Saturday, October 25, 2014

eBook Review: Ball Four

Jim BoutonBall Four

  • Product Details

    • File Size: 2187 KB
    • Print Length: 508 pages
    • Publisher: RosettaBooks (March 20, 2012)
    • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
    • Language: English
    • ASIN: B00CME4ROM
    • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
    • X-Ray: Enabled
    • Lending: Enabled 
    • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars (295 customer reviews)
    • Price: $1.99 (Sale price. Now $9.99.)

1. Short review:  *:) happy (Amazon rating: 4 out of 5 stars -- I like it.)

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked: The continuations. Jim Bouton added Ball Five, Ball Six, and Ball Seven to the end of the book. These sections update the story to 10 years after Ball Four, 20 years after, and 30 years after. They are much happier than the main book.
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? A sometimes amusing and always interesting walk in the park.
Good value for the money I paid. I recommend you wait for a sale.

2.2. What I did not like: The depressing account of Bouton's time with the Seattle Pilots.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: Sports fans. Baseball fans.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read?  No.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book? No. I believe Jim Bouton can write and write well, but I have only a passing interest in baseball.

2.6. The plot in a nutshell:
     Jim Bouton kept a diary during the 1969 season and published it under the title Ball Four. Bouton took a lot of heat for telling the truth about baseball: the low pay, the childish pranks, the clubhouse politics, the prolific use of profanity, and the rampant drug use.
     The book started with Bouton negotiating his salary with the New York Yankees. Next he went to spring training in Arizona with the Seattle Pilots. I do not recall if the Pilots got him in the expansion draft or traded for him.
     Bouton was a knuckleball pitcher. He had his good days and his bad days. Throughout the book, Bouton worked on developing his rhythm to throw the knuckleball.
     Soon after the season began, the Pilots sent Bouton down to their AAA club, the Vancouver (BC) Mounties. A month later they called him back up to Seattle. In August, Seattle traded him to the Houston Astros, who were in a pennant race when Bouton joined them. The Astros faded in September and fell out of the playoff picture.
     When Bouton was with the Pilots, he seemed sad and depressed. When Bouton was with the Astros, he seemed much happier.
     Ball Five related Bouton's story for the years 1970-1979. He retired in 1970 when the Astros sent him down to the minors, but came back to baseball in the minors in 1975. He traveled around minor league baseball as a journeyman pitcher and finally made it to the majors again with the Atlanta Braves.
     Ball Six related Bouton's story for the years 1980-1989. He divorced Bobbie. He continued to play baseball with semi-pro and amateur leagues. He invented things and marketed his inventions. He met and married Paula Kurman.
     Ball Seven started with the death of Bouton's daughter, Laurie, in a car accident. That happened in 1997, and the grief was still with Bouton when he wrote Ball Seven in 1999. He got his first invitation to a Yankees Old-Timers game in 1998 through the campaign of his son Michael.
     Even with Laurie's death and the grief Bouton felt taken into account, Ball Five, Ball Six, and Ball Seven are much happier reads than Ball Four.

2.7. Other:
Quotes from Ball Four:
Publishers like sports books because, while they rarely make a lot of money, they never lose money. 
There's a difference between optimism and wishful thinking. 
The world doesn't want to hear about labor pains. It only wants to see the baby. 
[W]hat these kids need is not a half-hour of conversation with some big-name guy who's just passing through. What they need is day-to-day-attention . . . .
A young girl asked one of the guys in the bullpen if he was married. "Yeah," he said, "but I'm not a fanatic about it."
[Y]ou are what people think you are. 
[I]n order for rules to exist, deviant members must be punished by the group. 
[T]he real experience of baseball was the bus rides and the country ballparks and the chili at 3 A.M. with a bunch of guys chasing a dream. And it was true enough. 
Think of a ballplayer as a fifteen-year-old in a twenty-five-year-old body. 
Being a professional athlete allows you to postpone your adulthood. 
[P]eople need to do what they love or find a way to love what they do. 
[P]eople don't want to hear the truth. They prefer their steadfast beliefs, acquired over time and developed into a mantra. 
     Bouton gave much of the credit for Ball Four to his editor, Leonard Shecter. It is evident that Bouton considered Shecter a friend and that Bouton loved Shecter dearly. Shecter edited Ball Four. He could not have edited Ball Five, because he died 5 years before it was written. Paula Kurman edited Ball Six and Ball Seven. I prefer Ball Six and Ball Seven to Ball Four and think Kurman's editing better than Shecter's, but that may be because she had happier material to work with or that may be because Bouton had more experience writing when he wrote those sections.


2.8. Links: Jim Bouton

2.9. Buy the book:  Ball Four

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


     The title of this post is Celery. The subtitle could be My Life and Welcome to It.
     Not so long ago, my wife, Bunny, found celery on sale. Sale. Put that word in the air around her and the consequences are akin to what you get when the shop doors open on Black Friday.
     This is one bunch of celery:

     I don't know how to describe the amount she bought. The collective noun that comes to mind is 'mob'. Like kangaroos.
     See that picture up top? That's about half of what she brought home. Filled a shopping bag. I'm not talking about one of those little plastic shopping bags you get at Kroger. Or even one of their brown paper shopping bags.

     No. I mean an industrial-strength re-usable canvas bag.

     Maybe you have seen these. I just pulled one out -- the one she leaves at home because "it's too small" -- and it measures 10"x15"x15". That is 1.3 cubic feet, not counting what sticks out of the top.
     Imagine that filled with bunches of celery.
     How did we use up that much celery before it turned to mush?
     I made mirepoix and cooked with it. Pints and pints of mirepoix. Added thin slices of celery and celery leaves to all kinds of salads. (Celery leaves have a strong flavor and add a lot to any salad.) Added celery to guacamole. Added celery to soups. Made cream of celery soup. Ate celery as snacks. (Dark green celery has more taste than the pale stuff.) It was Celery City in our kitchen.
     You get the picture.
     Five days after the entrance of the celery mob, I opened the fridge to find no celery. "Wow!" I thought. "I survived the Great Celery Tsunami of 2014," I thought.
     Imagine my surprise and horror when today my wife gleefully pulled out a bunch of celery from the freezer. Gleefully. That is, with an ear-to-ear grin. I was quick to point out that thawed celery is no longer useful as celery. All the crunch is gone and all you have is mushy green stuff.
     "No problem," she said and disappeared into the kitchen.
     She hauled out the wand mixer.
* * *
     I interrupt the story of celery to bring you the shorter story of the wand mixer.
     The wand mixer was what Bunny gave me for my birthday. Philips calls it a Hand Blender.
     "That's nice," said I.
     "That's all you got to say. 'That's nice,'" said she.
     "Well, Bunny, the truth is, I don't much like wand mixers. I prefer my blender."
     "You need this," said she, and she shook the hand mixer at me for emphasis.
     "Why do I need this?"
     "It was on SALE!"
     Well. There it was. The incontrovertible reason for buying me anything.
     Look for my wife on Twitter under #saleaddict.
     I return you now to your regularly scheduled story.
* * *
     As I sat at my computer reading The Passive Voice, I heard the whine of the wand mixer coming from the kitchen followed by "Hmmph" followed by more mixer whine followed by another "Hmmph." Then silence. I queued up and played some military marches (hey, you play the music you like and I'll play . . . ) and continued to peruse the offerings on the World Wide Web.
     Bunny came to me and gleefully presented me with a glass of green liquid. Gleefully. (See above.)

