Monday, 19 November 2018

The Weekly Sitrep....Number 3

This week has been productive in many ways - but not quite in the way I intended!

I spent some time researching and making notes for the naval side of the Arab Revolt and unearthed some details about the Turks fighting the British in Southern Arabia around Aden. Small scale stuff to be sure but ideal for Portable Wargaming - even for The Men Who Would Be Kings. It has given me a new area to explore and will help to round out the project from a geographical perspective. Besides, and theatre that has operations involving armoured cruisers supporting a landing by elements of a naval brigade gets my vote! Work continues on the list of ships required for this but I am quite close to finalising it. There will be a couple of surprises contained therein - certainly some of the operations I am thinking about would best be described as outrageous....

I have planned to revive and reinvigorate the block armies for use on a non gridded playing surface and so moves are afoot to tackle this. What I am proposing to do will not take long and will not be difficult but it is a case of when to fit it in. I need to acquire the materials to do this in any event so suspect hat it will feature early in the new year.

I rather like the look of this and am already thinking about other periods the system could be used for - not to mention using figures rather than the cardboard counters included - despite being designed by the incredibly talented Peter Dennis.

Now this is something I would be rather interested in for the ACW Kurz and Allison project amongst other things....

There are two offerings due from Dan Mersey of Lion/Dragon Rampant/The Men Who Would Be Kings fame - another rule set in aforementioned series called Rebels and Patriots covering the wars in America to the Civil War. I will be very interested to see these (due out in January I believe) as they may feature for the Kurz and Allison ACW project. Also from Mr Mersey is a board game called Battle Ravens which covers fighting from the perspective of a dark age shield wall. I rather like the idea behind this and the first thing that struck me was that it would be easy to substitute figures for the Peter Dennis penned units in the game. the second thing that struck me was why not use the same system for well, anything where the combat is up close, personal and shoulder to shoulder. My first thought was Greek Hoplite warfare followed by pike blocks. Romans against tribesmen or ordered troops - spears or pikes - could all make for interesting match ups.

I am really looking forward to this!

We are getting close to the release of Cruel Seas from Warlord Games and I for one am very excited about this. I have been lurking around my local W.H.Smiths for the December edition of Wargames Illustrated for an overview as well as the free plastic sprue (which I know some readers have already seen) of either an S Boat or a Vosper MTB.

If anyone buys the magazine and does not want the model let me know as I will happily take them off you!

By virtue of a rather busy domestic schedule I was not able to get any painting done over the last couple of days but next weekend I have two sessions I can make use of. this should enable me to finish the WW2 ships for the North Atlantic project aside from the bases.

Part of the domestic round this weekend included the annual 'double up' of Nectar points at out local Sainsbury. Over the course of the year we had accrued over a hundred pounds of Nectar points which meant that we could spend £200 on selected lines in store. Suffice it to say there was a lot of Christmas presents included in this for the family. For my own part I shall be acquiring a copy of Vietnam by Max Hastings. It is currently priced at £13.99 in Sainsbury so effectively I paid £7 for it. For a £30 book that is pretty darned good!

All in all then it was a good week with lots of 'stuff' taken care of despite not getting to the painting table which is something I shall tackle in earnest next weekend.

Friday, 16 November 2018

Going Around the Block (Again!)....Part 2

A frame for two dice. I plan to get some of these from Warbases without the central bar so that rectangular blocks will fit in them.

Following on from earlier post (and grateful thanks for all the suggestions which helped to clarify my thoughts somewhat!) I have settled on the way I shall be tackling the thorny question of unit flags for the block armies. The solution I have come up with will probably seem a little on the overkill side but there are a number of advantages for me.

I am proposing to use bases for the blocks on the dice frame principle.

Each block will have a base with a frame on it. The base will be textured and painted and at this stage I am looking at a green and a sand coloured set. A number of the bases will have either a small piece of tube or a magnet to which a flag can be fixed for the unit command stand. Being removable is important as obviously the blocks can represent many different forces so having fixed flags was never an option. The bases will enable a uniform frontage - I shall be using 40mm which is pretty much standard for 15mm figures - and when they deployed on the table adjacent to the other bases in the unit will have realistic sub unit divisions. This is helpful when representing a formation where a block is a single unit, for example in a four battalion brigade.

This will the kind of thing I am looking at. The block will take up more room than the d6 shown and by placing either a piece of hollow tube or a magnet midway along the front edge a flag can be easily placed.

As far as the textured base and dice frame are concerned the visual impact will be to make the blocks appear smaller when viewed from eye level but in fact they will be taller due to the base. Having a block with a standard will make the units more readily identifiable as well as providing a focal point for the formation when manoeuvring.

As well flags for units I am also thinking about high level command bases. An idea I considered sometime ago was to use 15mm figures for command groups for ease of identification. These would help with translating the block armies into something more familiar as, for example, if one had a base with a model of Napoleon on it their would be no doubt that the array of blue blocks represent a French army. Even i could knock up some meaningful looking command groups! Whilst this is a nice idea my thinking at present is to have flags printed with the name of the commander written on them.

The main reason I am spending time on this particular element of the block armies is very much to do with using them on a non-grid basis. The collection will look far better and with obvious command elements and formations shown on the table will make for a visually more compelling action - especially when supported with a properly constructed scenario and an after action report in which the purple prose flows readily!

"They shall not grow old"

A hugely impressive achievement.

Yesterday evening, on the train home from work after a particularly trying day (although not trying in a WW1 trench being shot at and shelled kind of way!), I watched the second half of Peter Jackson's WW1 documentary - They shall not grow old'.

There is not a great deal I can say about it other than by turns it was heroic, awful, horrific, honest, down-to-earth, funny even, in a gallows humour kind of way - but above all a testimony to the bottomless wellspring of the human spirit.

The colourisation was quite breathtaking and for me really served to bring the full catastrophe to life; far removed from the blurry, black and white images and  jerky footage one usually sees.

Although my interest in the Great War tends to shy away from the Western Front (accepting 1914 and 1918) this is a compelling argument for paying it more attention in the future.

