Wellington at Bay: A Game and a Book

By Garry Wills

My passion is to bring the smaller or lesser known actions to life using quality archived based research and I was planning this game at Salute 2020 in support of the publication by Helion of my new book, Wellington at Bay. The book describes the Battle of Villamuriel on 25 October 1812. This battle, while small, was the largest engagement of Wellington’s retreat from Burgos. This battle involved twice as many men as the better-known Battle of Villadrigo/Venta del Pozo two days before. The action is also notable because it featured a rematch between Maucune’s 5e Division of the Armée de Portugal and the 5th Division of the Anglo-Portuguese army, just three months after the latter broke the former at Salamanca. The battle involved approximately 11,500 men.

The book is the first full length account of the action and improves significantly on previous accounts in the campaign histories by Oman, Napier, and Divall. The aim has been to pull together archival sources from all four nations involved – British, French, Spanish and Portuguese – to build a coherent and balanced account of interest equally to historians and wargamers. All other accounts of this action are either brief or partial or both. The brief accounts are necessarily so because they form part of a larger campaign study. For example, Napier’s and Oman’s accounts are only three pages long. These accounts are necessarily incomplete and include the odd mistake, for example Oman incorrectly identified the Spanish infantry at Villamuriel as from Losada’s division. The partial accounts include the memoirs, diaries and letters of 27 participants which form a great part of this work. The challenge of this research was to weave together these accounts into a credible and balanced narrative. Thus, Béchaud is often referred to but is rarely given in full and this account provides translations of his key passages. The work is a detailed study of one day’s action in the 1812 campaign, with a view to extracting an improved understanding of how the armies fought in 1812.

The game uses 325 15mm figures. The French, British and Portuguese are Old Glory figures from Timecast, the Spanish are Essex and the Brunswickers are from Campaign Game Miniatures, all painted by me. The terrain is the excellent Hexon system from Kallistra and features the Great War trench sections repurposed as the dry Canal de Castilla, which the British and Portuguese infantry used to shelter from the French artillery fire. The buildings are a mixture of Hovels and JR Miniatures, while the road and river sections together with the areas of rough ground are also from Timecast. The trees are from K&M except for the willows which are from Noch, as are the vines. The bridge over the canal is scratch built from three MDF bases and some matchsticks. The game can be played in one of three scenarios which I have designed for Black Powder and General de Brigade; the initial morning attempt on the bridge by the French, which ended when the bridge was destroyed by the allies; the French assault on the fords at Calabazanos and Villamuriel in the early afternoon; and finally Wellington’s counterattack which pushed the French back across the river. The demonstration will be played using Black Powder with one or two rules selected and modified from the Clash of Eagles supplement, together with my own house rules for dealing with skirmishers.

The game and history have several points of interest, not least of which is the very large proportion of his infantry that Général de Division Maucune chose to deploy as skirmishers.

The book is now available from Helion and you will be able to see the game at Salute 2021.

A version of this article first appeared in Wargames Illustrated Bite Size #2

Buy ‘Wellington at Bay. The Battle of Villamuriel, 25 October 1812’ here.

Initial deployment 9.00 a.m.
The French 5e Division arrives.
The British 5th Division guards the bridge.
Spry’s Portuguese Brigade defends the ford at Calabazanos.
Skirmishers engage at Calabazanos.
Linan’s Spanish brigade looks on.
The bridge is destroyed as the French approach.
French cavalry arrive to surprise the 8th Cacadores.
Wellington’s counterattack begins.
The Battlefield today. Wellingtons counterattack was launched from these heights.

Bazaine 1870

A Miscarriage of Justice

By Quintin Barry

My first book, published by Helion in 2007, was a two volume history of the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1871, a subject in which I have always had a profound interest. In volume 2 of that book I was particularly interested to explore the second phase of the war, after the battle of Sedan and the fall of the French Second Empire. That period has been covered much less thoroughly than the campaign that led up to Napoleon III’s surrender at Sedan. As the war began thereafter to spread to the rest of France, there immediately followed the siege of Metz, where the French Army of the Rhine, under Marshal Bazaine, was surrounded by the besieging Prussian army under Prince Frederick Charles.

   I went on to write a number of other books, some on the Franco Prussian war, and some on other subjects, but then came back to the history of the Army of the Rhine and the subsequent trial of its commander. As a lawyer, that trial interested me enormously, and so I began to research the book which has now been published by Helion under the title Bazaine 1870. Working on the book, it was not long before I realised that in my original history I had not done him justice, having in some instances followed the prevalent opinion of a number of other historians; as a result my analysis of him was unpardonably superficial.

   This became very apparent to me when I read Bazaine: Coupable ou Victime? This, written by Generals Edmond Ruby and Jean Regnault, was published in Paris in 1960. It is a hugely impressive demolition of the popularly held view of Bazaine. In now publishing my own account of the course of his career as it progressed towards the events of 1870, I hope that I have made good my previous lapses of judgement. Much of the contemporary literature about Bazaine, and his trial, was ill informed, politically motivated and unremittingly hostile. Some later historians, such as Sir Michael Howard, have produced a more balanced account; but not all, as for instance the American historian Geoffrey Wawro, previously the author of a brilliant history of the Austro Prussian War, who in his history of the war of 1870-1871seems to have swallowed the anti-Bazaine narrative hook line and sinker.

