The 1989 Coup D’état in Paraguay

By Antonio Luis Sapienza

Clockwise: The leader of the coup, Lt. Gen. Andrés Rodriguez; an Army Cavalry EE-9 Cascavel multi-role armoured vehicle; a Stuart light tank; General of the Army Alfredo Stroessner; a Presidential Escort Regiment Sherman Firefly tank; Paraguayan Navy gunboat “Itaipú” with a Esquilo helicopter; a Presidential Escort Regiment M2 Half Track. In the centre, FAP Xavante jets. (Author’s files)

The year 1989 was crucial for Paraguay. After a long period of 35 years of dictatorship, General Alfredo Stroessner was finally overthrown by a violent coup d’état. In a sort of prophetic way, he once said “I came to power by arms and I will only leave by arms” and that came true on 2 February of that year.

Top: A Police Special Force truck after it was attacked by a Marine platoon downtown Asunción (Diario Hoy). Bottom: A Marine observing a military truck of the Presidential Escort Regiment damaged by combat near the Government Palace. (Diario Hoy)

But who was Alfredo Stroessner? In the first chapter of the book, the reader will find his biography and learn how he got to power after a coup in 1954. From then on, with fraudulent elections every five years, he was reelected seven times, and even changed the Constitution to fit his purposes. He basically remained in power with the support of very powerful armed forces and the strong right wing Colorado Party. During the 1950s and ‘60s, he was also supported by the US to stop the expansionism of communism in Latin America. But he also wanted to be a popular president so he started huge projects building roads, a running water and sewage system in the capital Asuncion first, and then in several cities in Paraguay, three big hydro electrical power dams, including the biggest in the world with Brazil, and another one with Argentina, international airports, a huge merchant navy, a national airline – Líneas Aéreas Paraguayas (LAP), and of course, a vital re-equipment of the entire Armed Forces, including gunboats for the Navy, tanks, cannons and a huge arsenal of small arms for the Army, advanced trainers, helicopters and attack jets for the Air Force.

Two Cavalry officers, 1st Lt. Alfredo Florenciañez Gibbons (left) and Sub-Lt. Pablo Quintana (right) posing happily next to a Cascavel the day after. (El Diario Noticias)

The Police forces were not forgotten and it was also very well equipped to suppress anyone who was against the government. As in all dictatorships, human rights were not respected; there were many political prisoners who were tortured and even killed by the regime, thousands went into exile, and there was not freedom of speech. Finally, the organisation of the Paraguayan Armed Forces will be covered.

Cavalry troops the day after. (El Diario Noticias)


The decline of Stroessner’s government is the centrepiece in the second chapter as well as the Coup preparations by the Armed Forces, led by General Andres Rodriguez, then Commander of the powerful First Army Corps, with the support of the Cavalry, Infantry and the Navy, and later most officers of the Air Force and Artillery.

A huge statue of Stroessner being removed from a monument on top of Lambaré Hill in Asuncion. (ABC Color)

The Coup itself is in the third chapter, describing the military leaders, the rebellious military forces and the loyal ones, and all the actions that took place on 2 & 3 February 1989, including the final outcome.The final chapter, the Aftermath, will cover the provisional government led by Gen. Andres Rodriguez and the first democratic elections in Paraguay after 35 years.  After 30 years of that memorable event, many things have changed in Paraguay but many other things have remained the same. Stroessner died in his exile in Brazil in 2006, but his legacy is still haunting the country.

‘The 1989 Coup D’état in Paraguay’ is now available to purchase here.

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Riflemen. The History of the 5th Battalion, 60th (Royal American) Regiment 1797-1818.

By Robert Griffith

Like many others, I was introduced to Napoleonic riflemen through Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe books, and the subsequent TV series. I liked the character of Captain ‘Sweet William’ Frederickson and his bedraggled company of the 5/60th but chose to learn more about the 95th. I started to read memoirs and histories of the time, which in turn inspired me to write my own historical fiction set in the period.

My next encounter with the 5/60th was at a rain-battered castle in Shropshire. I had gone to watch a Napoleonic re-enactment and noticed the scarlet and green clad riflemen beside those depicting the 95th. Having been on the lookout for a new hobby I decided, impetuously, to become a re-enactor myself. I joined the 5/60th group and began to attend events. As I learned the drill, bought the kit, and fired a flintlock for the first time I also made sure that I read what I could about the history of the unit.

