Thursday, 31 October 2019

Book & figure review: Images of War Arnhem & 1/32 Arfix British Paratroops

This British para-themed combined review is the first of what I intend to be a series of posts. They will be a way of combining a relevant book review with presenting figures that have made it out the end of my slow and large painting production line (to which I regularly add more prep'd and/or undercoated figures!).

In most cases the subject will be Napoleonic, so will be presented on our other blog, but this first represents two completely different subjects from most posts by our group; WWII and 1/32 scale figures!

Firstly to the book.

Images of War: The Battle for Arnhem 1944-1945, by Anthony Tucker-Jones

The Battle of Arnhem and more broadly Operation Market Garden is an amazing tale that features heroism and determination in what became one of the greatest military blunders of the war. It was, at best a poorly planned and ill-conceived attempt by overly confident allied high command, particularly Montgomery, to end the war by the Christmas of 1944.

The bold yet flawed plan featuring consecutive attacks by airborne troops to secure three bridges and the headlong rush of XXX Corps to relieve them was doomed from the start. The fact that it was even close to being successful, despite the lack of sufficient transport planes and gliders for a single drop at all locations, the often-stalled drive of XXX Corps down ‘hell’s highway’, the ‘surprise’ presence of quality German defenders who mounted bold counter-attacks, the damage to many of the British paras’ jeeps on landing, ineffective combat radios, the capture of the drop zone near Arnhem by the Germans and of the allied plan for the operation in a crashed glider—to list but a few—is testament to the heroics of the troops.

There were many such events. The courageous crossing of the Waal river at Nijmegen (and the failed demolition of the Nijmegen bridge by its defenders), the bold river crossing by the Polish brigade in an attempt to provide relief/support the dogged defence of the Oosterbeek pocket and the tenacious, to the last-stand in an attempt to hold the position around the Arnhem bridge are particular standouts.

As Tucker-Jones points out in his introduction, it was the publication of Cornelius Ryan’s book “A Bridge Too Far” and its subsequent release as a film that increased knowledge and interest in the operation amongst historians and history buffs, himself included. In keeping with the ‘Images of War’ series, Tucker-Jones’ book is a re-telling of the key aspects of Market Garden combined with stunning, poignant occasionally funny and often moving pictures.

Two photographs showing the troubles for XXX Corps' armour. Destroyed Shermans have been pushed to the side to enable the column to continue its progress.

The photographs are the stars of this book. There are 129 in total, all in black and white and all from the author’s collection. They were taken by 1st Airborne’s photographers, those with German troops and with XXX Corps. They are an amazing collection of images of men, machinery, guns, casualties, prisoners, key features, destruction and officers and generals. Each is reproduced clearly and includes a detailed caption.

 Images such as this provide useful and interesting details for wargamers.

The nine chapters of text describe the chronological events. Tucker-Jones’ writing is clear and easy to read. He includes several quotes from key participants that add further detail and perspective about the tale. As an example, this one from Horrocks (commander of XXX Corps), from his memoirs, is particularly telling:
Even if the 2nd German SS Panzer Corps had not been in a position to intervene so rapidly, and if we had succeeded in getting right through to the Zuider-Zee, could we have kept our long lines of communication open? I very much doubt it. In which case, instead of 30th Corps fighting to relieve the 1st British Airborne Division, it would have been a case of the remainder of the 2nd Army struggling desperately to relieve 30th Corps cut off by the Germans north of Arnhem. Maybe in the long run we were lucky.
Each chapter begins with a map of the area relevant to the subject matter, featuring locations and indicating the key actions described in the text.

An example of the maps that are included at the start of each chapter.

Like a good scientific paper, the images and text are mutually exclusive yet support one another. The book may be understood solely by reading the text or, alternatively, by looking at the photos and reading the captions. Together, the two combine to provide the reader with greater detail, perspective and clarity.

The book concludes with a brief, 1 1/2 page piece entitled ‘Movie controversy’. Tucker-Jones points out the use of incorrect vehicles—something that is a fault in just about every film about the war that I can think of, but most of this section is devoted to the furore around Dirk Bogarde’s portrayal of General Browning. He does not draw a conclusion about this, but presents the complaints that were made, particularly from Browning’s family and Bogade’s responses.

All in all this is a most useful and interesting book. The combination of easy reading and well-captioned photographs that reward closer inspection will ensure that it is one that I will be leafing through often.

The photographs reward detailed inspection. This one of the Arnhem bridge provides much information for representing it on the tabletop.

Since 'A Bridge Too Far', the battle for the bridges has been the subject of numerous books, documentaries and popular subject matter for the wargaming table. This leads us to the figure part of this combined review.

1/32 Airfix British Paratroops

I have a strong, nostalgic attachment to my little collection of 1/32 figures, which were some of my favourite toys as a boy. I recall on several occasions getting them all out and doing some impression of D-Day or such, complete with Russians, Japanese, Eighth Army, Afrika Korps and Aussies! Often this was initiated by viewing something such as 'The Longest Day' on the TV.

The figures sat, occasionally admired, but unused for many years. My father, who had kept hold of them, 'presented' them to me in 2001 after one of his early clean-outs. They remained in the old suitcase in which he brought them and last year I moved it into my new wargaming shed/room. Looking at them this year I thought, "I must paint them one day. Actually, why not now?!" So, I added them to the painting production line mentioned above.

 In May, I added these figures, plus a few more, to the painting production line.

 I had the base coat completed by June, but then away more than home with work.

Back to the figures in October, and it was time for the black-wash. This included, for the first time, the 'secret' ingredient of 'One go' floor polish. An additive recommended by Mitch of the Serpentine Group to increase the viscosity of the wash and hence to get it to gather in the folds rather than smearing across the figure. It seems to have worked a treat. Also gives a bit of a sheen' to the figures!

By the end of the month they were based and ready for the final application of detail and 'highlights'.

The set contains seven poses: paras with sten gun and grenade, with bren gun, firing rifle, advancing with rifle at high port (bayonet attached), firing using a telescopic sight, radio operator and officer. The snipers, radio operators and officer are wearing the 'red' beret, while all other men have helmet with camouflage netting. All wear the camouflage smock with equipment on the outside. The figures are well-moulded with sharp detail and plenty of folds and texture to enable the use of highlights and washes. 

 Painting completed and ready for varnishing and 'Plastidip'.

 Getting up too close, one can see the faults in my painting. Ah well!

I enjoyed painting these figures and especially finally having them in this state after some 40-odd years.