Thursday, 31 January 2019

Secunda Britannica, Legio Comitatenses

Here is my second unit completed: the Secunda Britannica, Legio Comitatenses. Again this unit was chosen back in the 1980s when I started my Late Roman Army, partly for the British connection and partly for the attractive shield colours. It seems a popular choice: I have seen quite a few pictures of this unit in miniature online and Little Big Men studios offer transfers for the shields.

I intended this to be the first unit I would complete so re-used most of the already painted legionaries with spear and shield. Unfortunately, just as I thought I had it finished, I hit a few problems: lead rot had attacked the officer and aquilifer - the former snapped off at the ankles just as I was doing the basing and, at that eleventh hour, I noticed a deep pit of crumbling metal on the aquilifer. As I was going to have to replace these, I also decided to save the un-armoured trumpeter figure for an auxilia and to add an extra legionary to the command base, just to make a better, more balanced arrangement. As this took a bit of time, I actually finished painting the Lanciarii Gallicani Honoriani first.

The officer was easily replaced with one from Gladiator Miniatures - again I made a new shield from brass sheet and Milliput. The aquilifer was more of a problem - I had a couple of spare Asgard / TTG figures but the moulding was so poor that the faces were gaping hollows, making them look unsettlingly like a Roman Nazgul. Instead I used a Gladiator Miniatures figure but with an Asgard eagle as the descriptions I have read suggest that these were normally made side on, rather than facing with wings spread. The aquilifer's sword scabbard was ridiculously narrow, looking more like a holder for a conductor's baton, so I filed it down and glued in a wider piece of metal to match the other figures.

At some point I had acquired some Minifigs Byzantine figures, including trumpeters with large shields - very similar to their Late Roman legionaries - but armoured with large scales, what look like braces with a chest strap and a very different helmet. I took one of these, filed down the armour, added a diagonal strap (like the legionaries) from foil, did a head swap for a ridged helmet and made a new trumpet from brass rod and Milliput to replace the mis-moulded one of the figure. The picture shows the result next to an original figure on the right.

For ease of painting, I simplified the shield pattern, making the "spokes" straight rather than bulged out in the middle. Now I have seen the excellent transfers from Little Big Men, I regret this but not enough to go back and repaint them! The small black dots at the outside ends of the spokes were done with the end of a cocktail stick dipped in thinned black paint. It took a bit of trial and error to cut (with a very sharp knife) the end to the correct diameter and then find the right paint consistency and depth but once I got that sorted out, it was quick and easy - certainly much easier than using a brush. You just need to clean the paint off the stick every so often and check the paint hasn't thickened too much from evaporation.

Once the aquilifer was painted, I noticed a problem. As far as I can see, his headdress is a wolf rather than a lion so, although modelled carrying an eagle, I think that makes him a signifier? I'll live with it for this one but I'm not sure what to do for my third legion when I do that - is it easier to add a human face to the Asgard / TTG figure or a lion's face to the Gladiator Miniatures one?

The legionary on the left is completely newly painted whilst that on the right is one of my original 1980's paint jobs tidied up. The difference shows particularly in the face and the paint thickness on features like the crest.

That's two 1980s nostalgia legions done and I have a cavalry unit almost finished too. After that I'm not sure what to do next - an auxilia, another cavalry unit or maybe some of my backlog of WW2 or Italian Wars figures.

Monday, 21 January 2019

Lanciarii Gallienci Honoriani, Legio Comitatenses

I have just completed the first unit of my new-old Late Roman Army, a Legio Comittensis: Lanciarii Gallienci Honoriani which I chose all those years ago for its striking but fairly easily painted shield pattern.

As mentioned before, although the consensus interpretation now is that 4th-5th Century Roman legionaries and auxiliaries most likely wore mail armour in battle, these old 1980s figures were based very closely on Phil Barker / WRG's Armies and Enemies of Ancient Rome which settled on moulded leather armour for legionaries and nothing for auxiliaries. It states that surviving colour images of such legionary armour show it as a yellow-brown, the same as the (presumably leather) pteruges. I used a mix of Valejo golden brown (actually a warm yellow ochre) with a touch of red leather to depict this, as much because that gives an attractive warm colour as for any historical logic.

Back in the mists of time, I had two legionary units painted before the project stalled. Each had 13 figures with a short spear, an officer, trumpeter, aquilifer and 8 archers. My legionary units for Mortem et Gloriam would need 20 figures with spear but no archers so I had to paint some extra figures.

Although this unit was the first to be finished, I actually started on another Legio Comittensis - Secunda Britannica - which hit some problems. With the intention of getting the Secunda Britannica finished quickly, I gave it most of the old painted spearmen so the Lanciarii Gallienci Honoriani started with only 6 Minifigs legionaries, an aquilifer, an officer and a trumpeter. In the lead pile I had some Gladiator Miniatures officers which I think are better figures than their Minifigs counterparts so I painted one of those too.

