Italian Naval Camouflage of World War II – Marco Ghiglino – Review

Waiting for me at the Post Office today was a parcel from the Naval Institute Press. Posted on 20 July 2018 in the US it arrived at my local post office here about a week ago I guess and the note from the Post Office telling me I had a parcel was received last Friday.

Now I will admit that over the last few weeks I have been reading a Naval Institute Press publication, the brilliant Maritime Operations in the Russo-Japanese War, 1904-1905, Volume 1 by Julian S Corbett. That was tossed aside as soon as I had a quick flick through Italian Naval Camouflage of World War II by Marco Ghiglino. This has been published by Seaforth Publishing in 2018 and is a book of some 240 pages. The ISBN for this is:

  • 978 1 5267 3539 3 (Hardback)
  • 978 1 5267 3540 9 (ePub)
  • 978 1 5267 3541 6 (Kindle)

What a book! Firstly I should note that the actual size of the book is the same as each of Mal Wright’s British and Commonwealth Warship Camouflage of WW II series so sits nicely next to them on the bookshelf. Secondly, this is the first major work on Italian Naval Camouflage of World War 2 in English that I am aware of. There have been some minor publications over the years and references in books ostensibly on other topics as well as Italian language publications (such as La Mimetizzazione della Navi Italiane 1940-1945) but this is the first in English and that makes this information more generally available.

The book is broken up into 12 major chapter:

  1. Introduction
  2. The Early Period and the Experimental Phase
  3. Standard Camouflage Schemes
  4. Evolution and Exemptions
  5. The Dark Grey Factor
  6. Submarines
  7. MAS, Motor Torpedo Boats and VAS
  8. Other Warships
  9. The Greek Factor
  10. Merchant Ships
  11. The Armistice
  12. Ship Profiles

Ghiglino follows the development of camouflage in the Regia Marina from the peacetime colourings and aerial markings through to wartime practice. He also includes a section covering the change of camouflage with vessels captured by the Germans and those remaining in Italian hands and employed by the Allies

One particular area of interest to me in among many areas of interest were the colours used on MAS, Motor Boats and VAS along with the colours used by Italian submaries which carried a number of different schemes.

Each chapter is lavishly illustrated with contemporary photographs, some in early colour. Unlike other publications concerning World War 2 the photographs used to illustrate here are good quality, and the detail in those photographs is quite clear.

By far, however, the best section of this book is the one dealing with ship profiles. Profiles are provided for:

  1. Battleships
  2. Cruisers
  3. Destroyers
  4. Torpedo Boats
  5. Escort Ships (Auxiliary Cruisers)
  6. Corvettes
  7. MAS and MTB
  8. Gunboats, Minelayers adn Minesweepers
  9. Landing Vessels
  10. Auxiliary Ships
  11. Armament

Looking at the section on battleships (and who doesn’t like these Queens of the Seas) there is a brief discussion of battleship camouflage, noting that Littorio was the first battleship to receive a camouflage scheme in March 1941. Other ships receiving the camouflage are then listed. Also noted in this short section is the repainting of Veneto, Italia (ex-Littorio) Duilio and Doria in the Allied two-colour livery later in the war.

What then follows is the best part of the book – the CAD drawings of vessels and their camouflage schemes. The drawings generally show the starboard side of a vessel and provide a brief description of the camouflage scheme used, including, where possible, the creator of the scheme. The CAD drawing also displays the scale of the drawing and there are multiple drawings of the same ship indicating the changes to the camouflage scheme used over time. For example, Guilio Cesare is illustrated at 1:900 scale as she appeared in December 1941, January 1942, May 1942, June 1942 (this time with port and starboard views), June 1943 (also port and starboard views) and lastly in 1949 when she was transferred to the Soviet Navy, renamed Novorossiysk and painted Soviet grey.

Other vessels that were captured by the Germans are shown in both Regia Marina camouflage as well as Kriegsmarine camouflage.

I am certain that this book does not illustrate every vessel in Regia Marina Service but it certainly appears to cover all vessels from gunboat size and above.

