Miniature Ordnance Review looks at the world of miniatures wargaming with an emphasis on 15mm World War II and Flames of War.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Sticking To It... Support for 510. Schwere Panzer-Abteilung

Tanksgiving is only a few days away, and as is normal, I'm madly trying to finish up the last of my miniatures. I'm actually a bit ahead of where I thought I'd be at this point, but I've still got a ways to go. At this point I've been putting the finishing touches on the "Westfalen" Platoon and the Nebelwerfer platoon.

The Nebelwerfer crews, command, and observer are pretty much done in a standard Heer paint scheme, though I've thrown in a couple of "alternate" panzer gray helmets just for variety. Hey, it's 1945 - you wore what helmet you could get your hands on. They're on sticks below just about ready for basing.

The "Westfalen" platoon took a bit more work because of the Erbsenmuster camouflage tunic, trousers, and helmets for each of them. I ended up going with a four color scheme of 873 US Field Drab, 979 German Camo Dark Green, 821 German Camo Beige, and 881 Yellow Green (I didn't have the 833 German Camo Bright Green, and the yellow green looked close enough to my eye). I plan on expanding the unit to make a full "Westfalen" army later on, and I'm planning on adding some Leibermuster camouflaged troops as well.

I'm finding infantry a lot less intimidating to paint these days.  I've developed a new shading scheme and I'm using magnifiers to see the detail which is really making things like faces pop.  I'm hoping to get these guys finished and on bases tomorrow so I can finish the ground work and the last detailing on the armor.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Backstory, 2nd Panzer Division, and Battlefront's New Panzer III Ausf J

In the late 1980's I was just graduating high school and moving on to college. I'd built model kits since I was about six - mostly the standard gamut of cars, aircraft, and the odd space or sci-fi kit. I'd seen kits of other subjects out there, but I'd never given them a heck of a lot of thought. That all changed around 1988-9 when I got my hands on an issue of Finescale Modeler magazine that detailed simple ways to add tarps, bedrolls, and all of the various gubbins seen on a tank that was in action. I promptly went out and picked up my first tank kit (the venerable 1970's vintage Tamiya King Tiger) and went to work. I was hooked immediately, and as they say, when it comes to tank modeling, I've never gone back.

Fast forward a couple of years and I'm introduced to the International Plastic Modeler's Society. Not only are these guys supremely talented builders, but they had REFERENCES too! Granted, by today's standards a lot of the references available at this time had several gaps and inaccuracies and have been superseded by more modern books, but this was my first introduction to moving beyond a basic kit and putting a tank into a specific time and place. I was gifted some basic armor references, including the original Panzer Colors 1 and 2. While considered authoritative in their day, that day has long past and the books are now fairly notorious (especially the third volume) for containing some fairly glaring errors.

Despite the issues, there are some excellent photos in the work, and a spread of images on page 30 of Panzer Colors 2 always struck my fancy. Identified in the work as Panzer III Ausf J tanks of Panzer Regiment 3, 2. Panzer-Division in the Soviet Union, the vehicles have a distinctive (presumably) red serpent insignia on the turret surrounded by one of several geometric shapes. The date of the photographs is not given in the caption, but a later color plate of one of the vehicles gives the date as 1942.  I'd always wanted to build a 1/35th scale model of the vehicle, but lacked both the appropriate kit and the appropriate markings.

By the mid 1990's, resin kits were becoming more common, and covered a variety of sources which had not been well covered by the major manufacturers to that point. However, times were changing and DML / Dragon Models began to release affordable kits in plastic covering subjects which had only been available previously in expensive mixed media kits - or by kit-bashing! I still had the problem of not having appropriate markings. At that point, enter Archer Fine Transfers. Given I had a lot of references, and Woody Vondracek, Archer's owner, wanted to expand his product line, he and I collaborated on several sets of transfers. One being a full set to cover the distinctive Panzer III Ausf J tanks of 2nd Panzer Division (shown below).

