Recent Book Arrivals

I had a couple of packages arrive recently with the odd book to read. OK. so there was a lot. Some interesting titles in there however and I wuill get around to reviewing when I get a chance (which means when I actually finish reading a few. The temptation is to read them concurrently rather than serially. I shall try and resist that temptation.

The first batch will be pretty quick reading:

The second batch will tale a wee bit longer I will admit:

Mind you, I started on the second batch, in particular Steve Dunn’s. Southern Thunder, The Royal Navy and the Scandinavian Trade in World War One, which frankly I new absolutely nothing about. I can see some great scenarios for a wargame or three there as well as the need to acquire some more ships. Navwar order coming up.

British and Commonwealth Warship Camouflage of WW II: Vol 2, Battleships & Aircraft Carriers – a Review

coverI was very much looking forward to my last trip back to Australia. Apart from getting to see mother, I had a review copy of British and Commonwealth Warship Camouflage of WW II: Vol 2, Battleships & Aircraft Carriers (ISBN: 9781848322530) written by Malcolm Wright and published on 23 September 2015 waiting for me. This volume covered Capital Ships, namely Battleships and Aircraft Carriers of the British Commonwealth, something I have had an interest in since reading up on Task Force 57 and so I really could not wait to open the package. Whilst most will recall the British Commonwealth Navies efforts in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, their exploits are less well known in the Indian and Pacific Oceans at the time.

What is also not often realised is that by the end of the Second World War, the United Kingdom had more aircraft carriers under steam than any other navy with the exception if the US Navy. The British Pacific Fleet in 1945 for example consisted of 6 fleet carriers, 4 light carriers, 9 escort carriers and 2 aircraft maintenance carriers, with a total of more than 750 aircraft. It also contained 4 battleships.

HMS Malaya
HMS Malaya

The current volume from Mal covers the Aircraft Carriers and Battleships of the British Commonwealth Fleets, often with their pre-war colours as well as their active service camouflage in the Second World War.

I should state at the beginning that I have known the author, Malcolm Wright, for a number of years and you can see my name on his acknowledgements page, not from any addition to the story of the ships and camouflage he is writing about but more from being his part-time technical geek when things go wrong with the computer when he is working on the drafts.

I mentioned that I could not wait to open the parcel containing the book. Wow! I was impressed with Mal’s first volume but this volume surpasses even the high standard of Volume 1. Perhaps it is because it is a book about the battlewagons and carriers or perhaps it is Mal’s drawing ability and the new tools he is using but this volume now sits on top of my book pile for easy reach when I have an hour spare and a hot cup of lapsang souchong in hand.

The book follows the format of Volume 1, with sections on the Reference Sources Mal has used, Paint Types and Schemes, a glossary of Symbols used with the drawings then the vessels themselves. The 5 chapters covering the ships deal with the World War 1 era battleships and battlecruisers, the modern battleships, the monitors, then aircraft carriers and lastly fleet carriers.

Some of the colour chips
Some of the colour chips

Before starting on the ships, Mal discusses the various paint types and schemes, both the official Admiralty schemes and the unofficial. He also looks at Admiralty special schemes and the Admiralty Standard Scheme. Mal also provides a page covering British and Commonwealth Warship Paints During WWII being a page of paint chips, very useful for ship modellers and wargamers. This is also of interest to those with just an interest in warships to see an example of the colours used on British Commonwealth ships during WWII although as Mal will agree, the colours are at best an approximation of the colours, subject both to the limitations of printing as well as there being no extant example of the colours – see for example the discussion on the Mountbatten Pink colour scheme.

Aircraft gloassary
Aircraft glossary
Gun and equipmwent glassary
Gun and equipmwent glassary

There are two pages of, for want of a better term, a glossary for the drawings. The first covers aircraft symbols used in the book to indicate the aircraft carried by various vessels although the markings and colours may vary. The second page is a glossary of the symbols used for weapons and electronics in the book.

There are multiple views of the different vessels reflecting the changes in camouflage over the years. For examples, HMS Queen Elizabeth is illustrated in 1915 as she appeared when providing bombardment support at Gallipoli, then her 1936 colours, followed by 1941 (port and starboard), 1943 (port and starboard), 1943-44 (port and starboard) and then 1944-5 (port and starboard) – ten illustrations showing the progression of camouflage schemes and colours on this vessel over its service life. This pattern is repeated through the book.

HMS Victorious - 1945
HMS Victorious – 1945

To book not only concentrates on British Commonwealth vessels but also covers those vessels transferred to other navies, for example, the Royal Sovereign, which was transferred to the Soviet Union and was re-christened Archangelsk.

