Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Kit Review: 1/72 ICM Krupp Kfz. 70


I started this kit ages ago, and stopped pretty quickly, after only gluing the wheels and the rear box together. After finding it again, during a recent clearing up op, I decided to continue the build.

The suspension on the rear wheels is beautiful.

I'm not 100% sure, but this might be my first ICM model? Since getting this I've bought several more, but not made any of them as yet. This one is very finely detailed. In some respects that's great. But in others it's a pain. Some if the parts, e.g. the exhaust pipe, broke in multiple places when I removed them from the sprue.

The exhaust broke into five pieces!

Sooo... I've assembled a fair bit of the chassis. Some of which is very, very fiddly. The instructions aren't the clearest on certain points either. So I had to do some googling and look at the real thing, or other model builds, to work out how certain parts fit together. Even with that research, some things remain unclear to me.


Definitely my favourite part of the kit so far is the rear part of the chassis, pictured below, with all the rear wheel suspension. This will all be practically invisible once the kit's finished, of course.

Phwoar! Just Look at that! 



Tuesday, 15 January 2019

1/76 Airfix cont.

I had visions of doing loads of modelmaking and figure painting over the Yuletide season. But, predictably, I did precious little. 

The previous Universal Carrier & Gun build, Quad just started.

I did start making the Airfix vintage re-releases, starting with the Bren Gun carrier and 6 Pdr Gun. And whilst I've more or less finished assembling those kits, they're not decal'd or fully painted as yet. Nor have I decided about figures for the Universal Carrier. 

But I've now finally made a start on kit #2, the Quad and 25 Pdr Gun. This will require some interior painting and glazing, for the Quad artillery tractor. These are one of the few British/Commonwealth vehicles I think look quite cool. There are some in a great Normandy diorama at Duxford IWM's Land Warfare hall.

A Morris C8 crosses a pontoon bridge with limber and gun in tow.

Actually, I don't know if the model in this kit is a Morris C8 or a CMT FAT. Or, indeed, if they are one and the same thing!? The CMT was, as far as I know, a Canadian vehicle, made by both Ford and Chevrolet. Was the Morris just an English manufacturers version? They certainly look very alike, at a glance. I guess I'll look into it and try to find out.

Anyway, my modelmaking progress is painfully, nay, depressingly slow. And my figure painting simply non-existent. Hmm... what to do?

Limber built, Quad glazed, ready to start on the 25 Pdr.

Anyway, for now, at least I'm starting to snatch the odd moment here and there. Not much. But it's a start! And I'm content to lower my build standards just to get stuff done. Plus these old Airfix kits are, without meaning to be rude to such long-serving old-timers, more at the Sow's Ear rather than Silk Purse end of the model making spectrum.


Not sure when I first drafted this post, but this evening - at least one day, poss more, after posting the above - I've now assembled the gun. So Airfix Vintage kit #2 is built. If I have any more, I'll build them, and then set to painting and adding decals. Might do some minimal additional detailing. And I have to decide about whether or not to use the rather clunky figures. But I am gradually getting back into 'gluing', and - best/most important of all - enjoying it.

Monday, 14 January 2019

Book Review: Napoleon, The Imperial Household, Ed. Sylvain Cordier



Wow! What a sumptuous feast for the senses. This is a terrifically beautiful book. This edition - I wonder if others will be published, e.g. when the show gets to the Palace of Fontainebleau? - bears the imprimature of Canada's Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

A personification of Europe, French Eagles crowning the backdrop.

I had them set aside a copy for me at Topping Books, intending to go in and buy it yesterday. But worries about the cost resulted in my not going till today. I got up earlier than normal, to be first at the bank, paying in some drum lesson fees (and thereby mitigating feelings of guilt re expense!), and was in Ely nice and early. A quick browse of the book at the counter, and I bought it, paying the full £40 RRP.

Now I'm poring over it at the Widgeon cafe, at Welney WWT, with a pot of tea and a bacon bap. Must keep any bacon grease of this sumptuous and expensive thing of beauty! I'm sharing a few pictures of spreads from the book for educational purposes, in the hope some others visiting and reading here might be inspired to buy the book, and/or visit the exhibition.

David's enormous Coronation painting.

