Friday 31 December 2010

'I Saw Three Ships come Sailing by....'

Somewhat behind schedule I know but above is the picture of the first three side wheel paddle steamers for my ACW naval scratch build project. They measure a shade over 2 inches in length and as usual have a balsa wood hull, craft stick superstructure and paddle boxes and plastic fittings - the forward hatch, the pilot house and the funnels. The design is a very common river type of paddle steamer used by both sides and the next batch will follow the same general layout but will have more in the way of armour protection - the 'tinclads'. I cheated with the paddle boxes as the outside panel is merely the top of a craft stack used as a former to shape the balsa wood behind. These models had also been prepared over ten days ago and it was only today that I was able to sit down to stick them together. I really need to start painting this little lot as with the other models I have ready I now have a dozen constructed.

Many thanks to all for the good wishes over the household plague which is finally showing signs of clearing up although SWMBO has spent most of the day in bed - as has my daughter whilst I have very gingerly and with no great enthusiasm kept the place ticking over. I feel pretty grim with the throat and feverishness but was determined to end the year with something positive to report!

Mention of the year end gives me the opportunity once again to thank everybody that has commented on my posts or even just dropped by for a browse - I have found that the encouragement I have received and the ideas that have spawned as a result have served to greatly enrich my enjoyment of our hobby and so I hope that in 2011 I can continue to provide posts that invite such comments - a kind of wargaming perpetual motion.

To one and all then - have a very happy, peaceful, prosperous and safe 2011.

Thursday 30 December 2010

Changing Rooms at the House of the Living Dead

It has been a dreadful few days. Firstly, my daughter was struck down with a horrible chesty cough and fever on Boxing Day followed by SWMBO a day later and yours truly a day after that. This would not have been so bad except for the fact it has played havoc with all of our plans for the days between Xmas and the New Year. I was supposed to go round to Chris Hardman for a game of Battle for Germany (a really good WW2 boardgame based on 1945) on Wednesday (and to collect my green flocked Hexon) but sadly a horrible sore throat and a head full of cotton wool put paid to that idea. Unfortunately (and as if to compound my misery) I have still had to carry out the 'changing rooms' in preparation for the return of my son. For a variety of reasons (too numerous and tedious to relate) he is moving back in with us and so my new man cave has had to be sacrificed for the common good.

Sadly the area I am moving back into has been greatly reduced in size so it means that a large chunk of the collection has had to go into deep storage in the loft. The task was not difficult but time consuming, physically demanding and most certainly not what you should be doing when feeling as rough as I have been - commuting between the loft, the first floor and the ground with units, boxes and books etc is less than ideal when all you want to do is collapse under a duvet with a Lem Sip and hibernate until next April!

Still, it is pretty much done now and the single positive is that I have been able to put away some items that would have only been a distraction. What I have available and readily to hand is that which I should be concentrating on so I suppose it has done me a favour after all.

Sunday 26 December 2010

' On the first day of Christmas....'

Well I have to say that Santa was very generous this year with a suitable selection of goodies for me - the main items for the blog being pictures above. The two DVD collections I am hugely pleased with - The World at War was a tremendous piece of work and was hugely inspiring to me as a young wargamer in the 1970's. The haunting opening credits and Laurence Olivier's masterful narration still has the power to raise the hairs on the back of your neck. Very evocative and one of my all time favourites.
Indiana Jones - what's not to like? Action, great dialogue, evil henchman and lots of derring-do and THAT theme tune!
The Vikings is an old favourite of mine and whilst the historical holes are big enough to row a longship through, it is a cracking piece of entertainment again, with THAT theme tune.
I have not seen the new Sherlock Holmes film (the next instalment is out next year) so this will be treat for sure.
The Osprey Military History quiz book is an unexpected treat and I have in mind a plan to run a military themed quiz night at the club for a change.
Finally, the extended edition CD of the soundtrack to the film Lawrence of Arabia. Again, a superb film and the soundtrack is really evocative and one of my favourites.
Not shown above was also a Waterstones £20 gift card so my library will also get a boost at some point.
All in all then, it has been a very successful Christmas with lots of nice presents, plenty to eat and drink and time spent with the family. As Pa Larkin would have said 'Perfick, just perfick!'

Friday 24 December 2010

Seasons Greetings to One and All!!

I know it is a little on the early side but I suspect I shall be rather busy tomorrow; opening presents, causing mayhem in the kitchen and no doubt imbibing in a seasonal glass or three! I would like to take this opportunity then, of wishing everybody a very merry Christmas and a happy, peaceful and prosperous 2011!
In the immortal words from one of my favourite novels: 'God bless us, everyone!'

Wednesday 22 December 2010

Alfred Thayer Mahan

The very serious looking gentleman in the picture is none other than the celebrated naval strategist A. T. Mahan. His most famous work was of course The Influence of Sea Power upon History 1660 - 1783. His theories of the use of large fleets found a ready audience in the shaping of the naval policies of the US, Great Britain, Germany and Japan. Time and the technological impact of the submarine and of aircraft reduced the effectiveness of some of his ideas but his influence on the strategic planning of the navies above was far reaching and of considerable longevity.

The reason this has come up is simply down to me trawling through a couple of free ebook sites to add to my reader. I have never read Mahan's work although am aware of it. I was delighted then, to not only find a copy of this to download but also some of his other work. He wrote many other works of naval interest including titles covering the naval operations of the American War of Independence and, much closer to my current interest, the naval actions along the Mississippi during the civil war. This formed volume 3 of a naval history of the civil war and was devoted to the actions along the inland waterways to the Gulf. Needless to say, a full report will be made once I have read this title and I am very pleased to have had the chance to add this to my collection.

Sunday 19 December 2010

Back in the Construction Business via Narnia

After a day of Xmas activity - including a visit to the cinema to see the new Narnia film (more of which later) - not helped by the second downfall of snow; I was able to get some more work done on the gunboats and rams for the ACW collection. Looking through my copy of Gibbon's Warships and Naval Battles of the Civil War you can see that there is an absolutely bewildering variety of ships pressed into service on either side, all with a greater or lesser degree of protection and weaponry. This gives the scratch builder almost a blank canvas upon which to work as for every documented and illustrated ship there is probably a dozen that we have no idea about! I will be making models that are best described as typical of their types, rather as I did with the casemate ironclads, and so the naming of these models will be an exercise in educated guesswork!

Last Wednesday was my daughter Holly's birthday and as part of her celebrations we went to see the new Narnia film - The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I must confess that aside from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe I was unfamiliar with rest of the Chronicles of Narnia but judging by this film (and the previous: Prince Caspian - we watched this a couple of weeks ago as my daughter has the DVD) I may well have to rectify this omission as it was great fun. I was aware of C.S.Lewis being great friends with Tolkein but I have never read any of his works. Happily my daughter has all of these so I will be borrowing them from her - all in the name of research of course!

Saturday 18 December 2010

Work + Long Hours = Minimal Time for Models!!

It has been an insane week at work as everybody tries to clear their desks in time for the holiday. I have been no exception to this as once Christmas Eve gets here I shall be finishing up until the New Year so am looking forward to spending time at home with the family, no doubt eating and drinking to excess and enjoying the best that the TV can come up with!

As a result of this work related activity I have been less than productive on the modelling front although I have managed to cut and shape eight more hulls for the various side wheel gunboats and rams I am building next. I have given some thought to monitors and have decided that the turrets are going to be made from plastic tube with plastic card for the roof. I have sourced a supplier for this as well which is handy - - especially as the turrets will be around half an inch wide. Tubing of this size will be doubly useful when I start on the pre dreads in due course.

I also joined the Ironclads yahoo group and was delighted to see some of the contents of the files and photos sections. There were several ACW rule and campaign ideas and some fantastic scratch built models so it was all very inspiring.

Tuesday 14 December 2010

The Joy of Hex

The ACW naval project is moving along nicely so far and so I thought that now would be as good a time as any to share my thoughts on how I would like this to develop. I am thinking along the lines of around some 36 models in all – a good selection of primarily river types – covering the major types that served both sides. I will add to this some mortar rafts and coal barges etc as well as some all important land terrain. The rules will be based (loosely) on Bob Cordery’s 1860 to 1870 variant of Memoir of War at Sea. Needless to say, these are grid based. This part of the project though is merely the beginning.

