Book Review: War Elephants
"The strap line for this series of books produced by Osprey Publishing is The design, development, operation and history of the machinery of warfare through the ages. And as the owner of several of this series I was looking forward to reading this particular volume..."
The strap line for this series of books produced by Osprey Publishing is “The design, development, operation and history of the machinery of warfare through the ages”. And as the owner of several of this series (Siege Weapons of the Far East Vols 1 and 2 and two Volumes on Far Eastern Fighting Ships, Bronze Age War Chariots) I was looking forward to reading this particular volume.
As those familiar with any of their mainstream paperback series will know Ospreys are a joint effort between the author, in this case Russian Konstantin Nossov, who has authored several other Osprey works and the artist, in this case Peter Dennis who is now becoming a deliciously ubiquitous contributor to the Osprey stable.
The book is a study of War Elephants from
earliest times through to the nineteenth century. It is split into nine main chapters; the
first an overview on how war elephants were procured and trained (which was
short but fascinating); the following chapters are overviews of how they were
used by different militaries. Some of
these are fairly specific ie the Carthaginians and the Indians, whilst other
chapters are more geographical ie “War Elephants in
The artwork is excellent as you might expect from Peter Dennis. He really came to my notice through the illustrations for the various Field of Glory covers he has done and since then I have admired his back catalogue as much as his new work. There are 7 plates each showing elephants from different areas and/or different phases in history. The plates are split into two categories; there are four “battle scenes and three “profiles”. These latter are done very much in the style of a tank profile in other books. And each of these plates has two pictures one above the other, so in fact the number of original pieces of art is more like ten than seven. The battle scenes show Hellenistic elephants battling it out Raphia, Carthaginian elephants v the Romans and Medieval Indian elephants attacking a fortress wall. All these are each shown on one page. The pick of the bunch has to be the double page spread showing Thai and Burmese elephants battling it out in the mid sixteenth century. The sheer detail, movement and energy in all parts of the picture are just wonderful. So full marks for the art work.
Mention is also needed of the various photos of various fortifications, pieces of kit and reproductions of various paintings that litter the book. I have noticed that increasingly these are in colour. This is a welcome advance in production values from Osprey. I have always liked the photos as much as the original colour plates but have always wished for colour, especially when viewing a medieval or ancient illustration. In this book the Indian artwork showing various elephants etc really benefits from colour rather than black and white!
Overall I liked this volume as much as the others I have in this series. Yes it is a brief overview and covers a large area but it does not suffer because of that. If you are a wargamer looking for some inspiration for painting then the colour plates will serve you well. If you are looking for an introduction to why elephants were such an effective weapon of war for such a long period again I would recommend this volume.
The book, priced £7.99, is available in paperback from Osprey Publishing see their website.