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Pen & Sword-- Logistics in World War II 1939-1945

ISBN Number:
Wednesday, January 6, 2021
Pen and Sword Books
Retail Price:
Reviewed By:
John Ratzenberger

Pen & Sword- Logistics in World War II 1939-1945 


Pen & Sword Books Ltd
Logistics in World War II 1939-1945

by John Norris

Published by: Pen & Sword Military
An imprint of Pen & Sword Books Ltd
ISBN: 978-1-47385-912-8
Format: Hardback, 7x10 inches, 436 pgs
Retail Price: $37 USD (was $55)
Release Date: 3 Aug 2020
Review Date: 6 Jan 2021


The Book is hard-cover, 7x10in, with 436 glossy pages illustrated by approximately 250 photographs..

There is a 2-page Table of Contents to chapter level, a 1 page acknowledgement, a 7-page Introduction, 22 Chapters over 433-pages, a 2-page bibliography, and a 4-page index. There are no footnotes or endnotes for the text and no sources for the pictures.

The Publisher provides the following information:

John Norris is a freelance military historian who writes regular monthly columns for several specialist titles, ranging from vehicle profiles to re-enactment events. He has written well over a dozen books on various military historical subjects, including Fix Bayonets (2014), Mortars of WWII (2015), and Vehicle Art of WW2, all published by Pen & Sword.

[He] shows how logistics, though less glamorous than details of the fighting itself, played a decisive role in the outcome of every campaign and battle of World War Two. The author marshals some astounding facts and figures to convey the sheer scale of the task all belligerents faced to equip vast forces and supply them in the field. He also draws on firsthand accounts to illustrate what this meant for the men and women in the logistics chain and those depending on it at the sharp end. Many of the vehicles, from supply trucks to pack mules, and other relevant hardware are discussed and illustrated with numerous photographs.

All the major combatants and every theatre of war are covered, including the efforts to keep the panzers rolling in the Blitzkrieg; the peculiar challenges of war in the North Africa. Desert and the jungles of the Far East; the titanic efforts to sustain the Soviet drive westward; the island-hopping campaign in the Pacific and, of course, Operation Overlord with its ingenious Mulberry Harbours and PLUTO (Pipeline Under The Ocean). This is a significant and valuable study of a neglected aspect of the war.

Reviewer's note: Mr Norris also appears to be the author of World War II Trucks and Tanks, an eBook published in 2012 by Spellmount, an imprint of The History Press and which bears a strong resemblance to this book.

It is profusely, but not always logically or consistently, illustrated with some 250 photos. The photographs are captioned, not always informatively, and sources or credits for them are not provided. About 30% of the photos are in color, but are mostly reconstruction and reenactor vehicles in static scenes, I presume taken by the author. The other 70% are mostly period B/W but are not particularly informative or illustrative to a historian or a modeler - many have been published before. Very few have anything to do with logistics, except at the lowest levels. There is unnecessary duplication (i.e, 4 views of boxes tied to a half-track, 3 views of Home Guard posing in a field.) Most are land-based and are focused mainly on trucks, tanks, and artillery. There are very few air, sea, or rail photos and almost nothing about production, manufacturing, transportation, distribution, manpower, training, etc - in short, the purported subject of the book. Oh, and the emphasis throughout is on British and German, with some Russian and the rest of the world thrown in. 

Unfortunately, the book appears to be a loose compendium of the author's previous material that he was unable to organize and adapt to meet the description above. The book suffers greatly from a lack of focus and organization - as is made evident by the table of contents which is a mix of odd-time line and subject. One has to wonder why Chapters 13, 15, and 16 exist separately. Ignoring those 3 chapters, then the remaining Chapters 11 through 19 are certainly jumbled.

The Chapters are:
1. A New Kind of Warfare (20 pgs)
2. The Storm Breaks (29 pgs)
3. The War at Sea (6 pgs)
4. Oil and the Jerrycan (3 pgs)
5. Reforming the Armies and the Rearmament Program (23 pgs)
6. Germany Takes Stock 1940 (5 pgs)
7. After Dunkirk and Britain on Its Own (21 pgs)
8. The War Widens and Turns Toward Lend-Lease (13 pgs)
9. 1941: A Turning Point (51 pgs)
10. The War Widens: The Campaigns of 1942 (39 pgs)
11. 1943: More Lessons are Learnt (68 pgs)
12. The Campaigns of 1944 (15 pgs)
13. Vehicles and Guns (9 pgs)
14. Italy 1943 (9 pgs)
15. Kettenkrad and Kubelwagen (4 pgs)
16. German Use of Foreign Manpower (3 pgs)
17. D-Day (53 pgs)
18. Market Garden (20 pgs)
19. Island Hopping in the Pacific (5 pgs)
20. 1945 and the End Approaches (20 pgs)
21. Burma (9 pgs)
22. Iwo Jima and Okinawa (6 pgs)

