COVID-19 Emergency – Event Postponed

Bosworth Battlefield Discover Day Tour

Considering the current COVID-19 emergency we are all facing, and the Government’s advice to cease all non-essential social contact, Helion & Co felt this was the only responsible course of action. The company fully intends to run the event later in the year and August is currently under discussion as an alternative.

From Reason to Revolution Conference 2020 – Armies and Enemies of Napoleon 1789-1815

Considering the current COVID-19 emergency we are all facing, and the Government’s advice to cease all non-essential social contact, Helion & Co felt this was the only responsible course of action. The company fully intends to run the event later in the year and October is currently under discussion as an alternative.

Bloody Streets, The Soviet Assault on Berlin returns to print!

Bloody Streets, The Soviet Assault on Berlin is back in print after more than a decade. This second edition offers a highly illustrated, thoroughly rewritten, redesigned, and expanded text. Bloody Streets presents the fighting in Berlin in unprecedented detail, weaving every known possible military unit’s movement and combat action into a tactical narrative that does not fail to provide the wider strategic context of why the Red Army conducted the assault into the city and not the Western Allies.

The new content added increased the size of the main text to over 500 pages, with 24 tables and nearly 300 black and white images. A separate map book was produced with over 60 pages that contains nearly 50 color and black/white maps (to include period aerial imagery), as well as a dozen color images of Berlin’s ruins and military vehicles taken shortly after the battle. Given Berlin’s extensive destruction during World War II, many key battle locations no longer resemble what they looked like in the 1930s and 40s. Care was taken to source period imagery of those locations so that readers had a sense of what the urban terrain looked like to the combatants at the time of the battle.

The Zoo G-Tower’s 12.8cm dual flak guns on the south-west corner of the upper platform. The three Flak Towers played a critical role in the ground fighting as gun platforms that engaged Red Army units with direct fire, command and communication centers, as well as hospitals. Together they prolonged the Battle of Berlin perhaps by as many as 3-4 days. (Cecil F.S. Newman collection, courtesy of Stadtmuseum Berlin)

I began research into the Battle of Berlin after visiting what was “East Berlin” in 1992 as a young U.S. Army Officer Cadet. When I walked through the city’s eastern districts back then, I was surprised to see the scars of battle still present on the facades of many buildings, nearly 50 years after the end of World War II. I wanted to learn more about the battle for the city, but I soon realized that the few books published about the Battle of Berlin at that time did not offer the operational or tactical detail I sought. Given the size, scope and significance of the Red Army’s assault into the largest urban complex on mainland Europe, I was perplexed that it remained one of the least studied and understood military operations of the war when compared to the unending works of history produced on battles like Normandy, the Ardennes, Operation Barbarossa, Stalingrad, or Kursk.

Battle for the Spittelmarkt, Berlin, 26–27 April depicted on period aerial imagery.  The fighting in this area of Berlin raged until the end of the battle. (1) Reichsbank. (2) Hausvogteiplatz. (3) Dönhoffplatz. (4) St Joseph II Hospital. (5) Spittelmarkt. (6) Foreign Exchange. (7) Reich Stationery Office. (8) Movie Theatre. (9) Jerusalemer Church.

I viewed my book as “technical-military history” with a main goal to pull back the curtain of the “fog of war” to the greatest extent I could, and detail the fighting street-by-street using all available sources available at that time. It soon became apparent after publication of the first edition that I was not the only one interested in this level of detail. The first edition sold out within nine months of release, even as the Great Recession took its toll on the world’s economy. While I was pleased with the treatment of the German side of the battle, I believed that more work needed to be done to expand upon the Red Army’s conduct of fighting. I was determined not to reprint the first edition until I conducted further research, despite the many calls to the publisher for its re-printing.

The second edition benefits from a decade of research that resulted in nearly 200 pages of new material being added from extensive German and Soviet era primary documents. Among the additional source material acquired were documents that detailed the role of the three massive German Flak Towers in the ground fighting. Their role in the battle has remained largely undocumented until now. New German accounts of the street fighting and various breakouts are published in the revised edition for the first time. Arguably, the most significant new material acquired were the War Diaries for the 1st Belorussian, and 1st Ukrainian Fronts. These documents offered an unparalleled view into the operational decisions and tactical problems faced by the Red Army during their final battles in April-May 1945. Their material has never been utilized in previously published works about the battle. The “Lessons Learned” at the Red Army’s battalion and regimental level contained in these war diaries, cover all topics related to urban combat operations in Berlin. They reveal what worked and did not work tactically during the Red Army’s assault into the city. Also included are scores of new Red Army front-line soldier accounts that were translated and incorporated for the first time in English. These accounts offer new detail of the fighting along the Seelow Heights, Polizeipräsidium, Treptower Park, Berlin Zoo and other locations by the men who fought there.

