Saturday, 30 April 2011

Wochenbild #4

Anti-mosquito protection.
When people think of the Eastern Front, the usual picture is that of unfortunates exposed on the frozen steppe.  Whilst this is certainly part of the picture, the climate and terrain of European Russia presents other hazards to the unwary.

Amongst these are mosquitoes! Prevalent in the Central and Northern forests, these blood suckers caused a great deal of discomfort to troops unused to dealing with them.  Whether these annoying and painful partisans were following Comrade Stalin's call to repel the invaders is unknown - nevertheless they were a menace!

Just as winter clothing and camouflage had initially to be improvised, so too did anti-mosquito protection.  In this photo we see three unnamed soldiers going about their business in a forest position.  Tucked under the field caps of the soldiers on the left and centre are cloths that act as rudimentary protection for the sensitive neck area.   The fellow on the right has something a bit more elaborate that may indeed be a proper anti-mosquito net (always in short supply)

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Ersatz Stummel - in the resin / metal

I have just pulled a couple of models for comparison.  The metal one is a "Chieftain" Sdkfz 250 converted to 250/8 "Alte".  This vehicle was actually made and saw action on the Ostfront.  However it is pure guesswork as to whether the gun was countersunk into the glacis or mounted on top of the hull.  I decided to go for the option similar to the early Sdkfz 251/9.

Relative sizes of 1:56 Sdkfz 250/8 and BA-6 "Stummel"
The resin model is the BA-6.  I have mounted the gun (with some Blu-tack) in the location that enables the most room to serve the weapon. 

Gun mounts are miscasts from S&S models.  I got my hands on these almost eight years ago and they have been boxed since then.  Some serious work is needed to make them look OK!

The red areas approximate the location of armour plate shields with the horizontal lines showing the supports for a canvas tilt - well it would be depicted during winter and a tarp hides a multitude of sins!

Major von Hächtel would be peeping out next to the gun surveying the bleak terrain and wishing he was back home in Beimbach.

Is this workable?

Please excuse the messy nature of the 250.  It's dimensions are slightly "off" (look at that rear hull plate!) and that is why I shelved the project - it annoyed me

Ersatz Stummel - continued

Second generation mock-up.
Having had a look at the "mock-up" below I think the armament was wrongly situated - as suggested at TMP.

I have dropped it back and things look better.   It would also allow the hull MG position to be used as a radio-operator's station.  Essential, considering the beastie is supposed to be a command vehicle.

The only problem is going to be if there is sufficient room to load the weapon in this configuration.  It is going to be a very tight fit.  Either way I will not be sure until I dig out the components...

Panzerspähwagen BA(F) 203(r) "Stummel" ?

"Beute" Soviet BA-6.
Of late I have been looking for a "mount" for "Major von Hächtel" the commander of my 28mm Kampfgruppe.  I have considered using a Panzer, SPW or even a "beute" T70 but all seem a bit boring.  Then last night I found an unmade "Force of Arms" BA-6 in bubble wrap!  The cogs started whirring and an old idea was suddenly resurrected.

The BA-3/6 was captured in large quantities by the advancing Wehrmacht.  They were used widely in security units but also found their way into front line units.  Sometimes you see them with the bulky T26 turret removed and an MG fitted in improvised shields of varying complexity.  I have even seen one with what looks like a 2,0cm KwK 30 in a semi-fixed mounting.  So far so good.

Mock-up for the BA-Stummel.
I want something a little unusual for the august Major and started thinking along the lines of an 7,5cm L/24 howitzer - as mounted on Sdkfz 233 (6* and 8 wheel) 234/3, 250 (old‡ and new) and 251.  I created a little mock-up with MS paint and it looks acceptable in terms of size.  When comparing the details to the Sdkfz 250 it is obvious that the BA-6 is indeed of a similar size and weight.  So I wonder: "Is there sufficient room in the rear  compartment to handle the weapon?"

So many unofficial conversions are apparent in photos and newsreels that I am of the opinion that "if it could be done, it probably was"  I am sure the recoil would not be great for the BA's health in the long-term (then neither is a PaK 38's good for an Sdkfz 250 - but it is a known field-mod!)  However, expediency on the battlefield seemed, as always, to be the greatest consideration.  If you look at "Endkampf" kit you can see some seriously strange conversions - so my argument is that von Hächtel was just a bit ahead of his time in winter 43/44!

Early production Sdkfz 251/9.
I would be most interested in any comments from people who are familiar with the internal layout of the BA-3/6 and could tell me if there was room enough for two standing crew members after removal of the turret.

*There are unsubstantiated reports of the short 75mm being mounted on the 6-rad Sdkfz 232. 

‡The prototype Sdkfz 250/8s were built (1943) on old style chassis.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Defensive fighting 1943

Another fairly interesting movie. Unusually the footage doesn't appear overly staged and the less than glamourous nature of positional warfare is shown.

Sturmgeschütz and infantry cooperation is again in evidence. As the most common of of all German AFVs the StuG III was the vehicle most likely to be encountered by the average "Frontschwein"

This newsreel has the "feel" I wish to capture in miniature for Kampfgruppe von Hächtel - there is even a box-body truck in evidence!

