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.