Sadly, for us Brits, the show won't be coming to England, as far as I know. It has the stops on across t'other side of the pond, in Canada and the U.S. and then head to France, later in 2019. I intend to visit the show!

It's funny, in years past my interest in all things Napoleonic was chiefly confined to the military history aspect. Mostly it was all about reading books, plus some perusing of art, and all of this as a kind of adjunct to the toy soldier collection. Now, however, I'm interested in far more: the person of Napoleon himself, and his allies and enemy's. The general tenor of the times, and how they've fed into subsequent history, and so on.

Court apparel was pretty showy!

Caulaincourt, looking natty in his Grand Equerry threads.

Indeed, I've had flights of fancy wherein I fantasised about returning to higher education and studying the era in greater depth. I even had one particular dream which involved a PhD on the visual culture of the 1er Empire, the end product of which was to be something very like this book, drawing together such diverse elements as art, architecture, design, and all that jazz.

But here it is, already realised by a team of experts, in my eager and excited hands. An absolute treasure trove of beautifully photographed artefacts, ranging from designs for buildings, porcelain, tapestries, uniforms, and suchlike, to the things themselves. And ranging from small metal baubles to chairs, furniture, carriages, all the way up to palaces.

From design sketches and plans...

... to the real things.

Subtitled The Imperial Household, the chapters are broken down thus:

I. The Imperial Household: Portraits
II. The Household & Its Palaces
III. Art & Majesty
IV. Serving The Imperial Family
V. Epilogue
Appendices

Within these chapters there are numerous sub-sections, sometimes on a particular theme, individual, or area of production. So for example we have entries on Denon, Sevres, Gobelins, the Empress and her Household, the Imperial Hunt, and so on.

Incredibly opulent pottery, by Sevres,

Boney's birdcage, from St. Helena.

The richness and splendour that is a central theme throughout really is quite overpowering. No doubt just as was intended. In relation to the use of grandeur in power, there's a very interesting juxtaposition on one page of four portraits, in which the contrast between the humble and homely Benjamin Franklin and Napoleon is really very striking. The former is far from flattered by any complimentary idealisation. The latter, in his coronation clobber, is made to conform to neo-classical ideals of regal power and beauty

Cf. old Ben Frank, upper right, with Nap, in full Imperial fig.

I'm currently reading Inside The Third Reich, by Albert Speer, and it's interesting to compare the longevity of both these fairly recent irruptions of Imperial ambition. Napoleon certainly was, like Hitler, a despot. But it would seem he was a more enlightened one, for all that. And in light of that, perhaps it's not surprising that his Imperial legacy has fared far better, vast amounts of his bequest to history surviving in numerous areas, from bricks and mortar to the Code Napoleon

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Book Review: Napoleon's Invasion of Russia, Eugene Tarle



Whilst it's massively frustrating not to be finding time or energy for working on my miniatures, I am at least still reading, and watching films/documentaries, etc. My latest read has been Eugene Tarle's fascinating Russian account of the 1812 campaign.

The younger Yevgeny, c. 1900.

Before reviewing the book I think it's worth taking a moment to consider the author and the context he wrote in. Born Grigori Tarle, into a middle class Jewish family, he changed his name to Yevgeny and converted to the Orthodox Christian faith. As a young man, as well as pursuing his academic-historical interests, he got involved in radical left politics, in essence becoming a Marxist.

By the time of WWI and the Russian revolution his politics had seen him in trouble with the Tsarist authorities several times, but he'd nonetheless attained several positions at Russian universities, including that of St. Petersburg. This latter was to be the hub of his activities as an academic and writer for most of the rest of his life. But the turbulent political waters of Russia would see him exiled for four years, and criticised both abroad and at home as a historian.

Older and looking more careworn.

At home he was usually deemed to liberal and cosmopolitan, by the State and its flunkeys, and abroad he was considered too much under the thumb of the latter, and therefore seen as overdoing the whole Marxist and/or Soviet (i.e. later on Stalinist) class struggle bit. Poor guy! Talk about caught between a rock and a hard place! At the time of posting this article and review, the only Amazon UK reviews of Tarle's book I could find describe it either as 'a propagandistic view of Stalin's era', or interesting in relation to WWII.

