Monday, 19 December 2016

Borgia

It's been a long time, but I came back to playing The Prince: The Struggle of the House Borgia (sold as Borgia in the Netherlands) last week. The Italian renaissance has a strong attraction to game designers, it combines economic growth with art and architecture and intellectual growth. Princes of Florence, La Citta, Fresco, Leonardo Da Vinci and Medici are just some examples of games combining these elements. And that is ignoring all the games covering the exploration of the world in the same period.



But there's another side to the renaissance that attracts designers and that's the Machiavellian politics. When you want a game that has conflict and backstabbing as well as the above, the exploits of the condottiere and scheming of the renaissance popes offer a good background.

Not for nothing one of the games that takes this approach is named after the Florentine politician and philosopher. But there's others as well: Martin Wallace's Princes of the Renaissance and Borgia. While Machiavelli is a more detailed version of Diplomacy, the latter two games leave the physical map and use cards and counters to portray the expansion of power.

Borgia is the less complex of the latter two games. It plays in three phases where auctioning resource and action cards and attacking each other's resources make up the player's turns. The attacks can always be made on unprotected resources, ie they are not combined with a city. Otherwise it needs playing a condottiere card. They can be defended by playing condottiere cards as well.


The phase ends when all available cards have been auctioned. Then income is gathered and a papal election held, followed by a point tally. The points come from cities, famous artists and being chosen pope.

What proved interesting is that you can have a fun game threatening other players by attacking unprotected resource cards and then not play a condottiere card, hoping that the other player plays one, effectively wasting it. The downside is that you waste one of your limited actions and get nothing in return.


It became a very close run game in the end, with me losing by 151 to 147 points. I managed to take out a very valuable artist from my rival by stealing the medicine card of him first and then playing my plague card.

But he saved his victory by good defensive pairing of his stronger but less valuable cities to his artists and his weaker but more valuable cities to independent families that increased the defensive value. That meant that my condottiere cards were too weak to take them on and sway the game my way,

A sturdy game, but nothing can change my love for Princes of the Renaissance. Not even the fact that I suck at bidding games.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

The most thankless job in war

I wrote this short introduction for a presentation I will be making at the Poldercon convention on February 12th. They asked for a presentation on the 1815 campaign, and the theme of the convention seems to be the rear guard action, so I decided to combine them. 
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"The rear guard: the most thankless job in war. Risking your life to save that of others. Not seldom it ends in total disaster, without a Chanson de Roland to make you immortal. The best you can hope for is to be forgotten.

On the other hand there are many more rear guard actions than pitched battles. It’s the small clashes that determine who has the most advantageous position during the big battle. And it’s the rear guard actions that determine whether a defeat is decisive, or the loser can salvage his force.

Time for some more love for the rear guard action!

I will be taking you through the Napoleonic Wars and in particular the campaign of 1815 using these small but important combats. From the Prussian rear guard at Charleroi on the morning of June 15 to the retreat of general Rapp. What are the secrets of a successful rear guard action and how to bring them to the wargaming table?"

---

For the presentation itself, I'm thinking of 
  • a short introduction on what the role of a rear guard is
  • followed by a number of examples from the Napoleonic wars (eg 1806 post Jena/Auerstädt, 1812 Russian retreat, 1813 and 1814)
  • Then delve into the 1815 campaign: Charleroi/Gilly, Frasnes, Gembloux, Namur, Oise crossings, Rapp's retreat
  • Try to derive some factors for success and failure
  • Translating it into wargames in the form of scenario's or campaigns

Since this is a 90 minute presentation I'm still thinking hard how to make this an interactive experience.

Anybody got further suggestions for this presentation?

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Egyptian encounter

Went to see the renovated Egyptian exhibition and the Valley of the Queens exhibition in the ancient history museum in town. Really well done, lovely stuff on display. Text is slowly disappearing from museums, to get people to hire the audio tour, but there is enough to go round.

Bes, dwarf god
I'm surprised at the breadth of objects available now and the depth of knowledge that we seem to have reconstructed of this age. The beauty of objects that have remained fairly intact over 4,000 years still amazes me.

Taweret, hippopotamus goddess
Revisited my old friends Bes and Taweret, Egyptians god that were mostly revered in the household as defenders of the children. There were two exceptionally beautiful statues last summer in the British Museum, but these examples are probably closer to what real people kept in their homes.

Queen Hatshepsut, Pharao
The Queens of the Valley has some wonderful stuff about the few women that became pharaos themselves, about court life, the workers that built the monuments in the Valley of the Queens and the burial site of queen Nefertiti.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

The Dutch army under Napoleon

Also in, this great book on the Dutch army under the Kingdom of Holland. This period was the last step between the foundation of a Batavian revolutionary republic under French protection in 1795 and full incorporation into the French empire in 1810.


With Napoleon's brother Louis put on the throne in 1806, the country seemed already well under French control. But Louis' genuine considerations for the interests of the Dutch people ensured that neither Napoleon was satisfied nor the Dutch.

Given Napoleon's focus on the military contribution of the Dutch to his overall war effort, the army was always going to be a breaking point. Louis' four years in charge failed to bring a balance between Napoleon's demands for a bigger army and the Dutch ability to pay for expansion and provide the necessary recruits.

Which is why Napoleon finally decided to be done with and independent state.

Christiaan van der Spek looks at the Dutch room for manoeuvre in military policy during independence, and also to which extent the Dutch maintained a separate identity, first within the French sphere of influence and later within the empire.

Will be an interesting read.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Return to Das Volk

Played a second game of Wir Sind Das Volk last Friday, this time as the Ossies. The game is quite unforgiving of mistakes on the East German side as it causes a cascade of negative effects at the end of a decade.



Refugees and police state all degrade your economy, then pull the foundations from under your living standard, which in turn degrades your industry. This means you really need to play the East very conservatively, because the cost of having to rebuild again is aggravated by the fact that your maximum is reduced, making you weaker in the long term. And the opportunity cost means that you lose the ability to put pressure on your opponent.

Needless to say, I got my ass kicked again this game. I'm still not 'getting' it.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

The politics of Native American warfare

Native American warfare had a different context to it than than the modern nation state and of the colonial powers that it faced. Given the extreme fragmentation of political power, the kind of unified effort that the British crown or even the fledgling United States were capable of was way out of reach for the tribes.



