Tag Archives: 1943

1943: what next?

My hope was not to spend too long messing around building up the armies for my 1943 project, but to get a small club-ready game as soon as I could – and for that game to look something like the finished product on the table – without the fielding of half-finished elements. I want a bit of a wow factor – in contrast to most of the games I play at the club.

So the logical thing was to build a tank and infantry platoon for each side, plus some command and support elements, and then turn to the scenery, with some thought for player aids (markers for knocked out vehicles. etc). I did the support elements first: mortars, heavy machines guns (German ones still need to be painted) and anti-tank guns. I now have a German tank platoon. But after that I need a bit of a rethink.

The obvious next step is to work on a British tank platoon. My first idea was to paint up my old Airfix Shermans. I’m not happy with that, though. The old Airfix models won’t be up to standard next to my new Pz IIIs, both because of size (they are 1/76 rather than 1/72) and general quality. The final straw was realising that I would not be able to open the hatches and put crew figures in. I think this adds to the appearance – and mostly commanders would only want to pull the hatch down in extremis – visibility is so much better outside. I still want to paint these old tanks up, and to use them to bulk up for larger games, and to provide a few extra options on the table (the Tigers for the Germans, for example). But for my first British tank platoon I’m going to need some new models.

And it is pretty obvious what those models should be: Shermans. In 1943 they dominate British armour. It’s true that in Tunisia you also have an assortment of other tanks: Grants, Honeys, Valentines and Crusaders (as well as Churchills, which continued into Italy). But few, if any of these make it to Sicily, let alone Salerno. And the Sherman type that predominates at this stage is the Sherman III, the US M4A2. This came with a diesel engine and was mainly used for export (to Britain and Russia). The examples I am most drawn to belonged to the Royal Scots Greys at Salerno. There are a few pictures, and they were heavily engaged. These have the classic sand-skirts covering a the top part of the running gear (as did the desert tanks) – though not all British/Canadian Shermans had these in Sicily or Salerno. It turns out that the Airfix Shermans aren’t such a good match for these anyway – they don’t have the engine deck for the M4A2, and no track-guards at all. Apparently they aren’t a precise fit for any known version of the tank, but look not that bad for the earlier Sherman I. My first point of call is now Plastic Soldier Company (PSC) – their products seem to have just the right balance of production values and options for me. But they only have the cast-hull M4A1 (Sherman II in British service – used in North Africa, but I haven’t seen pictures of them in use by the British in Italy) or the M4A4 (Sherman V) which had a longer engine deck and more spaced out wheels – though both seem to come with the sandguards as options. Neither is going to work.

After doing a little research I thought I had the answer: the Armourfast M4A2. Armourfast (who now produce models formerly by HAT) produce cheap models with few parts and low cost (£7.50 for a pair – compare PSC £17.50 for thee) for wargamers – but which are crisply moulded and accurately proportioned. I bought a box (alongside another couple of items). It was a bit of a shock. There is one simple sprue per tank (PSC have 2 bigger sprues each), and no options, stowage items, crew, etc. I actually knew this would be the case from reviews, but it was quite stark when I opened the box. But I thought there would be sandguards (from either misreading a review, or a review based on an earlier version). And the mantlet is the later war version, though I think this might be convertible. While pondering this I discovered Italeri made a version of the Sherman that was exactly what I was looking for, so I immediately ordered a couple of boxes (4 vehicles) – but they haven’t arrived yet. I will do something with the Armourfasts, but I haven’t decided what yet.

So how about the infantry? But there’s a problem here too! I fell in love with the AB metal figures, and bought a batch of them for command and support elements. It is these that I have painted up for the mortars, machine guns, and a 6-pdr crew. They are lovely figures. But the more I looked a pictures from 1943, the more I realised they weren’t quite right. The soldiers wore a hybrid between the 1944 north Europe kit most popularly portrayed in miniatures (including these AB ones) and the 1941/42 desert kit, also widely available, including at AB. This is within fudge range for the Germans, and can be covered mostly with a paint job. They mainly wore helmets in Italy (caps dominate in Afrika Korps representations) – and from a distance you can’t tell whether they are wearing shirts or tunics; no doubt some Afrika Korps figures can be mixed in to give more of a tropical look – these are usually made wearing trousers rather than shorts. For the British it’s a bit harder. They mainly wore trousers rather than the shorts they wore in the desert – but the helmet is an earlier version than 1944. They too typically wore shirts rather than the battledress blouse, and they usually had sleeves rolled up. I was going to overlook all of this (so at least my infantry would look OK for later war scenarios in Italy and France), but I saw that SHQ (whom I’m using for harder to get model vehicles) had a Mediterranean series for both British and Germans that might be suitable. Representing human figures is a very personal thing, though, and I don’t know if I will like them. I ordered some examples to take a look. That was last weekend and they haven’t arrived yet (it’s August I guess).

