Friday, 15 December 2017

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


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

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

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

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HMS Ajax

HMS Achilles

HMS Exeter

Admiral Graf Spee

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 11 December 2017

The smallest dreadnoughts?

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

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

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

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

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

ESPAÑA (formerly Alfonso XIII)


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

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

Sunday, 10 December 2017

La Ultima Cruzada has been released for publication!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Napoleon and Roustam

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

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

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

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

Friday, 8 December 2017

8 x 15 hex grid for Hexblitz

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 7 December 2017

The Battle of Abu Klea ... by William McGonagall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

More poetry

Over the years certain bits of poetry seem to have been absorbed into normal usage. For example I have heard people say things like 'The boy stood on the burning deck' and 'The Gatling's jammed and the Colonel's dead' without knowing which poems they are quoting (or sometimes misquoting) from or which poets wrote them.

In the latter case the misquote is not from the first line of the poem VITAI LAMPADA (The Torch of Life) by Sir Henry Newbolt, but from the first line of the second stanza.

There's a breathless hush in the Close to-night -
Ten to make and the match to win -
A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play and the last man in.
And it's not for the sake of a ribboned coat,
Or the selfish hope of a season's fame,
But his Captain's hand on his shoulder smote
"Play up! play up! and play the game!"

The sand of the desert is sodden red, -
Red with the wreck of a square that broke; -
The Gatling's jammed and the colonel dead,
And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.
The river of death has brimmed his banks,
And England's far, and Honour a name,
But the voice of schoolboy rallies the ranks,
"Play up! play up! and play the game!"

This is the word that year by year
While in her place the School is set
Every one of her sons must hear,
And none that hears it dare forget.
This they all with a joyful mind
Bear through life like a torch in flame,
And falling fling to the host behind -
"Play up! play up! and play the game!"
The title is taken from a quotation by Lucretius and refers to how a future soldier learns selfless commitment to duty whilst playing cricket on Clifton College's famous Close. The poem uses the events of the Battle of Abu Klea in the Sudan in January 1885 as a backdrop for the second stanza. The Colonel referred to is Frederick Gustavus Burnaby (one of my heroes!), who was killed during the battle when a Gardner Machine Gun (not a Gatling as stated in the poem) jammed, and almost caused the Mahdists to penetrate the British square.

'The boy stood on the burning deck' is the first line of Felicia Dorothea Hemans's poem CASABIANCA, which tells the story of Giocante de Casabianca. He stayed on the deck of the French warship Orient (his father's ship) during the Battle of the Nile despite the fact that the ship was burning and later exploded when the fire reached the powder magazine.

Unfortunately I've never been able to take the poem seriously since I read Spike Milligan's parody:
The boy stood on the burning deck
Whence all but he had fled –

Tuesday, 5 December 2017


I originally designed HEXBLITZ back in 2007. Since then I have looked at it several times with the intention of reviving and possibly revising the rules, but have never quite got around to it.

Recently Archduke Piccolo has been using the rules, and his battle reports (and some very probing questions) have made me think again about revisiting this project.

Archduke Piccolo's battle reports include:

Please note that all the photographs featured above are © Archduke Piccolo.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Even better hexed grids with co-ordinates

After some further thought, I decided that the small numbers in each hex were too small ... especially if - like me - your eyesight is not as good as it used to be. I have therefore increased the size of the numbers, and the results are shown below:

The two illustrations shown above are both in .gif format. These can be downloaded into a program like MS Paint and used 'as is' or saved into .bmp format, and then used.

Although I retain the copyright on these particular grids, I give permission for users to download them for their own personal use. If they are used in any publication (printed, electronic, or in any other format), I expect my copyright to be acknowledged.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Mr Kipling ... writes exceedingly good poetry

On 28th November I delivered a lecture to the Hertfordshire Masters Lodge (No.4090). The title of the lecture was MASONIC REFERENCES IN THE WORKS OF KIPLING, and I was assisted by a fellow wargamer who is also a member of the Lodge.

Amongst the poetry that I referenced was one that happens to be amongst my favourite poems, THE WIDOW AT WINDSOR. Not only does it sum up the part played by Britain's armed forces during Queen Victoria's reign, it also gave us the name of what is probably the most well-known set of Colonial wargame rules.

'Ave you 'eard o' the Widow at Windsor
With a hairy gold crown on 'er 'ead?
She 'as ships on the foam – she 'as millions at 'ome,
An' she pays us poor beggars in red.
(Ow, poor beggars in red!)

There's 'er nick on the cavalry 'orses,
There's 'er mark on the medical stores –
An' 'er troopers you'll find with a fair wind be'ind
That takes us to various wars.
(Poor beggars! – barbarous wars!)

Then 'ere's to the Widow at Windsor,
An' 'ere's to the stores an' the guns,
The men an' the 'orses what makes up the forces
O' Missis Victorier's sons.
(Poor beggars! Victorier's sons!)
Walk wide o' the Widow at Windsor,
For 'alf o' Creation she owns:
We 'ave bought 'er the same with the sword an' the flame,
An' we've salted it down with our bones.
(Poor beggars! – it's blue with our bones!)

Hands off o' the sons o' the Widow,
Hands off o' the goods in 'er shop,
For the Kings must come down an' the Emperors frown
When the Widow at Windsor says "Stop"!
(Poor beggars! – we're sent to say "Stop"!)

Then 'ere's to the Lodge o' the Widow,
From the Pole to the Tropics it runs –
To the Lodge that we tile with the rank an' the file,
An' open in form with the guns.
(Poor beggars! – it's always they guns!)
We 'ave 'eard o' the Widow at Windsor,
It's safest to let 'er alone:
For 'er sentries we stand by the sea an' the land
Wherever the bugles are blown.
(Poor beggars! – an' don't we get blown!)

