Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence! IJA Platoon completed

From left to right: MMG team, grenadiers (back row); three rifle sections (middle); HQ (front).

Here they are, my Imperial Japanese Army rifle platoon, completed after nearly six months work. I also managed to finish off an MMG support with a Kempeitai officer providing motivation in the field.

The figures are a mix of metal and plastic from Warlord, The Assault Group and Westwind. After completing a rifle and grenadier section in plastic I grew weary of fiddly multi-part plastic kits and switched back to metals.

Perhaps its part reactionary nostalgia, but I prefer metals. They cost more, sure, but they usually have plenty of character and spare me the tedium of assembly and filing. This means a quicker route to painting and therefore completion for the tabletop.

There was lots of experimentation in this platoon as it was my first World War 2 project. Colours went from very dark to a brighter scheme in order to make the drab modern uniforms pop up better on the tabletop. Of course, in real life drab colours which blend in with the landscape are ideal for uniforms, but they make for a poor visual feast.

Lesson learned, what is useful in life on the battlefield is a disadvantage in tabletop wargaming.

Second Lieutenant and Sergeant. The lieutenant's uniform
is a blend of English Uniform and Russian Uniform greens.

If I ever have the energy to do another IJA platoon I may make the looks more homogeneous by having one all plastic with a brighter re-paint (I still have an untouched box from Warlord), and an all-metal platoon based on the jungle fighters.

For now, the plastic grenadiers and rifles can be the fire support while the metal chaps in shrubbery do the advance flanking.

Rather than the more handsome and dashing Hiroo Onoda from Stoessi's Heroes, I went for the more imperious but dowdy commander from Warlord Games. Although too slim, he reminds me more of Lieutenant General Yamashita Tomoyuki, the Tiger of Malaya.

The sergeant is from The Assault Group, which have the second best faces after Warlord's jungle fighters, below.

The Warlord plastics and the Westwind minis have very caricatured faces, reminiscent of the propaganda posters during the war. Some of the Westwind minis look like Asian vampires with their two widely-spaced fangs. That said, the metals blend together quite well. The section below mixes TAG with Westwind. I love figures with vegetation camouflage. They really offer points to brighten the model and add visual interest.

Plastic grenadiers with some minor conversions to conform better to a 45ยบ firing angle. They benefitted from delaying basing until the very end of the project. I acquired a DIY static grass applicator and I went a little overboard with it. I should leave a little more mud base showing in future. I've got some longer grass - 6mm and 10mm - on their way from Arcane Scenery to experiment with making my own long tufts and a far cheaper rate than pre-made ones.

I'm going to take a break from Japanese infantry for a while. Their platoons are nearly double the size of Allied ones and completing one amidst job and family commitments really tested my stamina.

Since the British players in my group have yet to have their platoons ready (mirroring history), I'm going to do some of the forgotten armies of the Commonwealth next so I can host complete games at home.

I've started work on a platoon of Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders with their distinctive pith helmets. These should be relatively fast to finish as the Perry Desert Rats are less fiddly than Warlord plastics and the khaki drill scheme is straightforward.

I'll probably follow up with some vehicles after, a Lancaster and a Ha-Go or Chi-Ha. Subsequent infantry will be some metal Indians that I am really looking forward to.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Chain of Command & Progress Updates

My Japanese engage a pinned Malay rifle section in our first game of Chain of Command.
My chaps lost the combat by 2 and gave ground, however the Malays broke and routed off the table!
(Most of the pics by club mate Ian)

Rules Update

Our search for a suitable ruleset for the Pacific campaign continues with some test games of Chain of Command. I really like this ruleset. It's much clearer than NUTS! and includes good chrome such as support for historical platoon organisation and tactics. The early game patrol phase is particularly fun and a bit more nuanced than the head-to-head hack of the NUTS! PEF system that we had been using.

Two IJA rifle sections and a grenadier section (centre right) sweep to left against a thin line of Australians.
I do hope my group plumps for Chain of Command. That said, I plan to try NUTS! solo play once I do up a Commonwealth platoon for my Japanese to face.

Aussie snipers try to pick off the advancing Japanese. It eventually becomes easier for the Japanese to overrun the snipers rather than spot them.

Miniatures Progress Update

October and November have been busy months and progress on finishing off my IJA rifle platoon has been glacial. I've 16 riflemen in the works plus the Lieutenant and Sergeant from HQ. I'm trying a different painting technique on these based on a method used by my gaming mate Damon who's a prolific and skilled painter.

