Monday 31 October 2016

Vehicle Dust Clouds

I may have finally cracked. Certainly the wife is looking at me funny and I'm pretty sure she's ready to call the men in white coats to take me to the funny farm. Why am I destined for a padded cell you ask? Because for the last week and a bit I have been making (not entirely successfully I may add) Dust Cloud models for my desert vehicles.

OK lets back up a little and explain the mad impulse that started this. Nearly every picture from the North Africa campaign featuring moving vehicles also shows long dust plumes billowing behind those vehicles. Just because its a game I see no reason why these shouldn't also be a feature of my tabletop battles. In fact I'm convinced that poor visibility resulting from dust should have a significant in-game effect that is largely ignored by most rule sets. I have read multiple accounts of tank crews that mention dust blocking their vision, getting in their eyes and generally making the job of spotting and aiming at targets all the harder.

Flames of War does actually have a rule for dust clouds:  Place a 2”/5cm diameter Dust Cloud marker behind each vehicle moving more than 4”/10cm in the Movement Step. If the vehicle moves later in the turn, the dust cloud moves with it staying on the same side of the vehicle, even if it changes direction (you can’t hide in your own dust!). Vehicles moving 4”/10cm or less do not create dust clouds. Remove all dust clouds from your vehicles at the start of your turn. Troops behind a dust cloud count as Concealed.

Its that last sentence that is important. Plumes of dust will effectively reduce line of sight to potential targets further afield. The dust will settle quickly but while it remains on the games table it can be exploited by the wily commander to shield the movement of other units.

Some time ago I found that I could make quite effective looking dust clouds using PVA coated clump foliage and a little patience (see here). The initial set I made looked excellent but as usual I never made enough, so it was time I revisited the project and made a load more dust clouds to service even the biggest games. As I described last week I started this time using a different method for making billowy dust clouds utilizing tiny polystyrene balls. The experiment was an unmitigated disaster and after almost a week of effort I had to scrap what I had done and start again. Fortunately the second set - using my original method - worked out much better.

I now have about 50 of these dust clouds which should be ample for my games. The next step is to put the new models next to the ones I made before and compare colours. I suspect this batch is a little bright but the difference between the two batches is probably negligible...but that is a job for another day.

Thursday 27 October 2016

An Unmitigated Failure

I haven't posted anything for over a week, partly because I went away last weekend with the family and partly because I have been working on project that just didn't go to plan in any way, shape or form. I wanted to make a big batch of vehicle dust clouds for my desert games and I had a cunning plan to make them. The reality however was quite simply an unmitigated disaster and a very disheartening experience. 

A big bag of tiny Polystyrene balls - beanbag filler actually. I didn't need this much, this was just the only size bag I could find.

Glued together with PVA glue the tiny balls look like billowing dust clouds. This took a really long time (several evenings work) but they look pretty good. 

Each base was built up one ball at a time with copious amounts of PVA to bind everything together. I then coated the while model in PVA to seal the Polystyrene before painting. 

The idea was that the PVA coating would protect the foam balls from the paint. I wanted to spray the models and realised that the solvent in the spray paint could very well dissolve the styrene balls. I decided the PVA coating would do the job and opted not to hand paint the models with a non solvent based paint... BIG mistake.

Gutted! Days of work dissolve before my very eyes! Time for Plan B!!

I was so disheartened by this disaster that I have decided not to continue with this method. The huge bag of polystyrene balls have been thrown in the back of a cupboard and I have reverted to my original method, PVA soaked clump foliage. Plan B is progressing slowly as this method needs several days drying time for the models to harden. I'll post some pictures when I finish the dust models but in the meantime I need to consign this sorry episode to the waste bin and move on. 

Tuesday 18 October 2016

More Smoke Columns

As yet another distraction from painting my 6mm Celts I have been working on a new set of smoke columns for my North Africa project. I already have a load of these made to various designs (see here, here, here and especially here) but I reckon you can never have enough destruction markers! 

I made forty this time, which should be more than enough...for the time being! 

