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

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Of Halftracks and Polish Trucks - Good News and Bad News

My order of the Quality Castings C4P halftracks finally arrived, and unfortunately I think I've got a major problem at this point. Don't get me wrong, the Quality Castings models are quite lovely. The detail is crisp. The construction is finer than the True North versions. Unfortunately they're laughably out of scale with the True North (and Battlefront) figures and vehicles.

From the picture above you can see one of the True North figures and their version of the Polski-Fiat 621 truck. There are a few minor issues with the truck - the wheels are a bit big, but vehicle scales well compared to the human miniatures. To the far right you can see some of the components of the Quality Casting C4P cargo halftrack. The real thing has essentially the same frame, bed, and superstructure as the truck, but the size difference between the two is staggering.

So who is right and who is wrong? Proportionally the True North truck is fairly close. The bed may be a touch big, but only a touch. The True North staff car also scaled well when I reworked plans based on a 1/35th scale model kit to make the 518 truck. That leads me to believe that the Quality Casting versions are on the small side, and not by a little bit. The difference is more than even what I'd expect from a 15mm vs. true 1/100th scale as well.

Bottom line is this leaves me with a conundrum. The True North trucks won't work with the Quality Casting halftracks or staff cars. The Quality Casting staff cars have the same wheel detail issues as the True North ones (which I've already created a "fix" for and began casting). My scratch-built 518 truck is in scale with the True North staff car. Do I try to get some Quality Casting trucks and deal with a slight difference in scale for the trucks and halftracks (with everything else), or do I try to convert the 621 truck to a halftrack (which would mean making my own suspension and tracks)? I'm not sure I have time left for either option. A third option would be to drop the halftracks entirely which would sort of spoil some of the tactics I'd planned on using for the list.

So that's the bad news, but the good news is actually pretty good. I've finally managed to sort out the difficulty I've been having with my resin and RTV. The Alumilite high strength RTV I was using was past its useful shelf life. It seems the catalyst especially degrades over time, which would explain why my RTV refused to cure. I bought some new, along with some Alumilite slow setting resin and the difference has been staggering.

The photo above shows my first test cast of the 518 truck. I'm going to go back over the miniature to make sure I don't have any glaring errors, but overall, I'm pleased. The final miniature will need a couple of additions which I haven't figured out how to cast yet, but the primary additions are a couple of rails suspended above the rear quarter panels, which won't be hard to do. Now that this miniature is coming out, I should be able to make a 508 truck and a few others as well.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Otto Carius - 1922-2015

On January 24, 2015 Otto Carius passed away at the age of 92. Carius remains one of the most famous German tank aces of World War II, with a tally of over 150 enemy tanks. Initially declared unfit for service, he eventually made it into the armed forces and trained with the armored formations. Most of his service time was spent on the Eastern front, initially in the Panzer 38(t) though more famously in the Tiger I tank as a part of schwere Panzer Abteilung 502. After being wounded in battle against the Soviets in 1944, he was appointed to command the second company of schwere Panzer-Jäger Abteilung 512 fighting in the Jagdtiger tank destroyer until surrendering to the US Army in April 1945.

After the war, Carius attended Heidelberg University where he studied pharmacy.  In 1956 he opened his own pharmacy called Tiger Apotheke, which still stands today.  Carius also faced the backlash against the military and Nazi regime that permeated Germany in the late 1940's and through the 1950's. Uncomfortable with being condemned for actions he did not commit, he was inspired to write his memoirs, Tigers in the Mud, describing his service and the service of those under his command.

With each year the voices of those who fought in that great conflict grow ever more silent, and sadly much of their history is being lost with them. I had the privilege of writing a brief biographical sketch of Carius for the Bridge at Remagen book for Flames of War. He was a brave soldier, an amazing tactician, and an unwavering advocate for the average German soldier during World War II. May he rest in peace.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Polski-Fiat 518 and 508 in Progress!

I hit a major milestone with the Polski-FIAT 518 truck this afternoon and wanted to go ahead and get a couple of photos of the beast out in the wild. At this point the bed is done and the hood / engine covers are done. The basic roof shape is cut out but not attached. The doors, grill, and final details are not yet done. I've also been working on updating the True North 508 Staff Car just a bit.

First up is a picture of the staff car and the truck together. I've added rifles to the staff car, and I've modified the blank wheels with one with the distinctive radial pattern seen on the real thing. I'm making up a lot of extra wheels at this point so I can just use the resin copies on the staff cars and then use the regular metal wheels to supplement the trucks

I picked up a 1/35th scale kit of the 518 truck to use as a template. I reverse engineered my own plans and then cut the pieces of of styrene sheet. The bed of the truck is wood, so I went ahead and used some toothpicks to create the bed.

