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:  http://www.thortrains.net/milihistriot/muzzleblastanks.pdf

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: http://www.thortrains.net/milihistriot/muzzleblastafrika.pdf

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: http://www.thortrains.net/milihistriot/muzzleblastcoldwar.pdf

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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: http://www.thortrains.net/armymen/minimen/tinymen.html





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:  http://www.thortrains.net/milihistriot/downloads.html  )

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.

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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.
ROCO SWS


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
Why?

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)

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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

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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.

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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

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*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.

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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: http://thorsmanstuff.blogspot.com/2018/05/paddy-beaks-and-viking-descendants.html

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

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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.


Friday, May 4, 2018

Making Sense of Wargame Small Scales

Minifigs English Civil War figures, 25mm

Aside from the  plastic figure scales mentioned in a previous article, classic wargame figures have been measured in millimeters. There are N - 12mm, 15mm, 20mm, 25mm, 28.8mm, 30mm, 40mm and 42mm. These were the supposed height of a scale figures representing a 6-foot man.

These measurements were not absolute. There was  controversy. Back in the 70s, some makers measured from bottom of foot to top of head. Some measured from the bottom of the base. Others measured to the top of the headgear rather than the head itself. Lack of a standard caused a lot of confusion. One of the common lamest was how one company’s 25mm looked like another’s 30mm, and vice versa.

So-called 20mm scale is actually HO. It is covered in a previous article. (Click here for article:  http://thortrains.blogspot.com/2018/05/small-scale-measurements-simplified.html)

I am including 45mm because it has become popular with toy soldier gamers. Many of the Chinese clones of plastic figures run small, and 45mm has become common as a result. The recast Marx Army Training Set and old Payton figures are 45mm scale.

Some wargame scales equate with model kit and model railroading scales. For all intents and purposes, 25mm = 1/72 scale. 28mm = 1/64 (S Gauge for trains) 30mm = 1/60 scale  40mm = 1/45  scale (German O scale) 42mm = 1/43.1 (British O scale). 45mm = 1/40 (The scale of the old Renwal / Revell military models).

Here is a breakdown of the scales and the size of one scale foot:

N 2mm = 1 scale foot   A 6 foot man is 12mm, or ½ inch tall
15mm 2.5mm = 1 scale foot   A 6 foot man is 15mm tall
25mm  4.3mm = 1 scale foot  A 6 foot man is 25mm tall
28 (28.8) 4.8 mm = 1 scale foot   A 6 foot man is 28.8mm tall
30mm  5mm = 1 scale foot    A 6 foot man is 30mm tall
40mm 6.66mm = 1 scale foot   A 6 foot man is 40mm tall
42mm - 7mm = 1 scale foot    A 6 foot man is 42mm tall
45mm - 7.5mm = 1 scale foot A 6 foot man is 45mm tall

The difference between 28.8mm and 30mm is a mere 1.2 mm. These scales are often intermixed. Likewise, 40mm and 42mm have a difference of 2mm. They are often used interchangeably. 25mm is 4,2 mm different from 28.8mm and 5mm from 30mm. The difference between N and 15mm is 3mm.

Minifigs English Civil War figures, 25mm


A 10-foot vehicle

Let us consider the actual length of a vehicle that is ten scale feet long. Here we see the differences in size clearly.

N - 20mm, Between 3/4 and 7/8 inch
15mm - 25mm. about 1 inch
25mm - 43mm.  1 inch and 3/4 inch
28.8mm 48mm A little more than 1 and 7/8 inches
30mm - 50mm. Almost 2 inches
40mm  - 66mm  2 and 9/16 inches
42mm - 70mm 2 and 7/8 inches
45mm - 75mm - 1.2mm shy of 3 inches

A 40-foot platform

The 40 foot boxcar is one of the standard sizes for model railroading. Consider a 40 foot platform in wargame scales.

