Saturday 2 December 2023

Some possible ShamBattle map/battlefield variants.

One of the topics that has arisen from the feedback I have received with regard to the SHAMBATTLE map/battlefields featured in some recent blog posts was the fact that the bridges were chokepoints that restricted the strategies the players could adopt. In my own play-test, the majority of the fighting took place within a couple of grid areas from one or more of the bridges.

As a result of this feedback, I looked at the original map/battlefield I had drawn to see if I could change it for the better.

My first variant saw the replacement of the river by a range of hills and the swamps by forests. The chokepoints were now passes through the hills, but troops from both sides were no longer restricted to using them to advance into enemy territory.

My second variant retained the river, but saw it narrowed so that troops could ford it at any point.

In the third variant I kept the narrow river, removed the swamps and central road, and added a traversing road in Redina from Red City to Redville.

This third variant seems to open up the centre of the map/battlefield, and might make a significant difference to the amount of manoeuvering the armies can undertake. 

Friday 1 December 2023

A Lidl present

Sue paid a visit to the local branch of Lidl yesterday ... and came back with a pre-Christmas present for me!

In truth, it was actually four pre-Christmas present, as Lidl had a special offer on Airfix kits, each of which came with its own glue and paints. Therefore, I am now the proud owner of 1:72nd/1:76th plastic kits of ...

... a Supermarine Spitfire Mk.1A fighter, ...

... a Curtiss Tomahawk IIB fighter, ...

... a Folland Gnat T.1 trainer, ...

... and Pzkpfw VI Tiger I tank.

I'm not sure when I will build these kits, but they will certainly give me something to do if I want a break from my other projects.

Thursday 30 November 2023

Military History Plus bonus podcast

Professor Gary Sheffield recently announced that there was going to be a bonus Military History Plus podcast entitled SPECIAL – WHAT DO HISTORIANS ACTUALLY DO – A REPLY TO RIDLEY SCOTT.

In a recent interview about his latest film – NAPOLEON – the film director Ridley Scott is reported to have said in reply to criticism by some historians as to its accuracy, ‘Excuse me, mate, were you there? No? Well, shut the f*ck up then’. This podcast examines this very dismissive attitude of historians and then moves on to look at what role historians – and particularly military historians – perform.

Although I do not agree with everything Professor Gary Sheffield and Dr Spencer Jones say during the podcast, I fundamentally agree that the argument put forward by Ridley Scott is completely wrong. In the National Archives I have read original first-hand accounts and official reports written by participants in several military actions … and although they may have been there, they did not always agree on even some of the most basic facts. The role of the historian is to read those accounts and arrive in their own mind at some sort of overall view of what appears to have happened and to come to some sort of conclusions … and all this is done in the knowledge that another document or piece of evidence may well surface at some time in the future that proves their conclusions to be in some way erroneous.

In the field of military history, research is not just done in the dusty libraries and archives of academic institutions. It takes place on the actual battlefields, usually with a detailed map in hand ... and in my experience, not always in the best of weather! Often it is only then that one can gain the necessary insight and understanding into what happened and why it did so.

A case in point. Some years ago I had the opportunity to visit Pourville in Normandy. Before going, I read James Leasor’s GREEN BEACH, which described fighting that took part in Pourville during the Dieppe Raid on 19th August 1942. It was only when I actually walked around the village and looked at the terrain that all the events and problems fell into place.

The shingle beach – which is made up of large pebbles – was impossible to run up without risking serious injury (I know, because I tried!) and the River Scie, which divides the village in two, can only be crossed via the bridge. On the map the river looks quite narrow and appears to be relatively easy to cross … but when you see that it has been canalised and has deep vertical sides, you realise why the Canadians didn’t just wade across it. (By mistake they had been landed on the west side of the river and their objectives were on the eastern side.) If I had not visited the site of the fighting, I would not have realised how important these factors were in the failure of the Canadians to reach their objectives.

The latest series of these podcast begins very soon, and I am looking forward to listening to them.

Wednesday 29 November 2023

Nugget 358

I collected the latest issue of THE NUGGET from the printer (Macaulay Scott Printing Company of Welling, Kent) this morning, and I will be posting it out to members as soon as I can.

