With the building work continuing here on Lard Island, we are now getting to a point where I can see an end and even to the point where I can get in the new workshop and get cracking on our next big project, namely Stalingrad for Chain of Command. For a long time I have fancied running a platoon of German Pioneers, the real descendants of the Great War stormtroopers who, leading from the front are ready to remove all obstacles in the way of the advance, including enemy troops. With a really aggressive modus operandi, I have long thought that some campaigns centred around their advance into Stalingrad would make superb Pint-Sized campaigns, so with that in mind I acquired the Warlord Games boxed Pioneer set and a whole raft of support options for late 1942.
With a great deal of enthusiasm I opened the box when I returned from Wor Lard In Durham, the Lardy Games Day run by the Durham club in their fantastic clubhouse in the old Yeomanry barracks. What did I find therein?
As can be seen, the box is sold as Pioneers with 31 metal and hard plastic figures inside. This wouldn’t be enough for the full platoon which was 37 men, so I had bought some Crusader and Artizan early War infantry to supplement this box. In theory I was ready to go.
As can be seen below, the contents of the box was largely plastic with two small bags of metal bits.
Actually, the plastic sprues are not Pioneers at all, but rather are the normal early war German infantry sprues, as can be seen clearly here:
The bits of metal in the boxes are specialist weapons, such as the Goliath or a mix of backpacks and arm sets to allow the early war Germans to be converted into Pioneers.
Now I was unperturbed by this. Before I was a wargamer I did a fair bit of military modelling and I was confident that I could crack through this set in no time at all. However, I was very quickly disabused of that idea when I found that, as far as the bits I had were concerned, they simply didn’t fit the plastic figures. When one arm fitted, the other was significantly out of kilter.
In another case, when I attached the two arms, the machine pistol the figure was holding broke in two. This is not irreparable, but it just meant that the job was going to be fiddlier than I had anticipated.
What was more, some arm sets simply didn’t look right to me when they were attached, It took me twenty minutes fiddling with this model to get it to look like this. I then threw it in the bin.
At this point I was not feeling too positive about the project. Indeed, I was now remembering why I gave away the plastic Japanese Army I purchased last year and why I had initially found the Perry Plastics so frustrating. But that gave me food for thought. In the end I had completed my Perry 8th Army and Afrika Corps and been very pleased with them, but to achieve that I had gone through a barrier of frustration where I had to come to terms with the fact that plastic wargames figures have plus points and negatives when compared to metals.
In that case, where I had found plastics perfect was in order to convert them into some of the specialist support units I could choose for my force supports. The plastic kits were very readily convertible and I could. effectively, make whatever I wanted from them. However, when it came to your run of the mill core platoon, the plastics, with all their fiddly aspects were a complete and utter pain in the arse.
With that in mind, I cast my eye at the metal Engineer packs and then looked at the Crusader and Artizan figures I had bought. Could I mix the two in order to get my core force built in metal leaving the hugely frustrating plastics for the more particular engineering support bits like flamethrowers, assault grenadier teams, demolition teams and similar?
With a bit of work with the nail clippers I began cutting off the odd gas mask container and dissecting the Pioneer packs. In about five minutes I had knocked out the following two conversions.
Both are Crusader Miniatures with Warlord packs. The top one has the pack and spade, the bottom one just the pack. Not bad, thinks I. I could do more of this. And with that I promptly knocked out about ten similar figures using the Crusader and Artizan models which had space on their back, or had kit which was easily removable. This gave me a core group with the Pioneer kit, but I wanted to expand on that to get more variety.
With a bit of green stuff I started looking for models which could take the addition of the Pioneer larger belt packs. Here’s an example of one such figure. As you can see, there is room on his belt for the large pouch and a blob of green stuff was to hand.
Firstly, I applied the green stuff, pushing it hard onto the figure so it stuck nicely.
Next I used a metal tool to shape the green stuff so that it conformed to the belt. As readers of this blog will know, O don’t go in much for posh tools, and historically I would have done this with a simple cocktail stick or the scalpel blade. However, my mum was a chiropodist and now she’s been chucked in the local cracker factory for resident loons I have nicked some of the tools that look useful. I try to remember not to put them in my mouth while working!
Next I trim away surplus green stuff using a sharp blade for which I have attended several health and safety courses. You shouldn’t do this unless you too have learnt of the terrible dangers a tiny blade can present at the knee of a patronising git who charges you lots of money to state the bleeding obvious.
With the pouch cut to shape, I use a sharp knife to add the detail where the pouch flap and stitching would be.
With that done, I adjust the shape of the pouch to look natural. A cocktail stick is fine for this if you don’t have a posh tool for removing corns from old ladies big toes.
When that dries, you can add a strap or two from green stuff, as I have on this model below.
Other pouches were then added in a similar manner and detailed in the same way. Here I go back in time and use a cocktail stick in the ways of days of yore…
So, here’s a snap of one complete Pioneer squad of twelve blokes. You can see here that four have the Pioneer back pack, including the squad leader and that a few have added pouches elsewhere. The photo below, taken from the front, shows where around half have pouches added there, so these models are looking very different to the originals and a lot more like Pioneers, or at least enough like Pioneers to satisfy me.
So, with that done I have two full squads of Pioneers and the start of a third squad. I need to make some decisions as I would like to have four squads, to allow one to be selected as a support. But who to buy from?
I noted with interest the reaction to Empress Miniatures new venture into WWII when several people suggested that it was a waste of time as the market is saturated. My own experience here is that this is most certainly not the case. There are certainly a good few late war figures about, but when it comes to early war, Artizan do just one single squad which, if like me you want variety of models in your sections, is less than ideal. Crusader do a slightly better selection, but I have pretty much used them up with what I have. When it comes to metals there seems to be a huge gap in the market if you want to avoid plastics. And I do for the core platoon.
This is not a review, but I have to say that I don’t want this piece to come across as being particularly negative about the Warlord Pioneer boxed set. I am actually very pleased with it now I am no longer considering it as a potential ready-made platoon and am thinking of it as a big spare parts box from which to make whatever oddities I want. I have made up the flamethrower man and he will be spot on for that task, so I will cover him when I do all of the supports, all of which I anticipate being made from this box or the big tranche of Warlord bits I have already bought for stuff like AT guns and heavy weapons teams. I personally would struggle to have the patience to make up the whole platoon in plastics but I think that is as much about my lack of patience as anything else.
I may just hang on until I can access my lead mountain which, due to the building work, is currently in storage as I might just have a few suitable figures in there if I am lucky. Failing that, there is Foundry but I am not sure if they are not slightly smaller figures. I know Black Tree do a range, but I ordered some figures from them four years ago and I am still waiting for them to turn up. Any suggestions for Stalingrad German Infantry who fancy transferring to the Pioneers?
It is very easy to be cynical about the value of on-line polls, but I can assure everyone that we are very flattered to see Charlie Don’t Surf win the TMP Award for the best set of historical rules for 2010. This great result maintains our fantastic track record, winning first place with Sharp Practice