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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.'

Monday, 31 December 2012

Soviet Soviet ...

... in 1:87.  I think.  My search for usable kit for the Fidelistas in April 1961 continues, and took me into the loft again today, where I dug out:

'TANK T-34'. This little box, just over three inches in length was the product of the Soviet toy industry in the mid 1980s - the highly charged years of SS20s, Cruise Missiles, neutron bombs, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament's second wave. Oddly, one of that organisation's apparatchiks was the current, unelected, 'foreign minister' of the European Union - Baroness Ashton (for Americans reading this, her title was another stage in her unelected progress - raised to the House of Lords by her Party, the Labour Party).  Back then, in her unelected post as a CND funding apparatchik, she seemed, apparently, to be unaware that the KGB was channelling funds to the movement. I'm sure, of course, that it was just an oversight on her part, and that her lack of enthusiasm for free elections is no reflection on her or the EU.

Inside the box is a T-34 in what looks like 1:87, but, sadly for the Bay of Pigs project, it is a T-34/76:

So, I have two options: scratch build an '85' turret, or go old school entirely, and just use it as it is.

I also dug out another Soviet toy, a T-26, also in 1:87, here with a much larger version from Empress:

And now:

Peace and Good Modelling in 2013!

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Bergepanzer III...

... A while ago I did something or other with one of the two Panzer IIIs one gets in the Armourfast box of quick builds. That, of course, left me with its companion, which, in turn, became part of the disjecta membra that I exhibited here a few posts ago. Wondering what to do with the remaining Panzer III, Dan, of Gunner's Wargaming, suggested that I try a Bergepanzer. So, here we are:

The finished thing, but minus the chain and hoist that should be on the jib arm. I thought I had a little bit of 'chain' somewhere, but a search through various boxes produced nothing, so I will have to source a bit of 20mm chain, and a hoist. Does anyone know the best place to get that sort of thing?

The Armourfast Panzer III is a pretty reasonable wargames model (certainly better than their Crusaders), as the DAK one above shows, while the hull formed the basis of the Bergepanzer. I wondered about opening up the turret ring, so that the little wooden access box would open downwards into the driving compartment, but decided that given the kit basher philosophy that rules here I could forgo that bit of work.

I made an initial mess of the superstructure, making it far too big on three axes, so had to start again. I also switched from PVA, which was a poor glue for the balsa wood, to super glue. As we all know, super glue's speed of adhesion varies greatly, depending on the materials being glued; but, the fix is instantaneous with balsa! I had to really make an effort to steady my palsied hands as I brought the little bits of balsa together. 

This view of the front of the Bergepanzer shows the main limitations of the Armourfast hull - poorly rendered lights, no notek light, and simple tracks, but, overall, it is OK for the wargames table.

 2012 is going out here in England (and Wales, Scotland and Ireland) in much the same way as it spent most of the last seven or eight months - that is, WET. My garden is just a soggy, squelching mess, but even in the horrid gloom there is light:

These bright yellow stars are the flowers of Jasminum nudiflorum. For which, much thanks. 

Friday, 28 December 2012

Not figures...

... just little blocks of wood:

Some months after buying the '1812' board game, I was finally able to get it on the table and muster the little blocks of wood. The view above is from the side of the good guys, while the bad guy's elbow and his US regular forces (blue) and militia (white) face me across the Great Lakes. We didn't play a full game as we were just acquainting ourselves with rules and mechanisms, but, happily, we were quickly drawn into an historically accurate struggle:

The US invaders charged across into the Niagara peninsula, but were, despite the disparity of forces (red blocks = British regulars, yellow = Canadian militia, and green = Native Peoples) defeated:

A series of poor dice rolls by the baddie, such as these routing US regulars and militia, cleared the Niagara area.

The game has a nice series of different scenarios that match the different phases of the war, so, hopefully, we'll get to play through them in the not too distant future, and see if history repeats itself. I fully expect that the water movement rules will be conflict deciders - whether by canoe, fishing boat, or naval movement.

