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...

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Romano-British Watchtower - 2


On to the next stages, the walkway and the roof...

Frankly, I bless the inventor of the hot-glue gun, one of the most useful tools in the model-maker's kit. With it I can 'spot weld' pieces in place with the hot glue whilst the conventional glues with more durability and strength dry. A case in point is the walkway around the upper story of the tower. This would've been a pig to work without hot glue.

The walkway with the upper level door.
Before attaching the railings around the walkway I used a craft knife to cut away any blobs of excess hot glue then smeared some liquid nails on the walls for a plaster render effect. The railings were then attached using craft adhesive on most of the posts with some hot glue to hold everything in place. Not visible in the photo are the short wooden corbels on which the walkway rests. The walkway itself is three inches square, the upright posts in the corners are one inch tall, and the railings half an inch tall. Once the roof is on the overall height of the tower will be four inches.

After a bit of thought I decided to make a removable roof so figures can be positioned on the walkway. This is more for the look of the thing than for any gaming purpose.

I cut a three inch square of cereal box card then glued some off-cuts of wood left over from the walkway construction in the centre of the card on what will be the underside. The four triangles will hold the roof in position.


Next, for the rafters two triangles of card set at right-angles and glued to the top of the square.


The next stage will be to cut four triangles to form the roof itself. I'm going to make a shallow pyramid-shaped roof for this as it seems to have been the commonest type used on watchtowers.
 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Romano-British Watchtower - 1


The hurry-up-and-wait part of the house sale is coming to a close at last (dea volente) and we'll begin packing stuff in earnest before long. I think I have enough time for one last project before the Man Cave goes into a small heap of boxes, so I'm making a Romano-British watchtower for Dux Britanniarum gaming.

To begin with, I cut four 3" 1/8th by 1 3/4" inch sections out of 3/6th inch foamcore. The Lego blocks are there to give a firm 90 degree angle for when I come to glue the pieces together.


I'm using a number of plaster Hirst Arts components for the field-stone base of the tower.

For the next stage I cut two 2nd floor windows (3rd floor for those in the US), the door, and revetted the edges of the foamcore. The plaster components were glued to make a square base using the Lego block angle shaper.


The tower was then assembled into the box shape, again using the Legos to get the right angle, then glued onto the plaster base. This will lower the centre of gravity to make the tower model stable.


It looks a bit rough-and-ready at the moment. I realised the Stanley knife blade had grown blunt. Foamcore may be soft, but it tends to blunt blades quite quickly.

Next up, I began constructing the walkway that'll go around the top of the tower just above the line of the windows. These are the railings which are made of strips of wood and thin cardboard. They'll be glued onto wood bases to make the platform.

Railings under construction.

The next stage will be to cut and shape the platforms themselves. I'll add wooden inserts to the tower walls for the platform to rest upon.



Monday, July 31, 2017

An Early Church - 6


On to the closing stages of the church build.

To get the effect of Roman pantiles I spread a thick layer of liquid nails over the roofs and used an old comb to create the rows. It's best to give the comb a quick, straight downward stroke to avoid any deviation, and I've more or less achieved that here. The area around the porch had to be done using a cocktail stick, but it seems to merge with the rest pretty well. The putty-like consistency of the liquid nails allows it to be worked for some time before it hardens, which is useful if things need to be corrected.

I forgot to take a photo of the roof on the rounded apse. This I had to work by hand with the cocktail stick, being careful to run the lines down from the apex so they formed elongated isosceles triangles. It took a couple of tries before I was satisfied with it.

The dried liquid nails, along with annoying fingernail-shaped speck of plastic that appeared out of nowhere.
The ridge-line is made of two lengths of mini-dowel, with a bit of liquid nails smeared along its length to glue it down and meld it with the tiling.

View from the front showing the rows.
The same treatment was given to the walls, but with a much thinner spread. When dried it looks like daub or plaster.

Once the liquid nails on the roofs dried thoroughly I gave it its first coat of paint. I used a terracotta acrylic craft paint with a drop of Future floor polish to help it flow, along with a single drop of red ink. I wanted a hotter shade than the standard terracotta, aiming to tone it down to a more realistic shade as painting progressed. I found from making previous Roman period buildings that the terracotta paint used straight out of the bottle doesn't look quite right.


A fairly thin coat of terracotta mixed with an equal amount of mid brown went on next, worked well into the grooves.

Once the roofs had dried I painted the walls. The builders of early churches followed Roman practice and either built in stone of the lightest colour or painted the walls white - there's archaeological evidence of lime or whitewash being used on church walls of the period - so they attracted the eye and stood out from the run of the mill structures around them. This enhanced the glory of the Christian religion and provided a ready landmark for pilgrims and worshipers travelling across country.

