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

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Polish Vickers Tank for the Black Brigade

The Vickers Mark E, or "Six-Ton" tank, was a privately developed tank developed by Vickers in the United Kingdom. Though the British Army rejected the design, it was widely exported to other nations in Europe (and even a few in Asia!) with Poland, Finland, and the Soviet Union becoming the largest users of the design.

In the USSR, the design was modified and became the T-26 tank, of which over 12,000 were produced. The Finns used a few Vickers during the Winter War with the Soviets, to poor effect, but then modified their tanks and several captured Soviet examples as the T-26E for use in the Continuation War. Poland used the Vickers and also used it as a platform for the development of the indigenous 7TP tank. The Poles encountered issues with the air-cooled Puma engine overheating, so they added large air intakes on either side of the superstructure.

Unfortunately no good 15mm example of the Polish Vickers tank is available (at least that I've found). So I've set about converting a master which I hope to cast up to supply the Black Brigade with its light armored support. For the chassis, I've started with the Battlefront T-26 obr 1933 (SBX21) as it provides a reasonable platform for modification. It even includes the shield over some of the engine deck screens. The first step was to remove the side stowage boxes and add the air intake structure so characteristic of the Polish tanks.



I still need to add screens to the front of the intakes, but I'm combing my bits box as I'd rather not have to scratch build the screens. As you can see from the photo below, the air intakes integrate well with the tracks of the T-26


The next step was to begin working on the superstructure of the tank itself, as the T-26 and the earlier Vickers have several differences. I removed most of the detail on the upper hull front and replaced the plates with thin plastic card. I'd considered simply using a pounce wheel to replicate the bolt pattern on the plastic card, but it didn't integrate well with the other bolt detail on the miniature. I therefore bit the bullet and began punching out individual rivets using my sub-micron punch set and the smallest punch I have. As you can see from the photo below, the rivets are exceedingly tiny!


So far I've got the front superstructure done, and now I'm moving on to the air intake (which is similarly riveted). I put plastic down first as it is far easier to bond styrene to styrene than styrene to resin. Dealing with a liquid styrene glue is far more forgiving than superglue!


I'm hoping to get the master ready to cast by Friday. I still need to make up a turret for the Polish 47mm gun single turret version, but that should be fairly simple by comparison as it is a basic conical turret. For the twin-turreted version I'm going to use the turrets from the Battlefront 7TP (PL050) miniature.  I'm just going to use the T-26 tracks as I have several extras now that I've performed surgery on a few of the models!



Sunday, December 28, 2014

Black Brigades and Now Soviets in Progress

I’ve reached a little bit of a pause in my work on the Black Brigade as I’m waiting for more miniatures to arrive, but I’ve been continuing on the research on how to paint the unit. Most modern wargamers paint the unit with all black leather trench coats, and while this looks amazing on the table, further research and photos indicate that this may not be correct in all cases. It appears that only the officers and the NCO’s got the black coats, while the rifle privates made do with a wz. 36 trench coat in the normal green. I found translated version of a 1934 Polish Army infantry manual online and it gave the breakdown of an infantry platoon as follows:

Commanding officer “Plutonowy” (Master corporal)
Second in command, “Kapral” (Corporal)
Light machinegun crew (BAR) made up of a “Starszy strzelecz” (Private first class) and two  riflemen carrying ammunition.
13 riflemen of which two are of the “Starszy strzelecz” rank.

Granted, this is an infantry, not a cavalry organization, so the numbers for the cavalry are likely to be slightly different. Assuming that everyone down to the Starszy strzelecz rank received the black leather greatcoat, that would give a ratio of about five black leather coats to thirteen standard cloth coats. For my platoons that means I should run the command squad with probably all three in black, and then have one black coat in each of the Rifle/MG teams as well as one in the Anti-tank Rifle team. Fortunately the True North miniatures I’m working with appear as if they can be painted up equally well either way.



As you can see from the picture above, I’ve performed initial clean-up on roughly one Kawalerii Zmotoryzowanej Company as well as a few anti-tank crews and teams. I still have a ways to go, but hopefully the miniatures will arrive soon!

I’m also working on a side project “while I wait.” I picked up a fair amount of Soviet armor during the recent EW sale that Battlefront ran. One of the vehicles I picked up was the T-35. I apologize for the (lack of) quality of the photo – I’m waiting on a new light box. As you can see, this one is the command variant with the radio antenna on the 76mm gun turret. Of course now I need to come up with a good list.



