Sunday, 31 January 2016

The 'Defensive Terrain' Theme is Now Up! (...and Curt's fort on 'The De Lattre Line', 1951)

French blockhouse along 'The De Lattre Line'

After a much-enjoyed dinner party (and the attendant hangover) the 'Defensive Terrain' theme round is up and ready for your viewing pleasure!

This week we have a wide assortment of interpretation of the the theme, ranging from barbed wire to barbicans and from minefields to motte and bailey forts. I know, it's amazing what our participants can come up with.

After you've viewed the gallery of entries please take a moment to vote for your favorites in the right sidebar. Voting will be open until 11:45pm, next Saturday (Feb 6th).
 

As to my own submission, I decided to return to a project which I started a few years ago: The war in French Indochina, 1945-54.

After the defeat of the Japanese in WWII, Indochina reverted back to French colonial control. Nonetheless the Vietnamese nationalist, the Viet Minh, who had fiercely resisted the Japanese occupation, had set their hearts upon independence and so open fighting between the two soon broke out. 

By 1950 the French found themselves hard pressed and bogged down by the Viet Mihn and so within this setting General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny, France's most senior commander, was called in to redress the balance. General de Lattre was only in Indochina for less than a year but within that time he reinvigorated the French forces and dealt the Viet Mihn a series of stinging defeats. 


One of de Lattre's strategies was to enclose the entire Tonkin river delta with a sequence of concrete fortifications in order to better protect this strategic region. These 1200 forts became known as 'The De Lattre Line'. The forts were constructed to house anywhere between 10 men to several hundred defenders, but were usually fairly small affairs, often hexagonal in shape. From what I've been able to gather they were frequently designed like a seashell, with the rooms winding in towards a central magazine/radio room. This way the garrison could fall back, room by room towards the center. Also, some forts had the luxury of an old tank turret being installed on the roof to provide additional fire support.




Not so easily deterred, the Viet Minh frequently attacked these outlying forts in order to break into the Tonkin area, cause havoc and try to reduce the French grip on the area. 

In his book, 'Street without Joy' Bernard Fall describes a typical attack on one of these forts and it's a harrowing read.  I won't go into great detail here but, in short, the Viet Mihn would usually use the cover of darkness to approach the fort and drive-in its defenders. As the French airforce had no capability for night-flying, and their artillery was nowhere nearly as plentiful as what the Americans would enjoy a decade later, the defenders had to hang on, fight through the night and hope for support in the light of the morning. 

The French would fight in pitch darkness, being as the use of interior lights would outline their fort's firing slits to the enemy. As the night battle wore on, the interiors would fill with choking cordite smoke, with the darkness only cut by the flash and roar of automatic weapons fire. 


Meanwhile back at French headquarters, staff officers would crowd around the radios to listen as the fort's radioman gave up-to-the-minute status of the fighting.  On more than one occasion a frantic last message would come over the wireless announcing that the defenders were out of ammunition and the Viet Minh were breaking into the last room (this often punctuated with a stentorian, 'Vive la France!'), or the next morning, the relieving French aircraft would fly over the besieged fort and discover the entire area masked by a cloud of red-brown dust, the fort obviously destroyed.


As soon as I read Bernard Fall's description of these desperate actions along 'The De Lattre Line' I knew I wanted to try to replicate it on the tabletop. I asked my good friend Sylvain to help me construct the fort, providing him with photographs and describing what I understood to be the interior layout. He provided me an excellent base model (thanks Sylvain!) to which I added some additional details, such as the raised viewing cupola, roof bracing and a Renault turret position. I then applied a skim coat of texture gel to reflect the concrete construction and painted it similar to my existing Indochina collection.  After it dried I liberally targeted various corners, edges and surfaces with a brown wash to mimic the mildew that would quickly grow in a jungle environment. 


