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Mixing Dunkelgelb for German vehicles

Colour swatches from Real Colors of WWII by AK

I’ve had more trouble with German Dunkelgelb, the standard base colour for vehicles and equipment from 1943, than any other colour. I first attempted to mix it on my batch of Panzer IIIs in 2017, and it took me several goes before I settled on something – and even that does not look quite right to me now! However, on my most recent batch of German vehicles, I have hit on a formula that I think works.

Much has been written on the topic of Dunkelgelb by modellers, as each hobby paint manufacturer has its own version. It’s a real rabbit hole – like US Olive Drab, which I have also struggled with. My main authority now is the book Real Colors of WWII by AK. This is based on quite a bit of research, including examining bits of surviving equipment. They produce for swatches to show the variation, even before various field factors intervened. The photo above shows the four swatches in this book, though it does not do justice to the actual colours. They give some idea of the degree of variation, though. The first, Dunkelgelb Nach Muster, came with the original directive in February 1943 saying that all vehicles should be painted in this colour, with camouflage over painted in olive green and red brown. Some suggest that this shade was never actually used. The second swatch shows the RAL 7028 standard for the colour registered in March 1943 – RAL referring to to the German colour standard system, which is still in use today, though RAL 7028 is now defunct. This is greyer than the earlier version. The RAL system was reworked in 1944 to reflect wartime exigencies – and the third swatch shows the even greyer version in this. And finally, for good measure in the fourth swatch they produce shows another variation from actual samples, to give an idea of the amount of variation there was in the field. This is even yellower than the original sample. What to conclude? There is a lot of scope for producing whatever variation you happen to like – but as the war progresses, the greyer it gets.

The starting point for mixing the colour was always clear: Liquitex’s Yellow Oxide. This pigment is based on Iron III oxide-hydroxide (FeHO2); it is an industrialised version of the ancient yellow ochre, which is usually slightly redder. This is almost certainly the pigment the Germans actually used for the colour – as it cheap and light-fast. But by itself, even with added white, it is much too bright. Back in 2017 I was heavily influenced by artist’s colour theory for mixing pigments – so I sought the colour’s complement to dull it down. This is purple – but the purple pigment I had was very bright and I could not get the results I was looking for. It was my introduction to the fact that colour mixing in practice does not follow the standard theories (there is a good theoretical reason for this, but I digress). Easier, I thought, to use a combination of a dull blue (Prussian Blue) and dull red (Venetian Red). I mixed these straight into the yellow, along with the ubiquitous white. From this I learnt never try to achieve a colour by mixing three different pigments. It was very hard to get the blue/red balance right while minting the right balance with yellow. In fact I should have mixed the blue and red prior to mixing into the yellow.

Years passed before I was next to attempt to mix the colour – for my recent German soft-skin project. I was older and wiser by then. I had got past my idea that you should not use black (or neutral grey – a black and white mix) in colour mixing – to satisfy my inner Monet. So I thought I would try mixing some Neutral Grey into the yellow, before I tried a purple. Immediately this proved to be a direct hit. I could get close to all four of the colour swatches (allowing that they should be a bit lighter when used on a model vehicle) by varying the balance of yellow to grey. The Neutral Grey got pretty close all on its own, but for tweaking I used Mars Black and Titanium White. This was much easier than my earlier efforts – and it got better. By upping the ratio of black to yellow, I got something greener, which looked a lot like the olive used for German tropical uniforms (and in turn more added white could replicate the fading these uniforms showed). Of course it is quite likely the Germans themselves mixed the paint using yellow oxide and black pigments – increasing the black element as the yellow oxide got scarcer.

Interestingly enough, yellow oxide mixed with black and white is also what I have used to replicate US Olive Drab – to say nothing of Napoleonic French gun carriages (which used paint mixed from yellow ochre and black…). In fact the US colour can be a bit greener than this, and they often used a green pigment.

Anyway here is a picture of a selection of German vehicles in my collection, to illustrate the sort the variation.

The Panzer IV is an Airfix model from my original collection from the 1970s, repainted in 2017. The Sdkfz 250 is a PSC model painted not long after, using the same technique. The Opel Maultier truck was in my most recent batch, using the yellow-grey mix. Behind it is a Jagdpanzer IV, which I converted from the Airfix Panzer IV kit in the late 1970s, in its original Humbrol enamel paint, using the “Authentic Colour” range straight out of the pot. The Panzer IV and Sdkfz 250 are not far from the “Dunkelgelb Nach Muster”; the Maultier is close to the RAL 7028, while the Jagdpanzer IV is a fit with the fourth variation swatch from Real Colors.

I am still left with the question of how pale the colour should be. The swatches are dark; contemporary photos look quite a bit paler, as do photos of surviving equipment. Why this should be is a much debated topic – there is the hotly debated “scale effect” suggesting that scale models must be paler to simulate atmospheric effects; colours tended to fade when exposed to the open air and especially sunlight. Part of the problem may even be that the models are usually seen indoors in shade or artificial light, while the photos show vehicles in direct sunlight. My Maultier is maybe a bit on the dark side.

There remains a question of whether Dunkelgelb is the right colour for Tunisia, where my 1943 project begins. The German vehicles used there were all recently manufactured. There were just about no survivors from the old Africa Korps after El Alamein and the retreat, and most of the German troops were reinforcements anyway. These would have been units refitting in Europe after being withdrawn from the Russian front, doubtless leaving any surviving vehicles in theatre there. All the pictures from Tunisia show vehicles in fairly pale colours (i.e. not the old Dunkelgrau), and the Tank Museum has painted its captured vehicles from Tunisia (notably a Tiger and a Panzer IIIN) in what lookes like a yellower version of Dunkelgelb. From this I assumed that Dunkelgelb was the appropriate colour (though without the camouflage green and brown – not visible on phots from this theatre until much later). But the directive to use Dunkelgelb was not issued until February 1943, by which time most of the equipment would have been shipped. In fact it is more likely that the vehicles would have been painted in the previous tropical colours of RAL 8020 Gelbbraun (the primary colour) and RAL 7008 Graugrün for camo patterns taking up to one-third of the vehicle). RAL 8020 Braun and RAL 7027 Grau were authorised substitutes for each of these respectively, given shortages. The Gelbbraun is really not very far from the greyer version of Dunkelgelb, according to the swatches, but has a slightly warmer tinge. The Braun is distinctly redder, and may be the origin of the Humbrol Africa Korps desert colour in issue back in the day, which was quite a bright orange shade. I might try replicating these in a future project for vehicles especially destined for the Tunisia phase of operations – though alas too late for my Tigers and Panzer IIIN.

Anyway, Dunkelgelb is the right colour for Sicily and later, and I’m very glad I have found a way of replicating it without too much trouble.

1943: more German infantry

The main squad

Alongside the vehicles and guns, I also painted 14 German infantry (in 20mm) for my 1943 project in my last batch of work. This was for bog-standard infantry, serving as either panzer grenadiers or ordinary infantry. Most of the German infantry in this theatre in 1943 were either panzer grenadiers or paratroops – with the exception of parts of the Tunisia campaign, where ordinary grenadiers, as well as ad-hoc units, were used extensively. I have not done any paras yet – though these played a big part in all the various campaigns. This smaller batch of infantry was put together so that the Germans have numerical parity with the British in my collection, giving me more gaming options. I painted one pack of AB infantry – the “section advancing cautiously”, which was ten men, including one MG34 and an NCO with an MP40. In addition I painted up one panzerschrek team and two figures with panzerfausts. These antitank weapons were only distributed to the German infantry late in 1943 – and after Salerno – so I hadn’t painted any up yet. But these will be needed to do later scenarios, especially if I push into 1944.

The panzershrek and panzerfaust figures

I did my original batch of German infantry back in October 2017. I wasn’t very happy with the end result, though I wasn’t able to articulate clearly why. The problem is that there are very few photographic sources for German infantry in Sicily or Salerno (and even these are mainly paras!). There is a little more for Tunisia. I think I was heavily influenced by pictures of prisoners in Tunisia, showing a huge variation in uniform colour, with quite a few people wearing very pale uniform items. So I depicted a lot of very pale kit. In fact the very few pictures from Italy show the German uniforms as being a bit darker than this, apart from some of the helmets. So I decided to go a bit darker this for this batch.

