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Friday, 31 January 2014

First public outing for my figures

This is Vapnartak weekend. On Sunday I will walk over to the racecourse for York's wargaming show. This will be my third show, two years ago after taking early retirement, I was thinking about how to use my new found freedom (apart from cricket watching and films and walking and  reading French history and artillery fortification) and I decided to try painting 25mm figures. I was very keen in my teenage years but lost the buzz when wine women and song took over.

Two years later and I have settled into the 18th century imagination and really enjoying it. I was greatly surprised by the number of companies making figures, not just Airfix, Minifigs and Hinchliffe, and the large number of scales and of figure sizes within the same scale. I still like the Minifigs and Hinchliffe but I have also bought Dixon's, Foundry, Garrison, Zvezda and Revel. Some changes I like, such as the basing of figures, other things I am not convinced by, painting a black line round everything I just don't get that. My eyes and hands are not as good as they used to be but I am enjoying the painting.

I would like to give some credit and thanks to the staff at York branch of Games Workshop. They have been extremely helpful with technical stuff whilst selling me their paints.

Here is the First Battalion of Border Gendarmes, on exercises, practising surprise ambushes, exiting a wood.

The figures are Eagle Miniatures Austrian Pandours

Colour scheme chosen after consulting Funcken Lace Wars Vol2

The officer is Foundry AWI range, the drummer is an old Hinchliffe AWI

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Key to Fort Louvois

From the Facebook page of France Bleu at La Rochelle, this is the key to Fort Louvois, the Vauban fort in the background.

Try getting this key into your trouser pocket....

Friday, 24 January 2014

12 Years A Slave

Wow - this is a terrific film - everything it is hyped up to be. Ejiofor is brilliant, just brilliant.

The film is based on an autobiographical account of Soloman Northup. He was a black American, free-born in New York, who was kidnapped whilst working in Washington and sold as a slave to plantation owners in Louisiana. I did not know this happened.

There are a couple of very distressing scenes, but the story, the look and feel and the acting are very compelling. If you like historical drama, I recommend you see this film.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

"To The Maginot Line" by Judith M. Hughes

Since the New Year, I have read this book, "To The Maginot Line" , subtitled "The Politics of French Military Preparation in the 1920's". The Author is Judith M. Hughes, published in 1971 by Harvard University Press, reissued as a paperback in 2006.

My reading of this book was prompted by a question on the website "The Miniatures Page" - the question was "Was the Maginot Line effective?". I bought the book a few years ago and gave it a cursory reading but this time I instructed myself "sit down and read this properly", which is what I have done and been well rewarded for the effort. The book is an expansion on Ms. Hughes' doctoral dissertation. She spent a year in Paris researching the subject and struggling with the French authorities, her acknowledgements contain the line "I remain unburdened by debts of gratitude to French officialdom". Ms Hughes was very fortunate in meeting some of the families of the great names in French history, including Madame Bécourt-Foch and Madame la Maréchale de Lattre de Tassigny (de Lattre was a young officer in the 1920's). Currently, she is Professor of History at UC San Diego.

Ms Hughes wrote about why the Maginot Line was built, about the formulation of that military strategy, the factors that went into the formulation and the inputs of military strategists and soldiers and of politicians who had to pay for the Line and then to justify it to the French public. The period covered is from the signing of the Peace Treaties in 1919 to the start of building in 1929/30.

The main topics in the book are population issues, strategy of forward defence, conscription, the Allies and the twin strategic defences.

The population of France in terms of actual numbers was of concern to many. In simple mathematical terms, the French nation of 40 million cannot hope to defeat 60 million Germans. Alsace and Lorraine and their populations were returned to France but the casualties in the War had been so high that the 1921 census still showed fewer males of military age than in 1911.  This was compounded by the birthrates of the two countries, France had been declining since the mid-19th century, Germany had been growing, so the German armed forces would be able to call on a higher proportion of young people. Add to this that Germany had a more industrialised economy with more heavy metal working companies.

