Thursday 26 May 2022

Another Artillery Master Model for Perry Miniatures

Here's an 1870 Prussian 6-pounder gun, modelled for casting as part of Michael Perry's 28mm Franco-Prussian War range. It's the fifth and last of the field artillery for the two main forces in that war. Earlier I made a mountain howitzer for Alan Perry's Paraguayan War range, and a couple of years back three masters for  Nick Eyre's North Star 1866 range. If and when Michael gets as far as the 1870 Bavarians I might do a gun for them, otherwise this completes my work on artillery masters for the foreseeable future. 

The best aspect of doing these has been finding my skills develop in a previously unfamiliar area of modelmaking. I am feeling my advanced age just at the moment, so it is reassuring to find I can still learn the odd new trick!

This is the Prussian rifled, breech-loading "6-pounder" gun, specifically the C/67 type, ie "Model 1867", the most common of three slightly different guns of this calibre used by the field artillery in 1870-71. The other two were the original 1861 model, but now on this new carriage, and a smaller number of the 1864 version with a square breach but converted to the plug-closure system. I had the pleasure of researching this aspect in conjunction with Markus Stein, the expert who wrote the German volume of last year's monumental work on uniforms of the Franco-Prussian War, which is Michael's main reference for sculpting the figure range.

Incidentally, those interested in the range will have been wondering what's happening with it, as nothing has actually been released in the last six months. I pressed Michael on this and learned that he has been working on the range. The plastic French infantry are progressing towards release in a few months time. In metal he mentioned he's sculpted French line cavalry, prone Prussian infantry and a Prussian "high command" pack, apparently of Bismarck, Moltke and the king. Any or all of these metals could be released any day soon.

You will perhaps be wondering why this model has some parts in white styrene and some in a beige colour. The answer is that this gun used the exact same wheels and axle-seats as the 4-pounder, which I made last year, so I was able to recycle the relevant cast resin parts from that. The gun barrel and breech were completely different in design, and the carriage was similar but some 15% bigger for this heavier piece. The complete 6-pounder was considered heavy enough to require a drag-brake and chain, which the lighter piece managed without. 

As I've mentioned before, the designation of guns as a "6-pounder" or whatever referred to the weight of solid iron cannonball which a gun of this calibre (91.5mm) could theoretically fire. But they actually fired pointed, impact-fused shells of some 15 pounds weight. They comprised 50% of the Prussian foot artillery in 1870.

This gun's breech closed in a complex but effective way. A plug at the back swung to, slid in and was screwed tight against a second plug which slid in from the side. I wanted to model this because it's interesting, and to enable Michael to sculpt a set of crew in "loading" positions. So I built the whole barrel and breech twice over, with a closed and an open version

I thought it would be interesting to see the model disassembled into it's component parts. You've got the carriage, two wheels, two axle seats, open- and closed-breech barrels, then the trail handle, elevating wheel and drag brake. It would be a lot easier to build the model in a single piece, but it couldn't be moulded and cast like that. The customer will have to get the superglue out and assemble a "kit" of nine parts, but wargames guns usually have a number of bits to glue together. On this model at least the parts all have very positive locating pins and holes where they fit. 

Tuesday 24 May 2022

Blitzkrieg Era Tanks for Chain of Command

Since last you saw my ramblings I have completed another artillery master model for Perry Miniatures. Photos exist and you will be getting them in my next post, but I had already taken these ones of German tanks, which complete the tour of 1940-based Chain of Command stuff. So, proper order being a thing when 1940 Germans are around, they must be shown first. 

By the way, I posted on the Chain of Command forum, thinking this 1940 stuff done specifically for these rules would be of interest to at least some of the inhabitants. And so it proved, more or less. I even had the pleasure of meeting up with one them at the Partizan show. His name is Von Wreckedoften, so I was disappointed to find he lacked any sort of monocle or even a duelling scar. Huh, I bet he isn't really a German aristocrat at all!

We start with an Sd.Kfz.232 (8-Rad) armoured car, which was an old plastic kit that I worked up a little bit. Very noticeable are the "antennae" poking up from each corner to help the driver judge whether he could get the vehicle through a narrow gap. I could do with these on my own car... 

