Richard Knötel, The Father of Uniformology and Grosse Uniformenkunde

By Author Stephen Ede-Borrett

Richard Knötel was not the first uniformologist.  Before he began his publication at the end of the Nineteenth Century there had been a great many artists who had produced and published plates of military uniforms.  These artists had customarily painted uniforms that were contemporary, or near contemporary, to them and had most commonly restricted their subjects to the uniforms either of their own Nation or those that they had personally seen.  This is certainly true of a large number of manuscripts of uniforms of the Eighteenth Century and Napoleonic Wars, but none of the plate series were truly a systematic study of the subject.  What put Richard Knötel (1857-1914) into a category of his own is that he was the first to begin to systematically illustrate the uniforms of all European Armies (there were very few non-European studies in his publication) since the general introduction of military uniforms in the latter part of the 17th Century.  His groundbreaking series has since his death been copied or imitated only a handful of times; even with today’s Internet it would be a mammoth task!

Plate No.60 from volume XVIII of Grosse Uniformenkunde, the last plate of the original series.

Richard Knötel was born in Glogau, then in Germany, in 1857, and is known to have taken lessons in drawing and painting from his art teacher father, August.  In 1880 Richard entered the Berlin Academy of Fine Arts, and it was around this time that he appears to have begun collecting works on European Military History and uniforms and began to establish a network of correspondents with similar interests.  At the time of his death, Knötel is reputed to have amassed a library of between seven and nine thousand works.

1806 – The Death of Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia at the Battle of Saalfeld, 10th October 1806.  From Die Königin Luise in 50 Bildern für Jung und Alt.

Glogau is one of those towns that seem to wander from Country to Country without itself moving.  In 1506 it was in Bohemia, during the Thirty Years War it was held for a while by Sweden before returning to Habsburg control in 1648.  In 1871 it became part of the new German Empire, until 1919 when it became part of Poland.  In 1939 it went back to Germany and then in 1945 back to Poland again.  At the time of writing (August 2022) it is still in Poland – in Polish the city is Głogów.

In 1890 Knötel began to publish the work with which he will be forever identified – Grosse Uniformenkunde.  This is not, and was never intended to be, a book; instead, each ‘volume’ of Grosse Uniformenkunde is a collection of plates accompanied, from Volume 3 (published in 1892) onwards, by sheets of notes on uniforms, usually of four pages – unusually for the period these notes often included colour sections. Volumes 1 and 2 of the series each contain fifty plates, thereafter the volumes contained sixty plates.  Each volume came in a solid folder with the plates themselves measuring approx 17 cm x 25.5 cm. Approximately is the right term here since individual plates, even within a volume, could vary in size by up to 1.5 cm, both in height and width – in no examples that I have seen are all of the plates in a volume exactly the same size, and today it is impossible to tell how many surviving examples have been trimmed.

The notes accompanying the plates are interesting in their own right.  They do not always reflect the information or even the subjects on the plates in that particular volume but list facing colours and details that are not included when that uniform does appear on a later plate, even if that is in a later volume.  Some folders of notes refer to uniforms for which there never was a plate – although whether such plates were intended is unknown.  These notes were, I understand, although I cannot state this for certain, available without the plates.

Glogau is one of those towns that seem to wander from Country to Country without itself moving.  In 1506 it was in Bohemia, during the Thirty Years War it was held for a while by Sweden before returning to Habsburg control in 1648.  In 1871 it became part of the new German Empire, until 1919 when it became part of Poland.  In 1939 it went back to Germany and then in 1945 back to Poland again.  At the time of writing (August 2022) it is still in Poland - in Polish the city is Głogów. 
Folder – At left is an original folder from 1890.  The 1990s reprint folder is at right, an excellent facsimile.

Perhaps quite naturally the majority of these plates, there are 1,060 in all, are of German subjects although the percentage of German, especially Prussian, subjects in each volume decreased as the series progressed.  Although very few plates illustrated a single figure the vast majority shows anything up to six figures, each clearly identified and with the briefest of notes below. 

The last volume of the series, XVIII, appeared in the Spring of 1914 around the time of Richard’s death; he was then living at Luitpoldstrasse 27, Berlin.  He is buried in St Matthew’s Cemetery in the City.

Although Grosse Uniformenkunde is primarily the work of Richard’s own researches he corresponded widely with others throughout Europe and beyond.  Sometimes there are small mentions of help given, sometimes even the source can be seen and you can judge the meticulousness of his work – as is the case for the Battaglione Guardia Alla Città di Milano (The City if Milan Guard Battalion) which appears on plate III/45.

Grosse Uniformenkunde is, without exaggeration, a masterpiece.  There are very few studies of uniforms since that do not either draw upon Knötel’s work and / or reproduce one or more of his plates, and that includes my own books for Helion & Co.  You can also see a lot of Knotel’s work reflected in the books by the Funckens (which is in no way to cast any aspersions or to attempt to downgrade their magnificent volumes).   One of the reasons for their common use though is that many of the plates (although far from all) are available free of charge from the New York Public Library, and are online if you want to check.

I 01 – Plate No.1 from the first volume of Grosse Uniformenkunde, the very first plate of the series.

The plates have been reprinted, in part or in full at least four times; a facsimile set in the 1950s, an A4 reprint with translations of the text in English and French on the back in the 1970s, and a full reprint again with translations in English and French on the back in the 1980s (not the same translations I would add, there are numerous differences from the 1970s set’s translation) in facsimile and available only in the same sets/volumes as the original, sadly the notes were not produced in any of these reprints.  Finally there was a reprint that began in the early 2000s when the plates, again without the text booklets, were produced in book form – publication only got as far as volume 4.

Original plates from the series, that is not the reprints, can fetch up to £25 each and complete sets commensurately more.  As mentioned it is rare to find the booklet of notes but if you do manage to get hold of a booklet you will find the information as fascinating as the plates themselves.  I believe that these notes are, however, now being reprinted in Germany, in booklets separate from the plates.

XIX 35
Plate 35 from Herbert Knötel’s ‘Neue Folge’ relaunch.  The difference in quality of artwork from Richard Knötel’s original series is obvious.

Whilst working on Grosse Uniformenkunde Knötel also collaborated with Carl Röchling to produce, in 1895, Der Alte Fritz in 50 Bildern fur Jung und Alt (The Old Fritz in 50 pictures for young and old) Paul Kittel, Berlin, 1895.  This must have been a commercial success since in the following year they collaborated on a follow-up Die Königin Luise in 50 Bildern für Jung und Alt. (Queen Louise in 50 pictures for young and old), Paul Kittel, Berlin 1896.  This latter is attributed to Carl Röchling alone although many plates are by Knötel.  Reprints of both of these are again widely available although originals can fetch up to £700!  Throughout the period he also produced several other studies of uniforms of Germany, Prussia and the German states pre 1871 as well as battle scenes.

