Category Archives: Miniatures

The figures and models I play with

1815 light cavalry for the Prussians

My attack on the lead and plastic mountain continues. For this project I wanted to draw a line under my remaining Old Glory Prussian cavalry. I had two packs of uhlans, with and without czapka, and a mixed pack covering Prussian friekorps, in reality a motley collection of British and Prussian figures from other packs. From these I have painted up five four-base units representing 3rd, 6th and 7th Uhlans, 8th Hussars and 3rd Silesian Landwehr cavalry. These are not outstanding examples of the figure-painters art, and there are minor inaccuracies, as well as the nonsense of that large infantry flag. But they will help to brighten up my 1815 Prussians, who can be a little dull.

The method was to paint the horses first, without riders, in batches depending on horse colour. I’m still developing technique on this. For these I tried oil paint for the first time, having read so many people recommending it. The idea is that you undercoat in white or some bright colour, and apply oil paint (Van Dyck Brown is usually recommended) over it and let it go tacky for about an hour or two. Then gently wipe off the paint with a rag from the raised areas. That leaves a patina of paint on these raised areas but deeper colour in the recesses. and it should dry to a nice off-gloss finish. After some early experiments I restricted this to bay and chestnut horses, which are about 80%. My Payne’s Grey oil paint came out very glossy and hard to work with, and this is what I wanted to use for the black horses. I wasn’t sure how the technique would work for grey and other pale horses anyway. I probably shouldn’t give up on the Payne’s Grey. Some oil medium had separated out and came out of the tube first; I may have mixed too much of this back into the pigment (I’m only using small amounts) – I think excessive oil may be the problem. All the horses were primed in white (using airbrush primer). I painted on Raw Sienna (a lovely orange-brown) and Burnt Sienna (a reddish hue) as undercoat in acrylic for the bays and chestnuts (more of the former for the chestnuts). I also experimented a bit with Yellow Oxide (a Yellow Ochre substitute), but not by itself. Then on went the oil. I rubbed it off after about an hour with a bit of old tee-shirt, better than using kitchen towel or tissue. I used various mixes of Van Dyck Brown, Raw Umber, Burnt Umber and Burnt Sienna, with a little Zinc White mixed in. The results were mostly very nice. The main learning is that it is important that the undercoat and is compatible with the oil layer – if one is yellowish and the other reddish then the effect is rather awkward. While at first I didn’t think the results were markedly superior to my earlier method of using layers of acrylic, the more I handled the figures the more I liked them; I’m not sure what accounts for this.

For the other horses (blacks and greys and a sort-of dun or roan) I used layers of acrylic, starting with Payne’s Grey. I stippled on some white on the some of the greys using the cut down brush I used for the Bf-109. I wasn’t especially happy with these and I think I need to develop technique some more here.

After the horses were painted, I attached riders, ready primed but otherwise unpainted. Nothing particularly special about painting technique to note here. As usual I used muted colours and a bit of white with almost everything. All the figures were finished in a diluted black ink wash. Time to look at each of the units.

3rd Uhlans

This was the only unit in regulation uniform, with a blue overcoat, red collar and grey overalls. My source for the yellow over dark blue pennons was the centjours website, as it was for all my units. The photo might be unimpressive but I was very pleased with the blue of the coats (mixed from Prussian Blue) which had just the right brightness to set off the red and yellow elements nicely. Unlike my rather disappointing dragoons.

6th Ulhans

The 6th Uhlans were based on Lutzow’s freikorps; the unit was led by Lutzow himself and involved in some heavy and critical fighting, in which Lutzow was captured. I painted up the whole unit in the uniform of the first two squadrons; the third squadron had a hussar uniform and the fourth czapkas in place of the shakos. With so few figures in a unit there are limits to the variation that can be accommodated. I used standard uhlan figures, some of which were included in the freikorps pack, allowing me to dispense with standard bearers. The uniform is black with red piping on the collars and overalls and yellow shoulder-boards. Simple but striking.

7th Uhlans

This uniform is again based on the first two squadrons, which were formed from Hellwig’s freikorps. The third squadron, formed from Schill’s freikorps, were in blue British hussar uniforms. I had a rather embarrassing pack of Prussian uhlans with czapka to use up – czapkas were not incorporated into the Prussian uhlan uniform until after 1815. This unit, and the 3rd Silesian Landwehr, were as close as I was going to get, though they had lacing on their tunics – and their red jackets were very striking anyway. One problem with this pack was that it had 16 figures, just enough for two units, but including standard bearers, which Prussian light cavalry did not use. I was able to make a pennon from foil and turn one of them into a regular lancer, based alongside the officer. I did attempt to represent the white lacing with paint, but not very successfully. These are not good quality miniatures – the worst of all my Old Glory Prussians. The regular uhlans aren’t great, but not too bad by comparison.

3rd Silesian Landwehr cavalry

Here are the rest of the uhlans in czapka, this time painted as Silesian Landwehr. Apparently the 3rd regiment captured and appropriated Polish lancers’ uniform in 1813 and were still wearing it in 1815. There is no lacework this time, so the the paint job is more straightforward. This time I decided to use the standard bearer figure as designed. I had lots of spare Silesian landwehr infantry flags (from GMB). This is nonsense of course, as the flag would have been too unwieldy to use. But I thought it would add some visual drama and help mark the unit out as landwehr rather than regulars.

8th Hussars

The 8th Hussars consisted of three squadrons thrown together from different formations: the 2nd Lieb Hussars, the 3rd Hussars and Hellwig’s Friekorps (again). I have represented the first squadron, with its black uniform and death’s head insignia, and the Hellwig’s, in their red British hussar uniform with brown colpack. The figures were from the Freikorps set, originally being Death’s Head hussars and British hussars. The saddle cloths are wrong, but these are the nicest miniatures in the set and fun to paint. Overall it looks as if the British figures are amongst Old Glory’s best in the 15mm range, based on my experience with French and Prussians. Some nice riflemen came with this set too. Making a unit out of two such different uniforms is a bit awkward though, but the but these figures would sit respectably alongside the 6th or 7th Uhlans if I needed and extra base or two.

For the bases I decided to go back to static grass, and risk it sticking to the miniatures. I mount my figures on unfashionably small bases, as I want to represent the close formations the troops actually used, as opposed to the loose files. Most people use 30mm squares rather than 25mm. The bigger bases are better for showing off the paintwork, and they also allow more creativity on the bases. There is not much scope for variations my bases, so they get a uniform layer of flock or grass. No space for tree stumps, bushes, etc. This time I mixed static grass from a variety of sources, including a fair amount of beige. The mixing wasn’t overdone, so there is some variation. The beige helps lighten up the bases, part of my battle against darkness and saturation. I used a different glue this time – “strong artist’s glue”, though still a white liquid like the PVA. I did not dilute it. After plastering on the static grass I turned the assembly upside down and tapped the bottom hard, both to knock off the surplus and straighten out the strands. The results were OK, and better than normal. The strands were nothing like as straight as you can get using a static electricity applicator, but the bases are small and I don’t mind if it looks a bit trampled – it’s in the middle of a moving cavalry unit after all. There wasn’t too much trouble with the strands sticking to the figures, and when try only small amounts worked loose. This is just as well as you can’t seal static grass by plastering on dilute PVA. Overall this means that static grass is a bit less hassle than flock, a little unexpectedly, and it is especially suitable for cavalry.

So that’s all my Old Glory Prussian cavalry done. I have a few spare miniatures which will end their days in the corner of the junk box. I have just one Old Glory cavalry pack left: some 15 French lancers, which I want to turn into two units of 8 somehow. I plan just three more Prussian cavalry units; I have AB figures for one each of hussars and landwehr with British shakoes. I also want some cuirassiers for 1813 and 1814 scenarios, but I haven’t bought these yet. But I still have masses of Old Glory Prussian line and landwehr infantry. Do I have a big drive on painting these up, or do I switch to the more interesting AB figures that are also waiting for paint?

Hobby 2000 Junkers Ju-87 D1 Stuka in 1/72

And so to the last of my trio of Luftwaffe models for Tunisia. I wanted a Stuka as it was such an iconic aircraft, and it certainly did make its presence felt on the battlefield in early 1943. But by then the plane that symbolised the terror of Blitzkrieg was obsolete. It was vulnerable to enemy fighters, and not that effective against dispersed troops and moving vehicles. Latterly the pilots only look them up when there was a lot of cloud cover, which didn’t help to find their targets. It was withdrawn to be used only well away from Allied air cover. This model proved quite hard work, however. At pretty much every stage it took me more time than the two fighter models put together.

For this project I needed a model for the D, or Dora, which had come into service during 1942. Most models are of the B, which was in service at height of the aircraft’s career. There was not a great deal of choice. If manufacturers prefer the B, their next choice is the G, a similar aircraft which saw extensive service on the Russian front later in 1943 as a tank buster, with two underwing 37mm cannon. This is very similar to the D, which does not have the cannon, but does have dive brakes and bomb pylons. There was a Hobby Boss model of the D, and for once the undercarriage would not have been a problem, but this was really an adapted G without the dive brakes. Instead the best reviewed option was this one from Hobby 2000. This was in fact a reissue of a much older (1990s) Fujimi model. All things equal I would have preferred a later D5 version which had longer wings and 20mm cannon in place of the wing machine guns. But Hobby 2000 had an issue for the D1 specifically covering North Africa, including decals and colour scheme for a rather interesting one with a splinter camouflage scheme with desert sand, featured on the box art. I also bought an Eduard stencil for the cockpit frame; this is complicated and I wanted to give this method a try. In fact one of the improvements that Hobby 2000 have made is to include a stencil of their own, so I have one spare! The model includes all the parts for a G1, the version based on the D1 (and often converted from it). Hobby 2000 also have an issue for the G2, which has the longer wings of the D5. This would need to substitute the (separate) wing sprue from this model to be accurate. The model does not include crew, which I supplied from resin models bought separately (I actually used US crew as stocks of Luftwaffe ones were low).

This model is quite different to the two fighters (or the Hobby Boss P-47) that I had made previously. This is partly because it was never intended as a quick-build, and partly, I suspect, because it is much older. The build was much more complicated. This included drilling holes in the wings to accommodate the dive brakes and bomb pylons – which I didn’t discover until after I had glued the top and bottom together, and had to rapidly pull them apart as this needed to be done from the inside. Mistakes like this didn’t help, but a bigger problem was that I didn’t find the parts to be especially well-fitting. And many of the smaller parts didn’t have clear recesses to fit them into. There was quite a bit of “How is this meant to work?”. A couple of parts I left out altogether. Quite a bit of model putty and filing was needed to cover up the gaps.I suspect that this is an area where model manufacturing standards have progressed. Back in the day (by which I mean the 1970s) I remember using a lot of putty. So assembly took a lot longer than the other models. Of course it is bigger and more complicated anyway.

Unlike the other models I decided to use the scheme and decals in the box. This showed a rather unusual splinter scheme. The box art said that the three colours used should be the three Luftwaffe desert colours of sand, olive green and azure blue. I though that this was rather unlikely. These paints would have been applied in theatre and replicating the complicated factory patterns was not done. Instead the whole upper parts were usually covered in sand, with blotches of olive green on top of that. Instead what I thought had happened was that the ground crew had just used sand to overpaint the black-green of the standard three colour splinter scheme the aircraft would have arrived in (dark green and light blue were the other colours). This was because I noticed from the box art that it was the sand was where the black-green was on the aircraft in the standard scheme. I used the same sand as the two fighters, and mixed the other colours specially. For the blue I started with the bright blue that came with my airbrush order, in the hope that I would create an airbrush friendly paint. Alas this was much too bright. I added a lot of white and brown to cool it down. I didn’t really succeed, I ended up with far too much paint and something too dark and too blue – it was hard to distinguish from the separately mixed azure I made for the Bf-109. The dark green was hard to judge. Studying pictures the contrast with black-green is not that great, so I was quite happy that I had a reasonably authentic colour. But there was a very strong contrast with the sand, when I had been hoping for something much closer to the box art.

