Friday, February 6, 2015

eBook Review: Somme Success

Peter Hart Somme Success 

  • Product Details

    • File Size: 5568 KB (large file size due to numerous photos) 
    • Print Length: 224 pages
    • Publisher: Pen & Sword; Reprint edition (November 28, 2012)
    • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
    • Language: English
    • ASIN: B00AE7DH1S
    • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
    • X-Ray: Not Enabled
    • Word Wise: Not Enabled
    • Lending: Not Enabled
    • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars (16 customer reviews)
    • Price: $7.49 

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

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked: Lots of first person accounts quoted at length. Numerous photos.
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? A roller coaster but not a scary one.
Worth my money. Probably not worth yours.

2.2. What I did not like: Somme Success disappointed me. I expected Peter Hart to make a thesis that the RFC succeeded in its mission over the Somme battlefield. Instead he recounts how the RFC dominated the air over the Somme battlefield in the summer and lost that dominance in the fall with the entry of the Albatros D.II into the war. PH does this with logs and diaries of the airmen involved.
     It is a worthwhile read as it is, but it does not state what the criteria for success were, what factors made the RFC a success over the Somme battlefield, or what the RFC achieved. Personal accounts  are good and add much to the narrative, but the final chapter lacked a summary to tie together all the missions and accomplishments of the RFC.
     It is like PH plopped a Christmas gift on the table, laid the wrapping paper and ribbons beside it, stood back and said, "There. All done," and walked away without wrapping the gift.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: My tribe; that is, WWI aviation historians.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read?  No profanity, no obscenity, no sex, no lurid photos of the wounded and dead. If reading WWI aviation history does it for the kid, let him read it.

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

2.6. The work in a nutshell:
Table of Contents Title Page
Copyright Page
Chapter One - In the Beginning . . .
Chapter Two - An Aerial Offensive
Chapter Three - A Perfect Summer Day
Chapter Four - July: Masters of the Air
Chapter Five - August: The Fight Goes On
Chapter Six - September: The Tide Turns
Chapter Seven - October: Clinging On . . .
Chapter Eight - November: Full Circle
Bibliography of Quoted Sources 
     If you are familiar with WWI and the Battle of the Somme and the Royal Flying Corps (as I am), the Table of Contents is a good outline and tells you what to expect. If not, it leaves you clueless.
     Somme Success cannot be your first read in WWI aviation. It cannot even be your hundredth read. You must have read a lot -- my guess is at least two hundred books -- on WWI for Somme Success to make sense to you.

2.7. Other:

     This is a book for my tribe. Even with that limited audience, Somme Success fails to deliver.
     Before I get into the book's failure to deliver on its promise, let's look at the Table of Contents.
     Title Page? Copyright Page? I cannot recall ever before seeing the title page or copyright page listed in a table of contents.
     Prelude and Preface. A belt and suspenders man. Not one but two useless appendages. As best I can tell, PH used these two, uh, chapters (?) to inject original source quotes that he could not bear to leave out but which fit nowhere else in the story.
     Chapter One describes the situation before the Battle of the Somme. By June 1916, the RFC had beaten the Fokker Scourge. The RFC still lacked sensible organization -- single-sear fighters were attached to two-seaters reconnaissance squadrons as an integral part of the squadron, efficient suppliers (curses be upon the Royal Aircraft Factory, the RFC was always short of planes and engines), and unity in Whitehall. What is did have was focus, missions that it could perform, and courageous airmen. That the RFC performed as well as it did is a testament to its airmen.
     Each of chapters two through eight is devoted to one month of the Battle of the Somme. The British offensive kicked off 01 July 1916, took a right, then a left, and finally petered out in November. It set a record for most casualties in a single day: 57,000 or 58,000 depending on whom you ask.
     The British had planned for the Somme offensive during the winter of '15-'16. They spent the spring building up their munitions dumps to support the offensive. The French pressured the British more and more to hurry up and launch their offensive in order to relieve the pressure on the French at Verdun.
     What is commonly overlooked is that directed indirect artillery fire was new to the battlefield. The Japanese had used it against the Russian in the siege of Port Arthur, but they had done it slowly and with spotters on the ground using telephone lines. All nations in WWI used balloon spotters. The Germans, because they held the high ground, had more success with balloon-based spotters than the Allies.
     What is astounding is that the British had developed a workable means of aerial wireless artillery spotting by the spring of 1915. They did this using, of all things, the BE2c -- the Quirk, that flying deathtrap. The best thing that could be said of the Quirk is that it might do the job if there were no Germans in the sky to oppose it. Even without opposition, it frequently failed. Duncan Grinnell-Milne flew a Quirk on a 'deep' reconnaissance. He was taken prisoner when his engine failed and he glided down behind German lines. He never saw a German in the sky that day.
     The first day of the Battle of the Somme was a bloodbath because the idea of the creeping barrage had not occurred to anyone. Later in the battle, the British got the idea for the creeping barrage and casualty rates fell.

     All the above I knew before I read Somme SuccessSomme Success did not add one iota to the sum of my knowledge about WWI aerial strategies, tactics, and techniques.
     What Somme Success did do was present volumes of personal accounts of aerial warfare during the Battle of the Somme, many of which I had already read, but some of which I had not. I counted the book worthwhile for those accounts that were new to me.
     From the title, I expected Somme Success to 1) present RFC criteria for mission success over the battlefield, 2) detail the history of the RFC accomplishing their mission, and 3) summarize the successes of the RFC against their criteria. PH failed to deliver these.

     Somme Success omits giving any credit to the Royal Naval Air Service for the success of British air forces over the Somme. This is a major omission. Without the RNAS, the RFC would have been defeated.
     The RNAS developed the entire Sopwith line of planes -- Pup, One-and-a-half Strutter, Triplane, Camel, and Dolphin -- and transferred numerous planes to the RFC when the RFC were short of planes because the managers of the Royal Aircraft Factory had their collective heads up their asses. During the war, the Royal Aircraft Factory produced one good airplane: the SE5a. All their other 'planes' would have served the King better had they rolled them out of the factory and immediately set them afire.

     One fact that PH alludes to but does not state is that the German Luftstreitkräfte always fought against the odds. On their best day, they were outnumbered two to one (2 to 1). For example, during the war the British built more than 5,000 SE5a's and more than 5,700 Sopwith Camels; the French built more than 8,400 SPAD XIII's; but of their most numerous fighter type, the Fokker D.VII, the Germans built only 2,700.
     More than any other reason, this is why the Germans fought a defensive aerial war. And a defensive aerial war is synonymous with defeat.

    I read Somme Success as one of my tribe does, looking for quotes of original material I had not seen before. I found plenty of those. For that reason, I gave the book four stars.


2.8. Links: Peter Hart

2.9. Buy the book: Somme Success

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