I've also modified a few wheels to act as the characteristic expanded hub wheels seen on some (but not all) 518 trucks. I made a resin copy of the 508 staff car's front fenders to use as a template, but they still took a fair amount of surgery to get looking right.

The final product, at least this time around, will be in the Battlefront vein with a sealed driver's compartment. This will make painting, construction, and casting much easier as all I'll have to add are the wheels and maybe the front bumper.  I'm hoping to have the 518 together by the weekend to start casting up. Then I may try the truck based on the 508.

Resins, RTV, and Finally a Little Paint on the Black Brigade

I spent most of the weekend working on my scratch-built version of the Polski-FIAT 518 field truck. Unfortunately it is not quite done yet, but I hope to get some "in progress" photos up this week. The big question is what to do with it afterward as I need to cast several and I'm still having issues with my resins and RTV's.

The older RTV from Alumilite appears to be past its freshness date, so I'd have to get new. The new RTV from MPK seems to work well, but is far less flexible than the Alumilite resin, and I've had a lot of trouble getting small bubbles out of it (which could also be the resin, but I am down to the MPK resin at this point so I can't try alternates to debug the issue). This has led to about 20%-30% yield of good casts on the Vickers bodies, which isn't acceptable.

In an effort to speed things up, I picked up another RTV from Micromark with a four hour cure time. At this point I'm not impressed as the molds do cure quickly, but the rubber tears rather than stretches. I'm going to give it another shot, but this one may be headed for the trash bin quickly.

I'm also updating the wheels for the staff cars, as the ones provided in the True North miniature lacked some of the detail needed to be accurate. I'm trying to cast up several of the wheels as I'll need more than one of the staff cars once I'm done. I'll then use the metal wheels from the True North staff cars for my 518 and 508's (well, mostly...)

While I was waiting for resin and RTV to cure, I decided to go ahead and start putting some paint on the miniatures. I now have all of the figures cleaned up and primed. Well, relatively cleaned up - you always find new and exciting mold lines in the painting process that require work! I've started on the Green Brown (Vallejo 879) for the uniforms that aren't going to be a black coat. I'm using Khaki (Vallejo 988) for the Black Brigade helmets. I managed to get about half of the Green Brown down at this point. Fortunately the field kit on most of the miniatures is more sparse than on most of the German ones!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Castaway - Progress on the Polish Vickers Tank Front!

Cast resin models and miniatures have become common because they're fairly easy to do with a minimum of space and capital outlay. At the very least you'll need a master, RTV, and a casting resin. From the master you'll make a mold out of RTV - room temperature vulcanizing rubber. Most RTV's are silicones that use a tin or platinum based catalyst for the vulcanization process. The RTV is poured over the master in some sort of mold box. Once the rubber mold has cured the master is removed and a negative of the master is now captured in the rubber mold. Then a casting resin, typically a two part system, is poured into the mold, allowed to harden and multiple duplicates can be made from a single mold.

For the Polish Vickers tank project, I've been having difficulty with mold stability - most of my early molds began to break down almost immediately or the RTV failed to cure properly. I've recently picked up some new resin and RTV from MPK Enterprises, and so far its working well, though I've had to modify my technique a bit. In order get all of the air bubbles out of both the mold and the resin, I use a vacuum chamber (shown below).  

The RTV I chose was a medium strength rubber (the purple mold in the photo below), and it is far less flexible once cured than the previous RTV I've used (the pink molds). Both the original mold type and the new type should take roughly 24 hours to completely cure. Once the molds are complete, you can start casting with resin. Most resins cure completely within a few minutes, but I purposely chose a resin this time with a longer pot life (10 minute initial gel time, though full hardness takes much longer). 

Once the resin is put into the molds (the molds above are sitting on the base plate of the vacuum system, the brick colored ring is a gasket), the rest of the vacuum chamber is assembled with a top plate and gasket. The photos below show the molds ready to have the vacuum applied.

Once you apply vacuum to resin or RTV, tiny bubbles suddenly grow and the mixture will have a tendency to foam and expand. When designing your molds and mold boxes a good rule of thumb is to allow 2X the rubber or resin volume for expansion. I've found this new silicone does expand the expected amount, but the resin expansion is only about 25% (shown below)

Because of the catalytic process, most hobbyist resins will continue to foam for some time. For short pot-life resins, that means the resin will harden while it is still foaming if left under vacuum, which will ruin the cast. With the new, longer pot life resin, I'm able to pull a nearly full vacuum, let it sit at low pressure for 30 seconds or so, and then slowly bleed air back into the system. The majority of trapped gases should be out of the body of the cast resulting in good quality replicas. As you can see from the cast below, using vacuum techniques it is possible to get even very small features to cast well (the mold includes the very thin Vickers dual turret variant hull top plate, a couple of wheels, and some Mauser rifles for another part of the project).

