Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The French Indochina Station's Groupe Occasionnel

In the first of my recent posts I hinted that I'd worked on a number of light combatants. Among them are the French "Avisos" or colonial sloops pictured here:

These three depict Amiral Charner, Tahure, and Marne. Each is from a different class of "Aviso." Tahure, amidmost, was built as an ASW sloop of the Arrasclass during WWI. The very freighter like silhouette was intended to fool submariners so that she could draw them in close and sink them with deck guns. The trailing ship, Marne, belonged to the roughly contemporary Oise class. As you can see these did not incorporate the profile trickery. Leading this small division is the larger and more modern purpose-built Bougainville class colonial sloop Amiral Charner. Some fifteen years newer than her companions, she was designed specifically with East-Asian station keeping in mind, much like some of the British and American river gunboats. Along with a second BougainvilleDumont d'Urville, and the cruiser Lamotte-Piquet these ships comprised the "Groupe Occasionnel" that contested the waters off Koh Chang with a group of Thai torpedo boats and coastal defense ships.

The three models are from Afrodi of Objects May Appear. He sells several fairly extensive lines, including not only the small combatants from Koh Chang, but quite a few modern ships in a variety of scales and a number of science fiction and fantasy miniatures. As I do with virtually every model I build I added masts and some smaller details, but they're pretty solid little models and would paint up quite adequately without any additions.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Liners, Merchies, and Logistics: Part II

To continue the theme presented in Part I it's time to start talking about some smaller liners, merchies, tramps, and maybe even an auxiliary or two.

The very word "liner" tends to summon images of the QE-II and her ilk, but in the days when surface ships dominated the trans-oceanic passenger business the overwhelming bulk of "liners" were smaller ships, ships of closer to four thousand tons than forty. The big kids got all the press, but the little kids did all the work. While the crown gave Cunard a generous subsidy to build Queen Mary the majority of the merchant ships flying the British flag could count on no such benefit, and it might surprise the reader to learn that the average tonnage of British flagged merchant vessels, of which there were almost nine thousand excluding great lakes steamers, was about 2,300 tons. [Extrapolated from E. B. Talbot-Booth, Merchant Ships. (MacMillan, New York, 1942.) The add for Tremo Mouldings cast 1/1200 scale ships on p. 27 buried among adds for Hepolite marine piston rings and Harco mild steel cable plates is QUITE intriguing. It reads: "We are anxious to make contact with Importers in every market of the World, as although Metal Toys cannot be exported at present - they may soon!" Even in wartime there are gamers and collectors.]

Anyway, I digress. "Liners" were, of course, always a little larger than your average merchant vessel, but the grand dames of the major European lines were in no way typical. Initially, if I understand these things correctly, liner simply meant "ship belonging to a shipping line." It came to also carry the addendum "and traveling on a fixed steaming schedule between regularly scheduled ports." In the popular imagination I suspect this came to mean "large fast passenger vessels" but so far as I can tell the latter was never an industry definition, while the former more or less was. Most liners of the WWII era seem to be vessels of around five thousand tons with larger/newer/faster ones sometimes ranging as high as ten or even fifteen thousand tons, but rarely if ever more without substantial government subsidy. (And with naval conscription often predicated on these subsidies. Witness NYK's Izumo Maru and her sister Kashiwara Maru.)

NYK's 1923 Hakusan Maru seems altogether more typical, and it is she that GHQ has chosen to depict.

While this ship suffers less exaggeration than many GHQ offerings, the masts provided have the usual problems. The majority of them were bent beyond recognition in the box and they're so very delicate that even if straightened they wouldn't last through a game. To add a little further injury they're also incorrect. My advice: throw them out and start over. It works better that way. Styrene stock will give you more control and better results. It takes CA+ better than the pewter, it's easier to trim accurately, and it's straighter and rounder. Modern pewter castings are nice for many things, but long slender objects aren't on that list.

The Viking Forge/Seabattle model below depicts HMS Rawlpindi; another typical midsize liner, in this case a P&O passenger steamer, taken over by the Royal Navy as an armed merchant cruiser.

Seabattle chose to model the ship in her civilian garb, so I spent a little time militarizing her. The two pictures  give you an idea of what I did: adding eight six-inch rifles in single mountings scattered around the ship, removing one funnel (I can only speculate as to why the RN did so, but the preponderance of the evidence seems to suggest that they did), and adding the usual masts. Out of the box this ship could make a quite lovely liner. Conversion to armed merchant service involved a little more work, but since she was a famous victim of two very famous raiders I felt obliged.

