Saturday, 27 May 2017

Zvezda Hanomag (1:100)

Zvezda Art of Tactic snap-fit models — still need a bit of trimming before painting.
I bought some armoured transportation for my 15mm WWII Germans in the shape of these snap-together kits from Zvezda of the SdKfz 251 B half-track.

They're fairly cheap, at about four quid each from PSC, and while rather simplified, they'll serve quite well as wargaming models.

They do snap together as advertised, with the exception of one point where the hull is supposed to clip to the mudguard piece under the engine compartment: that's an over-under arrangement with a peg that is supposed to hold the hull, mudguards and chassis all together, but try as I might I couldn't get the peg to go through the hole, and ended up just chopping it off and gluing the pieces. That's not a big deal, since I glued all the other joints as well, just in case.

Apart from that, my only problem with the kit is that the only machine-gun supplied is the AA MG that should be mounted at the rear, while the MG34 with gun-shield that should be mounted above the driver's head is absent. If I were more motivated I'd convert the AA MG, but I probably won't be bothered.

Something else I'd quite like is some seated passenger modules I could slip in and out to indicate whether the vehicle is loaded or not, but again, that's something I doubt I'll get around to.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Pz38t (15mm)

 I've finished the first of the PSC 15mm Pz38t that arrived recently.

I think that the large white rectangular aerial recognition flash on the engine deck might have only been used in Poland, whereas the black and white Balkankreuze was only brought in later. And the commander's cap is a still later style.

So, all a bit of a mish-mash, but not to worry.

Port side

Front quarter

Rear quarter

Top view

15mm Pz38t — resin vs. plastic

Long gone are the days when 15mm WWII models were the province of just one or two vendors. These days there's quite a wide range to choose from.

On the left of the picture is the Pz38t in resin and metal from Battlefront (BF), which I've owned for quite a few years now. On the right, the injection-moulded styrene version from The Plastic Soldier Company (PSC), which I've just obtained.

Both are pretty good in terms of detail and profile. The BF model's commander is wearing the huge beret that panzer troops wore at the very beginning of the war, which is a nice touch. The detail on the PSC model — rivets, guns, etc. — is generally finer and more delicate. It doesn't include the hull-mounted stowage boxes; they would need to be scratch-built if you want them on your tank. The BF model's tracks include more link detail, but on the other hand they're also a lot thicker and chunkier than the tracks on the PSC version.

The BF resin/metal model has a more satisfying heft in the hand, which would also make it less subject to accidental movement on the wargames table than the PSC plastic model in its unmodified state. I fill the body cavity of these plastic lightweights with lead and epoxy, which takes care of that issue.

For ease of construction, the BF model wins hands down. It's just five or six parts, and you can get from blister to completed model in fifteen minutes quite easily, if you don't have to do too much cleaning up of the components.

The PSC model is far from being an involved building project, but it takes a bit longer to get from sprue to completed model than its much simpler resin/metal colleague. On the other hand, the PSC offering provides options on the same sprue to build either the gun tank, as shown here, or one or other of two versions of the Marder tank destroyer. I expect that it would be possible, maybe, to build them all so that they're interchangeable on the basic hull with the help of magnets and the like, but it would be very tricky — for the effort involved, you'd be much better off just buying another sprue.

Which brings us to price, and here PSC wins hands down. At current exchange rates (May 2017), the BF resin/metal model costs $US 13.00 ($NZ 18.52). The PSC model costs £UK 5.99 ($NZ 11.04) for a single sprue, or about £UK 20.00 for a box of five (or about $NZ 9.20 each).

Battlefront are now producing their own injection-moulded plastic models, though they don't (yet) offer a Pz38t. However, their packs of five vehicles sell at $US45.00 ($NZ 64.00), so PSC's packs are still very much better value for money.

Once assembled, either model paints up quite straightforwardly, but I'd say the PSC model has an advantage here inasmuch as all its plastic surfaces are quite smooth and even. The resin can have quite a ragged, webbed surface, especially if it's been de-moulded a fraction too early, and the mould lines on the metal components are often fairly pronounced.

On balance, my choice would be without hesitation for the PSC injection-moulded model at almost half the price of the resin and metal offering from Battlefront, even though it requires quite a lot more preparation time from me to get to the point of painting.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

SdKfz 263


Finished and done, the PSC 15mm SdKfz 263 (8-rad) armoured car. In the past I probably wouldn't have bothered with a vehicle like this, but the Battlegroup rules actually make it worthwhile to field specialised long-range radio vehicles.

Port side

Top view

Front quarter

Rear quarter

SdKfz 263 — WiP

Now that the putty has cured overnight, it's on with all the usual palaver of painting.

