How Mount Piana inspired a new history of The Italian Folgore Parachute Division

War memorial on Mount Piana commemorating the soldiers that lost their life during the Great War

War memorial on Mount Piana commemorating the Great War soldiers that lost their life

By Paolo Morisi – I hail from northern Italy and – in the summer – I spend a lot of time in the mountains along the Austrian-Italian border, the Alto Adige and Veneto regions of Italy. In the 1980s you could still find artefacts and residues of the Great War all over the mountain ranges. 

I recall that the first time I visited frontline positions on Mount Piana (which has now been turned into an open-air museum of the Great War), I was astonished to see and walk through trenches, gun pits, observation posts, artillery emplacements, underground caverns dug deep into the rock, barbed wire, coats of arms of the Kaiserjäger and the Alpini fixed to the entrances of tunnels, etc.

At the small mountain hut on the Piana, I purchased a book by Austrian officer Walther Schaumann (RIP) – a historical guide to tour all the major mountain paths and peak positions of the Dolomites that had been touched by the Great War. After reading the book and the tour of Mount Piana, I was hooked and there began a life-long fascination with both the beautiful mountain scenery and the Great War.

Photo taken on Mount Piana showing a frontline trench position dug into the mountain which now comprises the World War One open air museum

Photo taken on Mount Piana showing a frontline trench position dug into the mountain, which now comprises the Great War open-air museum

Every summer  I  would spend a month or more hiking these mountains in the day and enjoying a nice dinner with local lager at a stube/rifugio in the evening. There’s more to the story… several family members recounted their time during the Second World War and especially their experiences in the Greek Mountains and in the North African campaign. The Battle of El Alamein was another example of military history that captivated me. I always wanted to write something on the Battle, but was conscious that it has been covered in every angle by military historians. One of the topics of my research   has been the role played by special forces such as the sturmtruppen, the commandos and the paratroopers during the war, and their efforts to introduce tactical innovation on the battlefield.

In Italy, the history of El Alamein is closely connected to the special unit Folgore   parachute Division, which defended the southern flank of  the Axis line during the great battle. I the-italian-folgore-parachute-divisiondid some research and found that almost nothing had been written from a scientific and historical perspective on this special elite unit. I thought: ‘I might have something here, an idea that I could pitch’. I approached Duncan Rogers of Helion and Company and, from the onset, he was very enthusiastic and supportive about the idea.

After badgering Duncan with countless questions, I finally began my research, which took me first to Rome to the military archives of the Italian military, and then to the Imperial War Museum in London. While conducting the research, I was not only able to interview surviving members of the Folgore, but also to listen to very moving historical recordings of British soldiers that fought against the paratroopers. The reminisces by both sides told a story of extreme hardship in the desert, of brutal combat and of the overwhelming impact – especially upon foot soldiers – of mechanized warfare, led by steel hulks such as tanks, armoured vehicles and heavy mobile guns mounted on lorries.

Photo taken from an Austro-Hungarian trench position from World War One with a view of the Three Peaks of Lavaredo

Photo taken from an Austro-Hungarian trench position from World War One with a view of the Three Peaks of Lavaredo

In the spirit of European unity and reconciliation, I reconstructed the history of this unit at El Alamein. By drawing from archival sources from both sides, I hope to have furnished a more complete and balanced perspective on a critical juncture in the war, such as the Battle of El Alamein. An extensive collection of detailed maps and black and white photos are also part of the book to give the reader a multi-disciplinary perspective on the north African campaign.

For those visiting Italy, I highly recommend a hiking trip to Mount Piana with beautiful views over the Three Peaks of Lavaredo – probably the most fascinating mountains of the Dolomites.

Purchase your copy of The Italian Folgore Parachute Division, Operations in North Africa 1940-43 by Paolo Morisi here.

