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For King and Country - British Airborne Uniforms, Insignia & Equipment in World War II

Peter Brown

For King and Country - British Airborne Uniforms, Insignia & Equipment in World War II by Harlan Glenn  Published by Schiffer Military History, Altglen PA USA. Hardback, 192 large format pages, fully illustrated with colour and black and white photos. ISBN 0-7643-0794-0 Price USA $59.95, UK 45 Web site www.schifferbook.com

This book's author collects WW2 British and Commonwealth militaria, finding a gap in the literature of the subject he has produced this study to fill it. The result a very detailed study of all the equipment of the airborne soldier, both paratroopers and gliderborne, of the period. It shows all the types of clothing worn in action, not only the well-known camouflaged Denison smock, helmet, red - actually maroon - beret and other specialist items, but also basic web equipment, packs and personal items such as underwear and the soldier's knife, fork and spoon and darning kit. His weapons, pistols, rifles, sub and light machine guns are also shown. These include the Lee-Enfield rifle, Bren and Sten guns used by all British units, with a bonus of the rare Patchett SMG and the special bandolier used to carry Sten gun magazines. Heavier items like the Vickers heavy machine gun, 2" and 3" mortars and even light artillery are covered though in less detail.

Airborne units may have been basically footsoldiers, but they did use some light vehicles which were parachuted or carried into action by glider. These include jeeps which were specially modified for air transport and trailers for them, lightweight motorcycles, folding bicycles and equipment trolleys. Much attention has been paid to describing the different patterns of clothing used, which will help identify early and late types of smock, helmets and equipment. This is of great value to collectors and re-enactors, but will also allow serious students of the period and modellers to know what goes with what, especially what combinations are unlikely and what are basically impossible.

While British units are the main ones covered, a long chapter is devoted to the Polish formations which fought alongside them. In the past, these have often been neglected. While they generally used similar equipment to their British counterparts they did have items specific items of clothing and combinations of weapons specific to themselves. Other attached troops such as Commandos who fought with the airborne at various times are also shown. Commonwealth forces, such as Canadian and Indian units, are not included, and neither are other British airborne forces such as the SAS. This wide range of subjects are illustrated using some 600 photographs. By far the majority are colour photos showing items of clothing and equipment shown both on their own with close-ups of specific features to show changes in design, as well as being worn as they would have been at the time. Several sequences show typical actions recreated, such as a Bren gun group advancing and a paratrooper releasing himself from his parachute and preparing for action. Captions provide a lot of information and point out cases where items shown have been altered post-war or are not totally in keeping with the subject depicted when original ones are not available. Some period black and white photos are used as well, which show some of these unusual subjects.

Cap badges and cloth insignia are given their own section, and photos of the various types which would be used by each unit show them grouped together. This will be very helpful for anyone wanting to recreate a specific uniform or model an individual unit as they will not need to refer to several pages all at once. Variations in insignia are also shown, such as metal and plastic badges and different styles of cloth badges in woven and printed forms, with these shown from both sides in some cases. While the photographs and captions form the main part of the book, the accompanying text gives details of unit organisation and background on the equipment shown. Actions fought are not covered although there are a number of original accounts of what it was like to be an airborne soldier at this time. All together, this study brings a huge amount of information into one volume and should be welcomed by serious students of British WW2 airborne soldiers, collectors, re-enactors and modellers.

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