Sunday, September 30, 2012

Carthage Veterans of the Ochre Shield

While it is true that a majority of the Carthaginian army was comprised of a large number of mercenary and allied forces, there was a very loyal and experienced core of professional soldiers within Hannibal's ranks that comprised the backbone of his military success in Italy during the Second Punic War. This group of soldiers was called to service during the mercenary and Libyan peasant uprising against Hamilcar in 241 B.C. and they successfully defeated the rebels despite being outnumbered and despite continued interference from Rome. The army the Barcid's took to Spain, and eventually Italy, was no rent-a-force, the veterans that they had used to destroy the uprising were never disbanded. This core was to become their professional rather than mercenary force continuously under arms until shattered by Scipio Africanus nearly forty years later.

I completed the final basing of my first Carthaginian veteran unit this weekend and was able to take some photos of the final result. The second unit of veterans (with Azure shields) should be completed in a week or so and then I will begin work on a unit of heavy cavalry.

Friday, September 28, 2012

A Major Award!

In yesterday's mail I received a small package from England, which is just about enough to get anybody excited. It turned out to be the prize I won from Ian who writes the fantastic Blog with No Name and who quite honestly seems to be the type of guy I could sit down with in a pub over a few pints and have a good conversation and a few laughs. In other words, a good fellow.

I had been looking forward to receiving this prize since I learned that I was the lucky winner. It is a 54mm drummer boy of the British Foot Guards from Waterloo, 1815. The Figure was made by Sarum Soldiers, Ltd. in London. My first reaction when I pulled it from the packaging was "Wow, this seems vintage." This is not a new figure, and after some brief research I haven't been able to determine when this specific model may have been made - but it does appear that it is no longer manufactured. The model came with its own base, a selection of heads, a saber, some detached arms and, of course, the drum. It really is a nice model.

I am excited and anxious to begin this little painting project. It is a first for me for two reasons: first, this will be the first figure larger than 28mm that I have painted, so I will probably need to adjust some of the things I normally do when painting and second, I have never painted a Napoleonic Wars figure despite having a very large interest in the conflict and the armies.

I will certainly document the entire process of painting this fantastic model here on the blog and hope to get this started soon.

And Ian, thanks again!

Royal mail is enough to get anybody excited!

The packaged model.

Included was a sheet with detailed painting instructions.

A very nice photograph for reference.

Reverse of the photograph are hints for assemply.

All the figure's bits.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Carthage Veterans WIP No.3

The first unit of Hannibal's veterans is nearly complete - all that is left is the texture, rocks and grasses for the bases. All figures have been painted and secured onto 60mm x 60mm bases (six models to a base). The unit will be considered 'Standard' size using the Hail Caesar rules with a total of 18 figures and a frontage of 180mm.

I think the addition of the "attacking" figures really added some nice variety to the unit.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Mighty Treebeard

There are days when a pile of unpainted Carthaginian spearmen or Scottish highlanders just becomes too much, and I have to toss them aside and pick up my brush and paint something truly epic and fantastical.

I really enjoy playing Games Workshop's Lord of the Rings Battle Strategy Game. I love the lore as penned by Tolkien and the GW models (for the most part) are amazing and bring the story to life on the table. Plus, there is a small but passionate group of local players that I really enjoying hanging out with on regularly on Thursday evenings.

I was initially torn about posting Lord of the Rings stuff here at The Inevitable Spark as I had intended this site to focus specifically on historical wargaming but, when I get the urge to paint or talk about Lord of the Rings this site would be neglected for possibly weeks at a time. I didn't want to do that, plus, this stuff is pretty cool and I want to share it. Don't be surprised if you see more of it from time to time. I hope you don't mind.

So, having said all that, I give you the mighty Treebeard, eldest of all the Ents - a great model that I enjoyed painting this week. It took a lot of subtle drybrushing and some fun work on the base to get him the way I had envisioned the finished painted figure looking in my head. I may still add some branches and leaves to him.

"I have not troubled about the Great Wars. They mostly concern Elves and Men. That is the business of Wizards: Wizards are always troubled about the future. I do not like worrying about the future. I am not altogether on anybody's side, because nobody is altogether on my side, if you understand me."

