Wednesday, 30 October 2013

I Don't Want Nobody To Shoot Me In The Foxhole, 1st Birthday post!

It's been exactly a year since I started this blog, so I guess this is our Cotton anniversary. How do you feel about it?

I'm ambivalent to be honest, so I'll tell you about some foxholes I've been experimenting with for my Rapid Fire! Malaya campaign, although the general principle can be used for any theatre or period.

For a while now, I have been wondering how to go about making some foxholes that look right without being a massive lump on the table. I saw that Command Decision make infantry sets in foxholes, which are basically just figures cut in half. So, I thought, if they can do it, why can't I? So I gathered some spare Peter Pig figures; six Indian 8th Army figures, chosen on the basis that their poses made them look like they were firing over a parapet. Then I performed some heavy duty surgery:

The next stage was to super-glue them to a couple of Flames of War small bases. I packed them in close as though they were stood in a three man slit trench.

Next up, I grabbed some Polyfilla and spread some around the figures to indicate the parapet of heaped earth. This was just high enough so their rifles would be just above it.

After the Polyfilla had dried, the base was then covered with PVA and sand, to add some texture to the upcast earth. 

That was the last stage of preparation and it was just a case of painting them after the PVA had dried. There was no difference from the Indians I have painted recently, except that the parapet of the foxhole needed dry-brushing with various browns. I started with Vallejo Chocolate Brown, then Flat Earth and finally a highlight of Khaki.

 And here they are in position in front of a jungle.

I think they fit the board pretty well, they don't stand too proudly from the surface and are quite dainty!

In the source book I am working from (A. Michael Sayce's Japanese World War II Scenarios Vol. Two: Malaya) it informs me that most of the British forces facing the Japanese were dug into hasty defences, just like these. What this means, of course, is that I need to buy more figures to make into these foxhole positions... Oh well, just when my lead pile was getting low...

Monday, 28 October 2013

Joe Sacco 'The Great War' Book Review

I got this in the post the other day so I thought I'd give it a quick review. It's the comic artist Joe Sacco's The Great War: July 1, 1916: The First Day of the Somme. Published by Jonathan Cape it retails at £20.00, I got mine from Amazon for a bit less. I'm a big fan of comic art and wanted to see what Sacco had done with the First World War in this work.

Out of the parcel one is confronted with a large sized slip case containing the panorama and another smaller book containing an essay on the Battle of the Somme by novelist, journalist and lecturer, Adam Hothschild. I have never heard of Hothschild, despite having just completed a two year MA studying the First World War, but more of this later.

What is great about this project? Well for a start, the format and sheer size of the art work is incredible. It has been created in the style of the Bayeux Tapestry and to demonstrate how long it is, here it is laid out in full across the floor of my house:

Yes, the execution is amazing, as is the artwork, it's a beautiful rendering and full of detail in every panel. Although there is no commentary at all, it is not hard to follow if you have some idea of the opening of the Somme campaign. There is obviously a lot of influence in the images from the film The Battle of the Somme, which was filmed before, during and after the opening of the campaign in 1916.

So the presentation, execution and detail are all amazing, however here is what I didn't like about it. I think the title is misleading, calling the book The Great War but only concentrating on one day in a five year war gives the casual reader the impression that every battle was the same and nothing changed throughout the war. Cementing this theme, the essay by Hothschild is typical of the 'Lions led by Donkeys' school of World War One. A historical stance that has long since been overturned by revisionist historians such as Gary Sheffield, John Terraine, John Bourne, Brian Bond, Paddy Griffith, Richard Holmes, Peter Hart, Hew Strachan, William Philpot etc. etc. I would have preferred to have seen an essay by any of the above mentioned who have spent their lives studying the First World War (although a few of them have passed away...) than one by a man who has written one book on the war.

