By heliograph and semaphore


IMG_1876

One of my recent boycraft or mancraft projects has been  scratch building a desert or coastal signal fort in toy soldier fort style using a wooden Christmas clementines box and a Hobbycraft papier-mâché castle tower.

https://poundstoreplasticwarriors.wordpress.com/2017/05/17/scratchbuilt-desert-or-coastal-signal-tower/

Trying this out, it was a tight squeeze to build the balsa walkways around the tower base but it struck me that this could be some kind of defendable lighthouse, watchtower or semaphore station.

IMG_0053As I played around fitting the balsa walkways around the tower base  it struck me that this could be some kind of defendable lighthouse, watchtower or semaphore station.

But what would a semaphore station in the 19th century look like?

Semaphore Systems and Telegraph Inspiration 

I thought a semaphore station or telegraph Beacon would be something worth defending or attacking, so well worth the defensive features. This would form part of the colonial or trading infrastructure, the information superhighway of the 19th Century. Something that would suit a coastal or desert location.

Shoot the guy with the Flags! 

Men with flags standing in prominent places to be easily seen were obviously very vulnerable to sniper fire. A mechanical replacement of human arms was obviously sensible until morse code,  telegraph wires and eventually radio took over the role.

There are some interesting articles on the web on Military semaphore and signalling from the late Napoleonic era through to mid Victorian era, although mechanical flags were first suggested by Robert Hooke in the 1680s!

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semaphore_line# 

IMG_0115
Chapped style French semaphore tower. Image source: Wikipedia

Another design looked much more like my type of coffee stirrer and balsa wood construction.

IMG_0116
Portsdown type telegraph system U.K. (Portsdown Tunnels website)  This gave me the idea for the double ended semaphore indicator.

http://www.portsdown-tunnels.org.uk/ancient_sites/telegraph_p2.html

As a challenge I added double ends to the indicator boards.  There is a link between the military semaphore and the clunk-y indicator board railway signalling developing from the 1830s and 1840s as the telegraph wires along the railroad began to replace semaphore systems as this new comms network developed.

Gaming Scenarios

http://www.johnhearfield.com/Radar/Chappe.htm

In the Napoleonic Wars, Britain was aware of what the French had achieved in the Chappe system of setting up semaphore stations. The Royal Navy Channel Fleet blockading Brest must have aware of the significance of the signalling tower they could see on the hilltop at Petit Minou.  C.S. Forester writes in Hornblower and the Hotspur:

“Automatically, Hornblower looked over again at the Petit Minou. As he expected, the semaphore arms of the telegraph on the cliffs at the point there were swinging jerkily, from vertical to horizontal and back again. The watchers there were signalling to the French fleet the news of the arrival of this fourth ship to join the inshore squadron; even the smallest activity was noted and reported, so that in clear weather the French admiral was informed within minutes. It was an intolerable nuisance …”

Eventually, Hornblower leads a landing party to deal with the “nuisance”, which would make a great gaming scenario http://www.johnhearfield.com/Radar/Chappe.htm

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22909590

 

IMG_0042

A mobile tented semaphore station in the Crimean War is shown (Belloc 1888) in Jones Early History of Data Networka.

http://people.seas.harvard.edu/~jones/cscie129/papers/Early_History_of_Data_Networks/Chapter_2.pdf

I have based my semaphore station on the British Popham system shown here http://www.vauxhallandkennington.org.uk/telegraph.shtml

Popham’s 1801 naval  flag system of numbers indicated words encoded in a code book (here transcribed by a Peter Ball from originals in the National Maritime Museum) – this is a great idea if you have limited number of indicator positions such as 1 to 9 or even 1 to 4.

http://3decks.pbworks.com/f/Admiral%2520Home%2520Popham%2520Telegraph%2520signal%2520book%2520Final%2520edition.pdf

http://www.goblinrevolution.org/widgets/popham_encoder.cgi allows you to encode / translate  these messages online in flags !

https://royal-signals.org.uk/Datasheets/SignallingFlags.php

This website covers many systems including the US army Wigwag symbols of flags or lights at night invented by Albert Myer and adopted by the US Army circa 1860 throughout the American Civil War up until 1912. A two flag system was also

IMG_0117.GIF

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Signal_Corps_in_the_American_Civil_War is a fascinating article especially when balloons, signal flags, steam trains and telegraph were all deployed around the same time.

