Friday 28 September 2012

Let the paint flow and the dice roll

The Dagenham Dungeon Delvers were supposed to gather tonight but yet again we have had to cancel due to lack of numbers. This sucks and I'm not a happy bunny at all. We have all blown out games this year for one good reason or another but so far this summer we have only managed two game nights, and neither of those were to play our ongoing DandD 4E Campaign. It's life, it's nobody's fault but we all have to make more of an effort, starting with me. Enough is enough and tts time to get back to the important stuff in life. So over the next few weeks I'm going to redress the balance in the three areas of my hobby that have suffered recently; RPG's, Wargaming & Painting.

Just don't roll a 1
First off on the RPG front I need to put something together for those weeks when we can't play our regular campaign. So I'm going to make a special effort to prepare and run a Hollow Earth Expedition game for the DDD's. I'm aiming for a pure Role-playing game (ie no miniatures) that can be thrown into action quickly with a simple but hopefully exciting plot-line. I have some ideas but I need to re-read the rulebook to figure out how to do it. Obviously this isn't going to come together overnight but I'm setting myself a target to be ready to run my first game by the end of October.

In the meantime The Rejects are gathering in a weeks time for a WWI wargame and then the following week some of us will be going to SELWG. If you see us there please come over and say hello. I'll be snapping away happily most of the day and I have a short but growing shopping list for the traders. I'm also planning on selling some more stuff on the Bring and Buy stall again this year. I'm not selling as much as I did last year but any profit will be ploughed back into my hobby so every penny counts.

Finally I have re-started painting my last Panzergrenadier Platoon. These figures were cleaned, based and under-coated months ago and have stared accusingly at me from my desk ever since. My list of excuses for not getting started on painting the little blighter's is as long as my arm but basically 'getting started' has always been a problem with me. Once I get the paint flowing projects usually develop and take shape quickly.

Wednesday 26 September 2012

Wargames Illustrated 300th Issue

There was a very loud thump on the hall carpet last Friday that confused the wife. She called me and said "What have you been buying now?" in that oh-so-patient way wives have of gently reprimanding squandering husbands. I was non-plussed, "I haven't bought anything" was my reply. So what was this hefty package that had been posted through my door? When I got home I ripped open the large white envelope and discovered a double sized copy of Wargames Illustrated inside. I'd known that WI was approaching its 300th issue but hadn't realised us lucky readers were going to be treated to a 300 page issue of the magazine. 

Apparently the WI team have been working towards this issue for some time and inside there are a lot of great articles covering a very wide range of games, periods and rules systems. As a subscriber my copy had a 'retro' cover in the style of the first ever issue of the magazine from way back in 1987. Back then I was a still a spotty teenager studying for my A-Levels (well maybe not studying because my future wife and I had just got engaged and revision was not on our minds!). I was playing Warhamer 40k Epic at the time and historical wargaming was a pleasure I had yet to discover. 

A lot has happened in 25 years not least the fact that I've grown older and my taste in games had changed. WI has also undergone some major changes, including ownership with its controversial (in some quarters at least) takeover by battlefront. Personally I don't think its been a bad move for the magazine but there will always be some who cannot reconcile with the change and will always think of WI as FOW Illustrated. I think this special issue should forever banish this unfair label, but not everyone will agree.

So what is inside this mammoth issue? Understandably I haven't had a chance to read it all yet but I have scanned through its pages and seen a lot of articles I am looking forward to reading. 

Open Fire! is the only Flames of War themed article in this issue and looks at the soon to be released boxed 'starter' set. It certainly looks impressive and includes two small starter armies (completely compatible with the rest of the range), a starter rulebook, card terrain and markers, indeed everything the beginner needs to get playing within minutes. It also comes with a very cool looking V1 and launcher ramp which I'm hoping they will release separately at some later date. This is also the first time I have been able to look at the new range of 15mm plastic infantry figures by Battlefront and they look very nice.

The Theme for this issue is Last Stands and there are several articles from a variety of periods for this theme. As this is the 300th issue of WI they could hardly ignore one of the most famous last stands of the ancient world featuring the 300 Spartans under King Leonidas at the Battle of Thermopylae. Crimson & Bronze discusses the myths that surround this battle and then goes on to present an in depth look at a spectacular set of figure conversions of the plastic range from Warlord Games.

Other Last Stands featured in WI300 include; The Last Stand of Spartacus tells the tale of the “gladiator-turned-general” Spartacus ans shows how this great warrior really met his end; The Battle of Karbala 680AD/61AH using the SAGA rules to create a scenario for the most famous ‘Last Stand’ in Islamic history; Alfreds Last Battle written by Prof. Ryan Lavelle introduces readers to Dark Age naval warfare; Also Custer Died revisits the iconic Battle of Little Bighorn; The Legion May Die, But Never Surrenders presents the tale behind the ‘Last Stand’ of 49 men of the French Foreign Legion in the Battle of Camerone, 1863; I Can't Understand It guides the reader through the massacre at Isandlwana in 1879; and Black Hawk Down looks at the action in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993 which was later made into a film by Ridley Scott.

