Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Thank You, Coronovirus, or How the Western Desert Came to Blackhawkhet


First, let me be clear, I'm not trying to make light of the seriousness of the COVID-19 situation, much less any personal pain anyone has been through with friends and family, I'm simply tipping my hat to the fact that without being quarantined there is no way I could have completed this project.

So, what is the project?  Well, for anyone that's followed the blog here, you've seen I have a very strange relationship with 15mm WWII miniatures.  I began wargaming in 2009, at which time I spend around $400 on Old Glory US and German forces for Northwest Europe.  I painted them up, played a few games, then gave them to my nephews.  A couple years later I did it again; I bought about $400 worth of toys from Plastic Soldier Company for US and German forces, painted some of it up, then gave it to Kyote.  A couple of years later I switched up slightly; I bought about $400 worth of Plastic Soldier Company minis for British and German forces in NW Europe.  I painted up some vehicles and most of the infantry, then sold it off.

 But here I am again.  I bought fully painted US and German forces for NW Europe (featured in a recent battle report using Battlegroup Normandy, which you can find here:, and then I spent A BUNCH of money on 15mm forces for... North Africa!  Well, I bought it, I prepped it, I painted it, I based it, I washed it, and I sealed it, so it's ready to be played with and ready for me to show it off.  It's not the prettiest set of forces, and it's certainly not perfect, but it's definitely the largest collection I've ever completed, so at the very least I'm proud of the accomplishment.  How about some pics?

The whole mess, with Commonwealth forces on the left and Axis on the right.  It consists of 72 tanks, 23 armored cars, 19 transports, 6 aircraft, 19 guns of various calibers, and 64 stands of infantry (command, rifle, MGs, and mortars).

A closer look at the Commonwealth forces.

And the Axis.

Let's get to the details.

I've got eight plastic Crusaders from Battlefront.

And a closeup, handsome chap squawking on the radio.

I've got five plastic M-3 Grant from Battlefront.

TC scanning the horizon.

I've got five plastic M4 Shermans from Battlefront.

 Coming on line.

I've got five plastic M-3 "Honeys" from Plastic Soldier Company, though I used some Battlefront vehicle commanders with a couple of them.

A closeup, Battlefront commander in front, PSC commander behind.

*The first of my cataloging the 'not perfect' aspects of my collection: I don't know if this type of camouflage was ever painted on Honeys, but I didn't want to do Caunter on them, nor did I want to leave them plain desert sand, so I painted them up to match the bulk of the rest of the force.  Also, I might have used the wrong type of turret on them (I dunno, the PSC kits can build out as three different versions, and I don't know which one they're supposed to be), and the PSC kits didn't have decals so I had to rob them from the Battlefront Universal Carriers, which means these have '60' on the right fenders instead of '40,' like the rest of the tanks.

I have six resin Humber armored cars from Battlefront.

Look at that mustache!

*Next imperfection: these Battlefront models didn't come with decals, so I again robbed the Universal Carriers, so these have '60' vice '40,' and only on the front, not enough decals left to do the backs of the models.

I have ten plastic Cruiser A10s from Plastic Soldier Company.

Scanning the horizon with his bare eyeballs, preparing to raise his field glasses.

*These didn't come with decals and I was not smart enough to order decals separately, so all they have are some hand-painted national markings.

In case anyone is wondering, I did try my hand at painting some Caunter scheme.  This looks pretty bright, but that's because it doesn't have a 'wash' on it yet.  It actually wasn't as hard as I thought it was going to be, but I didn't think the colors looked right so I just left them desert sand.

Another look.

And one more.   Not too bad on the lines, right?

I've got four resin Marmon-Herrington armored cars from Battlefront.

A close up.

*Again, didn't come with decals so I just hand-painted some national markings and pressed on.

I've got five CMP 15-cwt trucks from Plastic Soldier Company.

*No decals and I didn't do anything for markings on the softskins.

I've got eight plastic Universal Carriers from Battlefront.

*These have no decals as I had to steal them to use on other vehicles....

The Commonwealth guns: two 25-pounders, a 37mm Bofors, two 2-pounder anti-tank guns (ATGs), and two 6-pounder ATGs.

The two 25-pdrs.  These are plastic models with plastic crews.

*I wish I had two more, so they are even up with the Italians.

The anti-aircraft gun. A very handsome model, methinks ;)  The pack actually comes with three of them, but I don't know what the hell I'd do with three of them on the table, so the Allies just have this one.  These are metal models with plastic crews.

Actually, I do have an idea on what to do with those other two AA guns...

The 2-pdr ATGs.  These are metal models with metal crews.  Pretty cool models, but kind of a pain to put the guns and seated crewmen together, and the crewman reloading clearly has a 6-pdr shell, which is ridiculously larger than a 2-pdr shell.

The two 6-pdr ATGs, metal models with metal crews.