   The only comprehensive account in the English language of the tragic story of François Achille Bazaine was that written by Philip Guedalla in his vivid dual biography of Marshals Bazaine and Petain, published in 1943 under the title The Two Marshals. Guedalla succeeded in bringing to life the career of a man whose motivations remain to this day difficult to discern with any clarity. What was overwhelmingly clear, though, was just how unfairly Bazaine was treated. France needed a scapegoat for her shattering defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, and in Bazaine one was found ready to hand. For surrendering Metz he was tried for his life on military charges devised by the first Napoleon, enraged by the surrender by General Dupont at Baylen in 1808 during the Peninsular War. The transcript of the lengthy proceedings, held in the Grand Trianon at Versailles, is of absorbing interest. Looking at Bazaine’s decisions during his command, I have no doubt that his conviction (the death sentence was commuted to one of imprisonment) was monstrously unjust, and I am glad to have had the opportunity of setting the record straight.

‘Bazaine 1870. Scapegoat for a Nation’ is now available to buy here.

https://www.helion.co.uk/military-history-books/bazaine-1870-scapegoat-for-a-nation.php

Rebellious Scots to Crush

By Andrew Bamford

There is something of a contradiction in the ’45 – the last, and perhaps best-known, of the Jacobite Risings – now that serious history has moved away from seeing in it yet another round of an England versus Scotland struggle lasting unbroken from William Wallace to Nicola Sturgeon.

On the one hand, it was indisputably an integral part of the wider European struggle known as the War of the Austrian Succession, which had itself subsumed the pre-existing Anglo-Spanish War of Jenkin’s Ear and which also encompassed not one but two Silesian Wars. My previous book on the ’45, The Lilies and the Thistle, looked at this aspect by exploring the French involvement in the Rising and the activities of the small but significant number of French troops to fight in the British Isles. On the other hand, though, the Rising, and the response to it, was very much a matter of local concerns and it was these concerns, far more so than national or international dynastic politics, that dictated allegiances when the arrival of the Stuart heir in Scotland forced people to choose sides. Had a locality done well out of the new regime under the Hanoverian dynasty, now in its second generation on the throne, or had there been stagnation that made people ripe for a change? Was the local magnate committed to one side or the other by family involvement in past Risings – or, conversely, were they showing loyalty to George in 1745 as a way of regaining what father had lost by backing James in 1715 or 1719? Or, perhaps, was the real fear for some not the Jacobites marching out of the north, but the French waiting at Dunkirk in the hope of slipping across the Channel while the British Army was looking the other way? After all, Cornwall raised not one but two regiments in the emergency, and Penzance and Falmouth are a long way from the Highlands!

Original grenadier cap of Granby’s 71st Foot (Belvoir Castle Collection; photographs © Andrew Cormack)
Included in the colour plates section are front and back views of this cap and of a second original example from another of the ‘Noblemen’s Regiments’, Harcourt’s 76th Foot. As well as detailing the raising, composition, and service of these regiments, Andrew Cormack’s chapter lays to rest a number of misconceptions surrounding their uniforms.

One of the intentions with Rebellious Scots to Crush, therefore, was to look at these local concerns by means of case-studies of the different regiments and companies that were raised in different parts of the British Isles to meet the Jacobite threat. Some remained under the control of local county associations, although in reality this often made them the tools of the local Whig gentry, while others were temporarily taken, thanks to political jobbery, into the ranks of the regular forces with all the perks that that entailed. Many of these units – the ‘Blues’ volunteers, and the so-called ‘Noblemen’s Regiments’ taken into the line – were of rather questionable military value, but looking at how they were raised, paid for, organised, uniformed and equipped, gives us a valuable insight into how the mid-Georgian state responded to the emergency, and by consulting local and family papers a great deal of new information has been brought to the fore.

In Scotland, meanwhile, the immediate proximity of the Jacobite threat and a far more divided country – after all, England gave Charles a single weak regiment; Scotland gave him an army – made for a rather different, and much more confused, response. The situation in Edinburgh was symptomatic of this, with an existing paramilitary force supplemented by units forming to meet the threat but each with their own agendas as well. Thus divided, Edinburgh’s forces failed to prevent Charles from taking Scotland’s capital. In the Western Highlands, meanwhile, the Duke of Argyll and his cousin, Major General Campbell of Mamore, were able to form a far more coherent force but only by resorting – after initially being hamstrung by legislation intended to keep arms out of the hands of potential Jacobites – to methods not far removed from those by which other Highland magnates brought out their men for the Stuarts. One of the things that can frequently be forgotten in more politicised tellings of the events of 1745 and 1746 is the number of Scots who remained loyal to George II. When a title was chosen for this book, from the contemporary lyric sung to the tune of ‘God save the King’, it was with an eye very much to the word ‘Rebellious’ and not the word ‘Scots’: there were plenty of the latter who did their share of crushing, just as there were Englishmen who rebelled.

