Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Problem solved!

One thing that was bothering me about the model so far was that the top seemed too "flat" for a hill of it's size, yet I didn't want to make it too much taller for storage reasons, and I certainly didn't want to make the base any bigger; which I would have had to have done, if the hill was to have been made any taller and yet retain some sense of proportion.

I think I have the solution, though. The position will be a fortified ruin. Maybe an old church or monastery that in happier, pre-war times would have looked something like this;

War has no respect for scenic beauty, and with the entry of Italy into the war against the Central Powers (treacherous swine!) and a couple of heavy bombardments later, any such structure would be left in ruins with the defenders using the basements and cellars as the basis of a prepared fortification as was common at the time, as witness the defence of many a
chateau in France along the Western Front.

Therefore the top of the hill will have traces of walls and rubble, and perhaps the remains of a fallen roof or bell tower. Making convincing-looking ruins will in many ways prove more of a challenge than making an actual building itself in its entirety.

I bought some 7mm foam core board- the thin kind that is sandwiched between paper, and which is used for signs and such things. They will form the remaining wall sections, with rubble from a variety of carved foam and wooden off-cuts used to cover the base. The whole thing will be given a very thin, watered-down coat of plaster and sand "goop" before painting to blend it all together, and give everything an "old and decrepit" look.

Someone who has visited the Dolomites has pointed out to me that mountain houses often have walls of at least half a meter thick - indeed I have seen building like this in the mountains of Iwate in Northern Japan when I lived there for five years. If I double up the thickness of the foamboard for the remnants of the outside walls, that should look about right. I'll also be adding stonework out of card which along with the coat of filler should add to the overall mass.

Kallistra trenches come through!

After no more than a week since I ordered them, I was pleased to find a large- but light- packet arrive at the doorstep today.   My set of modular trench works from Kallistra, and quite pleased I am with it, too. 

Moulded in tough hard plastic, the pieces are quite a lot larger than I had imagined, but not overly so and there is plenty of room for minis. The trenches themselves look great. Lots of scope for extra detailing, as the interiors are somewhat basic.

I don't mind that in the least, as I like the modelling aspect and want them to match the other terrain pieces I'll be using in texture and appearance. I also have a piece that comes with a large bay for artillery pieces, or to model some bunkers.

I may well get some more sections, as I have already enough for more than one line of works with which to face the
Collina della Formica. A second line with some communication trenches linking them could look really great on the tabletop.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Things start getting Nasty...

...for any potential attackers!

Today I bought some balsa wood, and sat down to make the bunker for the MMG emplacement. Basically just a balsa box big enough to hold a Schwarzloze stand.

And here it is set in place. I will tidy up the corners when it is thoroughly dry, glue it in place, and blend it in to the baseboard with some foam off-cuts and putty. Then I'll add a few internal details, such as a steel door in the back of the bunker through which the inhabitants can scurry should they detect the approach of a flamethrower team.

And again, seen with the roof placed on top. The roof will of course be detachable, and it will be protected with logs on top as I remember seeing in a photo of a fortification somewhere during the Caporetto offensive.

Finally, a video of the wicked beast that dwells within. I couldn't find any videos of a Schwarzloze in action, but here is a German Maxim 08/15 machine gun, the Grim Reaper of Spandau.

The Rocky Road...

Work continues apace. I've added goops of putty and sculpted like mad. I really enjoyed this part of the project (if not the cleaning up afterwards)! I will have a walk down by the Tama River here in Tokyo later today and collect some rocks and pebbles to use as boulders.

It really is starting to look imposing!

Now comes the trenches and MMG emplacement. This will take a little time, but I'll take it in stages.

Scarab Miniatures are releasing their French in the coming month. When they do, I'll place an order for the Austrian communications set as well, along with the first of my Italians. I've also got some interesting books lined up that I'm going to order from a number of sources, cash flow permitting.

In the meantime, I've got some interesting reading on the Italian campaign to do on the 'net, thanks to some useful links sent to me by Chris Stoesen. Thanks, Chris!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

What better time to work on terrain pieces...

...than when your significant other is out all day. Today I started on texturing the Collino della Formica, and I know from past experience that this kind of work generally goes much faster, better, and with fewer tears when I can just go ahead and make a mess (just so long as I have it cleared up by the time she gets back!).

