Friday, October 19, 2018

The 25 Cent Tank

The miniature vehicle that started it all.

The older boys on the block first had them: HO size soldiers and tanks. My mother asked where they bought them. So it was that my brother and I were introduced to the neighborhood hobby shop. There was a display that looked like little steps were small tanks.  Alongside were brightly-colored boxes that had HO- sized soldiers.

There was not much choice back then. The display had at most a dozen vehicles, maybe less. Two kinds of soldiers were available: an Infantry Combat group that could pass for GIs, and German infantry. Tanks and vehicles were 25 cents each. Boxes of soldiers were 50 cents.

We each got a box of soldiers which we would split up later, and a couple of tanks. The first tank was that little M4 Sherman. To buy them, we told the counterman the number of the vehicle we wanted. He would go to a back counter where there was a small stack of light gray boxes. It was then a matter of finding the right number and getting the tanks we wanted. The vehicles came in small plastic bags with a couple of decals.

The little M4 was slightly smaller than HO. I figure it was closer to 1/90. It was more delicate than the usual toy tank. The little M4 had a swivelling turret, a gun that raised and lowered, and a machine gun on top of the turret. Little wheels under the hull made it easier to roll on the table.

This was the first. We later bolstered our little HO army with Panzer 4s, Panthers, M47s, M48s. As the range of vehicles expanded over the years, so did our small armies.

The original M4 was a model of the M4A1 Sherman Medium tank, circa 1942 - 1945. ThisA1 version had a cast hull that gave it a rounded shape. The suspension was of a later sort introduced around 1944. The gun and other characteristics hied to initial production in 1942.

Little did hobbyists know that the suspension was a later type. These were the M4s that we had, and as we learned more of World War II tank history, we painted them accordingly.

The most common color was olive drab with the bright white star decals. When Airfix released their first series of Afrika Korps and 8th Army troops, many a ROCO M4 was painted in desert tan. Like the ROCO SWS half track, this was the only Sherman tank we had. Anachronistic suspension system be damned.

In 1967, ROCO introduced a 1/87 scale Sherman M4A4. This had the boxy look of a welded hull and it sported the earlier type of suspension. Slowly, it started replacing the earlier ROCO M4A1 on store shelves.

The little M4a1 was not going to go away. A Japanese company made molds copying 25 of the earliest ROCO tanks. Imported and sold under the UPC (United Powermaster) and Eldon Match Kit brands, the series retained the earlier M4a1 as well as the 1/100 M47 and M48. For several years afterward, these kits were available in hobby shops.

Another company also made its version of ROCO tanks. Aurora, the model kit maker known for its Universal Studios monster models, jumped in with a kit named for a popular TV show at the time. “Rat Patrol” included knockoffs of the ROCO Panzer 4 and panther tanks, a couple of jeeps and a squad of infantry. The set also had terrain pieces that included sand dunes and an oasis complete with a pond and palm trees.
ROCO and Aurora M4A1

Aurora introduced six of the small tanks under the name “Military Midgets.” These ROCO knockoffs included the first series M47 tank,, the M4A1, German Panther, German Panzer 4, Soviet JS33 “Staling” heavy tank and German “Wirblewind” flak tank. Aurora fitted the undersides with plastic wheels. Kits were sold pre-built.

Then came the Aurora kit that knocked everyone back a few pegs. Introduced in 1968, “Anzio Beach” was the ultimate model kit / diorama set. Inside the box were vehicles, terrain pieces, a landing craft, scenery, tank obstacles and soldiers. This set was a bargain, all told. If we had bought individual ROCO and Airfix pieces, we might have spent at least $5.00. Anzio Beach  cost $1.98.

Inside the box was that small M4A1 tank, a knockoff of the ROCO model. There was also an M47 tank, a first series type, plus the German Panther and German flak tank.  That alone was a bargain, as ROCO prices had climbed since 1961.There were soldiers, too. They were knockoffs of the Airfix US Marines and German Infantry. A small landing craft was big enough to carry a ROCO tank. Terrain pieces included a couple of dunes, a pillbox and a bunker. There were trees, rocks, tank obstacles, barrels and boxes.

Anzio Beach was available for several years. The little M4A1 was still around in significant numbers.

A Spanish company named EKO produced knockoffs of ROCO and Roskopf vehicles, though they gave several a few some improvements. The EKO M4A1 had only two differences: a little soft-plastic antenna was fitted on the turret, and the gun had a long muzzle brake.

ROCO may have ditched the M4A1 in 1967, but UPC, Eldon, Aurora and EKO kept it in production for many years afterward. Back in those early days, it was all we had and we were glad to have it.


The little M4A1 had one main flaw:  scale. It was smaller than HO 1/87. Yet for a tiny tank introduced at the time, it is a good model. Detail is decent. The engine cover, pioneer tools and the like are well represented. You can even see the back details where the upper hull overhangs in the rear. The little M4 goes together easily. It has an upper hull, lower hull, two pieces that are the left and right track and running gear, turret, main gun and machine gun. Where the hull clips together in front, the ROCO, Eldon / UPC and EKO pieces come together almost seamlessly. The clips on the Aurora M4 are more visible.

To paint, we used to disassemble the M4 and paint everything its base color. The usual paint was either Testor’s or Pactra olive drab. Tracks were painted Steel. Before we knew of the Pactra Steel ,we would mix Testor’s Silver and Flat Black. The turret machine gun was home-made Gunmetal, which was either Steel and flat black or Silver and Flat black, the black being the predominant color. The final touch was adding decals. These would be stars on the turret and sometimes, the glacis plate. Keep in mind that this was the 1960s and the better military hobby paints by Pactra had not yet made it to our local hobby shops. The little Testor’s and Pactra bottles were everything. Both companies also sold sets of Military Flats.

