Monday 3 April 2023

Book Review: Airfix Model World Basic Guide to Modelling by Stu Fone

I have been building model kits for around 50 years, and have worked as a professional model-maker (scratch-building, not kits) for at least 30 years. So I didn't expect to get much for myself out of this book. I was just interested to see how useful the book was for novice model-kit builders.

 I picked up Airfix Model World Basic Guide to Modelling by Stu Fone expecting a fairly simple book with tips for the absolute beginner. However, as well as the beginner's information there are plenty of tips and tricks for the more experienced modeller.

The book is a collection of articles reprinted from the Airfix Model World magazine. However, it is put together so that each article takes the modeller one step further through the model-building process.

From Tools, through basic assembly, clean up and filling and on to painting, applying water side transfers (decals), varnishing and aftermarket accessories. There is also a chapter on scratch-building replacement parts, either for lost parts or to improve the original kit.

Each chapter is simple enough for beginners to find useful but also features tips from the author's years of experience that even as a veteran model maker often proved useful.

As a professional model-maker, I don't build that many plastic model kits these days. So some of the tips in the book, which clearly come from years of kit building, were very interesting and I will certainly refer back to the book when putting plastic kits together in the future.

Seeing how others paint models is always useful, so discovering the author's painting processes was good and very interesting, especially his weathering techniques.

As for applying decals, I have used a softener a few times and found it certainly helps disguise the transfer and avoid creases. However, I will be trying some of the products mentioned in the book, to see if I prefer them.

As I mentioned above, the book features a chapter on scratch-building parts for kit models. Now, this is an area that I really enjoy, as a lot of my models are entirely scratch-built. It is good to see that this is being promoted to beginner model-makers, as it can be the most satisfying part of the process, and shouldn't be too difficult if approached with an open mind.

One of the aspects of this book that caught me somewhat by surprise is the fact that not all of the model kits and other modelling products in the book are manufactured by Airfix (or Humbrol). There is an open attitude to discussing other manufacturers' kits etc. 

An excellent book that I may well keep in my collection (or possibly pass on to a more inexperienced modeller).

Pick up the book HERE.

Tuesday 31 January 2023

Book Review: Sci-Fi Skirmish Scenarios by John Lambshead

Sci-Fi Skirmish Scenarios by John Lambshead is an excellent selection of wargames scenarios that offer a great supplement for any rules set and, despite the Sci-Fi title, they could be used with any skirmish rules, certainly from say Steampunk through Modern and on into any variety of Sci-Fi.

The book starts off by laying out a few different terrain types from city centres through sub-urban settings via industrial and finally ending up in wastelands. So covering most terrain types that would suite the setting.

Most of the book is made up of page after page of different scenario ideas. Each scenario taking up between two and six pages to flesh out. Now reading the book straight through does get a little dry and repetitive, however, that is not really how this book is designed to be used ( although it is a handy way to find some of the more interesting scenarios). The book is best used by simply dipping in and picking random scenarios when you are stuck for ideas for your evenings game.

After the scenarios, the book looks at ways to use run a campaign and then also how to use it for solo play.

All this is extremely useful for the modern slim, miniature agnostic rulebooks that are out there and it gives a vast resource of scenario ideas that can easily be adapted to any game. I will probably even end up adapting scenario ideas from the book for my historical or fantasy skirmish games. I can see this book being reached for every time I am planning a game in future.

An excellent addition to any wargamers collection.

Get the book HERE!

Thursday 12 January 2023

Book Review: Secrets of the Cold War by Andrew Long

Having had a long-term interest in the history of espionage, and in particular the Cold War period I was intrigued to read this book. I have a fair knowledge of the Cambridge Spies and I know a little about the Berlin Wall and the animosity that occurred during the partition of German. However, I had never really tied it all together and achieved an understanding of the whole history of the spying that occurred during that time.

This book, Secrets of the Cold War by Andrew Long, has given me an excellent overview of the whole period, with fairly in-depth coverage of the main historical events of the secret war.

The first chapter mainly concentrates on the Atomic Spies, starting during the Second World War and leading right into the Cold War. I was aware of some of these,  but again the book gives an excellent overview and shows how the different spies and spy rings interacted and complimented each other.

Chapter two looks at Berlin and the American tunnel that was dug under the Berlin Wall to tap into East German phone lines. A huge espionage success for the West, which had, even before it was completed, been betrayed to the Soviets... 
Next up, the book moves to the South Coast of England and the Portland Spies, followed by Oleg Penkovsky, the Russian Colonel who became an important source of information for the West, before he was ultimately caught.

