Monday, 29 August 2016

SYW French Guard Brigade

The finished Brigade
The focus of the year has been ships, ships and more ships, about 3 months ago I started to flag a little bit and decided to add something completely different to the paint schedule.

A Battalion of French Guard
Like many; unpainted figures are not hard to come by in the Reilly household. I do keep a record of the figures I buy against the figures I paint  (shown on the right of this blog) and have over the last few years made a reasonable dent in the lead mountain as can be seem. This however does not tell the whole truth as it doesn't take into account the starting size of the lead mountain.

The Battalion of Swiss Guard
Well without boasting; it's massive (ohhh error Matron). I started to count a couple of years ago and stopped when I got to 3000 a long way from the end. It's all my fault of course but in my defence there a loads of Adler ACW which I got for next to nothing off a Bring and Buy, a ginormous amount of 10mm Malburian  (unstarted, huge due to an ordering error) and a massive amount of 15mm AB Prussian figures I picked up from a friend. On top of that are the stuff for ongoing projects and the stalled  (due to Jutland) 28mm Crusades pile.

I had started to make a dent into my SYW 15mm collection last year and have continued into these 12 months. Yarkshire Gamer Painting Dept has managed to get into a good swing with these figures. I work a 6 on 4 off shift pattern so my "week" is 10 days long rather than 7. I start each "week" with a battalion of figures (usually 16 or 20) primed and fixed to painting sticks. That is my minimum painting for the next 10 days and I discipline myself to not touch any other stuff until that unit is finished.

It's worked remarkably well, so far I have finished off the Blue Moon British Infantry I had, done these French and I am now 2 Battalions in to the 14 units of Saxons that have been sat in a box for over 15 years. Once the unit is done the rest of the 10 days are mine to either not paint or work on other projects, did someone mention Jutland !

So the figures themselves are 15mm Essex Miniatures which I think I purchased at Salute many moons ago. Essex always have their own distinctive "chunky" style which some people don't particularly like. I'm more than happy with, a) getting them out of storage and b) getting some paint on them.

I am not after winning Golden Demon prizes with these,  just a good steady standard to fit in with the rest of my collection. Rules wise I use the General de Brigade SYW spin off Die Kreigkunst the French units are 16 Figs the Swiss 20. The only pain with these figures is the cast on flag, it's so tightly wound that it's impossible to work out how the flag would sit so I have left it black simulating the flag still being cased.

So there we have the finished Brigade, they did wander out of the Palace on the odd occasion, particularly for Vellinghausen so they should see some table action one day. Back to the ships and the Saxons.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Bastogne Barracks - A Grand Day Out

A big hangar full of WW2 kit
Whilst there could be a danger of turning the blog into a travelogue there are some aspects of my recent Belgium trip which were too good not to share onwards to those who have an interest in this sort of thing and a trip to the Barracks in Bastogne is definitely one to share.

A Firefly guards the entrance
The first thing to point out is that Bastogne Barracks is an active Belgian Army base and you just can't wander up to the gates and have a casual scout round. Every week day there are two tours of the Barracks,  one at 10am and another at 2pm and that's it, so forward planning is required before you attend.

Yes that is a 155mm Long Tom
The tours are FREE, now for a Yarkshire resident getting summat for nowt tis reet Grand ! It was a lovely sunny morning when we went and our group consisted of 19 people which for me was just about the right number. There are marker boards around the Barracks showing the base at that location during The Battle of the Bulge.

The visit was led by a serving Belgian Soldier, our group was split 50:50 between English and French speakers and our guide did a brilliant job going through everything twice in those languages. The first part of the tour is outside covering the general history of the Barracks and the events leading up to the Bulge. After that you enter the cellars used by the 101st US Airborne during the siege and see the "NUTS" room and the Command Post.

The first part of the tour ends in a small museum littered with artifacts from the battle, we spent about an hour and 15 on this first stage. You then head out to a series of three hangars to see the collection of Military vehicles on site. Our guide changed here and the second guide didn't speak English however each vehicle  (if you didn't know what it was already) has an English language sign board.

The first hangar has a wide selection of recovery vehicles including the above M32 Sherman ARV which I had never seen in the flesh before.

Don't see one of these everyday
The second hangar is a joy to behold for lovers of WW2 vehicles, I honestly had no idea the collection was so large and varied. Straight in through the door is a ISU 122 ! Not what I expected in the Belgian Ardennes. There was an empty space next to this vehicle for a JSIII more on this latter.

The following pictures are a selection of the vehicles in hangar 2,

M4A1 Sherman 76
M22 Locust
There were a few German vehicles including the Pz IV below, along with a wide selection of Anti Tank Guns and Anti Aircraft Guns with transports and tows.

Panzer IV Ausf J 
AEC MK II Matador
From there we were led to the third hangar which is used as a Vehicle Restoration centre, we were allowed full access to the area and had a good look around the current crop of vehicles which are being worked on. 

First up was a nearly fully restored StuG,  an amazing piece of work it looked like it was just out of the show room, the engine bay was superb.

Next up was our missing JSIII in for some engine repairs, annoyingly it was fixed the next day and driving round the car park during that days tour.

The next bay was very much a work in progress, a Hetzer with its body fully restored.

Finally there was a Leopard I having some engine work done.

What a fantastic time we had at the Barracks, probably 2 and a half to 3 hours for free ! There is a rumour that the tours will stop soon due to government cut backs which would be a real shame, if they do stop I am glad I made it when I did. 

