Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Instant battlefield!

Following on from Aaron's purchase, I got together 25 of these "fluffy boa" mats.  Mine were a beige colour, rather than the somewhat lime green of Aaron's, so I planned on doing a quick spray to give them some hint of foliage.

The things actually turned out to be 30 cm square overall, and thus 29 cm from centre to centre.  I stripped the covering off some of them with a knife to make up some river sections, and them took them outside to spray them with a little green.  Since the mats cost just 108 yen each, that meant the cost of the spray increased the price of the endeavour by something like 35%! Still, very cheap I think.

A 4 foot by 3 foot setup on my tiny Japanese kitchen table...

 I then took them inside, and got a brush to paint the river sections brown.  I've gone off blue rivers, since a) battles were not always fought on a sunny day, and b) a river small enough to be fordable will have been forded both before and during the conflict, muddying it up, and a river big enough to be unfordable is likey to be carrying a heavy sediment load in any case!  I had to use a razor to completely remove the last of the fluff once I had peeled the stuff off, since a little adheres to the foam through the webbing.

I'd use a 5 by 4 table for "Lost Battles" - but not on this table!

 All up, this took me about 4 hours work, but at least half of that is because I have very unsuitable facilities here for spraying.  If I was back in NZ (subjunctive? what's one of them, then?), the business would have taken closer to 2 hours, I reckon.
This would do fine for a "To the Strongest!" game; with 3x3 boxes per mat.

Anyway, I'm pretty chuffed with the results, given the price (say 40 bucks all told) and the time taken.  I'll be looking out for more!

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Legionary: Gods & Emperors

I don't read much fiction, on the whole. This is partly because I no longer have the large chunks of time necessary to devote to reading something relatively long in one go, which is they way I prefer to read a story, especially a novel. And it's partly because I no longer have much "free" time full-stop, and it has to be rationed fairly carefuly against other competing interests, like research.

Image nicked from
But that doesn't mean I'm closed off to the genre even now. I've just finished "Legionary: Gods & Emperors" by Gordon Doherty, which is an historical novel set in 378 AD. The battle of Adrianople in other words. The novel is actually 5th in a series, but works fine as a stand-alone tale. And I only knew of the existance of this one because the author sent me a copy... Why? Because a) he's obviously a nice guy, and b) because he's an amateur historian like myself, and has found some of my work useful in his research: I get a thank you mention in the book's forward :-)

Now, as a genre, historical fiction (not to be confused with fictional history) has some unique constraints - the most obvious being that the reader is quite likely to know in what ways many of the major plot components are going to work out even before they have made it a couple of pages into the book. And in particular, if you are someone like me, you just know that near the end of the book that some dude called Valens is not going make it out of a particular burning farm house alive...

(Of course I'm aware of the other report of his death, but that's nowhere as interesting, so it's unlikely to make it into a fictional account!)

So part of the excitement of reading the thing isn't figuring out these plot elements, as such, but seeing how the author will weave his tale around them. And in this case, I came away pretty satisfied. Without giving too much away, Valens is depicted in a reasonably positive light, and this contrasts very much with Gratian's characterization, which would fit right in with a Nero or Commodus.

And judging by the reviews on Amazon, I'm not the only who came away satisfied after reading this book - the reviews there are so positive, I feel no need to add my own. So I will here go a little into the more historical than literary aspects. The author keeps, for the most part, titles such as ranks in the original latin, so tribunus instead of tribune, but centurion is retained. I guess centenarius (not centurio, note, this being the 4th century!) would just confuse the reader. I don't mind this - it is fairly standard to see this sort of thing in strictly historical analyses too. More grating, at least initially, was seeing all the palatine infantry legions referred to as auxilia. Now there is every excuse to call auxilia palatina units "legions", because they were frequently so-called by the Romans, not just by poets like Claudius, but by staff officers such as Ammianus.  But the reverse is a bit jarring - and would have certainly struck a Roman legionary as simply wrong - there were clear legal differences in being an auxiliaryman and a legionary, even if they were "legacy" features that made no real sense in a 4th-century context. But ultimately that's a detail that the (somewhat mythical) "average reader" is unlikely to care about, even if it was pointed out to them, and I can certainly see why it's there - it's of no import to the story at all, and drawing attention to the distinction would only confuse things. So I came round to accepting it, no problem. But I would have done it the other way around, simply not mentioned auxilia at all, and just have the lot as legiones. But here I'm straying into the reviewer's cardinal sin - talking about the book they would have written, and not the one actually under review...

I noticed a few typos: a couple of places where "to" was confused with "do", and the odd missing quote mark - a legacy of my being a professional proof-reader for nearly 4 years in my thirties is that it's hard for me to miss these...

