Category Archives: Miniatures

The figures and models I play with

WW2 aircraft – my next thing

The box top for the Eduard Spitfire Mk VIII, showing a later-war version in Far East colours. The kit is designed to display the model sitting quietly on the ground rather than in action like this…

2020 has been massively frustrating from a hobby point of view. Lockdown stopped gaming, and meanwhile a long drawn out house move meant I couldn’t even catch up on my miniatures or try a bit of solo gaming. And a new house, complete with garden, means lots of jobs need be done. Disappearing off to the wonderful new hobby room (a big win in the long term) would attract some pretty stern looks from the person that cooks over 95% of my meals. On top of that I have had a rather sadder duty – to spend time caring for my father in the last months of his life (he died on Monday, RIP, aged 96). I should point out that I shared this caring with two brothers, both of whom did more than I did, and one a lot more. But another higher priority to hobby time.

But in between jobs I had plenty of time to surf the internet, here and there. Alas this had the result it so often does with people who share my hobby. I’ve started another project. I have been researching WW2 aircraft, and models that are available in 1/72 scale. This, of course, is meant to go alongside my 1943 wargames project, focusing on the Tunisia and Italian campaigns, and the British experience in particular. Unfortunately there has been no compelling need for model aircraft in my 1943 games so far. My games have been at skirmish level, where air involvement was pretty incidental. But as I move up to higher gaming levels then aircraft might start coming into it. Still the main reason I am embarking on this is that I love WW2 warplanes, and I love to make models. It is part nostalgia, and part developing some new techniques for my old hobby. Funnily enough I threw out my last model aircraft saved from my youth in the house move this year (an unfinished Ju-88C night fighter, an FW-190A-8 and a Gloster Meteor). I had earlier thrown out my library of aircraft books, convinced that that chapter in my life had closed – a decision I now regret. The internet is a useful resource, but has its limits.

While the need for the models for wargaming is very limited, I still want to build them so that they can be used on the tabletop – so in flight and with a means of attaching them to a stand. Where appropriate they will be in fighter-bomber mode, with bombs attached. I have started buying. My first two models were a Spitfire Mk VIII, and a Kitty Hawk 1E (I will come to why). I got a bit of a shock when these models arrived (the Spitfire from Eduard, the Kitty Hawk from Special Hobby). These are modellers’ models, not war-game models. I knew that, but simply expected a lot of detail that would be unnecessary. But I found that, unlike the 1970s, models are nowadays displayed as on the ground with crew absent. Retracting the undercarriage could be a bit tricky sometimes, and I will have to source crew. Ouch! It wasn’t like that in the old days of Airfix and Revell. Also a bit puzzling – I think aircraft are made to be observed in flight, with all those sleek lines. But modern modellers get exercised about the seatbelt straps in an empty cockpit!

The first stage in any project, and one of the most fun bits, is compiling the list of things you are going to collect/build. It was logical to start with the British, as my 1943 project is a bit of tribute to my national forebears. The workhorse plane in 1943 was the Spitfire VC. It was outclassed as an air superiority fighter by the FW-190, but it was the best the Allies had until the later Spitfires started to appear. Airfix are about to release a model of this aircraft in its tropical version, and this is the logical model to get (as far as I can see you can build these in flight and a pilot is provided – Airfix is still tied to the old-school values). I also wanted one of the later Spitfires, which started to appear in numbers in 1943, and which were a match, or more, for the more modern Luftwaffe fighters. The most important of these was the Mark IX, which was a re-engined Mark V. But in the Mediterranean theatre there were also significant numbers of Mark VIIIs. This was actually a more advanced design (for example with a retracting tail wheel), and was the base for later marks after the IX, but it could not be produced in the numbers needed to counter the FW-190 quickly enough, hence the Mark IX project. I wanted one of these. Eduard make a well-reviewed model of this, so I thought I had better snap it up while still in stock. I went for the slightly more expensive Profipack version, rather than the cheaper Weekend, because the Weekend model had fewer versions, and not the early Mediterranean version I was looking for. This was a mistake. The extra parts in the Profipack are ones I am unlikely to use (the fiddly bits for proper modellers), and the Weekend version has all the parts needed for all versions, and one or two more on top (for the Mark IX I think). Meanwhile the decals included in the Profipack for the 1943 Med. plane are for a senior officer’s personal plane – not a proper front-line aircraft. I will have to source these separately anyway (though the roundels should be OK to use, and I have quite few bits left over from my old modelling days).

Next up I decided I needed a Kitty Hawk. This plane somehow characterises the Desert Air Force more than any other. It was the best of the US aircraft available at the time, a better fighter than the Hurricane, robust and an excellent fighter-bomber. Various versions were in use right up to the end of the war. The best looking version looked to be the Special Hobby Mark IA (or P-40E), so I plumped for this to save on postage while ordering the Spit. Quite often I have found models were out of stock, so I was tending to buy when I could. I have subsequently learned not to panic, as it isn’t too hard to get models even for some time after production has ceased (eBay being a good source). I then learned that the IA was being phased out in 1943 for versions with more powerful engines (the Mk II and Mk III) – these had a slightly longer body for air stability, so are visually distinct. Special Hobby do a model of that too. So I have been too quick on the draw again. It’s too extreme to buy another model, as in fact they are still pretty similar.

The next plane to think about was the Martin Baltimore. This was a light bomber used extensively by the RAF in this theatre, but not much by anybody else anywhere else. The wargames value of this one is questionable. By 1943 they were being used for targets well behind the lines. Still it seemed right to include it in my collection of distinctive aircraft. (I draw the line at the heavier Wellington bomber, also much used, but mainly at night). Also it is quite hard to source a model, which, of course, only adds to the attraction. There was an old Frog model (the brand was renowned for being a bit dodgy back in the day). There are more modern models from Azur and Special Hobby (possibly the same one for all I know…), both (like the Frog model) hard to get. On eBay I found somebody stocking an Azur Mark V (in Free French colours) and so I ordered that. It has just arrived and it looks fine, with parts for the turret used in earlier marks. I will have to source the decals for a British plane used in 1943.

There is one more plane I am thinking about for my British collection, and that is the Hurricane IID, the tank-buster version with cannon under the wings. Only one squadron was equipped with these, and only for the Tunisia operations. But I have always had a soft spot for the Hurricane, and the IID was used in a tactically interesting way, sweeping through in advance of the ground forces. A kit doesn’t look too hard to get. My plan is to build all the British planes in a single batch to save time (and similarly for the other nationalities).

What of the Germans? The workhorse fighter-bomber was the FW-190, so I need at least one of these. The most widely available model is of the A8/F8, but these were not deployed in numbers until 1944. I have my eye on an Eduard model of the A5, which was current in 1943. This was slightly longer than the early As, to improve its bomb-carrying ability. I think there are models for this very early version about, and it is possible I will get one of these as well. Next comes the Bf-109. By 1943 it is the Gustav that is in service, with the G6 (with its upgraded armament and ammunition blisters on the forward fuselage) coming into service. There is an Airfix model of the G6, which has pretty bad reviews – but the Airfix production values seem to be close to what I want, and the niggles that modern modellers have are unlikely to concern me much. Once again an earlier version is worth considering to have in addition (an early G or perhaps an F).

In Tunisia the Stuka was still in operation; they were around in Italy later, but the Germans did not dare use them in range of allied fighters. At the time the Ju-87D was the main version operation, though there were some Bs still around. The D is much harder to find models for than the B (though the similar G with underwing tank busting guns is more popular, though used only on the Russian front). The main issue is whether to try and find the later D-5 with longer wings and uprated wing armament. I also gave thought to the Ju-88 bomber, one of my favourites, and the main German medium bomber in this theatre. But these were mainly used at sea, and did not seem to have played any role up close on land – as well as being a big model to make. I have not yet committed to any of these purchases of German aircraft, having learned the lesson not to panic.

Finally on the German side I want a Bf-110. I’m not actually sure this type played much of a role in the Tunisian and Italian land battles. But a number were captured on the ground at Montecorvino airfield (along with some FW-190s) in the battle for Salerno, and I’ve always wanted to build a model of one of the 110. It is the fighter-bomber G2 that I am after. This isn’t a very popular model, but Eduard did one, and in the Profipack version they have one of the Montecorvino planes, with a distinctive hornet emblem on its nose. But the model is out of production. I found one on eBay in France, but hesitated to click. When I eventually decided to take the plunge, I couldn’t find it, so I assumed the last one had gone. So I bought a Weekend version from a German stockist, the last Edouard 1/72 kit I could find, but without the Montecorvino decals. I did manage to find a decal set with the hornet emblem on (for a different unit in the same wing that was based in Sicily and transferred to France during 1943), so I bought that, which made the overall cost higher than the Profipack. The French Profipack promptly turned up again in another search. Jumping too quickly again. On reflection I might have been able to convert a kit of the much more widely available G4 night fighter.

On colours, in Italy the German fighters all seem to be in the standard European scheme of three shades of grey, with a white fuselage stripe for the theatre and often splashes of yellow. A lot of these planes were transferred rapidly from other theatres without time for a tropical paint-job – which would have been less relevant in Italy anyway (and a lot of the air action was over the sea). In Tunisia quite a few planes were overpainted with dark yellow and olive in varying degrees. My plan is to use the grey scheme for the Germans, except the Stuka, which I will have in a hybrid scheme. If I go for the early Bf-109 and FW-190, these will have topicalised schemes too. Perhaps I will do them in two batches.

Finally I plan to do some American planes, as these sometimes supported the British forces. Top of the list is the A-36 Apache (or Invader). This is the early Mustang with Allison engine and used as a dive-bomber. It had a very active and successful career in 1943, but then faded away, and is often forgotten about (I have even seen it mis-identified as a P40 in an Images of War book). I don’t know how close these got to the front line, but, like the Baltimore, this is so characteristic of this era that I feel I must have one. There is a kit available from Brengun, though purists quibble that it isn’t quite the right shape. Second is a P-38 Lightning, kitted out as a fighter-bomber. These did not play a big role as fighter-bomber in this theatre (or any other), but a least one German account mentions them at Salerno, and it is an interesting plane. I want an early version, such as the F, which is less available as a model than later ones, but RS Models do one, which still looks obtainable, which apparently can be kitted out with bombs. Finally I want a medium bomber, as these occasionally got close to the front line (occasionally on the wrong side). The workhorse here was the B-25 Mitchell, and there is a nice-looking Airfix model available. But I recovered from my loft an old Airfix B-26 Marauder still in its box from the 1970s. This was a well-regarded model at the time, and I have always liked the B-26. I was going to make up this model in RAF colours, but there was only one squadron of these in operation in 1943, and these mainly operated in the maritime theatre. I will need to locate decals for one of the 1943 Mediterranean-based planes, but that doesn’t look too hard.

And s that’s the plan! It’s a digression, but promises to be a lot of fun.

