Friday, 29 November 2013

Followers: 50 reasons to be a happy blogger #6

Lets start off with one of my most loyal followers:

From the days I could still do some graphic stuff

Michiel Schwartzenberg. The world's #1 expert on the Recovery of Allied Prisoners of War and Internees (RAPWI) and would have been follower #1 if he could be arsed to find out how to set up a google account. Travelling companion to Ieper, Colchester, London, Munster, Muiden, Brussels, Grevelingen, St Winnoxbergen etc etc.  Chum extraordinaire

#46 Sofie Vandersmissen of Sofie's Paint blog. Very skilled painter and modeler! Depressingly so for talentless me. Mostly fantasy.

#47 Mario Morrhaye of Miniaturen Maken Met Mario. Not surprisingly, as skilled at painting and modeling as Sofie. Mainly fantasy mini's, but Mario has taken on historical miniatures recently.

#48 Paul Hedges of Paul´s Bods. Because following me on networkedblogs is not enough!

#49 JKM . Because following me on networkedblogs is not enough! So see here

#50 and latest addition: Monty Luhmann aka Twin Cities Gamer. An uncharacteristically disciplined painter, with no lead mountain to speak of!

ps I try to do my best to provide correct background info on my followers, but I sometimes make mistakes. If I have made a mistake in your bio, please let me know (eg in the comments) and I´ll fix it.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Working class hero

I probably would never have known about this book had Jerry not asked me to buy it for him so he could save on the postage.

Johnny Peters was a working class lad growing up in a tough neighbourhood of Liverpool when the war broke out. Volunteering for the Border regiment in 1941, he became part of the Airlanding Brigade. This led him almost to Sicily as his glider crashed in North Africa. He eventually reached Italy by ship. The trips to Arnhem and Norway were almost as eventful but at least he made it there. This account makes it clear that there were a lot of crashes, aborted flights and scares in the airborne forces. Useful to realise also that Peters only had two short stints of combat (two weeks in mainland Italy and 9 days at Arnhem) in four years of service.

What struck me is that Peters' life was pretty grim in many respects, which makes the hardships of war stand out less. That tough attitude was carried into the army and Peters doesn't polish away his fights with Italians and Canadians and running in with the military hierarchy. It is interesting to see how soldiers managed to scrape a bit of extra income from selling surplus stores and by collecting watches and camera's from POWs.

Similarly, Peters had an eye for the world around him. From his encounters with North African shoe shiners to the shaving of Norwegian women who had fraternised with German soldiers.

One anecdote that stands out for me is how Johnny's father (a veteran of WWI) always refused to wear a poppy because the Veteran's Legion had refused to grant him the money to buy shoes for his son.  So although this book may not teach you much about combat operations, it's an occasionally captivating read, showing that our grandparents lives were much more exceptional than we sometimes realise.

The question is why they mostly hid it from us.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Taken Prisoner By Cossacks

The adventures of Albrecht Nicolaas van Aerssen in Russia provide a nice insight into the less glorious part of Napoleonic warfare that is often glanced over. Albrecht is an ambitious Dutch officer in the army of the French emperor that marches into Russia in the summer of 1812. As winter comes the Russian army counterattacks and Albrecht is wounded in battle and later captured by Cossacks.

From that moment he enters a continuous struggle for survival. He needs to relocate frequently in search of better places to let his wound heal. After a few weeks he receives a regular subsistence fee from the Russian government, which does make things easier. In small groups he moves on, but it´s tough going where everybody has to think of himself in the end, just like the monks and civilians where he finds shelter.

The book is especially interesting because between the lines it portrays a society in which nobles and bourgeois from different countries (even enemies) have more in common with each other than with their poorer compatriots. There is an occasional sense of embarrassment as Albrecht spews his views on the ugly Russian serfs and the practices of Jewish traders where he is quartered. On the other hand he is treated with full honours by the Russian gentry and officers. Of course the rank and file of the French army are not treated as well, but that doesn´t seem to bother him.

This insight has been preserved for us through the notes that Van Aerssen made in captivity. Their sudden ending and the questions that leaves us is part of the charm. Some of those questions are answered by the author, his greatgrandson, who provides a broad introduction. That is helpful, because Albrecht wrote his notes for his family, who of course knew the background already.

