Thursday 21 May 2020

Breakout Normandy on Vassal - End D+3

So Steve M and I continue our second game of BKN with Steve, this time playing the Allies.

The German defences at Omaha looking decidedly shaky at the close of D+1

My Previous Post - BKN, Game Two left the game delicately balanced with a solid German defence on the flanks of the Allied beachhead on D+1 but with the centre looking decidedly fragile for the Germans, with the British 50th Division having broken through to Villers Bocage and the defenders of Omaha  pushed back off the beach and left spent and disrupted with little hope of succour other than to blow bridges and delay the likely US advance.

The other area of concern for the Germans at the close of D+1 was the British 50th Division in Villers Bocage with Panzer Lehr forced to deploy early, leaving their tanks disrupted in Caumont (lower left) after suffering under Allied air attacks on the advance

So as indicated in my first post, the game was an an interesting position for the start of D+2 with the Germans needing to delay as much as possible to allow reserves in the centre to close up without getting dealt with in detail by Allied spearhead units and their massive preponderance in naval, artillery and air assets.

The situation map at the close of June 8th, D+2 with German units on the flanks of the Allied landings pressing the US and British airborne troops hard and with the defences on Sword Beach still holding out, but with Caen under pressure after 3rd Canadian Infantry Division attacked into the city. The US 29th and 2nd Infantry Divisions have cleared Grandcamp and captured Isigny as they push to link up with Utah Beach.

June the 8th D+2 was a long day for the Germans, under clear skies as they pressed the Allied flanks as hard as they dared, but suffering around Omaha as the US 2nd and 29th Infantry Divisions pushed on to link up with Utah Beach in Carentan and with the Canadians able to force their way into Caen

D+2 on the US beaches with the 2nd and 29th ID in Isigny and the German 30th Brigade rushed into Catz to blow the bridge and delay any advance on Carentan as the Cherbourg garrison push down on Utah from the north and west.

Steve, playing the Allies, was finding the pleasure and the pain of BKN with lots of things to do, but never quite sure how much time was left in the day to do it, and so as the day threatened to end and following naval and artillery barrages, the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division forced its way into Caen.

The city of Caen at the end of June 8th D+2, and its northern outskirts erupts in battle as the Canadians push into the city from Juno Beach, whilst 6th Airborne in Merville digs in under heavy German artillery attacks with no supply possible from Sword with the German defences still resisting two days after D-Day

British 6th Airborne Division were having a torrid time holding out in Merville under strong German artillery barrage and no reinforcements from Sword Beach for two days

June 9th was forecast as overcast and rainy which would keep the Allied fly-boys on the ground and give a chance for the German defences to regroup after a difficult two previous days.

The US Sector at the end of June 9th D+3, with Pont l'Abbe retaken by German troops from 82nd Airborne, but with Catz taken by the US 29th ID and with the 2nd ID in and around St Lo.  

Despite the change in weather the Allied reinforcements keep on coming and despite Pont l'Abbe falling to the advance of the Cherbourg garrison following up its artillery barrage with an assualt by two Coastal Divisions to clear out 82nd Airborne, the US troops kept up the pressure from Omaha taking Catz and moving into St Lo, leaving the German defences in both areas in tatters.

June 9th, D+3 and the British 6th Airborne are finally forced out of Merville, but in reply, the 51st Highland Division storms its way through Bayeux and into Balleroy forcing the German defenders to blow bridges along their advance to try and slow any further advance, whilst Lehr look to contain Villers Bocage.

Similar to the US sector, the British/Candian sector saw 6th Airborne finally ejected from Merville but in response the 51st HD drove through to Balleroy with infantry and armour leaving the Allies with 5VP contesting both Caen and St Lo with three days of the week still to play - Oh dear how sad, never mind.

The German defences are under extreme pressure at the end of D+3, June 9th with US troops contesting St Lo and British and Canadian troops contesting Caen and occupying Balleroy and Villers Bocage. With three days to play and 5VP secured it looks bleak for any German come back.

