Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Painting the British 4th Brigade (one of three)

We'll take the 4th Armored Brigade as our test unit here.

So far, everything's gone mostly to plan and I have perhaps 4 hours of my time invested in the project. The next steps take about 10 minutes per brigade each and, drying time aside, an entire brigade can easily be completed in an hour's painting.

First of all, we need to take a step back and discuss some technical aspects of painting 2-3mm scale miniatures.

When I first began collecting 1/700 figures, I painted them as I would any other kind of miniature. This is a mistake. While O8's figs are definitely detailed enough for one to paint them very realistically, if you do this without thinking, you'll create a very bland effect on the table top.

2-3mm gaming is about looking at the grand scale, not the details. Because of this, one needs to be aware of three different visual planes when one paints: the ground, the base and the figure. Figures need to contrast with the base if they're going to be seen at arm's lenght on the table. Ideally, the base should blend with the ground, but this is not always possible.

One can't do much with regards to the ground except be aware of the general theater and season. In our case, it's the Western Desert so we don't have too much leeway. Ground can be brown, tan, sand-colored or greyish and bases will generally have to follow. There will be minimal flocking and very little - if any - green.

Now, this is a problem because both sides obviously painted their vehicles to blend in to the desert. If you do the same, you're going to end up hiding your handiwork and you might as well be playing with counters. For this reason, one should generally paint the base to contrast with the figure. In Africa, though, our palette is strictly limited.

The solution to the problem here, again, is not to try to adhere too rigidly to history. One wants one's troops to look generally correct and to stand out from the back-clutter of base and ground. One should thus choose a plausibly historical paint scheme for the troops which allows them to stand out. In my case, I also want to be able to tell each of my brigades at a glance.

Now, the most common British color used in the desert was plain sand or light stone. However, just before the period in which we're playing (1941-1942), they used what was called the "caunter scheme", and used up to six colors (including light blue) applied in straight lines. Towards the end of the period in question, the British went with "Desert Pink", occaisionally broken with green blotches.

What I've decided to do is to paint the Fourth Brigade in a pinkish plain sand scheme. The Second Brigade will be done in Desert Pink and Green while the 201st Brigade's vehicles and guns will be cauntered. In general, all of these schemes will be light, so the base will be painted relatively dark in order to create a contrasting effect. Of course, all of this probably was never together on the same battlefield at the same time. It's not screamingly out of place, however. My personal line is drawn when it comes to paint shemes that were probably never applied to given unit types. For example, you'll never see my Grants in caunter.

Step One: blocking in the base colors
Step one for the Fourth Brigade consists of painiting vehicles and equipment in Vallejo Dark Flesh, a pinkish tan color. The human figures are then painted in white and all is left to dry.

PROTIP: Taking care to paint within the lines during this phase will pay off in lowered clean up time later. However, if you do paint something you shouldn't. don't waste time correcting it now: you'll have opportunities to make good your mistake later.

The Fourth Brigade with its base colors blocked in

Step Two: wash
Now washes are applied. First of all, a heavy, dark wash of Vallejo Sepia Ink is applied to the base of the units and allowed to thoroughly dry:

Then, a light wash of Vallejo Skin Wash Ink is applied to the vehicles and equipment:

PROTIP: When you apply this wash, make sure you use the tip of the brush to work it into treads and along undercarriages. These should be very dark.

Finally, a very light wash of Vallejo English Uniform is applied to the human figures:

PROTIP: when washing the base, make sure that the immediate area around the figures in very dark for maximum contrast. You may even want to run another coat of ink around the vehicles after the first on has dried.

Washes applied.

Step Three: dry brush
Dry brushing will bring out the detail on the figures. First, I drybrush with DAK Sand. Following this, I mix up Vallejo Deck Tan and Dark Skin, about 50/50, and dry brush with that. Then I take my time and go back and pick out details on the vehicles with my smallest brush (this is probably the most time-consuming part of the whole project). Finally, I dry brush everything once again with DAK Sand.