As for the title of the documentary I could do more than than quote the poem from which is was taken.

For the Fallen

Poem by Robert Laurence Binyon (1869-1943), published in The Times newspaper on 21 September 1914.

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.
Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.
They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam.
But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;
As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Going Around the Block (Again!)

The (not so) new blocks. The middle row is the standard type whilst the top row with the dark strip represent 'heavy' types whilst the bottom row are for 'light' types. It is easy to see the way these types are facing but less obvious with the standard 'line' types.

One of the parts of my collection I shall be making use of once again are my block armies. Readers of the blog will no doubt recall the vast number of games I fought using these (see the folder marked 'games') and it is fair to say that I certainly got a lot of mileage out of them. As an easy way to try out a new set of rules or historical period they are ideal and I am really pleased I persevered with them.

All of the games I fought using the blocks were using grid based rules and so for the most part the facing of a unit was largely irrelevant. I have a number of ideas in mind for some games using the blocks but without a grid. Units will be made up of a number of blocks in the usual way – 4, 3 and 2 for infantry, cavalry and artillery respectively – and I will be able to represent formations such as columns, lines and squares. In effect a single block will represent a base of figures.

This is a fairly straightforward idea and indeed, is something I had always planned to do. I do however, have a small problem. Looking at the block picture above you can see the style I have adopted for differentiating between heavy and light troops with the strip along the bottom edge of the block. When deployed ordinarily the strip would be facing the owning player so the facing of the block can be readily determined. However, the main bulk of the blocks for all troop types do not have any such strip so determining facing can be problematic.

I really do not want to re-label several hundred blocks with a facing marker of some kind as this would take an age to do, not to mention using copious amounts of printer ink. At this stage I am unsure about how I am going to tackle this although one idea is to mark the label in some fashion so that it is obvious which way the block is facing. Another alternative would be mark the leading face of the block itself. Another alternative is to place a base under one of the blocks in the unit or use some kind of ‘sleeve’ with a small flag attached to it. With the flag to the fore the rest of the unit would be assumed to be facing the same direction. If I am honest I would prefer to keep the blocks as they are so my thoughts are very much leaning towards the ‘flag on a base’ option.

I have wanted to use flags in some way with the block collection for some time now as it will help to give a sense of identity to the force being represented. I am thinking that 15mm scale flags would look rather good so I may well spend some time experimenting with them.

Using the blocks with non-grid based rules opens up a number of opportunities for me to explore across the entire ‘horse and musket’ period and beyond. It will be interesting to see where this goes as I currently have nothing specific in mind. The 'flag' idea though is something I want to be able to square away sooner rather than later.

North Atlantic Operations....Part 4

One from the archives (was it really 3 1/2 years ago?!). WW1 German battle cruisers in the shape of 1:2400th scale Stonewall Miniatures. The models for the Jutland project have long since gone but I shall be revisiting the scale for the Arab Revolt as the actions envisaged will be a whole lot smaller and more table top friendly!

Some of the Royal Navy opposition for the above. Again these are Stonewall Miniatures except for HMS Canada which is a Panzerschiffe resin model.

One of the ongoing problems I have when painting 20th century warships is what colour to paint the decks. As a rule I prefer to use natural wood and indeed, in the past have used the same colour for all ships regardless of nationality. The end result was OK but as was pointed out to me having differing colours for each nationality makes table top identification far easier. With the smaller models I am using – 1:4800th – it becomes even more important.

For the Bismarck operation a number of Royal Navy ships sported camouflage schemes which looked pretty good although I am not convinced about how effective they would have been in service. One must assume that they were though if only because of the widespread use they enjoyed. For the models I am using I shall be sticking to overall grey though, with the Royal Navy ships being a darker shade than that used by the Germans.

My plan is to tackle the decks at the weekend and, assuming all goes well, I should also be able to tackle the funnel tops which will mean that the ships will only need varnishing to be finished. I can tackle the bases the following weekend.

The only other issue I have with this collection concerns the markings on the aircraft carrier flight decks. I shall keep these simple but I have yet to work out how best to represent them. An idea I am thinking of is using a fine tipped paint marker pen. There may be some decals I could use but as yet I have not really researched this in any detail.

If I can get a good weekend painting session in I will be looking at the rather unprecedented spectacle of completing the first part of a project ahead of schedule as the bases are quick to finish. Certainly I will be done by the end of the month.

Monday, 12 November 2018

The Naval Dimension of the Arab Revolt....Part 2

HMS Swiftsure - sister ship to HMS Triumph. Originally ordered by Chile but purchased by the Royal Navy to stop the Russians acquiring them.

One of the problems when organising a campaign is not so much what to include – rather it is what NOT to include. It is very easy to keep adding bits and pieces but before long the whole thing becomes overweight and cumbersome. For me the issue is all about justifying within the context of the story what is possible and why.

I have always enjoyed having a fully developed back story to a campaign as it helps to support and drive the action. Of the two major campaigns I have taken part in – Madasahatta and the follow on South East Asia Naval campaign – the former was very well developed in this respect but the latter was most certainly not. That is not to say that the naval campaign was not fun – it was – but it lacked the narrative of Madasahatta.

Now I am planning my spin on the Arab Revolt the decision to expand the naval dimension needs to be, and I hesitate to use the word, justified. I am effectively taking the historical situation as it existed at the time and ‘upping the ante’ from the naval dimension. However, this aspect needs to be addressed in what I would call a sympathetic way. In other words historically viable.

I have already gone some way towards achieving this in that the vast majority of what is available to either side will be for the most part second rate or obsolete units, ideal for colonial policing and flag showing but not up to modern standards. I have considered a number of ideas and am leaning towards the following (of permutations thereof).

