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  KAIS: A True Story of a Daring Rescue in the Swamps of New Guinea, Summer 1944 is a fascinating account of the crash of a B-25 bomber into...

KAIS by Bas Kreuger KAIS by Bas Kreuger

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

Book Review

 KAIS: A true story of a daring rescue in the swamps of New Guinea, summer 1944 by [Bas Kreuger, Anneloes Bakker, Fred Warmer]

KAIS: A True Story of a Daring Rescue in the Swamps of New Guinea, Summer 1944 is a fascinating account of the crash of a B-25 bomber into the jungles of New Guine. It details both the efforts to find and rescue the crew immediately after, and the search to find and recover the aircraft 75 years later. The book takes its name from the Kais river, which both the rescue and research teams traveled on to reach the crash site. The author, Bas Kreuger, is a Dutch researcher who focuses on the history of the Dutch in the East Indies.

KAIS opens with a summarized account of the war in the Pacific on and around New Guinea. This was interesting in and of itself, as this fighting is not often discussed or depicted in media. New Guinea is an extremely harsh island covered in swamps, jungles, and rivers, with virtually no infrastructure across vast swathes of the landscape. This made merely existing on the island difficult for both the Japanese and Allied soldiers, never mind finding each other and fighting. As the war went on and the Allies gained the upper hand, it was decided that it would be easier to isolate and starve out most of the Japanese strongholds on the island, rather than destroying them directly. Most of the fighting then became about air superiority, and attacks against each side's airfields. If the Allies could control the skies, they could then easily destroy any Japanese cargo ships trying to resupply the soldiers in the brutal jungles and swamps. 

Enter the 418th Night Fighter Squadron. These men were brought in to crew, you guessed it, night fighters, but due to the realities of war in the far flung reaches of the Pacific, they didn't have any on hand for some time. So instead they found themselves operating a variety of aircraft, including the B-25 bombers being used in an anti-ship role. After an intense attack on some Japanese ships, the crew of the fateful B-25 realize that they aren't going to make it home due to damage sustained to the aircraft. Knowing that they are deep in Japanese controlled waters, they decide to fly inland and look for somewhere to put the plane down. 

After a mostly successful crash landing into a swamp, the crew is then at the mercy of the environment and fate. Fortunately for them, one of their fellow bombers was able to track them down quickly, and so their approximate location is known to the Allies. Unfortunately for them, reaching their location borders on the impossible. Any rescue attempt will have to brave miles river, jungle, and swamp filled with both hazardous wildlife and hostile Japanese soldiers. The rescue team, composed of Dutch, Indonesian, Australian, and American soldiers sets out on an expedition to find and rescue the crew, which ends up taking three weeks. The book details this entire endeavor, including direct combat with Japanese soldiers, meetings with local tribes, and all the misery of camping in the jungle.

I'll leave it to you to read the story of how all of that goes down, but I will say it is quite the adventure and would make an excellent movie. Every soldier and airman involved in the book is detailed as much as possible, with the author having tracked down family members, photographs, and even local Papua's who were connected to the event. His efforts are extremely impressive and reveal so much about this event that would otherwise have been forgotten. 

The latter third or so of the book details his modern day research efforts in pulling together all of this information, and the expedition he went on in 2019 to try and find the actual crash site in the swamp. The area is still as wild and undeveloped as it was at the time, with the expedition facing exactly the same environmental hazards that the rescue team dealt with. Initially, I thought this part of the book wouldn't be as interesting as the actual event, but in the end it was very enjoyable. It opened my eyes to what researchers do and had some shades of a real world Indiana Jones adventure, just with gentlemen a bit more out of their element than Dr. Jones ever was.

This book is a very easy one to recommend. The pages fly by and the story is quite thrilling all the way through. Like I said above, this event would make a great movie, and one could write the whole script simply based on Kreuger's account, as it is extremely detailed and vivid. 

KAIS is available on Amazon Kindle or paperback.

- Joe Beard

A year after the Battle of the Somme the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) were tasked with pushing through Ypres in Belgium and occupyi...

The Passchendaele Campaign 1917 by Andrew Rawson The Passchendaele Campaign 1917 by Andrew Rawson

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

Book Review

A year after the Battle of the Somme the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) were tasked with pushing through Ypres in Belgium and occupying the high ground and ridge-lines to the East. This battle now known as the Battle of Passchendaele or the Third Battle of Ypres is succinctly covered in Andrew Rawson's latest book in the BEF series from Pen & Sword Publishing.

The book starts, just as the battle did, with a series of explosions in mines sunk beneath the Allied trenches and tunnelled underneath German defensive positions. Although the Germans were listening for the tell-tale sounds of boring machinery, they couldn't hear it because the mines were so deep and machinery wasn't involved. The author tells us that humans, literally 'diggers' were quieter and quicker than any machinery of the time.

