Tuesday 19 December 2023

Rivers


I've spent ages with these river sections half-complete, trying to find an acceptable colour for the water.

Looking online one can find a variety of approaches to represent rivers on the Wargames table and all have their problems. The 'gold standard', I suppose, is sculpted terrain boards with rivers cut into the surface below 'ground level', the river bed realistically modelled (and coloured) then filled with clear or translucent resin, relying mainly on reflection to give a realistic water effect. As well as the usual terrain board problems of storage and lack of flexibility, this has the additional issues of dealing with resin and getting the levels to match. 

The alternative is having something to lay on top of the table - with the first obvious problem that rivers are not usually elevated above the surrounding countryside! 

The next issue is colour - with no depth of resin, you have to make a conscious choice of colour for the water. Every child knows that water is blue - except, of course, it isn't and the apparent colour depends on the viewing angle, what is being reflected, water depth and anything suspended in the water so it can be a medium blue, pale blue or grey from reflections of the sky; milky white from glacial sediment; dark green from reflected trees; pea green from algae or dark brown/green/grey from a clear view of the river bed. One thing real rivers don't look like is off-white with a light fitting in the middle so a perfectly reflective surface that just mirrors my dining room ceiling won't do.

In the end, and after a number of false starts, I went with the child's image of a blue river and mixed up a medium greenish blue from cheap craft paints. I wanted to fade this into my base earth colour at the edges and, after trying to do this by brushing and blending, gave up and used my air brush - in fact the household emulsion and cheap craft paints seemed to airbrush more reliably than the model paints I normally use!


To try to hide the fact that the river is sitting above table level, I made the banks quite wide with  a shallow angle leading up to the river banks. I built up the level with foamboard that I cut to give a fairly steep river bank and gentle lead-in angle, smoothed it off with repair plaster then finished with my usual figure and scenery basing process. 


At some point I'll have a go at a more Normandy-specific river - something narrow, shallow and with heavily vegetated banks. Maybe even take a 1km section of a real river and try to duplicate that but for now these will do. 



Tuesday 21 November 2023

Bocage Hedges

No Normandy Wargames table seems complete without bocage hedges, even if much of the fighting by British and Canadian forces wasn't in the bocage. 

Many years ago I bought a roll of rubberised horsehair, about 2" thick, which I cut up and attached 'leaves' to. This has served as my bocage hedges ever since, even though they lacked the built up banks and took up a lot of table space. I always intended to make something better but have only just got round to it.

The first question then is what the ideal wargames bocage hedge should look like. An online search shows a wide variety of model hedges, some more satisfying looking than others.

The online Encyclop├ędie du d├ębarquement et de la bataille de Normandie makes the important point that: "The very nature of the hedges in 1944 is not the same as it is today, physiologically as well as utilitarian. At the time of the Normandy landing, the hedges are on average five meters tall, a smaller height than today. Particularly well maintained, they have an economic role predominant in the region, which has largely disappeared these days. Indeed, if the hedges serve to delimit the properties and retain the flow of water, they also serve to keep the cows or the horses. Providing non-negligible food supplements thanks to the presence of numerous apple and pear trees ... this vegetable mass bordered mostly by nettles and brambles.

I suppose this shouldn't be a surprise - field hedges today in England are no-longer as carefully (and labour-intensively) maintained as they used to be because the job of keeping stock in or out is done by fences. The implication is that we can't rely on modern photographs to show how Normandy hedges would have appeared in 1944. I therefore spent a lot of time looking for contemporary photographs.

A regular theme in these photographs was the number of trees growing in the hedges, as in this aerial view.

This diagram of a cross-section through a hedge seems to crop up on several Wargames scenery blog posts so I hope the originator won't mind me also reproducing it here. I kept the banks of my bocage hedges within this size range,

In summary then, I decided to  make my banks 25mm wide and 12mm high (though with some sections a little higher and undulating. I'm also assuming that the hedge is hiding the highest central portion of the bank) with steep sides. The hedges would add another 25 - 35mm, so a bit less in total than the average 5m in scale terms. I would also include numerous trees along the hedge sections and try to strike a balance between making them look solid and well tended enough to be effective barriers to livestock but slightly irregular - field hedges rather than an exercise in topiary at a National Trust property!

