Combat Gallery Sunday: The Martial Art of Robert Gibb

Much as once a week I like to take time off to cover warships (Wednesdays), on Sundays (when I feel like working), I like to cover military art and the painters, illustrators, sculptors, photographers and the like that produced them.

Combat Gallery Sunday: The Martial Art of Robert Gibb

Robert Gibb was as Scottish as they came, born in Laurieston, near Falkirk 28 October 1845, and educated in Edinburgh. He studied at the Royal Scottish Academy and exhibited his first of more than 140 works there in 1867. It should come as no surprise that he was one of the great chroniclers of Highlanders in the field.

His first stab at the military genre came with Comrades in 1878, depicting men of the 42nd Highlanders (The Black Watch) in the Crimea.

The original version of this work was painted by Gibb in 1878 and is currently unlocated. The painting became iconic. While reading a life of Napoleon, the artist made a sketch of the retreat from Moscow. The dominant group of three figures in the foreground was then isolated and adapted to form an independent composition depicting a young soldier whispering his dying message to a comrade who seeks to comfort him in the snowy wastes of the Crimean winter. Photo credit: The Black Watch Castle & Museum

The Thin Red Line, oil on canvas, by Robert Gibb, 1881, showing the stand of a handful of the 93rd (Sutherland Highlanders) Regiment of Foot at the Battle of Balaclava stopping 2,500 massed Russian cavalry. Currently on display at the National War Museum of Scotland, the venue notes “The Thin Red Line is one of the best known of all Scottish historical paintings and is the classic representation of Highland military heroism as an icon of Scotland.”

Saving the Colours; the Guards at Inkerman (1895 – Naval and Military Club, London)

Alma: Forward the 42nd. This 1888 oil on canvas by Scottish artist, Robert Gibb (1845–1932), depicts the Battle of Alma, in Sebastopol, Crimea on the 20th September 1854. Black Watch, in full review order, are advancing towards enemy guns on heights above, with Field Marshal Sir Colin Campbell (later Lord Clyde) shown giving the historic order from which the painting is titled. In left foreground are two Russians, and in distance stretch of sea with fleet in action. The painting was gifted to Glasgow Museums collection by Lord Woolavington in 1923. Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum

Besides the Crimea, he also portrayed the Scots at Waterloo.

Closing the Gates at Hougoumont, 1815. Men of the Coldstream Guards and the Scots Guards are shown forcing shut the gates of the chateau of Hougoumont against French attack, with Lieutenant-Colonel James MacDonell forcing back the gate to the left. The moment of crisis shown in the painting came when around 30 French soldiers forced the north gate and entered into the chateau grounds. Before others could follow, the gates were forced shut again, and the French soldiers still inside were killed. Wellington himself had said the success of the battle turned upon the closing of the gates at the chateau. Photo credit: National Museums Scotland

Late in his life, he also painted the Highlanders in the Great War.

He produced Backs to the Wall at age 84. In this painting, the artist shows a line of khaki-clad Scottish troops standing defiantly at the critical moment, bayonets fixed– with the specters of fallen comrades behind them.

The work was inspired by Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig’s famous Special Order of the Day at the time of the Great German Offensive of April 1918.

There is no other course open to us but to fight it out.  Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement.  With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause each one of us must fight on to the end.  The safety of our homes and the Freedom of mankind alike depend upon the conduct of each one of us at this critical moment.

Backs to the Wall, 1918, painted 1929 oil on canvas. Gift from W. J. Webster, 1931 to the Angus Council Museums.

Gibb held the office of King’s painter and limner for Scotland for 25 years and was Keeper of the National Gallery of Scotland from 1895 until 1907.  The artist died at his home in Edinburgh in 1932, and he was given a full military funeral with an honor guard provided by the Black Watch.

Many of his works are on display across the UK and are available online.

Thank you for your work, sir.

The mighty five-ship Kiwi battle force

Here we see the full Royal New Zealand Navy Task Group back in the day off Hauraki Gulf, sometime in the early to 1990s, with four aging but well-maintained steam-powered frigates clustered around the fleet’s new oiler. Note the three airborne Wasp helicopters.


The ships are the HMNZS Canterbury (F421), HMNZS Southland (F104)— formerly HMS Dido, HMNZS Endeavour (A11), HMNZS Waikato (F55), and HMNZS Wellington (F69)— formerly HMS Bacchante.

The four frigates are Leander-class vessels, which proved the backbone of the RN and Commonwealth fleets in the Cold War. Waikato and Canterbury were purpose-built Batch 3 Leanders to replace WWII-era NZ ships such as the old light cruiser Royalist. Notably, these two Kiwi frigates relieved British ships of the Persian Gulf Armilla Patrol during the 1982 Falklands conflict, freeing British ships for deployment.

This latter fact led to the RN transferring HMS Dido and HMS Bacchante to New Zealand in 1983 as payback.

All four of these frigates were retired post-Cold War, replaced two-for-one by a pair of more modern ANZAC-class ships of a modified German MEKO 200 design (although they had been offered two FFG-7s shorthulls of 15–17 years age for a song.) The two Australian-built frigates arrived between 1997-99 and the New Zealand navy has stuck to a two-frigate force since then.

Ex- HMNZS Wellington (F69) prior to sinking as an artificial reef, Nov 2005

*HMS Dido/HMNZS Southland was decommissioned 1995 and scrapped at Goa.
*HMNZS Waikato was decommissioned in 1998 and sunk as an artificial reef off the coast of Tutukaka.
*HMS Bacchante/HMNZS Wellington was decommissioned 1999 and sunk in Wellington Harbour as a reef in 2005.
*HMNZS Canterbury decommissioned 2005 and was herself reefed in 2007.

