Category Archives: Technique

Using Oxford Diecasts for wargames

Making up and painting models from kits and castings is a faff. What about buying die cast models ready assembled and painted? A bit more expensive, but not that much, and less trouble. For my most recent project I decided to try a couple of models from Oxford Diecast. These were a Bedford OYD 3-ton truck, and a Dorchester Armoured Command Vehicle (ACV). The former was to provide a bit more variety to my transport (dominated by Bedford QL trucks), the latter to act as brigade command vehicle for my British at Medinine and doubtless subsequent scenarios. Here’s what I found.

Firstly these are marketed as collectors’ items and not as wargames models. They come in nice plastic display boxes, screwed to the base. For tabletop use you have to unscrew them – and you then have the display boxes to throw away or repurpose (or leave hanging around while you try and think of how you might repurpose them). Once out, the models are nicely detailed and beautifully finished. They also handle nicely. The Bedford even rolls one its wheels. Unfortunately the Dorchester’s front wheels don’t fit properly and are jammed against the wheel arch. They are quite small – true 1/76 scale I would guess without measuring them. Alas I’m finding that “20mm” models come in a range of scales. If the 20mm is meant to come up to eye level – itself a bit of a scale creep definition (it should really take you to the top of the head) – then the scale should be about 1/80. All 20mm products are bigger than this that I have seen. Plastic Soldier has 20mm in the range description, and 23mm in the instruction leaflet (about 1/70 in my book) – and maybe a bit bigger even than. So these models are at the smaller end of the range, but consistent with Airfix vehicle kits, old and new, for example, and models from the likes of Milicast and SHQ.

Here’s the OYD next to my Airfix QLD to give an idea of size:

One obvious difference is that the die cast models come with windows – though in fact I could have put these into the QLD in this case. Most wargames models either have the windows completely open, or, now more common in the age of 3-D printing, moulded solid. There is no driver model, and adding one would mean disassembly and potential damage. You would also struggle to find space.

The next issue is finish. These models are painted in authentic colours (they match precisely to the colours in my reference book on WW2 colours). That means there is no attempt to lighten them up to replicate the scale effect, which is something I like to do. This is a complicated topic with “that depends” type answers – it basically means that they look best representing originals in in strong light, and this is clearly the standard for display models. On the wargames table they will be a bit dark. There is also a slight off-matt finish – appropriate for a parade ground rather than the battlefield. The tilt on the Bedford is plastic, and the finish a bit plasticky. The decals are lovely and intricate, going down to serial numbers, etc, which I don’t bother with.

So how about incorporating these vehicles into my 1943 tabletop army? Take the truck first. This is modelled on a vehicle in the 15th (Scottish) Division in the UK in 1943 in the artillery. The paint scheme is fine for 1943 First Army in Tunisia. And second-line vehicles might well not be repainted for later campaigns. The divisional marking is not correct – but this can be removed rather than replaced, as these aren’t very 1943 in theatre. Perhaps it should have a roundel on the roof for air identification (the white stars were not used by the British in this theatre, even later in the war). Removing the divisional decal would be quite delicate work, though – but I do have some very fine sandpaper. To integrate with my army at large the model will need to be weathered – though this feels a bit sacrilegious on such a nicely finished model. I think this would take the form of a little white oil paint, brushed very thin, which would help lighten it up, as well as representing slightly uneven discolouration. And then dusting with powdered pastel. I don’t think there is the need for a wash.

The Dorchester is another matter. This represents a vehicle in use by the Polish Armoured Division in Northwest Europe in 1945. In fact the camouflage scheme is similar to the Bedford (brown and blue-black) and OK for 1943. But unlike the trucks, these vehicles were nearer the front line and surely would have adopted one of the standard or ad-hoc camouflage schemes. This might be the Desert Pink (appropriate for Medinine), Light Mud (Sicily and Italy) or plastered with lighter coloured paint ad-hoc (First Army Tunisia). But it does look as if I should repaint this, using the airbrush. That gets round the issue of the decals, which would be overpainted rather than sanded off. At least I don’t have to worry about the windscreen and windows.

So the models will need some work to be table-ready, and I should reserve my final judgement. I don’t see myself buying many more, though.

British vehicles for 1943

The three Bedfords. The QLT on the left; the QLD on the right is the metal SHQ model; the others are Airfix

My third article on my latest batch of 1943 British covers the vehicles: three Bedford medium trucks, three carriers, two Quads with limbers, and a CMP 15cwt light truck. I’m not showing the Quads or the OP carrier in this post – but you can see them in my previous one, along with the artillery.

