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The mother of all battles

Images of War: The Real Story of World War II, CD-Rom for Multimedia PC Pounds 39.99 from major retail outlets Marshall Cavendish.

As part encyclopedia, part almanac and part research tool, Images of War exemplifies something of the current developments of the CD-Rom as a distinct information medium in its own right.

Your approach to this disc is going to dictate what you get out of it. The first may be to try and assess its general coverage of the Second World War. There are two obvious routes into this from the main menu page: the Atlas and the Documentaries.

Selecting the Atlas section reveals all the five main theatres of war: Europe, the Mediterranean, the Eastern Front, the Pacific Ocean and East Asia. A further selection under one of these headings reveals the key battles of that campaign. In all there are 35 battles covered.

Choosing one of the battles begins a detailed animation of the theatre of war map, showing the day-by-day course of the battle. There is a wealth of other information presented in pop-up text boxes, shaded areas indicating territory occupied by Axis and Allied forces, together with lines of advance. Although these maps do show country names, cities and towns of strategic importance, the use of a physical map as the base to this sequence adds nothing to an understanding of impact of landscape on battles and often detracts from the political significance.

As the sequence progresses, icons called Warpaths appear. Selecting these shows detailed maps of the course of the battle. These are accompanied by further icons called Battle Line-Ups, though not all are as comprehensive as the one provided for El Alamein.

Looking at the Documentaries was the other way in. Once again, access to the material was via the five theatres of war. Selecting the Battle of the Atlantic began a narrated sequence of excellent contemporary images, film extracts and detailed text.

Pupils might be disconcerted to find that the narration and the text on the screen are not one and the same, especially if they are used to CDs where they are.

However, where this section really starts to count is in presenting the human picture of warfare through eyewitness accounts. These enhance previously traditional accounts of the course of the war.

Images of War seemed to offer few problems as a chronological compendium. A constant feature of both the documentaries and the atlas was the time-line which shows each of the theatres of war and the battles within them. In addition, both the Atlas and the Documentaries present their information in chronological sequence, and show both the date and period over which the battle or events happen.

The third section of the menu is the Workshop, which brings two further choices: Dossiers and Compare and Contrast. The latter allows you to examine information about key people - for the most part military commanders from the Allies and the Axis - or different types of military hardware used by the two sides.

The range of possible selections is extensive and the historical value of comparing the biographies, say Patton with Zhukov, obvious.

However, the biographies are in themselves quite simple and you would be better off going down one of the other routes or using the Search system.

Dossiers is a means by which written materials about the Campaign, Background, Home Front, Tactics, Key People and Hardware of any of the theatres of war can be collected together. A relatively handy way to collect and view text prior to printing.

Images of War manages to successfully combine its considerable diversity of form, although not quite in equal measure.

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