Warrior individuality

Even at the level of the tribe power was decentralised. Each warrior was largely independent in his actions and although they could submit themselves to war leaders, there was little formal power to enforce their co-operation. It could take days to work towards some level of consensus, but there was no guarantee that all able warriors would join in an endeavour.

The mirror image of this was that even if the community chose peace, individual warriors (the “young and irresponsible”) could still continue raiding. For young warriors, warfare was the best opportunity to manifest themselves and gain acceptance and status among the adults. The result was that Europeans, with their experience of hierarchic society, assumed the leadership could not be trusted and that low level conflict could escalate against the majority’s wishes.

There is some danger in generalising about political organisation of Indian tribes, as there was a wide variety. Within certain tribes political power was divided between peace chief and war chiefs. Also in some tribes, women had considerable political influence, joining in the political deliberations.


Tribal independence

We also have to consider that tribes were generally quite small. Their warriors were counted in the hundreds, suggesting that most tribes numbered less than 5,000 men, women and children. We’ll come to the economic consequences of this later, but to assemble a significant force to oppose the more populous colonists, tribes needed to co-operate.

Given that the tribes often had their own languages and customs, tribes considered themselves as distinct as European nations. There wasn’t a natural overarching feeling of shared interest between the tribes. Tribes were determined to control their own destiny.

Even an informal hierarchy between the tribes was often lacking. The only major exception was the semi-permanent alliance of the six Iroquois tribes, and they extended their dominion over other tribes in the early 18th century, notably in the Ohio territory.

Movement over wide distances also prevented fast decision making. To gather all delegations from all relevant tribes, sometimes appointments would have to be made many months in advance to meet at a prearranged location.

And then the same time consuming deliberations took place as at the tribal level. All this made co-operation between the tribes a complex and time consuming process.


Dependence

But the most powerful dynamic was the colonial rivalry between France, Britain, Spain and later the United States.

At the earliest stages of colonisation, the traders and settlers had been dependent on Native Americans offering their goods for trade and support for marginal settlements in a harsh environment. The Europeans had useful goods and knowledge to offer as well, so that relations tended to equality and mutual benefit. They could also make useful allies and tip the balance in war between the tribes.

But as empires clashed from the early 18th century, the roles started to reverse and Indians became auxiliaries to colonial forces. Their support was bought by gifts of strategic goods like guns and ammunition, but also status goods like alcohol. Indian tribes became increasingly dependent on these goods.

Even at the most basic level could colonial rivalries tear tribes apart. Those that controlled the entrance of gifts into the tribe (in some cases the war leaders that had most contacts with outsiders) gained power.

Of course, the fragmented authority had similar consequences for the colonial powers trying to gain Native American allies or to make peace. Negotiations were long drawn out affairs in which hundreds might participate.

The colonial dynamic came to affect the intertribal relations as well as tribes were forced to take sides in imperial wars. The Iroquois confederation lost its dominion over the Ohio tribes during French and Indian Wars and then fell apart during the American Revolution. It never recovered from internecine warfare as those loyal to Great Britain retreated to Canada.

And choosing the wrong side would have harsh consequences. Land would have to be ceded which meant that the tribe became even more dependent on gifts. And with the disappearance of first France and then Great Britain, tribes lost the ability to play off suitors against each other.

By the end of the 18th century therefore large alliances seemed the only hope to retain independence and land, while the more pessimistic advocated peaceful accommodation to delay the inevitable. Both the 1790-1795 and the 1811 wars saw coalitions of unprecedented numbers of Indian tribes.

But in many cases the rifts by then ran through the tribes. And as long as the Indians couldn’t all decide on one course, both strategies worked against each other.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

The Second Front of the Revolutionary War

If you read military histories of the revolutionary war, the focus tends to be on the campaigns against the British, and you might conclude that most tribes took the British side but that their contribution was limited to the Great Lakes region.


However, Ray Raphael’s The American Revolution. A People’s History opened my eyes to the varied reaction of Native Americans to the war. Difficult choices were made from New England down to Florida. And fundamentally, most tribes were trying to stay out of the war, which they didn’t consider as their own.

Yet, few tribes managed to avoid the conflict. The Abenakis along the border with Canada managed to keep both sides at arms length by taking it slow and occasionally switching allegiance. Although this gave them a reputation for unreliability on both sides of the border, in this way they kept losses low.

Likewise the Chickasaw, although friendly to the British, managed to stay out of the fray because they weren’t in the front line. Only when the Americans built a fortress on their borders did they take action and drove off the garrison.

The fate of the Iroquois, the once mighty confederacy, was possibly the most tragic. Bound to the British after 1763 they accepted an American offer of neutrality in 1775 and avoided conflict until 1777. But then the confederacy fell apart with the Oneidas and Tuscaroras siding with the rebels and the other tribes with the British.

They fought each other as auxiliaries of their allies at the bloody battles of Oriskany and Wyoming. The punitive expedition by general Sullivan’s continentals through the Iroquois heartlands in 1779 destroyed the fabric of the tribes which then became totally dependent on British support. At the end of the war, they retreated to Canada.



The Ohio tribes, such as the Delaware, Mingo and Shawnee, also inexorably got drawn into the conflict. In 1777 violent incidents escalated and by 1778 raiding terrorised the settlements in the region. In 1781 a large punitive expedition laid the Native American towns to waste, bringing the tribes to heel.

The Cherokee honoured their ties to British and attacked in 1776. However, as there was no British threat in the southern states at the time, the militias from four states were available to stage a punitive expedition, destroying many Cherokee towns and crops. Although the majority of the tribe, forced by hunger, accepted a humiliating peace, part of the tribe split off and migrated west.

There were a few tribes that sided with the rebels from the start, most notably the Catawbas in the Carolinas. Their contribution to the cause was fully recognised by the Americans but they became marginalised nevertheless and seem to have disappeared by the middle of the 19th century.


The Seminoles even seem to have prospered as a result of the war. Living in Spanish territory, they were not being targeted directly themselves. But more importantly, they welcomed many new members of the tribe by accepting black runaway slaves.

This gives me the impression that there was in fact an active second front on the western border of the United States, tying up valuable manpower. You might imagine that if the British had been able to coordinate their actions better with those of the Native Americans, it could have had better results than it did now. On the other hand, it is unlikely to have swung the war in British favour, thus leaving the loyal tribes as high and dry after the war as they were historically.

