Monday 31 October 2011

Halloween Pumpkin

The kids have just returned from Halloween Trick or Treating and they had a great time. There were a lot of kids on the streets this year, more than previously, and it was good to see so many people getting into the spirit of the thing (no pun intended). As usual we had a Pumpkin but this year we didn't buy ours from a store. Last year we saved some seeds and gave them to my uncle as he is a keen gardener. Only one pumpkin survived the year but boy was it a whopper!

This beastie weighed in at 44lb! When I cut it I found it was solid all the way to the core and I actually had to carve out the center in order to cut a face into it from the outside.

Were saving some more seeds for my uncle this year. I dread to think how big next years Pumpkin will be!

Bletchley Code Breakers on TV

Last night I finally had the chance to watch a programme about Bletchley Park that was on TV last week. For those that don't know, Bletchley was the home to MI6 and Britain's code breaking HQ throughout WWII. It was here that the Enigma code was cracked by geniuses like Alan Turing.

The new programme Code Breakers: Bletchley Parks Lost Heroes is still available via the BBC iPlayer until Saturday the 5th and is well worth watching. It looks at the largely unrecognised work of a 24-year-old maths student Bill Tutte and a GPO engineer Tommy Flowers, who combined to hack into Hitler's personal super-code machine. This was not Enigma but an even tougher system, which Hitler called his 'secrets writer'.

The breaking of this code helped the Russians turn the Battle of Kursk, it advised and informed the planning for the D-day landings. The work of Tommy Flowers resulted in the creation of the world first practical electronic digital information processing machine - a forerunner of today’s computers. Unfortunately this machine and its successors were used well into the 60's during the Cold War which meant it remained a secret and the achievements of both men were never fully recognised.

Saturday 29 October 2011

Magazine Madness

I buy several magazines on a semi regular basis throughout the month. But for various reasons I hadn't picked any up in a few weeks so when I went shopping the other day I bought four of them in one (plus I received my subscription WI the same day). I briefly considered doing a review of each one but quickly discarded the idea...this is a gaming/painting Blog not a magazine review site. However I decided all the issues had something of interest to BLMA readers so here's a summary of the best bits.

I've been a subscriber of Wargames Illustrated for three years now and bought it regularly before that. I've rarely been disappointed by an issue and this month is no exception. The Theme is the Peloponnesian War between the Athenians and Spartans and includes some excellent eye-candy articles, such as that on the Naval Battle of Rhium in 429BC.

Also eye catching is the article on The Battle of Kufra in 1941. I'm continually tempted by the North Africa campaign and if I hadn't already chosen to collect and play Late War NW Europe I would have opted for this theatre. But as I'm pretty much painting and collecting my FOW figures solo I think I'd better stick to just one theatre of war at a time.

Another highlight of this issue for me is the photo report on the Battlegroup South show held at the Tank Museum, Bovington. I must try to get to this show one year, combining as it does my love of miniature wargames with probably the best museum in the world.

I really ought to subscribe to the bi-monthly Wargames Soldiers and Strategy but instead rely on being able to buy a copy from the local newsagents. Unfortunately I sometimes miss an issue, but not this time. The theme of this issue is the American Civil War (possibly because this is the first issue to be released in the States) and there are no less than nine great articles to support it. The first looks at the opening moves of the war in what it describes as "a year of optimism". There's a small scenario to re-fight the Battle Bethel in 1861 and a very interesting article about the tactics employed in the conflict. The next sections look at the Battle of Bull Run and describes this aptly as "the end of optimism". The last two articles round the theme off nicely by looking at the various rules and miniatures available to those that want to wargame ACW.

I like the layout and style of this publication, its clean, crisp and uncluttered but still chock full of great articles and interesting advertisements. If your into ACW this issue is an absolute 'must buy'.

Miniature Wargames is another one of those stalwart regulars on my list of monthly purchases. The content is more varied on a month by month basis without a specific theme linking articles. This isn't a bad thing as it means every issue has a range of periods inside and should appeal to most wargamers regardless of which issue they pick up.

One of the best articles this month was the cover story, the Knights of Bushido. This looks at the Battle of Tedorigawa in 1577 between the Samurai of the Uesugi clan and the numerically superior Oda Clan.

