Saturday, September 18, 2010

Eastern Front Railway Station

I recently came across this resin kit through a post on The Guild wargamer's forum.  
A quick check with Hobby Link Japan showed that they had one in in stock, and I finally got around to ordering it today.  

This will be ideal addition to the village buildings I already have.  It has a spartan, somewhat run-down look about it I like.  It should be fun to paint. 

All I need is a length of HO/OO track, and it's Tomasovitch the Tank Engine time. 

Autumn is here!

And I am really glad to be saying "sayonara" to the hottest summer I've known since coming to Japan nineteen years ago.  Natsu-san, don't let the door hit you on your way out.

In contrast, autumn means cool, dry weather and the opportunity get some painting in. My priority in the coming week (and I'm taking my "summer" (sic) vacation then) is to get some Napoleonics ready for a game next weekend. But then I want to turn again to the Popovs and get some undercoating done. While waiting for the black undercoat to cure properly, I'll brush up on my airbrushing techniques so that I can then "go green" on the first batch.

In other developments:
  • As you can see from the photo at the top of the page, I received the Aleran decals I ordered from the Michigan Toy Soldier Company.  This included some Order of the Red Banner badges for my 12th Heavy Tank Breakthrough Regiment.  MTSC didn't have stock of all I needed, so I had to wait three weeks for the backorder to be filled. This was no problem for me, and they were courteous and kept me informed of developments, so I was happy with the service.
  • I also ordered another six Zvezda T-34/76's from Hannants, so I now have all the T-34/76's I'll ever need. I should be able to field, at some point, an entire tank brigade for 1944 as well as 1943.
  • Finally, after a long run with a strong yen, the Bank of Japan finally intervened and the yen is losing ground. This is good news from a business point of view even if it means the price of ordering overseas is no longer as cheap as it was. Still, job security trumps cheap models! The good news is that my recent orders went in before the yen fell in value, and what's more, I have now pretty well collected everything I need for the project I set myself, save a few tractors and artillery pieces.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

70 years ago today...

While the Soviet Union slept, the Battle of Britain reached its climax. 
Long ago, but made more real for me by family experiences.  While my family was basically Royal Navy, my mother is from Sussex, where the threat of invasion was very real.  As a young girl living in the countryside, she was never evacuated.  She still remembers vividly watching the air battles unfold over her head. 

Here's to "The Few".   We owe them more than we can ever imagine.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Quantity has a Quality all it's Own.

Seen here in the form of six Easy Model pre-assembled T-34/76 tanks. 

Evidently white camouflage is not so popular with gamers and collectors, as these were being discounted at 450 yen each- about $5.50 Can.- at a large hobby shop here in Japan.  

Not the very best models out there- the gun mantlet has been simplified somewhat- but at that price I couldn't go wrong.

They will look just fine once I repaint them, replace some of the heavy plastic handrails on the side, and glue the tracks down to the top of the road wheels. 

A fine addition to the RKKA.  I was also able to get a slew 'o M4 Shermans for my US collection, as you can see here.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Rising above the Crowd

Here are some WiP shots of my air support.  The Il-2m Sturmovik and the flight stand I've been making for it.
I went to the local craft store which has a wide range of useful goodies, and picked up a Plexiglas disk, some tubing and a length of clear Plexiglas rod.   I glued a short length of tubing down to the disk, and the rod just slots into it with no glue required, so it should transport easily.
I then glued a length of the same tubing into the bottom fuselage of the Sturmovik.  Short enough to fit inside the model, but long enough so that when placed over the top of the clear plastic rod, the plane will sit firmly on top without fear of being accidentally toppled over.  

I glued it in at an angle, so that when the model is placed on top of the stand, it will appear to be diving down, like a mighty socialist falcon, upon the helpless fascist rodents that are to be its prey.

This obviously necessitated some major surgery on the kit, especially the rear seat area of the cockpit.  I had to blank off part of the rear cockpit with plastic card, but it should look okay when done.  Again, these are meant to be gaming models, not IPMS masterpieces.

To weigh down the stand properly, I will first put some old, broken miniatures under the hammer- literally!  The resulting flattened lead lumps will then be epoxied down to the base, which will then be amply covered with epoxy putty and textured.

Note that I gave up on the Airfix Sturmovik.  This is an old Polish kit of the aircraft that I picked up years ago, and promptly ignored as it was too crude for words.  

However, on looking at pictures of the Il-2m, it was pretty obvious that Airfix had gotten the basic wing plan and fuselage contours -completely- wrong.  Although in Airfix's defence, the kit was designed during the height of the Cold War, when any kind of accurate info was extremely scarce.

The Polish kit did much better at capturing the look of the aircraft, so I decided that despite the heavy details, and being moulded from industrial-strength plastic, it would after all be the better bet.  The hard plastic was certainly up to being hacked around when it came to adding the length of tubing.  The surface details are crude- just raised lines for the most part- but are better than the raised rivets that come with the Airfix kit.  And the location slots in the wing roots actually fit the wings!!  

Putting the kit together was a bit of an adventure, due to inadequate instructions and an almost total lack of locating holes.  This wasn't too much of a drawback as those that were there didn't line up with the pins, or else were too small or large to receive them!

I'll use some parts from the Airfix kit, such as bomb racks, rear machine gun and maybe the pilots.  Likewise I'll use the excellent decal sheet from Airfix too- the one that came with the Polish kit being simply dreadful. 
I'm much happier with how it is turning out so far, and it certainly looks much more like the Il-2m than did the Airfix kit, which looked as if it was converted from a Fairy Fulmar! A long way to go yet.


