Tuesday 28 September 2010

The Devil’s Chariots

There’s nothing like seeing the real thing when you’re trying to build a model armoured fighting vehicle. No amount of looking through old photographs, or browsing through a book can quite replace the excitement of seeing for yourself the scale, the size, the toughness of a battle tank, whatever the period.

Living just outside London, I’m rather spoilt for museums of all kinds. It’s been about a decade since I had last visited the Imperial War Museum in Kensington, South London, but I took my daughter a couple of weeks ago. Ostensibly, we were taking a trip to see the “Horrible Histories” exhibition of “The Terrible Trenches” (which was really great for kids of all ages), but I also wanted to get a good look at the Mark V tank, “Devil”, and a few other Great War items.

As you might remember from previous Blog posts, I’m building a representative section of “B” Battalion of the Tank Corps from 1917 for use in our games of “Through the Mud and the Blood”, including four Mark IV tanks. As any “tankies” out there will know, the mark IV tank was being used by the Tank Corps in 1917, with the Mark V tank only becoming available for battlefield service the following year. Indeed, the Mark V was a considerable improvement on the mark IV tank, featuring hand-braked epicyclic gears on each end of the cross shaft which revolutionised driving and enabled one man to control the tank alone (the Mark IV required four men to drive it). While the earlier Mark IV tank produced by Great War Miniatures is the model we have been using in our games, in creating a feel for the scale and size of the tank, and getting that all important inspiration, the Imperial War Museum’s Mark V “Devil” was perfect.

One of the first things which struck me when I got close was the sheer size and impression of power of the tank. Of course there have been far bigger tanks built since, but in the Great War, with other comparable vehicles only being the size of armoured cars, the sight of a tank approaching a trench must have been terrifying.

When I started to look at the details, I was struck by single 6pdr 6cwt QF gun in the left sponson of the tank (the right sponson being removed to give a view into the tank’s interior). For some reason, the bore of the gun just seemed narrower than I had imagined when reading about the accounts of 6pdr case-shot being pumped out onto enemy strongpoints and machine gun bunkers.

The interior view of the tank was very interesting. With the right sponson of the tank being removed and replaced with glass, you can clearly see the cramped interior in which the crew of eight men would have fought. It’s not difficult to imagine the stench of cordite, smoke and petrol fumes during the heat of a battle within the (notoriously badly ventilated) interior.

The purpose built 19 litre six cylinder in-line Ricardo petrol engine giving 150 HP utterly dominates the interior. Ninety-seven years on, from my home in a leafy suburb of London, it’s very hard to understand what soldiers must have gone through after being closed up for 8 or 9 hours in a tank, sometimes having to “mask up” against poison gas. Looking through the glass into the interior of “Devil” gives just a small clue what it might have been like.

Quite understandably it is not possible to enter into the tank, but even looking at the door hatch on the rear of the sponson made me wonder how on earth anyone could exit quickly from a tank on fire. Just when this came into my mind, I then remembered that the male tanks were the easier ones to exit in an emergency, with the a female tank’s entry and exit routes being far more inaccessible under the machine gun sponsons.

In all, while not contributing to the actual ability to produce a model, I really felt that seeing the Mark V close up made my Tank Corps modelling project seem closer, more immediate. At the very least it was inspiring, but more importantly I felt it gave me a more a human context to the project.

Monday 27 September 2010

"B" Battalion command group and supporting Austin armoured cars

With apologies for not driving my Tank Corps project on with as much force as I’d like owing to work and family life, here’s the next few parts of “B” Battalion from 1917 completed.

First, there’s the command group consisting of the Prince Henry Vauxhall car, the Battalion Commander and a despatch rider. I was fairly pleased with the way that the Prince Henry Vauxhall, a Matchbox Models of Yesteryear purchase for a couple of quid on EBay, painted up. It really was a joy to dry brush and weather. It’s perhaps slightly out of scale and a little on the large side, although the Sloppy Jalopy chauffeur looks the part. The motorcycle despatch rider from Great War Miniatures was a real joy to paint.