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Stefanie Linden: They Called It Shell Shock. Combat Stress in the First World War

they-called-it-shell-shockAbout one year ago I was honoured to receive the Edmonds Prize for my book proposal on shell shock (full story here). Now I am very pleased to see the final product – They Called It Shell Shock – appear in the Wolverhampton Military Studies series.  During the last year, I spent a great deal of time liaising with archives, museums, libraries and private collectors about images that would illustrate the experience of the traumatised soldiers on both sides of the trenches of the Great War – and was pleased to see 75 of them included in the final manuscript. I also researched the wider context of the patient files – those from London in the UK and Berlin and Jena in Germany – that form the backbone of my book. This resulted in a detailed survey of the disposal system for shell shock cases, and the responses of the medical and military apparatus to this unprecedented challenge.

At the core of They Called It Shell Shock are the individual case histories of the traumatised soldiers, which provide harrowing accounts of the experience of trench warfare. The records allow us to enter a world which – since the last veterans of the Great War have passed away – is now inaccessible through living memory.

British Pathe footage – Seale Hayne Military Hospital, Devon, UK – 1918

The nature of modern industrialised warfare – with its new weapons, bigger armies, increasing casualty figures and anonymity of fighting – had considerably increased the stresses imposed on the individual soldier. Static or trench warfare, as opposed to mobile warfare, often forced the soldier to remain in one position for days – sometimes barely able to move, because any twitch turned him into an easy target for enemy snipers. Boredom and monotony, passivity and a lack of distraction were the result; the soldier was left alone with his thoughts and fears. There was also the sight of destruction, of mutilated bodies and of corpses; the relentless shelling – sometimes going on for hours and hours, day on day. Men exposed to these stresses were under continuous pressure. The case records provide unique access to their memories and experiences, both at the frontline and during their odyssey through the military hospital system.

I have organised the analysis of the case records along themes that mark their interest to wider military history: suicide, desertion, rank and class, treatment and scientific progress and, last but not least, the comparison between the British and German medical, military and legal systems. Although other books have documented the contemporaneous medical debates on shell shock, none has analysed comprehensive sets of case records from both sides. With my background – as a German-born doctor and scholar who has lived in Wales for the last 12 years – I was particularly intrigued by this European perspective.

In February 2016 I had the opportunity to present my work at an international workshop at the monastery of Bad Irsee in Southern Germany, which was attended by colleagues from Austria, Italy, Belgium, France and Germany who had looked at records of shell shock patients from their own countries. Our discussions revealed striking differences in the reaction to combat stress in the different countries – even between countries that fought on the same side. This pointed to an influence of cultural factors that is still very relevant to the understanding of mental disorder today. I also learnt that, although there is a great amount of interest in the experiences of shell shock amongst European historians, none of the records analysed so far are as detailed as ours from London and Germany.

In addition to such international scientific debates I also had the equally rewarding opportunity of presenting my work to local and military historians in the UK – for example to the Glamorgan Family History Society. Clearly, people are fascinated by the experience of shell shock for a wide variety of reasons – for example, because their ancestors fought in the Great War, or because they are interested in the history of individual military units, or because they want to find out more about the relationship between shell shock and present-day post-traumatic stress disorder. And just to mention that my research is ongoing – I am always interested in contact with other researchers working in the area or with groups of local historians or with museums planning to set up exhibitions on shell shock.

They Called It Shell Shock. Combat Stress in the First World War is available to pre-order here.

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Introducing ‘From Reason to Revolution’

lobositz_to_leuthenA little over a year ago, I was approached by Helion with a suggestion that I might like to work with them to set up a new book series covering the military history of the long eighteenth century. To say that I jumped at the chance would be an understatement. Now, after a lot of preparation, the first titles in that series are almost ready to be launched.

