Wednesday, 19 February 2020

There's something in the woodshed!

Whilst wanting to keep a visible presence on the infoweb, and in a bid to keep the momentum going with the Schloss Itter build, I was looking around for a suitable post as proof of life.  I was conscious that I didn't want to overplay the W.I.P. card as although terrain building is taking the majority of my 'Castle Time' to have a similar post so shortly after the last, might diminish the impact.

Fortunately James has, once again, has come to my rescue.  His visits during the week, bring much needed inspiration and a have presented us with a good opportunity for a chat and some planning time.  One of the greatest joys of working with James is that he seemingly doesn't recognise any barrier to completing a task as a problem, simply a challenge that hasn't yet been solved.  This is such a positive outlook on life and of genuine inspiration to me. 
As we start to see the boards move from fields of colourless foam to recognisable terrain features we are keen to add as much depth as possible.  Any available space is now considered fair game and one such area, located below the bridge, was screaming out for some attention.  I had inadvertently suggested some form of deserted lumber camp might be suitable, a pile of logs, signs of industry, that sort of thing.  In no time at all, James had thrown together some design and ideas based on photographic evidence and presented me with another stunning creation.
The shack, almost identical to the source material, came based on an large MDF disc that allows us to drop it onto similarly placed disks in the terrain.  This means that it sits flush with the ground and allows a modicum of versatility in our set up.  James had latched on to the idea that this was a working lumber camp and his delightful piece came with a fearsome looking saw bench and piles of recently sawn timber - absolutely superb!  
In many ways the piece required very little in the way of painting, but I just couldn't help myself.  Trying to match the colours and textures of the source material, I was looking to create a worn feel, complete with ivy and a log pile.  As for the saw bench, we had joked about the idea of it having done some serious damage and so the remnants of an unfortunate wretch lie in the sawdust and gore.  
This proved to be yet another wonderful diversion at a time when diversions are the last thing I need!  That said, the joy of the project has been its ability to constantly surprise, whether that be by generosity of others or simply in stretching our own imaginations and creative abilities.  As I write this, I do have the small matter of fifty SS troops to complete and so it is back to the paint table for me, at least until the next diversion comes along! 

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Monday, 3 February 2020

A work in progress#2

It's been a while since we shared any discernible progress of the game boards.  In November we left you with the tantalising prospect of the four assembled boards with the castle looming above a mass of expanded foam filler.  In the run up to Christmas, James had worked tirelessly to get as much of the drawing and cutting done as he was due to start his new job, at a different school, in January.  This was going to present us with no end of logistical issues, not least to mention depriving me of the opportunity to talk hobby related ideas all day!
We met up briefly for a day in the Christmas holidays, a final opportunity for James to saw, spray and sand, before handing over his keys.  As promised, he had left me with four serviceable boards, three seen standing on their ends above, a castle that was now free standing and the promise that he was at the end of the phone if there was anything else I needed. 

I had, rather like the much maligned ostrich, buried my head in the sand when it came to the boards.  All the time James was cutting the castle, there didn't seem any need to worry.  I would tinker around with some miniatures, perhaps a bit of card design, but then as I stood alone in front of the incomplete boards the realisation of what needed to be undertaken finally sunk in!  Fortunately, my boarding duties have been rescheduled to allow a good period of free time on Monday and Tuesday evenings, now dubbed, 'Castle Time'.  This has proved to be a godsend and an ideal opportunity to really get to grips with the Herculean task that lies ahead of us.  
Having established the contours of one board, the application of some simple colour lifted my spirits to the point where I felt confident enough to offer up the second board.  Sketching out the design it was just a matter of hacking the geographical features into the foam before using a combination of sculptamold, tile grout and builders' caulk to complete the effect.
Although many of the techniques that have been employed are familiar to me, I am now operating at a scale that is completely outside my comfort zone; for instance I have now made fifty conifer trees to date!  My hobby progress is usually painstakingly slow, not least because of my butterfly like approach to focussing on any given task for any discernible period of time, yet, stick at it, I have and we are now finally starting to see some measurable progress.  

The level of finish is meeting our expectations, but there is still plenty more that needs to be done.  James has been able to visit on a regular basis and although this has been great to boost morale, we do seem to find ourselves becoming distracted by more and more flights of fancy.  That said, these are often the pieces we most enjoy and hope that they will add a sense of fun to the project.

