Category Archives: Technique

1866 Austrians

Back to the 1866 project. September and October were largely taken up by holidays and gardening, and figure painting took a back seat. The result was that this second batch of 1866 troops was a bit protracted. It will be a while before I’m ready to refight Custoza.

The figures are 10mm from Pendraken, whose range from this period is unmatched. In appearance and detailing they are closer to larger 6mm (such as from Baccus and Adler) than they are to 15/18mm. They need to be deployed en masse and not a great deal of attention needs to be paid to details. They are providing pretty much what I hoped for to recreate the big battles in the age of Bismarck. I have already introduced this project here with my first batch of Italians. Those figures were more appropriate to 1859 (Solferino, etc) than 1866. These, on the other hand, are very much on period. The infantry are in greatcoats, and the cavalry have updated uniforms.

Like the previous batch, this is a three arms package – though not using Pendraken’s army pack this time. The infantry was a mix of Germans and Hungarians (not that it is easy to tell the difference) – enough for 12 bases of line infantry and three of jagers. The cavalry were hussars (4 bases). The artillery were 4 pdr rifled guns, with one limber (there are two to pack, but I only painted one this time). In addition I painted up three generals (from a pack of 5). I bought laser-cut mdf bases from Pendraken: 30mm by 20mm for the infantry and cavalry; 25mm square for the artillery; I already had plenty of 20mm squares for the generals. This is enough for one three-brigade corps (as was the organisation of the Austrian Army of the South – the main army had four-brigades corps) under the system that I am developing.

Here is a closer look at the infantry:

And even closer:

The troops are in the regulation greatcoat which the troops had to wear even in the heat that June. Funnily enough the Italians used the same system, making the troops remarkably similar in appearance; both sides suffered from the heat. The most distinctive feature of the Austrians was the blue trousers (visible because the front skirts of the greatcoats were buttoned back – as with the French and Italian practice) – contrasting with the bluish grey of the Italian uniform trousers. At least the hats are slightly different. One more distinctive feature of the Austrians was that their webbing was pipeclayed white, rather than left dark. However the pose for these figures has the arms and musket in front of the body concealing this. With figures so small it is not worth trying to represent this, apart from the drummer. That at least makes them quite simple to paint. The jagers also wore the greatcoat – though not always, apparently – so I might do some without – perhaps to represent the elite Kaiserjäger. I painted the generals in their grey field uniform. They all came in the same pose, which means that they won’t look right if paired up to represent more senior commands. There don’t seem to be any good figures to represent ADCs, and a charging hussar (I have some spares) won’t look right either. I think will have to use infantry officers.

Moving on to the cavalry:

These are hussars. My system is to represent a regiment (4 squadrons) in two bases. One pair of bases is painted up as the 1st Hussars, which were at Custoza, and the other as either the 4th or 6th regiment – neither of which were in Italy, but which provided a nice contrast, with their light blue uniforms and scarlet cap bags (compared to dark blue and green). The uniforms were much simplified from the Napoleonic era, and not much detail was possible at this scale.

Moving on the artillery:

These are rifled 4-pounders. The trail seat on these Pendraken figures is a bit clumsy though. I may try cutting it down in future. I have put four crew figures on each base (as opposed to three for the Italians) as the Austrians had 8 guns to a battery rather than the usual 6. The mounting is a bit too tight for this though – in future I think 30mm by 25mm would be better. Looking ahead, I want to have some heavy 8-pounders as well. Pendraken don’t make these, so this might be a bit of a challenge. The woodwork was apparently not painted, unlike in the Napoleonic era – but I haven’t seen any clear colour representations of how it looked. As far as I can see it was a bit redder than than the ochre paint used beforehand – which suggests it was stained or varnished in some way – otherwise it would soon start looking a dull grey. I opted for a slight orange-brown, though I can’t say this screams “unpainted wood” to me.

How did I get the raw metal figures ready for the table? The first stage was to mount them on the bases (10 to a base for line infantry, 6 for jagers), set in a matrix of acrylic medium with a mix of white and raw umber paint. I didn’t mix any textural material (such as sand or model railway ballast) in as I do for larger figures, as I thought this would make the basing a bit trickier and slower, with the grains getting between the base of the figures and the mdf mounting. I had previously tried plaster filler, but this proved even trickier. I can’t say I have found the ideal basing matrix – but mounting such individual small figures in dense formation (6mm figures are usually come in strips) is quite tricky. I hoped I could just squish the figures into blob of matrix, but wasn’t that easy. After the matrix had hardened I painted the whole assembly, base included, in white gesso mixed in with Raw Umber paint to create a dry earth colour. After that came the main job of painting, using my usual artist’s acrylic paint. Obviously it was tricky to reach lots of places on the infantry bases, with the figures so close together – but if you can’t see it there’s no point in painting it. This was much rougher and readier than my normal 18mm painting. There was very little in the way of striking high contrast detail to lift the figures (such as white cross-belts, facings, plumes or hat pompons). It still took a few sessions. There really is no good way to speed this up. I used oil paints on the horses, mimicking the technique I use on 18mm – but it was messy and it was hard to overpaint reins, etc. With little positive benefit (the figures are bit small for the wiping technique to create high/low lights) – so I won’t be doing that again. Given that these are armies assembled in peacetime I made the horses on each pair of bases look similar with only small variations (and grey for the trumpeter).

