Thursday 28 April 2016

Kit Review: 1/76 Milicast BergePanzer III

Milicast's own product page photograph.

This Bergepanzer III is from the Milicast 1/76 Premier Range. I bought it ages ago, at Vapnartak (when I also bought a Milicast Raupenschlepper OST, and some figure sets). At £17.95 it's not cheap!

All the component parts, trimmed and cleaned, ready for assembly.

I like these rear-echelon vehicles, and hope to collect a few more over time. This Bergepanzer III is, in some ways, an excellent kit. Certainly there's plenty of interest in the parts supplied. Compared with the RSO of theirs I made, quite some time ago, this kit felt superior in terms of detail. There are still issues of fit. And some of the pieces - many of which are small, intricate, and delicate - are difficult to separate from their chunky resin 'sprues' without causing damage.

Working on the crane assembly. Using gravity to help align the boom arm and cables.

Working in resin means, for me at least, thus far, using a cyano-acrylite glue. Or, speaking generically, a so-called 'super glue'. I used both the liquid and gel forms on this. And, to be honest, I really hate working with super glue! It always seems to quickly glue everything I don't want gluing, e.g. fingers, work-surfaces, etc, without much success at joining the parts of the model I'm seeking to bond.

The solvent cements I use to glue styrene are, I'd estimate, about 99% efficient. I find super-glues about 30% efficient. Gluing the crane assembly - and I left it to set overnight, and haven't checked it at the time of writing this - was an absolute arse-ache.

Well, as can be seen, the day after, and the crane is holding fast, praise be! In the couple of pictures above I tried out a couple of Milicast figures, amidst the assorted stowage. I've added some sundries to the latter, from the bits box.

One of the little frames that holds one of the large wooden beams - presumably a counterweight for heavy-lifting? - broke, so I cannibalised another smaller but otherwise similar part.

I quite like the assorted junk in the box, and I'm thinking I might have it looking much as the pics above and below; slightly covered on one side, with the 2nd beam stowed in the box. As well the stuff that came with the kit, I've added: a large rolled tarp, a big wooden box, a rope, a roll ed up cable, a toolbox, and two track links. I might also add a sundry tool or three.

Working till late-ish, or rather getting back late after a fairly long drive home, I didn't have time or energy for much model-making action tonight. And the weather was awful: cold and rainy. I had hoped to do some spraying outside. Not cat-style spraying, of course! Anyway, I decided to set up by the outside door, with it a little ajar, and try that. Alas, the thick pall of acrylic paint in the air, and the ultra-chemically stench lead me to abandon that. So I moved to the kitchen, put the extractor fan on full, donned a face mask, and whipped out my aerosol [1].

I thought I might try a new approach, and start with a matt grey base-coat, as a pal of mine foes with his models (mostly aeroplanes, but occasionally tanks or figures). I'd have liked to have got a coat of black on over that, which was my former first-step. But time didn't permit! One thing I like is how the grey binds all the models together. From an artistic point of view a lighter base colour light to be better, as putting, say, a three colour ambush scheme, for example (but anything, actually), over a light grey will ultimately have more 'zing' than doing the same over black.

Homogenous in grey. Note figures waiting in the wings!

The funny thing is, however, that a black base coat obviously has such as advantages as potential help in pre-shading, and creating dark recessed areas quickly; all depending on how you layer colour on top, of course. And it's useful with the hairspray paint-chip technique as well. When I said that it's a 'funny thing' re black, what I really meant to mention was how we frequently strive for a certain effect - one that looks convincing, one might even say realistic - but actually, in terms of strict realism, is often innacurate.

Anyway, I'm getting off topic! Although it's not quite finished yet, as it needs painting up properly, in terms of building a nice and interesting vehicle, I'd give this the thumbs up. A bit pricey, compared with the average styrene kit, and both better that and worse than styrene, in its resinous nature, ultimately it was fun to build, and I like the way it looks, hence the four balkenkreuz score!

Tuesday 26 April 2016

Book Review: The Confederacy's Secret Weapon - Douglas W. Bostick

A while back I posted some pieces on a variety of ACW-themed material. Several of these were about the various articles National Geographic ran at the time of the centenary of that epic conflict. It was in those articles, themselves over fifty years old now, that, sometime in the late '70s or early '80s, as a child, I first encountered the work of Frank Vizetelly. 

