Saturday 30 March 2019

Book Review: German Destroyers, Robert Brown

Despite being a long-term 'dyed in the wool' 1/72 military modelmaker I'm currently flirting with the idea of making model ships (I have kits for a U-boat and the battleship Bismarck). I was offered this book for review, by the publishers (Pen & Sword, on their nautical imprint Seaforth), and thought 'why not?' 

Lavishly illustrated throughout, the book starts with a chapter on design. It's interesting to learn, given the German reputation for design and building excellence, that this class of ship fared pretty poorly. Many ideas that were good on paper failed to translate into real benefits. Indeed, a number of clever ideas wound up working against seaworthiness. The exposition on design is followed by a detailed look at Z39, which is done via images derived from its period of postwar American ownership.

But it's pages 17-45 that really form the core of the book, comprising two chunky, informative and well illustrated chapters, the first on available model products (both full kits and partial aftermarket detailing sets), and the second showcasing some very impressive modelmakers' works. Chris Flodberg's 1/350 Z30 (also pictured on the cover) is particularly impressive, in no small part due to the amazing rendering of a heavy sea.

Three further chapters - colour schemes, appearance and plans - add to the wealth of useful visual reference this slim but info-packed book offers. And the whole is finished with a small bibliography. I always think specialist books such as this should, as a matter of course, have a glossary (inc. any abbreviations, etc.). That's the only real omission here that a landlubbin' armour modeller like me really notices.

Anyway, all told, a very attractive and useful publication. Further grist to my mill of nautical modelmaking fantasies. Perhaps I will actually build a small Operation Sea-Lion flotilla one day... hmm!?

Friday 29 March 2019

Book Review: Focke-Wulf 190, Chris Goss

Author Chris Goss mentions in his Preface that he's indebted to Alfred Price for many of the images in this book. Both Goss and the late Price are or were Ex-RAF themselves, and appear to have shared a fascination - as do I - with the Luftwaffe in WWII. Goss states further that he dedicates this volume to his friend/mentor, and that the plan is for two such books, each of about 200 images, of which this is the first.

The subtitle of this book is The Early Years - Operations In The West, so I guess there should be that other volume in due course. Whilst this belongs to the Air War Archives series, from Frontline Books, it's very much in the same style or vein as Images of War, from Pen & Sword. And, like the latter, it is very decidedly more visual than textual. The bulk of the text, indeed, pretty much all of it, aside from the brief introduction, being the captions to the images, as opposed to the contextual info some other books in these two series provide. 

The Pembrey 190, 1942.

It's very good to see a glossary has been included. After that and the Intro, the chapters are as follows: Training, The Pembrey 190, Jagdgeschwader 2, Other Jagdgeschwader in NW Europe, Jabo, Reconaissance, The Med'. These chapter headings are kind of self-explanatory, and give a good idea as to the content you might expect. 'The Pembrey 190' is the only rather more obscure chapter heading, and is given on account of an Oberleutnant Armin Faber landing his Fw-190 at Pembrey airfield, in Southern Wales, thereby delivering the first intact plane of this sort into British hands, for examination and evaluation.

It seems to me that despite the Luftwaffe's intentions that the Fw-190 replace the Me-109, it is to the latter what the Hurricane has long been to the Spitfire, the less known or celebrated second-cousin. Just as the Hurricane is now being touted as superior to most Spitfire types, the Fw-190 is often described as superior to both the Me-109, and the Allied planes it met, when introduced into service. It's also alleged to have been more versatile, performing as fighter, fighter-bomber (or Jabo) and in reconnaissance and night-flying roles.

In 'Jabo' mode, carrying a 250lb bomb (fuselage) and drop-tanks (wings).

The pictures are fascinating, and great resources for modellers and wargamers, etc. It's also interesting to see and read about the fates of the men who flew in them, and all too often died in them. Some of those deaths may have been pretty mercifully instantaneous, but others, for example that of Oberfeldwebel Georg Schott - seen to bale out and get into his dinghy - may have been awfully protracted; Schott was shot down 27 Sept', '43, his dead body being recovered from his dinghy, washed ashore on the island of Sylt, 11 Oct', roughly a fortnight later.

