Wednesday 30 March 2016

Book Review: Warships of the Napoleonic Era - Robert Gardiner

A sumptuous coffee-table feast of images and info from the high tide of the age of sail.

This large format hardback is, like the ships it celebrates and describes, a thing of great beauty.

The book is subtitled Design, Development and Deployment, and one of the chief features it boasts, bearing a clear and direct relation to this rather analytical sounding terminology, is an extensive use of Admiralty 'Draughts'.

These crisp, clean drawings, beautifully done, and very nicely reproduced here, form an extensive and comprehensive record of predominantly British naval vessels. Thanks to British dominance at sea, however, and the numerous captured boats the Navy acquired as a result of this situation, this record actually extends to cover many vessels of foreign origin.   

The shipworks of John Perry, Blackwall Yard, 1784. [1]

As a Francophile, in terms of my modelling, figure-collecting and gaming, in this era at least, it was disappointing that there wasn't more on the French Navy. But, given Britain's hegemony at sea in this period, and the avowed centrality of the Admiralty draughts to this particular account of the era, that's not so surprising. And the French, Spanish, Dutch, Danish, Portuguese, Swedish, Russian and American Navies are all covered, albeit in much less comprehensive fashion.

In the British section, which accounts for fully two-thirds of the approximately 150 pages of the book, the vessels are treated in several sections, according to the British 'ratings' system, starting with the biggest 'first rate' ships, and working down to the smallest vessels, such as rowed gunboats. 

A set of four Nicholas Pocock maritime prints. [2]

Recurrent themes include how the various classes of fighting vessels evolved, and what uses the different navies made of their various boats. These themes are dealt with pretty comprehensively for the British navy, and more cursorily for the fleets of other nations. But taken as a whole the coverage is very informative, especially for a newcomer to this area of the Napoleonic Wars, such as myself.

From one perspective the Anglo-centrism is good, as it helps avoid undue repetition, and perhaps even makes the book a leaner and yet richer experience. This latter point was brought home to me when I saw another Seaforth title today (Seaforth are the maritime imprint of Pen & Sword, and the publishers of this edition), at Topping Books, of Ely, that dealt exclusively with French naval vessels of roughly the same period, but is more a compendium of info, and is much less richly illustrated.

The Atlanta, a 16-gun sloop, from the National Maritime Museum's extensive model collection, a (different) photograph of which can be seen in the book.

Numerous models are shown, and I absolutely love these. In fact I love them so much I'm considering purchasing several more titles, ranging from another by Gardiner (if memory serves it's a history of British frigates, told via models), to the even more plush (and correspondingly more pricey) 17th & 18th Century Model Ships from the Kriegstein Collection.

I've also been inspired to plan some trips, one - very soon, I hope - to the National Maritime Museum, at Greenwich, and another - when time and funds allow - to the Musée Marine in Paris. The former has what may be the worlds largest collection of fine naval models, mostly British, naturally (as they were commissioned for the Admiralty, in relation to their ship-building programme), whilst the latter has a fabulous collection of models of French craft, commissioned by Napoleon himself. 

Nelson's 1801 attack on Copenhagen. [4]

One major area of naval concern, for both Britain and France, related to French plans to invade our islands. This is covered, as are numerous other sub-topics, in small supplementary double-page spreads. Other areas addressed include such topics as Speed and Length, Quantity versus Quality, and  Experiments and Innovation, amongst others.

There's also a pair of double-page spreads that, combined, make a four-page spread of one of the Admiralty Draughts - the 74-gun Warrior - allowing a closer inspection. These Draughts are terrific, conveying both beauty and information. I can imagine scratch-builders loving these. I have to confess, landlubber that I am, I mainly admire them aesthetically, and find them hard to decipher, technically.

The Capture of the French Guillaume Tell by HMS Foudroyant, off Malta, 1804. [5]

One area where maritime books and other similar stuff on this period regularly falls down, e.g. the Rod Langton Dutch Gunboat model of my previous posts, is the lack of a glossary. Nautical and naval terminology is very specialist, and this book seems to assume prior knowledge on that score.

Still, despite the Anglo-centric bias, and the lack of a glossary, this is a terrifically beautiful and highly informative volume. I paid the full £45 RRP when I bought it at a Wargames show, but I don't regret it!


[1] The largest privately owned ship-works in Europe at the time.