Initial successes literally became stuck in the mud as the Flanders coast saw unprecedented rainfall throughout August. This left each side not only fighting each other but also the quagmire in which they lived and died.

I was expecting this book to be a bit of a slog (no pun intended) but the way in which the author breaks down each battle with an accompanying map into Divisions and Brigade level really helped my comprehension of what was happening. The author states that his inspiration for this approach came from a book about the American Civil War, 'A Testing of Courage'. I've not read that volume but I think Andrew has achieved his aim of clearly explaining the force disposition, terrain and outcome into a coherent narrative.

I've long known about the terrific amount of ordnance fired by artillery pieces throughout WWI but I've never read an account of how precisely it was integrated into the whole offensive. Not only that but I was surprised at how 'joint' were the separate military outfits. The Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service, with the subterranean diggers, with the modern tank, alongside the ubiquitous infantryman all supported with artillery. The level of coordination between all of these services must have been immense and it was achieved primarily by runners and pigeons!

Passchendaele village before and after artillery barrage.
 A common artillery tactic mentioned frequently in the book was the artillery barrage. This served to soften up the German positions but scarily the infantry would hug the line of explosions and walk just behind the explosions in order to capitalise on the defenders turmoil. The numbers of shells fired, given by Mr Rawson are frankly terrifying to comprehend.

I found the prose to be rather terse as the author whips you through one Brigade of a Division then onto another very quickly. The briefest mentions of individual acts of bravery are given scant acknowledgement, with the oft repeated phrase '...for this he received the Victoria Cross'. I appreciated this style as it kept the book flowing along at a very steady clip. If nothing else, the book is a thorough account of the entire Flanders campaign in just over 200 pages.

Bovington Tank Museum diorama of combined arms during WWI
I would have liked more picture inserts as those that the author put in were just enough to whet my appetite. Their clarity was surprising and complemented the text very well.

If you're looking for a good introduction to the battles in and around Ypres then look no further.

Book: The Passchendaele Campaign 1917
Author: Andrew Rawson
Publisher: Pen & Sword Books

This is the second book in Gordon Thorburn's 'Luck of a Lancaster' series. The first follows the fortunes of an single ai...

More Luck of a Lancaster by Gordon Thorburn More Luck of a Lancaster by Gordon Thorburn

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

Book Review

This is the second book in Gordon Thorburn's 'Luck of a Lancaster' series. The first follows the fortunes of an single aircraft that managed to return successfully from 107 sorties. This book copies that formula and recounts the sorties of tail number EE136 WS/R 'Spirit of Russia'. Interestingly both aircraft were from No. 9 Sqn, a unit which exists to this day. I have subsequently learnt that of the approximately 7,000 Lancasters built, there were just 36 that survived more than 100 operations.

First things first, I read this book in two sittings. It's not a particularly long book (147 pages) but what there is, is gripping, exciting and it receives, from me, a book-lovers highest recommendation, 'I couldn't put it down'. It is a rare non-fiction book where I find myself reading long into the small hours and wanting to find out how the crew fared on their next sortie.

Pen & Sword Publishing have this book in stock for £15.99. 

I suppose I should say that my review of this subject matter may be more subjective than most. I have served in a very similar professional role to those depicted in this book, albeit their circumstances and risks they were willing, and in some cases eager to take are, for me, beyond comprehension.

The author cites No. 9 Sqn's Operations Record Book (ORB) frequently throughout the text and rarely expands the abbreviations. A typical entry might read:

"Unidentified T/E A/C passed stern of Lancaster
 to port, same height. RG opened fire..."

This isn't a big problem as your brain has been frequently exposed to ORB excerpts that by the second or third chapter it automatically substitutes in the expansion. Just be prepared to read lots of abbreviated excerpts - that's exactly how they were and still are written.

Sometimes in reading the text I found myself wondering whether the author was playing a bit loose with the facts as I couldn't square their [the bomber crews] experiences to my own understanding. For example, the book opens with a sequence from a personal diary which states:

"There were ninety of us, flying in a gaggle at about
twenty feet around Lincoln, over the Wash..."

Today, 250 ft is a hard bottom for the UK's Low Flying System and 100 ft on some ranges. This separation is maintained in all aspects, and generally the aircraft fly either in pairs or more often as a single aircraft. To have 'a gaggle' of 90 large aircraft at 20 ft beggars belief. I suppose this claim and other similarly astonishing revelations on nearly every page made this book a page-turner.

I have to take issue with the author when he claims (cites?) aircraft flying at zero feet!!! Now call me pedantic if you will, but that is not possible. The account goes onto say that due to some jostling within this 'zero foot' bomber stream an aircraft had to roll 90 degrees and it's wing was 'almost' touching the water. With a wingspan of approximately 100 ft those Lancaster's must have been flying somewhere greater than 50 ft ... either way it's ludicrously low.

