A Wargamer’s Guide to the Early Roman Empire – Review

I recently had a look at and reviewed Daniel Mersey’s Wargamer’s Guide to the Desert War. I am fortunate to have received a copy of Mersey’s Wargamer’s Guide to the Early Roman Empire to have a look at.

The book is paperback of 126 pages so slightly longer than the Desert War, was published by Pen & Sword Military on 4 July 2017, ISBN: 9781473849556. It is one of the range of wargame books being published by Pen & Sword. Best of all, it is on sale currently.

The book follows a now familiar format, although in this case, it contains seven chapters:

  1. The Roman Empire 27BC t0 AD284 – an overview of the history of Rome and its wars over the period of the Early Roman Empire
  2. Armies, Organization, and Equipment – covering, well, the armies, their organisation and equipment. A generalised discussion of the organisation covering the Romans; Britons; Caledonians; Dacians; Germans; Palmyrans; Parthians; and Sassanids
  3. The Key Battles – covering (briefly) the battles of Teutoburg Forest; Idistavisus; Medway River; Cremona (Bedriacum); Mons Graupius; Tapae; Issus; Lugdunum; Nisibis; and Emesa. These sections within this chapter briefly describe the battles then provide suggestions for wargaming the battle
  4. Wargaming the Battles of Rome – covering Facing the Might of Rome; Command Structures; Missile Fire; Legion versus Warbands (and Cavalry); the Role of Auxiliary Infantry; and Getting the Right Look
  5. Choosing Your Rules – a summary of a number of rules, including: Armati II; Aurelian; Commands & Colours: Ancients; De Bellis Antiquitatis; Hail Caesar; Kings of War Historical; Legio VI; To The Strongest; War & Conquest; War Games Rules 3000BC to 1485AD; Brink of Battle; Broken Legions; De Bellis Velitum; FUBAR Medieval; Lord of the Rings Battle Game; Of Gods and Mortals; Open Combat; and Song of Blades and Heroes
  6. Choosing Your Models – a look at some of the main manufacturers in various scales including manufacturers of 28mm, 20mm, 15mm, 10/12mm and 6mm. This chapter also discusses scale for each of those figure sizes. There is also a handy table of manufacturers and the ranges they cover (refer point 2 above for the ranges)
  7. Scenarios – presents the setting up of some scenario based battles to provide some variety in the games we play

There is also an index and a list of titles for further reading.

This book has found a welcome place on my bookshelf (actually, coffee table as it has become the favourite for flicking through with a cup of coffee this week). Mersey has set a standard for his Wargamer’s Guides and continues to deliver to that standard. Whilst much of the historical content is familiar to me it is good to be able to read that from another gamer’s perspective. There are 8-pages of eye candy in the middle of the book with painted figures from Simon Miller, Daniel Mersey, Barry Lee and Wargames Illustrated to encourage the reader to whip out the paintbrushes and finish off those Early Imperial Romans.

Mersey discusses the troop types against the very familiar descriptions of troops found in the old Wargames Research Group Series of rules, particularly the 6th edition. He discusses their use in battle, their formation, speed and armament.

I am now torn between completing my Desert War Armies or dragging out the Early Imperial Romans, getting them sorted then building some Britons, Germans, Dacians or Palmyrans for opponents. Hmm, now that I think about it I have some Sassanians tucked away here somewhere as well.

Well recommended for its general nature but also for the inspiration it provides.

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The Forgotten War Against Napoleon – Review

Gareth Glover’s The Forgotten War Against Napoleon – Conflict in the Mediterranean, published on 26 June 2017 by Pen & Sword Military, ISBN 9781473833951, 265 pages is a survey of the Napoleonic Wars in the Mediterranean over the period 1793 to 1815.

The Mediterranean theatre is one familiar to Napoleonic warfare buffs that but for a few engagements is generally is overlooked.

This book does not have a great deal of detail on any one engagement but rather provides a brief look at 55 or so engagements around the Mediterranean.

I’ll come out of the closet. I am a wargamer and the Napoleonic Wars are a period I keep looking at but never really get a head of steam up on a project – much as I have a deep interest in the uniforms, the ships, the battles, and the campaigns.