This batch of smoke markers started life as foam ear plugs super glued to washers for weight and stability. Yes, a weird choice, but it seemed like a good idea when I came across these in a pound shop. 

The whole lot were then coated in a mixture of ground up clump foliage and railway turf. 

Once made I dunked the models in 50/50 water/PVA solution and allowed them to dry for several days until they went hard. I then spray painting and dry brushed the whole batch. The process is a bit messy but very effective and looks pretty good when complete. 

Saturday 15 October 2016

Looking back and looking forward

Yet again not a lot of painting being done here at BLMA HQ but I have been busy getting a load of little jobs finished instead. I'm making some more smoke columns for my desert games but this is taking a long time while I wait for each stage of the process to dry before moving on. I have also been sorting through my paint collection which seems to have spread all around the house in various boxes. I have found pots of paint that are older than my kids including a load of ancient GW Citadel Colour paint that must be over 20 years old. Needless to say they were dried up and useless (about five minutes after buying them as I recall!) so they went in the bin with no regrets.

The other thing that has occupied my attention this week is the news that I will be putting on a demo game at Broadside next year. Yes folks, it’s time for my 6mm North Africa project to hit the big time and go public! The show is nine months away but that hasn't stopped me from getting all fired up and enthusiastic.

Most of the game I want to run is already prepared, using existing figures and terrain from my desert collection. I now have nine months to add the finishing touches with more terrain and special models. I've only run one other game for the rejects, and never one for a public audience, so this is a big deal for me. So much so in fact I immediately went back to school with the rules and started re-reading everything - which is why little else has been done this week. Regular readers will know that I use the Flames of War rules largely unadulterated for my 6mm desert games. I have found the ranges and distances work well at this scale and go a long way to alleviating the ‘tank car park’ feel of some 15mm games. The only thing I may change are the Artillery templates as these seem far too big for this scale, but other than that the rules are unaltered.

For the scenario I have in mind (top secret of course) I will need to make a few special rules and will try to streamline game play a little to take into account the fact that most of the Rejects are not familiar with this rule set. My plan is to run a load of mini play-test games to practise my knowledge of the rules and hone my umpiring skills. I'll need every skill and trick in the book to wrangle the Rejects into compliance... they can find the fault with even the simplest rule set!

One of the things I have started on now (in prep for next June!) is writing up a handout for the public, and some signs for the table. I also have some special player handouts in mind, to add a little flavour to the game. Nine months prep sounds like a lot of time, but it feels pretty short to me especially as I would like to get a couple of trail games in with the Rejects before the show. I must me mad!

Sunday 9 October 2016

SELWG 2016

I've just returned from the SELWG show at Crystal Palace. For me this is usually my last show of the year (the next being Cavalier in February) and one of my favourite events of the calender. The show is large enough to provide some good shopping and has a large selection of demo and participation games. It also has one of the best Bring and Buy stalls of any of the shows I regularly attend. Knowing how fickle London traffic can be (even on a Sunday morning) I set off with plenty of time to spare in a bright autumnal morning. As usual I went with a shopping list, my camera and an empty bag begging to be filled!

SELWG 2016

The obligatory queue shot on a typically bright autumnal morning

I signed up to play Simon Millers To the Strongest Raphia game. I was on the Egyptian side controlling the centre pike phalanxes. 

Some of my Pike Phalanxes were massive but poor quality. This lot were basically civil servants with a pike. 

Simon helps the less experienced players get started with the rules. 

My opening activation was an Ace! This means my command couldn't do anything else that turn!!

Fortunately things did move along a bit eventually and then the serious work began.

Lots of activation cards and several of the Seleucid pike units have taken damage and been disrupted. 

A view down the table. That's a lot of models. 

The Centre units are fighting hard but the Seleucid's are getting the worst of it. In the end Simon called the game to a close and we calculated the points. A narrow Egyptian victory, so I was very happy with the result. 

