Wednesday, 11 May 2022

More 1940 French


I had a big session and photographed all my 1940 equipment the other day, apart from the basic rifle platoons for both sides, which are mostly just readily available figures painted to a middling standard, so probably not of massive interest. I did take pictures of all the support weapons and equipment, because it's largely scratch-built, and I couldn't resist showing the few tanks belonging to this setup. So here's the rest of the French. The Hereditary Enemy will be in the next post
Here's an ER40 infantry radio and its team. Note the curious arrangement of a vertical and a horizontal aerial. Each French battalion had six such radios, which put them a little ahead of the German infantry, and veterans said they worked rather well. Crucially however, French tank radios were notoriously ineffective...

The radioman's base is complete with set, battery box and tripod

In the Chain of Command rules there is scope for a "medic", which in the French case meant a stretcher bearer, modelled here with 1892 folding stretcher. 

From the side you can see his armband, bearing the unexpected symbol of a white diagonal Maltese cross. Owing to an over-strict interpretation of the Geneva Convention, French stretcher bearers didn't claim the protection of the red cross armband, despite being completely unarmed. Their German equivalents carried pistols but didn't scruple to demand being treated as non-combatants. Then again the Germans didn't scruple about an awful lot of things at this time.

Here's a Brandt 60mm mortar and team, widely but too thinly distributed in the French infantry at the rate of one for every rifle company. The Brandt design greatly improved on the original British Stokes mortar of WWI, and all modern mortars are descended from it in fact.

With this last picture, I'll explain what all the bright red and blue business is on the French uniforms. The blue on the collar patches indicated the infantry branch of service; it's come out a bit brighter than in reality here, because it wouldn't otherwise show up the figures, which are smaller than the photos you are seeing. The red piping on cuffs and shoulder straps was a feature of the regular soldier's "best" uniform. Normally kept for parades and walking out, it was ordered as the "tenue de guerre" in September 1939. However most reservists recalled to the colours were issued plain khaki uniforms from stock, so the result was a somewhat patchy appearance.

This B1 bis tank is a resin kit that I didn't do much more than assemble and paint, but I like to show it to people because (a) it has an interesting colour scheme and (b) it's a bit of a beast really, isn't it? The B1 bis (B for battle tank, "bis" equating to "mark 2" in British parlance) had two decent guns, five crew and 60mm armour all round, making it the "Tiger tank of 1940". All B1's had individual names and numbers, this one's the "Maroc 203", and were commanded by officers. The fate of almost every single one is known, and a quick Google will show you what became of the Maroc.

This tank was terribly hard for the Germans to deal with, being invulnerable to their standard anti-tank guns. Often they just tried to stay out of the way until the things broke down, which sadly happened a lot. Statistically the majority of French tanks in 1940 were lost to breakdowns rather than enemy action.

French 1940 armour usually has exotic markings and paint schemes. For a start the hull and the turret usually had different camouflage patterns, the reason being they were built and painted in different factories, each of which had its own ideas on the already-vague painting regulations. 

You don't get many tanks with purple camouflage, but that was one of the seven shades used on the camouflage of the hull, all edged with black lines. The turret camouflage boasts a mere four colours.

I didn't go mad with the weathering, as I wanted the colours to show up. There's some dust and some oil spills, and the rust effect on the exhaust pipe came out quite nicely.

Saturday, 7 May 2022

French Guns of 1940

I have spoken before of the Chain of Command WWII skirmish rules from the TooFat Lardies, which we played a lot 5- 10 year ago. My favourite army of the period, quirkily enough, is the French army of 1940. (It's "the joy of arcane knowledge" of course.) I ended up making a properly-organised rifle platoon for both sides, but also a complete repertoire of heavy weapons and equipment to choose their support from. Today's subjects are taken from that range. The guns themselves vary from 60% to 100% scratch built, the accompanying gear is all hand-made too, and the figures are more or less conversions from every available range of French figures.

First off is the well-known 25mm antitank gun, Model SA34. This was capable of dealing with the thinly-armoured tanks of 1940 and because of it's tiny size and the muzzle flash hider it was ultra difficult to spot when firing. In Chain of command, unlike most skirmish rules, the crews are of a realistic size: five figures plus an NCO to command them.

