Tag Archives: review

Russian Civil War with Chain of Command

We had a quick and messy intro to the TooFatLardies’ Chain of Command/Through the Mud and the Blood WW1 hybrid today with my Russian Civil War figures. Chain is originally a WW2 platoon-level set of rules with some of the core rules based on the WW1 Mud & Blood rules we have been playing for several years, and in the December 2014 Christmas Special the Lardies closed the circle and provided an adaptation of Chain for the Great War, pulling rules out of M&B as needed to replace or supplement the basic Chain rules.

Our forces were as follows:
One short platoon of Bolshie Reds – four rifle sections of 7-10 men each, two Senior Leaders – who rolled hot for their Force Morale which was at 11 to start!

One short platoon of Whites, two Senior Leaders, three rifle sections of 7-10 men, 1 Maxim MMG with four crew, not as into this whole Civil War thing as the Reds with a Force Morale of only 8.

I hadn’t actually sat down to figure out the exact force balance on this particular force mix (TFL provide tools to do that, though) and we ignored the Support Points rules today and just ran with these basic forces, but it got us a good tight game with lots of back-and-forth until the White’s Force Morale collapsed to 0, so I think I was more or less right. Almost certainly too many Senior Leaders for either side at most stages of the RCW, but for an intro game I’m not fussed.

The first third of the game was all in the White’s favour; their Maxim deployed to fire down the village street and blotted out one Red rifle section single-handed, while two of the White rifle sections shot up, Pinned, and then close assaulted a Red rifle section that had pushed across main street and hunkered down in one of the hamlet’s houses but was isolated from any Red support.

The Whites had a string of dead Junior Leaders which pummelled their force morale, though, and pinned their Senior Leaders down acting as section commanders. The breaking point came when one White rifle section and the platoon Lt. launched a singledhanded close assault through the rear door of a house with a basically unsuppressed Red rifle section in it and got bashed all to hell, killing not a single Red and being thrown out into the open ground where irritated Reds quickly Pinned and then Routed them with close range rifle fire, killing the Lt in the process and routing the Whites with a FM of zero…

I’m absolutely certain we did a couple of things wrong, I know we missed rules and in some cases deliberately ignored them, but it was a good quick game and a great intro to CoC.

The Patrol Phase & Jump-Off Points are great, the Patrol Phase is much tenser and more tactical than the opening few moves of most games are, and JoPs mean less random wandering around the tabletop and more direct action!

The Command Dice mechanic isn’t as flavourful as M&B’s cards, but it’s quick and interesting, and often forces you to make difficult choices as to who to activate when. The actual Chain of Command Dice mechanic is also interesting but we didn’t use it much except to end the Turn and once to avoid a Force Morale check – there are more options for using Command Dice that we didn’t explore in this game.

I really like the fact that Chain has a Force Morale setup; sometimes in M&B it felt like you could feed men endlessly into the storm with just a bit of luck on clearing Suppression until everyone was dead. Not happening in Chain!

The actions/activations setup has been both clarified and expanded in Chain over M&B. Movement and fire, suppressive fire, and overwatch are all improved from M&B. The vehicle rules have had some expansion and clarification as well, especially with regards to Shock and vehicle morale.

For larger games, especially at conventions where I want to have two-four players per side I’ll probably stick with straight M&B, but for smaller games Chain/M&B (should we call it “Chain of Mud”?) is probably going to become my go-to system. I’m looking forward to more games and to getting to know the rules better!

Impudent Mortal Paint Rack

I first heard of Impudent Mortal when Richard of TooFatLardies used two of their buildings to build himself a very nice brewery for WW2 gaming. Rich got his through Minibits in the UK but it turns out Impudent Mortal is over on this side of “the Pond” down in the States.

I was interested in the universal brick look of the industrial buildings, which are the sort of Victorian/early-20th C brickwork you can find almost anywhere in the world right up to the present day, so I finally ordered a pair of brick buildings, a 6″x4″ rectangular building and a larger L-shaped building.

