Saturday, 16 November 2019

All at Sea - Another Project

It was back in April this year that I reported on my visit to Salute and was able to show pictures of the then, next big thing from Warlord Games, namely Black Seas which was being shown for the first time along with some of the models and mock ups for the gaming materials which have now become familiar with more of us, following the launch of the game system this year.

Salute 2019

I am not usually an 'early adopter', to use the marketing speak, but following the release of the plastic sprues attached to Wargames Illustrated, my imagination was captured by the detail on these models and with extra Brigs donated by Steve M, I set about putting these and the frigate together as a British light squadron.

Following this initial build I have discovered how well these models look and the possibilities to add extra detail, with crew figures and running rigging which really adds to the overall look.

The fun I have had putting them together, inspired me to order up the US frigate and three of the plastic 74's which are on the paint desk as I write and I am looking forward to adding to the collection in time.

The models are very straight forward to put together, and there are plenty of YouTube videos out there illustrating this. I myself have found that painting the hull and the masts separately allows an easier painting process with both, afterwards bringing them together with the paint job completed, and ready to move on to rigging.

The rigging is very straight forward, more so in my experience than working with the 1:1200 Langton models, with the standing rigging being attached followed by the acetate ratlines, and then the running rigging to finish.

The ratlines are not a perfect fit for the masts and sails and require a bit of work, and superglue does tend to cause them to mist when fixing them to hull and masts. I notice some modelers are turning to various etched options, but they add to the cost of what is for me a wargaming model and not something I intend putting on my mantelpiece for show, thus the acetate option makes an sturdy robust model better able to stand handling.

Another slight issue is the thickness of paper the naval ensigns are supplied on, making folding a little more problematic and needing a good paint job on the edges to make any unsightly seem less offending to the eye.

The next question for me was basing, which I always intended to do, as I want the model to take most handling on the base rather than the model itself, thus I have sized the bases to extend the length of the hull and the projecting bowsprit.

I decided to move away from the textured rectangular base common to a lot of naval wargamers models, which I find hard on the eye when seen on a sea table, and so opted for the clear acrylic pill, or 'stadium' bases you see on my modes, supplied by a great company,  Fluid 3D Workshop ,who will cut these and other shapes to specific dimensions for gamers.

The clear style of base allows my Tiny Wargames sea mat to show through around my ship models in all its glory and the round edges seem a lot more subtle to my way of thinking. You could add ship names and other data to them, and I will probably fix labels in a temporary and sparing fashion as needed.

I really love the lines of the 38-gun frigate and am looking forward to getting her on the table up against the American Super-Frigate, Constitution which contrasts sharply, being almost the same length as the 74-gun ships.

Likewise the model brigs are very nicely done and offer lots of opportunity for scratch building to personalise them or convert them into another small class of warship or small merchantman.

So the next issue for me was the rules to use as I came at Black Seas rules with a lot of reservations about them, based on what I had seen from Warlord for other periods.

As I suspected 'Black Seas' is not for me, and I find the wake markers and counters grating to the eye, and so I looked around for other alternatives. In the end, after a lot of thought and sleeping on ideas, I have settled for using 'Kiss me Hardy' (KMH) from the Lardies which seem to have been scaled to about 1:900 which should allow the use of these models, 1:700, without the need to mess about with the movement and gunnery ranges.

Having played KMH quite a few times and with all my card decks sorted out, the rules will allow a fun game with these models for either small or single ship actions right through to bigger battle set ups and my 9 x 5 foot table should allow plenty of scope.

If the collection develops to allow even bigger set piece battles to be modelled then with these bases I can move to a fleet action set of rules such as Grand Fleet Actions.

I noticed a comment recently on a certain forum by another naval gamer that this range would not be featuring on his table, extolling the virtues of a great range of paper ships from War Artisan, that I have featured on this blog and am only too familiar with how good they look and at a fraction of the cost of other options, including these.

That said, I don't think you can argue with the look of these models, and with multiple ships on the table, fully rigged, with gun flashing smoke markers between models, the look of a naval battle will only be enhanced, which is perhaps the biggest issue with naval wargaming, namely the look of the table.

Warlord Games are to be congratulated for making available a larger scale Age of Sail set of models that are not toy looking pirate models but capture the look of the historical vessels they portray, and fulfill the promise of the Meridian range launched by Skytrex all those years ago of larger scale, accurate models, but affordable for building a wargame collection.

Finally the other consideration for extending this collection was what period to model. In the past, using the Langton models, I opted for the American War of Independence and specifically a collection themed around Admirals Suffren and Hughes and their series of battles fought in the Indian Ocean in the 1780's.

