Friday, March 25, 2022

"Firing into the Brown" #12 - Mulberry's, books and stuff..

"So Carnehan weeds out the pick of his men, and sets the two of the Army to show them drill and at the end of two weeks the men can manoeuvre about as well as Volunteers. So he marches with the Chief to a great big plain on the top of a mountain, and the Chiefs men rushes into a village and takes it; we three Martinis firing into the brown of the enemy".

Kipling "The Man Who Would Be King"

Time for another update...  bit of a quiet week this week due to other demands on time - sailing season approaching, and also Genesis at the O2 on Thursday which I am looking forward to immensely..

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Couple of book reviews to start off

Dick/Felix Francis (father/son) are my guilty secret - for some reason I do like their stories which almost always feature horse racing in one form or another but usually with some other main focus to provide the counter point to the story..  so in the past his books have featured horse racing along with among other things architecture, jewels, stock broking, portrait painting,  and all sorts.. for this novel the hero of the story suffers from anxiety and mental issues - the story flips between past and present, and the (likeable) hero of the story eventually arrives at an understanding at his past, and why he has suffered the issues he has..  compassionate view of what it is like to suffer from an anxiety based mental issue, in a readable story, that also features the Cresta skeleton bob course..  brilliant..  8/10


First read this I don't know how long ago, forty plus for sure, but among a handful of authors I keep returning to, Nevil Shute* is 100% a story teller - not all authors are, or have the skill, but basically he tells tales that suck you in..  in this particular case a very ordinary man is given a task that takes him far outside of his normal sphere of life and experience..  he is a guy who writes for a model engineering magazine, and is particularly skilled as an engineer, but lives an ordinary life until his sister and her husband are killed in a shipwreck on the other side of the world, and then has to come up with a plan as to how he can afford to support their daughter..  how he does that is a superb and uplifting read.. super recommended .. 9/10

*he's also a bit of a local hero, as he lived and worked in Portsmouth for some time - in fact one of the roads I use to get to work (Norway Road) is named after him.. 



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While doing the research on Operation "Starfish" in the last post, I also got distracted by the background to a huge concrete structure that has sat at the bottom of the (same) harbour for as long as I can remember..so thought I'd share..

Putting this in context of "Starfish" - looking north - Farlington Marshes is left in the distance - the white line is the dyke around it..  Fort Purbrook is up on top of the hill..

This structure was built sometime between 1943 and 1944, and was intended for use as part of the Mulberry Harbour off the Normandy beaches post D-Day. Most people are aware that Mulberry was the code name for the artificial harbours (there were two) intended to assist the allies with offloading supplies and reinforcements direct from the beaches, what is lightly less well known is that each stage/part of Mulberry was formed of multiple parts..  along with scuttled ships, these concrete caissons were intended to bolster, reinforce, and in some cases replace the ships as required and provide the outer breakwater..

The caissons were code named "Phoenix", the block ships were code named "Gooseberry", but there were also a number of other elements to the design (booms etc.) - the first reference link below is very good on the overall design.

My research would seem to indicate that the Phoenix in Langstone Harbour (I've put it's position - the circle - on the "Starfish" map just for context) is what would have been classed as a type C (the smallest)

There were four Phoenix type C's built on Haying, sometime between '43 and '44 as mentioned, and I originally suspected that they would have been built in that inlet just to the left of the "Holiday Village" label in the map, but the actual build location I've marked with a star - the tide flows fast through the harbour entrance, and the beach is quite steep but photographic evidence [clicky] would indicate this was the construction site location - it's handy for Sinah Common, which as we already know had an anti aircraft battery.. 

The following picture was taken at Stokes Bay, which is just along the coast, but gives an idea of what a Phoenix beach construction site must have looked like at the time, albeit they made the bigger one's, type B's, at this site..

Returning to the particular Phoenix that started off this whole (enjoyable) rabbit hole I dived down, well unfortunately it developed a fault after it was launched so was towed to it's current position and just left - over the years it has broken it's back in two places but gives a good view of the internal separation/walls.

Once the caissons were built the usual method of hiding them from enemy aircraft attention was to sink them until they were needed - the Hayling Phoenix's were sunk off Pagham until required (x marks the spot)..the caissons had a water inlet, centrally controlled, in the bottom of each segment - open them and they took about 20 or 30 minutes to sink..  to refloat them, close the inlet and then suck the water out with pumps..

Unfortunately, before the other three were used, another was found to be faulty so only two of the Hayling constructions were eventually towed to Normandy and used.