First the big trucks. These Bedfords were one of the mainstays of the British war effort, and the easiest medium trucks to acquire as models in this scale (20mm, 1/76 or 1/72). I had an Airfix kit of the QLD (general purpose) and QLT (troop transport) trucks, and a metal SHQ model. The Airfix models are proper, detailed kits with lots of parts, that require intricate assembly. The SHQ model is much cruder, though also requiring assembly, but with many fewer parts. Neither came with crew. For the Airfix models I used AB figures, though they weren’t an easy fit. For the SHQ model I took a very crude figure from a vintage Airfix Matador I had in stock. That was actually fine – it’s waste of good quality models to put them in an enclosed cab. The Airfix models are nice – they are modern ones, rather than reissued Vintage classics, which I’m going off a bit. The SHQ model, though, was simpler to put together (though vague assembly instructions didn’t help) and looks very similar at distance. Incidentally, the Airfix models came with clear plastic for the windscreens, etc., but I couldn’t lay my hands on them at the critical moment – and would have made it even harder to fit in the crew. None of my other models have clear plastic windows so I wasn’t going to stress about it – though they did turn up later.

After my initially negative impressions of SHQ, I find they are growing on me – they look much better than you would think when they arrive unassembled, and have a nice weight when handling. Their figures are growing on me too – though I prefer the beefier AB ones. Unfortunately SHQ have ceased business. They have been bought by Grubby Tanks/Britannia. As it happens, a few weeks ago I was helping the owner of Grubby Tanks to unload his stuff at the Cavalier wargames show in Tonbridge (put on by my new club); he says that he’s going to put the SHQ items back on the market later this year. I took the opportunity to buy some items of light artillery from his Britannia range – which look quite similar but are significantly cheaper. None are assembled/painted up yet, but include one of the 2pdrs I will need for Medinine (I also bought a German 20mm flak gun and a 75mm infantry gun).

Here’s another view:

The SHQ model is in the middle

And now for my models in desert colours, the CMP light truck and two carriers:

These are all from Plastic Soldier. The CMP truck was easy enough to put together, but it is hard to get excited about it. It’s a very basic model with no options. I left the tilt loose so that I could play it without should the urge take me. This vehicle has no clear role in my set up, but it is available to shift 2-pdrs or Vickers guns if needed. The carriers are a bit more interesting. The are from the PSC Carrier Variants set. The one on the left is the 3in mortar transport. The mortar couldn’t be fired from the vehicle (unlike the German equivalent with the SdKfz 250), but is stowed away at the back. The crew are the standard crew for the PSC “generic” carrier. The one on the right has a 2in mortar in firing position – this weapon could be fired from the vehicle. Since the light mortar was part of the standard equipment of a carrier platoon, this vehicle will stand in as transport for a carrier platoon in my setup.

Another view

The Carrier crew are those supplied by PSC. I’m not a fan of these – a lot of PSC figures seem to be sculpted in 15mm and scaled up, looking a bit clumsy. AB make carrier crews, which would be easier to fit into these models than the slightly smaller Airfix ones – but they are rather pricey and don’t have the 2in mortar in action. From a distance the PSC crew work OK. The generic crew are appropriate for NW Europe with scrim on the helmets; the driver comes with a beret, though the head is separate and easy to swap. I hadn’t woken up to the idea of sawing off heads from the desert uniform to use on the NW Europe bodies yet, though the desert heads would have to come from other PSC models – so I left the scrim helmets on, which isn’t realistic either for 1943 or this theatre. The supplementary figures on the Variants sprue are OK in this regard, though not especially nice mouldings. I added a few boxes and bits to make the carriers look a bit more used. The models worked well, with one exception – it’s hard to fit the Bren gun in the front slot when there is crew in the front seat. You have to skew it a rather awkward angle fairly early in the assembly process.

On the subject of the Carriers, I made up a third one from the Variants set, as an OP (visible in my previous post). This is extremely useful on the tabletop, and it is modelled with a heavy-duty radio set and lots of cable for the field telephone – and a ladder, presumably for accessing vantage points. I only have two niggles; one is that the officer with binoculars is rather crude; the second is that there is no range finder amongst the equipment stowed in the vehicle – even though this does seem be there in the picture in the assembly instructions. These instructions, incidentally, tell you which parts belong to which variants on the additional sprue (the set consists of seven generic sprues and one variants – it would have been more useful for the balance to be 6-2 or 5-3…), but you have to work out for yourself where they go based on a rather basic pictures of the assembled models; in my case even this instruction sheet was missing, and I had to find it and print it off from the website. There are complete instructions for the standard generic carrier though, which is just as well as this is much more complicated. There are alternative parts for Mark 1 and Mark 2 versions; I used the former, based on pictures of the vehicles in theatre.