I then saw another interpretation of this aircraft (S7+EP) in the Osprey book on Mediterranean Stukas (which arrived too late) in just the standard scheme. I have only just now discovered the source picture (above) and looks as if Osprey has it right. Look how the yellow E stands out and the black S7 doesn’t. I also made a mistake in the positioning of the white fuselage stripe, which I put further forward than it should have been. This was entirely my mistake as the box art had this right – though a lot of Stukas did have it in this more forward position. So that leaves me with an irony; this is the only plane I have made so far which is based on an authentic aircraft rather than a generic one – and I’ve got it wrong! Researching aircraft colour schemes is all part of the fun, but I’m learning it the hard way.

The paint was mainly applied with the airbrush. I had similar difficulties as the other planes with the paint consistency, but apart from spraying a bit of the green on the undersurfaces by accident (I though it would be easier to use the airbrush on the undercarriage than it was) I did not need much correction using the paintbrush. I achieved the splinter by applying the green over the sand, using masking tape. The tape took a long time to put on, but the effect is stunning, however unrealistic. Here is the underside:

Apart from the swastika I used the decals that came with them model. These proved quite hard to move into position, regardless of using generous quantities of fluid – much harder than for the other models or for the 40+ year old ones from stock. The underwing crosses were especially tricky as the air brakes and bomb pylons got in the way. A little cutting was needed. Hobby 2000 supplied the stripes to be applied on top of the air brakes (so that the cross comes out from below); these were a bit fiddly but not quite as hard to put on as I feared, and do look good.

I did the patination after my near-death experience on the fighter models, and I was very hesitant, after all the time I had already lavished on this model. So the upper surfaces look quite fresh, rather than trying to get anywhere near the weathered look you can see on the photo (though in that picture we don’t know how long the plane had been left abandoned for). Still the patination helps to integrate the colours and decals.

Another job that took quite a while on this model was the canopy, as there were many panels on the stencil to first put on and then take off. The result is OK but not better than would be achieved using the old-fashioned paintbrush method – albeit that acrylic paint doesn’t stick that well to the acetate, so you need a primer.

A lot of effort resulted in a nice-looking but unrealistic model, which is only relevant for the first part of my period. But you can’t have a collection of WW2 Luftwaffe aircraft without a Stuka.

Hobby Boss Messerschmitt Bf-109G-2 Trop

And so to the next model in my trio of Luftwaffe Tunisia planes. The 109 was the workhouse German fighter arm throughout the war. They used no other fighter aircraft in the Mediterranean theatre, apart from the brief intervention from the Fw-190s of JG2. I wanted to go for one of the earlier G models. These are very similar to the F, whose introduction give the RAF such problems until the Spitfire V came along. The G had an engine upgrade, giving it superior performance; these early Gustavs appeared in mid-1942. Later ones (like the G-6) had an upgrade to the fuselage machine guns, which necessitated the characteristic blisters each side of the nose in front of the cockpit.

I chose the Hobby Boss kit because it was cheap and simple – just what I wanted when I was still learning how to do model aircraft. I had already bought the Airfix 109G-6, which is suitable for later in 1943. This is probably quite a good kit for my purposes but to represent the G2 would meant removing those blisters – which would be very hard to do cleanly. In fact Zvesda produce what is probably a more suitable model (actually of an F, as well as a later G). I had already experienced Hobby Boss with my P-47, so I knew what to expect. The big problem is that it does not have an undercarriage up option, in spite of the box art (which says it all in my view!). The model is simple and robust apart from that. It actually had more interior cockpit detail than Airfix, though it necessitates the amputation of the lower legs of the pilot. The join between the upper wings and the fuselage wasn’t seamless, and required filing, putty and sanding. The fit of the cockpit canopy wasn’t quite right either (which I failed to rectify). Otherwise my only complaints were that the scoring to denote control surfaces is a bit shallow (like the P-47) and it doesn’t come with a bomb.

I wanted to represent an aircraft in the classic Luftwaffe desert scheme (as per the box art) overpainted with Olive Green splodges, doubtless to fit better with winter in the greener environment of Tunisia. The model came with decals for such a plane – Yellow 13 from JG53. But this was the plane of an ace pilot (with victory marks on the tail), who was lost in Tunisia. I wanted something more generic. The simplest thing to have done would have been to use the same scheme with a different number (as I did with the Fw-190). But doing yellow number with a black outline looked a bit tricky at the time (in fact I managed it for the 190 without difficulty). I wanted to keep the Ace of Spades insignia for JG 53, so I went for different Gruppe and Staffel – black letters with a downward stroke after the fuselage cross and white band. I was inspired by a picture of Black 1 (see above – another ace, as well as staffel leader), with some aircraft in the background. Evidence for the actual schemes is pretty thin. I have seen Yellow 13 represented with and without the green splodges, and with different shaped ones. Black 1 is usually shown in a very mucky version of the sand and azure scheme without the olive green (a fair interpretation of the picture). It’s actually quite hard to tell on the planes in the background in the picture, especially if the olive green has a similar tonal value to the sand (as was the case for my 190 – but not pictures from earlier in the war), though it should still show up against he blue. I wanted the splodges (“dappling” is the correct term, I think), to help me develop technique for my next batch of German aircraft in the standard grey scheme, which have dappling on the fuselage. Some modellers show splodges on the fuselage and stripes on the wing. I went for splurges on the wing too, following one of the interpretations of Yellow 13.

As with the 190, I had to make decisions about the yellow and white markings. The JG53 109s clearly often had yellow rudders and under the nose. Black 1 had what looks like a yellow rudder – but it looked to me that this was to show off the pilot’s awards and kill marks; it wasn’t clear if the other planes in the background had it. I decided to leave out the yellow rudder, but, like the 190, to have yellow under the nose. I also had white wingtips underneath, following quite a few portrayals of 109s in the theatre. Desert 109s often had white wingtips; I think they were often left off the upper surface to make them less conspicuous on the ground, especially later on. Finally I decided to represent the plane in fighter-bomber mode. Unlike the 190s used by JG2, the 109s do seem to have been able to carry bombs. British soldiers often wrote of being attacked on the ground by “Messerschmitts”, and they were certainly used in this capacity in Sicily. The ID skills of British soldiers isn’t to be relied on though. I suspect a tendency to identify all single engined fighters as 109s, and there were fighter-bomber 190s in theatre (funnily enough aircrew often identified 109s as 190s, such was the reputation of the 190, rather as their army colleagues kept identifying Panzer IVs as Tigers). Anyway as my 190 was a pure fighter, I wanted the 109 as a fighter-bomber. More straightforwardly I put on underwing cannon too, though I don’t know if this staffel had them (though it does look like it from the picture). The early 109 is a bit under-armed, and I am speculating that the extra engine power of the Gustav gave pilots the confidence to take the performance hit of the extra armament.

And so to the build. The biggest problem by far was having the undercarriage in the up position. The wheel wells as modelled were very shallow, and the wheels needed a lot of filing down to fit in. The doors were a poor fit too. I actually found that the doors from the Airfix 109 (those for the down position – they had a different moulding for up) were closer and used them instead. It still took quite a bit of work. As I eventually did with the P-47, I set the doors in plasticine to ensure they were flush. I needed to provide a pilot – I used a resin one from PJ Productions. PJ seem to have this market to themselves, which I find amazing. They are nothing special, and have arms moulded separately, which are tricky to glue into place. Resin is very brittle for such small things. Considering how easy it would be to provide a pilot with the model (as well as undercarriage up), I find it amazing that so few people do it. Only Airfix and Zvesda in the models I have bought. It is even more surprising that Hobby Boss don’t, given that there is surely more demand for this at this end of the market. The cockpit interior, while modelled (an advance on Airfix, which just has the seat), is too shallow, like the wheel wells, which meant that the lower legs of the pilot had to be removed. I have already referred to issues on wing roots (which meant that some panel details were filed off) and cockpit canopy, which I’m sure I could have done a better job of. Incidentally I fixed the canopies in place before painting the exterior in all my models, as I wanted to putty the joins for the non-moveable bits. For this model I masked the whole canopy, apart from the edges, and painted in the frame later. I added a bomb from the Airfix model, which I indent to represent s a pure fighter. There was no means of anchoring it to the pylon though, and it ended up a bit skew.

For the paint job I used the same sand and olive green mixes as the Fw-190. I mixed an azure blue for the underside. I started with an Azure Blue from Daler Rowney, and added a bit of white and neutral grey (and maybe some brown – I can’t remember). The result was pretty much what I was looking for, but disappointingly similar to the standard Luftwaffe light blue I used for the Stuka – mixed by a totally different route. I had fewer problems with the airbrush on this model than I did with the Fw-190. I think this may be because the mixes made up from artists’ paints are a bit thick, though I used copious amounts of thinner for the brush. Anyway I have more to learn on that front. I applied the blue and sand that way. For the olive green dappling an experienced aero-modeller would have thought nothing about using an air brush too – but my skills are nowhere near that level. My first idea was to use cotton wool buds – but these are quite absorbent, using a fair amount of paint that never gets on the model, which then proceeds to dry. Instead I decided to do what I did back in the 1970s – create a stipple brush by cutting down an old paintbrush. This worked adequately, though on one side of the fuselage I got the paint a bit thick, which proved quite hard to undo and redo. The result is still a bit mucky (it’s the other side from the photo above) – though the for the scheme and theatre that’s not such a big deal.

For the decals I used a similar solution as for the Fw-190. The fuselage and lower wing crosses were from the kit (rather better quality than the Zvesda), but it came with the simplified upper wing crosses. I used old Almark decals for the upper wing crosses, the swastika and the number and stroke (which identifies the Gruppe). All pretty straightforward. The stroke came from a separate sheet from the numbers, and is in fact too thin, looking again at the photo. The kit came with Ace of Spades markings, but without the black outline which pretty much everybody shows they had. I had quite a few spares from the old Airfix 1970s 109 model. These broke up slightly and I lost part of the outline (on both sides). Looking at the photo, the border is in fact very thin and the ones with the kit may have been a better choice.

This model suffered much the same problems with the oil paint patination I have described on the 190, with the additional issue that I think I overdid the white on the upper surfaces. The model still looks slightly milky even after the frantic attempts at correction. Here is the underside:

Apart from the skew bomb (which doubtless I will correct at a later point), I was actually quite happy with the underside, unlike the Fw-190. That may just be because there is more going on, with the vents, cannon and exposed wheels, and the colour is more interesting. I wasn’t sure what colour to paint the bomb. I read that the Luftwaffe often painted them blue to fit in with the underside colour, so I chose this. I used my standard Luftwaffe blue mixed for the Stuka (also used for the Stuka’s main bomb) – you can see how little contrast there is. For the exhaust stain I used powdered artists’ pastel, a mix of dark grey and brown. Looking at the photo I could made it quite a bit bigger.

Overall I’m pretty pleased with this model. Incidentally I didn’t notice the white splodge on the nose when I took the picture. I don’t know what it is, but it came off quite easily. Next I will describe the final member of the trio, the Stuka.

My Zvesda Fw-190 model

And so to the first of my three recent models of German aircraft. The Focke-Wulf Fw-190 A4 is one of the earlier models of this classic fighter aircraft. The 190A is one of my favourite WW2 planes from an aesthetic point of view, up there with the Mosquito and Spitfire Mk VIII/IX.

I wanted to model one of the early variants, which were around in early 1943, in one of the Mediterranean camouflage schemes. These early planes were slightly shorter than the later ones (from the A5 on, and the F series of fighter-bombers), which had the engine pushed slightly forwards to shift the centre of gravity, to ease the carrying of bombs. To meet my aim meant going for one of the pure fighter planes in JG2. Some early fighter-bombers were deployed in Tunisia at this time, but they seem to have used the standard European grey colour scheme. This would have made them look very like the A5 fighter-bomber that I plan to make later on. Given this, the Zvesda kit pretty much chose itself. Most models, like the Airfix one, of the 190A are of the later A8, which belongs to 1944. And I wanted a simpler, cheaper model at this stage in my modelling journey.