The ACW Battle at Big Bethel also gets discussed in is issue of MW and its interesting to see how two different magazines handle the same topic.

The next two magazines are not aimed at the wargamer but I often find they contain interesting articles and photographs. Although I don't buy these every month I do try to pick up a copy when there is an interesting article that catches my eye. In this months Classic Military Vehicle there is a great article about the recent restoration of an original Panzer Kpfw IV for the Jordanian Tank Museum. This vehicle is actually the sum of parts from over 20 Panzer IV's but is now the most fully restored vehicle of its type, and the only running example in the world. It debuted at Tankfest in June and was also seen at War and Peace in August, both of which I missed! Its not been shipped to Jordan yet so maybe there will be other opportunities to see this very rare vehicle before it leaves the country.

In a similar vein Military Machines International also featured pictures of the the Panzer IV at War and Peace. However I bought this issue for its article on the Austin K5 Portee. I've seen these machines mentioned several times but never actually seen any illustrations. There's also a good photo review of this years War and Peace show which, as I've already mentioned, I missed.

I'm sure there are plenty more magazines I could buy and I usually purchase copies of magazines I've not read before just to try them out. But this lot came to over £21 for just one months worth of issues and I think that's more than enough for now.

Thursday 27 October 2011

Playing in the Arcade

I had a few days of work earlier this week to coincide with the kids Half Term school break. On Tuesday we took them to Southend for a day at the Adventure Island amusement park. Despite being late October the sun shone pretty much all day and the kids had a great time on the rides.

However after 6 hours of this I was starting to get a little bit bored and I cast my eye in the direction of the Video Arcade. I found myself playing a game called Operation Vulcan wielding a monster of a chain gun and blasting aircraft out of the sky while laughing maniacally. I think I may have embarrassed myself a little. OK, more than a little, but that's never stopped me before.

I tried to explain to the kids how the games have moved on a bit since I was a nipper. But I'm not sure they understood what I meant when I described the very basic and jerky graphics I knew as a teenager. It's all a bit incomprehensible to a generation that have grown up on PS2's and X-Boxes. This Star Wars game was utterly awesome in its day and I remember spending a large amount of time - and a significant amount of pocket money - playing it while on holiday one year. Ah, those were the days!

Wednesday 26 October 2011

A Bridge Too Far

A Bridge Too Far, by Cornelius Ryan, is yet another one of those classic history books that I hadn't read. But a few weeks ago I found an old and tattered copy of this book for sale in the Purfleet Heritage Centre and decided to pick it up. I also bought the D-Day classic The Longest Day which I reviewed a few weeks ago. I enjoyed that book so much I immediately started on A Bridge Too Far, and I wasn't disappointed.

One of the first things that strike you about this story is the daring audacity and sheer scale of the operation. Reading the early chapters of the book as the largest airborne invasion in history takes off and heads for Holland its hard not to be awe inspired. I couldn't help thinking to myself "this is bound to succeed" even though I knew the eventual outcome of the operation. And on some level I think Ryan manages to convey the wave of optimism that helped blind allied planners at all levels to the huge gamble they were undertaking. It also blinded them to the small margins for success on which the objectives of the operation depended.

Several times Ryan describes the "creeping paralysis" that seemed to overtake the mission from the very beginning. Small problems became compounded and snowballed into huge, sometime insurmountable, obstacles by the end of the offensive. No military operation ever goes to 100% according to plan, but much of the success of Market Garden seemed to rely on the Germans sitting back and doing nothing to disrupt those plans. This was never going to be the situation. As in Normandy the enemies military capability was vastly underrated and its ability to reorganise, regroup and fight on was underestimated.

As the book progresses the growing desperation of the situation faced by the British 1st Airborne Division in Arnhem is abundantly clear. With terrible inevitability the impossible task before them is revealed in probably the most graphic and eloquent description of a single action that I have ever read. For me this book identified an important tactical dilemma that had never occurred to me before. The accepted wisdom is that one should never reinforce defeat, yet almost to the end that is exactly what the allies were desperately trying to do. But this analysis is a gross oversimplification and undervalues not only the sacrifice of the men who held onto that bridgehead over the Rhine but also the potential strategic significance of that toehold.

