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|24 JUL 2012 at 10:39pm|
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Author: Nick Lipscombe
Publisher: Osprey Publishing, 2010.
This is a huge book in terms of its scope, content and just sheer size! It measures a massive 12 inches (30 centimetres) wide, 1.5 inches (3.5 centimetres) deep and just over 9 inches (24.5 centimetres) in height! It comes in its own slide-in slide-out book box with the title in gold lettering not quite an inch tall. The lettering on the book’s box is set against a dark chocolate brown. This provides quite a contrast when you slide the book out of the box, revealing a gorgeous cover: this is overall subtle mustard yellow with a superb painting of the Duke of Wellington watching British horse artillery cross a river. It’s overlaid on a faded out map of the Spanish Peninsula.
The author is Colonel Nick Lipscombe, ex-British Army, with postings both in Portugal and Spain; an ideal candidate for the production of this work. As it says on the back cover, the Atlas has been “published in collaboration with Peninsular War 200, the organisation established to commemorate in a spirit of respect to all and malice to none the forty thousand British (including Irish and foreign-auxiliary) service personnel who lost their lives Peninsular War of 1808-14’”
I feel like I should be providing a tour guide of this volume rather than a book review! The visit starts off well with a “Foreword” by His Grace, (the current) Duke of Wellington. He makes the surprising point (to me at least), “That no dedicated and complete atlas has ever been produced of the epic conflict in Iberia and Southern France between 1808 and 1814 is quite remarkable.” Proceeding from the Foreword, we find ourselves in an immense “Preface.” This covers the reasons why mapping is so important to a general as well as the sources and history of writing the history of the Peninsular War. This latter section has a fascinating account on publishing the wars of the nineteenth century, as veterans and others battle to get the definitive work to print and make a profit there from. The Preface also touches on the national differences of how the war is seen from a historical perspective, particularly by the victors (the Spanish, Portuguese and British). We then continue our tour into the “Chronology”—this covers 5 pages (remember the book’s dimensions). It starts with the Treaty of Tilsit, 7 July 1807, (reminding us that the Peninsular War sat in a more complex geo-political context) and ends on the 26th April 1814 with the capitulation of Bayonne.
We now leave the “portico” of this book and start to arrive at the main features of interest. The author’s “Introduction” provides an interesting line of discussion. It compares—relatively speaking—the losses by the British during the Peninsular campaigns with those of the First World War (the end of one conflict being one hundred years from the start of the other). The comparison is continued into the conditions the soldier’s faced and the medical care they received in the two conflicts. It then moves onto the motivations and fighting qualities of the British army. And some thought is given to their opponents, the French and their various allies and auxiliaries. The Introduction concludes with some reflections on the reasons for the victory of the Allies and the historical significance of the conflict.
There is just one more pause before considering the bulk of the book. There is a one page and fully comprehensive “Legend” for its maps. This shows the military symbols of the various troop types (infantry, cavalry, artillery and engineers); formation sizes (battery/company through to army); and how to interpret these symbols. These are all, using something of an anachronism, all standard NATO type. We also have topographical and map symbols eg.: standard contour intervals, river and direction of water flow, wooded areas etc... The various miscellaneous symbols are explained, eg. camp or laager area, sites of sieges and battles and skirmish line etc... Finally, we have arrows and directional symbols (for explaining the movements of the opposing forces) and a typical map label (ie. what battle, what stage, contour interval and time/date). As a military historian and a geographer, I was in “hog heaven” here.
Finally, we reach the main event of the tour. Fifty-four (54) chapters of maps and supporting text! Each chapter describes a specific key phase of the war. So, for example, Chapter 14 is “Napoleon departs for France: The Situation in Early 1809” and Chapter 51 is “The Allies enter France: October 1813. There are a varying number of maps per chapter. They are set out one-per-two facing pages on the right hand side of the book. The text describing the strategic movements, movements on a battlefield or events of a siege are set out on the left hand page.
