When it’s Better to be Lucky than Good

Lorri is gone for the day and I’m stuck in my notary studies, so it’s a good day to listen to Laura Nyro and write about yesterday’s big adventure.

What adventure, you ask? Well, a game of course. What is a bigger risk-taking in the middle of a pandemic than getting together with friends. No, I don’t mean to be flippant about it. I survived my second vaccine, barely, on Wednesday. Michael had his first vaccine a while back, and I think George is giving up vaccines for Lent, but everyone is careful.

George’s pristine table in the Kettler bunker. The land and bar mark the entry and exit for Raleigh and Hampton. The fighting will take place on that end of the table.

We actually planned to get together a week ago, but the Puget Sound region was blanketed with snow for the only time in 2021 and we postponed. But I promised to head out to George’s bunker in Steilacoom. When I woke up with a terrible case of nausea, dizziness, headaches and fever, early Thursday morning, all I could think of was uh-oh, they’re really going to think I’m avoiding this. But by Thursday afternoon and after a good night’s sleep I was ready to go for it.

Turn two. Raleigh and Hampton make their way on to the table and fire introductory volleys. “Hello Miami. How are you? Got something I want to share with you.” Michael’s Housatonic and Massasoit maneuver for position in the background. George does a super job of gussying up stuff for the camera.

I’d planned for a small, simple Ironclads scenario I’d had perking away for a while we could easily do with three players, or add a fourth commander if one was available. It was loosely based on the adventures of the ironclad Raleigh and its challenge to the federal blockade off the mouth of the Cape Fear River near Fort Fisher in North Carolina. I didn’t want to include the fort. The actual incident occurred at night, but I wasn’t hot to do a night battle–more complications.

Raleigh and Miami size each other up on turn 2. The Raleigh is the excellent Richmond class model by Thoroughbred. The Miami is Stephen Taylor’s fine model from Bay Area Yards.
Three shots, three waterline penetrations leaves Miami barely afloat, but keeps her bow 100 pdr. Parrot as a persistent source of annoyance to the Raleigh

I gave Raleigh a very small consort, a Maury gunboatish Hampton. Their mission was to start across the bar at the mouth of the river, ready to make a mess of members of the Federal blockade and be back across the bar by the end of turn 12. At the end of that turn the ebbing tide would be too shallow and the Raleigh would either have to face a dangerously reinforced Union foe, or risk grounding on the bar. Historically, that’s exactly what happened. Raleigh stuck on the bar and as the tide ebbed the weight of her armor crushed her wooden decks and broke her back according to historian Donald Canney.

Hampton thunders all the defiance its pair of eight inch navies can muster. Housatonic and Massassaoit fire back with similar ineptitude. It won’t remain quite so safe for long. Hampton is a Throughbred Maury gunboat. Massasoit is also an aged and in need of upgrade Tbred Sassacus class double-ender. Housatonic is George’s brilliant rendering of another Stephen Taylor model. Really special model.

I created two Union commands, each with two wooden ships. One had a pair of double end gunboats, a Miami class with a 100-pdr. bow pivot I thought might be useful. The other was a Sassacus-class with its plethora of useful but not super effective guns. . The second command had another Sassacus class, plus a Housatonic class loop, with more useful guns including an 11-inch Dahlgren which is always handy. Except for the Miami, however, all the Union vessels had broadside guns, which meant lining up a shot, which was always a bit of a challenge.

With Miami barely making way, George introduces a new phase of the game with Sassacus moving into range.
Sassacus is actually George’s terrific Bay model of Conemaugh. George is a master at his craft.

The set-up was simple. Raleigh and Hampton began just across the bar with me in command. George was immediately across from me with Miami and Sassacus. Michael was closer to the middle of the table with Housatonic and we’ll call it Massasoit. The battle would be fought at pretty close range over half the 8′ X 5.5′ table. Doubled range for the Raleigh‘s four 7″ Brooke double banded rifles. I would only fire shell.

The first turn began uneventfully as I took the Raleigh to port and managed to put myself out of arc for all my guns. Union fire was relatively desultory with a few clangs that chipped my blue paint, but nothing serious.

Housatonic and Massasoit crept toward the shoreline, driving off the Hampton with damage. Massasoit made the turn back toward the middle of the table, while Housatonic struggled to engage Raleigh with her nasty main battery.

Turn two got a bit more interesting as I was able to line up all three guns to starboard on Miami. Three shots, three waterline criticals. Flotation damage and an engine hit left the double ender scarcely making way. Hampton tried to make its way through the gap between the scrum and fired both eight inch guns at Massasoit. Flotation hit and some lesser damage. Cheers. It would be the last the little ship would have on the day.

Michael began by maneuvering his ships close to coastline but rapidly broke off his double-ender toward the middle of the half of the board we were using. Massasoit got the best shot of the day on the Raleigh, opening a seam and inflicting two points of flotation damage. Housatonic continued to creep along near the shoreline, popping off with it’s 30 pdr bow pivot. George maneuvered Sassacus into range and attitude so it too could pepper Raleigh. Little Hampton did not escape attention either. Shots by Massasoit told on the gunboat, but it would not be the last.

Turn five began with things looking up in the air for Raleigh. A new factor entered the game. Reinforcements for the Union in the form of the monitor Weehawken started on a distant border edge, but something Raleigh didn’t want to take a chance on tangling with. Maybe too far to play a role in the game except as a reminder–“don’t go there.”

It wasn’t like things weren’t happening. Lots of hits by Raleigh were doing some damage. On turn six however, there was a bunch of action. Housatonic took a serious critical penetration that started a level II fire and an engine hit. that would last a couple of turns. It was at a point when its broadside could have made a difference, but instead really slowed everything down. More mostly inconsequential fire at the ironclad, though a couple of armor hits were starting to chip away a bit. Penetrations, but not criticals were leaving some exposed areas to those 100 pdr. Parrots at doubled range. Weehawken let loose with an 11-inch Dahlgren at long range at Hampton and the 120 lb round struck the little ship with force. The buckets began to come out as the gunboat began to look for open sea and a way out of this mess.

Raleigh gets off a couple of shots at Housatonic setting the big sloop afire, which you can barely see.

The real wrap to the game, however, came on turn nine, when Sassacus suffered a pair of waterline criticals (after having already taken a few flotation hits.) One did five flotation hits and serious damage to the hull, and left the ship just a mess of body parts. George could run the engine and one gun. (we opted not to use morale rules.) Another shot at Housatonic dismounted both the 30 pdr pivot gun and the forward 100 pdr.

A whole bunch of bad as Sassacus suffers a series of serious hits including severe flotation damage and a fire on turn nine. The die is cast.

Turn ten Raleigh turned for the bar and home. Hampton was sunk by fire from Massasoit. A final shot at Sassacus set it ablaze without any crew to fight the fire. It was a goner. The following turn the game ended with the ram headed up-river to home.