Aside from air power, I've also been beavering away at the T-34/76's.  I completed another Zvezda kit, and started a couple more UM models (these look good when done, but are a lot less fun to work on, as there are so many fiddly parts- many without locating holes).   

In the end I went ahead and added brass wire handles to the turrets.  I was surprised to find that this was a lot easier to do than I thought it would be.  Certainly the models look better for it.  

I've also started on the HQ stand for the 68th Tank Brigade.  A UM T-34/76 with the brigade commander.  He will be surveying the battlefield with his staff.   I think it is going to look really neat when it's done!

Received some more kits this week- transport in the form of Lend-Lease trucks and jeeps!  There are also some more surprises on the horizon, and I'll post on these when I get them. 


For a few weeks the Soviets will have to take back seat to Napoleonics, as I have a few stands of French that I have to get finished so that we can play our first game at the club at the end of September, although as I can use the Russian buildings as well I will continue to work on those.

But it does means slower progress on the armour for a while, but maybe I need the break from modelling as I find my patience getting thinner these last few days.  The summer heat is still oppressive, but hopefully now that September is imminent,  the end of the heat wave may finally be in sight.  Then I can get out the spray primer and airbrush!  I'm anxious to get these guys under a coat of paint.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A Five-Year Plan in Two Months

Yesterday I managed to commence work on two more T-34's, so at this point I want to remind myself what it is I want to accomplish, and the time frame I am setting myself.  Which is really the point of having set up the blog in the first place! 

So having set myself the task of building up a mid-war force, here is what is on the table so far.  One can almost hear the clank of cranes and conveyor belts, the rat-tat-tat of riveting guns, and the shouts of the foremen.  Not to mention the stern warnings of the factory commissars, as they exhort the workers to strive to meet the production quotas set by Comrade Stalin.  Or else...

Five T-34's in the front row, two completed, one almost done,  and two just starting along the production line.  Behind them are four KV-1s heavy tanks, one completed.  In their shadow are six BT-light tanks.  One has been finished, the others need some more work but are quick to do.  Not a priority at this stage, though.

In the background is a BA-7 heavy armoured car, a Gaz truck, and the beginnings of the SU-152 Heavy Assault Gun Regiment.

Some village buildings in the far distance.  I really want to get started on these, but I need a large block of free time to work on them, as terrain making is messy stuff.

Look up- way up, and you can see the flying tank.  The Il-2m Sturmovik, on a stand I made from a plastic disk and some Plexiglas rods and tubing.  

I find I prefer to work on many different models at the same time.  This allows me to stay sane by not having to repeating the same  model assembly over and over again in one go.  It also means that sub-assemblies have the time for cement and putty to dry out thoroughly before I start handling them, as in the meantime I can work on a different vehicle.

Here is the plan.  Now, I know from bitter experience that plans have a way of being kicked about like deflated footballs by the evil Gnomes of Circumstance.  But failure to plan is planning to fail, as the saying goes.

Plastic model production, in order of priority:
Phase 1:
  • 6x T-34/76' Medium Tanks (one battalion)
  • 4x KV-1s Heavy Tanks (one regiment)
  • 4x BT-7 light tanks (two companies)
  • 1x Il-2m Sturmovik
  • 1x quad AA gun 
  • 1x 37mm AA gun
  • The village!

 Phase 2:
  • 4x SU-152 self-propelled assault guns (one regiment)
  • 6x Lend-lease trucks (on their way from Hannants)
  • 2x Lend-lease jeeps (also on their way from Hannants)
  • 1x 76.2mm a/t gun + truck
 Apart from the SU-152's, most of the above to make up the motorized rifle battalion of the tank brigade, along with a headquarters unit. I haven't decided yet which vehicles to use for the latter, though.

When done, this will mean that the following units will be ready to take the field:
  • 68th Independent Tank Brigade (1942-43 configuration)
  • 12th Guards Heavy Tank Breakthrough Regiment
  • 1539th SU Regiment
If these can all be done by our  next BKC game in middle/late October, I will be a very satisfied man.  But I'll settle for getting at least Phase 1 done, with Phase 2 well on it's way by that time.

And of course, I still need to finish off an artillery battalion as well as assorted infantry odd 'n sods, but I should be able to sneak in an hour here and there for painting to break the tedium of being surrounded by liquid cement fumes and plastic shavings.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

It's all in the details...

Despite a busy work schedule- and I do mean busy, fourteen hour working days having been the norm recently- I've been able to unwind a bit by working here and there on the tanks.  With the weekend upon me I can now spend an afternoon and evening chugging away at the Soviet armour.

I received the Aber turned aluminum gun barrels within days of getting Cove Model's email reporting them as being dispatched.  Here is one of them which I just epoxied on to the KV-1s. They look good, especially the muzzle opening.

In a moment of madness, and inspired by someone's work on a hobby forum, I also thought it would be cool to add some cast turret numbers that were a feature of the KV-1s turret, as you can see here.
I used a new hobby knife to carefully carve off some of the  raised part numbers from the UM OT-34 kit sprues, and carefully laid them in place on the turret, settling them in with some liquid cement.  This was a lot easier to do than you may think. 
They are somewhat over scale, but the effect is good.  And it is the effect I'm going after here, rather than trying to create a 100% accurately scaled-down replica.  

