Sunday, April 24, 2016

Army Men Scratch Builds and Adaptations.

My previous posting being concerned with adaptations and scratch-building equipment for my WW2 armies, it seemed appropriate this this one focused upon my Army Men project.
Kiivar field howitzers.
At last I have assembled a 3-gun battery of Kiivar field howitzers.  The trails, breech blocks and such are made of balsa; lollipop sticks have gone into other parts of the construction.  The gun barrels are exhausted felt-tip pen barrels. I have yet to add tow loops to the ends of the trails.

Kiivar field howitzers in battery...
The wheels have been slowly collected from small spice and herb jars bought at the local supermarket.  Future collection might go into limbers.  The measuring/surveying staffs (?) I added for a bit of colour,  Only the centre piece has one on its left-hand side as well.
With tractors.  Limbers yet to be built.  That will probably
require collecting more road wheels...
The over-scale jeeps I acquired with some Army Men soldiery I bought a couple of years back have become the prime movers for these howitzers.  One is lacking a windscreen, and I'm thinking of placing a card or paper tilt on all of these.  Two used to be in Raesharn service,  but I figured that they were needed more to draw these.

Towards the end of 2014, Brian gave me the dark green vehicle below.

Comparison of sided between the AA vehicle and the
Army Men tank.

Very soon I gave it the addition to the sides of the vehicle to disguise the
flush casting of the hull side and road wheels.
It was pretty battered, had no tracks, and the whole side skirt and road wheel assembly was one flush piece.  I began at once by cutting and pasting a length of card plastic along the bottom edge of the skirt to suggest that the road wheels were behind.  I also added a cardboard shield.  As the shield was a bit flimsy and flollopy, I recently added side pieces better to protect the crew and to make the shield firmer.

The vehicle has been painted in Raesharn's distinctive camouflage pattern.  Having been added later, the side pieces of the shield will need to be painted also.

How the finished tracks look on the AA vehicle.
The underside of the vehicle I made from lollipop stick braced to push the inward curving sides outwards.  The ends of the lollipop sticks I hoped would suggest drive sprockets and such.  I then enclosed all this with balsa to give the thing an overall solid look.  The tracks are made from non-slip matting - a different design from that which I used for the vehicles in my previous posting.  Blue again, I slolloped black paint over it and added a silver coating semi-drybrushed over it.  
Hasn't turned out too badly, methinks.  I may add a rust coloured wash over it all later.
That gun shield does need some tidying up...

At the moment, there is but one crew man visible.  This is from a NATO figure wearing a beret.  I decided that Raesharn tank men wear red berets (again, just to add a bit of colour).  I have yet to find another figure I am willing to sacrifice to place on the other side of the gun.  I'd like him to sport a beret as well..  These figures I cut with wire cutters at roughly the upper half or third of the torso, then jam them in beside the twin AA cannon.
AA vehicle traversing rough country...

HQ radio lorry.
This here is an HQ Staff Radio lorry in Kiivar service.  It started out in life as a 'Fort Knox' truck, complete with a combination lock rear door.  I have done nothing about that door - I find the feature attractive for no other reason than that it's there.
Div HQ:  Radio lorry and staff car.
The HQ lorry in the company of a General Officer's staff car.  Some touching up needs doing on the latter.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Scratch Builds and Extempores

Second hand Tiger I with new gun and mantlet.
Once again my blog spot has been too long neglected.  Maybe one day I'll be able to devote more time to it.  It is not as if I haven't the available time.  Motivation is far from abundant coin right now. Well, that is enough of whingeing.

Where the mantlet came from.  The inky bit was shaved down
that the gun barrel could fit over it so it could be glued firmly.
Some weeks ago I expressed (commenting on someone else's blog) my admiration for the scratch building skills of  the late John Sandars, of  Sandskrieg fame.  Someone suggested that I post something about my own scratch building efforts.  I have done on occasion in the past, but I do have some recent efforts to show.  Most of these are really fixes to models that had bits missing, rather than scratch builds per se.

