Spanish Civil War: Day-by-Day: 24th July – 18th November 1938


To relieve pressure on the Madrid defences and to divert Nationalist forces from their offensive towards Valencia, the Republic ordered General Juan Modesto to launch an offensive across the River Ebro. The attack, which was made by the newly formed Republican Army of the Ebro, forced the Nationalists, who were led by General Juan Yague, to retreat. In its initial phase the offensive was very successful, and on some parts of the front the attackers managed to advance up to 25 miles. The attack then began to lose impetus and the Republican forces began to dig in to await the Nationalist counter-attack. Superior use of air power and relentless attacks on the ground gradually forced the Republicans to retreat. This culminated, on 30th October, in a massive Nationalist attack and by 18th November the Republicans had been forced back across the River Ebro.

Spain at the end of July 1938. The red areas are under Republican control whilst the blue areas are under Nationalist control.

Out of the Shed: A load of model aircraft kits … and other sundry models

In a recent blog entry I mentioned finding a crate that contained a large number of unmade 1:1200th-scale model warship kits. I also mentioned that the same crate contained a number of other unmade kits. What I didn’t state was what sort of model kits they were.

In fact the majority of the unmade model kits in the crate were 1:144th-scale aircraft, including:

  • 5 x Revell Sea Harrier Fighters
  • 7 x Fujumi Lynx Anti-submarine Helicopters
  • 5 x Revell Bf-109E Fighters
  • 1 x Revell FW-190A Fighter
  • 5 x Revell Ju-87 Diver Bombers
  • 3 x Revell Ju-88 Bombers
  • 3 x Academy Minicraft He-111 Bombers
  • 2 x Academy Minicraft North American P-51D Mustang Fighters
  • 1 x Academy Minicraft Lockheed P-38J Lightning Fighter
  • 2 x Academy Minicraft Grumman TBF-1 Avenger Torpedo-Bomber
  • 1 x Academy Minicraft Martin B-26B Marauder Medium Bomber
  • 1 x Crown Nakajima C6N1 Fighter

An interesting and somewhat eclectic mixture of aircraft types! I seem to remember buying the Sea Harriers and the Lynxs to go aboard a model aircraft carrier that I later passed on to Chris Kemp. The rest were bought to supply air support for my Megablitz armies … but somehow never progressed beyond being bought.

There was a single 1:87th-scale model aircraft in the crate, a ROCO Minitanks Ju-52. I saw this in a shop and just had to buy it. All I need now is a game to use it in. (I can hear the theme tune of WHERE EAGLES DARE in my head as I write this!)

The other kits in the crate were all of ships, including:

  • 2 x Heller Potemkin Pre-Dreadnought Battleships
  • 2 x Noch HO-scale Tugs
  • 1 x Noch HO-scale Motorised Barge
  • 3 x Noch HO-scale Dumb Barges

This is enough ships to mount a bath-tubbed version of Operation Sealion … with added off-shore gunfire support!

A cheap bunker/pillbox

During a recent visit to a local craft shop I saw some ready-made balsa wood/basswood hexagonal boxes on sale for £1.25. I had previously bought some slightly smaller versions with the intention of using them as the basis for some nineteenth century fortifications, but the larger ones looked ideal subjects for conversion into concrete bunkers or pillboxes that I could use with my 20mm-scale figures. I bought two of the boxes, and over the past few days I have been converting them.

The first thing I did was to remove the hinges that held the top and bottom halves of the box together.

I then set the tops of the boxes to one side and marked the position of the weapon slits on each face of the lower half of the box.

I carefully made vertical cut in each face of the box down to the line I had drawn around each box. I then used a craft knife to gently cut along the line between the two cuts on each face of the box. The thin gap that was created allowed then me to use the tip of the knife to gently prise out the wood between the vertical cuts. Once that was down each of the ‘slits’ in the faces of the hexagon was tidied up and sanded.

As I wanted to use the tops of the boxes to form the roofs of the bunkers/pillboxes I needed to make sure that they would not fall off during a wargame. I therefore glued pieces of matchstick in the corner of the bottom halves of each box, making sure that the pieces of matchstick projected slightly above the top of the box sides.

Once the glue was dry I checked that the tops of the boxes fitted snugly onto the bottoms. I then sealed the wood using two coats of PVA glue, making sure that first coat was properly dry before the next was added.

The bunkers/pillboxes were then undercoated before being painted light grey.

I’ve always wanted a copy … so when I saw one, I had to buy it!

Sometimes books are published that just as well might have ‘BUY ME!’ in big letter on them … and sometimes we don’t, and regret it for ever afterwards.

BRITISH TANKS AND FIGHTING VEHICLES 1914-1945 (by B.T.White) is one of those books. When it was published by Ian Allan in 1970 I saw it on sale in a local bookshop and almost bought a copy … but for some reason that I cannot now remember, I didn’t. I did borrow it a couple of times from the library, and enjoyed reading it. I also regretted not buying a copy when I could, especially as I was about to become a student and was – like all students – perennially short of funds from then on.

