Saturday, 16 December 2017

Back home

Sue and I have just arrived home from a pre-Christmas cruise that took us to Hamburg, Copenhagen, Oslo, and Zeebrugge. (We were supposed to also go to Amsterdam, but high winds prevented the ship from even trying to get through the locks on the North Sea Canal.)

I will be writing a blog entry about our trip in the very near future, and I have visited a number of places (especially the Royal Arsenal Museum in Copenhagen) that will generate quite a few blog entries that will be published over the coming week or so ... but for now we have a considerable amount of unpacking and sorting out to do.

Friday, 15 December 2017

Eric Knowles RIP

Last night I was informed by David Crook that Eric Knowles had died at the age of 91 years.

Eric was one of the early modern British wargamers, and took part in the famous re-fight of the Battle of Waterloo at the Duke of York's Headquarters alongside Donald Featherstone, Neville Dickinson et al.

On his retirement from working for the 'Daily Mirror' newspaper he set up a wargame shop in Manor Park in East London called the NEW MODEL ARMY (formerly WALL MODELS), and it was during a visit to his shop that I got to know him. Eventually he invited me to join the small group of wargamers who met regularly in the shop's basement to play wargames, foremost amongst these being the famous MADASAHATTA campaign.

I visited Eric's house several times, and his family were always extremely welcoming. His home seemed to be full of wargames figures, and it was reputed that they even occupied space in the airing cupboard!

After the shop closed and Eric moved away to Lincolnshire, I managed to see him a couple of times at wargame shows, and he still had a very lively mind and an active interest in wargaming. I understand that in later years he became a guide for visitors to the RAF's 'Battle of Britain' flight, and I am sure that he would have proven to be an enthusiastic and very knowledgeable one.

It is true to say that without Eric's encouragement and advice I would not be the wargamer that I am today. He will be greatly missed by his many friends as well as his family.

Eric Knowles RIP

Spanish Civil War: Day-by-Day: 15th December 1937 – 20th February 1938


The Republican Army launched an offensive to capture Teruel to pre-empt a Nationalist attack upon Catalonia. Two Republican armies (led by Generals Hernandez Sarabia and Leopoldo Menendez) advanced on Teruel and by nightfall on 15th December they had surrounded the city.

The garrison, which was commanded by Colonel Rey d'Harcourt, held out in the southern part of the city until 8th January; casualties and lack of supplies then forced them to surrender. On 29th December General Franco had ordered Generals Jose Varela and Antonio Aranda to mount a counter-attack to relieve the defenders but the appalling winter weather hampered their advance and d'Harcourt had surrendered before they could raise the siege. The Republicans now found that they were in danger of being besieged in Teruel themselves.

On 7th February Nationalist cavalry attacked the Republican forces to the North of the city and forced them to retreat and by 17th February Moroccan troops (led by General Juan Yague) had crossed the River Alfambra. Three days later the Nationalists had almost surrounded the city and the Republican armies were forced to retreat along the Valencia road to the south-east. The Nationalists then reoccupied Teruel.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

The Battle of the River Plate: 13th December, 1939

At 5.20am on 13th December 1939, a British cruiser squadron comprising HMS Ajax, HMS Achilles, and HMS Exeter was some 390 nautical miles east of Montevideo, Uruguay. Fifty minutes later HMS Ajax spotted smoke and Commodore Harwood (who was in command of the squadron) ordered HMS Exeter to investigate. At 6.16am the Exeter signalled that she thought that she had a German pocket-battleship in sight.

The Admiral Graf Spee had also sighted the British ships, but assumed that they were a single cruiser and two destroyers that were acting as a convoy escort. Her commander – Captain Hans Langsdorff – decided to engage the British ships, and what followed was a running battle between the British cruisers and the German pocket-battleship that became know as the Battle of the River Plate.

Both sides suffered casualties, and HMS Exeter had to disengage after suffering extensive damage that left her unable to fight. The Admiral Graf Spee managed to make it into Montevideo, but the Uruguayans – who were neutral – enforced the rules regarding warships of belligerent powers seeking to remain in neutral harbours, and refused permission for any damage that did not affect the Admiral Graf Spee's seaworthiness to be repaired.

