Crossing the Desna River

Crossing the Desna River - Eric Sikkema (translation Dirk 'Bep' Lehaen)
Like so many of us I'm always full of ideas. I'm always trying to bring them into reality although it may take a while. This was the case with this diorama, but I'm getting there. Last summer (2002) I had the idea, after seeing some pics on the net, to built something completely different than most dioramas. Not that I want to put other builders down but I'm into extremes and this one is. To realize the bridge that I had in mind, I had a lot of thinking and planning to do because I wanted to include a lot of action on it.
Building the bridge
So last summer I finally decided to go ahead and after making a lot of drawings and calculations about height and length I went to the shop and bought me some wood for the frame. It costed about 60 euros. The size of the bridge is about 80cm long, 20cm wide on top and 30cm wide at the bottom. Overall height is 15cm. Total dimensions of the diorama are 100 x 50cm. I started with the main pillars: 3 double pillars and 2 single pillars. After completion of these I started to assemble the actual bridge part. I had to connect the pillars with each other in such a manner that I created a platform for the road part. They were connected via buttresses to prevent bending of the road part. The parapet was something else; like flogging a dead horse. Each side of the bridge had to be symmetrical of the opposite side. It took me a lot of calculation but I managed to get the job done. Of course the parapet is connected to the bridge with buttresses. For now let's leave the bridge to dry and move on to the next challenge: the action on the bridge. The challenge for me was that I wanted to use different techniques on this dio such as scratchbuilding, straight out of the box, PE conversions and so on. I also wanted to use a great number of figurines. That shouldn't be a problem because you can find a lot of German soldiers and German vehicles on the market. The theme of this dio is "Crossing the Desna River" and I wanted to portrait the hasty withdrawal of the German troops. I decided to move the troops and vehicles from right to left.
I didn't want to use a great range of trucks but rather something less common: horses and carriages. You can buy horses and carts from Esci and Tamiya has a nice field kitchen. Some years ago I built a cart and this was added to the already collected items. even though I rebuilt it into a sick bay. Next vehicle will be one from Sappers so that they can blow up the bridge after the last troops have crossed the Desna River thus keeping the Russian Army from crossing the bridge. I will use a Mercedes 3000L from Italeri which has to be rebuilt and modified. For protection I have to use a tank, not a Tiger or a Panther but the true workhorse from the Wehrmacht: a Pz III. To guide all this traffic I need two motorbikes from Field Gendarmerie and for the heck of it I'll throw in a Kettenrad.
Carriage one
Carriage one is a rebuilt version of the old Esci kit which I have built about 15 years ago. I didn't do the horses at that time because I lacked the skills. The changes made are rather easy and I used some modeling wood and glue. For the roof I used copper foil. The wooden laths were glued at the inside of the original plastic body. On top I placed the copper foil roof. I painted the carriage panzergrey and applied a drybrush and a wash. The horses are painted with oils.
Carriage two
Carriage two is a 'standard' carriage. This is the same version as carriage one but the only modification was the tarp. The tarp was made from some kitchen tissue glued to a lead plate. The ribs are made from solder wire. All the wooden parts and the horses are painted with oils.
Carriage three
Carriage three is a standard 'sanitäter' carriage. This one was built straight out of the box. Carriage is painted with regular model paint but the horses were painted with oils. The red cross was a decal from the kit.
Carriage four
Carriage four is Tamiya's field kitchen. This one was difficult to built, especially because the attachment of the horses to the carriage was very fragile. You should also pay a lot of attention to the rein. That's why I attached some lead foil to the plasticard to obtain some depth. The horses might look a bit shiny but they were still wet from the oil paint when this picture was taken. This model isn't finished yet so the pictures are a quick preview.
Sapper vehicle
As mentioned earlier I used the Mercedes 3000 L by Italeri. You can find a report of the conversion here : Werkstattkraftwagen.
