With more time to spend at home the last two months, it was a good time to clean out some minis that have been resting in the proverbial wardrobe for a while. When looking into my miniatures pile of shame, I realized that one of the smaller portions of it was German WW2 infantry. In fact, with a small batch painting effort, I might be able to paint all German infantry that I have at home. A cleared backlog - what an utterly insane idea!
So I primed almost all the Fallschirmjägers I had left, and it was a mess. Let's dig into them.
So these are a bit random since they are leftovers from when I painted up the actual sections. First out are some FG42 automatic rifles from the Warlord Plastic sprues. These guns are more likely to be used when our forces duke it out in Sicily or the Italian mainland, rather than in Northern Africa, so I didn't prioritize them earlier.
Next are some more light machine guns, MG42s, flanked by two riflemen. I've already used up the ammo carriers for these, which makes them pretty useless. I wish more manufacturers would make three man LMG teams, or even better that I could buy just ammo carriers separately. I'd love to just buy 6-7 of them to fill out my current force.
I already painted some radio guys, but well... the Black Tree Design blister came with a lot of them! So here's the entire Luftwaffe Ham Radio Club. Including some other odds and ends - I think those are meant to be newly landed soldiers. I have no idea what I'll use them for to be honest, which is kind of a theme of this blog post.
If you like SMGs, get hype! I got a range of various automatic weapons, a mix of leftovers and a blister of FJ with looted guns from Warlord. Thompsons! PPShs! I have no idea how they looted both at the same time, but they're ready to use them. There are also some Warlord plastics in there.
Finally, the big guns. We already had a 75mm le. IG 18 for the eastern front, but none painted up for Africa. I decided to make slots in the base to fit crewmen instead of gluing them on, so that the same model can be used for our DAK and FJ platoons. The crew are plain DAK crews but painted with the FJ splittermuster camo, which looks good enough for me. The minis are from Warlord Games.
I also got an additional MMG from Warlord. These have a rather less exposed profile than the previous one I painted, and I think I like this one more.
With these done, I only have a small handful of Fallschirmjägers left. I still miss a light mortar for them, and I wouldn't mind getting maybe the larger recoilless anti-tank gun they got later on. And maybe some engineers. But other than that, they are becoming a pretty complete force with lots of support options.
Finally, here's a gallery with the pictures if you want to see them in larger format, as well as some extra pics. Cheers!
With the basic troopers covered in part 1, it's time for the first support options to show themselves.
While we already have a lot of support options painted up in plain DAK uniforms, I wanted to have some dedicated troops for these Fallschirmjägers. Even if that means doubling quite a few weapons, it'll look nice on the battlefield. Those extra support options can come in handy in larger battles and multi-platoon games as well. Some of these are a bit on the cheating side, simply using DAK miniatures and painting the jacket in the Splittermuster camo. A rivet-counter might notice it close up, but at a distance they blend in well enough for me.
A Medium Machine Gun team is always a good start for a new force. The German double LMG sections already pack a lot of punch, and if you deploy one of these next to a section you can badly punish any Allied infantry opposition unless you're at a terrain disadvantage.
The team comes from Black Tree Design, and can be supported by generic ammo mules to get up to the proper five-man size.
I painted up a metal Warlord Games Raketenpanzerbüchse 54, or Panzerschreck, team as well. Far too early for Gazala, these were developed based on the bazookas that Germany faced for the first time in Tunisia in early 1943. So it never saw service in North Africa, but could be used at the very end of the Italy campaign or if using these models for a very dry summer battle in 1944.
Another Warlord addition, this time the 2.8 cm heavy panzer rifle, or schwere Panzerbüchse 41. These and other weapons that could be moved by hand were an important part of the FJ arsenal, as they could be carried into difficult terrain and used when trucks and halftracks were not available. While not designed to deal with the heavier armour employed in WW2, they remained in production until 43 and saw widespread use in Gebirgsjäger and Fallschirmjäger unit as well as in motorized divisions throughout the war.
I don't field flamethrowers that often, but I wanted to have the option available anyway. And with the huge amount of buildings Shirty has been building for North Africa, this Black Tree Designs flamethrower could come in handy in upcoming city fights.
I used to paint the flames with a more red and black flame, but looking at pictures from WW2 as well as reenactors, the flames looked more yellow bordering on white, so I tried it an I think I like it this way.
