Book Review, July 1999:

Central Powers' Small Arms of World War One,
by John Walter
The Crowood Press, 1999
Hardcover, 206 pages 
ISBN 1 86126 124 1

With the possible exception of the American War between the States, no other conflict has demonstrated the dramatic effects of a divergence between the technology and the tactics of warfare as much as the First World War.  These effects were due in large part to the stunning advances in the field of infantry weapons in the 1870 to 1914 period.  Gone were the muzzle loading single shot rifles so familiar to the generation whose blood soaked the ground at Shiloh, Antietam, Gettysburg, and Chickamauga.  Gone were the black powder breech loaders that had besieged and defended Paris during the Franco-Prussian War, or that had valiantly defended Rorke's Drift during the British campaigns in Zululand.  Instead, they had been replaced by smokeless powder magazine repeating rifles, self loading and double action revolving pistols, and the machine gun.  The dichotomy between the capabilities of these firearms and the tactics governing their employment makes the study of the 1914 - 1918 period an important one for both the historian and the firearms enthusiast alike.  John Walter's book,  Central Powers' Small Arms of World War One  provides an excellent introduction and reference for both.

Central Powers' Small Arms of World War One accomplishes what very few "gun books" do; that is, it provides a detailed technical history of the subject matter sure to appeal to the most esoteric firearms technologist, while placing the same subject matter within a well laid out and well written historical context.  The two contrasting elements are melded quite adroitly by Mr. Walter,  and it is this mixture that leaves the reader feeling that he or she has received a comprehensive and well rounded education in the matter at hand.   This is not a reference volume, although it can be used in that manner - it is, purely and simply, a good read.

The book is divided into three sections.  The first provides an artful developmental history of the firearms in question, calling upon elements of social, political, and technical history to do so.  The second section deals with the technical aspects of the firearms themselves, while the third places them within the chronological context of the First  World War.

Of particular note are the illustrations.  The book strikes a nice balance between contemporary photographs of the firearms, technical line drawings, and contextual photographs of First World War scenes.  The illustrations are inserted into the relevant portions of the text, and serve to significantly amplify the reader's comprehension.

Interestingly, Walter makes the gambit of liberally using  of historical anecdotes throughout the book.  There is always the potential for these anecdotes to be more a distraction than an amplification in what is essentially a technical work.  Happily, this is not the case here.  Walter demonstrates a great facility for weaving the history and the technology together in the same paragraph.

Central Powers' Small Arms of World War One is not only an excellent technical reference, it is also a well written historical volume, and one that no serious firearms collector or historian can afford to be without.

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