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Tuesday, 25 September 2012

FIHSOTV 1 Hué, Vietnam

I am starting a new series , Fortresses I Have Seen On TV, FIHSOTV. Obviously, this entry is Number 1.

I was watching a BBC programme on the Tet Offensive of 1968, part of a series on 20th century battles. The struggle at Hué was discussed. As soon as I saw the location camera work I thought it looked like a bastioned trace. I did some research, mainly Wikipedia, and found this:

This looks like the architect's site plan

 The site is 2Km by 2Km and is roughly square. Each corner has a bastion, with five bastions on each face of the enceinte. It is surrounded by a moat. Work began in 1804, initially with earthen walls, later replaced with stone walls 2 metres thick. I could not find any details on the architect.

Hué occupies a central location in Vietnam. It was started in 1804,  on a greenfield site. It was chosen to be the site of the new Imperial Palace.

A substantial town has grown up around the Imperial site, there are ten gates from the fortress, over the moat to the city.

A gate over the moat. Substantial damage was caused by bombing and shelling during the fighting, much of which has been repaired.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Turkey Reading

So, back from the sunshine and into ..... autumn in a major way. We stepped off the plane at three in the morning at Leeds/Bradford airport and were hit in the face with howling winds and rain. The sign said "Welcome to Yorkshire", I thought "sarky bastard".

Whilst we were under the Turkish sun I read two of the three books I had taken.

First - Richard Holmes' biography of the Duke of Wellington. Richard's writing style was very much like his talking style, during several passages I could hear him in my head, saying the lines. A really good book, I don't think I learnt anything but it was a very enjoyable way to revisit the life of a great Irishman. Thank you Richard.

Second - Roger Cowley's "City of Fortune" on the Venetian Empire. Very readable. I learnt a lot, particularly about short term expedient actions and long term consequences, such as the storming of Constantinople in 1204. I'm sure the medieval specialist may not learn much but as a generalist or a specialist outside his field I thoroughly recommend this book.

Problem now is to lose the extra kilos from the great eating.

Monday, 10 September 2012

August Films

These are the films I watched during August. These are all mostly Bluray or dvd from Lovefilm and watched at home, but there were trips to the cinema.

The films are in three categories:-

  1. Arty films, usually drama, often foreign language;
  2. Drama/thriller, English language;
  3. Entertaining films, science fiction and fantasy, rainy Sunday afternoon films, put your brain in a box films.

Le Quattro Volte. The most surprising film of the month. An Italian film shot in Puglia. No dialogue, all visual, visual drama, visual jokes, visual tragedy. All the broadsheet critics raved about this film so I thought I would try it - within 30 seconds I was hooked.

Outrage. From Takeshi Kitano, same old stuff, marvellous.


The Descendants. Mr. Clooney puts in another fine performance as the family man whose wife is in a coma following an accident, he finds out she was seeing another man. Family drama at its best.

Carnage. A filmed play from Roman Polanski. Stay away from the cobbler. Very well acted


Rise of the Planet of the Apes
. This I really enjoyed. Andy Serkis is fantastic. Not a great story but very enjoyable.

From Paris With Love.
Columbiana. These three films were all very similar, rather Bourne like-individuals take on large numbers of baddies and win out. I think Luc Besson was involved in the production of the films.

I bought a Bluray disc this month (not something I do very often) John Carter, a film that was very poorly received and something of a flop in cinemas, but I really like it, for me this is another Star Wars. I think this may be a lonely furrow I am ploughing.

In addition there were two trips to the cinema to see the blockbusters in their true format, on a big screen with a very good sound system. The Dark Knight Rises and Bourne Legacy. Both had drawbacks, not quite up to the standards of their precursors but both very enjoyable.

So August was a good month for film watching, but not for cricket watching.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Jean Le Michaud d'Arcon

During research for this blog I come upon interesting persons. This is the first.


Born, 18th November, 1733 at Pontarlier.

Died, 1st July 1800, aged 67 years, at Belfort.

His father wanted d'Arcon to follow an ecclesiastical career but from childhood he had a passion for arms.

He enrolled at the Royal School of Engineers at Mézieres in1754, qualifying the following year. He distinguished himself in the Seven Years War, particularly in the defence of Cassel in 1761.

D'Arcon is of interest for two reasons. First, he had a good career in military engineering, he had views and opinions; he published several works that were influential. Second, he was the leading French engineer at the Great Siege of Gibraltar, 1779 - 1783.

