Thursday 30 April 2020

A Cross of Iron

I have always found it difficult to resist a movie or popular culture crossover when it comes to this most wholesome of hobbies and so it was that when I stumbled across these splendid miniatures from 'Empress Miniatures', my already weak resolve just caved in completely and an order was placed.  
I have to confess that young Master Awdry was initially confused by Sam Peckinpah's 1977 'anti-war' film, Cross of Iron.  Its treatment of the Second World War was just so different to any other experience that I had had up to that point.  For one thing, I was been asked to view the beleaguered German unit, literally fighting for its life on the Eastern front, as the heroes of the piece.  The level of violence and portrayal of war so far removed from my previous sanitised experiences during the much loved films that I would watch with my father on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
Now considered a masterpiece by many, albeit a lengthy self indulgent one, Cross of Iron has clearly had an impact on modern film makers, Quinton Tarantino being one such notable example.  For me it is the character of the indestructible platoon leader, Sergeant Steiner that is most memorable.  Played by James Coburn in the film, Steiner has to fight the war on two fronts, the Russians on one and the overly ambitious Prussian aristocrat, Captain Stransky whose desire to win the Iron Cross puts the men under his command in mortal danger on the other.  It is Steiner and members of his platoon that these four wonderful sculpts, by the talented Paul Hicks, represent. 
Cross of Iron aside, I plan to use the 'Steiner' miniature to represent Major Josef 'Sepp' Gangl, the man who led the German troops during the defence of Schloss Itter.  I appreciate that the weapon might be slightly anachronistic and indeed I probably should have considered displaying his rank more clearly, but there was something about the sculpt that just seemed to resonate with the picture that I had in my mind of the real Major Gangl.
Josef Gangl was a career soldier who had joined the army at eighteen, moving through the ranks and serving almost exclusively with the artillery.  A highly decorated soldier, Gangl was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd class in 1941 and then received the Iron Cross 1st Class in 1942 whilst serving on the Eastern front.  He fought in France during the invasion of the allied forces then redeployed with new equipment, following heavy loses, to take part in the Ardennes offensive.  On March 8, 1945, he was awarded the German Cross in Gold and shortly afterwards was promoted to Major.  In the face of continued loses, he was ordered to take his battalion and fight his way back to the Tyrol to take part in the defence of the Alpine Fortress.  In the final days of the war it becomes clear that Major Gangl's primary mission was to keep the men under his command safe from the advancing Americans and marauding SS Troops.  To that end he contacts the Austrian Resistance and it is through this connection that he finds himself defending French Prisoners of War alongside American G.I.s at Schloss Itter.  Sadly Gangl was fatally wounded  by a sniper while trying to get former French Prime Minister, Paul Reynaud out of the line of fire. He was to be the only defender of the castle to lose his life on the day of the battle.
It seems only fitting that such an important figure in the battle should be represented and I am delighted to have found a suitable miniature, all inaccuracies aside. This has also meant that I have been able to fashion him a character card as well.  It is also lovely to have had the opportunity to paint some Paul Hicks' sculpts again, they really are exquisite.  The only draw back being that they are so accurate that I worry about the details, spending an inordinate amount of time trying to make up my mind as to how to approach them.  As with all such conundrums it is sometimes better just to start and sure enough once underway the process went relative smoothly.  More 'Empress Miniatures' to come in the not too distant future, but a final group shot to end the post.

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Tuesday 28 April 2020

An Unlikely Hero

So it turns out that working from home is considerably more time consuming than going to work, who knew?  It's probably just me, but I find the reliance on the technology, covering lessons I wouldn't normally teach and the obligatory preparation all sapping of my time and energy.  As a result, I have fallen behind on my own posts and those of the many splendid weblogs that I so enjoy following.  That said one of the benefits of being at home, and indeed working from the hobby desk, is that I have embraced the '10 minutes a day' approach to hobby time.  I say 10 minutes, but I can often squeeze in a little more in one sitting and so genuine progress has been made on a number of smaller projects that needed to be finished off.  The first of these is part of a series of character posts, this one showcasing, SS-Hauptsturmführer Kurt-Siegfried Schrader.

A decorated SS Officer, Schrader was seriously wounded in the fighting on the Normandy front, for which he was awarded the Wound Badge in Black having previously been awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class and the Eastern Front Medal.  During his convalescence, Schrader had moved his family to the village of Itter.  It was here, on his many walks from his home to the castle, that he befriended the French prisoners and eluded to his growing disgust of the Nazi regime.  
Having been released from service in the last days of the war, Schrader had returned home and hung up his uniform, but was persuaded back into action by the French prisoners he had befriended to act as their security and negotiator if they were attached; an appointment that would ultimately save the the former  SS-Hauptsturmführer from a considerably stretch in prison himself!  As it stands our rules allow for characters to be attached to units in the game.  SS-Hauptsturmführer Schrader can now be attached to a unit of French Prisoners bringing some much needed firepower to their dice pool.
My representation of this unlikely hero in our story is a Stoessi's Heroes miniature available in the United Kingdom through 'Great Escape Games'.  My worry about painting so much black had seen this idea buried in the 'to do' pile, but a renewed desire to get things done saw me approach the problem from a differnt angle - namely don't use black!  To be fair I did use some, namely the boots, belt and collar tabs, but the rest is made up of a variety of different greys, highlighted and the washed with 'Games Workshop' Nuln Oil.  