Given the desperate state of the British cause and the long standing distrust between Native Americans and settlers, no tribe in the east could escape from the conflict and although some managed to limit the damage, most lost many warriors and were forced to cede land in the end.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Blog recommendation: How to kill a rational peasant

Just a notice that Brian Train put a very interesting post on his blog. It brings together three strands of interest for me: theories about rational peasants that I encountered during my PhD research, Adam Curtis BBC blog, one of the most fascinating documentary makers I've come across and Brian Train himself, a game designer whose approach and integrity I admire. If you are interested in counterinsurgency, the war in Vietnam, or even just the small part that gaming played in it, then this is a must-read/view


Monday, 28 November 2016

Paint it black

Quite some time since I last picked up the paintbrush, but I cleared up some space on a table so I can leave it where it is and have a good lamp close by.


Started and finished a bunch of riflemen and black militia members. The ones in the long coats would probably end up with northern units. The ones in shirt sleeves in the south.

In the former case they probably fought on the American side, where manpower shortage saw the enlistment of quite a few free blacks and slaves, who did so because this meant a job and a chance to be freed after service. Didn't always work out that way apparently according to Ray Raphael's brilliant The American Revolution. A People's History.

Raphael also shows how in the latter case, tens of thousands of southern slaves escaped from the plantations to the freedom promised them by the British. They joined the British and loyalist units, or accompanied them as servants. Many died of hunger and disease and by the time of the British retreat, they were often left to their own devices.

Jim Piecuch, in his Cavalry of the American Revolution devotes an article to the Black Dragoons, a cavalry unit composed of and led by escaped slaves in South Carolina. They appear to have performed to the satisfaction of the British, but their existence enraged the white planters in the south, making it less likely that they would accept a return of British rule.

As far as  I am concerned, A People's History is an indispensable companion to the military history of the American revolution. Apart from showing how blacks could end up fighting on both sides, there's good stuff on the role of women, native Americans, Loyalists and common American males sympathetic to the revolution. It shows how this war affected them, but also, how they tried to make the best of it, or even turn it to their advantage.

I'll come back to this book, because it was an eye opener for me on the vastly different experiences of native American tribes. But worth every penny and widely available in second hand.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

A first taste of the people

'Wird Sind Das Volk' was the rallying cry of the protests that heralded the collapse of the Iron Curtain and the German Democratic Republic. In 1990 it was amalgamated into the Federal Republic of Germany, until then widely known as Western Germany.


The game by the same name tackles the economic and political struggle between the two Germanies and it does so exceedingly well. Using the card driven mechanisms popularised by Hannibal, Paths of Glory and Twilight Struggle, the game is mostly a struggle between an embattled communist economy and a capitalist powerhouse. Once the contrast between western luxuries and eastern austerity becomes too big, the DDR will collapse in protest.

But there are twists. The West is not without its own problems and protests will erupt there too.

As in a good card driven game, players fret about which card to play and how to use it. Each turn a player picks a card and decides whether to use it for the event or the economic points. The former will pull several levers at once (the inflow of foreign currency to the DDR, international prestige, socialist party cadres, protests, economic boom and bust), and the economic points can be spent on building infrastructure, increasing the standard of living or removing protesters.

And the fun part in a card driven game based on the recent past is thinking whether you can remember the historical events on the cards.


I like how some of the cards are a double edged sword, pushing you up one track and down another. Sometimes it's better to pick the card that can harm you if picked by your opponent, sometimes you have the luxury of choosing between several favourable cards. But luckily the best short term option is pretty clear in most cases, preventing too much analysis paralysis.

In my maiden game, last Tuesday, I left a weak spot that was exploited mercilessly by my opponent. Had I immediately understood the gravity of the situation I might have saved it, but I didn't see how. That left me on the back foot that left the DDR able to comfortably weather the storms of the 1980s, even if the Wall did fall.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Another bunch of books

Having been gifted a few book coupons, I ordered a few books off my wishlist. The book on the Grande Armée in Germany has been on the list for over a year. Based on numerous first hand accounts and archives I'm interested in the way the French behaved as an occupation force, but also on it's relations with the population.


And with the coming of Project 217 (the as yet still mysterious project about ancient warfare around 217 BC), I decided to finally order the 3rd edition of the De Bellis Antiquitatis rules for ancient warfare. I still think that it is a very innovative rule set that regretfully developed in the wrong direction.

If I return to ancients wargaming, it will be in 6mm using DBA. I just don't have the time for painting another large army and learning a complicated tactical rule set that feels more like recreating Napoleonic warfare than ancient.

And it was just a bit to easy to just add the newest edition of Hordes of the Things, the fantasy version of DBA. By the way check out this fantastic blog that shows how incredibly creative people can be in designing their HotT armies. Or have a look at the HotT facebook group. Pure joy.

I had also ordered a book on maroons in North America, after reading a very interesting article on the maroons in the Great Dismal Swamp in Virginia.

And as I went to pick that up, I just happened to look at the new Ospreys just in and I was kind of spineless.The campaign book on the Battle of the Thames is a kind of a no-brainer since it covers the Indian part of the War of 1812.

I am also quite fond of the work of Sean McLachlan, who does thorough historical research and occasionally combines it with interesting fiction. I was happy to pick up his combat series instalment on the Apache warrior vs US cavalryman. An interesting contest and it seems McLachlan has done a good job on both sides.

That said, the third booklet will be the proof on how the combat series is doing because King's African Rifles vs Schutztruppe Soldier might expose the weaknesses of the series by pitting two similar troop types against each other, but might also show interesting differences in their deployment by their colonial masters. Anyway, a much understudied topic in itself.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Last post before the AWI battle

(AWI project retrospective, part 9)

I wrote this post at the end of an evening where I had based my prospective army for the big battle. It’s the worst job I can think of in preparing a wargaming army. I resent it like nothing else. And yet, this meant that I was about to finish the job. There was this relaxed sense that I would make this deadline.


And not just make it. Sunday morning sun rising, I had ready all four regiments of Smallwood’s brigade present at the battle of Camden. And more: woodland Indians, Stockbridge Indians and surplus militia. That was far beyond what I had thought to achieve when starting on this journey almost a year before. I even slipped in painting three Dark Age houses.


That doesn’t mean there wasn’t a pile of pewter and plastic left waiting for me still. Some last Indians and militia, several units of British and loyalist troops and the 2nd South Carolina regiment. But that was all beyond the task I had set myself, so no worries there. I was just proud of my achievement irrespective of the outcome of the game.

