Friday 30 October 2015

Fedor Bondarchuk's Stalingrad

Last week I bought a DVD of Fedor Bondarchuk's 2013 film, STALINGRAD.

Fedor is the son of Sergei Bondarchuk, who directed WATERLOO, and is an actor, producer, and director. The cast of STALINGRAD includes:
  • Pyotr Fyodorov (as Gromov)
  • Dmitriy Lysenkov (as Chavanov)
  • Alexey Barabash (as Nikiforov)
  • Andrey Smolyakov (as Polyakov)
  • Sergey Bondarchuk Jr. (as Sergey Astakhov)
  • Oleg Volku (as Krasnov)
  • Philippe Reinhardt (as Gottfried)
  • Georges Devdariani (as Klose)
  • Yanina Studilina (as Masha)
  • Maria Smolnikova (as Katya)
  • Thomas Kretschmann (as Hauptmann Peter Kahn)
  • Heiner Lauterbach (as Oberstleutnant Henze)
  • Polina Raikina (as Natashka)
  • Yuri Nazarov (as Navodchik)
The film can best be described as being an all-action, melodramatic, love story and war film. It lasts just over two hours and contains some of the most violent and graphic battle scenes I have ever seen. The story is told as a flash-back by an elderly Russian rescue worker who is helping to recover survivors trapped after the Japanese earthquake and tsunami of 2011.

The plot of the film deals with the fight for a large building that is blocking a German advance. The building is held by five Russians soldiers and a young Russian woman (Katya) who they found inside when they took possession of the building. The German attackers are led by a German officer (Hauptmann Kahn) who has developed an obsession with a young Russian woman (Masha) who resembles his dead wife. The German officer's superior (Oberstleutnant Henze) proves to be a callous individual who will stop at nothing to be successful.

The film opens with scenes showing Russian troops being ferried across the River Volga towards the city of Stalingrad.

Newly-arrived Russian troops try to capture the oil tanks that hold the German Army's fuel reserves, but before they can do so Hauptmann Kahn blows the oil tanks up, dousing the attackers in flames.

The fighting is then concentrated around the centre of the city, and in particular the square containing the famous statue of the six children dancing in a circle.

Before the first major German assault on the Russian-held building is made, Oberstleutnant Henze makes what he regards as a pre-battle 'blood sacrifice' when he orders that a woman and child that he has ‘indentified’ as being Jewish are boarded up in a tramcar … which is then set alight by a flamethrower.

This act causes the Russian defenders to mount a pre-emptive attack on the Germans, forcing them to fall back.

This only delays the Germans, and several unsuccessful attacks are made before a number of panzers arrive on their way to attack the Russian bridgehead on the western bank of the Volga. By this time Oberstleutnant Henze has been killed (as has Masha), and Hauptmann Kahn leads a final assault on the Russian position, supported by the panzers.

The attack succeeds, but just as the Germans seize control of the building, the Russians call down an air strike on their position, killing the Germans and wiping themselves out in the process. Only Katya survives because Sergey Astakhov – who is the father of her unborn child – makes sure that she is moved to a safe nearby location before the final battle begins.

Thursday 29 October 2015

A memorable breakfast

The Immediate Past Master of my Masonic Lodge stayed with Sue and I last night ... and this morning we decided to try out a special breakfast service provided by a local company.

BEDNBREAKFASTTT deliver a fully-cooked breakfast – sourced from local suppliers – to your front door at a pre-arranged time. This morning we had four large sausages, six rashers of bacon, four fried eggs, baked beans, cooked tomatoes, cooked button mushrooms, four slices of toast, and two small bottles of freshly-pressed fruit juice ... all for £15.00! All we had to do was unpack the food from its insulated packaging, put it on our plates, and eat it.

We don't usually use fast-food takeaways ... but we were very impressed by the food we ate this morning, and I suspect that we will be using BEDNBREAKFASTTT again in the future.

The young woman who runs this business was the person who delivered the food to our door. We looked at each other, and both of us recognised each other ... but could not work out where from. Then the penny dropped ... and we both realised that I had taught her nearly fifteen years ago!

It is nice to see that an ex-pupil has carved out a career for herself, and I wish her great success in her endeavours. She had become a teacher herself and worked abroad, where most people either ate out or ordered food to be delivered to their home. When she returned to the UK she adapted the idea to fill a niche in the market ... and she is about to branch out into supplying cooked Sunday lunches as well!