[I swear to you that this is what it looked like.]

     "What's this?" I asked.
     "Celery smoothie," said she.
     I knew it could not be a true smoothie, 'cause we have no bananas.
     "Drink," said she.
     Resistance was futile, and I knew that, too, so I drank.
     It had HONEY in it. 
     "Good, huh?" she asked gleefully. (See above.)
     I looked at her in silence for a good 30 seconds. All that time she nodded gleefully (see above) to persuade me to agree.
     "That's not the word I would use to describe it."
     "Oh? What would you say?"
     "It's good for the environment and okay for you." She did not get the Judge Dredd reference. Probably better for me that she didn't.
     Bunny pursed her lips. "I'll be back." She disappeared into the kitchen again.
     Within minutes she returned with another glass that looked the same as the first. Resistance was futile, so I drank. I detected no difference. Before I could say anything, she said, "Now with broccoli!" Gleefully. (See above.)

     Bunny used my blender to make the 'celery smoothie'. I don't know why. We have a juicer.
[Everyone touts the benefits of juice. No one tells you what a pain it is to clean a juicer.]

     Remember, kids, vegetables smoothies are like drugs. When someone offers you one, just say no.

# # # 

     Bunny went to Costco yesterday. Alone. Came back with TWO bags of avocados; five avocados to a bag, ten in all. Well, I survived the Celery Tsunami. By Halloween we will know if I survive the Avocado Avalanche.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

eBook Review: Military Institutions of the Romans (De re militari)

Publius Flavius Vegetius RenatusMilitary Institutions of the Romans (De re militari)

  • Product Details

    • File Size: 191 KB
    • Print Length: 114 pages
    • Publisher: (April 30, 2011)
    • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
    • Language: English
    • ASIN: B004YTJ4D2 
    • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
    • X-Ray: Not Enabled
    • Lending: Enabled 
    • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars (17 customer reviews)
    • Price: $0.99 

1. Short review:   (Amazon rating: 5 out of 5 stars -- I love it.) I shall read this again.

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked: The only book on the Roman army by a Roman. Details that I cannot find anywhere else.
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? An absorbing walk in the park.
Good value for the money.

2.2. What I did not like: Not available at Project Gutenberg.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: Military history nuts. Like me.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read?  Yes, if they are military history nuts.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book? No. Only one other book by Vegetius survives. It is a book on the practice of veterinary medicine -- in Roman times.

2.6. The plot in a nutshell:
     There was no plot. For the Emperor Valentinian, Vegetius summarized the organization, training, and practice of Roman armies from the late republic through the early empire.  
 2.7. Other:
     Scholars argue over which Valentinian Vegetius wrote for. There were three. Given what Vegetius wrote about the military successes of the emperor, I think he must have written for Valentinian I.
     Vegetius wrote at a time when Cataphracts were replacing the Legions as the backbone of the Roman army. At the time he wrote, the subject had more academic interest than practical application.
     Vegetius wrote that the Legions marched 20 miles in 5 hours. This is astonishing. Today's armies quicktime march pace is 3 miles an hour.


     On reflection, I do not believe Vegetius statement that the Legions marched 20 miles in 5 hours. To do that, the Legion needed to maintain a pace of 160 steps to the minute. That is doubletime. That means running.
     In effect, Vegetius claims the Legions ran a Marathon every day.
     Turns out the Roman mile is shorter than the English mile: 1,620 yards versus 1,760 yards. So a Roman mile is 0.92 of an English mile. That means the Legions covered 18.4 English miles in 5 hours.
     That is still a fast pace. This means the Legions covered 108 yards every minute. That translates to 132 paces a minute. Do-able but still fast.

     I thought some more about Vegetius's statement that the Legions marched 20 miles in 5 hours.
     First, Vegetius did not witness this himself. He was clear about that. What he did was summarize the military writings of the ancients. Sort of like the Readers' Digest version of Caesar's Gallic Wars and Tacitus's Histories.
     Second, where does 5 hours come from? Did Vegetius -- and Caesar before him -- think in terms of hours? Or was this period of time inserted by the translator, John Clarke, in 1767? I read Military Institutions of the Romans in English. I have not read it in Latin, have not searched for a Latin edition, and have no plan to do so.
     Let's give this some thought.
     What was a day's march for a Legion?
     A Roman Legion began its day in camp. The Roman camp was a prepared defensive position:
     This illustrates a camp to be used for a long time. On the march, the Romans did not build watchtowers and stockades every day, but they did entrench around their camp and build a glacis. One Roman Legate omitted to build a proper camp when he campaigned against Spartacus. Spartacus led his forces to overrun him at night. The Roman survived. He was tried by the Senate, found guilty of negligence, and exiled from Rome.
     The Romans were serious about building a camp every day.
     I infer that the day began for a typical Legion at sunrise. Each maniple found its own breakfast, some cooking for themselves, others having camp followers do it for them. After breakfast, the men packed and prepared to march. At the sound of horns, each maniple fell in formation. Once formed up, the Legion marched out of camp, horse first, followed by flankers of the first cohort, followed by the first cohort. The first cohort marched at the head of the formation because 1) the first cohort was the most veteran and best able to deal with contingencies in march and 2) the head of the formation encountered less dust.
     This is where Vegetius's statement that the Legion marched for 5 hours comes in. I do not know how the Romans determined that 5 hours had passed, but I shall take Vegetius's statement at face value. I do not mean that the Romans marched exactly 5 hours, but 5 hours give or take a bit.
     I infer that the Romans marched 5 hours without a break and that the 5-hour march was their day's march. I do not know if the lead elements of the horse or the first cohort staked out the next camp, but a 5-hour march left time for the Legion to dig the trench, build the glacis, pitch camp, set the watch, and gather wood and water. After all that, the maniples laid down to dinner. (The Romans reclined to eat. For a minor infraction, a Roman soldier was made to stand while he ate.)
     I infer that the 5-hour march means the Legionnaire ate twice a day: once in the morning before the march and once in the evening after he built the camp.


2.8. Links: Vegetius

2.9. Buy the book:  Military Institutions of the Romans (De re militari)

Saturday, October 11, 2014

eBooks Review: American Fighting Sail


C S ForesterThe Age of Fighting Sail

Product Details

  • File Size: 856 KB 
  • Print Length: 234 pages 
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited 
  • Publisher: eNet Press Inc. (May 28, 2012) 
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0087455GA 
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled 
  • X-Ray: Not Enabled 
  • Lending: Enabled 
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars (26 customer reviews) 
  • Price: $6.99 
1. Short review:    (Amazon rating: 5 out of 5 stars -- I love it.)

