Wednesday, April 24, 2019

'Company' & 'Bolster': I climb Hell Mountain


I lashed out last year and bought up the tanks, vehicles and two infantry battalions to build a Rapid Fire raid on Dieppe. I've been completely reliant on the Hasegewa 1/72nd scale kits for all of my Churchill Mark I and II variants which is proving bitter-sweet. Let me say they are in fact a lovely kit. Superbly engineered and designed, they fit together beautifully and are a simple kit to build. At least they would be if it weren't for the chespaling 'bobbins' I require for two of my tanks ('Chief' and 'Burns') and the deep wading intakes and snorkel exhausts for all of them.

Also, in my crude attempt to model the well documented tanks for the raid, particular attention needs to be paid to what to include, what to exclude from the kit in addition to the modifications required.

The Hasegawa kit comes with a rear and side stowage bin for the turret. The photographic record shows the Churchills without either of these additions. Now they could have been blown off I suppose but then all the vehicles had their baptism of fire at Dieppe and they were not intending to stay for long - so it's clear to me they were stripped down to bare essentials. The Hasegawa kit also provides for the turret a port side stowage tube for signal flags and that isn't evident at Dieppe either - so it's gone.

The kit comes with the original design downward intake louvers for the Mark I which I believe had all been inverted by 1942 operational vehicles. In any event, all Churchill intakes had been modified for the Dieppe raid with deep-wading exhausts which I fabricated in the first instance with styrene sheet - there were plenty of examples to follow. I have elected to have the tanks depicting their extensions jettisoned. Well, it's a bit of fiddling about which wasn't really floating my boat and then it dawned on me I'd need to repeat the restructure another six times. Stuff that for a lark.

The kit louvers were removed by carefully scrubbing the constructed chassis across some sandpaper of a couple of different grits. With very little detail damaged (surprisingly)  I was then left with some gaping holes which were larger than the cast replacement intakes. Typical. I fixed a section of the thinnest styrene card I had. This will be an inaccurate detail but I'm hoping it's not too noticeable. It does irritate me though.
I then decided to try my hand a resin casting. One of the kits in my project is the Dragon 1/72 Churchill Mk III for the Dieppe raid which comes with the louver section in one piece. So I had a master. Now there's no getting hold of the means to make rubber moulds in Tonga but I did manage to score some Play Dough.
Well it worked well enough. Curiously the resin pieces took on a tint from the colour of the Play Dough. The pieces set in 24 hours but did require a light scrubbing with a toothbrush in water to remove the mucky Play Dough. The Play Dough cannot be re-used incidentally.

The next obstacle was creating the snorkel exhaust arrays. This has been heartbreaking and I've struggled to innovate. I elected to craft them from steel wire which was straight forward enough to form. I then drilled receiving holes on the mufflers (I am guessing they are mufflers) when my first critical failure occurred. The holes are near the end of each muffler piece and one snapped clean off during the hand-drilling. A liberal application of Selleys 2-Part Epoxy hasn't really worked too well. It's holding but on the wobbly side - certainly not 'fixed'.
The Good
The bloody Bad and Ugly

The twin snorkel exhaust piped are braced at the top with a strut which I thought to make using fuse wire. Well that was a shit idea. In wrapping the wire I wasn't careful enough and I loosened the fitting. By this stage I was starting to lose my cool.
Normally everything works at the workbench for me but not this time. Even when switching to cotton thread the other array loosened. I may have erupted into an outraged outburst at this point. But wait, there's more.
On a positive note, I have to say if you tire of assembling tank wheels as I do, then this is the tank and model for you. The entire bogey array comes in three cast pieces - inner wheel casting, the central suspension section and the outer wheels - that's just three pieces for 11 wheels each side. What's not to like? And they fit together with ease.
The tracks are black rubber one-piece molds which I know model makers hate. As a wargamer, I love 'em; they paint up just fine and I ensure the join is underneath and gets hidden when I base the models. This old trick was to prove essential as I managed to snap off a track section when trying to stretch it. One of the tracks was quite twisted so I thought to immerse it in hot water and then let it cool under slight tension to iron it out. NOT A GOOD IDEA. I boiled the water, poured it into a bowl and casually threw both tracks from one of the kits into the water only to see them instantly shrivel before my very eyes into what resembled a dead centipede! It also changed the molecular structure and went from loose rubber to a rigid plastic. Keeeerist ... I didn't know they could even do that! I was by this time beginning to despair - I'm supposed to have been enjoying this hobby of mine.
Not a pretty sight.
Well I've got the models to undercoat stage but will turn my nervous hand to building the others before proceeding to the paint jobs. I think I will attempt to texture the bases where they are exposed but at this time have no firm idea of how I'm going to create the chert beach of Dieppe.
Upon much reflection I will not attempt further exhaust arrays until home in four weeks to score some aluminium tubing which will provide the right exhaust aperture. It is lighter in weight and will glue better. I will also buy solid aluminium rod in case the tubing pinches when forming it. It will also be capable of drilling and I can thread a rigid brace through it for better stability.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Horace & Helen: A Kind of Love Story (Part 1 of 2)