In further developments in preparation for the big day, I did manage another test game of Land of the Free. This was very useful. Needless to say I got my behind handed to me by Patrick. SO I decided to read through the rules again and again, because I kept finding rules I’d overlooked or misinterpreted.


Apart from the painting challenge and the rules, and in direct contradiction to my intentions at the start, this has turned into a reading project as well. Over a dozen Ospreys somehow came into my possession, and a further dozen paper and digital books on the AWI. And somehow I managed to read most of them.

I was first infatuated with the militia side of the war; then the Indian conflict grabbed my attention. Four of the books I bought on my summer holiday to the UK dug deeper into the subject. I discovered the Black Dragoons of South Carolina, and how choosing to become a loyalist sometimes depended more on the side that the people you hated chose, than on your ideology.


But the crown on my reading spree has been Barbarians & Brothers by Wayne Lee, a brilliant book weaving together the civil and colonial wars in England, Ireland and North America from the 16th to the 19th century. Lee explains how conflicts between civilians and between cultures turned much more violent than between regulars. This clash of regular soldiers, warriors and citizens in these centuries, and more specifically in the AWI, has proved a fascinating discovery that I had not expected a year ago.

That legacy will endure.

This blog was first published on the Wargames, Soldiers & Strategy blog on August 23rd 2016

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Israel Divided. Or Not?

Last weekend I was struck with a heavy bout of influenza which caused me to cancel a few appointments. It gave me some extra time to read and I decided to finish off Jona Lendering’s Israel Verdeeld (or Israel Divided).


The history of Israel and Jewish religion in the age of Jesus tickled memories of my past, growing up in the Dutch reformed church, while I follow Jona Lendering’s blog on ancient history and had enjoyed one of his previous books.

One of the first points to tackle is of course that Lendering assumes that Jesus actually did exist. Given that there are several independent, non-biblical sources that confirm his existence, I think that’s a fair point. But as Lendering argues, who he was and what he preached, is very hard to reconstruct because of the limits of the sources.

And this is where Lendering comes into his own as he explains how we can weigh the evidence, for example by rejecting facts that are only mentioned in one source, or which might have been added in later versions. Similar discussions pop up all over the book, whether discussing the actual theological differences between Jewish substreams or the power of priestly dynasties.

Israel in the time of Jesus

Politically the period was determined by the slow movement from the Seleucid to the Roman sphere of influence, until it became a Roman province during Jesus’ lifetime. At the same time, Jewish political and religious elites lost legitimacy as they got caught up in the power struggle and sometimes ended up on the losing side. Warfare also increased the tax pressure.

Lendering also describes how Jewish religion was divided over the interpretation of the halacha, the rules to live life. There were differences of opinion on such diverse topics as which texts were relevant (just the core books of the bible, or also the books of the prophets, and non-bible traditions?), on the relationship towards non-Jews, the afterlife and the limits to free will. There is ample proof of a lively debate that seems to have resonated deeply with those involved.

But the most important thing to take away is that fundamentally all Jews adhered to the sacrifice in the great temple of Jerusalem, and large parts of the halacha were devoted to the correct performance of the sacrifice.

A part that doesn’t seem so important is that of messianism. There wasn’t a feeling of the end of time and of the coming of the messiah, and apparently was not discussed much. Which doesn’t mean that there weren’t several people claiming to be the messiah before and after Jesus. But the messianist message in combination with an end of time revelation was typical of the Jesus’ strand of Jewish religion.

And this is what Lendering is quite clear on: Jesus was a Jew, who talked about issues that were relevant to the Jews of his age (mostly about the halachic rules) and in ways that they would recognise. The rejection of the halacha was a later development in Christianity.

Christianity as a separate religion

Essentially, the legacy that Jesus left fitted as well within Jewish religion as any of the other branches. Lendering shows that the parting of the ways was a protracted affair and that many Christians kept to the halacha (or a special variant for those that hadn’t been born as Jews) and visited Jewish temples hundreds of years later.

What had changed fundamentally by then, was the Jewish religion. The destruction of the great temple (during the Jewish Revolt of 66-73 AD) meant that it could no longer be organized around the sacrifice. Also, several religious branches seem to have disappeared after 70 AD, and the Farizee branch transformed into the Rabbinic brand of Jewish religion that we recognize today.

In the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD both Jewish and Christian both started to codify their dogmas and select which holy books were relevant or not. The situation where different interpretations of the same religion could live side by side was slowly disappearing. The process of separation was reinforced by Roman taxation of Jews, which forced Christians to choose. By the time Christianity had become the state religion of the Empire the divide had become deep, and religious anti-Semitism was creeping into the Catholic Church.

Lendering’s mission

Lendering succeeds admirably in drawing these developments in an understandable way, while staying true to the sources. But on a more fundamental level, the book doesn’t succeed. Lendering has spoken out repeatedly that ancient history (and archeology) should be made accessible to a broader public.

But as far as I am concerned the book is not easily accessible to a broader public. Lendering’s insistence to explain his method in detail on every occasion get’s tiring after some time. Even an interested reader like me dropped the book two thirds in, and left it for a couple of months. I might never have picked it up again.

For some reason I didn’t have the same problem with At the Edge of the World, the book that Lendering wrote together with Arjen Bosman on the Roman Empire in the Low Countries. I can’t lay my finger on what exactly is the difference between the two books, but perhaps Lendering on his own takes it all just a bit too serious.

To capture the imagination of readers, solid methods and arguments are not enough. A delicate balance needs to be struck between scientific rigour and readability. That is incredibly hard to do, and there's no dishonour in failing. On the contrary, Lendering should be commended for trying and his example should be followed.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Don’t go watching Hacksaw Ridge

It is a really bad movie. The re is an overload of romantic and war movie clichés, and the acting is mediocre. The main character is trying so hard to be Forrest Gump, it's almost endearing. Agent Smith/Tick is the single exception, making a convincing drunkard. 


The first half of the movie only has boy meets girl plus boy has father issues. That makes a loooong wait for combat footage, if that’s what you came for.


But especially don’t go if you are looking for a war movie. Yes, the latter half includes quite some imagery of war, and I'm sure weapons and equipment are historical and suitably dirty. But I don’t get the feeling it has any relation to warfare on Okinawa in 1945. 