The book also contains a useful (if you speak Italian) bibliography, acknowledgments and best of the reference sections, an index of ships throughout the book.

Given the number of clashes between the Royal Navy and the Regia Marina in the Mediterranean in World War 2, Mal Wright’s British and Commonwealth Warship Camouflage of WW II series would be a perfect companion.

I really can’t find enough superlatives to describe this book. It certainly belongs on the bookshelf of anyone interested in World War 2 naval history, particularly either the Regia Marina or naval camouflage. If I needed to rate this book out of five, I would have no hesitation giving it 6 stars out of 5. Brilliant book, simply brilliant.

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The Great Wargaming Survey 2018

It is that time of the year again, time for the Great Wargaming Survey for 2018. It has a focus on tabletop miniature wargaming.

As with previous surveys the purpose is to answer questions that come up regularly in discussions. As before, the results will be published online only for everyone to read, not just readers of Wargame, Soldiers and Strategy.

There are some sponsors to the survey so there are prizes to be won. In any case, all who answer the survey will get a 15% discount voucher for use at Karwansaray Publishing.

Filling out the entire survey should take around 5-10 minutes, and the survey remains open until 5 September 2018.

Click on the Link – The Great Wargaming Survey 2018

Battlefields in Miniature – Paul Davies – Review

Every so often I buy a book forgetting that I already have that book on the bookshelf. Friend Anthony suffers the same problem from time to time and as a result  we both get additions to our libraries as we give the other our duplicated purchases. These books are, in many cases, in areas where we normally do not read (enjoy the naval history books when I get them to you Anthony!). 🙂

One such book was Battlefields in Miniature by Paul Davies, published in 2015 by Pen and Sword Books. It looks like the hardback version of this book is out of print however Pen and Sword have an ePub and Kindle version listed (ePub, Kindle) in their catalogues.

There are a number of books published on wargames terrain making, many from the makers of various figure ranges and while normally books like this only provide a passing interest to me, this is one book I will refer to again and again, especially as I pursue my hobby here in the Philippines where there are limited wargaming clubs.

So, why this book? The 287 glossy colour pages make the book enjoyable to flick through. Better though is the organisation f the book with 18 chapters dealing with generalities, tools, materials and then a discussion of 17 types of terrain. The chapters included are:

  1. Welcome to the Workshop
  2. What’s Everyone  Else Doing?
  3. Before  You Get Started
  4. Terrain Cloths
  5. Terrain Tiles
  6. Custom or Sculpted terrain
  7. Rivers and Ponds
  8. Islands, Cliffs and Hills
  9. Trees
  10. Walls
  11. Fences and Screens
  12. Hedges
  13. Gates
  14. Cultivated Fields
  15. Roads
  16. Bridges
  17. Defences
  18. Buildings

The author, Paul Davies, will be recognised by many for his regular series of “how-to” articles in Wargames Illustrated. Throughout this book however he has combined techniques he had illustrated before and added new ones such that most wargamers should have little or no trouble constructing their own terrain by following his guidelines presented here.

As mentioned, I have the hardback version and it looks like only ePub and Kindle versions are currently available from Pen  and Sword.  I certainly will unashamedly be stealing some of Davies’ ideas when constructing my next batch of terrain and I am glad to have the book in my library (thank you Anthony). I do recommend this book to wargamers.

The Next Step – Normans

In When Inspiration is Failing Along Comes Wargames, Soldiers & Strategy 97 I mentioned that I was developing an interest in the Anarchy – Stephen and Mathilda’s brawl with each other over the English crown in the period 1135 to 1153. I spoke of Normans. I also mentioned that it was leading me to consider another wargames project so last night I did some more reading and research.

The Anarchy was some 70 years after William’s invasion of England so in fact, we are not talking about Normans as such but rather the Anglo-Norman successors of William’s invasion. The English barons supported Stephen so we are dealing with the Anglo-Normans.

