Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Academy 1:72 Dodge WC54, etc.

The real thing. Colours in this pic are a bit odd.

Teresa and I are enjoying a brief break, before I resume my teaching work. We're at this fabulously beautiful and secluded self-catering place, in Suffolk. There are black swans, peacocks, and all manner of critters wandering about outside, and although the weather could be nicer, it's still an idyllic slice of heaven on Earth. 

The only pic of the early stages of the build that wasn't unusably blurry.

All the constituent parts constructed, and base-coated in grey primer.

We come here quite often. And once or twice I've even bought a model with me. No, not Cindy Crawford, alas. Last time it was a WWII fighter; can't recall offhand if 'twas a Spitfire or Me109? This time I brought an Academy models set, containing a Dodge WC54 ambulance, a Clarktor 6 tractor, and a munitions trailer.


Freshly sprayed Olive Drab almost looks beige!?

Looking darker as it dries.

I'm gradually getting better at taking a portable but useful set of paints and tools as well. Although on this occasion, as on all previous occasions, I've always found I'm missing something essential to finishing! So as per usual, this post is of an unfinished set of models. Not as per usual, however, is the rather more spartan coverage of the build itself.

Damn! Knocked off the wing-mirror.

Gloomy image, shot in poor light; painting the tyres, etc.

Rear bodywork in place.

I recall reading instructions in some kits suggesting that one should paint parts on the sprues, before assembly. I don't think I've ever actually done that. What I did do this time, which is a first as far as I can remember, is build three major components of the primary vehicle - the Dodge ambulance - and then paint them all separately, before assembling the full kit. 

I've painted cockpits, or cabin interiors and the like before. But this was different. As a process, it has plus and minus points: one major positive is gaining access to areas that later on become impossible to reach; one negative is that paintwork can be damaged when gluing sub-assemblies together.

And the cab, plus tractor et al.

Dang-nab it! Decal disaster...

Not having brought any varnish or PVA glue with me, decals and glass are an issue. I've decided to leave the glass. But I wanted to get the transfers on. Mostly this proved to be okay, despite putting them onto matt acrylics. I used Vallejo decal-fix solution. I've left the rear door decals, as they require the glass being in position. Sadly the two part Red Cross for the roof didn't work out, as you can see above. I'll have to airbrush that one.

And that was where I had to stop. So, what remains to be done? Well, there's fixing some stuff: the wing mirror snapped off, so I'll prob replace it with a stronger metal wire part; and the aerial view red-cross, on the roof, simply fell to bits as I tried to apply it. The rear door decals and all the glass also need doing. And there's a gloss coat, weathering, and a final matt coat as well. Plenty!


This is how they stand at present.

I really like these Academy sets, with a couple of vehicles plus oddments. This one is a break from my usual German fixation as well. Actually Teresa bought these for me, at a recent 1940s event. Bless 'er! I like the clean moulding of the parts, the level of detail - engines are included! - and the quality of fit. Plus these ancillary vehicles are just fab. And, best/most of all, they're fun and satisfying to build.


Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Book Review: The Battle, Alessandro Barbero





Comprehensive and well laid out, The Battle really benefits from Barbero's use of short pithy chapters. Each is enjoyably punchy and succinct, and the large number, and rapid progress you can make through them, make for a galloping good read.

I'd have liked a glossary, 'cast list' and order of battle. Regarding the latter, he explains, as indeed do most recent writers on such subjects, that armies on the ground never matched their theoretical or 'paper' strengths. But even so, a concentrated listing of units and numbers involved (perhaps as an appendix?), even if approximate, would have made for a reference as handy, and to my mind as essential, as good maps. 

Talking of maps, the maps here are all grouped together near the front of the book, and are okay, although I've seen clearer/better. The inclusion of a portion of the Ferrari & Capitaine map - see image below - as used by Boney (and also the source for Wellington's maps), is a nice touch. There are also a good number of evocative illustrations.