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

The Waterloo Battlefield - A Fresh Look

For me Waterloo is one of the iconic battles of not only the Napoleonic Wars but history in general, I'm sure most of my readers will agree, a place of pilgrimage.

Growing up in the 80s my initial wargames were virtually wholly set in the period, all my friends had Napoleonic Armies and we would regularly play large battles but Waterloo was always THE battle. Is it a British thing, I don't know, I particularly remember a huge re fight of the battle over 30 years ago, ending with Napoleon being killed at the head of his Guard Lancers, much to the Prussian players annoyance as they where just arriving, great memories.

However it wasn't until 2007 that I actually visited the Battlefield, this year we where back in the area again so another visit was in order, my plan was to ignore the main centre and just walk the field however when I arrived I realised things had changed dramatically from my last visit.

When I last visited the area between the road and the Lion Monument was an old style restaurant and the visitors centre, both now demolished, to the right out of view, the old museum was gone too.

The new visitors centre is cut into the ground on the site of the old museum, this is different I thought, let's explore. Entrance was €17 which included an audio guide and entrance to all areas.

The new museum was very impressive, you enter initially into a general history area or the "Napoleon Shrine" as I preferred to call it. It was informative, lots of interactive stations which were good, the ginormous painting of Napoleon dressed as the Emperor was slightly over the top. I was half expecting to find the French Waterloo Victory Room.

From there you enter a long corridor lined on both sides with manikins dressed in uniforms of 1815, Wellington  (apparently he was present) and his Allies on the left, the French on the right. A good variety of uniforms on display too, not just Imperial Guard.

Some pictures of someone who isn't Napoleon and one which is
From there you enter a 4D cinema, apparently the 4th D is smell, Mrs Yarkshire swore she could smell horses, I just thought it was the sweaty bloke next to us. An excellent film, freshly made with live actors, a tour highlight. The rest of the museum features artifacts from the battle and post battle history.

The large painted Panorama remains as it was on my last visit, still very impressive. And from there it's the long long climb up the Lion Monument, the view of the battlefield is superb, unfortunately the building of the mound means that the topography of the area has changed.

Lions Mound towards Pictons Crossroads
Lions Mound towards La Haye Sainte
Towards Hougomont 
There is a 3D experience advertised for the mound where you can hire a headset which super imposes the troops movements onto the battlefield as you look at it from the top of the mound, it sounds like a great idea, sadly it wasn't there on the day I attended, possibly due to the rain.

Next up on the itinerary was a visit to Hougomont, now there is complimentary bus from the museum to the farmhouse however I highly recommend that you walk the distance  (10 mins), if you turn immediately left on your exit through the turnstiles from Lions Mound and follow the path, this takes you along the British Line past the memorial to Mercers Battery (see above) and then through a small wood to Hougomont.

Last time I visited this is how far I got, there was a big sign saying Private Property Keep Out, the Farm was very run down and looking sorry.

The sight shown above is very different from that, full marks to the people who have made this possible, what a fantastic job, having been turned away last time I was mightily excited about visiting the area.

Before entering the Farm itself I spent a while just wandering around the walls, with the woods from the battle gone the area has changed a great deal since 1815 but you can still get a feel for the attack there. You know you are a bit of a geek when everyone else who arrived at the same time as you goes into Hougomont and you spend 40 minutes just breathing the place in.

Inside is a small information area, but the main attraction is the presentation in the main barn. What a fantastic thing this is, it's quite hard to explain as it uses projections on moving panels but what a show ! I think Pink Floyd would be impressed by some of the effects. As with the film at the main museum live actors are used to tell the story of Hougomont within the battle, a must see.

The small Chapel is particularly poignant, one of the few areas to survive the fires after the battle, someone had left some figures on the altar  (scale and manufacturer anyone) The crucifix has had an adventurous life, burnt, stolen and broken but now back where it belongs.

Another good wander round inside the grounds was of course required, the new British Memorial was impressive, if a little dirty.

No French in sight
Leaving Hougomont we decided to opt out of the free bus back and spend a bit of time free form wandering. We retraced our steps to the point where you emerge from the woods, on your right is a wide track, last time I visited this was the route of the battlefield tour where a open bus drove round the field. It didn't say we couldn't walk down there so we did.

Looking back towards Hougomont

Walking the field is by far the best way of seeing the battlefield, it always surprises me how steep and long the slope is to the British and Allied Ridge,  Wellington was certainly a genius at ground selection.

The track comes out on the main Brussels Road outside La Belle Alliance (shown above) by this point the light rain was getting slightly heavier, it wasn't proper sideways Yarkshire rain but it was noticeable. Being British and Northern, I was of course wearing only a t shirt (and trousers obviously, cheeky).

So we walked back along the pavement on the main road past La Haye Sainte  (Still a working farm, getting inside there one day is a must). This again gives a real feel of the distances and gradient involved, your actually walking in the footsteps of the attacking French. You also get a great view of the battlefield to the East of the main road.

Pictons Memorial at the main Crossroads

So at the end of a long day we ended up at the Crossroads at the centre of the British and Allied line, a few moments to soak (literally with the rain at this point) in the whole of the Battlefield before getting back in the car for a short trip to a warm coffee. We spent a proper full day at the site, I could have spent longer (Papelotte etc). A much changed experience from my last visit and well worth a return.