Shepway Wargames 

Shepway Wargames 

Mexican Revolution game

Mexican Revolution game

Bolt Action (WWII)

Bolt Action (WWII)

League of Gentlemen (WWII)

Crawley Wargames - Operation Overlord (WWII)

Essex Warriors - Appalachian Spring (ACW)

Peter Pig - Vietnam

Pickets Charge

Simon Millers second demo game of To the Strongest in the afternoon

South London Warlords

Reading and Newbury - Senlac 1066

Reading and Newbury - Senlac 1066

GLC Games Club - A Lion Rampant game with Vikings! 

An impressive palisade fort.
Gravesend Gamers - X-Wing

Gravesend Gamers - X-Wing

Realtime Wargamers

Society of Ancients - Battle of Ephesos

Dulwich Gamers - A Very British Civil War

A small demo on the Hysteric Games stand
A very good day, measured by the fact that I ran out of energy about the same time I ran out of money! So what did I buy.... Ray saw some desert terrain on the Bring and Buy and I was so impressed with it I bought two packs of it 16 pieces for a mere £30. I also got some paints I needed from Tole Haven. I also picked up some more super glue and some super gluer accelerator (I've never used this before so we'll see how this goes). Lastly I found two Osprey books I wanted on Italian tanks. I was tempted by a few other things but fortunately sanity prevailed!

Tuesday 4 October 2016

The Longest Seige

The Longest Siege: Tobruk - The Battle That Saved North Africa by Robert Lyman is a book that has sat on my shelves patiently waiting for me to read it for far too long. My renewed interest in this book was in no small part because of a chance encounter I had at the Military Odyssey living history show in Kent last month. I got chatting to a DAK re-enactor who said there had been a resurgence in interest in the desert war in part because of a proposed new film about the siege of Tobruk. 

The first half of the book sets the scene by running through the early stages of the North African campaign. The invasion of Egypt by the Italians and the hugely successful Operation Compass that sent them fleeing back into Libya have been documented before so much of this is well travelled ground for anyone familiar with this period of the war. However as an introduction to the trials and tribulations of desert warfare these early chapters of the book do an excellent job of acclimatising the reader to the desert war.

I hadn't appreciated quite how the failure to capture Tobruk had dented German moral or how many risks that Rommel took to try and capture the town before the Allies could get properly dug in. In many ways this was typical of Rommel, acting faster than his opponents could react and keeping them constantly on the back foot. Rommel was initially convinced that the Tobruk defences were quite weak - based partly on the knowledge of how quickly the Italians had lost the town during the British advance - and expected his own brand of 'shock and awe' to sweep the defenders away. The Germans were soon to realise that the mixed bag of defenders inside, and Political and military leaders outside, were not about to let this happen.

Tobruk harbour on the day it was captured from the Italians. The tanks in the foreground are captured Italian M13s being used by the Australians (hence the white kangaroo painted on their sides). 

Much of the second half of the book focuses on the early attempts by the DAK to capture the town and its eventual relief 242 days later. But for me the most interesting details relate to daily life for the men inside the defensive perimeter. Conditions were increasingly tough for the defenders but their resolve never seemed to waver. Daily air raids, dwindling rations and harsh desert conditions just seemed to make the defenders all the more obstinate and determined!

The failure to take Tobruk stopped the Germans in their tracks and seriously complicated supply of forward operations as they moved into Egypt. The Afrika Korp needed approximately 70000 tonnes of supplies to keep it operational in the field. Benghazi could supply 60000 tonnes but a significant portion of this would never make it to the front lines. Transport and the predatory actions of the RAF's Desert Air Force ate away at this total meaning that the potential 24000 tonnes that could be brought ashore at Tobruk was desperately needed if Rommel was to continue his eastward advance. In short, Tobruk was a vital part of the German offensive equation.
"The Mathematics was clear: without Tobruk, Rommel did not have the port capacity he required to sustain his troops in North Africa"

This is an excellently written book, full of interesting details and observations that bring the battle to life for the reader. 

Paperback: 310 Pages
Publisher: Pan Books 2010
Language: English
Rating:      ★★★★★