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.

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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!

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.

Boys Own Battleships – Book Review

20160518_211843[1]Pen & Sword Military have produced the first volume of what will be a wonderful series of books. This is British Warship Recognition – the Perkins Identification Albums originally written/illustrated by Richard Perkins. This is Volume 1 dealing with Capital Ships 1895-1939 (ISBN 9781848323827).

First off I must note that this book is not for everybody. It is a book that you will either love or “just not get”. The older reader (and I count myself in that group) who can remember part of their childhood being spent with an exercise book, coloured pencils and a book on, say German World War 2 aircraft and who then spent hours redrawing the aircraft from the pictures in the book will “get” thins book. I can understand what Perkins was attempting. Had I been in his position and possessed half his talents I would probably have done the same thing.

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 where it can still be seen today and where it forms the core of the historic photos naval section. Whole 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.

This project grew into an enormous resource covering virtually every Royal Navy ship from 1860 to 1939, when security restrictions forced Perkins to stop work.

The book is, in essence, a photographic reprint of Perkins’s original art books where he set about to draw and paint the British fleet. He then 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 and so on.

20160518_211937[1]He then decided to paint the differences in the vessels as he saw them. The example I selected is five slightly difference drawings of HMS Agincourt seen to the right.

You will notice that I do not have any scanned images to illustrate but rather photographed off my phone. There is a reason for this. The book is big. A page was bigger than my scanner plate. I could not sit back in my favourite chair with this book in my lap. My lap is not big enough. To look through this I had the book placed on a table and work from there.

The book however in and of itself is superb and the drawings speak for themselves. Younger readers may not understand the significance of this work but all will be able to appreciate the art involved. This book belongs in the collection of any naval enthusiast or historian. Best of all, it is the first of 8 volumes. The next volume is due for release in September this year – it will deal with Armoured Ships 1860-1895, Monitors and Aviation Ships. I for one will be interested int he aviation ships extant before 1895.

As to Perkins’s first volume. One word.

Magnificent!

 

Images of War – Two Books Reviewed

SCAN0015Two more books from Pen & Sword Military came into my hands recently. These are both in the series of Images of War designed to provide a general military history of a war or campaign with an emphasis on contemporary photographs. The ones I have seen have concentrated on the Eastern Front of World War II, although other theatres are covered as well.

The first of the additions to my collection was the Battle for Kharkov 1941-1943 written and compiled by Anthony Tucker-Jones (ISBN 9781473827479).

By the time of the Battle for Kharkov the titanic struggle between Germany and the USSR was well underway with both Hitler and Stalin does their best to stymy their professional generals – one by interfering micro management, the other by bloody pogroms eliminating generals that were perceived as a threat.

SCAN0011Kharkov was the site of four battles during World War 2. The first was when the Germans took Kharkov, but were too slow to prevent the Soviets moving the tank factory  the home of the T34 tank. The second and third battles were unsuccessful attempts by the Soviet forces to recapture Kharkov and the fourth, after the Germans loss at Kursk, finally saw Kharkov liberated and back in Soviet hands.

Most of the photos in this collection have come from the Scott Pick WWII Russian Front Original Photo Collection which consists of over 2,500 photographs, not only of soldiers and tanks but also of buildings and civilians. There are a lot of inspiring photographs in there for the modeller and wargamer.
The second Images of War has the general title of Hitler versus Stalin – The Eastern Front 1941-1942 – Barbarossa to Moscow. This volume was written and compiled by Nik Cornish (ISBN 9781783463985).

Mongol in Russian Service - a German POW
Mongol in Russian Service – a German POW

This volume is a more general volume than the Kharkov one and covers the first two years on the Eastern Front with a fine collection of photos.

Included in the photos on this volume are lend lease tanks in Soviet service (see the image of the M3 Grant below) including American and British tanks.