  1. The German South East Asia Squadron head West rather than East. This would mean that Von Spee, Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, Emden etc would head straight for Madasahatta to use it as a base to support German East Africa, the Turks in Arabia as well as interdicting Allied shipping from Indian Ocean heading for the Suez Canal. The German Mediterranean Squadron consisting of the Goeben and Breslau, instead of heading for Constantinople brazenly forced the Suez Canal. There are variants to this in that the sister ship of the Goeben and Breslau, the Moltke and Magdeburg respectively were earmarked to replace the original pair.
  2. The German cruiser Blucher or even the Von Der Tann – both had been considered as ‘sellable’ to the Turks – manage to get to German East Africa, escorted by the Konigsberg, before the outbreak of hostilities
  3. The Turks have a guard squadron based in Madasahatta consisting of a pair of obsolete pre-dreadnoughts and a number of torpedo boats.
  4. The Germans could send some U Boats by a circuitous route to also operate from Madasahatta.
Whichever option or options of the above I choose the concern for the Allies will be that the Germans will be overall command of the naval forces centred on Madasahatta. Any of these would mean that a vigorous response from the Royal Navy.

From the other side of the fence the choices are a lot easier. The Royal Navy routinely used old and obsolete ships overeas and would keep the more modern vessels in home waters facing the threat from across the North Sea. For my purposes the Red Sea squadron would be reinforced and would make use of Mombasa , Aden/Oman and of course the British part of Madashatta. For the most part we are looking at older armoured and protected cruisers with the occasional visit from more up to date units. The options I am considering for the Royal Navy are based on the following.

  1. HMS Swiftsure and Triumph will form the main strength of the Royal Navy in the region, alternating between Mombasa and Madasahatta. These vessels will form an effective counter to the German armoured cruisers – although if the Blucher acts in concert with the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau life could get rather more interesting.
  2. The Royal Nay will have a marked advantage in modern light cruisers to supplement the older vessels.
  3. Should the Germans/Turks have the use of a dreadnought battle cruiser then a pair of similar vessels would be sent to tackle the problem – these would arrive via the Suez Canal.
  4. Some of the more modern armoured cruisers available could be deployed in theatre depending on how the naval situation is progressing.
  5. There may be a couple of older pre-dreadnoughts acting as guard/station flagships.
 Both sides will naturally make use of requisitioned steamers for use as armed merchant cruisers in order to save the wear and tear on the warships.

Obviously these ideas are very much in the sphere of 'what ifs' and I will need to nail down the specifics but I think I am on the right track.

The Weekly Sitrep....Number 2

SMS Scharnhorst - coming to an Indian Ocean island soon....

It has been a productive and positive week overall set against the backdrop of Remembrance Day - more of which later.

My progress for this week falls into two parts with the former being very much Great War focused and the latter to the Second World War.

In respect of my Arab Revolt project I have decided to include Madasahatta as a supporting partner in order that I can expand the naval dimension in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean. I am currently drawing up fleet lists for this although perhaps describing the forces involved as 'fleets' is a touch of an exaggeration. I reckon that allowing for all of the options I envisage arising we are looking at around three dozen models at a maximum. In pole position for this are Tumbling Dice as they have virtually everything I need in 1:2400th. There will be blog post about this in due course once I have finalised what I am doing.

For the North Atlantic project I was able to make some significant progress over the weekend with the painting. All of the models currently on the painting tray have had their middle dry brush and I have also done their pure white fine edge brush as well. I managed to destroy a cheap Humbrol OO sized brush for this part of the process but the end result looks pretty good. the next stage will be the decks and funnel tops before moving on the bases. It seems obvious but I have found setting myself a specific goal when painting really helps with the productivity.

I was also able to tackle some administrative tasks in connection with the rules I shall be using for this project - nothing major but important nonetheless.

Overshadowing all though, was of course Remembrance Sunday and the centenary of the end of the Great War. As I have gotten older and my knowledge and understanding of the human dimension of war has increased, I tend to get quite reflective about those that have made the ultimate sacrifice. I have often wondered if those that have remained have 'won the peace' so that their sacrifices were not in vain. The answer to that is not an obvious one but, as I was reminded, I have the freedom of choice to be able to reflect on such things because of their efforts and whilst it may not be the promised land it is a whole lot better than the alternatives.

Lest we forget  - not just the loss of loved ones but what they left for us to make the best of in what way we can. They never had the chance to worry about the things that only the living and free can.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

As the Guns Fell Silent....

Holy Trinity Church, Rayleigh, Essex

As the Guns Fell Silent....

The guns fell silent, at the end of the war.
At the end of the struggle, of privation and more.
At the end of the horror, of lives cruelly changed,
At the end of the old world, with the new rearranged.

On the shell torn earth where men grimly fought,
‘till the day was won’, at least some had thought.
For those that could not; that were not there to know,
lay at peace in the earth, where the poppies now grow.

Over the timeless sea ships sailed and warred,
through nature untamed the great guns had roared.
Victory or death, a proud boast could claim,
though the deep would fall silent, untroubled again.

Above in the sky, borne on gossamer wings,
to uncertain fledglings cruel destiny brings.
Guns rattle again as to the indifferent earth,
a fledgling falls broken, deprived of their worth.

No matter what nations, what colours, what creeds,
the impermanence of flesh unites all as it bleeds.
Grief is universal and cold death levels all,
as stillness and silence mute the bold trumpets call

Heed carefully now that old lie freely given,
that leaves town and country both bereft and riven.
Where hearth and home stand both desolate and bare,
and the cold, grey stone has but a solitary care.

Once willing and eager, proud steps striding tall,                                            
with bold face and flesh they gave of their all.
Too young to have lived and too young to die,
Too young to have challenged the real reason why.

Too soon they had gone, but for those that remain,
the annual remembrance pays homage again.
The fallen inviolate, though their flesh be no more,
as the guns fell silent, at the end of the war.

By David Crook

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Madasahatta - A Possible Reinvention?

A magnificent piece of Wargames history

One of the things that I am keen to introduce into the Arab Revolt is the naval dimension which is not usually something associated with sand dunes and camel-riding Bedouin tribesman. Historically the naval side was very one-sided and as mentioned previously, does not make for exciting gaming, important though as it undoubtedly was. What is needed then, is an injection of the old wargaming standby of the ‘what if?’