These figures needed a wash or glaze with a thin dark colour particularly badly to bring out the moulded detail that could not be picked out in paint. Like my Italians I used a glaze made with a supposedly fast drying oil medium, mixed with a little brown oil paint. This did an excellent job of distributing the dark pigment to the lowlights, but the finish was too glossy: I wasn’t looking for ultra-flat, but there are limits. After giving it 24 hours to cure I started to apply the basing material – flock or “turf”. This was a big mistake as the basing material stuck to the touch-dry but still slightly-sticky glaze, and I had to abandon it. I then decided to apply matt varnish (which I had done for my Italians) – using some old Winsor & Newton varnish designed for oil paintings. This is nasty, sticky stuff where the flatting agent tends to separate out in the bottle and is very hard to mix back in. I had to take out a quantity of the runny stuff and the some of the gunky flatting agent to mix together in a small batch. Thankfully the result was the right off-matt finish. It was only after this was thoroughly dry that I went back to applying the basing material – just flock this time, as I decided that the turf didn’t look as good (though I used it for all my Italians). Applying flock to the tightly-packed infantry bases was still pretty hard to do with it sticking to the figures themselves. This is hard enough in 18mm! I frequently had to use a large brush and water to clean up the figures. For my 6mm I don’t bother with flocking at all, though I use a textured basing matrix. But that leaves the smooth metal bases visible and didn’t want to do that for the larger figures.

The base flocking/turfing is good enough, without looking particularly good. I will stick with the flock in future, but with variations on the bases with large exposed areas. The main thing I need to change for the next batch is low-lighting glaze. I need to get it in done one coat, without the need for an extra coat of varnish. I have acquired some acrylic matting medium to try out. This is milky when wet but turns transparent when it dries. This will make it tricky to judge the right to amount of ink to mix in. A challenge for next time.

The final step was the flags. For the infantry I used the Pendraken printed paper ones. The cavalry standard was moulded metal – which I did a rough and ready paint job on – which wrks OK at arms length. The flags are important for such relatively dull figures.

I have ordered the next batch of miniatures. I will concentrate on doing a large batch of Italian infantry. This isn’t very exciting but I’m hoping to generate a bit of speed so that I have enough figures for a decent game as soon as possible..

Great Northern War again

My recent game, which the Swedes taking on the Russians

How time flies! It’s been quite a while since I last posted. My hobby focus has been mainly on my Great Northern War project – though as usual the rest of life intervened to limit the time spent on it. I developed my Carolus Rex rules ready for a proper live game in April. Since then I have modified them, and they are now published on here the Rules Page. I have also painted up six more infantry units (mostly Swedish) and a few other bits and pieces. That draws a line under GNW for the time being. It’s on to the next thing now.

The game was with the monthly group from my old club, which I’d had to miss for a couple of months. There were six of us. It was a sprawling affair using the bulk of my Swedish and Russian armies (I left some Russian infantry, a lot of the Swedish artillery, and the Swedish irregular cavalry out), shown in the picture from the Swedish side. There was no serious terrain. Although the Swedes had much the smaller army, the Russians were mainly D class, and the Swedish troop and command quality showed through, especially with their cavalry. The Swedes had one hairy moment, when the Russians managed to rout both Swedish guard infantry units. If the Swedes (played by me in this case) hadn’t done well on a divisional morale check, and then managed to rally one of the units, it would have been a big struggle for them to win. But the game flowed well, and we concluded within the time allotted. The feedback from the players on the rules was very positive – no big holes were revealed, though some tweaking was needed. Cavalry was too powerful against infantry, and flank attacks needed to be a little more effective. The one issue I won’t fix is the card driven activation system, which means that the six players need to go sequentially, reducing the possibility of parallel processing. I think this dynamic adds a lot to game play.

I have made those tweaks to the rules, as well as correcting a few other details. Increasing the effectiveness of flank attacks meant I felt the need to introduce an option to form square for infantry. This is perfectly historical, in fact, but there is a risk of the unit becoming disordered as it forms up. Interestingly I also changed the rules in a couple of places to reflect what we actually played, rather than what I had written. What we did was more intuitive and made better sense. I am pretty pleased with the rules overall. s discussed before, I feel I may have tilted a bi towards playability rather than historicity, especially in command and manoeuvre, but I do think I have caught important aspects of combat in this era. It should be possible to use them for other conflicts than Swedish/Russians in 1708/09, except that I haven’t developed them to cater for the new Dutch fire discipline methods and three-deep lines, used by Britain and the Netherlands, and neither some of the looser infantry and cavalry types used by the Ottomans and others. I might also want to distinguish between “galloping’ and “trotting” cavalry charge tactics. But life is short and I don’t plan to build armies for these other conflicts. Next time, though, I will design a more interesting scenario – the one inspired by Holowcyzn that I used in early play testing is a suitable starting point.

After that I painted one more batch of figures to give me more options for armies on both sides. These were four Swedish line infantry battalions, two Russian guard battalions, a Swedish heavy gun, a small unit of Swedish Drabant cavalry, and seven artillery limbers. While I still have more metal to paint, I plan to draw a line under things for these armies now. I will only paint up more if a particular scenario demands it. If I have enough units to keep a six player game going for four hours plus, I don’t need more.

For the Swedes I painted four units from different regiments: Kalmar, Skaraborg, Västerbotten and Västmanland. Until now I have prepared two battalions from the same regiment, except for two Manning (additional draft) units. But I have the flags and in any case there is usually a bit of bathtubbing going on in my scenarios. The first two of these units are in hats, and the second two in caps (karpus). I don’t think that the karpus was as widely used as I have them in my armies, but I had bought a lot of the figures from Baccus, and they were a bit nicer than the ones in hats anyway (since then Baccus has brought out some better ones in hats).