The panzer grenadier section

As before I decided to use the German infantry figures from AB depicted in standard uniform, rather than the tropical or summer uniform. The three uniforms were a very similar shape (the main difference was in the clot and dye), so they look pretty similar from a distance. In fact in Tunisia the weather was pretty cold and wet, so there wouldn’t have been call for rolled up sleeves etc. and other signs of a warm climate. I avoided Africa Korps figures because these tend to include figures in caps and shorts – which I didn’t want. In fact the in-combat DAK infantry figures from AB don’t have either – and not even rolled up sleeves. The only problem looks to be that a few of the figures have sand goggles on their helmets. I dare say that these can be cut off and filed down.

The figures were first mounted on steel washers, set in my usual mix of sand, acrylic paste with a bit of paint (white and raw umber). They were primed with gesso (I can’t remember if this was applied with airbrush, or darkened with some paint). For the main uniform for the most part I used a mix of Liquitex Yellow Oxide (aka yellow ochre) with varying amounts of black and white (sometimes using a neutral grey mix to speed things up). This gives a decent representation of the tropical uniform. This is exactly the same combination of pigments I used for the dunkelgelb on the vehicles, about which I post separately. The ratio of black to yellow is higher, giving a more olive finished result. There was not quite as much variation in colour as I had intended – the white seemed to fade on drying! some of the items were painted in field grey, which I mixed using a Viridian green mixed with neutral grey and tweaked a bit (I may have added some burnt siena to calm the green). The helmets were mainly painted in the dunkelgelb used for the vehicles, with one in dark field grey (as they would have left the factory) and one in olive green (as per the tank camouflage colours). As for the accoutrements and webbing, I had almost no guidance from photos, and conflicting advice from other sources. I ended up with a dull brown for the webbing and certain items, and greys mainly for the rest. The boots were brown.

The picture below shows three of the figures next to the same three from my original batch from 2017. They are much darker, but I’m happier with the overall appearance. Next time I might try to lighten the olive mix a tad though.

The panzershrek and panzerfaust figures

These depict figures from later in the campaign, when winter had struck, as well as the fighting moving further north. I therefore decided not to depict them in tropical gear. Three of them are wearing camouflage smocks. I am depicting them in sumpfmuster 43 pattern – though how well I have caught this I’m not sure. It’s probably a bit too chunky. The remaining figure is in field grey. Three of the helmets feature attached vegetation. I painted this quite dark – probably too dark, but I wanted to avoid the garish greens I so often see on miniatures – I may touch these up later. The prone figure features a painted camouflage pattern using panzer camouflage colours.

Luftwaffe uniforms

As a slight digression I will mention the AB 88 crew that I also painted as part of the batch. These are in Luftwaffe uniforms. The tropical colour was paler than the army one, apparently – so I used the same basic mix with more white. And in place of the field grey, the Luftwaffe had blue. This I got from black, white and Prussian Blue, a paler variation of the mix I used for the “panzer grey” gun and tractor. This is guesswork as I have few colour pictures to go on.


After the paint I applied a glaze. As with my most recent Napoleonic figures, I used alkyl medium as the base, mixing in some oil paint – a mix of Payne’s Grey and Burnt Sienna to reach a sort of dull mauve, to complement the olives and yellows that predominate in the uniform. This dried quite glossy – which I can accept in Napoleonic figures (it adds depth to the colourful uniforms), but not for WW2. But I didn’t want to use aerosol varnish, as I didn’t want a uniform matt finish. So I used my old Winsor & Newton varnish in a bottle to apply to the uniforms. This is unreliable, depending on how much of solid gunge at the bottom of the bottle gets into the mix. My first batch, used on the vehicle tilts, was fine. The batch used on the figures, alas, still left a strong sheen, which can been seen on many of the figures. For the weapons, helmets and skin I wanted a slight sheen – and I used another brand of matt varnish, which is more reliable, but not very matt. The next time I mix up some really matt varnish, I will need to touch these figures up.

After that it was the bases. I applied My usual Woodlands Scenics flock mix with some sand using undiluted artists strong glue. I then added patches of sand to give a bit of variation. For some reason the adherence of the flock/sand on the larger weapon bases was much better than on the figures. I needed to seal the latter with diluted PVA glue, but not the former. I think I was more careful to press the flock in on the larger bases, which I did one bit at a time. Must remember to do this on all my bases next time, as the sealing is an extra step and a faff. I did not dry brush the figures; I though of dusting them, after the technique worked so well on the vehicles, but I decided not to. It is no necessary.

Overall I am happy with the result, apart from the sheen on the uniforms, which is easy enough to fix later. I am pleased that my painting technique is settling down – this will speed things up in future.

1943: German soft-skins

The complete set of vehicles, guns and infantry

I’ve been off line here for nearly three months. At first I was pushing on with my Napoloenic rules project. I reached the point where it needed play testing – and then got distracted. I then moved on to my next project, which was to build more 20mm ground forces for the 1943 Mediterranean campaigns. These are 9 vehicles, two artillery pieces and 14 infantry figures, all German. At least twice I lost momentum as the project progressed, and I got distracted by other things. So the whole thing took quite a few weeks. I have been going for bigger projects to get more stuff done more quickly – but you can overdo it. This one was too big and complex, causing the fatal loss in momentum.

Looking back on it there were two main problems. First was combining infantry (AB metal figures) with model vehicles/guns. The processes between the two are too dissimilar, so for almost every session it was either on one or the other. Even though the models featured crew figures, these were much simpler than the infantry – and the artillery crews had different uniforms anyway. The second problem was that many of the models took far longer to assemble than I expected. The main culprit were the three Milicast cars, which are resin models with a number of fiddly parts and no assembly instructions. The Airfix Vintage Classics 88mm gun and tractor was also a nasty model to put together – mainly because the parts were ill-fitting. By contrast the Plastic Soldier Company (PSC) models (three medium trucks, a Raupenschlepper, and a Pak 40) were simple models that were quick to assemble. The S-Model Kubelwagen was somewhere in the middle. It was quite fiddly (more parts than then the Milicast ones), but in polystyrene, with well fitting parts and with clear instructions, so it was much easier to assemble. Painting and finishing a vehicle batch of this size was not a problem, however, even with two different colour schemes.

I will describe the project in three parts: the vehicles (and artillery) in this post, followed by the infantry, and a digression into dunkelgelb, principal vehicle colour.

The four cars

L to R: Horch Kfz 69, Horch Kfz 15, Stoewer Kfz 1, Kubelwagen

These vehicles (Horch Kfz 15 and 69 heavy cars, Stoewer Kfz 1 and VW Kubelwagen field cars) will be used as transport for small command, comms and observer groups. The two Horch cars (especially the large Kfz 69, really a light truck) are also suitable as tows for lighter field weapons, such as the Pak 38. The 69 could transport a small infantry squad too. All except the Kubelwagen are from Milicast. This is one of the two suppliers I am using for slightly more obscure vehicles and equipment; the other is SHQ, who make metal models. Both are in 1/76, so on the small side. I’d prefer 1/72, as these work better with the AB metal figures I like to use, but there is quite limited availability at this scale. The Milicast models are in resin – which can produce very fine detail, but is a bit fragile. I fell in love with the pictures of these vehicles on the website and got a bit carried away. I bought three SHQ metal models at about the same time (back in 2019), but was a bit disappointed. I have assembled a jeep and a Loyd carrier (a Bedford truck is still awaiting assembly), and found them a bit crude. The parts weren’t especially well-fitting. The end result was more than acceptable though.

Another view!

What I discovered this time was just how difficult resin is to work with. It didn’t help that the crew figures were resin too (bought separately from Milicast), and often needed arms to be glued in place. For each of the vehicles, the body came in one piece, but wheels, windscreens, lights, mirrors, steering wheels and various other bits, depending on the model, had to be glued on. I faced four main problems. The parts were fragile; they were often tiny; there were no recesses to secure them; and gluing was a bit tricky. On the final point I used standard cyano superglue. It look longer than expected to harden; the (usually tiny) part often needed to be I held in place for few minutes, and wasn’t properly secure until the next session. By a miracle no parts were lost in assembly, though some did go awol for a bit. At least one of the of the front lamps broke off at later stage, and I did not even attempt to search for it. Trying to clean flash off the windscreens was a nightmare, given the fragility the material – and one of them broke into several fragments that had to be reassembled. The upshot of all this is that these three cars took several two -hour sessions to assemble. I was vowing “never again” at the end. Come back SHQ, all is forgiven! Alas I have two more Milicast models awaiting assembly: a 17pdr antitank gun, and a 2cm Flakvierling (with quad barrels) which looks a complete nightmare, though this time with some assembly instructions.