I also ordered one of their paint racks, the 66-bottle 3-level Reverse Eyedropper Paint Rack Extra Shelf, as most of my paint collection is Reaper Master Series in the very nice dropper bottles.

Communication from Walt at Impudent Mortal is fantastically quick and shipping is similar; everything arrived while I was away in northern Alberta then had to wait until I got back to the real world before I could do anything with it! Both buildings and the paint rack arrived tightly wrapped in heavy cling-wrap, the industrial version of your standard sandwich wrap, which kept all the components together very nicely inside the box.

I’ll get the buildings covered properly when I assemble them soon, but my first impression from dry-fitting the smaller building and then properly assembling the paint rack is that everything fits together easily and solidly. All the Impudent Mortal stuff is laser-cut from 3mm MDF, which will make for very solid buildings and a very solid paint rack.

Instead of shipping their stuff with instruction sheets IM has both videos and PDFs on their website, which has the advantage of giving you an idea of how everything fits together even before you buy it. The paint rack I bought is 14 pieces: two vertical sides, six shelf pieces, and the rest bracing at the backs of the shelves. Each shelf level has two pieces, the top piece with larger holes to hold the body of the dropper bottle, and the lower piece with smaller holes intended to hold the top of the lid of each dropper bottle.

Each level also has half a dozen smaller holes in each back corner, intended to hold brushes, sculpting tools, pencils or other small tools. That’s a useful way to use up the corners too small to tuck one more bottle into, but the lower pieces have holes in them too, which is odd – it means only the lowest shelf can actually be used to hold most things, because a brush or pencil put in one of the top shelf’s holes will just fall through. Leaving those corners of the lower pieces of each shelf pair solid would make them more usable.

Assembly was easy and quick and the fit was good. Lay one vertical side piece out, add all six shelf pieces with a bit of white glue, then drop the other side piece in and click everything together one shelf piece at a time. The various braces go on and keep everything square, and you’re done. Maybe ten minutes after I started I had the paint rack on my crowded painting bench and was loading paint into it!

paintrack
Workbench with new Impudent Mortal paint rack, 12 October 2014. Click for larger, as usual.

Making space for the new rack forced a badly-needed reorganization of my fairly small and very crowded painting bench. The small holes for paint brushes and tools will allow me to downsize the round white tin on the left to some sort of smaller container soon, now that files, pencils and such are tucked into the new rack, and the space-consuming clutter of overflow paint bottles from the homemade rack on the left is now nicely contained in the new rack. The shelves on this particular rack are far enough apart that you can fit GW or Tamiya paint pots between the top and bottom pairs of each shelf level, which is a nice bonus. You even have space to do that with a few pots per level when all the holes have dropper bottles in them – see the right-hand side of the middle shelf in the photo above!

The top shelf of the new rack will eventually hold my collection of acrylic artists inks that I use regularly on figures, but give the weight of those bottles I have had to leave them off until the glue had properly dried on the rack!

The IM racks are available in several different styles to fit different types of bottles; this one is about 12″ wide, 8″ deep and just under 12″ tall. Highly recommended and good value for money.

Hope everyone is having an excellent Canadian Thanksgiving long weekend, if you’re lucky enough to be a Canuck, or a good ordinary weekend if not!

28mm Pulp Baggage Review

Phil of Slug Industries (and Adventures in Wargaming, his personal blog) has recently released a set of 28mm pulp luggage. Cast in resin, you get six steamer trunks, four suitcases and three hatboxes, a nice selection to dress up any pulpish scene, provide objectives for your skulking players to try to locate, or just provide cover on a dock or train station platform!

This plethora of options is especially broad when you decide, as I did, to order three full sets of this luggage! Counting the three miscasts Phil threw into my order, I now have 42 individual pieces of baggage. Douglas Adams would have approved of this number, and so do I.

baggage
Thirteen pieces of baggage from 6mmPhil/Slug Industries. Scale provided by a Copplestone Bolshevik on the left and a Pulp Figures US Navy sailor on the right. The grid on the cutting mat is half-inch. Click for larger.