Speaking of canoes in this context, Ross Mac commented on my previous post about King's Landing that his niece had, at one time, worked there, and that she had commuted by canoe to her job. What an absolutely idyllic 'commute', so far removed from the depressing experience most of us have as we journey to work. But, I must admit, I have had two good commutes in my working life - one involved a five minute stroll along a rough little road with no traffic and just a few cottages on either side, then up a little incline, through an old iron gate, passing under the most wonderful Spanish Chestnut tree, by a school cricket square and up some wooden steps into my school room, which had views of the Grampians.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Little house on the ...

... wargames table! Now that sounds a lot less twee, if just as child like, as the famous novel series.

 As I had expected, 4Ground's Lower Canada house went together nicely, although I am always thankful that PVA dries clear. The only problem I had was with the inner door surround, which I must have glued the wrong way around, as the door itself won't fit the right way round - if that makes sense. Anyway, another excellent bit of laser cut MDF perfection to go with the block house I enthused about a while ago. And a very versatile bit of kit:

Here with Canadian militia in the War of 1812, but, of course, French troops or Canadian militia from the French and Indian War would do just as nicely, or:

Loyalists getting ready to help repel the expected Rebel assault on Quebec early in the American Revolution.

A fine piece of wargaming scenery, and 4Ground are to be congratulated.

Making the cabin reminded me of this rather nice book on my shelves:

King's Landing; Country Life in Early Canada, photographs by Wayne Barrett, introduction by George MacBeath (Oxford University Press, Toronto, 1979). And a quick internet check led to the happy discovery that this marvellous living history/material history/educational/patriotic resource is still going strong in Prince William, New Brunswick. 

MacBeath headed his 1979 introduction with this:

'Behold the work of the Old...
Let your Heritage not be lost,
But bequeth it as a Memory,
Treasure and Blessing...
Gather the lost and the hidden
And preserve it for thy Children.'

While recognising that this is a far from easy task, for a host of reasons - ideological, practical, historiographical - I'll still second that.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

The Adventures...

... of Sherlock Holmes. Favourite Christmas stories abound, but mine is undoubtedly 'The Blue Carbuncle' , a classic in the canon. How can one resist:

 'I had called upon my friend Sherlock Holmes upon the second morning after Christmas, with the intention of wishing him the compliments of the season. He was lounging upon the sofa in a purple dressing gown, a pipe-rack within his reach upon the right, and a pile of crumpled morning papers, evidently newly studied, near at hand. Beside the couch was a wooden chair, and on the angle of the back hung a very seedy and disreputable hard felt hat, much the worse for wear, and cracked in several places ...'

First published in The Strand Magazine in January 1892, the story is full of late Victorian London Christmas characters, including a marvellous ill-tempered goose seller - Breckinridge - at Covent Garden market, who exclaims at one point, 'I don't care if you are the King of Proosia!'. It also includes a down at heel academic/antiquarian - Henry Baker - who drinks too heavily. Baker drank at the 'Alpha Inn', Museum Street, and many years after I first read the story as a boy, I came to drink in the same pub, which is, in reality, The Museum Tavern. Baker is the innocent of the story, but at one point he is offered the remains of a goose he had bought and lost; he replies, 'I can hardly see what use the disjecta membra of my late acquaintance are going to be to me...'. What a term - 'disjecta membra' ! First found in Horace's Satires, and, later, according to my Oxford edition of Sherlock Holmes (published in 1993), mistranslated by that other Victorian great (wargamer), Robert Louis Stevenson, disjecta membra seems to be appropriate to so much in life; for example:

What you see above, on the top of my wargames' cabinet, are the disjecta membra of my 2012 projects. I wonder how many will be revived in 2013, and how many will languish for another year?

But, for the moment, my attention is focused on this Christmas present:

Another of 4Ground's marvellous North American series. 

Monday, 24 December 2012

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Under other flags...

