This time around we look at four recent releases covering U-boats, airpower in the Pacific, andgiven the plethora of sixtieth anniversary books, what else?D-Day. All of these emphasize photos over text (in some cases containing little else), and all exhibit somewhat unusual sizes and shapes.
Going, Chris and Alun Jones. D-Day: The Lost Evidence. Manchester, UK: Crecy Publishing Ltd, 2004
Acknowledgements; Abbreviations; photos; map; Further Reading; Index
The authors have uncovered long-lost photographs from air reconnaissance missions flown on D-Day and, using image editing software, they've cleaned up the images, stitched them into wide mosaics, and reproduced them as crisply as possible. They've rounded out their book with brief text about the D-Day landings, a few short quotes from veterans, and an assortment of other photos from Normandy.
The "lost" photos, however, definitely provide the main drawing card. These represent "vertical" shotslooking straight down at the groundand cover all or parts of the five different invasion beaches. The mosaics, as the authors explain, are "uncontrolled," meaning the photos have been seamlessly joined "but they are not rendered map accurate." They are nonetheless very impressive. The only drawback to the mosaics is that they have been reduced in scale significantly in order to fit on the pages, making it darn tough to identify many features. Fortunately, the authors select key sectors and reproduce them separately at less reduced sizes.
Even so, the scale is such that it's not always easy to see everything the authors point out in their captions. That's especially true because many of the images are a little blurry or slightly obscured by haze and smoke. When the caption identifies armored vehicles moving along a road, for example, the photos sometimes seem to reveal little more than dark spots along a lighter stripe.
Despite those drawbacks, these are fascinating pictures and the recovery of the lost film allows the authors to bring to the public a true historical treasure. It's a sure bet the originals are more impressive, but the reproductions here are worth a look, even though there's not much else to the book.
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Keeney, L. Douglas. Gun Camera Pacific. Osceola, WI: Motorbooks, 2004
Based strictly on its contents, this book would be better titled "A Photographic Survey of American Airpower in the Pacific," but by any name it amounts to nothing more than a coffee table book.
To begin with, despite the title these photos are by no means all from gun cameras. Probably well under half qualify as such. However the pictures were taken, theyalong with brief captionsform almost the entirety of the book. The author writes a brief introductory chapter about the course of the war in the Pacific and the importance of airpower, then offers only a couple of paragraphs at the beginning of each of the remaining five chapters.
The photos themselves (all black and white) seem well-chosen, and Keeney indicates he spent more than a year culling these from vast numbers in the National Archives: "...785,675 war photographs from the Navy, 406,266 from the Marine Corps, and approximately 500,000 from the Air Force." Individually the photos are mostly worth a look and in sum they provide a fairly good overview of the air war in the Pacific.
Beyond the photos themselves, however, Keeney doesn't add much to the package. In addition to the overall lack of text, the captions can be a little puzzling and frustrating. For example, in one shot of a burning plane, the caption indicates "[the pilot] suffered painful burns but was able to walk away from the plane." That might very well be true, but nowhere in the book does the author explain the source of such knowledge. Further, his captions tend to leave out a great deal of basic information. For example, in the same caption Keeney neglects to identify the date, the location, or even the name of the aircraft carrier where the picture of the burning plane was snapped.
For readers who care only to peruse an album of dramatic photos, this will serve well enough. Anyone who wants or expects more will be disappointed.
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Paterson, Lawrence. U-Boat War Patrol: The Hidden Photographic Diary of U564. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2004
Preface; Acknowledgements; Glossary; Abbreviations; Table of Ranks; The Atlantic Grid; Introduction; photos; Epilogue; Sources; Notes; Index
Appendices: The Crew of U 564; Torpedoes fired by U 564
More "lost" photos surfaced to provide Lawrence Paterson with the heart of his new book; even so, this is not a pictorial album like Keeney's. Paterson also relies on photos less than Going and Joneshe writes a thorough and engaging narrative about the patrol of U-564and he adds a number of photos from other sources, but like the aerial photos of beaches in the D-Day book, the newly discovered shots play a prominent role here.
Foster Appleyard, a Royal Navy diver, acquired the photos in 1944 while working to rehabilitate the newly liberated port of Brest and they remained in his possession, gathering dust, for more than fifty years. After Appleyard's death, the photos were given to an amateur historian who eventually passed them along to the Royal Navy Submarine Museum. The 361 photos, it turned out, chronicled a 1942 patrol by Reinhard "Teddy" Suhren's U-564. The author uses the photographs as the framework for a full account of that patrol.
The Introduction, which includes some older photos of Suhren, sketches the skipper's early years in the Kriegsmarine and his first patrols. The main narrative begins with U-564's departure from Lorient in July 1942. From that point, almost every page is illustrated with at least one picture of the boat and its crew on patrol. The photos include individual sailors and their battle stations, other submarines and their skippers as they meet to confer or resupply at sea, drills, informal shots of off-duty activities, and many classic moments of life at sea.
In addition to the photos, Paterson delivers an account of the patrol strong enough to stand on its own. In sum, U-Boat War Patrol is far more than just a picture book, and both the photos and the text are well above average. Definitely the pick of this litter.
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Van der Vat, Dan. D-Day: The Greatest Invasion, A People's History. New York: Bloomsbury / Madison Press, 2004
Introduction; Foreword; Prologue; photos; maps; Epilogue; Index; Acknowledgments
This survey began with D-Day, and to D-Day it returns. The D-Day book from Going and Jones relies on its unusual photos to attract and hook readers. This D-Day book is considerably more ambitious and required more work from van der Vat, but in the end it has no particular hook to it. There's nothing wrong with it; it just doesn't stand out as notably exciting or unique in an increasingly crowded field of books about D-Day.
Van der Vat mixes all the proper ingredients into his work in all the right proportions. Although not strictly a photo album, the pages are densely illustrated. Although not a scholarly tome, the author writes a substantial amount of workmanlike text. He also includes ample quotes from veterans, maps (the rendering of Omaha Beach is especially good), and a reasonable number of sidebars covering related topics. The layout is very impressivethe best of this bunchwith liberal use of color, bleeds, and all the little touches that separate handsome books from ho-hum. Anyone spotting this on a shelf and taking time to flip through the pages will know it's a professionally produced volume by a veteran author working with a gifted design team.
Even so, the book never quite stakes out any territory as its own. Van der Vat doesn't emphasize any one aspect of the invasion, and despite the physical attractiveness of the package there's just not much new or compelling between the covers. The Foreword makes it clear that the book is not aiming to break any new ground or attract a learned audience. "The purpose of the text is to offer the reader a clear overview."
Nothing wrong with that approach, but it's the same route taken by a burgeoning number of new D-Day books as we approach the sixtieth anniversary of the landings. A colorful package and a clear overview might not be enough to make this effort win many of the readers who go browsing among shelf after shelf of similar new Normandy offerings.
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Available from online booksellers, local bookshops, or directly from the publishers.
Thanks to the publishers for providing these review copies.