Thursday, October 29, 2009

Not dead yet..

Force Publique. End of Day 2

Well I have returned from the hospital to very little sympathy from my wife ("you call those stitches") and a great deal of pain. I have been given some marvellous painkillers but unfortunately I can only take them every six hours and they seem effective only for four... Having surgery, however "keyhole" in a very sensitive part of the anatomy was very worrying but the lovely (and very expensive) team at Ashtead Hospital did a great job of stopping me getting stressed.

Force Publique. End of Day 3

I am still finding moving about quite painful but have been able to sit in my chair for a couple of hours a day and do some painting. Progress on the Force Publique force is going rather well and just shows what I can do when I apply myself (and when I don't have to go to work).

Olinka Berova: the only two reasons to watch the dreadful Vengeance of She

I have to spend some time with my legs up so have been watching a series of enjoyably dreadful 60s and 70s films as I really can't face daytime TV. So far I have watched: The Vengeance of Fu Manchu (1967), She (1965), The Vengeance of She (1968), The Valley of Gwangi (1969) and Warlords of Atlantis (1978). I also watched the slightly later Young Sherlock Holmes (1985), which I started watching live but then moved on to the DVD when I got interrupted by an "are you still alive" phone call. Much to my surprise much of the latter was filmed at my old college, Brasenose, including Lecture Room XI where I once did bad things with a girl from Somerville during the college ball. No chance of that at the moment.
Oh well, musn't grumble, as old people say...

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Painting again...

Force Publique: Day 1 progress

Well, after six weeks of no painting I actually picked up a brush and started painting again today. Needless to say, not on anything that I have already started but on a whole new army, if not a new period. My little boy said that he wanted to play a wargame next weekend and having discussed some options he has settled on a Darkest Africa game. Now, Mr Copplestone's DA figures were the first metal 28mm ones I ever bought and I have a substantial number of them. Many are actually painted (although the early ones not very well). I decided we would do Azande against... Well, that is the problem. I don't have any historical opponents for them. I could field a British Colonial force (and may well have to) but I suddenly got it into my head that I could paint a whole Belgian army in a week. Yes, I know that my usual output is six figures a week but I am home for the next seven days.

I have to have an abdominal operation tomorrow and have been advised to spend the rest of the week recuperating. Hopefully, this means some painting time. Of course I may be too tired and having never had a general anaesthetic before I may have a stroke and end up dead or a vegetable. My wife is full of happy stories about people she knows who went in to have a wisdom tooth out and ended up as a vegetable. This would be annoying as it would mean I would have failed in my attempt to live longer than the 50 years maximum most men in my family seem to achieve. But I have looked at my lead pile and it is vast so this should give me enough kudos with the Lead Gods to channel the force in my favour.

Anyway, I jolly well need to come out the other end as I have just seen the first photographs of Mike Owen's new Indian Mutiny range for Mutineer Miniatures and they are completely lovely.

Hope to be back soon!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Cheryl Cole does Warhammer 40,000!

The lovely Cheryl is a neighbour of mine and I think she is quite gorgeous but I was rather perplexed by her outfit whilst singing "live" (conveniently large microphone there, Cheryl) on the X-Factor on Sunday. It seems that she and her costume designer (get a new one quickly!) had taken their inspiration from the Warhammer 40,000 Imperial Guard line.

I think if Cheryl was my commissar I would be appropriately inspired to lead my troops gallantly against the alien horde too. Maybe GW should made a Cheryl Cole Commissar figure; I'm sure it would go down well with their main target market.

Here she is in a Wargames Foundry Future Wars Outfit. Now that's much better!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Bernard Cornwell's Azincourt to be filmed

John, from Wargames Club, has just sent a note around saying that Michael Hirst, the man responsible for The Tudors (for heaven's sake) has been hired to write the script for a film based on Bernard Cornwell's Azincourt (which I haven't read yet on account of the fact that I know it will lead to all sorts of prolific Perry Mniatures purchasing).

