book reading at sunset

Nine Reads For Summer Leave

book reading at sunset

Summer leave beckons for many in the Armed Forces, but if anyone needs some recommendations of military books to gen up on, here are a few suggestions.

For many in the Forces, the Summer leave period provides the longest stretch of time off all year.

Perhaps your time off has been and gone, and you are instead facing some months away on deployment in places such as Estonia or the Middle East. If so, these bergan-fillers will absolutely provide you with a literary escape.

With subjects spanning espionage, WW2 bomber raids, Nazi war criminals and war in space, our top military-themed reads for the summer should be right up your street.


The Bomber Mafia - Malcolm Gladwell

The Bomber Mafia by Malcolm Gladwell

In the years before the Second World War, in a sleepy air force base in central Alabama, a small group of renegade pilots put forth a radical idea. What if we made bombing so accurate that wars could be fought entirely from the air? What if we could make the brutal clashes between armies on the ground a thing of the past?

This book tells the story of what happened when that dream was put to the test. The Bomber Mafia follows the stories of a reclusive Dutch genius and his homemade computer, Winston Churchill's forbidding best friend, a team of pyromaniacal chemists at Harvard, a brilliant pilot who sang vaudeville tunes to his crew, and the bomber commander, Curtis Emerson LeMay, who would order the bloodiest attack of the Second World War.

In this tale of innovation and obsession, Malcolm Gladwell asks: what happens when technology and best intentions collide in the heat of war? And what is the price of progress?

The Father - Niklas Frank

The Father Cover

Originally published in German in 1987 as Der Vater, this huge seller forced Germany to confront its past. This new edition is published in the UK for the first time and features forewords by Philippe Sands, author of East West Street and The Ratline, and Sir Ian Kershaw.

Niklas was seven years old when his father, Hans Frank, Hitler's lawyer and governor-general of occupied Poland, was executed at Nuremberg as a Nazi war criminal. After years of research, Niklas reconstructed his father's life and realised the enormity of his crimes.

This book tells the story of a man struggling to comprehend the unspeakable sins of the previous generation. But where some in Germany's immediate post-war generation wanted to move on and forget, Niklas Frank wanted revenge.

Bitter and unforgiving, The Father is a devastating settling of accounts, a son's 'hate letter' to his father in hell.

2021 marks the 75th anniversary of the verdict of the Nuremberg trials and the execution of the top Nazis, including Hans Frank.

Behold The Dark Gray Man - Katherine Campbell

Behold The Dark Grey Man

Katharine Campbell's father, Sholto Douglas, was the hero of her childhood, an unconventional senior commander in the Royal Air Force described as 'a gloriously contentious character'. Following childhood abandonment and poverty, Sholto rose through the ranks of the fledgling RAF in the First World War before taking on a crucial role in the Second as head of Fighter Command and serving as Military Governor in Germany in the war's devastating aftermath.

But when Katharine was five years old, he began to be stolen away by strange night-time wanderings and daytime distress – including vivid flashbacks to his time signing death warrants in post-war Germany.

The doctors called it dementia, but decades later, Katharine started researching her father's story and realised that she had observed the undiagnosed consequences of post-traumatic stress disorder.

PTSD is a hot topic today. We're aware of the front-line soldier suffering from 'shell-shock' – but what about the senior officer giving the orders, who may be carrying hidden wounds accumulated over many years? We don't expect our military leaders to have PTSD, nor is it something they often recognise or acknowledge in themselves. Yet, this secret burden likely affects a surprising number of those making important tactical decisions. A thought-provoking insight into the damage done by military conflict, Behold the Dark Gray Man is the story of a daughter's search to understand the impact of war upon one of its most charismatic senior commanders.

Laughter Is The Best Weapon - Charles Ritchie

Laughter is the best Weapon

"An army may march on its stomach but it leans on its funny bone." 

So says Brigadier Charles Ritchie, and he should know. Postings to Yemen, Northern Ireland, Bosnia and other far-away trouble spots gave him many opportunities to demonstrate that the ability to laugh – and make others laugh – is an invaluable skill in an officer's kitbag.

In Laughter is the Best Weapon – the Remarkable Adventures of an Unconventional Soldier, Charles abandons the popular trend for military heroism and angst-ridden confessions. Instead, he leads the reader on a forthright yet light-hearted and self-deprecating journey through his 38 years' service as a Royal Scot. In the process, we witness his sometimes significant but often comedic participation in a wide range of recent British military operations.

If you prefer your military history more entertainingly honest than earnestly intellectual and your soldiers hilariously slapstick rather than heroically stoic, then this is the book for you. 

Liberally sprinkled with career-limiting cock-ups, bizarre near-death experiences and the clatter not of gunfire but shameless name-dropping, these delightfully varied anecdotes deliver a hugely entertaining glimpse into the extraordinary life of one of the British Army's most spirited and loveable characters.

China VS America - Oliver Letwin

China versus America cover

As a Cabinet minister attending meetings of the UK's National Security Council, Oliver Letwin took a profound interest in our relationship with China. So much of the discussion of world events inevitably turns into a debate about the attitudes and intentions of Beijing. But the more Letwin became involved in such discussions, the clearer it became to him that there was an absence of any settled Western strategy for conducting a peaceful long-term relationship with China.