My next project will be working on the Vickers E tanks for the Black Brigade, as my plans have arrived, and canvas cargo box covers for the Polski-FIAT 621 trucks.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Black Brigade - Digging Through the Miniatures

I've spent a good portion of the day digging through and cleaning up the infantry and weapons for my Polish 10th Brigade army, and I've had several surprises - from both the "good" and "bad" categories. I've also spent some time searching around the internet for additional figures and Polish vehicles (and references) with mixed success.

First, let's talk references. In addition to the book I've referenced before, there are several decent references online. One I've discovered recently is the PIBWL site, which has extensive coverage of Polish armor and other military vehicles. They have a great section on the C4P halftrack and the Vickers 6 ton tank. I've also found a couple of books I have on order which will hopefully arrive soon.

I've spent most of the day going through the various True North figures which at this point will comprise the majority of the force (though I won't make that final determination until the Forged in Battle figures come in). Although I wish there were a few more poses, overall I'm impressed with the detail of the infantry figures. The rifles are a little spindly, but the faces appear to have good relief and should paint up nicely. Given the predominant color of the uniforms will be black, the contrast for the rifles and other equipment should be good.

The heavy weapons, as I mentioned before, are a bit of a mixed bag. I've identified what should be the squad level BAR, though the detail is not as great as I'd hoped, and there is only one pose - prone. I'll need a total of eight of these, and I'm hoping the Forged in Battle version will work well with the True North figures (at least from base to base if not within base) to provide a little variety on the table.

I've also been working with the True North motorcycle as I'll need one for the command team. Unfortunately the motorcycle with side car included is not a "Sokol" 1000 as used by the 10th Brigade. I'm not sure what it is, but I'm sure it isn't what I needed. However, the included crew is correct for the 10th Brigade, so I'm picking up a pack of the Battlefront Motorcycle Platoon (PL400) and will add the True North crew to the Battlefront Bike. Battlefront's Sokol is reasonably correct, though it will need a little accurizing.

For the basing I'm thinking of using the Battlefront Urban Rubble bases (XX106), but mixing some "dirt" and grass in rather than having them purely urban. I think it will give the infantry (at least) some very interesting basing.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Polish Black Brigade - Taking the Plunge

So I don't know if I'm actually going to get the army done for my upcoming tournament (hence the multiple back-ups I'm considering), but I really like the idea of running a Polish 10th Cavalry Brigade list. The unit has a great history, and I have decent reference data on the list. The unit also offers me some good opportunities for modeling as the current state of miniatures for the unit leaves much to be desired.

First, there's the state of Battlefront's Polish offerings. I love the guys at Battlefront, but when it comes to support for the few Polish lists out there, the level of miniature support is exceedingly poor. At this point Battlefront offers a grand total of 25 SKU's for Poland, including a dice set, a kit bag pouch, the urban and rural bases, an objective set, and Wojtek the Dancing, errr, Soldier Bear. This limited number of products makes even fielding a tank, infantry or cavalry force challenging. There is a conversion chart on page 47 of Blitzkrieg with suggested proxies for many of the unavailable miniatures, but many of these are rough equivalents at best - some far rougher than others!

The 10th Motorised Cavalry Brigade, or 10 Brygada Kawalerii Zmotoryzowanej, figures prominently on page 31 of Blitzkrieg, but Battlefront offers no miniatures suitable for the line infantry, heavy weapons, or gun crews of the unit. Battlefront does make a good 37mm wz. 36 anti-tank gun (PL510), but the crew is wrong for the Black Brigade. The same issue holds for the heavier artillery as well. As I'm running a Light Gun Battery (Fearless Trained) out of the support rather than taking a Black Brigade 75mm battery, I'll be able to use the 75mm wz. 1897 guns (PL570) and artillery HQ (PL709) out of the box.

The state of the armor and vehicles for the unit is not much better.  Battlefront does make a good TKS (PL010), which will work well for the Reconnaissance Tank Platoons, but they make no Polish Vickers tanks. I'm working on kit-bashing these from 7TP (PL050) and Soviet T-26 obr 1933 (SBX21) tanks. For the Polski-FIAT model 621 trucks, I'm using the True North miniature (PLE06). The miniature itself is fairly good, but it is a lot more "fiddly" than a Battlefront miniature. The frame and engine comprise a single part, but the cab is five parts, the truck bed is separate as are the axles and all of the tires. That being said the fit is reasonable, and I've managed to get one together so far (I have more on order). Since there is no detail inside the cab, I went ahead and closed it up with sheet styrene to make painting the windows easier.