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked: The fact that the narrative was easily readable vice the impenetrable prose of the academics who write on the subject. The surprising favorable view of the young American Navy from an Englishman.

2.2. What I did not like: Does not apply.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: American naval history buffs.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read?  Yes. No worries.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book? Yes.

2.6. Summary:

     It is odd, but the title of the book is incorrect. If it were correct, it would be 'A History of the Naval War of 1812.' The age of fighting sail would cover the period from 1588 to 1865.
     Once you get past that bit of bait-and-switch, you have a readable account of acts and actions of the American captains and naval ships in the War of 1812.
     I have read the history of the early US Navy for more years than I care to count. I am always delighted when I discover something I have not read before. Forester delighted me more times than any writer I recall, excepting Toll whose book I read after this one.
     For example, John Rodgers commanded an American squadron at anchor off New York City. When he received news that the US had declared war against the UK, he took his squadron to sea without waiting for orders. His cruise yielded no actions against the Royal Navy and little in the way of prizes, but Rodgers's cruise tied the Royal Navy in knots. Vice-Admiral Herbert Sawyer, commanding His Majesty's ships in Halifax, Bermuda, and soon in the Bahamas and across the Caribbean, found his numerically superior fleet tasked to 1) convoy British merchantmen to the UK, 2) engage and destroy the American navy, 3) destroy American privateers, 4) blockade American ports, and 5) carry the war to the American homeland. His forces were sufficient for any one of these tasks, but they were woefully inadequate to accomplish them all.
     By the time Sawyer learned that Rodgers had put to sea, it was apparent that the American squadron could be anywhere in the Atlantic. It could fall on almost any point with superior force. Sawyer faced the impossible tasks of protecting British merchant shipping against this threat while he sought for Rodgers's squadron to bring it to battle. These tasks occupied the whole of his naval assets. He had no ships left to blockade American ports. The entire American navy and hundreds of privateers were able to put to sea to multiply Sawyer's problems. And they did.
     I finally got a timeline for the American naval victories at sea: 1812 and 1815. None in 1813 and 1814. In those years, the US Navy got whipped or found its ships blockaded.
     When John Warren replaced Sawyer, the Royal Navy got serious about blockading American ports. He sent a sizable squadron to blockade Chesapeake Bay and Delaware Bay. This blockade effectively cut off Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania from the sea. American maritime commerce from these states ceased. And after Napoleon surrendered the first time (in 1814) a brigade of Wellington's troops joined the Royal Marines and raided cities in Virginia and Maryland and burned Washington, DC. (Jefferson's beloved militia ran at the sight of the British. (Many historians consider Jefferson to be the smartest man to ever hold the office of President of the United States. In my opinion, Jefferson was an idiot, because he valued his theories more than the experience of better men.) The only force to acquit itself honorably in battle against the British was an artillery battery manned by sailors and supported by a Marine company and commanded by Joshua Barney. an American hero who is too little known and too little celebrated. This force fought until the men were physically captured after hand-to-hand fighting. Congress voted Barney a sword for his valor. (FYI the Wikipedia piece on Barney does not do justice to the man. It is hard to find his history, but it is worth ever minute of the time it takes. The man was phenomenal.))
     The British wanted to keep the blockade in place and wanted to continue to raid the American mainland. But Ross, their general, was killed by an American sniper on a raid, so the raiding stopped for lack of an energetic commanding officer. The blockade could not be kept because the strength of the fleet was wasting away. Sailors who had been impressed into service -- and that was most of 'em -- deserted, some when ashore to get water and victuals for their ships, others slipping over the sides in the night and swimming away. The Royal Navy suffered attrition during the blockade as if they were in combat. In the autumn of 1814, the Royal Navy quit Chesapeake Bay and Delaware Bay.
     The war ended with the Treaty of Ghent in which the US and the UK merely agreed to stop fighting. On its face, the American causus belli was the British impressment of American seamen. The British had stopped the practice by an Order in Council in 1812, but the news did not reach the US before the declaration of war. Impressment was not mentioned in the Treaty of Ghent, so the British retained the 'right' of impressment. However, orders went out to the British navy captains to leave the Americans alone. The British had got their fill of fighting Americans and did not want to repeat the experience.
     Jim Dunnigan once said that a nation wins a war only if its position after the war is better than its position before the war. In this light, the US won the War of 1812, but the UK did not lose because its position was not materially lessened.
     Forester applauds the American privateers for their depredations on British shipping and cites the increases in British shipping insurance and captures of merchant vessels as evidence of the privateers' effectiveness. I think it would be interesting to study American privateering against the British in the War of 1812 in some detail (I'm strange that way; different strokes), but I am not convinced that American privateers materially affected the outcome of the war. The British merchant marine had survived French privateers through four wars in the 18th century and finished each war with more sails and more shipping tonnage than at the beginning.
     A delightful fact that Forester brought up was that throughout the war American merchantmen supplied Wellington's army in Spain. Wellington himself said that his army lived on American grain. Wellington supplied all American merchantmen who brought him supplies written passes to excuse them from capture or impressment should they be boarded by His Majesty's Navy.
     All this is presented in an easy-to-read narrative. A most enjoyable book if you are interested in American naval history.


2.7. Links:

2.8. Buy the book:
The Age of Fighting Sail 

Ian W TollSix Frigates

Product Details

  • File Size: 1785 KB 
  • Print Length: 592 pages 
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (March 17, 2008) 
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000W5MINK 
  • Text-to-Speech: Not Enabled 
  • X-Ray: Enabled 
  • Lending: Not Enabled 
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars (313 customer reviews) 
  • Price: $9.99 
1. Short review:    (Amazon rating: 5 out of 5 stars -- I love it.)

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked: Impressive sources: diaries and letters of captains, officers, midshipmen, and ordinary sailors.

2.2. What I did not like: The lack of textual coverage of the incident of the USS Baltimore under the command of Isaac Philips. Toll covered it in a footnote. Twenty-eight years after the occurrence, Philips published his account of the incident. Philips was dismissed from service -- that is, cashiered -- by order of President John Adams for allowing British officers to employ force aboard the Baltimore while it was still under his command; that is, he had not surrendered. The dismissal set a precedent that remained unique until 1970 when Coast Guard Commander Ralph Eustis allowed Russian sailors to use force aboard the USCGC Vigilant to return Simas Kudirka to their Russian trawler. (Kudirka was seeking asylum.) Wikipedia says that Eustis was given a non-punitive letter of reprimand. This is false. Eustis was cashiered, and those above him in the chain of command were given the option to retire or be cashiered. One of my friends, Wes Miller, sat the Coast Guard investigation board on the Kudirka incident. The board recommended court martial for Eustis. but the President overrode their recommendation and cashiered Eustis and cited the Baltimore incident as precedent. Wes and I argued the propriety of the dismissal many times. I think an incident that occurred in 1798 that echoed in the 20th century deserves more than a footnote.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: American naval history buffs.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read?  Yes. No worries.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book? Yes.