I have a few 1/72 Fw-190 kits, and I may model them on individual planes mentioned here. One thing obviously lacking, however, from an entirely black and white book such as this, are the colour schemes a modeller will obviously want and need. But Therese are readily and plentifully available elsewhere. 

I'm not certain, but I think this is one of the kits in my Fw-190 stash.

Not the greatest or most exciting of titles from the Air War Archives or Images of War series. But still a solid and useful contribution to the enthusiasts library.

Thursday 28 March 2019

Book Review: Kent at War, 1939-1945, Mark Khan

According to the back-cover blurb, the photos in this particular Images of War title were rescued from a rubbish tip! Apparently 4,000 images were rescued, and have been digitised, from which 150 were selected for inclusion here. [1]

General Sir Brian Horrocks is quoted as follows: 'Invasion or not, it [Kent/South-East England] was certainly the most exciting part of England at that time. We had a grandstand view not only of the Battle of Britain, with its dog-fights over our heads, but also of the nightly naval war that went on in the Channel.'

Training Exercise. Unarmed combat. The Barracks Maidstone c1939-45. [2]

Chapter titles give you the basic shape of the book and its content: The Early Years, The Kent Home Guard, Life During Wartime, Soldiers in Kent, Military Vehicles (etc), VIP Visitors, The War at Sea, Women at War, D-Day, The End of the War. Within each chapter Khan provides a brief outline of appropriate information, and then the photos and their captions illustrate the themes further.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and perusing the photographs, and would highly recommend it. Indeed, it makes me want to find out more about my own relatives who were or might have been involved. For example, my Canadian grandfather, Albert 'Bert' Palmer, who lived and worked in Kent during some of this period.

An enormous PLUTO 'conundrum', beached at Greatstone. [3]

The range and selection of pictures is excellent, making for a fascinating account of life in this, the garden county of England, and also home to Hell's Corner, being as it was on the flightpath of the German bombing runs into England/London. Highly recommended.


[1] The entire collection can be viewed for free online, here.

[2] This pic is from the web archive, not the book. But similar pictures can be found in the book.

[3] PLUTO, or the Pipe Line Under The Ocean was for sending fuel across the channel, under the sea, to supply the D-Day invasion forces with as little disruption to the ordinary sea and land traffic as possible.

The Medway Queen, which became HMS Medway Queen during WWII.

This steam powered roller crushed pots and pans in the salvage drives of WWII.

Tuesday 19 March 2019

Book Review: Arras, Counter Attack, 1940 - Tim Saunders

I've just finished reading this book, which I thoroughly enjoyed. 

Reeling from the speed of the German advance, French and English command and control was, by mid-May 1940 coming apart at the seams. As a consequence, what was intitially supposed to be the northern part of an Allied pincer movement, aimed at cutting through the corridor the Panzers had so rapidly opened up, became instead an ill-starred and half-baked operation, ultimately more about defence and retreat than the supposed or intended attack.

Tim Saunders, ex-military himself, has written an engaging account of this doomed action. Chapters 1-4 set the scene, starting with reflections on WWI and the birth of tank warfare, and the development of these ideas in the interwar years, and showing how, despite Britain and France having lead tank development early on, they were to be outpaced by Germany, when Hitler rode roughshod over the Versailles treaty, characters like Guderian championing a new form of all-arms warfare, spearheaded by tanks and mobile armoured troops, that would come be known as Blitzkrieg.

The caption of this pic says it shows 7th Pz Div, France, 1940.

Rommel and staff, France, 1940.

This photo was allegedly taken by Rommel himself, near Arras.

Further scene setting is developed in chapters concerning the planning of of Fall Gelb, the invasion of France, and the constitution and depolyoment of the BEF in France, along with the Allied plan, to strike East into Belgium, that wound up playing directly into the German's 'Sickle-Cut' strategy. Chapters then cover the new Allied plans, ostensibly to now attack south instead, and meet a northward attack by French forces. But these plans, over ambitious to begin with, were subject to constant revision, as the French will to attack evaporated, and even as the BEF forces deployed for the attack itself.