My new 1943 vehicles: the Germans

As I was preparing the British vehicles last year, it struck me that I badly needed some German half-tracks to speed things up in German attack scenarios. I had already bought boxes of Plastic Soldier Company SdKfz 250s and 251s, so I put these together. There were three in each box, and I added an extra one of each from PSCs “reinforcements”. For good measure I also added an SdKfz 222 armoured car from my legacy collection. This was over ambitious, but we’re done now.

First the SdKfz 251s, sometimes called Hanomags. These were the earliest armoured personnel carriers used by anybody in quantity. The Germans often used them to carry troops into battle under fire in close support of armour, though this led to heavy losses. They used this tactic at Salerno, which gives me a bit of a gaming opportunity. By comparison, though the Allies had M3 or M5 half-tracks, they were slow to use them so aggressively. I had a couple of 251s in my teenage collection (from different manufacturers), and hoped to use at least one of these. But they were seriously under scale, and really wouldn’t have worked next to the 1/72 PSC models. Also they seemed to be based on the early A or B variants, when I wanted the mid-war C (different again from the D, introduced in 1943, and which is the most commonly seen in Normandy). I decided I needed four to make a complete platoon, which included the platoon leader’s version with a 37mm gun, though I have no idea whether they used these in Italy!

The models were an early PSC release (fitting in with their initial focus on Kursk), which means that the model is a bit more basic than I was used to, and the instructions very vague, with no explanation of the options. The model is quite chunky, as usual – PSC scale them up from their 15mm (1/100) versions. I had a little difficulty in fitting the top hull section to the middle bit, which necessitated the use of some putty. But the models do the job and are good value for money. PSC provide crew figures (2 in the front, 4 in the back and a gunner), which I used. These figures are a bit chunky and not nearly as nice as AB castings (which would have been available as an option, for quite a bit of extra money). By using some spares from the platoon leader, and the 250s I was able to up the crews by one in each of the ordinary vehicles – still one short of the actual crew. It was a bit of an awkward fit in places, and I tried to get the layout slightly different in each model. Also I used the loader form the 250 for the 37mm gun, and a figure with binoculars. I added an aerial. I’m not sure they were all equipped with radios, but I decided to be generous. The aerials were scale 1m, which looks a little short, so upped it to 1.5m for the platoon leader. Some stowage was added too, but sparingly. Pictures tend to show these vehicles quite clean. Mostly these came from the kits themselves.

Next come the SdKfz 250s – the alte version, still in widespread use in 1943. Unlike most half-tracks, this vehicle was purpose built for that mode, and was accordingly more robust. It was used a lot by the German reconnaissance forces – hence my interest, as I think interesting scenarios can be built around reconnaissance forces. Once again I opted for a platoon of four. The leader is a 250/11 with the sPzB 41 anti-tank rifle. This was dismountable, and the kit provides the dismounted carriage both in a folded version to be carried on the back, and the deployed version. I will do a dismounted version when I next do some German infantry, using some surplus crew figures from the PaK 38.

The kit was from PSC, but a later issue than the 251, with more options and better instructions. The crew was of similar quality to the 251 kit (and the machine gunner identical). It was the usual chunky fare but fitted together a bit better than the 251. Only three crew were provided per vehicle, when there should really be five. You can’t see that one is missing from the front seat though, so like the 251s there is just one short in the back. It would have been very awkward to try and fit more figures in. I used some of the figures from the 251s to give some variety as well as having the machine gunners pointing in slightly different directions (which mean a bit of surgery to the lower legs in a couple of cases). Aerials and a bit of stowage were added.

Finally there is the SdKfz 222 armoured car. I had kept one back from my teenage collection, taken form the old Airfix reconnaissance set. This contained one of these armoured cars, plus a kubelwagen. I kept the latter too, but it is hopelessly under scale, even for 1/76, and unusable. A pity because I had gone wild with the reconnaissance set and I have two or three lots of it unmade and unpainted. The Airfix 222 is a bit of problem as the turret just isn’t right. It’s too small, doesn’t have the mesh covers, and it would be very hard to add a crew figure. But the PSC kits came with a turret for the 250/10 version. So I wondered if I could marry these turrets with my Airfix models to get a platoon of armoured cars. The good news was that notwithstanding the scale difference (1/72 to 1/76), it looked about the right size. The bad news was that it is modelled with the mesh cover closed – in pictures it is always open. I manged to fit it to model, and even to perch a crew member on the back of the turret (there are photos of them doing this). So I thought I would give it a go. By 1943 the SdKfz 222 was a bit passé, as its off-road capability was a bit limited. I think it had largely been replaced by the 250/10. Never mind it’s what I’ve got.

Painting the half-tracks provides a bit of a challenge given the partially enclosed nature of the vehicles. I usually like to assemble then paint, but that was clearly impractical. So I assembled the top (including the machine gunner attached) separately from the rest, and then gave it all the darker base coat. I then completed the assembly. That meant I couldn’t reach the lower deck portion of the models to provide any paint detail there. That was OK though – these are only wargames quality after all.

As with my previous two attempts at mixing the dunkelgelb main colour, I struggled to get a satisfactory mix. After thinking I had achieved it, I took against it and decided on a remix and repaint. That meant the paint went on a bit thick. Though building up paint in layers with slightly different shades is a recognised painting technique, this was clearly overdone. And I’m still not 100% with the result, which is a bit too grey and has a hint of green (though that was partly down to the wash). Dunkelgelb came it in a wide variety of hues during the war, so there is no such thing as accuracy – but I had hoped for something a bit lighter and yellower. As it is I ended up with something very close the old Humbrol “authentic” shade, so it is well within the realistic range. This is the third successive time I have struggled with this colour and painted many more coats than I originally intended, so there is still a fundamental problem here. One difficulty may be that I have been using student colours, which tend not to dry true – though since this is a high volume job I would like to make these cheaper pigments work. But also I’m attempting to reach the result with a three hue mix (plus white), with yellow ochre, Prussian blue and terracotta red. This leaves far too much room for variation. I need to experiment with two hue mixes. Yellow ochre and black may work (though this is the traditional mix for olive). I am even thinking of using a brighter yellow and purple (my attempt with yellow ochre and purple not working so well when I tried it). This is not an advert for my practice of mixing paints from artist’s colours, rather than the usual paint by number approach using hobby paints.

Like my other German vehicles so far, I didn’t paint any camouflage patterns, though olive green and red brown were issued for that purpose. I don’t see it much in pictures form Italy in 1943, and I went a bit too wild on this back in the 1970s. I might try this on some later vehicles, based on a degree of historical evidence. The crew figures were painted in uniforms with various shades of olive, sand (i.e. faded olive) and grey. As before I don’t have good sense of what they should look like – photos are a bit scarce. But at least it’s reasonably consistent with the infantry I have already painted.

The next adventure was the wash. I decided against using the Windsor and Newton peat brown ink I used for the British vehicles. It has a bit of a red tint which I thought would make the dunkelgelb look wrong. Something like this happened with the Panzer III models and the Quickshade, which has a similar hue. So I decided to have a go at mixing my own with yellow ochre and black ink, diluted with water. This proved very tricky. It took me quite a bit of time before I reached a version that I felt brave enough to use on my models – a sort of olive green. This was fine where it pooled in the recesses, but gave the models a slight greenish hue elsewhere else. It took the models even closer to the old Humbrol colour! I think I’ll try something else next time, though I have large quantities of my mix left over. Should be fine on olive drab (I used it on my jeep too).

For decals I used just the balkankreuse. I considered ID numbers (as for the tanks), but this was a bit awkward with the stowage items, and anyway you rarely see them on this sort of vehicle. For the 250s I used spares from old Airfix Pz IVs. A bit chunky but OK. For the 222 I used some from the old Airfix recce set. The black and white weren’t properly aligned, which was a pity! For the 251 I used slightly bigger ones from a set I acquired commercially at Salute in 2017 at significant expense – black and white ones on the sides, and white ones on the back doors. These decals are very sharp and much nicer than the old Airfix ones (though you have to cut them out carefully), but the back door ones were a bit tricky as I had to cut them down the middle so as not to obscure the crack between the doors.

The decals were placed on a surface prepared with polyurethane gloss varnish, and sealed with the same substance. I’m not sure the first step is strictly needed given that I prepare the surface with Microset – but the flash is invisible. I might experiment without next time. After this I sprayed the vehicles with matt varnish. As with the British I painted a bit of “matt” varnish (which gives a rather unpredictable level of sheen) onto some highlights for a bit contrast – flesh, small arms, straps and helmets. This was a good move for the machine guns, which look much better, and I think it works on the helmets too. It is a technique I will develop as a complete matt finish doesn’t quite work.

Finally came the dust patina. I experimented a bit on the 222, as the most dispensable of my models, and overdid it bit. The others turned out fine, though I did apply some extra to the running gear afterwards as the mix had become too diluted.

That’s going to be it for a while on my 1943 stuff. I have a stack of stuff still to paint, and plans for much more, but my Napoleonics are feeling neglected, and also some terrain stuff to do. Plus I have some domestic credit to build, which means a bit of a clearout in the spare bedroom where I do my painting.

1943: vehicle arrivals. The British

All 16 vehicles

This week at long last I completed a batch of 16 vehicles for my 20mm 1943 Italian theatre project. I started this back in October, but a trip to Australia, Christmas, flu and other stuff intervened. I had thought it was a good move to do large batches of vehicles in order to clear the plastic/resin/pewter mountain, but this was probably too big, especially as it covered both sides. But it is an important reinforcement which will enable much more variety in any club games we play with my 1943 stock. In this post I will look at the seven British vehicles.

First come three Bren carriers, giving me a complete carrier section. A British WW2 force without carriers is like a pub without beer. Apart from the rimmed helmets nothing looks more British. Also carriers give the British side a mobile reserve – which matters since they didn’t use armoured personnel carriers at this stage. And a common theme of this batch was to strengthen reconnaissance forces, which is another role for the carrier section.

The models are from my teenage collection, from which I kept six Airfix carrier models. They aren’t particularly nice, and they are 1/76, when I prefer 1/72, especially for the smaller vehicles. But it seemed a shame not to make use of the inheritance. I crewed them with the AB Universal Carrier set. These are lovely figures, not entirely suitable for 1943 Italy (1944 Normandy more like). Getting them to fit into the models was a challenge, especially the ones seated in the back. I added various stowage items, including weapons – though I was unable to get Bren guns sticking out of the aperture in the front – in fact it was a bit of a struggle to find any suitable spare Bren guns, which barely feature in the various sets of parts on sale. But I did manage a PIAT and a 2in mortar. It took me a long time to get everything sorted out and positioned reasonably plausibly. But it was worth it. The figures and stowage lift the final models to a new level. One issue is that these crew figures will stay in place even when they have disembarked and take their place on the table on foot. But it was impossible to devise a system of removable figures, and doing up spare debarked versions felt excessive. I have the same issue with my German half-tracks.