This time I wanted to do something different and am rather interested in the struggle between the British and French in the Caribbean from 1793 to 1801 during the Revolutionary War which saw Spain ally with the French towards the latter part of that period.

The theatre offers plenty of opportunity for relatively manageable sized actions and plenty of single ship clashes when you include the hunting down of privateers.

However the ensigns carried during this period by the French and British change as the war reactivates in 1803 as the Napoleonic struggle and the later 1812 War against the USA and, as I would also like to be able to cover some of those actions, I am settling on modeling my ships for the later period as delivered in the box.

Warlord look set to add to this range of models and if the response and interest to them is anything to go by, they look to have come up with a model range that will pay them back handsomely for expanding it, and so I hope they will add merchantmen, a smaller third rate 74/64 -gun SOL together with a 4th rate 50-gun a French 40-gun frigate and perhaps a 22/24-gun three masted corvette or sloop-of-war.

There is something really nice about sitting down to rig an age of sail model and I really enjoyed the fact that Warlord have included aspects such as different figureheads and stern-quarters to really personalise each ship and create something unique each time, as well as offering models of specific historic ships from the period, such as Victory, L'Orient etc.

The fun has caused me to return to the loft and dig out my rather large collection of books on the subject and start reacquainting myself with the history as well as conjuring with ideas for campaigns and future big battles.

Isn't this hobby great?

In summary, the models are from Warlord Games, part of their Black Seas range of ship models, the bases from Fluid 3D Workshop and the sea mat from Tiny Wargames.

I look forward to showing you more models from the range going forward.

Thursday, 14 November 2019

Bob's New Wargames Room - Peninsular War, Sharp Practice

Last week, I had fun over at Chez Bob who kindly invited me and a few other friends over to his new toy room to play a Peninsular War Sharp Practice set to.

As you can see Bob has put together a really nice set up with a permanent table, storage units that hold the figures and terrain plus a purpose built paint station set up in the window to provide plenty of light when turning out the figures.

Of course the room is one thing, then you need the collection of terrain and figures to compliment the facilities and Bob can field several nice collections including his 28mm Peninsular Napoleonic collection that graced the table on the day we all got together.

On the day we played, I took the role of one of the French commanders, tasked with capturing the village at the opposite end to our deployment.

Unfortunately for us we were up against a formidable group of British Light Infantry, Flank Companies and Riflemen, who after taking a few casualties from our voltigeurs on their approach march, soon got control of the situation and winded up breaking both French battle groups.

Much fun was had during the day, with battle joined morning and afternoon and with lunch included together with plenty of banter to boot.

The highlight unit for the French turned out to be the French dragoons who successfully mauled the British flank companies knocking over a couple of British leaders and holding up the British in the centre as the French columns struggled to get forward and deploy.

Thanks to Bob for a great day and inviting us to enjoy playing in his new room and to Si, Mark and Ian for making the game such fun.

Monday, 11 November 2019

Berlin 2019, Part One, Thirtieth Anniversary of the Collapse of the Berlin Wall

The Russian inscription reads 'God! help me to survive amidst this deadly love'

The weekend before last, Carolyn and I enjoyed a long-weekend trip to Berlin to visit Will who has moved to the city to begin his year long masters degree in Advanced European and International Studies, that sees him progressing later in the year to universities in Nice and Rome.

Our trip happily coincided with the city's preparations for the celebration of its thirty years of freedom following the collapse of Soviet Communism and the breaking down of the Berlin Wall; a structure that had come to symbolise all that was wrong with the totalitarian system, forced to imprison its population to stop them from voting with their feet, to enjoy the liberties that could be found only a few yards on the other side.

The Fraternal Kiss - GDR Leader, Erich Honecker a prime mover in the development of the Berlin Wall and who gave orders to guards to shoot attempted escapees, meets Soviet Leader, Leonid Brezhnev in 1979 to celebrate 30 years of the GDR 

The poster art above captures the moment, only ten years before on October 7th 1979 when Leonid Brezhnev, head of the Presidium of the Soviet and General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party met with Erich Honecker, Chairman of the State Council of the German Democratic Republic and General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Socialist Union Party, on the occasion of the the thirtieth anniversary of the creation of the GDR.

The 'fraternal kiss' as it was known, seems to capture perfectly the anachronism of the Soviet system and its leadership, with all the hypocrisy of a kiss, the eternal representation of love and affection being used between individuals that would quite happily see the other disappear without trial into some God-forsaken detention centre, never to be heard of or seen again and with any pictures of them, from the past, conveniently airbrushed from history.

A section of the wall maintained as it would have looked back in 1989, along with its watch tower, that really gives a sense of the monstrosity this structure was, complete with its 'death zone', in between the two concrete barriers. Of course you certainly would not have been this close back in the day and probably not with a camera in hand.