I managed to finish the Austin armoured cars this weekend, working either side of my daughter’s birthday party. I was pretty pleased by how both cars came out in the end. I used the same painting and weathering techniques as I used on the Prince Henry Vauxhall to try and keep the project fairly consistent in its appearance. Just as a reminder of how I started, after thoroughly washing the cars in soapy water I primed and undercoated the cars in Humbrol matt black enamel.

I then added a heavy wet-brush of a Vallejo Russian Green mixed with Vallejo Black, followed by a wet-brush of just the Vallejo Russian Green.

I dry-brushed the cars next with a mix of Vallejo Russian Green and Vallejo German Camo Ochre. I did about four of five dry-brushes, adding progressively more of the ochre each time, trying to get a scrubby, weathered appearance on the exposed parts.

I then tried a weathering technique from the Forgeworld “Imperial Armour Modelling Masterclass, Volume 1”. I loaded up an old brush with a very heavily diluted wash of white spirit/ turpentine thinners with burnt umber oil colour and dark rust weathering powders. I then gently flicked the paint onto the model, trying to focus on areas where rusting would naturally take place. I tried the technique on a spare piece of paper first to make sure the brush wasn’t overloaded. I thought this was a very simple technique, but it did look (at least to my eye) good on the cars. I varied the colour a little by adding progressively less, then more of the weathering pigment in the thinned mix.

Then, before the paint was fully dry I washed clean thinners over the flicked on paint. Some of the flicked on paint simply disappears, other spots start to seep naturally over the dry-brushed paint work, and the larger spots of the rus/brown umber mix blur on the sides of the car. When you’ve worked about 15 minutes on this process, the result looks a little like this.

Then I heavily diluted some black oil paint with thinners and washed the mix around all the nooks, crannies, hatches, rivets, engine filters and engineering pits on the cars, watching the mixture slowly pool into the darker areas. Using a fine brush this took about 5-10 minutes per car, although I repeated the process a couple of times to make sure that some of the areas between the armoured turrets were a little darker.

After the thinned black oil paint had dried, I dry-brushed a mixture of Plaka Gelb-braun paint mixed with some weathering pigment from MIG onto the model to simulate mud and dirt accumulated on the steps of the car, and the lower running gear. I love the Plaka range of water based acrylics for this sort of weathering as they are slightly “grainy” in texture and mix beautifully with the weathering powder.

Finally, I painted the tow chains I’d glued on the front of one of the Austins and added the unit identifications on the front engine plate.

I really enjoyed the painting and weathering of the vehicles, not least because the weathering helped to mask a couple of slight imperfections in the resin cast of the cars. Next up, I need to varnish what I've finished so far, finish off the bases of the vehicles and tank crewmen, paint the remaining converted 6 tank crewmen and then finally paint the four mark IV tanks from the Battalion. I'm hoping to blog a little later this week on how I'm getting on.

Finally, I've arranged last week for the trench terrain to be making a trip to Burton-Upon-Trent in November for a TooFatLardies games day with some friends in the Midlands and North of England. I'll taking up the "Copse 125" terrain boards which shoudl allow for a decent sized (and hopefulyl fairly dramatic) game, so watch out for those in future blogs in October together with some shots of the game being tested.

Tuesday 14 September 2010

Tank Corps Crewmen - Work in Progress

After this weekend and last night, the Tank Corps crewmen are about 90% of the way there. The photographs didn't really come out as well as I would have liked, but I have posted them in the interests of giving a quick “work in progress” set of pictures. I promise I shall take a proper, “in theme” set of photographs when the Tank Corps project is finished. Anyway, here's 12 Tank Corps crewmen (with another 6 awaiting completion), all from Great War Miniatures. Only one has been slightly converted in the group below (the officer with the tan overalls, of which more below).

You’ll see that I painted one of the officers in a darker coloured set of overalls, trying to replicate a well known photograph of Second-Lieutenant Reginald Lyles, MC at the Tank Museum at Bovington wearing what appears to be a pair of leather overalls.

I’m guessing that officers with a bit of cash to spare might well have supplemented their standard uniform with such items when on leave. Certainly there are many adverts in Peter Doyles’ splendid (and reasonably priced) book “Tommy's War: British Military Memorabilia, 1914-1918” for items such as trench periscopes, raincoats and revolvers. It seems fairly reasonably that an officer recently transferred to the Tank Corps might have wanted to personalise his kit with the addition of privately purchased overalls. I’m hoping to get a “leathery” look for the officer’s overalls with the help of some satin varnish.

