Author Archive

The book I read to research this post was Mercenaries: Soldiers Of Fortune by Tim Ripley which is an excellent book that I bought from a car boot sale. This book is about what defines a mercenary and they are not always motivated by money. Some aren’t even ex soldiers and many are political sympathizers to a certain cause and get little more than pocket money. A lot are ex soldiers who are battle hardened and can’t adjust to normal life. Armies like the Foreign Legion & the Ghurkas are technically mercenaries. In the case of the Foreign Legion they are not allowed to surrender their arms under any circumstances and they have fought many great battles with very few if any survivors. This book was published in 1997 so doesn’t cover the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq and Syria. It mostly covers the wars in the former Yugoslavia and the independence of countries like Croatia and the war in the Congo. In the case of the Congo in the 60’s and 70’s there was a region called Katanga which was a wealthy mining region that Belgian companies wanted to become independent from Congo to safeguard their mining interests. They employed mercenaries to defend their interests and many of these committed atrocities and were subsequently tried and either executed or imprisoned. It brought mercenaries into much disrepute. Often entities like wealthy companies hire mercenaries to destabilize countries and further their interests especially in poor or low population ones. An example of the latter is the island state the Maldives where there have been several attempted coups and the Indian Army has had to help out before now. In the case of Croatia a lot of people who were ex pats joined the fighting and many ex national groups raised money which was subsequently spent on weapons. In Croatia it was relatively easy to join the fighting. You could catch a train from elsewhere to Zagreb and they readily inducted foreigners into their army units. Many people were so horrified by conditions in that war they immediately turned back. Many psychopaths went their to fight because they could kill and maim with impunity. Being a mercenary is anything but glamorous and often they are blamed for spying often with out any reason other than they are foreign and they are the last to receive arms. Sometimes they are classed as a security risk and shot. I thoroughly enjoyed this book which also looks at the weapons and equipment often connected to mercenaries. Some mercenaries especially like those serving in countries like Saudi Arabia & Oman make a lot of money especially if they are highly skilled like Tornado pilots and often if a friendly foreign country purchases technological equipment and weapons from a particular nation especially like aircraft the company has to supply trained people who can use it.

The book I read to research this post was The US Army At Camp Bewdley 1943-1945 by Adrian & Neil Turley which is a very good book which I bought at a local bookstore. Bewdley is a small market in Worcestershire about 20 miles south west of Birmingham in Britain. In 1943 the US Army along with the Allies was preparing for D-Day when they would land in France. This meant sending troops to various sites in Britain and Camp Bewdley or Burlish Camp as it was known to the locals was one of the sites they were sent to. 4,000 troops were put in the army base with a further 10,000 being put up in tents a little to the North of Bewdley. Camp Bewdley was situated part way between Stourport and Bewdley. It was quite close to the Stourport suburb Burlish. A hospital was built here for casualies from the D-Day action and in total 12,000 casualties mostly needing some kind of surgery. The troops were brought over from America in the Queen Mary & Queen Elizabeth among other ships. Lt General Patton the very famous hero of World War 2 made one of his classic speaches here. He ridiculed the Nazi’s for saying America didn’t have the stomach for war and told the they will have something great to say about the part they played in the war. There was a landing field nearby for liaison aircraft of which they had 2. There was also a base and hospital built at Wolverley near Kidderminster and not far from Bewdley. The land for all this was taken by compulsory purchase order. An act of parliament had been passed to give them this power shortly before the war. The troops of course were sent back to America in 1945. A friend of mine told when she used to play near the site in I think the 60’s they used to find spent bullets left behind. There is also a nearby suburb of Kidderminster called the Rifle Range which gets its name because it used to be a firing range for the US army and they still have roads built at that time to accommodate tanks and other military vehicles. I really enjoyed this book and sadly these kind of books are probably hard to find even on sites like Amazon. I think it is a self published book but does deserve a wider audience.

The book I read to research this post was British Steam Since 1900 by WA Tuplin which is a very good book that I bought from a local secondhand bookstore. This is a book about the development of steam trains since 1900 and the many contradictions among engineers about how to make them more efficient. It was a time of little communication between the manufacturers and railway companies. This resulted in for example a train might perform well on one railway and be thought good but might perform badly on other railways. It also meant much development research was often duplicated by several manufacturers often unsuccessful. One of the bosses at GWR called Churchward had the foresight to realise that everything to do with steam engines by 1900 had been tried at least once and it was just a matter of doing research. Another thing he discovered was that the regulator should be left slightly open in doing this research otherwise they risked damaging the train and only GWR drivers for a long time did this. By collaborating on research they found out if a train had more cylinders than the one or two often used it could be made more stable with the driving strokes of the other cylinders driving it through the strokes of any given cylinder. This of course was later done with diesel and petrol engines. In Britain trains were often built with a 0-6-0 arrangement which was quite efficient but in America where at that time they didn’t build them to the same quality they often had a 0-6-2/2 or 0-6-4 configuration because they were less stable and the engineers in America thought the lead wheels  were essential for stability. Of course on high performance trains like the Coronation Class lead wheels were essential. This book is only around 180 pages so is quite short and was published in 1971 so is probably well out of print. It’s interesting nonetheless and I enjoyed reading it and would recommend it definitely.

