Tuesday 30 November 2010

Push and pull ... will I ever finish a set of wargames rules?

As regular blog readers will have noted, I seem to have real problems with keeping on track with regard to developing sets of wargames rules. I start to develop a set of rules, take them some way … and then get sidetracked. The ‘push’ to complete an existing set of rules vies with the ‘pull’ of writing a new set … and the new tends to supplant the old.

Sitting in my car in today’s snow-bound traffic jam gave me time to think about this situation. Over the past few years I have designed a series of rules for the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I have been influenced by the work of: There are certain common ‘strands’ to these ‘influences’; these may be summarised as being:
  • The use of terrain that is divided into squares or hexes (and, as a consequence, the measurement of movement and weapon ranges in squares or hexes);
  • The use of simple combat resolution systems that either use normal D6s (with a minimal number modifiers) or specially marked D6; and
  • Some form of card-based activation system.
On reflection, I have actually taken the design of some wargames rules just about as far as I could have, and in many cases the new set has not replaced the previous ones ... they have been the springboard from which the new ones have taken off. Furthermore, I now feel that I am almost at the stage where I have a set of wargames rules that work for me, and which I foresee using for some time to come. These are MEMOIR OF BATTLE and MEMOIR OF BATTLE AT SEA. They are not yet perfected, but I don't think that they are that far from being so. When that has happened, the 'push' and 'pull' of 'old' rules versus 'new' rules will have gone ... or will they?

Only time will tell.

It snowed ... but still no 'phone call yet!

As predicted, it snowed last night. In fact it is still snowing now, and looks likely to carry on doing so for some time. Things at school seem to be somewhat confused (a euphemism for chaotic), with students and staff straggling in as and when they can. Classes appear to be taking place, but I doubt if much teaching and learning is.

When I finally managed to get to work this morning (I was delayed by the fact that the gritter lorry that was trying to clear the road outside my house got tangled up with a bus coming the other way, with the result that nobody went anywhere for over thirty minutes ... and no further buses will run on the route until the snow clears), I had missed the weekly staff briefing ... but I was informed that the much awaited 'phone call from Ofsted had not taken place. This means that the earliest they can come in is Friday ... but as inspections take two days, it means that they will not be arriving until Monday next at the earliest!

I do not intend to spend my weekend writing more lesson plans that might not be needed; instead, I intend to do some wargaming and/or modelling ... I hope!

Monday 29 November 2010

Ofsted are coming! Ofsted are coming! ... but we don't yet know when ... so hurry up and stand still!

After spending quite a chunk of my weekend preparing lesson plans that my line manager had, absolutely had, to see tonight at the faculty meeting (a three-line whip was in force, and no exceptions for non-attendance were being given), you can guess what happened ...

... the meeting was cancelled at just a couple of hours notice!

Why? Because the dreaded 'phone call from Ofsted to tell us that they would be arriving in forty-eight hours time was not received this morning. If they call tomorrow, the earliest they will arrive is Thursday morning ... and so the meeting has now been re-arranged for Wednesday evening, on the off-chance that Ofsted will call tomorrow.

Snow is scheduled for tonight, so there is a reasonable chance that transport in London will be disrupted tomorrow morning ... which will mean that the school will be in a state of even greater chaos than normal. It may well be that if Ofsted does telephone, there will be no one senior enough on site to receive the call.

Am I bothered?

Not really. I have been mucked about so much lately that I am beginning to cease to care. If it wasn't for the students who want to learn and the colleagues I would be letting down if I did not turn up, I doubt if I could even be bothered to get out of bed if there is snow on the ground in the morning ... but then I would not be able to play in the snow in my 4 x 4!

Things are beginning to look better already!

Sunday 28 November 2010

The War of the Pacific

In February 2009 I bought a wonderful book from Caliver Books about the uniforms worn by the Bolivians, Peruvians, and Chileans during 'The War of the Pacific'. The book was entitled UNIFORMES DE LA GUERRA DEL PACIFICO 1879 – 1884, and just looking at the marvellous colour pictures of the uniforms gave me great pleasure.

Since then I have been on the lookout for further books about this was, and when the latest catalogue arrived in the post from Caliver Books I discovered that they had a stock of William F Sater's ANDEAN TRAGEDY: FIGHTING THE WAR OF THE PACIFIC, 1879 - 1884 (University of Nebraska Press [2007] ISBN 978 0 8032 2799 6) ...

... and the newly published English-language edition of UNIFORMES DE LA GUERRA DEL PACIFICO 1879 – 1884. This book is called UNIFORMS OF THE PACIFIC WAR 1879 - 1884: THE LAND CAMPAIGN and has been translated and edited by Anne Farnsworth, Ron Poulter, Doriam Montana, and Henry Hyde. It is published by Partizan Press (the imprint of Caliver Books [2010] ISBN 978 1 85818 612 2).

Needless to say, I bought both, and they arrived in the post yesterday. Thanks to pressure of work I only managed to have a quick flick through them when they arrived, and I hope to set aside some time later this week to give them both a long and lingering perusal.

Friday 26 November 2010

No news is ... no news!

The dreaded 'phone call from Ofsted did not come today ... so we know that they will not be in first thing on Monday morning. Unfortunately, this does not mean that I can re-think what I am going to do this weekend as the order to have everything ready for Monday still stands.

I did ask what will happen if:

1. We don't get the 'phone call at all next week or

2. They tell us they are coming in on Wednesday, when heavy snowfall has been forecast. (When we had heavy snow last year, we had to shut the school because we did not have enough staff ... or students.)

I got no answer. Such 'strategic' thinking only takes place at a much higher pay grade than mine ... either that, or they had not thought that far ahead and worked out an answer yet.

