Monday, 17 November 2014

The Genoese squadron, pretty much finished apart from the bases; one lanterna and five ordinary galleys. The colours are based on a C18th painting of the battle of Choggia which shows both Genoese and Venetian galleys painted red. The only real difference is in the flags.
Painting ships I am never sure what colour to paint ships, and am rarely 100% happy with the schemes I end up using. I always feel there is room for improvement. Contemporary artists sometimes show ships’ hulls a natural wood colour, but more often as dark brown, even black. Red is a popular colour for awnings and armings over the oars, as is gold, and as in the Choggia painting, for hulls. Prints and paintings of Turkish galleys show ships with black and/or red hulls, red oars, and red masts and green yards. Other paintings show both Christian and Turkish ships in plain wood, with only the poop awnings and flags showing colour. Some painters show red oars, others as a natural wood. Looking at contemporary paintings of Lepanto, red and gold are the most noticeable colours, together with blue (mainly on Turkish ships, it seems) and yellow. Crescents are usually yellow or white. In the colour reconstructions of ships shown in the Osprey volume, where hulls are painted, red is the main colour used. The exception is the Barbary galiot, which is shown with a dull green fore and aft of the oar sections, and plain off-white awnings over the oars. The hull is dark brown, and black around the oars. The plates showing battle scenes from Lepanto and Preveza show Christian ships with red hulls, and Muslims with dark blue or dull green hulls. As my ships have been acquired over the years and been subject to different painting techniques and ideas, they lack a uniform scheme. The plus side is that they should show the kind of variation in colours that can be seen in some of the paintings of Lepanto. At 1:1200 scale, schemes can be simple. The prime areas for colour are the poop awnings, the armings over the oars, and the flags. The flags cast on the models’ masts are just small blobs. I cut them away and replace them with larger paper ones. They are a small feature, but probably the most eye-catching one, so just by having flags the models look better than without.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Back again!!

Well, I finally managed to get around to updating this. Events in the meantime include changing jobs, a house move and painting up fleets for the Russo-Japanese War. But am now back trying to keep this up to date (-ish). Currently, I'm painting up the ships that arrived from Navwar, and trying to repair damage to some from the house move. I'm also experimenting with different painting schemes to see which looks best. Some of the older ships might be looking at a new paint job. I also managed to get a copy of the Conway book "The Age of the Galley". What can I say, it's just amazing. If you have any interest in galley warfare, and can buy only one book, this is the one. It covers galleys in the Mediterranean from the Bronze Age to the Renaissance, and is packed with technical information; the oar systems of galleys and the rowing mechanics, naval installations, logistics of galley warfare, navigation, and lots more. The section on triremes includes information gained from the building and operation of the Olympias. It's inspiring; my next games project could well be triremes!

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Well, finally got my butt in gear re updating this blog. Since the last time I posted, 48 galleys and 8 galiots arrived from Navwar. They joined the massive painting backlog I’ve accumulated (but then again, find me a gamer who doesn’t have a backlog). Once they are painted and finished, I should be able to field some reasonable sized fleets. My plan is for a Holy League force (Venetian, Spanish, Papal and Genoese) of around 34 galleys against a Turkish/Barbary force of 33 galleys plus about 20 galiots. I chose Navwar over Langton miniatures mainly on grounds of cost. As well as the galleys, I acquired some 14 carracks and caravels, and 20+ bergantinas to ferry troops around the fleets. The Langton miniatures models are much nicer and more detailed, however, they are much more expensive – about three times the price. The Navwar models are more basic, but they are relatively easy to paint, and look fine once they have some colour on them. At the West Tokyo club, Giovanni brought his Knights of St.John squadron down a while ago. The paint job impressed me so much that I’m looking at repainting all my existing ships to a similar standard. Also, I already had some Navwar models, so I knew what I was getting. Finally, last month's purchase of a new printer means I can at last produce some flag sheets. When the painting is finished, I should be able to produce two fleets for games of up to 50 vessels a side, which would allow me to think about recreating most of the actions in the Mediterranean bar Lepanto. That'll just have to wait until I win the lottery.

Monday, 31 January 2011

Rules and Things

Even allowing for the fact that naval wargaming is something of a Cinderella compared to land games, it is surprising how little attention this period has attracted. If you want to game the World Wars, Nelson's battles or play with triremes, then you are really spoilt for choice. For the Sixteenth Century, however, I have yet to find a completely satisfactory set of rules. To date I have looked at some half a dozen different sets, and rejected most them for one reason or another. One major reason is that I want to fight larger scale battles as well as small, and I especially wanted to avoid bookkeeping, so those rules that require a log to be kept of each separate vessel are going to lose out to those that don’t, which is most of them. Ideally I want a set that captures the feel of the period without slowing a game up with micro-management of every ship. Barbarossa and Don Jon of Austria didn’t have to worry about it, so why should I?

