Category Archives: Technique

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:

https://www.fold3.com/image/161317974

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.

Finishing

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

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

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

1943: German soft-skins

The complete set of vehicles, guns and infantry

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

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

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

The four cars

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

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

Another view!

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

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

The medium trucks

The PSC trucks

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

A different view in different lighting

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

You can see the Mercedes truck without tilt here

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

Raupenschlepper and Pak 40

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

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

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

From a different angle

88mm Flak gun and Sdkfz 7

The 88 without shield

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

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

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

With shield, from rear

Painting and finishing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Prussian landwehr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Kurmark units

Using caulk for roads and rivers

Another view of my Albuera table

Last time I posted about the first stage of creating a wargames table for my Albuera game – which I dealt with by placing a fleece mat over a contoured surface of extruded polystyrene. Next come the roads and rivers. I have been trying out new techniques on this – by using decorators’ caulk.

I am not a fan of the standardised lengths of road or river that you can buy commercially. Nature doesn’t usually conform to these shapes, and there are lots of joins. All this is fine for an evening club game when you need to set up in minutes, and the game is usually quite generic. But you should aim higher for historical battles. Hitherto my technique has been to use masking tape, painted over with tempura. But these don’t handle bends well – especially in rivers and streams, and painting the edges of the tape means a bit of spillage onto the terrain mat, which also softens the edges. That was OK for my old felt mat, but not my lovely new printed fleece. So I decided to try a technique described on the Altar of Freedom website – using caulk. This is meant for 6mm terrain in the American Civil War, but my features aren’t that much bigger.

Two types of caulk are needed: opaque for the roads, and transparent for the rivers. The material needs to be paintable – so you need acrylic caulk rather than silicone. For the opaque sort I decided to use coloured material rather than the standard white. It would still need to be painted, but any gaps and damage would be less visible. I bought Unika ColorSealant on Amazon in medium oak. It comes in tubes designed for use with a “gun” – which I also had to buy. It proved trickier to work with than I hoped.

First off I tried spreading it on an old plastic document wallet (I have dozens of these) – but one of caulk’s properties that makes it so useful in DIY is adhesion – and it was impossible to get it off the backing cleanly. I experimented by spreading it on jay cloth that had been pre-cut. That was fine, and gave a more robust product, but a bit of a faff. I also tried wax paper – as recommended by Altar of Freedom – and I found that I could peel it off that with a bit of care. Once off the backing though, the product was a bit fragile and retained a slight stickiness. It is unlikely to survive most types of storage, so it will usually need to be remade each time a table is put together. One thing I learnt on my experiments is that this stuff hates water – which dilutes it rapidly. I tried spreading it on damp jay cloth (so that it was nice and flat) – which was a bit of a disaster.

Transparent acrylic caulk is much harder to find, and (usually) pricier. Most transparent caulk is silicone, which can’t be painted. Eventually I found some on Screwfix – No Nonsense All Weather Clear. This is very different stuff from the opaque material: it is less adhesive, dries quicker and is much harder to paint. Spreading it on plastic document folder was fine, but painting the underneath afterwards not so much.

So much for the experimentation. I want to describe what I did for my Albuera table. I decided on using wax paper. It can be rolled out nice and long, and it is transparent enough so that you can trace felt-tip markings through it. The first step was to trace out the course of the roads and rivers in felt-tip on the XPS base board. I could then mark up the lengths required (using the felt-tip) by tracing through the wax paper. The river bottom was then painted onto the wax paper, over the felt-tip. I then spread the caulk. This means laying beads onto the paper from the caulk gun, and then spreading it into a reasonably flat surface with a spatula. And then I applied paint to the road sections. I did this all in a single session of one to two hours, which meant laying things down before the previous stage was fully dry. The sequence, after the tracing, was: paint the rivers; lay the caulk for the roads; lay the caulk for the rivers; paint the road. A bit of wet on wet is fine, so long as there is no water. Small traces of water in the paint I used for the road (student acrylics) caused issues, though fortunately not fatal. Acrylic paint blends well with he caulk, though, and white caulk would probably probably have been fine. This is how it looked when I left it overnight:

I came back after nearly 24 hours. The river sections peeled off fine, with the paint sticking to the caulk rather than the wax paper, as planned – a bit of wet-on-wet probably helped; the sections just needed a bit of trimming with scissors. Alas the roads did not peel off as nicely as they did in the experiment. In the end I had to leave the backing paper on and cut them out. At least that made the end product a bit more robust, though less flexible. I found that there was a bit of spreading on the road, as a result of water in the paint mixture; in some cases this created a slight ridge at the edge – actually quite a pleasing effect!

