Thursday, October 25, 2012

Anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt

"This story shall the good man teach his son;

And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day."
Henry the V, William Shakespeare

It is October 25, the anniversary of he Battle of Agincourt (1415). Considered by many to be one of the most brilliant battles of the medieval era and certainly one of the most interesting of the Hundred Years War. I'm a fan of battles where one side is greatly outnumbered and prevailed. For me, my love of this battle goes back to my purchase of the old SPI boardgame Agincourt -Archery Over Armor - still a classic in my book.

The English expedition in France had been plagued with long wet marches, dysentery, and a French force determined to attack and capture/destroy them. When twenty-eight year old Henry the V's force of approximately 6000 moved towards the port of Calais to return to England he encountered a French force outnumbering him from 3-5 to 1. For the French it should have been an easy victory. The English force was nobles and commoners, many with the English longbow. The French had heavily armored cavalry, some crossbowmen, and legions of French noble knights.

The topography of the battlefield played well to the English. The flanks were heavily wooded, prohibited the cavalry from sweeping along the flanks to attack the bowmen. The field was wet and churned to mud easily. The land had difficult to see drop-offs which provided deceptive cover in the open too. Henry opted for a defensive fight, ordering his men to sharpen stakes and angle them towards the French position.

The French moved on the English first, sending their cavalry tearing at the English line, churning the field into a muddy ooze as they came. They encountered the English longbowmen, the machineguns of the medieval battlefield. With iron tipped bodkin arrowheads, these bows could rain down fire that could pierce the French armor - and did. The cavalry was devoured in raining waves of arrows.

The French crossbowmen moved forward to deal with the English bowmen. While effective, the crossbow took three times as long to load as the longbow. Soon these men were devastated under English bow fire.

The armored French knights slowly surged forward in dense formations, going over the muddy ground which slowed them considerably and made the trek even more difficult. The rain of arrow fire consumed them and the moving mass of men pushing forward often trampled the men ahead of them. The woods on the flanks served to funnel them into the English. The few knights that did reach the line found themselves dealing with the English knights who quickly finished them off or captured them.

The French sent a squad of knights to try and kill or capture Henry personally, only to have them cut to shreds in the process. A significant number of French knights were captured to be held for ransom, a common practice at the time. When Henry heard a rumor that French cavalry were moving to free the prisoners he ordered them killed so as to free up the men watching over them for battle.

In the end, the French force was decimated. Shakespeare did the rest - immortalizing the battle in his play Henry the V in the classic St. Crispin's Day speech.  

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Following the Cuban Missile Crisis - Day-By-Day

I am just finishing work on a my book on the Cuban Missile Crisis (The Fires of October) and I thought now would be a good time to start posting a reflection back on the crisis – day-by-day.  This is the 50th anniversary of the crisis, thirteen days that the world held its breath during. 

The missile crisis has an almost cult-like following by historians (if such a thing exists).  The reason is that there are so many different aspects to the crisis to explore.  There’s the crisis management and decision making processes that unfolded.  There’s the military build-up and the concept of an escalation to a global nuclear war.  The angle I’m writing about is the planned invasion of Cuba – OP Plan 316-62 which has been largely overlooked over the years.  Stepping into writing the Cold War is something that makes me cringe a little.  I’m not part of the ‘club’ yet with the historians who cover this subject.  I’m hoping they see some merit in the last three years of research I did on the topic. 

My reason for starting today, October 14, is that is the day that the crisis began to unfold.  A U2 surveillance flight by Major Richard Heyser over Cuba took photographs that would lead to the ignition of the crisis.  There had been previous flights, but his was the first that brought back tangible evidence of the strategic Soviet build-up on the island. 
Each day or so I will post up some other nice little tid-bits on the crisis.  Bookmark me and stay tuned.  

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Getting Back To My Roots As A Writer

Back in college at Central Michigan University, for two years I wrote for the school newspaper, the award winning CM Life. I was an editorial columnist - which meant I had the privilege of writing about whatever I felt like. Some of my material was funny, some serious, a few pieces were political - while others simply poked fun at campus life.

I got the job by walking in with two of three samples and asking. The editor looked them over and offered me the job right on the spot. For me it was a catalyst for my writing career. I got to try out new techniques and approaches to writing and the feedback was instant…simply walk across the campus and people let you know what they thought.