The Arab Revolt started in 1916 by which time the German overseas colonies had been overrun and the High Seas Fleet was safely confined to the North and Baltic Seas. Aside from the occasional nuisance of a surface raider the submarine was going to become the main weapon of the German navy - especially once the Battle of Jutland had been fought. At the outbreak of the Great War the Germans had a number of cruisers overseas that had to be hunted down as the threat they represented to British trade routes was unacceptable. This was accomplished, at some cost, by early 1915.

Looking at the Red Sea and the surrounding area I was struck by how easily it can be controlled. Great Britain already had facilities in Aden and also British East Africa so keeping the area honest would be relatively straightforward. What would make things interesting though, would be if Germany still maintained their East African Colony as a going concern. This would enable a degree of naval presence for the Central Powers in the area which would require a Royal Navy response. It would still be limited but, and here is the real kicker, what if a Central Powers owned island appeared that could support warships and was positioned to be able to interdict shipping routes between India and the Suez Canal? That would really make their Lordships in the Admiralty sit up and take notice!

Enter stage, third left....Madasahatta.

The island of Madasahatta was the creation of the late Eric Knowles and featured in an epic campaign  organised by him in the let 1970s. I, along with Bob Cordery, Chris Hardman and Neil Fox were fortunate to take part in this campaign and it was enormous fun. Following Eric's death all of the surviving material for the campaign has been made available in book form by  Bob Cordery in a variety of formats - check out his Amazon page for details of this and the many other titles of interest he has written.

The island is located some 300 miles east of Zanzibar in the Indian Ocean and apart from the indigenous, mostly tribal population there is an Arab concession under nominal suzerainty to the Sultanate of Zanzibar who in turn has a 'special relationship' with the Turkish Empire. Both the British and the Germans have established crown colonies on the island with the Arabs being rather more closely tied to the Germans.

The campaign fought in the 1970s ended with a British victory and included a number of naval actions involving not only the British and Germans but occasionally the Russians, Japanese and Turks.

Tempting as it may be I am not proposing to refight the entire campaign as my interest lie further to the North in the Red Sea and the Arabian Peninsula. My plan though is to make use of the island in support of the Arab Revolt. I am working on the basis that the Germans are still in possession of their East African colony and that Madasahatta has both British and German/Turkish forces seemingly content to maintain the status quo of their separate colonies. In truth there is little else they can do as neither side has a sufficient advantage in material to force the issue.

With the main fighting strength of both the British and the Germans concentrated on the Western Front and the North Sea the colonies are very much seen as sideshows and so are left to locally raised troops with a smattering of those regular units that can be spared. The naval side means that older, second line vessels will be the order of the day with the occasional appearance of something more modern. In other words old armoured and protected cruisers, the occasional obsolete battleship and plenty of requisitioned merchant types pressed into service. 

My scale of choice for naval dimension would be 1:2400th simply because the models are larger than 1:3000th - we are not talking fleet actions here - so will look nicer. As the combats would be typically at closer ranges than one would find when using dreadnoughts having larger models will look better on the playing area I shall be using. My rules of choice would be Bob Cordery's Gridded Naval Wargames which work well and dovetail nicely in with his Portable Wargame set which I shall use for the land actions. All of the ship models I need for this 'sideshow of a sideshow of a sideshow' are available from Tumbling Dice and again, the beauty of this is that I would not need a lot of it.

To complete the land element of this project I will need to raise a British/Indian force in 15mm for use on the Arabian peninsula and ultimately some Colonial Germans.

Although not qualifying in the starring role for my planned Arab Revolt/Red Sea campaign using the island of Madasahatta to provide 'the reason why' certainly makes it worthy of a 'best supporting' accolade.

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

The Naval Dimension of the Arab Revolt

This is a great read although there are a couple of editorial errors. Pen and Sword are guilty of this occasionally but still get my vote (and a fair amount of my money!) for the subjects they cover.

It must be said that when one thinks of the Arab Revolt during the Great War that one's thoughts do not naturally alight on the subject of naval warfare. Indeed, the most common 'ships of the desert' are usually of the humped variety rather than coal burning. However, control of the Red Sea was of paramount importance to the Allied cause due to the Suez Canal and the shipping routes to India.

By the time the Arab revolt started in 1916 the Royal Navy had pretty much cleared the seas of German warships and so only the odd raider or submarine was likely to feature and even then their activities would be well away from the Red Sea. The Turkish Navy was focused primarily in the Black Sea and so, for all intents and purposes, the Turkish Arabian armies had no naval support. To be honest this was not a major inconvenience for them but it did mean that the Allies could not afford to allow them the luxury of having a naval presence astride the route to the Suez Canal.

The Allied Red Sea Squadron was made up of some arthritic Royal Navy cruisers and gunboats and a smattering of ships (including some very useful troopships) supplied by the Royal Indian Marine. These were used for patrol, policing, revenue protection, troop transport and supply purposes and occasionally in support of land actions. The book above tells the story of the Red Sea Squadron and the role it played in support of the Arab Revolt. In addition to this I also have a couple of PDFs of some old editions of the Naval Review for 1924 to 1926 that has some further details.

This was not the war of great lines of battleships and fleets manoeuvring; rather it is the low level routine bread and butter naval duties that are no less important for all that.

I fully intend exploring the naval dimension but with a little twist. If I am honest gaming the naval side of the Arab Revolt historically would be of limited shelf life. For sure there are some good games to be had but these would be very scenario specific. I want something with a little more depth to it so that the naval dimension becomes equally as important to both sides and not just as a one-sided area denial exercise.

My plan is to work on the basis that the Turks have a naval presence in the area supported by the Germans. There will be a number of assumptions. German East Africa will still be holding out, albeit surrounded by the Allies. Madasahatta will also feature - at least in its naval capacity.

I need to work out the specifics for each side but the best news of all is that I can make use of the range of 1:2400th scale models from Tumbling Dice.