The British engineered the situation so that they were able to rush reinforcements towards Montevideo, and rumours were spread that Force H (the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal and the battlecruiser HMS Renown) had arrived off the River Plate and was preparing to engage the Admiral Graf Spee when she left harbour. The ruse worked, and on 17th December Captain Langsdorff and a skeleton crew sailed the Admiral Graf Spee out to sea and scuttled her. Two days after his return to shore, Captain Langsdorff shot himself.

Could the Admiral Graf Spee have fought her way out to the open sea and escaped? This is a possibility, but with the damage she had already sustained and her already depleted ammunition supply, it is doubtful that she would have made it back to German without being intercepted and sunk.

The Historic Dockyard Chatham has models of the four ships that took part in the Battle of the River Plate.

HMS Ajax

HMS Achilles

HMS Exeter

Admiral Graf Spee

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Sir George Thurston: An advocate of smaller battleships and well-armed cruisers

Back in 2011 I wrote about some of the smaller battleship designs that were developed during the 1920s and 1930s by Sir George Thurston.

In 1926 he submitted a design for a smaller battleship that had 6 x 16-inch guns in two triple turrets as its main armament, 8 x 6-inch guns in four twin turrets as its secondary armament, and 4 x 4.7-inch AA guns in single mounts. Its tonnage was predicted to be 26,500-tons, and it looked like a cut-down version of HMS Nelson.

In 1933, after his earlier design had been rejected, he put forward a further design that was even lighter (its predicted tonnage was 25,000 tons and armed with 12 x 12-inch guns in four triple turrets as its main armament and 12 x 6-inch guns in casemates, the latter method of mounting guns being regarded by most naval officers and architects as being inefficient, ineffective, and obsolete.

During this period he also came up with several interesting designs for cruisers that would meet the terms of the Washington Naval Treaty. They were identified as being designs A, B, and C.

Design A resembled the design of the County-class cruisers built for the Royal Navy but armed with three triple turrets rather than four twin turrets, and B was similar to the County-class as built. C was a far more radical design and was more like a cruiser version of the Nelson-class battleships that were in service with the Royal Navy.

Sir George Thurston KBE was born in 1869 and died in 1950, and during his life was one of Britain's leading naval architects during the first half of the 20th century.

After training as a naval architect and gaining experience designing merchant ships, he moved to Armstrong's Elswick shipyard, where he worked for Sir Philip Watts. He later became the chief naval architect for Vickers, and contributed to the design of the Japanese battlecruiser Kongō and the Turkish battleship Reşadiye, that became HMS Erin at the outbreak of the First World War.

Monday, 11 December 2017

The smallest dreadnoughts?

Although HMS Dreadnought was the first of her type to enter service – and thus give a whole new generation of battleships a new name – other nations had already begun to design and built 'all big gun' battleships.

Amongst these was the US Navy's South Carolina-class, which carried their main armament on the centreline, with two of the four turrets superimposed.

These two ships – USS South Carolina and USS Michigan – were smaller than HMS Dreadnought, and remained the smallest ships of their type until Spain began to build its first and only dreadnoughts, the España-class.

Although they were obsolete by the time they entered service, they served the purpose for which they were built. In other words they had sufficient firepower to 'show the flag' and defend Spain's coastline from any potential enemy, but were relatively inexpensive to build and operate.

Of the three built, two survived to serve in opposing navies during the Spanish Civil War.

