Thursday, 30 June 2011

German Fighting Man: Ancient Times

As promised a while ago, and inspired by an article in TSC by A.J.Mergenthaler, I plan to assemble a number of posts which together will provide an overview of the evolutionary history of the Germanic warrior and the development of what is generally acknowledged to be a very militaristic society

I intend to take the aforementioned article as my starting point and then expand on it somewhat in a series of chronologically organised blogs, so in this, the first of them, I will be writing about the ancient origins of the Germanic peoples and what is known of their early conflicts with neighbouring tribes

As Mergenthaler points out, the precise origins of the Germanic peoples are somewhat obscure, but they certainly have a long history which stretches right back to the Bronze Age, many hundreds of years BC. They first inhabited an area of the European continent now known as Denmark, Southern Sweden and an area of Northern Germany between the Ems river in the west, the Oder river in the east and the Harz mountains to the south. Over the course of many centuries they gradually migrated further and further south, west and east as shown in the following maps

Map of the Nordic Bronze Age Culture, circa 1200 BCE

Map showing the regions of Europe occupied by Germanic tribes

   Settlements before 750 BC
   New settlements after 750 BC until 1 AD
   New settlements until 100 AD
   New settlements after 100 AD

At this time the Germanic tribes had no written language so what we know of their very early military history is necessarily limited and based on a combination of archaeological finds and the writings of Roman historians and military commanders like Tacitus and Julius Caesar. Conflicts between the early Germans, Celts and other tribal peoples remain largely mysterious since neither side recorded any of the events. Wars against the Romans, on the other hand, are fairly well documented, from the Roman perspective at least!

Gaps in the historical record notwithstanding, it is generally acknowledged that the Germanic peoples often had a fraught relationship with their neighbours resulting in long periods of military conflict over a variety of territorial, religious, ideological and economic concerns

An informative timeline of the Germanic peoples can be found at the website of The Cherusci Tribe, a US reenactment and living history group seeking to recreate the lifestyle of the early Germans

Once again, however, it doesn't go into detail about the conflicts between the early Germans and other peoples but does refer to their invasion of Gaul and their first significant contact with the Romans in around 112 BC

112 BC  Proto-Germanic tribes from the middle Baltic Sea area, the Cimbri and Teutones invade Gaul; during the extensive raid they attract the Ambrones another Celtic tribe to their ranks, and destroy five Roman armies sent against them before turning towards Italy.  The beginning of relations between the Romans and the Germanic tribes.  

So, the first really detailed accounts of the military exploits of the early Germans date back to Roman times and are in the main a record of the wars fought between themselves and the Germanic tribes. The manufacturers of wargames figures and toy soldiers likewise tend to focus their attention on this period of time since it is relatively well documented when compared with the pre-Roman era

I leave you then, at the end of this necessarily brief initial post, with some pictures of 15mm early Germans, painted and based to be used with the Wargames Research Group's DBA [De Bellis Antiquitatis] fast play rule set

The Early German army list covers a period of several hundred years, from about 115 BC to 250 AD, and allows you to organise the army in a number of different ways to reflect the different 'tribes' in existence during this period

An entire army consisting of 12 bases, or elements, plus makeshift camp!

The heart of the army. The tribal warband

More early Germans from a different player's army

In my next post on this subject I will be taking a look at the first contacts between the Germanic tribes and the mighty Roman Empire. Until next time

Sunday, 26 June 2011

The Collectors Showcase: Brand New Tiger

For the most part, I'm going to let the pictures do the talking for this post. Suffice to say, when I took a look at the CS website last night and caught a glimpse of this, I very nearly wet myself with excitement!