I want to tie in land actions with the naval side using North Versus South – a set of rules that can best be described as an advanced version of Battle Cry by Avalon Hill/Hasbro and are available free from the Toy Soldiers of Antwerp website. You may be able to see where this is leading although you would probably be surprised when I said that I have no plans to buy or paint any figures for this side of the project. For the moment I will keep this aspect under wraps as I need to finalise how I am tackling this before unleashing it on an unsuspecting (and probably incredulous) public!

My ultimate aim is to be able to fight a river based land and naval campaign using my scratch builds and the as yet undisclosed land stuff in tandem with rules of a common parentage and that can easily cater for actions fought in either element. I can design the terrain using historical maps superimposed on the sheets of hexed paper with a 13 x 9 grid. I have downloaded some of this in various sizes and it is invaluable for scenario design. Ideally I would like to do these on the PC but I have yet to find a way of doing this as I would have to ‘crack open’ the PDF. I will have to experiment with this as it would certainly make life a lot easier to be able to tackle this on the computer rather than freehand although I am not averse to doing so. It would be a piece of cake to do on a square grid and I could cobble something up using Excel easily enough.

The land side will be fought on my soon to be acquired Hexon green flocked terrain tile set and again, as with my set of blue tiles, this will conveniently cover a 13 x 9 playing area. For those of you unfamiliar with the Memoir 44/Battle Cry/Command and Colours system, 13 x 9 is the size of the playing board. I don't want to sound overly dramatic but for me the acquisition of this Hexon terrain represents a quantum shift in my war gaming aspirations and whilst not everything to everybody, it will allow me to indulge my gaming 'flights of fancy' easily and efficiently.

Sunday 12 December 2010

Big Bad Benton....Part 4

The picture above shows the latest addition to the scratch built ACW naval collection and what a beast she is! I pictured her alongside the three Cairo class vessels so you could get an idea of her overall dimensions. The USS Benton started life as a catamaran snagging boat used for removing floating obstacles from the rivers. She was converted into the fearsome vessel you see above by the simple expedient of decking over the central gap, adding a false bow and then applying tons of armour plate and ordnance. She was quite slow but, as drily observed by her designer, 'Plenty fast enough to fight with!'

I should point out the differences between my model and the real thing - the front face of the casemate should be in two sections forming a slight 'V' shape whereas mine is flat (and therefore much easier to make!). The broadside gun ports run too far along the hull although the number present is correct. The angles of the casemate are wrong - all my angled casemate models are at a standard 45 degree angle as that is easier to work with than more acute examples. My models are certainly all over the place in terms of scale but the relative differences will be apparent. The models are certainly taller than they should be but, at the risk of being cliched, they are purely representational. The only construction difficulty I experienced with her (and the Cairo class) was the curved wheel housing on the top deck. This was solved however by the fortuitous acquisition of a pack of assorted sized tube squeezers - the thing you use for rolling up tooth paste of paint tubes. Basically the section that you place the end of your tube in is curved and is also made from hard plastic (at least the ones I have are - they came from the local pound shop in a pack of ten) and so can be easily cut to the right size.

I am very happy with the way the squadron has taken shape and am looking forward to painting and basing them as well as the Confederate vessels I completed first of all. I intend building perhaps a further three ironclads (not including monitors) but the next priority will be the side wheeled rams and gunboats. As for naming these models I must confess that I have had a slight change of heart. Originally I was going to invent names for all of them - the Confederate vessels were all to named from places and characters from Gone With the Wind - but have now decided that I shall go down the historical route and use actual names as closely as possible.

Saturday 11 December 2010

Three Little Cairo Class....

I have just completed the three Cairo class gunboats for my ACW scratch built naval collection. The models were fairly straightforward to build although adding the 13 gun ports to each one was a little tedious (I have 16 to put on the Benton!). I did not attempt to accurately model the pilot house - the original was a hexagonal shape tapered to the roof - as it is too small for my rather crude model making ability! Still the finished article looks suitably imposing and will ceratinly give the Confederate ironclads something to think about. The Benton will make an appearnce tomorrow and be warned - she is BIG!!!

Thursday 9 December 2010

Big Bad Benton....Part 3

I realise that the picture above looks nothing like the Benton but I could not resist it anyway. The picture is of the Ellet Ram 'fleet' and these ships (or very similar) will be next on the agenda after the various casemate ironclads I am building have been finished. I am really looking forward to making these and they will be make a pleasant change from the angled casemates etc I have been contending with. I think around twelve models will be needed and I have four basic designs in mind - all of which have been cunningly selected for ease of manufacture!
As for the Benton, she has had her casemate fitted and so her and the three Cairo class gunboats are now all at the same stage of fitting out. I will be readying these for painting at the weekend and in the meantime I need to give some thought to the names I will be giving the vessels.
I am thinking beyond the ACW for modelling projects going forward and have a number of ideas I would like to tackle - more of which in due course.

Big Bad Benton....Part 2

It was not a hugely productive night yesterday due to a late arrival home from work but I was able to tackle a little more of the casemate of the USS Benton. This is certainly the largest I have undertaken thus far but my tried and tested construction technique was up to the mark although I was concerned this may be a little too large. The craft sticks I am using are quite tough but care has to be exercised when cutting along the grain that they do not split. Thus far I have managed to avoid this but fairly obviously, the greater the length to be cut the more chance of grain induced split.

I have also begun to give some consideration to the hex based rules I shall want to use to support this project. Initially I shall be looking to use Bob Cordery's 1860 to 1870 variant of Memoir of Battle at Sea. To be sure there will be the inevitable tweaks to bring these into the place I want but as usual with Bob C's rules - the core mechanics are sound enough to support any amount of tinkering!

Tuesday 7 December 2010

Big Bad Benton

I was pretty busy with a few odds and ends yesterday evening but I did manage to start on the hull of the USS Benton. She is big! Her actual beam was roughly half as much again as Cairo class gunboat which in terms of my 'scale' equals 1 1/2 inches opposed to the inch of pretty much everything else I am making. In real world terms this is seventy odd feet rather than fifty. I suppose I should describe her as being 'Benton-esque' as the finished article will be a representation rather than a scale model but which ever way you dress it up she will be rather imposing alongside the rest of the gunboats.

I did a little filing of the edges with the Cairo class models and that was it; resisting the urge to tackle anything more detailed given my last experience with the casemate ironclads - once bitten, twice shy and all that!

The plan is to finish the construction of these four models in time to start painting at the weekend if possible - SWMBO is out Saturday night so I will have the unalloyed luxury of several hours free time which I intend taking full advantage of!

Sunday 5 December 2010

More Models Underway

As mentioned in my last post I have now started on the three Cairo class gunboats for use with my Hexon terrain and, initially, Bob Cordery's 1860 to 1870 variant rules for Memoir of Battle at Sea. Thus far I have got the models up to the 'completed casemate' stage so what I need to do now is the fitting out. As usual this will be the gun ports, funnels, pilot house and the wheel house. The pilot house will be a challenge as it looks almost like a limpet shell and as yet I am uncertain how I will model this. The overall look of the model will be about right although they will stand slightly higher than a true scale representation. As these are basically casemate ironclads the building technique is now fairly straightforward and so getting the angles and corners to marry up is no longer as daunting! I will have one more casemate based model to construct - the USS Benton (see the picture above).
I have already been looking at the various types of sidewheelers used and am looking forward to tackling some of these - mainly for a change - and I am confident they will be easier to make. Mercifully covered paddle boxes seem to be fairly common and I have a cunning plan for these.
There is also the small matter of monitors - I will need a few of these but will have to experiment with the turrets first.

Thursday 2 December 2010

They are finally ready, just in Case,mate....

At long last (and courtesy of the inclement weather and the stinking cold I am suffering from) I have finished the construction of the five casemate ironclads for use with Bob Cordery's 1860 to 1870 variant of Memoir of Battle at Sea. I used balsa wood for the hull and funnels and as the core to which the casemate panels were anchored. The casemate itself was made from craft sticks (large size) which are made from a much harder wood and so are more durable. The hatches, gun ports and the pilot houses were made from strip plastic supplied from Model Zone. The next step will be to seal the surface and then base the models prior to painting.