Now for some notes on my painting of these vehicles and the artillery discussed in the last post, including the Quads and limbers for the 25-pdrs (good basic models from PSC, about which there is not much more to be said – no whinges here). There are two schemes: the Light Mud scheme used in Italy, from Sicily onwards, with Blue-Black as a contrast colour; and the desert scheme of Desert Pink, with Olive Green contrast, used by the Eighth Army in Tunisia (but not the First Army in Tunisia, which had darker UK colour schemes, overpainted ad hoc in many cases). The first of these is well explored territory here. I mixed Light Mud from Raw Sienna and Titanium White, with some Prussian Blue. These are the same pigments I use for Khaki, but with a bit more white and a bit less blue. The Blue Black can be made from the same pigments, with only a touch of white and a lot more blue. In fact I think I just dived into another mix I was using that was lurking on my palette, adjusted slightly. Incidentally, I use a wet palette, as I have for many years. Not the expensive one marketed by one of the usual suspects in the hobby world, but a Daler Rowney one that has been going for many years. Mixing paints from artists’ acrylics, this is a bit of a no-brainer, as you want to keep your pigments going across a multi-day project. In fact in the winter (my studio is only heated when I’m using it), the paint kept going for weeks. Which was just as well given all the interruptions. For the tilts on the trucks I used the Khaki mix I had been using for the infantry for both schemes.

The desert scheme was new for me – this being the last of the three main scenes used by the British in the desert (Coulter and Light Stone being the earlier ones). For the Desert Pink I simply mixed white into Raw Sienna. This is a touch less red than the usual portrayals of this colour, though I suspect (for no particularly good reason) that the pinkness softened with weathering. The Olive Green was a mix based on Sap Green, into which I threw various mixes used for the uniforms to dull down and lighten up a bit. The result may be a little dark. Greens are the hardest colours to mix. The schemes themselves were based on a variety of sources, including the official guidelines (which generally didn’t cover the vehicles I was painting and which were usually simplified in practice), photos (giving only one angle) and otherwise guesswork.

Apart from the basic scheme I painted the tyres and radiators (a variation on the dark grey-black mix) and tracks (ditto with some added silver). And that was pretty much it (apart from the crews, painted as infantry). I took the view that other detail (the lights for example) weren’t important enough to pick out. After this came the decals. I put roundels on the truck and Quad roofs, filched from old aircraft decals, and a couple from some an Italeri halftrack kit that I had recently acquired. I also put some arm of service markings on where I could use appropriate ones. I used the ones in the Airfix kit for two of the Bedford lorries. The others were from some I had printed myself a few years ago – but these were tricky and I lost a number of them in the process. Some models, like one of the carriers in the picture, had to do without. I did not bother with divisional markings (these often weren’t used in 1943 in this theatre).

After this came the weathering and high/low-lighting. I wanted to simplify this from the multiple stages of earlier versions. First I used small amounts of white oil paint brushed into a very thin and slightly uneven layer. Then, as an experiment, I mixed some ink into some new acrylic matt varnish that I recently acquired to make a wash. Previously I have used dark oil paint mixed with a slightly glossy medium, to get into the crevices as a glaze (which, in my parlance, is thicker and stickier than a wash) – followed by spray-on matt varnish. But the matt varnish is a very harsh matt, and the effect is too uniform to my taste. So I was trying to combine the two steps with the new, very liquid varnish, which dries off-matt. The basic concept was sound enough, but unfortunately I used some very powerful black ink. This enhanced the crevices beautifully, but made the models too dark. I had to light brush over the lighter colours on the original paint work again (which the wet palette has preserved); even then they still look a little on the dark side, especially the desert scheme. Finally I applied some powdered pastel in a sort of light dusty mix, with a brush. This served to matt-ify the off-matt varnish, without the harsh uniformity of the spray, and create a dusty texture. Apart from the matt varnish wash being a bit too dark, I’m pleased with the results. I have nice weathered finish, and the decals look well and truly integrated – and the method is quite simple.