I have sent the PDF copy to the webmaster, and members should be able to read this issue of THE NUGGET online as soon as he can upload it.

IMPORTANT: Please note that this is the fourth issue of THE NUGGET to be published for the 2023-2024 subscription year.

If you have not yet re-subscribed, an email reminder was sent to you some time ago with the relevant information you require to do so. If you have lost this and wish to re-subscribe or you are a new subscriber, please request a PayPal invoice or the bank transfer information from the Treasurer or follow the instructions on the relevant page of the website.

Tuesday 28 November 2023

The MF&FMLR model railway project: Starting the terrain

Once my baseboard was ready, I began the process of adding terrain by covering it with a layer of A4-sized foamcore boards that were trimmed to size. (I used A4-sized boards as I had a stack of them in my wargame/toy room). I did this because I wanted a soft surface for the track pins to go into and I thought that the hardboard would be too hard!

These were glued to the hardboard using a spray adhesive and any excess foamcore was cut away carefully using a sharp craft knife.

I then overlaid this with a second layer of foamcore boards that I temporarily fixed in place using masking tape. I then reassembled my track on top and using a marker pen, I marked on where the track went and the rough locations of the buildings and marshy area. I also numbered each sheet of foamcore from 1 to 9, starting in the top left-hand corner. This was so I knew where each one should go when I had glued them to the bottom layer. (It is worth noting that I laid this second layer of foamcore at right-angles to the first in order to ensure that any gapping was minimised.)

I then disassembled my track and trimmed the nine foamcore boards according to the markings that were drawn onto them. I then glued each of them in place using PVA glue.

To make sure that the foamcore did not move whilst the PVA glue dried, I started with the top row of foamcore boards and used heavy weights to hold them in place until the glue had dried. This took between and hour and two hours. I then repeated this process with the middle row of foamcore boards, and when they had dried, the last row was glued and weighted down.

You will note that I also added a few 'islands' inside the marshy areas as well as a few hummocks to break up the otherwise rather flat terrain. I also changed the edge of the River Thames in 8 to allow for the the Brennan Torpedo launching slipway and in 9 to reinforce the weak bottom right-hand corner of the layout baseboard.

The white foamcore board I used has taken on a yellow-brownish in the photographs due to the artifical light in my toy/wargame room. I did not correct this as I think that it makes it easier to see what I have done.

Monday 27 November 2023

Nugget 358

The editor of THE NUGGET recently sent me the latest issue, and I sent it to the printer earlier this morning. Hopefully, it will be ready to be collected and posted out to members by the end of the week.

IMPORTANT: Please note that this is the fourth issue of THE NUGGET to be published for the 2023-2024 subscription year.

If you have not yet re-subscribed, an email reminder was sent to you some time ago with the relevant information you require to do so. If you have lost this and wish to re-subscribe or you are a new subscriber, please request a PayPal invoice or the bank transfer information from the Treasurer or follow the instructions on the relevant page of the website.

Sunday 26 November 2023

The MF&FMLR model railway project: Designing the track plan

Having completed the baseboard, I decided to try out a number of track plans. The joy of using Kato Unitrack is that it is designed to be clipped together, used, then dismantled for storage. This means that one can play around with various track plans to see if one’s grandiose plans will fit onto a 22” x 35” (56cm x 89cm) board.

Needless to say, my initial ideas wouldn’t work on my small board. I could just about fit in a small oval of track with two sets of points/turnouts … but it was a very tight squeeze and just didn’t look right. Part of the problem was the radius of the curved part of the points/turnouts, which were a much larger radius than the rest of the curves on my projected track design. In the end I settled for a simple long oval of track that looks like this:

Click on the photograph of the track plan to enlarge it.

The large space along one side of board is going to be the bank of the River Thames, and is where the Brennan Torpedo launching station and its defences (a small fort or gun battery) will be located. I also intend to have a couple of small halts where trains can stop to collect building material and supplies and to drop off and collect military personnel.

For the more technically minded, the curves are tight 6-inch radius ones, which means that my larger 0-6-2 locomotives can operate on the track at slow speed ... but tend to derail anything that they are pulling on the curves. As a result, I'll have to use my smaller 0-6-0 and 0-4-0 locomotives and/or shorter or articulated wagons and carriages.

