Tuesday, July 28, 2015

"Until the Sea Shall Give Up Her Dead".. a review...

No. 4 in the Charles Hayden series and as good as the previous reads... not in quite the same literary vein as O'Brien, more the entertaining side in the same arena as Forester (but definitely better than Pope's Ramage )...

Hayden is an interesting character - a frigate captain in the Royal Navy of the Napoleonic Wars who is half French - not something you'd think that would endear him to his superiors!

Either way, in this book, fresh from his efforts based in the English channel covered inthe last bok, his ship, the frigate Themis, is ordered to the Carribean, there to join the frigate squadron tasked with interrupting French naval commerce.

On their way to the Caribbean they spot, and rescue, a small open rowing boat with two occupants close to death..  something about them doesn't ring true but it is a while before Hyden finds out what it is (and I'm not saying as that would spoil the book).

From a wargaming perspective, the book is a cracker and deals with a surprise French attack on British island territories, with the added complexity of relations with an independent (at this time), Spain. In story terms you can also throw in a traitor, a surprise marriage, lots of background on the British military experience in the islands (more lost to disease - yellow jack - than enemy action), intra-service rivalries, the down side of prize money, and a very sad ending (well I thought so)

Steve the Wargamer rates this one 8 out of 10..

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Fury.. a review

Steve the Wargamer has never been what you would call "up to date" with his viewing habits.. to be honest I watch very little on the haunted fish tank theses days, it's mostly repeats, or formulaic nonsense, but every now and again he finds an hour to sit down and watch something.. 

Anyway, I bought this for my Dad for Fathers Day (along with the truly, seriously, awesome, and excellent, Benedict Cumberbatch/Alan Turing/Enigma [clicky] offering which I had seen), and as he was visiting, and he knew I hadn't seen it, he brought it with him...

The film starts from the the truism that the Allied tanks in the Second World War were inherently inferior to the Germans, and the thrust of the story is about a veteran tank commander (Pitt - who has served in tanks since Africa) who has promised his crew he will do everything possible to bring them through the war safely...

The film is set late in the war, April 1945, and the Allies are advancing through Germany after Hitler has proclaimed his total war, all men women and children are ordered to resist...

The film is errrr...  brutal, no other word for it..  don't expect any light moments... it starts with Pitt killing a German by stabbing him in the eye ball and it doesn't change much from there on in. It owes a whole truck load to the Peckinpah Wild Bunch school of "realistic" film making, but where something like Tarantino's "Inglorious Basterds" made me rip it out of the video machine and chuck it in the bin after 10 minutes (utter bolleaux in case your wondering..) this was mesmerising...

Everything in the film is dirty, gritty, grey, and muddy; the inside of the tank (an M4 Sherman "Easy Eight") is filthy, and so are the crew... the experience of the war has brutalised them, they have a pathological hatred of any SS (it is intimated that they were present when one of the camps was liberated) and they shoot them on sight, irrespective of whether they have surrendered or not, at times... they also have an incredibly close bond, they've been together a long time and it shows..


Cue then a new recruit arrives to replace a recently killed member of the close knit crew..  he's very young, and the story is basically about how he learns to fit with them, and what they do to help him.. all set against the every day struggle just to stay living whil serving in what the Germans called the "Tommy Cooker".

The film was inspired by a number of war time biographies by actual tankies (the main one seems to be Belton Y. Cooper's "Death Traps" NB. Only £3.64 on Kindle!), and also by the directors own family who also served, and to the limits of my research/reading it seems remarkably authentic.. having to prime shells before they are fired...  use of smoke, and speed to counter fire power, etc... the scene where three Sherman's take on a Tiger (and this is the first film since the end of the actual war to feature a real Tiger tank - the one in the film is the one from Bovington Tank Museum, as is the Sherman portraying "Fury" come to that) is frightening, and the end scene shorty after at the cross roads is brutal..  brilliant.

I'm still thinking about it now almost a week after seeing it...  stunning..  Steve the Wargamer gives this one a 9 out of 10, right up there with "Saving Private Ryan".

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Holiday reading book catch up...

..a week on a sun bed in Greece can be hard work, someone has to do it though... 

I did manage to make some serious in roads into my reading pile though, and was very lucky as without a doubt they were all well worth reading..