Again, this will be quite low level in terms of the number and type of ships in use although I may spring a couple of surprises for each side. For the most part the forces will consist of older warships supported by requisitioned merchantman with the odd dash of modernity thrown in for good measure.

I shall be using Bob Cordery's excellent Gridded Naval Wargames as the rules of choice for this little 'sideshow of a sideshow'.

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

On Painting and WW2 Coastal Combat

A selection of S Boat colour schemes - I suspect that mine will probably be overall white....

It is really strange how the smallest of things can re-energise and reinvigorate the creative juices. Having my ‘pop up’ painting station has given me a massive injection of what I would call focused effort. The table I use is 3ft by 2ft so can only support a specific piece of work at a time. For me this is very important as it is a good way of ensuring that I concentrate on a particular project rather than flitting from one thing to another! I spent some quality time working on the 1:4800th scale WW2 ships Sunday afternoon and the progress was very satisfying. This coming weekend I will have both Saturday and Sunday afternoon spare so the plan will be to get the highlighting taken care of and also the decks – in fact, should everything go to plan I may be able to get the ships finished bar the varnishing and basing. That would be just peachy!

With the accelerated pace of painting (and trust me, that is NOT an expression I would have ever used about my humble efforts!) the project paperwork now needs some immediate attention in the shape of the fleet lists and the name labels for the bases. This will be straightforward to do, as will the inevitable play sheet. If I am honest it would be really handy to get this first batch of models completed by Christmas as it will enable me to get a couple of games in over the holiday period.

With the start of the new year I will be tackling the Kurz and Allison ACW Spencer Smith 30mm project which I am very excited about – even more so with the planned scratch built ships I will be building alongside the figures. There is also of course, the looming spectre of Cruel Seas by Warlord Games being released in December….

Not long to wait! I am really excited about this.

I have followed Warlord Games’ Cruel Seas with interest and am excited about the prospect of this. I took a look at the Heroics and Ros website as they a very nice range of metal ships in the same scale (1:300th) which will add to the variety of types that can be represented. It is rather strange in that whilst I have been keen on the subject matter for many years now I have yet to tackle the subject using models. I have also completely missed a number of very good sets of rules concerning coastal warfare by David Manley which is basically unforgivable….

My particular interest in this regard is the Mediterranean and Aegean which saw a lot of activity using smaller craft – all of which is eminently gameable. The challenge will be locating suitable models for some of the more locally requisitioned craft.

I acquired the Kindle version of the above during one of Amazon's sales for 99p - I enjoyed it so much that I went and bought the hardback version!

In preparation for the release of Cruel Seas I have been dipping into a couple of books I have on the subject including The E Boat Threat by Bryan Cooper and the superb Schnellboot: An Operational History by Lawrence Paterson. I also have a copy of Motor Gunboat 658: the Small Boat War in the Mediterranean by L.C. Reynolds which is very good. There are few other books I am keen to add to this section of the library but at this stage I do not need to go too mad. I note there are a couple of Ospreys in their Vanguard series which are of interest and I suspect that some of the artwork will appear in the Cruel Seas rulebook.

It looks very much like next year will be rather a wet one in that there are a number of naval projects I shall be tackling. After the 1:4800th scale North Atlantic set up is complete (including destroyers) I shall be scratch building ACW river gunboats as well as whatever I need to do for Cruel Seas. There is also the germ of an idea I have in connection with the Arab Revolt project involving, yes you've guessed it, more ships....

In 1:2400th this time....

Sunday, 4 November 2018

The Weekly Sitrep....Number 1

As ever in Chateau Crook the weekend has been a busy one. To begin with my daughter and my grandson were home for the weekend and as it is close of November the 5th we headed out to a local firework display on Saturday evening. It was great fun albeit rather chilly - especially when you had to wait around 45 minutes in an open field for it to start. It was good fun though and my grandson loved it.

SWMBO and I made three separate shopping trips over the course of Saturday and Sunday which included the Christmas drink shop. As a result of a special discount (as well as her 20% staff discount we hustled up a dozen bottles of wine of various sorts at rather less than half price - for the nth time I am really pleased that my good lady wife works for M and S!

Sunday afternoon was spent on some gaming related items including the first dry brush on the WW2 ships for my North Atlantic project. I was able to tackle all the ships at this first stage with the second next weekend. I always like this part of the painting at the dry brushing really ‘pops’ the outline of the model. The next step will be the highlighting followed by the decks. As mentioned before the plan is to have these ready by the end of the year at the latest. I also have some forty-odd destroyers to go with the first batch but as these are not essential for the Bismarck operation there is no immediate rush to get them done. 

The two styles of basing under consideration. That on the left will give a closer ‘Kurz and Allison’ look although that on the right looks better.

The other task I undertook was to see what the Spencer Smith ACW figures looked like on the bases. I have been exchanging emails with Bob Cordery about the merits of using his basing system as opposed to what I originally intended using. The standard base I am using is 2” by 1” and originally I was going to have two figures on such a base. My entire infantry organisation was arranged around this so, for example, I could field a 4 strength point unit of four bases each with 2 figures making 8 in total. This in turn means that I will have 6 sub units from my planned 48 figure regiment. So far so good but, the figures look a little too spread out for what I am planning.

When you look at the battle scenes depicted in the Kurz and Allison prints the infantry are always deployed virtually shoulder to shoulder. This is what clinched the decision for me - as well as wanting a uniformity of approach in respect of basing (my Arab revolt collection will have the infantry based in 3s) - and so I shall be using 3 figures rather than 2.

The work station viewed from the kitchen. Lined up are the Germans in the top row with the Royal Navy underneath.

The view from the lounge. 

I figured it was probably about time that I revealed my new, lounge-based work station which has made a huge difference to what I can do and when I can do it. The location is far better than in the loft and also the benefit of being near a radiator, a fridge and the downstairs bathroom!

On a separate matter I have decided that from here on in I shall be writing a weekly summary of what has been going on in my world and so this is the first edition of the Weekly Sitrep. Naturally I will be reporting anything else that happens on an as and when basis.