I also finished up the casualty bases. I’ve no idea if the wiring used in the Mark IV tanks was coloured. I’m guessing probably not, but I felt it made a nice touch to try and colour the wiring (green and red stripes) which is scattered on the ground from a destroyed or badly damaged tank, even if just to distinguish the wiring (made from picture hanging wire) from grass scatter on other bases!

Monday 13 September 2010

"B" Battalion of the Tank Corps, 1917

I’ve spent a fair part of this year finishing my British and German infantry forces for “Through the Mud and the Blood” and finishing bits and pieces of terrain for my Great War gaming table. Until about a fortnight ago, however, I had done nothing regarding building up a force from the British Tank Corps (formerly the grandly named “Heavy Branch of the Machine Gun Corps”) despite having both the models and figures buried deep in the “Projects Pending” cupboard for almost a year.

About two weeks ago I somehow remembered this, and felt that September was a good time to take this part of my Great War project in hand. I’ve not done a huge amount of AFV modelling before. I have seen the incredible skills of many modellers and wargamers on the internet, so I am approaching the project with a certain amount of nervousness!

I’m also hoping to blog “as I go along” rather than finishing the project, then posting the results from the point of view of having completed everything. I certainly enjoy reading those kind of blogs, so I felt I would give that a go. Again, this makes me feel a little nervous, not least in case it all goes wrong in the second week!

So, with a large number of crossed fingers, here’s where I have got to so far with modelling a section of four tanks from “B” Battalion of the Tank Corps as they might have appeared during the Third Battle of Ypres in the second half of 1917.

Why four tanks, why “B” Battalion and why Passchendaele? Well, I chose this unit because of the really excellent recent account of “B” Battalion in Ian Verrinder’s book “Tank Action in the Great War” (Pen & Sword, 2009). I can thoroughly recommend the book as a well-written and interesting read, with new photographs of the tanks and a very moving piece of Ian’s family history wrapped into the text. I chose the Third Battle of Ypres, Passchendaele, simply because it gave me the chance to field a section of four Mark IV tanks, three of which will “male” (armed with a pair of 6-pounder sponson mounted guns, two sponson- mounted Lewis guns and a forward facing machine gun between the driver and the tank commander) and one “female” (armed with four Lewis machine guns mounted in the sponsons, and a forward facing machine gun). The four-tank section gave me the chance to game the actions around Ypres, as well as the actions in the Battle of Cambrai in which “B” Battalion participated, but where sections of three tanks seemed to have been used more.

I thought I would start with a couple of shots of the inspiration for the project. First, the historical books which I’ve been reading over the past year on the Tank Corps. I’m hardly an erudite historian of the great War. Again, there are so many people out there who are. All I can wish is that, when I inevitably go wrong with the history, please let me know and I promise to learn from my mistakes!!

And now some more modern inspiration, which I possibly feel on slightly safer ground with....

By way of introduction, there were eight crewmen in each of the Mark IV tanks. Control of each tank was by 4 men: a commander, a driver and two secondary gearsmen. Each tank also had four gunners. While I don’t envisage all 32 crewmen from the four tanks being out on the table at the same time (heaven forbid all the tanks “ditch” at once), I wanted to make sure that I had sufficient figures to cover at least a couple of the tanks breaking down and the crews leaving the tanks to return to their own lines, or forming ad-hoc Lewis gun parties. The figures are Great War Miniatures, with Litko bases (with hexagonal bases denoting "Big Men" in the "Through the Mud and the Blood" rules). The Great War Miniatures figures to need a little time to clean and prepare, but I feel they repay the attention. You’ll also spot I’ve added a company commander (a Major) and a battalion staff officer, as well as a motorcycle despatch rider. Like the Prince Henry Vauxhall staff car which comes later in this post, these additional non-crew figures are really for “fluff”, but there may be a scenario I can use them in somewhere. They’re lovely figures, anyway. Here’s the shots of the undercoated figures (and yes, that is a stray German anti-tank rifleman in the background).....

