Thursday 31 May 2018

Monkeys, Tigers and an Elephant

So I'm away for a few days this week, visiting Dorset with my family and this means I'm just a short hop from the Tank Museum at Bovington. My wife gave me a 'day pass' to head off alone (while she and my daughter visited Monkey World down the road) and consequently I have spent a blissful few hours wandering around my favourite museum. I've been here dozens of times but this visit I specifically wanted to see the Tiger Collection exhibition which brings together the Museum’s Tiger I, both its King Tigers, Jagdtiger and an Elefant on loan from the US Army Ordnance Training and Heritage Center

Tiger I in front with the Elefant behind. These are massive vehicles.

The Elefant is a huge and imposing vehicle.

This was a rare opportunity to see the Elefant, a unique and somewhat odd vehicle based on the rejected Porsche Tiger chassis. Ninety-one "Porsche Tiger" chassis were converted into Ferdinand tank destroyers in early 1943 and took part in the Battle of Kursk. The surviving vehicles (about 50) were then modified based on lessons learned in the field. The improvements included a Hull mounted MG, a commanders cupola and Zimmerit anti mine past. The frontal armour was also increased and wider tracks were fitted. The changes were significant and not only made this a much better combat vehicle but also prompted the change in name to Elefant in may 1944.

The Tiger Collection

Extra armour added to the front of the Ferdinand. This and other upgrades prompted a name change to Elefant

 Rear of the Elefant

In my element.

A pre production Tiger II and Jagtiger

Post production Tiger II

Only two Elefants survived the war with one now residing in the Kubinka Tank Museum outside Moscow and the other being the US Army Ordnance Museums vehicle loaned to Bovington... so a rare treat for a UK based tread-head like me.

Sunday 27 May 2018

Broadside Test Game

There is just a few weeks to go before the Broadside Wargames Show in Kent. Posties Rejects usually put on a game here and over the last few years we have run various demos to show off the sort of games we play in the Shed-o-War. This year will be no exception and on Sunday we gathered for a quick play test of the game ahead of the show. As is our usual policy here's a teaser photo of the game we are playing but I'll post more pictures, OOB and a write up, after the show. 

All I'm permitted to say it's 6mm again , this time WWI , 1914 and Postie has written an excellent set of rules for us to play with. 

Previous Rejects demo games at Broadside

2017 - Operation Caravan - 6mm WWII (1942)

2016 - Teviot's Last Stand - 28mm Part of the Battle of Tangier (1664) 

2015 - Border Reivers - 28mm (1590)

2014 - Battle of Shaho - 15mm Russo-Japanese War (1904)

2013 - Battle of the Boyne - 15mm Jacobite War in Ireland (1690)

2012 - Battle of Amienes - 15mm WWI (1918)

Saturday 26 May 2018

Valance Time Tunnel

This weekend my local museum Valance House is holding a multi period living history event dubbed the Valance Time Tunnel. Its not a big event but the range and quality of the reenactment groups is very good and all the exhibitors were friendly and very knowledgeable. This is the same museum that is currently hosting the Ray Harryhausen exhibition so now you have two reasons to come to Dagenham! As usual I took a load of Photo's and here are a selection of the best.

The grounds of Valance House are filled with different reenactment groups

Archers demonstrate the power of the English Longbow...

To punch wholes through plate steel!

The WWI group also had a commemoration of the fight for Women's suffrage. 

A group of Jolly Jack Tar's display boarding tactics to the public.

They also had a very interesting stand and I spent a good half hour here chatting to some very knowledgeable and enthusiastic chaps.

There were also some Medieval and Elizabethan cookery
displays. This guy is cooking an early version of what today
would be called Scotch Eggs

Elizabethan reenactors

Artillery display (sadly no gun firing while we were there)

A couple of ECW reenactors taking a break on what has been a hot day.

This Saxon reenactor was making cooking utensils and bone needles. 

This event continues tomorrow from 11am so its well worth a visit if you are near by and at a loss for something to do, particularly if you have children. The Museum is also open and is FREE so you can easily while away a few hours here. 

Wednesday 23 May 2018

Desert Cruiser Tanks - A9's and A10's.

