Sunday, November 11, 2018

Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One. 11am on the 11th day of the 11th month the countries of with world decreed that enough was enough and so formally stopped slaughtering each other. On a more personal level would have been my parents 58th wedding anniversary. They made it to 57 with my mother passing away earlier this year.   



My own interest in the World Wars goes back to my childhood. The wars have always fascinated me, they have shocked me, and they have enlightened me as to the propensity of mankind to unleash unimaginable savagery upon itself.When growing up I would usually spend my school holidays at my grandmother’s home in Timaru and on each stay would pop down to the local model shop and purchase Airfix 1:72 scale WWII figures and model kits. My grandmother was horrified by my hobby. She had lived though two world wars and to her war was not a game! It was real as were its consequences. 

Nana was the youngest of six children. She was sixteen or seventeen when the war broke out and in her early twenties when it ended. Two of her brothers were gassed on the Western front in World War One. She didn’t really much talk about them, though she used to tell me stories of all other aspects of her life growing up in the early twentieth century. Both, her brothers, like so many men who came back from the War to End all Wars, died young, no doubt partly due to the wounds they’d received.  Her future husband, my grandfather, had serviced on a minesweeper in the English Channel and North Sea and fought at the Battle of Jutland where some of his crewmates were killed. I can’t begin to imagine how bloody cold and dangerous it would have been patrolling those waters for submarines in the depths of winter. Bugger that for a joke!

My other grandfather died at the age of 86 in 1982 or 83. As a young man he served in the trenches on the western front and only ever, to my mother’s knowledge, spoke of his experiences . That was one rainy summers day while he sat at the dinner table watching me perched on a stool at our kitchen island trying to put together an Airfix JU88 model. He was in his eighties and for the only time in his life he spoke to his family about his experiences and especially his friends long gone- trying to let my generation know of the futility of war. I really wish I had taped that conversation.

For those that had experienced, who had lived through the wars their perceptions were very different to ours today.  Often when thinking of World War One we focus on the battles which, to us in New Zealand, were fought at the other end of the world. However, it was also war that fought at home by every family in the country. I can’t begin to imagine how hard life must have been for people at home, the uncertainty of seeing loved ones ever again. Of lives put on hold till the war, for good or ill, ended. People must have dreaded the arrival of the postie. Was it good news? Was it bad?
Today, we know the outcome of the war and it seems a foregone conclusion but for those experiencing it day by day either in the various theatres of combat or at home the war and its outcome was very, very uncertain. For those experiencing those days, and some were terribly dark, life must have been bloody hard. People lived one day at a time, lives were put on hold and many many lives were cruelly cut short; families and communities were torn apart.  

Some great innovations came from the war and afterwards. People such as Tolkien were shaped by their experiences in the trenches in World War One yet went on to great achievements that have enriched all of humanity. I cannot help but wonder what great innovations in the arts, in literature, in science, in medicine and technology were delayed or never made because some of our brightest minds did not survive the war to make them.  We will never know of the changes that could have been made yet never were because a life was cut short in its prime. It truly was a lost generation.

Both my grandfathers belonged to this, a now long silent generation. They like most young men of their generation answered the call up, enlisted and went to war. They left the shores of a small, new country to travel across the world to fight on behalf of an old one. For whatever reason that drove them to that decision they stepped up to do what they feel needed to be done. They put aside their lives, their hopes, their dreams, their families and loved ones, donned a uniform and left New Zealand’s shores for Europe. Many of their friends that left with them did not return.

Those that did survive the war were not the same when they returned. They had changed, the world had changed, their home towns and families had changed. The men and women that returned were often barely recognisable and many struggled to assimilate to life in peacetime. Some bore the scars of war outwardly, for others the scars were on the inside, hidden and often not understood. Shell shock they called it, we now call it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Men and women mentally damaged, haunted by their experiences in the trenches, in the air, upon the seas. Families across the country, just as were families across the world, were rent and broken. Some of those that served lived to a ripe old age but many died young, their bodies or minds destroyed by their ordeal, their youth stolen from them. Some haunted by their experiences took their own lives. Others took out their anger and frustrations on their families, on their loved ones. Wives and children often had to deal with puzzlement of a father’s anger or distance, with their inability to emotionally connect with them, or coped with with physical or mental abuse that was in part the result of a father or husband’s wartime experiences. The generation that returned from the battlefields bore their burdens silently and with stoicism but many many suffered.

