Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Lowering the colours


Another day, and a bit more packing done ready for the move. My gaming table is now dismantled and shelving taken down and stacked ready to be carried to a new Man Cave - wherever that will be.


Through a rare flash of foresight, when I bought the board I had it cut into three sections, two 3' x 4', one 2' x 4', which are bolted together to make up the table. I usually game on the two 3' x 4' sections to make a 4' x 6' table, and the 2' x 4' section bolts onto one end to extend it out to 8' x 4' should I need it. It makes it much easier to transport than a single board.

My intention is to build a proper table framework for it when we reach our new home, and will probably have it set up as a full 8' x 4', space permitting. Up to now I've used an old table that possibly dates from the 1920s, which would look a treat should we ever get around to having it restored.

Speaking of the 1920s...

Another bout of research into Rutbah and the Iraqi conflicts, mentioned in my previous post, has turned up a couple of photos.

The first is of two Rolls-Royce armoured cars in the northern Iraqi desert. Beyond them sits a large aircraft with French roundels. (In black and white photos of the period the RAF roundel has a dark outer ring and lighter shaded centre. The French roundel has this in reverse, as shown). The aircraft looks like a Vickers Vernon, but can anyone identify it for sure? I wonder how many of these were in French service? France had the mandate for Syria after the Great War, and like Britain, had trouble from Arab and Kurdish uprisings as well as a resurgent Turkey attempting to regain lost territory. The situation in the Middle East today is all too depressingly similar...


Here's another Rolls-Royce undergoing repair and maintenance in the Iraqi desert, a constant requirement in such a harsh region. The chaps have sensibly erected an awning to give the vehicle some protection from the baking sun while they work. As usual, we have a bloke standing watching while others do the work: I think it may have been part of King's Regulations at the time.


This is likely to be my last post for a while as we wrap everything up here. Hopefully normal service will resume sometime next month.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Rutbah Wells & the Iraq "Sideshow," 1941


One of the pleasures I get from being a writer of historical fiction is through researching a topic. Research always throws up surprises. On this occasion there's a definite crossover into my wargaming hobby.

I'm currently researching the Middle East, specifically Iraq, and discovered the tale of the Vickers Vernon bomber/transport aircraft that flew the first established airmail route from Cairo in Egypt to Baghdad in the newly-minted Kingdom of Iraq. That in turn led to a little-known sideshow event to World War Two - the Iraqi insurgency of 1941.

Vickers Vernons at RAF Hinaidi near Baghdad.
The Vernon was the streamlined version of the Great War vintage Vickers Vimy and entered service in 1921. With a crew of three, it could carry eleven passengers or a mix of passengers and mail. Its range was 278 nautical/320 miles at a cruising speed of 65 knots/75 mph. The capacity to carry a (for the time) large number of personnel made it the aircraft of choice for the first recorded air lift in history. In February 1923, 500 British troops were conveyed to Kirkuk in Iraq by Vernons of 45 and 70 Squadrons RAF in order to put down a Kurdish revolt.

The Vernon's range was pretty good for that day and age, but it still necessitated special measures to enable the aircraft to cross safely the wastes of what was then Transjordan and Western Iraq. Aircraft on the fortnightly mail run carried spare landing gear wheels, tents, bedding and goat-skins full of water. The establishment of landing strips with fuel dumps was required, as was a deep and straight furrow ploughed into the hard stony ground of the region for several hundred miles to aid navigation. These landing strips were located every 25 miles or so along the furrow. One was established at Rutbah Wells, in western Iraq.

Rutbah (aka Rutba, aka Ar-Rutba) was an old fort on the banks of a wadi, and it guarded the nearby oasis. It happened to be located 265 miles from Amman, Transjordan, so made a good landing spot for the Vernons after a day's flight. The route was eventually transferred from RAF control to Imperial Airways.

