Wednesday, May 9, 2012

‘The Guns of War’ book review.

Well, actually, it is two books in one. ‘The Guns of Normandy’ and ‘The Guns of Victory’ by George G. Blackburn (ISBN 1-84119-210-4). It took me a while to read these two books. I picked it up and put it down not because it wasn’t interesting but life was just busy. These books are incredibly interesting and not just in a historical fact finding way but in a hardcore frontline rollercoaster emotional way. The story is written from the point of view of someone in the thick of it. That is you the reader who is propelled into Europe during 1944 and beyond. As an example... “Your command post is in a little stone farmhouse...”. You get the idea? It’s a different style to what I am used to in reading accounts of WWII and it has a point of view that we often overlook. Sure we have read about Infantry heroes (and villains), tank men, fighter aces and so on but these books are all about the Artillery and Canadian Artillery at that. You know, that unit we have at the edge of our gaming table with that small Observation Team out front among in a woods area terrain or in a building.
Being a keen Flames of War player I have the old Normandy Campaign books with the excellent graphic maps of operations that show the various operation and army movements. A lot of aspects of these operations are explained in this book and the reason why they took place and you are swept along them in this book. You do get bigger picture clarification of the strategy behind them which I found beyond excellent. Sometimes these operations when viewed in isolation seem like a mad mans folly. 1 colour Maps with the artillery location and dates are included in 'The Guns of War' as well. 
You get an eye witness view of those operations from the perspective of the supporting Canadian Artillery and the ubiquitous 25 pounders in particular. Not just the logistical numbers of the amount of shells fired in a more or less diary fashion but the conditions of digging gun positions in different soil types and the weather. You get to witness the hideous nature of war and the low life expectancy of the FOO (Forward Observation Officer) from Caen, closing of the Falaise Pocket, Normandy, Belgium, Holland and Germany. The detail is incredible. The action can get intense to the point of insane.
I found this book in a second hand shop in Thames in New Zealand while on holiday and finished reading it a month or more before writing this. It’s a big read but well worth it. For me it was one of those books that I would read a few pages and have a few ‘Holy Cow!’ moments and find myself randomly thinking about what I read about hours later. Just incredible with lots of close calls and tragic moments and by the end even the prospect of peace becomes disturbing for those that have been warriors for so long.
You can probably tell by now that I highly recommend this book if you are interested in WWII in Europe. It left a big impression on me. These two books stand out above many others when it comes to accounts of warfare in WWII. I am likely to measure many books in the future by these books.
As far as what does it offer the gamer I would say lots and lots. You could easily take a few encounters and recreate them on the table top but what would be interesting is to create a game based on the FOO. Forget commanding infantry and tanks what about being the eyes of the Guns behind you and getting requests to quell an enemy counter attack while trying to read a map and get ya bearings through a hole no bigger than a letter box slot. It might make a better PC or X-Box game perhaps. I don’t mean any disrespect by presenting these ideas but this is a gaming Blog first and foremost despite my passion and curiosity about military history.
Anyway if you are looking for something good to read go check it out.
Cheers from Brendon (The Kiwi)


  1. I also own this book and can fully recomend it as well. Arty was a major part of the Allied forces from D-Day on. We feared the German Mtr's they feared our 25Ld's especially. It's hard to play a wargam with Arty being as useful as it really was and get true fun for both sides. However a solo game with the Germans system controled would work well I think.


  2. I agree with you Ian. The impression the book gave me as an example would be that in FOW game terms, 1 x Nebelwerfer base would generate 1 x Template like 4 guns would. However it would most likey spend the next turn re-loading.

  3. His other book is "Where the Hell are the Guns". Highly recommended. I never met George before he passed away, but a friend of mine talked to him many times. He told me that George walked the battlefields many years after the war and every little detail came back to him, which explains how detailed the books are.

  4. Thanks RKelly, I may have to get that one to complete teh set. I agree the detail in the books is incredible.