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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Bunkers on a budget

If you ever feel like setting up your own Siegfried or Maginot Line or an Atlantic Wall to storm from the Normandy beaches, or simply find yourself in need of bunkers, one solution which I have come across which is both cost-effective and produces structures of acceptable realism is to use the styrofoam that comes as protection with TVs, computers, printers, etc. It often comes with round corners and colum-looking shapes which resemble a concrete structure. With a little bit of spray paint and cutting a couple of firing slots you can have a fairly decent-looking bunker in very little time and for almost no cost (other than the new TV!). Here are a few examples that I built a few years back.
Sometimes the challenge is finding something to cover the openings in the front that looks acceptable and provides protection to the defending troops.

Some of them also have pits on top which make great observation posts.

This one has some nice lines and shapes.

They are also fairly sturdy. This one shows quite a few marble impact marks from all the attempts in past battles to knock out the guys inside.

This one is not the prettiest, but one day I found myselft with eight of these and well, they got pressed into service.

This one had a hole on top which got filled with an observation tower, or perhaps it's a chimney stack? This building has also played the part of a factory at Stalingrad. Note that a small piece of cardboard acts as a platform for the firing slots on the second level. 

Click here to see shots of Waffen SS troops defending some bunkers.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Making a stand at the Siegfried Line - German Waffen-SS in Action

As the pressure on the Western front builds up, the German Army falls back to the pepared positions at the Siegfried Line or Westwall, as the Germans used to call it, where its unbreachability will be put to the test. These are the gates to the Fatherland, so the defenders will be putting up a stiff fight.

The setup is a primarily a combination of Conte Collectibles bunkers & dragon's teeth with Forces of Valor accessories. The defenders are a mix of Conte and Toy Soldiers of San Diego.  

Firing from behind whatever cover is available.

A man with a panzerfaust waiting for the right moment to spring the trap.

A Forces of Valor elephant providing some anti-tank support at this roadblock. The real roadblock gates at the Siegfried line looked like this.

Urging the men forward.

MG 42 team pinning down the supporting infantry.

Scanning the battlefield for his next target or just being cautions moving up? The heavy caliber guns loom menacing inside the bunkers in the background. Those will be a tougher nut to crack.

It will require some combat engineers to blow up these obstacles to allow any wide vehicles through.

This Airfix tower is not the place where you would want to have to fight from, but it provides a better vantage point, and it might force the opponent to take it out early, revealing that the attack is coming.   

A slightly wider view of the action.  

Featured figures: Conte Collectibles Waffen SS, Conte Collectibles German Infantry, Toy Soldiers of San Diego Waffen SS, TSSD Waffen SS, TSSD Elite Troops. Featured Vehicle: Forces of Valor Elephant.

Friday, June 24, 2011

US Armor: The Priest

The Priest, also known as the 105 mm Howitzer Motor Carriage M7, was a self propelled artillery piece manufactured by the US and put into service on the allied side. The Priest saw action starting in North Africa with the British, and later on with the Americans in Italy and the Normandy campaigns. It was the British that apparently gave it its nickname because of the machine gunner's 'pulpit'. Eventually the British developed their own self-propelled artillery which was compatible with their ammunition and they transformed their Priests into gunless Armored Personnel Carriers, which they referred to as Kangaroos. A Kangaroo could fit 20 men plus a two-man crew. Somehow I don't think 20 of my guys would fit in there, even if I were to remove the gun. One thing I wonder about self propelled artillery is how hard it is to aim and make adjustments, since to aim left or right, they probably have to drive with one track slightly backwards or forwards. This Priest was made by 21st Century Toys, and even though the box was branded as 'die cast', it is pretty much made out of plastic. Even so, it is a nice vehicle. I've actually seen it in a different paint scheme with slightly smaller stars that have a circle around them, and the name Annamae written on the side. This vehicle comes with two figures: a driver and a gunner.

Click here to see pictures of more US Armor.
Click here to see some shots of GIs in action in Normandy.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

US Artillery Support

This crew comes to us courtesy of Forces of Valor. They are operating a 105mm howitzer. This is the same gun that was mounted on the M7 'Priest', which was the self propelled version of this gun. There are not many artillery pieces and even fewer crews in the WWII plastic world, and Forces of Valor certainly did a nice job with this set.