The Kalmar and Skaraborg infantry units
The Västmanland and Västerbotten units

I have plenty of Russian infantry, but there was something to be said for having a couple more guard units to beef the army up. I painted these from the Semonovsky regiment, with its blue coats. Like my two units for the Preobrazhensky regiment, I attached foil pennons to the pikes. the evidence for this is pretty thin (one of my early source book suggested it), and even thinner for their use in battle (unlike cavalry lances, where the pennons were considered to add to the psychological effect). Still it helps make the guard units special. I painted them mid-blue with a red lining, like the company standards.

The Semonovsky Russian Guard units

The Swedish Drabants were Karl’s personal bodyguard, and like him were often in the thick of the fighting. I didn’t really need this unit, but Swedish armies were heavy in cavalry, and this unit gives me more options. They weren’t up to full regimental strength, so I’ve had to create rules for smaller, two-base units.

For artillery, I wanted a Swedish heavy gun. The Swedes weren’t usually big on artillery, which hindered mobility, but they did use 12 pdrs at Holowcyzn, and I had the metal. Why I bought a mortar I don’t know, as these were generally siege weapons, but having bought them I thought I’d better paint one up in Russian livery. The other piece in the picture is the regimental artillery for the Semonovsky regiment – which was a matter of covering a piece that I had already painted.

The Drabants, the Swedish heavy artillery, the Russian mortar and a light gun

And finally limbers! I’ve made light (regimental) artillery and even field guns relatively mobile, without the need for limbering – so in our game players didn’t bother with limbers, as it takes a whole turn to limber up (limbers were not under military discipline). But in my next scenario there could be a lot more movement, and I had the metal away. So I painted up seven models to join the two I already had. One of these (like both the earlier ones) had two horses; the other single horse ones are there for my plentiful regimental artillery.

For painting technique I followed the same method as my last batch, described earlier this year. The main point of interest came at the end, when I used a rather dark wash. I started to use my Windsor & Newton peat brown ink, but this has turned thick and very red in hue with age. I tried diluted Antelope Brown (Liquitex I think), but this was very yellow – so I added some black, which is strong stuff and overwhelmed the brown. As I merrily applied it (including to the bases), I thought it enhanced the look. As it dried I the result was a bit dark – it’s not just poor photography in the pictures. I felt the need to highlight some of the yellow facings on the Swedes, and some light yellow highlighting on the bases. this proved to be quite a quick and easy process, leaving me to think that perhaps the lighter colours (facings, flesh and weapons) could be done after a dark wash (with paler base colours), using a quick dab of paint. This going down the rout of the black outline style that I have dismissed as being cartoonish. But it may be more appropriate for the tinies.

My next project is 10mm figures for Italian/Bismarck wars of 1859-71. More of that anon.

Impressionist figure painting – my 6mm GNW army

Six Russian infantry units and regimental artillery. The new Swedish cavalry is in the background

After getting back into the Great Northern War, it was time to bolster my rather limited armies, and run down my lead mountain. My biggest deficiencies were Russian line infantry and Swedish cavalry. So I have painted up six units of Russian infantry, and two units each of Swedish line cavalry and dragoons. I added in some regimental artillery, and a Swedish general. It is some years since I last worked on 6mm figures, so this is quite a break from normal.

The miniatures are from Bacchus, and were all bought back in 2012. I bought a job lot from a friend who had decided to take a different route on his GNW forces. I then developed an absurdly ambitious plan to build up my armies, and bought loads more from Baccus. Then I got distracted when about half had been painted up, and the painted and unpainted figures lived in a plastic box for a decade or so, rarely seeing daylight. I had enough painted up enough for an interesting game, but choices for force composition were very limited. My plan was to paint up two more batches (this is the first), amounting to half or so of the unpainted ones, and then stop – unless a particular need arises.

My original figures were painted in a manner quite similar to my larger 18mm ones. I painted them up before mounting on bases, and put quite a bit of detail on them. Even the barrels on the muskets. But I noticed that this was taking quite a long time, for a scale which was supposed to be quick! This time I wanted to take a different approach – more inspired by Impressionist painting. Impressionist paintings are beautiful from a distance, but make a lot less sense closer up. This is harder than it sounds!

The first step was to mount them on the bases. Apart from the artillery, these are mounted on 20mm squares of MDF, which I had bought along with the original figures, and of which I have more than I will ever need. The regimental artillery is on 15mm squares. I find this system of basing very attractive – though it is what caused my friend to abandon his miniatures, and buy in others mounted on larger bases, with one base to a unit. Baccus produces its infantry figures in 20mm strips of 4 side-by-side. Three of these fit comfortably on a base one behind the other. Historically formations were four deep, with about 150 files (i.e up to 50 per base). So these bases are both too shallow and too deep! Nevertheless this basing recalls contemporary representations in pictures. This would be easy if I could simply plonk the strips on the bases. But there are two problems. Firstly the command strips (supplied at a ratio of one in five in the packs) only have one standard bearer, along with an officer, flanked by two drummers. I like a good proportion of my units (typically the first battalion of a two battalion regiment) to have two flags. That means cutting up the command strip, and then the line strips to make room for the spares. The second problem applies to the Russians only. Russian infantry at this time was armed with a small proportion of pikes (one in eight); I read now (this wasn’t in the literature in 2012) that these were deployed in every other file in the front rank. I decided to represent this, rather than just plonking a strip of pikes in the back row of the centre stand, as I did before. I decided to distribute them PMPM; PMMP; MPMP – so that the pikes would be on the corners. That means cutting up the pike strips, and also the musketeer strips for the front row. Each pair units uses three command strips, three pike strips and 12 musketeer strips. You can just about see how this works on this close-up:

