Friday 29 July 2022

Converting die cast vehicles for the Second World War

I've been wanting to find suitable vehicles to use as scatter terrain for my Second World War games set in the Far East. The initial idea came about as I was planning for the Chain of Command campaign Last Stand on Opium Hill set in Singapore. I had made a colonial plantation owner's mansion so thought a car abandoned hastily by the residents might set the terrain piece off nicely. I picked up one from the Oxford die cast 1/76 range. To get rid of the toy-like appearance I simply gave it a spray of matt varnish and then a light dry brush. 

Since then I've noticed people using die cast vehicles from the Days Gone range by Lledo for this sort of thing. I stumbled across the Major Thomas Foolery blog and he has several great examples. Even better he's been converting these for his Back of Beyond games set in China and has made available very useful jpg files for making water slide decals. Suitably inspired I thought I'd try this out with the intention of using them for games in places like Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaya and Burma.

The first vehicle I acquired was a 1934 Dennis parcel van. Most of the Lledo vehicles are either British or American and types that were likely to be seen across the British empire. This particular one came in a livery for Crofts Original sherry but I didn't plan to keep it looking that way. 

The first thing was to check whether it would work in 20mm (1/72). The Lledo vehicles don't come in any specific scale. It appears the key decision on the scale of any vehicle was determined by the size of their standard packaging. Basically they were scaled to fit the box and so the smaller the vehicle in real life the larger its scale would be as a model. It was clear that some vehicles would work much better for 28mm (1/56) and so I needed to pick carefully. 

As you can see from the picture below this van scales well with the 1/72 Opel Blitz models from the Plastic Soldier Company.

It also scales nicely with this 20mm AB British figure.

I planned to repaint the model and so the first thing to do was dismantle it and strip the paint. 

I found the paint remover below at a local hardware supplier. It's a gel that strips paints very quickly and easily. It is a bit messy, but I guess you can't have everything.

The reason I wanted to strip the paint was to have a good smooth base for the decals.

Everything was then primed.

The Major Thomas Foolery blog had a set of designs that I wanted to use and I particularly liked the ones for Tai Chong & Co. The decals have a cream background and so the main challenge was trying to match that colour when I painted the van.

I think I managed to come very close.

I've never tried printing my own decals and so this was something of an experiment. In the end it was far more straightforward than I imagined and I kick myself for not trying it sooner. The decals are printed on specific decal paper that will run through an inkjet printer. We have a fairly inexpensive Canon printer at home and this proved more than adequate. I did need to resize the images to get them the size I wanted but other than that it was very simple.

The instructions with the decals indicated that they should be sealed with varnish once printed. I wondered if this was really necessary and so tested one. Sure enough the moment the decal is immersed in water the ink washes away. Varnish is essential. I used my airbrush to apply a few coats of Testors glosscote and that worked a treat.

The decals need to be cut from the A4 sheet as it is a single piece of decal film, so where possible I cut very close to the image. They work like standard waterslide decals so application will be familiar for anyone who's done this for other models.

I always apply decals to a gloss surface to avoid silvering which will occur if air gets in behind a decal, something that will often happen on matt paint.

Once the decals are dry I then give the whole model another coat of gloss varnish. This seals and protects the decals for the weathering process.

The van wasn't going to require a great deal of weathering but I used a wash to pick out details and panel lines which helped to give a more three dimensional appearance. For this I make up my own wash using a dark brown oil paint diluted with thinner. The gloss varnish means the paint will flow naturally into corners and along panel lines. 

For the front engine grill I carried out a second wash using Citadel's Nuln Oil.

Overall I was happy with progress, although I was disappointed that the smaller decal on the side was not blending in to the background colour. It wasn't awful, more annoying. It didn't matter so much with the large decal as I'd trimmed it close to the blue border. Someone suggested I try painting a blue border around the smaller decal but I can't paint a straight line like that to save my life.

In the end I decided to try to disguise it with more heavier weathering than I had planned. I didn't go overboard but just used Mig European Dust pigment around the lower sections. I think it worked well.

The final addition were registration number plates. It was also helped conceal the plug that attached the bottom of the model to the main die cast body. While the Lledo models lack a lot of small details the intention is that these are scatter terrain and background pieces, not models subject to any close scrutiny. So with that I'm calling it finished.

