Book Diaries - Battlescenes

In Military History, Featured


The second plate categories in a New Vanguard are the battlescenes or ‘technicals’. They are really one type of plate, although the focus of each is different. A battlescene is … well … a battle. A technical is an illustration of some aspect of operating the item highlighted in the New Vanguard. Loading the bombs into a bomb bay is a technical.  Dropping the bombs over the target is a battlescene. Regardless, I approach both the same way.

The first step is to identify characteristic battles (battle scenes) or activities (technicals). I like picking something that is not commonly seen. In American Light and Medium Frigates I chose the battle between Constellation and Venguer rather than the more famous battle between Constellation and l’Insurgente. Why? Because I knew of a dozen paintings or drawings of the Constellation fighting l’Insurgente. I could not find one of Constellation fighting Venguer. Why redo what has been done, repeatedly, when I could do something new?

Constellation vs L'Venguer – the battle no one illustrates

In Great Lakes Warships one of my battlescenes involved the frequently-illustrated Battle of Lake Champlain. My different take was to show Saratoga as it rotated 150 degrees to bring its undamaged broadside to bear on the British. No one had ever shown that before. Part of the fun (for me) was figuring out how it was done. Any reader of C. S. Forester or Patrick O’Brian has read about anchoring on springs. I got to figure out how it was done and how it worked so I could instruct the artist on what it looked like. Neat stuff!

Seaplane carrier battle scenes can be a bit tricky. They were not supposed to mix it up with surface warships, and there were no WWI exchanges of airstrikes as was so common in in WWII.  One battle plate ended up showing aircraft launching for an airstrike. I could have used one of several strikes, including the start of the Cuxhaven Raid. An even better one was the Wakamiya’s attack on Tsingtao. It was the first-ever carrier airstrike. Plus, while the Cuxhaven Raid had been illustrated several times (in photos and artwork), even getting an illustration of the Wakamiya was a challenge. So, let’s put the Japanese in a plate. I showed the start of the strike: a Maurice Farman taking off with Wakamiya in the background.

A Maurice Farman being lifted off Wakamiya

The other battlescene was a little more kinetic – for the seaplane carrier. HMS Ben-My-Chree was sunk by artillery on the Turkish mainland while anchored in a Greek harbor on an island off the coast of Anatolia. So how did I put together the scene?

I was fortunate to find a picture of Ben-My-Chree being shelled, and another one of the ship on the bottom. They were not publication quality, but were good enough for an artist’s brief. I also had plan drawings of Ben-my-Chree, overhead and side.

Good enough? Nope. If this had been on the open ocean I could have gotten away with it, but this took place in a harbor. I needed to depict the land around the battle scene, which was clearly visible in the photos. I needed a map of the harbor.

Three cheers for the Internet. In 1915 I would have needed to find a hydrographic map of Kastellorizo harbor. Today I can go to Google Earth. Sure enough, I found the harbor – and the area around it – and took a screenshot of the area.

This graphic was part of the artist's brief for the Loss of the Ben-My-Chree plate

Better still, an Internet search uncovered pictures of Kastellorizo from 1922 and the present.  The 1922 photo was black and white and poor quality. The 21st-century photos were from photo sharing sites – vacation pictures. They showed the city was not much altered from 1917, when the battle was fought. I could use the modern pictures to show the artist what the town looked like – in color!

How do I know the colors were right? Because the buildings were whitewashed back then, and the roofs an unpainted terracotta. Today there are pastel colors on some buildings, but I told the artist to use white for the walls. The roofs remain unpainted terracotta.

I think it should make a visually effective plate. The gray warships and grimy smoke will make a striking contrast to the cheerful colors of the town. It is the type of thing you live for as a Osprey author.


Previous: The Cuxhaven Raid
Next: The Cutaway

Post Comments

KenA posted on 14 Jan 2016 23:22:02
Those deadlines are interesting Mark, particularly that of 1 March for text, captions, plate commentary and B&W illustrations. That means there is roughly six months for the editors to do their stuff, printing, final editing, proof reading and final production. Wow! And still that is not enough time for Osprey to do a decent proof reading job on their books because Osprey books are notorious for their small errors that are missed at the proof reading stage. Mind you, proof reading is a precise skill and people who are good at it are usually the most unlikely folk you could imagine but they are worth their weight in gold to any publisher. I suggest Osprey move the recruitment of such an individual higher up their priorities.
Paintybeard posted on 14 Jan 2016 01:53:54
Well obviously your diary will not be finished when the book is delivered Mr Lardas.

We are all looking forward to your report on how you spend the stupendous fees Osprey pay you on fast cars and loose women...
Mark Lardas posted on 13 Jan 2016 23:54:17
The artist's brief was due on October 1, 2015, but I get a bonus if delivered at least 10 days earlier. I earned the bonus - it was delivered well before October 1.

Text, including captions and plate commentary and B&W illustrations are due March 1, with a promptness bonus for delivering at least 10 days before the deadline. I will earn that, too.

However, what makes readers think the author's job is done upon delivery of the text and pictures? There is plenty left after that, so the postings will not end on March 1 - unless Tom kicks me out the door.
KenA posted on 13 Jan 2016 17:49:08
I have to agree with OspreyRich - these blog posts of yours Mark are top notch. I am enjoying them immensely and I always find them interesting. It might seem somewhat perverse but in some ways I am in no hurry for you to complete your book because that would allow us to see more blog posts from you about the book’s preparation. I am sure that many readers never had any idea how much went into the preparation of an Osprey book before you commenced your series of Book Diaries Blogs. Well done Mark and please keep the blogs coming.
Paintybeard posted on 13 Jan 2016 13:06:59
It sounds like it is all coming together nicely, Mr Lardas. At what point do you have to stop dotting the i's and crossing the t's and hand your baby over to the printers?
OspreyRich posted on 13 Jan 2016 10:57:29
Thank you Mark. These are my favourite blog posts. Sorry Pete.

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