Rutbah aerodrome, sometime in the early 30s, showing the Furrow navigation aid and a Rolls Royce armoured car on airfield defence duty.
The region was a notorious hotspot for bandit activity. Rose Wilder, journalist daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder, wrote an account of her own journey in the region which included standing guard armed with a rifle in their camp at night as protection against predatory tribesmen. In 1927 the new Iraqi government built a modern fort (shown above and below) to protect the aerodrome. Note: The top photo caption reads Syrian Desert - this was something of a contemporary catch-all term for the region. The fort had a central tower with a navigation light, a radio beacon with a limited range of anything up to 180 miles, and a detachment of Iraqi police to guard it.


Rutbah Wells, early 30s. An Imperial Airways aircraft basks in the sunlight. The white circle with dots around it is a buried fuel dump typical of those used along the airmail route.

Rutbah Wells fort gained importance when the Mosul-Haifi oil pipeline was built nearby in the early 1930s. With the Royal Navy dependent on Middle Eastern oil and the increasing mechanisation of the British army it's no wonder the region took on an increased significance for British imperial interests.

The Anglo-Iraq War broke out in 1941 when resentment of British control of the oil led to open conflict.With a pro-Nazi insurgent government trying to take control of the country Britain moved fast to protect her interests. Although the army had left by 1937 two RAF airfields remained operational and these, along with the Royal Navy, provided the means for rapid deployment into the country.

The war lasted less than a month (2–31 May 1941) but saw some interesting military vehicles and aircraft deployed by both sides. The Rolls-Royce armoured car was increasingly obsolete by Western Desert standards yet proved valuable in rapid strikes against the insurgency in Iraq. The Bristol Blenheim soldiered on in the light bomber role. Gloster Gladiators, Hawker Hart and Audax light bomber/observation aircraft flew on both sides, and the Breda 65, Me 109 & 110 and He. 111 flew for the insurgents.

Rutbah Wells fort, 1941. The town is beginning to form on the road west of the fort.
For a remote outpost Rutbah saw a lot of action. Bristol Blenheims took part in air raids on Rutbah fort, as show in a photo reconnaissance image above.

Me109 in Iraqi Airforce colours.
 Even the equipment used by the infantry harked to a bygone age.

British troops looking across the Tigris to Baghdad at the end of the insurgency, 1941.

Then...

Rolls-Royce armoured cars prepare to move out against Iraqi insurgents. Note the Lewis guns and Boyes AT rifles.

And now...

Iraqi Army forces rolling in the tracks of the Rolls-Royce ACs as they operate in the vicinity of Rutbah Wells. Not a great deal of difference.

Sad to say fighting is still ongoing in the region of Rutbah, as Iraqi army forces combat the ISIL insurgency. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose...

Modern Rutbah.

Urban sprawl has claimed the old landing ground, but the fort is still there (location circled in red) and in use, although it has lost the triangular enclosure on its eastern wall. A former US Marine who served in Iraq was posted to Rutbah in 2008, and recalls seeing equipment with British markings still in use inside the fort.

So, the early days of those pioneering flights lends itself to a Back of Beyond style game, with rattly Model T Fords bearing fearless lady journalists, or an army/police attempt to reach a downed air crew before bandits get to them. It also makes for an interesting 'sideshow' to World War Two, using equipment which was outdated elsewhere in the conflict. Something for a wargamer interested in the unusual to ponder on.

For myself, I'm going to confine my activities to writing my novel.

Further reading about the early days of the Transjordan-Baghdad route:

'Flying the Furrow,' Saudi Aramco World.


Friday, September 15, 2017

A Good Haul of Books.


My wife and I took a day off from what seems like perpetual house-hunting to run some errands, one of which was a stop off at our excellent local library. I'd forgotten this month marks their annual surplus books sale, so we couldn't resist taking a look at what's on offer and... I found these. The Time-Life books Epic of Flight: The Giant Airships, full of information and nice illustrations about that noblest of aircraft; two issues of Model Railroader from 2009 and 2013, with useful info on how to model buildings; and the star of this little show - Yep, Donald Featherstone's Wargaming Airborne Operations, published in the UK way back in 1977, although this is the American edition dated 1979.