So what I think I will do next is a large batch of upgrades to my existing 1/76 German tanks: 3 Pz IVGs, two Tigers and two Pz IIIs (which I will convert to a Flammpanzer and an N with short 75mm gun). Since the paint I so laboriously mixed up for the Pz IIIs is still on the go, this makes some sense. I also have more idea about how I want them to look than I do with the British. I’m not going to attempt the sames standards of finish as the mainstream elements, but I will take on some new challenges, such as representing the radio antennae. Here they are, with conversion work on the Pz IIIs under way:

Finishing my Panzer IIIs

My Panzer III platoon is very much a learning exercise, as it is the first time I have put together AFVs for the tabletop (except some microtanks) for 40 years. This has proved to be the case in particular with the finishing.

But first here are some pictures of a real Pz III on show at the recent Bovington Tankfest.

This is an L captured at El Alamein. Bovington have painted it dunkelgelb (dark yellow) which became the standard German base colour in 1942. I don’t know whether this because the original was painted this way, or whether it was in fact painted in one of the desert colour schemes in operation at the time. Regardless, it is this dunkelgelb that I want to reflect on my model. The first thing you get from these pictures is how different the colour looks in different lights! Still it looks nothing like the “authentic” Humbrol desert sand sold in my youth, which can be seen on the Pz IIIL model in my last post. That is a brighter and redder shade; quite where it came from I don’t know. The desert colours used before the dunkelgelb were  yellow-browns (alongside greys) – a bitter redder, no doubt, than the dunkelgelb but much more muted than that paint.

This is important because I have decided to use artists acrylics on my models and figures, and not hobby colours. I already do this for my Napoleonics, and I fancied the challenge. I get to skip those endless debates about which precise shade of Vallejo colour I should use, and mix a colour from standard pigments as an artist does. This means I need many fewer paint hues – and no new ones. But for WW2 this approach isn’t for the faint-hearted. Getting theoe muted browns, greens and greys to look right is hard work.

But first I wanted to prime the models. I don’t use aerosol paints, because I have no suitable space to apply them. I do have a patio at the back of the house, but it is palaver to get the gear down there and protect the garden furniture etc. from stray paint – and the weather conditions have to be right. I have tried this for my Napoleonics and given up. I also had a problem to make sure that every part of the miniature was properly covered. The exception for aerosols is the final coat of varnish, which I don’t think is as risky. So I apply primer by brush. I use a special metals primer from Fortress, acquired at a DIY store, in white – the water-based version. I works well enough for my metal figures, where I apply it diluted with water. But it was problematic on hard plastic (polystyrene). The surface was slightly repellant. But with a bit of poking I was able to get complete coverage – though it was hard work, and wrecked the brush I was using: I have ordered some cheap acrylic brushes for future work! Next time I will try the primer undiluted – though it is quite thick. But it dried quite nicely and provided a good surface for subsequent layers of paint. It may also help if the models are washed with detergent in advance.

Next came the base coat. This was going to represent the dunkelgelb. The important point to make here is that painting a model is not like finding an authentic shade for a full-sized replica or museum piece. Authentic shades for the latter will not look right on models. I think this may be the problem with the old Humbrol “authentic” dunkelgelb – which I used a lot on my teenage models (including the Pz IV in the picture on my last blog, with camouflage green). It looks too dark and a bit too green – this may simply be a scale effect – the darkness surely is. What counts is finding what looks right on a model in normal indoor light conditions (daylight for me).  German dunkelgelb is not an easy shade to mix (unlike practically all the colours used in Napoleonic uniforms!).

