Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Media: The Pacific War in Colour


Just discovered this fantastic series on the Smithsonian Channel. It's already up to episode six of ten. And I can't seem to find a way, via my Virgin set-top box, to get back to episode one, and catch up. If anyone happens to read this and knows of a way, please let me know!

Book Review: Napoleon's Imperial Guard, The Cavalry, Paul Dawson



Initially I took the unusual step of scoring this twice, once for execution (two-and-a-half), and once for intent and all the rest; info/images, etc. (four-and-a-half). But in the end I've opted to combine the two into a single three and a-half bicornes score. And in some respects I think I'm being quite generous.

So, what's the good news? Well, as with the previous Infantry volume, this is a chunky, beautifully printed book, featuring lots of photos of garments and other accoutrements, contemporary or near contemporary artworks, and a small middle section of original paintings by Keith Rocco. The level of detail is quite something. I'm still not quite sure about the heavy use of tables of expenditures on cloth and the like. These occupy the main body of the text. I suspect they might've been less disruptive had they been collected in appendices.

Fab' photos of a surviving kinski.

Already, even in the 'good news' segment I'm getting equivocal! But staying positive: Dawson aims to be, and is, as far as my limited knowledge goes, pretty comprehensive in the mounted bodies he covers, including units like the very short-lived Eclaireurs, the 'attached' Lancers of Berg, and even the mounted artillery and train. Once again, however, even this inclusiveness is tempered by the manner in which it's addressed, which is almost exclusively data-heavy. 

For example, taking the Eclaireurs: the vast majority of what's presented here are either tables of expenditure on cloth, or brief 'histories' of individuals who served in the regiments. All this data is potentially fascinating, particularly to the hardcore Napoleonic junkie like me, but it doesn't make for an especially lively or engaging read. And the frequent 'it is clear from...' type statements are a bit opaque to a layman like me, for whom the bald data often isn't particularly enlightening, and is certainly not indicative of any obvious conclusions.

And finally, whilst some units are fairly copiously illustrated, both in terms of artefacts and illustrations, others, like the Eclaireurs, or even more so the Lithuanian Tartars, aren't. Re the Eclaireurs, reference to some contemporary prints is made, but said images aren't reproduced. And what few items are shown photographically aren't necessarily very representative (I'm referring here to the very fancy full dress dolman of Claude Testot-Ferry [1]).

Mention is made of the Eclaireurs' Rouleau type shako, but it isn't illustrated. [2]

This Job print would've been a very useful inclusion. [3]

As you can see, even in examining this books good points, there are provisos. Now we move on to the problems. There are basically two: one is the data heavy nature of the content. As a book containing information, this really excels, drawing on some sources that are less often foregrounded in the literature. But therein lies the rub; here the bald data is front and centre. It doesn't support an exciting historical narrative, it's just a kind of 'data dump', splat, on the page.

The second issue is one I often find myself mentioning in this special-interest niche of ours, military history, and that's editing. The Infantry volume has some pretty shocking moments, as when the back jacket blurb announces that the book is about cavalry. But this Cavalry volume, whilst correct on the rear dust jacket, is littered with editorial gaffes that suggest it has never been proof-read.

For example, take the first three Rocco plates: the first shows Chasseurs a Cheval, but the caption is for Grenadiers a Cheval. The second is Empress Dragoons, but the caption describes Chasseurs a Cheval. The third, a Grenadier a Cheval... well, it's not made clear in the text what body of cavalry is being referred to. Awful!

Check this image closely, for catastrophic captioning.

This jumble of misplaced captions is bad enough, but there's worse, as on pages 114-115 (shown above), where the left page shows photos of horse bridles/reins, and the right a sword belt and sabretache. But both bear identical captions describing a schabraque! This is, frankly, appalling and inexcusable in a book whose RRP is a hefty £40!

In conclusion, I would say that this potentially excellent book is currently very notably spoiled, partly by the dry data-heavy nature of the text itself, but much more so by the sloppy or seemingly non-existent editing [4]. Nevertheless, whilst pretty disappointed, particularly after the anticipation generated by the previous Infantry volume, I'm still very glad to have this. For all its faults, and they aren't insignificant, overall it's still both fascinating and informative. 



NOTES:

[1] It's a thing of great beauty, but not as enlightening as to the ordinary uniforms of these units as is the kurtka style jacket that appears later.