I like to think my grandfathers generation fought to change to world, to make the world a better place for theirs and following generations. They were the Silent Generation who stoically shouldered the burden of their ordeals. Most wouldn’t dwell on those dark days. In fact for many in my grandfathers generation Armistice and ANZAC days were not days to celebrate or to commemorate. Many did not march in the parades, that came later. Instead you’d probably find them in a quiet corner of a local pub or RSA with their mates sharing a quiet beer. They didn’t really talk of their experiences but they would share a beer, renew a bond forged in the hells of war, yet probably not talk about the way it had impacted on them.  

 As a child in the 1970s as the unpopular war in Vietnam raged I recall ANZAC parades being disrupted by those, who are now our babyboomers, antiwar protestors protesting against that war and trying to change then world. There were verbal confrontations between World War One and Two veterans and young men and women protesting against the futility of war. It seemed that our ANZAC day almost became a day of national shame. But in more recent decades there has been a change in attitude. Slowly yet surely as the numbers of veterans declined growing numbers of children, young people and families, now attend the Dawn Parad Services to commemorate, to reflect and to make sure those that went before are not forgotten. That to my mind what Armistice day, and ANZAC day, should truly be about.

The veterans of World War One to my mind weren’t proud of their achievements, they did not glorify the war. They fought in it, they survived it, they sure as hell didn’t want to celebrate it. If anything they wanted to forget to put the horrors behind them, get on with life and raise their families. The jingoism that existed in Europe prior to World War One lead to unimaginable slaughter for four years, the survivors didn’t want a bar of that but hoped to forge a better world, to make sure that the sacrifice of the millions that died were not in vain.

Today, the voices of the Lost Generation have fallen silent, soon too will those of the last survivors of World War Two. Those that come after have a duty, a solemn duty ,to honour their sacrifices, not glorify them, and pass on to future generations the lesson of the Great War- NEVER AGAIN!  A lesson we seemingly have not learned and we seem doomed to forever repeat. So it is with some alarm that I take note of the rise of nationalism and popularism in the world today, are we doomed to repeat the 1930s with a new rise of fascism? Have we learned nothing?  

ANZAC and Armistice Days are not a time for bravado, jingoism or pride, rather they are days for solemn reflection and acknowledgement of the sacrifices of those that served and the millions of casualties , both military and civilian, of those two wars and to try to understand the unimaginable.  

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the end of hostilities. It is a day to reflect on the sacrifices of those men and women of that long silent generation and to make sure that their sacrifices are never forgotten that the lessons of this, the war to end all wars, are remembered and passed on to future generations. The Great War was supposed to be the war to end all wars but we know it was repeated on an even bigger scale barely twenty years later. I sincerely hope we can one day learn the lesson whispered from the graves in cemeteries and from the ghosts on battlefields across the world and heed the voices of those that have gone before us of the futility of war and listen as the wind whispers their final lament… NEVER AGAIN!

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, --
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori.
-Wilfred Owen- Dulce et Decorum Est




Craig

Friday, November 2, 2018

The Battle of Makin Nov 20-23 1943


This month is the 75th anniversaries of the Battles of Tarawa and Makin here in Kiribati (or the Gilbert Islands as they were then known- Kiribati is Gilbert in the i-Kiribati language).


Butaritari lies a couple of hundred kilometres north of Tarawa. The atoll is roughly four-sided and nearly 30 km across in the east-west direction, and averages about 15 km north to south. The reef is more submerged and broken into several broad channels along the west side. 


The Japanese landed on Butaritari on December 10, 1941, three days after the attack on Pearl Harbour and began to build a seaplane base on the island of Butaritari. 

On August 17, 1942, Butaritari was attacked by Colonel Evans Carlson's 2nd Marine Raider Battalion. Landing from two submarines the 211-man force killed 83 of Makin's garrison and destroyed the island's installations before withdrawing. In the wake of the attack, the Japanese reinforced the Gilbert Islands. This saw the arrival on Makin of a company from the 5th Special Base Force and the construction of more formidable defenses.