Thursday 25 November 2010

Ofsted are coming! Ofsted are coming! ... Well, they might be ...

After a very full day of teaching, I attended the weekly faculty meeting this evening ... and was told that the senior management 'think' (they do not KNOW, only THINK) that the inspectors from Ofsted (the Office for Standards in Education) we be making their long-awaited re-inspection of the school next week ... sometime! This means that we all have to have our lesson plans ready to be checked by the Head of Faculty ... on Monday.

The staff are already under considerable pressure as a result of all the additional work that they have had to do since last year's inspection ... and now they are expected to do even more. To my knowledge, there are at least four staff off work due to illness, and that several of these are stress related illnesses.

So how does all this affect me? Well, for a start, I doubt if I will be doing much in the way of wargaming over the next few days, as I will be writing lesson plans that no one is likely to look at except the Head of Faculty, and which will not actually help me to plan my lessons ... and keeping my blog up-to-date may also be very difficult.

I was looking forward to the weekend, but now ...

Wednesday 24 November 2010

Morschauser revisited

For reasons that will probably become apparent over the next few weeks, I have been re-reading Joseph Morschauser’s book HOW TO PLAY WAR GAMES IN MINIATURE and the ‘Modern’ period wargames rules that I developed using his ideas.

In my opinion, the book still holds up well when compared to other wargames books, although it is only fair to point out that my own prejudices mean that I probably tend to follow a similar approach to wargames design to that used by Morschauser.

As I was re-reading my ‘Modern’ period wargames rules, I was struck by the thought that there are elements from Richard Borg’s BATTLE CRY/MEMOIR ’44 rules that could be incorporated into a developed version of my Morschauser-derived ‘Modern’ period wargames rules. This hybrid would be similar to – but not quite the same as – MEMOIR OF BATTLE. The latter is very firmly set in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century whereas the ‘Modern’ period wargames rules are set in the 1930s to early 1950s.

With my current MEMOIR OF BATTLE AT SEA model Ironclad building programme on temporary ‘hold’ for the moment, thinking about the possible development of this hybrid set of wargames rules might just keep me occupied for the next few evenings.

Trying to make turrets ... again!

I came home today feeling slightly less tired than yesterday, and tried to make another turret for my Turreted Ironclad ... but with no better luck!

I have had lots of useful suggestions as to how to overcome the problems I am having, and I hope to give one or two of them a try over the coming weekend. In the meantime, I have put that particular project on 'hold' whilst I do something else ... but more of that later ...

Tuesday 23 November 2010

Trying to make turrets ...

I have just spent a rather frustrating time trying to make a turret for my prototype Turreted Ironclad ... and failing!

I was trying to use a section of 1-inch diameter wooden dowel as the basis for the turret. The first problem I tried to overcome was drilling two holes in the dowel so that the smaller diameter wooden dowel that I was going to use to represent the turret's armament could fit into them. I just could not get the holes drilled so that they were level ... and when I did finally manage it, the gun barrels were not parallel!

The second problem was trying to saw the wooden dowel into the correct lengths for the turrets. This sounds easy ... but for some reason none of the tops and bottoms of the 'turrets' were parallel with each other after I had cut them off the dowel ... and this was in spite of me using a proper cutting block with a fixed saw that is supposed to cut wood at an angle of ninety degrees!

I have now given up for the evening. Perhaps I will have more luck tomorrow, when I am not quite so tired. If I cannot solve the problem, however, I will have to find another solution.

Monday 22 November 2010

'Little Wars': The current state of discussions

Having had some lengthy discussions with several interested parties, the conclusions we have come to with regard to the centenary game (or games) we will stage using H G Wells' LITTLE WARS wargames rules are that:
  • We shall use 54mm plastic figures, with basic details painted onto them (e.g. faces, hands, boots, weapons, distinguishing facings).
  • We shall use spring-powered cannons, firing wooden or plastic ‘rounds’, to simulate gun and rifle fire.
  • We shall use simple representative terrain features (e.g. cardboard buildings, possibly weighed down with wooden blocks or bricks).
The rules will be based on the more complex ones featured in the Appendix to LITTLE WARS, which H G Wells proposed should become the basis for a more realistic Kriegsspiel.

We have yet to decide on the size of units that participants will use, but it is likely that artillery batteries will have one gun and at least four gunners, whilst infantry battalions will have twenty to twenty five men, and cavalry twelve to fifteen men.

Sunday 21 November 2010

A day of wargaming

Today was the monthly informal wargames gathering that I try to go to whenever I can. As usual, it was held in Central London in the offices of one of the members of Wargame Developments.

Today could best be described as being a 'Richard Borg' day; in the morning we played the epic version of COMMAND AND COLORS: ANCIENTS (the Battle of Cannae, which the Carthaginians won ... just!) and in the afternoon we managed two games using MEMOIR '44.

The Battle of Cannae is underway. The Romans have their backs to the camera, and are facing their Carthaginian enemies, who are sitting across the table from them.
It was generally felt that MEMOIR '44 was not as good a game as COMMAND AND COLORS: ANCIENTS, but that had we been playing the larger, multi-player version of the former, it might have been more enjoyable.

Two for the price of one ...

One of my regular blog readers sent me a very interesting link to a website that has the text of a book entitled CARPENTRY AND MECHANICS FOR BOYS by A Neely Hall. The book was written in 1918, and has some very, very useful chapters for wargamers who like to do a bit of modelling.

