Monday 31 May 2021

The Italian Wars Volume 2.

The Italian Wars Volume 2 is the sixth book in Helion and Co’s expanding new series ‘From Retinue to Regiment’ and follows on where the first volume left off. Translated from the original Italian it covers the period up to 1515 and focuses on the battles of Agnadello (1509), Ravenna (1512) and Marignano (1515). Authors Massimo Predonzani and Vincenzo Alberici have given us detailed accounts of these battles, each chosen as examples of the shifting alliances witnessed during those turbulent years (in order, France v Venice, France v Spain/the Papacy, and France v the Swiss).

After some scene setting around the political situation in Italy as it stood after the Battle of Fornovo (Vol 1) we are treated to comprehensive analyses of these three battles, including the events leading up to each, the personages and troops involved, detailed orders of battle, the course of each battle, breakdowns of casualties and the aftermath or consequences of victory or defeat, each linking nicely to the next. The use of contemporary accounts throughout is done well to support the narrative, and the different versions of events as told by the chroniclers is quite revealing and amusingly partisan.

A fair chunk of the book (Chapters 16 to 24) is dedicated to descriptions of the armies of Venice, France, Spain, Naples, the Swiss and the Landsknechts, their commanders and their composition, together with the liveries, ‘uniforms’, heraldic emblems and banners of each of the main protagonists.

There are eight pages of gorgeous colour illustrations by co-author Massimo Predonzani of a variety of troop types and banners, a nice touch being the references to the relevant chapter in the book rather than the usual brief description of the plates at the end of the book. As with all Helion publications of this kind the book is also full of contemporary black and white illustrations and some really useful maps, especially those of each of the battles.

To say that this volume is a mine of useful information is an understatement. I own or have read a great deal on the Italian Wars, but while covering much the same ground I found it an informative and refreshing read. The translation from the original Italian is pretty much flawless and is sympathetic to an English-speaking reader. How does this volume compare to its predecessor? Well, and not wishing to appear to downplay the quality of volume 1, (which was good), this one is excellent and in my opinion a much better book. As such I can recommend this book highly.

Sunday 30 May 2021

The Anglo-Spanish War 1655-1660.

One of a welcome deluge of books emerging from the Helion stables so far this year, No 67 in the Century of the Soldier is ‘The Anglo-Spanish War 1655-1660 Volume 1: The War in the West Indies’ by Paul Sutton. To cut to the chase, this book is excellent, well written and a very engaging and informative read. The level of detail is impressive as we are treated to an almost forensic analysis of the background to the war, the build up to the departure of the expeditionary forces, both the fleet and the army, under the command of Admiral William Penn and General Robert Venables respectively. There are extensive and fascinating chapters covering the composition of the army and the fleet. This, the first expedition to the West Indies, was perhaps unsurprisingly, a disaster in the making. Delays in Barbados and the naivety of the choice of Hispaniola as the primary objective and the unexpectedly tough opposition by the Spanish led to the expedition descending on Jamaica, a softer target. The accounts of the land and naval campaigns are full of detail. As always, I’m always attracted the contemporary accounts which to me add a human dimension that should always be remembered. That is especially the case where, as with this campaign, the human cost in terms of lives lost to combat and primarily disease was appalling, and a sign of things to come for successive generations of British soldiers destined for the West Indies. 

The book ends with the occupation of Jamaica; volume 2 will pick up where this leaves off in 1655 to 1662. If it is a good as this volume then it will win a well-deserved place alongside this one on my bookcase.

Monday 24 May 2021

A game just like in days gone by…… The Battle of the Great Grombulian Plain*

Amidst the blare of trumpets and the explosions of fireworks (plus the whir of a powerful air purifier amd the gusts of wind through the open skylights) The Burrow opened its doors to put on ‘proper’ game again, the first since March last year; a kind of wargaming test event I guess! I’m hopeful that we won’t have to go through lockdown again, although it wasn’t time wasted as I seem to have generated rather a lot (shed loads actually) of new stuff, including the Late Romans and Goths pictured in earlier posts, and who had their first outing onto the tabletop on Saturday. 

I wasn’t sure which set of rules to use. It would have been too easy to opt for Hail Caesar, but decided against them and chose to try out  a set new to me, Sword and Spear. Neil, who knows them well, kindly offered to coach us through the game until we got the hang of it, which in half an hour I think we all did. I don’t yet have quite enough opposition for my Late Romans so Conrad (Ishkabar) offered to supply a Hun contingent (Mongols in reality but not a lot of difference really) and Richard (Praefectus Carceris Claudius Ciceris) supplied some rebellious Late Romans to join with my Ostrogoths (led by Neil as their king, Swarfega) in an alliance against a Roman army led by me (Magister Militum Praesentalis and Dux Fumo Praedium, Maximus Parmo) and ably assisted by Paul (Dux Faceos Paulinus) and Nigel (Dux Nautius Maximus), who’s troops did most of the fighting and dying while I dealt with the Huns and, well, you must read on to find out the outcome.

