Archive | July 2015

Operation Chowhound: The plan to save starving Dutch civilians during World War 2


Operation Chowhound
The most risky, most glorious US Bomber Mission of WWII
By Stephen Dando-Collins

Published by MacMillan
RRP $32.99 in hardback
ISBN 9781137279637

Stephen Dando-Collins describes Operation Chowhound as the ‘remarkable and heroic precedent’ for the successful Berlin Airlift three years later. It was an outstandingly successful humanitarian mission.

With the 70th anniversary of the operation this year, this book brings to light the details of how this operation came about and the people behind its implementation.

Between May 1 and May 8, 1945, 2,268 military units flown by the USAAF, dropped food to 3.5 million starving Dutch civilians in German-occupied Holland.

It took considerable courage to fly on Operation Chowhound, as American aircrews never knew when the Germans might open fire on them or if Luftwaffe fighters might jump them. Flying at 400 feet, barely above the tree tops, with guns pointed directly at them, they would have no chance to bail out if their B-17s were hit-and yet, over eight days, 120,000 German troops kept their word, and never fired on the American bombers.

As they flew, grateful Dutch civilians spelled out “Thanks Boys” in the tulip fields below. Many Americans who flew in Operation Chowhound would claim it was the best thing they did in the war. Subsequently it was estimated that around 25,000 Dutch died of malnutrition through the ‘Hunger Winter’ of 1944-45.

Listen to an interview here with Stephen Dando-Collins talking about his book.


At the pictures in Earlwood: John Howard’s recollections


The Menzies Era
The years that shaped modern Australia
By John Howard

Published by Harper Collins
RRP $59.99 in hardcover
ISBN 9780732296124

I was just having a look at this book, which has been on my review shelf for a few months while I’ve concentrated more on the military history titles that have proliferated recently.

And then, opening it up, I saw this chapter: At the pictures in Earlwood. How could I have missed it!

I was raised in the neighbouring suburb of Bardwell Park and went to the Earlwood Public School, albeit a bit later than John Howard, who is older than me by more than a decade. He was probably just finishing up at the public school when the eldest of my six brothers was starting there.

But I do remember the Mayfair picture theatre and I remember the Earlwood that John Howard knew. I remember where the Howards lived (the house is no longer there). Mrs Howard bought newspapers from me as I did my newspaper round through Earlwood to earn pocket money.

This is the scene setting of Howard’s Menzies Era. I’ve always maintained that you could trace Howard’s political philosophy to those early days and the experience of his father’s business. Self reliance was everything. ‘No government had helped my father with his business,’ he writes.

Menzies dominated the government he led from 1949 until Harold Holt replaced him in early 1966. As it turned out the longest serving prime minister was to be replaced by one of the shortest serving prime ministers, with Holt’s disappearance in December 1967.

Howard covers the period in some detail and it is interesting to revisit the many pivotal events of the period. At 707 pages, this book was clearly a labour of love for John Howard who admired Menzies and his achievements in shaping post-war Australia.

The paperback edition will go on sale in September and there is an e-book version also.

The Mayfair picture theatre went the way of many suburban cinemas, closing in the 1960s.

Spy Museum – where else but Washington DC?

Audio programs from the Spy Museum - fascinating!

Audio programs from the Spy Museum – fascinating!


Just as I was doing some research for my next book blog I came across this interesting place – the Spy Museum – in Washington DC, located close by some other famous DC landmarks – Ford’s Theatre, for one – and only a few blocks from the White House.

Something to put on the American tour itinerary if you’re planning a trip in the near future!

But also they have an interesting podcast series which i stumbled across – twice a month, the International Spy Museum offers a new SpyCast featuring interviews and programs with ex-spies, intelligence experts, and espionage scholars. The SpyCast is hosted by Dr. Vince Houghton, historian and curator at the International Spy Museum. Dr. Houghton specializes in intelligence, diplomatic, and military history, with expertise in the late-WWII and early-Cold War eras.

I’ve provided two links – one to the iTunes list of podcasts here

and one to the list on the Museum’s website here

There are some interesting topics covered in their podcast series, most notably Cold War era spying but also contemporary subjects, for example, one China expert talking about how the Chinese really view America and its leaders.