CS have already produced one or two pieces depicting the infamous MW, but as far as I know this is the first time they have done so in this very popular 1/30th, or 60mm, scale

Having missed out on the K+C version produced a few years ago, and being an admirer of Wittmann's military exploits, this is quite simply a 'must have' for my collection. I've already emailed Dave over at TMT and asked him to contact me as soon as he has any more information

CS themselves say;

TCS is pleased to announce our latest and greatest Tiger I. This beast goes along with our now popular true 1/30th scale vehicle series. What best to go along with the new King Tiger just released but this fabulous 007 Michael Wittmann tank? We've out done ourselves and added a four figure Wittmann crew that can be posed on the vehicle ready for any Reich propaganda photographer to capture. This baby comes with the well known thrown track option and two crew. All hatches open and close on correct hinging and a winter version is also available

Wittmann's Tiger showing the now standard thrown track feature and the opening hatches

The additional crew figure set. NICE!

I particularly like the set pictured above, showing the entire crew of the most famous tank ever written about, relaxing in between epic encounters. More than that, I simply love the way they have chosen to include a sculpt of Wittmann sitting on the turret, a reproduction in metal of the iconic photograph which has appeared in countless books over the years

Indeed, said photograph has formed the basis of one of my own WW2 airsoft 'impressions'

Wittmann, of course, has been written about quite extensively and there's plenty of information out there for anyone sufficiently interested in finding out more about him, including a very informative and nicely put together website you might care to take a look at called 

Wittmann's career timeline and the major decorations awarded to him during the course of his service, both taken from the above mentioned reference site
So, there you have it. A cracking new model, and an accompanying figure set, from TCS, both of which I fully intend to add to my collection at the earliest opportunity. I leave you with a picture taken from the manufacturer's website showing both new releases in their full glory. Happy hunting!

Ares and Zeta Labs Join Forces

You may have picked up on this from browsing other sites like, for example, the excellent WW2 Airsoft site that has recently come into existence. If you don't know what I'm talking about, then read on

It seems that Ares have recently acquired Zeta Labs, the company behind the recently released spring powered replica of the Russian Mosin Nagant sniper rifle

As such, the two rifles pictured above are being added to their 'Classic Line' range of WW2 weapons which already includes the PPSH-41 and the soon to be released 'Grease Gun'

As Ares themselves say:

Welcome Zeta Lab to become a part of ARES Airsoft company. This is a great opportunity that ARES will gain more knowledge on special feature which Zeta Lab could bring to us, and product range will be extended under ARES's ownership

Ares have a reputation for quality [when I took my PPSH to Gunmunki last weekend to have the spring chopped down a little the whoops of delight were audible for miles!] so let's hope they are true to their word and they extend the Classic Line to bring us more 'must have' WW2 replicas like the ones already on the market

Airsoft Arms and Accessories: Latest Additions

In a few weeks time I hope to be taking part in a WW2 themed game at Fireball, my regular site, and a month later, on the 21st August, I'm due to play in a WW2 game at The Tunnels, A first and Only site in between Kidderminster and Stourbridge

I decided to splash out on some more kit for these two games and here are the first couple of items; a Type II camouflage smock, made in the USA by S&M Wholesale, and an unissued WW2 German field torch made by Pertrix

I won't need the torch for the first game but for the second I reckon it will be an essential part of my kit. I've played at The Tunnels a couple of times before and although large parts of the site are well lit, significant areas have been left purposely very dark. I've no idea how much benefit the WW2 torch will be, with its tiny 4.5volt bulb but, hey, hopefully it will look the part

A view of the inside of the torch showing the modern battery and repro label. As yet, I don't have any bulbs. The torch is supplied without them and I wasn't aware of that when I bought it. Thankfully, the supplier has kindly agreed to send me some post free!
Take a craft knife, or perhaps a sharp fingernail, to the piece of paper stuck over the contacts and with a little bit of bending into position, away you go

Torches like this were supplied to the army by a number of manufacturers, Pertrix and Daimon being perhaps the best known and most widely used. They came in a variety of models, all very similar in size, and mostly fitted with leather flaps [some on the top only, others at both ends] for hanging on a tunic or coat button, by far the most common method of carrying them

