Saturday, January 2, 2016

So You Saw These in the Background in the Last Installment...

...And I finished them up in the mean time since, and added a few more things to my workbench over the holidays while I was at it! So without further ado 'bout somethin' somethin', here they be for your consideration...

We begin with a pair of the S-Model 1/72 scale Hotchkiss H-35 kits shown during various stages of production...

I based their paint schemes off of the latest color plate reconstructions found in Francois Vauvillier's superb book The Encyclopedia of French Tanks and Armoured Vehicles 1914-1940, and Erik Barbanson's no less elegantly finished and presented Chars et Blindes de Cavalerie, 1939-1940: La ire DLM au Combat from the same publisher. Both books are full of information and the color plates alone make them well worth the investment:

The Hotchkiss H-35 in particular is a rather important little tank as far as the French Army of May-June 1940 was concerned, as they had been forced upon the cavalry in the run-up to WW2 by General Gamelin as a convenient stop-gap design until the larger, better armed and protected SOMUA S-35 cavalry tank could be produced in sufficient numbers. As it turned out, the underpowered and poorly-armed little H-35s were sent into combat in May 1940 as they still constituted half of the tank strength of two of the three of France's Divisions Legere Mechanique (DLMs). Despite their drawbacks the French tankers put up a spirited fight in their little machines during those fateful six weeks in 1940, and despite the poor anti-armor performance of their short-barreled 37mm 18SA cannons, managed to take out a share of the panzers knocked out during the fighting especially during the first major tank vs. tank actions of WW2 in the Gembloux Gap region of Belgium. 

An effort was made to improve the anti-armor capability of the French light tanks before the war began in earnest by upgunning them with a longer-barreled model of the 37mm 18SA as seen in this photo from Monsieur Vauvillier's informative tome:

The longer gun was supplied initially to platoon and company commander's tanks. The plan was to eventually phase out the obsolescent 18SA weapon entirely, but events on the ground prevented the French Army from fulfilling their plan to try and give the little light tanks more of a fighting chance against the more modern Panzers.

The photo also shows a significant structural characteristic of the H-35 that distinguishes it from the later H-38/39 model, the sloping engine deck. The H-35 had a smaller, less powerful engine than the later improved model. This along with elaborate factory-supplied camouflage schemes distinguished the H-35 from its more automotively powerful sibling:

The H-35 also served in other formations, including the hybrid Divisions Legere de Cavalerie (DLCs), which were half horse cavalry and half mechanized cavalry formations, a transitional force if ever there was one. The DLCs were meant to fulfill the traditional scouting and screening role of horse cavalry divisions from wars past, however interwar budgetary penury and political squabbles coupled with irrational complacency within some quarters of the French Army command and policymaking structure meant that the transition was never completed by the time the German invasion began:

Like most French tanks of the period, the Hotchkiss H-35s and H-38/39s sported a wide variety of factory-supplied and even unit-level modified paint schemes. This variance could even manifest itself within individual tank platoons as older machines were lost through combat or mechanical attrition and new replacement machines hastily finished were rushed to the front. Further changes to the appearance of H-35s was found in the attempts at modernizing the little tanks with better optical equipment such as the turret episcopes. The original episcopes looked like a pair of binoculars, while the later, less vulnerable optics were of the slit variety. The new episcope panels were generally left in monotone Army green (vert armee), causing them to stand out from the more elaborate original paint camouflage scheme colors as seen on the lower H-35:

A further attempt to upgrade the H-35s was the addition of an unditching tail to assist in crossing trenches or large ditches, a throwback to the First World War vintage Renault FT-17 which the H-35 along with the Renault R-35 was a direct lineal descendant, essentially an FT-17 built using 1930s technology and design aesthetics. 

I built these models straight out of the box, with the playing card symbol decals also straight out of the box, and the tactical numbers, marticules (military license plate numbers), and cockades from my spares box....

The most awkward part of the build was the photo-etched brass parts, specifically the two-part towing/lifting eyes and tools. The rearview mirror proved too fragile to remain on the kit, so when I went to build the first of the S-Model H-38/39s, I left the towing/lifting eyes and rearview mirror off entirely to save what was left of my shredded sanity! Here's the first of my S-Model H-38/39s:

I built this as an "H-38" aka "Hotchkiss Model 1935 Light Tanks, as Modified 1939" mounting a short-barrelled 37mm 18SA to use the full and proper moniker. This was a substantial improvement over the poor, little H-35 by virtue of the fact that the H-38/39 was equipped with a 120 horsepower engine rather than the underpowered 75 horsepower putt-putt motor of the original design. The simpler camouflage scheme was used almost exclusively on the later H-38/39 model tanks from the very beginning as nearly as I've been able to determine. Steven Zaloga's classic Blitzkreig volume covering the colors and markings of tanks and AFVs from this period interpreted the various black and white photographic references and then-available written documentation to produce a sprayed-on three color finish of a more yellow ochre, drab brown, and army green, however I am inclined to chalk his interpretations in that volume to the risks inherent in trying to make heads and tails out of old black and white photographs when the written primary source records are far from complete (or even accurate). 