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Cut price "Yesteryear" softskins

Ford/Gaz vans with Artizan figure.
After deciding that I would create a 28mm Kampfgruppe in addition to my 20mm project, I started looking around for trucks that would work alongside my figures.  

There is a good selection available in a variety of scales but most are quite pricey.  I suspect I am not alone in preferring to spend my limited funds on something a little more exciting than dull, yet essential, trucks.  

Providence threw me a line.  I saw my son, Fritz, playing with a bright yellow vintage truck and thought this looked to be of approximately the right size to use with 28s.  After a bit of research I discovered his decidedly "Soviet" looking truck was in fact a "Model A" Ford.  These were manufactured in the USSR during the early/mid 1930s as the "Gaz A".

Gaz "AA" Trucks.
Rather than steal the young fella's toy I had a snoop around a local "car boot" sale this morning and found a chap selling boxed Matchbox "Models of Yesteryear" for the princely sum of £1.00 each.  I found two Model A vans and whilst not ideal (I would have preferred flatbeds) they are good enough for me.

With a minimal amount of work (largely a re-spray) these will be passable as ex-Red Army vehicles pressed into Heer service.  I am sure purists will tell me that the Soviets didn't produce vans or that the wheel-spoke count is wrong - no matter!  Considering the price is similar to a couple of cans of soda, I don't think I could ask for a better deal! 

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Wochenbild #3

"Ortskampf mit Partisanen"
This week's photograph shows men of an unknown unit taking a pause from the "Ortskampf mit Partisanen" (Village fight with Partisans) - according to the note on the reverse.

The anti-Partisan war was a particularly savage and oft-forgotten aspect of the Ostfront.  To keep open the tenuous supply-lines, Germany was compelled to commit large forces to security duties.  These operations ranged from simple "policing" to all-out warfare against well-supplied paramilitaries.

To protect them from the cold the soldiers wear a variety of greatcoats - all of which proved entirely inadequate to deal with the severe Russian winters.  The man second from the left wears an especially long coat which may be either a special "sentry duty" pattern or alternatively a "liberated" item.

What makes this photo particularly interesting is the ersatz winter camouflage.  The soldiers sport bedsheets or (night)shirts worn over over the greatcoat in an attempt to break up their otherwise dark silhouettes.  Such measures were widespread during winter 1941/42 when troops had to improvise locally due to the High Command's failure to make provision for the Eastern conditions.

From his lack of winter kit, I assume the NCO in the centre of the picture has dashed out to get his photo taken before returning back to his billet!

Friday, 22 April 2011

Panzerjäger mystery - solved!

Panzerjäger UE in all it's glory!
Deephorse of TMP has supplied a link that identifies this little vehicle as an example of the catchily named:  "3,7cm PaK 35/6 auf Infanterie Schlepper UE(f)"  In other words a 37mm PaK slapped on top of a French UE carrier.

If the link is followed you can see the newsreel shot developed as a still and it is much clearer.

Thanks for sorting that out!

Unusual Panzerjäger continued...

Clockwise from left: Mystery, Pz I A, PZ I B and Pzjäg I.
After floating the matter at TMP it has been suggested that this vehicle may well be a Panzer I with a PaK 36 replacing the turret.  This would make sense as the Pz I was still in action during 1942 and would be far more useful as an improvised self-propelled mounting than as a tank or reconnaissance vehicle.

With this in mind I have been poking around looking for photos of the Panzer I (models A & B) from a similar angle.  Results as per the crude photo-montages.

Clockwise: Mystery, PZ I A & PZ I B.
I am not convinced.  It is certainly not an Ausf B as the rear muffler just isn't there (see Panzerjäger I also) However, is it an Ausf A?  Well, at first I thought it may be but the "A" had twin mufflers on the rear mud-guards.  There is indeed a tubular looking item on the right mudguard bit this is in the wrong place (too far forward) and the wrong shape.

Could it be a Panzer I but have the gun facing the rear?  Possible but to me the angles look wrong, as does the "vertical" plate which is not tall enough.  I would say the clincher against this is that the vertical and side plates are at right angles whereas the Panzer I had "bevelled" corners.

The picture is poor and could indeed distort things but I am still at a loss!

Very perplexing.

Rostov 1942 - Unusual panzerjäger

PaK 38 mounted upon Sdkfz 10.
After years of viewing newsreels and old photos I am fully aware that German soldiers performed unofficial "field modifications" in an attempt to improve their combat effectiveness.   

These oddballs crop up quite often and this suggests to me that such modifications were far from unusual.  Considering the nature of the Ostfront and the strained supply lines, it is logical that troops would make do and mend with what was to hand.  However, many of these conversions are quite elaborate - I would assume the level of modification would reflect the skills of a given unit's workshop personnel.

Anyway, looking at a newsreel concerning the recapture of Rostov in July 1942, I found a couple of interesting vehicles.

