Monday, October 17, 2016

  Book Review: ”Five Lieutenants” by James Carl Nelson.

Nelson is the author of “The Remains of Company D”- a book about D Company, 28th Infantry Regiment in WW1. While researching that book, he found a number of diaries and letters from 28th Regiment officers, and felt they could tell a story. He’s right, they do.

Weaving material from a number of different sources, he follows five lieutenants as they enter the Army, and go into combat with the 1st Division. In doing so a wealth of information on other junior officers of the 1st Division is presented, and actually some question I had had about some 28th men were answered. However the most important aspect of this book is that it shows you the life of a junior officer heading to France, and the early days of the war (most were killed or wounded before the end of the war).

It’s a different viewpoint than we have of senior officers sitting behind the lines in dugouts, and of enlisted men living in cold barns and constantly doing drill (and looking for food and drink).

Highly recommended for those interested in the 1st Division in WW1, and the life of a junior officer in the AEF.

Friday, October 31, 2014

In which I review Fury.

So I saw FURY. And people have been asking me what I think of it. Pretty good actually.  I highly suggest you see it in a good theater with a big screen and audio system as there are moments that just will not feel the same on DVD.  By now everyone has probably read the story so I don’t think anyone cares about spoilers.   There are some amazing scenes which are just magnificent.

I think there are three main elements we'd all be interested in: the story, the props and wardrobe, and the acting..

There are no two ways around it: the story is moronic. There some hints if you pay attention as to why the Germans at the end are the stupidest idiots ever.  But even if you pay attention and add a grain of salt to it, its just plain stupid. And if you pay attention you'll see the SS platoons have what looks like 3 or 4 panzerfausts each. Thus in the final battle when the Germans  open up the (accurate) boxes of panzerfausts and say "be careful these are all we have," they've kind of screwed themselves.

I got the feeling that there were things that the director wrote in the initial scrip that he was too wedded to realize they should be cut.  The advice always given to writer is to "kill your darlings." This means if you have something in a story you really, really love but it's not really working, you have to be able to kill a character off, or write something out. This actually happens to me writing military stuff. I will get something (a phrase, photo, caption, whatever) stuck in my mind as being great. Then when I really get to it, it doesn’t feel right, and I need to give up my great idea for the greater good.


There are amazing moments, but the plot really is unforgivable. And to those that say "it is Hollywood," and "it has to have a story the public would like" I say this: good and clever writing can turn a stupid situation into a believable one.


Case in point. Grenades are tossed into the tank at the end, and the guys sit and talk while the fuses burn. Then Bucky Dent (or whatever his name is) gets out the escape hatch while the grenades are sizzlin' while we are led to believe he has never done this before even in practice.  So, how to fix it? Have them talk their talk, then have him get out the hatch, and just as he wiggles out the Germans toss in the grenades.  Stupidity avoided. Same basic story is told.

Want a last stand of a tank? Cut the time from the mine going off to when the SS show up. Do not give them time to ponder the meaning of life. Yeah, you lose the drama of the guys deciding to die as a team rather than run away and live. So you add some drama to the next interior scene when they realize they left their SPARE ammo on the back of the tank (ahem) and they are all going to die.

Make the SS troops the remnants of a training school (which I think they were supposed to be) and make them all young kids.  They shoot their initial panzerfaust from too far a distance as the grizzled sergeant screams at them they are too far away.  Let them march in threes on a road with the Jabos up there as the commandant is idiotic and wants them to sing and march as in training, which same grizzled sgt keeps watching to the enemy planes.  


Saying, "it's Hollywood' is a cop out. They spend craploads of money to get "the best there is" so unless people demand smarter scripts they will stint on the writing.   So, just ignore the plot. It's stupid.  And we deserve better.

Now as to props and wardrobe it's really good. It is a collector's wet dream of everything under the sun. Some of the details are great, and therein lays the problem. There are so many details and obscure references that a lot of people are going to say things that are correct are wrong, or just not understand what is going on. Just because you have 57 different varieties of uniforms does not mean you have to use them all.  More is not always better. It just tries too hard, as if they were trying to cram as many things as possible into it, and all the time winking to collectors "hey, look what cool stuff we used."  Neat, but I found it distracting.

I would debate the mixed and bedraggled GI's (no two look alike) for April. They really look to me as if they are from Jan-Feb or so.  By April things were different, and the ports were open and working. But yeah, everything is individually correct, but as a whole I think it fails to create a proper picture. Deep mud and overcoats do not a happy GI make.  Extra points for mud and grease, but maybe it was a little too much? 

So top marks for having the right stuff, but it's too much of a good thing.  I guess you can be too authentic.

Acting is OK, I did not detest Brad Pitt as much as I thought I would. Shia Lebouf was OK, but then tears up and he's lost me. I could not look at him anymore without thinking of Iron Eyes Cody (look it up kids).  My pick for outstanding job goes to Jon Berthnal (Shawn from Walking Dead). A lot of people will not like his goofy southern boy, but I know exactly what he was going for and he nailed it.  

