Carriers for the BEF
Well, busy time on Lard Island and, with progress towards Stalingrad underway, I find myself waiting for some toys in the post for that venture, so now I thought I’d take the opportunity to have a quick dabble with another project, my BEF force for 1940.
A few weeks ago I had a spin across to Northern Ireland to meet up with the Beasts of War team. By some strange coincidence, it was their Dunkirk week and that got me thinking about a long anticipated project, building up my forces for a Dunkirk campaign.
I have long been a fan of early war games and the actions of the BEF in France speak volumes about the bravery of the British Army. A commentator once said that the British Army is most comfortable in its natural home: the last ditch. The campaign in France and the low countries epitomises that back to the wall spirit of defiance when, with the Belgian Army crumbling and the French high command shocked by the German onslaught, British troops fought on defiantly.
The recent film Dunkirk focusses on the action on the beaches and the boats which brought so many men off the beached and save the British Army, an action which allowed the hope of democracy in Europe to live on even when Nazi hegemony seemed irresistible. However, what the film failed to tell was the story of what was happening inland. To my mind this was a missed opportunity and, sadly, the true tales of bravery which allowed so many to escape was lost to the old legend of little boats.
With the Dyle plan looking for the French and British to advance Eastwards into Belgium to support their new ally (Belgium being steadfastly neutral until the moment she was invaded by the Germans), the German “sichelschnitt” to the South was all the more horrifying as huge numbers of Allied forces were isolated deep inside Belgium. When the call came to return to the coast, the British Army had to carefully withdraw, contracting its front line as it went. The best analogy is a balloon being carefully deflated whilst under constant jabs from the Germans who are attempting to burst it. Well, okay, its not the “best” analogy, but it’s the one you’re getting.
Anyway, as part of the Pint-Sized Campaign I am planning, I need lots of fun new toys to expand my forces for this period, not least being a carrier section. A quick look around made me reflect on WWII figures generally.
A few months ago I saw a comment on a web forum where someone was amazed that Empress were producing some new WWII figures sculpted by the talented Paul Hicks. Those of us with a decent medium term memory will recall that Paul, along with Simon Bargery, were the founders of Bolt Action Miniatures, a range now owned and much expanded by Warlord Games. Anyway, I was surprised to see someone say “What, another range of WWII figures? Surely we don’t need any more, the market is flooded”. I must admit that I was surprised by this as who could complain abut more choice, but generally I did accept the fact that we do have lots of choice already.
But actually, we don’t! Sure, there are lots of late war choices out there, but actually for a skirmish game like Chain of Command, where one man is one figure, even there we will usually need to duplicate figures in a platoon. When it comes to early War, the choices are VERY limited.
I was keen to use Bren carriers for my BEF force, only to find that the only people to make these are in the USA and, frankly, I couldn’t be bothered to wait for the post. So, I went with the Warlord Games boxed set Carrier Section which allows me to make the Mk I or MK II Universal carrier. I went with the Mk I and was VERY pleased with the way these models went together. Really smashing bits of kit. However, the crew they came with were very definitely late war figures and most of the helmets were covered in scrim. Not a look I wanted for 1940.
My first thought was to look through my spares box for some heads or helmets. I found some plastic Perry 8th Army figures, but the heads looked absurdly small when stuck on the Warlord crew member’s body. I then looked for helmets to put on the Warlord figures which, fortunately come with bare heads. Knowing I had some 1:48th Tamiya helmets, I was pretty confident of achieving a match.
Now, apologies for the rubbish quality of the above photo. Suffice to say that they are three “battle bowlers’. From left to right, they are Tamiya 1:48th, Perry 1:56th and Warlord 1:56th. So, despite my confidence I was scuppered as the former two looked absurd on a Warlord head.
What could I do?
Well, actually the Warlord Infantry set did have three plain tin helmets and three more with netting on, like the one on the right. I wasn’t mad on this look but felt that I could live with one of them if I could get the rest looking right. It was time to look through my spare parts box.