The Zvesda kit was an excellent choice. It has an undercarriage-up option, and comes with a pilot. Better than that, the fit of the parts is excellent; it needed very little filler. How unlike the kits of my youth! And also better than the low-cost Hobby Boss models. It sells as a snap fit model, without the need for glue. I did use glue, but it was only actually needed it in one or two places. I have just one significant complaint – the Fw-190’s tail wheel partly retracts in flight – but on the model it is in the fully down position. It was a bit tricky to replicate the retracted version. The decals aren’t great either. The only other point to note is that there are no bomb racks included with this kit to make a fighter-bomber version (which would also require the removal of the outer wing cannon) – though not many of these entered service for the A4. Sometimes kits are supplied with extra parts to make different versions, even ones for which instructions and decals are not supplied – not this one. Based on this kit though, Zvesda are the ideal maker of 1/72 kits for wargames purposes. The shame is that they only have a limited range of models. It looks OK for Russian aircraft (unsurprisingly), but otherwise it’s thin. There is no later, or fighter-bomber, version of the Fw-190 – a bit strange given how big a role this aircraft played on the Russian front. But there are a couple of Bf 109s, and they might be a better source for these than the Airfix or Hobby Boss kits that I have bought.

II Group of JG2 (Staffels 4, 5 and 6) was sent to Tunisia in November 1942 as part of a general rush of German reinforcements to this theatre – the unit had been based on the English Channel (the aircraft in the Imperial War Museum that landed in England in 1942 by accident was from JG2). They stayed until February 1943, and were the only Fw-190 fighters to be deployed in the Mediterranean in the war, as opposed to fighter-bombers. Only 109s took up the fighter role for the rest of the war, in a demonstration of the economic principle of comparative advantage – the Fw-190 was generally thought to be a superior fighter to the 109, but the latter was a much inferior fighter-bomber. What colour scheme? The Luftwaffe Mediterranean schemes were always ad-hoc, and that applies even more to Tunisia; there was no manual. Tunisia itself in winter was quite green for the most part, meaning that many of the aircraft rushed in were not given a new paint job at all, like the Fw-190 fighter-bombers. However there is evidence that at least some of JG2’s were. Unfortunately there are very few photos, and even fewer of them are available on online searches, so I’m relying mainly on secondary interpretations. The kit comes with decals for White 14 from 5 Staffel in Tunisia. This appears to simply have blobs of overpainting on the conventional grey scheme (and with the white on the fuselage Balkenkreuz painted out). This wasn’t very interesting. Two other schemes come up in searches: a group staff plane (with black chevrons) in overall sand upper parts, and Yellow 1 from 6 Staffel, either shown in just sand, or in sand with broad olive green stripes. Yellow 1 (1 denoting staffel leader) was flown by fighter ace Erich Rudorffer. I wanted the sand and green scheme, which would give me practice for the similar British schemes (sand and brown stripes), but I didn’t want a famous ace, but something more generic. I decided to do one from the same staffel but with a different number (seven in the end) – fictional, perhaps, but the sort of generic thing suitable for the tabletop. Details on Yellow 1 vary on the illustrations. Sometimes it is shown with white wing stripes – markings which were apparently used by German planes in Vichy France, but these would not have appeared on planes in Tunisia. Also shown are white underwing tips, yellow under the engine cowling and a yellow rudder (as well as the white fuselage stripe which almost all Axis planes in the theatre had). All of these appear on German fighters in the theatre, but not universally. The yellow markings were also used by JG2 planes in their previous posting on the Channel. My speculation is that the upper parts of the planes were overpainted in sand and olive green, but the underparts were left in the pale blue-grey of the original scheme (rather than azure in the German Mediterranean set). Winter in Tunisia wasn’t particularly sunny (it rained a lot), so there was no good reason to overpaint the underside. Besides a large part of the use of aircraft camouflage schemes in this theatre was to make the planes less conspicuous on the ground, as the airfields were quite basic, and there was little cover. Even the Americans were forced to do this in 1944 when they stopped painting their aircraft at the factories. So, I reasoned, they would have overpainted the yellow rudder but left the yellow under the cowling. I wasn’t sure about the white wingtips, but these aren’t very conspicuous, so I left them out.

Here’s the finished model:

And underneath:

There’s not much to note on the build. It was very straightforward apart from the tail wheel. I used the airbrush to prime, but this time with LifeColor purpose made white primer. This went on more easily than standard paint, but there was still a slight tendency to bubble (even though the parts had been washed). The sand and olive green were mixed for use on this and the other models – the sand on all three models, and the green with the 109. The pale blue grey (“white-blue”) was mixed just for this model. I took the darker light blue I used for the Stuka and mixed some white into it. It should probably have been a bit greyer (on the Stuka too). The sand was Raw Siena with a bit of blue and white – and I am very happy with how that turned out. It’s a bit darker than it is often shown, but close to many representations of this aircraft. The olive green is usually shown as been noticeably darker than the sand (which comes out on may photos) but in this case I thought it would be tonally similar. One the one photo I have of Yellow 1 (showing just the nose) the stripes are nearly invisible. I started with Sap Green, mixed in some Yellow Oxide and white. That works well on this model.

I have already written of my traumas at the painting stage. I painted the whole upper surface in sand, and then over sprayed the green on top, using Science Putty for masking. I used this product as an alternative to the more expensive “Panzer Putty”, and it worked pretty well. However the problem with it is that it moves, so you can’t leave it on the model for long. Blue Tac is probably more appropriate. I had to top up a lot of the airbrushed green with a paintbrush. For the decals I used the Balkankreuz that came with the model for the fuselage and underwing, but they supplied the simplified cross for the overwing, which didn’t seem to be accurate. At this stage, and in this theatre, the Germans seemed to use the standard cross with a thinner white band. This, and ID markings and the swastika were all sourced from my brother’s stock of German markings from the 1970s (or even late 1960s), mainly from Almark. Almark still seem to be going, though Scalemates says they started in 1975, my brother’s main modelling activity in 1/72 was long before this, and I generally only needed the swastikas for my models at this time, so I don’t think I bought these. Zvesda do supply swastikas, but, doubtless for legal reasons, they are cut in pieces and a faff to put on. The old decals took a little while to free themselves from the backing paper, but then were fine to manipulate – actually easier than many of the modern ones. Using decal fluid the flash, a big problem back in the day, disappears – though it didn’t help that we usually applied them to matt enamel painted surfaces. For the ID markings I had to put on the yellow markings first, and then the black outlines over them. I am very pleased with how they turned out.

Overall I am very pleased with the result on the upper surfaces, in spite of the nightmare on the oil paint patination. The LifeColor matt varnish has left a faint sheen (or maybe it’s the oil coming through) which is just what I wanted. While American planes in the Olive drab scheme often appear in a very matt finish, this seems less true of Luftwaffe planes. Doubtless the crews kept the planes clean to extract every ounce of aerodynamic performance. The whole effect is cleaner than the P-47, but consistent with a recently-painted aircraft. The patination nevertheless helps to integrate the whole model, including decals, and give it more of a real-world feel. The underside is much less satisfactory. The main problem is that it is too monotonous. Some of the detail could have done with being brought out. The fit of the undercarriage doors is so good you can hardly see them! The patination effect is also much more visible and makes it look a bit mucky. That’s not unrealistic in itself, remembering that this is the bit that wasn’t overpainted, and the underside would have taken a pounding from dust on take-off and landing, but it still doesn’t look quite right. But after the traumas with the oil, I wanted to draw a line under the project, and had no wish to spend yet more time trying to fix it. The underside is not going to be that visible on the table after all.

My next batch of 1/72 WW2 Aircraft

So at last I have finished my latest project. These are three German planes from Tunisia at the winter of 1942/43: a Messerschmitt Bf-109G2, a Focke-Wulf Fw-190A4 and a Junkers Ju-87D1 Stuka. I want to describe each of these planes individually in separate posts, but before that there are a few things I want to say about the project as a whole.

The project was quite a late idea in my plans for an aircraft collection based on my 1943 theme. The P-47 was an interesting trial run, but I thought it would be a good idea to do some more practice on cheap models, before launching into some of the more sophisticated (and expensive) kits that I had bought. I was also a bit short of German aircraft (three from the original ten). This wasn’t so inappropriate given that the Germans rapidly lost air superiority in this period, but at the start air superiority was fully contested. Also I had planned to do the three German aircraft in the standard European grey scheme. But in the early period, in Tunisia, they used their desert colours as well, adding some more interest. And they also used Stukas, which I wanted to model, though increasing Allied air strength quickly drove them into a very minor role. So I bought cheap models of the early versions of Bf-109G and Fw-190A in use at this time, the former from Hobby Boss (£6.25), and the latter from Zvesda (£8.50). For the Stuka I went to Hobby 2000, which was substantially the 1990s model from Fukashima; this was a bit pricier (£11.80), but not in the same bracket as modern hobby models.

The project took a lot longer than I expected, and I had some more learning to do. This was mainly due to my daily routine, which only allows 2-3 hours in the afternoons for the hobby, and very often it proved not possible on that day. To improve my work rate I will have to do some morning time too – fortunately my other commitments are easing, so that should be doable (though there’s more to be done in the garden…). But there were other issues. I had the same problem with raised undercarriage with the Bf-109 as I did with the Hobby Boss P-47, and only the Zvesda model came with a pilot. The Stuka proved quite tricky to assemble. There were some fiddly parts, some of which I gave up on, but a bigger issue was that the fit of the parts wasn’t that great, especially when compared to the lovely fit of the Zvesda. Manufacturing standards have clearly improved. But the real problems came with painting and finishing.

I am still learning with the airbrush; it feels like one step back for every two forward. Partly this is because I mix my own colours. I quickly found this easiest with artists’ colours, rather than using hobby paints (a few Lifecolor ones came with the airbrush). But that gives quite a thick paint that needs to be thinned. Getting the consistency and pressure right was quite hard, especially as things seemed to change as the job progressed. It took longer than expected, and a lot of the green on the Fw-190 turned out to be too thin, and I had to top it up with an old fashioned brush. I would not advise people to take up an airbrush for aero-modelling unless they are quite happy to learn new skills. For wargames purpose I’m, sure you can get satisfactory results with a paint brush, provided the paint isn’t too thick, which may mean you use more than one coat.

The real problems came when I tried the oil paint patina technique for weathering the model – referred to as “dot filtering” in the blog I picked it up from, which isn’t very informative. This means putting small dots of oil paint on the model (such as white, brown and blue-grey) and then brushing them into a very thin patina, which I did after the decals in order to integrate these better. It softens contrasts, creates subtle changes of tone, and simulates some of the effects of fading and dirt. I found this not to hard on the P-47, especially as I could correct over enthusiasm with a bit of white spirit. On that model I applied the oils to a surface on old Humbrol enamel satin varnish. This time I thought it would be clever to to apply a coat of matt varnish first – using Winsor & Newton in an aerosol can. Bad idea. I tried with the Fw-190 first, and I found that the spreading of the paint on the matt surface was much harder and it was not possible to spread the paint thinly enough, which left heavy streaking. So I put a bit of white spirit on. That didn’t help because it reacted with the matt varnish to created a horrid claggy mess. By this time the disease had spread to the 109, as I tried a more restrained application of paint, but without success. This was getting desperate. The models were cheap but I’d invested quite a bit of time in them! I then tried oil paint medium (mainly linseed oil) to thin the paint, and this at last started to shift the streaks and help lift some of the clag off. On the 109, on the unrated areas I applied a layer of medium first, and put the dots onto this, with reasonable results. With a bit of work I got to a generally acceptable result on the two fighters, though close examination reveals areas of mess, especially on the 190. The big problem with this approach came later. The medium took days to dry, and finished in high gloss, rather than the rather nice faint sheen I got on the P-47, before putting on the matt varnish. I had been aiming for that light sheen rather than the heavy matt of the P-47. I had to apply matt varnish, but I didn’t want to use the W&N aerosol, partly because it meant re-masking the cockpits, and partly because I wasn’t looking for the extreme matt finish that this product gives. Instead I used Lifecolor varnish applied with a paint brush. Some of the medium clearly hadn’t quite dried, though, and the gloss finish kept bursting through. After this I had very little patience for further weathering, though I did apply pastel powder for some exhaust stains.