Sniper teams are a simple addition to a Chain of Command force, as they're basically just one or two extra riflemen. These Warlord snipers help each other spy for targets as they try to hide behind a small bush.
Another simple addition is a mortar spotter team. Thes two Black Tree Design radio operators will do, calling in barrages on their enemies.
The Fallschirmjägers are now ready for the tabletop, though still a bit reliant on borrowing in troops from the DAK collection. After getting used to painting the camo I feel like getting even more troops for this little project. Maybe some more metal minis to upgrade the plastics and add variation? I'll definitely look into some nicer LMGs, and maybe some extra generic crewmen for PaKs and other support weapons. I'd love to hear if you have some ideas of other support options you'd like to see in a FJ force.
Fallschirmjägers in North Africa
German Fallschirmsjäger forces fought across several Mediterranean battlefields, starting with the successful yet incredibly costly capturing of Crete in 1941, to the back-and-forth warfare of North Africa in 1942-43 and finally the dug-in defensive battles of Sicily and Italy in 1943-45. After the Pyrrhus victory that was Crete, the Fallschirmjägers did not fight in large formations as air-dropped troops in the Mediterranean, but rather as an elite force of infantry, often without much heavy equipment. Their most famous battles, like the battle of Monte Castillo, had little to do with parachutes.
As our first North Africa campaign is set in Gazala 1942, fielding Fallschirmjäger troops becomes a counterfactual choice. In the Spring of 1942 the German paratroopers arm was still reeling from the huge losses they suffered at Crete. The Germans didn't dare to try to use them as airdropped troops in large scale attacks against dedicated defenders again, and were left wondering how to use these elite troops, especially while still needing to reinforce and equip them. A solution was to send a smaller force, led by Generalleutnant Hermann-Bernhard Ramcke, to support the struggling Axis forces in North Africa.
This brigade of four paratrooper battalions, a parachute artillery regiment, a tank destroyer battalion and a parachute pioneer battalion was intended to arrive in North Africa in time for the battle of Gazala, but was delayed. Instead it arrived just after, and took part in the drive towards the Suez canal and eventually both battles of El-Alamein.
While the Ramcke Parachute Brigade eventually surrendered in North Africa in the general surrender of the German Panzer army in May 1943, Ramcke escaped to Germany. A fanatical Nazi supporter, he would both lead German attempts to seize Italy after their surrender to the Allies and the defence of Brest after D-Day. He remained an unapologetic defender of Hitlerism even after the war, defending various parts of the German military (including the SS) and refused to admit to the war crimes committed by his peers.
Painting Tropical Fallschirmjägers
I decided to try collecting Fallschirmjägers mainly because of their tropical camouflage style. The look of their sand-coloured loose pants and helmets, combined with the long splittermuster patterned coats is very striking, and I had at this point managed not to stray outside single-coloured uniforms for WW2.
The project started when I bought a few plastic sprues of FJ from a Warlord Games sale. Their FJ kit is clearly aimed towards the later part of the war, with a heavy emphasis on MG42's and semi-automatic FG42 rifles.
While I definitely wanted to build a force that could be used in Sicily and Italy as well, and I've found sources saying that the FJ got equipped relatively early with MG42's, the plastics didn't quite fill all my needs. On top of more rifles, I also wanted some dedicated support options for this platoon instead of just fielding generic DAK support. So these plastics needed some company.
First out, I dipped into one of Black Tree Designs recurring sales, and picked up some extra LMGs, a MMG team and some of the officers and NCOs that the plastic sprues didn't cover. as well as some odds and ends including radio operators (which I can use as mortar spotters) and a flamethrower.
Secondly, I lucked out and grabbed a few Warlord metal blisters in another seasonal sale at a local Swedish hobby store. This netted me several nice additions, including a bunch of metal riflemen, some infantrymen with looted allied SMGs, a sniper team, a MMG team, a panzershreck and a 2.8 cm sPzB 41.
So there it was, my own bargain bin Luftwaffe troop!
Next up was tackling the camouflage painting. The main advice I can give you, if you are also new to camo, is to not give up! My first, second and third test models turned out quite bad, but after that I started to get results that I was happy with. I went back and forth between a rather beige and a more grey base. In the end I think both look ok, but I think I prefer the grey version.