I hope you like it.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

North Atlantic Operations....Part 3

The Axis and Allies: War at Sea rules from the second edition starter set. I am using a variant of these for my North Atlantic project.

Work on the 1:4800th scale WW2 ships continues apace and the other parts of the project are gradually falling into place. I shall be using a variant of the rules from Axis and Allies: War at Sea as these have several practical advantages in the short term. To begin with I have the map sheets that came with the starter set laminated and ready to use. They have an offset square grid which coincides with the search boards of the North Atlantic contained in the Avalon Hill game Bismarck. As an aside I once ran a mini campaign on a similar theme with a self-drawn map based loosely on the Bismarck search boards – the scale was much larger but it worked Ok for a club night game.

A ship stat card from the game. The variant rules I am using do not use the special abilities. I was never a fan of special abilities as it meant that a one off event that occurred historically was replicated every time that particular ship was used. It also made a virtue of abilities that were not limited to a particular ship or even navy.

Whilst I no longer have the ship cards for the original Axis and Allies: War at Sea game I do have all of the stats in tabular form so will be able to fight any number of actions readily enough. At this stage all I need to do is to prepare some national fleet lists which will be easy enough to do.

The paper playing mat that comes with the starter set being used for a game. The mat is two sided with the reverse being a plain seascape. Note the island tiles in use above. My own version has been laminated as the paper wears out along the folds very quickly. The squares are 3 1/2" across.

The rule mechanics are very straightforward. Essentially ships have a number of hits based primarily on their tonnage and have two armour ratings that are used to assess any damage. Ships typically have between 2 and 6 hull hits. There is a normal armour rating which represents the number of hits or ‘successes’ as they are known that need to be scored by the attacking player in order to score a single point of hull damage. The second armour rating is described as ‘vital armour’ and should an attacking player score successes that equal or better this rating then the target is destroyed. Each d6 the firing player rolls score 1 success for a roll of 4 or 5 and 2 for a 6. Anything else is a miss. This mechanic is also used for all other types of combat. Ships roll a number of d6 depending on the calibre and number of guns or other weapons being used which reduces with range. As a result of hull hits a ship may lose some of its special abilities but when it is down to a single remaining point it is classed as crippled which impacts just about everything. Ships generally have a maximum speed of anything from 1 to 4 with certain ships requiring a successful dice roll to use a higher speed. This is typically for things like modernised WW1 era battleships.

It is quite s ‘gamey’ system – rolling great fistfuls of d6s is always enjoyable - but is good fun to play. As I have everything I need to use these rules it would churlish of me not to.

The variant I am using makes the rules a little more ‘naval wargame-ish’ in that, for example, ship facing is taken into consideration as well turning ability. Although they have been written with hexes in mind there is no reason why I should not persevere with offset squares as the relationship between hexes and offset squares is mercifully quite close.

The plan is to have the collection finished by the end of the year when I can then start on the Spencer Smith ACW collection - Warlord Game's Cruel Seas notwithstanding....

Monday, 29 October 2018

North Atlantic Operations....Part 2

HMS London returning home at the end of 1945

I had a busy weekend with various things but have managed to put a shift in with the 1:4800th WW2 ships and other parts of my North Atlantic project. The ships are all based and undercoated (not the destroyers as yet as these will follow once the larger stuff has been completed) so the real work can now commence. My new painting station - by the patio doors in the lounge - is an ideal location for daylight so I am actually enjoying the process for a change (my aversion to painting being well known). Setting up the area is quick and easy as the table folds away in seconds and everything I need is in the sideboard about 3ft away.

I have settled on another shade of blue for the ship bases as my previous and long serving Humbrol Matt 25 is a little on the dark side for these diminutive models. Whilst we were out on Sunday for some shopping I had a quick look around in Hobbycraft and found a good medium blue/grey enamel - Matt 89 Middle Blue as I recall - that is a pretty close match for the main shade of the Axis and Allies: War at Sea maps.

Now I know this is a little on the sky blue side but the plan is to wash this with blue/green ink before adding the waves and wakes. The ship name label and national ensign will also help to reduce the 'blueness'. I am not a fan of mixing colours and I must confess to preferring my sea to look blue rather than grey or green.

I dug out the aforementioned maps to reacquaint myself with them and will be fine for what I am planning and best of all the squares are 3 1/2” across the flats. This means that the largest ship base of 7cm will fit in with no overhang. I was also able to locate the printed copy of Axis and Allies: War at Sea using miniatures with  all the ship and aircraft stats in tabular form. I no longer have the ships or cards that came with the original game but this little lot will more than do the job - all I need to do is draw up some fleet lists with the stats. The rules and the stats are now safely in a folder for me to read whilst on my daily commute.

The classic profile of a County Class Cruiser

Something I did with the models over the weekend that I am rather pleased with is convert a Royal Navy County Class cruiser into one of the quite different looking sub classes. I needed a model of HMS London but MY Miniatures do not make one. I read somewhere that she was refitted using  a similar superstructure layout to a Colony class cruiser so as I had one of these spare, plus a slightly miscast County class I was able marry the two together to give a reason approximation of the type. the main differences were that the London had a much lighter rear superstructure and only two funnels - the forward of which was partially encased in the forward superstructure.

Port and Starboard profile drawings of HMS London

It was quite straightforward to do albeit a little time-consuming and fiddly. The worst part was filing odd pieces of superstructure to size but I got there in the end. Whilst it will not win any prizes for super-detailing the end result will definitely pass muster. The model is currently undercoated with its near sisters awaiting its topcoat. Once I have this lot finished I will of course being posting to the blog with pictures of everything.

I really feel like I achieved something this weekend as aside from the above I was also able to sort out the 15mm WW1 Turks and Arabs. There are a couple of items I need to add to complete this but nothing too involved. For the Arabs I need some Rolls Royce Armoured Cars, some machine guns and some French artillery. I will also need to change the command groups slightly but nothing major. The Turks are good to go as they are.

All in all then, a very positive start.

Friday, 26 October 2018

Being Mostly Back in the North Atlantic....

