Friday, 12 December 2014

Drakelow Tunnels - WWII shadow factory & Nuclear Bunker

Usually the vast majority of people associate the Black Country with a grim industrial landscape which is understandable, there has been heavy industrial activity associated with the area practically nonstop since the early 17th century. However drive for a few miles towards the south west and you will find some of the most attractive quintessential countryside of the English midlands. Such a place is the area around Kinver, South Staffordshire which I always associate with happy childhood memories. 
Main Entrance to Drakelow Tunnels
The chosen few - Women, children and fat, bald blokes called Matthew first!
The reason for this is because way back in my youth on a typical Sunday afternoon my older brother and myself were often taken on long country walks by our parents (I now suspect this was to wear us out after we had consumed unhealthy amounts of sweets and fizzy pop over the weekend). Here we would charge with reckless abandon around the remains of the impressive iron age fort and a rundown concrete pillbox creating merry hell, reenacting battle scenes from whichever war film we had recently seen on the telly. Even as a child I often wondered why there was a pillbox, located there for no obvious reason, slap bang right in the middle of the countryside. 

I had no idea that almost literally underneath my feet was a secret WWII factory and a genuine nuclear bunker. Three and half miles of tunnels were dug out the living rock. It was only within the last year or so that I knew of its existence. 
Main access tunnel

After the heavy bombing in 1940 of Coventry and in particular the destruction of a Rover factory that supplied engine parts for the Bristol Aeroplane Company, the Government realised it needed a safer local option to supply factories in Acocks Green and Solihull. It was decided to create a series of tunnels that would be difficult to spot from the air and more importantly would be relatively safe from bombing.
WWII kitchen
WWII kitchen - deep fat fryer (chips!)
WWII graffiti
After the war the site was used as a military storage area. During the Cold War a smaller section of the tunnels were converted into a nuclear bunker that would cover the southern midlands area, complete with communication equipment, several blast doors and decontamination areas. The site was eventually decommissioned by the Government in the early 1990's.

A full history of the site can be found on the following sites: 

Wandering around I noticed that several of the walls appeared to have been vandalised by someone with a sledgehammer, however I later read that recently the police had discovered a large illegal drug factory within the tunnels so the damage was probably the result of the police raid. 

The site reminded me of Mimoyecques (the relatively little know V3 cannon site for one of Hilter's planned vengeance weapons which could have obliterated London) and the WWI forts in the Verdun area. The equipment within the structure gives the place a quite eerie atmosphere. 

I certainly wouldn't like to be stuck down there overnight, some of the rooms seemed to have come straight out a horror video game. 
Original site GPO teleprinter
Communication equipment
Toilet block
Decontamination area complete with shower.
The intention is to eventually open the tunnels as a museum, until then the volunteers that look after the tunnels hold regular open days, details of which can be found their Facebook page. If you have the opportunity to visit then I would strongly recommend that you do. 

You may notice on the Facebook page my brother managed to get himself onto several photographs. 
Entrance & exit - original blast doors

Monday, 1 December 2014

Retinue of Dafydd ap Gruffydd, Fireforge Games

Retinue of Dafydd ap Gruffydd
These plastic Fireforge figures represent the fictional retinue of Dafydd ap Gruffydd. I will eventually create a post (don't hold your breath) about Dafydd himself that will provide more information about this interesting character who was the last native prince of Wales and the younger brother of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd (Llywelyn the Last).

Made to represent a unit of Foot Men-at-Arms (MAA) armed with a variety of hand weapons. These have based individually but arranged in a group of six as stipulated by the Lion Rampant rules. The unit base has been made from 3mm thick MDF to suit this particular group of figures.

A quick search on the internet normally show the arms of Dafydd as being blue and yellow but my brother pointed out a page from the Denbigh Castle guidebook that happened to contain an image, taken from the Lord Marshal's Roll of Arms, that showed a medieval illustration that clearly indicated that the colours were in fact blue and white.

I double checked with the excellent Brian Timms website and his modern illustration shows the arms as being 'Quarterly argent and azure four lions passant gardant counterchanged' which can be found (here). Therefore I decided to paint this group in basic livery colours on a blue and white quartered surcoat. In order to made some variation I painted the shields in different patterns and using another base shade of blue. The idea of having different shields patterns but using the same colours isn't an original one from me, the first time I recall seeing it was on this French blogger's site (Perry's Heroes) and since seen it on numerous sites since then.

