Welcome to Milgeek.co.uk, my blog about my obsession with things military, including my airsoft hobby, family history in World War 2, military gaming, defence news and much more.
Entries in Military movies & books (4)
I always liked to read those Osprey military reference manuals for uniforms, tanks and aircraft but in the context of my two latest hobbies - kit making and 'World of Tanks' - my latest read has added relevance. 'The French Shermans of the Liberation 1943/45' is a wonderful reference guide to this little known subject, with lots of interesting period photos, colour plates and a history (in French and English) of the M4 Sherman series.
We are all perhaps guilty of taking the mickey out of the French and their military prowess - or our perceived lack of it - but if you do a little reading about the French in World War Two you will be surprised that they have gained this completely unwarranted reputation. This is especially true of the Free French armoured formations.
This book has some splendid information about the plethora of Sherman variants that the French used as well as the very colourful formation and tank identification markings. In fact, the French markings are some of the most snazzy - and complex - I have ever seen. Just as appealing is the French habit of displaying a very prominent individual name on their tanks.
The French used just about every variant of the American M4 series and put them to very good use, particularly when fighting on 'home turf' following the D-Day landings. Their effectiveness against the Germans - and their technically superior armour - really put pay to the jibes that they have to endure.
The M4 Sherman continues to surprise and interest me and what I am learning about it is feeding directly into my model making - though I am not tempted to try out the Sherman in 'World of Tanks'! The game is just too unforgiving.
Above: I wish we had a similar web site to www.chars-francais.net for WW2 British Shermans! This web resource lists all Shermans in French use, and includes a history and photo if avalable. It's actually amazing just how many photos they have managed to round up. The site is in French but Google Translation does a decent job at de-Frogging the text. As well as the M4 this site provides a history of all other French armoured vehicles (particularly interesting as 'World of Tanks' has just announced it's forthcoming French tank add-on).
I highly recommend this book if you like reading about World War 2 history and tanks, I found it far more informative than the equivalent Osprey M4 Sherman reference (which is looking a bit long in the tooth now and the Osprey illustration are very crude by comparison). Vive la différence!
Book supplied by: Landmark Military Books - £15.95 (plus P&P)
Format: Audio book (unabridged)
Price: (To members) £3.99
Running time: 10 hours 11 minutes
Above: SAS soldiers assigned to Task Force Black, part of a Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force that has been operating in Iraq since the fall of Saddam's regime in 2003. Source: Eliteukforces.info
The 'second' Iraq war. Where do you begin. Well, as far as the British involvement is concerned this is a war we would rather forget, not because it was a military defeat, or that at times it resembled (for the British) a sort of debacle but rather because - deep down - the majority of British generally concede it was a 'wrong war'.
It seems that the only Brits who did not particularly accept the shaky ground on which this war was being fought were the highly motivated members of Britain's elite Special Forces. The 'blades' of SAS and the men of the SBS and the elite paras, marines and supporting service personnel who made up 'Task Force Black' largely seemed to have embraced the American attitude that there was a war to be won and they persued this vision with ruthlessness in an area that most of the British public don't even seem to know that 'we' were deployed - Bagdad.
Mark Urban's book seeks to document the work of Task Force Black in Iraq, including operations around the more British focused south of the country as well as what we perceive as America's 'patch' of the North and Bagdad.
If, like me, you are interested in this book because you think it will lay bear the little known British campaign which took place during the invasion and occupation of Iraq then you may find that you are a little disappointed with Mark Urban's book. In essence his book reinforces what we already know - that this was predominately an American war - and sadly a lot of his book seems to continually going off-track to mention how the Americans did things or what Americans thought rather than really engaging with the attitudes of the Brits on the ground. In fact this is the second disappointment, the fact that Mark's style is somewhat too journalistic to make this book a 'good story'.
Mark might argue that a book like this isn't meant to be an action adventure but a studied assessment of what took place, but even here he seems to miss the mark (no pun intended) as he repeatedly hints at the enormous amount of dangerous operations that the British special forces undertook but then omits to recount in any great detail all but a select few missions.
More than 3,500 insurgents have been “taken off the streets of Baghdad” by the elite British force in a series of audacious “Black Ops” over the past two years...The SAS is part of a highly secretive unit called “Task Force Black” which also includes Delta Force, the US equivalent of the SAS. Nationalterroralert.com (2008)
Furthermore 'Task Force Black' seems to reinforce the secretive nature of these operations by skirting around the individuals involved and their personal experiences. Of course some of the anonymity he gives to people and their exact actions is understandable - the SAS are, quite naturally, shy of publicity - but his style gives nowhere as engaging recounts of the dangers as, say, the books 'Apache' or 'Bullet Magnet' (which I have also reviewed on this blog).
Neither of these books can be said to be glorifying war, but their vivid descriptions of combat and very personal accounts of the actions of British soldiers do provide a deeper understanding of the realities of modern warfare. Mark's books seems, by comparison, somewhat sterile.
Above: "That Mark Urban, a BBC journalist also known for excellent recent books on the Napoleonic Wars, has been able to tell this story is a testament to his determination and investigative skill. Few reporters succeed in cultivating any sources within the closed world of the British special forces..."
