Armies of Celtic Europe — 700 BC – AD 106 by Gabriele Esposito — Review

This particular book is a follow on from Gabriele Esposito’s previous books in the Armies of the Past series, Armies of the Late Roman Empire AD 284 to 476 by Gabriele Esposito – Review and Armies of the Hellenistic States 323 BC to AD 30 by Gabriele Esposito – Review. This book looks at the Celts in Europe from 700 BC to AD 106.

Celtic culture was (and arguably still is) a rich culture with a strong oral tradition. Celtic warriors were renowned for their fierce charges and were one of the few ancient civilisations to successfully invade Rome itself where they were ultimately thwarted by a flock of geese.

Esposito uses members of various reenactment groups to provide the illustrations, photographing them in today’s interpretations of Celtic dress. Nine reenactment groups are used and these are resident in France and Italy. While the photographs of the clothing are excellent and inspiring, one small disappointment is the lack of mounted photographs (two only) and no chariots. I suspect this is due to the cost of owning and stabling horses in modern Europe. The only other lack that I could see are the moustaches and hair of the various warriors illustrated. I guess that is because of the need to hold down a job in modern Europe as well.

Armies of Celtic Europe 700 BC to AD 106 — History, Organization and Equipment by Gabriele Esposito was published by Pen & Sword Military on 23 October 2019 (ISBN: 9781526730336) and is 172 pages long with 102 illustrations.

The book follows a similar format to his Hellenistic one and is broken up into the following chapters:

  1. The Origins of the Celts and the ‘Hallstatt Culture’
  2. The ‘La Tène Culture’ and Early Celtic Expansion
  3. The Celtic Conquest of Italy and the Sack of Rome
  4. The Celtic Expansion in Western and Eastern Europe
  5. The Celtic ‘Great Expedition’ and the Birth of Galatia
  6. The Fall of Cisalpine Gaul and the Invasion of the Cimbri and Teutones
  7. The Roman Conquest of Iberia and Gaul
  8. The Decline of the Eastern Celts and the Conquest of Britain
  9. Celtic Arms and Armour from the La Tène Period
  10. Celtic Warfare and Battle Tactics

The book also has an Introduction, Bibliography Index and a list of the Re-enactors who contributed to the book.

Anyone with an interest in the Celts will find this book useful.

Soviet Naval Fleet — Modern Naval Wargaming

I received some decals from Flight Deck Decals which allowed me to complete my modern Soviet fleet. Pictures below. Vessels are from Navwar and are in 1/3000 scale. These were finished in late 2019 – actually, they are not quite finished. I need to add air support to these – will be sometime in the next couple of months using 1/1200 scale aircraft and helicopters.

The Battle of Actium 31 BC — War for the World by Lee Fratantuono –Review

We all know the Battle of Actium — Antony and Cleopatra’s final act against Octavian and the start of the Augustan Peace in Rome, albeit now with an Emperor. Professor Lee Fratantuono re-examines the ancient evidence and presents a compelling and solidly documented account of what took place in the waters off the promontory of Leucas in late August and early September of 31 B.C.

Rather than present a coherent story cross referencing different sources, Prof Fratantuono has adopted an approach when examining the battle of looking at the sources independently and then analyzing the evidence presented by them to draw his conclusions.

Fratantuono notes in the preface that his,

“interest in Actium has romance as its genesis: the twin lures of poetry and cinema, the poets of Augustan Rome and the cinematic depiction of the battle in Mankiewicz’s 1963 Cleopatra, a film that despite is numerous problems of both film quality and historical accuracy, was a contributing factor to [his] early interest in antiquity”

He goes on later to note that the methodology used in this study “will be to examine closely the surviving literary attestation of the naval conflict at Actium, with a view to reconstruction and analysis of what might have happened”.

This is the approach he takes with the first part of the book looking at Greek Historical Sources. These are:

  1. the Evidence of Plutarch
  2. The Lost Appian
  3. The Evidence of Dio Cassius
  4. Strabo’s Geography
  5. The Evidence of Josephus

The Second Part deals with Roman Historical Sources

  1. Velleius Paterculus
  2. Lost Roman Sources
  3. Octavian Himself
  4. Florus’ and Eutropius’ Detached Accounts
  5. The Evidence of Orosius

The Third Part looks at Actium in Verse

  1. The Shield of Aeneas
  2. Horace’s Epodes — The Earliest Evidence?
  3. Horace’s Cleopatra Ode
  4. The Evidence of Elegy: Propertius
  5. The Allegorized Actium
  6. The Lost Carmen de Bello Aegyptiaco/Atiaco

Part Four then is Analyzing the Evidence

  1. So What Really Happened?
  2. The Birth of a Romantic Legend

Part Five examines the Aftermath

  1. ‘Death Comes in the End’

The book finishes with an Afterword looking at Actium and Roman Naval Practice.