Having grown up during the Cold War and living with the tension produced by the stand-off between two heavily armed nuclear capable military factions, it is easy today, to forget the atmosphere those times created and the terrible threat to commonly accepted norms of freedom that we in the West have enjoyed since the end of World War II.

Sadly the threat to those freedoms is on the rise yet again and seemingly with the West not so united and determined to defend them as before, and Berlin's celebration this weekend, with its collective memory of what it is like to live under totalitarianism, is a timely reminder that for evil to prosper in the world it simply requires good men and women to do nothing.

I have never been to Berlin, and indeed my visits to Germany have been too few, so as well as looking forward to spending quality time with Carolyn and Will, I was really looking forward to seeing the history of this most famous European capital in its buildings, monuments and museums, together with an impression of what modern Berlin feels like today in a united democratic Germany.

The early days of Check Point Charlie at the height of the tensions in the early sixties

Will has been in the city for several weeks before we joined him and so he acted as an impromptu guide to some of the key sites we were keen to see and thus after getting a tube train from our apartment in Charlottenberg we headed to perhaps one of the most famous places in recent Berlin history and a feature of just about any Cold War spy thriller based in it, Check Point Charlie.

As you might expect, such an iconic monument to the Cold War has attracted a level of 'Dysneyfication' that sees vendors along the adjoining Strassen willing to sell to visitors anything from a mock East German border guard hat to a piece of reinforced concrete suitably adorned in graffiti purporting to be a sample of  the wall.

One could argue that some of the wares are a little distasteful when one considers the cost in human lives this market place is trading off of but I guess that is the price of freedom, although I perhaps am a little old fashioned in thinking rights demand responsibilities.

The checkpoint seen in the eighties, looking more like a customs border post, but equipped with x-ray checking equipment and facilities to monitor a growing number of people looking to cross.

The look of the checkpoint changed throughout the intervening years between 1961 and 1989 as techniques in controlling access became more sophisticated and the need to make closer inspections of those moving across the zones of control.

Close by the crossing point is the Berlin Wall Museum which was our next place to visit and which holds some unique artifacts, many contributed by people very much involved in the history of the city and the wall.

As we made our way to the entrance to the museum, Will pointed our what would become a familiar site during our visit, namely the marker stones placed across roads and pavements marking the former position of the wall where sections have been removed

The Berlin Wall Museum charts the history of the wall to its downfall with a remarkable collection of items that illustrate the lengths Berliners went to to escape from the east as well as other aspects of the Communist occupation such as the Berlin airlift.

The plan that lead to the zoning off of Berlin and the separation of Germany among the victorious Allies, as outlined here on a facsimile map of the one in the London War Rooms used by Winston Churchill at the Potsdam Conference in 1945

West Berliner, Kurt Wordel smuggled fifty-five people out of the GDR between 1964-66 in the VW 1200, pictured below, with the bonnet to the boot lifted to show the secret compartment.

The uniform coat and cap of Captain Jack O Bennet together with the Liberty Bell presented to him by the Mayor of Berlin in recognition of the 1,000 transport flights he made to the city during the 462 days of the airlift that successfully undermined the Communist blockade.

The Soviet government used the currency reforms in West Germany as an excuse to initiate a total blockade of the city on the 24th June 1948, cutting off land and water access routes to the Western Powers in a bid to drive them out.

The move itself constituted an act of war, but the commander of the US Zone, General Lucas D. Clay, opted for a more practical approach to defeat this passive aggression by organising an airlift that ensured all West Berliners received aerial care packages with items included necessary for their survival, completely unhinging the Soviet tactic and causing the blockade to be ended on the 12th May 1949.

With the Western Powers clearly demonstrating their determination to stay in Berlin, the city became the front-line in the war of minds as both sides of the political struggle attempted to paint the other in the blackest terms to convince the civil populations which system was preferable.

This news manipulation saw the Soviets blame a potato famine in the early fifties on the Americans, claiming that they had overflown the countryside, dropping infective agents on the fields to cause the blight. 

In the end, the war of words was overcome by the actuality of the situation as the civil population began to ignore the claims and just focus on the outcomes and deeds which accelerated the disillusion with Soviet claims and forced the authorities in the east to consider other means to counter the results of their defeated policy of misinformation and lies, namely the defection of 3.5 million East Germans to the west.

The Berlin Wall as it would come to be, controlling access across the city and from East Germany

Tensions between the Soviets and Western powers were at there height in the early sixties and the willy Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, emboldened by what he saw as a young inexperienced President John F. Kennedy, looked to press a threat made at the Vienna Summit in 1961, when the President stated that he wouldn't actively oppose the Soviets building of a barrier.

