Sunday, December 28, 2014

Book Review: Armies of the Adowa Campaign 1896, Osprey Men at Arms 471.

Armies of the Adowa Campaign 1896, Osprey Men at Arms 471.
Written by Sean McLachlan, and Illustrated by Raffaele Ruggeri, Copyright 2011, 48 pages.

Scope - big
Completeness – fair
Appeal – high 
Accuracy  --not able to judge

The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were the age of imperialism. It was during this period that many of the more developed, more powerful, primarily European nations engaged in campaigns of conquest and control throughout the lesser developed, primarily African and Asian portions of the world. Few really understand that in Asia, for instance, every nation except Japan (which modernized quickly and became a colonial power itself) and Thailand (which managed to maintain independence by playing the French against the British) were colonized in whole or in part. In Africa, the exceptions were Liberia (which had a strange history as it became dominated by returning African-Americans) and Ethiopia which maintained its independence until the Italian conquest shortly before world war two.

Which begs the question, how did Ethiopia maintain its independence? The answer lies in this book.

In the late nineteenth century, Italy was a recently united nation, not terribly respected by many of its neighbors and considered to be behind its peers in terms of gaining colonies. The Italians sought to gain colonies in the region of Ethiopia, Eretria, and Somalia as well as portions of north Africa. In Ethiopia, the Italians began a large campaign of conquest and colonization. Although it was common for African and Asian people to resist such colonization efforts, the Ethiopians not only fought back, but they fought back successfully, defeating and humiliating a large Italian army (composed largely of African Askaris recruited on the continent) and keeping their nation independent from Italian control. Many claim that of all the colonial battles this is the only incident where a European nation was defeated and never returned to avenge that defeat.  (Which, incidentally, is one reason why the Italians came back and conquered Ethiopia in the 1930s, partially to reverse the humiliation they’d experienced at the hands of the Ethiopians. But that’s another story told in a different Osprey book.)  
Like most of the Osprey books on obscure conflicts, this one begins with a 24 page overview of the conflict. In this brief space it gives a fairly good description of what happened and why the two nations involved were fighting.)

The Ethiopian army is covered in 13 pages.  Logistics, weapons, and composition of the army is covered fairly well.

The Italian army is covered in 6 pages.   Again, logistics, weapons, and composition of the army is covered fairly well.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Book Review: The Conquistadores, Osprey Men at Arms

The Conquistadores, Osprey Men-At-Arms 101.
Written by Terence Wise, Color Plates by Angus McBride, Copyright 1980, 40 pages.  

Scope - Vast
Completeness – Low
Appeal –high
Accuracy –I know of no mistakes in this work.

First, just to get it out there, the copy I am using to form my opinion is an old one, apparently a first printing.  The newer copies have both a number for the work’s place in the series and a different cover, although the cover print is still one of the color prints included in the work. I’m assuming the contents are otherwise the same. Should someone know otherwise, please let me know.

This is an old school Osprey book, over 30 years old. When written it seems to have been an attempt to provide an insight, a glimpse, into a very colorful and little known episode into a difficult to research historical conflict. Although it definitely served this purpose with me, it’s worth mentioning that today there are other, deeper, more far reaching sources for the same material, including new publications from Osprey. Nevertheless, this one stays in print, and with good reason. –why shouldn’t it stay in print?

So? What’s included in these mere 40 pages. As one would expect, a lot, but not much of it.
Okay, we have a few page introduction to the “age of the conquistadores,” the period during which Spanish soldiers contacted, explored, and conquered much of the Americas including the powerful and wealthy empires of the Aztecs of Mexico and the Incas of Peru. To me, this has always been one of the most exciting and amazing episodes in history. Next we have a roughly ten page description of who these Conquistadores ( “conquerors” as the term would be translated into English) were and what they wore, and how they fought, and how they were equipped. This is followed by a roughly eight page introduction to the same information about the Aztecs and some of the neighboring peoples who fought in their conflict with the Spanish. Next we have 10 pages on the Incas. At the very end of the book, we have roughly three and a half pages on the Mayans of Central America and southern Mexico. 

Clearly, one cannot cover the arms, armor, tactics and logistics of the Aztecs and their neighbors in 8 pages. (As an aside, let me recommend the University of Oklahoma book, “Aztec Warfare –Imperial Expansion and Political Control, by Ross Hassig, if you wish more detail and depth on this. Although I can’t guarantee it’s the best book on the subject, it’s one I have read and did get a lot from.)  But what it does say is quite interesting and a good introduction.