There are top views of some vessels as well. The top views become even more valuable with the aircraft carriers. For example, the illustration of HMS Victorious when she was serving in the British Pacific Fleet.

HMAS Albatross
HMAS Albatross

The book is rounded out with a chapter on the escort carriers, some of the more colourful of the capital ships in the British Commonwealth forces and with a discussion of HMAS/HMS Albatross.

I highly recommend this book and it is available from:

Pen and Sword Books (the publisher)


The Book Bug


heliI mentioned somewhere the other day that I had picked up a copy of Heligoland. This is a story of an island close to the coast of Europe and about 290 miles from the English coast. It was populated by about 2,000 people who spoke a language closer to English than any other.

The importance of Heligoland is that it is at he end of the Kiel Canal. England took over the island in 1807 and it was instrumental in defeating Napoleons Continental System.

However, in the late 19th Century, Lord Salisbury, the English Prime Minister, traded the island with Germany for some territory in Africa. This was done without reference to the islanders, one minute they were English, the next they were German. I still have a fair bit of the book to read and I am sure that I will find other parts of it frustrating, such as the English using it as a practice bombing area after World War 2. During that war, the island was the first target for English night bombing.

There are some good scenario opportunities through the book, such as HMS l’Amiable chasing off some Danish privateers.

I bought the book in a Kindle version (my preferred method of reading at the moment). The downside with the Kindle versions is the lack of maps and illustrations in a lot of cases and this book is one that in hardcover has a number.

I can, however, recommend the book – well worth the read.

Plataea 479 BC – Part 2

I finally finished reading this and I am glad I did. Already, as a result of the first quick look, Anthony and I had decided to expand our little ancient Greek project to include the Persian invasion. I thought I had a good understanding of the politics, military systems and battlegrounds of this conflict but Shepherd’s book has me reaching for other reference works as I reassess my understanding of this conflict of systems.

The coverage of the forces, commanders and opposing plans sets the stage for the conflicts to come. A good interpretation of Herodotus along with a review of other sources and secondary works makes this book one of the few that actually covers the battle of Plataea.

The illustrations of Peter Dennis are very evocative and help bring the text further to life. I particularly like “the Most Glorious Victory Ever Known” illustration on pages 70-71 and want my Greeks and Persians to look like that.

The battle maps really help to understand the flow of the battle and Shepherd’s interpretation of it. It is also quite nice to have an Osprey where the supporting photos are generally all colour and not taken in the 1950s – modern photos of the supporting materials.

Well done William, this is a wonderful addition to the Osprey range and I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone with an interest in ancient history generally and the Greek and Persian Wars in particular.

the details of the book:

Campaign 239.

Author: William Shepherd

Illustrator: Peter Dennis

Plataea 479BC

The Contents are:

  1. Origins of the campaign
  2. Chronology
  3. Opposing commanders
  4. Opposing forces
  5. Opposing plans
  6. The campaign to Plataea and Mycale
  7. Plataea
  8. Mycale
  9. After the battles
  10. The battlefields today
  11. Further reading and bibliography
  12. Index

It was released as a paperback; January 2012; 96 pages; ISBN: 9781849085540

Plataea 479 BC

plataea“What’ll we do for our next period?” asked Anthony.

“Dunno”, says I. “I have a hankering for something 30 Years War ish, or Napoleonic, or maybe even Malburian or the American War of Independence.”

“Yeah”, says Anthony, “or maybe Saxons versus Vikings, after all, Napoleonics is just like American Civil War wargaming with more uniforms and squares.”

“Greeks” he then said! “Let’s do Greeks or Romans. The Peloponnesian War, that’s what we should do.”

“OK” says Thomo thinking to himself “we are doing American Civil War at the moment which has two sides very similar, Greeks versus Greeks, much the same. I wonder if we can call the Isthmus of Corinth the Mason-Dixon line?”

So, I needed to start to think about Greeks. Would it have been the Spartans or the evil Empire (Athens). I wanted reference works and one or two good planning sessions. Out came the electronic version of Thucydides, something to read again on the Kindle on the flight back to Australia.

Just before leaving Singapore for Australia, I noticed that Osprey had just released Campaign 239, Plataea 479 BC, written by William Shepherd and illustrated by Peter Dennis. William had been good enough in December 2010 to send me a copy of Salamis 480 BC – the Naval Campaign That Saved Greece for review. Apart from being stimulated by that read, it was a thoroughly enjoyable read in any case.

So, I think I should get a copy of Plataea I thought to myself. Whilst it is not a Greek versus Greek affair as such, it was perhaps the catalyst that gave rise to the actions that resulted in Athens becoming an empire and as such, facilitating the start of the Peloponnesian Wars. I thought, then, that I would order Shepherd’s Plataea but it was time to travel back to Australia so never got around to it.