I am really pleased with these models and whilst they will undoubtedly offend the purist they are suitable gaming pieces and have been relatively inexpensive. I had to purchase the raw materials for construction which came in at around £20 all in. For five models that probably does not seem great value but the sheer quantity of building material I have acquired means that I will be able to build a couple of dozen extra models easily so the unit cost will come down dramatically.

I opted to model these on a generic basis rather than specific historical vessels and so I have built a large ship, two medium sized and two small versions. I will tackle some Cairo class gunboats next and then the part of the project I am most looking forward to - the assorted side wheel gunboats and rams.

Somewhere in the Black Sea....The Rules

For the recent play test of the same name I was of course using the Memoir of Battle at Sea rules I have been working on. I am currently on the fourth draft and am bound to say that they are pretty close to being ready. The recent game serve to highlight a number of very minor issues - more concerned with clarification than anything else so this is in hand whilst I am currently at home nursing a wretched sore throat and chesty cough and carefully avoiding anything connected with venturing out into the acres of snow we have at present!

I will have the opportunity to catch up on a number of other things whilst at home - namely finishing off the casemate ironclads prior to tackling the next batch. Using plastic strip for the fittings is certainly a big help and thus far I have had no major problems with it. The models will need to sealed prior to undercoating and painting and I intend using a coat of diluted Unibond for this. Once this has dried the models can be based and painted.

Wednesday 1 December 2010

Somewhere in the Black Sea....A Battle of Historic Significance

During the morning of November 28th, somewhere in the Black Sea; (editor’s note: this report has been largely compiled from a variety of sources and due to the confidential nature of some these certain details have been omitted or changed in compliance with governmental reporting restrictions) a major naval engagement took place between the forces of Ottoman Turkey, together with her German ally and those of Imperial Russia. The result of this action was an overwhelming, nay catastrophic defeat for the forces of the central powers and their nefarious ambitions concerning Russia’s Black Sea territories. The political ramifications of the impact of this climatic battle are far reaching and even as this report is being drafted, there are as yet unconfirmed rumours of a palace revolt within Constantinople and of a breach between the Turkish and German governments in response to the debacle. The remainder of this report is given over to an account of the actual action itself and so the political spectrum will be discussed further in a later edition of this journal.

Somewhere in the Black Sea....An Account of a Naval Action of Historic Importance by Thomas Royston.

On the morning of November 28th a substantial force of Turkish and German warships was heading East into the Black Sea with the twofold intention of conducting shore bombardments and the laying of minefields in support of the land based operations currently underway in the area and to restrict Russian naval interference of the same. Russian naval activity had thus far been primarily concerned with the disruption the Turkish coastal coal trade. Due to the lack of a coastal railway link, most of Turkey’s coal had to be transported by sea so any interruption of this supply would have a far reaching effect on the Ottoman ability to wage war. Already a number of coastal freighters had been sunk by the Russians and so the Turkish Navy was obliged to regularly patrol the shipping lanes to ensure a safe passage for these vital shipments.
The combined Turkish/German force, under the command of Rear Admiral Wilhelm Souchon onboard the battle cruiser Yavuz Sultan Selim, had just cleared the furthermost coaling harbour when smoke was spotted on the horizon. The squadron at his command consisted of the battle cruiser Yavuz Sultan Selim; the cruisers Midilli, Hamidiye and Mecidiye, the old battleships Turgud Reis and Hayreddin Barbarossa and an escort of two destroyers- Muavenet-i Milliye and Yadigar-i Millet - and four torpedo boats – Samsun, Yarhisar (operating on the southernmost beam), Tasoz and Basra (operating on the northerly beam). The three cruisers were deployed in a screen roughly three miles ahead of the main body in an arrowhead formation, centred on the Midilli with the Hamedye to the north and the Mecidiye to the south. The two flanking cruisers were roughly three miles off of the rear port and starboard quarters respectively of the Midilli. The Yavuz Sultan Selim had the two destroyers as close escort – one on either beam - and following her in a line ahead were the old battleships Turgud Reis and Hayreddin Barbarossa. The torpedo boats were split evenly with two operating on either beam of these old ships. The fleet had from the early morning mist and was just about to increase speed when the first shells from the Russian battle line began falling uncomfortably closely to the flagship. Reacting instantly, the Yavuz Sultan Selim accelerated to her best speed whilst swing the helm over hard a starboard. The cruiser screen was ordered to fall in behind her thus providing a link with the slower battleships bringing up the rear. The whole formation was to turn to the south and retrace its steps back to the West and to take advantage of the lingering bank of sea mist from which they had only recently emerged. The quantity and accuracy of the Russian fire convinced Souchon that he was facing the enemy’s entire strength and so a withdrawal would be the safest course of action – particularly bearing in mind the relative slowness of his two battleships. This was the plan of action – a sound one to be sure – but it was to be fatally compromised by the actions of the Russians.

Whilst Souchon and the Turkish fleet were executing their withdrawal from the action, the Russians had exercised a commendable tactical ploy that took the Turks completely by surprise.
The Russian formation approaching from the south east was disposed of thus: the battleships Evstafi, Ioann Zlatoust, Pantelejmon, Tri Sviatitelia and Rostislav in a line ahead with the first two ships heading in a north westerly direction and the remaining three heading due west. The two cruisers; the Kagul and the Pamiat Merkurija had adopted forward flanking positions in their screening role, located some 3 miles off the forward port and starboard quarter of the flagship, the Evstafi. The Pamiat Merkurija was the northernmost of the two cruisers. Directly behind either cruiser followed the destroyers and torpedo boats deployed as follows: following the Kagul came the Bespokoinyi, Gnevnyi, Leitenat Pushchin and Zavetnyi and behind the Pamiat Merkurija came the Gromkiy, Pospeshnyi, Zavidnyi and the Zhivoy. The three battleships and four torpedo boats had only just reunited with the Evstafi and her consorts as the Rostislav had experienced engine trouble that had delayed their departure by several hours. Ordinarily the five battleships would operate as a single formation but in a moment of inspired thinking, Vice Admiral Eberhardt ordered the Pantelejmon division to continue heading on a westerly course, thereby splitting the formation but hopefully catching the Turks between two fires.

As soon as the Yavuz Sultan Selim had turned to starboard and was heading in a south westerly direction she was hit by the twelve inch guns of the Evstafi in one of the port side secondary emplacements, wrecking the gun, killing or wounding most of the gun crew and causing a small ammunition fire which was quickly brought under control. The ten eleven inch guns of the Yavuz Sultan Selim quickly opened their account with a long range hit scored against the Evstafi by way of returning the salutation. The Ioann Zlatoust also opened fire on the Turkish flagship but without success although the Yavuz was surrounded by a veritable forest of shell splashes. Not to be outdone by their larger compatriots both of the Russian cruisers opened fire against the nearest Turkish target, in this case the cruiser Midilli. Despite being the target of a blizzard of shellfire the Turkish cruiser managed to avoid any major damage although she was hit in one of the coal bunker spaces. Her retaliatory fire was both rapid and effective as she overwhelmed the Pamiat Merkurija with a deluge of four point one inch shells. The shot-riddled cruiser staggered out of line, belching smoke and flames and painfully limped off to the north east and away from the action.

The great looping turn of the Yavuz Sultan Selim had taken her across the face of the Evstafi and the Ioann Zlatoust, together with their escorts. She had the two destroyers accompanying her as well as the cruiser Midilli in her wake with the slower cruisers Hamidiye and Mecidiye falling in behind her. This was to prove to be fatal to both the Turkish cruisers as they passed in range of both the two Russian Battleships and given the fact that the Yavuz Sultan Selim was no longer a valid target, they gave the hapless Turks several salvoes of concentrated heavy fire. When the smoke and spray had cleared the Hamediye was down by the bows; battered and sinking and the Mecidiye was effectively out of action and in imminent danger of joining her compatriot.
Whilst the Turkish cruisers at the rear of the line were being mercilessly hammered by the Russian battleships the Yavuz Sultan Selim had made out the looming shape of three other enemy heavy units and so immediately opened out her starboard turn to engage the lead ship – the Pantelejmon. Once again, the ten eleven inch guns opened fire and succeeded in straddling and hitting the lead Russian ship with her opening salvo. The heavy blows sustained by the Pantelejmon were not to have been in vain though as they served to lure the Turkish battle cruiser into a fatal trap.

