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!