Part II of the book is called WAR TOYS AND MECHANICAL TOYS, and the first two chapters are devoted to the modelling of a 'A Toy SuperDreadNought BattleShip' which looks like this:

There are further chapters about how to build a working model submarine, followed by a chapter that has the intriguing title 'A Fleet of Toy BattleShips'. This explains how to manufacture a fleet of model warships that are mounted on wheels so that they can be manoeuvred of the toy room floor. Again, there are diagrams that show how to make the necessary models.

These look remarkably like the sort of models I have been making ... but without the wheels!

It is the next three chapters that are the real 'find' as they deal with 'Toy Artillery And Miniature Warfare'. They contain plans for firing toy artillery, both large field ...

... and siege guns.

It even has chapters on how to build a machine gun and a drill rifle!

This is a link that is well worth looking at, even if you are not a wargaming modeller ... and it has certainly spurred me on with both my wooden warship modelling and LITTLE WARS projects.

Saturday 20 November 2010

A trip to Hobbycraft ...

Last week I visited my local branch of Hobbycraft (in Crayford, Kent) in the hope of being able to buy some more wooden spools (for model ship funnels/smoke stacks) and some wooden cotton reels (for model ship turrets). Unfortunately they did not have any on sale, so today I travelled a bit farther afield, and visited the branch in Maidstone. After a very thorough search of the store, I could not find either of these items on sale, and a member of staff confirmed that the branch no longer carried them in stock.

I can just about cope with making funnels/smoke stacks for my model ships from wooden dowel, but the turrets are a different matter. I was faced with the prospect of either having to cut, carve, and shape them from blocks of wood or find thick enough dowel that I could trim to length. In the end I opted for the latter, and bought an expensive three-foot long piece of 1-inch diameter wooden dowel. I hope that this will be the answer to my problems ... but if it is not, I have wasted quite a lot of money on something for which I do not have another use.

Hey, ho! Halcyon days!

More model warships: Torpedo Boat Destroyer prototype

Earlier this week I decided to see if I could build a model warship that fitted within the limit of 10cm length, but which was not a basic Ironclad. Taking the pictures of John Ruddle's ships as a source of inspiration, I sketched out a design for a Torpedo Boat Destroyer ... and began work on building a prototype. The resulting model is as yet unpainted, but I am reasonably happy with the result.

I have taken a few liberties with the design. It is shorter and fatter than the original TBDs, and only has two torpedo tubes and a single gun mounted forward on a bandstand on top of the conning position ... but I think that it captures the essence of the original, which is what I had hoped to do. I am now thinking about building other models of generic warships from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, all with a maximum length of 10cm.

It will certainly be an interesting challenge!

Friday 19 November 2010

2013: The Centenary of 'Little Wars': A very positive response

The response to yesterday's blog entry about commemorating the hundredth anniversary of the publication of H G Wells' LITTLE WARS has been very encouraging ... and it looks like it is going to happen.

There are quite a few things to be decided. Firstly, are we going to actually fire things at the 'toy' soldiers (which would be in keeping with the original game) or are we going to find an alternative? Secondly, are we going to use the rules in the main body of the book, or those in the appendix? Thirdly, are we going to use metal figures (beautiful when painted but very prone to 'battle damage') or plastic figures (cheaper, but more difficult to keep undamaged as a result of combat)? Finally, what scale figure will be used? The original game was played using 54mm or 42mm figures, but the rules in the appendix talk about using 1-inch (or 25mm) figures.

This is quite an agenda to sort out, but once it has been, progress can begin to be made.

Thursday 18 November 2010

2013: The Centenary of 'Little Wars'

Today has been another of those days when 'synchronicity' seems to have had a major part to play in events.

Over the past two days I have written blog entries about John Ruddle's Garden Wargame, and it set me off on a nostalgic reverie about the wargames I played in my youth. I used assorted and ill-matched plastic and metal 54mm figures in my garden wargames, and the memory of those sunny, carefree days filled me with the desire to recreate that sort of wargame again at some time in the future.

Today I was talking to an old wargaming friend, and he mentioned that 2013 marked the centenary of the publication of H G Wells' LITTLE WARS and that he thought that it would be a good idea to refight the ‘Battle of Hook’s Farm’ (or a similar action) as a tribute to the anniversary. Coming as it did after my musings about wargaming in the garden, I jumped at the thought of doing what he suggested.

The discussion went on for some considerable time, and after due consideration we came to the conclusion that we may have to forgo a garden venue (too much chance of losing what might be expensive figures) and move the event indoors. A quick reference to LITTLE WARS reminded us that the rules were originally designed to be played on a nursery floor, so an indoor game would be in keeping with spirit and the letter of the book. We also talked about the figure scale that we should use, and after a lot of toing and froing (and a further reference to the book) we have opted for 42mm figures. Sets of suitable figures are sold by Irregular Miniatures for prices that will not make the project prohibitively costly, and the ‘war’ will be set somewhere in the Balkans (perhaps Laurania vs. Maldacia?).

We have plenty of time to prepare the figures, test the rules, and plan the event … so watch this space for news as things (hopefully) develop over the coming months.

Wednesday 17 November 2010

More about John Ruddle and the Garden Wargame

I spend some time this evening reading through the two magazine articles that featured John Ruddle's garden wargames ... and they are still as inspiring as they were when I first read them.

John's garden was laid out to represent six countries: Austria, France, Germany, Great Britain, India, and Turkey, and areas that include Flanders, Africa, Arabia, and Northern Italy are regularly fought over. The actual layout was in no way geographically accurate, with the lawn acting as the 'sea', the paths as 'rivers', and the various flowerbeds and rockeries as the countries.

His British infantry regiments were made up of sixteen men and two officers (except for the Gurkhas, who had eighteen men and two officers) whilst the German infantry regiments had fourteen men and one officer. All cavalry regiments had sixteen troopers and two officers. Each of the officers was named, and a proper record of deaths, promotions, and retirements was kept.

