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.

Thursday, 19 August 2021

Book Review: Wargames Terrain & Buildings - WWI Trench Systems by Douglas Hardy

 
The latest addition to the Wargames Terrain and Buildings series of books from Pen and Sword is WWI Trench Systems by Douglas Hardy. It is good to see that they are expanding the series with different authors (not that there is anything wrong with Tony Harwood's books). As the title suggests this book concentrates on trenches which means it is more aimed at terrain boards rather than scatter terrain.


Firstly, it is worth pointing out (as the book does in the introduction) that, although it is aimed at WWI trench systems, the techniques shown will work just as well for any period that uses trenches, whether it be late ACW or right through to sci-fi games. 

The book is divided into several sections that cover using (and improving) commercially available trench terrain, scratch building trench systems, specific projects, and finally a great selection of reference photos of either original trenches or reconstructions at various museums across Europe.


The first thing that the book looks at is the materials that will be needed. These run from simple items like cocktail sticks and coffee stirrers to specialised adhesives and insulation foam.

Then we get into the guts of the book with building a trench table using commercially available trench systems. Douglas covers a selection of different commercially available systems, both foam-based and vacuum formed.
The book covers improving the bought pieces by adding details and also the painting process.


The next part of the book looks at scratch building a trench system. This was the section that was of most interest to me as I feel it will offer the opportunity to produce the most realistic-looking table and it also gives me the freedom to design a system that fits my needs, rather than assembling a bought system. Now clearly there is going to be more work involved in creating your table from scratch rather than buying a pre-made system. However, as I am a professional model maker it is just the way I prefer to go.

The book covers everything from the layering up of foam sheets and cutting the trenches into them through adding planking, sandbags, barbed wire and other details. Then finishes off with the painting.


Next up we move on to "Projects" which covers adding specific terrain items to your trench table to add a little more interest (and possibly objectives for games). Again a very useful chapter that is well written. However, I did find it a little odd that Douglas chose to base one of the projects around a piece of commercially produced terrain that has been out of production for many years and is therefore going to be extremely difficult for readers to get a hold of.


The final section of the book is an extensive collection of photographs of original trenches or reconstructions. This is something that I feel has been missing from the previous books in this series. This is a real boon for anyone wanting to build a trench system as it gives us an accurate picture of what the real thing looked like rather than just ideas from our own imagination or captured from movies etc.

Overall I really enjoyed this book. I found an easy and quick read. It will be invaluable for any wargamer who wants to create a trench system for their gaming table and I highly recommend it.

Thursday, 25 March 2021

Book Review: Painting Wargaming Figures - Axis Forces on the Eastern Front

 
This is the third of Andy Singleton's painting guides that I have reviewed ( Early Imperial Romans and WWII in the Desert). As usual, they are well researched and give some useful background on the period and theatre of war.




As the title suggests, it covers more than just a painting guide to the German forces (Wehrmacht and Waffen SS) on the Eastern Front. Also covering the Italians, Romanians, Hungarians, and also the Finnish forces. Due to the changing allegiances as the war progressed some of these could be used on either side in the conflict, and the Finns could also be used for the Winter War (technically separate from WWII, a conflict between Finland and the USSR from November 1939 to March 1940).


The book covers the preparation of the miniatures, a painting guide aimed at reasonable quality and speed, and a guide to basing in the various terrains experienced on the Eastern Front.

So far so good, and there is no denying the quality of Andy's finished miniatures. However, this book suffers from the same drawback that was seen in the previous two books. The photos of the miniatures as they are being painted are all "long shots" that include a lot of wasted space featuring the clamp holding the miniature. In this book in particular it is a problem as Andy has chosen to paint 20mm minis instead of the larger 28mm minis in the previous books. This makes actually seeing the different stages of painting very difficult (if not impossible). I even tried using a magnifying glass, and on some of the guides it is impossible to tell the difference from one stage to the next.

The following two examples of pages from the guides, I hope, demonstrate the deficiency in the photos.


The photos would be far more useful if they included some close-up shots so we could actually see the development from one stage to the next.


Even with the problem with the poor photography in this guide, I think it would still be a useful addition to any wargamers collection if they were planning to start collecting an Axis army from the Eastern Front. 

I hope that Pen And Sword take on my criticism about this book and fix it for future volumes as I think they are developing into a valuable resource for wargamers.

The book is available now direct from Pen And Sword HERE.

Friday, 9 October 2020

Book Review: TankCraft Series Latest Releases - Tiger I and Tiger II, Jagdpanzer IV, Panzer III and Panther

 It has been a long time since I assembled a historical plastic model kit. However, the urge does occasionally take me, and then I have to try to decide what I am going to build. The last kit I worked on was to help my son assemble a Soviet WW2 Aerosan (Trumpeter 1:35 RF8). Which was probably 10 years ago and although fully assembled is still waiting for final touches to the paint job and a scenic base...

Anyway, it has always been at the back of my mind that I would like to tackle a German WW2 tank kit. I am not sure which one, but I suppose there is a good chance it would either be a Tiger 1 or a Pather. With that in mind, I have just picked up and read the four latest offerings from Pen and Sword's TankCraft series of books.

Now, due to the nature of these books, I don't see the point in reviewing them individually, they all share the same features, and are laid out exactly the same. So I will post plenty of photos from the different books and just give you a general impression of them all.