Next come a Loyd carrier and a jeep. These are metal models bought from SHQ. They worked out OK, and metal models have a satisfactory weighty feel, but I don’t think I will get any more. The models are a bit vague when compared to the crispness of the Milicast resin ones, which is the main alternative for the odds and ends. The crew for Loyd was from AB, again, and like the Bren carriers, help to lift the model. There are jeep figures from AB, but I bought these from SHQ as I was worried about a size mismatch on a model advertised as 1/76. The figures are indeed smaller – but they are also vaguer. The Loyd provides transport for my 6pdr AT gun. I had three Airfix ones which came with my carriers. I have one in deployed mode, and one towed, as it is hard to get these models to serve as both, though in theory you could.

And finally for my recce forces I have a Humber armoured car and a Daimler Dingo scout car. The Humber is one of my teenage leftovers: a Matchbox model that now looks pretty unobtainable. It is the desert version of the Mk III, so not actually right for 1943 Italy (the spare wheel should be at the side, among other details). I managed to get the turret hatch open and insert a Milicast resin commander. These aren’t as good as the AB figures, and a bit smaller. That’s OK for a 1/76 model. The stowage was as per the original model, which got the balance right. I am very pleased with how this one has turned out. I wasn’t that keen on it originally, in its desert sand coat, but with a bit of TLC and a new scheme and it is transformed. In fact I am now very attracted to the Humber armoured car: a sturdy vehicle that looks as if it would have good off-road capability.

The Dingo is a new 1/72 plastic S-Model – there were two in the box but I left the other one for later. This is quite a fine-grained model with a few fiddly parts – unlike the chunky Plastic Soldier Company models that are my mainstay. But a big drawback is that it is modelled with the hatch closed. In photos you never see this vehicle with the top closed over. As a scout car it would not be functional like this. It wouldn’t have looked right. I had to cut the top cover and file it down to make it thinner to represent it folded back. I then inserted purpose-made crew figures from AB. There is no inside detail, but the AB driver has a wheel, and this suffices for wargames purposes. The other modifications were the addition of two aerials and replacing the Bren gun. The version with the kit was very delicate – whereas the Brens with my figures are much chunkier. Doubtless the delicate version is more realistic, but it would have jarred with the AB crew. I used one of my few spare Brens. The Dingo is a versatile vehicle that can be used for recce, artillery/mortar spotting or as a command vehicle (they were often commandeered for that purpose). And less vulnerable than the jeep: wargames rules seldom allow its small size, speed and manoeuvrability in getting out of trouble.

As for painting and finishing, the carriers (both sorts) were done up in infantry colours based on a much used picture of three carriers coming out of a landing ship on Salerno beach. The main colour is SCC No. 2 – the standard colour for British army vehicles and equipment in the mid-war, sometimes called Service Drab or Khaki Brown. This is not a colour you often see on modern restorations (or at all in fact), and colour photos are rare and unreliable – so unlike other colours it hard to know how it actually looked in action. The colour swatches in various publications show a dark brown with a slight reddish tinge. Photos and colour drawings from the time suggest something a bit paler and duller, not at all far from the khaki on soldier’s uniforms. I struggled and it took three goes before I decided I had something I could live with. This was closer to the swatches than the pictures, though still quite close to uniform khaki. I used the usual raw sienna base, with some blue, white and raw umber. Some red got into the early mixes but was pretty much gone by the end.

The Humber and Dingo were done up in recce regiment colours, using the two tone scheme of Light Mud and Blue Black. Having pioneered this with my Royal Scots Greys Shermans, it was quite straightforward to get to the mix – using Raw Sienna, Prussian Blue and white (the same three pigments I used for the British uniforms). It may have helped that I was using artist quality paints for this, which dry truer than the student colours I often use for bulk jobs. The disruptive patterns were largely made up, as there was not an official pattern for either vehicle – though for each there was a photo to get started with. I did the jeep in olive drab. Jeeps were painted up in Light Mud/Blue Black, but I think they were mostly left in their original colour. I reached this using Yellow Ochre and black, with some white. Olive drab presents difficulties for modellers. The swatches and official mixes all show something very dark; the pictures of vehicles in the field show something lighter. Modern restorations (and modern art work representations) go with a lighter version too – but more chromatic than you would expect from the “authentic” version weathering. I went for something paler than the swatches, but greyer than the modern interpretations. I looks right to me and I will use this colour in any future models needing this colour.

After the main paint work I gave the models a wash in peat brown ink, a little diluted. This was instead of the Quickshade I had used before (but not the jeep – which used the same mix I used for the Germans, which I will describe next time). This shade doesn’t discolour the vehicles the wrong way, as the colour schemes are variations of brown anyway. It worked fine as a substitute for Quickshade.

For decals I wanted enough to give the vehicle a period feel, but without the hassle of full serial numbers and vehicle names, which with my OCD tendencies would have taken ages to fix. For the British this meant the characteristic Arm of Service badges and the red and white ID flashes. I was going to do divisional ID badges too (for the 56th division), but I had printed these on transparent decal paper. Given the trouble I had with transparent decal paper on dark backgrounds for my Shermans I decided to skip these. They were an indulgence anyway: vehicles at Salerno and for much of the Italian theatre didn’t use the divisional badges. I didn’t do any markings for the jeep. The decals were my own, printed on white decal paper, which meant I had to cut them out right to the edge – which was a little inaccurate at times.

After a matt varnish aerosol spray I did a little touching up with some paint-on matt varnish, which dries to a slight sheen. I did this because otherwise the varnished vehicles look a bit too flat. This varnish went on to the flesh, the weapons and any binoculars and earphones, and also on any helmets not covered in netting. I’m not sure this is entirely right for the flesh, but it works well for the weapons and equipment, and I think a little contrast is a good idea.

Finally comes the dust patina. This time I used a purpose-made product: AK spatter effect accumulated dust. I bought this at Salute and it was my first serious job for it. It takes quite a bit of courage to do this on models you have been working months on in the knowledge that they could be ruined. The product is quite thick, and it is textured. It works very well if dabbed on with a paint brush in areas where you want it to be thick – it is good for spatter effects, as its name suggests. But I also wanted a weathered patina effect for the whole vehicle. I used a diluted version dabbed on with an old paint brush. I wasn’t at all sure about this as I was applying it, especially with the odd grains of texture effect which dotted the models a bit. I had to be careful it didn’t pool too much in the cracks. Putting it on with a cotton bud (which is what I did with my paint mix on the Shermans) didn’t work with this product. I was worried that I had overdone it; it was quite heavy on the Loyd carrier in particular. There was too much in one or two places (the wheels on the jeep, for example), but actually it was a little underdone in other places (on the wheels and running gear on some models, where it needs to be thickest). Once it had all dried and I got used to it, I decided that it worked well, giving the vehicles a nice used look. It worked especially well over the decals, helping to integrate them into the paintwork. My technique will doubtless improve over time.

Next time: the Germans.

Airfix Vintage Classics – a trip down memory lane

Like so many men of my age, Airfix polystyrene plastic kits and polythene figures played a big role in my boyhood. It some cases, like me, it led to a lifelong interest in wargaming. In the 1960s and 1970s it took up much of the space now taken by computer games. I spent hours in seclusion working on my kits or reading up about WW2 aircraft, tanks and ships without needing to do any tiresome social interaction. My wife is amazed at my ability to identify WW2 aircraft from the briefest glimpse on film footage.

But times changed and Airfix, the leading company in the business, fell on hard times. It is now part of the Hornby group, and going through a minor revival. Meanwhile my interest was renewed with the discovery of a number of my old models in the loft, and led to my current 1943 project – reviving something that I had left off in 1979, when I left home at the age of 21.

Funnily enough, I find the old Airfix stuff unsatisfactory these days. The land models are in 1/76 scale when I prefer 1/72. They are a bit fiddly to put together, and I don’t like the polythene tracks used on the tanks. And some of the old models (I’m thinking of the Sherman and the Tiger) are a bit crude. The polythene figures are even more unsatisfactory. Though the material enables a fine level of detailing, it doesn’t take paint very well. and though the figures improved considerably over time, I still don’t like them. The Germans are early war when I want mid to late war. The British don’t look right at all. and they are 1/76 – though this matters less on figures. Plastic Soldier Company (PSC) do a wonderful range of plastic models which are much better suited to my needs. AB’s metal figures are exquisite, even if the weapons are a bit chunky.

So I was a bit surprised when I got a promotional email from Airfix advertising their Vintage Classics releases. They provoked some genuine interest. Airfix’s range these days is rather limited, mainly based on aircraft, and modernised and retooled. Clearly there was demand for some of the old models, which were worth re-releasing without modernising. The promotional material is unashamedly nostalgic, pointing out that they are using the old artwork too, some of which is a bit crude. These releases are mainly vehicles and ships, which don’t feature strongly, or at all, in current ranges. First to come out, though, are WW1 plastic figures. These were probably the best figures that Airfix produced, with sets for British, French, German and Americans, and a British horse artillery set. I bought the lot as a teenager, and I still have them. There some familiar problems. A lot of useless poses. The British and Germans are early war, the French and Americans later. So no Lewis gunner. Still, though I’m very interested in WW1 from a historical perspective, I have ruled it out as a wargaming/modelling project. What interests me are the WW2 vehicles, none of which have been released yet.

These are the Matador and 5.5in gun, 88mm Flak gun and tractor, 25pdr and Quad, Bren carrier and 6pdr, 40mm Bofors and tractor, M3 half track, PAK 40 and truck, Panzer IV, Panther tank, StuG III,  Churchill VII, and T34. Of these I already have the M3 half track, Bren/6pdr, Pz IV and Churchill in abundance. I am pressing them into use – but if I was buying new I would go to PSC. The Airfix 25pdr/Quad model was a nice one (I actually have the gun model converted into a 17pdr Partridge, using the Panther barrel) – but PSC do a good one too which include things like a muzzle-brake. The Panther and StuG III are strong on nostalgia (being amongst the first AFV models I owned) but are early models and a little crude (the gun barrels are a little thin, the are 1/76, and have those polythene tracks). There are good alternatives from PSC and others. I already have the Armourfast StuG III. The T34 isn’t in scope for my project; we had a lot of fun with this model, but I’m sure a lot of modern offerings beat it. The Pak 40 and truck are a late model that I never owned – so probably quite good. But I’ve already bought them from PSC, and 1/72 is a more satisfactory scale.

That leaves three models. Firstly the 88 (with SdKfz 7 tractor). This was a lovely model, though the only crew were some stiff passengers for the tractor. It was quite feasible to take the gun from deployed to transported mode. The 88 and SdKfz 7 are not in the PSC range and are harder to find in 1/72. Actually, though an iconic weapon it is rather neglected in wargames – it was really a long range weapon and not so well suited to the skirmish games that comprise games with larger models. Still, I do want one. I’m also less worried about 1/72 for these larger pieces. In fact I had been wondering whether this model was still available.

I never owned the Bofors gun – it was a later model – which means the standard is likely to be quite high. It is another piece that is harder to get. But I would like to bring in aircraft and AA guns at some point, and the Bofors guns played a big role in the rear areas of the Sicily and Salerno beach heads, which in the latter case came into the front line at some points. The Morris 15 cwt tractor is a useful item too – though I’d prefer these smaller trucks to be in 1/72.