As in everything, they will not make films with better scripts until we demand them. Keep on excusing them for having to be "Hollywood" and they will keep doing it.  Yeah, it's a good movie, but if only they had toned it down some and written it so it made some logical sense it would have been a great movie.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Book Review: Great War Fashions. by Lucy Adlington

There is very little written about female clothing during the world wars, and hopefully that will change soon. This is an interesting book about woman's fashions during the great war (pretty much just UK). It has good points, and bad points.

It’s a well laid out book with a lot of really obscure information in it. Sadly, it does not have many full color reconstructions as you might have expected. Really only a handful. For the most part it relies on period illustrations, ads, and photos to illustrate the clothing.

One of the things that detracts from the book is that its coverage is just too wide.  There are so many sections covering just about anything you can think of, but do we really need a short section on weddings, stage costumes, swimming wear, and sports outfits of the time? And sadly, it is woefully short on military uniforms. However, anything you might want to know about suffragettes and the movement finds its way into the pages. So you end up with some interesting material, but very unbalanced. Very detailed in some areas, skimpy in others.

I'm not saying that this is bad, but that it just feels like the author should have stuck with the subjects she knew, and left the ones she did not for after she had the time to do the research. The text is almost more of a social history of women of the time instead of just sticking to clothing, but that's OK if you know it going in.

One concern I had, and this is not from me as I am no female clothing expert of the time, but from someone who is, is that there are a few statements that appear to be dead wrong. Now this could be due to an error in editing, but they are so wrong they stand out like a miniskirt at the grand ballroom in 1917.  I do not think that women in WW1 had to take off their corset to go to the bathroom. Considering the time it took for them to put on a corset, having to remove it once or twice a day for bodily functions makes no sense. Plus my double checking confirmed this was not true.

Everyone makes mistakes in books (myself included) and is always horrified to see what the printing actually says, but when you have a few very incorrect issues, and a few questionable ones, it makes me nervous about accepting it as fact without confirmation. I went to the author's website to see if there as any mention of being shocked at what an editor did, but did not see any mention of that. In fact I actually saw something there that I felt (and confirmed later) was not correct.

It's also clear that the author doesn't have any contacts in the military living history scene, as, for example, she shows a pair of hand knitted socks for a soldier, modern made, instead of an original period made pair which are not all that hard to find. And as I said female military uniforms are not given much coverage.  But to be honest, they could be an entire book by themselves.
So, here is what I think. This is a first generation work on women's clothing, and as such is pretty, and a nice overview of that subject. It looks nice and is interesting to read. It will prove to be of great use to the novice of the time period, and will have some material that will interest the experienced WW1 costume historian. I do think, however, there are a few minor but noticeable flaws. The price is not bad, and if your wife/girlfriend/whatever is interested in the period I would recommend getting it, as there's not much else out there that comes close.

It made me realize that in many ways uniform collectors are light years ahead of historic costume people when it comes to books.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Book Review: Bataan and Beyond by John S. Coleman Jr.

One of the under-reported areas of WW2 is the defense of the Philippines in 1940. Records were lost, and those that survived combat had to survive imprisonment. While this is an older book, I just ran across it and thought it worth a mention.

The Author was an Infantry Officer sent to the Philippines just before the war. What's really unusual is that he was not assigned to an Infantry unit, but to the Air Corps' 27th Materiel Squadron. That's right, an Air Corps supply unit. There he was made adjutant, but his real job was to train the men of the unit how to fight as grounds troops. This says something about the Armies thinking about how long the US Air Corps would last once Japan entered the picture.

Japan invades, Cole and his men make their way to the Bataan area, and defend with what few weapons and ammo they have, and what little food they have left. Which is pretty much nothing. You can't help but wonder how long they might heave held out had there only been stores of food and ammo in place. That's roughly the first half of the book. Of course he makes the Death March, is a prisoner there for a while then volunteers to go to Japan under the thinking that they might be better treated on the Japanese homeland. Funny thing- they are. Not great, but still better.

Still the 27th was an interesting unit, and it's too bad they are basically forgotten. And you can find it here under WW2 PTO Books

Friday, August 22, 2014

Book Review: World War I Victory Medals

World War I Victory Medals, by James P. Michels

Large Format, 282 Pages, full color, softcover. This is a great book. It covers pretty much anything you can think about in terms of the U.S. WW1 victory medal: how it was conceived, developed, issued and worn. It has examples of all the paperwork and boxes used. It also goes into all the various clasps that go on the medal and explains what was worn and why, and corrects some misconceptions of them (not just the Army ones, but the Navy clasps as well). The second half of the book goes into examining all the world's victory medals (not just the US, but all of them like Cuba and Japan), and breaking them down by the various known and identifiable differences. Some of these differences are pretty small, but if you collect them they become important. Sadly, it shows some of the fakes that have been and are being made.