The Hotchkiss H-38/39s equipped the 3e DLM in time for the German invasion, and saw extensive combat during the course of the campaign. They were also thrown into combat in the hastily organized Groupes Franc formations, which were ad hoc raiding forces made up of whatever transportation and armored fighting vehicles could be thrown together and sent into combat to try and stem the tide of the German panzers. The final definitive version was supposed to sport the unditching tail and long barreled 37mm main gun, but in practice this didn't always come to pass, so again there was a degree of variance in appearance from one unit of H-38/39s to the next:

As I mentioned above, the tow/lift eyes are all two part photo-etched parts along with the rearview mirror and in the case of the H-38/39, so is the muffler cover (which has to be bent to conform to the shape of the muffler(!!!). I therefore opted to leave off the tow/lift eyes and rearview mirror to save time and frustration, and did a quick, crude bending job on the muffler cover as I couldn't seem to scare up an appropriately sized and shaped object to use as a more accurate former. The unditching tail also posed problems as the two outermost support struts are VERY fragile, so I wound up replacing those with some lengths of plastic Christmas wreath faux pine needles cut to length:

I pushed the envelope as much as I dared with this H-38 in terms of the markings I used, going for the full ensemble of tactical numbers, cockades, and platoon markings. All of the models were painted mainly with assorted water based acrylic craft paints, but with some Vallejo thrown in along with some neutral tint drawing ink for picking out details and shading. All were sealed with Testor's Dullcote once the decals were dry.

Overall these new S-Model kits are good value for the money and otherwise are fast assembly kits if you don't get hung up on the fiddly photo-etched parts. The suspension and tracks are single pieces, and the biggest caveat of either is the vision blocks for the turret on the H-35. These are moulded on the turret supplied with the H-38/39, but are separate on the H-35 and being so small and awkwardly shaped are exceptionally fiddly to try and handle. I lost one in fact and had to improvise a replacement for the victim of my old age clumsiness, and took the opportunity to represent a transitional vehicle with one episcope replaced and the long-barreled 37mm main gun. 

That said I recommend these kits to anyone who needs to build up their 1940 French wargame army in 1/72 scale. The H-35 in particular is a machine peculiar to the French Army of 1940, as few survived in any combat capacity after the French Campaign was over, yet the type equipped two of the principle French mechanized divisions and did plenty of hard fighting in Belgium and during the retreat to Dunkirk. The H-35 also turned up as I mentioned previously in the ranks of the DLCs and in two infantry tank battalions. Coupled to the colorful camouflage schemes found on these little tanks, the presence of a platoon of H-35s in one's 1940 French wargame army is a must-have, and these new kits from S-Model are well worth the cost, time, and effort to build and paint, as the end results can be a real riot of color on the tabletop.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Latest 15mm Madness: Finished and Based and Ready for Action!

As promised, shots of the finished Dread Cheddar Wedges of Death otherwise known as the new 15mm anti-grav AFVs from Darkest Star Games based on one of my original kitbashed creations! So, without further adieu about nothing:

One of the two new panzerknackers alongside one of the original kitbashed anti-grav panzerknackers for comparison:

And one of the new APCs besides its creative ancestor:

Rear view of the original and the new APC:

Close up of the APC's passenger access ramp:

I am very pleased with the way that Darby was able to translate my kitbashed original through 3D into this new family of modular combat machines. These are available now through Darkest Star Games, and Darby has assured me that there will be more designs forthcoming based upon my kitbashing madness featured on this blog, so stay tuned to your TBD receivers for future announcements and other feats of creative madness and derring-do!

Oh, and silly me! Here's the link to the Darkest Star Games website:

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Various and Sundry On and Off the Workbench!

Here's the first installment of a photo tour of what's been a-cookin' on my workbench and rolling off to the Great Outdoors of our little patio to be sprayed with Testor's Dullcote for your amusement and consideration! We begin with what happens when one of my original kitbashed creations meets modern 3D computer modeling skill and technology, the end result of Darby Eckles of Darkest Star Games taking a fancy to my 15mm scale cheese wedge-shaped heavy anti-grav panzerknackers and deciding that they were the perfect basis for the armored support for a new canid alien race he's been planning for a while now...

