The British Pacific Fleet – The Royal Navy’s Most Powerful Strike Force – Review

I first came across the British Pacific Fleet when I read Peter C Smith’s Task Force 57, published in 2001. I was working in Ulaanbaatar at the time and was looking for anything that referred to the sea to read. I had become interested in some of the British formations, Task Force 57 and Force H for example. I have picked up various works on the British Pacific Fleet since.

The British Pacific Fleet – The Royal Navy’s Most Powerful Strike Force by Davis Hobbs in 2011, Seaforth Publishing, a Pen & Sword imprint has been released in paperback on 12 April 2017, ISBN 9781526702838 for £13.50.

The British Pacific Fleet (BPF) has a connection to Australia and Sydney and other Australian bases in particular as its logistical base was Australia and much of the training of aircraft was performed at Schofields, Nowra and Jervis Bay.

The BPF was born from the British desire to re-exercise some power in eastern waters. The Royal Navy (RN) had been expelled from the Pacific by the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) and raids by the IJN on the then Ceylon ensured the RN presence was restricted to the edge of the Indian Ocean, essentially protecting the supply lines from Australia to the Middle East.

Churchill suggested to Roosevelt in September 1944 that a British fleet should become involved in the operations in the main theatre against Japan. The BPF was formed in November 1944 under Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser and its main base was established at Sydney.

While in the Indian Ocean the precursor to the BPF had been conducting operational training and equipping its units which included a large increase in aircraft carriers and changes to the operation of the Fleet Air Arm. The fleet also equipped with an expanded floating supply organisation with about 60 vessels being included in the RN “Fleet Train”.

The BPF eventually was built with vessels from the Royal Navy, Royal Australian Navy, Royal New Zealand Navy and Royal Canadian Navy, as well as blue funnel line vessels requisitioned.

The Allied commanders in the Pacific, General Douglas MacArthur and Admiral Chester Nimitz had differing opinions on where the fleet shout be deployed. MacArthur wanted it in and around the Philippines and Borneo area whilst Nimitz wanted it covering the invasion of Okinawa and the advance on Japan. Nimitz was backed by London and the politicians and so the BPF covered the invasion of Okinawa.

While Smith’s book covers Task Force 57 at a fairly high level, Hobbs goes into detail. He covers:

  • Planning and training
  • Strikes against Sumatran oil refineries
  • Australia and logistical support
  • Operations Iceberg I and II
  • Replenishment in Leyte Gulf
  • Operation Inmate
  • Repairs in Australia and improved logistical support
  • Submarine and mine warfare
  • Strikes against the Japanese mainland
  • Victory
  • Repatriation, trooping and war-brides
  • Peacetime fleet and retrospective

There are a number of appendices covering, among other topics:

  • the composition of the fleet in January 1945, August 1945 and January 1948
  • Air stations and air yards
  • Commanding and flag officers
  • Aircraft

This is a very complete look at the BPF amply illustrated throughout – one of my favourites being HMS Vengeance in Sydney Harbour with the bridge as a back drop, no Opera House, no tall buildings, just a lot of bush around the foreshores.

If you are at all interested in the days when Britain had more than two aircraft carriers at sea, the British Pacific Fleet by Hobbs tells a tale of politics, organisation, operations and dogged persistence. That Hobbs’s writing style is easy to read is added bonus.

Freeing the Baltic 1918-1920 – review

In 1964 Geoffrey Bennett wrote a book called Cowan’s War. The book centered on the Battles to help free Russia from the Bolsheviks. I remember reading it when I was a teenager as the concept of Britain being involved in another little war immediately after World War One was interesting, and I had just finished reading a book about a motor boat fighting the Bolsheviks (the name of the book eluding me at the moment).

When the opportunity came to review Bennett’s Freeing the Baltic – 1918-1920 it was a great excuse to reread the history and recapture (briefly) the feelings I had when I was a teenager.