If there is interest I can write a more detailed tutorial, but basically I painted the entire smock in Vallejo's Deck Tan, then washed it black or brown, and went back with a deck tan highlight. After that I painted and highlighted the brown patterns, making sure to leave "paths" of deck tan. Finally I added the green parts, highlighting them as well. Keep in mind that you don't want to try to paint an exact replica of the pattern, as that will be hard to see on a 28mm scale miniature, but rather recreate the feel of the camo.
I divided my discount devils into two big lots. The first one included the basic platoon structure as well as enough support options to be a playable force. The second one consisted of extras and a lot of the late war weaponry. In this post I'll show the basic platoon, and then I'll cover support options in the next post.
Just like many other parts of the German war machine, especially when reinforcements were hard to secure, you have some leeway when it comes to how an actual platoon were organized on the battlefield. To enable as much variation in gameplay terms as possible, I decided to make enough infantrymen to be able to field the force with either three or four sections, each with either one or two LMGs. Initially I'd have to rely on MG42s, but later on I want to get enough MG34s to field them with them instead. By 1942 the FJ platoon would look very much like a mechanized german rifle platoon, and I plan to field them as regulars rather than elite as to represent the majority of the best trained members lost in Crete. While still an elite force, many were not yet veterans when they deployed in North Africa.
These are from Black Tree Design. The Oberleutnant keeps watch with his binoculars, while the others carry SMGs, pistols or rifles. The extra leaders can command sections or weapon teams.
Four NCOs with SMGs. The first three are plastic Warlord miniatures, the last one with the stolen Thompson is a Warlord metal miniature.
A lot of manufacturers make too few ammo carriers for the LMGs. In Chain of Command, you want two ammo carriers for each LMG gunner. When looking at pictures of Fallschirmsjägers, it's clear that as many other riflemen as possible would carry extra ammo belts as well. That's why I ordered some more LMG teams from Black Tree Designs, to bolster these teams. Each section comes with two LMGs, so that's six LMG teams for the platoon, and eight(!) if I want to be able to buy an additional section as support.
The Warlord plastics are pretty servicable, and form the bulk of my LMG teams initially.
The Warlord metal LMG teams are nicer though. The blister includes two prone teams, I hid them in cover behind some desert bushes.
The Black Tree Design ammo mules were sorely needed to get enough LMG crew.
While LMG crew takes up a lot of the platoon when you roll with double MG42s, there are still a lot of riflemen. These are also a mix of Warlord plastics, metals and Black Tree Design metals.
Again, the Warlord plastics are perfectly ok. Not their worst kit, but probably not their best.
However, these Warlord metal minis are just plain nicer overall. I can really see myself gradually phasing out the plastics as I'm bound to get more metal minis, either from Warlord or other ranges.
So that was the rank-and-file of the platoon. Next up we'll cover some support options. Cheers!
Cape Town Highlanders vs. Fallschirmjägers
Before we embark on our Gazala campaign, it's time to do some playtests. This is useful whenever you have new platoons, but most of all new terrain, as it's not always clear how they will affect your tactics. In one-off games you can try out new things in a more casual environment than in campaigns.
I have spent a lot of time painting the Fallschirmjägers, so it was really nice to get a chance to command them for the first time. Marcus was eager to get a game in as well, and chose the Cape Town Highlanders. Instead of rolling for scenario we went with one that we have not played that much: Delaying Action.
This meant that the stout South Africans would be defending a small village at a road crossing somewhere in Tunisia. One of their Jump Off Points would be within a designated area at the back of his table edge. A small kampfgruppe of Fallschirmjägers of Ramcke's brigade with some attached DAK forces would try to get through the Highlanders and seize the JOP, and thereby the village, to seize victory.
If you are unfamiliar with Chain of Command, the patrol phase is where you'll jockey for positions from where to deploy your troops. In this scenario, the Allied defenders start with four markers within an area at their part of the table, while the attacker enters at a single point at their table edge.
The Germans come in along the road. Shamefully enough we have neither custom Cape Town Highlanders nor Fallschirmjäger markers.
The Highlanders decide to push forward and the German scouts are quickly stopped. This means that the South Africans can place their deployment points quite a bit forward on the table, between two of the houses at the crossroads. The Germans have to settle for Jump Off Points in the palmtrees and the small park on either side of the road. Finally, the objective JOP is placed by a house at the back of the Allied table.