All in all a nice and appealing book that gives a human face to a conflict involving more than a million Europeans.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

All Along the Watchtower

Late Roman guests from Germania Superior
before the watchtower

On Sunday, a local reenactment group had a walk in to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the reconstruction of a Roman watchtower of the ancient fortress of Fectio.

The priest making an offering to the gods to attract
their benevolence on the watchtower
This fortress was part of the Roman limes that ran along the Oude Rijn (which ends up in the North Sea at Katwijk and leaves the Netherlands to the east of Nijmegen).

Various types of armour in the smithy

One thing I had never seen before (not being an expert on ancient warfare) was a late Roman throwing dart, called plumbata, with a similar function as the pilum but a bit more practical.

A demonstration of the plumbata.  
The kids had a great time bombarding these guys

I brought my girlfriend and the kids, and the reenactors were very kind and forthcoming. They were happy to explain and show how things worked and let the kids hold the stuff. A great way to get people involved.

Some formations were shown

The watchtower stands next to the 19th century fortress Vechten, and shows the continuity of military geography.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Plug A Friend Day

A slight digression as my friend Donald had his first thriller published last Friday.  I read a manuscript of an earlier attempt a few years ago which was actually pretty good. Supported by one of the most famous and prolific Dutch thriller writers, Tomas Ross, I have high hopes for him.

The title Versleuteld means encrypted, and handles about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Just a subject to get me excited!

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

A Posh Neighbourhood

Apart from the stone commemorating the crash of Régis Deleuze the area around Houten is thick with castles that trace back to medieval times. The marshy area north of the Kromme Rijn was drained and turned into polder in the 12th and 13th centuries, soon followed by keeps of local lords.

The medieval keep of castle Sterkenburg
with 19th century additions
Like many of the remaining castles, Sterkenburg (ca 1200) now has been converted to a hotel/B&B. Apparently it was up for sale earlier this year for slightly less than 10 million euros (a bargain I'm sure). They do tours in the weekends. Tempting!

Castle Weerdensteyn with the moat and entry gate

But the real prize was the discovery of Castle Weerdensteyn, built around 1300 and hidden within a wood so it cannot be seen from any road. By chance we hit the path that passes it. The top of the keep is reasonably intact, but the base has been reworked in the late 19th century. Apparently it has been refurbished again recently and is still inhabited. Just shows that it pays not to stick to the beaten path.

Castle Lunenburg
Another reasonably well preserved keep, castle Lunenburg. Bombed in WWII because German vehicles had been spotted near it.

There are dozens more in the area so I'll be keeping my eyes open. With the fortifications of the Oude Hollandsche Waterlinie also in the neighbourhood and the remnants of the Roman limes, which lay at the Kromme Rijn, this is an interesting place.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Commemorating with my friends across the pond

Had  a very beautiful and interesting round of cycling yesterday. Surprising how much history there is to be found literally around the corner.

Commemorative stone for Régis Deleuze at his crash site
After 15 minutes we ran in to a stone commemorating the death of Flight Lieutenant Régis Deleuze, who crashed on this spot near castle Beverweerd in Werkhoven on February 25th 1945. Apparently engine trouble forced him to put his Tempest down. He crashed after hitting the top of the tree line in the background.

Régis came from either a French family of nobles. From his operational history is gather that he left France as is was being overrun by the Germans in June 1940 and signed up for the RAF.  In 1943 he joined 501 Squadron and brought down V1s aimed at England. He transferred to 274 Sqn early in 1945. This seems to have been  his first operational flight in the unit, from airbase Volkel in Noord-Brabant. Régis was initially burried in Werkhoven but transferred to Evere in Belgium after the war.

Régis at age 17 (from the website below)
As in the case of the grave of air gunner Hiscox I found in Beesel a few weeks ago, this stone has been adopted by a local woman, Yvonne Jager, starting when she was 10 years old. She lays fresh flowers at the grave four times a year. The lengths to which she has gone to retrace the family and former brothers in arms of this pilot are remarkable. Her story and that of Régis Deleuze can be found on this website. It shows once again that even a simple reminder can have great impact on individual lives and that many people still value the effort of allied soldiers for our freedom.

Castle Beverweerd, with 19th century fantasy decoration
The brick part at the centre of the picture is from the 13th century, with the later additions in white plaster. Apparently the castle is now inhabited by master forger, Geert Jan Jansen. He´s famous enough now to paint under his ow name. More castles on Wednesday!