Besides an army, each country had a navy. The British had two battleships, two cruisers, eight destroyers, and six torpedo gunboats, and facing them was a German force of one battleship, four cruisers, six destroyers and four torpedo boats. The French was unique in that their navy had a pocket battleship.

The following pictures show some of the model ships John Ruddle made and used.

The first picture shows a naval dockyard. In the centre is one of the larger warships, and elsewhere in the harbour are two motor torpedo boats and a merchant ship. The picture also shows some of John's cast concrete buildings.

The second picture shows the main French naval base, with their pocket battleship – Richelieu – alongside. Also in port are a destroyer, two motor torpedo boats, and a small merchant ship.

Although these pictures only give a flavour of what John's garden wargames must have been like, I hope that they make it easier to see why I found them (and still find them) to be inspiring.

Tuesday 16 November 2010

John Ruddle and the Garden Wargame

I was glancing through my collection of wargames 'cuttings' last night, and found some pictures and articles about John Ruddle's garden wargame ... and I remembered how envious I was when I first saw them.

I gather from the text that accompanied the pictures that John had been wargaming in his garden for many years, and that he used 54mm-scale figures, a permanent garden railway system, buildings made from cast concrete, and wooden home-made ship models. The 'war' was set in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century, and was fought during all but the most extreme weather conditions.

I remember thinking at the time the articles were originally published that wargaming on this epic scale must be incredible, and how much I had wanted to emulate it. Unfortunately, wargaming in my garden was never, ever a possibility – unless one accepts that the world has a one-in-ten slope – so my thoughts turned to building a huge permanent layout somewhere where I could fight a never-ending war with my 20mm soldiers. Alas, that was also a pipedream that has yet to come to pass.

Looking again at the photographs that were specially taken for the articles, I was struck by the cartoonish nature of the ships that John Ruddle built for his wargames … and how similar they are to the style of models that I am currently building. It made me wonder … had I unconsciously remembered John’s models when I began to design mine? If so, am I still hankering after fighting wargames on an epic scale over a permanent terrain?

I suspect that the answer to both these question is ‘Yes’ … so all I have to do now is to win the National Lottery and make my pipedream come true!

Fat chance!

Monday 15 November 2010

A minor problem with stock ...

I managed to visit my local branch of Hobbycraft yesterday, and I had a small list of things that I needed to buy in order to continue with my model Ironclad building programme. Unfortunately the branch did not have everything that I wanted to buy in stock ... and so I will have to try to go to the Maidstone branch next weekend to see if they have what I need.

In the meantime I have been working on some other ship designs, and have begun to make a few prototypes of smaller vessels for the late nineteenth century. If they turn out to be acceptable, then I will write a blog entry about them; if they don't, then they will be consigned to the modelling rubbish bin.

Time will tell what their fate will be.

Sunday 14 November 2010

My Megablitz units: USSR – 7th Artillery Division

In most of my Megablitz wargames, the 66th Army has almost always been supported by the 7th Artillery Division. This is based on the real 7th Breakthrough Artillery Division, that was raised in 1942 and that took part in the Stalingrad campaign.

My 7th Artillery Division consists of:
  • 7th Artillery Division HQ (Command figure)
  • 7th Artillery Division Reconnaissance Group (Spotter figure)
  • 701st Supply Column (Truck)
  • 7th Howitzer Regiment (152mm Howitzer + Tractor)
  • 11th Howitzer Regiment (152mm Howitzer + Tractor)
  • 25th Howitzer Regiment (152mm Howitzer + Tractor)
Notes on the figures, weapons, and vehicles:
My Megablitz 7th Artillery Division was put together from a variety of different sources:
  • Most of the figures are from the 20mm Russian World War II range produced by Skytrex.
  • The 152mm Howitzers are Skytrex models (originally sold as French 155mm Howitzers).
  • The tractors are scratch-built models. The tracks are from ROCO Minitank Pzkpfw IVs, the cabs and radiator grills are from Airfix trucks, and the cargo sections are made from parts of various railway rolling stock kits. The rest is ordinary bits and pieces of Plasticard.
  • The truck is a modified Majorette Ford A truck.

My Megablitz units: USSR – 66th Army (Spring 1943)

The largest Soviet Megablitz formation that I have in my collection is the 66th Army. This was raised from the 8th Reserve Army in Saratov in August 1942, and deployed in the Stalingrad area during late 1942. It took part in the Stalingrad counteroffensive in November 1942, and performed so well that it was redesignated 5th Guards Army in April 1943.

My Megablitz 66th Army consists of:
  • Army Command and Supply Group
    • 66th Army HQ (Command figure)
    • 66th Army Staff (Command figure)
    • 661st Supply Column (Wagon)
    • 662nd Supply Column (Wagon)
    • 663rd Supply Column (Truck)
  • 64th Rifle Division
    • 433rd Rifle Regiment (Infantry)
    • 440th Rifle Regiment (Infantry)
    • 451st Rifle Regiment (Infantry
  • 99th Rifle Division
    • 1st Rifle Regiment (Infantry)
    • 197th Rifle Regiment (Infantry)
    • 206th Rifle Regiment (Infantry)
  • 116th Rifle Division
    • 441st Rifle Regiment (Infantry)
    • 548th Rifle Regiment (Infantry)
    • 656th Rifle Regiment (Infantry
  • 226th Rifle Division
    • 985th Rifle Regiment (Infantry)
    • 987th Rifle Regiment (Infantry)
    • 989th Rifle Regiment (Infantry)
  • 229th Rifle Division
    • 783rd Rifle Regiment (Infantry)
    • 804th Rifle Regiment (Infantry)
    • 811th Rifle Regiment (Infantry)
  • 343rd Rifle Division
    • 1151st Rifle Regiment (Infantry)
    • 1153rd Rifle Regiment (Infantry)
    • 1155th Rifle Regiment (Infantry)
  • Army Artillery
    • 22nd Artillery Regiment (76mm Gun + Limber)
    • 1029th Artillery Regiment (76mm Gun + Limber)
    • 406th AT Regiment (45mm AT Gun)
    • 875th AT Regiment (45mm AT Gun)
    • 237th Mortar Regiment (81mm Mortar)
    • 903rd Mortar Regiment (81mm Mortar)
  • Army Tank Brigades
    • 91st Tank Brigade (T34/76)
    • 121st Tank Brigade (T34/76)
This Army is an ideal formation with which to mount a set-piece attack on dug-in Axis defences, especially when it is supported by an Artillery Division.