The baggage pieces are all cleanly cast in a light grey resin, and I didn’t see a single air bubble or miscast on my sets. The largest of the steamer trunks is just over waist high on a 28mm figure; the smallest hat box just slightly bigger than a typical 28mm figure’s head. Most of the flash rubbed off with my thumbnail; a couple of the smaller pieces had a bit of more solid flash around the bottom edge that needed a moment’s work with knife and sandpaper to deal with. Even two of the three “miscasts” I got with my order are perfectly usable, with just a bubble or two around the handles on the sides marking them as “miscasts” – I’ve paid full price for resin pieces with bigger casting flaws in the past!

The largest of the steamer trunks is 1.5″ long, 7/8″ wide and 3/4″ tall (37mm x 23mm x20mm); the smallest trunk on the far right of the photo above is 5/8″ x 1/2″ x 7/16″ (16mm x 12mm x 12mm).

I’m busy getting ready for the Trumpeter Salute convention in two weeks and contemplating a run at LAF’s Lead Painter’s League 7 which starts just after that, so I can’t promise I’ll have painted examples of this baggage to show off terribly soon, but I will get some of it done after Trumpeter and post pictures here. It should be fun to paint, the details are nice and crisp. Metal steamer trunks can come in a wide variety of colours, and battered, worn leather for most of the suitcases is also easy and fun to paint.

I should add, in closing, that Phil doesn’t currently have the luggage listed on his Slug Industries website, but purchase details can be found at this thread on LAF’s Bazaar forum. Everyone needs more baggage to haul around!

Book Review: Trench by Stephen Bull

Trench: A History of Trench Warfare on the Western Front by Stephen Bull. This is a joint publication by Osprey Publishing and the Imperial War Museum, so in addition to being well written it’s lavishly illustrated, with period photographs on every page (the Imperial War Museum being famous for it’s photograph archives), map reproductions, and Osprey’s well known illustrations where needed as well.

trench_cover
The cover of Trench.

Trench is a big coffee-table style book, full colour throughout. The 270-some pages are broken up into ten chapters; the first few are a roughly chronological look at the evolution of trenches in the early part of WW1. The rest are focused on one particular aspect of trench warfare — gas, patrolling, sniping, tanks and armoured vehicles, new weaponry, trench and bunker construction, the evolution of tactics, and so on.

Stephen Bull is well known, and he does well in Trench, with a mix of his own writing, some excerpts from Osprey publications, and frequent bits of period writing, often letters or diary entries from actual front-line soldiers, including translations of French and German material. There are also frequent short articles inside the book focusing on a specific battle or engagement, with discussion of the strategic and tactical significance of this particular engagement and maps, photographs or period writing specific to that engagement.

If you’re interested in the Western Front at all, especially as a subject for wargamers, get yourself a copy of Trench. It’s an excellent mix of written and visual resources; the captions to the various photographs and other visuals are especially well done, instead of being just an afterthought.

Trench: A History of Trench Warfare on the Western Front by Stephen Bull, © 2010 Osprey Publication, in association with the Imperial War Museum.

The Shortest Possible Review: A good introduction to the Western Front of WW1, especially strong on photographs and other visuals

Incidentally, as I write this (Jan. 2013) the Imperial War Museum London is in the middle of a massive renovation/rebuilding effort, which will (among other things) give them a completely rebuilt World War One exhibit before the 100th anniversary of the start of WW1 in 2014. They have a fascinating Transforming IWM London blog with lots of articles on what’s involved in renovating a large museum.

Renedra Generics Scenery Bits

A few weeks ago, I took advantage of J & M Miniatures’ offer of free shipping for all of December to order a few bits and pieces of Renedra’s injection-molded plastic bits and pieces.