Would love to do lots of crowing about this game, but it’s tough to shoot it out with an ironclad. I rolled reasonably well, but at that range, with those guns, it’s pretty hard to miss. With almost every hit a penetration and in most of those cases critical penetrations, it was fire, load and watch the fireworks.

Two old buddies having a good time with a really old game. Kevin (L) and Michael (R)

I had a lot of fun. I’m hoping my friends did. I was at George’s house from a little after 10AM until just after 4PM. Of the six hours probably three max were spent playing the game. The best part was just the hanging out catching up part. I love the old Ironclads rules in all their 1979 era goodness and despite the best efforts of many fine men to do better, they are by far my favorite set of ACW naval rules, or for that matter any set of rules except maybe Fire and Fury and anything by Daniel Mersey.

Thanks to Michael for being an enthusiastic Ironclads warrior. It was great to see him as always. Thanks to George for being an enthusiastic host. He has such a great space and would love to see it filled with a friendly game, which is hard during these dark times. Thanks again to George for allowing me to use a bunch of his wonderful photos. A few are mine, but the best ones are his.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++What I’m listening to. I haven’t done this in a while, but I’ll give it a shot or you can stop reading at this point.

I’ve always liked singer/songwriters. If they’re good their music gets picked up by other artists and some great covers ensue. But I’m happy to give those original creative agents the attention they deserve.

In one of my post Christmas trips to Rainy Day Records I was able to snaggle a copy of Joni Mitchell’s Clouds. The best known song on that record is the beautiful “Both Sides Now” which has been covered by-seemingly-everyone who can sing. It is a beautiful song. The album also has “Chelsea Morning” and “I Don’t Know Where I Stand” are also quite good and memorable. This record is very representative of Mitchell’s folk roots, so if you’re a folkie, you’ll love this record, even if it is 50 years old. I also picked up her follow-up Ladies of the Canyon, the second album the Canadian performer recorded at A and M studios in Los Angeles. More great songwriting that would be picked up by others. Notably, Crosby Stills Nash and Young would go on to make Mitchell’s “Woodstock” an anthem. But the idiosyncratic “Big Yellow Taxi” would be much fun and her own. Though covered by many, the album also includes “The Circle Game.”

I’ve long been a fan of Gordon’ Lightfoot’s work. I was turned on to him when I was in high school and heard “If You Could Read My Mind” on AM radio. I’ve assiduously added many of his albums to my collection. I recently watched. Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind, a documentary, on Amazon Prime. It was terrific. Made in 2019 it was mostly time with the artist in his Toronto home recounting his career. Great stuff. But most importantly it shared Lightfoot was recording an album. A quick trip to Allmusic revealed he had indeed released a record of new material at the age of 81. Guess who has it? It’s actually very good. Lightfoot has lost his deep baritone and his voice is thin, but the songs are still great and they are very well arranged. Mostly Gordon with a guitar. The album is Solo, the songs are mostly nostalgic, not surprising for someone who was once declared dead on national radio when he was very much alive. Trust me, Gordon Lightfoot still has some living to do.

Unfortunately Laura Nyro is not alive. She died of ovarian cancer in 1997 at the age of 49. She was a terrific writer and I made a point today to listen to three of her albums. For those not in the know. Nyro was a lot like other artists that write some brilliant songs covered by others but don’t enjoy similar commercial success on their own releases. Lots of pop artists covered her songs, including The Fifth Dimension, Three Dog Night and Barbara Streisand to name a few. Her voice was strong and soulful and her music could be joyful and passionate or deeply introspective and personal. One of her best-known records is 1968’s Eli and the Thirteenth Confession, and I listened for the first time. I also listened to a much later album done after she stepped away from the business for a while, Mother’s Spiritual (1984.) I finished with New York Tendaberry, which I’ve heard many times before.

All the records are super and reflect a point in time in Nyro’s life. Eli is often considered the pinnacle of her songwriting success, is terrific with great production and lots of accompaniment. Mother’s Spiritual takes place after the birth of her child and many of the songs examine the role women in American life, children and motherhood. Both these records are great. However, for me, Tendaberry is glorious. It is dark. It is soulful. It is deeply introspective. It appeared in 1969 after the murders of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy and on the heals of the tumultuous 1968 election and following the complete unraveling of the Vietnam War. Don’t miss “Save the Country.” It was a hit for The Fifth Dimension; for Laura Nyro it is masterpiece.

While its absolutely fitting and past time the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame considers inducting Carole King in 2021, Laura Nyro received her induction in 2012. Yet if one compares their legacy, Nyro remains largely unremembered. Is it because she had far less commercial success? Is it because Nyro took long breaks in her career and continued to produce music more fitting to a certain time while musical styles and trends passed her by? Is it because the success she enjoyed as a popular songwriter were for truly “pop” artists and therefore aren’t a part of the canon? I don’t pretend to know the answer, but I think it’s sad.

Painting the Gringo 40’s Marines and North Vietnamese figures.

Marines advancing with M-16’s.

I promised to share a bit of my experiences painting these excellent miniatures, just in case you were searching for a way forward.

Let’s start with the Marines. They are more challenging than the NVA because they are laden with more stuff and have more detail.

The Marines are really well sculpted figures with no major mold marks and a minimal amount of flash. Occasionally little bits of flash will accumulate where there is a crook in an arm, right under the armpit, or other enclosed spaces on the figure. It’s easily removed with a hobby knife.

I primed my figures with Army Painter primer. I had about a quarter can of the Desert Yellow. It makes a good undercoat.

RTO operator is just a treasure. Lots of great detail on this guy, including his M-1 carbine.

After painting the basic face fleshtone I worked on the helmet cover. Apparently Marines in Vietnam had helmet covers that were reversible. One side had a green base, the other side had an earth base. I chose the earth side because I had photos that could help me a bit. After painting the base Vallejo Tan Earth, I created lots of splotches that ran together using Vallejo colors Flat Brown, Green Brown, and Camouflage Olive Green.

Marine snipers with Remington rifle.

Then it was on to the basic uniform color. While I have many Vallejo Olive or Green colors suitable, it was recommended that I try Russian Uniform WWII as a base color. It really worked well and I’m pleased with the result. I used your basic Ceramcoat black for boots, however a friend asked me about jungle boots, those webbing and leather footwear the grunts wore in the Pacific and in SE Asia. After a headslap and some research, I realized my mistake. Future Marines will wear these. Finally, the last major clothing item is the flak vest. I painted these Vallejo Iraqui Sand. Buttons would later be painted Neutral Grey.

3.5″ Super Bazooka crew. Because everyone needs a really big bazooka.

