Thursday, 30 October 2014

20mm WWII - Building Airfix German Tanks with Dad!


My Airfix Panther at the time of posting.

Like many figure collectors and gamers, I can't seem to confine myself to one subject area or project for too long (or should that be long enough?). Amidst all my tiny Napoleonic endeavours, my childhood interest in WWII armour, particularly German, has been re-born!

As a kid getting into all this stuff my two main areas of interest were 15 mm Napoleonics, and 1/300th World War II. In 15mm it was mostly Minifigs, whilst in 1/300th it was entirely Heroics & Ros. Another childhood memory is that of my dad and a lodger we had called Tim Seward, when I was very young, making model tanks together. These were exquisitely made and painted, or at least my memory says they were, usually being converted to show battle damage and augmented with 'on campaign' additions, all sourced from photographic reference.


I can remember some of the reference material my father and this fellow Tim used to use. There was a fantastic very slim-line paperback, in landscape format, filled with nothing but loads of black and white photos of the Wehrmacht at war. I think this might have been produced by Tamiya, but I'm far from sure of that! Anyway, it's not something I've been able to locate. Another title which was a constant reference, and has proven far easier to locate, was the first edition of Panzer Colours, published on the Arms & Armour imprint.


As a child I remember poring over Dad's Panzer Colours. Now, as an adult with a few groats, I've been able to acquire the complete trilogy.


I was able to buy Panzer Colours vol. I at a wargaming show, a few years ago, and have subsequently added volumes two and three from the series, so that I now have a complete set (see above), something that we never had at home when I was a child! Of course there is also the Internet now. A pretty fantastic resource, as we all know!



So, as an adult, I've decided to return to the theme of World War II warfare, but in a larger scale than I did as a child. In keeping with the title of my blog, I looked at all sorts of different scales, and was very definitely tempted by the more recent advent of World War II in 15mm. However, in the end what clinched it was a decision to embark on a modelmaking project with my father, Simon. This idea arose, in part, as a tribute to his efforts with his buddy Tim, all those years ago. But it was also intended to give us a way to spend some quality father and son time, now that we're both well and truly into advanced adulthood!

With this idea in mind, I brought my father a King Tiger model from the Airfix range, in 1/76 scale, along with paints, glue and, erm… well, I think that was it actually! For myself, I bought a Panther, possibly my favourite of the World War II German tanks. Every Monday we get together for a few hours to work on our tanks, have lunch and a cup or three of tea, a bit of a chinwag, and watch an episode of Ken Burns superb ACW documentary. It's all very enjoyable!

In fact I've been enjoying the whole thing so much - and I hope my father has to!? - that I have subsequently bought a number of other kits, with a view to us continuing the project. And (with something of an ulterior motive, perhaps?) I've even fantasised that together we might build a small wargaming force, and maybe even have a game at some future point.



Above, the Zvezda 'snap-fit' kit I bought at the recent Derby Wargames World, and below, ye olde (and much maligned) Airfix kit. I've read that the latter product is over 50 years old - not mine obviously! - and may even have been the model that launched the scale, tanks wise. Can anyone corroborate this?


In the last session or two I have found myself getting slightly ahead of my father, so I decided at a recent wargaming convention (Derby Wargames World), to invest in another Panther tank. Even though there is a small scale discrepancy, 1/72, as against 1/76, I decided nonetheless to try a Zvezda kit. I started this whole thing with Airfix kits because they were what I first made as a child, and I believe they are also mostly what my dad and his buddy built (although they may have used a number of manufacturers, I can't recall).


But, as I allude to in the blurb for my blog, there is nowadays - and we ought to be grateful - a bewildering array of choice on all fronts in the model-making and wargaming market place. Models by Zvezda (which means 'star'), a Russian company, almost certainly wouldn't have been available to my father or myself as a child, thanks to chilly relations stemming from the post-World War II Cold War. Time and history have moved inexorably on, and we have benefitted (let's gloss over the ageing aspect!) now that we can buy these Russian products easily.



An aerial view of the Airfix Panther. Some extra track armour has been added, plus a box and some coiled wire. MG-34 not fitted yet (will probably add a machined-brass one).

With reference to Panzer Colours and other (mostly online) sources, my dad and I are adding a few details to our tanks. The Airfix Panther is a very basic model - I think I may have read online that it is actually one of the earliest kits and has never been updated - so I've added stowage and various other bits and bobs, like wires, spare bits of track for armour, and so on, much of which I bought from Sergeant's Mess [http://www.sgtsmess.co.uk] at the Derby show.

As a kid I collected my 1/300th German forces with the Ostfront in mind, but as I'm doing the Russian campaign in both my 6mm and 10mm Napoleonic projects, I thought perhaps this time I might explore World War II via the Italian theatre. The Italian theatre looks geographically, historically, and strategically, like a very interesting area of World War II (it was also the theatre in which Alan Whicker served!), and one that is often ignored in gaming, at least as far as I've seen. Like many WWII gamers in 20mm, I love the German three-colour ambush paint schemes, and that is what I'm predominantly going to use.

As far as adversaries go, I haven't really given it too much thought; they could be a mixture of American and British, and perhaps I/we might even involve Italian and partisan forces, although presumably the Italians might have mixed allegiances!

Returning to the model kits, I failed pretty comprehensively to document the building of these kits, which was something I had intended. Nevertheless I can at least post a few images, showing my Airfix 1/76 Panther tank, almost completed, both alone and alongside the Zvezda 1/72 Panther, which is visibly larger and also is far less complete, paint-job wise. The Zvezda kit has far more detail, including some things I'll be adding to the Airfix model, and some I probably won't.



The two Panthers side by side, at differing points in construction/painting. The Zvezda one has better detail, and more 'extras'. But I still like the Airfix Panther as well!


In terms of ease of assembly, both kids were - or seemed to me as someone returning to modelling after more than two decades in the the wilderness - quite complex, and included quite a lot of detail, especially in the wheel and track areas, much of which will not really be visible once the models are completed. Indeed when I finished the Zvezda kit, I noticed that there were two tiny little wheels which I had completely overlooked. However as they were not visible by the time it was completed, the end result is not disastrous. Any such unused parts will go into the spares box.