Beautiful engravings, derived from the field-sketches he sent home, also feature prominently in Amanda Foreman's excellent World On Fire, a book I read some years ago which specifically explores the ACW through links between the U.S. and Britain. I still find it fascinating and intriguing, that a British Italian should have become such a central figure, both for contemporaries and later generations, of this watershed moment in American history! 

'Reading the War News on Broadway, New York.' The image, an episode at the outbreak of war, from which Bostick's cover is derived. Note the pick-pocket!

An image from later on in the war: 'A Corps of the Confederate Army Marching by Night through Burning Woods. '

Above and below, two typically wonderful examples of the images we owe to Vizetelly.

'Great Falls of the Potomac'. Sentries of both sides could see each other (and shoot at each other, if they chose to) across this spectacular divide.

It was only when I came to renew my quest for the elusive and haunting 'battle maps', [1] which I thought I'd seen in those old NG issues, that I learned that there was now a book out - for the 'sesquicentennial'! -  dedicated wholly to Vizetelly's ACW work. I wrote to the publishers, explaining my interest in the subject, and they very kindly sent me a review copy. This, then, is my full review of that book. [2]

Bostick tells Vizetelly's story, and thereby that of much of the war, over thirteen short heavily illustrated chapters. Taken as a whole Vizetelly's work covers pretty much everything: from the build-up to the conflict, to its end; covering many theatres - from the woods and plains, to towns, cities, railroads, islands, and naval war - both at the front and behind the lines; and evokes verbally and visually both the civilian and military spheres, and views from both sides.

It was here I first countered Vizetelly's work.

Douglas Bostick has chosen to call it The Confederacy's Secret Weapon, subtitling it The Civil War Illustrations of Frank Vizetelly. That choice of title alone tells us something about the narrative arc! It's what  is termed an 'eminently readable' account of the illustrated correspondence of FrankVizetelly - specifically his coverage of the American Civil War for the Illustrated London News (ILN) - and is both an excellent and welcome addition to the history of the ACW, and a fascinating account in itself. 

In just over 150 pages, richly supported by 100 images, almost all of which are engravings of his sketches for the ILN, Bostick tells the fascinating story of how Frank Vizetelly, an Englishman of Italian descent, heavily involved in the burgeoning field of illustrated newspapers (which Bostick describes, for his American readership, as 'the CNN of their time'), travelled to the US, becoming, through his coverage, embroiled in the war he was documenting. 

Meet and greet the Whitehouse; ol' Uncle Abe towers above the crowd. Note buckskin clad frontiersmen at right!

The Garibaldi Guard parade past the President and other notables, including C-in-C Winfield Scott, Independence Day, '61.

The many engraved artworks are terrifically evocative and beautiful. Interestingly, Bostick points out that although the ACW was amongst the earliest of large-scale conflicts to be very heavily documented by the emerging technology of photography, nevertheless, most ordinary people were more likely to see illustrations such as Vizetelly specialised in. The photographs, taken by entrepreneurs who had to fund their investment in new and expensive gear, were usually shown at private exhibitions charging an entrance fee, whose audience was at the wealthier end of the social spectrum. [3]

Vizetelly also wrote about what he witnessed, and that aspect of his war reportage is also present in Bostick's account. Somewhat to my surprise though, one thing Bostick doesn't address in any great depth - at least as far as I recall - and something I am interested in (and which I do address here on my blog) is the process by which Vizetelly's original sketches, none of which feature in Bostick's work, and their accompanying descriptive notes, were transformed into the fabulous engravings that adorn his book. Despite this omission this remains a beautiful, evocative and very informative account, helping ensure that, as Bostick himself avows, Vizetelly 'finds his deserved place in our history.'

One of Vizetelly's original sketches. This one is in a card mount. Often they're covered with scrawled hand-written information, to supplement the visual info and help the engravers.

Shrewd observers might note that this sketch, entitled 'The Fight for the Rifle Pits in front of Battery Wagner', is the one that, in it's engraved form (pictured below), was used, albeit heavily cropped, on the front of the NG issue pictured further up of this post.

This is what the engravers turned the sketch into. Anonymous though these artists or artisans remain, they deserve credit for the beauty of the final images.

SPOILER ALERT: Thus far my review's been very general. I'll go into more detail now.

Firstly, what of Vizetelly himself? Certainly he's an interesting 19th Century character  - an artist-adventurer, sending home reports with 'cloak and dagger' anonymity, known only to his viewers and readers back home as 'our special artist'. But was he a reliable source?

Frank Vizetelly, photographed by famed ACW photographer, (James?) Brady.