Even when I had finished college my financial situation did not improve much. My pay as a teacher was not very good for the first few years of my career, and by the time I had enough money to begin indulging my book buying bug, the book was no longer available.

During one of my periodic visits to the nearby Falconwood Transport and Military Bookshop (5 Falconwood Parade, The Green, Welling, Kent, DA16 2PL) I happened to see that they had a near-pristine copy of the book on sale … so I bought it!

The book is as good as I remember it being and – more importantly – it fills a gap in my collection of Ian Allan military books.

A book that I once thought was rubbish has now been re-published … and is much improved!

During my life as a wargamer I have bought almost any and every book I have found about wargaming. Almost without exception I have enjoyed them, but one stands out as being one that I thought was truly awful … Donald Featherstone’s COMPLETE WARGAMING.

Now before I start to get all sorts of comments about my audacity to state that I thought that Don Featherstone actually wrote something that was not very good, may I quote from John Curry‘s foreword to the recently republished – and heavily revised – edition of the book.

As with many of Donald Featherstone’s books, there is a story behind the book. The first edition of Complete Wargaming in 1988 was an editorial shambles. The publishers wanted another wargaming book on their lists and so they turned to the author in British wargaming, who duly assembled some wargaming material that had not been used in his previous works. The publishers turned over the material to an editor who obviously knew nothing about wargaming and apparently nothing about history. The ideas, scenarios, rules and historical pieces were assembled into a random sequence that was based on efficient use of the page count; such as putting smaller pieces into the margins of the book wherever they fitted. Unfortunately, the lively correspondence between the author and the publisher as a consequence of this editing has not survived the passage of time. At some point, Donald Featherstone decided it was better to let the publisher get the book into print, ‘wargamers, being a group of above average in intelligence and endeavour, would uncover the pieces of immediacy and use them.’ Upon reflection, this was probably the correct view.

Thanks to the work of John Curry – ably assisted by Arthur Harman – the book has now been completely restructured into a logical sequence … and is much better as a result. I know, because I have now bought a copy!

The book is now organised into three sections, with each section having separate chapters.

  • Section 1: reflections on Wargaming
    • Chapter 1: Wargaming for Real
    • Chapter 2: Rules – A Necessary Evil
    • Chapter 3: Planning a Wargame
    • Chapter 4: Fighting in Built Up Areas: A Desirable Wargaming Residence
    • Chapter 5: Weather in Wargaming
    • Chapter 6: Treachery: Double-dealing on the Wargames Table
    • Chapter 7: Civilians in Wargaming
    • Chapter 8: the Fog of War
    • Chapter 9: Surrendering and Prisoners-of-War
    • Chapter 10: Tabletop Terrain
    • Chapter 11: Forming a Club
  • Section 2: Historical Scenarios and Notes
    • Chapter 12: Early Wheeled Warfare – Chariots of the Ancients
    • Chapter 13: The first battle of All Time – Qadesh
    • Chapter 14: Ancient Warfare: Cynoscephelae (197 BC), the Roman Legion, the Roman Civil War and Boudicca’s Revolt
    • Chapter 15: Ponderous Pachyderms – Rules for Elephants
    • Chapter 16: The Incomparable English Archer, the Forerunner of the English Infantryman
    • Chapter 17: They Fought for Gold! Mercenaries of the Middle Ages
    • Chapter 17: Wargaming The Thirty Years War (N.B. For some reason there are TWO Chapter 17s in my copy!)
    • Chapter 18: Formal Warfare of the 18th century
    • Chapter 19: War of The American Revolution
    • Chapter 20; Wellington in the Peninsular
    • Chapter 21: The American Civil War – Instant Wargaming
    • Chapter 22: The Sands of The Desert …
    • Chapter 23: Great-Grandfather’s War – The Boer War 1899-1902
    • Chapter 24: They Came in Like Great Birds …! The Storming of Eben Emael 1940
    • Chapter 25: Pure War – Tanks in the Desert 1940-42
    • Chapter 26: They came From the Sea – Commando Raids – Saint Nazaire
    • Chapter 27: A Battle For All Seasons – Auberoche
  • Section 3: Reference

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book … which is – to all intents and purposes – a new one rather than a merely revised and re-edited one. Its details are as follows:

DONALD FEATHERSTONE’S COMPLETE WARGAMING Revised Edition.Written by Donald Featherstone, edited by John Curry, and published by The History of Wargaming Project (2012)ISBN 978 1 291 03476 9

Matchless Motorcycle identified

I mentioned in my blog entry about our recent visit to the Military and Flying Machines Show that I had seen an example of a Matchless motorcycle that was built in Plumstead … which is near to where we live.