As you can see I wasted no time in assembling the four samples Darby sent me, two apiece of the panzerknacker and APC variants. Each is cast in only four (4) separate parts, two ball mounted gatling guns, a sensor/targeting array for the commander's cupola, and a frontal mounted weapon system consisting of either a twin gatling gun and smoke grenade dischargers, or one of three possible weapon choices for the panzerknacker: 

Besides the hypervelocity rail gun I chose to mount on my two shiny new panzerknackers, there was a  conventional style main gun barrel and a heavy rocket-boosted howitzer option included in each kit. I designed the original trio of wedge-of-gouda shaped AFVs with two conventional gun-armed tank destroyers and a single heavy howitzer model, and outlined my creative vision to Darby that the machine is essentially an extraterrestrial anti-grav analogue to the WW2 era German Army self-propelled assault gun family built on the ubiquitous Panzerkampfwagen IV tank chassis:

After a coat of flat black spray primer I proceeded to paint the alien quartet of armored anti-grav doom in a scheme that would look suitably alien enough yet be effective camouflage in an alien environment (and give me an excuse to use my favorite color -purple- on an otherwise somewhat serious sci-fi subject):

I developed the pattern by borrowing elements of design from both the late WW2 German camouflage patterns prevalent on their tanks and AFVs near the end of the war, and the patterns found on French tanks from the early period of the same conflict. I added an extra layer of extraterrestrial authenticity thanks to my being a hoarder of decals from models and projects past, in this case some very effective Zentraedi insignia from Macross kits some 25 years ago and kept until the right project just happened to come along:

 Here the Fearsome Anti-Grav Foursome receive their mandatory coating of Testor's Dullcote flat spray finish to seal the models and blend the decals into the paint work along with yet more space fighters for Silent Death and a pair of the new S-Model 1/72 scale Hotchkiss H-35 fast build kits:

As far as I am concerned Darby has done an excellent job of interpreting the original kitbashed models and translating them into their new, resin incarnations, in a number of ways I would say better than the originals! The triangular shape really lends itself to conveying an very non-human take on just how to best arrange the target profile of an AFV from a non-human perspective, particularly that of a canid alien evolved from a pack hunting social carnivore. As these were drying I was assembling the bases for these anti-grav hunter-killers using some pre-cut oval wood plaques from Michael's craft store, some plastic bottle caps, and white Tacky Glue. Some paint and flock, and the next shots will showcase the models on their bases along with the original kitbashed creation that served as Darby's physical guide through this project.

So stay tuned, Space Possums, as there's more to come....

Next Installment: The Finished Models on Bases and Further Mischief!

EDIT: For those of you interested in these marvelous little nasties, here's the link to Darkest Star Games:

All kinds of fun stuff to be had from this growing line of 15mm sci-fi goodness! >;)

Friday, November 20, 2015

A Quick Update: Finished the Beastie!

I did! I did! I did! And ain't she a purdy beastie, seen here in the kitchen the night I finished the paint scheme and cleaned up the detailing:

The next day came the Dullcote:

And I promise I'll get some better pix shot and posted as soon as possible, as I am eager to break this nasty brute in as a 10,000 ton torpedo-heavy destroyer for Silent Death: The Next Millennium...

Thursday, September 10, 2015

...And Then There Were More Starships!

Yup. As the 70s rolled along into the 80s more variety crept into the starship miniatures available, including the Space Squadrons 2998 series from Grenadier Miniatures. While I did manage to acquire the boxed set I never managed to get enough of the ships to really satisfy me desire for a galaxy conquering armada thanks to my measly allowance and the then perennial problem of not having found either a satisfactory  set of rules for starship miniatures combat that was generic enough to allow me to design my own ships nor the dratted basic problem of how to base the ships themselves and make them look good! So alas, I lost interest, and eventually sold off the Space Squadron 2998 ships that I did have to my eventual and eternal regret, but I did manage to retain a handful, a pair of the sleek Aurora class strike cruisers, the minelayer which remains to this day I think the best starship miniature of its class ever, and the repair tender which I have buried in storage at the moment so I'll have to post a shot or two on a later date.

Here in all their late 70s early 80s glory are the Auroras painted and based as New Anglian Confederation strike cruisers for Full Thrust, and the minelayer based as a generic enough human vessel ready to muck up the spacing lanes with a whole passel of 600 gigaton space mines ready to slide off the racks:

Later in the 1980s along came some very fetching plastic kits from Japan into the local hobby shop, and among them were some small, relatively inexpensive plastic kits of various starships from the classic anime Space Battleship Yamato. Here I thought might be a means to revive my space combat gaming hopes and aspirations. I collected quite a number during this period, but alas, the twin problems of no acceptable rules and no acceptable bases mitigated once again to drive me back to focusing on ground combat and using up the majority of my cheap plastic starship kits as parts for other kitbashing projects of a sci-fi ground combat nature (and several of them made great Lascannons or Plasma Cannon conversion fodder!).