A knocked-out T-34/85 (No. 605) from the 11th Tank Corps on Kurstraβe, just north of the Spittelmarkt. Debris from a falling wall came down onto the tank. Scorch marks can be seen along the front of the turret. (Cecil F. S. Newman collection, courtesy of Stadtmuseum Berlin)

Bloody Streets, The Soviet Assault on Berlin remains the benchmark military study of the battle for decades to come. I am also pleased to announce that the second edition of Bloody Streets was used extensively as background research for the most comprehensive documentary produced about the battle, 16 Days in Berlin: The Final Battle of WW2 Day by Day, produced by RTH – Real Time History GmbH. This documentary will be released in April 2020. (https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/documentary-16-days-in-berlin#/)

About the Author

Aaron Stephan Hamilton is an academically trained historian who holds both a Bachelors and Masters’ degrees in History, as well as the Filed Historian Designator awarded by the U.S. Army’s Combat Studies Institute. He continues to serve in the U.S. Army Reserve as a Lieutenant Colonel. He has spent more than 25 years researching and writing about the final year of World War II in Europe.

The author’s The Oder Front 1945 Vol. I and Vol. II, served as the basis of U.S. Army Europe’s (USAREUR) first Battle Book and Staff Ride of the Seelow Heights that was enthusiastically endorsed by USAREUR’s former commander Ret. Lt. General Ben Hodges. His Panzergrenadiers to the Front! The Combat History of Panzergrenadier Division ‘Brandenburg’ on the Eastern Front 1944-45 is widely considered among the best late-war German divisional histories published in any language.

Over the last five years the author’s interests have shifted to Battle of the Atlantic and naval topics. He is an amateur maritime archeologist who spends much of his free time diving the wrecks of World War I and II across both sides of the “pond”, when not searching for new archival source material. His latest ground-breaking work Total Undersea War: The Evolutionary Role of the Snorkel in Dönitz’s U-Boat Fleet, 1944-1945 will be published in spring 2020 by Seaforth.

You can purchase the book here: https://www.helion.co.uk/military-history-books/bloody-streets-the-soviet-assault-on-berlin-revised-and-expanded-2nd-edition.php

Visit to the Wallace Collection

By Jonathan Davies

I like learning new things. This happens increasingly often. As I discover more and more, I realise that in fact know less and less. Ultimately, I will know nothing about anything, thereby achieving the highest level of ignorance. Very Zen you may say, but what has this got to do with anything? Well in my last visit to the Wallace Collection I learned a lot of new things and unlearnt a lot of old things, under the guidance of Dr. Tobias Capwell the Curator of Arms and Armour at the Wallace Collection in London. I was visiting in order to choose some items to use as illustrations for my forthcoming Helion title on The Art of Tudor Warre 1485-1558.

A late 16th century armour with a pistol proofing mark.  I would find the extent of the damage uncomfortably large and probably shop elsewhere!  Very little armour was ‘musket proof’ but armour was by no means made obsolete by gunpowder weapons.

The majority of the collection focuses on developments in arms and armour from the 14th to the 17th centuries although there are some earlier pieces as well as some later, including some magnificent firearms. As my particular interest is in late 15th to mid-16th century items I was in seventh heaven. It is not only the diversity but the quality of the artefacts that is so impressive.

Toby Capwell is not only an authority on arms and armour but is also founder of the Order of the Crescent, a jousting team which recreates (as accurately as possible) jousts and tournaments of the mid-15th century. He has a real understanding of armour, literally from the inside and he was able to guide my less experienced eye through the wealth of the collection.

The armour of Otto Heinrich Count Palatine of the Rhine ca1535.  The armour is left black from the forge, indicating that he is a ‘hard-ass’, the engraving denotes wealth and that therefore his life is worth ransoming (insurance).