It was obvious that I should start with Yellow Ochre or Yellow Oxide (much the same thing), and that quite a bit of white should be mixed in. But this is too bright – it needs to be dulled down. Using conventional colour theory I at first used a deep purple pigment for this (purple is complementary to yellow, meaning that it will neutralise it rather than change its hue). But the result, on my Pak 38 AT guns was much too red. So my next attempt was to mix in a reddish blue (Ultramarine), but this came out a rather horrid green shade (there is some of it on the Leopard tank in the background of the picture on my last post. My ideal in colour mixing is to use two (complementary or near) colours and white. This wasn’t going to work – I would have to balance three colours and white – something that is a bit tricky. I used Prussian Blue and a red-brown to go with the yellow ochre). For the base coat, incidentally, I was using cheaper “student” paints rather than the higher quality “artist” ones – having noticed that 20mm models soak up paint much faster than 15mm figures. (The better quality pigments are much better for painting details, where you need sharp lines) This took three goes. On each occasion I was convinced that I had the right shade, but as it dried it looked wrong, compared to my pictures taken at Bovington, and other sources. The colours did dry a bit redder than when wet (perhaps because of the lower quality pigments – drying true is one of the marks of better quality pigment) – but a lot of it is simply that it is hard for such muted shades, where is slight shift in the mix makes a big difference. Provided the paint isn’t too thick (and it shrinks quite nicely on curing, so it’s generally OK), this layering isn’t such a bad thing – it can give a bit of texture and “depth” to the model. Still, there are a lot of nooks and crannies on a model tank (especially with the turret schurzen), and so it was hard work and not good for the brushes. Eventually I had something I was pleased with.

Next step was detailing – the tracks, the tyres, the commander figures, the exhausts and the stowage. I had a little trouble with the uniforms of the commanders – where I was trying to get a faded tropical look. Another problem was the tyres on the running gear – as these were a single moulding in order to reduce the assembly time, so you don’t get the double wheels, so they don’t look quite right – I just hope they won’t be very visible. All this took slightly longer than I wanted – a couple of sessions rather than the one I hoped. I finished with a bit of drybrush with a pale dusty mix – this was a bit heavy handed in places – it’s a technique that is going to need more work. Next came a layer of Quickshade. This is to pick out the recessed detail and generally create depth. It also creates a good surface for decals (otherwise the flash will show horribly, as they do on my old models). I was a bit worried that the brown in the Quickshade would distort the base colour by reddening and darkening it -though the end result is OK, and the photos below sho it to be a bit too green if anything. I have three tins of Quickshade (three grades of colour), though one is dying. Once these are done with I will try to create my own with the floor polish the product it is based on – and that will allow me to have more control over the colour of shading – a dull purple would have been better in this case (the French Impressionists would have approved of that!).

And then the decals. This has been a bit of a headache. I want turret numbers for tanks in the same platoon (with the platoon commander in tank 1). Commercial decals have two problems: they tend to focus on individual tanks from different formations, and they supply two numbers (one for each side), rather than the three that was more typical at this stage of the war (one at the back too). And they are pricey. None come with the PSC box kit. I acquired some generic numbers on eBay. But I decided to base my platoon on some tanks of the Hermann Goering division in Sicily, with numbers 531, 532 and 533. My decal sheet not only had only pairs of numbers, but they did not have any starting with 5 or above (this is the company number – the second battalion in a regiment usually had company numbers 5 to 8). This meant I had to assemble the turret numbers in pieces, and individual numbers in some cases. So applying them was a bit trickier than it might have been, and I did well to lose only one number. Balkankreuse were applied at the back of the hull, from a commercial sheet. I did not attempt a divisional insignia. After that I decided to seal them with some polyurethane varnish. That was very nearly a catastrophe. The decals are quite delicate, and unless the varnish was dabbed on softly, they get damaged by the application. One number was quite badly damaged; I applied a bit of paint to represent the damaged bits being obscured by mud (it was a rear number, and is obscured by some jerry-can when the turret is facing front, which helps). It could have been a lot worse. For the British I’m going to have to print my own decals; this will solve some problems – but white or white-outlined numbers can’t be done this way – (nor balkenkreuse for that matter). Fortunately the Germans used quite a lot of straight black numbers, which can be home-printed.

Finally an application of Windsor & Newton aerosol matt varnish. And here’s the result (albeit shot in partially artificial light given a very overcast sky this morning) – and with less than ideal focusing from my iPhone):

I have to say that I’m pretty happy. Each of the models has mistakes, and they aren’t “professional” quality. But they’ll look great on the wargames table.