And it
IS messy!

The problem with the soft white styrofoam is, of course, that it crumbles easier than old stale panecotta.  So I set about soaking lengths of paper towel in a mash of wall filler, PVA, and acrylic paint, and plastering it over the whole model. While wet it can be sculpted with a small artists' trowel, so that the first rough exterior layer can start to take shape.

Here is the view from the rear, with the path leading up to the top. I haven't yet done the top surface, this will be built up later once the trench interiors have been added.

Attacker's eye view. The cut out will be a defensive position for a machine gun, and will be backed by a pair of heavy iron doors leading into the heart of the position. This "Pit of Perdition" will no doubt end up being manned by defaulters and will attract a lot of unwanted attention from enemy mortars and grenades.

Another view of the path, this time from the side. The soaked paper towels dry rock hard, and can be used to mould natural contours where the seperate pieces of the hill were glued together.

I'll leave this to dry out thoroughly for two days, and then I'll take a tub of my favorite acrylic-based filler and add it liberally to the surface. I can then fill in any unnatural looking join lines, add more contours, and generally texture the whole model. I'll be referring to some web piccies of the Dolomites as a guide to sculpting the surface to make it look as close to a granite rockface as I can.

Top view of the beast, showing the trench and weapon bay layout. 

Having learned from past experience (ahem...), I've made the trenches wider than they need be so that I will be able to fit in the trench sub-assemblies more easily. Each trench will have a width of at least 30mm. Even though a real trench was considerably narrower historically, mine have to allow the 28mm minis to fit, and I will be adding some decorative "bits and pieces" to the trench walls.  I need enough space for the figures to be moved around without difficulty.

The trenches themselves will be of a modular construction, and when completed will be glued in place. Any gaps between the trenches and walls will be filled with off-cuts of foam and a parapet added. I'll then make some detachable roofs for the observation area and (of course!) the mortar ammo store. Finally, should everything go to plan, all will be coated with a final layer of gritty filler "goo" for texture and the whole thing painted.

Right now I need more minis! I have a trench mortar and Schwarzlose MMG from
Brigade Games on the way, and will need to get the observation team from Scarab next time I order from them.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Labour intensive...

I came across some amazing footage of Italian troops on La Marmolada in the Dolomites, including shots of men hauling guns up the mountainside using just human muscle power. Worlds away from Flanders, but equally demanding on flesh and blood.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Taking shape...

...big time!

I added the trench works to the top of the Collina della Formica, and shaped the base.  It took a long time and a sliced appendage or two, but it is looking good.. And it's BIG! but we are in the mountains, after all.

Top view from front

Back view

I still need to glue the sections together, and add some rocky outcroppings from offcuts of the foam board. After that, the next steps will be to shape the rock face, line the trench walls with stone and wood revetments, and to build up a stony parapet.

Austrian infantryman in trench- you can get an idea just how tall this thing is. 
The Italians better bring on those trench mortars!

Once all that is done, it will be time to drench the board with filler and sculpt and shape the details. Lots to do yet, but it is fun!

Rifleman Aloysius Kartoffelkopf runs into the defensive work prior to an Italian attack. 

Kolourful Kaiserliks

One of my concerns with doing late war Austro-Hungarians has always been that they would look too much like Germans. I don't really want "generic" Central Power infantry, no do I want people to look at the minis and just say "nice Germans".

That would "torque my gears" somewhat, in the same way that it does when people here immediately assume I'm American rather than the fine, upstanding Canadian citizen that I am (!).

So what can make a late-war Austrian infantryman look different? Well, quite a lot really once I look into it. Take a look at these photos from a re-enactor supply site.

Here is an Austrian field grey uniform from 1916. The only allowance for colour is the red facing colour stripe on the collar, and the helmet is covered in a plain cloth cover, no doubt soon covered with grime and dirt. Looks pretty German to me. It appears that the Austrian-made helmet was painted brown, which was certainly the case with the ones that I saw when I visited the Austrian Army Museum (Heeresgeschichtliches Museum) in Vienna.