Although many of the pieces are superbly etched, blued, and gilded, they were not merely for show. The term ‘parade armour’, is one which most readers will know. I have always assumed, wrongly again, that such highly decorated pieces were solely for display. In fact, a study of their construction shows that not only do they conform in stylisitc detail to contemporary armour, more importantly, from a metallurgical point of view they were often of the highest quality. One exceptional close-helmet Toby pointed out to me is fully etched and gilt, too expensive, one might think, to be used in combat. But not only does it feature a reinforcing plate on the left side of the skull, it also carries a number of obvious dents and dints from sword cuts, demonstrating that this piece has seen some hard fighting in the tourney or foot combat.

An early 16th century Italian sallet with a reinforced brow and hinged neck protection.  Henry VIII purchased thousands of similar items to provide for his soldiers in his numerous foreign wars.

There is a very unusual painted helmet, with a grotesque monster’s face on the visor, which is an excellent example for the period. Evidence for painted armour is today very rare, having been aggressively over-polished by Victorian collectors for whom the ‘knight in shining armour’ was the ideal. Many more helmets were probably browned or blackened to help preserve them and avoid the tedious exercise of keeping them polished and rust free.

I left with a fine choice of swords, polearms, armour both plate and mail, as potential images for the book. The items were well made, serviceable pieces, well-suited to their purpose and a testimony to human ingenuity in the service of war.

Early 16th century examples of a fine halberd and bill. Often perceived as ‘crude’ weapons wielded by pointless peasants, these examples are clearly carefully crafted and deadly.  The boar spear on the end indicates what a serious foe this wild beast could be.

One piece which I would love to include in a sequel to my current title is a complete armour from the justifiably famous Greenwich Royal Workshops. It was manufactured in the year before the Armada, for the commander of cavalry defending the south coast, Sir Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst. Lush!

If you haven’t visited the Wallace collection and you happen to be visiting London then you should definitely go. It also has a very good restaurant.

About the Author

Jonathan Davies was a scholar of Sidney Sussex College Cambridge where he read history, before progressing to a career in teaching. He has spent the last 40 years mostly teaching medieval and Tudor history as well as leading a medieval/Tudor re-enactment group. He has followed the route of the First Crusade in an ancient ex-ambulance and has most recently completed a Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela on foot. His first book for Helion, The Tudor Arte of Warre 1485-1558 will be published in the second half this year (2020).

Revenge, Honour, and National Identity

Nicholas Kaizer explains why the War of 1812 still has such a resonance in today’s Canada.

‘A six pounder is not an army, no more is 450 men, except in our puny war’ wrote one Upper Canadian in a Halifax newspaper in 1813.[1] Even contemporaries living in the British North American colonies (what is today Eastern Canada) recognized that the scale of the War of 1812 was tiny compared to the titanic campaigns being waged in Europe. By this point in the Napoleonic Wars, field armies could comprise hundreds of thousands of men: over 600,000 men made up Napoleon’s Grand Armée when he invaded Russia (1812), and the colossal Battle of Leipzig (1813) involved 600,000 soldiers in all. The British army that invaded and burned Washington DC (1814), by contrast, fielded just over 4,000 redcoats. The colonials also recognized, that to the wider British Empire, their Anglo-American conflict was a bit of a sideshow.

Still, 19th century Haligonians were engrossed by the campaigns in Canada, just as they were by those of Lord Wellington in Europe. The naval actions of the conflict were not neglected, either. Most shockingly for Halifax, USS Constitution, the famous American heavy frigate, defeated two Royal Navy frigates in single ship actions. A third frigate was captured by her sister ship, USS United States, and by March 1813 three British sloops of war met the same fate. During the 19th century, Halifax was a fiercely British city – proud subjects of the King and proud of the Royal Navy. Haligonians, who had enthusiastically followed the exploits of Admiral Horatio Nelson, were shocked by the losses, and struggled to come to terms with them; how could the Royal Navy be defeated by the upstart Americans?

A large ship in the water

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Not the Little Belt
Illustration by Elizabetha Tsitrin, Image Courtesy of Blue Nautilus Art, https://bluenautilusart.com/