What a lovely surprise then when a parcel arrived in the post today – a review copy of Plataea provided by William (thank you sir).

Plataea itself was one of the largest land battles in the Ancient World with around 100,000 Greeks taking on a larger number eastern forces, members of the Persian Empire and including some more Greeks. The battle lasted over several days and at the end the Persian threat to Greece was at an end. The Athenians in particular used this campaign as an excuse to take the struggle to Asia Minor and ultimately led to the development of the Athenian Empire.

Herodotus is the main source for the battle and campaign. Whilst perhaps not as accurate as Thucydides later, Herodotus is credited with being the father of history and he tells a fine story

Shepherd has a very clear writing style and is easy to read. Peter Dennis’s illustrations really bring this battle alive and it has certainly provided a great inspiration to me for the next great wargames project in Singapore … but more of that later. I am really looking forward to reading this book and as I have an 8-hour flight to Singapore coming up in 10 days time, I know what I will be reading on the plane.

Once I have read it, I’ll provide a more in depth review of the book and publish that here as well.

In the meantime, here are the details of the book:

Campaign 239.

Author: William Shepherd

Illustrator: Peter Dennis

Plataea 479BC

The Contents are:

  1. Origins of the campaign
  2. Chronology
  3. Opposing commanders
  4. Opposing forces
  5. Opposing plans
  6. The campaign to Plataea and Mycale
  7. Plataea
  8. Mycale
  9. After the battles
  10. The battlefields today
  11. Further reading and bibliography
  12. Index

It is released as a paperback; January 2012; 96 pages; ISBN: 9781849085540

Salamis 480 BC – The naval campaign that saved Greece

image I’d just left for a trip overseas when my partner mentioned that there was a parcel for me at the post office. She collected and told me it was a book. I knew then it was the Osprey Publishing Campaign number 222. I’d received an email from the author, William Shepherd, promising me a copy to have a look at.

I am glad this volume arrived. This book has been written in the Osprey Campaign series format attempting to cover the topic in 96 pages. The book contains a mix of historical background and modern interpretation coupled with photographs of contemporary artefacts, artistic interpretation and modern photographs of the battlefield, in this case the straits at Salamis.

I will freely admit that I am both an ancient tragic and a naval tragic so there are few better things for me to look at than a book about a topic like Salamis (maybe the Battle of Cape Ecnomus)?

The book itself contains chapters on:

  1. Origins of the Campaign
  2. Chronology
  3. Opposing Commanders
  4. Opposing Forces
  5. Opposing Plans
  6. The Campaign to Salamis
  7. ‘Salamis Divine’
  8. After the Battle
  9. The Battlefield Today

This is also a useful Bibliography included at the end referring the reader to a number of other works for further study along with an index.

Much of the analysis of the performance of triremes (trieres) at Salamis is based on various analyses of the Hellenic Navy’s Olympias, a trireme constructed in modern times based on information provided in the sources. Shepherd makes good use of this analysis as well as a number of photographs of the Olympias underway and in dock.

As you read this work it is clear that Shepherd has a strong interest in both ancient Greece and in naval matters, especially in reference to the oared fighting vessels of antiquity.

Along with clear readable text, there are some interesting illustrations painted by Peter Dennis which give a clue to how ancient naval battles must have looked. The battle maps in this book also give a clear indication of how the Greek dispositions severely hampered the Persians, effectively negating the quantitative advantage Xerxes enjoyed.

I can thoroughly recommend this book, especially to wargamers interested in ancient naval battles as well as those with an interest in ancient Greece. The book itself provides an excellent description of the battle and Dennis’s illustrations have me looking at my 1/1200th triremes and considering how to add flags to the stern of these vessels.

The book is available from Osprey Publishing, Amazon, Book Depository and other outlets. The recommended retail price is £14.99 and the book details are:

Campaign 222
Author: William Shepherd
Illustrator: Peter Dennis
Paperback published in June 2010; 96 pages;
ISBN: 9781846036842

I, for one, am looking forward to Shepherd’s next book which I believe concerns Plataea.

Warrior of Rome – Fire in the East

Thomo Notes: Doug Melville sent this as a comment to Curse You Harry Sidebottom but because it was so detailed (and a good review) I posted it here as an article.

