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Friday, 28 February 2014

The Monuments Men

I have three words for you - "avoid this film". There were a few nice moments, the Bill Murray & Bob Baladan interaction is good, the Christmas message episode is nice (a bit slushy but nice), but mainly, the film is dull, almost lifeless.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Aspirant Renault and Sergeant Boudu

I would like to introduce you to Aspirant Louis Renault and ex-Sergeant Priapus Boudu

Young Renault has only recently joined the Army, his uniforms are still being made by his father's tailor, so he is wearing his fashionable garments but he is wearing his badge of rank, his gorget.

Renault senior is very concerned for his son Louis so he asked his old sergeant, Priapus Boudu, to go with him to show him the ropes. Twenty years ago, Boudu was a sergeant on the losing side of the French & Indian War in Canada, he fought with the Compagnie Franche and the militia. He has dug out his old kit from his box and joined Louis on exercises.

They are so engrossed in their storytelling they fail to hear the horses hooves behind them as General Navarre and his ADC Capitaine Bougainville approach at speed.

They stand aside to let the officers through.

"Thank you gentlemen" Bougainville shouts, doffing his hat as they hurry away.

"That Navarre, I knew him when he was a slip of a lad and an aspirant. Just like you, my lad." Boudu says, pointing at the disappearing officers.

The figures are Foundry SYW French officers, Renault is a Foundry Prussian Early Napoleonic and Boudu is a Dixon F&I War Coureur du Bois Officer. I really enjoyed putting the two stands together but now its back to the 3rd Batt (Les Rouges Gorges), 1st Brigade of infantry.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

"Breaking the Fortress Line" by Clayron Donnell & "42cm "Big Bertha" and German Siege Artillery" by M. Romanych

I have booked a place on a Holts Tours trip to Liege in August.

Liege (Luttich in German) and its forts, WW1 in blue, WW2 in red (Wikipedia).
Day 1 travel
Day 2 Forts Loncin & Lantin.
Day 3 Forts Eben-Emael & Tancrémont.
Day 4 Antwerp and home.

By coincidence, Clayton Donnell has written a book about the opening moves of World War One. His is a name I know. I have the three books he has written for the Osprey Fortress series, so I did not hesitate to buy his book "Breaking the Fortress Line 1914" published by Pen & Sword.

The book is a straightforward account, starting with the development of the defensive strategies of Belgium, and the more aggresive strategies, Plan XVII in France and the Schlieffen and Moltke plans of Germany. It describes how the Belgians resisted the initial attacks at Liege, the Germans bringing up their Big Berthas and other siege artillery and tackling each fort, one by one, to force the surrender of the fortress of Liege. The Germans then moved up the River Meuse to Namur. French forces had crossed the border into Lorraine and Belgium but were now in retreat. The Germans attacked Namur, then fortresses in  Northern France, such as Longwy and Mauberge. All of this is plotted very well by Donnell, who ends the book with the German siege of Antwerp and the retreat from there by Belgian and British forces.  This is a very good book that concentrates solely on this crucial period of fighting that lasted weeks rather than days, it is well written with lots of maps and photos. I will read it again before the trip.  

This did tweak my curiosity about the German artillery, so I bought an informative, slender book  "42cm Big Bertha and German Siege Artillery of World War 1" by M. Ronamych and M. Rupp. Published by Osprey in their New Vanguard series, it is crammed full of photographs and very good quality drawings, the book details the development and of the using of these beasts, particularly the logistics. All the forts were built to resist artillery up to 21cms. No-one believed a bigger gun would be developed, except the Germans. They decided they had to go through the fortresses of Liege and Namur and of Northern France. In secret they developed the massive guns of 31cm, then 42cm, the latter being named "Big Berthas".

The Germans developed a 30.5cms mortar in the 1890's, nine were built by Krupp between 1898 and 1906. They were good pieces and they served throughout WW1. In 1907, German High Command decided to go a stage further and work was started on 42cm pieces. By August 1914, two Big Berthas had been built and were in testing. These two were withdrawn from the factory and sent to the forces besieging Liege. Eventually, 21 batteries were equipped with either one or two pieces of 30.5cm or 42cm siege artillery. Towards the end of the war, many were destroyed by faulty ammunition. Only three are known to have survived. Two went to USA Aberdeen Proving Ground and were sent for scrap in the 1940's. The third was used by the Wehrmacht in Belgium and Russia in World War 2, but subsequently disappeared. I cannot help myself, this is a great shame, I would love to have seen one.
C'est la guerre.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Monday, 17 February 2014

Casablanca - Claude Rains' Medals

Captaine Renault's medals
Chevalier Légion d'Honneur

1914 - 18 Inter Allied Victory Medal

1914 - 18 Commemorative War Medal
One advantage of seeing a film on the big screen, it is easier to spot detail. I clocked Renault's Legion of Honour but did not know the other two. I suppose only a Hollywood studio would have a spare Legion of Honour, but not a Croix de Guerre...

My thanks to Wikipedia for the photos.

Sunday, 16 February 2014


Cityscreen in York, that's the arty cinema in the centre of town, is having a season of classic films. This afternoon we have seen the greatest film ever made.