There's an immense amount of interesting and indeed often exciting detail, as the concentrated carnage ebbs and flows along what remains an unusually contracted front, given the overall numbers that were involved at Waterloo. Barbero's writing is excellent, and he does a superb job of evoking the excitement of the battle, capturing it in all it's horrifying and gory glory. 

The grand scale of this intense battle is humanised by Barbero's liberal peppering of his narrative with piquant observations from participants, making for a gripping read. This is the sort of exciting history that can kickstart a lifelong passion for a subject. I was glued to The Battle from start to finish, and thoroughly enjoyed it, so I'd recommend it highly.


Barbero.

Monday, 4 September 2017

Film Review: It Happened Here, 1964






What a great film! In literature the 'alternative history' genre is quite a sizeable industry. But it would appear to be somewhat less so in film. That's a pity in my view, and particularly so in the light of a really good example of the genre, such as this is.

This film is not only interesting for what it is - the imagining of a successful German invasion of England during WWII - but also for how it came to be. I came to know of one half of the duo responsible, Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo, via the former's role in the restoration of Abel Gance's film Napoleon. I have subsequently found out that Mollo went on to specialise in military history, authoring books on uniforms and equipment, and advising on many films. 


There are several film within a film moments, such as this exposition of the German invasion.

But, way back, around 1956, this indomitable duo started working on this film, whilst both were still very young; 18 and 16 respectively, if memory serves! It took them eight years to complete [1], and was made on a budget that modern films would burn through in seconds. Brownlow has also written a book about the making of the film, pictured below. I'll be reading that as soon as I can!


Brownlow's book about making the film.



The film itself doesn't, obviously, have the kind of production values of either a modern film, or even of a mainstream or major studio production of its own time. My biggest criticism is that the audio is at times lacking in punch. But the production as a whole doesn't suffer unduly because of such strictures. Indeed, in an era (our own) dominated by the triumph of medium over message, this is a welcome and refreshing role-reversal in that respect. Considering how it was made, It Happened Here is surprisingly professional and cohesive, which reflects very well on its makers on so many levels.


Brownlow filming. What a precocious youth!



Essentially the scenario takes as it's premise a successful invasion of England by Hitler's armed forces. Although there are numerous combat scenes, it's more about the occupation and its aftermath, rather than being a straight ahead war film, exploring how life might be in both conflict zones and pacified areas. To my eyes it's a wholly plausible and appropriately chilling depiction of what might very well have happened here, in England, had operation 'Sea Lion' actually taken place and met with success.


Pauline, second from left, is the character we follow throughout the film.

 
Pauline joins the fascist paramilitary Immediate Action Organisation.

Unlike your typical war film of the postwar period, we follow a woman's fate; Pauline is the 'every(wo)man' caught up in a maelstrom of events out of her control and beyond her ken. Fairly early on in the film, after getting caught up in a British partisan attack, in which innocent bystanders are amongst the victims, Pauline's desire for order and stability lead her to join IAO, a fascist paramilitary.


Firearm training with the IAO.

As we follow Pauline's humdrum life, it becomes clear both to her and to us, the kind of order she's helping to maintain. She meets old friends, Dr. Fletcher and his wife, and disvovers they're sheltering a wounded partisan. Not much later her friends are whisked off by sinister Gestapo types. Pauline requests nursing work, having grown to dislike the political side of her IAO role, work for which her pre-war life qualifies her. But once again she comes up against moral issues that are going to force her to question her loyalties.

I'll leave plot synopsis there, for those who haven't seen this superbly thought-provoking film. What I will add is that Brownlow and Mollo go to far greater lengths than most big-budget studio productions to create an air of authenticity, from the selection of locations, to the small contextual details (like the posters in the waiting room image above). Along with the balanced realism of the plot, and the several pseudo documentary type scenes within the film, it all adds up to a sort of cinema verite feel.

