BY JINGO - Colonial History & Wargames Page

March Book Reviews

By Prof. Rick Norton

For some reason or another there have been very few new books coming my way over the past month. This has, in turn, afforded me the opportunity to go crawling amidst dusty library stacks, hoping to unearth the odd forgotten or neglected tome. Sometimes these expeditions come up empty, but not this time. It probably helped that I was chasing down a recommendation from the well-read membership of the Colonial Wars Onelist. The topic under discussion at the time involved the fall of the German concession in China to the Japanese in WWI and a rewarding discussion it was. Finding the first book in the topic led to another, as is so often the case.

The first nugget to be uncovered was "The Japanese Siege of Tsingtau: World War I In Asia," by Charles B. Burdick, (Hamden: Archon Books, 1976), 274 pages, ISBN: 0-208-01594-9, Price: Unknown.

If you have not yet had a chance to study the movements of the First World in Asia, you are in for a treat. The campaign was over quickly, and when compared to the carnage and scale of the Western front, Asia was a sideshow of small note.

In part this sense of the war being a sideshow might be due to the numeric disparity of the forces involved. The Japanese and the British outnumbered the Germans by a wide mark, out gunned their Teutonic counterparts, and knew that no reinforcements from the Kaiser would reach Tsingtau. Yet, if one looks below the obvious, the gamer will find ample material for a variety of scenarios and the historian a wealth of interesting insights and events.

Far from being a sideshow in the backwater of a Great War, the Japanese capture of Germany's China possessions was a major event in the history of Japan and of Asia. The campaign saw its share of firsts. The first instance of air-to-air combat, the first use of radio to control indirect gunfire and the first time Asians had commanded Europeans being just a few of note.

Burdick's book is basically an overview. He explores the commanders' different strategies and preparations, and then reviews each aspect of the campaign in chronological order. There are sixteen pages of photographs and enough maps to allow an accurate tracking of the flow of events.

Burdick also does a good job of discussing the weaponry and tactics involved, although one could wish for more data on uniforms. All in all, a useful and well-crafted one-volume history.

Right next to Burdick was this offering:

"The Fall Of Tsingtau: With A Study Of Japan's Ambitions in China," by Jefferson Jones, (Boston: Houghton Miflin Company, 1915) 215 pages, No ISBN, Price Unknown.

Jefferson Jones was an American correspondent covering the Far East, when that really meant something. As the title of his book indicates he started out WWI covering the Japanese conquest of Germany's China territories, but rather quickly expanded his interest into an expose of what he believed was Nippon's larger scheme.

The book has tremendous shortcomings as history. There are no maps, and no real description of military maneuvers, uniforms or weapons. There is also a surprising lack of a strategic appreciation of the situation, other than to note that the Germans were surrounded and could not expect reinforcements. Yet the book is still worthwhile.

For one thing, it is a window into Western attitudes of the day. Despite his protests to the contrary, Jones does not like the Japanese. He grudgingly admits their tactical skill, noting the superb quality, but unhygienic manners, of their troops. He credits their foresight in selecting their armaments and acknowledges their battlefield successes. What he doesn't like is an Asian general commanding British troops. He doesn't like the fact that when the Japanese took down the Germans they also picked up a slice of Chinese territory and he doesn't like the fact that after the dust had settled, the Japanese forced a very one-sided treaty on the Chinese. Jones was also worried that the Japanese were executing a master plan and that only the United States - a country he idealizes in no uncertain terms - and Great Britain might thwart the designs of those close to the Emperor. These were not empty rantings by his standards, and while Jefferson's views may well be described as racist in today's climate, he does attempt to provide what he would consider solid evidence to back up his claims.

Jones, like any good U.S. reporter, was impressed by the ability to bring order out of chaos and by gadgets. The Germans are described as the only people who could truly create a modern European community in China. And the Japanese are given high marks for the first use of radio gunfire spotting, bombing aircraft and other such innovations. There are also about a dozen photographs, some of which clearly show British troops in WWI uniforms with sun helmets.

This is a "mood and background" book. With relatively little on the war in the East it may have to do until something better comes along.

From China and the First World War, we travel to India and the Mutiny.

"The Siege of Krishnapur, by J.G. Farrell (New York: Orion, 1996) price: $19.95 (U.S. per Amazon.com), ISBN:185799-4914 (paperback).

This is a historical novel. Set in the fictional town of Krishnapur, it tells the tale of one far-sighted commissioner of the John Company and of the mutiny. It is a pleasure to read or listen to (it has been turned into an audio-tape) and I highly recommend it.