1943: PSC Panzer III platoon

I started my 1943 project with a couple of Pak 38 50mm anti-tank guns, and two 81mm mortars for the Germans, and a 6pdr, two 3in mortars and two Vickers machine guns for the British. These were trials for painting and basing techniques. I will come back to them. I want to start my regular blogs with a full-scale platoon. These are Panzer IIIL/M tanks, with the long 50mm guns, using the 1/72 plastic kits from Plastic Soldier Company (PSC).

Why these? I wanted to break away from the late-war pattern of games being dominated by superior German armour. This is what happened with my initial game and its Tigers. So I thought that one platoon of Pz IIIs and one of Pz IVs would be the core of my German tank force. I already had the Pz IVs (Airfix F2s in 1/76), so I thought late Pz IIIs would work well beside them. I had two 1/76 models in my collection, not enough for a platoon. One was a conversion from an Airfix StuG III model (my first ambitious armour conversion), and the second a Matchbox model, which came out after I had made that model (rendering the need for that conversion redundant), and which doesn’t look too bad beside it. Rather than try to find a 1/76 model (like the Matchbox one) and make that up, I though I would try out PSC’s fare, designed for wargamers. The surplus models could then be used as Ns, with the short 75mm guns, to operate alongside my Tigers, as was the German practice at this stage of the war (the Pz IIIN in the Bovington tank museum was captured in Tunisia alongside its famous Tiger). So I ordered a box of three PSC Panzer III J-Ns.

When I opened the box I found the models up to expectations. I quickly decided that the PSC models should be made up as a complete platoon. I could use the parts in the box to make the Ns from my existing models. I then realised that in the sorts of games I was likely to play, I would only want to use one model for such supporting weapons as the N. The other model could be used for an FL, the flamethrower version. There is a picture of one these, knocked out, at Salerno, which is becoming the central campaign for my project, so I know they are in theatre. I can use the Matchbox model for that, and my conversion can be the N, as that means I can discard the rather ropey mantlet that I made for it.

The next decision was what sort of Pz III for the main tank platoon. My first idea was an L, like the Matchbox model, done up in Afrika Korps colours, as seen in Tunisia (to face of against my Grants, which never made it to Italy, and which I plan to do in desert paint). But as I started to focus on Salerno as my central campaign, I decided to go for M, with its schurtzen – spaced armour. However, since the Germans in Italy mainly only kept the schurtzen on the turret, I would skip the side-skirts. Apparently the narrow roads in Italy made the side armour more trouble than it was worth.

And so on to assembly. I decided to assemble the complete model, including commander and stowage, before painting. I think this adds to the artistic coherence of the resulting model (if I can be so grand) – but we’ll see how that goes. Assembly took slightly longer than I thought. It needs to be done carefully, and the first one took me nearly an hour, in spite of it having many less parts than the old models of my youth (most of the wheels are moulded into the track assembly, for example). Particular care was needed on the turret shurtzen, as this is in two pieces, and the join needs to be as inconspicuous as possible. A modelling knife and file were needed to deal with the sprue attachment points. The next two models were much quicker, perhaps half an hour each. Mostly the mouldings were of very high standard, and fitted together very neatly. The one problem as a bit of a dimple on the extra armour plate on the front hull below the turret. I have tried to fill this in using a bit of gesso (as well as using it to cover the join on the schurtzen). I used to use a product called “body putty” for this, but I don’t have it now and haven’t seen it on offer anywhere. We’ll see if the gesso works.

After the main assembly, which included the tank commander poking out of the turret (in contrast to the closed turrets of my youthful models), I added various items of stowage. These I got from a separate PSC item of tank crew and stowage. I was a bit underwhelmed by this offering, which consists of three identical sprues, with crew figures (for poking out of hatches), jerry-cans, bits of track, tarps and ammunition boxes, and other bits. It also has various small arms. I used one of the crew figures, to contrast with the two alternative poses that came with the main kit. And tarps and jerry cans from one of the sprues. The original kit comes with a few short lengths of track, which are useful. Mostly I piled things up on the rear hull, as this seems to be where the stowage mostly went in practice, with a few other bits elsewhere. We’ll see how it looks in the final mode, but it looks promising. One nice thing is that stowage helps to individualise the tanks.

The next point to ponder was a radio antenna. These are almost never provided in models of this scale, but can add a lot to the tabletop appearance (it is tricks like that, rather than detailed painting that lift the appearance of tabletop models). However, with the Pz III (and Pz IV) there is a problem. They had a big aerial poking out of the track guard next to the turret.  It got in the way of the turret gun as the turret rotated. They were design so that they would fold down when this happened – they could be folded down by the crew in advance (in the case of the Pz III this could be done from inside the tank). In many photos the aerial is folded away. Rather than find ways of dealing with the issue on models, I decided to model with folded aerials, allowing the turret to rotate fully. The mouldings represent this quite adequately. Did this mean the radio was not operational in combat? Or just that the range was reduced? No doubt I will find out in due course!