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Thursday 16 April 2020

Two men walk into a bar...

As a prelude to the battle the attacking forces made a series of probes against the defenders of the castle.  Eye witness reports talk of an MG-42 peppering the gatehouse and Besotten Jenny from Itter village to the East.  The outskirts of Itter were only 100 metres away and to represent its proximity to the castle James designed and built a suitably Austrian looking Inn.  This was to form part of our proposed talk, and indeed the extended game play, and presented me with a wonderful opportunity to create a little stand to represent those troops that opened fire from this vantage point.  
I should say at this point that the inspiration for this piece came from seeing an amazing Fallschirmjäger unit, appropriately titled, 'Let it Rip', painted by the very talented Nick of 'Moiterei's Bunte Welt' fame.  I just loved the narrative of the two troops taking advantage of the available cover to form a defensive position.  So it was that I decided to try and create an homage to Nick, but mine was to be based in the bar!  
No sooner had I resigned to create such a piece than the idea floundered, I just couldn't find the right poses for what I had in mind.  The idea was temporarily shelved, but I couldn't shake it off completely and periodically I would come across bits and pieces that I would think might be useful, a barrel here a 3D printed crate there and before I knew it the groundwork was done. 
Determined to give the project one more go, I started looking more closely at the various companies that were producing likely miniatures.  Eventually it was 'Warlord Games' that came to my rescue and by using a combination of packs to obtain the requisite gunner and loader, I was able to source what I wanted.  With a couple of quick head swaps, this time using the 'Warlord Games' plastic Waffen SS sprue, along with a snip of the bullet belt the piece was complete.
I had initially kept the miniatures on their bases, covering them with pumice gel, but given that this scene was to be set inside an inn decided to rethink this and opted to pin them to a 'Warbases' MDF base, which I had scored with a craft knife to give the effect of floorboards.
Whilst the piece had taken a lot longer to realise than I had expected, I have to confess that I am pleased with the outcome, can't wait to see it reunited with James' Inn hopefully in the not too distant future! 

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Saturday 11 April 2020

Castle Progress... update.
Just a very quick re-direct post.  James has uploaded some great 'Work in Progress' shots and even some video footage of the progress he has been making.  It seems strange to believe that I have not seen the Castle structure, in its entirety, since December, although James has shared elements of it when he would visit before our enforced separation.  It is wonderful to have this overview and just seeing the progress we have made is somewhat heartening.  The links are below...

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Wednesday 8 April 2020

Keep on trucking!

We continue to be safe and well at Awdry Towers; I am truly grateful to be home.  That said the idea that enforced isolation brings with it an excess of free time has been proven to be a fallacy here on the Sunshine Coast.  No sooner I am returned from my residential duties at school, then I am press ganged into cheffing duties at home!  Add to this the daily route march that the Saintly Mrs. Awdry has devised* and I find that those quiet moments, to slip away to daub paint on metal and plastic, have become few and far between!
*All 10,000 steps in one go I might add!
This, then, is just briefest of posts to kickstart my month and to document the latest progress; two Opel Blitz trucks, again from 'Rubicon Models'.  As I have come to expect from the company there are plenty of construction options, but I went for the most basic and even then managed to break off some extraneous detail in their relocation from school to home.
With regards to painting I had envisaged that they would just have a base coat of Mechanicus Standard Grey, followed up with a series of washes.  This is pretty much what happened, but as they sat in front of me on the painting desk, I decided that a couple of additional processes might be in order.  To that end there is some dry brush weathering, subtle chipping effects created by using a sponge and some rust streaks using an 'AK Interactive' enamel.  The last technique was new to me and I was a bit heavy handed with the first truck, but learning from my mistakes used a wash of thinners to help manipulate the medium more successfully on the second.
The trucks will have no real function in the game other than mark the jumping off point for the SS Troops, which we have located out of sight in the bottom corner of the furthest board from the castle to give them a chance to deploy, comparatively unmolested from the withering fire of the defenders.  There was some debate as to whether they should be based or not, but in this instance, given that they are more for scenic purposes, have left them unimpeded. 

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Wednesday 1 April 2020

We interrupt this broadcast...

News is filtering through from our sources inside the Austrian resistance of vile and nefarious acts being perpetrated in the basement of a certain Schloss!
These are indeed uncertain and unsettling times, but it is difficult to verify the facts at this point.  We are looking to boost the signal output to gain a clearer understanding of what might be occurring.  Wait!  Yes, it is becoming clearer...
It is worse than we feared!  A full and detailed report of these abhorrent absurdities can be found over at 'Make it Miniature'...

Click HERE...

                                                        ...if you dare!  

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