Mention should be made at this stage of the two old battleships: Turgud Reis and Hayreddin Barbarossa. They had instantly reacted to the opening of the action by turning as tightly as possible and at their best speed in order to conform with the frenzied manoeuvring of the flagship and the leading elements of the fleet. They managed to do this but in doing so were left behind by their escorting torpedo boats as they raced off in support of the flagship.
The Evstafi and Iaonn Zlatoust turned to the West with the obvious intention of engaging the two Turkish battleships and in order to give them something to think about the four escorting destroyers were unleashed in order to attack them at their best speed. In doing so the two Russian battleships passed within range of the still burning Mecidiye and it fell the Ioann Zlatoust to administer the coup de grace on the hapless and helpless Turkish cruiser.
Meanwhile, The Pantelejmon and her escorts raced ahead at their best speed in order to engage the still turning Yavuz Sultan Selim. In doing, the line became extended – mainly due the Rostislav being unable to keep up with her faster compatriots. The Leitenant Pushchin and Zavetnyi, racing ahead as they did managed to get within four thousand yards of the Turkish flagship and immediately attacked her with torpedoes. All but one of these deadly weapons missed but their bravery was rewarded with the sight of a large explosion against the hull of the giant battle cruiser. Such gallantry soon reaped its inevitable reward as the secondary batteries of the Yavuz Sultan Selim poured a withering fire into the two hapless torpedo boats and they disappeared under a welter of five point nine and three point four inch shells. At a range of less than five thousand yards the great battle cruiser then turned her attention to the Panteljmon and opened fire with all her main guns. In a single salvo the old battleship was stoved in, burning, riven and torn asunder as great gouts of flame shot skywards from her wounds and smoke poured from every opening. She went down fighting, with her flag flying proudly and her guns still firing. The Yavuz Sultan Selim was rocked by several explosions as her gallant adversary sold herself dearly and landed some damaging hits on the great battle cruiser.
The Turkish ship; no doubt inspired by her recent telling shots at the lead Russian battleship and her subsequent demise then decided to administer more of the same against the second ship in the line – the Tri Sviatitelia. At this moment she was having a battle all of her own against the two Turkish destroyers that had managed to move into the gap in the Russian battle line and was thus able to threaten both the Tri Sviatitelia and the Rostislav. Luckily for the Russians no torpedo hits were scored and the Turkish destroyers were engaged and damaged by the remaining two Russian torpedo boats.

To the north the two Turkish battleships had problems of their own as they gallantly fended off the attentions of the four Russian destroyers whilst the Evstafi and Ioann Zlatoust moved up in support. Whilst the destroyers were retiring to regroup, long range shots were traded with two of the small Turkish torpedo boats and these small ships were quickly overwhelmed and sunk. The clash between the two lines of battleships was not long delayed as once the Russian destroyers had cleared the scene the great guns on both sides opened up at a range of some twelve thousand yards. The gallant Evstafi sustained further damage whilst the Ioann Zlatoust emerged scot free from the fray. Of the two Turkish ships The Hayreddin Barbarossa was unscathed in this exchange; not so the Turgud Reis as she was wracked from stem to stern with an assorted fusillade of varying calibre shells from the Ioann Zlatoust that left the old ship down by the bows and burning furiously.

The end was in sight. The Yavuz Sultan Selim, rather than beat a retreat to fight another day chose instead to engage the Tri Sviatitelia at a murderously short range of less than four thousand yards. The great battle cruiser opened fire with everything she had and in minutes the ancient battleship was a pulverised and shattered wreck. Her sinking came at a high price though, as the old battleship fought back magnificently and poured shot after shot into the Yavuz Sultan Selim. In a matter of minutes she also staggered to a halt, blazing furiously and with great rents in her once proud hull. She was finished as a warship and with her damage control parties and pumps a chaotic shambles of twisted and tortured fire blackened metal, the order was given to abandon ship. The last acts of the drama were being played out as the remaining Turkish torpedo boats - Samsun and Yarhisar - attempted to escape the debacle but to no avail as they ruthlessly despatched by the Russian destroyers in a very one sided combat. The Midilli made good her escape by virtue of her speed and the Hayreddin Barbarossa, despite being the slowest vessel on either side managed to make the edges of the mist and so was soon lost to sight. The Russians then contented themselves with picking up survivors and tending to the wounded.

By any standard imaginable this defeat was a catastrophe for the Turks and the Germans. Although a high price was paid by the Russians in respect of the loss of two battleships and a pair of torpedo boats the threat of Turkish naval activity in the Black Sea has, at a stroke, been removed. The Russians conducted themselves magnificently throughout the action and the plan adopted by Vice Admiral Eberhardt was in the finest traditions of Nelson himself. A worthy and historic victory gained by determination, courage and singlemindedness.


A series of maps and illustrations to support this account will be made available in a special edition of this journal at a later date. Please see your newsagent for details.

Monday 29 November 2010

Somewhere in the Black Sea....Breaking News



Reports are beginning to arrive of a major naval engagement having been fought somewhere in the Black Sea between the forces of the Ottoman Empire and that of Russia. Initial details are both vague and contradictory and so further investigation is being undertaken by our correspondent in the St.Petersburg office, Mr.Thomas Royston. Further information will be made available as soon as it is has been verified, subject to the usual wartime reporting restrictions.

Friday 26 November 2010

Back on Track and Back to Basics

I was late in again last night but managed to suppress the urge to go 'bald headed' at the casemate ironclads and contented myself with removing the old fittings, cleaning up the surfaces affected and replacing just the hatches with plastic card. This took up an hour or so and was sufficient effort - especially as I had a few things to tackle on the PC. I suppose the moral of the story is to take things steadily rather than attempting too much in one session. The first ironclad I made has had similar treatment to the others and is therefore now out of commission - I wanted to ensure that all the models were finished in a uniform fashion which was historically something the Confederates never managed to achieve!

I was also able to get a couple of further tweaks tackled on the Memoir of Battle at Sea rules and the forthcoming scenario - again nothing major, just some minor clarifications and typos. The main area in this case was the use of destroyers on multiple bases (2 models per base). Within the rules destroyers may be based in either fashion with the expectation that most WW1 and earlier forces will use multiple bases whilst the later era including WW2 will use models individually based. That is the idea anyway! I have also revised the firing ranges slightly - simply by way of explaining short and long ranges (I had missed this from the draft - a basic and serious omission! D'Oh!).

Thursday 25 November 2010

Somewhere in the Black Sea....Notes and Dramatis Personae

The scene has been set; the protagonists revealed, the dispositions of the two forces have been plotted, the paperwork is in place and all the myriad last minute ‘tweaks’ attended to. Nothing remains but to fight (with apologies to Ian Knight). The two ‘scene setters’ posted previously were very much an indulgence on my part for which I offer no apologies – I like to add some flavour text to a game – as these add to the overall experience in my opinion and serve to set the fictional engagement within some degree of historical perspective.

I will now detail the fleets taking part in the forthcoming action – together with their game ‘stats’ which will follow the format thus: Name, type, hit points, speed, main combat dice, secondary combat dice and torpedoes. All the destroyers and torpedo boats in use are on multiple bases in pairs and so their names appear seperated by a dash.