The book made me stop and think for a bit when the author states, when referring to the aircrew:

"...these men who, whenever they flew, had to
obliterate their most basic instinct, that of 
self-preservation, so they could do their work."

Another pause-for-thought moment came for me, when the author equates the damage of German Cities by Bomber Command to British Cities. The civilian death toll must have been horrendous. I would have liked to see some balance, i.e. from German squadron log books or civilian accounts of the bombing raids in which our heroine was present. 

I'm of the opinion that although it was deemed a necessary evil at the time, the carpet bombing of civilian populations should make us more than a little uncomfortable. Unfortunately the book doesn't provide any opinion on the matter. Neither good or bad, it just tells the facts - I suppose that is the safest way talk about a potentially contentious subject.

Hamburg after Bomber Command and US 8th Air Force visited
As we follow the air-frame I realised that the author had almost imbued a sense of personality into EE136 WS/R and I found myself rooting for her as much as I did her crews. Spoiler - she survives for 109 operations before being declared U/S. However when a Bomber Command tour was 30 missions and the average life expectancy for those aircrews was around 15 missions, we can start to appreciate just how fortunate WS/R was.

The are several photo pages wedged into the middle of the book and I was shocked and a little saddened to see faces of predominantly very young men looking back. There are numerous accounts of aircrew whilst on the 20th sortie being shot down and killed, yet still being 19 years. Captains of 20 years old, were not uncommon.

WWII was a very different time and I am always reminded how grateful I should be and in awe of those who served every time I read a book like this. I can recommend this book to everyone, military aviation nut or not and at 147 pages, anyone can finish this book.

The title of this book gives the impression that it covers the escape attempts of captured military personnel during WWI. A more acc...

Voices in Flight Escaping Soldiers and Airmen of World War I by Martin W. Bowman Voices in Flight Escaping Soldiers and Airmen of World War I by Martin W. Bowman

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

Book Review

The title of this book gives the impression that it covers the escape attempts of captured military personnel during WWI. A more accurate title would be "Airborne shenanigans during WWI", admittedly this is not as eye-catching a title; but what 'escaping' there is, is tucked up nicely in the last few chapters of the book. What you have to read to get to that point is however a fascinating insight into the personal exploits, predominantly of airmen - not soldiers, during the conflict. I enjoyed the entire book and was constantly struck by just how far we've come in 100 years of aviation [military] and in comparison what was considered acceptable then to today. For example during the first 5 days of the Battle of Arras, the author tells us that 75 aircraft were lost and 105 aircrew - a figure unthinkable today and sobering to consider.

When I opened this book my eyes felt assaulted by the walls of text on each page. This may sound like a silly criticism but the typesetting felt very cramped on the page. I'm sure the author is not to blame for this but it did look like someone had taken an un-formatted document file and bound it into a book. This did surprise me as no other book I have from Pen & Sword Publishing (P&S hereafter) has this style of typesetting. The publishing quality of my other P&S books is very high, maybe they had a page limit to fit this work into ...?

Each chapter opens with a short excerpt from a personal journal or what I assume to be official dispatches from the front or other such source. Then the author goes on to give the context and throughout each chapter reveals more of the personal account or event. I found this style of having two voices in a chapter engaging. The chapters finish with a note section, rather than at the end of the book which allows for much quicker lookup of the referenced material.

I am professionally aware of military aviation and have spent countless hours surrounded by pictures of old planes from the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service. There were more than a few occasions throughout this book which jogged old memories of reading medal citations contained within squadron display cabinets. I was very grateful to the author in fleshing out each account and providing the sources and more of the back story as much as he did. There were still many stories of which I knew nothing and I was surprised at the seemingly, ubiquitous role the formative RAF had in WWI.

The focus of each chapter is a different individual and in its entirety this book comprises a who's who of aviation legends; Immelmann, Handley Page, Richtofen to name a few. One name that stood out to me for all the wrong reasons and which takes the best British military officer's name I've ever heard, was Sqn Cdr Joseph Ruscombe Wadham Smyth-Pigott. It feels slightly cheeky to say that the character of Blackadder's Lord Flashheart came to mind several times through reading this book...

One of the most poignant chapters involves the story of Reggie Marix, who after capturing a German cavalry captain and confiscating his sword, offered the POW his pistol in order to end the suffering of his stricken horse; an honour that Reggie thought the German should still have. The chapter goes on to relate how the confiscated sword found its way back to the German many years later and is quite touching. This example, and several others throughout the book, hark back to the days of chivalry and honour which arguably has disappeared from modern battlefields.