As I indicated earlier, the new resin and RTV seems to be casting quite well overall. So well that I've managed to get the first of my dual turret Vickers tanks together. 

I've gone ahead and cast a particularly nice example of the 7TP dual turrets to save myself the trouble of cleaning up the metal ones with their inconvenient mold line. The new hull casts are coming out well. Final assembly of the dual turret version does take a fair amount of "fitting" in the end, though!

As you can see from the photo above, the end result looks pretty nice!

Finally, there had been some questions around the relative scale of the Battlefront Polish figures versus other lines, and how they stack up to the True North and Forged in Battle figures. I grabbed a stick of "in progress" Gebirgsjäger and based on their height (and the fact that they're a little foreshortened because of the camera angle), it looks like the Battlefront and True North figures generally match up well. The Forged in Battle look a little shorter, but not enough to make a difference once everything is based. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

10th Brigade Infantry Scaling - It's All Relative

One of the challenges in mixing figures from different manufacturers is the fact that scales can vary slightly from company to company - even when the advertised scale is reportedly the same. The Miniatures Page has a good discussion of the various scales online. Flames of War uses a 15mm scale, which is roughly 1/107 assuming the miniatures are measured "eye height" as opposed to "head height." Many of their vehicles are advertised as 1/100th scale, which would be a 16.1mm scale miniature.  To get around some of these issues, some manufacturers will use a "heroic" scale, so while a miniature may be advertised as 15mm, the figures are at that scale quite literally larger than life and actually measure out to a larger scale.

For my Polish Black Brigade project, I needed to use miniatures from a variety of manufacturers to actually complete the force. Most of the infantry is True North with a few Forged in Battle figures thrown in at this point. As I expand the force, I'll add a higher ratio of Forged in Battle to some of the platoons. The 75mm gun crew is a Divisional support choice, and is standard Polish Army, so those figures are Battlefront.

As you can see from the photo above, the Battlefront and True North figures match each other in scale quite well. The Forged in Battle may be a shade smaller, but the figures in the photo are in a partial crouch position.

Overall, the figures seem like they should work well together. I'm waiting on a few more anti-tank gun crews to come in before I start painting as I want to paint the infantry en masse. Given the color schemes are simpler than the German schemes (and infantry tools) I've been working on recently I'm hoping they paint up a bit quicker.

Monday, January 12, 2015

2014 In Review

New Year's Day has come and gone, and now with 2014 firmly in the rear view mirror I thought I'd take a few moments to look back at last year and look forward to 2015. Overall 2014 wasn't a bad year for me from a hobby standpoint. I finally made some breakthroughs on armies I've been wanting to get going. My updated work space has made actually working on and even completing projects much easier. I also did a fair amount of writing for Battlefront, including most of the German Lists and history for the Bridge at Remagen book, which was a real blast!

I also started dipping my toe into a new 15mm miniature game, All Quiet on the Martian Front. Unfortunately I haven't made much progress there recently. Maybe once my Early War Tournament army is done I'll be able to get back into the swing of things there. It is a neat looking system, and one I definitely want to support!

My son is also getting to the age where he is starting to enjoy games. Two of his favorites are Castle Panic and Takenoko, though we've played others as well. Cooperative games are very popular at our house right now. I finally got to play a couple of games of Talisman, which is a game I've enjoyed since college, which was a ... ummm... while back!

For 2015 I'm going hopoing to continue to be able to burn down my backlog of Flames of War armies. If I finished one army every two months, I calculate I'd have everything I want to get built sometime in 2174. I'm also planning some non-wargaming craft work this year which will split my time a little bit.  My first target is the Polish Black Brigade, but I have some early war Germans that need to be finished as well.

Here's hoping everyone has a great 2015 and may you finish all of your projects... so you can start NEW ones!

Brief Black Brigade Update

I was out of town for the weekend leaving meaning that work on the Black Brigade was suspended until Sunday Night. At this point I'm still fighting with my RTV. I think it may have gotten too old and it just isn't curing like it should. I've just gotten some new RTV from an alternate vendor in, so I'm hoping to give that a try today. If it works, I'll post all of the pertinent information about the source.

Once I get the Vickers tanks casting properly, my next project will be the 508 and 518 field cars. I have the 508 Staff car in white metal, but the field cars are different. My 1/35th scale kit of a 518 field car has arrived and I'm going to use it and some plans to recreate the vehicle in 1/100th (15mm) scale. Once that's done I'll be casting again...  a lot...

I also received my first batch of Forged in Battle miniatures for the project, the "Polish Black Legion" (EWP07). To be honest, it wasn't exactly what I was expecting. Some of the standard poses appeared to be "overloaded" in the blister, so there wasn't anything approaching an equal number of each type of figure. Overall the figures themselves look nice enough, though the head and chin could use a little more definition. Clean up wasn't too bad - a bit more than the True North figures, though. The good news is they look proportional enough with the True North figures so I can mix them providing a lot variety in the force.

