Category Archives: History
Lloyd Sabin, All Hallow’s Eve, 2014
How Do I Look at the World?
I am a seasonal kind of guy. I read books that are indirectly connected to what’s going on outside my window. I listen to music to put me in a weather-appropriate mood. And I game the same way…linking what I play to my perceived notion of whatever season I’m in. I’ve written articles about this before, dating back about 10 years when I wrote a review of one of my favorite PC titles ever: Rome Total War – Barbarian Invasion (BI).
I remember starting my first campaign in that game in the fall, which felt so damned perfect it was palpable. The apocalyptic tension of the barbarian hordes slugging it out across a dynamic map of Europe and Asia blew my mind as the leaves on the trees outside my gaming room yellowed and fell to the ground. As a matter of fact it may have been BI that cemented this seasonal thinking in my brain. It may have started with books and music when I was a teenager, but PC games made it an official way of thinking, or some kind of disorder, as an adult. (Ed note: we’re voting for “disorder”).
Fast forward ten years and I’m still posting threads on what games are best to play in October, to get really juiced and jazzed for Halloween. I still listen to Type-O Negative tracks, the Cure and old U2…of course the album October by the Gaelic music gods is on constant rotation for me this time of year, despite the album being over 30 years old. But what to game?
University of Maryland Professor (and more importantly, wargamer!) Matt Kirschenbaum is on a European odyssey this summer. While in Switzerland for an academic conference, he made time to swing by a local museum and found an excellent display of wargaming history.
I was recently in Lausanne, Switzerland for a conference and, well, it rained the entire week. Looking around for something to do I noticed the Swiss Games Musuem, Le Musee Suisse du Jeu, was a short train ride away in the nearby town of La Tour de Pielz. Reading further, I discovered the museum was housed in a castle. A games museum in a castle? Let’s go! Upon arrival, I found two unexpected bonuses: first, the weather briefly cleared, *and* there was a special exhibition of WWI games on!
Lloyd Sabin, 14 February 2014
Click images to enlarge
Beginnings and Basics
I wish I could have met the guy who invented the spoked wheel. It’s one of the most vital inventions in the history of mankind. Invented about 4000 years ago, it immediately made all human pursuits easier, from travel to commerce to war. And once the spoked wheel took off, it led directly to the development of the war chariot.
The earliest vehicles built for war and considered chariots were built by the Sumerians, Hittites, and Persians, around 2500 BC. Looking back, we today would probably just call them ‘wagons carrying a spearman’…because that’s exactly what they were. Heavy and cumbersome, with solid wheels, they were not very fast and made for easy targets until the Sumerians developed a more modern two-wheeled version, with the brand new spoked wheels. Speed gave the Sumerians battlefield dominance, and the modern technology of the spoked wheel began to spread.
Simultaneously, wheeled, chariot-like vehicles were being developed all over the world at the time. In the 2000 years before 1AD, examples of chariots appeared, often in a military role, in Chinese, Indian, northern and central European civilizations. The domestication of the horse helped with the advance of chariot technology, especially in European warfare.
Perfecting the War Chariot, Inspiring Fear
Of all European cultures of the ancient world, the Celts are probably the best known charioteers, with some of the most feared wheeled vehicles of the ancient era. Not content just scaring the crap out of their opponents with tattoos, woad and war cries, the Celts also tricked out their combat rides with a host of nasty countermeasures that left their opponents reeling. This included scythed wheels, extra noise to spook opposing horses, and skill to jump from the chariot, fight on foot, and jump back on the chariot again to move along without their opponent able to catch up to engage…hit and run tactics at their best.
A look at the history of wargaming. From the beginning. Yes, Kriegspiel.
Research article by Robert Mosher, 9 February 2014
as always, click images to enlarge
The First War Game
Mock battles and games reflecting a contemporary understanding of warfare have been a part of human culture throughout history. Chess is of course the most famous survivor of these games, though not the oldest. The game’s simplified depiction of warfare lacked realism, but did promote military virtues like foresight and calm consideration when confronting an opponent.
The first modern wargame is generally considered to be Kriegsspiel, published in Prussia in 1824 by First Lieutenant Georg Heinrich Leopold Freiherrn von Reisswitz. His game was based upon his father’s (Baron Georg Heinrich Rudolf Johann von Reisswitz) work, which itself had reportedly attracted the attention of the Prussian royal family.