After painting, I'll lightly dry brush the digits so that they stand out slightly from the turret surface.  But no so much as to detract from the unit markings.  

And that's the first KV-1s all done, bar the painting.  "Only" three more to do, not to mention the three SU-152's that are waiting in the wings.

I was also able to put together another couple of the Zvezda T-34's.  Again, I can't stress enough just how impressed I am with this kit.  And now that I knew how to assemble those fantastic tracks, the models went together quickly and without any problems.  

I decided to take the opportunity to make one of them a commander's vehicle.  The Zvezda kit is of the early cast-turret version with the two "Micky Mouse ear" hatches, but I wanted the commander in a later version, with a cupola.  Not only would it provide another interesting variation on the T-34 theme within my battalion, but it also has a visibility advantage in the BKC II rules.  

Fortunately, the UM OT-34 model- while a real pig to put together with all the myriad of small parts- comes with a lot of options, resulting in plenty of extras for the spare parts box.  These include parts for either a flamethrower tank or normal version, rear-box or cylindrical style external fuel containers, and finally a choice of modelling either the earlier turret top, or the later one with cupola.  So it was an easy matter to take a spare cupola and add it to the Zvezda kit. 
More challenging was modelling the cupola split hatch in open position, but some patient work with a sharp knife did the job easily.  

I then added to cupola to a disc of plastic card to give it the required height to fit the Zvezda model, and drilled out holes for brass wire to give the hatches stronger support.
I may well end up adding brass wire handles to the turret sides as well.  All that was left was to plop an old Wargames Foundry 20mm tank commander into the hatch and there you have it. Onwards to Victory, Comrades! 


The Il-2m Sturmovik has not been forgotten, but there have been many problems encountered along the way, and progress is slow.  The story on that will have to wait for a while.  Suffice to say for now that armour kits are much easier to work with!  But I have succeeded in making a good, strong stand for it, so that I can have it on the battlefield poised menacingly over the Fascist armour ready to do them some GBH.  It does involve some major surgery on the model, though.  WIP pictures  soon, I hope.


Finally, never mind the Party, Comrade Stalin,  Exporting the Revolution & International Communism, or the success of the latest Five Year PlanThis was what the Soviet Soldier was really fighting for... *sigh*

Friday, August 13, 2010

"Tarting up" the KV-1s

Shitty summer here; typhoons, heat, rain, heat and rain, and just plain meteorological filth as far as the weather is concerned. 

Airbrushing and spray priming are out of the question for the foreseeable few weeks here, but that hasn't stopped me from working on my Soviets.  A bit here, a bit there, but most of all I have been muckin' around with my Pegasus Hobbies KV-1s kits, in particular trying to get one "test model" done.

As I've mentioned earlier, I like these kits a lot, and the KV-1s has long been one of my favourite tanks.  So I was determined to do a good job on the four of them that will make up the 12th Heavy Tank Breakthrough Regiment.  

Here is the first one done, wanting only for the weather to cooperate (hah!) so that I can give it a black base coat prior to airbrushing. (click on any of the photos to enlarge).

Now this is not about to win any IPMS awards, but I think I've managed to capture the character of the beast a lot more than if I had just built it up straight out of the box.

Looking at pictures of the original vehicle, it was amazing just how "rough-hewn" the armour castings were.  Here is an example, and you can see more pictures at this site.
So looking at the models, I decided to modify them.

First I filled in the gaps in the turret assembly and sanded the whole thing down.  Then, using two-part epoxy putty, I filled in the gaps between the turret and gun mantlet. I used a needle to texture the putty to get that "rough cut" look.
Using strips of plastic card and rod, I added more substantial side discs and weld seams. For the seams, I soaked the plastic strips in liquid cement, and after about 15 minutes, I took a sharp craft knife and scored in umpteen grooves to get the welded look.

In order to roughen the turret surface, I spread several coats of Gunze-Sangyo's  Mr. Surfacer 500 liberally over the turret sides and faces, using old retired paint brushes to texture and stipple the surfaces.  

As I got more confident with using it, I was able to  vary the consistency of the surfacer with liquid cement.  I ended up texturing  all the surfaces of the vehicle that would have been cast- or drop-forged, such as armour plate, but not on the pressed-steel components such as track guards and fuel drums.  

The surfacer is really versatile stuff, and is just great for getting that unpolished factory finish that was so typical of Soviet mid-war armour.  

All things considered, tarting up the turret didn't take all that long. 

Purists will note that the weld seams are considerably over scale, but for wargaming models they characterize the look of the KV-1s nicely.  Once the tank has been painted dark green and weathered appropriately, they won't stand out so much anyhow.

I also decided to add some more detailing to the tracks.  Because of the moulding process, the tread surfaces on the kits are quite smooth and crude.  After mulling over whether I really wanted to go through with this- after all, there are three more models to do and some SU-152's as well- I decided to bite the bullet and add chopped up strips of plastic to try and approximate the waffle pattern on the treads where they were visible.  

Again, this would not pass muster at an IPMS competition, but I think I did a good job of hinting at the waffle effect.  After the liquid cement dried, I gave the tracks a wash of good ol' Mr. Surfacer 500 again.  

Once that was done, I epoxied some weights into the hull to give the model some heft, and then glued the lower and upper hulls together.  They went together extremely well.

The turret hand rails are just suggested using plastic rod.  I was thinking of making them out of brass wire, but in the end decided that it wasn't worth the extra effort, especially as they would easily be prey to clumsy fingers anyway.

