Saturday, August 30, 2008

Sudan painting..

It's good to be back behind a paintbrush following the French holiday, and these are the first fruits of my labours...

...for this first foray, I decided it was time I dipped my toes into the sands of the Sudan again, so for your delectation may I first present some Egyptian infantry in their characteristic khaki and sand.

The Egyptian army had it's (re)birth following the battle of Tel el Kebir in 1883, it started off eight battalions of foot, but by the time of Omdurman was up to nineteen. These were comprised of separate Egyptian and Sudanese troops.

My copy of Asquith (see top) tells me that each Egyptian infantry battalion comprised four companies of 200 men up until 1898. In order of seniority they had regimental numbers of the 1st through 8th, and 15th through 18th (the Sudanese would have been numbered 9th - 14th)

General opinion is that the Sudanese were the cream of the army, with the Egyptian regiments often being placed in the second line - time will tell with these guys! Either way, in my rules these guys (two bases) represent a company..

Next - some opposition, Dervish camel riders.

Asquith tells me that the organisational unit of the Dervish army was the "rub" which comprised between 800 and 1200 men.

Each rub comprised four sub-units called "standards", three of them fighting formations, and one administrative. The three fighting units would have been a sword and spear armed unit, the well known jihadiyah rifle men, and the third would have been the cavalry/camelry which these guys represent.

The "standard" was subdivided into "hundreds", and in the rules I'm using this base of figures represents one of those 'hundreds'...

All figures are from the incomparable Peter Pig - so much character in such a little figure - and are in 15mm.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

New figures from Black Hat....

Coming back from holiday I was pretty excited to see the following announcement on the The Miniatures Page (click here): (click here)'s not every day you get to hear about a brand new range coming out, and it's even rarer to find that it will be in a scale and period that matches one of your own projects. As you can imagine then, I contacted Mike at Black Hat pretty quickly to find out how soon the figures would be available, and how they'd fit with other ranges size'wise.

The up and down of this (pleasant) conversation was that Mike sent me some samples of the new range to have a look at, so that I could see how they fitted with other examples from the range.

Well.... a nicely packaged box of samples thumped on to the front door-mat yesterday (and that's possibly the finest sound in the known world with the possible exception of either the opening chords of a Led Zeppelin concert, or perhaps the sound of a freshly drawn pint of "Pitchfork" hitting the bottom of a fresh glass!)

So - let me share some pictures with you (please click on any of them for a much bigger view)... first the infantry - front & back:

I don't have any unpainted examples from Essex at the moment, but initial impressions are that the figure does not strike me as being significantly different to these samples - certainly in it's own unit (which I always do anyway) it wouldn't stand out. He's slightly shorter than the Minifigs figure, but has a more solid presence - I particularly like the stance - very pugnacious!

I can very easily see a couple of regiments of these guys joining the ranks - and more if the painting experience is good...

Next the drummers - a significant size difference here - I neglected to compare the drummer with the other figures but will report separately on that. Of the samples provided, this is the one I like the least (NB. 5th Sept.: I've since heard from Mike that he is having this figure re-sculpted.. bodes well for a quality approach to this range of figures!)

I hadn't noticed that the Dixon figure is such a nice sculpt....

Lastly the officers & what a fine pair of characters these are! I think I'd probably trim the spear and replace it with piano wire (or similar) but these are lovely figures... I really like the fact that they're both shouting... :o)

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Disciplined 'v' Irregulars..

I very rarely go on holiday without something wargame related sneaking it's way into the car - usually I take a couple of sets of rules, and some scenario books - with those, and the judicious use of some coloured pens and paper, a game is possible anywhere...

This year I also took the green baize so the game almost looked good - no not really, but just a brief post to let you know how it went.

The scenario was no. 3 in Grant and Asquith's "Scenario's for All Ages" and was titled "Disciplined versus Irregulars". Briefly a small force of regulars is trying to cross the table in the face of a significantly larger irregular force. The downside for the irregular force is that in addition to any reductions in morale etc. as a result of being irregular, they are also armed only with hand to hand weapons apart from just one unit.