One of the elements that I found particularly interesting was the use of anecdotal evidence gathered from the Dutch civilian population caught up in the midst of the battle. The Dutch underground seemed to have been largely disregarded and their contribution to the battle in Arnhem may have proved vital had it been utilised by the Allies. The frustration of local resistance fighters comes across clearly in this book. However it was the fate of ordinary citizens that I found most disturbing. When the Airborne troops first landed most Dutch civilians considered this their moment of liberation. By the end of nine days of fighting in and around Arnhem large parts of the city had been destroyed and over 450 civilians had been killed in the fighting. Their torment did not end there however. After the battle the Germans forcibly evicted the residents of Arnhem and its surrounding towns and systematically looted the houses and businesses of the area with the spoils being sent to bombing victims in Germany.

For me as a wargamer I keep asking myself what would have been the result if 1st Airborne had been able to hold their bridgehead. Could they have been reinforced and would the area they held have been large enough to build up the forces required to push outwards and secure the lodgement north of the Rhine? I doubt it, but its an intriguing "what-if" scenario.

If you are interested in this period of WWII history - or even if you are not - this is a gripping and spellbinding story. It is a tale of heroism, sacrifice, endurance, hubris, arrogance and tragedy that cannot fail to fascinate the reader. I thoroughly recommend it.

Monday 24 October 2011

I does exactly what it says on the Tin

I'm rarely seen in or near a DIY or hardware store. I'm not a very practical person and even the thought of papering a wall sends shivers down my spine. Over the years I have turned my hand to many household projects - I've decorated the whole house several times over - but that doesn't mean I enjoy it. So usually when I do wander into a DIY store its not for a home project, but because I'm looking for a product that can be turned to a more productive end; namely modeling.

Some time ago I picked up a great tip from another gamer for basing models. He said he mixed paint with plaster to make a colored basing material that could be built up between the figures on a base. The idea being that if the base were chipped or the paint covering not thorough enough then glaring white plaster would not be seen poking through.

When I got home I immediately replicated his idea using nothing more sophisticated than quick drying plaster and some dark brown paint. The results were OK but not as dark as I would have liked. I couldn't add more paint as the mixture was already getting quite sloppy and I wasn't sure it would dry properly. I've used this homemade basing mix several times and its worked just fine, but I think I've discovered an even better option.

I decided to look in my local DIY store for any colored plaster and came across a product labeled as Wood Filler. It came in three pigments ranging from a light brown to a dark walnut color. I opted for the latter and have been experimenting with it today. And I have to say I'm really surprised and pleased with the results.

The wood filler looks just like regular ready mixed plaster (except for the color of course). It has the same grainy texture and overall consistency as regular plaster. It actually looks like Chocolate Moose and when it dries the plaster retains its dark color. I applied it using a metal sculpting tool and the materials natural tackiness made it easy to apply to the base, especially if its been scored before hand.

Drying time for this product - assuming a maximum thickness of 5mm - is about two hours. The dried plaster can be sanded and painted and retains some flexibility. I found that any additional texture from sand or grit is best applied after the plaster is dry. Although it seems very tacky when wet I found that most of the sand I scattered on the surface of my test base came off once the plaster had dried.

I bought a branded wood filler so my 250g tub cost nearly £5.00 but I'm sure there are cheaper options out there. Having said that my small pot will last me a long time. I used less than a quarter of the tub on 30 flames of war Infantry bases.

I'm sure I'm not the first wargamer to discover this material but being allergic to all things DIY I never knew this particular product even existed until I stumbled upon it. Now that I have I can easily see me using this for some time to come.

Saturday 22 October 2011

The Evil GM tries again

The Evil GM
Amazingly the Dagenham Dungeon Delvers not only scheduled a game for last night but then didn't cancel at the last minute. Over the last few months our games have been scuppered by a variety of problems ranging from business trips, illness, non existent trains to clashes on our social calenders. I was beginning to think we would never get back into our DnD 4E campaign. After last nights game I think would have been better if we hadn't.

Our GM - the infamous and notorious Evil GM non-the-less - tried to kill us all again. And this time, I really thought the devious bugger was going to succeed. Our Adventuring party had headed into a large and uncharted woodland and almost immediately been attacked by Dryads. We fought off two attacks by nightfall and the following day were ambushed while crossing a deep and fast flowing stream. The battle was brief, one sided and predicable. However the next encounter was not such a pushover.

