Monday, April 18, 2016

Review Great Northern War Comendium

So where to start?

Lets start with what you get for £115 pluss shipping.

You get to Volumes each about 300 pages long. They are both filled with lots of illustrations, maps, pictures of uniforms, drums, cannons, muskets and swords. All of which are great help for wargamers. A very good picture of a Swedish grenade pouch helped alot!

Besides all the viusual goodies. You have various articles places more or less in chronolgical order.
In between the articles dealing with what happend, You have articles dealing with armies, uniforms and the players in the game.

The books has around 20 comtributers, ranging from amateurs like us that has delved into the subject. to acedemics with lots of letters infront of their name,

There won't be much pictures in the reivew sinply because in theory they might end up random places online and people use them for references with out paying!

I'm dividing up the review into the diffrent types articles that is in the compendium

Part 1: Army/uniform info.

All major armies in the war gets their own article, Naturaly Sweden gets a big one, And Denmark, Russia and Saxony are all there. As well as smaller players like Polen-Lithuania, Cossacks ect.

The articles are some 5-10 pages long for the "formal" armies there is atleast 2 pages of uniform plates one for infantry and one for cav/dragoons/artillery. For army with less formal uniforms like Cossacks and polish hussars and light cav, There aren't plates as such but lots of texts and other illustrations. As well as photos from museums showing for instance Hussar armor.
They also deal with organistation, and recruitment for the countries and armies. This does not only give you lots of info but also really lets you compare armies. There is a striking diffrence between how the armies of Sweden was made and trained and equiped vs say Saxony. More then you would think since they where both modern European armies.

Allready I have gotten quite a bit of good info from these Army/unifom pages. I learned that Provincial regiments in sweden, did not have all their grandiers in a single company like most countries did, but spread them out! This was great info to get!
Also the very fleshed out Swedish article have lots of photes of drums, grandiers equipment ect. There is a great photo that shows a grandiers grenade pouch. This was very helpfull when painting grenadiers.

I should note that even with all the info you can't get it all in the volumes. Like in the Swedish article they do point out the Karpus was used at times by some swedish regiments. But if you want to know which regiment used the karpus in which battle. You still need to go to (if you see that page as a reliable source) The man that runs is also a contributar to the compendium.

Part of the Swedish army article. The Swedish article is very good and filled out!
Not suprising as they are the stars of the show!

Part 2: Campaigns/battles

So there is alot of info here, Some of these articles are purely a campaign/battle desicription, while others like the one dealing with the Polish-Lithuanian civil war, has a broader scope to.

Some of the campgains/battle articles about eastern europe are very intersting, a period i personaly knew little about, Ofcourse others will know much more about this then what is coverd in the volumes.

This is where i feel the books lacks the most, tho it's purley my subjective opinion!
General a campaing/battle articale is less then 10 pages. The part leading up to the battles are generally very good, They are clear, gives you a great view of what lead to the battles.
How ever quite a few of the battle descritions are very short(almost all are 2-4 pages long) And they are often very dry. I can best describe them as wikipedia style. Very clear and good in info. But also dry. There is nothing that pulls you into the action most of the time. It's simply this happend, then this and it's over.

This might be because I'm used to reading books of 350-450 pages dealing with just one campaign/battle mostly Napoleonic period. In these books there is alot more personal stories descriptions. They help to paint a vivid living pictures of things.

Now I get you can't spend 30 pages pr battle in a compedium. I get that. But even a single page more pr. battle would help if that mean it helped paint a vivid picture. They might have choosen to to keep it this way for space? It might be the authors they don't normaly write that way? Not sure.

I'll give you two examples. One will be the most disapointing battle description and one will be the best. And the diffrences aren't that big.

The worst is Narva. It was short and very A-B-C. It made is sound like the Swdes just walked up and the won. Yet they did loose about 1800 dead and wounded. Granted thats not a lot for a battle that size. But still I did not get drawn into the battle. I'm painting Björneborg regiment now and I knew it took part in the battle. I was hopeing to know what that regiment did in that battle. But no. None the wiser.

The best so far has easly been Fraustadt, I dont't think its actually that much longre. But it paints a much more vivid picture. About how the Saxons fired to soon and the Swedes run up place their muskets on the chevaux de frises and fire point blank into the Saxons. (yes I'm a warmogorer) It little things like that that help. It also mentions regimental names more. who fought who ect. I want to know which Saxons or Swedish regiment that did what ect. As I said I don't think the battle description is any longer. Just much more enganging.

