Monday, 24 August 2015

The Zimmerman Incident - FLW scenario for the invasion of the USA!

Here's a little FLW related tid-bit that intrigued me and hopefully might be of interest to other FLW enthusiasts. It related to a nice little co-incidence that links a recent purchase of toy Japanese soldiers to a bit of forgotten history which together make for an exciting idea for a war game scenario.

I am a big fan of the - now sadly departed - Barbara W. Tuchman. Her history of the 14th Century is an absolute wonder and is a constant feature of my audio-book playlist. Because of this I have been working my way through her other historical works and as a result I came across 'The Zimmermann Telegram'.

Without going too much into the book - as I highly recommend you read it - it outlines a World War One intelligence intercept by the British which brought to light a 'plan' (or suggestion) made by the Germans that Japan and Mexico should invade the United States of America!

Kaiser Wilhelm II...Booo-hisss! Full of Machiavellian intrigue apparently and
a great one for encouraging others to get into fights. All round bad egg really!

Now, I have deliberately simplified the crux of this fascinating book just so I could emphasis the spectacular notion that this was an actual plan, not a fictional 'what if', and to let it sink in with you for a while. Believe me when I say that as the story of 'The Zimmerman Telegram' unfolded to me I was genuinely stunned that such a sensational plan had ever been seriously proposed! It sounds so fantastic (H. G. Wells himself would have delighted in such an idea for a work of fiction).

Anyway, as history shows this plan never came to fruition but (and it's a big fat and somewhat scary but) I was completely unaware of just how far into execution such a idea seems to have gone on the part of the Japanese. Again, I will not give away the story (read the book) but suffice to say that this sort of idea is absolute solid gold material for the ardent Funny Little Wars enthusiast.

I've for some time been interested in Mexico as a setting for a FLW scenario. The only thing that held me off putting any really serious thought into it is that I didn't really like the conventional campaign scenarios that are knocking about for this part of the world and era. These usually involve the actual Mexica Revolution campaigns of 1910–20 (Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa and all that sort of thing).

Left: Doroteo Arango Ar├ímbula (June 5, 1878 – July 23, 1923), better known as Francisco or "Pancho" Villa, a Mexican Revolutionary general. Source: Wikipedia.

I mean I love the movies 'Viva Zapata!', 'A Fistful of Dynamite' and 'The Wild Bunch', but the whole 'Sombrero Western' thing just doesn't quite do it for me. But the idea of a Japanese-Mexican force invading Texas...Well, what is there not to like (scenario wise)?

It's not as exotic a scenario - from a toy soldier point of view - as you might at first think. After all, Armies in Plastic do 1/32 figures of both Japanese and American troops for (roughly) this period in their Boxer Rebellion (1900) series, or you could plump for the 'American Doughboys' WW1 set for US regulars of 1917.

This photo post card with a post mark date of Dec 1911, shows three [US] soldiers
wearing the pre 1910 uniform and field gear. Though this is an early photograph,
it is typical of how National Guard units were uniformed and equipped during
their service on the Mexican Border, 1916-1917.
Mexican 'Federales' of the period require a little more imagination, but passible facsimiles can be produced from Armies in Plastic's 'Boer War - British Army - (1899 - 1902)' set.

Mexican Federal Troops from the movie 'A Fistful of Dynamite'. These pith-
helmet wearing soldiers are intended to represent Mexican infantry of 1913.

Of course, these figures are all only loosely historically accurate for the period but good enough to provide a basis for a FLW fictional campaign. The Japanese troops are from AiP's range are probably more appropriate for the period of 1890-1911, but what the heck they are close enough...

For me the 'Zimmerman Incident' (had it come to fruition) is the very epitome of what Funny Little Wars is all about - imperial intrigue, exotic armies and bonkers military thinking! And it gives you the opportunity to come up with some very creative units and pieces for your battlefield - how about a gaggle of sombrero adored Mexican irregulars, of an fabulous early Japanese flying machine?

If you want to get a feel for the 'plot' behind the Zimmerman Telegram you can get a fleeting outline from the Wikipedia entry, but that by no means gives you a true impression of the seriousness with which the idea was proposed (certainly the British gave the plot credence). But also the Wikipedia entry does not - I think - sufficiently outline the Japanese role in the plot (there is no mention, for example, of the scheme for Japanese troops to snatch the Panama Canal). For all this and to grasp the full sensational brazenness of the Kaiser's plan you will have to read Tuchman's book (or listen to the excellent audiobook version as I am).

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