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...