Friday, August 29, 2008

Guess What I'm Thinking?

Recently I've been reading my new Osprey on the Fortifications of New France (FORT 75) and I've been revisiting some very old wargaming territory.

The French and Indian War was my first love, and you never forget the first one, do you? I think this came from a few sources. One was the front cover of the 1982 Military Modelling issue which featured the new (!) Pax Britannica 28mm figure range of French and British Figures contesting a palisaded fort. Lovely figures and very well painted. Another was a uniform feature in the same magazine some time later on the FIW period. The final push was the first "real" wargames magazine I ever bought.

That was "The Courier", back when Bill Protz was the editor. He and another gentleman wrote twin articles on "The Action at la Belle Famille" wherein French forces attempting to relieve the 1759 seige of Fort Niagra were defeated at the eponymous action.
Compagnies Franches de la Marine fire at advancing Red Men.
The Indians in this image contain the FIRST Ever RSM/Pax Britannia figure I ever bought!

I have noticed that the next volume in the FORT series that is in preparation by Rene Chartrand intends to conclude with an examination of the Forts around the Great Lakes - this includes Fort Niagra. It's a real shame that I've mis-laid/lost my copy of "Drums of War Along the Mohawk" - BARs older brother. I'll just have to buy another.

Monday, August 25, 2008

War Games and the DIY Spirit

In his introduction to “War Games”, Don Featherstone makes reference to his age being one of “Do It Yourself”.

When you read this book, you really do have this point brought home to you again and again. One pictures the Author slaving away with plaster of Paris moulds, producing the odd few soldiers before the mould falls to pieces – perhaps the odd mould explodes because the plaster of Paris was imperfectly dried out. I was minded of the author grimly gripping his hard-won casting in a pair of pliers whilst doggedly grinding away at the abundant flash with a selection of rat-tail and jewellers files, probably before going on to modify some plastic Airfix ACW types into Sassanid Persians with only a razor blade and some Plastic Wood to get him through.

War gaming in this era was tough. Really tough, especially for people without a lot of money. Retired Brigadiers could afford the best of everything, but someone with a day job and access only to the local public library laboured under special handicaps. Materials were rudimentary, unsuited or roughly adapted from many other theatres of life, it would seem to me. Every man (and I do mean every man) was an island, vainly reaching out to his few others of like mind, making contact through Model Soldier and Model Railway societies. Writing on the topic were in Mecanno Magazine (or whatever), Home Florist or some other ill-adapted, non-speciality publication, but somehow the War Gamers persevered with their damp, sand covered tables and plaster of Paris scenery.

I should note here that the three main rule-sets offered, Ancient, Horse and Musket and Modern (ie, WW2) are by Tony Bath, Don Featherstone and Lionel Tarr respectively. Interestingly, Featherstone also provides a brief set of rules for what he calls “close wars”, or what you or I would today call skirmish gaming.

What I thought most interesting about the book though was how it was seen by the author in his introductory remarks. The edition that I read was that of 1970. The book had been in publication since 1962 and gone through seven editions, for every war gamer melting type-setters lead in his kitchen there were now one hundred war gamers now using professionally made product. In 1970, war gaming was a hobby that was clearly on the move, and really one can only look back now, some thirty-eight years further on with some amazement at the changes that have been wrought on the hobby since.

What really strikes you when you read this book is the handicaps that the war gamers of this period laboured under. They really did do it themselves. And that dedication to and perseverance with the hobby is what shines through this excellent little book. The rules are simple – some would say rudimentary – but are obviously products of a time when research materials were thin on the ground and not easily accessed. Again, one imagines the difficulties that these authors laboured under.

The internet has been the salvation of the hobby, with vast amounts of product of any kind available to anyone with an internet connection and a credit card.

The DIY spirit though, is well and truly moribund.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

First Thursday Book Club

It has been on my mind for a while now to publish short reviews of "Classic" war-gaming titles on a fairly regular basis. I first turned this idea over when I made it my resolution to re-read my entire "Old School" collection over the next year.

What I am thinking of doing just now is posting once a month (or more often if I have time) a review of about 500 or so words. I'm not sure as to what criteria I'll be applying, but style, content, readability will be featuring with some sort of weighting.

The first volume I will be looking at will be Donald Featherstone's 1962 "War Games: Battles and Manoeuvres with Model Soldiers" - more this evening when I have refreshed my memory!