N - 80mm - 3 and 3/16 inches
15mm - 100mm - almost 4 inches
25mm - 172mm About 4 and 7/8 inches
28.8mm - 192mm 7 and ½ inches
30mm - 200 mm About 7 and 7/8 inches
40mm - 264mm 10 and ½ inches
42mm - 280mm 11 and 1/16 inches
45mm - 300mm - 4.8mm shy of 12 inches

Minifigs English Civil War figures, 25mm
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If you would like European-style paper house kits scalable for 25mm to 40mm (one is pictured with Minifigs soldiers). click here: http://www.thortrains.net/wargame/download.html

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The main problem with wargame figures is that they are often disproportionate. The heads and hands may be too large. Good, proportionate figures can be used for trackside scenery.

25mm to 30mm figures are scaled about right for use with S scale and Marx O27 “scale” models. The 28.8 and 30mm figures approximate 3/16" to the scale foot. 25mm can be used for shorter people.

40mm are close to 1/48. (A 6 foot man in 1/48 is 38.1 mm, which is 1 and ½ inch.) The difference is 1.9mm.

15mm is TT scale.  TT is popular in Eastern Europe. For instance, TT World War II German Infantry would be scaled right for the old German Reichsbahn. I have seen these trains in TT, made by an East German firm.

Solido and Verem vehicles run about 1/50. For wargaming, they look good with 40mm, 42mm and 45mm figures.

At least one wargame makers has been using 28.8 figures with 1/56 armor. 1/56 is about halfway between 1/48 and 1/64.  A 6' figure in 1/56 would actually be about 34mm tall. Most semi- scale O gauge freight cars run about 1/56 in size. Full 1/48 scale boxcars are notably larger.

Again, one maker’s 25mm might be another’s 30mm. For example, I remember the old Stan Johansen Samurai from the 70s. He insisted they were 30mm, but most folks considered them to be 35mm

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Small Scale Measurements Simplified, from 15mm to 1.72

Model Scales - 1/100, 1/87, 1/76 and 1/72

Authenticast 1/100, Airfix 1/76 soldier, early ROCO 1/90

There was a time when ranges of small-scale military models were far from comprehensive. In the 70s, for instance, ROCO had many models of US and German WWII and NATO vehicles. There were few Soviet and World War II British vehicles in its inventory. At 1/100, Roskpof had a very complete inventory of Warsaw-Pact armor as well as a good range of US and German NATO and some World War II. Airfix made mostly World War II, with a variety of US, British and German vehicles and one Soviet piece, the T34. Hasegawa at 1/72 had a few early World War II US pieces and some German armor. A small-scale wargame usually involved a selection of three or four of these scales. KV series heavy tanks in 1/100 were outsized by 1/72 scale Lee medium tanks. Those of us who collected and wargamed small-scale took it in stride.

ROCO, Roskopf and Airfix each marketed soldiers in their preferred scales. Respectively, these were HO : 1/87, 1/100 and OO : 1/76. The size of the figures were notably different. Here is a breakdown of figure sizes, based on the height representing a 6 foot tall man.

1/100 is 3.04 millimeters scale foot. A 6 foot man would be 18.24 millimeters
1/87 is 3.5 millimters to scale foot. A 6 foot man would be 21mm tall
1/76 is 4 millimeters to the scale foot. A 6-foot man would be 24mm tall.
1/72 is 4.23 millimeters to the scale foot . A 6-footman would be 25.4mm tall

That is a 3mm difference between 1/100 and HO. Ditto for HO and 1/76. The difference between 1/76 and 1/72 is 1.4mm. On the other hand, the difference between 1/100 figures and 1/76 is 6mm. It is 7.4mm when compared to 1/72.

Imagine a vehicle10 scale feet long:

In 1/100, it would be 30.4mm long.  That is a little more than 1 and 3/32 inches
In 1/87, that is 35mm long. That is around 1 3/16 inches long.
In 1/76, that is 40mm long. It is a little longer than 1 and 1/8 inch
In 1/72, it is 42.3mm long. That is between 1 and 3/16 inches and 1 and ½ inch.