I'll leave my synopsis of the contents there, saying only that the following chapters follow the action of May 21st, the actual Arras Counter Attack, confused and fragmented as that is, with admirable clarity. And the evolving story is liberally peppered with quotes from primary sources on both sides, albeit weighted somewht more to the British perspective. I read another review on Amazon UK in which the reviewer calls into question the authenticity of 'Gun Buster', a source Saunders quotes at some length and on numerous occcasions. On the German side he quotes Rommel a lot, but in this instance acknowledging Rommel's own talent for self-publicity and exaggeration.

The BEF relied heavily on 'Carriers' like these.

An abandoned Matilda Mk I, France, 1940.

More abandoned Allied materiel, Matilda Mk II.

At this point I'll note some of the good and bad points of the book structurally: the background and the action itself are well structured. And one thing very worthy of note to commend this book is the excellent deployment of maps [1] and photographs [2] in conjunction with the text. Other useful inclusions are, in the several Appendices, the OOB for the 7th Pz Div, the Battlefield tour stuff, for those wishing to visit the scenes of these actions, and the analyses of the Operation as a whole, and its influence in Hitler's 'Halt Order'. But there are no OOB for the BEF or other Allied troops, nor a glossary, bibliography, or notes on sources.

So, compared with some writing on WWII, this is a bit patchy from the scholarly apparatus point of view. But, for me, as someone with very limited knowledge of this aspect of the war, this was a fascinating and compelling read. A glossary, bibliography, and notes on sources would all improve the book. But in its favour, its use of maps and photographs help make it more vivid and easier to follow than many other books in the military history camp.

Overall I'd definitely recommend this to those with an interest in the period. 


Having also recently read about a similar instance of attack as constantly shifting rearguard action in Jeffrey Plowman's Greece, 1941, quite how 'we'* won the war, getting off to such a shaky and badly managed start, is a mystery. As Saunders observes on p.101: 'all-arms tactics were almost non-existent in the British Army of 1940.' He also notes that this remained true even as late save the Normandy campaign, post D-Day!

* Well, with the combined weight of industry and numbers that first Russia, then the U.S., and not forgetting our own ability to draw on the manpower resources of the Commonwealth, that 'we' becomes significantly larger, and the outcome less mysterious.

[1] Although having said this, the maps are not standardised, and seem to have been lifted from a number of uncredited sources. And in a few instances there is the amusing typo whereby the settlement Warlus is rendered as Walrus!

[2] These photos appear, by and large, at pertinent points in relation to the text, and really help illuminate it. Occasionally however they might have benefitted from clearer descriptions, as for example when an SdKfz 222 from the Africa Korps is shown. It's better than no pic' of the vehicle. But the fact it's a photo from an altogether different theatre should probably be noted, even if only in passing. 

Sunday 17 March 2019

Book Review: Images of War, Hitler's HQs, Ian Baxter

N.B. This is one of those occasional archival posts I do, started ages ago, and then forgotten about. Having subsequently read and reviewed another Ian Baxter Images of War title, I thought I'd return to the unfinished draft of this and get it done and online.

Having only just read Hugh Trevor Roper's book on Hitler's last days, I picked up a copy of this book cheap (I believe I paid £5), at a model show, some while back. If I'd paid the full retail asking price, I'd have been a bit miffed, for several reasons. So let's get the critical stuff out of the way.

The first thing that struck me was how many pictures here aren't of the subject, but are just general WWII German stuff, only very tenuously connected to the books subject, if at all. That was after a first glance through the pictures. The second was the catalogue of typos, lumpen prose, and even captioning mistakes, when I came to read the text. There are, sadly, times when specialist literature such as this seems to slip through the editorial net. One does have to wonder, in an instance such as this, if an editor even looked at it.

Hitler sitting outside/beside his train, Amerika.

Nice colour photo of Amerika, showing the loco' and a flak carriage.

On the positive side, there is a good deal of info here on Hitlers numerous HQ, including a number of decent pictures, and this is a very fascinating topic. As well as the static installations, Hitler's trains are covered (although more and better info on this latter would've been good). Another plus is the then and now contrast, where the author shows some more recent images of what's become of some of these installations. Sadly, and creating historical lacunae, due to the toxicity of Hitler's racial/ideological policies, these fascinating and historically important sites are not being conserved (for fear they'd become celebrated/shrines to the Führer, etc.), in fact quite the reverse.