In comparing building the two models, I would definitely say that the Zvezda kit is superior in terms of detail, and even moulding and build-quality. The Airfix kit is - which gets a lot of stick around the interweb - is however, absolutely fine for my purposes, if admittedly rather basic. My dad and I have decided to buy some of the incredible model-making extras that are nowadays available, in this instance (in addition to the aforementioned Sgt's Mess bits, we plan to buy some tiny brass machine guns, because my Airfix Panther's machine gun is rubbish, and my father's Airfix King Tiger model appears to be lacking that particular component, bizarrely!


In the end I glued both kits together using typical model-making cement, such as is sometimes supplied with beginner kit sets, or is at least recommended by the manufacturers; the sort that binds the styrene by melting it slightly, and can be rather messy! The Zvezda kit loudly proclaims that no glue is required, as the kit is 'snap-fit'. Despite the fact that I did ultimately glue it together, to make it more robust, the Zvezda kit held together remarkably well without glue (I would often put the parts together to test fit, before glueing them). I was certainly impressed by both the level of detail in this kit, and also the ease of assembly and the fit of all the parts.

I think I may well buy another Zvezda Panther tank, for the fun of building it, to augment my forces, and because there was one small problem, regarding fit, but I believe that was of my own making. If you look closely at the unpainted tank, you might notice that the turret doesn't fit properly parallel to the body in the same way the Airfix turret does. I believe that when I glued part of the under-turret assembly on the Zvezda model, I didn't push it down sufficiently hard to click into place exactly in its proper alignment. Any fault there lies squarely with me and not the manufacturer!

With the Zvezda kit behind the Airfix model the scale difference is easily discernible.

I wasn't too sure if the discrepancy in scale would really register easily to the eye, but I guess that it does. Despite this I think I will field both Panthers in any forces that I do ultimately assemble.


Poring over Panzer Colours and reference materials on the Internet was enormous fun, as was the detailing of the Airfix kit (a process which is not yet quite finished). One of the photos I will be posting will hopefully show that, where necessary, I use a tiny drill to make a hole in the end of the plastic tank barrels which, in both cases, had no such hole at the end of the barrel. Rather interestingly, my father's King Tiger assembles in such a way that there is a hole at the end of the barrel, which is obviously more realistic and requires no further effort.


I remembered to drill this hole in advance of assembly, with the Aifix kit, but I have yet to do it - after assembly on the Zvezda kit. I forgot! This presents something of a technical challenge! One final thing I will note is that the material used for the Airfix tank tracks is, in my mind, rather horrible. Neither the normal styrene cement nor superglue seemed to help it bond, or at least bond easily. Both my father and I were rather exasperated as our fingers and various other bits of the model became cemented together, only for the tracks to come away as soon as we released our grips!


In the end we had to rig up various contrivances using pliers, tweezers or other such grips, and wait a while in order to keep the glued parts together sufficiently long for them to bond. The Airfix tank tracks are also made of a rather stretchy material, barely long enough to get around the wheels, resulting in this stage being fraught with the danger of potentially damaging them, or even breaking them off. Obviously we were returning to kit modelling as near-as-damn-it modelmaking virgins, and we will no doubt get better with more experience. In fact the results so far for both of us have turned out looking pretty tolerable, and the tight-fitting tracks do you have some advantages regarding flexibility and a snug fit.

Mind you, next to Zvezda tracks they are very poor and unrealistic! I infinitely preferred the wheel and track assembly of the Zvezda kit, which I thought was a masterclass in model kit design. The tracks in this kit are a slightly more flexible material than the main body of the tank, which in itself is not as rigid a styrene as the Airfix model, but they are far more solid (and certainly not at all stretchy) than the Airfix ones. The Zvezda tracks folded around the wheels and clicked into place via small male and female socket parts, and met perfectly at either end, in a very satisfying manner. Also, thanks to the type of plastic used, they glued (although that is not strictly or entirely necessary) in a much quicker and more satisfactory style.


Before I finish, I'll add a few final thoughts about the level of detail on each model. The Airfix one is donkeys years old, and the moulds have never been re-tooled. The biggest and most glaring omission - to my eyes - is the complete absence of the rear stowage bins.




The Zvezda has these, of course (as all Panthers had them!), but it also has side-skirt armour, turret mounted smoke dischargers, much better and more realistic tracks, including spare track on the body, two towing cables, the gun barrel rest, all kinds of minor details (including internal fans that are almost visible through the upper body grilles!), a decent selection of tools, and a jack. I have a few tools in my spares box, and sets of such stuff can be bought. I'll definitely be adding the rear stowage bins, some tools, and one or two other oddments to the Airfix tank, as the old dear needs jazzing up!


My father's Airfix King Tiger is in a slightly more basic state than my Airfix Panther, but he's added some extra track as armour (looks like it might be facing the wrong way tho'... that may have been my fault!?). I'm hoping that once these are all modded and painted, they'll look good enough to display or game with!


Dad's King Tiger (at the time of posting), plus other WIP.

I do have some other WWII stuff: a Kubelwagen, Kettenkrad (both visible in the above pic of the King Tiger), and even a Willys Jeep (which I finished assembling this evening), all three bought as a set some year or two back. I got a yen recently for some Nebelwerfers... who knows why? Because they look kind of cool, perhaps? I now have four of these unusual looking artillery pieces: 2 ex-Esci Italieri plastics (mit crew), and two ex-Skytrex white metal models (mit-out crew!), the latter from The 20mm Zone [link?]. I bought some crew for the metal guns from, I think, Grubby Tanks.

I've also bought a few more Airfix kits to build with dad, this time opting for the same kit for each of us: I've got two Pak-40s with trucks, and two Stug IIIs! Amidst this slight frenzy (can you have a slight frenzy?) of WWII German action, I also succumbed to the temptation to buy some 20mm plastic figures. The first I've bought since owning a load as a nipper! With packs from Airfix, Italieri, and Caesar (this last a new brand to me), I now have a couple of hundred infantry, as well as the tanks and other vehicles.