Do not let the price fool you. Had this book been published by one of the military collector book publishers it would probably cost twice as much. It is, however, a print on demand book so it has its own benefits. Good because it keeps the cost down and in theory it should be able to be printed in Europe as needed and save expensive shipping. Plus, if some new fact or discovery comes along it could be added to the book instead of selling out the current stock for a new printing.  Not as good because it is not the glorious color on coated paper you normally see in fancy books. For me, and am pretty particular, I think the color is pretty good and have no problem with it.  The only change I would suggest is to maybe make some of the photos of very small details (such as mintmarks) larger. And that is being very picky.  

If you collect WW1 victory medals, or just WW1 medals you probably already have this book (if not you'd better). If you collect US WW1 items I highly recommend it.

World War I - Victory Medals


Saturday, August 09, 2014

The flood

Last night I had a not-fun episode. The upstairs bathroom flooded. Now it just happens to be right over the room I work in, and right over where I sit at my computer.  Right where I have piles of books, photos, documents and all the many things I keep handy for the many projects I am working on.

Yeah, I heard the little pitter-patter of raindrops hitting paper from there, and was... a little upset. Especially as I had just gotten a set of really great WW2 photos showing a lot of cool small details. They came sealed in a zip lock bag (thank you Niles). But the bag opening had been taped over and was impossible to open properly so I ended up just tearing it open.

After looking at them, and being really happy, I 'almost' put them back in the bag, but as it was now torn I figured I'd just wait until I had something more permanent for them. Sigh.

Of course I was very lucky and it looks only a few are slightly wrinkled. So that's good.

But the other thing is that a number of items I had were in plastic boxes, so they had no problems. And some of the paper was in plastic sleeves, again, not problem and they protected things underneath them.

Which makes me happy that over the years I have been buying plastic bins and boxes of all size to store things in. They may not be much protection in a real flood, but they go a hell of a long way to protecting them against all the minor episodes in life.

Oh yeah..

Jerry has been cranking out a ton of new items over at What Price Glory...

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Pirating Military Books

A few weeks ago I stumbled across one of my books scanned and put up on a "legit" web storage site for anyone to download for free. The company took it down (actually two different copies) within 24 hours, but not after I could see many hundreds of people had accessed it. This is a book in which my royalties from last year were negligible.

Thing is, due to the low sales it almost went out of print. Actually it did, but it should be back soon. I can only assume that ones I found were only a tiny part of what is out there, and if only a few of the people who have downloaded copies had actually bought the book, not only might it have easily stayed in print, but that might have encouraged the publisher to put more similar books into print (from other people).

What really struck me was in looking at the uploader's files, I saw dozens (and dozens of dozens) of obviously pirated books from many different military publishers. Some by people I know, publishers I know, or know of. This led me to the guy's "favorites" and "friends" list, which had even more illegal titles.

I started surfing from one list to another, taking note of URLs and titles, and finding everything from just about every Osprey book ever printed, some textual military history volumes, to some pretty expensive, big, fancy, color military collectibles books.

I started sending the URLs to authors and publishers. Some thanked me, some basically sighed and said "oh it never ends," some seemed to be almost angry at me for telling them. The thing is, this was NOT some illegal pirate website under investigation by the authorities- this was a legit "legal" site where you can upload stuff and share it with friends.

 One publisher said, " Oh those are just the preview you can see at Amazon." So I downloaded a few ENTIRE BOOKS and sent them to him saying "look again."  (note: they were books I already own or don't care about and were deleted afterwards).

I emailed the site and asked how they could allow this as anyone with a brain could see these were current copyrighted books. And if they got a complaint about one book in a guy's collection, didn’t it make sense to look at his others and see if maybe they needed to send him a short note saying "hey, do you really have permission to post all of these?"  They decided not answer.

Thing is, as DVDs tell you, piracy is NOT a victimless crime.  Yeah, you think you're screwing "the man," but what you are really doing is screwing the publishing company who depends upon sales to decide who and what to publish. You're screwing whatever book sales place you buy things from (how many specialty military dealers have gone out of business in the last 10 years?), and you're screwing the author who, in the case of a lot of small press military books doesn’t really get paid enough from his sales to cover the actual cost of doing the research. This ends up leading to books you might really want not getting published, and authors who spend a lot of time and care in their work giving up.   

I asked one guy why he did this. His answer was that it is too expensive to get books in his country so when he buys one he scans it and gives it to all his friends, as he feels that is his right as he paid so much for it. What an asshole,.

Besides, it's just plain wrong.

So the next time you stumble upon a book you know is not public domain in some file sharing site, or someone offers to send you a  pdf of a 'cool new book' they just got. Please, tell them no, and let the publisher or author know. It's not that I expect this to stop, but at least in a small field like ours we can do some damage control.