I like the commander figure here. He has the golden-yellow piping of a reconnaissance battalion and wears the forage cap of the service dress uniform rather than the ghastly padded beret affair that was supposed to go with the black armoured vehicle uniform. This was was little worn in fact, presumably because the crews feared banging their head on a steel vehicle less than failing to look smart. Soldiers were ever thus.

Today's second subject is a panzer IV of the same period from a resin kit You will have noticed the finish of these vehicles is more "first days of the victorious campaign" rather then the "pulled through a swamp backwards" school of weathering so popular with AFV modellers these days. Their were two reasons for this. Firstly I wanted the shading and finish to be crisp and neat, emphasising the angular, mechanical look of the originals. Secondly when I made these about eight years ago, modern weathering products just weren't around in the same way as now.

Finally there's a pair of Panzer II's. When you do a skirmish game it's all too easy to end up with just one of every type of vehicle rather than anything like a unit. Doing two of these was my nod towards 
avoiding this slightly crass approach. I also felt better for these two being marked as from the same platoon, and they even belong to the same company as the Panzer IV. The three-digit numbers on German tank turrets indicate the company, the platoon and the individual vehicle within that, so all three tanks are from the 4th company (the one that had Panzer IV medium tanks) of a tank battalion within the 10th Panzer division. The latter's symbol in 1940 was the yellow inverted "Y" and three dots. These insignia were strangely understated and cryptic, which is curious in an army so obsessed with badges and symbols.

Thursday 19 May 2022

German Support Weapons

Before I get onto the models, this Sunday 22nd May is the Partizan show in Newark, where I am very much looking forward to catching up with old pals, as well as delivering two artillery master models to Michael Perry. If any of you whom I haven't previously met are going and would like to pick my brain about a project of your own or just say hello, I would be delighted to see you: please get in touch via the email facility and  we can arrange a time and spot.

Anyway, today it's the turn of the German 1940 army, in particular their infantry support weapons. The manufacturers supply us a lot better here for figures and at least some of the equipment. So the Landser here are from half a dozen firms and didn't need as much conversion as with the French.

First model today is the ubiquitous 3.7cm Pak 35/36, a model I actually didn't have to scratch-build myself, although I'm afraid I've forgotten which manufacturer produces this crisp model. The gun was typical of 1930's infantry anti-tank guns: quite capable of dealing with all but the heaviest tanks of 1940, it later became known as the "army door knocker". I did make the unusually-shaped ammo boxes.

Here's the standard infantry radio, formally known as the Torn.Fu.D2 -"pack radio D2". Like the French equivalent it comprised a heavy radio and an equally heavy battery box, which you see here underneath the set. On the march the radio man carried the battery box, wired up to the set which was carried on his assistant's back, where it could be operated in motion, with a bit of luck. To be fair it was a more robust and better-engineered set than its French equivalent the ER40, although surprisingly it was much less widely in use, at least amongst the "line infantry".

German medics were attached at platoon level and trained to apply first aid themselves rather than just try to get the wounded man back to the aid post as in other armies of the time. This Sani carries the M34 medical pack containing the tools of his trade. In an idiosyncratic interpretation of the Geneva Convention they also carried pistols...

Typically for the time, each German platoon had a 50mm mortar with a team of three men. It was unnecessarily heavy and elaborately-featured for its modest fire effect. You don't see them much from about 1941.  

Contrary to what most wargamers think, antitank rifles were not standard in most armies at the start of WWII. The Poles made good use of them in 1939, which prompted the Germans to start producing the Pz.B 39 seen here. The numbers produced by May 1940 were insufficient to supply most units. Paratroopers had them, most motorised rifles, but few of the "line infantry". By 1941 they were fully supplied, but by 1941 they weren't much use...

Here is the highly efficient MG34 on its tripod mount. I scratch-built the mount, the ammo boxes and the rangefinder. In 1940 this MG was far from universal in in infantry divisions. In rough terms perhaps a third or a half at most of "leg-infantry" divisions had the MG34 in the sustained fire role, the rest using the old Maxim 08 and some captured Czech MG's. It was a little more widespread in the squad LMG role. In particular, First Wave divisions had reorganised their platoons as four squads of ten men and an MG34, rather than three squads of 13 men as during the Polish campaign. Many of the motorised rifle (later Panzergrenadier) units had three squads, but with two LMG's each.

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.