Since then Neil Fox (who I have known since we both took part in the famous Madasahatta Campaign back in the early 1980s) has been in contact with some further information. Neil’s father is a member of the AJS & Matchless Owner Club, and he was able to identify the particular motorbike model. It is a model G80CS, dating from the mid 1960’s, and it was designed for off-road use as well as day-to-day riding. It is powered by a BSA 500cc engine of the same type used in the contemporary BSA GoldStar, and it was regarded as being one of the fastest motorbikes you could buy at that time.

Neil’s father also pointed out that Steve McQueen thought very highly of the AMC machines (Associated Motor Cycles (AMC) was formed in 1938, and was the parent company for Matchless and AJS motorcycles), and used them in contemporary off-road competitions in the USA.

Note: In the film THE GREAT ESCAPE Steve McQueen rode another British-built motorcycle – a Triumph TT Special 650 – that was made to look as much like a German motorcycle as possible.

The adventures of Tintin

I have always been a fan of Hergé’s TINTIN stories, and when Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson produced a motion-capture film based on three of the books – THE CRAB WITH THE GOLDEN CLAWS, THE SECRET OF THE UNICORN, and RED RACKHAM’S TREASURE – I looked forward to seeing it when it was released. For a variety of reasons this never happened, and until today I had never seen the film.

When I saw a DVD copy of the film on sale for £3.00 in a local supermarket I bought it and I have now had the chance to watch it … and I have thoroughly enjoyed it.

I understand that at least one sequel is planned, and if they are made I will certainly go to see them!

Out of the Shed: A Triang Minic task force … and friends

My first 1:1200th-scale warships were all metal die-casts made by Triang, and I found them when I was sorting through the crates that were stored in our now-defunct shed.

This ‘task force’ comprised three Centaur-class Aircraft Carriers, two Superb-class Cruisers, and three Daring-class Destroyers.

At some point I tried to repaint the last five ships, but this new paint job does not seem to have withstood the trials and tribulations of storage very well.

I also found some plastic America warships that were used to increase the size of the ‘task force’. These appear to be a Forrest Sherman-class Destroyer that is missing its aft funnel, a Fletcher-class destroyer, and a Destroyer Escort.

None of these ships fits in very well with my current 1:1200th-scale wargames fleet, but they could easily find a place in a post-War Cold War fleet.

I have been to … Lullingstone Roman Villa

Sue and I recently paid a visit to Lullingstone Roman Villa, near the village of Eynsford in Kent.

The villa was built during the Roman occupation of Britain, and it is believed that its construction began at some point towards the end of the first century AD. The site was occupied until the fifth century, when it was destroyed by fire, and in the intervening period it underwent several periods of expansion and rebuilding.

The first remains of the building were re-discovered in 1750 when some workers who were erecting a fence dug post holes through a mosaic floor, and further evidence was revealed in 1939 when a large tree was blown down and its roots unearthed fragments of mosaic tiles. A large-scale archaeological dig took place from 1949 to 1961, and resulted in several major discoveries, the most important of which was probably the Chi-Rho fresco, which contains the only known Christian painting in Great Britain that dates from the Roman era.

The remains of the villa are housed in a specially built building that allows visitors to see the villa’s layout very clearly.

A model of the villa as it would have looked towards the end of the Roman occupation of Great Britain.

Many of the artifacts found during the excavation of the site are displayed in glass cabinets …

… and in reconstructions of parts the interior of the villa.

The remains of two human burials are also on display. The adult body was encased in a lead coffin, the top of which is decorated with scallop shells …

… but the child’s body seems to have been interred without any semblance of a proper or religious burial.

The floor mosaic was very impressive.

The part of the mosaic which was on the floor of the villa’s dining room depicts the ‘Rape of Europa’ when the god Jupiter – disguised as a bull – abducted the Princess Europa.

The other part of the mosaic is in the adjacent audience room, and show Bellerophon killing the Chimera. The scene is surrounded by images of four dolphins (which might represent Neptune or Christ) and two scallop shells.

The site is now maintained and managed by English Heritage.

I have been to … Eynsford Castle

On the same day that we visited Lullingstone Roman Villa, Sue and I also visited the nearby Eynsford Castle.

The castle was built in period 1085 to 1088 from local squared flint, and was occupied until the fourteenth century, when is was ransacked and subsequently left to decay. It does not appear to have undergone any major re-building during its occupation, and its layout remained unchanged.

The walls are near four feet thick when built were approximately forty feet in height. The walls follow a rather irregular plan (almost the shape of squashed Norman kite-shaped shield) …

Please click on the image to enlarge it.

… and the area within is approximately three quarters of an acre. In the centre of the castle is the remains of a hall. The castle was originally surrounded by a wet moat, which was probably filled from the nearby River Darent.

The entrance to Eynsford Castle

The walls of the Castle

The three large holes in the wall were the location of the garderobes (i.e. the latrines).

The remains of the Castle’s Hall

The Eynsford Castle site is currently maintained by English Heritage.