I wrote the review of the Sidebottom book for the Canberra Times:

Warrior of Rome – Fire in the East

Ballista is an odd name. Technically it’s a torsion powered artillery piece. Imagine two giant bars, held in place by tightly wound ropes, (or in emergencies, human hair), that are wound back against the resistance of the ropes, then finally released to hurl a giant arrow at the enemy. Think Heath Robinson meets ‘Scrapheap Challenge’. The Roman army used them in the same way as today an army might use artillery, to defend a position or attack other ‘machines’. It’s also our hero, who has some of the same characteristics, tightly wound and liable to cause great destruction when discharged.

Ballista; or to give him his full name, Marcus Clodius Ballista, knight of Rome, and Dux Ripae, (Duke of the Riverbanks) has a mission to fulfill. He must defend the city of Arete from the invader.

Originally a barbarian hostage from Britain, enobled for his role in the death of Emperor Maximus the Thracian, he is accompanied by faithful servants from Hibernia (Ireland) and Caledonia (Scotland). Both are somewhat caricatured, but at various points provide comic relief as well as the Deus ex machina that sustains the plot. His Greek secretary and a Persian captive create an interesting contrast, and allow the author to present different cultural perspectives.

The author Harry Sidebottom, is in fact Dr. Harry Sidebottom, who teaches Classical History at Oxford, and this is one of the great strengths of this novel, as well as being a source of weakness, of which more later. To further the historical accuracy, the city of Arete is based on Dura Europus, formerly a Palmyran outpost, captured once by the Parthians, recaptured by Rome. It’s final fate is recorded faithfully, and Sidebottom tells the story well.

In the third century AD, (or now, being politically correct, ‘CE’ – Common Era), the Roman Empire faced it’s greatest challenge since Hannibal. Caesar had been a mere amateur, facing tribal confederations and small towns and villages. The emperors of the third century, when not actively tearing lumps off each other, faced the other superpower of the day, the Persians. These are not the Persians of ‘300′ – no war rhinoceroses, but a later dynasty – the Sasanians, sometimes known as the Sassanids. Their empire covered what is now Iraq, Iran, extended into Northern India, Afghanistan, and Armenia and supported a disiplined army and a civilisation as advanced as the Romans themselves, building huge fortified walls, vast irrigation schemes, fortresses and cities, some even populated by their Roman prisoners. Ultimately they would kill or capture three separate Roman Emperors.

The main concern of our hero however, is that on the fluid borders between the two states lie numerous fortified towns; Dura, Amida, Edessa, and many others. It is 255CE, Shapur I, Shahanshah (King of Kings) is moving to attack Roman territory, and Arete is his objective.

Haunted by the dead Emperor, Ballista is also distrusted by Rome, and so is spied upon and expected to fail. He is given few resources – and the defence is something of a suicide mission in the face of the Persian army. Regardless, he motivates his men, (in the same vein as countless movies where tough officers win over recalcitrant troopers), and mounts a sturdy defence. Here is where the real meat of the book benefits from the author’s knowledge of the period. The various means of attacking a fortified city and the counter-measures are almost text book, the artillery, the siege towers, the mine and counter-mine.

Incidents recorded by classical authors such as Ammianus and Procopius in other sieges are woven into the story, adding authenticity. One such is when the common prostitutes of Arete insult the Persians by exposing themselves upon the walls. The original, in Ammianus has it: “Besides this some courtesans shamelessly drew up their clothing and displayed to Cabades (Kawad the Persian King), who was standing close by, those parts of a woman’s body which it is not proper that men should see uncovered.”

The incidents of combat are well told and pacy, and suspense is maintained with sub-plots and potential betrayals. The only weakness is the author’s erudition. On any one page you may encounter italicised terms like spatha, kyrios or contubernium flocking together. To the casual reader this can be confusing; and while most terms are explained initially, by the time the action heats up, it can be frustrating to have to flick back and discover that a spatha is a long slashing sword, a contubernium the group of legionaries who mess together.

The book itself is subtitled ‘Part One’ so we must assume that Ballista will re-appear in further volumes. I look forward to them.

The reviewer has an ongoing interest in Sasanian Persian History.

Warrior of Rome – Fire in the East
Publisher: Penguin/Michael Joseph
Release date: 4 August 2008
RRP: $32.95

The Last Templar

I watched it tonight – what a crock. At least I’m glad I had not spent money to see this at the cinema. All was going well in the opening sequences but then it went down as fast as the Templar ship!

Spoiler alert – if you haven’t seen the movie and do not want to know what happens, then read no further – otherwise, read on if you want to hear my comments.

The Templars were in Jerusalem when the Ottoman Turks took it in 1291 – OK except for the fact that around the time that Jerusalem fell the last time from Christian control, there were no Ottoman Turks (I think the Turks at that stage were Seljuks) and the Crusaders had been defeated by the Khwarezmian who had stormed Jerusalem. Indeed, the Ottoman Turks (those under the rule of Osman) only came into existence in 1299.

