Thursday 28 September 2023

Bunkers, spider holes and soft skins for the Far East

I've played two campaigns using Chain of Command set in the Far East - Malaya 1942 and Last Stand on Opium Hill. Both take place during the early stages of the war when the Japanese were in the ascendancy and on the offensive. They are a challenging side to play and to play against and this made for excellent gaming. Once the Far East Handbook is published I expect to be playing a lot more in that theatre. Invariably there will be games set later in the war with the Japanese on the defensive and so with an eye to the future I've gone about making suitable fortifications.

The Japanese made much use of bunkers, very often as part of intricate and mutually supporting positions that combined other bunkers with entrenchments and spider holes (one-man weapon pits). They were notable for being particularly well concealed and of solid construction using local materials like palm logs. The illustrations below come from the publication Japanese in Battle published by GHQ, India Military Intelligence Directorate in May 1943 and provide very useful descriptions of typical bunkers and weapon pits.

As you can see the majority of the bunker is below ground level which presents a few problems when it comes to the wargame table. 

While it would be ideal to put figures into the bunkers I couldn't find a workable solution. In the end I decided to focus more on having them conform to the terrain, which meant figures would have to be placed off table in some sort of holding box (I have in mind a variation of my platoon boards). 

I've made four types of bunker and the construction was the same for each. Given they weren't going to have removable tops it was very straightforward, essentially all you are making are glorified mounds of earth. The core construction elements were a base of MDF and then a shaped piece of XPS insulating foam. Bamboo BBQ skewers would be used to simulate the wooden logs.

With the XPS foam cut to shape the skewers were used to construct the bunker apertures. The mound was then textured with household filler which was covered with sand and cat litter.

It was then just a matter of painting and adding vegetation. This has given me five bunkers in total. Having said it wouldn't be possible to place figures in them I couldn't resist the temptation to populate them in some way. In this instance I've used a few old plastic Japanese figures and cut them to size to be visible through the bunker aperture. They add a bit more character to each piece.

The first two are small LMG bunkers that will be used for a squad's defensive position.

Here you can see a few of the added figures. I think they help to create the illusion that much of the bunker is below ground level.

These were supported by individual weapon pits for the riflemen of the squad, sometimes referred to as spider holes. These would be positioned in mutually supporting positions close to the LMG bunker. 172 Scale Miniatures make a set of these and all I've done is put them on slightly larger bases so that I could texture the terrain to match the bunkers. They include a mix of figures including men in caps and camouflaged helmets which match well with my Japanese figures from various other manufacturers.

The second bunker type is slightly larger than that for the LMG and houses an MMG team. The MMG barrel is another spare from one of the plastic figure sets.

Of a similar size is a bunker to accomodate a small anti-tank gun. Once again I've raided the spares box for a suitable barrel (or not so suitable in this case, I think it's a Russian 45mm barrel from one of the PSC sets, but who's to know?).

I think having the protruding barrels works well and I'm pleased with the way those two have come out. If I can't have the bunkers occupied with figures from the game I can at least have them looking like they are.

Last, but not least there is a double bunker that can house two teams.

The larger plant to the left of the bunker was an experiment using a set of full colour, laser cut plants from Gamers Grass that I picked up at a local wargame show. I think they are very effective but they are relatively expensive for the number of plants you can make, so I'm not certain they are viable for making large expanses of jungle terrain. Great for adding detail like this though.

The majority of my Japanese figures are standing and charging. That's perfect for early in the war but less so for the later campaigns when they are on the defensive.

When I was ordering the spider holes from 172 Scale Miniatures I also picked up a set of prone and kneeling figures that add more variety of poses.

172 Scale Miniatures also do a Kurogane car and I've been wanting to add a few more Japanese soft skin vehicles to the collection as they will come in useful to represent LoC units, particularly for things like Chindit campaigns.

IBG Models do a very lovely Isuzu truck. It's more a modeller's model than a gaming model - it includes a full engine with photo-etch parts. I couldn't resist building the engine and so then it only made sense to have it on display. I think this will make a good piece of scatter terrain for a Japanese retreat or as part of an LoC depot.

Hasegawa also make an Isuzu truck, in this case one with a fuel bowser. I think it's intended to go with their aircraft range as part of an airfield diorama but from what I can understand the army would have used the vehicle for exactly the same purposes. It also comes with a trolley and oil drums.

They join another truck that I converted from a die cast commercial Ford truck. It was left over from a project where I converted die cast trucks into civilian vehicles suitable for China in the 1930s and 40s.

Finally, I have an Austin Armoured car. While it's technically not a soft skin it is fairly lightly armoured. These saw service with the Japanese but only until the early 1930s, so I'm not sure how much use I will get out of this. That said I think it can proxy for any number of interwar armoured cars in service with the Japanese, particularly in China.

Altogether a range of interesting vehicles to use as game pieces or scatter items.

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  1. Lovely work, as usual. I think that it is your attention to detail that makes your game reports such a joy to read.

  2. Great stuff. Definitely the right choice to have the figures in the bunkers, it really does help give the impression that they do extend below the ground. I have some laser cut plants too, they look fantastic but I agree they are too expensive to be very useful for most wargamers.

  3. Excellent work on all. The bunkers look especially good with the figs.

  4. Another great set of kit for gaming. I still find the visual immersion is the part of the game that gives me greatest pleasure. I'm only sorry I won't get to play with your toys.

  5. Really awesome work. As great as the bunkers are, I love the vehicles.

  6. Great look for bunkers. Interested to hear you intend not putting figures inside but putting them in a holding pen while in the bunker. I do something similar with my resin buildings that don't have lift off roofs - I place them on a 1:1 floorplan to track movement within the building.

  7. Awesome work on the bunkers. The figures inside really add to them.

  8. Awesome looking army. I love the bunker with the pair of Japanese soldiers peering out, nice touch.