I made the banks on an MDF structure, with a base cut from 2mm sheet (the whole lot came from one 50p remnant from a local builder's merchant) and strips of narrower MDF cut from thicker pieces. I tried to make the edges of the base and the top layer slightly irregular to give a more natural look. The banks were filled in with repair plaster, with PVA applied to the dry MDF to help with adhesion. 


Once the plaster was dry, I smoothed off any obvious lumps and applied my usual basing techniques. Initially I tried applying the static grass with my new electro-static applicator but that actually looked worse than just putting it on by hand as it made the 'grass' grow out at a perfect 90° from the banks rather than vertically. I think I'll save the applicator for more horizontal surfaces! I've made a variety of straight lengths, L and T-sections. 

On a recent trip to Skye, I walked past an area with lots of uprooted heather where the leaves and flowers had come off, leaving a rather tree-like skeleton so I picked a few up for possible later scenic use. These produced some sections that were good as they were but others were a bit lacking in branches so I added these with twisted wire. I wish I'd picked much more as this was nothing like enough and I supplemented the numbers with bits of twig from the garden, again with added wire branches. I covered the wire with a couple of coats of flexible filler before painting - it didn't need to be perfect as it was mostly covered by the horsehair.


I still had some of the 2" thick rubberised horse hair left over from my earlier hedges and bought some 1" thick sheet from a local upholsterer - about 4' x 1' for £10. The 2" thick type proved much better as it was easier to get a more natural, irregular look, without pulling it to pieces and losing all cohesion.

After cutting the sheet to an approximate size, I sprayed it black and stuck it to the top of the banks with tacky glue. I tried various methods of holding it in place whilst the glue set but the best was to thread short (3 or 4") lengths of florists wire through the hedge and fold it around the underside of the bank - this held it firmly without squashing the upper parts of the hedges. It also made it possible to get some bits to overlap down the sides of the banks. Once the glue was set, I pulled and cut the horsehair to a final shape and dry-brushed it brown.

The foliage was the cork granules that I'd coloured with acrylic paint - half with Hooker's Green and half with paler Chromium Green. I did some tress or lengths of hedge with one, some the other and some with a mix to try to get variety - where I used the mix, I applied the Chromium Green from the top as a highlight. 


Another question was what to do about gates. John Boadle of the Hand-Built History blog had pointed out that I couldn't just assume these would look like the typical English country 5-bar gate, so I spent some time 'driving around' Normandy in Google Street View and looking for contemporary photographs or art work. I wasn't able to find as many contemporary references as I would have liked but a common theme of Northern French wooden gates seems to be a high vertical post on the hinge-side of the gate and more vertical strips of wood than we normally see on UK gates. I was also struck that a lot of field openings appeared to have no gate at all.


This is a modern photograph but variations on this theme (some with 4 or 5 horizontal pieces, fewer vertical stakes or an offset V rather than simple diagonal brace) cropped up in street view, old paintings and even a sketch in the Imperial War Museum collection from the first world war.

So far, I have scratch built 5 different gates out of plastic strip. With the aid of a simple jig, this was nothing like as fiddly as one might expect and I plan to do a few more, and some gate-free but muddy openings, but this will do for now. 


I'm very pleased with how the trees have turned out - better, I think than than the commercial bottle-brush trees I currently use for my woods - so I guess replacing those with the twig and horsehair method (or possibly wire armatures) has to go on my jobs to do list. Not too near the top though - I have neglected the figure painting side of things for too long as it is!


So that's my first 22 feet of bocage. I will make some more gateways and field openings and some curved sections, possible double pieces with a road curve running between them but the latter will have to wait for another project to make some new metalled roads. I also plan to make some non-bocage hedges using the same horsehair and cork granules method.







Friday 6 October 2023

German Pak 40 and field fortification.


These have been a lot of work and cost just to put two guns on the table!