All these items required some highlighting. For the basic uniform color I just drybrushed some of the lightened Russian Uniform color, but Khaki would probably work too. On the boots I used Neutral Grey which is a several steps lighter than black and gives a nice contrast. On the flak vest I lightened the Iraqui Sand and washed with Vallejo Brown Wash. They didn’t quite cancel each other out.

Three marines with M-16’s. Lots of varieties of your average leatherneck with your average M-16.

There are lots of great detail bits. The M-16’s are nicely detailed. I try to avoid metallic bits so I painted the stocks black with charcoal highlights. The metal bits I painted neutral gray and picked out some of the nice detail with black lining. The RTO radio has batteries to detail Lots of batteries are khaki-ish, but there are photos of red ones and white ones too.

Most of the detail, however is the webbing-belts, canteens bandoliers, strapping, etc. I painted Vallejo Violet Brown, which is really a German aircraft color and a somewhat darker green. I dry-brushed with Khaki which nicely draws out the detail.

I’m very pleased with the finished product. The Gringo 40’s Marines are perhaps the nicest figures I’ve ever painted.

I also received a few of the North Vietnamese Army figures. Though the miniatures are quite nice, they are very different from the Marine figures. Anatomically, they are quite slight but well-formed. Unlike the Marines they aren’t swaddled in gear, though there is some of that. Their AK-47’s are quite nice. Painting them was a bit of a question for me. I knew absolutely nothing about NVA uniforms. I actually bought the Osprey Elite book on the NVA and Viet Cong forces and found it to be among the least helpful of any Osprey title.

NVA Colonel with female runner.

When in doubt do what the kids do: Google NVA Uniforms 1968. I learned the uniforms are generally green with tan equipment. Both would have faded with time and dirt.

NVA Infantry with AK 47’s

I hoped to use a Vallejo Game Colour–Camouflage Green and I had to order it. My paint ended up almost a chartreuse color, so I decided that wouldn’t work. I reached into my bag of tricks and used US Light Green from the Vallejo Air range. I like the color a lot, but as with all of the Air colors, it’s intended for use in an air brush and quite thin. I did three coats to get sufficient coverage. I lightened the paint with white for dry brushing.

A few more North Vietnamese regulars with AK 47’s

The equipage was a mix of Vallejo Khaki for back packs and assorted gear. I used Iraqui Sand for ammunition and grenade belts. I drybrushed over the Khaki and used Vallejo Brown Wash over the sand. This batch o’guys are all armed with AK 47’s. I’ve kind of avoided using metals on guns, so the wood parts of the rifle are Flat Brown, and I used Ceramcoat Charcoal for the barrel and magazine. They were great to work with and I enjoyed painting them a great deal.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

February progress at Mid-Month

1/300 Aircraft 6/150 Zero, zilch, nada. Haven’t touched a plane since the first week of the year. Never fear, these numbers will change. Yes, for the better. Don’t be a jerk.

Ships 11/50. Yep, I finished what I have handy. I’ll post about these later. But I did paint up three WTJ American cruisers and a couple of Spanish ships by Brown Water Navy. I do have a significant order I’m waiting on from Wartimes Journal but they’re taking their sweet time getting it out to me. When these are done all my current orders for 1/1250 figures will be complete. I do have some other naval stuff to work on including some 1/600 ACW ships and some 1/1000 scale Houston’s ships.

28mm figures. 66/400. Most of my attention this year has gone to painting 28mm figures. Some of these are the Gringo 40’s guys, but the rest are Old Glory Woodland Indians. I’ve finished 48 of the 60 I have, and will wrap up the last 12 this week. These are for my America Rampant project. Not sure what I’ll pick up next, but whatever I work on will include my Gringo 40’s figures.

I have ordered a few things in February. I placed a third Gringo 40’s order last week. This was evenly split between figures needed to fill out squads of NVA and Viet Cong and adding a few missing types from my Marines, specifically NCO’s. More interestingly is I’ve ordered a set of 3D printed Hue buildings from Vulcan Printing. I hope to share more about these in my month end wrap.

Rumblings of Vietnam and a January Wrap

The best thing about the Gringo40’s Marines is their sexcellent detail and the plethora of figures with wonderful animation. They simply don’t repeat themselves.

Though I am a regular viewer of The Miniatures Page, I am not one of its biggest fans. I simply feel there was a decline in the diversity and creativity of its posters. I hesitate to account for why that is, but it’s so. I mostly go there to see the work that others are doing, and I try to stay current on new stuff.

One era that has seen a lot of activity is the Vietnam War. Several posters have shared their painted figures and it has sucked me in. I’ve always had an interest in Vietnam but mostly from the standpoint of the America’s interest in the region, its entry into the conflict and the terrible toll politically, ethically and morally the country paid for fighting it. I truly believe there is nothing good that came from the Vietnam War and everything it touched was contaminated. Without Vietnam there would have been no Watergate. Without Watergate our lives would be very different. Vietnam and Watergate so eroded our belief and trust in government that now we have people attacking the capitol seeking to bring down an elected branch of government. That’s my opinion, like it or not.

A few years ago Mark Bowden, author of Blackhawk Down, wrote another book Hue, 1968. It is unquestionably one of the five best battle histories I’ve ever read and it sucked me into learning a bit more about the military history of the conflict.

When Gringo 40’s the British manufacturer, began producing figures for Hue it got my attention. It wasn’t just that the figures were available it’s that they are just so good. To be clear Empress Miniatures and Full Metal Miniatures also produce a figure range for Vietnam that are quite nice. But the G40’s figures have that je ne c’est quoi that make them really special.

The radiomen is excellent with superb detail Just couldn’t be better. Hopefully the super long RTO antenna lives through its first action.

This is especially true of the USMC figures. There are 45 figures in the range that include lots of M-16-carrying riflemen in many highly animated poses. Lots of detail that is easy to accent. Highly paint-able. With Marines shooting over walls or ducking behind cover, they are perfect for the urban house by house fighting in Hue.

Marine infantry team 1

I’ve finished all 11 of the Marine figures I’ve received. More about my approach to painting them in a subsequent post.

Sniper team with Remington rifle

I also ordered a smaller handful of the Gringo 40’s North Vietnamese Army figures. Again, these are very well crafted figures that mostly showcase regular guys with AK-47s with traditional NVA equipage. For me, they lack some of the animation and interest the Marines have. I think there is also a shortage of machine gun options for the NVA.

Because everybody needs a 3.5″ “Super Bazooka” team

At this writing, my eight figures are about 60% finished. I’ll share more when they are done.