With this disaster unfolding on the 190 and 109, I realised I needed to do something different on the Stuka. I put a layer of Lifecolor gloss varnish onto the matt surface, and applied the oil paint to this. This worked much better, but in places I was still a little heavy-handed, so I put on a little oil medium to thin out. This worked, but I had the issue with it taking a long time to dry. I didn’t dare use the white spirit as the Lifecolor product wasn’t polyurethane (or that old Humbrol product), and I thought it might react in the same way as the matt varnish. Judging by how effective white spirit was on shifting dried varnish on a brush I forgot to clean, this was probably a good call. The patina effect on the Stuka was much more restrained, on the top surfaces anyway, than on the other models (including the P-47), as by this time my confidence had been badly dented.

Other points to note? The white fuselage stripes, and the yellow under the nose on the fighters, was painted on directly after the primer and then masked. On the P-47 I painted the yellow stripes over the main paint. Yellow and white are tricky to overpaint (it took several coats on the P-47), and I think this approach was better. I tried three different strategies for the cockpits. I bought a tailor made mask for the Stuka; frustratingly the model actually came with a mask so I didn’t have to do this – and I used the mask that came with the model. On the 190 I cut masking tape for each of the transparent panels leaving the frame exposed. On the 109 I masked the whole cockpit except the edges and painted the frames afterwards. Some modellers swear by masks, but I’m not sure – I don’t think the end result was any better than painting on, though on the Stuka it would have been much too hard to mask the panels by cutting tape. This is only practical on a much simpler canopy, such as that for the 190 (and P-47), where I was pleased with the result. The results on the 109 were fine for my purposes, though the acrylic surface doesn’t take paint that easily and needs a bit of priming (and the white primer needs toning down as it is visible from underneath). The canopy on the Bf 110 is going to be a real challenge, but I think I’ll take the same route as I did with the 109.

Overall I’m very pleased with these models, except on the undersides, which won’t be all that visible in use. I got away with the botching of the patination. A key learning is that, unlike a true aero-modeller, I am aiming for a good effect from a distance, and not to impress with close -up detailing. These models would be a bit of a disaster by the latter standards, especially the fighters, but they work very well for my purposes, as I think the photo shows. They do a good job of evoking Luftwaffe aircraft of that time and place. In particular fussing around with minor bits of detail, like bringing out panel lines, or showing scuffed paint, isn’t worth it. More comments when I review each model individually.

Wargames bases for 1-72 aircraft

My P-47 soars high above my workbench on the newly made stand.

After the first WW2 aircraft for my wargames collection, the P-47 Thunderbolt, I decided that I needed to have flight stands ready before I attempted my next set of models, and to build in the mounting from the start. This would have the advantage of having somewhere to put models while paint was drying, etc. I had hoped to be able to buy something that could be used straightaway. The closest I could find came from Debris of War, which was really meant for smaller scales. This was very neat, but I thought it really wouldn’t work for larger models, just as they said; apart from anything else it doesn’t extend that high. I would have to make my own. This turned out to be not especially hard. In this post I will explain how I did it. There are a couple of things I learnt on the way, so this may help anybody who wants to do something similar.

The starting point is a magnetic, extendable pickup tool. There are quite a few on the market. I tried out two different sorts. The obvious choice was the Amtech 2255 which can be had for a mere £2.59 on Amazon. Worried that this was too good to be true, I also bought another one from Raguso, which sells at £5.89 on Amazon. The Amtech is bulkier and extends a few centimetres less than the Raguso; the magnet at the end has a wider diameter, which is probably better for my purposes. But both work fine. The magnets are quite powerful, making the attachment pretty secure for models assembled from plastic kits. The Amtech is cheaper and delivery from Amazon is much quicker; there really is no reason not to go for this one, so I bought a few of them.

Both have basically the same structure: a telescopic arm (like an aerial) with a magnet fixed at one end, and with a pocket clip at the other end secured with a screw-in top. This is the Amtech one dis-assembled:

The clip serves no function for us, but the removable top comes in handy. This is bigger and domed on the Amtech; the Raguso one is neater and flatter. Next we need a base. I cut this from hardboard, simply because I had some lying around that needed to be used up. This material works, but is not so good for drilling holes in, as I found out later. MDF or hard plastic/acetate would probably be more appropriate. I cut out four inch squares. I thought this would give the best balance between stability and footprint. Something slightly smaller might well be just as good if I you weight it down properly. It doesn’t need to be bigger. I used the square shape because I wasn’t up for cutting out a circle, and I quite like squares on the games table anyway. I think you can get pre-cut circles of MDF or acetate quite easily.

So how to fix the arm to the base? My first idea was to glue the screw-in top into a recess drilled into the base, and then screw the arm onto that. However, the need to make sure the arm was properly vertical meant that in practice I needed to glue the whole assembly in. Then there was the question of adhesive. Having read that people used “liquid nails” I tried Unibond No More Nails. This failed. The adhesive didn’t bond particularly strongly in the context, and in a any case simply trying to glue the arm to the base was asking for trouble, given the leverage on the arm and the sort of forces that the joint was going to have to withstand. Take two. This time I drilled a hole right through the base. Hardboard has a bit of give, meaning that the it bulged a bit on the exit side of the hole, which had to be tidied up with a knife. I then glued a 2cm mudguard washer over the hole. I found some ancient Araldite in my things and I used this, having lost faith in No More Nails. Here is the result, with the Amtech device. Because the drilled hole was slightly bigger than the diameter of the top, I widened it a bit at the top and glued the washer in with it in place. This wasn’t necessary with the Raguso device.

The arm was then simply screwed onto the washer with the top, to create a very satisfactory fixing. This is the Raguso one.

Next I felt the need to add extra weight to the base to ensure it was properly stable, especially with the arm extended. For this I used a collection of old coins I had from my 20th Century travels, including a lot of pre-Euro ones. I sifted out the ones that were attracted to a magnet, as I though these might have other uses. Other alternatives might include washers or similar bits of hardware, which can be had very cheaply from specialist suppliers like RS. One blog I read used a small number of very large washers for this, and that looks a good way to go. I used the No More Nails to glue them on. This shows one of each type of arm;

Next the coins were covered with plaster, mixed with paint (brown, yellow and white tempera), together with some of my old mode railway ballast to give it texture. The ballast didn’t work; some sand would have been much bette, but I didn’t have any cheap stuff to hand:

This is all standard terrain making stuff. I simply added flock next. I used two sorts of Woodlands scenic flock, plus some Games Workshop sand (ridiculously expensive but quite nice looking – I only use it for decoration). This was to get the arid terrain look. What worked best to semi mix the three components, and put it all onto the wet PVA at once – rather than applying the different types separately. I then sprayed more PVA onto it to seal it. Finally I painted the edges with a mix of Raw Umber and white to tidy it up. Of course you can be much more ambitious, with bits of scrub, rocks, etc. But I was in a hurry and I didn’t want the bases to draw attention to themselves. Anyway here is the end result:

All very easy. Of course at various stages things had to be left to dry out, so it took a few days altogether, but this could be fitted in alongside my other projects.

How about the mounting on the model? This is a bit of a work in progress. I started with a simple small steel screw – having drilled a hole into the model with a gimlet. This was robust but not entirely stable (though the model would not have been in danger). I then used the screw to attach a steel mudguard washer, which you can see from the picture above. This wasn’t completely horizontal (because it needed to follow the line of the model’s belly), and the screw wasn’t entirely flush. It nevertheless turned out to be very functional. The attachment is very stable and the slightly raised screw head allows for subtly different flight angles to be made. But it is over the top and unsightly. I’m thinking of gluing on a small coin if an appropriately angled surface is available. Hiding something with iron inside the model might work in some cases. it is a work in progresss.

Incidentally something I have discovered the hard way is that not all steel is attracted to magnets. Some stainless steel isn’t. When buying online it is safest to avoid stainless steel. I bought some the screw and washer from RS Online, though absurdly more than I will need to mount aircraft models: here are the screws and the mudguard washers; they both work with magnets. These are same size as the washers I used to fix the base, but in fact I used some I had bought a couple of years ago for basing 20mm infantry, that I thought would attach to magnets but don’t. Lesson learned.

UPDATE 16 March. I have found that the RS 12mm screws above are quite sufficient of themselves to fix to the model, without the need for anything bigger like a washer or small coin. This is for a Bf 109 and an FW 190, which are quite small, and also for a Stuka, which is a bit bigger. I drilled a hole into the underside with a model drill, enlarged it a little with a gimlet, and then fixed the screw in gently with a screwdriver; in all cases this was into a single kit part, not a join. Getting the angle exactly right is a bit tricky. In two cases I managed to get the head in a millimetre or two off flush; in the other (FW 190) another millimetre or two off – I was unwilling to force the screwdriver in case the force broke the model. The attachment is vey secure.

My French Guard infantry

Back to the Napoleonic lead mountain for my next project. This is French Guard infantry circa 1809, using AB 18mm figures. In my original Minifigs army of the 1980s I had a couple of units of French Old Guard. I actually still have them – the only ones left from my French army. As befits Guard troops, I had taken more trouble to paint them than any of my other figures and they look quite smart. But not long after this I decided to upgrade the army with bigger, better figures from other manufacturers. The Guard was included in my schemes. My plan was to have 24 figures representing six types in 1809, with Grenadiers and Chasseurs from each of the Old, Middle and Young Guard. In those days I mounted them in strips of 3 figures, with four to a battalion, so this meant two units of each.

I started the upgrade with the Middle Guard, using AB figures for the Fusilier-Grenadiers and Fusilier-Chasseurs. After this I wanted to do the Young Guard with Tirailleur units. But at that time AB didn’t produce figures for them. Instead I used French light infantry figures, with Middle Guard figures for the drummers, half the officers, and NCOs – how realistic this is I don’t know. For the Tirailleur-Grenadiers this required the addition of a plume on the light infantry figures. I painted up 12 each of the Grenadiers and Chasseurs, leaving the same number unpainted, though converted. That’s where it stayed for more than 20 years, as I was distracted by other things. These 12 bases (in my new format of 6-figure bases) have seen a lot of active service, especially the Young Guard, but with only my diminutive Minifigs to represent the Old Guard, it was a bit of an embarrassment, though the Fusilier units often stood in for them. In 2019 I at last bought the AB Old Guard figures required to complete the project.

What I did this time was four bases each of the Old Guard units, and two each of Young Guard, to complete the original project. Here are the Old Guard:

Grenadiers of the French Guard
Chasseurs of the French Guard

These are represented in parade uniform with black winter gaiters. This is the most popular depiction amongst artists, whom we wargamers tend to follow. I think they would only rarely have looked like this on the battlefield though. In 1809 (presumably after the campaign that year) the Old Guard adopted a service uniform for the field, featuring a surtout and blue trousers, or greatcoats. Before that I expect they wore white gaiters in summer (which I don’t like as it makes them look like ballet dancers), or greatcoats in winter.