As someone whose interests stretch across this era, it had long been a frustration that publishers seemed only to be interested in the very end of it: the Napoleonic Wars. In one sense, this was great for me as it meant that I was able to find publishers for several books on the Napoleonic-era British Army and its campaigns, but it meant that my enthusiasm for the earlier part of the period was struggling to find an outlet beyond historical re-enactment and a bit of dabbling in wargaming. I knew, as well, that I was not the only one to feel this frustration and that there were several other would-be authors of my acquaintance struggling to get their research on eighteenth century topics into print. What I did not realise, until we started putting the series together, was how much more unpublished research was out there – waiting for a publisher to come along. glories-to-useless-heroism

In putting the series together, we had no difficulty in picking a start-date as the intention was always to dovetail with the existing Century of the Soldier series running from c.1618-1721, of which From Reason to Revolution will be a close twin in terms of format and approach. Choosing an end-date was a little more problematic, and the initial thought was to end with the Peace of Amiens in 1801. This, however, increasingly came to feel like an artificial cut-off, needlessly breaking the continuity of themes between the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars, and so we ultimately chose to extend coverage to 1815. This allows for a full examination of the changes in warfare, politics and society that give the series its name: from fortress-based strategy and linear battles to the nation-in-arms and the beginnings of total war, and covering along the way the campaigns of Saxe, Frederick, Washington, Napoleon, and Wellington.for-orange-and-the-states

Like Century of the Soldier, the series contains a mix of conventional monographs and smaller, more heavily illustrated titles in our Falconet paperback format. Within that – looking at titles already in production or preparation – we have battle studies, organisational histories and uniform studies, as well as several collections of eyewitness material. The latter – currently stretching in scope from the outbreak of the Seven Years War to the Battle of Waterloo – includes both newly-unearthed sources, accounts translated from other languages (including some fascinating Russian material) and re-issued English-language classics. In all cases, the original material is accompanied by notes and commentary by experts on the conflicts in question.

reminiscences-1808-1815In both the eyewitness accounts and the modern studies commissioned for the series, we have been keen to ensure that coverage is given to less well-known armies and campaigns as well as the usual big-name suspects. So we have, for example, uniform studies of the Dutch, Saxon and Spanish armies under development – all of them bringing out new information not previously available in English. The campaigns of the 1740s – often overshadowed by those of the Seven Years War – are the subject of several forthcoming titles, beginning with a new study of the fighting at Prestonpans in 1745 out later this year. In similar fashion, we will be looking at the campaigns of the 1790s in as much detail as the better-known battles of the following two decades, with titles due out over the next 12 months covering actions in Europe, Egypt and the West Indies as well as the war at sea.far-distant-ships

The first five titles are already available to pre-order and details of them can be found on the series webpage here. For more information, look out for title-specific entries in this blog, or follow the new Facebook page for the series at

Lastly, anyone interested in contributing to the series themselves is most welcome to contact me at to discuss their ideas.

Andrew Bamford, Series & Commissioning Editor

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Alan Larsen on the fine art of historical cavalry reconstruction


Trooper – The Army of James II

Some 20 years, ago I was fortunate enough to gather around me a like-minded group of cavalry enthusiasts who were prepared to work hard (and play hard, bless ’em…) in pursuit of a high standard of historical cavalry reconstruction.

For my part, I’d been enthused by the experience of taking part in the 125th anniversary American Civil War re-enactments in the US and felt that mounted displays – parades and skill at arms, as well as battle re-enactments – could be undertaken in the UK in a variety of periods, if the backing was there. Our initial forays into American Civil War re-enactment in the UK bought us to the attention of Howard Giles, Head of Special Events at English Heritage. It was his support – more than any other factor – that made it all possible. At this time I was also began to undertake commercial work – television documentaries and the like –without envisaging that one day, my hobby would turn into my job (with all the mixed blessings that can bring!)

In the last 20 years The Troop has been lucky enough to travel the world, providing mounted displays in the Crimea, Africa and Europe as well as in Britain. The unit in its Victorian guise represented the modern Queen’s Royal Lancers regiment of the British Army (successors to the 17th Lancers) at the 150th anniversary of the Charge of the Light Brigade in the Valley of Death (an undertaking that, in the event, involved disconcerting quantities of  wild horses and strong drink. Inevitably, in the Ukraine – a country already on the brink of civil war – it also required dealings with all sorts of local officials and shady characters… and the Duke of Edinburgh.

Zululand also had its challenges and rewards – including astonishing battlefield rides at Isandwhala and the opportunity to gallop from there to Rorkes Drift.