Before I move on to my quick review of the Renedra stuff, I just have to give a quick shout-out to James of J & M. I was already following his great wargaming blog Rabbits In My Basement, so when he announced he and a friend were launching a web/mail-order wargaming business I checked the site out. He’s got all sorts of good stuff from Perry, Renedra, 4Ground, Plastic Soldier Company and other companies, and is (as far as I can tell) the sole Canadian seller of some of these ranges. Given that domestic shipping is cheaper and skips the expense and irritation of occasionally being dinged by the nice folks at Canada Customs, as well as the great customer service I’ve gotten so far from James, I think it’s safe to say that a reasonable portion of my hobby budget will be heading toward Ontario in the future!

Moving on to the Renedra bits, I ordered two packs of their Mixed Tents, two packs of Barrels, and one pack of Gravestones.

renedra-jan2013
Tents and barrels – all six tents from one of the Renedra sprues, the barrels assembled and unassembled. In the background, barrel sprues, figures and clutter! The cutting matt has a one inch/half inch grid, the figure is a 28mm Brigade Games White Russian priest.

The Mixed Tent sprue has two bell tents, two large ridge tents, and two small ones, each done with one open door and one closed tent. The bell tents are 2″ diameter (55mm) and 1 5/8th” tall (40mm); the ridge tents are 2 3/8ths long (60mm), 1 3/4″ wide (45mm) and 1 1/2″ tall (37mm), while the small ridge tents are 1 1/2″ long (37mm), 1 3/8″ wide (35mm) and 7/8″ high (20mm). They’re done in a medium grey plastic, and very solid – even the tents with open doors don’t flex much if you squeeze them a bit. These are nearly universal tents; you could put them (especially the two types of ridge tent) in nearly any historical setting and they’d fit right in. The bell tent is a bit more specific to the 19th and early 20th Century, but iconic in it’s time and place, up to World War Two or so, maybe later in some areas.

Filling the gaps between the tents on these sprues you get a nice campfire piece about 3/4″ across and two camp beds or stretchers with legs to hold them off the ground. Nice little bits of camp clutter to add detail and life to a camp scene on the tabletop, although the beds are going to need bases of some sort if they’re going to survive transport and use on the table.

I don’t generally base buildings, but I’ll likely base these tents. The ones with open doors especially will look better with a base, with a bit of canvas groundsheet visible in the door – the bell tent especially will have an especially visible interior when on the table, because of it’s design.

The Renedra barrel set has two sprues in brown plastic, one with five large barrels, the other with five small ones. As you can see from the photo above, each barrel half has one round end, which minimizes the visible seams on the completed barrels. Unfortunately, the side hoops don’t quite seem to perfectly align when you glue the halves together, but the tiny mismatch is really only visible when you’re handling the barrels and will be totally invisible on the table! These are an older style of barrel, with thin doubled hoops (wood, maybe?) instead of flatter metal hoops, so they’re more suitable for pre-modern gaming, but will work OK as clutter and freight on most pre-WW2 tables.

Finally, the Gravestone set has two identical sprues in grey plastic. Each has a variety of monument stones, all about 1″ tall and 1/2″ wide. You get 16 slab stones (one broken into two pieces), 4 crosses, a small column, a slab/vault topping, five bases that can fit a variety of the slabs and crosses, and finally a raven. These are all done in the same solid, strong grey plastic the tents are made from, more than strong enough for tabletop use. Two minor things bug me about this sprue, one being that only a few of the stones have any texture or detail on the backs; the rest are just smooth plastic without even a basic stone texture. Fixable with a bit of sandpaper, but still a detail that could easily have been fixed. The other is even more minor – after getting the excellent Ainsty gravestones with their readable, laser-engraved lettering and details the stylus-pushed-through-putty squiggles of these Renedra stones lettering and details does feel like a minor step backward. This is still a great set of grave markers, enough in one set for quite a large graveyard, and the raven is a neat, whimsical (or possibly gothic and ominous) touch!

