Saturday 30 June 2012

UK Armed Forces Day

Today is Armed Forces Day in the UK. It was started in 2006 and was initially called Veterans Day. Like the American Holiday of the same name it was designed to provide an annual opportunity to honour not only Veterans but also currently serving military personnel. However unlike its American equivalent it isn't a national holiday in the UK.

To quote from the website: 
"It's an opportunity to do two things. Firstly, to raise public awareness of the contribution made to our country by those who serve and have served in Her Majesty's Armed Forces, Secondly, it gives the nation an opportunity to Show Your Support for the men and women who make up the Armed Forces community: from currently serving troops to Service families and from veterans to cadets."
Well I'd like to add my voice to that support. Thanks to my hobby I have had the privileged opportunity to meet many veterans, old and new. I also have a few friends in the services who have spent time in Afghanistan. Although none are on overseas operations at present who know where they may find themselves in the next six months or year. So to you all, young and old, I would like say thank you for your bravery and your service. 

Thursday 28 June 2012

A Ral Partha Giant by Tom Meier

This Ral Partha Hill Giant dates from 1977 and has spent a long time languishing on my desk in a semi painted state. Its an early Ral Partha figure by Tom Meier and was one of three Hill Giants that were available back when Ral Partha were still a basement business, this one being Version 1 (Reference ES/01-052 v1). Because this is an early Tom Meier Ral Partha figure it was part of its 25mm range ('Heroic' scale or 28mm hadn't appeared yet) but being a Giant it actually stands 50mm from Base to Eye level or 57mm to the top of its head. 

I'm not sure how this Hill Giant came into my possession but it had clearly had a hard life prior to its arrival in my hands. It had been painted and based by another painter but the quality of the finish was poor to say the least. It had taken quite a battering in its prior life and what paint remained on the figure was chipped and worn leaving the model in a very sorry state. It wasn't therefore a hard decision to strip the old paint off and give this model a new lease of life. 

I stripped the model by soaking it in a simple solution of washing-up liquid and warm water. I then gave it a gentle scrub with a soft brush. This process was repeated several more times until all the old paint had been removed. I them made sure the figure was thoroughly dry before priming the whole figure - including the underside of the base - to stop any potential damage from Lead Rot. Because this is an old figure the lead content is much higher than modern figures and therefore much more prone to corrosion. Painting the figure seals the surface and is a very effective means of conservation. 

During the clean up process I not only removed the old paint but also broke off a large clay base that had been added by the previous owner. The clay came off quite easily, pretty much in one big chunk. With the metal base cleaned the makers mark was revealed as Ral Partha 1977. I would have been 7 or 8 at the time this venerable old man first hit the shelves and he therefore pre-dates my introduction to D&D and a lifetime of gaming! 

Although this miniature started life as a Hill Giant I decided that I wanted to paint it as a Frost Giant instead. At the time when I acquired the figure I was writing a Dungeons and Dragons campaign to be set in the Frozen North of my Campaign Setting, The Isles of Ethos. A benign Frost Giant was required and this model fitted the role perfectly. But that campaign never came to fruition and the Giant remained semi-painted for a long long time.

In the intervening time I have painted a lot of 15mm WWII figures but now and again I feel the need to paint something completely different just to add a little variety to my art. I've come to a temporary halt on my Panzergrenadier project and was casting around for something quick to paint just for fun when I remembered this model.

Its a beautiful sculpt with lots of character and was really fun to paint. I don't know if this will ever see the surface of a games table but for now its taking pride of place in my rather small display cabinet.

Wednesday 27 June 2012

Wargames Illustrated 297

When I got home from work on Friday my copy of Wargames Illustrated was waiting for me on my desk. It doesn't matter how bad my day has been, coming home to the latest issue of my subscription magazines always make me feel better.

This months Theme is tied in with Battlefronts release of Devils Charge, their Battle of the Bulge supplement but as always most of the magazine content covers periods and games from outside the Flames of War stable. Having said that I particularly enjoyed the two themed articles and although I'm not likely to rush out and abandon Normandy for the Ardennes I am tempted to buy this book based on what I have seen here.

