Technological Challenges 

As regular readers will know I enjoy gaming several different periods but one ruleset I particularly enjoy is Spearhead. In particular the World War II version. Spearhead has for me an excellent balance between command level challenges and technology. Further, the rules are not too complex, meaning a player doesn’t feel exhausted at the end of the game.

For some years my Spearhead games have been focussed on the and 1944, in part because I was in the process of rebasing the early war collection and painting extras. Over the last year I finally completed the first phase of this rebasing project allowing me to finally breakout my miniatures for a series of cracking good early war games.

The fascinating thing about this period, for me at least, are the challenges the various armies had with doctrine and technology. Lessons from the Great War had been learnt but their application on a different battlefield was not straightforward and continued to be refined sometimes due doctrine and on others due to limitations around rearmament. Obvious examples are the British light, infantry and cruiser tanks, as well the various early Panzer I and II tanks of the Germans. Of course all nations had similar challenges. On the battlefield what do you actually do with a Panzer I or a Vickers Mk VI?

The technological challanges were very evident in our most recent game. However, with Spearhead you actually need to focus on the coordination of various arms realising you will pay the price when you can’t achieve these sufficiently.

Of course all these interesting technologies, combined with trying to achieve combined arms, are made even more interesting by the tactical situation and two players duelling to place their opponent at a disadvantage. What a great way to spend an evening!

A Sumatran Outing 

Like many readers over the years my miniatures collection has grown to the point that I have trouble finding time for games involving the various armies in my collection. That’s despite not having that many armies. Sometimes this of because of changing trends, but at other times there just is only so much time. As a result collections just don’t get out of the box.

I’m fortunate that I get to play a range of periods and rules, but it was with some enthusiasm that last night my Sumatran army, from the 17th Century, had an outing after a period of time hiding in their boxes. The resulting game, using DBR, was extremely enjoyable for both players. Interesting armies, unusual troop types and the vagaries of the dice added much to the game and resulted in an excellent evening of gaming.

The Sumatrans are an unusual army, comprised mostly of charging foot with support from archers, skirmishers and a few elephants. Their opponents on this occasion were Ottoman Turks, who themselves are an eclectic lot and comprise mounted of variable quality, a significant artillery train and foot with, shall we say, a range of capabilities. A few photos of the game can be found on my Renaissance blog here.

Punic Clashes

Having arrived home after my European sojourn it was good to breakout my miniatures for a couple of evenings of gaming this week. As it worked out it was a bit of a Punic Wars theme.

First up were a couple of DBA games against Jim early in the week, while I was still very much in another time zone. Jim’s Carthaginians are, like my own, from the excellent Corvus Belli range. Opting for a pachyderm heavy army these beasts required some focus by the Romans to neutralise them before they broke up the Roman lines. Due to some interesting Punic tactics in the second game the Roman tactics were not completely successful.

Above, Carthaginian light infantry, originally deployed in front of the elephants, nervously watch the elephants retire from the Roman infantry. The elephants soon surged forward again disrupting but not breaking the Roman lines.

Later in the week Colin made a long overdue appearance from the deep south and provided Andrew and I the opportunity for a couple of DBA games. Colin took command of my own Carthaginians in a two games where the battles formed part of our on-going Empire Campaign.

Colin also opted for the pachyderm heavy Later Carthaginians, but supported them with auxiliary infantry (4Ax) rather than my own preference for some more aggressive Gauls. My own PIP dice, I commanded the Romans in the first game, were horrifically variable tending to the extremes causing consternation, joy and embarrassment in equal measure. By good control Colin slowly but surely defeated the Roman upstarts.

A new Consul was sought (Andrew) and in due course another Roman army was dispatched to lower Italy in an attempt to defeat the Punic invader. The Carthaginians selected a field of battle near a large city though their deployment was somewhat constrained by nearby hills.

Now Punic command and control became hesitant and for some time the Carthaginian army refused to advance allowing the Romans to fully deploy. Good use of Roman light infantry slowly countered, if not destroyed the Punic elephants, while Roman and Italian heavy infantry slowly gained an advantage.

A great series of games over the week and an enjoyable start to normality following my travels. I will of course provide some additional context to the games here that formed part of our Empire Campaign when some other games are resolved, stay tuned…

Heeresgeschichtliches Museum – Vienna 

If you are in Vienna you really need to earmark some time for the Austrian Military History Museum, or more accurately the Heeresgeschichtliches Museum. While in Vienna it consumed my first day and was for me an excellent investment of my limited time in the city.

It’s impossible to cover the exhibits in any detail. However, generally it is divided into four areas. Starting on one wing of the top floor there the exhibits start with the late renaissance with a particular focus on the Thirty Years War. Some excellent exhibits cover the equipment of both horse and foot.

These exhibits are further supported by a series of paintings covering the major battles of the Thirty Years War.

Continuing though the floor takes us to the sections on the later 17th Century before entering the wing on the Wars of the 18th Century. Here excellent displays of various standards of the Seven Years War are particularly interesting, including a number of captured Prussian standards. The weapon and equipment displays are supported by a range of artwork which provide much flavour. Unfortunately the excellent figure displays in the Thirty Years War were not repeated here. That not withstanding I wasn’t disappointed and period artworks added considerably to the various displays in this section.

Returning to the entry area provides access to the opposite wing which covers the French Revolutionary Wars and Napoleonic Wars. Now, I must admit to expecting this area to be larger. However it provides excellent displays of Austrian uniforms in this period with good use of full displays.

