Saturday 30 November 2019

All at Sea - Strange Sail in Sight

My three British 74's join the frigate to form my first squadron

Well if the feedback I've had from my last post is anything to go by, this project to build a collection from the Warlord Black Seas range of 1:700th model ships, is something that a lot of others are getting into or thinking about and just need a nudge 'to pull the trigger' as the saying goes.

As mentioned in my last post, I had three British 74's and the USS Constitution on the painting desk at the time of writing and they have now joined the collection, with three French 74's awaiting some work with the brush to follow them.

The box of three plastic 74's were great fun to put together and with the option of three different stern quarters and four different figureheads really allow the modeler to individualise each ship with them and a slightly different paint scheme to give the ships their own character.

Not only that but the inclusion of different tones of sail set with one being darker than the other also helps to break up the uniformity of look without losing the potential of producing a British looking fleet versus a Spanish or French one.

Rigging the models has continued to be a learning curve as plastic masts with all their ability to bend under any tension means you have to learn how tight you can draw the thread in any particular direction without distorting masts or bowsprit; and that tension drawn in another direction can cause previously taught lines to suddenly look slack.

That said, I am pleased with the overall look and shape of the models when rigged and together in large numbers should create a very good look of ships battling away in this period that is captured in the contemporary marine artwork.

With the look of my British ships organised and one that will be carried forward with additional models, I am now turning my attention to producing a slightly different look for the other fleets I intend working on.

So to get some practice and to provide some fearsome opposition for my British light forces I set about building the Constitution whose size requires her being put on a 74 sized base.

The size of the ship becomes even more pronounced when seen up against the British 38 and the model is covered in detail that allows the look of this ship to be readily captured.

In time I will add some of the smaller US frigates such as Chesapeake and Essex so that I can play some of the classic 1812 encounters and I hope Warlord will produce a nice little sloop of war to complete the range of ships available to the US Navy.

On researching the look of my Constitution I turned to several sites featuring representations of the ship in various larger scales and it seems everyone has there own opinion on how the ship would have looked.

So not entirely content with the Warlord rendition, I think they have produced an attractive model and I enjoyed capturing the detail they have created on her stern gallery, which makes it clear which ship this is.

As mentioned, I am now focused on the French collection and three more 74's to try and get done before the Xmas break, plus my battery holders turned up this week, all the way from China, so now I can start work on my LED flashing gunfire smoke markers.

Hopefully these pictures of my two frigates going at it should give you an idea of the look I am after, except with the added drama of intermittent yellow flashes amid the white plumes of cordite smoke.

I am still working on the rigging tutorial and have taken pictures during the construction of these models to illustrate the technique used and will add some of the French ships to complete it, but in the meantime have put together a short video outlining the painting of these models together with some other recommendations re books and tools that will help in the process.

As is probably obvious, I am having a whale of a time putting these models together, and I get the impression others would like to as well but are put off by a perceived complexity in the build process.

All I can say is you will only know by having a go with a few models and finding the techniques that work for you and if you like the look I have achieved and want some guidance then drop me a comment on the blog and I will try to help, or check out what others are doing, as there are plenty of examples out there at the moment.

More anon

Monday 25 November 2019

Berlin 2019, Part Two - The Historic Capital of Germany

A fully restored Bundestag, with its new dome, the new democratic heart of a reunited Federal Germany

In the first part of this post I covered the history of the Berlin Wall which we looked at during our long weekend trip Carolyn and I spent with Will, following his arrival in the city to start a Masters degree over the next year.

Berlin 2019 - Part One

Of course Berlin, being the historic capital of a united Germany and before that the Kingdom of Prussia, has other sites of particular interest to the military history enthusiast of which WWII and the eras of the Prussian monarchy are well represented.

Our tour of the city started in the centre at Point 1 on the map below where there are a group of monuments and buildings all within walking or tram distance and so we started there before heading to some other places of interest at 2 and 3 which will be covered in this post.

