Marine's shell-casing chess-set

Not much information is available about this improvised chess-set; it was reportedly created by a US Marine rifleman in Afghanistan.

Marine 0311 Rifleman buddy's homemade set in Afghanistan (via Neatorama)


    1. The lightning bolt is probably a reference to his particular company insignia. I strongly doubt a US Marine would decorate his chess set with the insignia of the Nazi SS.

    2. I think perhaps your S’s or capl’s Sig rune are simple lighting bolts. Military men seem to respect lighting bolts “all powerful” “death from the heavens”, it is a theame that strikes a cord when facing your mortality on a daily basis.

      1. Perhaps, but they look exactly like the SS “Sig.” You may say that the Sig (and the Swastika) are ancient symbols whose meaning was corrupted… but their meaning was corrupted. That’s how language works. They mean something different now.

        I’ve only met one or two soldiers who were interested in making subtle statements on the malleability of symbolic language. At least, till their CO asks why they’re drawing Swastikas on their stuff.

  1. Assuming White is setup correctly gives
    * King is full round
    * Queen is empty round
    * Queen gets her color
    * Black is setup incorrectly

  2. This is interesting, considering that chess was invented in central Asia, not far from Afghanistan.

  3. Aside from it being a pretty neat chessboard, the thing that strikes me with this picture is that they’ve set up the board wrong. White king should go on black square, black king on white square. Both should have the same king-side (the right hand side seen from whites perspective), and both should have the same queen-side (left side of the board from whites perspective).

    As it is, assuming that the queen is the one shell with the bullet still in it and that the blue bottom indicates black pieces, it is only the black pieces that are set up correctly.

  4. During my son’s first tour in Iraq his unit made a complete gym out of what they had available at the Forward Operating Base (FOB). Most of the free weights were various size cans filled with cement.

  5. Oh weird, I was just at Disneyland on Sunday and noticed there’s something very similar to this included in the set dressing of the queue area for the Jungle Cruise.

    And speaking of lightning bolts of dubious origin, I also saw a skinhead walking around there wearing a “Heil Odin” shirt.

    Now I just need a post about shitty corndogs for the trifecta…

  6. he missed a trick… could have used a saw to castellate the rook pieces and also to make a partial mitre into the bishops… cross-cutting the bullet heads could have been done for the king’s crowns as well…

    anyway… should be fun trying to get that back into the US and through any TSA checks involved in transit to his home destination…

  7. Jewish former jarhead here–yeah, you see the “SS” runes everywhere in the 03 (infantry) community. Ostensibly it stands for “Scout Sniper”, but suffice to say I never got entirely comfortable showering next to some idiot with a giant SS tattoo on his biceps.

    “No, no…the ’88’ on my other arm is because I’m a fan of old artillery!”

  8. The general term I know for stuff like this is “trench art.” Makers have that compulsion to make stuff, no matter where they are or what they have to work with. Historians of the form trace it back to art made by POWs during the Napoleonic wars, which IMO means that’s the earliest war from which we have artifacts with appropriate provenance. Every war seems to produce it; probably every war has. WWI was an especially fecund war for trench art — years of stalemate, heaps of spent shell casings, not much else to do during quiet periods.

    The usual divisions, in order of value to collectors, are: stuff made by military personnel during wartime; stuff made by POWs; stuff made by convalescents; stuff made by local civilians to sell as souvenirs; and commercially produced souvenir items made from postwar scrap.

    Some links:

    More trench art from Afghanistan.
    The Wikipedia entry.
    There’ve been various books published on the subject.
    A site about WWI trench art.
    Another site about WWI trench art.
    It’s a regular category for antique militaria dealers.
    It’s all over eBay.
    And it turns up on Dinosaurs and Robots.

    Interesting quote:

    “Prisoners of war on both sides of the conflict produced an amazing variety of artifacts made for sale to soldiers or civilians in areas near the camps in which they were interned. Some camps held artistic exhibitions in which these handicrafts were offered for sale to the public. British civilians in Ruhleben, a camp outside Berlin, produced a number of objects made by melting down silver coins. They also made inventive use of available materials such as rat skins to make leather wallets. Many of these items were sent home as souvenirs to their families in Britain. German prisoners in Britain created flower vases and napkin rings using mutton and beef bones from their rations, while Turkish prisoners made realistic snakes and other objects from beads. Russian prisoners made use of their woodworking skills to produce carved cigarette boxes and other items. Members of the Royal Naval Division interned in Holland crafted a variety of wooden boxes and picture frames. …”

    I’ll add that British WWI convalescents did a lot of embroidery, and I recall reading somewhere that knitting was a great consolation to British POWs during WWII. Makers make; that’s all there is to it.

  9. Kyzyl @11: As in, “If you can’t tell what’s shooting at you, it’s an .88”?

  10. Someone correct me if I’m wrong, I think the rooks are M203 rounds. I seem to remember being slightly disturbed seeing the ‘lightning bolts’ on that one too. I also seem to remember that the zig-zag is there for some aerodynamic reason because the shell needs to spin so much before it is ‘armed’. It’s been 20 years, I may be way way off base…

  11. Pawn: 5.56 Nato spent shell casing

    Bishop: 7.62 Nato unfired cartridge

    King: .50 BMG unfired cartridge (the one with the silver tip in the background is probably armor-piercing incendiary, while the one in the foreground appears to be the infamous Raufoss Mk 211)

    Queen: .50 BMG spent shell casing

    Knight: No idea.

    Rook: spent 40mm grenade casings

  12. Impressive. More impressive would be a spent casing Warhammer army.

    And good lord – are we that overly sensitive that something that looks like the Sig rune (even if there is only one) is automatically related to the SS?

  13. Shell casings and . . . what? Life Savers? And two cans of blue and two cans of white?

  14. I’d say the point was to have a functional chess set, not a work of art.

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