But anyone reading this blog is going to be glad to have read this book, I reckon. It's 2 quid on Kindle; 11 if you are going for the paperback. It's 407 pages (not counting blurb, appendices, etc), and the font size and spacing is reasonably generous; but now that I'm getting older, I need my reading glasses on to read it in anything other than outdoor sunlight...

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Some moderns painted!

I've finally got around to doing something constructive over the last two weeks in terms of converting lead (and plastic) into fieldable forces. The catafracts still lying on my sidebench still looked too daunting a task for just a few evenings, so I went to my moderns trays to see what could be fruitfully pushed forward.

First up is another MSH battalion's worth of DANA vz.77 152 mm gun-howitzers to add to the one I already have. These are the Heroics & Ros 1:300 th scale model that was released in late 2012. For this second battalion, I've put the gun into travelling position (the barrels can also be positioned elevated). The previous battalion is intended tp represent a battalion from the 4th Army's 332nd Artillery Brigade; they received their DANA's only in 1985. This second battalion represents one of the divisional artillery battalions from either the 1st Tank Division or the 20th Motor Rifle Division; these being the best equipped of the Czechoslovakian divisions; they received their DANAs in 1980.

Next comes a PM-55 bridgelayer. This is a model by Karl Heinz Ranitzsch, aka Dragoman, done, like all my Shapeways purchases, in the cheapest plastic available - nylon-12 (aka Shapeways' "white strong & flexible").  The PM-55 is essentially a truck-borne version of the MT-55 bridgelayer, and thus suitable for MBTs to cross. WarPac MBTs at any rate; with a rating of 50 t, some western MBTs would be straining things... A model like this is only required for the single game turn it takes to set the bridge up - but it's such a beautiful model, I couldn't resist. The truck concerned is the Tatra-813 ("Kolos") 8x8 vehicle in production from 1967 to 1982, and with exceptional off-road capabilities due to its tubular frame split axle configuration. Karl Heinz sells not only the unfolding version shown above, but also a version in travelling configuration (plus a deployed bridge section).

And here is the travelling version... The PM-55 routinely sports a earth moving blade at the front to prepare the approaches to the bridging position, and Karl Heinz' model comes equipped with this. Like many Czechoslovakian pieces of equipment, the PM-55 saw some degree of export success, and this is why Karl Heinz models it - it served with the NVA (East German army).

And this is Karl Heinz' model of the AM-50, a lighter VLB that is also based on the T-813, and more suitable for infantry units being carried around in APCs. Like the PM-55, he sells an unfolding version; I've already paointed one of those up - you can see it in action here. The AM-50 was first trialed in 1972, with more substantial numbers coming in1974.

This is an attempt at making a vz.53/59 self-propelled AA gun. I've taken an H&R (?) BTR-152 model, and sawed off the back. Then I've stuck a ZPU-23/2 on top, and stuck on plasticard box on top of that to represent the distinctive ammo bin, and added some crew members from the artillery crew pack, The guns are noticeably too small (to me, anyway), since the vz. 53/59 sports twin 30 mm cannons, as opposed to 23 mm, and the curving superstructure on the left of the mount is missing in my model (not that you would see it from this angle, even if it was there...). IIRC, I've now made up sixteen of these conversions; this is the last, and will form part of my 183rd Battery of the 82nd AA Brigade - this unit was primarily equipped with SA-4s, but also had some SPAAGs for close-in air defence. The Czechoslovakians used this instead of the ZSU-57-2, which offered them no advantages. However, they never replaced it with anything more modern (such as the ZSU-23-4), and its lack of radar would have meant it would have had severe problems keeping enemy aircraft at bay in any conflict in the 70s, let alone the 80s. The Czechoslovakians trialed the SA-4 from 1974, and the 82nd AA Brigade went operational in 1976 (the 2K11M, i.e. "SA-4b Ganef").

The two vehicles are my own creations, printed out by Shapeways. They are Tatra 815 VT 8x8 prime movers, distinguished from the T-815 VVN truck mostly by having a shorter deck but a longer cab, so it can accommodate an entire howitzer crew. The T-815 series (also available in 6x6 and 4x4 versions) suceeded the T-813 starting from 1981, and going into full production in 1983. In addition to hauling artillery pieces, it could also be used to tow tank-transporter trailers, etc.