So things are looking extremely tough for the Germans to resist an Allied win in the first week, but it's not over till its over and the final post in this series will show how our game finished up.

Monday 18 May 2020


Whilst awaiting reinforcements for the 1:700th Age of Sail naval project, I have embarked on some outstanding work that has been on the to-do list which saw my AWI collection getting some further attention and to follow, work promised on some medieval light cavalry for my mate Vince as part of a contribution to a game we had planned up at Chez Chas in June this year that now looks likely to be postponed.

However as evidence of another case of faith triumphing over experience and on the hope we might still get together to do our game in the not too distant future, and with my commitment to get these done outstanding, I sat down two weeks ago and put a dozen Perry Miniatures plastic late medieval light cavalry together.

The briefing for these chaps was to keep them fairly generic types as they will be playing the role of Turcopoles in our intended game but could easily turn out for one of our club WOTR games as well as lining up for an Italian Wars set to, hence no specific liveries or banners.

Perry's figures are a class above in terms of detail, design and horses that look like horses, and these plastics offer the usual flexibility to turn out very personalised miniatures that are a joy to paint.

I have three boxes of these of my own, as part of a massive Wars of the Roses collection I have still to get stuck into, and so messing about with these figures for Vince gave me a chance to see how they fit together and the combinations of weapons, helmets and other accouterments that make every unit individual.

It has been really fun getting back into some figure painting for a while and this excursion into medievals only added to that, so I hope you like them Vince and here's looking forward to seeing them in action on the table.

However I'm returning to the sea with a couple of models of a 38-gun frigate and 74-gun ship of the line, I'm doing for another mate, Bob, whose invested in a similar collection as my own, and these are intended to act as exemplars of the rigging set-ups for British and other nations ships.

Following that I may well be heading off to the dark ages, depending on whether the Spanish navy has turned up.

Thursday 14 May 2020

Breakout Normandy on Vassal - D+6, End of Game One, Start of Game Two to End D+1

Picking up from my Previous Post - BKN on Vassal, D+4  covering Steve M and my playing of Breakout Normandy (BKN) on Vassal, we left things looking rather hard pressed for the Allies to make the required progress in week one demanded of the victory conditions of 9.6 victory points by week end, with just 3VP in the bag and plenty to do.

End of D+5

Well a close inspection of the last two end position maps of our game tell the tale of German success, with a strong cordon of German grey around the Allied landings. plenty of blown bridges in the centre and the Allied divisions on the flanks of the landings under hard pressure, with a blossoming of yellow disrupt one crosses littering the battlefield of units unable to regroup.

The only real Allied success was to push on from Omaha south and west into Trevieres and Isingny respectively as the US beaches fight hard to link up, with the British stalled as the 50th Division on Gold take the two previous days to rebuild.

End D+6 - Game Over

The final map above shows the tale of woe from and Allied perspective with the US Carentan offensive stalled and the US troops from Omaha trying to link up with a drive into Catz that failed to clear the area despite a strong position.

Likewise a breakthrough to St Lo was halted in bitter fighting among the wooded slopes of the Foret de Cerisy as US 2nd Armoured Division joined the battle.

The British and Canadians remain stalled around Caen with the 6th Airborne hard pressed around Merville on the Orne as the American offensives dominated the main play as the Allies tried to salvage some points from the game.

Well played Steve, a masterful application of a solid German defence able to move to the counterattack as opportunity and the weather offered.

The Vassal platform continues to impress as a way to continue our gaming activities during lockdown and so Steve and I picked up where we left off with a second game of BKN with Steve shifting seats to the Allied camp in preparation for another D-Day landing.

Game over and victory to Steve, with my Allied landing struggling to get anywhere significant in the first week and strong German counterattacks around Ponte l'Abbe, Carentan, Bayeux and Merville seriously disrupting Allied attempts to advance as they were pushed on to the defensive as the Germans took full advantage  during periods of bad weather in the first week.