We went hog wild on the landing craft in Anzio Beach. Using Testor’s military flats, we would give a base coat of Gray. Next, we would apply wide Navy Blue and Sky Blue stripes as a camouflage. They looked great!
Unpainted Aurora "Anzio Beach" landing craft

For British tanks in the desert, we would base coat the M4 in Testor’s Desert Tan. Camouflage was done by adding Brown blotches. They looked pretty good. The hobby shop owner showed us how to camouflage a ROCO tank using Testor’s military Flats set. He sold a lot of paint that way.


The original M47 and M48 made by ROCO and Roskopf were 1/100 scale. By 1967, they had disappeared from the ROCO inventory. Both were replaced by better-detailed, 1/87 scale models. As Roskopf promoted itself as 1/100, it continued to make both tanks. Aurora copied the M47 for its Military Midgets and “Anzio Beach” set. EKO also produced the 1/100 versions.


Anachronisms. The M4A1 with hi-volute suspension did not appear until late 1943 - 1944. Previously, it had the Vertical Volute system.

Though included in Aurora’s “Anzio Beach”, the M47 tank did not begin production until 1950. Likewise, the Flak Panzer appeared in 1944, some time after the actual Anzio Beach landing.

The Panther tank included in Aurora’s Rat Patrol set is an anachronism. The Panther was not issued to German forces until after the end of the North African campaign.

The most long-lived of these tanks is the M47, whic h still sees service in some armies. As of this writing, Spain uses several as tank-recovery vehicles. Iran has 100 to 200 upgraded M47s with a replacement turret sporting a 105mm gun. These are used as reserve rather than front-line vehicles. The M47 has served continuously since 1950 and saw combat in Asia, the Middle East, Afrika, Pakistan and India, the Balkans and other places. Ironically ,though the M47 was produced and initially issued to the United States forces, the tank never saw combat with the American ground forces.
1/100 scale M47

Aurora’s Panther tank has a shorter barrel than counterparts from ROCO or EKO. The same went for the Aurora Military Midgets Stalin tank. The reason was packaging. Aurora truncated the barrels so they could more easily fir the blister packaging used for its Military Midgets series.
Aurora panther tank with shortened main gun
For more information on the Aurora "Anzio Beach" set, click here:

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Stinky People, A Hobby Hazard

The Stench Among Us

The owner of a Southwestern game shop posted a peculiar sign. It stated that those who participate in games at the shop could be ejected for having a bad odor. Whether it emanates from their clothes or themselves, stinkers will be given the boot at that shop.

A customer questioned the necessity for the sign. The shopkeeper replied that it was necessary. And from my many years hobby experience, I can confirm that. For various reasons, hobbies in general and gaming specifically attract an undo share of stinky people.

I was working at a hobby shop about 12 years ago. The shop had a little of everything: trains, games, fantasy figures and such.

One day, a chubby fellow in dirty khakis came into the shop. He had unkempt hair and wore a large pentagram around his neck. (The oversized pentagram would have gotten ridicule from my Wiccan friends.) I could smell him as soon as he came in the door. Tucking my Thor’s Hammer pendant under my collar, I hoped he did not want to start a conversation with me.

The smelly fellow looked about at gaming supplies, then came to the counter. He told me he could bring  many gamers into the store. I got the impression he was hinting at a job. And I knew the owner would never have hired him. It turns out the man who worked weekend evenings knew who he was. The stinker had been one of a small pack of gamers who frequented the shop a few years earlier. He was known for his stench.  Think of burnt poop.

For my part, I moved about behind the counter so as to dissuade conversation with the portly stench man. I also acted as if I knew little of gaming. He eventually left, promising to bring his friends.

I never saw or smelled him again.

There were other creeps and stinkers. Two very weird, middle aged individuals came in one day to look at trains. I directed them to the counter that had their scale. The smaller one who smelled like month-old smelts wanted to tell me about his trains. He had a reedy little voice, “I have Fleischmann and ....”

It was obvious that these two were not going to buy anything. They just wanted to talk to somebody.

I moved slowly to another part of the counter, and he followed me, still going on about his trains.

(A hint for the unknowing: the guy at the hobby counter does not want to hear you go on about your trains ,especially if the shop does not carry that brand.)

The little man asked if I was into trains and N scale. I didn’t tell him I run one of the largest non-commercial model railroading websites. My reply was an outright lie, “I don’t know much about trains. I am into fantasy gaming.”

The little man tried to continue his train talk, starting to explain something about trains to me. I smiled and said, “Yeah, I really don’t know about that. My thing is the stuff in this aisle.”

I pointed at the 25mm figures and fantasy gaming models.

By this time, his friend had finished looking at the counter and rejoined him.

“Is there anything you want,” I asked.

They shook their heads and left. I heard the fishy-stinky man say as they left, "I really wanted to talk to a train guy, but all he knows is that creepy stuff.”

Another customer was right there in the shop at the time. He knew that I was into trains, miniature soldiers and military vehicles. He said it was all he could do to keep from laughing. “I didn’t want to talk to those two, either” he blurted. Then he asked, “How much do you know about this fantasy stuff?

“Nowhere near as much as I know about trains, “I replied.

Back in the 70s, I was invited to play a medieval game at a friend’s house. He had a few people there. I knew about half of them. We were using a rule set I knew well. Setting up was pretty easy. Sitting at one end of the table was a big, shabby looking fellow. I did not know him. However, as the night wore on, I got more than a whiff. Suffice to say that by the end of the game, he was at one end of the table and everyone else was at the other end. He smelled of stale sweat and desiccated poop. The smell just got worse with each round.

I agreed to drive a couple of the players home. As we were leaving, my friend asked if I could drive the big stinker home. I stated that I was going in the other direction. As we got in the car, my passengers thanked me for ditching the portly pooper. A Ford Maverick is too confined a space for that!