Local records show that some 500 workers to construct them were billeted at St Mary’s hospital (which, apropos of  absolutely nothing, was the hospital I was born in! 😁), which is interesting as St Mary's Hospital is on Portsea Island so that would imply some kind of ferry service to take them to and from their work - I wonder if it used the same route as the ferry that still operates to this day, or whether it stopped further over, in Milton, at the Portsmouth end so as to be handier for the hospital site (which in turn prompts another idea for a military local history link!)

Type B being towed across the Channel - sailors give an idea of the size - note the temporary anti aircraft protection on top

Further reading:

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 Laters, as the young people are want to say...

Friday, March 18, 2022

"Firing into the Brown" #11 - Blitzkrieg and stuff..

"So Carnehan weeds out the pick of his men, and sets the two of the Army to show them drill and at the end of two weeks the men can manoeuvre about as well as Volunteers. So he marches with the Chief to a great big plain on the top of a mountain, and the Chiefs men rushes into a village and takes it; we three Martinis firing into the brown of the enemy".

Kipling "The Man Who Would Be King"

Time for another update...

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Book finished and per the post where I mentioned and expressed some doubts about the slightly sensationalist statements on the front, time for me to review and advise whether the book is indeed worthy of all the glitter on the front..  in short, does it describe a whole new raft of myths and realities, is it "stunningly revisionist"..  errr...   or not?

Well.. the short answer is "no"... not surprisingly..  to be honest I wasn't expecting it to be..  Hastings, Beevor, Keegan and others have been raking over the first hand written and audio testimony for years now, and it is unlikely that they with their researchers would have missed anything "stunningly revisionist", and based on this book they didn't..

What we have is a very readable history of the Battle of France from the start of 'Fall Gelb' ('Case Yellow' - the first part of the assault - ie. "hold in place on the Belgian flank while the Panzers swung through the Ardennes and round the other flank" or as Captain Mainwaring called it, "a typical shabby Nazi trick" 😁) to the end of 'Fall Rot' ('Case Red' - the breakthrough, defeat, and occupation of France)

There are no surprises here - the author covers it all (very well), but the editors, book designers and whatever have done him no favours by promising all the snake oil on the cover.. so what we DO have is a clear and concise account of the failings of the French army (operationally, tactically, mentally welded to their fortresses, and the concept of the positional battle, completely unable to react as quickly as they needed to), and we have the Germans, flushed from success in Poland where they have learned hard lessons on the actual field of battle, and with leaders like Guderian, Manstein and Rommel, absolutely overflowing with confidence in the new Panzer arm, trying desperately to persuade the more conservative elements to let them do what was planned, and eventually succeeding.

An excellent book, the descriptions of the condition of the German tank troops and panzer grenadiers, after being awake for days at a time, was gripping. 

Very good, I'll give it 8 out of 10 despite the cover snake oil, but in my opinion, the absolute go to account of the campaign is still Alistair Horne's book "To Lose a Battle" which I reviewed here [clicky] and very much recommend..

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Work has been going on with that promised upgrade to the standard of the Royal Italien..  but then I looked at them and thought..  "hmm, they're a bit shiny"..   and then "hmm...  bases are a bit thin and warped"...  so...

Ready for new bases..

Stuck on and a coat of 'dull cote' applied by brush..

Looking better..

New flag offered up.. bases flocked...

Doesn't that look better than the old one..  pleased with that... 

Flag courtesy of David [clicky] at "Not By Appointment"...

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Was doing some reading this week prompted by a comment I read in one of the local papers about decoy operations in my local harbour during WWII..


The islands you can see in the middle of the harbour (which are now bird sanctuaries) were used in WWII as decoy sites to lure German air raids away from nearby Portsmouth harbour. 

Code named "Starfish" this [clicky], and this [clicky], are particularly interesting reads on the decoy operation and how they worked (electric light and oil flamed fires primarily)...  by all accounts they were very successful; on the night of 17/18 April 1941, over 140 enemy aircraft were lured away from Portsmouth and in excess of 200 air-dropped munitions fell semi-harmlessly into Langstone Harbour and Farlington Marshes although inevitably some bombs dropped long and landed on Hayling Island causing casualties (including anti aircraft gunners based at Sinah Common - SC in the map)

I cycle past this bunker most days on my way to work (part of my route is across the top of the marshes) and had no idea what it's function was until I started reading up on the operation..

© Copyright Mike Searle

It's a control bunker for the 'QL' bombing decoy site on Farlington Marshes (FC on the map). It operated with a separate 'Starfish' site whose control building was on the east side of the marsh (FC2) - everything controlled from "FP" (for Fort Purbrook) on top of the hill where they would have had the perfect view..