... One of the themes that has emerged here over the last few months has been kit in unusual finishes, or adopted and adapted by enemy forces. I think it started with my nearly 40 years in the making conversion of a Stug III into a SU76i, then there were the T34s in German finishes, the Stug III in Bulgarian colours, as well as the tiny Traction Avant in Luftwaffe colours, and the Somua under the German flag. I've rather enjoyed this as a theme, so I was attracted to this article in the current issue of Military Modelling (7th December 2012):

A very nicely done conversion, in 1:35 scale. The standard of builds and finishes in the military modelling press is quite amazing. There are some very talented fellows out there, especially in the 'making plastic look like armour' field. Anyway, it occurred to me that it would be fun to make a one true scale (i.e. 1/76, or 1/72 - so, 'two true scales') version of this US vehicle in German colours. I know I have an Airfix 57mm/6pdr knocking around somewhere, but what M3 should I use? What companies make them, and which looks the business? Answers on a 'comment' please.

Things still progress on the Bay of Pigs front, with more Castro militia finished, including this chap trying out the Robert Capa photo from the Spanish Civil War (posed, or not...):

As you can see, I even stretched myself by giving this poor Fidelista a Castro beard.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Arms ...

... race! The Bay of Pigs front hots up. I had two packages delivered today, the first, most appropriately came from the USA:

Unfortunately for the State Department, it wasn't a deniable shipment as the box had US Mail and US Customs marks! Three decent condition, second hand (still with a child's sand still on them) Roco Minitanks from the ironically named Fidelis - another M41 and two GMCs for the Brigade. The M41 is missing the muzzle brake, but that's not a problem. I've now got two M41s for my invading Cubans, and given that they only had five in real life that will do for this project.

The GMC model is very nice, rather better than a lot of the Minitanks armour, and, again, I think two will do. But, then again, perhaps not...

For the Fidelistas, a second hand IS-3. Now, Jim Hale, commenting on this blog has argued that Fidel's IS-3s were kept in reserve at Central Australia, but I think I'll bend things a bit and use this one against the Brigade. All I need now is some 1:87 T34s. I do have a Russian made 1:87 T34/76 in the attic, but it would be nice to source a few T34/85s in 1:87. 

I will, of course, be giving all this new kit a few coats of paint, and there are more Castro militia currently on the painting table. The intention is to run this project with an old school edge to it, which the Roco Minitanks kit helps. But I was struck this week, while reading the John Curry reprint of Terry Wise's rules, how the old school gamers of the 1960s and 1970s frequently fielded unpainted figures and kit. This looks very strange now, and, I'm afraid, a step too far. The past is, indeed, a different country. Sort of.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

A staff car ...

... for all seasons, or sides. A couple of months ago I bought a very nice Matchbox diecast 'Yesteryear' model from the £1 bucket at one of my local antique/junk emporiums. It was just calling out to be turned into a staff car, which I did this evening. The result is a very flexible bit of wargame kit:

First, Russian officers on the Eastern Front during the Great War - when the Russians could invade Prussia without acting like barbarians.

Sometime later (when barbarism stalked the land), White Russian officers pose by their staff car.

While Prussian officers, feeling a little lost, carry on fighting in the East.

And the French intervene,

And Johnny Turk dreams of a new Empire, but this time a Turkic one that doesn't include those dam' annoying, not to say, revolting Arab types.

 Actually, I do wonder whether some Turks aren't thinking about something similar today - a new, eastern orientated sphere of influence. It is quite clear that Turkey is unlikely to be admitted to the EU (for a host of reasons), the old Ataturk/Army grip on Turkey is probably at an end, and there is a strong Islamist (but not in the sense of raving loonies) government and movement in Turkey. Add to all that the mess in Syria, where Turkey clearly has interests, fears, but also, perhaps, new opportunities; and the rapid decline in Turkish-Israeli links, and it seems that a new future as a regional power may be beckoning for Turkey.

But back to the staff car and the figures. All of my 28mm types here are drawn from my armies inspired by Copplestone's Back of Beyond, and I've had some dashed good games with 'em. Of course, the required reading for that sort of stuff is Peter Hopkirk's marvellous series of books about the 'Great Game', Central Asia, the Silk Road, and all the Romance, squalor and horror that went with it. There are plenty of books around to add into the mix, for example, Robert Johnson's more academic, but perhaps not so gripping, Spying for Empire; the Great Game in Central and South Asia, 1757-1947 (Greenhill, London, 2006), the bibliography of which provides a lifetime of Great Game reading; and my favourite contemporary work, F.James' Faraway Campaign (reprint, Leonaur, 2007), which I have enthused about here before. But, for a really ripping good read, this can't be beaten:

 John Buchan's absolute classic, first published in 1916, and remarkably accurate in many ways. This is a very nice 1937 printing by Thomas Nelsons (once Edinburgh's great publishing house) that I bought for 40p many years ago when it was still possible to drink 70/- ale in 'The Green Mantle' pub, just an undergraduate's stone throw from Edinburgh University.