Next up: detailing. Here's a small (and unfortunately not very good) shot as a sneak peek...

Basing the British

One needs to walk a thin line (literally!) when it comes to bases for 1/600 scale figures. Too thin and you can't pick up the base: too thick and the base ends up distracting your eye from the figures. I find that a thickness of 1/32nd of an inch (roughly .75mm) is just perfect, though thicknesses of up to 1mm are fine. Beyond 1mm, however, and you run the risk of having your figures look like they're standing on platforms.

Because of the smallness of the scale, I try to make stand types immediately apprehendable to the eye. I use 25x25mm for armored targets, 25x15mm for unarmored targets and round 25mm for headquarters. FAO and FAA stands are mounted on equilateral triangles, 25mm to a side. Recon units are based on 25x25mm stands with an angled front edge. Finally, COs are based on 30mm round stands. The first three stand types I buy from Litko in 1/32nd inch thick transparent acrylic with rounded corners. The next three types of bases I cut myself from plasticard or artists' matte board (I use a fingernail clippers to trim the corners to Litko's standard.

Figure Preparation
There are two basing methods: one for freestanding vehicles and the other for units which come with a pr-molded base (generally infantry and guns). Both start, however, with basic cleanup and separation of the figures.

O8 uses some ultra hard and fairly brittle alloy in its figs. If I didn't know better, I'd even say it was aluminium. It has ZERO give, so you can't correct (the thankfully almost uneard of) casting errors by bending the metal back into place. If you try, the metal will snap. The strength of this allow is enormous, however, and it takes alot to get it to break, which brings up another problem: the tiny bits of flash on the figs can easily pierce your skin like little needles if you grasp the wrong.

I use a fingernail clippers or a small wire cutters to clean the flash off of my figs. First I clean the helmets of any spurs (they generally have some because that's where O8 likes to put some of its flow vents), then I snap off the big bits of flash. Finally, I break off any stands mounted in strips. To do this, I wrap the strip in cloth and simply snap it along the molded separation lines. The cloth is necessary to avoid mauling your fingers - as I said, this metal is strong stuff!

Fingernail clipper for cleaning up a 25lb gun. Note the molded separation line between the lorried and unlorried gun. Enough pressure will snap that cleanly in two, but make sure you protect your fingers while applying pressure!

Bases for free-standing vehicles are simple to prepare. I paint them with a thin coat of Vallejo "Sandy Paste" and Bob's yer uncle. After it dries, you glue down the vehicle. If you want to get fancy, you can drag a toothpick tip through the goop before it dries to create tread tracks. Be careful, though! Remember that you're working in a very small scale: tread tracks that are acceptably deep for 6mm will look like veritable canyons here! The key is using a very thin covering of sandy paste: almost a wash.

Even so, I only bother to scribe in track marks for bases which will have heavy tanks. Light tanks like Stuarts will simply ahve theirs applied with paint.

Units molded to a base need to be glued to the stand first, then have sandy paste applied around them with a brush or a toothpick. The degree to which you want to even out the base is a matter of personal taste. I just try to mute the molded base out rather than make it dissappear entirely. The second option is entirely too much work for me!

Bases being pasted. In the lower left hand corner, a 25lb field gun. To the right of that, you can see a HQ stand. The 40mm bofors has a molded base and so is pasted at this point. Further vehicles will be glued to the top once the paste dries. Moving upwards one can see some of my homemade recon bases and, at the very top, a set of FAA/FAO bases. The recon bases are being pasted now because the armored cars which will go on top of them are free-standing.

When you base, try to base to a standard which allows you to easily identify the units in question at a glance. For example, all my infantry has 5 figures standing and five lying down while engineers are all standing. Further differentiation can be done during the painting process later on, but a little thought now can save a lot of grief later. I should have staggered my mortar support units and kept the machinegun units based in line, but I didn't think of this until everything was already glued down. Oh well... This is mostly a problem with infantry, I find, as tanks are pretty easy to tell apart at this scale. The only difficulties for vehicles might be, say, distinguishing Panther As from Panther Fs. Again, here a distinctive basing method is called for.