Game Two - D-Day (Steve M. - Allies & JJ - Germans)

So with the beauty of playing the game on Vassal meaning that setting the whole thing up to start another game is simply the pressing of a few mouse clicks away, Steve and I sat down a week later to start Game Two of BKN with the all important first session of seeing what position the Allies could create from their landings.

In the end it was a fairly steady landing with Steve attempting to hold regiments back to use as follow up troops after clearing a beach, whereas my strategy in the first game had been a preference to making sure the beach was cleared with overwhelming force or 'shock and awe' to use a modern piece of lazy news-media jargon.

In the end Omaha was cleared but follow up troops were stymied by well directed German coastal guns that allowed the Germans to hold the landing to just the beach and the loss of the guns in Port-en-Bessin.

Likewise Utah beach was similarly contained with 4th IV Division stalled by German coastal guns as the US paras failed to take out the battery in St Mere Eglise

End of D-Day

A solid landing by 50th Division on Gold Beach was complimented by their capturing of the bridge to Brettville, soon mimicked by the Canadians on Juno but not before they were stalled with two of the 3rd Division brigades becoming spent on landing under coastal gun fire before the beach was finally cleared.

However the strongest resistance was encountered on Sword Beach with both the Coastal battery and the supporting infantry still contesting the landing on the evening of D-Day.

D+1 saw the capture of the bridge in Bretteville pay dividends as British 50th Division and its supporting tanks push on down to Villers Bocage forcing Panzer Lehr to advance earlier than they would have wished, being under constant Allied air attacks as they were rushed forward to try and seal of the threat, managing to get into Caumont, Tilly and Aunay-sur-Odon to prevent any further encroachment around Caen, but leaving elements of the division spent and disrupted from their march.

On the American sector progress was limited to a build up of US troops on both beaches, held up on Omaha by German artillery fire from Trevieres and on Utah by coastal battery fire and the Germans successfully blowing the bridges into St Mere Eglise.

End D+1, one allied VP in the bag, but more importantly it's Villers Bocage which is rather worrying from a German perspective

The British offensive on D+1 has seriously unhinged what was a solid German defence and, with the units around Omaha seriously battered from US naval and artillery fire, the Germans look hard pressed in the centre which is likely to make it difficult to adequately support other key areas going forward - we shall see.

British tankers enjoy a well earned brew and a fry-up parked up among the orchards in Villers Bocage as Steve's 50th Division makes rapid progress off of Gold beach on D+1

Next up on JJ's - Will and I have been messing around on Vassal with the GMT age of sail strategic game 1805 - Sea of Glory covering the fleet movements during that dramatic year that culminated in the Battle of Trafalgar. This is a solid game for the naval grognard and we are enjoying the early play so I will aim to report on that, plus I hope to have some Wars of the Roses Hobilars to show you with the horses done and work progressing on the riders this week.

In addition I will follow up this post with the conclusion of our second game of BKN.

More anon

Saturday 9 May 2020

American War of Independence Commanders & New Sabot Bases

It was way back at the end of October last year that I last posted on my AWI Niagara-Mohawk Campaign collection of figures when I presented the last addition to the collection which were my Butler's Rangers conversions and a selection of Iroquois Indians, before Warlord Games launched their 1:700th range of Napoleonic ships that set me off on another tangent to build a quite different collection.

AWI - Butler's Rangers & Iroquois Indians
AWI -British Light Infantry
AWI - Kings Royal Regiment of New York

The Burning of the Valleys, by Gavin K. Watt provided the inspiration to work on my AWI Collection and the cover artwork captures the look of the British and Allied troops that fought along the Niagara-Mohawk frontier, that I wanted with my general officers 

As well as just indulging myself by 'sailing off'', if you'll excuse the pun, on another project, the ship building allowed me to pause on the AWI collection as I considered how I wanted to base my figures using an appropriate sabot set up.