2.6. Summary:

     (I read Six Frigates immediately after The Age of Fighting Sail, and for that reason chose to review them together.)
     From the title, you would expect Six Frigates to be about the original six frigates of the United States Navy. It is that and more.
     At first I was displeased with the attention Mr Toll gave to the politics of the creation of the Navy, but that may be because I studied the creation of the Navy in depth years ago and can recall a great deal of it in excruciating detail. Ask anyone who has ever conversed with me on the subject.
     However, Toll soon rewarded my reading with details I did not know. Like the fact that Joshua Humphreys, the architect of the American big frigates, had to compromise the original six that he intended to be built as 44s to build only three 44s, two 38s, and one 36 (the runt of the litter Chesapeake). (The Chesapeake is often listed as a 38, and like all warships of the era, she carried more guns than she was rated for, but the truth is the Chesapeake was shorter than her sisters, and 36 describes her better than 38.)
      Toll covered the War of 1812 with more detail on the actions at sea than Forester gave, but his conclusions echoed Forester's.
      Toll covered the Quasi-War with France and Thomas Truxtun's command of the Constellation in action against L'Insurgente and La Vengeance. Something I did not know: the Constellation mounted 24-pounders when she fought L'Insurgente, but Truxtun found they made the Constellation top heavy and swapped them for 18-pounders. The Constellation fought La Vengeance with 18-pounders on her gun deck.
     Toll covered both the First Barbary War and the Second Barbary War. (There was not much to the Second Barbary War. The Navy sailed in and blew hell out of any ship the Algerines put in the water.)
     Toll covered William Bainbridge's loss of the USS Philadelphia and his and his officers' surprisingly luxurious captivity in Tripoli. Toll also covered the brutal conditions of the seamen in captivity. The Algerines put them to work like slaves on public works.
     Once Edward Preble sailed into the Mediterranean with an American squadron, things got hot for the Algerines. Preble put matters to rest in Tangiers and Tunis before he made his base in Syracuse. The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was already at war with the Algerines and happily lent Preble six shallow-draft gunboats to use to bombard Tripoli. Preble sailed to Tripoli and proceeded to do just that. In time, a peace was concluded with the Dey of Algiers, and the Americans went away.
     Toll details the pig's breakfast President Jefferson made of the navy with his erroneous notions of naval militia manning unseaworthy gunboats. Those damned gunboats were useless. They could not sail and they could not fight.
     Toll covered the Chesapeake-Leopard affair and the Little Belt affair in extraordinary detail.
     If you have an interest in the early US Navy, this is a book you must have in your library.


2.7. Links:

2.8. Buy the book:
Six Frigates 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Why No Parachutes?

Arthur Gould LeeNo Parachute
Appendix C, Why No Parachutes?

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 233 pages
  • Publisher: Time Life Education (June 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809496127
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809496129
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars (9 customer reviews) 
  • Price: $48.80 plus shipping (<-- What I paid for out-of-print hardcover. Currently, Amazon sells the Kindle edition for $9.99.)
1. Short review:    (Amazon rating: 5 out of 5 stars -- I love it.)
I love the body of the book. The appendices -- each and every one -- I find fault with.

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked:  See my first review.

2.2. What I did not like: See my first review.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: Air combat buffs. History buffs.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read?  Yes. No worries.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book? Yes. Now have Open Cockpit.

