A Grievously Savage Race

Serenìsima Respùblica de Venexia…the Serene Republic of Venice.Venetians redefining words since 697…

Milan these days is more famous for its fashionistas and handbags, or for the more cynical, for being a cement filled asthma attack. Whilst Venice is a romantic world heritage site, which those same cynics might be inclined to regard as a sinking bog. But in the 15th century they were much less focussed on tourists and leathergoods, and much more interested in beating the hell out of each other. Twenty nine years of beating to be precise.


Anyone who has read or watched any Shakespeare will know that medieval and early modern Italian states were filled with dukes, and one such was Filippo Maria Visconti, Duke of Milan. A man described in encyclopaedias as ugly and cruel (which is just about a step away from having your photo under the definition of *stupid* in the dictionary) he was regarded as a good politician. Which is just as well, because he wasn’t going to win any matrimonial awards after beheading his first wife…


He was ambitious, and in his role of guardian to Teobaldo II, he sought to expand his lands. In 1423 Florence took umbridge at this (that’s umbridge not Umbria…) and attempted to intervene. Venice, in a sort of older brother role, decided to get involved and the war escalated.

Eventually, as with many wars, there was a treaty. Unfortunately for peace, whilst Florence had an interfering older brother, Milan had one of those friends, in the shape of the Holy Roman Emperor, Sigismund. Sigismund was in his time Holy Roman Emperor, Emperor of the House of Luxemburg, King of Hungary, King of Croatia, King of Bohemia and an interfering little sod with bad taste in hair. He advised Visconti not to sign, and consequently more fighting broke out. The second battle started in May 1427 and was relatively short, lasting only a year. Unfortunately for Visconti, Sigismund was something of a fair weather friend, and when the going got really tough was strangely nowhere to be found.

The third battle ran for two years and began after the Venitians invaded Lucca, in Tuscany. Visconti sent Sforza to defend it, but it seems Sforza wasn’t much better a friend than Siggy Emperor-lust and at the sight of some nice shiny coins conveniently stopped defending Lucca. However, despite being able to turn one of the Milanese boys, the Venitians were not so fortunate later on in the battle and both sides ended up in something of a status quo.

Despite being able to recruit some of the most talented militarists of the time Visconti had some problems throughout the battles. Firstly that those talented leaders seemed to be perpetually jealous of one another, and the fourth and final part of the war was mostly comprised of the condottieri fighting amongst themselves. Secondly that Venice really was rather powerful. Incidentally I’m not trying to engender sympathy here, I mean the man parted the lovely Beatrice from her equally lovely head simply because she got a bit interested in his work.

The somewhat tenuous final peace came toward the end of the century. Tenuous mainly because its hard to describe Italy as a peaceful place. Though the Peace of Lodi in 1454 created something of an accord, a country filled with Medicis, Sfozas, and Borgias was never going to be blissfully happy.

If you fancy recreating some Lombardy battles there’s a few kits that could be adapted…

The Zvedza 1:72 Peasants and Field Artillery

Italeri 1:72 Medieval Tournament

And since the Italians have always been known for good dress sense perhaps the Landsknechts could double for them.

And finally… the obnoxious Visconti probably thought he’d be a name everyone in centuries to come would remember… but, man with a name like a minty biscuit, you are near forgotten…the lovely Beatrice however, has a whole opera: Beatrice di Tenda…ha take that Visconti!

PS-here’s the whole opera to keep you going till next week…and bonus points for the first person to identify where the post title comes from (arcanescenery@gmail.com or comment!)

This week long ago: the week a town went down

You could, perfectly reasonably, be a fully grown adult in Britain, America or perhaps maybe Yemen, and believe that the only places involved in WWII were the UK, Germany, the US, Japan, Russia and France. Most war films feature heroic Americans, plucky but polite Brits, demonic but polite Germans and the French running about in berets being alternately terribly brave resistance fighters, or women easily won with German charm. The Russians intermittently appear as grumpy people with tanks and the Japanese as manic pilots. It is almost a miracle if Poland, the starting point, makes an appearance.

It was though, named a World War for a jolly good reason, most of us might only remember the ‘big boys’ of World War II, but many many countries  were involved. The Allies could count Ethiopia, Greece, and the Philippines among their number. Whilst for example Finland and Iraq were part of the Axis-aligned forces, and in Korea and Thailand there were resistance fights building. Some of the most significant forces on the Allies behalf came from countries that were part of the former, or dying embers of the, British Empire. India, New Zealand, Australia,  and South Africa all provided forces to the war effort. As did America’s often overshadowed nearest neighbour; Canada.



December 28 1943 marked the final day in one of the shortest, but most brutal battles of World War II. Ortona is a small Italian coastal town in the Abruzzo region, as it stands today the population is around 23,000 people, before December of 1943 it had a population of 10,000. It sits at the side of a deep-water port, which for the British with their big ships was a very attractive prospect. Unfortunately, Ortona, formed part of the German fortifications of Italy known as the Winter Line. The British 78th Infantry had been fighting for a long time by December and the Canadian 1st Infantry came to relieve them.


Canadian Snipers

The German 1st parachute division were tasked with keeping control of Ortona. They were an elite, talented, and merciless group of soldiers who had been tasked with defending Ortona at any cost. The cost was 1300 Ortonians, 2 Canadian battalions and two German battalions. The close combat battle began on the 20th December, and by the 28th the Canadians had secured a costly victory. The house to house warfare technique, took out much of the town’s buildings, and by the end of the eight days it had earned the battle the nickname of  “Little Stalingrad”.

Richard Heidrich , German Parachute Commander, from the German Federal Archive

Do you like to recreate close quarter combat? Which are your preferred battles?