The Germans Advance
Tasked with taking the village, the Fallschirmjägers decide to quickly march towards the crossroad. They make sure to use the cover of palm trees, while a Panzer III aufs J slowly approach the village. It comes to a standstill once it can see the crossroad, and wait for a target to appear.
Suddenly, a burst of heavy machine gun fire spews out of what looks like an abandoned café. A team of Highlanders in a forward position unleashes their Vickers, claiming first blood - killing a FJ rifleman and wounding the NCO in the closest section.
A lone Crusader tank rolls into the village, ready to take on the approaching Pz III. The Highlanders start to deploy, as a deafening roar of small caliber fire echoes across the streets. The Fallschirmjägers recover from the surprise attack from the Vickers, and returns the favour. The single Allied gun team makes a bold stand, but the team is quickly overpowered once the two German sections can combine their firepower. Soon an eerie silence settles.
The Allies Advance
Eager to avenge their friends, the Highlanders advance on both sides of the road. One team starts to move up the café alone, while the other moves behind the Crusader by the gap between two buildings.
The German attack stalls, as they hunker down in overwatch to keep the Highlanders from moving up their flank. A brief spurt of machine gun fire is not enough to stop the Allies who soon wade through the oasis covered from line of sight by the small park.
The Tank Duel Begins
The Crusader also moves into sight of the Panzer III and begins to throw shells into it. It is greatly helped by the platoon light mortar that previously covered the Panzer with smoke, forcing it to move around to gain line of sight instead of shooting.
The Panzer takes several hits, badly shocking the crew. Soon the men in the tank are teetering on the brink of bailing out, with their driver killed by fragments bouncing around the hull. A DAK PaK 38 deploys to help the Panzer, but the South African mortar team quickly sends a few smoke rounds towards it, blocking its view of the Allied tank.
The remaining two Highlander sections are ready to defend the crossroads, hoping that the Crusader will keep them safe.
With their attack completely stalled and in a useless position, the Fallschirmjäger platoon leader divides his forces. One section is sent to run behind the Panzer III, around to the PaK, to defend it from the approaching Highlanders. The other two sections is sent forward, one to attack in the gap between the houses and one to make its way through the larger house itself.
Neither Germans nor South Africans dare to advance through the smoke-filled park, afraid to walk into the view of each other's machine guns.
The building turns out to be a complicated compound, a veritable maze or rooms. As they make their way forward, the Germans can hear commands shouted in English within the very building. A South African section has rushed into the building as well, forcing a deadly stand-off.
With two of his three sections just holding their positions, the Fallschirmjäger platoon leader urges his last section forward. The Crusader is big, but has rather bad anti-infantry weaponry. Defying this beast, they rush forward and into firing positions next to it. Here a deadly shoot-out begins, with the section's two light machine guns against the mortar and a single Highlander section just a few metres between each other.
There Can Only Be One (Tank)
By now both tanks have been badly mauled, but neither has been able to finish the other. The Pak38, covered in smoke, make a heroic push as the crew raise their gun and quickly roll it forward into view of the tank (rolling two 6's for distance when they have to discard the highest dice!). The NCO manning the gun turns out to be less prone to panic than the panzer commander. While the Crusader is focused on its prey, the anti-tank gun fires a rapid succession of shots. It's unable to destroy the tank outright, but after a few hits the Crusader crew has had enough and bails out of the vehicle.
A Battle of Attrition
With a killed driver, the Panzer III is unable to become a threat anyway. And with both flanks locked down, the centre is now where this battle is going to be settled. The Highlanders, supported by their light mortar, bravely dig themselves in behind a row of rocks by the road. But the Germans unleash hell, using two belt fed light machine guns against the lone Bren gun of the South Africans.
It's an uneven fight, and soon the German firepower tips the scales in their favour. The mortar team is the first to bail, after the loader falls to a German shot. After that the remaining Highlanders are eventually pinned, and then quickly break and fall back. The remaining South Africans can't hold on any longer, and fall back back.
First of all - that was fun! My first Chain of Command game in probably a year or so. It reminded my that CoC games with relatively small amounts of support (in this case 10 points for the Germans and 8 for the South Africans) are great, and that you're well served playing other scenarios than patrol. While I could have played it boringly and just tried to win this game on force morale, I did try to push towards the objective. In the end it was force morale that decided it anyway, but it felt much more fun to go for the actual objective.