The last thing in my J & M order wasn’t scenery, and wasn’t something I’d even ordered, but was (I assume) thrown in as a thank you gift from J & M – a very nice large suede dice bag, about 7″ wide and 9″ tall and bright red. My own dice are in a bag I hand-sewed myself nearly twenty years ago in junior high, but I think I’ll press the new bag into service to carry the collection of card decks, markers, tape measures and random gaming accessories that normally slops around loose in my backpack. It’s large enough for a couple of pencils, too.

An Ainsty Resin Order

In some ways, this smallish order of Ainsty resin scenery bits has been a decade in the making; I discovered Ainsty sometime in the very late 1990s or early 2000s, and even though I didn’t (at that point) do much in the way of skirmish gaming in 25/28mm, the huge variety of neat stuff Ainsty made stuck with me! So back in November I finally got around to throwing a bit of money Ainsty’s way, on a mix of scenic details that will see service in various pulp skirmish adventures, Russian Civil War battles, and who knows where else.

Here’s a quick late-night snapshot of what I got:

Ainsty resin order, Dec. 2012
Ainsty resin laid out for review. Click for full size.

General sculpting and casting quality is good and clean, although a number of the pieces have a slightly slick, greasy feel to the touch, almost certainly from the mold release used. A good scrub with dish soap and warm water should take care of that, and it should also help get rid of the last of the faint but definite smell of outgassing resin I got when I first unpacked the pieces from the small plastic bags each set was carefully packed in.

Clockwise from top left, here’s a quick review of what I got.

Top left is Trade Goods J Stacked Sacks, three each of four different roughly square sets of stacked sacks. They’re all about 1″ a side at the base, and the tallest stacks are just over 1″ tall. They’ll provide useful cover for docks and warehouses, although a bit more fabric texture on the sacks would have been nice.

Moving clockwise, I got two sets of Trade Goods B Tea Chests. This is described as 18 chests, but it’s really four stacks and three single tea chests. Again, useful cover, and like sacks, the sort of terrain bit that you could build yourself, but which can be fiddly and frustrating to mass-produce at home. I could definitely see throwing another set or two of these into any future Ainsty order; you can never have enough crates cluttering up warehouses in pulp games, especially if they’re in precarious, badly stacked piles just waiting to topple onto someone!

Bottom right we have Trade Goods L Mixed Piles x 4, which is a neat little set of crates, bales, barrels and sacks, up to about 3/4″ tall. This is pretty close to “universal cargo” for anytime from the early-mid 20th Century back at least four or five centuries. Each of the four piles is different, with two of mixed crates, sacks and other baggage, one pile of three canvas bales and one of three small-to-medium wooden barrels.

Moving clockwise once more to bottom centre, we have Mixed Memorials x4, which is a nice mix-and-match set of four bases and four tops for memorials or possibly fancy gateposts. The four base pieces are each different, with two of them having very fine (probably laser-etched?) lettering on the molded plaques on one face. The four top pieces are also each different, with two slightly different obelisk toppers and two lower pieces. One of the bases arrived with a minor chip off one corner, but given that full size monuments out in the real world get dings and chips too, I’m not going to worry about it. The tops of all the bases are finished, so you could even leave the toppers off for further variety. One of the low toppers has been sanded at a bit of a rakish angle on it’s bottom suface, but a few passes on sandpaper will correct that enough to be invisible.

At the centre of the group we have Upright Headstones x8, which are by far the most detailed pieces in my order. Each of the eight headstones is unique, and I’m almost certain they’ve been laser etched, as the lettering is actually completely readable despite being under 2mm tall. The headstones commemorate Kurt Cobain, Bella Lugosi, Gandhi, and others, including two with “A Soldier of the Great War/Known Unto God” on them, which is the wording used for unidentified soldiers buried in the Commonwealth Wargraves Commission’s cemeteries from World War One. My only minor complaint is the massive size of these headstones; the tallest is a full inch tall, or nearly shoulder height on a standing 28mm figure. There certainly are headstones this massive in real life, but memorial stones about 2/3rds this size seem a lot more common in most cemeteries I’ve seen. One of the stones had a tiny casting flaw in each side, but those will be easy to file into minor damage to the stone and won’t be an issue.

