In which I blog about my miniature wargaming and whatever else takes my interest!

In which I blog about my miniature wargaming and whatever else takes my interest!

Monday, December 10, 2012


While painting up the PSC Shermans I also worked on the conversions to the now demobbed Sherman Ic models. As suggested earlier, they were converted into Grizzly Kangaroos.

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The conversion job was a simple of matter of using some card and gluing it between the tracks to close off the hull and make the open ring into a troop compartment. The sides of the compartment aren't perfect (you can see the tops of the tracks in places if you stare in), but I gave everything a light grey paint job and then painted up some standing Canadian infantry from my spares box (mostly extra Old Glory Bren gunners). With the squaddies in there you can't really tell.

What I'd like to know is how you were supposed to fit an entire rifle section into one of those?
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But I've split a bag of Old Glory 17 pdr AT guns  with Brian and am waiting the arrival of some Peter Pig crew before I paint them. The Kangaroos will be used to tow these.

Another support asset I've just added is a section of Battlefront Wasp IIc flamethrower carriers. These are nice little resin casts with two crew. Since reading Zuehlke's books on the campaign in Northwest Europe (Breakout from Juno, Terrible Victory and On To Victory) I've been wanting some. By July 1944 one or two sections in the carrier platoon were equipped with them and it seems that every company attack was supported by these useful little vehicles. The mere appearance of them would often make the Germans surrender.
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The cardboard flame template from Warhammer is a bit naff, but I'm not sure how to make a 12" jet of flame and smoke just yet.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Christmas Deals!

It's Christmas! For the entire month of December the J&M Miniatures shop rabbits are helping Santa out with FREE SHIPPING! Just put the coupon code 'Christmas' into the box on page 2 when you check out. Effective from 1 December 2012 to 31 December 2012.
And when you add that to the many items I've already marked down in the 'Clearance' section, the savings are pretty darn good!

Monday, November 26, 2012

I'd Like to Thank the Members of the Academy...

My old and distant wargaming friend, the Mad Padre, has put Rabbit's in my Basement up for a highly coveted "Liebster Award".

Here are the Liebster rules as I got them from The Mad Padre's blog:

Copy and paste the award on your blog linking it to the blogger who has given it to you.

Pass the award to your top 5 favourite blogs with less than 200 followers by leaving a comment on one of their posts to notify them that they have won the award and listing them on your own blog.

Sit back and bask in that warm fuzzy feeling that comes with knowing that you have just made someone's day!

First up I have to nominate Je Lay Emprins. This fellow's painting and terrain building is absolutely top quality and features some brilliant conversions to make dynamic vignettes and interesting characters. He does this all in a period I've always been attracted too: the Swiss-Burgundian Wars of the late 15th century. Everytime I read his blog I think I should get back to my own Cantonal troops and Ordonnance Companies.

I don't know if this totally kosher, but I'm also going to nominate the same fellow's other blog Harness and Array. In which he brings the same high quality work and attention to details to the Hundred Year's War.

Dougie's Wargaming Blog is a really good foray into 20th century gaming. Africa, Afghanistan, the Falklands, Ulster ... Dougie is painting it and painting it well. His terrain is also amazing.

Lead Gardens is a delightful Old School gaming blog. The figures are nice and the terrain is stylish in a simple aesthetic. I dunno, I like the way he approaches things. Some good game writes up too.

Keith's Wargaming Blog has more Old School SYW and some nostalgia inducing 20mm WW2. I also like his no nonsense approach and he has some good scenario ideas in his game reports.

Timurilak's 18th Century Sojurn is a gold mine of information for SYW gaming and terrain building. And he does it in 15mm like me, which is rare. Most SYW gaming in the blogosphere seems to be in 25mm.

So I'd like to thank the members of the Blogspot Academy, my Director, my Coach and most of all my lovely Wife, Mrs. Rabbitman, for being at my side through all of this. Thank you blogosphere! You've been great!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Steel Hussars

Here's the latest off my painting bench; two boxes of PSC Shermans (reviewed here) and some other bits to reinforce, refurbish and upgrade my Canadian armoured support to a full squadron. (click on pictures to embiggen...)

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Full squadron

While I was painting and gluing I replaced one of my troop commanders in an Old Glory tank with an extra Battlefront commander Mike B. passed along from his rather expansive North Africa collection. The old troop commander was a cut down figure wearing a tin hat, which I later learned would never ever be worn by a tanker, as the brim would catch on the hatch ring. So I'd been looking for a chance to replace him for a while. The new troop commander is wearing a black beret like everyone else and he no longer feels left out.
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Old Glory Sherman with new Battlefront troop commander

I added some metal stowage to the PSC Shermans. Not as much as I'd like, but I only had so much left in my bits box. I also added radio antennae. These were a simple matter of drilling out a hole with my pin vise and then using epoxy to glue in a bristle from a cheap dollar store snow bush.
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Squadron Advance!

