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Special War & Peace Revival

Special War & Peace Revival

Walking around this year’s W&PR I took advantage of the quiet period early in the morning to look more closely at the range of traders’ stalls where full uniforms were on sale and all the weaponry for any period. After looking at the traders’ market I decided that it is quite possible for someone to walk into the show as a civilian and walk out as a full general, complete with all the documentation and even a vehicle if they have the money. Collectors were certainly having a ‘field day’ of it and the new location of the show, next to the Channel Tunnel rail link, brought in more traders from Europe and some very fine items for sale. There were items to suit all specialist collecting interests were available and I managed to pick up some bits and pieces.

Good Morning Vietnam!

From the traders’ stalls it was only a short walk to the re-enactors displays to become once more immersed in history. At the site of the MACV-SOG (www.modernforces.com) there was a range of equipment on show and a tall wooden tower structure, resembling a small oil drilling rig. It had very obviously taken some time to erect and it set many people wondering what it was all about. I have met the guys before and they told me they were going to have a talk and demonstration about extraction of troops from a zone of operations and a method called ‘exfiltration’. When writing this I thought the spellchecker on my computer would pick this up as being incorrect and there is no definition in the dictionary, but I have checked and apparently it is a military term to mean the opposite of infiltration.

The acronym stands for Military Assistance & Command Vietnam - Studies & Observation Group and recreates some of the lesser-known aspects of troop operations during the war. Greg Hall whom I have known for many years very kindly allowed me to sit in on his lecture about exfiltration. He is very knowledgeable and began his presentation by demonstrating the various types of ‘rigs’ or harnesses which can be used for people to be lifted out of an area by helicopter. This included the Alpine Seat, Swiss Seat, Hansen Rig and the ‘Stabo’ Rig with shoulder harness. Each man took it in turn to try his hand at putting on the various rigs and a volunteer was elevated to show how it worked. That was where the wooden tower came in use…

A rope was looped over a wheel at the top of the tower and dangled its full height. The free end was tied to the demonstration harness of the volunteer who was then hoisted a short way up the tower. It was fascinating to watch as newly-learned lessons were put into practice. Each type was demonstrated in this way. The final rig was the Stabo type and the volunteer showed how a man could still use his weapon when being lifted using this method. The members of the group will never have the need to use these systems but to have knowledge of them is handy especially when explaining the equipment to members of the public.

The Vietnam War experience continued with a great display of kit by Rolling Thunder with ‘Gun Trucks’, jeep-type vehicles and artillery in the shape of Stuart Beeney’s 155mm calibre M1A1 howitzer which would have provided fire support from special bases. A Military Policeman had his German Shepherd (Alsatian) dog in the type of transportation cage used to show how dogs were used in the war for security measures. It seems that Vietnam displays just get better each year. Each day in the main display arena a Vietnam battle re-enactment took place between US forces and Vietcomg with plenty of action and pyrotechnics for added realism. During the fire-fight the US forces called in back-up and the Gun Truck appeared bristling with machine guns to provide close fire support. It had all the drama one expects in such a display and it will be built on in the new location.

World War Two Battles and Displays

There were plenty of vehicles on display and some groups were using them as a central part of their static display, and later these would be used in battle re-enactment displays in the main arena. Our reliable friends in the Second Battle Groups had their Opel Blitz truck and other vehicles. Alan Baudin had brought his replica Panzer III tank over from Jersey and more replica vehicles were making an appearance to present something different. For example, a German Kfz 15 liaison car looking like a museum exhibit turned out to be a replica built on a Land Rover chassis. It just goes to prove you have to ask to be sure. Other replica tanks and armoured cars based on various chassis are bringing a diverse range to the show to keep it exciting. These are fitted with gas guns for the machine guns and main armament and when used in the battle displays create a lot of excitement.

Mostly, though, the vehicles were genuine, such as the German Faun truck I saw complete with twin MG42 machine guns fitted to a pedestal mounting in the anti-aircraft role.  I was informed that it is one of only a handful of such vehicles in the country and believed to be the only one of its type configured to this role. The replacement mounting was built following research based on the actual type used during the war and the guns fitted to complete the effect. Because of the high angle at which they would be fired the guns were fitted with ‘saddle drum’ magazines. Apparently this configuration was developed to provide defence against low flying enemy aircraft coming in to straff convoys. The machine guns would have also been effective against ground targets for self-defence.