Also included are images of the French Hotchkiss H-35 pressed into service with Souma tanks in German Panzer Battalion 211. About 100 French tanks were pressed into German service and for me it is a good excuse to purchase some more models.

One of my interests has been the Battle of Khalkin-gol (Nomonhan) where the Soviets and Mongolians defeated the Japanese and Manchurians. Also of interest were the Korean soldiers captured by the Soviets from the Japanese and pressed into service, only later to be captured by the Germans and then the Americans.  The blog post here, Korean Soldiers in WW2 German Army, tells tha tale.

Central Asian (maybe Kazakh or Mongol) in Russian Service
Central Asian (maybe Kazakh or Mongol) in Russian Service

I was also aware of the Mongols having marched into Berlin with the Red Army towards the end of the war. This is highlighted by the T34/85 tank donated by the Russians to the Mongols and on a pedestal and permanent display in Ulaanbaatar at the foot of Zaisan.

It was then interested to see the next two photos. The first is clearly a Mongol, also captured by the Germans. Some of the captured troops from the more disaffected areas of Central Asia were pressed into German service, the others were parked in concentration camps.

Hotchkiss H-35 tanks in German service
Hotchkiss H-35 tanks in German service

The next figure down is also from Central Asia but his nationality is less clear. He appears to a Kazakh or similar.

M3 Grant tanks used by the Soviets
M3 Grant tanks used by the Soviets

These two books are a great addition to my World War 2 library and provide wonderful evidence for my having a German tank battalion of Hotchkiss and Souma tanks facing off against Soviets using M2 Stuarts and M3 Grants.

The things I enjoy mostly about this series are the photographs. The books are well illustrated and provide inspiration for modellers and wargamers as well as providing source material or evidence for the more serious student of World War II history. Most of the photos were new to me and this series provides good value for money. They are available in traditional softback bindings as well as eBooks. Recommended!

German Battlecruisers – Book Review

9781848321816The good folk at Pen & Sword Military sent me a care package recently with four books in a very large package. I will look at the others later but the first book to take my interest is ShipCraft 22 dealing with German Battlecruisers.

This book provides a useful companion to the modeller when engaging in a build of one of these vessels, however the images of Jim Baumann’s scuttled Hindenburg model in 1/700 scale alone is worth getting the book for!

The ShipCraft range of publications are a combination of contemporary photographs coupled with colour references for paint schemes and a critical review of available model kits. In short, they are the type of publication aimed at the ship modeller or perhaps naval wargamer to help get the colour and appearance of their models correct (or at least to the stage of “that looks about right”).

The publication would also be useful to the naval enthusiast as well although to be honest, if looking for information on the vessels, the first book I would reach for when looking for would be my copy of Conway’s. If looking to paint some German Battlecruisers, then this publication would be first to come to hand.

The book runs to 64 pages, a size familiar to modellers and. There are sections in the book covering Design; Careers; Model Products; Modelmakers’ Showcase; Camouflage Schemes; Appearance; Plans; and Selected References.

The vessels covered in the book are Blücher; Von Der Tann; the Moltke class (Moltke, Goeben); Seydlitz; and the Derfflinger class (Derfflinger, Lützow). Mention is also made of the Battlecruisers that were not completed.

The Design and Career chapters provide a reasonable summary, largely covering the service life of the vessels and briefly the battles they fought. There are some useful comparison tables as well. The table looking at the armament characteristics for example is quite useful and illustrates the difference in range for guns of the same weight (see the slight range differences between the 11” L/45 and the 11” L/50 guns).

The next chapter deals with both the model kits available in plastic, resin, paper and white metal along with extras for gilding the lily on those kits. The extras discussed include photo-etched parts, wooden decks, brass gun barrels and masts to add a greater level of realism to the models. A fair roundup of the kits available is given.

