Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Zvezda Cruiser Mk.IV A-13 (1:100) — a first look

I bought a troop of A-13 cruiser tanks for my 15mm BEF forces. The snap-together kits are by Zvezda, for their Art of Tactic game, and were sourced from PSC for about four quid each. They're moulded in a tan brown plastic — I've photographed them here after spraying them with Khaki Green #3 over a black primer.

As wargaming models go, they're really very good, especially considering their cheapness. There are a few issues to be aware of though:

  • First, due to the construction of the turret, there's a fairly prominent seam running across the front plate that purists will probably want to address with filler. Whether I'm all that pure is yet to be decided.
  • The headlight isn't moulded into its housing, so it will have to be painted in.
  • There is no aerial mounting provided at all, so if one is desired it will have to be scratch-built or otherwise sourced.
  • The 2pdr gun barrel is moulded extremely finely and looks to me as though it might be a bit fragile for the hurly-burly of wargaming; I will probably replace them at some stage with turned brass barrels, as I usually do with my resin models.

Aside from these fairly minor problems, they're excellent little models. I haven't checked them for absolute dimensional accuracy, but they don't look out of place next to my older resin/metal cruisers. I've glued lead slugs inside their guts to give them a little bit of weight, as the bare plastic models could easily blow away in a slight breeze. Although they really do snap together and stay together (Zvezda's tooling is excellent) I've glued everything just in case.

I'm pretty happy with them; they're really excellent value for money and provide a welcome reinforcement to my plucky BEF.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Minairons Panzer 1A (1:100)

Here's the diminutive 1:100 scale Panzer 1A from Minairons, alongside a couple of 15mm Battlefront Germans.

It's unlikely to do very well on any battlefield where there are actual tanks to fight, but as a mobile machine-gun pillbox it could be quite useful. I think that for 1940 I should probably be using the Panzer 1B or C, but they all look pretty similar and have pretty much identical stats, so this 1A can stand in for any of them.

They come five to a box; I got mine from The Plastic Soldier Company.

Starboard side

Front quarter

Rear quarter

Top

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Reinforcements for the BEF

Today's mail brought me a bunch of Zvezda kits (via PSC) to bolster my 1940 BEF forces.

There's a troop of A13 cruisers, and some air support at last — a Hawker Hurricane, a Bristol Blenheim, and in front, a Fairey Battle. Unfortunately the Blenheim is 1:200 scale, while the other two aircraft are 1:144, but for my wargaming purposes that's not too big a deal. I'd rather it was 1:144, but it will do the job.

....and for the Wehrmacht

The very next day, these arrived, also from PSC.

The Panzer 1 is by Minairons, and comes in a box of five. It's a quick and easy kit to assemble, but not without its issues.

  • The hull back plate isn't shown clearly in the simple assembly instructions, and I'm not sure if I've got it the right way up. I'll have to take to the internet for a bit of research before I complete the rest.
  • The turret has a peg that sits in a raised ring on the hull top, but it's not at all a tight fit, and if the model is bumped the turret will just fall off. I've removed that peg-mount, and magnetized the turret.

The 1:144 scale Messerschmitt is a BF109F, by Zvezda. I would have preferred a BF109E, but couldn't find one, so this will have to do.

Next to the Hurricane, the Me109 really does look tiny — which it was.

Medium C Hornet

Back to building 1:100 scale tanks for 3d printing.

This is the British Medium C Hornet.

I don't quite recall what it was that spurred me on to design this. It was something on the internet, that much I know.

