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'A gaping silken dragon,/Puffed by the wind, suffices us for God./We, not the City, are the Empire's soul:/A rotten tree lives only in its rind.'

Saturday, 25 February 2017

.... stopped play

A brief holiday has stopped the portable play.

Where have Alf and Mrs Ront (or Al and Mrs Front) been?

New England....?


It's grand old Blighty!  I ate fish and chips here, drank a couple of pints of ale, then walked along the pebbles, listening to the wind and the sound of the depleted British Army firing bursts at the nearby ranges.

While all around, there are the signs of defence. Above, against the French, who sacked this place several times, or, below:

one who made it home from the great defensive wars for the protection of the rump of Christendom.

While, above, the memory of an Imperial soldier (and was he related to the famous Skinner of 'Skinner's Horse'?).

But, everywhere, the sea:

and, understandably, the sign of Trinity House.

Finally, a new decorative tile on the wall of a house:

The BVM and the Saviour. Blessed art thou among women...

Tuesday, 21 February 2017


...Part the Second.

I was able to spend a little time in the bunker today, with the stove burning away, seeing off the Blighty damp. I've played Bob Cordery's Portable Wargaming in the past, but this current game is using his new book, and it seemed like a good chance to adopt some of the suggestions he makes there regarding solo gaming.  So, on with the action.

Bob devotes some space to the question of representing unit strengths. He covers single figure, and unit bases, with declining strength being indicated by reduced figures in the first case, and markers in the second.  Rather than re-basing my Russian Civil War figures, I opted for individual figures, but with two figures representing one strength point. So, below, we see a 'Poor' unit of rascally, part-time Bolshies, consumptive clerks, ticket collectors, and the like. The strength of this unit is 3, represented by six individual figures, who will be removed in pairs as the unit takes casualties.

The part-time Bolshie unit contrasts with the White unit below. In this case, as you can see, we are looking at an 'Average' unit, strength 4, represented by eight figures. Actually, looking at the mean hombre second from the camera in the front rank, I wonder now if the unit should actually have been 'Hard Core'.

I decided to use Bob's suggestion, for the lonely wargamer, of card-driven turn taking.  The Reds, naturally, took the red cards, and the Whites, the black.  A deck is created from two packs of cards (for details, see pp.38/9 of Bob's book), and drives turn taking, and number of units to be activated.  It works well.

The Whites kicked off, and the infantry units on the right made a bee-line for the railway station.  Which reminds me, I've been reading Dorothy L. Sayers' 'Lord Peter Wimsey' books recently, and haven't picked up so much antique slang since I read The History of Mr Polly when I was 12/13.  A bit of Lord Peter slang: 'I'll make like a bee and buzz off'.

The White Whippet also went haring after the Godless, and crunched up a few rail tracks before coming under fire from the Bolshie artillery.  Here, a near miss.  The rather marvellous resin explosions will be used to mark hits, with a tank being able to take three before its end.

The Whites quickly seized the environs of the station, and, below, it's clear that some French 'advisers' have decided to sort out a few Bolshies before breakfast, providing the Chauchat doesn't get a bunged up magazine.

The Reds began to take casualties as they, tardily, approached the now occupied station. The unit below has lost a point, and two figures have been removed.

And, at that stage, the eerie, soundless call of my forlorn allotment plot reached me, and I emerged, badger-like from my bunker, armed with pruning equipment.

Speaking of Lord Peter, and the 1920s, another good read for those of a yarn-loving, and antiquarian mindset is Nevil Shute's So Disdained - quite a period piece.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Portable Wargaming...

As many of you will be aware, Bob Cordery's The Portable Wargame is out in the market place. I've had my copy for a couple of weeks, and it really has all the signs of being a classic. Bob has done an excellent job bringing together his thoughts, play-testing, reflections and deep knowledge of war gaming to produce his guide. Top stuff!!

In the Hobbit bunker, two armies stand ready for a Portable game:

Oh yes!  The nasty Bolsheviks, and the fine defenders of Holy Mother Russia....
to be continued...

One hour...

OK, it is tad more than one hour since I lasted posted here, and I shall offer no excuses. Well, idleness, work, middle-aged bollocks, more work, family, idleness - you may well know the sort of thing. However, I have, occasionally, done something in the toy soldier realm.

A few weeks ago, my main (well, only) war game opponent and I played one of Neil Thomas's 'One Hour' scenarios, using his rules. We went for Scenario 15, 'Fortified Defence', and set it in late 1944/early 1945 on the Ost Front. The situation is: 'The red army is expecting an attack from a much larger blue force. The red general has accordingly prepared a fortified position for his troops'. Each side has six units, but the attacking force can totally re-fit at any stage in the game - yikes!