I think this is sad and very unfair. Tarle's account of the 1812 campaign is in fact excellent. It is true that he has modified his own position somewhat to come into line with the orthodoxy of his time and location, which is a shame, and is why I've docked half a bicorne. But considering the potential lethality of the political era in which he lived and worked, it's actually a remarkably independent piece of scholarly work, and far, far, far better than, for example, Hilaire Belloc's account of the campaign, the latter being published in England in 1922.

Barclay de Tolly.

The small hardback edition of Tarle's book that I bought and read - as pictured at the top of this post - was published in 1942, during WWII, in America and England. The first Russian edition had been published before the outbreak of war, in 1938. In 1936 Tarle had published a book on Napoleon and the entire Napoleonic period, in which he took a markedly different line on a number of aspects of the 1812 campaign. But with Germany clearly gearing up for war, and Stalin's dictatorship growing ever more paranoid and volatile, these changes, whilst lamentable, are at least understandable.

Nowadays it's gradually becoming easier to find Russian accounts translated into English, as indeed it is to find accounts from all, or at least more, of the participants in any given campaign, such as Andrew Field's excellent work on French sources for the Waterloo campaign, or, returning to Russia, Alexander Mikaribdze's excellent Russian Eyewitness Accounts series. It's interesting for Western European readers like myself to hear, amongst the more normal official military and academic Russian sources, Marx and Engels quoted on the topic of 1812! [1]

Kutuzov.

The translation of Tarle's book into English is good, the author's writing style coming across as easy readable prose, neither pompously verbose and academic, nor too simplistic. Structurally Tarle favours few and huge chapters, whereas I prefer to read many and shorter chapters, due to my habit of preferring to take my reading breaks at the end of rather than in the middle of a chapter.

Thanks to the predominantly Russian sources, and the resolutely Russian perspective, and also even in part the times and conditions under which this book was written, this is Ann interesting and unusual entry in the Russia 1812 canon. Certainly worth having in your 1812 library, and a fascinating and enjoyable read. Yes, it bears the politico-historical imprint of it's times and conditions, but so does all historical writing, albeit with varying degrees of independence and transparency.

Tsar Alexander I.

Coverage of the action, or inaction, on the northern (Prussian) and Southern (Austrian) flanks is adequate if minimal, as with most traditional Western European histories of the campaign. The bulk of the account traces the central thrust by Napoleon's main forces, or rather how this was responded to by the central Russian forces, with plenty on the leadership issues that plagued the Russian campaign. And the Russian course was very much one of response, rather than initiative.

The Tsar, whilst lauded for his resolute stance, is criticised for interfering and destabilising at the outset. Everyone under him, including his sister and closest advisors wished him to preside from St. Petersburg; his presence with the army being viewed as almost entirely detrimental. Hard for an absolute ruler like a Tsar to swallow, especially in the face of Napoleon, who combined head of state with head of the army so well.

Then there are the issues of rivalry between Barclay de Tolly and Bagration, and later the latter and Kutuzov. In essence it appears that whoever it devolved upon to actually lead the Russians would ultimately concede that the best path was to do as Barclay and Kutuzov did, and conserve the Russian Army by evading Napoleon as far as possible, and instead shadowing him first into and then out of Russia, letting the logistical difficulties and a certain amount of harrying wear the French and their allies down.

Those around and under whoever had ultimate command would forever bang on about taking the offensive, Bagration in particular, but when their bluff was called, as when Kutuzov temporarily gave Bennigsen command, the latter quickly fell into line and adopted the evade and survive strategy. And in the end even this cautious conservative approach saw the Russians, like the French and their allies, suffering terrible losses, mainly due to cold, inadequate (and in the Russian case endemically corrupt)  logistical arrangements, and disease.

Still, all things considered (by which I primarily refer to the politicised context of this account), an excellent and highly enjoyable Russian history of the momentous 1812 campaign.

----------
NOTES:

[1] And, rather unexpectedly, the source for most of these quotes are entries Engels wrote for the New American Cyclopedia, of 1856!



Saturday, 22 December 2018

Book Review: Tiger Force, Sallah & Weiss


*****

Many, many years after Seymour Hersh shocked America with the revelations of what President Nixon described as the 'isolated incident' of My Lai [1], Tiger Force presents another example of the fascinating but by now sadly familiar tale of war crimes by US soldiers in Vietnam, revealing such actions to be far from singular occurrences.