We entered a clearing which looked like a Charnel house strewn with the gutted and butchered corpses of various forest animals. At first we were ready for action, fully expecting an attack at that moment. But nothing happened initially and we proceeded on further into the forest. We entered another clearing just as a crashing heralded the approach of some unseen creature. A huge Centaur leaped into the clearing and there is a tense moment as both sides size each other up. More crashing and roaring can be heard approaching from the same direction and the Centaur looks back nervously then turns to us and shouts "Run!" before bounding off into the other side of the clearing.

The First Wave of Gnolls

Almost immediately a group of Gnolls burst into the clearing and without hesitation attack us. We are at a disadvantage, strung out and quickly divided we are initially unable to mount an organised defense. The Barbarian in our group is surrounded and soon drops to the ground bloody and unconscious. Then more Gnolls appear and enter the fray. We start hacking our way through the rabid creatures in an attempt to fight our way to our fallen comrade, but more Gnolls pour into the clearing with every turn.

Five waves of Gnoll reinforcements later (five, read em FIVE) and our group is in bad shape. The wizard has been attacked and now lays unconscious on the blood soaked battlefield; the Barbarian has failed one Death Roll and nobody can reach him to confer a healing surge; and the Dragonborn brothers both have Hit Points in single figures. Slowly, very slowly, the battle stabilizes and we begin to pick off the Gnolls. The Barbarian and the Wizard are healed and are able to rejoin the battle and we are finally able to control the battle. Just as victory looks in our grasp the Centaur bursts back into the clearing and shoots dead the last few Gnolls [the "Glory Whore"]. More Gnolls are approaching and we decided discretion is the batter part of valor and retreat from the clearing with theCentaur.

All in all an enjoyable game even if it was a close run thing for us.

Thursday 20 October 2011

That's a lot of Lead

I had one of those "Gulp! What have I let myself in for?" moments this morning. I've started to assemble the US Parachute Rifle Company that I recently bought on Ebay (absolute bargain at just £17). I started with the usual sorting through the box to make sure everything was in there and then organising the figures into teams. This took an evening just in itself, selecting sets of models that compliment each other or belong as part of a team (the mortar crew for instance).

I glue all my figures to their bases before painting, then build up the plaster basing material around them before priming the figures. I've reached the plastering stage and I looked at all the models this morning - 29 teams in all - and realised what a mammoth task I have before me. Given my notoriously slow painting speed I can see this project taking a long long time.

Having said that I do tend to work on more than one project at a time. I have a set of Sd Kfz 234/2 Puma Armoured Cars that I bought at SELWG on Sunday and these are calling to me... so much lead (and resin), so little time!

Tuesday 18 October 2011

Avoiding the 300 Cliché

At some point yesterday BLMA clocked up its 300th follower, Extraordinarii. Welcome to you and indeed to all the recent new additions to the Blog. As I've said countless times before, it's always good to know I'm not talking to myself and the conversations that spring up here are a constant encouragement to me to "keep buggering on" (as Churchill would have said).

Of course it is de rigure amongst the Blogging community to mark each milestone like this with a suitable post and picture accompaniment. But 300 is a tricky number because everyone (and I mean everyone) has used the title graphics from the film of the same name to illustrate their announcement. It has become something of a cliché and I'm determined not to fall into the trap....

[30 minutes of trawling the internet for a picture to illustrate '300']

...damn it, I give up.

Thanks for following BLMA and I look forward to many more conversations in the months ahead.


Just thought I'd show off some of the stuff I bought at SELWG. Nothing too dramatic as I am saving most of the money I made on the Bring and Buy for a particular purchase online. Having said that coming home with a bag full of goodies is always great.

Shows like SELWG are a chance to stock up on consumables without the added cost of postage. But often a bargain can also be had and these can of Purity Seal at £5 each couldn't be ignored.

I've been wanting to get my hands on some of these Zvezda models for a while and at just £2.50 each they couldn't be ignored. I picked the Panzer II and T34 just because I like these vehicles. Now that I have seen the quality of them I may pick up some others in the range.

This was a last minute purchase just because I like bunkers and because they were 15% off. I'm a sucker for a discount. I was considering scratch building some bunkers but was unsure about the scale. Now that I have this set I have a frame of reference and feel a little happier about making some.

