Words by Conrad Cairns
Pictures by Richard Phelan
The DWG has for years had an Open Day on the second Saturday of June, and has now started a new tradition. In March we put on, for a whole Saturday, a selection of games and invite fellow gamers to play. There is no fee, but you must pre-book by email, as the organiser, Jim Catchpole, needs to sort out players and tables so things run like a Manchester tram rather than an Edinburgh one. He wields his clip-board and coloured pencil like a beach-master on D-Day so that all can play a couple of games, or more.
The only requirement is that all the games use rules by Too Fat Lardies, modified if need be by the scenario-their set for Napoleonic skirmishes has done duty for the Royal Navy and special guests against Borneo pirates, and for quite large actions on the Baltic coast of Poland in the seventeenth century. There is no problem for those who have not played them much, or at all, or for those (like me) who can never remember which rule is from which set or why- they are strictly for those who want to have a good, enjoyable game based on history (or literature, or a combination of both), rather than tournament-players, and there was plenty of friendly advice which allowed novices to move and fight their forces with ease.
The game with which I was involved was set eighty years ago, and was very loosely based on the Francoists’ unsuccessful attack on the University City of Madrid. The rules are Chain of Command, designed for the Second World War, but easily adapted for other conflicts. There is a special supplement entitled Espana, which is full of historical information and ideas on troop-organisation. Neil McGurk of the Group put on a couple of rehearsal games so there were a minimum of surprises on the day.
Although the Spanish Civil War ended the year the Second World War started, the styles of armies were very different, and this is reflected in the rules. Many on both sides started with no training, and received little instruction before combat. This game is based on a scale of one figure= one man (or woman, or vehicle, or weapon), and those used to having a high number of NCOs and small and flexible sub-units will at first struggle with the size of squads and sections. We had various different types of troops, which was probably not very representative of such a small action, but did make it a lot easier to recognise units by their uniforms, or lack thereof. The Ejercito Popular or regular army of the Government fought alongside militia from the CNT-FAI, followers of that particularly Spanish ideology of Anarcho-Syndicalism. They had two Soviet-made T26 tanks, and two small mortars. The attackers were mainly regular infantry and artillery with two tankettes (Italian CV33s), Moors and a united group of paramilitary police from the Guardia Civil and Guardias de Asalto (who in real life more often remained loyal to the Republic).
By the standards of the time, soldiers of the Civil War sometimes wore colourful uniforms, so painting the figures made a nice change for one who does not care for dirty greens by any means. Apart from one bought at a model railway show, they are all 42mm products of Irregular Miniatures of York, mainly from the range dedicated to this conflict, although British 1940s Home Guards and general early twentieth-century civilians are also useful. A very quick straw poll confirmed what was already obvious- when asked to name people associated with the war British people normally think of only one soldier (Franco) but several cultural and political figures (eg Lorca, Picasso, Dali, Orwell and Hemingway). Good books on the politics of the war are easier to find than ones containing details of weapons and orders of battle. Partly to reflect this, we made a backdrop of posters of the war, and the comments on canvas of the above two painters (Guernica was reproduced in 42mm scale), Wyndham Lewis, Miro, Ernst and S. M. Hayter, whose Man-eating Landscape is not quite as good as its title suggests. Orwell’s idealised English pub, The Moon Under Water, took on a Spanish form, and we went one better than those who have rules for off-table artillery by deploying an off-table propaganda van in Paris and an orator on his soap-box at Speakers’ Corner. Neither had any effect on the game.
Nor did any of the vehicles other than the four tanks and a couple of lorries. There is a conflict between the urges of numerous gamers and modellers who love to produce the technology of twentieth-century war and the fact that in Spain most of the fighting was by infantry and rather old guns. Techniques were closer to 1918 than 1939. Doing the war in 42mm has the addition temptation that it is equivalent to 1/43, the standard scale of model cars, and 0-gauge railways. It is easy to pick up very reasonably-priced lorries at places such as the Collectors’ Cellar of Hexham or the weekend stalls at Tynemouth Metro, and great fun to convert them into the home-made AFVs with scale mattresses, wooden or metal armour. The train and track were originally toys bought in a bargain shop before Christmas. Armoured trains were popular with the Left forces, partly because they could be improvised in workshops and perhaps also because they were seen as a socialist weapon as a result of the Russian Revolution. They were more or less “artesenalmente” armed and armoured….which in Spanish does not imply that they sold 35 types of coffee and over-priced bread. What we did was place the models on the table for spectacle, and say that they had broken down or run out of steam so they did not clutter up the game with their eccentric antics.
A multi-coloured war-but what colours? Almost all the photographs of the war are black and white. Some years ago I toyed with doing all the vehicles, figures etc. in monochrome, but apart from the difficulty in producing a decent result with only two colours, the effect against coloured terrain would have looked very odd. There are books with colour plates on the uniforms, and surviving examples in museums. I tried to make the men and women and horses look like the results of an early colour photo, so painted everything black and then just dry-brushed the other colours, sometimes in rather crude hues. The vehicles were more problematic. Not all cars were black! Luckily, American and other manufacturers published colour drawings in brochures and adverts in magazines such as National Geographic, but there are still problems. Their Spanish name (tiznados or tiznaos) might indicate that the armoured trucks were dark-coloured. I have a double-decker bus which will remain unpainted until I can find what colour the Madrid vehicles were in the thirties.
One of the highlights of the game was a group of nine buildings, which, like all the terrain except the railway-tracks, are the property of the DWG. These were originally the result of the hard work, ingenuity, and monumental patience of our former Terrain Officer, Nigel Gould, who had served in Germany, and based them on what he saw there. The church was inspired by Cologne cathedral. With the possible exception of the church, the style of architecture lends itself to wars in many countries from about 1919 onwards. The buildings were originally intended for the Third Reich, so all that was needed was a de-Nazification programme, by Blu-tacking Spanish posters mounted on plastic card over the German stuff, and some appropriate wall-art and advertising signs. For the latter we used firms such as Mercedes and Bosch which sold in many countries. Bibendum, the Michelin Man, existed before 1900, and I hope to come up with a 3-D version for placing on the roof of a garage before too long. We also have replaceable shop-signs in German and Spanish, no doubt to be followed by some in French, and an array of flags to hang from the balcony of the town hall-two sets of Spanish, German, Soviet, Polish Home Army.
As mentioned above, there are many and excellent modern books on the war in general, but as hard information on the hardware so beloved by wargamers is more tricky to find I’ve added this short list of sources (the Spanish and Catalan ones have plenty of pictures):
- J. M. Manrique Garcia and L. Molina Franco, Las armas de la Guerra Civil Espanola, Madrid, 2006.
- J. M. Mata Duaso, Motores en guerra- Guerra Civil Espanola, Madrid, n.d. (c 2015).
- P. Malmassari, Armoured trains-an illustrated encyclopaedia 1825-2016, Barnsley, 2016.
- http://vehiculosblindadosdelaguerracivil.blogspot.co.uk/ (Spanish-has links to relevant pages of the magazine El 3 de Vuit in Catalan).
- Steven’s Balagan (English).