To get a consistent look with the old and newly painted figures, I decided to repaint all the shields and helmets, give the armour a wash (of Army Painter Strong Tone ink) and re-highlight and finally repaint the legs to look like trousers / leggings rather than 3/4 length shorts with classic roman sandals.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the Gladiator Miniatures shields are much smaller than those of the Minifigs Legionaries so I filed the cast shield right down and made a new one from brass sheet with a Milliput centre boss. My Milliput sculpting was a bit rough but I smoothed it down with some fine sandpaper when it was fully cured and, under the paint, it isn't noticeable.


At the time I was doing these I wasn't aware of the shield transfers from Little Big Men but I prefer paint, where possible, and I'm not sure if they would have fitted as they are apparently designed for Legio Heroica or Khurasan shields. This design is quite easy but I'll definitely be using transfers for some of the more complicated designs involving eagles or faces.

I started with a base coat of Vallejo khaki grey then painted 16 very fine radial lines with a mix of Plaka green and some black before filling these in to give 8 dark green segments. Inevitably some of these don't turn out at equally spaced as one might hope so I thinned some slightly by over-painting the edges with the khaki grey again until I was satisfied. I painted a white circle in the centre to act as undercoat for the yellow. Next I filled in the centre with Vallejo deep yellow. The 'white' segments are a first highlight of Iraqi sand then Ivory and the green segments are the Plaka green - it is a brighter (and therefore less likely to be historically accurate!) colour than any of the Vallejo greens I have. the small red circle is dark vermillion, highlighted with a bit of ivory mixed in.

With hindsight, I regret not stripping the paint right off and starting again. I don't think it would have taken much longer and would have avoided some of the compromises, like losing detail over too many layers of paint and obvious bits of the old paint job - the trumpeter's face, for example, but they all blend in well enough at normal viewing distances and I'm pleased with the overall effect.

Sunday, 20 January 2019

Late Roman Army revived from the 1980s

Back in the early 1980s, I began to collect a 15mm Late Roman Army with figures from Minifigs and Asgard / Table Top Games. I painted up a few units and part units, based them for "Shock of Impact" but never completed the army before going to University and leaving them to languish in a box.

I must have had some renewed plan to complete it later because I bought some more Minifigs legionaries and a few Gladiator Miniatures (I previously mis-remembered these as Museum Miniatures) command figures but nothing came of this.

After returning to war gaming, my focus has been on the Italian Wars and WW2 Normandy so the Romans stayed in their box, in the loft.

Last Autumn I was introduced to Mortem et Gloriam with a game of Punic Wars Republican Romans v Macedonian Successors. I really liked the game and this set me to thinking about finishing off my Late Roman army for MeG. I'd only need a few extra figures and could just tidy up and re-base the already painted figures, do a quick paint job on the others and I'd soon have a usable army.

I regret I didn't take a real 'before' photo of the old painted figures and the Roman lead pile (Plumbi moles Romanae). This was taken after I had already started cutting figures off the old bases and, in a fit of enthusiasm, glued some figures onto a command base. 
In reality, I found that the level of "tidying up" needed to bring them anywhere near the standard I now aim for was almost as time consuming as starting from scratch and I can't really do "quick" when it comes to painting. Worse, several of the figures had contracted lead rot in their years in the loft - in some cases this was obvious and they went straight in the bin but others were salvageable. In a few cases, the deterioration only emerged when I had tidied them up and was basing them - one officer just snapped off at the ankles as the rot extended almost completely through.

Today there are fantastic Late Roman ranges available from Legio Heroica and Khurasan. By comparison, my old figures suffered from a lack of variety in the poses and extreme differences, for example: in the interpretation of what an infantry shield should look like. For some reason, Minifigs made their Legionary and Auxilia shields quite curved, Asgard flat but smaller and with rounded edges and Museum Miniatures flat with sharp edges but smaller still!

From L to R: Gladiator Miniatures, Minifigs Legionary, Minifigs Auxilia, Minifigs Legionary Lanciari.
As I researched the 4th and 5th Century Roman Army, a more fundamental problem emerged. The Minifigs and Asgard figures were based very closely on the WRG book, "Armies and Enemies of Imperial Rome" by Phil Barker, illustrated by Ian Heath, 1981. Whilst that is a fantastic resource and still useful today with, for example an extensive illustrated section on shield patterns from the Notitia Dignitatum, Phil Barker chose a couple of very different interpretations of the historic evidence from current thinking. In the WRG book, 4th and 5th Century Auxilia are un-armoured and Legionaries have sculpted rawhide armour whereas the current thinking is that mail armour was usual in battle. As I have more than a hundred of these, this gave me a bit of a dilemma.

