Sunday 28 February 2021

Austrian Cavalry of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars 1792-1815 - Another book review

In the absence of any gaming here at the Burrow and a slow down in painting (or at least completing) figures I've been able to review yet another offering from Helion and Co.

A great deal has been written about the subject of the book, and I have a fair bit of it myself. However authors Enrico Acerbi and Andras K Molnar are to be commended on an excellent and thorough ‘refresh’ of the subject, using many new and previously unpublished non-English language sources in this impressive, new and weighty publication from Helion and Co, the latest in their successful ‘Reason to Revolution’ series, (Number 60 no less). Again, Helion and series editor Andrew Bamford should also be commended for stepping out of the box with another excellent and well researched book authored by non-native English speakers, which is not without its risks.

The Austrian army was in a state of almost constant warfare against the French throughout the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. For all its perceived lack of success on the battlefield and the poor performance of many of its leaders, the army was actually a well trained and disciplined force. This was especially true of its large mounted arm, regarded, respected and feared as among the best, if not the best, in Europe.

I like the straightforward and direct approach adopted by Helion in almost all their publications. The book begins with an introduction to the Kaiserlich und Koniglich (K und K) army at the start of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars and takes us through a brief history of Austria’s involvement in the ongoing fight against the French. It then gets into the nitty-gritty of the subject and the rest of the book is a detailed exploration of Austrian cavalry, the different types, (for example Cuirassiers, Dragoons, Chevau-Leger, Uhlans and Hussars), beginning with its organisation, tactics, recruitment and training (of men and their mounts) and the glittering array of uniforms. The latter section is especially well detailed, and, as well as covering regular regiments includes many of the Freikorps units raised at times throughout the wars.  The information presented is for the most part neatly tabulated and all is easy to follow.

We are then given a detailed regimental history for each cavalry regiment, including their Colonel ‘proprietors’ and their commanding officers, as well as where they were recruited, stationed in peacetime and the campaigns and battles they were involved in. 

The book is illustrated throughout with many contemporary black and white images, but the central colour plates by Bruno Mugnai are, as one would expect from such a talented artist, gorgeous. For lovers of lists and tables, the one appendix is a comprehensive and interesting list of the names of Austrian army and general staff officers and the appointments they held. 

For anyone interested in the Austrian army of the period, and especially the cavalry, this is should be as welcome an addition to their library as it is to my groaning bookcases. 

Monday 22 February 2021

Italy, Piedmont and War of the Spanish Succession 1701-1712: A Review

Here’s another review I promised to do as soon as I had read the book. No 63 in Helion’s Century of the Soldier series is another of those books that I don’t need but just had to have and find a space for on the shelves. I’ve got collections of Piedmontese troops for the last quarter of the 17thC as well as for the French Revolutionary Wars so an area of interest and potential expense for sure.

 ‘Italy, Piedmont, and the War of the Spanish Succession 1701-1712’ by Cairo Paoletti does what its says on the cover and does it well. The best thing about this book is that it covers one of the secondary but strategically critical areas where the war was fought; one that seems to have been overlooked by English-speaking authors until now. This was a theatre where the Allies, Britain included, sank vast amounts of money and resources into, and it is a story well told. 

The book follows the well-tried and tested Helion format, and takes the reader through the 11 years of the war covered by the book, starting when Piedmont supported the French, then from 1703, when they switched allegiance to join the opposition until the cessation of hostilities. If you are after detail then you won’t be disappointed.

As ever the book is lavishly illustrated with a large number of contemporary black and white pictures as well as 16 central pages of specially commissioned colour paintings showing the dress of not only Piedmontese troops but those of the Papacy, Parma and Tuscany, and details of the flags carried, all by well-known artist Bruno Mugnai. Furthermore there are some useful maps and the uniform guide chart is helpful as it shows the coat and facing colours for each Piedmontese regiment of infantry. Personally my favourite colour plates are those showing the dress of soldiers from Parma, Tuscany and the Papal States.

In summary, this is a well researched and richly detailed and illustrated study of the Piedmontese army and the campaigns in Italy. Helion often have a titanic task translating and editing work from non-English speakers but this book was certainly a most enjoyable read, and as such I can recommended it highly.

“Cannon Played from the Great Fort” A review

I promised to review this and two more new Helion books in an earlier post. Here is the first. 