Outline map of Berlin, illustrating where we stayed at Charlottenburg (3) the centre of the city around the Reichstag and Tiergarten (1) and the Humboldthain Flak Tower (2)

The Reichstag was opened in 1894 to house the Imperial Diet or Parliament of the German Empire, providing a venue for it up until 1933 when it was severely damaged by fire.

With the rise of Hitler, who became Chancellor of Germany in that same year, only to declare himself Fuhrer of Germany and dictator, there was no requirement for a parliament and following the division of Germany at the end of WWII the West and Eastern halves of the country set up their respective assemblies elsewhere.

It was only after the reunification of Germany on the 3rd October 1990, that the building was restored over a nine year period to allow it to house the new federal parliament of a fully democratic Germany or Bundestag.

The Reichstag symbolising the utter destruction wrought on Germany by the Allies at the end of WWII as Hitler and the Nazis tried to take the whole country down with them at the bitter end of WWII

Hitler and the Nazi party he led, have left an indelible stamp on Berlin, from the fact that there is not very much of the pre-war city to see, and that that remains,very often, carry the scars of the patchwork repairs designed to cover up the marks of bullets, bombs and shrapnel that reduced large public buildings such a the Reichstag into the shattered ruins pictured above.

Naturally symbolic buildings within symbolic cities were very important to both the Nazis and Soviets and both totalitarian systems were carefree when it came to expending the lives of their soldiers to capture and hold them, despite the fact that the victor was likely to end up with nothing more than a pile of rubble on which to stick a flag.

The Battle of Berlin and the fight for the Reichstag was the finale to a series of symbolic battles going back to Moscow in 1941, Leningrad and Stalingrad in 1942 and others culminating on the 2nd of May 1945 when Russian troops occupied the building and hoisted the red banner from one of its towers so famously reenacted a few days later in the picture that appeared to confirm their success

The rear corner of the former Reichstag building comes into view 

Everywhere in Berlin is a constant reminder of the recent price of freedom with memorials to those who died under Soviet occupation

The old building had been heavily hit by shrapnel and small arms, still obvious despite the cosmetic repairs 

If you have attended as many wargame shows and seen and played in as many games as I have over the years, you start to see famous battles through the lens of your memory of classic games that sought to capture that history.

One such game, and I have searched high and low for a picture to illustrate this post, comes to mind of a game I saw, and I think it was at Salute many years ago, where the battle across the park seen below had been modelled with Panther tanks, immobilised through lack of fuel, and 88mm Flak guns, dug in behind the anti-tank ditch that stretched across the width of the turf.

On the other side of the open turf, Russian T34's and JSII's struggled to make headway over the open ground to the steps and facade of the Reichstag beyond and with their infantry battling with SS and Volkturm units in the buildings on either side.

The park beside the Tiergarten over which Russian tanks battled with 88mm Flak guns and dug in Panther tanks

Close by is another symbolic structure of Berlin, the Brandenburg Gate, that became very much a symbol for both the Prussian monarchy and Hitler's Reich.

The gate was built between 1788 and 1791 on the orders of Frederick II of Prussia on the site of a former gate into the original walled city of Berlin on the River Spree as depicted in the period map below.

Fredrich Wilhelm II, King of Prussia 1792 - Anton Graff

Situated on the centre left section of wall on the map, the gate was astride the road to Brandenburg an der Havel, the town and seat of the Margraves of Brandenburg a major principality in the Holy Roman Empire.

The House of Hohenzollern came to the throne of Brandenburg in 1415 and in 1417 Fredrich I moved the capital from Brandenburg an der Havel to Berlin.

The original walled boundary of the old city of Berlin on the River Spree as depicted in a map of the city from 1688

The gate with its six Doric pillars on each side forming five passageways was originally named the Peace Gate and was styled on the Propylaea gate to the Acropolis in Athens as the Hohenzollern dynasty sought to create the new Athens on the Spree.

Astride the five passages, with its outer passages open to the general public but with the central main access reserved for the use of the Royal Family, stands Victory in a Quadriga or four horse chariot, which strikes me as a very Roman way of depicting 'Peace'!