I also picked up a Polski-FIAT Staff Car from True North as the list calls for use of the Polski-FIAT 508 field car for command teams and a host of other units including the 37mm anti-tank guns, heavy machine guns, etc. The Staff Car is exceedingly tedious to assemble, but it will look great on the table once I add a few details! Unfortunately as I dig further into the unit history, it appears I need several of the Polski - FIAT 508/111 "Furgon" and Polski-FIAT 508/518 variants for my anti-tank guns and other units (including the Taczankas). Unfortunately NO ONE makes anything but the Polski-FIAT 508 "Lazik" in 15mm scale. You can get some in 1/285th, or 1/35th - and maybe a couple in 1/72nd, but nothing in 15mm scale. so again, I'm back to doing some conversions. I'll make extensive use of the "Lazik" wheelbase for these where appropriate to keep the casting to a minimum.

For the infantry I've started with the True North 10th Mechanized Brigade offerings including the line infantry (PL31), the command figures (PL32), the heavy weapons (PL33), the anti-tank gun crews (PL34), and the motorcycles and side cars (PLE17). I also picked up a set of the Forged in Battle "Polish Black Legion" (EWP07) figures to use as a second platoon or mix and match. At this point I've gotten the True North figures in and they're quite frankly a mixed bag. Some of them match the quality of a Battlefront figure, and honestly some of the faces are quite nice. Others appear to be hopeless blobs of metal with few discernible features (especially for a few of the heavy weapon or prone figures). That being said, I hope to have enough compatible figures between the sets to make up a respectable looking force. I think I should be able to do it. As an alternative to the truck transport, Battlefront's list calls for the PZInz 222 halftrack, but this appears to have been rare even in the 10th Brigade with other vehicles being more common (like the PZInz wz. 34). I'm still trying to figure out what to use for those.



I'm just starting the process of clean up and construction. The photo above shows the "state of my table" as I lay out the various miniatures and assemble them. I've already assembled one Battlefront TKS unit, and I honestly found these went together quite well with a minimum of mold lines and flash. The same held true for the 37mm anti-tank guns.

So here's the summary of what I'm using or planning on using so far for my force:

HQ - True North (and/or Forged in Battle) infantry, True North Staff Car, True North Motorcycle

Kawalerii Zmotoryzowanej Companies:  True North and/or Forged in Battle infantry, True North anti-tank rifles, True North heavy Machine Guns, True North Polski-FIAT 621 trucks, True North staff cars, kit-bashed 508 and 508/518 field cars, halftracks are TBD

Reconnaissance Tank Platoon - Battlefront TKS

Vickers Tank Platoon - Kit-bashed from Battlefront components

Zmotoryzowanej Anti-tank Gun Platoon - Battlefront guns, True North crew, kit-bashed 508 and 508/518 field cars, halftracks TBD

Light Gun Platoon - Battlefront 75mm battery

This will be the first army I've built where a substantial portion of miniatures comprising it will not be of Battlefront manufacture, and I honestly believe that Battlefront really missed the boat by not putting more effort into their Polish line of miniatures. I understand that any Polish force is going to be more esoteric than the Germans, French, British, or Soviets, but because generally Battlefront's quality has been stronger and more even than their other competitors in 15mm scale, I really wish I'd had the option of buying Battlefront for this project!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Upcoming Early War Tournament - So Many Choices!

So my next tournament is February 21st at Guardian Games - the 1550 point Early War "War Begins" tournament. For the past couple of months I've been trying to come up with a fun and/or unique army to bring to the tournament. I have a lot of EW Germans that are partially painted. I also have a lot of other EW stuff that needs to be painted as well including Japanese, Soviet, etc. Pretty much you name it at this point.

Right now I have more ideas for armies than time to paint them. I can easily put something together that is German as a "fall back," but I was hoping to do something different this time. I could put together a decent mixed force of Panzer I, Panzer II, and Panzer III E tanks out of Blitzkrieg, but the mixed nature of the platoons and the heavy reliance on the Panzer I has always made me a bit nervous.