And finally the 5.5in/Matador. This where nostalgia really kicks in. I really don’t need these for my wargaming. Medium artillery is off-table stuff. But this was one of my favourites as a child/teenager. It’s hard to say exactly why. The model we had wasn’t even mine – it was my younger brother’s – and painted up by my older brother (easily the most accomplished modeller among us). The gun was a simple but very satisfactory model. The Matador looked just like any other lorry at first, but we soon came to appreciate its size (actually a bit like the SdKfz 7). The Matador was a magnificent bit of British engineering. So I feel that I have to have it. Even two.

One final point is worth making. These models are good value for money. You can get them in metal (SHQ) or, (in some cases) resin (Milicast), but at a lot more cost. The Matador/5.5in combination would cost £20 at SHQ; the Airfix model is, or will be, £5.99.  The Zvezda plastic Bofors gun costs £7.99 without a tractor; the Airfix offer is £8.99 with the Morris (though I don’t know what either of these supply for crews – they are easy enough to get in metal). It’s the same story with the 88. They aren’t available yet, but I’m in no hurry. I have a plastic mountain to get through.


1943: my old German tank models get a facelift

In my post before last I said that the next step this project would be to take my old German tanks and bring them up to standard. This I have now done:

I followed a similar process to my Pz III platoon. First, though, the models needed a little preparation. This included fitting aerials. I used plastic bristles from a broom, but to scale 2m (28mm). These were fitted in a blob of superglue. This works very well – they are robust and have survived quite a bit of accidental battering. I also fitted some stowage from the PSC set. Not as much per tank as the Pz IIIs, and especially not for the Tigers. German tanks of this era don’t seem especially laden – not as much as in the Blitzkrieg era, or Allied tanks. The pictures of Tigers show them as quite clean, except for track bits added to the turrets, which I did for one of the tanks.

I primed the bare plastic additions, and also the polythene tracks, which all these models had, using the white metal primer. I still had some of the adhesion problems on the new plastic that I reported for the Pz IIIs. The primer was slightly diluted, but not as much as before, so that problem remains to be solved. If it isn’t dilution of the primer with water, and not the plastic requiring a wash first, I will change primer – artists gesso looks as if it works well.

And then to the base coat of dunkelgelb. I wasn’t able to reuse the paint I mixed last time – it was too far gone, so I had to mix afresh. I wasn’t able to get an exact match – and that is one of the main issues with my use of artists colours, and why I expect that most hobbyists will find this approach unpersuasive. Still, the mix was arrived at much more quickly (yellow ochre and white, with Prussian blue and terracotta brown added – all from “student” quality paints). The result was slightly greener and slightly whiter than the Pz IIIs, event after the application of the brown Quickshade. Actually I think I prefer it – the Pz IIIs look slight too red. The base coat went on in one sitting, but in several layers. The first was quite liquid, the others much dryer. I lightened the mix a bit as I put more on. It’s hard to say whether the layering had any effect, byond smoothing and imporving the coverage. I don’t think the models looked as flat as my old single coat of Humbrol enamels did, but the layering is not visible to my eye. Incidentally the paint dries very thin, so the layering did not obscure the detail. One of the tanks was victim of several layers of Humbrol, though, and the detail was noticeably less sharp on this one. The quick succession of the various layers may have had the effect of taking off excessive accumulations on the detail rather than accumulating it. Anyway, this looks like a good technique. The first coat takes a bit of time to apply; the others are very quick.

After that came the detailing, including the tracks, wheel tyres and stowage. With no crew to paint this was simpler. Then there was a dry brush of dust colour (the dunkelgelb with white), which was not as heavy handed as last time, though there were still some excess blobs.  And so to the Quickshade.

The decals came next. I was more sparing, since these are going to be second-string miniatures. Only two turret numbers. The Pz IVs had no Balkenkreuse on the left (because of stowage) and the Pz IIIs none on the rear. Even so I’m down to my last two of the small (3mm) ones, which will give me issues. I sealed with polyurethane again – but only after the decals had had nearly 24 hours to dry out – they seemed much more robust. Like the Pz IIIs the flash is still visible from some angles though. With the Pz IVs this is made worse because they had to be applied over a slight bump on the turret, which they couldn’t quite do as tightly as I would wish for. I am wondering whether I should revert to a technique I used on my model aircraft 40 years ago – which is to float the decals off the backing paper as normal, wipe off the glue backing them, dry them and then place them using varnish. These modern decals may be too fragile – but this technique worked a treat back in the day. I will have to experiment. Finally I finished with a spray of matt varnish.

Lets look at them in a bit more detail. First the three Pz IVGs:

The lighting conditions were a bit challenging, so these pictures aren’t very good I’m afraid. These are Airfix 1/76 kits. I was very excited when these first came out. Until then the only German tanks readily available were the Tiger, Panther and StuG III. These set up very unequal battles with the Airfix Shermans. And this model was of a higher standard too. One of these models (213, closest to the picture) was my first, which I painted green at first (we knew no better). I then repainted in the fictitious desert orange that Humbrol  produced. The layers of paint did the model no favours. The other two models came in later, when I was more serious about wargaming, and had more money. I painted them in the Humbrol dunkelgelb, with (different) camouflage patterns. The models were a bit tricky to assemble, and there are gaps, and some of the wheels are a bit wonky (and one of the top rollers missing). Also my handling of the polythene tracks was very inexpert. This time I did not think it was worth the time to attempt to correct these errors, I painted as was, with a bit of extra stowage. I numbered them as a complete platoon, and these will be useful on the tabletop, until I can produce some smarter 1/72 Pz IVs (which will be Hs with shurzen on the turret).

The aerials, incidentally, are almost certainly in the wrong place for 1943. Like the Pz III, the Pz IV was originally fitted with a solid, tapered  “stern” aerial beside the turret, which folded down when the gun got in the way into a wooden tray on the side of the hull. But this tray is not modelled on the Airfix kits, so I fitted whip aerials at the back, according to later pictures of Pz IVs that I have seen. This creates less hassle with rotating turrets.

Next the Pz IIIs: The foreground model is a Matchbox kit at 1/76. This was one of my more recent acquisitions, when at last we had a wider variety of models available. It is a nice clean model, which had fewer of the assembly issues than the other ones. Its only problem (apart from being unable to open the hatch) is that the 1/76 scale makes it look a bit small compared to the 1/72 tanks. For this model I replaced the barrel with the flammpanzer one from the PSC kit, as well as smoke dischargers. This gives me an extra tabletop option – though I can’t deploy a complete platoon, as the Germans did apparently at Salerno, though they proved vulnerable to the Shermans. I did not fit an aerial for this one, for the same reason as the PSC kits. The model clearly shows the stern antenna stowed in its box along the track guard.

The backgound model is a conversion I did from the Airfix StuG III. This lacks the detailing of the proper models, but helps make up the numbers. I replaced the gun and rather crude mantlet with the short 75mm from the PSC kit (slightly overscale, but looks OK), along with the smoke dischargers (I couldn’t fit them to the PSC models because of the turret schurzen). The model is a bit wonky, but it gives a bit of support to the Tigers, with which this sort of tank operated. I fitted an antenna to this one, where the folding stern antenna would have been – though the bristle is a bit too thin at the base. Given the weak detailing on the model I though it would help lift it a bit.

And so to the Tigers:Tigers played a significant role in Tunisia, a minor one in Sicily and were not present at Salerno (though the British kept reporting them there!). I don’t plan for them to be an important part of my games, but I have them, and they will be a handy option. The tank at the front is the oldest German model in my collection – an old 1/76 Airfix kit. This was originally painted dark grey. But when I bought the second kit, I thought it needed a facelift – so I added mudguards to cover the tracks at the front, and a stowage bin at the back of the turret, and then painted it in dunkelgelb. It did the job. There was a bit of an issue with the polythene tracks. In photos these looked heavy and lay on top of the track wheels – something this flexible track wouldn’t do – and it wouldn’t respond to being glued down either. This time I managed to partially glue it down with superglue – though it required to be held down for an hour or more while the glue hardened. The aerial was fitted in the only place that photos show single aerials on Tigers (second or third aerials might appear on the turret or engine deck). It probably should be a stern aerial – but what the hell!

The other model is much more modern, it was from Hasegawa and in 1/72. It’s a much nicer model though I made a bit of a mess with the running wheels, and the polythene track is pretty crude. The track needed the same treatment as the Airfix one, and I also stuck the aerial in the same place. In spite of being different scales the two models can work together for now. the size differential seems to matter less than for the smaller tanks.

These models aren’t to a particularly high standard, but the facelift has improved them a lot, and given the models some unity. Back in the day I tended to make models as individuals. But this exercise shows that I am right to concentrate on more basic wargamer models nowadays, like the PSC ones. The moulded tracks look much better than the flexible ones. The running wheels may be less detailed (you don’t get the double wheels) but they are much less work and don’t end up looking wobbly.

I now have strength and depth in German tanks. While my Sherman project still needs to deal with some complexities (getting crew; making decals; more stowage), I will move on to the infantry. I have ordered a platoon each of Germans and British from AB, and they are now ready to paint!

1943: the Royal Scots Greys’ Sherman tanks

Part of the enduring appeal of this hobby is the occasional detective work. Scrabbling for clues, and trying to make sense of what little you have – and in the process debunking generally accepted wisdom. This may be about what happened in a historical battle. Or it may about the appearance of a unit you want to add to your collection. My idea to model a troop of Shermans from the Royal Scots Greys as they appeared at Salerno in September 1943 is one such quest. I have followed it a bit obsessively for the last couple of weeks just for sheer hell of it. And that is the tale I will tell today.

A bit of background. The RSGs had fought with the 8th Army in North Africa right up to Tunisia, using Grants and Honeys. While the fight moved on to Sicily they were rested and re-kitted with Sherman III tanks (i.e. the diesel M4A2, and not Sherman IIs, with the cast hulls, or the later M4A3s as sometimes reported). They were then assigned to the British X Corps to take part in the Salerno landings. They were heavily engaged supporting the 56th (London) Infantry Division – with a great deal of distinction. They are about the only British tank unit to get a mention in accounts of the battle, even though it fought alongside 40th RTR in X Corps, and the 22nd Armoured Brigade of 7th Armoured Division also landed. It is not wholly clear whether the regiment formed part of the 23rd Armoured Brigade at this point (as the 40th RTR was).

My main source is photos. I have found these online and in a couple of books I have on the battle – the Osprey title and an old book from 1971 from the Pan/Ballantine history of WW2 (a series that I think was earlier called the Purnell’s history, which I dug up out of the attic).

