Sunday 27 February 2011

My Very Own Bagpuss

Thanks to TM Terrain or, more properly, Dave from TM Terrain for painting the figures you can see in the photographs below

As well as being a bit of a genius with polystyrene, MDF, resin and goodness knows what else he puts into his stylish terrain features and diorama projects, Dave also offers a figure painting service for wargamers, or anyone else for that matter that wants some figures painted!

Twenty four 'Firelocks' with officer and drummer

Like a lot of wargamers and figure collectors, I have my fair share of unpainted figures lying around in drawers, well one draw actually, the result of making a start on an army, or four, and never quite getting around to finishing them off! One such army for me is my Parliamentarian ECW army which I've had lying around, part painted, for literally years, since the 1980s in fact! I know, I can hardly believe it myself

Over the years I have added to it in a very piecemeal fashion, buying more figures, every now and again painting a few more, or paying someone else to do it for me, and the result is an army that is a) still in need of finishing and b) looks a bit 'hotchpotch', being a mixture of figures from a variety of manufacturers, painted and based by different people and in different styles. It's almost certainly completely unsaleable, a slight exaggeration perhaps, nevertheless, it is a longstanding project of mine and very close to my heart, despite its imperfections. By way of illustration, here are a few images of some of the other troops in the army

A unit of twelve 'Ironsides' absolutely armed to the teeth. These were bought off a certain auction site. All I did was repaint the base edges so that they matched the rest of the figures
The Green regiment of pike and shot from my army. You may be able to recognise figures from Hinchcliffe, Essex, Wargames Foundry and Bicorne all represented in this unit
A close-up of the pike block made up mainly of Hinchcliffe and Essex figures, simply and naively painted by yours truly. All I can say in my defense is a) I painted them in the 80s and b) my painting has improved since then. You may also notice that they have been re-based fairly recently to help give the army a little more coherence
One of the sub-units of musketeers, painted by a chap named Stephen Porter
A devoutly Puritan sergeant putting fire into the bellies of his men. Once again, the musketeers he accompanies and the rear rank of pike are the work of Stephen Porter

So, there you have it, a somewhat motley crew, as they so often would have been in real life of course. One of my 'ongoing projects' that I am determined to see through to the end and, with Dave's help, I might just do it. One day.....

Thursday 24 February 2011

Hot Under The Collar

The 'Final Word' feature in Issue 38 of 'Toy Soldier Collector' caught my eye this month. I have reproduced the article here and hopefully a) the author, David Dunmore, won't mind and b) you will be able to read it should you be sufficiently interested

It concerns a review that was printed in the previous issue, issue 37, about a product by the Collector's Showcase depicting the inside of Hitler's wartime office, complete with Hitler and his cronies and a rather prominent Swastika as a backdrop

According to the author, during a conversation with a group of fellow collectors at the London show in December, a discussion developed about the relative merits of including such an article in the magazine, especially as the 'crooked cross of infamy' featured so prominently in the accompanying photographs. Whether Third Reich figures should be made in the first place was also discussed, apparently

For my part, I am in agreement with David, that such figures a) should be made and b) should certainly be featured in a magazine written by collectors, for collectors, one that reflects the breadth and diversity of the hobby, both in terms of the figures available and the collecting themes that enthusiasts are interested in and inspired by

David is honest about his own position and I applaud that. He has no interest in collecting Third Reich figures or themed models and dislikes the subject matter. However, as he most eloquently points out, this hobby of ours is about history, and the Third Reich is a very important part of that. As such, it absolutely has a place in our hobby as a collecting theme

Early on in the article David admits to wondering, in an idle moment, just how extensive the market is for such figures? He also admits to thinking that collectors and manufacturers alike might be a little reluctant to answer that question honestly. Now, I must confess, I'm not entirely certain precisely what David is thinking about when he uses the term 'Third Reich figures'. Is he referring solely to figures and models depicting Hitler, his cronies, and the paramilitary organisations within Nazi Germany, or is he also talking about all those figures and models depicting the fighting men and vehicles of the various armed forces? Either way, I have no such qualms when it comes to admitting my love of collecting Third Reich figures, and I'm clearly not the only one with such a passion