I have a handful more figures coming, mostly Marines and a few Viet Cong. This is a project I’m working on with David Sullivan. We’re both limiting ourselves to 100-125 figures each, so this isn’t an endless project. Mark Waddington also has many painted 28mm Vietnam figures and is interested in playing too. I don’t think we’ve firmly decided on a set of rules, but we are definitely looking at Ganesha’s Flying Lead, and in a blast from the past Giac My, a very 70’s set of skirmish rules. I’m also dickering to purchase a bunch of printed buildings modeled on those in Hue. I’ll letcha know when or if it happens.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

January was a solid painting month. I don’t know if you could call it great or spectacular but some things definitely got done.

1/300 Aircraft 6/150. Let’s see, that’s about 2% of my projected production, so there’s still a ways ago. Got distracted by other stuff.

1/1250 Ships 11/50 No new progress here for the past couple of weeks. I do have five ships to finish for February, but I am a little distracted right now. Still some stuff to arrive from Wartimes Journal too.

28mm figures 35/400 The last couple of weeks have been all about the 28’s. I finished 24 Woodland Indians and the 11 Gringo 40’s Marines

I have gone and bought some stuff this month. There were the WTJ and Shapeways orders. In addition I made the second Gringo 40’s order. Lastly, but every bit as important, I ordered 36 more Spanish musketeer figures for my America Rampant army. These are to fill out units, which are under-sized for Rebels and Patriots, and maybe add a new one as well. Lots of stuff got ordered, less in the future.

Goals for February.

  1. Finish all the Gringo 40’s figures I have and may receive.
  2. Complete the five ships I currently have, in addition to any more I might receive (come on WTJ.)
  3. Continue working on Woodland Indians. 24 down 48 more to go.

Boxology

So let’s take a quick break from Spanish-American War ships and talk about figure storage or stuff storage. If you are a real miniatures gamer, this is a problem. Not only is storage an issue but getting figures from one place to another is a puzzle, which unsovled can lead to tragic consequences. The fall from grace. The sudden stop when miniatures, terrain pieces and assorted gaming ephemera take flight and evoke tears. Yes, as a matter of fact, this has happened to me.

I’m always amazed at the work my colleagues do to safely schlep their stuff around. Despite all the money that goes into buying figures and terrain bits, the countless hours of painting, modeling and creating, it never ceases to amaze me that in this golden age of miniature wargaming there isn’t a single sure-fire commercial answer to storing and moving about one’s figures. Whew! That was a long sentence. A sign of exasperation to be sure.

This is your basic Michael’s scrapbooking plastic box. Usually they cost about eight bucks, but it’s not unusual to get them 50% cheaper. They have the snap clasps and are perfect for holding my planes. I have lots of planes and lots of Michael’s boxes.

I’ve resorted to lots of measures to do what needs to be done with my little men. I’ve resorted to lots of plastic boxes that I’ve lined with sheet steel roof flashing, then I make sure to magnetize my figure bases and that usually takes care of miniatures slip slidin’ away. For my planes, I also put them in plastic boxes lined with styrofoam. Their brass pins are nicely held by the stryrofoam. Note: I urge against using the extruded foam balls that are mashed together. It’s harder to create re-usable holes for your pins. Use the good stuff, the floral blocks if you can get it. It tends to be a little more expensive, but you’ll appreciate the difference.

Another example of a scrapbooking plastic box. These have clasps on hinges and are generally a bit stronger than the Michael’s boxes. Good for holding miniatures without flags or long spears. I usually get these at Jo-Ann’s or Hobby Lobby. Usually I can snag them for about $12. This holds my British light infantry and grenadiers from our Concord game.

These plastic boxes are usually made for scrapbookers. For miniatures, I’m especially fond of the boxes with twin hinges. The boxes tend to be a little sturdier and the hinges works better than the boxes with the plastic snaps. They are also a bit more expensive. I usually pay about twelve bucks for them at Jo-Anns which seems to have them perpetually on sale. My planes usually go into the Michael’s boxes. They have the cheapy snaps which are okay because the planes don’t weigh much. These are regularly eight dollars, but I can often get them on sale for half that.

These boxes work great for 28mm figures on a base that doesn’t include a standard bearer. Flagmen are a crapshoot. If you like big flags or tall flag poles forget it.

This flat picture box holds my SAM-2 site from Cold War Goes Hot game Daveshoe and I ran a few years back.

Of course, these aren’t the only boxes that I use. There are the cardboard variety too. But you can’t use just any box. In our house, we do a lot of online shopping, and when the goodies arrive inspecting the boxes is often celebrated as much as unpacking the orders. But every ol’ Amazon box is just not going to cut it.

Ah, jeez-I lied. I actually do use Amazon boxes, almost exclusively for terrain bits. These jungle pieces were for Cold War Goes Hot, an air game featuring a hypothetical air assault during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

I use carboard boxes that are deeper for figures that are taller. For example my Dorian Hawkmoon army for Dragon Rampant uses this box to accommodate the really tall Eureka standards.

For the most part, it’s really important that a box be tall enough and that it be sturdy enough. Boxes that close at the top won’t work. There just isn’t a way to keep them closed but accessible enough for them to be useful to me.

There are two sources of boxes I like best. The first is Tilebar. We’ve done lots of remodeling at Chez Smyth the last five or so years. We’ve also done lots of tile work. The Tilebar boxes came with tile samples we’ve ordered. And if you knew my wife, you’d know she likes to look at lots of samples before making a decision. While the indecision might make me crazy, the boxes made that frustration worth it. These are sturdy, pretty square and fairly deep. Unfortunately I only have a few of them.

Tilebar box holding masted 1/600 ACW ships. The Niagara–far left–needs a bit of a repair.

My absolute favorite box comes from an online clothing maker, Ash and Erie. Because I am short with short legs and arms, I order a lot of my clothes from these guys who cater to those 5’8″ or shorter. They make pants that are the right length to go with my girth, and shirts that don’t have arms two inches too long. Because I’ve been losing weight over the last couple of years, I’ve ordered more from them.

My wife accuses me of ordering from Ash and Erie just because I’m so over-joyed at getting their green and white boxes.

These boxes are about 13″ X 10″ X 3.5″ so they aren’t large. They are super sturdy, well-made all around with a front closure. The box comes in a larger size to hold larger orders, but because their line of jeans and shirts are spendy, I don’t order in large quantities or very often.

Boxes are important to our hobby and good boxes are like gold. Just some of my thoughts. Maybe you have a few of your own.

Kevin’s eager box stash waiting to be called into service.

American Greyhounds: The Armed Merchant Cruisers

Yale (left) and St. Louis (right) alongside Oregon-class battleships just to give a size comparison

I know, I know, you’re thinking, “Doesn’t this guy have something else to write about?” Well, like many of you I’m stuck at home with not much better to do than watch the impeachment doin’s, hear the State Farm commercial with Smokey Robinson’s “Cruising” in the background, and let my dogs out in the backyard. Sorry, you’re stuck with weird Spanish American War ships.

