Friday, 5 November 2010

Tank Building - Great War Style

I’ve added some photos below of constructing the four Mark IV tanks for my 1917 Tank Corps project. What took me so long? Well, that’s a very fair question. I started this project in September to be timed with a game that me and Richard Clarke are putting on in Burton on 13th November.

I can claim to have been busy in my non-hobby life. But hey, so is everyone reading this blog, right? So my work and personal life has, being truthful, only been part of the problem with the delay. The other major difficulty I had in October was in keeping myself motivated to build four of the tanks. One was fun, two fine, but the third and fourth were a really painful exercise. So, mea culpa, and I’ve learnt a salutary lesson when it comes to building sections of tanks in 28mm – go for the smaller section of three tanks not four!

That being said, here’s the snaps from the Roundwood Workbench.

Ok, first stage, give the resin a good clean. I figured that as the Great War Miniatures tanks have smelt very resin-y since arriving at Roundwood Towers, they were probably coated with some invisible release agent. Thinking I’d best take no chances, I did the metalled parts as well. Oh, and don’t forget to wash the sponsons...

As they arrived, fresh out of Northstar Nick’s parcel, I thought the Great War Miniatures Mark IVs were a nice kit. Certainly the surface detail was very finely sculpted, with numerous rivets, pistol loopholes and access hatches. There were some pretty pronounced mould lines on the models, however, especially at the rear of the tank. The same mould line appeared on each of the rear tank tread, but is pretty easily removed with a scalpel. I’m sure I can strategically place some mud on the part of the track which was affected, anyway. There was one tank with a mould line across the rear .. ‘fender’ (?).... of the tank, so some green stuff smoothed that down.

I had a little less fun with the large roll-bars which were such a prominent feature of the Mark IV. These were fitted to allow a “ditching beam”, which was basically a reinforced iron railway sleeper which could be chained around the tank tracks and rolled over the top of the tank (on the cast iron roll-bars) if, or more likely when, the tank “ditched” in the mud of the battlefield. The iron roll-bars seemed to be present in almost all of the photos of Mark IVs I’ve seen, and are a really nice feature to add. However, the Great War Miniatures Mark IV kit’s roll-bars are a bit fiddly to fit, to say the least. I ended up gently bending them and cutting down the locating lugs.

The reason for this is that models in my games are used at my local club as well as at home. I therefore wanted to make sure that the roll-bars were are as securely fixed as possible to the tank. To do this I glued the front roll-bar to the cabin of the tank, rather than (as would have been more historically accurate) leaving the bar elevated slightly above the cabin. OK, so I’m not a purist, and I admit the models as made by me are not strictly accurate. It’s a compromise, but if it means I never need to repair a broken roll-bar, I’m happy!

The roll-bars also needed a fair bit of filing before fitting. I wanted a smooth cast steel look for the top of the roll bars but the casting of the roll-bars wasn’t perfect. As you can see, filing the bars was a pretty tedious task when you have 16 to do (4 for each chance). Time for some music or a podcast, I think ...

Hopefully you can see in this picture the filed smooth right roll-bar being fitted to the top of the tank’s cabin. Without removing the front locating lugs the bar would have been elevated above the cabin’s roof. Hopefully, with the roll-bar being glued to the cabin roof instead, it will be more robust on the gaming table. Fingers crossed...

Now for a more pleasant task, the sponsons. These fitted well on the Male Mark IVs, but there’s quite a bit of trimming to do on the Female Mark IVs as without this the entrance/escape doors under the Female sponsons won’t fit flush with the side of the model.

One this is done, however, the sponsons look very impressive, and are nicely cast on both Male and Female models. The 6-pdrs guns on the Male tanks fitted fine. My main decision here was whether to go with the Hotchkiss machine guns which Great War Miniatures supply all the Mark IV models with. My reading of the Mark IVs in action in 1917 at Passchendaele and Cambrai was that they were still equipped with the Lewis gun with an ammunition drum. Ian Verrinder in his excellent “Tank Action in the Great War” mentions that at Fontaine on 22 November 1917 the Lewis guns performed particularly badly, with many Lewis Guns being rendered unworkable in the action, not least through the guns being vulnerable to armour-piercing bullets and splinters (“Tank Action in the Great War”, page 156-157).