In his official capacity Vizetelly is initially attached to the New York Fireman Zouaves, and starts his tenure covering things under the auspices of the U.S. government, meeting a colourful crowd, including Lincoln and his wife, at the White House. 

He watched and sketched the 1861 Independence Day parade, at which there were 20,000 troops, depicting the exotic Garibaldi Guards, foreign troops whose numbers include Hungarians, Germans, Swiss, French and Italians (see the picture further up this post). He then travelled South, to Washington, crossing the Potomac into North Virginia, and first saw blood spilled when a Col. Ellsworth was murdered by a hotel keeper in Alexandria. 

'Gallant charge of Federal cavalry into Fairfax Courthouse, Virginia.' Vizetelly's first experience of a serious action.

In the summer of 1861 he takes to the field, initially accompanying scouting parties. His first 'proper' action being a skirmish between Union cavalry & Confederate troops at Fairfax Courthouse (above). Right from the outset his coverage is very broad, not being confined to the land or the war only; by midsummer he saw his first marine action, aboard the Resolute on the Potomac, which was ambushed by Confederates. 

'Jefferson Thompson's Guerrillas Shooting at Federal Boats on the Mississippi'. Vizetelly experienced being on the receiving end of this kind of action.

Bostick relates Vizetelly's comments upon the relationship between the warring parties and Great Britain, remarking on 'an irritability among the more sensitive spirits of the Federal states against England on account of the decided principle of non-intervention.' He also mentions something interesting that presages the shift in Vizetelly's own allegiance - 'An editorial in the Illustrated London News recognised 'the Confederates believe that, in our secret hearts, our leaning is to their side, and that our sympathies are, so to speak, wrapped up in cotton...' '

Cotton being loaded. Top, the cotton chute; Bottom, loading the bales for river transportation.

'Cotton Burners.' As well as race and slavery, or 'states rights', cotton was itself a burning issue.

What British support there was for the Union is further endangered when Captain Charles Wilkes, of the USS San Jacinto, fires on the Trent, an unarmed British passenger ship, in order to stop her and capture the Confederate envoys to England, Slidell and Mason. Given these two nations recent history - the American War of Independence, the War of 1812 - this unlawful act of aggression on a civilian ship under the British flag, could plausibly have started a war. However, Secretary of State William Seward made an official apology to the British, Lincoln famously exclaiming 'One war at a time'.

Capt. Wilkes.

Things continue on a maritime tack when Vizetelly embarks on a reconnaissance with Union general Sickles on the Potomac. At one point Vizetelly and Sickles are on horseback, with a number of other Union officers, their horses wading up to their bellies in the river, when they observe Confederate blockade-runners coming under fire. But by late 1861 Vizetelly is feeling frustrated: 'Other than the occasional skirmish ... there was little of interest to illustrate.'

One of Vizetelly's images adorning the ILN's front page: 'Our Kitchen in the Camp of the 2nd New York Regiment.Ironically, although he may not be a slave, we still find the black man serving his white fellows, North as well as South.

A federal deserter is executed.

Still, seasoned pro that he is, during these otherwise slow or dull periods, Vizetelly writes and illustrates on camp life, the monotony of which is occasionally broken by the excitement of Confederate raids.  Other barracks based diversions include punishment drill and the execution of a deserter, who's made to sit upon his own coffin at the moment of execution! Less morbid, but perhaps less exciting to, are observations on new methods of signalling, such as the use of flags during daytime, and lamps at night.

As this picture shows, even signals could be a life or death subject!

'The Picket Leading the Ships of the Burnside Expedition over the Hatteras Bar.' Vizetelly nearly drowned on this little jaunt. We're fortunate he didn't, otherwise we wouldn't have this terrific image!

Early '62 finds Vizetelly accompanying general Burnsides' expedition to Roanoke Island, and nearly drowning on the Hatteras Bar, leaving him 'heartily sick of combined naval and military expeditions', and 'determined to have nothing more to do with them.' Fortunately for us, this wasn't the last time he got on a boat!  But worse than near-drownings, for our intrepid correspondent, is being kept on the margins away from the action: 'I'm getting tired of this continual "wait another week and you will see something done" which I'm constantly being told by officers in high command.' 

His candid coverage of the debacle at Bull Run (some referred to the event as 'the great skedaddle'!) didn't endear Vizetelly to the powers in the Union.