The difference between 1/100 and 1/72 is 12mm, or ½ inch.

Let us borrow an idea from model railroading. The 40 foot boxcar is a standard. More models of the 40 footer are made than any other boxcar, in every scale from O to N.* 40 foot is distance we can understand. Here we go:

In 1/100, 40 feet is 121.6mm That is almost 5 inches
In 1/87, 40 feet is 145mm. It is about 5 and ½ inches
In 1/76, 40 feet is 160mm. This is close to 6 inches and 1/4 inch
in 1/72, 40 feet is 169 mm. That is close to 6 inches and 3/16 of an inch

There is almost a 1 ½ inch difference between 1/100 and 1/72.  That is quite a lot for small scale models.


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Though they use tanks in 1/100 to 1/109 scale, the actual scale for 15mm figures is closest to 1/120. This is also close to TT scale. Though TT did not lasti in the US, it was popular in Eastern Europe. 15, scale is 2.5mm to the foot.  Therefore , a ten foot platform would be 25mm, almost an inch. A 40-foot platform would be 100mm, almost 4 inches.

The tanks originally used for 15mm gaming were recognition models buy Comet / Authenticast and Denzil-Skinner.  Comet / Authenticast’s 1/109 tanks set a standard for 15mm wargaming.

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Indeed, adherence to precise scale was not always the case up to the late 1970s. This was true even in the 1/35:50mm to 1/29 - 1/30 : 60mm scales. Magazines were usually fussy about scale dioramas. However, it was common in the early to mid-70s to see featured dioramas blending 1/32 and 1/35 models, or HO paired with 1/76 figures. In military models and model railroading, the awareness of scale accuracy has increased since the 1960s.

One example for model railroading was the first run of N scale trains. Scale? Close, but not always. Then again, some of the HO sold in the 50s and 60s was not always close. One maker, IHC (and its predecessor AHM), was known for selling 1/76 scale locomotives as HO scale. (These were actually British style OO - 1/76 made to run on HO track). Scale was a crapshoot in the old days.

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*The 40 foot boxcar was a standard for much of the 20th Century. Many remain in service, though they have been eclipsed by 50" and larger boxcars. Model railroad scales are:

O (American O is 1/48) 1/4" = 1 scale foot
S is 1/64. 3/16" is one scale foot.
OO is 1/76. 4mm - 1 scale foot.HO is 1/87. 3
HO is 1/87.1 3.5mm = 1 scale foot
TT is 1/120. 2.5mm = 1 scale foot
N is 1/160. 2mm = 1 scale foot

Trains that run on G scale track may be:

1/32  3/8" = 1 scale foot.
1/29 10mm = 1 scale foot
1/24 1/2" (12.7mm) = 1 scale foot
1/20 15mm = 1 scale foot
1/22.5 scale, 12.mm = 1 scale foot.

Friday, April 27, 2018

How Airfix Created a Hobby



Comet / Authenticast Panzer IV wit hbox
There is no doubt that Airfix (and ROCO) changed the hobby. Prior to them, the only small scale vehicles and figures were metal castings. Comet / Authenticast and Denzil-Skinner produced military identification models in the 1/96 to 1/109 scales, Authenticast also produced three ranges of figures about HO size: US , German and Soviet infantry. Each sets had a prone rifleman, kneeling rifleman, charging rifleman. charging submachine gunner, 2-man prone machine gun team, and small anti-tank gun with 2 crewmen. German set had one extra charging rifleman and a kneeling panzerfaust man. The US had a bazooka man.
Authenticast US Army


About this time, Britains also offered a “Lilliput” line about this time which was about 20mm scale. These were miniature copies of the Herald  post-War khaki infantry.

There were a few companies making unpainted 20mm figures. These were close to HO size. Most were Civil War figures.
Size comparison: Authenticast M4 (left). Airfix Solider, ROCO M4 (right)
At the time, most miniature figures sold via hobby venues were model railroading figures scaled for O (1/48 to 1/43) and HO / OO (1/87 to 1/76).