The Royal Dragoons 1685

At the invitation of the Household Cavalry, The Troop rode before Her Majesty the Queen on Horseguards Parade in our incarnation as the 1st Royal Dragoons 1815 – mounted on Cavalry Blacks provided by the regiment (a rare honour for a re-enactment group). It was of course as the Royal Dragoons that the chaps (with a little help from some Germans and under the overall command of a colonial Iron Duke) trounced the Corsican Ogre at last year’s remarkable Waterloo Bicentennial.

The Troops most recent foray has been into the late C17 period – the time of The Merry Monarch Charles II and his less kindly remembered brother. This period has enabled us to retain our  Royal Dragoons identity by recreating the Regiment in its early years, at the time of the Battle of Sedgemoor.


Drummer – The Army of James II

To that end, we recently undertook a photoshoot on behalf of Helion for Steve Ede Borrett’s new book on The Army of James II. A pleasure to do so, as Steve’s research work over the years has been a great source of inspiration to many including – once upon a time – a teenage wargamer from Invercargill, New Zealand!

Within the Restoration period, The Troop has also taken great pleasure in recreating the bewigged gallants of the King’s Lifeguard; a gig that inevitably involves horse racing and dirty great flintlock pistols (sometimes in the same race).

In 2017 the Troop will be participating in the  fabulous ‘Soldiers of Killicrankie 1689’ event in Scotland (see for more details). It’s a bit of a haul for many, but a brilliant community-based event and a fabulous opportunity to experience the dramatic battlefield that saw ‘Bonnie Dundee’s’  decisive Jacobite victory. We hope to see you there!

Alan Larsen

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Military history author Linda Parker: Where and how I write

Linda and Nigel Parker are both military history authors – currently working on separate books for Helion & Company Ltd. Here, Linda ventures into the brave new world of blogging, and reveals a little of where and how she writes… 

sj-pajonas-where-i-writeAt last, a year after I was invited to blog for Helion,  I am attempting to do so! I am going to be dragged kicking and screaming into the  21st century (into 1917  anyway), as I have just received the pre-publicity tasks for my next book. As one of them enquires how my social media can be used in publicity for  my new book,  I thought  I should have some! Hence first step –blog.  I must, however, prevent it from being a Victor Meldrew  or ‘Grumpy Old Women’ style  rant. (Let me make it clear that  I have never seen this programme, only trailers , and that I am neither old or grumpy). Apparently, where and how  I write will be of some interest…

The most annoying thing about my writing lately has been the postman and/or the Amazon man (other carriers are available). I generally work on the dining room table, making me available to answer the door to all comers. The postman has been particularly busy delivering parcels to our house, and – as I am home in the daytime – vulnerable to accepting parcels for neighbours also. The door is hammered as our door bell does not ring, (more about this in later blogs). A disembodied voice from the author upstairs -writing in a well-appointed study – says: “Linda  the door!” After corralling the dog, Buddy, I sign for the parcel, sit back at my computer and recover my train of thought – only for the door to be hammered again. A variation on this scenario is: “Linda, is it time for a cuppa?”

Someone asked me this week whether I was enjoying my retirement. After having pointed out that  I had not retired – I’ve just swapped teaching for a career as an author – I explained about the pressure of deadlines (one looming), the obstacles of  enough time to travel to research and the fear of social media. She then asked if I enjoyed writing and I realised: ‘Yes I do’. So I shall end this first blog by admitting that I get up most mornings eager  and full of ideas to hit the dining room table. In the New Year, I shall tidy the room that purports to be my study upstairs and make the other author answer the door!

a-fool-for-thy-feastice-steel-and-fireYou can find out more about Linda Parker’s books for Helion shellshocked-prophetsherethe-whole-armour-of-god

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The top five pre-1914 military history books for Christmas 2016

ChristmasHere, our ‘Century of the Soldier‘ series Commissioning Editor Charles Singleton shares his personal pick of the best pre-1914 books to add to your Christmas wishlist: 

Once again, I’ve been given the difficult task of choosing my top five books from this year’s releases from Helion. Although I say difficult, it is in fact a joy to go over the past year’s publications and pontificate a little about some of them…

much-embarrassedMuch Embarrassed. Civil War, Intelligence and the Gettysburg Campaign by George Donne

In the springtime of this year, I gathered the terms to create the index for Much Embarrassed, which meant reading through the text. The book concentrates on how the intelligence services of the opposing forces worked and how they sought to discover the enemy’s intentions and numbers. I must say how much of an impression this book made upon me. Our modern perception of pre-20th century military professionalism and civil wars as being antiquated and lacking is very much challenged in Much Embarrassed; it demonstrates how 19th century armies acquired intelligence of their enemies and used it to their advantage.