I generally put down two vehicles per stand as I feel that this gives an acceptable feeling of mass without makiung things look too crowded. Even so, you can see in the pictures below that my Grants are pushing it. I should've moved these farther out to the base edges. Oh, well...

Applying the first coat of paint
After all the bases are done and the figures glued to them, I then apply a base coat of paint to everything. In this case, I'll be using an old pot of Howard Hues DAK sand that I had laying around (it's probably 20 years old now). The goal here is to get a thin coat over the whole works. One shouldn't get stressed out if the figures don't get covered completely, as they are will have another base coat applied to them later.

Now's a good time to sit back and re-evaluate the project. One will always find some things missing, new figures which need to be bought or swapped in, etc.

In my case, I decided that 4 FAO's were just too many, and I reduced their number to two. To adequately model British fire support doctrine with two FAOs, I'll have a house rule that only FAOs can call all artillery, but that HQs can call in any artillery assigned to their formation (in this case, to their brigade).

I also note that I forgot to buy quad haulers for the 25lbrs. I'll use other trucks for now and swap the quads in at a later date.

Finally, just as I began to type this up, O8 announced the release of a British 8th Army command pack. I will thus not build the CO stand for now and I'll leave space on the armor HQ stands for the anti-aircraft tank which comes in the new pack.

I've also decided against basing the trucks for now, except for weapons haulers. There is one truck with a lorried gun based for every two unlorried weapons in the division.

Other than that, Thunderbirds seem to be go. Here's a photo of the division laid out in all its basic golden glory...

The whole division in company scale (i.e. one base = one company or half artillery battalion.)

The 201st Motorized Brigade. HQ up front, followed by carrier companies, infantry, machineguns, 2 lber ATG portees and mortars. Mortars should have been based distinctively from MGs, so I'm going to have to visually define them better come painting and flocking time.

The 2nd Armored Brigade. Crusaders up front, Grants in the rear. To the left is its organic motor infantry battalion: carriers, infantry, machingun and portee. HQ is at back right.

My personal favorites: the 4th Armored Brigade. I mean, Stuarts AND Grants: what's not to like?

Protips to remember in this stage
1) Base look-alike units differently so that they can be told apart at a glance.
2) Base units with special characteristics (i.e. recon, command) on specially-shaped bases.
3) Leave a 5mm-wide strip clear of figures at the back of the base. A label decribing the unit can be affixed here later, if you like.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

My Late 1941 / Early 1942 British Armored Division

Vroom, vrooooooom. Dakadakadaka...

During our pre-Christmas sojourn in the United States, I bought my X-mas gift to me: a set of 1/600 WWII desert warfare minis from Oddzial Osmy’s U.S. supplier, Pico Armor. (And let me just take a moment to give a big shout out to John from PA for getting my stuff to me overnight and in a blizzard to boot.)

I had already decided that the period I want to focus on would be late 1941 to early 1942, the “classic” desert war period, encompassing the Crusader and Gazala battles. I’d thus eschewed buying early war British armor, at least for now.

Over the last few days, I’ve been scaring up OoB information for the British 8th Army, trying to figure out what kind of force I’m going to put together for the Blitzkrieg Commander II, which I eagerly await. (My copy’s probably made it over the Atlantic now and is pining away in Brazilian customs.)

This is my favorite part of any miniatures project: laying out the figures and building forces.

I play BKC in company scale (i.e. each unit is a company or, in the case of artillery, a half-battalion) and my OoB philosophy can best be described as “semi-historical”. I’m not a button-and-bayonet counter. I generally presume that my scenarios are occurring in a parallel universe just next door. This means I use historical OoBs to model my units, but I give myself some creative leeway, constructing “typical” units rather than perfect replicas of historical formations.

So the following is my first stab at a British Armoured division for this period. Note that I have extra units which I can swap in if I do want to make a historical formation, but I don’t have enough to do this on the divisional level. This means that I’ll only be able to play small historical battles, but c’est le guerre de plomb. (I should note here that I’ll also building a reinforced British Infantry division, complete with two RTR Matilda regiments, but that’s a future project).