Butaritari’s defences were centered around the lagoon shore near the seaplane base in the central part of the island. There were two tank barrier systems. The west tank barrier, which extended from the lagoon two-thirds of the way across Butaritari, was 12 to 13 feet wide and 5 feet deep, and was protected by one anti-tank gun, a concrete pillbox, six machine-gun positions and 50 rifle pits. The east tank barrier, 14 feet wide and 6 feet deep, stretched from the lagoon across two-thirds of the island and bent westward with log anti-tank barricades at each end. It was protected by a double apron of barbed wire and an intricate system of gun emplacements and rifle pits.
A series of strongpoints were established along the ocean side including 8-inch coastal defense guns, 37mm anti-tank gun positions, machine-gun emplacements and rifle pits. The Japanese expected an invasion to come on the ocean side of Butaritari, following the example of Carlson’s raid in 1942, and established their defenses two miles from where that raid had taken place. Without aircraft, ships or hope of reinforcement or relief, the outnumbered and outgunned defenders could only hope to delay the coming American attack for as long as possible.

The Japanese garrison on  Butaritari consisted of 798 men: 284 combat troops of the 3rd Special Base Force-Makin Detachment along with 100 aviation personnel and about 500 Korean labourers. The garrison was commanded by Lt. j.g. Seizo Ishikawa.  

The US 27th Infantry Division was a New York National Guard unit that had been transferred to Hawaii where it remained 18 months before being chosen to take part in the Gilbert Islands invasion.

On November 20th 1943 at the same time as the 2nd Marine Division landed at Tarawa the 27th Infantry Division's 165th Regimental Combat Team landed on Butaritari on Makin Atoll. infantry were supported by Lees  and Stuart tanks of the 193rd Tank Battalion which were to prove invaluable in supporting the infantry. 

The American plan was to overwhelm Makin’s defenders with crushing air and naval barrages followed by an amphibious landing intended to mop up any lingering enemy resistance. The U.S. planners hoped to lure the Japanese into committing most of their forces to oppose the first landings on Red Beach which would allow the troops landing on Yellow Beach to attack from the rear. The US commanders estimated it would take about two days to clear the island. 




The Japanese, however, did not respond to the attack on Red Beach. Instead they  withdrew from Yellow Beach with only harassing fire, leaving the troops of the 27th Division no choice but to knock out the fortified strongpoints one by one. Reduction operations were hampered by the frequent inability to use heavy support weapons, including tanks, because of the danger of cross-fire. 


Japanese snipers hidden in the fallen trees and shell craters started were to take a heavy toll on the attackers and the American regimental commander was killed while rallying his troops.

Like Tarawa the Battle lasted three days and it wasn't until the morning of the 23rd of November when the troops of the 3rd Battalion reached the eastern tip of Butaritari and organised resistance was declared ended.  

In the battle of Makin the 27th Division lost 66 soldiers killed and 152 wounded. Japanese casualties were 550 men killed and 105 prisoners of war, all but one of whom all but one were labour troops.


 The Battle of Makin is less well known than the Battle of Tarawa but Makin is notable in that it was the first amphibious assault conducted by U.S. Army forces in the Central Pacific during World War II. Valuable lessons were learned that were to pave the way for larger operations on Saipan, ion the Philippines, and on Okinawa. Makin also marked the combat debut of armour in an Army-led Pacific landing and was the only time American-crewed Lee medium tanks were used in battle against Japan.


So why the sudden interest in the Battle of Makin? As mentioned this month is the 75th Anniversary of the battle, along with Tarawa, and next weekend I’m heading up to Buitaritari with some other kiwi volunteers for the weekend and hope to be able to explore some of the remnants of the battle. With  a bit of luck I'll have a few pictures to post in a week or so. 


A few useful links:









 Craig


Thursday, October 18, 2018

BA- Free French vs Fallschrimjager

I popped around to Kent's last night for an enjoyable game of Bolt action, enjoyable for me, not so much for Kent thank to some pretty terrible dice rolling with his armoured vehicles.