My representation of the Butyrski infantry regiment

The cavalry is more straightforward. These are come in strips of three, fore-and-aft, so they have to be cut up anyway. I mounted the Swedes three to a base, the cavalry staggered to represent the arrowhead formation, the dragoons side-by-side. Actually the Swedish dragoons fought in the same manner as the cavalry; they were equipped to fight dismounted, but I don’t know of them doing this ever in a significant battle (though I know almost nothing of the later war years), unlike their Russian counterparts. Still this mounting serves to distinguish them on the tabletop. Here are the four Swedish units:

The Swedish cavalry, with the dragoon units alternating

I mount the figures in a matrix of acrylic medium mixed with model railway fine track ballast and raw umber acrylic paint. This is the same method as before. The ballast is something I have had for decades: it is finer, lighter (in weight) and more uniform than the sand I use in bigger scales. It gives the surface some texture. After the assembly is fully set, I primed them with gesso mixed with paint. I went for an overall pale grey-green shade (it has to be pale because of the gesso). This is equivalent to the ground in a canvass painting (thinking back to the Impressionists) – the idea is that the colour doesn’t jar if it shows through (modern painters sometimes use a bright ground, thinking that it adds to the effect when it shows through – not appropriate for the wargames table!). Since it was going to be difficult to paint the bases between the strips, I wanted something that would merge with the base colour comfortably – hence the green element. I was overthinking that – in future just mixing in some raw umber (of which I have industrial quantities, thanks to a mistake by my supplier) with the white gesso will be fine. I used an old paintbrush to do the priming, covering both figures and base. I gave some thought to using an airbrush, but actually it can be a little hard to get airbrush paint into nooks and crannies, and getting between the figures and rows wold be tricky. It didn’t take too long with the brush, but it looked awful afterwards, though a lot better after cleaning with brush soap.

Next was the mass painting stage. At his point I treated all ten units and extras as a single batch, though no colour applied to all of them. I started with the horses, using various shades of brown, with some Payne’s Grey, so get a variety of bays, chestnuts and blacks – with a few greys, mainly for the musicians. Also I applied the main coat colour (blue, red or green), and then dark grey for the tricorn hats. For all this, I used my now standard technique of mixing artists acrylic (mainly Liquitex – as their tube design is easily the best, prolonging their life, as well as being excellent quality). No faffing with oil paints as I do with my 18mm horses. All mixes have a bit of white in them. The red was dramatically dulled down (from Cadmium Red Hue) to reflect cheap dyes and campaign weathering; the green (Sap Green as a basis) and blue (Prussian Blue Hue) were dulled down somewhat less. The horse colours (Raw Umber, Burnt Umber, Raw Sienna and Burnt Sienna) didn’t need much mixing beyond a touch of white – though the Siennas are a bit bright and I mixed a bit of the Umbers in.

After this I concentrated on finishing each unit in turn. The Russian units were in pairs of battalions from the same regiment, and each pair was treated as a batch. My worry was that if I did each colour for the whole assembly, I would start to lose the will to live, as the results would take so long to show – as well as the greater likelihood of mistakes. What did I paint? Flesh on the faces and hands; red or yellow facings on the cuffs only; brown for the muskets (where easy to reach) and the hair at the back of the head for the back row; dark grey for the pikes, cavalry boots and the scabbards for the rear ranks only of the infantry; I used a paler brown for the pistol pouches on the front of cavalry saddles . Accuracy was not a priority: blobs here and there where I could reach the spot with a brush. I ignored the legs of the infantry and the neckerchiefs; these aren’t visible enough. Finally some detailing. The hats got trim of white, yellow or gold. This detail really stands out when viewing the figures from above; similarly the karpuses had a contrasting lining colour (white or yellow – against he red main colour); silver for the bayonets, sabres and the pike trips; visible straps on the backs got quick attention too. The drummers and officers got a little more work (including the flags for the cavalry – a base colour, edging and a blob in the middle). And that was it. The final step was to wash the figures with diluted ink (peat brown or black).

Then, of course, there are the bases. I don’t go for the fashion of elaborate works of art; I don’t want the bases to draw attention away from the figures, and ideally I want them to blend with the table. At this scale my normal techniques of using flock, sand and/or static grass wouldn’t work – the strands and grains are too big – I just used paint and the texture arising from the basing material (i.e. the model railway ballast). It took me a long time (i.e. trial and error) before I settled on a shade of green that wasn’t too verdant or too grey – a combination of black, white, Yellow Oxide and just a little Sap Green. I then gave them a heavy highlight of a white and yellow mix. I also used a white and Raw Umber mix on some of them. I was left with the issue of the base sides. The MDF I am using for the bases is very chunky – typically I use much thinner material for bases, so as to blend better with the table. But I like the feel of the chunky bases, and it certainly makes handling easier – you can grasp the bases rather than the figures. But what to paint them? At first I tried a green to match with the table surface – but then I noticed that these edges were often shaded. I thought a bit of countershading might work, so I used a white and Raw Umber mix. Whether or not the countershading works (not really light enough from the pictures above), I did like the overall result.

The infantry represent three Russian regiments – Astrakhanski, Butyrski and Schlisselbergski, with two battalions each. Uniforms were subject to the colonel’s whim at this stage, and there was a lot of variation. Evidence for particular regiments is patchy, and my sources back in 2012 disagree with the most recent ones (a book from Helion), so there’s a lot of guesswork. I gave the Astrakhanski and Schlisselbergski green coats with red facings – the most common scheme, which later became the standard. I gave both of them a carpus for headgear in place of the usual tricorn – because I had a lot miniatures with these hats which needed using up (Bacchus don’t appear to sell them any more for the Russians) – these I coloured red and yellow and red and white (one of my existing regiments has a green and white karpus – allowing a ready distinction between the three units). The Butyrski regiment I gave red coats faced yellow, with tricorns with yellow trim. I haven’t given them their flags yet – I’m waiting for colonel’s flags with eagles, though I have coloured company flags from Baccus. I painted the regimental artillery crew in the uniform of the parent regiment (though with tricorn hats in all cases), but the gun itself in red, as used on the bigger guns.