I’ll concentrate our tour for a short moment on the maps themselves. These are of two main types. The vast majority are a standard geographical overview of a situation: either of the entire peninsula, a specific region, a battle or a siege. These then show the movements of the various combatants across the relevant time period. These are all easily interpreted using the Legend. The format of these maps is one familiar to those used in the Osprey Campaign series of books. One thing to note is that unit names are given in the language of their nationality (or in the case of the French allied forces, in French). So, for example, we have the Spanish Dragones de Castilla rather than the Castile Dragoons. Or the French 27e Leger, but not the 27th Light. I think this is the right approach, and adds to the period atmosphere rather than attempting a mass translation into English.
The other type of map is the three-dimensional topographical battle map. These are used very infrequently, and use the same symbols as the rest of the maps. This is my only criticism of the book. The rest of the maps have the correct feel for the period. Whilst one would not kid oneself that they would be looking at a map similar to what the general of the time would have had access to: the other maps do feel, well, authentic. These 3D maps look too modern and jar a little on the eye when you come across them. I feel somewhat churlish at this point: a bit like criticising the pyramids for being “a bit old!” However, I will lift the mood and say that the maps cover not only the famous battles or sieges between the British and the French, but also those where the Spanish and Portuguese forces took on the French without British support.
The text accompanying the maps is well written and, clearly, well researched. Obviously, like all history, it is based on interpretation of the sources. But given that this is an atlas rather than just a history of the war, I think the reader is very well served by Colonel Lipscombe. The writing compliments the maps and is in no way an inferior part of the edifice.
Finally, we reach the “gardens” of the book in our tour. These are the 7 appendices, “Glossary” and “Bibliography.” The appendices are basically the strengths and dispositions of the various forces during every year of the war. The force strengths are not all described to the same level of detail. Some go just to divisional or brigade level, others down to the battery or regiment/battalion level. Even with this, these appendices represent a valuable resource for wargamers wishing to recreate the campaigns and battles of the war. They are a full read in their own right.
The Glossary is reasonably brief but, if you are unfamiliar with the period, worth a read-through to familiarize oneself with terms like “Miqueletes” and “Juramentado.” Whilst the Glossary is brief, the Bibliography is immense: it lists the manuscript sources and printed primary and secondary sources. A little overwhelming at first, but worth a pick through if you want to find out more about this aspect of the Napoleonic Wars.
Well, a long review of a massively interesting book. I give it the highest marks for presentation, readability and being just plain interesting. Anyone who has a chance to get a hold of this book will spend hours pouring over the maps. It is clearly recommended for anyone with an interest in the Napoleonic Wars, as it is a brilliant source for wargamers who want to get into this period and recreate the famous battles and sieges of the Peninsular War. Finally, it is an expensive book but would make an ideal gift for the military historian who thinks they already have everything!
Review written by: Paul Robinson
About Paul Robinson
Paul Robinson is a wargamer with over 30 years of experience in figure wargaming. He has interests in all things military from the Ancient Sumerians to the British Army in Afghanistan. He is an obsessive collector of books from Osprey Publishing and has contributed widely to the Field of Glory wargames rules franchise. A confirmed “Trekkie”, he also regards Babylon 5 and Buffy the Vampire Slayer as great TV! He lives in Surrey, England with his wife, two children, one cat and a large collection of wargaming figures.
Direct email: email@example.com
|25 JUL 2012 at 12:49pm|
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Joined: 27 JUN 2011
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I just recently finished reading this monster cover to cover. Ordinarily i would never want a book the size of a small microwave oven nor pay the large price of this one but I have to say it was well worth every penny and pound. The entire campaign start to finish with maps for every engagement large or small,seiges, manuvers, retreats and pursuits. Units listed down to battalion level in almost every battle and despite the English author, a very critical look at Wellingtons successes and failures. A truly great read.
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