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.

Regimental 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 and is a fitting tribute to René North, I trust that there will be no objection to my reproducing it…

“Just Walk Away René…

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.

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.

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 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

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!

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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.

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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 now available to order here.

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Stony Point and the Creation the American Corps of Light Infantry

By David Bonk

In order to tell the story of the American assault and capture of the British base at Stony Point, New York in July 1779 in Men Determined to Be Free, it was necessary to trace the evolution of light infantry formations in the American Army. American commander in chief General George Washington formalized the organization of a corps of light infantry in June, 1779 in preparation for the assault on Stony Point. Up to that point, unlike the British, who early in the war recognized the advantage of utilizing light infantry as a separate, elite force capable of undertaking a wide range of specialized missions, the development of American light infantry followed a vastly different course.

In 1776 Congress passed legislation that formalized the organization of the American Army. The American forces that initially gathered around Boston in 1775 represented a polyglot of varying organization and appearance. The legislation passed by Congress attempted to give structure to the Army, standardizing the size and structure of the basic regiment. At the same time, in addition to organizing the regular infantry formations, they specifically created a ten company force of riflemen. Each company was to include 80 men and the legislation mandated six companies recruited from Pennsylvania, and two each from Maryland and Virginia. The response from Pennsylvania was so great that three additional companies were recruited. While the bulk of the force was assigned to Washington’s Army outside Boston three companies, including a Virginia company commanded by Colonel Daniel Morgan, were detached and assigned to a force led by Colonel Benedict Arnold and sent north to support the invasion of Canada.

Officers tent at recreation of the British encampment at the Stony Point battlefield.

In late 1776 Congress modified their original legislation, reducing the size of individual regiments’ to eight companies, each composed of 90 men. The Pennsylvania rifle companies were organized into a single regiment. Despite the Congressional action individual states continued to organize their forces as they saw fit and Virginia created the ten company 11th Virginia regiment composed of riflemen from Virginia and Maryland. Morgan was assigned command of both the 11th Virginia and a larger provisional rifle corps organized to contest British forces commanded by General John Burgoyne moving south from Canada. Morgan’s force included the 11th Virginia and a provisional light infantry force of 300 men commanded by Major Henry Dearborn.

In August, 1777 with Morgan’s force assigned to the Northern Department Washington ordered the formation of a ‘corps of light infantry’, composed of a 117 man provisional company drawn from each brigade and Brigadier General William Maxwell was given command. Since there was no formal companies or training for light infantry the men assigned to these companies are sometimes referred to as ‘select men’. This designation recognized these men, usually veterans, were chosen for their reliability and experience. Maxwell’s force was expected to support the main army by operating independently, to screen the movements of the main army and monitor the movements of the enemy.

Following the 1777 campaign Washington proposed to reorganize the infantry regiments, and recommended the inclusion of a light infantry company in each regiment. Congress agreed to Washington’s proposal and in May, 1778 specified a ninth company, designated as a light infantry company, be included as part of the regimental structure and stipulated these companies be organized into a corps of light infantry during campaigns.

In response to the British evacuation of Philadelphia in June, 1778 Washington ordered the light infantry companies assembled into a single unit of approximately 1,500 men under the command of Brigadier General Charles Scott. He also ordered that each brigade in the army furnish 25 of their best marksmen to join Morgan’s 11th Virginia Rifle regiment. 1778 ended with the light infantry companies returning to their parent regiments rather than continuing to function as an independent unit.

Broken terrain behind the British upper defensive works at the Stony Point battlefield.

Early in 1779 Washington received a note from Brigadier General Anthony Wayne, who had taken a leave of absence from the army at the end of 1778, expressing his interest in returning to command the light infantry. In response to Wayne’s recent request Washington ‘cheerfully’ accepted his offer, deferring official action until the need arose to assemble the light infantry corps. Remaining on leave Wayne did not return to the main army until 21 June.

While waiting for Wayne Washington organized the Light Corps, establishing three divisions composed of troops from Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland. The Corps, totaling 737 men, was further reorganized into four battalions, two regiments of two battalions each. This Light Corps formed the nucleus of the force that captured Stony Point.

