Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A brief interlude

Real life has intruded on my time these last few days, but my wife and I are keeping the creative pot boiling. We're doodling some preliminary ideas for a steampunk story, and I'm working on the setting for the next skirmish in Africa Station.  

I was pleased with the way the Sharp Practice rules worked, but naturally they don't cover naval bombardment beyond small boat guns - and I want to use the Flatiron gunboat and the dhows in some capacity. Since I happen to have the GASLIGHT rules to hand, I may adapt and use those for the next game. July is going to be busy for us. We have our wedding anniversary, a re-enactment event, Muster at Forest Glen in Illinois, and a school reunion. In amongst all that I hope to have the Flatiron gunboat finished sometime.  

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Mediterranean house

I whiled away the time in between waiting for various bits and bobs to set/dry on the gunboat by making a small house. It was originally intended to be an addition to my Darkest Africa buildings, perhaps a European Colonial residence, office or whatever. In the event it turned out looking distinctly Mediterranean in appearance. I'm happy enough with the way it turned out - not bad for just following a whim - but I really want a slightly larger version with a different arch alignment for my purposes, so this'll go up for sale on eBay.

Some construction notes... It's a mixed-media building, mostly foamcore covered with spackle, card, and plaster castings (arches, roof tiles, door) from Hirst Arts molds. The latticework windows are cut from embroidery battening, a big sheet of this being cheap as chips for only 99 cents. The groundwork around the walls and the bougainvillea are fashioned from good old green tea leaves, PVA glued in place and painted, then dry-brushed. 

The roof and second story lift off to allow figures to be placed inside. For the sake of simplicity, this feature is something I'm inclined to leave out of the next version.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Flatiron gunboat project - 4

I've not made a great deal of progress since the previous post, due to a splitting headache brought on by the exceptionally hot and humid weather. I did manage to paint the hull, funnel and masts. Masking tape helps to get a clean line between the white and black areas of the hull. There was a little bit of bleeding where the white paint got under the tape, but this is easily fixed. Next step is to paint the aft gun white and the deck off-white. I'm not quite sure what color to make the foredeck, but I'm inclined to paint it a mid-gray.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Flatiron gunboat project - 3

A little more progress with the Flatiron today. I made two companionway ladders to reach the bridge deck, and a small deckhouse using Hirst Arts blocks just forward of the stern mast. A dash of inspiration led to an improvement for the after gun mounting. I came across a batch of nuts with built-in washers (I'm ignorant of the name for these) that rotate freely. It took a matter of glue and paint to create a nice solid pedestal for the gun, with the added advantage of allowing the gun to traverse. A steam pipe and whistle was added to the funnel using a length of piano wire and plastic tube. 

I'm going to paint the ship in the High Victorian scheme of black hull, white upper works, buff funnel and masts. The first coat of black is shown, but I'll dig out the masking tape for the main coats. When I get the chance I'll place an order with Reviresco for the bridge fittings etc.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Flatiron gunboat project - 2

The Flatiron gunboat is progressing, although I haven't had the opportunity to take any photos other than the one below of the construction process.

The indefatigable Colonel Trollope demonstrates the size of the vessel.
The hull is foamcore, sheathed in two or three layers of thin card, and her deck is basswood glued onto foamcore. The bridge lifts off to expose the citadel where the main gun will be housed.

In the original pictures of HMVS Albert, her masts and funnels have a distinct rake. I've managed to reproduce it without too much trouble, although the funnel proved a bit of a bugger to make it stick. Looking at the photo now, I can see it's sloped sternward a smidge too far. Annoying, but after the trouble it caused, I'll leave it be.

For ease of transportation and storage - or to show battle damage - I've constructed the masts, aft gun and smoke stack in two different ways. The masts are housed in short lengths of aluminum tube set into the deck. They can be plugged in or withdrawn easily, yet are still firm enough not to wobble. The deck house with the smoke stack and the 60-pounder gun aft are both stuck to the deck by magnetic strip, which has added benefit of allowing the gun to be traversed to point at the target.

Next up on the to-do list, I need to glue the barrel to the aft gun mounting (once I find my cyanoacrylate glue, which has chosen this moment to go missing...), and build the big gun for the citadel. A short laddered stairway either side of the funnel house will allow access to the bridge. I may or may not add a small deckhouse for'ard of the stern mast. I'll order some ship's fittings from Reviresco soon to complete her fitting-out. After that, she'll be rigged, get a lick of paint, and a suitable name.

I did intend to scale-down the Flatiron's armament, but unlike the Major-General's philosophy of having turreted ironclad battleships on the board, I reasoned that large warships will seldom make an appearance in a relative backwater such as Africa Station. A well-armed gunboat is more historically-accurate, and one with a Big Gun will serve nicely.   


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Flatiron gunboat project

Many thanks to all who left comments and information about the mystery gunboat in my previous post. She was, of course, HMVS Albert, one of the famous 'Flatiron' gunboats common to many navies of the Victorian era. Steve put me on the right track. Jeff supplied the idea of using Reviresco weapons for a model, and Ian's invaluable link to the Wapedia site helped flesh out the class in Australian service and elsewhere.

