Wednesday 25 June 2014

Crusader II Cruiser Tanks

I have been busy painting up a load of new tanks for my North Africa project, this time five Troops of Crusader II's (The nomenclature of British tanks can sometimes be a bit confusing with the Crusader II also being known as the Cruiser Tank Mk.VI and sometimes referred to by the General Staff specification A15). These cruiser tanks are synonymous with the desert where they saw extensive service through 1941-42 until superseded by the arrival of more reliable American tanks.

Five Troops of Crusader II's

Designed by Nuffield in 1939/40 the Crusader was rushed into production without going through a prototype stage to work through developmental problems. The result was a tank that fulfilled the War Office specification for a fast cruiser tank but which came with a shopping list of faults and weaknesses that would plague this tank throughout its service life. The turret for instance did not have a Commanders Cupola which severely restricted visibility. The cooling system was quickly eroded by sand and proved inadequate for the environment it was expected to operate in. The Crusader also endured all the usual mechanical problems of operating over the vast distances, with wear and tear resulting in oil leaks and damage to engine blocks. The turrets angled underside also created dangerous 'Shell Traps' resulting in incoming AP rounds deflecting into the roof of the tank or even lifting the turret out of its ring.

The main 'fault' with the Crusader however was its gun. When it was designed the 2pdr seemed like a suitable Anti-Tank weapon but by the time this vehicle started to see service the gun was already starting to become inadequate. Later models were upgraded with a 6pdr gun and by that stage American tanks like the Grant and Sherman started to appear in larger numbers. Meanwhile German tanks were being upgraded with thicker armour and the 2pdrs inability to fire HE meant it had limited value even against non armoured targets.

The one major advantage of the Crusader was its speed. All cruiser tanks were designed to be fast and gun crews were taught to fire on the move. The gun in the Crusader was balanced with a padded shoulder pad that the gunner lent into. He could them move and aim with much greater fluidity making shooting on the move much more accurate. Indeed this was the popular doctrine of armoured tactics for the British Army at that time, but predicated upon the assumption that the 2pdr AP shot was sufficient to take out the targets presented to it! Rommel, ever the opportunist, used this tactic to his advantage by using his Panzer's to provoke British tanks into a charge, using a feint retreat to draw them within the range of an AT gun screen (usually PAK 38's and 88mm AA Guns).

Side view of the Crusaders shows of their sleek and fast design.....and small gun! 

The Crusader II in Flames Of War (North Africa)
Name                      Mobility             Front Side Top          Equipment and Notes
Crusader II              Fully-tracked         4       2     1             Co-ax MG, Fast tank, Unreliable.
Weapon                  Range                 ROF   AT   FP
OQF 2 pdr gun       24"/60cm                2      7     4+           Broadside, No HE, Tally Ho.

Although the 2pdr gun on these tanks isn't a big hitter when compared to some of the Axis tanks they will be facing these cruiser tanks have a couple of advantages in the rules that give them an edge. Firstly they are Fast Tanks, meaning that if they make an At the Double move thay can cover an incredible 32 inches! The downside is these vehicles are also Unreliable and may bog down (or more accurately break down) on a roll of a 1 if they make an At the Double move.

The real edge however comes from the Tally Ho rule which reflects the British armoured concept of shooting on the move. These tanks can fire at their full ROF even if they have moved and providing their targets are within 16 inches. So a platoon of Crusaders can literally charge across the table, get up close and personal with the enemy and blast away at them. Personally I wouldn't recommend this against German panzer's (unless you could get behind them and hit their weaker rear armour) but facing much weaker Italian tanks this could be a deadly tactic.

The Crusader always seemed to me to have evolved out of the rather confused thinking of the interwar period where tanks were seen either in Naval terms as lumbering landships or as a successor to the Cavalry Regiments sweeping into battle on iron steeds. Long before the concept of the Main Battle Tank was conceived, British designers had settled comfortably into the conceit that the army needed two types of tank; slow and heavily armoured Infantry Tanks and faster lightly armoured Cruisers. The result was a series of models of variable design quality that were each so specialised that up-grading, up-armouring and most importantly up-gunning proved extremely problematic.