I start with a black primer (Vallejo Surface Primer, polyurethane: it goes on to plastic very well, and once properly cured is very tough and scratch-resistant).

Then I spray on the grey (VMA German Grey), mostly downwards so that the black still predominates on under-surfaces. I find this helps to exaggerate the shadows a bit; necessary in this small scale. I find the VMA German Grey a bit light for my taste, but it will be darkened somewhat later on with washes.

Last step in the basic paint job is an overall very light dry-brush with VMC Buff. I prefer Buff over a lighter grey; the yellow gives a warmer tone to the scheme, and blends in better with later dust weathering.

Next step, before I go any further, will be to paint on the markings. I have to make a choice at this point whether I want to use the solid white crosses that were used in the very early days of the war, during the invasion of Poland and Norway, or the white-outlined black crosses as used during the Battle of France. I'm leaning towards the later version, I think.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Blobby Stowage

I'm not usually much of one for adding all the clutter and crap to my models that actual real-life soldiers tend to accumulate on their actual real-life vehicles, but I thought I might give it a go on this PSC 15mm (1:100 scale) SdKfz 263.

The jerry cans were simple enough, and came from another kit. The helmet was carved off the head of an extraneous crewman.

The rucksack and tarpaulin were made from epoxy putty, and I am more impressed than ever by people who can use that stuff to make miniature things that actually look like the things they're supposed to represent. I'm not too unhappy with the rucksack, but the tarpaulin looks more like a rolled-up feather sleeping bag than anything made of canvas. Hopefully it will look a bit better when I get some paint on to it.

Friday, 19 May 2017

The Grand Panjandrum

The Grand Panjandrum was an experimental rocket-propelled explosive device, developed during WWII by the British for clearing beach obstacles.

It was a disastrous failure, its big demonstration test turning into a terrifying (but comedic) fiasco.

In real life, it never made it into service. However, in the Operation Sealion book for Bolt Action it appears as a novelty weapon option, so you can pretend that it did actually get used in anger.

Pictured is a render of a 1:100 scale model of the device, 3d-printed by Shapeways. You can get it at http://shpws.me/Oy2Z in either WSF or FUD.

It's a bit expensive in FUD, because the central hub is solid and there's nowhere to allow for escape holes. I might try making it in two halves for assembly; that should bring the cost down a bit.

Sealion

Just arrived on my doorstep from BookDepository.com is this: the Operation Sealion campaign supplement for Bolt Action.

Operation Sealion (or Unternehmen Seelöwe, in German) was the Nazi plan for the invasion of England in 1940. It had virtually no chance of success, or even partial success, but it's a "what if" campaign that has occupied a lot of military historians and wargamers over the decades.
I haven't read through the book thoroughly as yet, but on brief acquaintance I like it a lot. It includes information not only on lots of the improvised Home Guard weapons, but also some of the way-out experimental things like the Great Panjandrum.

It's also got entries on the Home Guard (including the Walmington-on-Sea platoon, naturally), the Boy Scouts, and fifth-columnists like Moseley's British Union of Fascists.

However, what I absolutely must do is get hold of some hobbits to arm with shotguns and turn them into a Shire Patrol :)

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Palm trees on the cheap

15mm 25 pounder gun and crew, for scale
This is the base of two el-cheapo plastic palms that I showed in my last post, jazzed up a bit.

Once a bit of paint disguised the hideous lollypop green of the leaves and plasticky brown of the trunk, and with a bit of sand on the base, they really don't look too bad.

Not very much money well spent, I'd say.

The trees in the raw:
useable, but definitely toy-like.

Trees as far as the eye can see

Over the last few days, a bunch of mail orders have arrived here from China. They're a variety of very cheap plastic trees, advertised on AliExpress as being for railway modeling, but naturally I intend to use them as wargame terrain.

They are not high-quality, diorama-standard models, but then for the price I wouldn't have expected that. The whole lot cost me about $US30, and there are about 300 trees in total, so roughly ten cents each. That's pretty good value.

15mm PzIV for scale.

There are four varieties — palms, a couple of conifers, and generic deciduous. The palms came in four sizes: the two shown here, and two smaller sizes at about 50mm and 30mm, which would be suitable for 6mm games.

I bought some smaller versions of the ones second from left before, for 6mm forest terrain. You can see how those turned out here.

I've mounted these ones in holes through 3mm MDF hexes, anchoring them on top with hot glue, and beneath by melting the plastic stem into a countersunk cavity with a soldering iron. It makes them very firmly fixed, and they won't come free without being cut free.