Yavuz Sultan Selim, BC, 9, 3/4, 8, 4 and 1
Midilli, LC, 4, 3/4, 3, N/A and 1
Turgud Reis, PB, 6, 1/2, 5, 2 and 1
Hayreddin Barbarossa, PB, 6, 1/2, 5, 2 and 1
Hamidiye, PC, 3, 3, 3, N/A and 1
Mecidiye, PC, 3, 3, 3, N/A and 1
Muavenet-i Milliye/Yadighar-i Millet, DD, 4, 3/4, 2 x 1, N/A and 2 x 2
Samsun/Yarhisar, TB, 2, 3, 2 x 1, N/A and 2 x 1
Tasoz/Basra, TB, 2, 3, 2 x 1, N/A and 2 x 1


Evstafi, PB, 6, 2/3, 6, 4 and 1
Ioann Zlatoust, PB, 6, 2/3, 6, 4 and 1
Pantelejmon, PB, 6, 2/3, 5, 4 and 1
Tri Sviatitelia, PB, 6, 2/3, 5, 3 and 1
Rostislav, PB, 5, 2, 4, 3 and 1
Pamiat Merkurija, PC, 3, 4, N/A and 1
Kagul, PC, 3, 4, N/A and 1
Bespokoinyi/Gnevnyi, DD, 6, 4/5, 2 x 2, N/A and 2 x 3
Gromkiy/Popeshnyi, DD, 6, 4/5, 2 x 2, N/A and 2 x 3
Leitenant Pushchin/Zavetnyi, TB, 4, 3, 2 x 2, N/A and 2 x 2
Zavidnyi/Zhivoy, TB, 4, 3, 2 x 2, N/A and 2 x 2

As can be seen from the above the forces involved are quite different although on balance if the fight turns into a long drawn out affair then the advantage lies with the Russians. They have little to fear from most of the Turkish navy excepting the Yavuz and the dilemma there is does the Turk risk his best ship to be sure of a victory or does he 'tip and run'? This course of action is problematic given the slow speed of the Turkish battleships and the threat of the Russian Bespokoinyi (Novik) class destroyers. In effect the Turk needs to use the Yavuz to cover the retreat of her slower companions.

Whilst working on this scenario I also took the opportunity to refine the rules slightly and correct a few typographical errors as well as rethinking the ship specification charts. This probably sounded like a large undertaking but it was largely cosmetic in nature and therefore nothing major.

The waiting is nearly over and I am looking forward to getting the game underway at long last!

Scratchbuilding a Disaster

I should have known better, I really should! I was later than usual getting home from work yesterday evening and was feeling pretty tired to go with it but decided to 'fit out' the four casemate ironclads thinking it would be a straightforward task. It all went horribly wrong as I seemed incapable of cutting anything squarely or lining anything up correctly. The end result was a shambles as although the funnels are fine just about everything else went wrong - gun ports, hatches and pilot houses. I have now decided that such fittings will now be cut from plasticard rather than balsa wood as cutting 5mm squares was an exercise in futility - especially at the end of a very long day!

I have spent the early part of this evening removing everything that has thus far been added (mercifully only 17 of the 35 gun ports had been placed) and tidying up the models in order to start again. Fitting out a model is not difficult to do, merely time consuming and is therefore best tackled when feeling fresh!

Somewhere in the Black Sea....From the Bridge of the Evstafi

Vice Admiral Andrei Eberhardt downed his customary glass of morning vodka in one gulp and let out an explosive ‘Pah!!’ as the ice cold liquid seared his throat. He turned to the young and very nervous steward and favoured him with a benevolent smile. The steward blanched at this unexpected gesture of goodwill (Eberhardt was known as very serious commander and a draconian disciplinarian) and saluting hurriedly, withdrew from the bridge. Normally the Vice Admiral would have taken the steward to task for his unseemly exit but today such lapses of protocol could be forgiven. He was pleased; both with himself and with the fleet – especially as it was now united into a single formation having rendezvoused at dawn, some hours beforehand. The timing was fortuitous although very much a case of better late than never. The Evstafi and her sister ship, the Ioann Zlatoust, together with a small escort of torpedo boats had been patrolling along the coast in anticipation of more Turkish mine laying and shore bombardments. The remainder of the fleet should have been with them but had been delayed on its outward journey by some minor engine trouble in the Rostislav. By the time this had been rectified they were several hours behind the Evstafi and her sister ship and had then had to struggle to catch up. They made it, in part due to the herculean efforts of the stokers but more to the Vice Admiral’s foresight in moving his patrol line much closer to the coast thereby reducing the distance the remainder of the squadron had to traverse. This was not without risk as the possibility of running on to a Turkish minefield was very real. Still, that was all in the past and the most important thing was that the whole fleet was now in place. Although the ships of his command were old, they were well trained and more than capable of dealing with anything the Turks could face them with, except of course for the Yavuz Sultan Selim. Eberhardt knew that once the Dreadnoughts currently being completed for Black Sea service were ready then even the Yavuz had best be wary but until then, the five pre-dreadnoughts were all he had. Singly they would be no match for the Turkish battle cruiser but combines it was a different story. The two newest ships, the Evstafi and the Iaonn Zlatoust, had drilled in a new technique of firing by spotting the fall of shot for each other rather than individually. Also, the maximum elevation of the main 12” guns used by the two ships had been increased to 35 degrees which extended their maximum range dramatically. Eberhardt was too wily a tactician to think that such a novel approach to naval gunnery would compensate for the obsolete material under his command but, he reasoned, it would certainly give the Turks something to think about – especially if their pride and joy, the Yavuz Sultan Selim was in anyway damaged as a result.

Thus far the Russian sweep had passed off without incident with nothing worthy of his attention. It would soon be time to turn the fleet around and Eberhardt was about to address his captain when a young and breathless sailor rushed on to the bridge, fairly bursting with emotion and clutching a flimsy signal report. After a hurried salute and in moments the signal was read and its contents exploded like a shell in their midst. The leading Russian cruiser – the Kagul – reported heavy smoke to the West and was awaiting further instructions.

The bridge fell silent, the only sound disturbing the quiet, almost church–like atmosphere being the steady thrum of the engines. All eyes went to the Admiral who stared out to sea and into the murky distance; his face impassive, his thoughts unreadable. The seconds ticked by, agonisingly slowly. Eberhardt pondered the enormity of his responsibility and weighed up the inevitable risks that a general action involved. This was the moment he had worked towards throughout his long career and he allowed himself a momentary savouring of the heady bouquet of commanding men and ships in time of war. He reached his decision. Suddenly, the Admiral blinked as if waking from a short nap. He turned to the Captain. “Signal the cruisers to maintain their surveillance but to avoid action unless unavoidable – the Captains will have full discretion in that respect,” he grinned wolfishly and continued.”Signal the Pantelejmon, she and the rest of the squadron will maintain current course and speed whilst we shall head due North to position ourselves so we can welcome our Turkish visitors!” The bridge crew grinned to a man and hurriedly set in motion the appropriate orders.

Captain Yuri Gregoravitch of the Evstafi was that rarest of Russian naval officers in that he was cautious and preferred to act when in possession of the fullest possible information concerning his opposition. He badly needed to be sure of exactly what they were sailing towards, the ships involved and their positions, basic and elementary facts that his superior seemed to be largely oblivious of. He had enormous respect for the admiral but often wondered exactly what he based any of his tactical decisions on – in this case a solitary and unconfirmed sighting report from a cruiser. “Admiral, with all due respect, what if the Yavuz Sultan Selim is present, should we not keep the squadron together as these are Germans and not Turks,” he enquired, as tactfully as he could. “Yuri, Yuri, Yuri,” began the Admiral, placing his hand on the Captain’s shoulder and shaking his head slowly in mock admonishment. “Turks or Germans is of little consequence; just because they have this one ship does not make them invincible, remember Yuri, you can give a dog a gold collar and feed it on fresh meat but it is still a dog!” The Captain visibly winced at his commander’s earthy observations – he was far too cultured to use such language – but inwardly agreed with the sentiment.
The Evstafi swung around with her sister ship following closely and the destroyer screen falling into place both forward and aft of the battle line. The four 12” gun turrets were already trained to the port side and with the great barrels set to maximum elevation waiting for the order to open fire. It was not long delayed as the Evstafi's guns roared out their defiance at the age old enemy. The seonds passed with all privileged eyes facing the direction of fire at the distant columns of smoke. Great geysers of spray, light pillars of fire were seen on the far horizon as a second salvo roared out, this time from the Ioann Zlatoust. Still the stomach crawling wait as the huge shells sped to their target. More towers of water as the Evstafi's guns spoke for a second time, the roar and shudder vibrating throughout the ship. The range was good and it would only be a matter of time before straddles and hits followed. Suddenly, the horizon erupted with a long, rolling, threatening cloud of smoke with terrible and ominous intent as the great Yavuz Sultan Selim exposed her full broadside and opened fire with her ten huge guns, surrounding the two Russian ships with their own forest of shell splashes. Eberhardt roared his defiance at the hated enemy "Now Yuri, we fight and may the devil have mercy on their souls for I shall have none!" Battle had been joined.

