Friday 31 August 2018

Art of War T-Shirts

I don't often endorse products on this blog but I've had my arm twisted (in a good way) and felt it was high time I mentioned Art of War Shirts. I've been buying shirts from Art of War for a while now, regularly picking up one or two every time I visit a show, and it suddenly dawned on me that the majority of my current t-shirt collection are from this company. I bought another two shirts on Monday when I visited Military Odyssey, including the new and rather amazing Rorke’s Drift design.

The shirts come in a wide range of sizes suitable for the smallest to the largest of wargamers. Crucially they are made in 100% pre-shrunk cotton so they retain their shape even after several washes. And for a 'large' fella like me I like the fact these are longer than most T-shirts. Typical shirts are too short and leave the belly peaking out the bottom edge (most definitely not a good look!).


Like I said I don't often endorse a product but over the years I have got through a LOT of T-Shirts and I usually struggle to find designs I like in my size and when I do the quality often doesn't match the price tag. I'm glad to say that thus far I haven't been disappointed by any of the T's I have from Art of War Shirts and given the quality I think they are very reasonably priced indeed. Take a gander at their online shop and if you like what you see Like their facebook page to keep up to date with all the latest news and releases. 

Tuesday 28 August 2018

Military Odyssey 2018

I usually have a range of choices for Living History events that I can go to each year. I never make it to all of them and as I drag my family along with me we try to vary which events we attend from one year to the next. This year I have missed all the usual events over the summer (including the War and Peace Revival show) so this weekend we decided that come-what-may we would go to the Odyssey show. Its been a couple of years since I last attended Odyssey and I'm glad we made the effort. The show is a multi-period event with groups depicting everything from ancient Greeks, medieval knights, English and American Civil Wars, WWI and WWII and even some later conflicts such as Vietnam. As always I went a little snap-happy with the camera but here is a small selection that you may find interesting.

A row of American Half Tracks

A Vietnam era Huey

A display showing of the work of RE Bomb Disposal in WWII

The 1942 Steyr Staff Car of General Hans-Jurgen van Arnim, captured by the British when the Germans trapped in Tunis surrendered in 1943. 

British 25pdr gun 
Members of the "Diehards" reenactment group depicting Zulu war era Artillery...

...and Infantry

Collection of materials collected from Alemein including the remains of a German Teller Mine. 

A Form V3000 truck - Many these saw service in the German army and were considered very reliable and sturdy, 

An SAS desert adapted Jeep

An ACW Parrot Gun being fired

A Soviet “Katyusha” rocket launchers in an Eastern Front reenactment battle

A Russian T34 carrying infantry into battle.

Dismounted Russian infatry attack a German position

Looks like the Russians have won

Later in the day an American Civil War reenactment takes place featuring five confederate artillery pieces

Union infantry advance on the Confederate position

Remote control tanks. That Tiger I weighs over a quarter of a Ton and would set you back a cool ten grand! 

Last battle of the day, a WWII action featuring loads of vehicles and about 200 reenactors

The charge of Bren Carriers and infantry was quite impressive! 

I view these displays as a form of open air museum where (if you ask nicely) the curator will let you handle the artefacts. Over the years I consider myself privileged to have seen original leaflets dropped by the Germans on the British at Dunkirk; handled a deactivated mine found at Alamein; felt the weight of a British Piat used at Arnhem; held a helmet worn by an american trooper that landed on D-Day; and even sat in one of Montgomery's Staff Cars. These items create a tangible link to historical events that fire the imagination and just can't be replicated in a regular museum. 

Sunday 26 August 2018

Queen of the Desert - Matilda II

My latest painting project is a pair of Matilda II's, which (when first introduced) were probably one of the best tanks in the British arsenal. Initially designated the A12 the Matilda II was naturally a development of the Matilda I which first saw service in 1938. As seems to be the usual way with tank development the building of a first generation tank inevitably throws up a load of design problems that lead to the second generation on the drawing board almost before the first had even entered service. This was true for the Matilda and by September 1939 the first Mk II's were entering service (only two machines, but with more entering service each month). By the end of its production run over 3000 Matilda II's had been built.