The first section of each book is given over to a reasonably detailed history of the units using these armoured vehicles over the periods defined in the subtitles of the books. For example, the Tiger 1 and Tiger 2 book looks exclusively at the Normandy Campaign of 1944, with no information about their use either before or after this period, or in other theatres (this information is to be found in other volumes of the TankCraft series of books).


As a modeller guide, this information is in great depth and should allow a modeller to thoroughly research which unit he wants to depict on his model, as well as going into considerable depth about manoeuvers and engagements that these tanks were involved in.

The second section is a very in-depth look at all of the developments and modifications that were carried out on these vehicles during the period covered in each book. Again an invaluable resource for modellers looking to accurately represent a specific tank or unit that interests them. One thing that I did notice that annoyed a little was the author did seem to assume that the reader would have a fairly good prior knowledge of these vehicles. For example, in the Panther book, it is mentioned that at a certain point in the war, most Panthers had had their Muzzle Brakes removed, or came without them. However, there was no explanation as to why this was. To be honest, I am still none the wiser about this...


The books are all illustrated with plenty of photos of the actual vehicles, and each photo is accompanied by as much information as possible relating to where and when it was taken, which unit the tank was with and details about the particular vehicle where possible. 


As well as the black and white photos the centre of the books feature several pages of side on illustrations of the various tanks showing, as close as possible, colour representations of the paint schemes and camouflage markings. This I found better than the colour descriptions within the text, as the author insists on using the Official German names for the paints (this is also reflected in other parts of the books where german terms are used without translation). I understand that the proper name should be featured and recorded, however, as this is a guide for model makers, it would be preferable if an English translation of the paint names was also included.


After the colour illustrations, there is a section showing examples of the models, as built and painted by some master model builders. These offer some good insight into what can be achieved.



This is followed by a look at the different kits available that can be used to build models of the vehicles featured in each book. It generally covers 1/72, 1/48 and 1/35, although does occasionally mention other scales where appropriate.



So that, more or less, sums up the contents of these books. As far as personal impressions go, I would say that these are books of two halves. The first half, being the history of the vehicle, is very detailed and a good resource for military historians and the second half is an excellent guide to modelling the vehicles. 



How much of the history part of these books will really appeal to the model makers will depend on the interests of the individuals, however, for someone who has both an interest in the history and the model making, they will be an invaluable addition to their bookshelves.




I must admit, I was not fully aware of the roles that some of these tanks played in the war, for some reason I was under the impression that the Panther was a replacement for the Tiger I. Still, I now understand the relative roles of these four vehicles. 


I am still leaning toward putting together a Tiger I. Now the search begins for a suitable 1/48 scale kit...


Wednesday, 26 August 2020

Book Review: Cameras at War by John Wade

 Finding a book that combines two of your, very different, interests sometimes seems too good to be true. So when I spotted that Pen and Sword Books were releasing a book titled Cameras at War I was somewhat intrigued. I have had an interest in military history for many years (as I would hope would be evident by the nature of this blog), and also as a keen photographer it seemed like a perfect match. However, I have seen books like this that can turn out to be very dry and lets face it, boring, if they simply document the subject, without any real feeling for the content.



My hopes were raised when I realised the author was John Wade, as its not long since I thoroughly enjoyed reading his The Golden Age of Science Fiction, also from Pen and Sword.

There are many books on conflict photography, usually concentrating on particular photographers, or war zones. However, this is the first book that I have seen that is squarely focused on the equipment used to capture the photographs. Starting with the earliest daguerreotype plate cameras and mobile, horse drawn, darkrooms it runs right through to the development of more modern 35mm film cameras and even spy cameras, such as the eponymous Minox range. The book also covers the development of movie cameras and various film sizes (many of which were used for both still photographs and movies).

A well as the standard photographers cameras the book looks at some of the more unusual cameras that have been produced, such as those designed specifically to be used in aerial reconnaissance. These cameras were generally too big to be hand held (at least for very long) and were often mounted in the planes and operated by remote control by the pilot. 

Also featured is the bizarre Hythe Mark III machine gun camera. This was developed as a way to teach air crew how to use a machine gun in dog fights, without actually risking other pilots lives. The machine gun camera was built to resemble a Lewis gun and was designed in such an ingenious way that the magazine became the film holder (which the pilot could swap out to change the film). Cocking the gun advanced the film in the camera, and pulling the trigger took the photo. When the pilot returned to the ground, the film was processed and the photos could be accessed to see if the range was correct and if the target was centred accurately.



There is a good examination of the range of more normal cameras that were used by both professional photographers and also carried and used by normal soldiers (obviously size and portability were important for both types, but possibly more important for the non-professionals).


As well as the major conflicts covered in this book, there is an interesting look at the cameras that were used and developed during the Cold War. These ranged from the miniature cameras that a spy could hide about their person, to cameras that were converted to fit into briefcases and handbags to allow covert photos to be taken in public places.



I can't say that I had more than a passing knowledge of the history of photography (we must have covered some of it when I was at art school, but that was 30 years ago). However, this book has covered a lot of the important historical points as it moved through the development of camera equipment used during war time.

A fascinating read that I got through in no time at all. If you are at all interested in some of the ore obscure aspects of military history, or the history of photography, I would highly recommend this book.






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