An easy and inexpensive project and a great learning experience with the home printed decals. So, what to look out for? 

The decal film is quite thick and may be prominent on the model, so better if it has a border, either printed on the decal or you use a natural frame on the panels of the vehicle. That way you will hide that thickness. 

I'm not sure I really needed to strip the paint, I suspect a good coat of primer over the original paint work would be sufficient. Much depends on the thickness of the decals that come with the models. In this particular case I was concerned they might show up in relief under the new paint work and decals. That certainly won't be an issue with some of the other models.

I now have a few more vehicles to work on and ideas for how to use those remaining decals.

Tuesday 19 July 2022

Many Rivers to Cross Scenario 9: The River Bridge (again)

We return to the final map of the campaign. Here is the vital river bridge that Dutch engineers must try to demolish before the Germans capture it. Their first attempt was repulsed by determined Dutch resistance and the Germans made little progress. To make matters worse, the Dutch then mounted a local counterattack to delay them even further.

Having driven back the counterattack the Germans now resume the advance. Fortunately for them the Dutch engineers have been delayed, so time is on their side. They may need it. The route to the bridge is through a built up area where the Dutch can construct a defence in depth. This is a tough table to attack.

My intention is to use brute force and blow my way through that defence. The German support roll is 3D6+2 but a roll of nine gives a total of only eleven. I think this is the right time to call for a Stuka bombardment. It can interdict Dutch deployment in the first turn, making it unreliable. If it can also succeed in destroying some of the buildings then that should further restrict the options for a coherent defence. 

I'm going take a risk with my only other support choice - a Bison sIG33. At seven support points it may be putting all my eggs in one basket, but with a 150mm gun (HE13) it has the sort of punch the Germans need to blast a hole through the Dutch defence. The main risk lies with the Dutch Bohler 47mm anti-tank gun which has been the panzers' nemesis throughout the campaign. Yet the Bison doesn't have to survive for too long, just enough to unleash a few critical shots that unhinge the defence.

I won't know the Dutch support choices before play begins. However they still benefit from the barbed wire and the roadblock, which remain in place from the previous time we played on this table.

Before the patrol phase the German Stuka bombardment begins. However, the dive bombers won't have it all their own way - the Dutch are prepared and have AA machine guns. 

There are a number of buildings on the edge of the town that make for good defensive positions and the row of terrace houses in the centre is one.

Unfortunately the dive bombers fail to strike them.

The first building they hit is on the Dutch left flank. 

The bombs land close enough that the structure is rendered unstable and liable to collapse. That's a good result. The first time the Germans attempted to take the town the Dutch defenders holding this area caused them a lot of trouble. Anything that reduces their potential to do so again is very welcome.

The next target is an adjacent shop. It offers Dutch defenders good lines of sight to cover any approach along this flank and has already demonstrated its potential as a strong point. 

This time the Stuka bombs land directly on target and the building collapses into a pile of smoking rubble.

From a German point of view that's a great result as it significantly alters Dutch options to hold this side of the town.

Another bomb lands in the adjoining building, but it fails to explode. Nonetheless the UXB is liable to do so without warning which makes the building a very risky proposition for any occupier.

The Stukas are having an absolute field day on this side of the town and the warehouse building across the road is also struck. That sets the building ablaze and sends smoke billowing towards the German lines.

The only other building hit during the bombardment is a large house in a walled garden near the bridge, which also becomes unstable.

The Stukas have succeeded well beyond my expectations and caused significant damage on the Dutch left flank. The Germans will have to be careful if they do attack in that direction as it is not without its hazards, several of the buildings are unstable or liable to sudden collapse. Regardless, I can have no complaints.

The Germans then have two free moves at the start of the patrol phase. The Dutch are able to prevent too much progress and so jump-off-points are in similar positions to the first game except this time the defenders are denied a suitable location for one on their left flank. 

The game starts with Dutch force morale at ten, while the Germans are only at eight, mainly due to the very low opinion of the men. They have the opening phase and a schützen squad is the first unit to appear, taking up tactical positions in front of the garage on their right flank. 