The fourth car is the classic Kubelwagen. I actually have no less then four models of this vehicle (only one assembled) from old 1970s Airfix reconnaissance sets – but these were so terrible as to be unusable. They are tiny, and you couldn’t fit 1/76 figures in, never mind ABs – they came with some very diminutive crew figures, so it would have been obviously wrong to the designers. Those were the days. Instead I bought an S-Model kit in 1/72 – there are two models in each box, and I am saving he second one for later. To my relief the model proved big enough to take an AB crew of four figures specifically designed for the Kubelwagen – which fitted quite nicely. This wasn’t a particular simple kit, but in plastic, and with well-fitting parts (mostly with recesses to aid fitting), it was much easier than the resin models.

The medium trucks

The PSC trucks

From one extreme to another! These models came from a single box from PSC, designed with wargamers in mind. They are in 1/72, but originally engineered for 15mm scale (i.e. about 1/100), so they are quite chunky. There aren’t many parts, and no fiddly bits (no wing mirrors, and with headlamps crudely folded onto the mudguard, for example). They were very quick to assemble. The only complication was that I had to paint the interior of the cabs before assembly, which meant assembly of this bit was delayed. By the time I got there some of the parts had bent a bit out of shape, so the fit wasn’t as good as it should have been.

A different view in different lighting

As is generally the case with PSC, there were multiple options – leaving a lot of unused parts at the end. There were two choices each for cab (Mercedes or Opel), drive (wheeled or half-track) and bed (higher sided without tilt or lower with tilt). As you can see from the picture, I tried each of these variations out.

You can see the Mercedes truck without tilt here

These aren’t fine models, but work well enough for tabletop gaming, and I’m really pleased with them. On the strength of this I bought a second box (PSC models are often out of stock, so it’s best to buy while you can). I have an idea of converting one of them to take a Flak gun on the back. Otherwise these vehicles are versatile as troop transports (the German troops in this theatre were usually motorised), tows for medium-sized guns, or supply vehicles (although there is limited call for these on the tabletop).

Raupenschlepper and Pak 40

This is also a PSC kit. I needed Pak 40 75mm antitank guns, as these, according to some sources, were used in Tunisia (I’m not sure but Pak 36(r) converted from Russian 76mm guns, which used Pak 40 ammunition, definitely was in Tunisia), and by Salerno they seem to have been the standard antitank weapon in use by the Germans. The model comes with the Raupenschlepper Ost as a tow. I haven’t seen any pictures of this vehicle in use in this theatre, but Wikipedia has a picture of it in Albania in September 1943, so presumably it was around. It was designed for the Russian front, and used as a tow for medium weapons – it is usually pictured with the 10.5cm howitzer.

This isn’t such a good buy as the trucks. There are only two sets of models in the box. The Raupenschlepper has an alternative cab, with flat-panel construction used later in the war. There are also parts for a version used as a self-propelled Pak 40. Very few of these were actually built, so why all that plastic was used in a model designed for wargames use is a puzzle. I’m not especially a fan of the solid windows – though these looked much better in the end result than I feared. The tilt is moulded in two parts, and the join needed filing and puttying so as not to look too obvious. The crew figures for the Pak 40 aren’t very nice. These are standard PSC sprues, which I also had for the Pak 38s, with some figures requiring assembly. Somehow these are much harder to get looking lifelike than the AB cast figures, though these are quite expensive. They are depicted wearing smocks, which I painted up as early pattern German camouflage (though this is perfectly in keeping with the theatre).

Still the models were easy to assemble and the result is perfectly satisfactory. I’ll do the second models later.

From a different angle

88mm Flak gun and Sdkfz 7

The 88 without shield

This was a bit of a disappointment. I bought the model from the Airfix Vintage classics range (see my 2018 post here) – in fact I bought two of them. They looked good value as I remembered them as being decent models back in the 1970s, though the track wheels on the tractor were a bit awkward to assemble. I also bought crew figures from AB. But the parts fitted badly, which made assembly harder than it should have been. Each of the running wheels comes in two parts, and the track is flexible polythene. The tractor was not particularly easy to put together as a result. But the gun was a bigger problem. Back in the day I could get the wheels on and off and the side-riggers up and down so that we could have it in both deployed and in transport mode – but for this model the fit was not tight enough. I did paint the wheels, but in fact none of my artillery is in towed mode, so I decided not to use them. The gun does not fit snuggly into the cradle. But worst of all the fit of the gun into the base was loose. This mattered because I attached a metal seated figure to it, which meant that the assembly tilted over to that side. In the end I had to feed plasticine into the hole in the base to help hold it in the upright position. The model comes with a shield, not shown the in picture here, as this was often not used. I had to cut a hole in it so that the seated crew figure and use his range-finder.

I decided to paint this in pre-1943 colours of “panzer grey”. Photos, even from the later war, often show 88s quite dark. The narrative here is that this is an old weapon brought forward from a rear area for front-line use, which nobody had repainted. The crew is Luftwaffe, who had slightly different ways of doing things. The AB crew figures are excellent, and the scale difference isn’t jarring. I painted them in slightly different colours to the infantry to reflect the Luftwaffe provenance.

I don’t think I will bother the second gun. I do have the crew for a second 88, but I will source this elsewhere – as a later variant of the weapon if I can get it. I will assemble the second tractor at some point, as it looks OK when finished. It can be used with any second 88, or with a towed 15cm howitzer if I get one.

With shield, from rear

Painting and finishing

Step one was primer, which I applied after assembly (except of the cabs of the trucks. I wanted something quite dark, so that it wouldn’t show if the later painting did not reach all the recesses. To get into those recesses I used the airbrush. I used white airbrush primer paint mixed with darker acrylic paint (and some medium to make it more fluid). I used a brown for most of the vehicles, except the 88 and tractor, where I mixed in black. I’m still working on airbrush technique – and I’m being a bit frustrated with the tendency of the nozzle to clog – so the phase took longer than expected. Getting into the recesses was a bit harder than expected too. In future I will try to doing this differently. I have bought some Vallejo primer, with some in German dark yellow (and olive drab) – I will use this directly out of the bottle. I will also prime the parts before assembly, while still on the sprue – though still with the airbrush.

After this I painted the interiors and crews, so that I could finish assembly of the cabs. That done I painted the rest. This was simply one layer of the base colour applied by old-fashioned brush. As usual I mixed the colour using artists’ pigments – I will explain more how in a later post. The tyres, tracks and other detailing was then done. There were no decals. 88 barrels often have rings, presumably signifying claimed kills – but I couldn’t find anything suitable to use. I decided not to bother with number plate – and second line German vehicles such as these did not carry other markings.

After this I used the oil paint patina technique that I have been using on model aircraft. I dabbed small dots of oil paint onto the model – white, yellow ochre, brown, Payne’s Grey, black – and brushed it into a very thin layer. This softens the flat finish, giving it a rather worn appearance. It also gives the models a slight sheen, like new paintwork. I applied matt varnish to the tllts and the clothes of the crew. I am using a very old bottle of Windsor & Newton varnish, which is not reliably matt, but it looked OK. I then applied a glaze of dark mauve-grey that I was using on the infantry figures, to the crews and radiator grills. This left a slightly glossy finish, that will need a bit of touching up with matt varnish.

After this I used a metallic pencil (silver and pewter) to simulate exposed metal. Since the theatre was mostly dry, rust would be less prominent than vehicles elsewhere. The pencil works quite well, but the impact of this was not great, and I don’t think this is really worth bothering with. The exception may be on the tracks, though even this wasn’t very visible in the end.

Finally the vehicles got a dusting in – another technique learnt from model aircraft. Previously I used a specialist textured paint to simulate dust. This is quite thick and easy to overdo. It looked pretty good on the last batch of British vehicles I did; less so on the previous German ones. I tried putting some on a couple of the vehicles – including the dark grey Sdfz 7. I thought it was a bit too strong, especially on the dark grey. This technique works better to simulate mud than dust (though there was a lot of mud in Tunisia – not really in Sicily or Salerno). I then created dust from ground down artist’s pastel – mixing white, pale yellow and grey mainly. I then applied this generously with a paintbrush. It worked pretty well, though the process created clouds of pastel dust. A mask would have been a good idea, but I just held my breath. I am pretty pleased with the result. In fact I think careful application of the paint product on the wheels and lower surfaces complements the effect quite well. But dabs on the upper surface, as per the Sdfz 7, don’t really work. The dusting did away with the need for dry brush highlighting.