We hope that you will be able to see some real progress, but of course we are mindful that there are another two boards to go before we can say it is finished.  January has come and gone, but even with our enforced separation James and I have managed to keep the project going, not least because it keeps stretching us creatively and throwing up no end of wonderful surprises.  After our collaboration with Dave Stone of 'Wargames Terrain Workshop', James had coined the phrase, 'the Castle the internet built' and this continues to be the case.  As I write this I have just seen a picture of an amazing piece of artwork that is heading our way; thank you Nick of 'Moiterei's Bunte Welt', it looks amazing!  We also look forward to sharing with you a tangible connection to the past that has galvanised our determination to see the project through to its completion, but more of that another day.

Monday, 27 January 2020

Stand by Your Man

No, not a post regarding the vocal talents of Tennessee’s favourite daughter, but more a gentle nod to the bravery and loyalty of a small group of ladies that were imprisoned in the Castle during the siege; the Wives and Girlfriends!   It seems incredulous to believe that some, as in the case of Augusta Bruchlen, had done all in their power to follow their men to the Schloss, wanting to be by their side as support in what must have been an uncertain time.  Others, like Charles de Gaulle’s Sister, Marie-Agnès Cailliau (seen below), found themselves incarcerated simply because of their family ties.
As with the gentlemen, I have not looked to represent individual characters or personalities, but felt that it was important that they were acknowledged as being there, in some way.  Although there are seemingly no accounts of them taking an active part in the battle, Capt. Jack Lee suggesting that they should be taken down to the cellar storerooms when the shooting started, they were clearly there and I have no doubt faced just the same level of anxiety and strain over the situation as the menfolk.  
When trying to find suitable miniatures to fit the bill, I recalled a New Year’s post from one of the many splendid weblogs that I follow* that, along with the usual promises to play more games and reduce the lead pile, had pledged to try and use more independent retailers in their pursuit of all things shiny.  There was something about the sincerity of this that struck a chord and so decided to cast my net a little further and duly stumbled across the Women’s Home Defence pack over at ‘Bad Squiddo Games’.  
*Sadly, I can’t remember which one!
I have bought items from Annie before, more often than not the exquisite terrain pieces that really are superb, and once again I am glad to report that the service was second to none.  There is also a playfulness that pervades Bad Squiddo, which helps lift the spirits, after all who doesn’t want to be visited by the Guinea Pig of good luck?  So Bad Squiddo games are now listed in the ‘Links of Interest’ sidebar; quality products and superb service.
Returning to the job in hand, I selected a couple of likely candidates that were suitably armed to represent the beleaguered wives of the Schloss.  I am afraid I couldn’t resit a bit of fun in the conversion of the young lady with a pitchfork and managed to swap that for the mother of all carpet beaters!  The colour palette was deliberately muted with the exception of the purple suited lady, who’s outfit is a homage to a former colleague, a French lady of impeccable style, who would always be seen sporting her favourite colour. 
Another three to the tally of castle defenders and I envisage that these will be swapped into the units on the day, allowing the wives to rewrite history and fight alongside their men after all.