Since the 1st Hussars are a local Reserve unit to which I have a few connections via friends, and they were part of the assault force on D-Day, I switched the troop commanders cap badges to silver. A small detail I know, but it stands out better against the black armoured corps berets. My tanks are just as likely to be playing the part of the 8th (Princess Louise's ) New Brunswick Hussars in Italy or the Three Rivers Regiment or even the Governor General's Foot Guards (who drove tanks during WW2)as they are to be 1H. But I always associate my figures with a particular unit, even if I play different scenarios.

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PSC Shermans in front and HQ troops, BF and OG Shermans in the rear troops.
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Finished PSC Sherman and Firefly
Painting was simple. Black undercoat.  Then a heavy dry brushing of Vallejo "Bronze Green".  I then went over that with the Bronze Green mixed half and half with some Americana "True Ochre". Stowage was picked out in Vallejo "Khaki Grey" and Americana "Pewter" for the welded on track pieces. Finally I gave the tracks and road wheels and lower hull a heavy dry brushing of Americana "Mississippi Mud"  and carried a lighter dusting of that over top of the upper hull, stowage and turret to help highlight the details and give them a slightly dusty look.
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Dateline: July 1944. Somewhere in Normandy Canadian tankers advance to give the Nazis a good hiding.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Rabbitman and the Beliebers

Trying to be a savvy 21st century web entrepeneur (and maybe shift some boxes of toys out of the dining room) I've got a Facebook page for J&M Miniatures. It's an easy way to promote new stuff and chat about gaming. Of course, I'm only promoting the new stuff to those who have 'Liked' my page.

As the page administrator I get all kinds of nifty stats thrown at me; how many people have seen a post, how many have shared a post and made it 'go viral' (I don't think two 'shares' really counts as being viral) and new 'Likes'.

A lot of my new 'Likes' will be teen aged girls with suspicously foreign names, who's own posts (yes, I creep their walls out of curiosity) seem to be is a foreign language (often possibly Spanish or sometimes some Eastern European lingo). But often they list their residence as Stratford ON.

I know my town pretty well... there isn't a huge ghetto of Hispanic or Slavic speaking folks hiding behind the Festival Theatre or the hockey rink.

All I can think is that these youngsters have "liked" my business because it is from the same town as their current pop idol, Justin Bieber. Perhaps they're hoping that I know the Biebs and can connect them? Or he will make a sudden random post on the J&M Miniatures FB Wall? Or they just try to 'like' as many Stratford online presences as possible to try and collect the complete set?

Show you're the BIGGEST of fans! 'Like' all of Stratford!

Wierd. But basically harmless.

And Stratford is a pretty likeable town.

But the Fall training is slowing down and I didn't get loaded onto the "Training Officer's Course" I had hoped to be on (they decided after it was too late for me to apply for the fall session to make an 'Intermediate Officer's Course" a prerequisite to the TOC), so hopefully there will be more painting and gaming in the coming months. I've got a squadron and a half of Shermans to paint up! (Among other things).

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Remembrance Day

This past week we were supposed to have a guest speaker talk to the cadets.
He cancelled.
The CO asked me to give my War Memorials lesson to the whole cadet corps.
So I brushed up my Powerpoint slides and started talking about cenotaphs and memorials and tried to weave some history into it.
With the big Vimy Ridge Canadian National Monument I talked about 1st Canadian Corps fighting together for the first time on a freezing rainy Easter Sunday in 1917. For regimental monuments I showed the Royal Newfoundland Regiment's haunting memorial at Beaumont-Hamel and told them about the death of an island's best and brightest and along with them, hopes for independence. For more local examples we looked at the Sherman tank preserved in a nearby park as a monument to the 1st Hussars armoured regiment and I told them about Black Sunday and la Mesnil-Patry.
Then I told them about La Place Gerard Dore and a boy, who could have been a cadet in my class every Tuesday night, who joined Les Fusiliers Montreal and went to France in 1944 to die at Verrieres Ridge before his 17th birthday. I always get choked up with that one.
I had lots of time to fill so I launched into an expanded version of my Royal Canadian Regiment history; a young nation's birth pains and the First Nations brief defiance, Imperial adventure on hot South African plains, the death struggles of Empires in the trenches of the Western Front, the heat and dust of Sicily and the mud and cold of the Moro River and Ortona. Korea and the Cold War and Afghanistan.
I don't know if the cadets were thinking of any of this during the silence at today's parade, but it gave me something to think about.

This first video I just saw this year, and I like the parallels it draws between WW1, WW2, Korea and Afgahanistan. The more things change, the more they stay the same it seems.

And I've always liked this song by one of my favourite bands, honouring the "Blue Puttees" (The Royal Newfoundland Regiment).

Monday, October 22, 2012

PSC Shermans

I resolved my Firefly dilemma with a couple of boxes of Plastic Soldier Company's excellent Sherman V and Vc boxes.

