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1⁄35Boots and Saddles
Setting the scene
The outskirts of Massa, Italy, late June, 1944. Elements of the 81st Cavalry Recon Squadron, attached to the 1st Armoured Division, 5th Army, have paused briefly before resuming their pursuit of the German Army up the western coast. The fighting has been difficult as the Division slugs its way north through the mountainous terrain, but the Germans are in retreat. The Allies have landed in Normandy and the world’s attention is concentrated on that front, leaving the Italian Theatre as an afterthought to all but those fighting and dying there. A M8 Greyhound and a Jeep have found a relatively undisturbed side street to catch a breather. During the hiatus one of the Greyhound crew has formed a fleeting liaison with a local girl as the rest of the troopers get the order to mount up. He scrambles to rejoin his crew as the old cavalry call goes out – “Boots and Saddles!”
Both the M8 and Jeep are the excellent Tamiya kits. If built OOB, they present no issues except for some missing detail on both vehicles. It should be noted that neither are meant to represent specific vehicles. They are (hopefully) reasonable representations of several different variations seen in reference materials.
I secured a resin steer able front wheels set by Resicast and installed it on the Greyhound. The mounting points for the wheels onto the “axles” are rather cumbersome as they consist of what can only be described as a ball joint arrangement. For me, this would have been much easier if I’d had four hands, but by employing deep breathing exercises, I managed to accomplish the task at hand. I didn’t use the front fenders so the steer able wheels could be seen. Using several sources, including print-outs from the web, my Allied/Axis book covering the Greyhound, and the Squadron book among others, I set out to construct the interior. It was augmented by the Verlinden detail set, which offers both resin and PE bits to flesh out the interior. Wiring was added with thin solder. Inside the open turret, Fingerprint Designs provided waterslide decals for the traversing hash marks and degree markings, another test of fortitude these being very tiny indeed. I wimped out and used a black marker for the hash marks themselves, not even attempting placing the decals over the hump in the turret race. The interior was painted with Vallejo acrylics, washed with oils, and buttoned up. Work then began on the exterior. As do most modellers, I pour over in-theatre photos to get a flavour of the organized chaos evidenced in soldiers using the most efficient and time saving methods to get the job done. Field modifications in the U.S. Army were rampant, and to me always add interest to the vehicles. Stowage, especially, is the hallmark of G.I. steeds and presents the greatest opportunity for individualizing a vehicle. M8’s were typically festooned with gear of all description, and I attempted to portray this using many pieces from the spares box and 2 different types of epoxy putty, lead foil, and cotton thread. Between Eduard and Verlinden, the PE bits were sorted out - brush guards, chains for the storage bins, etc. – nothing exotic there. The storage cylinder for the headlight plugs were made from stretched sprue and a bit of PE chain. The very nice Verlinden resin .50 HMG that comes with the M8 detail set was mounted on the “standard” mount at the rear of the turret as would befit an early production vehicle. It’s a shame Verlinden doesn’t offer that gun as a separate item because it really is well done. A wad of camo netting (many of the Greyhounds in the photos I saw carried these in various locations) was added to the glacis and secured with lead foil strips and Verlinden PE buckles. The netting is also from VP. It was dipped into watered down white glue, the excess removed by pressing the netting between sheets of paper towel, and placed onto the vehicle, taking care to tease bits with a toothpick for a random appearance. While still wet the foil straps were added. In what can only be described as a cruel joke by the Gods, every place on the planet was bereft of Tamiya Olive Drab paint. I have no idea why. It is difficult to believe there was a massive Allied AFV painting frenzy. Nevertheless, I was out of O.D. and couldn’t get an estimate from my usual suppliers when more could be expected. I use Steve Zaloga’s recipe of Tamiya O.D. as a base, followed by an over spray of O.D. lightened with Tamiya Dark Yellow, but alas, that was no longer an option. I opted for Vallejo O.D., which is a bit on the brown side. Actually, I kind of liked it. I made the decision to brush on the base colour, which pre-empted the need for masking the open turret and hatches. By the time all the stowage was added, heck, there wasn’t that much of the vehicle showing anyway. It only took two Windex- thinned coats. All the accessories were base painted with a variety of Vallejo, Acryl, and Model Master paints prior to washing and highlighting. Weathering the Greyhound was straightforward, consisting of various thinned coats of oil enamels in the Model Master range. The circled stars on the rear fenders are Archer items.
