Friday, 30 June 2017

Military Museum - Porto

Having finished the conference at Coimbra after the Bussaco weekend I had a half a day to look around Porto before heading home. Porto down by the river Duoro is a wonderful place to just sit back and sip some port, and look at the huge cliffs that Wellington had to overcome during the battle in May 1809.

Seen from the North (French) bank looking upstream the monastery of Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar which Wellington occupied is the large building at right, and the initial crossing by boats was made just beyond that first big modern bridge and before the on in the distance.

However one of the main purposes for the stop was to visit the Military Museum of Porto, suitably found on the Rua do Heroismo!

Its a pretty quirky museum, really just showing the things that came their way, and housed apparently in the old Secret Police HQ! As such it has a bit of everything but few coherent stories (at least in English!)

The pride and joy though is the 16,000 (!) figure toy soldier collection. These are mostly ~54mm Britains and equivalent French and German makes (e.g. Mignot).

It is housed in 5-6 rooms, and is mainly WW1/WW2 and Napoleonic, with Lace Wars, ACW and right back to Biblical thrown in for good measure. There are even some of the "cheesecake" vignette's popular in the 70s with hussar officers and half-clothed serving girls. One "unidentified" group of German force figures is obviously 1/32nd Airfix and there's even an Airfix coastal defence battery! There are also some beautiful flats.

Downstairs is a room with some Napoleonic memorabilia and Portuguese Civil War artefacts (they seem to have had a lot of civil wars). Another room is dedicated to the 1880-1920s uprisings.

Outside is a collection of artillery from late Medieval thru Napoleonic to WW2 (incl an 88mm).

The final area is a big hanger like building (in photo above). One half has more artillery (couple of 25pdrs), a photo history of Portugal's 1950s/60s colonial wars, and exhibits from WW1. The gallery around the upper floor was more interesting for me though with a nice history or arms and armour from medieval thru Napleonics to the end of the 20th Century. Mind you what I took to be the bows and arrows to signify pre-historic weapons were actually those recovered from the 20th century colonial wars in Africa!

So overall, probably not worth a special trip unless your a collector of "proper" toy soldiers, but otherwise worth an hour or two if you're ever in Porto - and Porto has more than enough charms to be worth a long weekend for anyone!

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Battle of Bussaco - 27 Sep 1810 - Battlefield Tour

I've got to present a conference paper in Coimbra this week, and seeing as its only 20-30km from Bussaco I thought it would be silly not to spend the weekend there first. It also just happens that the convent that was there during the battlefield is now surrounded by the Grand Palace Hotel - formerly a Ducal residence and now a faded but wonderful 5-starish hotel - which Deb and I actually managed to get at a good, if not cheap rate for the weekend. Taxi from Coimbra was Euro33.

I'm blogging this in the rather sumptuous lounge of the palace have seen the sights (or at least what we could on foot with rain looming in 26 degree temperatures and no decent map) this morning. So here's a photo-essay of the trip.

The Palace itself. Totally over the top decoration, even the pillars have pillars. The orange roofed/ochre walled building in the left side is the old convent (actually a monastery in English terms).

There are a whole load of tiled murals of Portuguese history and legend inside and out. There are about half-a-dozen relating the battle - this one showing the Portuguese and British troops repelling the French as they assault the ridge.

Nice one of Massena and his staff.

And Wellington to balance it out.

A nice study of a Dragoon trumpeter.

The first part of today's walk was up to the small museum (2 Euros) just outside the huge enclosed area (~3km x 4km?) of the convent forest.

Portuguese Line infantry man 1:1 painted outside the museum.

Inside the museum was a nice diorama of the battle with what looked like 25mm commercial figs and claiming to be 1/100th scale, but didn't look like 15s and too small to be 1/100 ground scale or even 1 figure = 100 men. There was also a smaller diorama made up of Airfix figs!

The walls had a nice big scale map of the battlefield and dispositions, and also a couple of huge charts of Portuguese Army units and which battles they fought in, including small skirmishes, and the strength by each rank of each unit of the Allied Army.

From a modelling point of view one of the most interesting aspects were two dummies of Cacadores - their uniforms being more of a khaki that the richer brown shown in the L&F books.