Notes on the figures, weapons, and vehicles:
My Megablitz 66th Army was put together from a variety of different sources:
  • Most of the figures are from the 20mm Russian World War II ranges produced by Britannia and Foundry (now recently re-released) but there are also a few from other manufacturers.
  • The 76mm Guns and 45mm AT Guns are Skytrex models, as are the horses.
  • The wagons are 15mm scale models made by Essex Miniatures, and the limbers are home-cast with wheel from the Airfix Matador truck.
  • The 81mm mortars are also home-cast items.
  • The truck is a modified Majorette Ford A truck, and the T34/76s are original ROCO Minitanks.

How to … build a model Casemate Ironclad

I built both my prototype Casemate Ironclads from basswood and some other wooden bits and pieces that I bought from the local branch Hobbycraft. I find that basswood is better than balsa. It is a bit harder and heavier and therefore seems easier to work, especially when you are cutting and sanding it. In addition, its finer grain takes paint better than balsa.

The following description explains how I built my third Casemate Ironclad.

Stage 1: The hull
The hull is 10cm long and was cut from a length of ¼-inch thick by 2-inch wide basswood.

This was then trimmed down to 4cm wide and the basic shape of the hull was marked out on the wood in pencil.

The surplus wood was trimmed away with a razor saw and sharp modelling knife ...

... and then the hull was smoothed into shape using fine sandpaper.

Stage 2: The Casemate
The bottom half of the casemate was made from four lengths of 1cm by 1cm basswood strip. The corners were cut at a ninety degree angle so that they fitted together. These were then carefully glued into place, and the glue allowed to dry.

The upper part of the casemate was made from four lengths of ½cm by ½cm basswood strip. The two longer strips (each 4cm long) were glued in place to form the ends of the casemate, and the two short strips (each 1½cm long) were glued so that firing slits were formed in the side of the casemate.

Once the glue was dry, the roof of the casemate (a 4cm by 4cm piece of ⅛-inch thick basswood) was glued into place.

Stage 3: The Funnel/Smoke Stack
This was made from a 1cm by 1cm piece of ⅛-inch thick basswood (the base of the funnel/smoke stack), a short length of matchstick, and two wooden spools.

The end of the match was gently pushed into a hole drilled into the basswood base …

… and the first wooden spool was dropped down the matchstick and glued onto the base.

The second spool was then glued onto the first, and the finished funnel was set aside to dry.

Stage 4: Final Assembly
All that remained was to glue the funnel/smokestack in place on top of the casemate, and to add a pilothouse (made from a 2cm long piece of 1cm by 1cm basswood strip) onto the front of the casemate.

Once the glue had thoroughly dried, a final check was made to remove any glue that had seeped out during the construction process and to sand down anything that was protruding where it should not … and the model was ready for painting.

Saturday 13 November 2010

The origins of Megablitz

Recently, Tim Gow has been featuring some of his MEGABLITZ units on his website MEGABLITZ AND MORE, and it made me recall to mind how the MEGABLITZ wargame rules evolved (see Note below).

At a Conference of Wargamers (COW) many years ago, Chris Kemp put on a session that involved demonstrating how a Russian Motor Rifle Regiment looked when deployed in a road column that was about to be ambushed by a British armoured reconnaissance platoon. Even though the number of vehicles were represented in a ratio of one 1:300th scale model vehicle per three actual vehicles, the column stretched almost from one end of the room to the other, and the Russian commander – Phil Barker – actually had to sit outside in the garden and command his regiment by shouting orders through the window!

As a result of the subsequent discussion and feedback, Chris developed his ROTORBLITZ wargames rules, which he demonstrated at a subsequent COW. These rules were designed so that it was possible to fight the large-scale battles that would have taken place had the Warsaw Pact and NATO ever had to fight each other. The session was entitled ‘Sci-Fi on the Rhine’ and the rules worked very well indeed.

Spurred on by his success, Chris then developed NOT QUITE MECHANISED (NQM), which was a set of divisional-level rules set in the 1935 – 1945 era. The lowest level unit represented on the tabletop was usually the company, although some types of platoon were also deployed. These rules attracted a lot of attention within Wargame Developments, and several large battles were fought at COW, Chris’s house, and in the warehouse attached to Chris’s shop in Wellingborough.

By this time Chris Willey, Tim Gow and I were very keen on the rules, and felt that they could be developed so that corps-level battles could be fought. After one particular game played in Chris Willey’s basement on a Saturday morning, we began to discuss how we could do this. Over lunch, we decided that the lowest level unit we wanted to represent on the tabletop was a battalion or its equivalent. We also decided that a unit’s or a formation’s ‘state’ should be represented by an order counter, and that this ‘state’ would affect a unit’s movement and its effectiveness in combat. Thus was born the SMART order system. SMART stood for:
  • S = Static
  • M = Mobile
  • A = Attack
  • R = Retreat
  • T = Transit
A combat matrix – which was similar to the sort of Combat Resolution Tables used in board wargames – was also drawn up. That afternoon we tried our ideas out … and found that they worked!