Another Viking Forge/Seabattle ship I built depicts Schoharie.

This very lovely little ship was a "Hog Islander" launched in 1919 that served throughout WWII. Like Queen Elizabeth discussed in the last chapter, this is a single piece casting. No masts were provided, though the rafts rigged to the side of the ship are a quite nice touch.  In general, this is a very nice casting of a quite  ubiquitous class of ship. These were, in many ways, the precursors of the ever-present Liberty Ship and I'm glad that Viking Forge and Seabattle make one available.

One of the other things that pleases me about my Seabattles acquisitions: I often have quite a bit of difficulty tracking down the specific prototypes for "typical" merchants, which makes it harder for me to decide what ship I wish to depict. (I strive for accuracy wherever possible.) Models with names like "Typical Maru Transport" and "Tramp Steamer" don't help, but quite often even "named" ships turn out to be very difficult to pinpoint, and I'm amassing a fairly large personal library of period ship lists and have access to google. I've rarely had that problem with Seabattle. Of all the major manufacturers, they seem to provide the broadest and best documented  catalog of merchants, auxiliaries, and minor combatants. If you want to do convoy gaming in 1/2400 they're a supplier you should be familiar with. (Even if you order from Viking Forge, finding a Seabattle catalog is invaluable, since it makes the prototypes clearer.)

I'll close with two more GHQ models: MV Tower Hill and MV Gran. (Top to bottom.)

MV Gran is a case in point of the problem I detailed above. I can find no record of a ship matching this description. I have no idea what ship served as the prototype. It's not in E. B. Talbot-Booth. It's not in Jordan's The World's Merchant Fleets: 1939. I can't find it with Google. In short, I have no reason to believe there ever was such a ship. As far as I can tell it's a fantasy, albeit one that looks relatively typical of British merchant steamers. (Which I suppose does make it a little easier for me to build and paint, since I can just make it up.) Again, the masts provided with these two ships were more or less useless and were all summarily discarded. (All were bent in the brand new sealed box. Most were asymmetrical. Sadly, I've come to believe that this is the rule and not the exception.)

I don't mean to seem as though I hate GHQ. I've enjoyed building some of their models and their detail parts are invaluable, but I've found their merchant ships somewhat disappointing so far. Perhaps I am unjustly holding them to a higher standard, but they do cost half as much again as most of the competition. If you're going to charge a premium price you should provide a premium product. Or if you want it another way:
GHQ, find a way to make some merchant masts of comparable quality to your IJN tripods. They should be straight, symmetrical, and durable. If you can't do that in pewter you might consider casting them in styrene. Other miniatures gaming companies that don't even bear mention have figured out how to package models with parts in different materials. Snap to it kids. You can do better. I'm confident of it.

Next time: the long delayed 2012 Fleet Review.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Liners, Merchies, and Logistics: Part I

While there have been some exceptions, like a few Japanese heavies of one sort or another, I've spent the bulk of my modeling effort this winter on minor combatants, minor powers, and merchant ships. Today I'll recapitulate some of what I've learned about the dizzying array of merchant vessels and their derivatives available to the 1/2400th modeler.

I've mentioned before that I'm a little bit more of a modeler than I am a wargamer and as such I confess that I have an interest in things that will, in all probability, never face the dice of my fellow gamers. I like merchant ships for many reasons, sometimes because of their functional elegance, sometimes their efficiency, often their colorful variety, and in a few cases I can't help but be impressed by their sheer bravura size. These last are most often the great liners. The biggest and sexiest never saw a lick of combat during WWII, spending the war in yoeman service ferrying troops back and forth between assorted ports of call in the New World and the Old. Their smaller brethren, which I have also modeled, often faced far greater hardship. Let's start with the "super-bigs."