Kick-off.  Col. Front took the defence.  Following a 6 sided die throw, my force consisted of 2 x 75mm A/T guns, manned by Luftwaffe Field Division (LwFD) gunners, a mortar team, two LwFD infantry units, and a unit of Russian ost truppen.   The Soviet general (bottom of the table below) kicked-off with one tank unit, one mortar unit, and four infantry units.

Initial moves.  The Jerries dug in in the two built up areas, with an infantry unit in the woodlands to the right, below.  Each fortified hamlet contained an A/T gun, while the long-ranging mortar was ensconced behind the far buildings. The Reds launched an all-out assault on the nearest built-up area, as both had to be held at the end of 15 turns for victory.

Mixing it.  The Soviets gave the defenders of the first hamlet a tough time, eventually driving out the remaining infantry unit. But there was a cost, with the defenders destroying an infantry unit and inflicting hit points on almost all other units:

Armour loss. Attempting the second stage of the Soviet assault, the attackers came under sustained mortar and A/T fire, and heavy flanking fire from the woodlands. The Reds' armour was destroyed:

and the general infantry assault began to falter.  Being dug in, or well concealed in the woodlands, really added to Col. Front's battle group's strength.

But.... the Bolsheviks re-fitted. All Soviet units came off the board (apart from the burning T34 - I'd found the cotton wool by then), and re-emerged, re-invigorated, and fielding a whacking great
SU-100 assault gun.

It was touch and go for Front's men, with the LwFD gunners, mortar team, and Russian hiwis fighting like little metal men possessed.  

The Reds threw the flanking Germans out of the woods, and surged on...

But, the dug-in heroes fought on in...  Eventually knocking out even the might SU-100.

A VICTORY.  But the Reds will be back,

Neil Thomas's rules do what they say on the tin - good, easy to play, and fun.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Tough ...

... old bird.

 FROG kits always had something slightly exotic about them back in the day. For one thing, they were harder to find, and more expensive, than Airfix kits, for another FROG seemed to cover rare and wonderful aircraft. The two FROGs that I bought in the early 1970s were the Heinkel He 219 ‘Uhu’, which with its tricycle undercarriage, sticky out radar bits, and funky camouflage, looked like nothing else in my collection. The other was a Blackburn Shark, whose floats I subsequently salvaged from the Shark’s back garden ‘crash’, keeping them for a never to be completed float equipped Spitfire conversion. And now, over 40 years later, I’ve got hold of a very old boxing of FROG’s Blackburn Skua, courtesy of my son - a present for his ageing pater.

A quick google, and it looked like the ‘red series’ boxing that I had was one of the earliest, some 50 years old. The box was in pretty good condition, and all the parts, excepting the wing light transparency, were there, as were the decals and single piece instruction sheet – both of which were rather spectacularly yellowed. 

Now, the Skua is still a rare bird, and as far as I know only Special Hobby have kitted it, in the gentleman’s scale. There is also limited information available, but Mushroom Model Publications came to the rescue with Matthew Willis’ fantastically informative Blackburn Skua & Roc. Willis’ book gives a good account of both aircraft, their development, and deployment, along with masses of photographs and 1/72 scale drawings and colour views. The Skua was a typical naval compromise, designed to give the FAA an accurate dive bomber, and an escort fighter to see off threats to the fleet. The particular demands of the Navy meant that the Skua had a good range and was strongly built, even if it was underpowered and not up to facing land-based fighters. At the outset of the war it took a number of ‘firsts’. A Skua was credited with shooting down the first German aircraft (though later evidence gave this accolade to a Fairey Battle, of all things). More spectacularly, Skuas from 800 and 803 Squadrons, FAA, were the first aircraft, and the first dive bombers, to sink a warship, when they sank the cruiser Königsberg on 10th April, 1940, during the Norwegian campaign. 