If, as David 'suspects', collectors and manufacturers may be reluctant to answer such a question, then they oughtn't to be. I would venture to suggest that the market for 'such figures' [whatever that may be, precisely] is very extensive indeed. As David himself writes, 'the commercial reality that these figures sell' cannot be denied. I have been collecting toy soldiers now for approximately five years, (yes, I am a veritable babe in pun intended) and got into the hobby having seen a display of K+C Berlin '38 figures in a glass case in a local Ian Allen bookshop. In that relatively short time, a number of ranges have come and gone, but Berlin '38 remains a constant feature of K+C's formidable output, and the series is still being added to. It is one of their best sellers, and they are not alone. I may have to stand corrected here, but every major toy soldier manufacturer I can think of produces something that could be described as a Third Reich figure

Manufacturers of plastic kits make more German kits than anything else. The same can be said for manufacturers of 1/72nd scale ready made vehicles for collectors and wargamers, and 1/6th scale action figures. There is most definitely a market out there, and it's huge

My point? Well, there are those, in my opinion a minority, who think that such figures should not be made, or if they are made, that they have no place being featured in a major magazine aimed at collectors. They are entitled to their point of view and, although I don't agree with it, I would be willing to die for their right to express it freely and openly, and I would like to think they would be prepared to defend my right to collect the toy soldiers I love without being thought of as in any way glamourising or condoning the historical regime they represent

Wednesday 23 February 2011

A Weighty Issue

There can be no doubting the quality of First Legion figures. Sculpted and master painted in Russia, and then manufactured in China, Matt Pavone and his team have brought us connoisseur quality figures at reasonably affordable prices

Having set such a high standard with his figures, the challenge has been to produce equally spectacular vehicles and scenic items. There are currently 5 vehicles in the Stalingrad range, two versions of the Stug III, the SdKfz 232 in field grey, and two versions of the Panzer III, Ausf. J, one in field grey and the other in winter camouflage, with more in the pipeline, and a sensational scene stealer in the shape of a massive building facade!

The first thing you notice about their vehicles when you buy one is their weight. If, like me, you are used to the offerings produced by the likes of K+C and the Collectors' Showcase you will be surprised, nay shocked, by their weight, or rather lack of it. I distinctly remember feeling somewhat disappointed when I picked up the box holding my own Stug III. 'Have I really just spent £260 of hard earned on something so insubstantial?' Then I opened the box, and my disappointment soon turned to delight

In one, very real and unmistakable sense, they are lightweight and the reason for this is simple. First Legion have deliberately shunned the use of the industry standard polystone and elected instead to construct their vehicles from a combination of resin, different types of plastic, photo etched steel and other metals. The result? Highly detailed, superior quality models, much more akin to professionally built and painted 1/35th scale kits. In another, also very real and unmistakable sense, they are heavyweight contenders in the competition for collectors' cash

At £260 each they are by no means inexpensive but, as with so many things in life, you get what you pay for, and what you get with these vehicles is something a little bit special: vehicles constructed from over 100 separate pieces, realistic looking and 'feeling' track and wheel setups, fully rotating turrets with positional guns, movable ball-mounted hull machine guns, opening hatches, antennas that can be lowered, a variety of removable, and re-positionable, stowage items, full-bodied crew figures that can be displayed equally well inside or outside the vehicle, and in the case of the winter version of the Panzer III the only vehicle in this scale to have been produced with Winterketten extensions to the normal tracks. Oh, and yes, I very nearly forgot, an unparalleled level of painting depicting battle-worn and weathered 'heavy metal', with an attention to detail that is quite frankly second to none

The SdKfz 232 eight wheeler complete with its characteristic 'bedstead' aerial and various removable extras, including the swastika flag draped across the antenna for recognition from the air

The beautifully detailed undercarriage of the 232.....