Mathilda’s supporters included Robert of Gloucester and the Battle of Lincoln in 1141 pitted Robert against Stephen so Anglo-Norman vs Anglo-Norman army. Later Henry, Mathilda’s son, invaded with some knights so I can find an excuse to add a Feudal French force. The Normans also invaded Sicily so add a Sicilian opponent. Other enemies over the period involved include the pre-Feudal Scots and Scots Common, the Welsh, and lastly the Anglo-Norse. A fine collection of forces for a matched set.

When Inspiration is Failing … along comes Wargames, Soldiers & Strategy 97

Like all good wargamers I have about 30 half-started; half-completed; or part-planned projects either in the painting queue (that will be those boxes over there), or scratched as notes on a piece of paper as the planning sessions start (and the figures for those will be in those other boxes over there or manufacturers catalogues filed away in the file system here).

And then along came Wargames, Soldiers & Strategy Issue 97 and I was saved – or at least project number 31 started to take shape in my mind’s eye.

The main theme of this issue is “Weird War”. Basically, alternate outcomes or what-if scenarios based around World War 2, and there are seven articles on that subject, articles such as a “What if?” assassination mission – Kill Stalin; Weird War II airborne operations – Operation Redrow; or Weird War II pulp adventures – Lieutenant Liberty and the Doom Platoon.

However, there were some other more mainstream articles included such as the perils of Ptolemaic Pachyderms – Elephant Archos; the Swedes vs. the Dutch in North America – The Battle at Fort Mosquito, 1655; and the one that caught my imagination, the Empress Matilda’s flight – Bitesize battle: escape from Oxford.

The article about Stephen and Mathilda caught my eye principally because several days before I had watched an historical piece on Netflix on the Empress Maud and Matilda. Coupled with that is a desire to have a reason to get some Normans (not that I ever really needed an excuse to buy more figures). The article discusses the escape of Mathilda from Oxford Castle in the winter when the castle was invested by Stephen’s forces. I am sure this provided the idea for Sansa’s escape from Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones.

Anyway, I digress, and who doesn’t like a good digression? Mathilda and Stephen tilted for the English crown in the mid 12th century. Both were Normans and this period of Norman history makes a change from William’s Wars or the Normans in Sicily. Anyway, as the tale goes, Mathilda was the daughter of King Henry I of England, and was his sole legitimate child after the death of his son Prince William in the ‘White Ship’ disaster.

She was married to Henry V of the Holy Roman Empire (hence the title Empress), and then when he died in 1125, to Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou.

She was supposed to be the heir to the English throne, however in 1135 Stephen of Blois claimed that Henry I had changed his mind on his deathbed and recognised Stephen as successor to the throne. The English barons backed this claim.

That is when the trouble started and a period known as The Anarchy commenced.

Stephen was more popular than Mathilda, as she was viewed as a foreigner and a woman who was married to one of the hated Angevin enemy. She was also proud and overbearing, arranging everything as she thought fit, according to her own whim.

Trouble started in 1141 when the Battle of Lincoln took place between Stephen and Matilda’s half-brother Robert, Earl of Gloucester. After fighting bravely, Stephen was overcome and captured and taken before Matilda who immediately had him imprisoned in Bristol Castle. He was later released.

Both Stephen and Mathilda were captured at various stages and escaped (the escape from Oxford being one such).

Henry, Mathilda’s son by the Count of Anjou also got involved, bringing some knights to England but they were defeated by Stephen’s men.

In 1153 Stephen agreed to the Treaty of Westminster with Henry of Anjou. This stated that Stephen should remain king for life (in the event this was less than one more year) and then Henry should succeed him.

Upon Stephen’s death in 1154, Henry was crowned King Henry II, the first of the Plantagenet line of kings.

So, what’s not to like about this period? A few armies of similar structure bouncing around England and a reason to expand the lead-pile … curse you Wargames, Soldiers & Strategy!

As for figures, well it will be 6mm scale for the space challenged and Normans of an appropriate ilk are available from:

  • Heroics and Ros – a range I remember from many years ago – Normans, Saxons, Vikings and a Medieval range
  • Baccus 6mm – a lovely range of 6mm Normans, Vikings and Saxons
  • Irregular Miniatures – a large range of figures but where the casts as not as clean or detailed as H&R or Baccus

For those interested, Wargames, Soldiers and Strategy have a number of well known folks from the wargaming world writing regular columns in the magazine as well such as Rick Priestley and Henry Hyde.