I like to keep count of the number of books Helion have published in their various series; in this case ‘The Century of the Soldier’ and this book is No. 64. “Cannon Played from the Great Fort” yet again fills a gap in the readily accessible information and knowledge we have on the tragedy that was the English Civil War. The major battles of Marsdon Moor, Naseby, Edgehill and the like have been done to the proverbial death but little, to my understanding at least, has been written about the numerous sieges which took place.

This book focuses just on sieges the undertaken in the Severn Valley, of which there were many, great and small. After an introduction into the science and practice of siege warfare during the mid-17th century there are chapters on each of the years 1643, 1645 and 1646 (there were no siege operations in the region during 1644). The conduct of the sieges of Bristol (1643 & 1644), Gloucester (1643), Shrewsbury (1645) and Worcester (1646) are each described in great detail, supported by contemporary correspondence and records. These chapters do a splendid job building up to the penultimate one which is a well-reasoned analysis of Royalist sieges versus Parliamentarian ones. I will leave the reader to judge which if any side outperformed the other; suffice to say it makes excellent reading. Finally the conclusion contains interesting sections on the overall strategy, and the key technological and intellectual defensive and offensive tactics that were developed and used during the war in the Severn Valley.

To conclude, this is yet another triumph for Helion and author Richard Israel. The subject has clearly been researched deeply and the book is well written and easy to read. Illustrated throughout with 30  photographs of the surviving fortifications, key buildings and landscapes as they are today, 13 reproductions of contemporary drawings and 10 really useful maps, all of which help our understanding of the period and the sieges under analysis. An excellent addition to the series.

Wednesday 17 February 2021

It’s all gone quiet at this end. What’s yours doing?

I’ve not hosted a game for what seems like ages but it’s only been seven days. Feels much longer. I was hors de combat for all of last week. Back related stuff and a trapped nerve in my hip meant I couldn’t stand up straight and/or walk until a day or so ago. Obviously I didn’t get to paint anything either which is frustrating as I set myself little weekly goals and last week’s was a wipe out😫. 

However I did get to play in a live Skype game hosted on Conrad’s dining room table with players from Sunderland, Durham, Teesside and Merseyside. It was a Marlburian game using Conrad’s 1/72 scale collection of Strelets, Zvezda and the rest. The Allies defeated a superior French army. We used Honours of War without any amendments other than the application of common sense as and when necessary.

The new Strelets WSS range are really nice. Way back before the Great Confinement began several of us had decided to put together forces for the WSS in 1/72 scale plastic. I was wary of treading too close to the dark side that is plastic 1/72 but offered to do a number of Brandenburg units. A year later and this is all I’ve got finished. I found them really hard to paint, or maybe I was just overthinking the process. In the end I decided to put each battalion or squadron on a single 160mm wide base, so stuck them down, sprayed them blue and picked out the detail as I saw fit. As these units will demonstrate, I’m not the worlds greatest painter, but I enjoy it and these days can churn out perfectly satisfactory 28mm figures, but it’s taken a year to finish these plastics! Ah well, just another nine battalions, twenty squadrons and some guns and command and I’ll be done, by 2031 at the present rate!

The Late Romans are coming together slowly. I’ve done quite a few myself, with several more units on the go, but I was lucky enough to pick up some painted Late Romans off eBay. They all needed rebasing and needed a few extra figures for most units to bring them up to the strengths I’ve decided upon for the armies.  All units are on the same frontage bases. No reason other than having done a few now it looks good. Storage will be easier too. My mate ‘super painter’ Barry finished another batch of figures for me last week. I now have five new units of Late Roman infantry and two final battalions of green-coated Canadian Militia also arrived yesterday all of which need to be based up (by me). I’ve got quite a few figures in the basing queue already but these will jump to the head of the line.  Two Late Roman armies may sound over ambitious but it’s a worthy idea. 

Photos will follow in due course. 

Monday 15 February 2021

More goodies from Helion


I was fortunate to receive these books last week from the generous gents at Helion. I’ve not finished any of them yet but once I’ve done so will post my reviews here. I’m reading the Piedmont book at the moment and  it’s full of useful stuff for anyone considering building a Piedmontese  army for the War of the Spanish Succession. (Like I am no less....)