You can get it from Shapeways at http://shpws.me/OHlc

Friday, 16 June 2017

Fiddling With Acrylics

I just learned how to save a bundle of money on flow improver, thinner and retarder for acrylics through the Magic of the Science of Glycerine.
  • Flow improver — roughly 95% water and 5% glycerine. Use instead of straight water for thinning your paints. Or better yet:
  • Thinner — water 66%, isopropynol 33%, and then just a few drops of glycerine.
  • Retardant — maybe 5% water, then add half and half of the remaining volume in glycerine and glycol. Apparently you can just use straight glycerine, but the addition of glycol really slows down the drying time for acrylics for blending and what-not.
Info courtesy of Luke's Aps on Youtube. Lots of stuff there about saving cash on terrain-building and what-not.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Little Plastic Army Men

I was trawling through AliExpress, actually looking for some board games, and came upon these little plastic miniatures.

They're not to a constant scale — or at least, not between different unit types. The AFVs, for example, look as though they scale with each other, and likewise the ships and the aircraft, but I haven't done any measuring to confirm that.

They're surprisingly detailed little miniatures. I assume they were originally intended as playing pieces for some board game or other, but I don't know that for sure. They appear to be WWII Italians.

I don't know what I'll do with them, but no doubt I'll think of something.


Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Transformers!

That silvery blob in the chassis is a slug of lead to give the plastic kit a bit of heft
Yet another distraction from the main thrust of my wargaming, I'm afraid.

I got a free box of Battlefront plastic Panthers and/or Jagdpanthers a while ago, when I subscribed to Wargames Illustrated. They're the wrong bit of WWII for my purposes, but they were the most attractive of the available subscription rewards, so they're what I chose.

There are sufficient bits to build five vehicles, either Panther Ausf. G or Jagdpanthers. Unless, that is, you have vast supplies of cheap rare-earth magnets from China. Which I have.

So, instead of submitting to The Man and being forced to choose between tanks and tank hunters, I'm having a go at magnetizing the hull tops to swap on to the five available hull bottoms and tracks. It's a bit of an involved process because there aren't really any locating lugs keeping the upper hulls in the right place, so the magnets will have to do that job, which means that magnet placement will need to be fairly accurate. I'm perfecting my process on this one set before going ahead and doing the other four.

I intend, eventually, to have a magnet at front and rear. I think I'll be making liberal use of epoxy putty to make stands for magnets to sit on, but really I'm just making this up as I go along.

I've now achieved my final form

Next day....

After a fair amount of faffing about, I hit upon a system that works well.

The first thing I did was to glue little stop-blocks where the hull fronts, top and bottom, meet. I used bits cut off the sch├╝rzen, which I wasn't planning on applying otherwise.

Rather than squishing epoxy putty around magnets inside, which didn't work all that well at all, I instead built little shelves for the magnets in the bottom hull out of plastic card and slathered them and their magnets in gobs of epoxy resin. Once they were cured, I covered the magnets in masking tape (to keep them free of the next lot of epoxy), put the upper-hull magnets on the bottom-hull magnets, and slathered them in gobs of epoxy. Then it was a simple matter of putting on the hull tops and turning everything upside down, letting the epoxy drool on to the inner hull-top to secure the magnets in the right place and orientation.

It's not a fantastically quick process, and it is quite profligate of magnets (six magnets per set of hull parts, plus two more for the Panther turret), but it's not unrealistically fiddly and lends itself quite well to production-lining.

Four more sets left to do.

And the next.....

All the hulls and turrets are now magnetized all up the wazoo, ready for final assembly and painting.

I've numbered the matching sets, just in case I got some attachment points out of whack, but as it turns out I've been accurate enough that everything is interchangeable with everything else. So, score!

Coda

I've got them all primed and numbered. I doubt that I'll get on to final painting any time soon; as I mentioned before, these vehicles are from quite different part of WWII than I'm primarily interested in. However, it's been an interesting and useful experience.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Zvezda 1:100 Panzer II

Battlefront on the left, Zvezda on the right.
 I just got an order of three Zvezda 1:100 scale Panzer II.


Just five pieces.
Six if you count the stupid flag.
It's a clip-together kit for their Art of Tactic game, and comes as just five pieces, so it's exceptionally quick and easy to slap together.

