Thursday, 8 August 2013

In the interests of Colonial authenticity............

I've been commissioned by the notorious author of the "Tales of the Golden Head" adventures to paint a couple of big battle scenes in oil based on some of the drawings that appeared in the Classic Wargamers Journal in 2011. (Sadly there is no longer a link to Phil's CWJ page... best consign it to history I suppose). One of the paintings calls for a number of 1920s British colonial soldiers in East Africa to be posed at unusual angles. From my previous attempts I knew what a devil it is to get the elongated elipses of those sun helmets right so I bought a reproduction of an "India pattern" sun helmet for my photo shoot.

Looking suitably tropical against the Duchess' potted fruit trees!
It was a warm day today and the lawns needed mowing so I thought I'd protect my thinning scalp and I'd give the pith helmet a try out.  It certainly protected me from the sun but eventually I felt something hit my nose and thought it was a fly until there were more hits and I realised I had a minor waterfall of sweat pouring down my face. Taking off the helmet to examine it I realised the head band is just leather and totally non-absorbant. This was completely different from my beloved 30 year old "Hang Ten" floppy hat bought in Melbourne market and which has been to five continents with me since then, and from my more recent soft baseball cap featured in many Facebook photos. They both do a good job with the sweat.
I had to be my own char wallah unfortunately but that young sparrow in the
background had me for his water carrier.
Here he is, enjoying the fruits of my labour
So the question I have for you colonial experts who've stuck with me is:
"How did our forbears, who had to wear these things in hot climates, stop the sweat getting in their eyes so they could shoot the dastardly fuzzy wuzzies?"
The reason I ask is not just so wargamers can model fetchingly coloured sweat bands, but so I will know what props to use to render my 1920s heroes of Umpopoland in a realistic way in the painting. Your views very welcome please.

Writing the above made me realise that many readers of this blog might have missed the delights of my illustrations for CWJ so I have put them as a download in my side bar under "Miscellaneous", or you can see them via this link. 
Please respect the copyright, and a few of the originals are still for sale  - if anyone is interested just email me.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Making a start on Stalingrad ruins

Those of  you who have read my previous post first-pics-of-new-project. will have seen  photos of some of the buildings and figures I've done recently for my Stalingrad project in 1:144 scale. I concentrated on the figures in that and now I'll turn to the buildings.
First I must give credit to a new book which seems to be what I've been looking for ever since I read Antony Beevor's Stalingrad about 13 years ago. This is Armageddon in Stalingrad by David M. Glantz and Jonathan M. House.
It's a weighty tome at nearly 900 pages and 3 inches thick so will take me ages to get through. But it does contain a lot of detail and a great many maps. There are also a lot of useful contemporary photographs. It's a bit academic compared to Beevor's which is very good for the nature of the conflict rather than operational level detail.  I've only got to page 150 so far and have been searching for suitable wargame scenarios on the scale I described in the previous post.  There are an awful lot to choose from but I've just read about the first real penetrations into the city proper, from 14th to 17th September 1942, and have found a setup that will keep me busy for the foreseeable future (not forgetting more work on my SYW Imagi-Nation and my AWI armies of course!!).  I started out with the figures and ruins without any real goal other than the inspiration over many years from sundry books and movies, so please forgive the lack of exactitude. Now I do have an aim inspired by maps and text in the aforementioned book. Here's a sample map, and there are some more detailed than this too on other parts of the conflict.
By using four variations of this map and the orders of battle provided in the book I think I can refight the advance by two Kampfgruppen of 24th Panzer Division over 4 days. The main thrust followed the line of the Elshanka River and the parallel railway line, and then moved Northwards to attack Stalingrad Station Nr 2 and on to the bridge over the Tsaritsa River. At the "Rapid Fire!" scale of 1 figure represents 15 men, and one vehicle represents 5, I'll probably need 600-800 figures overall. However vehicles are a bit easier as, by this stage both German and Russian tank formations were down to very small numbers of operational vehicles. 
The top brass of 24th Panzer Division use a hasty meeting
 at the bombed out brick factory entrance to plan their attack along the Elshanka ravine 

My plan is to halve all the Rapid Fire! distances so direct fire for AT, for example, will be 24 inches. If that represents 800-1000 metres then a six feet square table could accommodate about a 3 kilometre square battle area. I expect my table to be expandable beyond that if and when I get the resources to do bigger games. This also seems about right for the amount of  table space taken up by a 40 figure battalion. Each Kampfgruppe in this scenario is loosely what I'd call "brigade strength".