There is, as well, a preface and introduction as well as bibliography, index, endnotes and further reading. There are also a couple of maps and battle dispositions as well.

All-in-all I enjoyed reading this, especially as it introduced me to some areas I had managed to avoid all these years, namely the literary and poetic evidence – I guess there is more than just Plutarch and Dio Cassius.

Prof Fratantuono concludes at the end that Antony intended to fight and fight he did at Actium. He also discusses the involvement of the Egyptian vessels and concludes that they must have fought that day as well, either as part of the main battle or during the breakout at the end of the day. Prof Fratantuono is certain that Antony was planning on winning the battle that day, and so he is at odds with the views of the previous writer’s on the battle who suggested that Antony and Cleopatra always intended flight, or that they intended to launch a withdrawal that could lead to a strategic victory.

Antony and Cleopatra were planning on winning that day. The withdrawal at the end of the day, tactical or not, was a loss. The fleet remaining would have surrendered quickly and land forces in Greece and the East would also have surrendered to Octavian (and did).

Prof Fratantuono also hazards some estimates of the number of ships involved in the battle by looking at the numbers given in Plutarch, Florus and Orosius. Plutarch, for example, estimated that Antony and Cleopatra had a fleet of 500 ships to Octavian’s 250. Orosius however estimated the Antonian fleet at 200 ships. There were 60 Egyptian vessels, which if added to  Florus’ estimate for Antony’s fleet of 170 ships gives a total of 230 ships. Similar numerical discord exists between Plutarch’s estimate of Octavian’s fleet of 250 vessels and Florus’ estimate of 400 ships. There is some discussion on whether these are beaked vessels only but Prof Fratantuono concludes around 250 vessels for Octavian against 230 in the fleet of Antony and Cleopatra would seem a reasonable estimate. This seems a workable estimate — if outnumbered 2:1 it would be unlikely that Antony would give battle, similarly with Octavian. 

The Battle of Actium 31 BC — War for the World was published by Pen & Sword Military on 31 May 2016 (ISBN: 9781473847149) and consists of 194 pages.

I found Prof Fratantuono’s writing style easy to read and his discussion is, in my opinion, a good discourse of this topic. It now sits on my bookshelf with other ancient naval tomes.

Battle of Manila, Miguel Miranda – Review

I’ve been living in Manila now for over five years. In that time I have visited Corregidor Island (thank you for the tickets Craig), looked out over Manila Bay (and the scene of Dewey’s victory over the Spanish fleet), seen the American Cemetery in Fort Bonifacio (Bonifacio Global City – BGC), Taguig, but never managed to get around to some of the areas where there was fighting during the Battle of Manila in 1945.

The Japanese attacked the American (and Filipino forces) in the Philippines in 1942. To save casualties to the civilian population and damage to Manila, the Americans declared Manila an open city and the Japanese were able to take control of Manila with little or no bloodshed. Unfortunately, the reverse was not the case in 1945 and the Japanese defended Manila which required the liverating forces to literally move house by house through the city to clear the Japanese. This also meant a lot of artillery support with the resultant damage to buildings. The occupation and the fighting to retake Manila unfortunately resulted in a large number of Filipino casualties. Estimates suggest at least 100,000 civilians were casualties at the time.

Miguel Miranda, a Filipino was a reported and is the author of this ‘History of Terror’ volume. Pen and Sword notes of the author:

Writing about the battle of Manila has been an opportunity for him to confront a very dark period in Philippine history, one that is still misunderstood today. To amass the wealth of research and insight for his latest work he pored over volumes of official histories and archives, assembling a detailed narrative on the topic.

The battle of Manila lead into the total independence of the Philippines in 1946 as well as removing what turned out to be a cruel foreign domination, not that the previous period of Philippines history, the American colonial period (1899–1945) was free of cruelty, quite the opposite. The battle of Manila really was the start of the final movement to independence, ending a long period of conflict and struggle for the Filipinos.

the Battle of Manila — Nadir of Japanese Barbarism, 3 February – 3 March 1945 is one of the volumes in the History of Terror series. Written by Filipino Miguel Miranda and published by Pen & Sword Military on 16 April 2019 (ISBN: 9781526729057), there are about 60 illustrations in this 128 page book.