It’s more allegorical of how horrible war can be. And how American heroes can look righteously into the camera. More care has been taken of aesthetics than of reconstructing reality (and of course a movie doesn't have to; but then again, I don't have to like it). But if you want to see operating bullet ejection mechanisms in close up, this is your movie.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Seeing the elephant

(AWI project retrospective, part 8)

The painting progress was quite satisfactory in May and June. I finished a small group of Stockbridge Indians (which were allied to the rebels) and a large group of Woodland Indians. I also managed to construct a few wooden cabins and a load of wicket fences.


This happily coincided with an occasion for all my painted units to see the elephant. In May we played a game of Land of the Free with some of the participants in the AWI project. As we were all novices to the set, Jasper gave us an introduction to the rules. That helped a lot; I now at least had a basic grasp of the mechanics.


There is ample appreciation in LotF for the problems of command and control, and I think the activation system works fine. Movement and fire are pretty standard. The charge mechanism, in combination with the morale rules, as so often seems to be the Achilles heel and it will take some effort to master. We didn’t the advanced rules at the time, so that Indians operated the same as light infantry. No need to say that I was happy to move on to advanced rules as soon as possible!

The game itself turned out in our favour, largely due good initial positioning, good use of cavalry and some lucky dice rolls. I was able to concentrate my regulars and militia before the enemy regulars could reach the battlefield. The cavalry was used a bit as a Napoleonic shock force, which seems anachronistic, but worked because it operated on the flanks. And lucky dice rolls… well, Napoleon had something to say about that.


My troops generally acquitted themselves well. The Continentals, positioned at the anchor of my line, took a serious pounding but stayed in the field and dealt out in equal measure. The militia was tentative but provided valuable support. The delicate Stockbridge group got severely punished for its small but crucial contribution, and the Indians didn’t get into the fight.

All in all a good first impression, that would need a few more test games to play smoothly in August. There was still the uniformed militia and some officers to finish before then as well, but was getting confident that these would be ready well in time. Something I hadn’t expected to say when I started out in December!

This blog was first published on the Wargames, Soldiers & Strategy blog on June 16th 2016

Thursday, 17 November 2016

The Model Militia

(AWI project retrospective, part 7)

Incredibly, in April managed to finish a big unit of Continental infantry! Less busy-ness at work and more determination saw me accelerate, and I even picked up the next batch of uniformed militia. Enrolling militia into Continental units was a regular feature in the South after the bulk of the Continental units there had surrendered after the siege of Charleston in May 1780.


Slowly running out of militia to paint, I wished to round off my triptych on the subject, and the best way was to look at the legacy the militia system left. Because as somebody who has a footing in Napoleonic history, the American militia first appeared as an icon that others tried to emulate.

Before the Age of Revolutions, the European battlefield had been dominated by mercenaries. These soldiers served for money, not to protect their homes or their rights. In most cases they were recruited from the lowest classes of society and kept in place by brutal discipline. Of course, remnants of the old chivalric way of war remained among the officer class, but it had been subjected to the demands of the early modern state.

That changed in the late 18th century. With closer identification of the individual to his fatherland, the preferred type of soldier to serve the nation shifted from the professional soldier to the armed citizen motivated by love for his country and ideals. Surely the latter would be more committed to carry the struggle to its successful conclusion?

In this light, the use of German troops on the American continent confirmed the revolutionary frame that freedom loving citizens were suppressed by rigid automatons serving a tyranny. French newspapers and commentators were quick to pick up the image of the intrepid citizen soldier, who elected his own officers and made up for his lack of discipline with revolutionary zeal.

As it was, the revolution provided the first test case for the armed citizen in ages, and rightly or wrongly, to European observers it appeared a resounding success. Lexington, Concord and Bunker Hill inspired the Dutch Patriots who formed societies practicing drill. However, those Patriots were easily beaten by Prussian regulars in 1787.


The amateur soldier made a comeback during the French Revolution. First, politically motivated volunteers joined the army in 1791 and 1792. When these proved unable to save the revolution, mass employment of conscripts saved the day. And the Batavian Republic, the spiritual heir of the Dutch Patriot movement, again attempted to build on citizen soldiers for the defence of the state.

Eventually, the limitations of volunteer forces were outshone by the success of conscription in mobilising mass armies. And with the increased convergence between nation and state in the 19th century, the intrinsic motivation of the citizen could now also be assumed to inspire professional soldiers. Accepting the dominance of regular armies on the battlefield, by the 20th century revolutionary movements relied mostly on irregular warfare.

The historical question whether the militia was the key to the revolutionary victory has always been about more than just the American revolutionary war. As closely as it was linked to the concept of the nation in arms, the answer could never fail to impact the ideological struggle about which type of army best fits a democratic society.

Over time, the lack of success of citizen armies on a voluntary basis has clouded our view of the militia in the American Revolution. But as we have seen, it was the combination of militia and regulars that ensured the final victory. Neither could succeed alone.

This blog was first published on the Wargames, Soldiers & Strategy blog on April 13th 2016

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Scythe

Played a nice game of Scythe last Friday. Despite the nice mechs, this is a eurogame with a possible tendency towards multiplayer solo. I may not sound too enthusiastic but this certainly isn't a bad game. It's just not the kind of game that sets my blood boiling (in the right kind of way).


Yes, this is the heavy big box release that you might remember from Kickstarter. And you've got to hand it to these guys: top notch parts and artwork and apparently produced in reasonable time.

There is a kind of story in there about a fantasy post WWI Eastern Europe with mechs, but who cares about that anyway? Just tell me what multiple paths to victory there are!

Well, you can score each of your 6 victory points by building all your available mechs, building, population etc etc, or score full marks on the happiness or power tracks, or fulfil one of the special conditions on your cards.

And of course, you can score points by winning a mech-battle, but then again, only two. Apparently, combat isn't a strategy in itself. And that's about the only interaction there is.

So it becomes a race who get his 6 points first and the good sign is that that it was pretty close last Friday.

Good chance that this will hit the table again sometime soon, and strategies may become more interactive and aggressive.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

The Militant Militia

(AWI project retrospective, part 6)

So I finally finished my  second militia unit in March. There was a point I thought it might never happen, even though the minis were close to completion. But then I overcame painter’s block, dipped and immediately started out on my Continentals. I was happy with the progress and happy with the results.


While I was painting these troops, I wondered what made these men put their life on the line for something ephemeral as liberty, in what was arguably one of the most liberal environments of its time. Surely some of these men will have been ideologically motivated, but I haven’t come across recent literature that suggests this was more than a minority of combatants. What gave the militia its strength were its firm roots in local communities, and motivation to fight was maintained by family ties and larger networks of patronage.