Both Matilda were developed in line with British military thinking at that time which saw the need for three types of tanks; Heavy Tanks; Cruiser Tanks; and Infantry Tanks. The Matilda's were of the latter type which meant they were designed to be heavily armoured but slow moving so they could support the infantry. By the Matilda II a key design specification was that it had to be able to be impervious to the main AT gun at that time, the 37mm. Consequently the armour on the A12 was incredibly thick (up to 78mm on the front) and could wade into battle impervious to almost anything the enemy could throw at it. Indeed early in WWII the 7th RTR attacked the 7th Panzer group near Arras in France and did so much damage - with so little loss to themselves - that panicked shock-waves rippled throughout the German high command. It has been argued that this action contributed towards the German decision to halt the advance towards Dunkirk and bought time for the evacuation. I have also heard it said that Hitlers personal obsessive intervention in tank design (for ever larger tanks with even bigger guns) stemmed, at least in part, from this moment.

The tank may have been slow (top speed was about 15mph) but the Italians found it virtually impossible to disable let alone destroy. Initial Matilda II's were powered by twin diesel AEC 87hp engines although later models retained the double engine configuration but used the more powerful Leyland diesel engines with 95hp each. This double engine sounds complicated but the Matilda II was easy to maintain and run and was generally considered by tank crews to be very reliable.

Matilda II's of 7 RTR during
Operation Compass - Dec 1940
By 1940 more Matilda II's were entering service and in North Africa the 7th Armoured Division put them to good use against the Italians in Operation Compass. They were able to smash their way into the fortified camps the Italian Army had built after invading Egypt and pretty soon proved themselves superior to anything the Italians could throw at them. The reputation of the Matilda II took a bit of a battering in later years as it was slowly superseded by newer, larger and better armed German vehicles but in 1939/40 it could arguable be described as cutting edge tank design.

My Matilda II's are hard plastic Zvezda models and clip together very easily. I added a dab of glue to strengthen the models and then cleaned them before base coating. I have opted to paint them in the Caunter camouflage scheme although its worth saying that there is some debate about the colour I have used. The IWM and Bovington Matilda's are painted in a Grey/Blue colour scheme but it seems they got the colour wrong and the blue should actually be a light grey. The problem is I like the colour scheme, so I have decided to stick with the colour scheme we are familiar seeing.

The Caunter camouflage can just about be seen in this picture of a Matilda II captured by the Italians in January 1941 (Source: Public Domain)

My two Matilda II tanks with the Caunter camouflage pattern.

July and August is always a lean period for gaming and painting because of family holidays and a wealth of other commitments like weddings and birthday parties. But for the most part things are settling back to normal and its high time I made an effort to get my painting, gaming and blogging back on track. 

Wednesday 22 August 2018

Zulu by Saul David

Despite my recent foray into 15mm tanks I am still working away on my Zulu War project (albeit slowly). While I was busy knocking out units for the Painting Challenge I was also avidly reading many of my reference books on the period. One of the most enjoyable was Zulu: Heroism and Tragedy of the Zulu War of 1879 by Saul David. I meant to write up a review at the time but got a little sidetracked so here is a slightly shortened version, late but none the less highly recommended.

The book follows the usual format for these type of works, looking at the history of the region in the years leading up to the war of 1879. This sets the scene for a conflict that shouldn't have happened were it not for the ambition of certain individuals and the failure of a colonial system that inevitably ceded regional governors a lot more independence that the government back home would probably have liked.

Like so many of the books on this short lived war I often found myself lividly wanting to shout at the idiots in charge through the pages. While Saul David writes with professional detachment (as all good historians should) the blinding stupidity of some of the players in this tragedy still leap off the pages. Lord Chelmsford is clearly shown to have been criminally responsible for the tragedy at Isandlwana but there is plenty of blame to go around as various senior officers including Colonels Glyn & Pulleine ignored common sense and military experience in the face of an enemy that was desperate, determined and fighting on their own land.

There is also a lot of evidence relating to the 'cover up' that took place after the disaster which saw the blame shifted to Lt-Colonel Durnford. This included the hiding of evidence, incorrect statements under oath and the exercising of political influence whereby the 'establishment' seemed to close ranks to protect men who did not deserve protection. Many of the myths that still persist about this war owe their origins to this sordid exercise in political machination and this book does it best to debunk those myths once and for all.