Perhaps there's something a little disingenuous in Vizetelly's grumbling: when Secretary of War Edwin Stanton hears Vizetelly and fellow British war correspondent William Howard Russell  (of the Times) intend to accompany another McClellan expedition, without official leave to do so, and, 'still angry over the reports filed by the two British correspondents after the Battle of Manassas, particularly Vizetelly's sketch of the fleeing Union troops', he revokes their permits. There were reasons why the Federals might've wanted to leave Vizetelly cooling his heel!

William Howard Russell, correspondent for the Times.

Whilst Russell heads home in a huff, Vizetelly decides to head west, telling his London readers that 'The Western men are proving themselves the heroes of the war'. A rather illuminating comment he makes at this juncture reveals his bloodthirsty side: 'I leave this evening for the West. There ... I shall find field enough for the exercise of my profession where battles, not petty skirmishes of advanced posts, but good, honest, sledge-hammer fights with wholesome bills of mortality, were the order of the day.'

Having taken a train to Cairo (!), a springboard for the Union into the Mississippi theatre, Vizetelly is refused further passage by general Halleck, but finds better fortune by applying to the Navy. Vizetelly tells readers back home 'In all conscience, I have had little to thank some of the Federal authorities for lately, and cannot therefore be suspected of any blind partiality.' Mind you, Southerners firing on his boat don't exactly endear themselves to him either!

'Midnight Storm' A rather sublime image.

During this river expedition Vizetelly sketched what I think is one of the most evocative of his illustrations, Midnight storm seen from the Federal flotilla anchored off Fort Pillow. 'It was the most violent storm that I have ever witnessed', he wrote. And, as Bostick notes, he was none too happy to be stranded on a 'steamship with an inventory of 25,000 pounds of gunpowder aboard.' Fort Pillow was taken, and Vizetelly moved off with the fleet of Ironclads to their next objective, Memphis.

'Destruction of the Confederate Flotilla off Memphis.'

Outside Memphis Vizetelly witnesses and records the destruction of the Confederate fleet, in a confrontation between Union ironclads and Confederate 'cottonclads'. It was after the fall of Memphis that Vizetelly first met Southerners. He was immediately struck - 'shocked but intrigued' is how Bostick puts it - by their conviction. 

Acting on a rumour that Secretary of War Stanton was about to be replaced, Vizetelly returned to Washington, hoping he might finally find more freedom of movement, only to find out the Stanton was still in office. Once again he applied for a permit to travel with the army of the Potomac, and once again he was 'denied the privilege'.

Soldiers and civilians on the move.

A combination of his Memphis impressions of Secessionist resolve, and his difficulties getting access to Union forces - never mind that those forces were largely inactive - led Vizetelly to cross the lines: 'In July 1862, the British reporter slipped out of the capital city without even notifying his friends ... and traveled to Baltimore.' 

Confederate sympathisers in Baltimore helped him make his way, via Chesapeake Bay, to Leonard's Town on the northern shore of the Potomac. With some irony, perhaps, the final stage of his journey over to the Secessionists was facilitated by, as Vizetelly describes him, 'a Negro buck named Job'. 

'Attack on Fort Wagner.'

Vizetelly's brother Henry has left us a colourful account of his brothers journey across the Potomac. The crossing doesn't prove easy, and Vizetelly resorts to threats, holding a gun to Job's head at one point, and at another threatening to eat him! However, fortunately for Job, Henry tells us that, during several fraught days and nights spent hiding from a patrolling Union steamer amongst reeds, laying in their dugout canoe, they dine instead on fresh oysters, and the crossing is ultimately successful.

A rendezvous of Mosby's Raiders, rather romanticising their modus operandi.

At this point in Bostick's narrative, when Vizetelly has joined the Confederates, we are treated to several more descriptions of the man himself. An uncited Confederate source portrays him as 'a large man with a great red beard and hearty, captivating personality.' And shortly after this we learn that two professional soldiers - one a visiting Prussian officer, the other a serving Confederate officer - both suspect Vizetelly embroiders his tales, but find him very charming and entertaining nonetheless! 

This brings me back to a question I considered at the start of this more detailed part of the post; ought this penchsnt to add colour to his campfire tales worry us, regarding his reliability as a witness? I don't claim that my opinion is a well-argued case, but personally, although he ultimately sided with the losing team, and despite the fact that his views on the situation of slaves might look pretty dubious to many a modern eye, I think he's a pretty reliable eyewitness. 

'Planter's Residence on the Cumbee River, South Carolina.'

'Domestic Life in South Carolina.'

Chapter Ten, In The Heart Of Secessia, covers the period in 1863 when Vizetelly travelled widely in the South, documenting domestic as well as military life, sketching planters residences, and white families with their slaves, and so on. 