[2] The lower left of this set of four Pocock prints is one of many wonderful artworks reproduced in the book. The image is a rare example of British sea-power worsted, depicting the USS Constitution defeating HMS Java, in 1812.

[3] Described as 'naive but detailed', a cropped version of this image appears in a sub-section of this book that looks at the Invasion scares. The full image benefits from a textual key that augments the visual components.

[4] I found this pic when 'googling' Nelson's 1801 attack on Copenhagen. The image I was after was an oil by Nicholas Pocock. I'm not even 100% sure if this watercolour depicts the same action or not!?

[5] The full painting, by Thomas Luny, a cropped version of which adorns this books cover.

Tuesday 29 March 2016

1/300 Langton Dutch Gunboat, Pt. II

This bizarre pic - when I first glimpsed it in my photo library it took a few seconds for my brain to decipher what my eyes were actually looking at - shows my mini-vice, with a brass photo-etched sail in the jaws, and a small thin length of wire being 'super-glued' along the top edge.

The reasons for this were several: after agonising over how to proceed with both rigging in general and the rigging of the three for'ard sails in particular - the other sails, or 'shrouds' (still learning the nautical lingo!) were glued to masts/spars; whereas these three had to hang from ropes - I opted to complete this initial part of the rigging with fine wire.

This was a butt-clenchingly difficult job in the end, made marginally worse by three or four hours of slow, painstaking work being wrecked in the tsunami of my wife's return from work.

I chose the wire, originally purchased for use in my scratch-built tree-building programme, for several reasons: metal is rigid; the wire is about the right gauge to visually match the photo-etched rigging that's already part of the model; it was the only suitable material immediately to hand!

I was warned off using cotton thread, as it sags too easily, and fibers can fray, looking messy. And I wasn't able to get any fishing line, as suggested by a local model-making buddy. 

I had also, inevitably perhaps, googled the topic, and after a bit of research I now feel I would like to try EZ-Line, or something similar. But that'll have to be some other time.

In the meantime I opted to use some wire I already had sitting in one of my several modelling sundries boxes. This wire actually has a flat rectangular profile in section. So it ain't round, like rope! But then again neither are the photo-etched ratlines. It turns our that this wire has a profile that fits quite well with the photo-etched rigging.

Everything about actually doing this turned out to be very difficult and frustrating: cutting the wire to length was tricky, as the model is fairly advanced in build-terms, making access fiddly; the sails had been bent, to appear as if billowing - so I had to straighten the edges to be glued to the rigging using the mini-vice; gluing stuff with cyano-acrylite glue is, I find, really maddening; once the sails were glued to the rigging, positioning them 'twixt bowsprit and the main mast took aeons, as holding these awkward shapes in place as the glue goes off is hyper-fiddly. Things fell apart many, many, many times!

Still, I'm hoping the combo of metal wire and superglue will reduce the likelihood of sagging, and perhaps even add strength to the finished model.

I still have no really clear ideas on exactly how I'll do the remaining rigging. I might try fishing line, as my pal suggested. Although I do now know a bit more about one potential way I might do it!

The evenings session ended with a very slapdash coat of gunmetal grey and a lighter wood colour, all with Humbrol enamels, for the rather cute little cannons, and a black base-coat for the newly attached rigging and forward sails.

Having looked at some other builds, e.g. this [link] sloop, via TMP and other sources, I can see that I'm going about this in a less than ideal way. Chiefly I'm thinking about how hard it's going to be to paint fine detail in amongst all the fiddly and hard to access deck, and the overlapping shrouds, etc. 

At least I had the sense to paint the guns separately! I also chose to file down the undersides of the cannon, so they would sit better, with the barrels poking through the gun ports. Whils this might make them look a little odd on close inspection, it ought also to mean they'll be better anchored to the deck.

In respect of anchorage, can anyone advise on attaching the anchor? 

Friday 25 March 2016

Misc: Langton 1/300 Dutch Gunboat

Some years back, after reading Napoleon & The Invasion of England, pictured above, I got a yen to acquire some French Napoleonic vessels.

Looking into the idea I discovered that Langton Miniatures make a number of 1/300th Napoleonic naval stuff. Baulking at the £280 asking price of HMS Victory, and anyway wanting something for the other team, I opted instead for one of their cheapest/smallest kits.

