Monday, November 21, 2011

My Mississippi Project: Scenario One-The Battle of Chickasaw Bluffs

After a week away from the paint brush and chain, I've begun thinking about potential game topics for my Mississippi project.  One that came to mind first was the American effort to chase the Spanish out of the fortifications they were building on the east bank of the Mississippi River prior to the Louisiana Purchase (1803.) One such place was at Chickasaw Bluffs, built on a promontory at the mouth of the Yazoo River.  It was intended to command the river and control approaches to New Orleans.

I was considering a fairly terrain heavy game with some interesting game pieces.  Because the Spanish allied themselves with the Chickasaw, I am thinking about a Chickasaw village and stockade.  This reconstruction of an early 18th century village will help guide my thinking.

I generally avoid terrain-heavy games.  I know it adds a lot to the scenario, but my chief objection is the problem it creates in storage.  Even so I'm willing to take on the travails of building and tucking away the stockade, buildings and cornfields, the earthworks and encampments because it will look cool.

I've been giving some thought to the scenario itself.  The Americans will have five or so units of regulars and eight to ten units of militia troops, with artillery.  Maybe one unit of light dragoons or mounted riflemen, and some artillery  They'll be able to split their units between a direct land assault on the Chickasaw fortification and an amphibious assault with five or six units on up the bluffs on the Spanish artillery position.

The Spanish will defend with a unit of mounted cuera militia, three units of dismounted militia, and eight to ten units of Chickasaw warrior allies, plus some artillery.

Play it all on a 16 X 5 table.  It should work.  How much do I have to paint?  Not that much actually.  The Indians are already done, as are almost all the Spanish.  I need guns and gunners for both sides and the Americans are a ways away from being finished.  Plenty of time, however, to allow me to concentrate on building the terrain pieces.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

From the Bookshelf: Midway and Guadalcanal

The primary activity that lured me into miniature wargaming was the reading I did as a kid.  Growing up in the 1960's, was a golden age for books about WWII and I read a lot of them.  That war seemed just a stones throw away.  The TV shows Combat and Twelve O'Clock High were drama staples.  Several of my friends had fathers who were WWII combat veterans.  And we were getting just far away from the war that we could laugh with McHale's Navy and Hogan's Heroes.

I was reading the abridged Official Marine Corps History of World War II, Incredible Victory by Walter Lord, and Midway: The Battle that Doomed Japan by Mitsuo Fuchida.  These were books that revealed the disasters and triumphs of Japan and America in the Pacific and opened my eyes to the suffering and struggle of those who fought there.  Oops, left out The Two Ocean War by Samuel Eliot Morrison.  I read my little paperback so many times, it literally fell apart.

Forty years later and there are generations of new books about those same campaigns and battles, seen with new information and fresh eyes.  Neither of the books I'm about to recommend are brand new, hot off the shelf.  The Shattered Sword:  The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway was published in 2005, but does offer a completely different version of Midway than was told before.  James Hornfischer's book, Neptune's Inferno is new this year.  It's not so much that the story hasn't been told, it's the quality of the telling that makes it such a great read.

Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully's Shattered Sword is a remarkable analysis of the June 1942 carrier victory that halted Japanese expansion in the Central Pacific.  It is an interesting revision of the story that's always been told.  Parshall and Tully systematically dismantle old perceptions of the battle based, largely, on Fuchida's book, written in the 50's. Together, they submit a picture of the battle that is very Keeganesque in its approach.  In their analysis of the Japanese battle plan and its execution they examine philosophy, doctrine, and decision-making as well as a step by step look at the "battle piece."  If you read military history for analysis of those decisions, this is the book for you.

Without giving too much away, Parshall and Tully deconstruct the Fuchida story, suggesting the Japanese battle plan went way past the "victory disease" affliction he and others have attributed to Yamamoto and other planners.  He further suggests that the Americans, with their sizable air corps on unsinkable Midway Island, combined with their three carrier aircraft outnumbered the Japanese planes available.  Yamamoto's failure to include all six fleet carriers in his attack was a major failing.  Deconstructing the battle moment, by moment, they state Fuchida's contention the Japanese flight decks were full of armed planes at the time of the American attack was a fiction, that they were being armed below decks in the hangars, and were not "spotted" or being rushed to the flight deck for launch.  They devote much time at the end of the book to point fingers, and there are plenty to go around Japanese and American.  Very readable and very interesting.