Pen & Sword Maritime have released this edition in 2017, ISBN 9781473893078. A preface by Bennett’s son, Rodney Bennett has been added along with an addendum.

The main text of the book covers the complexity of this war. The Entente Cordiale were in the process of negotiating the Versailles Treaty with the Central Powers at the same time as the Russian Revolution was in full swing with the White Russians trying to resist the Bolsheviks (Red Russians). The Entente would have preferred independant Baltic States (as indeed would the states of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania). The Germans were still active in the region until the Entente coould direct support there.

Bennett wrote about the Royal Navy admiral, Cowan, who was tasked with supporting the White Russians, ejecting the Germans, supporting the Baltic States in their quest for independence while dealing with his own government, crewmen who had had enough of war and wanted to return to home ports along with mines and all with some light cruisers and destroyers.

It is a boy’s own story and I enjoyed reading it again as a somewhat older boy. That the Baltic States were subjugated by the Soviets or the White Russians were defeated by the Bolsheviks is not because of Cowan’s inabilities but rather an inevitability of the creation of the USSR.

The cover of the book carries a quote from Leon Trotsky, “[The British] ships must be sunk, come what may”. This was the environment Cowan found himself in. The Admiralty assigned 238 ships to the area including 23 light cruisers, 85 destroyers and 1 aircraft carrier with 55 aircraft. The French asl allocated 26 vessels, the Italians 2 and the U.S.A. 14. Over the conflict 17 British vessels were lost to mines, weatrher and the enemy. Sixty-one vessels were damaged and 37 aircraft were lost.

In the area the Soviets had 30 vessels approximately including two battleships.

Bennett’s son added a preface and an addendum to the book containing information uncovered later. Perhaps the most ineresting was Admiral Walter Cowan’s career in World War Two where he served in the Western Dessert with the Indian 18th King Edward’s Own Cavalry, mounted on bren-gun carriers. Captured by the Italians, then later part of a prisoner swap he returned to the dessert. When the Second World War was over he was invited to Indian to become the honourary colonel of the 18th King Edward’s Own, surely the first naval officer to be so honoured.

I loved this book when I was a teenager and I love it now and really appreciate the excuse to read it a second time. The additions by Bennett’s son enhance the book rather than detracting at all from his father’s work. Thoroughly recommended.

Bennett also wrote Battle of the River Plate; Coronel and the Falklands; Naval Battles of World War Two; The Battle of Trafalgar; Naval Battles of the First World War; and the Battle of Jutland.

British Warship Recognition – Volume II: Armoured Ships 1860-1895, Monitors and Aviation Ships

British Warship Recognition – Volume II: Armoured Ships 1860-1895, Monitors and Aviation Ships

I reviewed Volume I in hard copy (Boy’s Own Battleships – Book Review) and Volumes III and IV in eBook format (British Warship Recognition – The Perkins Identification Albums – Volume III and IV Cruisers 1865-1939, Parts 1 and 2). I am kind of late getting to Volume II but I am enjoying it nevertheless.

This is British Warship Recognition – Volume II: Armoured Ships 1860-1895, Monitors and Aviation Ships under the Seaforth Imprint, (ISBN: 9781848323865, published on 5 September 2016 of 224 pages).

I noted before in previous reviews that a Perkins volume is not for everybody but for those who “get it”. I grew up with the wireless as dinner table entertainment; when to make a telephone call you needed to speak to an operator; and indeed, where telephone numbers were prefixed with the name of the exchange.

HMS Eagle – National Maritime Museum, N10504

Perkins’s hobby was photographing Royal Navy ships. He was such a keen amateur photographer that he photographed and ended up with one of the largest collections of photographs of warships. His collection of photos was bequeathed to the National Maritime Museum where it can still be seen today and where it forms the core of the historic photos naval section.

While he was photographing he found many photographs were neither identified nor accurately dated. He then decided to compile an album of his own drawings incorporating as much detail as possible on the individual ships. He really looked closely at the details, the differences between ships of the same class and then differences in a vessel over time and used his drawings as a catalogue of his photographs.