And now to my first picture, from Wikipedia:

This shows the tank “Sheik” advancing towards Naples after the battle in late September (not far from Pompeii by the look of Vesuvius). It is in a very curious colour scheme, and this has drawn a lot of attention. Lots of modellers have been unable to resist representing it, and there is even a die-cast model of the tank on sale. It has a two colour camouflage base pattern, with pale and medium tone components. This is usually interpreted as Light Mud for the pale tone (one of the standard Mediterranean theatre British camouflage colours of the time – a greyish sand colour) and olive drab for the medium, the colour that the tank would have been painted when shipped over from the US under Lend-Lease. There is a darker tone used to give the dapple on the pale tone – probably the Blue Black that was also part of the standard British set. Other points to note are that there is are two aerial pennants, and the red-white-red British identification flash on the side.

The next picture is from the Osprey and Pan/Ballantine books:It shows a tank of the RSGs during the battle (near Battapaglia according to the Pan/Ballantine). Points of interest: there is a two-tone camouflage, but with light-dark tone, not light-medium. This is surely Light Mud and Blue Black, in accordance with standard British practice of the time. There is a tactical mark on the turret – a circle with the number 8. The Osprey says the circle denotes B Squadron; I think C squadron was more likely (B is usually a square). The number is the tank number. The red-white-red flash is visible and there are two or three pennants on the aerial.

The next picture is from just the Osprey I have now found the original from the IWM collection, and substitute here:

THE ALLIED LANDINGS IN ITALY, SEPTEMBER 1943: REGGIO, TARANTO AND SALERNO (NA 6646) Salerno, 9 September 1943 (Operation Avalanche): A Sherman tank and infantry on the road to Battipaglia. Smoke from a burning ammunition ship can be seen in the background. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

This looks as if it was taken at a very similar time. There are railway tracks in both pictures, and smoke. The barrage balloon indicates that it is quite near the beach. The scan above isn’t that clear – but the camouflage pattern looks the same, and the aerial pennants may be too. But it isn’t the same tank – this one has an AA machine gun on the turret. Of particular note on this picture is the unit ID signs on the left mudguard (i.e. left when facing forward – nautical “port”). The censor has scrubbed them out, but we can see that there are two, and they are both on the left – unlike the normal situation of the Arm of Service marker on one side and formation badge on the other. More on that later. There is a red-white-red flash in the front-centre. Incidentally this tank shows a single-piece nose for the Sherman – instead of the more usual three-piece one for this stage of the war – it is presumably quite a new tank.

The next picture is a poor one taken from the battle and only in the Pan/Ballantine:It is just about possible to see that the camouflage pattern is the same as the previous two pictures (and different from Shah). The regiment’s tanks were clearly painted in a standard pattern. Also note the single aerial pennant, and no AA machine gun. And the rear part of the track guard is still there.

The next picture is from Wikipedia and shows one of RSG’s tanks in the follow up towards Naples, and near contemporary with the Shah picture: Not much to add here except to note that the standard camouflage pattern turns up again. The rear of the track guard is missing -as with Shah and the other later picture, suggesting they were deliberately removed soon after the Salerno battle.

The final picture comes from October as the unit was advancing with 23 Armoured brigade; it comes from the Imperial War Museum:

THE BRITISH ARMY IN ITALY 1943 (NA 8276) A Sherman tank of ‘B’ Squadron, Royal Scots Greys fording the Teano river, 29 October 1943. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

There are a few points of interest here. Once again it has the same camouflage pattern (a shame though that I have no pictures of the right hand side!), though the contrast is much lower than earlier (and similar to the Shah picture). Either that’s the effect of a couple of months weathering, or the Blue Black has been overpainted – or perhaps it just indicates lower ambient light conditions. Note that the stowage turret box doesn’t have the camouflage pattern on it, and in picture two it doesn’t look as if it has been repainted at all – this may have been a late addition. The red-white-red flash is just visible. The tactical mark is a square (as would normally be appropriate for B squadron), but I can’t see a number in it (incidentally don’t confuse it with the outlined panel behind it on the turret).

And now to a secondary source. A Star Decals sheet (these are a valuable resource):

The first two are of interest. the first is an interpretation of Shah. It shows it with a triangular tactical mark, appropriate to A Squadron (on the back of the stowage bin too), but with no number. It is shown in red, as would be used for a senior regiment in a brigade. It also shows an interpretation of the unit ID on the left mudguard – a thistle on on white over black square  The text says that this sign was visible on tanks earlier in the campaign, but can’t be confirmed for this tank with its new camouflage scheme. It is clearly specific to the regiment – not the more usual brigade or division (the thistle standing for Scotland). The second picture is of a tank named Roosevelt – but not from any photograph I have seen. There is some doubt as to whether this is the RSG or 44 RTR (part of 4 Armoured brigade and not at Salerno). The name apparently doesn’t conform to the RSG naming system (Royal Navy ships) – but otherwise it looks very like the tank from picture 2 (though the number is 10). The portrayal of the camouflage pattern is different, but not by that much (mainly the turret) – perhaps just interpretation from an obstructed picture.

And so what are my conclusions? Shah looks like a one-off to me. Other regiments seem to have been using tanks without a camouflage pattern or with a low tonal contrast one (including the 40th RTR, according to the only picture I have). Perhaps the RSGs received one of these as a replacement and then improvised the camouflage scheme from there. I will use the Light Mud and Blue Black scheme, guessing the right side elements that I don’t have info on. The red-white-red flashes will also appear. Fortunately the Italeri kits I’m using have these in their decals. I will also do C squadron with red circle tactical marks and three consecutive numbers. I don’t have definite information on the numbering system, but a Flames of War graphic for New Zealand units suggests sequences starting with 3, 6, 9 and 12 for each of the main troops (and 15 for the HQ troop – 1 and 2 don’t appear to be used within the squadrons). I have four models, and I may do a further tank for the squadron leader, to act as a senior officer for larger games. Which tanks got the AA machine guns I don’t know – I speculate that it is the troop leader.

The next point is to have aerial pennants. These were subject to considerable variation – sometimes daily. I will give the troop leader two pennants and the others one. Perhaps they all get a red one, with yellow for the troop leader, as suggested by the Star Decals sheet. These will give the tanks a British look.

Another aspect of making the unit look British are the unit IDs. Here all I have to go on is the censor’s scratchings out on picture 2 and the Star Decals suggestion. The lower mark looks quite wide compared to its height. That would suggest a three digit number for an Arm of Service serial. That would be an Army level serial as often used for independent brigades (the numbers being 171-3 or 161-3 for armoured brigades). The formal organisational status of the RSGs at this point is a bit unclear – and this is emphasised by the use of a regimental formation sign rather than the more usual division or brigade. The formation sign is, presumably, the thistle badge, and located above the presumed unit serial. I am not sure what I am going to do here. I am tempted to leave these off (as I will the registration numbers and tank names) – but, then again, they do make the tank look British.

So most of the pieces of the jigsaw are in place. What is clear is that I will need to print my own decals on this, for the tactical signs and the unit ID, if I use them. A new challenge!

Update 27 August 2017

I continue to scratch the itch on this one. Some more Google searches have taken me to some new bits of data. First there is this online discussion from 2007 in which the RSG Shermans are discussed. Alas all the picture links are deceased, as it includes one or two pictures I haven’t got – including one which shows the unit thistle badge. There are a number of items of detail that I will ignore – I don’t need the model to be 100% accurate on the technical details. However it did draw me to this Pathé film. Amongst other things it includes the river crossing by the RSG tank in the last picture above. Here is a still from it. You can just about see the thistle badge on the front mudguard (take my word for it – though you do need the eye of faith). Also of interest is that the the front door of the commanders’ hatch has been removed – a common British practice apparently. The Italeri kit has the hatch moulded closed (the one point I don’t like about it). I was going to carve out the closed hatch anyway; I won’t have to make the front hatch door!

I have unearthed another couple of interesting pictures. This is from another unit at Salerno (the London Yeomanry, part of the 7th Armoured division): The camouflage scheme is similar but not the same. The dark colour may not be Blue Black though. The markings on the front mudguard are temporary identifiers – no doubt this is what those mysterious scratched out marks are on Picture 3 (apart from the thistle badge).

And then there is this picture of a tank from an unknown unit in Italy: Of interest is the right side camouflage pattern, broadly consistent with the RSG. The RSG pattern appears to be based on a standard recommended pattern issued by the army, though some of the darker stripes are a bit broader, and there is no stripe on the back of the turret. This pattern gives me something to work on for the missing bit. I have not been able to find the original diagram that was used though, amid all the verbiage on camouflage patterns. All I know is that the patterns aren’t the same as those used earlier in the desert.

And after I had written that I searched all the Imperial War Museum’s collection on Salerno and found this one:

THE BRITISH ARMY IN ITALY 1943 (NA 6725) A Sherman tank comes ashore at Salerno, September 1943. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

It’s the missing link. The thistle insignia is now clearly visible, above the temporary number. And there is also a clear picture of the front camouflage pattern – though I think there is a bit of variation with the other pictures. Two flags on the pennant. This tank has the three part nose, but is missing the rear track guard. Zooming in I can just make out a circular tactical mark, indicating C Squadron, but not the number in it.

French artillery in 1:100 – Part 8 Finishing off and conclusion

My French artillery
The end result all lined up. From left to right the 12-pdr, 8-pdr, 6-pdr, 4-pdr, and the 10-pdr, 6 pouce and 24-pdr howitzers

I can now declare the project closed. The final stage was painting up some additional crew figures, correcting the old ones I wanted to re-use, and doing the bases. But this is the article I am linking to TMP, so before describing the finishing touches, I want to summarise what I have done.

I have described the scope in my introductory post. I wanted to provide fresh models for my 15mm French army, whose tin men have grown to more like 18mm over the years – which approximates to 1:100. This is not well catered for in the market, because by the time more accurate information emerged, manufacturers had moved on to other scales, mainly 28mm. My main aim was to produce models for wargames that look approximately right – but there is also an element of building a collection too. Having said that I have neither the patience nor the manual dexterity to produce models of collector standard – the standard that I see so often displayed in TMP. Eye candy this is not.

But I hope it is useful to anybody building French armies in 15/18mm. Many of my models are pulled together from old bits and pieces I have had around for years, and I describe how I did this in my posts. But in this article I will summarise what I recommend to people wanting to use what is out there in the market. This is not based on a comprehensive survey of what is there, but what I know of the more popular makes. They are all Blue Moon and AB, though I have considered others along the way. The headings link to the main articles. So here goes:

The 4-pdr

Not easy to get right. Easy for me because I had lots of old Battle Honours models to start with, and plenty of wheels of the size I wanted – but these aren’t easily obtainable these days. The only model of the right scale out there that I know of is Blue Moon. But this is let down by wheels that are too small – and the bigger wheels are in important part of the look of French artillery.

The 8-pdr

Much easier, though I cobbled mine together from bits and I did not buy any of the current models. But both Blue Moon and AB look fine – but these will look best beside models in the same stable, though.

The 12-pdr

The BM carriage is too much too long, based on reviews I have read. The AB one is the right size, and nicely detailed, but the trail doesn’t look quite right in my view. I have two of the ABs and three cobbled together models based on the Blue Moon French Howitzer carriage (!).