.....and a close up showing some of the detail that's gone into the execution of the paintwork

Two pictures of the field grey version of the Panzer III, shown here with tank riders [sold separately]. You can clearly see the opening hatches, the MG34 mounted as an AA weapon and the full-bodied crew figure deployed outside of the vehicle
Spectacular close up detail of the turret of the winter version of the Panzer III
A full frontal of the winter version. You can clearly see the Winterketten extensions to the normal tracks

This tank has clearly been put through the wringer! This version of the Panzer III represents vehicles from the famed 'Leaping Horseman' unit, the 24th Panzer Division which was annihilated, along with the rest of the 6th Army, fighting for Stalingrad

The one I don't [as yet] own. The 'upgunned' version of the Stug III, with L48, welded on armour and Ostketten extensions to its tracks

This is the one I do own, and I'm very, very pleased with it indeed!

Roll up! Roll up! Support your desperate comrades

A Stug III acting as support to advancing infantry, shown displayed alongside a background poster from John Gittins and custom made terrain from TM Terrain

Weather worn and rusty, but still packing a punch! The towing cables on this model aren't fixed in place, so you can display the vehicle towing, or being towed, should you care to

To complement the figures and the vehicles, First Legion have produced a quite sensational building facade depicting the battered and crumbling remains of the railway station terminal building located a few hundred yards away from the famous Stalingrad Tractor Factory, or STZ, which during the war was re-tooled to produce equipment for the Red Army, most notably the T-34 

The building comes with a central entrance way supported by four columns, standing proud of  two additional side pieces, and is made of intricately sculpted and expertly painted polystone. This is a truly massive piece with an overall length of 31 inches and weighing in at a hefty 23lbs!! Putting it on a glass shelf would probably be ill advised, but it would look wonderful on a bookcase and even better as the centre piece of an even bigger display, on top of some cobbled matting, strewn with debris. Figures can be displayed behind the windows, in between the columns, and out front, and there is plenty of room on top for even more figures and/or the odd support weapon. What a corker!!

The Swastika flag is removable

German armour and an observation team 'spotting' from the top of the ruins

Pictures courtesy of First Legion from whose website more details can, as always, be obtained

Wednesday 16 February 2011

Charging Cuirassiers

What first drew my attention to the figures produced by First Legion was an advert in TS&MF magazine which had as its centre piece some of their Bavarian Napoleonic infantry. From that moment on, I was completely hooked and their Napoleonic figures, their flagship range, remain some of my personal favourites. None more so than these exquisitely painted and dynamically sculpted cavalry

Galloping on to the scene in the form of nine differently posed figures, they have been designed to complement perfectly the previously released French personalities and Carabiniers charging, en masse, the British squares at the Battle of Waterloo

With deep enough pockets, and a suitably large display space, one could create an historically accurate and aesthetically quite beautiful depiction of the scene with these, and their companion, figures from First Legion who have already produced British Guards, Gordon Highlanders, British Dragoons and British artillery, as well as allied infantry from Nassau and Brunswick and a handful of personalities to range against them

The release comprises an officer, standard bearer and trumpeter, together with four charging troopers, one of whom is armed with a slung carbine in addition to his sabre, a trooper in the process of being thrown from his horse and, lastly but my no means least, a dazed and shaken trooper propping himself up next to his wounded mount. Such figures, I know, are not to everyone's taste so we will have to wait and see just how popular it proves to be

Take a look at the following photos and I'm sure you will agree with me that with every release this company's figures just get better and better. As always, further information and details are available from the company's website

Charging officer, standard bearer and trumpeter, on his regulation grey steed

One of four charging troopers, all differently posed

A trooper in the process of being thrown from his horse. You can almost 'feel' their sense of shock and trepidation