ESPAÑA (formerly Alfonso XIII)


The class’s characteristics were:
  • Displacement: 15,452 tons normal; 15,700 tons maximum
  • Dimensions: 459’ 2” x 78’ 9” x 25’ 6” (140m x 24m x 7.8m)
  • Maximum Speed: 19.5 knots
  • Armour:
    • Belt: 8” to 4” (203mm to 102mm)
    • Barbettes: 10” (254mm)
    • Gunhouses: 8” (203mm)
    • Deck: 1.5” (38mm)
  • Armament: 8 x 12” (305mm) (4 x 2) guns; 20 x 4” (102mm) (20 x 1) guns; 4 x 3 pdr (47mm) (4 x 1) anti-aircraft guns
  • Complement: 854
  • The British companies Vickers, Armstrong Whitworth, and John Brown & Company submitted the winning design for these battleships, and provided the builders (Sociedad Española de Construcción Naval, El Ferrol, Spain ... which they owned!) with many of the major specialist components.
  • The completion of Jaime I was delayed by the non-delivery of material – including the main armament – from Britain due to the outbreak of the First World War.
  • España was originally named Alfonso XIII. The original España sank in August 1923 whilst bombarding Rif positions near Cape Tres Forcas. The second España served in the Nationalist Navy during the Spanish Civil War and sank after hitting a mine on 30th April 1937.
  • Jaime I served in the Republican Navy during the Spanish Civil War. She was damaged by Nationalist bombing whilst at Cartagena, and was subsequently scuttled there on 17th June 1937 following a fire that was caused by an accidental magazine explosion.
During the period between the First and Second World Wars there were several proposals to limit the size of newly-built battleships. Although not as small as the España-class, they would have not been as large as the dreadnoughts that had been designed and built during the First World War.

For example, the French Navy developed a design for a fast battleship of less than 25,000 tons that was armed with 12" (305mm) guns, had armour designed to resist 11" (280) guns, and a speed of 30 knots. It was never built, but formed the basis of the design that evolved into the Dunkerque-class battleships.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

La Ultima Cruzada has been released for publication!

The printed proof copies have arrived, and after checking I have been able to release my latest book – the third edition of LA ULTIMA CRUZADA – for publication.

It is now available in hardback format for £24.99 (plus postage) from, and should be on sale with Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online retailers within a matter of weeks.

To quote from the blurb on the cover of the book:
This book has been written in direct response to the numerous requests for a revised and improved version of the previous – and now long out-of-print – second edition. Unlike the previous book, this edition presents the data it contains thematically in the hope that it will enable readers to quickly find the information they are looking for.

LA ULTIMA CRUZADA is intended to be a sourcebook of information that will be useful to military historians and wargamers with an interest in the Spanish Civil War.

The book comprises six parts:
Part 1: The major political parties and main events of the Spanish Civil War
Part 2: The Armies of the Spanish Civil War
Part 3: The Navies of the Spanish Civil War
Part 4: The Air Forces of the Spanish Civil War
Part 5: The Spanish Police and Security Forces
Part 6: Uniforms of the Spanish Civil War

There is also a bibliography.
The book is 296 pages long, and contains numerous black and white photographs and line drawings.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Napoleon and Roustam

During his recent visit, Arthur Harman presented me with two 25mm figures painted by the late Bill Brewer. They are of Napoleon ...

...and his mameluke bodyguard and secondary vale, Roustan Raza.

Roustam Raza was an Armenian and born in Tbilisi, Georgia, to Armenian parents. He was kidnapped when he was thirteen, renamed Idzhahia, and sold as a slave in Cairo. He was presented to Napoleon Bonaparte in 1798 by the Sheik of Cairo, and served as Napoleon's bodyguard and secondary valet until 1814, when he settled down after the Bourbon Restoration and married Mademoiselle Alexandrine Douville in Dourdan, France.

Roustam did not follow Napoleon into exile in Elba, and although he offered to serve the Emperor on the latter's return to France, Napoleon refused to see him and he was replaced by Louis Étienne Saint-Denis.

Friday, 8 December 2017

8 x 15 hex grid for Hexblitz

My wargame table is 3' x 4' (90cm x 120cm), and I can just about fit an 8 x 15 grid of Hexon II hexes on it without any problem. As a result this was the size of grid that I used in my HEXBLITZ play-test, the Battle of Alderstadt.

As I am thinking about revisiting and possibly re-writing these rules, I decided that I ought to produce a suitable 8 x 15 blank hex grid with co-ordinates ... so I did.