Still, as fun as all this undoubtedly is, it also makes me a tad worried as to the progress of my reasonably sizeable Napoleonic Russia 1812 projects!

20mm WWII - Building Airfix German Tanks with Dad!


My Airfix Panther at the time of posting.

Like many figure collectors and gamers, I can't seem to confine myself to one subject area or project for too long (or should that be long enough?). Amidst all my tiny Napoleonic endeavours, my childhood interest in WWII armour, particularly German, has been re-born!

As a kid getting into all this stuff my two main areas of interest were 15 mm Napoleonics, and 1/300th World War II. In 15mm it was mostly Minifigs, whilst in 1/300th it was entirely Heroics & Ros. Another childhood memory is that of my dad and a lodger we had called Tim Seward, when I was very young, making model tanks together. These were exquisitely made and painted, or at least my memory says they were, usually being converted to show battle damage and augmented with 'on campaign' additions, all sourced from photographic reference.


I can remember some of the reference material my father and this fellow Tim used to use. There was a fantastic very slim-line paperback, in landscape format, filled with nothing but loads of black and white photos of the Wehrmacht at war. I think this might have been produced by Tamiya, but I'm far from sure of that! Anyway, it's not something I've been able to locate. Another title which was a constant reference, and has proven far easier to locate, was the first edition of Panzer Colours, published on the Arms & Armour imprint.


As a child I remember poring over Dad's Panzer Colours. Now, as an adult with a few groats, I've been able to acquire the complete trilogy.


I was able to buy Panzer Colours vol. I at a wargaming show, a few years ago, and have subsequently added volumes two and three from the series, so that I now have a complete set (see above), something that we never had at home when I was a child! Of course there is also the Internet now. A pretty fantastic resource, as we all know!



So, as an adult, I've decided to return to the theme of World War II warfare, but in a larger scale than I did as a child. In keeping with the title of my blog, I looked at all sorts of different scales, and was very definitely tempted by the more recent advent of World War II in 15mm. However, in the end what clinched it was a decision to embark on a modelmaking project with my father, Simon. This idea arose, in part, as a tribute to his efforts with his buddy Tim, all those years ago. But it was also intended to give us a way to spend some quality father and son time, now that we're both well and truly into advanced adulthood!

With this idea in mind, I brought my father a King Tiger model from the Airfix range, in 1/76 scale, along with paints, glue and, erm… well, I think that was it actually! For myself, I bought a Panther, possibly my favourite of the World War II German tanks. Every Monday we get together for a few hours to work on our tanks, have lunch and a cup or three of tea, a bit of a chinwag, and watch an episode of Ken Burns superb ACW documentary. It's all very enjoyable!

In fact I've been enjoying the whole thing so much - and I hope my father has to!? - that I have subsequently bought a number of other kits, with a view to us continuing the project. And (with something of an ulterior motive, perhaps?) I've even fantasised that together we might build a small wargaming force, and maybe even have a game at some future point.


Above, the Zvezda 'snap-fit' kit I bought at the recent Derby Wargames World, and below, ye olde (and much maligned) Airfix kit. I've read that the latter product is over 50 years old - not mine obviously! - and may even have been the model that launched the scale, tanks wise. Can anyone corroborate this?


In the last session or two I have found myself getting slightly ahead of my father, so I decided at a recent wargaming convention (Derby Wargames World), to invest in another Panther tank. Even though there is a small scale discrepancy, 1/72, as against 1/76, I decided nonetheless to try a Zvezda kit. I started this whole thing with Airfix kits because they were what I first made as a child, and I believe they are also mostly what my dad and his buddy built (although they may have used a number of manufacturers, I can't recall).


But, as I allude to in the blurb for my blog, there is nowadays - and we ought to be grateful - a bewildering array of choice on all fronts in the model-making and wargaming market place. Models by Zvezda (which means 'star'), a Russian company, almost certainly wouldn't have been available to my father or myself as a child, thanks to chilly relations stemming from the post-World War II Cold War. Time and history have moved inexorably on, and we have benefitted (let's gloss over the ageing aspect!) now that we can buy these Russian products easily.



An aerial view of the Airfix Panther. Some extra track armour has been added, plus a box and some coiled wire. MG-34 not fitted yet (will probably add a machined-brass one).

With reference to Panzer Colours and other (mostly online) sources, my dad and I are adding a few details to our tanks. The Airfix Panther is a very basic model - I think I may have read online that it is actually one of the earliest kits and has never been updated - so I've added stowage and various other bits and bobs, like wires, spare bits of track for armour, and so on, much of which I bought from Sergeant's Mess at the Derby show.

As a kid I collected my 1/300th German forces with the Ostfront in mind, but as I'm doing the Russian campaign in both my 6mm and 10mm Napoleonic projects, I thought perhaps this time I might explore World War II via the Italian theatre. The Italian theatre looks geographically, historically, and strategically, like a very interesting area of World War II (it was also the theatre in which Alan Whicker served!), and one that is often ignored in gaming, at least as far as I've seen. Like many WWII gamers in 20mm, I love the German three-colour ambush paint schemes, and that is what I'm predominantly going to use.

As far as adversaries go, I haven't really given it too much thought; they could be a mixture of American and British, and perhaps I/we might even involve Italian and partisan forces, although presumably the Italians might have mixed allegiances!

Returning to the model kits, I failed pretty comprehensively to document the building of these kits, which was something I had intended. Nevertheless I can at least post a few images, showing my Airfix 1/76 Panther tank, almost completed, both alone and alongside the Zvezda 1/72 Panther, which is visibly larger and also is far less complete, paint-job wise. The Zvezda kit has far more detail, including some things I'll be adding to the Airfix model, and some I probably won't.



The two Panthers side by side, at differing points in construction/painting. The Zvezda one has better detail, and more 'extras'. But I still like the Airfix Panther as well!


In terms of ease of assembly, both kids were - or seemed to me as someone returning to modelling after more than two decades in the the wilderness - quite complex, and included quite a lot of detail, especially in the wheel and track areas, much of which will not really be visible once the models are completed. Indeed when I finished the Zvezda kit, I noticed that there were two tiny little wheels which I had completely overlooked. However as they were not visible by the time it was completed, the end result is not disastrous. Any such unused parts will go into the spares box.


