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.

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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.

YouTube – Navwar Parcel Arrives

I received a parcel from Navwar with some ships present. Two fleet packs were included (World War 1 Russia and Modern Soviet) as well as a number of individual Dutch World War 2 vessels. Here we have a look at them as well as  a brief look at the painting table.

Video is here:

Comments are welcome and I have started to get a little better.

Yep, Another New Project

The problem with being distracted from current wargaming projects into new projects is that it never stops at one. You get a new interest, start looking around at rules for that interest then get distracted again. Next thing you know you you have three or four more projects in mind.

I was looking at rules for the Greek project I mentioned in the last post here and next thing I knew I was looking at Dadi&Piombo’s Basic Impetus Expansion, Basic Battles.

Basic Battles is an expansion on the Basic Impetus system, moving that system from the Renaissance to the Colonial Wars periods. This includes Napoleonics and I just happen to have a couple of 6mm Napoleonic Armies waiting in the lead pile – only the 1814 Prussians have made it (briefly) to the painting queue.

1st Battalion, West Prussians

Of course, Dadi&Piombo note in the introduction to the rules:

This is an experimental set to expand on Basic Impetus 2.0 rules for later periods, up to Colonial warfare, where one Unit roughly represents one brigade. This set also covers Napoleonics, though a more detailed and tactical ruleset is under development for this period. Basic Impetus 2 can be purchased through www.dadiepiombo.com or digitally through Wargame Vault: www.wargamevault.com/product/200518/Basic-Impetus-2 Available in English, French and Spanish.

Prussian Horse Artillery – both limbered and unlimbered

Naturally I want to use them for Napoleonics. I figure that if I work to the basic system in Baccus’ General de division or Marechal d’Empire rules, use the armies (when painted) with either the Baccus rules or Basic Battles, when the Impetus Napoleonic Rules come along I’m looking sweet.

The armies I have available for this are:

  • 1814 Prussians – Heroics and Ros figures
  • Duchy or Warsaw – Adler Miniatures
  • Confederation of the Rhine (also Adler I think)

If you think it is a small project, I checked on the size of the Prussians and have the following in that group to paint:

  • 32 battalions of infantry
  • 1 batt of schützen
  • 2 regiments of uhlans
  • 2 regts of dragoons
  • 1 regt of horse jaegers
  • 6 regts of cuirassiers
  • 4 regts of landwehr cavalry
  • 12 batteries (line and horse) of artillery

And of course, as a wargamer, you can never have too may projects 🙂

 

 

 

Shiny Things, or Rather the Perils of Being a Wargamer and Reading a New Book

Actually, two books. I received a copy of A Naval History of the Peloponnesian War – Ships, Men and Money in the War at Sea, 431-404 BC written by Marc G DeSantis, ISBN: 9781473861589, published on 29 November 2017.

When reading that I thought it would be a good idea to read Great Battles of the Classical Greek World by Owen Rees, ISBN: 9781473827295, published on 15 August 2016 at the same time as there was a degree of overlap between the two.

Both books are published by Pen & Sword and both look at one area of particular interest to me. I will review both books separately in other blog posts.

So, what is the risk to the Wargamer? Well, it is simple. My favourite periods of interest are Ancient Wargaming and Naval Wargaming. The Peloponnesian War has both. The 25 years of the Peloponnesian War covered a bitter period of classical Greek history and warfare. By this time the Greeks were well settled into the hoplite style of warfare with armoured man, large shields and a long spear standing in a long line with other men similarly armed.

To my pile of uncompleted projects I have added two Greek projects. One is the Greek world circa 670 BCE to 450 BCE – the period when hoplite panoply and warfare was developed to its peak. This was also the period where the Persians were defeated at Marathon and Plataea. The second is the Greek world circa 450 BCE to around 225 BCE which includes the Peloponnesian War.

Fortunately the core troops from the earlier period will also double up for the later period. Currently I am planning the hoplite forces. This little project will be in 6mm for reasons of:

  • space
  • cost
  • speed of painting

Rules will either be DBA or Basic Impetus. The armies should be easy enough to build to be useful for both rule sets. For example, the early Athenian army in Basic Impetus consists of a maximum of 8 bases of Hoplites, and one base each of Slingers, Javelinmen, Thessalian Light Cavalry and Thessalian Medium Cavalry. The DBA equivalent is 10 elements of Hoplites and two elements of skirmishers.

The only real question I have to consider from the rule perspective is whether to use 60mm or 40mm wide bases. DBA would normally be a 40mm element frontage while Dadi and Piombo recommend a 60mm frontage for Basic Impetus in 6mm. 60mm frontage is also the base frontage for Baccus’ SPQR rules.

The base size will set the area that is needed to play and 40mm has the attraction of probably only needed a 2-foot square area (DBA) or 3-foot square (Basic Impetus) while 60mm would set a 4-foot by 3-foot area (Basic Impetus).

More updates later as I start to plan further.

YouTube – In the Mail 01

I sent a small order off to Heroics and Ros just after Christmas for more artillerymen and some more armour for the Poles (and therefore also for the Danes). T-72s and Leopards arrived in the mail recently – this is what was in the packet and will be used for Cold War Commander.

Video is here:

I also ordered and received some Ancient Britons. These will form part of a new project that is setting up in my brain currently – but more on that later.

Comments are welcome and have a safe Easter!

YouTube – On the Workbench 2 – 17 March 2018

I got around to undercoating the t-34s roday. The t-54s needed some aerial repairs so missed the paint. I decided to undercoat in brown instead of the white or black I normally use. I also apologise for the standard of the video, I need a taller tripod os a second pair of hands.

So, started on the painting process of the 6mm Ros and Heroics Poles for Cold War Commander.