Zulu: Heroism and Tragedy of the Zulu War is a scholarly work in the quality of the research presented, much of it new, but it is also a very readable book. I found myself avidly approaching each chapter wondering what would happen next, and even after reading lots of books on this war there was still room for new revelations. I'd always recommend reading a range of books on any period of history to get a rounded view of events and I would definitely recommend adding this book to any reading list related to the Zulu war.

Paperback: 528 pages
Publisher: Penguin; Reprint edition (2005)
Language: English

Saturday 11 August 2018

The Battle of Rhodes

While I was on Holiday I saw relatively little evidence of Rhodes wartime experience. Inside the old city there are a few parks that mark the location of allied bombing and some of the Italian buildings around the harbour still show the scars of shrapnel damage in their stonework, but other than these marks there is relatively little evidence of the second world war to be seen.

Following the Italo-Turkish War of 1912 Rhodes and the other islands of the Dodecanese were ruled by the Kingdom of Italy until 1943. Initially the islands were under a Military control but from 1923 power transferred to a civilian Governor. The first Governor favoured a liberal policy of peaceful coexistence between the various ethnic and religious groups but later governors took a more 'colonial' stance, giving land to Italian settlers and promoting Italian language and culture. However the impression I got from talking to guides and locals was that the period is looked on relatively favourably as it saw inward investment and building, especially in Rhodes town where many of the main buildings that exist today are Italian. Everything changed in 1943 following the Italian capitulation to the Allies in September of that year.

German tanks in Rhodes
German Tanks in Rhodes (Public Domain)
The Germans already had a military presence on the island consisting of AA batteries and several battalions of Panzergrenadiers, built up over proceeding months to provide 'support' to Italian forces on the island. By September 1943 the German had about 150 armoured fighting vehicles available, including Panzer IIs, Panzer IVs, StuG IIIs and fifteen 150 mm self-propelled guns. Facing them was a much larger Italian force of 34,000 infantry, with a superiority in artillery but relatively few vehicles and no tanks. In addition the Italian Navy commanded several important coastal batteries, three motor torpedo boats, a minesweeper and a Gunboat mustering in total about 2100 personnel. Finally the Italian Royal Air Force had about 65 aircraft on the island, 40 of these being fighters. Unfortunately 10 of these were non operational and in any case they could only muster 20 pilots for the remaining mix of  Fiat CR.42, Fiat G.50 and Macchi C.202.

The actual 'Battle' for Rhodes only lasted three days and began after the Germans attacked and took the Maritsa air base on the 9th September 1943. Italian artillery fired on the base destroying several German tanks and captured aircraft but was in turn targeted by German Artillery suffering heavy losses. The following day fighting continued with more artillery duels resulting in losses to both sides. However German ground troops continued to advance and captured key positions on Mount Paradiso and Mount Fileremo. News of the fall of Greece and nearby Crete began to undermine Italian confidence and this was compounded by the news that it would take at least a week before any British reinforcements could arrive. The following day, 11th September 1943, continued to see heavy fighting but the military situation was by now critical. Faced with an ultimatum of unconditional surrender or have Rhodes city bombed - and without any prospect of reinforcement for at least a week - the Italian command felt they had little option but to surrender.

Aside from a handful of possible (but not certain) WWII pillboxes and gun positions I didn't see much evidence of the battle or the occupation of the island. I saw and photographed a couple of items but I haven't been able to identify them so I'm not even sure if they are of WWII origin. Can anyone help with the identification?

This gun barrel was seen on the island of Symi. I think these are items recovered by local divers but there was no sign or other information with this eclectic collection of rusty ironmongery. 

It had a distinctive muzzle break but was so rusty I couldn't make out any identifying marks.

The breach of the gun. I suspect this is an AA gun barrel (there were lots of AA batteries across the islands, both German and Italian) but I can't be sure. 

Another view showing the whole barrel. Pity is was so heavy or I could have slipped it in my rucksack...

A presumably Italian artillery piece inside the Fort of St Nicolas overlooking the harbour entrance. Can anyone identify it?  

