Hasegawa Karl-Gerät

The Germans had an obsession with enormous guns. Sturmtiger, Karl-Gerat, rail guns of all sorts – Dora especially, it seems like whomever was in charge for projects, he was overcompensating for something. They look awesome, they make for nice scale models, but that’s mostly it. Somehow the designers of these enormous weapons forgot one important thing the 20th century already taught by the time they were conceived: if you really need to kill a lot of people, it’s cheaper to do it using the air force. The sheer logistics required to set up and operate these weapons severely limited their usefulness in a fluid, dynamic battlefield. They were designed for a static siege warfare, and that was mostly a thing of the past. The Karl mortars saw service at Sevastopol, at Warsaw, and at the Battle of the Bulge, but in general, their impact was not exactly strategic.

The Karl line of self-propelled mortars were designed as siege weapons for the Maginot line. They were supposed to lob enormous projectiles onto the walls until they cracked, from a relatively safe distance. Because of the enormous recoil generated, these monsters actually had to be lowered to the ground, otherwise their torsion bars would have broken the first time they fired. They were also very, very, very slow. Slow to move, slow to fire. This is not really surprising, considering the projectile weighted as much as a small car. This meant they could not store their ammunition (or the separate propellants) on board. There were dedicated ammunition carriers converted from panzer IV’s, which were ferrying ammo from the supply dumps to these guns. There were seven of these guns built, and six of them had their own names. (Adam, Eva, Thor, Odin, Loki, Ziu: because nothing’s better than naming a tool of destruction after Adam and Eve; Thor and the other Norse gods at least are fitting.)

Hasegawa came out with two kits long, long time ago, depicting these weapons: one showing the mortar on a rail carriage (actually, hung up between the two dedicated carriages), and one in deployment with a carrier provided. Since the vehicle would be enormous in 1/35, I’ve chosen to do the 1/72 version. (Hobby Boss came out with its own Karls; they probably are really nice kits, but I have not had a chance to take a look at them.)

The Hasegawa offering is surprisingly good considering its age. You can choose between the original 60cm or the later long-barreled 54cm variants. As you can see, I’ve chosen the late-war 54cm mortar, since I’ve already built the DML 1/144 version of the same vehicle with the 60cm gun. You essentially get two models -the mortar and the ammo carrier-, and they both are very nice kits on their own right. It really was a joy to build them.

This was the first ever time I tried my airbrush. I used a dark brown primer (simple spray can), and as the first color of the 3 colored camouflage I layered sand on top.

The brown-green camo was done using silly putty as masking.

Once all the colors were on, I used brown filters to turn the sand color more like the German Dunkelgelb, and to blend the different colors together. Once all the camo colors were done, I installed the ammunition into the carrier. I used thread to simulate the metal cables for the winch, but I ran into some difficulties: the projectile carried in the arm of the winch was simply too light, so the thread was not stretched. It looked like it was holding a projectile-shaped balloon, and not a 2000kg projectile. I cut away the bottom of the projectile, and stuffed as much fishing lead into the cavity as I could. I also pulled the thread tight, and applied glue to it to make it still. These two solutions together made a realistic-looking winch.

I used some heavily diluted burnt sienna as a pin-wash to bring out the small details, and some rust-colored scratches here and there. I did not want to take the weathering too far, as these guns were always very much maintained by their crew. The models were sprayed with some semi-matt varnish to protect the pain, and to give it a metallic shine. (After all we kind of expect painted metallic surfaces not to be completely dull, even though -in reality they mostly are.)

And there they are: a mixture of gray and brown pain oversprayed lightly onto the running gear and the lower chassis of the two vehicles to simulate dust, some use of a soft lead pencil to simulate worn metal, and I declared the models finished. (I don’t always use dry-brushing; sometimes you don’t need a stark contrast on the surface of a model.)

 

 

Beating up Trumpeter’s T-55

Phase two of the early experiments on scratches.

I used Trumpeter’s excellent T-55, and got on with the work. This time I had not used an airbrush simply because I did not have one yet in Europe. (The one I did have had been put in storage in the US.)