Victory in her restored Quadriga stands out proudly atop the repaired Brandenburg Gate

Given its Roman rather than Greek ceremonial and triumphant arch symbolism I suppose it should have been no surprise to Berliners that it would become a focal point for victorious enemies such as Napoleon who, following his lightning victory in 1806, paraded his troops through it and then took its Quadriga off to Paris, where it would stay until its return in 1814.

Likewise the gate would become a focal point for the fighting in 1945 and though surviving the battering rather like the neighbouring Reichstag, would see the Quadriga badly damaged with just one head from the four horses surviving and now preserved in the Markisches Museum.

This central part of Berlin was the political and administrative sector of the Nazi capital and not surprisingly played host to the underground headquarters bunker of Hitler and his staff which was so dramatically captured and since marvellously spoofed about in the 2004 film 'Downfall'.

I saw the film when it came out and thought it captured very well the desperateness and pointlessness of Hitler in the closing stages of the Battle for Berlin up to his eventual suicide and, despite the film receiving criticism from some that it was too sympathetic to the characters portrayed, thought its portrayal of this pathetic despicable monster compelling and well acted.

Bruno Ganz playing Adolf Hitler recreating his meeting a parade of children receiving his thanks and awards for destroying Russian tanks in the desperate and pointless fighting within Berlin

With anything to do with such a controversial figure such as Hitler, the handling of any subject regarding him directly is always a fine balance between stating the facts and not in anyway doing anything to give any credibility to perhaps the worst example of a human being since Genghis Khan

Those considerations extend to the highlighting of the sight that saw his final days end with his suicide by gunshot in a shell-scrape close to his HQ bunker and the incineration of his remains with the lighted contents of a petrol can.

Thus it was in this mode of thinking that I approached this historic site which although clearly identified by the public information boards posted nearby recounting the history of this place making clear its significance, in no way turns the place into a shrine for Nazi apologists and deniers of their horrendous crimes, by seeing it now as simply a car park for residents of the nearby city apartments.

The only added embellishment I could think of would be to build a public toilet on the site of the entrance.

Close by to the site of Hitler's bunker lie the remains of the building that would become the centre of his spiders web of terror and control within Germany and the occupied territories.

External basement walls of the headquarters of the 'Inspectorate of Concentration Camps' set up here in 1936. Later this building would house various departments of the Gestapo.

The Secret State Police Office occupied what was the Hotel Prinz Albrecht built in 1887-88 as the Hotel Romerbad and would become a favourite meeting place of the National Socialist German Workers Party NSDAP before 1933.

In the autumn of 1934 the hotel was turned into the SS House under the directive of Reich SS Leader Heinrich Himmler who moved the most important offices of the organisation here from Munich.

Himmler had plans to extend the Personal Staff's central building to include the whole of the Prinz Albrecht Strasse/Sarrlande Strasse quarter, but his plans were put on hold by a well directed high-explosive bomb dropped on the building seen below in 1943.

The concrete pillars seen below were part of the east gate of the main driveway to Gestapo HQ, left on site after the clear up in 1957-63.

It was through the remains of the gate seen above that prisoners of the Gestapo passed through in prison buses such as that seen below and serve as a perfect memorial to those poor souls who ended up here.

SS men and their shiny new prison bus all set for another hard day at work torturing and spreading a bit of terror into peoples lives. He looks happy in his work.

An impression of the former SS Headquarters building can be gained by looking at the restored former Museum building standing close by and that can be seen in the aerial picture above and as it looks today below.

Despite the post war repairs, bullet and shrapnel scars still mark the masonry 

Fittingly, on the site of the former Gestapo and SS Headquarters building, now stands the modern building housing the History Museum entitled the Topography of Terror, a moving collection of photographs and documents covering the rise and fall of Hitler and the Nazis.

Visitors to the Topography of Terror viewing sometimes graphic pictures of the rise and fall of the Nazis

I am of a generation that had both parents serve in World War Two, with my father present at the liberation of Belsen Bergen Concentration Camp and my mother able to recount her chilling confrontation with a German prisoner of war attempting to intimidate her from behind the barbed wire fence of the camp prison.