I think this book would be enjoyed by a relatively wide audience, although convincing the wider audience of that would be a challenge. If you're not interested in military history then nothing on the cover suggests that a person that only reads biographies would also enjoy it. The book's focus is on individuals and their personal stories in which they are, to me at least, doing amazing things. It's not a historic retelling of the tactics or strategies of WWI but focuses right down at the lowest, human level. In our time, these gentlemen would be celebrities in their own right and lauded for their courage, tenacity and skill. The reader is free to draw their own conclusions to how the majority of today's 'stars' stack up in comparison.

If you would like to pick up a copy of this title, P&S currently (Aug 2017) have a sale on it. However I will just link to their store page and the RRP of £25.00. I highly recommend this book.

The Siege of Tsingtau by Charles Stephenson First things first, the campaigns of WWI are not very familiar to me. This boo...

The Siege of Tsingtau: The German-Japanese War 1914 by Charles Stephenson The Siege of Tsingtau: The German-Japanese War 1914 by Charles Stephenson

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

Book Review


Charles Stephenson

First things first, the campaigns of WWI are not very familiar to me. This book covers, what I originally thought, a very obscure battle of the Japanese attack on German Tsingtau in the Pacific (current day Qingdao). Although the name 'World War One' implies a global conflict my naive understanding is limited to the Somme, Verdun, Gallipoli et al. It should be no surprise that the colonial subjects across the Pacific were drawn into the war just as their primary state decreed.

The book starts with several chapters that detail the geo-political environment of all the main belligerents. In these formative chapters there is a large reliance on direct quotes from source material. This leads to some dense sentence construction, of which the author excels throughout the rest of the book, even when source material is not being referenced. 

In the introduction to the book, the author himself states that if you want to get to the actual fighting, i.e. to skip the politics, then skip the first couple of chapters. I might be doing the book an injustice, there are a few skirmishes in the previous chapters, but the actual battle, from my understanding started in Chapter 7, the penultimate chapter of the book.

Again in the introduction, the author states that the book is not aimed at the academic audience. I think he is doing himself a disservice as the book is, to my mind, thoroughly researched and includes 66 pages of notes and bibliography to the 8 chapters, that comprise nearly 40% of the book. Any student of the theatre, at any level, would do well to pick up this book and read this narrative history of the battle.

All that being said, I was continually surprised by this account of an 'obscure' battle. I wasn't aware of the extent of German colonisation in the Pacific, nor the different military's nascent air power capabilities. However what initially piqued my interest with this book was the fact that two infamous WWII allies were, adversaries just 25 years earlier. I personally would have liked to see more analysis of how that came to be, but that is unfair to the author and his work, as that would warrant an entirely different book outside this scope.

The book includes the standard middle glossy insert of photo pages. The scale and size of the equipment shown in these photos somehow seemed incongruous to the text I was reading. This is no criticism of the text rather a new-found admiration and awe of the bravery of soldiers from both sides, with the most rudimentary of equipment, going against massive siege artillery.

I particularly enjoyed the account of SMS Emden's (a German light crusier) exploits in the Indian Ocean against the Entente Powers' shipping. A nugget I will take away from that account is the importance of logistics and command and control (C2) support; often decried as boring and glossed over in many historical war-games, yet it is essential. The German East Asian (naval) Squadron was bereft of a re-supply base and had to split into both the Indian Ocean and round Cape Horn into the Southern Atlantic to find fuel and repairs.

As a precursor to the battle the British and Japanese forces destroyed the radio masts of the German occupiers. This, I imagine, is still employed today as a viable military tactic i.e. denying the enemy C2 channels, but in 1914 the German colony was left with no communication ability to the outside world. From a modern perspective that seems scary and almost impossible to achieve today.

The other aspect, which I found noteworthy, was the effect and experience of aeroplanes in this battle. The author, at some length, explains a few of the aviation firsts that occurred during and in the events preceding this battle. I was very grateful for the detail he included and I would have liked another chapter or so dedicated to the air environment. 

The author loosely follows the exploits of a couple of pilots from both sides as they built, and fixed their aircraft to fly reconnaissance or strike missions. Yes you read that right - 'strike' missions. I was particularly intrigued with a pilot who was given his license, his 'wings' if you will, after 2 days training and how his propeller would disintegrate during flight as the right type of glue wasn't available! I can't imagine flying in a self-destructing aircraft.

Overall this book opened my eyes to the global scale and scope of WWI and I am grateful to have read it. My personal experience and interests include military aviation and the pacific theatre from WWII to today and so this book was interesting to me. I couldn't recommend it to the casual reader unless they have, at the very least, a peripheral interest in the topic. However, if you are in the latter camp then pick it up and you may be as surprised as I was.

The Siege of Tsintau is available from Pen & Sword Books for £20.