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M. Green (London, England)
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Talavera: Wellington's First Victory in Spain
Talavera: Wellington's First Victory in Spain
by Andrew Field
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 14.89

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Little new, 11 Jan 2010
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Unlike the previous reviewers, I'm an old hand at reading books on the Peninsular War. To me it's another in a long line of rather disappointing modern books on various parts of the Peninsular War, which offer little new evidence or insight. I read this alongside Peter Edwards's book on Talavera of similar date, which also covers Wellington's 1808 campaign.

Compared to Edwards's book, Andrew Field has a better command of the evidence. He tries much harder with the French sources and at least regrets the limits to Spanish sources, which is the work's major gap. It is more analytical and less narrative, though it certainly does do the narrative. It has clear, if rather basic maps and diagrams which explain the main deployments. Where evidence is conflicting (like the famous charge of British cavalry into a supposed unseen ravine) he exposes the conflict rather than ignoring it. He also examines the current terrain properly. All well and good, but the analysis itself is a bit plodding and didn't really offer me much in the way of new insight. He has his own take on the old column vs line issue without trying to challenge it through casualty evidence (was the discepency in casualties really so great?), for example.

But it's quite a decent read. But really what a modern history should do is find new evidence (Spanish sources clearly being the place to look), and work the other evidence harder to come up with interpretations that challenge the standard accounts and interpretations. I was left unsatisfied.


Talavera: Wellington's Early Peninsula Victories 1808-9
Talavera: Wellington's Early Peninsula Victories 1808-9
by Peter Edwards
Edition: Hardcover

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Readable British account, 11 Jan 2010
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This book covers Wellington'e early Peninsular campaigns, from Rolica and Vimiero to the Talavera of the title. It stands firmly in the old British tradition of Napoleonic history. It uses mainly British sources, with a sprinkly of French, leaving Portuguese and Spanish sources Oman and other secondary sources. He wants to tell a tale of British regiments. He quotes extensively from accounts of those present, sometimes letting them take all of the narrative strain. In the modern way, he adds a bit of creative stuff in too "...the Irish soldiers...continued to head West...on to the shimmering open plain...a hot hour under the huge Spanish sun...".

Readers looking for new evidence should go elsewhere. It isn't error free, and his knowledge of the French army appears weak (he says some of the units at Talavera where at Wagram, for example, a battle that took place a couple of weeks before near Vienna). It is woefully short of maps and diagrams. But it's not entirely a failure. His narrative is extremely clear for all three battles. It may be the British point of view, but it hasn't been laid out more clearly. And his analysis is intertesting too. Peter Edwards is a military man who, unlike many modern historians, has ridden horses and manoeuvred men. He makes a real effort to get into the heads of all the participants, and is not content with the normal villainising of Burrard or Cuesta. There are original insights here.

So not strong on evidence, but good on narrative and with a number of interesting observations.


The Battle of Albuera 1811: 'Glorious Field of Grief'' (Campaign Chronicles)
The Battle of Albuera 1811: 'Glorious Field of Grief'' (Campaign Chronicles)
by Michael Oliver
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 17.04

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Useful for the analytical, 11 Jan 2010
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I am fascinated by this battle, and have read accounts of it by Oman (in Peninsular War), Ian Fletcher, and Mark Thompson. This account adds useful details to these, especially filling in details from the Spanish side, and Brunswicker von Schepeler's accounts. It is also clearer about its evidence and sources, all in all allowing the reader a better opportunity to draw his own conclusions about what happened. The analysis gives some useful interpretation about casualty figures. I would have preferred more analysis, since I'm not sure how far the casualty figures really reflect the standard line vs column interpretations of the big firefights; the British won through better cohesion and stamina, and not firepower in my view. There are detailed maps which are helpful but not visually easy. There are some good photos of the terrain.
There is quite of a lot of introductory stuff at the beginning, which doesn't add much value, and some of it is written in a style best described as "English anorak". The narrative of the battle tries to be atmospheric (especially with its interpretation of the weather), but this does not particularly appeal to this analytical type.
Not a great book, by any means, feeling more enthusiast than professional. A lot of material for the analytical, without offering particularly original analysis of its own. Whether you get the book depends on what you are looking for. It suited me.


Vittoria, 1813
Vittoria, 1813
by Ian Fletcher
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Knows the ground well, 11 Jan 2010
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This review is from: Vittoria, 1813 (Paperback)
Vitoria, including the campaign that led to it, was one of Wellington's greatest victories. It's a bit surprising that so much less has been published about it than his earlier camapigns (never mind Waterloo). This is about the only modern-ish book available in English (there is a French title, though it seems almost unobtainable). The main authority remains Oman's account of a century ago, in volume VI of his Peninsular War.

