Archive for July, 2014

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The German Propaganda Kompanien (PK) captured the events of Hitler’s war on every front. Their footage was used to produce Die Deutsche Wochenschau, a weekly cinema newsreel detailing the events of World War II on land, sea and air. Now, these unique primary source films have been collated, edited and translated into English in order to produce a complete military history of the Third Reich drawn exclusively from German primary sources. This range of films captures the events of World War II exactly as they were presented to contemporary cinema audiences while the actions on the battlefield were still unfolding. This volume – featuring translated Wochenschau newsreels – records the titanic Battle of Stalingrad which led to the destruction of the Sixth Army. The heavy losses sustained by the German army make it arguably the turning point of World War II.

Primary sources are always thrilling to be presented with, as for most of us, it’s the closest we’ll ever come to that ever elusive feeling of “touching history”, that “time slip” moment we all crave.

What’s strange about seeing this is witnessing a major German defeat, presented by the German media, as they use all their powers of misdirection to draw attention away from the fact that they’re suffering heavy defeats. They focus on minor victories and skirmishes and limited “retreats”. Hell, if you didn’t know any better you’d be forgiven for thinking that Stalingrad was a major Nazi victory!

The remastering on the video footage is great. It’s far from flawless, but it’s certainly as good as the source material allows. The aerial footage in particular is very engaging. The urban fighting is eerily tense and draws you right in.

The only mark against it is the DVD packaging, which is very limited. The film auto-plays, and there is only a bare bones menu, with not even trailers for other related features in sight, which is a bit of a shame. If you can over look this minor flaw, however, this is a very interesting DVD indeed.

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Whilst there have been many accounts from specific escapees who took part in the famed Wooden Horse escape from Stalag Luft III, there have been few objective historical studies of the camp as a whole. Many attempts at escape characterised its history, and the story of its establishment is a fascinating one. Now, historian Robert J. Laplander attempts to provide a comprehensive history of the camp and compound, framed around the ingenious Wooden Horse escape.

The True Story of the Wooden Horse is a great book in many ways, but one of its main strengths is the pure infectious enthusiasm that Laplander brings, dragging you straight in and refusing to let go. The passion that he feels for the subject – shown wonderfully in the excellent opening chapter, where a young Laplander builds himself a tunnel purely so that he can play at escaping from it – is wonderful to read. Here is a man in love with his subject, and you can’t help but love it a little bit too, as a result.

The introduction of the main figures in the story is handled very well: gradually, and with plenty of detail and “character”. There is a nice anecdotal feel to it all, and this also helps to draw you into the subject. As the “adventure” progresses, it starts to feel a little too much like a Commando Comic or Boy’s Own Adventure story. While this fits in very nicely with the author’s enthusiasm…it does seem to be trivialising the reality of the story, somewhat. A little gravitas would have gone a long way.

The photos and illustrations throughout are excellent, and Laplander really went above and beyond the call of duty by building a 1:1 reconstruction of the Wooden Horse, purely for purposes of taking photos for the book – another example of the enthusiasm that pervades the project.

If you’re into The Colditz Story or The Great Escape or anything like that, don’t hesitating in picking this up, as it’s a great, exciting read, and very well presented. If you’re into WWII but not so much the POW camps, this is an excellent starting point.

_76278207_76278202The Imperial War Museum (IWM) London has undergone a £40m transformation and is due to reopen this week with new displays to mark the centenary of World War One.

The new atrium is made up of four levels divided into different clusters, which include more than 400 objects and artworks.

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Full story: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-28316238

US marines have tested a new robotic mule at the world’s largest international maritime warfare exercise in Hawaii.

Full story: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-28290945

Sunday Afternoon Jet Porn

Posted: July 13, 2014 in Aerial, Vietnam War

Missed out the beginning?  Catch up here!

Part One

Part Two


Turn 5

While the rest of his team are shot to ribbons, Pvt Barry runs screaming for the British lines.

While the rest of his team are shot to ribbons, Pvt Barry runs screaming for the British lines.

Just as the Germans think they may be home free, the British guards run down from the building and hold them at gunpoint.

Just as the Germans think they may be home free, the British guards run down from the building and hold them at gunpoint.

With a deadly volley of .303 fire, the German squad is wiped out.

“They died the way they lived: German.” – Me

Pvt Barry is cut down in a hail of British lead.  Shot down in his prime by two vicious servants of King George.  And a Bren Gun.

Pvt Barry is cut down in a hail of British lead. Shot down in his prime by two vicious servants of King George. And a Bren Gun.

Things are going very badly for the Germans.  More dead Nazis than Dead Snow.

Things are going very badly for the Germans. More dead Nazis than Dead Snow.

Turn 6 (Final Turn)

Sgt. Howling and his furious commandos open fire on the troops in the woods.