Just before graduation the editor commented, "we never see you in our Journalism classes," and I told him that was because I wasn't a journalism student. I was in the College of Business. Writing was just something I enjoyed doing.

From the basement of Anspach Hall I started to write science fiction products for BattleTech, Star Trek, and then branched out into writing business management books, Sci-Fi, horror, true crime, biography, and military history. I have been fortunate enough that my books are sold around the globe and I have thousands of readers.

This summer while doing a TV interview on my true crime book Secret Witness, the editor of the Culpeper Times and I talked about my early days. She did something remarkable. She offered me a job as an editorial columnist. I hesitated a little at first. When you write such a column there's bound to be people that disagree with you and I live in small community where my family might catch some of that flak. It was a job with no pay and I am always busy working on my next book - careening towards that next deadline. There were a lot of reasons to not do it - but a part of me wanted to touch that part of my youth one more time. 

So I agreed.

It has been a blast. Here's my latest tid bit. I have enjoyed doing it and the feedback has been great. That hour I spend every month writing these columns takes me back to the 1980's and writing for the CM Life.

They say you can't go back in time…let me assure you, there are ways! 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Review: Fortress America

I am from the last generation that remembered the threat of the Soviet Union. When the movie Red Dawn came out, there was a part of us that identified with the theme…that the United States might actually be invaded at some point. In the midst of this, Milton Bradley released Fortress America. The game was cool - the invasion of the United States and the US struggling to hold the invaders at bay. It was made even more eerie when the box had a picture of Saddam Hussain and the World Trade Center towers on it.

Of course political correctness required them to reissue the game sans the artwork.  But the end of the Cold War seemed to seal the fate of this game, exiling it to eBay. Back in the day I played it a few times and enjoyed it. It had a good feel to it. Well, this year, Fantasy Flight Games re-released the game. Needless to say it was one of my first purchases at GenCon this year.

The game revolves around a simple concept. The US is being invaded. Each turn the invaders penetrate deeper into the country. The US is deploying a laser defense system that can knock out game pieces anywhere on the map. Each turn, the US gets an additional one of these. By about turn 6-7, these pieces can devastate the invaders, holding them at bay. So it's a race of sorts, knock the US out of the game or by turn eight or so you are getting blasted.

A few good changes have been implemented from the old Milton Bradley game. First, the game components are much better. Secondly, the invaders now have cards they obtain in the course of play that can help tip the odds. One card in particular, allows a player holding Colorado Springs to negate the lasers for one turn. This can turn a game of annihilation into one where there's a last minute hope for the invasion forces.

The US gets hit on three fronts; east, west and south. The east coast becomes a slugfest for DC (useful because it allows good access to the interior) or New York. The southern invader needs to decide is it a straight shot up the Mississippi or a swing into the southern states. The western invader has those pesky Rocky Mountains which forces a drive either along the northern edge of the US towards Chicago, or towards the great plains. The invaders can establish footholds deeper in the US giving them landing zones for reinforcements that get them into the fight sooner. Strategy-wise, there's a lot of nuances here that makes the game fun and challenging.

The game can be played with two players or four (one for each invasion corridor plus the US)
The US player relies on partisans which can wreck havoc and a wicked defense to buy time for more laser batteries to be deployed. The invaders have a steady stream of reinforcements but with each turn, their losses mount due to the laser batteries.
The units include bombers - which can fly deep for penetrating attacks, infantry/partisans, Mobile (APC's) which allow for transport of troops (important if you are the west coast invader), hovertanks, cities, and laser batteries.

The cards make the game, they give it flavor and can provide some interesting circumstances for both sides. You have things like The NRA organizes a rebel training camp in the Rockies or Washington is Burning! These events/cards can give you new unexpected reinforcements or can sway the course of battles.

Combat is simplistic - almost ala Axis and Allies. Hey, if you are looking or a 'historically accurate' game look somewhere else. Fantasy Flight walks the line between a detailed wargame and a beer and pretzel's game.

This game really took me back to the old version and I'm glad this one is out. My rating - five stars out of five. Time to invade America! "Wolverines!!"