Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Missionary Ridge

These photos were also taken at the Bragg Reservation. (The term "reservation" denotes those small swaths of the battlefield that the feds were able to preserve as the ridge was being devoured by residential development. The Bragg Reservation is by the far the largest of these patches, and rests on the site of Rebel commander Braxton Bragg's farmhouse headquarters during the November 25, 1863 battle. A native of the prairie state, I always - when visiting a Civil War battlefield - have my photo taken whilst posing, with my Union kepi, by an Illinois monument. In the center pic, I'm holding a fairly sizeable wild onion that I plucked from the battlefield.
Basil Duke, posing in front of the magnificent Illinois monument located on the Bragg Reservation atop Missionary Ridge outside Chattanooga, Tennessee. Braxton Bragg's headquarters were located a few hundred feet behind the monument.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Toasting Salt Pork on Shiloh Battlefield

In the last three years, my lady friend and I have visited Shiloh National Battlefield three times, and made single trips to Stones River, Chickamauga, Corinth, Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain. The rakish rogue in the foreground of this photo, wearing an authentic wool and leather Union kepi and an abjectly non-period t-shirt and cargo shorts, is your blog host, Mr. Basil Duke. This picture was taken during our second trip to Shiloh. We timed our visit to coincide with the appearance of a troupe of Rebel cavalry re-enactors who camped all weekend on the battlefield proper, and gave several demonstrations of maneuvers and skirmishing tactics each day. The gray horsemen kindly permitted me to use their campfire on which to toast the chunks of salt pork that I brought from Missouri for that express purpose. It was indeed a surreal experience to cook and consume authentic Civil War victuals on such hallowed ground.    

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Marx's Government Issues

As time permits, I'll take a fond glance back at Marx's olive drab heroes, who, '72 Dolphins-like, passed through the entire season of my boyhood without a single defeat. On carpet or staircase and in garden or sandbox, these troops achieved a career win-loss record of something like 1,459-0 against both the Empire of Japan and the Third Reich.  In terms of pure fighting potential, Marx's G.I. molds yielded more killers than its German crop - including a machine gunner, bazooka man, knife fighter, prone B.A.R man, etc. But they also produced a wide variety of soldiers who weren't strictly (or even remotely) poised to mete out instant death to America's plastic enemies. The leader of Marx's G.I.s can be seen at right. Likely a captain, he mustered in with Basil Duke's Corps D' Elite in the mid-'70s, in The Guns of Navarone playset. "C'mon, men! Follow me! We've got to get off this #@$&* beach!!!" he yells. I was always particular to this fellow; I like his gesturing arm and the fact that his helmet's chin straps are realistically flapping away from his head. Plus, the pose in its entirety radiates "Leader." Too bad, though, that our captain's head couldn't have been turned more to the front, so that he looks directly at whatever he was about to empty the magazine of his under-sized .45 "Model '11" into.

Monday, November 21, 2016

New Test: Panther Tanks

This is only a test. Remain calm. All is well. A smattering of mainly grainy snapshots of raw, unfiltered combat as it was waged in WWII and on the floor of my toy room several years ago. In the first pic, witness for yourself the carnage heaped by a water-cooled Browning "heavy" machine gun and its veteran crew onto a pack of attacking Germans.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Men of '76

With one, late-to-the-party exception, a blank page represented the American Revolution in my toy soldier life book. For years, particularly in the two months preceding my birthday and Christmas, I hyperventilated over the Sears and J.C. Penney’s catalog playset pages much as I would Playboy magazine a few years later. But, in panting over the three or four pages of 54 mm heaven marketed in the catalogs, I was never tempted by Marx’s “Sons of Liberty” – and stuck resolutely to The Big Three: World War Two, Civil War and American West, with a dash of The Alamo and Knights and Vikings thrown in for variety.

But as I neared the end of the kid trail, a magical little army of Swoppet-style British grenadiers and Colonial ‘rebels’ snared my imagination, and left me a wonderful clutch of memories. The sculpting was somewhat less than refined, and the soldiers rather wooden of limb, but I played with them for hours. The figures in question – marketed as “The Men of ‘76” - were released to commemorate/cash in on the country’s bicentennial, and could be purchased in blister packs that contained from two to five figures. Accessories included double-trail brass cannon and, more significantly, a large, ‘stone’ structure – “Fort Liberty” - that bore a passing resemblance to Fort Ticonderoga. I acquired them all.

Regrettably, ‘Fort Liberty’ vanished down the same rabbit hole as my original Fort Apache block house, but I still have the figures and cannon.  

"The Men of '76," in firing formation. Note the race of the cannoneer - a nice touch. And a rare one. A couple of actual Swoppet patriots can be seen yonder, behind the fence. These fellows were simply too expensive to purchase in bulk.
King George's elite infantry prepare to chasten the upstart rebels with a volley of their own.
"The Men of '76' also featured Hessian mercs, which were depicted in forest green breeches and coats. On the far right, Swoppet figures add a bit more class to the organic set. 
As found on Ebay: "Fort Liberty' and its original box. Both the fort and the towhead's bowl cut took me right back.
A close-up of the cannon. This is a well-detailed little piece, and can be used in pirate battles, The Alamo, War of 1812, Napoleonic combat, etc. I have five of them.
"Fort Liberty," from another Ebay listing. Note the jail at the opposite end of the structure.
To counter the Lobster Backs' Prussian-born hired guns, the Colonials fielded a smattering of French regulars - seen on the far right, in white coats and breeches (and royal purple collars).