I wanted to buy three of these Puma Armoured Cars but there were only two in stock at the show. I bought them anyway and will try to get the third online or at a later show. I do like these vehicles and look forward to testing out their performance in battle.

After my last FOW game I realised how hard it can be to keep track of the number of hits (vital for determining if a platoon is pinned down or not). These small counters from EM4 were just £1 and I hope will prove to be very useful in the next game.

Another last minute purchase and one of my favourites of the show. There were a whole range of resin buildings in 15mm and this set came in a single pack for just £13. Its meant to be a courtyarded farm, similar to La Haye Sante at Waterloo. However it could easily be painted to look like any similar farm complex in Normandy 1944. Of course I could also use the buildings individually and as such I think these represent excellent value.

OK, this I'll make this the last word on SELWG. One blog I read commented on the limited frontage of some of the trade stands. This make getting to the stock for a close up look quite difficult. I noticed this problem as well, although it has to be said I understand the pressures on traders to balance costs verses sales. I don't know how much SELWG were charging for a plot but clearly some traders could have benefited from larger display space.

Monday 17 October 2011

SELWG 2011: Pictures

Yesterday I went to the SELWG show at Crystal Palace. As always I came home with a bag full of Loot and a camera full of pictures. I've worked through these in record time (for me at least) and here they are:

I met up with fellow members of Posties Rejects including The Angry Lurker, One Lover Ray and of course Postie himself. It was only a year ago, at the 2010 SELWG show that I met up with them for the first time and was invited to join their select company of wargamers. The last year has been a blast guys, thanks for bringing me in from the cold!

There was a distinctly ACW feel about this years show with no less than four display games depicting the period. However the standard of the other games on show was very high as well so all round it was an enjoyable visual treat. SELWG remains one of the highlights of my gaming calender and an event I always look forward to attending.

Sunday 16 October 2011

SELWG 2011 - Show Report

I've just got back from SELWG at Crystal Palace. Its been a very successful and enjoyable day, which is good considering my attendance was in doubt until a few days ago.

I had a load of stuff to sell on the Bring and Buy stall which is the first time I've done this. It was a resounding success with all my items selling by 12:30 meaning I received a welcome cash boost halfway through the show.

I picked up a selection of models including a couple of Sd Kfz 234/2 Puma armoured cars. I also bought a couple of 1/100th plastic tanks by the Russian manufacturer Zvezda. I bought a Russian T34 and a Panzer II not because they fit in any army list but just because I like these vehicles. The quality of the models looks pretty good and I may get more of these online.

Another star purchase was a set of four resin farm buildings for just £13.50. They can be assembled either as a courtyard farmyard or separate buildings.

As well as my bought items I also took a couple hundred pictures! I'll work on these over the next few days and post them here as soon as I can.

The only downside this year was the continued hygiene issues that some gamers seem to struggle with. On more than one occasion I was assailed by the overpowering smell of BO. It was so bad that it felt like I'd been pepper sprayed!

Overall this was a very enjoyable event and remains one of my favourite small shows in the calender.

Friday 14 October 2011

Illness and other Pastimes

Things have been a little quite here at BLMA HQ. I've been ill again with my fifth bout of Cellulitis in the past six months. I spent most of last weekend killing brain cells with a high temperature. Needless to say painting, gaming and blogging came to a complete halt for a few days. Fortunately this time the infection hasn't been too bad (I now have antibiotics at home to take immediately a flare up starts) and I'm almost fully recovered after just a week. Previous occurrences have taken up to five weeks to clear and on one occasion put me in hospital for a week and a half.

My swift recovery is very good news because I plan on being at SELWG this Sunday and for a while I wasn't sure I would be able to make it. I'm taking a load of stuff along to sell on the Bring and Buy Stand and hope to make enough money to buy yet more stuff (primarily the Flames of War Kit Bag). This is my first venture into selling via a Bring and Buy and if it works out smoothly I may do it again... I have LOTS of stuff I could sell given a little thought and some organisation on my part.