So: dark green base color first (painted the external fuel tanks in a slightly different green), then a very light green drybrush to mark the areas where wear and tear would scratch the paint off. At the deeper scratches I used an even lighter green, and in the middle of these scratches I went in with Vajello’s German Cam. Black Brown to simulate the exposed metal.

The whole tank then got a couple of layers of filters. I dabbed small amount of green, blue, yellow, and burnt umber oil paints onto the surface, and using a wet brush with downwards strokes I removed as much as I could, only leaving hints of the color on the tank. Then waited a couple of days for the paint to dry, and repeated it. The thing about tanks is that unlike airplane models, they actually look better if their surface is not uniform. (To my eyes, at least.)

 

The mud was done using ground up pastels, fixed with Mig’s Pigment Fixer solution.

On the lower chassis I wet the surface with the fixer, and then carefully sprinkled the pigments on from a brush. O the top of the chassis I mixed the two together, and used a brush to apply it. Before it dried I used a cotton swab to remove some of it with downward, streaking motion, to simulate the effect of weather on the splattered mud.

 

 

 

 

ModellTrans Luchs

The PzKpfw II Ausf. L “Luchs” was -as the name suggests- a variant of the Panzer II. (It was called Pnz II, yet it shared almost nothing with any of the Pnz II variants. Different engine, different suspension, different chassis, different tracks… and the list is long. It was essentially a separate design of its own.) They’ve built 104 of this tank, and used it extensively in the early war years. This tank was used as a reconnaissance tank, and it was not particularly successful -or useful. It was not a failure, either; but the concept of a light tank was probably outdated by 1942.

I don’t do particularly well in it, but I love the Luchs in World of Tanks. So I got the ModellTrans version.

I’m not sure if the turned barrel comes with the kit or not (I’ve ordered quite a lot of models back then with 2cm guns). What I do know is that I dropped the turret once, and the originally installed resin gun barrel just disintegrated. The moral of the story? Don’t glue in thin, sensitive parts that are prone to break until the last minute of the build.

The model is very simple, easy to build. About 6-7 pieces total.

I was experimenting with scratches in braille scale. The first layer of the scratch was a lighter shade of the base color, and a brownish color was used in a much smaller area inside the scratch, representing the exposed metal.

 

 

 

 

 

Murderous clown

So a very good friend of mine sent me a link to a webshop where you could buy resin figures for model building. The item he linked to was a laughing clown. (Unfortunately I cannot find the link itself.) He made a mention about an evil, murderous laugh, and I have to admit the figure IS somewhat sinister, even without the gun I added later. So sure enough I ordered one (later another one) of these figures, and started to work. We both have a sick mind, OK?

 

I did want to show a clown in the middle of a killing spree, but I wanted to keep it as “tasteful” as possible; dead bodies lying around was a no-no.

This left us with the clown standing in a park, laughing, with the gun under his arm; all around him the scattered items people threw away while running away from our entertainer. I built a small bench to populate this little piece of park, and called it a day.

Needless to say, it took a while to order and prepare everything; so when my friend got it in the mail, it was NOT a success. He admitted that he could not phantom why he got this; by the time he got it, he has forgotten about the clown completely.  Bummer.

 

 

Later I did a second version with a bit less sinister undertones: the clown got a paintball gun. (You can see the paint splashes on the bench next to him.) This was another present for another friend of mine; I guess I like to recycle old ideas. Sue me.

Roden 1/72 Sd.kfz 4/1 72 Panzerwerfer with Armory PE

I always liked halftracks -especially the Germans built ones. They look angular, somewhat futuristic, and they have been built in an incredible number of versions. (Especially the 251 series; more on that in a later post…)

Anyhow, the Sd.kfz. 4.1 is essentially a modified Mercedes-Benz truck that has been armored, and fitted with a 15 cm Panzerwerfer 42 rocket launcher by Opel. The armor was enough to protect the crew from small-arms fire, and the halftrack gave mobility to the rocket-launcher platform. The issue with rocket launchers was that they were relatively short-ranged area saturation weapons, that leave tell-tale trails, so counter-battery is relatively easy. So after you fired, you’d better get out of dodge FAST, because you can bet that the enemy will throw everything at you the second they recover from your rockets. This is the reason for mounting the Katyusha rockets onto trucks, by the way. Nobody wanted to stick around after the first salvo, so due to its low mobility the German version was not the most effective.