Glover has surveyed action around the Mediterranean and he provides between 2 and 7 pages per chapter discussing the various actions of the time. This includes both naval and land actions. Egypt is covered as is Corsica, Naples, Malta, Sicily and such. Each of the chapters provides a reasonable overview of the action and sufficient information to persuade the reader to look deeper.

For example, one action I had not heard about (or at least cannot remember reading about) is Algeciras in 1801. This was an action between the British, lead by Sir James Saumarez (the next book on my reading stack being his biography) and a Franco/Spanish fleet. The British 74s engaged a fleet consisting of 74s and Spanish 112s, capturing or sinking a couple. The following morning the French Formidable beat off the attacks of two British ships of the line and a frigate, so a mixed result for the British.

The book is full of short descriptions (the one above lasting just two pages) but will provide plenty of inspiration for either further reading or, in the case of wargamers, scenarios for future games.

The book finishes with the elimination of the Barbary pirates, using that as the conclusion of the war in the Mediterranean.

For the wargamer, a useful source for information for scenarios in the Napoleonic period. For the general reader of history, a useful summary of what went on in the Mediterranean during the Napoleonic Wars.

British Destroyers & Frigates, The Second World War and After – Review

It just so happened that I was reading Sixty Minutes for St George, a Nicholas Everard Thriller (Book 2) where Nick as stationed aboard HMS Mackerel, a fictional destroyer in World War I. I can recommend the Nicolas Everard series, ripping good yarns with a very accurate nautical theme. Anyway, while reading that, along came a copy of British Destroyers & Frigates, The Second World War and After by Norman Friedman. This edition is published on 17 May 2017 by Seaforth Publishing, has 352 pages and its ISBN is 9781526702821. There are also Kindle and ePub versions available.

Since the Second World War we have seen largely the disappearance of the old classes of cruisers and capital ships, with the obvious exception of aircraft and helicopter carriers. Over that same period destroyers and frigates have merged and whilst we still refer to FFGs and DDGs, these vessels have moved closer and closer, especially as Frigates have got larger. Friedman covers this transition within the British Navy well in this work, dealing with the political, strategic and tactical issues that have brought forward Royal Navy designs such as the Type 45 air defence escort.

The book itself is well illustrated with over 200 photographs (in black and white) of vessels as well as ship plans by A D Baker III and detail drawings from Alan Raven. The book not only covers the Royal Navy but also Commonwealth vessels from Australian and Canada, among others.

The book contains the following chapters:

  • Introduction
  • Beginning the Slide Towards War
  • What Sort of Destroyer
  • Defending Trade
  • The War Emergency Destroyers
  • New Destroyer Classes
  • Wartime Ocean Escorts
  • The Post-war Destroyer
  • The Missile Destroyer
  • The 1945 Frigate and Her Successors
  • The Search for Numbers
  • The General Purpose Frigate
  • The Second Post-war Generation
  • The Post-Carrier Generation
  • The Future

Friedman’s writing style is clear and easy to read and the man knows his subject. A lot of research has gone into this book and it shows from start to finish. This book is a must-have for anyone interested in the development of the Royal Navy through the second half of the 20th century.

I’m ready to start buying some more model vessels to paint after reading through this book.

Royal Navy in Eastern Waters – Linchpin of Victory 1935 – 1942 – Review

The Royal Navy in Eastern Waters – Linchpin of Victory 1935-1942 by Andrew Boyd, Foreword by N A M Rodger, published by Seaforth Publishing on 20th March 2017, ISBN: 9781473892484. This book contains 538 pages and is a heavy tome to read cover to cover. The book is well researched and is good value to the reader wanting to know some specific things from this era and area.

I must confess however that when I first saw the title, then the sub-title of “Linchpin of Victory, 1935-1943” I was ready to hold a negative opinion from the start – although perhaps that is not such a bad way to approach a book review. I felt that describing the Royal Navy in Easter Waters as the linchpin to victory was to downplay the considerably larger contribution to victory of the Atlantic and Arctic Convoys, not to mention the hard yards performed by the USA and Allies in the Pacific. Boyd’s book, however, lays out the strategy that saw the creation of the British Pacific Fleet in 1945 which was the most powerful British Fleet ever and capable of standing up to anything the IJN had left. Perhaps a more accurate title may have been Linchpin to the British Part of the Victory.