My Vallejo paints for the Polish infantry came in as well, so as soon as I finalize what color I want to use for the helmet, I'll be able to get cracking on the painting. I'm waiting on a few more anti-tank gun crews, but the guns themselves have arrived. I also received a note from Battlefront that the replacement barrels and wheel for my 75mm guns are on the way. Now if the rest of the trucks and field cars would just arrive I'd have at least all of the parts ready to assemble and paint.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Polish Vickers - One Down - Several to Go

After a prolonged battle with my casting components, the first test casts of my master for the Polish Vickers are in, and overall I'm about 95% pleased with the good ones. I'm still not completely sold on both of the grates on the air intakes, but I don't have a "Plan B" at this point. I have a couple of ideas which I may go back and explore as time allows. Unfortunately my RTV hasn't been cooperating, and the lifetime of the molds has been short. I only got two near perfect casts of the hull before the first mold broke down, and the second mold had mixing issues from the outset. I've gone ahead and made up a few more hulls just in case I can't get everything to behave.

I'm using two types of Alumilite resin at this point. I generally prefer the tan resin as it seems to cast with fewer bubbles than the white. Unfortunately my tan resin is a bit old and isn't behaving well at this point either. I've got some new resin and RTV on order, but they won't arrive until later in the week. The turrets and hull top plates for the single turret variant are casting pretty well at this point. In the tan resin I even got the gun barrel to cast hollow!

I'm trying the hull once more in RTV along with the twin turret hull top and a few other odds and ends for the army. I expect I'm going to need to do a fair amount of casting for the field cars and other vehicles for the brigade, so I want to get as much moving as I can as quickly as possible. At this point all of the masters for the vickers tanks should be done. I may update the single turret version a little for future casts, but it will only be minor changes around the hatch ring. As I mentioned before, the biggest challenge for this project was the rivets - as you can see from the very perforated sheet of plastic card below. I haven't counted the number of rivets I punched (given you lose some to flying across the room).

However, the final product appears to be pretty decent overall. Because of the slight shrink of the resin, final fitting of the tracks is vitally important. My goal is to have little to no gap between the air intake and the fender as on the original.

I may do some additional detailing of the fenders before painting as well, but I wanted to see how the overall vehicle was looking. I had planned to use the commander from a Battlefront 7TP tank, but the commander figures I received were small and poorly detailed. Visually the French tank figures are similar to the Polish ones (similar helmet and coat - at least for the Black Brigade), so I just borrowed one from a Battlefront Somua S-35 tank (FR050).

Apart from grates on the air intakes (which I think are okay, but not perfect) I'm pretty pleased with the miniature. If I can get a few more cast up I should have enough for two platoons. I'm back to work after the holiday tomorrow, so I'm hoping I can keep the positive momentum going!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Polish Vickers Tank - Rivets, Rivets, and Even More Rivets!!!!

I'm a little behind where I wanted to be at this point, but I should still be able to get the master molds for the Polish Vickers tank started today (and hopefully start casting tomorrow!!!). At this point I think that the hull is ready to go, and the turret and top plates are getting closer! The hardest part of the project has been the rivets, because the tank needs lots, and lots, and lots of rivets!

I finished adding the rivet detail to the air intakes and added the grates to the air intakes. I also opened up the upper part of the hull a little bit as the Polish Vickers turret is forward of the T-26 turret and current alignment of the metal parts would not work.

That brings me to the actual hull top itself. as the orientation of the Polish Vickers turret is different than most other vehicles of the same type, I had to make my own top for the single-turret configuration. I'm also working on a version for the dual turret configuration, but that's lagging a touch, and as I only need two I may attempt to find a way to not have to cast them. Using the T-26 hull top as a template I created a new top for the Polish Vickers tank. As with the T-26 version, I've added rivet detail along the edges. The real trick will be trying to figure out how to cast this thing.  

The next step is the distinctive turret for the Polish Vickers. I've borrowed some details from a slightly larger scale kit. I may take these off and make a slightly smaller version of them as I'm not 100% happy with the results. The turret itself is scratch build from sytrene using another kit and plans as a template. The riveting on the turret is about 60% done. I've also put the gun and co-ax machine gun in place, though I'm not entirely happy with the machine gun yet and may modify it before casting.

At this point the assembled miniature actually looks pretty good. It needs a few more details before it is ready to cast, but I'm hoping to get that done today. Here's a rear 3/4 view showing the turret back and the air intake detail

Here's the front 3/4 view (ish) showing the grates on the air intakes and the gun.

Hopefully these will cast up well as I don't really have the time to convert these beasts individually!