Today, we Canadians cling to our national prowess in hockey and celebrate our athletes. The Toronto Raptor’s Championship win in the summer of 2019 briefly drew the attention and admiration of the country. In the early 19th century, our sports heroes were the officers and men of the Royal Navy’s frigates – figures who held a great degree of star power. They captivated Halifax’s youth and inspired many to seek a career in the navy, including a young Provo Wallis, who won fame during the War of 1812, and would go on to reach the highest rank in the Royal Navy. Beamish Murdoch, a future Nova Scotian historian who was a boy during the conflict, remembered the ‘sad series of disasters’ which, while ‘they are only connected with the history of our province indirectly,’ their impact ‘on the minds of our people was great, stimulating their patriotism and loyalty instead of depressing them.’[2] Faced with the losses of 1812, Halifax’s papers sought to defend the reputation and honour of their naval heroes, clinging to the fact that USS Constitution and her sisters vastly outclassed the RN frigates which they defeated. It was a remarkably similar tune to that sung by the press in England, which too sought to defend the honour of the Royal Navy and its sailors. This is still the understanding of today’s British and Canadian historians. The historiography of the War of 1812, alas, has always been steeped in national biases.

When I set to work on the project that would culminate in Revenge in the Name of Honour, I quickly noticed that not all contemporaries seemed to agree that the American victories could be sufficiently explained by their marked advantage in sire and firepower. None other than James Dacres, the captain of HMS Guerriere during her crushing loss to USS Constitution, declared at his court martial that the disparity in force had little to do with the defeat, and that he wished ‘to be once more opposed to the Constitution, with [his old crew] under my command, in a frigate of similar force to the Guerriere.’[3] The attitudes and actions of the Royal Navy’s captains following the losses suggest that Dacres’ rather bold interpretation was not unique. More than one officer sought revenge and contemplated putting their ships and crew into unnecessary risk to do so. The boldest was Captain Philip Broke of HMS Shannon, whose tiresome and risky efforts to bring about a single ship action with an American frigate paid off on 1 June 1813, when in a brief action Shannon captured USS Chesapeake.

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H.M.S. Shannon Leading Her Prize the American Frigate Chesapeake Into Halifax Harbour. Schletky, J.C., King, R.H., Haghe, L. Library and Archives Canada, R3908-0-0-E W.H. Coverdale Collection of Canadiana, http://collectionscanada.gc.ca/pam_archives/index.php?fuseaction=genitem.displayItem&lang=eng&rec_nbr=2836439

The victory reinvigorated the British. It was celebrated on both sides of the Atlantic, and Broke was showered with praise and honours from Halifax and British society. Halifax continued to celebrate the action well into the following century, and it became a staple of cultural memory and local literature. Its centenary in 1913 was marked by major events, and the 150th anniversary was celebrated with a naval spectacle, attended by warships from the Royal Navy, the still-young Royal Canadian Navy, and even from the United States Navy, once a bitter enemy but now united by a camaraderie built over two world wars. Alas, as with most aspects of the War of 1812, it had largely faded from public memory by the bicentenary in 2012, when the Government of Canada again commemorated the war, as part of a wider mission to celebrate a nostalgic vision of Canada’s colonial past.

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Photograph of a 18-pounder on display outside Province House, Halifax (seat of the Nova Scotia House of Assembly), believed to have come from Shannon. One believed to have come from Chesapeake is on display on the opposite side of the building. Halifax Military Heritage Preservation Society, https://hmhps.ca/sites/shannon-vs-chesapeake

While the general public in Halifax has largely forgotten the conflict, the naval-interested public still hold a certain delight in this particular bit of history. It has taken up more than its fair share of curated space in museums and public places in the city, which is hardly surprising; not only was Shannon’s senior surviving lieutenant a Haligonian (Provo Wallis), but Canadians delight in any arena we can claim a victory over our cousins to the south. It was no different in Halifax in 1813, when the small town flocked from Sunday church to the waterfront to cheer on Shannon and the Haligonian officer at her helm.

Lieutenant Provo Wallis, At the Time of His Victorious Entry Into Halifax Harbour, ca. 1800-1880, Davey Fitzner. Library and Archives Canada/William Kingsford collection/e010966281, http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/CollectionSearch/Pages/record.aspx?app=FonAndCol&IdNumber=4310540

[1] NSA, Acadian Recorder, Saturday 4 December 1813, 1:47 (online), available at https://novascotia.ca/archives/newspapers/archives.asp?ID=800

[2] Beamish Murdoch, A History of Nova Scotia, or Acadie, (Halifax: J. Barnes, 1867), Vol 3, p.334.

[3] TNA, ADM 1/5431, Testimony of Dacres, CM Guerriere.