I wanted the figures to be reasonably compatible with the original ones., though my painting style has changed quite a bit in the intervening period. I undercoated with white gesso, applied with an airbrush for the first time (I mounted them on strips of card, one for each base). This worked pretty well. Coverage wasn’t perfect, but better than using an aerosol, and without the clouds of droplets. The blue for the uniform came from a mix of Indantherene Blue and Payne’s Grey, as per the originals. My usual go-to dark blue is now Prussian Blue Hue, but back in the day I used Indantherene, which is a bit darker and a touch redder. It’s actually a pretty decent starting point to represent indigo dye, and I bought myself a new tube when the original one died out (it wasn’t one of the everlasting Liquitex paints). For dark brown I used Burnt Umber rather than the more usual Raw Umber; I used this mixed with the blue to get the black. I didn’t mix a little white with everything, as is my current habit, as I didn’t for the old figures – but the primer was a brilliant white, so this helped to lighten things a bit. The rest of the paint choices were unremarkable; the white was Titanium White with a little Burnt Umber; I cooled down the Cadmium Red Hue with a little green; the green was Sap Green with some added blue and a touch of white. I suffered a bit of a disaster after the first painting session, when I left the top off my Stay-Wet palette, letting all the mixes dry out. When I renewed the water I put too much in, which meant that my subsequent paints were all too thin, making things much harder to manage than they should have been. I didn’t attempt quite as much detail as the old figures – no gold buttons for instance. But I did have a go at the moustaches and the gold rings on the muskets.

The AB figures were lovely, making the task much easier and more satisfying than my my Old Glory French Chasseurs. Still there were some gaps. AB don’t attempt the grenade patch on the Grenadiers’ caps, and the cuff flaps (which should be white) were vague and hard to find. I gave up trying to do blob for the former, as it just looked a mess; with the cuff-flaps I did attempt the first few and then gave up. Once the paint was on, I decided to do a wash, as I had for the original figures. I didn’t want to use the usual W+N Peat Brown ink, as this looks awful on white. I experimented with Daler-Rowney Antelope Brown ink (heavily diluted with water), but this stained the white with yellow, so I added quite a bit of black to it. I put it on quite generously; at first application it was too heavy on the white on the front of the figure, but I was able to brush most of this off (it tended to gather in the crotch, which needed attention). I was quite astonished by how much it improved the look of the figures, bringing out the beautiful detail in the mouldings. A wash produces a sharper contrast than the more subtle glaze method, like Quickshade, that I have used a lot. It lines the details more crisply – but it does this without being too cartoonish. Perhaps for 28mm figures the glaze technique works better than a wash, but this is the way to go for my 18mms, with my skill level anyway. I decided not to highlight or varnish.

Meet the Young Guard:

Tirailleur-Grenadiers of the Guard
Tirailleur-Chasseurs of the Guard

The two bases on the viewer’s left are the new ones, the ones on the right are the originals. The new ones are distinctly duller and darker, and the wash used on the originals was plainly a bit browner. But the two should work well enough together on the table. In particular the green on the Chasseurs’ pompoms and plumes doesn’t zing in my new figures (I have the same issue with the Old Guard Chasseurs); this is partly because the paint had become over thinned, and was mainly painted over black, overlapping from the headgear.

A word about the bases. I had rebased the old figures last winter. I used my usual method, with a gunk of acrylic gel with sand and Raw Umber paint to set the figures in. On top of that I put mix of mainly Woodland Scenic flock. I now feel that this combination is a bit dark, and the a lighter colour would show the figures off better. This time I put a bit a bit white in the gunk, with old railway ballast mix in place of the sand. I lightened up the flock mix with the addition of more light olive flock. I put some of this flock mix on the old bases, to reduce the contrast between old and new. The flock was sealed with diluted PVA; it wasn’t dry when I took the pictures, hence bits falling off. The bases themselves are just cut from artists’ paper, with magnetic material stuck underneath. This is much thinner than the modern convention: the magnetic material adds thickness and I wanted to balance this and not raise the figures too high from the table. This carries extreme risk of warping, so there is no water in the gunk (I used to use plaster), and I leave the bases on a metal surface when setting or drying, so that the magnetic strip can hold the base flat.

And now for the Middle Guard:

Fusilier-Grenadiers of the Guard
Fusilier-Chasseurs of the Guard

These are my originals from long ago, rebased last winter. The striking thing about them compared to my new figures is the gleaming white of the lapels and breeches. I used pure white paint, even though it was subjected to a wash. Also the red (and green) is much brighter, again with the use of pure pigment. In each unit half of the figures were painted with a white primer and half black; it is hard to tell the difference from these photos. Perhaps I should consider a little highlighting on the front with pure white on the new Old Guard units to reduce the contrast – but I actually think they look fine on their own.

These units represent the original incarnation of the Middle Guard, although they would be better regarded as Young Guard when they were formed in 1806. They wore shakoes in place of the bearskins, with tall plumes, which, apparently, were worn in the field, along with some Young Guard units. These plumes made quite an impression on British observers in the Peninsula in 1811, but things never got as far as combat. The might-have-been battles at Fuente Guinaldo and Aldea da Ponte, between Wellington and Marmont and Dorsenne (who had the Guard units), would be interesting to try out.

I am not done with French Guard infantry. I have figures for late period Young Guard that I want to paint up. That will be part of a late war French infantry project that is not near the top of the list, though. Finally it seems disrespectful not to show some pictures of my retiring Minifigs Guards. A glimpse into a more innocent age. These old figures might be a little crude by modern standards, but they were crisp and actually include details that eluded the AB figures. The main problem is that they are small, when representing big men.

Olive drab

Readers familiar with my blogs may have noticed an omission from previous post on the P-47. I didn’t say anything about the paint colours. And I’m usually a bit obsessive about that. A lot of hobbyists are, but I take it in an unusual direction because I mix my own paints from artists’ pigments, separately for each project. I left the topic out because I had too much to say. It needed another post, which readers less obsessed with colours can skip, and this is it.

The predominant colour on this model is, of course, Olive Drab. The underside colour is Neutral Grey, a mix of black and white, the main question around which is how light it should be. I based my colour on an old artists’ Liquitex Neutral Grey I had lying around; if it hadn’t been there I would have mixed Mars Black and Titanium White. The Liquitex colour is probably 50:50 and turned out to be a bit dark, so I added some white to it. From photos I suspect that the USAAF grey is a bit darker than it is portrayed by most artists, as the tonal contrast between it and Olive Drab isn’t that great. But I went quite pale nevertheless; white with everything is my standard practice for miniatures painting after all. Other colours are yellow for the stripes and red for the nose. My main concern with these was to make them bright but not too bright. For the red I recycled some red from my previous project (French Napoleonic cavalry) that was still wet on the palette, though I found myself tweaking it a bit. Yellow is a bit of problem because pigments tend to be bodiless and thin. I like to use Yellow Ochre or Yellow Oxide (the Liquitex name, but much the same thing), as this is the best behaved, but it is a bit dull, do I used some of my other yellow pigments. First an old yellow (can’t remember the name, but its not on sale any more) that was horrid and thin, and then Cadmium Yellow that was better. A little white was in there of course. But the result was still thin. I painted the stripes (with a brush over masking tape) over the Olive Drab and Neutral Grey, which had been airbrushed on. I started with an undercoat of white, but it still took at least three coats of the yellow mix to get anything satisfactory. Maybe next time (the yellow stripes will probably feature on my A-36 too) I will paint them first and mask before airbrushing the main colours.

But the big interest is the Olive Drab. This was the standard US military colour, developed in WW1 and used on both vehicles and aircraft in WW2. It is a notoriously tricky colour to pin down. The US authorities were very pragmatic on colour standards, and did not care greatly whether the colour precisely matched the standard, and it weathered quite dramatically. The official formulation changed slightly from time to time, and eventually the Army and USAAF went for slightly different definitions. Different companies used different pigment combinations (and doubtless changed these over time), so even the weathering varied a great deal. The colour could vary a great deal across the same aircraft, depending on when that particular part was painted. Probably no two vehicles or planes were the same colour (apparently like modern Israeli tanks), because in wartime this just didn’t matter. This causes hobbyists – wargamers, modellers, collectors or re-enactors – a lot of angst. Modellers like their premixed paints, and often ask which one to use, to which the answer has to be a shrug; “several” is to them the wrong answer. Collectors either paint with something like the as-new shade (doubtless in a modern paint that is much more colour-fast than the old ones) or make up a lighter shade to simulate what they think it might have looked like in the field, but which tends to look too fresh and new.

Meanwhile we have not so much evidence for what planes and vehicles actually looked like. Colour photography wasn’t prevalent, and not especially accurate on colour either; colourised photos, increasingly popular, are just an interpretation. And as with all dull colours in the middle of the colour wheel, small differences to colour sensitivity and lighting can make a big difference to how it looks to the human eye. This website (gmodelart.com) has a number of interesting pictures of aircraft, though (leading with one of a crashed P-47 in very similar scheme to my model), which shows how much variation there might be, even on the same plane.

So what colour is it? “Pig crap” is an early description of the dark, freshly painted version. Olive is just on the green side of yellow on the colour wheel, but the “drab” takes it a long way towards the middle, meaning that it is quite brown. To date I have tried simulating it with a mix of three pigments: Yellow Oxide (i.e. Yellow Ochre), Black and White. I have assumed the standard way of making it was combining yellow ochre with black, as these were two cheap pigments – just as the French did in the Napoleonic wars to make the olive green they used for artillery woodwork. Here is a picture of the sorts of result yI get:

On the left you have just black and yellow; this is as close as I could get in tone to the colour swatch I have, which show the colour as new. In fact the swatches were slightly greener – but more yellow would have made it a bit too light I though. Fresh Olive Drab is a very dark colour, something that caused me consternation when I applied authentic Humbrols too my models back in the day. Next has a bit of white and a bit more yellow (I was assuming that the black would fade faster than the yellow); it turns into something a bit greener. On the right I have mixed the yellow with Neutral Grey to give something lighter and browner. My model is painted in something between the right hand and centre pictures. If nothing else this exercise shows how challenging photography is in representing colour; they all look darker than they “really” are.

As another exercise in demonstrating the perils of photography: the following show the effects of different backgrounds. The red in particular makes the model look browner, while the green makes it look greener. I don’t really understand that!. The lighting conditions were slightly different for this photo than the other three though.

Comparing these photos with the ones on gmodelart.com and my model is in the right zone, but looks a bit dark; it seems closest to the new Liberator bombers. But all the photos were taken in bright sunlight while I took my pictures on an overcast day, with a little artificial light to boost it a bit (and a lot more artificial light for the one against green cloth).

A further thought is that my idea that Olive Drab was often made using yellow ochre and black is probably off the mark. These may have been the appropriate pigments in the pre-industrial age, or even in Europe, where green pigments were in short supply, but 1940s America is another matter. The original formulation of the colour included raw umber, a dark brown. Chrome yellow was a standard primer, used in the interior of aircraft – this is brighter and greener than ochre. The greener hue of the colour swatches suggests it wasn’t ochre-black. It might be worth trying a different formulation, to produce something with a slightly greener hue. On the other hand the black-ochre combination produces a nice, opaque paint that is very easy to apply. A brief attempt to produce something using Raw Umber and Viridian was not nearly as good.

So where next? The issue will return when I do my batch of three US planes. The main issue is not the precise hue, but that fact that the colour is not standard. There should be a bit of variation between the planes and on the same aircraft. It is less of an issue for vehicles, since in 1943 most US vehicles used by the British were repainted. But if I move out into later war or US forces (and I’m thinking of just that in 1/300), the issue will return. This is a problem that will run and run.

My aero modelling journey begins: Hobby Boss P-47 Thunderbolt

My lockdown madness has drawn my into 1/72 model aircraft. This is nominally part of my 1943 wargames project – but mainly a rekindling of my love of warplanes, especially from WW2. Somehow, and only my fellow hobbyists will understand how this has happened, I have acquired no less than 14 kits to make. My plan was to build them in batches of three, or even four, starting with the three US planes (an A-36 Apache, a P-38 Lightning and a B-26 Marauder) because their simpler colour scheme would be a good place to start. I then realised that aircraft modelling involved so many new techniques that it was best to start out n a single low-cost model that I didn’t mind mucking up. So I bought the Hobby Boss P-47 Thunderbolt. I have just finished it (more or less).

