Monday, May 23, 2011

77th Ann. of Bonnie & Clyde and a Book Review: “Bonnie and Clyde: The Lives Behind the Legend”

Well, I was not sure if I would have gotten this review done in time, but I did just in time for the 77th anniversary of the death of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow at an ambushed set up by law men from Texas and Louisiana. I am trying to type up the generic scenario for a famous Bonnie & Clyde shootout and hope to get it up on my blog within a few weeks. Be looking out for it.

Book Review: Bonnie and Clyde: The Lives Behind the Legend” by Paul Schneider

Why a book on criminals?

I have always been a nut for Film Noir movies/series and Hardboiled detective stories, so I guess it should be expected that I would have an interested in criminal history to go with my love of military history. I have been interested in criminal history from the 1840’s to the 1940’s for years. I read Bryan Burrough’s, “Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34(An excellent book and I highly recommend it!) prior to the Johnny Depp’s movie being made and found that my interested in “The War Against Crime” period (1933-34), was seriously ignited above my initial interest in it. (The same thing happened with my interest in 1850’s gangs, when I read Herbert Asbury’s, “Gangs of New York”, before that movie came out. I also highly recommend that book.) While I have since read a couple of books on Dillinger, this is the first book that I have gotten around to reading on Bonnie & Clyde.

General Description

The book itself is 347 pages long, excluding the notes, Acknowledgements, the index, and a nice timeline. There are 23 chapters that are very well done for breaking down the time frame of events. There are 13 B&W photos scattered throughout the book, but mostly in the chapters with discuss the events where the pictures were taken or when they are relevant to the chapter’s topic.

How do I describe this book? I believe the author refers to it as a non-fiction novel. It is different and is usually good, but some parts I find very annoying, which distracts me from enjoying it as a whole.

What is a non-fiction novel? As the author describes, the book is written in a novel style as you follow the two main characters, Bonnie Parker & Clyde Barrow from their childhood up to their death. But it is non-fiction as the author only uses statements and information from police records, newspaper interviews, or family and friend’s statements, photographs, etc. The author built the story around all of this, but never states anything that was questionable as being facts (for example, some of the more earlier crimes that Clyde Barrow was may have been involved with, but there was never any evidence to have confirm that he was involved with it.) Instead the author basically leaves it up to open ended questions for anything that cannot be confirmed in just a way that it can that it addresses all possibilities.

The Good

I found a lot of the information about the pairs’ childhoods and growing up very interesting and quite well done in this book. Some other things that I enjoyed about the book is how the author includes snippets from newspapers and personal accounts, some having no connects to Bonnie or Clyde, to give a more colorful background to the period, places, or events to the background information, like what life was like living in the area where Clyde grew up in Dallas or what life was like in the Texas Prison farms, etc.. I also really enjoy the fact that it also it takes a little look back at the history of Texas Ranger Frank Hamer’s career (but not his childhood or early years) and the Texas justice/penal system to see what kind of man/system that would lead to laying the deadly ambush that killed Bonnie & Clyde. But more then all of this, I found the quotes from Bonnie’s & Clyde’s love letters to each other (and there is quite a few) just amazing on how much they really were in love with each other.
One final thing that I thought that was interesting, and that I did not know about before reading this, actually makes the story of Bonnie Parker that more tragic. Before she met Clyde Barrow, she was a waitress at a café near the Dallas County courthouse and government center. A young Ted Hinton remembers having a crush on her and tried wooing her, along with many other customers at the café. She never took interest in any of them, eventually falls in love with Clyde Barrow and becomes a hunted criminal. Later, Ted Hinton would see Bonnie Parker yet again. The final time was on May 23, 1934, on a lonely road outside of Gibsland, Louisiana, where he is waiting along with five other heavily armed policemen. Dallas County, TX, Deputy Ted Hinton armed with a Browning Automatic Rifle stood next to Texas Ranger Captain Frank Hamer and gave the word that he can positively identify that it was both Bonnie & Clyde in the car before the law men open fired hundreds of rounds into car with Bonnie & Clyde. It makes one wonder how much life would have been different for Bonnie Parker had she took an interest in Ted Hinton years earlier in the café.

There is also an interesting story about the author’s visit in Joplin, MO, during his research for the book in the Acknowledgement section. I don’t want to spoil it, but it is rather fun story.

Overall, I am glad that I bought this book and read it. I really was interesting to read more about their lives and found that this book delivered that.

The Bad

Two things annoyed me with this book. The first thing, which was the least annoying of the two, was the lack of footnotes in the text. There is a great section of notes in the back of the book, but the author did not note the quotes with numbers so I could easily look back in the notes section and see where the quotes originate from my own interest. Instead, the author gives in the notes section the page the quote is found in the text, the first few words of the quote, then the names the source of that quote. I found this confusing when there were many quotes on the same page.