2.6. Appendix C. Why No Parachutes?

     Nothing more mystified the pilots and observers of the R.F.C., R.N.A.S., and R.A.F. during 1917-1918 than the dour refusal of their High Command to provide them with parachutes. During the half-century that has followed, no question has more puzzled air historians on every level.
     Because no specific reason was ever established for their refusal, a convention has grown up over the years, erected on the gossip and half-truths of the day, that the decision against parachutes was taken first because no reliable parachute then existed, and second because so convenient a facility for escape might invite pilots to abandon their aircraft without a determined fight.
     The first reason was unquestionably given by those responsible, but it was untrue. The second was a slur on the flyers who daily risked their lives in France, and one which has since provoked indignation among the survivors of those who were there. But it is an invention. That some such notion was in the air as a rumour is not to be denied, but it was not based on an official attitude.
     I have made a close examination of all the War Office files dealing with parachutes during 1914-1918, files not previously open for inspection except under ban of official censorship, and nowhere have I found any specific statement by any officer on which could be pinned the calumny that parachutes would encourage unnecessary abandonment of aircraft.
     Another convention that has emerged in recent years is the habit of attribution the official denial of parachutes to one man, and one man alone, General Trenchard. This trend is based partly on a passage in his biography, by Andrew Boyle, which states that Trenchard's attitude to parachutes 'was characteristically spartan. His balloon observers, being defenceless, were issued with them, but not his airmen.'
     This statement is too vague to hold the significance placed on it. In the early and middle stages of the war Trenchard was not the dominating figure he afterwards became. Even if he had been emphatically against parachutes he could not have imposed his bias over two years on other R.F.C. officers of similar or higher seniority. Moreover, as Commander in the Field, and later Chief of the Air Staff, he would have been much too occupied with weighty day-to-day problems of high direction to be able to intervene frequently in this one question of technical equipment.
     In none of the War Office files mentioned have I found evidence that he was in any way responsible for the denial of parachutes. On the contrary, his name is conspicuously absent from the list of senior R.F.C, R.N.A.S and R.A.F. officers at the War Office and Air Ministry who between them did collectively smother the development of the parachute.
     The argument put forward by some of these officers that no reliable parachute existed was merely evidence of ignorance. Parachutes were in regular use before the was at fairs, displays and country shows in Europe and the United States, in exhibition jumps from free balloons, carried out by both men and women, and only rarely with accident.
     In these parachutes the weight of the falling jumper pulled the canopy from a container attached to the basket of the balloon and immediately opened it. To attach so bulky a container to the early aeroplanes, fragile and underpowered, occurred to no one until March 1912, when a successful jump from 1,500 feet was made in America. The feat was repeated in England in May 1913, when a pull-off fall was made from 2,000 feet over Hendon aerodrome.
     In 1908, in America, a different kind of parachute had been introduced, for free fall, in which the parachute was attached as a pack to the jumper, and opened by him by a ripcord and handle as he fell. This new contrivance was employed only for balloon jumps until October 1912, when a similar pack was used in a free-fall jump from a Wright aeroplane, again in the U.S.A. This dramatic advance, which was repeated at shows and displays through the States, held no significance for any of the supposedly alert minds engaged in developing the infant flying services of both the U.S.A. and the then much more militant nations of Europe.
     It is thus indisputable that two years before the war there existed a free-fall pack parachute of proven performance, which though perhaps immature by modern standards, could have been take up by any of the powers and developed alongside the then equally immature aeroplane.
     Although, after World War I broke out, observation kite balloons were provided with the traditional showman's type of free-balloon parachute, not only were the 1912 free-fall drops from aeroplanes completely forgotten, but nobody in authority gave a thought to the possibility of adapting the reliable balloon-type parachute for use from aeroplanes.
     However, the initiative had already been take by a civilian, Mr E. R. Calthrop, a retired engineer, who had developed a new design of parachute for the simple, altruistic purpose of saving lives. This unconvincing motive, together with the unhappy name he gave to it, 'Guardian Angel', were enough to damn it in the eyes of most service people, but the Guardian Angel, though not a free-fall, and far from perfect by later developments, was a sound, well-thought-out proposition, more compact and quicker in action than the old fashioned Spencer parachutes supplied to kite-balloon observers.
     But Calthrop's invention, perhaps because his approach to inflated officialdom was not always sufficiently tactful, was regarded by the War Office and Admiralty with dislike, and every high-level advance on his part for tests and trials was brusquely rebuffed.
     War Office files show that even in May 1914, before the war began, Calthrop, whose parachute had already  been successfully tried out at Barrow-in-Furness with the co-operation of Vickers, invited the R.F.C. and R.N.A.S. at Farnborough to test it also. Captain E. M. Maitland of the R.F.C., who had done a 7,000-foot parachute jump from an airship the year before, was quite prepared to test it, but there is no evidence that any result followed from this or similar invitations made to both War Office and Admiralty.
     Later, in October 1915, at the Royal Aircraft Factory, the enterprising Superintendent, Mervyn O'Gorman, one of the few people alive to the potentiality of the parachute, and with an experienced balloon jumper on his staff, proposed to experiment with a Calthrop. 'I have fitted this to an aeroplane for preliminary trials with a dummy', he wrote to the Directorate of Military Aeronautics, seeking approval for the modest expenditure involved. 
     'Do you wish experiments of this nature to be proceeded with?' minuted the Assistant Director of M.A. 'No, certainly not!' wrote General Henderson, G.O.C. of the R.F.C. What Daimler's Chief Engineer, A. E. Berriman, called 'some very interesting experiments' were thus abruptly halted. A year later a junior staff officer had the effrontery to suggest that permission might now be given for the experiments to be resumed, but his nose was rubbed in Henderson's 'Certainly not!'
     Undeterred, Calthrop persevered in his efforts to gain official approval, but he was up against influences both practical and intangible. That the primitive aeroplane of 1915-1916 could not carry the weight of a parachute without some sacrifice of performance was an objection every pilot understood and accepted though not perhaps to the degree expressed by a gallant R.N.A.S. officer, Commander Boothby, who wrote: 'We don't want to carry additional weight merely to save our lives.'
     The intangibles were much less acceptable to the fighting airman. He could not easily tolerate the customary Whitehall opposition to change, to new notions, which existed at high levels in even the young and vigorous R.F.C. and R.N.A.S. Nor did he appreciate the attitude of some senior officers, influenced no doubt by the traditions of the sea, who believed that the occupants of a stricken aeroplane should dive to their deaths with a stiff upper lip, in the manner of the captain of a sinking ship.
     A further intangible was the sheer ignorance of those members of the Air Board who lacked experience of air combat except in the carbine era. Even so fine an officer as General R. M. Groves could write: 'Smashed aircraft generally fall with such velocity that there would hardly be time to think about the parachute.' At the time this sentence is written, some 200,000 airmen have saved their lives by parachutes because they managed to find time to think.
     Another member of the Air Board, Lord Sydenham, wrote: 'The point is, could pilots make use of the Guardian Angel parachute at the moment when it becomes clear that their machine had come to grief?' Lord Sydenham was not an airman, and his qualifications adjudge on this question were outstanding only in the negative. The sixty-nine-year-old peer's soldiering days had ended ove twenty years earlier, and his two previous public appointments had been Superintendent of the Royal Carriage Factory and Chairman on the Royal Commission on Contagious Diseases.
     The Air Board decision on October 1916 was that it should await further developments. But developments by whom? The hoary process of passing the buck was now in operation. In January 1917 the secretary of the Board wrote: 'I gather from General Brancker that there is at present no idea of using parachutes in connection with heavier-than-air craft.' This was thought unnecessary because the R.N.A.S. was now experimenting with parachutes for use in airships.
     But at the time that the Board, and the higher officers of the technical directorates, were holding down the Guardian Angel, trials of it were being held by junior officers at Orfordness Experimental Station, where during January successful jumps were made by Captain C. F. Collet from a B.E.2c. No member of the Air Board took any interest in the reports submitted, and not for a full year were the tests resumed at the same station.
     But in France General Trenchard heard of the trials, and despite his many preoccupations as Commander in the Field, suggested that they be continued in France. They were not continued anywhere. On January 16th he asked for twenty black Calthrop parachutes for dropping spies from aeroplanes behind the German lines, and the records show that they were delivered to No 2 Aircraft Depot between January and March. Trenchard was at least not blindly opposed to parachutes.
     Yet successive members of the Air Board continued to rebuff Calthrop's efforts. In May he made yet another approach, and after referring to the Orfordness trials and the spy-dropping operations, suggested that if his parachutes could not be used by squadrons in France they might at least be employed in training schools. General L. E. O. Charlton's decision in the column of the minute sheet was simply 'No!' Calthrop persisted 'in view of the many deaths from the burning of pilot'. 'Not many', commented Charlton.
     Calthrop had heard of the suggestion that possession of a parachute might 'impair a pilot's nerve when in difficulties, so that he would make improper use of his parachute, with the result that more machines would be crashed'. He argued that surely an airman at the Front, knowing he could use his parachute in emergency, 'would attempt to achieve more', but this rational view, which was to be borne out a thousand times in World War II, inspired no reaction.
     Among the stock attitudes adopted by members of the Directorate and the Air Board to account for their hostility to parachutes, additional to such notions as that a falling airman would lose consciousness, was the one advanced by the Board's secretary, Major Baird, M.P., in the House of Commons, when he stated that 'pilots did not desire parachutes for aeroplanes'. This view was based on that held by those senior R.F.C. and R.N.A.S. officers who had never experienced fierce lethal air combat, nor witnessed the desperate need of comrades falling to their death in broken or burnine planes. Such as Groves, when he wrote: "The heavier-than-air people all say that they flatly decline a parachute in an aeroplane as a life-saving device worth carrying in its present form'. The people he referred to were not the pilots of B.E.s and R.E.s, or Nieuport and Sopwith two-seaters, or F.E.8s and the other death-traps then being flown in France.
     Such statements were evidence of the wide gulf that existed between the fighting ranks of the R.F.C., the pilots and observers in France up to, but not often including, the squadron commander's grade of major, and the ranks who were too senior to fight, and who never experienced post-Fokker air fighting in any form.
     The truth was that from early 1917, especially during and after the ' Bloody April' losses, there were few fliers with any experience of air fighting who were not obsessed to some degree, though usually secretly, with the thought of being shot down in flames. The top-scoring British ace Mannock was the classic example. To all these a parachute would have been a stiffener to strain and morale. But their views did not go beyond the level of the squadron or wing commanders, who feared that to support such attitudes would expose them to criticism for tolerating morale-weakening influences.
     Another stock attitude was that the Guardian Angel was not efficient enough. Under Government auspices it could have been developed and improved quickly and at trifling cost, and a reliable free-fall parachute would undoubtedly have been evolved within a few months. But the active-service flier did not want to wait for perfection. He wanted something quickly, that would offer a hope of escape, much as a lifebelt offers hope to a seaman from a sinking ship. Even if the parachute were not infallible it would offer a sporting chance, which was better than a death that was certain.
     At length, by the end of 1917, a Parachute Committee had been formed on the recommendation of General Maitland, to examine whether or not parachutes should and could be provided. The secretary, Major Orde-Lees, was a keen and experienced parachutist, but not most of those with whom he worked. 'I doubt whether the practicable application of the Guardian Angel parachute is possible during war', wrote the Controller of the Technical Directorate, who then added: 'I think that one parachute should be sufficient to rescue both pilot and observer.'
     But in France parachutes at last found support from a high-ranking officer, General Longcroft, commanding the 3rd Brigade, R.F.C., one of the senior officers who was not too senior to fly fighting machines and to make parachute descents. He wrote that 'I and my pilots keenly desired parachutes, and recommend the Calthrop method of fitting the pack to the top of the fuselage'. The official argument against this proposal was that 'it would impose a dangerous strain on the pilot', which was apparently considered worse than being killed. Persisting, Longcroft argued that ehe principal use of the parachute would be to get clear of a burning plane. He added that he had heard the objection that pilots might jump prematurely, but, as a practical parachutist, he did not believe it. His letters went into the pending tray.
     By now the French and Italians, and, as was shortly to be shown, the Germans, were all well advanced in experiments in parachutes, and in January 1918 the Air Board was at last driven into giving Calthrop an order, but mainly, as Brigadier-General MacInnes noted later, 'to keep the firm alive'. Subsequently, Calthrop was permitted for the first time to publicise his invention, and he then dislcosed that many flying officers had approached him to supply and fit a parachute at their own expense, but that the Air Board would not countenance any such demonstration of poor morale. After all, Major Baird had officially stated that pilots did not want parachutes.
     But ideas were changing, though not to the extent of producing action. 'The question of parachutes now requires more consideration than has been given to it in the past', wrote Commander W. Forbes-Sempill, D/D.A.T.S. in April 1918. 'I think it is no exaggeration to say that everyone agrees that parachutes should be provided on aircraft.'
     This view was given a fillip in mid-1918 when the Germans started using free-fall parachutes in France, so provoking a Press and public reaction which Whitehall could not ignore. In September, as a result of tests made in France with S.E.5s and Snipe, a request for 500 Calthrop parachutes was submitted. Except for one minor modification, they were exactly the same as the model standardised in July 1916. But they were never employed in action. The war ended without any parachutes being used by the British in France, except for the dropping of spies.
     The War Office files show clearly that for this dereliction, no one man, nor even any specific group of men, can in fairness be indicted. (!!!) It was the collective official mind actuated by intangible prejudice which was responsible. As Calthrop wrote with understandable bitterness in January 1919: 'No one in high quarters had any time to devote to investigating the merits of an appliance whose purpose was so ridiculously irrelevant to war as the saving of life in the air.'

