This month my Magazine of choice is not the usual history or gaming material.
Thomas and Friends Magazine itself might soon be rapidly recycled to someone amongst friends and family suitably young enough to enjoy the stickers and colouring in (although in these well-being days, colouring in could well be the preserve of de-stressing adults). However, Emily, the reason for buying the magazine will be staying right here!
Emily in the Thomas the Tank Engine stories is a suitably old looking Victorian engine, apparently based on a real Great Northern Stirling 4-2-2 engine. These engines were operational from 1870 to the late 1890s and out of operation by 1916.
These are push-along toy engines for child’s play, simple magazine gifts, so no rolling stock is available.
She should make a useful mid to late looking Victorian engine for any suitable period gaming – any carriages will have to be scratchmade or cannibalised from the Train in a Tin sets appropriately for any gaming scenarios.
Available in a newsagents near you this month.
Blog posted by Mark Man of TIN on Sidetracked 12 January 2019.
On the 18th September each year in some Chinese cities the air raid sirens are sounded at 10 a.m.
Why sound the air raid sirens? It marks a strange railway related incident in 1931 that eventually led to war between China and Japan in 1937. It is also curiously relates to a Tintin comic book called The Blue Lotus.
On 18 September 1931, Imperial Japanese army troops faked a railway explosion to create a pretext to invade Manchuria in Northeastern China.
This is another example of how railways have often been linked to war – this incident is perfect Sidetracked blog post material.
In the Mukden or Manchurian Incident, as it became known, dynamite was planted close to a ‘Japanese’ run and guarded railway line.
On 18 September 1931, Lieutenant Suemori Kawamoto of the Independent Garrison Unit of the 29th Japanese Infantry Regiment (which guarded the South Manchuria Railway) detonated a small quantity of dynamite close to a railway line owned and run by Japan’s South Manchuria Railway, near Mukden (now Shenyang) in China.
The explosion was so weak that it failed to destroy the track, and a train passed over it minutes later.
This weak explosion avoided complex rebuilding of vital railway bridges or tunnels that would have been a better and more obvious target for genuine sabotage.
Nevertheless, Japan accused Chinese dissidents of the act and responded with a full invasion which led to the Japaneseoccupation of Manchuria in 1931.
On the morning of 19 September 1931, two Japanese artillery pieces installed at the Mukden Officers’ Club opened fire on the Chinese garrison nearby, in response to the alleged Chinese attack on the railway.
Zhang Xueliang’s small Chinese air force was destroyed, and his soldiers fled their destroyed Beidaying barracks, as 500 Japanese troops attacked the Chinese garrison of around 7000 troops.
The Chinese troops were no match for the experienced Japanese troops. By the evening, the fighting was over, and the Japanese had occupied Mukden at the cost of five hundred Chinese lives and only two Japanese lives.
The faked attack on the railway or Japanese deception was exposed in 1932 and in 1933 Japan withdrew from the League of Nations.
A South Manchurian Chinese Railway run by Japan?
Japanese railway guards were stationed within the railway zone to provide security for the trains and tracks; these were regular Japanese soldiers.
The main line from Changchun to Port Arthur, as Dalian was called under Russian rule, was built between 1898 and 1903 by the CER or Chinese Eastern Railway.
After Russia’s defeat in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904/5, this Railway was taken over by Japan as the South Manchuria Railway or Mantetsu, established in 1906 to operate the railways taken over from the Russians.
Russian Chinese conflict?
The 1929 Sino-Soviet War (July–November 1929) over the Chinese Eastern Railroad (CER) increased tensions in the Northeast that would lead to the Mukden Incident.
White Russians and Chinese forces defeated by the young Soviet Red Army?
The Soviet Red Army victory over Chinese forces in 1929 reasserted Soviet control over the CER in Manchuria. It also revealed Chinese military weakness that Japanese Kwantung Army officers were quick to note. The Japanese Kwantung Army was an army group of the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) based in the Manchuria railway area.
By 1930, the Japanese Kwantung Army realized they faced a Soviet Red Army that was only growing stronger and so Japanese plans to conquer the Northeast were brought forward.
In 1931 this led to the faked explosion on the railway at Mukden … the rest is controversial and confusing history! All new to me.