The Feldwebel joins them. He's in the garage but within command range.

In the Dutch phase the lingering impact of the Stuka bombardment continues to cause problems. One of the platoon’s mitrailleursgroepen is unable to deploy. The platoon Luitenant does make his way through and he takes up a position near the centre of the town. 

A second mitrailleursgroepen is more successful. They suffer a single point of shock from the bombardment and deploy into the terrace houses in the centre.

Their Sergeant rallies the shock and then has the men open fire on the recently deployed Germans.

One of the schützen squad is hit and they suffer a point of shock. First blood goes to the Dutch. 

The following German command roll is 66332 and I think the double phase presents a great opportunity. There is no time to waste. The Obergefreiter orders the schützen to jump to their feet and move forward at the double.  

They move swiftly covering 13".

On the other side of the road a second schützen squad deploys behind the hedges. 

They open fire at the terrace houses. 

The MG34 fire is quick to find its mark and the Dutch lose one man and suffer two points of shock. 

This is the perfect moment to call forward the Bison. Due to its unwieldy nature it cannot fire in the same phase that it moves, but hopefully this sets it up to do so in the next phase. 

The subsequent command roll is 65532, which means the Bison will be able to fire. 

The gunner targets the terrace houses. I'm a little disappointed when it only results in four hits, nonetheless it inflicts the first Dutch casualty. 

Meanwhile the schützen continue their advance and makes it as far as the roadblock.

That's put the Germans right on the edge of the town. While I'm pleased to reach here so quickly it does leave the squad positioned directly adjacent to a building left unstable from the Stuka bombardment. As if that's not dangerous enough there is the possibility that a lucky shot from the Bison collapses the terrace house on the other side of the road. Oh well, there is no victory without risk.

The Dutch command roll is 65111. Not the most useful of rolls given the speed of the German advance. They are already finding that the Stuka bombardment is making deployment unpredictable and so Dave tries to make the most of the situation. Making up a command roll of two he attempts to deploy a support mitrailleursgroepen, but it fails to find a way through the bombardment. 

Using the remaining roll of one, a 7-Veld infantry gun and crew manage to deploy successfully, although they arrive with two points of shock. 

The gun is positioned astride the road leading to the river bridge and facing the roadblock. Immediately it fires a round of HE at the schützen squad opposite. 

The Germans suffer a single point of shock.

In the German phase the Bison fires once again into the terrace house. 

One of the men is taken casualty and the Sergeant is lightly wounded and put out of action for the remainder of the turn. Dutch morale drops to nine. The Bison might not be as destructive as it could be, but at least it is having the opportunity to fire.

The Obergefreiter at the roadblock rallies a point of shock 

He then commands the squad to engage the crew of the Dutch infantry gun. 

The fire from two MG34s inflicts a further three points of shock, kills one of the crew and the commander suffers a light wound. That brings Dutch morale down another two points to seven. 

The Germans appear to have real momentum and so I want to make the most of this opportunity. The Feldwebel leaves the garage and moves towards the hedged field. 

Once within command range he has the schützen squad open fire at the terrace house. 

Despite the hard cover the Dutch lose another two men and suffer a further point of shock. German fire is proving very effective.

The Dutch command roll is 65542 and that gives them a total of five CoC points. I need to be careful here as a full CoC die will allow them to end the turn. Dave has a great deal of incentive to do so - not only will it bring to an end the interdiction effects of the Stuka bombardment but the damaged building by the roadblock could collapse, with dire consequences for the nearby German squad. 

I'm expecting to see the Dutch withdraw from the terrace house and so I'm surprised when the Luitenant actually moves into it. 

He joins the mitrailleursgroepen and rallies off a point of shock before commanding them to fire at the Germans behind the hedge. 

The Lewis gun and rifles fail to inflict any damage on the schützen. 

Once again a mitrailleursgroepen attempts to deploy but yet again they are unsuccessful. While the Stuka bombardment hasn't hindered all Dutch deployment it has certainly slowed it down and made a coordinated defence very difficult.

The German phase is another opportunity for the Bison to fire at the terrace house.  