Peipers Charge gives a good overview of the campaign with plenty of useful information about the headlong dash of Jochen Peiper and his Konigstigers towards their objectives on the Meuse. As always the article is lavishly illustrated and enjoyable to read even if you do not plan on playing the campaign.

As always (and contrary to the anti-battlefront propaganda) there are many more articles within this issue dedicated to other game systems and periods. Charlie's Last Dance ties in with last months Theme and looks at the Battle of Falkirk in 1746. Bolt Action! looks at a new set of WWII rules from Warlord Games and Osprey. Wolves Guarding the Flock is about the Illyrian Revolt of 6-9 AD. The Boshin War analyses this conflict that took place in 1868 - 1869 and is the second of three articles focused on the rise of Imperial Japan. And Wabash-ing looks at a Native American victory over the US Army at the Battle of Wabash in 1791. 

There is also a very interesting article by John Michael Priest about Wargaming in the Classroom and how he used wargaming to teach students about the American Civil War. When I had finished reading his story I couldn't help wishing I'd had him as my History teacher when I was at school. My passion for history developed much later through my interest in wargaming but I now look back and think of all the wasted years! Who knows my choice of University Degree might have been very different had I been inspired like this at an early age. 

Another excellent article is Paul Davies' guide to photographing miniatures. This article looks at the art of achieving in-focus photo of miniatures at play. The article is technical but not in a boring or mind numbing way which make it useful and interesting to read. My normal solution is to shoot hundreds of pictures and pick the best but maybe its time I tried a slightly more technical approach! 

Once again I have to single out Matt Parkes ongoing series of articles on painting as a highlight. This issue focuses on Faces and Skin which was perfect timing for me as I struggled with a model I'll be revealing in a day or two. There's also an eye-candy rich photo-review of Adepticon 2012. I love these show reports, especially those that review US events because I can't (and probably never will be able to) visit them in person. 

So another great issue that I have read almost cover to cover in just a few days. Now I have just another month to wait for issue 298! 

Monday 25 June 2012

Spar Valley Railway 40's Weekend

On Saturday the whole family went to the Spar Valley Railway in Tunbridge Wells for their 40's themed weekend. The fickle British weather managed to stay dry and on the whole sunny for the day and the event was consequently well attended. Unfortunately the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight were not able to do their scheduled flypast as the wind was too high but overall it was a good day.

When we arrived and bought our tickets we were also given an Identity Card each. This was a facsimile of the ID cards that everyone were issued with during the war. Throughout the day period dressed Police checked our ID Cards and stamped them. All children were also issued with a Brown parcel tag to be tied to their clothing with their name on it, just like evacuee children from the war. 

The Spar Valley Railway is single track for most of its length and only runs through four stations but a round trip will take about 90 minutes and passes through some lovely countryside. England rally does look like the Garden of the Gods when the sun is shining. At each station there were themed events including 40's Dancers, Home Guard living history groups, vehicles and stalls selling clothing and jewellery.

One of the more interesting things to see was the Home Front Bus. The Bus offers a unique Living History Experience inside a classic double deck bus. Inside the visitor will see a reconstruction of a 1940’s Living Room, a Shop complete with examples of rationed produce, Bombed out Street and an Air Raid Shelter. 

I'm not a railway enthusiast as such but I do enjoy travelling on a steam train. The sounds and smell is evocative of a less hurried way of life and a more civilised way to travel (ie not packed in like sardines). I had great fun ignoring the signs saying "Keep your head inside the train" and was rewarded with a face full of soot and some great photo's of the engine. 

There were also a few vehicles on display like this Austin Six.

There was also this truck which I didn't recognise. It was immaculately maintained but with no one around to ask and no information available I couldn't identify the make and name. Anyone have any ideas? 

After we had finished with the Railway we walked over to the Pantiles' market area in Tunbridge Wells. The 40's themed weekend was being carried here as well with Jive Dancers and period Market Stalls. The best bit though was the Ravensbourne Morris Men who entertained the crowds with some traditional folk dancing and accordion music. 