Looking at the photos in this post, you may be asking yourself, 'yes, yes, but where are the Bolshevik military elite posing with this staff car?'. And I reply, 'don't make me larf! Do you think the great red leather clad Bolshevik warlord would be seen dead in a Vauxhall ? You must be joking, only a Rolls Royce, with tracks no less, was good enough for old Trot.' Give me Alexander Berkman any day.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Odds and ...

... bobs. One of the good things about having dreadful eyesight, and using two pairs of specs (not wanting to take a mortgage out on a pair of varifocals) is that I don't really notice the dust that gathers in my room. I know there's plenty of it, as my pipes used to (sigh) deposit grey ash on things, especially when I was cleaning them prior to a good, poisonous smoke (deep sigh), and the hatch to the loft above is usually open and atmospheric changes up there often leads to dust slowly descending. But today, I happened to be peering about  looking for a book on Mithras while wearing my reading specs, and so realised that the odds and bobs of models and figures on the book shelves really did need a bit of a dusting. While doing that I took photos of some of the little fellows:

First up, three very nice 54mm Home Front types, an Air Raid Precautions (ARP) warden on the left, a wartime copper at the back, and a fire watcher at right. I love the ARP and the fire watcher, smoking their fags, with the warden cradling his mug of tea. That's how the UK survived the war - fags and tea.

Second, the venerable Airfix Mk. 1 tank. I have a very clear memory of standing in Woolworth's when I was four or five looking up at one of these on a shelf behind the sales girl. A long dead aunt was with me, and even Woolworth's is gone, as has the whole Attlee post-war settlement (Attlee is peeping down at the Mk 1 here).

Third, a 1/76 delivery wagon that I made 26 years ago. Quite a fragile kit, and I'm surprised it has survived all my moves since then; although it has lost a headlight. I was very pleased with the GWR (Great Western Railway) poster I added, copied from an actual 1920s rail poster for Cornwall.

A random selection of 1/72 aircraft from one of my bookshelves. What strikes me looking at this is how I like odd air forces, or little known types.

Actually, my favourite from the selection above is this Polikarpov. It did, at one time, have a prop, but a gust of wind through an open window actually saw this tiny kit take to the air - for a moment - before plunging to prop losing disaster. I see that the tragic composer and poet, Ivor Gurney, has crept into the photo above. One of England's great poets, and a noted composer of church music. He could do with a little more general recognition.

And this fellow, Dr John H. Watson, with dog ... but is that the Hound in puppy hood?

Finally, just to show that it wasn't just housework that I managed today, here's some more of Castro's blokes - all IMEX Korean War US infantry. I like the little grenade thrower, and, overall, I think they've come out OK despite my deliberately utilitarian approach to this project.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

The shape of things to come...

... no, not the over long and, sad to say, tedious novel by H.G. Wells (what was his editor doing? Just taking the cash?), but one of my three, going on four years old grandson's interests:

Knights and archers. He's had the bowman since the summer, and was much taken by the discovery that the 'axe' was, in fact, a bill hook. Today, he added the man at arms to his collection, and was pleased to learn about the fleur de lis . Somewhere, he also has a Crusading knight with a battle axe, and we must find him! The man at arms and the bowman spent a good part of the day floundering in 'Playdoh' - 'aaaargh, I'm sinking, hellllp, helllp!', but, occasionally triumphing on 'the battlements'. He isn't entirely sure what battlements are, but he knows they sound good.