The Schlisselbergski infantry.

The Swedish cavalry represent the Småland and Nyland Indelt regiments, along with the Gyllensterna and Taube dragoon regiments. These all had the standard Swedish blue uniforms; I decided not to try and represent the yellow breeches or coat turnbacks, with facing colours (yellow, red or blue coat colour) on the cuffs only. On the Swedish infantry it will be worth a dab of yellow on the front for the breeches and turnbacks for the front rank at least.

The Nyland Indelt cavalry

And that was it. Alas my photography at this scale is a bit weak, so I’m not giving much of an impression of the result. They are a bit dark maybe (but they need to fit in with my earlier figures) – perhaps an example of the rule that you should use paler colours for smaller scales. But the results work on the tabletop – the Impressionist approach works, and is certainly quicker than attempting too much detail (and correcting minor mistakes). I did need to repaint the bases on my earlier figures to make the assembly more coherent – but I didn’t like these earlier bases anyway – they were too bright and too dark. I will move straight on to next batch, which will add four Swedish infantry units, along with two more units for the Russian Guard, a Swedish heavy gun, a Russian mortar and more limbers.

My Brengun 1/72 A-36 Apache

And now to the last of my recent batch of US aircraft: the A-36 Apache. Unlike the other two aircraft, which were more or less ubiquitous to the US war effort, this one had limited use. But t it was one of the most important aircraft types in US use in 1943 in the Mediterranean theatre, especially in the ground attack role – so bang in scope for my project. There were very limited options for modelling it though – with the Brengun kit being the most obvious. It wasn’t a great kit, but much easier than the RZ P-38.

The A-36 is, of course, an early version of the North American Mustang, which in its P-51 incarnation became one of the most important aircraft types in the war. It was named “Apache” by the makers, but this never caught on. In theatre there was a move to call it “Invader”, but eventually the name of its fighter cousin was the one generally in use. It was powered by an Allison engine, as were the first P-51s. This rendered disappointing performance at higher altitudes, and it wasn’t until it was powered by the Merlin engine that the type really came into its own. Doubtless this led to the development of the ground attack version, where it would operate primarily at lower altitudes. This included the fitting of dive brakes, which allowed it to do near-vertical, Stuka-like, dive-bombing attacks. I’m not sure how often it used this capability, which required experienced pilots, and I think it more typically used shallower dives (like the RAF used for the P-40 Kittyhawk, its equivalent aircraft). Its successor, the P-47, did not have this capability. Some were armed with four 20mm cannon – but this option was not available in the Brengun kit, where the plane has six 0.5in machine-guns, including two in the nose. The aircraft could look after itself if it met fighter opposition, and, apparently, 86 kills were claimed in combat, with one ace. It was used as an escort fighter on occasion, but wasn’t so popular with bomber crews, as it was easy to mistake its profile for the Bf-109 or Fw-109 – as well its lack of performance at higher altitudes. A-36 was highly effective in its fighter-bomber role, apparently, but suffered from high casualty rates. That partly went with the job of tackling well-defended targets at low altitudes – but there were structural vulnerabilities, especially compared to the P-40 and P-47. They were in use until well into 1944, though.

The kit was OK-ish. There was the usual lack of lugs and recesses to hold parts in place, and no undercarriage up option. But the undercarriage doors weren’t too hard to fit. Some parts didn’t fit properly, especially on the underside. That included the air intake, and the vent behind it, which left an ugly gap. The air brakes for the underwing didn’t fit either (thought the ones on the top of the wing were OK). I ended up by bodging the intake a bit, but this is invisible from most angles. The rear cockpit was a bit awkward, as the overhanging bit of the fuselage above of the rear side windows was moulded into the canopy part. This mean it had to be seamlessly integrated into the fuselage, and then painted (which is trickier on acetate). There was no question of adding the canopy after the paint job, as I did with the P-38. But I now understand that this is usually better anyway. Filler helps integrate it with the fuselage. I didn’t do an especially nice job with the aerial, but this was tricky, as it required a hole to be drilled – not easy on acetate.

I decided to model plane 42-84067, which was included in the decal pack, and on the box art. But the decals were for 1944, when it had completed lots of missions. I wanted it as it might have looked in Sicily or Salerno. That meant the only decals from the box I used were the number and the ID stripe on the tail (which probably dated from this time). The over painted battle ID letter “A” was almost certainly later. The national insignia needed the red outline, so I used my trusty sheet from eBay. It has the yellow ID stripes on the wing, which seem to be standard on US single-engined aircraft in the Med. These stripes were painted first and then masked – as overpainting pale colours onto Olive Drab is hard work. Nevertheless the yellow paint was didn’t go on very nicely, and it looks a bit rough. As with the P-38 the red spinner is a bit bright in hindsight.

And that’s it – an interesting aircraft to support my tabletop forces, which ended up looking pretty good.

RS Models 1/72 P-38F Lightning

The box artwork

And so to the P-38 – which proved a nightmare. I wanted one of these iconic aircraft, in the early F variant that would have been in action in 1943. The RS Models kit was the only show in town, and the online review on modelling didn’t alert me to any major issues. Still the overall result looks fine if you don’t look too closely!