This portrait of Sir John Johnson provided the inspiration for the look of my
sword waving British General Officer dressed in 1760's style dress regulation, rather than the more 
campaign style dress code of his likely subordinates, seen worn by the other general officers.

This plan incorporated the rather nice sabots from  Supreme Littleness Designs (SLD), who uniquely offer sabots with card rather than mdf bases, giving them a much reduced profile and with their irregular cut edges, a more softened look on the table.

Until recently SLD had been reorganising their business, which entailed their ordering page to be deactivated during the process, and so I took the time to focus on ships during that time and as soon as they were available ordered up the new bases together with some pill bases for my mounted commanders for which I had painted the figures in early November but were unbased and not ready to show.

I really like the SLD Command sabots that allow a space at the back to place an identifier marking to make spotting a particular commander on the table that bit easier but keeping things relatively unobtrusive and I had used them before with my Augustus to Aurelian collection of Romano-Dacians.

Command Sabot Bases for Augustus to Aurelian

The bases are marked up in a similar style to the command chits used in Sharp Practice and help make the relevant commander stand out from his units.

The mounted British commanders are completed to represent Royal Regiment of New York senior officers together with Sir John Johnson, Officer commanding on the Niagra Frontier and as well as my foot commands for my Rangers and Indians I now have 'Mad Dog' mounted, wearing his Seven Years War British Colonel's jacket and tricorne.

As well as the British and their Indian allies, I have started to put the first parts of the American part of the collection together with my mounted American Militia general officers, suitably adorned in a mix of military and civilian garb and the infantry I put together for a Devon Wargames Group club game have been rebased ready to join others when I get the opportunity to add them over time.

The look of my American militia units and their commanders will take inspiration from pictures such as this of the defenders of Breeds Hill by Don Troiani

The Perry militia officers are such a nice set of sculpts and will add lots of character to my American army of State and colonial militiamen.

However with Spanish naval reinforcements ordered up and two other projects to get done before they arrive, I will turn my attention next to the medieval period with some Perry plastic 28mm hobilars currently underway that I am painting for a friend.

More Anon 

Friday 8 May 2020

Wargame Blogs - What's that all about then?

It's really nice to see the start of something new and in this case have the opportunity to welcome Greg and his brand spanking new blog 'Delta Coy'  to the world of wargame blogging.

I myself have been doing this now for a few years, here and on the Devon Wargames Group club blog, and it's easy to forget what it felt like getting into this interesting aspect of the hobby and taking a bit of time to just reflect on why, for some of us, it becomes a big part of what we do in the hobby, just as much as playing the games, painting the miniatures, attending shows (Ah, those were the days!), reading the books and exploring historical sites and places; in fact if anything, for me, it acts as a hub to all of that activity and yet for others they seem to enter the space, say what they want to say for a while, and then step off the stage seemingly having said all they wanted or needed to, which is just as it should be.

The inspiration for this post came about after a series of email exchanges with Greg based down in the larger part of the Antipodes, via JJ's Wargames, that ended up on the subject of blogging in general followed later by the launch of Delta Coy, which I think had been brewing in the background for a lot longer than our email exchange, but either way, I think it is a great time to be blogging in the hobby and great to see a new voice step on to the stage.  

It has struck me in recent times that perhaps blogging was not as fashionable as perhaps it was a few years ago with the rise of other platforms on the web, such as Facebook and others, that has seemed to draw in manufacturers and followers of one particular rule set or era, to set up a particular page and gather around. This trend even seemed to be affecting the traffic seen on other established wargame forums where a lot of that activity and discussion had been based but seemingly not so much any more.

Now that's a nice looking table and purpose built room.

It is interesting to note that the wargaming hobby, so traditional in many ways, has been at the forefront of adopting social networking platforms to engage with others about its various activities, and I suppose it should not be surprising that those platforms will change and come in and out of fashion over time.