 

The book I read to research this post was Military Elites by Duncan Anderson which is an excellent book that I bought from a car boot sale. Up until World War 1 the elite soldiers guarded dignitaries like the king and it was after that war with often around 100,000 deaths in a single day they realised tactics had to change. At that time huge armies met at trenches and it was like a war of attrition while they fought it out. Also around that time and during that war there was a new breed of soldier that appeared probably most famously Lawrence of Arabia who also had a successful film made about him that had to cope in hostile environments often without reinforcements and temperamental supply routes. The Germans had a similar situation in Tanganyika where their army held out for 4 1/2 years. In World War 2 they realised highly trained specialist soldiers could be used in small groups to harrass the enemy and carry out special missions. Often soldiers caught doing these kind of missions were tortured and shot as spies. Such was the potential damage they could do. The most celebrated unit is probably the SAS largely thanks to the Iranian Embassy Siege and their role in the Gulf Wars. There areother  units that are just as good but they are the most famous and there is much training interaction between the different units even between different countries where their strengths can be taught to each other. The most gruelling elite force training is probably that carried out by the Russian version of the SAS the Spetnatz and they are probably the largest elite unit in the world. Many applicants have died during training although they seem to have improved the situation in more recent years. Applicants are invited to join only and there Communist beliefs are taken into account to assess their suitability. Presidents and Kings etc have often had special relationships with their elite units. They are also often attached to the Airforce or the Navy like the Royal Marine Commandoes. Also as is often the case in the Parachute Regiments etc they often have to parachute into trouble spots or at least arrive by covert means. I did thoroughly enjoy this book which looks at lots of different elite units around the world and is sadly quite an old book so must be out of print. If like me you see it for sale priced cheaply it’s a bargain and I would definitely recommend it.

The book I read to research this post was Churchill by Ashley Jackson which is an excellent biography that I bought from kindle. This is a biography of Winston Churchill’s life that gives quite a balanced account and I think is well researched. Winston fought in the Boer War & World War 1 and had quite a distinguished military career. In the Boer War he was a news correspondent who also wrote books about his experiences and was taken prisoner but escaped. Much has been said about him being the only one to escape from the POW and how there should have been others also escape but didn’t. It looks like he seized the chance and the other prisoners were indecisive. He escaped in Portugese held Africa which was neutral. He became a bit of a celebrity as a result. He had a cabinet career which started around this time and would last on and off for over 50 years. In World War 1 he resigned from government and joined the army but soon afterwards rejoined the government as Minister of Munitions. He did such a good job he would later become prime minister during World War 2 with the hope he would bring some of the magic he had during World War 1 to the government and they wouldn’t be disappointed. He carried the same cigar around in a cigar case that would become an important symbol of his speaches. He believed passionately in free trade without tariffs which would lead to him changing party which did happen several times. He also very much believed in self government for Ireland but with in the Commonwealth and many people in Ireland were so fed up with British rule they did indeed leave the Commonwealth. He made many rousing and inspiring speaches during World War 2. After the war Labour under Atlee won the election by a huge majority but Winston remained leader of the Conservative Party despite that and by that time was an institution to many people in Britain. He won the election in 1951 and in his time in the cabinet served under 6 kings and queens. I really enjoyed this book and would wholeheartedly recommend it. It is quite a long book and does a lot to dispel the idea he was set in his ways and old fashioned. It’s interesting that one of his ancestors was the Duke of Wellington and both men saved their country in its hour of need.

 

The book I read to research this post was Close Quarter Battle by Mike Curtis which is an excellent book that I bought from a local secondhand bookstore. Mike was a coal miner in a Welsh mining village prior to joining the Parachute Regiment & the SAS. He fought in the Falklands War, The First Gulf War & the Yugoslavian Civil War. As a miner he had to hack in a seam that was maybe 18 inches with a pick axe. A cutting machine would go through the seam and for a little while he wouldn’t be able to move for thick coal dust. They couldn’t drop too far behind either because part of the seam would collapse and they would also have to put in supports to prevent this. In the Falklands he fought at Goose Green without adequate air support and the Argentines bombed them with what they later found out was napalm. Luckily they could pick off the pucara’s as they were quite slow. He also fought at Mount Longdon as they marched to Port Stanley. In the First Gulf War he was in the SAS by then and had to help find where they were launching SCUD missiles. In the Yugoslavian Civil War they did covert missions and he does the Hoss the kind elite army that the Yugoslavs sent into villages to rape and pillage was considered too barbaric by the SS in World War 2 which will give you an idea how bad they were. Many of his fellow soldiers were reduced to tears by the carnage in former Yugoslavia.  I really enjoyed this book and I do in particular like these kind of war memoirs.

 

 

The book I read to research this post was The Nemesis File by Paul Bruce which is the best military memoir I have ever read and I bought it from kindle. This is the perfect history book for me to be blogging about. As many of you may know I like controversial history books especially military operations. This book is about someone who joined the SAS after doing time in the Engineers or REME and the book looks at the SAS selection procedure in a lot of detail. Especially the interrogation tests where they aren’t it is a part of the selection process and are accused of having been mouthing off about being in the SAS. The author at first thought he was being interrogated for real and it was only when they accused his partner of having numerous affairs which he knew was rubbish that it was part of the test. Later when he got badged into the SAS he was in an execution squad with the codename nemesis and told if they were picked up by the army they were to quote the name and tell them to get in touch with their regiment. They were told to execute IRA members and dispose of the bodies where they couldn’t be found. Often they were weighed down under undergrowth and dumped in lakes where gas would escape from the bodies and the fish would gradually nibble them and what was left would sink to the bottom of the lake never to be found. I think as with almost all wars it was a very dirty one with atrocities on both sides. Apparently this book has caused quite a stir especially in Northern Ireland where many people want closure on what happened to these people and often know they are probably not going to get justice but just want to get them a decent burial. There were many catholic people from Northern Ireland who joined the British Army and faced retribution either to themselves or their families. I think this book looks at the problems in Northern Ireland quite realistically and from both sides. I did thoroughly enjoy this book and think especially if you are interested in the army this book is essential reading.