The 6-pdr

The Blue Moon model is essentially sound, but has some errors. The barrel needs to be smoothed; you need a new and higher elevating plate from card. The AB model is nice but based on the 8-pdr carriage, which might be accurate for a few, late weapons, but not for most of the era. The barrel also needs to be smoothed. Also on my old AB models the wheel track was much too wide and had to be cut down. This may have been corrected in current models. This is the main artillery piece for my armies, so I needed lots. I made up six from Blue Moon, to go with my 3 old AB ones, and three more I made up from old Battle Honours Prussian pieces.

The 6 pouce howitzer

By this I mean the classic French “6 inch” short-barrelled howitzer that is the subject of most illustrations, often described as “Gribeauval”, but which was probably not all that much used in fact. None of the 15mm models I have seen get this right. The carriage for the Blue Moon model is vastly oversized (I used it for the 12-pdr, and it was a bit too big even  for that!). The AB model is of generally the right proportions, but looks a bit weedy. And the latest model (mine are old ones) might not even be right based on their illustration. I used a BM barrel on the AB carriage, but still wasn’t too happy!

The 10-pdr howitzer

This is another “6 inch” howitzer, and used in the heavy batteries, right up to Waterloo. But the only pictures I have seen are of the barrel.  It was based on an old Prussian design. In fact the simplest way of producing this is to take the AB Prussian “7-pdr” howitzer, which is probably quite close to what this weapon looked like in the later years with a later-style carriage. You can “Frenchify” this by adding trail handles (bend some fuse wire or even a staple) and cut out the ammunition box retaining struts. To get an earlier look I put the AB Prussian barrel on the AB French howitzer carriage.

The 24-pdr howitzer

This was the main howitzer in use by the French, and also, confusingly, usually referred to as “6 inch”. There are no 15mm models of this anywhere that I know of. The closest model is the Blue Moon Prussian howitzer. But the French barrel was slightly longer, and the trunnions further back, so that the barrel projected more from the front. I opted to make my own barrel, but this looked too heavy, and was bit more than my clumsy fingers should have taken on. The Prussian model needs an elevating plate (easy to make from card) and its trunnion recesses are too deep (I filled them with plasticine) – these are applicable to using it in Prussian mode too. Also you may want to Frenchify it – which I chose to do on my 3 models. If you are making your own barrel you can also use the Blue Moon French 6-pdr carriage (or the Prussian 6-pdr come to that).

Now a few words about the finishing. I decided to reuse my existing crews. These were Battle Honours foot crews and Old Glory horse crews for the 1809 period, and AB Guard foot crews. I decided not to use my Battle Honours Guard horse crews – they are too small and not impressive enough, or my BH standard horse crews, as these are bit dull. The BH foot crews are bit underscale for the job, though, and this is a bit noticeable if you get the correct 1:100 scale wheels. Still, I use them to make up the numbers.

BH French crew
The Battle Honours crews manning a couple of 6-pdrs, made from different sources.

The Old Glory figures are fine for both scale and appearance – though the gun models that come with them are not particularly useful if you want them to look right (though mine provided carriages for my 8-pdrs and wheels for the 4-pdrs! These were from an old pack, though, and I don’t know whether this would work nowadays).

OG HA Crew
The Old Glory horse artillery crews with a 4-pdr and a 6-pdr

I don’t particularly like the AB Foot Guard figures either, though they were fine for size and detailing. There is no officer and the pose of figure carrying a n ammunition round looks laughable (casually holding a 12-pdr round as if it was a tube of Pringles), and they are mostly wearing backpacks.  Another problem is that I had painted them in too bright a shade of blue (Army Painter spray colour with dark Quickshade). I tried calming this down with washes of dark blue-grey, and then touching up – but this wasn’t altogether successful.

AN OG Crew
The AB Guard crew with one of my made-up 12-pdrs and the 10-pdr howtizer.

These figures needed reinforcements. I had some Fantassin/Warmodelling crew figures lying around unpainted (bought in Fantassin days). I have been very critical of this range’s artillery pieces, but these figures are perfectly respectable. They are depicted in greatcoats and backpacks, which covers up some uniform details and makes them quite generic – they can double as line artillery or marine gunners. I painted the shakos appropriate to later uniforms.

Fantassin French crew
The Fantassin crews man a 6-pdr and a 24-pdr howitzer

I supplemented these with later era Blue Moon crews. These are nice figures, depicted with shako covers,  tunics and without backpacks. I painted some as line and some as naval gunners (there were some of these at Waterloo, apparently) – though you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference (the naval gunners have red collars).

BM crew
Blue Moon crews man 6-pdrs

I am still playing with painting methods. I undercoat with specialist metal undercoat from a DIY store. This comes in a lifetime-sized tin, but the only one I could lay my hand on was water-based and white. A mistake. Diluted paint (it’s much too thick to go on direct) leaves you with issues of surface tension and coverage (not so good as filling the holes). White undercoat is not a particularly good choice for relatively quick-painted 15mm figures. I gave the figures a first thin coat of raw umber after the undercoat, followed by several coats of a blue mix. In another experiment: I created this mix from ultramarine and raw umber (I use artists colours), instead of my usual Prussian blue base. But this needed lots of coats before it started to look right. I tried to highlight with the brighter ultramarine, but the effect was hardly noticeable. The overall effect was rather nice though (incomparably better than Army Painter Navy Blue plus dark Quickshade!), but not as quick as I wanted! Even if it doesn’t come out in my pictures. I did not feel the need for Quickshade, so just did a raw umber wash on the faces.

The bases were new. I need smaller sizes these days. The standard is 30mm square, with 25mm (wide) by 30mm for light guns, and 30mm (wide) by 35mm for the heavies. Two figures populate the bases, except for the heavies, which have three. These aren’t eye-candy. The position of the figures is not realistic. It is all dictated by the needs of  games played on a small table. I am also avoiding the thick MDF (or mounting board) bases that are so popular – they do frame the figures nicely. But I feel that height is my enemy on the table, especially since I am forced into using miniaturised terrain. And I already have magnetic strip on the bottom. So I used 300gsm artist’s paper. That’s thick for paper but thin for a base, especially a larger one with a greater risk of warping. Never mind. I have magnetised bases and I store on steel paper, which should stop the warping.

I use a home-made gloop, consisting of sand, artist’s gesso and paint (I used a dark burnt umber this time – I have used raw umber before). I apply this with a sculpting tool after gluing the figures to the base. After touching up with burnt umber paint, I  covered the bases with a combination of flock and static grass. I’m not expert with the static grass, which comes out  a bit matted in my hands. The flock represents the flattened areas – and only in very small areas is the base of burnt umber left exposed. They haven’t set up in a Japanese garden amongst decorative tufts and rock features. To unify the flock and static grass I give it all a wash of yellow green (using ink and flow enhancer rather than water as a base). I then give a bit of a dry brush with a white/yellow ochre mix. The overall effect is textured and the figure bases are nicely covered up, and the colour doesn’t jar with the table covering. In my earlier batch of bases for my Prussians the overall effect was too dark, which made my dark figures look even duller. So I used a brighter colour of static grass, more yellow in the wash, and was rather heavier (and less dry) with the dry brushing. This looks much better, and I will have to reverse engineer my Prussians somehow. But I don’t think I’d recommend this approach particularly – I think you can get nicer looking results than this.

And now my thoughts turn to my next project. Prussians probably. I have it in mind to do a similar article (or articles) on Prussian artillery, and one on limbers too. But I need more Prussian landwehr!





French artillery in 1:100 – Part 7 the 24pdr howitzer

24pdr howitzer

And so last but not least we come to the 24pdr howitzer. This became the standard French field howitzer in the Empire period, and it may have been the second most produced artillery piece for the French in the era, after the 6pdr, being in production from 1804. And yet until recently it has been nearly invisible to historians. No figure manufacturer has attempted to produce it in 15mm that I am aware of. Consequently this has been the single biggest modelling challenge in my project.

This howitzer was introduced as part of the An XI artillery reforms, and seems to have been generally well thought of. It had a smaller calibre than the 6 pouce howitzer it replaced, but it had a longer barrel, and was more accurate. Napoleon was pleased that each ammunition caisson could carry significantly more rounds. Like the 6pdr it was virtually the same calibre as its Austrian counterpart, the 7pdr (150-152mm) – presumably allowing ammunition to be interchanged – though likely to be of different dynamic characteristics. It took its name, 24pdr, from the being the same calibre as the 24pdr heavy cannon. This was a new, rationalised naming convention that does not seem to have taken, though. Some referred to it as 5 pouce 6/7 lignes, but it seems to have been quite common to round this to 6 pouce, or inches, causing confusion to later historians. Since it was about 6 English inches in calibre, English observers called it 6 inch too. In the Royal Armouries catalogue the two examples they have (both captured at Waterloo and cast in or about 1804) are both referred to as 6in howitzers, the same nomenclature as the two much larger 10pdrs. Sadly there are no drawings of these two, and just basic measurements (a single length measurement and calibre) in the catalogue.

It was quite distinctive of appearance, though. At 101cm (muzzle to breeech ring) the tube was about 5cm longer than the Austrian and Prussian equivalents. But the trunnions were further back, giving a barrel that stuck out well beyond the carriage, as the above illustration shows – quite the opposite of the 6 pouce howitzer it replaced. This picture is of one of the pieces captured at Vitoria  in 1813 and now in Lisbon (a picture of it also appears in David Chandler’s Campaigns of Napoleon, inevitably referred to as a 6in howitzer). Did the design change as the wars progressed? DDS suggests it was modified. Indeed its table refers to two different howitzers: the “M1803 7-pdr” – calibre 151.5mm and 101cm in tube length, and the “M1808 24-pdr “,calibre 148mm and length 120cm. And yet I have seen no drawings or other pictures of the later piece. The Royal Armouries examples clearly conform to the former dimensions (allowing that their length includes the button at the rear), as does the photo of a “M1803 24-pdr” in DDS book itself.  The drawings that I have seen in another publication are also of the early version. I need rather harder evidence of that the later design was ever in fact operational in serious numbers.

And what of the carriage? This seems to be closely modelled on the 6pdr carriage. DDS carries a drawing of the “M1803” version. This shows a carriage identical to the 6pdr, alongside a drawing of a 10pdr barrel. Apart from the barrel being of a different piece, the issue with the carriage is that the elevating plate seems designed for the much longer 6pdr barrel. I would expect a much shorter plate for the howitzer, as we indeed see on the closely related later Prussian designs. The pictures of the 24pdr in Lisbon don’t reveal this detail, unfortunately, though otherwise the carriage design is consistent with drawing, allowing for the later addition of trail handles.

But how to model this piece? I wanted three of them. The carriage is easy – the Blue Moon 6pdr carriage would be the logical starting point. But their Prussian 6pdr and Howitzer carriages would be nearly as good, as indeed would be the AB Prussian Howitzer carriage, assuming a shorter elevating plate, or the 6pdr for a longer plate. The Prussians seem to have copied the An XI carriage for their later artillery pieces, with even the reinforcing metal bands on the trail being in about the same places. For the BM models an elevating plate needs to be added (e.g. from plastic card), or at least the rear end. I had some spare BM Prussian howitzer models (from the pernicious BM practice of selling their artillery pieces in packs of 6), so I used these, adding trail handles from bent bits of staple. Also I cut out the two retaining bars for the ammunition case at the bottom rear of the trail.