This aircraft does not belong in the scope of my 1943 project. The first P-47s were deployed in 1943, but these were of the ridgeback variety. There was only limited availability of cheap kits though – the three makes that seemed to be in scope were Airfix, Zvesda and Hobby Boss. I was looking for a US aircraft. The only available Airfix model was an early P-40, well before my period. Hobby Boss did the P-47, but only the bubble-top variety was available at short notice (they have done a razorback as well). I have a soft spot for the Jug, since a made a model an old Airfix one (a ridgeback as it happens, with moulded raised rivets – yuck) as a boy, which I didn’t even paint. The bubble-tops weren’t operational until well into 1944 – but they are handsome aircraft.

Hobby Boss models are simple and cheap, with only a small number of parts. But there was a big snag. They follow the modern convention of making planes with undercarriage down and no pilot. This is how all upmarket aircraft kits are presented these days – but you would have thought cheaper models would appeal to youngsters and wargamers, who would like to make them up as in flight. The box artwork shows the plane in flight – and it even appears to be a photo of the model. Airfix and Zvesda both give this option. The Hobby Boss had the tail wheel door moulded open. And the P-47 main undercarriage doors were in three parts, with the upper two moving to overlapping position when downed; these are moulded as a single piece in the kit, which had to be separated. All this involved some pretty tricky conversion work to model as retracted. The main doors did not fit into the holes exactly and had to be filed down. And fitting them flush was more than tricky, until (on the last door to be fitted) I discovered the use of plasticine. The tail doors I gave up entirely on. I just filled in the hole and filed it flush, and tried to score some doors in. The results of all this were very far from satisfactory, especially the tail door. I won’t have another set of tail doors to model until the Spitfire VIII, though, which I plan to do last, and which has properly moulded separate doors in the model. But modelling the doors as closed for the main undercarriage is going to be tricky for the one further Hobby Boss model (a Bf-109), and the seven “up-market” models I have now acquired. At least these usually have upper and lower wings in separate parts (Hobby Boss has the wings in a sing piece), making the doors much easier to fit flush.

Apart from this major problem, the Hobby Boss model fitted the brief perfectly. The interior detail of the cockpit is poor; the bombs are crude and inaccurate; not fitting the central fuel tank leaves an unsightly hole in the bottom centre of the fuselage; the panel lines are very shallow; the engine detail is derisory. But none of this really matters for the sort of model I was trying to make. You can’t really see into the cockpit; the bombs aren’t particularly visible; the fuel tank hole is where the flight stand attachment will go; overdoing the panel lines would be a worse error; and you have to look closely to see into the engine. What I got was a simple and robust model, much like my PSC tanks and APCs.

There was a problem with the decals though. By the time the bubble-top came into operation, US aircraft were no longer being painted at the factory, and almost all of them flew in bare metal. Both decal schemes were for such bare-metal aircraft. This is not a problem for the star and stripe insignia, but it is for the lettering, which is black on bare-metal aircraft, and yellow or white on painted ones. In the Mediterranean, however, aircraft were often left out in the open when on the ground, so many aircraft were painted by the service crews to make them less visible, using traditional olive drab and neutral grey. I found an example of such an aircraft in the Eduard “Jugs over Italy” kit (in 1/48), with the schemes and made models readily visible on the Internet. My scheme is based on this but with made-up serial number (the smaller yellow figures on the tail) and battle number (large white ones on the fuselage). I had an audacious plan to solve this, I actually had the unused decals from my old Airfix P-47 kit, getting on for 50 years old, which included a scheme for for a painted plane. Unfortunately these were damaged, and broke up when I tried to use them. My next solution was to try and cut out a 1 and 7 from the white decal printing sheet for the battle numbers. But these proved much too delicate. Apparently for decal paper to work this need to have a hefty layer of varnish on them. For the battle numbers my next plan was to overpaint some of the black numbers that came with the kit, of which the simplest was a “41” (actually converted from “4P”). This was hard going, and it was impossible to get either properly straight edges or an even paint coverage. To my surprise it worked. The imperfections are much less noticeable on the weather-beaten look I was going for. It looked as if the ground crew didn’t have the stencils or spray gun when they had to apply the numbers; I expect such things happened. For the serials wanted to print some numbers on transparent decal paper; I was bit concerned because my last attempt at this turned out to be rather transparent; standard printer ink doesn’t have a great deal of body. In fact my inkjet printer heads were completely messed up and unable to print much colour at all. but I found some old British Railway locomotive decals from a model one of my brothers must have bought, which would have been even older than my P-47. They were the right size and colour, but in Gill Sans script rather than USAAF stencils. Actually from a distance these aren’t too dissimilar, except for the zero, which is a big round “O” in Gill Sans. This featured in the numbers, but I cut the zeros out, and assembled the numbers from three pairs each. Apart from taking quite a while to loosen up from the backing paper, these decals worked fine. They evidently aged much better than my old P-47 ones. Finally on the engine cowl I simply used nose art from the Hobby boss decals, one for the plane “rabbit” and the other presumably for the unit. This was all part of the P-47 look.

There were two really scary things about this project for me. The first was use of the airbrush for the first time, and the second was weathering. The first issue was primer. I had bought some artists’ gesso to use for primer, but I found this didn’t bond well to plastic (though works fine on metal). Instead I used standard white acrylic paint that came with the airbrush. Initially this didn’t bond all that well either (even though I had washed the kit first), but with a bit of help from a paintbrush I got started. That first session with the airbrush was a bit nightmarish. I kept on getting it wrong, with the paint pooling up, which I then had to thin out with a paintbrush. After the white I tried putting on a layer of neutral grey (over the whole model, though only needed for the underside), but I ended the session with the model looking a real mess. Next session, after watching a couple of videos on airbrushing models, it went much better. And each time since my confidence has improved. A number of factors have to be balanced (air pressure, thickness of paint, openness of nozzle and distance from subject), and this clearly takes a while to come together. The big surprise to me is just how thin the paint is when it goes on properly. This is quite unlike an aerosol can. The flip side to this is that the spray is pretty controllable, and paint doesn’t go everywhere, like the aerosol. This thinness is what gives airbrushed paint such a lovely finish, of course. But it does mean the layers shine through each other. Using a white undercoat made a big difference. In one place (the lower rudder) I used a brush to correct an error: it came out much darker. Underpainting in dark colours to bring out individual panels is quite the fashion for serious aircraft modellers. I did try this with black for the undercarriage doors, but not very successfully (the underpainting needed to graded). One aspect of the thinness I hadn’t counted on is that the paint is very easy to damage. I quite often chipped paint off right down the plastic. This may suggest that a proper primer is advisable, and I have bought some from the airbrush company for future projects. But it also explains why modellers seem to be so keen on layers of varnish.

After the basic paint job I applied the decals. As with my vehicle models I applied to a layer of polyurethane gloss varnish (from a very old Humbrol pot), put on with a brush. I forgot to do this on the tail, though, but the decals (and these were the very old ones) went on fine with the help of decal fluid, with no flash showing. The smoothness of the airbrush finish probably means that this step is superfluous – except that it is an excuse to put on a layer of protective varnish. The decal application didn’t go that well, as I managed to spill almost a whole bottle of decal fluid. As a result of being a bit stressed by this, some of the decals were damaged and there was a little (and unforgivable) creasing. After this I wondered whether I could go straight on to the weathering without sealing the decals in varnish, as the finish looked quite good. But by then I was starting to understand that layers of varnish were a good thing. At that point though the only airbushable varnish I has was matt – and that was a bad idea at this stage. Decals are allergic to modern matt varnish; back in the day matt varnish was really satin, and I used it to set the decals (with the glue washed off the back) as a way of eliminating flash – a job the decal fluid now seems to do. I had some old Humbrol satin varnish, and I used this with a paint brush. This produced a very good finish on the top, but it has a slight orange colour to it, which discoloured the underside where it was a bit thicker. It also filled in some of the engraved lines, making them impossible to bring out in a wash. Unlike proper aeromodellers, I’m not that fussed about bringing out the panels – but I do like to show up the moving parts, like the control surfaces and the flaps on the engine cowling (which are completely lost on this model now). I now have airbrushable colourless gloss varnish. My idea is to use this before and after decals, with a wash to bring out the engraving before either or both coats.

Weathering is a multi-stage process for serious modellers (more than a dozen steps on one blog). I was looking for something much simpler. My plan was to use two main techniques: the “dot filter” method, applying oil paint, and pastel dust. I also did a little “chipping”, as well as a largely unsuccessful wash. The dot filter requires quite a bit of courage. You put small dots of oil paint of different colours on the surface, and then keep brushing into a very thin layer with subtle variations that bring out the direction of the brush strokes (generally fore-and aft to simulate the effect of air flow). Oil paint dries slowly, so you have time to brush it down very thin (and you can also clean it off with white spirit and tissue). The paint I used was white, Payne’s Grey, Raw Sienna and a little bit of Van Dyck Brown (being very sparing with the browns on the underside). I had bought these colours to paint horses, so the choice was a bit constrained (Yellow Ochre and Raw Umber would be good choices ordinarily). I did it after decals, rather than before (as advised by the blog I was following), because I wanted to integrate the decals into the overall finish. When I first pulled the brush over the spots, it looked like a disaster (it helps to see a video of this first to prepare you for the shock), but eventually the paint spread so thin that the effect was very pleasing. The red band on the nose was the only real problem; it did not respond well to the white, and so I had to use a bit of white spirit to thin it. The overall effect is to patinate the model and soften the paintwork and decals (the white is especially effective). There should be elements of unevenness too, to reflect where the different coloured spots went. It all helps to bring life to the model.

The use of artists’ pastels was an idea I got from another blog, as a substitute for weathering powders that are popular with modellers. I actually have a decent stock of pastels, which I had bought for use on terrain (not particularly successfully so far). You scrape off some powder with a craft knife and apply with a paint brush. At first I tried it directly after the oil patina had been applied. The oil immediately dissolved the powder, turning it into a liquid smear. This is potentially quite useful, but not the effect I was looking for, so I waited for a day for the oil paint to dry. I can’t say that I have mastered this technique. I tried to use it to provide a bit of contrast on the control surfaces, where the engraving couldn’t be brought out with a wash. In particular the ailerons merged with the flaps (though at least both were delineated from the wing). This wasn’t very successful; in fact it would have been better to try this while the oil was still wet, as the dry powder doesn’t do sharp edges. I was more successful in applying dark smudges to suggest exhaust stains by the engine cowling, and areas of dirt on the wing to suggest mud from ground crew boots, etc.

I also used a little silver paint to suggest places where the paintwork had been chipped back to the metal. Some modellers go to town on this, but I’m not sure how realistic this is. Japanese aircraft were notorious for paintwork being in terrible condition, but not other nations. The artist in the Osprey publication on B-26s in the Med delights in showing these planes with paintwork being in a very poor way, though I don’t think this is clear from the photos. But these bombers were exposed to airburst shells from heavy AA in the way fighter planes weren’t. The popular way for modellers to do this is using silver artist’s pencil, but I was reluctant to splash out. You can see my efforts the wing route in the picture. there are one or two spots elsewhere. I don’t think I have this quite right yet, but I’m not sure what is wrong.

The final step was a layer of matt varnish. I have lots of this in aerosol cans (a long story…), and I wasn’t bothered about it being quite heavy-handed, so I used this rather than airbrush. I wasn’t sure about this step. After the satin varnish, and the oil patina, with contrasting matt pastel I thought the model looked pretty decent as was. Aero modellers insist that a high matt look is authentic for this era, and in the Med, with all its dust and outdoors exposure, this makes more sense than elsewhere. But high matt isn’t great for aerodynamics, so I thought planes were quite often polished to a satin type finish – and this is how I used to present my models, using the satin “matt” varnish. Still this model is a learning experience, so I thought I had better try it. I think it does work, and it does recall contemporary photos of combat planes in this era, especially the US olive drab planes.The propellor was left off the for this phase, though, and I gave it a coat of satin varnish.

