Thursday, May 14, 2015

Fort de Douaumont

I've always had a desire for accuracy and authenticity in my modeling. It might come as a surprise, but there are times when these two goals work against one another. Authenticity demands a sort of completeness that sometimes requires assumptions, which can in turn compromise accuracy. This is particularly true if you face any degree of time constraint. At some point you have to quit researching and editing and say "Okay. Enough. I'm building this thing now." Technically as amateur modelers we have no special deadline, but if you ever want to get anything done . . .

You see my point.

I began building merchant ships out of that desire for authenticity. No navy can operate without logistics. Frankly, what's the point to a navy if there is no commerce that needs protecting, if there is nothing that you wish to move across the waves to a foreign (often hostile) shore? You can move cargo and troops on warships, but it's terribly inefficient. So if you want an authentic naval wargame you sometimes need merchant bottoms. Sadly I've found it much more difficult to accurately depict merchant ships than warships. It can be nearly impossible to know what ship served as the prototype for a given model. Since the castings are fairly generic and the names often gave no real clue. "Typical British freighter" or "tramp steamer" doesn't really get you anywhere. These run of the mill ships are precisely the ones I want, but they are also the ones least documented. Single screw steamers of four to six thousand tons attracted much less attention than superliners and warships. In time I found good sources, books like Roger Jordan's The World's Merchant Fleets: 1939 or E. C. Talbot-Booth's Merchant Ships: 1942, and websites like Tokosetsukansen, or Old Ship Picture Galleries, but it took me a little while to learn how to use them. As a result, my earliest merchants gave authenticity to my games but little accuracy.

Eventually, as I blew the dust off my conversion and research skills, I was able to achieve a better compromise. My most recent careful conversion, Fort de Douaoumont, benefited from both. I discovered the ship in the pages of Jordan's Merchant Fleets and lucked into a picture on Old Ship Picture Galleries:

Then it just became a matter of turning this . . .

Into this . . .

The first step was cutting away the features I wished to replace. The original model had a very low island amidships and Fort de Douaumont a more prominent one. The model was flush decked and the prototype well decked. The model had three hatches forward and my prototype having two masts, one forward and one aft, most likely had only two. To that end I filed away the combing and capstans at the bow and cut the hatches out with an improvised chisel made by sharpening the tip of an old jewelers screwdriver. Next I cut away the after part of the original superstructure with a pair of nippers. Finally I removed the stern mount. I filed all of these down as flush to the original deck as possible. 

Once the hull was trimmed down I built up the fo'c'sle and poop with rectangular styrene stock.

This I trimmed and filed until I was satisfied with the resulting lines forward and aft. I sealed both with a liberal coating of CA+ that I later filed down to give the effect seen below.

In the process of shaping the fo'c'sle I filed away the cast on anchors, which I replaced with a little green stuff. In the past I've cut these from sheet styrene, but I decided I'd try an experiment and see if I liked sculpting them better. I also worked the bottom of the stern with a rat-tail file to give the ship a more pronounced counter-stern. I added a small deckhouse made of green stuff atop the poop, two hatches made of the same forward, a new superstructure and stack cut from styrene stock, and two ship's boats made of green stuff for an earlier project. (They'd been a little too large for the small ferry to which I'd originally affixed them, but they worked well enough for this larger ship.) Lastly I added two more small deckhouses for winches and affixed the masts to the tops of these.

Following that I added spars, mastheads, aerials, ventilators, lifeboat davits, capstans, and anchor chain all made from styrene stock of assorted sizes. For the ventilators and davits I gently bend cylindrical stock over a pair of conical jewelers pliers. To make the ventilator cowls you simply cut the rod at the resulting elbow. The davits are from much smaller stock (.01") and can be cut a little long, glued in place, and then trimmed to length after. To make anchor chain I crush .01" styrene rod in a pair of pliers. The teeth on the pliers give just enough texture to be reasonably convincing. Once all was done I affixed the thing to a painting stand and went to town with my brushes.

Here's the provisionally final model next to an identical casting waiting for a similar makeover. Included for scale is a standard small zinc ba . . . I mean a U.S. penny. After the photo below I decided the ventilator aft was a little too tall, removed it, trimmed it, and re-attached it to give the aspect seen at the beginning of the article.

If you know what you're looking for you can probably tell that this is the same casting, but it's different enough that I'm satisfied. For comparison you can see her below with two further renditions of the same. I think the three, though obviously similar, are different enough to be credible.