One of my best friends was the grandson of a Jewish escapee from Nazi occupied Poland who made his way to Britain in the face of terrible threats to his life on the way.

Standing with Will and talking to him about the pictures and explaining about some of the key people and events they portrayed reminded me as to why it is so important that these exhibitions exist and the importance of not letting the younger generations forget the terrible lessons this period of history has to tell us about the nature of mankind at its worst and just as importantly at its best.

No finer example of that contrast seems to me to be better portrayed than in the picture I took of a large photo, seen below.

August Landmesser makes a stand against terror.

The picture above shows spectators and workers of the Blohm and Voss shipyards during the singing of the national anthem and the Horst Wessel song following the 'Fuhrer address' given by Adolf Hitler on the occasion of the launch of the German Naval Training Ship 'Horst Wessel' in Hamburg, June 13th 1936.

All present dutifully raise their right arms in the Nazi salute, all except one at the centre of the superimposed circle who remains defiantly non-conformist and crosses his arms.

I guess we all like to think that we would do the right thing in these kinds of peer-pressure situations but it often seems only a few of us have the moral integrity and courage to do it.

The Topography of Terror is a hard view and slightly depressing about how human beings behave to one another - mans inhumanity to man. The picture of August Landmesser making a stand, so publicly and at great risk to him and his family raised the spirits; and both Will and I agreed that this was perhaps for us the most impactful picture of all, to rank alongside the brave protester standing in front of Chinese tanks as the Communist regime set about mowing down unarmed peaceful protesters in Tienanmen Square in 1989, the same year the Berlin Wall came down.

The next site on the itinerary was one I was very much looking forward to seeing as I am currently involved with some chaps at the DWG putting together a campaign game around the WWII Bomber Command rules 'Target for Tonight.

JJ's Wargames - Target for Tonight

The Humbolthain Flak Tower is positioned at Point 2 on my Berlin outline map and is the only surviving Berlin Flak tower of the three constructed with the other two now demolished and covered over.,_Berlin

Even the Humbolthain tower is incomplete after the French only finished destroying half of it with the other half deemed too close to the nearby rail junction to risk blowing it up, as was the standard method, due to the massively heavy construction in these towers, built as they are with thick reinforced concrete.

The Humbolthain Flak Tower peeking out of the trees in Humbolthain Park

Towers such as this were constructed in major German cities acting as a major Flak concentration centre to defend the city from Allied bombers as well as a fortified air raid shelter for German civilians living nearby.

The towers were often liberally festooned with various calibres of anti-aircraft gun ranging up to the mighty 128mm FlaK40 version seen below atop the Berlin Zoo tower capable of firing a 62-pound shell to an altitude of 48,550 feet in just seventeen seconds.

These massive shells were stored deep in the base of the tower and winched to the top in a metal conveyor belt to the gun and crew above.

Flak gun on top of the Berlin Zoo Flak Tower with the shell hoist seen to the right of picture

Of course a gun of this calibre was just as useful for direct fire at ground targets and these towers with their sturdy construction were very dangerous opponents for Russian heavy tanks working their way into the city.

The walk up from the train station into the park and with the heavy concrete tower visible through the trees

With all the understandable feelings at the end of WWII, that led to much of the military architecture and hardware simply being destroyed or covered up in an effort to forget the misery and move on, I'm pleased some of these structures remain, as much as a reminder of what the Allies faced in defeating the Nazi military system that prepared defences like this.

In the end Hitler's blind faith in concrete and heavy calibre guns was in vain, but the chaps who braved the fire delivered from places like Humbolthain, be they Allied bomber crews or Soviet tankers have a ready made memorial to their efforts and sacrifice in a structure like this.

The tower is perfectly situated to give its gun positions an all round clear field of fire over the city

Aircraft fly in low past the old Flak tower today bound for Berlin Tegel Airport

The old mount for the 128mm Flak gun

The Victory Column amid the Tiergarten, on our list of places to visit, seen above the rooftops of Berlin

A now very familiar landmark, the restored dome of the Bundestag

The video clip link from YouTube below shows Anthony Beevor being showed around the magazine of the Humbolthain tower, when the lower levels were investigated by a team of military archaeologists.

