Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The BMC / Minifigs Chronicles - Part 5

Finished a few more repaints:

Indefatigable class Battle Cruiser
This ship has a distinctly less toylike profile than the Invincibles, wonder if more than one sculptor was employed.  Rebuilt the tripod masts and added the missing guns to X turret.

Devonshire Class Armored Cruiser
Very little needed to be done here aside from drilling and inserting a new mast.

Edgar class Protected Cruiser
Based as HMS Theseus. This closeup gives a good view of B.M.C.'s Roman numeral marking scheme at the stern.  This is one of the models that prompted me to dig deeper into their origins as there seemed to be little reason for inclusion of obsolete cruisers from the early 1890's in a set designed to wargame WW1.

Class B Destroyers
A previous owner had chopped the aft funnels for some reason, making the boats hard to identify.  Restored with styrene tubing, didn't have exactly the right diameter but close enough.  And what navy ever had cooler names for their ships than the British ? 

That's it for now. Plenty remain to be repainted but I'm going to work on scratch building Germans for a bit.

Monday, May 30, 2011

High Seas Fleet - Part 1

I've completed another batch of the BMC/Minifigs ships, will post shortly. Just a quick update here about plans to build German counterparts for the British ships.   I had some time over the long holiday weekend here (Memorial Day) to start construction.  The idea is to at least approximate the old-school style of the BMC ships.  Aside from over all simplification (the lack of boats and so on), to my eyes the two salient features of the old models are the high freeboard and exaggerated funnels.

Here's the Nassau, hull and superstructure completed.  The photos are rather poor, but they'll serve to give the general impression.

It's the usual composite technique, basswood hull and mostly styrene for the upper works.  Not so much left to do, but for me the turrets are always a tricky bit.  The ships of this class had large cranes on each side, not sure yet how I'll make these. And as the BMC capital ships feature torpedo net booms, those will be necessary as well although prior experience tells me they'll be a fiddly piece of work.  Haven't yet decided about adding casemate guns, but as all the cut outs for the firing arcs are in place, aside from the time to drill holes and insert the wire, there's really no point in not doing them. And the masts will be simple. 

Time permitting, I should finish at least the construction later this week, if not the painting.

Edit: 5/31/11

Added a better shot.  My basic technique is to shrink plans down to the desired scale and use them for templates. If you're aiming for accuracy, you've got to be careful about using Jane's for this purpose as the silhouette pages are for accurate ID and the plans themselves more intended to illustrate the various armor thicknesses and layout of the guns.  But so far as these more stylized models go, Jane's fits the bill providing the top down views have enough detail. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Minifigs - Mystery Solved !

In part Part 2 of the series about the Minifigs WW1 ships, I raised a few questions about the origin of these unique models.  Certain things were just not adding up:

* Why do I have ships which aren't on the catalog list ?
* Why the inclusion of older ships which would have had minimum fighting value by 1914 ?
* What do the Roman numeral ID's on the hulls signify ?
* How could Minifigs as vendor not be able to correctly identify all of their ships (i.e., "old turret battleship" when there are none) ?
* What modern wargames company (even ca. 1970's) would tolerate such a casual approach towards maintaining a consistent scale ?
* And what 1970's sculptor would choose to work in such an antique style ?

All of these questions remained unanswered, my internet queries shed no light on it.  By coincidence, approaching the issue from a different path has lead to an answer.  Please bear with me on this, as the story will be rather lengthy, but I think one worth telling.

The first break resulted from looking for information about WW1 identification models of the German High Seas fleet produced for the US Navy by the R.E. Boucher company. I was interested in these with regard to scratch building German ships in a simplified style consistent with the Minifigs ships.  My search led to a sample from a paper by Fred. A. Douris titled Ship Models for the Military. While there wasn't much detail about the Boucher German ships, a brief introduction to the topic mentioned models created for the Fred T. Jane Naval Wargame.http://daleypublishing.com/SMFTM_sample.pdf

Suffice it to say the author states that lead warships were produced in the early 1900's for the Jane Naval Wargame by the Bassett-Lowke company. That's interesting as I thought the prevailing wisdom concerning the Jane's ships seems to be that they were crude wooden models, quite tubby in appearance.  And probably the prototypes were. But it makes sense; once the game was put into commercial production, why wouldn't a robust, attractive and more readily mass-produced sort of model be a better option when selling the game to the general public ? 

