Monday, October 29, 2012

The Great War in Greyscale - 'Taxi de la Marne' & Georges Boillot

A few months ago I wrote a post in which I dropped a hint that the next addition to my greyscale Great War project would feature a 'mystery vehicle'. I alluded that this vehicle had gained it's fame not for it's military power, but rather because it was completely unthreatening, being both unarmed and unarmoured. The comments that followed had several excellent guesses ranging from the common artillery limber horse to the London double-decker bus that ferried troops behind the lines. These are certainly great examples, worthy of projects in of themselves, but still not quite what I had in mind. 

In the end the brass ring must go to Sylvain for correctly guessing that the mystery vehicle is the humble Paris taxi, the 1905 Renault Type AG-1, better known as the 'Taxi de la Marne'.

Painting by Brian Sanders.
A bit of background on how this little Renault gained its fame: During the German advance towards Paris in the autumn of 1914, a gap began to develop along the German right flank, specifically between the First Army of von Kluck and the Second Army under von Bulow. Sensing a rare opportunity, General Joffre decided to concentrate Allied forces at this crucial point, committing them to a huge series of battles along the Marne River, at the very doorstep of Paris

As the French madly tried to reorient their axis of operations it was decided by the military governor of Paris, General Gallieni, to call upon the taxis of the city to transport men to the front (which at that time was only about 50 km away). The cab drivers of Paris answered and  about 6,000 men of the 7th Infantry Division were driven to the front, many of them in Renault taxis.

Though the Taxis de la Marne are often touted as a symbol of French patriotism it must be stated that the pragmatic Parisian cabbies did have their meters running and the total cost to the French treasury in fares was 70,102 francs. Nothing is recorded on how well the drivers were tipped...

This is a 1:43 diecast model from RIO Models of Italy. I'm afraid to say it came out-of-the-box already beautifully painted in vibrant colours, so I was more than a little hesitant to prime it black in order to attempt a greyscale effect on it. Nonetheless I forged ahead and am fairly satisfied with how it turned out.

I've also included a driver model I sourced from Bob Murch's characterful range of Pulp Figures. To me this figure epitomizes that Parisian sense of detachment and sang-froid in which we often like to stereotype the Gallic race.  

I did up this figure in homage to the great French driver Georges Boillot. His overall pose, particularly the way he's holding his cigarette, makes me smile.

Georges Boillot
Boillot won the French Grand Prix at Dieppe in 1912, at Amiens in 1913 and set a speed record at the Indianapolis 500 the following year. 

Boillot in 1914, racing for Peugeot at the Indianapolis 500.
When war broke out in 1914 Boillot was assigned as the personal driver to General Joffre during the Battle of the Frontiers. During those first furious weeks of the war Joffre was famed 'to be everywhere at once' - most of this came from the supreme (Joffre's aides would argue 'reckless') driving skills of Boillot, who whisked the General from front to front at high speeds, along roads congested with soldiers, refugees and military supplies.

The Driver taking a break in a current work-in-progress, a 1909 Thomas Flyabout.

As France continued to suffer from the war Boillot wanted to participate more actively. So in 1915 he transferred into the Service Aeronautique where he had great success serving as a fighter pilot, being awarded both the Croix de Guerre and the Legion d'Honneur. Nonetheless, like so many airmen during the early war, fate caught up with Boillot and in 1916 he was shot down and killed fighting in the skies over Verdun.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Product Review: Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game by Fantasy Flight Games

'Shrrreeee! Pweww! Pweww, Pweww!!' ...Hey man, you gotta make the noise...
I was a boy when Start Wars was released in 1977 and I, like many young lads around the world, was absolutely crazy about the movie. For several years I lived and breathed for anything that even obliquely mentioned Han, Vader, Stormtroopers, light sabers, etc. My poor mother, bless her soul, had to struggle through heaps of Star Wars paraphernalia to hazard entering my room. Like some hapless adventurer, she navigated through a geologic nerd strata composed of layers of collectible cards, magazines, models, action figures and comic books.

Anyway, with this in mind you can imagine how stoked I was to try out the new 'X-Wing Miniatures Game' which was released this past summer.  So a few weeks ago, Stacy and I picked up a copy of the game, along with a few extra models and, and with Peter serving as an R2 Unit, gave it a whirl.

The game has a passing similarity with 'Wings of War' but I found that I liked the overall mechanics much more. All of the spaceships utilize the same manoeuvre templates, so there is no model-specific decks of movement cards that you have to keep organized, which keeps the game clean and fairly simple to administrate. The movement phase for each spacecraft is pre-plotted using a selector dial, and firing is conducted at the end of the turn through competitive die rolls, which keeps everyone engaged in the action. 

The discs are the the movement orders which are flipped over simultaneously to display everyone's flight plots.
The game is true to the movies in that you typically need more Imperial TIE fighters to face-off with the X-Wings, but each class of ship has its strengths and weaknesses. The Y-Wing (my favourite) is a bit of a pig, but can both soak-up damage and dish it out. If you wish, you can have heroes of the movies serving as your pilots. Luke is definitely powerful, but Vader is particularly brutal, especially if he's matched up with his iconic Advanced TIE fighter. All good fun.