2.7. Critique.

     In this, the last appendix, AGL wrote thirty-six paragraphs. I find no fault with the first thirty-five. The last is rubbish.
     In the Air Force, I was taught there are three things that come with command: authority, execution (action, if you like), and responsibility. A commander can delegate his authority to a subordinate. A commander can delegate the execution to a subordinate. But even though a commander may hold a subordinate responsible for the use of delegated authority and for execution of a mission, the commander retains full responsibility himself.
     The commanding officer always holds full responsibility for his unit. He is responsible for the execution of the mission, the material (aircraft, guns, ammo, tents, victuals, transport, and so forth), and the safety of his men. 
     The safety of his men. This means that every squadron commander in the Great War was responsible to see to it that his airmen had machines to fly that were as safe as they could be made. That included providing parachutes. 
     Above the squadron commanders were the wing commanders and, eventually, the General Officer Commanding, R.F.C. They were ultimately responsible for the safety of their airmen. 
     The R.F.C. had two GOCs: David Henderson and Hugh 'Boom' Trenchard. These two men were and are to blame for the deaths of R.F.C. airmen due to lack of parachutes. 

2.8. Links:
Open Cockpit
Fly Past

2.9. Buy the book:
hardback with ugly cover: No Parachute
hardback with misleading cover: No Parachute (used)
paperback with pretty cover: No Parachute (used)
Kindle ebook: No Parachute

Friday, June 13, 2014


     Secretariat was the greatest horse that ever ran.

The 1973 Kentucky Derby

     (I think I saw Ron Turcotte, Secretariat's jockey, use the whip in the last turn.)
     Secretariat set the track record in that race, and it still stands today.

The 1973 Preakness Stakes

     (Ron Turcotte never used the whip in this race.)
     Again, Secretariat set the track record in that race, and it still stands today.

The 1973 Belmont Stakes

     (Like the Preakness, Ron Turcotte never used the whip in this race.)
     This was Secretariat's best start in the Triple Crown races.
     Again, Secretariat set the track record in that race, and it still stands today. He beat the previous record by more than 2 seconds.
     The margin of Secretariat's victory -- 31 lengths -- is still jaw-dropping.

ESPN's documentary

     Because of Secretariat, the model of the perfect horse was redrawn -- to fit Secretariat's lines.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Trenchard's Strategy of the Offensive

Arthur Gould Lee, No Parachute
Appendix B, Trenchard's Strategy of the Offensive 

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 233 pages
  • Publisher: Time Life Education (June 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809496127
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809496129
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars (9 customer reviews) 
  • Price: $48.80 plus shipping (<-- What I paid. Currently, Amazon lists a different printing for $21.20. This printing now sells for $144.46.)
1. Short review:    (Amazon rating: 5 out of 5 stars -- I love it.)
I love the body of the book. The appendices -- each and every one -- I find fault with.

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked:  See my first review.

2.2. What I did not like: See my first review.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: Air combat buffs. History buffs.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read?  Yes. No worries.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book? Yes. Now have Open Cockpit.

