March 6, 2014

Some book reviews

As I wrapped up "The Model Railroad Goes to War," I thought I mention and briefly review some books I found interesting and worth reading during my research.

Engines of War: How Wars Were Won & Lost on the Railways
 I mentioned  "Engines of War" by Christian Wolmar in an earlier review. Then I just discussed the chapters on the American Civil War. But Wolmar's book goes well beyond that with a special emphasis on the railroads of the English colonial wars such as the Sudan and Boer war. Overall I enjoyed the book very much. His discussion of the German railroads in WWII was particularly interesting to me.  I heartily recommend this book.

Speaking of WWII, Alfred Mierzejewski's "Collapse of the German War Economy, 1944-1945" is a very interesting book in spite of its dry sounding title. It is  a rare combination of economic analysis and military history that provides new perspectives on the German war economy and Allied air intelligence.  He describes how the German economy collapsed under Allied bombing in the last year of World War II.

He discusses how Allied strategic bombing campaign evolved and how it affected German industry. He discusses the German reactions as well as the Allied decision making. There is no detailed discussion of air bombardment tactics or missions. Nonetheless, he covers many topics of interest including railroads, coal hauling, intelligence collection, Ultra secrets, photo reconnaissance, and bureaucratic infighting (both Allied and German.)  He comes to the conclusion that the railroad marshaling yards (a term he uses, we model railroaders would more likely call them classification yards), particularly for coal hauling, were the most critical part of German industrial infrastructure. Once the Allies began targeting them systematically, German industry ground to a halt.

In reading the book I couldn't help but think about modern air campaigns and their effectiveness. But I also thought back to how railroads behaved in  the Civil War, especially the descriptions in Agnus Johnson's book on "Virginia Railroads in the Civil War" of how railroad profiteering hurt the confederate war effort, and Cameron's corrupt behavior while Secretary of War as described in the first couple chapters of Taylor's "Victory Rode the Rails."

One last book I'd like to mention is "The Railway Gazette – Special War
Transportation Number,"  a book I found very helpful in researching the WWI chapters of my book.
In 1920, The British  Railway  Gazette published a special edition to record transport used in the war. This would have been the first time that most readers would have become aware of the machines and techniques used to achieve the recent victory – much of it had been secret until then.
Since 1920, copies of this special edition have been highly prized  collectors’ items.  As part of the events to mark the centenary of the conflict, the  Moseley Railway Trust has worked with Railway Gazette International to re-print the 1920 special edition. This book is chocked full of historical information and operational data on British railways in WWI. You can find more information about it here.

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