Of course, overshadowing all of the different soviet spies featured in the book were the Cambridge Spies, Philby, Burgess, Maclean, Blunt and Cairncross. 

The final chapter of the book looks at an aspect of Cold War espionage that I had not heard of before. The Military Liason Missions that ran throughout East (and West) Germany. 

The Liason missions were an integral part of the partition agreement that divided Germany after World War Two. Basically, Britain, the US and France were allowed to send regular missions (typically three military personnel in a car) into East Germany to travel around and observe/liaise with the East Germans. There were restricted areas that the missions were not allowed to enter, and there was often tension between the East German / Soviet forces and the missions (which led to at least two deaths of mission personnel). However, the missions often went above and beyond their stated objectives and acquired a lot of intelligence about the opposing forces' dispositions and equipment. I must also add that the East Germans also ran liaison missions in West Germany, although these are only really mentioned in passing.

 I found the book to be an excellent resource and overview of the Cold War (at least in terms of East/West espionage). I especially enjoyed discovering the history of the Military Liasion missions. I am surprised that there have not been any movies made depicting the exploits of some of these missions, as I am sure there is plenty there to work with!

If you are interested in spies, the Cold War or the modern history of Germany you can't really go wrong in picking up this book.

Highly Recommended!

Get it HERE!

Tuesday 22 November 2022

Book Review: Phantom and Victory


These two books may not initially seem to have any obvious connection, other than both being from related series of military history/modelmaking books from Pen and Sword Publishing. However, to myself on a personal note, they both have resonance.

My mother is from Portsmouth, so we regularly holidayed there and I have walked the deck of HMS Victory more times than I can remember. So even if I do not have a significant interest in Napoleonic or Naval warfare, I have always had an interest in this particular ship. Also, my great-grandfather, as a young Royal Marine served two tours of duty aboard the Victory around the end of the 19th century. Oh and as for modelmaking, my father spent 30+ years building a wooden kit of HMS Victory, so it was constantly around the house.

My interest in the McDonnell Douglas Phantom is a little simpler. As a boy growing up in the 1970s I was of that generation that was endlessly building model kits, usually 1/72-scale military vehicles and planes (at least, before I discovered sci-fi kits). Before I was very experienced as a modeller, I was given a 1/48-scale Phantom kit. To my recollection, my father helped me build and then painted it for me. It was probably the biggest model I had and I adored it for a long time. One of the jet engines was removable and also painted up for added effect. Unfortunately, as I grew older the model lost favour and I have vague memories of using it for kit-bashed parts for later scratch-built models.

Anyway, time to move on from the reminiscences and look at the books. All of the books in these series that I have read take a similar format, giving a good general history of the design and development of their subjects as well as looking at how they were used. The books then move on to a review of the available model kits and then finally a look at paint schemes and modelling details. These two books are no different.

I will say that I am no expert on aviation or naval subjects so a lot of the technical terms in these two books went way over my head, which may be an issue for the casual modeller that just wants a quick guide on how to put together a kit... They do seem to be written with the aim of appealing to an already knowledgeable reader. The books might benefit from a brief glossary of technical terms for those of us who are just dabbling in these particular areas of military history.
Moving on to each book itself.

McDonnell Douglas F4 Phantom

I found the historical overview of the Phantom particularly interesting as I had virtually no knowledge of how or when they were used. I had only really been drawn to their iconic look and the sheer feeling of power that they gave off.

It was fascinating to see just how widely they were used by different nations around the world. Clearly, this gives the modelmaker the widest of choices when he is considering which variant and which paint job he wants to give the model, assuming there is a kit available that fits those choices.

The book is filled with a good selection of excellent photos of the various versions of the Phantom and also has some nicely detailed illustrations that would make a very useful guide for the modelmaker.

The review of the selection of kits available may be somewhat time limited as years down the line some of these kits may have gone out of production, however, it is a great guide as to what is around just now.

Victory 100 Gun First Rate 1765

Having visited the Victory countless times I am a little more familiar with her story. However, it was good to see it all written down in one cohesive text that tied everything into a single timeline. I must admit, I had not realised how many refits and modifications the ship had gone through. Of course, if you consider the amount of damage these ships took at each and every engagement, it is not at all surprising.

The book is packed with both photos of the current configuration of the Victory and also illustrations (usually taken from paintings done at the time) that show her at various points in her history.

Moving on to the modelling side of things, there have been various kits, going from the smallest plastic kits right up to the truly extravagant wooden kits with brass fittings etc. The book is thorough in covering a good spread of them with details of the pros and cons of each style of kit and lists of errors and modifications that are possible with each one.

There are also some photos of truly aspiration models to really get the modelmaker's juices flowing...