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania


Dead Wake
The Last Crossing of the Lusitania
By Erik Larson

Published by Scribe
RRP $32.99 in paperback
ISBN 9781925106503

The sinking of the Cunard ocean liner RMS Lusitania occurred on 7 May 1915 during the First World War, as Germany waged submarine warfare against Great Britain and her allies. The ship was identified and torpedoed by the German U-boat U-20 and sank in 18 minutes. The vessel went down 11 miles (18 km) off the Old Head of Kinsale, Ireland, killing 1,198 and leaving 761 survivors. Those are the bare facts.

The Lusitania was one of the era’s great transatlantic liners and her captain, William Thomas Turner, placed tremendous faith in the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that for a century had kept civilian ships safe from attack. Germany, however, was determined to change the rules of the game, and advertised the fact in New York newspapers of the time.

The sinking of the Lusitania is a story that many of us think we know but don’t, and Erik Larson tells it well, switching between hunter and hunted, bringing to life a cast of evocative characters, from famed Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat to pioneering female architect Theodate Pope Riddle to President Wilson, a man lost to grief but also captivated by the prospect of new love.

This new book was published to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the sinking, which is widely believed to have drawn the US into the war. In fact it took nearly two years for this to happen.

As The New York Times says of author Erik Larson, he is ‘an old hand at treating nonfiction like high drama … He knows how to pick details that have maximum soapy potential and then churn them down until they foam’. I’d absolutely concur with that assessment.

Local publisher Scribe is to be congratulated for bringing quality non-fiction books to Australian audiences. Scribe publishes over 50 non-fiction and fiction titles annually in Australia and about 40 in the United Kingdom.

Inside the Hawke-Keating Government _ A Cabinet Diary By Gareth Evans – because it seemed like a good idea at the time!


Inside the Hawke-Keating Government
A Cabinet Diary
By Gareth Evans

Published by Melbourne University Press
RRP $49.99 in hardback
ISBN 9780522866421

This is a departure from the normal military history fare …. I certainly get some interesting political books across my review desk (and I appreciate that).

For readers interested in the Cabinet deliberations, processes and decision-making of the first and second Hawke Governments in particular, Gareth Evans’ book will be of real interest, although it covers a period of only two years from late 1984 to late 1986.

Evans explains this truncated time frame in his introduction. Having failed to gain pre-selection for a House of Reps seat, he settled for life in the Senate and began dictating diary entries from that point in September 1984.

By the end of 1986, to use his own words, he was so ‘emotionally wrung out by the Lionel Murphy affair’ that the impetus to record his daily political life evaporated.

It is therefore only in a footnote that we read about his earlier decision, as Attorney-General, with the cooperation of the Defence Minister (Gordon Scholes), to have the RAAF send a Mirage to photograph the area around the site of the proposed Gordon Below Franklin Dam in Tasmania. This all blew up spectacularly with Evans adding fuel to the press fire by saying ‘Whatever you do, don’t call me Biggles’ and later, to the National Press Club, ‘It seemed like a good idea at the time’.

For readers more narrowly focused on defence and strategic issues there are diary accounts of meetings with Indonesian officials and some commentary on matters concerning Kim Beazley as defence minister. There is also colourful commentary about Bob Hawke’s style in the early days of his government. The final diary entry records the death of Lionel Murphy.

It’s the type of book that you think you’ll delve into for five minutes and then half an hour later you lift your head. You’ll find yourself searching the memory banks for exactly who occupied each portfolio and over what period (Hawke and Keating aside) and then reaching for a technology not imagined in 1984 (except perhaps by George Orwell) and asking Google’s help.

I remember having just taken up a posting at the Australian Embassy in Washington in March 1983 as the Hawke Government was elected. One of the first signals I remember seeing was ‘Court stops dam.’ I still have a copy of it in my scrapbook of ephemera from the period.

Gareth Evans bio:
Gareth Evans was a Cabinet member throughout the Hawke-Keating years, as Attorney-General (1983-84), Minister for Resources and Energy (1984-87), Minister for Transport and Communications (1987-88) and Foreign Minister (1988-96).

As Senator for Victoria from 1978 to 1996, he was Deputy Leader (1987-93) then Leader of the Government in the Senate (1993- 96); as Member for Holt (1996-99) he served as Deputy Leader of the Opposition from 1996 to 1998. He left Australian politics to become President and CEO of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group from 2000 to 2009, and has been Chancellor of the Australian National University since 2010.