Miranda’s prose is easy to read, although much of what he describes is disturbing. The book is divided into the following chapters, following from a usefu timeline and Introduction:

  1. MacArthur’s Bitter Defeat
  2. Leyte to Lingayen
  3. Desperadoes
  4. The Angels
  5. Encirclement
  6. The Genko Line
  7. Bloody Hell
  8. Intramuros
  9. A Country in Ruin

The book is then closed with an Epilogue: Facing a Strategic Conundrum; then a list of sources and finally an Index. The Epilogue is a reasonable assessment of the position in the South China Sea currently with the PLAN exercising its muscle as it attempts to dominate the area while the US Naval forces, along with Japan, Australia and the other smaller navies of the region attempting to ensure that the area remains open, international waters, rather than a Chinese lake.

Te timeline commences in 1896 when Filipino revolutionaries in Cavite and Manila launch an uprising to overthrow Spain’s colonial government. This revolution carried over into the period where the US became the colonial overlord and the Introduction discusses that period in more detail.

I must admit that while the book is very well written, and easy to read, it is also a very disturbing work, but one that should be read.

Philippines Bucket List

When I was back in Oz for Christmas it was bush fires. The bush had been burning in my home state of New South Wales since last August-September but mercifully recent heavy rain has either put out or allowed the Rural Fire Service yo being the remaining fires under control, although the rain has brought problems of its own. The fire season is now two-thirds the way through so hopefully there is no more damage to come, especially in the hotter days of February. All us cockroaches hoped for rain, a lot of it but it looks like we got somewhat more than we wished for.

I got back to Manila on New Year’s Eve. The Philippines has been an interesting learning experience for me. I experienced first hand my first typhoon back in either 2001 or 2002 when I was staying at the Sofitel on Manila Bay. Seeing the waves break over the sea wall was quite an experience, from the safety of my hotel room.

Last year it was earthquakes, and one in particular which gave Manila a good shaking, mercifully not causing a great deal of damage, unlike more recent quakes in the Mindanao area of the Philippines.

I was teasing mum about having clean air in Manila while she was suffering from bushfire smoke when Taal volcano decided to blow its top a little, spewing ash, smoke and steam into the atmostphere. Taal (pronounced Ta’al) is one of the most active volcanoes around, and is about 70 km from the centre of Metro Manila. So I got to experience my first ash fall.

The bucket-list? See:

  1. Typhoon – check
  2. Earthquake – check
  3. Volcano – check
  4. and now, Pandemic – check

It is more fun in the Philippines

One Twelfth of 2020 has Passed

Wow. What a January! Well, actually, what a late December that segued into January. A mix of a a stressful, bloody annoying, frustrating, painful (physically and emotionally) and downright crappy period. Sliding into February and it does not really look any better. I am too stressed even to paint at the moment so I have fallen back on a plan B and have been building (badly) a 1/35th scale kit.

What has happened. Those of you that know me well, will know that I spent Christmas back in Oz with mother, but also visited or were visited by my kids and grandkids. Of course, Christmas was full-on bushfires all over the east coast and particularly near mum. Lots of smoky air. I returned to Manila (not missing the flight this year) and was teasing mum about being back in clean air when Taal Volcano decided to pop its cork, or at least let off a lot of steam. Ash fall it was, and a new expression as I had not experienced ash fall like that at all before. Still, now for the Philippines I can tick off from my list:

  • typhoon
  • earthquake
  • volcano

Volcano quietens down and along comes 2019-nCoV (new Coronavirus). Masks were already scarcer than hen’s teeth here because of bloody Taal and also now in rapid short supply is isopropyl hand wash and anti-bacterial soap. Fortunately, I had some isopropyl alcohol on my modelling desk (acts as a flow improver for airbrushing, although I have not tried that yet).

Work has been particularly stressful. I don’t normally talk about work here and I will refrain again however, suffice it to say it has been particularly crappy. Lastly, a short trip to Bangkok last week for work was a nice break, back to talking to potential clients. I am hoping for more of that in the coming future, if only for my ongoing sanity.

