Tag Archives: book reviews

Book Review: MG34-MG42: German Universal Machineguns (Volume 1)

Another book review, this time looking at another offering from Collector Grade Publications.

This book covers the development history, manufacturing history, and use of the MG34 and MG42. It also provides a detailed account of accessories used with these weapons, as well as identifying marks and various ways to troubleshoot malfunctions. Detailed pictures of the many subvariants of these weapons are also included. There are also really cool evaluations of these weapons from both German soldiers as well as Soviet and American experts looking at captured examples.

For me, this book ended up being a mixed bag. I really liked reading about the development history of how the Germans went from the MG 08/15 to the MG34 and from there to the MG42. I also really enjoyed reading about the different tactics used. Less interesting to me was all of the various “Collectible” details, like serial numbers, identifying marks, and minor version changes. Seeing the comparative evaluations was also pretty awesome. It was nice to see German gunners complaining about the rate of ammo usage and the Americans really liking the quick change barrel mechanism, to name two examples.

I also found the accessories section to drag. Some were cool. Some were kinda lame. It’s very much encyclopedic, and often skimming is the best answer. Or having it more as a reference for looking things up in than for reading cover-to-cover.

Now, let’s talk price. I got mine for the sticker price. For me and my interests, anything much above sticker and I’m going to call this a pass. I’m happy at the sticker price. I’ll also note that Collector Grade books are a pretty solid investment in a lot of ways: the out of print ones generally command ludicrous prices in good condition. So if you’re on the fence and can be trusted to take care of your books, I’d suggest you buy it. If you end up not liking it, you won’t lose any money (and might make some) on the resale.

Book Review: US Cruisers: An Illustrated Design History

Norman Friedman has written some excellent Illustrated Design History books for several types of US Navy ships. Let’s look at one today.

Cruisers goes all the way back to early steam-powered warship designs, focusing on ships built for independent operation away from the fleet, or to screen the fleet from same. For my interests, I found it got really good once they were working on designs related to the Great War, and it stayed good until about the 1950s. At that point, missiles were “in”, and there weren’t many new cruiser designs because of the large number of existing ships to convert.

Friedman does a great job of covering various proposals, desired force structures, and treaties. Like the other Illustrated Design Histories, he traces design proposals, offering a large number of comparative characteristic tables as well as plenty of design sketches. There are also a good number of pictures which illustrate completed designs and how they were altered by war experience.

The chapters on the war experience are the best part of the book. Due to the large number of cruisers available during the Second World War, and the paucity of larger surface combatants, cruisers saw lots of combat. It’s really nice to read about design tradeoffs and expectations and then see how these worked out in actual surface actions.

The missile age eventually sees the end of the independent surface ship, at least in American design practice. As a result, there’s not much in the way of actual Cruiser designs covered; the Long Beach is featured, as are the Command Cruisers, but that’s pretty much the end of it. Being published in the mid 80s, not much is left to cover.

Note that while the ill-fated Typhon system is mentioned in depth, Aegis is covered only briefly here. It is covered in more detail, along with the Ticonderogas and Burkes in Friedman’s Destroyers: An Illustrated Design History. A review of that is forthcoming.

Now, as with any good review, let’s talk price and value. Unfortunately, this book is out of print. As such, pricing is inconsistent. In general, prices are high. A peek at Amazon as this goes to press (late November, 2018) shows a price of about $122 being the best available. Whether or not this is too much for you depends greatly on your interest. If you like Cruisers pre-1947 a lot, that’s a fair price for an out-of-print, detail-laden book. Otherwise, you may wish to watch and wait for a deal. I got my copy for just under $60, and it was in good condition. At that price, which is much closer to the print-run pricing, it’s unquestionably worth it for the student of naval history and design.

Book (Series) Review: The U.S. Army in World War II — European Theater of Operations

I have a number of these volumes. They are published by the Whitman Publishing Company, though the originals were published by the US Army’s Military History Department. They are a staff-officer level view of the war. They provide an excellent battalion-and-above level perspective. Discussion of command decisions, command reasoning, politics, and large scale maneuvers is handled well. The author, Martin Blumenson, is also good at covering logistical matters, which is a very important side of war that few bother with.

As fitting a staff level account, the maps in the text are first rate. They are very clear and carefully reproduced. These are not crude, cheaply printed duplicates. However, the maps within chapters are somewhat sparse. We might expect more within the text, but the back of the book has something better: color gatefold maps.

That’s not a delusion or an ungodly typo. I’ll write it again.

COLOR. GATEFOLD. MAPS.

I’ve never seen any other book do this. Each volume in the set has approximately twenty (20! That’s Two-Zero!) full-color, fold-out maps at the back for your analytical pleasure. Now you feel like you’re sitting in a warmer, nicer version of SHAEF. You can see terrain features and force depositions like never before. It’s spectacular. And yes, the text has inline references to the maps, which are numbered for your convenience. This is the best way to get a great mental image of the campaigns of the European Theater of Operations.

All that said, these are very much in the old-school of history writing. Unless someone gets a mention in dispatches, individual soldiers on the front line do not get called out. And we do not get the perspective of individual soldiers at the front lines. That is not the objective of these works. As I mentioned before, they’re oriented to the staff level, and they do not deviate from that.

The series comes highly recommended, whether they are list price or on sale.