Thursday, 17 January 2019

Lloyd George, your boys took one hell of a beating

The first game of the year in the annexe was our first try at Peter Pig's 'Square Bashing', and I'd count it as a success; as opposed to the British attack which was not, in any sense, a success. As usual with a first try of new rules there were important lessons to be learned as to what tactics to employ, for example not to call in artillery barrages too close to one's own troops.

I had read beforehand some of the reviews posted on TMP at the time that the second edition of SB was released a few years ago. There was much chuntering about the turn sequence being unclear and, in particular, how difficult it was to understand the difference between hits (for the purpose of permanent damage recording) and casualties (for the purpose of morale testing). All I can say is that we didn't have any problem at all, and for a debut run through I thought we got very few rules wrong. One other complaint people had was it all took too long, whereas we didn't find that, and it would seem to meet my requirement for a game that one can play in an evening.

That may still exclude the set up process - which in typical Peter Pig fashion seems to be very complicated and take for ever - but would certainly include calculating the result. I deferred that to a subsequent day on the basis it would be long-winded, but in fact it looks more complex than it is and I did it in five minutes. One thing I wasn't especially keen on is the fact that the value of objectives and units killed relies on the roll of dice after the game ends, but I think it would have made little difference to the outcome on this occasion. What might have made a difference is if I had told James in his role as attacker that he could get victory points for occupying squares in the defender's second and third rows as well as for capturing the objectives. In my defence I can't remember reading that bit before at all. Anyway, at the point we finished the Germans had 82 VP to the British 30. Had the British captured the farm it might have reduced that difference by about 25 even if casualties on both sides had been equal while they did it.

I mentioned in my report of last week's refight of Novara that Peter had started the New Year in his usual dice rolling form. It certainly wasn't true for this game; he was on fire, saving everything and hitting everything. It won't last.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Don't ask me

Readers may be wondering why your bloggist hasn't commented on the latest carryings on by the UK government, or perhaps it would be better to say what passes for a government. Tempted as I am, I shall just quote W.B. Yeats:

"I think it better that in times like these
 A poet keep his mouth shut, for in truth
 We have no gift to set a statesman right"

Interestingly the US government is just as big a shambles. How hard it must be for young people today to believe that the two democracies had stood together to save the world as recently as the mid-twentieth century and had then subsequently seen off the challenge of the other tyranny with which they had expediently allied to do it. Now of course the heir of the Soviet Union would seem to be having the last laugh.

It will not have escaped your notice that yesterday's post was to mark the centenary of the murder of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. Luxemberg didn't have much time for Lenin, and one assumes that she would have had even less for Stalin had she lived that long. She was also not so keen on Bernsteinian revisionism (*), which is essentially the form of socialism as preached and occasionally practised by all mainstream Western European parties of the left, including, now that Jeremy Corbyn has recaptured it from the neo-liberalism of the Blair years, the Labour Party.

What Luxemburg did believe in was grassroots activism, whereby society was controlled from below rather from above; she took the view, which I think we can agree was borne out by events, that otherwise the new boss would be as bad as the old boss. In these dark and challenging times it doesn't do any harm to reflect on what she wrote in her critique of the Russian revolution:

"Freiheit ist immer die Freiheit des Andersdenkenden"

"Freedom is always freedom for the one who thinks differently"

* Eduard Bernstein was a friend and associate of Engels, but nevertheless spent all of his long life campaigning for the achievement of socialism by peaceful means through incremental legislative reform in democratic societies. I have no idea how he found the time to write 'West Side Story' as well.

Monday, 14 January 2019

Bags of delay

"You should never wear your best trousers when you go out to fight for freedom and truth" 

- Henrik Ibsen

Almost as unexpected as two wargaming related posts in a row is that we actually played a game last week. It was Novara, the set up of which is as described on James' blog. It's a surprise attack, and it played out in a reliably surprising manner. To allow for what happened historically, but still make a game of it is not easy, but James is rather good at that sort of thing and to be honest I don't think this was any exception; he was just unlucky. The key was that the French Gendarmes were both dismounted and undressed. Piquet is a game of turning cards and then acting on them so in this case the Gendarmes had to turn the Formation Change card - of which they have only one - to get themselves sorted out. It isn't particularly clear from James' blog, but they had to turn it twice: once to put their armour on and once to mount up. The decision before the French commander was therefore whether to arm on the first turn of the card and run the risk of the Swiss arriving while they were still unmounted, or to mount and set of to defend themselves without full harness, or indeed any trousers. An interesting dilemma, or at least under normal circumstances it would have been.

