Tuesday, January 17, 2017

"Marked for Death".. a review...

A log time ago (in a galaxy far away...  errr.. no wrong post ) Steve the Wargamer was sat in his bedroom having finished reading Don Featherstone's "Air Wargames" for perhaps the fifth time, and wondering how he could save up enough pocket money for the bamboo's and dowels required to play the WWI rules described in the book... setting that issue aside, like all good wargamers he spent what little he had on a Revell Fokker DVII kit, and an Airfix Sopwith Camel, and then proceeded to commit
paint butchery on both, with the intent of "worrying about how to play the game later" (plus ca change..)

As it happens the only thing that came out of this episode (apart from the paint butchered models which hung on bits of cotton thread from the lamp shade for a while) was a long and abiding interest in the air war during WWI, so when I saw this book in Waterstone's (a UK national book seller) in Bath just before Christmas, I was already pre-disposed to pick it up and I have to say I was gripped immediately...the Christmas Amazon vouchers were soon spent on a copy!

So is the book worth while for the average wargamer interested in WWI air wargaming? I thought "absolutely", but it's not a cheerful read...  what you get is the pilot experience from the perspective of all the major players, but primarily the British...

An experience that in most cases started with less than 20 hours flying experience (he mentions in some cases as little as 7 hours) before the trainee pilot was shoved towards a plane and told to fly it round the aerodrome and then sent to a front line squadron where there life expectancy even in 1918 was three weeks...

At the start of the war the aeroplane had only been in existence for 10 years, by the end of it, both sides were turning out aeroplanes of staggeringly different speed and capability - the war more than anything cemented the need for command of the air, bit for reconnaissance purposes, and support of ground operations - not for anything did the RFC transform into the RAF before the end of the war,  yet for all the development and advance over 50,000 airmen died int he First World War on all sides, and often horribly..  casualty rates were on a par with the infantry.

He goes into the parachute "discussion" and why in his view British airmen didn't have them (the Germans did towards the end of the war) but for the British high command it simply wasn't high on their list of priorities (and compare 50,000 deaths for the entire war, with the casualty count for just one day of the Somme to show why that might have been), but not only that there was also a view among the pilots that they might lose the all important "edge" if they had the additional weight of the parachute to carry (and in the early days a plane might not have even been able to take off because of the extra load!) ...

Fascinating snippets - one of the dangers of flying was diarrhoea, not because of what you think, but because the aero engines of the time used castor oil as a lubricant, which was sprayed as fine mist all over the pilot whenever the engine was running....  of pilots carrying revolvers so they could shoot themselves rather than go down in flames...  of the war in the Middle East where the planes fell apart because of the effect of heat on the  relatively unsophisticated glues and materials used...  no seatbelts in the early planes and the navigator in the early pusher type two seater planes would quite often be stood up in the cockpit operating a machine gun firing backwards - astonishing bravery.... the effects of industrial unrest and other health and safety issues (I wasn't aware that there was a drug and alcohol problem in British armaments industries at the time - which I must read into further), and the effect on the women who made aircraft wings of the highly poisonous vapour from the dope before eventually non-toxic versions were made...

I could go on and on - cracking read - the only thing that jarred slightly was an overly cycnical tone at times...  Steve the Wargamer rates this one 8 out of 10.


  1. Thanks for the review Steve - looks interesting.

  2. Good review Steve. Funny you should mention the early WW1 rules because I also was inspired by an article in (I think) Airfix magazine around the time I was still at school. I was able to make the 'flying stands' in woodwork lessons from the illustrations provided, as I recall it was circular bases with long dowels as the bases and a sort of drilled out wooded collar that slid up and down the dowel, with a length of thinner dowel that held the model aircraft. The main dowel was carefully marked up in inches to represent height. The planes, Fockers, Sopwith camels etc were fixed to the thin dowels and the game played on the floor. The rules allowed for turning circles, dives, climbs etc and was great fun ...... come to think of it, I'm sure I would still enjoy that game today! I wonder if anybody out these has access to the original article as I would love to see it again. I would guess it would have been around 1973-ish?

    1. Lee - you know you want to.. :o)) Anything here??


  3. Lee - a little more Google-fu has found that a chap called Mike Spick wrote a series from April '77 onwards?

    1. Steve, I'll have a look at that link, cheers. I'm trying to rack my old brain to remember which wargame magazine it actually was, but I know it must have been pre 1977 because I was still at school when I made the stands and I left in 1976. We had an after school wargame club that was my introduction to the hobby. I'll do some digging for that article.

    2. Pre-'77 there wouldn't have been much choice, so other than Airfix Magazine, only Military Modelling, and perhaps Meccano Magazine (unlikely?) or maybe you were building direct from Don's book?