Top Tip coming up here folks: Do not chuck things away, even if you think they are rubbish. Put them in a spares box as one day they will come in handy. I put together my 8th Army and Afrika Korps for Chain of Command some years ago, but the left over bits on sprues I didn’t chuck away, I put them in my spares box. Now they would come in handy. What I realised while looking for heads was that I could actually pimp my carriers with other weapons as well. The Warlord Carrier Section is designed for late war forces, so doesn’t have things like anti-tank rifles that I need for 1940. But my 8th Army set does. I started to have a dabble.
The first thing I realised was that the Perry Boys Anti-Tank rifle could be added to the Warlord crew man if I cut off the crewman’s right arm. This was done simply with a toe nail clipper and I then field it down with a small file. As can be seen, this fits perfectly well. The only issue being that the 8th Army sleeve is rolled up for sunny climes. Well, that wasn’t beyond the wit of man. Secondly, you can see here that I found a 1940 Warlord head in my spares box. When I bought the HQ and Vickers packs there were a few spare heads and the driver got one of these.
Next, I used green stuff to add long sleeves to the Boys and, while at it, I did two Brens as well. I wanted the three carriers to have the standard 1940 kit; two with Brens and one with a Boys and a Bren. The vehicle with the Boys was to have the AT rifle in the forward compartment and the Bren in the back. The models allow fr a pintle mounted Bren in the back, but experience tells me that a pintle mount on a plastic kit will last about ten minutes, so I was going to give the Bren to a passenger in the rear compartment. However, neither of the two plastic crew figures in the Warlord kit were suitable above the waist. Time to go to the spares box again.
These figures are Artizan Brits I bought a while back but, to be brutally honest, they don’t really do it for me, looking rather weedy types. More Association Football than manly Rugby Union type chaps I’d want in the front line with me.
Anyway, I selected on chap where I thought I could remove the relevant bits and chopped him in half with some large pliers. I did the same with the plastic Warlord crewman and filed them down so one could fit with t’other.
With that done, I used a couple of Warlord arms, one to hold the Bren and the other to rest on the edge of the carrier. Clearly neither arms were designed for this purpose, so I needed to hack away a bit to get the right angle, but that is the one (and only!) beauty of plastic figures. You can convert them to do pretty much what you want if you are brutal enough.
Below, you’ll see that the left arm was the right angle, but the hand was in the wrong place. I decided to replace the hand with green stuff which I would sculpt in-situ. To do this, I could cut off the hand and drill into the arm to insert a metal pin which would then form the basis of the hand. But it was easier to simply cut most of the hand away, just leaving a small thin section to which the green stuff could be built up.
Next I added the Bren and the arm. You can see here that the shoulder is almost non-existent where I have cut that away, but green stuff will fill, that game when the glue dries.
Again, the arm and the Bren here are Warlord from the Carrier Section set. Below I have lightened up this photo a bit so you can see the finished article with the green stuff in place. The hand and the shoulder are done and I have added a gas mask to the chest of the men with the Bren and the Boys. Very simple additions which, when painted, will not look like they are out of place.
Below are the other two carriers, both with Brens. On the top model, I got around my hat shortage by using two Warlord metal heads from my spares box, one of which is an officer. The one below sees the figure in the back taking a head and hat from one of the Artizan chaps. I added a load of baggage from the Rubicon set of tank baggage as well as some spare bits from Tamiya and some of the small helmets and other bits of kit from the Perry plastics which, whilst too small for the Warlord heads, look fine when draped about artistically as general baggage.
I’m looking forward to painting these, but I am planning to use a new airbrush to paint all of my BEF vehicles in one go so I will have to wait as I have some more toys in the post as we speak…
Full marks to Warlord for these smashing carrier kits. I would love to see some more early war figures so I can avoid kit-bashing like this in the future. Fr now, I am really looking forward to getting these chaps into action against the Boche!