The two previous books on the 5/60th were written over a century ago. Like many such histories they have a tendency to gloss over episodes that could lessen the regimental reputation, and also concentrate on the officers, whilst largely ignoring the rank and file. When an editor at Helion approached the group to write a new history of the battalion I volunteered, deciding to try and redress the balance and provide a fuller picture.

The first problem I faced was that none of the riflemen of the 5/60th had written memoirs. However, I did manage to track down a small batch of letters in an archive in New York, and a larger collection in Geneva. I also began to search through the original battalion records at The National Archives, the regimental archive in Hampshire, and also look for mentions of the battalion in memoirs from other regiments. What I discovered was a far richer and more interesting history than I expected.

The 5th Battalion was formed in 1797, when various regiments raised by foreign nobles to fight the army of Revolutionary France were amalgamated into the 60th. The regiment itself had long been somewhat of a foreign legion since its formation in the Seven Years War. The units that formed the 5th Battalion were specialist light infantry, mostly recruited from the German states, and armed with rifles. Rifles were far more accurate than the standard Brown Bess musket, and Germans had a reputation of making ideal light infantrymen. The first British Army manual for light infantry and riflemen was actually written by the battalion’s Lieutenant Colonel Baron Francis de Rottenburg.

The 5/60th saw action during the Irish Rebellion of 1798 and then served in the West Indies, South America and Nova Scotia. They then became one of only three battalions to serve in Portugal and Spain from the very start of the Peninsular War to the bitter end.

When Sir Arthur Wellesley’s forces landed in Mondego Bay in August 1808, the 5th Battalion made up the majority of the rifle-armed light infantry with the army. Brigaded with four companies of the 95th, they formed the advance guard as Wellesley advanced inland, took part in the first skirmish at Obidos, and then at the battles of Roliça and Vimeiro, winning much praise from Sir Arthur for their performance. However, when Sir John Moore’s army crossed into Spain he was forced to send the battalion back to Lisbon due to a spate of desertions, and he even recommended that they be disbanded or sent back to the colonies.

From the start, prisoners of war had been recruited into the battalion, first Dutch and then French. By the time they landed in Portugal around half the battalion were former POWs. Some took the opportunity to rejoin the French, but many more served long and loyally. After being sent back to Lisbon, the worst offenders were weeded out, and when Wellesley returned in 1809 he again entrusted some of the most arduous and hazardous duties to the battalion. Three companies formed an advanced picket at Talavera where their steadiness and accurate fire helped to stall a surprise French attack. The battalion was split into companies and distributed throughout the army, serving in five of the eventual eight divisions. They played leading roles in many battles and skirmishes, using their rifles to target the French long before they came into musket range. In 1813 Marshal Soult blamed them for the appalling casualty rate amongst his officers.

However, for me, the most interesting part of writing Riflemen was not the vital role they played in many battles, but piecing together the stories of the individual soldiers: the general’s orderly who helped capture a French gun at Vimeiro, was commissioned into the Portuguese army and rose to be a general; reading a comment from a brigade commander recommending his translator for promotion, and then following him in the pay records as he was promoted to corporal, then sergeant, before being killed in action; or the French officer, a POW, who volunteered to serve the British, who was then captured by the French during the retreat from Burgos, and then subsequently captured again by the British at Vittoria in a French uniform and then executed.

The officers too provided some interesting tales, including a murder, duels, arguments in the mess, and even allegations of cowardice. One crept into Arroyo del Molinos to gather intelligence the night before Hill’s attack. Another, wounded at Albuera, spent time in a mental asylum before returning to duty, being court martialed for striking another officer, transferring to the KGL, and serving at Waterloo.

The battalion was disbanded in 1818, but their traditions lived on in the 60th as it became the King’s Royal Rifle Corps. The 95th may now be much more well-known but the 5/60th deserve to be remembered for their contribution both to the war against Napoleon and to the development of light infantry in the British Army.

Order your copy of ‘Riflemen. The History of the 5th Battalion, 60th (Royal American) Regiment 1797-1818’ here.