Of course, by the time I was working with Archer, I was finishing up graduate school, and my time for actually building and finishing kits was limited. Then in the late 1990's I moved to Oregon with a fresh new job, and that further clamped down on my model building time.  Throw in the fact that the Panzer III Ausf J kits available at the time were for a mid production vehicle, rather than the early production vehicles Panzer-Regiment 3 was using, and the 1/35th scale project was set aside in favor of other models, projects, and hobbies. Unfortunately I've never made it back to my 1/35th scale Panzer III Ausf J, but I do still have a couple of sets of the transfers, and Dragon now makes a lovely initial production kit that I'll pick up one of these days and actually build.

While the Archer markings were the first for these vehicles, others have entered the market. The initial Panzer III Ausf J kit I mentioned above includes markings for these tanks.  In addition to the red with white outline, the include some other postulated color variations for the markings. Bison Decals (now Star Decals) went even further including greens, reds, and yellows. So controversy remains about the exact coloring of the markings, but I'll personally stick by my red with white outline.

Another controversy appears to be in the date of the photos. Panzer Colors 2 gives the date as 1942. In June 1942, Panzer Regiment 3 did still have 20 Panzer III's with the short-barreled 5cm gun, it seems unlikely that they would have a preponderance of these vehicles in their original heraldic markings from multiple platoons of one company by mid-1942. When the unit was committed to Barbarossa in September 1941, it fielded 105 Panzer III's with the short-barreled 5cm gun. As the vehicles of interest belong to the 6th company, it seems more likely that the photos date to 1941. The more recent Dragon model kit actually puts the vehicles in the Soviet Union in 1941 according to their reference sheet. Unfortunately I haven't yet been able to dig up any more authoritative references to date the photographs precisely, and I consider the Panzer Colors dates to be somewhat suspect.

So how does this all relate to Flames of War? The nice thing about wargaming is that you're not just making ONE tank, you need to make SEVERAL of them to actually play the game. This gives history and modeling geeks like me the opportunity to make multiple versions of the same "cool" vehicle that we'd only make one of in 1/35th scale. Battlefront is just now releasing an updated version of the Panzer III Ausf J (GE033) - shown below.

The updated miniature looks amazing, and the tracks are a vast improvement over the old version of the miniature. That being said, it isn't an "initial" version of the Panzer III Ausf J, though a reasonable approximation can be made if you shave off the raised vents on the engine deck hatches.

My conundrum at this point is, do I run it as a 1941 army - using Barbarossa, or as a 1942 army using Eastern Front? In mid-war, the short barreled 5.0cm gun is little more than a door knocker when faced with Shermans, T-34's, and the gamut of medium armor. In early-war, it can't easily handle a T-34, and it can't handle a KV at all, but otherwise it is an extremely competent tank - it is also very expensive. So I could field the full company in mid war and die mightily or a few in early war and have a chance as long as I chose my support wisely.

Ideally I'd field them as they were fielded historically, which at this point the references are contradictory. I'm going to keep digging through my resources, but if anyone has some good reference on Panzer-Regiment 3, 2. Panzer-Division, I am very keen to see them.  At this point I can make my own decals, so actually getting the distinctive markings on the vehicles is now within the realm of possibility - so I hope to get this project going after the first of the year... who knows, I may try and finally build that 1/35th scale version in parallel!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Miniatures and a Movie - Battle of Britain and Band of Brothers

I had the house to myself most of the day Sunday, so as per my normal practice I painted miniatures with war films going on in the background. In the process I managed to get my flak guns ready to base and made strong progress on the base coats for the remaining infantry and artillery crews. The day's film choices included 1969's Battle of Britain, and the first few episode of the epic HBO movie mini-series, Band of Brothers.

Unlike my last installment of miniatures and movies featuring The Bridge at Remagen, both of these movies stay true to the historical source material for the most part. Though it was a commercial failure, Battle of Britain does a good job of covering the 1940 air war between the Royal Air Force and the Luftwaffe. The overall historical accuracy is quite high, especially for a film of its vintage. Liberal use of Spanish-produced versions of the legendary Heinkel He-111 and Messerschmidt Bf 109 lend an air of authenticity to the shots, though there are some easily spotted differences in the Spanish variants - especially where the power-plants are concerned. The all-star cast does a good job, though the marital friction between one of the lead characters and his wife seems tacked on.

