Wednesday 5 June 2024

A Pagoda for Burma

During Operation Thursday, the second Chindit mission, Brigadier Mike Calvert was tasked with forming a block of the railway and motor road near Henu at a site that would become famous as White City. Before the block could be established Japanese garrison troops had to be cleared from the area. One particular action, during which Calvert led a bayonet charge, was the taking of a hill with a pagoda on the top which unsurprisingly was nicknamed 'Pagoda Hill'. I've wanted to create that action on the table top and started searching around for a suitable pagoda as a terrain piece.  

I began the obligatory online search looking for what I thought would be a Japanese/Chinese style pagoda. It looks like I was searching for the wrong thing. What the British often referred to as a pagoda is in fact a Buddhist structure known as a stupa, a very common sight in the Burma/Thailand region. Looking at contemporary photographs they are clear to see.




How did I discover this? Well, I have to give credit to Veroo who runs the blog For a Few Rounds More without whom I'd still be scrolling through the aquarium section on eBay for Chinese style pagodas. 

Stupa vary in size depending on location, so that the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon (formerly Rangoon) is a massive structure rising to 127m high and dominating the skyline of the city much like the spire of a medieval cathedral might do in Europe. 

On the other hand much smaller ones can be found scattered across the country by roadsides and in towns and villages. 

Some are not unlike the roadside calvary you might see in France. I already had a model of one of those I put it together for the opening scenario in the Operation Martlet campaign for Chain of Command (it's a 3D print from Sabotag3D). Now I needed the Buddhist equivalent for Burma.

Given all the evidence I'm fairly convinced that the 'pagoda' the Chindits were referring to on Pagoda Hill was in fact a stupa.

As always a search becomes much easier when you know what you are actually looking for. From what I've come to understand (and if I've got this wrong please forgive me) a stupa is traditionally used to house some form of sacred or significant relic. Entry is usually reserved for priests. 

They are important objects in Buddhist culture and miniature versions are used at home in the belief they remove negative karma and assist in the journey to enlightenment. A quick search on eBay or Aliexpress will turn up many in acrylic for a very reasonable price. So I have to confess that I've acquired three of these miniature stupa for something far more pedestrian than spiritual enlightenment. They may not bring nirvana to my wargame terrain but I hope they will bring an element of authenticity.

They measure 80mm high which seems about right for my 20mm figures and the fairly rural settings where I expect to be using them.

I decided to use one as the basis for a slightly larger structure using the contemporary images I have seen for inspiration. The initial base was built up using cork floor tiles.

The small entrance was cut from another piece of cork.


Household filler was used to try to hide the joins in the cork and add a bit of texture.

The acrylic stupa was then glued on top using PVA glue.

I wanted to add the decorative features that adorn these entrances and rummaged through my terrain spares box for something suitable. I have these plastic cast iron fences from a model railway fence set and I thought I could trim a section off one of those. 

It's not really anything like those you would see on the real thing but I think it does a decent enough job of creating the effect I was after.

With assembly complete the whole thing was primed.


Then it was simply a matter of painting with a Dulux emulsion and touching it off with VMC Gold on the tip of the spire. I then gave everything a wash with Agrax Earthshade. 


Once dry it was dry brushed with steadily lighter shades of the base colour. The final touch was to add a bit of light weathering.


This was a quick and simple job but I think it's given me a very effective piece to represent the pagoda on Pagoda Hill and in many other locations in Burma.



It's a good size and you can see how well it scales up with this 1/72 Sherman.


All up it's been a very inexpensive project to give a distinctive terrain piece that will add an air of authenticity to my Burma tables.



Wednesday 22 May 2024

Second World War US Marines in 20mm

My collection for the Far East has been very much focussed on the British and Commonwealth forces with a view to fighting actions in Burma, Malaya, Singapore and Hong Kong. I have Australians that can also be used for the South West Pacific theatre and so it was inevitable that at some stage I would consider adding the Americans for the same theatre. 

Eureka Miniatures sent me a sample Marine with one of my orders and I really liked the look of the figure. I was tempted but restrained myself. However, knowing there was a Far East Handbook for Chain of Command to be published in 2024 and one for the Pacific to follow I felt the irresistible urge to embark on a US Marine project.