The above Tiger II came into my possession minus gun and mantlet.  The whole thing had to be constructed from something.  An exhausted felt-tip pen provided just the thing, as you see, the gun barrel formed from plastic tube (cotton bud with the buds removed).  The muzzle brake was carved from a larger bored plastic tube.  Normally I have used ball pen reservoir for this, but though the plastic is softer, the harder plastic of the tube gives you better definition.  It isn't perfect, but I'm happy enough with the way the muzzle brake turned out.

Add caption
 These pictures show my new method of fashioning tank tracks.  I have been experimenting with strapping, recently.  Though it has its points, I found it not quite satisfactory.  Brian of A Fist Full of Plastic has used this method, but added strips to the visible bits to add to the 'trackish' look to the tracks.

The Fujimi StuGIIID and ESCI JagdTiger in these pictures came without tracks.  Not sure why in the former's case, as it was a mint kit still in its plastic wrapping when I bought it second hand.  I'm not complaining very hard, though, as in the same box was a StuGIIIG, and that did have tracks.  I have yet to build it.
Trackless models with their new tracks.
 I used the type of rubberised matting used in crockery cupboards to stop stuff from sliding about.  I have used it for much the same purpose for my war games stuff, but have discovered a downside.  it tends to stick to whatever is placed in it, with rather irritating consequences when you pick them up.  But cut to a reasonable width, I find they make very good looking tank tracks.
Showing off the matting tank tracks:  blue matting cut to width
and length and draped around the running gear, painted black
and dry-brushed over with silver.  I'll probably add a water
'rust colour' over all later on.
You can get this stuff in black, but what I used, as you can see from the background of some of these pictures, the mat I used is blue.  This stuff doesn't take paint all that well - you really have to slop it on thick.  In my view that is no bad thing!
The JagdTiger in rough 'factory finish' showing its paces...

To conclude this posting: a couple of genuine scratch builds.  These are two portees from the Western Desert campaign, that I build maybe twenty-odd years ago.  The 6pr portee was a direct copy of a John Sandars design, I think from his Airfix book on the Eighth Army.  I just used whatever bits of cardboard, wire and balsa that came to hand.  only the wheels are rubber wheels, very slightly over-scale, actually, but not by much.  The overhead rack could use a tidy-up, and the covered wheel should have been centred, but at the time I made this, I couldn't work it out from the diagram, and had no other informative source to hand.
AT portees.  The 6pr is Airfix.

The 2pr portee was done from photographs.  It turned out OK, I thought, but the gun not quite so satisfactorily.  I was going to make the shield in one piece, but noticed that occasionally the hinged top was placed 'down'.  Not the best option.  
I still have to stick a driver in the cab, and the gun crew is around
somewhere.  It can fit under the trails of the gun for mounted

More on this topic to come...

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Sort this lot out!

Having neglected my WW2 stuff for so long - in fact hardly looked at them at all since the big earthquakes of a few years ago, I thought it high time I had a look to see what was what. I began with my Red Army.  It took two or three days of fossicking to find all my Russian infantry in particular. They are badly in need of reorganising and buffing up, as you can see from the picture above.
The preceding picture shows the most organised bits.   The fact is that an army organised per Command Decision (CD)  rule sets is not easily adapted to Panzer Marsch! (PM). What you see above is the bulk of the infantry of one Tank, one Mechanised and three Rifle Brigades under CD, They barely make a single rifle company with its attached machine-gun company for PM.

The lead row comprises the rifle battalion of my Tank Brigade, less some of the heavier equipment. The medium Tank battalions comprise T34 (I) and  Shermans (II), and KVs heavy (III: KV1 and 2s, or KV85s - more on these another time).  

The following block of three rows are the rifle battalions of my Mechanised Brigade.  This was the first formation I built up for this army, and is the only one that has seen real CD action.  It never lost a battle, though in all honesty it probably won fewer battles than it drew!  In about 1992 I entered a rather truncated version of this Brigade (its Tank Regiment reduced to 7xT34/76 tanks) into a Club competition.  It fought all of its battles to a draw.   That was not a bad achievement when you consider no opponent had fewer than seven tanks, and of the only one that had that number, three were King Tigers.  I couldn't hurt those, but his PzIVs were all gone by the end of the action!