For more on this one see The Army of the Kingdom of Italy 1805-1814: Stephen Ede-Borrett.  Helion & Co, Warwick 2022, pp 42-43, 113, 142-144. Click Here

There is a great deal of confusion between the work of Richard and his son Herbert; Herbert is frequently credited with Richard’s work and Richard is sometimes credited with Herbert’s.  To compound the confusion, it is worth noting that the famous Handbuch Der Uniformenkunde was originally published by Richard in 1896 but an ‘updated’ edition was published by Herbert in 1937.  Handbuch…, or Uniforms of the World as the English translation is titled, is a ‘must’ for anyone interested in military uniforms and has gone through a number of reprints (not editions since there have been no changes) and still remains widely available.  The reprints incidentally are always of the 1937 Edition not of Richard’s 1896 original.
IX 26 – Plate No.26 from volume IX of Grosse Uniformenkunde

Footnote, Herbert Knötel:

In 1936 Richard’s son Herbert (1893-1963) attempted to continue Grosse Uniformenkunde with the subtitle ‘Neue Folge’ and a Volume 19 appeared, based at least partly, on Richard’s researches and again containing sixty plates.  Probably as much from war weariness as anything else, although see below regarding artists, this ‘relaunch’ did not succeed; when Volume 20 was published in 1937 it contained only eighteen plates and no further volumes ever appeared.  These latter two volumes are, probably because of the lack of uptake, the rarest of the volumes to find plates from and, oddly, have never been reprinted. 

It is worth noting that whereas the first eighteen volumes were drawn and painted exclusively by Richard Knötel, the Neue Folge had plates by Herbert Knötel and no less than ten other artists including Henri Boisselier and Fritz Kredel.  The quality of artwork in the Neue Folge is, with some exceptions, not of the quality of Richard Knötel’s original volumes (Herbert himself is, imo, nowhere near as good an artist as his father), and this may also have contributed to the relaunch’s failure. 

Example of the notes published from Volume 3 – these rarely survive. At least partly because the sets are often broken up and sold individually (For what it is worth this is similar to the reason that the notes to Rene North’s sets of ‘Paint Your Own Cards’ are even rarer that the cards themselves – see Blog entry for ‘Rene North’)

It is worth noting that whereas the first eighteen volumes were drawn and painted exclusively by Richard Knötel, the Neue Folge had plates by Herbert Knötel and no less than ten other artists including Henri Boisselier and Fritz Kredel.  The quality of artwork in the Neue Folge is, with some exceptions, not of the quality of Richard Knötel’s original volumes (Herbert himself is, imo, nowhere near as good an artist as his father), and this may also have contributed to the relaunch’s failure. 

Richard Knötel’s signature from a letter of 1912
For those interested here is a complete listing of all of the first XVIII volumes of plates.  The list is in English but, of course, the plates themselves are titled in German.

BattleFields of the Peninsular War

By Reason to Revolution author Marcus Cribb

From Reason to Revolution author Marcus Cribb reports on a long-awaited trip to the battlefields of the Peninsular War. The focus was on Porto, subject of his forthcoming title on Sir Arthur Wellesley’s brilliant forced river crossing of 12 May 1809, but he and his father found time to visit several other key sites.

View over the Douro, Porto, from the monastery that acted as Wellesley’s headquarters to the seminary

Recently I visited a small selection of Peninsula War battlefields in both Portugal and Spain, a historical calling many feel, this one was especially poignant as it had been planned in 2018/2019 but postponed many times due to the global pandemic.

Flying from London Gatwick directly into Porto (Oporto as Wellington’s troops would have known it) gave a great first aerial view of Portugal’s Second City and a Napoleonic battlefield, seeing two battles in 1809, the capture then pillaging on the 19 March 1809 by Marshal Soult’s forces, followed by the daring but risky river crossing which led to the liberation of Porto on 12 May 1809. I can tell everyone I was peering out of the TAP Air window, looking down at the might Douro River until I spotted a certain large white building which was the focus of much of Sir Arthur Wellesley’s plan, letting out a shout of triumph at just seeing this building after so many years of reading about it.

Porto Airport is well serviced by public transport, which was essential for us as I was travelling with my father, who is partially sighted as a multiple stroke survivor – he enjoys walking but it is not wise to do long distances and take some rest into consideration, for context this is important that we did not push too hard to see more than we did in a single visit.

From the direct train into the heart of Porto, we walked a short distance to our hotel: lots of cobbled streets and – given that Porto is built along a river – there are a fair amount of hills to conquer. After settling in I was chomping at the bit to explore, but we unpacked and went for an early dinner, on the way a diversion to see the river, looking across the Serra do Pilar Monastery, another feature of the Second Battle of Porto, which is beautifully illuminated at night.

On the first full day, it was into Porto to explore the city and start seeing what is an important battlefield within a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The many Portuguese churches and old city walls make it a wonderful city break despite the Napoleonic history which was our specific draw. Down at the northern quayside, we stopped to enjoy a coffee where the third crossing took place, led by the Guards; today it looks out on the warehouses of many port and wine brands which are household names in Britain. From there to Museu Nacional de Soares dos Reis, now an art museum, small Euro charge to enter, but in 1809 it was Soult’s headquarters. The cool and tranquil gardens are especially nice to see. It was there that Soult reportedly dismissed the British crossing and went back to bed; later his meal was enjoyed by British officers after he fled the city. On the corner, opposite a large city hospital is a bust of the ‘Duque de Wellington’, a rare thing to see Wellington, as Arthur Wellesley was ennobled, in statue form outside of the UK.

Porto is a pleasure to walk, if a little steep from riverside to the top, but we had good shoes on, as we approached the southern bank over another bridge, a feature of the modern city, I was reading aloud first-hand accounts of the terrible atrocities witnessed by British officers in 1809, first by the French on the civilian population, then by the locals upon the occupying French as reprisals: it helped sober us to the reality of the Peninsula War.

Part of the Serra do Pilar Monastery is an active Portuguese Military barracks. Without wanting to try my MOD ID card, we went into the main building (free on that particular day), where there was a small exhibition about UNESCO, but it is a great spot to reflect that this was Wellesley’s headquarters. It was here that Wellesley overlooked Porto and the Douro, placing his guns with great lines of fire that would have covered the main crossing point as well as the riverbank of the city, then reportedly ordering ‘Let them cross’ in an uncharacteristically laconic manner when told that the wine barges had been secured for the crossing by Colonel Waters and his local volunteers.