For all this focus on men raised, ‘for the duration’, as it were, it should not be forgotten that it was ultimately the regular British Army that crushed the Rising. Yet the redcoat is too often the lumpen and anonymous villain of the story of the ’45, and so a final objective in putting the book together was to provide some case-studies of the regular soldier’s experience of the Rising. The regiments that were available to meet the threat when Charles first landed were largely a sorry lot, whose poor discipline and training helped assure the Jacobites an early victory at Prestonpans. The troops brought back from Flanders, on the other hand, were veterans but were soon worn out by a winter campaign under Wade that saw much marching and little fighting and left his successor Hawley with a brittle army that broke at Falkirk. Only the arrival of spring, supplies, and Cumberland, shifted the balance and led to the victory at Culloden.

Volunteer of the Derbyshire Blues, 1745. (Artwork by Christa Hook © Helion and Company)
This reconstruction is compiled from a number of primary sources, including the archives at Chatsworth House which give details of the leatherwork and accoutrements that were ordered for these local troops.

This work has been a joint effort and some years in the gestation. As I began to assemble a team of writers, many of them past contributors to the From Reason to Revolution series, an early volunteer was the noted historian of the period, Colonel Hugh Boscawen. As a descendent of one of the men who raised a ‘Nobleman’s Regiment’, he would have been well placed to write about his ancestor, Viscount Falmouth, on this topic but he soon volunteered to contribute to the book more widely and to assist me with the front- and end-matter. Sadly, his worsening illness and untimely death prevented him from doing as he had wished. Our mutual friend Andrew Cormack kindly stepped in to write about the ‘Noblemen’s Regiments’ in his stead, and to he and all the contributors I owe my thanks, but by agreement of all concerned it is to Hugh that this title is dedicated.

As well as an introduction detailing the various sorts of troops available to oppose the Jacobites, contents comprise:

  • Jonathan Oates on the 13th and 14th Dragoons.
  • Mark Price on Pulteney’s 13th Foot.
  • Andrew Cormack on the ‘Noblemen’s Regiments’ (67th-79th Foot, 9th and 10th Horse).
  • Arran Johnston on the Edinburgh Trained Bands, City Guard, Volunteers, and Regiment.
  • Jenn Scott on the Argyll Militia.
  • Jonathan Oates on the Yorkshire Blues.
  • Andrew and Lucy Bamford on the Derbyshire Blues.

As a bonus, a detailed appendix provides the order of battle for all forces deployed against the Jacobites in the course of the campaign, including unit strengths where these are known.

You can buy the book here.

The Western Rebellion, 1549

By E. T. Fox

I probably first became aware of the so-called ‘Prayer Book Rebellion’ while I was researching the early life of Sir Francis Drake for an exhibition when I was working as the curator of a replica of the Golden Hind. Several sources mentioned that the very Protestant Drake family had fled the West Country to avoid persecution by the Catholic conservative rebels. There was not much more detail to be had about the fortunes of the Drake family in 1549, so it became something of a footnote in my researches until I moved into a little cottage in the shadow of Okehampton Castle. I like to know something of the history of where I’m living, and some superficial research led me to believe that the last stand of the 1549 rebels had occurred, literally, in my back yard.

There had been very little written about the rebellion for me to get my teeth into: a couple of slim paperbacks designed for the tourist trade, brief mentions in wider histories, Julian Cornwall’s excellent Revolt of the Peasantry, 1549, which covered both the Western Rebellion and the better-known Kett’s rebellion, and the one big study – The Western Rebellion of 1549, published in 1913 by the indomitable local historian, Mrs Frances Rose-Troup. I devoured them all, fascinated. Here was a major historical event, right on my doorstep, that was barely known about even in Devon, let alone outside the West Country.

I visited the sites at which the action had occurred. I stood on the steps of the church house at Sampford Courtenay where the first blood had been spilled, familiarised myself with the largely-intact defences of Exeter, and walked over the battlefields. It was on one of my battlefield trips that I first got the idea that perhaps there were some errors in the history books. The battle of Fenny Bridges, the first major fighting in the rebellion, occurred when the rebels tried to prevent a Royal army marching to relieve the siege of Exeter by holding a bridge over the River Otter, but the site traditionally identified as the battlefield is about half a mile away. Why defend a bridge from a site nowhere near the bridge?

So I decided to go back to the primary sources and research the rebellion for myself, and in doing so discovered what a brilliant and awful historian Mrs Rose-Troup really was. Her analysis of the situation in the West, the causes of the rebellion, and the personalities of the people involved was superb. Her analysis of the military campaign and battles, however, revealed a penchant for filling in the blanks from her imagination. This might not have been so bad had not every subsequent writer on the rebellion (with the partial exception of Julian Cornwall) followed her narrative of events unquestioningly.

Reassessment of the primary sources led to doubts and questions. Did the rebellion begin in Cornwall, as Rose-Troup and the proponents of the ‘Anglo-Cornish War’ interpretation would have it, or Devon as the only eye-witness chronicler claimed? Was it really all about the introduction of the Book of Common Prayer and the translation of the liturgy from Latin to English, or were there other underlying causes? What part did the government’s landsknecht mercenaries play? Was the massacre of rebels at Clyst Heath (more or less under the Toys R Us carpark) really the ‘worst war crime on English soil’ as several historians, including me, had said? Did the rebels really make their last stand in my garden?