A beautifully modelled signal tower can be seen at this blogpost:

http://steve-the-wargamer.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/american-civil-war-signalling-edifice.html

The twin squares flags can be seen on the Signals memorial at Little Round Top, Battle of  Gettysburg site.

IMG_0120

Heliograph signalling mirrors and lamps 

The  “flag,  flash and read” system of flag, heliograph and telescope Zulu War 1879 also in this Royal Signals website.

IMG_0118
Zulu War 1879 British signal troops with telescopes, binoculars, flags, notebook, heliograph, moustaches and superior attitude. (Wikipedia source).

 

IMG_0129
Flag signaller with Royal Navy Landing Party WW2 (image: Toyway Archive  http://www.britains-toy-soldiers.com/archive/toyway_plastic.htm)

I have a couple of useful signaller figures, two Airfix sets – the OO/HO and 1:32 WW2 German Mountain Infantry and OO/HO WW1 British Infantry – in both the  flags are very fragile, even in the 1:32 German Mountain troop scale.

More robust is the Lone Star / Harvey British Marines / Sailor with flags reissued by Toyway.

 

 

IMG_0127
Airfix.com website photo. German Mountain Troops 1:32 scale

Any officer with binoculars or telescope (such as the Airfix WW1 French Infantry HO/OO signaller lying down with telescope) is useful as the “Glassman”. This was one or two men in the four or five man semaphore team, whose job is to be looking backwards and forwards to the next signal tower to check if the message has been received. If all else fails, the French signaller with homing pigeons would be useful.

Someone else had to physically change or alter the signal, and someone to note down the message if it is to be coded or decoded. Jobs were interchangeable. The large number of staff were required in the not very far spaced apart stations meant this expensive system could only really be maintained night and day year round in wartime.

As the British Popham system came in from Naval use and flag systems, often serving or former Navy staff were employed. In the field, Royal Engineers or Signals Officers and troops would be used.

IMG_0066

The Prince August cowboy Homecast figures in 40mm look very similar to these US Signal troops wearing their cowboy or stetson bush hat. Here is the crew for the tower and its small garrison. I shall have to make a Heliograph apparatus for them.

IMG_0122
US Signal Corps troops 1898 (Wikipedia source: Public Domain)

Heliograph teams were once cutting edge technology, appearing in H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds (1898) for signalling information about the Martian invasion.

IMG_1876
A few of my Peter Laing 15mm British Colonial troops with Heliograph in blazing desert sands.

Heliographs survived in service throughout the Boer War and longer into the WW1 and WW2 period especially in desert situations, slowly replaced as radio communication to pass on Morse  Code arrived. They were still in use by insurgent forces in Afghanistan in 2001.

Signalling distances of 80 to 100 miles were apparently possible in clear weather!

IMG_0124
Turkish signaling troops at Huj in WW1 – telescope, heliograph and signal lamps (with batteries?). Mule handlers and mules in the background, providing the transport . (Image source:   Wikipedia public domain)

Australian and South African Desert Forces in WW2 and Ottoman Turkish forces in WW1 are shown here using Heliograph equipment.

There is more about the Heliograph on the British Army Royal Signals website.

https://royal-signals.org.uk/Datasheets/Heliograph.php

Signal lamp and Heliograph 

In the case of the Turkish forces pictured, a signal lamp is also included, a signaller with telescope and one writing down messages. Interesting grouping for a gamer or modeller and a similar desert uniform to the Victorian British in 1879 and the Second Boer War.

IMG_0481
Australian Signallers in the desert WW2 with Heliograph signaling equipment (Wikipedia public domain image source – Australian DOI)

 

A naval version of flashed torch signals with Alldis lamps survives between ships until today, including infra red versions, along with a version for air traffic control to communicate with planes if radio contact is lost .  https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Signal_lamp

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heliograph

IMG_0479
US Signals 1910 with Mance Apparatus (Wikipedia Source: Public Domain)

Again you realise how vulnerable these Signals crews to sniping, hence the safety of the signalling Fort with mechanical arms. Once again, well aimed artillery fire could damage this tower or equipment.