This is, of course, the second generation Tamiya offering. Construction is a breeze and presents no problems. I used the stock .30 machine gun with a Verlinden PE ammo belt. I added a Trax canvas covered, dropped windshield, and a Verlinden SCR 694 resin radio on a scratch-built platform wired with solder. A resin stowage rack on the rear and rope covered front bumper by Masters Productions were also attached. Additional bags and gear from the spares box rounded out the clutter. The same O.D. was applied, again by brush, as a base coat, followed by the same washes as on the M8. The tires were painted Tamiya German Grey and muted with a wash of Model Master Dark Tan enamel. A Verlinden printed paper map and a folded paper cigarette pack from Alexander the Great were placed on the windshield along with a map case with lead foil strap. The Tamiya placard decals went onto the dashboard. Another Archer circled star went on the canvas cover of the windshield, and Archer provided the individual letters and numbers for the bumper code. I dirtied up the Jeep but didn’t get involved with rust and such. I read somewhere the average life expectancy of a Jeep in combat areas was three weeks! Not much time for rust.
All the figures (except the original, sculpted one) in this diorama are resin. I spend so much time on these pieces I want to get the best, most defined figures I can as a starting point. The majority are from Warriors, but two of the guys near the jeep are from an obscure set from Gunze I’ve had lying around for years. About half were modified in some way to get the poses I was looking for, using the standard wire and putty method. I use Aves Epoxy, but others would work just as well. At this point I’d like to mention a new method for painting my figures. I was feeling a bit stale with my face painting technique, and my friend Rhodes Williams was kind enough to share a method he had developed. Without going into too much detail, it involves painting from dark to light, the opposite of what I’d been doing. I believe the results are much better than my previous efforts. Thanks buddy. The central figures of this diorama would be the pair on the balcony. The girl was heavily modified from an old Verlinden set, her head being replaced with a bare female item from Hornet and epoxy putty hair, and her clothes were ground off and replaced with an epoxy putty robe. The only parts not sculpted on the G.I. grabbing for the downspout were the boots, hands, and head. Chunks of scrap resin were used for the torso and hips and wire was inserted into the resin, bent to get the proper poses and covered with putty. The open shirt cuffs are lead foil, the buttons were punched from thin sheet styrene, and the pockets and collar were made from Kneadatite – the blue and yellow stuff – since it’s easier to roll thin for items like those. The pistol belt is Verlinden PE, the .45 a resin spare. The boots were “opened up” at the top, and really, really thin wire was inserted for shoelaces. I can’t say I was perfectly satisfied with the end result, but it’s a start. Sometimes you just have to dive in.
The Base and the Building
The base was made from two wood plaques screwed together and cut at the back edge at an angle. It was stained and sealed. I didn’t need a lot of depth to the building, so I set it back close to the rear edge. It was made from two layers of foam core, with openings cut for the doors and windows, which were a collection of odds and ends I had lying around. The minor battle damage to the one end of the building involved carving away some of the foam core and moulding some stone patterns into the voids with putty. I also roughed up some of the “stone” detailing on the building and on one of the doors and windows. The balcony railing was made from two different Grandt Line HO railroad scale items, glued together and trimmed. The balcony supports are made from styrene sheet and half-round styrene rod. I used a Vallejo product called, appropriately, Stucco, for the, well, stucco. It is a thin paste that I towelled onto the foam core and stippled with a cheap, throw away metal handled brush. Using reference photos of various Italian buildings taken off the web, I painted and weathered the wall. The gutter was made from two “L” shaped styrene lengths glued together. The downspout is a combination of heated, bent sprue and styrene rods. The clamps are wire curved and inserted into the wall. The electric conduit is solder. The tile roof is from Model Victoria. The stone street is a VLS resin item painted and weathered with acrylics and oil enamels. A recurring issue with these large, single-pour resin “slabs” is that they are rarely an even thickness. This means that if two pieces need to be mated there will inevitably be a vertical difference at the joint. My only option was to obscure that seam line with debris, which hopefully made sense due to the damage depicted on the building i.e. that’s where the debris came from, along with some that had spilled into the street from a building out of the view window.
This diorama had several interesting elements for me as a builder. This was my first basically scratch-built building, and as already mentioned allowed me to try a new figure painting technique. It was also my first try at serious figure sculpting. The Tamiya kits are basically very sound and allow the modeller to add as much detail as they wish without backtracking to correct fundamental errors. The Italian campaign doesn’t get much attention in the modelling world, so it was gratifying to feature that Theatre.