MiG-23 Flogger in the Middle East: Mikoyan I Gurevich MiG-23 in Service in Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Libya and Syria, 1973-2018

By Tom Cooper

Terminus ‘MiG-23’, perhaps even ‘Flogger’, is likely to appear at least ‘common’ to many of readers. Yes, that’s that arrow-like design from a stable of well-known, Soviet-made fighters, many of which were captivating our minds during the times of the Cold War, back in the 1970s and 1980s. Younger readers are going to recognize it from several recent – indeed: ongoing – conflicts, like those in Libya but especially Syria.

The MiG-23 was never a ‘star’: although once manufactured and rolled out in numbers hard to imagine in these days, and widely exported, it was easily overshadowed by the Mach-3 capable MiG-25, the type the ASCC/NATO code-named the ‘Foxbat’. On the contrary, and although famed not only by the Soviets but even in diverse Western intelligence assessments shortly after its service entry, the MiG-23 was something of an anti-star: the type belittled by many. In the West of nowadays, it is best-known as something like an ‘awful’ aircraft to fly, technically unreliable, problematic – if not outright impossible to control, and then one the reputation of which was definitely ruined by heavy losses the Syrian Arab Air Force is claimed to have suffered during the Lebanon War of 1982, not to talk about the defection of a Syrian pilot with a MiG-23 to Israel, seven years later.

Actually, these were only two episodes in the history of this type – and then two actually minor episodes in a long history.

Far more important is that the MiG-23 was never studied within the context in which it came into being, nor within which it was originally expected to be operated. Not only multiple researchers in the West, but all the Russian-language researchers are usually concentrating on revealing the technology-related secrets of this family only: very little attention is paid to its operational service, and even less so to a comparison

The aim of the book ‘MiG-23 Flogger in the Middle East’ is to set that record straight: it is a culmination of 30 years of related research, in the course of which I wanted to find out what do ‘those’ MiG-23s flown by diverse air forces in the Middle East look like, who was flying them, what were their experiences, and how effective they have proven themselves.

The MiG-23 came into being along ideas of the General Staff (‘GenStab’) of the Soviet military: a cast of highly-qualified military minds indoctrinated to think in best traditions of von Clausewitz. Back in the early 1960s, the GenStab envisaged the type as a ‘hands-off’, ‘remotely controlled’ interceptor – a literal ‘missile with a man inside’, carrying a radar and missiles capable of hunting F-104 Starfighters and USAF’s F-105 Thunderchiefs, armed with nuclear bombs and underway at very low altitudes over Central Europe. This type was not expected to ‘waste time’ with searching for its targets, in dogfights or any other discipline of air combat: it was supposed to operate with full support of a well-developed network of ground-based early warning radars and electronic warfare stations, to take-off, catch its target, fire, kill – and return to base. It was supposed to bring the emphasis of air warfare to the point.  For this reason, it carried a bare minimum of necessary avionics.

So much for planning. In reality, even the best plans tend to come apart as soon as they encounter the enemy. In reality, it was so that because the GenStab changed its requirements several times, it took too long to develop the MiG-23. By the time it appeared, it was de-facto obsolete in comparison to its Western competitors.

Nevertheless, by then it was too late: even Moscow could not argument pro a project that meanwhile took billions of Rubles and seven years to develop – without pressing it into service. At least as important was the fact that diverse of Soviet customers in the Middle East were demanding an advanced interceptor, something better than the MiG-21 – droves of which were shot down by Mirages and Phantoms of the Israeli air force, equipped with vastly-superior armament, in early 1970s. Some of customers in question conditioned the state of their relations to the Soviet Union on deliveries of such aircraft. Unsurprisingly, the Soviets rushed to deliver: in a matter of two years, more than 200 MiG-23s have reached Syria, then Egypt, followed by Iraq and Libya. As proud as always, the Soviets famed their new interceptors as at least matching, if not clearly outmatching anything the West was likely to deliver to its local allies. With exception of the Algerians, most of their local customers were more than happy to buy this version.

It turned out that rushing is never a good idea – especially not when it comes to the research and development of an advanced combat aircraft. Early MiG-23 variants were suffering far more from incomplete testing and poor manufacturing quality, than to combat attrition. Eventually, it took them years of additional efforts – including hiring of US test-pilots who then wrote a new flight manual for the type in Libya – to turn the aircraft of this family into combat-effective platforms.

Meanwhile, diverse variants of the MiG-23 saw combat in most diverse conflicts – and nearly always without the kind of support from the ground as originally envisaged. While often not declared into ‘Soviet supported’, even the Syrian military did not receive the equipment necessary to provide proper support for its MiG-23s, and this is not to talk about the Iraqi military, or that of Libya. Egypt meanwhile abandoned the idea of continuing the acquisition, while Algeria de-facto went its own way.