Each year at 10:00 am on 18 September, air-raid sirens sound for several minutes in numerous major cities across China.
A 9.18 Museum exists in Shenyung, formerly known as Mukden.
The Tintin Connection?
The Mukden or Manchurian Incident is depicted in The Adventures of Tintin comic The Blue Lotus. In the book the railway bombing takes place near Shanghai, performed by Japanese agents, and the Japanese exaggerate the incident.
A lot of conflict between Imperial and then Soviet Russia, China and Japan that I was not that aware of.
I’m not sure how many historical gamers or figure ranges there are designed for recreating these Russo Japanese War, Sino Soviet and Interwar incidents, apart from the trusty old Airfix Japanese Infantry and Russian Infantry. The Baka Beyond type pulp figures that were popular in Miniature Wargames etc fifteen years ago might cover these areas.
However the Tintin style retelling of this railway incident however suggests that the scenarios could be used for sparking conflicts and border incidents and skirmishes between your own fictional countries or Imagi-Nations. This may lead to invasions, campaigns etc.
N.B. note to self, must reread Tintin and The Blue Lotus, as I never picked this up first time. The 1930s depiction of the Japanese and Chinese characters by Herge has also attracted recent criticism from some as very dated.
Blogposted by Mark, Man of TIN on his occasional Sidetracked blog, 9.18 or 18th September 2018.
Wilko is not quite a pound store but does have similar inexpensive plastic toys.
This lovely battery operated, digital sound and headlight American Wild West express train, carriages and oval of track was only £10 plus 2 AA batteries.
In the shop it looked to be roughly suitable for 40 to 54mm figures and products.
A similar proper product from a proper garden railway shop would obviously be much much more expensive.
It was all very quickly assembled out in the rocky desert wastes of the Wild West (my garden). I brought out some Prince August 40mm homecast Cowboys and Indians and Taylor and Barrett hollowcast smaller size Indians.
Last year’s bird box to Western Railroad Depot conversion, along with some pound store plastic soldier rocks and cactus, all helped to quickly set the scene.
The Scene-ario: The isolated Railroad Depot has been attacked by hostile angry Indians, the station staff, a mechanic (usually repairing toy cars) is down.
The train would lend itself to many Victorian and Early 20th Century settings and Imagi-Nations from the American Civil War onwards to Boer War armoured trains and beyond.
I love the seductive writing or write up on toy packaging. I was always too easily impressed by this when younger and sometimes very disappointed by what was inside. Weren’t we all? I imagine it is even worse now in the days of online and TV advertising for toys.
The Wilco Railway Western Express is excitingly introduced as:
Wilco Railway western express steam train and track
“The engine chugs and the whistle blows, taking you back to the grand age of steam! Haul the carriages along the track, imagine that you’re stood on the footplate and you’ve got to get the next station by nightfall.”
A cynic or the unimaginative adult might suggest that it would be hard to imagine the perils and drama of “having to get to the next station before nightfall …” as there is no station provided and the track supplied is rather short and circular.
However the realistic engine sounds and whistles are suitably atmospheric.
Imagine? A companion pack of plastic Cowboys and Indian or passengers, a few cows or buffalo and a few cacti would have been a great and inexpensive addition to the imaginative play possibilities of this set. There would follow hold ups, rescues, bandits …
This would add what was wisely known in my family as “Play Value” – if it didn’t have a suitable amount of this, you didn’t get it.
Where have all the cowboys gone?
Wilko used to sell Cowboys and Indians – and maybe still do in bigger city stores?
Wilco used to sell such handy 54mm Western figures in £1 tubes a couple of years ago, but I haven’t seen them recently. Tobar / Hawkins Bazaar had some slightly brittle hard plastic Airfix clone versions a year or two back – again I bought some as they were being reduced in 2016. Thankfully similar party favour Cowboy and Indians are still available online, as are rerelease of the pricey Britain’s Deetail metal based Cowboy, Cavalry and Indian figures if you can find a toy shop or an online stockist.
What figure scale suits this train best?
I was quite keen to see how this train would look with 54mm / 1:32 type toy soldier size Cowboys and Indians. I could have used my growing number of repaired and repainted Broken Britain’s Hollowcast lead Indians, but another day perhaps.
