Thursday, 26 December 2013

Creating A King

As regular readers will know The Army of The Nutcracker triumphed yesterday. But what that army really needs is its 'historical' opponent. This is, of course, The Army of the Mouse King. Armed mice, yes, are incredibly difficult to get hold of so I felt a more holistic rodenty approach was needed. At first I looked at getting some second-hand Skaven but they were ridiculously expensive. So I used the default for all left-field figures: Irregular Miniatures. IM do, of course make perfectly normal and very good wargames figures. But. if you're after something a little more...out there then they are the go-to-guys.

I planned out what I would need for the army using The Nutcracker lists on Kaptain Kobold's blog:

1 x Behemoth General (1 big rodent plus a couple of bodyguards)
10 x Warband (30 smaller blade-armed rodents)

As I said earlier getting hold of armed mice is very difficult so instead I used an IM giant rat (it might actually be an upright wolf but it looks the part) and 30 of their 15mm Ratman Swordsman (FRAT1).

I did the usual file thing on the figure. Got his base nice and flat and cleaned up mold lines. IM figures are often flash free, which is nice.

Looking at pictures of The Mouse King he is usually dressed in a coat or cloak with a belt and scabbard for his sword plus a crown. I decided on a cloak rather than a coat because I felt it would make the figure look bigger and I could put some dramatic billows in it. I made the cloak out of green & yellow putty rolled together. Then flattened into an approximate cloak shape before fitting to the figure. I then used a cocktail stick to work into shape around his neck and to create the heroic billows and folds. I made his sword belt out the same putty.

Next came his crown. I'd already tried a small piece of balsa but it ended up looking like a badly fitting fez. So, once again, the putty came to the rescue. A small blob on his head was worked, pushed and teased into a crowny shape. The king's crown is adorned with gold mouse heads which I had no intention of even trying to reproduce. Instead I cut down four dress-maker's pins and pushed them into the hardening putty. I used my trusty cocktail stick to close up the putty around the pin shafts.

Finally his sword. Once again a cut down dress-maker's pin was glued onto his left-paw and a hand-guard made out of a small piece of putty. I then put the figure on top of a radiator to help the putty harden off.

Here are some pictures of the re-modelled Mouse King (without sword and belt):

All the best!

HotT Battle Report: The Peasants' Revolt v The Nutcracker

Christmas time HotT with two out of my three armies. I am working on matched pairs but more of that later. Also apologies for the shaky nature of some pix; I put this down to too much Christmas cheer.

Here we see the two generals, both Heroes, dicing for ends:

I used Kaptain Kobold's random terrain generation suggestions. Worked pretty well, thanks, Kap! 2 woods, 1 swamp, 1 hill & 1 heath.

The Armies Arrayed
The Nutcracker (NC) from LtoR: 3 x Blades, Sneaker, Stronghold, Artillery, Hero General, 
2 x Shooters, 2 x Spears.

The Peasants' Revolt (PR) RtoL: Flyer, 8 x Hordes, Hero General, Shooter, Horde, Shooter, Paladin, (Off-Table is the PR Lurker who will deploy when a NC unit enters rough going).

The defenders go first with a roll of 2 PIPs. Realising the Sneaker would be useful against the PR General so began moving from one flank to the other. The other PIP saw one of the blades move into line. The NC Sneaker finished in bad going and, after rolling for PIPs, the PR Lurker sprung at her. You can guess from the pictured dice rolls what happened. 1-0 to NC

NC PIPs were enough to deploy the Lurker, advance the Flier to contact with the NC Blades and start the huge mass in the centre moving forward. The central forces were hampered by the woods and swamp to their front.

The right flank PR Flier decided to zoom ahead of the main battle line on a death or glory charge. He's got big wings, a fiery sword hand and a big red thing hanging off his belt. what could possibly go wrong? Pic caught the moment he slammed into NC Blades.

(it was 2, honest, guv)
Even at this stage NC Blades were proving to be nails, hard as.

On the PR left flank the Paladin had the same idea as the Flier. And charged the NC Spears to his front. Again, what could go wrong? He's a PALADIN! And sure enough he forced the NC Spears to recoil perilously close to oblivion. So far so good, at last one of the PR 'Special Forces' was doing its job. 