Now on to those buildings. Don't know about you but I generally need something to galvanise my ideas into action. If several favourable factors come together it gets me going. The figures had been sitting in their packets since Spring while I spent day after day painting 2D pictures for the art exhibition which usually punctuates my Summer. I always promise myself some time off when that is over. Purely by coincidence, the weekend it finished Scott presented his eccentric father-in-law with a blast from his childhood in the form of  two sets of Linka moulds. Here's a useful website for those not familiar with it linkaworld
And here is a photo of some of the moulds

I experimented with a plaster/filler mix but found it rather brittle and difficult to get out without cracking, so I also tried some air hardening clay made by Humbrol and this proved more durable but liable to shrink and dry slightly curved. Sort of fortuitously for this project I didn't mind dilapidated walls, brick shaped ends or cracks, and I ended up with lots of small pieces which came in handy for brick profiled rubble.

I'm not sure how folks make good looking actual buildings with this stuff (!) but I just got stuck in and fitted it together to make pleasing shaped ruins without any real plan and all the while contemplating how little groups of 12mm figures might fit in. It seemed no good trying to model typical Stalingrad buildings as the Linka shapes are restrictive and I didn't have many window openings. I've got plenty of time to make high rise ruined apartments from foam core board later. So here are a selection of photos, starting off with  some primary coats of black, grey and cream spray paints
The recent warm weather provided ideal conditions for making  and painting
 building models outdoors
I then used  acrylic colours to provide basic ground work and "weathered" all the walls with various tones of dry-brushing.
Also shown is my "stay-wet" palette for acrylic painting.
Pretty essential in those temperatures.
All the Linka units are mounted on old 3.5 inch square computer disks, of which I have a lot redundant. I thought this would allow me plenty of variations that would fit a pattern of housing blocks or streets.

Here I made a coherent attempt at uniformity by making 3 disk/bases to try to represent a factory with rubble covered machinery and a few girders remaining from the collapsed roof.

Much to the Duchess' dismay I still collect any old thing that might be useful in
miniature building - some old plumbing bits and bolts
came in handy for this "machinery" - steel rolling mill perhaps?
Here is a closer view of the Linka brickwork. I think it's menat to be OO/HO railway
scale but it seems fine to me for larger bricks or blocks in 1:144 scale
I tried to make some resemble houses

And then there were some bases just of low wall and rubble.

The rubble piles generally started off with a small load of excess stones brushed from the tarmac on my drive. Then I added broken bits of Linka detail, that was all applied with a mixture of paint, filler and PVA glue.  I had put the stones through an old plastic kitchen sieve which I use specially for modelling, that produced a fine grey grit and it proved really good to sprinkle on the PVA-saturated rubble mixture. When completely dry shake of the excess and it's ready for the spray paints. After that the rough surface is a dream to dry brush to represent a coating of dust and small stones over the upper surfaces. 

While I had my bits boxes open it seemed a pity to just stick with Linka, so I looked for some suitably shaped objects to make some industrial looking buildings. Here is a general view at the grey spray stage.

Above and below is some kind of equipment assembly hall, maybe including administrative offices on upper levels. The core of it is a 1:72 scale ruin from a Matchbox vehicle kit and at each end the plastic casing from a defunct calculator - excellent office windows at 1:144 scale! A taller extra chimney makes it seem to soar above the little people. At the left hand end that crane-like object is a plastic strap hook from an old bag. I do like my recycling......cover it with rubble and who'd know?