I was looking along a row of books stacked under one of the tables when I spotted the edge of the model paratrooper illustration peeping out. Call it long-ingrained pattern recognition, but I knew at once I was onto something hobby-related. I drew it out and - voila! This is one of those Featherstone books I'd always heard of but had never seen, and now I own it! (Cue manic cackle...)

Eben Emael under assault.
It's in excellent condition. Aside from rules governing airborne operations on the tabletop, it contains a potted history of airborne forces, both paratroops and glider-borne, notes on tactics, resupply logistics, and accounts of the great airborne operations of WW2, Crete and Market Garden.

There are plenty of photos of games in progress, along with maps and diagrams. Some of the figures and models depicted look rather dated now in this Golden Age of ours, but this book has a heck of a lot of use for the gamer interested in the topic. I've got a few of The Don's books, and this is a worthy addition to the set.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Pendraken announces new Indian Mutiny range.

The Storming of Jhansi.

Those lovely chaps at Pendraken Miniatures have announced the master list for an upcoming Indian Mutiny range. This is a period I've had an interest in for some time, but never got around to it as other periods demanded attention. The release date is sometime in 2018, hopefully before Salute. 


Sunday, September 3, 2017

Assorted musings


This Labor Day weekend has put a temporary halt to our (so far) fruitless search for a new home. We've seen and discounted several places for various reasons (A "Crazy cat lady's" former abode stinks - er, sticks - in the mind). It's not entirely beyond the bounds of possibility that we may look to return to the UK, or possibly head for Ireland. International moving's a whole different set of complications, but we'll see.

In the meantime I'm catching up with my reading and musing on different wargaming periods. Our excellent local library has a copy of Nick Lloyd's book Passchendaele: The Lost Victory of WW1.


This is the centenary year of the terrible months-long battle, also known as the Third Battle of Ypres, which lasted from July to November 1917. It's a battle I've heard about often but have never really studied until now. I've reached the point where planning for the offensive has begun under the command of General Gough, GOC Fifth Army. Apparently this army had a reputation within the BEF for being lax in pre-battle planning, so even at this stage of the narrative things aren't looking good. Lloyd's book is a good read. It's enough to tempt me into contemplating WW1 gaming, perhaps using Pendraken Miniatures 10mm range. For those interested in seeing how a master does it, take a look at the incomparable Sidney Roundwood's blog.

Another little gem came up unexpectedly on the AVBCW Facebook page. A gamer is asking about suitable 28mm vehicles to use in this delightfully daft conflict, and another member posted this suggestion...


It's a First Corps (Curteys Miniatures) resin/white metal four-wheel speedster from their 20th Century Follies range, and it looks lovely! Some time ago I searched for a similar vehicle for a Pulp game idea I had, but didn't find anything suitable. I did see an example of the speedster painted up on the Lead Adventure forum, but couldn't pinpoint the manufacturer. Now, when I'm not looking, it pops up. Go figure.

Once I'm in a position to do so, my gaming priority really is to complete the collections I already have. The Dux Britanniarum set up needs the Saxons to oppose the Romano-British. I have a handful of foot regiments, a cavalry regiment, dragoons and perhaps another gun apiece to complete the 10mm ECW forces.

Apart from the temptation to start a Great War collection (early or late? That is the question) I've also been tempted to start an Indian Mutiny collection. Dixon's Miniatures produce a nice-looking range in 15mm. Their 'personnel carrier' elephant is just darlin'. But - Pendraken has an Indian Mutiny range on the drawing board, and I believe the figures may make an appearance next year.

I guess I'll have to wait and see what happens. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Still around.


Yes, I'm still around but I'm not gaming or model making. House-hunting is taking up a lot of time and gets priority now. It's a frustrating process, since a number of times we've viewed a place only to find someone has already snapped it up. We'll keep looking.

