Tag Archives: 1943

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!