They were used for general purpose lighting and for signalling. They were usually fitted with two or three perspex filters in red and green [like this one] or red, green and blue as well as a quick-release button on the top for signalling in Morse code. Some models had apertures at the bottom, whilst others had hinged lids over the glass, to allow the ground directly underfoot to be lit

The smock, which you can see a little of in the above pictures, is a Type II Plane Tree print smock purchased from the same place as the torch, namely Soldier of Fortune. Made by S&M Wholesale in the US, it's a good quality reproduction of the real thing with a lace up neck, elasticated cuffs and waist, two skirt pockets with metal dish buttons and loops on the front, back and shoulders for fixing additional camouflage material to it should you wish to. It's also completely reversible with autumnal colours on the other side

It cost just under £100, plus P+P, so not inexpensive but cheaper than buying it direct from the US and cheaper, too, than going to somewhere like Panther-Store in Europe

The use of camouflage clothing such as this was surely one of the most innovative and pioneering aspects of Waffen SS uniform production. SS-VT units had started using smocks cut from cotton duck material and printed in camouflage patterns as early as 1938. Earlier versions didn't have the foliage loops and, rather than skirt pockets, had slash openings above the waistband which facilitated access to the tunic underneath

Details of the elasticated cuffs and waistband

The smock was originally intended to be worn over the top of the y-straps, ammunition pouches and other equipment, being loose fitting around the skirt to allow access to whatever was underneath. It was very common, however, for equipment to be worn over the top of the smock and very often the skirt was rolled up under the elasticated waistband to allow soldiers unimpeded access to the lower pockets of the tunic

Detail of the 'inside' of the pocket

Detail of the foliage loops to the front, rear and shoulder of the smock

One final shot of the author's purchase being worn over the top of a GD tunic
This reproduction smock comes in one size only, large enough to fit chests 42-48 according to the maker's information. I don't know about that but, as you can see from the picture above, it's plenty big enough to fit comfortably over the top of a woollen tunic without feeling in any way tight or constricting

So, two new purchases that I'm very happy with and would heartily recommend. Can't wait to get them out on the skirmish field. Until next time

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Airsoft: Tour of Duty - The Grange

On Saturday I took a trip over to Balsall Common, somewhere in between Solihull and Warwick, to take part in an open skirmish at The Grange, Gunman Airsoft's site in the Midlands and home of the AAF

If you've attended any of the AAFs then you will be familiar with the site, but in case you haven't I thought I'd post a little review of the day's gaming here

I've been there once before for gaming purposes and that was a good while ago when they were just getting the site off the ground and it was still quite open, with very little in the way of dense woodland cover. For someone used to playing regularly at Fireball, which is most definitely and unmistakably a woodland site, this felt a bit unusual and disconcerting at first

By comparison with the likes of the Fireball site, the field of play remains quite open but, as you can see from the picture below, the huge number of trees Jim and the others have planted are starting to come on now, and at this time of year there's masses of quite dense grassland dotted with barricades made from wooden crates, woven twigs and the like, which creates opportunities for some interesting game play

Some way to go yet before it becomes a wood, but you've got to start somewhere!
In addition to the fairly large expanses of relatively open ground there are a number of interesting and challenging areas on the site including; two towers and four buildings constructed within a compound of concrete walls, a fuel depot area with a couple of vehicles inside it, one or two slightly elevated bunker positions, a tree-lined trench with bunker positions on either side of it, an area of more mature trees with another trench and one or two wooden bridges nicknamed 'the nam' and a large built up area at the bottom of the site known as Chuffington village

So, did I miss my beloved Rhododendron woodland? Not a bit of it. I had a fantastic time, made all the better, as a matter of fact, because I didn't have to spend half an hour shaking a million tons of detritus out of every conceivable nook, cranny and crevice of my kit! Pictures of some of the above mentioned features can be seen on the company's website

The walk on fee was £25, no more expensive than many other sites, and cheaper than some. There was tea and coffee available throughout the day, as well as soft drinks from a fully functioning fridge, and water from fully functioning cold water taps! I'm not trying to be facetious here. Many airsoft sites provide players with little but the bare minimum of facilities and in this respect The Grange offers something a bit different