I figured this was as wise as it was thrifty, seeing as I know just about nothing about naval warfare or model making. It meant I could learn on the job without too much at stake.

The box, showing a nice looking image of the completed kit. And above that, info on the rigging.

So I ordered the model listed as a Dutch Gunboat in French service. It's currently showing on the Langton website priced at £32.50. I'm not sure if that's what  it cost though, as I got it many moons ago. I think, in fact, that I persuaded Teresa to get it for me as a Christmas or birthday gift. Anyway, as soon as I had it, I began to build it.

Now, as I've said before, I don't like to be critical of the work of small producers - passionate specialists whose enterprise and skill I certainly admire - but by the same token, I also feel it's only right to be truthful. 

Although in many respects the kit itself is a lovely thing, the major gripe in this instance is one of poor or lacking instructions. 

I don't know if my kit was delivered with anything missing or not. I did contact Rod Langton, but this was all so long ago now I forget what transpired! I only know that a reasonable number of parts listed in the 'kit contents' list (see below) didn't appear in either of the two instructional diagrams.

The rather meagre instructions, relating only to construction of the hull and deck detail, and the list of parts.

These line drawings - one of the rigging, and one of the hull/deck - were the only instructional components in the kit, as I received it, and neither are clear or comprehensive enough for a landlubber like me! 

One thing I do recall, after my chat with Mr Langton, is that I was still none the wiser regarding several elements of the kit. The upshot was that the build reached a certain point and then simply stalled.

Returning to the present (in more than one sense!); having just moved home, and having had to contend with moving masses of unfinished models and wargaming miniatures, I decided today, on a more or less random whim - basically just 'cause I happened to see this particular model sitting there, dusty and unfinished - to resume working on it. Quite quickly I recalled why I'd stopped before. But this time I thought 'sod it, I'll just have to busk it!'

In the pics above and below you can see pretty clearly the three major elements of the kit: the resin hull (already base-coated in a 'wood' brown Humbrol enamel), the white metal (masts and most smaller detail elements, plus some larger ones, like the furled mainsail), and the brass-photo etched parts.

Pics showing the photo-etched brass shrouds and ratlines [1].

I did try finding some useful ref. online, but failed. So I just went at it, with a will. And the pics in this post show where the model's currently at. Since initially posting this, I've worked out what to do with a few parts that previously had me stumped, and added them.

The parts in question transpired to be the two ladders, from the main deck to the rear raised (poop?) deck, the gun port hatches, and the grills that go over the hatches on the main deck. I worked these elements out visually, with the aid of the 'kit contents' list, as they're not referred to in the hull/deck assembly image.

This still leaves me in the dark about how to properly mount the small rowing boat (is this known as a 'jolly' boat?), which seems to me too big, and the anchor.

There's also the issue of how to do the rigging, which element of the build also affects the addition of the front three sails, which remain as yet unattached.

Most of the shrouds are single thickness sheets of photo-etched brass. But a couple are double thickness. I believe this is done in order to show detail on both sides. 

Whilst this is good from a detail point of view, it's less good from a consistency perspective - some shrouds are thin, some thick - and does entail the rather tricky and messy operation (at least I found it so) of super-gluing the two faces together. I managed to align one pretty exactly. The other is out by microns, but it's amazing what the eye picks up. 

These sails also need shaping, and of course small thin sheets of brass don't share the same properties as large expanses of woven canvas! Still, I hope, with some judicious trompe-l'oeil painting, that I might make them look more 'billowing'.

If anyone's built this model and can advise me on a few points, I'd be very grateful! In the meantime this Dutch Gunboat joins my armada of unfinished stuff!

Above and below, the boat as it now is. Next step, fore'ard shrouds, and, er... rigging... I guess?

Can anyone advise re rigging: shall I use thread, or perhaps that stuff (sorry, don't know what it's called!?) that model aeroplane makers use for wire? It's a kind of stretchy rubbery stuff. I think it comes in a tube?

Another small grumble is that the kit is illustrated with a beautifully finished model - nothing wrong with that in itself - except it appears to differ materially from the kit as supplied (e.g. the boat hanging off the rear appears to be both smaller, and not hung in the same way as the kit allows for). 

In conclusion, for the time being at any rate, although this is slowly building into a nice boat, it hasn't been straightforward. Better more comprehensive instructions would be a real, and I feel very necessary, enhancement.