Sebastian Shaw as Dr Fletcher, a friend of Pauline's. [2]

Military buff types, of which I guess I'm one, will also appreciate the attention to detail and authenticity as evinced by the use of genuine German equipment and vehicles. Seeing a bobby cycling past a JagdPanther in the English countryside is quite something! And the cover image of stormtroopers goose-stepping through Westminster, with Big Ben et al in the background, is iconic.

When I watch an unusual movie such as this, as well as enjoying it in its own right, I'm often left wondering why there aren't more such films. And I'm now very keen to see the Brownlow and Mollo film Winstanley, which looks at 'the Diggers' movement during the English Civil War. I salute the passion and perseverance, the intelligence and creativity, of two greatly underacknowledged British filmmakers.

----------
NOTES:

[1] Thereby earning the film a place in the Guinness Book of Records as the film with the longest production known.

[2] Shaw - who played the unmasked Darth Vader in Return of The Jedi - is the only famous actor I recognised in this excellent and unusual film.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Book Review: Wellington's Smallest Victory, Peter Hofschröer





As a child fascinated by Napoleonic history I was bought an Airfix Waterloo set. Between then and now I've more than once fantasised about building a big Waterloo diorama. It came as something of a shock and surprise to learn, many years later - having consigned such dreams, along with my interest in the period (the latter only temporarily, as it turned out), to the dusty attic room of memory, a kind of childhood-in-storage - that someone had in fact done this [1]. This someone being William Siborne, the subject of this fascinating, informative, and highly enjoyable book.

Despite returning to my childhood interest in things Napoleonic, particularly in terms of reading quite widely on it, Siborne's model was unknown to me until I discovered this book: the very idea that someone had realised this childhood ambition of mine seemed like the stuff of dreams come true. But, as the saying has it: be careful what you wish for! Poor old Siborne's travails were such that ultimately his health suffered, the building of his epic model creations perhaps contributing to the shortening of his life. 

I picked this book up on a Sunday morning, and barely put it down, finishing it off the following day. Without interruption it could quite plausibly be read in one sitting. I guess this means I found it pretty compelling!

A view of Plancenoit, on the Siborne Waterloo model. [2]

Having read and thoroughly enjoyed Hofschröer's excellent little book, I made a promise to myself that I would go and see both of Siborne's Waterloo dioramas. And, if poss, also read Siborne's two-volume work, published under the title History of the War in France and Belgium in 1815. The literary-historical content of this work (actually there was a third volume, of maps; but they were made using a weird near 3-D effect which can't be cheaply reproduced, more's the pity!) is available in a pair of well produced print-on-demand editions from the Cambridge Universtiy Press: History of the War in France and Belgium, 1815 (Vol. 1), and History of the War in France and Belgium, 1815 (Vol. 2).



I've revisited this review, originally written some years back for posting on amazon.co.uk, since I have now seen both the 'large' Waterloo model, at London's National Army Museum in Chelsea, and his second, or 'new' model, depicting the charge of Uxbridge's cavalry, at the Leeds Armoury. Both are amazing works. The NAM's model, the core subject of Hofschröer's book, showing the entirety of Waterloo is very large. And when I went it was rather difficult to see or admire properly, being in a sealed room behind glass, only viewable from two sides. 


Thousands and thousands of tiny figures were cast for Siborne's Waterloo.

It's also on a scale where the figures are really tiny, being only about 5mm tall. The 'new' model has a figure scale where they end up closer to an inch in height, and is, consequently - though it shows only a much smaller portion of the battlefield - far easier to see and admire. Hofschröer, to his great credit, even addresses such arcane but interesting matters as the different scales and ratios used, in terms of models to actual participants, and vertical and horizontal ground scales.

One of the major points that this book makes, however, and the theme gives the book it's title as well, is the contention that arose between Wellington and Siborne regarding historical truth: as has often been pointed out in regards to generals on the day of a battle, what they say on the field frequently prioritises the need to motivate subordinates as opposed to a desire to be factually correct. And even after the battle, there are myriad reasons why exact truth might be, and often is, the first casualty of war. 