PS. I have ordered some small radius points/turnouts, and if they arrive before I lay the track, I’ll see if I can add some short sidings to the layout.

Saturday 25 November 2023

I now own a facsimile copy of ShamBattle

Thanks to The Saint Bookshop, I now own a facsimile copy of SHAMBATTLE.

The book is actually longer than I expected as I had previously relied on extracts from the Thortrains blog, Phil Dutre's webpage, and the Tiny Tin Men blog. The cover is a generic one produced by the publisher, Literary Licensing ...

... and in no way replicates the cover of the original book. However, the text is a replica of the original, including all the wonderful line drawings and maps.

The contents of the book is split up as follows:


  • Safety
  • Fairness
  • Officers
  • Military Terms



  • Redina and Bluvia
  • The Reason for Using a Map
  • Symbols for a Military Map
  • A Lieutenant's Map
A Lieutenant's Map
  • Directions for Making a Lieutenant's Map


  • The Armies
  • The Spinner*
  • Choosing an Army
  • The Curtain
  • Placing the Troops
  • Time Limit
  • An Introduction to SHAMBATTLE Rules
  • General Rules
  • Rules on Movement
  • Rules on Combat
  • Bayonet Combat
  • Artillery Fire
  • Making an Artillery Square
  • Using an Artillery Square
  • Rules on Capture


  • A Game Between Lt. Williams and Lt. Blackmore
  • Positions of the Troops
The positions of the troops at the beginning of the Lieutenant's Battle.
    • Bluvian Troops Started Attack in the West
    • Redinan Cavalry Rushed to Stop Bluvian Attack
    • Bluvian Soldiers in Blue City Deployed
    • Weak Redinan Defense Retreated
    • Attacking Bluvians Entered Redina
    • Small Redinan Force Met Bluvian Attack
    • Bluvian Attack Approached Redton
    • Redinan Cavalry Turned Back Toward Redton
    • Bluvian Cavalry Divided
    • The Turning Point
The positions and movements of the troops at the turning point of the Lieutenant's Battle.
    • Comments



  • More Than Two Boys Can Play
  • A Captain's Map
A Captain's Map
  • Forests and Swamps
  • Directions for Making a Captain's Map
  • Effect of the New Map
  • The Final Test in Map-Making


  • Placing the Troops
  • The Task
  • General Rules
  • Rules on Movement
  • Rules on Combat
  • Bayonet Combat
  • Artillery Fire
  • Rules on Capture


  • Selecting Officers
  • Medals for Bravery
  • Spies
  • Spy Papers
  • Punishing Spies
  • Claiming a Spy


  • A Model Battle
  • Positions of the Troops
  • Choice of Spies
The positions of the troops at the beginning of the Captain's Battle.
    • Bluvia Invaded by Redinans
    • Capt. Holcomb Remains Inactive
    • Redinans Made Effective Cannon Fire
    • Capt. Holcomb Refused to Issue Orders for Movement
    • Combats in Blueburg Caused Heavy Casualties
    • Bluvian Officers Conferred on Strategy
    • Bluvian Forces Overcome in Blueberg
    • Bluvian Troops Ordered into Action
    • Bluvian Attack Weakened by Cannon Fire
    • Bluvian Infantry Attack Recalled
    • Redinans Unable to Fire Cannon
    • Bluvian Cavalry Force Divided
    • Aid Rushed to Capt. Wright
    • Bluvian Cannon Brought into Blueford
    • Redinan Artillery Fire Resumes
    • Capt. Wright Made a Casualty
    • Redinan Defense Weakened
    • Redinan Spy Claimed
    • The Turning Point
The positions and movements of the troops at the turning point of the Captain's Battle.
    • Comments
    • Useless Troops
    • Veterans in Minor Tactics



  • A General's Problems
  • A General's Map
A General's Map. This is almost identical to the Captain's Map save for the addition of hills.
  • Hills and Contour Lines
  • Adding the Hills


  • Placing the Troops
  • Machine Guns and Hospitals
  • General Rules
  • Rules on Movement
  • Combat
  • Bayonet Combat
  • Machine Guns
  • Artillery Fire
  • Rules on Capture
  • Medical Corps


