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.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

More pics, including the final, heroic last stand of Matt's galley, as he defiantly rolled a 5 in the face of overhwelming odds!
Here are some pics of the game on Saturday. I had trouble uploading them yesterday so they've had to be a separate entry.

The bottom picture is the Christian fleet, with the Genoese in the foreground. Then next up is the Barbary pirates.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Saturday Feb.27th saw the West Tokyo Wargamers' first official event. There were two main games on, a WW2 Russian-Japanese game, and a Renaissance naval game. Having read Crowley's "Empires of the Sea" over the New Year and bringing back an old set of rules and ships, I was really looking forward to the game.

I was really pleased at how successful this game was. The rules were the old WRG rulettes for 16th century naval. I’d never used the rules before, although they’ve been lying around for years. A couple of friends who used them in the UK weren’t that impressed with them, so I was a little anxious about how the game would turn out. Still, after going through various sets of online rules, they still looked the best ones to use, not least because they didn’t need any bookkeeping, just markers to show cripples, etc. So I made a couple of equal points forces with the ships I had and gave it a try.

The forces were,
1x Genoese Capitana (flagship)
4x Genoese galleys
4x Spanish galleys

Barbary Pirates:
1x Barbary Capitana
2x Barbary Lanternas (big galleys with extra troops)
15x Galiots (small galleys for raiding)
The Christian ships were much heavier, and in a head to head fight have a significant edge over the galiots.
After a quick explanation of the rules, we set up and started. The Christians had their backs to the open sea with coastline on their right and a long beach behind the pirates. Both sides split into squadrons - the Christians into two (Genoese on the right and Spanish on the left) and the pirates into three equal sized squadrons.

The pirates moved first and soon the left hand squadron tried to dash between the Genoese and the shore in order to get behind the Christians. The Genoese turned to follow them and were soon in a position to shoot.

No hits, and the galiots continued to try to outflank the Genoese, who were starting to break up their formation in order to catch the pirates.
One pirate galiot and a lanterna hung back to cover the flankers. The Spanish squadron saw what was happening, reversed course and started to move towards the Genoese flank. Would they get there in time?
The three flanking galiots now found themselves having to turn to face the Genoese ships, or be forced into the shore. There was a brief flurry of shooting (which showed just how inaccurate the main guns were) followed by the first boarding action of the day. The Genoese capitana attacked a galiot head on and captured it in short order. First blood to the Christians!

However, in order to gain the victory the Christians had had to break up their formation, leaving them vulnerable to the smaller but faster Muslim ships. As the prize pulled away, another galiot was able to dash into contact with the capitana’s port side. The cannon blast decimated the crew and soon the Genoese capitana was itself captured. The loss of the flagship meant that each ship now had to roll each move to see if it could attack. Only a couple of ships (including the prize) started to retreat, but the rest were content to hold their positions rather than attack, giving the pirates a significant advantage.

At the same time a second Genoese galley was caught by a sudden dash. Although they held off the boarders, collapsing morale on the Christian side after the loss of their admiral meant that they surrendered soon after. It was starting to look like Djerba all over again!

The remaining Christians decided to cut their losses and retreat. A third galley was captured by the corsairs, and then a fourth. The latter made a heroic last stand to enable the remains of the Christians to get away.
Overall, a definite Muslim victory. Pirate losses were just one galiot. The Genoese lost the capitana and three galleys. The Spanish could claim some measure of victory as they were completely unscathed.
The rules played quite well. There were very few problems. The most difficult thing was remembering the move sequence – turn, shoot artillery, small arms, melee and lastly move. Galiots are horribly outclassed in firepower and head to head fights, but are very dangerous if they can manoeuvre. Manoeuvre, in fact, seems to be one of the main points of the game; it’s not just a head on clash. The combat is very quick and decisive, so you need to get into a good position before any hand to hand combat. The problems of slow artillery shooting, short ranges and lack of accuracy mean that there is an element of cat and mouse about the game too. Players enjoyed the game, and the few members of the public who wandered in seemed to find it interesting too. It’s definitely something to do again in the future.