As for the Allied force, Marcus really showed what you can do with a simple light mortar with smoke grenades. He efficiently screened not only my Panzer III but also my anti-tank gun, which meant that his tank survived far longer than it had any right to do. If it had been a tank with either more armour or more firepower, that duel could have ended differently as he had my tank on the brink of bailing out not just once, but twice!
For the Germans, this game yet again showed me how deadly a section with two belt fed LGMs can be. Even when effectively put at a tactical stand-off on both flanks, I knew I could trust my single remaining section to simply push through the center with brute force. Marcus learned the hard way what happens when you try a "fair" fight with them, first with his Vickers gun and then with the section in the middle. The amount of dice they can throw your way means that you should avoid them like the plague unless you have a massive advantage in firepower.
Finally, I think it was a mistake to move the Allies towards the Germans at the start, though the deployment positions didn't give them too many other options. If the tank duel had gone otherwise, they were in a good position to add the Crusader to any of the tactical stand-offs. If so, the double LMGs would probably not have been enough!
Anyway, it's good to finally get around to play with all the minis I've been painting and all the terrain that my clubmates have been making the last year. I'm already looking forward to the Gazala campaign and those last minute additions to both the Highlanders and Fallschirmsjägers that I might be able to squeeze in before the campaign start.
Oh, and I need to make some proper 3" smoke markers for the Allies. :)
Our friends over at Scattered Dice Gaming have also decided to go play in the desert. And made an excellent tutorial for making an orchard.
Here is my attempt at an orchard:
I decided to make the walls from gravel which I built up in layers using PVA glue and then painted.
I also added some scatter to the ground made from ground up dry leaves (Finally a use for that olive tree, dad!). First I sprinkled the leaves, then using a brush I cleaned up a bit. Then everything was fixed in place with scenic glue. The trees are made using Woodland Scenics armatures and Polyfiber. I glued their bases to the baseboard allowing you to remove the trees for better access.
Last year I had a terrain making binge, and hardly painted any figures. But I realized that most of my creations are unblogged and so I asked my self:
"If a terrain piece hasn't been blogged about, has it really been created?"
What began was a quest to replace the hideous Games Workshop trees that we use currently. They are made from what are basically bottle brushes that have been flocked. And I hate them, while they do look sort of tree like (for a given value of tree) some of them are shorter than a single story building. All of them are shorter than a two story house. Sure, every tree has to start somewhere but to me the "right" height is a lot taller. They would suffice for some sapling or smaller trees, but they don't make a forest.
"This feels good, being back in Michigan. You know, the trees are the right height."
I started with some research:
Making trees I'm happy with
My first success was inspired by a row of poplar trees that grow along the road that I have to take to the beach. I started by taking BBQ skewers which I wound steal wire around, then I fixed them in place with super glue. Once the wires wouldn't move I could bend them to make a good poplar shape. The whole armature was then covered in glue and a mix of sawdust and finely sifted clay. I didn't like the color of this so I ended up slabbing on a grey-greenish sludge wash made from pastel chalks.
Next was adding a finer branch structure. This was accomplished by cutting up "sisal yarn", that's used for decorative flower binding, and attaching it with spray glue. Once this was done I also went over it with static grass, probably 6mm. For leaves I used a mix of Jarvis green and yellowish Scenic Scatter. Jarvis makes "leaves" but I'm pretty sure that's not what I used, it was a non-foam sawdust based flock. I chose the one from Jarvis over all of the ones I have from Noch because Jarvis' has rounded edges. Noch fine leaves are amazing, but not something I had in my collection when making these trees.
Everything was sealed in with a spraying of "scenic glue". My current recipe for this is based on a video by Paepercuts. Since the trees are pretty realistically sized I decided to base them together, this both makes them more stable and discourages people from lifting them by grabbing the foilage. While the trees are pretty sturdy and can survive wargaming, grabbing them isn't a good idea.
These were bent into shape and spray painted. Then I used tacky glue to attach small pieces of my preserved weeds. Then I flocked this using spray glue and foam turf flocks from Woodland Scenics. Shirty wanted orange trees, so I used oranges also bought from Woodland Scenics.Making these first trees for Shirty I decided to seal, and get rid of tackiness, them with a spray varnish. Somewhere I messed up because they got frosty. After some cursing this was remedied by lightly dry-brushing the trees with a olive green. This both covered the frosting (which was concentrated on the highest points) and made the tree look better.
