Monthly Archives: January 2012

The water is calm and still below, For the winds and waves are absent there, And the sands are bright as the stars that glow In the motionless fields of upper air.

X-craft versus Tirpitz : the mystery of the missing X5  Alf R. Jacobsen ; translated from the Norwegian by J. Basil Cowlishaw World War 1939-1945 Naval operations Submarine Stroud : Sutton, 2006 Hardcover. 287 p., [16] p. of plates : ill., maps, ports. ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

Norwegian journalist Jacobsen relates one of the most incredible tales of the Second World War, in which Royal Navy X-craft midget submarines attacked the German battleship Tirpitz in Norway. A daring plan was hatched by the Admiralty to sink Tirpitz using midget submarines to plant high explosive mines beneath the ship’s keel.

On 22 September 1943, six X-craft midget submarines set out from Scotland to sink the battleship at anchor in Norway. Three never reached the fjord and X5, commanded by Lt Henty-Creer, was presumed sunk by the Germans, so only X6 and X7 made the attack. Both Lt. Donald Cameron in X6 and Lt Godfrey Place in X7 placed their charges successfully, but were forced to surrender. Both were awarded the Victoria Cross. Although Tirpitz was not sunk she was put out of action until April 1944.

Lt. Henty-Creer, the commander of X5, and his crew were never seen again. Neither he nor any of his crew received any posthumous gallantry awards. Did X5 actually penetrate the anti-submarine defenses around Tirpitz and lay its explosive charges beneath the battleship? If it did, then Henty-Creer and his crew deserve to be honored for their bravery.

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Ships dim-discover’d dropping from the clouds.

Wooden ships from Texas : a World War I saga Richard W. Bricker World War 1914-1918 Naval operations American Ships Wooden Texas History 20th century College Station : Texas A&M University Press, 1998 Hardcover. 1st. ed. xvii, 216 p. : ill. (some col.) ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. [189]-205) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text.  VG/VG  

Starting in 1916, Texans built seventeen four- and five-masted sailing ships out of East Texas pine, making a significant contribution in World War I. The ships’ careers carried them to Europe, South America, both American coasts, and even eighty miles up the Danube River.

In Wooden Ships from Texas, Richard W. Bricker brings to light this fascinating, but little-known, period in Texas maritime history. Bricker has unearthed a considerable quantity of archival material, allowing him to describe the ships and make at least a partial track of the career of each vessel.

The first ship built was the City of Orange, and her irascible captain provided a memorable maiden voyage from Orange, Texas, to Genoa, Italy. Official documents told a story of events like those found in sea fiction: shanghaiing, cruelty to seamen, excessive drinking, and pistol waving. A rare story is told, too: an order to jettison part of the cargo with no apparent good cause.

Out of fourteen ships built at one shipyard, four burned and one was sunk by a U-boat off the coast of Spain. These losses did not spell total disaster for the fleet, however. Only three lives were lost, and a significant quantity of cargo had been delivered to Europe by some of these ships before tragedy struck. Only one of the other nine vessels burned after being transferred to the Italian flag. Two other vessels were lost at sea after leaving Texas registry.

For each vessel, Bricker provides a description; narratives of the ship’s career; and selected photographs of construction, launching, and anchored views. Because no known photographs of the vessels under sail survived, Bricker himself has painted these views.

Bricker’s engagingand informative text, which also covers a massive effort to build wooden steamships in Texas for the war, will interest Texas history, maritime history, and World War I enthusiasts.

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But like thine own eagle that soars to the sun Thou springest from bondage and leavest behind thee A name which before thee no mortal hath won.

With wings like eagles : a history of the Battle of Britain  Michael Korda World War 1939-1945 Aerial operations British New York : Harper, c 2009 Hardcover. 1st. ed., later printing. 322 p., [24] p. of plates : ill. (some col.), maps ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. [303]-305) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG  

Michael Korda’s brilliant work of history takes the reader back to the summer of 1940, when fewer than three thousand young fighter pilots of the Royal Air Force—often no more than nine hundred on any given day—stood between Hitler and the victory that seemed almost within his grasp.

Korda re-creates the intensity of combat in “the long, delirious, burning blue” of the sky above southern England, and at the same time — perhaps for the first time —traces the entire complex web of political, diplomatic, scientific, industrial, and human decisions during the 1930s that led inexorably to the world’s first, greatest, and most decisive air battle. Korda deftly interweaves the critical strands of the story — the invention of radar (the most important of Britain’s military secrets); the developments by such visionary aircraft designers as R. J. Mitchell, Sidney Camm, and Willy Messerschmitt of the revolutionary, all-metal, high-speed monoplane fighters the British Spitfire and Hurricane and the German Bf 109; the rise of the theory of air bombing as the decisive weapon of modern warfare and the prevailing belief that “the bomber will always get through” (in the words of British prime minister Stanley Baldwin).