I scaled down the number of units per side as described in the scenario by half, and also dropped the cavalry allocation for the irregulars as I decided to set the game in the American war of Independence with a regular British force facing up to several bands of Woodland Indians lead by one band of colonial militia (ie. the rifle armed unit).

So without further ado, here are the orders of battle for each side:

1.Line infantry
2.Line infantry
3.Line infantry
4.Light Artillery
5.Light Cavalry

1. - 7.Forest Indians
8.Colonial Militia (Muskets)

For units I used some filing cards that I found in the local supermarché. Having made cards for each of the American units, I then added an additional 3 blank one's (for some fog of war), turned them all over and shuffled them well. Still face down, I then placed them in the deployment area's described by the scenario. The intention of the fog of war was to add a frisson of excitement as I was playing solo - theoretically, I could end up with either flank being enemy heavy.... or not....

The table was covered with the green baize, two books made hills ('gentle slopes'), and I cut out a couple of bits of paper to represent woods ('light/open') - and when it was finished looked amazingly like the following:

This shows the initial deployment half way through move one - with the British just beginning to enter the table, and before the Indians have moved.

The British choose to enter in column, and in the order, cavalry first, then two infantry, the artillery, and then last unit of infantry.

When the Indians moved I opted to reveal all the cards at that point, and it transpired that all the dummies cards were on the Indian right flank, the militia were on the left.

With the Indians I opted for a flank attack on the right, bending around the hill to keep the British rear something to worry about, while I used my rifle armed troops to keep the British advance guard occupied.

A fine plan indeed, and it all went downhill for the Indians from there! :o)

Initially the British manoeuvred hesitantly; Indians in melee are a force to be reckoned with, and I was concerned at what might happen if I got to grips. The problem for the Indians, though, was that they had no distance weapons so were:

  • unable to stop the British units charging home (and with charge bonuses this offset the Indian superiority in hand to hand)

  • were unable to charge home themselves (they were invariably stopped within charge reach by good British fire) a result the British started getting to grips just as soon as they could with the expected results.

..and so the game progressed - in the end I have to say that even with the numbers the Indians were never going to win - an alternative strategy will be needed the next time I play (and no doubt I will play it again!)

End of the game - the little black dots were pieces of gravel I was using to mark morale status (nothing like making do!) - as you can see most of the Indian units have two, which indicates "rout".

So, an overwhelming British victory..

Post Match Analysis:

  • For all the fact it was so one-sided it was an interesting game, definitely want to play it again, but I have an idea what I need to do to improve the "balance":

    • For this game I used British regulars which in my rules get firing bonuses, to even up the game the irregular force should be as is, except that next time I would make them to be British allies, and the American regulars to be militia - no "European regular" firing bonus should even the game slightly!

    • The morale was key - Indians are good in close combat but flighty - once the British caused a morale check it is difficult for them to recover, and usually in this game resulted in morale degradation/rout... for the next game it may be better to modify the morale ratings slightly - better grade warriors should be more "sticky"

  • I was thinking that this game would excellent if set in the Sudan, using the Gilder rules - irregular Dervish versus "second" line Imperial troops - Egyptians a la Hicks Pasha perhaps

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

I have been to... St Nazaire

Being the 'sad muppet' (transl. "geek") I am, I have a strong interest in military history of all periods, and I have long had a desire to visit the U Boat pens in St. Nazaire. Now we've been holidaying in various parts of Brittany and the Vendee for a number of years now (10+), so it's been at least for as long as that.. but given the added interest of perhaps being able to explore the "Operation Chariot" aspect then this year was definitely going to be "it" as far as I was concerned!

As it turned out I was able to persuade the family that they really did want to sit in the car for an hour while we travelled from where we were staying to St. Nazaire (offered ice creams, shops and opportunity to spend holiday money!), but better still, unlike my normal battlefield visits the weather was very kind being sunny and warm..!