As America sank into war in the spring of 1898, there was real fear the navy simply didn’t have enough ships to take an offensive war to Spanish possessions in the Philippines and the Caribbean AND defend the critical east coast ports from Boston to Miami. They turned to private shippers and shipowners to press additional vessels into service. From private yachts to trans-Atlantic liners, all kinds of ships donned navy gray and joined the U.S. Navy.

The St. Louis by War Times Journal is a bit bigger and beefier than the Yale. The model probably has a few too many guns (it only had four 5-inch guns)

That includes four trans-Atlantic passenger steamers that were leased to the Navy for a fee. These were the SS Saint. Louis, SS Saint Paul, The City of Paris, and City of New York. All four of these ships were quite large, measuring 550-600ft. St. Louis and St. Paul were about 15,000 tons and the two City ships were bigger still. By comparison, the Oregon class battleships were 350 ft. long and just over 10,000 tons. All that armor and big guns. They were all pretty fast at around 20 knots, and with a sprinkling of medium and light guns, posed a danger to lightly-armed or unarmed Spanish merchant vessels.

War Times Journal Yale showing off its recently added mizzen-mast.
Yale was launched as City of New York. Once held the speed record for trans-Atlantic crossings. Yale may have appeared in these colors when it crept into San Juan harbor in May 1898

The two City class ships were re-named Yale and Harvard respectively. Both took part, separately in actions in San Juan harbor, and neither particularly distinguished themselves. Yale was the first American ships to arrive off Santiago harbor after Cervera’s cruisers ducked inside and kept an eye on things until Sampson’s blockading force arrived. Harvard spent the war mostly serving auxiliary duties, transporting troops and supplies to the American headquarters at Guantanamo, Cuba.

Saint Louis and Saint Paul became St. Louis and St. Paul. St. Louis was best known for tearing up trans-Atlantic cables off Santiago and Cienfuegos, isolating these strongholds from Europe. The big ship went on to hold many of the survivors of Cervera’s squadron after the Battle of Santiago Bay. St. Paul fought at the second naval battle of San Juan. It engaged the wretched Velasco-class cruiser Isabel II and the destroyer Terror, doing significant damage to the latter and driving both ships back into port.

When I saw that War Times Journal had St. Louis and Yale I was intrigued. But they were part of their printed plastic range and at over 40 bucks a whack pretty expensive. But, sucker that I am, I bit on the St. Louis. After I ordered I received an e-mail from Jim at WTJ letting me know they were able to print the ships on DLP that would save me money and he’d credit me back. Like 50%. I was all in. I added Yale to a subsequent order, and now have Harvard coming.

Both models are really big, just short of six inches long. Nicely detailed with holes for masts. I painted them in Vallejo Light Grey with a little dry brush of Vallejo Sky Grey. I painted the greenhouses that each seemed to affect in Vallejo Ivory, though it wouldn’t surprise me if they painted those grey too. Apparently Yale didn’t get a gray paint job and used its Inman Line markings to sneak into San Juan harbor past the shore batteries. That’s an option. Like I said, I have another Yale coming, so something to think about.

I went with pretty simple masts. No fighting tops. Both ships are made with the mast holes pre-made. I stubbornly believed that Yale had only two masts despite the three holes, so moments ago, after another look at photos, found myself making and painting a third. Doh!!

Goals

I set some goals for the year. It’s never too early to check in

Planes 6/150 I haven’t done much since wrapping up the two engine fighters and reconnaissance planes. I have a nine Tojo fighters waiting for paint. I’ll try to get these done before the end of the month

Ships. 11/50 You can see where my time has gone this month. I have three American protected cruisers on hand with some more ships on the way, but I really don’t have that many more left to focus on.

28mm figures 0/400 Well that’s kind of sad. I have a dozen Woodland Indians about half done. I need to get more done. Would like to be at 24 by the end of the month.

Not a lot so far, but things are coming along.

Monitors–A Blast From the Past

USS Amphitrite at anchor. Note the low freeboard.

This should be a story about American Civil War ships, and in a way it is. If there is an enduring naval image from that conflict it is the arrival of the Monitor off Hampton Roads the night of March 8, 1862 to save the Union fleet from destruction. Or maybe it is Admiral Dupont’s over-matched flotilla of Passaic-class ships taking on the massed guns of Charleston’s defenses. Perhaps it is the Tecumseh turning turtle as she struck a mine entering Mobile Bay.

Despite the rapid decrepitude that spread through the U.S. Navy after the end of that conflict, the spirit of the monitor continued. Though the Congress undid and sold off many of its solid wartime investments, some ships remained in reserve. Many, built with unseasoned wood, rotted away. A few, such as the sloop Trenton served admirably until her destruction in the great storm in Apia harbor in 1889. The double-end gunboat Monocacy served with distinction in China until 1903. But for the most part, the navy added little and mostly disintegrated into irrelevance until its rebirth in the late 1880’s.

USS Terror in illustration

But there was this business about the monitors. Donald Canney in his Old Steam Navy: Ironclads 1812-1885 recounted the scandal around the “rebuilding” of the Monadnock class double-turreted ships as well as the huge Puritan in the 1870’s. Though intended to be reconstruction and modernization of the old wooden-hulled ironclads, shipyards up and down the east coast and in California got a piece of the action. The reconstruction turned into scrapping the old ships and building new iron-hulled monitors that took more than a decade. What emerged was six ships with iron-hulls, Civil War era engines, and some decent guns. All these ships played a role in the Spanish American War.

The four Miantanomoh class monitors–Miantanomoh, Monadnock, Terror and Amphitrite all entered service between 1891-96. They were the smallest of the ships at just under 4,000 tons. Their engines were virtually antiques and their freeboard was barely above the water. They were hard to target, but could hardly fire their main armament while under way. They mounted four fairly modern 10-inch guns in two turrets.

The Puritan was the largest of the squat, homely ships, weighing in at about 6,000 tons, or about the same size as the martyred USS Maine, or ACR-2 USS Texas. Commissioned in 1896, Puritan mounted four pretty modern 12-inch guns. Also had a higher freeboard than the Miantanomohs.

This is such a great photo of the Monterey settling in to “fighting trim.” Note, this picture is taken in San Francisco Bay not in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Photo from John D. Alden’s priceless American Steel Navy

The Monterey at 4,100 tons was built in San Francisco and served on the West Coast. She had a double-bottom, and could fill it with seawater to submerge to “fighting trim” with its decks actually under water. Authorized by Congress to meet strict specifications, the planned four 12-inch gun armament exceeded the contracted displacement, and settled on two 12-inch guns in the bow turret and two 10-inch guns in the stern turret.

