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The battle at Rorke's Drift (continued)

In Military History
After two hours fierce fighting Chard had been forced to fall back on his “retrenchment of biscuit-boxes” and abandon the hospital and the barricades and yard between it and the storehouse. Over the next hour or two, the few defenders of the hospital, including any of the sick who were capable, carried out their heroic, nightmarish fighting retreat through with the roof burning over their heads. The Mission had been designed to include cell-like guestrooms for travellers wanting a night’s shelter. For the privacy and security of Revd Witt and his family, these rooms only had outside doors. So, famously, Private John Williams burrowed through the connecting mud-brick walls as his comrades, able-bodied and sick, desperately held the Zulus back with bayonet and bullet. Private Waters, wounded in the arm, hid in a cupboard and then succeeded in melting into the darkness outside, camouflaging himself with what is variously described as Mrs Witt’s black fur coat, one of the Revd Witt’sContinue Reading

Visiting the battlefield at Isandlwana

In Military History
It was great to return from two weeks in South Africa to catch up with this blog and see Richard’s post on the Anglo-Zulu War, having just visited Isandlwana myself a few weeks after the anniversary. A while back I wrote about Gettysburg and how I felt it richly combined all the best ingredients for a deeply satisfying and moving battlefield visit: manageable dimensions, distinctive landscape features, a high level of conservation and a load of readily accessible, detailed information about what happened there (no guarantee of unanimity in interpretation, of course!), and, above all, atmosphere, and great characters and stories! Isandlwana is absolutely on a par with Gettysburg.Continue Reading
I have now reached the point where the Greek fleet falls back on Salamis and the land army falls back on the Isthmus of Corinth after the battles of Artemisium and Thermopylae. Looking as closely as I have had to at the former, I began to see both battles in a rather different perspective, justifying the slight unease caused by many of the accounts I have now read. The glorious mythology of Thermopylae is, of course, justified by the heroism of the ferocious three days resistance and the ultimate, willing sacrifice of the rearguard. However, in terms of assets, the Greek commitment was far greater at Artemisium than at Thermopylae. Defeat at Thermopylae was as tragic as it was inevitable, but it was survivable. Defeat at Artemisium, yielding control of the sea to the Persians, would have lost the war. Artemisium would then indeed have been one of those “battles that changed history”Continue Reading
I’m really enjoying Deceiving Hitler, published in September. I remember the thrill of reading The Double Cross System in the War of 1939-45 when it was published in the ‘70s by Yale University Press and wishing the University Press I then worked for had got in first. I didn’t immediately appreciate that the author, J C Masterman’s University Press of choice would naturally have been Oxford rather than Cambridge, and that he had gone to the USA and Yale because the British Government and security services were firmly opposing the book’s publication in the UK! Masterman was a key architect of the greatest counter-espionage and deception campaign of all time in his role as Chairman of the Twenty (XX) Committee, the ultra-secret element of MI5 responsible for counter-esponage and deception.Continue Reading

The Roman invasion that never was

In Military History
Julius Caesar is more popularly associated with the Roman invasion of Britain than the Emperor Claudius. However, whilst the former carried out a useful reconnaissance in 45BC, penetrated a much larger area with a considerably stronger force in 44BC, and ultimately won decisive victories in both years, he left no occupying force behind. This did not arrive until 43AD when Claudius’ general Aulus Plautius established a bridgehead at Rutupiae, modern Richborough, in an excellent natural harbour on the Kent coast. The shoreline is now two miles away from the remains of the substantial fort, but excavations earlier this year have pinpointed the beach which the Roman ships would have been pulled up on under the protection of the earthworks. The quite widespread media coverage of the Richborough dig and its revelations led me to an earlier article reporting “astonishing new archaeological finds” that proved “the history of Britain will have to be rewritten. The AD43 Roman invasion neverContinue Reading
A couple of weeks ago Campaign: Salamis 480 BC was presented at one of Osprey’s fortnightly Publishing Meetings, which wield power of life & death over all projects, and it was commissioned: I am now officially an Osprey author. The delivery date of June next year still seems comfortably far off but this commitment has brought about a swift change of gear from what has been a very enjoyable research ramble (literally, on the island itself at the top end of the battlefield) to the somewhat more disciplined business of writing.Continue Reading

Death on the Nile

In Military History
The British Museum have followed their excellent "First Emperor" show with the equally gripping "Hadrian: Empire and Conflict". Hadrian is generally best known in Britain for his wall. This spectacular feat of military engineering, as important symbolically as tactically for the control of this north-west frontier of the vast Roman empire, formed only a part of the legacy of Hadrian's two decades of rule as one of Rome’s greatest emperors.Continue Reading

Napoleonic Competition Results

In Military History
Well, we seem to have stumped quite a few of you with the competition that I ran last month. I asked you to name the eight victories listed around Napoleon's tomb to stand the chance of winning five Napoleonic titles of your choice.Continue Reading

Napoleonic Competition

In Military History
Visiting Paris earlier in the year I spent half a day in the Musee de l’Armee in Les Invalides and hardly scratched the surface, even with the vast Napoleonic section closed for major renewal work. I started with what must be must be the largest collection of suits of armour that can be seen anywhere. It became a little wearing, in fact, inspecting this mile-long parade through room after room, but for those with an eye for the evolutionary detail, it’s all there! The shining steel, much of it so elegant, contrasted intriguingly with the assorted Kevlar of the CRS detachment relaxing in the street outside the nearby cafe we had lunch in.Continue Reading

The Sound of Vulcans over Mull

In Military History
Seeing recent footage of the magnificently restored Avro Vulcan XH558 reminded me of an extraordinary experience I had back in the 70s when the V-bombers were such a distinctive element of Britain’s cold-war weaponry...Continue Reading

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