For a long time after the revolution, it was not done to acknowledge the existence of a large part of the American population friendly to British rule, or even indifferent to the cause of the revolution. These days this fact is a much more commonly accepted, and estimates of loyalist population range from one in six to one in three. British commanders at the time were convinced that the majority of the population in the southern colonies would welcome them. This was the reason they shifted troops and resources from the north southward in 1779.

However, they found it hard to rally local support unless British troops provided security. Part of the reason for that is that the same pitfalls which made the militia such an unreliable military instrument, made it so effective politically. Widespread military presence secured political control of the area. There is ample evidence that patriot militias exacted a heavy toll on loyalists in their communities, appropriating their goods for the cause of liberty.


And indeed, the opposing militias treated each other harshly. Prisoners could expect physical abuse and risked being executed; and each incident invited retaliation. Especially in the south local conflict escalated into a civil war. Not for nothing did tens of thousands of loyalists flee the area as the British left, including about 20,000 that had served in the British army or loyalist militias.

As most militia didn’t wear uniforms, it was hard to tell the difference between combatants and civilians. It allowed them to harass the enemy and blend into the population afterwards. In frustration, the British sometimes took retribution on communities, thus creating a circular dynamic of retaliation. In a sense, this blending of civilian and military roles thus drove the conflict towards total war. Some later commentators, argued that therefore it was truly a revolutionary war, presaging the ideas of Mao and Che Guevara….

This blog was first published on the Wargames, Soldiers & Strategy blog on March 18th 2016

Monday, 14 November 2016

The Mercurial Militia

(AWI project retrospective, part 5)

Few discussions on the American War of Independence have been as lively and enduring as that on the militia. Its proponents, pointing at the impact of Lexington, Concord and Bunker Hill, claim it as the winning factor in the conflict. Detractors bring up the desperate correspondence of US generals decrying the inability of militia to win big battles. So who is right?


As you may have gathered from my previous post, I am unwillingly but irrevocably drawn to the history of the period. What seems to attract my interest most, is the widespread use of militia forces. Let me try to explain my fascination.

Even more so than in the northern states, militias dominated warfare in the south. First of all, because the main effort by the Continental army was and remained in the north, but also because by the time the British strategy was redirected to the south, the British commanders increased their efforts to enlist loyalist inhabitants to their cause.

The main problem of the militia was its unpredictability. No commander could tell how many would show up at muster, because most men decided themselves whether the work at home was more pressing than duty in the field. Militiamen deserted when it suited them, perhaps considering the enemy either too far away from their homes, or too close. As Washington once quipped: “here today & gone tomorrow”.

Similarly in battle, militia units could not be counted upon. The quality of the units varied depending on who turned up and discipline tended to be lax. Later in the war, militia units might be bolstered by returning veterans from the Continental army. So a unit could run one battle and stand the next.

At Camden, the Virginia and North Carolina militias almost entirely ran without putting up a fight. But not much later, almost the same militia forces achieved a notable success at Cowpens where they were handled with consideration for their specific character and in combination with Continentals.

Still, the role of the militia off the field of battle was probably more important than on it. Maintaining military control over areas ensured political control, which in turn harnessed supply of men and materials for the wider war. Knowledge of local terrain and situation made the militia an indispensible partner on an operational level.

And given the scarcity of regular troops, especially in the south, the allegiance of large parts of the colonies was in the hands of regional militia forces of both sides. And this contest was generally won by the revolutionaries.

So while the militia on its own could not have forced the British Empire to acknowledge American independence, a regular army on its own could not have sustained itself.


This blog was first published on the Wargames, Soldiers & Strategy blog on February 25th 2016

Sunday, 13 November 2016

The Beginning of the End in the Pacific

Another recent acquisition that I want to take a closer look at. The Osprey Duel book on Kamikaze vs US Navy Ships is very interesting as it comes much closer to the essence of that series by opposing two entirely different weapon systems. The differences in performance between two tanks is mostly overcast by their tactical employment (is your army on the strategical offensive/defensive?), but in this case the kamikazes were a fundamental departure in Japanese air operations, and it took the Americans considerable time to adapt.


Author Mark Stille provides a lot of relevant detail and analysis on kamikaze tactics, anti aircraft defense and damage control. The book also contains extensive descriptions of actual kamikaze attacks, which gets a bit repetitive. And the technical detail comes at the expense of the psychological aspects of the kamikaze. But all in all one of the better Ospreys in this series that I've encountered.

As a relative noob to the Pacific Theatre I hadn't realised how badly the Japanese navy and air force had been beaten in the Marianas and early stages of the Philippines campaign. This meant that I had missed the level of desperation the Japanese leadership had already been reduced to by that time. It also means they were cynical and criminal in pursuing the war for another year when it was obvious they could not win it.

So when I saw that John Prados had been interviewed on exactly this subject by New Books in Military History about his Storm Over Leyte: The Philippine Invasion and the Destruction of the Japanese Navy, I listened to the podcast. 

Prados has many interesting things to say about the fundamental shift in Japanese naval strategy at this stage, which effectively gave up their old doctrine for big surface fleet action for targetting an invasion force. The book goes deep into the intelligence side of the preparations for the campaign (which is where Prados has professional expertise) and how it affected strategy. A good interview that left me much more knowledgeable. 

Check out the other books in the NBiMH series as well!

Saturday, 12 November 2016

No better way to read my mind

Than to watch my recent acquisitions. I'd saved up quite a few book coupons which now have been turned into paper (and some digital books). So what's come in recently?


Remy Limpach, De brandende kampongs van Generaal Spoor

A book's just come out on Dutch atrocities during the Indonesian War of Independence (1945-1949).This has had a considerable impact because these have been dismissed in the 1960s as incidents and this author shows that retributions against the population were widespread, even if not part of policy. It also becomes clear that these occurrences were brought to the attention of higher ranks who actively suppressed the facts. If anybody was still under the impression that Dutch colonial rule was somehow more benevolent than of its contemporaries, that can now be dismissed.


Paul Dawson, Crippled splendour. The French cavalry from Valmy to Toulouse

Also in is the new book by Paul Dawson, a very thorough researcher who has done a lot of work in French archives on French cavalry of the Napoleonic Wars. This book is no change to his previous work in that it focusses on composition of units, replacement horses and logistics over tactics and individual actions. Therefor it is a very valuable companion to most other studies, who tend to focus on the latter.