For more information about Bassett-Lowke, I turned to Wikipedia (bold fonts my own)
Bassett-Lowke was...known for model trains, [but] it had a long history of contracting manufacture of model ships. Before and during World War One, the company contracted with a firm referred to in Bassett-Lowke catalogues as "B M C". There is confusion as to what the initials stood for: internet sellers have identified it as "Birmingham Metal Company" or "Brighton Model Company".
The collaboration between Bassett-Lowke and B M C produced a model fleet of every class in the British navy from 1885 through 1916 including tugs, troop ships and the royal yacht. The models were formed using hollowcast lead with the wire masts cast into the hulls. The models were painted and issued in numbered sets, paper flags with each set to be cut out and applied. The scale was described in the catalogue as "one inch equals eighteen hundred inches". While the models were rudimentary by later standards, every class of vessel was easily recognisable by the funnels and guns and masts. The series may have been discontinued during World War One since the last vessels were of ships commissioned about 1916. Possibly the series was abandoned due to rationing of metal.
Later copies appear for sale on the internet. These can be distinguished from the originals, which were hollowcast. Two copies are common, the first cast in solid lead with no wire masts and large numbers inscribed on the bottom. The second are in potmetal and represent three ship classes from the original sets: the King Edward VII, Lord Nelson and Swiftsure.
The reference to BMC made the next step fairly obvious. A web search didn't reveal much, tried images and struck gold.  Vectis auction, 2008. Bingo !

Images and text from Vectis Auctions Ltd.
Lot 1324:  BMC Series of the World's Warships slush cast lead Waterline Ships. This being box No.12 containing British Ships HMS Implacable, HMS Lancaster, HMTBD Fury and Submarine AT. Box also contains a number of other BMC Ships including Cruisers, Destroyers, Torpedo Boat, a Liner, 2 Freighters and a Hospital Ship. 

And from my collection:

Lot 1325: BMC Series of World Ships in Miniature being box No.8 containing British Ships HMS London, HMS Bulwark, HMTBD Goldfish and Submarine A9 along with a number of other BMC Ships including Cruisers, Destroyers, Motor Torpedo Boats and other smaller Naval Craft finished in battleship grey or black and generally Good Plus in Fair original box with picture of flotilla to lid. Extremely rare.
My collection:

In short, if the ships look like 100 year old designs, it's because they are.  Given that my own examples are hollowcast, it seems that my project has been a case of "colorizing Citizen Kane" after all.  Oh, well. Damn the antiquitarian values, full speed ahead !  

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Minifigs Chronicles - Part 4

I've been busy painting (and prepping) more models.  Here are three more ships, two of which are missing from the Minifigs catalog list, the super-dreadnought Orion, what is most likely an early scout scout cruiser, Forward, as well as catalog item # 1, Lord Nelson pre-dreadnought battleship .  I must say indentifying the ships with Conway's and the Arco reprints of Jane's 1906/1907 & 1914 has been quite enjoyable. The funnel band detail is courtesy of the 1914 edition of Jane's.  At the outset, I was undecided about painting funnel bands, but decided to do so in the interest of adding a bit of visual contrast to the relentless gray.

Orion class Battleship
 A handsome ship, the first to mount 13.5" guns.  Aside from repainting, I didn't do much beyond epoxying a casting void on the deck amidships as well as cutting off the wire mast forward and restoring the tripod mast assembly to its proper place between the funnels.