Countersunk holes beneath
The deciduous trees will need a heavy spray with diluted PVA, as their foliage is a bit loose and has a tendency to fall away, but that's no big deal.
Plastic stems melted into the cavities and smoothed off

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

PaK36 (15mm)

This is the 15mm (1:100 scale) PaK36 Anti-tank platoon set from Battlefront. They're mounted in my magnetic sabot bases, so the figures can be used individually if need be.

(Click on the pictures to embiggify).

Left

Right

Front

Back

Top

Plane Tree Camo in 15mm — first attempt

The PaK 36 models I've been basing come with crew dressed in camo smocks. That means that for my chosen period (roughly 1930-41) my only painting options for them are as SS.

Unlike many WWII wargamers, I have a strong aversion to fielding any SS forces except as part of an historical recreation battle. They were a Bad Lot, and I really don't like the idea of commanding a bunch of war criminals, even in make-believe.

Be that as it may, I have these guys to paint, which means I have to plunge into the tricky world of WWII German camouflage uniform. I cannot say I've found it easy at all.

Platanenmuster
The smock in the image to the left is the one I want to emulate. It's the Plane Tree pattern (Platanenmuster) which was in use from before the war up until 1944.

There's not a lot of room on a 15mm figure, so some compromises will have to be made. What I've found is that while pale spots on the dark patches do show up, dark spots on light patches are pretty pointless. Also, the light green spots need to be added after any shading wash, or else they fade into the general mess and you lose the distinctive spottiness of the camouflage pattern.

I've seen much better examples of these camo patterns in 15mm, but try as I might I don't seem to be able to match that standard.

Later...

Here's my next stage of experimentation. On the left, before spots; on the right, after spots.

The addition of spots certainly makes it look more like what I'm going for, though I think I should probably go for fewer, less evenly-spaced spots.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

PaK36 sabot bases — WiP Part 3: The Greenery

Once the dirt layer is thoroughly dry, the greenery goes on.

I start with a layer of strand grass flock, applied in blotches so that some of the underlying dirt shows through.

Next is some bushy stuff. This is Woodland Scenics Coarse Turf.

Again, it's applied in small blotches. I've found that I need to squash it down into the glue spots and leave it until it's absolutely set before brushing away the excess. If the glue is too thin, and/or not yet cured, then the springy foam rubber that it's made from just falls away.

The gun base at the bottom of the picture hasn't yet had all the excess cleared away.

This is as far as I'll go with the infantry base, to the left.

Almost last, on the gun bases, I glued some small bits of Woodland Scenics Clump Foliage.

I want some larger bushes around the gun, but I don't want so much that it will obscure the whole thing. Unlike the crew, who would probably be much happier completely out of sight.

In this close-up, you can see some of the MDF dirt nestling in the nooks and crannies of the gun. I could wash it out, but when you're not looking at it from 10cm away it actually adds to the weathering of the gun, so I'll probably leave it.

And here's one of the guns, complete with some extemporized crew.

These are just some figures I already had painted and based, but as you see, any old figures blend quite well into the sabot base, and are held there reasonably firmly by the magnets.

Once all the glue is dry, I'll give it a couple of squirts with matte varnish, which will help all the various types of flock stay where they are. And then the base will be done.

Part One
Part Two

PaK36 sabot bases — WiP Part 2: The Dirt

Now the guns and bases are painted. The bases aren't painted very smoothly except around the edges; they don't have to be, all of the top surfaces will eventually be covered with various textural materials.

I also haven't bothered smoothing out the hard channels in the surface of the bases, as those same textural materials will soften the hard edges quite successfully without going to all the extra work.

I use a slightly dilute mix of PVA glue (4 parts glue to 1 part water) to fix the first layer of texture. The dilution allows it to spread more easily, and it also slightly increases the glue's working time.

I've got into the habit of texturing the bases in several stages, because in summer the glue goes off quite quickly, and I want it to still be very liquid when the textural material goes on so that it will soak through it. It's late autumn here in New Zealand at the moment, so that's not really necessary, but habits are hard to break.

I'm careful not to allow any of the glue over the lips of the crew cavities; the washers they're based on are already quite a close fit, so there's no room to spare.

On goes the first part of the first layer.

This will be the "dirt", over which will go other materials to represent turf and other foliage. It's not actual dirt; it's actually MDF sawdust that I've coloured with acrylic paint and re-ground to a powder, with some ground-up model railway ballast added for stones.

There's no particular reason I can think of not to use actual dirt for this stage, as long as it's perfectly dry and ground suitably fine. The MDF just guarantees a consistent colour across a whole lot of bases.

Here's the first "dirt" layer complete on all the bases — the two guns, and an extra for a command group, if required.