In comparing building the two models, I would definitely say that the Zvezda kit is superior in terms of detail, and even moulding and build-quality. The Airfix kit is - which gets a lot of stick around the interweb - is however, absolutely fine for my purposes, if admittedly rather basic. My dad and I have decided to buy some of the incredible model-making extras that are nowadays available, in this instance (in addition to the aforementioned Sgt's Mess bits, we plan to buy some tiny brass machine guns, because my Airfix Panther's machine gun is rubbish, and my father's Airfix King Tiger model appears to be lacking that particular component, bizarrely!


In the end I glued both kits together using typical model-making cement, such as is sometimes supplied with beginner kit sets, or is at least recommended by the manufacturers; the sort that binds the styrene by melting it slightly, and can be rather messy! The Zvezda kit loudly proclaims that no glue is required, as the kit is 'snap-fit'. Despite the fact that I did ultimately glue it together, to make it more robust, the Zvezda kit held together remarkably well without glue (I would often put the parts together to test fit, before glueing them). I was certainly impressed by both the level of detail in this kit, and also the ease of assembly and the fit of all the parts.

I think I may well buy another Zvezda Panther tank, for the fun of building it, to augment my forces, and because there was one small problem, regarding fit, but I believe that was of my own making. If you look closely at the unpainted tank, you might notice that the turret doesn't fit properly parallel to the body in the same way the Airfix turret does. I believe that when I glued part of the under-turret assembly on the Zvezda model, I didn't push it down sufficiently hard to click into place exactly in its proper alignment. Any fault there lies squarely with me and not the manufacturer!

With the Zvezda kit behind the Airfix model the scale difference is easily discernible.

I wasn't too sure if the discrepancy in scale would really register easily to the eye, but I guess that it does. Despite this I think I will field both Panthers in any forces that I do ultimately assemble.


Poring over Panzer Colours and reference materials on the Internet was enormous fun, as was the detailing of the Airfix kit (a process which is not yet quite finished). One of the photos I will be posting will hopefully show that, where necessary, I use a tiny drill to make a hole in the end of the plastic tank barrels which, in both cases, had no such hole at the end of the barrel. Rather interestingly, my father's King Tiger assembles in such a way that there is a hole at the end of the barrel, which is obviously more realistic and requires no further effort.


I remembered to drill this hole in advance of assembly, with the Aifix kit, but I have yet to do it - after assembly on the Zvezda kit. I forgot! This presents something of a technical challenge! One final thing I will note is that the material used for the Airfix tank tracks is, in my mind, rather horrible. Neither the normal styrene cement nor superglue seemed to help it bond, or at least bond easily. Both my father and I were rather exasperated as our fingers and various other bits of the model became cemented together, only for the tracks to come away as soon as we released our grips!


In the end we had to rig up various contrivances using pliers, tweezers or other such grips, and wait a while in order to keep the glued parts together sufficiently long for them to bond. The Airfix tank tracks are also made of a rather stretchy material, barely long enough to get around the wheels, resulting in this stage being fraught with the danger of potentially damaging them, or even breaking them off. Obviously we were returning to kit modelling as near-as-damn-it modelmaking virgins, and we will no doubt get better with more experience. In fact the results so far for both of us have turned out looking pretty tolerable, and the tight-fitting tracks do you have some advantages regarding flexibility and a snug fit.

Mind you, next to Zvezda tracks they are very poor and unrealistic! I infinitely preferred the wheel and track assembly of the Zvezda kit, which I thought was a masterclass in model kit design. The tracks in this kit are a slightly more flexible material than the main body of the tank, which in itself is not as rigid a styrene as the Airfix model, but they are far more solid (and certainly not at all stretchy) than the Airfix ones. The Zvezda tracks folded around the wheels and clicked into place via small male and female socket parts, and met perfectly at either end, in a very satisfying manner. Also, thanks to the type of plastic used, they glued (although that is not strictly or entirely necessary) in a much quicker and more satisfactory style.


Before I finish, I'll add a few final thoughts about the level of detail on each model. The Airfix one is donkeys years old, and the moulds have never been re-tooled. The biggest and most glaring omission - to my eyes - is the complete absence of the rear stowage bins.




The Zvezda has these, of course (as all Panthers had them!), but it also has side-skirt armour, turret mounted smoke dischargers, much better and more realistic tracks, including spare track on the body, two towing cables, the gun barrel rest, all kinds of minor details (including internal fans that are almost visible through the upper body grilles!), a decent selection of tools, and a jack. I have a few tools in my spares box, and sets of such stuff can be bought. I'll definitely be adding the rear stowage bins, some tools, and one or two other oddments to the Airfix tank, as the old dear needs jazzing up!


My father's Airfix King Tiger is in a slightly more basic state than my Airfix Panther, but he's added some extra track as armour (looks like it might be facing the wrong way tho'... that may have been my fault!?). I'm hoping that once these are all modded and painted, they'll look good enough to display or game with!



Dad's King Tiger, sitting in its box, below my still unfinished Kubelwagen and Kettenkrad.

I do have some other WWII stuff: a Kubelwagen, Kettenkrad (both visible in the above pic of the King Tiger), and even a Willys Jeep (which I finished assembling this evening), all three bought as a set some year or two back. I got a yen recently for some Nebelwerfers... who knows why? Because they look kind of cool, perhaps? I now have four of these unusual looking artillery pieces: 2 ex-Esci Italieri plastics (mit crew), and two ex-Skytrex white metal models (mit-out crew!), the latter from The 20mm Zone [link?]. I bought some crew for the metal guns from, I think, Grubby Tanks.

I've also bought a few more Airfix kits to build with dad, this time opting for the same kit for each of us: I've got two Pak-40s with trucks, and two Stug IIIs! Amidst this slight frenzy (can you have a slight frenzy?) of WWII German action, I also succumbed to the temptation to buy some 20mm plastic figures. The first I've bought since owning a load as a nipper! With packs from Airfix, Italieri, and Caesar (this last a new brand to me), I now have a couple of hundred infantry, as well as the tanks and other vehicles.

