Each of the Mark IV tanks (irrespective of being Male or Female) had eight crewmen, with an additional section commander (usually a First Lieutenant or Captain) joining one of the three or four tanks which comprised a section in the Tank Corps in 1917.
I painted up 18 figures to accompany my section of four tanks. Of course, if all the four tanks “ditch” and the crews get out, I’m in trouble in umpiring a game! Probably not in as much trouble as the British player will be in by that point, but trouble nonetheless....
However, painting 33 tank crewmen to cope with this remote possibility does seem a little excessive. So, there’s 18 finished figures, plus two casualty figures to simulate “shock” in the “Through the Mud and the Blood” rules which we use for our Great War games. The motorcyclist belongs with “B” Battalion but not the tank crews, and slipped into the rear of the photo owing to my over-enthusiasm.
A number of the tank crew figures are converted. The officer with the ash-plant walking stick is based on Major Mark Dillon of “B” Battalion who served as one of the battalion’s reconnaissance officers at Dessart Wood in the Third Battle of Ypres in 1917. Shortly before an attack, tanks would be guided to their starting positions by reconnaissance officers following white cloth tapes laid out over the battle field. Following these tapes in the dark, over a battle-scarred terrain was far from straightforward. The tapes could rip under strain, or be cut by shells or by tanks passing over them. Major Dillon’s vivid recollection is featured in Ian Verrinder’s book: “there is always a dirty trick awaiting one where least expected. All went well until the Company reached the point where I had left the beginning of the tape. It had gone. …..A search right and left and found our tape again. I had suffered an agonising hour, and the relief of finding the tape was enormous” (Tank Action in the Great War, page 103). I also swapped the officer's Webley for a flare pistol, reasoning that a reconnaissance officer would be far more likely to carry a flare pistol on a filthy, pitch black night than a .455 Webley revolver. The 'tape' was made using the foil from an old wine bottle.
I added a spare Vickers machine gun to one of the prone crewmen to replicate him having dragged a machine gun from his tank after it had "ditched". Afficionados will immediately realise that the Mark IV tank didn’t actually have Vickers machine guns fitted – however, at the time I did the conversion, I didn't realise that I could get 1/56th scale Lewis guns from a supplier on the internet. The strips of Vickers ammunition are just thin brass wire cut to fit and glued along a strip of the foil from the same wine bottle.
The small black cat on the single base is a historical mascot. Oddly enough, this isn't made up - there are a couple of references to cats serving as mascots of British and Americal tank commanders in the variouos books about Great War tanks. The cat is courtesy of Irregular Miniatures (does anyone else make 1/56th scale cats?). I sense a “Through the Mud and the Blood” card, ‘Lucky Charm’ or ‘Sooty’, approaching!
I also wanted a figure to look as if he’s loading up a tank with the not inconsiderable stores which would need to be carried into a battle. According to John Glanfield in “The Devil’s Chariots”, “The tanks’ already narrow gangways became choked with more drums of engine oil and grease, a spare machine gun and four barrels, 33,000 rounds of Small Arms Ammunition in the female types, thirty tins of food, sixteen loaves, and, for some, a basket of carrier pigeons” (page 154). He’d also do for a supply tank for when I get round to that. I love the cigarette hanging from his bottom lip as he carries two tins of petrol to his tank.
Finally, here’s a picture of the figures deployed on the wargames table. I’m planning a game later this month, ‘Jackdaw Wood’, which will also feature in the TooFatLardies "Christmas Special" along with an article on wargaming with First World War tanks. The game will be featuring these figures and the finished tanks from ‘B’ Battalion (see earlier blog posts), and I’ll post an AAR here when we’ve played through the scenario.
In the next blog post, I'll feature the finished and weathered tanks. Look forward to seeing you then.