Monday 30 October 2023

Vichy Airforce at War (book review)

 Vichy Airforce at War

By Jon Sutherland & Diane Canwell

Pen & Sword, 2011

ISBN 978-1-84884-336-3

173 pages

First off I should say I know Jon Sutherland and have communicated with him via Facebook, etc over quite a few years. He is a stalwart member of our wargames community and his figures and games often grace the pages of the glossy magazines for us all to admire and lust after. I should also add that the co-author Diane Canwell is now Diane Sutherland who`s wonderful terrain "how to`s" grace the pages of the glossies, Diane is an amazing modeller.

All this being said regular readers of this blog know I have a somewhat obsessive interest in all things French and have actively studied the conflict between Britain and her former ally (now Vichy France) after the collapse in 1940. So when Jon mentioned his book when commenting on one of my Syria/Lebanon games here, I went straight onto the internet and bought myself a copy.

The book is written is easy not to technical style over nine chapters.

The first covers the Armée de L`Air and how it was equipped and operated during the interwar era and into early WW2 up until the capitulation. This is not a period I`m particularly well read on and I found the it interesting and enlightening.

The following chapters then proceed to cover the actions of what became the French Airforce under the new Vichy Government. Each of these sections gives a near (as possible) complete record of air to air actions and losses on both sides:  

The British attack on the French fleet at Mers-el-Kébir and the abortive attempt to seize Dakar.

The rebellion by Rashid Ali in Iraq where the Vichy allowed the Germans to use airfields in Syria to send aid to the rebels against the British. Whilst I knew this I was unaware that the British attacked those airfields and there were air battles over them between RAF and French planes!  

Next we have Syria/lebanon - Operation Exporter, something I`ve read quite a bit about, but the coverage here of the airwar was very good and I learned quite a bit of new information.

After Syria we come to Madagascar - Operation Ironclad, again this book told me some things which I`d previously not known.

Finally we have Operation Torch which saw the end of the fighting between the forces of Vichy and the Allies.

The book finishes with sections on French pilots serving with the Luftwaffe and some biographical information on some of the Vichy pilots and technical info on the various aircraft.There are also appendices on the make-up of the Armée de l`Air 1940; The Vichy Airforce from September 1940; a list of victory credits for Vichy pilots; the make-up of the Vichy Airforce in Indochina and finally Aéonautique Navale (Naval air-arm).

There are also 32 pages of B/W photos illustrating aircraft, pilots, etc.

All-in-all an interesting book which added to my knowledge of this period of WW2.   

Sunday 22 October 2023

Spanish Reinactors

 12th Regimiento de Cazadores 

I have to be honest I`ve always been a bit wary of reinactors. I`ve never had the courage to do it myself and I`ve always found the guys who do can be odd.

These guys were taking part in the Novelda Modernista festival which celebrates the turn of the 19th Century/early 20th Century and Art Nouveau period.

They represent members of an light infantry unit serving in Morocco during the Melilla Campaign of 1908-10 (see a brief history below).

They were to a man pleasant, answered my stumbling questions in my awful Spanish with polite amusement and showed a great knowledge of their period. The uniforms and equipment to my inexperienced eye looked superb, the guys explained the uniforms were all re-pros but some buttons and some of the equipment was original and period!

These two were being medic and patient, pictured here playing up for the audience 😀
Looking down on the camp from the top of the triangular tower
Patiently putting up with a bloody tourist 😀
Some of many ladies wearing period costume

Like I said above I`m no expert on this period, but do have sources, I think the reinactors uniforms are pretty good.
Uniform Cuba 1897

Uniform Marocco 1908 
Period newspaper photo

The Second Melilla Campaign 1909

After the 1906 Algeciras Conference, Spain took the opportunity to expand her area of control around Melilla, Morocco. Mines were open in the hills above the presidio and a narrow gauge railway built to carry supplies to and the ore from those mines. This incensed the tribes and led to local trouble.