Sgt. Howling and his furious commandos open fire on the troops in the woods.

The British troops in the Southern building opened fire onto the German Kommandant, killing him instantly.  At this point I conceded as I had one German troop left on the map, and could not score enough victory points to be successful.

We decided that the British played very well, but suspected that the scenario was a little balanced in the defender’s favour with a smaller force (we were playing with 500 point sides, rather than the recommended 1,000).  My main mistake was running into the open too early.  I was hoping I could get the MG-42s into position to cause Massive Damage, but unfortunately, this was a gamble that didn’t come off.

Missed Part One? Catch up here!


Turn 3

The British artillery rounds pepper the nearby street, but all of the German troops are sufficiently covered, or in different streets, and are unaffected.

The British team in the top left attempt to take out some of the advancing Nazi troops, but are unsuccessful.

The British team in the top left attempt to take out some of the advancing Nazi troops, but are unsuccessful.

“Curses!  Our stiff upper lips got in the way of our rifles!” – Britisg rifles team.

Across the way, the other infantry team attempt to get the MG-42 into cover.

Across the way, the other infantry team attempt to get the MG-42 into cover.

The German team squeezes of a few rounds of suppressing fire (WHOO!  EVERYBODY DRINK!), forcing the British behind the wall (just visible at the top of the shot) to keep their heads down.

The German team squeezes of a few rounds of suppressing fire (WHOO! EVERYBODY DRINK!), forcing the British behind the wall (just visible at the top of the shot) to keep their heads down.

German team makes a desperate run across open ground.

German team makes a desperate run across open ground.

The British attempted to take them out, but the suppressing fire from the other German team was sufficient to prevent them from doing so.

A German team attempts to make a sneaky advance from cover, but takes a volley of fire from the British team behind the tank trap.

A German team attempts to make a sneaky advance from cover, but takes a volley of fire from the British team behind the tank trap.

The German Kommandant follows behind his men at a safe distance.

The German Kommandant follows behind his men at a safe distance.

Turn 4

“You are dug in like bastards.” – Me

The weakened German infantry squad storms the British defences in what they imagine is a bit like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but it unfortunately for them a bit like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

The weakened German infantry squad storms the British defences in what they imagine is a bit like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but it unfortunately for them a bit like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

The British artillery observer is killed by the advancing German squads.

The British artillery observer is killed by the advancing German squads.

British team opens fire on exposed German team.

British team opens fire on exposed German team.

The British guards follow the movements of the German team.

The British guards follow the movements of the German team.

Another German team tackles the tank traps in an attempted pincer movement.

Another German team tackles the tank traps in an attempted pincer movement.

The final part of “Bastogne Barricade” will be published on Wednesday 9th July…

So, my brother – Blake – and I headed down to Rochester Games, Models and Railways (AKA Rochester Wargames Centre) for a game of Bolt Action last week.  With my brother still learning the system we played purely infantry, no weapons teams either, and about 500 points per side.  The mission was  an Envelopment scenario from the base rulebook, with his British acting as the defender, and my Germans acting as the attacker.  With this in mind, coupled with the snow and ice coloured table we were playing on, we decided to theme it loosely as being a minor skirmish prior to the Siege of Bastogne.  The Germans scored minor points for killing British units, but much more for managing to get off of the British edge of the table, or being in the British deployment zone at the end of the game.  The British objective was to deny the ground to the Germans, and eliminate as many units as possible.

Blake conducts essential research prior to playing Bolt Action

Blake conducts essential research prior to playing Bolt Action

The British began with two squads set up in concrete buildings at either end of the village.  Prior to the beginning of the battle, the Germans had let loose with a preparatory bombardment which had rattled a few of the British troops a little, but with no lasting damage or casualties.

A British rifle team keeps watch from one of the concrete buildings.

A British rifle team keeps watch from one of the concrete buildings.

“I’ll just chant my famous British Chant: Blood for the Blood God.” – Blake

Turn One

German team advances into a ruined church.

German team advances into a ruined church.

Sensing the enemy approaching, a British squad brushes off the dust of the preparatory bombardment, and readies their rifles.

Sensing the enemy approaching, a British squad brushes off the dust of the preparatory bombardment, and readies their rifles.

Across the street from the ruined church, another German squad attempts to bring their MG-42 into position.

Across the street from the ruined church, another German squad attempts to bring their MG-42 into position.

This squad was a little more in the open than I liked, but gambled on being able to move them into cover before they got in range of the British rifles.

The British team in the northernmost building ready their rifles.

The British team in the northernmost building ready their rifles.

The Germans attempt to bring another MG-42 into position.

The Germans attempt to bring another MG-42 into position.

 

The British teams are on full alert, straining for the a glimpse of the advancing Nazi forces.

The British teams are on full alert, straining for the a glimpse of the advancing Nazi forces.