In fact, the film was announced in Variety back in July, with filming unlikely to start until 2011. That's if it gets made at all given the current climate. I suspect any firm decisions will be left until they see how Ridley Scott's Robin Hood performs. Needless to say IMDB is listing it as Agincourt; obviously the thinking being that Azincourt would be too obscure.

One good thing is that Hirst has stated that the film will stand and fall on how well the battle is done but given he only has a £28 million budget he will have to have very clever effects. He is going for a Saving Private Ryan feel to the battle rather than a Laurence Olivier one. Frankly, he would be hard pushed to improve on the charge scene in Olivier's Henry V performed by enthusiastic Irish farmers and driven on by William Walton's thrilling music.

It seems that Hirst is widening the scope of the film from just the novel by using other source material too, as he wants to include more on the respective kings in the film

I sold all my Hundred Years War books on eBay a couple of years ago. Maybe this was a mistake. Maybe it wouldn't do any harm just to buy a pack of archers...

Monday, October 12, 2009

Tales of two tragic ships

USS Arizona BB 39

USS Maine ACR 1

Arizona's anchor in Wesley Bolin Plaza, Phoenix

Last week I was in Phoenix, Arizona and had meetings in the State Capitol where there is a small museum dedicated to the USS Arizona which I have mentioned before.  What I hadn't seen before was one of the 16,000lb anchors from the Arizona on display in the centre of the city.

The USS Arizona was the last of the Pennsylvania class battleships built and was launched at the Brooklyn Navy Yard on June 19th 1915. Unlike other America ships she was not sent to Europe during the latter years of the Great War as she used fuel oil, rather than coal power, and there was a shortage of this in Britain at the time.

The Arizona in Cuba 1920

During the 1920s and 30s she alternated between the Caribbean and the Pacific, operating out of Guantanamo Bay and San Pedro, California. In 1934 she was involved in an incident when she ran down the 52' fishing boat Umatilla killing two of the nine crew. The Captain of the Arizona, Capt. Macgillivray Milne (1882-1959), was held responsible for the incident at an enquiry and ended his career as commander of the US Navy coaling station in Samoa. He would never command a ship again.

Left to right, Director of Here Comes the Navy Lloyd Bacon, actors Pat O'Brien, Gloria Stewart, Capt. Macgillivray Milne, actors James Cagney and Frank McHugh photographed on board the Arizona in 1934.

Milne had been the Captain of the Arizona when she was used extensively as a location for the 1934 film Here Comes the Navy starring James Cagney. Filming was done at San Diego Naval Station which was where the Pacific Fleet was based before being moved out to Pearl Harbor shortly after filming finished. The film even includes footage of the Arizona firing her 14" guns on manoeuvres at sea, filmed from the US Navy dirigible USS Macon (which also features in the film), which crashed with the loss of two lives a year later, putting an end to the Navy's rigid airship programme.Justify Full

USS Arizona was moored in Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7th 1941 when an 800kg bomb (actually a modified artillery shell) dropped by a Nakajima B5N2 plane off the aircraft carrier Hiryū piloted by Tadashi Kusumi (who was later killed at the Battle of Midway) detonated between the front two turrets of the ship. The bomb detonated a supply of black powder and the secondary explosion caused the forward magazine to explode. 1,177 men of the 1,400 crew of the Arizona died; nearly half of the 2,350 people who were killed at Pearl Harbor.

Justify Full

One of the monuments at Arlington Cemetery is to the USS Maine a pre-dreadnought armoured cruiser that exploded and sank on February 15th 1898 whilst at anchor in Havana harbour.

Launching of the USS Maine 1889

The Maine, like the Arizona, was built at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and was launched on 18th November 1889 by Secretary of Navy Benjamin Tracy and his granddaughter Alice Wilmerding. She was an unusual ship in that her main gun turrets were mounted in echelon rather than in-line, a development in naval archticture that didn't catch on due to the inability of the vessel to deliver a broadside with both turrets.

The sinking of the Maine became a rallying call for many and it certainly was a contributing factor to the Spanish-American war that followed. However, there is controversy about what actually caused the explosion that sank the ship.