To be Continued....

Wednesday 24 November 2010

Nearly Ready....

Despite a later than usual arrival home from work last night I managed to finish of the casemate part of the next four casemate ironclads - the sanding and filing phase. I enjoy this part simply because when it is finished all that remains to be done is to apply all the fittings and then the model is complete. The total time taken thus far on all four of these combined is thus far a mere two hours and so I am confident that, depending on the complexity of the model chosen, it should be possible to make three or four models in a full evening sitting with the only delay being required by allowing the glue to dry. I also have some plans for some other models - more of which in due course.

I even managed to watch the second episode of The Walking Dead as well so the evening was a full one albeit quite short.

Tuesday 23 November 2010

For the want of a Nail (File)...............

I had little time to work on the next four of these models last night although I did manage to complete the casemate section on each of them prior to fitting out with gun ports, hatches , funnels and the pilot house. This is the fiddliest part of the undertaking as getting the sloping panels and angles to match and fit is an exercise in patience. Happily they all appear to be OK in this respect so after the tidying up with an emery board the hard part of the model is done. I make both the front and rear casemate panel slightly larger than the final size in order to allow for this finishing off as the extra wood can then be filed to fit on the model. A rough and ready technique I know but helpful to the occasional modeller rather than the draftsman!

I use emery boards (nail files to the uninitiated) for filing and sanding because balsa wood is very delicate and emery boards, being designed to be used on fingernails, are much 'softer' on the building material as well as more convenient to use. I had one of these from SWMBO but had to buy a packet of my own at the weekend - £1 for 10 - from Savers - a local discount drugstore. I also acquired a pack of wooden cuticle removers for the same price - these looked like fat cocktail sticks - that are exactly the right size to use for the slimmer funnels that some ships had rather than the dowel I am currently using.

I am hoping to have these four models completed over the next day or so and will post pictures when they are ready as usual.

Monday 22 November 2010

More on Scratchbuilt Ironclads

Although the weekend did not go entirely to plan in respect of play tests etc, I was able to get the next four Confederate casemate ironclads roughly half finished. I cut the hulls out on Friday and last night was able to get the casemates partially assembled. My technique is to have the long side panels glued in place on the hull (lined up around a central core for support) and then to add the front and rear panels - the whole is then filed down to square of the corners and edges as appropriate. I should have these four models finished over the next couple of days or so.

I am building two smaller vessels, another of the same size as the one I photographed in an earlier post and one larger vessel. The hull lengths are 3", 2 3/4" and 2 1/2" with the casemates being 1 1/2", 1 1/4" and 1 inch long. Once these have been completed the whole lot will be primed and then based prior to painting whilst the first units of the opposition are under construction.

Sunday 21 November 2010

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Wargamers....Part 2

Due to unforeseen domestic circumstances my planned play test of my version of Memoir of Battle at Sea involving the Turks and Russians still has yet to take place. My weekend chores took a little longer than anticipated and so the available gaming time was greatly reduced - so much so that I am seriously considering scaling the size of the forces down to ensure that I am able to complete it in less time than I originally intended. The third attempt is tentatively scheduled for next Sunday all being well. It is frustrating but it has given me a chance to catch up on some other tasks that needed attention - not least of which was downloading into my Sony reader some 28 books from Project Guttenburg including the complete works of Sherlock Holmes amongst others.

Three historical non fiction titles also came into my ebook collection - The Malakand Field Force and The River War by Winston Churchill and The Balkan Wars 1912 - 1913 by Jacob. Plenty of reading material then so I am pretty happy with that and it made up for the lack of the game.

Saturday 20 November 2010

Somewhere in the Black Sea....From the Bridge of the Yavuz Sultan Selim

From the bridge of the battle cruiser Yavuz Sultan Selim (until recently the German ship Goeben) Rear Admiral Wilhelm Souchon surveyed his small fleet through the watery gloom of a clearing sea mist with grim satisfaction. Despite the poor visibility his ships were where he expected them to be once the mist had lifted and even as he watched, those vessels that were slightly awry in their station keeping were manoeuvring into their correct positions. Thus far all had gone to plan and so it was with a sense of relief that the fleet could increase speed to an almost magisterial twelve knots. Souchon would have preferred to have made the journey at a faster rate but was constrained from doing so by the two old and slow Turkish battleships accompanying him. He was not concerned about meeting the Russians as he knew that they had nothing in the Black Sea that could match the Yavuz Sultan Selim in either speed or firepower but any combat contained an element of risk and he could ill afford to sustain any severe damage. This was of additional concern to the Rear Admiral but he was painfully aware that there was little to be done about it. He was as confident as he could be and knew that he had done as much as anyone could do to drag the creaking and woefully inefficient Turkish navy into the twentieth century.

Since war had been declared on Turkey by Russia, in part aided by his devastating preemptive shore bombardments, he had worked hard to instill both German discipline and training into the ramshackle Turkish navy. Efficiency had improved; albeit painfully slowly, but the more difficult issue of sufficient skilled crewman was another matter all together. The men were brave enough and when competently led were quite effective but there never seemed to be enough time or skilled personnel available for training on such an intricate device as a modern warship. It was not in his manner to complain of such difficulties but to a man used to the highest levels of both skill and competence it was nevertheless a daunting challenge. His concern was now focused on the material he was to fight with. The two Turkish cruisers, Hamidiye and Mecidiye, currently deployed with the Midilli (formerly the Breslau) in a loose line abreast in the van of the formation were useful enough, as were the newest destroyers – especially as he had been able to ‘salt’ the crews with a number of German officers and men. Small ship work suited the Turks better it seemed to Souchon, but national pride had demanded big ships. Those same big ships that had been confiscated by the Royal Navy and were now facing Germany from across the North Sea he mused, bitterly. He sighed inwardly and resumed his scan of the horizon forward. Satisfied that the cruiser screen was now on station and holding position, course and speed he turned his attention aft and to the two lumbering bulks of the old battleships Turgut Reiss and the Hareddin Babarossa. It was with great difficulty that Souchon was able to remind himself that these two museum pieces were in fact German built. They were decrepit, rust eaten, rat infested, disease ridden old wrecks that should have been scrapped years earlier. National pride had insisted that these two relics of a bygone age should be present in his fleet as a gesture of allied solidarity. It was a pity that the same pride had not been applied to the vessels upkeep and maintenance he thought. They were all that were available and so they had to be employed. Their one saving grace was that they would give the Russians something else to shoot at as well as his battle cruiser. Better they were damaged than the Goeben (he refused to call her by her new Turkish name) because he was under no illusions that the Turkish naval repair facilities would anywhere near as good as Wilhelmshaven. The operation the fleet was undertaking was simple enough and the value of sea time in respect of training was inestimable. A series of shore bombardments and the sowing of some minefields would be an effective demonstration of Turkish resolve in the Black Sea and would provide some badly needed live firing practise for the big gun crews. Should the Russian navy attempt to intervene then they would be engaged and Souchon was confident that he would be able to deal with them accordingly. Visibility was improving by the minute, bringing with it the promise of a bright and clear day. Souchon was about to leave the bridge to go to the wardroom when a noise like tearing canvas, preceded by dull rumble, reverberated around the normally silent interior.