Its been many years (read 'decades') since I have built plastic kits in any number. In the intervening years my fingers have got fatter, my eyesight poorer and the kits seems to have become more complicated! So it was with some trepidation that I approached my first Plastic Soldier Company tank kit for the British A9/A10. As it was I was worrying too much and the kits were easier to put together than I had feared although their construction was not without its problems. I also had to tackle the Caunter camouflage scheme pretty much freehand and while I have done this on 6mm vehicles I have never attempted it at 15mm.

So as we have already established I am not an accomplished kit builder and I would rate my current skill level as 'intermediate' at best. The PSC kits are excellent quality and the level of detail is mind blowing so I knew that if I could assemble my tanks properly they would look pretty good. Each sprue comes with enough parts to assemble one tank from five variants so there are a lot of 'spare' parts when the model is completed. While its great to be able to pick one of several options when building it does feel a bit wasteful when upwards of 50% of the sprue is destined to be waste. Once I had wrapped my head around the assembly instructions it was a relatively simple process to build these vehicles.

My main obstacle in building these was actually the glue, not the plastic kits. I have several contact cements in my toolbox but all had their limitations. The Armypainter glue was really thick and hard to get out of the tube; my pot of Revel Plastic Cement was so thin it kept smearing over everything; and the remaining tube I had was so 'stringy' it got everywhere! I soon lost patience with them all and reverted to using Superglue and an acceleration spray. Experienced kit builders are probably screaming "nooooo!" but it seems to have worked well and the finished models was relatively cleanly assembled. 

A sharp pencil, a ruler and a steady hand are essential.
The next problem was the painting of the Caunter camouflage scheme. I spent a while researching how to do this and in the end I picked the easiest option for someone that didn't have modellers masking tape or a spray gun. Using a small ruler and a very sharp pencil (cut to a fine point with a knife, just like my grandpa did when I was a child) I carefully drew the outline of the bands of colour across the base-coated tank. I then applied the two colour pattern by hand using a long bristled brush (which makes painting straight lines in a single stroke much easier). When dried I lightly dry brushed some highlights/weathering across the whole model and then applied a watered down ink wash (40% water). The highlights and ink wash toned down the coloured bands making the finished Caunter pattern look much more realistic. It 's still a little dark for my taste but I'm pretty happy with it considering this was my first attempt.

There seems to be a bit of controversy amongst wargamers and modellers about the colours of the Caunter Scheme, which have often been described as being Light Stone, Silver Grey and Slate in a horizontal splinter pattern. According to Mike Starmer* "Period G.Os specify Light Stone No.61 or Portland Stone No.64 at various times and a local variation may have substituted a mixed light blue-grey for Silver Grey No. 28." and many sources suggest the blue colour often seen results from fading silver-grey or as indicated the substitution of a blue grey for the silver grey. Whatever the truth of the matter all colours would have faded quickly in the desert sun and I doubt if there was much conformity between units. I opted for more muted colours and what 'looked right' to me. 
(*British Vehicle Camouflage, 1939-45. by Mike Starmer and Mike Cooper 2008)

Tank, Cruiser, Mk I (A9)
The A9 was designed during the interwar years and first saw service in 1938. It was designed to the doctrine of the British army which divided tank designs into two classes; Infantry tanks which were slower and more heavily armoured and, as their name implies, were designed to support the infantry; Cruiser tanks which were fast 'breakthrough' tanks designed to operate behind enemy lines attacking lines of communication. Viewed from a modern perspective this is very much a cavalryman's way of looking at the use of tanks in war and indeed many cavalry units were moved to metal steads in the years prior to WWII. 

Design was very much influenced by the need to keep costs down and as a result the A9 contained many commercial parts (such as the AEC bus engine) and parts designed for earlier models like the Light Mk III. The hull was made up of large flat plate armour because it was easier to make and the whole vehicle was riveted rather than welded. The A9 was armed with the 2-pounder QF (40 mm/1.57 in) gun which was deemed adequate against tanks but the gun was not able to fire HE. Another feature of the A9 were the two independent machine gun turrets at the front, an idea borrowed from the A1E1 Independent, requiring a crew of six in total to fight the tank. All of these were to become recognised as problems once the A9 saw action and it wasn't long before an upgrade was on the drawing board. 

