Notes from the front

A long and wordy post, mostly for me as a record of the reading I have been doing around the Korean War.

For a war that is so often labelled as forgotten, there is a surprising number of books. Many of which seem to be called The Korean War. Wedged as it is between the second world war and Vietnam it is understandable that it often appears lower in understanding and awareness of people in the US, UK and Australia. Among gamers this strapline is misplaced. However, it is a complex conflict, occurring in a time of enormous change in politics, culture, and technology, so a certain amount of confusion and misunderstanding is not surprising.

Perspectives and memories of the Korean war vary widely (in this it is not unique).  The war is not forgotten in Korea (North or South). Indeed, in the North in particular, it is not even over. Japan, officially at least, has the usual myopia over its role and actions in the early to mid-twentieth century. I think China, who in some ways should know better given the interaction with their neighbour over many years, has its usual understanding of the facts subsumed to the perceived needs of the ruling party.

A useful antidote to perception bias is to read widely, although my reading has still been skewed to the Australian experience. Nearly all of my books have been borrowed from the wonderful Goldfields Library. How ace are libraries?

TLDR; Where to start and don’t want to read 15 books? For gamers, the Osprey Men-At-Arms is probably the quickest overview if you want a little more than Bolt Action supplement. For a comprehensive military overview, either Hastings (more military) or Cummins (more politics) are the place to start. Both are good, but you probably only need to read one. From there, it will really depend on your interests. Probably the best book I read, the one that fired my imagination the most, was Scorched Earth, Black Snow. Although it focuses on Commonwealth units in 1950, I think even US readers will find this engaging and evocative.

Korean War Histories

The Korean War, Max Hastings (1987). By weight, Hastings wins. Lots of other authors refer to Hastings, and with some reason as it is a comprehensive overview of the war. Its main limitation (if the size doesn’t daunt you) is it is a very western view, with mostly US and UK voices. This is in part because of the material available at the time (it was first published in 1987). With this caveat, Hastings is a successful military history.

The Korean War: a history, Bruce Cummins (2010). I don’t know if Cummins and Hastings get along, but Cummins doesn’t like Hastings’ book. This alone makes this history worth reading. The disputes between the two are modest, residing in interpretation or emphasis rather than the narrative of events. Cummins has the advantage of access to additional scholarship and source material since Hastings published. He also frames the hot war of 50 to 53 in the longer history of the Korean Peninsula, which helps understand how it this war did not really erupt from nowhere, even if Korea was not well known in the West.

Brothers at War: the unending conflict in Korea, Shelia Miyoshi Jager (2013). A comprehensive history of the Korean struggle, written using the widest range of voices of any of the books I have read on this topic, including Chinese sources. Those looking for details on particular battles will need to look elsewhere (but plenty of material is available, e.g. Hastings or works on specific battles or units). However, those looking to understand the origins and ongoing repercussions of the Korean War should read Miyoshi Jager.

The Korean War 1950-53: Osprey Men-at-Arms, Nigel Thomas and Peter Abbott (1986). The usual, useful overview of the conflict, along with photos and references for painting.

Australian Experience in Korea

Scorched earth, black Snow: Britain and Australia in the Korean War, Andrew Salmon (2011). Scorched earth, black snow zooms in on not just the first year of the war, but the experiences of the British and Australian battalions during that year. This tighter focus compared with the grander histories leaves plenty of room to bring lots of colour and detail on the battles, individuals and locations involved.

The Korean War: Australia in the giant’s playground (2010), Cameron Forbes. This book focuses on Australia’s involvement in Korea, with insight into Australia at the time as well as placing the role of Australian forces in the wider struggle. Forbes quotes many documents from the time, letters, newspapers and reports that helps bring the history to life. It includes material on the air force and navy contributions.

A Different Sort of War: Australians in Korea 1950-53, Richard Trembath (2005). Dry but extensive survey of the Australian experience in Korea, includes many quotes from the time.

The Battle of Maryang San: Australian Army Campaign Series; these are great a series, researched and produced by the Army History Unit. It is well worth checking if the campaign or theater you’re interested in is covered by this series. This Korean contribution is no different.

Memoires

The Last Call of the Bugle, Jack Gallaway (1994). Gallaway is one of the books frequently quoted in the sources of more recent books on Australians in Korea. It is worth reading for an insight into those who fought. Some of the language is dated but it is a classic of the genre.

Wild Knights in No-Man’s Land: The Korean War recalled by an Australian Infantry Officer, Bruce Matthews (2004). The memoire of a New Zealand reservist who volunteered in the Australian Army to head to Korea. I’m not convinced that Matthews is always accurate on events he is not directly involved in, but this is fascinating for focusing on the late stage of the war just before the armistice. By this time the battlefield was more static, though still deadly, occurring in a series of trenches and dugouts, with fierce night-time encounters in no-man’s land.