Much more "Austrian" looking is this soldier from a mountain infantry regiment, also 1916. He wears the distinct Austrian cap with the collar badge of the Tyrolean jagers. This cap is the first thing that sets him apart from his Imperial German allies. Fortunately the Scarab miniatures include a fair number of minis wearing this headgear. There were instance of coloured pompoms in the caps for the Alpine troops, which can also add a bit of colour- although I imagine these were removed for field service.

Now this is where I can add variety! This fellow is wearing the pre-war pike grey infantry uniform, a light blue-grey somewhat darker than the horizon bleu worn by the French infantry post-1914. Illustrations in a number of books I've read in the past have got this colour wrong, usually by making it too much of a light grey with not enough blue in it. But the shade shown here is a bang-on likeness to an actual uniform of the time that I saw at the museum in Vienna, as well as to the ones seen in the following early colour photo of Austrian prisoners of the Russian Army taken early in the war by this chap.

Now this uniform was replaced by the field grey version not long after the war broke out, but I will have about 1/8th of the men wearing at least this early-pattern jacket, not inconceivable given the supply woes of the Austro-Hungarian empire of the time.

Furthermore, there is some evidence that the field-grey blouse was not always consistent in colour, ranging from a dark grey, through brownish-grey all the way to an almost off-white shade, rather like ACW Confederates. Not to mention some items of German uniform and equipment which seem to have crept in.

So while I'm still researching the topic, and have really so far only scratched the surface, it looks like there may be more of a kaleidoscope of colour (if muted!) available to a late war Austro-Hungarian army than I first anticipated, and that it will not have to end up looking the same as German infantry but in waltz-time.

And here is a very atmospheric photo of what the Kaiserliks looked like in action, here with some battle-fatigued Sturmtruppen guarding Italian prisoners after Caporetto in 1917.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Sturmtruppen Platoon

I'm told patience is a virtue, and I've been forcing myself to wait at least 48 hours before I continue working on the terrain so that the PVA has time to dry thoroughly first. While waiting, I've been working on cleaning up and preparing the first of the Scarab minis for painting, starting with the Sturmtruppen of IR 14, and with a Schwarzloze machine gun in support.

I'm finding information on Austro-Hungarian small unit organization somewhat elusive, but I've ordered a book on the subject
here (as well as a campaign history of the British contingent). Gleaning what I can so far it seems that Austro-Hungarian organization was based on multiples of four, with an 8-man squad being the basic building block.

I've put together the organization chart below for the
Sturmtruppen platoon, but it may change as I get more information. Noneheless, it gives me a good idea on how to build up my forces for Through the Mud and the Blood. Click on image to enlarge.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Edelweiss Division

Collar flash of Austrian mountain troops

National holiday here in Japan today, and the weather is cool and cloudy with some rain. Perfect for staying indoors and working on hobby stuff!

So I cut out the base for the Collino della Formica this morning, glued it to a layer of insulation board and after having now weighted it down with a ton o' minis to prevent warping, I will have to give it 24 hours or so to dry out and cure. In the meantime, this means I can take a close look at those Scarab Austrians.

As with other nations in the First World War, Austro-Hungarian uniforms were pretty standard from one branch of the service to the next, with regimental distinctions- especially on a 28mm miniature- being minimal, in the case of Austrian infanry regiments being pretty much limited to the colour of the collar flashes, and even these were simplified by 1917.

Nevertheless, even at skirmish level I like to have a force representative of a historical formation (the only exception being my French, who are modelled on the fictional 701st Regt. from the movie "Paths of Glory"). In the case of the Austrians, I was looking on the Internet for orders of battle and 'Lo and Behold, one came screaming out at me- the Edelweiss Division from an order of battle published in the last summer of the war. It was part of the VI Korps of the 11. Armee.

This grabbed me as first of all it seems to be the only "named" division in the orbat, and it served in Italy at least as early as Caporetto. Not only that, but it contains two of my favourite regiments, IR14 and IR59.

Clearly the Austrians were traditionalists, as these two units had been brigaded together at least as far back as the Napoleonic Wars, where they served in the Leipzig campaign and as part of the Austrian contingent at the Battle of Hanau in 1813. In fact, this was the brigade that I have been slowly collecting as part of my 28mm Napoleonic force. On top of that, IR 14 appears to have been a very highly decorated formation in the war, it is only natural to choose to recreate their counterparts from a hundred years later.