The direct cause was an explosion of the forward six inch shell magazines but what preciptated the explosion is still being argued about. The general feeling at the time was that it had been caused by a mine but whether this was accidental, deliberately placed by the Spanish authorities or was, essentially, a terrorist attack without state sponsorship is unclear.

This is the only known photograph of the Maine exploding taken by a young Spanish sailor and then kept in his album for a hundred years. The ship's mast can be clearly seen

In 1976 Admiral Hyman G. Rickover launched his own enquiry and came out on the side of a theory that had been around since the sinking that the explosion was an accident caused by a fire in the coal bunkers which heated the magazines to the point of explosion.

USS Maine enters Havana Harbour in January 1898

A later investigation commisioned by National Geographic magazine and using computer modelling for the first time decided that the mine theory was most likely. Neither side will back down.

The Maine during her salvage

What is certain is that 274 men died immediately or shortly afterwards and only 89 survived.

Most are buried at Arlington, as shown in this photograph, where the monument to them includes the mast of the USS Maine. This was recovered from the vessel when it was raised in 1912 before being towed out to sea and scuttled in deep water.

The monument was designed by Washington architect Nathan C Wyeth and was dedicated in 1913. The anchor alongside the monument was actually placed on the site, adjacent to the Maine burials, before the main monument was build. It is not an actual anchor from the Maine but was taken off a similar vessel.

The story of the Maine is not as well known in the UK as the Arizona but it was strange that on subsequent days I saw memorials to both on opposite sides of the country.

Notes from my travels: Arlington National Cemetery

Part of the long drive up to the gates of the Arlington Cemetery with Arlington House, Robert E Lee's residence in the background

I had meant to visit Arlington the last time I had been in Washington, in March, but it proved to be a wet day and so I gave it a miss. Walking around there last week on a a sunny, but autumnal, day I was glad I did, as I think the afternoon light enhanced the place, at least as far as photographs are concerned.

Some of the earliest graves in the cemetery overlook the Pentagon

For people who habitually push miniature soldiers around a table it is a sober reminder of the reality of war. Nearly a third of a million graves scattered throughout beautiful woods on a hill overlooking the city with approximately 20 being added every day. Even during my short visit I heard the sombre crack of the three rifle shots echoing across the site four times. A reminder that the US is at war at present.

It is a large, but not overly so, site. Most visitors seem to avail themselves of the tour buses but, being English, I decided to walk the cemetary. This meant that I saw very few people as I explored the outer reaches of the cemetery. You can't help but be impressed by the ever changing vistas of identical gravestones which cover most of the site.

There are famous graves there, such as John F Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy, who I met once in Greece, which added extra poignancy to my visit. Amongst the vast curving lines of graves I picked one at random and researched it afterwards.

James Richmond was born in Maine in 1843 and joined the 8th Ohio Voluntary Militia, while living in Toledo, Lucas County, Ohio. He was slightly wounded at Antietam, where a Confederate bullet nicked his finger.

The 8th Ohio at Gettysburg

At four o’clock in the afternoon of July 2, 1863, the 8th Ohio first went into action at Gettysburg when they descended the slope of Cemetery Ridge to counter a group of Confederate skirmishers. On July 3rd, ensconced behind a rail fence they sortied against the enemy. In action against Pickett's charge and the Virginians of Col Brockenbrough’s Brigade and Brig. Gen. James H. Lane ’s North Carolinians they counter-attacked and Private James Richmond raced ahead of his unit and took an enemy colour from the North Carolinians.

On December 1 1864 James Richmond was awarded the Medal of Honour but, sadly, it was posthumous as he had been mortally wounded at Spotsylvania Court House, Virginia on May 12, 1864 and died on June 3 at the age of 21.

Very many of the graves have stories like this attached to them but I was surprised to see how many were for the wives of soldiers, sailors and airmen.

During my visit there was a wreath laying by the armed forces of the United Arab Emirates which saw the pageantry of the United States military being displayed.