The magazine is recommended … as are the Normans!

Despatches from the Front: Far East Air Operations – 1942-1945 – Review

Title: Far East Air Operations – 1942-1945
Compiled by: Martin Mace & John Grehan, additional research material from Sara Mitchell
Published by:Pen & Sword Aviation in 2014
ISBN: 9781473841215 (ePub Version)

I received a digital copy of this volume of Despatches from the Front, the Commanding Officers’ Reports From the Field and at Sea covering air operations over the period 1942 to 1945 over the Far East (Burma and South East Asia generally). This is one of the series of twenty books covering Despatches from the Front, dealing with the history of the British Armed Forces and covering topics such as:

  • Capital Ships at War 1939/1945
  • Disaster in the Far East 1940-1942
  • Gallipoli and the Dardanelles 1915-1916
  • The Zulu Wars
  • British Battles of the Napoleonic Wars 1793-1806
  • Operations in North Africa and the Middle East 1939-1942
  • Operations in North Africa and the Middle East 1942–1944
  • The War in East Africa 1939-1943
  • The War at Sea in the Mediterranean 1940-1944
  • Western Front 1914-1916
  • Western Front 1917-1918

This is an interesting work and is by and large source material from World War 2 along the lines of a Xenophon – and to those interested in World War 2 in Asia, perhaps as interesting. The book is in four main sections covering four despatches back to “Head Office”, namely:

  1. Air Vice-Marshal Stevenson’s despatch on air operations, Burma and Bay of Bengal 1 January to 22 May 1942
  2. Air Chief Marshal Peirse’s despatch on air operations in South East Asia 16 November 1943 to 31 May 1944
  3. Air Chief Marshal Sir Keith Park’s despatch on air operations in South East Asia from 1st June, 1944 to the Occupation of Rangoon, 2nd May 1945
  4. Air Chief Marshal Sir Keith Park’s despatch on air operations in South East Asia 3 May 1945 to 12 September 1945

This is a source book, and a great source book containing as it does the despatches from the field mentioned above. Additionally, as part of the inclusion there are some great photos taken of various air attacks by different units relevant to the despatches themselves.

Each of the despatches in this book covers a period of the air war initially over Burma and the Bay of Bengal and then later of South East Asia generally as the Allies pushed the Japanese back. We often think of the war in Burma in terms of Slim and the Chindits, and Alexander’s withdrawal to India followed by the rebuilding of Commonwealth forces in India before the counter attack so it is good to read these despatches which remind us of the contribution made by the air force initially to the defence of Burma and then later to the victory in that theatre. I would recommend reading this volume in company with:

  • The Fall of Burma 1941-1943
  • The Battle for Burma 1943-1945

Reading the despatches, Air Vice-Marshal Stevenson’s despatches were particularly interesting, highlighting the qualitative difference his 53 aircraft had over the 450-500 Japanese aircraft but also highlighting the difficulties he had with no effective early warning system leading to the risk to his Hurricanes and P-40s.

Air Chief Marshal Peirse’s despatches reflect the position he found himself in where unlike Stevenson’s small, outnumbered airforce, Peirse had 48 RAF and 17 USAAF squadrons under command against a Japanese air force of some 250 aircraft. Peirse also had upgraded aircraft with his Spitfire’s enjoying an 8 to 1 superiority in kills.

The objective of the book (and indeed all in the series compiled by Mace and Grehan) is to “reproduce the despatches as they first appeared to the general public some seventy years ago. They have not been modified or edited in any way and are therefore the original and unique words of the commanding officers as they saw things at the time.”

In the opening of Stevenson’s despatch, General Sir Archibald P. Wavell, G.C.B., C.M.G., M.C., A.D.C. wrote to the Chiefs of Staff, London, “I forward herewith two copies of a report by Air-Vice_Marchal D.F. Stevenson on Air operations in Burma and the Bay of Bengal from January 1st (the date in which Air-Vice-Marshal Stevenson assumed command) to May 22nd, 1942 (the date when the forces in Burma completed evacuation to India.”