[2] The photo I've used is a reproduction item.

Guard Eclaireurs as illustrated by the Funckens.

[3] The Job picture doesn't appear in Dawson's book. Nor does the Martinet image he refers to in the text. Ever since I saw the image reproduced above, from one of the many L. & F. Funcken Arms & Uniforms titles,  I was fascinated by these cool looking cavalrymen. It's a great pity this book doesn't illustrate these guys better.

[4] Here's another and not altogether untypical instance of the need for better editing, p. 218: 'The eclaireurs of the Guard was a corps of cavalry eclaireurs of the French Imperial Guard...' Come on! Such redundant tautology shouldn't reach the printed page.

NB You may notice that I'm rather interested in the Eclaireurs! I was looking forward to learning more about them. And I did. But I was also deeply disappointed not to find better images of them.

Book Review: D-Day, Stephen Ambrose



This is an excellent book. It's a pity it overhypes itself on the cover; as good as it is I don't think it's definitive. I'm not sure any single volume account of D-Day could really achieve that, frankly. It's also both heavily weighted to the U.S. perspective, and within that, the events at Omaha beach. Both latter facts are understandable enough, but mitigitate very heftily against any claims of being definitive. Never mind that the Canadian and British aspects are given very brief coverage, mostly at the end of the book.

A couple of more basic or general points in its favour, leaving aside for the moment the core content, which is excellent, are the glossary - they should be absolutely mandatory in all military history books, in my view - and the excellent maps, which by the looks of them were commissioned specifically for this book.

A fuller view of the Robert Capa photo that appears on the cover.

Ambrose has a very nicely tuned and balanced writing style, it's dry and factual where it needs to be without being dull, and he uses primary sources - a lot of oral history (interviews either he or others have conducted with veterans) - as well as any of the best (or should I say most popular/slickest?) war writers, like Beevor or, going back a bit further, Cornelius Ryan.

Indeed, re the latter point, Ambrose is in a powerful position to be the erudite authority he so clearly is, in that he was (now decesased, I believe?) at the time of writing, deeply involved not only in teaching on this subject, but also as a custodian involved in the fairly recently founded (again, when this was first published) New Orleans D-Day Museum*. And one of the many great things the museum could boast, with Ambrose involved again, was a unique (in its size and scope) 'oral history' collection.

And it's from these sources that this very colourful account gets many of its richer hues.

I believe this may be another of Capa's blurred but highly evocative images.

Whilst he doesn't shy away from the tragedies of war, collateral damage, friendly fire, prisoner executions, and all that, Ambrose does give a decidedly heroic ring to it all, pitting the 'citizen soldiers' (a phrase that's also the title of another book he's written) of an 'aroused democracy', fighting inly to liberate, against the empire-building Nazis, whose troops are - by this stage if the war, and in this particular theatre - either indoctrinated Germans, either docile or fanatical, or unwilling thralls, as per the Ost-truppen.

Whilst it's a all a bit rich - apple-pie 'n' God Bless the U. S. of A, and all that jazz - for a very sceptical chap like me, Ambrose does make pretty solid case in contrasting the sclerotic command malfunctions of the German's, Hitler in bed till noon, his panzers immobile without his personal authority, with the hands-off approach of Ike and Churchill. Gone is the  flexible auftragstaktik that characterised the first blitzkrieg years of the war.

Capa again: Omaha, pinned down on the beach, sheltering behind German obstacles.

One of the things that winds up happening is that things are in exact reverse of how, on paper, they should've been: the Allies were landing against a supposedly extremely well-fortified coast, not using harbours, but beaches. The Germans, with the land and its transportation networks at their backs should've been the easier supplied and maneuovred. But, thanks to the Allies total air and naval superiority, it is the Allies who are free to manoeuvre and resupply more or less at will, with the Germans in Normandy effectively cut off, on a landlocked island.

Whilst D-Day wasn't on the scale, in terms of troop numbers and vehicles, as some of the largest clashes on the Eastern Front, it was the most massive combined operation by land, sea and air ever. Even Stalin freely admitting as much, and suitably relieved/impressed by it. The mind still boggles at the scale of it. And it continues to exercise a deep fascination. It's kind of shocking and surprising how little photographic documentation has come down to us so far.

It's a bit surprising there aren't more photos like this, conveying the enormity of the operations.

Another of Capa's few surviving images.