After reading this, I was keen to give my clubmates who are aspiring Great War ‘tankies’ some realistic problems with “B” Battalion’s Lewis guns. I wanted to swop the supplied Hotchkiss for some Lewis guns to fit into tank sponsons. No-one yet makes these, but from most of the photos of Mark IVs from Ypres and Cambrai all that really can be seen is the Lewis gun’s metal tubing. I therefore used some brass rod cut to the same length and drilled out the sponson holes accordingly. Not a perfect solution, I admit, but I liked the slightly different look it gave.

One final message about sponsons. The Female sponsons should be glued in place with the vision slits at the top, and pistol loophole at the bottom of the sponson. Any photo should show this fine. You could, of course, be like me and find out the hard way that you’d glued a sponson upside down......and have to prise the sponson off and fix it later!

The long exhaust was easy to fit without much work. I added a slightly greater bend to a couple of the exhausts supplied. Apart form that, perfect.

Then to fitting the roll-bars. You don’t want to do this too early, as once they’re fitted the model becomes a lot more delicate. It was a juggling act trying to glue these chaps in place and took a number of goes to get the first one right. The others were quicker, but by the end of the fourth, I was thoroughly hacked off with the project !! The problem was in getting the bars to hold in place while the glue set. I mainly use araldite because an epoxy, at least in my eyes, is less brittle than super glue, especially when you’re using the models a lot in gaming. But in situations like this, super glue, in retrospect (and especially with an accelerant), would have been better. In the end, even after the roll-bars were glued I added some thin solution super-glue (the sort you use for naval rigging) to the more exposed joins for greater strength.

At least once you’ve got the roll-bars in place, you’re almost there. Next step was the ditching beam. Great War Miniatures’ early castings of Mark IVs didn’t seem to have these, which is a real shame as the ones now supplied are very nice indeed. They are well cast and a fine chunk piece of metal which adds a lot to the finished model. I glued them in place on the roll-bars, holding them in place with blu-tac as they dried.

I was in a bit of a quandary about how these beams were actually attached in action. I searched the books I had looking for photos without success, and looked on the Landships website ( for more information without finding anything. There were several accounts, particularly at Passchendaele, of the ditching beam being shot away by enemy shelling, so I did wonder whether they were lashed on with ropes. However, as the ditching beams were clearly chained on when the “unditching” process was happening (the Osprey Mark IV has a great illustration of this), I settled for the fact that the ditching beams were probably chained on. I got some 14 link-per-25mm chains from 4D Models in east London and glued these in place near to where the roll-bars joined. I made sure that the chain ends were equal lengths to ensure that it looked as if the beam was double chained to the roll-bars. If anyone has any information as to how the ditching beams were actually secured, I’d be very interested, although please note I am not changing the models now !

All that was left was a quick spray with Halford’s car primer and they’re ready for painting and weathering. I carved an offcut of Styrofoam the size to fit into the underside of the model to hold each tank as it’s painted. Finally, to provide a bit of inspiration, I put the tanks on the gaming table, trundling through a shell-pocked wood to try and get me motivated to finish!

How did I rate the Great War Miniatures Mark IV as a model to build? Probably about 7 out of 10 for the Female and 8 out of 10 for the Male (owing to the Female's entrance/escape doors not fitting well). It's a very nicely cast kit, but the roll-bars are a real pain to fit. Probably add an extra "1" if you're just doing one model instead of four!

I’m hoping to get at least a couple of the tanks, and the final tank crew, painted this weekend. Wish me luck!


  1. Wow, very cool! Looking forward to seeing the painted models.

  2. Awesome work , sir. I too am waiting to see these beauties painted and weathered. Win!

  3. I bought the Great War male model last Christmas and experienced the same problem when attaching the roll bars. The resin model in general is superb, with very good detailing, but the metal parts gave me a hard time until I got them in place. In any case I think the model is worth buying ...even if not specially cheap. In any case, eager to see the final painted model.


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