When Stevenson took over command from Group Captain E.R. Manning, he noted that he “found that the air garrison of the country comprised one Squadron of the American Volunteer Group, armed with P.40’s at a strength of 21 I.E. based at Mingaladon, and No.67 R.A.F. Buffalo Squadron and a strength of about 16 aircraft, also based at this Sector Station. Apart from the personnel of 60 Squadron – whose aircraft had been retained in Malaya – and the Communication Flight equipped with aircraft of the Moth type belonging to the Burma Volunteer Air Force, there was at that time no further aircraft in the country. Reinforcing aircraft for the Far East were, however, flying through Burma to Malaya and the Dutch East Indies.”

Stevenson goes on to relate other aircraft movements, the defence of key areas and the airfields and so on. There is a wealth of detail in not just the first despatch here but in the four in this book.

This is an interesting book, and I am looking forward to getting my hands on others from the Despatches from the Front Series. I recommend this book to the military historian, general reader with an interest in the Second World War in Indochina and Burma, and the wargamer building scenarios from this theatre!

The book is available in Hardback, ePub and Kindle formats.

Grumpy Old Men

Twenty four years ago Walter Matthau and Jack Lemon made a movie called “Grumpy Old Men“. It was designed to cash in on the way Lemon and Matthau worked so well together in the movie of Neil Simon’s, “The Odd Couple” and I must admit that at times I feel there is a fair amount of Oscar Madison in me. The Odd Couple was made in 1968.

So what of it? 24 years ago I was a strapping lad of 39. The last thing on my mind was getting to an age when the wheels started to get a little wobbly on the trolley. Time passes and now I am starting to understand the Grumpy Old Man better.

This has not been helped by friends reminding me of my own mortality … like I needed to be reminded of that. So, I have decided that if I am going to be a Grumpy Old Fart, I will be the grumpiest old fart I can be!

You have been warned!

Fabulous Flying Boats – A History of the World’s Passenger Flying Boats – by Leslie Dawson – Review

Pen & Sword Aviation have just released Leslie Dawson’s Fabulous Flying Boats – A History of the World’s Passenger Flying Boats in paperback. Originally released as a Hardback a number of years ago, then in Kindle and ePub format (I have a copy in ePub), this edition is now in paperback and good value at half the hardback price. This release contains 320 pages, ISBN is 978-1-52673-969-8 and was published on 2 May 2018.

Where to start? I was watching an old Charlie Chan movie today, Charlie Chan at the Olympics with Warner Oland playing the redoubtable Chinese Hawaiian detective and where honourable number one son Lee won the gold medal for the Berlin, 1936 Olympic metres freestyle final (yes, I know it was a Hungarian first and two Japanese in second and third). Early in the movie Charlie takes a Pan Am Clipper seaplane flight of 18 hours duration from Hawaii to San Francisco (followed by a 13-hour trans-continental flight to New York and a 61-hour Zeppelin flight to Friedrichshafen, chasing the theft of an aircraft remote control gizmo that would change the face of war (it didn’t).

Anyway, the movie caused me to reach for my ePub copy of Fabulous Flying Boats. I have had it for a while now and had not got around to reviewing it as such although I had often flicked through it reading items of interest. I started flicking through it again today.

The book has 11 chapters and a very interesting Appendix. The chapters are:

  1. First to Fly
  2. Bigger and Further
  3. Peace to War
  4. Battle for Britain
  5. Survival
  6. High and Lows
  7. Thoughts of Peace
  8. Post War Years
  9. A Closing Door
  10. End of an Era
  11. Last of the Breed

The book outlines peacetime operations in Europe, the US, the Pacific, Australia, Latin America, South America, Africa, New Zealand, and France (including photos of the largest sea plane, a French aircraft) among others. The author also covers airlines such as Qantas, BOAC, South Pacific Airlines (and the twice weekly flight from Hawaii to Tahiti via Christmas Island), Ansett, Antilles Air Boats, and Barrier Reef Airways.