The first appears to be a fairly well known modification , whereby the PaK 38 was mounted upon it's Sdkfz 10 prime mover.  Some of these have armour plating on the front and others a more elaborate armoured cab.  In many books this vehicle is said to be a Waffen SS "special" but I have seen plenty of them crewed by Heer soldiers.  In this newsreel there appear to be two examples, one in Army use and the other alongside men of SS Wiking - perhaps it is actually the same vehicle?

Rostov 1942 -  "Ersatz" panzerjäger.
Of greater interest to me is another vehicle shown street fighting in Rostov.  This is clearly a PaK 36 (or it's 45mm Soviet clone) unofficially mounted on some kind of chassis.

This outdated weapon was certainly mounted upon a great many vehicles as an "ersatz" panzerjäger.  Ostfront PaK 36  field-mods I have seen include: Krupp "Protze", Renault UE carrier, Horch 4x4, Sdkfz 10, Bren Carrier and Komsomolets tractor.  However, the vehicle used here is not immediately obvious.

I suspect it is an half-track or "beute" AFV of some description.  I doubt it is another Sdkfz 10 as the details appear incorrect.  Sadly this was the best still I could take from the newsreel in question.

Does anyone have any ideas?

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

StuG action - Early 1943

Poor sound quality but some interesting shots in this short movie.  Of note is the vehicle stowage - modellers remember you need to clutter your afvs!  Also the "winterkette" on the StuGs.  How accurate the date is I am unsure but the equipment (and abandoned mid-production T34/76) look correct for early 1943.  The houses suggest Central or Northern theatres.

If this doesn't inspire you to get Ostfront skirmishing, nothing will!

Monday, 18 April 2011

Sdkfz 251 in "28mm" - A comparison

Sdkfz 251/10 B in Ukraine circa 1942.
The iconic "Hanomag Sdkfz 251" SPW (Schützenpanzerwagen) is a near essential purchase for anyone wanting to build a Panzergrenadier force.  Until a few years back (well a decade or so!) your options were largely limited to the venerable Solido diecast.  Things are now quite different.

In the following article I will show four different models available to the wargamer.  It may surprise some to see just how much the size of these vehicles varies - although all are marketed toward the "25/28mm" gamer.

In order of size (biggest to smallest) here goes:

Second City's 251 B.
First up, the offering from Second City. Priced at £7.00 it is clearly a "budget" option.  This is sadly apparent when it comes to quality - the resin casting is full of flaws - looking almost hand-poured!  The vehicle looks to be based upon a late "Ausf B" model and is thus usable for the duration of the Eastern War.

This kit comes in five parts (body, tracks and wheels)  No machine guns are supplied.  The vehicle is large being near to 1:48 scale (In fact I suspect it is a cast of a commercial kit)  That said, if your funds are limited and you are prepared to do a fair bit of work, this may be an option to consider.  Personally, I am tempted to take a crack at one and see if I can make it look acceptable - that is if it doesn't dwarf my Marder III!

BAM/Warlord's 251 D.
Next we move to Bolt Action Miniatures' ausf D (very late 1943 onwards) priced around £18.00.  My samples were bought  (4 years ago) before Warlord Games acquired BAM and they prompted a mixed reaction.  The kit comprises five parts (Hull, track and wheels on a base plus MGs and shield) and apart from the base they are well cast.  The latter was a real mess on both examples.

The track details had been chipped off before packaging and unless these were covered in scale "mud" they would disfigure an otherwise fine model.  I remember asking BAM for replacements and getting these only after a few less than pleasant exchanges.  If Warlord has rectified these casting and service problems I would wholeheartedly recommend the model, if not I would be wary.  Sold as 1:56 scale the height appears spot-on, although they look a little narrow compared to an Artizan figure.

AGNM excellent 251 B.
Third is an Army Group North model (£20.00 in the UK from The Wargames Command Post)  Again, this is an early variant (ausf A according to "Ditto" at TMP) this time with three rifle/vision ports on each of side of the hull.  It is a three piece model with only the MGs to add to a large resin moulding.

This hunk of resin is beautifully cast with no flaws present.  Like the BAM/Warlord model, this 1:56 beastie looks to be of correct height.  However, this time the width looks a little better.  The one problem is the length, I think it is slightly shorter than it should be.  I haven't measured it but my ageing eyeballs suggest that an extra 5mm or so would improve things.  This is a fairly minor niggle considering the overall excellence of this model - recommended.

The diminutive Westwind version.
Finally, we have an Sdkfz 251/9 from Westwind Productions priced at £14.00.  This is the only 100% metal kit and is thus a pretty heavy item.  The detail on the kit is good (this is an ausf C) but my examples (I had two) were of variable quality.  The first had large areas that were missing due to poor casting!  Westwind replaced this promptly and the replacement was fine - so I guess I was just unlucky - again!

The model is formed from hull halves that, for some weird reason, join vertically passing through the front, deck and rear of the vehicle.  This is a very poor design feature as the resulting seam is extremely hard to fill.  Additionally, the joining of two large hunks of metal is not for the faint-hearted.  When it comes to scale these are 1:60 and therefore very small compared to modern "heroic" 28s.  Westwind produce their own range of "25mm"  miniatures that work well with this model but I doubt many would wish to mix these little fellas with the more modern style of figure.