I opted to built a less common or hyped AFV so I choose the Pz III from Revell. Because the setting of the tank in the diorama was a bit in the background I decided to paint a rather rare camo pattern. Exceptionally I used a PE set for this one. Why? Because I feel that mostly PE sets are way too expensive. Of course they give more value to the model but sometimes, after painting, you can barely see the difference. But that's my personal view. I have used Humbrol 64 as primary coating and Humbrol 30 and 72 for the camo pattern. The pattern is a Tree pattern which means that all stripes are vertical and they represent branches of trees. Further on the tank received some washes of brown and black. I also used pastels to give it a dusty look. For the inside I used broken white and some dark grey washes. Nice detail: the bike is from an old Italeri kit (the one with the Kübelwagen). We have reached the stage were the figures come into the picture. I have built them all straight out of the box. Some combinations were made where I used arms and legs from different boxes. I used two sets from Dragon, two sets from the Tamiya Kettenrad kit, one set from Revell and a lot of figures from the spare parts box. All by all we can speak of about 36 figures for this dio. The coachmen were all original or they came from the Revell kit 'The rest camp'. I used standard colors from Humbroll, Revell, Polly S and Tamiya. All flesh was done with oil paints. To complete the figures I made weapon belts out of lead foil. Some figures were given a wounded appearance to go along with the ambulance idea. Bandage was made from toilet paper and white glue. The tankers: the original clips from the headphones were replaced by lead foil ones due to scale thickness. The wires for the radio/intercom are also scratch built from electrical wire. The plugs are also scratch built. The figurines in the pictures are for 80% ready.
The base - groundwork
Now that all the rough work is done, let's move on to the more finer work. To prevent me from getting tired of the whole project, I regularly switch from item to item. So now it's time to start with the groundwork and base. For the foundation I used 1,5cm thick waterproof multiplex and for the sides I used 7mm thick waterproof triplex. Everything was glued around the bottom. When everything has dried I got to the quay sides. Because the overall size is pretty big I decided to use light materials such as isolation foam and paper maché. All of this is glued on the base using waterproof wood glue that dries quickly. After the foam parts are hardened I will bring some rounded structure to them. So out came the file. Because the outside pillars from the bridge are 'sinked' into the ground I had to cut some holes into the foam. This was a hell of a job to make everything fit. But eventually I succeeded. Next step: the bottom of the river. I used the gravel from the cat's box. I painted it with the cheapest acrylic paint I could find. I only used three colors: yellow, blue and black. These colors can be mixed into all greenish tints. This had to dry for about 24 hours. The water: I thought I found a nice solution for this. I used a transparent plastic plate. The one they use to create lakes in railroad modeling. But due the extreme warm summer this year the plate showed some ridges on the side so the plate had to be removed. Later on more about this. Anyways, when the river bed was dry I placed the plate in such a manner that there was some space between the plate and the bed to create some depth. Then I placed the bridge and it started to come together. Now it was time for the quays. I'm going to use paper maché and I used old newspaper for it. Paper maché can be easily made from wallpaper glue and paper. Great advantage is the slow drying time so it can be modified during a long time. So when this was done I went on with the plantation. The only item I bought was the high reed. All the rest was found in mother nature. Of course everything was dried first. The stones are from the cat's box and the neighbour's front yard (with permission).
After posting some pictures on various sites I received some tips from my fellow modelers. So i changed a few details such as more vegetation. As mentioned earlier came the problems with the plastic plate due to the warm weather. Luckily the plate was easy to remove and nothing had to be demolished. What was left was a floating bridge and that was not the purpose. So every pillar had to be lengthened by 0,5cm. I also placed some layers of algae on the pillars to create a nice connection with the water. The water: I had to find a solution for this and decided to opt for the more expensive resin. This was quit a gamble because I never worked with resin before. But after reading the instructions very carefully I went for it. It all came out ok. The only unpleasant thing was the smell. It lasted for at least 36 hours.