The Knights Templar held the island of Ruad just off the Syrian shore and that was the last Frankish foothold in the Holy Land. The Mamluks took it after siege in 1302.

The best thing was that these Templars were defending Jerusalem and when all was lost and Jerusalem stormed by the Ottomans, the Templars sailed out of the city, later to be caught in a huge storm with gigantic waves and then they have their boat sunk under them just off the coast of Turkey. Look at a map and tell me how someone can sail out of Jerusalem and sail on to Turkey.

Anyway, enter our good guys and bad guys, have a theft by Templars at a museum in New York and then have Mira Sorvino run around beating up bad guys, solving puzzles and generally behaving like a manic Indiana Jones.

We end up off the coast of Turkey for the final showdown.

The bad guy (well, one of them anyway) is on a boat in a fierce storm – he still persuades the skipper to set divers down to recover part of the Templar boat – yeah, right, like that is going to happen in a storm. The other bad guys also managed to hide away on the same boat and eventually there is a huge all-in brawl which is terminated by a wave the size of the one that took out George Clooney’s boat in a perfect storm – er, and this is a storm generated wave in the Mediterranean in the area between, say, Lebanon and the Turkish coast.

At lastly, the Gospel of Yeshua which is the Treasure will bring down the foundations of Christianity. Well, if that was the case and this document would destroy the church, why then were the Templars bothering to defend Jerusalem from the Turks.

The Last Templar is rated 5.5 at IMDB but I suspect folks were just being kind to Omar Sharif.

Still, Omar Sharif was good as the old Greek bloke Konstantine living on the small island with a really long, really wide sandy beach with a good surf rolling and debris carried up the beach by the tide at the end of the movie. Yassos!

Slumdog Millionaire

We went to the movies again on Monday night. I like Monday night – $9.50 entrance charge at the Palace on Norton St, Leichhardt and about 10 people in the cinema. A nice wine or beer and a good movie and the world is a wonderful place.

So, we went and saw Slumdog Millionaire. What a great film this is, tracing the love story of Jamal and Latika from when they were children by the medium of Jamal’s appearance on the Indian version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” The TV show is central to the movie’s plot and shows how even a slumdog could win if the questions just happen to be correct.

More central to the plot though was the relationship between Jamal and his brother as well as the two boys and Latika. Start the film in the slums of Mumbai, add some religious intolerance, throw in some pretty scenery around the Taj Mahal, have the boys develop to men and follow separate paths, introduce a villain (“known racing identity” as he would be called in Australia), toss in some rather brutal police interrogation techniques and then couple all that with the desire of 900,000,000 people to change their lot in life and it is a powerful story, told so well.

This really is a must-see movie. I’ve spent about 6 months or so living and working in Mumbai and Bangalore and frankly, from the opening scenes I could smell, hear and taste India as I watched the movie.

Stay for the closing credits too – the Bollywood song and dance on the closing scene is worth it too!

Movietime Again – Benjamin Button

Monday night is cheap night at the cinema in Leichhardt so off we went. I much preferred Leichhardt to Burwood (last weeks cheap cinema). Leichhardt was great, you could see it’s original shape inside its new housing. However, enough of that. Last night it was the Curious Case of Benjamin Button.I have to be honest and say up front that I was not sure that I was really going to like this movie and I was a little worried that it was so long but I was pleasantly surprised.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a short story written by F Scott-Fitzgerald in 1921 and it served as the basis for the screen story and screenplay, although the original has Benjamin going away to fight in the Spanish-American War, attacking San Juan Hill rather than fighting on a tug in the Atlantic Ocean.

Leaving the short story behind and concentrating on the movie, as I mentioned, I was a little concerned that the movie may have been too long – I’m not renowned for my ability to sit in one place too long after all. However, the way the screenplay was written, and given the appearance of the movie, I don’t think it could have been any shorter. It worked at its length. I will also admit that Brad Pitt is not my favourite actor (although I could just be jealous) but I think he did a wonderful job in the movie as the thoughtful, southern gentleman, Benjamin Buttons. In fact seven actors played the Benjamin character in the movie.

Cate Blanchett was excellent in this role however, changing her moods to suit the role – the aloof but somewhat airy-fairy ballet dancer, the thoughtful mother still in love with a man getting younger by the day and to the caring and loving old lady.

My favourite character though has to be Captain Mike played by Jared Harris. What a larrikin.

Really, loved the movie and can recommend it although I would have liked to see the last two lightning strikes (when you see it you’ll understand the last sentence).