The next stop was the Seminary itself, the focus of the crossing, high atop a rocky riverbank and quite imposing from the south. In modern Porto style, we reached it by walking back across a bridge; next to it, now closed is a steel bridge constructed by Monsieur Eiffel of tower fame. Rather strangely the Seminary is now a school, the expansion of the playground and the modern bridges with railways lines have torn away the remains of the steps that the Buffs, followed by Hill’s Brigade would have scrambled up, as is the courtyard that the first defenders, two companies of the Buffs and a lone German Rifleman of the 5/60th saw off the initial attacks by the occupying French troops.

Behind the Seminary is a large cemetery, by walking through here you can reach the Porto Military Museum. We found this a mixed experience, we received a warm welcome, obviously some of the only if first visitors of the day: downstairs were some nice exhibition rooms which covered the Napoleonic wars through Portugal’s civil wars and the First World War, they were small but had interesting items. Upstairs was an eclectic collection of toy soldiers, mostly unrelated to anything you could imagine, it was confusing and did not seem a good use of space to us. We almost missed a small side door that lead to a courtyard, with a few cannons, followed by twentieth-century artillery pieces, behind which was a hanger, repurposed as a large exhibition space focusing on both World Wars, with a trench dugout and many items, on the upstairs mezzanines level were many more cabinets, of particular interest was a pike and arms drill for the Ordenanças, Portuguese militia, who faced the French Imperial Army with very little training or equipment. I cannot say that the museum is a must-see, but if you have time, it is good to support these smaller museums.

Entrance to Porto Military Museum

That was more than enough miles covered by foot for one day, so we collected an arranged hire car for the next stage of the adventure. The next day we left, trying our best with a few contemporary accounts and the best use of Google Earth to find the heights of Grijo, a relatively small two-day action, where Wellesley’s troops attacked up a French-held ridge, a reverse of his reputation. We believe we were roughly in the right area, but the rural villages merged into each other, and coupled with its status as an almost forgotten battle we decided to move on after spotting a walking loop past Café Militia which might have been a clue we were in the right area.

Over a one-hour drive south, is Bussaco. Located atop a Sierra this mountainous position is an almost unbelievable location for a battle. Worth noting that the Palace Hotel, in 1810 a convent is within a National Park, where there is a small fee to enter, but it felt well worth the small charge. The grounds are beautiful, with lots of woodland walks to enjoy, they emerge on viewpoints that help frame the defensive nature of the ridge on Wellington’s campaign. The main hotel building is an imposing structure, very quiet when we visited, there are rooms to stay in, for quite a costly figure apparently. There is a small café on site and the whole area is lovely to explore as a tourist.

Buccaso Palace, now a luxury hotel, formerly Wellington’s headquarters

The real highlight of Bussaco, besides the scenery, is the small military museum. Small but wonderfully put together, it is a rare thing for a local museum that seems to have not been curated for a few decades. Despite some amusing translations, it is really well done, with lots to see, items from the era, nice recreations and brilliant dioramas which would make even the most enthusiastic modellers gawp. For just a few Euros it is certainly worth the visit.

Buccaso military museum, main gallery

After the museum, a short (but steep) walk or drive up the Sierra, is the memorial column, from here there are spectacular views, it is astonishing to imagine the French divisions attacking up this geographic feature. Nearby are further walks and surviving windmills that witnessed the battle: for those wanting to explore, a great location.

The walls of Cuidad Rodrigo

The following day we set out early, heading to the Spanish border and, just beyond it, Cuidad Rodrigo. The first of Wellington’s great Peninsula War sieges, which have become infamous for the aftermath of the attacking troops. The walled city makes for a stunning destination, with a town centre filled with restaurants, but it is the walls themselves that many will want to come to see. Here the breaches which the Anglo-Allied forces stormed, the greater breach is visible from a distance, where repairs have been made after the hellish attack, with the lesser breach just a little distance away. Inside the city is the cathedral, the western façade especially bears so much scaring from the siege guns (presumably a few from Ney’s attack of 1810). All of the walls can be easily walked, giving great views over what was a heavily contested town.

Cuidad Rodrigo is also a good starting point for a long day’s battlefield exploration. Only a stone’s throw away, straddling the boarder is Fuentes de Onoro, one of Wellington’s closest victories. The village itself feels very sleepy, like it has hardly changed in 200 years.

Cannon atop the section of wall where the greater breach was situated during the storming of Cuidad Rodrigo.

The dry-stone walls of rough rock hemmed in the fighting men of both sides as they clashed in the village. The face of the village church is iconic, featuring in many pieces of art, but there is little to mark the battle except a memorial in the town square to the allied side only.

It was at this time my father declared he was feeling the fatigue a little bit, so after taking my photos/videos we left the village, stopping to appreciate the land from the small ridge near Wellington’s position.

The main square and churche of Fuentes de Oñoro

Located only a short drive into Portugal is Almeida, a stunning fortification, with an approach road that is hard to forget in a hurry. What is really striking is this star fort is very quiet and shady, full of locations to cool off, even in the spring sun, the middle of the day can get very warm. We chose to sit outside a small café with a cold drink before walking, first the historic town, then the walls. There are so many features to the fortifications, including the roofs of the amazing gateways, tunnels, cannon and the citadel, that few will leave unimpressed with this site. Although not a large town, it is a must-see, especially with the siege history.

Following the road out of Almeida down the valley is the Coa river. From the town to the river was the Light Division’s action, when General Craufurd almost lost control, but a successful rearguard held the medieval bridge. The distance from Almeida but also Fuentes de Onoro and Ciudad Rodrigo make it an appealing site, despite the difficulty parking nearby (we just managed to pull the small Fiat hire car onto the trackway without beaching it). But the site makes up for it. Ignoring the modern road which ruins pictures from one angle, it is breath-taking, with jagged rocks falling down into the gorge, which is serene with running water: framing it is rough scrub, which would be perfect for skirmishing troops to use as cover.

View over the Côa River

The medieval bridge that acted as a funnel during the Combat on the Côa.

In the distance, a modern memorial, erected for the bicentenary, complete with a viewpoint. It was easy to spend lots of time here, with no other souls around, walking back and forward across this battlefield.

That was our main takeaway from these sites, how even with one of us have done lots of research, the other none, we could enjoy the history and geography, but how easy they were to explore.
The restaurants in Porto, our base, were incredibly welcoming, and we spent several more good days seeing this city.