It was also the only army on the day whose quality was classed as 'Experienced'.  Everyone else turned up with 'Veterans', and one (British) even had 'Elite' paratroops.  Of course, as this was a competition, my guys encountered that outfit (must have been June 1945), and fought it to a standstill, too - the only army that managed it (that army won the competition).  Challengers and Comets will succumb to a surprise flank attack by T34/76s, even if they are lurking behind a hill crest! If there is one thing I like about CD, it is that you can, without too much difficulty, pull off an on-table surprise.

That is so even with Russians, whose command structure in this rule set is far less flexible than those of the German or Western Allies.  I've never been quite convinced of the fairness or accuracy of this, but it does make for an interesting challenge. If 'pointing up' an army as we did with the competition mentioned earlier, I should think a fairish 'points' premium should attach to command and command/infantry (etc) stands.  At any rate, owing to its war record so far, this Mechanised Brigade has been, deservedly, awarded 'Guard' status.

Be that as it may, the three distinct blocks behind them are the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Rifle Brigades. These have never seen action so constituted, and the Brigade numbering will change (probably to 23rd, 24th and 25th in the service of the Pan-Andean People's Republic).  The troops have been up at the sharp end as part of a rifle company in PM battles (see e.g. here). On the other board are a whole mess of machine-gun companies (2 stands each), anti-tank rifle companies (also 2 stands apiece), SMG platoons, SMG recon patrols and command stands, radio operators, and draught horses and mules.  In addition a couple of GAZ (Zis?) trucks (one resin, one scratch built from balsa and cardboard), anti-tank and field guns, and a Chinese kit SU85 that I built back in December.  Paul 'Jacko' gave me that some time ago, with the story that, judging by the external packaging (as you do) he understood he was buying a Sherman tank.  It also seems to be missing at least one of its tracks, so I've used plastic strapping for the time being.  Otherwise it was quite a nice little kit, I thought.
The picture below gives a closer look at my three 76.2mm (3-inch) field guns, all scratch built from card, balsa and plastic cotton-bud tubing.  In addition to other bits and pieces are the 4 SG-43 air-cooled MMG stands, each representing a platoon.  These are metal figures and models.  Most of my Maksim MMGs are ESCI, with half a dozen Airfix, and I think 8 metal ones.
Below is a close up of 76.2mm field gun completed long ago, but which hasn't yet received a paint job.  Even the wheels are cardboard - 3 thicknesses cut out and glued together, with a paper thickness with a centre cut out glued to the outside.  Mine are based on the M1939 Divisional Model field piece.  I would quite like to find a basis for building or buying older artillery models for my less well-equipped Rifle Brigades. 
These field guns were quite big guns, considering.  The Germans thought highly enough of them to reissue captured examples as PaK 36(r) anti-tank guns.  Finding over the years that such scratch-built ordnance is less than ideally robust, free standing, I have glued them on to beer-mat bases.  The crew figures you see here aren't yet based themselves, but will be placed on a separate stand.  
In the picture below is the 5th Rifle Brigade as work in progress.  Unlike the Airfix, ESCI and Hong Kong knock-offs that make up the other brigades, this has metal figures.  These have been eked out by using flag bearers in the middle companies of each battalion.  
Included in the picture below is a pair of 45L66 anti-tank guns picked up from I think the sale of someone's surplus gear several years ago.  They are simple modifications of I think ESCI PaK35/36s with an extra-long gun barrel.  All my Russian 45mm AT guns are in fact ESCI 1:72 scale German PaKs modified simply by painting them green.  The 1:76 scale examples remain as Wehrmacht 'door-knockers'.

You might be getting an inkling from that pictures (above) what is (sort of) wrong with much of this army: over-large and inconsistent base/stand sizing.  The stands for the 45L66 ATGs are (necessarily, to protect the gun barrels) huge, and the figures are permanently attached, too (though I'd rather they weren't).  My own view is that it doesn't actually matter very much, but I am aware that others take a less .. erm ... liberal view.  The base for the 45L46 ATG in the picture has the figures fastened, but the gun itself not.  That still makes for an over-large stand.