The fate of Robert Capa's photos [1], one of which is on the cover of this edition, may possibly sum that situation up. Related to all this, yesterday I caught the tail end of a recently produced American TV documentary entitled The Battle of Normandy: 85 Days in Hell, which appears to include lots of 'previously unseen' footage (much of it looking very nicely restored, and a good deal even in colour). So perhaps as time goes on more visual material will emerge? I do hope so!

Anyway, this book is excellent, a suitably rousing document that is also a tribute to the events and the men it brings to life again for us. Superb, and very highly recommended.



Ambrose as I first saw him, on ITV's superb The World At War.

NOTES:

[1] The story goes that Capa shot 106 photos, but that back in England the excited developer botched his job in his eagerness, only eleven of the photographs surviving. There are also stories going around that suggest Capa 'sexed up' his account. Read more here.

Sunday, 18 August 2019

Show Report: T'other Partizan, 18th August, 2019

Just got back from The Other Partizan, and thought I'd post a little report. Mostly pics. 

I managed to persuade Teresa, my wife, to go with me. She used to go to all the mini-military events I went to. But stopped doing so some while back. We've had a busy few days, and Teresa more so than me. She soldiered on gamely (boom-boom!) as we went round all the tables, checking out all the games. But then succumbed to exhaustion, and went back to the car for a nap!

These Adler 20mm SS troops were my sole figure purchases.

I was then free to mooch around spending willy-nilly. But in the end I didn't buy that much. Just some new SS troops in 20mm, from Adler (with tiny little collar badge decals!), and some books. I'd have liked to bought a few more books, and probably some WWII vehicle models as well. But there really wasn't a great deal I felt tempted by, in the end. So I wound up feeling a little deflated.

Cool... A wicker man!

I'm assuming the pictures immediately above and below are from Infamy Infamy, a 28mm Romano-British participation game put on by Harrogate Wargaming Club. I do like the 'Wicker Man'. The film of that name is a cult classic, and I love it (the remake... well, let's not go there). This was a great looking game. Excellent figures and great terrain. 

Very nice looking Romans (casualties or reinforcements). Warlord Games?

Fortus Romanus.

A Pacific theatre game. Nice terrain.

Next is the USMC landing and attack on Pelelui, a 1944 Pacific theatre battle, staged here in 20mm by the Like A Stonewall Wargames Group. Teresa liked the verdant tropical terrain. The excellent HBO series The Pacific depicts action from this campaign to great effect. 



An American plane flies over the jungle.

The terrain for Bloody Omaha, a 15mm game by the Peterborough Wargames Club (pictured below) looked terrific. I'm currently reading Stephen E. Ambrose's superb D-Day book, which focuses on Omaha somewhat more than the other beaches. So it was nice to see a game depicting what I'm reading about!

An Omaha beach landing scenario. Again, nice terrain.

A nice encampment in this medieval game.

There were several late medieval or early renaissance games, and once againI don't know exactly which is which amongst the ones I photographed (and I'm only showing a portion of the photos I took here). I've never been drawn to collect figures from these eras, let alone contemplate gaming them. But I do admire the way they look on a table when I see them.

This was rather interesting; an Irish Rebellion battle...

There were a couple of Irish related battles/games. I'm assuming the one pictured above and below was the Bramley Barn 28mm Wilson's Farm, 1798, a beautifully set up demo game. It looked weird to me, at first glance, seeing phalanxes of pike-wielding Irish troops facing the muskets of the British forces. Looked kind of like ECW meets 18th Century. Strange!

Brits have muskets, whilst Irish 'bogtrotters' have pikes!

The next few pics show an Ancients game which might be set in England, or possibly Germany. The smartly uniformed Roman Legions face some superbly done barbarian types, with excellent wagons, druids, and even a flock of shaggy-haired sheep. I wish I knew exactly which game it was, so as to give due credit to whomever's excellent terrain and figures these were. A fantastic looking set-up!

Nice mise en scene type stuff in this Ancients game...

Love the carts and druids and whatnot...

The view from the Roman lines.

54mm ECW, from Mr Miller and Friends.

There were some wargames in the smaller scales, but these were either naval or armour, i.e. not figure based. I don't think I saw a single 6mm or 10mm battle. Of course the larger scales can potentially make for better eye candy. But I do like the larger scope that the smaller scales allow. And in the right hands they can still look very impressive. They are, I reckon, especially suited to large Napoleonic battles, where the big Battalions can be deployed in all their glory. 