Personally speaking, I think this instalment of the often very good Images of War series needs re-doing: editorially it needs correcting and tightening up, and pictorially it needs to be 'on topic' in a more focussed way. Plans of the various HQ, for example - surely they must exist? - would be a good addition.

Hitler and staff at Wulfschanze, East Prussia.

This arrival scene shows how heavily wooded the Wolf's Lair was.

Bombed out remains at Obersalzberg, in the Bavarian Alps, 1945.

Baxter includes some of his own pictures, similar to the one above, showing Wolfschanze as it is now. The installations were gutted, dynamited, and left to be reclaimed by nature.

Saturday 16 March 2019

Book Review: Early Railways, A Guide for the Modeller, Chatham & Weston

This is a bit off the beaten (railway) track for me, but it is about miniature modelling, and I have posted on here a couple of times before about railway related shenanigans. This handsome A4 hardback, by Peter Chatham and Stephen Weston, both of whom are involved in Parliamentary Trains' Ltd, a manufacturer of kits for this market, explores and celebrates the very early railways. 

After a brief but interesting intro' to the subject, the chapters start with a profile of Mike Sharman, 'Pioneer Modeller of Early Railways', before exploring the subject itself in chapters entitled Infrastructure, Locomotives, Carriages, Wagons, Layouts and models, and Sources of supply for modellers. These headings tell you what to expect.

Puffing Billy, 1862.*

As well as copious diagrams, illustrations and photos, both in colour and black and white, there's a bibliography. One notable omission is a glossary. And the main body of text is clearly aimed at those already knowledgeable on the subjects of railways and railway modelling. So, to an interested layman like me, not yet embarked on railway modelling, some of the technical stuff was a bit opaque. 

This is certainly a very attractive book, and because of that it's inspiring. There are lots of very beautiful period images, some being technical drawings, others adverts or other articles, illustrations, and even numerous early photographs. Some of the diagrams have been cleaned up a bit. And - I wouldn't be confident here, this being outside of my normal area of activity - it might even be possible to build some of the vehicles using the diagrams and other images here.

A '9 foot' Pearson (no. 44), c. 1854-70.*

There are also plenty of pictures of models and 'layouts', the latter being the (usually workable) equivalents of the military modellers dioramas. These are clearly works of art and labours of love. The modeller of such things will also need to be a prodigious researcher! At roughly 120 pages, despite it being a luxuriant full-colour hardback, this is a but a brief taster on the subject. 

At an RRP of £19.99 it's not cheap, but it's worth it for those interested in such things. And covering as it does a period of predominantly British industrial innovation (American and European stuff is also featured), in a period prior to that most railway modellers usually choose, it has some added charm.

'East Grinstead', by Ian White, one of the featured layouts.

* The Puffing Billy pic I've used here is not in the book, whereas the Pearson pic does feature. 

Book Review: The Escape Line, Megan Koreman

In her excellent book The Escape Line, American author Megan Koreman tells the story of Dutch Paris, an escape line, or rather lines, set up and run by Dutchman in France, Jean (or Johann) Weidner. It's a fascinating and exciting account. Indeed, I'd say there's a good film or two in there somewhere. 

I've chosen to put my fuller review on my other blog, at, as it's not quite purely military history. Read it here if you're interested. I was expecting it to be a chore. But far from it. It proved to be a compelling page turner. Geographically the escape line ran, from its original hub in Lyon, where Weidner had a textiles business, northeast into Switzerland, southwest into Spain, and north, through occupied France to Belgium and Holland.

The colourful cast include civil servants, clergy, businessmen, housewives, girlfriends and widows, soldiers and paramilitaries, Allied troops and the SS and Gestapo, local passeurs, or guides, and refugees in alien lands. Normally law-abiding citizens become denizens of the underworld, and the authorities become the violators of decency. Ordinary people do extraordinary things, both good and bad, in extraordinary times.

Definitely a recommended read to those who might find such things of interest. And interesting also in the light of the current climate, with Brexit, Trump and his Wall, and the general climate around national identity, immigration, and suchlike. 

Monday 11 March 2019

Misc: Resources?