My next project is the Medinine Germans – which I have now started. But before then I will do a quick post on some Oxford Diecast models I have acquired.

British troops for my 1943 project

It’s been a long absence since my last post. I don’t tend to post until a project is complete, and my most recent project has been a big one. As usual lots of life has intervened to slow things down. But I also have a lot of half-finished projects lying around, especially on the rules-writing side, which is not conducive to regular posting. Still, I now have something definite to report.

Following my last post for Rapid Fire! for hexes in December, my focus has stayed on WW2. We played two games, loosely based on episodes at Salerno. They weren’t particularly interesting. Much depended on encounters between tanks and antitank guns, turning on a small number of D6 throws. Infantry proved pretty useless. The first game at least had a close finish, but the second was an overwhelming British victory as the Germans failed to make any impression on the British Shermans, while the British scored hits pretty much every time. Scenario design was partly at fault, I’m sure – but the whole thing reinforced my dislike of the bathtubbing aspect of the rules. Too much hinged on too few dice throws. But I like scaling of RF, allowing bigger battles using 20mm figures. So I have embarked on writing my own rules – which will be part of a rules family stretching from Great Northern War to Napoloenics to the 1859-71 wars and on to WW2. It is surprising how much the game structure and mechanisms can overlap. That’s the idea anyway.

But I needed a scenario to focus on. Salerno is tricky at this level, especially if you leave the Americans out (they had more tanks, which makes it easier to design good games), and I think I need more experience with the system to work out how to design decent scenarios. Similar things can be said for Sicily. But Tunisia is another matter – there are more tanks!. As it happens the Rapid Fire crew have two Tunisia scenarios (or scenario groups): Medenine and Tebaga Gap. These are among the last desert battles, as the 8th Army fought their way into Tunisia – and so fit into the desert battle series that has been designed for Rapid Fire. I picked Medenine – the last major German tank attack in Africa- though allied tanks were only marginally involved. The scenario is based on the central of the three principal thrusts, with the 15th Panzer Division’s attack on 131 (Queen’s) Infantry Brigade of the 7th Armoured. I decided to set out on two large batches of model-making and painting, first for the British and secondly for the Germans. I started with the British.

For the British I needed two four-company battalions (actually this was more than I needed for this scenario – but I’d need more troops for Tebaga Gap), each with a 3in mortar (with carrier), a 6-pdr and a 2-pdr AT gun, and a carrier platoon. In addition I needed Royal Artillery support with a further two 6-pdrs and a battery of two 25-pdrs – and brigade command, for which I wanted a Dorchester ACV. Mostly field artillery at this scale is off the table, but I wanted the 25-pdrs on the table as a last line of defence should the panzers (eight panzer IIIs and Panzer IVs) push their way through the four 6-pdrs and two 2-pdrs – although historically they didn’t. I already had all I needed for one battalion except the 2-pdr. For the second battalion I bought in AB Tropical infantry (four packs of 10 plus support weapons). These are a recent release, and work pretty well 1943 British infantry in this theatre (unlike my earlier British infantry, which are more appropriate to Normandy 1944). In addition I had PSC 25-pdrs with Morris Quads in stock. I bought in two extra 6-pdrs from Valiant, to use with an old Airfix one I had in stock, and an AB desert crew. On top of this I decided to bring into service an old Pheasant 17-pdr I had made up in the late 1970s from an Airfix 25-pdr and a Panther gun barrel; I compared it to the parts in the PSC 25-pdr kit (which can be made up into a Pheasant), and it didn’t look too far off. I had some crew available bought a number of years ago from SHQ. I needed more carriers – I still have three of my old Airfix ones (three are already in service with AB crews and look jolly nice too) – but I decided these didn’t come up to snuff. I needed crews. The AB ones look fantastic, lifting my rather ropey old Airfix models to the heights, but they took a lot of work to fit, as well as being pricey. Also I needed one as a 3in mortar transport and, more complicated, as the all-important OP for the 25-pdrs. I decided to go for the PSC variants set, which has seven models which include an OP and 3in mortar transport – as well as one with a 2in mortar in firing position, which I can use for a carrier platoon. Finally there was the question of transport. Strictly this wasn’t needed. The British positions were essentially prepared and static – the lorries would have been well to the rear. The antitank guns were carried on portees, but they were lifted off these into dug-in positions – keeping these weapons concealed was tactically critical. Still, I had three Bedford QL lorries in stock, and I thought it was time to bring these into the picture, together with one of my PSC 15cwt CMP light trucks.