In each box you get five sprues;
PSC shermans 001
Each sprue builds one tank. You get the pieces to make either a Sherman V or the 17 pdr armed Sherman Vc, called the 'Firefly'.

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Finished Sherman V.
I was quite pleased with the detail and ease of assembly. The tracks are a little fiddly and require you to pay attention.

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Bottom detail
What I really liked however is the detailing on the bottom of the hull and the way the tracks have been pinned so you cannot put them on the wrong side or in the wrong place (I tried, they won't fit any way but the way they are supposed to go on).

They also went together pretty fast, with minimal clipping and trimming. The Battlefront Sherman Vc I assembled at the same time required as much time for fewer pieces, but more trimming and filing of flash. Plus I had to trim down the locating lugs on the tracks so they would even fit properly which annoyed me greatly.

Size wise they compare well with my Old Glory and Battlefront models.

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PSC on left, Battlefront Sherman Vc on right
I had to redo the right hand side track on the BF Sherman to get it to sit straight, and both track pieces required a lot of trimming to make them fit. Not required on the PSC models.
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L to R: PSC, Old Glory, Battlefront Sherman Vc
As you can see the Old Glory Firefly turret is rather squashed. Even with switching the turret from the Sherman I hull to the Sherman V hull it's still not a very satisfactory model. This just confirms my resolve to replace the Old Glory Fireflies with BF or PSC models and turn the Old Glory Sherman I hulls into Kangaroos.
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L to R: PSC, OG and BF Sherman Vc

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Sideview Sherman Vx. L to R: PSC, Old Glory and BF.

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Front view Sherman Vx. L to R: PSC, Old Glory and BF

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 Sherman Vx. L to R: PSC, Old Glory and BF

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PSC Sherman Vc and new BF Sherman Vc.

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New troop ready for paint!
I liked the extra track pieces to reinforce the front hull of your Shermans. Which I applied liberally on a few of them.

My only quibbles are minor. One, is they could have maybe added some more stowage. A single jerry can and a single extra road wheel are it. A few packs or bundles would really help the models look more like they rolled off the battlefield. But I still have some metal stowage that I will attach with some epoxy cement before painting. My second quibble is the hole in the turret roof for the .50 cal. AA machine gun. I don't want every tank to have these (they were often removed), so the holes will need to be filled before painting.

Overall though, excellent value for the money and very nice kits to put together. I like them much better than the resin hulls.

You can buy them at my store too!

Bolt Action Italian Paratroopers

Just finished some more Bolt Action Italian paratroopers for a very patient friend. I did some more WW2 Italians for him way back here.

Lovely 28mm with excellent detail and animation. This batch included a command group, a 45mm Brixia mortar and some more riflemen.

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Rifleman, leader, radio operator and ammo carrier for the mortar

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Riflemen and leaders

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Brixia 45mm mortar

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The Brixia mortar was a bit fiddly to assemble.

You can get these figures from me at my store.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Berlin Noir

berlin-noirI like historical fiction (Flashman, The Eagle in the Snow) when it is well done and I like hard boiled noir detective novels (Hammet, Chandler). The Bernie Gunther stories by Philip Kerr tick both boxes quite nicely.

Berlin Noir contains the first three novels featuring Bernie Gunther, a Berlin detective in pre and post-war Germany. In the first novel, March Violets, Bernie is a private detective in 1936. He had been on the Berlin police force as a detective, but his open disdain for the Nazi goverment forced his retirement. Now he is making a living looking for missing persons, of which there are a lot under the new Nazi regime. Like all hard boiled fiction protagonists, Bernie is the moral man struggling to stay alive in a dark, immoral world. The case, which begins as a search for some missing jewels takes him into the Byzantine court politics of the Nazi regime and the hellish depths of a concentration camp.

In the second novel, The Pale Criminal, Bernie is coerced back into the KRIPO (the plain clothes detective branch of the police), to lead the investigation into a serial killer. Once again Nazi Party political infighting is involved and he has to be careful in order to both bring such justice as he can and still stay alive. But the growing nagging doubts about the mess Germany has gotten into and how they all stood by and let the thugs and gangsters take control, come to fruition on the morning after the Krystalnacht. The autumn clean up of fallen leaves becomes a harbinger of the coming Holocaust for the Jews and he fears the rest of Germany as well.

The pale autumn sky was filled with the exodus of millions of leaves, deported by the wind to distant corners of the city, away from the branches which had once given life. Here and there, stone-faced men worked with slow concentration to control this arboreal diaspora, burning the dead from ash, oak, elm, beech, sycamore, maple, horse-chestnut, lime and weeping-willow, the acrid grey smoke hanging in the air like the last breath of lost souls. But always there were more, and more still, so that the burning middens seemed never to grow smaller, and as I stood and watched the glowing embers of the fires, and breathed the hot gas of deciduous death, it seemed to me that I could taste the very end of everything.