Secondly, any rules that cover things like ramming (not a feature of combat since the Roman period) and/or the wind gauge (this is the Mediterranean Renaissance, not the Napoleonic Wars!) smack of anachronism and will also likely be passed over in favour of others. At present my preferred set is the old WRG rulettes set. Very brief and to the point, they reflect some of the doctrinal differences between the different nations and their galleys and allow for land forces and fortifications, important features of the galley warfare of the period. Most importantly they provide for a quick game with no record keeping. When I tried them out at a club meet in Tokyo, my opponent found them easy to use and was quite happy to give them another go in the future. I haven’t yet tried Langton’s “Serenissima” rules, or the “Lanterna” set from the Perfect Captain, so I can’t comment on those, but to date I haven’t found a set that gives me as good and as fast a game as the old WRG set.
The Ships

During the Sixteenth century, the basic war vessel for all the Mediterranean fleets was the war galley - the gallea sotil, or ordinary galley. This was the basic vessel that made up the bulk of all the fleets in the Mediterranean. Although there were differences between the vessels used by Muslim and Christian navies, the basic design of the galleys reflected a common standard right across the Mediterranean world. Typically a war galley would be around 38 – 40m in length and 5m in width and was powered by 22 – 25 banks of oars. At the beginning of the Sixteenth Century each rowing bank held three rowers, each with his own oar, giving a total rowing crew, or ciurma, of 144 to 150, or even up to 250, depending on the number of rowing benches and men per oar. This was known the alla sensile system and was retained by the Venetians and the Ottomans until after Lepanto. The rowers were usually free men, not slaves, and so could in theory provide extra fighters in a boarding clash. Firepower was provided by marines armed with bows (in the case of the Turks and North Africans) or crossbows and arquebusses, and by a battery of heavier guns. Unlike later sailing men-o’-war, war galleys’ guns were fixed to fire forward, so were placed in the bow of the ship, just behind a spiked prow that was intended to provide something of a boarding bridge after a ramming contact. This latter feature sometimes interfered with gunnery. Before the battle at Lepanto Don Jon ordered his ships to saw off the prow so that the galleys’ guns could have an uninterrupted field of fire. At the stern of the galley was a covered area that provided protection for the steering and the captain, and functioned as something of a command post. The galley was in fact so standardized that the navies of Venice and the Ottomans often made use of prefab models – the arsenals kept the relevant sections for ships in store and simply put them together as and when they were needed. Finding a crew was a bigger problem than finding a ship. As the warfleets got bigger, manpower shortages became more acute and, starting with the Spanish, states started to press criminals and other prisoners into the galleys. The navies of Venice and the Ottomans managed to avoid using such methods until after Lepanto, when they too were forced to follow suit simply because of the lack of other available manpower.

Very large galleys with up to 35 banks of oars were known as capitanas, patronas, bastardas or lanternas. These last are often translated as flagships, however, while most flagships were lanternas, not all lanternas were flagships. They carried extra troops and their function was to provide a strongpoint in the battle line from where attacks could be launched from, or conversely, from where a defence could be stiffened. Guilmartin describes their role as one of leadership rather than command. They carried extra large lanterns at the stern of the ship to indicate their role and position. The flagship proper was the capitana, which also carried extra large lanterns as a sign of command. The Museu Maritim in Barcelona ( has a beautiful full size replica of Don Juan’s lanterna, the Real, as it probably appeared at Lepanto and is a must-see for anyone with any interest in the period.

Also among the ‘big boys’ was the gallea grosse. As its name implies this was essentially a large galley, often a merchant vessel. They could carry a good battery of artillery and a large force of soldiers. Against this they were not specifically designed as warships and tended to be clumsier and less handy than the purpose-designed war galley. Venice succeeded in maximising their benefits and minimising their drawbacks by developing the galleass, a hybrid sailing ship/war galley based on gallea grosse hulls. The galleass featured a large armoured forecastle carrying (for a galley) an extremely heavy battery of artillery with a very wide field of fire, both frontally and to the sides; high sides (making boarding difficult) and numerous lighter swivel guns along the length of the ship. They were still slow and clumsy, but their sheer firepower made them formidable opponents.

At the other end of the scale was the galiot. Essentially this was simply a scaled down galley. Shorter and narrower, with around 12 – 18 banks of oars, these were light, fast craft less capable in a formal engagement, but much faster and far more effective when raiding. As such they were especially popular with the various Barbary nations. Some (like Barbarossa’s flagship) were the same size as a war galley, but most were smaller, carrying a less powerful battery of artillery and riding lower in the water. Smaller still were vessels known variously as bergantines, fregotas, etc. which were used for communication, scouting and reconnaissance. In a battle their role was to ferry troops between ships, providing reinforcements for those involved in boarding battles.