Further walks, along with details of the history of the battle, Wellesley’s gamble across the Douro, will be the foundations of my upcoming book for Helion, where I am building upon these with many first-hand accounts to show what a dangerous risk it was, but what an exciting story it makes today.

Author at the Douro crossing point, where Hill’s Brigade, led by the Buffs, crossed the river the liberate Porto, 12 May 1809.

Victorian Crusaders

By Author Nick Schofield

Victorian Crusaders might seem to cover a rather obscure subject – British and Irish volunteers in the Papal Army during the 1860s – but it was big news at the time. Italian Unification was a highly popular cause in Great Britain. The Italian or Roman Question consumed much space in the newspapers. Garibaldi, who was something of a popular hero, even received the support of a significant number of British volunteers.

What is less well known is the British and Irish opposition to Italian Unification, especially among the growing Catholic community. The Pope, after all, was still a temporal ruler, his kingdom spanning not just the Vatican but much of Central Italy. Any attack on his territory was seen as an attack on his office and his person. Throughout the 1860s Catholics from Europe and beyond not only organised collections and petitions to support him but travelled to Rome to join his army. In addition to the usual motives for military service – adventure, opportunity, earning a living – they were largely motivated by religious faith. Many saw themselves as participating in a wider ‘crusade’ that could be traced back to the changes unleashed by the Enlightenment and the French Revolution: a defence of faith, tradition and legitimacy in the face of rationalism, liberalism and revolution.

The book focuses on two units within the Pontifical Army: the exclusively Irish Battalion of St Patrick, which operated during the Piedmontese campaign in Umbria and the Marche in 1860, and the glamourous Zouaves, which attracted many foreign volunteers between its foundation in 1861 and the fall of Rome in September 1870. 

Why did I write the book?

Well, I first became interested in the Pontifical Zouaves when I was a student at the Venerable English College in Rome during the late 1990s. Every day I walked past a monument to one of two English soldiers killed during the campaign of 1867: Julian Watts-Russell, who at the time was regarded as a Catholic hero and martyr. At first, my interest was somewhat superficial – the exotic uniforms (with Arabesque baggy trousers) and the bizarre name, ‘Zouave,’ which always seems to raise a smile and is, incidentally, good to have up your sleeve while playing Scrabble. It also seemed incongruous that as late as the 1860s the pope still had an army – and one which didn’t merely mount guard at the Vatican but actually fought battles. I always intended to find out more.

My interest remained for years and was fanned by the few books written in English on the subject: Charles Coulombe’s panegyric The Pope’s Legion (2009), David Alvarez’s comprehensive The Pope’s Soldiers: A Military History of the Modern Vatican (2011), Mary Jane Cryan’s interesting study of The Irish and English in Italy’s Risorgimento (2011) and Gabrielle Esposito’s useful Osprey volume on Armies of the Italian Wars of Unification, 1848-70 (2018). Nevertheless, I felt more could be said – especially on the British Zouaves. I began gathering material for the book in 2019 and then made it my lockdown project (at the same time as running a busy London parish!). It is great to see it finally complete and I thank Helion for their excellent production standards!

The subject raises some interesting themes. It reminds us that, in the last decade of the Pope’s Temporal Power, the Papal Army was the focus of much reform and modernisation, thanks to the work of Generals Lamoricière and Kanzler, and Monsignor Mérode. If the Pope was to remain a ruler in the nineteenth century he needed an up-to-date army. And it was involved in some significant actions, including the 1867 battle of Mentana – best known for the debut of the Chassepot rifle by the French, although this has overshadowed the involvement of the Pope’s troops. The book also tries to shed light on the phenomenon of ideological volunteering. Although, especially in the British context, this is often associated with liberal causes, the cause of Papal Rome shows that it existed on all sides of the political and religious spectrum. 

Many papal volunteers saw themselves as fighting for their ‘nation’ – to be a Catholic was to be a spiritual citizen of Rome and of Christendom, which was then facing so many threats. The Irish, meanwhile, saw the defence of the Pope not only as a matter of faith but as a way of indirectly fighting the British, who were strongly in favour of the Risorgimento. The contradiction, of course, was that they were fighting Italians who shared their same aspiration of independence from a foreign power.

In the end, of course, this is a narrative of heroic failure. Despite its best efforts, the Pontifical Army was unable to stand alone in its fight for independence and survival. Rome became the capital of a united Italy after it walls were breached in 1870; the Pope withdrew to the Apostolic Palace and regarded himself as a ‘prisoner’ until the Lateran Treaty of 1929, which established the Vatican City State. The book is, I hope, a monument to the volunteers and to a forgotten bit of our history. I hope it inspires more interest and research into the subject – and perhaps even the odd wargame!

Nicholas Schofield

Victorian Crusaders- Now Available!

Air Power and Arab World Mini-Series Volume 6

Written by Tom Cooper

At a time when multiple wars are raging across much of the Middle East and Africa, it is almost forgotten that it was Abu al-Qasim Abbas Ibn Firnas Ibn Wirdas at-Takurni – an Andalusian inventor, physician and engineer – who was the first person to undertake experiments in flying with any degree of success. Abbas Ibn Firnas died in 887 A. d., but not, if should be noted, as a result of his attempts to fly: in fact, his flying device had feathers and an apparent frame with wings large and flexible enough for him to glide a significant distance after jumping from a cliff: actually, he returned to – more or less – his starting point. That was back in the 9th Century A. D. An earlier, carved wooden ‘model aeroplane’ in the shape of a dove, found by archaeologists and dated back to the 3rd or 4th century A. D. context in Egypt, might be dismissable

Nigh on a thousand years later, the Arab World’s critical strategic location made it almost inevitable that these regions would be drawn into the imperial rivalries of the leading powers, no matter from where. Several balloon ascents by Italians and others in Constantinople (Istanbul) of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, and then the first flight made by a Belgian pioneer aviator, Baron Pierre de Catres in his Voisin from Abbasyia – in the outskirts of Cairo, on 15 December 1909 – rose enthusiasm for the new science of flight. Already in February 1910, the Heliopolis Air Meeting was organised in the north-eastern outskirts of the fast-expanding Egyptian capitol.

To say this got the things rolling would be an understatement. Except for inspiring plenty of Egyptians into purchasing aircraft and learning to fly, the Heliopolis Air Meeting was followed, less than a year, by the next, dramatic, yet largely forgotten development.