I was pondering these questions when I was approached by Helion and asked if I’d like to write a book on an unspecified sixteenth-century military-history topic of my choice. The rest is history books.

https://www.helion.co.uk/military-history-books/the-commotion-time-tudor-rebellion-in-the-west-1549.php

You can now buy ‘The Commotion Time. Tudor Rebellion in the West, 1549’ here.

Henry Wilson – the backstabber’s backstabber – or soldier-diplomat?

By John Spencer

No study of the British Army’s senior command in the Great War is complete without a reference to Sir Henry Hughes Wilson. Like the villain in a Victorian melodrama he usually makes an early appearance, then skulks in the background only to reappear in the final act to stab his friends in the back. There is no doubt that Wilson was, and remains, a Marmite-character, but was he quite so black as his enemies painted him?

Wilson died before he could tell his own war story, and his reputation was shredded by a well-intentioned biography initiated by his widow and written by a friend and colleague, C.E. Callwell. That book was based in large part on Wilson’s detailed and highly entertaining diaries, in which every evening this most political of soldiers recorded his thoughts on his friends, his enemies, and war policy in general. Unfortunately for his reputation, Wilson’s often intemperate late-night scribblings found their way into the biography, much to the irritation of his contemporaries.

For those who disliked or distrusted Wilson (or both), here was proof-positive of his Janus-like character. For his friends and admirers (and there were many), it was disappointing to find themselves criticised behind their backs. Here, surely, was the ‘real’ Henry Wilson. The late Keith Jeffery’s excellent political biography (Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson: A Political Soldier, 2006) was a much more balanced account of this fascinating man. Notwithstanding Jeffery’s work, Wilson is still too many a one-dimensional character; untrustworthy, flippant, ambitious, admirer of politicians. The antithetical British army officer.

I encountered him first while studying Britain and the Great War for my master’s degree at Birmingham University. When I was considering a doctorate, he seemed like the ideal candidate. But what was there to say that was new? Viewing Wilson’s diaries at the Imperial War Museum it became clear that there was, in fact, quite a lot.

Although Wilson’s first biographer had squeezed the diaries for many a juicy reference, there were plenty more for the picking. Writing in the 1920’s, when many of the main characters were still alive, Callwell had understandably often anonymised his references, and skated over others. Pouring over his less than copperplate jottings, it soon became clear to me that there was far more to Wilson than the glib characterisation which had served as a shorthand for his character for almost a century.

Wilson wrote up his journal each evening after dinner. He usually used a W.H. Smith page-a-day hardback diary and, if what he had to say took more than the supplied page, he continued on any spare page elsewhere in the diary, or in a separate notebook. [A note here for researchers: Wilson’s diaries were microfiched in the dim and distant past and it is impossible to tie the daily diary with the additional notes’ pages in this format; remember to ask to examine the originals!] What became clear early on was that Wilson’s grumblings and criticisms were his way of ‘venting’ his feelings after a busy day – very much like modern fancy for late-night social media rants which, in the cold light of day are often regretted, and rarely acted upon. Wilson was writing for himself, not for public consumption; if he couldn’t grumble in his journal, where could he do it?

The diaries, his official papers, and those of his contemporaries together revealed a much more complex character than I had originally expected. Certainly, Wilson liked politicians (or some of them), and some of them liked him. But he was no fool, and no dupe. Henry Wilson was, unlike many officers of his rank and class, happy to mix with the ‘frocks’ and in so doing hoped to further both his career and his view of how the war might be won.

As if a cheeky ease with politicians wasn’t enough to place him in bad odour with his fellow officers, Wilson was also seen as a ‘Francophile’. This label was appended to Wilson because he spoke the language, and in the pre-War period had make it his business to study the French army and make friendships with French officers. These skills meant that for much of the war his main contribution to the British effort was not strategic command, but inter-allied liaison. Wilson was a friend, and sometimes adversary, of Ferdinand Foch. In the final 18 months of the war both men finally achieved great power and influence over their respective countries’ war policy.

This role as ‘soldier diplomat’ dominates Wilson’s War and will, I hope, add a new dimension to our understanding of a complex, yet fascinating soldier who had a far greater impact on British military policy both during and after the Great War, than many might originally believe.

My research has now returned to that other enigmatic and fascinating Great War general, Sir William Robertson. I have contributed chapters on ‘Wully’ to Spencer Jones’s three collections of writings on the Great War, all published by Helion. I am now working on the fourth, Robertson in 1917, the year in which the bluff Chief of the Imperial General Staff clashed directly with Henry Wilson; two more dissimilar characters can hardly be imagined.

You can now buy ‘Wilson’s War. Sir Henry Wilson’s Influence on British Military Policy in the Great War and its Aftermath’ here.

The Battle for Heraklion. Crete 1941. The Campaign Revealed through Allied and Axis Accounts.