Blake takes a gamble with his artillery spotter.

British artillery spotter in a not at all exposed position behind a tank trap.

British artillery spotter in a not at all exposed position behind a tank trap.

A German infantry squad seeks cover (not-at-all-exposed British artillery spotter visible in the distance).

A German infantry squad seeks cover (not-at-all-exposed British artillery spotter visible in the distance).

Sgt Howling and his Furious Commandos hunker down behind cover.

Sgt Howling and his Furious Commandos hunker down behind cover.

The German Kommandant directs his men into position.

The German Kommandant directs his men into position.

Turn 2

Germans advance out into the open.

Germans advance out into the open.

One of the British squads in the concrete buildings try to snap off a few rounds with Lee-Enfield rifles as the Germans advance into the open.  One of them falls to the fire, but the squad manages to keep moving.

One of the British squads in the concrete buildings snap off a few rounds with Lee-Enfield rifles as the Germans advance into the open. One of them falls to the fire, but the squad manages to keep moving.

The British artillery spotter places a call for ordnance, targeting the street by the bombed out church, where the bulk of the German forces are.

The British artillery spotter places a call for ordnance, targeting the street by the bombed out church, where the bulk of the German forces are.

Germans move from cover to cover.

Germans move from cover to cover.

The advancing fire-team is joined by an MG-42, which may help to force the British to keep their heads down.

The advancing fire-team is joined by an MG-42, which may help to force the British to keep their heads down.

Part Two follows on Tuesday 8th July…

 

Battle Company: Korengal

Posted: July 4, 2014 in DVD, Films, War on Terror

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From the writer and director of Restrepo and the writer of War, Sebastian Junger spent a year with troops in Afghanistan. Battle Company: Korengal is his experience following the 2nd Platoon of Battle Company on a 15-month deployment in the Korengal Valley of northeast Afghanistan.

Battle Company: Korengal aimes to show war works, what it feels like and what it does to the young men who fight it. As one cheers when they kill an enemy fighter, another looks into the camera and asks if God will ever forgive them for all the killing. As one grieves the loss of his friend in combat, another explains why he missed the war after his deployment ended and he would go back in a heartbeat if he could.

Some documentaries focus on the battle, or the machines of war. Then there are those like Battle Company: Korengal that really show the people behind the story. As a viewer you feel an oddly strong attachment to the men of 2nd Platoon throughout their deployment. They are all engaging interviewees, all with unique – and frequently harrowing – stories to share.

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Plus, you know, there’s lot of gun porn, which is nice.

As they sit in the Korengal valley, taking fire from Taliban forces up to fourteen times a day, the men show a strange, almost grim, acceptance of their place. They are there to do a job, and it’s a job they’re going to do. Juxtapose this with home video footage of them larking about and having a good time, and you really get to know the troops from all angles. All of them are really likeable, and seeing the situations they often find themselves in can be near heartbreaking.

Battle Company: Korengal is a strange, macro-lense look at a squad in the War on Terror. Worth checking out for a very close up and personal taste of the period.

Battle Company: Korengal is available now on DVD and Blu-ray from Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment, priced £17.99 and £19.99 respectively. 

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Beware Raiders!: German Surface Raiders in the Second World War is the story of two German surface raiders and the havoc they caused amongst Allied shipping. One was the 8-inch gun cruiser Admiral Hipper, fast, powerful and Navy-manned: the other a converted merchantman, Hansa Line’s Kandelfels armed with a few old 5.9s manned largely by reservists, and sailing under the nom de guerre of Pinguin. Contrary to all expectations, the amateur man-of-war reaped a rich harvest and went out in a blaze of glory. Her purpose-built sister, on the other hand, was hard-pressed even to make her mark on the war and ended her days in ignominy.

Bernard Edwards emphasises the contrast between the conduct of Ernst Kruder, captain of the Pinguin, whose concern it was to cause as little loss of life as possible, and the callous Captain Meisel of the Admiral Hipper, who has scant regard for the lives of the men whose ships he had sunk.

Naval warfare is not exactly an area of military history that I know all that much about, but I found this an entertaining read, all the same. There’s a strong narrative throughout which guides you along – essential for any truly gripping historical book. There’s enough detail so that you feel involved, and yet not so much that you feel overwhelmed by the detail. Some core concepts are left unexplained, which may be a little confusing for people not already au fait with naval warfare. With that said, the battles are clear, concise and easy to follow so this is a minor flaw that is easily overcome.

Although Beware Raiders! may not be well suited to absolute newcomers, this is a great book for people who already have some knowledge of the theatre/era and are craving more detail without getting overwhelmed by the size of something Beevor or Massie would offer.

Beware Raiders!: German Surface Raiders in the Second World War by Captain Bernard Edwards is available now in paperback from Pen and Sword Books, priced £12.99