Saturday 28 December 2019

San Francisco Harbour forts

The last of my holiday snaps! When you think of San Francisco, fortifications aren't the first thing which spring to mind, but one of its most famous landmarks, Alcatraz, was originally developed as a fort long before it became a prison.

Alcatraz sitting in the middle of the channel leading to San Francisco Bay. Certainly a good place for some heavy guns....

The buildings around the ferry dock wer originally military barracks, built in the 1860s. The lucky prison guards got to live here later on (they were fairly terrible family accomodation). The smaller white building to the right was the Officers Mess.

On the island is a small museum covering its military history. This handy maps shows the coverage of the artillery. Forts each side of where the current Golden Gate and Bay Bridges are, as well as on Alcatraz itself (the island in the very centre). At this time there weren't any huge bridges of course.

From one of the old gun batteries, it is a fair old way back to the Golden Gate, which gives are good idea of the realities of the ranges of mid nineteenth century artillery.

Various uniforms, ammo etc on display.

The largest guns on the island were 15" smoothbores. One of the 15" balls is on the left.

They were very large artillery pieces indeed!

A photo of various US Army offices. It amused me how many were wearing Picklehaubes. I hadn't realised that the Prussian-mania after 1866 and 1870 had reached the US too.

This was a power plant constructed later in the forts history.

This flat area in front of the prison was originally a large gun battery. It was later concreted over and more modern accomodation blocks constructed for the prison guards. These have all been demolished now.

Back at the ferry dock is one of the surviving guns. This one is 'only' a 10" gun.

There is something very appealing about Victorian era technology, very bold, brash and Steampunk.

This is the view of the bay from Fort Mason. This wasn't one of the original harbour forts, but a later construction and mainly used as an assembly area for troops embarking in WW2. 

There is a nice view of the Maritime Museum from the bottom of Fort Mason (and just beyond it are docked the USS Pampanito and SS Jeremiah O'Brien).

This is the remains of Chrissie Field, an early twentieth century airfield. It was established as an operational airfield by the US Army as an adjunct of the Praesidio in 1921 and finally closed in 1974.

Much of the site has now been designated a nature reserve, mainly salt marshes.

Many of the old hangars remain, now converted into workshops and retail outlets.

This is one of the Victorian forts at the south side of the Golden Gate (the forts preceded the bridge!).

For those familiar with Fort Southwick et al around Southampton, it is a classic brick built late nineteenth century fort, bristling with gun ports. It doesn't have a gigantic moat around it though (although maybe that was filled in for the car park).

The bridge towers above it at this point. I misread my directions at this point and thought it was 2.4 miles to get up on to the bridge. In fact it was only 0.4 miles. Oh well.

It was too foggy to see its counterpart on the other side. The artillery coverage map earlier gives an idea of how narrow the channel is here. I ran here from the Bay Bridge, hence the strange attire.

Tuesday 24 December 2019

Zvezda 1/200th scale Li-2/Dakota

Hannants had some Li-2s in stock, so I bought three. They were licence built Dakotas, and a cheap source of easy build Dakotas is not to be sniffed at.

They certainly look like Dakotas. The models are pretty big, so big that I had to double check that they really were 1/200th and not 1/144th. They are much, much bigger than the SB-2s

They don;t have many parts and go together well. The only really fiddly thing is that the cockpit and side windows are a single piece of clear plastic, and they sort of click into place (or not) when you push both halves of the fuselage together. If doing these again I think I'd just do the cockpit windows and leave the rest as open apertures as I certainly don't intend to paint a bunch of tiny windows on. 

The other Soviet oddity is that there is no astrodome and instead there is an upper gun turret. Well, its a plane so I guess it has to have a gun. It wasn't too hard to trim back the locating pieces and fill the gun turret aperture so it looks more like a regular Dakota.

Plain underside as ever. Woops, looks like I forgot to paint the tailwheels! The only other difference from a US Dakota is that it looks like the Russians didn't use standard radial engines. The cowlings look much more like those on a Rata or early SB-2, either that or they are appalling mouldings. I just painted the front of each engine black and did the cowling covers carefully in OD so from this distance they look like normal engines.

Off they go to drop some paras or supplies. I did them in plain OD (VJ Russian uniform mixed 30% with VJ Bronze Green) so I could use them for anyone. At some point I may add some markings, but I'm not to worried for now as they can act as generic transport planes. I must fix those tail wheels though.

Saturday 21 December 2019

Commando Raid - Operation Hard Tack

John put on another outing of Don Featherstones WW2 Commando rules, this time set in late 1943 as part of 'Operation Hard Tack', the series raids aimed at gathering intelligence on the Atlantic Wall. These were typically conducted by quite small groups of commandos.

Our plucky heroes were directed towards this sleepy looking French village, flanked by beaches and lighthouses. Our team of nine commandos was armed with a mix of tommy guns and rifles plus some demolition charges. Nick, Nog and I each took a group of three.

The beaches were defended with barbed wire,  but otherwise we had almost no intelligence on any likely defences.

The main object of interest was the local German HQ (re-using the Chateau from the Pegasus Bridge game). Some mysterious tents had appeared in the grounds, so our mission was to go and find out what they were.

Sadly it was so dark our landing on the small beach flanked by cliffs has gone unrecorded. Perhaps a good job as German lookouts in one of the lighthouses spotted us and we were forced to open fire to even get ashore.

After that spot of unpleasantness, the Germans were thoroughly awake. This German patrol was heading for the sound of gun fire, so two of our groups overwhelmed them and managed to take a prisoner.