I desperately need the new storage space as my restless hands are constantly seeking new projects to complete. While I was off sick one such project - a US Parachute Rifle Company - arrived in the post. Unfortunately I had it delivered to my place of work because I don't trust the Royal Mail to deliver it to my house without loosing it or having it stolen (both have happened before). At least with deliveries to my office I know there will always be someone to take receipt of the parcel and it gets delivered via a different sorting office (where the staff are less light fingered).

The downside of course is that when I'm off work, the parcel sits on my desk until I return. Typically in this case it arrived last Friday, about five minutes after I went home feeling ill! This is a crying shame because I could have got started on them while I was off, especially the last couple of days when I started feeling a little more human again.

I'll crack this box open when I get home tonight and get started over the weekend. Not sure how much I'll get done though but at least the project will be under way.

Monday 10 October 2011

Expanding my Lehr Forces

I've been scratching my head trying to decide what to do next with my Flames of War Panzer Lehr Army. I'd like to feature more infantry in my army but there are few options in the Panzerkompanie list. Then I had an epiphany. How about creating a second Lehr force which utilises some of the models I have already painted?

I pulled out my copy of the Villers Bocage handbook and looked through the Panzer Lehr army lists looking for a suitable option. After an hour reading the army lists and looking in detail at the various platoons on offer I have decided to build a Gerpanzerte Panzergrenadier Company. All I need to make this work is a Panzergrenadier HQ and another Panzergrenadier Platoon to accompany the one I already have painted. In Support I can utilise one of the Panzer Platoons (Panthers or Panzer IV's) already painted for my Panzerkompanie. I can also use the 8.8cm Flak 36 Platoon and the Nebelwherfer Platoon in this army list.

Looking through the list I can also see several interesting options for additional support platoons so this Army List has plenty of growth potential. Of course that doesn't mean my Panzerkompanie is dead, I can still field this force if I want to. Now all I need to do is rustle-up the money needed to start building my new army. Time to sell a Kidney I think...

Friday 7 October 2011


These models are conversions I made several years ago to feature in a home grown campaign written and run by the EvilGM. The Chabra as they were called were one of his best creations and his worlds equivalent to Goblinoids. There were various types but these little critters were the most common and proved a real problem in combat.

I made these models from a couple of old Games Workshop plastic goblins. Being plastic it was relatively easy to remove the arms from another goblin model and position them on these figures to give them an extra pair of arms. A little green-stuff and some careful sculpting helped the new appendages blend in and look like they belonged to the figure. A relatively simple conversion job but they looked effective.

These models were found in my old collection of figures along with the Undead Standard Bearers I unveiled yesterday. Like those models they needed a bit of work as these were also gloss varnished and rather poorly based. They were also quite dusty and needed a good clean before re-varnishing with DullCoat and getting an upgrade to the base 'dressing'.

These models have spent most of their life stored in a box and hidden from daylight. Now that I've given them a spruce-up they are going in my display cases to provide a constant and happy reminder of a great DnD campaign.

Thursday 6 October 2011

Temple Nurglings

Following on from this mornings post about the Warhammer figures I rediscovered and revamped here are some more re-discovered figures that have received a makeover. Once again the original models were gloss varnished and the Nurgling's themselves were not fixed to this base although they were once part of a larger diorama featuring this backdrop. As I recall the model was damaged and eventually broken into its constituent parts with a view to their eventual reuse at a later date. It may have taken a long time but I'm glad I had a chance to bring these models back to life.

Nurglings - also known as the Mites of Nurgle or by their daemonic name "Khan'gurani'i" - are small Daemons that are born in the entrails of the Great Unclean Ones. Just like their parent Daemon, they are shaped after Nurgle himself and are concentrated pus and contagion come to life....nice!

When I played Warhammer I was never drawn towards collecting a Chaos Army. But I think the cheeky nature of this little fella convinced me I could find a use for him.  These figures are less than 1cm tall so the viewer has to get up real close to see the detail, then they see this guy giving them the finger and the exclamation of surprise is always fun to hear. I'm glad I bought him because its a joke I never get tired of.

Survivors from an Ancient Army

I mentioned the other day that I found some old miniatures from waaay back when I played Warhammer Fantasy Battle. These models are all that remain from my Undead and Dark Elf Army, the rest of the models having long since been passed on to other gamers. As I mentioned on Tuesday these figures aren't bad considering I painted them over 20 years ago, but they did need some work.