The tragedy for the Paladin was as simple as it was obvious. He was too far in advance of supporting troops who were only just getting clear of the woodland as can be seen in this picture. Hit in front by a column of NC Spears and assaulted from uphill by a unit of NC Shooters. There could be only one winner. And it wasn't the PR Paladin. 5-0 to NC.

Seeing their Paladin go down in a hail of bullets and forest of spearpoints seemed to encourage The Great Mass of the PR Army. Their PIP die rolls improved considerably; for a short time anyway.

The PR Hordes came into range of the NC Artillery. Which fired. In scenes reminiscent of Waterloo.....La Horde récule! Two hordes in fact, forced to recoil and tearing a huge gap in the PR line.

The Flier, chastened by his earlier brush with disaster returned to the main body and advanced in line with it. Now, some will say he should have flown off and avoided combat until he could attack The Stronghold. and you'd be right - Christmas cheer again. Anyways he didn't he came back into contact with the NC Blades at the same moment a large group of PR Hordes hit the rest of the NC Blades. They came on in the same old style and it was a massacre. The Flier got so bounced he fled 600p off the field and one of the Hordes also came to grief. 6-0 to NC.

Here's a shot of the battlefield at the end of Move 6. The measuring stick lies on the exact path the flier took off the table. The alternative was to end up in the wood, also a no-win. 8-0 to NC.

With his plan in ruins the PR Hero General used his PIPs to launch a massive attack on the NC hill. A breakthrough here would either give him a run at The Stronghold or kill the NC Hero General and win the game. No blinking now.

But what's this? No, not the massacre of another Horde. Look at that Horde group to the right of the NC Blades. They've only gone and slipped through the line on the direct, and undefended, route to The Stronghold. The Blades on that flank had done a fantastic job but couldn't be everywhere. if only that Sneaker hadn't buggered off.....9-0 to NC

In an outbreak of tactical nous and heroic self-sacrifice the remaining pair of Hordes on that flank steel themselves to assault the all-conquering NC Blades. While their Horde brethren bust through the line. Could the battle be lost even as it is won? Well........

Here we see the PR Hero General's division of Himself, 1 x Horde and 2 x Shooters attacking uphill against the NC Shooters.

A poor die roll saw the Horde shot down. A better throw allowed the PR General to force their Shooters to recoil. Good but it wasn't the breakthrough that was required nor the destruction of enemy units either. Endgame 10-0 to NC

More rubbish PIPs for the PR Army - 1PIP! The Hordes' thrust for The Stronghold was stymied. Instead with the 1 PIP available the PR Hero General moved forward to engage the Shooters and force a breakthrough. A wiser move may have been to side-step in front of the NC Hero General, hindsight etc. The Shooters held on, just. The PIPs for the NC Army were better and their Hero General was able to swing through 90 degrees to flank his opposite number. The dice rolled and the PR Hero General went down riddled with bullets and sword thrusts. 14-0 to NC and game.

Happy Christmas!

Friday, 29 November 2013

The Good, The Bad & The Garbanzos

We bade farewell to Aragón with a visit to the Italian positions atop Ermita Santa Quitería followed by an excellent lunch at Café Hermes in Tardienta. We also had a cup of coffee in Huesca. There was standing joke with the Republican troops on the Aragón front about "having a cup of coffee in Huesca tomorrow" - they never did. 

And so, back to Catalunya and a brief visit to Fayon and its Ebro Museum. The museum is incredible. All the things you would expect: uniforms, weapons and personal kit. Where it stands out is its full size dioramas of The Battle of The Ebro and also the VERY heavy weaponry on display. Artillery pieces, mortars, HMGs and AA artillery including and a complete, including sights, 88mm Flak36. Most impressive and well worth a visit.

Then up the road to La Fatarella. We were supposed to be lodging in La Fatarella village itself but some confusion over bookings led us to stay at the peasant farmhouse at Torre Nova about 3km away. Torre Nova was used as a dressing station/field hospital during the battle of the Ebro. We stayed here B&B but ate most of our meals at La Casa Ecologica in La Fatarella. Menú del día is a wonderful thing: choice of starters, mains and desserts plus as much wine, bread, water and coffee as you can cope with all for between 8 -12 Euros a head. Bonus!

Torre Nova Farmhouse
Field hospital during The Battle of The Ebro

Trenches on the ridge above Terra Nova

Saturday in La Fatarella: a conference on aspects of SCW. Went for a walk around the village with DW. Lunch in café Can Ríus with AW, PR & DW, met some interesting and knowledgeable people.