Aircraft producers came from the UK, France and the US among others with the more famous manufacturers being Short, Boeing, Martin, Douglas and Sikorsky for example. Militarily the flying boats were formidable but more importantly, robust weapons of war that adapted quickly to and from peacetime roles. The aircraft were tough, taking a great deal of punishment before generally being forced to land at sea. The could also deal it out and I can remember being thrilled of tales of the Australian pilots flying Short Sunderlands when I was a kid. The Catalina as well whose role was so important to the victory in the Pacific.

As a kid I can remember the flying boat services taking off from Rose Bay in Sydney heading to exotic sounding locations in the Pacific and the book contains photos of the flying boat base that existed at Rose Bay.

The Appendix is a treat though as Dawson tracks the airlines that used flying boats and identifies registration numbers, aircraft name, aircraft type and fate, by airline. An impressive database.

The flying boats were eventually retired from service with BOAC in the early 1950s hanging on longer in Australia and Africa but eventually being replaced by land-based aircraft which could fly further and faster and that enabled the airlines to reduce their operation costs by reducing the number of aircraft servicing locations and management.

This book is a great review of the Flying Boats and the author’s personal, easy style make the book a relaxing read. The photos are a joy to look at as well. However, I think I will let the author have the last word:

Though no large passenger flying boat remains in service, for a moment we had admired a unique form of flying that had once graced the waterways of the world: from the grey, heaving Atlantic to the dry heat of Africa and the idyllic sun drenched islands of the Pacific.

A Naval History of the Peloponnesian War – Ships, Men and Money in the War at Sea, 431-404 BC – Marc G DeSantis – Review

Apart from reading Great Battles of the Classical Greek World by Owen Rees, at the same time I was also reading A Naval History of the Peloponnesian War – Ships, Men and Money in the War at Sea, 431-404 BC published by Pen & Sword Maritime in 2017, ISBN 978 1 47386 158 9.

The book is the result of DeSantis’s research for his previous book, Rome Seizes the Trident, where he looked at Rome’s eventual defeat of Carthage at sea by the application of simple tactics against a more skillful opponent along with steadfast resolve. The Athenian fleet (skillful mariners) were brought low by Syracusan blunt force, prow-to-prow tactics.

The Peloponnesian War was largely decided by battles and a strategy at sea. When Athens’ control of the sea crumbled, so did its empire. The classical sources used for the book are Thucydides, Plutarch, Diodorus and Xenophon.

The Naval History of the Peloponnesian War commences with a number of maps of the area of operations as well as a map of the Battle of Arginusae. The book is then divided into 5 main parts parts 3 to 5 consisting of the usual split of the war:

  1. Introduction
  2. The Trireme
  3. The Archidamian War
  4. The Sicilian Expedition
  5. The Ionian War

There are also a Preface, Conclusions, Notes, Bibliography and Index. The itself book covers the naval history of the 27 years of conflict that was the Peloponnesian War.

DeSantis outlines the struggle in the Introduction, noting that Sparta supported by Persian gold eventually overcame Athens although it was the loss of the Athenian fleet at Syracuse that signaled the end for Athens rather than any action of Sparta.

DeSantis traces the war from the sources, first looking at the causes of the war presented by Thucydides as he saw it and he mostly relies on Thucydides’s narrative to 411 BC. Xenophon picks up the tale from then along with Diodorus of Siculus. Plutarch of Chaeronea writing some 500 years or so later in his Parallel Lives looks at the biographies of the Athenians Themistocles, Cimon, Pericles, and Alcibiades along with the Spartan Lysander. Lastly the Hellenica Oxyrhynchia also mentions wartime events including the Athenian seaborne campaign in Asia Minor in 409 BC and the Battle of Notium in 406 BC. These then are the classical references used by DeSantis.

DeSantis covers the economics of the naval build-up of Athens, noting that the 100 talents (600,000 drachmae) in silver extracted from the Laurium silver mines was sufficient to build 200 triremes. He then notes that Pericles estimated the same cost for each year of war against Sparta.