In August 1908, tribesmen attacked the mines and several workers were killed, luckily the local Riff leader was captured and sent to Fez (where he later died in prison). Unfortunately for the Spanish their best ally among the tribes was also forced out, leaving them with no support. The commander – General José Marina Vega asked Spain for reinforcements but none were sent. On July 9th 1909 another attack upon the mines saw a number of railway workers killed, in response General Marina ordered a retaliatory offensive into the Rif.

 The Spanish Government sent troops to Morocco to help the pacification, it should be noted that at the time Spain had no professional Army or indigenous troops, so all those sent were mostly conscripts, poorly trained, badly equipped, lacking even basic maps.  

 There were two major actions:

Ai Aixa where six companies under command of Colonel Álvarez Cabrera got lost after leaving Melilla at nightfall and in the morning, found themselves in the Alfer Canyon, where they were decimated by gunfire from the heights. Colonel Cabrera and 26 men were killed, and 230 were wounded.

Barranco del Lobo General Pintos was ordered to keep guard in the vicinity of the Mount Gurugu at the helm of a brigade of jägers. The Riffians ambushed the jägers and inflicted losses of about 600 wounded and 150 killed on the Spanish troops (although the numbers are subject to dispute), including Pintos himself!

 After these defeats the Spanish flooded men into Melilla including artillery, raising the numbers to around 35,000. At the end of August they launched a new offensive with overwhelming numbers and had subdued the eastern tribes by January 1910. 

Whilst walking through the town later we saw dozens of people dressed in period costumes among them this fine gentleman wearing a Guardia Civil uniform.

Saturday 21 October 2023

Novelda Castle

 Novelda Castle 

(El Castillo de la Mola)

This photo came off the internet (obviously taken by drone) shows the castle and towers nicely

Situated on a small hill 360m above sea level, 3km from the town of Novelda.

The castle was built on the site of an earlier Roman fort in the late 12th Century by the Muslims. When the Christians conquered the region the castle and region fell under the Castilian Crown; and in 1305 was turned over to Aragon and became part of Valencia.

The Castle saw much renovation and improvements during the 14th Century including the interesting triangular tower.

 During the 14th and 15th Centuries various nobles and lords passed through the castle until it became the seat of the Barony of Novelda in 1448. The castle fell into disuse in the mid-16th Century and by the 18th Century was in a state of complete abandonment. Excavation and restoration work began in the early 20th Century and is still ongoing today.

View from the carpark of the triangular tower
Nasty concrete re-built wall (cerca 1960)
Side view of the tower
View across the courtyard
Second tower
Second tower entrance
Triangular tower
Arrow slit from inside the triangular tower
Internal doorway
Views from on top of the triangular tower
Debbie this photo shows the internal arches and keystones
Reinactors at the main gate

Friday 20 October 2023



April 21, 1914

 In a direct response to the arrest of nine American sailors by the Mexican authorities in Tampico on April 9th, President Woodrow Wilson ordered the US Navy to blockade the port of Veracruz. But when it became know a German merchantman SS Ypiranga was due to arrive at the port with a cargo of weapons on or around 21st April, Wilson ordered Rear Admiral Fletcher to land troops (marines and naval personnel) to seize the waterfront and prevent those weapons (sales of which were banned) to Huerta`s troops.

The weapons had actually been sourced by John Wesley De Kay, an American financier and businessman with large investments in Mexico, and a Russian arms dealer from Puebla called Leon Rasst and not the German government, as newspapers reported at the time.

Part of the arms shipment to Mexico originated from the Remington Arms Company in the United States. The arms and ammunition were to be shipped to Mexico via Odessa and Hamburg to skirt the American arms embargo. In Hamburg, De Kay added to the shipment. The landing of the arms was blocked at Veracruz, but they were unloaded a few weeks later in Puerto Mexico, a port controlled by Huerta at the time.