Using a three-tone approach he basecoats with the highlight, washes with the shade, and glazes with the mid-tone. It's a modified Foundry/Dallimore method that should produce smoother transitions instead of the signature layered stripes of Dallimore's method. Damon also says that it's a quick painting method.

Unfortunately, my painting sessions have been so spread out that it's been hard to judge any time saving.

As for the final result, I still remain somewhat psychologically attached to an approach of starting with the mid-tone, washing a shade and adding highlights, though it is a challenge to get a smooth colour transition.

After I'm done with the four sections of the rifle platoon I'll be finishing off the supports:

  • Final touches and basing on the MMG
  • Type 97 Chi-Ha tank
  • Type 95 Ha-Go tank
  • Two snipers
  • 70mm Infantry gun
I can't wait to be done with the Japanese. While my motivation for them is starting to ebb, I am becoming more motivated to prepare my Commonwealth forces.

Commonwealth Plans - Argylls and Straits Volunteers

I've already started converting a box of Perry Desert Rats with some Indian sola topis for use as either Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders or Straits Settlement Volunteer Forces, a single platoon to represent both elite and green forces.

Some of the Brens may need to be swapped for Lewis gun figures if I'm fielding them as Volunteers. I recently purchased a Lewis Gunner pack from Great War Miniatures, primarily because the famed Malay military hero Leftenan Adnan was felled by the Japanese in the Battle of Pasir Panjang whilst wielding a Lewis gun.

The figures will need some conversion to look like their are wearing shorts and rolled sleeves. This shouldn't be too hard a task. I just need to shave down the arms and add some rolled sleeves, then bulk out the thighs to simulate the shorts and smooth over the puttees.

The first section of Argylls I assembled look rather fine. The Perry sculpts are great, and while they are "true 28mm" and less than chunky, they look fine to the metal and plastic Japanese I have as the latter are of similar height but much smaller than typical chunky 28mm.

This topi-wearing platoon will pair nicely with the Lanchester 6x4 armoured car that I've sourced from Empress Miniatures. I confess this is likely my main motivation for assembling this platoon. Both the Argylls and Malay Armoured Regiment used the Lanchesters; the entire global supply was shipped (or rather dumped) in Malaya in the late 1930s.

However, I'm realising that my ambitions for assembling Commonwealth troops is scratching the limits of practicality.

Indian Kulla Platoon

My main goal is to represent the "forgotten armies" facing the Japanese invasion. This means featuring those less storied than the British and Australian troops. I've inspired others in my group to cover the Malay Regiment adequately, perhaps disproportionately. If we're going to stage the invasion of Malaya then we really need to field Indians.

Right now, I'm the only one in my group preparing Indians. So after the Argyll/Volunteers comes some Indians in kulla assembled from Westwind's British Indian army figures. I've had to supplement these with an order from Pulp Figures, Artizan and Crusader because Westwind doesn't have a complete range. The 2" mortar and anti-tank rifle are missing.

In fact, I've noticed that very producers of WW2 British 28mm figures have 2" mortar models. Perhaps its a case of art imitating the horrendous supply situation of the historical troops (I read that the Argylls trained with a clay replica of a 2" mortar as the real ones hadn't arrived), but it underlines for me what a complete package the Perry Desert Rats are - all you need for a platoon in one box.

More importantly, Westwind sell their Indian Bren one to a pack with a Vickers MMG. Fielding the three Brens in a platoon would mean amassing a disproportionate three MMGs, and at a hefty price of £11 per pack.

My solution is to get some 8th Army Bren gunners from Artizan and either field them in their saucer helmets or decapitate them and use the separate Indian heads I purchased from Westwind. These are too large in scale to fit on the Perry Desert Rats. Apparently, Woodbine Indian heads are a better match. Still, I prefer metal to plastic and, despite the simplicity and elegance of the Perry figures, I find it helpful for my productivity to mix in some metals after slogging through plastics.

These chaps will also serve double duty as Indian National Army troops in Burma.

Sikh Platoon

After that comes a second Perry platoon with Sikh heads. I've already got all the bits, as well as an Indian Pattern Armoured Carrier with Sikh crew, a Sikh Vickers team and a Sikh Mortar team. The heads look great and it's a unit that would serve well in any future Desert War campaign.