Finally, bottom left we have Trade Goods K Rifle Cases x5, with two closed and three open wooden crates holding rifles. One of the seperate crate lids has a rifle resting on it; the open crates show one or two rifles each and the greased cloth that would have been used as packing to preserve and secure the rifles. Everyone always needs more guns (well, in games, anyway), so I suspect these are going to get a lot of use in all sorts of scenarios, as loot or as objective markers of sorts. The detail is very nice on this set, with good wood grain in the crates and enough detail in the rifles to make it obvious what they are. These crates would be suitable from about the mid-19th Century up to modern day, depending on where your adventure was set.

I will definitely put another order in to Ainsty at least once in 2013, after I get this current order all painted up. Shipping time from the UK to Canada was fast, although Ainsty obviously does a lot of it’s casting to order, as there was a delay of about three weeks (November 17th to December 10th) between placement and shipping of my order. The usual fast Royal Mail-Canada Post connection worked nicely in my favour, as it usually does, though, so overall order time was entirely reasonable.

More (with better photos!) as I paint up and finish all the various bits I’ve just acquired!

(oh, and in honour of this being published on December 21st 2012: If you can read this, congratulations, the Mayan Apocalypse never happened. What a surprise…)

Two New Books: Britmis & The Great War on the Western Front

My most recent order from Naval & Military Press showed up this week; just over three weeks enroute isn’t bad for surface shipping from the UK to western Canada.

This time I got Britmis: A Great Adventure of the War and The Great War on the Western Front: A Short History.

Britmis is an NMP republication of Major Phelps Hodges’ memoir of his participation in the British military mission to Siberia during the Russian Civil War and subsequent escape through the Gobi Desert to China when the Russian Civil War started going very badly. It has the gloriously Edwardian sub-sub-title “Being an account of Allied intervention in Siberia and of an escape across the Gobi to Peking”, and in addition to being interested in the Russian Civil War generally, I’m a sucker for any book with sub-sub-titles or chapter sub-titles that start with “Being an account…”, so I expect Britmis to be a fun read.

It’s a chunky little trade paperback, 365 pages or so and includes photographs taken by the author during his adventures. I read Beasts, Men and Gods in e-book a while ago, and Britmis looks to have a lot of the same flavour and interest!

The Great War on the Western Front by Paddy Griffith is one of the standard modern texts on the Great War, “revisionist” in the best sense as Griffith works away at the old myths that the Western Front was nothing but pointless slaughter and stupidity. I won’t be getting to this one for a while, but NMP had it on sale at an absurd discount (their regular price is pretty good too, mind you!) so I couldn’t pass up the chance to add this one to my library.

Book Review: The White Armies of Russia

The White Armies of Russia: A Chronicle of Counter-Revolution and Allied Intervention by George Stewart is another modern reprint from Naval & Military Press, and was part of the same order I made to NMP back in April 2012. I’ve been reading it in fits and starts in between other books, but finally settled down to actually finish it about ten days ago.

“Brutality made Bolsheviks where none had been before.”

—p.288, White Armies

White Armies was originally published in 1933, so it’s not a modern book, but it is still one of the touchstone pieces of Russian Civil War history in English. When I asked about this book over on the TooFatLardies mailing list, Richard of TFL mentioned paying quite a lot of money for an original edition a few years ago and being happy to pay it, but thankfully these days NMP’s facsimile edition is available relatively cheaply. The book is 470 pages or so, paperback, and seems solidly bound. The original photographs and maps are included, although quality of these (as NMP warns for all their facsimile editions) is not quite up to modern standards. This is especially frustrating on the maps, which are numerous and were apparently most drawn by the author or commissioned by him for the book. Many of the reprinted maps have a lot of barely readable tiny print, though, which makes them hard to use. That aside, in a conflict as sprawling as the RCW, it’s nice to have any sort of map to try to follow the action with!

White Armies of Russia. Book cover image from Naval & Military Press.