[1] Langton products seem, in my experience so far, to assume prior knowledge of naval and nautical terminology. Landsman that I am, I was constantly looking up terms. Still, it's helping expand my vocabulary.

Wednesday 23 March 2016

Book Review: Waterloo, Napoleon's Last Gamble - Andrew Roberts

A concise, pacey, and highly readable account of Waterloo.

This slim volume on one history's most famous battles is part of Harper Perennial's Making History Series, written by author, historian, and occasional battlefield guide, Andrew Roberts. 

I enjoyed Andrew Roberts' rather grand Napoleon The Great a lot - and there was quite a lot of it to enjoy! It's good to see that he delivers equally well at a humbler scale. 

Waterloo, Napoleon's Last Gamble, is certainly a real pleasure to read, being as clear, concise, and yet as comprehensive as one might reasonably hope for, in a book this small that deals with an event of such large import.

Napoleonic history is very often a question of scale, as Gillray knew.

After a brief introduction that neatly encapsulates both the enduring historical significance of Waterloo - frequently described, in a view Roberts himself embraces, as the end of 'the long eighteenth century' - and it's equally enduring fascination, Roberts then sets out the more specific context of the Waterloo campaign. 

For the battle itself Roberts adopts the chronological 'five phase' structure, as favoured by a number of other authors on this potentially confusing topic. And I have to say that this really does help simplify the battle, and make comprehension of it that much easier. 

Whilst many other things frequently occur within these five phases, each has a defining central event: phase one sees the French attack the forward position at Hougoumont; phase two finds D'Erlon's massed infantry attacking the Anglo-Allied centre; by phase three much is happening across the whole battlefield, but the central event is the series of massed French cavalry charges. 

Waves of French cavalry break on the sturdy Allied squares.

Phase four has two major facets: the French finally take La Haye Sainte, bringing artillery to bear on Wellington's tattered centre; but Napoleon's good fortune there is swiftly nullified elsewhere, by Prussians arriving in ever greater numbers on his right flank, taking Plancenoit.

The fifth and final phase really sums up Roberts subtitle, as Napoleon makes a last throw of Fortune's dice, sending in the Guard. But the 'invincibles' are defeated, after which the French crumble and are thoroughly routed, harried by the combined Anglo-Allied and Prussian forces.

Throughout all these phases the action is covered with an eye for both the big picture and the little details, making for a compelling read. The whole is then finished off with a pithy conclusion. Numerous controversies are addressed, some dismissed, others remaining open to debate. And the whole is thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying. 

If one were being the harshest of critics, like Hazel Mills in her 2005 review of this book for the Guardian (here), one might easily argue that this little book verges on the redundant, simply recycling material that's already out there. 

The author, and a French Dragoon helmet.

Indeed, I felt this was also largely true, despite his undoubted efforts to restore some lustre to the sometimes tarnished English view of Napoleon, and despite all the stuff about access to and use of a new edition of Napoleon's correspondence, of his Napoleon The Great.

In this book on Waterloo Roberts includes one previously unpublished letter - 'in the possession of the author' - by a Major Robert Dicks (who fought at Waterloo in the 42nd Royal Highland Regt, aka the Black Watch), as Appendix I of his three appendices. 

Written before the battle, it's more about the Duchess of Richmond's Ball (and Dicks' own career prospects) than the forthcoming battle, and seems to me of only very marginal historical interest. Still, if I had such a letter I'd be excited and keen to share it with the world! 

But, unlike the following Appendix II, 'Captain Fortuné de Brack's Letter of 1835', Dicks' missive contains no great revelations. De Brack's letter, which has appeared in print a few times before, is reproduced (as is Appendix III, Wellington's Waterloo Dispatch) in an edited form, and pertains to the battle itself, and phase three - the massed French cavalry charges - in particular. 

De Brack was an officer in the Red Lancers, of the Imperial Guard.

In it, this relatively lowly lancer officer appears to suggest that his own impetuosity might have triggered the cavalry attacks: his loudly articulated belief that the English were already doomed to lose, combined with a desire amongst his unit to move forward slightly, he claims, got amplified as the line shuffled forwards; what started as simply dressing the line grew into a swell that eventually burst, as the eager cavalry felt their moment had arrived.