Tiger Force in fact tells four distinct stories, interwoven. The major story is a narrative of the actions of The titular Tiger Force, in two particularly nasty episodes in '67, with heavy use of firsthand accounts, focussing on numerous individual soldiers. These range from those like Lt. Hawkins, Sgt. Doyle and Pvt. Ybarra, who appear to revel in the violence, to men such as Medics Causey and Bowman, and Pvt. Bruner, who attempt to stem (and report) a rising tide of wanton butchery. 


Pvt. Sam Ybarra, infamous for his human-ear necklaces.

A very minor counterpoint, in terms of the space given over to it, is the view from the victims and relatives, the Vietnamese whose 'hearts and minds' the US allegedly hoped to win over [2]. How anyone in the American chain of command imagined forced resettlement and indiscriminate killing would achieve this beggars belief. 

In addition to these two contemporary threads there are two later developments, the CID* investigation under Guy Apsey and, much later, the final breaking of the story in the media, by the authors of this book, in a series of newspaper features.


Jungle conditions were made worse by such delights as punji sticks. [3]

Tigers on patrol in the jungle.

Compared with the WWII and Napoleonic history I usually read, this 'Nam material is delivered in a more pulpy thriller type manner, exciting to read but less scholarly, and quite basic, occasionally veering into repetitiveness. The latter perhaps a result of a series of articles being turned into a book? That said, it's a compelling easy read. 

Tiger Force were an almost secret semi-guerilla unit, designed to fight the Viet Cong on their own turf and in their own way, using methods ordinary US line units wouldn't employ. Unfortunately, but very predictably, things quickly got out of hand. Or, and worse still, a culture of racist imperialist violence was actively fostered, not always overtly or in such stark terms, but sometimes hidden under such elastic euphemisms as 'free-fire zones'

Medic, Rion Causey.

Sgt. Barnett.

What's perhaps most puzzling to someone like me is that anybody's surprised that war encourages such things: the grunts and the peasants are always on the sharp end. The former, young men, many from the lower sections of society, often from poor or rough backgrounds, get to vent their unresolved adolescent anger upon the hapless civilian innocents, both soldiers and civilians being caught in the crossfire of huge vague ideological currents that are stoked and fanned by older men, miles away from dirt and death on the ground. It's an obvious recipe for hell on earth.

Still, as Thomas Hardy famously said, peace makes dull reading. The horrors of war keep the pages turning. Despite My Lai, this is a story that needs constant retelling, every time it happens. But the prolonged atrocities of Tiger Force were swept under the carpet. The depressing thing one can't help but conclude is that we learn precious little from our mistakes, and therefore seem doomed to keep repeating them.


Tiger Force troops in more amiable mood. [4]

Tiger Force is a fascinating product of investigative journalism, based on true and disturbing events.  Books like this, whilst also giving the reader something very engaging to read, also offer us a sobering challenge for the future. Not an out and classic. But certainly worth reading.

* Obviously not our UK CID (Criminal Investigation Department), but the US Army's Criminal Investigation Division!

----------
NOTES:

A shorter piece by Sallah on this topic can be read here.

[1] Read Hersh on this subject here.

[2] It was LBJ, president Johnson, who famously used the 'hearts and minds phrase'. There's also a 1975 documentary on Vietnam by that name, which is worth watching.

[3] This picture shows a member of a Tiger Force having a punji stick wound dressed in the field. Punji sticks are sharpened bamboo stakes which were often smeared with human faeces, designed to cause infections of the wounds they would cause if stepped upon.

[4] At the time Apsey started his investigations Tiger Force was a shadowy unit, with hardly any official trace to be found. That's no longer true. As well as the infamy of this sad story, it should also be remembered that the unit served with distinction in Vietnam. It wasn't all rampant butchery. Now there's a website devoted to the unit, past and present (visit it here). And yes, there is still a Tiger Force unit in existence as part of the 101st Airborne.

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Book Review: The Iron Marshal, Gallagher



Having just finished this excellent account of the life of Louis Davout, I feel I have to remark on how surprisingly good so much Napoleonic history is. I'm constantly reading in this vast subject, and frequently encountering an author who's new to me. And, by and large, most of what I read is very good.