No surprise the initial batch of figures to make up the platoon came from the Eureka Miniatures range sculpted by Mike Broadbent. A large proportion of my Japanese figures are from the same range so I knew they would be a good fit.

I really like these figures, in fact I think they are the best of the Eureka 20mm range and I've been really pleased with the way they paint up. The core Marine platoon evolved during the war and that change is mainly reflected in the number of BARs (Browning Automatic Rifles) in each. Starting initially at only one the later structure of the platoon included three BAR gunners forming the key basis for three separate fire teams.

As the BAR is not significantly larger than the M1 Garand it is less easy to distinguish at this scale. So I've decided to break with my usual convention of putting individual figures on a 20mm round base and in the case of the BAR gunners put them on slightly larger bases, not dissimilar from those I use for senior leaders. 

While the BAR gunner has an assistant I don't feel the need to base the two together as the BAR is not a belt fed gun like the German MG34/42. I'm hoping the larger base will help distinguish the figures and without the assistant on the same base I can handle casualties easily.


Even with the larger base the BAR gunner still doesn't stand out that much.

In Chain of Command terms the senior leaders represent the Lieutenant and Platoon Sergeant in the platoon headquarters. As is my usual convention for basing senior leaders these are on rectangular bases.




The individual squads are led by Sergeants, who function as junior leaders in Chain of Command terms and these are based on the same 20mm round bases as the enlisted men. To help differentiate them the bases have a few rocks and the figures are all adopting suitable poses for NCOs.


The two basing styles make it easier to distinguish between the senior and junior leaders.



I have enough figures from the Eureka range to make up four squads with anywhere from one to three BARs. In the case of a 1943 squad you can see below, it is made up of twelve men led by a Sergeant. The majority of the men are armed with the M1 Garand rifle. The squad includes two men armed with Browning Automatic Rifles (BAR). 



The Hawaii Army Museum has a very good collection of American small arms and other weapons including a BAR, M1 Garand and M1 Carbine.


The Marine company has a weapons platoon with a light machine gun section and a mortar section. The light machine gun section was made up of three machine gun squads each armed with one M1919A4 machine gun. I've decided to make sure I have enough of these so I have four machine gun teams.



Once again the Army Museum in Hawaii has a fine example of the M1919 machine gun.


The mortar section was also made up of three squads, each armed with one M2 60mm mortar. Which leads me to make a small confession. When I was ordering the figures from Eureka I had noticed that the range does not include any heavy weapons or gun crews, so when I saw they had mortars and crews I made the quick assumption these must be 60mm mortars and I didn't look too closely (and it doesn't help that the calibre of the mortars is not mentioned in the listing for the figures). Looks like I made a mistake by not examining these more closely because these mortar have longer tubes than the M2 and look much more like the 81mm M1 mortars. Unfortunately Eureka don't do any other mortars so for now these will have to substitute as M2 60mm weapons.



The Marines made much use of flamethrowers as the war progressed, to the point in May 1945 they established a battalion level Assault Platoon armed with twelve flamethrowers and nine bazookas. Prior to that they were parcelled out in various ways to platoons and squads. The Eureka range includes an assault set which contains three man pack flamethrowers.


They have one on display at the museum in Hawaii.


Bazookas proved particularly effective against Japanese bunkers and so I have a couple of teams. 


Once again the museum in Hawaii has a good example (also note the 60mm mortar behind it - definitely not the size of the mortars I have).


In terms of heavier weapons the Marines were equipped with several types of American tanks but as a force designed for amphibious assaults it is their water craft that are particularly iconic parts of their equipment. While not exclusive to the Marines the LVT was an AFV that was a key feature of many campaigns. 


I took advantage of a 50% sale at 172 Scale Miniatures to acquire a few.

Star Decals do a number of suitable sets and these in turn provided inspiration for colour schemes. From what I can see most of these schemes were seen later in the war. Judging from the film footage I have seen, a variation of a navy grey is probably a more common colour, but where is the fun in that? 


I particularly liked the scheme at the bottom in the picture below:


The large yellow stripes are not included in the decal set but were simple enough to create using masking tape and spray painting.