As news of Wayne’s assignment circulated throughout the army an unintended consequence of Washington’s action was the resignation of Colonel Daniel Morgan. Morgan, who had previously commanded the ad hoc light infantry formations in several campaigns, was outraged at being passed over for command and wrote Washington on 30 June. Morgan stated he was ‘disappointed’ in not receiving the command of the Light Corps and offered his resignation. Washington accepted his resignation without comment and duly passed it along to Congress for official action.

Wayne joined his new command on 2 July at Sandy Beach, located along the Hudson River near Fort Montgomery. Wayne must have been disappointed by the conditions he found at Sandy Beach. His men were dressed in a wide variety of uniforms, primarily brown and blue, depending on their home state, although many lacked even that basic uniform. Tents and shoes were also in short supply. Wayne immediately fired off requests for additional provisions, including supply wagons, tents and rum. He also suggested to Washington that a new uniform be adopted by the Light Corps reflecting the units’ distinctive organization and role, noting he had a ‘prejudice in favor of an Elegant Uniform and Soldierly appearance’.

Washington agreed to Wayne’s request for the supplies and equipment. In addition, Washington supplemented the Light Corps with additional troops. He ordered Heath’s Connecticut division to detach their light infantry companies and directed light infantry companies from Massachusetts and North Carolina regiments to join Wayne’s force. These additional troops allowed the creation of two additional regiments, each composed of two battalions. On 15 July Wayne’s command, totaling 1,475 men, marched south to assault Stony Point.

“Men who are Determined to be Free”: The American Assault on Stony Point, 15 July 1779 is now available to order here.


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Diary of a first-time non-fiction Author

By Dennis Williams

Yes! Made it! Result!

I have now written a book – which has finally been published and printed – by HELION of course – or you would not be reading this attempt at a blog. Of course people write and publish books all the time… but this time it is me. Yours truly. I can take hold of a freshly minted copy in my sticky hands … mmm, it even smells new… and it has my name, Dennis Williams – that’s me, by the way – on the front cover. Perhaps I no longer get out as much as I should, but for me this is one exciting event.

POURING WITH RAIN – TROOPS FED UP… well, perhaps that title doesn’t work for you, but it has always sounded good to me. It is actually a quote from a short diary written by an ordinary foot soldier who fought in Flanders in the closing months of the First World War (which is the subject of my book by the way). For me it was an archetypal piece of understatement, as might be expected from the typical British ‘Tommy’. Here we have a full member of the PBI (‘poor bloody infantry’) taking part in the breakout from the famous Ypres salient on the Western Front; about to help drive the German Army out of occupied Belgium and into an Armistice agreement that will end The Great War. And yet… the main preoccupation is with… the weather… and it’s raining (well, they are in Flanders)… and the troops on the ground are, to put it mildly, not very happy about this. But in these final weeks of the war they will achieve great things…

If my book has any value, it is to pay tribute to those soldiers who fought – and many of whom would never return home  – to free Belgium from four years of forced occupation.

OK, so I now have a printed book to try and persuade people to read – and also of course to pay money for. I offer signed copies when I run my military book stall (I have a small side business – probably too strong a word, ‘hobby’ is probably a better reflection of its financial state – buying and selling second hand books). I’ve contacted lots of independent bookshops in East Sussex (where I now live) and beyond – but I can’t claim to have had a great deal of success to date. I did have support from one shop for a full book signing day – a Saturday when prospective customers are almost guaranteed to wander by, I was assured – and I duly rocked up on the day with my promotional poster and postcards. Ready to cope with the queue.

The sun was shining – it was a very hot day.

I piled high a plentiful stock of books.

I made sure that I had my very best fountain pen and ink.