Given I had a full afternoon open, I decided to pop Band of Brothers back in during lunch and just kept going (for the record I made it through about four episodes in the afternoon). First, for the record, I understand that Band of Brothers is not perfectly accurate - in fact there are many fairly glaring inaccuracies, but so many other details capture the events, look, and feel of the era so perfectly that the overall achievement can't be ignored. Perhaps the best discussion of the historical triumphs and failures of this work can be found on Mark Bando's website. Some of the issues can be traced to Stephen Ambrose's original work, though many are "Hollywood mistakes."

Why I enjoy Band of Brothers so much is it is arguably the first time that Hollywood tried to tell a real World War II story with any real degree of accuracy.  Saving Private Ryan did a good job of showing a hauntingly accurate portrayal of the Normandy landings, but the rest of the plot was pure Hollywood. Band of Brothers, on the other hand, traces the combat experience of a unit comprised of real individuals from their training until the end of the war. Punctuated with commentary from the veterans of the unit themselves, the mini-series takes on a stature far greater than any previous Hollywood effort. They even at least try to get the German tanks right - something no American war film other than Kelly's Heroes had attempted before Saving Private Ryan.

As groundbreaking as Band of Brothers was, I'm not sure I've seen anything surpass it since. While World War II movies saw a renaissance in the late 1990's and early 2000's, the market seems to be cooling a bit with the modest returns Fury has achieved at the box office (which sadly, I have yet to see!). Got a good film recommendation for Miniatures and a Movie? Pass it along!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Getting Some Flak

I'm making decent progress toward getting my 510. Schwere Panzer-Abteilung army done for Tanksgiving. The Ersatz Panzer Platoon from 'Westfalen' is nearly done, as are the King Tigers, but I've spent most of my time working on the infantry at this point trying to find a way to get faces and detailing done more quickly. I think I'm finally making progress.

At this point the Flak unit of four 2cm Flakvierling is pretty much ready to finish the basing (which I'll do with the rest of the unit). All of the crews are painted as is the command section. I received an odd mix of figures for the command group, and honestly for the crews in general, so I sort of improvised.

Anyway - you want to see some photos, and I apologize in advance, I still haven't gotten my light box set back up yet, so they're not perfect shots:

Command Team:

Flak gun 1:

Flak gun 2:

Guns 3 and 4:

As you can see I'm running a mix of standard Luftwaffe blue uniforms, and German Fieldgrey uniforms. I'm also mixing Luftwaffe and Heer green helmets, though I kept the collar tabs all appropriate to a Flak battery.  I figure this is 1945, I can take a few liberties with the uniforms. I also added a fair amount of chipping to the flak guns themselves to give them that "end of the war" look. In order to do the detail I am using magnifiers to actually see, and I've found it helps on the faces as well - and it is quicker!

I've got the uniform and helmet base coats on for both the artillery crew and the "Westfalen" infantry platoon as well.  I'm hoping to get them painted up this next week well in advance of the tournament the Saturday after Thanksgiving. So far I'm really pleased how this army is coming out. Hopefully the Nebelwerfers and infantry come out as nicely as the Flak crews!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Ammo of MIG's Painting Wargame Tanks - Mini-Review!

So I just got my copy of Painting Wargame Tanks in direct from Ammo of MIG in Spain, and believe me this is one volume you don't want to miss! Written by Rubén Torregrosa (from HeresyBrush) and Mig Jiménez himself, this is an indispensable guide for people who really want to take their Wargaming tanks to the next level.

The book itself is well organized. It opens with an introduction and then moves quickly into the materials you'll need to actually need to apply the techniques described in the book. As this is an Ammo of MIG publication, all of the paints are listed from the Ammo of MIG catalog. However the technique also requires airbrushes, high quality brushes, and artist oil paints outside of the traditional MIG range. 

The techniques themselves are broken up into into "Easy" and "Advanced" sections (though there's a typo in the table of contents describing the "Seasy" method). The methods are described step by step with full color photos using several actual 15mm miniatures - most of which appear to be Plastic Soldier Company and Heer 46. Regardless of which technique is used, each step includes icons showing which tools to use and which paints or other products to use.  I've taken a couple of photos of pages below showing what you can expect:

The book is heavily skewed toward German subjects, but the general techniques will work for any vehicle in 15mm. While they recommend blu-tac for masking, I prefer Panzer Putty as it seems to adhere better and hold its shape better than the blu-tac I've been able to secure in the United States. I would also have like to have seen a couple of examples in winter camouflage as my recent experience with the Tigers was fairly challenging, and I could have used some input!  I would also like to see the techniques expanded to earlier riveted tanks, as these typically require a bit more drybrushing ant other techniques.