Sunday saw a re-enactment of the end of The Battle of The Ebro. The Nationalists were represented by a group of friendly Carlists. I know they were friendly they gave me strong sherry wine. They also colonised the Republican bunker, christened 'Fred & Ginger's' to get out of the incessant wind. The Republican troops contented themselves with manning the trenches.

The battle was short, 20 minutes or so, but great fun to be a combat correspondent in. As well as my digi I was also using a borrowed 35mm Leica. I think I got some good shots even though the Leica takes a little time to set up. One notable feature of the fighting was the extravagant use of pyros to create an artillery barrage effect and the number of home-made grenades being thrown by both sides. I was lying down on top of the bunker to get some good shots and got a present of a grenade which I managed to roll away from before it went off. If it had been a real one I'd be writing this from a hospital bed. Possibly.

A Carlist
Note how he has turned his blanket into a capote

Carlists in the tree line!

Republican defenders

Restored bunker from the battle

This is a short film taken by one of the other combat cameramen present. 
All acknowledgements and copyright belong to: Ramon Aragonés Margalef.


Wednesday, 27 November 2013

For A Few Garbanzos More

Bidding farewell to Leciñena and the santuario we set off for Alcubierre and La Ruta Orwell. Alcubierre is a small and very quiet place. The town hall or el ayuntamiento was the busiest place with around three people coming in and put while we hung around outside. I think they knew we were foreign.

Orwell describes Alcubierre in chapter 2 of Homage to Catalonia. It's been cleaned up a lot since then but he gets the place to a tee. We saw the (repaired and painted) wall of the ayuntamiento where the fascists were shot in 1936. We also saw the church that was used as a storehouse and latrine by the militia. On the main road out of town towards the front lies the former POUM barracks and just around the corner is the former POUM hospital. As we left town, on the actual road Orwell marched on,  I read the passage from Homage which describes the journey of Orwell's centuria from Alcubierre to the front line.

It was easy to picture Kopp on his white/muddy horse, the column that started to straggle as soon as it left town, Orwell trying to keep his section together and the militia cavalryman riding his horse up and down the hills that line the road. Atmospheric to say the least.

Alcubierre information board
Buy some bread from Panadería Valero next time you're in town
It's a poor area

The wall of the Alcubierre town hall where the fascists were shot

Alcubierre Church
Spot the stork's nest

Former barracks of the POUM in Alcubierre
The road to the front goes from right to left

Former POUM hospital Alcubierre

The road to the front takes you away from Alcubierre back towards Lecinena/Zaragoza. After about 3km we turned off the road and took the track towards La Ruta Orwell. The track was rough and pot-holed and one immediately had a feeling of what it was like to travel up and down these hills bring up food, ammuniton and replacements and then taking the wounded, sick and injured back down towards Alcubierre. 

La Ruta Orwell is a reconstruction of one of the many positions as described by Orwell. Each of the curious horse-shoe shaped hills in the area, and there are many, was occupied by a fortified post. The troops inside were identified by the flags they flew and this was the only way to tell where the front-line was. La Ruta is an entrenched position with command bunker, firing posts and dug-outs all connected by trenches dug into the top of the hill. There are a number of information boards dotted about with pics and words about Orwell, the ILP and the POUM. 

Plan of the site

Orwell second from the left
(Though I think he's second from the right)

Orwell in the centre with a spoon
(Though I think he's second from the left)

The position Orwell helped to man.
In the area top RH of picture where tree-line stops.

I thought I'd taken more photos of the position but I didn't. 


Tuesday, 26 November 2013

A Fistful Of Garbanzos

The Saint George's School For Political Dissidents outing to Spain was a success - no one caused an incident and no one was arrested. In fact a good time was had by all!

Boring bits first: 21Nov13 travelled to Bristol Temple Meads and met DW. Bus from Station to Airport. Flight from Bristol to Barcelona El Prat.

Fun stuff: Collected by AW from El Prat and then a monster three hour drive in darkness into the west. Now, darkness isn't normally a problem, what with car lights and the overhead lighting on the motorway. Except that this time we were mostly on, well, strange country roads. In fact if it wasn't for help from The Assistance Rabbits Somewhere in Spain we'd have ended up truly lost. Thank you, Assistance Rabbits!