But – memo to all those with a new book to promote – it is not a good idea to choose the one day in decades when the England football team reaches a World Cup semi-final. Suffice it to say that I saw few potential readers or purchasers. (The Specials: Ghost Town). I was so thrilled to sell the one copy of PWR – and madam, I really hope the other half will enjoy the gift – there is a lady from East Grinstead who will never know the joy she brought to the heart of a first time non-fiction author. It was not all bad. I drank two free cups of coffee. And the lack of interest meant that, with a clear conscience (I don’t want to let my readers down), I could pack up and get home in time to watch the match. However we all know how well that ended…

The supporting strapline of the book’s title British Second Army and the Liberation Offensive in Flanders 1918 provides a pretty good short summary of what the book is about. Hopefully, it does exactly what it says on the tin. But there is something in there for everyone (well, I would say that, wouldn’t I). I tried to write a book that included what I personally would want to read about. So, for example, there is the drama of high politics as Field Marshal Haig feuds with the French Generalissimo Ferdinand Foch – and threatens to resign even as the Germans sue for peace. (Was Lloyd George never aware that his best ever opportunity to be rid of Haig came his way at this time?) There are the consequences for the Belgian civilians as they become liberated by Second Army forces. And the problem of obtaining and supplying new dentures to the troops as the advance gathers pace. And lots (and lots) of pages with orders of battle. And some excellent maps.

I could say more. I may well do so another time.

If these musings have been of any interest then let us know.

Still to come…

I get hold of my first book review (Does the description ‘nice’ constitute a positive or a negative review?).

And very soon I will be running a bookstall and book signing at a ‘First World War weekend’ at the home of Rudyard Kipling (it can’t get much better than this!).

‘Pouring with Rain – Troops Fed Up. British Second Army and the Liberation Offensive in Flanders 1918’ is now available to order here.

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HEADLINE: April 1823, the French invade Spain again!

By Ralph Weaver

During the Napoleonic wars a French army had been tied down on the Iberian Peninsula, costing the French Imperial treasury vast amounts in money and also men and a loss of

One version of a contemporary print depicting the French Guard assaulting the Trocadero fortifications.

prestige. And to little avail, Spanish armies and guerrilla bands had roamed the country chased by the French, who generally defeated the armies, lost sight of the guerrillas, but without actually became masters of the kingdom. With the active assistance of British and Portuguese regular forces the French were eventually pushed back over the Pyrenees.

By 1823 the political situation had changed completely. France was now ruled again by the Bourbon dynasty, the king a brother of the ill-fated monarch who had lost his head on the guillotine during the Revolution. Spain, long an absolute monarchy,

Grenadier of the 6th Regiment of the French Guards (yellow facings). The voltigeurs of the same regiment had the bearskin without the front plate and the centre company guardsmen had the bearskin without the plate or the white cords (i.e. just the plume rising from a white cockade).

had its own revolution in 1820 which reduced the king to a figure-head and established the Spanish parliament, the Cortes, as the real ruler. The guiding hand of the Austrian chancellor, Prince Metternich, who pulled the strings behind most of Europe’s monarchies, decided that this state of affairs could not continue and France undertook to re-instate the Spanish king to his ancient privileges.

Whilst studying post Napoleonic conflicts in Europe, as editor of the Foreign Correspondent, the journal of the Continental Wars Society for the past 29 years, I stumbled across references to the French campaign in 1823 and was intrigued by the little that had been published since. This was no minor expedition; almost 100,000 French troops took part, against a greater number of Spaniards.

History we know is written by the victors, so the obvious place to start was the French National Library. This resource, containing over four million documents, is available to researchers through its digital library.  To my delight a search revealed a considerable number of works describing the campaign. However, it soon became apparent that many of them were based on a single source, phrases, misspelt names and battle descriptions were duplicated almost word for word.  Apart from a single book, translated into English, all the others were in French. A word of warning, always check the title page of your sources.  If it states that it was written by a ‘royalist officer’, or is dedicated to the king, or glorifies the feats of the French army, it will not be a balanced

Corporal of fusiliers of a French line regiment (the red chevron is a long service award).


Searching further, the internet will give you a vast number of ‘hits’, the disadvantage being that you have to check them all, there may be a gem among the false leads. The French army marched through the Spanish Basque region and one reference led to the Basque digital library which contains a contemporary book set out as a diary of the campaign detailing people, places and engagements and as a bonus an order of battle of the French navy.