Video is here:

I will go about getting myself a half decent spray booth soon too. I have some ideas for a collapsable one.

Comments are welcome and I lied last time when I promised to get better. Next time I will get better, promise!

Images of War – Hitler’s Tank Destroyers – Review

Written by Paul Thomas and published by Pen & Sword Military as part of the Images of War Books Series,  ISBN: 9781473896178 and published on 15 November 2017, this book contains 132 pages with a number of rare photographs from wartime archives, as well as photos of AFVs still existing.

The book is split into an Introduction, then three chapters covering the panzerjäger development and deployment of panzerjägers followed by a chapter on the destruction of the panzerjäger in 1945. Finally there is an Appendix which lists the various panzerjäger vehicles over the period of the war.

Vehicles included are:

  • Panzerjäger I
  • Marder I, II, and III
  • Hornisse/Nashorn
  • Sturmgeschütz IV
  • Elefant
  • Jagdpanzer 38(t) Hetzer
  • Jagdpanther
  • Jagdpanther IV
  • Jagdtiger
  • Sturmgeschütz III (technically an assault gun but also used in the Panzerjäger role
  • And the following self-propelled artillery:
    • Sturmpanzer I Bison
    • Sturmpanzer II Bison
    • Grill
    • Hummel

The book follows the usual format of the Images of War series with more contemporary photos than text. Many of the photos are rare photos from wartime archives. There are some great photos of vehicles in this book, including knocked-out vehicles.

Like previous works in this series, this book is one for the bookshelf of anyone interested in the development and deployment of AFVs though the Second World War.

Images of War – Hitler’s Tank Destroyers

The Naval War in the Baltic – 1939-1945 – Review

I read Freeing the Baltic 1918-1920 about six months ago and as a result I was looking forward to The Naval War in the Baltic 1939-1945. Wow! I wasn’t disappointed.  This book arrived a couple of months ago and I finally had a week where I read rather than painted figures or headed to the pub and this was on the top of the reading pile.

The Naval War in the Baltic 1939-1945 was originally published on 17 May 2017 however it appears to have been sold out and is now due to re-release on 28 February 2018. The author is Poul Grooss. The book is 400 pages long with ISBN 9781526700001.

Poul Grooss is a retired Danish Naval Captain whose career was 40 years long. He served as an intelligence officer and Soviet analyst. He also speaks Russian. He currently is a teacher at the Royal Danish Naval Academy.

I reckoned I knew a bit about World War II and I also knew there was a lot I didn’t know. Reading Grooss’s book has reminded me of how little I do actually know. Grooss starts setting the scene in the book by describing the geography and the history of the Baltic region, then goes on to discuss the political manoeuvring and naval developments between the wars. His coverage of the 1939 to 1945 period starts with the attack on Poland then looks at the Baltic region through to 1941. Later chapters cover the attack on the Soviet Union to Spring 1942; the war between Spring 1942 and 1944; Spring 1944 to New Year 1944/1945; then from that New Year, month by month to the end of the war. He then looks at the aftermath of the war and a retrospective.

The book is easy to read and Grooss has taken advantage of his Russian language skills to collect data from sources not usually referred to western histories. Grooss was writing for the general reader but has managed to write a book that will appeal to both general readers and the more professional historian.

He covers and uncovers the degree of Swedish cooperation with the Germans. He covers the interactions between the Soviets and the Swedes and while this is a naval history of the Baltic, the land battles are included for context, especially Kronstadt and Leningrad. Hitler’s desire to hang on to Narva is also covered.

The Baltic was a training ground for German U-boat crews but what really amazed me was the quantity of mines that were laid there and the amount of shipping that suffered. I should also mention that the Swedes were not as pro-German as we perhaps think, permitting the British to build a listening station on Swedish soil, for example. Both the Germans and the British seemed to have a laissez faire attitude to Swedish neutrality.

This book is not all about Sweden though. Grooss also covers the minor states (Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia) as well as Denmark, Norway, Finland, Poland and of course the main protagonists. The book is supported by many fine photographs, most of which have not been seen in print before as well as well drawn maps. There are a number of appendices and indexes with an index of people and another of ships. There is an appendix containing a chronology of the conflict, a glossary of abbreviations, ranks, terminology and explanations. Another appendix is a cross-reference of place names in various languages as well as an extensive list of sources and bibliography. This book is one I will return to many times in the future I think. For the naval historian, the wargamer and the general reader, it is well worth waiting for this re-release and grabbing a copy.

January 2018 Summary – Work in Progress

The soon to be Polish Army circa 1975

It has been a mixed month. A longer than planned enforced stay in Australia waiting for the alignment of the juggernauts that are the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Australia Post, to return a new passport to me has meant that I have only spent a few days working on my hobbies. So, what have I achieved this month so far?

Last year I had ordered some Poles to provide an opponent for my Cold War Commander Danes, so started work on those in January, getting them ready for some paint (that is the army off to the right there).

Of course, feeling bored, I was glancing through an Heroics and Ros catalogue and decided that I should upgrade the armour in both armies so an order went off to Heroics and Ros for 12 Leopard 1 tanks for the Danes and 12 T-72M tanks for the Poles. I’m a wargamer, I plead guilty to being addicted to buying more figures. I expect the reinforcements to arrive any week now.

The Type 74

I also ordered some more ships early in January while sitting in Oz at mum’s waiting for the passport to arrive. In the fleet order are some World War 1 Russian vessels, a Soviet modern fleet and XXXXXX <– OK,  so I can’t remember the third fleet.

I also have the JGSDF type 74 tank (1/72 scale model) sitting on my work bench. I have started to work on that as well.

Lastly, in January, I managed to finish reading a few books and had them up for review here. So, not a bad effort overall. February target is less beer, lose weight, more hobby!