2.6. Appendix B..Trenchard's Strategy of the Offensive:

Detail [AGL's words in quotes. My words in plain type.]:

     "After the Battle of Messines air activity had to slacken because of the R.F.C.'s heavy losses in April and May, which focused General Trenchard, on June 10th, to instruct his Brigade Commanders 'to avoid wastage of both pilots and machines, for some little time. My reserves at present are dangerously low, in fact, in some cases, it barely exists at all . . . It is of the utmost importance, however, that the offensive spirit is maintained.'
     "General Trenchard was right to sustain an offensive spirit. Where he erred was in identifying this with an offensive strategy which was, in effect, a territorial offensive. To him, as to his staff, and most of his senior commanders, for a British aeroplane to be one mile across the trenches was offensive: for it to be ten miles over was more offensive.
     "Influenced perhaps by naval doctrine -- 'seek out and destroy the enemy' and 'our frontiers are the enemy coasts' -- he applied them to the air, not appreciating that they were largely irrelevant in a three-dimensional sphere. In the air fighting of World War I, despite the siege-like situation on the ground, it was not a fighter aeroplane's position in relation to a line of defences that measured the offensive spirit but the aggressive will of its occupants to attack the enemy wherever he was encountered, at whatever odds.
     "The pursuit of a territorial offensive strategy of distant patrols, together with the handicap of a prevailing westerly wind, resulted in a large proportion of aircrew disabled by wounds, or put out of action by faulty engines or gun jams, falling into enemy hands. That the High Command should uphold such avoidable wastage in 1917, when the R.F.C. was desperately short of aeroplanes, aero-engines and trained pilots, is hard to fathom.
     "These direct losses were augmented by the wear and tear on pilots and planes in chasing the mirage of air ascendancy over the Lines by continuous standing patrols of fighters along the whole British front, regardless of the needs of the tactical situation, ground or air. While we thus dissipated our strength, more often than not merely beating the empty air, the Germans, in their so-called defensive strategy, concentrated forces superior in numbers or equipment and engaged our scattered Line Patrols in turn, and our Distant Offensive Patrols as and when it suited them. The result was that in 1917 British air losses were at times nearly four times as great as the Germans.
     "Though the real criterion of an offensive policy was not place but aggressiveness, even this was useless without efficient aeroplanes. The most rashly aggressive pigeon won't get far with a hawk. Important as was the offensive spirit in the air war, technical superiority was more vital, not least because it conferred the initiative.
     "For the High Command to persist, despite the toll in life and material, in continuously patrolling the Lines and in sending obsolescent machines deep into German-held territory, was incomprehensible even at the time. In retrospect, such obduracy seems as irrational as Haig's unyielding adherence to attrition, and the no less stubborn Admiralty resistance to escorted convoys."

2.7. Critique.

     The perfect is the enemy of the good.
     Reading AGL's criticism of Trenchard's aerial strategy above, I get the impression that AGL wanted most of all to reduce RFC casualties. Taken to its logical conclusion, this means the RFC should not fly, because men are sometimes lost in flying accidents.*
     Let's not get lost in this argument about reducing casualties. Let's cut to the heart of the matter.
     What was the mission of the RFC in the Great War?
     The mission of the RFC was to support the PBI (poor bloody infantry), and Trenchard never forgot that. The RFC supported the PBI three ways: 1) aerial reconnaissance, 2) aerial artillery direction, and 3) denying the enemy the use of the air.
     By 1915 the RFC developed serviceable methods of aerial photographic reconnaissance and aerial artillery direction. Denying the enemy the use of the air for operations against the RA fell into four categories: 1) denial of enemy reconnaissance; 2) denial of enemy bombers; 3) destruction of enemy kite balloons; and 4) denial of enemy ground attack from the air. The RFC successes in each of these air denial missions was small. But it was not nil.
     Trenchard served with the losing army in the RA war games of 1912. In that exercise, aerial reconnaissance turned the tide, a lesson Trenchard never forgot. During the great war, he and his staff developed a serviceable strategy for the use of airpower. That strategy delivered good results for the PBI. Trenchard came up with a working system, and he applied the adage "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
     As for casualties, the worst month of the war for the RFC was April 1917, a month that was known to fliers as 'Bloody April'. That month, the RFC lost 400 men in combat.
     On the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916, the RA lost 57,000 men.
     400 a month against 57,000 a day.
     I hate to lose flyboys. I was one myself. But, you know, the risk comes with the job.
     In my book Trenchard did the right thing. He found a strategy that was good enough and he stuck with it. Had he changed it, he might have done better . . . but he might have done worse.
     (Regarding AGL's claim that Trenchard pursued a 'territorial' offensive strategy, Trenchard's contemporaneous notes show that he held no illusions about holding airspace. He had a good grasp of what was going on. He also had a good grasp of the airplanes' communications -- none -- and saw that the only effective means to air denial was to be in the air when the enemy chose to fly. AGL did not see this. Plus, what neither Trenchard nor AGL saw was that having pilots fly patrols developed their flying skills and sky vision.)

*This was especially true of the Sopwith Camel. "During World War I, 413 pilots died in combat and 385 pilots died from non-combat related causes while flying the Sopwith Camel." --The Aerodrome The Germans were only slightly more dangerous to RFC and RAF pilots than the Camel itself.

2.8. Links: 
Open Cockpit
Fly Past 

2.9. Buy the book:
hardback with ugly cover: No Parachute 
hardback with misleading cover: No Parachute (used) 
paperback with pretty cover: No Parachute (used)

Friday, June 6, 2014

eBook Review: The Angel of Zin

Clifford IrvingThe Angel of Zin

  • Product Details

    • File Size: 894 KB
    • Print Length: 304 pages
    • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
    • Language: English
    • ASIN: B00J273UY0
    • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
    • Lending: Enabled
    Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars (65 customer reviews)
    • Price: $5.99 (I bought it on sale for $0.99. 

1. Short review:     (Amazon rating: 3 out of 5 stars -- It's okay.)

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked: I like the hero, Paul Bach.
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? A depressing roller-coaster.
For what I paid, it returned satisfactory value. At $5.99, I think it is overpriced.

2.2. What I did not like: Three things:
1. After I finished the book, I still did not know who the Angel of Zin was;
2. Every character I cared about died (I am beginning to hate Game of Thrones for this);
3. Two glaring factual errors -- Irving does not know spit about weapons -- or research, evidently.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: Germans who read English. Which is most of 'em.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read?  No.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book? No.