Friday, 12 March 2010


No more gaming at the moment, so I thought I’d write up on some basic books for the period. The books mentioned are the ones I’ve got –I’ll try to more when I get them.

Probably THE title to get for the technical details of galley warfare is still Guilmartin’s “Gunpowder and Galleys”. This was originally published back in 1974, and republished in 2003. It’s still the best single source for Mediterranean Renaissance naval warfare, covering the galleys of the Christian and Muslim powers and the social and economic influences that affected their design and armament. The author’s main purpose is to demonstrate that the Mahanian view of naval history so prevalent in Anglo-American circles is not applicable to the Mediterranean. He puts a lot of the warfare into a much broader perspective and shows why commanders took the decisions that they did, when from a Mahanian view they made no sense; a must-read for anybody interested in the period. Another book by the same author is “Galleys and Galleons” (2002). Part of Cassell’s ‘History of Warfare’ series, this covers much of the same material, but more briefly, and has a wider scope including warfare in the Atlantic and Baltic, and in the Far East (the Korean turtle ships). Again, he challenges the Mahanian view of naval conflict and attempts to treat things on their own terms. I have to say that I really like these books. The style is easy to read, and they are both extremely informative. The author, J.F. Guilmartin maintains a website which has some extracts from both books, and also other papers of interest, which are well worth reading.

Over Christmas I picked up a copy of Roger Crowley’s “Empires of the Sea” in London. This is a general history of the Turkish maritime wars from 1520 to 1580, and covers all the major events of the period, including the battles of Preveza, Djerba, and Lepanto; the sieges of Rhodes, Malta, Nicosia and Famagusta, and the career of Khaireddin Barbarossa. Basically it’s a very readable poplar history in enough depth to be interesting without become too dry and academic. By comparision, Jacques Heers’ “Barbary Corsairs: Warfare in the Mediterranean 1520 – 1580” is less easy to read. It covers a lot of the same material, sometimes is more depth, but the style didn’t grab me the way the Crowley book did. Partly it may be because of the way it’s been translated from the French original. Some of the criticisms I saw on Amazon about this book were because American (?) readers expected a book about the Barbary pirates to be about the nineteenth century campaigns, so they felt the title was misleading. My French isn’t great, but my translation of the original would be “The Barbary Corsairs: Raiding and War in the Mediterranean from the Fourteenth to Sixteenth centuries”. It’s a little different, but there’s no ambiguity about what to expect. It also helps to explain why the early part of the book constantly refers to events in the fourteenth century – puzzling if you expect it to cover sixteenth century or later.

There are several relevant Osprey titles available. Probably the first port of call for most people interested in the subject, they vary in quality. To start with, their ‘New Vanguard’ series includes a title on the “Renaissance Galley 1470 - 1590” plus one on Spanish galleons and a couple on Tudor ships. All are by Angus Konstam, an ex-naval officer and museum curator. I haven’t yet read the two volumes on the Tudor warships, but the one on Renaissance galleys is a very good introduction to the subject. The biggest criticism is that it’s limited by the Osprey format, so the text is necessarily brief and skims over the subject a little. Konstam is also the author of the Elite series title “Elizabethan Sea Dogs”, which gives a good overview of the small-scale amphibious warfare and piracy in the period, and of the Campaign volumes covering the battles of Lepanto and the Spanish Armada. Both of these must be amongst the best Campaign titles produced by Osprey. The author attempts to avoid bias, and largely succeeds. The book on “Lepanto” in particular is an excellent account of the battle and events leading up to it. It’s really an example of how to write about a campaign. The other Osprey Campaign of interest is “Malta 1565 by Tim Pickles. The author’s father-in-law is a member of the modern Order of St. John, and seems to have lent a certain bias to the account. Events are dealt with mainly from the Knights’ point of view; very little effort seems to have been made to consider the Turkish position. The illustrations, too, are not well chosen, I thought. Many seem to be from eighteenth century antiquarian volumes, or are irrelevant (like the pictures of Elizabethan trained bands, or of reiters loading and firing pistols – were there any on Malta?). Osprey would have been better advised to try to find some more period prints of the siege or of the armies and navies. The antiquarian stuff just looks wrong and adds nothing to the text. All in all, not one their better efforts, not really worth buying even for the pictures (and let's face it, why do we buy Osprey books?). The account of the siege in Crowley is better balanced and better written, and has the advantage of being in a book that puts it nicely into context.