The problem of mobility lead to the Germans creating their own mobile rocket launcher platforms. They used the Sd.kfz 251 halftrack to mount the Wurfrahmen 40 rocket system. This was known as the badassly named Stuka-zu-Fuss (Stuka on foot), and also as the less-than-flatteringly named Bellowing Cow… In any way, the problem with this weapon system was that you could not stay in the vehicle while firing for obvious reasons. (Just imagine what the blast of 6 successive rocket launches would cause less than a meter from you, and you’ll see why.) They also used captured tanks and tracked vehicles to stick rocket launching platforms onto them, but these were mostly ad-hoc, field modified solutions to the problem.

The Sd.Kfz 4.1 on the other hand had no such issues. It stored the rockets in the crew compartment, so reloading was fast; and it was protected enough so the crew did not have to disembark from the vehicle before launch. All in all, it was a relatively successful weapon platform.

Roden has issued an excellent 1/72 scale version of this vehicle, but to be absolutely honest, the kit will only shine, if you invest in the Armory PE sets as well. You will absolutely need the exterior detail set, the tracks, and if you feel adventurous, the interior as well. (This is not strictly necessary, as most of it will be hidden, anyway.)

There are some issues with the base kit: the tracks are short (kind of a big problem), and they don’t look very nice, either. The details are soft: the edges of the vehicle are not sharp enough. When you compare the razor-sharp edges of the PE replacements for the fenders, the armored plates in front of the radiator, the storage boxes, etc, with the plastic parts, you’ll be happy you got the extra metal. Other than that the running gear is a bit finiky, and VERY easy to break the delicate parts.

So to the build.

Interior: really cool. I did not use many of the PE parts, simply because you will not be able to see them. There’s no point in adding the pedals, the excellent instrument panel, and the mechanisms lifting the armored panels covering the viewing slots. (OK, these come very handy if you depict the vehicle with open viewing slots, and if -unlike me- you don’t mess them up.) I installed the back of the seats, the no-slip flooring, and some smaller titbits in the engine compartment. (You get a really detailed engine, which you can superdetail as much as your little heart desires; I did not go crazy with it, though. I added some wires to the engine compartment’s firewall, and that’s about it; most of it will not be visible even if you open the engine hatches, anyway. I forgot to take photos of the finished engine compartment before closing it up, unfortunately.)

You have to admit, it looks cool with all the shiny brass.

Once I have finished with the interior (painting and weathering included), it was time to close it up, and move onto the exterior.

This is where the PE additions shine best (weak pun intended). The storage boxes, fenders, mudguards, steps; they all enhance the model significantly.

After fitting, and sanding, and fitting and sanding, the model has gotten it’s first layer of paint: black. I’ve used Citadel’s black primer spray can.

The second layer was the German Dunkelgelb. This is where the purists will crucify me, but the fact is I don’t adhere to the “sacred color charts”. While the paint was relatively standardized, true, there are many factors that would influence the final color of the vehicle. The Sun will fade it, the scale effect will make it appear lighter, and somewhat bluer; not to mention dust, wear and tear will all modify the original color. Having said that, since I planned to add a worn whitewash, it does not really make any difference, anyway.

After the yellow base color, I wanted to try something. The most popular method of simulating worn whitewash, is to use the hairspray technique: put a player of hairspray between the base color and the white, and once the white paint is dry, you can use a wet swab or brush to dissolve the hairspray. This way you can remove parts of the white paint, as if it was worn off.

Whitewash originally was either white paint (surprisingly), or more often than not, lime smeared onto the vehicle using mops and rags -so the coverage was not perfect to begin with. The whitewash was further worn off by the crew climbing all over the vehicle, by the elements (wind, snow, meltwater), etc; so by the end of Winter, if the vehicle survived that long, the white layer was usually all but worn off.