In my view, the slight advantage in drawing line of sight from over-sized gun stands could easily be neutralised by a local rule drawing the line of sight (LOS) from the line of the axles including the wheel hubs.  Or one might suggest, gently, that the outgoing LOS is matched by the incoming.  The large bases make the weapons more vulnerable to incoming artillery fire, something to which one's opponent could scarcely object.  I agree, though, it is not fully satisfactory, but I see no solution.  My mechanised brigade infantry I based without  having possession of the rule set at the time.  I simply guessed, and my guess was well off.  Their bases are also too large.  I have not had the heart to modify them.

I have repeated this 'mistake' with the 5th Brigade.  Frankly, for the minor convenience of being able to place a stand in a vehicle (to determine whether loaded or not), I find the tiny 2-figure 7/8-inch x 5/8-inch stands inconvenient for several reasons.  These I will go into another time.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Centurions of Tchagai

With the departure of Brian  ( A Fist Full of Plastic) to greener (and more stable) North Island pastures, my part in his Harad project has been taking a seat in the vehicle so far back, it's sitting on the tailgate of the trailer. But over the last couple of days I thought I would do something about the squadron of Centurion tanks.

My two Centurion tanks.  One's a kit, the other a toy...
 One of these is a second hand kitset vehicle, originally painted green, that I have spray-painted over with a tan/khaki colour.  The other was a shiny green toy with wheels that had its whole tracked drive assembly suggested by printed transfers on the sides.  After a bit of work bringing it up to (my rather liberal) war game standard, it, too got rough black undercoating and a spray-paint.  Can you tell which is which?  
With a little bit of work, the toy vehicle looks much
improved and usable.
How the toy vehicle was adapted into a usable
war games AFV.  Rough and ready, but it will do, I think. Still
undecided about flooring the vehicle.

To make use of the latter, I tried (and failed) to remove the transfers, roughly shaped the tracked drives with balsa wood, and glued cardboard circles to suggest sprocket drives and road wheels.  The sides upon which the transfers hasd been glued, I trimmed back with scissors to make into side skirts.  

The tracks themselves I cut from some non-slip matting that I then wrapped longitudinally around the balsa, overlapped the ends, and fastened down with a thumbtack.

Having removed the wheels and cut back the lugs that held the axles, I then jammed the tracked drive assembly between the sides and what remained of the axle lugs.  As the sides tended to curve inwards owing to the lack of anything to stop this, I shoved in a small block of balsa to hold them out.  Finally I added pieces of sheet balsa to form the lower hull, fore and aft. I am not sure whether to floor the thing with more balsa or cardboard.

The gun I also had to replace.  This is simply a plastic tube, inserted through a short piece of wider bore tubing by way of a fume extractor. Into the gun mantlet I bored a hole that would accept a piece of wire over which the gun assembly could be fitted and held rigid.  I haven't actually glued the gun on, yet, so it still slides off if I'm careless.

There is still a bit of work to do on this vehicle, but the guts of it has been done.  Although far from identical, this pair makes, in Command Decision terms, a fine little Centurion Tank Squadron for the Army of the Nabob of Tchagai.

Friday, February 12, 2016

How did this happen?

I have allowed myself recently to become distracted from my Napoleonic and Army Men projects to have a look at my World War Two collections.  I started with my German AFVs.
What to do with all this?  I have left off my trucks and half
So I laid these chappies out on the table.  Surveying this lot, methought - 'How the hell did that happen?'  Somehow or other I had acquired a whole bunch of stuff I didn't know I had...