Any comments are welcome. I’ll be following this project with photos as I go along. Hopefully, it’ll inspire some of you out there to take a stab at 1/600. Note that the following forces cost me about USD 35.00, all told: the equivalent of maybe 12 Pendraken 10mm vehicles, so I’m getting around 50 maneuver units for the cost of a dozen in a larger scale. This may not appeal to you WWII fanatics out there, but for those of you who play, say, FWC or CWC – or even those of you who specialize in another front of WWII – 1/600 allows you to take a stab at quickly and cheaply fielding entire armies outside your preferred period or theater.

And I think that you’ll agree, when you see the paint job that I’m going to do on these, that they are quite acceptable for table play – definitely not “counters with bumps” or “bits of rice”, as 2-3mm detractors would have it…

Comments, suggestions and criticism, as always, are welcome.

7th Armored Division, divisional units
 1 CO
 1 FAA
 1 FAO
 1 Grant (HQ escort)
 6 Daimler Recon
 4 25 lb artillery
 3 Engineers
 2 Bofors 40mm AAA
 3 6lb ATG
 12 Trucks

201st Brigade
 1 HQ
 1 FAO
 6 Infantry
 3 Machinegun
 3 Carrier companies
 3 2lb Portees
 2 3” Mortars
 2 25 lb artillery
 13 Trucks

2nd Armored Brigade
 1 Grant HQ
 1 FAO
 2 Infantry
 1 MG
 1 Carrier
 1 2lb Portee
 2 25 lb artillery
 6 Crusaders
 3 Grants
 6 Trucks

4th Armored Brigade
 1 Stuart HQ
 1 FAO
 2 Infantry
 1 MG
 1 Carrier
 1 2lb Portee
 2 25 lb artillery
 6 Stuarts
 3 Grants
 6 Trucks

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Colombia and Venezuela: The Strategic and Operational Situation

Before I start. I should mention that I've never been to either of the countries discussed below. What follows is an analysis based completely on what I can glean from on-line and print sources.

There are only two logical scenarios in which a serious war would develop between Venezuela and Colombia (as opposed to localized border skirmishings in order to create noise on the nightly news). The first would be a U.S.-led invasion in order to overthrow the Chávez government. This is unlikely in the forseeable future due to U.S. imperial overstretch.

The second would be a Venezuelan invasion of Colombia, which would probably only take place in after some major, world-shaking event which would guarantee that the U.S. would not be able to effectively intervene for at least a couple of months.

This is what we will presume happens for our scenario purposes...

On September 11th 2012, three nuclear devices are detonated on U.S. soil, one each in New York City, Washington D.C. and Los Angeles. The U.S. is thrown into chaos precisely at a time when Colombia and Venezuela have upped their saber-rattling to new heights. With the Venezuelan military already completely mobilized, Hugo Chávez sees a window of opportunity and gives the green light for long-prepared invasion plans.

Even an ego as big as Hugo's, however, realizes that Venezuela will not be able to completely conquer and occupy Colombia, at least not over the short term. The upcoming offensive is thus designed to seize the northern border region between the two countries - precisely that area where a large part of Colombia's energy extraction infrastructure is located. Chávez believes that a successful Venezuelan blitzkrieg will be seen as a fait accompli by most of the west and is prepared to "magnanimously" withdraw the Venezuelan Army (after it's caused as much damage as possible) if he encounters serious diplomatic danger. Hugo hopes that such a victory will present the FARC and its allies with a golden opportunity to fatally destabilize the nation's government, bringing another Bolivarist state into being in South America.

The border between Colombia and Venezuela is a difficult one for offensive military operations. From the Caribbean coast on down to the Rio Arauca (about halfway along the border), Colombia’s three northern frontier provinces of La Guajira, Cesar and Norte de Santander are shielded by the northern extension of the Andes. From the Arauca on south, the frontier is covered by an almost completely trackless stretch of the Amazon rainforest.