The P-38 at this stage of the war was primarily an escort fighter, assigned to bomber formations. Although it was outperformed in combat by the Bf-109, the primary German interceptor of the time (the Fw-190 being used mainly for ground attack), the P-38 had an impressive range, and so was able to accompany the bombers on deeper missions. Bomber crew gunners liked them because they were instantly recognisable as friendly. Although on occasion they took heavy losses, they did a decent job of keeping the fighters away from the bombers. The interest from my point of view though was that on critical occasions, such as the campaign for Sicily and at Salerno, they were used as fighter-bombers. Their range was a major asset, and they could manage a decent bomb load too.There’s also a bit of nostalgia. One of our favourite models as children was an old Airfix P-38 made up to a very nice standard by my elder brother.

The main problem with the model was that the parts didn’t fit together properly, and, as with a lot of modern models there were no lugs and recesses to hold things in place. Problems began with the undercarriage doors because, as is often the case with modern models, there is no undercarriage up option. Modelling with the undercarriage up means trying to fit badly fitting doors into the wheel well openings. For this model, the fit was more than bad. This wasn’t made easier by the curvature, which was particularly pronounced and complicated on the booms. It took an immense about of time of cutting filing and sanding to get anywhere at all, and in the end I applied liberal amounts of filler too, both the cover gaps and build up. Even after all this effort, the result was pretty clumsy – at least I won’t be looking at the underside that often:

The next challenge came when trying to assemble the central fuselage. There was no room for the interior assembly, and the bottom was too narrow. Cue more frantic cutting and filing, and a bit of bodging too. And when I finally managed to get this assembled, the match between the lower and upper assembly was poor. More filing, sanding and and filler. If you look closely you can see where I’ve tried to build up the surface with filler to get something reasonably smooth. There were similar, though thankfully lesser, problems almost everywhere in the assembly. The result was that the whole thing took much, much longer to put together than any other model I’ve done, with a fairly mediocre result to show for it. But it is acceptable within my “don’t look too close” criteria. The lumps and bumps don’t show up in the photos at least!

The problems didn’t end there. I left the cockpit off before painting, to add on later, saving me having to mask it. But, of course, the fit was terrible (I can’t believe I didn’t check or notice this beforehand). So I needed to cover the gap with filler – which meant more paint and patination to try to blend it in with the rest. This didn’t altogether work, and the finish on the inner-upper wing is a bit rough.

The final problem was all my own fault, though. I applied the decals on the booms in the wrong place – with the insignia on the air intakes, and the ID letters on the rear boom. I was able to remove the insignia decals (which came with the kit) and replace them with one from the sheet I bought from eBay (I had already used these on the wings to get the right size), in the correct place, in front of the intake. But the ID letters should be on the intakes – and I didn’t have anything in stock to do this (the model decals look too big anyway). So I left them! The plane modelled is one of the schemes in the box, except that I was trying to model it earlier in its career – as it would have been at Salerno or Sicily. I left out the kill/mission marks from the nose, but left the nose art on the port nose – actually surely too far forward as it was probably only there to make room for the mission tally marks.

One further thing is worth remarking on. The red on the spinners and under-wing tips is quite bright – you wouldn’t think I did quite a bit of dulling down on the original pigment. Red spinners were a standard Allied ID feature for fighter aircraft. The British used Insignia Red (used on the national insignia) which was quite a dark, dull red, so as to be less conspicuous. I had read that the US equivalent paint was much brighter, until they dulled it down later in the war. So I’ve tried to represent the earlier version. I used the same shade on the other two models assembled in this batch. I should have dulled it down a little more though!

This is an iconic aircraft, and I’m glad I have one for my collection. But if I want to do another one I will start with a different model, perhaps converting a later version.

My Airfix B-26 Martin Marauder

The box artwork

The first of my latest batch of aircraft models for to describe individually is the B-26. I bought this kit back in the late 1970s, as a gift to my younger brother. But he was losing interest in modelling and left it in my parents’ attic, from whence I rescued it during one the their periodic clear-outs as they moved and downsized. Since then it lurked in my attic. After moving house in 2020 I decided that I was going to assemble this model – indeed it sowed the seed of the idea of my 1943 aircraft project. I have always liked this aircraft.

Along with the B-25 Mitchell, the B-26 Marauder was one of the two principal medium bomber types in US service in WW2. More B-25s were produced, and many more survive today – but, apparently, more of the B-26s were in use in the European theatre. That is certainly true of the Mediterranean in 1943 – three bomber groups were in operation, compared to two for the B-25. The B-25 had a longer range, and so more useful in the Pacific, I read. Still Catch-22, set in the Med, featured the B-25. The B-26 had a bit of a tricky reputation, as it required quite a high landing speed – and there were quite a few accidents in the early days. Tweaks to the design, and better training, overcame the problems, however, and the overall casualty rate was lower than the B-25 in the end. I guess that was because it was faster, and so harder to intercept. Anyway, to my eye it is much better looking, with its cigar-shaped fuselage, compared to the boxy B-25.

I wanted to make an aircraft as it would have appeared in September 1943, when B-26s supported the Salerno battle. That meant a plain olive drab and grey scheme, and no large battle number on the tail – so characteristic of later on (they were introduced a month or so after Salerno). The insignia had the red outline. I wanted to depict an actual aircraft, where I was limited by two main factors. First, the model depicts a later variant, with a distinctly different tail gun position (and may be differences too). That ruled out quite a few planes in operation in 1943. Second I wanted to be able to make up the tail numbers from as few sources as possible, including the original Airfix decals. This pointed me at number 41-34925 “Kismet” from 37th Squadron of 17th Bombardment Group. This plane survived the war, completing many missions. One tricky issue was nose art, which I was really not keen to get into. The illustration I found from Mark Styling showed this plane with quite simple nose art (apart from the many mission markers visible in later line). It has the word “Kismet” with further words “Sine Qua Non” in a curve below – all quite small and in yellow lettering. No cartoon characters, bombs or busty ladies. This would not have been impossible for me to put together and print off, though yellow printer ink would not have come out strongly without a bit of white ink to give it body – but I didn’t fancy doing it. Besides I noticed on pictures of planes in action in 1943 that nose art was often absent (see below) – so the model has nothing.