So for this project I assembled some 50+ infantry and artillery crew figures, three 6-pdrs, three carriers, three Bedford lorries, two 25-pdrs plus quads, a CMP light truck, and 17-pdr Pheasant. For this post I will stick to the infantry. Here’s a different perspective on my group photo:

And another, closer up…In the background you can also see a battery command element for the 25-pdrs, which got swept into this photo:

And this one catches the Vickers gun on the end. Loyal readers may notice I have been trying to improve my photography. This now includes a backdrop photo bought from a model railway shop (online). This depicts a a very English looking winter or early spring scene – and I need to pay attention to the join! But it does make the picture look a lot better.

As I already said, these are from the recently introduced AB 20mm British “tropical infantry” range, designed to cover the Med and Far East theatres, when troops weren’t wearing shorts (North Africa) or Burma hats. This works pretty well for my 1943 project – they are wearing the earlier version of the helmet, without scrim, and they are using Tommy guns rather than Stens. In Tunisia it was pretty cold, so even the Eighth Army had abandoned their shorts (though they don’t seem to have bothered with the gaiters, and their helmets were still painted sand) – but their sleeves weren’t rolled up. In Sicily it was pretty hot, and many troops adopted shorts, though not as consistently as in the Western Desert. For Salerno, these figures are just right; later in Italy it tuned cold and wet. I’m making no attempt to get the figures, vehicles and guns to look exactly right for each scenario – and if there is one episode that I’m focusing on, it is indeed Salerno, in spite of my struggles with scenarios. So this range was perfect. I had three packs of advancing infantry, one prone infantry, and a Support 2 pack, with a 3in mortar and Vickers gun. The Support 1 pack has a flamethrower, 2in mortar, AT rifle and a PIAT – and I will doubtless get these later – but I have plenty of 2in mortars and PIATs in the later uniform. (PIATs were not in use in Tunisia – so I could probably have use the AT rifle).

The bases are mainly metal washers, but the prone figures and support weapons required bases cut out from mount board. I decided to have only two crew for the mortar and Vickers (three were provided in the pack) to keep the bees size down. These were plastered with the usual mix of acrylic medium, sand and paint (a mix of white and raw umber) to integrate the figure bases. Once mounted the figures were given an undercoat of artists’ gesso (which is white) mixed with some raw umber. The raw umber and white mix gives a nice neutral grey-brown colour, which is now my go-to base colour for figure paining across all eras. It means that any gaps in painting don’t show up. Then came the usual paint job in various mixes of Liquitex artists’ acrylics. For the uniforms this comprised Raw Sienna (orange-brown), Titanium White and Prussian Blue (not much of the last of these, but it’s needed to get khaki), plus a little green for the helmets. The flesh was based on white and Burnt Sienna (red-brown), but once I get the palette going I keep throwing in bits of this and that. This came out a bit on the dark side, but I did want to get tanned flesh, but with a slight pinkish hue. I’m not entirely convinced, but it probably roughly simulates how my own fair flesh would look in those conditions. I’m painting less detail on the figures these days, so the water bottles and bayonet sheathes did not get more than cursory attention, for example. One innovation for this batch was the use of a light/magnifier. My short-range eyesight is pretty decent, but this in fact proved a big help.

Once the basic paint was laid down I was left with the vexed question of how to finish. With my previous WW2 figures I have used ink washes or oil medium glazes, followed by matt varnish spray. This leaves a very harsh matt finish which I don’t really like – though it’s quite fashionable these days. I have recently tried to moderate this by applying a little not-so-matt varnish with a brush – on flesh, weapons and helmets, but I have been rather underwhelmed by the result. As an experiment this time I mixed some black and brown ink into some Liquitex matt varnish (which is very fluid and dries off-matt). Alas I overdid the black ink and the effect was too dark. I had to go back to the figures highlighting the paler bits, including the flesh. This took me to the margins of the level of shine I can tolerate on WW2 figures (I have a much higher tolerance for earlier eras), but brought out the wonderful AB castings very nicely. I need to go a bit easier on the black ink (the stuff I have is extremely powerful), but otherwise I think I’ve found a good technique.

For my rules system I will need to mount these men in pairs on temporary bases – as I have already done with my other infantry using lower-adhesion Copydex. I still want to be able to use as singles if I want to try platoon level games. Next time: the artillery.

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!