I must admit I wasn't terribly impressed with the first part of this book, which feels rather rushed. The entire history of British railway guns during the First World War is compressed into two pages (supported by several pages of pictures), and the French, American and Germans guns get little more space. The first few chapters end up feeling like a mix between an introduction text and an 'images of war' volume. Indeed the images are the strongest element in the first half of the book, taking up most of the space and covering an impressively wide range of topics, including the Confederate railway gun of the American Civil War, the first British railway gun (a late nineteenth century weapon) and the main types of guns in use during the First World War.
However the author really gets into his swing in the second half of the book, looking at the detailed operation of railway guns and the associated trains and railway infrastructure. From chapter six onwards (Train Working for Railway Guns) there is more detail, and much more information that I haven’t seen elsewhere. We really get down into the details of how railway guns actually worked - the demands they made on the rail network, the extra tracks that had to be laid down to allow them to fire in different directions, even down to the individual occasions on which many of the guns were fired (and the problems that caused). The section on German railway guns is shorter, but covers a similar range of topics.
For me the most valuable aspect of this book is the emphasis on the railway element of the railway gun, which is so often ignored in more weapon focused works.
1 – The First Working Railway Gun in Britain
2 – The Short Active Life of British Railway Guns 1916-1918
3 – American, French and German Railway Guns in the First World War
4 – Gunners and Sappers
5 – The Return of Railway Guns in 1940
6 – Train Working for Railway Guns
7 – Railway Gun Positions in Kent and Sussex
8 – Command of the Dover Straits
9 – German Railway Guns and Cross-Channel Bombardment Batteries
10 – The Final Salvos of Guns on the Coast
Author: John Goodwin
Publisher: Pen & Sword Transport