Been sat on my reading pile for a while now but an opportunity arose so I picked this up...  1942 was a bit of a watershed year in the North Africa campaign... Auchinleck had taken command in the theatre, Churchill was being Churchill (bless him..) pushing him constantly for results and action..  Rommel had pushed the British back to Gazala, where both sides basically dug in, and raced to reinforce...  while the British put their faith in fortified boxes surrounded by barbed wire and mines, Rommel launched his assault with a wide swing round the open southern end of the line...  and met the Free French at Bir Hacheim..  the stuff of legends... I thought the book did very well to try and describe what was a complete 'mess' of a battle which ended with Rommel getting his Field Marshal's baton....  recommended ...  8/10





Superb...  Captain Correlli country, but not the nice boy/Nicholas Cage model, more the actual reality I suspect... set on Lefkas during the WWII invasion by Italy, and later Germany....  three pre-war friends meet later on opposite sides of the divide that forms with the war...  I thought Scarrow made a good fist of what must have been a very difficult time for the Greeks - the story is about the resistance, and how the Italians, and later the Germans reacted, set against an Indiana Jones'eque sub plot of a missing archaeological site.. the author makes the point that their stubborn resistance during the war has modern day parallels with their current financial position perhaps?? 8/10






Difficult to believe that this is now the seventh book in this excellent series, but this is as good as any of the previous ones.. the year is 1215, for the historians amongst us the year of Magna Carta. King John is still on the throne but a succession of misadventures in Europe has seen him lose the lands won by his brother Richard, and his efforts to reverse this have lead to swingeing taxes to pay for the wars, and increasing opposition from the Barons..  after losing the Battle of Bouvines [clicky] (one of the most important battles we have never heard of!) civil war breaks out, and eventually John is forced to the negotiation table..  Packed full or period flavour, lots and lots of plots and sub plots, fantastic..  9/10

Saturday, July 11, 2015

"One Hour Wargames" - Scenario 2 - "Pitched Battle (2)" - The Game

...and so, on to the game which was another short and sweet one...  nothing unusual or out of the ordinary about the scenario, but to be honest this early in the scenarios I wasn't expecting anything too different.  What I like is that the games are short, small, and contained.. perfect for Skype, where a bigger table, and more units, puts a bigger disadvantage on DG who is the other end of the line.. for anyone considering this as a possible way to get more games in then I would recommend getting the best video camera you can, and maybe even two, one for the table as a whole, and the other to use for closer views as required, as Skype allows you to switch between multiple camera's..

For this game we decided to use DG's variant of the Will McNally SYW variant I normally use for Marlburian games...  a variant of a variant...  real old school!   DG's rules differ in that he has focused on the morale strength of the unit rather than their physical strength  (which only has an effect in that it sets the starting morale level), so casualties are taken in terms of unit effectiveness (shaken/retire/retreat etc) rather than strength points lost... he has also rather cunningly organised them so that you have a one page summary per unit type..  quite handy...

Either way - on with the game...

DG had opted to defend the cross roads in force, so his initial deployment had all the infantry deployed there, with the artillery on his right flank, and the cavalry on his left. I decided to go for broke and had defended the hill with just one unit of infantry and the artillery, the rest of my force was deployed as an assault column to charge directly down the road for the crossroads...

The following is about move 5 or 6 (and this was a 15 move game), my assault column has deployed into line, initial artillery exchanges have been without result (a feature of the game! We blamed long ranges and the artillery was light). DG's starting deployment is unchanged - he's just moved forward a little..


This was the other flank..  little action with DG's cavalry at this stage just keeping a watching brief


Couple of turns later and we had the following...  BANG!!

My cavalry charged home (on Goor), I have also charged home on Rechteren (blue flag/white cross).. to my rear, Toulouse have turned to face DG's cavalry which has now decided to take a more active role..


... in the ensuing test to stand Goor broke and routed (red pin - and it was a feature of the game that infantry stood little or no chance against a cavalry charge), and Rechteren retreated/shaken (yellow pin).. both my units followed up and in the following move the cavalry then charged again (and also routed) Sturler's punching a massive hole in the centre of DG's line...


 ...which makes it sound like it was a whitewash..  it wasn't..  in the meanwhile DG had charged home on Toulouse and broke them, sending them heading for my base edge (they were eventually removed from the table after becoming entirely ineffective due to poor morale throws)..  the artillery managed to land one on Bearn (orange and red striped flag/white cross) who also retreated in some disarray and were then subsequently charged by DG's cavalry.