So was it worth it?? Very definitely "yes" & funnily enough, for a slightly different reason, I think the family would agree with that as well... more on that later.

First off, the site is very easy to get to; when you travel from the south as we were doing you come over the bridge, and immediately start looking for left turns marked "vielle port" or old port - follow these and after a mile or so the pens loom up in front of you...

First impression - they are absolutely huge - the picture following shows the "back" of the pens (ie. the side facing inland) with a full size fluids tanker parked against the wall for scale.

The pens at St. Nazaire were just one of five U-boat bases on the Atlantic coast of France, servicing the U-Boats operating into the Bay of Biscay. This one was was constructed between January 1941 and December 1942 by several thousand slave labourers of the Todt organisation. When finished it consisted of U-Boat docks/pens (14 of them), offices, workshops, a hospital, and store rooms.

It covers a total area of around 390,000 square meters and required 480,000 square meters of concrete to build the structure with 3.5 meter thick walls and a 5 meter deep roof, which was designed to withstand bombs of up to 3.5 tons (this was called "fangrost" by the Germans and was a system of displaced beams to allow a bomb blast to be dissipated rather than concentrated).

The site is in remarkably good condition - no doubt the sheer size/strength of it is enough to put off most demolition attempts, but I was quite surprised at the condition of the concrete and that more of it wasn't crumbling - I read on the web that it used so much concrete that the Germans had to resort to dredging to get enough hard core to mix into the cement, and from experience salt and cement don't mix well.

The site is also completely open - you can wander around it to hearts content, no ticket needed - the pens are all there to see (except the two end one's - more anon)

...and you can even still see notices painted on the wall - I spotted this one, which a German colleague translated for me - he thinks it says: "This side is a walkway and must not be blocked with" ?? something (possibly Gerüsthölzer, which would make some sense in a military environment as it means scaffolding equipment planks/poles etc.)

You can also get to the top of the pens via steps or via a road that the French have built for easy access - the views are stunning.... the blockhouse opposite now hosts a museum devoted to the French submarine service, but originally it was the fortified dock entrance to the basin (the modern entrance can be seen immediately to the right of it) - you can still see a pill box on top of it..

..and this is what they would have looked like at the time..

The other reason I wanted to visit the area was to see the site of "Operation Chariot" that I mentioned in a previous post on the Nazaire raid... now I should have known that it was all going too well, but who would have known that Steve the Wargamer would pick the one day that the whole of that area of the port was to be closed off for a music festival!

Undeterred however, and in the true spirit of Mr Featherstone, I looked for an alternate access to the area and managed to get the following pictures... this is the old mole which was where the commando's were to land (you can see the music tent to the right!). I took this from the breakwater by the entrance to the Normandy dock - I'd estimate it was no more than 300 yards away??

Turning to my left I also got this which is the entrance to the dock - the structure with the tyre hanging on it is the right hand side of the entrance and this was where Campbeltown would have struck - it was rebuilt after the war, but the breakwater I was standing on comprised huge chunks of broken reinforced concrete which may have been rubble from the explosion re-used afterwards??

Another view of the fortified dock entrance

Finally a view of the dock gate, and one of a number of buildings surrounding the dock, now reused, but which to me look like they may have been constructed at the same time as the pens, and the dock entrance - the concrete is very thick for just a garage (which is what they are now) and I'm wondering if they may have protected the various pieces of equipment (pumps etc.) to operate the dry dock.

Not withstanding all this scrambling up and down broken rubble to get pictures - while my family looked on in amazement (though they should know me by now) - when I asked them if they'd enjoyed the day there was a unanimous "yes". Have to be honest and say that this wasn't because of a burgeoning interest in military history as more because of the visit they'd taken to the museum located within the first two pens of the U-Boat base.

St. Nazaire is famous for it's shipbuilding heritage - the reason the dry dock was there was for this reason. The big blue ribbon transatlantic liners ("Normandy", France", etc.) were built here, and to celebrate this there is an absolutely brilliant museum to visit - Escal Atlantique.