From this small beginning, Tim Gow began to develop MEGABLITZ, and I well remember the first game we played with them – again at Chris Willey’s house. The scenario – the Battle of Dot Sur La Mappe – is featured in the published rules and on the MEGABLITZ website. The rest, as they say, is history (and a bl**dy good set of wargames rules, even if I say it myself!).

Note: Like all recollections, I may well have got some of the events featured above slightly out of order or have forgotten something important. If I have done, it has not been done deliberately – I plead old age and a failing memory in mitigation – and I am sure that Chris Kemp, Chris Willey, and especially Tim Gow, will correct my mistakes.

Simple model ironclads: The second prototype

The second prototype was constructed using the same methods as the first ... but certain changes were made that ensured that the end result was much closer to what I had originally planned.

The first change was to make the hull slightly thinner. The first prototype was 5cm wide; the second was 4cm. This made the whole model appear longer, which enhanced its appearance. Secondly, the strips of basswood used to construct the casemate were also thinner than those used on the first prototype, which reduced the overall height of the casemate, which also improved the model's appearance. Finally, the funnel (or smoke stack) was constructed from several wooden spools that were glued end-to-end. The result was both thinner (and more in keeping with the size of the model) and it had the characteristic 'bands' around the funnel that were a common feature on ships of the period.

The second prototype looks much better than the first prototype, and any subsequent casemate ironclads that I build for MEMOIR OF BATTLE AT SEA will follow the same basic design.

Friday 12 November 2010

Simple model ironclads: The first prototype

Well, I have just finished assembling my as yet unpainted prototype ... and although it has not turned out quite how I expected, it certainly proves that the concept is worth pursuing.

The finished prototype 'at sea' on some Hexon II sea hexes. The 15mm-scale figure gives some idea how big (or small) the model is ... and proves that the casemate is probably too tall, and the funnel both too thick and too far forward. The prototype will probably end up as a self-propelled floating battery!
The basswood I used for the hull was wider than on the original plan, which has made the ship appear shorter and fatter than expected. Likewise, the casemate (which is also made from strips of basswood) is taller than on the original drawing, and the funnel has ended up too thick and too far forward. She is a bit of a dog's breakfast ... but she will pass muster as a prototype, and I already have ideas about how to improve the design.

Thursday 11 November 2010

Remembrance Day

Today is Remembrance Day, and at 11.00am this morning the class I was teaching – who are also all members of my tutor group – stood in silence for two minutes without any prompting from me. It was humbling to realise that these young people – all twelve of them – realised how important the occasion was.

I wish I could say the same about some of my colleagues. The Vice Principal made an announcement about the Two-Minute Silence at 10.30am … but made no follow-up announcement at 11.00am to remind staff and students to stand in silence. In my mind, this was something that he should have done … but apparently he did not feel the need to do so.

In the short discussion that my class and I had after the Silence, one of them made the point that on Tuesday he had bought a copy of CALL OF DUTY: BLACK OPS … and today he was standing in silence to remember the dead of the numerous wars that have been fought since 1914. Although he did not use the term incongruous, it was certainly something that he felt uncomfortable about.

One wonders if the people who made the decision to release the game so close to Remembrance Day were similarly struck by the incongruity of their decision … or was the desire to make a commercial ‘killing’ in the run-up to Christmas too great. After all, they sold seven million copies in the first twenty-four hours … and expect that by Christmas they will sell more copies of the game than the number of people who died during the First World War.

It makes you think, doesn’t it?

Wednesday 10 November 2010

A busy day ... but I have begun to build the first prototype model ironclad!

I have been very busy at work today, and when I got home I found quite a few 'small' jobs that needed doing; for example, checking my company's annual accounts and making my VAT return for the last Quarter!

As a result I did not manage to sit down to begin building my first prototype ironclad until after 9.30pm ... but I can report that despite the lack of time I have managed to make the model's hull.

In the end I opted to use a 2-inch/50mm wide piece of basswood, which is almost as light as balsa but not as soft. This makes it slightly more difficult to work but the tighter grain makes the finished article much better.

Once I had made the rough shape using a sharp modelling knife and razor saw, it only took a few minutes to round off the sharp corners with a sanding stick ... and I am rather pleased with the results.

With a bit of luck I should be able to begin work on the model's superstructure tomorrow, and finish the whole thing by the weekend.

Tuesday 9 November 2010

Simple model ironclads: Improved designs

By making the designs 2cm longer, the resulting models should look a little less cramped and a little more balanced.

Both the longer Casemate Ironclad ...

... and Double-Turret Ironclad have additional deck space that could be used to carry troops or supplies during a riverine campaign.

Now all I have to do is to decide what materials to use – wood or plastic – to build my prototypes.

Simple model ironclads

I have been thinking about how to build suitable models for my play-test of my MEMOIR OF BATTLE AT SEA (1860 - 1870) naval wargames rules. The models need to look reasonably like the prototypes, but have to fit into a 10cm hex. At the same time, I hope to make them not look too out of place alongside 15mm-scale figures.

After some deliberation, I came up with the following designs. The first design is for a small Casemate Ironclad ...

... and the second is a design for a Double-Turret Ironclad.

Both models are designed to be 8cm long and 4cm wide.

They are not ideal designs, but they are a good starting point for further development. I would like to make the models slightly larger (i.e. 10cm long and 5cm wide) but this might make them look too big for the individual hexes that make up the Hexon II hexed terrain.

