Central War Gaming Blog

Central War Gaming Blog

 

Monday, October 29, 2018

The Battle of Westerplatte, 1 - 7 Sept 1939

I have recently found that Amazon Prime Video has a huge selection of obscure (to me at least) foreign war movies. Most interesting, is that many of them are from the other side of the Iron Curtain, things we couldn't see when they were first shown.

Some are awful, but some are fun, and others are classics. Today I want to talk about Westerplatte (1967). There's also a 2013 Polish movie on the same topic, but it's too angsty, too full of flashbacks, and uses bad 3D effects.

But the older film is wonderful. Guns are authentic to my eye as they are both Polish productions, and interesting to see as different from the usual US (or non-gun/airsoft gun). IMFDB page on it. They seem mostly properly employed. Lots of fussing with MGs to load them, to make sure they are moved to the best position all the time, re-water them!

People are yelled at to fire only short bursts. They even low crawl very properly. 
The film even went to the level of making not everyone a hero. People broke after days under fire, or just decided they didn’t want to fight until an officer all but threatens to shoot them. Maybe worthy of the Mindset Quote thread (translated) is a day 3 discussion in the local HQ by the officers:
We talk about surrendering, while our men only worry if they have enough ammunition. Well, gentlemen, we have enough ammunition.

The battle itself is super interesting for reasons that are perfectly relevant today. The political situation was horrid. They were on a weird little bit of only nominally Polish land, with both land and sea on all sides from what was supposedly an open city. 
Danzig was supposedly not really part of Poland or Germany, and had a police force but no army, but the Germans effectively occupied it, in a great example of peacekeepers not doing their job before the Canadians led the UN to generally figure out how to do this. Here's a close up of the Westerplatte peninsula. Danzig (modern day Gdansk) is mostly to the west. 
This strongly misrepresents what a fortification consisted of, but is an easy to read simplified plan:
The League of Nations nominally enforced Danzig being open, but it was entirely toothless. And, too beholden to avoiding war at all costs, so appeasing and backing off, as we all learned didn't work very well in the end against the Nazis, or the Empire of Japan. 
I am reminded of the UN mission to Rwanda doing nothing, and the French having to come and rescue all the Westerners, but leaving everyone else behind to die. Compare to Operation Unicorn, where French peacekeepers counter attacked and destroyed the entire Ivorian Air Force for an attack. Last year, UN withdrew from a peaceful Cote d'Ivoire; enforcing peace with force can totally work. 
German Photo-reconnaissance from 1936 clearly showing many of the buildings
The garrison on the peninsula was restricted in size, and from having significant weapons, or fortifications. All because of a desire to not make the Nazis angry, and give them an excuse to attack. Of course we know now that lacking that, the Germans just made up an excuse when it was time to attack. The Polish Army even reinforced for a few weeks shortly before this, but had to withdraw under international pressure. 
And to add to the awfulness, despite sea access and being in sight of Poland, it’s actually entirely cut off from friendly territory. Everything goes through the Open City of Danzig, which rapidly became  effectively enemy territory. Not only is there no way to fall back, but supplies are restricted even during the build up. 
Another photo-reconnaissance shot from 1936 showing where the New Barracks is situated (by the black arrow) and also showing the old ammunition bunker on the lower far right of the photo with the Old Barracks and Officers Casino about the half way mark on the extreme right of the photo whilst the Red Wall can be seen running the length of the photo.
Even the movie hits on this well. That logistics and the whole tail matters. The medical section complaining their supplies are held up in customs is just another dumb administrative thing to deal with before the war starts. But once the shooting is on, it means all your casualties stay that way, or die, because there’s not even enough dressings, much less antibiotics, surgical tools, or enough staff.
The same for backup radios and commo wire; from the first day they had to use runners to talk to outposts, are risking guys running more wire. And for most of the time they cannot talk to higher at all so cannot get clarified orders or more intelligence. Or, how to feed people once the kitchen is blown up because you expected that the big fort would be bomb proof. And a thousand other things that sap the ability of your men to fight.
Generally, it’s a good example of how individual bravery and the man with a rifle will do a hell of a lot, but artillery, air attack, and machine guns will often win out. The newsreel footage in the older film didn’t match at all, but I didn't mind as it as jaw dropping. Every gun on an battleship firing on the island at a range of about 150 m (really) is, even in grainy film, a sight to behold.
Above is a painting, but I like it.
The whole movie is also on YouTube for free, just start at the beginning instead of from this clip where the bombardment is. 
I cannot imagine sticking it out in the face of that.  And no one expected they would. The tiny, determined garrison was actually planned, at the national level, to only last 12 hours, and that was considered nuts, as it was up from a pre-no-reserves estimate of maybe 6 hours. If I haven't outlined enough horrible things they had to overcome then try this last add on for the tactical situation: The whole island isn't theirs. There's a wall down the middle, and Nazi soldiers on the other side. 
Another aerial photo from 1936, clearly showing the Red wall running the length of the 
Harbour Canal and the Old Barracks in the extreme right of the picture edge
And not a fortification. A wall. like what you might separate your back yard from your neighbors. Here is it after the battle. Yup, it's about one layer of brick, and some wire on top.  
A German posing for a shot by the ruins of the Red Wall
And yet, they lasted an entire week under those conditions. Imagine if they had even twice the manpower, better fortifications, and a dozen mountain guns to wheel around and blast the Germans with?