An Etrich Taube of the Italian Army as seen in Libya of September or October 1911. Sottotenente Guillio Gavotti is seen in the centre of the aircraft from which he dropped the first four small bombs to fall from a heavier-than-air machine. (Maggiori Aeornautica photograph)

In 1911, Italy invaded the Ottoman-controlled North Africa: the area nowadays within territory of Libya. Right after securing Tripoli, the Italians brought two of their Aerosplane Squadrons to the country they named the Tripolitania. Their Etrich Taubes, Bleriots XI, Nieuport IVMs and Henri Farmans were originally meant to fly reconnaissance. However, as the Italians encountered much more fierce resistance than expected, they were deployed in combat before soon.

This is how it happened that on 1 November 1911, Sottotenente Guilio Gavotti became the first pilot to fly an air strike, when dropping four small, spherical bombs calibre 2kg in attack on insurgents in Ain Dara. Although the weapons used were not very reliable, and soon replaced by modified Swedish-made Haasen grenades (seized when the Italian Navy stopped a Greek sailing ship Amphitrite, smuggling these), the Italians pressed on. Their pilots flew numerous additional air strikes over the following weeks, thus de-facto giving birth to aviation as a new military science.

Tragically, over the last 110 years, the air power played a constantly growing role in the affairs of the Middle East and Africa – to the degree where the British developed it into a doctrine of controlling the local populations best known as ‘air policing’. Tragically, hardly any other part of this area has seen more application of air power than Libya since 1970, and especially since 2011, as the country remains a matter of dispute between the locals, Italians, Turks, French, Egyptians, and so many others. Tragically, ‘air policing’ remains a matter of life and death in large parts of the Middle East and Africa of our days, too – even if the means are nowadays entirely different, and primarily consisting of unmanned aerial vehicles, or supersonic fighter-bombers.

Despite all of this, the application and air power in the Arab World remains a much under-researched discipline – except when it comes to its deployment by Western military powers, especially the United States of America, or by Israel. Indeed, the establishment and build-up of Arab air forces remains one of most obscure topics in contemporary military history.

Because of this it is precisely this – the story of first Algerian, Egyptian, Iraqi, Libyan, Syrian, Moroccan, and Yemeni military aviators – is the core of the project Air Power and Arab World, authored by Dr. David Nicolle and Air-Vice Marshal Gabr Ali Gabr.

A reconstruction of the Etrich Stahltaube (built by Lohner and powered by an Austro-Daimler engine), flow by Sottotenente Guillio Gavotti of the Corpo Aeronautico Militare into the first-ever air strike, on 1 November 1911. (Artwork by Tom Cooper)

Launched in 2019, this mini-series published within the Middle East@War books-series is enjoying constantly growing popularity, and we have released its Volume 6, few days ago. It is largely focusing on operations of the Royal Iraqi Air Force during the Anglo-Iraqi War of May 1941, and efforts to rebuild this service immediately after. Another of its chapters is covering the Royal Egyptian Air Force during the period 1941-1945. Of course, we are working hard on preparing additional volumes of this mini-series: 7, 8, and 9 are already in the making – for release later this-, and early the next year. They are going to cover the period after 1945, with special emphasis on the First Arab-Israeli War of 1948.

Air Power and the Arab World 1909-1955 Volume 6 – Now Available!

The Shôgun’s Ghost Army

By Michael Fredholm von Esse

In 1636, Shôgun Iemitsu hoodwinked François Caron, the most well-informed Japan expert of the Dutch East India Company and accordingly the leading European authority, into believing that the total strength of the Shogunate army was 100,000 foot and 20,000 horse. An impressive figure, which few European rulers could rival, and which surely would deter any would-be invader. Especially so, Iemitsu explained to Caron, since his vassals could muster another 368,000 foot and 36,000 horse. To prove his point, Iemitsu showed copies of mobilization regulations which indeed confirmed the figures that he had mentioned.

Caron verified the documentation provided by the Shôgun and published the figures in his book on Japan. He failed to realize that while the mobilization documents were genuine, the size and state of the actual Shogunate army by this time had little in common with the documentation. Since the great Tokugawa victories at Sekigahara in 1600 and Ôsaka in 1615, a new generation of samurai had grown up, many of whom lacked military training and, yet worse, due to the soft life in Edo (modern-day Tokyo) seemingly lacked military skills altogether. Tokugawa Ieyasu had moved his capital to Edo so that his retainers would not be softened by the easy life and numerous pleasures of the ancient capital of Kyôto. Little did he know that the new capital of Edo soon would produce the same effect. The Shogunate soldiers lost their military edge. With no more wars to fight, they in all but name became townsmen. The Shôgun’s army increasingly became an army of ghosts, men who remained on the rolls but no longer were available for combat duty. Aware of its military decline, the Shogunate felt a need to protect itself from its manifold internal and external enemies. The former, Japan’s other powerful clan lords, could be taken care of by regulatory means and strict domestic surveillance, while the second group, Spain, the Netherlands, and Manchu China, was perceived as best handled through enforced seclusion. Hence, isolationism became the national policy enforced by Shôgun Iemitsu.

Why write a military history of a time when there were no wars, and the army had no enemy to fight? and why this sudden interest in the Shogunate army, which after its spectacular rise to power soon became a shadow of its former strength?

There are several good reasons:

1. The historical role nonetheless played by the Shogunate army. Despite its military decline, the Shogunate army remained the guarantor of Tokugawa rule throughout the Edo period, the modern name of the centuries that encompassed Tokugawa clan rule over Japan. This in itself makes the Shogunate army of interest, even though any description of the army’s history naturally will focus on its less warlike activities during the long peace that was the Edo period.

2. The cultural changes that took place in Japan under Tokugawa rule. All evidence points to the seclusion policy of the Edo period, together with the way of life in Edo itself, as the primary drivers of a drastic transformation of Japanese national character. The Edo period was the period in which modern-day Japan’s distinctive culture emerged and accordingly provides insights into why Japan is what it is today.

3. The cinematic result. Most stories of lone samurai swordsmen, as popularised in films and television, are set in the Edo period.

The Edo period was indeed the time of fighting men without a purpose, masterless samurai (rônin), whose exploits, whether in real life or fiction, gave rise to legendary tales such as those of The Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, Sanjuro, Lone Wolf and Cub, and The 47 Rônin. This was a time of dusty streets, unprincipled gamblers and gangsters, alluring courtesans of the Floating World, and self-serving officials. It was a time when traditional ideals of what constituted a warrior’s and soldier’s life collided with modern realities. What was the samurai’s status and place in the world, when there were no more wars to fight? What could he attain? Or, was the warrior as obsolete as the old suit of armour that he, or his father, had pawned when expenses suddenly exceeded income.