The game was a straightforward encounter battle on a very bare table (for me anyway!) to avoid complications with terrain and stuff. The Roman plan was to use our massed heavy cavalry to attack the Huns and rive them off while our centre and right held the enemy attack, hopefully long enough for the cavalry to sweep round on the enemy rear after seeing off the Huns. It actually worked after a fashion. The photos as usual pick out the highlights of the game and hopefully provide enough of a narrative to permit the reader to follow the action.  I have to say that with a 4m long tabletop I have little idea what went on over on the other flank, or even much beyond the left of centre.

The Roman left; massed heavy cavalry supported by a few light horsemen and horse archers.
Skippio in the ruined temple, used as a marker to denote who had the initiative and in case divine intervention was needed if any kids became stuck down a mine during the game.
The Roman right under Nigel.
Massed Roman cavalry again. A bit of a gamble as there were rebellious Roman cavalry facing our right. 
One of Conrad's scratch-built yurts.

A hoard of Huns (actually Mongols but at this distance? facing my cavalry.

Lots of Goths in the enemy centre under the command of Neil.
The rebel alliance commanders.
Rebel Roman cavalry passing the old aqueduct.
The Goths had plenty of archers to soften up the Roman lines and drive off the opposing skirmishers.
The mass of Goth war bands surged forward.

Rebel Roman Legio closing on Nigel's command.
The Huns advanced rapidly so Paul partially refused his flank in case they found a way through my cavalry.

A close up of the last photo. 
Things are starting to get messy. I do not refer to my lack of a haircut in months! 

Nigel had to refuse his right to counter Richards troops who were getting very close having driven off his light cavalry.

I foolishly lent the enemy a unit of cataphracts, which went on to drive off all our light cavalry on Nigel's wing.

A vicious fight took place between our light cavalry and the Huns, with the latter initially gaining the upper hand, destroying two of our units.

Our centre waiting for the Goth onslaught.
The Goths hit our line and gain the upper hand, destroying two Legio in the process.

Neil also launched his cavalry against Paul's infantry, who only just held them!

Richard's rebel Legios close in on Nigel's now seriously threatened flank.

Our cavalry advanced and began to drive back the Hun light horse archers.

There is fighting almost along the entire front.

Four large Goth war bands locked in combat with the Roman centre.
My cataphracts charged the Hun heavy cavalry and were coming off decidedly worse in the melee, but they held.

Goth cavalry still trying to drive the Romans back.

My other unit of Cataphracts pushing the Huns back.

The Roman line had held despite loosing several units, but the Goths were also savaged by the fierce fighting .

The cavalry on our left turning the enemy flank. In the rules light cavalry are not permitted to interpenetrate when evading so several of Conrad's units were caught and were unable to escape. We might change that rule next time.

The héros of our army were Nigel's artillery crewmen. In the move before this photo was taken they had been hit by pursuing enemy cataphracts but managed to inflict a single hit which was enough to defeat them. Next turn they were sadly overrun by some of Richard's Romans.

The Huns facing my cavalry on our left had now been driven off, so we could turn our attention to the Goth cavalry in the centre.

The enemy CinC hiding under the aqueduct before making his escape. 

By this time the Huns had all been defeated and the Gothic attack had been repulsed. A quick count up revealed that the allied army had gone beyond its break point so it had to retreat. Victory for us! No doubt the survivors will regroup and try again to overthrow the rightful** Emperor!

The rules are great and I think I speak for everyone when I say we had an excellent game and a perfect way to re-open to Burrow. The rules are simple but require some careful thought when playing, are fast paced and provided many a tense moment. The activation and combat systems are simple and give an excellent game and we'd all picked up the basics after the first turn. The methodology for multi-player games is different to simple one on one games. I doubt very much they’d be as effective if we were all playing remotely as the mechanics of the rules would make pairing of dice etc more than a little cumbersome and a bit of a marathon for the game organiser.

I hope to offer another game next week so better get painting to finish off the Goths I still have cluttering up my painting table, and maybe some more Romans as well........

* Edward Lear
** for as long as it suits me of course.

Thursday 20 May 2021

Late for yesterday’s photshoot. A few more Goths

This bunch of Goths were not quite finished yesterday so missed the photo opportunity. I’m quite pleased with the way they’ve turned out, as I started them from bare metal or plastic last weekend. They will get their first tabletop experience this coming Saturday when they shall be taking on my Late Romans. 