New Approaches to the Military History of the English Civil War. Proceedings of the First new-approachesHelion and Company ‘Century of the Soldier’ Conference edited by Ismini Pells

This book is the ‘compilation’ of papers that were given at a conference I organised in 2015. Part of the concept behind the ‘Century of the Soldier’ book series is to offer a holistic approach to the subject (being pike and shot warfare 1618-1721), with publications, conferences, blogs and partnership-work. We will be holding our next conference in 2018. I can highly recommend coming along – great sandwiches!



The Arte Militaire. The Application of 17th Century Military Manuals to Conflict Archaeology by Warwick Louth

My enduring memory of The Arte Militaire was giving the author, Warwick, a phone call to say we would be very interested in publishing his work, only to find out it was his MA graduation day as well! I enjoyed working with Warwick on this book. Not only is it a highly visual piece, it also covers one of my great interests – military professionalism and development in the 17thcentury. By using the latest research in landscape archaeology and military history, The Arte Militaire sets out to give us a new and better understanding of the nature of conflict in the early modern period.

Lobositz to Leuthen: Horace St Paul and the Seven Years War 1756-1757 translated by Neil lobositzCogswell.

Lobositz to Leuthen sees the launch of a new book series at Helion, ‘From Reason to Revolution’. Where ‘Century of the Soldier’ finishes in 1721, the new series carries on to 1815. This first book is very much a historical equivalent to the classic Barry Lyndon. The author of the diary, St Paul, was an English officer who served with the Austrian army through the Seven Years War. His attention to detail is what makes this work an essential addition to any library on the conflict.

no_armour_but_courageNo Armour but Courage. Colonel Sir George Lisle, 1615-1648 by Serena Jones

A publication I am especially proud of. Serena Jones is a researcher and writer of great skill and talent. When not writing for Helion (she’s just signed a contract for her next book) Serena has her own publishing business, Tyger’s Head Books. The subject of her first book for Helion is Sir George Lisle – a Royalist infantry officer who was arguably a great innovator of military practice and doctrine during the 1640s. This is the definitive work on his life.

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Battle For Britain Series Update: Romans on the March

romans-2By Peter Dennis

Andy Callan and I spent a fun evening with my local wargaming club ‘the Forest Outlaws’. (Mansfield was in the middle of Sherwood Forest, if you’re wondering about the name).

We were play-testing Andy’s rules for the Battle for Britain Roman invasion book, due in spring 2017. I’m happy to say both the introductory and the full versions worked very well.

romans-3We played through an ambush scenario that Andy has written and the Roman players obligingly failed to find either warband secreted in the woods.

The steadiness of the legionaries saved them from absolute disaster, and they managed to beat off the Britons, but the horde of native slingers eventually led to a British win on points. The outlaws declared the rules a success!



Other titles in the Battle For Britain series can be purchased from Helion here.

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Battle For Britain Reader Suggestion: Crafting Aluminium Pikes

andre-pike-1By Peter Dennis

Andre Clues, of my local wargame club in Mansfield, has come up with this brilliant idea…

Instead of using another sheet of paper between the folded colour sheets when you make pikes, use a flattened strip of aluminium from a drinks can.

Sand the metal to give it a bit of key, then use ‘general purpose’ or impact-type adhesive (wet, not impact style) to glue the sheets together.

When the assembly has really dried out, cut the pikes with shears type scissors (not the little figure-cutting scissors or a Stanley knife, which will tear the paper).