Edo-period samurai found different answers to these questions, and made different choices. Quite a few became civilian administrators. Some relinquished their warrior status, instead establishing great (or not so great) merchant houses. Others squandered their inheritance on idle amusements, ending up paupers. Some became outlaws. But quite a few continued doing what they knew best, embarking upon new careers in law enforcement or fire-fighting. Although abandoning old-style armour and weaponry, they acquired new tools of the trade, which were more up-to-date and better suited to modern times than those used by their ancestors. By the end of the century, the Shogunate army may have been an army largely on paper only, yet loyal retainers still served the Shôgun and protected the city, although in different roles than in the past. Many of them did it very well.

The Shogun’s Soldiers Volume 1 – Now Available!

From Reason to Revolution Events

Written by From Reason to Revolution Series Editor Andrew Bamford

Long-term fans of the From Reason to Revolution series will recall that our 2019 series conference took place at Derby Museum and Art Gallery, with a set of papers that were subsequently published as Life in the Red Coat

Benjamin West’s ‘General Johnson Saving a Wounded French Officer from the Tomahawk of a North American Indian’ Derby Museums.

We had hoped to return in 2020, but world events made that impossible and our Napoleonic-themed conference eventually took place a year late and in an online format, the papers being published as Armies and Enemies of Napoleon. However, the booking at Derby was carried over to 2022, the conference taking place on 2 July, and this, in turn, helped set the conference theme of Warfare in North America since the current star object in the gallery that we had hired is now Benjamin West’s ‘General Johnson Saving a Wounded French Officer from the Tomahawk of a North American Indian’. The event was generously sponsored by the Society for Army Historical Research.

The format for the day’s event was a keynote presentation in the morning, followed by two three-paper panels during the afternoon. Opening the proceedings, William Raffle talked about the tensions within the armed forces of New France that ultimately helped contribute to the loss of the colony during the campaign of 1754-1760. His presentation stressed the importance of rivers for communications, and emphasised the problems of European-trained officers working with both colonial manpower and indigenous allies.

Joshua Provan introduces our conference audience to the exploits of Bernardo de Gálvez. (photo by Robert Griffith)

The first panel after lunch looked at the American War of Independence, with two papers looking at the Continental Army and one looking at the Spanish contribution. John Rees joined us by Zoom to talk about conscription before Alexander S. Burns, in the UK ready for the second of our two events that week (for which, see below), spoke about firepower. Finally, Joshua Provan made his conference debut with an outline of Bernardo de Gálvez’s opening campaigns along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico once Spain had entered the war, which form a prequel to his forthcoming study of the Siege of Pensacola.

The final session of the day shifted focus to look at the British Army’s experience in North America. Don Hagist joined us by Zoom to give a lively and entertaining synopsis of five courts martial and the insights that they can give us into the detail of how the British operated and fought during the American War of Independence; this was followed by Paul Knight’s account of how British regiments were trained, and that training assessed, during the years immediately prior to the war. Lastly, series editor Andrew Bamford jumped ahead to the end of the period to give an overview of the British Army in Canada during the War of 1812, using statistics from the monthly returns to emphasise, amongst other things, commendably low rates of sickness but some shockingly high figures for desertion.

Unlike previous conferences, we will not be publishing the proceedings of this one as a single volume. Rather, the five American War of Independence papers will form part of a larger volume of collected scholarship on that conflict, which Don Hagist will be editing for us. The keynote presentation, meanwhile, will hopefully form the basis of a book in its own right.

Speaking of edited collections, three days after the series conference the From Reason to Revolution team was again on the road, heading for the impressive surroundings of the Cavalry and Guards Club in London to launch a special collection of essays in honour of the great Professor Christopher Duffy. Many of you will be aware that Helion is currently in the process of producing new editions of some of Christopher’s best-known works, but we also felt that it was fitting to mark his huge and distinguished contribution to the military history of the long eighteenth-century with a festschrift; a book of essays written in his honour. Entitled The Changing Face of Old Regime Warfare, this was edited for us by Alexander S. Burns, currently of the University of West Virginia, and brought together 17 contributors from across three continents. A mixture of chapters, covering an array of topics, variously develop themes that will be familiar from Christopher’s own work, analyse primary sources, and introduce new approaches that will ensure that our understanding of this pivotal period in military history continues to grow.

Professor Christopher Duffy, flanked by festschrift editor Alexander S. Burns (left) and From Reason to Revolution series editor Andrew Bamford (right). (Photo by Andy Miles)

To mark this volume’s publication, a special release event had been organised in conjunction with the British Commission for Military History, of which Christopher was a founding member. After an introduction by Series Editor Andrew Bamford, we heard firstly from Professor Bill Philpott about Christopher’s involvement with BCMH, and then from Michael Orr about his time on the staff at RMA Sandhurst. Dr Burns then gave an outline of the book before presenting a copy to its honouree, who also gave the audience his thoughts on the current state of military history as well as his thanks for attending what proved to be a convivial and enjoyable evening in the company of one of the greats of the field.

Helion & Wargame Shows

Written by Andy Miles @War Series Editor and Events Manager

Following the interruption caused by Covid-19 the UK wargame show circuit seems to be getting back into near-full swing and Helion are very glad to be a regular fixture on the circuit.

For those not familiar with wargaming, its origins lie back in the early nineteenth century with the Prussian kriegsspiel, a map-based military game that passed in and out of fashion until adopted as a serious military training tool later in the century. Author H.G. Wells wrote his own take on wargaming, called Little Wars (a version of which is available in our Paper Soldiers range), written in a very engaging style “for boys from twelve years of age to one hundred and fifty and for that more intelligent sort of girl who likes boys’ games and books.” The modern hobby of wargaming began to develop in the 1960s, and even enjoyed periodic forays onto television. The modern hobby goes from strength to strength and there are more products available now for the enthusiast than ever before and in a range of scales in which a soldier may be as little as 2mm high up to 28mm (one of the more popular scales), or even 40mm or 54mm. Games usually involve moving miniature armies over model terrain and simulating combat between the armies by rolling dice. Some games can be very detailed and intense simulations whilst others are simple, fun, so-called ‘beer and pretzel’ games. 

So, what is a wargaming show, why does Helion go to them, and what is involved? 