Still, as fun as all this undoubtedly is, it also makes me a tad worried as to the progress of my reasonably sizeable Napoleonic Russia 1812 projects!

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Wargaming Media: Battleground - Part 6, Final thoughts and reflections.


Origins:

Whilst I don't know whose idea Battleground was, or who originally commissioned the series, the most obvious roots of the show would appear to derive from the Edward Woodward/Callan/Peter Gilder links. 

Callan was a British TV series, in which Edward Woodward portrays a reluctant hit-man, working for a shady quasi-governmental espionage unit called 'The Section'. I don't know how far back Gilder's involvement went - I've seen credits for the old black and white TV series that mention Hinchcliffe (was Gilder already involved at this stage?) - but he certainly supplied figures, terrain, and advice, to the production team that subsequently made the 1974 spin-off movie Callan, based on the first episode of the TV series, A Magnum For Schneider

Going back a stage further, as to whose idea it was to have Callan and other characters in the series interested and involved in wargaming... well, once again, I don't know! If anyone does, I'd love to hear from you! As mentioned above, Callan the TV series spawned Callan the movie, the picture below capturing a time-out moment where the crew relax on set with the stars.


On the set of the Callan movie: There's one figure I'd love to add to my wargaming collection... the delectable Catherine Schell! Left to right beside her are, director Don Sharp, Woodward as Callan, and Peter Gilder, in a nice checquered sports-jacket and kipper-tie combo, with super-seventies 'tache and sidesweep! Is it any surprise he's beaming so beatifically as Schell handles his geni... sorry, generals?

Making The Programmes:

As part of my research for these posts I tried to track down any members of the production team I could find. Several key figures, like director Gavin Taylor and script-writer and researcher Barbara Sinclair have, sadly, passed away. But I did manage to find a couple of the team, one of whom was Robin Sinton, VTR Editor of the show. 

An associate of Gavin Taylor, Sinton worked with Taylor on many programmes, with an accent upon musical projects, amongst the most famous of which (and occasionally infamous) would be the Legendary Channel 4 music show The Tube! However, Battleground predates The Tube!

Here's a partial transcription of relevant extracts of Robin's portion of our telephone conversation: 

RS: 'We were pioneering ... Many years later we produced a series called 'Sheds', which was basically about what men get up to in their sheds ... that was picked up on later by Channel 4. It was the same with Battleground, we did it first, and then later Channel 4 did their version [Game of War, 1997] ... We'd had the [beautiful] figures and scenery, they did theirs with these ... little plastic counters .... Ours was the first and ours was the best!'

'At the time I did enjoy it... I found it fascinating ... Of course, there was the use of dice, to represent the element of chance, but I was surprised at how closely it followed historical events ... Everybody knows that Waterloo could've gone either way! ... I didn't find them [the players] nerdy at all, their background knowledge was quite amazing. And, of course, the models were absolutely magnificent.'

'Because of the physical size of the models, and needing to get sufficient depth of field, we needed three times as much light on the table as you would need in, say, an ordinary drama. And the result, with the cameras working with close-up lenses, was that not only did the table warm-up, but so would the players. We'd have to take a break, so everything could cool down.'

Battleground was filmed in the main Tyne Tees studio, which was 'big by regional television standards... at the time it was the biggest studio we had ... Editing was starting to seriously influence how programmes were made ... It's difficult to remember [how long was spent editing, but] it was time consuming ... I remember burning the midnight oil... The actual editing didn't take too long; schedules wouldn't allow it... it was the pseudo-animated parts that would take the real time...'

'Battleground was recorded on two-inch Ampex 'Quadraplex' video tape ... it was a transitional period ... we were using a primitive time-code ... The filming was done in sections .... in-between times we would film the pictorial interludes ... there were parts of near-animation - we were trying to make it visually interesting ... We were doing a lot of things for the first time ... '

I asked if Robin he knew about a fire destroying any of the archival film stock - a rumour I pickd up somewhere whilst reading about the series elsewhere - but he wasn't aware of such an event. He did, however, have more general observations about the practices of the time:

'Tyne Tees [were] very, very bad at archiving. Some of the stuff went to the University of Teesside. When one-inch [video-tape] came in, around '79/'80... the storage problems ... a 90 min reel weighed over a stone! ... We heard from the structural engineers... 'You need to move that [the film archives on the 1st floor] before it goes there [through the floor] of its own accord! An awful lot of stuff went into a skip! ... London Weekend lost an entire drama series!' 

'I imagine if I was to see it now it would look phenomenally dated. To be quite honest, we [Tyne Tees TV] produced some absolute crap! ... At the time it was fun... and I think Battleground was amongst the good stuff.'

At the time of posting Robin has a landscape photography exhibition showing at Joe Cornish's gallery, in Northallerton, which runs for about 3 months. Sinton still does occasional video editing work, as well as acting as an advisor to NCFE (Northern Advisory Council for Further Education) on video-editing training standards. His photography website can be visited here.

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A cropped portion of the 1978 Battle magazine feature on the show is the only thing I could find to illustrate the lost episodes.

The Missing Episodes:

I can't recall where I first read it, but, as already alluded to above, I did read somewhere that there had been a fire at a storage facility, and that as a result the original film stock for - and here I'm not sure - either the whole series, or perhaps just the two missing episodes, was lost... probably forever! [1]

If this is true this is a terrible pity. One might live in hope that, as the digital age really sets in, old programmes like this might, like the books made available by the Gutenberg Project, gradually come online, as part of a vast cyber-cultural archive.

The two episodes not preserved on home-made copies on video (or subsequently transferred to DVD) are:

Episode 3 - Battle of the Nile, 1798. A naval battle set during the Napoleonic Wars.
Episode 5 - France, 1944. An imaginary game set in Northern France after D-Day. [2]

Gavin Lyall, author of thrillers such as this one, pictured above, played his son Bernard in episode 5.

At the time of writing all I can say about the Nile battle, presumably based on the naval affair between the British and French fleets at Aboukir, is that 1) it was the only naval engagement featured in the series, and 2) the players were Steve Birnie and John Harrison.

