Archive | August 2016

Revised edition: Forgotten ANZACS


The campaign in Greece, 1941
Revised edition

By Peter Ewer
Published by Scribe;
RRP: $49.99 in hardcover
ISBN 9781925321296

If this book looks familiar, your memory isn’t failing you. Based on a series of interviews with veterans of the Greek campaign, the research was originally intended for a film documentary. It was first published in 2008.

In his introduction to the revised edition, author Peter Ewer explains why he decided to revise the book so soon after its initial publication. The first book provoked a level of interest and feedback from readers that gave him new insights into the campaign that caused him to think more deeply about the implications of some aspects of the story.

Desperately outnumbered and fighting in deeply inhospitable conditions, these forgotten Anzacs found themselves engaging in a long retreat through Greece, under constant air attack.

Most of the Anzac Corps was evacuated by the end of April 1941, but many men got only as far as Crete. Fighting a German paratroop invasion there in May, large numbers were taken captive and spent four long years as prisoners of the Nazis.

The campaign in Greece turned out to have uncanny parallels to the original Gallipoli operation: both were inspired by Winston Churchill, both were badly planned by British military leaders, and both ended in defeat and evacuation. Just as Gallipoli provided military academies the world over with lessons in how not to conduct a complex feat of arms, Churchill’s Greek adventure reinforced fundamental lessons in modern warfare — heavy tanks could not be stopped by men armed with rifles, and Stuka dive-bombers would not be deflected by promises of air support from London that were never honoured.

In this book, the truth finally emerges as to how the Australian, Greek, and New Zealand Governments were misled over key decisions that would define the campaign.

And as Peter Ewer writes at the end, there are lessons for today’s military and political leaders:

If the new research in this edition of Forgotten Anzacs shows us one thing, it is that it is a profound national miscalculation to think that the great and the powerful do anything but advance their own position. ….. And when it comes to these interests nothing is too sacred – least of all an honest discussion of the facts, for these are readily compromised among nominal friends. Australia and New Zealand – and the Greeks themselves – were persuaded to join the campaign in Greece on the back of half-truths, evasions and downright misrepresentations of the known facts. If we choose to honour the second, Forgotten Anzacs, it might best be done by avoiding such naivety in the future.

Well said, Peter Ewer.



New book: In Nelson’s Wake


In Nelson’s Wake
The Navy and the Napoleonic Wars
By James Davey

Published by Yale University Press
Distributed by Footprint Books
RRP $62.00 in hardback
ISBN 9780300200652
440 pages Illustrations: 42 color illus. + maps

Local publisher Footprint Books distributes for an eclectic group of renowned international publishers. This book, from Yale University Press, is published in association with the Royal Museums Greenwich, which includes the Royal Observatory at Greenwich and the National Maritime Museum, so it is safe to say it springs from highly respected origins.

The author James Davey is Curator of Naval History at the National Maritime Museum. His previous books include The Transformation of British Naval Strategy: Seapower and supply in Northern Europe 1808-1812.

This book concerns the Napoleonic Wars fought between 1803 and 1815 as distinct from the French Revolutionary wars. As Davey writes, this was the first war fought by the ‘United Kingdom’ with the final political union not occurring until just two years earlier in 1801.

This period saw Britain immersed in a conflict of unprecedented scale and intensity. With France dominant on the European mainland, the fate of Britain rested first and foremost on the Royal Navy. Most famous of all was Horatio Nelson, who won a notable victory over the French at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. This victory did not, however, end the war at sea. Over the subsequent decade, the Royal Navy played a crucial role in the struggle against Napoleonic France, and helped ensure his final defeat.

There is an interesting review of this book on Navy Net, the unofficial Royal Navy community website.


It is no surprise that James Davey paid tribute to ‘the legions of historians who have devoted time and effort to studying the history of the navy over the past few decades’. He declares he owes ‘considerable gratitude to every scholar who had edited a volume of letters, written a monograph or articles, or compiled an Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry’. He has, of course, included an extensive bibliography with the work.

For any reader keen on naval history, I think this book will be particularly relevant and interesting. In it we see the origins of modern naval warfare and today’s Royal Navy and the Royal Australian Navy.

New Book: The Collapse – the real story of the fall of the Wall

Thecollapse copy

The Collapse
The Accidental Opening of the Berlin Wall
By Mary Elise Sarotte

Published by Basic Books, USA
Distributed by NewSouth Books: link here to purchase
ISBN 9780465049905 | 320pp | paperback
RRP AUD$24.99

This book has garnered wide praise since its release last year overseas. Local publisher NewSouth Books has taken on the role of Australian distributor. While not strictly ‘military history’ – it more properly belongs under the heading ‘political history’ – I thought I would include it in my blog for the interest of readers.