Wargaming shows are gatherings of those with an interest in the hobby and usually serve several functions. They are usually hosted by a local wargaming club and act as a showcase for the hobby and a recruiting ground for potential new members. One major feature is games to observe or join in, another is that the shows are usually attended by traders selling a wide range of wargaming-related products, be it the miniatures themselves, terrain items to build the model battlefields, paints and brushes, or more general accessories and books. 

This latter point is, of course, where Helion comes in. Each year we attend around a dozen of the larger shows and take a good selection of our books, primarily from (in a rough chronological order) our Retinue to Regiment, Century of the Soldier, Reason to Revolution, Musket to Maxim and various @War ranges. We like to take the best sellers and new releases from those ranges, along with a few selected highlights from our other non-series ranges to the shows, and usually have well in excess of 400 individual titles in stock (we’re always happy to accept pre-orders or bring a specific item along for customers – just drop us an email to at least 3–4 days before the event).

The shows are, obviously, a very good retail opportunity for us and we enjoy the face-to-face contact with customers. Many customers buy titles beyond just their immediate wargaming interests as they often have a much broader interest in military history. This contact is great for us as a business as we can gather constructive feedback from our readers and in turn provide updates on forthcoming titles. In many ways the shows also function as a sort of ‘Helion Roadshow’ and mobile meeting space, giving us the opportunity to meet existing and prospective authors face to face, and as the stand is usually staffed by at least two of the series editors, we can discuss projects and enjoy some useful networking opportunities. 

Whilst we enjoy the shows, they can also be hard work, and a lot of preparation goes into them. The process often starts many months in advance with filling in forms for the event organisers in order to book space and then making the administrative and logistic arrangements to cover transport, staffing and sometimes accommodation. A week or two before the event proper we will review the stock that we’re taking and adjust accordingly. Our office and warehouse team at Warwick do a sterling job of picking the new titles to be added and, of course, at the last moment there are always cries to add just one more thing. Titles sometimes literally pass from a pallet just delivered by the printer directly into the stock for the weekend’s show. 

Travel to and from shows can also be a significant undertaking and it isn’t unusual for us to drive for three or four hours to get to a show venue. On top of this we also need an hour or two to set up before the doors are opened to the public. Of course, we also need to do the reverse process at the end of an event and getting home at 9 or 10 p.m. on Sunday isn’t unusual. Our longest trips have been to Antwerp and Hamburg, though in the present calendar that honour goes to Edinburgh. 

As I write this (mid-July) the UK circuit is just starting to get back into full swing. A few shows have still been disrupted for 2022 as a legacy of the pandemic due to show organisers and venues not being able to coordinate their requirements but broadly speaking the circuit looks healthy. If you want to know where Helion will be, make sure that you look at the ‘upcoming trade shows’ section on our website and check out the organisers’ own event sites too. 

We have a busy autumn schedule coming up and this year plan to attend the IPMS Scale Model World event in Telford for the first time where you will be able to meet the @War series editors including the prolific Tom Cooper. 

Remember that for any of our shows you can pre-order books for collection and that our prices on show stock are always discounted. So do come along and see us and say hello (even if you’re not a wargamer or modeller you may discover a new hobby or just enjoy seeing the work of others), we very much look forward to seeing you.

Images taken at Attack in July 2022 in Wiltshire

Ukraine: Covering an Ongoing War

Written by Adrien Fontanellaz & Tom Cooper

During the early hours of 24 February 2022, Moscow launched its so-called "special military operation" in Ukraine, which was expected to stun the Ukrainians into submission in a matter of days thanks to the swift advance of multiple mechanized columns converging on the capital and other crucial areas, along with airborne assaults and decapitation strikes. To undertake its regime-change operation, the Russians had massed a staggering 127 Battalion Tactical Groups – in essence regular mechanized, airborne or tank battalions, each heavily reinforced with several artillery batteries and other support units – around Ukraine, controlled by at least nine combined arms or tank army commands, in turn attached to either the Western or the Southern Military District.

This was an arsenal of staggering proportions, and the very best the Russian Army could muster: more than 200,000 men, at least 12,000 armoured vehicles of all kinds, including main battle tanks (MBTs), self-propelled guns (SPGs), armoured personals carriers (APCs), infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs), mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles (MRAP) and a vast array of more specialized machines. The bulk of this arsenal consisted of either recent designs or heavily modernised older designs, such as the T-90 and T-72B3 tanks, BMP-3 and BTR-82 IFVs, or Pantsir air-defence systems to name a few. The Russian Aerospace Force (VKS) had mustered roughly 60 percent of its combat assets with hundreds of the dreaded state-of-the-art Su-35S, Su-30MS, Su-34 or heavily modernised Su-25, together with dozens of Mi-28, Ka-52 and Mi-35 attack helicopters lying in wait at their airbases located within striking range of Ukraine. The Russian Army was widely assessed as a deadly fighting machine, whose infamous "fire-reconnaissance complex” had not only savaged a series of Ukrainian Battalion Tactical Groups in the Donbass in 2014 and 2015, but also turned the tables in Syria from 2015 onwards by almost single-handily saving the Assadist regime.

But, and to the surprise of many, the entire Russian operation was derailed in just a few days. The Ukrainian army proved to be something entirely different to the underfunded, corrupt and ill-trained force so badly beaten in the summer of 2014 and reacted by offering from the onset, and despite some initial confusion, much fiercer resistance than anyone – primarily the top Russian commanders – expected. Gradually, it appeared that since 2014 Kyiv had not only massively expanded its army, but also entirely retrained it – thanks partly to intensive NATO support – and reshuffled its doctrine to integrate the lessons drawn from the 2014 defeat. Perhaps even more surprisingly is that in a matter of days, a number of NATO members, foremost the USA, began massive support to the Ukrainians by delivering weapons and unheard-of amounts of intelligence, thereby giving them a crucial edge. Thus began the fiercest conventional war to erupt in Europe since the Second World War, where almost all imaginable kinds of weaponry have been deployed, from decades-old tanks to the latest-generation laser-guided shells, cruise missiles, ATGMs and UAVs, with at least half a million troops from both sides fighting each other. 

Image taken at a front line position near Yasynuvata, Donetsk People’s Republic (May 2019). These fighters are local (from Donetsk) but refuse to be governed by what they describe as ‘fascists in Kiev’ hence why they decided to take up arms.