Nevertheless, advanced variants of the MiG-23 did enter service in Iraq and Libya of the mid-1980s, and these then saw more of intensive combat operations in these two countries alone – than in all other air forces around the World, combined.

In the early 1990s, the MiG-23 rapidly fell out of everybody’s favour: no matter what variant, the entire fleet became block-obsolete due to the appearance of such types like MiG-29 or Sukhoi Su-27.  Thus, only air forces out of condition to replace it have continued to keep their MiG-23s in operational condition. But, and once again, exactly such air forces – those of Iraq, Libya, and Syria – were to see more combat action over the last 20 years, than most of other air forces around the Globe.

The story provided in ‘MiG-23 Flogger in the Middle East’ remains incomplete: the type is still in operational service with three air forces involved in diverse wars. And plenty of details remain outside my reach. However, thanks to the cooperation of nearly two dozen active- and former-MiG-23-pilots from six different air forces, this book provides a host of exclusive insights, and de-facto re-writing the operational history of this type.

MiG-23 Flogger in the Middle East: Mikoyan I Gurevich MiG-23 in Service in Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Libya and Syria, 1973-2018 is available to order here.

The Hall of Mirrors: War and Warfare in the 20th Century

By Jim Storr

‘The Hall of Mirrors’ is perhaps the first analysis of the wars and warfare of the 20th century as a whole.

What can we learn from war, and warfare, in the 20th century? Surprisingly, the question has not been addressed.

After the First World War four empires ceased to exist. Eight new countries were born in Europe. After the Second World War, Japan and Germany renounced militarism and ceased to be major players on the world stage for decades. The border of Russia effectively moved 800km west, to the Oder (if not the Elbe). War is hugely important. It is not futile, although it sometimes seems so to those taking part.

But how effective, for example, was the allied Combined Bomber Offensive in the defeat of Germany in the Second World War? There is, in practice, no real consensus. How did the western navies win the Battle of the Atlantic, when there were far more U-boats at sea late in the war than in the early years? There is very little discussion, and apparently no agreement, as to how the western allies defeated Germany in north west Europe in 1944-5. Was it just superior numbers? (No.) Yet all of those campaigns took place over 70 years ago. Why are those questions unanswered?

Some of the book’s findings are quite startling. For example, the so-called ‘Falaise Pocket’ of August 1944 was misunderstood by the senior commanders involved. The critical period was 16-19 August 1944. But was the pocket to be closed along the line of the River Orne, or the River Seine?

In practice thousands of Germans escaped across the Orne. The great majority of them, and many others, also escaped across the Seine. 23,000 vehicles were also evacuated.

‘A wide ranging and thought-provoking analysis of warfare in the last century, outlining enduring and essential lessons. Reading it will make you reconsider what you thought you knew.’

General Sir Rupert Smith KCB DSO OBE QGM

‘A highly stimulating, thought-provoking analysis of warfare in the twentieth century … clear thinking, full of insights and never shy of controversy.’

Lieutenant General Sir John Kiszely KCB MC

I’m the author of two other books. ‘The Human Face of War’, based on the doctoral thesis I prepared under the guidance of Professor Richard Holmes, was published in 2009. ‘King Arthur’s Wars’, which provides a revolutionary re-assessment of the Anglo-Saxon conquest of England, was published by Helion in 2016. A revised paperback edition is available now.

I’m not an historian. My first degree was in civil engineering; my master’s is in defence technology. I see myself as an analyst. I try to follow the evidence, wherever it may lead, and no matter how uncomfortable that may be. I also try to think critically what the evidence tells us.

Although British, I could be considered a bit of a globetrotter. We lived in four different countries (and England!) before I went to university. I then served as a Regular infantry officer for 25 years. My service took me to many different countries. Since leaving the Army I’ve worked as a consultant, writer, researcher and analyst. I’ve taught and lectured in several countries.

I’ve now started work on my next book, which will look at the tactics of the unfought battles of the Cold War. After that I’m thinking about a book on command: the organisations, structures, processes and people.

The Hall of Mirrors: War and Warfare in the 20th Century can be ordered here.

