Thursday 28 April 2022

On the Borderlands of Great Empires, Transylvanian Armies 1541-1613.

In the absence of any recent games or finished troops to share here is another book review. I have to say this one is a tremendous read and I feel privileged to be in a position to share my thoughts on yet another Helion publication.

Florin Ardelean’s ‘On the Borders of Empire, Transylvanian Armies 1541-1613’ could arguably be catering for an especially niche audience in the English-speaking world, but I think I would disagree. The wars against the Ottomans during this period seem to attract a pretty high level of interest, myself included. Helion have added yet another cracker (as if that could even be thought possible) to their ‘Retinue to Regiment’ series.

The Principality of Transylvania was born out of the collapse of the Kingdom of Hungary, and the Eastern half of the defunct kingdom rose out of the ashes to become a distinct independent state and a major player in the never ending wars between the Ottomans and the Hapsburgs between 1541 and 1691.

The author describes how the rulers of Transylvania were able to organise and defend their newborn country from its inception until 1613. The book starts with an excellent and detailed account of the birth of the Principality, including descriptions of the key personalities involved and the different strata of society, from the nobility down to humble peasant.

The following chapters provide a fascinating insight into the organisation and composition of the Transylvanian army, details of the numerous fortifications and lastly an account of the numerous campaigns, battles and sieges that took place during the period covered by the book. This last chapter is excellent and gives an interesting insight into several of the key battles that helped shape the Principality and an analysis of how changes in the ‘Art of War’ influenced the army and the Sate.

It goes without saying that the book is lavishly illustrated with numerous mostly contemporary black and white images, several really helpful maps (including several of the battles) and the usual splendid colour section of eight pages of specially commissioned plates depicting the various troop types to be found in the armies campaigning in Transylvania. These are some of the best illustrations I’ve seen in a while and if I had the space I’d without doubt have some of them on my wall.

Overall then, an excellent book, well written, introducing us to a fascinating and somewhat obscure subject not until now easily accessible to Anglophone readers. I’d recommend it highly.

Saturday 23 April 2022

No Want of Courage - The British Army in Flanders 1793-1795

Another book review. What a splendid addition to the ‘From Reason to Revolution’ series from Helion. Over the last couple of years we have certainly not wanted for books on the Allied Flanders campaign during the War of the First Coalition either (not to mention two cracking books on the Helder Expedition of 1799). 

As someone with a real fascination in the War of the First Coalition ‘No Want of Courage’ is another gem from Helion and the ‘From Reason to Revolution’ series, number 85 no less! Where other recent books on the period have largely been focussed on a narrative of the campaign, the author here has concentrated on the administration of a British army in the field in the late eighteenth century. Essentially how did it work, what were its strengths and weaknesses? With that in mind, we are given a detailed account of the campaign with all its triumphs and disasters which sets the scene and puts everything in context for the following chapters, which provide a fascinating insight into the operations of all elements that made up the army on campaign. These are the staff, the commissary at, medical services, the regiments, and the ordnance, where the not always especially effective relationship between the Army proper and the Board of Ordnance is discussed. The chapter covering the regiments can be further divided into the restructuring that took place in 1783 following the American war, the administration of the army, training and conditions of service, mobilisation, recruitment, the infantry and cavalry regiments on campaign, and the role of women within each regiment. There is a particularly interesting section on the earlier mobilisations of 1787 and 1790, of which the former turned out to be a complete failure and the second less so as lessons were learnt and applied then put to the test.

I also found myself drawn to the section discussing unit effectiveness in the field, where battalions brought up to strength with large numbers of recruits were sent to Flanders and judged to be totally unfit for service, a situation repeated many times before and since, for example Holland in 1799. Several hundred men were even sent back home they were of so little use!

The book concludes with several interesting and useful appendices covering such topics as strength and casualty returns, magazine states and march discipline. There is also a section covering the siege of Valenciennes and details of the train of artillery attending the British army in the Low Countries. Not counting the regimental artillery the army does not seem to have been especially well off for heavier cannon in significant numbers, which comes as no surprise.

The book is well written and illustrated with a large number of colour and black and white contemporary images and several well-drawn maps including one of the siege of Valenciennes and the surrounding area which is the best I’ve seen.