But the medieval can also be combined with the modern: 

The little dragon above came unpainted but with a few tiny pots of acrylic. He is, in fact, a benign dragon called 'Sparky', who is good at cooking, has an indeterminate West Indian accent, and is one of 'Mike the Knight's' sidekicks. However, the boy wanted him to be fierce, so went for this purple mix - in a sort of modern disruptive pattern finish. That's the way!

Finally, this weekend's superheroes: 

At last ! An Incredible Hulk!

Friday, 14 December 2012


... and pieces.

The IMEX Korean War US infantry and ROK infantry arrived today. Very crisp mouldings in a pretty hard plastic, but why do they have so many arms, feet and hands that have to be glued on? Don't they realise how big, worn and shaky the hands of a palsied middle aged chap are? Anyway, all washed in soapy water (thanks to my grandson) and the first US infantry chaps cut off the sprue:

Most of these will end up being Fidelistas  but the bazooka teams above will go to Brigade 2506. I've already carved the M1 helmets into rough approximations of the soft field caps that the Brigadistas wore. The bazooka teams were particularly important, as, with the five M41s, and some recoiless rifles (I'll have to source, or more likely, scratch build a couple) they were the Brigade's main anti-tank capability.

Fidel and his blokes had an overwhelming superiority in armour, and I was aware that T34/85s were used, and, perhaps, some SU85s, but, in a comment on this blog Jim Hale alerted me to the fact that the Fidelistas had IS-3s on strength, probably held in reserve at the sugar refinery known as Central Australia. Yikes! Well, I've been reading Gray Lynch's account of events (see a few posts ago for details), and today I came across this part of his account of the first day's fighting above Red Beach (Playa Larga):

         'The first two Castro tanks (a Soviet-supplied T-34 and a Stalin III) were quickly knocked out by the
          fire from Oliva's M-41 tanks and his bazookas' (p.103, 2009 Potomac paperback edition).

Lynch (one of the CIA men on the ground and a highly decorated veteran of the Second World War and Korea) previously mentions how he briefed a Brigade senior officer on how best to tackle the IS monsters. The key was that the approaches to the beach heads were along roads raised above swamp that was, obviously, impassible to tanks, and, as a result, there was scope for flank shots. The upshot is that  think I'll risk an IS for the Fidelistas. Fortunately, Minitanks seem to have made one, otherwise a huge 1/72 would look a little too over bearing.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

One John Curry...

... there's only one John Curry. Or, to remain in keeping with the overall tone of this blog, perhaps I should paraphrase Dr Watson, 'Curry, you are a benefactor of the wargaming race.'

Most readers of these ramblings will be aware of John Curry's marvellous 'The History of Wargaming Project', in which all those great works of yesteryear are being returned to our grateful hands, thereby saving us from the grasping clutches of the second hand dealer (Holmes and Watson come to mind again - the beginning of 'The Empty Room'). I have bought a number of Mr Curry's edited reprints, but today an absolutely marvellous one dropped through my letter box:

Oh delight! Oh joy! It is as if a papyrus saved from the burning of the library at Alexandria had been returned to us. If you haven't already, then rush and buy a copy.

On a more prosaic note, the Minitanks Mobelwagen has received its paint:

Needs crew really, but none of my reserve of 1/76 giants will do.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Tsar Boris...

... and his merry men, plus Roco Minitank:

Makes a change, and rather in keeping with a theme that has developed here of late - tanks in unusual finishes and in the 'wrong' hands.

Without anything to give it scale, the Minitanks Stug III looks quite the thing:

My source for this finish, and especially for the interesting black (but I do wonder if, in fact, it was panzer grey) gun barrel is this book:

Kaloyan Matev, Equipment and Armor in the Bulgarian Army; Armored Vehicles, 1935-1945 (Knigomania, Sofia, 2006). A rather poor translation from the original Bulgar (but, then, I can't speak a word of Bulgarian, so I oughtn't to complain), but with a mass of fascinating photographs, and some good colour plates:

The temptation is, of course, to reproduce the Bulgarians' wide variety of imported kit in all its varied finery.

Tsar Boris went, of course, not long after the Soviets declared war on Bulgaria. Geography, and size, really does matter. And what does a Tsar do when all the countries about him are losing their heads?