René North

By Stephen Ede Borrett

Anyone beginning to research the uniforms of the British Army during the Napoleonic Wars will very quickly come across two small books published by the long-gone and much lamented Almark – Regiments at Waterloo and Soldiers of the Peninsular War, both books written and illustrated by one René North.  A little more research will soon bring up references to North’s hard-to-find ‘Paint-Your-Own’ series of uniform cards.  Although he published only four books including these two titles (he translated at least one more however), without a doubt René North was in the forefront of the early study of the uniforms of the British Army, indeed he was perhaps the foremost of the second generation authorities (if we take C C P Lawson, P W Reynolds, Percy Sumner and their ilk as the first generation and the originators of the study).

During World War Two René North had served in the Royal Artillery and then in the Intelligence Corps.  After the war he was a ‘consultant to theatrical and advertising agencies on matters of military dress’.  Around 1950 he was retained by Norman Newton Ltd (the owners of the ‘Tradition’ shop in Piccadilly) to take over as the artist on their ‘Tradition, Uniforms of the British Army’ series of plates.

Text sheet for Huber plate No.2. As the series progressed the text got more detailed.

The first two plates of the series had been drawn by Charles Stadden, the well known and highly respected figure sculptor and artist (‘Stadden Miniatures’ are still available today, almost a half-century after their original sculpting).  The first plates, drawn by Stadden, showed the uniforms of a single Regiment from its raising until c1815 but René North changed the direction of the series and each of these almost A2 sized plates would in future show a single regiment over a much shorter time period, almost always the era c1800 to 1815.  The plates, like the Huber series (see below), were printed in outline and then hand coloured before sale, mostly by the same woman.  Some copies may have been sold uncoloured as I have a single example that is so, but this could simply be ‘one that got away’.

Towards the end of the publication of the Tradition plate series in 1956, René North was contracted by Francis S Huber, also a London based publisher[1], to draw a similar series of plates.  Unlike the Tradition series, the Huber Series of Plates were published as a limited edition – only between 25 and 50 copies of each plate were printed, each hand numbered, and for this reason alone they are exceedingly hard to find today.  The first eight of the series, which eventually ran to almost 50 plates, covered two regiments to each plate but from plate nine this changed to a single Regiment per plate.  Each plate was a little larger than A4 and folded into a booklet form and, unlike the Tradition series, accompanied by one or two pages of text of additional information, sources, etc.

Huber Uniform plate No.2, dated 1956. Hand coloured.

The Huber series of plates came to an end around 1962  (the illustrations for the last plate are dated 1962), but a couple of years earlier North had begun to publish his on-going researches in the form of the ‘North’s Paint-Your-Own cards’ for which he is best known.  The figures in ‘North’s Paint-Your-Own cards’ set 1 (Austrian Artillery 1809-15) and set 2 (Swiss Regiments in French Service 1805-15) both carry the date of 1959 but may have actually been published in early 1960, thereafter the sets were published at the rate of approximately four sets every four months.  The cards came in sets of six and were printed on high-quality heavyweight card, intended, as the name implies, for the purchaser to colour them themselves from the colour details supplied.  Initially the colouring information was on the actual card, but on later sets it was moved to the accompanying text sheet leaving the card purely for the illustration itself.

Huber Uniform plate No.39, dated 1960. Hand coloured.

This idea of ‘paint-your-own’ kept the cost of the sets down in the days of expensive colour printing.  In 1975 when John Edgcumbe was publishing the cards sets 1 to 65 were 80p per set and 66 to 113 were 45p per set (and there had been some price rises since North had died!)  Each set was supplied in a small brown envelope usually bearing no identifier beyond the set number although later some sets had the set title handwritten on the outside.

‘North’s Paint Your Own Cards’ set 83, ‘Bavarian Infantry 1910’. The colouring instructions have now moved to the information sheet.

The cards were essentially in two series, although numbered in one sequential run (rather like British Cavalry Regiments I suppose…): one series (90 sets) covered the Napoleonic Wars from c1800, the other (23 of the 113 sets) the two decades immediately before 1914, the period of the last full dress uniforms of the old European Armies.

Both the Huber Plates and, after the first few sets, the ‘Paint-Your-Own cards’ came with a sheet of notes that not only gave additional information but also the sources for the illustration itself together with details of any variations given in other sources.  It is to be regretted that many modern artists do not give similar details for their illustrations and admit where they have made assumptions.

