Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Odyssey of the Essex

         For some reason every 4th of July a TV station shows " Master and Commander".I can think of better movies for celebrating the fourth, but still it's one of my favorite movies.  I read much of "Master and Commander" was based on the cruise of the U.S.S. Essex. So when I got a copy of " The Odyssey of the Essex" by Frank Donovan, it seemed like a good time to find out about the Essex.  While I haven't finished reading the book, it is a great story that has wargaming potential.
   The Essex can be compared to the "Acheron" in that it rounded Cape Horn to go after the British Pacific whaling fleet. Captain Porter, talking to American whaling captains, was informed that the fleet would be found around the Galapagos Islands. The Essex did just that. The book goes on to tell of the Essex crew exploring the islands and how the ships' surgeon was also an amateur naturalist who spent a great deal of time researching the islands.

  Eventually the Essex starts capturing the ships of the whaling fleet. By this time the Essex has been at sea for a year and was in need of repairs and refitting. Captain Porter decides that the island of Nuku
Hiva of the Maquesas Island chain is ideal for the purpose.  For me this is when the story really gets promising with new ideas.
    The book goes into detail about the island and it's people. It describes the island being divided by a series of valleys, each valley having a different tribe. The tribes were made up of warriors who were constantly at war.  However, rarely did their battles result in anyone dying. The battles involve both sides using slings to throw rocks and darts at each other. Individual warriors would advance to challenge the enemy, who would then focus their rock and dart throwing at this individual.  If he would be unfortunate enough to be hit where he was disabled, both tribes would rush forward towards the downed man. If the enemy got to him first, they would bash his head in with their war clubs, spear him and carry the body off. If his fellow tribesmen reached him first, the enemy would retreat. Battles didn't last more than an hour. It would take the crew of the Essex to show them "civilized" warfare. Captain Porter is drawn into these tribal wars and introduces the natives to "Scorched earth" warfare.

     This story reminds me of a set of rules in a war-game magazine  for tribal warfare. It seems a fun and novel set as, if I remember, the tribal figures are mounted in beer caps and are used shuffle board style and are flicked onto the field which is divided into sections. I have dug out the magazine and plan to study the rules.

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