Other things irked me, such as the annotations for the panorama by Sacco himself. Two of them state: The Soldiers assemble in rows outside their wire. They have been instructed to line up two paces to three paces apart. and The men, many of whom have never been in a battle, are ordered to advance at a walking pace toward the German lines. The Commander of Fourth Army, Rawlinson, allowed local commanders to decide how their divisions would cross No-Man's-Land and the historian Gary Sheffield studied the eighty attacking divisions on the first day of the Somme. He found that only TWO ordered their soldiers to advance at a walking pace, the others found alternative ways of crossing No-Man's-Land. For example, the 36th Ulster Division ran across the ground after forming up in the long grass in No-Man's-Land with the help of saps leading from the trenches. Is Sacco depicting one of the two divisions that walked or is he claiming all the units did the same? This is unexplained in the annotations and to the casual reader it is not clear at all, although I would suspect the latter.

Beyond this, the introduction claims that the British army butted its bloody head for a few more months and then stopped, licked its wounds, and set its mind on the next "Big Push". There is no mention of the success in the south of the Somme front on the first day, no mention of the successful attack on July 14, no mention of the reasonably successful use of the tank on 15 September and no mention of the 'learning process' that the British army went through on the Somme. The Somme is also described as a British battle, ignoring the fact that it was a joint French/British venture when initially planned in early 1916, a situation which changed as the Germans attacked at Verdun in February. Having said that, French units were still involved, albeit on a lesser scale than originally planned. A book that concentrates on a single day in the war should give enough background to the campaign (and the outcomes) so the casual reader can understand the situation and consequences. But then what else would you expect from research that appears to go as deep as a few days at the Imperial War Museum's photo archives in London? Some books are mentioned as particularly helpful in the research in the introduction and the only one that is good solid modern revisionist First World War history is Peter Hart's The Somme. I would suggest that Sacco also should have a look through Philpott's Bloody Victory and Gary Sheffield's The Somme.

OK, with all that negativity, let's end on some positives, it's a bold project and a very interesting take on the First World War. Comics have not really been used to visualise World War One outside of France, so it deserves praise for that. Plus the format is interesting, I like the panorama idea and it fits the subject very well, giving a sense of scale to the build up of the battle.

So in sum: As art it is beautiful, as history it is flawed.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

British 2-Pounder Anti-Tank Guns for Malaya

The latest edition to my growing British force for the Singapore/Malaya campaign project are these two 2-Pounder Anti-Tank guns from Peter Pig. As with all PP figures these are lovely little pieces and are manned by PP's Eight Army gun crew.

The bushes on the fronts of the bases are courtesy of the War Painter, find my review of them HERE.

From the source book, these two guns appear to be the only support the British had during the campaign except some 25-Pounders and they will have their work cut out with the amount of Japanese tanks that were involved in the invasion.

The crew were painted the same as the other British units that I have and I decided to paint the gun in Bronze Green as thought they had been rushed to the east and there wasn't enough time for a repaint. I was directed to this SITE from a discussion on TMP about British equipment colours in Malaya and saw that some of the vehicles were in this colour.

Anyhoo, there is still more to come for this project, but thanks for looking!

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Keeping your bush nice and trim

As I was at a wedding this weekend I didn't get much painted so I thought I'd do a quick product review. I recently bought some grass tufts from the Warpainter on ebay. They were an absolute bargain, at about £7 for over 100 tufts with free postage! Added to this, they only took two days to arrive after I'd ordered them! They arrived in this DVD style box, with instructions of use on the back:

Open them up and this is what you're faced with. I got a mix of dry grass and dark green grass. I wanted the dry grass for the jungle bases of my current Malaya project. I also wanted the dark green grass as a mix and to see if I can use them for European bases.

So I leapt straight in and started applying the tufts to some of my existing bases. They are really easy to use, just pluck them off the backing paper with tweezers and push down onto the base and as they are self adhesive there is no messing about with glue:

I added some to all my Japanese and British bases and they really add a jungle feeling to the figures:

Here is how the Dark Green tufts look on a couple of Russian 76mm A/T guns:

I'm really chuffed with them and will be buying more in the future. I certainly can't recommend these enough! Thanks for looking!