Here you can  also see what was the biggest pain in the ass to do- the tow cables which were such a feature in photos of Soviet heavy tanks.  

I could have ordered some of these as resin and copper wire after-market accessories, but that would have added much to the cost of the models, so I decided against it.  Besides, as designed they wouldn't have worked with the way the hooks are modelled on the Pegasus Hobbies kits.

So scratch building it was.  I could find the wire easily enough at a local hardware store, and had thin brass wire to make to tow eyes.  But it was fiddly, trial-and-error work involving  masking tape, lengths of paper clip for hooks, super-glue, epoxy and a mess of cussin'.  And it took many a failed attempt before I had a result which I was happy with and which would be sturdy enough to survive the gaming table.  

It didn't help that I got impatient and ended up breaking off one of the kit tow hooks, which was a bugger to replace.  Now it is placed asymmetrically with the one on the other side, which I will just have to put down to a hasty and inexpert field repair- common enough going by a lot of photos I've seen of Soviet wartime armour.

Note the gun barrel, which is from a UM OT-34 kit and is just there for the photo- it hasn't been cemented in place.  I found the barrels on the Pegasus Hobbies kits somewhat anaemic and spindly looking, so I splurged out and ordered some of the Aber turned aluminum gun barrels from Cove Models to replace them.  They are on their way as I type.  Cove Models is an excellent company to deal with, by the way.

So much for what were meant to be fast-build kits!  But having spent so much time on this one vehicle, the others should prove a lot faster to build now that I know what- and what not- to do!  

I'm happy with the results so far and look forward to  getting the rest done, and to giving them a coat of paint and markings (I've just ordered some decal sets for Soviet armour from Aleran).

Providing the weather sees fit to cooperate, of course...

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Going "3D"- the IL-2 Sturmovik

Fascists beware!!!

While waiting for various components on my heavy tanks to dry out, I decided it was time to look at some air support for the Soviets, started on the Airfix Ilyushin IL-2 Sturmovik kit.
Clearly, Airfix thought the IL in the name stood for  "Ill" fitting, and this kit was something of a pig to put together.  

All the parts  are somewhat heavy, and needed some work with file and sandpaper to make them fit properly, particularly the undercarriage doors.  I would have been better of replacing them completely, but instead I used the kit ones and realized that I needed lots of plastic scrap to fill in the gaps.  This one will need a fair bit of time with putty and sandpaper.

Still, to be fair the kit is an old and venerable one from Airfix and deserves to be given some allowances for its age.  And to tell true I've been enjoying working on my first aircraft model for over twenty years.

The kit comes with a load of bombs, but I'm thinking of adding a pair of underwing 37mm A/T guns, as in the version in the video which I found on YouTube.  They shouldn't present any particularly difficulty for scratch building.  A little more challenging is how I'm going to make a stand and base that will be solid enough to support the kit over the table, without looking too ungainly and detracting from the tabletop.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Housing boom, and some suburban transportation.

I've been quite productive recently with making model kits- I've been churning them out at a great pace.  

The weather for the next few months here in Tokyo is going to be hot, humid, and generally unpleasant- which means that any spray painting is out of the question.  So it's build, build, and build in the summer months and once the weather becomes cooler and drier, then I'll be able to prime, undercoat, and airbrush the lot in batches.

I've put together all the Pegasus Hobbies buildings which I ordered recently.  After looking at pictures of Russian villages online, I've cut out some MDF bases and have been planning the layout.

The brown plastic buildings are the ones from Pegasus Hobbies, with a lone Britannia Miniatures resin house in their midst.
The first step will be to plane down the edges of the bases.  Once the buildings have been painted, then I will glue them down and texture the bases with acrylic putty and PVA-soaked offcuts of old cloth to make small potato patches and the like.  I'll then add fences, the occasional duck pond, water troughs, wagons, wood piles and other such farmyard impedimenta so that the bases will look a lot less spartan than they do in the photos.
Yet to be done are the "commercial" buildings.  A railway station and water tower (as at Ponyri), a grain silo, and an administration building for the local Party bigwigs.

Note the BA-6 and T-34/76 prowling the roads for Fascists.  The tank is the Zvezda model.  

This is really a great model.  The best T-34 kit I've built in this scale so far.  It went together fairly quickly (after I corrected my initial mistake when constructing the road wheels and suspension- a classic case of "when all else fails, read the instructions, nitwit!"). 
This is the kit just as it comes, built straight out of the box.  The only non-regulation things I did to it were to drill out the gun muzzle and the exhaust pipes in the rear.

The detail is very fine, and the track assembly system is quite ingenious. I was surprised just how easily almost all the parts fitted together.  The 76.2mm gun itself is of very simple construction.  None of those ill-fitting, multi-part gun housing/ mantlet pieces that seem to be the curse of many T-34/76 kits. 

The only parts requiring filling were some mould sinkholes on the gun mantlet cheeks.  You can see one side puttied over in the photo.  Once it's cured, I'll sand them down and texture the turret with Mr. Surfacer 500 for the rough-cast look.  

Curiously, there are no external fuel tanks provided, but I've seen lots of photos of T-34's without them.  And it does make for a faster build (two days.)

I was a little apprehensive as to how the delicate tow cables would fit, and whether they would break while removing them from the sprue, but the whole thing went together really smoothly.

This is definitely my T-34 of choice for 20mm gaming.