Lord Nelson class Pre-Dreadnought
 The Lord Nelson, toylike but still a good likeness of the original "semi-dreadnought".  I narrowly averted disaster here. I had run out of paint stripper and deviated from my usual brand to something a bit stronger.  I consigned the Lord Nelson and the Dreadnought to the stripping vat, returning a few minutes later to clean them off.  All seemed to go well at first until I noticed to my dismay that despite the hardness of the metal and the relatively short immersion time, the new stripper was etching the hulls.  Poor old Dreadnought didn't survive (save as a template for future scratchbuilding of the early dreadnought classes).  Lord Nelson was damaged as well but I was able to fill and smooth over the worst of it.  Masts restored as well.

Forward Class Scout Cruiser (1904)
 Not much needed to be done here aside from adding a wire gun for the one which was missing aft.  The casting on many of these ships is flawed, with voids, missing details and incompletely cast hulls in a few cases.

The destroyers I had stripped for repainting could not be indentified, which I subsequently realized was due to a previous owner having amputated the aft funnels, converting them from 4-stackers to three.  I restored the missing funnels this past weekend and they are now in the painting queue for Part 5.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Minifigs Chronicles - Part 3

Now for the fun part, the ships themselves. I have repainted with acrylics, fixing masts here and there as needed, but otherwise nothing has been modified.  I was once taken to task on a discussion forum for stripping crude factory paint and reworking some old flats, Heinrichsen Macedonian Phalangites. If I recall correctly, the poster equated my handiwork to "colorizing Citizen Kane".  As if I'd snuck into the Louvre at night and touched up the Mona Lisa or attached arms to the Venus de Milo. ;-) At any rate, these ships are completely lacking in antiquarian value (at least I think so), so viewers may judge for themselves whether I have committed sacrilege or made improvement.  The metal is quite hard, making cleanup of the residual flashing somewhat time consuming (the prior owner hadn't bothered), but I really enjoyed painting them.

Invincible Class Battle Cruiser
  Tripod mast configuration restored with brass wire and styrene crow's nests.

Drake class Armored Cruiser
I have another of these which will be the Good Hope. As I also have the Monmouth, Canopus, and even a liner to serve as the Otranto, a Coronel refight should be upcoming.  Scratch building the Germans to this style will be an interesting challenge.

H Class Destroyers
Weymouth class Scout Cruiser

The Minifigs Chronicles - Part 2

Once I had established that the ships were Minifigs, I contacted Bob Cordery for further information. He was kind enough to share with me what he knew about them, as well as mentioning that there was a Minfigs catalog listing for these ships.  Inquiring further at TMP, member Old Metal Detector was a great help in posting the list on his blog Vintage Wargaming, reproduced here:

Interestingly, I have several ships which are not on this list. First, there are no "early turret battleships".  They are earlier protected or 2nd/3rd class cruisers. Even assuming that two of the following ships are categorized as such, I still have extra (uncertain ID's in parentheses):

Hull ID       Cat.      Class                                Length
B  VII         BB       Orion                                93mm     
B  IX          BB       Queen Elizabeth                99mm
C  XVI       BC       Indomitable                        91mm
C  VII        AC       Monmouth                         76mm
C  X           CL       (Forward)                           66mm
C  III          PC       Edgar                                68mm
C  II           PC       (Pelorus)                           65mm 
C  V          PC       Highflyer                            67mm   
The scales are variable. For hull length, the lighter ships scale out close to 1/1500 or slightly larger.  On the other end of the spectrum, the larger ships are proportionally smaller, for instance the Lion measures 1/2100.  While the larger dreadnoughts can fit inside a Jane's 1/1920 profile for length, they tower over it for height. Hence given the high freeboards and exaggerated funnels, the nominal scale of 1/1500 mentioned elsewhere is probably as good a generalization as we're going to get considering the overall impression of bulk. 