It is standard Osprey fare. It's a quick read, with lots of pictures, but a bit lightweight for readers with a serious interest. Ian Fletcher writes well, and is thoroughly familar with the standard sources and, importantly, the ground over which campaign and battle took place. The best bits are the comments he makes about the terrain, and especially in the captions to the illustrations, which include a lot of modern photographs. From these we see, for example, that the bridges over the Zadorra were solid stone contructions. Beyond this, there is not much new. He differs in some details with Oman's account (though you can't get to the bottom of why), but the orders of battle are the same, with all the same gaps (the sparse details of the artillery, for example). There are the normal 3D Osprey diagrams, which look a bit fussy at first, but are actually rather good, and present the relief more clearly than other Ospreys do. These contain details than the text doesn't (e.g. references to Sanchez and other Spanish troops). There are also the standard Osprey modern artwork, which doesn't do much for me, a matter of personal taste I suppose.

If you want more detail, to research the battle for a wargame for example, then you will still need to use Oman. But this book adds important extra detail, especially on the terrain.


1809 - Thunder on the Danube - Napoleon's Defeat of the Habsburgs: 1 Abensberg
1809 - Thunder on the Danube - Napoleon's Defeat of the Habsburgs: 1 Abensberg
by John H. Gill
Edition: Hardcover

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A two sided view, 25 Sep 2009
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Military history, especially of pre-modern wars, is usually dominated by the accounts of one side. In the Peninsualr War (contemporary with this campaign) for example, French sources are few and far between, and quite overwhelmed by British ones. But the 1809 campaign between Austria and France is a rarity since there are excellent and detailed accounts from both sides. Unfortunately this usually defeats the analytical skills of historians - but John Gill is an exception. This account reconciles the two sides, and does so at all levels from the strategic to quite small combats. It's quite wonderful.

The book starts with an account of how Austria got into the war. This won't interest the tactical wargamers much, but probably has more to teach the general reader than any other part of the book. Austria should never have started the war, but through a lack of clear-sighted leadership and a lot of what we would now call "group think" they managed to drift into it. Gill gives us a very clear blow by blow account of this.

Then we get onto the battles: the disaster for the Austrians that unfolded in Bavaria. Gill draws on the many detailed accounts from Austria, France and (importantly) the minor German states, and weaves them into a very clear narrative. The early skirmishes are covered in almost ridiculous detail, while for some of the later battles the sweep is more rapid. It is quite the clearest account I have read.

Gill doesn't seek to challenge the conventional wisdom or create controversy. He just weaves a wonderful, detailed lucid account. History at its best. I eagerly look forward to reading the next two volumes.


Elite 164: British Napoleonic Infantry Tactics (Elite)
Elite 164: British Napoleonic Infantry Tactics (Elite)
by Philip Haythornthwaite
Edition: Paperback
Price: 8.39

13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Nice pictures, disappointing text, 25 Sep 2009
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This book is an easy read, but readers will get few new insights. The first part is a fairly detailed review of drill, as developed by Dundas. This is quite interesting, but it doesn't have all that much to do with tactics. There is too much detail on some issues (the many moves possible only on the parade ground), but perhaps not enough on others (the issues around moving by files, and so on, that so heavily influenced French methods). The book then moves onto tactics proper. The author displays his entensive knowledge and reading, but, like so much writing about the Napoleonic era, it drops quickly into analysis by anecdote, when the main insights are likely to come from taking a fresh analytical look at the various battles. Paddy Griffiths's volume on French tactics is much better in this repect. It would have been interesting, for example, to contrast the tactical successes with the (small number) of failures (like Cole at Salamanca), as well as putting a bit more context around the quotations (didn't the British cavalry have a lot do do with the success of Leith's attack in the same battle, used as an illustration?).

The pictures are a delight - trying to show how things might have looked in real life, with aerial views of formations and combats. If you are used to wargaming with miniatures this is a wonderful corrective. There is a silly mistake on the picture of an oblong-square, which unfortunately makes it onto the front cover, though. The sides should be much more equal (there were 2 companies on front and back faces, and 3 to each flank, not the 1 to 4 shown). There is an interesting depiction of a reverse slope defence - but this is not taken from any particular battle, and I'm very suspicious of anything this abstracted - it tends to perpetuate myths (again the companion on French tactics is much better here).

British Napoleonic tactics are covered in a dense mythology that started in contemporary accounts and has evolved since. It's a pity that so few writers are interested in unravelling it. Mr Haythornthwaite writes fluently, but he does not attempt to take this on.


The Jena Campaign: 1806-The Twin Battles of Jena & Auerstadt Between Napoleon's French and the Prussian Army
The Jena Campaign: 1806-The Twin Battles of Jena & Auerstadt Between Napoleon's French and the Prussian Army
by F. N. Maude
Edition: Paperback
Price: 8.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Period piece, 9 Mar 2008
This account was first written in 1909; a classic it may be, but it will not satisfy most modern readers. The accounts of the battles themsleves are quite thin; the depth of research does not appear to be up to the best of modern standards. The interest of the book mainly lies in the author's observations, which are often informed by the author's own experience of moving men, guns and horses over European terrain...in a way modern authors can only dream about. Maude starts with the point that the Prussian army was more similar to the Napoleonic British one than any other. Why did it do so badly then? He suggests that better led they might have won: Napoleon left himself exposed at the start. In the course of this, the author goes off on some interesting pet theories, such as that many casualties were caused by musketry "overs". He is still, of course, very attached to British linear tactics.


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