Friday, September 14, 2012

Carthage Veteran Reinforcements Arrive, but Flawed

When I first ordered a starting pile of figures for my Carthaginian army from Gripping Beast, I purchased several of their "unit deals" which grouped together several of their offerings into larger bundles for convenience and, probably, a smallish discount. When the models arrived, and after they had been sorted, I noticed that I was lacking figures in anything that resembled an aggressive attacking stance. It appears that Gripping Beast only included figures from their Veterans Spears Upright and the Veterans Throwing Spears units and completely excluded figures from the Veterans Attacking/Advancing. I'm not sure if that was done intentionally by Gripping Beast or if it is simply a random pull of models from their inventory, but it was a very different experience from the one I encountered with Eureka Miniatures which hand picked all of my ECW models to ensure I had a wide variety of all models possible with little duplication. Well, that was a bummer, but easily remedied by placing another quick order.

Yesterday I received several of the attacking models which will allow me to complete two full units of Carthaginian heavy infantry - which I am excited about. What I am not excited about is the quality of these new models. I had no problems with the original order I placed with Gripping Beast, but these latest figures are so covered by large casting lines and seams, some of them in the worst possible places like down the middle of the face, that I will probably never get them right. They have all been cleaned up as best as I can for now and have been mounted for painting.

If I am lucky I can have both units of veterans completed and fully based next week.

Attacking reinforcements from Gripping Beast.

WIP of the second veteran unit and their commander.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Book Review: The Ghosts of Cannae

Robert L. O'Connell, once a member of the American intelligence community, has delivered a gripping and immersive military account of the famed battle of Cannae. However, the real power and authority in this book is found in the pages and chapters that precede the actual battle that serve to set the stage for the massive loss of human life on the banks of the river Aufidus.

For nearly two-thirds of the book, the focus is squarely on contrasting the politics, military culture and psychology of the Carthaginians and Hannibal to that of the Romans. The portrait is painted very early in the book of the Romans and their "determination and force of will", their worthwhile pursuit of glory and honor, and their "disapproving of every kind of deceit and fraud", while the Carthaginians are characterized as a group of misunderstood merchants that were clearly "good at business but bad at war." Perhaps O'Connell was attempting to demonstrate the inevitability of the Roman victory in the Second Punic War despite the impressive string of overwhelming victories by Carthage with these brushstrokes, but his bias is apparent.

The descriptions of each of the armies, their make-up, training, equipment and tactics found within the book are quite remarkable and are always given in the context of the larger unfolding story leading us to Cannae -- The powerbase in Spain of the Barcids, the famed expedition over the Alps and the multiple ambushes by Gaulish tribes and the small victories by Hannibal’s nearly frozen but hardened army when first entering Italy and the subsequent gathering of allies from the local tribes. By the time the book takes us to the fated day in Cannae, we have followed Hannibal's army across Italy winning victory after victory over larger, more "determined" and certainly more confident Roman forces. These victories, according to O'Connell, can be attributed to two primary factors - firstly, Hannibal was a military genius that understood with acute clarity circumstances and enemies, and secondly, the Roman's own belief in their military superiority and their individual drive for glory and honor moved their officers to such brash decisions that Hannibal had no choice but to take advantage of the numerous strategic mistakes.

For those looking for a pure military history and a reckoning of numbers, weapons and tactical formations you may be disappointed. These things are not missing from the book entirely, and I happily highlighted them in different colors for each army, but it is not the primary focus of the book.

The most powerful point in the book came during the description of the aftermath of Battle of Cannae. The author does a commendable job here in reminding us, in haunting detail, that war goes well beyond maps and formations and military leadership - it is ultimately about intense suffering and the massive and tragic loss of human life. In the context of wargaming, it is simply too easy and too convenient for us to lose sight of this point; we turn the suffering of war into an abstraction that is, at best, not mentioned when recreating these wars and, at worst, not even known by the participants. By reducing these conflicts to a series of moves within a game we are committing a grave disservice to history and to those that suffered if we do not at least pause occasionally and remember what we are truly representing on our tables.

O'Connell writes that "we live in an age when killing is cheap, virtually automated; that was far from the case in Cannae. Other than those who succumbed to the heat, each of the men who died had to be individually punctured, slashed or battered into oblivion." At the end of what amounted to a giant knife fight, at least forty-eight thousand Romans lay dead or dying, lying in pools of their own blood and vomit and feces, killed in the most intimate and terrible ways, their limbs hacked off, their faces and thoraxes and abdomens punctured and mangled. This was Cannae.

The remainder of the book recounts the fate of the Roman survivors of Cannae (Cannenses), the eventual defeat of Carthage by the Romans and the long-term ramifications on Roman society and military culture as a result of Hannibal's campaign in Italy, which is not to be underestimated.

This is well researched and well written book that I highly recommend to those wishing to learn more about the Punic Wars. I very much enjoyed reading and learning from The Ghosts of Cannae.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Russian Civil War: Hold that Train Station Comrade!