It's interesting to note these little ships went from being test-beds for ordinance intended for much larger warships, to a class in their own right. Actual combat experience, mostly in naval clashes between China and Japan, showed them to be too weak to stand in battle, even in their intended role as harbor defence vessels. They proved of better value as a naval presence in Colonial waters, where they were backed by the power of the Royal Navy - which brings me to my thoughts for a model.

The defining feature of the Flatiron class was the big gun on a fixed mount in the bows, the whole ship being steered in order to aim it. HMVS Albert had 1 x 8" BL (breech loader) forward, 1 x 6" BL aft, with 2 x 9 pdr. BL and 2 x Nordenfelt MGs on either beam. Pretty strong firepower for wargaming - perhaps too strong.

I'm thinking in terms of reducing the armament to something like a 4.7"/60-pounder BL forward, a 9-pounder aft, and two Model 1871 Long Gatling Guns, one on either beam. 

In the photo below I have (l-r) a 9-pounder, Hotchkiss 37mm revolving cannon, 5-barrel Nordenfelt, and 60-pounder. All these came from the London War Room. The Hotchkiss and Nordenfelt I'll reserve for other models. Since the bow gun will have a fixed mount, I also think I'll scratch build a 60-pounder, as I don't really want to waste the mounting supplied with the model.

So, on to the model. To begin with, I cut a deck from 1/4" foamcore. This measures 13½" by 3¼". (I've yet to shape the bows). Colonel Trollope of the Barsetshire Regt. demonstrates the relative size. The area should be sufficient to stand a four-figure gun crew apiece around the 60- and 9-pounder guns, with two to each Gatling. The bridge will go atop the citadel housing the main gun, and have space for four more figures. The deck will be covered with basswood, which will also hide the small dent to the Colonel's front-left, caused by a marmalade jar falling on the foamcore!


I've yet to decide on what the hull will be made from, although I'm leaning toward cereal-box and Bisquick (™) box card. Both are surprisingly strong when laminated in more than one layer and given a coat or two of paint and varnish. It also has the advantage of being incredibly cheap, a big consideration to any gamer on a budget. The superstructure will be a mixture of fomacore, basswood and card.

I'm rather taken by Reviresco's Bridge Set, and railing stanchions. I do have some London War Room ship's ventilators somewhere, and will dig them out. I will emphasize, this will be a gaming model, not a scale replica, but I hope to work on it over the next few weeks, with the aim of at least getting the 'look' of the period.  


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Rule, Britannia!

Ian's comment on my previous post touched upon the subject of the Royal Navy. As it happens I do have a project in mind. After all, what Colonial campaign would be complete without the presence of a gunboat, ready to throw a naval landing party ashore and be ready to provide fire support?

Here are three photos of ships which caught my eye. The first two show HMS Royal Albert, a gunboat which came into service in the 1870's. She's a trim little vessel, of just the right size for a gaming model, but I've only been able to gather a little information about her. (My Google-fu is weak. I'm sure there must be more out there). She did see service mainly as a hydrographical survey vessel, working in the Far East and Australia for a time, and I believe parts of Africa. Does anyone know what armament she carried?

HMS Royal Albert in dry dock, sheers deployed to keep her upright. An officer stands upon her bridge. Is that a Nordenfelt gun mounting to his right?

In her natural environment - and a different paint scheme. Taken off Portsmouth. She has quite a low freeboard for'ard.

The second ship may not need an introduction. She's HMS Calliope, a famous vessel in her day. Through a sterling act of seamanship, her crew won clear of a harbor in Samoa in the teeth of a vicious typhoon that laid waste to every other vessel in the area. She was a typical gunboat, one of a class sent to far-flung destination whenever someone upset the Pax Britannica. Another candidate for a wargames model - perhaps in a condensed form.

In his book Fighting the Fuzzy-Wuzzy, Captain E. A. de Cosson records a great wealth of detail about General Graham's Sudan campaign. The army's base was in the town of Suakin, on the Red Sea littoral. de Cosson relates how the searchlights of gunboats moored offshore swept the area around the town at night to prevent sneak attacks by Osman Digna's Mahdists. Any such attack would invite almost instant retribution from the navy's guns.

Isn't that an evocative image? Just the thing I want in my games. Picture the tension of a shore party, encamped at the edge of the Dark Continent. The night is full of strange noises, and hostile natives could lurk in the shadows, ready at any moment to sweep down on the camp with fire and sword... But offshore is the steady presence of a gunboat, her searchlight crew dilligently sweeping the area, her gun crews closed-up, ready to fire in support of their mates ashore.

So, back to the modelling ideas. I have some 28mm gunboat weapons from the sadly-defunct London War Rooms just begging to be used. One 60 pdr, one 3-inch, a couple of 12 pdrs, and two Hotchkiss 37mm revolving cannon. Oh, and a Nordenfelt.