  • The First Problem
  • The Expected Strategy
  • The Unexpected Strategy
  • Dividing the Enemy's Fire
  • The Defense
  • The Medical Corps
  • Positions of the Enemy Troops
  • Possible Strategies
  • The Duty of a General
    • Artillery Fire
    • Rifle Fire

Having read the book in its entirety rather than an abbreviated version of the General's Game, it becomes immediately apparent that players are expected to start off with the simple Lieutenant's Game, and once the rules and nuances of that game are mastered, they can move onto the Captain's Game and then the General's Game. As such, this made SHAMBATTLE an ideal way to introduce youngsters or novice wargamers to the hobby and is a pattern that we might well adopt nowadays.

There were certain things that did particularly catch my attention:

  • In the Safety section of the first chapter it states 'The safety of the players and soldiers is provided for by the rules. No cannons which might endanger the eyesight of the players are used.' I don't know if this is a reference to the dangers inherent in HG Wells' LITTLE WARS, where spring-firing cannons were used, but one has a feeling that it may well do!
  • In the Suggestions section in the last chapter the rules there are three alternative methods for resolving artillery fire:
    • First: A toy cannon may be employed. However, care must be taken that the cannon is not so strong that it will break the toy soldiers. To preserve the value of deploying, it is rules that all soldiers who fall before the fire of a cannon are casualties or partial casualties, whether they have been struck directly or are knocked over by other soldiers who have been struck. All "unprotected" soldiers falling are made casualties and all "protected" soldiers are partial casualties. (This use of firing toy cannons seems to run contrary to the warning in the earlier chapter, but it may well be the those using the General's Game rules will have understood the need for safety by then.)
    • Second: A small sandbag, one inch square, may be used. A player firing his cannon seats himself behind the cannon and tosses the bag three feet into the air in the direction of his target. The bag must never be thrown directly at the soldiers. All soldiers falling over by the descending bag are made casualties or partial casualties according to the ruling for the use of the toy cannon.
    • Third: A sandbag, such as described above, may be placed on the end of a yard stick. The player firing, raises the stick three feet above the map and holds the end with the sandbag over his target. When he thinks that the sandbag is directly above the target, he tilts the stick and allows the bag to fall. Casualties and partial casualties are made according to the ruling for the use of the toy cannon. (Interestingly, the second and third methods are not that dissimilar from some of the methods that have been used in some of the FUNNY LITTLE WARS battles I have taken part in.)
  • There is also a suggestion regarding rifle fire. It states that 'No cavalry or infantry soldiers, unless accompanied by a machine gun, can be advanced close than within 1 inch of the enemy until they have gained superiority by rifle fire. To gain superiority of rifle fire the dial is spun once. IF number 1, 2, or 3 appears, superiority of rifle fire has been gained and all soldiers are moved according to the rules,' (This suggestion makes a lot of sense to me, and I think that it would improve the rules no end if this were included in the main body of the rules.)

* The Spinner or Dial is numbered 1 to 6 and could easily be replaced by a standard D6 die of the sort most wargamers are used to using.

SHAMBATTLE: HOW TO PLAY WITH TOY SOLDIERS was written by by Lieutenant Harry G Dowdall (US Army) and Joseph H Gleason and published in 1929 by Alfred A Knoff (New York). My facsimile was published by Literary Licensing (ISBN 978 1254 6818 7).

Thursday 23 November 2023

Sixtieth anniversary of the first episode of Dr Who broadcast

Coming as it did on the day after the news of the assassination of President Kennedy, the first transmission of the first episode of 'Dr Who' could easily have been missed by many people. As it was, I saw it on that Saturday, 23rd November 1963. I remember that it was supposed to start at 5.15pm but that there was a slight delay due to a further news announcement about the assassination. I also watched the repeat on 30th November, when it was broadcast just before the second episode.

The original opening titles.

This was back in the day when BBC TC programmes were broadcast in 405-line back and white (actually monochrome, but everyone called it black and white) and by modern standards it was probably rather drab and grainy. Despite this, I was hooked from the very beginning, and although I cannot claim to have seen every episode that has broadcast, I've seen every incarnation of the Doctor onscreen ... including Peter Cushing.