So on the morning of April 21st, 502 marines of 2nd Advanced Base Regiment (ABMR from here on) and 285 sailors plus marine detachments from the battleships Florida and Utah under the command of Marine Lt. Col. Wendell C. Neville, landed by whaleboat at the quay side and moved to secure the port.

 As planned earlier, American consul William W. Canada notified General Gustavo Maass that Americans were occupying the port and warned him to "cooperate with the naval forces in maintaining order." Maass, however, was not permitted by Mexico City to surrender the port. Maass ordered the Eighteenth Regiment, under the command of General Luis B. Becerril, to distribute rifles to the populace and to the prisoners in "La Galera" military prison, and then all to proceed to the dock area. Maass also ordered the Nineteenth Regiment, under the command of General Francisco A. Figueroa, to take up positions on Pier Number Four. Maass then radioed a dispatch to General Aurelio Blanquet, Minister of War in Mexico City, of the American invasion. Blanquet ordered Maass to not resist, but to retreat to Tejería, six miles inland.

 Mexican resistance was sporadic, the untrained civilians had problems obtaining the correct ammunition and lacked any sort of organised command or supply. The released prisoners under the command of Lt. Col. Manuel Contreras did put up some kind of opposition, along with some civilians and the cadets of the Naval Academy under Commodore Manuel Azuela which eventually led to the invaders having 4 dead and 20 wounded before shellfire from US naval vessels brought resistance to an end and a ceasefire being called!

 My game assumes the order to withdraw has not been passed to all units or random groups of armed civilians, so these will try and resist the invader.

As always in my games I make no apologies for using what I have, you will note the "Marines" are just my WW1 era Yanks in Montana cap and my US sailors are the same figures who have fought for Spain, Mexico and the USA before (a mix of Russian Naval Marines and armed German sailors) just painted up to look uniform in dress.

 American landing forces


1st Company, 2nd ABMR

2nd Coy, 2ABMR

Auto weapons platoon, 2ABMR 

Composite Company of Naval volunteers

3 x 10 man platoons plus a HQ & Hotchkiss MMG 

(and yes i know they should have a Colt "Digger" but I don`t have one with a naval crew)

Mexican forces

2 platoons 19th Federal Regiment 

Split between the custom house/ammunition warehouse and the Telegraph office

Cadets Veracruz Naval Academy (start in the Naval Academy)

4 x 10 fig groups of armed civilians, plus the odd soldier

US objectives:

Custom House

Telegraph office

Naval Academy

Special rules

Mexican civilian morale is poor -1 on all checks

The cadets are young, enthusiastic and inspired by national pride so gain +1 to morale on their first morale test

The Americans can call for support fire from the USS San Francisco anchored in the harbour (3-inch gun) by heliograph any time after turn 10.

My Britannia Miniatures German armed Trawler in its early C20th guise as the USS San Francisco 

The Americans have 20 game turns to capture all three objectives failure to do so is considered a victory for the Mexican defenders (be it a pyric one).

 My table

The Harbour

North end of the harbour 

Old Mole and light house, the old Spanish gun position in unoccupied

Northern part of Vera Cruz with the Naval Academy building

Harbour and railyard

Southern part of vera Cruz 

Customs Building (partially fortified)

Naval Academy

Telegraph office/Police Station

Our game starts after the initial unopposed landing, the naval company is to advance to the left through the railyard and capture the customs house, 1st Marine Company is to head up through the town to take the telegraph office and 2nd Marine Company has the task of taking the Naval Academy.

1st Marine Coy

2nd Marine Coy

Turn 2 saw the sailors filtering past the stopped train into the railyard, they come under sporadic rifle fire from the customs house and other buildings

1st Coy also pass the train heading into the town, they also come under light rifle fire (note the Colt machine gun supporting their advance)

2nd Coy moves right along the dock front towards the Academy

 Turn 3 the sailors engage with the Mexicans, they take several casualties (lucky Mexican dice), the Hotchkiss team sets-up on the flat car to give support.