I think that deep down in every true Englishman there's a Morris Dancer trying to get out. But I won't admit that in front of the kids... they think I'm weird enough already as a Wargamer.

Sunday 24 June 2012

A lazy Sunday playing Risk

The whole family went to Tunbridge Wells yesterday to visit the Spar Valley Railway which was having a 1940's weekend (pictures in a day or two). We also spent some time exploring the town and did some shopping so by the time we got home we were utterly exhausted. So it wasn't a hard to decide to take it easy today and just chillax!

In an attempt to stop the kids from just watching TV all day (they would if they could) I broke out a game I bought last year but hadn't played yet. Lord of the Rings Risk. Its basically the regular game of risk but with a Tolkien theme. In the end it was just me verses my youngest daughter... not that this meant that I had it all my own way.

The game is aimed at ages 8+ but my seven year old didn't have any problem getting to grips with the rules and giving me a really hard time. I was shocked by her predatory instincts and ability to strike at my weak spots. This girl will go far as a gamer and I dread the day she starts playing 'proper' games!

Friday 22 June 2012

Silence of the Lembas Bread

OK, spurious title and no content, that's all your getting from me this week! It's been a very busy few days in work and frankly I haven't got much painting done either lunchtime or in the evening. I have made a small amount of progress  on one model but I'm keeping it under wraps until its finished sometime next week. For a change its not 15mm and its not Flames of War, but that's all I'm saying for now!

Tonight the Dagenham Dungeon Delvers are gathering but I think its going to be a low turnout so we'll probably end up playing something other than our D&D campaign. Still, a games a game and I'm not going to complain about it. At least I won't be thinking about meetings, contracts, clients and Budgets!

So in lieu of something gritty and incisive (I haven't even had time to write much this week) here's a humorous picture of me from last weekends trip to Upnor. Given the cost of replica uniforms and equipment I guess this is the closest I'll ever get to being a reenactor unless I win the Lottery!

Tuesday 19 June 2012

The Royal Engineers Museum, Chatham

After lunch on Sunday (and our visit to Upnor Castle) my family and I went to the Royal Engineers Museum in Chatham, Kent. I've been here before but this time I was able to take my camera inside and shoot some pictures. Its an excellent museum with an interesting and varied collection of artefact's from the long and venerated history of the Corps.

A Titan AVLB Outside the Royal Engineers Museum

The visitor is taken through the development and evolution of the Corps from its very earliest days prior to its formation as permanent part of the army through the Peninsular Campaign and the Battle of Waterloo. The Museum holds the Map drawn up on the instructions of the Duke of Wellington weeks ahead of the Battle fought there. The Duke had already decided this was a good place to fight and the map includes marking made by Wellington himself as well as the bloodstains of his Quartermaster General, Sir William de Lancey who was fatally wounded in the battle.

The Waterloo Map

There are also some very interesting artefact's from the Crimean war on display. Several very rare weapons and guns are available to view but for me it was the less well known and frankly macabre objects that made this section so interesting. One that is sure to elicit a groan from all that see it is a board containing an anti-cavalry device called 'Crows Feet'. This no doubt owes its origin to the much more ancient Caltrop but in this case takes it to new heights of viciousness. This particular example was recovered from the battlefield of Balaclava.

Crows Feet
The range of exhibits here will keep most wargames happy but if you have any interest in British colonial wars then there is lots to see. The Zulu wars especially are well represented with several excellent displays. One of the best focuses on probably the Royal Engineers most famous sons, Lieutenant John Chard, who commanded the troops at Rorke's Drift. On display is Chard's revolver used in the battle and other artefact's from this engagement and the earlier massacre at Isandlwana.

Bust of Lieutenant John Chard

A large portion of the museum displays are understandably focused on the two World Wars. The Royal Engineers played a vital and growing role during these conflicts which would shape the future of Europe and the World and are still influencing events today. Several items stood out for me. The are several examples of WWI recruitment posters that seem our modern eyes as almost naive in their simple messages. But they were designed to stir the blood of young men and either encourage or shame them into signing up for the adventure of a lifetime.

WWI Recruitment Posters

Later in the exhibit you see what these young men were signing up for with an interesting display of early Gas Masks (both British and German).