The frontier is crossed by few paved roads, the main ones cutting through the mountainous Norte de Santander province at Cucutá. Though much ink has recently been spilled over Venezuela’s purchase of modern T-72 tanks and BMP-3 AFVs, it’s quite obvious that these weapons systems are less than ideal for use in the mountains and jungle which cover most of the Colombian-Venezuelan border.

Given the above, practically the only viable route for a conventional armored thrust out of Venezuela is along the extreme north of the frontier, out of the Maracaibo Basin and across the base of Colombia’s northernmost peninsula, with the attacker’s right sleeve practically brushing the Caribbean. Even this route is problematic, however, for once across the peninsula, the attacker faces the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta – a mountainous region which blocks off any further advance to the direct west.

At this point, a putative Venezuelan armored offensive has only one viable route: over the foothills surrounding the El Cerrejón open-face coal mine and southwest into the Upar Valley. The immediate objective of a strike in this direction would be to take Valledupar, the capital of Cesar Province, thus opening a route into Colombia’s low-lying Caribbean coastal region. An equally important objective would be securing the peninsular region and the Sierra Nevada against Colombian counterattacks in order to maintain a land supply line back to Venezuela. A successful operation of this sort would probably be followed up by a strike southeast into Norte de Santander province, in conjunction with infantry attacks out of the Maracaibo Basin, in order to open up the Cucutá highways as supply routes.

Phases one, two and three of a possible Venezuelan offensive operation through the Upar Valley.

Colombia apparently is aware of the threat of a strike of this sort as it is opening a new military base in an undisclosed part of Guajira Province. One would assume that this base will be located near the provincial capital of Riohacha. Still, it would seem that Colombia’s chances of stopping an armored thrust into Guajira short of El Cerrejón would be slight, given that Venezuela would have the initiative. But El Cerrejón poses a very interesting bottleneck which is potentially fatal to any Venezuelan offensive…

The northern access to the Upar Valley. Venezuelan forces would be entering this map down Route 88 from the NE, moving towards Hato Nuevo in the SW. The El Cerrejón coal mine is situated at Point A.

El Cerrejón is a open-pit coal mining complex: one of the largest in the world. Its operations close off the only relatively flat entrance into the Upar Valley. To the immediate east of the mine, Route 88 (which would have to be Venezuela’s primary supply route by default), winds through a narrow defile before opening out into the mining town of Hato Nuevo. In my opinion, this would be the region in which Colombia’s First Division would attempt to block the mechanized forces of the Venezuelan Fourth Armored Division.

Two views of El Cerrejón. Those things that look like 1/600 Tonka Toys are actually 154 ton-capacity Wabco haulers. I think we can agree that even Ogres would have difficulties tackling those slopes...

Operationally, Colombian armored cavalry and infantry would be looking to delay attackers in the El Cerrejón region while Colombia’s rapid deployment force (made up of several battalions of elite paratroopers supported by 120 Blackhawk helicopters) would prepare to counterattack along the thrust’s western flank. Meanwhile, Venezuela would be seeking to push through El Cerrejón at all possible speed. The terrain is not conducive to airborne operations, but Colombian airmobile forces would probably be deployed here on the first day in an attempt to seize and hold the mines and the Route 88 bottleneck for the follow-on armored forces. Obviously, 42nd Para Battalion would be the force most likely chosen for this attack, given that it’s an elite force integrated into the Venezuelan 4th Division – the operational unit which contains most of Hugo Chavez’ new armored toys.

Given this, our first scenario will represent an attack into the El Cerrejón mining complex by Venezuelan paratroopers, backed up by light armored units from the 44th Light Armored Brigade.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

And a one-two-three, right face! Swish!

With apologies to any IRL Venezuelan paratroopers who might be reading this and who find their masculinity threatened...  ...or to IRL gay men who find the comparison disturbing.

(Tip 'o the hat to Nik Harwood!)

The mighty 42nd Brigade marches on!

New content will be up soon!