Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Shaving Plastic Beards, Cropping Plastic Heads

One thing that really disappointments me is the extreme lack (at least in 54mm scale) of two major groups of combattants from the early months of the Great War; French and Belgian soldiers. Now, our friends at HäT make nice French in kepis in 1/72 scale (my preferred scale for fine modeling), but not in 1/32. The only company that makes anything resembling French troops in what could be considered pre-war garb is Armies in Plastic, and they are Foreign Legionnaires. Converting these into 1914 French infantry should be easy, right?

Sadly, wrong.

While most of the figures are excellent, the problem arises with the headgear; modifying the Foreign Legion kepi involves removing the fabric from the back, which almost always runs a considerable length down the back. Once that is removed, you would have to reshape the back of the heads and shoulders. Even something as simple as replacing the head would still require removing the scarf from the back and the shoulders.

There are options, make no mistake, just not easy ones.

When removing material from soft plastic figures, it is important to remember that it is not really forgiving and even seeks revenge by leaving hairs and burrs. It is easier, however, to add material.

This is why I chose to use the older BMC American Civil War soldiers for modeling French. Possibly not the best course of action, but one which makes sense to me.

As my first test proved, simply painting the soldier in French colors made him look decent enough. However, I decided to see if the same pose could be modified even more. I took one of the duplicates and proceeded to remove the top of the ACW kepi and shape a new from Sculpey. Just that modification alone vastly improved the gunner, but before the new kepi was attached, I decided to do some more changes. One of those involved modifying the trousers to look more like they were tucked into boots. That was not as easy as I thought it would be; the plastic that the BMC troops are molded from is a rather hard polyethylene. The next task was to modify the facial hair, which turned out to be a bit easier but still difficult. My soldier would have a mustache and goatee, a Van Dyke, if you will (more than likely an older non-com who was in the reserves and reactivated in August of 1914. So much for the pension, c'est la vie).

The results were pleasing though far from what I would consider show quality. However, for what will be one of my "regulars and reservists", adequate enough.

However, I am looking at not just a few soldiers but dozens that will be modified. It is easy to foresee going through vast numbers of knife blades, however to facilitate the headgear, at least, I have made a Sculpey mold for the basic kepi.

This could have been used to turn out Sculpey (or any other medium) kepis. There are other ways to make kepis as well without resorting to dies. Another method involves rolling out a "snake" of Sculpey to a little less than the correct diameter, flattening it to match the form for the cap, cooling it down in the refrigerator and cutting small lengths to the appropriate height and then baking them until cured. These can be used in a similar method to my first modification, simply cutting off the top of the American kepi.

The best method, however, turned out to be Squadron Green Putty. Basically, enough putty was added to start the kepi, and then while it was still soft, shaped. Once it had set overnight, it was simply a matter of sanding the kepi.

This officer was done that way, and while not quite finished, certainly looks decent enough.

The trouser/boot modification will probably not be used that often, though the facial hair modification will probably need to be (French military standards being what they were). Great coats will be avoided on these soldiers as well.

So this will probably be used for many of the "R & R troops" (regulars and reservists). I have yet to consider how to approach the Belgian troops. Sacre bleu!

Friday, October 22, 2010


As much as I'd like to, the amount of space we have is not really sufficient for a full blown "little war" a la Wells. However, I don't care much for modern kriegspiel either; the element of play simply is not there, and at times it seems too much like you're a general miles away from the front. While the more modern military wargames using 22mm to 28mm soldiers are popular (indeed, I have a number of 1/76-1/72 scale tanks), the sense of "playing with toy soldiers" is lost.

That said, these are my modifications to Wells' rules, pertaining to my favorite pieces in battle, artillery -

1. All guns will have the ability to fire a small projectile. If they are incapable of firing rounds, a gun simulator will be used, itself being a small portable device that can fire.