Now I could make the building all white but two things mitigate against it. One, I think given the British climate of the time (warmer and wetter) weathering would tone down the brightness. Two, I didn't want it to look too much like a Mediterranean building. I went with acrylic antique white - a parchment-like shade - with a drop of black to tone it down a little for a weathered effect.


The final touches on the roof comprised a wet-brush of terracotta with a little orange mixed in to highlight the ridges of the tiles, working along the line of the tiles rather than across since this avoids any blobs of paint building up on the sides of the ridges. I may apply a last wash of sepia ink for weathering. We'll see.

Just below the building is the beginnings of the main door. Again, archaeological evidence suggests the builders of these early churches followed Roman practice and painted the doors, possibly with different coloured insets. I'm using the rounded end of a tongue-depressor splint (I found an unused box of these in a local Goodwill charity shop!). I opted for turquoise, since fragments of wood painted this colour were found during excavation of a Romano-British church in Colchester (I think it was Colchester - brain fart/insufficient coffee!)


I also touched up the archway with white gloss enamel to make it stand out more from the background wall colour.

And for the final touch, the main door is now in place. I went with antique white panels with Pompeii red inserts. The porch door I painted a plain wood colour.

Father Superfluous and his wife Senovara take the air outside their new church.

A final grainy shot of the entire village with its new church, taken before my camera batteries died.




Saturday, July 29, 2017

An Early Church - 5


A little more progress...



The only structural addition is the Roman-style arch and columns made of Sculpey for the main doorway, and a 'stone' trim of thin card along the front and side walls level with the bottom of the windows. A layer of liquid nails adhesive smeared over the walls filled any small gaps between card components and softened the appearance overall to give the effect of plaster.

I may spread a bit more liquid nails on the walls depending on how it looks once dry, as it appears pretty thin right now. The next step beyond this will be to deal with the roofs. They'll need a thicker layer of liquid nails and careful combing to get the effect of pantiles, but it should be doable.


Friday, July 28, 2017

An Early Church - 3


Assorted embuggerances to do with selling a house took up a lot of time today, most of it wasted, but I managed to squeeze in some work on the Romano-British church.

The roofs are now on and the side porch shaped and fitted. Roman roofs had a shallower pitch than more modern styles - a souvenir of the Mediterranean climate where heavy snow isn't a factor - and I've worked to create the same angles here.


The main roof was a doddle. A couple of triangular rafters were glued in place at even intervals along the top of the walls and left to set before the roof was put in place. I used hot glue to fix it in position whilst the regular white (Aleens') adhesive set.

The semicircular apse roof was a bit tricky. The apse is an inch wide, so I drew a circle of an inch radius on cereal card and cut out one third of it.


Curling it into a half cone I applied Aleens' glue to the apse wall edge and fixed the roof in place along the main wall seams with hot glue. More Aleens' glue was smeared into the crease once the hot glue had cooled and set.

[One thing I've found about using hot glue is even card this thin will insulate fingers from the scalding hot stuff, allowing it to be held in place whilst it sets. Disclaimer: Please note I'm writing about what works for me. It goes without saying all appropriate care should be taken when working with hot glue.]

The side porch is an off cut of 3/16ths foamcore with a piece of card for the roof. Again I fixed it in place using hot glue whilst the regular adhesive set. It appears porches around main doors were something of a rarity in British churches of this period so I'm going to fashion a simple surround for it instead.

The next stage for this model will be to apply a layer of liquid nails to the walls. This is my new go-to stuff for making adobe/mud walls as it's strong, workable and doesn't warp thin cardboard. After that comes the tricky part of fashioning Roman pantiles on the roofs. At the moment I'm thinking in terms of using an old comb to create the distinctive ridge-and-furrow appearance on the main and aisle roofs, and a toothpick to work the apse roof.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

An Early Church - 2


A little more progress on the Romano-British church. First off, I cut a batch of component pieces for the walls using cereal box card...


A couple of minutes' work with the hot glue gun and the carcass is encased.


The rounded apse is fixed using Aleens' glue, with a couple of spots of hot glue to hold it until it dries.



I'm basing this model's floor plan on the excavated foundations of the Silchester church.


Artist's interpretation.

Surviving churches of this period are extremely rare and unaltered/non-updated buildings non-existent, but it appears they had few windows. Some were small and at head height; other, larger ones were located high up the walls. It would've been for security reasons, churches having valuables inside that were too tempting for a thief or Saxon raider. I opted for a row of four large windows each side (Because of their position I keep wanting to call them clerestory windows but it wouldn't be accurate). I may represent the smaller windows by painting them in.

The next step will be the roofs, and a porch on the side door like the one at Silchester. 

 

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