With China's authoritarian market socialist regime becoming increasingly assertive, and with the authorities in Washington becoming progressively hostile towards the growth of Chinese power, the world is now in a much more precarious state than it was a decade ago, and the situation is only going to deteriorate.

Recent repressive moves by China in Hong Kong and Chinese military activities in the South China Sea have only served to heighten tensions, exacerbated too by concerns in the West about China's lack of transparency in the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic and by increasing Western measures directed against Chinese companies such as Huawei.

China vs America traces the contours of history, both ancient and modern, to explain how China has emerged as a challenger to American power in the twenty-first century and the discomfort that this is causing in the West. This book is a powerful call to correct the collision course on which the world's great powers are currently embarked before it is too late.

Spitfire Ace of Aces - Dilip Sarkar 

Spitfire Ace of Aces

Air Vice-Marshal James Edgar 'Johnnie' Johnson CB, CBE, DSO & Two Bars, DFC & Bar, DL was a character literally from the pages of Boys' Own. He was an individual who became the RAF's top-scoring fighter pilot of the Second World War. A one-time household name synonymous with the superlative Spitfire, Johnnie's aerial combat successes inspired schoolboys for generations.

As a 'lowly Pilot Officer', Johnnie Johnson learned his fighter pilot's craft as a protégé of the legless Tangmere Wing Leader, Douglas Bader. After Bader was brought down over France and captured on August 9 1941, Johnnie remained a 616 (South Yorkshire) Squadron member. He became a flight commander and was awarded the DFC a month after Bader's devastating loss.

In time, Johnnie came to command a Canadian wing in 1943, when the Spitfire Mk IX at last outclassed the Fw 190. He participated in some of the most important battles of the defeat of Nazi Germany, including Operation Overlord and the D-Day landings in 1944, Operation Market Garden and the airborne assault at Arnhem, and the Rhine Crossings, throughout all of which Johnnie also commanded Canadian wings.

Johnnie's remarkable career is revealed through this unparalleled collection of archive photographs, the majority of which are drawn from his own personal album or from other members of the Johnson family. Many have not been published before. Between them, they present a fascinating insight into the man himself, the machines he flew, and the men he served alongside.

A Spy Called Cynthia - by Anonymous

A Spy Called Cynthia - Anonymous

Elizabeth Thorpe, codenamed Cynthia, was a glamorous American socialite recruited by MI6 to obtain intelligence from the Polish Foreign Ministry and the Italian and Vichy French embassies in Washington.

Her method was to seduce whatever targets could provide her with vital intelligence, a practice in which she hardly ever failed, enabling her to secure first the French and then the Italian naval codes.

In the landings in North Africa, she was credited with having saved the lives of hundreds of Allied soldiers.

This unique account by a British spymaster of his relationship with Cynthia, detailing his subsequent involvement with Kim Philby and the Cambridge spies and his dealings with his counterparts in the CIA and French intelligence, was entrusted by him to a junior colleague on the basis that it was not to be published until everyone in it was dead. Necessarily anonymous and impossible to fully verify, though most of it undoubtedly did happen and is part of the historical record, A Spy Called Cynthia provides a special insight into the world of intelligence and one of its most effective practitioners.

War In Space - Dr Bleddyn Bowen

War in Space

War in space presents a theory of spacepower and considers the implications of space technology on strategy and international relations. The spectre of space warfare stalks the major powers as outer space increasingly defines geopolitical and military competition. As satellites have become essential for modern warfare, strategists are asking whether the next major war will begin or be decided in outer space. Only strategic theory can explore the decisiveness and effects of war in space on grand strategy and international relations.

Bleddyn E. Bowen applies the wisdom of military strategy to outer space and presents a compelling new vision of Earth's orbit as a coastline rather than an open ocean or an extension of airspace, as many have assumed. Rooted in the classical military works of Clausewitz, Mahan and Castex, to name a few, Bowen puts forward new principles for strategic thought about space that explain the pervasive and inescapable influence of spacepower on strategy and the changing military balance of the 21st century.

George Jellicoe - Nicholas Jellicoe

George Jellicoe cover

George Jellicoe, son of Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, commander of the British Grand Fleet at Jutland, was never compromised by his privileged upbringing. In this insightful biography, his son describes a life of action, drama, public service and controversy.

As David Stirling's second-in-command and later commanding the SBS, George's exploits with the newly formed SAS make for fascinating reading. Over four years, it embraced the North African and Mediterranean campaigns and culminated in saving a newly-liberated Athens from the communist guerrillas of ELAS.

The brutality of Stalinist communism led him to join the post-war Foreign Office. In Washington, he worked with Kim Philby and Donald Maclean in the espionage cloak and dagger world. Resigning in 1958 so he could marry the woman he loved, he turned to politics. Although his ministerial career ended in 1973 after unwittingly become entangled with the Lambton scandal, he continued to sit in the House of Lords, becoming 'Father of the House'.

He held numerous public appointments, including President of the Royal Geographical Society, Chairman of the Medical Research Council, President of the SAS Regimental Association and the UK Crete Veterans Association.

Thanks to the author's research and access, this is more than a biography of a significant public figure. It provides fascinating detail of Special Forces operations and the characters of the countless figures with whom he mixed.  

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