In the third novel A German Requiem, it is 1947. Bernie is home from a Soviet POW camp and trying to scrape out a living once again as a PI in an occupied and shattered Berlin. An old colleague from his days in the KRIPO is accused of murdering an American officer in Vienna and Bernie is hired to prove his innocence. Once again Bernie is caught in a murky world of black marketeers, cold war spies and war criminals trying to hide their pasts as American and Soviet spy-masters try their best to use him as a pawn. The Orson Welles classic The Third Man, set in post war Vienna, even gets a tangential nod.

Well written, with intriguing plot twists and compelling mysteries, these novels feature a flawed yet very human and sympathetic character and well crafted prose.

Kerr has continued the series with more mysteries that take Bernie into the world of exiled Nazis living in 1950s Argentina and working for the American rocket program.

Highly recommended.

Monday, October 8, 2012


So with all my stock uploaded to the store I thought I'd run a sale and generate some cash so maybe I could order some of the shiney newness like the upcoming PSC 15mm Russian artillery or Warlord's new French infantry.

It's Thanksgiving here in Canada, so I ran a 25% off sale for this weekend, announced it on various forums and yahoo groups.

Got 854 hits Thursday, 1323 hits on Friday and around 500 hits each Saturday and Sunday!

The coupon code worked for one order but a couple of others emailed me saying they had problems, Paypal wouldn't recognize the coupon code. Still haven't heard back from Shopify Support to find out what went wrong. So I'm left wondering how many of these hits were people who had trouble checking out and then just gave up without emailing me?

In the meantime I'm fulfillng orders the old fashioned way with a claculator and sending out Papal invoices.

But I've set up a new code 25%sale which is in effect until October 14th if anyone would like to try it out and get yourself something shiney.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Further Fretting Over Fireflies

I've been continuing to chew over the dilemma caused by the revelation that my Old Glory Fireflies are Sherman 1Cs.

Brian sent me a useful treadheady link that indicates that in June 1944 there were exactly TWO (count 'em 2) Sherman ICs in 21st Army Group and they were in the Polish Division. And there were only 50 Sherman Is (with the 1st Tank Brigade). The Sherman I being out of production by late '43 there wouldn't be a lot being sent to Normandy as replacements. Most of the tank strength were Sherman Vs and VCs.

I could use them for Italy, I suppose.

If I have to.

Brian also wants to go halfsies on a bag of 17 pdr AT guns and crew when the boys head to Fall-In in November with our Hotlead club Old Glory Army Card.

Turning the ICs into Grizzly Kangaroos to tow the 17 pdrs or carry some squaddies is looking better and better.

I'm thinking a card set inside the hollow Old Glory hull and them some extra figures and stowage from my bits box to stand in the opening and more stowage would do the trick.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Indulging my Inner History Geek

So last week we're starting the new training year at cadets by having a bit of chinwag and giving them an opportunity to ask questions. I'm teaching the Silver Star (third year) cadets this year.
"When do we get our VRIs?"
Meaning their Royal Canadian Regiment cap badges. Our Cadet Corps is affiliated to the 4th battalion Royal Canadian Regiment and the senior cadets are allowed to wear the regimental badge instead of the maple leaf shaped RCAC cap badge that the first and second years wear. The regiment is allowed to wear Queen Victoria's cipher "VRI" on their cap badges still.
So I ask them what it means.
Blank stares.
Someone says 'power' thinking of the status conferred.
What does VRI mean?
More blank stares.
Who is our affiliated regiment?
More blank stares, even though they have RCR shoulder flashes on their tunics.
So I give them an impromptu seminar on the Canadian Forces, the Army, the Infantry and the RCR.
Deciding they needed some visual aides and better regimental history than I could pull out of my head, I decided to make a quick lesson for them. Last night I arrived with a 40 minute power point on the RCR history. A quick gallop through 130 years and 6 wars but I hope they at least have some idea what it means to wear the VRI now.

Cold Steel?

People keep bugging me to run a second convention in the fall.
With the demise of MIGSCON and the cancellation of Council Fires there is no gaming convention in the fall in Southern Ontario.
A few years back I set up a games day which we called Cold Steel. Invitation only; the Hotlead staff, gaming friends and Hotlead GMs for a day of games and food at our local Knights of Columbus Hall. Nice little venue, room for four tables and there's a kitchen and fridge for beer. The day went well and people keep asking me to run another one. Last year I was too busy with cadet stuff to find a date and this year I could have if I 'd started sooner.
I suppose I could book another one next year. Too late really to plan anything for this fall.
And my CO has suggested that a games day for the cadets might be a fun way to introduce some Canadian history to them.

Friday, September 14, 2012

First Russian! Father Mikhail Petrovich

Earlier this year, the Assault Group had a nifty promotion; 'like' them on Facebook and pick a free mini from their catalogue.

I like freebies and found a Russian Orthodox priest who I thought would be nifty to inspire my Napoleonic Russian army on the tabletop.