This is Horace ...
... and this is Helen.

They were both Daimler 'Dingo' MkII Scout Cars belonging to the Canadian Calgary tank regiment whose crews defiantly took to White Beach on the shores of Dieppe in 1942. They also happen to be the subjects of my first 1/72nd or 20mm scale builds for my future Rapid Fire re-fight.
The other shot of Helen abandoned at Dieppe.
Horace hit the beach out of LCT 145 with the Regiment's 'Chief', 'Company' and 'Calgary' Churchill tanks. Helen arrived with Churchills 'Burns', 'Bolster' and 'Backer' out of LCT 126. After these two models the tanks will be next but in the meantime I had to source my scout cars and crew.
The S Model Mk Ia variant was the only example I could find so I knew I had a conversion or two ahead of me. The kit comes with what I can only describe as an additional mystery sprue with no explanation of what the parts are or where to put them. Only the shovel is attributed and apart from the tin hat and a rifle the rest is, well ... a mystery. But the essential components and instructions are well provided for.

 

First job was to sand back the sloping rear face which included the details of the Mk Ia engine vent/grille. Then I elected to sand back the top edge to provide for the perpendicular sloping face into which the Mk II vent would go.
I then started scratching my head to figure how I would approach constructing the vent/grille. I ended up inserting a central support and built it strand-by-strand; first fixing one side to the centre and allowing it to set before warping it to the other side.
I cut each strip from a sheet of Evergreen Scale Models sheet styrene and being no model-maker (and unsophisticated) I did it all with Humbrol Poly Cement. After all, these are wargaming toys - not oooh-ahhh display models. I'm sure there are several better approaches to this construction but it worked in the end.
At least I think they will pass muster if no expert looks too closely. I am using AB miniatures for all Canadian infantry and crew and so clumsily glued two poly strips into the base of each vehicle to support my driver and gunner/observer.
I also had to cut away the receiving lugs for the roof piece to squeeze in the crew figures. They also took a bit of filing. The early variants of the Dingo were supplied with a folding steel roof. This model came with the roof section in one piece, all buttoned up. I cut the roof, folding the front section back over the rear - well, glued the completely separate piece onto the rear section to simulate it folded back.
The gunner doesn't align overly well with the fixed Bren Gun. In fact the sculpt of this seated figure is posed for a larger, twin grip machine gun rather than the pistol grip of the Bren. The girder sections fixed to the rear were trimmed narrower after this shot. I don't know what their purpose was but I knew I needed them all the same.
The kit comes with brass etched forward grips, the Bren stand and the rear support. I noted from the photos that a special exhaust was fitted so reached for my trusty container of odd & sods and hey-presto ... some white metal rods from an old spear or something came into play. Easily manipulated and the end drilled for a pipe effect, they were drilled and glued into place.
If it weren't for the kit-bashing required these two models would have been supremely easy constructions. The designers behind this model really knew what they were doing. It fits together just superbly. Now all that's left is basing and painting for Part 2.


 



Sunday, March 31, 2019

AUDIO BOOKS

For a couple of years I've been listening more to audio books and podcasts when painting soldiers and building models. This way I can get two things done at once. I think I'm probably actively listening about 80% of the time but after an hour or so the mind can still drift - mine anyway. Over the past weekend I've been accessing a Conan adventure through YouTube. But here's the thing ...

The speaker is the all important ingredient and sometimes I just can't hack it (no Conan pun intended). If the accent is too powerful and mismatched then it destroys the feel for me. For example, I'm an Australian with what might generally be referred to as a 'received' accent - other Australians pick up that I spent some time in England (Kent) during my childhood. If you watch the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) newsreaders then that's the sort of accent I have. So, when I'm listening to a similar voice or someone from certain regions in the UK, I barely register there's an accent at all because it's largely my own.