Source: The Guardian review of 'Task Force Black' by Jason Burk (photo source: The Guardian)
Much time is given to reiterating the untenable position of the British Army in places like Basra and the absurdity of becoming involved in a war when the main objective is withdrawal. While this may well be - I agree - factually accurate this does not detract from the fact British soldiers were undertaking deadly work with a immense professionalism that should be acknowledged.
In the end Mark act too well as a intermediary between the SAS and the public, his style feeds us meagre tidbits of the amazing work done but then ultimately leaves us unsatisfied.
While one gets a feeling for the importance and enormity of the work that the British special Forces did during this period - roughly 2003 to 2009 - the detail is not fleshed out enough for us to make the connection between the amazing missions and the people who undertook them. Maybe the SAS like it that way, but the large number of books published by ex-Blades suggests otherwise.
It is left to a statement made by US General David Petraeus* at the very end of the book to underline just how key British special forces were to the campaign...
“It was brilliant, actually,” Gen Petraeus said. “They have exceptional initiative, exceptional skill, exceptional courage and, I think, exceptional savvy. I can’t say enough about how impressive they are in thinking on their feet.”
*Commanding General, Multi-National Force Iraq (MNF-I) from January 26, 2007, to September 16, 2008
The bottom line: Too much cloak and not enough dagger.
> Milgeek's opinion about the 2nd Iraq War: 'You've gotta know when to hold 'em...'
Other books reviewed by Milgeek that give a more personal and detailed accunts of the modern British soldier in action:
I have tired of airsoft specific magazines and only buy them very rarely now (there has to be a very good item in them to persuade me to spend my money these days) and I find that as far as military kit goes I get just as much good info from magazines like 'Combat & Survival'.
Aside from the equipment reviews this magazine does a really good job in covering British military operations and exercises. It covers a lot of the hard work the lads and lasses do in places like Afghanistan that we never hear on the mainstream news media (because of the inherent anti-war stance of media groups like the BBC and Sky News). Additionally this magazine has a very solemn and respectful summary of the sad losses our forces endure while on operations.
Aside from British military operations 'Combat & Survival' has regular features on foreign armies and their deployments and it was due to this that I bought this months copy as it has a very nice spread on a large scale German Army exercises. The excellent photos are fantastic reference material fro the German Army airsoft loadout I am currently creating.
All in all this is a very good value magazine at just £3.75 (I notice that some of the glossy airsoft magazine are approching the £5 mark now).
Finally, while I was searching the news stand I came across a little gem which took me right back to my childhood - a 'Commando' comic!
I guess these are what kids would call 'graphic novels' these days, but we called them comics and it was great to see that this great British institution is still going strong. In fact some of the stories appear to be reprinted every so often so you can still read some of the original titles.
This months selection of 'Commando' comics (they are released four at a time) are tributes to the recent VJ Day celebrations (if that is the right word) and all four of this months comics feature stories about the campaign in the Far East against the Japanese.
Of course there is something a little 'non-PC' about the story lines and they still have stereotypical Japanese soldiers being soundly thrashed while accompanied by speech bubbles featuring slogans approaching 'take that, Tojo' and the like. But for those of us who fondly remember classic British comic characters like Captain Hurricane this is a bit of innocent comic violence that bears no resemblance to real war - and I think even as kids we knew this.
What was surprising is these little comics are now £1.35 each! (I seem to remember paying just a Shilling - 5 new pence - when I was a kid! LOL)
> 'Combat & Survival' web site (now includes digital editions).
> 'Commando' magazine web site (has some very nice computer wallpapers as well as online editions of the comic)
I've reallys started to enjoy my monthly bargain hunt, picking up older games that are now out as budget titles and movie classics on DVD. This month I have picked up some great titles...
First of all I bought a couple of war movies classic - or rather I bought four, as the fits DVD is a wonderful triple feature including 'A Bridge Too Far', 'The Longest Day' and 'Patton'. The other DVD was a special edition of one of my favourites - 'The Wild Geese', which is a good old fashioned rip-roaring war adventure which should really be taken with a pinch of salt (it has Roger Moore in it so has a high kitch factor).
Now, of these I was really after 'A Bridge Too Far' and 'The Wild Geese', but not only did I get these at very good prices - £6.99 each - but I got the additional two classic war movies as a bonus!
Finally, while browsing around the Play.com games section I found a copy of 'Blazing Angels 2: Secret Missions of WWII' at only £1.99! Now I have been after this title since I completed 'Heroes of the Pacific' and did download it from STEAM, but I was furious to find that the STEAM version cannot be updated using the Ubisoft game patch - what a waste of money (though, to be fair, this is my first disappointment using STEAM).
Like Heroes of the Pacific, Blazing Angles 2 is an arcade flight combat game and I wouldn't really call it a 'sim' by any stretch of the imagination. But it's great fun for casual players who don't want to spend loads of time reading a thick flight manual. After playing Heroes I decided I wanted another of these casual air combat games but didn't want to buy the sequel - Heroes Over Europe - because of the very bad reviews it got - instead I wanted to wait until I could afford a good flight stick and get 'Wings of Prey', the demo of which I really enjoyed. But at just £1.99 Blazing Angels 2 was just too good a bargain too miss!
> War Triple: 'A Bridge Too Far', 'The Longest Day' & 'Patton', £6.99 from Play.com
> 'The Wild Geese: Special Edition', £6.99 from Play.com
> 'Blazing Angels 2: Secret Missions of WWII', £1.99 from Play.com