It is a shame that these two are missing, as they both have unique qualities: the first (or rather 3rd, episode wise) because it's the only naval scenario, and the second (in fact the 5th), the France 1944 WWII battle, being the only imaginary scenario. 

The latter game was a battle between thriller author Gavin Lyall and his son Bernard, who also co-authored a book on wargaming WWII, Operation Warboard, pictured below. I'm not certain of this, but one respondee to my posting about these articles (on TMP) has suggested that they used their own rules in this lost episode.

It would've been fascinating to see a father and son battle! I've tried to reach Bernard Lyall, but it's not been easy, and so far I've not heard anything back. But, perhaps, at some future point, he might be able to tell us a little about this episode? I secretly hope that he might have it on video, or something, as a keepsake, in which case an interesting historical gap might perhaps be filled.

Working together: as well as fighting each other - hopefully mostly over the wargaming table - the Lyall father and son team also published this book on WWII wargaming (on the same imprint as dad's thrillers!).

Where Are They Now?

As I said in my introduction to this series of posts on Battleground, I share Terry Wise's view that we owe the production team a debt of gratitude, for what they did in publicising our hobby. Also, in preparing historical pieces of research like this - and up until very recently I was writing a monthly 'classic album' column for UK mag Drummer - I always wind up thinking 'Where are these people now? And what, if anything, are they up to?' So I set about looking into everyone involved; sadly some are now departed, and of others I could find practically no trace in cyber-space, but here's what I did find out.

Leslie Barrett - Exec. producer: - I've not been able to find anything on Leslie Barrett, even to determine if they were male or female!

David Chandler - Historical consultant: (Jan 15th 1934 – Oct 10th 2004): 'David Geoffrey Chandler was a British historian whose study focused on the Napoleonic era.' (Wikipedia) A prolific author, Chandler is probably best known for his three volume epic, The Campaigns of Napoleon. Chandler was an early re-an actor, involved with the ECW group Sealed Knot, and would also occasionally appear on military-themed historical TV programmes, such as Napoleon Bonaparte - The Road To Moscow, a documentary about on Napoleon's fatal Russian adventure in 1812. He was also amongst the military/historical consultants to the 1972 BBC War And Peace TV series, starring Anthony Hopkins, et al.

Paddy Griffith - Historical consultant: (Feb 4th, 1947 - June 25th, 2010): 'Dr Paddy Griffith was a British military theorist and historian, who authored numerous books in the field of War Studies. He was also a wargame designer for the UK Ministry of Defence, and a leading figure in the wargaming community.' (Wikipedia) For more on Paddy Griffith, look here.

The back of Dr. Paddy Griffith's head, as he lectures military bigwigs (from his 'legacy' homepage, see above link) [3].

Charles Wesencraft - Historical consultant: Based in northern England (I thought, form his name, he might be American!), and involved in the Tyne & Wear museum services, Wesencraft was known for having written some early wargaming rule books, and was also a knowledgeable local! Thanks to Robbie Rodiss (see the comments below), I've learned that Wesencraft is - at the time of posting - alive and well, and still involved with the wargaming community in the same neck of the geographical woods.

Peter Gilder - Tech. consultant: A legendary figure in the British wargaming world. Gilder was chiefly known as a figure designer, whose beautiful (and notably shiny) Connoisseur figures and incredible terrain frequently enlivened issues of Miniature Wargames. These images were a massive draw to me, when I occasionally bought the mag in my teens. Indeed I usually bought it only when plenty of his splendid Napoleonic collection were featured heavily in those pages. 

Gilder also set up the famous Wargames Holiday Centre. A first of kits kind, as far as I know, which has spawned several imitators, and is still going now, albeit in a different location. Gilder died ... well, I can't find out exactly how or when! Given what a wargaming legend he was, it's surprising, and I think a little sad, that I couldn't find out much more about him in terms of personal biography. He is, however, mentioned in Harry Pearson's wonderful Achtung Schweinehund, if you want to know a little more.

Tim Trout - Production Design: Trout appear to have been a close associate of director Gavin Taylor, and like Taylor to have worked for Tyne Tees, predominantly in music-related areas.

Robin Sinton - VTR Editor: - According to his own potted autobiography Sinton worked 'for too long' in television, including a long stint with Tyne Tees. Nowadays he is a freelance video editor & photographer.

Barbara Sinclair - Research & Script: a close friend and associate of producer Alex Murchie, Sinclair passed only very recently, about 18 months ago at the time of posting (acc. to Alex Murchie).

Gavin Taylor - Director: (c. 1942 - June 12, 2013) Taylor was, like Edward Woodward and theme tune composer Neil Richardson, amongst the cream of Britain's media elite. A highly successful film & TV director, with a speciality in music programmes, he produced the legendary series The Tube! (With Jools Holland and Paula Yates fronting), and went on to all kinds of successes.

Alex Murchie - Producer: Murchie has enjoyed a long and successful career, and, like several others involved in this series, has a long history of involvement with cultural and especially musical affairs. When I emailed her during my research for this post she was working for the charity Music In The Minster.

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The above were all credited for their involvement in the series. Last of all I come to the uncredited composer of the excellent theme tune, Neil Richardson

Neil Richardson - composer: (Feb 5th, 1930 – Oct, 8th 2010) An 'under the radar' Titan of British TV and light music, Richardson sometimes worked under the fabulous nom de guerre of Oscar Brandenburg, and his chief claim to fame, popular culture wise, is being composer of 'Approaching Menace', the theme tune for Mastermind. Richardson was a prolific composer and arranger who, in addition to the Mastermind theme, recorded a lot of widely varied music in many settings, including some bombastic big band pieces which occasionally accompanied that weird BBC noughts-and-crosses-girl test card (see my 1st Battleground post), such as 'Scotch Broth'! His obituary at the stage.co.uk says 'Neil Richardson’s name may not have been instantly recognisable, but his music certainly was.'

Where's the body? 