I generally find broad English or American accents need to be relevant to the subject matter. So, (for me) a range of distinct northern English accents are going to be fine in an English historical context and a strong American accent fits in perfectly for American military subject matter. What I can't take is a broad Californian speaker delivering Shakespeare or a Scotsman reading an account of Custer's Last Stand.

There are two other problems for me with many audio readers. The first is intonation or how dynamic the reader is. Some of them are so very, very, very monotone. They are boring and they put me to sleep. The other problem is the single reader's inability to impersonate. The Conan adventure I was listening to has a cast of characters, male and female but the reader I had (an American) only had one 'other' male voice and one female voice when switching from narrative to dialogue. This is both amusing and confusing. Some readers have truly silly female voices akin to Terry Jones standard 'woman' screeching SPAM, SPAM and when there's a romantic exchange like in the Sharpe novels, it's just wrong!

Most of my audio book collection is non-fiction historical narrative anyway so provided the reader is good, characterization is relatively unimportant. I really do think that the audio book recording industry as a whole needs to consider multiple readers and audio editing to raise the bar. I'd actually like to see (hear actually) novels presented more like radio plays with sound affects and voice performers. It would engage the listener completely and I could get lost in other worlds whilst painting my soldiers.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Caesarean Testudo: Part 2

It was quite the effort but the experiment is complete and I declare it a success. I now have the first of several Roman Caesarean testudo.
Having undertaken the mock-up (see previous posting) I them fixed the figures to craft sticks in their order for painting. This prevented me from mixing them up and to ascertain how much of each figure would be exposed so I only needed to paint the outside. I won't do this again as it made painting difficult and I think there's a better way of numbering them to enable painting individually.
Painting this set of shields was also more difficult than being able to get in close and personal with each individual shield but I can't see a way around that. The decals also needed cutting away where it appears they tuck in under the overlapping shields.
Once painted to their matte coat stage, I then glued them to their base.
Later on I cut the centurions gladius arm off - it didn't fit and you couldn't see it anyway.
I had to cut away the corner shield holder's stand away to get him in close enough to the front rank. It's a tight fit in there.
 Then I built the unit back from the front rank.

I then fixed a section of balsa dowel to support the shield canopy. This and the interior including the figure bases were painted dark grey to conceal them from view.
Once built, I spray coated the whole model with my matte picture varnish and then painted the metallic finished on shield boss, mail, gladius and helmets.
I've learnt a few lessons in this approach but they will be refinements to a process I feel works really well.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Caesarean Onager: Now it's an Army!

In most wargaming army lists I am familiar with, there's a ratio imposed on fielding war machines. In Hail Caesar it's 3:1 for units to machines. I always figures that a scorpio must come first and I have two of them so they got built first. Now that I have eight cohorts completed, I figures I'd stretch to my onager model ... so here it is.
This little ripper is a Warlord Games model and like so many war machines manufactures and supplied in our hobby, it doesn't come with instructions. Well I didn't get any. Thankfully I have plenty of reference resources and there are a lot of very detailed drawings available on the web ... so no problem.
The model comes with three crew (I suppose that's obvious) and a cast pile of stone shot. I tend to roll left over Green-stuff into little balls and my chance both to hand were the right size so I augmented them - dumb luck.
The model is all white-metal. A trick for next time is not to glue the throwing arm-axle before gluing the winch-axle ropes. Mine aren't quite a taut as I'd have liked them to appear.
Back to my original reference, if you haven't built enough cohorts to earn your onager, you don't have a real army - you have a mere detachment.

 


Caesarian Romans: Cohort VI Legio XI

My first whole unit produced this year includes a few new features for my Roman army. After a prolonged shipping process I received and incorporated some of the last Wargames Factory models available from their now defunct late Republican Roman 'Caesar's Legions' range of plastic 28mm figures.
Wargames Factory Caesarean Roman legionary

The earliest of the 28mm plastic figure revolution, these Wargames Factory miniatures definitely finish in second place to the Warlord Games figures. The detail is shallow and the depictions are ever so slightly slighter built than their Warlord Games counterparts. I have always loved the Warlord Games Romans but I didn't realise how much until I painted the Wargames Factory figures.
Wargames Factory Centurion