Tank, Cruiser, Mk II (A10)
The A10 was already being designed to replace the A9 by the start of the war but the first examples did not enter service until the latter half of 1939. Gone were the twin turrets mounting Vickers .303 machine guns, instead being replaced by an enlarged superstructure and thicker armour overall. The engine remained the same as in the A9 but with the added weight of armour this made the A10 slightly slower. 

Both the A9 and A10 suffered from peacetime financial design constraints. despite this they performed well against the Italians in Cyrenaica during operation Compass where they outclassed the much weaker Italian tanks. Arguably their main contribution to ongoing British tank design was that the chassis went on to be used as the basis for the next generation cruiser tank, the Valentine.

I enjoyed painting these (even the Caunter!) and all I need to do now is paint my remaining early Italian tanks...when they turn up! I have ordered some M11/39's from Warlord games but they are currently out of stock so I'm playing a waiting game. I'm heading to the South Coast for a short holiday next week so hopefully by the time I get home there will be small parcel waiting for me.

Tuesday 22 May 2018

Tubes for my Game Mats

Over the years I have bought several game mats, some get used some don't, but all cost good money and until now have been rolled up and crumpled in a corner due to lack of storage space. So last week I made the long overdue decision to buy some cardboard postal tubes in which to store my mats. It took a while to find something suitable that was a) big enough to fit 4ft wide mats, b) cheap enough not to break the bank and c) in stock! 

Here's a tip, if you can buy 'in bulk' (usually five or more) the unit cost is much much cheaper. The company I bought from sold five tubes for the same price that two singles would have cost. I'm not complaining because it means I was able to get five 5ft tubes for just under a fiver each. Not too bad and an investment if it means my mats are properly protected (at long last). 

Friday 18 May 2018

A trio of Valentine II's

Following hot on the heals of the Italian M13/40's I completed earlier in the week here is a squadron of British Valentine II's. I would have had them completed a few days ago but I have been waiting for some unit insignia and divisional decals to arrive in the post. These tanks can face off on equal terms with the M13's which means I'm all set to play What a Tanker in the setting of the Western Desert. I have plenty more (earlier) tanks on the production line including some M11's and A9's and A10's.

The Valentine arrived in North Africa a bit late to take part in Operation Compass but it comes at the end of the 'early' period of the desert war that I want to play. The A9's and A10's are the starting tanks (Level 1 in the rules) covering 1940 to early 1941 with the next level including the Valentine. Basically I want enough variety of early desert tanks to allow a starting point for some linked games with progression for players to become tank aces.

Initially known by the catchy name "Tank, Infantry, Mark III*" (got love British tank nomenclature!), thankfully from about June 1941 it became known as the Valentine II. This tank had an AEC A190 131 hp 6-cylinder diesel engine with an external jettisonable fuel tank to increase range in the desert. The two man turret was a compromise to reach the specification for armour thickness of 65mm (a three man version had been designed with thinner armour but the concept was rejected) but the main problem was the choice of the Ordinance Quick Fire (OQF) 2pdr gun which lacked a High Explosive round capability. 

Despite these compromises - which meant the tank wasn't as fast as a cruiser tank and was more lightly armoured than an infantry tank - the Valentine II was a reliable vehicle and popular with the men that crewed it. The tank also had one other benefit; it had more potential for upgrade than the earlier A9's and A10's. This meant that later versions could be redesigned to carry the 6-pounder anti-tank gun and finally a 75mm gun which could fire both AT and HE rounds.

Tuesday 15 May 2018

Fiat M13/40 Medium Tank

This is the first batch of 15mm tanks to roll off my production line specifically for use with What a Tanker!. The Fiat M13/40 was built to supersede the earlier and smaller L6/40 and M11/39 and served throughout the war. It was built with riveted steel plates with 30mm frontal armour (42mm on the turret) which when initially designed would have been comparable to the British tanks in service at that time. However while other nations tanks were developed further with welded hulls, thicker armour and more effective guns the M13/40 became increasingly obsolete as the war progressed.

