Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Assault On Passe Ombre

Over a period of two (simulated) days, in late September in the early 20th century, a battle was waged over a mountain pass on a disputed island. Beyond the pass lay a town of strategic importance, and the invaders would stop at nothing to capture it.
A force of American and Irish mercenaries had been hired to defend the town, and they had taken an oath to do so to the death. To enforce this, the defenders had two British 4.7" Field Mounted Naval Guns.
The invaders, a rogue band of French Foreign Legionnaires and former German Army regulars, came ashore on the beaches nearby and had managed to pull up a modest force consisting of forty soldiers supported by two 12cm howitzers. 
In order to reach Village de l'Ombre Montagne, the invaders would have to push through the narrow Passe Ombre, Shadow's Pass. To further complicate this, the end of the pass has a fortified gate. The defenders placed the two on either side of Mesa de la Table en Bois, a small volcanic outcrop which separates the pass from larger valley. It would be daunting. 
As the sun rose, the invaders began with a volley from the howitzers, only to inflict minor casualties. When the defenders returned fire, the effect was devastating, with the invaders losing many men as well as part of the artillery team in the pass itself. 
That would set the tempo for the rest of the battle. The invaders never had a chance to be driven back, as they were slaughtered to a man...

Breanna and I had our first real Little Wars today, and both times, yours truly was handed his hat. Initially, she defended the pass, then we swapped places, with me defending... and both times, the result was the same; she won, and by a wide margin.
If I had to guess, it was the wonderful Britain's 4.7" cannons that tilted the field of battle in her direction. Both of these guns are better than sixty years of age apiece and are equipped with elevation gear and hammer firing mechanisms. 

They are very sophisticated compared to the simple "point-pull-hope" spring equipped Barclays. They can truly be aimed with a degree of accuracy, and their breach loading ability keeps them fixed on target. 
But it was great fun. 
The snap of the hammer.
The click of the spring powered plungers.
The soft thud of rounds impacting soft plastic.
"My argument is that War makes rattling good history; but Peace is poor reading." - Thomas Hardy

Friday, September 9, 2011

Update Long Overdue

It has been some months since it occurred, but my de Bange cannon was updated, and I might add improved. with more proper looking wheels. They were added in May.

Ah, yes... much better. Not 100% accurate, mind you. But certainly an improvement.

The Toy Cannon Considered

A subject near and dear to my heart; let's us consider the toy cannon. On the whole, nothing is seemingly as symbolic of our miniature armies as that. Yes, you may have your riflemen, your snipers and the random fellow heaving a grenade. But nothing says miniature warfare quite like the toy cannon.
At the turn of the last century, the William Britain Company in England excelled at the production of functional cannons. Not that they fired real rounds; they used springs to achieve the desired effect. While the Britain's cannons were not the first, they certainly represented the ultimate manifestation of 1/32 scale hostility.
Most of these early cannons used a firing mechanism that has become somewhat rare these days. It consisted of a lever that slid through the breech of the weapon, thus hurling the projectile towards their 54mm sized opponents. The legendary 4.7" naval cannon from that early epoch was stated, in the words of H.G. Wells, to be capable of throwing a round nine yards. Keep in mind that most English houses of that period were not that big, and one wonders just how many dings and dents the average parent found in the paint, plaster and wallpaper. Warfare probably migrated to the garden for that very reason.
The sprung lever may have been an early firing system, but it wasn't alone, and soon other systems would evolve as well.
In other words, there was more than one way to skin the proverbial cat, or at least to lob miniature rounds.
The primary miniature firing mechanisms can be broken down thusly -
Levers, hammers, pushers and pullers.
The hammer was a logical development of the lever. It works very much in the same manner as a hammer on a rifle or handgun; pressing on a trigger causes the hammer to strike the breech of the cannon with enough force to propel the round. This is the path that the Britain's 4.7" naval gun in later development. While the hammer did not supplant the lever in some guns (the smaller guns kept the levers, as did some examples made by the likes of Tootsietoy and a sole example from Barclay in the United States), it certainly did become more common on larger pieces.
The pusher is different in that the prime mover is almost always found in the barrel of the weapon. That prime mover is almost always a coiled spring. The pusher relies on a piston with a shaft that feeds through the spring and out the breech. Simply pulling on this shaft and releasing it fired the round; there was rarely a trigger at all. The vast majority of the "dime store" cannons used this method, with notable examples in the Little collection being manufactured by Barclay and the French firm of Simon et Rivollet.
The puller is a rarer beast, seldom seen afield. In this instance, the piston is pulled, either by spring or elastic band, through the barrel; it is almost a combination cannon and slingshot. In the 1950's and 60's, a number of inexpensive plastic toy cannons used this method, almost always using elastic. On the upside, they were easier to repair. The downside is that elastic will eventually break down and snap, usually when the weapon is armed for firing.
The big question that seems to remain is which method works best? Do we test, do we quantify? Should we even dare?
Very tempting.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Two More Field Guns Arrive To Join The Fray