PS. My thanks go to Tim Gow, who pointed out that the images were transposed when I initially uploaded this blog entry!

Monday 8 November 2010

Naval aspects of the War of the Triple Alliance

The War of the Triple Alliance was fought from 1864 to 1870 between Paraguay and Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay (the Triple Alliance), and only ended when most of the male population of Paraguay was killed.

The Brazilian Ironclad Rio de Janeiro, sinking after hitting a mine on 2nd September 1866 during the war with Paraguay.
The naval actions fought during the war had similarities with the riverine battles that took place during the American Civil War. The armoured warships used by the Brazilians and Paraguayans were a mixture of turreted and casemate ironclads, and they were often mechanically very unreliable and relatively slow. As such they would be ideal prototypes for the models I intend to make so that I can play-test my MEMOIR OF BATTLE AT SEA (1860 – 1870) naval wargames rules.

Sunday 7 November 2010

Retail therapy can be good for you ...

This morning my wife and I paid a visit to the Retail Outlet Centre at Chatham Maritime. It is located just across the road from the Maritime Museum in Chatham – which is always worth a visit – but today the time available was too short and I just could not fit in a visit to the Museum.

I had to content myself with a trudge around the shops in the Centre – something that I do not always enjoy – and this included a visit to the small department store that forms part of the shopping ‘experience’. The store has quite a good craft section, and I began with a look round there, but there was nothing of particular interest to me so I moved on to the toy’s section. This was gearing up for Christmas – already – and a selection of boxed games was on display.

Amongst the various games I happened to come across a copy of Hasbro’s BATTLESHIP EXPRESS for £3.99. Reading the packaging, I realised that although the game was not particularly of interest to me, the components were.

The game comes in a round box, which both serves as a store for the components and as somewhere to roll the dice … and it was the dice that were of particular interest to me. They turned out to be very similar to the dice that come with BATTLE CRY. Both sets of dice have stickers on each face … and I realised that the ones that came with BATTLESHIP EXPRESS could easily be modified by unpeeling the existing stickers and replacing them with some home-made ones. I would then have additional dice that I can use with BATTLE CRY and MEMOIR OF BATTLE.

So in the end I came away thinking that retail therapy had done me some good today ...

Rivals of the Raj

Whilst I was attending Paddy Griffith's Memorial yesterday, the latest Foundry Books publication was delivered. The book is entitled RIVALS OF THE RAJ: NON-BRITISH COLONIAL ARMIES IN ASIA 1497-1941 (ISBN 1 901543 19 6), was signed by the author (Peter Abbott), and cost me £30.00.

The book has ten chapters and a bibliography section. The chapters are:
  • Introduction
  • The Austro-Hungarians in Asia
  • The Danes in Asia
  • The Dutch in Asia
  • The French in Asia and the Pacific
  • The Germans in Asia and the Pacific
  • The Portuguese in Asia
  • The Spanish in Asia and the Pacific
  • The Americans in Asia and the Pacific
  • Minor Powers
    • Belgium
    • Italy
    • Sweden
I must admit that I had not realised the scope of European and American involvement in Asia and the Pacific until I began to read this book and it strikes me that it is going to be a very useful addition to the library of anyone who has more than a passing interest in colonial military history.

Nugget 239

I collected the latest issue of THE NUGGET (No. 239) from the printers yesterday, and hope to post it out tomorrow morning. It should be with full members of Wargame Developments by end of this week.

I have also uploaded the PDF versions of THE NUGGET and THE NUGGET COLOUR SUPPLEMENT to the Wargame Developments website, and these are now available for full members and e-members of Wargame Developments to download and read.

Paddy Griffith Memorial

Yesterday I had the honour and privilege to attend the Paddy Griffith Memorial that was held in the Indian Army Memorial Room at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. The event was organised by Paddy's wife – Genevieve – and his son – Robert – and provided an opportunity for those of us who had been unable to attend Paddy's funeral to meet and remember him.

Such occasions are often very sombre affairs, but this was very much a celebration of an exceptional life and, as the programme shows, there were contributions from a wide and diverse number of people.

After the memorial, there was an opportunity for us to mingle. We renewed old friendships – and made new ones – as well as remembering the contribution that Paddy had made to military history and wargaming. One of Paddy's character traits that was mentioned by almost everyone who was there was his modesty, and I am sure that had he been at yesterday's Memorial, he would have been quite embarrassed by the praise that was heaped on him.

Paddy Griffith: Gone but by no means forgotten. Requiescat in pace.

Saturday 6 November 2010

Memoir of Battle at Sea: The 1860s and 1870s


Turn Sequence
  1. Both sides fire their guns. (N.B. Firing guns is deemed to be simultaneous, and a ship that has been hit and sunk may fire its guns that turn – as it sinks – if a suitable target is in range.)
  2. Both sides throw a D6 die. The side with the lowest score moves its ships first that turn.
  3. Once the first side has moved its ships, the other side moves theirs.
  4. If a ship rams another, the results of the ramming are adjudicated.
  5. Once both sides have had the opportunity to fire, to move their ships, and the results of any rammings have been adjudicated, the turn is over and the next turn may commence.
Ship Data