The kit plastic was fairly thick, and, of course, boasted extensive raised panelling and rivets. Given the age of the kit, and the fact that I wanted a real FROG, I was happy with that. The scale plans in Willis’s book showed that everything was good in terms of overall dimensions, with the odd exception of the fin and the horizontal tail planes. Both of these were undersized, but of the correct, slightly complex shape. Not willing to face fabricating replacements, I decided to live with that. Inside the fuselage, things were pretty bare, with a floor, two comfy chairs, two pilot figures and a misshapen machine gun for the Telegraphist Air Gunner (TAG). I had a reasonable Lewis gun from a recent build of a Matchbox Heyford which replaced the blob, but something more was needed. Although the long ‘greenhouse’ canopy of the Skua is more like a shed, with heavy framing and small windows, I still wanted a bit more inside. Looking at the photographs in Willis’s book, what struck me was the unfortunate position of the TAG. Effectively he sat on a cushion stuffed between two long, unprotected, fuel tanks that ran nearly the length of the cockpit. I added these out of plasticard, plus two seats from the spares box, a fuse wire control column, and an inaccurate instrument panel. I reckoned that would suffice for peering at through the cockpit windows, and turned my attention to the underside of the fuselage. FROG’s Skua had a completely inaccurate underside, being a flat panel from engine to tail. In fact, the Skua carried its main bomb load semi-recessed in the fuselage, and it was delivered towards the target by a bomb crutch. In addition, being designed for carrier operation, there was an arrestor hook. I cut out the bomb bay, which was open, and fabricated a bomb crutch with brass rod and stretched sprue. Plasticard and brass rod made up the arrestor hook, and I was ready to close up the fuselage.

The profile in Willis’s book show L2928 sporting an individual code ‘S’, which was not included on the small decal sheet. Also missing were the underwing roundels. I was able to source those from an Airfix post-war PR Spitfire, but had no luck in my decals library (old fag packet from the 1970s full of tiny clipped off decal bits) with the ‘S’. After a couple of coats of Klear, I was ready to try the ancient decals on their little square of yellowed paper. I expected them to explode into fragments when they hit the water, but, not in the slightest. In fact, it took a good while to separate them from the backing paper, but with some setting solution, they worked perfectly, and settled nicely over the raised panels and rivets. The training aircraft looked used, tired, and pretty grubby, so I added finishing touches with a wash, some chipping, and pastels, and there she was, sitting on the grass strip, waiting to train more FAA heroes, in 1/72. 

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Sunset Boulevard...

Like Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, my adoring public (well, Chris Platt) have been calling 'encore'! Who am I to deny them? Who am I to rest on my laurels? To digress for a moment, I recently bought a biography of James Kennaway, the author of that perfect first novel, Tunes of Glory (also a major motion picture starring....) , and read an amusing story of his early days in the army. When Kennaway joined The Black Watch for his national service, the adjutant told him that he could apply for a commission after his basic training, or he could have two easy years as a corporal 'in the Intelligence Corps, whose badge is a pansy resting on his laurels.' Not exactly politically correct (and would an officer of the Black Watch care?), but of its time, and with a link to laurels. To return to the point at hand....

It is some four months since I posted last, and little in the way of glue and paint has taken place. However, I have, not so long since, completed the Airfix Whitley, and what a lovely, lovely kit:

As you can see, it's factory-fresh. If you know your Whitleys, you will, by now, have spotted the missing bit. After finishing the paint job, the decals, the wash etc, I went to add the aerials and the rather prominent DF loop housing. No problem with the aerials, there they were, on the sprue. But the DF housing ?? Where? Why? WTF?? Not there.   That will teach me to spend months doing a kit.

On a different note. On the 24th July, it was exactly a century since the photograph below was taken:

It is entitled 'Sgt. Gregory's squad', and shows a newly trained squad of men from the King's (Liverpool) Regiment (the old 8th Foot). One of the men is my maternal grandfather. Of all the men in the photograph, only my grandfather and five other men survived the Western Front.  I wasn't sure what to do on the 24th July, a century later.  I had an idea of taking the photograph on a pub crawl around the town, but, then, I didn't want to end up dropping the photo.  In the end, I cut some leaves from an oak tree in my garden (in a pot!), and decorated Sgt. Gregory's squad with English oak. God rest their souls.

I haven't been doing nothing at all since I last posted. My allotment plot has gone from fit only for an agent orange attack to a nicely productive 1/16 of an acre. I've also written/had published a few bits and pieces, with some relevance to those who are interested in the Very British Civil War type world. For these latter, see the sidebar.

Sunday, 17 April 2016


... the Whitley?

So far, so good. In fact, Airfix have a winner with this kit. The planning and engineering that has gone into the kit is first rate. Everything has gone together smoothly, and the wing spars made a real difference to fixing the huge wings to the fuselage.  Here's the state of play tonight:

Hopefully, I'll get these sub-assemblies together tomorrow, and it will start looking like the 'Barn Door'.  Top kit!