That said I think I have detected another swing in those trends as the current world lockdown has forced most of us to rethink how we carry on with our hobby, which in the main is a very social one, certainly here in the UK, and with more time being spent at home, we have seen the rise of solo-gaming reports springing up all over the place, not to mention the painting and reading that is getting done with less other distractions, like work, to contend with.

In addition to those changes of exchanges on whatever forums, I seem to detect an increase in traffic here and on the Devon Group blog, where perhaps the varied diet of wargaming content, not just focused on one particular era or aspect of the hobby, mixed with an opportunity to get into a particular topic in a more detailed and perhaps engaging way, than simply an exchange of ideas in a group or forum, provides a more interesting reading and communication experience when people have a bit more time to sit down and discuss content.

Likewise, a lot of content on other forums still relies on those personal blogs that underpin a message referring back to a post on them, on which the detail of the subject is often found. 

If you then add to that aspect the amount of different things going on in the hobby with new rules, figures, books, the latest popular era or scale of game to do it in alongside that personal way of doing a lot of the hobby around those various topics, blogging still has a lot to say and offer as a way of exchanging ideas, that perhaps in past times was the prerogative of mainstream hobby magazines and we all know that that business is not what it was, with fewer of us willing to subscribe, preferring to buy on sight if the content in that month appeals.

Greg has a very nice collection of Seven Years War and AWI. Future plans look set to be focused on WWII 15mm,
one to one on that rather large table!

Alongside those aspects, the other key things that I feel blogging has to offer, is as an interesting way to keep a personal journal of anyone's time in the hobby that can be fun to look back over as the years and posts build up and can offer a fascinating insight into the way our personal hobby journey takes different twists and turns from one era to another from one modeling project to another and the challenges that are overcome or not which is all part of the fun.

I have done a lot of things and met a lot of people who I might not have done because of JJ's Wargames and it has allowed me an opportunity to put something back into a hobby that, as the banner at the top boldly states is a 'Passion' and thus merits a contribution from me for all the fun I have had, and the people, whose company I have enjoyed, deserve.

So, if you are thinking of having a go, there has never been a better time to start blogging. Just work out what you want to say, how often and in what form you intend to say it and make it a point to share, share and keep on sharing to get more folks who read your blog involved in our hobby.


Thursday 7 May 2020

SPARTA, Rise of a Warrior Nation - Philip Matyszak

Book one of a two part set, this one as the title says covers the rise of Sparta from its earliest times and ends at the conclusion of the Persian wars. The first thing you notice upon opening the book is the font size, it appears to be the next size up from the norm and is definitely larger than in book two, admittedly whilst very welcoming for the elderly eyes it is a little odd.

Chapters one and two set the scene and clearly has to be based on whatever information can be gleaned from the ancient texts or later study so there isn’t a lot to go on. Generally speaking the origin stories of most ancient cities are usually based on myth and then enhanced by their citizens later to make things sound a bit more impressive, Matyszak does a reasonable job of sifting out what you can from what is passed down to us from the past.

Map of the Peloponnese

Sparta is sited in the ‘Hand’ of Greece, there are three ‘fingers’ hanging down into the Mediterranean and Sparta is in-between fingers two and three, The whole of the Peloponnese peninsula is very mountainous and fertile land is at a premium so Sparta is squeezed alongside the river Eurotas which runs north to south and originally consisted of two villages either side of the river and surrounded by mountains. This is possibly the origin of the two king system, more of which later. There was no access to a port at this time and the coast was notorious for shipwrecks so trading wasn’t a priority unlike in many other cities. Sparta didn’t even bother to develop proper coinage until near the end.