Take 'old o' the Wings o' the Mornin',
An' flop round the earth till you're dead;
But you won't get away from the tune that they play
To the bloomin' old rag over'ead.
(Poor beggars! – it's 'ot over'ead!)

Then 'ere's to the sons o' the Widow,
Wherever, 'owever they roam.
'Ere's all they desire, an' if they require
A speedy return to their 'ome.
(Poor beggars! – they'll never see 'ome!)

The last verse has a particular significance to Freemasons, and those of you who are in The Craft will have noticed it. To those of you who aren't ... well it's still a great poem, isn't it?

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Improved hex grids with co-ordinates

I've now had another look at the basic hex grid with co-ordinates and have added very small individual numbers to each hex to ensure that their numerical co-ordinates are clearer:

During his recent visit, Arthur Harman pointed out to me if the rules were being used by two players who might wish to orientate the map to show their points-of-view (i.e. from opposing sides of the map), it might be helpful to have a mirror image for the second player. After some thought I did as he asked, and the result looks like this:

The two illustrations shown above are both in .gif format. These can be downloaded into a program like MS Paint and used 'as is' or saved into .bmp format, and then used.

Although I retain the copyright on these particular grids, I give permission for users to download them for their own personal use. If they are used in any publication (printed, electronic, or in any other format), I expect my copyright to be acknowledged.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Nugget 304

I collected the latest edition of THE NUGGET (N304) from the printer this morning, and I will be posting it out to members of Wargame Developments as soon as I can.

I have already uploaded the PDF version of THE NUGGET to the Wargame Developments website to read online or to download and print.

I have also uploaded a special Matrix Game supplement. It is a complete game from the pen of Chris Engle, and is entitled PAINTING THE WHITE HOUSE RED.

It is described as being 'A narrative game about the first year of the Trump Era'. The subject will been seen as being somewhat controversial by quite a few people, but it does illustrate how far this type of game design has progressed over the past fifteen years.

(Please note that this PDF is NOT password protected in order to allow non-members to read and download this particular supplement. Chris Engle asserts his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work, and by publishing it Wargame Developments in no way intends to endorse or denigrate any particular politician, political party, or point-of-view. It has been published purely as an example of a narrative style of Matrix Game.)

IMPORTANT: Please note that this is the fourth issue of THE NUGGET to be published for the 2017-2018 subscription year, and that members who have not already re-subscribed can do so by visiting the relevant page on the Wargame Developments website.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Spanish Civil War: Day-by-Day: 30th November 1937

The Republican Government moved from Valencia to Barcelona.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Why didn't I think of creating one before? ... a hex grid with co-ordinates

During Arthur Harman's recent PORTABLE WARGAME-related visit it became apparent that it would be extremely useful for players to have a hex grid available to them that had co-ordinates so that they could plot the position of any hidden units etc. After a bit of trial and error I managed to create such a grid ... and here it is:

Due to the non-linear nature of the grid the horizontal rows of hexes go up and down slightly, and in the example shown above I have shaded in alternate rows of hexes to make it easier to understand.

When the co-ordinates are added to an existing map (in this case the Battle of Hook's Farm), the resulting map looks like this:

Using such a grid makes it possible for a player to make a note that – for example – a unit has been placed in hex D4, as shown below.

For the life of me I cannot understand why I haven't done this before, but now that I have, I can use it for any future battles that I fight on a 9 x 8 hex grid.

The two illustrations shown above are both in .jpg format, which not everyone can easily download and then use to draw their own maps on. I have therefore provided a .gif format version below. This can be downloaded into a program like MS Paint and used 'as is' or saved into .bmp format, and then used.

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

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

A problem with La Ultima Cruzada!

Last night I received the printed proof copies of LA ULTIMA CRUZADA ... and discovered to my horror that during the printing process some of the formatting has been removed or altered, with the effect that a number of blank spaces have appeared in the text where they should not be and the pagination has been altered, leaving the Contents page with incorrect page numbers for each section and chapter.

I compared the printed version of the book with my original .docx file, and I could find no reason for this to happen. I then contacted in the hope that they could sort the situation out, because until it is, I cannot release the book for publication.

Some time later ...

Amber, one of's online support workers, spent a hour helping me to solve the problem. It appears that if I upload the book as a .docx format file, the conversion process can alter the publication's formatting. She advised me that this can be avoided by uploading the book in PDF format. However, when I tried to do this there were problems with the upload, which kept telling me that there were errors relating to embedded fonts in the file. In the end I sent the file directly to Amber, who was able to upload it for me.

On her advice I downloaded and checked the PDF file that will be used to print the book, and I have ordered another printed proof copy to make doubly sure that it is exactly the way I want it to be before releasing it for publication. Hopefully this printed proof copy will arrive within a week or so, but if it doesn't I might miss the Christmas deadline I set for the book's publication.

Monday, 27 November 2017

Other people's Portable Wargames: Some of Stephen Briddon's battles

Stephen Briddon has been using my PORTABLE WARGAME rules since before they were published, and was one of the wargamers who gave me very useful feedback during their development. He has continued to use them, and what follows are some photographs of some of his battles.

The Battle of Hook's Farm ... using 54mm figures on a squared grid

The Battle of Hook's Farm ... using 54mm figures on a hexed grid

(The corners of each hex are marked with a dot, which makes them almost invisible in these photographs.)

A desert battle ... using 20mm figures on a hexed grid

Please note that the photographs featured above are © Stephen Briddon.