Wednesday 28 October 2015

Second Degree ... and the Third Degree

This afternoon my Masonic Lodge will be demonstrating the Second Degree ceremony ... and as I am the current Worshipful Master the bulk of the ritual has to be done by me. Although this is my second time in the Chair, I have never done a Second Degree ceremony before, and I must admit to being a little nervous about doing it. Funnily enough I have done a Third Degree ceremony, which is much harder as I had to learn far more ritual.

The Third Degree in Freemasonry is by far and away the most difficult of the three Degrees a candidate has to go though ... and is probably the origin of the expression 'giving someone the Third Degree' (i.e. using excessive force, pain, or emotional pressure to extract a confession or statement from someone). In Freemasonry we certainly don't use any of those methods as were aren't trying to get someone to confess to anything ... but the ceremony does make the candidate confront something that he might fear, but only to show him that he has nothing to fear except fear itself.

So why am I bothering to tell my regular blog readers all about this? Simply so that they can understand why so very few of my recent blog entries have actually been about wargaming. Instead of writing rules, devising scenarios, or painting figures, I have been trying – not very easily – to learn a great chunk of Masonic ritual.

Once today is over I hope to get back to wargaming regularly again, although rumour has it that there might be a candidate for Initiation (i.e. the First Degree) on the horizon ... and I haven't ever done that ceremony before either!

Tuesday 27 October 2015

Red Flags and Iron Crosses

Yesterday I happened to be looking back at the first few blog entries that I wrote. They were about the set of World War II rules that I was then developing ... RED FLAGS AND IRON CROSSES: TARRED AND FEATHERSTONED.

Re-reading about my various play-tests, I realised that they were a better set of rules than I remembered them being. Perhaps I ought to give them another try sometime soon? In the meantime, here are some of the photographs I used to illustrate those early blog entries.

For those of you who like to know a bit more about the models etc. that I used, they were:
  • Terrain: Hexon II
  • Trees: Cheap model railways trees that I based after adding additional flock to the foliage
  • Buildings: N-gauge Hornby model railway buildings
  • Walls/Entrenchments: Hovels
  • Aircraft: Pre-painted models issued with a magazine part-work
  • Tanks: Corgi pre-painted models
  • Vehicle: Matchbox plastic kit
  • Artillery: Skytrex
  • Figures: Various manufacturers including Raventhorpe, Tumbling Dice, Skytrex, and Britannia

Monday 26 October 2015

Miniature Wargames with Battlegames Issue 391

The November issue of MINIATURE WARGAMES WITH BATTLEGAMES magazine arrived in Saturday's post and I managed to read it over the weekend.

The articles included in this issue are:
  • Briefing (i.e. the editorial) by Henry Hyde
  • World Wide Wargaming by Henry Hyde
  • Forward observer by Neil Shuck
  • Grecian farm: The continuing tales of a wargames widow by Diane Sutherland
  • Fantasy Facts by John Treadaway
  • Cruising for a bruising: British tanks in the Desert War 1940-41 by Daniel Mersey
  • Send three and fourpence by Conrad Kinch
  • Apocyrphal Well revisited: An homage to Charles Grant and 'The Ancient Wargame' by Dave Tuck and Malc Johnson
  • The pleasant land of counterpane: A neglected place to wargame by Arthur Harman
  • Hex encounter by Brad Harmer
  • Be a storage Scrooge: Bargain boxing for your military miniature by Allan Timms
  • Are you inspired by dice?: Further thoughts on inspiration by Andy Copestake
  • Colours 2015, Newbury by John Treadaway
  • The Other Partizan 2015 by Neil Shuck
  • Recce
  • The Battlegames Combat Stress Appeal report by Henry Hyde
I thought that this issue was better than the October one, and as someone who has an interest in the inter-war and early World War II periods, it was nice to see Daniel Mersey's article Cruising for a bruising about the British tanks that were used during the early years of the Desert War. Arthur Harman's article The pleasant land of counterpane reminded me of some of my earliest teenage wargames, which were fought out on my single bed or the floor of the room that I shared with my brother. It also put me in mind of the wargames fought by John Sandars on his bed, at least one of which was featured on the pages his book AN INTRODUCTION TO WARGAMING.