The last hand
Now for the last hand. I still have to paint the weaponry, equipment and the two motorbikes. And of course a final check. As mentioned earlier almost every figure has a weapon with a belt made from lead foil. Belt is attached to the gun with super glue and painted with Tamiya brown. Painting of the weapons with wooden butt-ends is as follows. First paint the wooden parts with matt yellow or desert yellow and then a layer of burnt umber. Leave it to dry for about 24 hours and wipe with a hard rough brush most of the paint away. Leave this to dry for about 4 or 5 days and continue to paint all the metal parts. First with matt black and then a drybrush with metal. Connect the belt on one point with super glue. Place the weapon in the hand of the figure and attach it with white glue. Leave to dry and guide the other end of the belt gently to the gun with a fine pair of tweezers. Connect the belt with super glue. Because the great number of figurines it took me a week to complete with the handguns alone. The equipment was painted and attached in the old fashioned way. When all of this was finished, I decided to make a few birch trees. The trunk comes from a succulent plant in my garden. In springtime this plant has some nice pink flowers on the trunk. Once the flowers are dead they make a nice trunk if you tie them together. The finer branches are made from steel wool and brushed dark brown. Some spray glue on top and than sprinkle some woodland stuff over it. The underside of the trunk is painted white with a brown wash and the characteristically black spots. This method gave me 10 trees in one afternoon. Total price of 0,75 euro per tree. Then I purchased from some fellow modeler two motorbikes. These were very cheap because they came from a garage sale. I decided to built the Zündapp bikes because I like them better than the BMW. Because most of the models were already built so I indulged myself. One bike is straight from the box except for the saddlebags. I put them in an opened position. On the other bike I stripped the front fender and the luggage-carrier. The painting was done out of the head. Alas no construction pictures. And now for the final moment: placing all of the models on the bridge and inspecting every single one of them. The pictures you can see are from the dio when it was for 80% finished. A few minor things still have to be done. I hope you enjoyed reading this article. The following project has already been begun. It's the rock from Pointe du Hoc with all the corresponding models.
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About the Author

About H.L.Sikkema (demodelbouwer)

hello i'm eric and i live in the Netherlands. I'm married with ilona and have three daugters. for the last year i am a very active modeller. Before that the hobby was only a time distraction. I'm a modeller for over 35 years now and i like to share my knowledge with others in any way i can.


hi, great work Eric and very nice brigde, but I was wondering, how long does it take to make such a dio like this?!?!?!Great work Laurie
SEP 22, 2003 - 03:33 AM
WOW, great detail on each aspect. What patience. Thanks for sharing, Andrew
SEP 23, 2003 - 01:38 AM
This something else again. The article, and i've only looked through it superficially, is well worth reading carefully as well. Though not the world's greatest fan of german armor, this is noteworthy for being more representative of the late-war german army than few other dios. When I first saw the dio. from the photos of KMK, It really captured my interest, thank you for posting this and more importantly thanks for sharing your work with us in this form...Jim
SEP 23, 2003 - 01:54 AM
SEP 23, 2003 - 12:32 PM
:-) Eric..you are a genius...we're not worthy...we're not worthy. I am in awe. I have an idea for a huge diorama..but i'm just a LOT scared to do it. Now that i see what an effort it is to do one of that scale I might just tone it down..... a lot. Congratulations! Jeff
SEP 24, 2003 - 05:28 AM
Thanks Ronny for posting it . Eric
SEP 24, 2003 - 09:36 AM
Well as i told earlier i wanted to do something else than the usuall panzer dio .. Glad you liked it
SEP 24, 2003 - 09:38 AM
Laurie , It took more than one year to create this dio..
SEP 24, 2003 - 09:41 AM
Thanks Jim for your kind words.. And maybe there's hope for the future...you'll never know.. Till later ( Next item is on it's way ) Eric
SEP 24, 2003 - 09:42 AM
To all others , I want to thank you all for your kind words. This is what it makes it all worth wild. I never intend to make such a large dio in the first place but when the work progressed for what the plastics concerns i had to fit them all together in one dio . Even i was scared of the size of this dio and more than once i wanted to drop the whole subject . But when the work progressed i even get some fun in building it . Eventually i was pleased that the work was done so i can focus on other things like my Pointe du Hoc diorama wich will be 3 times bigger in size than this one . For now i'm building some thing small for a change as a study for the PdH . Almost all the items for PdH are in stock now so all i have to so is start building the kits and the figures . This dio has to be finished in two Years when the Twenot is having theire 30th anniversary . Again i will thank you all for your kind words . Yours sincerly Eric
SEP 24, 2003 - 09:59 AM