Maneuver dials revealed (along with chits for 'Lock On' and 'Focus')
Gameplay rattles along at a good pace. We managed to get in two good-sized games in about 3 hours with lots of snacking and kibitzing.

A ewok-sized furball.
The models themselves are quite nice. They are single piece, hard plastic and come pre-painted. The paint jobs are actually fairly decent, but if you have the time and inclination I think they'd benefit from a bit of highlighting. I'll probably replace the pegs with magnetic gimbal mounts so the fighters can be positioned to indicate banking, climbing and diving (as if these things really matter in space, but it looks cool).

Its a bit of a hog in the game, but I really have a soft spot for the old Y-Wing.
So there you have it. If this is a game you and a friend may be interested in I'd strongly suggest picking up two of the core boxed sets as they will give you better value than buying the fighters separately. I understand that there is a host of new spacecraft due over the coming months including the Millennium Falcon ('It's the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs [!?]), an A-Wing and Bobba Fett's 'Slave I'.

But, really, the nagging question I have is this: 

Will they come out with a pilot card for Porkins?

'Stay on target.' (nom, nom, nom...)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

40mm Old School Great War Toy Soldiers by John B.

My good friend John came into town this week and joined us for supper and a game. In addition to his fine company John brought along some of his newly finished 40mm Great War figures which he had sculpted and cast recently. 

1914 German infantry in their distinctive pickelhaubes and red-piped tunics and trousers.
I absolutely love these guys. John describes them as 'demi-ronde' (semi-round) figures, being a nod to the German Bleisoldaten school of late 19th century toy soldiers. They are charming, whimsical, almost naive in their presentation, yet manage to capture the essence of the uniforms along with the martial spirit of the age.

I quite like their bushy moustaches and proud pigeon-shaped chests - such great character! If you want to see some more of John's fine work you can find samples of his Napoleonics here , his 18th century figures here and his Wars of Unification figures here.

John tells me he still has a few more figure variants he wants to produce for this range. I'm really looking forward to seeing what he comes up with and I'm seriously thinking of getting a schwack of these guys for future garden wargaming. Yep, I know, I need another project like a hole in the head...

'You do show a good leg, Old Boy.'

Friday, October 12, 2012

Spanish Anarchist 'Milicianas': Women in Combat During the Spanish Civil War

Having just finished Antony Beevor's excellent 'The Battle for Spain', and while still working through the very characterful 'A World Aflame' rules from Osprey, I thought I'd paint up some more SCW figures to add to the collection.

In reflecting on Beevor's book I was particularly struck by the important role that women played in the conflict. Many women of Republican Spain took up arms and fought as milicianas on the front lines alongside their male counterparts. This is particularly extraordinary as Spanish culture at the time was very conservative in it's view to women's roles both at home and in their communities. The surge in new political ideologies such as socialism, communism and anarchism, and the subsequent outbreak of civil war all acted as a catalyst to release many women from their previously restrictive positions in Spanish society.

What makes this especially remarkable is that these milicianas did not have any real intellectual template or framework of what a 'women's movement' was, or specifically what feminism meant. Literacy amongst women in Spain was relatively low, and even if all Spanish women could read there was very few books on feminism available in their language. Instead these women fought for a very pragmatic desire to secure down-to-earth yet fundamental changes to their position within Spanish society.

As such the women that fought for Republican Spain took risks that were often far greater than their male counterparts. They knew the fate which awaited them if they were captured by the Nationalists, especially if they were composed of North African troops (there are several instances where milicianas took their own lives rather than be captured). So with the stakes so high, their courage was often very inspirational to their male comrades.

A Scottish volunteer, Tom Clarke, related an incident that occurred during the Battle of Jarama in January 1937:
I remember there was a bit of a retreat. There was a rumour that went around, I can't remember what it was, and we started retreating. We'd gone back a bit, and some of (us) were actually running. And here we came across three women sitting behind a machine gun just past where we were, Spanish women. I saw them looking at us. You know, I don't know if it shamed us or what. But these women stayed there. 
I found this to be an evocative mental image and wanted to create some sort of vignette to try to reflect it. This was actually made pretty straightforward thanks to the excellent range of female Militia figures offered by Empress Miniatures,  with one pack featuring a wonderfully sculpted machine gun team who are crewing a Czech ZB-30 LMG (the precursor to the British Bren).

I wanted to give the impression that the LMG team was deployed in a more urban setting. So, inspired by photos of the city fighting of the period, I cut up some balsa rod to make bricks and boxes, in order to mock up an ad hoc barricade.

The third figure in the LMG group is a kneeling woman firing a revolver. To me this figure seems to be directly inspired by a photo taken by Gerda Taro (photographer and then lover of Robert Capa) of a female 'miliciana' near Madrid.