Yesterday I finished reading James Hornfischer's most recent book, Neptune's Inferno.  Focused on the naval actions at Guadalcanal, the book has earned mixed reviews for offering little new on the topic.  Hornfischer's previous books were Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors, on the Battle off Samar at Leyte Gulf, and Ship of Ghosts on the U.S.S. Houston.  Last Stand is one of the best books I've ever read, period.

In Neptune's Inferno, Hornfischer takes on a more expansive topic, focusing on the six month naval campaign to supply and support the Marines on Guadalcanal.  From the planning to the actions at Savo Island, the East Solomons battle, Cape Esperance, Santa Cruz, the night actions of Nov. 12-14th, and the disaster at Tassafronga, Hornfischer paints a gruesome picture of war at sea.  From both a sailor's view, and from a commander's eye, we get a look inside this desperate struggle in the Pacific as the United States wrested naval dominance from the Japanese at a terrible cost.

As a casual reader of World War II topics, I learned a lot.  The real strength of this book, however, is Hornfischer's gift for narration.  Regardless whether there is lots new here or not, the author's storytelling ability helps the reader understand the subject in bolder relief than before.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Week from hell at an end?

Some weeks are just harder than others.  Three weeks ago I saw the coincidence of two incredibly demanding activities--JagWire was going to be on deadline the same week as student conferences.  It was not a good nexus.  After the Museum of Flight get together last Saturday, I foresaw only doom. 

Deadline started last Thursday, so I was at school until 9:00.  Then this week there has been no time at school earlier than 8:30.  Combined with my usual bouts of sleeplessness, it's been a hard week.  The good news is that I picked up the paper yesterday for distribution this morning, so that's good, right?

Unfortunately I went out to get ready to come to school this morning.  My car wouldn't start.  So much for a restful evening of painting Wayne's Legion figures

Friday, November 11, 2011

Texas Hussars: Done at last

The Texas Hussars clearly showing off their shields
I guess it didn't take that long to complete them, but the Texas Hussars are finished.  I painted the adarga's black, as the Murillo prints showed, and the Spanish coat of arms as with the sabretache.  I may go with the blue on the cuera lancer.
More from the front

Frankly, I'm pleased.  They look nice and were relatively easy to build and paint.
Close up of the officer figure, clearly showing the adarga, or apple shaped shield

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Texas Hussars: carbine and adarga

Well, these are almost finished.  There are only two bits left to do:  the carbine and adarga, or apple shaped shield.
View from front right quarter.  The pants are highlighted, and the sword and hands are painted.  You might be able to make out facial detail

I'm taking a quick break from cutting the shields from .010 thickness styrene because it's tedious and I'm tired of it.  It also lets me take some updated pics of the Hussars so you can see the almost finished versions.
Front view of the horsemen

Texas Hussar officer.  He has silver lace as well as trouser markings. 
 After swapping an e-mail with Doug Hamm in B.C., I decided to go ahead with the adargas.  I was up in the air at first because honestly, based on the pictures I have it wasn't clear this shield was used.  The Murillo watercolors clearly show a round shield.  Second, it was unclear I had enough room for the shields.  However, Doug was right when he said the apple shaped shield defined the appearance of this unit.  Unfortunately the location of the pelisse over the left arm precludes mounting it on the hussar, so I'll have to place it on the left sheepskin where holsters would be located.
This illustration of a cuera lancer convinced me to go ahead and paint the adarga for the hussars.  My shield will be mounted in the same position.
 Doug suggested cutting a template and tracing out the design, which I did.  I cut and filed a way a small hunk of .040 styrene and used it to trace out on the much thinner plastic.  It's done the trick, though I still have some work to do.
Shields cut from thin styrene and carbines await my attention.
The carbines are awaiting my attention, but that won't happen until the shields are cut and the backs are painted.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Texas Hussars WIP pt. 2

I've made a lot of progress on my hussars.  They are to the point now where at least they look like hussars.  The dolman was tricky with it's looped braiding.  It's possible to make those loops pretty thick, but I wanted to allow the vermillion to show through.  I did highlight the Dolman, but not light enough.  It's one of those tight-fitting pieces without a lot of folds, so there's not many natural spots to lighten.  The buttons are Natural Silver by Vallejo.  I like Vallejo's metals very much, though they can get pretty thick and goopy with age.