 I ran
3x shermans
1x M16
1x 2nd lieutenant
2x tough fighter infantry squads
1x 81mm mortar
1x bazooka

Kent fielded:
1x Lieutenant
2x Fallschrimjager squads
1x 105mm recoiless artillery
1x MMG
1x 81mm motar
1x Stug
1x Panzer IV
1x 222 Armoured car

The battlefield- Kent has got some nice new buildings and gaming cloth.

 Turn one the French advance
 The Free French, a mix of Artizan and Warlord Games figures.
 Kent eyeing up my M16 with his panzer IV
 A look down the table on turn 2. Not much to see.
 Stug and panzer IV on the German right flank.
 The Fallschrimjager advance behind the building.

 Mortar observer takes cover in the building.
 Sherman and Free French infantry on my left flank
 Kent is feeling aggressive and throws his infantry forward behind a smoke screen- created whn he failed to register smoke on my Shermaan.
Both Fallschrimjager squads are involved in the counter attack. One is destroyed in the ruined building after defeating my infantry officer when the surviving Germans are counter attacked by my nearby squad. 
 My second squad moves to counter the German thrust- causing several casualties with small arms fire.
 And fomr the gErman perspective.
 The mortar fires despite the stug looming large in the distance.
 Another view down the table, not much to see as the buildings hide the action.
 Kent's very nicely painted LMG team.

 The LMG team is offering covering fire to the rest of the squad- which is currently being decimated.
 Hide n seek around the building on the right flank.
 The Sherman stug slug it out, mostly ineffectively.
 The M16 has moved across to lend a hand on my left flank.
 No so many Germans now.
 The 222 armoured car scores a hit on the Sherman but fails to damage it
 Finally the M16 has a target and decimates the German platoon commander.

Result: A bit of a whitewash, about 5-1. i rolled pretty well but Kent had a pretty disastrous run of dice with his tanks. It was fun to get the dice out again and have a game. I'm back off to Kiribati this weekend so that was my last game until I'm back for good in the new year.

Craig

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Conqueror Model Dwarves

One of the things I ordered before heading back to Kiribati was a couple of units worth of Conqueror Models dwarves. This range is one I really liked the look of, very norse-esque looking. My  friend Mike is a collector of old school Warhammer metal dwarves and has a sizable collection but personally I can't stand the cartoonish, fat dwarves style of GW's Warhammer ranges, much preferring the more realistic (is that possible with dwarves) proportions of their Lord of the Rings range.

The Conqueror models dwarves are a bit bigger than the LoTR dwarves that makeup the bulk of my fledgling dwarven force but not too much so and so I think will work together just fine. I intend to get a few more command figures and spearmen from Conqueror Models to complete the force.

The miniatures are really nice sculpts, good detail, no flash and paint up really easily. I highly recommend them.

I rebased some LoTR dwarves to ct as the command team- I've decided to make the command stands on circular bases and use them as heroes in Dragon Rampant. I  bought my LoTR dwarves from a friend already painted and so simply rebased them but will probably repaint the commander at some point.

The crossbow dwarves. I've decided, after seeing my friend Ian's basing, to do them on 6cmx 6cm bases so they are a bit more flexible.


Craig

Friday, October 12, 2018

I'm back...sort of

Well, briefly anyway. As Kiribati is considered one of the more isolated spots to volunteer we get leave every 3-4 months to get some fresh fruit and vegies! Life isn't too bad out on South Tarawa but after a while you do miss a few trappings of modern life such as plentiful fruit and veggies, hot water etc. You kind of just get into a routine and get on with the job really, There isn't a hell of a lot of excitement out there but it is an interesting place to live. My wife and son came out to visit for 10 days and then we' went to Fiji for a week and I'm  now back home for another 10 days before heading back for my last 3 month stint on South Tarawa.

I had a few boxes of goodies waiting for me when I arrived home- my Dwarven Forge Kickstarter had arrrived, some Conqueror Models dwarven crossbowmen, some GW Ruins of Osligath, GW Galadheim elves etc.Mainly stuff I bought for my Lord of the Rings projects before I headed back to Tarawa.