In the second section the author examines the trireme (triers in Greek) with Thucydides identifying Corinth as the first to construct a trireme although there is a competing theory that the trireme may have actually originated in the east with the Sidonian of Phoenicia (trikrotis naus) or the Phoenicans themselves constructing the first such vessels.

The construction of the triremes of Athens is covered including details of where the wood and pitch was sourced from along with the number of men required to move a trireme up the 1 in 10 ramp into its shed (140) as well as take it back into the water (110). One thing that had not occurred to me before but perhaps should of is that there were different quality triremes. The best were known as exairetoi (selects) while others were identified as first, seconds or thirds. Old vessels were converted for troop transport – with a converted trireme able to transport 85 soldiers.

Tactics are covered with discussions of sailing with the wind and under the power of oars. Masts and sails were generally taken down before battle and preferably left on shore to lighten the load in the trireme prior to battle. The main battle manoeuvres are described, being the diekplous and the periplous. Less skillful fleets relied on coming alongside and boarding the enemy.

Rounding out his review of the trireme, DeSantis covers shipboard fighting, funding a fleet, the officers on board, payment on campaign, and propulsion.

DeSantis then moves on the Archidamian War which started when Corcyra and Corinth came to blows over Epidamnus. He looks at:

  • The Battle of Sybota
  • Potidaea
  • The Athenian empire and rival coalitions
  • The Battle of Chalcis
  • The Battle of Naupachus
  • The Attack on Piraeus
  • The Revolt at Lesbos
  • The Second Battle of Sybota
  • Pylos and Sphacteria
  • Strait of Messana engagements
  • Expeditions to Corinth and Corcyra
  • Attack on Nisaea
  • Delium
  • Brasidas’s campaign
  • Amphipolis
  • Meude
  • The Peace of Nicias
  • The Fate of Melos

The next part covers the whole hubristic disaster for Athens that was the Sicilian Expedition.

Lastly the Ionian War is examined. After the defeat in Sicily, the Athenians were spurred on to lock down their Ionian allies, and ensure Euboea in particular remained within the empire. The author looks at:

  • Alcibiades’s seduction of Timaea, the wife of King Agis
  • Alcibiades’s undermining Persian efforts to assist the Peloponnesians
  • The Battle of Cynossema
  • The Battle of Abydos
  • The Battle of Cyzicus
  • Alcibiades and the Athenian plundering expeditions
  • Action off Mytilene
  • The Battle of Arginusae
  • The Battle of Aegospotami

DeSantis concludes with the eventual defeat of the Athenian Empire.

While there were many land battles throughout the Peloponnesian War, it was at sea that Athens was at first strong, then later faltered.

I very much enjoyed this book, especially as I was reading it at the same time as Great Battles of the Classical Greek World. There was some overlap between the two books so taking an alternate view on some matters was a benefit.

If you are a naval tragic like me, and an ancient history addict as well, this book will serve well as an overview of the Peloponnesian War from the naval perspective. Thucydides and Xenophon are still the main sources to read but DeSantis’s book is both easy to read and factual.

This is a good book providing a good amount of detail and covering one the more exciting stories from Ancient Greece. I am now looking for my copy of Thucydides to read further into this conflict again, one that I have not looked at for about 30 years. Recommended.

Great Battles of the Classical Greek World – Review

A book I received some time ago and have been slowly reading is Great Battles of the Classical Greek World by Owen Rees, published by Pen & Sword Military in 2016, ISBN 978 1 47382 729 5. The book is divided into four familiar main subject areas and a conclusion. Each of the parts are then split into between three and six Chapters covering various significant battles:

  1. The Peloponnesian War
    • The Battle of Olpae (426/5 BC)
    • The Battle of Delium (424 BC)
    • The Battle of Amphipolis (422 BC)
    • The First Battle of Mantinea (418 BC)
  2. The Spartan Hegemony
    • Battle of the Nemea (394 BC)
    • Battle of Coronea (394 BC)
    • The Battle of the Long Walls of Corinth (392 BC)
    • The Battle of Lechaeum (390 BC)
    • The Battle of Leuctra (371 BC)
    • The Second Battle of Mantinea (362 BC)
  3. Siege Warfare
    • The Siege of Plataea (429-427 BC)
    • The Sieges of Pylos and Sphacteria (425 BC)
    • The Siege of Syracuse (415-413 BC)
    • The Siege of Drilae (400 BC)
  4. Greco-Persian conflicts
    • The Battle of Marathon (490 BC)
    • The Battle of Plataea (479 BC)
    • The Battle of Cunaxa (401 BC)
  5. Conclusions

