Hot! After Action Report: Newville Ostfront 2012

This past weekend Marc and I attended the annual Ostfront event held at the Newville WWI Trench Site every spring.  The last time I attended this event was all the way back in 2008 and I had a blast then, so I was excited about getting to do this event again.

To be completely honest, I was pretty disappointed in the event this time around.  I had a good time, but the event itself had very little to do with that.  Here’s the good and bad of the event, in my opinion, starting with the bad:

The Bad:

Poor command and control:  I heard this from several different groups and certainly experienced it myself.  Nobody seemed to be in charge, nobody seemed to know what anyone else was doing or what they should be doing themselves.  As a result, each little pocket of Russians that I came across seemed to be acting largely on their own.  Not only is that poor event leadership, it’s also extremely inauthentic in a scenario like Newville.

Rampant silliness:  From my end of the trench, I spent a good 5-8 minutes watching a group of Russians and a group of invading Germans throw a giant, red, rubber dildo back and forth at eachother.  Really?  This is what reenacting has devolved into?  Don’t get me wrong – I’m not kidding myself about the nature of tacticals – they’re really just big, expensive games of Cowboys & Indians – but that was just absurd, beyond breaking the third wall, and I feel that that sort of behavior has no place in this hobby.  In addition, on my trench walk, I saw several other groups sitting around goofing off while their buddies a few feet away were fighting.

The Kevlar Fallschirmjagers:  About midday, a group of FJs invaded our trenches by flanking us from out of bounds.  To make matters worse, on the rare occasions in which they took their hits, they did not return to their trenches as is standard procedure, but instead “respawned” again 30 seconds later in the same location.  In addition, they were very unsafe – a complaint I heard from many groups and experienced myself.  At one point, I came across a group of them going down the trench line and when they turned the corner, I fired my Nagant revolver up into the air (as we’re supposed to do for safety reasons).  The FJ in the front, with the end of his K98 rifle barrel less than 5 feet from my face, fired directly at me, close enough for me to get a spray of gunpowder and GSR in my face.  I’ll actually be collecting signatures on a letter about the unit’s behavior that I will be sending to the GWA, the organization that runs the site.

Communication problems:  This one really goes along with the lack of command and control, but the communication at this event was very poor.  Nobody had any idea when the start time was until about 5 minutes before we were supposed to be in the trenches, resulting in a scramble to get everything together that had our unit members running back to our tents a few times throughout the course of the day to grab gear that had been left behind in the scramble.  There was minimal communication between the units involved in the event, any planning that went on was not passed onto unit commanders, and nobody seemed to know what was going on.

Short event:  This was one of the shortest events I’ve ever been to, and I’ll be honest – I don’t exactly feel like I got my $30 worth.  Marc and I arrived around 9:30pm on Friday night, and any night action that had been going on was finished by that time.  The next day, we didn’t head out into the field until 9am, things didn’t really get started until 10am, and by 12:30-1pm, things were already starting to wind down.  By 3pm, folks were already calling a ceasefire and half an hour later, units were leaving the trenches.  Marc and I were gone by 4pm and were not the first ones out the gate.  The last time I did this event, the Friday night battle started around 8pm and lasted until midnight, and the Saturday battle lasted from around 8:30am until dark (around 6pm).  All told, I got in about 2-3 hours of fairly regular action and another 2 hours of half-hearted, disorganized goofiness.  Quality was already lacking, so I was disappointed that the event also was a let down in quantity.

The Good:

Meeting new friends and hanging out with old ones:  This event was my first opportunity to meet two reenactors who I know through my Daily Reenactor Tumblr – Brittany and Katie.  I enjoyed getting to meet both of them, and I had the privilege of fighting alongside Brittany.  Marc and I were also kind of kampfegrupped with Kowalski and Duffy, two reenactors who we know well from other impressions, and it was fun to get to hang out with them.

Getting to do Soviet again:  Soviet is one of my favourite impressions, and one that I haven’t gotten to do in over a year.  I was reminded of how much fun the impression can be.  It was also an opportunity for me to reevaluate my gear and see what needs improving.

Taking a more active role:  Typically I do a medic impression for my Soviet stuff, but this time around I decided to just do a straight up rifleman. I definitely had a lot more fun, and though I wasn’t able to take as many pictures as I can when I’m just futzing around as a medic, I had a much better time.  I think that in the future I’ll reserve my medic gear for living history displays instead.

Plenty of Russians:  Typically Russians are outnumbered almost 2 to 1 at this event, but this time the numbers were almost exactly equal.  We had enough soldiers to cover a decent percentage of the trench line, and when I looked down the line, it was really heartening to see so many ushankas and red-starred helmets poking up.  I’m glad to see more folks getting into doing Soviet, and I was especially pleased to see that more women are getting into the hobby through that impression as well.

So, all in all, it wasn’t a bad event, per se, but it was definitely disappointing, and many of the people I talked to seemed to echo my complaints and concerns.  Though I will probably be there again next year, I really do hope that the event improves some before then, as I think that this event has a lot of potential that it’s just not currently living up to.

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  1. We in the 1st SS had a great time. It looks like you guys were on the opposite side of the line if you were facing the FJ’s.
    Sounds like most of the bad you experienced had to do with poor command and control. Looking at the list it looked like most of the Russian units had a handful of members while the Germans had about a dozen or so each. Maybe for the future there should be a Russian ‘Stavka’ meeting beforehand to get everyone on the same page.
    The dildo tossing business is ridiculous. On the right flank we placed a bottle of vodka in no man’s land and challenged the Russians to capture it!
    Overall we had a great event on our side of the line, except for a 45 minute pow wow between another axis unit and several Russians on the far right flank. As fighting was still going on they just stayed in a circle oblivious to the world.