I have completed one of the Osligath ruins and are working on two units of Conqueror Models dwarves for my Dragon Rampant Dwarf force. I really like the style and size of the Conqueror Dwarves and will adding more to my collection.

I'll base the ruins up properly when I return to New Zealand for good in January but a quick 3 colour drybrush and they were ready for the tabletop. I'm very happy with them, they'll be great for a variety of games.





Craig

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Abandoned munitions on Tarawa


Well, I'm back in wargaming purgatory, so not much to report on the gaming front. However, I took these pictures back in February. I went with an Aussie friend for a trip over across the lagoon to North Tarawa for a swim. I was surprised to see a rusting WWII shell lying on the beach and then he took me to see a stockpile of rusting shells slowly rusting way on the shoreline. Are any of them live? I have no idea but bloody well hope not. 

Someone as stockpiled them there, my friend said that a few years ago a contractor had put them there and that (I think) they were to be supposed to have been disposed off, but currently they are just lying on an uninhabited atoll across the lagoon, relics of the battle of Tarawa.





Craig 



Friday, July 27, 2018

Are we experiencing a golden age in 28mm gaming?


I guess I’m getting a bit long on the tooth. I “started” wargaming back in the late 1970s with the ubiquitous Airfix 1:72nd scale HO/OO figures and kits. This was soon followed Matchbox with their 1:76 scale infantry, hanomags, 17pdr and Morris C8 tractor, pak 40 + SDKFZ11, Sherman firefly,  M16 half track, chaffee, wespe to name a few of the kits soon gracing my gaming collection. A year or two and I discovered Esci, which to my pre-teenage brain were light years ahead of both the two English companies in terms of detail on both figures and vehicles, and they became my first choice for infantry. I also liked their vehicles but they were a bit fiddly to put together and weren’t really in scale to Matchbox or Airfix, but that mattered little to my friend Ian and me.   

In those days Airfix kits and figures were readily available and building kits was a rite of passage for many boys. Military figures and kits were widely available in most specialised model railway and hobby shops not to mention more general toy stores here in New Zealand. HO/OO 1:72nd and 1:76th kits were the main scale used by most local wargamers I knew, and being pre internet and not involved in the local clubscene, that wasn’t that many! I guess that’s what in these globally connected days, we would refer to as the local meta. I know that Ian and I both looked with great envy at the beautiful metal figures and vehicles to fill out ranges available in the UK but with the prices in pound, the weak NZ dollar, exorbitant postage not to mention extremely limited gaming budgets they were right out of the question!

Over the years I built up a sizeable collection of 1:76/1:72nd plastic kits. In fact , the bulk of my first fulltime pay packet after leaving school went on buying 8x Hasegawa M3 half tracks to mechanise my US infantry forces!

But, as is often the way, in my later teenage years I put aside gaming for more appropriate pastimes- hanging out with mates, drinking, partying, girlfriends etc but never completely gave up gaming.
It wasn’t until just after I got married and I moved to Japan for three years that I really returned to the hobby. In my first few weeks in Japan I found a local gaming store that had a lot of Fujimi 1:76 scale kits. Pretty much the first Japanese I learned was how to order kits. The shopkeeper thought I was a crazy gaijin who didn’t understand Japanese at all when I ordered 12x T34s. Eventually he figured out yes, I was serious and so ordered them for me. They duly appeared the following week and I biked home (we biked everywhere in Japan) with two bags of models perched on my handlebars- having given the shopowner a second bulk order for the following week. I spent many, many evenings in Japan building 1:76 scale kits and would transport them home on my annual trips back to NZ as well as sending numerous repacked unmade kits back home Ian so we could fill large voids in our collections- especially for Eastern Front armour.

I returned to NZ in 1999 I then moved to Timaru and in time made contact with some other gamers a year or so later. A couple showed interest in WWII gaming and we started dabbling with Rapid Fire in 1:72nd scale. About that time a small company in NZ called Battlefront had their playtest version of the rules available online and were appearing to demonstrate the game of Flames of War: Company Commander at the NZ Wargaming Nationals in Christchurch (2002?). Ian and I had both checked out their website but the pictures of some of the 15mm staff looked pretty average at best so decided we’ better check them out in person. We did so and immediately decided to ditch 20mm/1:72 scale and so sold off all our staff and 15mm gaming became our main gaming scale of the next decade.

