Sunday, March 9, 2014
I don’t have a lot of expertise in film reviews, I just watch films and know what I like. However, I saw one last night that I thought worth sharing here, since I know that some of you make model aircraft (Kinch and King and Stoesen, I’m looking at you fellows).
I think anyone who has made a model aircraft has a sense of the beauty of aircraft and of their design, even when we make a hash of the model and get glue all over everything. The romance of early flight, the grace of aircraft designs, and history all come together in this film. It’s also incredibly beautiful. Have a look at this trailer.
The Wind Rises is about Jiro Horikshi, the aeronautical engineer who designed the Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter. It’s a coming of age story,, a boy meets girl story, and a boy falls in love with aircraft story. Believe it or not, it’s absolutely fascinating to watch the hero work a slide rule, scribble numbers, and then see his designs fly off the drafting table in a flurry of air and graceful lines.
I’m not a great fan of Japanese anime, but I found this one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen. The film is a rich blend of history, fantasy, and imagination. The director is Hayao Miyazaki, who has had a long and honoured career and a long history of reflecting on Japanese history. Miyazaki was taken by Horikishi once saying that he just wanted to design something beautiful, and one of themes of the movie is how design and technology is taken over for war and violence. Certainly the Zero fighter was a beautiful creation - we see a flight of them at the end in a final dream sequence, sleek and deadly like sharks, but Jiro sees them with the knowledge that the war is lost, and the planes he designed and the pilots who flew them never came home. The mixture of loss, naiveté and melancholy is quite powerful, but the film still celebrates the impetus to dream and reach for beauty.
There’s a link here on how The Wind Rises has caused some controversy. Some people, particularly in Korea, think it romanticizes and celebrates Japan’s militaristic history, while conservatives in Japan think it’s unpatriotic. See it for yourself and decide. Take your significant other when you go, because it is a love story on several levels. Even though there are long sequences with slide rules and talk about rivets, she’ll love it too.
Saturday, March 8, 2014
I’ve been fortunate this week to have had a few hours and half hours to bear down and bring some projects to near completion. I love the final stages of finishing figures, when I am doing all the little finishing stages and starting basing and flocking. It’s a very rewarding part of the hobby. On the right, my three Foundry Russian Hussars are almost ready to go in search of plunder and vodka.
Below, a tense standoff as Mademoiselle Jeanne of La Resistance faces off against one of the Tigresses of the Luftwaffe. Two figures from Bob Murch’s Pulp Figures from his Dangerous Dames set. I’m very happy with both figures. Behind them, my two Baccus 6mm Napoleonics buildings are nearly done.
Blessings to your paint brushes!
Monday, March 3, 2014
The weekend slipped by while I blinked, I think. I haven’t had a chance to post my report on the week’s progress until tonight. Most of my work this last week was focused on these three roguish Russian hussars.
Here’s the whole table - what a shameful mess. I’m almost ashamed to show it to you.
Saturday, March 1, 2014
I’m not sure I quite understand this picture, but it sort of conveys my point.
The other day I posted a review of John Boyko’s book on Canada and the American Civil War, which might not have been super-interesting to all you non-Canadians out there, but then I got thinking about the wargaming angle. What if the Trent Affair had gone hot instead of being diffused? In November of 1861, Britain and the United States were having a diplomatic row over two Confederate diplomats detained by the US Navy while travelling to Britain on the Trent, a British civilian ship. As Boyko tells the story, a British ultimatum came within days of expiring, until Lincoln decided that one war at a time was enough and reigned in his secretary of state, William Seward. So what if things hadn’t played out so sensibly?
Let’s assume that cooler heads hadn’t prevailed over the Trent crisis. Perhaps Seward persuaded Lincoln not to release Mason and Slidell, the Confederate diplomats, or that there was another incident at sea involving a US and British ship, or what have you. For whatever reason, it’s January 1862, and Britain declares war on the United States in the second year of its civil war with the Confederacy. What we then have, I think, is a very interesting wargaming scenario.
Here’s a map of Canada at that era.
As Boyko tells the story, there were roughly 4500 British regular soldiers in Canada, divided between Nova Scotia (primarily in the port of Halifax), Quebec or Lower Canada (primarily along the St. Lawrence in Montreal and Quebec City) and some in Ontario (Upper Canada). In December, as the Trent Affair heated up, the Governor General, Viscount Monck, had persuaded London to send an additional 11,000 regulars to Canada, although most of these are in Nova Scotia and some made it to Quebec. Unfortunately they arrived in the middle of winter, the St. Lawrence river is frozen, and there are no railways between Atlantic Canada and Ontario, so those troops are stuck in the east until spring. Otherwise, Canada has roughly 40,000 militia available for call up, though their training and weapons are not of the best. Other than citadels at Halifax and Quebec Cities, permanent fortifications are few and quite primitive.
