Yesterday, I found out that Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov has died. He was not well-known. In fact, he died in May, but the news only came out by chance, and even then, news outlets didn’t pick it up immediately.
Many people owe their lives to him, but few realise it. Petrov was on duty at a Soviet nuclear warning centre in 1983 when the alert sounded. Satellites had detected US nuclear missile launches. He should have picked up the phone and alerted his superiors. At the time, the West lived in fear of a Soviet first strike, and the East likewise lived in fear of a Soviet first strike. Had Petrov picked up the phone, as his training dictated, the Soviet high command would probably have launched their own nuclear missiles, believing that they were simply defending themselves. The West would have responded to what was apparently a long-feared Soviet first strike, and the greatest nightmare scenario of the Cold War would have come to pass.
Petrov should have reported the missile launch. That was his job. That was what he was trained to do. But he didn’t. He picked up the phone and reported a system malfunction. He didn’t know at first if he’d made a terrible mistake, but as the minutes passed and no nuclear detonations were reported, he realised that he had done the right thing.
The Soviet military didn’t prize initiative, but on that September morning, Stanislav Petrov showed incredible initiative and courage, and in doing so, he averted nuclear war.
Tanks and Combat Vehicles of the Warsaw Pact details more than 100 military vehicles from the 2P26 “Baby Carriage” – a compact Soviet off-road vehicle mounted with anti-tank missiles – to the T-80U main battle tank, in service from 1985 onwards.
The five finalists are Sitting Ducks by Lisa Blower; Potters: A Division of Labour by John Lancaster; A Ray of Light: Reinhard Heydrich, Lidice and the North Staffordshire Miners by Russell Phillips; Arnold Bennett’s Grand Babylon Hotel edited by Rando Saloman and What Must Happen by Jeffrey Wainwright.
Broadcaster and journalist Samira Ahmed will present the winner with a £500 cheque at a ceremony at Keele University on 1st September. Following the prize presentation, Samira will deliver a lecture entitled “What Arnold Bennett can tell us about Brexit Britain”, as part of a two-day celebration of the author.
Tanks and Combat Vehicles of the Warsaw Pact will be released on 22nd August. It details more than 100 military vehicles from the 2P26 “Baby Carriage” – a compact Soviet off-road vehicle mounted with anti-tank missiles – to the T-80U main battle tank, in service from 1985 onwards.
In March, my wife and I spent a week in the Czech Republic on holiday. Whilst there, we visited Lidice, and I think I now understand Sir Barnett Stross a little more. It always puzzled me slightly that he kept close ties to Czechoslovakia, even after the communists took over. He had no sympathy for the communist regime, and used his position as chair of the British-Czechoslovakia Society to highlight their human rights abuses. Yet his connection to what could be considered an enemy country caused some controversy, and may have harmed his political career.
Visiting Lidice had a big impact on me, and I think I now understand, at least a little more. Seeing the area, and videos of some survivors, brought home the enormity of what had happened there. I suspect Stross never believed he had done enough, either for the dead or the survivors. In the face of such an outrageous atrocity, there are two basic reactions. Either you metaphorically throw your hands up in the air, despairing that nothing is enough to put things right. Or, you do as much as you can, and keep doing more. It will never be enough, but you can always do more.
I believe Stross had the second reaction. I doubt he ever felt that he’d done enough, and so he was always looking for ways to do more.
If you’d like to do a little to help revive the memory of Lidice, Stross, and the miners, please support my thunderclap. Click on “Support with Facebook”, “Support with Twitter”, or “Support with Tumblr” to support using your preferred social media account. It will cost nothing, but will help to spread awareness on the 75th anniversary of the Lidice massacre.
I’ve set up a Thunderclap to help raise awareness of the Lidice atrocity, and the work of the North Staffordshire miners to rebuild the village. To encourage people to support it, I’ve set up a Rafflecopter giveaway.
One winner will win a copy of A Ray of Light, in paperback, audiobook, and ebook formats.
Four runners-up will each win an ebook copy of A Ray of Light.
The Arnold Bennett Literary Prize has announced the short list for its inaugural year, and I’m proud to say that A Ray of Light is one of the ten books on the list. The winner will be announced in September.
This new prize is administered by the Arnold Bennett Society in partnership with the Sentinel newspaper. This is its first year, and it will be awarded every year from now on.
A Ray of Light tells the story of Lidice, a Czech village that was completely destroyed in retaliation for the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich in 1942. North Staffordshire’s miners raised the equivalent of over £1million to rebuild the village.
For some time, I’ve been planning to introduce my nine year old son, Doug, to wargaming. He likes playing board games, including some aimed at adults, and he’s interested in history. We’ve now played a few games, and so I thought I’d write about the lessons I learned, to help anyone else wanting to introduce youngsters to the hobby. I’ve seen many complaints that there aren’t enough young people getting into the hobby. If you want to encourage younger people into wargaming, these notes might help.