A huge white pillar, the size of a house erupted in the sea ahead of the great ship. They were under fire! Immediately the bridge, and indeed the whole ship became a flurry of frenzied activity as the crew raced to their battle stations. Orders were barked out - both to the ship's company and the remainder of the squadron; bells rang, voices shouted and eager feet thundered urgently through the companionways and ladders as first a second, and then a third minaret-high shell splash seemed to smother the ship. The great engines throbbed as she worked up to full speed, as fast as her stokers could feed the blazing furnaces of her boilers as simultaneously the Captain swung her helm over hard to starboard, leaving her slower charges scurrying in her wake. The three screening cruisers had veered off to engage an as yet unseen enemy whilst the Yavuz Sultan Selim desperately maneuvered into her best firing position so her great guns could reply to her assailant. The rest of the fleet would have to follow her as best as it could as for now, the great battle cruiser was engaging the enemy on her own. No sooner had she straightened out of her violent turn than the firing switches were pressed and the ten eleven inch guns spoke in unison with an ear shattering roar. Battle was joined at last.

Friday 19 November 2010

Some More ACW Scratchbuilds

I spent some time on my train journey to and from work yesterday pondering the next phase of my ACW naval construction project. The Confederates managed to construct a number of casemate ironclads in the most trying conditions and so whilst they all had a similar overall appearance of course differences existed. It was with this in mind I decided that I would need several models to 'cover all the bases' of types available. After my deliberations (and reference to Angus Konstam's Osprey hardback - Duel of the Ironclads, more of which later) I settled upon the construction of five models, the one already completed and four others. Yesterday evening I cut out the and shaped the hulls for these four models so am hoping to make progress on them over the weekend - as well as the play test for Memoir of Battle at Sea.

The models will consist of one with a larger casemate (in terms of length) and with a hull about a quarter of a inch longer than the already completed model, a straight copy of the existing model and two models that are smaller (by around half an inch) than the version in yesterday's blog post. When completed these five models will give me sufficient variety in terms of the models used in a game and will allow for specific historical scenarios to be depicted with greater representational 'accuracy'.

I am still pondering about monitor turrets and so have decided that the first opposition for the casemate models will be some Cairo class gunboats. I shall make three of these and am also going to make the USS Benton - this being the unique vessel made from a couple of ex snagging boats joined together and hulled over making her a lot beamier than the Cairos by nearly half as much again (70+ ft to 50+ ft).

The Rayleigh shipyard is going to be busy but boy oh boy, is this great fun to do or what?!

Duel of the Ironclads by Angus Konstam is one of those Osprey hardbacks where they combine parts from several titles (e.g. from the Men at Arms, Campaign or Vanguard series amongst others) and to be honest, some of these are much better than others. Happily this is one of those and the book contains the best parts from the two Vanguard titles: Union Monitor and Confederate Ironclad and the Campaign series title covering the Battle of Hampton Roads. Osprey cover a number of other ACW naval titles which I shall track down but this hardback is a very good starting point and as I acquired my copy from a remaindered bookshop a couple of years ago for £5 represents great value for money.

Thursday 18 November 2010

ACW Casemate Ironclad - A Scratch Build

Pictured above is my first ever scratch built ACW casemate ironclad and is the first of a number of vessels I am planning to make. I have placed her on a single Hexon terrain tile so you can get an idea of the size of the completed model - Hexon terrain tiles are 4" across the flat sides - which is very slightly under 3" long and 1" wide. She is built of balsa wood throughout except for the casemate panels which began life as a double thickness ice lolly stick. I had purchased a pack of these craft sticks and they are made of a much harder wood than balsa and so would stand up to handling far better. I started with the flat hull and placed a central core to which the casemate panels were fixed. The detailing in respect of gun ports, the deck hatch and the small pilot house were cut from some thin sheet balsa and the funnel from a length of balsa dowel rod. The dark lines are not were the model is poorly fitted together - they are pencil marks from the cutting out process! Although the picture does not show it very well the edges of the casemate are in fact very smooth with the stark edges being due to the different colour of the wood from the side to the end grain. Detail wise I would equate this to being similar in style as Davco 1/3000th ships in that it is chunky with over sized features and thus is ideal for war games.
She is not intended to represent a specific vessel; rather a conglomerate of similar types. I plan to make probably another four or five of these - one identical to the above and the others smaller in size. In all I reckon that the construction of this took in the region of an evening's work spread over a few days so is fairly economic in terms of time. The next step will be to seal and prime the model prior to undercoating and painting. I will tackle this over the next few days although I am tempted to make her sister ships first and paint them en masse before moving on to opposition.
I really enjoyed making this model and am very pleased with the final result. I did have some trepidation about constructing the casemate but my process, whilst not perfect, seemed to work out well. I am now really looking forward to the next models and having been inspired additionally from the efforts of Steel on Sand on his blog in respect of forts etc I will have to give some thought as to how to construct some shore defences as well.

Wednesday 17 November 2010

Memoir of Battle at Sea - Rules and Models

The paperwork for the next playtest of my naval version of the Battle Cry/Memoir 44 inspired rule set is virtually complete and so the next action set in the Black Sea will be taking place this weekend. I am looking froward to this for a number of reasons, not least of which because I am keen to get the rules to a satisfactory level before I tackle the complex issue of aircraft. I have the air section complete but it exists as an untested draft and so will need to be tried out a few times. The game turn sequencing and most of the mechanics for aerial combat have been unashamedly 'borrowed' from Axis and Allies: War at Sea although they do have a couple of minor 'tweaks' incorporated.

Meanwhile the great ironclad construction programme continues with the first casemate ship for the ACW nearing completion - I am at the fittings stage of adding deck grills, gun port covers etc - and I hope to post this to the blog soon. I am pleased with the progress of this thus far and should the finished model look OK then I shall press on with some more - quite a few more in fact!

Tuesday 16 November 2010

Online Fraud - A Note of Warning

I have mentioned in passing that last week, aside from the sad business of Misty, also saw us having to contend with an attempted online banking fraud. This happened during the early hours of last Monday morning (08/11). The fraudsters managed to reset my debit card password enabling them to to put through a couple of purchases totalling over £300.Luckily SWMBO (who checks the bank online daily) was alerted to a large pending debit that was unaccounted for and so called me to find out what I had been spending that sum of money on (I am sure you can imagine the conversation!). After we had established that neither of us had anything to do with this it was then on to the bank and the first of a series of long and wearying phone calls to sort this mess out. We eventually received the money back so had not lost out financially but the sheer inconvenience and worry have certainly taken their toll (remember that this was alongside Misty's final few days). We had to cancel our debit cards and order replacements and then 'delouse' the PC as an additional precaution. This has all been done (although the PC is pretty darned safe in any event) and SWMBO and myself reckoned that the remedial action to this relatively small incident has taken between us some six hours of phone calls and the same on the PC - changing passwords and 'nuking' anything vaguely connected to personal details.

We were lucky in that the bank is checked daily so it was nipped in the bud early on. I am posting this simply because most gamers use online shopping etc in one form or another and I am absolutely no exception to this. All I am saying is that be very careful out there in cyberspace - this kind of thing is not just something that happens to other people - and make sure that you exercise care around changing passwords, keeping personal details etc safe and your PC protection up to date etc. Clearing out your PC after using it with any of the instant delete software for things like cookies and temporary internet files is a good habit to get into.

In the words of Shaw Taylor - "Keep 'em peeled!"