This model isn’t quite finished. First is the canopy. I attached it before the airbrushing, as I wanted to cover the joins for the static part in modelling putty. I used masking tape to cover the transparent bits, leaving the frame exposed to the airbrush. The masking tape came off after the matt varnish. The result on the canopy from was OK-ish after a bit of touching up, but the tape left marks on the canopy. Unfortunately the polish I had specially acquired to clean the canopy up has gone walkabout, so I’m waiting for it to re-emerge. Second the plane needs a stand. This has been a been a bit of a problem. Commercial stands are for much smaller models. For larger ones it is popular to make your own, either using an acetate stick or an extendable metal aerial. In the end I bought one made for an extendable aerial from Debris of War – but with a 3in base it is meant for smaller models (15mm scale single-engined aircraft max). I hope to be able to modify it to work for larger models, up to my planned B-26. A magnet is attached o the model to attach it to the stand. It would be a good idea to integrate this with the model building process, rather than it being an afterthought, as it would be useful to have somewhere to leave the model while paint is drying, etc. The stand is in the post.

Overall the model comes up to an acceptable wargames standard, and meets my needs. The underside is a bit of a mess, partly because of the botching of the undercarriage doors, and partly because the varnish was a bit thick and discoloured it. The weathering is a bit heavy-handed too, but that’s less of a issue – it doesn’t look implausible. Actually I’m very pleased with how this model has turned out. There may be a bit of a fine line between a model looking botched (I had lots of those in my youth), and one that looks realistically weathered, but on the topside at least, the model is on the right side of the line.

I have greatly enjoyed my return to aero modelling, even if it is a bit of a distraction from other hobby projects. It has given me a fresh understanding about how close hobby projects are to art, and how much they can be informed by art (I leave to one side whether the hobby actually is art). I am no artist, but I do take a close interest in art. What I have learnt from art is how to understand and deal with the series of subjective choices that any form of representation presents. You need to develop a clear idea of what it is you are trying to do. Serious aero-modellers want to present you with model you feel you can jump into and fly away in. The model needs to be coherent, but they like to overwhelm the viewer with tiny details to give you that feeling that you can are in the presence of a real plane. 1/72 o is a bit small for this (I can see the attraction of 1/48; I did make a couple of 1/32 models in my time, and they’re too big). I think they overdo things sometimes though, especially an obsession with panels. My aim is much more impressionistic. I want to convey an impression of a plane in action with a job to do; viewing is typically meant to be at a greater distance – and I do want to convey the idea of a purposeful and menacing machine. This allows me to adopt a much simpler approach and still produce something with its own impact. The weathering step is particularly interesting here; apart from serving to give the model a used appearance, reminiscent of wartime photographs, it helps unify the model, for example by integrating the decals and ID stripes. It may also help to show up moving parts, conveying that this is a working machine – though no so much on my model.

It was certainly right to get started on a single model. Some key learnings are as follows:

  • The airbrush produces a beautiful finish, and is ideal for this type of model, allowing the fine detail of the mouldings to come out. This is quite different from painting much hunkier metal miniatures. But the paint finish is quite delicate, and it can be a bit too smooth, requiring the weathering phase to bring the model to life.
  • The workflow is very different from painting miniatures with an ordinary, or even the vehicle models that I have done to date. There aremore gaps between steps to wait for things to dry out – leading to a larger number of shorter sessions. For miniatures I could conceivably finish a project in a single, long, session (though maybe without primer). It makes sense to do the models in batches for this reason, though I suspect more than three at a time would give me real problems until I’m more experienced.
  • I need to mount the models on stands pretty much from the assembly stage.
  • No more brush-delivered old Humbrol varnish except for small highlights.
  • A wash to bring out moving parts is a good idea, but needs to be done quite early, depending on how deep the scoring is on the model. Underpainting may also be a good way bringing out moving parts.
  • I can use my artists paints in the airbrush, but it is helpful to have the same paint mix available throughout the model production for the main colours. The Stay-Wet palette helps here, but it may be an idea to mix pots of more liquid paint at the start so that there is a reserve. The colour-by-numbers approach of hobbyists who buy ready-mixed paints makes more sense for airbrush projects than it does on miniatures. But I’m sticking to my guns – I find mixology way more fun.

My next project on aircraft modelling will be three German planes from early 1943, in desert colours. These feature two simple models – an Me Bf-109G from Hobby Boss and an FW-190A from Zvesda, and an old model, a Stuka from Fujima. But before that it’s back to Napoleonic miniatures.

My French light cavalry

What a year 2020 was! From early March meeting up for wargames became impossible. Trapped at home with social activities drastically curtailed, most hobbyists had a ready outlet – preparing more figures for the tabletop (plus terrain items). Almost all of us have a “lead mountain” (though these days with a large plastic component in most cases) of miniatures waiting to be painted up, so this was a good opportunity. Alas many of us also browsed hobby suppliers online and added to the mountain as well. Hobby manufacturers were doing a roaring trade.

But for me it was different. I had (and have) a substantial lead mountain, but 2020 was the year we chose to move house. In January we readied the house for a sale; in February we were frantically sorting and packing our accumulated 24 years of possessions, and the lead mountain disappeared into boxes. In March we moved out. We had chosen but not legally acquired our new house in rural East Sussex, and lockdown slowed the acquisition process right down; we did not complete until the end of July. In the four month interval we stayed at a friend’s holiday home on the coast, with a small fraction of our possessions, and almost all hobby material in storage. Once we moved into the house the early priority was settling in, and getting on with the myriad of tasks associated with a new home, and then their was a health crisis with my father’s health deteriorated and he passed away (at 96 after a period of deteriorating health). It wasn’t until later in November that I was able to get back to painting miniatures. I have just finished my first lockdown project: upgrading my French light cavalry. This is a report on how the went. Warning: it is quite a long one, as I find it useful to keep a record of the main points – you’d have to be quite deep into the hobby’s obsessions to find most of it interesting!

This project has been a couple of decades in the making. My original Napoleonic armies, back in the 1970s, built up with my brother, were Airfix plastics for Waterloo. In the 1980s I decided to move to 15mm metal figures, with French and Austrian armies, using Minifigs. But I became tired of these fairly quickly – the figures were quite crude – so I decided to upgrade. This was mainly a mix of Old Glory 15s, Battle Honours and AB figures. This upgrade still hasn’t been finished for my Austrians, where my line infantry is still the old Minifigs, and the whole army is in a sorry state. But in a major push I have managed to upgrade the French, mainly with the OGs. While doing this I bought the figures I needed for the light cavalry. In those days OG sold their cavalry in packs of 30, with two sets of command figures. I bought one each of chasseurs and hussars. 12 of the hussars got painted up relatively early, but the rest languished as I was distracted by other projects. My Minifigs chasseurs soldiered on for quite a while but , but eventually I retired them as they were generally the only old Minifigs on the table for the French.

I have been short of French light cavalry ever since. My hussars (painted up as the 8th regiment) did sterling service, joined by a unit of AB Polish lancers and occasionally dragoons making up the difference. The 8th Hussars have green uniforms, so they resembled chasseurs from a distance, and it sort of worked. My main efforts went into upgrading the French infantry. After that the big push was to create an army of 1815 Prussians. while doing so my French cavalry was looking tired. So at the end of 2019 I decided that I really had to find those OG chasseurs and bring them into service. While doing this I found the other 18 hussars (or most of them), and started to think I could paint these up too, and bring in some more visually striking units than my faithful 8th. At this point I was thinking that the way to paint horses was to use large batches without riders (then glue primed riders to their backs and paint these mounted). So I decided to do all the horses in one batch; this morphed into doing all the riders in a single batch too. Normally I do two 8 figure cavalry units in a batch (though for infantry it is usually three 12 figure units). This time I wanted to do three chasseur units (of 8) and one hussar unit. The single hussar unit became two, as I decided to repaint four of my 8th Hussars, bringing it down to my new standard size and giving me an extra unit.

The horses

Many hobbyists struggle with painting horses. Look at the lovingly painted figures in wargames magazines (usually 28mm), and you will often see splendid riders sitting on very flatly painted horses, conforming to no common natural colour pattern. I have had my own struggles, and I still haven’t hit on a technique that I’m really happy with. This time I decided to paint a large batch without riders, with a white primer, and building up layers of relatively thin artists’ acrylic. I divided the group of 36 horses into subgroups: the biggest being bays, then a smaller group of chestnuts and smaller still groups of blacks and greys, with a single dun. I upped the number of blacks when I decided to mount the 4th Hussars on black horses, though four of these were to come from repainting the mounts from the 8th, and not the 36 new ones.

The priming and very first coats were actually done in early January before I realised how incompatible this project was with getting the house ready for sale. With some of the horses I tried a bright orange undercoat. I have long wondered how to paint a horse to get that wonderful glow that some chestnut and bay horses have, so I though that a bright undercoat with layers of. duller paint on top was a possible way to go. It didn’t really work as the coverage of each layer was generally not quite 100%, so there would be tiny patches of bright colour coming through! The process of layering took a long time before I started to get anything that looked satisfactory. what I did learn was that it was easier to put on thin layers of pure pigment, rather than try to mix them in advance, except with a little white maybe. I use artists paints, and the main ones I used were Raw Umber, Raw Sienna and Burnt Umber, with Payne’s Grey for the black and grey, with some Titanium White as required. I also needed to introduce some red, but my Burnt Sienna (the most suitable pigment for this) had given out, so I used some old Venetian Red, which was a bit too bright and had to be used in sparing quantities.

The greys were he hardest. I started all but one with a thin coat of Payne’s Grey (which is actually a decent match for horses’ skin), and then built up lighter grey colours, with a bit of speckling. Grey horses a generally pretty textured, and moving from dark to light (rather than the more usual light to dark) is one way of achieving this. However my white came from a free sample tube, and I don’t think the quality was quite up to scratch. I had to rescue some of the models with a thin layer of Liquitex white. In the end I was more or less happy with the bays and chestnuts, though I did not achieve the glow I wanted, and the blacks were pretty easy (one I painted as a very dark bay, which turned out to be nearly indistinguishable from the others – as in life, as I remember noting from the Horse Guards in Whitehall). The greys, and the dun I was much less happy with, but they were OK to put on the table. I didn’t manage to achieve a proper white horse among the greys – I find these very hard to do; they look quite simple at first, but look closer and you see sort of textures an slight colour variations..

I have another batch of OG horses which I have started to paint in acrylic (bays and chestnuts); I will use these for a batch of Prussian cavalry using acrylic, but my next big experiment on horses is to use oil paint. I did think that doing large batches of horses worked though, especially when being a bit experimental. It’s easier to try different ideas out, though also have to do a lot of repainting. But many layers of paint is supposed to give depth, so I’m not stressed about this.

The chasseurs

9th Chasseurs
13th Chasseurs
16th Chasseurs

I was always going to do three regiments in my new standard unit size of eight. Initially I chose 13th, 16th and 23rd, all serving in Lasalle’s division at Wagram, alongside the 8th Hussars. But the 23rd had capucine facings – a sort of orange-brown. With the 13th having proper orange facings, I thought the contrast wasn’t enough on 15/18mm miniatures. So I picked an alternative colour, I’ve always liked pink, and chose the 9th regiment, which served in Army of Italy in 1809 (including at Wagram) alongside the dragoon regiments in my army. All the cavalry figures were to be painted as at 1809, approximately, since that was how the castings were made. In fact most of my future campaigns are likely to be 1813-1815, but that is a detail! The chasseur uniforms of 1809 were more interesting anyway, especially the trumpeters. I didn’t research the uniforms too heavily, as I wasn’t prepared to go in for head-swaps and other conversions that would doubtless have resulted (though I did exactly this for my French line infantry). So the uniforms are quite generic, based on the regulation facing colours, reversed for the trumpeters. My main priority was to get theses figures table-ready, and to finish in 2020 if possible. I didn’t try much detailing especially in the lower body, which is not so visible on the table.