This area includes a very interesting French Observation Balloon.

The wing continues through transition periods to cover the 1848 Revolution and the Wars of 1866. I have an ongoing interest in the 1866 period so I was rather interested in seeing this section, which was well presented. One of my favourite displays here was that combining a cannon and painting which form part of the Battle of Königgrätz display.

Now heading to the ground floor again the floor is divided into two wings. One wing covers the era up to 1914 and then the Great War. I understand the Great War section has undergone remodelling, and it shows.

Without doubt this section is presented extremely well with excellent German and English descriptions. Items are packed in, but not crowded. In addition to the Austrian weapons and uniforms the displays are subdivided by year but are supported by uniforms, weapons and selected artillery pieces of Austria’s enemies.

Above, one must be the centre piece the 38cm siege howitzer. However, many other less know items were for me particularly interesting such as aircraft location finder below.

On the final wing of the ground floor is the Republic to the end of World War II with a well presented showing the move from the republic to integration into the Wehrmacht. Here a large selection of small arms and uniforms are well supported by a small but interesting range of anti-tank guns and light vehicles, including a some less often seen vehicles.

This is another excellent section but not as good as the Great War section. Finally, this wing moves into a section covering the Austo-Hungarian navy up until 1918.

Now a few suggestions if like me you are not a German speaker. Make sure you take a Smartphone and headset. Currently English descriptions, except in the Great War section are not complete. The museum provides details on an English language audio tour which can be downloaded. This and the various audio guide points will be invaluable. However, not all the guide points are easily seen. Ensure you consult the map as you go through each section.

As to time I spent seven hours and only just completed the main displays. When you have finished Belveder Palace, and its gardens, are just 10 minutes work away and provide an excellent route back into the main city area, if that is where you are based.

In the Footsteps of Demetrius of Pharos

Recently I spent a few days at the Ancient city of Pharos, today known as Stari Grad, which is located on the modern island of Hvar, in the Adriatic. Pharos was founded by the Greeks in 385 BC and today a few interesting remains exist that provided, for me, an interesting couple of days while resting from my travels.

East of the old part of Stari Grad, which is built on the Greek city of Pharos, is the Stari Glad Plain. Here the land is divided into parcels of 180m by 900m bounded by dry stone walls. Today, the field system remains generally as it was when laid out by the Greeks and is the largest and most well preserved example in existence. Some sections of the dry stone walls are, even today, 1.5m high and some upwards of a metre in width. 

Above and below, examples of the walls. In the one above you can see clearly the internal space filled with smaller stones.

Apparently the field system included a rain water recovery system, though I found no evidence of this, but of course I wasn’t sure what to look for.

During my visit I walked out to the remains of a Greek watch tower, part of a system to provide warning of attack. The information I received from the Stari Grad Information Office indicated an hour return. I took around two hours return.

The plain is protected by UNESCO, and is one of seven such sites in Croatia. A plot marker, as well as tablets from the polis, can be found in Dominican Monastery museum. Unfortunately no photos were allowed.

Stari Grad itself is a beautiful town with many old buildings clustered together. The old town is Medieval but is built on the Roman and Greek towns. Recent archeological investigation has uncovered portions of a Greek road and sections of the old Greek walls. Below, the area around the church of Saint Ivan’s where the most recent archeological excavations have been completed. On the left part of the Greek road while in the distance a section of wall.

Today, selected buildings within the town, including the lower levels of two imposing bell towers, are built using stones from the Greek city walls.

The exhibits in the small Stari Grad Museum, separate from the Dominican Museum, were very interesting. One of my favourites was this terracotta fragment with mould above, and the seal below.

Of course a good range of pottery was on display. Examples included, Greek, Southern Italian and less refined Illyrian.

The museum also displays numerous amphorae from a wrecked 4th or 5th century Roman merchant ship discovered and displayed convincingly as they were found. A smaller display is in the Hvar citadel.

So what of the history, here are a few snippets. The colony was established in 385 BC, but the colony was almost destroyed in 384 BC by the local Illyrians and only saved by Dionysius the Elder, tyrant of Syracuse. Diodorus (15.14) records the following:

This year the Parians who had settled on Pharos allowed the previous barbarian inhabitants to remain unharmed in a well fortified place, while they themselves built their city by the sea and enclosed it with a wall. Later the earlier inhabitants took offence at the presence of the Greeks and called in the Illyrians dwelling on the mainland opposite. These crossed to Pharos in a large number of small boats and, more than ten thousand strong, killed many Greeks and did much damage. However Dionysius’ commander at Lissus sailed up with a large number of Triremes against the Illyrian light craft and, having sunk some and captured others, killed more than five thousand of the barbarians and took around two thousand prisoners.”

Later, of course the Romans turned up. In 219 BC Demetrius of Pharos makes some bad decisions and Pharos comes under Roman rule following a battle around Phoros. Again we have some excellent artefacts from this Roman period including pottery, coins and mosaics which have been discovered underneath the towns narrow streets.

Today in the squares of Saint Stephens is Roman 2nd Century winged Eros is visible, though I managed to work past it twice! Within the bell tower, though I couldn’t see it, is an engraving of a Roman merchant vessel.

Now, as to the name of this post. Well one of the paths I took across the Stari Grad Plain was called “The Path of Demetrius of Pharos”. It seemed fitting to use this as the name, converging Greek and Roman. If you are in the area you may find a day or two in Stari Grad of interest.