But the thing that bothered me the most was whenever he writes of Clyde Barrow’s actions, he uses “you” so to have the reader try to image what it was like to be Clyde Barrow and what he may have been thinking or spurred him to do the things that he did. I am not Clyde Barrow, nor had I lived a life like him, so it was annoying to read something like “you hate Eastham Prison” or “you and your brother Buck”, etc. I really wish that he kept everything in third person. 

While it did not annoy me, I know that it probably will annoy other people is that the author also added in sound effects into the text (i.e. Bang!, POW!, Rat-a-ta-ta!) It seems childish, but since the author is going for a non-fiction novel verse a normal biographical book, it made sense.

Fun Facts For Gamers

While I knew that Clyde broke into National Guard armories to obtain weapons, this book explains how well several of those break-ins went. In all cases, the armories where not guarded in the evening. So Clyde and one other member of his gang would break-in, cut the locks off of weapons, and take everything that they could carry. For example, in the break-in of the National Guard armory in Enid, Oklahoma, Clyde was able to steal according to W.D. Jones: 46 (!) government .45 automatic pistols, several rifles, some bayonets, and two or three cases of ammunition. Other armories that they broke into gathered several Browning Automatic Rifles (B.A.R.s) and at least one time, as a joke, Clyde Barrow, “Buck” Barrow, and W.D. Jones stole some National Guard uniforms and wore them when they came back to their hideout scare Bonnie and her sister, Billie Jean, as well as Blanche Barrow into thinking that they were the law and had them trying to get out the windows.

Just as a side note, a couple of years ago I went on a Civil War historical road trip through the Mid-West. While visiting a local historical society’s museum in Baxter Springs, Kansas, I stumble across a reference that there was a store, Eden's Grocery Store (now abandoned), that was robbed twice by Bonnie & Clyde in the same week! Sadly, this store was not mentioned in the book. While I was there, I went over to the abandoned store and took couple of pictures of the building. Below is one of the pictures that I took of the old store.

Wargaming Bonnie & Clyde

To be added later as blog entry: War on Crime Scenario: Platte City, MO, shootout; July 19, 1933 

Next Book Review

For the next book review, I really wanted to start reading “On the Trail of Bonnie and Clyde, Then and Now”, by Winston G. Ramsey or “Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition” by Daniel Okrent, to stay in the US gangster 1920’s-30’s mood, but I left both of those back at home and I am working on the road for a while. So the next book is has me leaving the Great Dust Bowl of North America to the jungle hells of South America in, “Exploration Fawcett: Journey to the Lost City of Z” by Col. Percy Fawcett. I am looking forward to reading this book as I have already read and enjoyed, “The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon” by David Grann. Sadly, yes, I am also fascinated with exploration histories to go along with my love of military history and criminal history.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Book Review & Scenario Ideas - “Armoured Cars in Eden" by Kermit Roosevelt

Hello! Well I was able to type up another book review a little bit over the last few weeks and got enough time to post it on my blog. I am still on a long hiatus, so this might be the only entry for another couple of months. I am hoping to get another book review up next weekend (Memorial Day weekend), but we will see. On with the review! 

Book Review: “Armoured Cars in Eden: An American President’s Son Serving in Rolls Royce Armoured Cars with the British in the Mesopotamia & with the American Artillery in France During the First World War” by Kermit Roosevelt; originally published as, “War in the Garden of Eden 

General Description 

This book is an interesting personal account of Kermit Roosevelt’s, Teddy Roosevelt’s son, WWI experiences starting with his transfer from training as an officer in the British Army to the Mesopotamia campaign and ending with his post-armistice occupation of Germany with the US Army. I had bought a paperback version of the book and later found that it is available online for free under the original title, “War in the Garden of Eden” as the copyright had expired for it. There is no additional information or pictures in the “Armoured Cars in Eden” version, so unless you prefer not to read from a computer, there is no reason why not read the online book. The following is the email address for the free online copy of “War in the Garden of Eden”: 

The paperback book is actually fairly short, 135 pages long, excluding the pages containing the 19 B&W photographs. The book is broken into nine chapters, of which eight is about his time with the British Army and the final chapter about his transfer and time in the US Army in 1918-1919. 

The Good 

The book overall is a good personal account on the mundane things in life, the wonders of exotic places and customs, and some good telling about clashes with the Turks. But, it is a personal account and is not an attempt to give a detail unit history for the 14th Light Armoured Motor Battery (LAMB), which he served with or give details of engagements that he was involved in against the Turks and Germans. Over half of the book is his description of land and the people in the Mesopotamia, which I found interesting. About a third of the book is about life in the service and including meeting Lawrence of Arabia and several other famous officers for the British & ANZAC forces, either in the Mesopotamia or when he had a chance to visit the Palestine. The remaining was about his experience in the US Army in France during WWI and the occupation of Germany after the Armistice. 