The story of the night the Wall came down is well known. On the night of November 9, 1989, massive crowds surged toward the Berlin Wall, drawn by an announcement that caught the world by surprise: East Germans would now be allowed to move freely to the West. The Wall — that infamous symbol of a divided Cold War Europe — seemed to be falling.

But the opening of the gates that night was not planned by the East German ruling regime — nor was it the result of any particular agreement between either Ronald Reagan or George H.W. Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

It was, in fact, an accident.

In The Collapse, prize-winning historian Mary Elise Sarotte brings to life an unexpected series of events culminating in the chaotic fall of the Wall. With a novelist’s eye for character and detail, she brings to life a story that sweeps across Budapest, Prague, Dresden, and Leipzig and up to the armed checkpoints in Berlin.

Sarotte has drawn on new archival sources and undertaken dozens of interviews to bring this extraordinary story to the page. As she writes in her introduction, … It is worth spending time looking at the details of how and why the Berlin Wall opened on November 9, 1989 because they add up to larger lessons. That night represented the moment when a peaceful civil resistance movement overcame a dictatorial regime. ….

The collapse of the Berlin Wall was a landmark event that changed the map of Europe forever … and, more importantly, changed the lives of East Germans and Eastern Europeans forever. I feel certain that anyone with an interest in these events will find this book a compelling and inspiring read. It certainly has been widely praised since its release.

Below is a link to an opinion piece Mary Elise Sarotte wrote for The New York Times on the fall of the Berlin Wall, which I’ve included for the interest of my readers.

Opinion page: The New York Times (7/11/2014)

How the Fall of the Berlin Wall Really Happened

Link here

Mary Elise Sarotte is a professor of history at the University of Southern California, and a visiting professor at Harvard



Watson’s Pier – A Gallipoli story


Watson’s Pier
By Joshua Funder

Published by Melbourne University Press
RRP $32.99 in paperback
ISBN 9780522867572

This is a book that literally ‘fell through the cracks’ of my review bookshelf. My only excuse really is that it got buried by bigger, but not necessarily more important, books.

Author Joshua Funder is Stan Watson’s great grandson. Funder recalls hearing stories of Gallipoli from his great grandfather, at a time when Watson was already in his 90s. In fact it was sixty-two years after the event that he finally told his family the full story of his role at Gallipoli.

It was this storytelling that captured Funder’s imagination and eventually led to the publication of this book. You can watch Joshua Funder on this YouTube clip for an insight into the background to this book.

Funder’s great grandfather Stan Watson was among the first ashore at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. He survived battle, fear and disease to build the pier at Anzac Cove from which so many men later escaped. He was to play a pivotal role in the success of the evacuation, the detailed story of which is told in this book.

Watson continued in military service after Gallipoli as a signals officer on the Western Front at Pozieres, Bullecourt, Broodseinde and Passchendaele. He was promoted to major and commanding officer of the 2nd Divisional Signals Company under General John Monash in the decisive battle of Amiens. After the war he returned to the railways, eventually becoming Deputy Commissioner of the South Australian Railways.

There is a website dedicated to the book:

I’m sure it is a book that any reader with a passion for the Gallipoli story will read with great interest.

Hunter Killer: Inside the lethal world of drone warfare


Hunter Killer
Inside the lethal world of drone warfare
Mark McCurley and Kevin Maurer

Published by Allen and Unwin
RRP $32.99 in paperback
ISBN 9781760292171

This is a book that will not be to everyone’s taste. The use of remotely piloted aircraft in warfare, commonly known as drones, divides opinion.

In Hunter Killer, Air Force LTCOL Mark McCurley writes of his experience as an RPA pilot from a ‘ground-level perspective’ during the period 2003-2012.

It is also, he writes, the story of the Predator and its evolution from an aviation backwater joke to the ‘tip of the spear’ in the war against terrorism.

McCurley was one of only four volunteers in the class of twenty-nine new pilots who commenced training in December 2003. Most had been forced out of their preferred manned aircraft options or had injuries that kept them out of the cockpit.

He had volunteered because he saw his chances of becoming a fighter pilot disappear, yet most viewed the move to flying remotely piloted aircraft as the last stop on their career paths.

If you can get past the fairly typical narrative style of the book, there will be much to interest the reader who would like to know more about how the program works, how the chain of command works and how the order to engage is given.

The aircraft themselves are not without their problems, as you might expect with something of such technical complexity. There was one aircraft with a software bug that had a history of starting itself. Imagine if it had taken off by itself! It could have been a full ‘horror movie’ scenario of an uncontrolled unpiloted aircraft going rogue!