The tea, coffee and cold soft drinks had to be paid for, of course, [cold water was free and plentiful], as did lunch, but the prices were very reasonable and the selection was much better than at many sites I could mention. I had about three large mugs of coffee at 60p a time and a delicious bacon bap for lunch which cost me £1.70, cooked in a proper kitchen which is part of the site's original farmhouse, now serving as the office and centre of operations, and which I enjoyed in the relaxed atmosphere of the seating area pictured below

In addition, the safe zone area is a purpose built facility with tables and chairs, two showers, two flushing toilets like you would find at home, and three wash basins with soap dispensers, all of which, without wishing to sound too much like a girl, I thoroughly approve of! There is also a shop on site selling all sorts of stuff from BBs to AEGs [The Shop at The Grange] and a repair shop [Gunmunki]

So, your every need is more than adequately catered for, and I like that. Did I like the gaming? Hell yes! If I sound a little too enthusiastic, allow me to explain

The game was attended by just under 40 players ranging in age from about 12 to 50 plus. As it was Father's day, there were a handful of players taking advantage of the site's special offer for the day which was that if father and child both came along then dad got to play for free! Sadly, neither of my two children is old enough to enjoy spending the day at an airsoft site

The site organisers chrono all guns before each and every game, and then tag them with a small piece of electrical tape

You're then free to test them on the firing range!
We were all duly briefed in the purpose built safe zone, divided up into two teams, one wearing arm bands and the other not, and then thrown into a series of games, many of which were turn around affairs and all of which had very clear objectives and time limits, which in turn meant that at the end of every single game there was a clear winner and loser

We started gaming at just after 10.00, there was a break for lunch at about 1.15 which lasted for 45 minutes, and the gaming resumed at just after 2.00, finally finishing at gone 6.00, although I left at 5.30 so I could see the aforementioned kiddy winks before bed time! During that time we played five different types of game and, I'm delighted to say, the team I played with won all but one encounter

Players assembled just outside the safe zone before the start of play

The little guy in the full face skull mask was a real bundle of energy and played the game with great gusto and enthusiasm. What's more, he played for the whole day with a Hexagon PPSH 41. Mine is still in the Gunmunki workshop having its spring cut down! I was a bit jealous

The first game involved one team trying to place two satchel charges under each of the two wooden towers whilst the other team tried to stop them. The game lasted for 20 minutes and was then turned around. We successfully defended the towers, both of them, and when it was our turn to place the satchels and destroy the towers we managed to do that as well, with time to spare

Another of the games involved finding four objects placed at four different locations around the site and returning them to base. This game lasted 40 minutes and was again turned around at the end. The tagged team found two objects in 40 minutes whilst the team I was on found all four and returned them successfully to base in 13 minutes! By the way, the precise locations of the objects were changed during the change over!

Of course, winning isn't everything, and I can honestly say I reckon I would have enjoyed myself just as much had I been on the 'losing' side. What really made the day for me was firstly, the enthusiasm and fair play exhibited by all of the players taking part and secondly, the way the games were designed which meant that everyone knew exactly what they had to achieve and how long they had to achieve it

Thanks guys for a great day out. I'll be returning in a few days to collect my downgraded PPSH 41, and I'll certainly be back again soon for some more gaming

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Beau Geste Digest

Here's the latest information from the stylish Argentinians, some new releases for their Boxer Rebellion series, and a number of retirements from their XVIII century range

Italian infantry Jagers

Italian infantry Jagers, military band

I'd like to thank BG for emailing me the following interesting history of the Italians' involvement in China, along with a number of pictures which inspired these two sets

Even though Italian soldiers and sailors have served throughout the globe, it may come as a surprise to learn that Italians fought in China at the dawn of the twentieth century. A little over one-hundred years ago Italian servicemen, albeit in small numbers, were part of the international forces that fought the Chinese people and the Chinese Imperial Government in what became popularly known as the Boxer Rebellion