We're surrounded by history - must keep an eye out for that second Farlington bunker on my next cycle..

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"Laters", as the young people are want to say...

Friday, March 11, 2022

"Firing into the Brown" #10 - mitre porn, Eugene, "old school", and stuff..

"So Carnehan weeds out the pick of his men, and sets the two of the Army to show them drill and at the end of two weeks the men can manoeuvre about as well as Volunteers. So he marches with the Chief to a great big plain on the top of a mountain, and the Chiefs men rushes into a village and takes it; we three Martinis firing into the brown of the enemy".

Kipling "The Man Who Would Be King"

Time for another update...

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First off, more tricorn porn - or a specific sub-genre of it..  mitre porn (and if that doesn't get me a few search-bot clicks I don't know what will! πŸ˜€)

Way back in 2007 I was browsing Will McNally's (excellent) AWI blog and I happened to notice he had a link to a forum called the "The Gentleman's Wargames Parlour [clicky]"

The Parlour is divided up into sub-groups based on period so I beetled over to the AWI section and therein I saw these:

Painted as the Prussian Regiment von Donop, they were, and hopefully still are, absolutely bloody mouthwatering.... the guy who painted them had even gone to the trouble of building up the cartridge boxes with green-stuff to make them bigger, as the ones moulded were too small (!)

There are extra pictures at the forum, (which I recommend) in the AWI section under the "Hessian Grenadiers" strand... top marks to the painter (a gentlemen with the handle "Maxim"). The figures by the way are 28mm Perry's, but as I happened to have some Minifigs Grenadiers waiting a touch up of paint it was almost like serendipity.... !

..very typically Minifigs 25mm's... but to me they have a very special charm, I especially like their faces, and I like the overall proportion of the figures.... quite difficult to paint with the style of painting I like to use (lots of washes and dry brushing) but they are just made for the wargaming table, whereas the Perry's are gorgeous but made for the display cabinet...

As is my wont, I also had a good look round to see if there was any information on the regiment and came across a superb web site run by a re-enactment group in the US [clicky - NB. Facebook link]

Lots and lots information here on the various "Hessian" regiments (which actually came from several states - but over time have become grouped under the title Hessian). 

It's unlikely that the entire regiment would have worn the brass mitre - my reading would indicate probably only one in four - but hey, it's my wargame table, I know that they are slightly unrealistic, but I don't care.... 

In summary, the regimental history was as follows:

  • regiment was raised in 1687 at the beginning of the War of the Grand Alliance (1688-1697) as the “Prinz Carl von Hessen Regiment of Foot” with subsidies of the Republic of Venice to fight against the Turks. It initially consisted of 10 companies in two battalions.. 
  • The regiment went on to serve during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714 - one of the Battalions was at the Schellenberg and Blenheim so there's a project cross over), the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748) and were among the 7,000 Hessian's sent to England and Scotland in 1746 in the wake the Highland uprising of 1745 (I didn't know that we had hired Hessian's for the '45, by the way..!)
  • During the Seven Year's War (1756-1763), the regiment served in the Allied Army of Observation in Western Germany.
  • When the American War of Independence broke out in 1775, the regiment was part of the 12,000 Hessian troops hired by treaty to England. The Regiment arrived off Staten Island on August 12th, 1776 - it:
    • was present at the Battle of Long Island, sending out patrols that captured 80 Americans.
    • was present at the storming of Fort Washington, providing 50 men for part the "Forlorn Hope" that preceded the main assault.
    • was on the expedition to Philadelphia, participating in the Battles of the Brandywine and Germantown.
    • the Grenadiers were present as part of the Grenadier Battalion Lengerke at the failed storming of Ft. Mercer.
    • the regiment was part of General Knyphausen's division that was present but did not see action at the battle of Monmouth.
    • was part of General Knyphausen's expedition to New Jersey, and formed the rearguard along with the British 22nd regiment.
    • saw action near Elizabeth, NJ (in which the regimental commander, Colonel von Gose, had his cane knocked from his hand by a 3 pound cannon-ball!)
    • For the next two years they were in garrison until the regiment sailed for Europe in November 1783.

This is the regimental flag.. (from the excellent Warflag site). German regiments carried two standards, but I'm using just the first one.. the Warflag flag is excellent but the graphics are little blocky, I would really really like to give these guys a better flag - anyone got any sources for either standard?