And now to the big issue (before painting – which I haven’t got to yet). How do they look? Generally excellent, but there is a problem. They’re quite big. Modelled at 1/72 I expected that – but I was surprised at how well my two old Tigers worked together (one at 1/76, the other at 1/72). I have a suspicion the PSC models are a tad over-scale. Putting the PSC models next to the Matchbox model (in front in the picture), and they look a lot bigger. They even look bigger than the 1/76 Pz IV (also in the picture). What also doesn’t help is that the moulded plastic tracks are a bit prouder than the flexible polythene ones on the older models. Part of the point of my project is to re-use my old models, if only for old times’ sake, but this going to need more care than I thought. Most modern plastic models are 1/72, so I going to have to find ways of living with this. And these are much cheaper than the 1/76 resin models from people such as SHQ and Milicast. Still, let’s not exaggerate. The different scales can be kept in separate units (except the Tigers, which I think are OK).

But the next point is to finish these models. This means handling another set of issues – which I’ll deal with in my next post.

 

1943: my new project

My main passion in wargaming is Napoleonic big battles. This is what my rule writing efforts are directed at. But as I labour with this, I have been up against a major snag. It is a long and complicated process, with very little in the way of playable games in the meantime. So what do I play?

And then there is a second problem. These big battles aren’t easy to set up on a wargames club night. It needs a day game at home. Maybe I’m giving up too easily on this – perhaps I could adapt BBB to a club game. But that doesn’t suit my current figure collection. What would work best is an 1813 style game with multinational armies. So I would need to digress from my Prussians. Even then it takes quite a bit of lead on the table.

So at the club I have been playing mainly micro-armour modern (and some WW2) games using Fistful of TOWs (FFT3) rules. This hasn’t proved very satisfactory, and I’m not sure I want to build up the terrain and armies needed (though I bought a US WW2 army), even though they are quite quick to build. Other players at the club have their own stuff, and I don’t have a unique take on this.

Then I became entranced by something else. When going through my attic I dug up some 1/72 and 1/76 (generally 20mm) British and German models that I had made as a teenager for WW2 mid-war – Tunisia and Italy. Why not try something with these? So I bought some rules based on a magazine review: Battlegroup. I put together some forces based on what I had, including my Airfix plastic figures. And I ran a four player game. It wasn’t a particular success. There are all sorts of reasons for this, all them retrievable. But the question, was: did I leave it there?

The answer was no, because by then I had the bug. The main thing that was attracting me (apart from quite a bit of hinterland from my teenage enthusiasm for WW2 stuff) was that it is (relatively) easy to build up a really good looking club night game in this format. The forces fielded by each side can be kept relatively small. The BG rules play quite quickly (or should…), and what the club has that I don’t is space. At home I can’t do wider than a 3 foot table (unless a buy something to go on top of the dining table, but that would only extend it to 4 foot). At the club 5ft by 5ft is standard, and you can get bigger (though given the time limits, that isn’t advisable for an evening game). I have seen some great looking games, including WW2 Normandy-style in 20mm and 15mm.

By concentrating on 1943, I can do something a bit different, with a Mediterranean-look table. The forces are relatively evenly matched too, provided that I’m sparing with the Tiger tanks (my use of my two Tigers in the club game was one of the things that didn’t work so well – though they gave a lot of tension to proceedings). They will be different from the very popular 1944 games, and also quite popular early war ones.

Quite exciting but also a lot of work. My current armies look awful. I love attractively put together games, with nice terrain, vehicles and figures. None of what I have matches up. The vehicles will need a repaint and general facelift, and there are quite few gaps needing new purchases. I really don’t like my plastic infantry. And I need to make a fresh start on the terrain. But by developing each of these in parallel I hope I can get a really good looking visual appearance. This is something I want to achieve for my Napoleonics, but that’s a much bigger job. I can learn a lot from this smaller, project.

And I will blog about it as I progress. One of the issues I have is that I don’t always remember exactly what I have done and why, when coming back to things later. If I create a record on the blog, this will be useful. And if other people are interested in reading it, then so much the better!