River Eurotas, Sparta originated either side of this river. wikipedia

At some time in the Bronze Age something really momentous happened in both Greece and the surrounding area of the Mediterranean causing the collapse of whole empires not just little villages and it is estimated that up to 90% of the Peloponnese was abandoned, for what little its worth my vote is on big volcano, tidal wave and the resulting change in atmospheric conditions seriously affecting farming but that isn’t relevant to this review. Enter the Dorians, who are relevant to the story as Sparta clearly identifies itself as being Doric when it suited them, who the Dorians were or where they came from is still being debated but they settled across the eastern Mediterranean in large numbers especially in the Peloponnese.

Anyway these two chapters also included fun stories of gods and double dealing and people born in eggs etc but as far as the Spartans were concerned, they were the descendants of Zeus and Taygete (daughter of Atlas), later the great-grandsons of Hercules just happen to return to reclaim their inheritance thus making the Spartans really Achaeans all along and so native to the area, which was convenient.

Map showing Sparta and Messenia : wikipedia

Chapters three and five get to the really important bit and is critical to understanding Sparta and its whole ethos. To the west over the mountains lies Messenia, this actually had some flat land and once all the pointy bits had been discounted it was still over 20 times larger than Sparta. Of course everyone knew that Messenia really belonged to Sparta because when the land was originally divided up via the choosing of lots by the great-grandsons of Hercules, the one who got Messenia cheated. Not sure I follow the Spartans reasoning here.

All ancient wars apparently took a very long time and all of them always ended in nice round numbers so it was twenty years before Sparta eventually conquered Messenia after many battles and doing some very un-Spartan things to achieve it. The Spartans were not yet the all conquering killing machines they later became; they were outnumbered by the Messenians and had the additional problem of the hostile city of Argos to the North East constantly causing trouble behind their backs.

Hence the need to do sneak attacks, bribery and suffer numerous defeats but eventually they won. Now the important bit so pay attention.

Messenia was declared public land and then sub-divided into equal lots called kleroi, each kleroi was sufficient to maintain one Spartan and his family. This Spartan wouldn’t do any actual farming of course, this was done by the conquered Messenains now known as helots (hel- means conquered /subjugated). This allowed the Spartan to concentrate full time on being a warrior, after successfully passing though the Agoge (see below) he would apply to join a soldier’s mess where he would be spending most of his time and once accepted he could then get married and if he didn’t already have one, be allocated a kleroi. Everyone in Sparta was therefore equal even the ones who were more equal than the others, when the Spartan died the land would revert to the state and be reallocated, usually to the son if there was one and if they didn’t already own a kleroi.

Ancient Sparta, note the mountains that surrounded the city

The helots hated the Spartans more than I hate playing AWI, and Spartan policy essentially revolved around maintaining control of Messenia and preventing a helot uprising, their armies when away on campaign were always looking over their shoulder and never liked to be too far away from home. The control of Messenia was critical in allowing Sparta to exist as a major city and is the actual source of their power. Once Messenia is lost it all falls to pieces.

There is much more that can be said about the Helots, they could own land, they did have money and they did fight in the army but you can look that up yourselves if interested.

The huge effort needed to keep Messenia under control should have made it blindingly obvious that Sparta would be unable to do the same elsewhere but they did try to absorb the next city along which was called Tegea, even going so far as take along the chains that would allow them to measure out new kleroi. After a dreadful beating the Spartans had first hand experience of the chains as they got to wear them whilst working the Tegean’s fields, eventually the prisoners were released but the Tegeans kept the chains.

After that Sparta changed tack, their new policy was to approach each small city in turn threatening them with war unless they joined the new Peloponnesian League (controlled by Sparta of course); as the league got bigger then the request was accepted that much quicker. But I have now strayed into chapter seven.


Chapter four is all about Lycurgus

Apparently everything that you know about the Spartan way of life is entirely down to Lycurgus, exactly who he was and when he was around is of course unclear but the Spartans say that it was he  who set down the laws called rhetras which covered the minutest detail of everyday life and that every Spartan would strictly follow. Conveniently for all future Spartan law implementers Lycurgus only gave these rhetra verbally and even went so far as to proclaim the Great Rhetra which forbade them from ever being written down, handy that.