As I started to look through the book I was pleasantly surprised. It is not a book that is easy to sit down and read from cover to cover as it is written in an academic style. The amount of research in the book is simply outstanding, the notes alone stretch from pager 416 to page 500 with a further 27 pages of bibliography. The book is split into 4 parts contaning 8 chapters overall:

  • *Part I Prpararing for a Two-Hemispehere War
    • The Royal Navy 1935–1939: The Right Navy fir the Right War
    • Naval Defence of the Easter Empire 1935–40: Managing Competing Risks
  • *Part II Existential War in the West
    • Securing Eastern Empire War Potential after the Fall of France
    • The American Relationship, ABC-1 and the Resurrection of an Eastern Fleet
  • *Part III July 1941: The Road to Disaster in the East
    • Royal Navy Readiness for a War with Japan in Mid-1941: Intelligence and Capability
    • Summer and Autumn 1941: Reinforcement and deterrence
    • The Deployment of Force Z and its Consequences: Inevitable Disaster?
  • *Part IV An Inescapable Commitment: The Indian Ocean in 1942
    •  The Defence of the Indian Ocean in 1942
  • *Conclusion

In addition to the chapters, there are maps and tables as well as some illustrations. THe oreward is by noted naval historian N A M Rodger.

The book looks at the background of the fleet over the period, not the battles although some are mentioned such as the Force Z disaster. Rather this book concentrates on the politics, committees and people who effectively ensured that by 1945 the supply lines from Asia to the Mediterranean had been kept open across the Indian Ocean whilst at the same time building the most powerful British Fleet ever in time for the closing stages of the Pacific War.

There are some areas in the work that may raise eyebrows, like, for example, Boyd’s claims about what the Fleet Air Arm may have achieved should a carrier battle have occurred in the Indian Ocean. That said, the book is sitting at an easy to reach place on my bookshelf, where I can refer to its information as I read further about the British Pacific Fleet in particular.

Rodger notes that “this new account ought to startle the many comfortable ideas which have been doxing too long in the arm-chairs” and I would agree that Boyd’s work is a challenge to long held “truths”. It certainly achieved its aims with me in many areas and the prodigious amount of research present in the book does saves a lot of additional research for the reader while at the same time encouraging the reader to research more.

Well Recommended.

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.

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).

USAAF Spitfires in World War 2

In one of those usual oddities of Google and the Internet, I was hunting for some information the other day on Soviet World War 2 aircraft camouflage and, as you do at a time like that, came across a reference to the USAAF flying Spitfires in World War 2. “Tally ho”, I thought,  “here’s an oddity to look further into”.

Look into it I did.

Well, not only did the USAAF flying some Spitfires but the US Navy also managed one squadron. There were four groups in the USAAF flying Spitfires for a time, initially out of England and then in the Mediterranean. They were:

United States Army Air Forces

4th Fighter Group

  • 334th Fighter Squadron
  • 335th Fighter Squadron
  • 336th Fighter Squadron

7th Photographic Reconnaissance Group

  • 13th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron
  • 14th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron

31st Fighter Group

  • 2d Fighter Squadron
  • 4th Fighter Squadron
  • 5th Fighter Squadron

52d Fighter Group

  • 307th Fighter Squadron
  • 308th Fighter Squadron
  • 309th Fighter Squadron

United States Navy

Supermarine_Spitfire_Mk.Vc_USAAFI’ll freely admit that this was news to me. I had always associated the USAAF pursuit (fighter) groups with P-40s, P-47s, P-38s and P-51s, never with the Spitfire.

The 4th Fighter Group was fairly typical, It was constituted and activated in 1942, Activation was in England and the core of the Fighter Group were formers members of the RAF Eagle Squadrons. They commenced operations with Spitfires but moved across to P-47s in March of 1943 and P-51s in April 1944. 