Of course I haven't gotten any Napoleonic Russian infantry painted yet! But the venerable cleric was easy to knock off while working on some Italian paratroopers for a customer.

And of course, I've named him after my friend and Canadian Army chaplain the Mad Padre. So here is Father Mikhail Petrovich, all set to bless my new recruits when they march out of the depot to defend Holy Mother Russia from the Corsican Antichrist!

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Fort Blood!

"Fort Blood" seems an appropriately cinematic name for my Pathan hill fort, since this build caused a trip to the Emergency Room for stitches and there are actually drops of blood beneath the paint when I nicked myself carving the rocky outcrop for the tower.

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Finished fort
I liked the odd scaffoldy thing around the single tower so much I added it to the tower on the bigger fort too. I pre-drilled some holes and then glued in pieces of bamboo skewer. I then added planks made from cut up wooden coffee stirrers.
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Roofs come off and gate opens
 I also decided to cut apart the single tower and it's outbuilding, making them two pieces and more flexible for layouts. I decided that I may want a lone tower on a small hill, and the addition of the outbuilding could keep it from fitting.

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Finished tower
 I then gave everything a skim coat of a gritty textured grout, piling extra around the bases of the walls to smooth out the corners and make everything seem a bit more organic. I then set it aside for 24 hours to dry. The removable roof sections had to be trimmed down so they would fit again. The grout made the already snug fit too tight.

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Top floor comes off
 Next night I gave everything a coat of paint from my big pail of dark chocolate brown interior latex that I used to paint my NW Frontier hills and mountains and again set aside for 24 hours to dry.

I then started dry brushing. A large, flat tipped regular paint brush is still too small and was resulting in a blotchy effect, which was unpleasing. I switched to a house painting brush wide enough to do the towers in one pass, but it held so much water in the bristles that it resulted in more of a wash that a dry brush. But I gave all pieces a thorough going over, using the smaller brush to get into corners and windows etc.

The results were still pretty blotchy, so I went to Canadian Tire and used my accumulated Canadian Tire money to buy a can of Krylon Satin finish Almond and a can of Satin finish Ivory  spray paints for highlighting.

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The thatch roof on the storage shed gave some problems. A first attempt using a square of teddy bear fur resulted in a rounded roof that looked somewhat like a soggy square of shredded wheat. This was not quite what I was looking for.
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Roofs come off
The bunnies came to my aid by donating some hay to the cause. I sliced the pieces of hay into smaller thicknesses and then cut to shorter lengths. These were then glued onto the roof section in rows and built up to a desirable thickness using liberal amounts of watered down white glue. I then gave it a heavy wash of watered down burnt umber. The natural colour of the hay showing through in spots for some natural highlighting. 

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Tribesmen try out the new digs

I originally tried a light grey dry brush on the wooden doors but this resulted in them being too washed out and disappearing into the walls, so I went over them again with khaki.

The rocks and base also got too heavy a treatment from the spray paint, so I went over them again with brown ink and dry brushed khaki. I spent a bit of extra time with a big soft round brush and the khaki paint softening the hard edge the ink made along the bottom of the walls.

Considering I've built these all out of scavenged material and off cuts and purchased the paints with Canadian Tire money, all three buildings are practically free!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Hill Forts!

I've been wanting to make some North West Frontier hill forts for a long time now. Probably ever since I first started Colonial gaming. In the North West Frontier small tower houses and forts dotted the countryside like the border castles in Scotland. "Every house in this valley, and there are hundreds of them, is as I have described elsewhere, a little fortress. Each has thick strong walls, loopholes, and one or more lofty towers." (The Campaign in Tirah 1897-1898, Col. H.D. Hutchinson, p.79) Capturing them to clear a pass or blowing them up to punish a wayward clan chief was the objective of many an Imperial column from the 1850s until Independence and Partition in 1947.

So I've been perusing the internet and pouring over pictures on blogs of the lovely hill forts made by Chris the Model maker. How do you make them 'hill forty' and Afghan and not look too western like Fort Zinderneuf? I planned, and sketched and pondered. And planned some more and put it off. Plus it's a lot of cutting and gluing and takes up space. My work bench is also my gaming table, so having to clear things off to make some room puts me off too. But every time I have a game I'm forced to clear my table off which gives me a chance to pause and rethink my projects too. A cleared off table after a game is like a blank canvas and I get inspired to bash on with the next thing on my list of projects.

A month or two back I started on a British fort. I was going to experiment with something other than foam core (I only had one sheet and didn't want to go buy more if I could avoid it). I had some nice fibre board which had a brick like texture on one side which I thought could work for me.  I was also going to try cutting the towers out of this thick plastic board used by the local theater festival for posters. Cutting out the narrow firing slits was problematic. Then disaster struck, the knife slipped and I was finding out how nice our new Emergency Ward is.

So that project got set aside again...