First - his career and his views.  He was committed to the defence of the borders of France, he was very conservative, pro-Vauban in his approach. He published nine books, four of which were arguing for the Vauban bastioned fortifications. His main opponent was Montalembert who was arguing for casemates, caponniers and detached forts. To conclude, in the short term, d'Arcon won the argument and had a great influence on the Jacobin Government, arguing that Vauban's work, eg Lille, had allowed Revolutionary France to survive early defeats and that invading forces were held back under Vauban ramparts. In the longer term, the ideas of Montalembert won, particularly with France's enemies.

Second - Gibraltar. The Great Siege of Gibraltar was started by the Spanish armed forces in 1779. They did not meet with much success. In 1782, the French took over, under Marechal de Crillon with Colonel d'Arcon on his engineering staff.  The siege on the land side had reached stalemate, so d'Arcon put forward a design for floating batteries to break the sea defences. Ten floating batteries were constructed a total of 212 guns, 5,260 officers and men. The batteries' artillery pieces were on one side of the vessel, with a counterbalance on the other side, had extra very stout timbers attached to the artillery side as protection and were rigged with sails to manoeuvre them into position. On 13th September 1782 the batteries sailed to the seaward defences of Gibraltar and a great artillery duel began at around 10.00 hrs. Simultaneously the Spanish started a bombardment on the land side from another 200 artillery pieces. The exchanges lasted all day. The British were firing red hot cannonballs and they succeeded in setting fire to the two largest floating batteries. D'Arcon's strategy went downhill from there. The French and Spanish had failed. The siege lasted until 2nd February, 1783.

D'Arcon also worked on some of the French border fortresses, such as Fort Dauphin. There is a very good 3D drawing of a Lunette D'Arcon on

My thanks to Wikipedia, to Rene Chartrand for the detail ("Gibraltar 1779 - 83 The Great Siege" Osprey Publishing) and to Christopher Duffy ("The Fortress in the Age of Vauban and Frederick the Great").

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Turkey 2012 - reading list

So, off to Bodrum for a week with my partner, same place as last year, give my partner a rest from the high pressured existence of a senior civil servant.

A very good hotel with a terrific pool, some reading will be in order. Last year I read Richard Holmes' biography of John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough. This was an excellent read and I learnt some things to add to my store of French history. This year I thought I would try his biography of Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington. Both books claim their subject to be Britain's greatest ever soldier/general, my feelings lean towards John Churchill but I could be convinced otherwise.
A good second hand copy from Amazon

 These next two - I was in Waterstone's (a national chain of booksellers) in York when I spotted this next book and it piqued my interest. I remember I heard a few years ago that Venice was a world power in the 14th - 16th centuries, so I thought I would go for that.

A reserve book, just in case.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Briancon Guerite

Bastion guerite, Briancon. From a collection of Jean-Luc Galliano.

Guerites, or echaugettes, were small watchtowers erected at prominent points with good views, say at the angle of a bastion. It was protection from the weather for a sentry and would be taken down if the fortress was put under siege, as they were very good artillery markers for the enemy. Sometimes, the guerites were constructed in wood, such as at Neuf Brisach.

Quentin Hughes, in "Military Architecture", gives the following definition.

"ECHAUGETTE a stone sentry box cantilevered from the angle of a bastion."

Mr. Galliano, a fantastic photograph - thank you.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Fortress Visit Report No. 2 , Castello a Mare, Palermo

Fortress Visit Report no. 2, Castello a Mare, Palermo, Sicily.

Visited June 2012.

Palermo was ringed by a bastioned enceinte but much of this was demolished during the 1860's, following the Italian Unification, as it was a symbol of Bourbon oppression. There are sections to be found in the back streets and the a few gates are visible, such as Porta Nuova.

On the seafront, sections of the bastioned wall have been adopted to commercial use.

Part of the port area is being redeveloped into a marina for tourist & pleasure craft. As part of the development, the remains of Castello a Mare are being tidied. When we visited, a substantial metal fence had been erected around the site but there was considerable evidence of ongoing work. The site was closed to public access.

The Castello comprised a medieval donjon and a gatehouse, then three bastions were added in the 16th century. A gun-tower was added to the middle bastion in the 17th century.

The medieval gatehouse with guntower behind

Bastion flank with orillion

The medieval donjon

The guntower behind the fence

The interior face of the gatehouse (left) and the guntower (right). The apartment block is the external boundary of the site.

One more interesting fortification structure, this time from the 20th century, on the beach.