2. Rounds will be color coded as to caliber and type, as per the following, (with effective blast radii) -

Red - 3 inch/75 - 77mm/15-18 pounder (3 inch/75mm)

Orange - 4 inch/100 - 105mm/25 pounder (4 inch/100mm)

Yellow - 4.5-4.7 inch/115 - 120mm (5 inch/125mm)

Green - 5 inch/125 - 130mm (6 inch/150mm)

Blue - 6 inch/150 - 170mm (7 inch/175mm)

Black - 8 - 9 inch/200 - 210mm (also covers 40 to 65 pounders) (9 inch/225mm)

3. Each player will be provided with "blast disks" for the appropriate weapons used.

4. Any personnel within the blast radius is considered a casualty

5. Blast disks will be labeled with concentric areas in thirds - Mortal (center), Severe (middle), Stunned (outer).

The rest of the rules pertaining to movement and firing are as per Wells. All rounds will be assumed to be HE; schrapnel/anti-personnel rounds are rather unsportsmanlike. While that may seem ironic, yea even naive (we are, after all, talking war), it is the only way to ensure that the game is kept on somewhat a level playing field.

Which, in and of itself, is also ironic...

Thursday, October 7, 2010


Cannons have always fascinated me. While I've always built model airplanes, ships and tanks, I've seldom built artillery. I mean, I have made a few pieces, notable amongst them the classic Hasegawa 1/72 155mm US Army Long Tom (built that model several times, at least thrice). In late 1978, I set out to build a model of the that Long Tom in 1/18 scale, using the Hasegawa kit as a guide. The results weren't really half bad, though I never got past the wheels

Where military artifacts are concerned, cannons are perhaps the most accessible. Many towns throughout the United States and abroad have them on display in parks, along the roadside, maybe at museums, almost always at military bases. And sometimes, they are foreign; for some reason, Connecticut has been gifted with a number of German Great War pieces. As for my current home here in northeast Florida, there appears to be a smattering of American made plus some odd Spanish and possibly one French made piece.

My first acquaintance with cannons were with replica French pieces at the Fort Caroline National Monument, a small replica of the original 16th century settlement. I had only seen cannons from a distance, never up close. They were impressive, imposing to my seven year old mind. A few years later I bought a book by Albert Manucy at the Fort, "Artillery Through the Ages". It was a simple book, not particularly large, more an introduction to the science of the cannon. I wanted so badly to build a model of one afterwards.

My first attempt was a mess. Twelve year old me did not understand modeling techniques as well as he would have liked to.

Flash forward to today. I had not build a cannon since 1978, and suddenly I'm struck with the fever. Oh, such joy, these deadly toys. My first cannon, one of those wooden craft kits, turned out just barely okay. My second cannon, though, the de Bange 155mm, really surprised me, especially when compared with the original craft kit from which it evolved. Once it was completed, I decided to try my hand at an 8-inch Mark I, a cobbled together British beast of early 1916.

But I stopped, thinking to myself, can the original kit be made to resemble anything in 54mm-1/32 scale?

With that in mind, I set out to find a prototype. The closest I came was the British RML 64 pounder 71 CWT, at least for the barrel.

These were rebuilt cannons, repurposed from larger guns. They were really meant as secondary weapons, usually used on second line ships or for sea coast defense. They didn't have anything resembling a normal carriage.

But, if they did, how would it be done?

Which brings us to my model.

The carriage is purely fiction, using all of the components of the kit but built with the improvised carriages used during the Second Boer War in mind. The carriage was built pretty much per the instructions, though detailing was added. I drilled out four holes in the wheels, as equidistant as I could, being as the wheels are not only off center, they are also not quite perfectly circular. These in turn were detailed in a fashion similar to the Percy Scott carriages on the Royal Navy 4.7 inch cannons used during that conflict.

I gussied the barrel up to more resemble the 64 pounder's, though, as typical with these kits, there were problems with the bore (yes, this model will fire). The wraps were made from index card stock, the touchhole being built up from basswood.

The final model looks decent, a bit of early 19th century crossed with late 19th century.

May have been purely fictional, but it looks effective. This was really a rather rushed job, meant to be simply fun more than anything else. I've picked up yet another one of these kits (after checking the bore), thinking about another 64 pounder 71 CWT, this one on a garrison mount.