As well as exploring the WWII history of Berlin, I was keen to see what remained of buildings linked to earlier reincarnations of the city other than to two iconic structures of the Brandenburg Gate and Bundestag.

The Allied bombing of the city followed by the ground battle in 1945 as Soviet troops entered the city, has left Berlin with many tenement and office blocks that are definitely more on the functional rather than attractive scale of the spectrum and I was desperate to find evidence of the old Berlin that would have been more familiar to Frederick or Napoleon.

The Humboldt University in right in the centre of the old city on the Unter den Linden and was founded by King Frederick William III in 1809 and opened the following year.

The name Humboldt is immediately recognisable to most, linked as it is to Alexander von Humbodlt the great 19th century explorer that has given his name to a lot of features around the globe and was brother to Wilhelm von Humboldt the driver behind the setting up of the university that still bears his name today.

The set of buildings you see in the pictures are what I imagine the old public buildings of Berlin to have looked like alongside the later 19th century ones that followed and were lost in the world war.

Of course, Hitler's impact has left its indelible imprint on this centre of learning and culture with the cobbled square amid its classic buildings used for the infamous book burning on the 10th May 1933 when 20,000 books were taken from the library and set fire to.

There is a memorial plaque and glass window viewing area, seemingly looking down into a room below the square with empty bookshelves, commemorating this state sponsored act of vandalism.

Close to the university is a small park with statues of two of the great Prussian generals from the Napoleonic wars and immediately recognisable to a student of that period; namely Fredrich Wilhelm von Bulow, a very able Prussian Corps Commander.

General Fredrich Wilhelm von Bulow

Bulow fought through the 1813, winning the battles of Grossbeeren and Dennewitz which stopped Napoleon's advance on Berlin, the Battle of Laon in March 1814 as the Allies invaded France that led to Napoleon's abdication and headed up the Prussian flank attack with his corps against Napoleon at Waterloo the following year.

Statue of General Fredrich Wilhelm von Bulow

A no less familiar name is that of Gerhard von Scharnhorst and Hanoverian born General in the service of the Prussian King and becoming the first Chief of the Prussian General Staff following the drastic reforms of the army needed after its utter defeat by Napoleon in 1806.

General Gerhard von Scharnhorst

His reforms led to the establishment of a national army based on universal service and the establishment of the Landwher (Reserve Army) that produced a pool of trained men ready to be called up as soon as the Prussian command needed to mobilise for war.

In addition he did away with the recruitment of foreigners and established a system of discipline that reserved corporal punishment for the most severe cases of insubordination, with promotion to based very much on merit through a much more simpler structure and organisation.

The army he helped create in the ruins of Jena-Auerstedt in 1806 came as a huge shock to Napoleon and the French when it reemerged in 1813 to join the Russian advance into Germany, although he himself would not go on to see the success it would later enjoy as he succumbed to a wound in his foot at the Battle of Lutzen dying in Prague on the 28th June 1813.

Oh and yes he had a German WWI Cruiser and WWII Battleship named after him.

Statue of General Gerhard von Scharnhorst

Of course one of the great statues in the Unter den Linden is that of the great man himself, King Frederich II (Frederick the Great) erected in 1851, it was encased in concrete to protect it from the ravages of WWII and later removed to Potsdam by the communists in 1950 only to see its return in 1980.

Sadly the autumnal evening was drawing in by the time we reached its new position just a few yards from its original one. The light didn't really allow for a look at the generals and notable people that figured in his eventful life, that are represented around the plinth, and so I settled for the image of the King that loomed large in the history of modern Germany and Berlin standing out in the evening of a late autumnal sky.

King Frederick the Great stands out against the autumnal evening sky over Berlin

The next day saw us stand amid the trees of the Tiergarten staring up at the mightily impressive Victory Column designed after 1864 and Prussian victory in the Prusso-Danish War or Second Schleswig War fought that year.