Obsession 

Preparing this post has only enhanced my already almost unhealthy obsession with the history of this hobby. In trying to find out about key personalities, like Peter Gilder, for example, I was dumbfounded at how little trace they had left outside of their work and it's legacy. I may try and remedy this terrible lacuna myself over future posts. In the meantime, I found the video below on YouTube, which is fascinating because you get to see Gilder and guests in his rather snazzy gaming room, filled with several huge tables, and lined with walls of shelves packed with figures...

Gilder, caught on camera: a screenshot from the YouTube video The Scarborough days of the Wargames Holiday Centre.

Affecting a cod Corsican-French accent: One day I too shall rule over such an empire... it is my destiny!

More wargaming on the telly?

Well, apparently there was another attempt at putting the game over on the small screen - Game of War (1997), alluded to above by Robin Sinton - but I know next to nothing about it. Anyone care to chip in and enlighten us?

Acknowledgements and links:

I'd like to thank those who I spoke to in preparing this post, especially Robin Sinton. It seems lots of wargamers are interested in Battleground, and many have posted about the programme and their memories of or their desire to see it. Two blogs that I feel I ought to mention would be unfashionablyshiny and vintagewargaming, both of which were very helpful to me in preparing my posts, tho' of course there are many others as well.

Here some related links:

- A post about Woodward and Battleground.



- A couple of great links from vintagewargaming: 'Callan, from Miniature Warfare May 1970' & 'Callan goes to war... again'.

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I sincerely hope this series of posts has been of interest? It's certainly been a pleasure watching the series and preparing these pieces. Please leave some feedback in the comment. Cheers, Seb.

Footnotes:

[1] Actually, during the course of posting these articles, I found out, thanks to Jeff on TMP, that the BFI have the series in their archives. Hopefully that means the whole series? If I can I'll sort myself out a viewing, and fill in the gaps a little.

[2] Episode info from IMDB.

[3] I say 'legacy' homepage because Griffiths passed away in 2010. Fortunately someone is maintaining his useful and interesting homepage. Actually the picture to which this note relates is from the Operation Sealion wargame, run by Paddy Griffith at the Staff College at Sandhurst, in 1974. In this fascinating Kriegspiel style wargame (which was novelised!) real life generals from the former Allied and Axis forces wargamed a Nazi invasion of England! Viewers who have watched the classic World At War TV series might recognise former fighter ace and Luftwaffe bigwig Adolf Galland, as one of the participants (on the right of the pic, with the 'tache).


Saturday, 25 October 2014

Wargaming Media: Battleground - Part 5, Episode 6: Gettysburg

Episode 4: Gettysburg (1863)

Episode first aired 27/04/1978 - Players: Peter Gilder - Confederates; Paddy Griffith - Union.

'Ready, set...'

'Go!'This is, I think, quite an iconic image. The halo round the title is the bell of a bugle.

A reminder of what we're about to see.

EW: 'This is the last of our present series' [this kind of hints that there might've been hopes for more!] '...in six programmes we couldn't hope to cover the whole timespan of wargaming. I mean, let's face it, it runs from prehistoric to intergalactic fantasy.'

Returning from his more general introduction to the theme 
of this episode, Woodward notes that the ACW is 'hugely popular with wargamers. And the most famous battle of that time is probably Gettysburg, which was, in fact, the turning point...'


One of the posters for the Callan movie. No hint here of any wargames references, alas!

EW: 'A few years ago I made a film [Callan] in which I had to play a wargame, and Peter Gilder built the terrain for Gettysburg, for that film. After the production I bought it... You'll see it in a moment. I thought at the time it was rather special, and I think you'll agree with me.'


Though shalt not cover thy neighbour's table: yep, that's a desirable work of art.

Well yes, I'm sure we're all bound to agree, Gilder's troops and terrain are truly magnificent. And Woodward has finally answered conclusively the question of whether wargaming is a subject dear to his heart, or merely something he was hired to present as a 'famous face'. Quite clearly he bought the Gettysbury set-up (I read somewhere that Woodward wanted the whole lot, but Gilder wouldn't sell the figures, so Ed' only got the terrain [1]) because he loved it. 


 Ed as 'The Equalizer' (note American spelling!).

Ed as Sgt. Howie, in The Wicker Man, a cult classic.

I've long been a fan of Woodward, firstly for his portrayal of Sgt. Howie in The Wicker Man, and then for his role in The Equaliser, which I used to enjoy on TV as a kid. I love the webs of connections that what I term 'cultural archaeology' throws up: as a drummer myself, a fan of Stewart Copeland's playing with The Police, I like the fact that The Equaliser theme was by Copeland, in his role as a soundtrack composer. 

A black and white still from the (colour) Callan movie, showing Gilder's Gettysburg terrain.

There's also another funny connection, in that although Stewart Copeland is most famous for his role as founder member and drummer of The Police, he was one of several sons of Miles Copeland, a real life 'big cheese' in America's international espionage machinery! But, returning from yet another digression, my love for Woodward has multiplied exponentially with my discovery of Callan and Battleground, and his whole wargaming side.

Unlike most of the gamers, Woodward knows and loves the camera: 'C'm'ere son' he says, 'follow me!'

Woodward, consumate actor that he was, rest his soul, shows that it wasn't only Roger Moore whose eyebrows could command an acting salary of their own: pointing up, eyebrows raised.

Pointing down, eyebrows still raised. What a pro!

Woodward then gives a synopsis of the forthcoming scenario, in which he mentions that oft-cited and now semi-legendary bit of historical trivia, about how the the first of the Rebs to reach Gettysburg were in search of shoes! His summary comes to a close with Pickett's charge: '... they were massacred. The human toll was so great that the South never recovered... the Confederacy was doomed.'


Doc' Griffith gets down.


It's that Gilder again... has he ruptured something with all that stooping?

Next he introduces the players: Griffith is a senior lecturer at Sandhurst, where he was a developer of the wargaming used as part of the training of officers (can anyone tell me: was wargaming an official or unofficial part of the curriculum at Sandhurst?), and was a consultant for the series. Turning to Gilder, who we've already met in the Edgehill episode, Woodward drily notes: 
'This time he's given himself a crafty advantage: they're his toys, his terrain, and he wrote the rules.'



Dispostion, dat position.