There were however more games in 28mm than I'm used to seeing, and some of these with large models, such as the Pirates one. Lots of gurt big ships! Then there were some strange games, with some kinds of kiddie toys, peg soldiers, etc. There were lots of games. And I didn't get pictures of everything. I mainly photographed what appealed most to me.

Camel train in... the Sudan? Or is this the Afghanistan game?

As has already been shown by my inability to accurately caption all my photos, I didn't make a note of the games I was photographing at the time. Guess I should've. So I'm putting the names to the games now as best I can. I oigjnally assumed the pics above and below were from They Don't Like It Up 'Em, a 28mm Sudan game. But then I realised that the planes probably mean it was actually The Boondock Sayntes' 1919 De Haviland Down.

Afghanistani infantry and cavalry.

British aerial supremacy.

The Colonial combat pictured above and below was a very handsomely appointed game. Very enjoyable eye-candy, with great terrain, figures, and other stuff, like the aircraft. Once again, I only wish I could be certain what the game was, to give due credit to a fab looking game. As noted above, after initially locating it in the Sudan, I now think it's the 1919 Afghan game, De Haviland Down. Either way, it's a great game layout.

Lovely desert dwellings, also Colonial HQ, by the looks of it.

Another view of the aerial flypast.

There was only one Napoleonic game, that I noticed. Apparently there were two, but I only recall the one shown in my pics! And I always look out for games from my favourite era. And the one I did spot was set in Spain. Not my favourite theatre. But the figures were abundant, and very nicely turned out. 

French Guard Engineers...

Massed French artillery.

Massed French cavalry and artillery. Looking fab!

Spanish Cavalry, in yellow garb.

A North African beach landing...

There were several North African WW2 games, and I confess, yet again, I don't know which is which. This one had a beach landing by the Allied forces, and Rommel atop a nicely appointed colonial type building. Another one had the Italians fighting an Allied unit that I took to be the Desert Rats. Both sides were using a railway line as a road. Must have been a very bumpy road!

Rommel's rooftop radio-mast HQ.

AWI action from Steve Jones.

Whilst I spotted one very nice looking AWI game, pictured here above and below, I didn't spot any ACW action. After the Napoleonic era and WWII, ACW is my next port of call, interests wise (see later book purchase info!). And most shows I go to I see at least one game from that era.

Looks like the British are fighting themselves!?

Cavalry about to collide...

A rather splendid battery...

What's this one?

One or two of these games I can't even place by referring to the list of games on the Partizan website. That would include the one pictured above and below here. Looks 18th Century. I dimly recall a game referring to a clash of three empires or kingdoms. Was it this one? Maybe this is the League of Augsburg game? That's not actually given on the Partizan webpage (simply listed as  (TBA!).

This staff group looks dangerously exposed.

Vehicles using a rail bridge as a toad... bone-shaking!

The second of the aforementioned WWII North Africa games. Was this one in fact the Forest of Dean Gamers' North Africa 1941, Chain of Command, demo' game? Or hav I muddled the two. North Africa WWII games up?

Brits as well as 'Eye-Ties'...

'Modom, your carriage awaits'.

No idea what this game was. Can anyone enlighten me?

A rather cool looking fort...

Next, another 28mm Sudan game. Now...this must either be They Don't Like It Up 'Em, by RAWgamers, or an untitled game by Iron Brigade. Can anyone clarify?

British troops form square, to meet the revolting natives' attack.

Reinforcements exit the fort.

But wait... danger lurks in the water. And not just the crocodilian variety.

A splendid evocation of a Dutch town.

55 Minutes in Peking. A Victorious Miniatures Boxer Rebellion game.

A Douglas A/B(?)-26 Invader flies over the beach, in Gothenburg Gamers' 28mm Bay of Pigs demo'.

The defenders seek to stop the landings.

I had a small wad of cash to splash, and immediately blew a big chunk of it at David Lanchester's book stall, on Shelby Foote's ACW trilogy. I've wanted this for several years now. The last time I saw any of it, it was just volume two, in a bookshop in Ely, for £39.99. Today I got the whole trilogy for £50. A lot for me to spend in one go on books. But, I very much hope, well worth it. Shelby Foote is great on Ken Burns' ACW series.

A very attractive set!