Reviews: December 2011
This month's reviews include the books Afgantsy: The Russians in Afganistan, 1979-89 and A Guide to the Beaches and Battlefields of Normandy and the DVD The Waterloo Collection: Hougoumont and D’Erlon’s Attack.
The Russians in Afganistan, 1979-89.
by Rodric Braithwaite
Reviewed by Jim Graham
Afghantsy by Rodric Braithwaite covers the war
the Soviets fought in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989. The book has 336
pages of text, 48 of annexes, a bibliography and index. There are also
16 pages of photos of both the main protagonists and the terrain and
cities of Afghanistan; with four maps covering the whole country, the
Pandsher Valley, Kabul and the Presidential Palace. The author Rodric
Braithwaite is a former British diplomat who was based in Moscow and has
had access to the Soviet archives and writes sympathetically of the
Soviets and the difficulties they faced.
The book is strongest on the political aspects of the war and Soviet
intervention covering recent Afghan history and the Communists coming to
power. Once they were the government it sets out the difficulties they
faced, often of their own making.
Braithwaite is writes thematically with sections on The Road to
Kabul, covering the political build up; The Disasters of War the war
itself; The Long Goodbye setting out the political and military exit
strategies with The Reckoning covering the after effects on both the men
who served and the Soviet Union itself.
In the early chapters the author reminds us that before the Communist
government of Afghanistan tried to impose their will in the countryside
Afghanistan was a relatively safe and peaceful country. With hindsight
Soviet intervention seemed cursed but it was barely a decade after the
successful and peaceful invasion of Czechoslovakia, and planned and
commanded by the same people in some cases.
Afghantsy then has chapters on various aspects of
the Soviet Army covering the recruitment and training of conscripts
with anecdotes on civilian life, army life, and the background of the
army. The anecdotes are fairly generic and have a familiarity to anyone
who has read any memoirs or “voices of” books. They are presented
uncritically and it is not clear if they have been selected by the
author or simply all that he has been told. This brings us to another
problem, there are passages given as quotations but with nothing to say
who the speaker is or what the quote is from. This lack of rigour in
the use of quotations is slightly annoying.
The book starts promisingly for the wargamer as
one of the initial chapters covers assault by Soviet special forces on
the presidential palace in some detail but this is misleading as there
are few other actions covered at all and those only in cursory
fashion. There is little in the book on tactics or weaponry and
although there is an order of battle for the 40th Army it is not a
primer for the war. This is not really a problem if the book is a
political history but it falls between two stools, it isn’t a historical
narrative but neither is it a military treatise.
The Waterloo Collection:
Hougoumont and D’Erlon’s Attack (DVD)
Pen and Sword Digital
Reviewed by Neil Smith
The second DVD in Pen & Sword’s Waterloo Collection finds our
intrepid historians and battlefield guides on the eve of the great
battle. From there, following the three episode format from the first
DVD, they lead viewers onto the Belgian battlefield, inside the walls of
Hougoumont, and alongside D’Erlon’s ill-fated attack. The result is a
more tightly focused inquiry into the campaign but one that is again
marred by poor production.
|After a ‘bridging’ episode that takes the viewer from Quatres Bras
and Ligny to the ridge of Mont St. Jean on which Waterloo was fought,
our guides arrive at the eminently defensible chateau of Hougoumont on
the right flank of Wellington’s line. Here they provide a detailed
account of the often desperate fighting around the chateau, increasingly
so as the French in particular fed thousands of troops to try and take
the bastion. The British and their allies beat them back every time and
our guides do a commendable job illustrating this ‘battle within a
battle’ using maps, a model, and on-location video.
If Hougoumont frustrated the French, D’Erlon’s attack proved
profoundly shocking to them. The third episode sees our guides
accompanying the French from their starting position around their grand
battery of artillery up onto the ridge where British and Dutch soldiers
proved immovable, despite later claims that the Dutch ran away. As the
attack stalled, the British heavy cavalry swept forward driving the
unfortunate French like cattle back towards their guns. Our guides
describe all of that action very effectively from various viewpoints and
are clearly hitting their stride, whetting our appetite for the two
DVDs to come in the series.
Unfortunately, the production issues that marred the first DVD are
again in evidence for this second effort. The sound quality is mixed,
sometimes within the same segment, and the one interview where the voice
is completely missing is unforgiveable in a product supposedly ready
for the market. Some of the question and answer sections are clunky too,
and it would have been much better to just let the guides talk to the
audience and edit afterwards. Nevertheless, the footage of the
battlefield with the commentary helped me understand the battle; the
footage of reenactors proved useful; and the demonstrations of cavalry
sabres and preparing ammunition added some nice complementary touches.
Overall, they almost outweigh the production problems but not quite
enough for me to recommend breaking out the credit card for anyone
except die-hard Waterloo enthusiasts.
A Guide to the Beaches and Battlefields of Normandy
by David Evans
Reviewed by Stephen Maggs
When I first received this book I thought it was to be familiar
run of the mill battlefield guide, giving directions of where to go,
what to see, how to get there etc, etc. But not so, as the book
provides ‘an accessible background to the momentous events of 6 June
1944. This is not just a tourist guide to the Normandy beaches but is
more aimed at military historians, veterans and relatives, for the book
gives a complete guide to each and every town, village, beach and
battery involved in the conflict area.
Each location is easily found within the publication (helped by a
detailed index) and gives a brief account of what occurred there, who
led troops there and which units fought there. This is an excellent
guide, one worth adding to your bookshelf as a very handy quick
reference guide as to what occurred where during the prolonged, often
bloody, battles of the Normandy landings.
This 176 page guide has a good few photographs, map and drawings to
compliment the text, including commanders on both sides, action shots,
German defences and cemeteries. The maps (sadly not too many) are clear
and of course very useful, especially for wargamers wishing to recreate
the Normandy battles, there is a rather useful one of the Omaha Beach
showing various locations of monuments and plaques of the various units
that fought there.
The books contents include; Background to the European War, France
Under Occupation- Resistance, German Plans to Defend ‘Festung Europa’ –
Their European Fortress, The Build-Up To D-Day, Operation Overlord –
D-Day, 6 June 1944, War Poets of the Normandy Campaign, Victoria Crosses
Awarded, Visiting the Cemeteries, D-Day and Normandy Campaign Museums.
There is a clear A to Z Gazetteer, index, 6 maps and 77 photographs
plus drawings and newspaper cartoon illustrations. Paperback.