That being said, I really believe that this book will let me take my tanks to the next level. I've already seen easier ways to achieve some of the results I've been working toward, and I plan on using the T-34 section as an exemplar for a few upcoming Soviet tank projects. 

Highly recommended!!!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Retooled Battlefront Panzer IV Ausf F1/F2

Guess I should have waited for the full Battlefront update because the retooled Panzer IV Ausf F1/F2 looks spectacular!  Packaged under code GE042 there appear to be more than a few surprising goodies with this release.

The detail on the resin parts looks crisper, and the kit appears to come with plastic tracks (though no assembly guide is provided at this point to verify that).  I say plastic because the fender tops and track detail on the inside surface of the tracks is vastly improved over the old white metal offering, and appears to be on par with the track detail on the plastic kit.

If these are the plastic tracks, there has been one major change since the last time we saw them - the idler has been corrected with the right number of spokes.  Egad I'm going to have a LONG Christmas list.

EDIT:  I'm reliably informed by Evan that these are metal tracks... dang, they're NICE for metal tracks!

Battlefront Flammpanzer II

As a German player, I'll admit that the initial release of Early War has left me feeling a bit disappointed on more than one occasion. Initially it was cases where vehicles had be omitted and/or mislabeled. The lack of a Panzer I Ausf A, the mislabeling of the Panzer II Ausf C (late) (with the squared front hull) as an early (and the lack of the early rounded front hull variant), and the lack of an Sd Kfz 251/1 A/B makes doing a proper invasion of Poland list difficult. Later on, Battlefront continued to use the Panzer I Ausf B chassis for vehicles that would have only appeared on the Ausf A chassis.

For most players, these issues are minor and only drive rivet counters like me absolutely barking mad. However, Battlefront never even produced a Panzer II Ausf D or E for the Verlastete Panzer II platoon needed for the Verlastete Panzerkompanie.  Given Blitzkrieg was released way back in 2010, the fact that there are still major gaps in the Battlefront line for EW is disappointing.

Now that the EW era is coming to a close with the release of Barbarossa, one of the new releases was slated to be the Flammpanzer II. This vehicle appeared exclusively on the Panzer II D/E chassis, so I was a bit nervous that Battlefront would use one of the existing Panzer II models to put this vehicle out. Fortunately my fears were unfounded as they have actually released a stunning miniature of this fun little vehicle.

The Flammpanzer II comes in a set of two vehicles under the code GE014. Evan Allen designed the master, and it is a beauty. He captures all of the key details of this quirky little vehicle. Now maybe we'll see that elusive Panzer II Ausf D/E miniature in the not so distant future... please?

Of Dice and (Tiny) Men

One of the key aspects of Flames of War, and in fact many wargames, is the random element. Many actions do not have an automatic chance of success, and instead success or failure is determined by one or more die rolls. Generally these rolls will have a target number that must be matched or beaten to achieve a success for the action. In an ideal world, the dice used in wargaming should be truly random.  In other words, for any given roll you should have an equal chance of rolling any of the possible numbers on the die, sometimes called "equal access" to each face of the die.

Unfortunately most dice used in wargaming fall fairly short of that mark. Most dice are manufactured using a process that creates recesses in the faces for the markings, are then painted, and then all of the dice are polished back to leave the paint only in the recesses of the designs themselves. This process results in very attractive dice at a reasonable price point, but it also results in dice that are not perfectly cubical (in the case of six-sided dice) or perfect polyhedral solids (in the case of other dice varieties). These imperfections result in dice that will tend to roll some numbers with slightly greater frequency than others, even in the absence of manipulation of the dice themselves.