All this is interesting source material as games scenarios for my Desert or Coastal Signalling Fort / Lighthouse, along with plenty of ideas for modelling conversions of suitable pound store cowboy figures and home cast figures or lead hollowcast repairs and conversions.

IMG_0125
Black and White photo of my Peter Laing 15mm Heliograph conversion into a film cameraman or photographer. (Photo: my Man of Tin blog)

My only Heliograph figures are Peter Laing Colonial British in 15mm, one of whom I have crudely converted to a war photographer. This could easily stand in for a signal lamp. Pictures from my Man of TIN blog

https://manoftinblog.wordpress.com/2016/08/09/peter-laing-15mm-blog-photographer

IMG_0126
Peter Laing 15mm Heliograph figure conversion into photographer, with further Peter Laing ACW and homemade FIMO 15mm standard bearer. (Photo: my Man of TIN blog)

 

Postscript  Pigeon Post 

My late dad, an ex-REME National Serviceman and Electrical Engineer, helped put in the power source on London City tower block / skyscraper rooftops for trial 1980s laser or optical beam communication between buildings to pass on data and financial information. A kind of modern computer age Heliograph?

The pilot project partly failed for many reasons including when London Pigeons and passing birds kept interrupting the data flow.

I got some great views of London as a child from these tower tops “going to work” on Saturdays  with my Dad, including the Lord Mayors Procession far below from the top of a tower block.

Blogposted on Pound Store Plstic Warriors by Mark, Man of TIn blog, May 2017.

 

 

 

Scratchbuilt Desert or Coastal Signal Tower

One of my recent boycraft or mancraft projects has been creating some kind of toy soldier style fortified tower out of this old Christmas clementines box, suitable for a range of scales of figures and scenarios.

IMG_3659
Suggestive window shapes …. salvaged wooden toy blocks … coffee stirrers …
IMG_3658
The original finest Christmas Clementines  (box) …

The box had a  wooden jointing that reminded me of recent mdf wargaming or fantasy gaming building.

IMG_0062

Its wooden lid is used for something else, but where it slotted into the box corners made these interesting Alamo type firing slits.

IMG_3667
This box base jointing reminds me of recent wargames or model buildings …

Add to this useful box a papier-mâché castle tower from Hobbycraft …. https://poundstoreplasticwarriors.wordpress.com/2017/05/02/hobbycraft-castle-tower/

and you have the germ of an interesting gaming building or terrain idea.

IMG_0100
Hobbycraft Papier-mâché Castle tower painted white acrylic. Prince August 40mm Cowboys.

Putting the tower together with the clementine box desert fort was something coincidentally suggested by Brian Carrick of the Collecting Toy Soldiers blog.

“Good idea for the Tesco clementines box, I still have one of those saved from Christmas, it seemed too useful to just throw away! It would work well with your new tower in the middle, like a North West Frontier hill fort.”

Trying this out, it was a tight squeeze to rebuild the balsa walkways around the tower base but it struck me that this could be some kind of defendable lighthouse, watchtower or semaphore station.

IMG_0116
19th Century semaphore station (http://www.portsdown-tunnels.org.uk/ancient_sites/telegraph_p2.html)

 

Having researched what semaphore stations would look like in the late 18th and early 19th century, I set about making a working semaphore using available wood and tools.

I don’t have a workshop, so balsa wood, coffee stirrers and craft knives are the extent of my woodworking tools.

Everything was roughed out and moved around in a ‘dry run’ before paint, wood stain and wood glue was used to finish off and fix things in place.

IMG_0067
Pound Land’s finest unpainted 30mm plastic figures … some of the box base holes were covered over with coffee stirrer ‘bricks’.

I wanted to make it suitable for a range of sizes from 30mm pound store plastic figures to 40mm homecast metal figures, even 54mm to soldiers at a push.

IMG_0053
40mm mostly homecast figures: The front gate section.

It proved quite difficult to photograph, being quite tall!

IMG_0068
54mm figures including a salute from my Gravatar Man of TIN figure!

The 54mm figures are a little on the big side but I wanted to make this in the toylike spirit of a simple toy fort such as I had as a child.

Despite the toylike simplicity, I also wanted it to have some kind of logic and extensive play possibilities. It needed to work as a design that could be worked and defended.