Click here to see some pictures of GIs in action in Normandy.
Here are some shots of GIs in action in Italy.
Here you can see pictures of US Armor.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Hand-Painted vs Factory-Painted

The attractive thing about adding some factory-painted figures to your ranks is that well, they are already painted so it can save you many hours of work. The downside is of course that not all paint jobs are created equal. There is likely to be a big difference in colors and level of detail across manufacturers, and also with your own painting standards. Then again, perhaps the time savings outweigh those differences, or perhaps you can actually buy enough factory-painted guys to create a fighting unit sufficiently large that does not need to include figures with another paint scheme so you avoid the issue altogether.
To illustrate the differences in paint colors and level of detail I have prepared a few shots of factory and hand-painted figures. Take a look and be the judge.
GIs (left to right): 21st Century mortar crewman, 21st Century infantryman, Forces of Valor, Toy Soldiers of San Diego (hand-painted), First Gear (Recent Britains Deetail Recasts), Original Britains Deetail. A wide range of colors. Quality-wise, the thing that I least like are the eyes on the First Gear figure. It is very easy to do a bad job on the eyes, and that's why I don't even try. Plus, at the distance that you usually look at them you don't really get to see much of the eyes anyhow.

Soviet: 21st Century Toys, Supreme Playsets (Italeri Recasts), Marx (hand-painted), 21st Century Toys, Supreme Playsets. The paint job on the Supreme Playset guys is really poor, except for the eyes, which are surprisingly well done. They probably did this to compensate for the sloppy job on the rest of the figure.

Japanese: First Gear, 21st Century Toys, Britains Deetail, Airfix (hand-painted). I have to admit that I like the paint job on the 21st Century figure much more than my own.

German Infantry: 21st Century Toys (initial series), Forces of Valor, 21st Century Toys (late series), Britains Deetail, First Gear. I don't know what they were thinking when they chose light blue for the Britains Deetail guys. Once I read that Britains Deetail would try to use only six colors on their figures, but in this case I don't even think that can be used as the excuse. On the other hand, the 21st Century guy in the middle is really among the best factory painted jobs and a real improvement over their initial series.

German Paratroops: 21st Century on left and right, Airfix (hand-painted), middle. The one on the left is wearing a cammo jumping smock. The one on the right is probably meant to be wearing the early war colors, but his colors don't really resemble those I found when I researched how to paint my Airfix guys. 

Featured figures: 21st Century Toys US Infantry, Forces of Valor US Infantry, TSSD US Infantry, Toy Soldiers of San Diego US Infantry, First Gear US Infantry, Britains Deetail US Infantry,  21st Century Toys Soviet Infantry, Supreme Playsets Soviet Infantry, Italeri Soviet Infantry, Marx Soviet Infantry, 21st Century Toys Japanese Infantry, First Gear Japanese Infantry, Britains Deetail Japanese Infantry, Airfix Japanese Infantry, 21st Century Toys German Infantry, Forces of Valor German Infantry, Britains Deetail German Infantry, First Gear  German Infantry, 21st Century Toys German Paratroops, Airfix German Paratroops

Monday, June 20, 2011

Trench Builder

To complement the previous post about the Trench System I would like to share with you a video of a small program that I wrote at the time that I was building the Trench System to help me visualize all the possible trench configurations, given a set of available trench modules and the desired width of the system. Back then, I used this information to decide how many trench modules of each type to build and, just recently, I replaced the temporary images for actual pictures of the trench modules. The program also allows you to order the available pieces and specify how many of each you have, which in turn influences the order in which the resulting configurations will be 'discovered'. The program will pause a configurable amount of time (1 sec for this video) between each solution. I only recorded about a minute of the program's execution, but the program can actually run for hours and hours. Notice that there is also a setting to display configurations that end up leading to a 'dead end', meaning that some pieces remain with open connectors, and therefore the solution is not valid. Selecting that option makes the display a lot more interactive, but it also slows down the program, so I only turned it on during a portion of the video. If I ever find the time I might rewrite it for the web and let you play with it first hand. Even if you are just considering a hypothetical trench system I still find it fairly entertaining to watch.

Follow this link to watch the Trench Builder video.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Trench System

By now, the trench system used as the backdrop of some of the pictures from previous posts might be starting to look familiar, so today I'd like to share with you how that looks in its entirety and how it was built. How it looks really depends on how you want to set it up and how much space you have. The system is modular, with each piece measuring 1 square ft. The entrances to each trench piece are always located in the same place so that they can connect with any other piece as seen below.

I have built 18 pieces so far, and that allows me to build quite a few scenarios. There are corner pieces at a 90 degree angle, corner pieces at 45 degree angles, straight sections, semi-straight sections with a bend in the middle, a 4-way intersection, 3 way-intersections, a command bunker, a firing bay for a tank, an end section, a couple of firing bays for artillery pieces, and a couple of filler sections with craters on them.  Below are a couple of assembled configurations from past setups.

A setup in depth

A stretched out setup

In terms of how it was built, each piece is made with a plywood base. The trench itself is made with little wooden pieces from twigs and branches, glued with hot glue, using a 'glue gun'.