As intriguing as this is, it's not news anymore. But personally none of this bothers me, as I don't feel that a book on this topic necessarily requires new insights or arguments to justify its existence. What this undoubtedly is is a concise and exciting account, another voice - and an erudite and eloquent one at that - in the ongoing literary conversation on this climactic epoch-ending epoch-making battle.

I thoroughly enjoyed it, and suspect that all but the most fussy of Napoleonic buffs (and admittedly there are plenty of those!) will love it to.

Tuesday 22 March 2016

Kit Review: Airfix 1/76 SdKfz7 & 88mm.

The lovely original artwork.

The crappy modern version. Vandalism!

My first model build in ages, I approached this - as I'm largely approaching a lot of my return to military miniature hobbies - like a big kid. Rather than being hung up on perfectionism, I've just snipped and cemented. More or less.

I mention this because it's been striking me forcibly how different it is, despite the much appreciated common factor of simple pleasures, to be doing these things I did as a kid as an adult. On the one hand I have more funds, with which to realise childhood ambitions - or modified versions thereof - but on the other, I'm now a different ('somewhat modified', I guess!?) adult version of my former self.

Had to drill an 'ole, for the 'nipple' on't suspension.

Chassis completed.

Anyway, putting aside psychological speculations, and picking up snips and cement, I will concede that what was plain un'adult'erated fun as a kid has become, to some degree, therapeutic fun as an adult. And even when I strive to cast off adult perfectionist tendencies, I still try a little harder than I did as a kid not to knock-together something totally kack-handed!

I picked up this kit on a trip to my favourite (and only, so far as I know) local model shop, which is situated on the top floor of the Ely City Cycle Centre. I went there with Marcus, a model making pal whose fully-fledged adult perfectionism as a model-maker regularly causes me to wonder at my own current (and longstanding) inability to ever finish anything!

Cleaning up and laying out running-gear.

The wheels on the bus...

I had hoped to acquire a kit of a Sunderland flying boat, as I'd been marvelling at the example at Duxford IWM, but they only had what I deemed a too expensive Revell one. I'd been hoping to find the cheaper Airfix version [1]. As they didn't have this I opted for a Revell 1/72 British bomber (I forget exactly what; probably a Lancaster!?), and - I can't go without my WWII Jerry fix - the 1/76 Airfix SdKfz 7 with flak 88mm, the (ostensible) subject of today's post.

The underside of the main body of the SdKfz7 shows this kit to be of 1967 vintage (the 'made in England' has been, rather poorly, effaced!), and this is even older than my dear wife. Despite my comments about gleefully snipping and gluing like a nipper, I did take the trouble, thanks in part to learning the hard way on other kits, to tidy up the running gear, which, as so often, constitutes stage one if the build.

Getting bodywork ready.

Chassis, running-gear, cab and body assembled.

As the wheels and sub-chassis, and then the body, went together I was more impressed with the design and fit of this model, which shares in other respects a certain quaint basic-ness with many other older Airfix mouldings, than numerous other old Airfix warhorses, such as the Panther or Stug.

Areas where this no-frills feel leave most to be desired would be: the ever-present, ever-awful rubber band tracks; the stiffly (and identically, in three instances) posed figures; and the lack of interior detail in the half-track itself.

Gun-mount and (snigger) bogeys assembled.

Preparing the gun for assembly.

The 88mm gun is slightly less satisfying, fit-wise. The movable gun mount needed a lot of jiggery-pokery to get it vaguely right. And there's barely room, once the gun shield is in place, for one of the rotary handles. Teresa commented on the clearly observable floppies and flimsiness of the movable parts, and my model-making is usually, it appears, nigh-on invisible to her!

Having said this, the 88mm gun, and its bogeys (cue juvenile snickering*), was undoubtedly heap-big fun to assemble. I emailed pics of this kit to my dad - it was 'modelling monday', and he was home alone, recuperating from heart surgery! - and a model-making buddy and former neighbour. The latter's response: 'I made that kit as kid, and loved it', or something very like that.

* on my part, at least!

Gluing (yeah, right) the tracks. Had to melt the rubber in the end!

Ta-dah! Assembled, but unpainted.


[1] Imagine my glee when, upon dropping Marcus back at his home, he made it a condition of my looking over his models, that I take away his un-made Airfix Sunderland! Marcus, you're a true friend and a gentleman.