HMS Eagle 1920 – as drawn by Perkins

This book is one of what hopefully will be 8 volumes. It is a photographic reprint of Perkins’s original art books where he set about to draw and paint the British fleet. There is really no other way this could be reproduced, even with the technical marvels available today and that still amaze this listener of the wireless.

Perkins noticed over time that vessels changed – davits were moved forward, funnels thinned or thickened, smaller calibre weapons moved around the vessels, masts removed or changed, funnels added and so on.

HMS Eagle in 1923-1929 as drawn by Perkis – note the changes he identified

The ship illustrated in this review, the aircraft carrier HMS Eagle, is shown as she appeared in 1920 and then again later in 1923-1929. Also shown is the photograph of HMS Eagle held at the National Maritime Museum, N10504.

The books are big but with Volume II and the rest of the collection they provide a unique view of the Royal Navy in the later 19th and early 20th centuries, a view that you will not see in a Brassey’s, a Conway’s or indeed a Janes. You may need a larger bookshelf or broader coffee table but the payoff is enjoying a cup of NATO standard, and flicking through the drawings and admiring his talent.

This volume contains drawaings of

  • Old Battleships
    • Renown
    • Centurion Class
    • Royal Sovereign class
    • Hood
    • Trafalgar class
    • Victoria class
    • Admiral class
    • Benbow
    • Collingwood
  • Turret Ships including
    • Dreadnought
    • Inflexible
    • Agamemnon class
    • Royal Sovereign
  • Central Citadel Ships
  • Barbette and Battery Ship
  • Central Battery Ships
  • Broadside Ships
  • Floating Batteries
  • Monitors
  • Old Monitors
  • Torpedo Ram
  • Observation Balloon Vessel
  • Kite Balloon Ships – buy the book to see 🙂
  • Catapult Vessel
  • Aircraft Carriers including
    • Anne
    • Ark Royal (1914)
    • Ark Royal (1938)
    • Eagle
    • Hermes
    • Courageous class

Well recommended!

The Postman Always Rings Twice

The Postman Always Rings Twice

Actually, here in Makati City, he rarely rings. It takes about a week for a parcel to arrive in the Philippines from England. It then takes another week for the parcel to travel a few kilometres from the main Post Office to Makati Central Post Office. It then takes between two weeks and a month or two for the notice of arrive to travel the one kilometre from Makati Post Office to the condominium or the office.

Still, it is great when the notices arrive and you can step back into 1954 to collect the parcels from the Post Office.

Four Parcels containing three different wargaming periods

Box number one (large, top right) contained some goodies from Brigade Models of the UK . The box contained Aeronefs and Cold War Commander Indonesians in 6mm. The Aeronefs the Spanish Fleet Pack #2, Item #: VANFP-1702; Spanish Fleet Pack #1, Item #: VANFP-1701; Spanish Torpedo Flotilla, Item #: VANFP-1711; Indonesian Army Group, Item #: IC-1401; and some bits and pieces.

I am trying to clear my painting queue now to get into both these sets. The Spanish ‘nefs in particular are sweet.

World War 2 Belgians

In the small flat box to the bottom right is a Belgian World War 2 army from Scotia Grendel. I built these from the Blitzkreig Commander III lists before noticing some basic problems with that list, like the missing 75mm guns!

Anyway, there is some nice stuff in there and I can always find an excuse to send off for some more figures from Scotia, and order the missing 75mms then.

The white parcel contained reinforcements from Magister Militum for the little coastal project, namely some more Germans, a few more British and the Italians. The Motoscafo Armato Silurante, (MAS boats), were a class of fast torpedo armed vessel used by the Regia Marina and the models from Hallmark are sweet. More competition for the painting queue.

Lastly, the big box underneath contains three books for review. These will be coming up soon.

When You Are Looking for Another Tank Kit and Fail

USS Tennessee

I stopped into Lil’s Hobby Shop the other day, looking for a 1/72 scale modern French tank but failed on that.