A rather sobering postscript to the Battle of Rhodes is that of the 6500 Italian POW's captured in the Italian surrender, most were killed on their way to camps in Greece. As many as 1800 prisoners died when their ship the Donizetti was sunk by the HMS Eclipse (which wasn't aware the ship was transporting prisoners) and another 4000 we lost at sea when the Oria ran aground during a storm and sank off Cape Sounion. Such tragedies in peacetime would ordinarily be remembered as terrible disasters but were sadly an all too often occurrence during the war years.  The memorial to those lost in the defence and liberation of the Dodecanese sadly does not mention these men. 

So that's it. Despite looking for a local war museum I couldn't find any and there was relatively little (read 'none') in any of the small museums that we did visit. I'd be happy to be corrected but maybe the islanders are happy to keep the past in the past and put this period behind them. 

Wednesday 8 August 2018

Historic Rhodes

As you are no doubt aware I have been away on holiday with my family and this year we visited Rhodes. The island is packed full of history and of course I shot a warehouse full of photo's! One location I was particularly keen to see was the Fortress of Rhodes, which surrounds the old town. Rhodes is one of the gateways to the Aegean Sea and as such has an important strategic position for sea based power in the region. The Island has been inhabited since at least 4000 BCE but the town of Rhodes was not founded until 408 BCE when the three main towns on the island cooperated to build a new port on the northern tip of the island.

The fortifications of the town of Rhodes that are seen now were built by the Knights Hospitaller of Saint John starting in 1309 CE but were an enhancement of the existing Byzantine walls from the 3rd century BCE although the town had a defensive wall as early as the late 4th century BCE. Indeed it was these walls that enabled the occupants to resist the siege of Demetrius Poliorketes king of Macedonia, in 305 BC. It was this victory that inspired the building of the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world.

The existing fortifications form a large crescent around the medieval town and harbour and are the most intact example of their kind; which is one of the reasons why it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. Consisting of huge walls built on a man made escarpment with bastions, and a wide dry moat with counterscarp. Even today the fortifications look formidable.

By Aga Khan (IT) - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

As usual I have taken an insane number of pictures and here is a selection of the best ones relevant to the Fortress and Old Town of Rhodes.

The Fortress of Rhodes and the Grand Master Palace as seen from out in the harbour

The Liberty Gate is one of the main access points for tourists.

The D'Amboise Gate is very well preserved and much quieter. A raised drawbridge would once have been in position here. 

Gate of St John is still accessible to pedestrians, mopeds and even the occasional small car. 

The Naillac Tower protects the outer walls and the Kolona Harbour 

The wide dry moat fully encompasses the landward portions of the 2.5km walls. 

The Palace of the Grand Master

Windmills on the Mandraki Harbour walls

Another shot of the wide moat and concentric rings of walls and towers that make this such a formidable fortress

The Grand Masters Palace. This building was restored between 1937-1940 while the island was under Italian rule. 

The interior is spectacular and includes a huge stone dedication from the architect of the restoration to Benito Mussolini for whom the Palace was restored as a holiday home (he never visited!)

The interiors are equally amazing and include mosaics and marbles from across the Doddecanese islands. 

Inside the walls is the Old Town...probably the best preserved medieval town in the whole of Europe. 

The Avenue of the Knights leads up towards the Palace of the Grand Master

Inside the Hospital of the Knights of St John (now the cities Archaeological Museum). The Hospital would have been able to provide state of the art - for the 15th century - medicine to pilgrims heading to or returning from the Holy Land. 

Inside the Great Hall hundreds of patients could have been tended too. The hospital was known for it's Hygiene and the quality of the medicine...all at a price of course. 

Elsewhere the old town is a mass of small streets filled with hundreds of traders and taverns. This is Socrates Street and is one of the main thoroughfares of the town leading up towards the Suleiman Mosque. 

Many of the smaller back alleys however are quite, narrow and look completely untouched by time. 
By the end of the holiday I had taken over 1500 photo's (even by my standards, utterly excessive!) but most of them seem to involve pictures of swimming, eating or drinking in various locations, so not relevant to this blog.  Like many of the Greek Islands, Rhodes is soaked in history from ancient times right up to WWII so the average wargamer will not have a problem finding something to keep him/herself interested...if you can get around in the high heat/humidity that is. 

So I'm back, if not entirely recovered from the journey. I'm still sorting through the rest of my pictures and if I come across anything interesting I'll share it but I'm guessing you won't want to see any pictures of me in my Speedo's!