I bought them from Mighty Ape, and they cost about ten bucks each — that's just a little more expensive than they would have been from The Plastic Soldier Company, after postage had been added. However, after PSC got my hopes up, they dashed them when it turned out they had none in stock, so Mighty Ape it was — which had the advantage that the delivery time was a whole lot quicker.

Shown here alongside a Battlefront resin-and-metal model, you can see that it's perceptibly smaller. I don't know which one is more dimensionally accurate, and I don't much care since they're just gaming pieces and not part of a diorama; the relevance to me is that I probably won't want to be mixing them within the same unit.
Note: the Zvezda model is too small for 1:100 scale. It should be 48.1mm long; in fact it is only about 43mm. It looks like in that case Battlefront's model is about right, judging by eye.
The detail on the Battlefront model is much more pronounced than Zvezda's injection-moulded offering, but the limitations of metal casting means that the gun barrels and tracks are very much chunkier than they should be in scale; they're a lot finer on the plastic vehicle.

Adding a commander figure to the Zvezda kit would require quite a bit of surgery, since the hatches are moulded closed and the turret is pretty much a solid bit of plastic.

The Zvezda model sits much lower, and has a more convincing Panzer II silhouette

A few hours later.....


I got the three of them painted up and ready for the tabletop. I can't say they're my best work, but they'll do the job.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Marder III Ausf. H (15mm)

Port side
This is the other of the Marder options from the PSC 15mm Panzer 38t box, the Marder III Ausf. H with the PaK40 75mm anti-tank gun. This has been a favourite WWII vehicle of mine since childhood, when I built a 1:35 scale Tamiya kit of it.

The crew for this model are problematic, because the figures offered on the sprue that look like they might be meant to go along with the vehicle are kind of crappy — very flat poses, weird proportions, and they don't really seem to belong no matter where on the vehicle I place them. I'll leave it crewless for the moment and see if I can find something a bit better.

Starboard side

Front quarter view

Rear quarter view

Top view

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Marder III Ausf. 139 (15mm)

Port side
Here's one of the options presented in the PSC 1:100 (15mm) Panzer 38t box set. It's a Marder III (Ausf.139), mounting the PaK 36(r), a captured Soviet 76.2mm gun re-chambered for the standard German 75mm anti-tank round.

As far as I know, the Marder SPAT conversions weren't produced until early in 1942, so being painted in grey would mean that this was one of the first to go into service, before the changeover to dunkelgelb as the base colour for German AFVs. There were about 350 built, in total.

I've used a new colour as the basic grey this time: VMA 72.128 Grey Violet, which is a warmer and slightly darker grey than VMA 71052 German Grey, and just a fraction lighter than my current favourite for Panzer Grey, VMC 866 Grey Green.

The construction instructions included with the kit are quite incomplete when it comes to this variant. I had to make a guess as to where some parts were meant to go after looking at some pictures on the internet. I think I got it pretty right.
Starboard side

Front quarter

Rear quarter

Top view

Friday, 9 June 2017

PzKfw III F Troop

Having got aeroplanes out of my system (for the moment), I've gone back and finished off this unit of Panzer III F tanks with their mighty 37mm door-knockers.

Or rather, mostly finished off, since as usual after taking a photograph I've noticed some bits that I've forgotten to paint.

These are 1:100 (15mm) models from The Plastic Soldier Company, and very nice they are too. If they have a fault, it is that, due to the way the tracks are moulded, they lack detail exactly where it's most needed — at front and rear of the tank, where they pass over the sprocket and idler wheels, and where they're most visible.

I've glued a slug of lead inside each one to give them a bit of weight, since otherwise they're so light a stray breeze could blow them off the table.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Me262 (1:144)

I finished off the old Revell 1:144 scale Me262 kit I started a few days ago.

As I suspected, the decals just crumbled when I tried to use them. I got a couple on to the wings in pieces, but ended up having to paint over them anyway as they were so ragged and cracked. Rather than mess around like that again, I just went straight in to painting for the fuselage markings.