I then made some foundry-like buildings with thicker chimneys and very solid structure. You can see part of one on the left above and here is the other side of it below, together with a smaller one. Both are, as is my habit, made with all sorts of bits of wood and plastic moulding from the bits box. I'll admit the left hand one might be at home on a futuristic Warthammer 40K battlefield but I'd been looking for an excuse to use those plastic curved 90 degree corner plates for years! It was certainly fun making the simulated metal and concrete and liberally applying the rubble and rusting girder effects.

I'll finish this post with some overall views of what I've done so far. I guess I'll need at least 5 times this area of ruins to make  a game feel right.

A word on the overall base. This is just part of a collection of brown terrain tiles I made for a WW2 desert game last year, so no roads modeled in it. However, I think it's good enough to get me started and in the longer term (when I have space again!) I'll model more tiles with the required Stalingrad ravines, trenches, bomb craters etc. 

Comments welcome.

Monday, 5 August 2013

First pics of a new project

Many readers will recall I decided to sell all my 20mm World War Two figures, vehicles and terrain before Christmas as part of the massive downsize pending renovating the newly acquired house, and building a wargames room/art studio. As things stand it will be next Summer before it's all ready.
I'm getting by without having anywhere to stage games but I can't keep the old urges at bay for that long so have started a new project in a smaller scale.
I was fascinated by Stalingrad when I first read about it in the 1960s. But it was such a big affair- hundreds of thousands of soldiers involved and a ruined city over 20 miles long. It has always seemed beyond reach for wargaming as the odd unconnected skirmish level games didn't do it for me. Now I have transitioned to realising something more representative of that great, war changing, struggle might be possible, yet still keeping the character of individual figures and street fighting.  I played WW2 with "Rapid Fire!" rules for over 15 years and always admired the concept of a game size (brigade level and above) that gives a sense of history based on real battle reports. Also the generally "old school" rule mechanisms can be easily understood and quickly applied.
With 20mm figures my 9 feet x 5 feet table often did not seem big enough though - isn't it always the case for us wargamers! Added to which having a good selection of troops and vehicles and terrain was a big investment in money and space.  So, late in life, I've been casting round and discovered 1:144 scale, N gauge, or 12mm figure size, call it what you will. I find there is a reasonable range of models from Miniature Figurines, via Caliver Books, from Pendraken, and some from Wargames South . Inevitably, price, size and quality varies so I'm still experimenting. So I'm planning to use "Rapid Fire!" with modifications to suit Stalingrad and my own local group's preferences, but halving all the distances should work with 1:144 being half the usual 1:72 scale which RF was designed for.
I very much like the MiniFigs range as they are slim and elegant and good value. So far I've just painted and based some Germans, mainly infantry and I've got many more vehicles, and of course Russians still to come.
First here is a selection largely taken from the pack of "German personalities" which features Generals and staff around a couple of tables with a squad of infantry in suitable guard positions. There is also a motorcycle dispatch rider. In the foreground are two infantry guns with crews.
This one shows the basic infantry which come in a selection of advancing and firing positions with rifles and sub-machine guns. They are supported in this photo by an MG mounted in a rather fine SdKfz 251 half track.
A support weapons pack comes well equipped with LMGs, MMGs and mortars with crews. Above from right to left - MMG crew kneeling, LMG team lying firing and a couple I've converted to an OP team with radio.
I've  taken a selection from the support teams to put together a company of engineers or pioneers, and added sundry bits of metal and plastic to represent explosives, mines or ammunition boxes. The pack has several flamethrowers which will be very useful for Stalingrad where German pioneer battalions were always in the front line.
I'll finish for the moment with another look at those infantry guns. I'm using limbers from the Pendraken range but I suspect there is scope for acquiring limbers and wagons from a variety of other 12mm ranges. I think the Pendraken are a large 10mm and  so far I only have vehicles, but I've ordered some infantry and will see how they fit in. 

If anyone has experience of using "Rapid Fire!" with 1:144 scale, or any other suggestions on this kind of project while I'm starting out please let me know - either comment here or email me - Chris Gregg

In the next posting I'll explain more about my scratch built ruins.