After this came the question of whether so seal the models with a layer of matt varnish from an aerosol can – as I have done with my earlier land vehicles. This would serve to hold the dust layer in place and protect the model generally. I decided not to in the end. Aerosol matt varnish gives a very uniform flat finish. The dusting gave a generally matt finish, but with a bit unevenness that makes the models more interesting. Alas these models are unlikely to see much tabletop action, so protection isn’t a priority.

The aim with my modelling and figure painting is to achieve a strong impact from a medium distance (a foot or two), and to do this with as few steps as possible to simplify production. This contrasts with serious modellers, who like to use lots of different techniques together. I am now settling down to a pattern. Dark-ish primer (perhaps before assembly) applied by airbrush; base coat and detailing; decals if any; oil patination; dusting. There is not usually a need for washes, glazes, dry brushing or varnish.

More Prussian landwehr

The two Pomeranian units. The officer o the corner of the font unit is from AB, almost all the rest are Old Glory.

After my WW2 aircraft modelling, I wanted to return to the attack on my lead mountain of Napoleonic 18mm miniatures. This time I experimented with new techniques for a large batch of figures (102) to help make more rapid progress in future. I have painted them up to form four battalions of four bases, painted for two different regiments, from Pomerania and Kurmark (Brandenburg).

For a number of reasons I had far more Old Glory 15s Prussian landwehr infantry in my unpainted pile than I ever really intended. The figures aren’t the finest, and the caps are a bit low. I already had 19 six-figures bases of these done up for Westphalian and Elbe regiments. I have 60 or so of the somewhat nicer AB landwehr miniatures unpainted, which I plan to paint up as Silesians. Still the OG figures are nicely animated and look well enough in bulk – and the Lasalle game system that I have recently acquired is quite expensive in miniatures the way I play it. I could always do a few more more battalions of landwehr. So I thought I would try out some techniques in mass batch painting, on a larger batch than usual. I decided to do four four- base units, from two different regiments, plus one extra base base of Elbe landwehr so that I could top up my current landwehr stock to a full five Lasalle units. Each unit was to have a flag (figure manufacturers are usually over-generous with standard bearers, and I had four spare landwehr flags). Each base was to consist of five ordinary infantrymen, and one “command” figure – standard-bearer, drummer or officer. One of the standard bearers, and two of the officers were AB figures (where I had more than I needed for my Silesians), the rest were OG.

I am not a follower of hobby fashion, and I am ploughing my own furrow on presenting my miniatures. I base them close together on small bases (six infantry on a base 25mm square). The current fashion is for beautifully painted miniatures spaced further apart, sharing bases with rocks, tufts of grass and such. I find photos of the more fashionable 28mm figures based four to a 40mm square base painful to look at (the equivalent of four 18mm figures to one of my 25mm square bases). All contemporary illustrations show infantry in tight-packed masses – tighter than even my basing. Also I often find that the exposed expanse of bases often clash with the terrain board. Of course there is a very good reason that people go for these looser presentations – the painting of the figures is usually of a very high standard, and time-consuming. Looser mounting mean fewer figures to a unit, and the extra space allows the paintwork to be shown off to better advantage. These miniatures always look much better up close and personal than they do en masse and in pictures. I want to achieve the opposite – something that looks better en masse, while requiring less work on each individual figure – something more impressionistic. But I don’t want the miniatures to look terrible up close either, though. My technique had been to paint the figures individually, mounted on strips of card, and then mount them on the bases when they were finished, with the application of flock to the base being the final step. This felt a painfully long process, especially with a batch size of 12 bases (72 miniatures), which I felt to be the minimum to make progress with army building.

This time I decided to mount the figures on the bases much earlier in the process. This wasn’t the first time I have tried this. I did it with my first batch of Prussian line infantry (again 16 bases plus bits), but I didn’t consider it a particular success, as it was hard to paint the figures mounted so close together. I thought it was worth another try. First I primed them by airbrush, using gesso mixed with a bit of black. I then did a quick paint job on the legs below the coat, and some of the feet, and brown on the bases. To get a bit of variation in coat and cap colours I applied an undercoat of dark brown or white on the coats and caps for one figure in six, not including the command figures. This was a bit of a failure on the end result – the variation is hard to see. And then I mounted them on the bases, using the matrix of sand, acrylic medium and paint that I usually use.

And then on to the rest of the painting. The coats were mostly blue (a slightly different mix for each regiment, not that this is very noticeable), with a few brown and grey ones. The caps were black (actually dark grey) for the Kurmark regiment and blue for the Pomeranians. And so on. Predictably the webbing was the hardest – but this is not so prominent on the landwehr, and most of the poses had muskets held close the front of the body, masking the straps. If anything was too hard to reach because of the close packing of the figures, I left it out. I tried to highlight the white cross on the cap front, but not always very successfully; I thought I could rely on the final wash to correct this by highlighting the outline. I could just about reach the collars for the facing colour (red for Kurmark, white for Pomerania), but I did not attempt shoulder straps except for the AB command figures – the straps aren’t moulded properly on the OG figures, and very hard to pick out – their line infantry castings have the same problem. I tried to limit the detailing, but I did paint the gun barrels, as these are very visible. Quite a bit of paint strayed onto neighbouring figures, requiring touching up later. This was basic block painting – nothing clever.

Finally, in order to pick out more detail on the figures I gave them a wash. I’ve tried a number of strategies on this over the years. From acrylic paint and water, to Quickshade, to acrylic ink (sometimes diluted). This time I tried something a bit new again. I had bought some alkyl-based oil painting medium for future use in my aircraft models, to speed up the drying time of the oil paint glazes I have been trying there. I thought I might try this mixed with a bit of oil paint (Payne’s Grey) for the wash. This worked a treat, once the right ratio of paint to medium was found – it needed more than I thought. It dried to a satin finish which was slightly glossier than I normally have, but which helped give the figures depth. And that was the figures finished. No final varnish.

All that remained was to flock the bases. I used the same mix as for my last batch of figures, but it didn’t go especially well. It was impossible not to get flock onto the figures, and not all that easy to brush it off – not helped by the relatively dynamic poses of the figures making them hard to brush. And the flock needed to be sealed with diluted glue once dry, with more risk of flock straying onto the figures. This is a lot of faff for an effect that looks very ordinary. I think I need to try something different. That surely means painting rather than flocking – but I still need to find something textured to cover the bases so that they merge with the basing matrix (without getting onto the legs of the figures!). The base painting would then be directly after this texture is applied and dried, and before the main painting of the figures. Something to think about. With such a density of figures on the base, there is less need to try so hard.

I think the overall result is a success. These aren’t fantastically finished figures, but they are fine on the table. And, though I wouldn’t describe the process of painting them as quick, it felt like a significant improvement on my previous method. The batch of 100 was quite manageable.

The Kurmark units

The Duke of York’s Flanders Campaign – Steve Brown

I have long been curious about Britain’s first campaign in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars – in Flanders in 1793-5. I was curious because I had seen so little written about it. For most people British military history in this era starts with the Maida campaign of 1807 or Moore in Spain 1808-09. There is sometimes a reference to the Anglo-Russian Expedition to North Holland in 1799. How much was the vaunted proficiency of the British army evident before these campaigns, I wondered? So when I saw this history published by Frontline Books, I couldn’t resist it. It proved a most interesting read, and shed light on an episode that wargamers should take more notice of.

The book covers the history of the First Coalition (1793 to 1795) more generally, which I found very useful, before looking at the Flanders campaign in detail. Until near the end, Britain’s contribution to this coalition effort, which was led by the Austrians until they withdrew at the end, was led by Prince Frederick, the Duke of York and Albany, the second son of George III. It was his first experience of military command, but it was the fashion for armies to be led by “princes of the blood”, and this eased relations with coalition allies (the prince was fluent in German and familiar with the dramatis personae of high society in Austria, Prussia and Hanover). Apart from Austria, these allies were Hanover (part of George III’s realm), the Netherlands, and Hesse – with a theoretical contribution by Prussia that failed to materialise. The campaign was a failure for the Allies, mainly because of poor Austrian leadership. This resulted in Austria losing Belgium (as we now call what was then the Austrian Netherlands) to France, followed rapidly by the rest of the Netherlands.