Which makes me ask: have you ever had to ride next to a human stink bomb in a car? Do you worry that some of the stench might rub off on you?

The fact is that slobs, dirt-bags and human stink bombs are a hazard of hobbies. They can make an otherwise fun thing unpleasant. And for the dense duds who don’t know, think about this. If people don’t want to give you a ride, don’t want to have a conversation with you and don’t want to sit near you at the gaming table, take a hint. It’s time to shake hands with a bar of soap and introduce your attire to the laundry on a more frequent basis. Nobody likes a stench, especially when it emanates from a stinking, malodorous slob.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Tricks for Painting and Finishing Miniatures

What I use to paint figures.

For painting metal figures, I have a process. After casting an removing flash, I give it a once-over with a thin wire brush. The thin wires do not mess with the details. They leave tiny, almost invisible scoring. You need a magnifying glass to seed it. Paint adheres better because of those scores / grooves. Next, I wash it with water and let it dry overnight. Next day, I give it a coat of Rustoleum clean metal primer on all sides, including under the base.. After letting it dry for a couple hours, I bake it in a small toaster at about 250 to 270 degrees for about 20 minutes. This makes the paint primer harder.

I paint using various techniques. Usually I start with a base coat of the primary color for the figure. Next come the other colors, and then the details. Last I paint the top of the base a thick acrylic green or brown shade. While still wet, I add model railroading turf, usually a blend of grass and earth. For desert figures I use a base coat of dark yellowish tan paint and add playground sand.

Depending on the figure and the colors, I may also use washes and / or dry- brushing.

The final step is a flat / matte clear spray to protect the paint.

For plastic, I spray paint a base coat of flat enamel and let it dry. I follow up with acrylics. They adhere to the flat enamel well. Acrylics do not always adhere well to bare plastic.

I do NOT wire brush plastic figures. Never!

I use a hobby spray for plastic, such as Model Master (We used to like the old Pactra flat sprays.)

I use craft shop acrylics. Favorite brands are Folk Art, Deco Art, Apple Barrel and Anita’s. Years ago my friends and I used a brand called Polly S. Now it is made by Testor’s and is called Polly Scale. (I do not have a nearby hobby shop that carries it). The craft stuff is cheaper and you get more of it.

For clear coat, Folk Art makes a good flat. Rustoleum also makes a few..

I use Rustoleum Clean Metal Primer for priming .metal figures.

If I must brush on flat enamels, I use Testor’s in the small bottle. I have used Testor’s for over 55 years. I used to paint with Pactra, too, which is no longer available since it was bought out by Testor’s.

I use paint brushes and other items. Small hobby files and metal emery boards are quite useful. Knives are also valuable, be their a very sharp pocketknife of craft knives such as Excel and Exacto. Another goodie is the old Atlas Snap Saw.

For removing pieces from a sprue, I use a sprue cutter. In the past, I used a small wire cutter. Cutting is better than twisting. Cutting / snipping does not damage the piece. Twisting can mar the piece.

I buy good brushes. for the most part. I have a variety of sizes, from 4 to 00. Brushes are cleaned thoroughly after use. Better brushes last much longer than the cheap ones.

Toothpicks can also be used for many things from applying dots of paint to applying and shaping glue and putty. Round toothpicks are best. The pointy end can be further sharpened with a knife.

Birthday candles have their use. They can be used to heat the end of a pin. The pin is used to poke small holes in plastic, whether you are making bullet holes or holes for adding detail parts. Then there is the old “stretch sprue” trick. A piece of hard plastic (usually fro m a model kit sprue) can be held few inches over the flame until it is soft, then pull both ends to make thin pieces. These can be used for details, antennae, etc. Use this at your own risk. I keep a cup of sand around when I work with small fire. Sand can douse the flame and is a lot less messy than water.

Small wire brads can be used to replace broken rifle barrels in 45mm to 60mm figures.

Most of my tricks were developed because I could not buy better items when I was younger. For instance, I did not have an airbrush or more advanced hobby equipment. It was all hand tools.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Notes on Building Compact Train Layouts

The trick to small layout design is to allow as much action as possible without clutter or cramming. You want trains to move. Scenery has to be added judiciously. You don’t want to pack things tightly. A good blend of track, structures, signals and natural things makes for a pleasant layout.

Know your trains. Know what you will run on the small layout. Understand that the value of compactness has a pay-off. In gaining action in a small space, you lose the ability to run larger trains. Shorter locomotives and cars thrive on a small pike as much as a large one. Even if they can make the curves and tolerances, large trains look awkward. Overhanging passenger cars and long freight cars detract from the appeal of running a train.

Several things affect the design of the track plan. Will it be realistic, whimsical, classic “tinscale” or something else? Do you want to run operating cars and accessories on it? How important is scenery? Do you want your scenery to look realistic, “tin-litho” or toy-like? Questions like these lead to developing the layout that best suits your desires.

Operating systems are less of an issue on a compact railway. The electronic systems like TMCC, DCS and DCC hit their stride with larger layouts. Much of their value is wasted on a small pike, where everything is pretty much in reach. Indeed, manual accessories and switches can be used comfortably on a very small layout. Transformer control is more than adequate. Likewise, wiring is much easier.

Understand that different brands and styles of track have different track geometry. Pick track that fits your area nicely.

Last, what is in your budget? You can make a small layout that is within your means. You can also add to it gradually.

The main rule is that it is YOUR  railroad so make it the way you want it.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Brief Breakdown of Hobbies and the Trade War Tariffs

  1) Most manufacturers of both toy soldiers and model trains are inextricably locked into Chinese manufacturing.