The ceremonial artillery fired a 21 gun salute while I was there

I also visited the US Marines memorial which adjoins Arlington Cemetery but is not part of it. This is a big and impressive monument with figures over 26 feet tall. I was brought up on a diet of WW2 movies featuring the Marines and my very first wargames featured my Airfix figures fighting it out on our rockery with the Marines having crossed the perilous expanse of our pond. Because of this I have always had an interest in them so was pleased to be able to pay my respects at this monument.

My family lost people in the Second World War; such as my Great Uncle who was killed in his Hawker Hurricane whilst trying to flip a V1 but it is a shame that we don't have a national equivalent of Arlington. Since the first Iraq war the US has gained a different perspective towards its armed forces whereas previously, post Vietnam, they had suffered from low public esteem. It would be nice to see more of this in the UK and a national site akin to Arlington would, no doubt, have helped.

All in all a beautiful, sobering and impressive place.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Notes from my travels: San Francisco Part 2

Moored immediately astern of the USS Pampanito is the Liberty Ship S.S. Jeremiah O'Brien. I first became aware of Liberty Ships through reading the Clive Cussler novel Deep Six and the good, if rather downbeat 80s thriller, The Panjang Incident by Charles Ryan. I never thought I would climb aboard one!

It's a long way up: Liberty Ships are big!

2,710 Liberty Ships were produced in the US to a British design but there are only two left which are operational and, in fact, the Jeremiah O'Brien is due to sail next weekend. the concept was to build merchant ships at a rate faster than the Germans could sink them and millions of Americans, a third of them women, worked at the eighteen shipyards that churned these out on a production line that developed many of today's welding and prefabrication techniques.

Looking aft over one of the giant cargo hatches

The Jeremiah O'Brien was built in just 56 days in Portland, Maine and was launched on June 19th, 1943.

She made four transatlantic crossings in convoy. Her fourth voyage to the UK saw her diverted to shuttle duty between Britain and Normandy where she made 11 trips supplying the Normandy beach head. She came under air attack and was targeted by both bombs and torpedoes.

The engine room. Most of the engine room scenes in the film Titanic were filmed here. When they run the ship today they only have three people in the engine room.

After this she made some further voyages to the Pacific before sailing into San Francisco in January 1946 where she was mothballed with hundreds of her sisters. Many of these ships were sold into commercial ownership (Aristotle Onassis,Stavros Niarchos and Stavros George Livanos all bought dozens of Liberty ships), scrapped or sunk as artificial reefs.

Looking forward from the stern

In 1978 it was decided to preserve a Liberty Ship in unaltered, original condition and the Jeremiah O'Brien was chosen, partly because of her excellent condition. The ship still sails several times a year and in 1994 sailed to Normandy to take part in the fiftieth anniversary of D-Day celebrations; the only vessel to have been at Normandy in 1944 and for the celebrations fifty years later.

The four inch gun at the stern

A Liberty ship would have had a civilian crew of 43 plus US Navy personnel to man the defensive armament. Today they can sail her with a crew of just 12.

The Navy gunners' quarters

Most of the Liberty ships were named after prominent Americans. Captain Jeremiah O’Brien (1744–1818), from Maine, was in command of the privateer Unity when she captured HMS Margaretta during the American War of Independence; the first time a British ship struck its colours to an American one.

Also on board is a rather good diorama presented to the ship by the French.  It is of a Liberty ship supplying a Normandy beachhead. My little boy would have wanted to take the case off and start playing!

All in all an excellent attraction and a demonstration of how the Americans are much better at preserving their maritime history than we are.

Fresh fruit tomorrow, I think

Well, tomorrow is my last day in San Francisco as I fly to Phoenix, Arizona tomorrow. I had a huge breakfast at the Fairmont today so didn't need lunch. Today's beer was the very fruity Sierra Nevada Pale Ale which I have had bottled in the UK but this was on tap and much better. Probably the best beer I have had so far.

I have also been working my way through a bottle of Flowers Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2007 as I worked today (yes, I actually had to do some work!). A very cherry almost Beaujolais appearance and I suspect it could do with another couple of years in bottle. A blend rather than a single estate wine. Lots of cherry and raspberry in the taste too. Very nice!