The book is focused, as the title implies, almost exclusively on the actions and personalities of the White movement(s) in Russia, and on the various non-Russian groups that interacted with them — primarily the Czech Legions and the British, American, French and Japanese interventionist forces. Stewart has an obvious distaste for Bolshevism, but he pulls no punches describing the corruption, brutality and ultimate failure of the Whites.

The book is laid out roughly chronologically, starting with the first (February) Revolution and the beginnings of the counter-revolutionary movements and moving on from there. Each chronological section has, generally, a chapter on each of the main theatres of the RCW (Murmansk/Archangel/the North, the North-West, the Southern/Ukraine/Crimean, and Siberia, broadly speaking). This book design does make following a single theatre all the way through the war a bit of an exercise in hopping around in the book, but it’s hard to see how to avoid either chronological or geographic dislocation when attempting to tell the story of the entire RCW in one book.

The White Armies of Russia by George Stewart. 2009 NMP reprint, original publication 1933. £16.00 at NMP, less if you get it during one of their regular sales.

The Shortest Possible Review: One of the classic histories of the White movement during the RCW, and still a good single-volume history decades after it was written.

Given how focused White Armies is on the White experience, I’d be curious to hear recommendations from readers on a similar book focused on the Bolsheviks and Red Army, to fill in the gaps, so to speak. Suggestions in the comments, please!

Book Review: Gone To Russia To Fight

The international intervention into the Russian Civil War — basically, the Western Entente (Allies) attempting to first keep Russia in the fight against Germany, and then to defeat the Bolsheviks and assist the anti-Bolshevik Whites — is not an area that gets a lot of attention, being overlooked as a sideshow both to the Great War and even to the larger Russian Civil War. Gone To Russia To Fight: The RAF in South Russia 1918-1920 is a look at a unique (and even more overlooked…) piece of that sideshow: the involvement of a couple of Royal Air Force squadrons in Southern Russia and the Caucasus/trans-Caucasus/Caspian Sea area during the Russian Civil War.

“Very little has been written about the RAF in south Russia and much of what has been written has been inaccurate. Several myths have been accepted as truths and written into the histories. This book is an attempt to set the record straight by going back, where possible, to the primary sources.”

— Introduction, Gone to Russia To Fight

The book opens with a couple of chapters giving a brief overview of the entire Russian Civil War, the background to sending the RAF and other forces into Russia, and the adventures of Dunsterforce around the Caspian early in the RCW, then goes through the entire RAF deployment one month per chapter. The author, John T. Smith, goes right back to squadron diaries and both published and unpublished memoirs for his material, in several cases pointing out where previous popular histories (or even published memoirs) clash with the squadron diary records and are likely or even provably incorrect.

One unexpected connection to local Canadian history I learned through this book: Raymond Collishaw, a fairly well known RAF WW1 ace who was born in the same region of Canada I live in, was one of the RAF officers in charge of the South Russia expedition. Our very own local connection to the events of this book — who knew?

cover-gonetorussia
Cover of Gone To Russia To Fight.

The book has some neat period photographs from a variety of archives, including some fished out of the Russian archives in recent years. The writing is clear and readable, although Smith’s writing style, especially in the first few chapters, is staccato and choppy at times, with lots of short sentences, sometimes to the point where it seems like a grade-school textbook instead of an adult history book. The one major disappointment are the maps. There are only four in the whole book, none of which adequately cover the area discussed in the text. The detail map of one harbour on the Caspian repeatedly attacked by the RAF forces seems kind of pointless, given that a clear, full-page annotated aerial photograph is also included. Given the unfamiliarity of the theatre, the sometimes difficult Russian place names, and the fact that many place names have changed in the intervening 90-some years (making modern atlases or Google Maps unreliable), a few good detailed maps would have been a huge help.

The maps aside, this is an interesting and clearly written look at an oft-forgotten theatre, and Smith does a great job of going right back to primary documents to provide the clearest possible narrative of events 90+ years ago.