As all good, perhaps all great, literature does it tells the story of people. The people whose stories are told in this book are predominately British citizens who find themselves besieged in the Krishnapur residency. Some are brave and some are foolish and some are both. All are very human. Farrell blends their personalities into his story, and, unlike other "modern" writers manages to avoid both the bedroom and the gutter, without sacrificing the quality or accuracy of the book. Farrell is no prude however and issues of sexuality are dealt with.

Some of the scenes Farrell paints are as sharp as any reader could wish for. The attack of the black flies for example is incredibly vivid. So too, is his ability to portray the conditions of the siege and the changes in the personalities and moods of those within. Unfortunately, Farrell does not do the same with the besiegers. They appear to the reader as they might have to the British whom they were trying to destroy. The mutineers and their supporters are unknowable, dangerous figures seen either at a distance or through the smoke of battle.

The siege of Krishnapur is actually a composite history. It is made up of factoids, incidents and anecdotes from many of the sieges the British endured in 1857. Readers with a good historical grounding in the mutiny will have no trouble picking these out.

From the point of view of the gamer, Farrell could have included a bit more on uniforms, and tactical organization, but this is an empty gripe. The Siege of Krishnapur contains a wealth of scenarios, from the siege itself to some of the tiny skirmishes that were part of the larger battle. Those who wish to could build a seamless series of games revolving around the siege, can easily find rules to support each level of gaming. For example Larry Brom's "The Sword and the Flame" would work quite well for the smaller actions, while Steve Winter's (a.k.a. "The Colonial Angle") "Ere Comes Fuzzy-Wuzzy" would do nicely for the siege itself. The siege also presents an opportunity to bring in a glorious array of colors, uniforms and buildings.

The only drawback to "The Siege of Krishnapur" is that it is out of print. You'll have to go to the local bookstore or library to find it. But it's worth the trip.

We wind up this month's column with another book on Asia. You'll probably have to go to the library for this one as well, although it is very much in print. It also may be worth the trip.

"The War against the Americans: Resistance and Collaboration in Cebu: 1899 - 1906" by Resil B. Mojares ( Manila: Ateneo De manila University Press, 1999) 250 pages, $20.00 U.S. (paperback cited by Amazon.com - not yet ordered), ISBN: 97155-0298-9.

If the Spanish-American War and its aftermath is your special area of interest, find and buy this book. It is a major find and a lovely addition to our knowledge of the conflict. And it's a good book for the colonial gamer.

Why the praise? Fair question. First, the book is written by a Filipino scholar, so there is already a different viewpoint to which the reader will be exposed. Second, the focus of the work is on a single island, that of Cebu. This means there is an unusually detailed amount of information on the number and names of people involved, as well as armaments and tactics.

Mojares presents the history of the war. He starts with the initial establishment of local government in the wake of the Spanish defeat, the decision to resist the Americans and the raising of military forces. He details the first phase of resistance that of set piece battles from entrenched positions. These are great for the colonial gamer as they bring a wide variety of scenarios to mind and include everything from brass smoothbores to U.S. Navy gunboats.

The "stand-up battle" phase did not last long and was replaced by the second phase, which I would describe as a general resistance movement. Cebu was divided into sectors, each with a guerilla band. A series of small-scale actions followed as the Americans tried to pacify the island. Although the attacks and ambushes (by both sides) were usually small affairs, the guerillas occasionally mounted more robust efforts. For example, gamers with a sense of whimsy may wish to replicate a rather successful attack on a house of ill repute much favored by U.S. clientele.

In time, through a stick and carrot policy, the forces of the United States considerably reduced the power of the guerilla. Several guerilla leaders were killed or captured in the process. This began the third phase that of die hard resistance.

Members of hill tribes who lived in some very rough country carried out this last phase of resistance. Actions in this period are more like those experienced toward the end of the Boer War. Guerillas were always on the run, cut-off, and hungry and poorly equipped. It would take years, but the effort would cost Americans more sweat than blood. The U.S. casualties during this period were all but non-existent. Still, more good potential scenarios may be found here.

Remember, this is a serious book. It wasn't written for gamers, but because it is serious, we can use it. And we'll learn a lot more about the place, the people and their history in the process.

That's it for March. Hope to see many of you at Cold Wars - my favorite historical gaming convention. And even if we meet across opposite sides of the miniature battlefield,

Good luck and good gaming!

Rick

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