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Followers: 45 Reasons To Be A Happy Blogger #5

In the meantime we have had 6 new followers! Apparently my report on Crisis lured in a few new people.

#40 Donogh MacCarty, a fellow blogger on Land War in Asia, with an ongoing fantasy rpg and a postapocalyptic campaign.

#41 Remco de Groot, who blogs on miniatures in the broadest sense as well as Napoleonics in particular and also is involved in the organisation of the Dutch FIGZ convention.

#42 Robbie3rodiss. Sorry Robbie, I have very little to go on, so please tell me more about who you are and what you.

#43 Andrew "Loki" Saunders, excellent painter and one of the guys behind Bloggers for Charity (a worthy cause and booked for Crisis 2014)

#44 Tomsche, returning from his wargaming sabbatical and blogging at Societa de archeologia e cimeli

#45 Peter Bonami, an avid follower of blogs on all kinds of wargaming, but most of all painted figures!

This also a good moment to thank my followers on Facebook/Networkedblogs (an easy way to follow me):

Nick Luft. If brains were sexy, his one would melt the Arctic. He doesn't mind sharing his thoughts on a wide range of topics and pictures and is a great host and conversationalist

Diederick van de Walle. Latin Lover. And Great Friend. Named Most Promising Politician of 2014 for three consecutive years.

Richard Hands. Roleplayer, megagamer, medieval history buff and popular culture treasure trove. When he talks, I listen

Jan Kees Mol. Repressed wargamer, history buff and prove that all cynicist are secretly romantics. I sometimes wake up at night thinking he is shouting at me from the goal

Barbara Mounier. Old schoolmate, witty and smart. Handy guide to Germany, books and plain talking.

Tony Mcnally,  firmly in the now when it comes to military matters, with an particular interest in the homefront

Paul Hedges of Paul´s Bods. He likes to get medieval, and he likes it in 1/72 plastic

Ray Roussell, of Don't Throw A One, and Francis Lee, aka The Angry Lurker, two of Posties Rejects and the guys behind Ray & Fran's 20 hilarious questions

ps I try to do my best to provide correct background info on my followers, but I sometimes make mistakes. If I have made a mistake in your bio, please let me know (eg in the comments) and I´ll fix it.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Spiel Essen 2013, part 2: the games I played

Here's the second part of my Essen experiences, consisting of the games I played, so with a little more hard info on the games. Look here for Part 1 and the Polish section is coming up.

Nate Hayden after a long day explaining his game
which sold out quickly
Nate Hayden's Mushroom Eaters 3D experience is singular, but the road is the destination. As you progress on the board through your trip, you face numerous challenges costing you physical and mental strength. This can turn your trip into a bad trip. You have some control over where you land, and you can regain strength at some points or learn mantras to protect yourself, but it just ambles along with us finding out where we were going.

There Are No Rats In The Wall! We've been Enjoying this unpretentious but effective bluff poker game with a Lovecraftian twist by Henning Poehl. Perfect for playing in the bar.

At the end of a game of Warlock
I had some fun playing Warlock by Quined, it had some interesting scoring mechanics and the combination of tile laying and deck building. You have to play cards from your hand to be able to place one in the 4x4 grid before you. Where you place them determines how much they are worth at the end. It's mostly multiplayer solo, although you can destroy other players' cards if they're unprotected (by dragons). Rules were not always intuitive but Warlock will play smoothly after one game.

ASiE after a dozen rounds

In a world where royalty are really the Ancient Ones, revolutionaries and anarchists are also saving the world from the return of Chaos. Your agents roam the cities of Europe to assassinate royals and control resources. As your identity is hidden, the other players don´t know which side you are on and since the game is lost by the side with the player with the fewest points, it becomes abit of a gamble who you attack. It’s great to see Martin Wallace slowly exploring the possibilities of combining deckbuilders and boardgames, and it is surprising not more people have latched on to this. I love how A Study In Emerald integrates cards and board, theme is fun, but we only played a dozen rounds or so. Hard to tell yet how good it really is.