Shirty asked me to make more trees to fill the garden of our Moorish palace. These trees were made using a mix of Woodland Scenics plastic tree armatures (TR1121 & TR1122). I made them in the same way as the first trees, but on one of them I replaced the weeds with Polyfiber. The Polyfiber created a much denser tree, but it was very easy to use. The bag of fiber provides enough to cover quite a few trees and is quite cheap so don't go hunting for some weird replacement. The Polyfiber tree got red fruits, I also made more orange trees. But what I really wanted was a lemon tree.
When life sells you apples and oranges, you have to make your own lemons. I decided to use hemp seeds that I otherwise feed winter birds with. The only problem was that they were mixed with their shells. To separate them I poured them out on a big platter, which I set down on an incline angle. Then I brushed the seeds and their shells upwards. The heavier and roundish seeds rolled down while the shells stayed on the upper side.
I then painted the seeds by putting them in a plastic container together with some yellow paint. This got both shaken and stirred. Then I spread it out on a sheet of baking paper to dry. While it did clump a bit I ended up with some pretty nice lemons. Thinking back on the process I wonder if you can use poppy seeds (white for easier painting!) to create smaller fruits.
The trees for the garden were based in planters made by putting a piece of styrofoam on a coin and covering the edges with coarse gravel.
To provide shade for the denizens (and invaders) of Gazala I also made a few trees using some of the larger Woodland Scenics armatures (TR1123). The bases I made with foam-core around spare wood or styrofoam.
That was quite a forest, hopefully you didn't miss it for all the trees.
Painting the Highlanders
A big issue when painting these was that I could simply not find a single contemporary colour photograph! Given that my cursory amateur research didn't show any signs of wether or not they actually fought in kilts in North Africa to begin with, I ended up going with a painting scheme that was based more on feeling than historical records. So if my colour choices are way off, I apologize in advance.
The biggest choice came when painting the kilts. The miniatures didn't include the pocket that comes in the middle of the kilt covers, so I assume they are not meant to look as if they wear them. However, it's also a very special look, and I didn't want to miss out of it - but I also didn't fancy converting kilt pockets on every single model. So I ended up half-ways, merely painting some sections as wearing kilt covers and painting the full pattern on other sections.
The kilts were not as hard to paint as I expected. I painted them dark blue, and then did the broad green lines and finally the thin yellow lines. The platoon was meant to be ready for my clubmates to use for our North Africa games, so I painted for speed. This meant that I only did highlights for a few of the colours, which I think is quite fine for tabletop quality paintjobs.
Some of the photos ended up really badly, but I hope it will give you an idea of how they ended up. Overall I really enjoyed this project, as it gave me a chance to both try out to do some conversions and also paint a unit that I had never heard of, or even less seen on a gaming table, before.
The Whole Platoon
Click for larger images
Here it is, the whole lot of them. I'm pretty happy with how they turned out. As you can see it's a lot bigger than an actual platoon, with five sections and several extras and support options. In Chain of Command you can use support points to buy extra sections, so it's always handy to paint up a few more men than the minimum number. However, that always puts you close to the temptation of just painting up a few more men to make a second platoon as well.
Officers, Medics, NCOs and Mascots
Click for bigger images
First out is the platoon commander, flanked by his batman, a trusty bagpipe player, and two medics. All of them are from Wargamers' Homestead. As you can see on them and the rifle armed NCOs I decided to mix and match, giving some of them the red-and-black regimental socks and some of them the simpler grey woolen ones. Some also have kilt covers. This way I think the multiples of the same casting doesn't look as obvious when using them on the table.
Finally I couldn't help painting up two mascots to follow these South Africans into the desert.
The commonwealth infantry platoon structure for 1942's North Africa calls for the NCOs to be armed with SMGs, so these Warlord conversions with Thompsons are there to make the platoon historically correctly equipped. However, if the rifle armed NCOs previously showed are used, these guys can also serve if the player buys extra SMGs to a section using support point.
Riflemen & LMGs
I painted up a some sections without kilt covers, and I think they will really stand out on the table next to the standard 8th Army or DAK forces. As mentioned before I used a minimum of highlights on these, yet the bold colours on the kilts are enough to make them special. The riflemen are all from Wargamers' Homestead.
I still gave some kilt covers though, which I think also ended up looking nice. I did a bunch of google image research when basing these, and found quite a lot of colourful wild flowers in Tunisia, Libya and Algeria. So I decided to use flowery tufts on some of these bases, and I really like the results.