John G. Gallagher is such an author, i.e. new to me, and his biography of Louis-Nicolas Davout, The Iron Marshal, is better than merely very good, it is superb. We get the whole story, from his birth into a thoroughly military family of the lesser nobility, through the upheavals of the Revolution, and on into the glory years of the Napoleonic era, finally passing to the restoration of the Bourbons and, not long after that, Davout's decline and death.

Louis-Nicolas Davout, Prince Eckmuhl, Duc d'Auerstedt.

Gallagher perfectly balances all the elements, writing in an easy going yet authoratative manner, with a turn of pace brisk enough to keep the read exciting, and thorough enough to keep it fascinating. Of course the major interest for readers like myself are Davout's great successes, chief of which is Auerstedt. But all his campaigns and battles are adroitly covered. 

After the Russian debacle Napoleon perhaps fails to employ Davout, arguably his most capable lieutenant, to best advantage. Firstly leaving him stranded in Hamburg as the Allies sweep westward, prior to his first abdication. And then choosing to employ him in Paris as Minister of War, during the 100 Days Campaign, when he might've been better employed in the field, and thus perhaps hastening his second and final abdication?.

Vanquished Prussians retreat after Jena-Auerstedt (R. Knotel).

If not universally loved, then certainly greatly and widely respected, Davout emerges as a capable and judicious leader. Not as colourful or ambitious as your Murats or Bernadottes, perhaps, but instead a more devoted and more principled man, less self-interested and more duty-bound, whose belief in discipline and organisation meant troops under his care were second only to the Guard. 

Gallagher's book has proven to be the perfect way for me to learn more about one of Napoleon's most capable commanders. Highly recommended.

Davout in the Kremlin, Moscow, 1812 (V. Vereshchagin).

Thursday, 29 November 2018

1/76 Airfix Bren Gun Carrier & 6pdr Gun

Crikey, it's been aeons since I've managed to do any model making at all. A shameful state of affairs! 

Anyway, on a recent trip into Ely my wife wanted to pop into the haberdashers, which is tucked away in the back of the Ely City Cycle Centre. This fab shop, a proper old-fashioned department store, also has a large model and railway section, up on the top floor. So I snuck in there and quickly and quietly bought me a few models!

Damn, such a cool looking beast!

My other Airfix 1/76 two-fer.

I got the Zvezda snap-fit Sd. Kfz. 184, or Ferdinand/Elefant. One of my favourite German armoured vehicles of WWII. I have versions by Fujimi (built, 1/76), Trumpeter (1/72, unbuilt), and now this'un (ditto). And then I spotted that they had a stack or two of the Airfix 1/76 'Vintage Classics' range of re-releases. I posted about these a while back, and mentioned that I might make some British stuff.

So I've made good on this promise to myself, and bought the 25pdr Field Gun & Quad, and the Bren Gun Carrier & 6pdr. Both kits have the added bonus of being two-fers, in that you get both a gun (& crew), and a vehicle. Today I started building the Bren Gun Carrier. In a fit of madness I decided to follow ye olde instructions to the extent of washing the sprues, and even painting the parts whilst still attached to the aforesaid.

Grey undercoat.

Olive drab base-coat.

After giving the sprues a wash and scrub in warm soapy water, and letting them dry, I undercoated and base-coated them all, first in grey, then olive drab. Khaki clothing, black boots and tires followed. It was then, alas, time for bed. So even now that I've clawed back a moments modelmaking, 'twas ever such a brief one!

Painting bits whilst still on the sprues, as per instructions!

Overcome with the urge to cut stuff of the sprues.

Amidst all the recent redecorating and DIY I reconfigured my mini-military workspace. It's not yet optimal, particularly in terms of lighting. I found painting this lot, even just blocking in basic colours, very difficult and draining, even with one of those magnifying headband doodads on... Well, until tomorrow... I must be patient!
----------


Well, back to the modelling workbench; I built the 6pdr gun. A fiddly little thing. I've also got a bit further with the Universal Carrier. The idea of painting the parts on the sprue? Which I've never done before...