As an incidental note, I have seen Westwinds SPW used to great effect with Valiant Miniature's supposedly 20mm figures!

There are other options nowadays, Tamiya (1:48) and JTFM/Die Waffenkammer (1:56) spring to mind.  Sadly I don't have these to hand for comparison.  Both look to be of great quality albeit in different scales.

Comparative sizes of the four models.
To summarise, much will depend upon your choice of figures and your other vehicles.  As I have said before, the weird and unrealistic proportions of most 28mm miniatures make choosing appropriate vehicles difficult.

Whilst spot-on in terms of height, both the AGNM and BAM/Warlord models are not really big enough for an heroic 28 crew.  If you tried to seat ten miniatures in the rear you would soon see that it just won't happen.  Even if you imagine that your little men are suddenly rendered malleable, it is readily apparent that they are too broad and squat.  The vehicle was cramped - but not that tiny.

Reenactors and their mount.
Then again the Second City vehicle is enormous and your PzGrens would be riding in luxury!  The over-scale problem is most obvious when you look at the drive wheels - they are monstrous.  However, if you are using 1:48 diecasts or plastic models, the over-sized problem is redundant.

Personally, I would say that any of the first three can work with heroic 28s - just don't mix and match.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Wochenbild #2

"Artillerie Lehr 900" - Russia, Autumn 1941.
Lady and Gentlemen (I think there is just one female who reads this blog!) please enjoy the second in my Picture of the Week series.

Today's offering is unusual in that the unit is identified on the reverse of the photo.  The information pencilled states that these are men and vehicles from "Artillerie Lehr 900"  I assume that this refers to the Artillerie Abteilung 900 of Lehr-Brigade (Mot.) 900.  The Brigade was raised from instructors and students at the schools for Mobile Troops and Infantry at Wünsdorf & Döberitz respectively.

Apparently, this unit had a short but distinguished career on the Ostfront.  Entering the fray with HGM in July 1941 and serving through the first savage winter - eventually being disbanded in April 1942.

Of special interest is the variety of different trucks - none of which are coping too well with the dreadful Russian roads!  Even in what was considered an elite formation, standardisation was rarely (if ever) achieved by the Wehrmacht.

If the caption and my interpretation are correct this must be a fairly unusual photo as the subject is both esoteric and short-lived.

As always, any comments or corrections are most welcome.

Friday, 15 April 2011

The Armoured Car mystery solved?

Panhard 178 / PzSpw 204f comparisons.
After appealing for help at TMP  (thread) I received some decent suggestions.  Initially quite a few people suggested that the mystery vehicle was a Humber Mk I.  Subsequently, the consensus seems to be shifting towards the car being a French Panhard 178 - German PzSpw 204f.

I had a trawl through the Intraweb and unearthed only one photo of a 178 from a similar angle.  Unfortunately, I had to rely heavily on scale models (never the best option) for the other two.  The clinchers for me are the shape of the mudguards and presence of the distinctive "cross" patterns - these were pointed out by Dom Skelton - thank you!  There are further common features such as the hatches (open on the "mystery" vehicle and position of the wheels etc.  So I think we can state categorically that it is a Panhard.

50mm armed PzSpw 204f.
I then wondered if this may be footage showing the final conversion of the PzSpw 204f wherein the turret was removed and a 50mm KwK was mounted in an open housing.  This would explain the way the crewmen are seated.  However, it is evident that the gun and shields are not present!

As there appears to be no additional radio equipment, I doubt this is an "ersatz" Sdfkz 247.  All this suggests it must be an odd modification or field-expedient - but why the turret would be removed intentionally (unless damaged beyond salvage) is anyone's guess!

If there are any other ideas floating about I would be interested in hearing them.

British Armoured Car in the East?

The mystery vehicle speeding along a very dusty road.
This morning I was looking at some documentaries and chanced upon a snippet of film showing what appears to be a British armoured car in German use.

The commentary concerned a Panzer Division's advance into Russia during 1941 but the clip left me unconvinced.  The dusty setting could  be Eastern European but I am less sure of the stone road marker and style of telegraph poles (perhaps more likely to be North African?) - they may prove to be valuable clues!

The car looks to be a big brother of the Daimler scout - was there such a vehicle?  However, I am no expert on British wartime materiel, so I cannot be sure.  I hope one of my readers can be more specific.

Obviously the footage could have been taken just about anywhere as the makers of documentaries are notoriously sloppy when it comes to using "suitable" images!  That said, it is no secret that an enormous amount of "beute" kit was employed in the East - even vehicles that one would think were not worth the effort - considering the logistics problems.

Sadly, there were no other vehicles in the clip that could be used to determine the setting.  It is a task for Columbo if ever there was one.

Hopefully, someone can cast some light on the vehicle (even the unit?) pictured.

Note: Using the ever-dubious Wikipedia, the mudguards on this vehicle look similar to those on the "Humber".  However the roof looks different, I remain mystified.  