The illustration shown immediately above is in .gif format. It can be downloaded into a program like MS Paint and used 'as is' or saved into .bmp format, and then used.

Although I retain the copyright on this particular grid, I give permission for users to download it for their own personal use. If it is used in any publication (printed, electronic, or in any other format), I expect my copyright to be acknowledged.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

The Battle of Abu Klea ... by William McGonagall

For a somewhat less well-written (in truth, appallingly written!) description of the Battle of Abu Klea and the death of Colonel Burnaby, one can always rely on Scotland's (in-)famous poet, William McGonagall, to come up to the mark.
Ye sons of Mars, come join with me,
And sing in praise of Sir Herbert Stewart's little army,
That made ten thousand Arabs flee
At the charge of the bayonet at Abu Klea.

General Stewart's force was about fifteen hundred all told,
A brave little band, but, like lions bold,
They fought under their brave and heroic commander,
As gallant and as skillful as the great Alexander.

And the nation has every reason to be proud,
And in praise of his little band we cannot speak too loud,
Because that gallant fifteen hundred soon put to flight
Ten thousand Arabs, which was a most beautiful sight.

The enemy kept up a harmless fire all night,
And threw up works on General Stewart's right;
Therefore he tried to draw the enemy on to attack,
But they hesitated, and through fear drew back.

But General Stewart ordered his men forward in square,
All of them on foot, ready to die and to dare;
And he forced the enemy to engage in the fray,
But in a short time they were glad to run away.

But not before they penetrated through the British square,
Which was a critical Moment to the British, I declare,
Owing to the great number of the Arabs,
Who rushed against their bayonets and received fearful stabs.

Then all was quiet again until after breakfast,
And when the brave little band had finished their repast,
Then the firing began from the heights on the right,
From the breastworks they had constructed during the night.

By eight o'clock the enemy was of considerable strength,
With their banners waving beautifully and of great length,
And creeping steadily up the grassy road direct to the wells,
But the British soon checked their advance by shot and shells.

At ten o'clock brave General Stewart made a counter-attack,
Resolved to turn the enemy on a different track;
And he ordered his men to form a hollow square,
Placing the Guards in the front, and telling them to prepare.

And on the left was the Mounted Infantry,
Which truly was a magnificent sight to see;
Then the Sussex Regiment was on the right,
And the Heavy Cavalry and Naval Brigade all ready to fight.

Then General Stewart took up a good position on a slope,
Where he guessed the enemy could not with him cope,
Where he knew the rebels must advance,
All up hill and upon open ground, which was his only chance,

Then Captain Norton's battery planted shells amongst the densest mass,
Determined with shot and shell the enemy to harass;
Then came the shock of the rebels against the British square,
While the fiendish shouts of the Arabs did rend the air.

But the steadiness of the Guards, Marines, and Infantry prevailed,
And for the loss of their brother officers they sadly bewailed,
Who fell mortally wounded in the bloody fray,
Which they will remember for many a long day.

For ten minutes a desperate struggle raged from left to rear,
While Gunner Smith saved Lieutenant Guthrie's life without dread or fear,
When all the other gunners had been borne back,
He took up a handspike, and the Arabs he did whack.

The noble hero hard blows did strike,
As he swung round his head the handspike;
He seemed like a destroying angel in the midst of the fight,
The way he scattered the Arabs left and right.

Oh! it was an exciting and terrible sight,
To see Colonel Burnaby engaged in the fight:
With sword in hand, fighting with might and main,
Until killed by a spear-thrust in the jugular vein.

A braver soldier ne'er fought on a battle-field,
Death or glory was his motto, rather than yield;
A man of noble stature and manly to behold,
And an honour to his country be it told,

It was not long before every Arab in the square was killed,
And with a dense smoke and dust the air was filled;
General Stewart's horse was shot, and he fell to the ground,
In the midst of shot and shell on every side around.

And when the victory was won they gave three British cheers,
While adown their cheeks flowed many tears
For their fallen comrades that lay weltering in their gore;
Then the square was re-formed and the battle was o'er.