2) The days of low prices for Chinese-made hobby goods ended about ten years ago.

3) A trade war with high tariffs on Chinese hobby goods (20% to 30%) will jack prices 25% to 35%. The extra 5%  is the cost of re-pricing, producing new price lists, additional customs costs, etc. Your $450 locomotive is going to cost $550 to $650. Your box of soldiers is going to go from $15 to $20.

3) Lionel Trains has started making some of its goods in North Carolina. Tim Mee is made in the USA. AIP has moved back to the USA. Hasbro is backing out of China.  MTH, Bachmann, RMT, BMC, LOD, and most of Lionel is made in China. While some production could be moved to Korea, it will still be a costly thing. Moving production will require retooling, setting up facilities, hiring and training staff, etc. That takes time and money.

4) Everything is going to be utter chaos until the dust settles.

5) Either way, you (the hobbyist) lose.

The manufacturers should have heeded a time-honored piece if advice:

Don’t put your eggs in one basket!

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Fundraiser for American Legion Post 54 veterans

American Legion Post 54 is celebrating its Centennial next year. (1919 - 2019) We are one of the oldest posts in the country. Several events are being planned. As a fund raiser, we are selling certificates to get a professional car wash at Freehold Raceway Car Wash in Freehold Township. I have several of these tickets. You get exterior wash, wheels & tires cleaned, interior vacuum, dash dusted, windows inside and out, towel dry. If you are in the Freehold area and would like to support us and get a great car wash, contact me. Tickets are $19 each.

Thanks in advance!

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Additions, Updates and Improvement’s to Grant’s “Battle” Wargame Rules.

More on Grant’s Battle Rules

As I implied in an earlier post, I really like Charles’ Grant’s World War II rules: “Battle: Practical Wargaming.”  They are a good blend of realism and playability. The problem with them is that they are limited. Grant set the rules in the last year of World War II. As such, he included a small assortment of tanks, artillery and infantry options. Much was based on available models at the time.
This page has a variety of updates, additions and optional rules for playing Battle. You can choose whic h ones you like, adapt them as you see fit, or use them as a jumping-off point foir devising your own improvements.
I decided to use Grant’s rules as the basis for a trio of mini-wargames for model tanks and small scale soldiers. Following his lead, I was able to develop Speeds as well as Defense and Attack values for vehicles and weapons that he did not list. I also made some adjustments to “true up” the list with knowledge I had of armored vehicles.

Expanded charts: The original book gave charts for Defensive Value, Attack Value and Movement for a handful of vehicles. I have expanded that and made a few corrections along the way. These are included in three sets of “mini-rules” I compiled back in `05. I based these on Grant’s system.

Hans Und Panzer covers World War II circa 1943-1945 It covers many tanks and guns not included in the original Battle. Download a copy here:

Hand Und Panzer Afrika Korps covers World War II circa 1939 - 1943 It includes several tanks and weapons used in the early part of the war. One typo: we listed the 45mm gun as German when it should have been Soviet. Get it here:

Krunch a Commie covers the Cold War from 1946 to about 1975. There may be some discrepancies. For instance, we list the Defensive Value of the Centurion at 18 based on an early model. The later model would be 19 or 20. I did not figure guided missiles like the TOW, Sagger or Shillelagh into the rules, nor was there any mention of reactive armor. I may have to work these out in the future along with larger HEAT weapons like the 106mm recoilless rifle.  (I can tell you from experience that firing the 106 is a wonderful experience. Really cool!)  Get it here:

Because of information I had, I have corrected a few of the armor values and such. These booklets can be used with Grant’s rules


I use a different system for anti-tank gun hits. The front of a tank is at full Defensive Value. The sides are 2/3 this value, and  the rear is ½. Though most tanks have ½ the armor on the sides, I take into account the skill of the drive ro minimize vulnerability. Otherwise, it would be Front: Full Defensive Value;  Side: Half of Defensive Value;  Rear, 1/3 Defensive value

When determining Defensive Value from sides or rear and you get an oddball number, round up.

Let’s be blunt: you may not agree with all of my Defense and Attack values. No problem. This is a hobby, not a religion or a science. Adapt and improvise as you see fit.


If you want to take into account the skill and leadership of different armies, consider this

The US and Commonwealth armies are the baseline.

Soviet and Italian crews had less training both for troops and officers. However, Italian troops improved during the course of the North African campaign. Soviet troops were rushed through training. This is reflected in both morale and shooting.

Tanks and AT guns and morale:

Italians prior to July 1942 and Soviet crews fire at -1 on the first shot at a target.

Italians prior to July 1942 and Soviet troops get -1 on morale rolls.

Italian troops improved as they gained combat experience. Also, some units in North Africa were retrained by Rommel.


Optional horse cavalry rules (Cossacks, etc.) Cavalry moves 10" on road, 6" off road. Cavalry goes through woods at ½ cross-country speed.


The morale rule I included in the mini games was a simple one. Frankly, I think Grant’s system is just as good. In his method, 10 is the base number. Points are added or subtracted and a single die is rolled. If the score adds up to more than 10, the unit is okay. If less, the unit stays in place .It must roll for morale the next turn. If it is nine or less, the unit retreats 1 full turn. It will continue to roll for morale at the beginning of each turn until it either routs off the board or scores 10 or more and operates according to orders. An officer can be sent the intercept the unit and help improve the morale score.

I have yet to work out a rule extending visibility to 60 inches. Such a rule would be very useful for fighting in the Desert (North Afrika, Egypt and Syria) as well as Cold War combat after 1960. In the latter case, improved optics and range finders make a difference. Again, there is also the issue of guided weapons that appeared in the 1970s. TOW and Shillelagh missiles come to mind. The trick is to keep it simple land practical. We do not want to confuse anyone. We have to be considerate.