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Review: Bolt Action Miniatures' Plastic German Infantry 28mm

Action packed box art - "Take that Ivan!"
When, last year, I saw these miniatures previewed over on TMP I was interested.  It was inevitable that the "Plastic Revolution" spread eventually to WW2 and it was no surprise that the first release was German.  At the time of writing they remain the only hard plastic miniatures of their type - PSC's offerings are pending.

After looking at the original promotional photos (now on the rear of the box) I was not greatly impressed.  The miniatures appeared especially "cartoon-like" and the detail soft.  Additionally, I thought the fact that the rifle pouches were moulded onto the bodies was sloppy.   This would require the modeler to carve them off should he wish to depict an Officer, SMG wielder or MG team.  Still I decided I should purchase a set to look them over for myself...

Sprues front and back - you get five in the box.
Now that I have studied the sprues I have a somewhat more favourable impression.  Each of the five main frames contains five bodies wearing open-necked uniforms.  All wear ankle boots and gaiters (thus suitable for 1943 onward) and all but the kneeling figure sport Kar98k pouches on the belt.  You get fourteen arms (seven each of left & right) eight heads and five different sets of personal equipment.  Anyone familiar with the Airfix Multipose sets from the 70s will, at this point, be taking a trip down memory lane! 

The weapons sprues (three included) have a lot of different options ranging from P08 pistol through to a Panzerfaust.  Included are MGs 34 & 42 and ammo box but no cleaning kit pouch.  Similarly, there is an MP43/StG44 assault rifle but no ammo pouches are present.  To me, this appears to be an oversight by BAM - there is certainly plenty of free room on the sprue to include these options.

Also in the box are enough bases to mount all 25 troopers (plus 5 spares)  These are simple circular (25mm) offerings from Renedra.  Slim and with texture on one surface - nicely done.

When it comes to details the mouldings are good, pretty pretty good.  The quality of moulding is excellent as we expect from Renedra.  The clothing is not full of over-played folds, the back packs are realistically individual and the hands not over-large.  The poses are acceptable and with careful arm selection a presentable advancing unit can be created.  The heads are not quite as good as the bodies, looking decidedly "heavy set".  Additionally, something about the stallhelm shape seems wrong.  I cannot pin it down but, to me, they don't look 100% right.  I think this lets the set down somewhat as people tend to focus on this iconic feature above all others.

Weapon and base sprues.
The weapons are beautifully realised being both slender and well detailed.  The only problem may be that they look too small when coupled with the 28mm figures (which have the normal exaggerated proportions)  I should add that the weapons are extremely fragile.  Taking the sprues from the box and then returning them I managed to break a few Kar98k barrels and I am far from ham-fisted!

Overall, this is a very useful set.  It has it's problems but none are insurmountable (apart perhaps from the curved mags for the StG 44)  With a bit of work and careful posing a good looking unit should be achievable.  Personally, I think they are a little over-priced at £20.00 (April 2011) and feel that this places them in competition with some metal ranges that are superior.   However, being plastic they are easier to convert than pewter and will certainly appeal to kitbashers.  Incidentally, trawling online can get you the set at a better price which renders the plastic option more attractive

In a future article I intend to get a few of these cleaned up and assembled to test the versatility.

Scores out of 10 - thoroughly personal ratings explained:

Sculpting - Quality of detail and accuracy
Casting - Mismoulds and flashing
Variety - How comprehensive is the range
Service - Was the seller easy to reach, polite and helpful
Delivery - How long did they take to get to me
Value - Are they a good deal overall

Sculpting:                        7.5/10 
Casting:                            10/10 More outstanding work from Renedra.
Variety of Subject:    */10 Range is new and expanding.
Customer Service:    */10  Bought from a third party.
Delivery Time:            */10 As above.

Value:                                6/10 Based on MSRP - (Mine cost £15 - 7.5/10) 


Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Review: "Classic Armor" Marder III Sdkfz 139 1:48

Classic Armor Marder III with Artizan commander.
As I mentioned in an earlier posting, the arguments about the correct vehicle "scale" for a given size of wargames figure are seemingly never ending.  I have a rather flexible approach.  Whilst I would certainly refrain from using a 1:56 Panzer IV alongside a 1:48 SPW, I think most scales are usable if coupled with the right figures.

A case in point is the "Classic Armor" Marder III produced by the now defunct "New Millennium Toys"  These vehicles were available in Target and Wal-Mart - at very low prices - approximately three years ago.  I picked up a few at around $4.00 a time (they are still obtainable online at an inflated but still reasonable price) and added them to the vehicle park.

Sdkfz 139 on the Ostfront 1943.
These are nice little models, a good level of detail and acceptable painting.  The latter is nothing great but can be easily improved with a few touches here and there.  Of course, you could strip them but it is not really worth the effort.  They seem to sport a metal core around which a host of plastic parts have been attached.  The tracks are of the "rubber band" variety but have no unsightly join point.  Considering the fact that these are "toys" I am amazed that none of the seven in my collection have any warped, bent or mis-aligned components.  Personally, I will be filling a few gaps here and there and also replacing the decals but the models are usable "out of the box"

So, we have established they are nice enough models.  Now we come to the all-important "With what can I use them?" question!  I was pleasantly surprised at just how easy it is to get an acceptable result.  In my parts box I had an Artizan PaK 40 crew in winter gear (ideal for Ukraine 1943/4) so I positioned them around the vehicle.  Hey presto - they look fine!  The commander is a slight figure but compares favourably to period pictures of Marder III crews.  I reckon after removing the bases he and his friends could be attached to the vehicle "as is" and look good.