A very large ambush of Tigers.  Or is it a streak?
 First: Panthera Tigris:  In the picture are 4 Airfix Tiger Is, accompanied by their little friend, the Fujimi PzIIIN.  Behind are three of larger scale Tiger Is,  the two flanking ones being the ready-made ready-painted fellows you can get from book stores; the centre one, very slightly smaller, having been donated to the cause by a friend (Brian, I think).  That one was lacking its outer road wheels.  In another article I'll discuss what I did about that.  The sand coloured one is a later type of Tiger I with the later type of road wheels and zimmarit coating on the hull and turret sides.  This trio forms a company in Command Decision Game terms with its accompanying PzIIIM or skirtless PzIIIN as desired.  A couple of Hunting Tigers (Jagdtigers) complete the picture.  Out of shot are my two King Tigers, and my three ROCO Tiger Is (Thanks to Robin for that trio).
The prettiest AFV design of the War, though the British
Crusader, and some of the Russian designs, come close. 5 Matchbox,
the other, unknown, needed work.
 To my mind the most aesthetically pleasing German AFV has to be the Jagdpanther.  Five of these are Matchbox.  The yellow one was given me in somewhat battered condition, but the refurb proved straightforward enough.  For some reason I can't explain, I'm quite taken with the ... erm ... livery as received, so it will probably remain that way.  The two beside it will also retain their monochrome appearance.  The three behind them have been in my possession close on 40 years...
Revell horse gun-teams.
 I thought I would include here three of my Revell horse drawn gun teams.  A fourth is at the moment under construction, or will be soon.  Although I have had the guns for years, I put the teams together just a few weeks ago.
Matchbox JdPzIV/70, and Fujimi and ESCI