Amphitrite, Terror, Miantanomoh and Puritan all served in the Caribbean during the 1898 war. They made their way to sea and performed important bombardment missions. Monterey and Monadnock made their way across the Pacific to the Philippines where they joined Commodore Dewey’s fleet. Even the moth-balled Civil War era Canonicus class monitors were activated to perform harbor defense with their ancient smoothbore guns.

If you’ve hung in this long, thanks. Matt Lawson of Brown Water Navy has added the monitors to his 1/1250 range, and I happy to say I’ve added them to my collection. They’re kind of uninteresting as far as ships go, but the models are beautifully uninteresting. Puritan is solid and good sized. Monterey is odd with it’s pair of mis-matched turrets. The Miantanomohs are small but quite nice.

The smaller monitors can be ordered as a four pack, which I did. They are cheaper that way and cheap is always good. Because of their lack of hull thickness they are pretty fragile and require some care in the fine detail plastic, which is pretty brittle. In trying to cut the mold mark off one of the ships I also accidentally removed the bridge and various other bits, so care is required. Still some great stuff.

More than you want to know about the Spanish American War era monitors.

At Last, The Good Stuff–The Spanish Armored Cruisers

The three Vizcaya class armored cruisers: Maria Terese, Vizcaya, and Almirante Oquendo.

I have, good-natured person that I am, been very consistent about building all my Spanish ship models, without regard to quality or quantity, without concern for modernity or obsolescence. Whether they had iron armor or no armor, modern rifled guns or antique muzzle loaders I’ve built em. I’ve carefully constructed masts. Gave ’em a nice black hull (with dry-brushing!!!), white superstructure, buff stacks and masts. I’ve got 23 painted Spanish ships, that are mostly trash. Tiny unprotected cruisers that would be threatened by a herd of feeding manatees.

However, the Spanish are saved, sort of.

All my long-awaited ship orders have arrived, and among them the Spanish armored cruisers that so affected American war-planning during the Spanish American War. Wartimes Journal sent me the three Vizcaya class cruisers (Vizcaya, Maria Teresa, and Almirante Oquendo), Cataluna, and Cristobal Colon. The latter was offered with or without main armament, as it appeared and was sunk during the Battle of Santiago Bay. I was charitable and ordered it with ten-inch guns. They are very nice minis.

Cataluna has full gun turrets and white upper hull. The Cataluna was a decent ship but was not completed early enough to take part in the Spanish American War along with her sisters Princesa de Asturias and Cardinal Cisneros

The Wartime Journal DLP printed plastic ships are very cool, but they have many mold marks that have to be removed. With a sharp knife. This creates several problems. The first is I have to actually locate all the mold marks, preferably before priming. Then I actually have to remove them. I almost always replace an X-acto blade when I sit down to do this work with my precision (not) cuts. Some bits I mistake for detail are actually mold marks and I discover this when I’ve painted my third color. It’s okay, I just leave ’em for consistency on all the models.

Close up of Vizcaya

In any case, Spanish armored cruisers were a lot of fun to build. They are big ships with big masts. I used .032″ brass rod for the masts, and .020″ rod for yards. Tiny .006″ wire for gaffs. I tried some of the WTJ medium fighting tops. I liked them a lot. Very easy to use. If I had to do it again I might have ordered the assortment of fighting tops, but I would have been short of appropriate sizes. In any case, the pre-made product is worth your time and money.

Cristobal Colon is the Johnny Cash of Spanish cruisers–all in black. Also the smallest of the lot.

The three Vizcayas and Cataluna each have two masts, Cristobal Colon has one. I did have to use my pin vise to enlarge the pre-drilled holes for the larger masts. Not a big deal. I assembled each ship’s masts separately meaning I got each ships masts to look the same, whether that was right or wrong, but they might not look the same from ship to ship.

From there it was just on to paint, which varies slightly from ship to ship. The Vizcayas and Cataluna have buff main battery hoods, while Cristobal Colon is just pretty much black. The Vizcayas also have that cute thin white stripe that has eliminated several years of good vision from my future.

Most importantly they’re done and join the Spanish fleet. They are the spine of the Spanish navy. They’re pretty big and fast. They have a sparse main battery of really big guns with a fine secondary armament. Some good armor too on the belts and barbettes, but the turrets aren’t really armored, just steel hoods. Even so, they match up pretty well against American cruisers such as New York or Brooklyn. They could run away from the American battleships until, of course, they couldn’t.

The armored cruisers fill out the Spanish nicely. I still have ships to paint and I am making one last order each to WTJ and Shapeways. From the former I’ll have one copy each of the remaining shore batteries. I’ll have one more Cataluna, the gunboat El Cano, a generic Spanish destroyer and the American armed merchant cruiser Harvard. Brown Water Navy has added more stuff I can’t seem to live without. All Spanish, beginning with the armed merchant cruiser Rapido, the destroyer Destructor, and the Fernando El Catolico gunboat

I think that will end my ship purchases for the time being.

Yeah, right.

Plans, Those Cursed Plans!

I am a planner by nature. I don’t know if it was 36 years of teaching, or I know that if I don’t plan for something I’ll do nothing, or what the deal is. I just know I like to have a plan.

Be honest, though, it’s a tough year to have a plan. I plan for games, especially convention games and let’s be clear–who knows when the next convention game will be and who will want to play in it? Not only that, but all my games for Enfilade 2020 are finished–just need to get ’em out on the table.

So what does 2021 look like? What I’m I gonna do? Games may be hard to come by, but I will always paint. So here are some thoughts.

In my last post, I mentioned acquiring some of the Vietnam range from Gringo40’s. There are piles of different figures-USMC, NVA, VC and others. I’m really interested in mostly small arms stuff–though I gotta say the idea of an ONTOS gets me thinking. In any case, this qualifies as something new, but I’m not in a hurry to acquire them. I’m looking at singly mounted skirmish rules that would require maybe 30 figures for a game. But honestly I’m just attracted to the figures. They are very nice. I have some on the way and will share them when they arrive.

An Ontos for a Vietnam project might be hard to resist.

Sticking with 28mm figures, I’m also going to work on some existing stuff. I’ve got 72 Old Glory Woodland Indians for America Rampant that will be mounted on a 3-2-1 system. I have a few Spanish cavalry for the project too. In addition, I’ve ordered some additional Spanish foot to fill out my existing units. Finishing America Rampant is number one on my hit parade.

Another 28mm project would be working on some of my American Revolution figures. I have quite a few figures, but I definitely want to finish my Prussian Regt. Von Bose and the 23rd Regt (Royal Welsh Fusiliers) for Regimental Fire and Fury. I have some Warlord plastic militia figures I wouldn’t mind completing as well.

There are and always will be ships in my life. I’ll continue working on my Spanish and American 1/1250th stuff, and I will probably add some Italians and Japanese. The Italians, well, because nobody has much. The Japanese because I want to give the Americans in the Philippines something else to shoot at.