Squeezing six chunky figures around such a tiny gun led to some careful though about basing. I put each figure on a 1p coin base, but one or two crew are modelled on the same base as the gun. The latter base was made in what I call "amoeba style", so carrying the gun, but cut away in curves which allow the crew to be placed in close around it.

The next gun is less well-known. The Model 1916 "Tir Rapide" infantry gun was in real life a half-scale version of the famous "75", mounted on a light tripod and used in WWI for taking out stubborn machine gun nests. Each regiment had a platoon of three. The gun was accurate and did indeed fire rapidly, but had only a modest anti-tank capability by 1940 so was supposed to have been phased out just before then. Some were still around however, often filling slots where 25mm antitank guns were lacking.

The basic gun was a tiny thing on a tripod you can hardly see here between the crew and the long grass. It could have a shield fitted, a large flash-hider and/or an axle with small wheels, which you see being trundled away here. The whole gun was light enough to be carried over a couple a hundred yards by it's crew, or could be horse-towed behind a limber, or disassembled and loaded onto pack mules. The commander here observes through Model 1936 periscopic binoculars.

And now the very recognisable M1914 Hotchkiss machine gun. Here it's accompanied by the Model 1925 range-finder which formed part of every MG platoon. Sophisticated techniques of long-range fire, even indirect fire, were part of the plan for MG's in every army at the start of WWII, but by the end they left this kind of thing to mortars, and only the British MG battalions retained these skills.

The Hotchkiss could fire from a belt but was better know for blasting off 24-round clips, twelve of which fitted the tall narrow ammunition box. The Hotchkiss was heavy and unsophisticated, but a robust, reliable weapon which was reported to cause casualties over a mile away on occasion. A French infantry battalion had no less than 16 such guns.

Finally for today, the glorious, the legendary "Soixante-Quinze", the 75mm quick-firing field gun. When introduced around 1900 this was revolutionary in its design, in a dozen different ways. It played a big role in the Great War and still gave good service in WWII, being actively used as an anti-tank gun by the US army in Tunisia as late as 1943, mounted on half-tracks.

The gun and limber comprised an integrated system for producing exceptionally rapid shellfire. The first element was the limber, which was flipped onto its rear in action, the armoured doors thrown open and the fuse-setter (for inputting the bursting range of shrapnel) folded down. Two crew pulled shells out as fast as they could, setting the range on a pair of shells in about a second and passing them to the loader.

Here you can see how each round passed successively from limber to fuse-setter, to loader, to breech and downrange to the German recipient. The 75 could and did fire 20 to 30 rounds a minute like this, as shown by surviving film clips.

Another new feature when the 75 was introduced was the degree of crew protection. As well as the large gunshield, the base of the limber and its doors were armoured, thus when set up producing a continuous shield against bullets or shrapnel.


Monday, 25 April 2022

The Emperor's Cannon

I have just finished making this master model of a French 12-pounder for Michael Perry's Franco-Prussian War range. This one took over forty hours of intense concentration and that's not including the more leisurely time spent in research. I'm happy with the result, in terms of historical accuracy, detail and practicability for the wargamer who is the end customer. But I found this quite heavy going at times, and after the Prussian 6-pounder I have promised to do, I would need a lot of persuading to do any more artillery masters.

The model is built entirely from styrene, apart from the drag-brake chain. (What's that? See below.) I gather some people who build such masters use various modelling putties, and good luck to them, but that approach is outside my skill-set, so to speak. Using styrene strip and rod enables me to trim and sand each of the hundreds of pieces down to an accuracy of a fraction of a millimetre and they are easily assembled with liquid styrene cement. (The main sections of the barrel and trail assemblies are brass-rodded together for strength.) We end up with a master of seven parts in this case: the carriage, the barrel, two wheels, the trail-spike, the elevating screw and the brake chain. These parts are just pushed together here to show what the completed thing will look like

The downside of a styrene master for the manufacturer is that you can't put it into a vulcanising machine to make a production mould, because it won't stand the high temperature involved. So in intermediate stage is required:  The parts are first moulded in resin, which reproduces them very faithfully, and these resin parts will stand up to the heat of the vulcanising process. The customer ends up with a little kit of seven white metal parts to assemble with superglue, but it's obvious where everything goes and there are locating holes and pins on the parts for a positive fit. 