I already had a Peter Pig Pak 40 painted to my older style and basing scheme but wanted at least two guns with tows and, whilst I was placing an order with PSC in their sale saw that they had a box of 4 guns that could be assembled as Pak 40 or Pak 38 along with the appealingly eccentric looking Raupenschlepper tractors for considerably less than it would have cost for another Peter Pig gun, a bag of crew and a couple of Sd.Kfz. 10s from Skytrex so I added them to the order without much thought. I later realised that the Raupenschlepper wasn't much used in Normandy and the supplied crews were rather flat so I ended up buying a bag of Peter Pig gun crew anyway and, later, a couple of Sd.Kfz. 10s off Ebay. The PSC Pak 40s are very nice but I'm not sure what I'll do with the Raupenschlepper tractors or the spare couple of sprues.

Another issue was what size base to use, as none of my existing sizes were suitable - the usual squad base at 30x50 fitted lengthways but would have required a very narrow trail leg angle. I initially tried 50mm square but that had a lot of empty space and had a knock-on effect for the emplacement so I eventually settled on 40 wide by 50 deep as a compromise.

I thought it would be nice to have some dug in emplacements for the guns. This brings up the usual problem for more modern periods of not being able to dig in to a plywood table so we are left with trying to create a terrain piece to place on top of the table that gives some sense of an excavated position.

I started with 2mm mdf, made the inner-face of the dugout from card and built up the front from layers of mdf, glued together. I had the front corners of my dugout overlap the gun bases slightly which took a bit of fiddling about to get right.

I added some detail of posts and planks from plasticard and plastic rod then smoothed the outer slopes with repair plaster.

I used my usual basing scheme and added bushes from rubberised horse hair, sprayed black, dry-brushed with browns and with the 'leaves' made from cork granules coloured with green acrylic paint. On the latter point, a big thank you to John Boadle of the excellent Hand Built History blog for kindly giving me a big milk carton full of cork granules and explaining the process he uses for trees and hedges.

The Pak 40 bases fit in well - as I mentioned, the front edge and corners disappear under the "wooden" bank reinforcements.



Next on the table is a project to make new hedges and I'll use the same cork granules, in a couple of different colour mixes, for those so the idea is that these will match in. I'm also going to do some smaller dug-in positions for machine guns and the British 6 pdr guns. These will be of a more hastily prepared design, as a contrast to these which have obviously been prepared some time in advance of the battle.








Sunday 13 August 2023

Basing scheme

  


After a comment asking about what basing recipe I used, I thought it might be interesting to do a more detailed step by step post on basing.

I first used this scheme for my Italian Wars French army and the idea was to give a sense of Southern European ground - slightly sun-bleached rocky soil with patches of different grasses. I also think a paler basing scheme makes the figures stand out better. I used the same scheme for my terrain and that rather committed me to keep using it for other armies. Not a bad choice for my Late Romans to inherit but maybe less suitable for Normandy! 

Another objective was to be a reasonable match for my table. I bought my terrain mat some years ago from Antenocitis Workshop. It was called “Mat O War” and is a sort of very stiff synthetic felt - no chance of getting it to drape over hills! They told me they got them from Ireland and that it was made by compressing (presumably with some heat) the type of fibres used for static grass. They did two versions, a pale sand and the multi-tone green that I bought. The bad news is that I don't think it is available any more - in fact the Antenocities website no-longer seems to exist. 

The mat was an exact (as far as I can tell) match for their “DECORPLUS 2mm Gamer Grass Mix” and I originally used that for basing - the Kallistra static grass I use now is brighter, a single colour and more green so I dry brush a bit of yellow ochre to tone it down so the figure bases and scenery still match fairly well with the mat. 

As a final step, in preparing the figures for basing, I paint the cast figure's base with my base earth colour. This means I don't have to texture and paint right up to their feet when they are glued to the element base so makes the process a little easier.


My bases are 2mm laser cut MDF from Minibits or WarBases with self-adhesive 0.8mm magnetic sheet from Magnetic Displays. I stick the MDF base on the whole magnetic sheet, cut it off with a bit of excess then trim the magnetic sheet more closely with a sharp knife before sanding the edges to give a more or less seamless finish. Recently I've also been giving the underside a dusting of Halfords white primer to give a nice clean base for the unit name labels - also, for those without labels, it makes them less prone to sliding off hills.


