Book reviews by Steve Earles: History and war

‘Amiens 1918: Victory From Disaster’

by Gregory Blaxland

Published by Pen & Sword Military

One of the many great services Pen & Sword have done for the reading public is reprinting excellent long-out-of-print books which would either be lost to posterity or command criminally high prices on the second-hand market.

Gregory Blaxland served with distinction in World War 2. He was evacuated from Dunkirk on May 31st 1940. He was to fight on in North Africa, Italy and Greece. After the war he continued his career as a professional soldier. Sadly, in February 1954, he contracted Polio within two days of arriving in Kenya, and was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Undaunted in life as in war, he became a respected military historian, dying in 1986, at the age of 67.

This book is one of the best accounts of the Battle of Amiens in 1918, one of the crucial turning points of the Great War.

Blaxland is a great storyteller as well as a historian, so this book has much to recommend it to a wide cross-section of readers.

‘Beyond The Beach: The Allied War Against France’

by Stephen Alan Bourque

Published by Naval Institute Press

Sometimes you read a book that profoundly changes how you look at history.

In the case of the superbly researched ‘Beyond The Beach’, you read that over 60,000 French civilians died as collateral victims of the Allied bombing of France in 1944.

As Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower took control of all British, Canadian and American air assets and used them for operational and tactical purposes over France instead of as a strategic force to attack targets deep within Germany. Using bombers as long-range artillery, Eisenhower had bridges, ports, military installations, rail centres…and French towns bombed!

His aim was to prevent German reinforcements from hindering Operation Neptune, the Allied landings on Normandy beaches.

The result? More than 60,000 French civilians killed and the destruction of a great deal of buildings, churches and works of art.

This massive bombing campaign (which reminded me of the later American bombing campaign in North Vietnam) was conducted against an occupied friendly state, and is seldom, if ever, mentioned as part of the D-Day landings.

Thus, ‘Beyond The Beach’ is a courageous and important book, well-written, well-considered, and rightly argues that the events chronicled in ‘Beyond The Beach’ are an essential part of any true account of the D-Day landings.

A genuinely important book, one that deserves the widest possible audience and one that truly deserves a documentary television series to go with it.

‘Monte Casino: Opening The Road To Rome’

by Richard Doherty

Published by Pen & Sword Military

Without a doubt, one of the most brutal battles fought in Europe during World War 2 happened from January 1944 to June 1944 on the Gustav Line in Italy, with it’s focus on Monte Casino, dominated by its world-famous Benedictine Abbey. Now known to posterity as the Battle of Casino, it was to end only with the liberation of Rome.

Richard Doherty is Ireland’s leading military history author and it shows with this deeply researched book. It is impossible to do justice to his knowledge and perception in a single review, but suffice to say, from a military perspective, I very much doubt a better book will ever be written about the Battle of Casino.

Steve Earles is author and co-author of numerous projects, including To End All Wars: The WWI Graphic Anthology, available summer 2014 (