Mates, Mortars and Minefields: Korea, Ernie R. Holden (2006). Another late war memoire, where Holden deployed with 2RAR in 1953. This work is a wonderfully quirky, self-published affair. Worth the read if you can track down a copy from your library.

Royal Australian Air Force in Korea

Across the Parallel: Australian 77th Squadron with the USA Air Force in Korea, George Odgers (1952). This book is remarkable for when it was published, 1952, while the war was still on. Odgers was writing the official RAAF history of the second world war when he asked to go to Korea and report on 77 Squadron there. As well as a fascinating story from a part of the war sometimes overlooked, written as it was at the time, it is a bit of peek into values at the time around race, gender and politics.

A unique flight: the historic aircraft collection of the Australian War Memorial, Michael V Nelmes (2008). Includes a chapter on the Mustangs and Meteors used by 77th Squadron RAAF in Korea.

Indigenous Australian Involvement

Two books not directly related to the Korean War but a fascinating reminder that there is no single soldiers experience. Both have sections on the Korean War, including brief biographies of Captain Reg Saunders who was deployed with 3RAR (and with 2/7th Battalion in WW2).

Serving our Country: Indigenous Australians, War, Defence and Citizenship, ed. Beaumont & Cadzow.

Defending Country, Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Military Service Since 1945, Riseman and Trembath.

See you in the stacks!

Tobruk Besieged

In the crazy back and forth fighting across the Libyan coastal plain, one battle was more static, but no less brutal. The port of Tobruk, taken from the Italians in January 1941 was subsequently besieged by Axis forces from April until December. At over 240 days it is the longest ever siege endured by British forces.

The models are all 15mm from Battlefront; mostly metal although some of the vehicles are resin.

All three armed services were critical to the successful defense of Tobruk. The Navy, RN and RAN, kept the garrison reinforced and supplied and allowed the evacuation of wounded soldiers. The RAF and RAAF, some based inside the perimeter, kept the Luftwaffe at bay and supported the troops. The bulk of the defenders were made up of the 2/9 Div AIF, who relieved the by then veteran 2/6 Div just before the German advance out of Tripoli triggered the Torbruk Handicap that led to the Great Siege.

This is a selection of my Western Desert force. While it could be used to represent many of the battles in 1940-41, it is motivated mostly by the 2/9 Div and supporting elements from the British 3rd RTR, 3rd Hussars, 51 Field Regiment RA and 1st Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers (a specialist machine gun unit).

A 25pdr of 51 Regiment RA in a stone sanger
Battalion HQ staff officers c0-ordinate the defense
2pdr a/t were outclassed later in the war, but at this stage were more than a match for Italian tanks and could even stop the Panzers of the 5 Leichte Division, although often at great cost to the gunners
Cruiser tanks from the 3rd Hussars; 7 RTR were also present (with Matilda tanks)
An aerial view

Not sure when these will reach the table, but it is bonza to be close to finishing this army after so many years incomplete. Now I’m thinking I need an Axis force to oppose them, but there is always another project.

Let’s do that again!

Still on the dwarf gyrocopter. I’ve played with the lighting and framing of the shot a little. My earlier shots used direct sunlight which led to too much shadow. These photos are still lit using sunlight, but now diffused (by my shed door!) to avoid hard shadows.

While I’m happy with the backdrop it is too small for grand vistas. If I added more models the sides of the background would be visible, undermining the point somewhat. I think I knew this even as I was painting it, but it was the largest canvas I had on hand. Another project for the future, I guess.

The full dwarf army showcase is going to have to wait. After a brief search I remembered that they are in a box at my daughter’s house, so a reunion will have wait until after the current travel restrictions.

D.

Fancy Photo

I tried out a back drop I painted to match my desert table. I think it works OK, and is better than just a random shelf in my shed as background. Here it is the dwarf gryocopter.

He is flying back to the hold for a full family shot. But that is going to take a while because the rest of the army is at my daughter’s house and with current travel restrictions I won’t be getting there any time soon.

Onwards!

Get to the choppa

Another random project from the cupboard, a dwarf gyrocopter. After painting 15mm recently, even the dwarf in 28mm felt large and was a fun change.

I might go back and add some colour to the pilot’s shirt, but I’m happy with the machine

I think this is the last of my unpainted dwarfs. Who knows, it may even see a battlefield one day!

Time for a big stonk

Apparently a stonk is a thing, and the way to get one delivered is to get your supporting artillery regiment on the telephone or radio. Before Montgomery made artillery essential to his battle plans, the Royal Artillery Regiment were honing their craft as part of the Western Desert Force. This battery of 8 guns from a field regiment will support my desert campaign Australians.