Poltova is ofcourse a biggy, it gets two articles with slightly diffrent angles on it. It's quite good stuff. but still Fraustadt is my favorite.

Don't get me wrong. the campgain and battle info you get no mater what battle you read in these volumes  are the best you are going to get. Nothing online comes close!
Also all articals have a list of other sources to read. So those sources might very well have more detailed info on battles.

Each Campain/battle article starts with a great piece art!

Part 3: Miscellaneous articles

So these are the type of articles like Siege warfare during the great northen war, or how chaplins worked in the Swedish army.
They provide a good insight into the period, fleshing out the parts that don't get mentioned in to much detail other places. The one on siege warfare is quite straight forward, most that will read this book allready have a good grasp on how this worked in this period. But still it has lots of illusrations and pictures of siege cannon, mortars ect. And ofcourse like all wars there are slight variantions from GNW or say NYW or WSS. So there is always something to learn. It also explanes in breif how many of the the sieges in the war played out. And how most of them in one or more ways where diffrent from the "classic Vauban" siege.  Another one is about the plauge that hit Sweden.
There are many more, about what ifs ect.
The articles are well writen and lovely to read.

Part 4: Biographies 

Many of the big names of this period gets a bio, So far all of them have been very good. Peter The Great bio is not so much a bio of him, more what he did during the GNW not much about his early life ect. I'm glad to see that Tordenskiold got his own bio, me being a Norwegian patriot! I also very much enjoyed the bio of Carl Gustav Rehnskiöld. And I now what to paint his Swedish volunteer regiment that fought against the french!
Another one is Poul Vandelbo Løvenørn(Poul Vendelboe de Lovenorn in he book) A Danish soldier, minister and diplomat. He had the honor of overseeing three Swedish surrenders. I also want to do his regiment now!

Part 5: Finaly thoughts/is it worth it.

So I have added 3 points here to judge if it's worth it. Because I want this review to help people decide if they want to buy it.

1: Is it worth it for me?
Yes it is. I do not regret getting it, It has been great inspiration infact because of reading this I've decided to change my GNW project focus from Sweden vs Russia. To Sweden vs Saxony.  Partly becasue of many of the articles about the Saxon war are very well writen. Also it will let me do a brigde or so of Russian in suport. There was even a battle where the Saxon had Polish hussars on their team(so finnaly an excuse to paint this iconic soldiers) And as mentioned I want to paint sevral regiments what where the regiments of some of the people that have bios. Not only inspiration but great info on uniforms and organistation.

2. Is it worth it for you!
I think I can say yes! Infact I would not only recomend it for those very intrested in GNW but all that are intrested in late 17th cenutry/18th century warfare. Yes it does have a high price but some of the info you get get here, you can't get any other place in english. Just one example is Poul Vandelbo Løvenørn. This man does not have an english wiki page, so unless you can read Norwgian/Danish/Swedish or Polish you are out of luck. It's perfectly possible you can find some info on him in english some strange dark place of the internet. Or a book writen in english. So even those with just a hint of intrest in ther period should get it, if they have the money.

3. Did the compendiums forfill the auther/editor goal?
From reading the introduction, Reading just how monumental the task of making this project happen. And the goal of the project. To bring the most comprehensive english source of the GNW  I would say they deffinalty succeded. Yes some wikipedia aritcles might be longer. There might be more words on Peter the great in wikipedia then in this compendium. But I would say 80% of what is in this book is not avalable for free online. Atleast not in english. And a decent part of it is not even avalable in english even if you pay for it. And honestly I can read swedish, but I do find it tiresome. Hell I find reading danish tiresome and that basicly bad norwegian. And so I will probebly not read swedish books on the GNW, Reading sevral 100 pages in swedish not enjoyable for me.
And i can just forget to read German, Polish or Russian. So even for me that is capable of reading Danish and Swedish this is a great thing!

This is a book that is a must for any GNW wargamer or 18th century wargamer. The book even mention miniatures at the end, as well as list of museums that deal with this period. All in all stop reading and buy these two volumes.


legatus hedlius said...

Very useful review. Thank you.

Gunfreak said...

You're wellcome!