In my book accounts of battles, sieges and manoeuvres are readily found, set out in easy to understand sections, but for students of tactics more can be discerned behind the text.  A contemporary account of a French attack on a Spanish strongpoint, intended no doubt to glorify the deeds of the soldiers of French, lists the troops engaged, platoons of grenadiers, voltigeurs and Light Infantry, maybe numbering no more than a couple of hundred, attacking the face and flanks of enemy troops. Clearly the ‘elite’ companies did most of the work, the ‘centre companies’ of fusiliers were used to follow up a successful attack or act as supports if needed.

Spanish guerrilla, taken from a contemporary illustration.

I was advised many years ago that the ability to wage war depends on money.  Not just to buy the hardware, but to put into the pockets of the rank and file. I found out that one French column had to hold up its advance in central Spain as the division’s paymaster with his treasure chest had been held up due to the appalling condition of the road. This confirmed the French commander’s strict instructions that everything his troops needed or took from the population had to be paid for – in cash.

The French army, under Napoleon, wore a distinctive and recognisable uniform. With the return of the Bourbons the army was comprehensibly re-organised, personnel, structure, and style of dress. French aristocrats, some of whom had actually fought against the Imperial regime, now became generals with authority over experienced officers. Everything authorised by Napoleon became politically tainted, even new models of artillery material were cancelled and older varieties re-introduced. New uniforms were designed, firstly a basic white coatee for the departmental legions, which replaced Napoleonic regiments and then a blue single breasted coat for the newly raised royal regiments. I was surprised by the large amount of textural and illustrative material available depicting the new French army but not so by the small numbers of sources for the Spanish.

‘The Hundred Thousand Sons of St Louis. The French Campaign in Spain April to October 1823’ is now available to order here.

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Stow on the Wold 1646

By John Barrett

There is still a tendency to regard the battle of Naseby as the fatal blow to the Royalist cause First Civil War, dooming the king to inevitable defeat. Indeed with hindsight this is an accurate conclusion.

But neither King nor Parliament saw it in that light at the time. Montrose was still winning his series of victories in Scotland, there were substantial Royalist forces in the West of England, and the King hoped to raise a new army in the Royalist heartlands of Wales and the Marches and yet obtain military support from the Irish Confederates.

Parliament still regarded the Royalist threat as still extremely dangerous.

Royalist Cavalryman

The summer and autumn of 1645 saw, of course, a steady decline in the Royalist situation, but defeat at Langport and Montrose’s reverses in Scotland did not extinguish admittedly increasingly desperate Royalist hopes. Many garrisons, including Chester, vital landing place for any reinforcement from Ireland, still held out, and there was the prospect that the veteran Jacob Lord Astly could raise a last field army in the Welsh Marches to enable King Charles to make a final desperate bid to reverse the tide of defeat.

Living as I have in both the Cotswolds and the Welsh Marches I have been interested in these often neglected final stages of the war for many years,. The Stow on the Wold campaign in March 1646 tends to be fairly summarily dismissed as doomed to failure from its conception, and to be treated in isolation rather than set in context in the final fiercely contested struggle for the Welsh Marches, and its place in the King’s increasingly desperate strategy.

Sources for most Civil War battles tend to be scarce and incomplete, and Stow is a prime example. Though we have the despatches and accounts of the Parliamentarian victors, there appears to be no similarly detailed Royalist report. News of the defeat was given verbally in Royalist Oxford by fugitives from the battle, and with Astley and his second in command Sir Charles Lucas, both captives of the enemy, they research had no opportunity to provide their own accounts.

Royalist Dragoon

This scarcity of sources makes an examination of the battle on the ground, and use of research into the 17th century topography of the area especially vital. Making use of these, as well as the contemporary accounts, led me to question some hitherto accepted versions of the battle, in particular its location.  So far archaeology has not provided any clear information on the location of the battle, though it is to be hoped that it eventually will do so.