East German troops close the border on the 13th August 1961

The 13th August 1961 would become known to West Berliners as 'Barbed Wire Sunday' as masses of East German police, troops and workers closed the border around the city, laying barbed wire and tearing up streets at crossing points preparatory to the construction of a more permanent barrier.

In time the wall would take the form, through two developments, from its building in 1965 to replace the wire barrier, into a twelve foot reinforced concrete barrier built in 1975, with a so called 'Death Strip' or no-mans land, in between either two sections of wall or wall in front of a river.

The wall was topped off with a smooth pipe to make scaling more problematic and in its latter incarnation liberally reinforced with mesh fencing, anti-vehicle ditches, barbed wire, dogs on long lines, bunkers, watch towers, beds of nails in planks under windows of buildings overlooking the death strip and anti-personal fragmentation launchers attached to trip wires at different heights along its length.

The SM 70 automatic firing fragmentation mine, atop the wire mesh applied to later model of wall

The tiny square shaped metal fragments contained within a blast from an SM 70.

The results of being hit by the SM 70, with two fragments from its deadly load seen lying close to this escapees heart in the x-ray picture.

With the sophistication in the design of the wall came an increase in sophistication of the escape attempts with examples in the museum of tunnel designs, hidden compartments in cars, boats, submersibles and microlight aircraft.

The Mini used in 1988 as seen below in the article covering a visit by Sylvester Stallone. Obviously Erich Honecker was not a fan of Rocky or Rambo.

I have flown a microlight, very similar to the one seen below, and it is not something I would be keen to repeat and certainly not near anyone capable of shooting at me.

This aircraft was made from car parts, and with other parts such as the propeller being hand made, and was used in an escape on August 4th 1984, flying some 100 kilometres into the west.

The microlight seen below at least has some basic flying instruments and the escapees painted up the wing to fool observers on the ground that it was a Soviet aircraft.

The coastline of East Germany was heavily patrolled with a similar shoot to kill policy for anyone determined enough to try their luck crossing the Baltic.

The ingenuity to come up with a diesel powered 'U-boat' for one, that towed the pilot through sixteen miles of cold waters to allow 28 year old Bernd Bottger to escape to Denmark is absolutely amazing, and a tribute to the determination to be free.

A bubble car has got be the most unlikely escape vehicle ever, to be used, and probably that was the key factor that allowed the hidden occupant to make it across successfully.

With the replica checkpoint outside the museum, key parts of the original, including the road marking, sector sign and control barrier are safely preserved in the museum close by.

Of course, after visiting the museum and following a warming lunch of Wurst broth, otherwise known as gout in a bowl, but unsurprisingly great with a cold wind blowing in from Siberia, we headed off across the city to see some of the monuments along the route of the wall recording the heroism of the escapes made in those areas.

View of the check point from the museum nearby

As part of the celebrations and commemoration of the thirtieth anniversary of the wall coming down, the BBC has been running a radio drama documenting the digging of Tunnel 29 in the summer of 1962, through which twenty-nine people escaped through mud and leaking water to escape into West Berlin, whilst being filmed by the American TV station NBC.

It was more fortuitous than planned that we found ourselves stood on the very same road under which Tunnel 29 along with ten other similar such escape routes were dug between 1962 and 1971 and the radio drama suddenly became more real as we viewed the place today, suitably adorned with information boards and mini-video screens showing clips of the various escapes made along Bernauer Strasse.

All the old tenement blocks and boarded up shop fronts are long gone, and new developments are starting to cover what was the death strip, but some of the open ground is still visible allowing a before and after glimpse when compared with the black and white pictures above.

The old patrol path used by used by border guards and their dogs is now simply an access to the new modern apartment blocks that mark the transition of Berlin into a modern western city.

Despite the changes for the better, the price for the freedom to simply wander around and appreciate  them is marked along pavements and nearby walls to remind the passer by of darker days and that cost.

Between 1961 and 1989, 100,000 people attempted to escape, with over 5,000 escaping over the wall and some 136 to 200 being killed in the attempt in and around Berlin.

However I felt this post should end with the most perfect of before and after pictures with no less a monument than the Brandenburg Gate, which caught the attention of photographers in 1989 as happy Berliners clambered up on the redundant section of wall to celebrate their new found freedom; and the same place today with the area once occupied by the wall, fenced off to allow preparation of the entertainments arranged for the weekend of celebrations.

My next post on Berlin will take a look at other aspects of its history that recall the rise of Prussia and Frederick the Great, the 19th century, Bismarck and German unification, and of course WWII and the rise and fall of Hitler and the Nazis.