I attach the figures with neat PVA adhesive. When that is dry, I fill in around the bases with a water-based filler. A coating of watered down PVA helps this adhere and I use a wet (old) brush to push the filler into place.

Next I paint the base with slightly diluted PVA, add a few small bits of rock and rounded sand grains (around 1mm) then sprinkle with fine sand, shaking off the excess immediately. When the PVA is dry, I brush off the bits that haven't fully adhered. I take particular care that there is nothing stuck around the edges.


Originally I used Humbrol Dark Earth as the base colour but I wanted to use the same mix for scenery and that would have been rather expensive so I bought a big tub of discontinued brown emulsion from B&Q. The colour isn't much like the Humbrol but that doesn't seem to matter to the final look. Being water based, it doesn't wet the textured surface as well as enamel paint diluted with white spirit so I usually need to do some touching up once the first coat is dry. There are usually a few bits of sand stuck by the emulsion around the edges so I remove those at this stage.

Dry brush acrylic yellow ochre, fairly heavily then more lightly with yellow ochre + white. Around the edges, I try to get an effect of vertical streaks rather than a simple dry-brushing and finish them off with some pale olive green - a match pot of emulsion. I find this helps the bases disappear into the terrain cloth and disguises the height of the base somewhat.

The larger rocks are painted with Vallejo London Grey then dry-brushed with Pale Grey. No real logic to this but it makes them stand out nicely. Although I try to be as neat as possible with all this, invariable a stray bit of basing paint gets on one or two figures, requiring some touching up.



The tufts are MiniNature 737-22 and the static grass is "Spring Meadow Flock" from Kallistra. As mentioned above, I dry brush over the Kallistra grass with yellow ochre to tone it down a bit.








Wednesday 8 March 2023

Army box labels


With a growing number of Really Useful Boxes full of figures and vehicles, I thought some sort of labelling would be a good idea to avoid having to open each in turn to see what was inside.

Rather than just having text labels, I wanted some pictures. It was easy enough to find images on the web that would be suitable for the Romans, Italian Wars French and 11th Armoured Division but the WW2 Germans were a bit more difficult - I certainly didn't want boxes with Swastikas on the side but nothing else seemed to have sufficient immediate impact and recognisability. In the end, I went for a plain German cross against a 3 colour camouflage - as seen on the sides of vehicles. After a bit of searching, I found a suitable image which I cropped and edited to make sure the colours were bright and distinct then superimposed the cross.

Tuesday 7 March 2023

More Late Roman skirmishing bowmen - Sagittarii Venatores expanded to 9 bases.

 

Back in September 2020, I completed a unit of Late Roman skirmishing bowment, the Sagittarii Venatores. https://smallitalianwars.blogspot.com/2020/09/late-roman-skirmishing-bowmen.html At that time I only painted 12 figures for 6 bases but Mortem et Gloriam has skirmishers deployed 3 bases deep and 6 is rather a small unit so I have found myself borrowing figures for each game to make up the numbers to 9 bases. 

As a break from Khaki and Field Grey, I've painted 6 more figures to complete the unit. At some point I'll probably do a couple more bases of horse archers, for the same reason. 





Monday 20 February 2023

4 KSLI Platoon 12, an 'O' Group Battalion and Support


The 15 figures of Platoon 12 completes my 4th King's Shropshire Light Infantry, B Company in 'O' Group terms. All the figures are from Peter Pig.

It also means I now have the basics of an 'O' Group British battalion plus some supports, albeit one of the companies, the mortar FOO, 6 pdr guns and two Vickers MMGs using bases that I painted years ago for 'Overlord' rules). The Daimler Dingo is also an old one and doesn't match the painting style of the other vehicles (or have the correct markings). 


Next on the list for the British are the carrier platoon, new bases for the FOO, MMGs and 6 pdrs and Lloyd Carriers as anti tank gun tows. Replacing that third company with new bases is well off to the right of my schedule.

Before that though, I need to paint some more Germans - infantry, PaK 40s and their tows.