We arrived at out first night's lodging sometime around midnight. In the dark the place looked remote, sinister and brooding. Inside wasn't much different. How wrong could I have been. The building is a converted monastery about 25km from Zaragoza set upon a huge horse-shoe shaped hill. It is a hotel now but during the Spanish Civil War was fought over several times before becoming the Nationalist HQ for that part of the Aragón front. El Santuario de Nuestra Señora de Magallon is the name of the place. It is utterly fantastic with comfortable rooms, excellent food and all manner of SCW associated things. It is also ideally placed for an exploration of the Aragón front.

View from room 22Nov13
Zaragoza can be seen the horizon.

Slightly different view to show the horse-shoe shape of the hills in Aragón. 
As described by Orwell in 'Homage to Catalonia'
The small building was a penance pit for naughty monks.
No doubt the Nationalists fortified it.

El Santuario front

El Santuario rear

As a Nationalist HQ El Santuario was heavily defended.
Remains of a HMG post.

View From
Artillery was sited in the area bottom LH corner of picture
The hills in the far distance were held by the Nationalists.
The Republicans, including Orwell, were dug-in just beyond that far line of hills.


Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Forgotten War Graves Remembered 6

Surname: OLDNALL
First Names; W.E.
Rank: Sapper
Service Number: 346699
Corps: Royal Engineers
Age: Not known
Date of Death: 17/11/18
No other information available

First Name: DOUGLAS
Rank: Sergeant Pilot
Service Number: 121320
Corps: Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve
Age: 20
Date of Death: 03/11/1942
Campaign Medals:1939-45 War Medal, 1939-45 Star

It was nice to see that someone else had left flowers and a poppy-cross on Sapper Oldnall's grave. There was also a poppy-cross on Cpl Ward's grave. I assume they got a poppy-cross because they are close to the church front since none of the others had one.

Friday, 15 November 2013

¡Alertas Milicianos!

Those of you who know of my comings and goings will be aware I have been involved in Spanish Civil War living history for over ten years. In fact I'm off to Spain in less than a week to take part in an event to mark the end of The Battle of The Ebro as well visiting La Ruta Orwell plus several other events: it will be a busy few days so mucha comida will be needed!

As well as studying the war; learning to speak Spanish; contacting and befriending numerous Spaniards and visiting Spain I have also collected quite a lot of kit. It used to be very cheap and plentiful but given the explosion of interest in Spain this is less so now. It is sometimes hard to believe that SCW living history in Spain has gone from nothing to this in about ten years.

Pictures of (some) of my kit:

POUM Pigskin Jacket
Qué chulada!

Spanish army blanket. 
Bought it in Madrid from El Rastro Market.

Italian army blanket. 
Excess stock from Captain Corelli's Mandolin

Capote front 
A capote is an army style poncho which goes over the head and shoulders.
Note the 'patch' at the front for putting your hands in.
Well darned too!

Capote back
Showing the belt which is used to tighten the garment up once it's on.

Capote collar detail.
Once on the soldier's leather webbing and cartridge boxes can be worn quite easily over the top.
A very warm garment.

Very popular with POUM militia.
Mine are made from 3 pairs of British army short puttees sewn together.
It's now much easier to buy full length sets.
Important to practice putting them on to avoid droopiness.

Repro Army gorillo cap with red (infantry) piping but without a tassle at the front. 
Note how the bottom of the cap curves slightly to sit more squarely on the head.
You can just see a red star at the front; true vintage in that it is stamped not cast.

Una cantimplora - repro

Cantimplora detail.
Note spring clip for attaching to a convenient point.

Eating Irons
The plate and cup are post-war but the design was the same.
The cup is a devil to drink hot coffee from. 
I usually unclip the leather strap, form it into a handle and sip from the narrow side.
The spoon fork combination is war vintage and very useful.

Leather Spanish army webbing.
3 pouches, 2 at the front one at the back.
Waist belt and shoulder straps.
Often worn with just the waist belt and pouches.
Sometimes the shoulder straps were criss-crossed over the chest.

Pouch detail
Pouches were either sewn or rivetted together.

Belt plate detail
The Infantry badge.
Other arms of service had different designs stamped.
As the war progressed plain belt plates appeared due to ease of manufacture.