The Bad 

Personally, I enjoyed the book, but I had one issue with it. That is the lack of dates given. At no time did Kermit Roosevelt give a date for when he was stationed in the Mesopotamia or dates of his military actions. About the only time frame he gives is that he arrived after the First Battle of Gaza, (26 March, 1917) and he left some time after his fighting around Khan Baghdadi (26 March, 1918). If I dig around some more on the internet, I probably could find more information on the 14th LAMB and Kermit Roosevelt’s service record, but that might be a lot of work. 

What would have been really nice, since this is reprint of “War in the Garden of Eden”, would to have had an editor add a forward of Kermit Roosevelt’s history, a time line of his service, and a map of the Mesopotamia with the locations of all of the named cities and towns that Kermit Roosevelt wrote about in his book. 

Fun Facts For Gamers 

Some things that I found interesting in the book where the following:

  • Kermit Roosevelt hired a native guide/servant that rode with him most of the time in his armored car throughout his time in the Mesopotamia. But most British officers had an Indian servant that escorted them.
  • The LAMBs usually worked with the British Yeomanry or Indian cavalry on the attack of Turks units or when Arabs were revolting. One time, Kermit Roosevelt’s section, along with some Indian cavalry, were sent off in a chase of a reported Turkish gold shipment.
  • The British had Political officers that worn white tabs on their uniforms. The Political officers are the British army’s civil affairs and the LAMB patrols would usually escort them to or from their assignments.
  • Gurkhas were issued pith helmets as the high command was afraid that they would suffer from the sun like the European troops, but the Indian troops retain their turbans.
  • Steel helmets were issued to the British forces during Kermit Roosevelt’s service time, but only worn during the winter months
  • Due to the high heat, dryness, and fine sands, aircraft had a high incident rate of failures.
  • Because of the high incident rate of failures with aircrafts, sewn on the airplane’s fabric was a sheet that stated in several languages that a reward would be given for the safe return of the British airmen to the British troops sort of like the “Blood Chits” for the Flying Tigers in WWII. It was usually the LAMB patrols plus some infantry riding with them in the back of the armored cars that would picked up the downed aircrews .
  • Arabs were an equal opportunity attacker and killing wounded soldiers for their equipment, but they preferred to kill the Turks. Rumor was that in one battle, the Turks requested a cease fire with the British so they could join forces and attack the Arabs was killing the wounded on both sides. The British declined the offer.
  • Four of the eight Rolls Royce armored cars of the 14th LAMB were named: Sliver Dart, Silver Ghost, Grey Knight, and Grey Terror. Kermit Roosevelt does not state what his armored car was named, but does mention that it was destroyed by an artillery gun near the end of the war after he had already left to join the US Army in France.
  • There were Japanese destroyers in the Mediterranean involved in hunting German U-boats! Matter of fact, due to the lack of enough troop ships to sail from Palestine to Italy, Kermit Roosevelt sailed on one of the Japanese destroyers, the Umi. During his time on the Umi, it engaged German U-boats two different times before reaching Italy. 

Wargaming “Armoured Cars in Eden” 

    The book has several good ideas for small action scenarios to wargame. The scenarios from this book would be based around a LAMB patrol of two Rolls Royce armored cars and two motorcycles scouts (referred to as “Hyenas” by the LAMBs troops), plus figures for the dismounted crews for the cars and scouts as your base force. The LAMB section could be then reinforced with a platoon of Indian cavalry or British Yeomanry troopers. Or the cavalry could be replaced with a half section of infantry riding on the back of the armored cars or a full section in several additional Model T Fords. Additional models should include a British Political officer, a downed pilot and observer, an Arab servant, and an Arab guide. Opposing forces would mainly be a Turkish infantry or cavalry platoon or two, with possible German advisors. You could even have a Turkish camel caravan convoy of gold! Also, a band of 30 or so Arab bandits can be used to fight your LAMB patrol, or they could be used as Arab rebels to help the British against the Turks. The scale of these actions would be very reasonable for number of miniatures required. Rules would need to be at a platoon level or lower, like Too Fat Lardies, “Through the Mud & the Blood” to be workable. Plus there is always the bonus naval scenario of having Japanese destroyers defending a British convoy from German U-boats in the Mediterranean! 

    Next Book Review 

    There is another book that I plan to buy and read about the armored cars in WWI, “Steel Chariots in the Desert,Armoured Car Brigade of the Royal Naval Air Service. He saw action in Flanders in 1914, also in the Senussi Uprising in Libya, and finally supported Lawrence of Arabia’s irregulars. It sounds like another interesting personal account.

    But my next book will take me away from the heat of the Middle East’s deserts to the Great Dustbowl of Texas and the Mid-West States, to relive the lives of two hold-up criminals and part-time bank robbers, Bonnie Parker & Clyde Barrow in, “Bonnie and Clyde: The Lives Behind the Legend” by Paul Schneider.