North also produced and published two other uniformology items.  The first was a series of ‘Uniform Charts’, essentially the sort of tables of facings and uniform colours, which are now commonplace in uniform books but were unknown in the 1960s and 1970s (Austrian Infantry, French Dragoons, British Line Infantry, etc.).  The second of North’s other publications was a small number of sets of cardboard soldiers in 30mm (25mm had yet to arrive on the scene although there was a range of “one inch” figures), again to be coloured by the purchaser.  These were essentially forerunners of Peter Dennis’ excellent ‘Paper Soldiers’ series published by Helion but, as said, were black and white.

‘North’s Paint Your Own Cards’ set 46, ‘French 30th Line Infantry 1807-13’. The colouring instructions were moved to the text sheet on later sets.

René North died in 1971 although even by that time both the Tradition and the Huber plates were long gone.  The paint-your-own cards, uniform charts and paper soldiers were all taken over by John Edgcumbe, who also published the two sets of cards that North had drawn before his death but had not published (set 112 French Regiment d’Isenbourg c 1809, and set 113 Royal Canadian Mounted Police 1890-1900, oddly in my example the cards of these two sets are neither signed nor dated).  These two sets brought the total to 113 sets showing over 700 figures (set 100 had two figures per card as did a number of single cards in other sets).  In the 1980s Edgcumbe passed the publishing and sale of the cards to John Heayes, but a year or so later they disappeared from sale and their current whereabouts is now unknown.

It’s worth mentioning that at no time during their publishing history were the cards available from anyone except the publishers (North, Edgcumbe and Heayes as appropriate), with the single exception that they were in Jack Scruby’s catalogue for sale in the USA.  This lack of a distributor or reseller probably accounts for the cards’ relative obscurity despite the high quality of the information that they contain.

gimental Christmas card of the Royal Fusiliers (old 7th of Foot) for 1957. The illustration by René North shows a fuzileer of the Regiment at its raising in 1685 (the regiment’s usual garrison of the Tower can be seen in the background). The pose demonstrates North’s sense of humour that shows again and again on the plates and especially on many of the Paint-Your-Own cards.

René North’s name is rarely mentioned today, except perhaps in relation to the Military Uniforms book that he wrote for Hamlyn[2] (published in their “all colour” series in 1970, and which ironically René North didn’t illustrate) but his work is the foundation of many of the studies of British Napoleonic Uniforms and he deserves to be better remembered.

An email from “Emir Bukhari” is on the web at https://costumeanduniforms.wordpress.com/2011/04/13/rene-north/ and is a fitting tribute to René North, I trust that there will be no objection to my reproducing it…

Original artwork for Huber plate No.19 ‘11th Light Dragoons 1812-1816’, published 1958 Note this artwork does not carry a date but the printing mark-ups can just be seen. It must have been coloured after the printing plate had been made.

“Just Walk Away René…

René North is a much-neglected populariser of what is now called uniformology.  My earliest memory is of a small, rather dapper pencil-moustached individual who lurked at the top right hand corner of British Model Soldier Society meetings in the old Caxton Hall venue in Victoria in the mid to late sixties.

Draped in a grey gabardine belted overcoat, he furtively dispensed upon whispered
enquiry those little brown envelopes of six monochrome cards and a single sheet of colouring instructions from a battered brown briefcase.

He was modest and softly spoken with a gentle twinkle in his intelligent eyes, which made him a very accessible figure to us overawed young beginners in the hobby.

I loved the little cards, which were excellent value for money. They clearly reflected his love of the subject and were painstakingly rendered in pen and ink. If his drawing
ability was limited in comparison to the many talented artists we’d seen on the Bucquoy cards, his passion for detail and delight in bringing us all the variations available to him of the costumes of a single corps made him head and shoulders above his few British contemporaries.

I treasure to this day many sets of his cards and recall with great affection the order, scale and comprehensiveness which he brought to his card series and his many illustrations in those early Almark publications.

The empty sidewalks on my block are not the same…

Veillons au Salut de l’Empire”

Emir Bukhari

Tradition plate No.10, dated 1957, hand coloured (this example has some paint smudges on the back, perhaps from another plate being coloured at the same time.) Note the sources for each figure.

I had the privilege of meeting René North only once when I was taken as a young guest to a BMSS meeting.  Emir Bukhari’s email sums up my memory very well.

[1]  I have been unable to find anything about this publisher or, indeed, anything else that he published!

[2]  If you can find a copy the American edition of this book is to be preferred; it corrects a couple of typos from the Hamlyn version AND it is a hardback!