Thursday, January 21

Read n' Reviewed:"Rare Wheels Vol I: A pictorial journey of lesser-known soft-skins 1934-45"

Canfora Publishing have brought us some of the most beautiful books on modelling today. To add to this they have just today added a large picture format book featuring the lesser known vehicles – the ones that aren’t so common in injection moulded plastic – they are the “Rare Wheels - A pictorial journey of lesser-known soft-skins 1934-45” We read it and thought you would like to know what it's like. See what we thought in our review...
Read n' Reviewed: Rare Wheels Vol I
 A pictorial journey of lesser-known soft-skins 1934-45
Author: Petr Dolezal
Published by Canfora Publishing
120+ Unpublished Photos
112 -Total Pages
Landscape format in Hardback
Regular price € 29.95 plus P&P.
Canfora Publishing at their website

Modellers and military historians are always on the lookout for something a bit different. The panzers, Shermans and T-34’s are old news on the competition tables nowdays as the obscure is prized and with modelling companies where something not yet made in injection moulded plastic is the wholly grail. This search for obscurity (that is interesting subject) leads us to today’s review title.

“Rare Wheels vol.1 - A pictorial journey of lesser-known soft-skins 1934-45” is a new book from Canfora Publishing. Known for lavish presentations in lovely books of the best quality, this book follows some of that promise with the subject matter – a very much lesser followed subject of the rare soft skin vehicles of 1934-1945. This book however could go either way – would we be interested in the subjects or would they be to obscure? Let’s see what we found out after reading this 112-page book.

Right from the get-go we see that the book follows the quality set out in similar books like Panzerwrecks or the PEKO books. This book is a landscape format and most of the pictures are in large format. Some pages have up to three pictures and captions to match them but the book never seems too busy to read or too sparse in detail or picture size. 

The cover is a hardcover glossy affair with good thickness of paper inside
The pictures themselves are of the previously unpublished variety. It amazes me to see that I am not familiar with any of these shots and it’s over 75 years (or more) since these images having been captured. This is gold to modern reference and model buffs, and quite an achievement for the author.

Two nice colour pictures top and tail this book - although all other shots are in B&W
The book’s author is Mr. Petr Dolezal, and he has searched far and wide for the pictures and thought hard about the text to accompany these shots. He could never be accused of boring us with copious detail and the book is a little light on that. But the detail there is makes you often look twice at the picture to see what he has picked out.
 The real stars though of the book is not the writing but the variety of cars, trucks, buses and other soft-skins that have been picked out. The promo for this book said “Manufacturers such as Krupp, Büssing-Nag, Horch, Adler, Mercedes, BMW, Steyr, Opel, Henschel, ZiS, GAZ, Praga, Ford, Citroen and Matford are all represented, to mention a few” and they are not overplaying it. There are several makes I had no idea existed. The lovers of allied and other nations soft skins are not ignored wither – as there are plenty of US, Russian and Italian “soft metal” in there as well.
 Training and Preparation: this chapter shows us some really rare wheels! Already the book is living up to its title. Some of these wheels are even human pedal powered! We see tractors, cars armoured with canvas and paper instead of metal (because of pre-war rules opposed by the treaty of Versailles.) We start very early on with some vehicles from 1934 right up to 1939 so there is a wealth of machine types to cover and unusual photographs to study. A lovely double page picture is evidence of the wealth of material in good quality in the rest of this book.
 Next we look at some of the shots taken in the Polish campaign of 1939. These only brief six pages (a little like the campaign) have some interesting shots that do just as much for the Polish countryside as they do for the vehicles.
 We then go naturally to the next stop in the diary of WWII - the invasion of France is next documented in picture and text form.  We see captured Bedford and Matford trucks amongst the ford, Renaud and Fiat cars that have been re-purposed for the German war machine. The battlefields are a telling backdrop where more often than most the vehicles are captured at a time of rest or of soldiers posing next to their steeds or wrecked allied cars and trucks. The German machines of war like Horch and Mercedes are all there as well.
 We next go east. The invasion of Russia, starting at the frontier of the Ukraine and then heading east in a cloud of dust. We see lots of Magirus and Opel Blitz busses to cart the masses of soldiers on the rapid advance of the early days of the campaign as well as German radio and signal trucks and cars. These are passing ZIS and GAZ-AA trucks of Russian make before we see the cars suffering the grasp of “General Winter.”
 From one extreme to another we see Italian Lancia and Alfa Romeo’s with captured lend lease American Guy, dodge & Ford trucks. Again this is a short chapter and it would be nice to see some more of the desert war’s offering but these are very good shots of obscure vehicles. We could do with more desert war stuff in this book I reckon.
 Chapter six documents action in 1945 of the German all out retreat. Polička is a town on the Bohemia-Moravia borderline and we see a series of shots from what I think is the same person documenting the rout of the German soldiers taking whatever transport (even horse drawn) through the town to safety. The absolute difference of each of the vehicles to one another and the various camouflages seen show just how wide the net for transport was cast and just how important these vehicles were to the troops in their rush for safety.
 “Touring Czechoslovakia” features not only the Germans on crowded streets in 1945 but the resistance fighters in their efforts to reclaim their towns. Some interesting tractor vehicles, knocked out German soft skins are the subjects here.
 Prague in 1945 is next. We see the same packed German trucks with soldiers on them wherever they can fit followed by the liberating partisans and the Russians also in trucks and bikes with some lightly armoured halftracks in a series of shots. The German surrender in Czechoslovakia in May 1945 is the main thread here though as we see red cross busses passing before the victory parade of the Russians.

 The surrender of the Luftwaffe “Schlachtgeschwader 2 (SG 2) Immelmann” which was a Luftwaffe Dive bomber-wing of the Luftwaffe is covered and we see lots of interesting and varied forms of transport from trailers to wood fire powered vehicles.
 The action moves on to Kladno, a city in the Central Bohemian Region of what is now the Czech Republic. Confused settings of German, Soviet and other vehicles with different owners. One series of shots showing the column of trucks that was to bring back prisoners from a concentration camp is telling of that time in the war and something you do not often see in a book like this.
 Last of all we get a few pages dedicated to both the last movements some of the Brandenburg Division soldiers in one car and their surrender at gunpoint (and an interesting story about a hidden weapon in a Citroen) Along with the next section detailing the vehicles of the Russian army as it arrived in Usti Nad Orlici in their Studebaker trucks.
Well if I was going to sum this effort up I would say that inside there was MUCH more than I bargained for. I mean I never knew some of these existed. I am wondering that seeing that this is “Volume I” what will the others be filled with? There could be more mid-war and definitely outside of the European/African/Russian spheres of influence. To be honest if this subject is explored fully this can be a long series.

In matter of pictorial inspiration - some of the vehicles shown in this book are now slowly becoming available to modellers, the Henschel 33, Kfz 15, Simca 5/Fiat 500, Steyr 1500, Büssing-Nag, Zis, Omnibusses and GaaZ trucks, and a even more types are planed. With some minor modifications it is possible to realize some of the scenes you see in this book. I can see some of the top modellers (or even schlubs like me) making a few good dioramas from what is presented here.

A little more story might flesh some of these pictures out a little – like the “Brandenburg” story did at the end of the book. But really this book was about the weird array of different vehicles, their markings and the soldiers who were in them. I would like to see more of this type of book. I love the inspiration of diorama scenes it gives to the reader. The quality of the book and the author’s diligence of work to find such rare, interesting and unpublished photos shines through.

Adam Norenberg

Thanks to the publisher for sending this book to read and review. You can order this book from Canfora Publishing at their website