Why did Austrian leadership fail? I didn’t find the book very satisfactory in explaining this. Two main reasons are offered: divergent strategic interests, and outdated strategic doctrines. While these were both doubtless true, I think that Steve Brown fails to explain them properly. What did Austria want to achieve? In the end what undermined Austrian resolve (and that of the Prussians) was a Russian threat to Poland. Was that their worry all along and did that make them hesitate to commit troops deep into France? This idea is not explored. The Austrians were not the only ones guilty of a lack of clear focus – the British government insisted on a diversion to try and take Dunkirk, and diverted troops to campaigns in the West Indies and the Mediterranean. Coalition warfare always struggles when it comes to clarity of objectives – and historians too often moan about this, rather than properly interpreting the conflicting aims. Warfare is politics by other means, after all, and not a be-all and end-all. On outmoded strategic ideas, Mr Brown makes much of the Austrian attachment to the “cordon system”, which let them to disperse forces. This builds on a narrative that was current at the time (the Duke of York himself refers to it), developed later by such writers as Clausewitz, and has been a staple of historians ever since. But that leaves a question: if it was so obviously wrong, why did the Austrians stick with it? If that was actually what they were doing. My main rule of historical analysis is that if you don’t understand how you yourself could have been tempted to take a particular course of action, then you haven’t actually understood it. Nobody defends the cordon system – which means that nobody is taking the trouble to understand what commanders who used it were trying to do. I was not able to pick up a deep enough appreciation of this campaign to develop a view myself. The maps in the book are generally unsatisfactory, and Mr Brown assumes too much knowledge of the local geography.

Mr Brown is a bit better on the tactical details of the battles. These are extremely interesting. There were no great set-pieces along the lines of the Napoleonic period – but rather a series of much more scattered encounters, often relating to the capture of fortresses and strategic towns. The coalition troops fought very well for the most part, with the general exception of the Dutch (whose people were not bought into the defence of royalty and aristocracy). Often Allied troops won out against vastly superior numbers. The French forces were in a state of flux – with elements of the old royal army combining with various flavours of volunteers and conscripts. The French did start to develop tactics that made best use of their advantages – which were mainly numbers – which has been the main historical interest of these campaigns hitherto. This has been dealt with expertly by the late Paddy Griffiths in particular, and this account of the Flanders campaign bears Griffiths out, though it doesn’t dwell on this aspect of the campaign. Griffiths suggested that the French innovations, far from being a new and superior way of war, were developed as a way of using poor quality troops against superior professional armies – and were largely dropped as the French army regained its professionalism under Napoleon. But until I read this book I didn’t appreciate just how effective the coalition troops generally were. The Austrian army was considered the best of the major powers, and their performance in this campaign bears this out (though Mr Brown reckons the Hessians to be the best troops in this campaign). This should provide a lot of interest to wargamers. The two sides provide an interesting contrast. Coalition armies may be nightmare to command, but the variety of troops they incorporate is a wargamer’s delight. And what’s more the coalition’s cavalry arm was very strong – including a substantial British element, featuring Household cavalry, the Union Brigade, and many other units, who had a good campaign. Britain did not field such a strong force of cavalry until 1813, Mr Brown reckons. Of course, the uniforms are totally different to the Napoleonic phase of the wars, but even so this era deserves more attention form the hobby than it gets. If I was in the mood to take on another army-building project, I would be tempted!

As for British tactics, Mr Brown has not much to say – as the British contribution to the coalition effort was not a major one. Many of the British infantry units were freshly raised and of very poor quality. Officers were often inexperienced surplus sons from aristocratic families, who had acquired commissions through purchase. Having said that, the British units generally seem to have fought well enough, using the conventional three-deep line for infantry. They seem to have been used aggressively in bayonet attacks, rather than attempted much with musketry. The Guards units performed well, as well as the cavalry. The weaknesses of the British units was more a question of a loss of discipline off the battlefield, with a lot of looting in particular.

The campaign ended in ignominy, when the Austrians pulled out, and then the French attacked in the winter. The remaining coalition forces were forced into a calamitous retreat where the logistics and discipline broke down and many men were lost. This was doubtless a searing experience for those that were there. And this was something of a Who’s Who of British and Hanoverian officers who were to feature prominently later on, not least of whom was the future Duke of Wellington, who commanded a regiment of infantry. There is an interesting appendix listing these officers who came to prominence later. There are many familiar names on the French side too, such as MacDonald and Vandamme, but most of the famous French names of later were elsewhere. There was another important participant, whom Mr Brown barely gives a mention: Gerhard von Scharnhorst, who served as a staff officer in the Hanoverian army. His experiences of the new French tactics deeply influenced him, and this in turn was very influential in the rebuilding of the Prussian army after 1807.

The Duke of York’s performance was undistinguished, though Mr Brown suggests that much of the criticism he has received is unfair. However, he does suggest that he lacked the gravitas to stamp his authority on an unruly army. He moved on to command the whole British army, where he is reckoned to have done an excellent job, helping to make it become the effective force of the Peninsular campaign. For him, and for the many other British alumni of the campaign, the Flanders episode was a powerful lesson in how not to manage a military campaign. That can certainly been seen in Wellington’s insistence of stern discipline and focused command.

This is an interesting book on an interesting campaign. I think it falls a bit short on the analysis, where it too often follows conventional wisdom, often quoting other historians’ analysis verbatim, and not leaving me with the clarity on events that I had hoped for. The maps are disappointing. But it throws welcome light on an important episode of British military history.

My Airfix Spitfire VC

And the last but by no means least of my trio British planes is the Spitfire VC, which I built from the Airfix kit, released last year. Airfix was my favourite manufacturer back in the day – but this is my first Airfix kit on my return to modelling. In fact the prospect of this model’s release that was one of the things that prompted this project.

The Spitfire V, in the tropical version with the Vokes filter, was backbone of the RAF (and other Commonwealth air forces’) effort in 1943 in the Mediterranean theatre. It started the year as the main air-superiority fighter – although it was considered to be a bit behind the Messerschmitt Bf 109G and the Focke-Wolf Fw190A then use by the Luftwaffe, it was still the best the Allies had. As the year progressed the Luftwaffe was overwhelmed, and the Spitfire VIII and IX came in, with an upgraded Merlin engine. The Fw-190, considered its best German fighter, was withdrawn from the air-superiority role in this theatre, though still used as a fighter-bomber. The Bf-109Gs were increasingly manned by raw and overworked pilots. The Spitfire V iwas needed less as a pure fighter and took up a role as fighter-bomber (the “Spitbomber”), which is how I wanted my model.

The A,B and C designations of the Spitfire V referred to the wing. The A wing was that used on the Spitfire Is in the Battle of Britain, with four .303 machine-guns on each wing. The B wing replaced two of the machine-guns with a 20mm cannon, including a blister on the upper wing to house ammunition. The C wing was generally improved, and could be configured with 4 machine-guns (which almost never happened), one cannon and two machine-guns (the typical configuration) or two cannon (quite unusual apparently – but what my model shows). The C-wing became standard for later marks. The VC was the most common version in the Mediterranean theatre, I believe – though there were quite few VBs earlier on.

In common with the other models in this batch, I decided to use the box decals. These depict either a US-operated aircraft from early 1943, or one from 3 Squadron of the South African Air Force, dated in the blurb at November. This was a bit late for my purposes – but a bit of research showed that the aircraft went into service with 3 Squadron in early July – just before the Sicily campaign – which was fine. These planes had the unusual four cannon armament, which added interest. Doubtless this reflected its fighter-bomber role. Here is a picture of the plane in service (it is DB-V):

The Airfix kit is excellent – and so it should be from something this recently released – and good value for money. As with standard Airfix practice, it can be made with undercarriage up, and a pilot is provided – though not a very nice one (I put it in the Hurricane, where it was less visible, and where I needed a smaller figure). I have only one real gripe with Airfix, apart from wanting them to make a better effort with the pilot: they did not provide any bombs. Since all the photos I have seen of the 3 Squadron machines show them carrying bombs, and since the box artwork shows the American plane on a bombing mission (though actually I don’t think Spits were used in this role until Sicily), this is a bit of a gap. They do provide parts for a clipped-wing version, for a plane without the Vokes filter, and even for under-belly slipper fuel tank, however. Fortunately I had spotted that my Eduard Spitfire VIII had parts for two underwing bombs, which I had no plans to use. The 3 Squadron pictures show the planes carrying a single bomb under the fuselage – but I think earlier on underwing bombs were standard – and I think the central bomb-rack was not developed until after Sicily at least, and possibly not until a lot later(there was a need to make sure the bomb was thrown clear of the propellor in dive-bombing missions, I think). My reference for the original bomb racks suggested that they were pretty much invisible after the bombs were released – which fits with the Eduard parts (and not photos I think from 1944 which show substantial pylons).

