Saturday, 20 January 2018

La Ultima Cruzada - Review


At last Bob has completely revised his source book on the Spanish Civil War. This is the third edition and the book, although primarily aimed at wargamers, has now become simply a "Spanish Civil War Military Source Book". And the author is self publishing.

Bob has been researching, wargaming and writing about the SCW for a long time. Probably as long as I've known him, which is over 30 years. So there's a lot of work gone into this book.

Physically the book is hardback with a dust jacket, and has 276 pages. At £25 it isn't cheap or expensive, and for what it contains it's worth the money. As Bob is self publishing don't hang around waiting for Dave Lanchester or Dave Ryan to pick up a load of copies and discount to £10. They're being printed on demand

The book is a source book, exactly as it says. It is a series of sections packed with facts and figures. The sections of text in amongst the tables of armaments and units are clearly written and unambiguous. There are 6 sections and a Bibliography:

1) Political parties and main events chronology
2) The Armies of the SCW (divided by type & faction)
3) The Navies of the SCW
4) The Air Forces of the SCW
5) Police and security forces
6) Uniform guide.

Each of the sections is thoroughly researched and supported by appropriate pictures and illustrations. The only false step, in my opinion, is the use of photos of 54mm wargames figures in the uniforms section. Although I understand why Bob has done this, I never like the look of these types of pictures, particularly as they are embedded in the text and not on glossy paper, in this case, so some definition is lost. Still they serve a purpose and so on balance the book is better with them than without.

I think it is hard to stress how good some of this book is. All of it is good, but the section that gives a chronology of the main events is exceptionally clear and coherent. That isn't an easy feat to perform for the SCW, and it stands comparison with any other summary I have read, including those by the very well known historians in the bibliography. The mass of data assembled on weapons and units is breath taking in the details and thoroughness. I can't think of another book like it for any period I'm interested in.

I only have a couple of other reservations, - or rather, areas where I think Bob might have missed a trick. His descriptions of low level unit organisations are okay for the regular armies but unnecessarily weak for the security forces. I'm a fan of wiring diagrams showing battalions broken down into companies and so on. This isn't always possible for SCW units due to the ad-hoc nature of the war, but Bob has the information and it would have enhanced the look of the book. The other point is a pet peeve of mine. The bibliography includes Hemingway's "For Whom..." but ignores Andre Malraux's "Days of Hope" ("L'espoir"). I think the latter is a much better book in terms of writing and also description of the war itself (admittedly from the air) and tends to get overlooked by Anglophile authors. Seek it out on Abebooks and read it. There's a Penguin edition. There's also a lot more self-published International Brigade memoirs from the 1990s (Bob has some of the Gosling Press stuff listed) about and finding it isn't easy. Knowing it exists is a start.

All of these reservations are nitpicking, and I only mention them because of the disclaimer at the top. Bob is a friend and I don't want people to dismiss this review on the grounds that I would say that, wouldn't I. Well, I've paid for my own copy and I've tried to be thorough. In summary:

*****5 Stars - Buy this book NOW


  1. Trebian,

    Thanks for writing such a full and very fair review of my book.

    I would have loved to have had colour images and far more photographs in the book, but cost and size militated against doing so. I would also have loved to include more detailed ORBATs and diagrams to show how units were organised, but time and lack of a decent drawing program stopped me from doing so. (I did try drawing organisation diagrams but just could not get them right ... or at least not to a standard that I thought that they should be.)

    All the best,


    1. Bob,

      The book needs a proper review, so I hope that serves. I'll go to TMP and put up a link asap.

      Colour isn't an issue for me as the uniform guides you have work fine for what I want. As for photos, - more is nice but the copyright must be a devil and the book has to be affordable for the buyer and also reward you for the effort put in.

      Next time round drop me a line and I'll probably be able to do the wiring diagrams for you.


  2. How does it differ from the earlier edition? I usually have an aversion to buying the same thing twice, wargames rule writers please note. :)

    1. I don't have a copy of the previous published edition but I do have a pdf of an interim update Bob did then abandoned 10 years ago. As far as I can see all the sections have been expanded. There's new sections on the leaders of both sides, political and military, much, much more on the Navies. also for the airforce there's the stats for all the planes, not just their numbers. This book is 275 pages of standard hardback size (ie bigger than A5, smaller than A4). The 2nd edition was 84 pages of A4.

      So there's probably about double the text.

      If the one you have meets your needs, then perhaps you don't need it, and I understand your reluctance to re-buy. However, as an example, I bought Beevor's original book on the SCW, and never regretted buying the revised edition when that came out.


  3. Where you say Anglophile authors (re L'Espoir!) I think you mean Anglophone. There isn't really any Anglophile position on the SCW.

    1. Yes. Anglophone would probably fit better, but I think Anglophile fits well too. I think that when we in the English speaking world praise Hemingway and what the British and Americans did they can easily overlook the likes of Malrux and those from continental Europe who fought the fascists as well.