Likewise. I do not feel confident that I can come up with values for the modern super-tanks such as the M1 Abrams, Challenger, T-90 and Leopard 2. The same goes for guided artillery and rocketry. This is why my games stop around 1975. Military technology has surpassed game play.


Grant’s Additional Rules

In the additional Rules ( chapters 27 to 32, originally printed in Meccano magazine) are rules for terrain. Grant used graduated hills, somewhat like those of little wars, but contoured. Each contour was a rise of 50 feet. Going uphill reduced speed by ½, whether cross country or on  road. Thus, going up a contour, a half move was plotted from the start point on the lower contour to the end point on the next one.

A point about 1 inch over the center of the top contour represents the hilltop. Troops on one side of the hill cannot see troops on the other side of the imaginary top unless one or the other crests the hill.

In Grant’s rules, movement through woods was 2/3 cross-country speed for Infantry. They were impassable to vehicles. There was no penalty for vehicles or men moving on roads through woods.

Rivers could only be crossed at fords and bridges. Smaller streams could be crossed at these rates: 2 moves for infantry and 4 moves for vehicles. The latter includes man-pushed artillery.


Optional scenery / terrain rules: 

Swamps are impassable except for amphibious vehicles. For LVTs, DUKWs, Schwimmwagens, etc, crossing swamps is at ½ cross country speed.

Lakes are impassable to all but amphibious vehicles. These can move at ½ cross-country speed.

Rivers: Amphibious vehicles cross rivers in one move. However, an optional thing is to roll for current. Determine direction of current before the game starts. Roll die for each vehicle. Each pip is 1 inch for small vehicles like schimmwagens and Weasels.  It is ½ inches for larger things like DUKWs and LVTs. This is how far down-stream a vehicle will emerge from the river.

Optional bridge rules: The infrastructure in Europe and Asia was a hit-and- miss thing. This was especially true in Eastern Europe, China, Korea, Southeast Asia, Indonesia, New Guinea, and the Pacific islands. Not all bridges were created equally. Some could handle tanks, some could only handle lighter vehicles, and some could only handle horse carts and men. You can agree to rate bridges before the game:

Class 1: all vehicles
Class 2: medium tanks and lighter
Class 3: light tanks, half tracks and lighter
Class4: wheeled vehicles, armored cars and lighter
Class 5: men, horses, horse carts

A Class 1 would be obvious because of its size and strength. Some bridges should be obvious by their width. Some may not be as obvious. An optional rule is that the strength of Class 2, 3 and 4 might have to be revealed either by crossing them or by sending a scout to check them out first.

Once a vehicle enters a bridge, the bridge’s class is revealed. A scout takes 1/2 move to reveal the class of a bridge.

On crossing, a vehicle two or more classes higher than the bridge will damage it. Roll a die. 1, no damage. 2, 3, 4 moderate damage. The bridge’s class is lowered 1 level (For instance, a Class 3 becomes a Class 4 for the rest of the game). 5, 6 the bridge becomes impassable except by infantry. In the case of a 5 or 6, roll another die to see the fate of  the vehicle: 5 or 6 means it falls in the collapse and is unusable for the rest of the game. 3,4 means it does not cross and must be immobile for 1 move. 1, 2 it crosses but must remain immobile for 1 move.

A vehicle 1 class higher than the bridge does damage thus: roll 1 die. On a 6, the bridge collapses. Roll as above for a collapsed bridge to see if the vehicle gets through.  4, 5, the vehicle cannot cross and the bridge is reduced 1 class. 2 or 3 the vehicle crosses but the bridge cannot take any other vehicle higher than its class without collapsing. On 1, the vehicle gets across without damage to the bridge or itself.

Class 5 bridges are always impassable by vehicles. There is no need to roll a die to determine their class. Class 5 bridges always look impassable to vehicles.

Artillery attacks on bridges: batteries of guns of 75mm or higher can fire to damage bridges. First, they must hit the bridge as per the regular artillery rules. If hit, a die is rolled. If the die roll is higher than the class of the bridge, another die is cast:

1, 2, 3: Bridge reduced 1 class.
4, 5: Bridge reduced 2 classes
6: bridge totally out.

If a bridge is hit several times and is reduced past 1, it is out.


I still prefer the small-scale HO, OO and 1/100 vehicles by ROCO, Airfix, EKO and Roskopf. They are more fun that the 1/285 and 1/300 stuff. I got my start with ROCO and Airfix and tend to favor them. However, there are other makes out there offering good stuff. The soldiers by Caesar and Pegasus look nice. Matchbox  made nice figures and models, too. Esci is okay, but in my opinion, not as good as Airfix.

Back then, I was unaware of Comet / Authenticast 1/108 scale recognition models of military vehicles. Nobody around us imported Roskopf models.  We had what our hobby shops had. In our neighborhood, it was ROCO MiniTanks and Airfix soldiers and tank kits. At the time that Grant wrote his book, things were limited. ROCO had yet to release its German kubelwagen and schwimmwagen (German “jeeps”). Most of the available models and kits were of US and German vehicles. ROCO made two Postwar British tanks and only three World War II Soviet tanks. Most of the MiniTanks artillery was American. Airfix made a few British vehicles and guns.

As for soldiers, Airfix was the main source. The available sets for World War II were German infantry, Infantry Combat Group (British), 8th Army, Afrika Korps, US Marines, Russian Infantry, Japanese Infantry and Russian Infantry. The British Commandos had not yet been released. Our only other sources fo small soldiers were a few small ROCO sets and Giant, a Hong Kong manufacturer. Giant made crude US and German troops.

Since then, we have access to many more models from other makers. Roskopf became available. Matchbox, Fujimi, Hasegawa and Revell made vehicle kits. Matchbox, Revell, Esci, Pegasus and Caesar also made small-scale soldiers. That alone is cause to update the rules.