As usual I used artists’ acrylics (mainly Liquitex). Each colour was mixed for the occasion. The most important colour was the green for the basic uniform. Since taking up artists’ pigments I have struggled with greens more than any other colour. I wanted a slightly blue hue for the chasseurs. The best place to start would have been Hooker’s Green, but my tube from Daler-Rowney had dried up. This is not the first time this has happened recently with Daley-Rowney paint, which I initially put down to poor cap design, but I think may be deeper. I am still using Liquitex and Winsor & Newton paints bought in the 1980s. That left a choice between Sap Green, a well-behaved pigment which is a bit warmer than I was looking for, and Viridian, a bluer green which I had bought following a recommendation form an artists’ book. I chose the latter because it was closer to the bluish hue I was looking for. I immediately regretted it, as it is a thin an nasty paint that needs multiple coats on miniatures. I mixed it with a bit of Venetian red to tone it down, and a little white – which these days I do for all paints I mix.

To finish the figures I used a wash of Winsor & Newton Peat Brown ink. This went on undiluted from the bottle – a little risky but it worked. This has a sightly reddish hue, which worked fine against the green of the uniform, as well as the brown and flesh, but stained the white belts in an unhelpful way; these needed to be restored with some white highlight paint. It was a disaster on the pale grey and roan horses, which I had rescue with some white paint. Apart from these snags the wash lifted the figures beautifully, and brought out the details very nicely. I decided not to try a dry-brush highlighting. I’m not sure this makes enough difference on figures of this scale; I’m often too impatient and start with too much paint on the brush; and it is expensive on brushes. The ink wash left a slight sheen, which I don’t mind on Napoleonic miniatures, and helps bring out the detail (for example the breast buttons on the pictures above, which I had not attempted to pick out in paint). I decided not to try applying varnish either, as I was OK about the sheen from the ink.

The hussars

4th Hussars
5th Hussars
8th Hussars

Hussars are irresistible for collectors of Napoleonic miniatures, with their flamboyant uniforms, and I chose to paint up more units than I will ever be likely to need on the table at one time – simply because I had the castings. I had originally picked the 8th Hussars as this was the hussar unit most engaged in the 1809 campaign against Austria, the main focus of my collection at the time. It turned out to have the dullest uniform of all the French hussar regiments. This was made worse by the fact that I decided to paint the legs in overalls, rather than boots and breeches – the breeches were red. The detailing of the OG casting on the legs is a bit vague, and it wasn’t clear which it was. There was a uniform from this regiment on display in the National Army Museum in Paris, which showed the overalls, so I decided to follow this. As noted above, this unit served as generic light cavalry, frequently standing in for chasseurs, so predominantly green uniform was appropriate.

The first of the new regiments I chose to depict was easy: the 5th. This regiment with its white pelisses, has always been my favourite. My brother and I painted up a unit of this in our original collection, converted from Airfix figures. I now want to replicate all the identifiable regiments from this original collection in my current one, though in this case an earlier uniform will be depicted, as the shakos are in an earlier style (a shame, as I like the later cylindrical shakos for the hussars, and the 5th had them in red). But which other unit? The main candidates were the 4th, which served alongside the 5th in the Waterloo campaign in Pajol’s division, and the 3rd, whose grey and red uniform I have long been attracted to, ever since it was depicted in a film about two feuding French light cavalrymen, whose title I can’t remember [It was The Duellists, directed by Ridley Scott]. But the 3rd wasn’t part of the French army of the Waterloo campaign, and it was in Spain in 1809. What tipped it was when I read that the 4th was mounted on black horses. It is doubtful that the regiment would have been able to sustain such pickiness in wartime (though at least it wasn’t in competition with the heavy cavalry regiments, which loved dark horses, as it would have used smaller mounts), but it was an appealing idea for the table. It also solved a problem about repainting the four the horses from my old 8th Hussars unit – a repaint to black is much easier than trying to replicate my layering technique for bays and chestnuts.

For uniform details I consulted a number of sources, plus googled images. This gave a bewildering number of alternatives and variations for both regiments. In the end I went for a version that was close to Martinet’s depiction in his series of contemporary prints, though not the elaborate officer’s dress uniform shown for the 5th.

The main colours for the 4th were blue and red. The blue is usually depicted as being brighter and richer (a Royal Blue) than the standard infantry uniform blue (or that used by the various French heavy cavalry units, come to that), so I based my colour on Ultramarine, a very bright pigment, compared to my normal Prussian Blue hue (and a bit redder). It needed toning down, though, which I did with raw umber, plus a little bit of white. I also toned down the red (with green from the chasseur uniform, and white). The four newly-painted figures were undercoated in Payne’s Grey, to help them match with the 8th Hussar conversions, which also had a dark undercoat. All of this meant that the figures ended up quite dark (though the blue is nice and rich), so I didn’t think the Peat Brown wash would be strong enough. I decided to use Daler-Rowney black ink instead – but this needed a lot of diluting with water. This worked very well in picking out the lacing on the pelisses (which were done in Yellow Oxide, a close match to Yellow Ochre).

For the 5th I needed a sky blue for the base of the uniform, which was also needed for the facings of the 16th Chasseurs. I tried mixing a bit of white in the deep blue used for the 4th – but this came out a bit on the red side – a distinct hint of an unmilitary violet. It looked OK after mixing in some green; generally the best way of getting sky blues for uniforms is to mix white with Prussian Blue. The white for the pelisse (and in fact all the white elements on all the uniforms) was in fact an off-white made by adding a little Raw Umber in with the white. The yellow lace work was Yellow Oxide again. For the wash I decided to use the diluted black ink I used for the 4th – notwithstanding that these are much lighter figures (including the horses). I had learned that peat brown and white don’t go, and opted for the neutral black. I had to be careful to brush it off the white pelisses as far as I could, but overall it helped to lift the figures a lot.

You may notice that I am trying not to make the colours too bright and contrasty, in order to get a more authentic look. There is no black anywhere (except the ink washes), instead I used Payne’s Grey ( a dark blue-grey) and a more neutral mix of blue and raw umber – in ,most cases with a touch of white in there. Yellow Oxide is not a bright yellow (though better behaved than most yellow pigments, which tend to be thin and runny, like the Viridian). The red is only a bit brighter than a classic brick red. I am still developing these ideas about colour palette. In general I still have a tendency to make them a bit too dark – though in this case that only really applies to the 4th Hussars. This is all part of the adventure of mixing my own colours, rather than going for Vallejo paint-by-numbers, as most hobbyists do.

I have included the remaining eight figures from the 8th Hussars in the photos. These present an interesting contrast to my more recent work. I had only started my journey with artists paints at this point, but I think these were mainly done in Humbrol enamels. There was only one green artist pigment that I was confident with at that stage, which was a bit lighter than the one used here (I used it for my dragoons, painted at about the same time). The horses have a distinct Dark Earth hue – though I was mixing horse colours at this stage, and attempting to distinguish between bay and chestnut. The grey is very flat. My detail work is sharper than it is now, though I did not attempt the waist sashes either then or now (except one or two of the 4th). That clear detailing holds the whole composition up, though, allowing them to hold their heads high compared to my more recent work, in spite of the flatter and denser paintwork. Starting again, the main thing I would do differently (apart from the horses) would be to make the green a bit lighter and brighter. Having said that, the uniform in on display in Paris was very dark.

The Polish lancers

Polish Vistula Legion Lancers

Finally I have pictured the faithful Polish lancer unit. These are later work than my 8th Hussars. They are AB castings, which are much sharper than my OG figures. The men are probably a bit bigger (true 18mm rather than the OGs which are from the period when the 15mm was inflating to 18mm), though the horse aren’t bigger – as befits light cavalry. I much prefer the AB range to OG, though their early French figures aren’t their best (these lancers are later). All ranges tend to improve with time; they usually start wit the standard French types and as a result these tend to be their weakest. That is true of OG too; these French castings (the infantry as well as this light cavalry) are not as good as their later Prussians, which I happily mix in with the ABs. This unit was not my most successful paint job, and one day I might repaint it. The horses are a bit flat and matt; on the men I was too heavy-handed with a white dry brush. I was using a technique recommended in one of the rule books I used, but it didn’t really come off. Still they have a dusty on-campaign look, which is appropriate for the Peninsula theatre where they did their main service. The unit’s greatest triumph was at Albuera in 1811, which has been one of my favourite tabletop battles.

I have 15 OG French lancers, which I intend to bring to the table, though I want to find a way of topping them up to 16 to get two complete units. Another thought is to do a unit of Polish Guard lancers… but that would involve buying more miniatures. For now the priority is to paint what I have.

Basing

Finally came the bases. I wanted to get the bases of all seven units looking consistent. The two old units were mounted on un-flocked plaster painted in a washed-out olive green colour (Humbrol Hemp, I think). All bases are 25mm squares, and have magnetic material underneath. I cut the new bases from thick artists’ paper. This is thinner than the customary mount board or MDF, but with the magnetic material already increasing the height my recent practice is to use thinner mounting material. This means you have to be careful about warping. The gunk I use to set the miniatures in uses no water: acrylic medium mixed with some paint and some old railway ballast material (in place of the sand I usually use, which I hadn’t brought in the move). I let this mix cure with the bases placed on a metal surface, so that the magnetic material ensures they say flat.

The paint was Raw Umber mixed with a bit of white. I used the same paint mix to touch up the base edges, and also the outer parts of the bases on two old units. I then applied flock, which I mixed from a couple of sources. I decided not to try static grass at the edges, as I wanted to develop my application techniques later, and I was in a hurry (it was nearly New Year’s Eve by now). However I did feel the need to apply a further layer of diluted PVA glue to fix the flock, which otherwise leaves a trail wherever the figures go. This was very necessary, as the initial bond was weak, but it did mean that there was a lot of lumping of the flock, which became very uneven. That meant that a lot of the basing material was exposed, as you can see from the pictures. That shouldn’t matter that much as this should resemble bare earth. But the paint mix should have had more white in it, and it all looks a bit dark. The flock is also on the dark side. Overall the bases are acceptable but not great.

Conclusion

This project isn’t properly finished. The standards need flags (which I have bought) and I think the bases could do with more work. I also need to revisit my decision not to highlight and/or varnish. But this project had taken a long time and I wanted to declare victory by 31 December. I will revisit when I do my next batch of 18mm miniatures. This is likely to French Guard infantry.

As usual I wasn’t that happy when I put down the paintbrushes. By this stage in a project you are very familiar with the flaws, and have to draw a line. But, again as usual, I became progressively happier with the outcome afterwards, apart from the bases. The 4th Hussars are just a little too dark I think. But all the units will do fine on the tabletop when this resumes, and are likely to get into action quite quickly.

My main learnings:

  • This project took a long time. Partly because I was rusty and had to unpack various materials, but only partly. The horses might be a bit quicker with improved technique, but the really time-consuming bit was the detailing. I have tried to reduce this as far as possible, but the detailing left is just the sort that has a big impact on the end result. It is these high-contrast features (facings, belts and straps, and so on) that are the making of horse and musket miniatures.
  • Technique on horses needs more work. I need to rethink the approach for greys, especially the paler ones. In due course I want to do a unit of Royal Scots Greys, so this will need to come right. For the bays and chestnuts I need to work more with layers of pure pigment, including the Burnt Sienna that I lacked this time. This will be interesting in oils!
  • Don’t use Viridian again if you can help it. Perhaps tweak Sap Green with some blue, or use Pthalo Green (though this is very bright and will need quite a bit of toning down). Buying a new tube of Hooker’s Green looks a bit wasteful when I have all these other tubes of green on the go.
  • Peat Brown ink is great to use as a wash because it can be used straight from the bottle, though application needs some care to prevent pooling, but not on expanses of white or grey. Otherwise I can use diluted Daler-Rowney Black or Antelope Brown (a yellower hue) ink, which doesn’t seem to mind heavy dilution in water.
  • Basing is a bit of a headache. I need to lighten up the earth colour, but also rethink the flock mix. Static grass isn’t necessary but it may enhance the edges of the base once I’ve improved my application technique.