Early British Gas Mask

Photo of the Mask in use somewhere in France or Belgium
The Museum also has an interesting selection of large exhibits including several vehicles both inside the displays and outside in the grounds. The indoor exhibits include tractors and APC's from WWI up to the modern day.

Gainsborough Tractor Mk 1 (1960)
My Fathers Day card from the kids...a Model Churchill Tank  next to the Real thing!
Churchill AVLB and two No3 Tank Bridges

All in all this was an excellent day out and a very interesting museum well worth a second visit at another date. Indeed the Royal Engineers Museum has more large exhibits within the Historic Dockyard at Chatham which I hope to visit later in the year.

As usual I shot many more pictures than those shown here. The rest of my pictures are on my Picasa Web Albums page which can be viewed by following this link.

Monday 18 June 2012

Upnor Castle & The Dutch Raid of 1667

Sunday was Fathers Day and as a treat I was given free reign to plan a day out for myself and the family. I had various options but in the end I rather cheekily opted for not one but two museums starting with Upnor Castle on the Medway in Kent. Upnor Castle was originally built in 1559 to protect warships moored at Chatham dockyards. The castle saw action against the Dutch fleet in 1667 when the Dutch attacked the Medway and the British fleet anchored within it.

Upnor Castle is today in the care of English Heritage and on a sunny day like yesterday is a lovely place to visit for a picnic by the river.

View from Upnor along the Medway towards the Thames
The landward defences added just a few years before the Dutch raid of 1667
Model depicting the Dutch Raid of 1667 - Upnor engaged the Dutch fleet but couldn't stop them from destroying a large number of British vessels

The castle is in a very good state of preservation and is largely in the same condition to was during the Dutch Raid. The river seems very narrow at this point and its seems inconceivable that Upnor was not able to inflict greater damage on the Dutch as they passed by. However contemporary reports (from the likes of Samuel Pepys) suggest the castle munitions were simply insufficient to the task.

The family of a guard?
Upnor castle facing the Medway
Guns of the Water Bastion are low on the waterline
The Hadley clan at Upnor
A visit to the museum will take an hour or two depending on how long you linger and take in the views. Its possible to wander around most of the building unhindered and the exhibitions and information available is interesting if a little limited. As already stated its a nice place to stop for a picnic if the weather is good and the grounds afford an excellent view of the river.

This was an early visit for us as our main objective of the day was the Royal Engineers Museum just the other side of the river. I'll post pictures and a write-up of that visit tomorrow.

Sunday 17 June 2012

Big Picture - RE Museum

Its Fathers Day and and as a 'treat' I get to visit the Royal Engineers Museum in Kent. I visited back in 2009 but I had limited time to look around and the Museum operated a photography ban. The museum has now changed its policy and so I'm taking my camera along this afternoon. I'll post some pictures in a day or two.

Royal Engineers Museum 

I haven't got a lot of painting done over the last week but I'm determined to change this so I'll be breaking out the Mobile Painting Kit next week.

Thursday 14 June 2012

The Rich Reject !!!

When I was at Broadside on Sunday I heard possibly the funniest description of me ever. Ray called me "the Rich Reject"!!! I laughed out loud and then Fran chimed in and confirmed that was how I was described. I'm both highly amused and flabbergasted because I am anything but rich and certainly don't spend as much on my hobby as some of the other members of the group (naming no names!). 

This got me thinking about conversations I have had over the last couple of years with lots of traders and gamers about the state of the industry. I always seem to get a bit of a mixed impression from conversations I have at shows with some traders saying business is steady and others predicting the end of the industry as we know it. This was the same last weekend at Broadside with some traders clearly taking a lot of money on the day and others less so. 

My general impression from talking to gamers is that hobby expenditure is being squeezed but on the whole is remaining steady. Which leads to the point of this post - a pair of totally unscientific Polls! 

  • Thinking about your hobby expenditure over the last 12 months would you say you have spent More or Less than the previous 12 months? 
  • And looking towards the next 12 months do you see your hobby budget Shrinking, Remaining the Same or Increasing? 