The forces have grown by two more field pieces, both classic.
The first is yet another Barclay BC-2, as it is known. Unlike my rebuilt one, this one is complete and in fairly decent shape except for the finish; it shows signs of being worn from use. Nothing wrong with that at all, really; that simply adds charm and a history. I'm not quite sure how I'll approach refinishing the piece, whether or not to paint it in the style of my first piece, give it a tan color or go with its original colors. Either way, it will serve alongside its stablemate in the field of battle.
The other piece is a bit more interesting and a bit older. Earlier, I wrote that the Britain's 4.7" naval cannon is the ultimate toy cannon, my favorite. My favorite real cannon, though, is the M1897 75mm gun. And that need has been met; this is an M1897, labeled "S.R. Depose" and very close to 54mm - 1/32 scale (in fact, it appears to be 1/30).
While it is complete, it is in some need of repair. First and foremost, one of the wheels needs to be repaired. Carefully. It is bent and has broken spokes. Of lesser concern but still important, the firing mechanism has been gutted from the barrel. This should be an easy repair; in fact, compared to the extensive repairs on my older Barclay, this cannon should be a relative walk in the park. Its original colors were blue gray, very close to French horizon blue, though somewhat darker. It will be finished in its original colors.
The 75 offers many more possibilites, but more importantly serves as the perfect excuse to build again. This time around, a Jeffrey Quad portee. After all, how else to transport the piece?
UPDATE: 3 Sept. 2011 - 
Not just two more guns, but a slew of them! Also, "S.R. " is "Simon et Rivollet", and I now have not one... but two of their 75mm, which in fact are closer to 1/30 scale. Then there is the matter of... well... I post more later.

So, Yes, Where Was I?

Oh, yes... been a long time. New stuff coming, I promise; life has a funny way of pulling us off into other things, like it or not.
But soon, I promise.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The 10 % Rule; An Acceptible Deviation?

I have preferred to stick to a few set scales, usually 1/32 for figures (sorry; never really got into 1/35), 1/72 for aircraft, 1/144 for spacecraft, etc. The problem arose when a number of older models that fell outside these scales would surface, and inevitably be needed to complete the collection. Whenever that occurred, I would allow for a minor standard for deviations; 10%. This would be both larger and smaller. For instance, when a 1/75 scale Spitfire is sitting near (but not next to) a proper 1/72 model, it looks perfectly fine. It's when the two are brought together that the difference is notable, but that is never the intention.

It is in larger scales that the problem more notably presents itself.

When I was younger, mixing larger scales for armor was very common place. 1/35 scale was just coming into its own, and the Japanese firm of Tamiya was beginning to flood the market. Meanwhile, older models in 1/32 scale were still available, especially with Monogram having made a large number of them (notably their Panzer Mk.IV variants). Most of these kits contained not only armor but figures. Complicating this was Nichimo, which had produced a few kits in 1/30, and likewise some of these kits contained figures.

In due time, it would be relatively easy for a modeller to amass a good many figures. The problem was, of course, that they really varied in size.

Ironically, they still fell within 10% of the median scale, 1/32. A 6' tall human stands 2.25" in 1/32. In 1/35, they stand 2.05", and in 1/30 2.4". In other words, the 2.05" figure would stand 5' 5.6" while the tower over the others at 6' 4.8". Between the extremes is almost a scale foot of difference.

That's not to say that such differences don't occur in nature; they do. But so many other aspects would vary as well; guns, helmets, gear. Ironically, there are actually more figures available in 1/32 (54mm) than in 1/35 (50mm).

The trick is trying to decide how to proceed. Obviously, larger equipment, such as artillery and vehicles, is not so big a deal during play. Even differing scale figures could still be used as long as they were not used together, provided the 10% rule is followed.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

I Rebuild A Cannon (or Britainizing the Barclay)

You might remember my Barclay cannon, which I wrote about on September 26th. 2010 in "The Guns of Late September". It was in bad shape; broken wheel, chip off the front of the barrel.

After a few weeks of consideration, I decided it was time to make the repairs. My approach was to use one of my favorite products, J-B Weld, that wonderful, and one might say legendary, metal filled epoxy. The shield would also be replaced with .010" brass. The results were more than satisfactory, they surprised me.

The wheel was the most challenging part of the repair. I used 3/32" aluminum tubing to shape a new rim, and also used it for the missing spokes. I positioned them initially with CA glue, and then slathered on the J-B Weld, waiting for it to set a little more and then shaping it just a little with a wooden strip. It was laid on an old Testors' Dullcote cap, covered in wax paper, that was punctured to allow the hub to fit through. Interesting note; when the wheels were removed, I discovered that the wheels had been installed the wrong way, and that the hubs were far more detailed. Once the J-B Weld had dried, I sanded and filed the wheels to achieve the proper shape. Not perfect, but better than no repair at all.

The barrel went faster as far as shaping was concerned. I used a 1/8" plastic tube with a piece of wax paper wrapped around inserted into the muzzle. J-B Weld was applied to the missing section, shaped, and once it had dried, it was rather simple to shape.

The shield was initially glued into place with contact cement and CA. However, I desired a more permanent fix, so I used two bolts to attach it.
There was another reason for using the bolts. I wanted to try my hand at a baked enamel finish, and contact adhesive will soften. The next step was to prime the model. I removed the wheels and sprayed the model with Rustoleum gray primer. Once that had set hard, the parts were painted Testors classic Olive Drab, with the tires done in flat black, the breech in silver (all Testors' classic).
To bake the model, the wheels were temporarily mounted on a toothpick axle and raised above the baking surface by some aluminum foil. The rest of the cannon was likewise lifted with a wad of foil, and the whole thing, paint still tacky, was placed in a 200 degree F oven for 30 minutes. Once it had finished (and what a wonderful smell), the model was allowed to cool and be reassembled.
This is the end result -

It looks more like a Britains' cannon now. The finish is very tough. Certainly an improvement over the beat up cannon I purchased.