The historical gun is formally designated a "Piece de 12 rayee (rifled), Modele 1858", itself a conversion, by adding rifling on the La Hitte principle, of the smoothbore Model 1853 gun-howitzer. The latter had actually been designed by the Emperor Napoleon III himself, quite an artillery expert in his younger years, hence it was known as the "canon de l'Empereur". This was the state of the art when it came to field artillery in the 1850's: a "shell-gun" firing both solid cannonballs and spherical explosive shells. It was copied in the USA as the "12-pounder Napoleon" and served as the mainstay of Civil War artillery. Gun technology was moving forward very fast at this time however, and an officer called La Hitte devised a practical system of rifling that approximately doubled the range. The main field piece built on this principle was the newly-designed 4-pounder, a gun I modelled earlier. It was felt some heavier metal was required for the corps and army-level reserve artillery and so 1853 12-pounders were bored out to fill this role.

Whilst we're on 19th-century artillery-lore, they struggled a bit with terminology at this time. Traditionally guns were designated by the weight of solid iron cannonball they fired, so a 12-pounder fired a ball that actually weighed 12 pounds. The calibre corresponding to this size of shot was around 120mm, but that was first used to designate artillery pieces shortly after the Franco-Prussian War. Gunners were so familiar with the traditional labels that they kept them even when the guns actually started to fire projectiles of quite different weights. Firstly the spherical explosive shell with a timer fuse and then the "cylindro-conical", ie pointy shell with either a timed or "explode on impact" (if you're lucky) fuse. So the gun here fired a shell weighing something like 25 pounds, but it fitted the bore which had once accommodated 12-pound iron cannonballs. That's the real reason for these confused designations, though the water was, and still is, sometimes muddied by the argument that 25 pounds is "basically 12 kilogrammes". 

Finally, if your patience with artillery-lore isn't exhausted, I'll explain what the "drag-brake" or "drag shoe", the chain business on the side of 17th to19th artillery pieces is all about. It answers a problem that most of us wouldn't think of. When on the march, if the gun (or a wagon or whatever) is being towed down a sharply-sloped road, it rolls forward and can bang into and injure the nearest pair of horses in the team. So the drag shoe is deployed. It is a kind of skid or ski on the end of a retaining chain, which was fastened underneath one wheel to stop it revolving. You would think they'd need one on both wheels for this to work, but apparently not: the gun skidded and slid down the slope, moved by the tow horses rather than gravity, and at the bottom the drag shoe is hooked up again. This fitting isn't something you often see on a wargames model, and I had to think about how to make it in a way that will cast and can easily be assembled by the customer. But being pleased with the arcane knowledge of what the heck it's for (a secret now shared with you, dear reader), I couldn't resist making an effort to model it. So probably I shouldn't moan about how long it took, should I?


Friday, 15 April 2022

A Nice Surprise

I checked my email earlier this evening to find a nice surprise had arrived. Some of you might recall that back in December I lamented some models having "got away" without ever being photographed. One of them was a German village I made for a friendly customer called Jonathon Marcus, who was for many years an international correspondent for the BBC. Well Jonathon came across my blog, took the trouble to photograph this model and send me the results, which I very much appreciate. I enjoyed poring through these images and being reminded of what I had packed into this model, half of which I had forgotten.

This was about the last piece I made for a customer, probably in about 2010. It represents a village in central Germany: Hesse or Franconia maybe, though many would be happy to call it "generic Germany". This representation wouldn't be out of place from the late Middle ages to 1945. It could be used on the table as the two sides of one village street or else two smaller "village units". There are three houses, a barn, a church and a bunch of rustic features around them. 

Here's an overall image. The layout of each farm having a courtyard which links it to the next in a continuous facade facing the street is typical of many areas of Germany. I made it so that each enclosed area  would fit one or two of Jonathon's figure bases.