That about does it for today. May your merchant bottoms reach their destinations with a full hold of vital cargoes and may you have as much fun with your own modeling and wargaming as I with mine. As always, thank you for reading along.

The Composer

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Merchant Ships of the United Nations

The latest arrivals at the fleet review are the several allied merchant ships depicted below. First, we have King Edwin:

King Edwin is a Dodd motor ship built by Harland and Wolf in 1927 with a gross registered tonnage of 4536. I've depicted her using C in C's Doxford. This particular casting is perhaps a touch plain but with a little work it comes out nicely. And it's size and style were fairly common. Further, in some ways a simpler casting affords more opportunity for conversion. I haven't really done that yet, but more might come later. I regret that I didn't add ship's boats, but perhaps I can rectify that.

Next we have a pair of takes on a casting sadly no longer in production: the original C in C "tramp steamer." 

Why C in C replaced this model I'm not certain, but this is the older version, which differs quite a bit from the current casting. Leading the column is the Harrison steamer Daytonian: built by Henderson in 1922 and registered at 6434 tons. Trailing her is Fort de Douaumont: a Doxford ship of 1918 built as War Deer, purchased by Chargeurs Reunis, and registered at 5266 tons. In spite of the difference in tonnage, the two ships are nearly the same length and beam. Likely the newer ship gained cargo capacity through improved engineering, reflected also in a higher cruising speed, and slightly increased draft. Both are single screw reciprocating steamers, but if the newer ship has higher pressure boilers (which she doubtless does) then she should be able to achieve the same results with less boiler capacity and less fuel.

Next up, let's move back across the channel and convert a Panzerschiffe casting:

I've used this typical large freighter to depict an Ellerman liner built by Cammel Laird in 1935: City of Manchester. She was a twin screw turbine with a registered capacity of 8917 tons and even some passenger accommodations. (Though I'm guessing not many.) Panzerschiffe castings are, of course, a little simpler, but that leaves a lot of room for customization, and the resin material is in many ways easier to work with. It doesn't bend as badly as white metal and it's easier to cut and file. All in all I really love these guys, particularly for merchant ships, where customization adds so much to the dizzying variety out there.

Another interesting conversion is this small sidewheel ferry:

This is yet another casting whose provenance isn't quite known to me. I picked her up second hand. From earlier research I'd surmised it to be a 1/3000 Navwar "A/B Standard" merchant, but I can no longer find my reasoning for that. In any case, it's quite small. Above you can see an unmodified casting next to the one I rebuilt as a paddle wheeler. I'm using mine to depict a P&A Campbell ferry built by McKnight in 1891. Campbell operated across the Bristol Channel and Ravenswood continued in service with the company until 1955, when she was scrapped. I probably wouldn't have set out  to depict a small channel steamer, but given the yeoman service all variety of small ships and boats gave, and the commonality of such vessels in coastal service she seems a nice addition. (Ravenswood remained in civilian service until the suspension of the ferry in 1940, after which she was eventually taken over as an AA vessel.)

Next we have another coaster, this time converted for military duties. This is the French "landing ship" Golo as depicted by Seabattles and sold in the U.S. by Viking Forge:

In terms of sheer casting and sculpting quality, this was one of the nicest ships I've had the pleasure of modeling in the scale. I added masts, as you can see. There are small pinholes that lead me to believe the Seabattles castings might come with such fanciness, but the domestically produced Viking Forge copy omit them. Even so, this is a nice little ship, and it's no great thing to make some masts out of rod.

Finally, we have the whole gang mustering at an unnamed tropical port on the way to the fleet review. Looks like a little bit of paradise.

As always, thank you for joining me. If you like what you see here check back soon. I plan to post on converting Fort de Douaumont soonish, and there will eventually be more footage of the fleet review.

The Composer

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Battle of the Coral Sea

Seventy three years ago the world witnessed a rare and bloody revolution: the world's first carrier battle. In some sense this is a bit of a technicality. It wasn't remotely the first battle employing carriers. That had occurred some thirty years prior. It wasn't the first time aircraft attacked a ship at sea. It wasn't even the first time both sides in a battle had either aircraft or carriers. (Though it might have been the first time both sides had both.) But it was the first time two relatively closely matched opponents each fielded carrier borne aircraft as their chief offensive elements. It was, in that sense, the first battle between carriers, which makes it something of a watershed event. A few weeks back a friend of mine challenged me to post a series of photographs of miniatures from my collection. In doing so I chose in part to depict this battle. Here follows my most recent foray into the field of not so special effects:

Imperial Japanese forces muster at Truk. Takagi's Mobile Force takes on supplies and fuel before proceeding south for Operation Mo.