There is lots lots more in this issue (I've only touched on a handful of the articles), including several excellent looking modelling workshops and of course some retrospective views back at the hobby over the last 25 years. Unless you are dedicated to a really niche wargaming period then I think nearly every wargamer will find something of interest in the pages of this issue. If nothing else Wargames Illustrated 300 lives up to its name with every page bursting with colour photographs of our wonderful and inspiring hobby.

Monday 24 September 2012

Skirmish in Sidcup

Yesterday I went to the Skirmish Wargaming and Toy Soldier show at Sidcup. Skirmish is a twice a year event, is relatively small and is (IMHO) a great event to bring kids to. I brought my youngest daughter along and even dragged my long suffering wife to the show for a couple of hours. Here's a selection of my pictures from the day.  

Model Making courtesy of Armourfast Military Models
My daughter built a Jagdpanther and I was even able to find one of my photo's from Tankfest on my  phone to look at for reference
Assault in San Juan Hill using classic 1/32 scale plastic toy soldiers
This was a 20mm Normandy Firefight game run by the Whitstable and Herne Bay Wargamers. 
Hornchurch Heroes Gaming Club ran two games 
Medway Wargames Society run a Dust Warfare game with their excellently painted models.
Meanwhile Skirmish Wargames were involved in a shootout in their game Viva Mexico!.
North London Wargames Group run a classic Bug Hunt!
Rays dirty little secret...and he said he doesn't do 'fantasy'!
Gravesend Gamers put on a massive 40k game
The Bring-and-buy was larger and better than previous years and I came away with a few bargains
Rainham Wargames club ran this stunning participation game. 
Those guys arn't from Kansas
Although this is a small show - expansion at this location is probably impracticable - it is always a show I enjoy going to. There are not many traders but there is a lot of variety and plenty of bargains to be had. I came home with some more MDF buildings and the FOW book Monty's Meatgrinder plus a few other small items. Even my daughter was able to find a boxed board-game for a few pound which we played when we came home. All in all a very satisfying morning.

Friday 21 September 2012

Enhance your CV with Wargaming

It's weird the places that Tabletop Wargaming pops up these days. Once upon a time it was the reserve of nerds and geeks (I count myself amongst them) but somehow, seemingly without my noticing, it went all mainstream! Once wargaming was its own counter culture, now its the path to a qualification.... so what the hell am I talking about? The Duke of Edinburgh Awards!

I was chatting with my eldest daughter (the newly qualified Jedi with A and A-Star GCSE's coming out of her ears) last night about her 6th Form studies. As well as working towards 4 A-Levels she also has some time set aside for something the school loosely terms "enrichment actives". In my daughters case this means doing a Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award. The award covers several areas including Volunteering, Physical Activity, Some sort of 'Expedition' and a Skills section. When you look at this latter section to see what sort of activities can be included as a skill the list includes (to my amazement and joy) Historical Re-enactment, Table Games and War Gaming!

Of course I immediately suggested we set up a Flames of War game but for some strange reason she declined. She actually already has a hobby that can be utilised for the award.  She belongs to a cake decorating club (the Sugar-craft Guild) and cake decorating is an approved skill on the list, so unfortunately she will probably choose that for her Skill section of the DofE. But for just a moment - an oh so fleeting moment - there was the possibility of teaching her to play wargames as part of her education and as an enhancement to her CV. So near, but yet so far! 

Wednesday 19 September 2012

Catch that Tiger : Fact or Fiction

I have just finished reading a book I bought recently on the recommendation of a friend. Now that I have finished it I may have to reconsider his recommendations in future! Catch that Tiger purports to be the true story of the capture of Tiger 131 based on the secret diaries of the man tasked with the hunt by non other than Churchill himself; Major Doug Lidderdale. Taken at face value this is an amazing story of daring do and straight out of the pages of Boys Own. I don't have a problem with a good yarn but I do have a problem if its presented as fact. So is this book fact or fiction, or a mixture of both?

What do we know for certain? Records show that Major AD Lidderdale was the officer commanding No 104 Tanks Workshop REME based near Tunis at the time of 131's capture. The first official documented connection between Lidderdale and Tiger 131 was when the 104th were tasked with supervising the recovery operation on the 7 May, over two weeks after the action in which it was abandoned by its crew. His unit went on to repair and overhaul the captured Tiger so it could be evaluated and filmed for recognition purposes. While still in North Africa the Tiger was visited by several VIP's including Churchill, General Alexander and King George VI. Lidderdale then accompanied the Tiger back to England and was the author of the initial technical report on the tank in November 1943. All of these are accepted and substantiated facts.