I have seen the film dozens of times, but never in a cinema, on a big screen. Wow, I'm lost for words.

Hill of beans speech

"Round up the usual suspects."

For me, the scene in Rick's Café Americain, when Victor Laszlo gets the band to play La Marseillais to drown out the singing Germans, this is probably the most moving scene in film history. Every time I see it I want to jump up and join in the singing.

Spring Trip to Metz - request for help

For this year's spring trip to a Vauban fort I have decided to go to Metz in early June. If anyone has been to this part of Lorraine and has some ideas for visiting fortifications I would be very pleased to hear from you.

I am planning to travel by train to Paris and then on to Metz by TGV. My itinerary includes the following visits.

1. A trip to Longwy to explore the Vauban fortress.

2. A walk around Metz to see the medieval and later works.

3. Fort Queuleu, if open.

4. A trip to Groupe Fortifie L'Aisne / Feste Wagner.

All the visits will be by bus or train.

I have the following books in my study.

1. "The German Fortress of Metz" by Clayton Donnell.
2. "Les Fortifications Allemands d'Alsace - Lorraine 1870 - 1918" by Philippe Burtscher & Francois Hoff.
3. "Lorraine 1944" by Steven Zaloga. I will order his later Osprey book on the struggle for Metz in 1944.
4. Several books on the Franco-Prussian War.
5. Several books on the WW1, particularly August/Sept 1914.
6. Several books on the Maginot Line.

As I say, if anyone does have any ideas on the above two lists or additions, then I would like to hear from you.

Friday, 14 February 2014

A Trip to Paris - Blog 4 - Pest Control

We stayed at the Novotel Les Halles, in the 1st arr. Les Halles used to be the main wholesale food market for Paris until it closed in 1970.

Not far from our hotel is this company, Aurouze, in business since 1872. This magnificent shop front is the public side of pest control. The company motto is "Pour une lutte raisonnée contre les nuisibles et parasites" - for a rational fight against pests and parasites.

In the window on the top right, in individual little traps, there are two rows of stuffed rats caught in Les Halles in the twenties. Below is a ring of stuffed rats that look like they are holding a dance. Inside the shop there is a great collection of stuffed animals, birds, insects they have caught, together with traps and snares and other exterminating products.

The shop front looks like it has not been changed since it opened, it must attract a lot of attention from tourists. The company even have a side line selling these postcards.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

A Trip to Paris - Blog 3 - Le Musée des Plans-Reliefs

The Guidebook

Hidden in the attic of Les Invalides, above the Musee de l'Armée, is a second museum, the Musée des Plans-Reliefs.

To quote the museum's English language leaflet

"Relief maps are scale-models of fortified sites, made from 1668 onwards on the initiative of Louvois, Louis XIV's Minister of War. These strategic tools provided an accurate representation of towns and the surrounding countryside within artillery range. They thus made it possible to plan changes to military fortifications or to simulate sieges."

There are 24 models, mainly on 1/600 scale. Each is in a glass case. The lighting is very low and gloomy, presumably to protect the models as they are almost 350 years old. I took some photos.

Fort de la Prée on the Ile de Ré


St. Tropez (pre-Brigitte Bardot)

These next four photographs are f the relief map of Toulon, the large French Navy base on the Mediterranean coast. The maps show not just the fortifications, but also the roads and fields, farms and farm buildings.

The reliefs maps are a great historical document as they show the fortifications as they were built but were not modified to show later additions or updates. This last model photo is of La Conchée, just off St. Malo in Brittany, part of the town's seaward defences. It is in a larger scale, 1/72

The fort was badly knocked about in WWII, first by the Germans for target practise, then by the Allies. It has been restored a little, this is what it looks like now.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

A Trip to Paris - Blog 2

While at Les Invalides, we visited the Eglise Du Dome, the Dome Chapel. This is the very ornate dome that can be seen for some miles around.

The chapel contains the resting places of several very famous French soldiers, including my hero Sebastien le Prestre, Seigneur de Vauban.

Also, these notables, Marechals Foch and Lyautey and Marechal-General Turenne.

And of course, right in the middle, centre stage, is Old Boney himself.

The Tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of the French. It is huge, as befits such a colossus. We all live through history, he made history.

Monday, 10 February 2014

A Trip to Paris

My partner, B, and I have just spent three days in Paris. Marvellous. Train York to Kings Cross then over the road to the Eurostar. We stayed at the Novotel in Les Halles, the 1st arr., just behind the Louvre so very central.

We were a little worried when this building site was directly outside our room window but this is France, so 4 o'clock and all work stops. We were out all day Friday and no work on Saturday and Sunday.

Friday was a walk through the Marais and Place des Vosges to Pere Lachaise Cemetery.

Place des Vosges

B in playful mood

Hausman, the mid 19th century architect

Heloise and Abelard, reunited in death

Jim Morrison's grave

The artist Gericault

General Wimpfen

Oscar Wilde
Pere Lachaise cemetry is an amazing place, it's a huge site. It took us a while to find Morrison, the grave is very hidden. Wilde was easier. We were there for about three hours until lunch beckoned.

A large part of Saturday was spent in Les Invalides - another blog.