The Bren gun teams are again just two single poses (Bren gunner and prone rifleman) being repeated, so I used a variation in the tufts on the bases to make them look less samey.
Examples of complete sections. Click for larger images.
The various extras such as mortars, anti-tank rifles etc. are a big part of Chain of Command games, so I couldn't do without them. It's also the part of this force where the new Warlord 8th army box came in handy, making up some gaps. All of these can be clicked for larger images.
Sniper team (Wargamers' Homestead)
Light mortar team (Warlord)
MMG team (Wargamers' Homestead)
Boys' anti-tank rifle team (Warlord gunner, Wargamers' Homestead spotter)
3" Mortar team (Wargamers' Homestead)
Extra Bren gun team (Bren gun from Wargamers' homestead, rifleman from Warlord conversion) and extra generic crew member (Warlord conversion)
Looking for some guns
With the bulk of the Cape Town troops close to being completed, I kept mulling over a problem. While the troops we bought covered most thing in a basic platoon, there were gaps. Most obviously, there were no SMG armed minis, and the Thompson SMG was a common armament for section leaders in the desert. There were also no anti-tank rifle, and only a medium mortar, not a light one. We were also a tad short of support weapon crews.
Needless to say, the options out there to add these are not great. There's a set of kilt wearing specialists from Pulp Miniatures which would net me a Thompson, but it would be quite impractical for equipping an entire platoon's worth of leaders. I had to look elsewhere.
Filling the gaps
Green stuff and magic sculpt are useful putties for filling in gaps on minis, so why not use it to fill the gaps in our Highlander force as well? We managed to time our North Africa adventures with Warlord's new releases for the theater, so I checked out their new 8th army plastic set. Indeed, it comes with both Boys' anti-tank rifles, 2 inch light mortars, and a bunch of Thompson SMGs. Perfect! It even comes with several head options, one of them being tam o' shanter caps. That's pretty much everything we need...
...except the kilts.
I went about to make some kilts and the kilt hose flashes out of modeling putty. It was a long time since I tried sculpting, so I tested several options. Both Kneadatite ("green stuff") alone, magic sculpt alone, and some different mixes of them. In the end, I liked mixing them best. If you mix a bit of magic sculpt into your green stuff, it becomes much harder and you can scrape or even file the material after it cures. Pure green stuff becomes much more like rubber.
Leaders with Thompson SMGs. Comparison mini on the right.
Mortar and AT rifle weapon teams, as well as an extra crew for the MMG.
Well, for good and for bad, Warlord minis are really beefy. To me it feels a bit odd, especually as you look at pictures from the desert, and a lot of soldiers look thin, lanky, and sinewy after serving for a while in the arid climate.
On the positive side, it was a great way to add both weapon teams and extra leaders to the platoon. The kilts were pretty quick to sculpt, even for a novice like me, though I'm not sure I'd have the stamina to sculpt kilts on the entire box.
Now I look forward to see how these guys will match up with a coat of paint on them. That, and I'll need to decide what to do with the rest of the box!
Why South African Highlanders?
This little project is an example of how sometimes, everything doesn't exactly fall perfectly into place, so you have to settle for something pretty neat, but not 100% perfect.
It all started when we had more or less chosen Gazala as the probable starting point of our ventures into the North Africa deserts. We already had several platoons either painted or planned out, and started pouring over the Orders of Battle for Gazala 1942. We had French legionnaires, we had Indians, we had Brittish motorized infantry, all of them partaking in the battle. But there were also two South African infantry divisions, forming the main frontline (the one that Rommel avoided) together with the 50th Northumbrian infantry division. While we could just use our British infantry to represent them, was there anything more interesting we could do with these formations crossing the continent to fight?
Somehow, one name stuck out of the list of regiments on that list - the Cape Town Highlanders. The mere idea of something so quintessentially Scottish as highlanders, but from the other side of the world? Now that's something unusual.
Cape Town Highlander History
Once I started reading up on them, they kind of grew on me. The regiment, formed mainly by South Africans with Scottish ancestry in 1885, saw action in many of the operations that we've looked into around the Mediterranean: from El Alamein to Monte Cassino and, of course, Gazala. While not in the thick of the fight during the initial and middle phase of the battle, the South African divisions fought a running defensive fight against Rommel's DAK after the writing was on the wall and the Allied forces around Tobruk were hastily ordered to pull back to the border to Egypt.