Jagdpanzer IVs.  The leading three are matchbox JgPzIV/70s, the rear two are JgPzIV/48s.  The unpainted one is ESCI; the other is Fujimi, I think.  The latter is lacking its side skirts, but I may well leave it that way. Of the Matchbox vehicles, the centre one lacked one of its side skirts (a problem I often found with Matchbox was bits missing).  The far item was given me looking as though it had been roaming the streets beating up on other tomcats.  Painting over everything (I didn't bother to strip it first) has freshened the vehicle up quite nicely.
A sprint of Panthers... or is it a claw?
 The larger part of my collection of panthera pardus - 9 Airfix and 7 Matchbox kits.   Some of these I bought second hand, others I built myself, others were given me as surplus to the donor's requirements.The uniquely patterned camo on the one top centre will keep its appearance, and will probably become the recon vehicle of the battalion.  The rest of the battalion comprises 4 companies of 3 vehicles each.  To the picture you will find my only Marder II, and sIG33 (Bison) infantry gun mounted on a PzI chassis.
Let's call it a whole bunch of panthers - 16 in all.
The remainder of the Panther collection.  The three on the right of the picture will form the 4th Company of the Battalion.
Panzer IVG - being photo-bombed by a mis-located
British 6pr portee.  More about the latter in a future posting.
Four Panzer IVGs of my PzIV inventory.  These are the good old wargamers' standby, Eidai 'throw-together' kits.  Somehow my scratch built British 6pr anti-tank gun portee got into the picture.  More on that item another time!
A whole lot more PzIV of various types - total:
 3 PzIVF1, 4 PzIVF2, 13 PzIVG, 1 PzIVH.
The other 16 of my 20 PzIV.  Actually, I have 22 - a couple are in the other room awaiting finishing work.  Of the inventory as a whole, the two panzer-grau and the sand coloured ones are the pre-asssembled metal types that come in plastic display cases.  The three desert coloured ones are ESCI PzIVG.  In front of them, an ESCI PzIVH given my years ago by Dave Blick.  I never did put the side skirts on, but they might end up on another vehicle.  To complete the array, are three more Eidai tanks, and 4 Airfix PzIVF2s.  The Panzer III Specials leading the column are Matchbox kits.
PzIIIG (Armourfast) and L (Matchbox).
One of the Gs has had a turret bin added to make it an H.
 Panzer III variants:  The Matchbox  PzIIIL from the previous picture, two PzIIIGs from Armourfast, and a Fujimi StuG III D, with the short 75L24 gun.  The tracks on this last vehicle had to be extemporised, as the kit as received lacked them.  A topic for another posting.  Finally a lone PzII.  I think there is another PzII kit in the house somewhere, but it has been a while since I saw it...
A stack of StuG III and IV.
 How my collection of StuG vehicles got to the size it is, I can't think.  Along with the Fujimi vehicle about (built about 6 weeks ago), here are 3 Airfix, 2 Armourfast (I think - Paul 'Jacko' Jackson gave me these, and very fine AFVs they are, too) with he 'box' mantlet, and 2 StuG IV (These might be Eidai, but I won't bet on it).  I still have a Fujimi StuG III G to build...
StuH/105, Opel Blitz, and an interloping Su85. A bit of a story
attaches to the Russian vehicle, but that will have to wait.
I have included this picture for the StuH/105 knocked together from a very tired pre-hammered vehicle.   Also in the picture: an Opel Blitz I built a couple or so weeks back; my only SdKfz250-type vehicle, a lot of HaT Motorcyclists and M/C combinations.  These are way over scale, but I rather like them because they are over scale.  They look good.  They came with some useful additional foot figures,
Armoured cars...
 I never realised until I laid them out, just how extensive (and unbalanced) my armoured car inventory had become: 4 SdKfz 222s (3 Airfix, the other I'm not sure - possibly Dragon); 4 Pumas (the closest to the camera is slightly larger, but I don't know the provenance of any of them; I bought them second hand at a bring and buy); 2 resin SdKfz231s; a Rodin SdKfz234/3; and a SdKfz233 that I don't recall the maker of.  Between the resin 231s and the 233, is my attempt about 25 years ago to scratch build a SdKfz231 from the Airfix 234/4 kit (of which I somehow ended up with several). Lacking good information at the time, I got the turret size rather wrong, and the shape even more wrong.  But I haven't the heart to deep-six it... This will be included in my coming article on scratch-building and extempore methods of supplying missing bits of kit.
Towed ordnance.  Be careful what you wish for.  For a long
time I was concerned that tanks outnumbered my guns...
 One is inclined rather sadly to omit the artillery side of things, probably because in most rule sets the artillery gets left off the table.  I prefer to have them on if I can, which probably explains my predilection for 'the bigger picture' type of rule set for WW2.  The assortment here includes 5 metal 10.5cm howitzers (one is mostly out of the picture), my four unlimbered Revell barely make it into the picture by the look.  Several PaK40 anti-tank (Matchbox, ESCI, HaT, and a couple of scratch builds). Ten or twelve years ago, I made up a couple of Matchbox ones to double my PaK40 inventory to 4. Quite what happened after that is anyone's guess.  I also have a couple of PaK38s, two or three Wehrmacht 'doorknockers', and a couple of very under scale PaK38s that I think I will adapt into PaK41 tapered bore weapons.  For them it will probably suffice to replace the gun shield...
Infantry guns: 4 metal, 2 cardboard.
 Here I thought I'd focus in upon my infantry guns.  The centre and right hand pair as you see them are metal.  The two on the left ate my cardboard scratch builds.
Fully tracked traction!
I just HAD to have these: fully tracked tractors with towed PaK40 anti-tank guns.

SP Artillery.  Still to decide what to do with the gunless
vehicle closest the camera.
Let us finish with these: two 'battalions' of SP Artillery.  The nearer Hummel (#34) was the subject of a series of postings in mid 2012 - a semi-scratch build.  Since then I have been given - I think it might have been from Paul on the Coast - some bits that might well form the basis for yet another Hummel. The Wespe hull closest the camera lacks its gun.  A number of possibilities spring to mind.
1. Use the vehicle as is, or slightly modified, as a ammo-carrying vehicle.
2. Shove in a gun from one of my Airfix Kfz234 armored cars and call it a Marder II.  It seems that the marrying of this particular PzII hull and that gun won't do, though.  Damn.
3. Sacrifice one of my Revell gun kits to supply the weapon for the Wespe, and substitute the Airfix armoured car gun for the missing gun on the Revell gun carriage as a 7.5cm field gun.  I know the Germans did deploy field guns similar to what I have in mind, but haven't found any pictures that would confirm or validate this course.
4. Scratch build the necessary ordnance.