2.6. The plot in a nutshell:
     Paul Bach is a Nazi. He does not want to be a Nazi. He is also a member of the Gestapo. He does not want to be that, either. His friend persuaded him to join both to get promoted within the Berlin police department. Paul lost his left arm fighting in Russia, and my guess is he did not want that either.
     Paul is a detective with the Berlin police. His sense of justice is blind to race and political affiliation. Which is why his friend is a colonel and Paul is still a captain.
     Paul is tasked with investigating a series of murders in a small extermination camp in Poland: Zinoswicz-Zdroj, called Zin for short. Paul travels to Zin and finds corruption and cruelty. (Not a surprise. This is an extermination camp.)
     I shall wrap this up for you. Paul interrogates the camp commandant and the German guards -- but not the Ukrainian guards. He interrogates some of the prisoners. Meanwhile, the Jews are 1) preparing for Passover and 2) preparing to rise up and escape. The commandant gets orders to close the camp; that means he is to kill all the remaining prisoners. Paul offers one prisoner a chance to escape, but the prisoner does not take it. Paul solves the murders but, to the commandant, identifies a dead man as the murderer instead of the true murderer. (I am not clear on who the murderer(s) actually was(were). Nor how the clues led to Paul's deduction.) Jews learn the camp will close in a week and advance the schedule for the uprising. Of course, the uprising goes off with the precision of a clock exploding. Dead guards. Dead commandant. Dead Paul Bach. Dead Jews. 37 of 500 escape to the woods outside Zin. Yeah, now what?
     And that's how it ends. 
 2.7. Other:
     The Angel of Zin reminded me of a German Hörspiel I read years ago. In the Hörspiel (whose title I cannot recall), a German soldier returned to Berlin. He was a thousand mile soldier: marched a thousand miles into Russia and a thousand miles out. Nobody cared about his service to the fatherland. They want to forget the war. He was rejected for jobs, for housing, for a seat in a restaurant. He tried to drown himself in the River Spree, but the river spat him out. No redemption, no happy ending. A depressing read.
     The Angel of Zin is like that.
     It started with a depressing tone and it kept it through to the end. I hoped for a redemptive ending. I hoped in vain.
     If you have ever been treated for clinical depression, DO NOT READ THIS BOOK.

     I am not an expert on firearms, but even I know more than Clifford Irving.
     Two items:
     1. At one point, CI wrote that a character picked up a thirty-eight caliber Luger. This error is both stupid and lazy. The Germans used the metric system. They manufactured nine millimeter Lugers. Never thirty-eight caliber. Look, I know CI did not have the internet when he wrote this book, but for the love of God, would it have killed him to pick up a phone and call a gun shop and ask someone?
     2. When the Jews rose up for freedom, one climbed into the guard tower and fired the fifty caliber machine gun sited there. Again, this error is both stupid and lazy. Americans used the fifty. The closest the Germans had to it was a twenty millimeter autocannon. The automatic weapon the Gemans would have used was the Maschinengewehr (MG) 42, a 7.92x57mm machine gun. Maybe a MG 34 if they were still using old equipment. (The MG42 replaced the MG34 in 1942.)


2.8. Links: Clifford Irving

2.9. Buy the book:  The Angel of Zin

Monday, June 2, 2014

eBook Review: Day of Infamy

Walter LordDay of Infamy

  • Product Details

    • File Size: 1133 KB
    • Print Length: 237 pages
    • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0805068031
    • Publisher: Open Road Media (March 6, 2012)
    • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
    • Language: English
    • ASIN: B0078X73FM
    • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
    • Lending: Enabled
    • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars (91 customer reviews)
    • Price: $9.99 (I bought it on sale for $2.51. 

1. Short review:
For content:   (Amazon rating: 5 out of 5 stars -- I love it.)

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked: History as a collection of personal experiences.
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? A roller-coaster.
Great value for the money.

2.2. What I did not like: As with every ebook I have read from Open Road (whom I shall no longer link to), the glut of errors evidences that they OCR-scanned a paper copy and gave the output no proofreading. Some of my corrections: tug vice rug, sealed vice scaled, and see vice sec.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: Everybody.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read?  Yes.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book? I shall buy anything written by Walter Lord. Not so keen on Open Road's products.

2.6. The plot in a nutshell:
     No plot. History.
     Besides reading commercially published works about the attack on Pearl Harbor and US Navy and US Army reports, WL interviewed 464 people who were there or with the Japanese attack force. He reconciled their recollections with official reports and records, sometimes favoring recollection over report. (A report is only a recollection reduced to writing. With an official stamp on it.) In effect, Day of Infamy is an oral history reduced to writing.
     Because it is effectively an oral history, it has a close, personal feeling other histories lack. The people in the book became my friends, and I wanted to know what happened to them.
 2.7. Other:
     I learned a lot from Day of Infamy.
     First, I learned that the Japanese attack force included six carriers. That was likely the largest concentration of carriers anywhere up to that time.
     Second, the Japanese attack did not go as planned. They had two attack plans: if 'Surprise', the torpedo bombers were to attack first followed by the dive bombers; if 'Surprise Lost', the dive bombers were to attack with the torpedo bombers. IJN Commander Misuo Fuchida decided to go with 'Surprise' and fired one shot from his signal pistol (inbound, the Japanese kept radio silence). This single shot was the signal for 'Surprise'. The fighters did not respond. Fuchida thought they had missed the signal. He fired another. Two shots was the signal for 'Surprise Lost'. Now some crews executed the plan for 'Surprise' and others executed the plan for 'Surprise Lost'.
     Third, rumor and misinformation in war can kill. A flight of planes from the USS Enterprise flew into Pearl on the afternoon of the 7th. Even with the Navy tower broadcasting that these were friendlies, the gunners opened up on them. About half were killed, including one shot hanging from his 'chute after he bailed out of his flaming plane.
     Fourth, the attack was launched in two waves, not one.

     Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, commander of the Japanese attack force, did not agree with the plan, but Yamamoto told him to shut up and soldier. Nagumo feared for his carriers. His mission was to destroy the American fleet at Pearl Harbor. Reconnaissance persuaded him the first attack had accomplished his mission. Rather than launch a second attack, he turned back for Japan.
     A second attack would have destroyed Pearl Harbor as an operating naval base. The IJN lost a priceless opportunity.

     Rumors on Oahu ran that the Japanese had landed on the island. These were false, but I did wonder what would have been the result had the Japanese included invasion forces with their fleet. Except for the B-17s that landed that day, the US Army Air Corps ceased to exist on Oahu. Three PBYs were out on patrol; all other Navy planes at Pearl were destroyed. The air groups of three carriers were all that the Navy could call on.
     Had the Japanese landed invasion forces on Oahu, I think they would have taken the island.
     I think the reason they did not attempt an invasion was logistics.
     The same day, the IJN and the IJA  invaded Guam, Wake, the Philippines, Hong Kong, and Malaysia. Those invasions required lots of troops. Troops require everything from ammo to food to socks. And transport for the troops and all those supplies.
     The Japanese did not have enough transport to add an invasion of Oahu.

     Few Japanese were available for WL to interview. That is because most of those who attacked Pearl Harbor were dead six months later. At the Battle of Midway. WL wrote a book about Midway, too. Incredible Victory. Also a great read.


2.8. Links: Walter Lord

2.9. Buy the book:  Day of Infamy