But the barrel? It is of unique shape, and I searched my bits and pieces for anything that could be adapted. The closest was the BM Prussian howitzer. But the trunnions are too far back, which means that the barrel does not have the characteristic projection from in front of the carriage. It is also a bit thin. I wanted the barrel to be noticeably thicker than the French 6pdr barrel. My first idea was to adapt the BM Prussian 6pdr barrel. This is quite thick (it does have the dolphins too – even though Prussians had eliminated these from their 6pdr in fact). I could saw off the ends,  shorten the remaining barrel, and then stick the ends back on. I decided not to because I had it in mind to use these barrels for their original purpose – to play the part of heavy Prussian 6pdrs, to work alongside the beautiful AB 6pdrs, which would act as the light version. I also thought the area around the middle, which has a bit of a “saddle” would not be easy to replicate. In hindsight I think I made the wrong decision, though, and I may yet try to make an additional piece this way.

But instead I decided to make the barrel from scratch! I took a piece of plastic sprue from a kit for two of the barrels, and rolled some Milliput epoxy putty for the third. On one I wrapped a slither of paper around the middle to get the “saddle”; for the other two I used some epoxy putty (grey stuff – I’m not sure which brand). Trunnions were added from a bit of plastic rod (from the same kit, which was a building). For the dolphins I fashioned something from putty for one, cut bits of plastic for the other two. For the rear I used the sawn off end of some old Minifigs 12pdrs. For the muzzle I used sections cut from a Minifigs artillery wheel hub, with quite a bit of filing down. All of which is easily said, but 1:100 is a small scale, and my fingers aren’t as nimble as they once were. And I didn’t find the putty that easy to work with (perhaps because mine is a bit old?). This was not a particulary neat or precise job. The trunnions and dolphins were particularly difficult – which is why I think my first idea was a better one. A further reason was that the barrel turned out to be a bit too thick. This is OK until it is put next to one of the other howitzer models, when it looks heavier than even the 10pdr. Never mind! One point worth adding is that the BM trunnion recesses are far too deep, which means that the barrel tends to go too low. I used a little bit of plasticine to sort this out – I didn’t find the epoxy putty easy to work with for this job.

And here’s the result!:

24 How

Here are the three types of howitzer together: the 10pdr, the 6 pouce and the 24pdr. in that order. You can see that the 24pdr barrel is too heavy in comparison with the other two. It is a tad over scale and the others a tad under.


3 Hows

And here it is with the 6pdr gun (Blue Moon version), its normal companion.

24 how 6pdr 2

And again with my Old Glory horse artillery crews:

24 how 6pdr 1

So what would I recommend for anybody that wants one of these to support their 15mm army? Straight out of the packet the closest fit is the Blue Moon Prussian howitzer. The barrel doesn’t poke out far enough, but actually the fit isn’t so bad. I would urge doing something about the trunnion recesses so the barrel doesn’t sit too low, and I would add an elevating plate under the barrel – advice that applies just as much to the Prussian version. If somebody quibbles you can always say it is a captured piece! The second alternative is to use the BM 6pdr and attempt the barrel conversion. You will need something to cut the barrel with though, like a jeweller’s saw. Using a knife has a tendency to squash the barrel.

And that completes my collection. Something is gestating on limbers, but BM have recently released their limber models, and these are well worth a look. I will complete my series of posts with a wrap-up piece though, and some pictures of all the types together.

Part 8 – Finishing off and conclusion


French artillery in 1/100: Part 6 – the 6in howitzers

An so we come to the howitzers. Howitzers are often ignored by wargamers, as they usuallyFrench howitzers only comprised one section of two  in each battery – so there is only a call for them if you are representing pairs of guns. My games are grand tactical where each tabletop piece represents one or two complete batteries. And yet I have always had a soft spot for the type, and found ways of including one or two on the tabletop. And when it came to this project the howitzers caused me more research problems than any other aspect – and so has the modelling. Confusion reigns from start to finish. Let’s begin by considering the diagram to the right, which shows a drawing of each of the three howitzer types that the French used in the field, alongside captured weapons. Each of them is usually referred to as a 6 inch howitzer. In addition to these three RC in his Osprey offers some pictures of an earlier “Gribeauval” howitzer that was not in use in our era, so far as I know.

The one at the top is the “real” 6 pouce ( = thumb = inch) howitzer, that was cast in the 1790s, and dominates all illustrations of French howitzers. Its calibre is exactly six French inches, which were slightly longer than the ones in modern use in Britain and the US. I will call this the 6 pouce. The second is the heavy howitzer, based on the Prussian 10pdr howitzer. It was never produced in large numbers but it accompanied French 12pdr batteries right up to Waterloo. I will call this the 10pdr. These two I will deal with in this post. The third is the An XI howitzer, more properly called the 24pdr, or sometimes the 5 pouce 6 or 7 lignes (12 lignes = 1 pouce). It is nearly six English (and modern) inches in calibre, and is thus it is usually called a 6in howitzer by British observers. Perhaps disliking the alternative nomenclature, the French also seemed to have used this name very often too. It is much the most important of the three militarily, and also the most challenging to model, so it gets a post all to itself. I will call it the 24pdr. Incidentally DDS uses modern inches to distinguish the three (6.4, 6.8 and 5.9 respectively), but I don’t think this helps – if you must impose modern nomenclature, then surely the metric system is preferable and transparent.

So first to the 6 pouce. This is the 8pdr of the howitzers. From the literature and illustrations you might think it was the only howitzer the French had in service. And yet it was not all that widely used – though it is hard to tell for sure because when orders of battle refer to 6in or 6p howitzers they may be referring to any of the three designs, and possibly some captured 7pdr howitzers too. A number of barrels pop up in illustrations; all were cast in the 1790s, and I don’t think any were cast later. RC says that more were cast between 1804 and 1813, but I am sure he is confusing it with the 10pdr. The 6in howitzers captured at Waterloo and in the Royal Armouries, when not referring to the 24pdrs, refer to two 10pdrs, one cast in 1795 and the other 1813 (the entry for the latter was shown in my previous post). The 6 pouce was regarded as inaccurate and its carriage had a tendency to shatter (according to RC). Still, a number were used well into the Imperial era. There is an example in Les Invalides mounted on an An XI carriage, clearly from later on. And the official documentation seems to keep mentioning it. Whether it was used in Spain, like the Gribeauval guns, I cannot tell. All the howitzers described in both French (as published by Nafziger) and English (the report of artillery captured at Vitoria) sources refer to all the field howitzers as 6in. The surviving example from Vitoria in Lisbon is a beautiful 24pdr, showing that the French, as well as the British, referred to the 24pdr as “6 inch”. The Spanish government may not have used this design, unlike the Gribeauval guns – and these were the main source of artillery for the French in Spain, apparently.

Be that as it may, unlike the other howitzers, there are some lovely drawings of it and its original carriage. Some of these originate with designs sent by the French to the United States. One (after de Scheel 1800) is reproduced in part in DDS, and shows the original elevating mechanism – with a triangle of wood moved by a screw to the rear. Here is another version of this drawing:


This is the source of a nice picture in RC – though this elevating mechanism (quite unlike the Gribeauval one) was replaced in 1792 according to DDS (the elevating screw came from below the barrel). Artists and historians seem attracted to these drawings and have quickly appropriated them to represent all French howitzers. It is used, for example in Mark Adkins’s book on Waterloo, in spite of the fact that it was almost certainly not used in the 1815 campaign. The visual appearance is certainly striking. You can see from the above drawing that the barrel is very stubby; there is not much barrel in front of the trunnions and it barely projects from the carriage. But it is also very chunky. as is the carriage, which, apart from the elevating mechanism, seems to have a family resemblance to Gribeauval pattern (though the cheeks do look a bit chunkier, they have that characteristic bend) The wheels are the same as the 8pdr and 12pdr, but the trails are shorter, though longer than for the 4pdr. One remarkable picture in DDS shows this carriage mounting a 24pdr from about 1822 – including the triangle of bolts relating to the obsolete elevating mechanism. This may be an attempt to render an 8pdr carriage, which we are told was in use at the time, but it clearly refers to the obsolete 6 pouce carriage.

There is a bit of problem with the drawings though. The barrel seems to be subject to different drawings from the carriage, and the scales get wonky. According to the above drawing the length of the trail is 187cm; according to the picture in DDS it 298cm. According to a table of dimensions in RC (which looks authoritative, though the metric conversion can be shaky) it is 268cm – which is the version I take as accurate. The DDS scale appears to be accurate for the barrel, but not the carriage. The colour illustration in RC seems to have overcome these problems, though, to produce a very nice picture, albeit with the out of date elevating mechanism.

How to model the 6 pouce? Unsurprisingly, it is the only French howitzer that any of the manufacturers has attempted. But they haven’t given it much attention. Battle Honours gave us a barrel, but supplied it with their “light” gun carriage, which I have used for the 4pdr. Old Glory and Fantassin/Warmodelling give us a tiny barrel to plant on a standard 8pdr carriage. Minifigs produce quite a nice model, but under scale for my purposes. AB get the closest. The overall dimensions and topography are correct on my models, bought over 10 years ago, and it even gets the elevating mechanism right, but apart from the wheels it just looks a bit weedy. The barrel, in particular, is much too thin – it should rival the 12pdr in girth (the calibre is larger after all (166mm to 121mm). The model may have changed, though. The picture in the link on the Fighting 15s site seems to show an 8pdr style carriage, not unlike the one used for the 6pdr. The recent Blue Moon offering is nothing less than a disaster. The carriage is hopelessly over scale (33mm long, or 330cm in scale). The barrel is on a more accurate scale, but lacks heft, though it is better than the AB attempt. The wheels are fine though!

So what to do? I used the BM barrel on the AB carriage. I already had three of the ABs, and I used two for this purpose. Some of the BM carriages I converted to 12pdrs, and I have used all the wheels – so I have managed to get something form £12 purchase of six. If you are starting from scratch I can only suggest you use the AB version and grit your teeth – unless you fancy scratch building the barrel yourself – it has quite a simple shape after all. I remain a bit disappointed with the carriage though. And if they have changed it to the 8pdr type, then this is something of a blank. The closest I can get is the Minifigs Prussian 10pdr, but the wheels are too small, the carriage a bit too broad, and the barrel nothing like right. It may be easier to model it on the AnXI carriage – see my next article. The barrel will still be an issue!