The illustrations are quite nice, both the black and white line drawings and photos as well as the color plates.

I was disappointed, however, as at least some of the Spanish Conquistadores exploits, notably Ponce De Leon’s explorations of Florida in search of the fountain of eternal youth, or Coronado’s exploration of the southwestern USA in search of the fabled seven cities of gold, are not mentioned at all. This book is a good, yet light, introduction to the topic. Be aware, however, that there’s so much more there.   

Friday, December 26, 2014

Book Review: American Frontier Lawmen, 1850-1930. Osprey Elite -96.

American Frontier Lawmen, 1850-1930. Osprey Elite -96.

Written by Charles m. Robinson III, and Illustrated by Richard Hook, Copyright 2005, 72 pages.

Scope – Vast
Completeness – Low
Appeal – High (to me)
Accuracy -- *

This is sort of an oddball title for Osprey as it deals with a non-military subject. Instead it covers law enforcement figures of the western USA during the period 1850-1930. (It does not cover Canada during this period.)

For better or worse, what it basically offers is a very interesting survey of gunfights and lawmen of the period. It does not specifically focus on uniforms (which were rare, more on this later) or weapons (which were largely a matter of personal choice selected by individuals.) Even when it states that a law enforcement agency was uniformed and equipped with issued weapons, such as with the Native American Indian police forces described, it does not take the time to focus and give a detailed description of what exactly it was that the force wore or carried. For instance, on p. 49 he states the Apache tribal police were at one incident issued with “defective” .50 caliber, government issue, Springfield rifles, but he does not say in what way were the weapons specifically defective, and although he does give a couple pictures, one a period photo in black and white, the other a painted illustration, of the tribal police in uniform, the exact details were left unexamined.    

So what does the book give? It offers a very readable and interesting history of gunfights of the old west along with representative photos of some of the events and people and places described. Many of these are so well known that they could be considered almost a house hold word, at least in the USA, i.e. the gunfight at the OK Coral, the story of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Wild Bill Hickock among others. However, there’s nothing wrong with telling these stories again, (although in common Osprey fashion, its done without footnotes) and if they were not included they would be conspicuous by their absence.

Other incidents, such as the aforementioned story of   John P. Clum and the creation of the Apache tribal police in 1874, were new to me, as was the story of the Johnson County war, a range war between various factions of ranchers, farmers and governmental groups in Wyoming of the late 1880s, early 1890s.

In conclusion, this book is a good introduction to the subject but if the reader wishes to do much with the period, including wargaming some of the gunfights, they should expect to have to do supplemental research elsewhere.   

Book Review: The Mexican Adventure, 1861-1867, Osprey Men at Arm Series 272.

The Mexican Adventure, 1861-1867, Osprey Men at Arm Series 272.

Written by Rene Chartrand, Illustrated by Richard Hook. Co. 1994, Osprey Publishing.  48 pages, widely illustrated in black and white with color prints.  

Scope - Vast
Completeness – Low
Appeal  - High
Accuracy - *

In the 1860s, the French government found a pretext to seize control of Mexico and install their puppet, the Archduke Maximillian of Austria. The intent was to create a vast French controlled, Catholic empire to the south of the United States. French control of Mexico was never complete, however, nor was it long lasting. The result was years of conflict.

This book provides a good introduction and overview of the conflict, along with a cursory yet fascinating overview of the uniforms of some of the units that fought. These units were often quite colorful and exotic, often composed of ethnic groups and dressed in ways that one would never expect to see on the North American continent.

In addition to the various Mexican units that fought both for and against the French installed government, there were also units raised by France composed of Belgians, Austrians, and others, even Sudanese Egyptians and later Confederate army veterans, as well as the famed French Foreign Legion. Some may know that an important part of Foreign Legion history took place in this conflict at the Battle of Cameron, where a small force of legionnaires fought to the death rather than surrender to a much larger Mexican force.

In conclusion, the scope of this large, multi-year conflict with its wide variety of troop types and complex politics, is really not suited to a small 48 page booklet of this type. However, in the absence of other, more accessible English language sources, this book does provide a good starting point and a way to spark interest in this event among English language readers who are not familiar with it. Therefore I recommend it highly.