Wednesday 10 February 2021

A freebie lecture on siege mentality in the English Civil Wars

 May be an illustration of 1 person and standing

Free Public Lecture – 24th February 4pm - Fear played a large part in siege warfare and was one of the key effects of ordnance bombardment on a settlement. This presentation will look at the physical and psychological damage inflicted by the ordnance on urban sites in the English Civil Wars.
In the 17th century gunpowder artillery had become a new aspect of warfare, supporting the previous methods of breaking a siege by storm or undermining its defences. While similar in style and effect to previous mechanical artillery, the nature of these devices meant that they could be used at an increased rate, and to greater affect.
The presentation will introduce 17th century siege warfare and its place in the English Civil War, how artillery brought about the surrender of the settlements.
email to receive a FREE link to the Microsoft Teams site
Dr Sam Chadwick is a visiting lecturer at the University of Chester. He specialises in the English Civil Wars, siege warfare and “the crowd”, any time the lower classes get uppity and try and throw off their shackles. He is currently writing a book for Helion & Company on the significance of artillery in the sieges of the English Civil Wars.
Why not gen up on the background by getting a copy of our new book on siege warfare in the Civil War period?
Click on the link to found out more

Tuesday 9 February 2021

Battle of Buick’s Ford - War of 1812 game.

This report is a little late but the England v Scotland game on Saturday so depressed me that I took to my bed! Anyway. Last week’s engagement  truly was a game of two halves, well, insofar that (as we ran out of time on the first day) we fought it over two afternoons, Wednesday and Friday. At the request of the chaps it was another War of 1812 shindig. This time I decided on a simple encounter battle. The British needed to take control of the bridges and Buick’s Ford and drive the Americans from the field, while all (!) the Americans had to do was hold the bridges etc. and NOT get beaten. 

This is a rough sketch of the tabletop. Top of the map is the garden end. The British are entering on the left, the Americans on the right, each on one of the (randomly chosen) roads on their side of the table. Both commanders were allowed to chose a brigade to deploy on the table. Richard as the American CinC elected to put his Kentucky militia brigade in the farm area, with the US Rifles spread along the right flank, the 18pdr in the earthwork and the few cavalry at his disposal lurking behind the farm. The British, under Conrad and Paul, didn’t pick up the email about choosing a brigade, so I selected the ‘Light’ brigade on their behalf, entering on the road close to the lakeshore. Each had another, this time randomly selected, brigade that would enter on either of the roads. The Americans were unlucky and received their New York militia brigade. The British were more fortunate and were awarded their 5th brigade, comprised of HM 1st Foot, a weak battalion of Royal Marines, a battalion of Sedentary Militia and a few First Nations warriors. Oh, and a Royal Marine rocket section! These two brigades ended up facing each other at the other end of table as both entered on the ‘kitchen end’, about eight feet from the nearest other bodies of troops! The remaining troops would join the game, or not, on a simple die roll at the start of each turn. On a six a brigade would enter on THAT turn. On a five, the turn after, and a four the turn after that. Again, they could enter at either of the two roads, which one decided by another roll of the dice.

The Kentucky militia brigade.

The British on the extreme right. HM 1st Foot (The Royal Scots),  Royal Marines and Sedentary Militia. Some First Nations and a Rocket section in the background.

Kentucky Mounted Rifles lurking in the woods.

Esmerelda also lurking in the woods....

On the British left, the ‘Light’ brigade, led by four companies of the Canadian Voltigeurs. 

Facing the British across the wooden bridge was an 18-pdr gun and a few companies of  United States Riflemen.

The American commander.

Behind the farms Richard posted his cavalry, a company of US Dragoons and four tiny troops of militia cavalry (7th & 8th New York, the Boston Hussars and the Baltimore Hussars). The two latter units would have not, to my knowledge, served on the Great Lakes front. But they look pretty.

A wider angle view of the Northern, or Garden End of the table.

One of two bands of First Nation warriors in British pay.

So, battle commenced. The British won the initiative and moved first. The Light brigade marched towards the river and bridge, reaching the riverbank by the end of T1, but suffered heavy losses from the Kentucky riflemen and the 18pdr. One unit, three companies of Canadian Select Militia fled.  The other British brigade failed to move. In the American turn, their New York brigade advanced boldly down to road and began to deploy into line, but over the course of the next three or four turns was to be shattered by the volleys of HM 1st Foot. Read on.....

The New York militiamen charged by the British, who survive the closing fire and  drive them off.

The remaining New York militia boldly advanced and formed line to wait for the British counter attack. The battalion defeated in melee earlier by the British is shaken and pulled back in disorder.

Meanwhile the US 2nd Brigade of General Ripley marches up the other road past the farm and on towards the British.

Three Canadian Select Embodied Militia flank companies get over the river and attack the Kentucky riflemen in the woods. They surprisingly defeat the Kentuckians who flee.