Capt. Siborne.

Hofschröer contends that Siborne is the truth-teller regarding Waterloo, having the Prussians arrive earlier and in larger numbers than Wellington wanted to admit to. Wellington was, Hoschröer argues, playing politics. 

This fabulous scene is a view of  Siborne's other Waterloo diorama.

Such wrangling didn't affect the Uxbridge cavalry charge model (as far as I recall) a portion of which appears in the image above - but it severely affected the work on the Waterloo model, which was both delayed and revised, and was almost never completed because of this business. But as this is precisely what the book's about, I'll leave it there and let you read and decide for yourselves.

PS - I have vague recollections of a villain in one of the older 007 movies having various dioramas in their lair, possibly including one of Waterloo: is this right? And if so, can anyone tell me which Bond film it was?

----------
NOTES:

I originally wrote this review some years ago, and have only now got around to posting it here. It is very sad to have to record that Peter Hofschröer has been convicted of some pretty sordid offences. What does this mean for his work as a Napoleonic historian?

Hofschroer's publicity mugshot for Wellington's Smallest Victory. [3]

[1] Of course many have now done so. But, as far as I know, Siborne was the first. Certainly he was the first to build such a painstakingly researched model of the entire battlefield.

[2] Now at the National Army Museum. Plancenoit was one of the key points at which the Prussians arrived, and made the difference between probable defeat for the allies, and certain victory.

[3] I believe Hofschröer has fallen spectacularly, and is now in prison! How the circumstances of that entirely separate and different imbroglio might affect a readers' views of his often deliberately contentious Napoleonic work, well... I don't know? 

Film Review: Rescue Dawn, 2006




Rescue Dawn belongs to that sub-genre of war movies, the escape film. It also belongs to the category of war movies 'based on a true story'. Christian Bale plays the role of Dieter Dengler, a German who has joined the US Air Force, and is shot down over enemy territory just minutes into his first mission.

One interesting facet of the story is how Dengler's German hometown was bombed by Allied planes, in WWII; but far from putting him off aerial war, this experience plants the seed that leads him to wind up in the USAF, bombing Laos. One thing that's not examined at all in the film, as far as I recall, is why or for what either side is at war.

The real Dieter Dengler.

Dengler after his escape.

There's not too much to say about the plot, as the scenario is relatively simple, and relatively familiar. Man, or rather men, must escape cruel captivity and possible/near certain death, by negotiating hostile terrain, filled with both enemies of a human kind, and the dangers of a harsh environment. And it's not just about staying alive, but staying sane.

All the actors acquit themselves very well - Bale's performance is solid and convincing, Steve Zahn's Duane is great, and Jeremy Davies is kind of spooky as Gene de Bruin - and the film is superbly shot and well directed. And yet somehow it doesn't have quite the intensity it perhaps ought to. Well, it does at certain points. But I won't say exactly what/when, for those who haven't seen it.

Certainly one sees how and why Dengler survives, if Bale's highly motivated and positive performance bears any relation to the real Dengler.

Bale as Dengler, artfully submissive...

... but planning his escape right from the outset. [1]

It's also a very beautifully filmed movie, as well. The location shooting, filmed in Thailand, in a real steaming, green, hot, wet jungle, is great. Unfortunately it's almost so beautiful that at times it's hard to feel empathy with the characters' suffering.

Herzog has been criticised by relatives of the de Bruin character, who's portrayed here as deeply disturbed and fairly helpless/selfish, when in fact he'd done a lot, according to some sources, to keep morale up amongst the longer serving prisoners. Indeed, it's even been said that the escape was planned before Dengler's arrival, and... well you can read up on this online if you like!

Lost in paradise...

... or should that be green hell?

Dengler's often able to lift spirits at difficult moments.