More stuff:

  • https://www.kronoskaf.com/syw/index.php?title=Prinz_Ysenburg_Infantry

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Old School musings..  prompted by a comment on one of the blogs about the commonality of 30 quid wargame rules... 😨

Featherstone/Young/Grant or nothing.... a number of wargamers came to the hobby via the seminal works of these august gentlemen - I count myself among them - but that doesn't necessarily make them old school... they could be, but it's not a foregone conclusion, because the key lesson one learns from these classics is a mode of thinking not a mode of doing. If the only thing you get from the books is that the rules and ideas outlined in them are the only way to do it, a given, then the crux has been missed - because the original giants who helped shaped our hobby were all about guiding their reader to their own path, be it scale/period/choice of terrain/choice of paint/choice of rules etc. not telling us that theirs was the only way.. enough rambling ...  Old School wargamers are original thinkers.... I still write my own rules to his day, and I can't even imagine spending 30 quid on a set of rules..  LOL!

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Bit excited about this one - the release date is late next month, and it's published by Pen and Sword.

Falkner is one of my 'go to' authors for this period - he has a very pleasing and easy reading style and his books on Blenheim and Ramilles were brilliant.  

You get a fiver off if you order in advance direct from Pen and Sword (which more than covers the postage) - more details here [clicky], and suffice to say my copy is on order..!

He and Marlborough were a dream team, and from my reading trusted each other implicitly on campaign and on the battlefield - looking forward to finding out more about the man and the general.. 

I still have an itch to scratch in this period with regards to the campaigns against the Turks so I am looking forward to reading more on that as well..

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Laters, as the young people are want to say...

Friday, March 04, 2022

"Firing into the Brown" #9 - Books, Blitzkrieg, rebasing and stuff..

"So Carnehan weeds out the pick of his men, and sets the two of the Army to show them drill and at the end of two weeks the men can manoeuvre about as well as Volunteers. So he marches with the Chief to a great big plain on the top of a mountain, and the Chiefs men rushes into a village and takes it; we three Martinis firing into the brown of the enemy".

Kipling "The Man Who Would Be King"

Time for another, smorgasbord-style, update...
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One of the undoubted joys of the easing up of COVID restrictions in the UK is the ability to go browsing in physical bookshops again..

So it was that with half an hour to waste the other Saturday I found myself in a proper bookshop surrounded by the smell of books (Amazon is brilliant, but it can't do that.. πŸ˜€) and with a well stocked military history section to browse, and I spotted this one..

I've not come across the author before, but the blurb was enough to get me intrigued so I invested a tenner, and have just started it..  time will tell if my money would have been better spent over the bar for a couple of pints, and whether the 'myths and realities' aren't anything we haven't heard before..!

Any of my reader read it? Should I be worried by the fact that despite the book being about the fall of France the cover picture is from Barbarossa??  😟

German Schnelltruppen, supported by Schutzenpanzerwagen Sd.Kfz. 251/1 and 10 (armoured personnel carriers), move into a burning Russian village at an unknown location during the German invasion of the Soviet Union, sometime between June 26th and July 1st, 1941.(Colourised by Royston Leonard UK)

The picture deserved repetition - the colorisation definitely adds to the impact..

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Good news, the rebasing of the 15mm WW2 German forces are complete...

Heer first..  officers/commanders on the left (mounted on 2p's) regulars on the right on penny's

Selection of supports - recon motorbikes and a "door knocker", 37mm anti tank gun..

Slightly out of period camouflage on the heer... all I can say is that it was a good idea at the time! 😁

Transport, soft and hard, and AFV's

Those vehicles are beginning to show their age... compare the Opel in front (Peter Pig) with the one behind (Zvezda)

Love this fellow..  full of Prussian vim and vigour...

"Entschuldigung, wo geht es zur Meuse?" πŸ˜€

Now they're done, I'd better get a game on then!

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This one's for DC - crank it up loud, man..  😁

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Maigret is on a fact finding and sharing trip to the US where he is being handed off by one police force to another on a cross continent trip - each force seemingly being relieved to hand him on so they can get back to work, when he stops over in a small southern town where a coroners court is in seating to come up with  finding on the death of a young girl under mysterious circumstances..

Five soldiers are under suspicion, and surprisingly (even to himself) Maigret is sucked into the ongoing investigation, and finds himself asking questions that he thinks need to be asked and aren't..

Simenon is quit e interesting in this book as Maigret thinks on his view of America and American's, and how very different they are from European's - the book was published in 1949, so at this time both Europe and America would have had a closer relationship and knowledge of each other than before the war..

Good book - prefer it when Maigret is in France - he seems slightly like a fish out of water when he is away from France and Madam Maigret..  😊  Rate this one as an 8/10.

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 Laters, as the young people are want to say...