There was no time to do more work. The roads could have done with a bit of dry-brushing, and perhaps painting the edges in a contrast colour, or even flocking. It would have been nice to do something with the river margins. Both look a lot better than using tape, though, and the more complex features, like junctions, come out nicely. The rivers are fine by wargames standards, but still aren’t very realistic. The grey colour was a bit of an accident – I mixed too much blue in with the brown – I had wanted something browner. Watercourses should run in a bit of a depression – but that could only be achieved with a lot more cut XPS. In fact rivers and streams (especially in Spain) look more like strips of green than blue, grey or brown, as the banks are vegetated, and this tends to dominate the usually trickling flow of water. I could potentially achieve something by using flock while the caulk is still wet – though I would need to be careful about bridges and fords. But as already mentioned, caulk terrain is not robust, and it is best regarded as throwaway – so it is not worth investing too much in it. Flocked margins would make storage even trickier. On the table, the pieces did have a slight tendency to be knocked out of position. Pinning down with tree models may be a solution, but they should really be a bit wider to accommodate this.

I will try to store these pieces, along with the cut pieces of XPS, so that I can run the game again, but my expectations are low. Anyway I’m sure I will be using some variation on the technique for my next project. Once the basic techniques are mastered, this is very quick and easy -the wet on wet technique in particular saves a lot of time. I will post about the trees and villages on another day!

A table for Albuera- fleece mat and XPS

Apart from reading, much of my recent hobby time has been devoted to the long-neglected aspect of terrain. I focused on one-third of the field of Waterloo, representing the line of advance of the Prussian IV Corps on Plancenoit. Pretty much all aspects of my terrain needed work, and this is still unfinished. Meanwhile my friend Rob offered me a game. This was not just a chance for me to road-test my new wargames rules, but also an opportunity to try out some terrain ideas.

I picked the Peninsula battle of Albuera. This is on the small side for my rules – suitable for an evening game, but not for the day game we planned. I decided to scale it down, with each base being 600 men or 200 cavalry, and the units being brigades or regiments for the most part. The game-design aspects of this are another story. For now I’m going to look at the table. Albuera was fought in Spain, near the border with Portugal, on terrain that was remarkably empty. It has just one significant habitation, very gentry rolling hills and two streams that merge. This was quite easy to put together quickly – and a good test run for some of my new ideas.

The first problem was how to shape the table. I wanted something between the two extremes of beautifully sculpted boards as seen in exhibition games, and the rapidly assembled table from standard bits that you use for a club game. I decided to go for contoured rather than sculpted hills, at least for the gently rolling terrain that most of the battles I’m interested in were fought on. This is much simpler to assemble, and its flatness makes it much easier to put things like models of buildings on. The big problem is that I want to represent the sweeping shape of valleys and ridges, and not just plonking a few hills on hill pieces on the table, or just leaving the whole thing flat – which are the normal wargames solutions. The technique I have been working on is to place a mat over cut polystyrene. The mat softens the sharp edges of the contours, as well being the fasted way to get a respectable looking surface.

This time I retired by well-worn green felt mat, replacing it with a modern printed fleece mat produced by Geek Villain. I picked their “Sicily” mat, which has the muted colours I am looking for and enough pattern to break things up, without dictating the shape of the terrain. You can see it in the picture. One side is mainly beige, which fades into mainly green. This suits Albuera well, as one side of the table is lightly wooded, and the other dry, featureless farmland. The green is a little strong for my liking, but I think it is as good as it gets when buying off the shelf.

The next innovation was to abandon the lightweight expanded polystyrene (EPS) for the denser extruded polystyrene (XPS). EPS is cheap, and a common packing material (lots of it comes free when you buy stuff), but quite hard to work with. XPS is mainly sold as insulation, and cuts easily with a knife – so long as it is sharp. It is much nicer to work with. It is pricier though. I have been buying off Amazon. My first attempt was a pack of six sheets (10mm thick) of 60cm by 100cm in bright yellow. This cost £40. As I decided I needed more, I found a pack of 5 sheets of 60cm by 120cm (fewer sheets but same area overall) for just £26. This stuff is designed for hiding under floorboards, not for craft use, so the sizes are not precision, and the surface is not always smooth – but as I’m putting a mat over it, that doesn’t really matter.

One thing I had learnt from experiments though, is that it is very useful to be able to stick pins into the board. That means you need a bottom layer covering the whole table – the main reason I needed two packs. That bottom layer can be re-used for different projects, though. Another thing I have learnt the hard way is that to represent gentle terrain you need to keep the number of layers a minimum – preferably just one on top of the base – and represent only the critical features. That means you can’t just work it out from a contour map; it is more art than science. For Albuera the critical terrain was a low ridge passing the length of the table. I had enough bits of board to put in another feature on the top left of the photo. Strictly there should be another low feature running along the right of the table – but this has no game significance, and I decided to save material. I stuck the top layer to the bottom with masking tape and put the mat on top. The fleece forms beautifully over the XPS sheet, and there was no need to use pins – which is what I needed to do when I experimented with my Sorauren table, which has much bigger hills.

The next big task (at least so far as this narrative is concerned – I actually did it before the contours) was the roads and rivers. That will be my next topic.

My Zvesda Fw-190 model

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

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

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

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

Here’s the finished model:

And underneath:

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

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

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

Wargames bases for 1-72 aircraft

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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