Forward defence. In the Versailles negotiations the Allies demanded that part of Germany be occupied by them. This was the Rhineland, the left or West bank, that is the area between the River Rhine and the French, Belgian and Dutch borders with Germany. In addition, on the Right Bank there was to be 50 mile demilitarised bridgeheads and a neutral zone running all the way from Switzerland to Holland. The occupation was to last 15 years, until 1935, however by the mid-20's the Allies, particularly the British, were getting restless and wanted to be out of Germany.

Map of Rhine area in 1919, pinched from Wikipedia

Allies. Prior to World War One, the Allies were France, Russia and Britain. In 1919, Russia was out of the picture, the new Soviet government did not want to side with any capitalists. France tried to offset this loss by signing a Mutual Defence Treaty with Poland, but from the start there were doubts as to whether the French would send forces to Poland should they be invaded, as it turned out these doubts were justified. Meanwhile the British were reducing their armed forces back to pre-war levels. Should war with Germany start again, the British would need time to build, equip and train their forces as they had in 1915/16. The US Congress had not ratified the Versailles Treaties. Many in France believed they would be alone in any new war for some time.

Conscription. There was considerable political pressure to reduce the period of national service. In 1913 the period had been increased to three years. By 1928 it was reduced to one year. As the planned expansion in the number of career soldiers did not happen, the number of active soldiers fell. French imperial commitments also drained the number of available troops. In the 1920's there were uprisings in Syria and Morocco and West Africa which drew troops away from Metropolitan France. In addition, the mid-thirties would be hollow years, when the effects of World War One casualties would seriously depress the number of young men available for national service.

Twin strategy. The easiest invasion routes from Germany were those taken in 1870, through Alsace and Lorraine. Another concern of the French High Command was the Attaque Brusquée. One day, Germany would rearm and reintroduce conscription to build her armed forces. They may launch a surprise attack across the River Rhine. So Alsace-Lorraine with its industrial base had to be defended on their border with Germany. The French realised this would greatly increase the likelihood of a German attack through Belgium (the Belgians realised this as well and were not pleased). Not to be outflanked the French devised a strategy for a motorised advance into Belgium.

All these factors were considered. The solution the French arrived at was a line of fixed fortifications (the future Maginot Line) supported by a move into Belgium if required, to buy time, to stall the Germans and give principally the British time enough to raise their armed forces and join the fighting.

This was a very good book, lots of very high level military strategy and politics. I found it to be fascinating, I am still thinking about the ideas in the book, trying to understand then and to see the ramifications.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Oscar Season - "American Hustle"

It's Oscars Season.This film "American Hustle" is a frontrunner, so we thought we would go and see it and I'm jolly glad we did.

Set in 1978 New Jersey, a couple of con artists are blackmailed by the FBI into running a scheme to entrap politicians and mobsters. Apparently, there is a kernel of truth to the storyline. The film runs along at a fair pace, it has its comedy moments and some pathos. The acting is marvellous, the five actors on the poster are marvellous, the clothes and the hair styles...well.... Christian Bale's combover deserves a credit in its own right.

This is the third film we have seen on the Oscars Best Film Nominations list. It is my current favourite. I am planning to see "12 Years a Slave" next week - I have to see this on my own as my partner will not go - and as I am a huge fan of Chewitel Ejiofor that favourite may change.

(I am not talking about the cricket, no, no, no. I am going under the table to cry.)

Thursday, 16 January 2014

BBC TV - "PQ17 : An Arctic Convoy Disaster" with Jeremy Clarkson

I like to eat breakfast in front of the television, watching a recorded history programme. There are a lot of programmes on social, economic and political history and current affairs and arts subjects so usually I have a few in the recordings to watch.

This morning I watched "PQ17 : An Arctic Convoy Disaster", presented by Jeremy Clarkson. I really enjoyed it.

