Summer is fading in my part of the world, making this a good time to consider some of the military hardware books in the Images of War series that have caught my eye in recent months.
These books offer an affordable and varied look at our military history world and with such a huge number to choose from it isn’t difficult to prioritise your interest to meet your own criteria. Me, I like variety and having the reviewer’s job here at WHO allows me to browse a lot of different subjects.
First up we have Martin W Bowman’s history of one of the icons of the Cold War, the English Electric Lightning jet fighter. It was a supersonic brute that looked beautiful or evil depending on the eye of the beholder. Along with the Avro Vulcan delta wing bomber, the Lightning was symbolic of the glorious period before the fortunes of the British military aviation industry began to fade.
Everything about this aircraft draws us back to an era of confrontation with the Warsaw Pact. The Lightning was designed over sixty years ago to intercept Soviet bombers. It made the most of current technology could boast fearsome acceleration. The aircraft spent two decades serving in the defence of the UK without ever firing a shot in anger. Perhaps that makes the aircraft a great success despite the lack of combat.
The Lightning was sold to Saudi Arabia where it put in a good innings. In my day job I recall being intensely jealous of a colleague who spent time snapping away in a Saudi aircraft dump back in 1990. His pix show several remnants of Lightnings. I have memories of seeing a few in flight back in the day and one even ended up as a landmark by the side of a highway north of London where it gradually disappeared at the hands of vandals and treasure hunters.
This wonderful book is typical of Mr Bowman’s prodigious output. He knows all the detail and I would suggest he has an affection for the Lightning, an aircraft that was basically a winged rocket armed with Firestreak missiles. We see the development and service history of this remarkable aeroplane and learn something of the men who flew them. The photographs are fantastic, but I would really like to see this volume expanded into a colour edition.
THE ENGLISH ELECTRIC LIGHTNING
By Martin W Bowman
Pen & Sword Aviation
ISBN: 978 1 52670 556 3
I spent the best part of twenty years being a professional military subjects photographer. There were a fair old mix of good and bad days doing the gig but I look back on it all with immense affection. I have a fair number of photographs I am really proud of and quite a lot of what would be termed as ‘stock’.
There was never any question of making a full time living out of it and the mantra was always about doing ‘one more year’, but as mission creep took hold I had to make a firm decision to hang up my hat and bow out.
Snapping armoured vehicles remains addictive and I recall many a time standing at an event with colleagues unhappy with the site of FV432s rumbling around… “Not another 432…” there always seemed to be so many of them.
The fact is the old bus is neither so plain or so boring to be airbrushed out of the story because this is a very important vehicle still earning it’s keep with the British Army fifty years after it first appeared. There are a sheaf of variants and the vehicle itself has gone through myriad upgrades. Over 3,000 were built before production ended in the 1970s and a huge number of these vehicles are still in service. The steady decline in the size of the UK’s armed forces have made it necessary to keep the 432 soldiering on, even after the Warrior came into service.
A large number have been sold off into private ownership where they enjoy lives as big boy’s toys in a range of guises. You can even go to meet your maker in a 432 hearse. The vehicle represents a “cheap” entry to the world of armoured vehicle ownership, offering all the expected pleasures of fun and maintenance.
I’ve seen mates take the power pack out and shove it back in again in a single rainy day and still have time for swearing, beer and band aids. I’ve seen 432s rumble through burning caravans and cut up to look like StuGs and Panzer IIIs. Like the M113, the 432 is ubiquitous and it seems the old bus will go on forever.
Rob Griffin’s book takes us into the life and death of many a 432. We see the history, all the different mods, and much more. I won’t bore you with a list of the variants; but suffice to say they are all here. The photography is up to scratch and the book has the feel of a personal album.
The author writes with knowledge and not a little love for an everyman of the real and playground battlefields of the modern day. The last time I saw one in action it was acting as an ambulance to a troop of Challenger II tanks back in a distant and very cold winter day on Salisbury Plain. I admit to having a soft spot for the old lumps and this book will give you a fun and authoritative insight into an armoured vehicle that deserves our appreciation.
By Rob Griffin
Pen & Sword Military
ISBN: 978 1 52674 289 6
Next up we have a look at one of the most photogenic derivatives of the M4 Sherman – the classic M36 Tank Destroyer. There have been a number of these vehicles on the classic MV scene coming out of the Balkans since the break-up of Yugoslavia and there is no question that, like the M18 Hellcat, they make for an impressive bit of kit. David Doyle is probably writing eight books while I am staggering through this review. He bashes this sort of stuff out in his sleep.
This volume follows recent examples whereby we see a fine selection of archive images accompanied by a photographic walkaround of a restored vehicle picking out the details. We get more colour of several other examples. It all works very well.
Books like this are a must for model makers and there is always the possibility you might be restoring the real thing and need a handy reference.
What I really like is the section on the M36B1, a model I previously knew nothing about.
There is stuff to learn here and the real bonus is that the book finishes with a package of colour shots showing a rare surviving example of the B1.
So, what we have is a solid look at the M36 family with Mr Doyle’s no-nonsense methodology. It makes for a straightforward recognition book of the old school that is well worth a look. There was a time when truncated versions of this sort of thing appeared in dedicated magazines, but for the sake of a few more quid we get a much more comprehensive product. I make that a win.
M36/M36B1 TANK DESTROYER
By David Doyle
Pen & Sword Military
ISBN: 978 1 52674 892 8
Our last book is really very special as it represents the first comprehensive English language history of a post war classic, the AMX 13 light tank and its derivatives. I have a strong liking for French armour, based primarily on the range of tanks and armoured cars produced between the wars.
The gallic way of doing things continued after the war when the French were able to rekindle domestic armour production, and this is exemplified by the Modele 51.
The book takes us through the design and development of the tank followed by a close look at the type in French service. We see the process of upgrades and the range of variations. The book continues by reviewing the tank as an export success with examples serving in the armed forces of thirty countries.
I’ve never seen a running example and I don’t even recall snapping a static exhibit, but the AMX 13 has always intrigued me, none more so than hybrid examples of the tank’s turrets fitted to redundant Sherman hulls. But there is much more on view here than oddities. What we learn is just how broad a history the tank has. The international stuff fits in really well with the in-depth history of the vehicle in French colours.
This range of books is a broad church that allows the authors to be really flexible in their approach. Some examples seem quite flimsy, while a book such as this one is really very strong and convincing. It helps the publisher fit random subjects into a basic template and this means they can take on projects that might not otherwise make it into print.
Perhaps the most touching thing about this book is that it is dedicated to co-author Guy Gibeau who passed away before publication. He was a veteran tank officer who really knew his stuff. I hope he would be pleased with this very impressive book. If you are into post war armour, then you really must add this one to your library. It is a tank lover’s dream.
Another Article From Us: Historic 104-Year-old Battleship Close to Sinking
THE AMX 13 LIGHT TANK
A Complete History
By MP Robinson, Peter Lau and Guy Gibeau
Pen & Sword Military
ISBN: 978 1 52670 167 1
Review by Mark Barnes for War History Online