The hussar's belt is Vallejo Vermillion and Vallejo Dark Blue, highlighted with lightened versions of each.  I used Ceramcoat white on all the belting and lace.  It concerns me a bit, because it doesn't cover real well, but I think it looks okay.  The trousers are Vallejo Blue Gray.  I haven't highlighted them yet, but I hope to do so tonight.

According to the Murillo picture and the other photos I posted, the Texas Hussars did not have a sabretache.  I should have cut it off but I didn't, and it's a little late now. I opted instead to decorate it with the arms of Spain.  It's small and looks alright.

I don't have a ton o of things to do.  Tonight I should be able to finish highlighting the trousers, paint and detail the hands and sword, and probably paint the faces.  That leaves me two challenges:  the carbines and shields. I should have left the carbines on the sprue to paint them, but no-dopey me.  I'll probably paint the base brown before gluing them to the belt and swivel.  Then have at it.  The shields are difficult.  I don't want to cut ten round shields from sheet plastic.  I know I'll get them wrong.  I've got some ancient shields that I'll dremel the bosses from, but the hard part is sticking them to the figures.  I've thought about just gluing them to the valises on the left rear, but I doubt they'll stay.  I've also considered trying to drill in a pin, but that will make a major mess.  I've even considered leaving off the shield altogether; they aren't right, they would need some sanding to get the "apple" shape.  But the shield is part of the charm of the Texas Hussar.  You'll see what I come with in my next entry.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Taking Stock

It is the last day of October, and addition to answering the doorbells for trick or treaters, I thought it might be worthwhile to review the month just completed as well as the year in terms of projects and purchases.

 Frankly, I find this to have been a productive year for a number of reasons.  I'd just like to focus on expense for a minute.  Three or four years ago I spent money on figures like a drunken sailor.  They might have been figures I might eventually have an interest in painting, but I basically just stockpiled figs.  Mostly they were OG figures I ordered through my membership in the OG Army.  I stockpiled huge numbers of Hundred Years War figures, American Revoltion Figures, War of 1812 figures.

 Two years ago that all changed.  I stopped using credit, and began paying cash for everything.  I'm in the credit card users protection program.  This year I've bought few figures, often using Christmas and birthday cash to buy the figures I needed.  No purchases on spec, all purchases directed at a particular project.

 At the same time I've been able to reduce some of my figure stocks.  I painted all of my 15mm Jacobite project in August, with the exception of some of the very cool baggage that go with them.  I finished all of the American Revolution figures I picked up for my Hobkirk's Hill game.  Though I still have figures to paint for AWI, and will also buy minis for future battles, they can wait until I'm ready.

I've also taken on two projects this year.  The first was my Sluys battle.  I still think of this as Sluys round one.  I learned a little bit about the period-though not as much as I'd like-and put together two fairly representative fleets.  David Manley's medieval naval rules also provide for some single ship battles and I'd like to build another round of ships to make use of them effectively.  It's a low cost, high labor activity, but I think I'm up to the challenge.

Finally, there are my Mississippi projects.  This is really a labor of love that can cover the Spanish-American tensions as well as Fallen Timbers.  I've purchased a fair number of figures for this project.  The Perry hussars I'm currently working on, the cuera foot, horse and Spanish artillery from the Dayton Painting Consortium are waiting to be painted.  That's about 45 figures.  I also have American dragoons and mounted militia to paint, plus regular infantry, militia foot, and artillery to paint for about 120 figures.  I also have about 80 unpainted Indians I would love to finish, but I have 100 or so painted figures, so they aren't exactly necessary to the project.

So that means I need to paint 165ish figures with some 80 figures optional.  Plus terrain pieces, plus deciding on a set of usable rules.  I'm thinking Brother Against Brother with some modifications for cavalry.

I envision running at least one scenario using the Mississippi figures at Enfilade.  That means figures need to be pretty much wrapped up by early April in order to playtest games before the convention.