Next is for me the pièce de résistance, the chapter dealing with the work of many modellers. Work by the likes of Jim Baumann (perhaps the best ship/water modeller I have seen), Horst Luecke (I can’t believe it is a paper model), Kostas Katseas, and Nick Dogger amongst others. Baumann’s scuttled Hindenburg is special as well as the 1/700 scale crew on Dogger’s Lützow.

Two colour illustrations follow, one of the Derfflinger in standard SMS colours circa 1917 and the other showing a camouflage pattern for the Yavuz (Goeben) circa 1942. There is then a discussion on the Appearance of each of the vessels noting the differences between sister ships. The section also discusses camouflage and the lack of it on German vessels in the First World War noting that the standard scheme for vessels was based around light grey. The book finishes with a number of plans and references.

This book provides a useful companion to the modeller when engaging in a build of one of these vessels, however the images of Jim Baumann’s scuttled Hindenburg model in 1/700 scale alone is worth getting the book for! The authors are Robert Brown and Steve Backer with George Richardson drawing the plans and the colour artwork. It is published by Seaforth Publishing, ISBN 978-1-84832-181-6. The ShipCraft series of books are designed to provide information for modellers and enthusiasts.

Pompeii

I’d like to say that the 43 minutes I managed to watch of this was 43 minutes of my life I will never get back however as I was on a flight at the time, at least I didn’t have to pay for it.

As a movie … dreadful. It’s sort of like the Poseidon Adventure with Gladiators. We all know Vesuvius is going to chuck a wobbly so we keep flashing from Pompeii and the shenanigans there to the volcano – an expanding lake, a big bubble, the red lava bubbling away in the cone, the earthquakes, yep, all that stuff.

So, basically our hero sees his family butchered by the Romans and then is captured by slavers. He ends up in the gladiator ring where he is known as the Celt. There is lots of 21st century morality floating around and of course Rome sucks!

We’ve got your evil Senator trying to get in the toga of the local Pompeiian property developer’s daughter. There’s also the nasty general responsible for necking the Celt’s family. The decent gladiator the Celt is supposed to fight to win his freedom ends up being an ally, the only thing missing is Spartacus!

I would like to provide more about the movie, whack in a couple of spoilers but really, I couldn’t watch any more so changed channels to watch Mr Peabody and Sherman.

On a scale of 1 to 10, this is a Z!

However, I should mention that Mr Peabody and Sherman was a winner, a much better movie and one that kids and geeks would enjoy. A great movie really, with some interesting time travel conundrums – remember the way back WABAC machine?

On a six hour something minute flight it was possible to catch up on a lot of TV viewing, especially when not wasting time on Pompeii. Several episodes of the Big Bang Theory managed to get me up to date. The most interesting new thing I saw was episode one of Fleming, a series I will need to pay more attention to.

This was on Singapore Airlines. The weirdest thing though was the Maserati advertisement before the shows. Maserati? In economy class? Down the back with the chooks? Really?

Wargames, Soldiers and Strategy

WSS 71So I mentioned how good Wargames, Soldier and Strategy was as a magazine on my Facebook timeline and as a result have had a couple of comments about it. I thought then a brief mention of Issue 71 was well in order.

Rather than waxing lyrical, I thought the simplest way is to show the contents page (which should also ensure that I am using it for fair use). The theme for this last issue is the Conquest of the New World and there are articles on:

  • Conquest of the New World (an historical overview)
  • Xochimilco (I wish I could pronounce that)
  • The Skulking Practice of War (17th Century New England)
  • In Search of El Dorado
  • Tlaxcala, The Aztecs’ Enemy (and another name I wish I could pronounce)
  • Creating and Aztec House
  • The Halls of Montezuma (that I can pronounce)
  • The Night of Sorrows (painting the diorama that is on the front cover

There are then the regular features, which are normally an interview with a personality from within the wargames world, Pillage in the Village (Viking raiding for fun and profit and probably topical given the start to Vikings Series 2 recently), Mohnke Business (work that out yourself) and some Steampunk skirmish rules.