This weekend though, I am enjoying my FIRST long weekend of the summer. So yesterday, while Mrs. Rabbitman was reading a book and recovering from our taking Daughter No.2 up to University, I cleared up from last week's game and inspired by the blank table, said "Damn it! I AM building a hill fort!"

I decided to go with corrugated card. It's easy to work with. I get lots for free at work, it's lightweight and it's fairly thick and strong. Yesterday's frenzy of hacking and gluing resulted in this:
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I figured to get the ramshackle, organic Afghan look I didn't measure very precisely which resulted in some odd angles and a few gaps that had to be covered over or filled in. The roof on the tower lifts off so riflemen can fire from the loopholes and the roofs on each building also lift off. The long building is divided into two rooms. I figure the British might need to search for a captive or something, so adding some rooms was a good idea. The downside to corrugated cardboard is all the holes which had to be filled with caulking.

But that went so well I took the lessons learned and made this today:
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The tower isn't glued down yet, I still need to fill the gaps in the rocky outcrop I made from my box of off cuts. Once again the tower roof comes off to give access to the upper floor. The roofs on the outbuildings also come off.

With the first fort I started with the tower and added to it and finally cut a base (from that thick plastic poster board) to fit. With the second tower I cut the base, built the rocky outcrop and then fit everything else to it. I wanted a smaller more 'cozy' feel to this one. It's the home of a smaller chief. The first fort is obviously for a much bigger fellow in the neighbourhood, and it can hold a unit of 20 or so tribesmen.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Fretting over Fireflies

It's all Scott's fault.
We were happily playing some I Ain't Been Shot, Mum a few weeks ago. My Canadian Sherman troop was advancing to be ambushed by his StuGs and he has to point out that my Old Glory Sherman Fireflies have cast hulls and the Canadians only got the welded hulls.
Now my lovely Sherman troops were like ashes in my mouth. With a problem of such Gordian complexity what was I to do except loose sleep?
So I went to my friends, who are much more well read on the arcane technicalities of such things and asked them. I'm not a tread head or rivet counter by any means, but I do like to try and get the look of the thing right, if I can... without too much fuss or expense.
Much emailing ensued and 30 messages later it boiled down to this:
Apparently what I have are Firefly 1Cs. And the 1Cs were issued to Canadian armoured units in Italy and even used as replacements in Normandy. (The numbers of tanks knocked out in Normandy meant that the RCEME units were sending whatever they could fix back to the front and the tank squadrons were happy to get them! So any version of the Sherman would be appropriate.)
Another suggestion was to take the turrets off and turn them into Grizzly (the Canadian licence built version of the M4) Kangaroos to tow 17 pounder AT guns.
I would like some Kangaroos.
With the Plastic Soldier Company M4A4 and Firefly set on order for the store I realized I could get two boxes and that would give me enough to bring my Canadian armour up to a full squadron, even if I did turn the 1Cs into Kangaroos. Four troops of Shermans and Kangaroos! Visions of Operation Totalize danced in my head.
And finally after it all settled down I realized I could just swap the turrets with some of my M4A4s.
Now to figure out how to make the empty turret ring on the Old Glory model look like the troop compartment of a Kangroo....

....and get them some 17 pounders to tow!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Afghan Dreams

When I go out with the cadets to train, we sometimes use a facility called Peacekeeper Park. In the meal hall there is a portrait of every Canadian service person killed in action over the last 10 years. Each time we go, the line of portraits is a little bit longer. After reading a lot about the Canadian army in the Boer War, WW1 and WW2 I realized that I had not yet read anything beyond a few newspaper pieces about our recent fighting in Afghanistan. I've encountered a few servicemen who have been to Afghanistan and I find myself wondering about their unspoken experiences and thinking that I just don't understand. So I set myself off to the library to rectify this gap in my knowledge.

51KvDmhwj2L__SL500_AA300_Contact Charlie; the Canadian Army, the Taliban and the battle that saved Afghanistan by Chris Wattie (Key Porter Books Ltd. 2008). This book covers the actions undertaken by Task Force Orion (built around 1st bn Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry) in 2006. The title might seem a bit hyperbolic, but it comes from the regional commander's own assessment of the strategic worth of the operation. What started out as counterinsurgency patrols around Kandahar and in the Panjwayi district of southern Afghanistan turned into the biggest fighting Canadian soldiers had found themselves in since Korea as the men and women of TF Orion uncovered and disrupted a major Taliban buildup in the Panjwayi. This build up was aimed at attacking and occupying Kandahar City to get international press and break the political will of NATO and their voters at home, much the same as the Tet Offensive had done during the Vietnam War many years ago.

The book is quite good and reads like the Mark Zuehlke books about WW2 that I like so much; deftly moving from the overarching strategic situation and the decisions made by Generals and Colonels to a squad leader wondering what's around the next mud brick corner or a rifleman firing his C7 in a grape field. The actions at Bayanzi (in which Capt. Nichola Goddard's FOO LAV was struck by an RPG, killing her and causing much hand wringing in the press), Seyyedin, Pashmul and the White Schoolhouse are covered in a lot of detail.