The rebellion was prompted by growing anti-foreign feelings among the Chinese people, exacerbated by a series of natural disasters. These anti-foreign feelings were generated by the activities of outsiders in China, including the work of Christian missionaries and a pattern of foreign governments seizing Chinese ports and territory. The anger of the Chinese people found expression in various secret societies, particularly the ‘I Ho Ch’uan’ (literally ‘Righteous Harmonious Fists’, a title which was transformed by westerners into the term ‘Boxers’)

By November of 1899, Boxers were attacking Christian missionaries and their Chinese converts throughout China. In January of 1900 the Italian legation joined with their American, British, French, and German counterparts to send identical protests demanding the suppression of the Boxers

Because Italy lacked territorial concessions in China, her Expeditionary Force had
no place of its own to disembark, nor any supplies waiting for them, so that they were forced to rely on help from the other allies. Various other deficiencies soon came to light. There was a shortage of doctors and hospital beds. Too few engineers had been included and more communications equipment was needed. Even uniforms were found to be inadequate; the Khaki summer uniforms made of linen
were not durable, so that they wore out quickly. Fortunately the troops had brought both their summer and dress uniforms, so with the approach of the winter of 1900-1901, they changed into their warmer blue uniforms
The Imperial Chinese government, headed by the Empress Dowager Tzu Hsi, was ambivalent towards the Boxers. On the one hand, previous dynasties had been threatened and even overthrown by such grass-roots organizations. On the other hand, the Boxers could provide a tool with which the government could threaten the foreign presence in China, while allowing the throne to deny official involvement

In the Spring of 1899, however, the Empress Dowager did not need the help of the Boxers to thwart Italy’s imperial designs in China. Italy’s goals were the same as all nineteenth century European (and Japanese) imperialists; to obtain sources of cheap raw materials for its growing industries at home and, in turn, overseas markets for the merchandise produced by these industries. To help secure these goals, Italy’s representative in China, Signor di Martino, demanded territorial concessions from the Imperial government. In particular Italy sought to obtain a lease on San Men Bay, located in Chekiang, one of only five remaining provinces which were not in the sphere of influence of a foreign power
Italy’s soldiers would need warmer clothing, as they accompanied other allied troops in punitive expeditions across the countryside. Armed with their 1891 model 6.5 Parravicino-Carcano rifles, the Italian troops must have seen their fair share of action (Bodin, p.34; Gooch, p.115. Keown-Boyd records that the Italian forces used both the Mannlicher Carcano 11mm and the Commission 8mm rifles, though this may have been the armament of the Italian sailors, as opposed to the arms of the soldiers of the Expeditionary Force). At this point in the war, the strategy of the allied commanders was to force the Chinese to the negotiating table by raiding the countryside, apprehending and executing any Boxers that they came across. It was not until 7 September, 1901, that the signing of the Peace Protocol of Peking officially ended the war, though the fighting had ceased long before
Admittedly, even if we include her Expeditionary Force, Italy supplied a very small fraction of the total allied forces that fought in the Boxer Rebellion. And her forces had more than their fair share of problems, some of which were out of her control, others which could have been avoided. But, overall, Italian servicemen displayed admirable courage in this conflict
by Paul V. Walsh
[ NOTE: This article first appeared in the pages of the now defunct AMICI NEL MONDO: Publication of theAssociation Militaria Italian Collectors International, Vol.XII, No.4 (July-August 2000), pp.15-20; Vol.XII, No.6 (November-December 2000), pp.4-9.] 

The company has announced that, although in the process of permanently retiring a number of its less popular ranges, it intends to retain the molds for all its military bands and will continue to produce them to order for as long as the existing molds remain usable

Speaking of retirements, the company is putting several [12 in all] 18th century sets out to pasture. You can see images of all of them below

As always, further details are available on the company's website. Happy hunting!