Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Up the Loire by Pedalo. Part One: The Côte d'Amour

(Clicking on the pictures generally increases their bigness)

Dispatched by Sir Joseph Blaine to investigate and put a stop to "something fishy" that the French were up to somewhere in the Loire valley (could he be any more vague?), Plynkes and Sickly prepared to be put ashore.

A map of the proposed route.

Sickly, standing on the quarterdeck of HMS Facetious, 32, sailing under false colours to drop us off at the mouth of the river.

Captain Tom bids a fond farewell.

Plynkes remonstrates in fine Captain Haddock fashion with some paparazzi types who came dangerously close to blowing our cover. We were posing as a pair of itinerant Breton cocklers looking for more secure employment. Our fame is spreading too fast. Because of this soon we shall be useless (or is that more useless?) as intelligence agents.

Sickly gazes back out to sea as we make our landfall.

Well they certainly know the correct flag to put out to make a foreign chap feel at home around here.

The fearsome coastal defences of Batz-sur-Mer, where we landed. That carriage looks like it would collapse if anyone ever tried to fire the massive gun.

The German Artillery-Control Blockhouse at Batz-sur-Mer, part of the St. Nazaire pocket, which remained in German hands until the spring of 1945. Notice the attempt to disguise the bunker as a seaside cottage by the painting of fake windows and shutters (it originally had a fake sloping roof on top, too).

An attempt rather undermined by having the words "Le Grand BLOCKHAUS" written on the side in massive letters, and a dirty great "88" parked in the front yard.

Sickly photographing a sign.

In we go, to check things out.

Come on, Sickers, don't lag behind!

The view from inside. Oh dear, the Americans are closer than we thought, Hauptmann!

Deep in the bunker, the local Nazis don't seem too bothered about the approaching Yanks.

They still have faith in the old man, obviously.

I wonder which Königsberg that came from?

What appears to be an MP40 with a wooden stock. Interesting, never seen one of those before. But then again, I don't know anything about guns.

This is worrying. We found this photo in the bunker. It depicts Plynkes and Sickly on a mission to Nazi-occupied Ukraine during the Second World War. We were sent to obtain some caviar for Prince Philip by the Admiralty. In the picture we are disguised as Cossacks allied to the Germans. Amazing how easy it is to hoodwink the Nazis with a fake beard and a silly hat.

I wonder why they had our picture in the bunker? Could it be they had rumbled us all along?

A German sailor, still laughing at the beard in the previous picture.

Ah, liberation! Finally. That chap at the front busy looting the bunker is one of those Fusilier Marins (you can tell because it says so on his hat). It is said that if you touch the little red pom-poms on their hats it brings good luck. Well, I tried that once in Rennes, and take it from me: It doesn't.

Cool. A Broomie. I wanted it as a souvenir, but the fellow with the pom-pom beat me to it.


Inside the bunker was an interesting film show about the St. Nazaire Pocket. As taking it wasn't a particular priority for the allies, they just left the Boche to stew and manned the front with second line troops. Many of the local Resistance types and other civilians were given the most brief training, put into uniforms and told to hold the front.

Seems some of their vehicles were captured German ones. There was a great picture in the film of a Tiger tank with French markings, manned by some Free French bods, all posing on it and looking as proud as punch of their machine. Wouldn't that be a great trick to play on one of those power gamers who always wants to be the Nazis, and always wants Panthers or Tigers?

Run a "St. Nazaire Pocket" game and tell him he can be the Jerries. Give him two old Renault tanks and no petrol, and then see the look on his face when the French player deploys his Tiger on the table. Priceless.

Anyway, enough of that. On to St. Nazaire (Cue Theme from Das Boot (Techno Version)).

Grim old place, and an unlikely tourist attraction. But they've turned it into one. There's a great little cafe inside there somewhere, and it has a waitress with very nice 1950s-style pointy boobs.

"Enemy submarines are to be called U-boats. The term "submarine" is to be reserved for Allied underwater vessals. U-boats are those dastardly villains who sink our ships, while submarines are those gallant and noble craft which sink theirs."

Winston S. Churchill.

Tell me what were their names?
Tell me what were their names?
Did you have a friend
On the good Reuben James?

Woodie Guthrie

Onwards, ever onwards,
Though the heavens pour with piss
Send us back to Dullsville
Cause it can't be worse than this.

From Das Boot by Lothar-Günther Buchheim

In one of the pens we found a French 1950s sub, the Espadon (Swordfish). Fearing that us perfidious British spies might steal their fifty-year-old technology, the French Navy forbad us from taking pictures of it. But I took one anyway.