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Friday, 17 January 2020


Hot on the heals of the Pak 40, I am delighted to share with you the mighty 8.8cm FlaK 37, again from ‘Rubicon Models’.  Another hard plastic kit this one was much more involved from the point of view of construction and took considerably longer to assemble than the smaller Pak 40.  Part of the problem was my inability to stop small pieces of plastic ‘pinging’ across the art room and landing on the floor, which just happened to be a similar shade of grey to the plastic sprue.  This resulted in much scrambling and swearing*, but eventually the behemoth was tamed!  Once again, I am impressed by the quality of these kits, which have good, clear instructions.  With this particular piece there were options for different shields depending on when, or where, you wanted your model to serve and although some of the smaller details feel fragile, I can testify that they are quite forgiving, even to the thickest of fingers.
*Obviously a model kit to assemble when the pupils are not around!
If the sight of a Pak 40 wasn’t bad enough the knowledge that the infamous 88, as it was known by the Allies, was in the vicinity of Schloss Inter would have been a truly terrifying prospect.  Designed originally as a flak gun, the 8.8cm FlaK 37 went on to become an effective anti-tank weapon, capable of launching high velocity rounds great distances and slicing through most allied armour.  The distinctive sound of its shells screaming overhead would be enough to send an icy chill down the spine of any hard pressed tank commander.  
It is an instantly recognisable piece of ordnance and the model kit comes with the option to have the gun mounted on the SdAh 202 carriages.  I understand that the weapon could be fired in this state, but that it was more usual to have it dismounted, giving greater elevation and stability.  Practicality might be all well and good in the real world, but I just loved the look of the mounted gun and so managed to persuade James to cut me an oval shaped MDF base to mount the fully assembled kit on.  As with the previous models there are a good selection of extras in the shape of shells, spent cases, ammunition boxes and even the battery commander’s binocular periscope along with a useful set of waterslide transfers.  There is also a full compliment of crew, but again I have decided not to use these for this encounter, keeping the model as a static piece to be crewed by the attackers if they so wished.
With regards to the Battle of Schloss Itter, the 88 had been spotted barely 800 yards away to the North West of the Castle on the day of the engagement.  Only too aware of the potency of the weapon, initially it was hoped that it was being deployed to counter any relief column that might come to the aid of the defenders, but when a round slammed into West side of the keep’s third floor, as seen below**, any optimism evaporated.  It does seem strange, however, that the barrage didn’t continue, unless of course that the attackers were keen that some part of the Schloss remained standing after the onslaught?  
**Former Prime Minister, Paul Reynaud & General Maurice Gamelin put their differences aside to remonstrate over the intrusion to their petit déjeuner!
For the purposes of our game crewing the 88 should clearly have a big impact on the game play.  We have arbitrarily allocated dice and damage to the piece, again deemed a ‘Special Item’, but we may need to revise this when play testing continues.  Perhaps there needs to be a greater number of miniatures in base contact to ‘crew’ the weapon, making it harder to manage?  I was quite taken by the comment of Terry Silverthorn, of 'Miniature Mayhem' fame, on the previous post who suggested that on a given dice roll, the gun would be deemed ‘out of ammo’ and therefore no longer serviceable.  This would then mean that the attacker would have to reconsider their plan for neutralising the defenders.
Regardless of its use in the game, this has been a fabulous piece to work on.  I thoroughly enjoyed the assembly and wanted to give it the best paint job I could.  I decided to embrace the camouflage pattern attempted on the Pak 40, this time going for a little more subtlety along with some wear and tear.  The base was designed to tie in with the previous piece, and indeed the game boards, and was great fun to do, especially hinting at tracks in the mud.  I have to confess that I am thoroughly enjoying the period and whilst I still have a lot to learn, feel that I am making progress all the time.  Given the scale of the piece, and how thrilled I am with how it turned out, I shall have to add it to the ‘Command Stand’ page.

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Monday, 13 January 2020

Rubicon Models Pak 40 1/56 Scale

 If the prospect of a frontal assault by 250 veteran SS Troops wasn’t troubling enough the defenders of Schloss Itter witnessed the ominous sight of various artillery pieces arriving and being readied for attack.  One of those pieces was the ubiquitous Pak 40.  This 75mm calibre Anti-Tank gun was capable of punching a hole through most allied armour and would certainly have wrought considerable damage on the castle.
 This particular piece is made in hard plastic by 'Rubicon Models' and proved to be a delightfully simple kit to put together. Not too many parts but a host of additional extras including ammunition boxes, spent shells and a crew, although these look a little static and lacking some of the dynamic quality of modern wargames miniatures.  I have really taken a fancy to the Rubicon model kits, they are carefully considered and often have a variety of options when it comes to construction. 
 Given the vulnerability of bricks and mortar to high explosive shells, the arrival of such a formidable weapon would surely hasten the eventual fall of the castle.  To try and give a feeling of how this might be realised in the game, we plan to have several artillery pieces situated in the terrain referred to a ‘Special Items’.  They can be crewed and fired, but are fixed in location. To crew a special item you must have a unit of at least 3 miniatures in base contact with it; shaken units cannot crew special items. Once crewed the unit uses actions to fire and reload as normal. Similarly to disembark from a special item, the unit uses another action. 
 Because we are essentially retelling the story of the battle we felt that it was important that the relevant artillery pieces were there as described by first hand accounts, but also mindful that they could prove too much of an advantage to the attackers if not considered carefully.  By fixing their location we are inviting players to run the gauntlet of the defenders’ fire in order to crew a game changing weapon.

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