Jaegers of the Seven Years War period are posed with the model, which adds atmosphere and shows scale. I made the wicker fences by weaving some sort of fibres between posts set into the base, the same technique used in the Russian village posted a couple of months back.

The barn we see here is partially clad in overlapping planks, over the timber-framed construction. We tend to think of barns being made entirely of wood, because that's what we're used to in Britain (and the US even more so), but in most of Europe the same sort of materials were used as for houses and other buildings.

The courtyards commonly had both a person-sized door and a large gate for carts as well.

Some of the church details were cannibalised from a model railway kit by Faller. It's given a nice stained glass effect, which you can see here. My model included a walled cemetery, visible in this photo.

Another fenced enclosure for the riflemen to take cover in. Timber framing and window detailing were quite intense in some places. For the ornamental timberwork you see in some panels, I made master sections then moulded and cast them, which reduced the work a little bit.

A pigsty forms part of one yard. The occupants have their noses in the feed trough.

Here's a shed storing farm tools and wood. Partially visible to the left of it is a hen coop.

Though I say it myself, this thatched roof has come out rather nicely in texture and colour. I think I used a mixture of materials to make the thatch in this project. This one is "teddy fur", where other roofs look more like the plumbers' hemp insulation material I used to use. 

Tuesday, 5 April 2022

Chateau MDF

Another laser-cut MDF kit. tarted up for skirmish gaming. This chateau is by Sarissa precision, still available and modestly priced. It's a model you see in a lot of skirmish games, and rightly so. Nit-picking types like me would say that in size terms this isn't really big enough for a chateau, more what the French call a "maison bourgeoise", but never mind. As well as WWII skirmish, I thought this structure wouldn't be out of place in a 1920's Chicago gangster game. I see it with a sign proclaiming the "Hotel de Luxe" or something equally cheesy!

One of the nicest features of this kit as it comes is the window and door surrounds, the kind of thing that laser-cut MDF does best. I did improve most of the other features, adding characteristic tall chimneys, stonework corners ("quoins") and better wall and roof textures.

Here's the rear view of the establishment. The rendered walls were done in the same way as on the house posted recently, ie carefully textured household filler.

Frome the side, the chimneys are very prominent, as they always are on a chateau. The car is a slightly bigger scale than the building or the figure; it's about 1/43 scale, from someone like Solido. I had bought it cheap along with some French 1/48 military models from Gaso.line. It looks the part as one of the many thousands of civilian cars requisitioned to mobilise the French army in 1940. The badge on the door is that of a Moroccan Tirailleur regiment. Three such units made up the  hard-as-nails Division Maroccaine, just about the toughest formation in this unjustly maligned army. If you can see it at all, the badge comprises a mosque and palm trees over the Etoile Cherifienne, symbolising the Sultanate of Morocco.

Here you can see how the typically French mansard roof is constructed. The near-vertical outer section is usually covered with slates, but that wouldn't work on the almost flat top section, so metal sheet takes its place: lead, zinc or bronze were the most common materials. The technique of laying this metal sheet holds good for church and other roofs. You have broad sheets overlapping horizontally, then vertical joins with the edges of two sheets folded together. I made the finials from brass rod pushed through a series of small beads from the craft shop. 

Finally, the two buildings posed together, but I've run out of things to tell you. 

The next couple of posts will show some 1940 equipment that I built from scratch, both French and German.

Wednesday, 30 March 2022

France 1940

Hello again, folks. Back after a few weeks when my head has been in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. This culminated in a re-fight of the Battle of Wissembourg, that was more notable for research of the scenario than the quality of its terrain, I regret to say. We made do with some fairly old scenic items that were not of the standard you expect from HBH! Later in the year I hope to address that, but for now we have photos from the next-but-one showdown between France and Germany, that of May 1940.

Six-ten years ago we played a lot of Chain of Command WWII skirmish. It's great set of rules, though I have one or two reservations, being a picky sort of chap. The gallant French army of 1940 is my favourite WWII force, so I built up a platoon with strong support, some of which was scratch-built and will be featured on here soon. The figures are by Crusader: easy to paint though awful chunky in their build ( a bit like me these days).