I'm sitting here typing this because I just broke out the ol' airbrush and compressor, and then realised I can't recall which two colours, which particular shades of green and brown, I'll be needing for my three-colour mid- to late-war German camo' schemes. 

The number of times I've gone through the rigmarole of searching online, or amongst my various and ill-organised notes, all add up to too much wasted time. So it occurs to me that I ought to create a resource here on my own website, for my own benefit. And who knows, perhaps for the benefit of others?

Bovington's Tiger II, 104, is beautifully coloured.

These are the kinds of shades I want for my models!

Of course others have done this before me. Why invent the wheel again? Well, it's in my nature to want to do things myself, in my own time and space, and in my own way, however well or badly that may turn out to be. I guess it's just my M.O. And I no longer, if I ever really did, want to fight it.

So, it won't be happening today, as I already have too much else happening: I'll be off teaching soon, and this evening, as well as cooking our evening meal (actually I only have to cook rice and some gravy, as the rest is leftovers!), I'm going to meet the Wisbech IPMS at their fortnightly gathering. 

That'll be a first for me. I'm not exactly club-able. Or at least I never have been before. But perhaps that'll change? I'm definitely feeling the need to extend my camaraderie in life generally, and modelmaking and mini-soldiers in particular.

For now I'll bring this post to a speedy conclusion, as it's probably also a way of my deferring actually getting started with the airbrush.

Some time later the same day...

I did finally actually use my airbrush today, just to add some dunkelgelb to the eldest of my Elefant models, and bring it a bit more into line with the two more recent builds. Above is the result. And below is an older 'before' pic. In the picture below, taken before I'd painted the two more recent Elefant, you can see I'd done some rather clumsy dark wash weathering on the old Fujimi model. I hope the above pic, with the Fujimi Elefant at left, shows that I've softened the look a it a bit?


So, I've done a bit of research, and this is what I've come up with, for now, using the Vallejo ranges of acrylic colours.

First, from their airbrush range:
Dunkelgelb RAL 7028 (dark yellow) - Vallejo Model Air 71.025
Rotbraun RAL 8017 (red-brown) - Vallejo Model Air 71.041
Olivgrün RAL 6003 (olive green) - Vallejo Model Air 71.092

As yet I'm undecided re their standard acrylic series:
Dunkelgelb RAL 7028 (dark yellow) - Vallejo Model Color 70.978
Rotbraun RAL 8017 (red-brown) - Vallejo Model Color 71.041*
Olivgrün RAL 6003 (olive green) - Vallejo Model Color 71.092
 (poss 70.894?)

* This is the official RAL 8017 equivalent, but it doesn't seem right to me.

Misc: Wisbech IPMS, etc.

This evening I did something most unlike me, and went along to a kind of club... Wisbech IPMS, to be precise. They hold their fortnightly meetings in The Community Room at the Wisbech Tesco. It's a soulless room, alas. But it's free, and there's even free tea, coffee, biscuits and wifi.

I was a bit anxious about meeting fellow modellers. From my experiences of going to model shops and shows over the years, I know we can be a funny mixed old bunch. And so it proved to be. There were even some women present. Women!? That was something I really wasn't expecting, and something that's decidedly rare and unusual, in my experience of both modelmaking and wargame figure collecting, etc.

A pretty friendly bunch, I was able to get on with my model - I'd been advised that everyone brought along models to work on - and occasionally engage in conversation with various other modellers. Once about eight or nine of us had arrived (quite a lot, they told me), there was a kind of semi formal 'everyone takes turns to introduce themselves and their model' round-robin thing.

It's funny how hard I find it to share my interests socially. It's a trait I've always had, with all my interests. Despite everyone there being modelmakers, I find that unless their modelling interests intersect with mine... well, how to put it? Erm... I'm really not very interested. I think that can change, and occasionally does, albeit very slowly. As, for example, when my buddy Paul's interest in plane models helped me get into the aviation side of 1/72 modelling.

I'm pretty useless at remembering names, so I'm not going to even try! One guy is very into modern civilian planes, another favours nautical subjects. One of the ladies was building an RAF ground crew set, which I can relate to (it's a set I'd like to build myself). But another was making a sabre-toothed tiger, which I find harder to be excited about. But there were enough WWII era models and topics of conversation to keep me reasonably happy.