In brief I concluded that the battle was fought much closer to Stow than the traditional location near the village of Donnington, which is marked by the monument to the battle. Indeed, I suggested, not entirely tongue in cheek, that it might be more appropriately located in the car park of the Tesco store on the outskirts of Stow!

Studying the campaign in its wider context also provided an opportunity to look again at some of the colourful episodes and personalities involved in the final desperate months of the Civil War in the Welsh Marches. The Siege of Chester, fought to the bitter end by fiercely Royalist Lord John Byron, against coldly and methodical Sir William Brereton, and the surprise of Hereford by the highly pragmatic John Birch, the ruthless operations of the disorderly horse of Sir William Vaughan, and the deal struck between Birch and Sir Michael Woodhouse for the surrender of Ludlow, are just some of the episodes and characters worthy of re-examination.

These less well-known closing days of the Civil War will appeal to anyone – student, historian, re-enactor – with an interest in this period.

“The Last Battle” I think, brings my total of books on the Civil war period up to around a dozen. And I haven’t finished yet 🙂 In preparation for Helion are books on the impact on the war of troops from Ireland, and contributions to a forthcoming book on the Royalist Oxford Army. And after that, who knows? Maybe I’ll even get around to that edition of Prince Rupert’s Correspondence I have been thinking about for years!

The Last Army. The Battle of Stow-on-the-Wold and the end of the Civil War in the Welsh Marches 1646 is available to order here.

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Mexicans at War. Mexican Military Aviation in the Second World War 1941-1945

By Santiago A. Flores

During the Second World War, Mexican military aviation took a quantum leap in its development from flying general purpose biplanes not suited for coastal and antisubmarine patrols, to flying the latest fighter bombers in combat operations by the end of the war.

Republic P-47D-30-RA 44-33722 No.20 of the 201st Mexican fighter squadron of the Mexican Expeditionary Air Force probably at Clark field P.I. after August 1945

Not too many people know, that Mexico participated in Second World War, being one of the unknown allies from Latin America. For the first time in its history Mexico and the United States in their common interest, had to work together to overcome decades of distrusts, wars, invasions, lost territories and disputes.

The Mexican American military relationship started with a difficult start because Mexico was cautious to avoid US troops stationed in the country, doing a delicate balancing act between the Mexican government and its people. Mexico was portraying the government of General de Division Manuel Avila Camacho as able to defend the country with its own manpower, resources and training that was given to the Mexican military by the United States.

Mexico’s contribution to the allied war effort, has not received much attention by researchers and historians. The political and economic aspect has only been covered, leaving aside the actual combat operations, so it is time for this aspect to be told. This effort was accomplished by many years of research, consulting many archives in the United States and Mexico and talking to a lot of people that have been of great help in putting this story together.

But before we start this story, we need to go back when aviation started in 1910 and how it came along during a number of rebellions that rocked Mexico in the last century.

I don’t expect to cover everything, but my hope is to open the door to other researchers, historians, modelers and enthusiasts to continue to research this unknown subject that many people, even in Mexico don’t know.

Two Mexican AT-6 armed and ready for any emergencies on Coastal patrol duties in the Gulf of Mexico circa 1943. This type of aircraft even protected American troop convoy on their way to the Panama Canal.

What is generally known about this subject is basically that the German U- Boats sunk Mexican Merchant shipping and that Mexico declared a state of war to the axis powers and sent a fighter squadron to fight in the Pacific war.

But in my research I found more things that have not been yet mentioned or covered, that will be a surprise to some.

From the beginning, Mexican pilots were engaged in the defense of both Pacific and Golf coasts. Pilots and personnel were sent for training in the USA. British citizens, living in Mexico, contributed to the Spitfire fund, delivering four Spitfires to the RAF, ending one of them, in the famous US Eagle squadron.

Mexican citizens and those of dual nationality, were volunteering for the Allied air forces. The majority, went to the US military and others to the allied air forces. Their stories are quite interesting. One Mexican ended up in the famous 1st AVG flying Tigers. I assume some of you will be surprised to learn this.