The crew look truly tiny in this shot (Autumn 1942)
Now why does this work when the figure is clearly not 1:48 scale?  It is all to do with the caricatured nature of nearly all 28mm models (even the "realistic" ones such as Artizan)  Extremities and details are usually over-played on wargames figures but we have become inured to this by years of exposure.  Just take a picture of a real person and compare it to a 28mm figure.   Unless the former is severely deformed you will see that the miniature's proportions are just wrong!

Anyway, I have posted a couple of pictures showing real Marder IIIs so that you can make your own call - I think the miniature combo looks pretty good - not perfect - but good.  The vehicle was deployed in all theatres during the 1942-45 period and thus it's utility is great.  When it comes to crew, I am sure that there are other models out there that will work just as well, BAM and BTD spring to mind.

So if you agree with my findings and need a cheap Panzerjäger go and snap up the remaining Classic Armor stock ASAP!

Monday, 11 April 2011

Building Fortifications Winter 1942/43

Another very interesting excerpt from "Die Deutsche Wochenschau"  This time the film shows troops constructing a defensive position in the snow.  Plenty of inspiration for those wishing to model such strongpoints.

The use of the sled to quickly position the MG is noteworthy as is the continued use of the 3.7cm PaK (It could be a Russian 45mm - I didn't study too carefully)  Some nice shots of the T34/76C also.

All in all a useful film.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

New product from Preiser-Figuren

Excellent looking figures, very useful for wargaming.
Preiser-Figuren of Rothenburg are best known for their extensive range of model-railway figures.  However they market a military selection as well.

Although mostly 1:87 scale, to compliment the European "HO" gauge railway systems, there is a limited "OO" / 1:72 range that includes some interesting figures eminently suitable for the diorama builder.

Having a look through the pdf catalogues, I was surprised to see three new sets that appear to be ideal for tabletop use.  Numbered 72550-552 these depict winter clad soldiers in various combat poses.  Personally, I would find the two German sets the most useful but the Soviet-German combat box is also pretty good.  Anatomy is far more realistic than the usual wargames fare and would be a great match for the likes of AB Figures.

Perhaps better suited for skirmish games?
Slated to be released after the 2011 Nürnberg Toy Fair, these should  be available presently.  I have written to Preiser to clarify if this is so.

Estimated price is approximately €9.00 per dozen figures so pretty good value.  That is as long as these are hard plastic rather than bendy polythene - yet to be confirmed.

Certainly one to watch.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Wochenbild #1

"Stellung Warwarowka" 1941/2
Each week I will post - from my collection - a photo that I feel is particularly interesting or atmospheric.  If a reader has additional information concerning any of the images, please feel free to share in the comments section or send me an email.  For anything pertinent, you will earn my thanks and a mention!

It should be noted that a great many of my photographs have notes on the reverse and often the writing is very hard to read.  Any errors are most probably mine -  apologies in advance!

The first picture is labelled "Stellung Warwarowka"  I have a nice series of images that were apparently taken in Winter 1941/2.  These show the fortified position (trenches excavated from the snow and ice) and the small settlement from various angles.  The heaviest weapon I have seen is an MG34 on tripod.  The soldiers in these photos sport a wide variety of improvised winter kit - from bedsheet "snowshirts" to looted civilian clothing.  However the majority are in military issue greatcoats.

I have tried to trace the village but have had no success with either the German spelling or when replacing the "w"s with "v"s.  Perhaps this was a now defunct Collective Farm (Kolkhoz)?  The architecture suggests Southern Russia or Ukraine but the name sounds rather Polish to me.

If anyone can help I would be interested to hear from you.

Note: Thank you Paul's Bods (see comments below) for the spelling correction and link to a thread in which the settlement is mentioned.  Perhaps the soldiers in my photographs are from 76.Infanterie Division! - Very interesting stuff!

Friday, 8 April 2011

"Kampfgruppe von Retzbach" - the components

The basis of my force- plus T34 "scenery"
After the serendipitous rediscovery of my 20mm World War Two collection, I have decided that some of these kits will be used to model the nascent Kampfgruppe.  My (still ongoing) parts inventory has revealed a variety of vehicles, from Panzer IIIs to E25s!  This force may well have a winter 1942/3 theme as the frantic battles fought by HGS and HGM are of great interest to me.  Also, I really like skirt-less gray Panzer IIIs and these were not as common by late 1943!