I'm currently working on a matching group to represent the retinue of Dafydd's brother Llywelyn ap Gruffydd.
Retinue of Dafydd ap Gruffydd

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Sir William Marshall & retinue, Curteys Miniatures

This group of figures are shown carrying the arms of Sir William Marshall, 1st Earl of Pembroke. The figures are produced by Curteys Miniatures and are taken from various sets within their medieval range. The majority are from the Crossed Lances range which was created to support a medieval tournament game (details here - Crossed Lances) of the same name. The mounted flag bearer is taken from the Curteys Miniatures Feudal Medieval Western range.
Sir William Marshall & retinue.

For detailed information about the life of the Marshall take a look (here)

Taken from the company website about the set:
'Sir William Marshall – Each set contains 1 mounted knight with lance and shield, 1 mounted knight with handweapon and shield, 1 dismounted knight with hand weapon and shield, HDF bases, and water slide transfers for all the figures.'
Code SKU: CLKSet01

Note that this set (£20 at the time of writing) contains two mounted figures and one on foot not the three mounted and two figures on foot shown here in this post. The 'Squire carrying sword & shield' is available separately (currently £2). The figures were original part of the wider Feudal Medieval Western range. Curteys gave the knight a jousting lance and made an all-you-need bundle which even includes the bases. The only thing you need to do is glue and paint the figures. Eagle eyed viewers may have noticed that the bases are not all the same, this is because the bases supplied in the set didn't match the ones I already had. As I intended to make a specific movement tray for this group I wasn't overly concerned. 
Mounted knight with lance and shield.
Also note that the set is supplied with water slide transfers for all the figures. A leaflet explains that the areas where the transfers will be applied have to painted (or sprayed) white. This is because the transfer is actually transparent and reveals the background colour when in place. I would recommend using a decal softener as the transfers will resist conforming to the curves of the horse barding and the surcoats. The shields have a slight curvature but the transfers adhere to the surface without any major problems.
Mounted knight with lance and shield
Mounted knight with lance and shield
The striped lance effect was achieved by initially painting the lance yellow and once dry wrapping a thin piece of masking tape around the lance as I rotated it in my fingers. Then I painted the lance green ensuring that the paint wasn't too fluid as it tends to seep under the tape. Once this layer was dry the tape was peeled away and any areas was touched up where necessary.
Mounted knight with hand weapon and shield
Dismounted knight with hand weapon and shield - front view
Dismounted knight with hand weapon and shield - rear view
As I had a spare shield transfer I applied it the shield being carried by the 'Squire carrying sword & shield' figure (Code SKU: CLH08) that I had purchased a while ago also from Curteys Miniatures.
Squire carrying sword and shield - front view
Squire carrying sword and shield - rear view
Squire carrying sword and shield - side view
Although this set of figures was initially designed for use with Crossed Lances I will of course be using the them for games of Lion Rampant. In order to maintain a similar look of previously completed units I realised I needed extra mounted figure to give me half (three models) of a Mounted Men-at-Arms unit.

Therefore I raided the lead pile and found an appropriate third mounted figure, this one is from the Curteys ME13 Mounted Knights-sergeants 1 set (lance upright, charging unbarded horses, currently £9). details (here) part of the Feudal Medieval Western range.
Marshall's flagbearer
Marshall's flagbearer
The flag was drawn on a CAD system and once glued into position was painted and highlighted with the usual acrylic paints.

Each of Marshall's five sons inherited the title but unfortunately the male line died out as none of his sons had children. The last son, Walter Marshal, 5th Earl of Pembroke, died in 1245. I mention this because the helmet of the knight design is more appropriate for later 13th century whereas the 1st Earl died in 1219.

The figures are easy to paint up with enough detail to warrant the extra time I spent on them. The heraldic transfers are a quick and easy alternative to painting them yourself. I have another similar set to this, depicting a member of the Beauchamp family, which I will attempt to finish before the end of the year. It is my intention to record the making and painting of these models and eventually post the results on YouTube via the Wargaming For Fun site.

After I mentioned to my brother that all of the sons of William Marshall had died without issue he asked if anyone one else carried these arms. I assumed that they did because they represented the arms of the Marshall of England. After a short bit of research (i.e. Google & Wikipedia) I found out that these became the:

'Arms of "Bigod Modern": Per pale or and vert, a lion rampant gules, adopted by Roger Bigod, 5th Earl of Norfolk, after 1269 following his inheritance of the office of Marshal of England from the Marshal family, of which these had formerly been the armorials.' (Wikipedia).