Gone to Russia To Fight: The RAF in South Russia 1918-1920 by John T. Smith, published 2010 by Amberley Press. £5.95 from Naval & Military Press. (normally £14.99, no idea how long the discount from NMP will last, but grab it while you can!)

The Shortest Possible Review: A fascinating look at an overlooked piece of RAF history, and a unique perspective on the Russian Civil War.

As a wargamer, I’m now fighting the urge to get some aircraft and some river boats and barges to try and recreate some of the actions from Gone to Russia. Maybe the 1/600 RCW ships from PT Dockyard and some 1/600 WW1 aircraft from Tumbling Dice or elsewhere? Must resist, not got the time or budget right now for a new scale!

Book Review: Notes for Infantry Officers on Trench Warfare

“The importance assumed by trench warfare… have rendered necessary special instructions in the details of trench construction and trench fighting.” — Ch1:1, Notes

This is a modern facsimile reprint of an official 1916 British War Office publication, published by Naval & Military Press. You can find scanned PDF versions of this document online, but I took advantage of NMP’s Easter sale to get a printed version very, very cheaply. It’s a small paperback, roughly 7″x5″ and 78 pages long. (I talked about my experience ordering from NMP previously.)

It was compiled by the British General Staff in March 1916 as a training and reference guide for, as the title says, officers in the trenches of the Western Front. The five chapters comprise an introduction, a long chapter on the construction and maintenance of trenches, the daily routine of trench warfare, defending trenches, and finally the attack in trench warfare. The book finishes off with a couple of appendices, thirty-five diagrams, and a short index.

notestrench
Cover of NMP’s reprint of “Notes for Infantry Officers on Trench Warfare” of 1916.


The writers repeatedly remind the reader that trench warfare is “only a phase of operations“, and that “(t)he aim of trench fighting is, therefore, to create a favourable situation for field operations, which the troops must be capable of turning to account.” While this is technically true, it took until the last few months of the war in late 1918 to come true, and remember that Notes was published in March of 1916 — that trench-bound “phase of operations” lasted nearly two and a half years…

From a wargamer’s point of view, there are two major ways that books like this are valuable. The first is for period flavour and scenario inspiration; something as simple as knowing how a trench network was laid out or the basics of how it could be attacked or defended can inspire a scenario. Small details like the note in the appendix on communication on not routinely taking field telephones right up to the forwardmost trenches, lest the trench be rushed and the enemy able to tap into the field telephone network without anyone being the wiser back at headquarters could inspire quite detailed trench-raid scenarios, with more detailed and more interesting objectives than simply “kill the other guy”.

trenchdiagram
Sample illustration from Notes, showing part of a basic front line and support trench setup.


The second (and related, of course) way this type of book is useful to wargamers comes mostly in those 35 or so diagrams in the back of this little booklet. If you’re considering building trench scenery or fieldworks of any sort, knowing the “standard” ways the British Army expected things to be done is obviously valuable. The diagrams cover frontline, support, and communication trenches, various sorts of dugouts, several types of machine-gun nest, wire and obstacles, and more. If you’re going to pull a Roundwood and build up a bunch of trench boards, this inexpensive little booklet could be a valuable starting point.

Notes for Infantry Officers on Trench Warfare, (British) War Office, 1916, reprinted by Naval & Military Press. £7.50

The Shortest Possible Review: If you want a basic WW1 Western Front reference, get this.

Note that there is also a May 1917 version of this booklet, with exactly the same title, but printed by the American War Department as they geared up to finally join the Great War. As far as I can tell the text is largely identical to the earlier British edition discussed above, but the value of the later American version is the hugely expanded number of diagrams in the back. The book has gone up to about 160 pages from 75 or so, and a huge amount of that is new diagrams. You can download a good, complete PDF of the War Department version over on the US Army’s Combined Arms Research Library website – Notes for Infantry Officers on Trench Warfare 1917. To get the PDF version easily, use the blue “Download” button on the far right-hand side of the screen.