When deciding to step down to 20mm (1:72 / 1:76) I was a little concerned about the availability of hard plastic or metal "cold-weather" infantry figures.  I had forgotten completely the two packs of Chiltern Miniatures' winter clad troops that I obtained at "Colours  2009".  These chaps are large but will "do the job" nicely.  I am not sure if they are still available following Chiltern's sale of metal ranges to SHQ.  If you are interested, I recommend calling the latter - hopefully they will have improved their service since my last dealings with them 3 years back!

Chiltern Winter Infantry.
Anyway, the top picture shows the basics of the force led by the redoubtable "Rittmeister von Retzbach"  To start with there will be minimal armour support.  I am still drifting between StuGs and Panzers.  The fact that I have both in the stockpile doesn't make the decision any easier.

The commander will ride in an Airfix Kübelwagen backed up by two Armourfast SPWs containing the infantry.  Then comes the armour - either StuGs or Panzers.  In order to keep the project achievable, that's the extent of my planning thus far.  I will try to resist the temptation to let it grow!

Ironically, if I go for 42/43 as the setting - my smart little chap in the Panzer III N turret and his shoulders become moot as he is wearing an M43 cap - Murphy's Law strikes again...

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Panzer III N - Commanding an hybrid in 1:72

The hybrid Panzer III N.
After having a look in my cupboards I have found a wealth of 1:72 items.  This was something of a boon and means I can assemble a new force at no extra cost!  As my funds are pretty strained this is most welcome.

Included in this haul was a project started about two years ago, namely my hybrid Panzer III N.  To make this little vehicle I used the turret from an Armourfast tank and the hull from one of the Italeri fast-builds.  

Panzer III L or M with "Winterkette"
Both are fair kits but the Italeri version is superior.  To make an "N" you have to mix and match.  The turret from the Armourfast kit is correct for the vast majority of "N"s whereas the Italeri version sports the spaced turret armour that was very uncommon on this vehicle*.  I may well compare the kits later - but I digress.

Close ups of the WIP.
Having added various parts to the turret (more still to come) and re-arming with a turned aluminium barrel - I moved on to the crewman.  I wanted to show someone in a non-regulation garment (even more heavily padded than the regulation two-piece) as was commonly seen in the East.  My quandary was and remains is he just too big for the tank!   At the time I asked my most critical associate (Frau K) to look it over.  She decreed that he looked about right and I duly secured him into the cupola with an epoxy putty blob.  When asked yesterday, after a pause of two years, she thought he looked much too big!  

Another Panzer III in the Russian winter.
I am hovering, at first sight he does appear too large but when viewing period photographs in less bulky uniforms the commanders do look to be of a comparable size.  I can certainly remove the little fellow if need be but would obviously prefer not to do so as he is very well secured.

Constructive criticism would be welcomed before I complete the sculpting and spray the vehicle.  I have included, for comparison, a couple of shots showing "winterised" tanks complete with commanders.  For the record the Panzer III was approximately 8' or 2.5 metres high.  

Fingers crossed I will get away with this...

*I say uncommon as somewhere I have a photograph of a III N with spaced turret armour.  Accepted wisdom says this was never done but in at least one case an L/24 75mm and extra armour were combined!

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Review: Armourfast's Hanomag SPW Sdkfz 251/1

Armourfast Sdkfz 251/1 box art.
I have decided that  Frontkämpfer reviews will follow the same format as those at my Beimbach-Schönau blog - I hope the WW2 version will be as well received!

Armourfast produces a selection of simple injection moulded plastic kits in 1:72 scale.  These are priced at £7.50 (April 2011) for a box of two identical models.  This line was started by HäT Industrie but now appears to be autonomous.  Due to the simplification of components, the models are aimed toward wargamers rather than the scale modelling fraternity.

The box contains two of these sprues.
Today I received the Sdkfz 251 box, purchased directly from the Armourfast website.  The model depicts a riveted "C" variant  (there were also some welded vehicles) suitable for the entire 1941-45 period.  Out of the box I am pretty impressed.  The first thing that struck me was the relatively high number of parts compared to some of their earlier offerings - each kit comprises 26 pieces.  These are moulded in high density styrene and are suited to assembly with liquid polystyrene cement.  I would advise against super/crazy glue or tube cement - neither work as well as the liquid.

Upper hull and track units.
The quality of moulding and the level of detail are very good.  The upper hull sports some very subtle rivet detail that will reward careful use of the brush or airbrush.  The location of moulding "gates" is well thought out and will necessitate minimal clean-up.  I was especially pleased with the front wheels and MG42s - these are very well realised.  I have not yet assembled the models but they certainly appear to have captured the look of the original.  The track units are less impressive but thoroughly acceptable.  Many people complain about the greatly simplified track patterns.  To me these are not of great concern especially when covered by the long mudguards.  Interior detail is limited to four cushion bench seats and a rudimentary floor plate.  Both moulded with minimal texturing.  No front seats are provided.

Front Wheels and MG42s.
When it comes to negatives, a few areas stand out.  Firstly, the view ports are supplied as separate parts.  This is plain silly.  All the Sdkfz 251/1 C variants are going to need these so why not mould them attached to the hull?  It is just "making work" for the customer.  Although headlamps are provided, for some strange reason the ever-present "Notek" light is missing.  The exhaust muffler and indicator lights are also AWOL.  Some people will find these major niggles.  Additionally, the lack of drivers' area details may gall some people wanting to cram the compartment with detail.