Obviously when you remove parts from the sprue you wind up with an unpainted bit, where it was formerly connected. Then there's the way lots of the paint rubs off, as you handle the parts. And finally, any tight or ill fitting parts will fit even less well, or simply not fit at all, with the paint bulking things up. So, not a good idea, and I shan't be doing it again. Still, worth a try!


Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Book Review: Marengo, T.E. Crowdy



In this excellent and exciting new book on the battle of Marengo by Terry Crowdy, published by Pen & Sword, the 'victory that placed the crown of France on Napoleon's head', as Kellerman had it (his resounding phrase also giving the book it's subtitle), we have Napoleonic history - always colourful and exciting - at its most dramatic.

The story starts with an introduction to the role of espionage in the events of 1799, a bad year for the French in Italy, before moving to the coup of Brumaire, which left Bonaparte at the helm of both the French state and the army, as First Consul. The cloak and dagger doings of the mysterious double agent Gioelli loom large in this account of events, and are appropriately intriguing.

LeJeune's fabulous painting.

Events leading up to the battle are no less dramatic, with Napoleon rather naughtily assembling a secret army, at Dijon, over which he will have personal (and unconstitutional) control, with the nominal gloss of Berthier as commander as the public fig leaf. The subsequent dramatic crossing of the Swiss Alps, and the logistical and tactical gambling that this involves, keep the excitement levels high, such that one is whisked along in the unfolding drama.


And, before one knows what has happened, rather like the men on the ground, from the humble soldiers (the memoirs of Coignet are already a useful and colourful resource) to the 'big hats' themselves, the battle of Marengo is underway. Seemingly almost accidentally, with neither side in full control of events, or with a full understanding of their opponents aims and objectives.

The death of Desaix, depicted on a rather handsome plate.

Once battle is underway, Crowdy relates the confusing ebb and flow of events with admirable clarity. And there are plenty of maps to help the reader track the potentially confusing unfolding drama. My only criticism of this book - and it's a criticism I would level at most contemporary military history books - is that, even where maps are provided, as they are in this case, they are rather plain and perfunctory looking if one compares them to the handsome old maps of yore (such as the gorgeous Alison maps partially reproduced below). And sometimes places mentioned in the text are not marked on the maps that are closest to hand. Meaning one is obliged to refer to other maps, or is left in the dark a little geographically.

Alison's attractive maps: phase one.

Phase two.

I'm still reading this, in the thick of battle, and loving it. I'll post the review anyway. But I may return to further fiddle with or augment this once I'm finished. In the meantime, however, this is highly recommended.
----------

Jacques Louis David's iconic Napoleon Crossing The Alps.

Ok, so I'm back to revise or update my review, having now finished this extremely impressive book.

When I posted the first part, I'd read as far as, guestimating somewhat, the point where the French were beginning to have consider withdrawing. They'd given the Austrians a bloody nose, at the crossing of the Fontenone. But Austrian weight Of numbers, and in particular artillery superiority, were beginning to tell.

As the French pull back, the further they retreat, the greater their predicament. Even an attack by the then Consular (as opposed to Imperial) Guard fails to stem the Austrian tide. The French are almost in rout, and the jubilant Austrians start relaxing their guard prematurely (elderly and reluctant C-in-C Melas declaring it's all over and he's off to bed!), when Desaix's troops arrive, and quite suddenly the fortunes of war are dramatically reversed.

Melas was in his seventies, when he led Austria against Napoleon.

The timely arrival of the French reinforcements galvanises the whole armies' resolve, disintegrating units reforming and returning to the attack. Having relaxed too soon, the Austrian centre collapses and give way, and by late evening The a French are back in possession of Merngo, athwart their enemies line of supply, with the cavalry of Kellerman and Murat harrying the Austrian rout as it flees
back towards the 'awful ditch' of the Fontenone, and beyond that the Bormida.

One of the chief factors, aside from the intrigues of Gioelli, was the lack of team spirit in the Austrian command. Whereas the French united behind Napoleon, and we're quick to bounce back from setbacks, the Austrians bickered, failing to cooperate or support each other effectively, and giving up quickly and looking to blame others.

Anton Von Zach, whose plans failed, was captured during the battle.

----------

NOTES:

The author, Terry Crowdy.

Crowdy has a blog of his own, where you can read about his various activities, including the publication of this book (here).