If you have an interest in the British army or the French Revolutionary Wars, whether as a historian or a wargamer, then this book should certainly be one to add to your collection.  I am also keen to get back to gaming the campaign as soon as practicable. I have a few thousand figures that need to get on the table as it’s been well over as year since they were last out. 

Wednesday 20 April 2022

And now we go over to the velodrome


At the time of the Winter War of 1939/1940 the Finns equipped their elite j├Ąger battalions and other recce troops with bicycles (swapped for skis when dictated by the weather). Each company also had a section on bikes for messages and the like. 

These are probably more use if I extend my options and start playing the Continuation War but I’m not contemplating that yet!  The figures are a mixture of HaT and Streletz WW2 German cyclists so only needed a paint job to turn them into Finns. Some even have what look like camo ponchos that I have painted white. They’re ok I suppose and I really find it hard to paint 1/72 scale after many years of 28mm castings.

I don’t know how much use they’ll be and glorious bicycle charges across frozen lakes doesn’t seem like a good idea (but no doubt someone will try it one day) but they’ll be handy somewhere or sometime. 

Wednesday 13 April 2022

A Very Fine Regiment.

 I've been very lucky to be sent another couple of books from Helion to review. In the absence of any games and not finishing much of note here's my thoughts on the latest.

As a Lancastrian born and bred I do of course agree that HM 47th Foot (Lancashire) as they were then, is and was a very fine regiment indeed.

This fascinating book is yet another from Helion focussing on the American Revolution and traces the history of this one regiment throughout its campaigns during the entirety of the from war in almost forensic detail. The author provides us with invaluable insights into soldiering in Ireland and then America, from the early days in and around Boston, to operations along the Canadian border and the disaster that was Saratoga where much of the regiment became prisoners of war. Those fortunate not to be with the main army remained on the Canadian border for the rest of the conflict. If I were to chose, I’d say that the chapters on The Convention Army and that covering the three detached companies that were not present at Saratoga and who continued operations along the Great Lakes for the remainder of the war provided a lot of fascinating information that was new to me.

The author makes great use of contemporary sources, with correspondence and quotations which I always find myself drawn to. The book is well illustrated with a good number of really useful and clear maps, lots of contemporary black and white images and numerous tables. There are of course eight pages of colour illustrations. One is an original specially commissioned for the book, while the rest are a mixture of contemporary images and pictures of modern-day re-enactors dressed in a range of different uniforms and these are nicely done.

There are three appendices, the last one reproducing the rather interesting ‘Articles of the Convention’ between Generals Burgoyne and Gates following the Saratoga debacle.

‘A Very Fine Regiment. The 47th Foot during the American War of Independence, 1773-1783’ by Paul Knight is No.83 in Helion’s From Reason to Revolution series, and is a must for anyone with an interest in this conflict, whether a passing or a serious one, and would be worthy of a place on their book shelves (and mine).

Monday 11 April 2022

'These Distinguished Corps'

‘These Distinguished Corps’ is one of those books that set me wondering why this subject hasn’t been tackled before. The British army in the eighteenth century was forever forming composite battalions from detached flank (grenadier and light) companies, often operating completely separate from their parent battalions, often in different theatres of war entirely.

This book by Don Hagist seeks to analyse the formation and operations of these elite units during the course of the American Revolution. It takes us through the campaigns in North America and the West Indies from the perspective of the ‘flank’ battalions and presents us with a narrative full of detail as well as action. The use of primary sources allows us to understand the lives of individuals within these formations, who they were, where they served, and their fate. For me this is a wonderful opportunity for anyone interested in the lives of the ordinary soldiers as recorded in their service records, and presents much that is new.

Extensively researched, well written and illustrated throughout with contemporary colour and lack and white illustrations. The eight pages of colour plates in the centre of the book are a mixture of contemporary prints and photos of re-enactors in action, and are well chosen.

No. 80 in Helion’s admirable ‘From Reason to Revolution’ series is a must for anyone interested in these key formations of the British army during the breadth of the American Revolution. Bad news is that I'm now beginning to wish I'd not sold my 28mm AWI collection about seven years ago, but they went to a good home and showed a good return financially so I can't complain. Ive recently some across some .stl files for 3D printing a load of AWI and FIW figures. Tempting......... 