The Ottoman Defence Against The Anzac Landing : 25 April 1915

The Ottoman Defence Against The Anzac Landing : 25 April 1915
Australian Army Campaigns Series – 16
by Mesut Uyar

Published by Big Sky Publishing
RRP $19.99 in paperback
ISBN 9781925275018

Last month, I blogged about Book no.15 in this Campaigns series – the book was Sudan 1885 by Michael Tyquin. There seems to be a regular production line of these titles, which are intended as a resource for members of the Australian Army whose focus is on leadership, command, strategy and tactics. The books are also suitable for the general reader. The series started in 2005 with the first title The Battle of Crete.

As has been often said, the landing at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 represents a defining moment for Australia. However this is the detailed account of the landing from the Turkish perspective. Descriptions of the Ottoman forces such as the composition of units, the men who commanded them, their weapons, capabilities and reactions to the ANZAC invasion have generally remained undocumented or described in piecemeal fashion based on secondary sources. The lack of a Turkish perspective has made it almost impossible to construct a balanced account of the events of that fateful April day.

This book seeks to redress the imbalance, portraying the Ottoman experience based on previously unpublished Ottoman and Turkish sources. Mesut Uyar describes the Ottoman Army in fascinating detail from its order of battle, unit structure and composition, training and doctrine to the weapons used against the ANZACs.

Author Mesut Uyar is currently associate professor of Ottoman military history at the University of New South Wales, Canberra.

To read more about Mesut Uyar and this book, here is a link to a review in the AFR, 20 March 2015 by Tony Walker

Desert War: The Battle of Sidi Rezegh – New Zealand’s costliest battle


Desert War
The Battle of Sidi Rezegh
Peter Cox

Published by Exisle Publishing
RRP $34.99 in paperback

This book is the latest in the ANZAC Battles Series edited by Glyn Harper and published by Exisle.

Author Peter Cox undertook a detailed study of the battle of Sidi Rezegh to write his first book, Good Luck to All the Lads (2008), which told the wartime story of his father, Sergeant Brian Cox, who fought at Sidi Rezegh with the 27th Machine Gun Battalion. Typically for his generation, Brian Cox spoke little of his wartime experiences before he died in 1976, aged just 59.

In this book, Peter Cox has written a more complete account of the battle, acknowledging the considerable challenges he encountered in the amount of conflicting information in the various records he researched. He has twice visited the battlefield in the course of his research, which he describes as an unforgiving and inhospitable landscape.

In November 1941, at a crucial time in the Desert War in North Africa, 20,000 New Zealand soldiers crossed the border from Egypt into Libya. They would help fight one of the deadliest battles of World War Two, yet one which is relatively unknown: the battle of Sidi Rezegh. Sidi Rezegh is a barren, stony ridge outside Tobruk. The battle was an important part of the allies’ crucial Operation Crusader, which would bring much needed relief to Australians and other allied troops who had been trapped at Tobruk.

Nearly 900 New Zealanders were killed or died of wounds, 1700 men were wounded and 2000 men captured. More New Zealanders were killed or taken prisoner in Crusader than in any other campaign that the New Zealand Division fought in World War Two, and its casualties were the highest of any of the Eighth Army Divisions involved. The objective of Crusader was to retake Cyrenaica, the eastern region of Libya, and ultimately drive the Italians and Germans out of North Africa. The campaign also involved British and South African troops, and did achieve the badly needed relief of Tobruk.

Despite the New Zealand Division’s major role, and the importance of this campaign in achieving British victory in North Africa, it has largely been neglected by historians, failing to receive as much attention as Crete, El Alamein or Cassino. Yet more New Zealand soldiers were killed or taken prisoner during Crusader than in any other campaign fought by ‘the Div’ during the war.

Pozieres: Echoes of a Distant Battle – 99 years ago today


Echoes of a Distant Battle
By Christopher Wray

Published by Cambridge University Press
As part of the Australian Army History series
RRP $59.95 in hardback
ISBN 9781107093485

Imagine this, 99 years ago today.

Shortly after midnight on 23 July 1916, those men of the 1st Division AIF who were to form the first wave in the assault on Pozieres crept from their trenches into no man’s land, and formed up in readiness for the attack. They lay in silent rows, as close as possible to the line on which the artillery barrage would fall, waiting for the order to advance. At thirty minutes after midnight the barrage crashed down onto the first line of German trenches, with the flashes of the shellfire lighting up the night sky for some 30 kilometres around the target area.