I digress. here is the finished model:

I think this is the best of my three models. As with the Kittyhawk I had a bit of trouble with the fit of the fuselage to the wings, but in the end result this doesn’t show badly. One of the underwing roundels isn’t quite flat. The colour scheme is awry, but an interesting point from the photo is that the underside is quite pale on these planes. Usually the Azure Blue is darker than the Mid Stone, but in this case it is plainly lighter – on the two further aircraft anyway. So even here my model may not be as awry as the others. Another curiosity is that the red on the roundels in the decals is very pale, orange actually – and not the typical dark red. This is possibly consistent with the foreground plane in the photo, and the tail flash of DBV. I decided to rely on Airfix’s research and use them anyway. Perhaps it is an SAAF thing?

Rather remarkably, this is the first Spitfire model I have made. I had previously made a P-47, Bf-109, Fw-190, Stuka, Hurricane and Kittyhawk – so this is the first breaking of new ground in my project. It is a lovely aircraft, even with the Vokes filter. I am looking forward to my Mark VIII later in the project, which is even sleeker. I am minded to attempt a VB, or perhaps another VC, from the Tunisia period, in air-superiority mode. But not until the plastic mountain comes down a bit more. There are still eight more planes in it! To say nothing of the vehicles.

My Special Hobby P-40 Kittyhawk 1A

Next a look at my Kittyhawk. The P-40, later models of which became the RAF Kittyhawk (earlier ones were called Tomahawk by the RAF), played an important role in the RAF efforts in the Mediterranean. At first they were used to supplement the Hurricanes as air-superiority fighters – as the former were outclassed by the arrival of the Messerschmitt Bf 109F – plus it was easier to ship them direct from the US to Egypt than supply from the UK. Then as the Spitfires took on that role, they were used primarily as fighter-bombers. By 1943 they had become the RAF’s principal fighter-bomber, increasingly supplemented by Spitfires Vs, as the Luftwaffe retreated and the Spitfire VIIIs and IXs came into play.

The P-40 isn’t the most elegant of aircraft (US designers rarely did elegant, unlike their British and, less often, German counterparts). But it was robust and highly functional (which the US designers were unbeatable at, except maybe by the Russians), and especially suitable for this theatre and the fighter-bomber role. It was let down by its Allison engine, which performed well at low altitude, but not at the higher altitudes needed for escort and other mainline fighter roles. By 1943 the P-40F and L (RAF Kittyhawk IIs) were powered by Merlin engines – which did much better at altitude. Americans using these models as fighter escorts against Bf-109Gs got perfectly respectable results, especially as by this time the US pilots were better trained and rested than their opponents. But the Merlins were needed elsewhere – notably for Mustangs, a far better air-superiority machine – and the later Allison engines were fine for fighter-bombers, so later P-40s (the K, M and N) went back to these.

At the start of my project, in autumn 2020, I went on a buying spree for my models, anxious to beat full Brexit, which kicked in in January 2021. I chose this model from Special Hobby of the Kittyhawk IA to be my Kittyhawk. Alas for my research. The Kittyhawk 1A was the P-40E, which was obsolete by 1943, being replaced by the Kittyhawk II (the P-40F or L) or, mainly, III (the K or M – and apparently some of the Ls, though presumably re-engined). The later versions were chiefly distinguished by a lengthened fuselage, which set the tail back a bit from the tailplanes. I discovered my mistake quickly enough, but decided to press ahead. I decided to do the plane on the box art from 112 Squadron, with its distinctive shark’s teeth. This is a bit hackneyed and overexposed in artwork – other squadrons did not have these markings. But they really do work well on the P-40, so I thought I’d do it anyway. The plane is marked GA-Y, is from 1942, and was lost in May of that year. For some reason it has been by far the most popular to be portrayed on model aircraft. Here is a picture of it:

The Special Hobby kit proved to be a lovely one, in spite of being on the usual undercarriage down mode. The undercarriage doors fitted neatly into the recesses – the only problem is that one of them was very small, and I managed to lose it. This is the mark of a good quality, professionally-made model. The PJ pilot got in without too much trouble but it is a roomy cockpit compared to the Hurricane or Spitfire – or the Bf 109 or Fw-190 come to that. The only awkward bit was fitting the fuselage assembly onto the wing assembly. For some reason this often seems to be a problem (it was the case on both the other models too). I needed to be a bit more patient, and the fit isn’t quite right. Anyway, here is the result:

I used the US bomb from the kit – the RAF did use these (and the US used British bombs). It’s a bit skew though. Also the bomb dips a bit, probably because I didn’t get the pylons right. I have seen pictures of centrally mounted bombs dipping on Spitfires – but that doesn’t show on the picture above. I might try to correct this. I have already commented the errors on paint colours. Also the cockpit canopy suffered from some excess glue. The biggest problem was with the decals. Unfortunately the GAOY on the port side got displaced, as did the starboard serial number – and this escaped my final checks an so dried out of place. I decided that I could correct the worst of this by replacing the roundel (even though it wouldn’t then match the position on the other side). As I was searching stock for a new roundel, I found the decals for my original Airfix Kittyhawk kit from the 1970s. They were for the same aircraft. The big letters were a bit heavier than the Special Hobby ones (which are more realistic anyway), so I decided only to replace the roundel – though I needed to overpaint the yellow to hide a pale outer circle. The GA remains slightly skew. I was also able to replace the serial number, though the Airfix ones were also a bit heavy. The port serial in the kit has a dark background (which looks like an unsuccessful intervention from the censors!) – which is there in the original photo. I didn’t like this so I was happy to replace the serial on this side too.

And so there it is! Another 1942 model in dodgy colours. This can do service on the table, but I’m minded to do a Kittyhawk III as well. I’m also looking at a P-40L in US service, as flown by the Tuskegee Airmen, which would also have RAF camouflage colours.

My AZ Model Hurricane IID

AZ Model’s Box artwork for Hurricane IID

The obvious choices for my first RAF models for the 1943 project were a Spitfire V and a Kittyhawk. But I have always loved the Hurricane, and so I wanted one of those too – even though the type was on the way out in Tunisia, and does not seem to have played a significant role in the Sicily and Salerno battles. Hurricanes continued to be used until the end of the war in the Mediterranean, but apparently not in the major land campaigns.

I wanted to do the IID model, which featured two 40mm anti-tank guns underwing, and reduced machine-gun armament (down to two, firing tracer). One squadron of these was in operation in Tunisia (6 Squadron). This squadron played a significant role in supporting the advance of the Eighth Army into Tunisia, providing direct battlefield support by attacking tanks in particular, sweeping through in advance of the ground forces. This makes it particularly interesting from a tactical point of view – since mostly fighter-bombers were used for interdiction behind the lines. The IID was reported to be very effective in this role, and apparently referred to as the “can-opener”. There is actually quite a lot of controversy about how effective aircraft were at tank-busting in WW2 – extravagant claims by the crews are almost never corroborated by hard evidence (notably Typhoons in Normandy, using rockets rather than guns). There is no corroboration for the Hurricane pilots’ claims – though the psychological effect of air attack from tank crews should not be underestimated. The 40mm guns were awkward things, and hindered the aircraft’s manoeuvrability. The calibre (the same as 2 pdrs) was by then obsolete for ground use, but planes had the benefit of extra velocity coming from the aircraft, and the ability to attack from the side or top of the tank. They would have been useful enough against the Panzer IIIs that were the Germans’ main tank at the time. But after Tunisia the RAF used rockets for tank-busting. With battles in Sicily and Italy providing more cover for tanks, tank-busting went out of RAF repertoire. 6 Squadron swapped the guns for rockets, and used their Hurricanes against shipping – upgrading to Hurricane IVs in due course. The high-ups were always sceptical of using aircraft in close support, in spite of army pressure. Interestingly the Germans also used underwing guns of similar calibre, mounted on Stukas, in Russia. Extravagant claims of success were made for them too.