The younger Reisswitz introduced a number of innovations that resulted in a newer game, resulting in a more militarily realistic and useful experience. He discussed some of these innovations in the foreword to his published rules. Reisswitz credited his father with the move away from the “most unnatural geometric shapes and straight lines” imposed on terrain and movement in earlier wargames that reflected their roots in chess.
Much of what we know today about Kriegsspiel is the result of the efforts of Bill Leeson who translated the original 1824 rules from German into English and published them in 1983, along with a lot of supporting material and some ideas from later versions of Kriegsspiel to ease its use by modern players. Subsequent works on wargames including those by Peter Perla, Thomas Allen, and most recently C. G. Lewin have also done much to spread the story and the details of the rules and their history.
Author: Lloyd Sabin, November 26, 2013
Very Early Armored Vehicles
It’s the most wonderful time of year! When else do we get to discuss the benefits of century old armored oddities? Probably all the time if you’re a grog, but this is more special because we say it is.
Early motorized vehicles are fascinating enough…apply an inch of armor plate and a gun turret and it’s a real party. The below vehicles are some of my new found favorites…each has that certain something and they all look to have stormed straight out of a steampunk imagination. So put on your goggles, put a rag over your face and let’s see what all the kids are screaming about when they discuss very early armored vehicles. At least my kids, anyway.
Romfell Armored Car
The Romfell was built in Austria-Hungary around 1915. That gives it a slightly exotic air. In 1915 and 1916, only two existed, but they both survived the harsh conditions and combat in the Balkans against the Serbian Army, and went on to engage the Italians and Russians. That gives it a tough reputation. In 1917 dozens more were built and deployed, its successful combat record making it somewhat of a legend.
Each Romfell armored car had a crew of four, was powered by a Mercedes transmission and was armed with a Schwarloze machine gun that could be used against both air and ground targets. Reliable and fast for the era with a 26mph top speed, the Romfell is a popular vehicle for modelers.
It’s hard not to be intrigued by the Romfell. It’s very modern look, pedigree and durability guarantee that historians or car aficionados will quickly fall in love.
Fowler B5 Armored Locomotive
Now don’t get the wrong idea, the Fowler B5 armored locomotive did not go into combat during the Boer War at high speed with guns blazing. It did, however, deliver heavy guns and supplies for the British Army against the Boers starting roughly towards the end of 1899.
To tow these guns, the Fowler factory in Leeds, UK, produced a handful of B5s with close to 125 horsepower! With that much strength, heavy slab armor was applied to the engines to protect them and their drivers from attacks by Boer raiders. Three or four of these heavy armored locomotives were used by the British during the Boer War, some with armored railroad cars as well.
Prototypes of gun carrying armored Fowler B5s were developed but as far as I could research, none were ever deployed in a combat role. It would have been quite the scene if they had been – there’s no telling how effective they would have been at fighting. For protecting and delivering heavy equipment and guns, though, they were very successful.
Author: Jim Zabek
Mankind has been inspired by birds for as long as we could appreciate their ability to fly. We have marveled at their ability to take off on a moment’s notice, soar effortlessly through the sky, and alight somewhere that we could never aspire to climb. Nature, fantastic and wonderful, has managed to perfect through evolution some fantastic creatures.
Mankind, always inventive, seems determined to take that evolutionary perfection and improve it to his own ends. Nowhere could this be more obvious than during the Cold War, when the CIA concocted a brilliant scheme to teach cats to spy on people. The idea was simple: surgically implant a microphone and transmitting device inside of a cat, then teach that cat to walk up to a suspected pair of people having a suspect conversation, and Presto! The purrrfect eavesdropping device. Operation Acoustic Kitty was born.
Author: Jim Zabek
Airpower in warfare has been employed for over a century. Examples of its use go back as far as the American Civil War, where hot air balloons were used for aerial reconnaissance. The First World War saw an expansion of role of aircraft, and the typical roles that aircraft play in combat were largely defined during that conflict. Fighters, bombers, interceptors, and reconnaissance aircraft all emerged during World War One. But it was during the Second World War that airpower evolved from being a part of combined arms operations to being a fully-fledged combat arm of its own, capable of tipping the scales of battle on its own.