Original Airfix Box, circa 1961
When Airfix launched its initial run of small figures, it caused a stir. They were imported into the US. There were model railroading sets (Civilians, Farm animals), Marching troops (Guardsmen, Colour Guard Party) and combat troops (Infantry Combat Group, German Infantry). Introduced with the first run of ROCO Minitanks, these were an instant hit. They were attractive, affordable, and allowed for dioramas and battle games. Model railroaders were also pleased to find a good set of civilian figures and animals at a low price.

Airfix did not rest on its laurels. Following quickly after its first offerings were Civil War infantry and artillery, cowboys, wild Indians, the 8th Army, Afrika Korps and US Marines. ROCO also  began expanding its line. Small scale military modeling and Airfix went mainstream, unlike earlier makers who purveyed onto to the niche elements among hobbies.
Airfix US Marines, original series
It did not take long for wargamers to latch onto the small plastic figures and tanks. Previously, small-scale wargamers relied on cast metal figures from a handful of manufacturers. These were not widely known beyond the small wargaming communities in the US and UK. The wide availability of Airfix took wargaming from a limited, specialized hobby to the mainstream. Wargame proponents such as Featherstone, Morschauser and Grant used Airfix figures to illustrate games in their books. Had it not been for the affordable, widely-available Airfix soldiers, wargaming might have remained a small hobby for many years,
ROCO M47 (first version)

Indeed, Airfix was dynamic. Its next series of 1/76 figures were more detailed and covered a wider spread of history. Starting with the Russian Infantry, Japanese infantry and Arabs, Airfix’s figures made a large leap in realism. They also spread into other genre. Already established in World War II, the Wild West and the Civil War, Airfix expanded into World War I, Ancients, Medievals, the Napoleonic Wars and the American Revolution. Cheap, available figures were met enthusiastically by hobbyists.
1/32 Man-at-arms

Airfix also expanded its line of model kits to meet the needs of the toy soldiery. 1/76 scale military vehicle kits appealed to wargamers, military collectors and diorama makers. The original kits were very basic, but more vehicles were added. Most were World War II-era tanks and support vehicles. A few Cold War era vehicles were added, as well as vehicles for dioramas. Just as it pioneered the popularity of small-scale soldiers, so Airfix was the catalyst that launched 1/76 - 1/72 scale military vehicle kits. (This was followed in the 1970s by Matchbox, Fujimi, Hasegawa and other makers) Without Airfix, this may never have happened.

The next coup by the British hobby maker was to enter the 1/32 field. Their first set was make by pantographing their 1/76 Paratroopers into 54mm scale. They were nothing spectacular. Not content to try that again, the company issued all-new figures. The first set I saw was the British Commandos (29 figures for about $3.00). Soon after came the Russian and the German infantry. The detail and realism exceeded that of the toy manufacturers. Airfix took plastic army men to a whole new level.
Airfix 1.32 - 54mm British Commandos

Several of the early HO / OO were upgraded soon after the introduction of 54mm figures. The German Infantry, Infantry Combat Group, US Marines, French Foreign Legion, 8th Army and Afrika Korps were replaced with more detailed figures. Several of the figures in each 1/76 set were copies of the new 54mm figures. These were supplemented with new poses. The 54mm sets themselves were mostly limited to 7 or 8 poses. Additional new poses were not added to them.
Airfix 1/32 -54mm Russian Infantry

To its credit, Airfix kept making new sets. Modern soldiers entered the inventory. These were 1980s-style US (billed as NATO), British, West German and Soviet troops. There were also Sci-Fi figures, and 54mm US cavalry, Indians and Cowboys. Soon afterward, the introduction of new sets stopped. Airfix ran into hard times. Heller, the French model kit company, bought the molds. Lately, Hornby took over and moved production to India.
Airfix 1/32 - 54mm US Infantry