Major Lidderdale
The book doesn't dispute these facts but does elaborate and expand them into a tale, which if true, beggars belief and would rank as one of the great true life action stories of WWII. 

[Spoiler Alert!] The central claim is that Lidderdale was personally ordered by Churchill to bag him a tiger. He then put together a team of engineers and waited for a Tiger to get into trouble. Then the story gets wild! They watched the action at Jebel Jaffa and saw a Tiger crew clearly struggling with a jammed turret. Lidderdale then claims his makeshift team assaulted the tiger, killing its crew in the process. If this is true this is an incredible piece of missing information as the fate of the Tiger 131's crew has always remained a mystery. 

Having captured the tank his men moved it closer to the allied lines before abandoning it so it could be found by the 48 RTR the next morning! Two reasons were given for this seeming act of madness; first was that as engineers it would have been politically embarrassing for the local commanders and it was deemed prudent to let front line forces 'capture' the Tiger; second Lidderdale's secret mission from Churchill wouldn't have remained a secret for very long if the truth had come out at the time. The assumption was that the truth would be revealed at a later date but for reasons not made clear this never happened and the 'mission' was only recorded in Lidderdale's diaries and the stories he told his young son after the war.

However I - and other commentators on several WWII forums - have major problems with this book ranging from its style, its historical accuracy and the fact that it is based on as yet unpublished documentary evidence of uncertain quality. Lets look at each of these points in turn.

The Style of the book is unashamedly 'docu-drama' in format. This isn't your typical history book and in the prologue the authors make it clear that conversations presented in the story are "speculative in nature". Within just a couple of pages it is clear that what the authors call 'speculative' actually means completely fictional. Be under no doubt that most of the conversations in this book are not reconstructed based on documented letters, diaries and recollections. These are pieces of pure imagination and entertainment.

As one forum commentator stated "The book appears to be a blend of fact, over-dramatised fact, dubious fact, tongue-in-cheek fact/fiction, pure fiction and likely pure invention". Without references it is impossible to tell one type from another and so all must be treated with extreme caution. The problem is that when you take out the dubious conversational exchanges you are left with a very slender book. The obvious inference is that these were added to fill out the story. 

This leads to my second criticism of the book, its historical accuracy. There are lots of minor inaccuracies in the book that have been picked up by other reviewers. Some of this appears to be a bit nit-picking but there are some 'assumptions' and statements made in the book that just cannot be substantiated. One example was the books assertion that King George VI visited North Africa purely to visit the captured Tiger. This of course raises the profile of the tanks capture and adds weight to the idea that Major Lidderdale's 'secret mission' was a war wining moment. The truth however is that the George VI's visit to the region had been planned long before the capture of the Tiger making the authors version of events a piece of pure creative hyperbole at best and bad research at worst.

Tiger 131 after its capture

There are plenty more examples like this throughout the book where the authors appear to make assumptions and jump to conclusions that you would not expect to find in the work of more learned and respected historians. But for me the real nail in the coffin where accuracy is concerned is the fact that the book is devoid of any citations for any of the chapters. There is no bibliography, no appendices with supporting documents and no references at any point in the text. Given that we are being asked to accept this story as dramatic new evidence of a previously unknown operation then it is surely incumbent on the authors to provide some evidence. From what I can tell the only 'new' documentary evidence comes from Major Lidderdale's diaries, which have yet to be published or scrutinised by anyone other than the authors.

The authors posted an explanation of their sources on the WW2Talk forum in response to similar criticisms of mine but far from dispelling scepticism they only managed to confirm the suspicions of reviewers. "The whole thing came about through Major Lidderdale's diaries being given to us by his son, David...We also had many hours of tape recordings of David recounting the stories that were told to him by his father" [my emphasis]. I'm afraid that tall war stories alone are not a credible source on which to make such wild and frankly incredible claims.

So having now shredded this book you might be surprised to hear that I actually enjoyed reading it! If you can set aside the claim that it is non-fiction and instead read it as a historical novel its not a bad read. Its a war story straight out of the pages of Boys Own or Commando and would sit quite nicely next to the works of Bernard Cornwall and Wilbur Smith. The problem is it isn't presented as fiction and the Authors make some pretty big claims in their book and are passing it off as truth. Worse still the book has been 'reviewed' by several major newspapers and online retainers who have reinforced the idea that this book represents 'the truth'. Catch that Tiger isn't a good history book, but is a ripping good yarn. 