What I find interesting is that Minifigs could neither specify the scale on the original listing, nor categorize them all correctly.  And what do the Roman numeral ID #'s on the hulls signify as they bear no relationship to the Minifigs catalog numbers ?   While the extra vessels could well be a matter of later expanding the line beyond the initial offerings, there's an element of mystery about these inconsistencies.  All of which lead me to the following supposition: I suspect that Minifigs did not originally commission these ships.  I'm more inclined to believe they came into possession of original molds or masters, or perhaps remastered pre-existing castings. If so, who produced the originals, and when ?  I welcome further comment about this and if you have additional information by all means weigh in.   

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Minifigs Chronicles - Part 1

Quite recently I purchased this set of 80 WW1 ships on a UK auction site:

At the time of purchase, I really had no idea who was the maker, nor did the seller give any indication.  But the photos intrigued me, everything from submarines and merchant ships to dreadnoughts.  And all sculpted in a simple and very appealing toy-like style.

While waiting for my ships to arrive, I searched the internet for clues as to the identity.  It didn't take long to find photos on Bob Cordery's excellent blog Wargaming Miscellany. The thick masts on the Minifigs original castings didn't match the wire masts on my ships but there was no mistaking that many of the castings were the same ones Bob had posted. 

Once the ships arrived last week, I found that the previous owner had cut off the original cast-on masts and replaced them with wire.  I can live with it, but would have at least preferred that he'd left the dreadnoughts' sturdy and characteristic tripod masts intact, not to mention refrained from inflicting a few other atrocities such as cutting funnels off some of the destroyers.  The thick paint matters not as I plan to strip and rework the ships to my own standards. There's much to be said for the thrill of the hunt itself, but given my predilection for doing my own painting, letting them remain untouched as a collection doesn't interest me.

I'm very pleased with these ships. Their antique style evokes the days of Fred T. Jane and his Naval Wargame.  Meaning for me that an appropriately old-school rule set is in order for playing with them, most likely Perfidious Albion which carries on the spirit of Jane's old rules in many respects. In Part 2, I'll post some thoughts on the variable scale, the Minifigs catalog list and the more than 1/2 dozen ships in my possession which aren't on it.

Austro-Hungarian Pre-Dreadnoughts. Part 2

The next battleship production for theK.u.K Marine was the Erzherzog Karl class.

From Big Bad Battleships:
The main armament was four 9.4"/40-calibre guns -- domestically produced copies of the Krupp SK L/40 -- mounted in two twin turrets. Although each vessel carried nothing heavier than these 24-cm medium weapons, the class marked an advance to the European standard of armament distribution, if not to the the 12" standard adopted by first-rate navies of the time. In fact, these small battleships compared favorably with the second-class battleships fashionable in the 1890s British fleet, mounting 10" rather than 12" guns. Certainly the Erzherzogin were not at the forefront of naval development, coming into commission around the same time as HMS Dreadnought. In other aspects of performance, and certainly in their smart appearance, they compared favorably to their Mediterranean counterparts. Like their predecessors in the Habsburg class, these three ships were little more powerful than a French or British armored cruiser. However, the high-muzzle-velocity, quick-firing Krupps 9.4 (manufactured under license by Skoda Works in Plsen) was an outstanding performance weapon of its time, inviting comparison with the 10" guns of other navies (notably the Italians, the Austrians' chief rivals).
All three ships were constructed at STT in Trieste, with the Karl going down the ways first in 1903 and commissioning in 1905, and each of the others succeeding. The last ship, the Ferdinand Max, was commissioned in 1907.

Prior to painting. 1/1800 scale.

The battle squadron unites.

Austro-Hungarian Pre-Dreadnoughts. Part 1

First up, the Hapsburg class:

From Big Bad Battleships:
SMS Habsburg, the KuK Kriegsmarine's first full-blown pre-dreadnought battleship, on trials in the upper Adriatic in 1901. Armed only with three 9.4" (24 cm) 40-caliber Krupp guns (in one twin turret forward and a single aft), these three ships were little more powerful than a large armored cruiser in other navies. Nevertheless they marked a significant stride for the Habsburg Navy: they certainly had the look of a pre-dreadnought battleship in other navies. Moreover, the high-muzzle-velocity, quick-firing Krupp 9.4s outperformed the 10" guns of other navies (notably the Italians, Austria's chief rival). See the article under Links for specifics on this notable artillery.