C E W Bean later described the artillery bombardment as ‘famous even among the many famous bombardments on the Western Front’. From Chapter 2, A Place of Sinister Name and Tragic Happenings, from POZIERES: ECHOES OF A DISTANT BATTLE by Christopher Wray.

And so began the battle of Pozieres. From July to September 1916, some 23,000 Australians were killed or wounded in the Battle of Pozieres. It was the first strategically important engagement by Australian soldiers on the Western Front and its casualties exceeded those of any other battle of the First World War, including Gallipoli. Yet it does not focus the modern Australian mind as Gallipoli does. Today, writes Christopher Wray, the view from the now peaceful town is ‘a picture of rural tranquility’.

Like its predecessors in this series from Cambridge, this is a well produced book with maps and photographs – it will be a pleasure to put it on your bookshelf, I am sure.

On a general note, there are in fact 27 titles altogether in the Australian Army History series published by Cambridge – twelve of the titles are listed at this link.

Mammoth Book of the Vietnam War; includes John McCain’s capture


Mammoth Book of the Vietnam War
By Jon E Lewis

Published by Constable & Robinson; Dist. by Allen & Unwin
RRP $19.99 in paperback
ISBN 9781472116062

Memory isn’t a reliable thing, I can tell you. I didn’t remember having received other ‘Mammoth’ books by Jon E Lewis for review but well-kept databases don’t lie.

In May 2013, I received the book:
The Mammoth Book of Combat: Reports from the Front Line

In April 2014, I received the book:
The Mammoth Book of Covert Ops

And this year,
The Mammoth Book of the Vietnam War

Background: By 1969, following the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu, more than 500,000 US troops were “in country” in Vietnam. Before America’s longest war had ended with the fall of Saigon in 1975, 450,000 Vietnamese had died, along with 36,000 Americans. The Vietnam War saw the establishment of the Navy SEALs and Delta Force. At home, America fractured, with the peace movement protesting against the war; at Kent State University, Ohio National Guardsmen fired on unarmed students, killing four and injuring nine.

As an editor, Lewis has selected some of the best writing to come out of a war covered by some truly outstanding writers, both journalists and combatants. His selection includes an eyewitness account of the first major battle between the United States Army and the People’s Army of Vietnam at Ia Drang and Pulitzer Prize-winner Seymour Hersh on the massacre at My Lai.

What I found most topical, given the current verbal attack on veteran Senator John McCain by US presidential hopeful Donald Trump, is McCain’s short but straightforward account of his capture after he ejected from his aircraft over Hanoi and the subsequent very poor medical treatment he received for his injuries. His captors did not expect him to survive. He acknowledged that he survived only because of his father’s high ranking in the US Navy – the only reason his captors provided any medical treatment at all, he believes, because the North Vietnamese saw considerable propaganda value in his capture. I think we are on Senator McCain’s side in his tawdry treatment by a man who will say anything at all to get attention. To McCain’s credit, it’s not for himself that he is concerned but for other veterans.

For those who are interested, there are many Mammoth titles published by Constable & Robinson, which is part of Little, Brown book group in the UK. According to informed sources (Wikipedia) Constable & Robinson commenced publishing books in 1795 as Constable & Co. That’s quite a history.

The Bletchley Girls: No longer overlooked by history


The Bletchley Girls
By Tessa Dunlop
Published by Hachette
RRP $35.00 in paperback
ISBN 9781444795721

This is one of two books on Bletchley Park that I’ve received recently. The other is Michael Smith’s The Debs of Bletchley Park and other stories, which has found its way into my Books of Interest column in Australian Defence Magazine, August 2015 edition.

In the past, the focus has been on telling the remarkable story of code-breaking at this top secret facility during World War 2 – and in particular the focus has been on the men who achieved the breakthroughs. Little time has been spent focusing on those in the background who were critical to the success of Bletchley Park. Most of those in the background were women who did the repetitious and monotonous tasks but also performed jobs at all levels.

Tessa Dunlop interviewed fifteen women, most now in their 90s, for this book. What she delivers is an engaging social history, rather than a detailed examination of what work the women did. What is interesting too is to understand how this period represented a transition for women in the workplace. It freed women from the narrow expectations of a society that expected them to be wives and mothers and content with home-making and family life.

I’ve linked a review from The Guardian that will give you more details on this book and the other Bletchley title.

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