I have had a quiet year on the reviews front because I have been otherwise engaged. But I am pleased to have a window of opportunity to write an appreciation of this latest book from After the Battle. Their output has been a long running inspiration to me. The way they present archive photography and the central role it plays in their histories is something I have spent many contented hours poring over and it amazes me how they continue to find so much new material. The quality of their work has been honed over the years to the point where the magazine and books have become an essential part of any military budding historian’s library.
This new volume gives me the impression Winston and the team are covering all the bases and are vacuuming up the bits of the World War II story they have yet to tell. I’ve questioned before just how much reviewing these books actually need. Jack and Joris over at WHO towers have always joked that my review style has been to digress into long, winding stories in the style of the late British comedy actor Ronnie Corbett before getting to the point and saying “Oh, by the way, this is a good book.”
This time round the ATB team look at the temporary airfields and landing strips used by Allied air forces after D-Day. The book is a memorial to the engineers and pioneer units who built them as much as it is to the men who operated them and flew the missions. This is not a huge volume by ATB standards but you can rest assured that the attention to detail and intelligent use of archive is all there. I have only been on one of the airstrips included here, at Longues above Arromanches in the Gold sector. Its fair to say that the transient nature of those airfields hasn’t left us an enormous amount to look at, today, but this doesn’t mean the locations are not worthy of investigation.
ATB saw in the introduction of colour imagery a few years ago and they have gradually made it seem familiar and acceptable. I found it a bit of a leap at first and still prefer black and white photography, but colour stuff has added a welcome dimension in respect of modern aerial photos and satellite imagery. Change is permanent and it is a good thing that ATB have embraced it without getting silly by trying to colourise everything.
The subject matter is interesting without being something I would personally go out of my way to read. But this is true of so many reference books and the clue is there in the keyword reference. These books are always slow burners that may well offer a nugget of info that proves really useful later down the line as opposed to here and now. ATB books are wonderful in themselves but they are a sum of parts building into a vast set of histories and guides to so many places and I am a little frustrated I will never get to visit them all.
Once again, this book fulfils the role of a straightforward history. It is a repository for some truly excellent archive photography and this works on many levels for historians, battlefield pilgrims, model makers and photo collectors. It ticks a lot of boxes.
I’m left wondering how many more books there are in the chaps at Hobbs Cross.
I’m only midway through my second, but their output is at a level I will never get close to. But I hope I am not the only person who looks forward to new products from ATB because they never disappoint. You always know where you are with them and once you add other histories and guides, these books slot into a fund of knowledge and inspiration that does not appear to date.
This book is a must for Normandy aficionados and anyone researching the wider North West Europe campaign of 1944/45. The masterful use of temporary airfields by the Allies was tactical genius and having a book like this dedicated to it is a treat.
Like I said, it has the feel of house painters going round filling in all the little bits they have missed on a really big wall. ATB have given us a panorama of history over the decades and the story seems almost complete, but I am sure they will prove me wrong.
Oh, by the way, this is a really good book.
INVASION AIRFIELDS THEN AND NOW
Edited by Winston Ramsey
After the Battle
ISBN: 978 1 870067 91 1
Reviewed by Mark Barnes for War History Online