For info on the tiny tanks and soldiers, click here:

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Grant's "Battle" and World War II Wargaming

I have been re-reading Charles Grant’s “Battle: Practical Wargaming.” It is a good set of rules for World War II wargaming. In fact, three of my mini games are based on it. (Hans und Panzer, Hans und Panzer Afrika, and Krunch a commie - all available here:  )

Over the years, I have read and tried several rule sets for the World War II to Modern Era. My first set were the Featherstone rules given in Wargames: Battles and Manoeuvres with Model Soldiers. (British people routinely mis-spell words like maneuvers. They clearly do not understand nuances of the language.)  Nice for a start, but lacking. His second set in Battles with Model Soldiers were actually limited to model vehicles and artillery made by Airfix at the time. So it was on to other rules.

Somehow I had missed Charles Grant’s rules at the time. I did not get a set until almost 20 years ago. Needless to say, I liked them instantly. There were a few bugs, but for the most part, they were excellent. Granted that the original rules were a bit spare, insofar as they only covered a few vehicles in the last year of the War. Extrapolating values for other vehicles and guns was relatively easy. The rules themselves were practical and allowed for a fun game without a lot of useless complexity.

One glitch was how Grant handled the differing armor on the sides and rear of a tank. I prefer a more realistic scenario: In mine, tanks hit frontally are judged by the full Defensive value for that particular vehicle. A side shot is given 2/3 the Defensive Value, and a rear shot is ½ the value.  This takes into account that tank drivers will try to minimize vulnerability insofar as the sides, so that 2/3 is more reasonable than ½. We have to take account of actual armor thickness and the way they were operated. My addition fits the real nature of armored vehicles.

When reading older works, be aware of the hobby situation at the time. There were fewer models available, and that includes vehicles, artillery and infantry. Airfix was the most common source for infantry and 1/76 scale tanks up until the early 1970s. Fujimi emerged around 1972 (that’s when I saw my first Fujimi kit - a King Tiger) Matchbox came a little later. ROCO had the largest line of tanks and had been imported into the US and UK since 1961.
Roskopf was out there, but was not as available in the US.

Everyone made a Sherman or two, Panzer IIIs and IVs, a Tiger, a panther and a T34. You could get them in 1/72 ( Hasegawa ), 1/76, 1/87 and 1/100.  Try to find a Nashorn, Hummel or M7 “priest” and you were out of luck. And while it was easy to get infantry for the major components, they still had not come out with the smaller contingents. You could find US, German and British infantry as well as paratroopers and Commandos, but it was a while before you could find a set of Cafones (Italians) or a Box o’ Bogans (Australians). Folks had to substitute, convert, or make do.

Then there were the “new” 1/285 scale tanks. What fun is wargaming when your tanks are half the size of N scale?

Wargaming itself was about to get cluttered. There were many sets of rules being published. Featherstone, Gygax, Scruby, Grant, Bath, Barker, Quarrie, and a host of others were churning out rule sets for a variety of eras and conflicts. By the mid-70s, there was a glut of rules. All you had to do was walk into the “new” Compleat Strategist and be overwhelmed by the available games and rules.

But I still prefer the old-school rules.

Hans und Panzer, Hans und Panzer Afrika Korps (1939 - 1943) and Krunch a Commie (Cold War ) contain updated Defense Values and Attack Values as well as Speed and Movement tables compatible with Grant’s Battle rules. They cover many of the tanks, other vehicles and anti-tank guns of their respective eras. These games are also compatible with each other.


There are three subtle jokes included in the above article. Did you catch them?

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Ubiquitous ROCO Schwere SWS Half Track

Older hobbyists will remember the days when scale and availability of models were all relative.

The Military Model Special Law of Relativity, circa 1960 to 1980: If it looks close enough, it will suffice.

The Military Model General Law of Relativity, circa 1960 to 1980: Regardless of scale or the type of item, if it looks close enough, it will do just fine.

SdKfz 250 Half-track
For most of World War II, Germany used two types of armored half tracks. These were the SdKfz (or as we called ‘em: Skid-fizz) 250 and 251 half-tracks. These were used in North Africa, Italy, Western Europe and the East. Look at old pictures of the Wehrmacht and if there is an armored half track, it is most likely a 250 or 251.

Tell that to the small-scale manufacturers!

SdKfz 251 (Bundesarchiv photo)
Early in the game (1961), Austrian model maker ROCO produced the German Schwere SWS heavy half track. This was a large armored half track with angular lines. It looked cool. ROCO made a plain open version, two open versions with the 20mm and 37mm flak guns, respectively, and covered versions. The latter included a “neberlwerfer” rocket launcher, sound detector and searchlight.

The SWS looked great with its sharp, angular lines. As I remember, when first introduced, they were 25 cents each in the local hobby shop. From 1961 to the mid-1970s, these were the only armored German half-tracks in small scale. As such, they were put into model, diorama and wargame service for North Africa, Sicily, Italy, Western Europe and the Russian front. The ROCO SWS half-tracks showed up in miniature depicting battles from 1939 to 1945.

UPC and Eldon offered copies of the ROCO half-tracks as kits.

There was one problem. A prototype problem.

The SWS half-tracks did not roll off the production line until late1943. (Sources vary, some saying the SWS was available in late 1943, others in mid 1944.) These were produced in Czechoslovakia, by the way. After the war, the Czechs produced an improved version for themselves.
ROCO SWS Half Track

But Czechs and balances or no Czechs and balances: the SWS was a latecomer. There were none in North Africa or Sicily. No SWS half-tracks figured in the invasions of Poland, France, Greece, the Balkans or Russia. They were not there for the rush to Stalingrad and the Caucasus. The SWS did not appear until after Kursk and Anzio. It may have been available in the West for D-Day.
SWS with Sound Detector

Some hobbyists knew this, but then, there was no other half-track in town. A really good modeler could scratch-build a SkidFizz 250 or 251, but it was a lot of work.  Good luck! For most of us, the SWS was the one and only Heinie Halftrack we could get.