Sunday, 20 October 2013

The Country Pile

Following on from the building of scenery tiles for Square Bashing, I started work on one of the objective squares; the ruined Château. I used this tile in the last game, but this post is about how I constructed it. The objective tiles have dimensions of a 6"x6" tile rather than the usual 12"x6" of the other terrain types. I dug out some ruined walls from Ironclad Miniatures that I have used before and glued them to an MDF tile of the correct dimensions:

It has the appearance of a reasonably sized building with internal walls which shouldn't interfere with the bases of the figures when being used in a game as they are low in height. The next stage was the bring the level of the board up to the bottom of the wall bases, which I did with the trusty old Pollyfilla:

Then it was put aside to dry overnight. Using PVA glue I then added a mix of sand, railway modeller's ballast and small pebbles sieved from the sand to give it a textured base.

When this was all dry, the last stage of preparation was the undercoating, which I did with some cheap spray paint in brown then black. This didn't go on so neat, but it doesn't matter too much as it's mainly to seal the rubble mix and just give a basic undercoat:

Then it was onto the painting proper, the walls were painted in Humbrol Brick Red, which was then highlighted with Burnt Umber and various greys on some of the bricks and door fittings. There are also patches of plaster on the interior walls and these were painted in Vallejo Deck Tan. The interior rubble was heavily drybrushed in Brick Red with various browns and greys added as dry brush layers. The final thing to do was the wash the interior plastered walls in Vallejo Beige Brown, and the interior rubble with Burnt Umber. I edged the base with a medium grey, just to give it a border and this was also washed with Burnt Umber. I didn't take any photos of these stages as they were done pretty quickly and would be too subtle for the camera to show much progress, but this is what I ended up with:

Here it is with a British Higher Command stand observing a battle with support from two MGs.  I'm particularly pleased that the rubble came out as a different shade to the walls, but that was down to the ink wash.

I was hoping to get something like this building from the Battle of Third Ypres in 1917. I left off the wooden boards as I thought they may be too brittle during a game, but I think I have achieved the effect that I wanted of a flattened structure.

I have a few more terrain boards to make for SB, including some shattered woods and more broken ground, so there will be more of this to come in the future, but for now, thanks for looking!

Wednesday, 16 October 2013


I put the finishing touches to a full size Japanese Battalion for Rapid Fire! recently. They had been largely finished at the weekend, but life caught up with me and I was unable to complete the unit until now. This is the second Japanese Battalion I have completed as part of my ongoing Malaya/Singapore project. However, the other battalion is under strength and will need a few additions to bring it up to proper strength. This one, on the other hand, follows the OOBs as laid out by A. Michael Sayce in his Japanese World War II Scenarios booklet.

The unit consists of:
Battalion HQ: CO + 2IC, 1 Bugler, 1 Standard Bearer, 1 Radioman, 4 Rifles (there should be 2 Rifles and 2 SMG, but I didn't have enough SMG figures, it makes no difference to the rules)
4 Infantry Companies, each with 2 50mm Mortars, 1 LMG team, 2 SMG and 6 Rifles

The nice thing about the Japanese is that I get to make flags, something that is very rare in the 20th Century. The BHQ flag was made with tin foil so I could have it flying in the attack!

The unit is pretty big, with 57 figures in total, including 8 mortars! I pity the British units that will have to face that amount of fire-power.

The battalion is augmented by support from four HMGs, the normal machine gun company consists of three HMGs, but I painted an extra one, just in case... The normal crew for a Rapid Fire! HMG is three, but in the Sayce OOBs this is increased to four and this means that the weapons will take more punishment before they are destroyed!

All the figures are by Command Decision, and these are probably pretty hard to get hold of in the UK now that Skytrex has folded...