The British command group.  I have their overall command stand (on a regular base, but with only three figures, at right), and then the other five are on small bases, which I'll use as platoon commanders and FOs.

*I didn't have enough command figures so I had to steal crewmen from the AAA models; the officer (holding binos, looking up at the sky) isn't really a problem, but on one of those bases (center top) I had to use a AAA crewman carrying a clip of 40mm rounds, which I just smoothed out and painted green to look like an ammo box.  Also, I'd like to have a couple more small command stands so there are enough platoon commanders for the various weapons units (mortar, MGs, ATGs, arty).

A closeup of the overall commander's stand.  I don't like that the officer figure is in the back, but the problem is that he's holding his pistol so far out in front of him that if I put him on the front of the base it will hang over the edge and potentially get damaged, so I backed him up.

The British rifle platoons, three of them, with one base standing in for one squad.  The three platoon commander stands (right) were seen in the previous picture.

A closeup of the British infantry.  These are the new plastic infantry, which can be a bit bendy, but they actually took and held paint just fine.

A 2" mortar.

*Each platoon does not have a 2" mortar, there is only one in the set.

More infantry.  At right is a Boyes anti-tank rifle.

*There is not an ATR for each platoon, there is only one in the set.

Commonwealth heavy weapons, consisting of four Vickers machine gun teams and two 3" mortar teams.  Again, all plastics.

Closeup of two of the MG teams.

And the two mortar teams.

And two hunters of the sky, Hurricanes (or "Hurri-bombers").

These are kinda my pride and joy, I'm very happy with how these turned out and how they look on the table.

To wrap up the Commonwealth forces, I wish I had some early war light tanks (Vickers Mk VI) and infantry tanks (Matilda IIs), and maybe I'll pick some up in the future, but I'll probably just make due with my A10s and Marmon-Herringtons.

On to ze Chermans.

And straight out the gate we head to the venerable Panzer Mk III, of which I have ten plastic models from Battlefront.

Sporting both the short 5.0cm (top) and long 5.0cm (bottom) guns.

I've got eleven plastic Panzer Mk IVs from Battlefront, five with the short 7.5cm gun (right) and six with the long 7.5cm gun (left).

A closeup of a Pz IVE with short 75.

And  closeup of a Pz IVF2 (or G?) with long 75.  I put numbers on the turret sides for the earlier short 75-armed Panzer IVs, and numbers on the rear of the turrets with the long 75-armed Panzer IVs.

I've got five of the resin and metal Panzer Mk IIs from Battlefront.

A closeup.
They didn't come with decals, so I used some numbers from PSC I had lying around, but they're black numbers, rather than red numbers.

I have four resin and metal Sdkfz 221 and 222 armored cars from Battlefront.  I was actually kinda aggravated about this set as I didn't want the 221s, I wanted all four to be 222s, but it's not possible.  When you buy this pack you're getting two 221s and two 222s...

I customized one of the 222s by cutting open the top and laying the hatches out (bottom right, with non-customized 222 at top left).

I have four of the resin and metal Battlefront Sdkfz 231 armored cars.

Very nice models, and those things are huge, bigger than the Pz IIs.  I again used some black numbers from PSC.

The German guns, with two FlaK-36 '88s,' a 37mm AA gun, and two PaK-38 5.0cm ATGs.

*So the Germans have no actual artillery, just the dreaded '88s,' and the AA gun is stolen from the British set I bought, crewed with some Old Glory (from their 'Command Decision' range) figures I had lying around.  I may pick up some German arty in the future.

Two of the new plastic 88s, very sexy.

The Battlefront Bofors crewed by Old Glory metal Germans.

Two of the new plastic PaK-38s (plastic guns and crews), very nice models.

 The German command group, with the four at right being Battlefront metals and the five at left being Old Glory metals.

*Using the Old Glory troops, the Germans are the only force that has all the command units I'd like to have.

The Battlefront command stands, with overall commander (large base at bottom right) and two and a half of the rifle platoon commanders.

The Old Glory command stands.

I really love this one for a Forward Observer.

And this one for the 88s.

The German rifle platoons, with eight rifle stands and three platoon commander stands seen in the previous photos.

*The Germans are one rifle stand short of a full company.  It doesn't really bother me as I don't figure the Germans will ever have that many infantry stands on the table at once, but maybe I'll go fish out some more Old Glory figs just to make up that last right stand.

Closeups of some infantry.

More infantry.

And the quintessential Afrika Korps pose, a prone MG-34 team.

The German heavy weapons, consisting of two MG-34 teams on tripods, and two 8.0cm mortar teams.

The machine guns.

And the mortars.

I have six metal Opel trucks from Old Glory.

Decent models, big hunks of heavy metal after dealing with all that plastic.  I threw some PSC decals on them.

And lastly, the Stukas!!!