Then came a surprise. A Japanese company called Eidai started exporting kits of the 251 Half track. These were simple. They had few parts and they snapped together. The Eidai 251 was 1/76 scale. At a time when scale was a relative thing, this was a welcome item, indeed! Yet despite the Eidai 251, many an SWS served in the armies of numerous wargames.

SWS Raketenwerfer

Because history notwithstanding ,we loved the little things!

Eidai has disappeared for a while, but those ROCO SWS half-tracks are still out there in numbers.

Like the song says, “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.”

That is pretty much how we operated in the early days of small-scale vehicles.

So it is with the HO sized ROCO SWS half-track.

(Schwere is what they call obese Germans and Austrians. SWS is anacronum for “Schwere Wehrmacht Schlepper”. In English, that translated to Heavy Army Hauler or Heavy Army Carrier. Schlepper means the same in German and Yiddish. You do not want to be the schlepper. If you have ever lived within 20 miles of New York City, you know what the schlepper is.)
Schwere SWS with 37mm Gun (Compare with SdKfz 7 photo below)

SdKfz 7 (8t)

Could there be a fluke to justify the SWS prior to late 1943?

Some people may confuse the Schwere SWS with the SdKfz 7 SWS. The SkidFizz 7 was built on specifications laid out in 1932. It was a half-tracked unarmored vehicle that served as a prime mover, personnel carrier, flatbed “truck”, and flak vehicle.  SdKfz7 served German forces throughout the war.

The designation SWS could be the monkey wrench in the works.

The SdKfz 7 Half track started life as an open, unarmored vehicle in several variations. It was used on all fronts as a prime mover and artillery tractor. Fitted with bench seating, the vehicle could tow a field piece and transport its crew. With an open bed, it was also a mount for 20mm and 37mm flak guns. The SdKfz 7 was a workhorse half-track. Some 12,000 were produced.
SdKfz 7 as Artillery Tractor

There were armored variants. Some were local variants produced in battalion workshops. After August 1943, all SdKfz 7 flakwagens were partially armored. On these vehicles, the cab and engine compartment were fitted with 8mm armored plating. (This is about 3/8 of an inch for people who have the good sense to use the SAE system of measurements.) Aside from the gun shield, the rest of the vehicle was unarmored. There were also a few locally-fitted armored prime movers used to haul “bunker-buster” field guns.

SdKfz 7 Flakwagen (late 1943 - 1945)
Compare photos of the armored SdKfz 7 with those of the later Schwere SMS. In the days when scale was relative and vehicle types were interchangeable, one might have passed for the other in a small-scale battlefield. However, we are confronted with two matters of history.

1) The armored-cab SkidFizz 7 flakwagens first appeared in late 1943.
2) The armored prime movers are boxy and look nothing like the Schwere SWS. I have no date on them and assume they were locally-altered variants. I have only seen photos of them carrying the bunker-buster gun.

This fluke of history has been torpedoed! Even something with a semblance to the Schwere SWS did not appear until late 1943.

Still and all, it looks cool!
Unarmored SdKfz 7 flakwagen


What about the 1/107 scale metal “tank identification” vehicles by Comet / Authenticast? They were not common in the 1960s. Comet / Authenticast was in decline in those years. Very few shops carried them. Very few even knew those vehicles existed. I only learned of the metal Comet / Authenticast tanks within the last 20 years. My first knowledge of tanks like that were the Denzil-Skinner models from Britain that were sold by Henry Bodenstedt”s Continental Hobbies in Farmingdale, NJ. Too small for us! The smallest models my crew used were Roskopf at 1/100.
Comet / Authenticast Panzer IV F2 and F1

Of course, 15mm scale was relatively new at the time and the only examples I had seen were Medieval figures.

Hobbies were not as cohesive as they are now.

Most local hobby dealers specialized in one thing nor another. Our neighborhood shop started as a vendor of model kits and HO scale trains. (I am sure this also happened in Canada and the UK.) Beyond his specialties, he only knew what his distributors advertised. AHM was the biggest importer and distributor around ,which is how hobby shops learned of ROCO tanks and Airfix soldiers. Our shop carried them and sold a lot, but their expertise was in trains , balsa aircraft models and plastic model kits. Even hobby superstores like Polk’s did not display everything they carried. I never saw Comet / Authenticast tanks there. You had to ask for some things. That meant you had to know they were available.(They did carry SAE 30mm figures for a while.)

The inventory of any shop was limited to what the owners’ knew. Our local shop had loads of Aurora monster models and kits for building airplanes, automobiles and ships. They had everything you needed for HO trains. And the soldiers and tanks were mostly what they got from AHM, most of which were Airfix and ROCO. AHM was very good at promoting products to its dealer network, by the way.
Comet / Authenticast US M6 Heavy Tank, M4 Sherman and M3 Half-track

Dealers like Henry Bodenstedt expanded our horizons. I did not know of him until 1972, as his shop was over an hour’s drive from my town. Continental Hobbies imported and sold things that were not widely available. Other than FAO Schwartz, his was the only place I saw Elastolin Figures. Continental Hobbies was our only source for Roskopf tanks.