By Yannis Prekatsounakis

It is now almost three years since the first publication of my book and I’m really happy to see that a second paperback reprint. Heraklion is my birth place and my hometown and since my childhood, the memories from celebrations, ceremonies and accounts about the battle of Crete had a strong influence on me and made me wonder what it all about and what was the real story behind the battle. Quite soon I realised that the battle of Crete is very well documented regarding the events that took place around Chania and Maleme (the west sector of the battle) while this was not the case for Heraklion. The battle for Heraklion was unique since it involved fighting in both a rural and urban environment. While some paratroops units found themselves fighting in the rocky harsh terrain around the airfield, others had to fight their way through ancient fortifications and survive the bitter street fighting in an unknown and hostile environment where each street, each building and each window could hide an ambush and a lethal trap.

            After years of research I decided to write down the story of the battle in order to have for the first time an as much as possible completed narrative viewed from the perspective of all three sides, the Greeks, the British (Commonwealth) and the Germans. My military education and background and my preoccupation with the tactical analysis of exercises directed me towards a thorough study of the battle on the actual battlefield, based on official documents such as after action reports and war diaries as well as firsthand accounts.  The book is a unique source of firsthand accounts describing vividly the tension of the battle. A very characteristic phrase in a reader’s review was “…you can even taste the dust in your mouth during the fighting in the fields around the airfield..”  

            This book highlights personal stories and accounts – and my access to records from all three sides allowed accounts to be placed in their correct place and time. Finally, the history of the battle is written with the added perspective of extensive Greek accounts and sources. In contrast, earlier books were based solely on British and German sources – totally ignoring the Greek side. Many of these accounts are from people who were fighting directly against each other – and some reveal what the enemies were discussing and thinking while they were shooting at or attacking each other. Some accounts are so accurate and detailed that we can even identify who killed whom. In addition, long-lost stories behind both well known and previously unpublished pictures are revealed.

            Apart from the personal accounts, the book focuses on the tactical level, featuring detailed maps of the battlefield and the order of battle, providing valuable material for those who are interested in studying the battle from the tactical military perspective. Moreover, the extensive research on the battlefield provides the visitor and military history enthusiast with an detailed guide book. A characteristic example of this research is the following story of German NCO Wilhelm Eiting, initially quoted by an eyewitness and later investigated on the battlefield.

Paratrooper Gerhard Broder recalled the duel:

            The noise of a tank again: a tank is approaching through the ravine and continues on a rough track. It is firing and stops at a distance of about 20 meters from our position. The vineyard is hiding us from sight but the shallow hole does not protect us physically. I am lying on my back-side and have pulled all my belongings which might attract attention into my shallow hole. From time to time Jacobs looks for the tank to see in which direction its gun-barrel is pointing. Feldwebel Eiting, a reservist, married and the father of children, loses his nerve. He leaves his cover and rushes towards a brickwork well, in order to find cover behind it. A shell tears off his head.

The brickwork well next to the road, where Eiting tried to take cover but finally killed by the Matilda tank which was advancing along the road. (Yannis Prekatsounakis)

            This small extract gives an example of the research and information included within the book, but of course there are many more and I have tried to present the most relevant ones. The research still continues and despite the geographically limited battle for Heraklion, the number of incidents and isolated fights provide a very rich field of study. I hope that the reader will be more than satisfied by reading this book and will also gain a better understanding of the dramatic events which took place in Heraklion in May 1941.

Buy the paperback reprint of ‘The Battle for Heraklion. Crete 1941. The Campaign Revealed Through Allied and Axis Accounts’ here: https://www.helion.co.uk/military-history-books/the-battle-for-heraklion-crete-1941-the-campaign-revealed-through-allied-and-axis-accounts-2.php

Kitchener: From Pariah to Hero

By Anne Samson

The name Lord Kitchener might not mean much to many today, however his face as the poster ‘Your country needs you’ is almost internationally recognised. At the turn of the 20th century Henry Horatio Kitchener was the British Empire celebrity of the day, yet for those of us growing up in South Africa, his name was (and for some still is) synonymous with butcher, scorched earth, and concentration camps. In Britain, for many he’s linked with ammunition shortages, and sending young men to be needlessly slaughtered on the battle fields of the Western Front.

With 53 biographies on the man, what more could there be to write about him? Most of them recount the same story in different words or focus on a particular encounter he had with individuals such as his five-year conflict with Viceroy of India Lord Curzon, his reliance on sword-arm Ian Hamilton, disagreements with Lords French and Haig and his failure at the War Office. The most comprehensive, detailed and balanced biography has to be that by John Pollock. So where does Kitchener: The Man not the Myth fit in? Especially as there’s a book similarly entitled, Kitchener: The Man Behind the Legend by Philip Warner. While Warner has tried to understand the personality behind the man known as Kitchener, K of K or simply K, he has kept to the traditional themes covered in previous studies, none of which answered a question I had stumbled upon when completing my thesis between 1998 and 2004: why did Kitchener not want to go to war in East Africa in 1914 and 1915?

Cyprus Survey Staff 1883

Superficially, this question was answered for my thesis using Pollock and a few others: Kitchener owned a coffee farm in, what is today, Kenya and had been involved in Zanzibar Boundary Commission having actually walked the land. A subsequent discovery of correspondence with General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien about his appointment to command the forces in East Africa suggested there was far more to Kitchener’s anti-war position than self-preservation of his farm. Trying to reconcile my perceptions of Kitchener with the man who stood his ground on the East Africa campaign resulted in the discovery of a personality hitherto unexposed and unexplored in the existing biographies.