Saturday, July 17, 2010


I came home the other day to find my Pegasus Hobbies BT-7's had arrived.  Really simple kits- about 12 parts per model! The track links are a little on the thick side, but nothing to detract from the model.  The Pegasus kit captures the look of the Betushka perfectly.

Here they are, assembled but not yet glued together.  Some filing, filling, and sanding to be done but not much.  Six vehicles, which would be a battalion's worth for service in the Far East, or I can use just four and have them do service as the light companies of the 1942/43 tank brigade.

In the background can be seen the KV-1s models I'm working on.  I love these kits, and as there are only to be four of them I'm taking the time to "tart 'em up" a bit.  Aside from adding plastic strip stock to suggest more track detail, I want to work more on the turret.  

The turret castings of the real things were rough.  REALLY rough, as you can see if you click on any of the images here.  So I will apply liberal coats of Gunze-Sangyo's product Mr. Surfacer 500 to give the cast parts a really porous-looking finish.  

I may also replace the barrels with more substantial turned aluminum after-market parts, but that may have to wait a while.  I'll also have to add some towing cables, which were such a noticeable part of the KV's equipment.

One of the KV's is of course to be the regimental command tank, so I also "opened" the hatch, and have yet to make the hatch cover itself from plastic card.  Unlike other Soviet tanks, the hatch opened sideways, so I will need to chop up some tankisti miniatures so that I can make a commander who would be holding on the the hatch with his left hand while leaning slightly to the right.


Quick update.  Received my order of Zvezda's brand new, snap-together T-34/76's from Hannants in the UK.  I'm glad I ordered them when I did- they've already sold out!

First impressions are extremely good. For a snap-together kit, this one is really well-detailed!  Not really a quick-build, but it should take a lot less time to put together than the UM kits!   There are more parts than is the case with the Pegasus Hobbies models, but it has to be said that overall this one is very finely engineered

I'm looking forward to getting them done- once I get the current crop of models finished!  I may put one together just to see how it goes. 

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Changes in Plan...

While looking for information on Guards heavy tank regiments, I found this .pdf file from Battlefront on their Flames of War site.  Unfortunately, it looks like the 36th Guards Heavies used the Churchill rather than KV-1's, so a change in the force I want to represent is in order.  Bugger.

So I diligently scoured all the Internetz, which led me to come across another article, this one on the 12th Guards Heavy Tank Regiment.  It served with the 9th Guard Rifle Corps in the offensive launched after the Battle of Kursk.  An interesting order of battle, as it had a tank brigade in support as well.    

9th Guards Rifle Corps ( 61st Army)
12th, 76th and 77th Guard Rifle Divisions
68th Independent Tank Brigade
12th Guards Heavy Tank Breakthrough Regiment
1539th SU Regiment (with twelve SU-152s)
16th and 17th Artillery Divisions
13th Mortar Brigade
310th and 311th Guards "Mortar" Regiments (twenty-four BM-13 “Katyusha” rocket launchers each).
310th Army Engineer Battalion
Lots of goodies there. Along with the12th Guards Heavies and the 68th Tank Brigade, I'll focus on recreating the 12th Guards Rifle Division, which stayed with the 9th Rifle Corps for the whole war.  According to R.G. Poirier and A.Z. Conner in their very useful book The Red Army Order of Battle in the Great Patriotic War,  the 12th Guards Rifle Division consisted of the 29th, 32nd, and 37th Guards Rifle Regiments and the 31st Guards Artillery Regiment.  

Originally raised as the 258th Rifle Division, it was used to form the 9th Guards Rifle Corps April 1942.  It saw fighting around Bolkov, on the Dnieper River, Belorussia and Poland, as well as in Riga and Berlin.  It served a number of times as a "breakthrough" division, for major offensives, and was awarded the Order of the Red Banner for its combat service.

For the 68th Independent Tank Brigade, I'll be needing some light tanks.  For a number of reasons, I settled on ordering some Pegasus Hobbies BT-7 tanks

Now these were on the way out by late 1942 let alone 1943, when they really should be replaced by T-60's, T-70's, or even Lend-Lease Stuarts or Valentines.  They aren't even in the BKC II stats for a mid-war Soviet army.  But there were a number of practical considerations that made me decide to get them;
  1. The Pegasus models are cheap- and easy to put together.
  2. While absolutely Kat food, the BT-7 looks cool, and has always been one of my favourites.
  3. I can also use them in games set against the Japanese, where they were used right up to 1945.
So I ordered three boxes' worth- six vehicles in all.  I can assume that in the aftermath of the high losses taken at Kharkov and Rhzev, reinforcements have been sent from the Far East, and that due to supply and/ or administrative reasons the 68th Tank Brigade has not yet the chance to re-equip it's light companies with something more modern.  At some time in the future I can get some Valentines or T-70's if I want to set the games later in the war.

Summer is here, the heat is increasing, and I'm off on a teaching intensive for a week.  So updates may be slow in coming for July.  When I get back from that business trip the pace at work picks up considerably, and I have to get working on some stuff for July's game as well.  Blogging may well have to take a back seat for a while.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Tankograd Tokyo

The 18-y Tankovy Korpus takes shape!

I received my order of Pegasus Hobbies tanks and buildings, and this weekend has seen me busy putting together T-34/76's, KV-1's, and SU-152's, as well as starting work on some terrain pieces for use in our BKC games.

The Pegasus Hobbies models go together well, and once I got used to the rather ingenious design for putting together the torsion bars and road wheels, they proved really simple to put together.  These models have a surprising amount of good detail for what are almost snap-together kits, and the fit of parts is generally excellent.  