The Major-General recommends that gaming model ships shouldn't be longer than 9 inches or so. Anything larger takes up too much space on the table. I'm thinking of pushing the boat out (deliberate pun) and making a model around 12 inches long by 3 wide, based on the Royal Albert. It makes for a model large enough to stand figures around the weapons, on the bridge and in the superstructure. 

Evilcartoonist over at the Lead Adventurers' Forum made a superb tramp steamer model for Pulp games. If I could make something even half as good in detail as his, I'll be a very happy man!

As usual, any thoughts or comments are welcome.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Off the slipway - 1

Here are some photos of the finished dhows, the ships that 'laid the Eastern Seas beneath their keel.' When it came to painting the hulls, I decided against painting them one solid color, be it a workaday brown or something brighter. Instead I added a strake by gluing a length of thin string along the hull, picking it out with red and green. The result is quite effective.
The sails are ordinary printing paper, painted with acrylic craft paint then weathered with a wash of sepia ink with a tiny quantity of India ink. The same wash went on the decks to dirty them up, giving them the appearance of a well-used vessel. I dry-brushed the hulls with two lighter shades of tan, finishing with an irregular line of dark green to simulate the marine growth found on all boat hulls of the era. 

The ensigns are tinfoil sandwiched in paper, painted with acrylics, inscribed with a vaguely Arabic script then varnished. They're mounted in the tubes glued to the taffrail, and can be removed and swapped for others at need. The cargoes are plaster casts from the Hirst Arts dungeon furnishings mold. 

One further note on the use of cereal box card. It pays to roughen the glossy faces with sandpaper, otherwise adhesives tend not to stick to them.  

Here's a group photo of the dhow crews, be they raiders, pirates, or merchantmen defending their own. All are Wargames Foundry Zanzibaris, mounted on one inch fender washers. In spite of appearances, they're not wading ashore after their dhows sank! I call the guy in the middle Ritchie, since he looks rather like Ritchie Blackmore. Swap the musket for a mandolin or electric guitar, and the resemblance would be even more striking...

These fellows will also make an appearance in shore-based games. I hope to add a light cannon to their force of some kind one of these days.   

Friday, June 3, 2011

On the slipway - 1

Ali Ben-Becula demonstrates the scale as the dhow heads for the paint and rigging shops.

Here's a little something from the naval side of Africa Station. Those who follow Major-General Rederring's website will know he has a number of free-for-use templates there, one of which is for an Arab dhow. I made use of this to construct the handy vessel shown above. Since that esteemed website is still down at the moment, I will take the liberty of posting the template here below. 

These make a model 7 1/2" long (measuring cutwater to transom) by 3 1/4" wide. The deck space is sufficient for nine or ten 28mm figures. I printed the templates out on paper then cut and glued them to thin card for durability, since I intend to use them several times. The dhow itself is built from the type of card found in cereal boxes. It's easy to work, inexpensive, and for those of a green disposition, it also reuses the things.

I've made a few modifications to the basic design. I added a quarterdeck, giving a slight increase in deck space and a position for command figures to stand. The main deck is mounted on a rectangle of 1/2" thick foamcore for additional support. For ease of transport, storage - and to show battle damage - I inserted a short length of coffee-stirrer tube in the deck to act as a socket for the mast. Another short length of tube is glued atop the rudder post to hold an ensign, which can be swapped out as the dhow changes hands. The mast and lateen yard are made of bamboo kebob skewers. 

The only weak spot on this model is the beak, which tends to be flimsy even when two layers of card are glued together. An isosceles tringle of card glued along the top acts as a stiffener. An additional tip is to have large paperclips to hand, as these are useful for holding the prow and stern sections together while the glue sets.

So there we have it: The construction phase is finished, but I'm not entirely sure which color scheme to paint this in. Plain gray-brown weathered wood for the deck and hull? Something more colorful, like blood red? Thoughts and comments are welcome.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Schneider steam tank - prototype

I've not entirely forgotten the VSF elements of my Daftest Africa project. This steam tank, shown below, should frighten any opponent unaware of just how cranky these things can be.   

The Colonel demonstrates the brutish size of the Schneider steam tank prototype.

A product of the French Schneider armaments company, fresh out of their manufactory at Le Creusot near Paris, this brutal device is intended to counter similar machines built across the English Channel.

High ground clearance enables it to roll over most difficult terrain. A 203mm howitzer gives it a powerful punch against fortifications. Thick armor confers plenty of protection for the crew on the battlefield, and the high cupola provides a good all-round view. It does lack any kind of close-in anti personnel capability, a serious defect if it should be deployed against opponents who favor mass attacks and ambushes.
In modelling terms, the main fabric is stiff varnished card and foamcore, with some plastic, plaster, and wood components. It's going up for sale on eBay this evening. Feel free to bid!
My Zanzibarian Arabs are nearing completion. Just a few final touches needed. Meanwhile, Blogger/Google appears to be still suffering from the bug preventing comments to be left on certain blogs. I've tried several times to leave comments today, but to no avail. Hopefully this situation will be resolved before much longer.


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