In keeping with the reposting on my Pound Store Plastic Warriors blog, I dug out some gaudily painted, gloss varnished Pound Store Cowboys and Indians (Airfix pirated / Hong Kong clone). I painted these way back in the mid 1990s. There’s even a black cowboy in this photograph below – I am amazed how historically accurate and PC I was, although fighting with toy Indians and calling them Indians would be deemed highly unPC by some. These are firmly Hollywood movie / Wild West Show toy soldier inspired Cowboys and Indians.
Out on the blazing sands, sorry rocks, the Wilco Wild Western Express runs into an Ambush and has its two valuable cargo wagons uncoupled and left behind.
Two cowboys guard the stricken carriages – until reinforcements arrive? But are they really the good guys?
Are the two Indian Braves defending the train cargo, releasing hostages of their own tribe or attacking the Iron Horse that crosses their territory? Revenge on the Buffalo Bills and the Iron Horse that saw the Bison flocks wiped out …
Overall the 50 to 54mm cowboys and Indians are a little overscale, the train suits 40mm to 42mm figures better.
The engine to tender coupling needed a little extra help, so I rigged up a simple wire hook / link. All cheap plastic trains have little heft or weight in the rolling stock, so I lifted off the roof of the caboose carriage and the coal in the tender and added some spare old 2p coins as ready ballast (using the pre 1992 non magnetic kind, not so useful for basing figures).
The train needs a suitable paint scheme, such as a red painted caboose and paint work on the engine. This is likely to be Gloss paint rather than realistic Matt and weathering. I want to keep the Western style font stickers and make the whole Toy Soldier shiny, as if it is an old toy tinplate train, rather than a cheap plastic one.
As ever there is never enough track, especially straight track, so the only way to easily get more track is to buy another set. You get more wagons that way too. Yet four short pieces of track rarely justify that expense, even of £10. However it may be possible to make a silicon mould of one piece of straight track and cast it in Fimo or metal to make more.
Lots of exciting play, sorry, gaming possibilities. Toot toot!
Back in 1970 when Donald Featherstone wrote Battles with Model Soldiers, a chapter on World War 1 gaming was quite unusual. He admits in the opening sentence of his WW2 chapter that “If World War 1 lacks its wargaming devotees then World War 2 certainly makes up for the deficiency.”
In his WW1 chapter he notes that “This open warfare of 1914 is about the only period of World War 1 on the Western Front that lends itself to campaigning with Model Soldiers” (p.167) and ” … seems merely to be an extension of ‘horse and musket’ warfare plus the added involvement of machine-gun sale together with more numerous and longer-range artillery.” (P.170)
As a young gamer in the late Seventies the only WWI figures I had access to were a precious handful of lively posed Airfix OOHO WWI figures, which were frustratingly only occasionally available. These would suffice only for the Western Front, admittedly at different time periods of soft caps and steel helmets.
Fortunately in the mid 1980s and recently online, I have bought a small handful of 15mm Peter Laing figures that would suit a WW1 African or Colonial campaign.
I recently redound this Roy Link article on SW Africa in WW1 in my scrapbook.
An interesting scenario for colonial or WW1, Zwillinge Twin locos and all.
These South African Railways photos give an idea of the dry terrain. More photographs of terrain, bridges, stations, Schutztruppe and South Africans can be found in the German website http://www.klausdierks.com/Eisenbahnen/
This German South West African area is also briefly covered in Railways and War Before 1918 (Mechanised warfare in colour) by W.J.K. Davies and Denis Bishop, 1972. A superbly illustrated book, full of information, out of print but well worth tracking down second hand. A German Feldbahn o-8-oT type loco developed in SW Africa and widely used in their thousands elsewhere is shown (top) on the cover. A separate armoured water tender with ride-on troop escort was carried.
Peter Laing 15mm figures produced a WW1 / Colonial range that would suit, sadly no longer available. I have some of these figures that would stand in for Schutztruppe, askaris and WWI British or South African troops.
Donald Featherstone mentions in his 1962 book War Games the possibility of an East African campaign scenario c. WW1 “Few collectors seem interested in World War 1, although there is much to be found in the Battles of 1914 and early 1915, before the war bogged down in a mass of trench warfare – a fascinating little campaign can be made of the German East African fighting in which native troops can be used.”