That said, that's three platoons. I already find preparing a 54-man IJA platoon a slog, what more three 36-man Commonwealth platoons. I must be crazy. Still, all the Commonwealth platoons have uses as at least two variants, so it's somewhat efficient albeit megalomaniacal. They're also pretty straighforward to paint as they are all Khaki Drill.

Japan Versus the Pacific

A Malay section breezes into an estate before the IJA tear them apart.
Although I have enough figures left spare to assemble another IJA platoon, I don't think I'll have the stamina to do so for a while yet. The fiddliness of the Warlord plastic Japanese really tested my patience. The Perrys are a breeze in comparison.

I've got an Australian commando section, fine Steve Saleh sculpts from Warlord and bits of a Chindit platoon that I expect to filled out in the future.

The IJA are rather like the Romans of World War 2 Pacific wargaming. Once you build up an IJA army you can field it against various opponents. There's also the Chinese as opponents for the opening years of the Pacific War just because Mark Copplestone's Warlord Chinese range is so awesome.

Once at least one Commonwealth platoon is completed I will turn my attention to preparing terrain, particularly rubber plantations and secondary jungle as these were the main zones of action besides roads. I must admit I have much to learn on this front.

Luckily, Damon is shouldering most of the terrain burden for games at AD. However, for occasional home games I need to have some of my own terrain. As of last week, I've started scouring the park for suitable fallen twigs and branches that would serve as potential rubber and jungle trees.

In the long run this will be worth it, especially since I plan to game the Malayan Emergency and it's all the same terrain.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

IJA Platoon Progress: Jungle Fighters

Here is the tension I always face in contemporary wargaming. Plastic kits are very affordable gateways into a particular army or period, the scope for customisation is nice, but I get dreadfully bored assembling the models.

With limited hobby time I see it as a trade off between painting time and assembly time. This has led me to swing back to metal miniatures because the main prep involved is just shaving the mold lines. This means a shorter road to painting. Boredom is the enemy of progress.

Lately, I've been working on the Japanese jungle fighters from Warlord's Bolt Action line. While their Japanese plastics are pretty decent, there are just too many fiddly bits to assemble for my taste. Also, given their kit and historical colours, it is challenging to paint them in a way that makes them 'pop' on the table without going to a very pale khaki.

The great appeal of the metal jungle fighters is the vegetation camouflage that offer some points of visual interest on the wargames table. These can be painted up pretty bright to stand out from the otherwise plain equipment.

The facial sculpts on the jungle fighters are also far superior to both the rest of plastic and metal Bolt Action Japanese. The latter seem to be directly lifted from the racist anti-Japanese propaganda posters of the period (below). I don't know if the buck teeth and squinty eyes were a deliberate homage, but I note the Japanese don't depict themselves this way.

For the paint job I followed this excellent guide by the chaps over at WWPD.

I did a few things differently:

Base: AP Leather Brown spray
Uniform: Vallejo Japanese WW2 Uniform (instead of Desert Yellow); highlight: Iraqi sand, Pale Sand
Flesh: Foundry North African Flesh, Highlight: Beige Red, 50/50 Beige Red/Pale Flesh

I had bought the Japanese WW2 Uniform at the very beginning of my project, before I had a strong sense of how the uniforms looked in practice. It's a painfully bright yellow, reminiscent of Stabilo Highlighters.

It also looked nothing like any of the variants of Japanese uniforms that I had seen, even those in the China theatre. Luckily, the Strong Tone wash and plenty of highlight layers muted its glare.

Regarding highlights, while the WWPD guide recommends one highlight before the wash, I found that to achieve something close to their result required two highlights, the last one being bright Pale Sand. Putting the wash last does help 'bring' the layers all together, but needs some very bright tones underneath for that tabletop pop.

Because the faces on these figures were appealing, I took the effort to paint and dot the eyes, though the squinting left me nearly cross-eyed. It was well worth the effort though.

The eyes really make the face even though we'd rarely see them on the tabletop.

I also experimented with some aquarium foliage for the bases. The most extreme example was my LMG gunner seemingly bursting out of some big spade leaves. A far-fetched plant set up, but I found that it nicely framed the running pose of the model and it also made him readily identifiable. Otherwise, he could easily be mistaken for a regular rifleman.

I used the same leaves on a few others, taking inspiration from the halos in Japanese Buddhist art.