I would be more than happy to take submissions on this project - if you are interested, please email me at:

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

More Croats

I had the day at home yesterday and started in on some lead mountain reduction. Among other things, I had one part-completed company of Croats I wanted to knock off before I moved on with any more conversions. My companies are fifteen miniatures strong, so I had ten to do from plain metal to final blast of varnish.

Below is the first shot of the completed troops. Note that after what seemed to me a sucess with the dismounted Kurfurstin Dragoons, that I am starting to base the odd few troopers on larger bases to allow for the creation of mini-dioramas.
The same line-up from a different angle. Note the minor conversion on a couple of the loading troopers for the sake of a little diversity in the firing line.
The completed company with flag-bearer. I think the colour is from Frederic Aubert's site, although there are many lovely Austrian flags available, including those from the Warflag site.

Full line-up of my Croats. I've now three full companies with another two in preparation. I expect to finish off a fourth company in the next few days.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Maria Theresa's Wild Men

It seems like ages ago that I began to become interested in the less regular of the forces available to the Austrian Empire in the 1740s or so on. This project that I began at the time to start creating some of them has been on hold for a long time, but Amy and I were away on a brief holiday recently and while we were away there were a succession of rainy evenings where she read a detective novel and I got out the Greenstuff and some RSM Croats.

The images below are the painted-almost-to-completion results of a two-day painting blitz; well, it was a blitz for me!
A few Warasdiners. New additions to the company-sized unit I am slowly putting together. It was conversions like these that opened my eyes to the potential of the RSM castings. The Officer at the right of the image is from the Russian Infantry pack to whose coat I have added a fur edging down the front. He needs some metallic lace on his waistcoat to finish him off. Had I a fine enough brush, I might have made an attempt at some gold frogging as well.
These four figures were inspired by plate C2 of the Osprey volume on "Austrian Frontier Troops, 1740-98". They represent troops of the Ogulin Regiment in 1757. The only difference between them and the RSM sculpts is the red bag I added to the crown of the tschako and allowed to flop down one side and the modification I made to the hand that supports the musket to vary the loading pose. This latter was quite successful, I think and is one I will repeat. I am also experimenting with basing variations for my light troops to give them some more interest after good experiences with my dismounted Bavarian Dragoons.

Above are three Hungarian infantry in the basic 174o uniform, painted as Regiment Ujvary per the print from the Vinkhuizen Collection at the NYPL. It's a simple conversion where I have painted the top of the slightly cut-down tschako red and sculpted on some fur. Perhaps the fur detail is a bit heavy, but I've exaggerated a bit for the sake of making the "furriness" obvious. It could use a thin, black wash to tone down the rather violent high-lighting on the cap, too.

The final image here is a couple of Hungarian Soldiers from the later part of the War of the Austrian Succession, perhaps from 1745 onward. Here they have had new hats added and fur cuffs and edging sculpted onto their otherwise short coats. I am so pleased with these that I am almost certain to do a full regiment of them.
I'd love to do some officers in a mix of "German" and "Hungarian" uniform; pelisses, more fur hats and some flugelmutzen for instance. I'd like to investigate adding sabretaches and hussar boots to some of them at least.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Victorian Militia

Small update at the Defence of melbourne blog here.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

More on Castles


Just as tower construction was a response to the perceived vulnerabilities of curtain walls, as time passed problems were experienced with defending towers.

Early, simple towers defences were basically crenellations that garnished their tops and arrow slots that pierced their sides. These allowed the archers who were the main troop type of the castle garrison to shoot out at an attacker and to sweep the face of the wall of those who pressed in too closely.

These simple wall-head defences did not however allow the defenders to prevent an enemy from attacking the base of the tower.

The eventual response was to build projecting defences that would allow fire to be directed down the towers’ faces. Called, machicolation, they were basically a gallery that stood on corbels projecting over the top of the wall. In their earliest form, they may have been of wood as at the Cave of Sueth (a remarkable “castle-in-a-cliff” reminiscent of ancient Petra in Jordan), but later were of stone. The most common form I have encountered is the so-called “box-machicolation” which pretty much was a stone box positioned over a vulnerable feature like a door for it’s defence. Just as often, they would also have an arrow loop in the front face.