The museum is entered via a "gang plank" and the whole of the museum is then in the form of being on one of the liners. There's lots of old films to see, cabin interiors as they would have been at the time, engine rooms, state rooms, restaurants etc. Lots of pictures and things to look at and see.. If you're going to St. Nazaire then I wholeheartedly recommend it - it was fascinating.... and the bit the girls liked best was the exit from the museum, which was the most fun way I've ever left a museum bar none (and no I'll not tell you anymore, you need to visit!)

Monday, August 18, 2008

Back from holidays...

In case your wondering where I am, I can report that I've now returned, and just for once it is too far worse weather than what I just left behind - usually it's the other way round when I go on holiday!

We were based just inland from the coast west of La Roche Sur Yonnem (the A flag marks the spot - you can click on the map, or any of the other pictures, for a bigger view), near a little village called St Julien des Landes. I think the weather men have said it's going to be the wettest August for some considerable number of years here in the UK, but it definitely wasn't in France - with the exception of a couple of days rain, and some cold nights which I didn't mind (very clear skies - the temperature just plummeted when the sun went down) we had the best weather for a French holiday that I can remember us having in any number of years...

Lots of time on the beach, by far the best of which was this one, which is called Normandeliere - our favourite time here was early in the morning; get up, into the car, stop off at the boulangerie for quite astonishingly high carbohydrate breakfast treats, and then sit on the beach and eat them while cracking open the flask of tea (shades of my grandma - yikes, I'm getting old!) while the spuds went to investigate the rock pools.. smashing - best way to start the day!

More posts on other activities as I get the jobs done that build up following any trip, but I can advise that Steve-the Wargamers travelling wargame kit did get an airing (battle report to come), and I also did manage to make it to St. Nazaire to visit the site of WW2 Operation Chariot, and the U-Boat pens - bit of a long term wish that one, well worth the journey... and the weather was good.... (also I know you won't believe it John, but the family actually found it quite interesting!) - a more detailed report later..

Not so good for the beer this time - the local brewery is the Brasserie Mélusine (click here) from which I tried a few beers - by far the best, though, was the self named beer pictured left... a hazy beer, described on their web page as a lager but that may just be bad translation as I didn't think so. Basically, a good, meaty (ie. in terms of body), wheat beer, but a slightly disappointing lack of flavour for the alcohol rate... think I'd give it a good 6 out of 10... my favourite biere de garde remains the Goudale (click here) though - 6 bottles managed to find their way into the boot on the way home!

I also made some decent inroads into my reading pile and can report that the latest Alan Mallinson book "Warrior" is an absolute cracker - he's been described as being like the army/cavalry version of Patrick O'Brian, and this book bears out the analogy completely. I like O'Brian's style, so the Hervey series have been an absolute delight, and this one is no exception.. the book is set mostly in South Africa, and around the rise of Shaka's empire, and his assassination. At the end of the book there's a tantalising hint that Hervey may next be heading to Russia, he also gets some excellent news which I won't spoil by repeating here! Excellent.. 9/10.

I also managed to finish off a couple of Osprey Campaigns - "El Alamein 1942" was a good read, and if I'd been at home would have had me hot footing it to the loft to get the WW2 figures out! Monty was undoubtedly the right man at the right time, but whenever I read the history of the time I always find myself feeling sorry for the previous incumbents of the job - the odds they faced were huge, Churchill breathing down their necks all the time, and it's also true that Monty did benefit from the hard work that Auchinleck had initiated, and without taking away from the hard fighting the army did had a quite astonishing superiority in numbers. Give this one an 8 out of 10.

I also enjoyed the "New York 1776" book which covers off the first battles fought by the Continentals in the American Revolution - the author has a gift of showing the people behind the titles and I particularly like his analysis of (both) Howe's tactics in light of their admiration for and liking of the American colonists - a man faced by conflicting aims.. looking forward to reading Philadelphia 1777 now... 9 out of 10 for New York.

...and that should be enough for now - can't bore you rigid this soon after returning!