While most biographers tend to regard Kitchener as a complete man, that is the same at the end of his career as at the start of his career showing a consistency of action and behaviour over time, in Kitchener: The Man not the Myth, I have explored the development of the man, how he learnt from past experiences, the challenges he faced in being a British citizen but not of the establishment or culture. It is only in understanding how much of an outsider Kitchener was in the British Army that one can appreciate his decision-making and actions. As with all human beings, he had faults but it’s how he managed these to achieve what he did that turned him from being a pariah in my books to a hero.

War work

Researching Kitchener, although straightforward in the sense of reading as many of the existing biographies as possible and focusing on the ‘glossed over’ statements alongside some archival investigation to clarify earlier interpretations of statements and views, presented some difficulties in terms of insight. While most biographers infer Kitchener’s dislike of women and insistence on having unmarried men on his staff, the sources presented a different picture. The result is a section on Kitchener’s women to compliment that on Kitchener’s ‘band of boys’. His encounter with Millicent Fawcettt in South Africa over the concentration camps and his relationships with his nieces, one being Fanny Parker, sheds interesting light on his attitude to the suffrage movement and use of women in war. Another challenge was presented by his seeming aloofness and sulking when things did not go his way contrasted with the number of occasions subordinates were surprised by tears running down his cheeks. His foresight in using and embracing technology was an unexpected discovery as was his linguistic ability, and attitude towards religion and the use of indigenous forces. Kitchener’s clear sense of priority and allegiance to his monarch and his views on how an army should be run led to him being misunderstood on many an occasion, sometimes with unfortunate and sad consequences such as the death of Hector MacDonald.

It’s worth saying this book is not a military study. While the Sudan campaigns and the 1899-1902 war in South Africa including Paardeberg are mentioned, they are not discussed in detail as other more qualified authors have done this. Whether Kitchener was right in reforming the India Army and his ensuing conflict with Curzon has also been left to others more qualified. What Kitchener: the man not the myth does is provide alternative interpretations for his actions and extract from these events what Kitchener learnt on his route to being asked to fill the role of Secretary of State for War. His anomalous position as a civilian in authority alongside not relinquishing his military role, in what Prime Minister Herbert Asquith described as an ‘experiment’ provides evidence of the breadth of skill and knowledge Kitchener was seen to have in Britain’s time of need, yet his very strengths led to his fall from grace despite this experiment and his achievements.

A relaxing golf

As with all studies, more questions have been raised. For myself, these concern the East Africa campaign of World War One and the role of railways in the African campaigns. For others, I hope this new insight into Kitchener will lead scholars to consider his and other senior military officials of the time’s military actions in new lights.

Kitchener close up – Horse Guards

Dr Anne Samson is a specialist of World War One in Africa, with a particular focus on British East, Central and Southern Africa. She runs the Great War in Africa Association (https://gweaa.com) and has numerous publications to her name on the African campaigns. These, together with talks she’s presented, are listed on her website http://www.thesamsonsedhistorian.wordpress.com

You can buy ‘Kitchener: The Man not the Myth’ here.

Making a Cannon

By Jonathan Davies

“Tell them, whatever you do, don’t try and make a cannon.” That is the polite version of what my son said to me when I told him I was writing this blog. The project has taken twice as long and cost twice as much as I thought but it has also been fascinating and produced something beautiful and permanent. The following should still be considered a warning rather than an encouragement.

The project was the consequence of my retirement and a small windfall. I had led a re-enactment group for almost 20 years and had decided to carry on but on a much smaller scale. The focal point of the new ‘gun company’ was to be a cast bronze cannon from the reign of Henry VIII. This was a period of history where there are currently few re-enactment groups and plenty of excellent venues.

The Barrel

With limited funds we decided that it was far better to produce an accurate version of a smaller gun rather than a poor copy of a larger. Only major national museums, such as the Royal Armouries in the UK and the Vasa museum in Sweden could afford to produce large pieces of bronze ordnance. A steel barrel inserted into a fibreglass shell, although economical and practical, did not appeal to our sense of authenticity.

On simple grounds of cost and practicality the gun could only be a falconet, one of the smallest contemporary guns. The first gun we investigated was in the Musee de l’Armee. It was octagonal in form, some 1.06m long weighing 25.4kgs. Its shape, proportions and date, (ca1510), would suit our plans but we hoped to find a rather larger gun. The search led us to two bronze falcons held in the collection of the Royal Armouries, at the Tower of London and Fort Nelson. Both were early guns of octagonal form. With the approval of the Royal Armouries staff we made detailed measurements and drawings of both guns.

Comparison of key proportions of comparable faceted falcons and falconets.

TypeDateLocationOriginBoreLengthCalibre
FalconCa 1500Ft NelsonGenoa63mm2.54m40
Falcon1540TowerFlemish?58mm2.31m39
Falcon1520Ft NelsonGenoese66mm3.05m46
FalconetCa 1526GlasgowScottish54mm1.71m32
Falconet1510ParisFrench32mm1.06m31
Falconet2019BirminghamIlkeston46mm1.67m36
An early 16th century Genoese falconet had a diameter of 46-47mm (1.8in) and would use a ball weighing one Italian libra. The later English falconets had a bore of two inches (51mm).