I bring this up not just to celebrate some really solid heroism, but because horrible situations happen, at small scales and large, for unimportant battles and key moments in history, all the time. 
CWG events, and training, tend to focus on getting the basics right. Not just teaching and letting you exercise small unit tactics, or using fewer and unencrypted radios, or how to navigate with a compass. No, while we are happy to teach those, more important than knowing any one skill is understanding principles. 
With those, you can react to loss of material, loss of mannpower, loss of communications. You can change and adapt to the situation, instead of waiting for direction from on higher, failing to take action because there's no fire support or air support, or just sitting there clueless while you wait for the Blue Force Tracker to get fixed. 

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Rain, Waterproofing, and Jungle Rigs

I have been thinking much lately of waterproofing, and gear designed to work in constantly wet conditions. I got rained on a lot in Poland, almost constantly in Iceland, and then came home to many days in a row of rain.

Waterproofed

My rain gear has gotten a workout, and I have been re-waterproofing much of it to handle it better. Gore-tex doen't easily wear out, but the micro-permeable layer is on the inside. The surface of your jacket can also soak up rain, get heavy and cold, and be unpleasant. Periodically you need to re-waterproof your gear. 

My favorite is definitely wash-in waterproofing. Nikwax TX.Direct Wash-in Waterproofing is easy to use, and the most effective thing I have used so far. I apply it to all sorts of stuff when it looses waterproofing. Tents, packs and pack covers, hats, and more.

Use the directions on the bottle for the amount, but I do not ever risk getting a waterproof washing machine, and just do it in a bucket or a sink. A spare sink or wash basin in the basement, not the kitchen sink. Agitate and rotate your gear so it gets evenly soaked, rinse it out, and let it dry fully.

The wash-in will be fine as it is. Use sprays (the matching brand usually, as it's the same stuff) to touch it up as it starts to loose waterproofing resistance over time, especially on high-impact areas like the sleeves and shoulders of a rain jacket, where the rain falls directly on you. 

Water-Sealed

But not everything is or can be under a waterproof cover. One lesson of jungle warfare especially is that some gear has to just be able to tolerate wet conditions all by itself. 

Sometimes this is you rifle, radio, optics, and electronics. They cannot live their life in waterproof bags, so need to be designed to accept being wet all the time, without leaks or corrosion. 

Maintenance is an important part of this. Many of us may thing of cleaning and oiling metal parts, but plastic, electrical, and water-sealed components. 

Every time a new electronic device comes to me, and periodically for maintenance or when they clearly need to be cleaned, I remove all battery doors and other removable panels. Many seals and panels get silicone to assure they do not stick, and gaskets or o-rings get white lithium grease. If possible, remove the gaskets and o-rings to grease both sides. 

Without suitable lubrication, you won't be able to tighten the panels, seals won't move into place or can even erode and tear. Dry seals are not waterproof. 