Monday 17 September 2012

Chatham Docks 40's Weekend

Its been another tiring weekend and another Living History event. I recently said that the last major event (on my calender) had been and gone but I'd sort of forgotten about this one. The Chatham Docks 1940's Weekend is an annual event and has an interesting mix of Vehicles, reenactor's and period entertainers all contained within the Chatham Docks Museum site. As this was a bit more of a family event I only took my Olympus compact digital - which limited some of the shots I could take - but was probably a good idea, especially on the tour of HMS Ocelot (a cold war era Submarine). Anyway here are the best of my pictures:

HMS Ocelot is a Diesel-Electric Submarine from the cold war era. Built and Launched at Chatham in 1962 she was state of the art for her time but was one of the last Submarines to be built on the Medway
This is the forward torpedo room
More dials and nob's than you can shake a stick at.
A Naval Ensign in the Submarine exhibition
The Polka Dot Dolls
Fire fighting demonstration
The sloop HMS Gannet was built on the River Medway at Sheerness in 1878. She is a hybrid vessel powered by both sail and steam and with a hull constructed from wood on a strong iron frame. 
HMS Cavalier was built in 1944 and was a veteran of the Arctic Convoys.
Inside No3 Big Slip - At the time it was built in 1838 this immense covered slip was Europe’s largest wide span timber structure. 
The Diesel Locomotive 'Overlord' was brought to Normandy by the allies for use on the shattered French rail network. It was operational by August 1944. 

As always there are plenty more pictures on my Picas Webalbums page and these can be found here:

Chatham 40's Weekend

Tuesday 11 September 2012

Duxford Air Show 2012 - Pt 2

I've managed to edit, trim and tweek all the remaining pictures I shot at the Duxford Air Show on Saturday. I was a lot more focused with my photos this time, limiting my pictures to key aircraft that I either didn't have pictures of already or were particularly iconic (I'll never tire of photographing Spitfires for example). The weather was hot and sunny which made conditions a little tricky for picture taking. I shot most of these from the Friends of Duxford members enclosure which was excellently placed to catch all the action. 

The show opened with a flypast from four F-15C Eagles of the USAF 493rd Fighter Squadron
The beautiful lines of the Avro Vulcan B2
The Avro Vulcan B2 with its Bomb Bay doors open
Republic P-47 Thunderbolt is an impressive plane and still incredibly agile for its age
Douglas C-47 Skytrain "Drag-em-oot" is a veteran of D-Day and Arnhem and still bears the scars from these missions
A Fokker Dr1 Triplane chases a Nieuport 17 in a mock dogfight. Both planes are excellent replicas.
Another view of the Fokker Dr1 Triplane
The B-17 Flying Fortress "Sally B" is always a crowd pleaser.
Three Supermarine Spitfires - Mk 1A, Mk IXT & Mk XVI
Hispano HA-1112 Buchon
Supermarine Spitfire Mk 1A. The oldest surviving airworthy Spitfire. 
This was a fantastic air show and as I already said the weather was hot and sunny with some stunning skies as a backdrop. The heat was a bit hard on visitors, especially if like me you were standing in the sun for several hours with a camera. Suitable headgear and a plentiful supply of water is just as important as a good camera and lens.

The next Air Show at Duxford is in October but I'll be giving that one a miss as it clashes with SELWG at Crystal Palace, and I wouldn't want to miss that. I hope you've enjoyed the pictures and if you want to see the whole set (a mere 140 pictures!) just follow this link - Duxford Air Show 2012

Duxford Air Show 2012

Monday 10 September 2012

Duxford Air Show 2012 - Pt 1

The Duxford Air Show was graced with spectacular weather this year with perfect blue skies and fluffy white clouds, the perfect backdrop for photography. I went on Saturday and tried to be a bit more restrained with my picture taking, focusing on particular aircraft of interest rather than everything. I still came away with over 400 pictures and I'm working through these now, but here's the first batch that I have processed. 

I arrived early and had several hours to explore the museum and traders before the show started. First stop was the Aerospace Hall which I haven't been in for some time. Here's a a Mosquito - the 'wooden wonder' - arguably one of our best Night Fighters of WWII
There is also a wonderfully preserved example of an Avro Lancaster on display amongst other iconic aircraft both Military and Civil. 
A Vulcan B5 takes pride of place in the centre of the hall.
The Bomb Bay of the Vulcan. 
Junkers Ju52/3m "Iron Annie"
The Douglas C-47 Skytrain "Drag-em-oot", a veteran of both D-Day and Operation Market Garden
"Drag-em-oot" still bears the scars of its mission to resupply the troops in Arnhem
Inside the cockpit of the C-47
While we were waiting in the queue to get on board the C-47 we got chatting with the guy in front of us. He was a Navigation officer on board one of these aircraft in Canada after the war and described flying in them as "baking hot in summer and absolutely freezing in winter". Given its thin metal skin (with dozens of repaired puncture wounds still visible) it's amazing these planes stayed in the air given the battering they were subjected too. We got to see this old warhorse fly later in the day and I'll post pictures of that in the next few days.