The Viet Nam war is not a major interest for me. It seems to me that, in good time, it'll look shabbier and shabbier; a war motivated by right-wing free-market hawks, paranoid about Communism, and willing to destroy whole societies by violent force to move them towards the western consumer based military-industrial model, cynically passing it all off as the exporting of democracy. Nevertheless, I can quite enjoy watching movies drawn from its murky history.

This is a good film, worth seeing. But not a classic, even if it is based on a true story.

Herzog directs, during filming.

----------
NOTES:

[1] How close Herzog steers to the actual history is an interesting subject in itself. But not one I explore here.

Misc: Carte de Ferraris, 1777


Carte de Ferraris (Carte de Cabinet des Pays-Bas Autrichiens) 

I love old maps. And this old map is one of the most amazing I've ever seen. Not only that, it also happens to be amongst the maps Napoleon and his adversaries used in the Waterloo campaign. The Dutch wiki has a page on it here. [1]

Mont St. Jean.

The map is currently only available in two forms, so far as I can find out: as an inordinately rare and obscure hardback (published by Lannoo, in 2009), pictured at the top of this post. Used copies for sale online are priced between £150-£500! The other option, an online version, is free, and can be viewed here. Sadly the latter is not downloadable, so far as I can tell.

Wavre.

A thing of tremendous visual beauty, and very useful for the Napoleonic wargamer, I would dearly love to get the Lanoo editions book. Best start saving!

----------
NOTES:

[1] The Dutch wiki also has a page about the Comte de Ferraris, for whom the map was made.

Joseph, Comte de Ferraris

Saturday, 2 September 2017

200th Post!!! Airfix 1:72 Blohm & Voss BV 141





I've been holding off my 200th post for a while now, on account of never finishing anything, and having mostly posted war film reviews of late. I wanted to post something figure or model related, and - if possible - I wanted it to be something I'd actually seen through to completion.

Some time ago now - back before yule 2016-17 - and I have no idea why, but, seemingly totally out of the blue, I suddenly remembered and wanted to build the Airfix Blohm and Voss BV141. The brainwave came to me at a happy moment, just when a friend had asked what I'd like for my birthday.

So I suggested this oddity. I ended up ordering it on eBay myself, and my buddy just slipped me the cash. But that was more than fine: either way, I now have the model. Thanks Patrick. You're a pal!


During my research into the plane itself, in an effort to perhaps find useful detail of the cockpit/nacelle interior (on account of this Airfix model being a little deficient in that quarter), I stumbled upon a thread that ultimately lead me to discover - oh the joys of the interconnected web - my childhood hero Tintin, dressed as a Russian soldier, and pictured with a BV 141. Bonkers! The above pic is in fact part of a series of postcards, all of which you can see here, produced as part of the Studio Hergé mission to educate.

This looks like the dab hand of Roy Cross.

In the end, I wound up buying a Valiant Wings title on this 'airframe', as some aeronautical buffs call 'em. Chock full of more detail than any sane modeller ought to need, this enabled me to detail the cockpit to my own satisfaction. I added a cushioned mat for the rear gunner, ammunition cases stacked in dispensers (three of these), a seat on rails for the 'spotter', and sundry other little details.

Scratch-building cockpit interior detail is fun!

I'm pleased; the cockpit no longer looks woefully bare.

RLM 02 cockpit interior base-coat.

And the interior more or less done.

I was agonising over the complex greenhouse of glass, and how to mask it. Ultimately I bought an Eduard masking set from a local online model shop. I also bought some isopropyl alcohol and some Humbrol 'Clear', to clean and shine the cockpit 'glass'. Once this was done, I glued it all in place with wood glue, applied with a cocktail stick.

Prepping the 'glass'.

Which does look pretty transparent. Result.

PVA'd in position.

Oops... unnecessary surgery.

Having done this, I realised I'd made a major balls up, and glued the cockpit nacelle to the left, rather than the right of the engine and fuselage. What's more, I'd butchered the model to do so, in a right huff, thinking it was a design fault in the kit! Sheesh... what an eedjut I can be! Prising it apart and regluing has resulted in a Frankenstein's monster.