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Marx's Curiously Passive United States Marines

Considering the Rising Sun butt they kicked all across the Pacific Theater - and the losses they absorbed in the process - the U.S. Marines, as sculpted by Marx, are a weirdly Quaker-like set of fighting men. In terms of pure combat poses, Marx's Marines are as tepid as Marx's Germans. We have scads of running men, squatters and beach combers, but little in the way of trigger pullers.

On the left, we've got 'Radio Guy with .45." Top center: "Kneeling Guy Waiting for Developments, Be They Hot Chow or An Enemy Attack.' Bottom: "Prone Guy Observing/Trying Not to Get Shot." It would have been so cool if the radio operator's gun arm had been sculpted into a "Firing Straight Ahead' position. Thus positioned, he would have been the go-to guy in the sandbox crater when a squad of banzai zanies spilled over its lip in search of Yankee blood.

"The Running Men: Part One:" A pair of Leathernecks - an enlisted man (L) and his Colt-clenching company commander - dash across the beach. These gallant lads are clearly game for any kind of brawl, but have been relegated to "Let's get the blue hay off this beach!" postures. They're engagingly animated, as are many in this particular Marx offering. But neither are capable of putting a new hole in Tojo's samurai. Optimally, the officer is about to slap a Spock suppression hold on Marx's "Japanese Guy Attacking With Knife Raised Over His Head" figure, before bringing up the Model '11 to perform the aforementioned ventilation process.
"The Running Men: Part Two:" As the son of a Korean War combat vet/machine gunner (45th Division, 180th Infantry, First Battalion), I am admittedly partial to this air-cooled Browning MG team. They've got flair, grit and the martial goods to dish out a heaping serving of piping hot, .30 caliber lead to anyone foolish enough to get in front of them. The problem, once again, is that they're not open for business. Like their mates from "The Running Men: Part One," this pair is simply sprinting. They are moving targets, which any lashed-to-a-palm-tree Jap sniper could easily take down. God, how I loathe those palm tree marksmen! A Pacific plague, by gar. Nonetheless, the four running men create a dramatic scene when posed together hurtling off the BMC Higgins landing craft. I should probably take a photograph of that very vignette. Stay tuned.
Another view of the MG team. The sculpting IS excellent, particularly on the guy running with the Browning. He's emotionally and physically harassed - but determined to get his burdensome weapon set up and chattering. The detail and scale of the ammo box is also nice.
All four "Running Men" figures dash from the maw of a BMC Higgins boat and onto a bullet-lashed, mortar-pulverised tropical beach. BMC tormented us with a legion of feeble figures, but its accessories are often first-rate. As a kid, I would have certainly packed this particular vessel and taken it on vacation. It would have looked magnificant pulled up on the shore of Lake Chetek (Wisconsin) or one of the Ozarks lakes my family frequented in my youth - to disgorge a platoon of brave G.I.s or Marines onto the battlefield while my brother and I tossed firecrackers and smoke bombs in their midst to simulate the sound, smells and sights of martial struggle.
An expanded vignette: In the foreground, a Higgins purges its all-Marx company of fighting men and equipment onto the builder's beige beach, whilst from a sister boat, a combined kommando of Classic Toy Soldiers and Toy Soldiers of San Diego fighters storms into the ominous jungle.
 "Afraid of Water Officer/Higgins Pilot Guy" and "Firing M1 Garand from the Hip Guy": On the left, clutching either an over-sized .45 or a flare gun in his tiny, green hand, we see one of Marx's odder creations. I remain undecided about his intended role in the sandbox wars of olde. Is he a sailor or a Marine combat commander who can't swim? The presence of the pistol would seem to indicate that the individual is a non-swimming officer of some type who has disembarked. I don't, however, recall ever seeing a photo of a Marine in full-bore, storming-the-beach mode clad in such a garment. Assuming, then, that the man serves in the navy and steers wooden landing boats into the fires of hell for a living, why would a combat savvy old salt choose to pad around a hostile beach with all of his vitals wrapped in a sniper-attracting life jacket? Perhaps his boat was shot to pieces on the beach approach, and he's pictured at the very moment he lands on terra firma after escaping the flaming vessel. To the right of the mystery man, behold one of the few, pure fighting poses in Marx's U.S. Marines set. This particular guy, in fact, represents the ONLY trigger-pulling Leatherneck of the entire group. Think about that: out of an entire set of fighting Marines, only one member of the plastic platoon is depicted in the act of firing a rifle. Extremely peculiar. Was Marx's sculpting bureau rife with pacifists? Irony. Pacifists Create Largely Inoffensive Pacific Warriors.
Rounding out the set's slender combat pose offerings: (L) Tiny Flamethrower Guy and the (to me, at least) iconic "Underhand Grenade Tosser/Tommy Gun Guy." Although noticeably undersized, the human Zippo is a welcome addition to any battle - able to scorch enemy infantry down to black nubs, whether they're storming his position in a banzai attack or holding out in a bunker or behind a sandbox rock. "Grenade Guy" is a Marx classic - a bunker busting, tommy gunning killer of all things nasty. Heave the canteen-sized iron pineapple through the bunker aperture and hose down what's left with .45 slugs. 
Our final entry can be seen on the right (above): "Just Been Hit Guy". His body buckling from the shock, this poor fellow is captured at the moment a chunk of Nippon lead pierces him. It's unclear if "Just Been Hit Guy" will recover from his wound, but he's a logical inclusion to any U.S. Marine fighting force. It's just regrettable that Marx didn't provide him with more mates posed to extract immediate revenge for his hurt.