One German alternative I've considered is the Czech Panzerkompanie. I've come up with a preliminary list using the Panzer 35(t) as a base:

HQ - Two Panzer 35(t) - 165 points

Czech Panzer Platoon - Five Panzer35(t) - 420 points
Czech Panzer Platoon - Five Panzer35(t) - 420 points

Panzerschutzen Platoon (Three squads) - 245 points
Mixed Panzerspah Platoon - Two Sd Kfz 222 (2cm) and Two Sd Kfz 221 (MG) - 150 points
Priority Air - Ju 87B - 150 points

This gives me 1550 points on the nose with four platoons. It also is a fairly good representation of the 1. Leichte Division in Poland at the start of the war. There isn't a lot of extra modeling that would be required to make this list work - though I could try and kit bash a Sd Kfz 251/1 Ausf A from the Battlefront Ausf C if I wanted a challenge. It think at this point the catch would be finding enough 35(t) tanks in the wild.

Alternately I could go for something complete different. I've been reading a book on the Polish 10th Mechanized Cavalry Brigade called The Invincible Black Brigade by Jerzy Majka. This unit has an absolutely amazing history and could be easily represented by the Pulk Kawalerii Zmotoryzowanej list from Blitzkrieg on page 26. It is a FV mechanized list with very reasonably priced platoons (or companies in this case). The biggest problem is, though I love Battlefront miniatures, their support of the Polish line has been poor, and they've never released miniatures appropriate for the "Black Brigade," so I'd have to look elsewhere for at least a portion of my miniatures. I've toyed with various lists, but right now what I'm thinking would be:

HQ

Regiment HQ (Company command rifle, 2iC Rifle, Motorcycle and sidecar) - 40 points


Combat:

Kawalerii Zmotoryzowanej Company - Command rifle/MG team, one HMG, two Kawalerii Platoons (four Rifle MG, one ATR Team) - 305 points
Kawalerii Zmotoryzowanej Company - Command rifle/MG team, one HMG, two Kawalerii Platoons (four Rifle MG, one ATR Team) - upgrade to halftracks - 310 points
Zmotoryzowanej Anti-Tank Gun Platoon - Command Rifle team - 3X 37mm wz. 36 - 130 points
Reconaissance Tank Platoon - 3X TKS, 2X 20mm FKA TKS - 110 points


Weapons:

Vickers Tank Platoon - 3X Vickers E Type B, 2X Vickers E Type A - 160 points
Zmotoryzowanej Anti-Tank Gun Platoon - Command Rifle team - 3X 37mm wz. 36 - 130 points
Zmotoryzowanej Anti-Tank Gun Platoon - Command Rifle team - 3X 37mm wz. 36 - 130 points

Support:

Light Gun Battery - Command Rifle team, Staff team, 4X 75mm wz. 1897 guns - 235 points

Total: 1550 on the nose... 8 platoons

This particular list (which again, would be a decent representation of the unit) would give me several opportunities for modeling. The Polish version of the Vickers E tank is unique and both the one and two turret versions would require some conversion. Most of the infantry and gun teams would have to come from a 3rd party sources, though the anti-tank guns would come from Battlefront and the Light Gun Battery would also be straight Battlefront as well.  The TKS platoon would also be Battlefront, though I may need to make some head or command figure swaps.

All that being said, I've also been toying with Japanese and Soviet lists, though I'm not happy with either at this point. I've got the next couple of weeks off for the holidays, and I plan to start working on an army before Christmas. Whether that ends up being the army I take to the tournament remains to be seen. I think I even have an Italian Early War army in progress somewhere I need to finish up! I just need to win that lottery so I can spend more time painting!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Book Review - Easy Company Soldier

So I was out of town on business for the past few days, and I typically use plane trips to catch up on my reading. This time around I brought Easy Company Soldier by Sgt. Don Malarkey and Bob Welch. Those of you familiar with Band of Brothers will immediately recognize Malarkey's name, and you'll all remember I'm a fairly big fan of the series. Given the mini-series itself has more than a few inaccuracies, I've found it very insightful to read the memoirs of the actual combat veterans. I'd previously read Beyond Band of Brothers by Dick Winters, and I heartily recommend that work. 

As with Winters' book, Malarkey's autobiography is a reasonably quick read, but it also really seems to capture the author's voice. You feel as if Malarkey is in the room with you talking about his experiences growing up in Oregon, going through basic, and then the several months of hell on the front lines during World War II. In fact, Malarkey holds the distinction of serving more consecutive days in combat than any other member of Easy Company. 

Malarkey's commentary on the war and his fellow E Company veterans is straightforward and sometimes even brutal in its honesty and candor. You very quickly get a picture of a man with a strong sense of right and wrong, a strong sense of honor, and a man who believed he had something to prove - to himself most of all. 