IMG_0060
Barricades on the (non-opening) gates made of coffee stirrers and a sandpaper base. 40mm Prince August cowboy figures. A little more whitewashing fatigue duties are required from the garrison to keep the tower ship-shape.

The central tower needed to be self sufficient, so has a well or water supply inside the tower (with lid).

Coffee stirrers stuck with UHU or superglue were cut and trimmed with craft knife and sharp scissors, roughly shaded then shaded or painted with a very thin coat of  Ronseal light oak wood stain.

IMG_0061
Guarding the water supply. The simple glass paper or sandpaper floor gives a quick gravel, desert or coastal sand floor feel whilst covering holes in the box floor.
IMG_0059
Hatch on the roof to repair the semaphore. Shutters on the light House or signal  tower.

A small hatch on the roof allows the defenders or signal crew to reach the roof to repair the semaphore.

Shutters mean that the lighthouse tower can be secured against enemy fire or the weather. They are (non-opening) shutters made from coffee stirrers, stained with light oak wood stain. One set of shutters is not glued to the wall, so that a LED battery tea candle light can be added into the top tower to develop the signal light or lighthouse scenario.

The chimneys let out heat from the lighthouse or signal light tower and lower living parts of the tower (toy soldiers need to cook and keep warm). The chimneys  were found in my spare parts box, originally kept to make thatched huts for 1/300 figures, are snap-off screw bits from fixing a couple of new toilet seats at home!

Smoke signals are another possibility using these signal fire chimneys.

IMG_0063
Naval Brigade Fimo / polymer clay hand-made 30mm figures.
IMG_0065
30mm type semi-flat British infantry Victorian homecast figures.

I wanted the signal tower to have different scenarios or functions, such as a coastal signal tower or one in the North West Frontier mountains, Wild West borders or French Foreign Legion desert.

I also wanted the tower to pass for anything between late 18th Century throughout 19th century and beyond and even into a future steampunk, VSF sci-fi scenario. This could then work with a range of periods, nationalities, scales of figures and Imagi-Nations.

Early British Semaphore stations  often had two watchers with telescopes, one looking in each direction to look towards the next beacon or semaphore / signal tower. Other staff would take down the codes or change the semaphore indicator boards with ropes and cables (not modelled).

IMG_0066
Coastal watchers – 54mm metal (on the left, recent Britains naval officer)

A defendable coastal signal tower would have its main door facing away from the sea, to make it more easily supplied and defended from the landward side. Beware foreign navies, marines, smugglers and pirates!

IMG_0069
Mocking up a coastal scenario, as a coastal signal tower manned and defended by a garrison of mostly Britain’s lead or metal toy soldier  naval crew.

I roughed out this tower as a coastal setting with the wall side showing, the slit window (originally a handle) shuttered against the sea, wind and attack from the sea edge.

IMG_0062
Inside the fort showing the seaward side window with removable shutters. One of the supporting blocks to the walkways has been sanded down, stained and ink-lined to suggest a storage locker.

Apart from some further white painting of certain areas inside the box, a few storage locker doors to complement the corner squares, this is almost complete for the time being.

I also need a flagpost or two.

IMG_1875
Not the sort of painter required to keep the signal tower whitewashed inside and out … 54mm Dorset Soldiers casting, part painted.

I enjoyed making this so much, I might make another one to create a small chain of them across the garden for summer games as needed. I will then be able to pass messages very slowly one letter or number at a time across the back garden wilderness or planet.

IMG_1878

In fact I could make and remake lots of versions of this, camouflaged lighthouse or radio stations, brassy steampunk versions, Roman lighthouses … but time, lack of clementines boxes  and space will not at present permit this.

I also have to work out a suitable toy soldier Popham type code book for my design of double semaphore indicator boards, using either letter or number combinations linked to key words in the code book.

IMG_1874
Telegraph Detachment, Post Office Rifles “Egypt  1882”. (1932 Cigarette card from the Royal Signals website https://royal-signals.org.uk/Datasheets/Telegraph.php)

Popham code books? Indicator boards? The next blog post to immediately follow is all about the semaphore and heliograph that I have  researched to make this coastal or desert signal tower.

https://poundstoreplasticwarriors.wordpress.com/2017/05/17/by-heliograph-and-semaphore/

Blogposted by Mark, Man of TIN 17 May 2017.