I spent a wonderful afternoon today visiting and gaming with members of the Colorado Military Historians. This is a local wargaming club that I have been thinking of joining, so I made the drive to their monthly meeting to look around, watch some games, and hopefully get an idea if this was something that I wanted to be a part of.

I was immediately met by some very friendly people, including Eric of Elder's Wargaming Blog. After a short meeting and introductions, it was time to get down to some gaming. I was very happy to see that there was a Russian Civil War battle that was planned for the day - I have a Master's degree in Russian history, so I was immediately drawn to this table and, lucky me, I was invited to play!

The figures for the game were 15mm and were very nicely done, with a majority of them being Peter Pig miniatures. The table also had fantastic buildings and terrain. Things were looking good and I immediately volunteered to lead some of the Communist units. The scenario had the reactionary Whites attempting to push through to Kiev while our Commissars had ordered us to a small village to stop or delay their advance on the important city.

We played the Return to the River Don rule set - and I have to say, it was a very interesting and fun set of rules but also extremely frustrating at times. Without going into too much detail (this was my very first time playing them) there was a fairly significant reliance on randomness to get anything accomplished in the game. Units had to roll to obey orders, and those that did choose to obey the commanders orders may not even complete all orders as given. Combine that randomness with Commissars using some dictatorship-of-the proletariat type of coercion as well as some very severe morale checks and we saw entire units running for home and the samovars before the real action had even began. I can understand some of this, especially for these troops during the Russian Civil War, but there were several turns in a row in which my units did nothing. In the end however, the People's soldiers triumphed and repelled the advancing soldiers of the enemy.

I really did have a fantastic time and I met some great people. I'll certainly be going back next month for more.

I was able to snap some photos of our Russian Civil War game, but I only had my phone with me so please excuse the lower picture quality.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Carthaginian Command Base Finished

"[Hannibal] was not alone, never alone. Relatively little is known about the officers and unit commanders who left with him on the great adventure, but as with many other illustrious captains, they appear to have been a close group of friends and family, and with few exceptions they appear to have stayed with him for the duration.... They formed a cadre brilliantly attuned to their commander's intent, instinctively carrying out his will with timing that could only have come from complete and mutual trust. Without them Hannibal never would have made it to Italy, and with them, he would win victory after victory."

~ Robert L. O'Connell, The Ghosts of Cannae

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Campaigns of Alexander

I recently added a new book to my reference library, and one that I am very excited about: The Campaigns of Alexander, written by Arrian with a translation by Pamela Mensch and edited by James Romm. This is a hefty tome and spans the historical timeline from Autumn of 336 to the summer of 323 - so yes, everything from Alexander being crowned king to his death from a fever.

This volume was written by the second-century historian known as Arrian, whose given name was Lucius Flavius Arrianus. Arrian was an ethnic Greek from Nicomedia, he was also, proudly, a Roman citizen. In fact, he achieved the very rare double distinction of attaining the top office of the consulship at Rome and being appointed an archon at Athens.

This is a large book of 500 pages and is full of maps, diagrams and photographs from important archaeological sites as well as extensive footnotes and references for further study.

I have some other books to read  before I get to this, but I am looking forward to this. Anybody with an interest in the military life of Alexander, the wars of the region or the history of the ancient world should pick up this text.

Monday, September 3, 2012

A Birthday Lord of the Rings Clash!

I'm having a birthday! To celebrate in proper fashion, my wife, my brother and I played a magnificent Lord of the Rings battle last night. We played a custom scenario ("Hey, there is a hobbit lost and wandering in the woods, get him!") that witnessed the Elves of Lorthlorien, the Uruk-hai of Isengard and the Easterlings of, well the East, in a massive battle to secure the prize.

My apologies for the large number of photographs, but I hope you enjoy them.

Glorfindel calls a charge.

A cave troll wastes no time.

Knights of the Golden Wood.

The Witch King of Angmar seeks the prey.

Uruk-hai secure a small hill.

Easterlings and their Dunlending thralls on the move.

Easterlings search the woods for the hobbit.

The Witch-King finds a lone knight.

Glorfindel seeks protection in the ruins.

The well-trained Easterlings hold their line.

A war priest blesses the soldiers at dusk.

Chaos in the ruins.

The giant troll looking for more play-things.

The battle lines are drawn.

The Galadhrim archers take aim.

A skirmish breaks out in the center.

A Dunlending captain rallies his failing troops.

The banner of the East leads a charge.

The Fell-beast swoops in for a devastating kill.

The cave troll cannot be held at bay as the captain falls.

Fighting is intense.