The 12,300-ton Endeavour, a commercial design from South Korea commissioned 8 April 1988, is still active and is a common sight during RIMPAC exercises. She deployed to East Timor as part of the Australian-led INTERFET peacekeeping taskforce twice.  She is the last of the vessels in the image above still afloat.

Some 1972 vintage crossdraw action

I have often talked about the use of cross draw holsters (see here and here) and they had a special place in 20th-century law enforcement use, especially when it came to female officers.

Female officers for generations were instructed to carry in this method as it assisted in retention while it forces the butt of the gun into the body and it was incorrectly thought the female body shape (hips) worked against drawing from the strong side.

March is Women’s History Month, and in honor of that, here is a 1972 image via the Miami-Dade Police Department Archives of deputies Pam Stevens, Lucette Fortier, and Madeline Pearson–  the first women promoted to the rank of Sergeant at the Dade County Sheriffs Department.

White Sniper: Simo Hayha’ by Tapio Saarelainen

During the 1939-40 Winter War between Finland and the Soviet Union, a hunter and farmer by trade by the name of Simo Hayha returned to his reserve unit and picked up 542 confirmed kills with iron sights.

While versions of Hayha’s story is well known in the West, the 192 pages of Tapio Saarelainen’s White Sniper goes past the second and third-hand accounts and brings you, as Paul Harvey would say, the rest of the story.

It should be noted that Saarelainen is a career military officer who spent two decades training precision marksmen for the Finnish Army and even helped write that Scandinavian country’s manual for snipers. Besides this obvious resume to prepare him to write the work on Hayha, the author also met and interviewed the Winter War hero dozens of times over a five year period.

That’s a good part of what makes White Sniper such an interesting read is that it is drawn largely from first-hand accounts from a man who has been referred to as the deadliest sniper in history, but also from those who lived next to, fought alongside with, and knew the man personally. As such, it sheds insight on the man not known in the West. Such as the fact that he used his own personal Finnish-made Mosin M/28-30 rifle that he had paid for with his own funds. That his outnumbered fellow Finns, fighting alongside him in the frozen Kollaa region during that harsh winter, called him “Taika-ampuja” which translates roughly as the “Magic Shooter.” That he took almost as many moose and foxes in his life as he did Russians. That he was unassuming in later life, spending most of his time calling on old friends in his yellow VW Bettle.

More of my review here.

To check out Saarelainen’s book on Amazon here.

Navy blaster

Official caption: ROTA, Spain (March 5, 2017) Ship’s Serviceman 3rd Class Samantha Rivera stands topside rover watch aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) while the ship is pier side at Naval Station Rota, Spain. Porter is forward-deployed to Rota, Spain, conducting naval operations in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national security interests in Europe. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ford Williams/Released)

It’s good to see that SH3 Rivera’s M4 is rocking an angled foregrip and a detachable LMT L8A A2 rear sight assembly. Always nice when “commercial off the shelf” works to the advantage.

Good TD as well.

Horse soldiers never die

A division of the Blues and Royals sabre squadron, part of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment (All photos via MoD)

The British Army’s Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment (HCMR) traces its lineage back to the 1660s– to King Charles II’s Life Guards and the Earl of Oxford’s Blues — and its horse-mounted unit, after the reforms of 1992, now consists of one 75-member sabre squadron plus a mounted band from each regiment of the Household Cavalry (the red tunic wearing Life Guards and the black tunic wearing Blues and Royals), each with their distinctive cuirass and plumed “Albert” helmet.

Life Guards in red, Blues and Royals in Black

Based at their Hyde Park Barracks, they are on “public duty” which consists of ceremonial operations around London and the royal estates to include state visits, Investitures, the opening of Parliment, etc. The standard unit is a 25-man mounted division, though this can be halved. All told, the force, with their H/HS complete with staff, vets, saddlers and farriers, amounts to about 350 officers, NCOs and troopers.


Last week they had their annual inspection by Major General Ben Bathurst, the General Officer Commanding the Army in London and the Queen’s Household Troops, but this one was different:

“For the first time in recent memory, the Regiment were joined by their cavalry cousins from the Swedish Livgardet and Danish Gardehusarregiment. The Swedish Life Guards and Danish Guard Hussar Regiment each fielded an officer and senior non-commissioned officer, dressed in their equivalent ceremonial uniforms, to ride in the parade.”

Say hello to the newest aircraft carrier (um, destroyer?) Kaga

The Maritime Self-Defense Force commissioned the new aircraft carrying destroyer Kaga (DDH-184), shown next to her sistership Izumo (DDH-183) in Yokohama on March 22. (Eiji Hori)

Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) on Wednesday introduced their newest version of the Kaga to the world. Officially classified by Japan as a helicopter destroyer, these 27,000-ton flattops are 814-feet long and only carry a pair of CIWS and Sea Ram self-defense systems as far as fitted armament, rather than any big guns, torpedos, or serious guided missiles. What they can carry are up to 28 aircraft (STOVL or rotary wing only) or a battalion of troops.

Kaga, of course, shares the name of the famous 1920s Tosa-class battleship converted to a flattop which was scratched at the Battle of Midway.

Izumo was commissoned 25 March 2015. Her name was previously used by an early armored cruiser of the Imperial Japanese Navy (ordered 1897, sunk 1945). She recently made headlines when was reported that in a couple months Izumo will sail through the disputed waters of the  South China Sea and port calls in Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka. She is also scheduled to participate in this year’s trilateral India-U.S.-Japan Malabar naval exercise taking place in the Indian Ocean in July.

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