For all its disadvantages the Crusader played a vital role in the British Army, if for no other reason than it was an essential step in British tank design capabilities and it was an important part the lineage that would eventually lead to the development of tanks like the Comet and Centurion.

Monday 23 June 2014

The Bay Museum at Canvey

Over the weekend I visited a small but very interesting military museum that I have known about for some time but never, until now, managed to visit. The Bay Museum is run entirely by volunteers and only opens on Sundays and Bank Holidays between 10am & 4pm (free admission) and whenever I have been in the area before it has been closed. They do do visits by appointment outside those hours but you'll need to phone and arrange this.

The building itself is very small, just two rooms and a narrow staircase between them, but each room is jam packed with artefact's from both the world wars. First World War items are displayed upstairs and downstairs is an excellent WWII collection. The volunteers I spoke to were both well informed and very enthusiastic about their collection. I took my youngest daughter in here while the wife went to a local market and we happily whiled away over an hour in the museum chatting to the staff and looking at the exhibits. I took a few pictures and here is a small taster of what you can find inside this collection.

A nice selection of WWI German Pickelhaube and other items. 

The selection of exhibits is eclectic and very interesting

A First World War Lewis Gun and other weapons on display

'Action Man' figures in WWI infantry uniforms

The WWII collection downstairs included several Naval items and some interesting medal groups

A nice collection of Desert Rats related memorabilia

Replica cap badges and medal ribbons as worn by Viscount Montgomery

More Naval items including this excellent model

More models this time of an early short barrelled Panzer IV and a Tiger Tank.
There is loads to see and I'll have to make another trip at some point to explore the collection more fully. If you are in the area on a Sunday or Bank Holiday this is well worth a quick visit. There are a load more pictures on the museum website and details of how they can be contacted if you have any queries or would like to arrange a special visit. 

Thursday 19 June 2014

Resin Terrain

Back in February I bought some very cheep but excellently made resin escarpment terrain pieces while I was at the Cavalier Show in Kent. I don't think they were designed with 6mm wargaming in mind but they are ideal for this scale in my opinion. These little 'lumps and bumps' add a bit of much needed cover on what would otherwise be a flat and exposed desert battlefield. The resin is strong with no apparent bubbles or other imperfections and - after the customary detergent wash to clean them - holds paint well.  

Resin Terrain by Tiger Terrain

The items are by Tiger Terrain which was around a few years ago before going into temporary hiatus. The company appears to be making a comeback although they don't have a website just yet but you can get a pdf catalogue from Stephan Frampton (the proprietor) by emailing tigerterrain@gmail dot com. These simple terrain items were a pleasure to paint and look excellent, I'll certainly be keeping an eye open for more from them in future.

UPDATE: I forgot to explain the colour scheme I used on these.... I primed these using a newly acquired can of Spray Primer (Bolt Action: British Uniform Brown) by Warlord Games. This is the first time I have used one of these coloured primers and I am very impressed. I then drybrushed the surfaces with Vallejo Tan Yellow (912), Iraqi Sand (819) and Ivory (918) and added a few MiniNatur/Silflor Late Autumn grass tufts to match my normal basing scheme. 

Tuesday 17 June 2014

More Leven Miniatures desert buildings

In between painting various units of new tanks for my North Africa 1942 Project I have also been trying to get some terrain items painted as well. Much of the stuff I have has been sitting patiently in my to-do box for several months waiting for inspiration to strike! There are a handful of suitable UK based suppliers of 6mm Desert scenery and one of the best (IMHO) is Leven Miniatures. Their range of buildings is pretty extensive and the quality of the casting is very high and all for incredibly low prices. I've picked up quite a few bits from Mike (Mr Leven himself) over the last year and I have not had a single problem or issue with any of my purchases.

These two buildings are a case in point. Both are really simple desert/adobe style domestic buildings that would suit pretty much any middle eastern or North African setting. The resin is strong and clean without any significant bubbles or other imperfections. The models need a good wash with detergent before painting but aside from that don't really need any other preparation before painting.

