Welcome back! And for those visiting for the first time....what kept you?
One of the terrain items I was looking forward to adding to the Trench Terrain boards we built for the Salute 2009 game was a small village, placed close to the front line. The more I had read about The Great War, the more I was intrigued by how the different combatants on the Western Front, and the particularly German armies, sited their defensive strongpoints on villages, hamlets and wooded areas, and interwove these strongpoints with trench lines. I found some fine descriptions of these arrangements in Jack Sheldon’s books “The German Army on the Somme” and “The Germans at Beaumont Hamel” and also in Terry Norman’s excellent “The Hell They Called High Wood”.
As I read thorough the description of the German defences at locations such as Beaumont Hamel I was interested in the way that the cellars of the village houses had been tunnelled through to interlink with the German front line trenches. This made the villages formidable defensive points, capable of holding up attacks for a considerable time. And so an idea was forming to construct a shell damaged village which could be used as major strongpoint in a trench line game.
Following the shows at Salute in March 2009 and Partizan in May 2009, Richard Clarke, Nick Skinner, Mick Tucker and I had also planned to visit the Crisis show in Antwerp in November 2009. The plan was to build a couple of new Trench Boards on which the “village” could be located. I planned to do this during the summer months in which nothing much else would be happening, with plenty of time to spare before the Crisis show. What would be simpler?
Ah, if only I was clairvoyant....
I found images of shell damaged villages from the Western Front depressingly easy to locate on the internet. Some, like the image of Zonnebeke below, simply showed piles of shell shattered bricks and wood. While it would have been accurate to model a completely destroyed village, we still wanted to make sure the game would be attractive to the visitor to the Crisis show. We wanted to catch the eye, and we felt that piles of splintered wood and broken brick walls barely an inch high, while dramatic, wasn’t the “look” we were aiming for in the Crisis game.
You might remember when we built the trench boards we were trying to re-create the type of new, relatively undamaged fortifications from the Siegfried Stellung in 1917 or 1918. It didn’t seem unreasonable to consider that the various lines comprising the Siegfried Stellung could have incorporated a fortified village of the type we wanted to build – damaged, but not yet destroyed.
I then located images from Langemarck and Zonnebeke and some of the other villages around the Ypres salient taken in 1915 and 1916, both on the net and in Peter Barton’s magnificent book on the panoramas of Passchendaele. These photographs showed the villages after some fighting but before the complete obliteration of these communities later in the War. The images (some of which are added below) conveyed the type of damage which we were trying to achieve in our modelling. There was also the added attraction of very loosely trying to copy Flemish buildings, being mindful of the Crisis 2009 show being set in the beautiful city of Antwerp.
After deciding on the “look” of the village, I wanted to try and think of a way in which the buildings could be fully integrated into the Trench Boards. I was very happy to place the buildings directly on the Trench Boards when needed, but wanted to try something a little different for a show like Crisis. I wanted to use the depth of each of the board, basically being 40mm of so of Styrofoam, in the same way as we had used it to cut out the trenches.
The idea came to me, oddly enough, when reading through a copy of the “Town Cryer”, a great supplement which Games Workshop used to publish for their Mordheim game. This contained rules for tunnel fighting. I started browsing Mordheim sites on the web and found the Gidian-Gelände website featuring a stunning table built for Mordheim, complete with tunnels, cellars and sewers. Here’s the site – I thoroughly recommend a visit:
The Mordheim terrain Gidian had built was more elaborate than we needed, but we picked up some great ideas on how to build cellar and link these together (or not) and how to create access from the buildings to the cellars. So, here’s another of my terrain building maxims: “Never be too inventive to forget to learn from the Greats”. So, for the record Gidian.....thanks for the inspiration!
Anyway, in the next few Blogs I’d like to describe how we went about building the village, and how we ended up with our final design. But to let you know there’s an end in sight, here’s some images from the final Trench Boards, featuring the village of Vlissinghe ....
....all quiet before the storm....
.....defended by German stosstruppen.....
......some of which have decided to take refuge in the crypt of the small Flemish Church of Sint-Griete.