The models were glossed and definitely benefited from a dullcoat varnish instead. Also the bases were plain and 'undressed'. I didn't have to add much to improve the look of these, just a few leaves and some dried/dead grass tufts. These will now go in my poor excuse for a model cabinet having spent the better part of two decades hidden in a box.

I also found a Necromancer from the same army. I love this model and I'm so glad I kept it, even if it has been "in storage" for all these years. Here are all three models together, last survivors of a lost army.

Wednesday 5 October 2011

The Longest Day

In 1957 Cornelius Ryan began approached magazine editors and publishers with an idea for a book about the events of 6th June 1944. Ryan had been a war correspondent for the Daily Telegraph in 1941 covering the air war in Europe. He accompanied fourteen bombing missions with the Eighth and Ninth United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) before joining General George S. Patton's Third Army until the end of the European war.

It wasn't until 1956 that Ryan started to gather material for his book on D-Day but by the following year, backed by Reader's Digest, he began placing ads in newspapers and trade publications, searching for men and women who had been in Normandy. Research took almost three years and over 700 interviews in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, France and Germany. The completed body of work also utilised Allied and German post action reports, War diaries, histories and official records to build up a picture of the events. The book was a huge popular success and spurred on a whole new generation of journalist historians.

Most people will be familiar with the Movie version of the book. One of the things I enjoyed and was surprised about was how closely the film The Longest Day (1962) followed the book. Many of the scenes from the film recreate actual events and aren't just story telling devices or flights of fantasy invented by the script writer. While I appreciated the attention to detail and realism of the D-Day scenes in a film like Saving Private Ryan the fact that the story was on the whole made up (or at best cobbled together) undermined it as a historical drama.

One of the things I found very interesting was that this book, and the authors research, pre-dated the relaxation of secrecy regarding the work of the Bletchley Park decryption establishment. It wasn't until the release of F. W. Winterbotham's book The Ultra Secret in 1974 (and subsequent books by other authors) that the true scale and importance of the decryption capabilities available to allied planners became widely known. Without this the vitally important deception operation Fortitude would have been almost impossible and many more German units may have been in Normandy facing the invasion. In his book Ryan repeatedly refers to German confusion about the true objectives of the allies without realising that this was not mere bungling but the result of a careful manipulation of the enemy that only Ultra could have made possible.

[Incidentally I heard on the news this morning that Bletchley Park is receiving a Heritage Lottery Grant of £4.6 Million to restore the wooden sheds where this decryption work actually took place. Much of the site is accessible to the public but the sheds desperately need repair and protection so that future generations can learn about the war wining work of the men and women at Bletchley. My Pictures of the site can be seen here.]

This was an incredibly easy book to read given its complex subject. I've read lots of other more modern D-Day books but its clear to see their lineal connection to this book and especially it style. This is not a dry historical account and was one of the first books of its type to adopt a narrative style that reads at times more like a novel than a factual work. This style does not undermine its accuracy or ability to convey the scale of events and I think it should be essential reading for anyone interested in this epic and world changing battle.

Tuesday 4 October 2011

Re-basing some old classics

I recently mentioned that I was having a sort through my 'stuff' with a view to thinning the ranks of unused models and scenery and making some space (and money) for yet more 'stuff'. Well I've sorted out a load of models, buildings and model cases for sale and I'm already planning what to spend the money on. In the process I found several old models that I thought I had got rid of years ago. 

Once upon a time I owned a huge and fully painted Undead Warhammer army. Most of the army was passed on to friends when I changed to other games but it seems two models survived the cull. Both are standard bearers and I assume I kept them because they were painted to a higher standard (no pun intended) than the rest of the army. Considering I painted them probably 20 years ago I'm rather pleased with the way they look and have decided to revitalise them and put them back on display. 

Although I'm happy with the general quality of the painting both models need a bit of work. Firstly they are gloss varnished which is not how I finish off figures now. I assume I did this back then to make them more hard wearing but if I intend on putting these on display I need to give then a liberal coating of Testors Dullcoat. Next the bases are rather plain with just a green painted base rather than static grass and other 'dressing'. Everything I paint now gets a decent base so I'll have to bring these to up to standard before the models go on show. 

I'll post some pictures in a day or two when they are finished. 