Elements of the mobile, support, and occupation forces are visible in the background as well as local guard and support forces.

USS Lexington is hit by two Japanese torpedoes. A Shokaku B5N  from Lt. Ichihara Tatsuo's section can be seen escaping north with an F4F in pursuit.

 The same event as seen from USS Minneapolis. A second B5N, presumably from the same section, is visible to the right, above Yorktown. The aircraft behind the torpedo splash is most likely that of Ens. Leon Haynes of VF-2.

TF-17 as seen from an unnamed D3A. A number of fighters can be seen spiraling in the center of the picture and a D3A is in the foreground at lower left, probably that of strike leader Lt. Cdr Takahashi Kakuichi

Much of this is at least a little speculative, of course. I don't have the positions of the Mo forces at Truk preceding the battle, nor is my hastily constructed harbor an accurate representation. The positions of ships in TF-17 are as faithful as I can make them with the information I have. The aircraft positions are more speculative, but represent things approximately as they might have been at about the moment of the attack. All of these I must credit to John Lundstrom's First Team, though the mistakes are my own. I probably have Haynes pursuing the wrong aircraft, but he was indeed chasing a B5N attempting to make good its escape.

The fighters circling in the foreground are four F4Fs piloted by Lieut. Fred Borries Jr, Lieut. (jg) Marion Dufilho, Lieut. (jg) Clark Rinehart, and Ens. Newton Mason along with a pair of Shokaku A6Ms (the leading element of six Zeroes about to fall on the F4Fs.) Borries and his squadron mates banked left into a maneuver called a "Lufbery circle" in a vain attempt to continue climbing after the incoming dive bombers. They quickly found themselves outnumbered and unable to escape the nimble Zekes. The timing of this fight might be off a little, but the formation is so famous I wanted to include it. (It would ultimately number some eight A6Ms and five F4Fs with another American pilot diving away nearby with yet another Zero in hot pursuit.)

The sharp eyed might note that the markings of the involved aircraft are incorrect, as all are models attempting to depict a different battle about a month later. But at this resolution that's hard to see so I hope it's forgivable. Lex's quite visible deck park is another slight anachronism that I wasn't willing to modify for a photo shoot. At the time of the attack her decks would doubtless have been clear.

So there you have it. This is all a little crude, but I don't think it looks too bad. I hope you enjoy it. Here's  to the brave men who fought to protect their countries and families that day. You are not forgotten, nor have your sacrifices been in vain.

The Composer

Friday, May 1, 2015

Logistics on the Small Seas

Unlike the Pacific, where both sides needed to move everything across water, the European Axis had much less need for seaborne logistics. That said, the Germans and Italians each made use of maritime transit in their respective enclosed seas; the Baltic and the Mediterranean. Since I particularly like merchant ships I've chosen to depict several from both nations. (And both theatres provide quite gameable encounters.)

First, here's some Italians mustering for a quick trip to North Africa and back. I've decided to use the three merchants to represent Santagata, Gioacchino Lauro (both of Achille Lauro), and Entella Mangiarotti (of Fu Gioconda & Enrico Ravano). The first and third ships were both conversions picked up second hand on e-Bay. They appear to use portions of an older style C in C tramp steamer. The second ship uses a Panzerschiffe Italian freighter. (And while I've had it a long time I did recently update it.) The three Soldati class destroyers are further longtime Panzerschiffe members of my collection.

Next we have several German ships that have made their way across the Baltic to the Norwegian fjords. In the first photograph Dithmarschen keeps company with Scharnhorst. In the second Frigga (against the pier) and Oldenburg offload supplies under the watchful eye of destroyer Z-30Dithmarschen is another Panzerschiffe casting sold as Nordmark.

Oldenburg is from the same supplier's WWI range, where she can be bought as Möwe. I haven't as yet identified Frigga, but she feels like an older Viking Forge casting. The model is a little crude, but with some TLC it becomes quite useful. The general shape suggests an older prototype, likely coal fired. Frigga dates from 1924, so she's a little newer than I would have liked, but she's the right size, coal fired, and generally visually similar. In short, she'll do.

And of course all of these ships have since steamed off to the NIFTI fleet review, which will be depicted in full later, but there are more new recruits to introduce first. So as always, thank you for joining me and keep your eyes peeled. There's more to follow soon enough.

The Composer