My hobby budget has remained about the same over the last couple of years but I expect things to get a lot tighter over the next year or two. As a family we have lost a significant portion of our income due to changes in the last couple of budgets (Thanks Dave & Nick!) and unless we can offset that with other income all areas of household expenditure - including money for hobbies - will have to be cut back. I don't feel like the "rich reject" and I expect to feel even less rich in the coming year. So what about you?

Wednesday 13 June 2012

RAF Duxford : A History in Photographs

I recently finished reading an excellent little book that I bought a couple of weeks ago. RAF Duxford: A History in Photographs from 1917 to the Present Day by Richard C. Smith is a fabulous pictorial record of the history of RAF Duxford and is full of interesting and rare photographs.

Duxford was established in 1917 to train Royal Flying Corps aircrew during the first world war. The area was surveyed and farmland was purchased to set up two airfields. The second site - Fowlmere - was later returned to farming but Duxford remained in use into the jet age and the cold war. Its military role ended in 1961 but after a period of uncertainty the site was acquired by the Imperial War Museum.

During WWI Duxford was the base for two United States Aero Squadrons (137 and 159) and by 1918 was used for DH9 day bomber squadrons. The site was expanded in the inter-war years and in August 1938 was the first aerodrome in Fighter Command to receive the Spitfire. It went on to become a vitally important part of Britain's Air defence network.

From October 1942 onwards the site was again home to American Aircrews, this time from the 8th Air Force and the 350th and 78th Fighter Groups.

This is an very well researched book and published for the first time many pictures that were until recently in private hands. I've met the author many times and have several of his other books which are equally well researched and interesting to read. If you have in interest in Duxford or aviation history in general then you will find this a very enjoyable book.

Tuesday 12 June 2012

15mm Laser Cut MDF Buildings

When I was at Broadside on Sunday my only purchase during my brief look round was two 15mm Laser Cut MDF Buildings by 4Ground. I've been jealously looking at the 28mm stuff produced in recent years and its good to see some high quality 15mm buildings being produced at last. 4Ground only released this range on the 8th June so I was very lucky to get these at this show.

15mm Semi Type 1
4Ground's Europe at War range currently includes five different terraced buildings all of which come painted or unpainted and simply clip together. I bought a painted building and one unpainted so I could see how they compared and how easy (or not) they are to paint once assembled. If I like what I see I'll buy some more from the range as it would be possible to put together a small town for relatively small outlay.

The Northwest European semi-detached houses are finely etched with tons of detail. Assembly looks fairly straightforward and all that is needed is a little bit of glue to hold them together. Being made from MDF they look a little more robust than resin (a particular concern of mine!) and they look like they would be easy to convert or 'distress' to fit in with existing buildings in my collection.

15mm Semi Type 2

The main thing I like about these buildings is that each floor is removable and lock into place so they don't fall apart on the table. Also each kit comes with paper road signs and advert/propaganda posters for that added 'custom' look to the finished building.

I also thought the price was very competitive, especially compared to similar resin alternatives. 

The range includes the two Semi Detached buildings you see here plus a three story Hotel, a 4 Story Apartment block and terrace of three buildings. I nearly bought the latter item but by the time I went back they had sold out (I'm an idiot) but I think its highly likely that I will buy more from this range in future. 

Monday 11 June 2012

Broadside 2012 - Rejects Demo Game

As already mentioned earlier today Posties Rejects were at the Broadside Wargames show yesterday to demo our interpretation of the Battle of Amiens 1918. The day went without a hitch and our game seemed to go down well with many of the spectators at the show. We came joint 2nd Place Best in Show which really lifted our spirits and which I suspect will embolden us to do another demo game at a future show.

The day started early for most of us (I was up at the unholy time of 5am!) gathering at Posties about 6:30 to load up the van. Frankly we were a bit early as the trip to Sittingbourne from Gravesend only takes about 35-45 minutes and we were outside the venue by 7:30!! On the plus side the weather was good and unloading in glorious sunshine has its advantages.