Electrical items, like the battery screw caps on your Aimpoint, need the same treatment, but we need to make sure the electrical contact work. Most of these devices pass electricity through the cap into the body of the device; corrosion can prevent this from working, but so can some oils and greases. 

Instead, do the same treatment with dielectric grease. It's simply electrically-conductive grease, and works very well for this. 

Water-Loving

The jungle has always been the worst environment, and lessons have been learned at great cost about the right gear to wear and carry, from the Philippine Insurrection right on through to today. 

Of course we like to forget the lessons of the past, so almost everything learned from the Pacific campaign was lost by the time Vietnam rolled around, but since our various post-war jungle insurgencies, the US, France, the UK and others have maintained jungle warfare schools to keep the skills alive and push for suitable equipment. 

While the jungle is the most extreme version of the relentlessly-wet environment, there are bits and pieces of it all over, which make their lessons very relevant. Many times I have been walking along a creekbed in Missouri that is covered in ferns and moss, with a layer of fog indicating 100% humidity. And it's like this all day, all year round. 

For those environments, and for the periodic rainy seasons we get, we learn that some items cannot be waterproofed, or worn under cover, but have to learn to live with constant dampness. Slings, belts, and load bearing equipment are the tip of the spear on this front. 

There are a few lessons in finding and configuring equipment for this: 

  • materials that do not retain water... not canvas, not padding
  • drains... and this is more complex than you think; every time there are two layers of fabric, water can get trapped between them
  • nothing that can corrode, or rot — drain grommets are all too often the solution to drainage, but are not great
  • f
  • Do not cover too much of the body. The soldier has to be not overheated 

In the past, you simply couldn't meet all these requirements, so spent a lot of time making sure your gear could dry out, trying to apply waterproofing materials, cleaning them, and replacing worn bits. Or, they were so waterproof (vinyl and other rubbers) and heavy they were fatigue-inducing for the soldier.

Today, technology is not just more phone apps, but materials that give thrilling options to meet these needs really well. Lightweight synthetics like Hypalon, and many proprietary laminates are offered that have zero water absorption. They also are built in interesting ways, to reduce weight, complexity, and avoid padding and spaces which can trap water.

While several companies make such things, two leaders of note are Velocity Systems, especially with their Mayflower line Jungle Kit, and Blue Force Gear, which has a whole line of Helium Whisper pouches, and a line of Minus load bearing gear with laser cut slots and holes instead of MOLLE webbing sewn on.

(Note, Blue Force Gear seems to be discontinuing some of their Minus rigs, so if you want one, today is the time to get them while on closeout)


My Jungle Rig

I have used a lot of load bearing gear. ALICE, the SDS RACK, commie chest rigs, belt lines. A few years ago, I took that info, sewed my own, and it had some fun features but it got worn out so at the beginning of 2016, I started looking to replace it. Had some wish list ideas, etc. but I stumbled across a MACHS (a Hellcat Mk2 with extra pouches) for a steal, and wrote about that.

It had some relevant features which make it work well. A lot of the design is very nice to avoid chafing, or trapping water. The shoulder straps for example are wide webbing without padding. But it's still a little over-built, and despite some customizing on my part it cannot meet all my needs simply because it is a 5.56 only rig.

Jungle Kit

Recently, I went to a friend's store, and tried on a number of things to meet this need. I started with a lot of assembling and trying the Mayflower Jungle Kit. It was not me. But let me explain.

First: It’s nice. So nice that if you love ALICE or other belt setups I cannot suggest it more highly. It is very stable, very well built, and very light. And, meets all the other needs outlined above about comfort and water retention.

But I personally have settled very much to where I like to wear my rig (high) and know how belts work for me. They don’t much. The pouch bottoms stab me, and tilt, and snag on my ruck belt, and so on. I want a platform tall enough to mount the pouches TO, not hang them FROM. If that makes sense.

Front or Back Adjustment

The other thing worth considering is the overall layout. Both belts and chest rigs are of a fixed diameter. They have adjustable straps which allow them to fit your body — and which must adjust as you change clothing for the environment, have fat days, or choose to wear or not wear armor.