Sadly by now German soldiers were pouring out of the German HQ. Nicks group laid low and waited for them to pass so he could sneak up on the tents. Meanwhile twO of Nogs men lay in wait to ambush the Germans.

His third man escorted our precious prisoner back to the landing craft.

While all this was going on, my sole survivor (it had been quite a scrap overunning the patrol) sneaked into the village and discovered a German patrol on the bridge.

I managed to lay a demo charge on the bridge right under their noses. That'll show Fritz!

Nogs troops sprang their ambush. Although they managed to bring some of the Germans down, the German return fire included an MG42 and we rapidly lost the firefight.

Under cover of all the commotion, the rest of us rallied at the lighthouse. Nick hadn't managed to get into the compound, but at least we had a prisoner. For good measure we put demo charges on the lighthouse.

As we piled back into the landing craft, the charge on the bridge went off, which was something of a surprise for the Germans on the bridge.

And the lighthouse blew up spectacularly.

John debriefed us. Although we'd lost over half our men, we'd actually achieved our mission as the prisoner spilled the beans about the mysterious tents - they were Organisation Todt workers, preparing to build substantial concrete defences. It was a bit unfortunate that we were spotted so early on, but in true  Commando fashion, we pressed on until the mission was achieved.

That was a lot of fun, even if things did go horribly wrong from the outset. I am somewhat envious of Don Featherstones ability to write rules which capture the heart of the problem without being overmired in excessive detail.

Tuesday 17 December 2019

Roco Flakpanzer IV

The good old Mobelwagen (furniture van), who said the Germans don't have a sense of humour? According the Chamberlain and Doyle, this clunker was actually called Flakpanzer IV (2cm Flakvierling 38) auf Fgst PzKpfw IV, and entered service in 1943 along with the 37mm version in the Flak platoons of panzer battalions.

What a ridiculous vehicle, but better than a Flakpanzer 38(t) I guess. I never owned one of these before, but I did convert an Airfix Pz IV into one (using a spare Roco Flak Vierling mount). As I've been looking at higher level 15mm games I thought I'd better invest in some more Flak for the Germans and this was sitting on the COW Bring and Buy, so hard to resist.

It is a big old beast, the chassis looks a lot bigger than 1/87th, but it will be mainly floating around behind the panzers so I don't think the size discrepancy matters too much.

The engine rear is fairly crude as are the tracks and running gear, but these are ancient old models and good enough for wargaming. I could have painted up some crew, but given how unlikely it is to get used, I didn't bother. Maybe I'll make some if I plan a game using it.

Just the usual late war German three tone camo and basic balkan crosses. The real things seemed to be fairly plain generally and I'm sure it will see service at some point. Into the 'less used' box with the Elephants, Jagdpanthers, Pz Is and T35 it goes.

Friday 13 December 2019

San Francisco maritime museum

Back to the holiday snaps this week. Along with the JOB and Pampanito, San Francisco boasts a maritime museum which hilariously is treated as a State Park so is run by the Ranger service. Yet another set of uniforms to deal with.

You can get a fairly good view of the ships from outside the museum. This was a slightly foggy SF morning. I'd had a pleasant walk up through North Beach, fortified by a hand made Canoli.

This is the paddle ferryboat 'Eureka'. It was fairly huge.

Wheelhouse and view from the bridge. You can see the fog around the sky scrapers. Telegraph Hill is in the near distance.

The cavernous seating decks.

It has a bridge at both ends. It also boasts a large collection of vintage vehicles, representative of car/truck passengers.

A lovely Ford truck aka Gaz AA.

The ship was powered by a single cylinder steam beam engine, very similar to those used back in the late eighteenth century for mine pumps, but much, much bigger.

This is one of the actual paddlewheels, suitably enormous. Strangely given its primitive engine the ship was oil fired (converted from coal).

Another steam paddlewheeler, this one was built on the Clyde. Unfortunately it wasn't open to the public.

This rather super tug boat was though. Steam Tug 'Hercules'.

Unsurprisingly it has a big deck winch.

And a beautiful range in the galley.

The boiler was immense, it filled half the ship. Like the Eureka, the tug was also oil fired.

Strangely the engine wasn't that large, but relative to the displacement of the ship it was pretty powerful. 

The winch for the tow cable.

There was a rather nice wooden schooner, but although the decks were open, the cabins and hold were closed off.

The upperworks had been recenlty renovated and the deck freshly waxed, so the deck was rather sticky to walk on!

Next up was a super iron clipper, the Balcutha, very similar to the Cutty Sark in construction being an all metal square rigger. I spent a lot of time on here.

I'm not quite sure why they painted gun ports on the outside.

The ship was in beautiful condition.

Deck house.

Bilge pump (water ingress was still an issue, even on iron ships).

Captains cabin.

And a very modern looking galley, straight out of a kitchen catalogue.

The rear upper hold showing the timber loading hatches and the way the iron construction mirrors that of older wooden ships.

The hold was stacked up with representative cargo, including these boxes of Colmans Mustard.

Ballast blocks in the bilges.

Cabins for the unfortunate below decks passengers.

There were also a few veteran motorboats of various types which weren't open to the public.

This one was used as an unlicenced fishing boat.

While I was at the museum this massive car transporter came into the bay, it was so big it even made the Golden Gate Bridge look quite small. I imagine it was off to join all other big ships docked the other side of the Bay Bridge.

So, another great vaue museum, and this one was only 15 USD for a week pass.