Virtually everyone in the West is familiar with one particular budget super-liner (I say budget since niceties like a double bottom and full-height water-tight compartments were apparently scrapped on the drawing board to save a few ponies) that managed to get tangled up with some solidified water on her maiden voyage. Everyone knows about her sheer awe-inspiring swaggering mass, her virtually immutable stature. Less attention is paid to her comparably sized and sometimes larger sisters and cousins, since they didn't leave the party during the first dance. But geeky gear-headed types often like them. To some, names like Leviathan, or Rex summon images of gigantic whales or kingly dinosaurs, but geeks of my particular bent might think of preposterously oversized collections of steam and steel. Like all things writ grand few of these ever really made simple economic sense. Many were grandiose political statements, not unlike some Battleships we love, but usually (ahem, usually) without the comparably exaggerated casualty statistics

My first super-liner in miniature was a Panzerschiffe model of Olympic. I won't detail her here beyond saying that she sat lonely for a long time, singularly the largest ship in my collection, forever needing an update but with no particular reason to give her one. No longer. Perhaps a year ago an acquaintance of mine offered me a copy GHQ's Queen Mary at a post collision discount. Some work was required to straighten the bow and reconstruct the fo'c'sle, and to build more prototypical masts, but after some time in drydock . . . God Save the (wartime grey) Queen!

It's pretty, but I truly think GHQ overdid it with their usual detail exaggeration this time. I understand, I do. I exaggerate all kinds of things myself, even on models, but this has an almost fantasy feel to it. At the three dollar price I paid I think it's a remarkably good deal, but at full retail I can't recommend it. It's a difficult model to assemble, GHQ stock masts are virtually always badly bent and equally frequently incorrect, and it's just remarkably expensive for what it is. I'm glad to have it, but I probably wouldn't recommend it.

Of course Queen Mary had an even larger half sister Queen Elizabeth:

Last fall I broke down and ordered some Seabattles castings from Viking Forge. Reviews on the net suggest that they're not as crisp as the Seabattles originals, that they're less detailed, or ill formed. At table distance I actually think they look better than GHQ and they're certainly simpler for the inexperienced modeler. This casting required no assembly and only minimal cleaning. I added the masts, since it came with none, but I see no advantage to badly mauled and universally fragile incorrect masts over no masts at all. Ironically, the cost is identical to the GHQ offering, but I walked away somewhat more happy. I will say that not everyone will feel the same way: there's a little more flash to clean, the casting really isn't as "crisp" out of the box, and it looks less detailed out of the box, but I think it paints up better and looks somewhat better and I very much suspect it will wear better. Perhaps more relevantly, they have the model in their line and no one else does. In fact, they have quite a few liners and while none are cheap, the less luxurious liners have comparatively more pedestrian prices.

But I like the large and extravagant, so I also ordered RMS Aquitania

and the lovely French liner Normandie.

In the end I hemmed and hawed about how to paint each of these. Normandie was easier, since she was lost during conversion. The Cunarders would surely look more lovely in proper black and white, but Aquitania is actually cast with AA armament and I didn't wish to demilitarize her and as she went, so too must the two Queens.

As noted above the great liners led pretty uneventful careers during World War II. In Liners, Merchies, and Logistics: Part II I discuss some of the smaller liners and merchies I bought around the same time, many of which faced more risk and suffered worse fates.

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Face of the Earth or Where Have I Been Lately?

First, to discourage the ugly rumors that might pop up when you disappear for six months:

I am not dead. In fact, I am VERY not dead. I'm so not dead I'm getting married. (Death tends to annul marriages in even the most conservative of cultures.) Which also explains why the 2012 installment of the annual fleet review didn't happen in 2012. It's been rescheduled as a coronation review. More on that later. But for now I give you a few photographs from a recent trip to visit my intended Queen:

These things tend to begin when you arrive in distant places. It's been my turn twice now. Next time she can do the arriving.

Once you're done arriving, you might pass an immigration interview.

After which celebration might be called for . . . 

Sometimes young Beans like to shoot zombies with peas . . .  

More elaborate celebrations might call for trips to visit interesting places like museums filled with rusting locomotives. (I do have a somewhat anomalous definition of interesting.)

Thank goodness she loves me. I enjoy my locomotives, but they'd be a lot less interesting without good company.

Buddhist temples are also worth seeing.

If you chance to visit Vietnam, do eat the food. The food is generally incredibly fresh and very very good. And the array of different eats is positively dizzying.

Did I mention temples?

The landscape is also quite lovely.

Since Vietnam is conveniently located between India and China (hence the regional exonym Indochina) Vietnamese religious culture is nearly as rich and ancient as Vietnamese cuisine. Buddhism is much more prevalent than Hinduism, but both can be found. I believe this is an older Khmer icon but I will not attempt to comment on who might be depicted.

Somewhere in the above room I can only surmise there must also have been an icon of Shiva. As it happens, he's not the only creator/destroyer who can dance.

Of course, smiles from loved ones do give us a reason to dance. Cam on em yeu. Gap lai em rat sau.