As a digression I must remind you that there are two different types of Piquet: the traditional (we use a version of this heavily amended by Peter and James for the Seven Years War) and one known by the acronym FoB (we use their heavily amended versions of this for Ancient Galleys, Punic Wars, Crusades and Italian Wars). "But," I hear you ask "doesn't that get confusing?". To which I can only answer "Of course it gets bloody confusing!". There a number of differences between the two, but the one which should concern us here is initiative. In the original version it is possible to get large swings of initiative; indeed it is possible, though rather unlikely, for one player to end up with virtually no initiative at all and stand there twiddling their thumbs all night while their opponent burns through their deck. We had a truly terrible SYW game where that happened back in September 2015 should you wish to check out the report. It was just such experiences that apparently led to the design of the revised version, in which both sides always get the same initiative, although you never know whether you might go first or second. If one side goes second then first on successive turns then they might get a run of up to a maximum of twenty card turns, but the opponent will have had ten before they start and will get ten after they finish. The key point is that you turn all your cards each turn and are therefore guaranteed to activate any special conditions such as the one above. Or are you?

Each deck also has a small number of Lull cards. When these are turned each player rolls a dice, if the non-active player wins then he gets to turn a card out of sequence. The law of averages says that it will all even out in the end. However, on this occasion, to represent their sleepiness, the French had a much larger number of Lull cards. The Swiss won a remarkably high proportion of them and ended their first turn through the deck with the French still only part way through theirs. Crucially, one of the unturned cards was Formation Change. I was therefore spared making the wrong decision of whether to mount or dress; instead they did nothing and were cut down still riding their doxies rather than their horses (historically accurate by the way). However, on the plus side Piquet's virtuous side meant that it was in the end a very close game. The Landsknechts - not fully prepared, but not completely déshabillés either - actually bested the fearsome Swiss pike, not least because of the damage done by their cannon (that last part also historically accurate). In fact had their commander not died inopportunely early on, the French might well have won. So, an odd game, but Piquet not entirely disgraced; not as much as the French cavalry anyway.

For the record, Peter's first throw of the New Year was a one on a D12; start as you mean to go on.

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Ein Minenwerfer von Grund auf gebaut

As previously advised there hasn't been much hobby related activity recently (although watch this space for the return of wargaming to the lower Wharfe Valley, following a message from James which included the instruction to forget everything we know because he has changed the rules), but I have been inspired by the excellent Tin Soldiering On blog to do some modelling. That link should take you a post about sticking bits of cardboard onto plastic soldiers in an Airfix Magazine stylie, and it gave me the irresistible urge to do some scratch building. I decided to make a second German 17cm minenwefer. Naturally I don't need one; indeed I have no rules that differentiate these from the smaller 7.58cm version of which I have many. But, as someone once said, what's that got to do with the price of fish?

The completed model I already have (and previously mentioned here) looks like this, with apologies for the excess flash lighting:

First step is to get a scale diagram from the internet and print it out. Obviously I would both like to give credit to whoever produced it and point you to it, but I originally downloaded it a year or so back and now can't for the life of me find the website again. Should anyone want a copy then ask and I'll send you one. With no expense spared I have glued it on to the back of an empty tissue box.

I then cut out the base plate and the two side pieces. Also required is an appropriate length of 3mm plastic tube and two pieces of stiff wire, all measured from the drawing.

The base is glued on to, as it happens, the base. The layers of cardboard are to raise it to approximately the level of the crew, who will of course be on, well, bases, thus making eventual application of filler easier. The two pieces of wire are fixed to the side of the tube.

The side pieces are glued in an upright position to the base. I use UV activated glue for all this as I find superglue impossible to cope with (see previous postings for details). The stuff used to be really expensive, but now isn't; I get mine from eBay.

The barrel is glued at an appropriately jaunty angle and a thin strip of cardboard is glued along the back edge of the baseplate. Details such as sights and controls (I tend to the impressionistic rather than the strictly accurate) are added in plasticine, hardened with an acetate based nail varnish. Please don't bother telling me that Donald Featherstone used banana oil; I know that he did and I also know that banana oil is an acetate.

At this stage one looks for suitable crew, finds one doesn't have any left and places an order online. Readers may choose to perform this step earlier if they wish.

For various technical reasons reporting on painting the model will be deferred.