A variation on this theme was the slot machicolation which cut an arrow-loop at a downward-sloping angle in the wall so that arrow-fire could be depressed to cover areas closer to the foot of the wall or tower.

Building a castle on an isolated spur or ridge was an early practise in fortification, seemingly imported from France with the original Crusaders. This may be seen today at Saone, about 30 km from Lattakieh in Syria where the well-preserved castle stands today. It’s most remarkable feature is the rock-cut fosse or ditch dug out by Moslem prisoners who left behind a remarkable 23 metre high spur of living rock that in it’s day supported a bridge over the ditch. As neat a description as any I have read runs like this:

“Lawrence of Arabia called it "the most sensational thing in castle-building I have seen". The morning mist was rolling up from the dramatic ridge on which the ruins stand, in the midst of precipitous ravines. In the distance you can see the Mediterranean. Everything here was built "big, solid and magnificent", with a key feature being the extraordinary 28m high rock monolith, which once supported a drawbridge. The monolith stands in a formidable 156m long ravine cut from the living rock, 28m deep and 14m to 20m wide, dating mainly from Byzantine times. We were taken around by a man born within the walls of the castle, when it was still possible for ordinary folk to live there. One feature he showed us: a secret spiral stairway that runs from the roof of the keep, down through the giant central pillar in floor after floor, and then through the living rock of the mountain to the river, far below. The idea, apparently, was to take besiegers from behind.”

Next time: Gates...

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Something About Castles

What follows is one of my semi-regular exercises where I try to order my thoughts on a topic.

In this case, I have continued my reading on Crusader castles in the Holy Land, necessarily concentrating on the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries.

When the Crusaders came to the Holy Land they brought more with them than knowledge of timber motte and bailey castles. Stone castles of some complexity were already being built in France, especially in the Anjou and Poitou, and this knowledge was modified by experiencing first hand the walls of Constantinople as they transited the Byzantine Empire.

The earliest crusader castles were basically walled enclosures centering on a substantial tower called a donjon or keep. These enclosures were strengthened by towers at intervals that began as very slight constructions, being little more than buttresses in their earliest form and meanly provided with arrow-slits. As time went on, these towers became more substantial, projecting further forward from the wall to give flanking fire across the face of the curtain. This increasing size allowed the towers to be used as accommodation and storage.

More and more too, as siege engines - especially in the form of the counter-weight trebuchet - became more able to reach out and touch a work, so too were they provided with vaulted shelters to protect the garrison from bombardment. In the earliest period, though, the most successful means of attacking castles was to mine. This meant digging a tunnel beneath a wall or tower, carefully shoring it up as one went along. When complete, the tunnel was stuffed with timber and fired - this would cause the tunnel to collapse, hopefully causing the structures above to come down. The angles of towers were particularly vulnerable to this form of attack; indeed, they were also vulnerable to direct attack by covered engines that would have a good chance of levering individual stones out from the masonry wall. Another disadvantage the square tower suffered was that its flat faces were vulnerable to the smashing impact of missile fire.

Counter to this was the round, polygonal or even prow-shaped tower. The former was the most frequent expression of a defensive philosophy that tried to either deflect missile-fire or resist it directly; a circular tower is effectively made of a series of wedges, any impact upon which would tend to drive the whole structure more firmly together. They were nonetheless more difficult to build, requiring stone masons' work of the highest order and thus square or oblong towers continued to be built until the end of the Crusader period.

As time went on and experience in the siege grew, towers became if anything even more massive and broad, both to more successfully resist the earth-quakes frequently experienced in the region (and one reads frequently of fortifications damages in just these events) and to mount the siege engines that were frequently used to good effect in counter-battery efforts. Also becoming more common in guarding against both earth-quakes and mining efforts was the glacis, a very steeply-sloping ramp built up against the wall and towers. The glacis might also conceal (as would later walls) shooting galleries for shooting out at attackers. The most striking extant example of a glacis may be seen at the Crac des Chevaliers in modern-day Syria.

Crac is also a fine demonstration of a concentric castle. As the attack became more powerful in siege warfare, outer walls were added to the older simpler castles to create an outer yard or bailey overlooked by the towers of the inner ward. The inner towers overlooked the outer to facilitate shooting over them and into them should the outer ward be taken.

Next time: Wall head defenses, defensive locations, the rock-cut fosse and gates.