My ship collection has gone from about a dozen ships to 105 plus about 15 unpainted unbuilt 1/1250 scale ships

Jon Freitag, a regular reader of this blog passed along some Spanish Houston’s ships models and I really look forward to working on those guys. I might also put the word out that I’m interested in any and all ships from this sadly discontinued range.

And there are my 1/600 ACW ships. I’d like to finish Richmond and Minnesota, my two remaining ships. Then there are more I’d like to add. Thoroughbred offerings continue to be my go-to, but there are some good looking iterations of the City-class ironclads by Brown Water Navy I’d like to give a try.

Finally, I will continue painting my stack of planes. I’m still plowing through my many Japanese aircraft. I probably have 40 or so left to go. I could see myself adding more Nells and Bettys because I think I only have four of each. However, my thinking is when they’re done they’re done. I have a lot of B-25’s and B-24J’s to paint for Rabaul, but project-wise I’m probably looking at a shift to Vietnam. I’ve had the planes to do it a long time, I need to get on with it.

So there, I’ve kind of laid out some parameters for the year. I think some numbers projections are in order.

I’m thinking minimum 400 28mm figures

1/1250 and 1/1000 scale ships–50

1/300is scale planes–150

The really good news is I really don’t need to do a lot of buying to meet these goals. Not that there won’t be some purchases made because–I am a historical miniature gamer.

That should keep me busy. Just to be clear, yesterday I completed two Japanese KI-46 Dinah reconnaissance planes, three KI-45 Nick heavy fighters, and a M6A Seiran float plane (I might snag a few more of these for a sub attack on the Panama Canal.) So I’m good for 6 of 150 planes.

Before closing I should report on my end of the year painting rush.

28mm figures–72/60 Wrapped the year up by painting all of my 28mm Wayne’s Legion figures

1/1250 ships–28/40 It took a long time to get my ships and then when I did I kind of crapped out. However, I have added a pile of really bad Spanish unprotected cruisers to my collection and I don’t think many others can say that.

1/300ish planes 37/50–Yeah, no good excuses here. I just kind of coasted the last week of the year.

Here’s to hoping 2021 is somehow better than 2020. Happy new year and best wishes to each and every one of you.

2020 Year In Review–You’ve Got To Be Kidding Me.

It’s hard to know what to say when this hobby desperately depends on the social interaction we are virtually forbidden by law and common sense from having. Let me simply posit that 2020 has been a shitty year in almost any quantifiable form.

I’ve probably been more fortunate, or dumber, than many of my gaming friends. I’ve been able to squeeze some games in. I’ve commented on Dave Schueler’s summer gaming series. I squoze a few games into George Kettler’s gaming bunker. I managed to host my first ever gaming hoo-hah in my garage.

No Enfilade. No Fix Bayonets. Enfilade 2021 has been moved to Labor Day Weekend. Drumbeat likely won’t happen. No Museum of Flight. Not much of anything on the calendar. Even gaming with my friends looks like a springtime activity if we can play outside.

The worst part is not being able to see my friends. Play a game, grab a beer, talk about wherever gaming nerds go after a game, I miss that most of all.

Still there were some memorable games. David Sullivan and I ran our Dan Crossing game at Drumbeat in February using the Rebels and Patriots rules. The Dave Schueler Outdoor series was a bunch of fun games, but my favorite was the Philippine Insurrection game from August. Had a blast with George and Michael playing Ironclads. Of course struggling through the chill of the Manila Bay game was fun, if a bit tingly. Unfortunately, I’m left with that empty “but when are we going to get to play again” feeling.

If we missed out on a lot of games, there were also some good things that came out of the pandemic year. Here are some of them.

John Gee. John is new to the Pacific Northwest. He and his wonderful wife Susan left the Bay Area for Bellingham, which is not terribly close to Puyallup, but much closer than Richmond, CA. John was always a memory from my gaming experience in California from the early 70’s. He’s a bit older than me, but as passionate about the hobby as anyone I’ve ever known. John has pushed the expansion of the Tiny Ships project and I so appreciate him. New friends are better than new stuff.

Ships. That’s all my 1/1250 stuff for now. I have more awaiting paint.

Which segues nicely to the Tiny Ships. When I began the year I had a dozen 1/1250 scale ships. They were really nothing. And what was I going to do with them? Today I have 105 ships. I have another fifteen models that need building. The majority of them are American ships. About a quarter of them are Spanish. They are largely of the Spanish American War era. I also have some Germans, some Chileans and a few Swedes. The project began as a no modeling, no painting project but a few things threw a monkey wrench into that plan. One is cost. The Hai, Navis and a couple of other makers models are really spendy. Another issue is because they are largely of German and Austrian manufacture, they are mostly unavailable. My suppliers can’t get the ships even if I could afford to buy them. I have become a ship model dude. But most importantly, I really enjoy building the ships. I’ve pretty much stuck to Wartimes Journal and Brown Water Navy miniatures. I’m happy to build masts, and painting is simply no big deal. The Spanish-American fleets are almost built out, but I’m sure I’ll continue to add other pre-dreadnought ships, because they’re sort of like Lay’s Potato Ships.

Projects. It’s been a good year for painting. Except for the ships and few planes early in the year, I really haven’t bought many figures. I also made it a practice to juggle a few things at once. Ships, planes, and 28mm figures kept me from getting bored with what I was doing. I did finish some important stuff in 2020:

The Philippine Insurrection project–It took three years to finish up the 400 figures plus for this, but now they’re done and I’m really pleased with how it all turned out. I just need a chance to use it a bit more.

1/600 ACW ships–When the pandemic began I had about eight unpainted, unbuilt ships. I’m down to two. That’s after ordering and building four plus what I had. It was a very useful activity for me. I enjoyed the painting, as always, but the rigging was something I never thought I’d be able to do. It was fun.

1/300 planes. I’ve focused on Japanese planes the last couple of months, but planes just make their way into my painting plans. There were A-6 Intruders, Australian P-40’s, Beauforts and Beaufighters, F-8’s, and A-4’s. I have lots that need paint that I’ve acquired over the years, but like most things I work on, I just enjoy doing them.

So what will 2021 look like?

There will be more ships and more planes. But as with each year there will be projects. I did make progress on painting leftover figures from America Rampant. Those units were originally sized at ten figures. But I really want to do Rebels and Patriots, which require 12 and 18 figure units. I’ve filled out my American units and added a few more. I have about 50 Woodland Indians to paint. I run into trouble with my Spanish figures. I’ve painted all I have and need more, so I’ve placed an order for the RSM figures I use to fill them out a bit.

I don’t usually let new and shiny figures suck me into a project, but the Gringo 40’s Vietnam range is just super. Lots of action, great detail. I’ve ordered a handful of figures from them–Marines and NVA for Hue. I’m thinking Flying Lead! by Ganesha Games. In many ways this is just a vanity project. The figures are nice, I like to paint. I want a shot at painting these really nice figures. David Sullivan may join me. There’s plenty of room in the pool.