At the same time, the Union armies in the east are recovering from two beatings, one at 1st Manassas and a smaller one at Ball’s Bluff. General McClellan will spend the winter rebuilding and reorganizing the Army of the Potomac and by spring it will the powerful force that, historically, marched on Richmond in the Penninsular campaign. In Richmond, Joseph Johnston is preparing his army, the strength of which, via Pinkerton’s so-called spies, is being greatly exaggerated in Washington. In the west, let’s assume that the US victory at Fort Donelson still happens in February, 1862, and that Grant is getting ready to face the Confederates under Albert Sidney Johnston. Meanwhile, in shipyards north and south, the Monitor and Merrimac are being prepared.
With me so far? So let’s assume it’s March 1862. Those British 11,000 British troops in Canada will soon be able to deploy west from Nova Scotia if they want to. Presumably the Royal Navy has been deploying to Canada’s eastern ports in some strength, as well as taking up station in the West Indies, to break the US blockade of the Confederate ports. Going forward, how do we handicap the opposing forces?
At sea, I think, we can assume that the British have naval superiority along the eastern seaboard, given their superiority in numbers and experience, but the US Navy is a tough, professional force, and it survived succession with its officer corps mostly intact, unlike the US Army, so the Yanks at sea will be a tough opponent. For now the US has the biggest and strongest naval forces on the Great Lakes.
On land, I suspect it’s a different story. The British Army has recent combat experience from the Indian Mutiny and the Crimean War, but how many of those combat veterans are still in the ranks? Would the British soldier be any more effective than his US counterpart? One of the surprising things about Boyko’s book was that desertion of British troops was always a worry when they were garrisoned in Canada; British officers were always worried when their troops were posted too close to the US border. While the US army is still largely an amateur force in 1862, it’s had the whole winter to train and prepare itself under McClellan. It may have bad strategic leadership once the campaigning season starts (not that British generals in the Crimea were always great either), but man for man, they can probably give the redcoats a fight. Also, I don’t know how large the British Army was in 1862, but I suspect the same problems of cost and logistics of sustaining a large overseas force, problems which doomed the British during the American Revolution, would apply in this war.
So where do we go from here? I suppose it depends on what kind of wargaming we want to do. On the tabletop, we will likely be fighting War of 1812 battles with different figures, which sounds like terrific fun. A US Civil War collection will do fine, and we’re still early war enough that all those cool figures like the 14th Brooklyn from Forgotten and Glorious or Perry Zouaves could be used. On the Canadian/British side, there are all sorts of figures that could be used, from Crimean War ranges through to British home service uniforms for the local militia as seen here. Of course, there are also those 1860s British figures that the Perrys are currently working on. At the height of summer, I suspect one could use Mutiny figures for some British uniforms, I’m not sure. Tabletop naval games would also be interesting - lots of tense actions off New York or Boston as the US tries to defend its seaboard, and the question of whether the Monitor would make a difference. I suspect a lot of Union ironclads would be produced as fast as possible for coastal defence.
I would love to see a board game using an eastern subset of the map above and extending it as far south as the Confederacy. One day I might try and design one, but I don’t think now’s the time. Here are the questions I think a game of that sort would have to answer.
1) How much of the Union’s military strength could it afford to divert to fight the British, including such projects as a replay of the 1812 invasion of Upper Canada? Shelby Foote once said that the Union fought the Civil War with one hand tied behind its back, but at the beginning of 1862, Lincoln was in near despair with his army and finances, and said the bottom was out of the tub. It’s an interesting question.
2) Related to (1), how does a British intervention help the Confederate armies, particularly in the east? Will Joe Johnston and his lieutenants, Lee and Jackson, be able to take Washington DC? Will the US be able to leave the same troop levels in the west, so that a victory at Shiloh (the beginning of the end for the CSA in the West) is still possible?
3) How will the naval war play out? Will it simply be a matter of the US blockade being broken, so the CSA has better chances of procuring European armaments and supplies for its armies?
4) What are the strategic and logistical factors? The US has its industry gearing up, and has a well developed railway network to move troops all over the place. The CSA and the British in Canada have neither of these things. The US can stuff a lot of men into uniform, but British troops would probably be a much more limited resource.
4) What are the political factors? Does the war end if the Anglo/CSA side takes Washington or would the US government be able to move around, as it did during the Revolution? How do you model Britain’s appetite to sustain the war? Would the British be casualty adverse? How badly do things go at home, given that the US is Britain’s greatest market for food at the time? Also, how does slavery work? Would it make sense to give the US an opportunity, should they win a significant battle over the CSA, to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, thus making it a lot harder for London to justify a continued war on behalf of a slave state ally? What are Britain’s strategic goals anyway - a punitive campaign, or regime change in Washington?
So what are your thoughts? What do you think would happen if the Trent Affair went hot and caused a was as outlined above? What happens when the campaigning season starts in March 1862? How would you model it, either on the tabletop or as a board game? I’d love to hear your opinions.