So here is what I'm planning my Austrian force to look like, using the Through the Mud and the Blood rules.
  • One company of the Xth Battalion, K.u.K IR59
  • Assault Company Nr. 14. (Sturmtruppe formed from K.u.K. IR. 14)
  • Gebirgs-Minenwerfer-Abteilung 298
  • St. Johann Freiwillige Gebirgsjager Co. (Kaisershutzen)
(Don't try to look this one up in any regimental history! Not part of the Edelweiss Division, but I like the minis from Brigade Games so I shall play loose and easy with the history.)

A good article on Austro-Hungarian Assault battalions can be found

If I can find a model of a Skoda gun, I'll also field a Feldartillerie-Abteilung as well. In the future I will probably add a section of German Mountain troops, but for now I'll concentrate on the Austrians.

Anyone know if these are available in 28mm?

Some useful tutorials

If there is one group of hobbyists who know a thing or two about modelling mountains and rock, it is the model railroading fraternity.

I found a series of useful tutorials on YouTube by a fellow who creates some amazing work. He put together ten videos on
Model Railroad Scenery using Extruded Foam. I've posted the first couple here; you can click here to watch the whole series if you feel so inclined.

Lots of good hints on working with foam board and on techniques to get that "look" for mountain scenery.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Supply train arrives!

Things are moving along nicely. Today I don't have to go to the office until late afternoon, so I had the chance to pay a visit to the local hardware supplier and bought myself some sheets of insulation board as well as some MDF sheet for the base

When I got home, I was thrilled to find that my first packs of Scarab Miniatures Austro-Hungarians had arrived- less than a week since I ordered them. 

And they are very nice too!  They are extremely clean castings, and there is just the right amount of caricature that I want in skirmish figures without going overboard.  So far, I am really, really impressed and can't wait to get started on painting them.

The stalhelms immediately stand out as being particularly well done, and there are some impressive moustaches amongst these fellows!

More on the weekend, as I will get them based and primed and work more on the Collina della Formica.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Alpine activities...

I'm expecting to receive my first order of Scarab Miniatures' Austro-Hungarians any day now, so it's time to start eagerly checking the letterbox daily.

What's more, my order to
Kallistra for some of their trench works went through yesterday, so it is a matter of waiting for them to arrive so that I can start working on the top of the Collina della Formica. Tomorrow it is off to my local craft/ hardware shop and buy a sheet of blue insulation board and a wooden baseboard. The former will be carved to shape to form the base of the hill, and for additional rugged terrain pieces to add both cover and "atmosphere" to the table."

I'm no great artist, but I've been working on a drawing that will give me a rough image of what I want the tabletop to look like when done. I'll scan that and post it when I'm happy with it.

In the meantime, I have been scouring the web for photos of actual trenches and works from the Dolomites. There is an amazing amount of photos and resources out there, with many of them being in their "natural" state. This is unlike so many manicured trenchworks that one seems to come across in photos of the preserved battlefields of Flanders and in France, no doubt because of the more rugged terrain and the permanance of rock fortifications when compared to those dug in chalk and earth.

Here are a few.

Trenches dug into the rocks in the Monte Piana.

View taken from the inside of a trench.

WW1 fortification in the mountain side.

Lots of ideas for colours and modelling details here. Note the horizontal striations that I need to model into the rock. There is a lot of stonework in the trenches as well.

Finally, no prizes for guessing the identity of this decorated German officer of mountain troops and veteran of what the Italians call the "La Guerra Bianca", or "White War". In time he would prove himself adept at fighting not only in the cold of the Dolomites, but also in much hotter climates as well!

Monday, March 16, 2009


While waiting for glued foam board and undercoated minis to dry, I was thinking of aircraft, and whether there were any suitable 1/48 Italian and Austro-Hungarian models that would lend some 3-dimensional "colour" to a scenario.

One of my favourites is the Macchi M.5 seaplane fighter. Now I'm not an anime fan by any stretch, but this was one of the planes that featured in my favourite Hayao Miyazaki movie,
Porco Rosso (or Kurenai no Buta as it was known here).