There are very few sink holes and gaps that need filling, which, after working on some older Fujimi kits recently, is something of a relief! Most are on the underside of the models, where they cannot be seen anyway.

The hardest part was adding the armoured rear plate to the hull, which had to line up with the hull top if the whole thing was to fit together smoothly.  It was a bit of a tricky fit, but nothing that liberal applications of liquid cement couldn't fix.

Assembling the tracks and running gear took some time for the first model.  But once I figured out how they went together, the pace picked up quickly and once I got into mass-production mode I was able to do both tracks on two vehicles in about 30 minutes or even less. 

The trick was to do two road wheels at a time, and  then snap the tracks to the locating holes in the chassis so that the glue holding each half of the road wheels together would set with the torsion bars in the right position.  

In the meantime work on something else, then go back and add the next pair and again line them up.  And so on, until the entire assembly finally just snaps into place and the locating pins on the torsion bars can then be glued from inside the chassis.  A lot harder to describe than it was to do!

Once this current batch of armour is put together, I will start work on detailing them.  While I really like the track assemblies, from the front and rear the tracks look a little plain due to moulding limitations.  I'll be adding some plastic rod to suggest a more "waffle-like" tread pattern which was distinctive of KV tanks. I also want to work on texturing the turrets of the KV-1s tanks, and opening the hatch of one of them for the commander.  

The lack of any decals provided with the kits is a bit of a drag, but as Pegasus Hobbies includes two tanks per box for a lot less than what other manufactures charge for one, I'm certainly not complaining.  Anyway there are a lot of commercial decals available both online and in my spares box.

The four KV-1s tanks will form the 36th Guards Heavy Tank Regiment (I need to order some decals for Guards units).  Those oh-so-sexy SU-152's will make up the 1543rd Self-Propelled Artillery Regiment.

Turning to the UM OT-34/76  kits I got a few weeks ago, I plucked up the courage to try and put together the chassis and running gear of one of them.  It went together much easier than I had ever dared to hope.  

The wheel assemblies looked alarmingly flimsy at first, but by the time I glued the tracks on- a relatively straight-forward task- the whole unit, once dried, has a lot of strength. 

As I mentioned in my last post, you can see I replaced the road wheels with those from an ESCI T-34 kit, with the front and rear wheels coming from a Fujimi model.  There was no real appreciable difference in size, and they did the job nicely.  Certainly a lot easier to work with than would have been the crappy vinyl tires that came with the original, and being all polystyrene I could use liquid cement which gave the whole track and wheel assembly greater strength.

Finally, I put together the Pegasus buildings. seen here with a resin model from Brittania Miniatures.
I was doing some reading about what Russian villages would have looked like at the time of the GPW, and decided that having them based on  strips of MDF as seen here would be both flexible and allow me to create the "look" of a typical Russian steppe village, such as Ponyri. Each base will a number of buildings with small gardens, fences, woodpiles etc. and the bases will be planed down at the edges and textured.

I have a few more buildings which I've ordered yet to come, and at some point in the future will add a church and train station.  As befitting any settlement within the Soviet Utopia, there will of course be a need for an administration building as well as a small grain silo to store the collective harvest. The silo will be scratch built, based on of all things an old Airfix Airfield Control Tower kit that Giovanni gave me.

This will be the month of plastic modelling.  I want to spray the models with surface primer and then spray on a black undercoat before airbrushing, but with the horrible humidity that we have here now (it's rainy season in Japan), that will have to wait for a while first.  Right now it is get the models built, let them dry thoroughly, and in the meantime paint up some infantry until the weather cooperates.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Mixing and matching T-34's

Since my last post, the Pegasus Hobbies models have been shipped and I'm just waiting for them to get here any time now.  In the meantime, I've been doing a dry fit of one of the UM OT-34's.
On the whole I like 'em.  They are more complex than the Fujimi T-34's that I have been used to building, but the trade off is of course better detailing- and no flexible plastic tracks.

There are some things about the kits that I am not so crazy about.  These are irritating sink holes that need to be filled, and the etched brass panel used for the rear engine deck, which I think is just an unnecessary complication. UM was perfectly capable of moulding a decent engine deck right into the plastic. 

The biggest annoyance, though, is the useless vinyl towing cords and especially the tires meant to fit over the road wheels.  They are not well detailed at all, and how they are meant to be attached to the styrene tracks beats me.  Most importantly, I do not trust the vinyl not to melt the plastic of the wheels over time, and I suspect they will crumble with age anyway.

The solution is simple.  Replace the wheels!

First I looked into getting some replacement resin wheels from some specialist after-market parts makers, but at ten Euros for one tank's worth of wheels, that is more than the kit is worth.

Fortunately, I found that I can replace the road wheels with those I have from my vast stock of Fujimi plastic kits and spares, and cannibalize a pair of old Esci T-34's I still have lying around from twenty years ago!

Now the Fujimi T-34's are 1/76th scale models, while the Esci and UM models are I/72, so you think they wouldn't go together.  Interestingly, however, the UM T-34 seems to be closer in size to the Fujimi kit than the Esci one, and when I placed the road wheels side-by-side the difference  in size was really quite minimal, and a dry fit showed that the Fujimi wheels won't look out of place on the UM kit.  
Esci pressed steel road wheel on the left, UM in the middle with the vinyl tire, and a Fujimi T-34/76 1941 road wheel on the right.  The Esci and UM wheels are the same size, the Fujimi one seems to be just under 1mm smaller in diameter.  Certainly not enough to notice when in place.