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Latin America@War: Air Wars between Ecuador and Peru, Volume 1: The July 1941 War

With ‘Air Wars between Ecuador and Peru, Volume 1: The July 1941 War’ by Amaru Tincopa, shortly going to the press, it’s time for the usual ‘brief intro’ to this book and its content.

This project has me ’emotionally involved’ because I kind of ‘witnessed from afar’ its coming into being over the last 10 years. For this reason, I’m very happy to see it being realized, and very proud to have played at least a small role in that process.

To start with: the ‘border conflict’ between Ecuador and Peru is as old as these two countries (see: 200 years). Related emotions are going extremely high (for the orientation of our readers in Europe: they are easily matching emotions related to all sorts of ethnic and sectarian conflicts in the area of the former Yugoslavia). Even if it’s unlikely that more than ‘few hundreds’ of people in both countries are ever going to read this book (simply because shipping costs from the UK to Ecuador and Peru are very high), any related titles are 1000% certain to cause ‘another controversy’ there, and authors to be blamed of all sorts of bias, and whatever else.

Thus, I find the author made a very sensitive decision when approaching this topic – which was to ‘stick to the documentation’ instead of the usual claims, counter-claims, media-reporting, and similar.

Now, researching in local military archives is possible – but only in Peru, and then after a longer struggle between the author and the authorities. Anyway, Amaru did manage to get insight into the related documentation, and thus this is forming the core of this book, too. On the contrary, doing something similar in Ecuador… sigh… I think it would be easier for me to get insight into the official Iranian military archives. Thus, have no doubt: this book is certain to appear ‘leaning in favour of Peru’ – simply because it contains much more information from that country’s air force than from Ecuador. Sorry for this, it’s really not Amaru to blame: he definitely did his homework (and much more than this).


– Chapter 1: Origins
This is the usual intro to the topic, covering the history of the area in question (from pre-historic times to the times of the Inca empire), the history of Ecuador and Peru, socio-economic and geo-political backgrounds, and the history of their border conflict. After all, and as always, we want our readers to understand how and why the conflict in question erupted.

– Chapter 2: Peruvian Military Build-Up
This chapter is providing an in-depth insight into the build-up of the Peruvian military, from its establishment in 1821, until the early 20th Century. While providing a particularly detailed history of military flying in that country, and a lavishly illustrated history of the Peruvian military aviation of the 1930s, fans of ‘tanks’ and then ‘Czechoslovak arms’ are going to find it great for providing unique details on the acquisition of Czechoslovak-made tanks and other vehicles in the late 1930s. The chapter ‘culminates’ in a detailed order of battle for the Peruvian Military Aviation of the July 1941 War – down to every single aircraft and pilot of every unit that existed.

– Chapter 3: The Ecuadorean Military
At 5,5 pages, this chapter might appear ‘short’ on the first look, but make no mistake: it’s providing the best coverage of military flying in Ecuador from its inception to 1941 ever provided, and – thanks to help from few other researchers – is also the best-illustrated feature to this topic published so far. The story is that of aviation pioneers trying their best against all odds – especially the failure of their government to provide them with decent aircraft, spares, and even fuel.

– Chapter 4: Peruvian Combat Operations, July 1941
For reasons cited above, this and the following chapter might appear as ‘rather dry’: their essence are translations of all the reports about Peruvian Military Aviation’s activity during the war Amaru was able to unearth from the related archive. There you are: the Ecuadoreans invaded, the Peruvians mobilized, moved their flying units from bases elsewhere around the country to the combat zone, and then hit back in force. In total, this is a blow-by-blow account, without any kind of propaganda, without any kind of emotions, without bias or else, yet providing details on every sortie flown, on every combat operation undertaken by the Peruvians, every success and every loss.

– Chapter 5: Peruvian Combat Operations from August 1941 until the end of the Conflict
This is a similar chapter like the previous one, yet providing a review of operations after the first – crucial – phase of the conflict: in late July 1941, the Peruvians have launched their major counter-offensive and not only recovered the territory lost during the initial Ecuadorean attack, but drove deep into the enemy territory, too. As in Chapter 4, everything is nicely and patiently described, step by step – and lavishly illustrated, too, and then with a huge collection of high-class crystal-clear photography.