And now for the 10pdr. During the 1790s, apparently, the French were impressed with the Prussian 10pdr howitzer. So much so they produced a copy for their own use in 1795. I’m not entirely clear why. Perhaps problems with the 6 pouce howitzer led them to look on foreign weapons more kindly. But its more obvious competitor was the 7pdr howitzer, and Austrian 7pdr howitzer was certainly well regarded. DDS mentions the use of captured Prussian and Austrian ammunition. Perhaps the French just wanted something hefty to join their 12pdr batteries. And this piece was hefty at some 670/680Kg. That was twice as heavy as the 6 pouce, and heavier than the 8pdr gun – and only 100Kg lighter than the 12pdr. And it wasn’t a particularly new design – the original dated from 1743 according to DDS, and I have seen a picture of the barrel of the Prussian version complete with antique dolphins, representing mythical sea creatures, not the simple handles of the Napoleonic era. Still, it continued in use throughout the era, with additional pieces cast in 1813. Two were taken away by the British at Waterloo and are now in the Royal Armouries, one dated 1795, the other 1813.

What of its carriage? Here I have practically nothing to go on. DDS declares that the commonly depicted 6 pouce carriage was the Prussian original for this (in the caption to the drawing of the 6 pouce carriage, which shows a very clear drawing of the 6 pouce barrel alongside). I don’t believe this – the design is surely more modern and takes features from the Gribeauval design. But in the absence of any better data, I have decided that ithis carriage was used for both designs. The trail would no doubt have to be widened a bit to take a significantly broader barrel, but I expect that was standard stuff in those days before precision manufacturing. My basis for this (apart from assuming that there might be something in the DDS reference) is a picture in RC showing a Guard artilleryman in front of a howitzer (see below); this is clearly the 6 pouce carraige, but the barrel is a bit ambiguous (a bit too long-nosed for the 6 pouce, without looking like a 10pdr). This picture seems to date fromGuard howitzer late 19th Century, and is thin evidence indeed. But if in doubt I often take a lead from artists confronted by the same problem; the 10pdr was surely the howitzer used by the Guard foot batteries.

Whether this carriage was really robust enough for this brute is another question. Later in the era tangential references in DDS suggest that it may have been mounted on on a modified An XI carriage with an elevating plate. But there are no illustrations of this piece, apart from the barrel, that I have seen anywhere, so this amounts to guesswork. One thing can be said about its appearance though, apart from being very bulky: the trunnions are towards the bottom of the barrel (like many pieces of heavy artillery). This means that it would look as if the barrel was perched on top of the carriage, compared to how other weapons look.

Modelling this piece, almost invisible to history, might seem a hopeless task. But not so. I had bought the AB Prussian 7 pdr howitzer to support my slowly developing 1815 Prussian army – but it looked wrong. The barrel looked far to big, and it perched on top of the carriage. As I became aware of the 10pdr, the penny finally dropped. This represented a 10pdr howitzer, not the 7pdr! The dimensions measured up too – though since my French artillery barrels have a slight tendency to be oversized, it might not look quite right in comparison – though fine next to the 6 pouce, as it happens. I used this barrel on the AB French howitzer carriage. I had to add trunnions to it (the AB model moulds these to the carriage not the barrel) from a plastic rod – quite hard for my clumsy fingers, though. I simply borrowed a barrel from one of my many old Battle Honours Austrian howitzers to put on the original Prussian carriage, to give quite decent looking 7pdr. If you don’t want to do this, simply convert the Prussian carriage to a French one. In essence the Prussians copied of the French An XI carriage design for their later ordnance, so it makes quite a plausible carriage for French service. Just cut out the retaining bars for the ammunition box underneath rear end of the trail, and add some trail handles if you feel up to it (bend and cut some fuse wire or ordinary stationery staples and glue on). If you have the patience (I did not on my Prussian conversions) you can also cut off/file down the rings on the right of the rear transom.

So here are my models. The 10pdr is on the left, the 6 pouce to the right.:

6in hows 2

And here is the 6 pouce next to the original AB Prussian “7pdr”. The Prussian howitzer wheels are too flat – a common problem with AB models – but these can be bent into shape with pliers. Apart from the flat wheels, and mounting the wrong sized barrel, the AB model is a beauty, incidentally. Note that the AB French model doesn’t have the distinctive trail handles, which it really should. I haven’t had the patience to add them in this case!

AB howitzers

Next article: the 24pdr howitzer


French artillery in 1/100: Part 4 – the 12pdr

Gribeauval_cannon_de_12_An_2_de_la_Republique_top_viewAnd now for the big one. The 12pdr was the standard reserve artillery piece in the French army. These weren’t used in great numbers but they might described as “charismatic”. 12pdr batteries were present at army corps level, and the Imperial Guard had a number of batteries, the elite of the French artillery.

The best known version was the Gribeauval one. The picture above is from Les Invilades, the French army museum in Paris, and dates from about 1794, apparently (that may just be the barrel, though). It’s a big brute. Funnily enough the carriage dimensions aren’t that different from the 8pdr (though beware a misconverted metric measurement for cheek length in the dimensions given in RC – the Osprey). The wheels are the same diameter (146cm) and the axle the same length (209cm). The cheek length is 302cm compared to 286cm, and the cheeks are thicker. The overall appearance of the carriage is beefier than for the 8pdr. And the barrel is much bigger of course (211cm from muzzle to base ring, as opposed to 184cm – more misconversions in RC, incidentally): 880Kg, as opposed to 580Kg. Incidentally DDS suggests that the 12pdr barrel was 985Kg in weight, but the two 1794 examples in the Royal Armouries are slightly under 880Kg, the weight given in RC.

How the weapon evolved during the wars is not so clear, though. In the An XI review the 12pdr was retained but redesigned. The barrel was nearly the same length, but a bit lighter at 760Kg. Like other An XI designs the barrel did not have the reinforcing rings at the centre, the barrel being smooth from the breach ring up to the muzzle zone. The carriage was also of similar general dimensions to the old one, but straighter, lighter and with the characteristic upturned end. The axle had a wooden casing, the two trunnion positions were a bit closer together, and there was an additional metal band near the axle, between the trunnion recessess – probably the easiest way to tell the difference at a quick glance (though the second reinforcing band on the trail is further back than the Gribeauval design too). Remarkably, one of these carriages is at Les Invilades (with a broken wheel – pictures feature in both RC and DDS):

12 pdrIncidentally this shows the trail handles, which were not part of the original An XI design. The barrel on this weapon, however, is not the An XI 12pdr (you can see the reinforcing rings in the centre) – it looks like the Gribeauval version.

Were many of these newer designs ever made? It’s hard to tell. According the DDS the An XI system was suspended in 1805, and by 1808 the original Gribeauval designs were reverted to, subject to some modifications. Old pieces were converted. DDS says that all the An XI 12pdr carriages had been replaced by 1812. In which case for one to have survived is quite remarkable. Alternatively it might be that “replacement” did not involve much more than adding the trail handles (visible in the picture above) and other accoutrements required for the old system for manhandling the guns, and recesses for stowing the ammunition coffret on the trail in transit. If so quite a few modified An XI carriages might well have survived until the disaster of 1812.

What did the post-An XI 12pdrs look like? These are referred to as “M1808” by DDS, but I think this system of classification (Original An XI = M1803, etc.) suggests more system and uniformity than there really was, as well as being a modern artefact. DDS carries a couple of pictures of later carriages. One is one of the Royal Armouries pieces, thought to have been captured at Waterloo; the other dates from 1821 and is at Les Invilades. The former has a distinctly turned up trail end, but otherwise looks very similar to the 1794 picture above. The 1821 one is not a complete picture – the trail ends are not shown – and I can’t even be certain it is different from the “1794” one in the first picture above. It may well be my imagination, but I think that both of these later carriages look a bit lighter than the older one, though.

I’m sure none of the original Gribeauval pieces were withdrawn after 1803. Many tubes from the 1790s or even earlier still survive. DDS count just 20 French made 12pdrs in service in 1807, so it would seem that the army had quite a reserve of old barrels, unused perhaps because of the shortage of horses. A number of An XI pieces were made and then subject to relatively minor modifications. Then a number of post An XI pieces were made, often remounting old tubes. Amongst the 58 captured French 12 pdrs brought to Moscow on the Tsar’s orders in 1813, the tube manufacture dates are 1767 to 1811, with only 15 post 1803. No doubt further tubes were cast in 1813 – but none has popped up in any of the publications that I have read. In fact no tubes later than the 1790s have – which makes judging the appearance of later castings difficult to judge.

Now for my models. I already had two AB 12pdr models. While being generally unenthusiastic about them, I haven’t rejected them. What I don’t like is the trail, which has quite a small gap between the cheeks and there is no splay. But from most angles they are quite reminiscent of the Royal Armouries Waterloo piece, without the turn-up at the trail end. One good feature of the AB models – which Battle Honours (also by Anthony Barton) also reflects – is that the elevating plate is in the right place, rather than being way below the barrel, which Blue Moon tends to get wrong. I wanted at least three more pieces though. I was put off BM by LittleArmies‘ review of their 12 pdr. The trail was 36mm long – 5/6mm too big, though it did have a nice uptick at the end, signifying a late war carriage.

But then I had a look at the BM French howitzer carriage. This is way too big for the howitzer itself  – my biggest disappointment with Blue Moon, and of which more later. But the carriage and wheels work as the basis for a 12pdr. It is a tad overscale, but tolerable – and better over than under for this piece. The carriage required a few modifications. The rear trunnion recesses had to be cut and filed out. The rear of the elevating mechanism had to be cut out, and an elevating plate (plastic card) put in. A transom (also plastic card) had to be added in between the trail cheeks. The barrels were supplied from stock (I think from old Series 2 Minifigs), though the trunnion slots were a bit deep and I filled them with a little plasticine. In the end I had something quite pleasing, which I think looks the part next to my other models, rather better than my AB piece.

Here are the three converted 12pdrs with AB Old Guard crew figures:

3 12pdrs

And here is a rear view of all five, with the two AB models to the right:

5 12pdrs

And finally a comparison between the AB and the conversion a bit closer up:

2 12pdrs

So how would I recommend readers get their own 12pdrs without going through the conversion palaver? Well I have said that the AB version is perfectly acceptable, and you can buy them singly at £2.40 each. My worry is that they do not look at their best next to Blue Moon 6pdrs, with their heavier and wider trails – and the BM 6pdr is nicer than the AB version (more of that later). The BM 12pdr might be worth trying if you don’t mind finding £12 for 6. The carriage is too long, but the other dimensions look OK. Better too big than too small for this one. You will not find anything suitable in Old Glory, Fantasin/Warmodelling or Battle Honours. All of these try putting a 12pdr tubes on an 8pdr carriage (though in the Warmodelling case, this isn’t too bad size-wise, it’s just rather vaguely modelled). As this is quite a widespread practice, buying this one on spec is not advisable. You might even attempt my conversion using the BM howitzer parts – but you will need to find some 12pdr barrels from somewhere.

And if you want to do the An XI 12pdr? You can get the barrel by filing down the central reinforcing rings from the Gribeauval version, but the carriage looks a tall order. The BM 12 pdr is the closest, though too long. Converting it would be hard work though. For me this is the one that got away – I would have liked one of these in my collection!

Next article: the 6pdr