes Wenlock

as a major figure in his own right and records in vivid detail how this shrewd nobleman

found his way through the brutal conflicts of his times.

Wenlock served in Henry V’s military campaigns in France in the 1420s before moving on to a career in the royal households of Henry VI, Margaret of Anjou and Edward IV. As a diplomat, he led multiple embassies to Burgundy and France and, in addition to the kings he served, he was closely connected with other notable figures of the age such as Richard Neville, earl of Warwick. But Wenlock’s speciality was on the battlefield – he took part in many raids, skirmishes and sieges and in three major battles including the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471 where he lost his life.

Using primary sources as well as contemporary assessments in chronicles and letters, Alexander Brondarbit gives a nuanced description of the main episodes in Wenlock’s long career and throws new light on the motivation of a man who has been labelled a ‘Prince of Turncoats’ because of his frequent changes of allegiance.

Very much a many of many talents or wearer of many hats John Wenlock war is primarily known as very much a military man at heart. Fighting in a number of battles and skirmishes during the Wars of the Roses he would eventually be killed at the Battle of Tewkesbury 1471. It would turn out that Wenlock was very much a major player during Henry V’s reign, but would also serve other kings and major players of the time.

The author Dr Alexander Brondarbit has done a really good job in writing this book a very clear, descriptive and informative text. As someone who is relatively new to this period of history, the author wrote the book very well and was very easy to read and whereas in some other books the people can be various this was very easy to understand and clear. In fact, it just makes me want to read more about this period of history. I would certainly recommend this book to others as it was a really good read, and I would have thought those that are more into this period than me would enjoy the book too.

Friday, July 1, 2022

The Fall of Roman Britain and Why We Speak English

The Fall of Roman Britain and Why We Speak English written by John Lambshead

and published by Pen & Sword Books - £20 - Hardback - Pages 192

The end of empire in the island of Great Britain was both more abrupt and more complete than in any of the other European Roman provinces. When the fog clears and Britain re-enters the historical record, it is, unlike other former European provinces of the Western Empire, dominated by a new culture that speaks a language that is neither Roman nor indigenous British Brythonic and with a pagan religion that owes nothing to Romanitas or native British practices.

Other ex-Roman provinces of the Western Empire in Europe showed two consistent features conspicuously absent from the lowlands of Britain: the dominant language was derived from the local Vulgar Latin and the dominant religion was a Christianity that looked towards Rome. This leads naturally to the question: ‘what was different about Britannia?’ A further anomaly in our understanding lies in the significant dating mismatch between historical and archaeological data of the Germanic migrations, and the latest genetic evidence. The answer to England’s unique early history may lie in resolving this paradox.

John Lambshead summarizes the latest data gathered by historians, archaeologists, climatologists and biologists and synthesizes it all into a fresh new explanation.

This book about the Romans leaving Britain looks at the situation through a number of questions or essays such as the molecular make-up of Roman Britain, why we speak English, the book looks at the science of people or populations moving around, societies and how they evolve. I found the book to be a fascinating one in what it hoped to find and what it would claim to have found. I won’t really say much more as some of the answers being revealed would ruin the book. Some of the conclusions the book comes to might not be surprising and anyone educated to a decent level could have probably worked them out. If you love this period of time I would certainly recommend the book, even if you were a beginner or an archeologist.

Elizabeth I’s Final Years

Elizabeth I’s Final Years written by Robert Stedall and published by Pen & Sword Books 

- £25 - Hardback - Pages 328

Elizabeth I's Final Years outlines the interwoven relationships and rivalries between politicians and courtiers surrounding England’s omnipotent queen in the years following the death in 1588 of the Earl of Leicester. Elizabeth now surrounded herself with magnetically attractive younger men with the courtly graces to provide her with what Alison Weir has called ‘an eroticised political relationship’.

With these ‘favourites’ holding sway at court, they saw personal bravery in the tiltyard or on military exploits as their means to political authority. They failed to appreciate that the parsimonious queen would always resist military aggression and resolutely backed her meticulously cautious advisors, William Cecil, Lord Burghley, and later his son Robert.

With its access to New World treasure, it was Spain who threatened the fragile balance of power in Continental Europe. With English military intervention becoming inevitable, the Cecils diverted the likes of Walter Raleigh and the Earl of Essex, despite their lack of military experience, away from the limelight at court into colonial and military expeditions, leaving them just short of the resources needed for success. The favourites’ promotions caused friction when seasoned soldiers, like Sir Francis Vere with his unparalleled military record in the Low Countries, were left in subordinate roles.

When Spanish support for rebellion in Ireland threatened English security, Robert Cecil encouraged Elizabeth to send Essex, knowing that high command was beyond his capabilities. Essex retorted by rebelling against Cecil’s government, for which he lost his head.

Both Elizabeth and Cecil realised that only the bookish Lord Mountjoy, another favourite, had the military acumen to resolve the Irish crisis, but his mistress, Essex’s sister, the incomparable Penelope Rich, was mired by involvement in her brother’s conspiracy. Despite this, Cecil gave Mountjoy unstinting support, biding his time to tarnish his name with James I, as he did against Raleigh and his other political foes.

This fine book is written by Robert Stedall and covers the later years of Elizabeth I’s life and in particular the men or her favourites in later life. From Walter Raleigh, to Charles Blount, to Robert Devereux and Sir Francis Vere to name a few. It was nice to read about their influences, strengths and opinions in the various situations that came up in this particular period of history. With events like the Spanish Armada, Ireland and Catholicism and more.

The way these characters were played off against each, with each one trying to get somewhere or wanting specifics. This book is very comprehensive in its details and research and so the author Robert Stedall has written an excellent book which I think compares to others very favourably against other books of a similar subject. I’m sure I read Stedall’s previous book which if I remember rightly was also a fine and detailed book. Would I recommend this book? I most certainly would, whether you were new to the subject or not.

The Battle of Reichswald - Rhineland - February 1945

The Battle of the Reichswald Rhineland - February 1945 written by Tim Saunders and published by Pen & Sword Books - £22 - Hardback - Pag...