Three M13/40's move cautiously through the Western Desert

The tanks had a crew of four with the tank commander doubling up as the loader of the 47mm gun. With so much to do, and with most tanks not fitted with a Radio, communication between vehicles of the same unit must have been hell. Powered by a 125hp diesel engine in this respect alone it was ahead of its time providing greater range and reduced danger of fire compared to petrol engines. The M13/40 was also armed with up to four machine guns (if one was mounted on the roof with a special flexible mount). Carrying 104 rounds for the main gun and ammunition for all the MG's its amazing there was any space left for the crew in this medium sized tank. 

Not the best painting I have done (missed some areas of flash that have been emphasised by the ink wash) but I may revisit these again at a later date. 

The M13/40 first saw service in Greece but as production was increased it was soon being sent to Libya....just in time for the British offensive, Operation Compass. Despite heavy losses and the increasing disparity between Italian and British tanks the M13 continued in service until the end of the North African campaign. While the tank itself could never be described as any more than conventional its crews gained in expertise, professionalism and bravery to become a true elite arm of the Italian forces in North Africa.

While I was photographing these I couldn't resist a size comparison between the tiny Italian tanks at the start of the war and a massive German King Tiger from the end... just in case anyone was in doubt about the pace of tank development during the war! 

Yes, these are both 1/100th (15mm) scale.

Wednesday 9 May 2018

Land of the Lost Blogroll

I don't know quite how, but I have managed to accidentally delete my entire blogroll from Feedly (the Reader app I rely on). Four hundred and fifty blogs, many of which I have followed for years, have now vanished from my reading list... Eeek!!! 

I have found a way to restore them but its a slow process so apologies if I miss your posts over the next 24 hours. I'm working hard to restore them all but I still can't believe how easy it was for me to remove them from my reader. 

Tuesday 8 May 2018

VE Day event at Waltham Abbey

Sunday I attended a living history event that had been cancelled last year but has been revived on the sunniest May bank holiday for many years. The 170 acre site was once the home of the Royal Gunpowder Mills and is now a heritage park set in beautiful woodland. 

Scattered across the site various reenactment groups put on some interesting displays and most were more then willing to chat with visitors about their equipment and gear. Disappointingly though some groups (a minority) didn't seem all that bothered with engaging with the public and I think this was a missed opportunity. 

A key part of the weekend are the large battle reenactments that take place in the afternoon. This years event was set in April 1945 and the bitter fighting inside Germany in the last weeks of the war. This event doesn't tend to feature large vehicles (no tanks!) but is always a good display of infantry tactics and small arms. This year was no exception and I had a good position to see British and American paratroops outflanking a German position through the woods. 

A very hot sunny day and good to see this annual event back on the calendar.

Sunday 6 May 2018

The Spirit of Normandy

Saturday I had the pleasure and honour to spend a day with some true heroes of WWII. This is an annual event and chance for the Veterans to raise some money for the Spirit of Normandy Trust, the organisation that took over many of the responsibilities of the Normandy Veterans Association when it disbanded a few years ago. These gentlemen have some amazing stories to tell. 

A Gathering of heroes. Hosted by the Eastgate Shopping Centre in Basildon this is something of an annual event and is guaranteed to raise a lot of interest and more importantly a lot of money. 

Geoff Wire - 2nd TAF, RAF

Bernard Mabey - Ground Crew 617 Squadron (the "Dambusters")

Stan Marsh - Veteran of D-Day

Don Shepherd - Royal Engineers, Juno Beach, D-Day

Some of the Veterans meeting visitors and signing memorabilia

Me with Len, another D-Day veteran and an incredibly
happy and spry fellow for someone in their 90's!

Me with Alfred Smith who was rescued in the evacuation at Dunkirk and then took part in the Invasion on D-Day. A genuinely nice fellow who received the red carpet treatment at the Premier of the recent Dunkirk movie.

Me with Don Shepherd who served with the Royal
Engineers on D-Day 

My Brother-in-Law Ray who does a lot of work with the veterans gathering their stories and putting them in print. 
Plenty of visitors throughout the day

All in all a pretty good day with a steady stream of interested visitors. Many travelled a long way to meet the Veterans but there were also many who were just out for a days shopping and instead found themselves chatting to these incredible guys.