Then along came Full Thrust to my great delight, and with the added bonus that some extremely clever 12-point cast metal starship flight bases complete with clearly marked 90-degree rear arcs were also being produced by Geo-Hex to coincide with their newly achieved status as the official U.S. licensed manufacturer of the Ground Zero Games metal ship models and distributor of the game itself! I could buy the flight bases separately, the game was generic and included a handy ship design system! 

Further joy came in the form of Silent Death 1st edition, so now I could play either at the fleet level with the big dawgs, or down and dirty at the space fighter dogfight level to my heart's content! So I forged ahead, building up my fleets again and ever vigilant for new and adaptable starship models. As it turned out, those handy little Space Battleship Yamato models were getting set for a return, and in a manner I did not suspect but would be very happy about upon discovery.

Know in Japan as gashopon ("capsule toys"), these came in a sealed box assortment, and sure enough Space Battleship Yamato was experiencing a renaissance of sorts due to an anniversary of the first release of this classic anime, so not one but several sets of assorted starships and fighters from the series came out in pre-painted preassembled assortments. By this point we had the internet, and further there was the sterling mail order service of HobbyLink Japan ( 

I did not hesitate, and upon receiving my first shipment and discovering that the lion's share of the models were hard plastic and therefore eminently suitable as wargaming models, I proceeded to repaint them all to make them my own, and fulfill my mad dreams of a galaxy-conquering armada to call my own! 

Here are many of those splendid Space Battleship Yamato mini kits and gashopon adapted to serve as my armada from the Imperial Terran Space Navy, the defenders of all things Terrestrial, Civilized, and Imperial in the spirit of the creative visions of H. Beam Piper, Gordon R. Dixon, Poul Anderson, Keith Laumer, and Robert A. Heinlein for your consideration and enjoyment:

Something old and something new! The latest version of the Garmillas tri-deck carrier from Yamato 2199 Mecha Colle from Bandai, and the 70s vintage Garmillas tri-deck carrier form the original Space Battleship Yamato anime! The newer tri-deck carrier is thinner and less imposing than the original, but the latest in plastic mould tooling technology and CAD capabilities has resulted in a kit just dripping with detail even at this tiny scale so wonderfully suitable for tabletop wargaming:

Standard EDF battleship of the Borodino class reimagined as an Imperial Terran Navy dreadnought:

The main carrier division of my Imperial Terran armada to date! I plan to add two more fleet carriers eventually, and DON'T let Bandai or anyone else release the original EDF carrier dreadnought hybrid, or I'll have another four or six of those while I'm at it:

Imperial Terran superdreadnoughts and their attendant heavy cruiser and torpedo destroyer escorts:

The hybrid dreadnought carriers with a superdreadmought and many heavy cruisers in attendance, plus their fighter complements drawn from various sources: 

A closer look at the Imperial Terran Navy's latest class of superdreadnought and its attendant heavy cruisers:

Like wolves ready to charge after their prey, a wedge of Imperial Terran Navy torpedo destroyers ready to surge forward to deliver their deadly cargo of 600 gigaton warhead torpedoes:

Another view of the Imperial Terran Navy capital ships and their escorts:

Ever vigilant, the Imperial Terran Navy stands ready to repel the barbarians at the gates! And they don't come much more barbaric that the Entomolian Empire:

That's right, I didn't stop with the Terrans and the Carnivorians once Bill Char and Monday Knight Productions brought the classic Superior Miniatures Star Fleet Wars line back to us after so many decades! He in all their brightly colored insectoid menacing glory is my mostly finished Entomalian fleet. I have a half dozen destroyers and a small swarm of the star bombers to finish and base, so for now, they'll just have to make due as a very powerful assault group looking to overrun a border colony on the fringe of the Terran Empire:

The Entomalian incursion is repelled after much hard fighting, but the threat to the safety and security of the Terran Empire never ends, as a new aline menace appears! Classic Ground Zero Games Sa'avasku from the Full Thrust optional game universe. These are marvelous biotechnology symbiotic starships, quite literally living starships fully capable of traveling across the vast distances of space and wreaking havoc with their biologically generated energy weapons:

Oh, and there's still another fleet, but that, dear readers, is for another time... Stay tuned to your TBD receivers for further news from the fringe of the Known Universe!