I base coated these using Iraqi Sand (819) and when dry washed them with a Strong Tone Quickshade applied with a brush. I let this dry thoroughly overnight and then drybrushed more Iraqi Sand and then Ivory (918) to leave a nice smooth colour and highlights to edges of walls and roofs. Aside from some minor detailing and sealing with varnish that was pretty much it.

Another recent acquisition from Leven miniatures are these four single arch culvert bridges.

A few months ago I bought about twelve foot of Wadi (dry riverbed) desert terrain and realised I need some bridges if my roads were to cross them. These small bridges are ideal and form a nice terrain feature and tactical objective to be fought over. I used the same method as with the buildings above so these were completed pretty quickly as well.

Incidentally I may add a soft tone wash to the banks of the wadis as they are very bright and clean looking (they came pre painted). A little 'dirtying up' with some wash will make them fit in on the games surface a lot better. 

Sunday 15 June 2014

Bad Timing and a Fathers Day Gift

Its been a rather 'odd' week with highs and lows of disproportionate extreme. To misquote Charles Dickens "It has been the best of times and the worst of times". The week started pretty badly when I was called up to Head Office on Monday to be told that my job was "at risk of redundancy". I've been with my company 12 years and frankly I feel like part of the 'fixtures and fittings' so this has come as something of a body blow. Nothing has been decided yet, but I am facing the very real prospect of unemployment, and its not a pleasant experience. One way or another I'll survive and maybe I can turn this to my advantage, but its not a situation I am relishing or would wish on anyone else.

Enter the Canon Powershot G15.
Then on Tuesday my new Camera was delivered and all was right with the world again. My wife had encouraged me to buy it as a Fathers Day treat from the kids - I've been very good this year apparently - and I had ordered it the week before. It was just ironic it should be delivered hot on the heals of my redundancy warning. Timing clearly isn't my forte. Having said that, I have no intention of sending it back, no sir!

It goes without saying that I take a lot of pictures. Whether its photographing miniatures, living history events, museums or just family holidays, I rarely go out without a camera in my hands. My current Olympus compact digital has served me well, but the image sensor is damaged and it is uneconomical to repair, so one way or another I desperately needed a new camera (The fact that I can't really afford it now is irrelevant!). After looking at the compacts on offer I made my mind up to invest in a high-end pro model that would give me the utility of a compact with the features of a DSLR. The Canon Powershot G15 stood out as the best option I could afford (at the time). The G series is specifically designed for advanced or experienced photographers featuring cutting-edge technology and top quality optics delivering exceptional performance. For me the G15 offered the right balance of features for my budget and while it is not the sexiest looking compact, its what's inside that counts. 

Full functionality in a small body
So what does this camera have that makes it worth the price and why do I think its ideal for my hobby photography? First I wanted a camera that could do macro photos, but also handle low light conditions and compensate for hand held photography. I also wanted a camera that would offer me total control over exposure and speed just like I would expect to have on an DSLR. So the first requirement of my new camera would be top quality optics and I think the G15 has probably the best lens in any compact on the market. The lens is a bright f/1.8-2.8 with a 28mm wide angle and 5x optical zoom. Although you can get cameras with a larger zoom you can't get them with this quality. 

The other big selling point is the 12.1 MP CMOS DIGIC 5 sensor with iSAPS technology. Again you can buy cameras with higher mega pixels but they rely on smaller CCD sensors which reduces the quality of the finished image. Besides which 12 mega pixels is more then enough for most mere mortals and certainly sufficient for my needs. Combined with the 5 point Image Stabilisation features on this camera and I think it will cope perfectly with low light conditions such as in museums where flash photography is not allowed. The excellent optics combined with the large sensor give this camera a huge ISO range from as low as 80 all the way up to 12800!

I also bought a 'vintage' ever-ready case from my G15
I also like the large 3" LCD screen for 'Live View' snaps, but I love the fact this camera also has a proper optical viewfinder; a feature that is often missing in other compacts. Another feature that often gets lost or buried in the menu options is exposure compensation. On the G15 this is controlled by a simple dial readily accessible on the top of the camera allowing +/- 3 EV in 1/3 stop increments. I'm constantly adjusting exposure compensation and I hate having to do this via a screen menu. Also a key feature is the ability to shoot macro pictures from as little as 1cm. This means I can get real close to miniatures to get pictures if I want to...ideal for getting a 'soldiers eye view' of a tabletop battle. 