I think this is what Skytrex called a "BTS-M"; it's a PTS-10 light ferry as far as I am concerned. It's a fairly large model, hence the double-depth base. My bases are usually 30 mm square by the way; no way am I using Imperial measurements! The model has an odd lean forwards, as if it's braking extremely hard. Two of these models get used as part of the Pontoon Company of my Czechoslovakian 3rd Division's Engineering Battalion (along with a whole bunch of truck-borne pontoon elements).

And this is, IIRC, a Skytrex GSP-55 heavy ferry set. These are found in the (river) Assault Company that was added to Czechoslovakian divisional Engineering Battalions from 1979, along with extra PTS-10 light ferries.

Another artillery battalion... you can never have too many as a WarPac player! The tractors here are another of my own products printed out by Shapeways: the ATS-59G. The ATS-59G was the first 3-d printing effort I tried, and it still holds up reasonably well compared to my later creations.  You can see a close-up of the vehicle's rear below.

Now when your artillery is as ancient as these pieces, you need a lot of them to have any hope of doing anything! This is the H&R M-30 122mm howitzer (I think they call it something like mk. 31/37), or the vz.38 to the Czechoslovakians. These pieces were found in the artillery battalion of the motor rifle regiments: 3 batteries of 6 pieces, which translates to 4 models in MSH. The vz. 38 designation tells you they are a 1938 production piece, so they have, by 1970s and 80s standards, a truly horrible range. These pieces soldiered on until the demise of the Czechoslovakian state (there were grand plans to replace them with 2S1s in the late 70s/early 80s, but few of these were actually purchased). My close-in eyesight has detriorated markedly over the last two years, so I now need separate glasses to paint with. Even so, I found I couldn't be bothered painting the faces on the crewmen here - I just couldn't see them! And I certainly can't see them at a gaming arm' length away...

This would appear to be a T54 or T55-based ARV vehicle, but I can't remember which manufacturer it is... probably Scotia.

While this would appear to be a T-34-based ARV. Again, not sure who makes (or made) it. A platoon's worth of vehicles like this is part of each tank or motor rifle regiment's enegineering company; more are found in the divisional Engineering Battalion's maintenance company.

The towed tank here is I think a Scotia POL trailer, while the tractor is another of my Shapeways creations: an AT-S. These are usually found hauling artillery pieces in my forces. The AT-S was a design from the early 50s, and superceeded by the ATS-59G. To my-brought-up-in-New Zealand mind, it's got a definite "Hillary crossing the Antarctic" feel to it.

Travelling in a fried-out combi! On a hippy trail; head full of zombie...  Well, near enough, anyway. This is the Scotia UAZ-452 minivan; I will probably add some ambulance markings in the weekend to it to give it some sort of utility.

This is the van version of Scotia's UAZ-452. I will probably add some sort of diorama scene here, given the large expanse of available base, but I will have to buy some more crew figures and the like first, as I appear to have run out...

Tatra-111 trucks; one of which was already painted. Another of my Shapeways efforts - these ones have suffered from very noticeable "stepping" during the print process. These trucks can be used not only for Cold war Czechoslovakians, but also for WW2 Germans, being produced from 1942 to 1962 (by which date the cab had been given a more modern look).

H&R assault rafts. WW2 German, I believe, but who can tell the difference? Me, of course! Czechoslovakian ones were not even inflateable!

No idea why I have this - it's a Scotia decontamination vehicle. And why do I not need it? Because I've already made the Czechoslovakian equivalent of this Soviet vehicle, and printed it out via Shapeways! A stationary pair of these vehicles, each mounting a jet engine on the back, were supposed to decontaminant chemical warfare agents from a column of exposed vehicles driving between them. As a professional chemist, I have doubts about the efficacy of this... These vehicles were found as part of the divisional NBC battalion. WarPac forces took a lot of effort regarding counteemeasures for the C part of the NBC equation, even though it appears they naver had any serious intention of using themselves (unlike the N part, for which they had serious plans for...).  For example, FROGs were in service for over a decade before a chemical warfare warhead was even considered for them.

Another Scotia Soviet duplication, for which I have the Czechoslovakian equivalentalready printed out... It's quite a nice piece of kit, though.

A battery of BM-24 MRLs; another of my Shapeways creations. These weren't used by the Czechoslovakians. They were instead found in Soviet Tank Regiments in the 1960s, prior to being replaced by the BM-21 Grad: 12 per regiment. I made up the model since it's just an AT-S with a launcher on the back deck instead or a tarpaulin, so a relatively easy conversion..

And finally, this would appear to be a Scotia BAT, but it's missing what i consider to be the most important part of the protoype - the enormous dozer blade, which is a real shame, because the thing isn't easy to scratch build...

So, a bunch of rear-zone elements for the most part, but that's fine, logistics can be fun too!