McCurley talks about the practical problem of arming the Predator with Hellfire missiles, which could take up to half an hour to retrieve from the ammo supply point, too long a timeframe in the rush to get the aircraft airborne.

I’m sure there will be many readers who find this book interesting, simply for the fact that not much has been written about remotely piloted aircraft in the military operational context.

Remotely operated aircraft will undoubtedly play a bigger role in future conflicts as perhaps will other remotely operated platforms. It’s the rules of engagement that might need to catch up as this future arrives sooner than expected.





Long Tan veterans to be recognised … finally

ABC News is reporting that Australian veterans from the Battle of Long Tan are set to receive official recognition for their gallantry, almost 50 years to the day after their heroic efforts in the Vietnam War.

On 18 August, 1966, members of D Company who were outnumbered 20 to 1, fought against enormous odds to defeat the Viet Cong in one of the most well-known Australian engagements of the war.

For half a century, many of the men have received no official recognition of their courage, despite sustained campaigning from D Company commander, retired Lieutenant Colonel Harry Smith.

Back in April, I blogged about Harry Smith’s book


Long Tan
The Start of a Lifelong Battle
by Harry Smith

Published by Big Sky Publishing
ISBN 9781922132321
RRP $29.99 in paperback

It was clear that Harry Smith was determined to gain the recognition for the soldiers he felt had been overlooked in favour of awards to officers not directly involved in the fighting.

Here is the link to the ABC News story

I felt my readers would be interested in this latest news that vindicates Harry Smith’s decades-long campaign.

The passing of an eminent Australian military historian: Jeffrey Grey


Just a day or two ago I was blogging about a book  – The Australian Imperial Force: Volume V: The Centenary History of Australia and the Great War of which Professor Jeffrey Grey was the series editor.

Today I opened up The Sydney Morning Herald at breakfast to see his obituary, so that was quite a shock.

His list of achievements, the people he influenced and the military history books he either wrote, co-wrote or edited are a substantial and enduring legacy for the military history and wider community.

I’ve linked here to his full obituary in The Sydney Morning Herald (5 August 2016).

We offer our sincere condolences to his family, friends and colleagues.

New edition of Flightpath: Part 2 of Mark Lax’s article: RAAF’s forgotten bomber

FPH aug-Oct 16 Cover

The latest edition of Flightpath magazine (Vo. 28 No.1) has just come across my desk ….. it’s a great issue (Flightpath is published 4 times a year by Yaffa Media – link here for subscription info) or call 1800 807 760.

The Airshows spread is fabulous in the edition, including:

  • Wings over Illawarra
  • Australian Vintage Aviation Association event at Caloundra
  • Imperial War Museum, Duxford – American Air Show
  • First TBM Avenger gathering in probably at least 60 years at Peru, Illinois
  • Planes of Flame Airshow, Chino, CA

There are great photos of VH-AES Hawdon which has found a new home at the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS) at Illawarra Regional Airport.

In part II of ‘The RAAF’s Forgotten Bomber of World War II: The Martin Baltimore’, author Mark Lax continues the story of an aircraft of which none remain today.

The RFDS is approaching its 90th anniversary. Andy Wright looks back on the historic aircraft types that have been the workhorses of this excellent and much needed outback service.

This is just a quick snapshot of the edition to whet the appetite

Flightpath is also available from your local newsagent.




FREE EVENT: False Flags author talk at South Perth Library

Words with Wine: False Flags


Stephen Robinson, author of False Flags is August’s featured guest at South Perth Library’s Words With Wine on Thursday 18 August 2016.

Location: South Perth Library Function Room, Cnr South Tce & Sandgate St
South Perth WA 6151

Date: 18:15 to 19:30, Thu 18 August 2016

Free. Bookings Essential. Link here for registration details


In 1940 the raiders Orion, Komet, Pinguin and Kormoranleft Germany and disguised as merchant vessels, they sank or captured 62 allied ships, including HMAS Sydney off the West Australian coast.

Author Stephen Robinson studied Asian history and politics at the University of Western Sydney, graduating with First Class Honours. He has worked at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs researching British atomic weapons tests & as a policy officer in the Department of Defence.

Book Sales and signing available on the night.


National Library Free Lecture: On War: the Battle for Pozieres


I thought I would alert readers to a free lecture at the National Library in Canberra this week.

Dr Meleah Hampton, Australian War Memorial historian, will explore allied efforts to capture the Old German trench line near Pozières, France, in 1916, leading to one of the most costly battles for Australians in the First World War. In association with the Canberra Great War Study Group, the Estaminet.

Date: Thursday 4 August 2016   5.30pm   free

Location: Theatre, Lower Ground 1, National Library of Australia, Canberra

Link here for details


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