Will Airfix ever start expanding its line again? That is hard to say. Its variety of models and figures is already vast. Airfix kicked off the small scale military hobby and the raised to bar on 1/32 scale figures. It launched the 1/76 - 1/72 military model genre. The company also produced a vast range of model aircraft, mostly in 1/72 scale, as well as ships and space models. Perhaps a new management might expand things, but that remains to be seen. There is a lot of competition in both the 1/76 and 1/32 scales.  Even at that, Airfix is not likely to fade away. The are still the favorite of many. (That includes this author)

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A sad. part of the hobby is willingness of Chinese makers to copy or clone better figures. The most copied and cloned set of modern soldiers is the Tim Mee Vietnam-era troops. Following closely on its heels are the 54mm British paratroopers and  German Infantry, who have been copied and cloned for over 20 years. In other genre, the Airfix Cowboys & Indians have been pillaged mercilessly by Chinese copyists. Clones and copies tend to be undersized, less detailed, and increasingly disproportionate.

Matchbox figures have also been cloned, mainly by toymaker Hing Fat. These are the US, German (Infantry and Afrika Korps) and British 8th Army sets. Atlantic Japanese were cloned, as well. As the cheap Chinese molds deteriorate ,figures get smaller and less detailed.

The fact is that serious hobbyists should avoid clones, if possible, and get figures made from the original molds. This assured detail and scale consistency. Leave clones to the kids.

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I have seen Airfix from its first sets in `61 or `62 to its current status. I like the product as much now as ever. When I need small-scale figures, that is where I look first. Through Airfix, I was introduced to small scale hobbying and historical wargaming. My original collections of figures and kits was lost over 30 years ago. (Of course, I wish I still had them.) Nonetheless, I have always liked their products.

One thing I miss are the old structure kits. Favorites were the knightly castle, Roman fort, Western cavalry fort and Foreign Legion fort. A smart hobbyist could take two or three of those kits and built a larger fort.

Favorite sets? Hard to say. I will always have a find spot for the original Infancy Combat Group and German Infantry, as these (along with the ROCO tanks) introduced me to a wonderful hobby. Thanks to the hobby, I made a lot of friends and had many good times.



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I remember scrambling to the hobby shop with some change in my pocket, hoping to buy another ROCO tank or box of Airfix soldiers. There would be other boys like myself, looking at the display and trying to decide what to buy next. When you were a little boy in the early 1960s, 25¢ was good money and 50¢ was a major expenditure. We drove the hobby shop owner crazy as we tried to make that decision. Do I want another Sherman tank? A Panther? Or maybe a box of Airfix Marines. Decisions, decisions.*
AirfixInfantry Combat Group, circa 1961

Airfix and ROCO came out with new things every few months, so it seemed. My friends and I were thrilled to see each new set. The Sheriff of Nottingham set was a change because it included knights rather than Western figures, Civil War guys or 20th Century troops.  We took releases of World War II figures in stride....Russian Infantry..Paratroopers...Commandos. The Romans and Ancient Britons were thrilling to see.

While we tried our hand at our made-up games with the small figures, we were not very good at it. A friend lent me a copy of Featherstone’s War Games. That changed everything. We could have little battles for World War II, the Civil War and Romans versus good guys . Half the fun was painting the model tanks. We could also paint faces and details on the Airfix figures.

One big side effect: friends. Lots of them. Building models together, painting figures, sharing modeling tricks. We liked to show off our stuff. People developed all sorts of tricks for making their small models more detailed. Things like “stretch sprue” antennae and handmade bundles made our models look better. That somehow improved the games.

Time certainly have changed. The old model-building and wargaming pals are scattered to the four winds. Adulthood brought other concerns that sent us hither and yon. I lost touch with them long ago.

( Perhaps that is why I could never get into the micro tanks at 1/285 and 1/300 scale. They were too small to make enhancements worth seeing. Kits from the 1/100 Roskopf to 1/76 Airfix were preferred because we could make them look great.  )


1/32 - 54mm Westerm Indian
1/32 - 54mm - US Cavalryman