True to the shows formula, next we see the map: the Union are Blue, the Confederates are Red. The battle can be seen to be a very compressed version of, more or less, the whole historical battlefield area, excepting that we are only dealing with the long straight western flank, and not the 'Shepherd's crook' at the top, where the lines bent around Gettysburg, as, in the northern zone, the Rebs almost encircled the Union position. 

Taking stock.

The dance begins.

This obviously simplifies things considerably, which is eminently sensible. In a similar vein, no mention is made, as it is in the Gettysburg movie, of any Confederates ideas about turning the right flank. 
Consequently the tabletop version, as presented here, starts with Gettysburg in the north, and ends with Little Round Top in the south, with the two armies facing each other in simple linear formation, Johnny Reb, emerging from a line of woods, to attack the Yankee line ensconced on the heights.


PG 'These have got a fascination for rocks.'


The two PGs - PG = Peter Gilder, DrPG = Paddy Griffith - immediately settle into the gentle competitive bantering typical of a wargame table:

PG: 'Sensible, sensible... (Gen. Meade, the figure of whom Griffith is moving rearwards) going back to write the historic orders to retreat.'
DrPG: 'Well, we keep them up our sleeves, in case we need them later. But I don't anticipate that just at the moment.'


'...cavalry in melĂ©e at the bottom of Cemetery Hill…' Not what you're seeing!


Well, yes, now that is cavalry.

Some single-figure eye candy.


'The smoke gets in your eyes…'

Nice beard! Is this, perhaps, 'JEB' Stuart?


'Sound the attack!'

A well dressed Union line awaits orders. Didn't they hear the horn?

Another good beard. Hang on... Maybe this is 'JEB' Stuart?

Natty looking Zouaves.

In the mid-episode interludicule [2] we get to gawp at Gilder's gorgeous Gettysburg terrain and his adorable ACW armies. You can see why Woodward wanted to buy the lot after the making of Callan


At the mid point things look good for Gilder, especially in the Gettysburg/Cemetry Hill area at the top of the table, where Griffiths' cavalry are in rout.


Mid-way through the game: if either side appear to be in the ascendent, it's Gilder, at the top of the board.

As Gilder's cavalry chase off Griffiths retreating riders he quips about his troops having '…repeating shotguns!' 'Rubbish!' sniffs Woodward, superciliously, 'No such thing!'


Griffiths removes mounted cavalry stands...

... replacing them with dismounted sharpshooters.

Artillery and signals/observers.

PG: 'I would like you test the morale of the lads on the hill, if you wouldn't mind!' Gilder is, to use the proper ACW vernacular, 'licking' Griffiths' troops on Cemetery Hill.


Griffiths' Union cav rout off the field with PG's Rebs in hot pursuit.


DrPG: 'I'll get these greatcoats in position at last, this turn.'' PG: 'You can, if you wish, take your greatcoats off. I've no objection!'

EW: 'He's going to run the famous Stonewall Brigade up on the top of the hill.' PG crest the rise of Cemetery Hill... and thinks he's won!

Gilder's bullish approach - he'd started out strong, and had Griffiths on the run in several places - which had helped him rewrite history in the Waterloo episode, simply results in a swap here; from Pickett's original historical massacre, in the centre, to a suicidal rebel charge of Gilder's own making , at the northern end of the board. This time the carnage falls to Stonewall's troops, not Pickett's, who momentarily capture Cemetery Hill, only to be blasted off it and into rout.

PG: 'Have they got repeaters?' Peter realises he may have made a mistake, rushing in where even Rebel angels ought to fear to tread. EW: 'He's taken the hill; he may wish he hadn't. Paddy's pulled off quite a flanker!'

Dr Griffths' 's guns, on Peter's right flank, will enfilade him… oops!  


Suddenly the tables have turned: EW: That's done it!' PG: 'Keep a smiling face Gilder!… Eighteen throwing a 12…' 


Stonewall's Brigade takes over 50% casualties, figures reminiscent of real ACW battles! EW:  'They've really been massacred.'


PG: 'It's amazing how that changed round. I'm going back to Dixie.'
DrPG: 'I think I would change the history books, and have Gen. Meade making a counter-attack.'
PG: 'You would, wouldn't you! It comes out on a wargames table, the true nature of a man.'


Snipers in cover.

Yep, Gilder's ACW collection is smashing!



The Union flag flies high at battles end.

More troop and terrain eye-candy is paraded before the camera, backed by 'Battle Hymn of the Republic' and suitable sound-effects, before Woodward delivers his final summing up.


One die!

Two dice!!

I can see why they saved the Gettysburg episode till last: it's probably the best in both visual and dramatic respects. Consequently I've used more stills from this episode than any other. Above are two of the less dramatic stills, visually speaking. But, despite the inanity of looking at dice rolls on TV, it was a dice throw upon which this game hinged: with one volley the tide of the battle turned, as Stonewall's Brigade found their graves upon Cemetery hill.


Edward Woodward was a canny choice of presenter, as he had the skills to deliver the content, and the passion for the subject that ensures that it is exciting. In tribute to this, I'll let him close the fourth and final post in which I cover the actual surviving episodes.

EW: 'That was a near thing. But it was a well fought game. And it was interesting, because Peter and Paddy had never played each other before. Up till now we've seen wargamers who face each other across the table regularly, and over the years they get a pretty good idea of the tactical thinking they're up against.

But neither Paddy nor Peter had that help. And so they had to rely on their considerable knowledge of both history and wargaming.

And that is what it's all about. Given a set of rules, and the toys, anyone can start to wargame. To get the most out of it, you've got to love the history and want to know more.

We've only given you a keyhole view on what is becoming the fastest growing hobby in the world. It's not expensive, and it's very rewarding. And it's great fun. So you try. I hope to see you soon. Goodbye!'



EW: 'I hope to see you soon. Goodbye!' Gone, but not forgotten.



The final bit of eye-candy is a real mouthwatering treat.

[1] I can't recall where I read that. Nor can I remember where I read that, in fact, Gilder sold the Gettysburg terrain three times! How? Apparently he was given it back, twice!


[2] Blackadder, Ink & Incapability.

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