To summarise, these models earn an unequivocal "thumbs up".  They are nicely detailed, easy to convert and CHEAP!  To decide between these models at £3.75 each or an over-scale resin and metal hybrid at twice the price is a no-brainer.

Finally, apologies for the photos, typically overcast day with 60w lighting.

Postscript: "Number4" at TMP has pointed out that whilst the half-track is suitable for the entire 41-45 period, the MG42 is not.  This is quite correct.  Source replacements if you intend using this in Barbarossa or Blau! 

Scores out of 10 - thoroughly personal ratings explained:

Sculpting - Quality of detail and accuracy
Casting - Mismoulds and flashing
Variety - How comprehensive is the range
Service - Was the seller easy to reach, polite and helpful
Delivery - How long did they take to get to me
Value - Are they a good deal overall

Delivery time based upon my experience.

Sculpting:                        8.5/10 
Casting:                            10/10 No sinkholes no flash.
Variety of Subject:    6/10  Relatively small selection but expanding.
Customer Service:    */10  Dealings automated, therefore no rating.
Delivery Time:            9/10 Six days UK-UK.
Value:                                10/10

Monday, 4 April 2011

Battle of Kowel April 1944

Readers may appreciate this short film from "Die Deutsche Wochenshau"

The city of Kowel was encircled by the Red Army in March 1944.  In mid-April a combined Army and Waffen SS counter-attack, led by Oberstleutnant Hoffmann, broke the Soviet perimeter and enabled the garrison to withdraw complete with most of their equipment.

In this newsreel there are lot of interesting vehicle and infantry shots that display well the weathered and worn "look" for which I am aiming.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Making plans

Planning: Ukraine, Summer 1941
When it comes to the modelling/wargaming side of this project, where to start is a big question.

I have amassed a fairly large collection of World War Two figures and vehicles over the past decade.  Having recently sold all my 15mm items I am left with 20 and 28mm from which to chose.  Due to a number of reasons (not least the commonality of "scale" with my ImagiNation terrain) I think I will most probably opt for the latter.

As the thorny issue of scale has been broached, I will get it out of the way at the very start!  Unusually, I flip-flop a bit in this area.  It is patently obvious that 1:48 / 1:50 is technically too large for a realistically proportioned figure of 28-30mm height.  However the majority of 28mm figures are caricatures having heads and hands that are overscale and a physique that is too stocky.  Thus I would summarise my approach to be a pragmatic - "If it looks OK then go with it"

My plans for the Kampfgruppe are modest.  A couple of Sdkfz.251 halftracks, a Marder III and a Kübelwagen should do the trick.  Perhaps if I am feeling flush I will work in a Panzer IV G as well.  The period I will be modelling is the winter of 1943/4 and the theatre Western Ukraine/Galicia.  Dark days for the Ostheer but very interesting from a gaming and model-making perspective.

For infantry, I suspect I will use the large number of unpainted Artizan types I have lying around supplemented with some of Bolt Action Miniatures' plastics.  I am not a great fan of the BAM metals as they seem to be a disparate bunch - some showing great sculpting whilst others look very odd.  That said, I haven't really been perusing WW2 ranges lately and things may have improved under Warlord's ownership.

Anyway, that's a fair summary of the plan.  The terrain is being worked on in conjunction with that of my other project - simple "Isbas" (peasant houses) and a few outbuildings.  These I intend to make into masters for casting but that is a different story.

To follow, postings describing the models to be used - then a new feature that should prove popular...

Friday, 1 April 2011

An Introduction

Clearing the snow - Warnarowka 1941/2
Firstly, please accept my warm welcome to Frontkämpfer.  The goal is to make this blog an enjoyable destination for anyone with an interest in the German military of the Second World War - particularly the Ostfront.

As with my other site it is my intention to present a variety of articles dealing with modelling, wargaming and general research.  In addition I will release some photos from my private archive for your perusal - all of which are (to the best of my knowledge) previously unpublished.  I hope they will prove interesting and inspiring to historians, model makers and wargamers alike.

For many young conscripts, the invasion of the Soviet Union started out as something of an adventure - but after months of marching and much brutal fighting came the realisation that this campaign was different to the those experienced previously.  The near Medieval conditions in much of the USSR played havoc with logistics, leading to shortages of everything from food to fuel.  Also, the Russian soldiers' stamina and the immensity of the Country led to a widespread feeling that the war would never end.  Amidst such miserable conditions the average Landser showed great resilience and ingenuity - combating enemy, weather and terrain.

When it became obvious that victory was impossible, the fighting spirit of the Ostheer remained largely intact.  Motivated by professionalism, training and in many cases desperation - to protect their families from the Red Army - the troops kept on fighting until the bitter end.

At Frontkämpfer you will find the focus is not on political commentary or Grand Strategy.  Instead I will attempt to show via photographs, movies and models, the faces of ordinary men adapting to extraordinary conditions.