Pat Harrigan & Matthew Kirschenbau, Zones of Control, Perspectives on Wargaming

Something of a handbook on (war)game design. It has contributions by well known designers such as Peter Perla, Phil Sabin, Brian Train and Joe Miranda. It ranges from historical background to views of the future (but not so much on computer gaming) and from deadly serious gaming for defense to card-driven commercial games to Warhammer 40K. It also includes a chapter on cultural wargaming by Jim Wallman, my favourite game designer, which outlines how games can help bring up unspoken assumptions and behaviour and create discussion about them. Valuable background to a serious study of state of the art wargaming.

James Waterson, Defending Heaven, China's Mongol Wars 1209-1370

An appealing book I picked up at Crisis about the Mongol conquest and loss of China. Waterson thinks the Mongol conquest created the present borders of China (except, notably, Mongolia itself) but also, that it never succeeded in making a mark culturally. Although the Song dynasty in south China was finally defeated, its legacy was the basis for the eventual evictions of the descendants of the great Khans.

Also in (but not dug in as deep yet):
  • Colin Galloway, The American Revolution in Indian Country
  • Edward Erickson, Ottoman Army Effectiveness in World War I
  • Chris Tyerman, How To Plan a Crusade
  • Colin Galloway, The Shawnees and the War for America

Friday, 11 November 2016

Read it and weep!

(AWI project retrospective, part 4)

Although I got my painting mojo back in January, progress was not prodigious. I got about halfway into my second militia unit of eighteen figures. So it was probably a good thing I was too late entering the Painting Challenge. Better to tell you a bit more on my other line of preparation for the battle in August.


At the start of this project I kept telling myself I wasn’t going to read upon the background of the Revolutionary War. Just focus on painting, and be done with it. But there I was browsing through new books about warfare in North America in the second half of the 18th century. And a group of us decided to recreate on the Battle of Camden for the battle in August.


Of course, there are the Osprey books for uniforms and equipment, and the campaign series offers good introductions to the battles. The recent combat series book on the combat tactics used by both the British and the rebels in the Southern campaign adds new light by using more contemporary eyewitness accounts. And there was a new campaign book about the Battle of Camden planned for publication in March, so that seemed like an obvious addition to my AWI shelf.

But all that proved to be just the beginning. I started out with a little gem I have long kept: Greg Novak’s “We have always governed ourselves” about the organisation and strength of both armies in the northern states, later expanded as the two-part American War of Independence.


Then Jasper Oorthuys (who also introduced me to Muskets & Tomahawks) pointed me to With Zeal and With Bayonets Only by Matthew Spring, about the development of the strategy and tactics of the British army in North America. Then there was John Grenier’s First Way of War about frontier warfare against the indigenous population. Although it only briefly talks about the Revolutionary war, it gives a good account of the style of warfare that the Americans were used to and which they would also employ against the British, and against their patriot neighbours.

So apart from painting project, this also turned into a reading project. Oh noes!

This blog was first published on the Wargames, Soldiers & Strategy blog on January 14th 2016

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Painting mojo

(AWI project retrospective, part 3)

Progress had not been good since my previous post. But nothing helps to get you going like playing a game and seeing other people’s progress. In November 2015 over a dozen Dutch gamers came together to try out a couple of rule sets, among which Land of the Free. You’ll be hearing more about this rule set later.

As the meeting included quite a few of the people in the AWI project, the post-game chat provided some more inspiration. As a result, I got my minutemen to the point where they could be dipped.


At the games day I also received the new miniatures from the communal AWI order. Some more militia and Stockbridge Indians to complete my rebel force, and also some British and loyalists. I needed some opposition, didn’t I? 

I considered signing up to Curt’s (of Analogue Hobbies) Painting Challenge. It’s good to have that extra motivation to paint. The challenge runs from December to March so effectively three months in the darkest period of the year. Dozens sign up, and I always look enviously at their results. As tempting as that seemed, I didn’t get round to signing up and I wasn’t as productive in the winter as I’d have liked.

This blog was first published on the Wargames, Soldiers & Strategy blog on December 3rd 2015

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Essen 2016

We're a couple of weeks on, but no reason not to briefly glance back at what I learned in Essen this year.

 

It was a relaxed trip for me because I didn't feel I had to buy anything except simple games to play at night. This saved me a panicked last minute chase along the stands of companies that I'd missed. There were some good games and bad, but nothing that stuck out for me.
  • Barcelona, The Rose of Fire, a hefty game about the late 19th century development of the city, pitting influential families against each other and homeless poor. I almost bought it but finally left because I hadn't seen the end game.
  • The Grizzeld/Les Poilus, very nice cooperative game about survival  on the WWI battlefield (picked up by a friend so I've had a chance to try it again). Sad trivia: the guy who did the artwork was killed in the January 7th attack on the premises of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
  • Beer Empire, a development from a previous version. A pretty streamlined eurogame that let's you brew specialist beers (to win prizes) as well as shitty lager in cans that brings in lots of money.
  • Fabled Fruit, a very simple game with subdued graphics that I felt was overpriced
  • Topoum, a nice tactical game, but overpriced
  • London Markets, a pretty standard but pleasant worker placement game.
  • Lincoln, an unpublished Martin Wallace design for a strategic game about the American Civil War. It's mostly card play and could use some more play testing. 
In the end I arrived home with: Pax Pamir - Khyber Knives expansion, Treatment, Lord of the P.I.G.S. and Rock, Paper, Wizard.

We played Treatment and Rock, Paper, Wizard at the hotel and restaurant in Essen. And I repeated that feat recently with friends. Treatment is a conventional card game with a nice theme. Rock Paper Wizard is 15 minutes of fun, and a nice cross of Cash 'n' Guns with a pumped up version of Rock Paper Scissors (as the name implies).

I've also managed two games of Lord of the P.I.G.S.. It focuses on the struggle between the conflicting interests of politicians, industrial and financial elites in the economically challenged countries of Southern Europe (ie Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain). The game proves a bit tougher to occassional gamers than I thought, because the turn order isn't intuitive, but I like it.

Only Pax Pamir Khyber Knives remains to get it cherry popped, but this is a promising score so far so I don't feel the need to pursue a project Spiel 2016. I'll focus on playing some stuff that's been gathering dust on the shelf. In fact I've been clearing out quite a lot of stuff from my shelves, but it needs to leave the house as well ;-)

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

First world problems

(AWI project retrospective, part 2)

 I left you just about when I was picking up my can of spray-paint to lay down a base coat for my minutemen. This was all still very much in that first wave of excitement I told you about. In fact, in that weekend I got a considerable amount of brush painting done as well. This left me with a few questions of painting technique.