I can't say that I recommend these Revell kits. They're pretty terrible, and require a considerable amount of work to make them look half-decent.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Aerial Distraction

Continuing with my distraction from the troop of Panzer III that I should be painting is this Revell 1:144 scale Me262 that I bought at the same time as the Stuka I've just finished.

There's a copyright note for 1992, which would have been about when I bought it, so it's been sitting around, unloved and neglected, for a good long time.

I have to say, these Revell 1:144 aeroplane kits really are rubbish. I've had to carve off all of the locating pins, because none of them actually align properly with their sockets. There are huge gaping cavities around where the wing assembly joins to the fuselage which will need a lot of filler. Actually, there are huge gaping gaps around pretty much every seam.

I don't have very many hopes for the decals, being as old as they are; I suspect they'll just fall to pieces. But we shall see.

Added to all that, it's really a pretty pointless build for me, since the Me262 didn't see service until the opposite end of the war from the bit I'm mainly interested in for gaming. Ah well.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Ju87B Stuka - 1/144 scale

Finished and ready to start an illustrious career on the wargames table, this is an ancient, and fairly terrible, Revell 1/144 kit.

It's missing its dive-brakes and rear machine-gun.

Beneath the skirts
Dual-position adjustable flight stand
I added a steel tab beneath that allows the aeroplane to be set either in level flight or in dive mode on a magnetic flight stand.

Considering how crappy the start point was, I'm pretty pleased with the way this has turned out.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Air Support in the Offing

I got distracted from my Panzer III troop by finding this.

It's an old Revell 1/144 scale Ju87D Stuka dive bomber. I've had it sitting around in a drawer for decades, and it had got a bit battered — the tailplanes needed to be glued back in place, and its lost its dive-brakes, but it will do as a representative model of a ground-attack aircraft so I made a start on painting it.

Belly-up, showing the Cunning Clip
I bent a short length of steel into an open parallelogram form and glued it to the belly of the plane.

The magnetic stand
The cunning of this addition is that, when added to a magnetic flight stand, I can either have it shown in level flight, or it can rock forward on to the front face of the clip and be shown as if in a dive.

The clip looks fairly horrible and obvious in the photos, but fortunately in real life it doesn't stand out nearly so much. If I cared to take the trouble, it could be inset into the belly of the plane and faired in, but I don't think it's worth the effort for this particular model, which isn't a spectacularly detailed representation in any case.

Next day


I decided that my splinter camo looked like crap, so I took it back to overall RLM Grau.

Lesson learned here: paint yellow first, over a white undercoat. Then paint everything else. Yellow is not an opaque pigment by any means.

I don't have any decals of a useful size for this aeroplane, so I suppose I shall have to paint all the markings freehand, which I am not really looking forward to at all.

Next Stage

With the canopy and some of the other details painted, it's starting to come together.

I'm in two minds about whether to paint in any panel detail or not. There's virtually none on the model itself to guide me, and it would require painting lots of dead straight lines, which is not a lot of fun.

And Next...

I remembered that I had a 0.05mm fibre-tip pen, so I gave that a go to draw in some panel lines.

It didn't much like drawing on the paint surface (or maybe it's just getting a bit old and stale) but I eventually got a bunch of lines in what I think are roughly the right places.

I'm glad I did it; I think it makes the aeroplane look a lot better.

And now I have to gird my loins for painting a whole lot of crosses and letters. Groan.

Next Day

Now, on to the flight stand.

This is a 3mm acrylic rod, buried in a stack of washers covered with epoxy putty.

The rod is roughly 150mm long, but I didn't measure it exactly. It's difficult to make out in the photo, being transparent, but I melted and smushed the end of the rod — a little magnet will be epoxied there.

The folded card is there to make sure that the rod stays exactly vertical and square while the putty is setting.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Next in the queue, a Panzer III

Starting on my 15mm Panzer III box o'goodies.