Of course, if you can’t see what you want, then it is very easy to get distracted. Ships, I thought. I have not built a ship in ages.

I noticed that the 1/700 scale Trumpeter kits came with a full hull or a waterline as an alternative.

The Etched Brass Bits

I purchased one.

Actually,  purchased two. The USS Tennessee and HMS Repulse.

The Tennessee is modelled when she had the lattice masts, hence the etched brass bits to the left.

The kits also have quite a bit of detail.

The aircraft, for example, are moulded in clear plastic. Painting carefully will leave a clear canopy.

The aircraft, however, are also moulded with propellers.

I am wondering now why I bought the ships as they will end up being about 20cm long. Also, I will feel I am not doing the kit justice unless I model the sea and antenna wires 😦

Perhaps I should grab a destroyer to built frst to practice ship building skills. Nah! Just go for it!

The HMS Repulse kit is below.

HMS Repulse

British Warship Recognition – The Perkins Identification Albums – Volume III and IV Cruisers 1865-1939, Parts 1 and 2

Part 1

Back in June last year I was fortunate to get a copy of Volume 1 of the British Warship Recognition – the Perkins Identification Albums originally written/illustrated by Richard Perkins. Volume 1 dealt with Capital Ships 1895-1939 (ISBN 9781848323827).

I had hoped to get to look at Volume 2 but the day job got in the way and I missed that release. Along came Volumes 3 and 4. Unfortunately because of the size of the book, I can’t get a physical copy for review. Really, it is a very big book.

However, Pen and Sword books were happy to give me access to the electronic version of Perkins Volume III, Part 1, Cruisers 1865-1939.  Perkins Volume III part 1 is published under the Seaforth Publishing imprint, is 192 pages long, ISBN: 9781473891456 and was published on 31 January 2017. It is available in hardcopy, as well as Kindle and ePub versions. I received the Kindle version for review.

Part 2

Pen and Sword books also provided access to the electronic version of Volume IV, Part 2, Cruisers 1865-1939.  Perkins Volume IV part 2 is also published under the Seaforth Publishing imprint, is also
192 pages long, ISBN: 9781473891494 and published on 14th June 2017. It is available in hardcopy, as well as Kindle and ePub versions. I also received the Kindle version for review.

First, let me note that I loved Volume 1 in hardcopy, it is one of the favourites on my bookshelf.

Perkins was a keen amateur photographer and he photographed and ended up with one of the largest collections of photographs of warships. His collection of photos was bequeathed to the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich where it can still be seen today and where it forms the core of the historic photos naval section. While he was photographing he found many photographs were neither identified nor accurately dated. He then decided to compile an album of his own drawings incorporating as much detail as possible on the individual ships. He really looked closely at the details, the differences between ships of the same class and then differences in a vessel over time. The British government asked him to stop is hobby at the commencement of World War 2 as they worried his works would provide valuable information to enemies.

The Perkins Collection comprises some 11,000 photographic negatives and 8 illustrated recognition albums. The photographic negatives are from a time when a film allowed for 8 to 36 photographs so one can get an idea of the dedication of Perkins to his hobby.

HMS Castor

The publications are photographs of the pages of Perkins drawing books. This was seen as the best and probably only way to make these images available to modern readers.

The two volumes for review cover the cruisers from 1865 to 1939. For example, the page to the right shows HMS Calliope Castor as she appeared in 1915 to 1917. He notes the “Calliope 6” included Calliope, Cambrian, Canterbury, Castor, Champion, and C0nstance. He notes the differences between the various ships in the class, as well as a watercolor painting of the vessels (only Caster is shown here).

I must be honest, when I thought about reviewing the electronic versions, I wondered how well they would render on electronic devices.  Pen and Sword kindly sent me links for the Kindle Version so I loaded both volumes to Kindle on my phone (LG G4 with a 5.5-inch screen), my tablet, (LG V700 tablet with 10-inch screen), and my PC. The images in this review came from the LG G4 (the top three) and the V700 (the last image).