I wanted to try something other than hairspray as I did not have any of the stuff around. I did, however, had a water soluble varnish for oil paintings by Windsor. This is a thick solution, drys relatively fast, and can be redissolved with water -just the thing you need. I covered the model with the varnish, and after drying I painted Vajello’s white primer on with a flat brush. (Quickly,  and using a relatively thick paint, so that the water in the paint does not dissolve the varnish.) Surprisingly it worked. Using wet swabs I was able to create the worn, washed off look I was looking for.

thinly diluted white pigments were used to “tie” the surfaces together; this takes the contrast of the yellow and white away, and blends everything together.

Different colored pigments were applied to the lower chassis and the mudguards using a wet brush both by dabbing and by flicking (simulating the mud-spatters) -and the weathering was essentially done.

And finally, the tracks.

The rubber bands you get from Roden are not very good. They are short, for one. The running gear, as I mentioned, is very delicate; any kind of tension would break the plastic parts. This means you need the PE set. Any PnzI tracks would do, actually, as this vehicle used the same tracks as the Panzer I, but I stuck with Armory’s set. (This is a rare case of common sense in the German armed forces, looking at the incredible number of different vehicles they have been using. Support must have been a true logistical nightmare.)

Armory’s tracks are brilliant. They have two parts; all you need to do is to fold up the interior part (the guide teeth), and carefully glue it to the track’s exterior part. A PE folding tool comes handy (as with the other parts of the assembly), but the folding can be done using two razor blades as well: one holds down the part, the other is used to fold it carefully.

It is made of metal, so it was easy to position it, and to simulate the typical “drop” non-live tracks have on the top of the road wheels. Even without the issues of length, the rubber bands given as tracks will never be able to give convincing results like these. This was my first experience with PE tracks; I think I’m sold on the idea.

(I have to take some photos of the vehicle with the tracks on… keep tuned.)

So there it is. A brilliant little kit, made even better by aftermarket PE. I have to say considering my skills in photoetched parts, these can be recommended to people who are not professionals. With some basic skills and patience, it it possible to achieve decent results.

 

WWI veteran – experimenting with filters

I have built the ancient Airfix Mark IV Male a couple of years ago; back then it was the only plastic Mark IV on the market, and it was cheap…

It was a surprisingly easy build, and the fit was remarkably good.

The gun mount is not the best -when it points forward, you can see a gap on the back of the gun. The exhaust pipe on the top does not have any connection to the engine, either. (I did not know that it was an exhaust pipe at that stage.) The rivets were nice, though.

I had no airbrush, so it was all brush-painting… the contrast is too high, and the thing looks like a toy. Not to mention the flexible tracks started to shed the paint. It came off in flakes, and it was a difficult problem to fix. Rubbed most of the paint off, and kept reapplying again. All in all, it is a disaster.

Finished product after layers upon layers of burnt umbra/sienna filters. I essentially used tinted thinner and covered the model in layers. And layers. And layers. It did not show at first, but by the end I was surprised how well it blended all the colors together.

All that was left was a little streaking with oil paints, and the application of wet (and dry) pigments (fixed later with pigment fixer) on the bottom half to simulate mud churned up by the tank. The side of the base was lightly sanded to get rid of the brown pigments. The results are surprisingly good considering how it started out. Not a show-stopper, but at least a passable tank.

The conclusion? Filters seem to work. (What a surprise…)

10.5 cm ls.F.H auf Geschützwagen Char B-1(f) by ModellTrans and Trumpeter

Let’s start with this conversion.

The vehicle was built using the captured Char B1 tanks by the Germans; they did away with the turret, and put in a 10.5cm light field howitzer. The results are interesting-looking even by the standards of hastily converted self-propelled guns.

Both Modelltrans and Armory has a conversion for this vehicle; both use the excellent Trumpeter B1 as a base. (There is no other plastic model available, anyway.) I only have built the ModellTrans conversion, so I cannot give an accurate comparison between the two kits; the Armory version seems more detailed, it makes use of PE better (gun shields are more to scale thickness), and it’s also more expensive.