Another benefit is that being styrene plastic, I don't have to faff about with instant glues, and can just join the tracks to the wheels using liquid cement.

In terms of scaling in general, it seems like either the Esci kit is oversized, or else the UM T-34 is undersized.  Here is the UM upper hull on the left next to one of the old Esci models I have.  The Esci kit is considerably wider and longer. 
Which one is more accurately scaled doesn't matter much to me.  Visual consistency is more important than scale accuracy for wargaming purposes. The fact that the UM model is closer to the Fujimi T-34's is a plus, as then I can field both on the table without any glaringly obvious size differences.   

Which also means that the two T-34/76 model 1942's that I had earlier cobbled together by combining Fujimi hulls with some old Esci/Leva turrets won't look out of place either, so I can go ahead and finish them!

Here they are lined up.  From top to bottom, the Esci T-34 hull; a Fujimi T-34/85; the UM OT-34 upper hull; in white, the Revell/Matchbox T-34 with Leva resin turret; and at bottom a Fujimi  T-34/76 1941 hull fitted with the Esci 1942 hexagonal turret and a Matchbox gun w/mantlet. 
The Esci model stands out as being much larger than all the others- it may go with the Armourfast T-34  kits by Hat, but it dwarfs the 1/76 Fujimi models.  

The UM 1/72 scale model is a much more comfortable match.  A bit longer (3-4mm) and wider (2mm or so) than the Fujimi kits, but kept in separate units (my two conversions are meant to be the tank support company from a recce motorcycle battalion) there should be no problem, and by keeping the front track guards on the smaller models while removing them from their 1/72 brethren, the eye can be fooled into thinking that the difference isn't so pronounced.  

I also managed to dig out my old Leva models conversion kit for a PT-34 mine-roller kit, so now I have an engineering vehicle as well!

I've also been looking at some AA for the Soviets so as to reduce Giovanni's Stukas to twisted metal wreckage before they can ride roughshod over my armour.  As well as a Gaz truck with a quad Maxim mount, I have that new M16 half-track to provide support to the Tankisti,  as well as some spare DhsK 12.5mm AAMG's to mount on some suitable trucks I may have lying around.  

For some heavier hate to throw at the fascist airmen, I also have some boxes of the Airfix 40mm Bofors AA gun that will have the shields removed, the trucks replaced with Studebakers, and the crew converted to Russians so as to represent the 37mm AA gun company. 

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Kurskifying the Kollection...

The West Tokyo Wargamers played another great BKCII game in May.  And even if the Russkis got their butts handed to them by the Germans (who were commanded by an Italian, just to rub it in!),  it was a lot of fun and we are all busy working on increasing our armies and working on terrain and buildings.

And there are lot of reinforcements coming my way!  The first batch arrived from Hannants in the UK yesterday.

Latest acquisitions. Six OT-34 flamethrower tanks, some AA in the form of an M-16 Half-track, and some aerial artillery- the IL-2m Sturmovik

The UM OT-34 kit also contains the parts for assembling a standard T-34/76, so unless I decide to go for a full battalion of OT-34's- which, while tempting, I'd never be able to field under the rules- some will probably end up just as gun tanks. 

I like the shape of the Chelyabinsk UZTM (ChTZ) turret that this version is modelled with. 

My Russian army has been designed for late war battles, but after some thought, I have decided that I want to work on building up forces for mid-war as well.  Under BKCII, the T-34/85's are great tanks but expensive in terms of points, and- along with other later war tanks- can tend to dominate the battlefield.  

I've a fondness for the mid-war T-34 tanks, especially the T-34/76 later versions with the hexagonal turrets.  In fact, when I first started collecting 20mm WW2 Russians over 25 years ago, I wanted to use the models from Esci.  

But these were impossible to find in any quantity, so I settled on the Fujimi T-34/85, which could be found everywhere and anywhere.  But I've always liked the version that Esci did back then, which with its hexagonal turret and 76mm gun was to me really iconic of the sweeping tank battles over the steppes in 1942-43. 

Since then there have been a number of newer kits on the market of the T-34/76.  But the biggest issue for me has been scale.  Most of my late war vehicles are 1/76, while the mid-war T-34's tend to be 1/72.  I don't mind mixing scales too much, especially for trucks, half-tracks and the like.  

But the larger the vehicle the more pronounced the difference.  This ruled out the Hat Armourfast T-34, as by all accounts the Hat model of the T-34's are not all that great, and are considerably over scale to begin with.   

But as I found a great deal on the UM OT-34 flamethrower tank, I decided what the hell, and to take the plunge and just start a mid-war tank force as well.  

What tipped me over the edge was that Zvezda are releasing this fast-build kit, which means that the project has become viable.  Add to that some great and  very useful releases from Pegasus Hobbies, and I'm off to the races, or at least to Ponyri Station.

Edit:  After doing a bit of comparison shopping on the Internet, I  found some more bargains, so I just put in an order for some more vehicles, this time some heavy stuff.

A battalion (four models) of KV-1s tanks to form a Guards  Heavy Tank Breakthrough Regiment.  At two vehicles to a box, Pegasus kits represent good value, and the detail is pretty good as well.  In particular the characteristic track sag between the running wheels.

And what Soviet force for Kursk would be without it's Zvierboys, or "animal hunters"?  Not many models of SU-152's out there, and this is a nice one.  Two boxes flying my way.