There seemed to be only one choice for for a 1/72 IID, from AZ Model, though a number of others manufacturers do other versions of the Hurricane II. Alas, I found that it was an poor model, especially compared to the Spitfire and Kittyhawk. It is now withdrawn. Starting again I would go for one of the other IIs, and try to model the underwing guns somehow – it is possible that one of the other kits has them, but doesn’t advertise it (there are often parts for other versions included). I have some guns from the Stuka, but I don’t know similar they are. The model often didn’t have proper pins or recesses for the parts to fit together in right place (the two halves of the fuselage had to be glued together free-form – a bit alarming); detailing was weak though perfectly adequate for my purposes. The fit of parts wasn’t great. It came undercarriage down, and without a pilot. The undercarriage doors needed a bit of work to fit into the recesses to model the up position – and I couldn’t make the side struts to the door work at all, so just plugged the gap with plasticine (I’m not stressing on the detail for these models). There were few resin parts, including the pilot’s seat and the radiator. It was very hard to get these off the sprue without damaging them. In fact I lost the seat in the attempt, and had to replace it with a spare from the Kittyhawk. The cockpit was too small for the PJ Productions model pilot I had (I have a stock of these) – so I used the Airfix one form the Spitfire, with a bit of filing, as this was a bit smaller, though not especially nice. The whole interior was quite hard to do. That didn’t matter too much because the cockpit canopy is quite small, and you can’t see much from the outside. I also managed to blur up some of the canopy interior with excess glue. Anyway, I pressed on, and here is the result:

It Is OK considering, apart from the colouring. The underside has been heavily weathered partly because I wasn’t very happy with the underlying paint colour – at once too chromatic and too light. In any case the undersides of the aircraft got pretty hammered from the dust airstrips – though I don’t have a good picture of what they actually looked like.

Here is a picture of the actual aircraft (apparently over El Alamein in 1942):

Could be worse! The decals weren’t that great – with lots of flash on the lettering and numbers. The tail flashes seemed too big compared to the box illustration – but seem to fit the photo OK. The exhaust stain should be much bigger. And if this aircraft survived all the way to Tunisia (doubtful), it would have looked even more weathered. In fact two of my supposed 1943 planes turn out to belong to 1942. This is in fact evident from the roundels and fin flashes, which were changed in July 1942. The above photo shows the newer version on the second nearest plane, which gives authenticity to the Alamein date (July to November 1942).

Unfortunately, the more I look at colours on this batch of models, the less I like them! This model will be fine to use on the wargames table, but less for display. But while I will consider doing another spitfire V and Kittyhawk, the hurricane is too minor a player for me to consider doing another one. Still, the model does look like a Hurricane – not particularly beautiful, but iconic.

Three British planes for 1943

My Spitfire, Hurricane and Kittyhawk

So this is my first post of 2022! I have spent a lot of time refining my Napoleonic big battle rules, but that is a hard thing to blog about while you are doing it. But earlier this month I returned to my modelling project on WW2 aircraft, based around my 1943 theme, featuring the Tunisia, Sicily and Italian campaigns. This is a return to aircraft modelling after a break of 35 years or so. I started with a single American P-47 Thunderbolt, a bit after 1943, but in Med colours. I then did a batch of three German aircraft for Tunisia. My next batch was three British Aircraft: – a spitfire VC, a hurricane IID and a Kittyhawk IA. Alas on a number of counts the results are rather flawed.

The idea is that I complete the models up to wargames standard. They need to look good from a distance, and have undercarriage up and pilots in place. They would not pass muster for keen aero-modellers, who would include much more close-up detailing. For this batch of aircraft I wanted to focus on the model-making and painting, so I decided to use the decals in the box, rather than the palaver of creating something different (which I did for the P-47 and two of the German planes).

Why are the results flawed? The biggest problem is that I got the colours wrong. The planes look as if they are carrying the early north European scheme of Dark Earth and Dark Green; only the blue underside (not very visible from the picture) gives the game away.. This is a sorry saga with a clear moral. Do your research first! I thought I had understood what was required as I mixed the colours for the airbrush. First I mixed the Azure Blue for the underside. I started with Azure Blue Rowney artist’s paint, dulled down with a bit of white and brown. Too much white: while this is consistent with what some artists show, photos show it to be quite dark. And then I thought it also looked too green – that may be as a result of the white, which causes a bit of a clockwise shift on the colour wheel for some reason (blue to turquoise, red to magenta, etc.). By then the Mid Stone had already gone on. I based this on the brown colour in the German tropical scheme, which I based on Raw Sienna. It should have been yellower, and actually lighter than the Azure Blue. Next I put on the Dark Earth, which I though should come out a bit redder than the Mid Stone. I mixed this based on Burnt Umber. I then looked at this colour photo of a plane in theatre:

Spitfire VBs over Tunisia, presumably in 1943

This shows a distinctly greenish hue to the Dark Earth (which intros picture is generally quite weathered – it fades in the sun quite quickly) and not the reddish one I had. I remixed, using adding in some green, and overpainted. Too much green – though I was probably being led astray by the Mid Stone being wrong. When done I actually thought it didn’t look too bad (it is easy to misjudge colours out of context). But I thought I would tweak with some glazes mixed from oil paints and linseed oil – to make the underside darker and bluer, and the topside paler and less red (which means a bit greener). It took a few days to be dry enough for decals. At this point I just pressed ahead. Alas the Mid Stone looks more like Dark Earth, and the dark Earth looks more like Dark Green! And the Azure is still too pale.

I will profile each individual model separately. But here are some notes on the general technique. I first assembled and painted the interiors and pilots. I then assembled the models apart from the cockpit canopies. I filed, fillered and sanded to smooth over the worst cracks while trying avoid damage to the panel detailing. Then I added the canopies and masked them. I did think about leaving this to later, but thought it was better this way. Apart from the Spitifire I did not attempt to leave the canopy struts unmasked – I would paint them later. But I struggled a little with this, and applied a bit too much superglue on the Hurricane and Kittyhawk – this meant that the canopy fuzzed bit on the inside. And by the time I discovered it the canopies were so secure that I didn’t dare to try and remove them.

After this I airbrushed with white primer. The plastic really needs this step. Then the saga with the paint started. This was my first attempt with RAF camouflage. I sprayed the all the upper surfaces Mid Stone. And then I used Blu Tac and magic putty to mask the Stone areas. This took literally hours to form the rather complicated shapes, and even then I made several mistakes. The magic putty is easier to apply and remove, but it flows – so can’t be left for long, and I needed it to last for days. So I couldn’t use it for the edges – just infill. I won’t do this masking again. After the masking came off and I realised my mistake on the colour, I decided to overpaint with a good old paint brush. I did this with many thin layers – not too hard as the acrylic paint dries fast, so I could do it all in one session. That worked fine – so in future I’m going to use the paint brush for the overpainting. After the paint I put on the oil glaze. the idea was to correct a colour imbalance. It did improve things, but it’s much better to take a bit of trouble to get the colour right in the first place. Ideally all the main colours need to be mixed at the same time and tested before application. I have relished the challenge of mixing my own colours – but my experiences shows how difficult this is – and I don’t think I’d recommend it to anybody isn’t an artist (and I’m not!).

I am making slow progress with airbrush technique – the critical thing being to get the paint consistency right. I have also learnt how to clean the brush more quickly, so I can do it more often. It produces a lovely, delicate finish, which looks really good on aircraft. But good conventional brush technique is just as fast and the results are pretty good. Actually I think the airbrush might come into its own on vehicles, where the smooth finish is not as important, but the nooks and crannies take forever to paint with a brush – and aren’t good for brush health either. So far I have not learned how to do fine work with the brush – so I have to mask – which is clearly an issue! This is partly because of the brush – which isn’t designed for fine work, but mainly its because I don’t think I have set the brush up properly. As for masking, Tamiya standard tape is lovely. I also have 2mm tape which is meant to do bends, but it’s no good for RAF camouflage patterns, and it doesn’t stick all that well after a few months.

After the glazing and detailing the canopies, I went on to the decals. I didn’t think the decal softener was working properly as they weren’t melding properly with the surface. But as they dried, it mostly worked very nicely. Unfortunately I managed to dislodge some of the carefully positioned decals on the Kittyhawk, which required some corrective action – which I’ll describe on my piece on that model. The only surface prep on the decals was using decal fluid, which blobbed a bit on the glazed surface. I didn’t seal the decals afterwards either, as I did on my first model.