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A bit further along from the Faun truck I spotted a small wheeled trailer I recognised as being used by the Germany army during the war. I had seen photographs of its type being towed by motorcycle combinations and Kubelwagens, but this example was different. It had a post fitted vertical in to a bracket on the trailer which allowed an MG 34 machine gun to be mounted in the anti-aircraft role. The trailer could also be pulled by hand in an emergency. I was informed this type of feature was not a standard piece of equipment but was usually something made as an extemporised mount in the field by the troops. One can understand how such a piece of equipment would have been useful and the machine gun could still be used in the ground role when dismounted from the firing post. Seeing such unusual configurations as these is what makes W&PR such a great show to visit for vehicle and weapon enthusiasts.

Volkssturm

Some people hold reservations about German re-enactment groups and their vehicles, but there is no denying the fact that the subject attracts attention. Many modellers enjoy the subject and authors write scores of books on the German Army and its weaponry. At W&PR there are many different depictions of German forces making it is possible to build up a better understanding of the whole thing from Panzertruppen with tanks to Fallschirmjager parachute troops. As the tide of war went against Germany the High Command realised that a home defence force would have to be created and this was the Volkssturm made up of old men, amputees and young boys. This was not the healthy, fit troops of 1939, but rather the final desperate gasp at defending Germany. At W&PR the Volkssturm-V3 demonstrated a typical group of these last-ditch defenders of the ‘Fatherland’.

Dressed in greatcoat, caps and ordinary clothes they would have worn to work in factories or on farms the members of the group showed how ordinary men had to be used to try to stop the Soviet armies. They wore three different types of arm bands all of which bore the title Volkssturm along with Deutscher to denote their role. They carried K98 rifles as standard but a couple were armed with the P3008 which was a German attempt to copy the British Sten gun. They also had ‘Panzerfaust’ anti-tank weapons which one often sees the Volkssturm holding in photographs. There were at least five versions with ranges from 30m to 150m and capable of penetrating up to 200mm of armour.

I was allowed to examine an example to get a feel for the thing and it was easy to see how it influenced anti-tank weapons after the war such as the RPG-7. I had fired the LAW 66 when I was in the army and this was a similar weapon except that I discovered it was best held under the arm to aim and fire. If held on the shoulder it could only be aimed at targets at close range. For targets at longer range it was best held under the arm.

These were the men and types of weapons which the Germans hoped to try to defend Berlin, but it was a lost cause against the Soviet armies with tanks and better weapons.

Members of the re-enactment group had an unexpected ‘windfall’ of a gift presented to them at the show. A visitor approached and enquired about the armbands and on being told they were reproduction he handed over several Volkssturm armbands which turned out to be original items dated 1945 and with the manufacturer’s name stamped on them. It was a rare treat indeed and one which the group will long remember.

Thoughts on the New W&P Revival

There is a lot of walking at such a show and a steady pace is recommended if one wants to see as much as possible. There were 120 re-enactment groups on site and with so many vehicles and displays, along with the usual scattering of ‘strollers’ (unattached re-enactors just wandering around in uniform) I did not dare put my camera away in case I missed something. For example, I spotted a young GI sat relaxing and reading a magazine. It was perfect and just as it must have been in 1943. A pair of Royal Canadian Mounted Police, looking very smart, reminded me of my trip to Canada some years back, and throughout the crowds there were uniforms of all types galore. This was how wartime London must have been with all the Allied forces walking around the streets. Everybody was giving their best and having a great time taking in the entertainment and visiting the traders’ stalls.

By the end of the show everybody was used to the new site and like a new classroom surrounded by familiar faces everything was comfortable. If this is what can be achieved in the first year of the rebranded W&PR then it will continue to grow as it settles into its new home. To paraphrase the Kevin Costner film, ‘Field of Dreams’, “…if you build it they will come.” Well, Rex and his team of organisers have built it and the people came. They appeared to enjoy what they saw and they will undoubtedly come back again next year, bringing more people with them as the word spreads. That is the mark of a truly successful show and Rex has already announced the date for W&PR next year which is 16th to 20th July inclusive and will commemorate the centenary of WW I and the 70th anniversary of D-Day. My sincere thanks to Rex and his team for the hospitality and we look forward to seeing another great turnout in 2014. Keep up to date with developments by logging on to the official website at: www.thewarandpeacerevival.co.uk

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