It was the falcon in Fort Nelson xix-14 which particularly took our fancy. The heraldry would suggest that it was cast prior to 1503. Renato Ridella suggests that the letter G, cast around the touch hole was the initial of the Genoese gun founder Gregorio I Gioardi, who died in 1518. Our gun would for obvious reasons have a cast D, in carefully researched Lombardic script. It would also have two shields on the facets as did the original. The cross of St George was used by Genoa and it seemed appropriate for us as well. My son was able to produce a falconet version of the design conforming to contemporary proportions.

The process of casting required the making of a precise two-part pattern. The mould would be horizontal but slightly tilted to ensure a free flow of metal into all corners of the mould. Ben Shutt a young pattern-maker was responsible for making the wooden pattern and a local foundry took on the responsibility for casting. The first gun was cast at 1.15pm on 1 February 2019 by a well-drilled group of seven men, the whole process taking little more than two minutes. Unfortunately, it soon became apparent that the core had slipped and that the thickness of metal at the breech was in no way uniform. This was a common contemporary problem even in a gun cast vertically. The gun was unsafe and could not be proceeded with. It was therefore back to the factory for the gun to be recast. With a new gun it was now down to a firm in Leighton Buzzard to drill a perfect bore.

The gun was cast with additional material around the trunnions in order to avoid cracking during casting. The facets of the gun, the heraldry and the mouldings all required considerable fettling, using files and cold chisels to produce the correct finish. It was important to avoid using modern tools as we wanted to replicate the original finish. Several visits to the Fort Nelson falcon and detailed photographs enabled us to establish exactly what the finish on the gun should be. Hundreds of hours have now been expended in this fettling process but the result is a beautiful gun.

This work revealed numerous small flaws, especially on the upper surface. Two small holes, filled with a sand/bronze mix were found, one near the touch hole and the other on the breech moulding. We decided that before proofing we should investigate the integrity of the barrel using X-rays. There were no voids in the casting, there were a few patches where the density of material varied. The horizontal casting was bound to produce such issues.

Proofing the gun presented significant problems. The Birmingham Proof House were unable to proof such a long-barrelled gun on its Birmingham site. Now for our very own Catch 22. You can’t hire a field to proof a gun without insurance and you can’t get insurance until your gun is proofed! Fortunately, I had a friend who owned a large field just south of Bristol. This is where the gun was eventually proofed, by two Proof House technicians, on what was one of the wettest days of the year. It did make a lovely bang. Result!

All this could only have been achieved with the commitment and hard work of Tom and Tim as well as the arcane skills of manufacturing firms both old and new.

The Fort nelson Falcon is in the centre of this photo. As you can see it is a very fine form without the reinforcements that will appear later. The polygonal design is associated with early cannons from c. 1500-1560, cast in France, Flanders, England and Italy.
Tom’s 3D version of the falconet using contemporary proportions and shape to produce a beautifully elegant design. His detailed engineering drawings were essential for the pattern maker to produce a precise model.
The pattern was very, very big. It was so precisely made that there was virtually no visible ‘seam’ when it was cast.
The gun was cast horizontally in sand. The mould was held together with a large number of heavy weights. Some 120kgs of bronze was poured of which over 80kgs constituted the cannon itself. It was an exciting and tense moment for everyone.
The gun as it came out of the foundry after the removal of the waste from the casting. The exterior was still very rough and required hundreds of hours of work by Tim and Tom.
The proofing was not an administrative technicality but a real test of all the work up to that point. It used a 4oz. proofing charge. I would have liked to have fired a few more rounds but the weather precluded it.
Not the final state of the barrel but most of the hard work has been done to clean up the casting, the mouldings and heraldry. Contemporary paintings show the barrels in their true colour, which contrasts with the muted greens of museum examples. In bright sunshine the barrel shines like a mirror!

Fallschirmjäger! A collection of first-hand accounts and diaries by German Paratrooper veterans from the Second World War

By Greg Way

I have been interested in the Second World War from an early age. I grew up surrounded by people who experienced the war, family members, family friends and neighbours. My child play involved toy soldiers, military vehicles and planes. My books were amongst others, Action Annual and Commando comic books. Wartime films and documentaries were regularly on the TV. In my picture books Germans were often portrayed as faceless enemies. At an early age I wondered why I never heard or read war stories from the German point of view.

Oberfeldwebel Redhammer from Fallschirmjäger Regiment.2 was a well decorated Senior NCO and a veteran of the Crete campaign. This Regiment features heavily in the book.

I was a child when I first heard the words ‘German Paratrooper’ in ‘Dad’s Army’, a 1970s British TV sitcom about a Home Guard unit defending a coastal town in southern England against a possible German invasion during WW2. I thought nothing more about them!

I first read the words ‘German Paratrooper’ as a youngster in a 1970s Commando comic book story but thought nothing more about them. I first saw a ‘German Paratrooper’ as a child but he was 5cm tall, made of plastic and part of my toy soldier collection. I never knew what he was and thought nothing more about it. These and many other insignificant references to ‘German Paratroopers during my childhood probably influenced my interest in the future.

