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"Review: River Gunboats An Illustrated Encyclopedia" Topic


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674 hits since 19 Sep 2018
©1994-2019 Bill Armintrout
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Personal logo Andrew Walters Supporting Member of TMP19 Sep 2018 10:51 a.m. PST

This volume was announced on TMP a few months back and now it's out. At $50 USD I'm guessing before people pull out their credit cards they'd like a few questions answered:

Are the pictures of camouflage schemes in Appendix 2 in color? Does it have a section on postage stamps from around the world that feature gunboats? Is this book an unwieldy size? Will this book lie flat while I study it? Is the definition of gunboats broad enough to include all the riverine combatants in the American Civil War? Modern river gunboats? Does it have an index? A filmography? Are there pictures on every page?

The answers are yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and almost every page.

But it's not all "yeses". There are some "noes", too.

Are there any maps? Are all the pictures in color? Are there lots of descriptions of combat?

Maybe it would be more helpful to just describe it.

This is a 11" wide, 12" tall book of 336 pages. It's organized by nation, from the tiny and ephemeral Acre to Russia and the CSA. There's an introduction for each nation, since each country's operation of gunboats is different and requires different organization, then all the gunboats are described, organized by region of operation (when necessary) and chronology. There are pictures or plans for most vessels, along with the data block with the vital statistics. Some combat descriptions are interspersed, but they are far from comprehensive. Similarly, specifics on the design and power train are frequently but not always present.

There are a lot of pictures, more pictures than I would have guessed you could find. Definitely some I feel I should have seen but definitely have not. There are photos, original plans, period drawings and other art, and modern drawings. There are not only images of the vessels, but of the equipment and weapons. Many of the photos have interesting things in the background, too. There are also some photos of sunk, abandoned, and wrecked boats, kinda neat.

The bibliography is extensive, but not annotated. It includes a bunch of websites. The index seems complete, including not just vessel names and individual people but also topics that are addressed in the various entries such as technologies, battles, and manufacturers.

Do you need this book? You can get plenty of info from wikipedia for the important vessels, and if you're interested in gunboats you probably have a few books, so what are the selling points here? Comprehensiveness is one, everything is here, even if only lightly touched on. Second, it is a beautiful book; if gunboats are in your wheelhouse you will be pleased to own this book. Thirdly, there are plenty of books about gunboats in Africa and China, but there has been a lot of shooting on the river systems of South America, Eastern Europe, and Russia. I haven't seen many books on these, but they are covered here in full. The Russia section is early 10% of the book. Finally, this book includes everything there is to know about the Swiss navy. Seriously. Two pages, the same as Serbia or Burma/Myanmar.

The one glaring fault, from the gamer's point of view at least, there is very little info on armor. Almost none. There is a "Guns/Armor" section in every data block, but while the guns are always described armor is rarely mentioned. Occasionally you see "armored bridge" or "bullet proof plating", and you could infer from the description how the ship was constructed, but none of us are going to be satisfied with the armor info.

Another bit of pain is the modeling section. That's not necessarily expected, but in the introduction the author says he was "obliged to delete" an appendix on researching and building model gunboats. Not to worry, that info will be on his website. Except that it's not. In fact, as of September 2018 this book isn't even mentioned on his website. But it just came out, I trust that in time the work he did on modeling will be available to us, and I look forward to it!

Beyond all this the book has been prepared carefully. The "Notes on Plans and Specifications" section, explaining in the Introduction how the author handled certain problems with the sources, and other clues tell me that the author was careful, and took the time where it was worthwhile to tell us how he was careful.

I am happy to have this and expect it to be enjoyable, useful, and inspires some modeling and gaming.

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