The completed model from the front.

The first stage of the project was to paint and assemble the interior. The model came with three crew figures: two for the cockpit and one for the gun turret. I had already used on of the cockpit figures for my P-47, and since the remaining one would not have looked right next to one of the PJ figures, I put two from PJ in the cockpit. The turret figure was quite crude, with a huge circulardvice in place of his hands to provide a pivot for the guns. I decided to keep it, and in faction can’t see much through the turret plastic, so this didn’t matter. The online sources did not give any consistent colour for the interior, though it is usually represented as green – a mix with the chrome-yellow primer in use. I decided to follow another source, which said it was a mix of black and treated aluminium. You can barely see it though! The transparencies are quite thick, so visibility is not perhaps what it should be.

Assembly came next. This was much easier than for my P-38 model – the fit was generally OK, and there were lugs and recesses to hold parts in the right relative positions. Still it was not as tight as some more modern kits that I have assembled – though not the other two in this batch. I should have spent a bit more time filing down parts to get the fit a bit tighter, especially the bomb doors and the engine nacelles. Fairly liberal amounts of filler were needed in places, causing some of the panelling detail to be lost. – and I needed to use tape to keep the fuselage together while the cement was setting. One issue worth mentioning was transparencies. Except at the rear and nose I stuck these in before painting. The cockpit canopy because I wanted to use filler to ensure a seamless join with the fuselage; the various portholes, etc. because they had to be stuck in from the inside, and the turret because it looked too tricky to do later. These had to be masked. The main problem was that I used specialist glue for canopies – after problems with superglue causing damage – and these had weaker adhesive properties than I was used to. One of the side windows fell into the body of the fuselage, and could not be recovered. I had to bodge a replacement carved from sprue. I had to do something similar to one of the wing lights which I dropped on the floor and couldn’t find. Incidentally in the kit there are windows for the two openings at the bottom back of the fuselage, just under the tailplanes. In 1943 these openings were ports for a machinegun, so I left the transparencies out – though I did not attempt to show include the weapon.

From the rear quarter

I have already outlined the strategy for painting and finishing. The decals required were minimal. I got the national insignia with the red outlines from eBay. The tail numbers were a combination from the original model and an ancient Airfix P-47 kit (which were slightly duller – which I tried to correct with a bit of yellow paint). The overall result is a bit darker and greener than often depicted (for example in the box art above) – though I think the artificial light mixed in with the natural light in the picture makes it a bit greener. It is meant to show a relatively new plane, not quite as weathered as normal. Here is a new contemporary picture of planes from 17 BG in flight:

These are planes returning from a raid on Sardinia in November 1943, shortly after the big battle numbers on the tail were added; No. 17 (Uden Uden’s Oil Burner) has a damaged engine from flak and is limping home, escorted by the others (from a different squadron) – it did make it to safety and went on the complete many more missions. Both it and 97 behind it were candidates for my model, but the tail numbers weren’t as easy to source. Incidentally I can’t see any nose art on either the plane – though the front plane at least was photographed later in the war with nose are on both sides. Sometimes it was just on the port side. This picture shows the slightly weather-beaten matt look, with not much contrast between the olive drab and grey. No 17 has a lot of paint damage on the tail, but not much elsewhere.

And here’s the underside:

The underside

The weathering is a bit heavy-handed – but I have no photos of what it would have looked like in practice. The underside did get a hammering from the dust airstrips – but I don’t know how that looked!

There’s plenty on the model that could have been done better – but I’m glad its decades in the attic weren’t in vain!

Three US planes for 1943

The new trio overflying the wargames table: left to right: the A-36, the P-38 and the B-26

Back to aircraft modelling. The next batch of 1/72 planes in my 1943 project represent the Americans. These are a B-26 Marauder bomber, a P-38 Lightning fighter, and an A-36 Invader/Apache fighter-bomber. Since my main focus is on the British and Germans, these were the only American planes that I initially planned, although I now plan to do a P-40 as well, but not in the olive drab scheme like these, but the RAF one. As usual I will use this post to describe the common aspects of the project, and then publish separate posts for each model.

This project took quite a bit longer than expected – something I have said about each of my most recent projects – it’s probably age! Two things in particular held me up. First the B-26 model is a big one, compared to the single-engine types that I have attempted so far; and the P-38 isn’t a small one either. Bigger models do take more time. Second, none of the models were particularly easy to put together, and the P-38 the worst of all the models to date – worse than my Stuka and Hurricane. And that takes a lot more time, as you attempt to reconcile ill-fitting parts, and then patch up the results with filing , sanding and putty. It doesn’t help that I model with undercarriage up, which only the B-26 kit (a 40-year old Airfix job) catered for, and as with all long projects I then went through a flat patch – especially since the studio where I assemble my models is in the garage block, and not part of the central heating system – so it was pretty cold in the patch of freezing weather we had. One afternoon was just too cold for me to try! Still, they were finished in time for Christmas.

Another view

The steps I went through were the painting of the interior and crew, assembly (easily the most time-consuming phase), priming and painting with the airbrush, and then the various finishing steps, including decals. Not a huge amount to say about the first stage. I had to supply my own crew figures apart from two from the B-26: I dipped into my stock of figures from PJ Productions. I will describe the assembly process for each model in my later posts, as each was a very different experience. The painting and finishing processes were pretty similar, so I’ll say something about that now.