Goth noble cavalry from Gripping Beast.

A Goth command stand. 

The Noble cavalry again.

Another command stand.

Not so photo shy now! Those Goth nobles again!

Wednesday 19 May 2021

A real game at the Burrow on Saturday!

Maximus Parmo.

Thanks to Bojo relaxing the social distancing rules I am hosting the first post-pandemic (sort of) game here at the Burrow on Saturday. It will see the first outing of my new Late Romans, and some Goths.

Here are some of the latest completed units and commanders I intend to field. My Late Romans under Maximus Parmo (Me & team) will be facing a “rebel alliance” of usurping Late Romans under Richard, Huns under Conrad and my Goths, commander yet to be decided.

Another Roman war machine. Can you have too many?

The next couple of photos are of the first three units of Goth cavalry. They are all metals bought off eBay then tarted up, re-shielded and re-based.  

A lone unit of Hun mercenaries.
And finally………..what Roman army would be worth its salt without Scipio?

Sunday 16 May 2021

More books. How we nicked an army off Napoleon.

Number 62 of Helion and Company’s ‘From Reason to Revolution’ series is Napoleon’s Stolen Army. How the Royal Navy Rescued a Spanish Army in the Baltic, by John Marsden. Another niche subject, and one I knew nothing much of the detail of this pretty impressive achievement, so was intrigued and eager to find out more. Spain and France were allies at the time a Spanish army of 15000 men under the command of the Marques de Romana was sent to Denmark in 1807. They even saw some action against the Swedes in Swedish Pomerania before being dispersed around mainland Denmark and the Danish archipelago. The situation changed the following year when hostilities broke out between the two former allies after the Spanish citizenry revolted in response to the imprisonment of their Royal family by Napoleon and the placement of his brother Joseph on the throne in their stead. The Spanish troops in Denmark suddenly found themselves in a hostile country hundreds of miles from home. Enter the Royal Navy. The story of the embarkation and repatriation of the bulk of the troops is illuminating and told in detail. The escapade of Lt. Gen. Sir John Moore, commander of a British army expeditionary force in the Baltic, is an amusing aside and one you couldn’t have made up! (Clue: Mad Swedish King and cross dressing, but you must buy the book to find out more!). The naval expedition and the ‘theft’ was much more successful and was quite a feat, and Romana’s experienced army’s contribution to the largely futile Spanish attempts to oust the French from Spain is also told.

The part I found most interesting was the account of the (mis)fortunes of the several thousand men who could not be embarked aboard British shipping to take them back to Spain. Many of these men were drafted into the Regiment Joseph Napoleon and sent to Russia in 1812. Surprisingly, the author has calculated that while the regiment might have ceased to exist as a fighting force, the great majority of men actually made it back home eventually, which is a happy ending to what might have been a very different tale.

This book is well written, benefits from some excellent research, especially Spanish language documents translated by the author, and provides a very readable, engaging and informative account of this episode from the Napoleonic Wars. There is lots of information about which regiments that made up the division, and illustrations are plentiful, the colour plates interesting and the maps especially useful. A book I recommend to Napoleonic aficionados without reservation.

Monday 10 May 2021

The Goths: A Mini Parade

 In order to maintain the correct editorial balance I now present an Ostrogothic mini parade. The figures are a generic Dark Ages mixture of many manufacturers and are in plastic, but predominantly metal so far. Some of the close order infantry were bought painted off eBay so all I did was tidy up and rebase them, but the rest are all mine. So far there are six war bands of close order infantry, a single unit of javelin skirmishers and six of archers. Two more close order units are almost done (just the bases to finish). I have a couple more boxes of Gripping Beast Dark Age infantry, plus enough metal armoured figures to mix in with them and raise perhaps another four units in total. There are some more archers kicking around as well.

Next in the painting queue are the first of my Goth cavalry, all plastic from Gripping Beast. These are so easy to stick together. My only quibble is the lack of poses between the three sets I’ve used; Goth elite cavalry, Goth noble cavalry and Dark Age cavalry. I’ve got a handful of metal Goths to add literally to the weight of the units. I’m probably going to mix them all up apart from perhaps a single unit with armoured horses, we shall see. I can’t imagine I’ll get these finished quickly, maybe a fortnight, and I have the same numbers again to assemble. I’d better do some commanders as well.

So, a good start to the week. Less good is that BT Open Reach are digging our road up again and tell us we shall have disrupted broadband for the rest of the week, which is annoying but hopefully it, and me, will be operating properly again by the end of the week so I can run a game on Saturday. We shall see.....