Tuesday, 20 December 2011

What is it about me and Russia?

One of the things that was very striking when I was sorting through all the books and wargaming stuff in my toy/wargames room was how much of it related to Russia. For example, my largest Megablitz army by far is my Soviet one (it comprises an entire Army – 66th – as well as a Tank Corps, an Artillery Division, and several Naval Infantry Brigades).

Tonight I looked along the bookshelves and realised that I own several collections of fiction stories set in pre and post-Revolutionary Russia, including the following:
  • All the English-language editions of Boris Akunin's Sister Pelagia (‘Pelagia and the White Bulldog’, ‘Pelagia and the Black Monk’, and ‘Pelagia and the Red Rooster’) and Erast Fandorin novels and stories (‘The Winter Queen’, ‘The Turkish Gambit’, ‘Murder on the Leviathan’, ‘The Death of Achilles’, ‘The Jack of Spades’, ‘The Decorator’, ‘The State Counsellor’, ‘The Coronation’, ‘She Lover of Death’, ‘He Lover of Death’, and ‘The Diamond Chariot’)
  • All of Martin Cruz Smith's Arkady Renko novels ('Gorky Park', 'Polar Star', 'Red Square', 'Havana Bay', 'Wolves Eat Dogs', 'Stalin's Ghost', and 'Three Stations')
  • All of Tom Rob Smith's Leo Demidov novels ('Child 44', 'The Secret Speech', and 'Agent 6').
I also own as many non-fiction books about the Russian and Soviet Navies as I own about the United States Navy ... which was another surprise for me.

So what is it about me and Russia?

Frankly, I don't know. I am sure that there are people out there who could suggest reasons ... and those that know me well will know that it certainly isn't anything remotely political that I find attractive about Russian during the bulk of the twentieth century! My only contact with Russia has been two very fleeting visits during Baltic cruises ... and what I saw convinced me that it is a country unlike any other that I have every visited.

I just don’t know why Russia fascinates me so much, but it is something for me to ponder on as I paint my next batch of Russian troops.


  1. Could it be that like me when I first started wargames I got a copy of Charles Grants 'Battle'. He used German and Russian forces in the book as he did not want Anglos to be offended by a Panther brewing up a Churchill. I must admit my ww2 forces are German and Russian in 1/144 scale for the armour and axis and allies miniatures providing my infantry and artillery. Wishing you and yours a Merry Xmas Bob

  2. Bob,

    Russia has been a matter of great interest for me, too. Russian military operations are fascinating, in part because Russian soldiers are in many ways so different from those in the West. Their campaigns in Asia, the Caucasus, etc., are particularly interesting, and get very little attention here.

    Eleven years ago I adopted a brother and sister from Russia, and while there, visited a tank museum in Perm (west of Moscow, near the Arctic Circle). My guide-translator asked me what I thought of Russia's role in WWII. I could tell by the look on his face that he expected me to say that the US and UK pretty much won the war by themselves. I instead replied that Russia by far engaged the bulk of Germany's forces, and that the sacrifices of the Russian people played a huge role in Hitler's defeat. He was flabbergasted--I don't think any Westerner had ever acknowledged that to him before!

    I should also add that my 15-year old son originally denied even being Russian (due to bitter memories of the orphanage no doubt), but lately has embraced it in a big way. Last year his class was asked to write about their hero. Most of the kids named Michael Jackson (!!) or some such nonsense. Andre wrote about Georgi Zhukov, which I would wager is the first and only time that will ever happen, at least in Northern Virginia!

    As a final bonus, Andre's older sister is still fluent in Russian, and can translate Russian military articles for me!

    Just call me lucky and best regards,


  3. Perhaps it is the attraction of "The Other"? Familiar but different.

    In any event you are in good company, Russia has long exercised an strong pull on the imagination of the West.

  4. Over the last few years I have taken to playing the "other guys". Russians, and for me the Japanese, are usually seen as one dimensional stereo types.

    General western history, wargaming and wargamers alike seem to work from a vision of hordes of T-34s unthinkingly crash against the thin grey line of Panthers and Tigers while Cross of Iron style soldat cut down waves of poorly trained conscripts.

    The thinking person knows there is more to it than that and goes looking. Stalinist Russia was bad enough that it produced tens of thousands of Hiwis and yet its citizens fought tooth and nail for its preservation. There is some interesting and decidedly non-western psychology there. Further, western history is easily accessible both because of quantity and because it is written in or translated into English. Good eastern history is much harder to get hold of especially during the cold war and outside of formal military circles. Uniforms and tactics of the SS books are a dime a dozen but a really good book on Russian military doctrine is a real gem.

    Anyway I will stop blathering here and get back to reading first person accounts of the SU-76.

  5. Faced by another enemy position, Bob the Bolshevik considers his vast tank army and proclaims:

    "Can we take it? - Yes we can!"

  6. Maybe you find the Russians exotic enough to be interesting yet still be involved in the mainstream of European conflict? After all, your tastes are perhaps on the slightly more unusual side (I've just re-read some of your 80s stuff in MW on South American wars)?



  7. Hi Bob,

    I don't know if this is true in your particular case but I for one have always found the Russian armies to be almost always the 'underdog'. They always seem to triumph eventually over usually more sophisticated opponents - not merely by numbers alone - and usually as a result of some inevitable 'backs against the wall' preliminaries. They are capable of great dash and elan as well as almost criminal incompetence on occasion.

    Dare I say it, perhaps in that sense they are closer to us than we might realise; hence the subliminal attraction!

    All the best,


  8. Interesting - as I too have lots of 'Russian' toys from five periods in at least four scales. Perhaps the initial fascination was in the Russians being the 'bad guys' in the good old days of the Cold War? Then there's the fact of them being seemingly impossible to militarily defeat - as Messers Boneparte and Hitler could confirm.

  9. I'm still chuckling about the comment of Arthur1815. But I can relate, Bob. With me, it's the French.

    I think others have touched on the appeal of Russia, a culture similar yet so foreign in many ways.

    Then there is the dogged stoicism of the Russian soldiers, always making them formidable opponents in the long run, capable of achieving great things often in spite of bad leadership.


  10. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.


  11. "The army with the simplest uniform wins".

    Pretty straightforward really :O)

  12. Ah. Ever since I found a book in the school library called 'The Forgotten War' which was the only book about the Eastern Front WWII in all their history, I was interested. That was in a freezing period of the cold war. Since the wall came down there have been more memoirs and studies appearing in English translation than ever before it seems. So the beast continues to be fed.

    When I consider my present model pursuits (T34-85 plus crew) and my World of Tanks project (T34 and IS-2 at present) I gotta also admit that there is something about the aesthetic of the machinery.

    Enjoy the season!


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