Here’s the figures with their faces done and base coats of some of the uniforms. I wanted to paint a mixture of overalls and uniforms on the tank crew, both being evident in quite a few photos in the books. My first thought was that the Tank Corps crewmen wore black overalls, but I seem to have gone wrong in my research. I found out this weekend that the overalls were a mixture of khaki, tan and dark tan. How long they may have stayed this way is another matter. Lieutenant A.A. Dalby of “B” Battalion wrote home in January 1917 that “I wish you could see me come in from my present course. Clad in overalls (khaki) and absolutely one mass of grease, oil and dirt” (“Tank Action in the Great War”, page 26). There is also a magnificent photograph of Second-Lieutenant Reginald Lyles at the Tank Museum at Bovington wearing what appears to be a pair of leather overalls, suggesting that officers might well have supplemented standard overalls from time to time.

I also wanted to add a couple of casualty bases to place besides the tank crews to signify “shock” in the "Through the Mud and the Blood" rules. “Shock” could be inflicted on the crews if they are unfortunate enough to be outside the tanks once the tanks “ditch” in rough terrain, break down or are disabled by the enemy. There are some very disturbing images of dead tank crews in contemporary photographs, particularly of badly burnt crewmen (photograph page 14 in “Tank Action in the Great War”). I would never want to model such grim material, but didn’t want to leave out a reminder of the horrific casualties the early tank crews suffered. So, here’s some generic casualty figures which I purchased from Steve (“Silent Invader”) on Lead Adventure Forum, with some suitably “tank focused” bits of battlefield debris manufactured from plasticard, plastic strip, bricks (matchsticks cut up), picture wire, Styrofoam (petrol cans) and a selection of resin and metal bits (revolver, ammunition box).

Now on to the four tanks themselves, which you can see I have not even started. I've put two in the picture, a Mark IV female on the left and a male Mark IV on the right. They’re both resin models from Great War Miniatures, being well detailed and finely cast.

I also wanted to paint a couple of Austin armoured cars at the same time. These were not part of “B” Battalion, but these cars were operated by one of the Tank Corps battalions in 1918. I think adding the armoured cars to my British forces should give some interesting scenarios.

Both are from Sloppy Jalopy in the UK. I managed to assemble both in about a couple of hours, the second one being quicker than the first. I found the suspension on the Austins a little tricky at first to glue on, having to balance the model carefully upside down.

Once the model is stable, however, the suspension, the axle and the wheels glue on pretty easily.

I tend to use an epoxy resin for modelling resin/metal kits. Perhaps this is force of habit, but it also seems to me to give a better, slightly less brittle join than superglue. Perhaps this is just another of my legacies form the 1980s!

The door-shelf on the Austin glues on quite well, as does the plate below the door on the other side of the car. Unfortunately, the Sloppy Jalopy models don’t come with instructions, so searching some images on the internet to try and find the exact configuration of the kit components is time well spent. I wanted to ensure that the shelf and metal side plate stayed in place and I supported both with a wadge of green-stuff as well as gluing both the metal shelf and plate to the resin car with the expoy.

All in all, I thought that the Sloppy Jalopy Austin armoured car kit was good value for money and went together reasonably well. I did need to some work on it to make it robust for the tabletop, and its perhaps fair to say that it’s not a ideal starting resin model for beginners. By contrast, (on the plus side) there are very few parts to go badly wrong. I also got great service from Richard at Sloppy Jalopy, and I think that always sets you in a good frame of mind to make a model.

I also added a 1914 Prince Henry Vauxhall to the force, this really being a little “fluff” for the back rank of the wargames table. My idea was to possibly use this in a scenario to signify a company headquarters, especially with the two senior officers and the motorcycle despatch rider. The model was “Y-02-3” in the Matchbox Models of Yesteryear range, picked up on Ebay.

The bases of the cars are all marine plywood, and then textured using fine gravel and cardboard. The random bricks dotted around all the bases are cut matchsticks. I like the idea of a more “industrial” feel to my Great War terrain, and have been adding a few ruined factories and commercial buildings over the past few months for a contrast to the more open terrain boards we built last year. I painted the bases completely before pinning and gluing the primed and undercoated vehicles to the bases.