Dazed and down! Horse and rider, together, having coming to the end of their exhilarating, but all too brief, journey

As beautiful as these figures undoubtedly are, I for one won't be buying them, and I'll tell you why

Like many collectors,  I decided at the outset of my own toy soldier collecting adventure to place certain restrictions on myself, to concentrate on certain themes, historical periods, and manufacturers. So I decided to limit myself to collecting figures representing German soldiers

Most of my collection to date consists of World War 2 figures produced by K+C,  and the Collectors Showcase, however, I have recently expanded the bounds of my self-imposed restraints to include certain ranges from First Legion, namely their Stalingrad and Napoleonic Germans, and it won't be long before I buy some of their Teutonic crusaders! I won't be buying the French Cuirassiers because I am waiting, with eager anticipation, for the day when they announce the release of some equally spectacular German horse

With this in mind, I fired off an email to Matt Pavone the other day and was delighted to receive a reply within the day. Here is my original email, followed by Matt's reply, reproduced faithfully

Dear Matt

I've been collecting your German Stalingrad and German Napoleonic figures for a
little while now, and am about to start on some of the Crusaders

I absolutely love the French Cuirassiers you have done, however, since I
limit myself to collecting figures of German soldiers, I won't be buying
them. I was wondering whether you have any plans afoot to add some similarly
stunning cavalry sets to your German series? Likewise, one or two German
personalities and artillery sets would go down very well, too, I am sure. I
for one would certainly buy them

Yours, in anticipation

Dave Fell

Hi, Dave,

Thanks for your email and the very kind words about our figures.  Since you
limit your collecting to German figures, would you consider collecting saxon
or Bavarian cavalry/artillery or are you limiting yourself to
Prussian/Austrians?  In the end, we'll do cavalry for all of them, however,
we have our eyes on producing some of the Conferation of the Rhine cavalry
in the not too distant future.  For the Prussians we'll also add Cavalry,
artillery, and personalities, with the personalities most likely coming
first.  Unfortunately, for all of the above I can't exactly say when we will
release these figures, but they are on our list and something Napoleonic
from a German nation will most definitely come this year.

Hope you are well and if you have any additional questions, please don't
hesitate to ask.



Apart from the above correspondence, I have absolutely no insider knowledge so please don't take this as any kind of guarantee or 'unofficial announcement' of future releases, but it sounds promising. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for some Saxon Garde du Corps or Zastrow Cuirassiers, maybe even some bright and breezy Westphalian Hussars. Whatever the future brings, it's sure to be delightful, and I can barely wait

Friday 11 February 2011

Mommy's Little Soldier

Okay, I know this isn't strictly speaking about soldiers, toy soldiers, model soldiers, grown men pretending to be soldiers, or anything else soldier related, but hey, forgive me a moment or two of self indulgence, and a completely shameless plug for a family friend and work colleague with an interest in developing a photography business as a sideline

Here are one or two more photos of 'our little fella', Matthew Charles, looking completely at home in front of the camera

Both of the above shots were taken at home and are low resolution to facilitate their being sent to us via email. I will certainly be putting one or two of the finished, high res, shots up here as soon as I get them

In the mean time, why not take a trip over to Louise's website and take a look at more of her excellent work

Thursday 10 February 2011

Black is Back

Please forgive the rather mysterious, nay corny, title but I thought I'd let you know about a couple of things currently happening, or being planned for, at Fireball Squadron

Firstly, the Black Op's games which take place every third Sunday of the month. More details, and booking information, can be found on the website by following the link. The games are played on part of the NPF Paintball site and are designed around their Embassy/Kill House building and a small area of woodland complete with stacks of barrels, bunkers, wooden barricades and a handful of big trucks!