While not permitting photographs to be taken of this delicate subject matter, they don't seem too worried about foreign spies buying postcards depicting it. So I bought some, to show you what it was like inside:

It seems that the Espadon's claim to fame is that it was the first submarine to dive beneath the ice at the North Pole. Though why anyone in their right mind would want to do that is beyond my reasoning.

The town side of the pen complex, not far from the afore-mentioned cafe.

Hurrah! Tintin and Archibald Haddock. Always good to see those chaps. More of them later.

Though there are museums gallore around the dock area (Espadon, Airbus, the modern shipyards, etc.) there seems to be nothing covering the war. No mention of U-boats or the raid. But we couldn't pass on without mentioning it.

As far as I can tell, this is the opening to the large dock, through which Campletown sailed in her hour of glory.

The Old Mole, which if memory serves, caused the commandos a heck of a lot of grief in 1942, as it was bristling with weapons. Well, here's to those lads...

But we must press on up the river...

Monday, August 27, 2007

Part Two: Angers

Next stop: Angers. Seat of the Dukes of Anjou, who once ruled an Empire stretching from the Pyrenees to the Scots border. So this place was once English. Or more accurately, England was once Angevin.

Waiting for the appointed hour of the secret meeting with our contact, we thought we'd check out the castle to kill some time.

Those trees are a medieval security risk, attractive though they may be. As they are as high as the walls, a besieging army could put them to good use. I tried telling them, but nobody was interested.

They say the moat never had any water in it. Never much saw the point of a moat that you couldn't have a swim in during the summer.

Ah, this appears to be the way in.

On top of the ramparts, and unbelievably, they've planted a vinyard up there. Got their priorities right, these French fellows. Those guards manning the walls have to drink something.

Sickly made me take this picture from the walls. He was certain that we were being followed by Hulk Hogan, and wanted to examine the evidence later. Everyone knows the Hulkster works for the CIA, and he had probably been sent to queer our pitch, and ensure the mission was a failure. The USA and Napoleonic France are sort of on the same side, after all.

We also kept seeing what we thought was the same Italian camper van following us through France, and became convinced it was a Special Rendition team ready to leap out, put sacks over our heads and whisk us off to God-Knows-Where.

Do you think we're getting a little paranoid?

Angers cathedral, as seen from the ramparts. Don't you find two spires a little extravagant, even by Catholic standards?

What the Angevins put in their moats instead of water or spikes. A lovely garden. Right. Fine. That's why Anjou is now part of France rather than England. I tried to tell them, but would they listen?

Another lovely garden. This one, like the vinyard, is up on top of the walls. Nice to be in pleasant surroundings while you're being horribly killed by a trebuchet-launched flying-diseased-cow, I always find.

One spire. That's more like it. Or do those two little ones count?

Yet another lovely garden.

Originally the walls looked this this (it's only a model).

But then when cannons came along, some bright spark lopped the top off so guns could be placed up there..

The chapel.

God in his Heaven, clutching a hand grenade and looking a little the worse for wear. I'd put that down to the Reformation, the Age of Reason, Darwinism and the general trend towards a more secular society. But don't worry, old chap. What with the recent rise of religious nutbaggism in both the Eastern and Western hemispheres, you'll soon be back on your feet and as right as rain.

A somewhat violent tapestry depicting some good old-fashioned cruelty to animals.

Speaking of tapestries, Angers castle is home to La Tapisserie de l'Apocalypse, a rather splendid piece of knitwear depicting all the weird shit that happens at the end of the Bible. Regular followers of this blog (or at least the TMP topic relating to it) may recall that when we visited Bayeux, Sickly hated the tapestry there with a passion, got first bored, and then into a foul mood.

Well his reaction to the Apocalypse Tapestry couldn't have been more different. He loved it. Must be something to do with all the many-headed monsters, dragon-slayings, Angels flying about and whatnot. He is much more into Fantasy than Historical gaming, after all.

Didn't take any pictures of it. Either we weren't allowed, or I couldn't be bothered to. Can't remember. Anyway, I've found you a nice website with lots of pics of it, if you're interested:

There was no sign of our contact. He was supposed to meet us in this garden. Hulk Hogan had succeeded in disrupting our mission and had scared him off. We'd have to try again at the next rendevous point.

So we gave Hogan the slip, and crept away through this side gate. On to our next stop...