Monday, 7 January 2019

The axe for the frozen sea within

"Do not read, as children do, to amuse yourself, or like the ambitious, for the purpose of instruction. No, read in order to live." - Gustave Flaubert

I have been thinking about books and how I choose what to read. Despite what the internet seems to think, Oscar Wilde most certainly didn't say "it's the things that you read when you don't have to that determines what you will be when you can't help it"; and in any case I ignore the warning. Like most of us probably do, I always have a non-fiction book to hand: military history of course, but also other subjects that interest me: political economy, mathematics, opera etc. I would be loathe to claim that I ever retain anything when I've finished them, but they at least temporarily make me feel virtuous.

I'm not sure that I can say the same for my recent choice of fiction. What's on my kindle is in part driven by what Amazon and/or the publishers offer at a discount (especially the 99p daily deals), but even when I buy something worthy on the cheap it doesn't always follow that I will actually read it. Indeed I find myself increasingly reading for light relief, often even taking out much of the work of choosing by reading through series of books in order. I have mentioned before that I have been re-reading the Flashman novels (got a bit stuck on Flash for Freedom!, which is somewhat more unpleasant than I remember it) and also working my way through the much longer 87th Precinct series. These latter are proving a bit difficult because not all of them are on kindle and I have therefore been forced to scout around for cheap second hand copies; paying full price being self-evidently not an option. I have reached 'Fuzz', which combines the usual far-fetched main story involving the regulars with a sub-plot about a book being published whose protagonist shares a name with one of the detectives. Presumably there is a sort of metafictional paradox going on; we know that novelists typically avoid using the type of name that one ever comes across in real life.

Going back to how I choose books, it is to some extent a case of Beziehungswahn, with one thing leading to another. I saw the film of 'Journey's End' and tried to get hold of R.C. Sherriff's autobiography. I found that to be rather too expensive for me, but did come across a reasonably priced copy of a book about the battalion in which he served, the 9th East Surrey. It then became apparent that he wasn't the only officer in the unit who went on to literary fame, and my attention was drawn to Gilbert Frankau. He is out of fashion now, but between the wars was apparently a big seller. He turned to writing after being thwarted in his ambition of becoming a Conservative MP; they wouldn't have him because he was divorced. Personally I would have thought that his being a fascist should have been more of a block. And he was; he wrote a newspaper article in 1933 entitled 'As a Jew I am Not Against Hitler'. His extended family has nevertheless, as so often with refugees and migrants, greatly enriched British cultural life; including one of them appearing in every episode of Fawlty Towers. Anyway, back to Gilbert. He wrote of his wartime experiences in fictionalised form, and, having become interested in the 9th East Surrey and the 24th Division as a whole, it seemed logical to seek that out. The book's title: 'Peter Jackson - Cigar Merchant'.

"There are two motives for reading a book: one, that you enjoy it; the other, that you can boast about it." - Bertrand Russell

Saturday, 5 January 2019

Alfred Munnings - War Artist 1918

I have been to the National Army Museum to see their current exhibition of Great War paintings by Sir Alfred Munnings, many of which have been brought together for the first time in a century. Munnings specialised in painting horses, although the notes to the exhibition claim that he actually preferred cattle as models because of their docility. I know very little about painting and even less about horses, but what I do feel qualified to say is that the animals in the pictures look to me like they do in real life, which one cannot always say about some well-known equine artists.

Munnings was commissioned in 1918 by the future Lord Beaverbrook to document the Canadian Cavalry Brigade in France, whose commander General Seely is shown above on his horse Warrior. Munnings - a notorious womaniser whose first wife tried to commit suicide on their honeymoon - only had one eye, which seems to me to make his work even more impressive. Being cavalry they were well behind the front and most of the paintings show formations en route or the horses being cared for.

However, while he was there the front moved due to the German Kaiserschlacht offensive and whilst that did give Munnings the opportunity to paint perhaps his most famous work 'The Charge of Flowerdew's Squadron' he wasn't an eyewitness and it probably didn't take place as it does in the picture.

In fact he had been moved to the safer task of painting the Canadian Forestry Corps, a formation that I had previously been unaware of. It would seem that it was exactly what it sounds like: a large number of lumberjacks brought across the Atlantic to cut down trees, eat their lunch and go to the lavatory. It's one of those unsung areas that probably nevertheless had a large impact. Between 1914 and 1918 British imports of lumber fell by 10 million tons per year freeing up capacity in merchant shipping already under fierce attack by submarines.

The permanent collection at the museum contains many interesting items, among them for example the hat that Picton wore during the Battle of Waterloo. Or should I say during part of the battle, because also on display is the musket ball that killed him. Highly recommended should you find yourself at a loose end on the Kings Road. Any museum trip worth its salt will always generate a useless fact. That from this one is that the modern Hungarian army has no Hussar regiments.