Just so you know: I’m a pretty mediocre painter. I lack practice and have spent years hardly painting at all. Due to time constraints, a few years ago I overcame my antipathy towards letting somebody else paint my miniatures and in this way I have obtained beautiful Dark Age Saxons and WWII Americans for skirmish games. I have even bought armies and single units, so that I now have a nice medieval Norman force and an eclectic collection of fantasy figures.

But as you may have noticed I’ve found I quite enjoy the painting, and when a limited amount of miniatures is combined with a reasonable deadline, I even get things done. Which is why 80 miniatures and 10 months seemed so attractive. But I still realised I wasn’t very good at painting and quite slow. To save time I adopted the army painter philosophy, which I used previously on my Prussian Landwehr and some medieval monks. Overall I’m pretty pleased with the results.

But what about highlighting? Experience suggests that only extreme highlighting works in combination with dipping (although I don’t actually dip. Does anyone really dip?). I finally decided against it as I was displeased with test result.



 
My other question was how to get a good balance between diversity and uniformity for my minutemen. I’ve seen some beautiful examples of far better painters than me using understated hues to great effect: no miniature is the same, but there is a real sense of unity to them.

What I was afraid of was having a very colourful collection of minutemen who would not look very good as a collective. And of course, even if I managed to configure a balanced palette, I’d still be a mediocre painter, and it wouldn’t look as good as the pros.

You know… first world problems!

This blog was first published on the Wargames, Soldiers & Strategy blog on November 5th 2015

Monday, 7 November 2016

To explore strange new worlds

(AWI project retrospective, part 1)

There’s no feeling like starting on a new project. The adrenaline rush of exploring a new topic, the possibilities opening up, the ooooh shiny!

So I was very excited as two dozen Dutchmen embarked upon the new adventure to recreate a number of battles from the American Rebellion all on one day almost a year from now. And in this case the good news was that I was slightly ahead of the pack as I already had the relevant miniatures at home.



Actually, I had just been contemplating what painting project I was going to take on for 2016. My Foundry Americans were high on the list because I wanted to play Musket & Tomahawk, a rule set that I liked straight away when I played it first. That was right up my alley then.

In fact, my force was already about complete. I had about 80 miniatures consisting of Continentals, militia and minutemen. They could be used as a 400 - 500 point force for M&T, but also as about a brigade’s worth in other rule sets. Maybe a few additions would be needed, but I really didn’y plan on overdoing it because this was about the number I could see myself finishing in the period set.

Just to make life difficult for myself, I was enticed to participate in a combined purchase of miniatures. The siren’s call of creating an opposing force for my Americans proved too strong. Some British regulars and a few loyalists… Okay, and maybe some militia from the Southern states, and a few Continentals to create the right size of units. Inevitably, this resulted in me having to paint more.

Of course then loomed the choice of units, which would decide the uniforms to be painted. To put off this important but time consuming question, I decided to start out on my minutemen. So the enterprise began…

This blog was first published on the Wargames, Soldiers & Strategy blog on October 8 2015.






Sunday, 6 November 2016

Picking up

Yesterday was a good day. Returning to Crisis in Antwerp after three years it was great to meet many old friends and acquaintances. The most flattering meeting was with Sidney Roundwood, one of the most friendly and supportive people I’ve come across, who said he missed my blog posts. It is the best kind of compliment you can get and so here I am. I guess it’s mostly about getting back into the habit.


What have I been up to this year? I’ve mostly worked on the American War of Independence. This was the theme for the third painting project by the Dutch Miniature Wargames facebook group, which culminated in a day of battles late last August.

This marked my return to the painting table in the first sustained campaign in ages. I painted over a hundred miniatures since the start of this year, which is impressive enough for me. Of course I fell for the temptation of buying more, even after the project has ‘officially’ended.

Why, would you ask? Because despite my initial determination to stick to painting and not read any books on the subject, the opposite has happened. I’ve become enchanted by North American warfare in the long 18th century (1700-1815), a unique mix of colonial rivalry, indigenous resistance and civil war.

You can see my descent into madness over the course of a couple of blog posts that I made on the Wargames, Soldiers & Strategy blog, which I will reproduce here in the coming weeks. I think the breaking point really occurred when I diverted from the AWI into the War of 1812 and several Indian Wars in this period. So I will be painting and reading on this a lot more in the coming months.

But I’ve also done my share of board gaming, including the annual trip to Essen. I’m digging through my book and game collections to make room. And there is the lure of new projects. Enough to talk about, I'd say.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Little sisters

Today will see Russia's annual victory parade, and while this may feel a bit uneasy in the light of recent events, let's focus on events 75 years ago. I spent the last week reading Svetlana Alexiyevich's War's Unwomanly Face. It's been devastating.


The book was first published in dying years of the Soviet Union, but there was still considerable censorship. The translation of a later edition includes more graphic detail. It's not a book for a relaxed read. You will find yourself hit with strong emotions but, thank goodness, also an occasional smile.

There's so much in this book: the naive enthusiasm of the girls to get to the front, their camaraderie and their perseverance. The women are very frank about their experiences. Alexiyevich must have been a very good listener to get these very personal accounts out of these women, while all the focus in (post)Soviet history is on the glorious achievements of the Red Army.

It was tough to be a woman on the eastern front. There wasn't room for female comforts, like there wasn't for male comforts. No extra underwear during periods, but then again, the war ruined hormonal cycles for many women, sometimes for good.

The most gripping passages come from the women that fought behind the lines in the partisan groups. Not only was this the most brutal conflict, it also directly involved family members. The accounts of seeing your own mother being driven before a German patrol is harrowing, and so are those of the woman carrying around her baby and coding machine whilst fleeing for German sweeps. And that's not the worst incident.

Life remained tough when they came back. Just like the men, they often found their homes and families broken up and the environment of reconstruction harsh. Their bodies were broken because they suffered hunger and physical exhaustion during their late puberty. Their chances of finding a husband were smaller because they were not considered womanly anymore.

Remembrance at the Grebbeberg memorial, May 4th 2016

It's been a busy few days remembering the end of World War II and more will follow. But if you can spare a few moments for the little sisters fighting on the eastern front. And if you can get a copy of this book, don't hesitate.