For belts, the adjustment is in the front. This is super convenient to adjust, but it means the fixed point of reference for the belt attached items is at your spine, in the back. As you adjust, items move to or away from your centerline.

For chest rigs, split at the front or not, the adjustment is in the back. While it can seem like you are wasting space with this gap, generally you can fill it with back panels — the hydro carrier is a common one. Anyway, on a chest rig, since the adjustment is to the rear, when your diameter changes, the front-relative position remains the same. When you reach for stuff, you find your snacks, pens, lightsticks, and magazines always at the same place.

Again, these are not bad things. Just choices. Your choice may very well be different from mine, and that is just fine. 

SplitMinus

Being a cheapskate, I was thrilled to find the Blue Force Gear discontinued page, and immediately got a SplitMinus, and a few pouches. And over the past few weeks I have put together… this:



Because of the video I noticed the back upper straps weren't adjusted right, have fixed those. And the IFAK pouch is being replaced with something smaller.

For the record, as shown it is (my left to right):
  • 10-speed 7.62. Gray for some reason I cannot recall, but once assembled I hit it with some Rapco Khaki paint. Works great. Carries anything at all. Can dump the mags when transporting the rig, so I added elastic cord, simply woven through the back of the rig cutouts and molle webbing. Knotting at each tension needed, so no noise from cordlocs. 
  • Folding pouch from some UK pack. Roll top and velcro. Using it for pens, lightsticks, squinchers, etc. 
  • SAW pouch. Also UK issue. On my other rig I have SpecOps X6, and ideally I'll get some Helium Whisper SAW pouches but at $80 a pop, not eager to do that. Left one here has velcro sewn to the top to hold the patch indicating that it has a (home-sewn) IFAK pullout. 
  • Mayflower Jungle Buttpack (empty here and the straps stupidly hanging down) woven through the back 1" belt of the rig, and the D rings attach via the little velcro tab things to...
  • ... a First Spear hydro pouch. Accidentally got the small one, but in the end, perfect as I get a little stowage below, and less weight in water above. A lot of times I wear an assault pack it's just to have backup bottled water and rain gear. Buttpack can handle those duties I think, lightening me up. 
  • Another SAW pouch, empty. This is my Mission Specific Stuff pouch. Day optics, LRF, thermal, batteries, food, small water bottles, gloves, etc. It varies, but is a great solution for that, been using for years. Where the idea of the SAW sized pullout came from.
  • Bang pouch. I have none of those, but a few mini-smokes, and if those dry up will turn it into something else. Previously was on the shoulder so this is probably better use of the space.  
  • And back around to the matching 10-speed 7.62
Not visible is: Nothing. A big benefit of these modern rigs is that there are fewer features! There is no inside pocket for example. I have never been able to use these properly. They are too small, only work with flat things, never have loops to keep pens and lightsticks upright, etc. And they do add weight, bulk, and trap water even when made of mesh. So good riddance.

I also did mod it to have tubes. The laminate they are using is NOT hypalon, so hypalon or vinyl glue techniques do not work. The tubes are in vinyl (either Tempur door scraps or FMTV cargo bed scraps… I cannot recall which) I tried some good glues and techniques and it was meh. Holding, but not trustworthy. So ended up sewing, and it sews like gangbusters.

The cordura (?) finish layer is nice for glare and noise, but it does soak up water pretty good. There’s not much of it, so it doesn’t get super heavy, but if was doing jungle or maritime stuff full time, I’d give the whole rig a waterproofing soak (stupidly, I just spent the weekend doing that to a bunch of other stuff of mine, forgot to do this…)

The laminate is very shape-supporting. It doesn’t compress and fold up and squish like fabrics. Putting the repair tubes into the slots I glued/sewed was a bear. Very doesn’t work like fabric/webbing loops. Even more so, when you just wear it around; the SR-attached front was nothing to write home about, but with the tubes, the whole mountable panel is rock solid. The rig is now not hanging off me, but as I have always liked (and gotten my home-sewn ones to do especially) is practically bolted to me. Nothing wobbles, and everything is where I expect it to be every time I reach down.



So, who is ready to ditch ALICE, cotton canvas, and old "bombproof" cordura things? What rigs are you running, and how are they going?

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