The Regular Departments which include reviews of miniatures, Rick Priestly’s column (always a good read), game reviews, road test of rules, boardgame reviews and book reviews.

The last section is hobby general and usually covers tasks such as painting big armies, making terrain, flags etc.

All in all, it is a great read and delivered digitally, brilliant value. The digital edition comes as a PDF and you can view it anywhere you can view a PDF file.

Highly recommended and my a long-shot, my favourite general wargaming magazine currently. My only criticism is that it only comes around every two months!

Fleet Admiral – Volume 1 Naval Warfare – 1890-1924

fleetAdmiralMy old mate Bill Madison, designer of the odd game such as Dawn of the Rising Sun — the Russo-Japanese War (and one of my favourites I must admit) and self confessed tragic of the history of the Russian-Japanese War of 1904-1905 (see the Russo-Japanese War Research Society) has turned his hand to writing rules for one of my favourite periods of naval warfare — the pre-Dreadnought period.

Fleet Admiral – Volume 1 Naval Warfare – 1890-1924 is a set of naval wargame rules designed specifically for that period starting about 15 years before the appearance of HMS Dreadnought and running to 1924, when aircraft started to play more of a role in naval warfare other than perhaps as interested observers and spotters. At the start of this period, admirals envisaged ship combats based around a range of 4,000 yards ship-to-ship and by the end of this period, lessons had been learned and big ship guns were opening fire at ranges hitherto thought impracticable.

The rules are divided into a number of broad sections – based on general principles; an example game outlining the various rule mechanisms; specific rule sections covering things such as movement, firing, torpedos, damage and such; and finally a section of tables and charts for use during the game.

The rules themselves adopt a couple of principles that we have generally moved away from. For example, recent rules have adopted the “I go, you go” method of movement (or variations on that) and cumulative damage points affecting flotation, speed and the ability to fight. These simplifications have kept games moving quickly but lose some of the flavour of these queens of the seas battling like the behemoths they were against each other, where a ship can heroically carry on fighting even when pounded to little better than flotsam.

The game scale used is either 1″ or 1cm being equal to 1,000 yards and makes the simplifying assumption that a nautical mile is 2,000 yards or 1,829 metres1. This scale gives a sea area for the standard wargames table (6’x4′) of around 860 square nautical miles, and a greater area of course for those gamers fortunate enough to have a larger area available.

Fleet Admiral also adopts a variable time scale of three minutes for surface moves and one minute per turn for aerial moves. Simultaneous movement is written into the rules and governed by both sides writing movement and firing orders at the start of each move. This may seem a reversion to the practices of the past but it does add the refreshing dimension of trying to second guess your opponent, an ability admirals of the past either possessed and successfully managed to find themselves in better tactical positions than their opponents or missed.

I like this slight, added complication, enabling as it does, for one to do the unexpected and not necessarily to be ground down by all your moves being shadowed by the second player to move.

The ships of the time are split into broad bands based on their size. This is a simple way to work out detection and movement but given the amount of smoke generated by the average coal-burning vessel of the time, I would have thought that apart from heavy fogs, the enemy ships were located where there was a big cloud of coal smoke. Admittedly whether or not they were battleships or destroyers was not so clear until the distance had been closed somewhat.

Vessels are further defined by:

  • length (useful for torpedo attacks and gunnery resolution)
  • speed
  • whether they carried ASDIC, hydrophones, anti-submarine weapons
  • the number of their main and secondary gun directors
  • aircraft carried
  • armour:
    • belt
    • deck
    • barbette
    • main and secondary battery
    • casemates
    • conning tower
    • magazine
    • vitals (important for protected cruisers who tended not to have belt armour but rather armour around the vital areas of the vessel – magazine etc)
    • bulges
  • armament:
    • main, secondary and tertiary batteries
    • light batteries
    • anti aircraft
    • torpedos (whether deck mounted, hull above waterline or hull below waterline)

As mentioned there is a variable move time and so the sequence of play is 1 or 3 minutes in length and follows the general order of writing orders for movement and/or firing with movement occurring simultaneously; combat; detection; reactive fire phase (for recently detected vessels); and damage control.