According to Plutarch:

“Nothing can be said about Lycurgus without someone else disputing it. There are different accounts about when he was born, where he travelled, how he died and above all, about what he did as a law giver, No one can even agree in what times he lived”

But all the loopy things that you have ever heard about the Spartan way of life can be placed at his doorstep.

I will now briefly outline the Spartan ruling set up. There were as previously mentioned two kings, probably from the two most powerful families from the original two villages but far more likely it was someone who later claimed they were descended in that way and no one fortunately asked any embarrassing questions. The titles were hereditary within the family.

Ephors by Richard Hook

However the kings were overseen by an elected body of five Ephors, these were chosen from the Spartiates (those who held a kleroi) and they served for a year and could not be re-elected. In reality they had a lot more power than the kings as they formed state policy and upheld the laws. Underneath them was another body of twenty-eight men (plus the kings) called the Gerousia, naturally you had to be a Spartiate and be over 60 years old! You would have thought that the choice of potential candidates would be quite limited. Election was by acclamation and was for life, this body was a sort of jury who considered important law decisions and whether to veto anything that wasn’t in the public good. The kings would always lead the army regardless of whether they knew what they were doing or not and later on, after a few conflicts of interest out in the field, the Ephors decreed that from now on one of the kings must always remain behind in Sparta.

The Gerousia and the two kings debate

Chapter six is titled the making of a Spartan warrior, all well known stuff so I will skip this, if you don’t know then click the link below which outlines their education system which was called the Agoge. Failing the Agoge meant that you were not a full Spartiate and joined the next class down which was the Periokoi, free non-citizens who did actual work and therefore very un-Spartan but would of course still fight in the army when required.

Chapter seven I have already briefly outlined above and covers the formation of the Peloponnesian league with most of the peninsula signed up, Sparta then turned again to deal with the much trickier problem of Argos. This was done by lining up in battle formation outside the city the same as they had done with all the others however unlike the smaller cities Argos wasn’t playing ball and they came outside to talk things over dressed in their best armour. Both sides then had a serious think about things and agreed that maybe it would be better if only a few from each side fought it out on a last man standing agreement. Queue the famous “Battle of the Champions“ yes really.

Battle of the Champions

Dated to around 546 BC each side picked 300 of their best warriors and everyone else went home to let them get on with it undisturbed. I am sure you not be surprised to know that 597 were killed, two Argives were left and believing themselves to be the only survivors they staggered back home with the good news that they had won, later however one Spartan who was not quite dead woke up and seeing no one else alive he too staggered back home with the good news after erecting a trophy on the field.

Typical Greek Battle Trophy

When both armies returned to claim victory an argument then ensued about who had actually won, this led to blows and a pitched battle which they had all been trying to avoid in the first place, the Spartans won and so imposed their control over some more small towns. What happened to the Spartan survivor? So ashamed that he lived whilst his comrades died he returned to the battlefield where they fell and killed himself.

Chapter eight is about one of the more interesting characters, Cleomenes the mad king. Although the Ephors were very powerful a king could still do more or less what he wanted as long as he had enough backing, Cleomenes wasn’t one to sit around eating black porridge, instead he got involved in trying to overthrow many of the other cities rulers especially any democratic ones, he managed to install new leaders in Athens but needed several attempts to do so as they kept getting thrown out along with himself on one occasion, despite his many martial successes his project completion record in Attica really wasn’t very good and the Ephors were not happy, it was now that they passed the law that one king should stay behind as the shambles in overall strategy was down to the two kings disagreeing on what to do.

King Cleomenes 1st

Next he decided to attack Argos, winning the battle of Sepeia and driving the remnants into a sacred wood. Burning it down was not a wise thing to do and oddly he then didn’t attack the undefended city. Plutarch claims the city was defended by women and drove the Spartans back with heavy losses, recalled by the Ephors whose patience had now run out he was charged with bribery over Argos, he was acquitted when he claimed that the Delphic Oracle had told him to take Argos, which coincidentally was the name of the sacred wood. He did more interesting stuff including bribing the Oracle at Delphi, tried to depose the other king, fled Sparta, gathered an army to attack the city but returned under a promise of forgiveness, was arrested and then mysteriously died by slicing himself into strips.