Something I didn't expect is that the MDF "dirt" appears to be magnetic. I don't know why, maybe it's the ferric oxide in the pigment I used to colour it? It's not important in any case. Once the glue has dried, it will brush and blow away quite easily.

Part One
Part Three

Saturday, 13 May 2017

PaK36 sabot bases — WiP Part 1: The Bases

I found a blister of Battlefront's 15mm German PaK36 37mm anti-tank guns in my stash of unbuilt stuff.

 Regrettably, the crew figures supplied with it are mostly dressed in camo smocks and helmet covers, so they're not really suitable for my 1939-40 German army unless I field them as SS — which I am reluctant to do, because frankly the SS were a real pack of bastards. I don't really fancy the idea of commanding a bunch of war criminals, even in make-believe.

However, the issue is not insuperable, since I have a bunch of laser-cut MDF sabot bases I had made a while ago. The idea of using these bases, rather than fixing the crew permanently to the base, is so that I can swap out figures as required, or remove casualties during a game rather than keeping track of them via book-keeping. That means that if I get some early-war Heer crew from someone like Peter Pig, I can swap them in to the existing gun bases. Easy-peasy.

The figures are all glued to 12.5mm (½") steel washers, which fit into the 13mm holes in the bases. The MDF bases themselves are glued to thin card so that the figures don't just fall straight through.

The two holes where the gun itself will go are filled with a couple of plugs left over from the laser cutting; unfortunately I don't have very many of these, I didn't foresee their usefulness when I got the bases cut, and I suppose most of them were just thrown away as scrap.

The card is trimmed flush with the edge of the MDF, and tiny 3mm x 1mm magnets are glued in the cavities. These are what will hold the crew figures in place during a game — they're not completely necessary, but they do add a bit of insurance against scattering figures all over the table with a particularly fumble-fingered move.

On the base on the right, I've squished some figures down over some cling-film over the magnets to ensure that the epoxy isn't higher than the thickness of the magnets, but with the second base (on the left) I didn't find that a necessary step.

The magnets I sourced from China, very cheaply. It cost me about ten dollars for 500 magnets in this size.

Next stage was to mount the guns in place.

I've left the loader figure in place during the gluing to ensure that the position of the guns and the loader figures is compatible.

Part Two
Part Three

Friday, 12 May 2017

Plastic Panzer IV

This is the 1:100 scale (15mm) PzIVf from The Plastic Soldier Company.

They come in a box of five for about twenty quid, so what with postage by the time they get here to New Zealand they work out to about $NZ10.00 per vehicle. That makes them some of the cheapest decent 15mm wargaming models available.

I've added some very basic marking decals I got from Battlefront. They're not intended to represent any particular unit; this is a generic model that will mostly be standing in for a PzIV D.

Apart from the decals and paint, and a lead slug glued inside to add some mass, this is the model as built straight out of the box.

They're very simple to assemble, and the results are a pretty good representation of the original vehicle. I would have liked to have seen the inclusion of a barrel with the aerial deflector included; that's the main visual difference between the Mark IV F and the earlier Mark IV D — that and the fact that in France in 1940 it wouldn't have had the Rommelkette (the turret bin). However, as a generic Panzer IV, it will do me fine.

Now there's just the rest of the box to finish.

And here's another one I prepared earlier.
I had completely forgotten about this one.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

SdKfz 231 (15mm)

 This is a 1:100 scale resin and pewter model from Battlefront, from their WWII Flames of War range.

It's the German SdKfz 231 heavy armoured car.

I've had the model hanging about, unbuilt, for a few years now, and I thought it was about time I got it on to the wargames table.

I suspect that, for the 1939-40 period I'm primarily interested in, that the crewman should be wearing the big beret rather than the side-cap, but I shall let that pass since I can't be faffed getting out the Green Stuff to make him a new hat.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Battlegroupies

This just arrived in my letter box.

It's a more granular system than Bolt Action, so no longer is a Panzer III and a Cromwell or a PaK36 and a 2pdr functionally identical, and it includes elements I think are lacking from Bolt Action such as target acquisition and better developed off-table artillery and aircraft rules.

It started with Battlegroup: Kursk back in 2012, which gave you the core rules plus information and special rules to reflect the specific theatre of war (in that case, mid-war German vs. Soviet), but they've since moved to a multi-book model in which the core rules and theatre information such as history, orbats and vehicle/gun stats are in separate volumes. I got the core rules PDF and printed and bound it myself, owing to being a cheapskate.

The hardback rulebooks are about 25 quid each. I got mine from North Star ( http://www.northstarfigures.com/ ) because they do the cheapest postage. Next on the wish-list is Battlegroup Tobruk for that early war desert goodness.