Defence value 7, attack value 6  and because
of the double 3,   I got another turn

Masters of Revenge by Serious Poulp has a cool take on the manoeuvering of martial arts. I liked the numbers on the sides of the cards determining your attack and defence values. This created an interesting dynamic as you moved around looking for a weak spot in your opponent´s defence. Regretfully, it was overpriced. Nevertheless, I will have a look at their 7th Continent kickstarter which is a choose-your-own-adventure-game that uses tiles rather than a book.

Leonardo by Ghenos is a fun light game where you gather resources and build machines by moving one of the three figures around the board. But if you are late in the turn, chances are another has moved that figure first. That makes for an interesting guess, giving you the occasional euphoria of outsmarting your opponents.

Corto got me by the great art work and the direct conflict. There´s character cards and events which allow you to mess with other players tiles and affect the scoring. Scoring is for characters you have killed, groups of characters you control and point particular to a story line. It is really a pretty abstract tile laying game, even if cutthroat, and it irked my friends as it didn’t have a narrative as you would expect from a game about a comic book. But if you don’t care about that bit, this is one of the prizes this year.

Puppets moving out of their spawning points

Although an older release, I don’t want to leave out Puppet Wars, which we played and enjoyed a lot. The miniatures are brilliant, but require some glue and paint to bring to life. The game plays fast and furious (especially if you put your leader out in front). The basic mechanics are pretty simple, but the special abilities of the dolls (especially the combos) make this a challenge to master. I might just buy it some other time for the heck of it.

Nice minises, nicely painted

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Blücher at the Burgtor

It is time to set the spotlights on Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, the charging Hussar general who once believed he was pregnant with an elephant (true story!). That didn't stop him from some prodigious feats on the battlefield while in his seventies and of giving Napoleon and his marshals a few bloody noses.

The Burgtor, or Castle Gate

This is the site from where he made the leap to national hero. On holiday in Hamburg last summer, we made a day trip to Lübeck and the nearby beach at Travemünde. When you enter the town from the east, you do so through the Burgtor.

Commemorative plaque on the wall of the gate

In the autumn of 1806, with the Prussian army in flight from its humiliating defeats at Jena and Auerstädt, Blücher was one of the few that kept ahead of the furious French pursuit. On November 5th his troops reached Lübeck and he set out to prepare the city for defence.*

The Burgtor from a slightly different angle

Next day the French attacked the city and managed to enter through the Burgtor, which was defended with little competence. Desperate counterattacks failed to throw the invaders back and Blücher's chief of staff, Scharnhorst was taken captive. The general himself managed to fight his way out of the city with the remnants of his force. However, on 7th November his men and ammunition were exhausted and there was nowhere left to run as they had entered Danish territory. The general realised that further resistance was futile and accepted a French demand for surrender.

The fight for the Castle Gate from a contemporary  print
(wiki commons)
* Some of you will know that Lübeck was then still an independent city. Blücher demanded access to the city from the city council. The French sacked Lübeck as they would have any defended city, not knowing that it had been against the wishes of the population.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Crisis Loot

Okay, so I brought some stuff back with me, despite all the talking.

Some books for my Waterloo project. Although I have more than enough books on the Brits already. But on the Fields of Glory offers a battlefield guide and A Commanding Presence focusses on logistics. I'm a sucker for logistics.

Bought at very reasonable prices at David Lanchester

Three Ospreys about the 100 Years War. A project for 2027... or 2028. Teenage dreams since reading the Thea Beckman Geef Me De Ruimte trilogy.

Gained at the bring & buy

You must be worrying whether I bought anything wargames related at all and I can set your mind at ease here. I bought the hard copy of Chain of Command plus some dice, counters and the jump off points. Yes, I have the pdf version, but I like giving these guys money. They won best participation game award at the show and well deserved for the Hardest Working Men In Showbiz.

To the right is the Crisis complimentary miniature in the package (will fit in somewhere in my slavery & maroons project) and a bunch of Japanese 16th century civilians. They will fit well with any stuff I might ever do on samurai.

Purchases from Too Fat Lardies and Dave Thomas

I also added some 1/72 Stuarts, M3 halftracks and a Jeep to my American WWII forces. Too bad that I didn't like the SHQ 20mm Americans and almost nobody else makes them. Given the flood of Germans, Soviets and British I find this lack of love for the Americans in 20mm and 28mm (excepting the US paras of course) surprising.