The focus is most definitely CQB, with lots of 'up close and personal' encounters and games that are short, sharp and often turn around style affairs or played against the clock. Take a look at the video below

The other thing I wanted to mention was The Black Angel Weekender being put on and hosted by Fireball in conjunction with UKAPU. Please go and look at the site, and then book yourself a place or two on the game, you know you want to. Alternatively, read on and you will get an idea of the scenario and the booking arrangements, restrictions etc.

Part of the scenario, taken from the FS website

Black Angel Weekender Booking & Info

Fireball's 2011 Weekender Black Angel will be held on June 10th, 11th and 12th

This event is open for over 18’s only

Camping will be available on site and is included in the cost

The game will be run on the 11th and 12th with the site being open for players to register and setup camp from 14:00 on the 10th. Cost is £65 for the full weekend with a £25 deposit per player and this includes lunch on Saturday. Please indicate if you are a vegetarian. For an additional cost of £1.50 per day we can provide a hot breakfast roll. These are only available by pre booking. Once you submit the booking form we will confirm your place/s and supply details of how to pay your deposit

There will be two sides, clearly identified by clothing

American and British Forces
Unit 1: British -  British DPM camo
Unit 2: American - multi cam / desert marpat / ACU camo
Unit 3: PMC’s - Tan, or any other tan based, camo

Kadjikistan Forces
Unit 1: Elite Guard - Black camo
Unit 2: Kadjikistan Army - Green/OD based camo
Unit 3: Merc Unit - Olive drab based camo

Well, that's about it for this little plug. Hope to see some of you out on the skirmish field!

Sunday 6 February 2011

Poor Bloody Infantry

No, not an exclamation of despair, although it could quite easily be one, merely a reference to the WW2 airsoft and living history group mentioned in an earlier post

I'd like to add my heartiest congratulations to the lads and lasses of the group on their being awarded 'Best WW2 Airsoft Group' in the country by the team at 'WWII Re-Enactors Magazine'

Well done, and well deserved. As numerous people, myself included, have already observed 'the walls are coming down'. If that means nothing to you, take a look at the earlier post on GD Recon, and check out the CIA website and forum for further enlightenment

Hope to see some of you around and about soon, chaps. Until then, keep the flags flying

PBI marching at a living history event

One of their number taking aim at an airsoft event

February Fireball

This weekend saw the February woodland game at Fireball Squadron, my regular airsoft site. Sadly, I was unable to attend due to family commitments, namely the birth of baby Matthew Charles, so by way of satisfying my need for a regular fix of the hobby I have grown to love, to a degree that almost borders on obsession, I thought I'd take a look at some of the photos put up on the site and share a few with you

Thanks to Nick, aka Blackblood, one of the management team, for snapping these wonderful images

"The rumours are true. Eat enough of the food at this place and this is what happens to you!"

A fellow Fireball member and one of the D-Boys team, Dave 'Pop' Anderson

"Good shot fella"

In the foreground of this shot is another member of the D-Boys team, Steve 'DB-1' Anderson

"I'm sure if I fiddle with this button for a bit longer something will come shooting out the end of this thing"

Hmmm. Is that an Atac Masada I can see there? Nice!

'We've got 'em on the run, lads. Let's go for it"

"Anyone else for a free lunch?"
Sadly, perhaps, free bottles of plonk are certainly not on the menu and there are no club rule changes afoot to make them so. However, one or two club rules were amended this weekend, subsequent to the AGM which was held after the Saturday game. As stated on the website:

Fireball Squadron are pleased to announce that the age limit to play at Fireball woodland games has been reduced to 16 and over. Please bring proof of age, or have a parent drop in, to avoid confusion. Once you have played this will not be needed [in future] as you will be registered with us
(For the time being, Black Ops games and weekend events will remain restricted to 18s and over)

It was also decided that starting in March, 'knife kills' will be allowed as part of the in game rules. I for one welcome this, even though I don't carry anything long and rubber on my person in the game zone, and would argue that anyone stealthy enough to be able to execute such an action ought to be acknowledged and duly rewarded

Looking forward to the next outing, lads. Until then, hang tough