Friday 8 April 2022

1939 Winter War

I started on this project just before Christmas 2021 and our first game took place last Friday. First of all.  I am not oblivious to the potential for drawing parallels with some aspects of the Winter War and Putin’s invasion of Ukraine - small highly motivated army defending their country versus hugely superior numbers of Russians intent on rescuing the Finnish oppressed proletariat from their capitalist overlords, with more men, tanks, planes, well everything. The initial Soviet assaults were poorly planned and executed and it wasn't until they'd suffered significant losses that they changed their approach and began to make headway against the Finns using their overwhelming superiority in EVERYTHING.. 

On Friday (1 April!) battle commenced with an overwhelming Soviet assault on a lightly defended section of the Mannerheim Line. The terrain was essentially totally covered in woods and areas of frozen ponds and lakes. There were a couple of villages and we had a few areas of ‘dodgy’ ground, indicating either deep snow or frozen pond/lake. The latter were marked with large white areas of card with the warning to be careful going across them. About half the forest and rough ground areas were mine, and the rest were provided by my good mate Tim from the 'Like a Stone Wall' club. For this game we used Iron Cross from Great Escape Games with suitable Winter War mods and some campaign-specific random event cards. Fellow 'Like A Stonewallers' Barry, Bruce, Richard and Togs joined our Richard (P) Steve and myself for the game. I was the Finnish CinC, aided by Richard and Barry, while Bruce led the Soviet masses assisted by Togs, Richard P and Steve. We the Finns had a bunker on the left flank, some minefields strewn out front and a line of entrenchments in the centre which I forgot to put on the table but as the Soviets didn't get anywhere near it I suppose that's ok. The Soviet aim was to capture the exit points for the roads and/or tracks leading off the table behind the Finnish deployment area.

What followed was an incredibly tense game, lots of action but not always a great deal to see. Much of the tension came from the far from united Soviet command, who had different views about making a speedy and overwhelming attack at once.....or not. Anyway, here are some photos that hopefully give an indication of the course of the game, but not necessarily in the right order!

The centre of the table. All the Finns were hidden at the start, marked with real or dummy markers on the table. 

Soviet T26 MG tank engaged by Finnish tank killer teams

On the right the Soviets were held up by a Finnish anti-tank gun, loosing several tanks to its fire before knocking out.

The centre of the Finnish lines.

The Suomi Secret Weapon

All the comforts of home. The Finnish HQ, complete with sauna and field kitchen serving sausage soup.

The Soviets setting up.....

A lone Soviet tank advances against the invisible Finns, while its supporting infantry are bogged down by fire from our bunker.

Soviets reach the river, driving off the Finnish infantry and destroying the AT gun.

Somewhat overconfident Russian tank commander  shortly before his T26 MG tank is destroyed by an AT rifle.

Esme slept here through most of the game!

Another view of the table.

A lone BA-6 or 10 armoured car being used to lure the Finns out of cover.

The Finnish centre is holding. The sacrificial a/c is destroyed by a Finn with an AT rifle. 

Soviet armour on their left flank.

More Soviet tanks.

Looking down the table from the Finnish right.

Barry's Finns were slowly pushed back by hoards of low class Soviet infantry supported by the rather numerous armour.

The Soviets cross the river on our right and secure the road. A similar thing was happening on the other flank.

What an excellent game. The Finns lost the battle (BUT ONLY JUST) as the Soviets had captured two roads on turn six. This was a six-turn scenario with the chance of a seventh, but the random event card drawn in the last turn resulted in a snowstorm descending on the battlefield. The Finns opted to retire under cover of the weather. Finnish losses were light with just a few sections of infantry and a couple of AT guns and  HMGs lost, while the Soviets lost a good half dozen tanks, one armoured car and a fair few infantry squads. The Soviets also lost their CinC when the tank he was riding in ran over a random mine and blew up. It was fun watching the Soviets bicker on occasion about their tactics. If they'd stormed forward with their infantry from the outset they'd have forced the Finns to expose themselves to retaliation from artillery and tanks. But that never happened.

I  need to make some more winter terrain at some point but I enjoyed the game  and the rules a really good.