Ray and Fran enjoying the early morning sunshine
Fortunately the hall was already open when we arrived and several traders were beginning to set up. Once we had found the tables we needed for our 6x8' table we started setting up the base boards. These were made by Ray and bolted together with a raised 'lip' round the edge to hold the foam terrain firmly in place.

Positioning the terrain boards

Next we laid out the foam boards to a pre-arranged set-up and positioned all the terrain according to Posties 'grand plan'. With ten rejects in attendance this process was completed relatively quickly and we were ready by 8:30, an hour and a half before the door were due to open! This gave us all a chance to look around the main hall as other games and traders were still unpacking.

Postie and Fran begin the Canadian deployment

"With this ring, I thee wed."... Exhibitors had wristbands so we could come and go as we pleased.

A quick picture of the Rejects (most of us, some were shopping)
L to R: Surjit, Dave, Mark, Postie, Ray, Fran and BigLee
Canadian Mk IV's launch their assault

The Battle of Amiens took place on the 8-10th August 1918 and marked the beginning of what became known as the Hundred Days Offensive. The German commander Generalquartiermeister Erich Ludendorff later described the 8th August as the "Schwarzer Tag des deutschen Heeres" (the black day of the German Army). The Battle of Amiens was the first combined arms offensive to effectively employ tanks in large numbers and marked the return of mobile warfare to the Western Front.

Canadian infantry keep close to the tanks as they approach the German lines

Our game recreated just a small part of the larger offensive and featured Canadians and French advancing on the German lines. The aim of the game was for the allied player to get into the German trenches thereby forcing a morale check with the odds of failure in the Allies favour.

Burning tanks litter the Battlefield but those that remained continued to rumble forward

The Allies don't have it easy as they still have to cross no-mans-land under heavy bombardment from off table artillery and on table Guns and Trench Mortars. In both our practice game and this demo game the Canadians suffered horrible casualties before reaching the German barbed wire.

One of six Rolls Royce Armoured Cars

The real nemesis for the Germans was the Allied Armoured Cars. With their armoured protection and machine guns they rushed forward and kept the German infantry down in their trenches. The direct artillery fire of the Germans was aimed at these vehicles but bad luck (and poor dice rolling) meant that only two were burning by the end of the game. Once the German on-table artillery was destroyed these  vehicles had little to fear. German heavy machine guns could fire K-Rounds that would pierce the armour on these vehicles but if the Allied player fired first the six dice of the Armoured cars machine guns could be targeted at the threatening MG's making short work of them.

French Infantry rushed forward eventually reaching the trenches with few casualties

Despite heavy losses the Canadians press forward towards the German trenches

A Mark IV makes it across the wire and trenches. 

Eventually two Mk IV tanks reached the Trenches forcing the German Commander (me!) to make a Moral Check of 9 or more on two D6...I rolled a 9 (phew!) meaning the game continued until the tank exited the back of the table which would force a wholesale general retreat for the Germans

The Rejects Leader 'Postie' overseeing the game 

In both our practice game and the demo yesterday the Allies won although the strength of their victory was quite different from one game to the next. In the practice game the Allies took a mauling, loosing all their tanks to mechanical failure, ditching or being destroyed. When we played the demo more allied Mark IV's made it to the German wire and victory was much easier for them. One of the reasons for this result was that in the demo game we started about two turns into the game (we knew we had less time to play it through) which benefited the Allies. The German forces therefore lost out on two turns of off table artillery and on table direct artillery fire. That's not a criticism as we all knew this was primarily a Demo game and the result was secondary to talking to spectators and explaining the history behind the game.

Running a Demo game at a show was a great experience and I think all the Rejects had a good time. We had a chance to talk to lots of people and hopefully our group has attracted a little bit of attention from fellow gamers that might result in a few new Rejects in the ranks. Will we do it again? I'd be surprised if we didn't, especially as we got 2nd place for Best Demo game. With that sort of positive encouragement I'm sure we'll strive even harder next time.

Lastly I'd just like to say thanks to the organisers, Milton Hundreds Wargaming Club for putting on such a great show and inviting us to participate. I'd also like to say thanks to everyone that stopped by during the day to say hello and have a chat. I hope you liked what you saw and of course all feedback is very welcome.