Each chapter is written continuously with no break, not even a blank line, between topics, events or changes in thought - it's like shifting gears without a clutch. This gets particularly rough when the topics/events are not contiguous within the chapter. At any point, the author feels the need to discuss a particular vehicle he once photographed and heads off on several paragraphs about it. That completely interrupts the flow of the overall chapter at that point as one is taken back several years to go through the development and employment to the end of the war.

The "logistics" rarely get above the battlefield level. At the end of each chapter, although sometimes in the middle, there is a citation about so many tanks, trucks, guns, tons, gallons, rounds, people employed then consumed or destroyed. If the winning side had more than the losing side then a pithy quote from one of the generals about how important logistics are is included, then magically more shows up for the next round. These quotes may be attributed by name, but not by reference so you cannot go find them in the Bibliography.

But tons and gallons and rounds and numbers are not logistics, they are a measure perhaps but that is all. Logistics starts at the natural resources -- the raw materials -- and runs the gamut from harvesting, mining, refining, forging, machining, tooling, assembling; the tools necessary to do this; the factories in which to do it. The ports for shipping, the rail networks and equipment to feed and to clear those ports to maintain the flow of raw material, intermediate and finished products to where they are needed at the right time. The resources needed to produce the shipping hulls to replace losses and to grow capacity so that all this production of weapons, materials, food, supplies and manpower could be moved where it was needed. Training bases and areas, housing for military and the civilian workforce, food - guns vs butter. Manpower (military and civilian) -- quantity, skills, location, housing, clothing, feeding -- are all handled differently whether democracy or dictatorship and all present different problems each country had to address. And, for the victors, there was the need to address "reconversion" of the wartime economy to a peacetime economy - but not too soon.

All countries had certain raw materials available to them in some quantities and their other needs were usually filled pre-war by foreign trade. The war interrupted that and all countries had to make decisions on resource allocation to meet their needs. Much of the story of logistics is the management of scarce resources and alternatives (synthetics vs natural rubber or oil) or major changes in production methods (welding vs riveting) and product design to reduce usage (wastage) of materials for conservation or to be available for other use.

Countries had to prioritize their needs and their resources - production scheduling - to meet them, not just at the end item level but to the component level so as to not waste valuable resources making something now that wouldn't be used for a year.

There were so many places to emphasize, or just feature, logistics. The Allies agreed on a "Germany First" policy and proceeded to start a build-up in the UK. But they had to divert needed shipping from that almost right away to provide a defense in the Pacific, setting off a furious debate and all sorts of political ramifications. Later, in the confusion of Chapters 11, 12, 14, and 17 (and the Pacific), landing craft, from the smallest to the large LSTs were virtually being counted off the assembly lines and dates adjusted right up to the landings in Italy, southern France, a little place in Normandy, and the Pacific. And these weren't just simple delays -- there were huge political implication for the Allies, with Russia wanting a Second Front, Churchill wanting to play in the Med, DeGaulle in France, and so on. You'd never know this from the book.

Virtually none of this is touched on in the book.

By the way, the PLUTOs were given a scant 2 pages and no photos; MULBERRIES about 5 pages and no photos. The Red Ball Express gets 4 pages and 3 photos, 2 of which are restoration vehicles loaded with something.


This is not a book about logistics.  I have a fair background and library of U.S. logistics and was hoping this book would provide some starting points to expand that to other countries, Allied or Axis, but my hopes were dashed within 5 minutes of opening it.  It is not a good overview history of WWII and it is not even good for pictures, something I emphasize by not showing any in the review.

Not Recommended, regardless of price. It is very disappointing because I have a number of Pen & Sword Books in my library that are exceptional and this sadly is not.

I would like to sincerely thank Pen & Sword Publishing for providing the review sample to AMPS.

Reviewed by John Ratzenberger, AMPS Eastern Carolina Plastic Modelers and AMPS Central Virginia. 

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