Fast forward to the 1990s and I chanced upon a twenty-year-old modelling magazine featuring a long article about ‘German Paratroopers’ and for the first time I read about their exploits at places such as Eben Emael in 1940, Crete in 1941 and Monte Cassino in 1944. This was the first time I read the word ‘Fallschirmjäger’! I was thoroughly intrigued by these airborne operations and ground campaigns, the courageous offensive feats and tenacious defensive actions, some of which have gone down in the annals of military history. I wanted to learn more about the men of this elite formation!

Volker Stutzer with his copy of the book. He was a late war conscript who fought in Pomerania in February 1945

The internet at that time was in its embryonic stage with only a handful of military forums and web pages but it allowed like-minded enthusiasts from all over the world to communicate their interests. One fellow enthusiast asked if I would like to write to a German Paratrooper veteran. He provided me with an address in Germany and I wrote a letter asking if he would share his experiences during the war. Not only did the veteran send me reports from his wartime service but he also put me in touch with other veterans, who were willing to share their experiences of training, combat, capture and captivity. Within a few months I had collated quite a few personal reports, with a personal perspective of many battles and campaigns.

With this growing collection of first-hand accounts, I toyed with the idea of a book as a permanent record of these personal wartime experiences, an idea welcomed by the veterans. I hoped this book would appeal to the professional historian, military enthusiast and the casual reader alike.

Erich Beine, Fallschirmjäger officer and recipient of the Knights Cross from the Luftlande-Sturmregiment, a formation that features in the book.

Fast forward to 2018 and after almost twenty years the book was accepted by Helion and Company who were excited about its historical value and potential appeal to the military history community.

The book does not cover the tactical level or military leadership but the written experiences of 19 Fallschirmjäger veterans from their perspective and in their own words. They are first-hand accounts of bravery, determination and adversity and describe the horror and inhumanity of war but also moments of humanity and the light-hearted moments experienced by soldiers the world over in times of war.

Oral histories like these now belong to an ever-decreasing number of elderly veterans but they create an important historical record of their military service during the Second World War.

You can buy the book now here.

The Book Reviewer

By Robert Neil Smith

I admire those who boast about not reading book reviews. They probably have the luxury of time or money, or both. They might also possess a surfeit of discernment, knowing the exact book to buy from those crowded shelves, or just not care; any book will do. Fair play to them. For the rest of us, however, book reviews are invaluable assistants in our relentless trawling for that next book we want or need to read. But what is a book review, who benefits from them, and why should we read, and write, them?

A good book review is not an opinion, though it might contain one or more. Rather, a good book review follows a basic formula written objectively preferably, but sometimes with an agenda in mind. The review will lay out the essential publishing details of a book: who wrote it, the title, the publisher, and where and when it was published. A brief introduction offers advice on the value of the book to the potential reader, the rest of the review should explain why. Content generally comes next with an overview of what is in the book and how the author has structured the work. The two sections that follow highlight the positive and negative aspects of the book. These observations are objective and subjective based on the reviewer’s background knowledge and authority, and sometimes their credibility. The conclusion of the book review summarizes the overall worth of the book and places it into its context, perhaps pointing to other books in the genre. A well-structured book review therefore answers a series of questions the potential book reader might have: a new book? Who wrote and published it? What is it about? What is so good about it? What are the drawbacks? And, of course, should I buy and read this book?

The basic formula for a book review is not a rule but a guideline. Reviews will deviate from that standard depending on the intended audience and the merits of the book. They slide up and down the academic scale, for example, sometimes bringing in other books or delving deeper into the arguments presented in a single book to create review essays. Reviewers also emphasize different aspects of a book, accentuating the positives of an important work or tearing apart a weak book from cover to cover. A book’s value may accumulate in various ways; not just in content, especially in these days of seemingly limitless information at our fingertips, but in the quality of the argument, if there is one, the structural coherence, and the quality of writing – the enjoyment of the book. And that is just the text! Then there is the visual element, particularly with military history. Colour plates are almost essential now in descriptive books of armies, and contemporary artwork supplies that period feel. I can also never get enough maps for campaigns and battles. And while you should never judge a book by its cover, an enticing image on the jacket can certainly set the mood.

The worst fate to befall a book must be to receive no reviews at all. The author receives no feedback for all their hard work or validation for their arguments. In twenty years of writing reviews, I think I’ve only discarded a handful as being worthless and refused to review them, though there are some topics I wont touch. Thankfully there is value in virtually every book, but when reading a review keep your weather eye open for faint praise and the subtle indictment, betraying the reviewer’s deeper reaction. Writing a review is made easier, of course, when the book comes from a trusted publisher and is part of a reputable series. The rapid rise of Helion’s various dedicated military history series in the last couple of years has helped my review workload considerably. These are solid historical works by serious historians and packaged with quality colour plates, and, yes, an attractive cover. Since I encountered these books in 2019, I’ve yet to read one that doesn’t tick all my boxes for a positive review. I have little doubt that this will continue, but in the meantime, I’ll go through the formula one book at a time.

Robert Neil Smith PhD is a full-time writer living in Scotland. His reviews appear in Wargames Illustrated magazine and on his Beating Tsundoku Facebook page.