As Germany rearmed swiftly after 1933, building up its bomber force, only one man, the central figure of Korda’s book, Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, the eccentric, infuriating, obstinate, difficult, creator and leader of RAF Fighter Command, did not believe that the bomber would always get through and was determined to provide Britain with a weapon few people wanted to believe was needed or even possible. Dowding persevered — despite opposition, shortage of funding, and bureaucratic infighting — to perfect the British fighter force just in time to meet  the German onslaught.

Korda brings to life the extraordinary men and women on both sides of the conflict, from such major historical figures as Winston Churchill, Neville Chamberlain, and Reichsmarschall Herman Göring to the British and German pilots, the American airmen who joined the RAF just in time for the Battle of Britain, the young airwomen of the RAF, the ground crews who refueled and rearmed the fighters in the middle of heavy German raids, and such heroic figures as Douglas Bader, Josef František, and the Luftwaffe aces Adolf Galland and his archrival Werner Mölders.

Winston Churchill memorably said about the Battle of Britain, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” Here is the story of “the few,” and how they prevailed against the odds and helped deprive Hitler of victory.

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Since knowledge is but sorrow’s spy, It is not safe to know… Sir William Davenant, The Just Italian. Act v. Sc. 1.

There are several forms of military intelligence. The first is physical evidence reviewed to determine capability and deduce intention based on direct observations. This has its merits but when something is missed you wind up with a Pearl Harbor or a 9/11. The second is diplomatic intelligence where your ambassador and his embassy try to read the tea leaves and determine which way the wind is blowing. This is actually the modern equivalent of political haruspicy since these are politicians serving in political appointments opposite other politicians all of whom have been selected for their ability to dissemble. Finally we come to the modern intelligence agency which seeks to combine the first two. When it is successful it protects the nation and when it fails – either internally or externally – the failure is often catastrophic. The problem with Martin is that he tends to isolate the failures, demand that such institutions be dismantled as inherently corrupt and leave us naked before our enemies – it really doesn’t surprise us that many wonder if those with his point of view are in their service.

Wilderness of mirrors David C. Martin United States Central Intelligence Agency New York : Harper & Row, c 1980 Hardcover. 1st. ed. and printing. xiv, 236 p., [4] leaves of plates : ill. ; 25 cm. Includes index. How the Byzantine intrigues of the secret war between the CIA and the KGB seduced and devoured key agents James Jesus Angleton and William King Harvey. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text.  VG/VG

This book goes a long way toward explaining CIA’s intellectual and operational constipation in the 1950’s through the 1970’s. It follows James Jesus Angleton, who tied the Agency in knots and went so far as to privately tell the French that the CIA Station Chief in Paris was a Soviet spy, and William King Harvey, who literally carried two six-guns both in the US and overseas “because you never know when you might need them.”

Included in this book are some serious details about the operations against Cuba, a chapter appropriated titled “Murder Corrupts”, and a good account of how Harvey, in perhaps his most important achievement, smelled out the fact that Kim Philby was indeed a Soviet spy.

The concluding thought of the book is exceptional: “Immersed in duplicity and insulated by secrecy, they (Angleton and Harvey) developed survival mechanisms and behavior patterns that by any rational standard were bizarre. The forced inbreeding of secrecy spawned mutant deeds and thoughts. Loyalty demanded dishonesty, and duty was a thieves’ game. The game attracted strange men and slowly twisted them until something snapped. There were no winners or losers in this game, only victims.”

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We shall fight them on the beaches, we shall fight them on the streets, if we fight them in the bedroom, we shall loose between the sheets… from a popular musichall ditty of the day

We shall fight on the beaches : defying Napoleon & Hitler, 1805 and 1940       Brian Lavery Nationalism Great Britain London, Conway, 2009 Hardcover. 1st. ed.  448 p., [32] p. of plates : ill. (some col.), maps, plans ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references and index.  Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

Lavery offers an account of two periods in British history when Britain faced invasion by armies camped on the French coast. Material is arranged in separate sections on each period and short linking passages. This organization allows the reader to follow one period chronologically, or to compare and contrast the two periods through major themes. Drawing on first-hand accounts, historical records, and other evidence, the author examines the strategies of leaders on both sides, and also examines the reactions of the British public to the threat of invasion, public support to the British military, and the creation of militia and volunteer units. A final chapter poses the question of what would have happened if either invasion were successful.

Brian Lavery, an established authority on the Napoleonic Wars and World War II, articulates the parallels and defining features of these tumultuous periods in  history. He looks at the style and competence of politicians and military commanders and the leadership and example of  men such as Horatio Nelson and Winston Churchill and examines unexplored official papers. He also considers the war situation as seen by such literary greats as Jane Austen and Evelyn Waugh, as well as the opinions of volunteers and servicemen. It provides a unique insight into two distinct periods during which the British national identity was created.

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