I have run across some of Owen Rees’s writing before in the Ancient Warfare magazine. Rees’s narrative style makes this book easy to read with discrete footnoting at key points through each chapter. The footnotes are presented as endnotes and so do not distract from the narrative but still enable the reader to check source material or other references at leisure.

The first two parts of the book examine battles in two key areas of Classical Greek military history – the Peloponnesian War and the Rise and Fall of Sparta. The third part examines Greek Siege Warfare whilst the fourth section deals with the Greco-Persian conflicts. Including this the fourth section was a decision by Rees because it is clear that “the Greeks did not fight the Persians in the same manner in which they fought one another, but placing this conflict at the beginning allows a false image to arise concerning Greek battle, and Greek tactics in turn” (Rees, 2016, p. xvi). Rees therefore covers the internal conflicts of the Greeks first to develop an image of Greek warfare before dealing with their interaction with the Persians.

The structure of each of the chapters is consistent with the first section being the background and identifying the classical sources used for that battle. This is then followed by a description and location (where possible) of the battlefield. The armies are then examined followed by a description of the battle itself, with specific references to the sources as well as maps outlining the probably deployment of the forces present. The last section is the aftermath of the battle.

For example, chapter 3 deals with the Battle of Amphipolis (422 BC). The Background identifies the sources for this battle as Thucydides, (IV.70, 78-88, 102-V.3) and Diodorus (XII.67.3-68.6, 72-3). The Battlefield is identified as outside the walls of Amphipolis and Amphipolis is located by Rees in a U-Bend of the River Strymon. The armies are discussed and any assumptions about troops presented. So for the Battle of Amphipolis, Brasidas’s army is noted as a conglomerate force of allies under his command, some 6,500 men strong. The size of Cleon’s army is not known but it appears that his force was roughly the same size, or a little larger.

The battle itself is then described with the references for that being Thucydides V.6-11 and Diodorus XII-74. The battle description includes three maps representing the three phases of the battle. The Aftermath of the battle is then discussed:

After Brasidas fell in battle, he was dragged back into the walls of Amphipolis where he held on to life, waiting to hear news from the battlefield. A messenger was sent to inform the city of the Athenian rout and, with victory ringing in his ears, Brasidas was able to release his final breath in the knowledge that his legend had been cemented in the history of his beloved Sparta.

Clearidas brought the army back into Amphipolis and, in full armaments, they buried their commander in a tomb at the front of the agora. This spot became the focus of a hero-cult dedicated to the man the Amphipolitans appointed their new founder of the city – replacing the true founder, Hagnon the Athenian.

For Athens, the defeat, alongside the defeat at Delium, was too much for them to consider continuing the war. Similarly the Spartans were still trying to recover from their embarrassing defeat at Pylos and no amount of success in Chalcidice was enough to compensate for this. A ten-year peace was finally agreed and, although in fact it only lasted seven years, this gave both sides time to recover from their tragic losses (Rees, 2016, p. 40).

Apart from the five parts mentioned above, the book also contains a glossary covering technical words from the book, a section of Notes (endnotes) from each chapter, a bibliography, an index and six useful URLs for further research.

Overall, Rees’s book is well supported with tactical diagrams through each chapter. Rees is also willing to challenge popularly held beliefs, such as the invincibility of the Spartans.

I have no hesitation in recommending this book to those interested in Classical Greek Warfare or the development of Hoplite tactics. The short chapters make the book the perfect companion with a fine coffee and a spare 20 minutes. The book itself has inspired me to look further into Greek warfare again and to start a collection of Ancient Greek armies to wargame these battles.