1:4800th scale WW2 Japanese produced by Shapeways. These are superbly detailed models (note the aircraft on the flight deck of the carrier) but are not cheap. then again, compared to MY Miniatures very little is!

It has been a busy few weeks since my birthday at the end of last month (28/09). We seem to have had a lot of things going at home and so my dedicated home based hobby time has been a little restricted. I say home based as this is where the painting and gaming take place - my commute to and from work is spent reading and researching so I am still making progress albeit in a different direction.

This weekend sees what passes for normality in our house in that SWMBO will be at work tomorrow afternoon (she works alternate Fridays and Saturdays) as will my son. He is currently working 6 days a week - he is a self-employed electrician - and doing rather well. Finally my daughter is back at university (in Reading) so it means that for five glorious hours I will have the house to myself.

I have a couple of things to take care of on the domestic front but for the most part I will finally be able to get down to some painting.

I came across the above picture of some painted Leicester Micro Models 1:4800th scale warships (now produced by MY Miniatures) and a copy of the catalogue from the late 1970s. Compared to Shapeways and C in C these are very basic by comparison but manage to capture the profile of the ships represented rather nicely. Crucially they are also very modestly priced compared to the others at 40p per item for all but the largest vessels.

I have the last of the models from MY Miniatures for the 1:4800th scale WW2 North Atlantic project - if you recall this is based on the Avalon Hill board game Bismarck - so will be basing and undercoating them. I will also need to make sure that I have the appropriate name labels so I will need to spend some time on the Mac as well. I know I have most of these but it will be easy enough to print out a fresh sheet. I also have sufficient ensigns as well although I will probably need to get some more Royal Navy types for when I venture into the Mediterranean.

I am feeling pretty positive about my projects at the moment as for the most immediate ones I have everything I need to tackle them. I have all the figures I need for the WW1 Arab Revolt in 15mm for the Portable Wargame, I have all the Spencer Smith 30mm ACWs for the Kurz and Allison project as well as everything for OGRE.

When I say everything I should qualify that by saying I have everything I need for the first phase which would be more than enough for gaming purposes. The Arab Revolt will need some armoured cars and possibly some French mountain artillery. Some tropical service uniformed British specialists would be useful - I am thinking machine guns and similar - so I will keep an eye out for some. Apart from the armoured cars none of this is really urgent and indeed, even the cars are not really compulsory.

For the Kurz and Allison collection the only other thing I need would be some ships but again, these are not essential in the short term and as they are being scratch built will form a side project in any event.

That is the plan then and I only hope I can stick with it - Cruel Seas by warlord games not withstanding....

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Cuba? You're Havana laugh....

The national flag of Cuba

“From Little Acorns Do Mighty Oaks Grow” or so the saying goes. In this particular case it is very apt as it concerns the usual fate that befalls me when I fall victim to a single source of inspiration. In this particular instance it all started when SWMBO and I finally settled on our holiday location for next year. For a variety of reasons, too numerous to go into, we have booked two weeks in Cuba in June on an all-inclusive, adult only basis.

Cuba will be a first for us in that we have never flown long haul before as our usual holiday destinations tend to be in the Mediterranean with the occasional foray into the Atlantic to the Canary Island or even more daringly, Cape Verde. To be quite blunt about it the cost of going to Cuba for two weeks on an all-inclusive, adult only, 5 star basis was only a couple of hundred pounds dearer than going to the European part of the Mediterranean on a similar package. You can get some good deals but sadly in my experience the all-inclusive European option nowadays tends to be on the basis of the absolute bare minimum they can get away with so diluted drinks, limited choices of food and charges for whatever they can seem to be the order of the day. All inclusive for us is a huge convenience and whilst I must confess to missing the flexibility that a self-catering/bed and breakfast/half or full board basis can offer, the pros usually outweigh the cons.

We will be flying onto Holguin on the way to our resort which is roughly an hour from the airport (located on the coast where it says Holguin on the map, facing the Atlantic Ocean). 

We will be based towards the Eastern end of the island and the airport we will be travelling to is at Holguin. We are staying on the Atlantic coast of the island and the plan is to tackle a few trips whilst we are there – Havana being an obvious choice – instead of lazing on the beach with a Kindle in one hand and a Cubre Libre in the other.

As part of my inevitable reading around the history of the island (and largely ignoring anything Castro/Bay of Pigs/Missile Crisis related) I have found myself looking at the Spanish American War of 1898 and the fighting in and around Cuba.

I have never considered the war of 1898 as a gaming choice and at this stage I am certainly not planning to do so but that would not stop me from reading about the conflict. The war was quite low level in terms of numbers but the outcome certainly established the US as a world power. At a more personal level I note that Kurz and Allison – of ACW fame - produced a series of prints on the war (8 in all as I recall)  which look suitably heroic and inspiring in an old toy soldier kind of way.

Picked up for a song and highly regarded.

I picked up the above book (which is a hefty 740 page doorstop of a volume) from Ebay for a mere £4. I have read Ivan Musicant’s book Divided Waters which is a great history of the American Civil War afloat and so when I found out, via a Facebook group I belong to, that he had written a title about the war my curiosity was piqued. I am after a couple of other titles – purely for completeness sake of course – on the war and who knows? One day I may game elements of it. The Osprey Campaign Title on San Juan Hill by the indefatigable Angus Konstam is supposed to be pretty good as well so I may well look that out and the new Men at Arms title which also covers the US in the Philippines.

The ships for the naval side are available from Tumbling Dice and Navwar (amongst others) and the land actions lend themselves to both the Portable Wargame and The Men Who Would be Kings. Figures are available from Old Glory amongst others and if I remember correctly there are a couple of Volley and Bayonet supplements covering the war.

Is this another project for DC to tackle at some point? To be honest I am not sure without having read about the war in more detail. Certainly the scale lends itself well to the style and size of action I prefer fighting but for now I have more than enough to be getting on with.

Of course those darned acorns have a nasty habit of growing into something much larger....