Pretty cool.

*The Stukas have different squadron markings; above is the long squadron marking decal (T6, national ensign, CS), which I ripped on the other aircraft and had to go with the shorter squadron marking decals.

On to the Italians!

I have ten plastic M14/41s from Battlefront.

Very nice models, easy to put together and paint up.

My only quibble is that I don't like how the yellow decals came out.

I have three plastic Semovente 75/18s from Battlefront.

Cool little models.

I have five resin AB40 armored cars from Gaming Models.  They're cool little models, and Gaming Models was the only ones I could find that made AB40s.

*It's kinda weird; I have tanks/Semoventes for later war, but armored cars for earlier in the war.  The reason I ended up this way is that I bought Battlefront's set "Lorenzo's Rams," which provided guns and tanks, but I also want to play out early war battles, for which I have Marmon-Herringtons for my Commonwealth forces, and I didn't want AB41s with 20mm guns beating up on the Marmon-Herringtons.

I wish I had some of the little Italian CV33s and L6s, and maybe I'll pick some up in the future, but I really don't  mind making due with the M14/41s for early war.

A closeup of some AB40s; I put a Battlefront vehicle commander on one, and Battlefront decals.  And just so you know, Gaming Models come painted, but I repainted these to match the rest of my collection.

*One of the AB40s is slightly miscast (just visible at top left), where the spare tire on the right side is missing.  Or maybe it's not miscast, maybe some aren't supposed to have one, but the other four models have a spare tire on each side.

The Italian guns, consisting of four 100mm howitzers, one AA gun, and two ATGs.

The four-gun battery of howitzers.

A closeup of some Italian artillery.

The Italian AA gun, which is a 37mm Bofors stolen from the British set I bought, crewed with men I stole from the Italian artillery crews.

And the "Italian" anti-tank guns.

*As the eagle-eyed amongst you will note, those are not Italian guns, nor are they Italian crews.  Those are German 'puppchen,' which came with the German infantry but which I didn't need, so I decided to repurpose them as Italian 47mm ATGs.  The crewman are Germans from the PaK-38 set.

The Italian command group, consisting of six small command stands.

*So, the first issue is that Italians don't have an overall commander (on a medium base with three figures, as I did for the Germans and Commonwealth forces).  Second, they could still use a couple more platoon command stands, just so all the weapons elements (arty, ATGs, MGs, and mortars) have their own dedicated command stands.

There is a solution to this: Battlefront sells an Italian Company Command Group (IT701) for about $15, which would give enough command figures AND comes with three 47mm ATGs, which would be cool to supplant the two puppchen masquerading as Italian ATGs.  So I really should pick that up and buy it, but we'll see; right now I'm just too excited to be finished with this damn project!

Some Italian command stands.

Another look.

The FO stand is pretty cool.

The Italian infantry, three platoons of three squads at one base = one squad, with the command stands from the previous photos.

Closeups of some Italian infantry.

More infantry.

A look at the Italian heavy weapons, with three 81mm mortar teams and four machine gun teams.

A closeup of the MG teams.

And the mortar teams.

And the Italian air support, two CR.42s.

A close up of one of the Italian aircraft.

*Cool little models, but two points of aggravation: first, these models are actually 10mm models, while the British Hurricanes and German Stukas are 15mm models.  Not a huge issue, it's not like the CR.42s and other airplanes are going to be on the table at the same time, but a bit aggravating.  The other problem is that these are metal models, whereas the Hurricanes and Stukas are plastic.  Again, not a huge issue, but the magnets aren't strong enough to keep the metal models on the stands if you're not being very careful whilst moving them about.

So, there it is, my massive North Africa collection, warts and all.  That was a tremendous amount of work, and it's very cool to sit back and stare at it, having finished off such a large project.  My plan is to play out the war in the Western Desert from the first clashes at the frontier in 1940, up through the 2nd Battle of El Alamein.  I'm not sure exactly how I'm going to do it, but Peter ( and Jon ( have given me plenty to think on.  In any case, with a little fudging, we've go enough gear to get through the various phases of the war with the appropriate vehicles, or at least reasonable proxies, I think.

In a perfect world I would go buy some more early war tanks for Brits and Italians, get some German arty, and get the Italian command and ATGs squared away, but the fact is that I'm exhausted, and I don't need any of that stuff to play some games.  My boys, of course, absolutely love them, and can't wait to get their little mitts on them.

The sad part about all this is that, once again, I find myself a bit circumspect about 15mm on the tabletop (particularly given the wide open expanses of the desert), despite the massive amounts of money, time, and effort I've poured in.  I can't help but look at them and think "man, I wish I'd done this in 10mm."  I'm not officially going to put them up for sale, I'm going to start playing games with them, but I could definitely be convinced to come off them, then re-do the whole damn thing in 10mm ;)