The first five Mexican that trained as pilots at the Moisant Aviation School at Hempstead Long Island New York, from left to Right Alberto Salinas Carranza, Gustavo Salinas Camina, Juan Pablo Aldaroso Juarez, Horacio Ruiz Gavino and Eduardo Aldaroso Juarez

Mexico experienced a rapid development of Military aviation that affected all aspects as Lend Lease aircraft arrived. This event changed training methods, doctrine, maintenance procedures among many other things. Also, at this time, the official birth of naval aviation and its first naval aviation units, were deployed to the Gulf of Mexico.

I’ve been researching Mexican military aviation for a long time, and I consider this to be a very important chapter in the history of Mexican Air Force, to which the effects and consequences are still present in its actual organization today.

My next book project will cover the period of the rebellions from the 1920’s to the 1940’s, where aviation was used for internal security and some of its veteran pilots would play an important role in the Second World War.

I’ve been really busy with researching and writing subjects about Mexican military history since I retired from the federal service and I run a household (wife, kids and pet included) at the same time.

I hope this book will spark an interest in aviation south of the border, where a lot has not been covered yet.

Thank you in advance.

You are in for a treat!

Mexicans at War. Mexican Military Aviation in the Second World War 1941-1945 will be available to order here.

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Disputed Victory

By Quintin Barry.

As I write these lines, Disputed Victory is the latest of my books to be published by Helion, but it will very shortly be overtaken by the next, which is a study of the campaign in eastern France in 1870 – 1871 entitled The Last Throw of the Dice. After that I go back to sea with a visit to the third Anglo Dutch war.

However, I do welcome the opportunity to explain how and why I came to write Disputed Victory. It tells the story of a bitter controversy that split the United States Navy after the Spanish American war of 1898. The American literature dealing with the war is huge, but little of it has focused on what for me was the most absorbing aspect of it. The dispute arose between Rear Admiral William Sampson and Commodore Winfield Scott Schley, and more especially between their respective supporters, and it was over the question of who deserved the credit for the American victory at the battle of Santiago. The Spanish Admiral Cervera had been blockaded in the port of Santiago de Cuba by the US fleet under the overall command of Sampson; but when the Spanish squadron emerged, Sampson had left his station for a conference with the military commander, the inept General Shafter, and it was left to Schley to conduct the ensuing battle.

Sampson’s adherents, among whom were the US Navy Secretary John D Long and the famous naval historian Alfred Mahan, levelled bitter criticism at Schley. When a libellous book was published, accusing him among other things of cowardice, he sought a court martial. The subsequent Court of Inquiry, presided over by the American naval icon Admiral George Dewey, lasted more than 40 days. And here, for me, lay the real fascination in the story, because one of the key sources for my book was the verbatim record of the trial. In the course of it, the lawyers on each side battled to assert their view of the controversy. Perhaps the real hero of my book is the redoubtable Isidor Rayner, the lawyer who represented Schley. His performance was one of the most remarkabl in American legal history, and as a lawyer I enjoyed it enormously. At the end of the hearing the majority of the court found against Schley, but Dewey delivered a minority judgment that in the eyes of the American press and public carried much more weight, and justified Schley’s insistence on the court martial. It took many years for the bitterness aroused by the controversy to disperse. Perhaps the only trial in naval history to compare with it was that of the English Admiral Keppel in 1779 after the battle of Ushant; maybe I will be tempted one day to write a book about that, too.

Disputed Victory: Schley, Sampson and the Spanish-American War of 1898 is now available to order here.

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By Simon Batten

Since 1985 I have taught History at Bloxham, a boarding school in rural Oxfordshire. After so long at one school, culminating in nine years as a Housemaster, I decided in 2013 in the interests of setting myself a new challenge, I would write a book on my first love, military history; I had already written a history of Bloxham School in 2010 to mark the school’s sesquicentenary. As the son of an army officer, I’ve long had an interest in military history, and this was only increased by studying under two outstanding exponents, Piers Mackesy and Sir Michael Howard, when I was at Oxford.