The two colour camouflage scheme was spray painted and the masking was done with Silly Putty which does an excellent job, can be re-used repeated times and doesn't pull any paint off when removed.

The whole vehicle was sprayed brown and then the Sill Putty applied.


It was then sprayed green.


Once the paint is dry the Silly Putty is removed and I was ready to move to the next stage. This was more fiddly than the putty, mainly because I needed to ensure the yellow stripes were the same width and parallel.


Needless to say I was very pleased with the end result.


I've seen a few LVTs in museums. The one below is in the Australian Armour and Artillery Museum.


The one in the Musee des Blindes at Saumur is complete with all machine guns in their mounts.


The LVT4(A) was a variant designed to provide more supporting firepower during an amphibious assault.


With a short barrelled 75mm gun it could provide close quarters HE support on the beachhead.


They also have one of these variants at the Australian Armour and Artillery Museum:


I also saw one in Beijing in their military museum. What is unusual about this one is that it mounts a 37mm M6 gun (as in the Stuart). This is a uniquely Chinese adaptation carried out by the PLA. They had captured several from the KMT during the civil war but had insufficient ammuntion for the gun. They did however have quite a few captured M3A1 Stuarts and quantities of ammunition for that gun. 


That gives me some appropriate support choices for the platoon.


Of course the LVT wasn't the only way the Marines arrived on the beach and no collection would be complete without the ubiquitous Higgins boats or LVCP. These two below are from Airfix and are particularly nice little kits.




The Sherman didn't make an appearance in the Pacific until late in 1943. Over the following years most variants saw service, both in Marine and Army tank battalions. I've taken advantage of the fact I have several Shermans of all variants left over from various sets from PSC and Armourfast from my ETO US Army project.

Once again a set from Star Decals was the inspiration for one colour scheme.


This was for a Sherman M4A3, in this case from Trumpeter.


Staying with camouflage schemes I also wanted to make one of the Shermans with appliqué wooden armour and other field adaptations to counter Japanese infantry anti-tank weapons like magnetic mines.  In this case I converted an Italeri M4A3 inspired by various pictures like the one below.


The wood was designed to counter Japanese hollow charge and magnetic weapons. Sandbags often covered rear engine decks for protection against satchel charges. The wooden armour was made from balsa wood with rivets cut from plastic rod. The sandbags were sculpted from Milliput.


They made for ungainly but very distinctive looking battlefield adaptations.



Prior to the introduction of the Sherman the M3 was the main tank in use in the theatre but its vulnerability to Japanese anti-tank weapons soon saw it phased out. However the need for a more powerful platform for a flamethrower than the manpack version saw a field expedient where a flamethrower was mounted into the bow of a M3A1. This was later followed by the adaptation of the Ronson flamethrower mounted in the turret. A total of 24 were made and they served in time for the campaign in the Marianas. I had a spare M3A1 left over from one of the PSC sets and so made a simple conversion to create the M3A1 Satan. Replacing the barrel and covering off the bow machine gun sponson.



In the majority of cases tanks were used in their original olive drab colour and I've stuck with this scheme for several Shermans, like this M4A1 with composite armour from PSC.



The Australian Armour and Artillery Museum have a great example of an M4A1 with composite armour in the collection.



As far as I'm aware the Marines didn't use the M4A3 (105) but they were used in the Pacific and Phillipines by the Army. This is one from Armourfast left over from my ETO project.



While the M4A2 saw the most service, the later M4A3 served with the Marines in Iwo Jima and Okinawa. The one below is another from Italeri and the markings are from a tank photographed in service in the Phillipines.


The one thing that disappoints with these Italeri tanks is the complete lack of any detail on the inside of the tracks. Given that there is quite good detail on the models this seems to be quite an omission.


The M5A1 replaced the earlier models of the M3 as the Marines light tank. This one is from PSC.


The extensive collection at the Australian Armour and Artillery Museum also has one of these on display.


While most tanks used by the Marines were standard vehicles in service with the Army their field variations like the Satan flamethrower and different colour schemes gives the collection a slightly different look from the European theatre.


There is always more to add but this gives me a lot I can work with and, after all, I have their opponents ready and waiting (you can see more about the Japanese here).