Thursday, February 27, 2014
I was pleased this week to receive a package from Sweden, courtesy of young Joakim The Miniatures Man, as I was one of the lucky winners of his blog contest. Now I had no idea of the Canadian dollar - Swedish kroner exchange rate. I looked it up, and 72 kr is a little over $12 in my money, so a very substantial act of generosity on his part, for which I am heartily grateful.
The generosity extended to the contents. Inside was this terrific and somewhat ancient GW 40K model, an Ork Deffkopta. I have several of these in plastic from when my son and I played this a lot, and it is rather remarkable to see so much metal in a kit these days. I also have no idea of what this kit might be worth to a serious 40K collector.
Since I did a giveaway on this blog last year, and may do one again soon, I can imagine the pleasure that it gave Joakim to package this up and post it to someone that he has never met in person. I felt the same pleasure, especially seeing some of my painted work show up on other people’s blogs. It does one good, and it is one of the pleasures of belonging to what Kinch calls the freemasonry of the hobby. Long may its spirit continue.
In that spirit, Foy and I were talking about tactics and battlefield psychology recently, and the subject of Paddy Griffith’s came up. On learning that Foy wanted a copy of PG’s important work, Battle Tactics of the Civil War, a work that any student of the period should know, I remembered that I had two versions, one a copy of the book proper that I bought at Antietam last year, and then this abridged copy that I’ve had for several decades now. Back in 1995, when computer games came in boxes with actual printed manuals, a company called Empire Interactive released a Civil War game that actually shipped with this book. I vaguely remember that the game, which was DOS software, had very primitive graphics and was a strategic game with some lame battlefield tactical bits. Someone actually thought it would make sense to put a book by an honest to goodness scholar in the box - perhaps they thought of Griffith, a Sandhurst lecturer, because EI was a UK based company? I wonder if EI actually made any money on the game by including this book? I hope Paddy Griffith got something for the deal.
The cool thing about the book was that it is chock full of some terrific line drawings by Peter Dennis on the war and its conduct. Here’s a sample.
There’s enough of the original Griffith book to get the sense of his argument. So, off it goes to Foy tomorrow, and a small package of karma from Sweden is bounced on to the UK, the karma chain keeps going. I find this sort of potlatch culture to be one of the more rewarding aspects of our hobby.
Blesssings to your die rolls and paintbrushes!
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
This image from the daily UK MOD news feed was too good to pass up. The caption reads “Shetland pony Cruachan IV, regimental mascot of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, taking a liking to a sniper’s ghillie suit”.
From a recent Territorial Army recruiting day in Glasgow.
Monday, February 24, 2014
This fellow on the horse with the gold crook is His Beatitude, Michael, the Archbishop Metropolitan of Freedonia, beating, I mean shepherding, his household regiment into battle. His Blessedness was my alter ego on Saturday when I was kindly invited to hang out with my friend John (another wargaming pastor), his lovely wife Beth, and their friends for one of their delightfully lighthearted Imaginations Seven Years War battles. How lighthearted was it? Have a look at John’s report here, find the Freedonian commander with the long scarf and the mechanical dog, and you’ll see what I mean.
As an aside, the rules used were an old friend of mine, Age of Reason by Todd Kershner and Dale Woods. It’s hard to believe that these rules were first published in 1995, almost twenty years ago. I was in a club that used these rules extensively for several years, and I was pleased at how well they have stood the test to time. AoR has steps, like multiple morale tests, that are reminiscent of WRG’s systems from the 1970s and 80s, and once you get to know the tables can have a predictable quality. The random brigade activation system, managed by playing cards, introduces a degree of friction, though fans of friction may want to look at Maurice.
But I digress. Back to Imaginations. One of the great pleasures of my youth was drawing maps of fictitious places. Inspired by the maps of Tolkien’s books, I drew maps for various D&D campaigns, and have been known to draw the odd map even today. Some of my favourite wargaming blogs involve imaginary lands that are richly and whimsically thought out - Stollen and Tradgardland to name but two.
Why do we get such pleasure out of imagined places and history when there are so many times and places in history and geography to explore? You could read my random thoughts on this, or you could track down a book by the scholar and author Umberto Eco, in his Book of Legendary Lands. As Eco notes, people like us have been drawing maps of imagined places since the middle ages, for the same reasons we do today, control and certainty, and the same pleasures we get from fiction, “for in fiction everything is precisely and unambiguously as it was intended”. Eco writes:
“The possible word of narrative is the only universe in which we can be absolutely certain about something, and it gies us a very strong sense of truth. The credulous believe that El Dorado and Lemuria exist or existed somewhere or other, and skeptics are convinced that they never existed, but we all know that it is undeniably certain that Superman is Clark Kent and that Dr. Watson was never Nero Wolfe’s right hand man, while it is equally certain that Anna Karenina died under a train and that she never married Prince Charming."
Or, to put it another way, while we can be certain that Freedonia, Stolen, and Tradgardland will never be found on the same map, they are all real places, and it does us good to visit them.
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