Apart from the flash on the Legionary, another problem is that the Auxiliary's spears are prone to breaking off at the edge of the shield so I need to decide whether to replace only the broken ones or do them all - the blend of the spear into the body makes this more of a job than usual but it would give the me chance to vary the angle and pose a bit. 
In the end, I decided to work with what I had: make alterations to give uniformity in shields; mix and match to achieve some variety in pose but accept the un-armoured Auxillia and rawhide clad Legionaries as a little bit of 1980s nostalgia. That gives me enough figures for 3 x 6 base units of Legionaries and 1 x 6 base Auxilia. When those are painted, I'll decide about what to do for the 2 or 3 more infantry units that I'll need.

One last thing I should mention is a new accessory - an illuminated magnifier that I found on
Ebay (actually me wife bought it for me, for my birthday). A Kemot 5 diopter (2.25 x) magnifying lens surrounded by LED lights. The negative points are that flex is a bit short and comes with a continental plug (albeit with an adapter thrown in) but for a bit less than £35 it is brilliant - for me, the perfect balance of magnification and depth of field for figure painting. For some years I have used a small stand magnifier and an external lamp and this is a huge, step up and highly recommended.

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Pork and Apples: a Normandy Orchard

Amongst my collection of old trees I had a few smaller ones that I thought I could use to represent an orchard, such as those that feature so prominently in reports of the Normandy campaign. Of course orchards have been with us for a long time so it could just as well be used for earlier periods too, anywhere in central and Northern Europe.

Rather than just a few trees, I wanted to add a bit of character. I thought of maybe a ladder and wheelbarrow or few baskets left lying around but eventually settled on the idea of having a few pigs foraging between the trees. There is actually a traditional french breed of pig called the Bayeux pig which seemed appropriate so I based mine on pictures of those, though looking at the refernce photos again again now, I should have gone for a more white and less pink base colour. The pink pig at the back will be used add a bit of interest to a set of back yards that I'm making to go with some of my Normandy houses. I'm sure in reality, the noise of battle would have sent them running far away if they avoided being eaten or killed by an artillery barrage but I like having a few little extra details amongst the terrain to bring things to life.

15mm pigs from - appropriately - Peter Pig
The trees had previously been based singly and were very easily knocked over so I mounted them in threes on larger bases. The base shapes were chosen so they could fit together to make a 3x3, a 3x2 or various irregular shapes to fit different layouts. the idea is to either place them on an area marker, like those I made to go with my Italian Wars collection or bounded by hedges or walls, then the tree bases can be moved around as necessary to make room for figures or vehicles. The foliage was starting to fall off some of them so, as with the forrest trees, I have them a good soaking with spray on scenic cement to hold everything together.

Some of the trees are a bit squashed about, they are certainly not very uniform - nobody could think that they are all of the same variety. Whilst the best modern model trees are far better, as with my woods, I already had these and, on grounds of both cost and avoiding waste, I didn't want to throw them out if they could be tidied up to look reasonable.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Cheap Girder bridge

Ever since I started WW2 wargaming, I've liked the idea of a bridge as an objective or focus for a game - I suppose inspired by the films A Bridge Too Far and The Bridge at Remagen.

That said, a bridge scenario isn't something for every game and I didn't want to pay railway scenery prices for something that would only get occasional use. I was pleased therefore to find laser cut MDF girder bridge sides at very modest prices on Ebay and I ordered a pair of, 200 mm long at the bargain price of £2.45, including shipping.

I wanted to be able to position the bridge anywhere along my river sections so that meant having no reinforcement at table-level, potentially making a one-piece bridge very fragile. At the same time, I didn't want to just rest the bridge on the ramps, allowing movement and obvious gaps. The solution was to use some small magnets and a key and socket arrangement to locate them together.

The bridge deck was made from two layers of 3mm MDF with plasticard  underneath to create the appearance of an I-beam along the edges and the end pillars were from more offcuts of MDF

I stuck these onto MDF bases and made the sides of the ramps from mounting card, filled in with more offcuts and smoothed over with repair plaster - this dries quickly without sagging or adding excessive moisture to the base materials.

The bridge pillars were done in the same way as my Italian Wars buildings, with card rectangles to represent the stones and a watery mix of filler and PVA for texture. The ground was textured as I usually do for scenery and bases. 

The picture below shows a Skytrex 15mm Churchill for scale and a section of river, undercoated - getting the river colours right is a whole other story, not yet resolved. This picture hi-lights the dilemma of wargames rivers, with the conflict between model scale and rules ground scale. In model scale terms, this is only just big enough to look like a river, rather than a stream that could be jumped by the average soldier or driver across by any AFV but, at 150 mm wide, it takes up a lot of table space.

I airbrushed the bridge itself with various shades of blue-grey, from dark to lighter and dry-brushed the roadway with a light stone colour over my usual scenery brown-grey emulsion base coat. Finally I added static grass and tufts with some clump foliage to represent bushes growing on the sides of the ramps.