A blog about miniatures, wargaming, and the people driven to ruin by them....

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Book Reviews: One Hundred Days, and Air War South Atlantic


I started lambasting my local club with my opinions on recent readings... at some point, I realized they may not be able to bear that burden alone.  Then I thought, what better place to blab about books to total strangers than on my blog?  Its old tech meets new tech... sort of.   The reviews are completely subjective, and entirely debatable.  Still, this may be something I continue to do with the blog, a monthly wrap up of what I have read.  Be warned.... I get very wordy, and sometimes preachy.

For the past month, I have five books to mention, this post will deal with the first two.

One Hundred Days:  The Memoirs of the Falklands Battle Group Command, Admiral "Sandy" Woodward.  I consider myself fairly well read on the Falklands, but it has been many years since I last read a "new" book... and this was "new" to me.  I found it to be quite easy to work through, interesting, and pertinent.  Admiral Woodward wrote candidly about his experiences, and the experiences of his fleet... in some cases more candidly than you would expect.  His planning, and actions, were not perfect (the near-shooting down of a civilian airliner... well, they were not shot down, thankfully).  He exposed that he was one of many in the fleet suffering the effects of the stress of combat, and I don't think I have ever read of a commander of this grade admitting that.

The book really filled in various details in my previous readings.  Perhaps more thoroughly than any other book I have read (except, in a different way, When the Fighting Is Over) this details the cost of this war.  Admiral Woodward makes a very convincing argument of just how close the British were to losing the Falklands.  The British fleet was badly mauled, both by repeated attacks, and the elements, as he recorded in his journal:

"We are now on the cliff edge of our capability, with only 3 ships lacking a major OPDEF [operational defect] (Hermes, Yarmouth, and Exeter). Of the destroyer/frigate force, 45% are reduced to near zero capability. Of the goalkeepers, Andromeda's Sea Wolf is u/s; Brilliant's entire systems are hanging by a variety of Coward-type threads; Broadsword has one and a half weapon systems but one propeller shaft locked. None of the Type 21s are fit. Avenger has a screw off; Arrow is cracked and has an Olympus gas turbine down-you name it. They're falling apart..... the 'convoys' I run in/out are 'escorted' by one half-crippled frigate... the gun line started with four ships and reduced to two from defects..."

Every book I have read has made this quite clear, but this is the Admiral of the fleet speaking.  He speaks with authority... it really was that close.  I was very glad to have obtained a copy of this book, and would recommend it to anyone.  I think that he deals fairly with his opponents, aware of their shortcomings, but certainly also aware of their bravery (specifically the Argentine pilots).

On a more personal note, I was startled to find myself smiling at the following passage, as Admiral Woodward rendered this back handed compliment to the USMC (in regards to how he planned to use Argentine doctrine against them):

"... because it was the doctrine the Args had been taught by the US Marines, whose instinct in the field of amphibious assault has usually been to go straight through the front door, kicking it down whether or not it happens to be locked..... in fairness to the warriors who have fought beneath the Stars and Stripes, they have achieved a great deal by charging through the front door, and indeed have won many a remarkable victory with such tactics, for they are unfailingly bold, and usually brilliantly equipped."

Admittedly, I felt very proud to have once been a member of that organization, and appreciate the sentiment rendered upon them by Admiral Woodward.

I quickly followed this reading with another "new" book for me on the Falklands, also a book that has been around for some time...

Air War South Atlantic, Jefferey Ethell and Alfred Price.  Again, this is a book I should have had many years ago, one that provides many layers of depth on the air war over and around the Falklands.  Written shortly after the war, the authors had the chance to talk to many participants on both sides, when memories were still fresh.  The books is easy to read, and I found it (like One Hundred Days) filling in blanks, some of which I didn't know existed.  Overall, I didn't think I learned many new lessons... but I feel like I learned some of them better.

One point made in this book, that I think underscored the difference in the two opponents in the air, was how the British, with about 30 Harriers, were able to fly many more sorties than their Argentine foes, who had upwards of three times as many aircraft (three times, as the Argentine forces reasonably had a fair number of their aircraft in repair, or committed elsewhere).  The point is the difference in maintenance, logistics, and training.  The disparity was probably best shown in the air to air engagements.... the British, with the newer Sidewinders, simply outclassed the Argentine aircraft.

On the other hand... Air War South Atlantic goes to great lengths to identify the pilots of the Argentine air force and navy by name.  Who they were, who they flew with, and how they died.  For an account written in English, I think this is a great addition.  The Argentine pilots were certainly brave men, too, and its quite apparent in most of the books I have read that their attacks were made to the best of their ability.  Obviously I was not there, but I have seen the footage of low level (low level, as in Argentine aircraft actually striking British ships in some cases as they flew past) attacks made by pilots flying at the very end of their range, into the teeth of everything the British could throw at them.  It seemed like suicide... and for many Argentine pilots, I suppose it was.

By including those details of the "other" side, this book does service to all branches, of both sides. 

Reading these two "new" books has reminded me of why I found this war so fascinating.  The idea of the extremely long range projection of amphibious power, under horrible conditions, fought by brave men on both sides, with very significant casualties inflicted in such a short time on a relatively small body of men.  The war should be remembered, I still feel that there are contemporary lessons to be learned from it.  More importantly, it is the men who fought there that should be remembered.  In the same way that we should remember those who have fought in other wars, in other places.  These were brave men, they deserve to not be forgotten.

Well, my next reviews will end a bit less maudlin, I promise... hopefully these prove useful to some of you out there.  Thanks for reading.


  1. Excellent reviews. Thanks for taking the time, I need to add two more to my wish list.


    1. No problem. I browse Amazon, looking for cheap used copies.... so far, I have made out pretty well. 100 Days cost me $5 including shipping... Air War South Atlantic was a yard sale purchase (same place I picked up Fox Two, reviewed in part two for this month), for a quarter.

    2. Thanks for the information. I will have to browse Amazon abit myself.

  2. Both are great reads on the Falklands.
    I read Air War South Atlantic shortly after the Falklands. has been a well used paperback that has been with me ever since.

  3. I just realized it was you Chal. :) If you are looking for any titles from this period I am sure they are on a shelf here somewhere.

    1. That's funny... I knew it was you on previous comments. Like the Shipwreck posts. I have a fair number I have read already, I just finished Green-Eyed Boys, about 3 Para on Mount Longdon (though no review yet), and have another to read, Storming the Falklands, on my shelf. Right now reading something different. At some point, I might go back and re-read some of my earlier Falklands books for a new perspective.