The house is a laser-MDF job from 4Ground, plain but a decent model. Strangely this company has gone bust now, after taking a lot of money in via Kickstarter, I am told! Anyway, the scene is brightened here  by the typically French painted advertisement on the gable wall. The road is from a batch I made out of sand and felt, which I'll explain properly another time. Roofs are always the worst part of laser-cut kits as the technology is incapable of anything like a realistic texture. So I replaced the roof with the trusty Wills plastic sheets.

The two tanks are Hotchkiss 39's. I can't remember the manufacturer but there are better ones available from Rubicon nowadays anyway. At first the H 39 tank was built with a short 37mm gun (SA 18) and later with the longer SA 38. Commonly the commander of each platoon would have this better version. The camouflage pattern is different on the hulls and the turrets, as was common for French tanks at this time. The reason was they were built in different factories, each of which had their own ideas on the subject of camouflage. Many tanks had individual names, sometimes with a theme across the unit; here we have the Ajax and the Alexandre.

A tricolour and a registration number were universal on French tanks, although painted in different patterns. The famous playing card symbols indicated the company, by the colour used: blue, white and red in that order of course!. The card suite symbol then shows which of the four platoons of the company the tank belonged to. I subscribe to a French magazine GBM, which is the most authoritative source for the army of 1914- 1940.

The 4Ground buildings are good for skirmish games because they come apart floor by floor to allow figures to be moved within. 

I resurfaced the whole outside of house, using decorator's filler to give a more realistic texture. You stipple it on with a big brush and sandpaper it a bit when dry. Pick off any filler that's attached itself to the features you want to leave, using a scalpel point.

These building kits have interiors that are good enough for gaming purposes with no extra work.

The posters are common ones from the "phoney war" period in France, equating to "Buy war bonds", "General Mobilisation", the equivalent of "Walls have ears" and my favourite "We shall win because we are the strongest". It shows the French and British colonies as globe-spanning empires: how could the little black spot of Germany hope to take them on? Whoops.

I painted the Dubonnet ad more or less by hand. I made a crude stencil to help by printing off the text on a sheet of paper and then laboriously cutting out the letters with a scalpel. After painting the blue background I taped the stencil to the wall and brushed white paint through it. It needed some tidying up by eye, but it's near enough. More sophisticated methods exist nowadays!

Saturday, 12 March 2022

A Breech and Some Rocks

Here ends my posting of Lord of the Rings models, with two different subjects. We have a breeched fortress wall, and some, ahem, scatter terrain.

Wanting to do siege games my friends and I bought the old Games Workshop "mighty fortress" kit, injection moulded in styrene. The whole thing was constructed but only painted up in a basic way, so I didn't think it was particularly worth photographing. However, you you used to be able to buy separate wall and tower sections, so I went to some trouble to model a breeched wall section, as seen here. The painting isn't really up to the standard of the modelling, because it wouldn't have matched the rest of the structure. I built the broken wall as masonry outer faces with a rubble filling, the way massive walls are commonly constructed.

The defenders here, in the interests of a nice colour contrast, are Southrons, which I did in the way Tolkien describes them: kind of "Saracens", dressed in red and gold. They are from the old Vendel range for the era of Muslim rule in Spain, but I converted them a bit before painting.  

I made a lot of "scatter" pieces suitable for this and other skirmish games. It seemed a very suitable place for the Rangers of Ithilien to be sneaking around. Here we see their leader Faramir, nicely painted by my friend Garry Broom. 

The rocks are made out of real rocks, which I scrounged from the garden section of a local DIY store as "samples". They look quite good and were easy to do, but they weigh a ton! My LOTR terrain tray is quite a job to maul around...

And here stands Gandalf the White, as I think you will all know. I painted this figure exactly as the film and GW model showed him, because in this case it seemed to meet the expectation of him that we get from the book. I did put some effort in here to paint the folds of his clothing and the slightly different colours and textures of each not-quite-white garment. I must admit I was pretty pleased with how he came out.