The slopes of the trenches are made using styrofoam, cutting away and scraping off what you don't need in order to give it some realistic profile. Note that the slope always has to be at the same angle if you want to ensure that it will align with any neighboring section.
The styrofoam is then covered with paper mache. The paper mache I use is called Celluclay. You just mix it with water and add some Elmer's glue to it and you are good to go.
Inserted into the paper mache you can add little rocks, logs (more little branches) and vegetation (decorative moss). When the paper mache dries it can painted over with acrylic paint.

Another configuration of the assembled trench system. This is as compact as it can get.

Click here to explore the many different configurations that can be built with the Trench System.

Upcoming CTS Release - The votes are in

Today I got an email from CTS with the results of the poll mentioned in an earlier post and unfortunately the GIs lost by 23%. I guess we'll just have to wait a little bit longer for those GIs. The email did not specify a release date, but the orignal note had mentioned September.

UPDATE: the release of the second set of GIs just happened last week, third week of September!

Friday, June 17, 2011

A Company of German Infantry in Action

Here are some pictures of last post's German company in action on the eastern front. These guys are defending a well prepared position which they've been able to build up while the Soviets were getting ready for their next offensive. I was inspired to build this setup by some of the scenes in the film Cross of Iron.
You may notice that the paint job on the figures when I took these pictures was still lacking the final blackwashing coat, and therefore they still have a less realistic, glossy finish. Maybe someday I will rebuild that scene and get some updated pictures, but for now, let's pretend they are a bit dirtier, as you would expect from a unit in action.
You may also notice that I have made wide spread use of all those little accessories that come with Forces of Valor figures and vehicles. When you get each of those sets, you get a few cans, boxes and the like. Not much from each set. However, when used in bulk on a scene like this, they can add some nice touches.

The main firing line

Command post bunker as MG nest

Also inside the CP, a 21 Century Toys Pak 40 

Rushing to the front

21 Century Toys 88 mm gun, anti tank role 

Making good use of those craters

Forces of Valor 88 mm gun - shows the 'kills' on its armor plate

Another 21 Century Toys 88mm gun

That was a brave Kamerad charging that MG armed with just a pistol

The enemy is getting close... time to break out those potato mashers!

Forces of Valor King Tiger in firing bay

Thursday, June 16, 2011

German Infantry - Part I

One downside of trying to assemble larger units is that most of the time you end up having to deploy multiple guys with the same pose in order to make your numbers. That is still the case for most countries/branches of the service that participated in WWII. In recent years, a series of new sets have improved the situation for American GIs and for Soviet Infantry. However the ones that have really made it possible for me to get to my magic number have been the German Infantry. A company -100 strong- of unique poses. All painted in the same style to blend them into a single unit. Note that I avoided pre-painted figures and figures that had winter uniforms or cammo smocks. I also tried to stick to 'action/battle' poses, therefore you won't see any marching guys or dead guys. Lastly, I did not want to have more tha 10 prone figures. The chosen ones are featured below, grouped by manufacturer.

Conte Collectibles German Infantry Set 1 

Conte Collectibles German Infantry Set 2 - First Half
Note that Conte introduced plug-in arms which allows the creation of new poses by just exchanging the weapon/accessory. In the case above, the guy with the MG-42 is the same figure as the guy with the phone.

Conte Collectibles German Infantry Set 2 - Second Half
Again, by using pluggable arms, I was able to create four figures out of two base running guys.

Conte Collectibles German Infantry Set 3

Airfix German Infantry

Airfix Afrika Korps
Here I borrowed figures from a different 'branch of service', but once they are painted they look like German Infantry, which I guess is what they actually were. 

BMC German Infantry

Classic Toy Soldiers German Infantry - First Half

Classic Toy Soldiers German Infantry - Second Half

ESCI German Infantry

Marx German Infantry - First Half

Marx German Infantry - Second Half

Matchbox German Infantry
Note that to the right there is a bazooka/panzerschreck guy which to my knowledge is not part of the original set. It came in a bucket of clones, but it must be based on Matchbox figures as the sculpting and all his equipment is just like the other guys'.

Matchbox Afrika Korps
Again, here I borrowed from another 'service branch', but they look like normal infantry...

MPC German Infantry
These guys are not my favorite. A bit too stiff for my taste, but I included some of their poses so that they would be represented. There were three other poses that I did not paint.

Revell Afrika Korps (left) & Reproductions of Marx 6" figures (middle, right)
Same branch story with the Revell guy. The manufacturer of the 54mm versions of the 6" Marx guys is unclear to me. I bought them advertised as SWTS figures (Steve Weston Toy Soldiers), but I have not been able to comfirm that claim. He does not mention them on his web site.

The whole unit.

Click here to see a post of the German company in action.
Here you can see pictures of additional German Infantry figures.
Click here to see German Paratroops in action.
Click here to see German Waffen SS in action.