Well, that’s my Tank Corps work-in-progress started. I’ve done some more work over this weekend on the figures, and I’ll hopefully post later this week to let you see things moving along a little further. For anyone wanting to see additional work-in-progress pictures, I’ve posted some more on my Flickr page – just follow the link on the blog.

Wednesday 8 September 2010

Crisis 2009, Antwerp

It might seem a little bit odd to be posting an after-show report on Crisis 2009 a full ten months after the show. In my defence, I thought it was a suitable end to my blog postings featuring the trench terrain we built in the winter of 2008/2009, as well as a link through to current some projects I’m working on.

Before I start, I should say that I am very far from a veteran stager of participation games. The first game I help stage with TooFatLardies was in 2005 at Salute, and by my reckoning we have visited about fifteen shows after that. Each game and venue tends to be different, so it is hard to describe some hard and fast rules of what works every time. I hope that this post will point you towards things which we felt really worked in staging a participation game at three large shows in 2009 (Salute, Partizan and Crisis), and what we might not do again.

So, in traditional chronological order, here’s a few Roundwood Maxims about staging participation games:

1. Preparation, preparation....oh no, it’s tomorrow!

It would be really nice to report that all the games we have staged have been prepared well in advance and thoroughly play tested with a wide variety of wargamers. Well, OK, that’s not happened every time - as participation players at some of the shows might remember only too well! But it does help to try and make sure things are finished with a reasonable amount of time to spare. Oddly enough, we were far more prepared for Salute 2009, with the trench terrain having been completed a few weeks in advance, than we were for Crisis 2009, where the construction of the ruined village boards took far longer than I had expected. All I can say is that I have learned from my mistakes – the game which you feel prepared and ready for is much more enjoyable than the one which you feel you’ve brought to the table in a rush.

2. You had how much to drink last night?

For me, wargaming is all about having a great time with my friends. There have been evenings before shows when I might have over-indulged – previous outings to Antwerp for Crisis for example. However, last year I tried to remember to go easy on the night before the show. And as a result I managed to remember my camera as we toured the stunningly beautiful City of Antwerp looking for dinner. I felt I missed out a little on a very memorable evening, but avoiding the Saturday morning hangover was worth it.

3. Set Up....CHECK!

It’s always a good idea to set up the game early, ready for the first punter. Knowing where on earth you packed everything when you left home helps as well.

4. So, how exactly did you do those bases...?

People at wargames shows love to see nicely painted figures and terrain. And, after all, you’ve spent hours, days and weeks producing your game, so feel free to show it to the world. Our games have always got off to a good start when we’ve placed figures in view from the start. Hidden movement is all very well in a club night game, but a wargame show is a stage which needs to be filled. In the same vein, getting an early combat between the two sides is invaluable to get people rolling dice and excited about the game.

Arranging the action in the game to achieve this is a good thing in my book. Having some easily readable summary of what is going on in the game also helps in getting people interested in playing later on.

5. Come on Down...

Because the core of my hobby is really all about people, I’ve always enjoyed participation games. I’ve met so many terrific people at shows, both by playing and staging presentation games. The table when you walk up and are welcomed in is off to a great start in my book. When we’ve staged games at shows, we’ve tried to put participation at the heart of the action. Out of all the maxims I can give, this (for me), is the most important.

6. Enjoy the moment....

It’s always been pretty hard work running participation games at shows. But it’s part of the life blood of the hobby. Certainly I’ve been influenced about what to wargame, paint and model by what I’ve seen at shows. Part of the pleasure of gaming is thinking that someone, in the crowd of folk you meet at shows, might be similarly inspired. And that always makes it worth it.

A post-Crisis 2009 glass of champagne with (from left to right) Mick, Nick, me and Richard.

Well, there it is....a personal view of staging a participation game. And if you would like to try a TooFatLardies participation game for yourself, we shall be at SELWG on Sunday, 17 October (http://www.selwg.com/selwg05.html) with an American Civil War game, based around an ACW version of “Sharp Practice”.

Next time in the blog, I’d like to feature some of the figures and vehicles I’ve been building since Crisis 2009, starting with the men and machines of “B” Battalion of the Tank Corps from 1917.
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