One of the things that finally kicked me into trying a game with Doug was being able to get some very cheap die-cast WWII AFVs. I’m not normally a fan of soft plastic, but I use soft plastic figures and artillery pieces with Doug. I strongly recommend only using die-cast or soft plastic. Doug’s careful, but accidents are much more likely with youngsters, so fragile models really aren’t a good idea. In our case, Doug has a four year old sister, who can also cause accidents, even if she’s not playing.
If you use markers, aesthetically pleasing ones are better than plain ones. I use Litko acrylic markers that look like little explosions – little touches like that will go a long way to keeping children interested.
First, of course, you’ll need some rules. I’d planned to write some simple rules of my own, but then I happened to buy a copy of One Hour Wargames by Neil Thomas. They looked ideal, and so we tried a couple of games using the WWII rules. One thing that became quickly apparent is that the rules need to be extremely simple, much simpler than what I’d intended to write. Very few existing rule sets will be simple enough. Scenarios also need to be quite simple. If it’s too big, the child won’t be able to keep track, and will struggle to make decisions. Again, Neil Thomas’ book has a lot of useful, small scenarios included, which are ideal for this. Even then, children might need help working through potential tactics and options.
I’ve also played Memoir ’44 with Doug. This is a board wargame that uses soft plastic models on a hex-based board. The rule book suggests some slight modifications to simplify the game further when playing with young children. We played this simplified version of the rules, and Doug had no trouble understanding them. Memoir ’44 works well, but it uses cardboard counters as terrain, and if the table gets knocked, they can get dislodged. Small blobs of blu-tack can help, but that makes it longer to set up and take down. Make sure you play the scenarios in order. They start very simple (the first one, “Pegasus Bridge”, only has infantry) and gradually increase in complexity, adding other unit types.
When playing, I found it helped if I explained to Doug what I was doing and why. In Memoir ’44, for example, an infantry unit can move one hex and fire, or two hexes and not fire. So, I’d say something like “I’m just moving this unit one hex, so that it can fire”, or “I don’t want to fire with this unit, so I’ll move it two hexes.”
I took Doug to Barrage 2016, our local wargame show. Despite not having any money to spend, he was interested in looking at the traders stands, and asked questions about the models on display. Possibly unsurprisingly, a Warhammer 40,000 game took his interest, and he spent some time talking to the players and asking questions.
He also talked to the players of a WWII game, and played the German attackers in James Morris’s Fort Vaux participation game. He lost, but enjoyed it all the same. At one point he split the dice he had into two groups, telling me that the ones showing sixes were his “lucky dice”.
Children can be much more unpredictable than adults, which can be frustrating sometimes, but can also be challenging and interesting. Games with kids can be fun, and if they enjoy it they may eventually grow up to be adult wargamers, and that has to be good for the hobby as a whole.
All in all, we’ve both enjoyed the games we’ve played. I’m hoping that Doug will continue to enjoy playing, and as he gets older I’ll introduce him to larger scenarios and more complex rules.
Last week, The Sun ran a story about how the CIA wanted to force Britain to hand over the Falkland Islands to Argentina and force British citizens living there to relocate to Scotland. The Daily Mail published a similar story.
At best, the stories are sensationalist. At worst, they’re deliberately misrepresenting the truth. The document was obviously written after the Argentinian invasion, and after the British task force sailed to reclaim the islands, but before the ground war began. At this point, the USA was trying to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis. From America’s point of view, two of their allies were fighting each other, and not unreasonably, they wanted to find a peaceful solution that both would accept.
Both stories were based on a recently declassified memo. It’s clear that the memo was written as a possible way to resolve the dispute peacefully. Despite the newspapers’ claims, the author doesn’t suggest that repatriated islanders must go to Scotland, it actually says that any that wish to should be allowed to relocate to “the UK or elsewhere under British sovereignty”. Scotland is merely mentioned as a likely choice due to its similarity to the Falklands.
What the memo writer missed was the change in the British attitude to the Falklands. The memo states that the British were prepared to hand over sovereignty to Argentina, and that they had been for some time. Before the invasion, that was true. As recently as 1980, the British Minister of State had put a proposal for transfer of sovereignty to the Islanders. The invasion changed that. Suddenly the British government was determined to keep the islands, and so the proposals had no real chance of being accepted by the British.
The memo offers an interesting insight into American assumptions and attitudes at the time, but it’s not a smoking gun, however much tabloid journalists would like to believe otherwise.
The CIA did not try to force Britain to hand over the Falklands to Argentina – Click to tweet