So it was that we were limited by our local dealers. Indeed, there were ads in the wargaming and military model magazines, but mail order was a bigger pain in the ass than a Celtic girlfriend (Irish, Scottish or Welsh: take your pick. If you dated one you know damn well of which I speak.)  We ordered through our local shops, if possible.*

Another example: getting 25mm metal castings in the 1970s was a trip until the Compleat Strategist opened on 34th street in NYC. They had all the good stuff. It was half historical stuff, half nerdware. You could get Vikings, Romans, and ogres and trolls without the hassles of mail-order.

So it was that many things we might have liked were denied us. We made do with what we could get. People were more dependent on their local hobby dealer than they are today.


Another problem was the matter of Soviet ordnance. ROCO led off with a Stalin JSIII, and eventually caught up with the T34, T44 and T54 (T55). There were no other vehicles to match them. Roskopf was very uncommon in the US at the time. It was not until the early 70s that we found an importer who carried Roskopf.
Roskopf Soviet T-10 Heavy Tank, 1/100 scale model

That opened a new world to us: T10s, BRDMs and BTRs of every variety. And it had a two-fold effect. Wargamers and other hobbyists had a wider range of tanks, and military personnel had more realistic vehicles for those sand table exercises and such.
Roskopf Soviet BTR 152 w/ dual AA guns. 1/100 scale model

I remember going on a run to a hobby shop for model tanks for sand-table work around `76. I was in the National Guard at the time. The officers brought me along because I had a solid knowledge of tanks, other vehicles, and when and where they were used. Suffice to say I was one of the best at tank identification in the entire battalion. It was a talent I carried over from the Regular Army and my hobby. Some of us had seen the real Soviet stuff up close and personal. If not from seeing it overseas, many Army installations had a few captured Soviet vehicles on display. Fort Drum had a few. Russian death traps, indeed!
Roskopf Soviet KV2 heavy tank, 1/100 scale model


*Mail order meant sending 25 cents for a catalog and waiting several weeks. Then one pored through the catalog, filled in the order form and wrote a check or money order. Those who mailed cash took their chances. Usually, you had to pick a few alternate items in case the ones you wanted were “out of stock.”

The order took several weeks to arrive, The mail-order vendor usually waited two or three weeks for your check to clear. Most sent parcel post, the slow way. (Any wonder we call it “snail mail”?) Hope that they got the order right. If something was wrong or missing, you had a problem. Send another letter and in cases of exchanges, pack it up and go to the post office to send it back.


If you found the reference to Celtic Girlfriends amusing, here is an amusing tale from my non-hobby blog: Though this article references women of only one Celtic group, it applies to all of them:

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Review: Wargaming Airborne Operations by Donald Featherstone,

Wargaming Airborne Operations.  by Donald Featherstone, copyright 1977 Kaye and Ward Ltd.
British Paratroopers, 1944

(A few months ago. I read “A Bridge Too Far” again. Two weeks ago, I saw the movie version again. Seeing a copy of Wargaming Airborne Operations offered, I bought it. Here is my review.)

American Paratrooper with Bazooka
I just finished reading Donald Featherstone’s Wargaming Airborne Operations. It is quite a read - 249 pages. Over 3/4 of the book covers the history, equipment and tactics of airborne operations. That includes coverage of Airborne operations by both sides in World War II. Less than 1/4 is the wargaming ,with advice on everything from troop scale to simulating airdrops. Be advised that this is not a hard-and-fast set of rules. Much is offered as suggestions for further development by the individual wargamer.

One thing is for sure: when you finish reading Wargaming Airborne Operations, you will have a good feel for airborne missions. Featherstone did excellent research into the subject. There is good information on the troops, their equipment and their weapons. Also explained are the types of aircraft and the role of pathfinders and supply drops.

The next part of the book discusses various airborne operations in World War II. It covers small operations as well as Market Garden (Arnhem) and Crete. In one section, Crete and Arnhem are explained in some depth, accompanied by wargame photos.
German Paratroopers

The wargaming section covers everything from movement to firing. It also offers several innovative (and some quaint) ways to simulate parachute drops and glider landings. There are also charts for armored vehicles and the penetrating power of anti-rank guns. This is all “old school” wargaming. It is very straightforward.

The wargaming section is not a cut-and-dried set of rules, however. Many things are suggestions aimed at experienced wargamers. Among these are “Chance Cards’ and “Military Possibilities” which add some of the unpredictable facts or war.

The end includes appendices. One described the structure of German, British and Americans Airborne formations. Another is a brief discourse on realistic battle fields. The last covers sources of miniatures and gear. Several of these no longer exist.

Personally, I enjoyed Wargaming Airborne Operations. It was very informative and certainly made the idea of airborne wargaming more appealing. It gave me new respect for the dangers and difficulties of conducting Airborne operations. I like the fact that the rules can be used with HO, and 1/72 scale troops and vehicles. (Call it what you will, but I was never interested in wargaming with 1/300 scale micro tanks.)

Wargaming Airborne Operations gives a lot of historical information and presents rules that work well with old school wargaming.. Informative and enjoyable, the book will give you insight into the hazards of airborne warfare. A great addition to the wargames library.
Paratroopers in C47 Airplane


British Paratroopers by Airfix (courtesy of Timothy Hall)
Though I have read of World War II airborne operations in the past, I never read of them together. Wargaming Airborne Operations covers German, US and UK operations one after another. It gives a person a lot of perspective about the vulnerability and dangers of airborne missions. One of the first things that becomes obvious is the high percentage of casualties. Many troops do not make it to their drop zones due to antiaircraft fire. Those that make it face other hazard, from being dropped in the wrong place to landing on an alert enemy.
German Paratroopers by Airfix (courtesy of Timothy Hall)

Airborne operations are risky. In World War II, they were dangerous and resulted in high casualty rates. Everything from falling in lakes to catching anti-aircraft fire made parachuting I get the impression that these kind of missions were often Pyrrhic victories. The training, discipline and leadership of airborne troops have to be intense.