Finally, I took the opportunity of ordering some Russian farm buildings as well, as we are all working on some terrain features for our games, and these look like being quite the thing.

Next on the shopping list are either some T-70's by Britannia Models in resin, or some Lend-Lease Valentine kits by Italeri. 

But that decision will have to wait for next month, when I get paid my annual summer bonus!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Soviets Victorious!

The West Tokyo Wargamers had another great game of BKC last Sunday, and certainly winning one helps to keep up the motivation to churn out more Russians!
We really are getting to grips with the rules, and a lot of things which seemed to be odd are beginning to make sense as we get experience with the rules (as we thought would be the case!).  In particular the suppression rules seem to be making much more sense.
Last game saw the closest we had seen to an infantry-vs-infantry combat, but the time it took to slog across the table meant that the game pretty well came to an end before close combat could commence.  

Next time we will start from further on the table, and/or have the armour come in later.  That, and start buying trucks and halftracks! another option would be to increase movement and firing ranges, maybe by 1.5 those specified in the rules.

We also decided that we need more terrain- a lot more!  Between us, that is going to be the big push for this month on the modelling front.

On to another topic, and when I started basing my 20mm figures on the FoW bases, I textured the bases using Tamiya acrylic putty.  For reasons I mentioned in my last post, this wasn't really satisfactory.  

But I've found that simply covering the stand with PVA and dipping it into a box of budgie sand is indeed the best way to go.  When it dries, it sets rock-hard and I can paint and drybrush it the same way I did when using putty.  And it blends in just about perfectly with the other stands I have painted as you can see here.

The machine gunners dragging their Maxim gun forward have had the base textured using sand, and I've now painted it to match the others such as the AT rifle stand on the left.  This was the last one I did using putty.

The 120mm mortar in the back, along with a prone MMG and flamethrower stand will be the next to get the treatment. 

I don't go for a lot of foliage on my WW2 stands.  I want a colour palette that matches the minis.  I find that simple is more effective, and as the army grows it really gives it a unique- and unified- look.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

April Output...

...was not that great, as it is the busiest month of the year for me. 

While I was able to work on some Napoleonics at the beginning of the month, report writing and preparing for a presentation ate up both time and mental focus.

Still, there is a BKC game today, and Daniel and I will be fielding our Soviets against a Japanese-German unholy alliance!

I did manage to get a Soviet MMG team together, and have made progress on the artillery battery.  The 76.2mm guns are almost completely painted save the tires- you can see one of them here.  I also finished one crew member.  My first plastic minis since my Airfix days; years and years and years ago!  It took some getting used to the different "feel" of the brush on the figure, but it painted up extremely well and I am very pleased with it.

The MMG team (from Fantassin-now Warmodelling- plus one by FAA) has been based, but not yet painted.  I used to apply Tamiya putty to the base and texture it with a toothpick, but it was laborious, messy, and the fumes ate up by already all-too-quickly diminishing number of brain cells, so I needed to find an alternative.  

Once the sand has dried out thoroughly, I'll paint it the same colour as my other bases and see how it turns out.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Italeri Zis-3 and "Servants"!

After our last BKC game, I've decided to beef up the Soviet infantry, and spent the day working on another battalion of seven stands, some support in the form of a 45mm ATG, another 82mm mortar, and have started work on my artillery battery; what is a Soviet army without it!

I'm going "multi-media" with this army, and the guns are the soft plastic ones by Italeri.  I had a laugh at the name on the box, but I have to admit I'm really impressed with the contents.  Plastics have evidently come a long way since my Airfix days.

I have two boxes of these, and started on one of them.  These were a bargain at two to a box, and are extremely nicely detailed.  The soft plastic is of the harder variety, and I found that it takes drilling and even sanding quite well.  I drilled out the muzzle openings and the tow rings, and cleaned up the minimal flash quite easily.  

The only other thing I did was to add a plastic card "lid" to the ammo box of the "servant" dragging it up to the piece, which looked a lot better.  This is really a well-sculpted miniature, and is my favourite in the box.

I have a lot of metal miniatures from just about every manufacturer of 20mm WW2 Russians out there, so I mixed the crew for maximum variety.  I added gun crew figures from SHQ, Fantassin (now Warmodelling), Dixon,  the old Drew's Militia and even an ammo wagon from Lyzard's Grin with an FAA head attached to a German drivers body and given an epoxy putty rain cape.  

These figures range fronm 1/76 to 1/72nd scale.  I do find that the SHQ are on the small size, and try not to have them stand too close to their much taller Italeri and Warmodelling comrades, but other than that I find the various miniatures manage to co-exist quite comfortably.

I rummaged through my spares box and came across a load of Skytrex ammo boxes, and put them in the back of the wagon.  I also added a Platoon 20 figure standing in the back helping to unload them.

The figures go nicely to making a mini diorama; the guns are nearing the end of their ammunition supply and desperately await more.  Meanwhile the battery commander looks on while a junior officer implores the telephone operator to pressure HQ for more ammo!

Once I glue the guns together with Araldite, I'll give all the plastic components a vinegar bath, and then another soaking in detergent.  I'll then give them all a coat of watered-down PVA prior to priming.  I suspect these models will stand up to handling quite well, as there are no bendy-thin rifle barrels to worry about.

I need to get myself a 122mm howitzer which will give me three sections- a full battalion of artillery for the scale I'm using.   I'll probably order two, as with the other Italeri box I have, I can then build two battalions, the full complement for a non-Guards rifle division.