– Chapter 6: Epilogue
With Ecuadorean military on retreat, and Peruvians on a ‘neat, linear’ advance into the enemy territory, the war was brought to an end through US and allied pressure, and the two countries concluded their conflict with the Rio de Janeiro Protocol. Soon after, Peruvian military aviation was largely re-equipped with donations from the USA. That’s where the story ended – only to be continued 30 years later.

The colour section is ‘thick’, to put it mildly: thanks to provision of extensive references, Luca Canossa drew 22 beautiful colour profiles. Essentially, every type of aircraft in service with Ecuadorean and Peruvian military aviation services of the time is shown, all the markings presented in detail, too.

Since working on this project, I’m outing myself as a big fan of Caproni Ca.310’s and Ca.135’s designs: simply love their lines and find it pity neither is really well-known in the English-language area.

Fans of the legendary ‘Tante Ju’ – aka Junkers Ju.52 – shouldn’t miss this volume either. A few of examples operated by the Deutsche Lufthansa found their way into this conflict, and then saw quite some intensive service, too.

Bottom line: this war was hopelessly overshadowed by contemporary developments in Europe in particular. But, it’s a ‘highly interesting little war’ – and this book is providing not only excellent ‘entry-level’ coverage, but is certain to leave readers well-versed into the conflict between Ecuador and Peru deeply impressed.

Find out more on our website here.

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The 1989 Coup d’État in Paraguay

The first volume from Helion’s four @War series to go into the print in 2019 is ‘The 1989 Coup d’État in Paraguay’ by Antonio Luis Sapienza Fracchia.

On the first look, some might ask themselves, ‘why should I care and buy this one?’

Situated in the centre of the southern half of Southern America, Paraguay is a country ‘very far away’, and thus nowadays rarely catching attention of the mainstream media. However, precisely this is the – first of many – reasons ‘why’: while little known outside the country, Paraguay not only has a very rich military history, but also a markedly different history than other countries in this part of the world.

Just for the start: rather than accepting being overrun by the Spanish or the Portuguese, the native population reversed the conquistadores, resulting in the creation of the only truly bilingual country in the Western hemisphere – and then one where the majority of the population is proud to claim the Guaraní ancestry. Paraguay is also quite unique by its subsequent history: over much of the 17th and 18th Century it was dominated by semi-autonomous theocratic communities (set up by the Jesuit and Franciscan Orders). It was their influence that resulted in the country producing – and its population patiently tolerating – plenty of often bizarre dictators, all of whom in turn exercised direct influence upon the military.

The latest in a seemingly endless series of military dictators, General Alfredo Stroessner Matiauda established himself in power in the course of a coup d’état, in 1954, and then ruled the country with iron fist for 35 years – until overthrown in (yet another) military coup, led by General Andrés Rodriguez, in 1989.

The latter is the topic of this action-packed, detailed, yet fluent and easy-to-follow volume. Obviously, Tony couldn’t avoid providing a comprehensive portrait of Stroessner and his regime: this is the first strong point of this volume.

Furthermore, he also went to great extensions to provide minute details on the Paraguayan military in 1989, and then in telling the story of the entire coup in a blow-by-blow fashion. That’s the second

Precisely this is what makes this volume as interesting – even more so considering the next point. While I’m surely no ‘fan’ of them, military coups do represent a sort of an ‘unrecognized art’ of military operations.

Usually launched by a small group of officers, no matter how well-planned and -organized, or how widely supported, it’s nearly always that their outcome depends on apparently trivial, and certainly unexpected decisions and/or factors. Furthermore, I find it fascinating to read exactly what kind of motives prompt members of any military service – always an organization based on the principles of the discipline and clear accountability – to come to the idea to disregard the chain of command, plot a coup and why, how are they planning, and how are they running ‘combat operations’ of that kind. Combined with a fact that we’re living at the times military coups became very rare (or at least not as common in the period 1940s-1970s), this is making volumes as detailed as this one even more precious.

Thus, except for being richly illustrated with authentic photographs, colour profiles and maps, ‘The 1989 Coup d’État in Paraguay’ – also reads like a ‘manual’ on ‘how to stage a successful military coup’.