I originally intended to magnetize the gun barrels and turret bustles so that I could swap out the 37mm and 50mm guns, but that turned out to be more of a pain in the arse than I expected, so I'll just build 3 x 37mm and 2 x 50mm tanks.

I really like these little PSC kits. The only thing that would make them better would be if they included an extra turret body on the sprue 

Next day

The only thing I have against these injection-moulded plastic kits is that they're very light. That's not an issue if they're only intended for display, but for tabletop use I prefer them to have a little heft, to lessen the chances of being moved accidentally among other reasons such as an improved tactile feel in the hand — tanks are supposed to be massive things, so if you pick one up and it's light as a feather, there's a mental disconnect.

I made a little ingot mould out of plaster to cast lead weights in, designed to fit the hull cavity quite snugly. Each of these ingots weighs about 35 to 40 grams, which doesn't sound like a lot, but it's enough to give the model quite a perceptible increase in mass.

The ingots are glued in place with 5-minute epoxy.

I originally intended to do this with lead bird-shot, but these days lead shot is surprisingly expensive — I guess, with the legislation against its use on environmental grounds, it's just not as commonly available as it used to be.

Battlegroup Tobruk — a love affair

I got up this morning to the sound of a courier carefully and tenderly throwing this at my front door.

I've thus far only taken a quick flick through, but even at that passing acquaintance I can see that this is an excellent addition to the Battlegroup series.

I've come late to the Battlegroup party; I thought, when I first saw it on the internet, that it was just jumping on the Bolt Action bandwagon with its fancy illustrated books and what-not — all talk and no trousers, I thought, just another house-organ designed to sell models.

Boy, was I ever wrong. Battlegroup is a far superior wargame to Bolt Action in almost every way.

Don't get me wrong: Bolt Action is a fine battle game, very quick and easy to learn and play, and it can be a lot of fun, but its simplicity necessarily means that technological differences are very much glossed over, and lots of equipment is lumped in together in very broad, indistinct groups. Within the game, for example, a pre-war Hotchkiss 25mm anti-tank gun is functionally identical to a 6 pounder, which is fine if you're happy to accept that lack of granularity in return for the ease of play in not having to account for actual historical performance differences.

I would describe Bolt Action as a generic 20th century battle game wearing WWII lipstick.

Battlegroup is more detailed and granular in pretty much every aspect, while retaining an essential simplicity of play that makes it very beginner-friendly. It deals well with all-arms battles on a tactical scale.

It uses a system of chits (the "battle rating" system) which are taken when units are eliminated or when various conditions occur. These are mostly numerical, and are totted up against your army's total Battle Rating: when the total of your pile of numbered chits exceed your BR, you've lost, and if anything is left they run away. But there are other chits in the mix which, when drawn, can initiate things like air strikes, mine attacks, or which can be used to break down one of your opponent's tanks, for example. They add an element of uncertainty and variability to a game outcome which I like, disheartening though it may be to learn that losing that detached Bren team was much more catastrophic to your army than you might have expected.

The only mechanisms I've found at all tricky to come to grips with are those for indirect artillery, but "tricky" is a relative thing — playing through a few sample barrages soon got us used to the system, and it does a good job of representing the importance of artillery on the WWII battlefield, without making it an all-destroying unstoppable juggernaut. Usually.

I'm more impressed by the Battlegroup rules, the historical information in the theatre volumes, and the presentation of the whole package than I have been by a wargaming system in some considerable time. I may even splash out on a copy of Barbarossa, in spite of having very little interest in gaming that particular bit of the war.

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.

Couple of days later...

Here they are, as complete as I care to make them. Completely crewless, alas, and I had to find some old decals since (as is fairly usual these days) they came with none.

They'll serve perfectly well as wargaming models, but I think, if I find I need any more, I'll try the PSC 5-pack next time.

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