The American ‘Bertie Bassets Allsorts) militia cavalry advanced to threaten the British skirmishers and the First Nations warriors  coming up to support them after the latter succeeded in driving off more Kentuckians also hiding in the woods. That wasn’t the expected outcome but.....

At the Southern ‘Kitchen End’ the New York militia are caving in under the pressure of  the Royal Marines and HM 1st Foot.

The Kentucky militia in the farm have seen off most of the British facing them across the river. Their rifle fire proved deadly. However by now they are the only unit left in their brigade so are in trouble, especially as the British artillery had finally got their range.

Facing the Militia and their withering fire are several companies of the Canadian Voltigeurs, Select Militia flank companies, and the Glengarry Light Infantry, supported by a 9-pdr. 

Richard ordered a battalion of Ripley’s brigade of regulars to charge across the bridge. The British cannon holding the end of the bridge failed to stop them and was overrun.

The unlucky Americans were then hit hard by musketry from the British, in particular  six companies of the Canadian Fencible Regiment and a Royal Artillery 5.5” howitzer. They required a break test and fled to the rear.

HM 49th had marched along the shoreline to avoid the fire of the American 18-pdr. As the American reinforcements kept pouring on to the field they faced right to give them a volley.

Scott’s regulars charge HM 49th and force them to retreat.

Scott’s US regular brigade had force marched  along the road and towards the British in support of Ripley’s attack. After driving back HM 49th they charged HM 89th foot. The closing fire shattered the Americans and they routed back the way they’d come.

The British had the dubious benefit of a Royal Marine Artillery rocket section. They made lots of noise and smoke but didn’t get anywhere near their targets. 

The American militia cavalry drive the British and First Nations warriors back over the river.

British reinforcements arrived ready to cross the wooden bridge and engage  the Americans. Ripley’s US brigade was shaken, as was the Kentucky militia brigade holding out in the farm. 

At this point I realised that the American army had three shaken brigades out of five on the field so would be forced to retire. That was great news for the British as the final US regular brigade had entered the table at the kitchen end to replace the routed militiamen from New York. They would be easily contained by the British brigade positioned there, while the remainder of the British army, mostly regulars, was poised to force the river crossing, secure the bridge and drive off the now isolated infantry of General Scott.

It was obviously a British victory, but the game could have gone either way were it not for a serious amount of good and bad luck that benefited the British and really hampered the Americans. I enjoyed the game, and I think the guys did too. It was good to get all of my collection on the table, and even with the number of units on each side (15 or 16 or thereabouts) we still had acres of space in the central six or seven feet of the table. Any congestion was entirely down to the scenario and whims of the players.  It was certainly a less pressured game for me than previous day long battles that I usually offer. The remotely run games are now the new norm are quite straightforward to set up technologically speaking, but still require a great deal of energy by the umpire to keep the momentum going over such a much longer time span.

So, good game, Black Powder II are fine and I’m happy with the tweaks to the troop characteristics and stats but I can’t help wondering what this period would be like using General d’Armee. Richard suggested giving them a try, so we might just do that next time. And half day games are good too.

Tuesday 2 February 2021

Scharnhorst. The Formative Years 1755-1801

I say this every time, and with absolute objectivity, but Helion have done it again with the latest in their ‘Reason to Revolution’ series. ‘Scharnhorst, The Formative Years 1755-1801’ is an absolute cracker. His efforts helping with the rebuilding of the Prussian army after its defeat in 1806 are well known. Until now, his early life, and especially his time in the service of Schaumburg-Lippe, has been largely unrecorded and was a mystery to me. So too was his time as an industrious and innovative instructor in the Hanoverian artillery school. Equally unknown was his service in the field in command of an artillery battery and then as a staff officer officer serving in the Hanoverian Auxiliary Corps in Flanders and Germany during the War of the First Coalition. I’m not aware of any other books (in English at any rate) that cover this important period of Scharnhorst’s life, and this one does it exceedingly well. The book is heavy on detail, as well as on contemporary correspondence, but it is the latter in particular that makes the telling of the story really stand out. The reader is given a unique insight into Scharnhorst the man and what made him tick so to speak. The excerpts, from his daily letters to his wife Klara are very revealing and engaging. It is obvious that a great deal of effort went into researching this volume, and the end result is a well written and engaging book. It is certainly not a dry and dusty tome, but a lively and stimulating volume. There are some useful maps and an extensive bibliography. Anyone with an interest in Scharnhorst, and in the campaigns in Flanders and Germany between 1793 and 1795 in particular, and that includes me in a big way, really must read this book.