The ModellTrans version is entirely resin, and it’s probably an easier build, too.

ModellTrans conversion

 

As with all ModellTrans kits I’ve built so far, there are some quality issues with the parts: the gun shields on both sides are nicked (they are very thin, delicate parts), and there were some casting imperfections/bubbles which needed to be corrected. After carefully applying putty and VERY delicate sanding I ended up leaving the gun shields alone as I could not figure out how to fix the problem completely. The nicks are not as visible as before, but they still can be seen. Write it up for battle damage.

There is some surgery necessary on the base kit, but it’s not very difficult. I could not find photo/drawing of the actual vehicle, so I have no idea how the base looked like in real life; in this version it is a flat metal plate. In Armory’s version it’s a more elaborate contraption, and in some scratch-built models I saw online, the inside of the tank is accessible from the gun platform. I think it’s a safe bet to say that this last version is the most likely one. (Makes sense not to isolate the vehicle from the gun; after all there’s additional ammo storage in the inside of the tank, and the gun crew must also have a relatively safe way to get to their gun.)

The gun’s base

The gun shields were relatively easy to install; they fit onto the base well. A black base-coat was applied to the model. The gun cradle, the optics and the operating wheels were installed without glue at this stage as I needed them to make sure all the parts were lined up correctly.

 

Superstructure
Superstructure

Once everything was aligned, I glued the cradle in. I suspect the crew compartment is lacking a radio (at least), but the room was so tight I could not fit in a leftover FuG from an Sd.Kfz.251 kit. There was some issues with the molding of one of the ammo racks: two of the shells had casting errors (their top was missing), so they were cut off, and I drilled a hole in their place.

There were a couple of gray layers sprayed onto the model; each layer was successively lighter than the previous one. To break up the monotony of the gray I applied brown/blue/yellow filters using oil paints. (I used the dot-method: first let the paint sit on a piece of cardboard to get rid of the linseed oil, then dot them onto the model, and wash them off with a clean and wet brush.) I applied burned sienna onto the sides in patches this way as well. The contrast is really high on these photos, but in normal light they do blend in nicely. With a toothpick I carefully rubbed/scratched the topmost paint layer off at some places to reveal the darker gray underneath. This was done to create further signs of wear and tear, as I wanted the tank to look worn and used.

Painted and weathered
Gun installed

The crew compartment was weathered quite heavily: scratches, rust, and dust was freely applied.

Before painting the gun had to undergo some minor surgery (although aftermarket gun barrels are available, I did not feel like buying an aftermarket gun for my aftermarket conversion). The main problem was the muzzle break: there was some resin blocking the side-openings. This chunk had to be carefully cut away, and the muzzle break had to be opened up. I drilled it through both from the front and from the sides, and then used a thin blade to make the side holes square. Another issue was the mating of the gun’s tube to the muzzle break; the diameters of the two parts were slightly off, and the joint is quite visible. I thought about trying to sand the difference off, but decided not to exacerbate the problem with unskilled meddling.

After installing the gun I pained the exhaust pipes in rust colors, added the tracks, and added streaking to the sides using both oils and pigments dissolved in water.

The horizontal surfaces were lightly dusted with light gray colored pigments, and the tracks and lower chassis had some earth-shaded pigments applied to simulate dried mud. All the edges and rivets were lightly traced with a soft graphite pencil to simulate worn metal.

 

Finished model
Finished model

 

All in all, the Trumpeter B1 Bis is a joy to build, and the ModellTrans conversion makes a convincing SPG in this scale. Based on this experience and what I saw online, if you don’t mind the extra costs, and can work with PE, I’d go with the Armory set.

First post

I’m just an average person building (mostly) small scale models of weird-looking or otherwise interesting vehicles. The purpose of this blog is to share some of the results for the interested. This might be useful for others to see what results a person with average modeling skills can achieve with a certain kit/technique. Or perhaps not. Please feel free to comment.

Scale model building – amateur style