Field regiments were armed with 25 pounder guns, introduced early in the war and so successful they were used for many years after all around the world. I have included some some Italian guns. This is a nod to the bush artillery, a unit made up of support troops during the Tobruk siege in 1940-41 who used captured Italian guns. I suspect they provided more moral than actual support, given the highly technical game of arty, but it is a wonderful image and a terrific insight into the courage and tenacity of the garrison.

The RA regiments supporting the Australian divisions in North Africa were mostly British formations, pointing to the international nature of Western Desert Force (and later, the 8th Army). Australian artillery were mostly deployed for home defense and later in the Pacific.

It is a lot of models: 8 guns, with HQ, staff, FO and enough trucks and universal carriers to transport them all. This battery will make up a large part of any force they are included in, but they will also throw out a lot of firepower. Fun fact: the artillery were the largest component part of the British Army.

See you in the Bardia for lunch!

Bloggers are people too

Covid-19 has sent so much of our lives online, work and social. As bloggers, we were already there, of course. Yeah, online communities, we did that before it was cool, sorry, I meant necessary!

One of the fun things about keeping a blog is the interactions with other bloggers via comments on each other’s blogs. Often this leads to new ideas or new blogs to read. Rinse and repeat.

Like many, I have been spending a lot of time in Zoom and Teams and similar online tools. As a way to keep up with family and friends it has been very useful. Not as good as in person, but way better than not talking. I have also discovered it has been a good way of meeting new people. I now spend Sunday mornings playing ukulele with what is Saturday night for a bunch of people in Ireland and the UK (and afternoon for some players in North America). I did not see that coming three months ago, and has been one of the good things to have happened recently.

So. Why not mash these two things together? On Saturday morning, 8th August my time (east coast of Australia) I’m going to run a Zoom meeting and invite you, my fellow bloggers, to join in. BYO beverage. No agenda, just a chat.

Time zones are not kind to us. 9am Saturday 8th August Melbourne time is 7pm Friday in New York (and midnight Friday in London). Proof enough that the world isn’t flat, even if the web can bring us a little closer together.

A zoom link is here The meeting ID is 864 4152 7751. There is no password, but there will be a waiting room.

Say hi in the comments if you want to join us.
Dave

Put it in the truck (2)

Completing a larger project is a good feeling. Between summer holidays and Covid-19 I was able to paint a fair size force of Chinese for Bolt Action Korea. It’s yet to cross the Yalu River, but that will happen, I’m sure.

I have also been finding satisfaction by completing random pieces. My painting is often focused on preparing for a particular game or event. While a deadline can be useful motivation, it can also lead to painting feeling like a bit of a chore. With (in-person) gaming currently off the agenda, I have been having great fun opening old cupboards and digging out long-neglected and even forgotten models. My recent posts have reflected this, Hot Wheels cars for Gaslands, 15mm trucks, and 1:72 tanks. All good fun.

Today is a Humvee. It is resin. I don’t remember where or when I bought it, or the manufacturer. But it now has paint and is ready use in modern games like Zona Alpha.

See you in the zone, Druz’ya

Another Car

It’s a funny ol’ hobby isn’t it? I purchased this perfectly nice hotwheels car from the local supermarket:

So, of course I pulled it to bits and stripped it, so I could do my own paint scheme

Now with added machine guns, I have a sports car frame ready for Gaslands

Brm, brm.

Put it in the truck

Apparently the Chinese lacked transport, with most of their offensive action taking place on foot. The made for a logistical nightmare and shortages of supplies of all types at the front. One significant plus, was the Chinese were not limited to the frail and often inadequate road network. Chinese forces would bypass UN positions (often at night) in a sort of slow moving pedestrian blitzkrieg.

To reflect this in my Bolt Action Korea force I thought I would not take any transports. Bang on theme, and a couple less models to purchase and paint. However, the Bolt Action rules require tows for nearly all artillery, even light howitzers. Not unreasonable, I guess, guns are heavy and are only useful if they come with ammunition (and all the other stuff they must need). So, I ordered a Morris 15cwt 4×4 from Perry Bros. Apparently the communists had a bunch of lend lease left over from the second world war (including ex-KMT).

The kit is resin, which I don’t work with enough to really know all the tricks. Giving it a good wash seems to be the most important trick The model itself had very little flash and went together easily with a minimum of filing. The driver was british, complete with soup-bowl helmet so I did a head swap. I hid the cut with a green-stuff scarf, painted red, of course.

This is the third time I thought this army was finished. I don’t remember buying anything else recently but post being what it is at the moment, I guess we’ll find out.

See you in the trenches.