Nine “Images of War” Books To Consider – Reviewed

It’s Black Friday where bargains prevail, so this is a good moment to dive into another pile of keenly priced books from the ever expanding Images of War range from Pen & Sword.

I’ve been a fan since the first books appeared; although they can be hit and miss at times, but the overall effect is to offer a broad church of military images in an affordable format for most pockets.

First up we have another pleasing collection of Great War period photographs from Norman Franks. This book looks at the air war over Italy fought between the Royal Flying Corps and the Central Powers.

The book concentrates on the fighting centred on the Piave river and we see many of the airmen involved from both sides of the divide.

As the title suggests, the book includes many images of Sopwith Camels and plenty of other types appear.

Some well-known aces feature, including Godwin Brunowski, Billy Barker and Frank Linke-Crawford. As ever the great gain comes with the pictures and potted biographies of airmen who will be less well known to the general reader.

This isn’t Mr Franks’ first rodeo and the book shows all the signs of someone who knows what they are about. There a strong scent of devotion to subject combined with solid experience in the making of this pleasing collection.

Book cover
Book cover

By Norman Franks
Pen & Sword
ISBN: 978 1 52672 308 6

John Grehan is another experienced pair of hands. He probably won’t remember, but I met him once at the Houses of Parliament in London where he gave me some solid advice about the primacy in this business of being a published man.

I strongly doubt I will ever match the volume of his back catalogue, but this isn’t a numbers game; so let’s get on with looking at his latest effort.

The Battle of Midway is the stuff of legend, fact, fiction and movies. When I was a kid reading of those incredible relatively few minutes when the United States Navy smashed Japanese ambitions was something quite thrilling.

This tidy book presents the battle in all its phases with an array of standard and less-known images put together in a compelling format.

Important characters feature alongside images of the key moments and there is no question that the heroic Yorktown hogs a good deal of attention, but there is much more besides. This is book is as honest as the day is long. It represents a first-class introduction to one of the most important dramas of World War II.

Book cover
Book cover

By John Grehan
ISBN: 978 1 52675 834 7

Michael Green turns out several books a year and seems able to handle a wide range of military subjects with aplomb. This time round he delves into the history of American airborne divisons from their inception in 1942 to the present day.

A stickler for detail, Mr Green provides a strong mix of contemporary images combined with pix of museum exhibits and some showing living history enthusiasts presenting airborne tableaux. This all works very well.

The author confides his attention to explaining how units were, formed, their make-up and how they worked. Although inevitable well-known episodes could hardly be avoided, the book doesn’t offer a simple rehash of well-trodden history.

The effect is to show how US airborne units adapted to the prevailing conditions of warfare over the decades. The choice of images is as well-handled as ever and the result is another solid piece of work well worth your time.

Book cover
Book cover

By Michael Green
Pen & Sword
ISBN: 978 1 52673 467 9

Next up we have a nicely thought out collection put together by Brooke S Blades, an author I don’t think has crossed my path before. In this volume he looks at the US forces fighting their way from Normandy to the period just before the shock of the Battle of the Bulge.

There are some fantastic images on view here, some well-known; and the book really cracks along at a fair old pace.

Mr Blades offers a balanced look across the Allied effort because this was coalition warfare in Eisenhower’s image and this serves to deepen the context of what we are looking at.

There is a strong mix of images that fit together nicely and the history is handled in an accomplished manner. You cannot go very wrong with books like this one.

Book cover
Book cover

August to Mid-December 1944
By Brooke S Blades
Pen & Sword
ISBN: 978 1 52675 672 5

Fast forward to this book, in which Jon Diamond treats us to a really well-presented photo history of the Rhine Crossing of 1945.

The author begins by getting things into context, looking at the Allied advance to the Rhine via the snakes and ladders of the winter campaigns preceding the river crossing. This all works very well.

The main events are shown in all their breadth and drama and, fair to say, a number of standard images appear; but that is hardly a surprise.

What I like is the range of images on view. I have written and curated a book that features Operation Varsity-Plunder and the subsequent advance into the Reich and what I really like is matching the images here to the press photographs I used. It helps me to map where “my” photographers were and I have been able to confirm some of the timings of their work.

This is, therefore, a really useful and thoroughly engaging book to own and I highly recommend it to the house.

Book cover
Book cover

Operation Plunder
Pen & Sword
By Jon Diamond
ISBN: 978 1 52673 173 9

Underpinning the previous two titles is this photo chronicle from Hans Seidler. In it he shows the saga of Germany’s defeat in the West from Normandy to the collapse of the Reich in 1945.

The book concludes with details of the German order of battle and the typical composition of German divisions.

Mr Seidler is another author whose work I don’t recall reviewing previously but there is little doubt he really knows his stuff. For me this is a fine example of a straightforward book in the Images of War range.

The photographs are well-presented and the order of events is made clear with some style. The author has avoided images that I’ve seen before and this makes the book a bit of a catch for collectors of German photographs.

Book cover
Book cover

By Hans Seidler
Pen & Sword
ISBN: 978 1 52673 157 9

I could fill a bookcase with the work of Simon Forty and here he is, again, with another no nonsense package of history with this volume looking at the Eighth Army in North Africa.

The story of the Desert War is part of the fabric of history buffs of my age who grew up on the old movies, war comics and more serious stuff such as the part-works that dominated the sixties and seventies. Everybody knew someone who had served in Eighth Army.

They were legends. Monty’s army gave Britain and the Commonwealth its first great victory over the German army, defeating no less a figure than Erwin Rommel in the process.

Mr Forty shows details of that victory by showing the men and weapons involved in the campaign. This is such a well-trodden path, but books like this provide the introduction to the history youngsters like me craved over forty years ago.

The book covers all the bases and I have to be honest and say I liked the bit of bagpipe humour at the end very much. All in all this book does a straightforward job.

Book cover
Book cover

By Simon Forty
Pen & Sword
ISBN: 978 1 52672 379 6

One of the successes of the Images of War range has been the volumes looking at specific aspects of weapons and equipment.

This time round we have a book that will appeal strongly to tank buffs with a look at the light tanks used by the Germans during World War II.

Needless to say, the Panzer I and II feature strongly, but, for me, the stars are the Czech built 35(t) and 38(t); the latter being one of my favourite tanks across all periods.

Paul Thomas takes care to look at a great many variants in command and self-propelled gun roles. I don’t think I have seen any of the images shown before.

This book is a must for model-makers and collectors of tank photographs. The vehicles shown are hardly the subject of a neglected history, but collections like this are always welcome. This book is a bit of a gem and it comes highly recommended.

Book cover
Book cover

By Paul Thomas
Pen & Sword
ISBN: 978 1 52674 166 0

We finish with a fine piece of work by Ian Sumner, an author whose books on the French Army of the Great War have all been well received in the WHO reviews team office.

This book features the French Army on the Somme in 1916 It is important to remind ourselves that although the history of the battle is dominated by the British experience, particularly of the dreadful opening day; the French Army were there from the off carrying out a sequence of attacks on the right flank that are often ignored in British histories.

The author reminds us of the French contribution and the photographs on view reflect all we come to expect from Great War imagery.

There are a fair mix of people, weather, places and weapons and we get a solid flavour of how the French fought and eventually won the Great War.

Once again, this is an ideal introduction into the history for newbies and the buffs will be quite content with what is on offer.

Book cover
Book cover

By Ian Sumner
Pen & Sword
ISBN: 978 1 52672 548 6

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Reviewed by Mark Barnes for War History Online

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.