HMS Champion and HMS Canterbury

The images from the phone are higher resolution than the tablet and this can be seen with the difference between the final two images here.

Having said that, the rendering of the physical book into Kindle format has been well done with the text present in the book resizing well after using the usual two-finger gestures. The images are clear enough in the tablet and PC and can be seen on the phone. Perkins notes really need to be read on PC or tablet however.

Having said that, both books are a wonderful addition to a naval book collection. I will be honest and and say that I would prefer the hard copy of the books, they are the type of books that best savoured over a good java in one’s favourite reading chair, flipping between pages at whim and admiring the talent of Perkins while reaching towards Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships Volume 1 and 2 to verify Perkins details.

I have no doubt that the hard copy of Volumes 3 and 4 are every bit as good as the hard copy of Volume 1. I can recommend the Kindle version for those of us with electronic reading devices, colour screens really being necessary to enjoy these works. I di like to be able to take my book collection with me when I travel and the electronic versions of these types of books have finally become every bit as god as the print versions.

I can recommend these two volumes to anyone with a passing interest in the Royal Navy between the wars.

WIP – 1/1200th Scale Coastal Vessels

The Coastal Fleets

On the workbench at the moment are my World War 2 German and British 1/1200th scale coastal vessels. These were purchased from Magister Militum and are from the Hallmark range of 1/1200th coastal vessels. Looking through the collection there are S-boats, R-Boats, Torpedo Boats and ferries on the German side. On the British side are some Fairmiles, both gunboats and torpedo boats, MGBs, destroyer, ASW and M/S trawlers and merchant vessels.

Cranes and masts added (which was a pain), they are now based and undercoated. Next step is to paint the sea bases, then the vessels.

To add to this collection there are some Italians coming.

An Increase in the Tank Park

I was out of Manila this weekend and discovered a model shop which had a supply of 1/72 scale modern tanks. There were also a few packets of 1/72 scale plastic figures as well but it was the tanks I was interested in.

I picked up a Challenger and a Merkava for the collection. I will get around to doing an unboxing of these later but a quick look has me salivating with the detail.

They go along with the M1 Abrams and the T-72 collection along with the lone T-80 and ZTZ-99.

What I would like to add to round out the modern collection would be a Leopard 2 and an AMX-56 LeClerc.

Now I just need to time to start to sit down and buid some of these (or buy some more early World War 2 tanks).

Blitzkrieg Commander III – The Final Decision

Reading the Pendraken forum on the Blitzkrieg Commander III topic, Pendraken have made a final decision on what will happen with BKC III. The poll run in in the Pendraken forum was clearly in favour a full reprint of BKC III. As I have had a chance to look through the rules, finally, more closely, I can see why this is necessary.

This is commercially a difficult decision for Pendraken as they have decided:

  • to pull PKB III from sale
  • to provide a copy of BKC III.1 when it is produced
  • to attempt to do it all over a three month period

It will of course cost Pendraken moneywise but I can only applaud Pendraken for their commitment to quality. Pendraken notes with regards to their next steps:

 

The immediate job is to get to work on revising BKC-III into the rulebook we were all hoping for. The army lists will be our starting point, reverting those back to BKC-II and then tweaking and editing them where necessary based on previous BKC feedback. Second will be the scenarios which will also largely revert to BKC-II, unless anything comes up from our new team that requires a change/tweak. And then from there we’ll go through the actual rules of the book, page by page, doing one of three things:

  • Leaving as is
  • Clarifying/amending to make it work better/properly
  • Reverting back to BKC-II.s:

Pendraken have build a core of people, experienced playtesters and members of the original feedback team for earlier versions of BKC. Pendraken are also accepting comments from BKC users on the forum on:

  • What is the issue?
  • What would be the fix?
  • What other areas of the rules would this fix impact on?
  • What questions does this issue/fix raise?