I could name all the projects I have to work on, but that would be a bore. Just be assured there are plenty of things to paint and I’ll be posting them as I go along.

Most of all, I’m just pleased for 2020 to end. I’m hoping that eventually we’ll all see one another in person, worry less about elections and vaccines, and enjoy that post game beer together.

Gaming In A Time of Covid 19 Part Two

The Spanish fleet passes the breakwater guarding Manila City. The shell splashes foretell their doom.

Like all of you, I’m doing my best to figure out novel ways of squeaking in some gaming. I’ve done some Zoom RPG gaming with a group of friends on Thursday nights. I’ve played a few one on one board games, a few one on one miniatures games. Aside from the Dave Schueler Summer Series outdoors under a canopy, gaming has been pretty thin. My guess is that for many of you it’s been similar.

As our summer program began to wind down I started to get antsy. With the interest in pre-dreadnought ships I began to get the idea playing David Manley’s Splendid Little War campaign game might be fun if we could substitute Fire When Ready for the tabletop battles. John Gee was willing to be the Spanish player, Dave was happy to referee and I was delighted to play the Americans.

We immediately began setting up our forces and making plans for turn one. It goes without saying that on turn one the Americans attack the Spanish fleet at Manila Bay. George Dewey did it and by god if it was good enough for the commodore it was good enough for me.

The challenge was getting everyone together to do the Manila game on the tabletop. Let’s start with the basics. I offered to host at my house, and I live about as far away from everyone as I can. Dave Schueler lives in West Seattle, so a cool hour plus away. John lives in Bellingham, which may as well be in Auckland. David Sullivan agreed to play and he lives in Lynnwood, at least an hour and half from my happy South Hill, WA home.

There really wasn’t another place to play. I recently did a serious cleaning of my garage with my wonderful wife. We shucked a lot of stuff. I’d reorganized, and really hoped that eventually the garage could be a place to play a few games.

But there was this pandemic thing. The campaign started at the end of October, but by the beginning of November infection rates in Pierce County had tripled. We had a date set, but concern over safety led to cancellation. Further negotiations reset the game day for December 12th. We would be masked. The garage door would be open to the elements. I’d put some space heaters in the garage and hope for the best. In the week leading up to the game I set up the tables, laid out the sea mat, the shoreline and Cavite peninsula.

John came down on Friday night and stayed at our local Holiday Inn Express. I picked him and traveled back to Chez Smyth for dinner. It was an enjoyable evening as we chatted about a million different things. Lorri and the Aussies hung out with us and I took him back to the hotel.

I got up early the next morning to be sure things were okay. The difficulty started there. At 8:30 I went out to my car to run out to Fred Meyers to pick up ice for the ice chest. 29 degrees. No clouds. Ice everywhere. I picked up ice, but also grabbed some Via instant coffee and as soon as I got back plugged in an instant pot of water. I knew John drank tea, so I found a bit of that.

John called at 9:30 as he pulled into the driveway. We set up the rest of the table. Geez it was cold. That was with space heaters plugged in and garage door closed.

Dave Schueler and John Gee talk set up.

David Sullivan pulled into the driveway twenty minutes later and we opened the garage door. Dave Schueler drove in just before ten. The crew was present.

David joined John as a Spanish commander. Admiral Gee already decided he was not going fight quite as humanely as Admiral Montojo. Montojo moored his ships close to the shore so if they were sunk his sailors could easily swim to shore. No fire from supporting gun batteries for fear the Americans would respond by bombarding the city. Instead John’s plan was to take full advantage of the supporting gun batteries. His ships would move as quickly as possible (but quite slowly,) and come out to meet the Yanquis hoping for some good shooting from the shore defenses. John ran the bulk of the unprotected Spanish cruisers, while David controlled most of the batteries and a few little Spanish gunboats.

Olympia was consistently the nastiest ship on the table, wrecking one ship after another. John Gee’s model by Houston’s Ships. These are really missed.

Dave and I had the Americans which divided into a fast division and a slow division. I took the faster ships which included the cruisers Olympia, Baltimore, Raleigh and the gunboat Concord. Dave followed with the remaining slower vessels the cruiser Boston, gunboat Petrel and Coast Guard cutter McCullough.

With everything in place the game began, each of us masked while trying not to fog our glasses in the cold air.

First turn began much as many of the succeeding turns. The Americans rolled initiative requiring the Spanish to move first, and the Americans firing first. Olympia hit Castilla with her eight inch mains and five inch secondaries, forcing her to check morale and withdraw from the action. The second turn the Reina Cristina was set afire and would sink soon after. The Spaniards fired back mostly in vain.

Turn Two: after suffering heavy damage from Olympia Castilla is forced to retire from the action.
After turn three, Reina Cristina, badly damaged and fully ablaze drops out of line.

However the shore batteries had more success. On turn three, Olympia was struck on the bridge, temporarily disabling Dewey. Later Raleigh suffered a steering critical that forced her to drop out of line and veer crazily through the formation.

American fire was devastating when it hit. It was the hitting part that was challenging. Fire was focused on the Spanish ships unless the batteries were the only available target. It was tough to damage, and the loss of Montojo’s squadron would leave the city pretty undefended. As the American ships counter-marched back toward the Spanish squadron, one by one the little colonial cruisers Isla de Luzon and Isla de Ulloa were hit and sunk. The gunboats suffered a similar fate. Only Castilla escaped destruction.

The Americans have counter-marched and are speeding back toward the Spanish fleet, Olympia leading. The Raleigh has suffered a steering hit and has withdrawn from the line.

Though the Spanish squadron was destroyed, they claimed a bit of payback when two critical hits to Concord turned into a raging fire and broken steam line. Her crew was taken off and the ship was abandoned. The American fleet withdrew from thetable to regroup.

Concord burns!!

The game ended at 1:00. By then I was really cold. My fingers were tingling and my feet were freezing. The temperature never reached above 40 degrees for the day. Usually after a game we hang out and yak. David left soon after the game ended. John brought all the ships–his delightful collection of Houston’s Ships in their delightfully overlarge 1/1000 scale. We helped him pack and he was off on his long drive home. Dave did hang out and we chatted over a Bodhizafa as we always do and that was great.

It was a fun game. The company was the best. The weather just sucked. If it had been April, 50 degrees and rainy, it would have been fine. In fact it was 50 and rainy later in the week. The garage showed itself to be a usable venue. But honestly, despite all the precautions we took, I’m not sure I’m in a hurry to try again until the weather improves, and the level of infection improves too. It may be my last game for a while.

Most of the photos were taken by David Sullivan.