From the museum it was a short walk up to the battle monument,

The monument sits on the ridge above Sula, so just above where Crauford's Light Division repulsed Ney's attack. The slope is to steep and wooded to see it properly though. There is a good view however out E towards Moura where Marchand went against Pack's Portuguese.

We (well I) then wanted to walk out to Wellington's command post further along the ridge. Unfortunately its position was only very roughly marked on one local map, and not at all on another. Also paths beyond the convent walls were not shown! So we walk along a path about as far as the SE end of the convent wall which is in the right area, but couldn't see any sign - perhaps we should have stuck to the road route. However this certainly took us along the area occupied by Coleman's 6th Portuguese Brigade and where it was attacked by the lost 2/32nd Ligne. Whilst it would not have been so wooded this photo gives you an idea of the steepness and roughness of the terrain. We were even using hands to get over some of the outcrops.

Having failed to find the command post we turned from home, and at the Cruz Alta you get a superb view SE of the back of the length of the ridge.

And also out onto the plain to the SW.

It certainly highlights how the Bussaco ridge was the last serious obstacle to Massena before he could spread out onto the coastal plain.

A nice walk back through the woods along the Via Sacra, with some incredible terracotta style lifesized models of the stages of the cross, each housed in a little building with a bit barred door - luckily the smartphone camera just fitted between the bars (and most were nowhere nearly as well naturally illuminated as this one)!

The last stop was to actually look into the convent (2 Euros) where Wellington stayed (see plaque at top of the article).

The centre of the convent is a small chapel, and then all around the corridor that surrounds it on 4 sides are the small cells of the monks. I wonder which one Wellington commandeered?

The most amazing thing about the place is that all the doors and the ceiling beams are covered in the cork bark that grows locally. It gives the whole place a very organic feel, but I guess it's a great insulator.

One final Napoleonic photo - the old olive tree outside the convent where Wellington is alleged to have tied his horse.

The whole site around the hotel was busy all weekend with tour groups, a kids festival and a car rally - so it's nice to see that the place isn't too forgotten (or exclusive).

Overall a great weekend, a lovely place to stay, and a nice walk. But really you'll need a car to see the full extent of the battle as distances are big and paths poor - and a lot better map!

Oh, and this is the room I'm blogging from.

Friday, 2 June 2017

The Battle for Grosse Mahner Gap - ENDEX

About turn 22 and the game has come to and end. As the Soviets edged closer to Grosse Mahner itself, and started coming under fire form there and so making it a legitimate target, they started to bring down sustained artillery fire on the village, first from 2S1s and then a regimental shoot from the divisional BM21 regiment. The Brits tried to call in a Jaguar cluster bomb strike on the advancing BMPs and remaining T64s but again the SA-9 Gaskin caused both to abort, one with heavy damage. It was the BM21s that made the killer blow through, rolling 18 D6 for each unit around the village (with a 6 hex damage area), and scoring hits on 6+ in the village and 4+ out of it. The company in the village was pretty mush devastated, but the real prize was the Bn HQ sat behind the village in the open (never again) which caught the full force of the rockets and just ceased to exist. With only open operational company and a couple of Chieftains it was time for the remaining defenders to withdraw.

Overall a good game, if a tad long, but there was a whole MRR in the assault. The rules still worked pretty well but quite a few bits to tweak and clarify and make a bit more my own (eg armour saves on IDF - why at full whack? Treating Mortars as IDF not DF. Scope of MFC/FOO, HQ movement and damage). The big issues, as intimated before though, is that modern (any mechwar?) combats at this scale come down to artillery fire - the BM21 stonk just ended the game. Perhaps a more cluttered and distributed environment would give a better game (Harz mountains?).

I'll take a rest from Modern's now, and the next outing for CWC/BKC, will probably be when I do WW2 Desert War in the autumn.

Here's a few photos to finish with.

The BM21 stonk in progress - small white markers show unit damage

First wave infantry company taking casualties - probably 2nd Company that would take GM

Aerial view - note Battlegroup HQ smoking at the top

The BM21 regiment