Fudo Myo-O, a very popular Buddhist deity in Japan
Enough talk, more pics:

Next time around, I plan to try Vallejo Desert Yellow as the main colour and start from a white basecoat. The newer Army Painter sprays don't adhere to metal well at all. I suffered much peeling during the project.

While I have another unit of these Warlord figures unpainted, I decided to opt for some variety by ordering jungle fighters from The Assault Group and Westwind. More on those later.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

NUTS! Border Skirmish - IJA-IJN Joint Scouting Mission

The foliage cover was so good that I lost track of the chap on the right for half the game.

Last weekend we tested another set of squad level rules, NUTS! by Two Hour Wargames (now rebranded as TWH). I don't have a set of the rules, they were explained to me verbally, so apologies for any errors below.

It has a somewhat similar feel to Five Men at Kursk though with the welcome additional of a fog of war device that lends tension to the opening turns. Before units are placed on the table each side instead moves around blips that Possible Enemy Forces (PEFs). The players mark which PEFs represent actual units, the others are bluffs. Do I engage one PEF only to be outflanked by another?

The PEF only spawns once its player decides to reveal it or it enters the line of sight of an enemy unit.

The IJN. There's a PEF chip in the background.
In our test game of Imperial Japanese Army/Imperial Japanese Navy v US Marine Corp on a recon mission I managed to use two PEFs to keep the Marines player guessing as to whether he was charging headlong into a combined bloc of two IJA and IJN squads, or a lone IJN squad with the IJA potentially flanking him (it was the latter).

Once a unit steps into the line of sight of an enemy an In Sight test is triggered to see who shoots first. Fire and counter-fire is resolved until someone is dropped or the exchange broken. Thus, there's quite a large role for 'interrupt' reactions before squad actions get resolved.

We also learned that we shouldn't let our NCOs or LMGs be the first to enter the enemy line of sight. Sometimes you can't avoid it as the NCO spawns on the PEF token when it is revealed.

My IJA squad spawns from its PEF as it enters the line of sight of some Marines. My NCO is promptly shot down by reaction fire...

Marines spawn from a revealed PEF

Firing ranges were very long on the 6' by 4' board and we really learned to fear the BAR.

Otherwise, the game was quite intuitive in the manner of Five Men with very simple definitions of obscurement and cover (soft and hard terrain basically).

Our mission objective was to have at least one man scout out the three sectors of the enemy table edge and make it back off a friendly edge.

"Where are we now, guys?" The spirit of Captain Sobel lives on.

Oh wait, that's a friendly up ahead.
With two squads per side our IJN squad was wiped out but for their sergeant. Luckily he used fast move to scout out the enemy sectors and managed to escape off the table with cover provided by the flanking IJA force.

Heading back to camp to put in a request for some aerial bombardment.

That's it for the NUTS! playtest. Next weekend: Disposable Heroes.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Band of Banzais

I wasn't happy with how the photos of my IJA LMG squad looked with a white backdrop under a daylight bulb so I reshot them on my Deep Cut Studios terrain mat. I think the green really brings out their banzai.

While I abhor the faces on the Warlord sculpts (reminiscent of the caricatured features found on anti-Japanese propaganda posters), the last picture really highlights how dynamic the poses are. There is a real sense of forward motion and commitment.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Five Men at Kursk playtest

Over the weekend my mate Damon organised a learn-while-you-play session of World War II skirmish ruleset Five Men at Kursk. We made a few mistakes in the rules, as one always does, but the overall feel of the game - scurrying to cover, getting spooked by suppressing fire, and the tension of avoiding enemy reactions - made me think often of the drama in Band of Brothers and The Pacific.

So, as far as thematic enjoyment goes, Five Men at Kursk gets a thumbs up. 

Also in its favour is that it has no mucky muck points system that could get bogged down in list-building. Squad size and support sections are randomly generated. If you don't happen to have the figures you can work your way down the support table until you hit upon a bonus that you can field, or take a stat bonus.

Anyway, enjoy the pics. Several are from Damon's post on the Bolt Action Facebook group. Terrain is all his. Rather eclectic at present but we are working towards more realistic and thematically appropriate terrain. Right now its a process of finding the right plastic plants.

My IJA squad before rolling for force size. Result: seven troops only!