Sunday 25 October 2015

The Battle of Agincourt

Today is the six hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, and to mark the occasion I am quoting the King's speech from HENRY V, Act 4, Scene 3:
What's he that wishes so?
My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin;
If we are mark'd to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God's will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.
God's peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more methinks would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man's company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is call'd the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say "To-morrow is Saint Crispian."
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say "These wounds I had on Crispian's day."
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb'red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

Saints Crispin and Crispinian are the patron saints of cobblers, curriers, tanners, and leather workers. It is believed that they were beheaded on 25th October, 285 or 286, during the reign of Emperor Diocletian.

Their origins are obscure, but they may have been the sons of a noble Romano-Briton family that lived at Canterbury, Kent. It is thought that their father was killed for displeasing the Roman Emperor and that their mother sent them to London – and safe obscurity – to become apprentices. Whilst on the way to London they stopped in Faversham where they became apprenticed to a shoemaker. There is a plaque in the town centre that commemorates their association with Faversham, and they are also commemorated in Strood, Kent, by the name of a very old public house, the CRISPIN AND CRISPIANUS.

This version of the story of the twin saints does not explain how they came to be martyred.

Friday 23 October 2015

I have been to ... the Fortress of Louisburg, Nova Scotia, Canada

During our recent cruise, Sue and I had the opportunity to visit the Fortress of Louisburg, which is located on the south-east coast of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada. We both agreed that this was a very impressive site, and we could easily have spent a whole day exploring it.

The Fortress of Louisburg was built on the site of an earlier settlement called Havre à l'Anglois. This was a fishing port, and had been settled in 1713. In 1720 construction of the fortress began, and is was completed twenty years later, by which time it had developed into a major commercial port as well as being one of the most extensive European-built fortifications in North America.

In 1745, during the War of the Austrian Succession, the fortress was captured by a force of British colonists. It was returned to the French in 1748 in exchange for several border towns in what is modern-day Belgium. Ten years later during the Seven Years War it was recaptured by British forces, after which its fortifications were systematically destroyed by British engineers.

The site remained a ruin until the 1960s, when the coal mining industry on Cape Breton Island declined. Faced with the problem of trying to find work for the now unemployed miners, it was decided to use them to reconstruct the fortress, using as much of the original stonework as was possible. Over a quarter of the original fortress has now been reconstructed, and work continues although at a much slower rate.

Some idea of the size of the site can be gauged from the following satellite photograph:

The King's Bastion Barracks dominates the skyline.

When we arrived at the guardhouse outside the barracks, we were met by an interpreter who was dressed as a member of the Artillery unit that was stationed in the fortress in the 1740s.

In character he described his recruitment from prison into the French Troupes de marine. He explained how the Troupes de marine were paid and treated, and that without being able to undertake paid manual work in the fortress's docks during his off-duty time, he would have been in perpetual debt to his company commander. He further explained how he learnt to read and to do mathematics, and that this had enabled him to transfer to the artillery and to reach the rank of Sergeant.

He then demonstrated how his musket was loaded and fired.

We then set off to look around the reconstructed buildings that form part of the town that was built within the fortress.

One of the houses we were able to look around was that belonging to the fortress's engineer, Jean-Francois du Vergery de Verville.

Jean-Francois du Vergery de Verville's office contained numerous survey instruments ...

... and a desk on which were ...

... copies of some of the plans used in the fortress's construction.

Outside we came across a member of staff who was playing a hurdy-gurdy.

We then made our way back to the King's Bastion Barracks. The only way one can enter is via a wooden bridge ...

... over the dry moat ...

... in which were kept some of the garrison's animals.

The bridge over the moat is quite narrow ...

... and as we crossed it we were met by another interpreter, who was dressed as a member of the Troupes de marine.

On entering the gateway we saw the prison cells on our right ...

... and the chapel on our left.

Once through the gateway we could see the huge area enclosed by the bastion's walls.

On top of the main rampart ...

... we met the Sergeant again, this time with one of his beloved cannons.

Standing atop the rampart, it was possible to see the entire length of the barracks ...

... including the stockade in which some of the garrison's the livestock was kept.

As the time we had left was limited, we were only able to spend a short time looking inside the right-hand end of the barracks.

On the ground floor were various rooms used to prepare food for the garrison's senior officers ...

... and where some of their soldier-servants lived.

Upstairs ...

... were the apartments used by the senior officers and their families.

Our final stop was in the information centre, where a large model shows what the fortress would have looked like in 1740.