So it was nice to find a video of a replica Macchi M.5 in flight, which you can see below. I wonder if it has the altitude and payload to be able to reach and bomb the Collina della Formica?

Flight of replica of WWI fighter

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The "Collina della Formica" takes shape!

Stage two. The foam had a chance to dry overnight, so I commenced the work of shaping the basic outline with a hand-held jigsaw and a sharp cutter knife. Only two slight cuts to a finger and a wrist abrasion, so given my past record of self-mutilation with such things I'm doing well.

The view above is from the front. It looks rather too "regular" in shape right now, but it really is only a core at this stage. It should look quite a bit more imposing as time goes on. I will be carving gullies and adding overhangs and talus cones later, when I mount it on a larger wooden baseboard. I kept the offcuts as I can use these later to make the whole thing look a lot craggier .

The "Collina della Formica" (The Anthill) from the back. I carved a track leading up to what will be the floor level of the trenches. I'm waiting for a selection of the Kallistra trenches which I just ordered today, and will glue them on top of the "plateau". I'll then build up the "rock" in an irregular pattern so that it comes up to the level of the trench parapets.

An Alpini-eye view from what will be the foot of the hill. The whole thing measures about 50cm x 30cm, and will be about 75mm high at least.

I don't envy the men who will be tasked with taking it, but what with Brigade Games' new Italian Trench Mortar model and a sympathetic scenario, they may stand a chance! I'll be adding a number of smaller rocky outcrops and sangars for cover, and if that is not enough, I have heard rumours that Italeri does a Caproni CA-3 bomber in 1/48th scale...

Not much I can do now with it until I get the Kallistra order, but I have French to work on and my first order of Austro-Hungarians from Scarab Miniatures should be here by the end of the week, so lots of other things for me to do on this project.

Working on a Rockery...

To most people, this may seem no more than a piece of wood with two layers of styrofoam packing glued on top of it. But to me...

...well, it looks like no more than a piece of wood with two layers of styrofoam packing glued on top of it, with my cat sitting nonchalantly on the chair in the distance.

Okay, early days yet, and it is now sitting under a heavy (and I mean
heavy) weight of plastic boxes full of miniatures while the glue cures to avoid warping, but this is the start of my "Anthill in the Alps". This will be a trenchwork outpost set in the Dolomites. It will be a piece of high ground with a bunker set at the top and trenches leading up to it.

The next step is to rough-hew the corners off with a jigsaw and to taper the edges. I want a "rough and rugged" look to this table piece, so I'm using the softer kind of styrofoam that you get in electronic goods packing crates rather than the more finer-grained insulation board. This can be "roughed up" and covered with wood filler to get the craggy rock effect I'm looking for.

After getting the base roughly to shape, I will add the trenches themselves. For these I will carve in some relief works, but will also be ordering some of the excellent moulded trench works by
Kallistra and add them to the top of the hill. I'll then texture them into the surrounding rock with offcuts of foam and wood putty.

The Forgotten Front

As far removed from Flanders as one can get..

Another in my
oeuvre of wargaming blogs. This one inspired by three events:

1) A re-read of one of my favourite novels, Mark Helprin's
A Soldier of the Great War, which -aside from being a great work of recent litereature on its own merits- contains some amazing descriptions of the fighting in the Alps and along the Isonzo/ Piave in WW1.

2) The release of some excellent wargames figures for the Italian front, both by
Scarab Miniatures and Brigade Games.

3) the publication of Richard Clarke's (Two Fat Lardies) ruleset,
Through the Mud and the Blood.

Seeing as the planets have finally lined up, I felt it was high time to have a go at gaming Italy and 1917 and in doing so pay my respects to my great-grandfather's war. I never met Albert Whitbourn, he died long before I was born, but he was clearly greatly loved and held in deep respect by the whole family.

Future posts will outline my plans for building up representative forces for the Central Powers and Allied forces, scenario ideas, and terrain construction. I may even make
divertimenti into the air and naval battles as well, as I have sizeable Austrian and Allied fleets in 1/2400 scale, in addition to some of the excellent Wings of War 1/144 scale aircraft and rules.