The end of the book rounds out with a series of illustrations showing the various configurations and colour schemes that the Victory carried both during its active career and since it has been in drydock in Portsmouth dockyard.

So to round out my review, both books are excellent resources for the keen modeller who is venturing into a new field. If it wasn't for the lack of explanation of some of the technical jargon these books would be almost perfect.
Highly recommended!
Get your copies HERE!

Friday 20 May 2022

Book Review: Painting Wargames Figures - Allied Forces in Northwest Europe 1944-1945 by Andy Singleton

 To give it its full title:-

Painting Wargames Figures - Allied Forces in Northwest Europe 1944-1945, British & Commonwealth, US and Free French

This is the fourth book in this series by Andy Singleton (and the fourth that I have reviewed on this blog). Generally, I find that they make a good introduction to the subjects covered and if not a complete guide, they are a good starting place.

This book is no different, giving a great insight into where to begin when painting your allied troops.
It starts with the usual section recommending tools, brushes and basic techniques for assembling your minis, as the other books did. I must admit that I skimmed this section, as I am sure most experienced mini painters will, still, it is very useful for beginners and I think that it is justified to have it repeated in each volume.

The one error I did spot in this section is that the book states the the figure used in the assembly guide is described as the Warlord Games Fallschirmjager. Now, I may not be the most knowledgeable when it comes to WW2 uniforms, the photo on the opposite page (and the following pages) looks to be a US figure, there is even a very recognisable Thomspon machine gun in the photo.

I assume that this was simply missed when the section was lifted from the previous volume (last year's Axis Forces on the Eastern Front) to be used in this one. While we are on the subject of errors in the book, the cover mentions Free French, however, that appears to be the only mention of them in the book. I am sure that they probably wore a mix of uniforms, probably based on the US or British ones, however, as they are not mentioned in the book it may come as a shock for collectors of Free French forces if they buy this book to use as reference.

Moving on to the good things! The brief histories at the beginning of each section are really useful for explaining how uniforms evolved over the period covered in the book.

The other thing that I am very pleased about is that the photography in the book has improved dramatically from previous volumes. This may be down to the photography, or possibly the design of the layout on the page. Whatever the reason, the actual figures in the photos take up far more page space than in previous volumes. this makes all the difference to being able to see the development of the painted mini as it progresses. 

As with previous volumes, this book covers normal and camouflaged uniforms in separate sections and this is very useful.

Towards the back of the book, there are sections on skin tone and basing. Both of which will be very useful for beginners, and I would recommend that experienced painters at least have a look through the basing section as you can always pick up new tips to add to your armoury of modelling skills.

I am very please with this book. The improvements over previous volumes have made it far more useful. 

Highly Recommended!

Get it from Pen and Sword HERE!

Wednesday 16 March 2022

Book Review: Landing Craft and Amphibians - Seaborne Vessels in the 20th Century

 When I was offered this book for review I was really unsure whether I would be that interested in the subject. However, on reflection, it occurred to me that when I was a young model builder I got real satisfaction from completing kits of landing craft, especially when incorporating them into a diorama.

Book Cover

This book gives an interesting overview of many of the different landing craft and other amphibious vehicles that have been used during the 20th century. Pointing out both the similarities and differences between the various different versions from most of the major factions both during the 2nd World War and afterwards (there is some discussion of pre-World War Two as well, but as amphibious assault was in its infancy this one takes a couple of pages.

Back Cover

The first half of the book gives a concise if brief history of the development of the various craft including the dates and dimensions where known.

There are some nice reference photos that are very useful for model makers, especially when planning dioramas. 

The book does give over a couple of pages to discussing hovercraft, however, this is quite brief, and I am sure there would be enough material for a whole separate book on the subject.

After the history, the book has some painted colour illustrations of a selection of the vehicles, which is an excellent reference for modellers and offers images of all sides of the vehicles (including the tops). This both offers good modelling reference, but also ideas for paint schemes and weather details.

The final section of the book is a review of the various model kits available, at various scales along with some photos of completed kits produced by some master modellers, and very impressive they are too...

Overall this is an excellent reference for a modeller who would like to work on a landing craft or other amphibious vehicle. The book could have done with some better editing, as the proofreading has clearly fallen somewhat short of the mark, but the content itself is generally very good. My one real quibble with the book is the author's use of terms that are clearly familiar to him, but are not explained anywhere in the book itself, such as "Vertical Force Assets". I assume military tacticians will understand these terms, but as someone who has not studied modern military tactics, I was unfamiliar with them. 

The book can be purchased directly from Pen and Sword Books HERE, or from your usual book retailers.
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