This fact explains why people can legitimately claim to have "lucky dice" or "unlucky dice."  In this case it really isn't superstition. If you roll the dice enough, you'll get a feel for which ones tend to "roll better" (i.e. will favor one or more high value faces). My problem with this is that anyone with a "blessed" set of dice is going to have a slight advantage in any game. Conversely someone who has pulled a new set of dice out only to discover they're weighted in the opposite direction is going to have an unfair disadvantage.

So what alternatives are there out there? Casino dice are precision manufactured to strict tolerances by law, and do give equal access to each face on the die.  Unfortunately they are also very large and have to be "thrown" (usually against some sort of backstop) to function properly.  This is generally not going to be practical or even desirable for a tabletop wargame.  Other people advocate use of computer software to generate random numbers, and while some of these may get close to statistical randomness, short of advanced (and usually expensive and/or proprietary) computational based models, the best most people will be able to get with a computer, tablet, or smart-phone is a pseudo-random number.

Based on my experience there are at least a couple of precision dice products out there that meet all the criteria to generate truly random numbers for Flames of War. The first would be Gamescience dice.  These are precision dice available in a variety of types (you'll only need six-sided dice for Flames of War, but they have broader polyhedral types available). They are going to be more expensive than Chessex dice, (~$2-$3 per die for six-sided dice), but they are precision crafted. In some cases you'll have to ink the faces to make them easier to see. I own a set of red and green dice I use for Flames of War tournaments, and I've never felt like I lost a game because the dice weren't truly random (not saying I still don't roll a "1" at the most inopportune moments!). Unfortunately Gamescience appears to be in an ownership / production transition at this point, though the Dice Shop in the UK appears to still have a strong inventory.

Though Gamescience dice are very good, they do have a few drawbacks. The dice are not polished, so they'll frequently have a mark where they are removed from the sprue. Some people try and sand the area, though I generally don't as the whole reason I purchased the dice in the first place was to avoid sanded or polished dice. Gamescience dice also have the knife edged profile in common with casino dice, and though they are much smaller, they may not roll well on a hard, slick surface once again defeating the purpose of using a precision die!

An alternative that the gaming community is starting to experiment with is the use of precision backgammon dice. Precision backgammon dice combine the pure randomness of casino dice or Gamescience dice with the rounded profile of the more familiar Chessex style dice. If you look at a precision backgammon die, the overall shape is cubical, but the faces are actually all perfect circles. The rounded corners make the dice easier to roll in tight spaces allowing more tumbling for a truly random result. There are a few drawbacks, however. Backgammon dice only come in a d6, which is fine for Flames of War, but completely useless for systems using other types of polyhedral dice. They are also much more expensive, with prices starting at ~$5 to $7.50 per die.

At this point I've picked up a few precision backgammon dice that I'm going to try out at my next tournament. As a gamer, my goal is to use dice on the table that I would actually want my opponent to use as well because I'm convinced that they are 100% fair. Ideally, I want the game to be decided on the merits of the tactics used, but given the element of chance to the game, luck will frequently play a role. If the game hinges on the luck of a die roll, I want that die roll to be truly random, not the product of a "lucky" or "unlucky" sub-standard die.

Monday, November 3, 2014

510 Schwere Panzer-Abteilung - Slow Progress

Ever painted most of a weekend and felt like you didn't get much of anything done?  That was me this past weekend.  I'm making slow progress on my 510 army for the upcoming Tanksgiving event. Did I mention slow???

Most of my work this weekend was centered on the Ersatz Panzer Platoon with 3 Panzer III's and one Panzer IV. I've got the one without Schurtzen just about done, though the picture is awful because I forgot to turn off the flash:

Wheels are painted as are most of the pioneer tools, I have a little final clean up to do and it will be done.  Unfortunately the green gets washed out a lot in these photos.

Here are the other Panzer III's with Schurtzen.  I've been going through and adding chipping to the Schurtzen so they should look pretty good when done, I still need to get the roadwheels painted

The Panzer IV is coming along as well, but I'm dreading the roadwheels - should happen early this week.

I'm putting down the base coats on the flak crews as well.  I'm doing a mix of Luftwaffe and Wehrmacht uniforms for the unit as this is a truly last ditch situation.

I've also been working on the tracks for the King Tigers.  They're pretty close to done as well.  That leaves the Westfalen platoon and the Nebelwerfer crews to get together.