Monday 3 October 2011

FoW 600pt Skirmish

I got a Flames of War game in on Saturday, the second of two games over the weekend! These small games were more about learning the rules than anything else but they were fun non-the-less. For both games I used the same forces facing off against each other but with slightly different terrain layout. We didn't use any of the scenarios from the rulebooks though, this was just a plain and simple fight to the death. As I said the real objective of the game was to get stuck into learning and understanding the rules.

US 2nd Armoured
Sherman Platoon (2 x M4A1 (76mm) Shermans) 230pts
Stuart Platoon (4 x M5A1 Stuarts) 250pts
Rifle Platoon (HQ + 3 Squads) 155pts

Panzer Lehr
Panzer IV H Platoon (3 x Panzer IV H) 285pts
Gerpanzerte Panzergrenadiers (HQ+3 Squads) 335pts

The 'table' size was limited by the actual dimensions of the table we were playing on; in this case 4' x 3'6". Not   ideal but beggars can't be choosers as the saying goes. I set up the terrain to keep things simple but utilizing enough features to give us a chance to get familiar with different types. Ray - my brother-in-law and opponent for the game - then chose which side to deploy.

One thing you'll see from the pictures is that we both seemed to have a case of mistaken identity. Ray played the US 2nd Armoured but was wearing last years Tankfest T-Shirt with a picture of Tiger 131 on it. Meanwhile I was playing the German Panzer Lehr but wore a T-shirt featuring the us/allied star star emblem.

Ray deployed his rifle platoon over a large area which reduced its effectiveness but also denied me lots of targets to shoot at (because of terrain) . His Stuart platoon was deployed on his right, opposite my Panzergrenadiers, but had to cross several areas of rough terrain to reach me. His two Sherman 76's were on his left flank facing off against my Panzer IV's.

Meanwhile I deployed my Panzergrenadiers and my Panzer IV's to guard the Left and Right bridges respectively. When we had finished deploying I gave Ray a chance to redeploy now that he knew where I was. He made some small adjustments, mostly to move units into better command distance. We then rolled to see who would go first and Ray one the roll.

On mass he began to move all his units forward. One of the Stuarts bogged down in the first movement phase and remained bogged down for most of the battle. We reckon the crew were having a cup of Joe and only rejoined the battle when they had finished! The rest of his forces had no such problem and his infantry made full use of the cover in the centre of the battlefield. I fully expected the first shooting phase to be relatively ineffectual as all his vehicles had moved and their Rate of Fire (ROF) was therefore reduced to 1. But Ray showed his natural luck with the dice and destroyed two of my Panzer IV's with his first round of fire from his Sherman's!

My first turn saw my Panzergrenadiers consolidate their position along the river bank either side of the bridge on my left. My remaining Panzer IV's decided to hold their position and maximise their ROF against the advancing Sherman's. This paid off as one Sherman was left burning by the end of my turn. By this stage I was getting worried, my Panzergrenadiers looked incredibly outnumbered facing most of Rays Rifle Platoon and the Stuarts. But I (and Ray) underestimated the high ROF of my MG Teams when stationary and dug in. By this stage all the Stuarts (baring the one still having breakfast at the rear) were in range of my Panzerfaust teams and a large number of his rifle teams were also within sight of my MG's. Within two rounds all but one Stuart were in flames and four rifle teams had been killed. The American right flank was disintegrating.

The last couple of turns of the game were just a drawn out death rattle for the Americans as the panzer IV's finished off the last Sherman and the Panzergrenadiers began pushing across the bridge and outflanked what was left of the US Rifle Platoon. My troops didn't escape unscathed but by concentrating my forces against rays strung out rifle platoon I was able to gain local superiority and roll up his line.

This game was purely an excuse to learn the rules, especially for my Brother-in-law as he's not played any wargames before. I think we learned a lot with this small game and we certainly felt like we covered a lot of the rules and clarified our understanding of them. I've never been the sort of person that finds it easy to sit down, read rules and absorb them 'dry'. I'm much more of a hands-on kind of person. The Flames of War rulebook is a hefty 258 pages and just looking at it makes me want to go back to firing rubber bands at my figures to determine victory instead of rolling dice. Playing through the rules and taking our time to absorb them has helped us both. Now we need to follow up with a larger battle to ram home what we have learned.