Damn... nascelles in the wrong positions...

... required prising apart...

... and re-gluing. Which knocked off all the glass.

I probably should've done a whole load of Milliput filling and filing, some rescribing, and then thought about adding some rivets where I'd worn them away. And then it would simply be a case of finishing construction and getting the paint and decals on. Hmmm!? In the end I did try to do some filling and filing, both with Milliput and some kind of liquid cement/filler stuff. The latter always seems to come out unmixed; all clear medium, and very little 'cement'.

I continued to accumulate error upon error: knocking off, misaligning and having to re-clean/treat the cockpit glass; not neatening up filler sufficiently, or adding it to all the places that needed it; not smoothing away all ejector pin marks, or mould lines; forgetting to add the tail strut (and then breaking it when I belatedly got around to putting it in place!). Hey-ho... this odd warbird has become a project I just need and want to finish, whatever the final state!

Looking nice in wide view...

Close up? Bogger!

I did all this work some while back. A considerable lull then ensued, as more work on home and garden took precedence...

Finally returning to the model, in late August, I base-coated the plane in an automotive grey primer, and started airbrushing the body colours. Before I could do this I had to totally strip and clean my airbrush. Most annoying! It looks like the days of my becoming an airbrush ninja remain a long ways down the road.

As if to underline this point. Once the airbrush was cleaned and back to functioning (it still isn't quite right; I can't do fine lines with it any more... what've I done!?), whilst doing the undercarriage pale blue, some of the Vallejo paint spattered, in largish globules, at the end of one wing - see above - which I tried to blow flat with the airbrush after cleaning it out.

Oooh... I do like the splinter camo' scheme!

I then discovered that despite having several billion Vallejo acrylics, I didn't have the two shades of green needed for the splinter camo'. So it was off to Creative Models in Chatteris for more paints. They're great; really they're an online operation. But they don't seem to mind folk popping in and buying over their counter either. Which suits me. They're even closer than the Ely model shop.

Getting the splinter camo' onto the model felt great, except that I didn't get the razor sharp demarcations I was hoping for from the masking. Still, touched up by hand, and with the landing gear added, I feel she's looking alright.


Masking for the rumpfband.

I saw an example of this aircraft online with one of those bands on the rear fuselage, in yellow. Not sure what they were called, or what they signified, I googled something apt, and learned they're called rumpfband, and that a yellow one signifies Ostfront. Well, I think they look super-cool, and I decided to add one. Yet again my airbrushing and masking skills proved to be rather 'lustlaquer'. After having to wipe off the first attempt, and spray some grey primer on, my second attempt, after some touching up, looks tolerable.

A coat of gloss varnish is applied, prior to decals.

Adding the decals proved to be quite troublesome. The Airfix transfers supplied with the kit are, frankly, pants. The balkenkreuz are the issue, as they have white areas along some of the edges where they shouldn't. And getting them to follow the contours under the wings, where they sit exactly over some protuberances was also a real headache: I tried three different types of decal fixing solution, none of which quite had the desired effect.

And then I found that some of the characters on the underside of the wings needed to be placed over the bomb release racks. I had to laboriously cut letters K and G up, so as to apply them around said bombs racks. And then I had to touch up the white bits of the balkenkreuz. And in this era of P.C. bowdlerisation, there are no swastikas for the tailplane. I found some in another aeroplane kit. Too big, but never mind.

Decal surgery.

All decals are now in situ.

Hard work, but worth it.

There's still more to do, in terms of detailing via painting. After that I'll do a second gloss coat to seal the decals in place; then it's weathering and a final matt coat. After all of that, it'll be time to remove the masking for the canopy glazing... and then, she's done!

I've decided to post this build now anyway, despite not quite having finished yet, just so as to get a post up after so long without anything new. I've got a week away with the mrs, starting tomorrow, and when I get back, the new term starts. But I'm determined to have this finished ASAP, at which point I'll either update this post, or do a pt. II!