Monday, 23 November 2015

Return from the East

Been quiet here for a while as Mrs T & I have been off for the last couple of weeks or so enjoying the delights of Vietnam. We went because we head heard it was an interesting an beautiful country, and so it proved to be. Holiday impressions aren't to be relied upon - you stay in nice places and people want to be helpful so any conclusions from a two week stay are naturally suspect. However the country seems to be vibrant and thriving with increasing prosperity and a young and enthusiastic population. Also, from the perspective of a Brit who doesn't like guns and armed police, there's a refreshing absence of firearms on the hip of everyone in a uniform.

New hats for Shedquarters hat-shelf
I have never paid much attention to the Vietnam (aka American) War. I've played in a few games, - and most notably had a US firebase land directly on my NVA HQ in an Andy Grainger map game - but it has never been anything I've ever really dabbled my toes in, so my main aim in going was not to follow up a lifetime's interest in the War. Whilst the Vietnamese have to a large extent moved on the whole thing is quite hard to avoid.

We landed in Hanoi and travelled south via Hue & Denang to Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong delta. Our tour manager was a young northerner from Hanoi whose father drove trucks on the Ho Chi Minh trail. Out principal guide in the south came from the Cu Chi area where his parents were one of three non-Communist families in the villager. So we got an interesting range of perspectives, and in addition we had an Australian veteran with us too.

They talked more about the War as we went south, partly because you are visiting sites where the Americans were based. The north is more backwards and provincial but developing fast. They are proud of their victory but don't have a point to prove. This is not so true in the south. There's a definite point to be made.

So shortly after arriving in Saigon/HCMC we were shipped off to the curiously named "War Remnants Museum".

If you don't know anything about it (and I had seen a short description in a guide book) you might be surprised. Initially it looks like a conventional military museum, with the big hardware exhibits outside, - armour, aircraft & guns.

I'm often struck by the relative sizes of modern military equipment. Tanks always strike me as smaller than expected, and the Chinook, by way of contrast, is enormous.

The M113 in comparison to both is positively petite. It may, of course, be due to the setting.

Previously I've got up close to these types of vehicles indoors. Outside they can be dwarfed by their surroundings.

 Jet fighters, likewise, can seem very small when you've been hopping on and off commercial jet liners for two weeks.

They had several crammed into the entrance area. Fighters, not jet liners, that is.

There's also one of the ubiquitous Hueys, that pop up in several locations round Saigon (including on top of the Presidential Palace).

The chain gun in the window of the one here is quite a size, however.

In the forecourt area the intended purpose of the museum starts to become clear.We're introduced to a guide/book seller, who is selling books about the war including "The Girl in the Picture" and Neale's "People's History of the Vietnam War". The one I bought the latter from had stubs for arms and one leg from stepping on a land mine when he was eight.

Inside there's displays of other American hardware, but essentially you are brought here for the pictures and the polemic. The purpose is to show you why the Communists & Ho Chi Minh were right and why the Americans and their South Vietnamese puppets were in the wrong. Carefully selected quotations from Uncle Ho, anti-war protesters and post war confessions are juxtaposed with photographs often set in themes.

There's a gallery on American war crimes and atrocities and also one on the effects of Agent Orange and the other chemicals used during the war on the population and future generations. There's particular indignation that the US has recognised the effects on their servicemen and their children of the defoliants but has done nothing or very little in Vietnam itself. The picture is of Mrs T in the atrocities gallery, I think. She's been in a few military museums with me. This one nearly reduced her to tears.

The artefacts chosen also have a specific purpose. The grenade launchers are described as being a development of the Dum-Dum bullet and so banned under the Geneva Convention.

The top floor is reserved for a collection of top quality war photography from all the greats associated with the war, including Capa's last roll of film.

It's a museum that pulls no punches and is designed to ram home certain messages. It is quite clearly polemical. There is nothing on the Communist atrocities and massacres, and you'd be hard pushed to conclude they ever pulled a trigger from this collection.

The savvy viewer can't help but question some of it as it is only half of the story. I was reminded a lot in the war photographer's gallery that Capa's most famous picture, taken during the SCW, is posed (or, in other words, "It's a fake"). Many of the pictures are clearly authentic, but others are obviously posed, re-staged, chopped and framed to tell specific stories. That's not to say they are untruthful, but it is a very specific type of truth.

If you go to Saigon you cannot avoid the museum. It's important, it's shocking but it isn't the whole story.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Is this a row of Amarillos?

Why, yes indeed it is!

Here are the first pair of Bolivian units for the Pacific War campaign. They're the two most senior regiments in the army.

The yellow coated unit are the 2nd Grenadiers of the Guard, nicknamed  "Sucre" or "The Amarillos".

I made sure with this lot that they were based so that they go neatly into both line and column.

The red coats are the 1st Grenadiers of the Guard, called "Daza" or "The Colorados".

After painting a lot of Chileans and Peruvians these have been a nice change. The other two armies are mostly blue with red trousers. Colour variation comes in white, grey or black, so these bright looking chaps are a lovely burst of colour. I've got a green jacketed unit to do as well, and there were also "sister" units to this pair who wore the same coloured uniforms.

One of the Monday Nighters (Chris K) used to have a sign up in his wargames room that read "The army with the simplest uniforms win". It's a pretty good rule of thumb, and the Bolivians are at the end of the spectrum that proves the point. The various Bolivian Generalissimos/Presidents liked their men to look smart, and lavished attention on the regiments that they trusted to keep themselves in power. That's one of the reasons for the Chilean's success in the war. The Bolivian units were very uneven in equipment and training and their main purpose was to keep the President in power. Or replace him.

In fact whilst painting these my thoughts have been turning more towards a Bolivian coup game.

They're missing the standards for the moment as they're a little bit more complicated to do. They have the Bolivian coat of arms on them and overlay the red, yellow and green stripes so I have some careful cutting out to do on Serif PhotoPlus.

I have also finished my first pair of generals. they're a bit generic, but these are a Peruvian and Chilean. I'm using figures from Outpost's Franco-Prussian War range as they don't do specific Pacific War commanders. Napoleon II's general staff have a preponderance of gilt lacing on pretty much everything, which is ideal for South American generals.

These two are wearing kepis. There's a couple in the pack with bicorns and a LOT of scrambled egg. I think they'll make good Bolivian commanders.