Firing Dice
  • The six faces of the D6 firing dice are marked as follows:
    • 1 x Major hit (worth two Flotation Value points) = White
    • 2 x Minor hit (worth one Flotation Value point) = Blue
    • 3 x Miss = Red
Firing Guns
  • No ship may fire its guns at more than one target each turn.
  • No ship may fire its guns at a target that is not in direct line-of-sight.
  • Turreted Monitors: Can fire at targets that are within a three hundred and sixty degree arc (i.e. they can fire will full effect at any target). The number of dice thrown is reduced by one for every hex the target ship is distant from the firing ship.
For example, a Turreted Ironclad firing at a target ship ‘fires’ by throwing six dice. The number of dice thrown depends upon the range, and is counted down as follows: 6-5-4-3-2-1. Therefore if a target is at point-blank range (i.e. one hex) she 'fires' (or throws) six dice, but if it is four hexes away, the Turreted Ironclad ‘fires’ two dice.
  • Other ships: If the target ship is not ahead or astern of the firing ship (i.e. it is in a hex that is not wholly within a sixty degree arc either side of the hex ahead or astern of the firing ship), the firing ship may ‘fire’ with full effect. The number of dice thrown is reduced by one for every hex the target ship is distant from the firing ship.
For example, a Casemate Ironclad firing at a target ship that is abeam of it ‘fires’ by throwing four dice. The number of dice thrown depends upon the range, and is counted down as follows: 4-3-2-1. Therefore if a target is at point-blank range (i.e. one hex) she 'fires' (or throws) four dice, but if it is four hexes away, the Casemate ironclad ‘fires’ one die.
  • If the target ship is ahead or astern of the firing ship (i.e. it is in a hex that is wholly within a sixty degree arc either side of the hex ahead or astern of the firing ship), the firing ship may ‘fire’ with half effect (i.e. it only throws half the number of dice it may normally throw). The number of dice thrown is reduced by one for every two hexes the target ship is distant from the firing ship.
For example, a Casemate Ironclad firing at a target ship that is ahead of it ‘fires’ by throwing two dice. The number of dice thrown depends upon the range, and is counted down as follows: 2-2-1-1. Therefore if a target is at point-blank range (i.e. one hex) she 'fires' (or throws) two dice, but if it is three hexes away, the Casemate Ironclad ‘fires’ one die.
Damage and Sinking
  • All hits are cumulative. When a ship’s Flotation Value reaches the Critical Point, the ship must break off from battle. When a ship's Flotation Value is reached, it sinks.
For example, a Steam Frigate has suffered three points of damages, and its Flotation Value has been reduced to three. It is hit again by gunfire and suffers a ‘Minor’ hit. As a result its Flotation Value is reduced to two, which is the ship’s Critical Point. Next move it must break off from the battle it is taking part in and sail to safety … if it can.
  • Movement is measured in hexes. Ships may turn sixty degrees – the turn 'costing' one hex of movement – or move forward one hex for each hex of movement they are allotted.
For example, a Steam Gunboat has a movement rate of three hexes. It can move forward one hex, turn sixty degrees (= one hex of movement), and move forward another one hex. Alternately, it could have turned sixty degrees three times (i.e. made a turn of one hundred and eighty degrees) in the same hex.
  • Ramming occurs when a ship enters the same hex as another ship during the movement phase of the turn sequence. If the ship that is ramming the other is equipped with a ram, then four firing dice are thrown. If the ship that is ramming the other is not equipped with a ram, then two firing dice are thrown.
For example, if a Casemate Ironclad equipped with a ram rams a Turreted Ironclad, the results of the ramming are adjudicated by throwing four dice. If the Turreted Ironclad was not equipped a ram and rams the Casemate Ironclad, only two dice are thrown.

Friday 5 November 2010

Some new purchases ...

After finishing work today, my wife and I went to our local retail centre to do the weekend food shopping. Whilst I was there I was able to spend some time in the branch of WHSmith, where I bought the following items.

The first was a boxed set of THE PACIFIC. This cost me £29.99 and from what I hear, it will be well worth the money.

The set contains six DVDs, the first five of which have two episodes of the series on them, and the sixth has all the 'extra' features that usually come with boxed sets. As I missed this series when it was transmitted on TV, I am looking forward to viewing it over the next month or so.

The second purchase could easily be regarded as a 'vanity' purchase. Issue No. 3 (December 2010) of MILITARY TIMES contains some interesting articles including:
  • The First Day of the Somme: Britain's bloodiest day
  • Death in the Trenches: Was another way possible?
  • Taranto: 11/12 November 1940
  • Marathon: Birth-cry of Europe
  • Afghan War: The second invasion
I have bought the first two issues, and I find that they have so far been of more interest to me than the mainstream wargames magazines that I usually glance at ... but don't often buy these days.

MILITARY TIMES is published by Church Street Publishing, and costs £3.95 per issue.

Oh! ... and for those of you who are interested in why this could be regarded as a 'vanity' purchase ... some bloke with my name wrote an article about why George Washington was the 'Greatest Leader of All Time'.

My final retail 'bargain' was a recently published A4-sized softback entitled AGAINST ALL ODDS. This booklet has been produced by Ian Allan Publishing for WHSmith (ISBN 978 0711 036 390), and costs £7.95.

The booklet covers three 'heroic battles in the face of adversity'. The battles are:
  • Little Big Horn 1876
  • Rorke's Drift 1879
  • Oosterbeek 1944
Each battle is covered by a separate chapter, and each chapter has the following sections:
  • Background Narrative: This section describes why the battle was fought and the main events of the battle
  • Commanders: This section gives a character sketch of the main commanders on both sides
  • Combatants: This section describes the soldiers who took part in the battle, including the weapons and tactics they used
  • Tour: This section describes the battlefield as it is today
  • Movies: This section analyses the different ways the battle has been portrayed on film.
The booklet is well illustrated throughout with some excellent photographs, drawings, and reproductions of paintings as well relevant and informative maps. This appears to be a 'one off' publication, but if Ian Allan and WHSmith produce similar booklets in the future, I will give serious consideration to buying them.