The rules are explained by an example game (a well known World War 1 battle) which is the next best thing to having someone who knows the rules play with you. They are well cross-referenced.

There is also some degrees of specific period flavour or change. For example, from 1910 onwards ships may engage multiple targets with different batteries depending on the number of directors that are carried. Generally more directors give more accuracy.

There are extensive rules for torpedos and I particularly liked the section “Torpedo Tactics 101”. This outlined different “phases” of torpedo work by Torpedo Boats, Torpedo Boat Destroyers and Destroyers. The phases are:

  • “Strikes” — where the other to attack is given;
  • “Threats” — where the presence of a large number of torpedo vessels prevented the enemy closing the range — or of the threat becoming accepted, turning it into a strike; and
  • “Melees” — where there is a confused close range encounter with combatants trying to strike each other whilst dodge the other sides launched torpedos.

Hits on vessels, whether by torpedo or gunfire, affect different areas of the vessels and have a different effect. For example, a hit on the bow will reduce the speed of a vessel by 1 knot (3 knots of the gun causing the hit was an 8″ or larger gun). A hit on the vessel may destroy a light battery (reducing that fire-power) or main magazine and so on. Hits on previously destroyed areas cause no further damage but may generate more fires.

One other thing I liked was torpedo hits of vessels with tumblehomes will cause those ships to sink faster — look up the effects of waterplanes2 to see why 🙂

The rules also make allowances for those infernal flying machines, both aircraft and airships and the weapons designed over the period to deal with them. Also dealt with are submarines and various anti-submarine weapons such as depth charges3, paravanes, anti-submarine mortars, ASDIC etc.

A series of optional rules also adds further variety and deals with weather effects; the time of year and location (visibility issues); smoke and wind; communications, tactical and otherwise by lamps or flags; mines; and some optional rules from the play-testers.

The rules themselves and the example game take up the first 41 pages; pages 42-52 are some scenarios (Asan and Yalu from 1894; Port Arthur, Yellow Sea and Tsushima from 1904; and Cape Sarych, Dogger Bank and the battle cruisers at Jutland from World War 1 amongst others). The remainder of the book has game tables, aircraft details, airship details, weapon details, blank order sheets and ship information cards.

The ship information cards that need to be completed before the start of battle will require the gamer to have access to Conway’s or Jane’s or the Internet to find the ship information necessary (speed, armour, armament etc).

I played a little test battle on the floor the other night (I haven’t got a wargames table here and double bed was not usable at the time) and the game played well. It was just a couple of pre-dreadnought battleships. It was harder to represent simultaneous movement by myself but it was easy enough playing a scenario from the point where the ships had spotted each other and in the best traditions of navies worldwide, had engaged.

I am not sure whether I would try and play out the full Battle of Jutland as a single wargame with these rules (memo to self – paint those fleets) however that battle tended to break down into a number of separate engagements anyway.

I can thoroughly recommend these rules as an alternative way of looking at the naval battles of the 1890 to 1924 period in 2014. I also like the fact that these rules specifically consider those pre-dreadnought battleships from the Sino-Japanese War of 1894, Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5 and the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913.

Bill is working on a companion set to take naval warfare through the Second World War.


Footnotes

1. Well, it’s not 2,000 yards but rather was supposed to be 1 minute of arc along any of the earth’s meridians. By modern agreement and convention, the calculation of that value now is agreed at 1,852 metres or 6,076 feet (2,025 yards). It is a simplifying assumption Bill makes but it works.

2. The horizontal plane which passes through a floating ship on a level with the waterline:

3. They are depth charges Bill … not depth chargers 🙂