I'm more than a little 'chuffed' by this purchase (as you may have guessed!) and it has certainly lifted my spirits in what would otherwise have been a very black week. I've always been a fan of Canon cameras and while this one wasn't cheep it has the sort of high end features that should cope with pretty much any situation in which I need it to operate.

UPDATE: My wonderful kids have outdone themselves today, presenting me with two other gifts to lift my flagging spirits.

Sarah made me an English Breakfast Tank ! She has used bacon for the tracks, mushroom wheels and a black pudding commanders cupola on top of an omelette hull and sausage turret. Amazing.

Emily built this model Spitfire from a puzzel kit and has added some excellent camouflage and RAF Roundels on the wings. Outstanding!

Wednesday 11 June 2014

40mm Bofors AA Guns

I have finished another Divisional Support Platoon for my British 8th Army forces. This time I have gone for two sections of 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft guns. This gun has a single L/60 barrel (ie the length is 60x the calibre of the projectile it fires) and could be quickly deployed to defend against air attack or, in exceptional circumstances, be used in a ground attack role. These auto cannons are actually a Swedish design from the 1930's and were so good they are are still in use today as the main armament in the CV 90 infantry fighting vehicle and in the US AC-130 gunship in an air-to-ground role.

Two Sections of 40mm Bofors and Bedford AA Tractors
This unit consists of two sections of three guns plus the Bedford tractors to tow them, carry the crew, ammunition and other supplies required. These are formidable AA weapons with a 360° fire arc and, with a rate of fire of 4, these guns can spit out a lethal hail of shells that will keep even the most daring pilot at arms length. They have an Anti-Tank rating of 6 and a Firepower of 4+ so these are not to be taken lightly by armoured vehicles either. All in all a very handy weapon to have in a tight spot. Their only downside is the rather short 24" range, but suitable sited these can be devastatingly effective.

(A 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft gun being dug in near a
squadron of Crusader tanks, 29 October 1942 Source)
These model are from Heroics and Ros and come in two parts with the wheeled base separate from the gun mounting. Three crewmen are part of this latter section although in reality these guns typically had a crew of between seven and ten. The gun actually had electric motors that could be engaged instead of the hand cranks to control elevation and lateral movement. Early on the guns were combined with an aiming device called a Kerrison Predictor to mechanically work out the ‘future position’ of a moving target. The Predictor relied on manual input from the crew of the predicted position of a target based on its altitude and speed, and it would then control the hydraulic motors to make the gun turn and elevate so that the barrel could track the ‘future position’ of the target. Pretty advanced stuff!

Another, less conventional, use for the 40mm Bofors was seen at the Battle of El Alamein. Here they fired tracer horizontally to mark safe paths for units through the German minefields. This concept was developed further in the fighting in NW Europe with bursts of colour-coded tracer being used to define the line of advance of the different formations in large-scale night attacks.

These models are from Heroics and Ros 
All the bases use my new label format
The Bedford AA Tractor could carry all the ammunition, supplies and crew as well as tow the guns
The Bofors models come in two parts and have three crewmen included. 
Another view of the platoon

Monday 9 June 2014

Broadside 2014

On Sunday several members of Posties Rejects converged on Sittingbourne for the Broadside Wargames Show hosted by the Milton Hundred Wargames Club. We put on a smaller display game this year but it was a great success...we won "Best in Show" for our  'Battle of Shaho' game! We spent pretty much all of the day talking to visitors and friends, to the point where we were utterly cream-crackered by the time we went home. Hat's off to our glorious leader - that smooth talking megalomaniac Field Marshal Postie - for all the effort he put into the game, this was definitely his victory.

As usual I shot some pictures, although not as many as usual because we were so busy running our game and talking to visitors. So as is the tradition, here are a selection of my favourite shots from the day with a little commentary.

Setting up our game before the show opened

Ray & Surjit in command of the Russian forces

Postie & Fran at the start of the game

This was about 10:30 and it was already too hot in the hall!