The difficulties of the close terrain of the highly cultivated Panjwayi are well described. Grape drying huts, thick walled and impervious to most fire, are common and provided the Taliban with ready made strong points. The Canadian troops suffered as many heat casualties as wounds from enemy fire and mines. In the attack on the White Schoolhouse, two platoons ended up being just 18 men in a desperate firefight with over 10 times their number of insurgents and unable to call in artillery because the new NATO command wouldn't let them.

Now I find myself wondering how to recreate this on the tabletop.... sigh...

51meSgz55bL__SS500_The Patrol; Seven Days in the Life of a Canadian Soldier in Afghanistan by Ryan Flavelle (Harper Collins Publishers Ltd. 2011). Is an excellent memoir by a young University of Calgary Grad student/reservist signaller who volunteered for an Afghanistan deployment, because as he naively thought; that's what soldiers do.

The writing is brilliant and captures these young men and what they are doing amazingly well with a prose that equals G.M. Frasers' Quartered Safe Out Here or Farley Mowat's And No Birds Sang. He describes the feelings of being on a night patrol lyrically and describes his own emotions forcefully. He and his companions joke about using explosives to make their hilltop Forward Operating Base look more like Castle Greyskull from the Masters of the Universe cartoon. I can relate to this nerdy, bespectacled university student feeling not-one-of-the-group in a small tight group of professional infanteers; his concerns with trying to keep up, not be weak and not look like a dork in front of his platoon are what keep him going. The lengthy section in which he describes packing his kit for the 7 day patrol makes illuminating reading; what to bring, what to put in which pouch, how much water he stows in various points around his tacvest and rucksack and how damn heavy it all gets. He attaches his bayonet to the bottom of his ruck, not because he expects to use it, but because: "On the very slim chance that we get ordered to fix bayonets (which has happened on previous tours), I don't want to be the idiot without a pointy gun."

The patrol does encounter some firefights and IED strikes. It is not the most intense action of his tour, but it is the first time under fire for him, and the patrol is for the authour a turning point. He tested himself and realized that he was scared, but not paralyzing scared, just scared in the sense that part of his brain was reminding him that if he had made better life choices he wouldn't be ducking from RPGs and machine gun fire behind a mud wall. He has a lot of interesting meditations on what makes infantrymen different and unique and why they look down on everyone else (especially the rear echelon soldiers, with the exception of the cooks. He praises the cooks a few times for working hard in trying circumstances to keep them fed). The infantry do everything hard and that hard road is what shapes them. Every Canadian soldier is a volunteer and Flavelle observes that when the going gets hard, the Canadian soldier bitches a bit, hitches up his ruck and reminds himself that he volunteered to be there in that hard spot. The choice to not do it was made a long time ago. In some brutally honest self reflection Flavelle also realizes that he is not a warrior and will never excel at, or relish in, combat. But he does take comfort in the fact that for a few months he stood with Canadian warriors and did his job as best he could.

The sections in which he describes the transition back to Canadian life are the most poignant. Even reunited with his girlfriend, his parents and mom's cooking he still misses his platoon and wonders where his rifle is. Walking to the kitchen in the dark in his own home and trying to miss the creaking floorboard like he'd done hundreds of times as a kid and suddenly he is back on night patrol, looking for bootprints in the dust (it is only safe to step where someone else has already stepped), frozen in fear and hoping to not step on an IED.

Both books are highly recommended for anyone interested in the Canadian army, Afghanistan or the experiences of a modern soldier.

The publishers promo blurb on the back dust jacket is by General Hillier. He orders us all "Read this book."

Yes sir!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Battle for a Bridgehead

So last year I built a rather spiffy large steel girder bridge, suitable for many a WW2 scenario, by modifying a model railway bridge. Of course the problem is that in most pictures of bridges during WW2, they don't look like that. They've been blown by the retreating Germans or bombed into twisted scrap by some B17s. Mikey found some more bridge girders for a $1.00 in some one's junk box at a Bring and Buy and passed them along, where they sat in my hobby stuff for almost a year.

The other week on a day off I felt the urge to make some terrain and got out my Dremel tool. With a bit of careful positioning of sections on the original embankments to get the angles for the cuts right I quickly hacked things apart and used a butane barbecue lighter to soften and bend the broken ends. I then glued some sections of road bed on and gave it a quick paint. Left over off cuts of girder were glued to clear plastic to make debris jutting out of the river. The result is this:

bridge 001

IABSM pics 001
The Canadians reinforce the fragile bridgehead.
Note the Kingtiger destroyed in the last game
Inspired by the game I had with my nephew a year ago, I thought of a scenario to follow on from that. The sappers have thrown a light pontoon bridge over the canal and a fragile bridgehead has been established. The Germans counterattack to try and destroy the bridgehead before a heavier bridge can be built to allow Allied armour across.