Book Review: Napoleon's Campaign in Prussia, 1806 - F. Loraine Petre

Murat leads the cavalry at Jena, 1806. A cropped version of which adorns my edition.

One thing after another has kept me from blogging regularly for what feels like aeons now. A couple of examples: my father's major heart surgery (he finally got home from hospital yesterday, bless him), and my wife and I moving home, after nigh on a decade in our previous domicile.

So, finally... setting aside such small matters... let's get back to the really important stuff... little soldiers, military history, and all that jazz!

I actually made a model today, the first in ages. I'll try and post about that tomorrow. Posting is tricky. We don't have internet as such. I'm just doing this on my iPhone, and having investigated tethering my iPad via my iPhone, in Chrome on the iPad. 

I typed this entire article out once already, only to have the 'blogger' app on my iPad apparently void it. Grrrr...!!!

Anyroad, to business: whilst minor occurrences such as brushes with death and relocation of habitation have intruded, I've managed to keep an occasional hand in, or rather eye on, the reading front. A recent whimsical purchase of Andrew Roberts' concise and highly enjoyable Waterloo, Napoleon's Final Gamble (must finish my post on that to!) was a welcome way to return to Napoleonic pastures.

Not just any old iron: Marshal Davout's victory at Auerstadt was arguably even  more impressive than Napoleeon's at Jena.

Such was the pleasure that reading that little book afforded, that I climbed our Eiger of boxed up books, and delved into cardboard caverns, until I successfully excavated a small treasure trove of as yet unread Napoleonic books. 

I was sorely tempted to travel to Shedfiled, er... Sheffield (predictive text!), to splash yet more cash on expanding my Napoleonic library, at the recent Triples weekender. But, as I contemplated the dearth of ready funds, and the lengthy journey - and after several weeks of moving tons of crap in vans and cars, plus hospital visits - I opted instead to unearth and read stuff from the 'pending' pile. 

I really wanted to resume reading David Chandler's Campaigns of Napoleon, but feeling rather daunted by the Tolkienian dimensions of that particular literary Oddysey, I plumped instead for one of F. Loraine Petre's Napoleonic titles. [1]

The best pic I could find online of the edition I have.

Francis Loraine Petre hardly sounds English, but he was. His professional life was chiefly occupied by a long stint in the civil service in India. But he's best remembered now for his Napoleonic works, written after his return to Blighty. This is the first of his five books that I've read. But it moist curtainly won't be the last!

Written and published around a century after the events described, I read it in an Arms & Armour Press edition, of 1972 (as pictured above). Although there is something quaintly antiquated about some of his prose, the book as a whole is admirably clear and concise, perhaps benefitting from the tidy-mindedness of an efficient administrator? Certainly it's very well laid out, structurally.

One of the smaller maps in the book, this one depicting Prenzlau.

The text in this edition is enriched by two sections of illustrative plates, including panoramic battlefield photos, taken in situ by the author, and several maps. Some of these latter are ordinary illustrative maps, such as those of Prenzlau (above) and Stettin. But others - three in total - are larger fold-out affairs.

As beautiful and evocative as these larger maps are, they aren't easy to use in conjunction with the text, chiefly by dint of being hard to read. This is most especially the case with the otherwise gorgeous map of the two main battlefields, of Jena and Auerstadt.

Petre starts the book by setting out the causes of the conflict, chiefly citing duplicitous vacillation on the part of King Frederick William III of Prussia, and offended pride and vaulting ambition on the part of Napoleon.

Rather as with Austria in 1809, the Prussians, under their rather weak-willed ruler, are moved towards war by a hawkish faction, headed in part by the king's beautiful but ill-informed wife,  when neither the country nor the army are ready. France on the other hand is riding high, very much in the ascendant as the victors of Austerlitz, with Napoleon at the peak of his not inconsiderable powers.

Vernet's famous painting of Napoleon at Jena, glaring at an enthusiasticly vocal member of his Imperial Guard.

When Petre turns his attention to the contending armies the story is much the same. France has a vigorous modern army, with high morale, led by younger men, whilst Prussia, still looking back to the former glories of Frederick the Great, fields an army of brutalised peasants, lorded over by aristocratic officers, and lead by a geriatric staff. 