Rainham (Medway) Wargames Club - The Taking of Akaba

Rainham (Medway) Wargames Club - The Taking of Akaba

Crush the Kaiser

Shepway Wargames Club - Somewhere in France Summer 1944

SEEMS - ACW Naval Battle

Back to the Rejects 'Battle of Shaho' game... it was mid afternoon and we had only just reach our first (and only) melee of the game. We were too busy chatting to visitors to play properly.

Another view of the Rejects 'Battle of Shaho' game at its high water mark. We got in just four turns of gameplay during the day because we were talking to visitors nearly all the time.

Skirmish Wargames - The Magnificent Seven

A PlayMobile wargame! Won 'Best use of Table'

Postie receiving the £100 Pen and Sword gift token for "Best Wargame in Show" as voted for by visitors.

Posties Rejects in all our glory! We'll try not to let this victory go to our heads...

The show stopper on our table. Posties scratch built Observation Balloon which game the Russian Artillery a read advantage with indirect fire. 
Well it was a great day and we were thoroughly exhausted by the end, but we all had a really good time. Thanks to the Milton Hundred Wargames Club for putting on the event, they did an excellent job and despite a few hiccups along the way pulled off a great little show. 

Friday 6 June 2014

Operation Overlord: D-Day

Today is the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day Landings in Normandy, Northern France on the 6th June 1944. Operation Overlord was described, for good reason, as the greatest seaborne invasion of all time. Dwight D. Eisenhower lead over 156,00 men in the assault on Nazi Europe and despite at least 12,000 casualties (of which 4,414 were confirmed dead) succeeded in establishing a bridgehead from which the Allies were able to begin the process of liberating Europe. Many Veterans - men now in their 80's and 90's - will be back on the beaches today to commemorate the great sacrifice and great courage that was shown on that most momentous of days.

I recently helped at a fund raising day for Veterans planning on returning to Normandy and the greatest privilege was to be able to chat with these guys and listen to them share their experiences. I made a point of shaking each mans hand and sincerely thanking them for their bravery and their service. I come from a generation that on the whole has not experienced war or hardship and we owe a large part of that to the courage of men (and women) on that "day of days" 70 years ago.

With the D-Day 70th Anniversary commemorations taking place today I thought I'd share a few pictures of my favourite D-Day related wargames that I have seen over the years. Operation Overlord is one of those events in history that is such a massive undertaking and of such huge importance that sometimes it can be hard to take in. Massive amounts have been written about the Normandy Landings and there are countless personal stories, diaries, unit histories, photographs and documents for historians to ponder over for decades to come. But one way in which this period in history can be broken down and understood is through the medium of Wargaming. I'm not for a minute suggesting that wargaming D-Day is somehow more important than the great and scholarly work of historians, but they are another way of understanding a particular moment in the battle and really 'connecting' with those events.

"Normandy Firefight" in 20 mm by Herne Bay and Whitsable at Skirmish in September 2012 
Battlegroup Normandy - 20mm Skirmish game earlier this year at Skirmish
At last years Salute "When Chaos Reigns" a 28mm Normandy 44 game by Nantwich Gamers
Glider Assault - Pegasus Bridge 6 Jun 1944 - Honnington Wargame Group. A 20mm recreation of the assaults on Pegasus and Morsa Bridges prior to the D-Day Landings (Salute 2010)
Maidstone Wargames Society - Operation Deadstick. Without a doubt one of the best D-Day/ Pegasus Bridge wargames I have ever seen was at Salute 2012. Operation Deadstick by Maidstone Wargames. It won Best Demonstration Game at the show so I wasn't the only one impressed by this 6mm Flames of War Game. In fact I'd say this was the game that got me seriously thinking about 6mm as a way forward. 
The truly awe inspiring beach landing. "30 Seconds to Dog Green" demonstrating the Battlegroup Overlord rules.
I have never seen a beach assault depicted in such detail and scale before.
Another game from Salute 2013 also using the Battlegroup Overlord rule called "Inland from Utah"
This wasn't a game as such, it's a Diorama of Omaha Beach in the D-Day Museum in Portsmouth. 
Another display, this time from Nothe Fort in Weymouth.