The figure firing the pistol has a very close resemblance to Taro's photo - very cool.

For a uniform colour, I decided to mainly go with variations of blue which was common with workers' overalls (often called a 'mono') worn by militia units in cities such as Barcelona and Madrid. Several of the figures are wearing red and black side caps and scarves, which indicates them as being part of one of the anarchist workers militias under the FAI (Federacion Anarquista Iberica) and/or CNT (Confederacion Nacional del Trabajo).

Male FAI Group Leader

In time I'll probably add a few more figures to this group to take it up to a full squad. 

Next for this period will be the utra-conservative Catholic monarchist fighters, the Carlist Requetes.

I'll end my post with this very striking photo taken by Juan Guzman of Maria Jinesta, 17, a miliciana in her home city of Barcelona. The photo was shot in the summer of 1936, just a few days into the conflict. I look at her face, which is so full of optimism and pride, and am curious to know of her fate in the following months and years. It would be nice to think that she survived the Civil War and perhaps achieved some of the dreams and aspirations she bravely wished to defend.

Maria Jinesta at the Colen Hotel in Barcelona. Photo by Juan Guzman, 1936. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Wargaming Against the Weather: Outdoor Naval Wargaming

'Sorry Curt, I can't really hear you from the howling wind and my pulled-down touque. Did you say something about someone looking like a dork?'
Sylvain again here. (With unwarranted photos and editorial comments from Curt.)

Not long ago, I presented some newly painted 1:1200 ships on this blog, along with some crazy plans to play outside. I came up with an hypothetical scenario: 

7 December 1941 - Because their crews were involved in a bar fight the week before, the Admiral decided to send at sea the USS Colorado and the USS Arizona, for a gunnery practice involving lots of healthy drilling. However, after a day at sea, the two battleships stumbled upon two Japanese battleships, part of the Japanese Fleet sent to attack Pearl Harbour.

AMERICANS: USS Colorado, USS Arizona
With their slower units, the Americans know they are in trouble. The American player's objective is to inflict damage to both Japanese ships in order to slow them down and then try to escape in order to participate in the defense of Pearl Harbour.

Banzai! The goal of operation Tora Tora Tora is to eliminate as many American capital ships as possible. The Japanese player wins by sinking at least one American ship and then escaping.

All the models are from Superior Models.

After a week of being harassed, Curt and Peter kindly agreed to give the game a try. The weather was as to be expected for the season, but a little challenging for wargaming: cloudy, about +8C, very (VERY) windy.

Peter: 'Right, and who's idea was this again?'
Admiral Peter, of the US Navy, in command of the USS Colorado and the USS Arizona, about to spot the Japanese intruders.You can read his report of the game here.

Curt: 'F*ck, its cold! This is not the South Pacific, its the bloody Murmansk Run!'
Kaigun Taisho "Kaato" (Japanese pronunciation of Curt), maneuvering the IJN Kongo toward Pearl Harbour. He is holding a turning gage, formerly known as a paper plate.

This picture gives a sense of the firing distances. Ships were firing at 20', and they were about 40' apart. Hits happened at about 30', which is about 12,000 yards. "Real" naval engagement, according to what I have read, would take place at about 18,000 yards (45' at this scale).

Sylvain cutting quite the dash in his wargaming toolbelt - Ooh, TRES sexy!

Peter rangefinding with his... iPhone... obviously the Americans have a leg-up in gunnery technology.
Shells from the Colorado are getting dangerously close to the Kongo. Captain Peter proved to be very effective at guessing range. On the following turn, the Colorado scored a hit on the Kongo while the Ise hit the Colorado in return. Both ships lost a main turret.

Kongo's fire ranging in on one of the American battlewagons.
A hit! A palpable hit!

Peter running madly after a turn gauge being blown away in the wind. I'm sure there's a song somewhere in there...
Sylvain is having waaay too much fun with his monster tape measure.
Curt's Kongo getting 'bracketed' by American fire. Ouch!
Bullseye! Guessing the exact range, directly onto a a ship's base translates in 2 hits. The Kongo, at this point, had lost a main turret, half the secondary armament, AA guns and was crawling at a speed of 14 knots. The Japanese commander decided at this point that bombarding Pearl Harbour with battleships might not be worth that much trouble after all and decided to rendez-vous with the main fleet. Admiral Yamamoto, a little busy right now, might not find the time to read the battle report before a few days. The American ships, hearing bomb explosions in the distance, decided to head back home to see what was happening.

Because of the heavy wind, there was no way to keep the "splashes" upright. The wind even knocked down my tool box full of playing equipment!

Playing in this crazy weather felt like a combination of cross country skiing, paragliding and wargaming. Afterward, Curt and Sarah treated us with delicious hot tea and pie.

How to describe this kind of gaming experience? "Different" comes to mind. It really gives a feeling of how distant modern dreadnoughts were when exchanging shells. Using "distance evaluation" replaces the luck of the dice with the evaluating skill of the players. There might not be another game before next spring, so I will have plenty of time to make some adjustments.