Sunday 14 November 2010

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Wargamers

It has been a rather busy weekend and as a result the planned play test of my version of Memoir of Battle at Sea has not taken place. I had a number of administrative tasks to tackle for this that took rather more time than I had anticipated so I took the decision to postpone this until next weekend when I shall be fully prepared.
The weekend did yield a few highspots (and heaven knows I needed something after the deluge of misfortune this week has thrown up so far!) as my visit to deepest Basildon furnished a number of items I had been after for some time. Firstly I have managed to acquire some Winsor and Newton acrylic paint - a 60ml tube of Cobalt Turquoise which is as close as I have seen to the blue used in the manufacture of Hexon blue terrain tiles. I needed to get this for my ship bases going forward rather than the old Humbrol enamel Matt 25. Me using acrylics? Whatever next?!
I also managed to get a pack of assorted sizes of balsa wood and some wooden craft sticks - rather like double sized ice lolly sticks - which will also come in very handy. The best part of the day though was when SWMBO spotted that a branch of the Past Times chain has opened in the main shopping centre. I dived in there like a shot and came away with one of their 'Town in a Bag' sets of wooden childrens toy buildings. I have been after a set of this for ages after having seen it used extensively in Bob Cordery's various 20th century games but without success so was very pleased to get one of these (I wish I had got a couple though!). The contents include everything in the picture above (except the 18th century 10 - 12mm plastic figures from the board game Risk whch I put in the picture for size comparison) and some other pieces e.g. the vehicles, people and livestock, which I have set aside for my grandson for when he is about 5...................;-)
The buildings are very basic and many of them are detailed only on one side but having said that, they are ideal to set up villages and towns etc quickly and cheaply. They are very stylised and so will offend the purist but have an old school charm all of their own. The buildings would suit 15mm figures at a push - even my Peter Laings look a little on the large side compared to them - but I think that 10 or 12mm look ideal with these. Seeing them alongside the aforementioned Risk figures (of which I have three complete boxes worth) has certainly given me much to consider in respect of 18th century 'imagi-nations' but that, as they say, if for another day/month/year/decade (delete as applicable)!
The price for this bag of goodies was £5.62 which is an odd price but they should have been £7.50 but had 25% off. For seventeen building, nine walls and five trees that is not bad at all.

Friday 12 November 2010

Rules, Plans and Good Intentions

After a week of high drama (aside from the distressing feline episode there was also the small matter of the attempted bank account fraud we had to contend with) it is with an enormous sense of relief that at last the weekend is upon us. I have a few domestic duties to attend to but anticipate being able to visit my local branch of Hobbycraft for some bits and pieces as well as running the next play test of my version of Memoir of Battle at Sea. This will be a much larger affair than previously and will feature more ships types. Once again, the Black Sea will be the theatre of operations with those old protagonists the Russians and the Turks. I will also be using the Hexon set up to a full sized 13 x 9 playing area. This is a big deal for me as this will be my preferred gaming area size going forward and happily the set up fits snugly on the dining table. I will be doing a full write up with photos (I intend experimenting with these beforehand) so it will be a rather lengthy post methinks.

In respect of battle reports I confess that I have changed my approach slightly in that I am now recording actual moves and dice rolls etc rather than describing the action as though it were a real battle. This is not nearly as dramatic (or as much fun!) but makes for a better record of events. The one thing I learned from my previous report is that preparation is key – I am going to set up a game turn template for recording moves, combat results and hits etc rather than relying on odd scraps of paper. I do not envisage using this for actual face to face games; rather it is intended as a tool to use whilst testing.

Another task for the weekend concerns the previously mentioned flying bases for use with the WW2 aircraft counters from Victory at Sea. I need to make a couple of dozen of these so will be gluing, painting and chopping at some point.

Thursday 11 November 2010

Misty R.I.P.

Not a wargaming subject I know but I would like to share this all the same. Misty, our beloved Persian had to be put to sleep this evening as his viral condition had taken too much out of him and his recovery was extremely doubtful. We are all feeling pretty down at the moment and his idiosyncratic ways will be sadly missed. His liking for sleeping in the laundry basket or with his head in anybodies shoes had been noted on many occasions - as had his irrational fear of silver foil. He often enjoyed sleeping on my lap upside down and with his paws in the air - looking like he had just been shot. SWMBO would spend hours grooming him and his attempts to avoid this were legendary. He was noisy and not the most agile of cats - his landing technique could best be described as a controlled crash - but he was a good friend and a cornerstone of the family.
R.I.P. Bubs (I have no idea why we called him that!) but at least the Magpies won't be able to get you now.

Synchronicity and the ACW Afloat

It never ceases to amaze me just how powerful synchronicity can be. A chance conversation leading to a couple of rule sets; an ebay acquisition rekindling interest in a particular period; an additional variant of the aforementioned rule sets sparking further interest and the need to satisfy the creative urge resulting from the inspiration provided by all of these things.

Memoir of Battle at Sea began as a chance conversation between Bob Cordery and myself whilst at the Skirmish show a while back. He has made much more progress with his interpretation of this idea than I have (mine is still very much at the testing stage) and has successfully taken the concept backwards in time to cover the 1860 to 1870 period. I was not initially caught up in this facet of the MoBaS naval rules but the recent acquisition of a copy of the ACW game Battle Cry by Avalon Hill had me scuttling to the ACW naval section of the library once again.

I would not describe myself as a particularly talented model maker but it is a part of the hobby I enjoy within the framework of my own limitations. I tend to be able to improvise and make use of existing objects and then turn these into something else. My scratch built dirigibles being a case in point – take one plastic kit aircraft bomb and stick various odds and ends to it and voila! Instant dirigible. Ironclads for the ACW should be very similar in theory – a monitor or even a casemate ironclad should be pretty straightforward to cobble together, certainly sufficient for use on the war games table. I have enough information and pictures etc to be able to do this and so I spent last night rummaging through the spares boxes to see what I could find to make use of in this construction project.

Bob Cordery is currently working on some models using his famous cartoon style approach and the ships are designed to be representational and not to look too far out of place with his 15mm collection (correct me if I am wrong here Bob!). My own models will be under no such restraint other than that they have to fit on a single Hexon terrain tile and will also need to fit on a card base 100mm by 50mm maximum. My models will also not be to any specific scale per se; rather they will be built to fit the hex which means in reality the maximum model size will be around 85 to 90mm long by around 40mm wide. The models will be loosely based on specific types and will be named after their closest historical counterparts. Using the Hexon terrain tiles makes life a lot easier in terms of movement and firing etc and of course, should I acquire the flocked green land set the possibility of some river based actions with forts etc becomes eminently achievable.

I have had a hankering to have a stab at this for some time and so all this recent activity has provided me with the inspiration to have a go. Looking at the longer term implications of this idea of course there is a VSF angle to be considered – assuming the basic building techniques work out for the models then there are many other possibilities for ironclad fleets. At the time of writing I envisage manufacturing around a dozen models a side and perhaps even a couple of forts for good measure. Ultimately I would like to tie this in with Battle Cry itself which of course raises the issue of what troops to use for the land stuff – clearly 15mm will be too large – and so I may look to see what I can do with some 2mm figures although this is a long way down the batting order!

I know I could just as easily buy the models from Navwar (they are the cheapest in 1/1200th) but that is not the point of the exercise. I want to make the models and derive the pleasure from doing so. My WW2 naval will need to wait a while – at least the model side will – but from a solo perspective I have more than enough ship counters to use so this is not critical. I may undertake a small 1/3000th project in the interim, just to keep my eye in. In all probability this will mean that the 1/3000th ‘mini-project’ will come to fruition sooner rather than later – details of which will come to pass in due course.

Tuesday 9 November 2010

Avalon Hill Naval Games CD

Apologies for the delay in reporting about the above - my only excuse is that I have been somewhat distracted with the usual round of domesticity and other 'shiny things!'

The CD arrived and I am very impressed with both the quality and the contents. The games included are as follows:

Attack Sub
Flat Top
Peloponnesian War
Tokyo Express
Victory Games - Pacific War
War at Sea - Victory in the Pacific
Wooden Ships and Iron Men

For each of the above games the rules, countersheets, play sheets, maps, game boxes and any associated articles from the Avalon Hill General magazine - this often includes some of the variants e.g. Tsushima for Jutland and the South Atlantic mapboard for the Hunt for the Graf Spee using the game Bismarck.

All the components are scanned into PDFs and are easily opened. the games are scanned usually within several files and so each game has its own folder but be warned - due to the content the files are pretty hefty is size!

I plan to get some of the maps and counters printed (probably at a local print shop) and I am sure that anyone with the requisite knowledge could chop the files around if need be. I do not have access to a printer of larger than A4 so would need to do this but even colour printing would not be overly expensive in the quantities I envisage. I was quoted £3 to £4 for colour printing and laminating an A3 sized map using a matt film which is not too bad - Bismarck search boards in this case.

Overall then, a cracking product and more than sufficient to be able to construct the games from scratch if need be although printing, mounting and cutting the 2,000 odd counters for Flat Top may be an exercise in patience or needing a long and uninterrupted weekend!