I've made another score with that topped-up Paypal account the 'dangers' of which I mentioned on Saturday, this time combined with the similarly seductive eBay. And what did I get? Well, regular readers might remember when, talking about D-Day last year, I mentioned in passing the "book which was my bible as a WW2 wargamer". So yes, you've guessed it, that's the book I've just bought again. And what is it? It's John Ellis' 1980 classic The Sharp End of War: the Fighting Man in WW2.
I first got this book as a teenager on its initial release, from the book club through I which built up my collection of teenage tankie books, sadly long since sold off in a bout of poverty. It was one of those books whose unassuming appearance concealed a veritable treasure trove within. The key theme of the book is succintly summed-up by a note on the dust jacket, "the theme of John Ellis' book [is] human experience, not strategy".
It was this slant which made the book so unique at the time. Instead of the familar accounts of CO's dilemmas as battles and campaigns unfolded, The Sharp End offers profound overviews of the practical realities of life as a frontline soldier, from the terrain, through combat, and including matters such as discipline and patriotism. The result is a distilled appreciation of the concerns of the actual fighting soldiers which breathed new life into the rules-tinkering of a teenage tankie nearly 30 years ago.
This book is truly so rich that it is difficult to find any one element to pick out as an example of its content, so I'll just refer to the bit in the bibliography that always delighted me. Under the section for eye-witness accounts can be found reference to the first 2 volumes of Spike Milligan's war memoirs, Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall and "Rommel?" "Gunner Who?". At the time I thought it was neat that these humourous memoirs my dad owned featured in a book like Ellis'. I came to realise that it's also a sign of the unique perspective which marks out The Sharp End from the most thorough of campaign histories, or even the most personal of war memoirs.
If the effect this book had on me is anything to go by, I'd have to say that it should be on the shelf of every actual or aspiring WW2 wargame designer. And, if you followed that link above (to Amazon.co.uk), you'll see that the book is easily available, and is in fact returning to print- its 6th print run- early next year. This pleases me, because it makes me feel that my own high opinions of John Ellis' masterpiece are widely shared. ;)