Voted through the Vienna legislature as part of the 1899 program, the ships were designed by Austria's chief naval architect, ing. Siegfried Popper. They bear the mark of his clean, uncluttered, and balanced hand, with nicely spaced masts, funnels, and gun emplacements. The Reichstag was sold on the expenditure as delivering a good bang for the gold mark, with ships that packed a hefty armament into a small (8,300-ton) package, promising maneuverability and shoal draft for operational versatility, plus slightly better speed than comparable ships of the time. Though the ships did not reach their design speed of 20 knots, they fell only fractions of a knot short, and were well regarded, at their time of commissioning, for their intended mission.

Over all the Habsburgs met their navy's concern for moderate firepower, protection -- and expense. They provided a good bang for the buck (or in this case, the gold mark.) They certainly marked an improvement over the earlier armored cruisers and coastal monitors in terms of seaworthiness and fighting power.


In keeping with the WaS roots,  I built these ships in 1/1800 scale.  The construction technique is the usual composite materials.

Looking rather comical dwarfed by the WaS mini, the Japanese battleship Nagato.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Spenkuch Flat Ships

Here is a chance to combine my fondness for German zinnfiguren and ship modeling.  Spenkuch of Nuremburg was a maker of bleisoldaten (tin soldiers) from the later half of the 19th Century into the early 20th.  Spenkuch's main product line featured simple semi-round toy soldiers, in 30-40mm scale.

But they also marketed these flat tin warships as toys for German kids back in the heyday of Tirpitz and the Kaiser.  The ships for the most part are by no means accurate representations of real vessels, rather more in the nature of archetypes, or what the engraver fancied a warship should look like.  Most are engraved on one side only.  I purchased them as unpainted castings from Berliner Zinnfiguren. Although the designs are antique, BZ must have access to the molds as the castings seem to be of recent production.

Without further preamble, let's return to the days of unabashed imperialism. All figures painted in acrylics.

2nd 1/1600 Scratchbuild - HMS Indomitable

And now equal time for the British, the ill-fated Battle Cruiser Indefatigable.  A word about the strange scale choice of 1/1600 is in order here.  I used the excellent ship drawings featured in V.E. Tarrant's, Jutland: The German Perspective.
While I can't say this book broke any new ground about the exhaustively covered Battle of Jutland, the author at the very least did an excellent job with the artwork, featuring line drawings of every capital ship class of each side.  Most useful as each features a top down view as well as a profile.  About the only critique I can level is the misplacement of asymetrical wing turrets on several ships.

The build is done in composite style, basswood, styrene, brass wire and cardstock.

First Scratch Build - SMS Von der Tann

Here's a ship inspired by War at Sea minis.  I started collecting them several months ago in a burst of enthusiasm.  However, Pre-dreadnoughts and World War 1 ships have always held my interest more than World War 2.  Not to mention, having bought scores of ships intending to play the US vs. Japan and having obtained exactly 0 Japaneses carriers in my "pulls", it occurred to me that buying random booster packs in hopes getting the ships I needed was going to get seriously expensive.  More often it was a case of  "Arrrgh, another stinking Finnish Brewster Buffalo squadron !" 

However, this abortive foray into WaS did introduce me the great bunch of fellows at Forumi: http://aaminis.myfastforum.org/

Having participated in posting WaS repaints to a very kind reception, I decided to expand my horizons to the realm of scratchbuilding.  I had occasionally built crude balsa models at 1/1200, but this was the first go at taking a more precise approach.  The ship is 1/1600. Yes an odd scale, I know.