When any groups of Whovians (i.e. Dr Who fans) get together, the conversation usually turns to who was their favourite Doctor. Having seen them all in action, I find this a difficult question to answer. If one splits the pack into two (i.e. the first generation from 1963 to 1989 and the second generation from 2005 onwards), I would probably select Jon Pertwee's and David Tennant's Doctors as my favourites ... but all of the other actors brought interesting nuances to the role which helped to make it such an iconic TV and film series. As to my favourite companions ... well, they must be (in order of appearance):

  • Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney)
  • Sarah Jane Smith (Elizabeth Sladen)
  • Leela (Louise Jameson)
  • K9 (voiced by John Leeson and David Brierley)
  • Ace (Sophie Aldred)
  • Rose Tyler (Billie Piper)
  • Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman)
  • Wilfred Mott (the incomparable Bernard Cribbins!)
  • Amy Pond (Karen Gillan)
  • Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman)

* I would have loved to see Paul McGann make more episodes as the Eight Doctor, but it was not to be. Likewise, I would have loved to have seen him portray Richard Sharpe, a part for which he was cast but in which he was replaced after two weeks of filming because he suffered a knee injury playing kick-about football on location. At least he managed to fill the role of Lieutenant William Bush (Hornblower's best friend and later subordinate) very convincingly in the 'Hornblower' series.

Wednesday 22 November 2023

Sixtieth anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy

In November 1963 I was a secondary schoolboy in my third year at Palmer’s Endowed School for Boys, Grays, Essex. As far as I was concerned, 22nd November was a normal Friday. I’d left school at the normal time and travelled home on the 370 bus from Grays to Corbets Tey, and was watching the BBC with my family when, at just after 7.00pm, a newsflash announced that President Kennedy had been shot. The newsreader was someone I did not recognise. (When researching the background to this blog post, I discovered that it was John Roberts, a member of the BBC staff.) From what I can remember, my family’s reaction was total shock.

Normal BBC TV programming continued for about another twenty minutes, at which point there was another newsflash that told us that President Kennedy had been shot in the head. Before normal programming resumed, the telephone on the newsreader’s table rang, he answered it, and then stated in a very solemn voice that 'We regret to announce that President Kennedy is dead.'

Sixty years on, and in an era of rolling twenty-four-hour news programmes and instant electronic social media, it is difficult for many people to understand how slow news stories were to develop in those days. Radio news tended to be slightly quicker in keeping listeners up-to-date with developing stories, but not by much. From what I can remember, we didn’t see any images of what had happened in Dallas until the following day because the only satellite link was Telstar, and that didn’t operate on a geosynchronous orbit and was only available for about twenty minutes in every two-and-a-half hours.

Not long before President Kennedy was assassinated, I remember being asked to take part in a class quiz during an Art lesson where we were asked all sorts of questions about the modern world. (Our art teacher was a bit eccentric and sometimes did this sort of thing.) Almost universally, the class agreed that President Kennedy would be our 'man of the century' ... even though we were only just past the middle of it!

He seemed to radiate hope in a way other politicians we had heard of did not. (Don't forget, this was the time when Harold Macmillan was Britain's Prime Minister, Charles De Gaulle was President of France, and Nikita Khrushchev was Prime Minister of the Soviet Union and not averse to banging his shoe on the desk during meetings of the United Nations.) There seemed to be an air of optimism abroad, especially after the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, and he seemed to be in the centre of it.

This started with his inaugural address, during which he stated, 'Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country' as well as calling on the whole world to fight the 'common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself'. I certainly remember reading his first State of the Union address, during which he outlined his support for Civil Rights, but to someone brought up in the era of Dan Dare, it was his speech about the space race and going to the moon which probably lifted my spirits most. In it he said 'No nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in this race for space. ... We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard'.

Just the sort of thing an impressionable twelve-year-old wanted to hear.

Nowadays we know that he was not the perfect person that we thought he was at the time. He was, after all, a man who had the same weaknesses as other men and who had the opportunity to indulge some of them, possibly to excess ... but looking back sixty years on, I still remember the hope that he gave us that the world could be a better place, and that is something that seems to be sadly lacking in today's world.