The anorak/nerd vibe in the room was, as one might anticipate, way up into the red. As a Tesco member of staff unlocked the room for us, one of the guy's joked with him about this. I kind of wish he hadn't! Modelmakers shouldn't apologise for themselves or run themselves down. I know I've done it myself often enough. Hearing someone else do it made me realise I/we really shouldn't.

I hadn't realised that the show and tell portion could/should include a more developed project. But I got around that by showing a picture of my three Elefant tanks on my iPad. The kit I'd taken with me proved to have some damaged parts, and these were parts that I was meant to start with. So I spent most of the 7-10pm session scratchbuilding replacement parts! In the end I completed very little of the kit. But I probably worked at much the same speed I would've done had I been at home.

Overall I did enjoy going. Although I did, as I feared I might, find the socialising aspect the hardest most challenging part. And I think I will go again, though when exactly and how often, I'm less sure of. I'll probably go to the next one, and continue the kit I worked on tonight then. It's not a great kit, to be honest. But I think in a way that makes it more suitable to such an occasion, as it doesn't matter too much if my attention is divided whilst I work on it.

Saturday 9 March 2019

Kit Build/Review: Zvezda 1/72 King Tiger, Ausf. B

Enthused for all things Tiger Tank, by a combo of Bovington, and the book I just read/reviewed, I decided to make a start on my Zvezda snap-fit 1/72 King Tiger, Ausf. B. 

I want this tank to have zimmerit, as I'm modelling it on the King Tiger in the Bovington Tiger Collection. So I've gone and done what I did with the Fujimi Elefant I built ages ago, which is to use a very thin layer of white Milliput and the tip of a tiny flathead screwdriver, to mimic the anti-magnetic mine paste. And boy, is it hard work!

As you can see, no zimmerit on the Zvezda kit.

My DIY white Milliput zimmerit, on the appropriate surfaces.

I cleaned up the zimmerit, removing it from areas where it wouldn't be applied, and opening up various holes that the snap-fit kit requires. Now I'll have to exercise some restraint, and let the Milliput harden overnight.

The next day...

More snooker on TV, and more modelmaking on the sofa. Not the best for posture or lighting. And easy to lose bits of kit down the sofa! Still, fun stuff! Further work in the King Tiger finds me guiding the turret to near completion, and getting the running gear in place.

Prepping parts for turret assembly.

Components ready for the rear of the tank.

The snap-fit wheels and tracks are very interesting. Well designed, overall, but still awkward to install, and requiring trimming. At least that's what I've found. I do this modelling lark for fun. And yet sometimes, as when I was putting the tracks together, I began to wonder if it wasn't actually a form of masochism!?

Very interesting snap-fit wheels and tracks.

Getting the running-gear ready to put in place.

I decided to put all the spare track on the turret. I did consider leaving some off, and making it more like the Bovington King Tiger. But after the hard work on the running gears, I just wanted to take it easy. The barrel is nice and cleanly moulded. I drilled out the muzzle brake. And at close of play, it's a kit of three main parts: upper hall, lower hull, and turret. And then there's a load of stuff to put on the vehicle. The fully in-the-round sculpted tools, etc, look fab.

Next step in turret assemblage.

The basic core elements: lower hull, upper hull, and turret.

State of the model at close of play.

I put the three major elements together. But they remain unglued. It's just nice to see the vehicle taking shape. Tomorrow I'll add the remainder of the parts. Then I'll undercoat it in Halfords grey, and perhaps even get a base coat of dunkelgelb on.

All the various doodads that go on the body.

Assembled and primed.

And the other side.

Some hours and a couple of Columbo episodes later, and I've also dunkelgelbed several models: two Elefant, the Radschlepper Ost, and the King Tiger. My aerosol of Tamiya dark yellow ran out, in fact. But I think I got everything adequately covered.

The colour looks a bit weird under the side lights.

Sort of lemony-green!?

Still, looking pretty good. 


The King Tiger joins the ranks of ranks and other vehicles awaiting painting and decals. I think I might actually bite the bullet and try and do some painting tomorrow. It'd be nice to finish a couple of these recent builds.