Winston Churchill and Sir John French at the 1910 manoeuvres on Salisbury Plain (Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum)

As well as teaching history, I have been coaching schoolboy rugby for 33 years, most recently as assistant coach of the school’s 1st XV, and I have long been interested by the question of how one can most effectively prepare a team for a match on Saturday. A rugby side typically has an unopposed practice on a Friday, running through its moves without opponents to get in the way and invariably looking slick and assured in the process, only for things to go awry on match day when confronted with opponents who tackle them and with situations which develop unpredictably. Under the pressure of competition, mistakes are made and things which worked well in the practice go badly wrong. This made me question how armies practice for war, and whether the circumstances of exercises which inevitably do not involved the use of live ammunition can possibly provide any worthwhile preparation for real combat. The comparison between sport and warfare is a familiar and, in the case of the Great War, an over-used one – there’s obviously an enormous difference between being tackled in rugby and being shot at in combat – but the point about the gap between practice and reality is surely a valid one with application in a number of other areas.

Trench digging at Horseheath, September 1912. (Saanich Archives)

In posing questions about the preparations undertaken by the British Army generally seen as likely if not inevitable for a decade before it happened, I found myself assessing the actions and abilities commanders that were already familiar to me from their later war-time performance, notably Haig, French, Allenby, Rawlinson, Robertson, Wilson and Plumer, as well as engaging with familiar historiographical debates over British generalship in the Great War  and the so-called ‘learning curve’ the BEF experienced between 1914 and 1918. Among the many historians who helped me, I would like to single out two for especial thanks: Dr Spencer Jones, whose own work on the reforms of the British Army after the Boer War was my starting point, and John Hussey, whose vast knowledge of the subject guided me and pointed out some of the pitfalls, not least the danger of putting too much trust in what Edmonds and Liddell Hart had to say about generals of the

My focus was on the 10 sets of Army Manoeuvres carried out every September (except for 1911) between the end of the Boer War in 1902 and the outbreak of war in August 1914. Most took place on or near the army’s training ground on Salisbury Plain, but I was chiefly interested in the three sets of manoeuvres in Essex (1904), East Anglia (1912) and Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire (1913), as each took place in terrain closer to what they might face in the event of a continental war and each posed a different challenge – an amphibious landing, an encounter battle and a fighting retreat – which would confront the British in 1914 and 1915.

The 11th Hussars on the road from Streetly End to West Wickham (Hildersham History Recorders)

One of the most enjoyable parts of my research was the trips I undertook to these areas. I stood on the beach at Clacton just as the men of the 2nd Royal Fusiliers had in September 1904 after clambering ashore from their landing craft (some of these men would do the same thing, this time under Turkish fire, on X Beach at Gallipoli 11 years later).  I walked the country lanes of Northamptonshire and stood where the Scots Greys watered their horses in Brackley’s Market Square  during the 1913 manoeuvres. Most memorably, I travelled around the countryside south of Cambridge and visited Linton, Haverhill and Horseheath where nearly 50,000 troops clashed in the climactic ‘battle’ of the 1912 manoeuvres. I am firmly convinced that one cannot understand a battle until one has walked the battlefield, and one of the most valuable lessons of my visit to south Cambridgeshire was that the terrain was not the flat, open land I was familiar with from the area around Cambridge and Newmarket, but wooded, undulating farmland.

I very much enjoyed writing this book and feel that it has made me a better History teacher by taking me back to what made me love the subject in the first place. ‘Futile Exercise?’ was published in May 2018 and I am now working on my next project with Helion. This is a book, written jointly with one of my former pupils, Matt Dixon, which will explore the stories of the men of Bloxham School – former pupils, masters and other employees – who fought and died in the Great War. While Matt has already done much of the groundwork through the many years he has spent tracking down and photographing the graves and memorials of each one of these men and through his use of war diaries and service records to create a website on the subject (,  I am focusing on their stories while at school and the question of how the school responded to the war and to the loss of so many members of its community, both at the time and since.

Futile Exercise? The British Army’s Preparations for War 1902-1914 is available to order here.

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