The Return of the 'Desert-Loving Englishman'

A rather dramatic scene from somewhere in the desert - not sure what the Vickers gunner is shooting at though!

The first batch of figures have arrived from Irregular Miniatures for the WW1 Arab Revolt project. The Turks are very nice indeed although the horses for the cavalry need a fair amount of cleaning up – primarily flash so nothing serious. I needed to order some additional figures just to round off the organisation which will be as follows:

48 x Infantry based as 16 x 3
12 x Cavalry based as 6 x 2
4 x Infantry officers based individually
2 x HMGs with 2 crew figures
2 x 77mm field guns each with four crew
1 x Staff car with 2 foot officers in attendance.

The Arabs were slightly more problematic in this regard and so I need to order slightly more additional figures. The organisation is as follows:

45 x Infantry based as 15 x 3
12 x Mounted Camels based as 6 x 2
12 x Mounted cavalry based as 6 x 2
4 x Foot officers based 2 x 2
4 x  Mounted officers based as 2 x 2

I will also be adding to this three Rolls Royce Armoured Cars, possibly some machine guns assuming I can source suitable figures and some French mountain artillery, again when I have some more details.

The above collection is designed very much with the Portable Wargame in mind and so it can be seen that one can raise some very representative forces that are quite modest in size (and cost). Taking the collection forward I have in mind some Russian opposition for the Caucasus Front as well as the French Foreign Legion in due course. Both of these forces will be of a similar size to the above.

On a different tack the last of the 1:4800th scale WW2 ships for the North Atlantic have arrived which means that work can begin in earnest on this project. The plan is to have all the models finished for this completed by the end of the year so that work can then commence on the Kurz and Allison Spencer Smith ACW project which will also include some scratch built ships for good measure.

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

The Collection of Eric Knowles....Part 4

You may recall at the end of last year the UK lost one of its unsung wargaming pioneers in the shape of Eric Knowles. There were many blog posts about Eric by both Bob Cordery and I who had the honour and privilege of wargaming with him during the legendary Madasahatta campaign at the end of the 1970s and into the early 1980s. At the time of writing I am helping, when I can, Eric’s son Bill to organise his father’s extensive collection prior to disposal.

Eric’s collection was huge. When I say huge I mean as in filling up a double garage, a loft, a downstairs reception room and a horsebox huge. Bill was tasked with the Herculean labour of sorting out the whole and arranging for its disposal. I offered to assist him with this and trust me, it is a gargantuan undertaking. The main bulk of the collection is painted 25mm 18th century armies and an awful lot of WW2 in 20mm. There is also a prodigious quantity of unpainted metal organised into armies that Eric had not gotten around to. Bill has made some inroads into the collection and has sorted out some dozen or so plastic storage boxes full of the unpainted metal – at least that which he has found so far. At this stage I have no idea about what the unpainted 18th century figures consist of only that is covers the 1680 to 1740 period and is divided up into complete armies. That is complete armies – cavalry, infantry, artillery, the whole nine yards. Unpainted. The collection also includes an extensive library and a lot of 1:1200th scale ships – both plastic and metal.

In many ways the unpainted material is the easiest part of the collection to sort out as for the most part the figures can be bagged and stored quite unceremoniously in bags and boxes. The painted part will be rather more challenging as care will be needed in storing the figures.  Eric has units in boxes with labels but time has not been kind on the boxes and so a new storage system will be needed. The average size for each army is around a dozen or so infantry regiments usually of anything from 24 to 36 figures, half a dozen or so cavalry units of up to 20 figures and artillery like you would not believe. Eric was fond of artillery as well as the whole siege and baggage train thing, not to mention command and staff and sundry non-combatant hangers on so there is plenty of peripheral material.

One of the largest armies in his collection was his Ottoman Turkish force. This is enormous and also has rather a lot of unpainted metal to go with it. Eric really went to town with this army and the end result was simply outrageous in respect of its size. As I recall much of it was 25mm Minifigs but lord alone knows what else is in it and waiting for Bill to unearth. I remember facing this army in its full glory when we refought the siege of Vienna 1683. When is was deployed on the table it took the combined efforts of several collections to field the required scale of opposition.

I say unearth intentionally as Bill does not have a clue what is where until he actually opens the boxes. Any order these may have been in disappeared when Eric’s bungalow was cleared and the contents stacked, box upon box, in Bill’s horsebox for the first of a number of trips to various destinations. By degrees the remaining parts of Eric’s collection is converging on Bill’s house which is fortunately large enough to store it. I have this image of him in full on Indiana Jones mode brushing off the dust of ages by the light of a guttering torch….

Anyway, to the point of the post.

Bill is of the opinion that Eric’s collection as far as possible should go to those that would appreciate it for what it is. There is a tangible value to much of it but money is not the sole motivator for his decision and he is to be applauded for this. The 18th century painted collection alone is probably quite valuable and when you factor in the books and ships etc there is some significant financial return to be made in due course. We were discussing this very point when Bill casually slipped into the conversation that the Ottoman Turks and the Madasahatta stuff he was giving to me.

That’s right, Eric’s Ottoman Turkish army and all of the Madasahatta kit is coming to me.

Gobsmacked, awe-struck and most certainly moved. Eric and Ivy, his wife, were an important part of my life when I first moved away from home to London as a mere boy of 17 and as Eric was responsible for my lifelong interest in the Sublime Porte (not to mention WW1 Colonial-style campaigns) this bequest is a marvellous way to remember them.

Bill pointed out that as yet both collections needed to be found and reorganised – the only part I saw when I visited him was the Sultan’s camp complete with scimitar wielding eunuchs and a harem for the Turks as well as British artillery from the Madasahatta set up, together with some unpainted African tribesman. The condition of both collections is yet to be ascertained but suspect that some running repairs will inevitably be needed. This is of little import in the overall scheme of things though.

Being the steward of two such significant collections is a singular honour and I am truly at a loss for words at this incredible gesture. I hope that my gaming efforts using these armies in due course will be worthy of the memory of both Eric and Ivy.