The book is due to hit the stores in early February – right on time for the 28th anniversary of this fateful event.

See more details on our website here.

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Regulating Fashion, Fashioning Regulation. The Uniforms and Dress of the British Army 1800-1815.

By Ben Townsend.

The reading rooms of the National Archives at Kew present a curious sight on any given afternoon. Imagine a care home for the massively over-educated and terminally under-employed, and you will have a fitting conception of many of the inhabitants. The emblematic animal of the archives, and their notional spirit animal, is the swan, and a beautiful family of swans skim the ponds of the Kew forecourt. It is a not-inapt metaphor for the operation of the archives: the staff are all apparent grace and dignity, but beneath the surface, there is frenetic action, powering the perpetual cycle of documents from readers to storage and back again.

There are not many swans amongst the readers. A broad sweep of the detritus of the reading rooms might harvest a few spirit sloths who have carried their slippers from home, plenty of dishevelled wombats apparently unacquainted with a barber, and the occasional neophyte as startled giraffe, swivelling its neck in nervous wonder. Spending a lot of time in this atmosphere one begins to feel at home among this often vague, but also minutely focused motley herd. You unthinkingly adopt their quiet padding lope to the return counter, and their lolloping shuffle of anticipation taking them to the arrived document pigeon holes. From there, it’s a short step to master the thousand-yard stare at the coffee counter down in the lobby, as one struggles to drag the mind back from mortgage rolls of the 15th century to deal with the mundane choices of various caffeine-based cups.

I spent enough time amongst these people to feel at home when researching my latest book there. It involved thumbing many tens, even hundreds of thousands of document and folio pages, and while doing so, one becomes aware of other subterraneana lurking under the surface of the documents themselves. My particular haunt was the labyrinthine military bureaucracy and associated government apparatus of the early 19th century. Handling the correspondence between the lugubrious assistant second secretary to the deputy-assistant-adjutant-general at Horse Guards and his wizened counterpart at the Clothing Board in Great George Street can be a fairly dry experience, but after a while one comes to recognise their handwriting, and know their idioms of speech, and you begin to feel at home in their company. After joining the family of bureaucrats in their everyday procedures, and feeling them come to life again while thumbing through their letters, it’s just a few steps further to imagining you are part of that family. When you listen to their long lost voices asking after the health of the housekeeper’s cat, you wonder why on earth they would let a cat into a room used for storing textiles. Imagine the hair everywhere! One can sympathise with the custodian of the pattern-room who battles rheumatism and the cat with equal stoicism.

There are frustrations amongst the papers too, to balance these homely pleasures. In correspondence concerning the pattern room  (a storage place for sealed patterns of military uniform), one is all too frequently brought up short by the constant references along the lines of, ‘see pattern item attached’. This starts to become something of a litany to lost wonders, as the pattern was always attached to the original correspondence, and not included in the letter-book. When one is concentrated on the subject of these elusive patterns, to be always brought up short and reminded of their absence, is to exist in a state of perpetual disappointment. But there are exceptions. Sometimes after a long day reading letter-books recording the ingoing and outgoing correspondence of the pattern office, one turns the thousandth page and is confronted by a splash of glorious colour. Some marvellous new clerk has failed to remove the pattern item or drawing and file it properly, and it survives, as fresh as the day it was deposited. Below are two examples of these survivals, calculated to raise the spirits of even the most jaded wombat of the reading room.

These two samples of uniform lace illustrate the lace worn by the buglers of the 71st Regiment in 1819 and 1820. The practice of buglers wearing reversed colours had fallen out of favour by 1811, and they were to be distinguished by a different lace to that of the other ranks instead. This was a utilitarian alteration, intended to prevent the disproportionate targeting by the enemy of buglers, who were a vital part of the command and control hierarchy, owing to their role in transmitting orders.

This expertly rendered coloured drawing of the new 1812 pattern infantry cap plate pre-empts the issue of the infantry clothing warrant of that year, indicating that The First, or Royal Scots, Regiment had followed the advice of the clothing board of 1811 and prepared their issue of the new model caps in advance.

Further examples of these fortunate survivals are recorded in the author’s two new volumes on the regulation material of the British army, Regulating Fashion, Fashioning Regulation.

The first volume can be ordered from our website here.

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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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