This time the 150mm round strikes with full impact. The building is damaged and becomes unstable. The platoon Luitenant is lightly wounded, bringing Dutch morale down to six, and he is not the only one hit. The mitrailleursgroepen lose another man and suffer two points of shock. 

I'm determined to clear the house and the Feldwebel commands the nearby squad to continue firing at the same target. 

Once again German fire proves lethal. The mitrailleursgroepen loses two more men and suffers two points of shock. Luckily for the Dutch neither the sergeant or the Luitenant is hit. 

However it leaves three men remaining and with six points of shock that's enough to see them break and fall back into the centre of the town.  

This is a dispiriting sight for the defenders - a broken mitrailleursgroepen accompanied by their wounded sergeant and Luitenant fleeing the house. It's a further blow to Dutch morale which drops to five and to make matters worse, going forward they will be reduced to four command dice.  

The battered survivors are horribly exposed to fire from the Germans at the roadblock.

The Feldwebel runs up the road to spur them into action but he can't go fast enough to get within command range. I had hoped he could activate the squad so that I could use the remaining 2 in the command roll to deploy the third German squad, but that won't happen this phase.

That leaves me with two options with those men at the roadblock. Either they take the opportunity to fire on the Dutch in the town centre or they move to avoid the impending turn end and the danger of a collapsing building. I'm a little torn, but decide to run the risk of a turn end and have them fire.

They fail to inflict any further losses, but do add five points of shock.

The next Dutch command roll is 6332 and I'm relieved to see there will be no turn end. The 7-Veld gun commander is wounded and so all he can do is order the crew to fire. 

Once again it targets the schützen squad at the roadblock.

The Germans lose one man and suffer a point of shock. 

A Bohler 47mm anti tank gun carrying two points of shock deploys successfully through the Stuka bombardment. It's positioned in the grounds of the town hall with a clear line of sight to the Bison. 

Their first shot misses the Bison entirely. Up until now the Dutch anti-tank gunners have proved unerringly accurate but not so today. 

Once again a mitrailleursgroepen tries to deploy through the bombardment but yet again it fails. 

The Germans have a very useful command roll of 63321. I consider trying to move the Bison to cover but instead decide to fire. There is an outside chance of destroying the anti-tank gun with a triple six and failing that there's a reasonable chance of breaking the crew. 

In the end it does neither. Two of the crew are killed and they suffer a further two points of shock. 

The Feldwebel continues moving to the roadblock. 

He reaches the schützen squad and rallies a point of shock. 

I consider moving the squad to a safer location but the Dutch leaders and the broken mitrailleursgroepen in the town centre present such an inviting target they cannot be ignored. The Feldwebel has the squad open fire.

The hail of bullets is deadly and all three men are hit. The loss of the last remaining man in the Lewis team see the mitrailleursgroepen wiped out. The Sergeant suffers a second wound and this time he's knocked out for the turn. The Luitenant, who is already carrying a light wound, receives a second one. 

This most dispiriting sight deals a heavy blow to Dutch morale. For the loss of the mitrailleursgroepen morale drops two points to four. For the wounding of the sergeant it drops a further two points to two. Last but not least the wounding of the platoon Luitenant takes it down another two points to zero. 

That total collapse in force morale brings about an involuntary withdrawal from the Dutch who melt away from the town leaving the river bridge in the hands of the Germans for a campaign victory.

Well, that was a swift and vicious victory, as welcome as it was unexpected. It certainly belies how hard fought the early parts of the campaign had been. 

When we commenced, the prospects for the Dutch did not appear great - they were facing a German platoon with six MG34s against which they could muster three Lewis guns and a number of rifles. Yet, despite what appeared poor odds, they have put up a very good fight and had their engineers arrived earlier in the campaign they could quite easily have demolished the bridge before the Germans captured it. It has made for a very engaging campaign with a strong narrative. All credit to Dave for putting together a very tough defence from what appeared to be inadequate resources, this was certainly no pushover for the Germans.

Thanks to everyone who has followed the campaign and posted comments on the blog, in forums or in social media. It's always great to get your feedback and impressions, I hope you've enjoyed the journey as much as we have.

You can find links to all the games in this campaign and several others on the Chain of Command Campaign AAR Page (link from here or at the top of this page).