In reality and in any gaming scenario, the rail link to the SW African inland mines of copper and vanadium would be crucial to the allied of German war effort.
What was the historic background to these Colonial German Railway in wartime?
The Namibian railway system dates from the time when Namibia was a colony of the German Empire known as GermanSouthWestAfrica.
This arid part of the African continent was not very productive for agriculture. Initially, overland transport was operated entirely by ox-cart. A small mining rail line opened at Cape Cross in 1895. Soon afterwards, the ox-cart transport system totally collapsed, in the wake of a rinderpest epidemic in 1897.
As it was necessary to react quickly to the now extremely precarious transport situation, decisions were made:
1. to build a railway line from the German port of Swakopmund to Windhoek
2. to use existing, 600 mm (1 ft 11 5⁄8 in) gauge military Feldbahn material
3. to entrust a railway brigade with the construction work, which began in September 1897.
Train services on the whole of the new line, which was called the Staatsbahn (State Railway), began on 19 June 1902.
The historical background (thanks Wikipedia)
Construction of the railways connecting with the Staatsbahn was aimed partly at military strategic objectives (following the uprising of the Herero and Nama peoples) and partly at the economic requirements of serving the inland mines.
I had not heard of the Herero Wars and quickly realised that this was not a pleasant period of history, certainly not something lightly suitable for gaming.
AskariMinis produce a range of 28mm figures including Hereros and Askaris but also other colonial types that could easily be adopted for a Colonial SW Africa scenario or Hollywood pulp B movie scenario. Straight out of Tintin or Indiana Jones!
Certainly reading more about the Herero Wars / Genocide convinced me that this was not to be confused with the Hollywood style Wild West / Lawrence of Arabia type train ambush scenario that caught my eye when I first glimpsed Roy Link’s article in an old issue of Continental Modeller.
The Herero Wars (1904-08) were particularly nasty, with German use of concentration camps (invented by the British in the recent Boer War), a conflict recently classified as one of the first genocides of the 20th century.
With the outbreak of World War I, the German Schutztruppe military units retreated from the coast, and withdrew into the inland.
In the process, as in the American Civil War, there was deliberate track and train wrecking to deny this route and transport to the enemy invaders. The German Schutztruppe destroyed the Otavibahn and the old Staatsbahn railways towards Karibib, as far as Rössing.
British troops immediately moved forward from the British enclave of Walvis Bay, and by the end of 1914 they had built a 37 km (23 mi) long 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) railway to Swakopmund.
The Otavibahn destroyed by the Schutztruppe was also reconstructed by British and South African engineers in 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) gauge as far as Usakos, and the section between Usakos and Karibib was realigned.
Neighbouring South Africa was also on the Allied side, effectively forming a local enemy of the German Empire. From South Africa, a new railway was constructed as an extension of the De Aar-Prieska railway. This was designed and built to achieve a secure supply route for the South African troops. By 1916, the line was connected to the old German network at Kalkfontein (now Karasburg).
By chance, Tony of the TinSoldieringOn blog mentioned the savageandsoldier.com website which features material on the German military presence in Africa.
Interesting passage on Lawrence of Arabia, desert codes, telegraph wires and railways on page 249 in Codebreakers, the highly readable book on Room 40 and WW1 Codebreaking by James Willie and Michael McKinley (published by Ebury, 2015).
Pulling down telegraph poles? This of course makes sense as often the telegraph poles followed railways, so it was easy to cut these wires or pull these poles down (by camel!) under the guise of Lawrence attacking the railway again. All part of the annoyance and disruption value of guerrilla warfare but with a higher aim, reading the enemy’s codes.
A clever way to force the Turks to rely on wireless, much easier to intercept at a safe distance and then decrypt or decode than tapping telegraph wires.
Overall Codebreakers is a very interesting book on WW1, picked up in my local branch library (childhood habits die hard!) but certainly worth buying in paperback. It covers naval and submarine warfare, Zeppelin raids, the Western Front, Ireland, German espionage and sabotage in America and its legacy, the seeds of WW2 codebreaking and breaking the Enigma codes at Bletchley Park.