I apologize to being a little liberal with the foliage in these photos. In reality, the French would have the whole area around their forts cleared to allow for effective fire lanes.  Nonetheless, I wanted to see if my experiment of a light overspray of khaki would take the shine off the plants' plastic leaves. It seems to have worked and so will be trying it with the rest of my 'Littlest Mermaid' foliage. :) 

There you have it folks, thanks for taking the time to visit.

Please, enjoy the gallery and have a great week!

46 comments:

  1. Excellent build Curt and a very accurate representation of the real thing. Also the write up on the history is much appreciated.

    I've gone through the submissions and I have to say this is the best round thus far. There are a lot of jaw dropping scratch builds that have my complete admiration. I want to say thanks to all the participants for giving me so much quality work to look at tonight. You haven't made the task of voting easy though!

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  2. Great stuff dude! And we'll done Sylvain!

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    1. Cheers Greg. Sylvain did a cracking job on it.

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  3. Great build Curt! Love the removable roof and interior details.

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    1. Thanks Millsy. I can't take credit for the build - that is pretty much all Sylvain. I just provided 'art direction' and finished it off.

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  4. Really nice piece that should make for some brutal gaming. Khaki does wonders on flock and foliage. Great result all round. cheers

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  5. Very nice! Love the interior.

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    1. Thanks Barks. It's a pretty spartan piece but it will serve.

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  6. Absolutely stunning work from the both of you and I much enjoyed the background story as well!

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  7. That looks the business, another cracking entry

    Ian

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  8. Excellent build Curt and Sylvain! Appreciate the history too, Curt - sounds like a cracking 'worst case scenario' in the making

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    1. You're a step ahead of me already. ;)

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  9. Congratulations to the architect and the builder!
    fabulous entry and " par St Michel! Vive les Paras! et Vive la France!"

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  10. Another history lesson, much appreciated. The fort is great, although I'm pretty sure I glad I didn't have to man it

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    1. Thanks Martin. Yes, I have a suspicion it was a fairly miserable posting, and this is before the imminent threat of being over-run!

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  11. Looks good, but are giving some handicap to others - this is not showing in the Bonus Round blog and it is not selectable on the Voting Widget? :)

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    1. Thanks Teemu. Since I'm the event organizer I've decided to keep out of the bonus rounds as I think it only proper and fair.

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  12. Very nice bunker,Curt! I can almost smell the moldy damp! ;)

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    1. I know! It would have been a nasty detail to get assigned to, for sure.

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  13. I love the bunker and the mention of Jean de Lattre de Tassigny one of my favorite French Gernerals.

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    1. He was a bit of a rock star for sure. What he experienced and survived through during his life is mind boggling.

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  14. Stunning piece of terrain Curt! Somehow I seemingly was mistaken in assuming terrain, as a stand alone, wouldn't count even in this round.

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    1. Thanks Nick. Yes, stand alone terrain is valid for this round (and this round alone).

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    2. ...but we got the extra bonus of enjoying your figures as well. ;)

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    3. I feel honestly flattered ;-) Should have gone with the 40k terrain piece...

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  15. Fantastic fort, really nice!
    And very interesting reading too.

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  16. Bravo Sir, I have always enjoyed this project of yours and this is a rather splendid addition.

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    1. Thank you Michael. It goes in fits and starts but I do enjoy it when the whimsy strikes.

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  17. Really nice! Especially as the piece allows you to trace the retreat through the rooms as you describe. Very interesting to learn about what happened with these.

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    1. Thanks Jamie. I'm happy you noticed the interior detail. It was something that Sylvain and I wrestled with as I could find no definitive architectural drawings or plans of the forts (though I know they exist).

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  18. A most excellent model, Curt! I can't imagine how tricky this was to complete - anything this precisely geometrical is always a pain to do well. I love the Renault turret and the concrete effect you've achieved - they both really add a lot to the finished effect. The "seashell" construction comes across very clearly - they must have been a real nightmare to defend, though, without much in the way of supporting artillery. Cracking model!

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    1. Thanks Sidney! Yes, I can only shudder to think what it was like trying to defend one of these during the dark of night, knowing you'd not see relief until the light of the morning.

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