This is not a Clarkson household. My partner and I, we are both Guardian reading, BBC4 and Channel4 watching, Radio3 and 4 listening types. I find Clarkson to be witty but also grating with bombastic petrol-head views. However, this is the second good history programme of his that I have seen, the first was about four years ago on the St. Nazaire Raid in 1942. For PQ17 he has presented a good, well-balanced documentary.

A good programme - thank you Jeremy.

PQ17, July 1942,  a convoy of 34 merchant ships loaded with supplies for the Soviet war effort, sailing from Iceland to Archangel in Northern Russia. As the title says, it was a disaster. When the convoy was underway The Admiralty thought the German battleship Tirpitz was putting to sea to intercept it and ordered the convoy escort to leave. This was a totally wrong decision based on totally wrong intelligence. 23 merchant ships were lost, 153 seamen killed.

I recommend you watch the programme if you can.

Lt. Douglas Fairbanks Jr was serving on one of the US Navy escort vessels.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

French AA Heavy Machine Guns in 1940

I came across this photo a few weeks ago. It shows a French Army machine gun, Mle 1914 Hotchkiss 8mm, being used in an Anti-Aircraft (AA) role. It piqued my interest.

The Hotchkiss was the favoured mg at the start of WW1 but difficulties restricted the large scale issue until Jan 1917. The gun weighed 24kgs, the tripod mount weighed 25kgs. It fired the standard 8mm bullet and a tracer bullet for AA work, at 400rpm and was air cooled. It used a fixed stick of 24 bullets but belts were issued later. The vertical range was around 600 metres/2000 feet. I have been unable to research how many of these HMGs were issued by the end of hostilities, but it must have been thousands.

In 1919, the French Army was looking at lessons to be learnt from WW1. Each infantry battalion was to have a company of HMGs, comprising of 4 sections each of 4 guns. One of the sections was to be used in the AA role.
A Foreign Legion HMG team, in action during the Rif War in Morocco (Bundesarchiv)

The major development of this period was the decision to replace the 8mm bullet as it was unsuitable for automatic fire and a new 7.5mm round was designed. The 1921 Programme detailed that a new HMG firing the 7.5mm bullet was to be developed and the Hotchkiss was to be withdrawn. A light machine gun was designed and issued to infantry units, the Fusil-Mitrailleuse 24/29, around 85,000 being issued by June 1940 out of a requirement for 94,000.

FM 24/29, by all accounts a very good gun.

 Unfortunately a new HMG was not developed. The 7.5mm bullet was not effective against aircraft. A 13.2mm and a 13.5mm AA HMGs were developed by two manufacturers but these were not taken up, probably because the guns fired a solid bullet, not an explosive model, so the Army was concerned about such a heavy bullet returning to earth and the piece was too heavy for infantry division field use. A 9mm round and gun were developed in the mid-1930's but this was not pursued, there were concerns about logistics of another bullet size.

Hotchkiss 13.2mm Modelle 1930
The French Army continued with the Hotchkiss 8mm Mle 1914. In the AA role, to get the high angle required, the firer had to lie on his back under the mount so in 1928 an extension was designed and issued.

Mle 1914 on M1928 Extension (Photo ECPAD)

Mle 1914 on Extension, mounted a requisitioned lorry for convoy protection (Photo ECPAD)

(Much of this detail was from "Mai 1940" written by Stéphane Ferrard, published by ETAI in 2010.)

Monday, 6 January 2014

2013/14 ashes Series Australia 5 England 0

Now that's what I call   "A WHITEWASH"

We were totally and completely stuffed, it would have been less humiliating if we'd turned up with sick notes from our mums

"Please Mr Lehman, England can't play games today, he has a tummy upset."

Credit must go to the Aussies for their play, very begrudgingly, they played really, really well and taught us rule no.1, always kick your opponent when he's down.

Seriously, Australia, well done guys.

Now I'm sat here with the 2014 summer cricket schedule and a credit card. Do I buy test match tickets for the summer? You bet I do.