In stark contrast to the concentration of power, command and skill in the person of Napoleon, the Prussian command structure is, like their parade-ground movements in the field, ponderous and indecisive. We also given descriptions if the difference in arms and organisation, and only in their cavalry did the Prussians give Napoleon cause for concern.

Having  looked at the background to the campaign, and the forces with which it will be fought, Petre turns next to the plans of the two contending parties. 

Once again Prussia fares ill in the comparison. Whilst Napoleon singlemindedly pursues broad goals with a flexible approach, the Austrians constantly dither and argue, often in committee, dropping one plan in favour of another, and losing sight of the bigger picture by getting bogged down in trivial details. All of this hardly bodes well!

Bernadotte, whose hissy fit [2] could've cost Davout his victory at Auerstadt.

So, it's not too surprising, when Petre's narrative moves on to the campaign itself, to find the French moving quickly and decisively, and consistently out-thinking and out-marching the Prussians. 

Petre is no uncritical Boneyphile, however, and he notes the many instances when Napoleon is far from omniscient. But the key thing is that Bonaparte's consistently quick witted, flexible, and, for all his energy and optimism, also both cautious and thorough.

The first half of the book climaxes in the twin engagements of Jena and Auerstadt. At the former Napoleon succeeds - despite fighting what would turn out to be the decisive battles two days earlier than planned - in concentrating a superior force against the Prussian right wing, under Hohenlohe and von Ruchel. Although the battle has several swings of fortune, ultimately Bonaparte inflicts a resounding defeat on his adversaries, leaving the shattered Prussian army fleeing the field in tatters. 

Napoleon thought he was facing the forward elements of the main Prussian army. But it was actually Davout, the 'Iron Marshal', who in fact encountered the main Prussian body, off to Napoleon's right around Hassenhausen, at the battle remembered as Auerstadt. With great tenacity and presence of mind, and despite the non-appearance of Bernadotte, Davout defeated a force far larger than his own.

Knötel's depiction of the death of Prussia's Prince Louis Ferdinand, at Saalfeld. [3]

Petre, whose narrative is very much an upper echelon view, from 'the Gods', so to speak next discusses the strategies and tactics in this opening 'blitzkrieg' phase of the war. Napoleon's [name?] strategy is noted as far more effective than the Prussian dispersal of forces. 

The next phase of the war has an entirely different character, which finds Napoleon's forces spreading out in pursuit of the beleaguered Prussians. Petre teases out the various strands of this potentially confusing follow up to the double-whammy of Jena-Auerstadt with great aplomb, providing a clear picture, which (unlike some of the maps) is pretty easy to follow. Although it must be admitted that following the endless troop movements is quite tricky, unless you have your Esposito and Elting close at hand (I didn't!).

Napoleon in Berlin (Knötel).

Unlike some modern writers, who feel that mind-numbing thoroughness is mandatory, where there's little of much interest to be said, Petre, very commendably, says little. This is especially true in the latter stages of this conflict. He does, however, cover all the interesting stuff with proper thoroughness, and the book remains engaging and enjoyable from start to finish. That Prussia survived this debacle is quite something!

I loved this book. It's not perfect - the hyper-detailed troop movement info, combined with difficult to read (if admittedly very beautiful) maps, is sometimes hard to follow, and the absence of front line or ground level sources makes for a notable contrast with the best of modern writing - but it's still a gripping and informative read.


[1] Petre's Napoleonic  works are:
Napoleon's Campaign in Poland, 1806–1807
Napoleon's Conquest of Prussia 1806–1807
Napoleon & the Archduke Charles 1809
Napoleon's Last Campaign in Germany 1813
Napoleon at Bay 1814

[2] Bernadotte was picqued at his Corps not taking precedence over Davout's, and hung back pointedly at the outset of the campaign. Later on he made up for this lacklustre performance  with a more vigorous prosecution of the pursuit of the defeated Prussians. It was his diplomatic handling of Swedsh prisoners in this campaign that would reap sch long-term dividends for the clan Benadotte, who rule Sweden to this day! 

[3] Prince Louis Ferdinand was one of the foremost Prussian hawks. His death in the first engagement of the war was a heavy blow to Prussian morale. Apparently he was a gifted pianist and composer; his sad fate suggests he should've stuck to the latter, and avoided the military!

[4] David Chandler notes in his more contemporary forward that most modern historians would add the piquant details of memoirs from a broader range of participants, inc. the rank and file 'groundlings'