In the meantime, the plan is to deal with the last of the crappy work issues, get some action working with new clients, get the three book reviews I have read to write written and posted (one is the Battle of Manila from World War 2 so with much familiar ground), finish that damned 1/35 scale tank and paint it and then get back into some figure painting – Anglo-Saxons up next. Lastly keep reading the historical fiction for both sanity and insanity (insanity as it keeps leading me to thinking about new plans and projects for wargames and therefore more spending on figures – did I mention Late Romans, Patricians, Scots, Irish, Picts, Sub-Roman British?). I also need to spend more time with my local family. By the time I get to see them it will have been two months 😦

Lastly, some good news … grandchild number 5 arrived last week. Welcome aboard young Oswald!

Images of War — Battle of Midway — America’s Decisive Strike in the Pacific in WWII – Review

Anyone with an interest in military history or history generally will know the Battle of Midway. Following Japan’s attack on the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, the US Pacific aircraft carriers were undamaged, leaving the US with three effective carriers in the Pacific.

The Battle of Coral Sea in May 1942 saw one US carrier lost so effectively only two carriers remained. The Japanese Combined Fleet commander, Yamamoto, decided then to lure the remaining carriers into a battle where they could be destroyed. This would give Japan a free hand with its expansion plans across Asia and the Pacific.

Location of Midway Atoll (image from Google Maps)

Yamamoto targeted the Hawaiian Island chain again with the target this time being the Naval Air Station on Midway Atoll. The Japanese then launched an attack on Midway on 4 June 1942. Unfortunately for the Japanese:

  1. The Americans had deciphered Japanese signals so knew exactly where the Japanese attack would fall
  2. Admiral Nimitz had three aircraft carriers in his command, not just the two that the Japanese expected
  3. The americans had more aircraft available than the Japanese, although about one third of those aircraft were land-based

The battle ran over the period 4 to 7 June 1942 and at the end the Japanese had lost all four of their aircraft carriers engaged to one US carrier lost. As a result of those losses, Japan was forced onto the back foot and never recovered its previous naval dominance through the rest of the war. The Battle of Midway is considered by most to be the turning point in the war with Japan.

There are many images and photos from the Battle of Midway, many of them on the Internet illustrating web pages or in museum collections. Frontline Books has published a book of these photographs in their Images of War series. The Battle of Midway — America’s Decisive Strike in the Pacific in WWII was written (compiled?) by John Grehan and is published as a paperback. It is 164 pages long and contains 150 illustrations and photographs. ISBN: 9781526758347 it was published on 23 September 2019.

The photographs in the book are ordered into the following chapters:

  • Map List
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction: The Build-up to Battle
  • 3 June 1943
    1. First Contact
  • 4 June 1942
    1. Bombs Fall on Midway
    2. Attacking the Japanese Fleet
    3. The Japanese Hit Yorktown
    4. The Torpedo Bombers Strike
  • 5 June 1942
    1. Operation MI Cancelled
  • 6 June 1942
    1. Last Shots
  • 7 June 1942
    1. The End of the USS Yorktown
    2. After the Battle
  • References and Notes

I have no hesitation recommending this book to any naval or military historian, modeller or wargamer. I have spent quite a few hours looking at the photographs in this work. In addition to the photographs there is a reasonable interpretation and map how the battle played out.

Battle of Playa Honda

I received a nice comment on a recent article in Thomo’s Hole so went and had a look at that bloggers blog. The blog is Subli. The author is Rosalinda and she is writing about the the Philippines – its history, its culture, and its people.

A couple of days ago she posted Olivier van Noort and other early Spanish-Dutch conflicts in the Philippines. OK, so that was going to be too much for me to ignore so I had a read., as I knew the Dutch hovered around this area, they had a colony on what is today Taiwan for example so I was not surprised they were involved in the Philippines as well.

Olivier van Noort sailed into the Pacific and on to the Philippines during the Eighty Years’ War between the United Provinces and Spain. He was one of many captains who fought the Spanish in these waters (and at the entrance to Manila Bay as well) with Galleons. The Spanish were similarly equipped with Galleons and some Galleys. I need to do  a lot more research on the vessels involved as this particular war and location is not within my usual area of reading.

The area of modern Botolan (in the province of Zambales) was known in those days as Playa Honda. There were three known minor conflicts during the Eighty Years’ War between the United Provinces and Spain held in Playa Honda in the Philippines. All the battles were won by the Spanish. The first battle occurred in 1610. The second, the most famous, took place in 1617. The third battle took place in 1624.

Interest piqued, now for some bright, shiny searching! Oh, and do stop in to Subli, there is some interesting posts in that blog, particularly about early Philippine history.

Historical Fiction is Costing me a Fortune!