My chaps charge forward to establish themselves in cover with the LMG team providing suppressing fire to allow the NCO and his picked men to advance

However, seven men were more than enough to keep the US Marines pinned, thanks largely to my LMG team who were rolling between four and six shock dice in reaction fire

Bolt Action: Imperial Japanese Army Painting Guide

My IJA LMG section had their first day out last weekend with a try out of Five Men at Kursk

I'm building my Imperial Japanese Army initially for the Malaya campaign, with an eye towards later use in the South Pacific and the Sino-Japanese War. It'll be a rather long project, so this post is to remind myself what paints I used for the first lot. Hopefully others may find it helpful, too.

Nakanishi's Japanese Infantry Arms In World War II
I wanted my Japanese to have the green-hued uniforms that one can see in Osprey Warrior 95 Japanese Infantryman 1937-45 and Ritta Nakanishi's excellent, but hard to find, books on Japanese uniforms and arms.

Vallejo's Model Colour 923 Japanese Uniform WWII is rather yellow and didn't bear much resemblance to those reference pictures. There's plenty of debate on forums on whether it's useful or not, with the 'I don't care' camp largely favouring its usage. I've seen a few people mention that it's closer in colour to the uniforms used in the invasion of China in the late 1930s. It happens to be similar to the khaki worn by Chinese troops of that period, too.

Since there's a consensus that Japanese uniform colours varied over the course of the war due to supply issues and wear and tear, I think I have a pretty free hand within the khaki to green spectrum. I'll probably do at least one unit in Vallejo 923 for the China theatre, but the bulk will be in English Uniform green.

Yup, you read it right. After a week of research on the forums and half an hour eyeballing a full Vallejo paints rack at Wira Hobbies, it seems that Vallejo Model Colour 921 English Uniform comes closest. There's probably another hue, but my eyes gave out after a while and, as expected, the Army Painter Strong Tone would deepen the hue substantially.

Here's the paints that I used:

  • Basecoat, belt, shoes, ammo pouches, rifle stock: Army Painter Leather Brown Spray, edging highlights in 50/50 Vallejo Beasty Brown (a match for the base spray) and Foundry North African Flesh B
  • Uniform: Vallejo Model Colour 921 English Uniform, third highlights in 75/25 English Uniform and Pale Sand
  • Puttees, bread bags, webbing: German Camo Ochre Orange, third highlights in 75/25 German Camo Ochre Orange and Pale Sand
  • Rifle metal, bayonet scabbard: Black with highlights in Gunmetal Grey
  • NCO's shin gunto: based in black then Gunmetal Grey and highlights in Silver
  • Skin: Foundry North African Flesh B
  • Helmet, water flask: olive drab (VMC 921 English Uniform with a touch of black)

Colours are Vallejo unless otherwise stated.

Here's how they looked after the base colours were blocked in:

The uniform looks too bright, but here is where the Army Painter Strong Tone wash comes in. A good coating was applied all over the figure, with particular attention to guide the wash to settle in the appropriate creases.

After the wash dried for over 24 hours the figures had a nice rich olive tone, and a tad glossy. I was just using the wash, mind you, not the dip.

Even like this they looked pretty good, if you consider grubby to be good. I recently watched Oba: The Last Samurai, a biopic of IJA troops on Saipan who refused to surrender after the war was over. The actors looked really grubby with their clothes and skin darker than what I achieved above. At a certain point in the story they clean up and wash their kit and they resemble a light khaki. For my purposes, grubby is good, so this scheme seems promising.

I decided to press on with highlights to order to make the details pop out better. I went over the raised areas with the original base colour - English Uniform - for much of it, then touched up the very highest points with a 75/25 mix of English Uniform and Pale Sand. Some guides recommended 50/50, but that looked too bright.

I initially felt the highlights were too strong (under my daylight bulb), but they looked balanced on the games table. Here's the full Type B squad of 13 men with an LMG section.

Here's another shot of them out on their first foray in a learn-by-playing session of Five Men at Kursk.

I have to say that at the block colour stage I was getting bored out of my mind painting the figures in their dull, muted schemes. How I longed for the brightness of ancients! But after the wash and final touches I feel enthused to finish my platoon project.

Still remaining:
2 x IJA LMG sections
1 x IJA grenedier section
1 x MMG section
Type 97 Chi-Ha

I'll ordering a few more top ups to round out the forces for a variety of theatres and historical battles, but it does feel achievable. It's also got me motivated to make progress with my 28mm ancients. While the WW2 project is a collective endeavour, 28mm ancients doesn't appeal to most local players and it's largely a labour of love on my part.