I had my C-in-C with Bearn to help with morale recovery, and when they failed the "test to stand" I had to test for him and he was killed! Happily, in the rules this has no effect other than to remove a potential source of morale recovery.. you could hear DG chortling all the way from Wales even without Skype! 

I had control of the crossroads (next), though, and just as my cavalry was about to see off Beinheim (next but one) DG advised through the ether that his army had reached breakpoint, and conceded... just as well, as I could see DG had my retreating Bearn regiment (yellow pin) in his scope



"You're next my beauties..."
Game over and (another) Franco-Bavarian win..

Post Match Analysis:
  • Second win for the French, I sense a dramatic turnaround by DG is on its way!
  • Quick game and over in an hour and a half, 10 turns, so about the same in game time as well (10 mins real time/turn)
  • Butchers bill was as follows:
    • NB. DG's artillery were not actually casualties - they retired (honourably) from the field..

  • The rules played very well though DG has taken them away to tinker with, there were some concerns over the relative ineffectiveness of the artillery (though as above they were light, and we were firing at long range), some of the morale outcomes were bloody to say the least (at least one of the units was destroyed as a result of a poor morale throw), I think DG may also have had some concerns about how good cavalry were against infantry, both of us have gone away to do some reading on that..  I need to hoik out my trusty Chandler(s)..

Thursday, July 09, 2015

"Winter in Madrid".. a review

...a  recent comment on my review of "Dominion" [clicky] reminded me that I was going to read his Spanish Civil War inspired book, so, with an extended visit to a Greek sun bed in order what better time to do the deed...  (By the way, for those not considering coming to Greece because of the, frankly, quite scurrilous coverage in the UK press of the Greek economic problems, you need to re-consider* ..  I've been coming to Greece for years and this year is no different - food, weather, people {and beer} are as usual beyond compare... support them in the best way you can by continuing to spend tourist 'dollars')

* ..unless you're going to Athens.. 

Anyway, enough of politics, and on to some quite different politics, the Spanish Civil War, and that period of European history when the dichotomy between left and right, Socialism/Communism and Fascism was never clearer or more stark...  The book is set before/during and mostly just after the Spanish Civil War, and features the interaction between four main characters..  Barbara, a nurse working for the Red Cross, Bernie a working class scholarship boy (to an English public school) won over to communism and come to Spain to fight in the International Brigade, Harry his mate from school, and the slimy Forsyth, a former school mate of Harry and Bernie, expelled following an incident involving a traumatic joke on a school master...

Sansom delights in telling stories, and this is a big old rambling book that tells ...  stories...  I really enjoyed it, he goes in to all the background and surrounding events of the characters lives, and it shoots backwards and forwards in time, but it all reads really well....

So, Bernie arrives in Spain, but is accidentally shot in the arm, and while on convalescence meets and falls in love with Barbara (who is the emotionally damaged product of an English family where her sister is the preferred, and more beautiful, daughter, and where she is bullied at school). After recovering he is sent to the front and in the Battle of Jarama [clicky] where he is listed as missing in action.

Harry in the meanwhile has been wounded and is suffering from shell shock as a result of his experience at Dunkirk (his sergeant is blown to pieces just yards from him, so hardly surprising..). Having convalesced, he is recruited by the British secret service (because of his skills with languages, and Spanish in particular) to assist with efforts in Spain to keep Franco out of the war,but specifically because he knows Forsyth who is engaged in some nefarious business dealsin Spain with regard to a gold mine. It is not Harry's first time in Spain as Bernie's family had asked him to go out to see if he could find out anything about him after they had news of his missing in action - in Spain he had met Barbara.

I'm not going to spoil the story by revealing what happens, but there's a number of interesting plots and twists... Sansom is very good on conveying the misery of life in Spain after the Civil War, the jockeying for position between the (Fascist) Flanage party, and the old conservative/Monarchists, with Franco like the spider at the centre of the web balancing the conflict.....  the re-emergence of the Spanish Church and their climb back to power, the crushing of left'ist learning and attitudes...

British Battalion - XVth International Brigade - Jarama 1937 (from
http://internationalbrigadesinspain.weebly.com/british-battalion-in-spain.html)
What it made me want to do is go back and re-read my Orwell and Lee, which I'll do!  Steve the Wargamer rates this 9 out of 10, if you have an interest in the Spanish Civil war it is a hugely rewarding read, but don't expect a lot of detail on the actual fighting, this is about the background, the lives of the normal people, how they came to fight a civil war....