Having said that, whilst I didn't enjoy the process of painting them, they come up better than they look in their raw state and better than I was predicting. They did satisfy my desire for greater variety and as far as I'm concerned, they look just fine. I will; however, be relegating the remainder to my testudo models.
I do like the Wargames Factory Signifer
Only I can see it I suppose but I swapped arms and weapons between both figure ranges within the unit and gave the Signifer a shield.
I also equipped the entire cohort with metals shields from Aventine Miniatures. I did this because I'm hording the plastic shields for my testudo models - see my other posts. You will see I've also included some raw shields with completely stenciled covers for the first time.
It might simply be because they are just that little bit different from what I've been getting used to, but I love these Aventine Miniatures shields. This is my eighth cohort in a little over twelve months (I think) so that's 192 uniformed Romans - I'll take what variety I can get.
I will be including two more posts on my evolving Caesarean Romans - the onager and my testodo model which is nearing completion. I'm giving my Roman project a rest of a while as I seem to have run out of my MDF bases. I'm home in May and will cut more but for the time being, it's on to other things.

 

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Mentality

I'm not normally given to impulsive acts and I like to believe that I live my life with at least a modicum of self-control. I have a successful career, parental responsibilities and a healthy network of friends and family I've largely retained for many decades. So, what is it about my mentality which forever sparks off with ever blooming ideas for new and diverse wargaming projects?
We've all said it many times - many of us are compulsive schizophrenics. I've got more wargaming projects on the go than any normal man should and I run four blogs - albeit my specific blogs incur frequent bouts or dormancy. I wonder if anyone can relate to how these new ideas start and grow.
I was given a book on the Templars by my daughters for Christmas - Dan Jones: The Templars. I have a couple of others but it's years since I read on the Crusades and its not particularly my bailiwick even though the medieval period most certainly is. Being posted overseas; however, I have few books to hand and out of love and appreciation that my daughters think of me and give me a gift of any kind I read anything they provide so I'm in the middle of it now.
Well I find my mind a curious thing. How's yours? I get inspired all the time and have a broad fascination for all things historical and particularly military history spanning thousands of years. Last year I was reading Bernard Cornwell's Harlequin and for a time I was getting serious about a mid-Hundred Years War army but I think I'm past that now - it's all under control. Similarly I have cultivated a repeated fascination with bronze age Assyrians but in spite of two active periods of research it hasn't broken out into purchases - yet.

Now if you'd be guessing by this stage that I'm now going to build a Templar army you'd be forgiven but mistaken. You'd be close. An oblique reference to the Knights of St. John (the Hospitallers) eighty odd pages into the book and my imagination started popping off on a tangent. I hearken back to an older issue of Osprey I've had for many years - the Knights of Christ and the following image has always resonated with me.
To me this is the epitome of sinister-cool. There's something perversely attractive in wargaming terms for these warrior-monks. As far as I am concerned they were in many ways unattractive - brutal, callous, pious, self-sacrificing and bloody-minded fanatics in the main whose entire raison d'ĂȘtre is largely abhorrent to my  modern sensibilities and philosophy. As a war machine; however, they were the organised, professional and a medieval equivalent in many ways to the Spartans, French Foreign Legion or the SS. What's perhaps most important to me is they will make a great looking little army of toy soldiers.
So, now I'm indulging in what comes next - research and thinking about the possibilities. I don't want a big army because they couldn't really field one - not on their own anyway. I also want to do the other side - an Ayyubid Syrian raiding force. I also want to build a little castle and for this base of operations I have chosen the Red Fort - the Chastel Rouge (Qual'at Yahmur) located in the North West Syrian county of Tripoli which was gifted to and occupied by the Hospitallers in the early 13th century.


So, I'm thinking a small collection spanning both protagonists for a skirmish game using Osprey: Lion Rampant rules. I'm thinking a dozen brother knights and sergeants (1 knight for every three sergeants mounted and dismounted options) with another 12 Turcoples, a dozen spear and a dozen crossbow for the Hospitallers. For the Saracens I'll need 12 heavy cavalry, 12 horse archers, a dozen spear and a dozen archers. The lists need work.
I'm also looking to represent the first decade of the 13th century. 
This seems to be a bit of an obscure period for most wargamers and the figure availability for the Hospitallers is interesting and limited. For the brother knights we are in the transition phase between the face mask to the great helm. I'm starting to favour the old Curtery's Miniatures range distributed by First Corps.

I've already started looking at figure ranges and saving a new series of favourites on my Firefox page. Once the lists are researched and written up (and balanced) then I'll start buying figures unless I calm down and stop this distraction from my work on the current active lists for 2019.
So, does this sound familiar to you? Is this your process or are you disciplined to finish what you've started before adding to the mania? A common saying is the first step to a cure is diagnosis. Well I know my issues ... but it doesn't seem to be helping.