Chapter nine, The Spartan army I will also skip over, shields, spears, armour, formations, training etc. The usual stuff.

The final chapters ten, eleven and twelve cover the Persian wars, chapter ten is on the Battle of Marathon so not much Spartan interest in that chapter as they deliberately didn’t turn up until the next day.

Thermopylae, probably a bit more realistic than the film 300

Chapter eleven covers Thermopylae, again well known stuff and rightly deserves a chapter by itself, the author quite correctly points out the importance of the simultaneous nearby sea battle of Artemesium, The battle content is very thin but I don’t think there is much more to say on it anyway.

The final chapter is on the Battle of Plataea and the defeat of the second Persian invasion, here the Spartans did play a major role but with King Leonidas dead at Thermopylae the allied army was led by king Number Two, Pausanias who wasn’t really that good at the soldier stuff, fortunately for him his soldiers were. After ten days sitting in the hills Pausanias decides on a night march to be nearer fresh food and water supplies, it was of course a total cock up with the Spartans who were forming the rearguard not even having begun their march when day started to break. The Persians attacked the disorganised shambles but fortunately by this time the Spartans were now the all conquering killing machine and sliced the Persians up a treat, the other allies led by the Athenians returned and joined the battle with only the Thebans, who were fighting for the Persians, putting up much resistance.

Battle of Plataea

Matysazak ends this book by saying that this victory at Plataea marked the end of the rise of Sparta and from now on it was the start of the decline, I don’t fully agree with him and after all I have played several wargames with Greeks and watched some stuff on the history channel so I should know.

I agree there are signs in the upcoming Peloponnesian war that Sparta is being left behind both militarily and commercially, you see the first signs that there is a limit to the number of Spartans available and the decline in numbers becomes very noticeable. Also their vaunted principles are broken more frequently especially when it comes to obtaining Persian funding plus the increase in corruption every time their leaders are away from the city and even starting to affect the Ephors.

But they do win a long protracted war, maintaining both their dominance over the Peloponnese and now extending it to the rest of Greece and to the Greek cities in Ionia, their power and influence has never been greater so I slightly disagree. Indeed I suggest that it is at this stage when they have over reached themselves and setbacks start to become more regular that sees the start of the decline in Sparta.

With book two ‘The Fall of a Warrior Nation’ commencing with the start of the Peloponnesian war I suppose it makes a convenient place to split the books but it does look a little like trying to avoid having a very short second book. More on this when I review it.

Overall an easy read and covers the subject well, could some of the battles have been fleshed out more? Possibly but we don’t get a lot of usable information passed down by the original sources. The book is about Sparta so no non-Spartan events get covered and then there are the maps. The map showing Sparta’s location has only three other towns named and the one set around the Ionian Sea is the only one that shows Argos, Athens Thebes but not Sparta. The other two maps are of  Thermopylae and ancient Sparta and they look like they have been drawn by a five year old on his first day of free expression, it might have been more useful if the four pages had been left blank for this very purpose. I used my Atlas of Classical History and I suggest you do something similar.

Click the link below to see if you agree with me as you are able to peek inside and see the actual maps.

I realise this review is extra long but its not as if you have anything else to do with your time right now and I also thought that I should try to follow the apparent editorial direction of late.

I have almost finished reading book two so more anon.

Pen and Sword Publications £19.99

It’s a book that has held its price and even after three years it took me some time to find it at £15, today I see it is available on ABE Books for £13.85 which is annoying.
ABE Books

Hardback only
Readable pages 183
More on the price, book length and maps in the book two review (there aren’t any maps)

This has been a Mr Steve presentation.