Of course, the US Army Air Force was not the only non-Commonwealth country operating Spitfires in World War 2. I mentioned 1942 above. In 1942 Spitfires were being sent to the Soviet Union to assist that war effort. I can see I will need to add some to my Soviet mid World War 2 army. The picture below is of a line of Spitfires, camouflaged and marked with a red star ready for export to the Soviet Union.

USSR_Vb_1942

French-Indian War – Battle Two at the Gun Bar

It started back on August 3rd, 2013, with the Battle of St Roll No Ones. That was the battle that I rolled so many ones and coupled with the following battle, had us wondering about dice Feng Shui as when we played the third game, Anthony was on the other side of the table. By now, two wins in Rank and File and from what was the poor Feng Shui side of the table now has me wondering if the Feng Shui is period specific.

2013-09-14 15.50.36We met for an engagement at Dresden’s Ford.

The French (that’d be moi) had stolen a march on the British and advanced to the village on the ford. Indeed, the skill of the French engineers and the efforts of the troops ensured the road across the ford and the cross roads were suitably protected with earthworks. The was designed to ensure the the British left a holding force in from of the earthworks and attacked, most likely, on their right flank

The French were ready for an attack on either flank but had le Blue regiment stationed there waiting for the British to come. They came.

The view of the battle from the British side can be seen in General Gage it is with some trepidation … 

2013-09-14 18.36.26 I fear the British powder was wet as they barely caused a French casualty all day. They advance, the French shot, the British routed. Overall it was a simple battle. Those foolhardy enough to advance on the earthworks were repulsed with heavy casualties.

Those attempting to work the flanks were repulsed with heavy casualties as well. The French Cause was aided somewhat by the British inability to roll a 6 (or a 5 or a 4 come to think of it when those were needed).

The photo above is from the Montgolfier brothers recent invention and show the final position of most of the forces.

Lessons and Comments

When attacking hard cover, I think the attackers probably need around 2.5 to 1 odds.

We need to have a look at the interaction between cavalry and squares – namely, how many elements in the square can fire on the cavalry and when it comes time to melee, how many cavalry elements and how many infantry elements get to fight?

Lastly, an about face. 1/4 move to about face and 3/4 move or  … ?

French-Indian War – Battle One at the Gun Bar

The French Battery and and battalion
The French Battery and and battalion

For a change from the Rapid Fire, Anthony suggested I read Rank and File on the bus up to the Gun Bar ((with one small change of letters this could become the Gin Bar)). I’m not sure that it was because he was bored with Rapid Fire but rather than he had received some new toys in the post and wanted to play with them.

The first part of the day was trying a burger from the barbecue as the search for the perfect burger continues (see the next post).

We then retired to the table where some terrain was laid out and Anthony’s French-Indian War figures were ready for battle.

Rules of Engagement were simple. Two roughly equal forces face off against each other across a valley. Let loose the dogs etc etc.

I deployed my cavalry and a battalion of infantry to product my right flank, positioned the battery with another battalion to protect it on the hill and split the remaining four battalions. Two were to hold my left flank and the remaining two to act as a strike-force up the centre. The centre was to be the main strike force as I could rapidly reinforce with another two battalions and support with the artillery.

The main strike force ready to advance and the right flank covered by the dragoons and another battalion
The main strike force ready to advance and the right flank covered by the dragoons and another battalion

It was a plan.

This was out first battle using Rank and File rules

The battle commenced. My left flank advanced and formed line waiting for an expected onslaught from the British. It came and my two battalions performed admirably, not only holding the flank but forcing the British back.

Meanwhile my artillery played on the British battalions and caused them some consternation.

On my right, my dragoons advanced on the river in company with a battalion of infantry to attempt to prevent the British crossing at that point.

My dragoons however ended up being roughly handled by the British and left the field.

Towards the end of the battle before things went pear-shaped on my right. Soon after this both the French and British right flanks crumbled. We called time at this point as both armies would have withdrawn from the field to lick their wounds. We really enjoyed the Rank and File rules and by the end of the battle we were playing bound after bound quite comfortably.

The advance up the road was initially successfully but ultimately failed
The advance up the road was initially successfully but ultimately failed