This week long ago: the week a town went down

You could, perfectly reasonably, be a fully grown adult in Britain, America or perhaps maybe Yemen, and believe that the only places involved in WWII were the UK, Germany, the US, Japan, Russia and France. Most war films feature heroic Americans, plucky but polite Brits, demonic but polite Germans and the French running about in berets being alternately terribly brave resistance fighters, or women easily won with German charm. The Russians intermittently appear as grumpy people with tanks and the Japanese as manic pilots. It is almost a miracle if Poland, the starting point, makes an appearance.

It was though, named a World War for a jolly good reason, most of us might only remember the ‘big boys’ of World War II, but many many countries  were involved. The Allies could count Ethiopia, Greece, and the Philippines among their number. Whilst for example Finland and Iraq were part of the Axis-aligned forces, and in Korea and Thailand there were resistance fights building. Some of the most significant forces on the Allies behalf came from countries that were part of the former, or dying embers of the, British Empire. India, New Zealand, Australia,  and South Africa all provided forces to the war effort. As did America’s often overshadowed nearest neighbour; Canada.



December 28 1943 marked the final day in one of the shortest, but most brutal battles of World War II. Ortona is a small Italian coastal town in the Abruzzo region, as it stands today the population is around 23,000 people, before December of 1943 it had a population of 10,000. It sits at the side of a deep-water port, which for the British with their big ships was a very attractive prospect. Unfortunately, Ortona, formed part of the German fortifications of Italy known as the Winter Line. The British 78th Infantry had been fighting for a long time by December and the Canadian 1st Infantry came to relieve them.


Canadian Snipers

The German 1st parachute division were tasked with keeping control of Ortona. They were an elite, talented, and merciless group of soldiers who had been tasked with defending Ortona at any cost. The cost was 1300 Ortonians, 2 Canadian battalions and two German battalions. The close combat battle began on the 20th December, and by the 28th the Canadians had secured a costly victory. The house to house warfare technique, took out much of the town’s buildings, and by the end of the eight days it had earned the battle the nickname of  “Little Stalingrad”.

Richard Heidrich , German Parachute Commander, from the German Federal Archive

Do you like to recreate close quarter combat? Which are your preferred battles?

The week long ago: 4隻の船が航行すしド来 る (4 ships came sailing by…)

On 14 December 1913 the Kongō class battlecruiser, Haruna, of the Imperial Japanese Navy was launched. During the ship’s active service in World War I she patrolled the Chinese coast, as one of the most heavily armed ships in the navy.


The Haruna in the 1930s.


The Kongō class battlecruisers though a fundamental part of the Imperial Japanese Army, were designed in Newcastle (yes that Newcastle) by a man named George.

Sir George Thurston was for many years the chief naval architect for Vickers Ltd (which became then Vickers-Armstrong). The company which over its history is responsible for all manner of items from artillery and submarines, to parts of the metropolitan railway infrastructure (that’s the classy bit of the London underground boys and girls). They had at one point the legendary Barnes Wallis designing airships for them, and were responsible for the design of the Mark III Valentine tank which served for both the British and Red Armies (disappointingly it was not festooned in hearts or Hallmark cards). Vickers and Vickers-Armstrong were also some of the most significant employers in the UK, particularly in the North of England and Southern Scotland with shipbuilding taking place in Newcastle, Clyde and Barrow in Furness.


Valentine tank of desert service.

But back to the ships…The Japanese ordered the battlecruisers in 1910 to be the capital ships (the most important vessels) of the Navy and by 1915 they, including the Haruna, were all in service. At 27.5k tonnes , armed with up-to 40 guns of one type or another, and a quarter of a kilometre long,  they were imposing vessels which could travel at 26 knots through the water to whomever was on the wrong end of their ire.

There were four ships in the group, the first Kongō was built in the UK and then driven (for want of a more appropriate term-help me out here!) to Japan, whilst the remaining three were built wholly in Japan. And though Yokosuka Naval Yard may not be a name familiar to all, Mitsubishi and Kawasaki, who built the Kirishima and Haruna respectively, undoubtedly are.

Corresponding to the British Vickers-Armstrong, which at its height was involved in many different types of British manufacturing, the Japanese heavy weights Kawasaki and Mitsubishi do far far more than motorbikes and  televisions. Much like Vickers, both companies have their roots in shipbuilding, though now Kawasaki (川崎重工業株式会社) are far more famous for their noisy bikes and industrial boring machines (that is machines that make holes, rather than those that make conversations tedious-they’re called Blackberries) and for us train fans they are one of the many Japanese companies that make Shinkansen carriages…Whilst Mitsubishi (三菱グループ) are known more now for their ugly cars and giant turbines, and are also Japan’s largest bank…


Iwasaki, founder of Mitsubishi


In the interwar years the ships were refitted, making them heavier, but also sturdier and more war capable…which came in handy for the upcoming hostilities…

During the war though, despite some notable successes, the ships did not fair too well.

The Kongō was sunk in 1944.


The Hiei had a rudder failure and had to be scuttled.

The Kirishima capsized losing 212 sailors.


The Kirushima

And the Haruna survived the longest, and was looking to make it through the second world war, until she was bombed nine times in July 1945, and somewhat unsurprisingly sank.

And whilst Vickers-Armstrong may not be what they once were (just ask most of Newcastle and Glasgow) they do sort of still exist, albeit now they are now part of  BAE Systems Submarine Solutions (no, we don’t know what would possess anyone to name a weaponry company as mealy mouthed as that either) and are currently building the latest addition to the Royal Navy’s submarine collection in Barrow-in-Furness.

George Thurston died in 1950, after a lengthy career designing bits of almost everyone’s military forces, in Torquay.

Do we have any Japanese battle fans reading? What periods are you interested in? Any shipping fans too?


Friday Round Up

Lots of lovely new toys and things this week…

First up from Plastic Soldier Russian Heavy Weapons in 28mm 

The pack contains:
2 maxim teams firing
2 maxim teams moving
2 x 50mm mortar teams
2 x 82mm mortar teams
2 firing PTRS anti tank rifles
2 moving PTRS anti tank rifles


An expansion for the Rate of Fire WWII skirmish rules which covers tanks, soft vehicles, halftracks, SP guns, Artillery, anti-tank weapons and infantry weapons. It includes data for vehicles from allied and axis, with details of main and secondary weapons. It is not a complete rules set to used alone though.

The Murdoch-Brooks-NOTW stuff is nothing compared to the news we have now….A new Perry Miniatures plastic release…Mahdist Ansār 1881-1885 tribesmen

They’re Perry’s , they’re new and they’re awesome, what more do you need to know?

Convenient segue here because you might like to use some rules which are not in themselves new, but new to us at Arcane Scenery Death in a Dark Continent by Chris Peers, which covers a range of Sub Saharan conflicts in 1870 to 1899 period.


Sticking with the rules theme Rules of Engagement Campaign Scenarios are now available on CD in PDF format.


And coming soon….From North Star more Matabele Warriors, more Great War British Cavalry and early Germans and Brits, to the Wild West range more Buffalo Soldiers….Next week we’ll be talking about some new Warlord releases, but in the meantime the Wittman’s Tiger is now in stock (as are some slave girls for those Roman Centurians to get all, ummm, motivated)

Battle of Smolensk

Today sees the 70th anniversary of the start of the Battle of Smolensk, which ran from 6th July 1941 to the 5th August 1941 and brought effective small victories on
both sides. Smolensk Oblast these days forms part of Central Russia’s economic and manufacturing region producing everything from fridges and plastics to coal and cut diamonds.

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