I still have another similar battalion of Japanese to finish off, plus some more tanks that are on their way from Peter Pig, along with a couple of British units and A/T guns before this project is totally finished and I can have a game, but the end is slowly coming in sight now...

Thanks for looking!

Monday, 14 October 2013

March 21 1918, the onslaught begins

Another Sunday, another game of Square Bashing. This time I wanted to introduce Dean and Dane to the game, so I set up another Quick Game, with the Germans attacking a British defence line during the Kaiser Schlacht of 1918. The Quick Game has 620 points for the attacker and 450 points for the defender with no assets or pre-game preparation. This translated to a German attacking force of 2 x professional battalions, 10 x regular battalions, 4 x field artillery, 2 x heavy tanks. These were pitted against 6 x regular battalions, 6 x MGs and 6 x field guns for the defending British. Dean arrived in a quasi-British trench coat, so his role was predetermined...


Dane and I took the attacking Germans, I controlled the ones on the left flank up to the road, he took the ones on the right flank and they amounted to five battalions for him and seven for me, each with a tank and two gun artillery support. This was the initial set up, Dean placed his line forward with a heavy MG defence on his left flank in the ruined buildings and a lighter defence on his right. His idea was to mount an aggressive defence, which is why he wasn't taking much use of the terrain. Oh well, that's his loss... The yellow dots designate the objectives.

First moves for the Germans saw an advance across the entire field, the tanks were lagging behind, but both Dane and I were itching to have a crack at the defence so the infantry outpaced them.

Dane's forces got in front of the dug in MGs pretty sharpish and readied for the assault:

On my flank I formed up ready to push into the strung out British defence:

I rolled for my first assault, what a result! The Stormtroopers must have been training for this to give out damage like that (5 or 6 indicates a hit!):

Dean's defence roll was not as good...

The result was a massive push through his defence in front of the ruined houses where his Higher Command were issuing their orders.

Meanwhile on the German right flank Dane's assault against the dug in MGs had the inevitable results; many casualties and no progress. It just demonstrates the need for support squares in effective assaults.

However, the crossroads objective fell into German hands with little problem, the British defence being pushed back towards their own lines:

On my flank victory followed victory, the woods objective was captured, with most of the line collapsing against the German pressure. A lot of this was from the support that squares give one another in the assault. Short fronted assaults are punished by failure in the rules.

As demonstrated with another assault from Dane against the MGs which had similar results as the previous ones; more dead Germans, more jubilant British defenders being issued Winning the Fight markers!

However, the last of the British right flank was surrounded in the shattered ruins, including the British Higher Command (the guns at the bottom of the picture have already been removed from the game).

Things were looking bad for the British as the Germans started the assault:

With our left flank secure and only in need of mopping up, I started to turn my attention to the right flank and began feeding troops in that direction to help Dane's faltering assaults.

Dane was held up by the MGs in the ruins along with the field guns and Indian soldiers in the woods, it wasn't looking good here at all.

However, my fresh soldiers arrived a turn later and began their assault on the flank of the emplaced MGs:

And achieved in one assault what Dane had failed to do in three... The first part of the ruins were now in German hands.

With my victory Dane was able to finally punch a hole in the remaining MGs and the objective was in sight!

In the final game turn the last British defenders in the woods were surrounded on all sides and were destroyed to a man.

The game was over, the countdown timer hadn't even reached the end, the Germans had captured all the objectives and broken the British line completely. There wasn't even any point in counting the victory point difference as it was a clear victory. Despite losing, Dean enjoyed the game and I am now getting more used to the rules themselves so the game flows quicker with less flicking through the rule book to clarify matters. I will start adding the extra layers of rules, like the assets, in the next game and see how that goes

And finally, my business, Elmet Archaeological Services have also started a new project searching for a possible Roman fort in South Yorkshire, please read our blog HERE.
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