In spite of my frustrations, I persisted with the airbrush for these models. I used white primer from Vallejo. I then mixed my own paints for the main event. For the undersides I mixed a neutral grey from the black and white paint pots that came with the airbrush. For the olive drab I mixed the basic colours using Liquitex artists paints, mixed with Liquitex airbrush medium and on occasion with thinners. The airbrushing was hit and miss. Sometimes things went well, and the paint left the brush with a nice flow. I haven’t managed to get a precision spray yet, but I don’t think that is supposed to be the strength of this particular model. On other occasions I couldn’t get the flow right at all – it came out too thin, or wouldn’t come out properly at all. As a result the process took more sessions than it should. The primer tended to clog on the nozzle, and it needed wiping quite frequently. This didn’t happen for main paints so much (and not at all on the olive drab mixes) – but these were prone to clogging further back in the mechanism when they weren’t too thin. One thing I discovered to be a bad idea was mixing in the cup – by adding thinner to a mix that was a bit thick, for example. I had been encouraged to do this by a video tutorial. I think the thicker paint tended to get into to the system and clog it before being mixed properly. If mixed separately to the right consistency, and then put in the cup, things went much more smoothly. I like to think I’m getting the hang of the airbrush, but I’m not sure, to be honest. It produces a lovely finish, but is it worth the trouble?

I used two mixes for the olive drab. For the P-38 and A-36 I used the usual yellow oxide/black/ white combination (though I may have started with neutral grey and yellow and tweaked with black/white). This was the as same as for my P-47 trial model, but a bit lighter. For the B-26 I wanted something a bit greener. I started with Sap Green, and mixed various things into it. The first attempt was too green, but with tweaking I got a satisfactory result, looking close to a lot of artist’s portrayals of the aircraft. This was a bodge as I kept adding different things to the mix, though, and I can’t say precisely how I got there. My general rule is to only use two pigments/premixes and white for mixing – that makes it much easier to replicate. I would need a different method to repeat! The first mix was to represent a more weathered finish – the colour reportedly turned quite brown after exposure to the elements. The second, which is closer to the commercially available mixes, was for a newer aircraft. I am pleased with both results. Incidentally the pictures were taken on a dull day (I gave up waiting for the sun!), so there’s a lot of artificial light in the mix, which tends to make things a bit greener.

The A-36 alongside my P47 model, showing the paler version of olive drab

I used a combination of tape and Blu Tak to mask. This included the canopies for the A-36 and (mostly) the B-26. I left the canopy off for the painting stage for the P-38 and the B-26 nose and tail to be stuck on later. This was a mistake for the P-38, as it was so ill-fitting it needed filler and more paint later. Blu Tak works better than magic putty, as I needed it to stay in place for days. The magic putty is easier to put on, though, and I did use it for varnish spray.

After the decals came the oil paint patination: small blobs of oil pigment in various colours (white, Payne’s grey, yellow ochre and raw umber) brushed vigorously into a very thin layer with a fore-and-aft or up-and-down motion. The paint did not spread as easily as before – perhaps because of ageing, or perhaps because it was colder than normal – but nothing that a little extra linseed oil couldn’t sort out. I’m getting better at this – I have had a tendency to over-apply; and there was the disaster of trying to apply over matt varnish! The undersides were left looking pretty messy – but with the dust from Mediterranean airfields, I gather that they did get into a bit of a state. This stage left the models with quite an appealing off-matt finish: but photos of US planes in theatre usually show a very matt finish. So I sprayed on Winsor & Newton matt aerosol spray, which leaves a very matt finish. I protected the decals with some gloss varnish first – though I doubt there was a real danger from contact with matt varnish – but I wanted to play safe. The next step was to represent a bit of paint damage using a silver/pewter coloured pencil. I didn’t want to overdo this; I think ground crews were usually quite diligent in repairing damage. But it’s usual to represent quite a bit of damage on a B-26 – they were especially exposed to flak explosions – so I tried a bit harder on this, though still quite subtle. Finally I applied some powdered pastel in various mixes of grey and brown. The biggest job here was applying the exhaust stains on the A-36. I couldn’t see anything comparable on old photos of the P-38 though, and not on the B-26 either. In the end it did a similar job to the oil paint, in producing a rather weather-beaten finish, with the effects of air flow as well. On the B-26 I tried to show a bit of differential weathering on the canvas control surfaces – but not very successfully. With the high-matt finish for these models, I could have skipped the oil paint stage, I think. For my British and German models, where I like the off-matt finish that the oil leaves, it’s a different matter.

As usual, close examination of these models reveals a lot of things I could have done better (or in the case of the P-38 model, defects I couldn’t quite remedy) – but I’m not comparing myself to the master-hobbyists. I want good-looking models from a respectable distance – and that is what I have ended up with!

Mixing Dunkelgelb for German vehicles

Colour swatches from Real Colors of WWII by AK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1943: more German infantry

The main squad

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

The panzershrek and panzerfaust figures

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

The panzer grenadier section

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

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

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

The panzershrek and panzerfaust figures

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

Luftwaffe uniforms

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


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

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

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

1943: German soft-skins

The complete set of vehicles, guns and infantry

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

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

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

The four cars

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

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

Another view!

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

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

The medium trucks

The PSC trucks

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

A different view in different lighting

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

You can see the Mercedes truck without tilt here

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

Raupenschlepper and Pak 40

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

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

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

From a different angle

88mm Flak gun and Sdkfz 7

The 88 without shield

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

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

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

With shield, from rear

Painting and finishing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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