Except at this point there isn't much discussion in this book of the slavery issue, which became so central to the war. And what little there is deals mostly with Vizetelly's perspective on the subject, as he relayed it home: 'However repugnant slavery as an institution must be to the English mind, no useful purpose is to be gained by keeping the eyes shut to the undoubted fact that where slaves are well treated, many of them grow accustomed to, and happy under, their servitude.' 

At Ball's Bluff Vizetelly got something of the 'wholesome bills of mortality' he had wished for...

... when the 'desperate' Federal attack was beaten off with heavy casualties.

The bloodshed at Ball's Bluff was to be eclipsed by several orders of magnitude at Fredericksburg, where Vizetelly's wishes to see the more sanguine aspects of war are granted in a much bigger way, as he watches Confederate artillery 'mow great avenues in the masses of Federal troops'. It's here that Robert E. Lee is reputed to have said 'It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it.' 

That this work put Vizetelly himself in danger, indeed in the line of fire, is beyond doubt. A story told by Heros von Yorcke, in his memoirs relates how, at one point during a particular campaign, Vizetelly is chatting to a soldier, both are on horseback, when a cannonball obliterates the other man's head, spattering Vizetelly in gore. To the amusement of his friends, but not altogether unsurprisingly, he skedaddles! One wonders if the experience affected his appetite for 'wholesome bills of mortality'?

Vizetelly met snd sketched many of the wars leaders, including, around this time, Co federate commander Robert E. Lee. Lee later got hold of the engraved ILN version of the portrait, and sent a copy to his wife: 'We are poor judges of ourselves and I cannot therefore pronounce as to his [Vizetelly's] success.'

Robert E. Lee, engraved back in England from a sketch made by Vizetelly in the field. Perhaps Lee, like me, found this a little generic? Possibly this results from the translation from sketch to print far from the subject?

'Flight of President Jefferson Davis and His Ministers over the Georgia Ridge, Five Days before His Capture.'

The Last Days of the Confederate Govt. (Top) The Flight of the Confederates: A Sudden Alarm and Stampede. (Bottom) The Train of the Confederates Crossing the Pe-Dee River, North Carolina.

Having crossed the lines Vizetelly stayed with the Confederates till the bitter end, as the pictures immediately above and below show. Confederate President Jefferson Davis rather forlornly attempted to continue attending to his official duties, whilst beating a rapid retreat towards south, his government and army disintegrating and melting away. When the war does finally and inevitably end in Union victory, Vizetelly's adopted side having lost, 'our special artist', having spent much of the war smuggling his work back to Britain, has to more or less smuggle himself home!

The upper of the two images above depicts 'The Last Days of the Confederate Govt: Mr. Jefferson Davis Signing Acts of Government by the Roadside', and must've been a sad scene to portray for Vizetelly. In the lower image friends say their farewells.

Whatever his personal views, Frank Vizetelly, the bon vivant author-illustrator-adventurer, with the help of the ILN team - including the many highly skilled but uncredited engravers - left us a tremendous legacy, beautifully depicting all aspects of this fascinating conflict.

This is not a perfect book, being rather small, marred by a number of typos, and neither including any of Vizetelly's original drawings, nor making much reference to the processes by which the work evolved - from in-situ sketches accompanied by scrawled notes, to the final sumptuous engravings that appeared in the the ILN

Two panoramic views of post-war Richmond, battle-scarred former Capital of the shortlived Confederate States of America. Great visual reference!

Ironclads in battle. Again, superb as inspiration, and useful as reference.

Nevertheless, as Bostick's book is the only title I know of solely dedicated to Vizetelly and his ACW work, it's well worth reading, being informative, pretty decently written, and - best of all - packed with the beautiful engraved versions of Vizetelly's sketches. And for those of us interested in recreating and reworking history in miniature, he's a goldmine of visual (and other) reference.

Frank Vizetelly himself carried on working along the same lines, as a roving correspondent in war-zones, eventually disappearing, presumed amongst the dead in a massacre in Egypt.

This isn't Vizetelly at work.  And it appears to be someone painting, not sketching. But it's nonetheless very nice as a way to visualise an early war-artist/correspondent in the field.


[1] Eventually I discovered that the battle maps were the work of David Greenspan, and were published elsewhere.

[2] I've also posted a much shorter review, on Amazon UK's website.

[3] Many of the photographers would go bust after the war (and much of their work would be lost), failing to recoup their investment.