The pike will curl as you cut it, but it flattens out into a very thin and strong pike. If it bends, you can straighten it easily.

Anybody out there got any other ideas I never thought of?

Wargame the English Civil Wars 1642-51Get your copy of Wargame The English Civil War 1642-1651 with easy rules by Andy Callan here.

Watch Peter’s ‘how to make paper soldiers’ tutorial on our YouTube channel here.


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Great War Memoir Launch Hailed a Huge Success

hugh-sarahTHE BBC’s Hugh Pym (pictured above left) was guest of honour at the official launch of a new memoir on the Reverend Herbert Butler Cowl, who volunteered as an Army Chaplain in Christmas 1914.

The Half-Shilling Curate. A Personal Account of War and Faith 1914-18 – written by The Rev Cowl’s granddaughter, Sarah Reay (pictured above right), and published by Helion & Company Ltd – was unveiled at the Literary and Philosophical Society Library in Newcastle during a champagne reception.

half Shilling CurateThe book recounts The Rev. Cowl’s experiences on the Western Front with the Durham Light Infantry and Northumberland Fusiliers. Having been severely wounded during a heavy bombardment, he was on board the hospital ship Anglia when it hit a German mine in the English Channel. While recovering, ‘The Half-Shilling Curate’ (as he was affectionately known by his family) was awarded the Military Cross for exemplary gallantry.

“Hugh’s grandfather was also a Great War Army Chaplain, and he generously wrote the foreword to my book,” says Sarah, whose friend, pianist Deanna Bolton composed a piece of hymnal music entitled ‘The Half-Shilling Curate’, which she debuted at the event.

“Hugh introduced the evening – during which I shared my memories of my grandfather, the background to my four-year project in researching and writing his story, and my joy that everyone can now share the life and times of an incredible man who had served his king, country and God 100 years ago.”

Friends and family members, who had travelled from as far as British Columbia, were greeted by live piano music from the Great War period, with champagne and canapes being served in the open library.

Guests included three (out of four) of The Rev. Cowl’s great-grandchildren, along with one of his great-nieces. There was representation from the Durham Light Infantry Association from retired Major Chris Lawton MBE DL.

Sarah read aloud a few of her favourite passages from the book, which included the following extract from one of the Rev. Cowl’s letters home to his parents in 1915:

‘Sometimes as I cross a bit of rising ground between here and Headquarters, where the country is open, and the road only lined by an endless avenue of huge polled witch-elms, I stand in the darkness; watch the probing searchlights flicker on to the clouds and hear those grim far off voices speaking death. It is a new sound; it is another world; and it calls to unprecedented scenes and experiences. God grant as we march into it all, that there may arise a man in me that is sufficient to this new occasion!’

Music continued after the speeches and guests met Sarah (who describes herself as a self-taught historian), asked questions and had their books personally signed as they enjoyed further refreshments.

The Half-Shilling Curate. A Personal Account of War and Faith 1914-18 is now on sale at and at

Visit the official The Half-Shilling Curate website here.

Follow Sarah Reay on Twitter and on Facebook.

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Wargaming Elizabethan Naval Warfare

Andy Callan discusses the thinking behind the easy rules he is compiling for a forthcoming new title in our Battle For Britain paper soldiers series.

img_0890Making a game out of warfare at sea in this period is a tricky business. The problem comes with writing a set of rules that have the right balance between realism and playability. An entirely historical set would be unplayable and a playable set risks being entirely unhistorical.

Most wargamers have a vague idea of how naval warfare in the Age of Sail worked, but this is usually based on Napoleonic (or should that be “Nelsonian”?) examples – either from works of history or the novels of Patrick O’Brien or C.S Forrester (amongst others).

Things were not the same in the Age of the Elizabethan sea-dogs. The ships were very different, for a start. Drake’s flagship, the Revenge (pictured right), was the most famous of a revolutionary 9bc204b5d6be97fcf8129640a6664c1enew class of warship – the Elizabethan ‘race-built’ galleon – and the fighting and sailing qualities of these ships were clearly displayed in the Armada campaign. By later standards, though, these were only small ships – no bigger than a typical Napoleonic sloop-of-war. Tonne for tonne, they might have packed three times the punch of any contemporary Spanish galleon. But while they were exceptionally heavily-armed vessels for their time, they carried only the same weight of metal as small frigates of later centuries and their overall firepower was much less effective. The difference lies in gun drill and tactics.