After the decals were dry I used the oil paint patination technique of putting small blobs of paint on the surface, and brushing them in. This caused a near-death experience with my German aircraft – but I did not make the mistake of doing this on top of a layer of matt varnish this time. My technique is improving and this step was quick. It really helps integrate the decals, which can be a bit saturated and stark, as well s giving the aircraft a bit of a used look. The glaze left quite a glossy surface, so I applied layer of matt varnish after this. I used the LifeColor airbrush varnish for this, but applied it by conventional brush. This is quick on the smooth surfaces of an aircraft – and I did not want to mask the canopies again. I did not want a deep matt finish, so I didn’t think of using the Winsor and Newton aerosol. The varnish blobbed a bit, so it was a bit trickier than I thought it would be – just as well I didn’t try the airbrush, as the standard brush would have been needed anyway!

Finally I finished with a bit of powder scraped from pastels. This was mainly to create the exhaust stains. But I applied small quantities more generally to give a slightly dusty look. You can’t really tell from my picture above – but closer up pictures will be come with my later posts.

So disappointing. The RAF tropical scheme is hard to get right. I have seen many horrible-looking jobs on restored aircraft, models and artwork. There’s usually an error somewhere. The pre-mixed paints often don’t get it right either. Still my first attempt doesn’t measure up. I plan another batch of models in this scheme later – and I promise they will look much more like the picture above. I may also do another Spitfire V and Kittyhawk anyway, as these models aren’t quite right for other reasons – more later!

Big Napoleonic battles

A view of a recent Albuera based game with Prussians standing in for Spanish. Albuera is not a big battle by Napoleonic standards, and not all the forces are in view – but it gives some idea of the visual effect I am heading for.

It is one of the strange aspects of Napoleonic wargaming that historically the main focus is on big battles, with over 50,000 men on each side (and on occasions over 150,000 and once double that), while the games themsleves are generally designed to represent much smaller encounters. The January and February issues of Wargames Illustrated feature articles which explore this paradox, from veteran games designers Sam Mustafa and Bill Gray. But my approach to this conundrum is different again from these.

This strange situation is readily explainable. The fashion in the early days was to design games from the bottom up, based on the known capabilities of men, horses and weapons. This led quickly to the basic unit being the battalion, which in turn tied the games to the myriad of accounts of the wars written by the men who took part. There is a lot of drama at this level, and it makes for a cracking game. From a wider perspective it also made a bit more sense than it might first appear: one of the innovations of the age was the use of the division as a manoeuvre element and semi-independent locus of command – and the division was the higher level of organisation around which battalion-based games naturally focused.

So far, so good. But this sort of game makes fighting the big battles, like Waterloo or Borodino impossible without doing strange things – like the practice of “bath-tubbing” – making each battalion stand in for a brigade or division. And the big battles, incorporating the works of the big celebrity generals, like Napoleon, Wellington or Kutusov, are one of the era’s main sources of interest. You are told that you can step in the footsteps of Napoleon, and then given no more than a dozen battalions to play with! It gets worse. One of the attractions of the era is the variety of troop types, and especially elite troops. It’s hard to bring these into an honest division-level game without losing much of the drama that surrounds their use. And you might be able to work in one unit of Imperial Guard, or one of Cuirassiers. But both? And then there are tactics such as massed cavalry or massed artillery that are also very hard to do at divisional level.

And so was born the brigade-unit game. Sam started this with his Grande Armée rules, and then his current Blucher system. Bill did so with his Age of Eagles, based on the Fire and Fury system for US Civil War games. Many gamers are understandably not interested in these systems, so wrapped up are they in the dramas of battalions. It’s simply not Napoleonic without them they say. But for people like me, drawn to the drama of bigger battles, these rules were manna from heaven. For a long time GA, and especially its fast play variant, were my go-to systems. For a number of reasons I outgrew this system, which had weaknesses that Sam himself recognises, and were the reason that he replaced it with Blucher. Meanwhile I developed my own brigade-based system, which I used for my Vitoria game in 2013. These rules were quite innovative – using playing cards instead of dice for example, and did well representing Vitoria, which we played as a four-player game.

But I had a serious problem with brigade games, acknowledged by Bill in his article. The units are too small – and indeed the time interval for a move is too short too – for properly big battles. There are too many units and too many moves to make them accessible either to two players in a day, or to multiple players in an evening – which are the typical formats for most games. This is actually less of an issue with Blucher than Age of Eagles. Blucher is highly abstracted and slick, and a number of its systems are designed to speed up play. I can say similarly for another highly abstracted brigade system – Horse, Foot, Guns by Phil Barker. I have successfully had two player day games with HFG: Salamanca and a stripped back Waterloo (a version that ignores the Prussians but takes out Lobau’s command and the Young Guard). I have played Blucher about three times in evening games with made-up scenarios very loosely based on the core forces at Ligny. But there is something about both the game mechanisms and the look and feel of these games that I don’t like, but that I can’t really articulate. Visually I don’t think they work well with my 15/18mm figures. More seriously they start to get more difficult when the battles get bigger – Salamanca and Waterloo redux are medium-sized battles.

I decided that I had to bite the bullet and use the division as the base unit. Bill says about this: “You lose so many painted miniatures from your visuals that I’d suggestion might as well simply play a board or video game.” Actually the aim is to have the number of miniatures about the equivalent of a normal battalion-based game – say 250-500 a side for 15mm. But he has a point of course – reducing a division of 5,000 men down to a group of 24 miniatures is a stretch. It is probably more tolerable with 6mm or 10mm figures, but that is a road not taken a long time ago for me.

I have encountered two systems with division-sized units. One was by Sam, and based on his GA system. This has a very long distance scale, and large units, represented on standard 2-inch or 3-inch squares. In my one trial game we did Waterloo incorporating most of the Prussian approach march on the table. This produced an interesting game, but it is too scaled down for me. It also suffers many of the faults of the GA system. Then came Bloody Big Battles by Chris Pringle. This is based on Fire and Fury, but is much more scaled up and stripped down than Bill’s game. The system is aimed mainly at mid-19th Century battles, and especially the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. But many have used it for Napoleonic. The scaling was exactly what I was looking for though – with 25/30mm square bases representing 1,000 to 1,500 men each, organised into units of three to six bases, usually. My first trial of the system was a solo game between Prussians and Austrians in the 1866 war, using Napoleonic figures. This gave a cracking game with fortunes swinging back and forth wildly. If I start up in this era – and I’m very tempted to – these are the rules that will use (but I’ll use 10mm or 6mm miniatures). It helps that Chris has produced a whole heap of interesting historical scenarios ready to play.

But, as I’ve said a few times here already, BBB does not transfer well to Napoleonic battles. One reason is that the fighting takes too long to resolve – I think because infantry firing is so restricted without long-range firearms. Second is that the command/activation system is very haphazard, so that things can freeze up too quickly in core parts of the battle. This may represent mid-century wars quite well. Central battle control tended to be weak, while local corps and divisional commanders were more used to taking the initiative than earlier in the century. The randomised activation system models this dispersion well enough, but in Napoleonic times the army command tended to be stronger, but lower levels were weaker. The battle flowed quickly in the areas where the army command focused, but tended to be slower elsewhere. Blucher and HFG model this well (HFG overdoes it in fact) – but not BBB. Finally cavalry was much more important in the earlier era, and its role much more distinct from the infantry.

And so for all these reasons I started the journey of writing my new rules with BBB as the jumping-off point. This has produced a series of false dawns, and I’m still not there yet. Partly inspired by Lasalle 2 I have now finally abandoned the I-go U-go turn system. There are other features that I have copied from these wonderfully designed rules. There will need to be more trials before I have anything fit to release, even as a beta.

But one thing is very clear from my journey so far. You lose a lot of the detail with divisional-sized units, and so rely a lot on random combat factors to give a realistic variety of outcomes. This came home forcefully when I tried a thought experiment of recreating d’Erlon’s attack at Waterloo in terms of my rules. The historical outcomes are all possible within the rules, but the route can be a bit indirect at times. But, of course, if you are going to reduce a big battle into something that two players can play in a day, it follows you have to lose a lot. The high randomisation and abstraction is bound to put many off. But it might draw as many others in.