Given that the armour, particularly the helmet, is more suitable for the mid to late 13th century this figure is more appropriate to represent Roger Bigot, Earl of Norfolk.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Scratch-Built Thatched Storage Building

As briefly alluded to in a previous post the model detailed here was the direct result of attempting to make a paper building seen (here). After making a basic mistake with the papercraft model I was left with the basic shape of the building made from plain corrugated cardboard, I wondered if I could make it into something useful. So to start with I turned to the ubiquitous wooden coffee stirrers and clad the outside with them, following the same pattern detailed on the paper version.

Am I the only person sad enough to notice the quality of stirrers isn't as good as it used to be? The last time I mentioned this out loud (school boy error) I received an unusual look that was a mixture of scorn, pity and concern from my female companion in the coffee shop. 

Interior View of cheapo terrain
The original model had a basic printed representation of a thatched roof, so now I had the chance to try and replicate this in a more realistic fashion. I'd seen previously on the web suggestions to use DAS modelling clay. I had a 1kg block of this bought years ago from 'The Works' (a useful chain of shops in the UK that stocks cheap books and all sorts of random craft material). Having never actually used this stuff before I was curious how it would turn out.

After scoring the cardboard lightly with a craft knife (so that the clay would have something to adhere to) the clay was applied to the cardboard. Using the thick corrugated cardboard helped give the impression of the depth of real thatch. Some of the new laser cut buildings which seem very popular at the moment are supplied with teddy bear fur for the roof. This looks ok but always appears too thin to me. Real thatched roofs are at least 10" to 12" thick (in order to be waterproof), often a lot deeper, and it was this look that I wanted to reproduce.

It's useful to have a cup of water near to hand to help blend in the clay and keep it moist as you'll probably (like me) be applying relatively small portions of clay at a time. Unless you really wish to end up looking like a Chinese terracotta warrior I would highly recommend wearing rubber disposable gloves as the wet clay (or slip I suppose) can make a hell of mess of you, your clothes and your worktop. Once happy with the coverage of the roof, allowing enough time so that the clay wasn't too wet, using a cocktail stick I scored vertical lines to give the impression of the thatch itself.

Small details such as the hinge and plates where made from plastic rod and whittled down cocktail sticks were added before painting the model.

As the clay is air drying you simply have to leave it somewhere safe and allow it to set (you should notice the clay change to a slightly lighter colour). Once completely dry you can then paint the building as required. I used small tester pots of paint available from most large DIY stores.
As mentioned previously I had downloaded numerous free (you've got to love a bargain) paper buildings. These models are great but they don't withstand much handling even with reinforcing. As with the Tamiya storage hut I initially made a paper building and then wanted to make a more robust version using cheap materials that are easily available.
Completed model building
Although time consuming and obviously not quite as sturdy as laser cut or the plastic moulded buildings this type of terrain will be practically free especially if you decide to use cardboard tiles for the roof instead of modelling clay thatched version. Plus you'll have the real satisfaction of making something from scratch that you can show off on your table top.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Rustic Storage Building (Papercraft), Tamiya

During these financially tough times I try and keep an eye out for projects I can attempt that are cheap or, even better, are free. With this in mind it was whilst browsing online looking for inspiration for various types of terrain I recently happened to stumble across numerous sites devoted to papercraft buildings. Obviously these are not a new concept, indeed I have seen and played with similar pieces made by Ade during games of Bolt Action over in his Shropshire man cave. I have also in the past made various buildings from foamboard, the results of which can be seen (herehere & here) the plans and elevations of a couple which can be found (here).

There are a number of free downloads of paper terrain available off the internet but the quality can vary greatly. There are also numerous excellent models and buildings available for a small fee but I'm going to concentrate on the free stuff in this post (plus another one to follow shortly).

It was whilst browsing these various blogs and sites that I noticed an online image by Tamiya which can be found following the below link:

It caught my eye because this famous Japanese company is probably far better know as a manufacturer of high quality scale models and remote control vehicles so I was curious to know what this was. Turns out that this free-to-download paper model was actually a product to promote one of Tamiya's adhesives. 

To quote from their website: 
"This small storage building can be used as a component in 1/48 scale dioramas. Download the PDF file, print it onto thick paper, and assemble it according to the instructions below. (The model depicts a storage building similar to those which were seen on the Polish/Russian fronts in WWII.)"

