The ladies in the PR department at Pen & Sword are anything but daft. Actually, they are perfectly charming when they email me. On with the review; for what I am getting at is if you are going to come up with a perfect premise for a book to appeal to an overgrown kid like me then all you need do is take a bloody great warship, add lots of photos and mix in stuff about the model kits of it. Perfection? Well…sort of.

So, here we are with a couple of books from a well advanced series about said famous warships and the model kits available of them, or in this case, the inclusion of some wonderful scratch built models craftsmen have made. I have in front of me one volume on the mighty and still extant Iowa Class battleships of the United States Navy and one on the twin colossi that were the Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau. To be honest, nice ladies at Pen & Sword, you might have won me over a lot earlier had you appealed to my intense bias towards the mighty Royal Navy and sent me a book on the Hood or another proper ship flying the White Ensign, but no, I have to face an author telling me the Iowa Class are the most “famous” battleships ever built. The word I am looking here is subjectivity. Hey, gentle reader, does any of this actually matter? No, of course it doesn’t.  My son James had a good look at both books because he likes a warship almost as much as he likes a warship model and he concluded that the text in both was a tad random but both had their hearts in the right place.

The main events are the snaps of the real thing for which we give a cheerful thumbs-up and more importantly for the discourse on the models. This is where both books get into their stride. I really enjoyed the history of the respective model kits which is handled with due seriousness in a way which has genuine appeal, especially as I can remember building some of the Airfix examples a very long time ago when everything was in black and white. The whole thing is a hoot. The Iowa Class book includes some genuinely awesome model building, some of which offers up imaginative ideas of one ship remaining in service with an Osprey on the flight deck and a missile zooming skywards. It looks magnificent. I defy anyone not to be blown away by the skills involved.

The books take me back to happy visits to the Science Museum in London where some truly wonderful ship models are on view, many of them refugees from long lost shipping companies from the days when we Brits used to have the greatest mercantile fleet on the planet and all that warbling at the Last Night of the Proms seemed more relevant even though it has lost none of its brilliance.  You might prefer the terrific little museum in Barrow-in-Furness which has some wonderful models from Vickers’ collection and, by the by, the restaurant is brilliant. You see what a service these reviews supply? You know where to come!

So, anyway, these books are great if you like a ship model; and please don’t try telling me you don’t. I won’t have any nonsense. I’d love to have a really big one in the house, but I’ve been outvoted by senior management. So, I’ll make do with occasional museum visits and browsing books like these. You may have to do the same. These books are numbers 17 and 20 in the series, so the possibilities seem endless. Anchors aweigh!

Mark Barnes


By Lester Abbey
By Steve Backer
Published in softback as part of the Shipcraft series by Seaforth Publishing  £14.99
ISBN: 978 1 84832 111 3 and ISBN: 978 1 84832 152 6



Mark Barnes

Mark Barnes is a longstanding friend of WHO, providing features, photography and reviews. He has contributed to The Times of London and other publications. He is the author of The Liberation of Europe (pub 2016) and If War Should Come due later in 2020.