Lastly, Pendraken noted on the time they expect to take on this,”We want to get this done as quickly as possible, so we’re setting ourselves a timescale of 2-3 months to fix everything”.

Personally I think that is a very aggressive target. I hope they can meet it but I expect it will drift as they get into trying to fix some of the rules that appear to be broken.

Blitzkrieg Commander III

Like many, I waited and looked forward to the arrival of Blitzkrieg Commander III. I have enjoyed playing versions I and II over many years, although I will admit, I’ve not played enough games as there was always something else to play, something new and shiny. I also played a bit of Cold War Commander and Future War Commander. I liked the rule system and the way the games flowed, permitting a narrative to develop.

I purchased BKCIII online through Wargame Vault as my preferred method of dealing with printed matter these days is electronically.  The hard copy version is available from Pendraken Miniatures, the new owners of the rules.

A furore appears to have erupted over these rules. While there may have been a few errors through the rules, normal enough in published wargame rules, the major part of the furore appears to be around the Army Lists included in the rules, so much so that Pendraken Miniatures on their forum are holding a poll to see how folks want them corrected.

Pendraken noted that as far as errors went, the

obvious starting point is the army lists and at the moment I don’t have an answer to that question. The author spent hundreds of hours on the stats to put together the new army lists. When we received them we checked the basics, do the correct nations have the right kit, do the obvious vehicles/guns appear in the right areas, etc. We checked a bunch of units with their BKC-II equivalents and then put together some matching battlegroups using both old/new lists to see how much they differed points wise. Nothing glaring jumped out during that process. Other people went through them and brought back a few queries which were then discussed further and we made some edits. Clearly we didn’t do enough though.

Being an old wargamer (sigh and getting older), I am still amazed at the way gamers get heated over lists. I come from a period of wargaming where if you didn’t like the list, you changed it based on your own research. This begs the question, are wargamers as a group doing less research these days than we did in the past?

To be fair, I can remember the heated debates that erupted in the 1980s and 1990s with the various WRG army lists but if I wasn’t happy with a list, I changed it. If I could justify the change, my opponents generally accepted it.

Pendraken went on to further note that an

annoying number of errors that have managed to get through the extensive checking process, some a result of the last minute tweaks, others a lag over from the merging of BKC-II and the first BKC-III draft. Some simply mistakes.

Again, way back in the 1980s we were used to rules being published and then errata sheets being issued. If I recall correctly even BKCI had one or two errata sheets issued.

Not every change in the rules is an error however. I guess some of the complaints are because folks just don’t like some rule changes. If you don’t like them, then change them!

Pendraken in a refreshingly honest way finally noted that

the end result of all of this is that we’ve not done a good enough job and BKC-III is not up to the standard that everyone wanted it to be.

They go on to point out the cost of the project so far, which is quite significant. Pendraken are calling for opinions on how to “fix” the rules/lists via an online poll and the two favoured options from folks so far are New PDF Lists and Complete Reprint. Personally I am comfortable with PDF lists (and errata sheet where needed) as I am used to this type of solution from the past.  I would suggest to Pendraken that as they correct their errors, they can release a new PDF version of the rules to allow those of us with digital copies to have the updates in the rules. Printed copies have the advantage here as the updates can be written in the rules themselves. That will also become the source document for the time they decide to reprint.

My biggest complaint however is that to vote you have to be logged on to the forum so must enrol. I am also a little unhappy that those voting for one solution or other may not have purchased the rules and therefore have no real experience of the problems.

Oh, and one last comment – so far I don’t really have a problem with the lists. In fact, I purchased a Belgian Army the other night from Scotia Grendel Productions, based on the BKCIII lists.

Update on 7 May 2017: OK, so I have had a chance to start to read the rules and the lists. Actually I started with the lsts, with the Belgian list in particular and the 47mm ATG the Belgians had 750 of is missing. A few more days reading this week then I might stay with BKCII until the fixes start appearing.