The local gamers embraced FoW and we ended up having a sizeable gaming community and many, many evenings of enjoyable games and I ran an annual FoW tournament for a decade. In time we started the Timaru Armchair Generals back up after more than a decade’s hiatus and I’m glad to say it’s still going strong some 15 years later.

I recall about 2010/2011 having a conversation with Kent of Galpy’s 15mm Painting Shed fame discussing 28mm figures. He’d just painted up some Warlord Games (metal) US paras and was sounding keen to get into 28mm gaming but we both concluded that the scale, and price of metal miniatures meant we’d stick to 15mm- so ended up building some 15mm Napoleonic armies instead and he sold his freshly painted armies!

I did have some Gripping Beast 28mm Vikings and Saxons I’d purchased in late 2000 when I briefly toyed with the idea of 28mm DBA but really hated the way the DBA basing for 28mm scale worked, it just didn’t look right so the project languished for a long time as no one I knew did 28mm gaming- it was too damn expensive-  and I wanted bigger armies and more dynamic basing to the DBA standard.  

It wasn’t till a year or two later that Kent and I changed our minds and decided to get into 28mm Napoleonic’s for the 200th anniversary of Borodino project and the rest is as they say history. Metal 28mm figures were a hell of a lot  more expensive than our traditional scale of 15mm but painted up nicely and were a damn sight easier to see than 15mm figures seemed to be becoming to my 40 something year old eyes.

So I guess my foray into 28mm has coincided with a bit of a renaissance in 28mm gaming. In the last six years or so we’ve witnessed a real growth in popularity for 28mm historics, driven in no small part by the ever increasing ranges of plastics out there that are making 28mm gaming cheaper and more accessible than ever before. Companies like Victrix, Warlord Games, Gripping Beast, Perry Miniatures, Fireforge, and for fantasy Games Workshop, Mantic and Oathmark to name a few. In fact the GW Lord of the Rings range were in truth probably the first to start this process with their excellent LoTR releases accompanying  Peter Jackson’s movies. Thy are still some of my favourite figures. 


However, some of the early plastic ranges were a bit hit and miss but the quality of sculpts (and increased use of computer aided design) has continued to improve and has meant some companies are producing really outstanding stuff. I’m still a bit of a metal snob in some eras- preferring metals to plastic in WWII for instance- too many bad experiences with subpar Warlord Games plastics and frustrated that they ditch very nice metals ranges for pretty average plastics ones. But other manufacturers, such as Victrix historics I buy without second thought as the quality is as good as, if not sometimes better, than the higher end metals available.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have a deep love for metal figures and there are a number of outstanding companies out there that I buy but the plastics make it easier and cheaper to bulk out armies and get larger forces on table. The more dynamic/individualised metals can be used for special character and to add variety to rank and file units and many of my forces are a mix of both plastics and metals which I’m sure is the same for many gamers. As ranges increase options of mixing and matching and kitbashing new figures by combining parts of different manufacturers kits has also become easier and easier, not to mention ease of customising plastics in general.

I think a number of outstanding blogs- some of which I have links too, have also made 28mm gaming more attractive and there is nothing like the spectacle of a well organised 28mm game on beautiful terrain. My own participation in the Borodino and Gettysburg events in Christchurch a few years back being my first chance to take part in the truly majestic spectacles of massed 28mm figures on table with fellow wargame enthusiasts that I’d only till that point ever really ever seen in UK and US wargaming magazines.

So where is this post heading? I’m not really sure except to say that I think the development of the modern 28mm plastics has lead to a revival of interest in the scale and also in historic gaming in general. Great figures at more affordable prices for creating larger armies, coupled with a range of outstanding blogs,  not to mention a wide range of excellent rules available means that in my opinion we are indeed witnessing a revival, or renaissance of you will in gaming in this scale, long may it prosper.

Craig