Very spirited discussion around amateurism and professionalism in the wargaming hobby on the Dutch Miniature Wargaming facebook page (not just due to my post here). My mind is brewing with ideas. Damn! I have no time for that!

ps more beautiful pictures of Crisis at Little Lions and Modus Reg Magni Momenti

Sunday, 3 November 2013

A Wasted Crisis?

So yesterday I had a wasted Crisis, but in the positive sense of the word: three Leffe Blond got me quite happy in the late afternoon. But it was mostly talking to some people I had been looking forward to meet.

Leo explaining the Samurai game to Bert and Jan-Willem
First of all, I had great time in the car with Dick, Michel and Hans, discussing games and possible purchases. Dick, thanks for the lift! At the TFL stand I finally met Sidney Roundwood, who was very generous in more than one way. Can´t wait to get to the UK once more. There's a not so flattering pic of us on the Pijlie's blog. That post is a nice reflection on Crisis as well.

At the well attended meeting with members of the Dutch Miniature Wargames facebook group, I spoke to Julius, who will be off to Turkey for four years. And Fred, who's just moved to Amersfoort. I finally  handed René the copy of Okko I promised him a year ago. It was good to see Leo, Arvid, Jan-Willem, Bert and Joop having so much fun at the Samurai participation game at the Karawansaray stand.

Arvid on the right, also in explanatory mode.
Joop on the left composing a Haiku
Gerrit told me about the differences between paper, wood and resin buildings. Duncan had noticed my purchase of Haïtian revolutionaries and maroons and was demanding a follow up article. Jasper divulged that the book on the Duke of Alva that I'm looking forward will be presented in Madrid in three weeks to to one of his offspring. The most awesome news I got was that Neil had taken two young kids into his care. A very brave and very admirable thing to do!

I spent much of the afternoon getting to know Mats and Jos in the bar. Discussion ranged from maroons to 17th century flags to the Hoeken & Kabeljauwen to public relations and the raising of somebody else's kids. We seemed to agree on the 'state of the hobby' which is characterised by many willing to create valuable things for nothing and many willing to pay too much for very little. Think of the brilliant stuff put online for (almost) free and the prices people are willing to pay for GW stuff.

That is not a market in which many people can make a living. For most of the miniature manufacturers, rules designers and small publishers it is more a work of love in their spare time rather than a good living. The hourly 'wages' are only acceptable because it is something they love doing and the recognition they get from buyers and players. That also means that their web shops are occasionally badly done, that they have no presence on social media, that you can only pay cash at their stands. All of that costs them customers.

Some small shops will keep coming and going. Occasionally one will rise above the amateurism and take a significant slice of the pie, like Fantasy Flight and Z-Man in boardgames or Battlefront in miniatures. But Mats was right when he raised questions on the long term future of wargaming if miniature manufacturers, writers and publishers fail to link up to the experiences of new generations of gamers.  It's not lethal to the hobby I guess, but the Golden Age we seem to experience right now, might be one that doesn't last forever.

A better look at the beautiful table
This blog is characteristically short of images. I just didn't take many as I spent more time talking that walking aroudn. You can see all the pretty stuff at the blogs of Little Lions and Paint In.

Friday, 1 November 2013

A Lonely Wargrave, or not so lonely

Found last week on the cemetry of Beesel, Limburg. On the eastern bank of the Maas (or Meuse, as the French say)

The grave contains the body of  RAF air gunner, Flight Sergeant H.J. Hiscox, a New Zealander whose Lancaster crashed in July 1944 a few miles away on the way back from a bombing run on Homberg in Germany. There is a webpage in his honour.

As you can see, the grave is well looked after. One of the people we met there, preparing the cemetry for All Souls, told me a woman had been tending the grave for several decades now. Kids from the village learn of his history, also through the stories of his former comrades in arms. It is good to know that even this lone soldier is not forgotten.

This area along the Meuse was in the frontline in from Market Garden until the Allies crossed the river in early March 1945. The cemetry also contains a grave of three local victims of the war, a father, his 12 year old son and his aunt, killed by a grenade or shell (the Dutch word granaat can mean either) in November 1944.

In those last months of occupation the Germans rounded up 3,000 young men from the western bank of the Maas to work in German factories. 120 of them didn't return.

A commemorative plate on the church in Nunhem