Such a retreat could make for some interesting games. They also didn't have that much of their own vehicles and other support options, relying more on British tank support, which would give me an excuse for not doubling our tank investments for the desert.
A final bonus is that I've never seen anyone making these as a wargaming force. I tried to google them, and found nothing remotely connected to wargaming.
Drafting the Platoon
As a tabletop wargamer, the next step is maybe one of those that tend to eat up way too much of my time, but can also be a lot of fun: finding the actual miniatures.
The tricky part was to even decide what they were going to represent. I simply could not find any pictures online of the Cape Town Highlanders in battle in North Africa. On one hand, I saw comments that no Highlanders fought in kilt after 1940, and there are plenty of pictures of say, Gordon and Cameron's highlanders that supports that:
The look above could easily be accomplished by using Perry's plastic Desert Rats, and the metal head swaps they have available. I also found pictures of the Cape Town Highlanders in Italy, in similar uniforms, either with typical highlander headgear or in helmets.
On the other hand, all the pictures I could find of the Cape Town Highlanders related to Africa had them in shirts, tropical helmets, kilts and kilt covers, which is just a very unique look:
Snazzy indeed! And I also found pictures that could be highlanders in kilt in North Africa, though online research is always sketchy as you can't trust the date or even the image descriptions:
But basically we have two options here: making quite similar to our other planned platoons, or potentially fudging things a bit to make a more interesting tabletop experience. I like historical accuracy, but I'm also prone to go with the Rule of Cool now and then, so why not dive in and make these Highlanders something unusual?
Sourcing the Miniatures
I don't think I'm alone in spending more time and effort in pouring over miniatures online than actually playing games. Searching for new available options, comparing them and finding companies you've never heard of before - it's really like digging for hidden treasure.
Finding suitable miniatures for our potentially slightly romanticized Highlanders turned out harder than expected! There are quite a few options out there for WWI or earlier conflicts, as well as non-kilt Highlanders suitable for 1944-45, but that's pretty much the only things we could find at first. That is, until a clubmate stumbled over an expired kickstarter project.
I had never heard of the company, Wargamers' Homestead LLC, before. But they turned out to be friendly enough and after some e-mailing we had ordered a full platoon, some a support weapons, and an extra section of riflemen.
Now, these are clearly depicting Highlanders in France 1940, so they are not perfect for this project. First of all, they have gasmask bags on their chests, something that I haven't seen that much of in North Africa in 1942. They also come with the Brodie helmet, where in the few pictures I have of the Cape Town Highlanders they sport the tropical helmets.
My initial plan was to make two conversions on these: to make a pocket flap on the front to make the kilt cover more obvious, and to cut off the Brodie helmets and replace them with tropical ones. But once I got the actual miniatures in my hands, I could tell two things:
1) it would be much harder than I expected to remove the helmets, and
2) if I were to paint up all these guys for September, I got to get a move on rather than spending time on kilt conversions.
The miniatures themselves looks pretty nice - far from the most detailed I've seen, but that can be a very good thing when you want to paint a force quickly. For miniatures destined for the tabletop rather than the display cabinet, clearly defined areas means they are easier to paint, and will usually look good at an arm's length or more.
First of all I glued all men on flat-headed nails and primed them with brown paint from a Tamiya spray can. Then I put down a very rough test painting scheme on them, to see how it would look, with the clubmates helpful support over Facebook. This is a good idea when you start out a new army, as you want to find out if you dislike the colour scheme before you've painstakingly have applied several colours on dozens of minis.
Test 1: Vallejo's British Tanker Highlight for the tan on shirt and kilt cover, desert yellow helmet, and a rather green khaki for webbing and socks.
This just didn't feel right. The crowds booed. Cats wept. Let's try it again.
Test 2: replaced the greenish khaki on the socks with Deck Tan. Added a splotch of red for contrast. Filled in the black on the rifle.
Much better balance IMHO, and I like the green khaki much more now when it doesn't take over quite as much.
Test 3: the big kilt cover line-up of 2018. In this blind test, kilt #3 from the left (Vallejo Light Mud) won out over the other contestants.
So, with two main issues settled - models and paint scheme, it's now down to the Mother of All Batches (64 men just for the rifles and LMGs!), as I get cracking on painting up the platoon plus support!