And not so much for the cost of the book. Almost all fiction and about half the non-fiction I read today I read on my Kindle, tablet or ‘phone. I’ve gotten over missing the tactile feel of a new or old book as well as the lack of smell of digital editions so more and more I am downloading my books. The problem is not the cost of the book but rather the cost of the wargame figures in dollars, time and paint that results from reading the book. Within Thomo’s Hole, for example, I have noted the following projects that came from reading:

And that is just over the last 12 months. The list goes on however.

Currently I am reading two historical novels – one on my ‘phone and this one, Divided Empire on my Kindle. I had read part of this before then got distracted but I can’t recall where I got up to so I am sure I never finished. Of course, the biggest problem is that this is set in the period of the Later Roman Empire, around 400 CE and of course I am now thinking of Late Romans, Goths and what have you. This particular temptation is not helped by the fact that I have Goths left over and laying idle in the spares box after sorting and getting things ready for the Dark Age project.

Worse, there are another few books in the series and I can see myself at the minimum putting together a small set of some 6mm late Romans and Goths. Of course, if one is doing some Romans, one really should do two armies of them so that a quick civil war becomes in order so that would be a small set of three armies. Then really, one should at least have a fourth so a Big Battle DBA becomes possible. I can see where this is leading.

In a moment of laziness, I was looking through some new releases and The Black Sheep by Peter Darman popped up. I had read most of the Parthian series until Pacorus started to annoy me so thought “here is a good one to have on the list ready for when I finish Divided House, I’ll just have a quick look at the opening pages.”

The Black Sheep is set in the time of the War of Sicilian Vespers, a war I knew about in passing but not in any detail. As is usual in these things, one thing led to another and I started reading up on the Sicilian Vespers. Now I am thinking 1282 to 1302 CE and Byzantines, Sicilians, Anjou, Aragon, France, and Naples. Toss in some Turks and we have a campaign set. Best of all, some galleys as well for the Battle of the Gulf of Naples.

This will be a challenge in 6mm (and 1/1200 for the galleys I think) but hey, life is a challenge isn’t it! One a positive note, it could be the second part of a series of sets based around Sicily.

More lead for the pile! I have to stop reading.

Planning

I am currently in the middle of something all wargamers love to do … plan something. Normally it is a new period, or a battle reenactment, or a new army for competition, or a painting schedule, or something similar. So, I am planning something.

The last couple of nights as I have been thinking (OK those 10 minutes before sleep), I was thinking that blogs still provide a good, easy to search, record of something, especially something that changes over time. Of course, being as I am a boomer, I can still do things like add numbers in my head and use a pen and paper. Them young whippersnappers these days, well, they are all into Vlogs and such. I have a couple of favourites I will admit. Some I watch for fun, some for wargame painting and terrain building technique and ideas. Others are more along the line of a series that would not be amiss on TV as part of the History Channel or similar.

I then got to thinking about the past – the episodes of Callan where our hero was painting figures or playing an evil enemy across the wargame table, or BBC 2’s Time Commanders and one or two others.

Lastly, it occurred to me that once something is on the Internet … it never truly dies. Whether it is a blog on a shared service that lives on long after the writer departs, or as an echo from the past in the Wayback Machine, or from being shared by people who enjoyed it and it ends up copied across many social media platforms, it just seems to survive.

So, I thought I would combine the best of a both worlds at the moment. Wargaming, especially figure gaming, is something I can talk about. There are other things I can discuss, such as economics, business practices, banking and such, but to do that I would need to get clearances from my employer, so wargaming it is. I have been blogging in one form or another since the late 1990s (OK, so back then it was a home page with new content added when I could get around to writing it in HTML). Over the past year or two I have also started to upload a few videos to YouTube. These have been rough and ready affairs and mostly covering parcels received from various figure suppliers.

I am going to start to put an effort into the Videos. They will cover my view of wargaming and my general interests and occasionally, anything that pops up and gets up my nose. At the same time, I will back the videos with blog posts here. I will keep book reviews on the blog as well as any bizarre travel tales or food stories. The YouTube channel will mostly be wargaming.

So, Thomo’s Hole will expand. As I am almost out of space here in WordPress, I am also looking at buying more space and maybe going back to self hosting so there will be plenty to keep me busy in the evening hours, er, when there is not a good Aussie Rules or Rugby (either version) match on and a beer on the bar! Oh, and I am not planning on trying to monetize the channel, not unless a bazillion subscribers turns up! 😉