Naval gunnery was still a relatively new art. The English had developed certain technical advantages (notably in their gun-founding techniques and the design of their short, truck carriages). But reloading at sea remained painfully slow, as guns were generally lashed to the ship’s sides and the idea of allowing the recoil to run the gun back inboard had not yet fully caught on. Spanish heavy guns were generally pre-loaded before action by crews of soldiers and sailors that were then dispersed to other battle stations. So they must have been, for the most part, one shot weapons – designed to be fired off at close range before the real business (boarding the enemy) began.

By contrast, the English preferred more stand-off tactics, but this was far from being a Napoleonic-style broadside action. There was no formal line of battle and no system of flag signals that would allow the Admiral to communicate his intentions. Instead, the preferred technique was to group together in rough squadrons and then, one at a time, for each ship to run down wind on the enemy. First of all they would fire off bow-chasers and such of the broadside guns as could be brought to bear forward. Then luffing up, fire the rest of the broadside and the stern guns; finally giving the other broadside, before falling away to go through the laborious business of re-loading. All this made for a comparatively leisurely style of fighting (although it may not have seemed like it at the time).

So, in contrast to a Napoleonic wargame, where we have large warships, fighting in line of battle and exchanging broadsides at a rapid rate, an Elizabethan equivalent must be built around relatively small vessels – fighting a series of individual tip-and-run skirmishes while firing relatively slowly. But at typical move rates, a game like this would be like watching paint dry! The only way to make a playable game is to telescope the action in time and artificially increase the rate and effect of gunnery. Otherwise nothing will have happened before it’s time to put your toy ships back in their boxes.

So much for the tactical problems of ship-to-ship action. On a larger scale, the operationsimg_0892 of the two fleets provide further difficulties for anyone wishing to make a playable game out of the Armada fight. Despite the huge size of the fleets (each made up of well over a hundred vessels of all types and sizes) all the hard fighting was done by a relatively small proportion of the ships present.

The Spanish of course, had a large number of supply and transport vessels, which clustered together and moved slowly up channel; all the time being protected by a “fire-brigade” of fighting ships which were moved here and there to wherever the threat from the English seemed most acute.

On their side, the English were encumbered with a host of armed merchantmen (most of them very small indeed) which were largely incapable of making any useful contribution to the fighting. According to one contemporary observer: “We had been little helped by them, otherwise than that they did make a show”.

This means that the movements of the majority of ships, on both sides, are irrelevant in terms of a wargame. So what I have done is to have the English Armed Merchantmen as a sort of tactical back-stop at one end of the playing area; the Spanish Urcas as a mass of shipping at the other. While all these “second-line” ships are static on the sea grid, their progress up-channel is represented by the coastline moving past them. This way, the players only have to concern themselves with the manoeuvres of the key fighting ships – a much more manageable task.

Even so, in order to make a playable game out of all this, while still making some attempt to represent the fighting abilities and sailing characteristics of the two sides, I have had to be ruthless in making everything highly simplified and stylised. This goes against the grain of most naval wargame design, which traditionally concentrates heavily on the technicalities of manoeuvre and gunnery – laying great emphasis on the detailed differences between individual ships and their armament. In my personal experience, such games usually satisfy only their designers, who find their fellow gamers lose interest when they fail to master the intricacies of the movement rules and realise how long it takes to work out the effects of a typical broadside.

So this is the sort of thing I have set out to avoid. The rules for movement and firing are really as quick and simple as I could make them (you should have seen some of the earlier versions!). In writing them I have tried to bear in mind what Sir Julian Corbett had to say about Sir Richard Grenville’s last fight in the Revenge (see Tennyson’s epic poem!):

Without a glow of (his) fire ships become but counters and tactics sink to pedantry”.

Most wargamers will have bad memories of naval games like that!

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