Tag Archives: wargaming

National Museum of Thailand

The main hall of the National Museum in Bangkok has undergone a revamp that, whilst much needed, has deprived it of the scale dioramas modellers and wargamers alike would have waxed lyrical about. Thankfully the Fine Arts Department has had the foresight to preserve the old displays  for posterity in a virtual tour available on the world wide web – though I’d like to think that my own pictures will be of use to the more eagle-eyed of readers.

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These miniature reenactments of the medieval monarchy’s greatest hits began with the 1238 ascension of Si Inthrathit, a petty warlord who rebelled against Khmer suzerainty to establish the first independent Siamese kingdom at Sukhothai (whose troop types are available in 15mm from Khurasan Miniatures, in case anyone is wondering).

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This staid scene setter quickly gives way to a rip-roaring elephant duel, the first of many such vignettes, between his 19-year-old son, Ramkhamhaeng, and the local Khmer governor in 1257.

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Ramkhamhaeng’s own reign is believed to have ushered in a golden age of peace and enlightened kingship. The monarch was said to be an approachable sort, and accepted petitions from his subjects in person.

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The king even had the time to devise a new alphabet, which was inscribed on stones for distribution amongst the public. That this ever happened is a matter of dispute, with many a left-leaning academic attributing the stone’s progeny to a 19th century king desperate to convince the encroaching colonial powers that Siam needn’t any further civilising.

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Equally idyllic was the reign of Ramkhamhaeng’s grandson, Mahathammaracha I, whose piety is reflected not only in his regnal name (“Great King of Dharma”) but in the many temples and Buddhas he had commissioned.

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Commoners, on the other hand, had pottery to busy themselves with.

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The Sukhothai Kingdom was quickly overshadowed by its rival to the south, Ayutthaya, which became one of the region’s great mandalas throughout the centuries that followed. Depicted here is the city’s founding along the banks of the Chao Phraya River, overseen by King U-Thong.

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A city of resplendent temples and high stilted houses, Ayutthaya was a very cosmopolitan place, attracting all sorts of characters, from Persian traders and Japanese ronins to Portuguese missionaries and Dutch soldiers of fortune.

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Ayutthaya had its ups and downs, and at one point was subjugated by the Burmese. This state of vassalage was upended in 1583 when a young Siamese prince, Naresuan, declared independence in a quasi-religious ceremony.

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The museum’s remaining dioramas are all devoted to Naresuan’s various derring-dos. These included a decidedly ungentlemanly long-distance sniping of a Burmese viceroy, an incident that ranks as one of the most celebrated feats in Siamese military lore.

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The warrior king also wasn’t adverse to taking on turbaned baddies on horseback.

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It all culminated in a 1592 elephant duel between Naresuan and the Burmese heir-apparent Mingyi Swa at Nong Sarai in modern-day Suphanburi, an event that is commemorated in the province’s seal.

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WWII Thais

Most histories of WWII treat Thailand as being just another part of the Japanese empire, notable for its immediate surrender to the Japanese and for making up one half of the infamous Death Railway.

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They are wrong. The South-east Asian kingdom not only managed to safeguard to a considerable degree its sovereignty as a member of the risible Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere (for example, the notorious Kempeitai could not operate as freely as it did elsewhere), but her armed forces also took to the field, fighting just about everyone in the neighbourhood – an impressive achievement for a nation which had so loudly trumpeted its commitment to strict neutrality at the start of the war.

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As such a Thai wargaming force can be fielded against many opponents. Hysterical irredentism and a firm belief in France’s military weakness paved the way for a short border war with the Vichy French, which began with border skirmishes and culminated in a Thai invasion of Laos and Cambodia. The ground conflict featured  river raids, artillery duels, night-time assaults and even, in the case of Poipet, street-fighting.

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Elhiem Thais beside a generic Frontline truck.

This forgotten affair was then followed by 8 December 1941, during which the Thais had the distinction of fighting both Axis and Allies on the same day: while the Japanese were landing at various points throughout the length of the country’s southern peninsular, a British column of Universal carriers and truck-borne sepoys crossed the Malayan frontier in a bid to pre-empt the Japanese capture of a strategically important position.

DSC_0594Infantry debussing from a Moonlite Modelwerks Ford.

The Thais were unable to repel either invader, however, and by the afternoon had agreed to a ceasefire with the Japanese, who then thundered on south to deal with the British. A few weeks later this armistice turned into an alliance with Imperial Japan, and in early 1942 the Thais, like Mussolini in 1940, thought they had found a winning horse and decided to join in the fun before it became too late. Three divisions proceeded to mount a unilateral invasion of Burma’s eastern Shan States against the nationalist Chinese, who they booted out.

DSC_0581Who’s supporting whom? Carden Loyd tankettes from Moonlite Modelwerks.

More imaginative gamers may also want to consider a hypothetical what-if scenario based on the planned uprising against the Japanese (a la the Slovaks and Romanians) which was shelved following the Emperor’s broadcast.

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Doubtlessly the forthcoming range from Elhiem Figures will be ground-breaking, if only because no one has ever produced Thai figures in any scale before. Thankfully that isn’t the only reason to applaud Elhiem. The figures are well-animated and the sculpting excellent. But they aren’t without their flaws though: the helmet will  only look like an Adrian when viewed from the side, while on the accuracy front the figures lack bayonet scabbards. The biggest (no pun intended) drawback, however, are their oversized rifles. That being said, these flaws are only minor, and shouldn’t put people off from buying them.

Painting guide to follow.

A wargamer’s guide to Burmese architecture

While browsing through pictures taken at 2007’s Historicon I came upon this extremely annoying photo:

Mark Hayes’ Battlefront game portrayed the British attack on Pagoda Hill in Mandalay in 1945. See those three pagodas there? Yeah? Well, they are absolutely ludicrous. Why? Well, because it’s dead obvious that they are Chinese pagodas.

So? Imagine having a Russian church on a tabletop that’s supposed to represent Normandy or Sicily. Know what I mean now?

So here’s a short little something on the architecture of Burma.

Traditional Houses
Traditionally-styled houses were set up on a raised platform, which allowed for one to stay cool below the structure on extremely hot days. Until the British came most residences were built with wood (particularly timber) and bamboo.

Wealthy people had houses that had decorated windows, doors and shutters. A good example of such a house is that of Kinwun Mingui U Kaung (pictured below), which is made up of a complex of pavilions set on a raised patio.

Rural farmers often had much simpler homes, which were set up on stilts, had woven walls and roofs made of sun-dried grass.

Monasteries, Pagodas and Stupas
I’m sure the following images can speak for themselves.

Many wargamers seem to have a penchant for setting up Buddha statuettes – many of them oversized and too Eastern-looking (i.e. Chinese or Japanese )  – smack in the middle of a field on the table, exposed to rainfall , when they should instead be located under a pavilion’s roof within a monastic complex (unless it’s a ruined one). Of course, oversized Buddhas do exist, but, like Rio’s Christ, they are more the exception than the rule. More ubiquitous are stupas and spirit houses, but to date I have seen very few gamers do them. Compare this to those who bother getting the layout and buildings of the area around Oosterbeek or Pegasus Bridge correct.

Lastly, here’s a couple of pictures of Mandalay’s palace.

Note: this was originally posted on one of the The Guild’s older incarnations.