In the meantime I do tour various blogs to keep up with what's happening with other gamers. Carlo Pagano has recently launched a Sudan campaign using his Sands of the Sudan rules. It's one of my all-time favourite periods to game and I'm looking forward to reading accounts from the campaign. Michael Awdry over on Victorian Warfare blog put together a superb Kong's lair gaming piece. It'd look great in any Congo or Pulp setting. I'm even looking at railway modelling blogs, in particular Jim Jackman's project. One of these days I might revisit the hobby myself.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Finished Romano-British Watchtower


I had a free day today, waiting on a team to make yet another house assessment (why do these various agencies need so many of the bloomin' things?) so I cracked on and finished the Romano-British watchtower.

First up, I did the groundwork around the bottom of the tower and fitted the palisade. As usual the material I used for the ground effect is liquid nails scattered with sand. The tower was stuck in place using the trusty hot glue gun.



I arranged the palisade so the door to the tower is on the opposite side to the gate. This would be a design feature to prevent an enemy from rushing the gate then gaining entry to the tower in a single bound.

After that, it was a case of waiting for the groundwork to dry, then painting it, adding some ground scatter for dead bracken and a sprig of lichen for a small tree which has sprung up in the shelter of a corner of the palisade.

And here it is, complete.


Lord Gaius Menusius, his horn blower Agrippinus and standard bearer Fred Heckmonthwaite* survey the eager (?) lads of the local militia on maneuvers.


* Long story. **





** No, really.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Romano-British Watchtower - 5


A modest bit of progress this week. I glued the tower to the circular base and made four sections of palisade to surround it.



These are three and one-eighth inch lengths of the ubiquitous tongue-depressor sticks from my stash, cut to shape and nicked with a file on one edge to represent the tops of sharpened palisade stakes. I used a couple of pieces of matchstick for the gateposts. I painted the wood brownish-grey then gave it a wash of brown once dry. The individual stakes and the gates were then picked out with pencil. The pieces will be glued down to make a square enclosure once I've done a bit of ground work around the base of the tower.

I'm hoping to finish the whole thing off sometime this weekend. House-hunting will get under way in earnest after that, so I need to be packed and ready to move.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Romano-British Watchtower - 4


Due to certain events in Charlottesville, VA this weekend I was required to don my press pass once more to cover local rallies. I'm due at another scheduled for this evening, and there have already been several threats made against the demonstration. Interesting times we live in.

Meanwhile, I made a little more progress on the watchtower, getting the first areas of paintwork done.

Timberwork in place. It looks less squat with these in place.
I'm aiming for an aged effect, because this tower is a relic of the last days of the Roman Empire in Britain and would be at least fifty years old by the time the events of Dux Britanniarum take place.


I went with a greenish hue* for the stonework, and a dingy pale yellow-white for the rest. The timber is nearly grey, representing aged woodwork which may have been replaced once or twice since the tower was built.

More stuff later as I finish the tower proper and move on to the base.

*Greenish Hugh, little-known follower of Robin Hood.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Romano-British Watchtower - 3


Camera and tablet conspired to play silly buggers this afternoon, but I managed to take some pics of the work in progress. First off, the pantile roof.


It's done using the same process as the earlier church roof - a thick-ish spread of liquid nails followed by a combing. This time it didn't come out as well as I hoped. There's a bit of warping going on, but it'll do. The tower is supposed to represent a structure that's stood for several decades since it was built by the legions before they departed Britannia's shores, so a bit of wear and tear is to be expected.

Then the base...


This is a CD from one of those ambulance-chasing law firms touting their services, sandwiched between two discs of card. It makes a slightly raised stiff base for the tower to stand on - thus...


Mini-dowels smeared with liquid nails provided the ridged tiles. The piece already has that top-heavy look these watchtowers had, and I'm glad I used the plaster blocks for the base to lower the centre of gravity.

I'll create a palisade around the base, and it'll probably be square in plan. In the meantime I'm forging on with making timber beams and rendering for the tower walls...

 

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