As a student of history, I find it interesting to compare and contrast the same events through the lens of the various veterans of the unit. One particular episode that stood out had to do with David Webster's return to the unit. In the miniseries, Webster is greeted coolly and with resentment for having missed the Bulge. Mark Bando's website takes issue with that characterization quoting Webster's autobiography:

"It was good to be back with fellows I knew and could trust. Listening to the chatter in the truck, I felt warm and relaxed inside, like a lost child who has returned to a bright home full of love after wandering in a cold black forest."

However, reading Malarkey's autobiography, there may be something to the characterization in mini-series after all.  Malarkey states:

"... we had a few guys rejoin us who'd been wounded in Normandy or Holland... Among them was Webster, the Harvard man so busy polishing his Bobcat badge that he didn't realize that damn near everybody else was now an Eagle Scout."

He continues:

"Webster, who'd taken a single bullet cleanly through the leg in Holland, showed up in Haguenau with the pep of a kid being dropped off at a birthday party - and not smart enough to figure out the rest of us weren't much in a partying mood. He kept asking where so-and-so was. And guys kept telling him: 'dead... lost a leg... took a shot in the nexk... froze his friggin' feet off...'"

Clearly Malarkey's account and impression is conveyed by the mini-series, whereas Bando's (based on Webster's source material) is not. Bando's own book and website did, however, come out in 2002, six years before Malarkey's autobiography was released. Bando may need to update his site and source material a bit at this point given the number of primary accounts now available from the other veterans.

Needless to say, I found Malarkey's book engaging.  In fact I think I managed to read through the entire book in just under three hours, it was simply that good. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in military history, as it is a work of exceptional honesty and candor.


Friday, December 5, 2014

Tanksgiving Wrap-Up

Well, the Tanksgiving Tournament has come and gone, and it was a great tournament put on at Guardian Games.  Attendance was good with 10 armies on the table, and the painting overall was really amazing as well!  On to the results!

By way of reference, I brought a 510 Schwere Panzer-Abteilung army from Remagen:






My first game was free for all against Darragh's 7th Armored from Blood, Guts and Glory. He's originally from Ireland and currently working in Germany, so he won the "who traveled the farthest" nod for the tournament, by several orders of magnitude! Given the terrain and the fact that I had to cover the long table edge, I was forced to slightly overload one side. Darragh brought Patton, so his spearhead move quickly adjusted to compensate. My Westfalen infantry platoon failed to dig in, and I thought I was pretty much doomed at that point, but they survived the American onslaught long enough to dig in and help hold the left corner objective. Unfortunately I never had a chance to get a real counter offensive going and spent the entire time trying to fend off the Americans. Game ended with a 3-2 double loss, though I had an amazing amount of fun. Darragh's a great player and I enjoyed playing against him.

Next I was up against another Mike in Pincer against his Desert Rats Armoured Squadron from Overlord. I was able to put my Westfalen platoon in good cover around one objective and my AA in position to keep his air support off of my big cats. He tried to work his way up one flank but I managed to catch him in the open with a lucky reserve roll and sandwich the bulk of his armour between my Westfalen panzer platoon and four King Tigers. Because of some bad bog rolls, his reluctant platoons quickly left the table and the company broke morale - 6-1 victory for the King Tigers.

In the final game I was fighting against my buddy Ryan in Counterattack. Ryan brought the 3rd Armored from Remagen. Ryan spent most of the first several turns trying to position his forces in such a way that he would be ready to take the objective while not opening up his forces to attack from the King Tigers.  My CiC played tag with his Stuart platoon which could threaten to roll up my infantry, AA guns, and artillery for most of the game. His four hellcats managed to take out the 2iC and one of the KT's from the 2X platoon, but were cut down by AA and Nebelwerfer fire.  My Westfalen tanks managed to get in some flank shots which opened up a couple of shots for the KT's. I almost had this one 5-2, but some poor rolls on my part left a single 76mm late sherman that was able to destroy a KT platoon resulting in a 4-3 win.

Ryan ended up winning Best Allied (and had the highest overall score) at 15.  I tied for best German (and 2nd overall) with 13.  If I'd kept that last KT, Ryan and I would have been tied atop the standings at 14 a piece.  I also tied my buddy Steve Z. for best painted.  Ryan and Steve both paint for CGR Painters, who do some great work!  Now I have a few months to go before the Early War tournament in February.