The Canadians have two rifle platoons, with two Vickers MMGs and two 6 pounders and a carrier patrol over the river. A third rifle platoon is coming up to cross. Giving supporting fire from across the canal is a troop of Shermans. There is also a FOO. Mike failed his die roll for air support. Presumably bad weather has grounded the fighter bombers that gave me such a headache in last year's game!

The Fallschirmjaeger are attacking with two rifle platoons and two platoons of StuGs supported by an MG42 MMG platoon, a 75mm Infantry gun section (I rolled to randomly decide between them or the sexier 150mm recoilless rifles), a FOO calling in 120mm mortars and the company HQ with it's own 80mm mortars.

IABSM pics 005
German base of fire
Brian and I used the road to divide our attack. The base of fire formed by the MG42 platoon, the infantry guns and the mortars would be on the right. On the left the two rifle platoons supported by a platoon of 5 StuGs would attack through an orchard. The second platoon of 3 StuGs stayed in reserve behind some woods.
IABSM pics 004
FJ assault from orchard

Mike put both his rifle platoons with the 6 pounders and Vickers guns in the shelled houses at the foot of the blown bridge. The carrier patrol covered the right of the pontoon bridge.
IABSM pics 006
StuGs give close support
Meanwhile Brian pushed his two platoons through the orchard. The lead section got cut up before my suppressing fire drove the Canadians back from the first house. I came off blinds fairly quickly and started hammering the platoon opposite me; MG42s and 75mm HE tearing up the rubble and piling a lot of shock and casualties onto the beleaguered Canucks. A 'lucky 17' roll with one of my early fusillades knocked out one of Mike's Vickers MMGs. My FOO also was able to quickly bring in the 120mm mortars compounding their misery. The 80mm company mortars were used to lay smoke and blind the Shermans on the opposite canal bank.

Brian was not really able to develop a full strength assault and pushed into the edge of the village with one section who easily drove out the pinned Canadians. But they were in turn counterattacked and driven back with heavy casualties. A second attack retook the rubble. The one platoon of StuGs formed on the German left and engaged the carrier patrol and the Shermans over the canal. The long range and small size of the carriers enabled them to survive for far longer than was thought possible. The second StuG platoon pushed up the road to give the Fallschirmjaeger some close support.

At this point the Canadian FOO was finally able to activate his artillery support and brought in a battery of 25 pounders onto the StuGs causing a mobility kill and lots of shock. The third rifle platoon was also able to get across the pontoon bridge and reinforce what was left (which wasn't much).

It was by now 0230 hrs and time to wrap the game up. The FJ could still crush the bridgehead with their weight of armour but their rifle platoons had taken 50% casualties. I think the battle would be decided by the FOO and the HQ set up by the pontoon bridge; how quickly could they get more reinforcements up and how much artillery could the FOO bring down to cordon off the perimeter?
To tweak the scenario I would have added a special card to randomly decide if some more Canadians show up to reinforce. Some armoured car sections or carrier patrols that had been scouting along the canal could have come back or more Shermans arrive to give more supporting fire.

Figures are all 15mm (a mix of Peter Pig, Battlefront and Old Glory) from my collection. We used I Ain't Been Shot, Mum 3rd edition rules with the Battle for Liberation army lists.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Wyrd Sisters

Thunder and lightning. Enter three Witches.

First Witch:
When shall we three meet again?
In thunder. lightning, or in rain?

Second Witch:
When the hurlyburly's done.
When the battle's lost and won.
(MacBeth Act 1 Scene I)

My buddy Dan gifted me this rather cool vignette a few years back. They had been kicking about in my 'things to do box' slowly getting primed and put away, then painted and put away, then based and put away. I showed them to you here way back in November 2010!

Finally this week while waiting for the primer to set on a commission I finished up their scenic elements. The standing stone is made from an off cut of blue insulating foam and the toadstools are made from wire and putty.

The witches came from RAFM on a rather thick shallow T shaped base with square slots for their stands to set into. I glued this to some card and built an edge around it with match sticks and then filled in the space with caulking. It then sat in my box of things to do for so long (4+ years??) that the caulking had yellowed and shrunk a bit! Some of the mushrooms lost their caps and needed replacing. The standing stone is pinned into the caulking with glue and a toothpick to give it a bit more strength.

wyrd sisters 001
Where hast thou been sister?
Killing swine.

I think the standing stone was probably the main thing holding this up. Once I set down to finish it the piece came together very quickly.

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The second witch

wyrd sisters 003
Can't get a view of the third witch's face.

These will inevitably support Fulk the Bastard in his campaign to overthrow Goodly Count Raymond and the Countess Isabelle. Perhaps they can remove shock from friendly troops or inflict shock on enemy units? Or just look cool as rear area table dressing?

wyrd sisters 004
A drum. A drum!
Macbeth doth come!