By the time it was unveiled, originally in front of the Reichstag in 1873 the Prussians had defeated the Austrians in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 and the French in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, inspiring the addition of a bronze sculpture of Victoria (Victory) apparently nicknamed 'Goldelse' by Berliners meaning Golden Lizzy.

The column was moved by the Nazis in 1939 to its current site and they gave it another twenty-four foot section to give it yet more impact as part of the Nazi plan to have the Tiergarten avenue as their ceremonial victory parade along the tree-lined approach to the Brandenburg Gate, a planned design immediately observable when looking out over Berlin from its top platform.

The move to its current location probably saved Golden Lizzy and her column from too much damage during the war, although the French pinched several of its bronze reliefs around its base depicting Prussian triumphs in the Franco-Prussian War, only to have most of them returned as the two nations worked on their mutual friendly relationship and post war alliance.

The panels were constructed from the melted down captured cannons and depict scenes from the three wars together with the triumphal procession into Berlin on 16th June 1871.

The restored brass panels can be seen on the plinth of the Victory Column, with some notable gaps

The weather was not very conducive to standing outside trying to get a decent picture of them and so we headed into the column to see the Antonio Salviati mosaic showing symbolic depictions of the historic tension with France and the unification of Germany that followed victory epitomised by the image of Germania sitting on the throne of the new German Empire accepting the crown on behalf of Kaiser Wilhelm.

Germania rises to confront Napoleon

The symbolic handshake representing the coming together of the northern and southern German states

Germania accepts the crown of the German Empire on behalf of the Kaiser

The view from the lower tier of the column emphasises its position on the roundabout amid the wooded parkland of the Tiergarten with two very notable late 19th century German generals; Moltke the Elder, Chief of the Prussian and Great General Staff from 1857 to 1888 and architect of the victories recorded on the column and becoming the pioneer in the use of railways to mobilise the army.

Graf Helmuth von Moltke the Elder

I have to confess that of the two generals Albrecht von Roon is the less familiar, but together with Helmuth von Moltke and Otto von Bismark, he, as Minister of War from 1859-1873 completed the trio of master minds that promoted Prussia and later a United Germany into the premiere military power in Europe at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Bismark, Roon and Moltke

An army reformer like his predecessor, Scharnhorst, Roon took an opposing view to the role of the Landwher created by the former, in that he regarded the reserve troops fired by patriotic zeal and turned into a national myth for its role in the War of Liberation (1813) to be a false military concept and that in reality these formations lacked utility and martial qualities that would be needed by the professional army that would take the field in 1864, 1866 and 1870 culminating in the crushing victory at the Battle off Sedan in September 1870.

Albrecht Graf von Roon

The climb to the top of the column is via 281 steps up a steep spiral staircase is certainly a good workout and rewards the visitor with a spectacular view even on a rainy day such as the one when we visited.

Albert Speer and Hitler's Victory Parade up the Unter den Linden to the Brandenburg Gate in the distance, with the stage being set up for the Fall of the Berlin Wall celebration the following weekend

For our stay in Berlin, we based ourselves in Charlottenburg, Point 3 on the master map above, and home to the Baroque style Charlottenburg Palace.

The palace was built in 1699 for Fredrich I, Elector of Brandenburg and his wife Sophie Charlotte, who would become King Fredrich I of Prussia in 1701.

Badly damaged in 1943, the palace was rebuilt and saved for the nation post war and was a temporary seat for the President of Germany from 2004 to 2006 until the present day Schloss Bellevue was renovated to become the current seat.

Feeding the ducks on a Sunday afternoon in Charlottenburg Palace Gardens

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Berlin and I would highly recommend anyone who hasn't been to visit this most historic of European capitals.

That said the city has paid a heavy price for its front row seat in the wars that gave birth to the United Germany and I can't say the architecture that has grown up, to replace that lost, appeals to me, but may well do to others and later generations.

Sadly the damage caused to Berlin makes it very different from cities like London, Paris and Rome whose very fabric allows the visitor a much easier time imagining its past, but, as I hope illustrated here, there are still parts of the city remaining that capture that past and occupy a unique place in European history as a whole.