Aha, ideal for both WWII Eastern Front Bolt Action games and medieval skirmish games, I thought. Now, dear reader in case you think you're reading the ramblings of an all knowing model and terrain making guru who is never makes an error please read on. 

In one of those moments when you actually learn more from making a mistake than when everything goes correctly, I had initially planned to back the paper cut out onto a piece of identically shaped corrugated cardboard (from an old shoe box) because it's cheap and readily available. However during a 'dry fit' trial run I noticed I hadn't allowed for the thickness of the cardboard so the pieces just wouldn't fit together (despite the copious amounts of swearing aimed at it). 

Rather than offset trimming the cardboard, which seemed like too much hard work, I reasoned that I could possibly make another building using the cardboard as the core of the model so put this to one side.
Crude interior
Returning to the original paper model the building is easy to cut out and construct. I used normal PVC wood glue to stick down the flaps but use extra care if you do the same. This is because the glue has a high water content and can easily affect the printed inks. A better option is probably to use something like Pritt Stick. I applied small amounts of glue using a cocktail stick taking extra care not to smudge the inks. 

Once finished I also, as suggested in the instructions, added reinforcement using offcuts from the same corrugated cardboard as used before. Ideal for the tabletop, these models are quick and easy to make although obviously not really suitable for heavy, long term use but then again if you damage the current model or need more to populate your table you can simply print out another sheet and start again.

Next up will be my attempt at creating a more substantial model based on this paper template. 

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Skirmish Movement Trays for Lion Rampant

These movement trays have been made specifically for my medieval figures, all mounted on various types of 20mm square bases, for use when playing Lion Rampant.
Although not really necessary for skirmish games I find them a lot more practical and quicker than faffing about, moving dozens of individual figures around the tabletop. especially when playing a game in a more relaxed atmosphere between friends as opposed to a competitive game where every fraction of an inch matters to some people.

Using the Lion Rampant rule set your units consist of either six or twelve models depending on their type; therefore all these movement trays are allocated the appropriate number of spaces.
With these I have made specific bases to suit particular units. Some figures, such as these (unfinished) plastic Fireforge spearmen for instance, require a bit of thought to achieve a natural look and to avoid the figures sticking spears into each others earholes. It also helps when positioning the figures not to have similar models placed next to each other, although sometimes this is unavoidable. 

The actual overall sizes of the bases are actually not that important but as long as the figures are within 6" of each other everything should be fine, hence all my bases are less than 5" wide (better safe than sorry). 

Size-wise the largest is 5" x 3 1/2" (127 x 89mm) which is also the largest piece of MDF will fit into a plastic take-away container which I use when applying grass/flock the bases (I'm not as daft as I look). I use MDF off cuts from work (the red stuff I use is a fire proof variety). As I don't have access to a large bandsaw at home I've found that by repeatedly scoring with a sharp craft knife on both sides of the board (a metal rule or guide is essential if you don't wish to remove your fingers) you can quite easily cut thin MDF to the size you require.
Initial blank
Here's one I prepared earlier
As there is no 'unit facing',* I wanted to give the impression that the units are in a loose formation. You may notice that some of the figures seen here are even facing backwards in the examples shown. So rather than having the figures all positioned uniformly edge to edge I decided to space out the figures and create separate frames for each model on the MDF. Once happy with the final layout of the figures I marked the location with a pencil, The frames were then built up individually with wooden coffee stirrers allowing some wiggle room so that the figures would sit snuggly but not too tightly that I'd have problems removing them. Once dry the outer edges of the base are then chamfered and sanded down. The base can now be liberally smothered covered with PVA woodglue and covered in small stones and sand, taking care to ensure the square location gaps remain clear. 
When the base is completely dry (probably best left overnight) the whole base was painted with brown poster paint (the dirt cheap stuff available from craft shops or discount stores) then highlighted with my 'proper' acrylic paints to match the colours of the bases of my figures. The base was then varnished to offer some protection from wear and tear. The final stage is to apply the various grass and flock materials to give the bases a more realistic, natural look and to blend in with the bases of the figures.

In Lion Rampant mounted units consist of six models per unit. In order to give me some flexibility I decided to split the figures into two groups. 
One half of mounted unit movement tray
If you can't be bothered to go to all the effort of making similar bases (and to be honest it did involve a fair amount of time and effort to make these movement trays) Warbases make a product using the same principles. Examples can be found on the excellent blogger Saxondog's site:

* there are optional rules for this available from the author if you wish to introduce them. 
Lion Rampant variants