Photographer Dean Obrian

To be honest, the all-out Russian attack surprised number of us at Helion, as we thought that any attempt to invade Ukraine could only trigger a protracted conflict and that therefore, Moscow would never bet on such a high-risk gamble. Therefore, we understood the widely publicised Russian build-up during the preceding months as an exercise in muscle flexing and sabre rattling to coerce the Ukrainians into concessions on the diplomatic front. It was only a few days beforehand, when the Russians began to paint tactical markings on their vehicles, and mounted improvised cages on their tank turrets to counter top-attack missiles such as the Javelin, that we began to feel increasingly concerned. Even though we all felt stunned, almost depressed, on that infamous 24th of February, because the tragedy had begun and through studying conflict and warfare for most of our lives, we were all too familiar with the devastation which always comes, the waste of countless innocent lives, the ruin of crucial infrastructure and the immense suffering, hate and the grief that wars never fail to leave in their wake.

Almost instantly, several of us also felt we needed to cooperate even more intensively together, if only to be able to cope with and process the massive amounts of information and disinformation which almost continuously floods social and mass media, thus trying to sort out the proverbial needles from the haystack. We did it for a purpose; trying to publish as fast as we could a narrative of this ongoing war, as well as its origins. Of course, this will never be "exhaustive, "all-encompassing" or "definite" – this is already an impossibility when one works, as we do, on the subject of "unknown" or "little previously researched" wars that occurred decades ago, no to mention an ongoing conflict, but as always, we intend to do our very best to provide our readers with the best possible coverage and in the best Helion & Company fashion. Because, in the end, this is simply what we have always done; researching, collecting and assessing information, trying to make sense out of this and put it into writing, and hoping that by doing so, we make a valuable contribution to the understanding of the so-called "contemporary" history.

It is thus our privilege to announce our mini-series dedicated to the Ukraine wars, whose first two volumes will be dedicated to offering an in-depth study of the armed forces of the separatist republics, and of the first phase of the current war, from 24 February to 31 March 2022 respectively.

War in Ukraine Volume 1 – Now Available!

A Very Gallant Gentlemen

A Blog about the Thornhagh Book

I am often asked about how the research into the life and career of Frances Thornhagh began.  I have been researching and writing about the history of the Midlands, particularly the region during the seventeenth century, for over 30 years now.  The last decade or so, with my involvement at the National Civil War Centre at Newark upon Trent, I have particularly focussed on the period of the Civil Wars and Republic (1640-1660).  Over the course of my writing, both for publication and the media, I kept coming across a name that fascinated me – Colonel Frances Thornhagh.  It came to the point where I decided that I needed to find out more about this much-mentioned individual.  Normally in such situations my starting point for initial research is the Dictionary of National Biography but was shocked to discover that the individual does not even have an entry in that work.  The seventeenth century Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson by Lucy Hutchinson therefore became the initial point of reference.

The Memoirs are primarily concerned with the person of Colonel Hutchison, but they do contain enough information about Thornhagh, who was a lifelong friend and colleague of Hutchinson, to get my research started.  For the next two years other work was put to one side as I trawled through the Journals of both the House of Commons and the Lords to locate references and mentions of the subject.  Locating descendants of Francis Thornhagh still living in Nottinghamshire opened up another rich source of information both in the surviving family papers (now stored at Nottinghamshire Archives) and an impressive portrait of the colonel painted during his life time.  Finally the largest task of all proved to be working through the collection of newssheets produced by both sides over the course of the Civil War.  The joy of these rich veins of information wasn’t just that you found information about Frances Thornhagh; there were times when the actual voice of the man is recorded and reaches out to the researcher.  It is one of those rare occasions for a historian were you feel privileged to get a sense of what your subject was like as well as what he did.  My hope is that this experience will also become a reality for the readers of this now published research.  He truly was ‘a very gallant gentleman’ who went on to see service not only in his county but also across the region and the country until his premature death on the battlefield at the age of 31.   
Stuart B Jennings latest book can be purchased from Helion & Company Ltd

My Journey into the Heart of Darkness

By Rohan Saravanamuttu

Somebody asked me recently how I first became interested in the Napoleonic wars. I had to think back 50 years to when I was 12, when I was lent a book by a school teacher to do a project. It was a book by Christopher Duffy on Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812.

A couple years ago I was attending a conference at Kings College London, and one of the speakers was Professor Christopher Duffy. Although now very old, he was in good voice and gave an interesting lecture with the provocative title, ‘Waterloo: Wellington’s Indecisive Victory,’ I went up afterwards to shake his hand and told him how his book had inspired me. He self-deprecatingly said that it was not a great book. Nevertheless, as a 12 year old, I was blown away by the scale of the Russian campaign and of its losses. It is a campaign that still fascinates and horrifies me. I just about understood why Napoleon invaded Russia but I was struggling to understand why 600,000 people followed him.

Duffy’s book had ignited my curiosity and I wanted to find out more about this charismatic character, Napoleon. My next stop was a beautifully illustrated book called Napoleon by David Chandler, which was essentially a slimed down version of his magnum opus, The Campaigns of Napoleon, which I read much later. I see now that the bibliography of Napoleon includes Duffy’s book.

Reading Chandler kindled an interest in Napoleonic strategy and tactics. I was also attracted to the colourful uniforms of the day and in my young teens I collected and painted the old Airfix plastic Napoleonic figures. I eventually found a copy of Bruce Quarie’s wargaming rules and started dabbling in wargaming.

When I went to the University of Kent I joined the wargames club, which mainly involved board gaming. I was studying Biochemistry but after a nasty experience in the lab with a giant chinchilla (I don’t like to talk about that), I decided to become a Chartered Accountant after graduating. The early years of hard work and study precluded any gaming, but after qualifying I moved to Birmingham where I joined the Birmingham Wargames Society where I made many friends who I still wargame with. One of the popular periods at the Society was Napoleonics and we had many trips to the Wargames Holiday Centre, then run by Peter Gilder in Scarborough.

The Wargames Holiday Centre was the inspiration for Geoff Eyles and I setting up The Big Battalions, where we hosted similar large-scale games a few times a year for several years. Doing the historical research for the scenarios was an enjoyable part of it.

After I retired from my career in finance, I did an MA in the History of War at the Department of War Studies at Kings College London. I initially pushed myself into areas that I was ignorant of, such as the Thirty Years War, and the economics of the Second World War, and I took the module on Sea Power given by Professor Andrew Lambert, one of Britain’s foremost naval historians. However, I found myself drawn back to the Napoleonic Wars for my dissertation which was on the Walcheren Expedition of 1809 (supervised by Professor Lambert). I also took Professor Phil Sabin’s module on Conflict Simulation in which students had to design and produce a board game. Mine was on the Battle of Borodino. One of my sources was, of course, Borodino: Napoleon Against Russia, 1812, by Christopher Duffy.

Register interest in Leipzig The Battle of Nations here.