1st Marine Coy find themselves under fire from a couple of buildings and move to engage.

2nd Coy keep moving right, they too take some rifle fire from the hotel and are forced to swing towards the sea out of direct line of sight.

Turn 4 sailors still exchanging rifle fire – they do cause some casualties among their opponents, then the Hotchkiss opens up taking several more – the defenders of the customs house need a morale check!

1st Marines occupy one building and prepare to storm two others, all the time being shot at and taking the odd casualty.

2nd Coy finds itself caught by a Maxim gun mounted of the Academy roof! One platoon takes cover behind the railway embankment, a second behind a building and the third tries and end run in a wide flanking move.

Turn 5 the Mexicans in the customs house fail their morale and lower their flag in surrender, the sailors rush forward to capture their prize.
1st Marine company, 1st platoon storm their target building. 2nd and 3rd platoons are engaged around other buildings.

The US Marine commander tries to contact the San Francisco by heliograph but fails!

 Turn 6 Sailors attempting to occupy buildings to the right of the customs house are fired on from a barricade up the street. The Sailors Hotchkiss team fires at the barricade in return (they cause no casualties) but I rule as the Mexicans are civilians they must make a morale check – they fail and run away…..

1st Coy, 1st platoon clear their building, 2nd Platoon clear theirs, 3rd platoon and a LMG team cover 2nd Platoon.

2nd Coy, 1st platoon move into the building they are sheltering behind, from there they can fire upon the hotel across the street

The Marine HQ contacts the San Francisco, but the ships gun crew don`t spot the Maxim gun………

Turn 7 the sailors now occupy the customs house and nearby buildings.

1st Coy, 1st platoon move out of their building towards the hotel (yes I know this wasn`t their orders, but hey Marines are expected to use their initiative).

2nd Coy, 1st platoon bring fire onto the hotel causing casualties upon the Mexican Naval Cadets defending the building.

2nd platoon is still pinned by the Maxim, 3rd platoon move into position to attack a building further to the right.

The San Francisco finally spots the Maxim but its first shell drops short

Turn 8 1st Company, 1st platoon storms the hotel as does half of 1st platoon, 2nd Company under the command of 2nd platoons commander, what was left of the cadet defenders surrender.

2nd Company, 3rd platoon storm the house opposite the Academy gates, again the remaining defenders surrender……..

Once again the San Francisco fails to find its target when firing at the Maxim.

Turn 9 begins with the Americans in full control of the dock front and all buildings.

The sailors fully occupy the customs building and surrounding buildings.

The San Francisco finally lays a shot on target wiping out the Maxim

2nd Marine Coy move to storm the Academy

1st Marine Coy supported by the Colt MMG begin their advance towards the telegraph office.


Turn 10 The San Francisco again lands a shell on target onto the Academy, this combined with 2nd Marine company`s wild charge forces a morale check among the remaining cadets – they fail badly and surrender.

1st Marine Coy work their way through the town, they exchange fire with both civilains and Mexican troops concealed among the buildings or firing from rooftops.

Turns 11 to 13

2nd Marine Coy secure the Academy and form a defensive cordon

1st Marine Company fight their way towards the telegraph office, they take casualties, but the Mexican civilians morale is fragile and upon losing men the groups usually break off and run away or hide.

Fleeing civilians try to take shelter in the telegraph office

 Turn 14 the Marine machine guns sweep Mexican defenders off the rooves, this causes a morale check among the survivors – they fail (badly).

 Turn 15 1st Platoon, 1st Marine Company storms into the telegraph office courtyard – surviving Mexicans surrender.

 Victory to the US forces, all objectives captured within the required time-scale. Casualties were a bit higher than the real incident, this is down to a number of factors – lucky dice mostly! On the whole I`m happy how the game ran, but since setting this one up I`ve found a better map among my notes and the table isn`t accurate, so I may re-set the table and try again.