Flames of War: Fielding the 15cm sFH18 Heavy Howitzer Battery

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The long-lived and commonly-found 15cm sFH18 howitzer was fielded by German forces from the 1930s and all through World War II. Tough to haul and a lesser weapon than many of the large artillery pieces fielded by Allied forces during the war, the German gun nevertheless went through several wartime design iterations and served multiple nations in post-war decades.

I’ve been in the home stretch of getting ready for my Flames of War Sint-Oedenrode scenario at the upcoming HMGS Fall In! convention, and getting some big German 15cm sFH18 howitzers finished was the last on my to-paint list. FOW offers a beautiful box set of the German heavy artillery battery, featuring four guns, crew, staff, command, spotting teams and individually-sculpted resin bases. The set of models is a bit pricey, but given the heft of models and their usefulness in so many German army lists, the battery is sure to pay off over time.

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With so many parts in the box, getting organized from the get go is key. After cleaning up and dry-fitting all the pieces, I get everything glued up. After drying, I use wood filler to cover the spotter and command bases and to also hide any seams where the figures glue into the cast resin bases. From there, my usual German painting scheme in greys over flat black primer plus other details makes finishing the models move pretty quickly.

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Parts get cleaned and organized before assembly

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Glued models with filler being added to the bases

IMG_6862Base coats painted on the guns, uniforms, bases and ruins

As with most of the big sets of FOW models, the details on the models is a lot of fun. The intensely-posed four-figure vignette of the staff team in their little bombed-out bunker is a new favorite of mine. Even with repetitive gun crew figures, each unique base makes the whole battery just varied enough at arm’s length and are certain to make an impact when the Axis next hit the table.

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Touching History at the Military History Society of Rochester

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I have logged many, many hours over the years visiting battlefields, historical homes, living heritage sites, reenactments, roadside markers and all sorts of art, history and military museums. Near the top of these experiences was a full day I spent at the Imperial War Museum a few years back while working in London for over a month. With over two million visitors a year and some 11 millions artifacts, the IWM is hard to beat for immersing yourself in the history of warfare.

This past week I had a very different, yet truly remarkable experience in my first visit to the Military History Society of Rochester. Located up a flight of stairs in a warehouse inhabited by various artist galleries and studios, the MHSR occupies roughly 2000 square feet of space packed with all manner of historical artifacts focused on telling the story of the US military through the local lens of Rochester, NY.

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A timeline of US long arms from the American War of Independence through the Korean War at the MHSR

Founded several years ago by Chuck Baylis as the American Civil War Artillery Association, the group’s mission has since grown beyond his original collection of Civil War artifacts to encompass American wars from the Revolution to the present. The first room still focuses on the Civil War including detailed displays on artillery, uniforms and the 140th New York Volunteer Regiment formed in Rochester in 1862. A timeline of American long arms from the American War of Independence through the Korean War covers an entire wall.

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A timeline of military uniforms from the American War of Independence through the present at the MHSR

In the rear space of the museum, the focus swings to 20th-century with displays on World War I, World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam and present day wars. Uniforms, guns, swords, equipment hang from the walls, rest on shelves and lay slung over mannequins. Scale model airplanes hang from the ceiling, model vehicles rest on the floors and cases and a D-Day diorama sits nearby. Throughout the museum are some 2000 books as well as countless other letters, maps, photos, schematics, deck plans, prints, posters and other ephemera for perusal or research.

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 A US .50 caliber machine gun at the MHSR

Baylis has been joined by a number of passionate volunteers who can be found at the museum during its operating hours on Thursdays, Fridays and some Saturdays. Civil War reenactor, historian and wargamer Mike Vasile (co-author of the excellent Arena Games: Gladiatorial Combat rules) is responsible for many of the scale dioramas throughout the museum. Scale ship modeller Timothy Igoe of Historia Militaris Shipways has contributed several naval models to the collection and is currently undertaking a build of the USS Rochester (CA-2) for the museum. Retired Social Studies teacher Orton Begner rounds out the group with a deep knowledge of every object on hand.

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A US M1919 Browning machine gun at the MHSR

The one-to-one interaction with the MHSR’s members and the collection is what sets the museum apart from any other I’ve every visited. Everything has been well labeled, organized and put on display but hardly anything in the museum sits behind glass. Care to hold the various types of artillery rounds used in the Civil War? Want to feel the heft of a WWII era Thompson submachine gun or M-1 rifle? Would you like to take a look inside a pack carried by an American GI on D-Day? Want to lie down with a German MG-42? Ever wanted to hold a Japanese officer’s sword or 1913 “Patton Saber”? Just about everything in the museum, with the proper care, respect and assistance from one of the staff, can be touched, offering an incredibly rare opportunity to physically connect with past.

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 A German MG-42 and StG 44 at the MHSR

The mission to bring history alive beyond the walls of the museum also occurs with the exhibits members of the group bring to school groups and veteran events in the Rochester area. With its focus on celebrating the men and women of Western New York’s service in every branch of the military past and present, the museum is serving a unique and human mission of connecting today’s generations to a long tradition military service.

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My son gets some hands-on time with a Thompson submachine gun at the MHSR

In all my years of interest in history and military heritage, I have yet to find a museum as alive as the experience found at the Military History Society of Rochester. As a wargamer, the opportunity to see and handle so many objects up close is unparalleled. My time spent at the museum on my first visit was brief, but meeting the guys and seeing the collection at the museum will definitely bring me back my next time in Rochester.

Interview with Chuck Baylis of the MHSR

The Military History Society of Rochester is located in the Anderson Arts Building at 250 North Goodman Street on the second floor. Admission is free.

Flames of War: Fielding the FOW British Rifle Company, Machine Gun Platoon and 6-Pdr Anti-Tank Platoon

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At long last, my months-long build of my British forces for Flames of War was wrapped up this week (at least for now). Starting with the Guards Armoured Division this past summer, my British collection now contains a fair amount of armor, artillery, transport and now, infantry platoons. With most of my WWII gaming focused on the late war period from D-Day onward in Western Europe, having a solid British base to supplement my Americans provides me with a lot of playability for my Allies in any number of scenarios and campaigns.

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With nearly 3.8 million soldiers serving for the British army in WWII, the “PBI” (Poor Bloody Infantry”) led the war for the Allies from its earliest days right up until the bitter end in Western Europe and the Pacific. The FOW British Rifle Company box provides gamers the basic backbone for fielding a core group of British infantry. The FOW rifle company comes armed with the standard kit of WWII British infantry, including the Bren light machine gun, Sten submachine gun, 2-inch mortar and PIAT anti-tank weapon. The set also includes a few snipers and a hero figure of Stanley Hollis, whose heroic actions on D-Day earned him the only Victoria Cross awarded on that historic day.

For inspiration during my hours of painting, I looked to a lot of photos of Commonwealth forces from the period and have included some below.

britinfBritish infantry with their Bren light machine gun

BritStenBritish soldiers loading Sten submachine gun magazines

Brit2inchBritish 2-inch mortar crew

BritPiatA British soldier with his PIAT

I keep my painting simple with a brownish-drab uniform, brown boots and a bit of green lightly brushed on the helmet netting. The FOW models offer a nice variety of weapons and poses, plus little details like trench shovels tucked on the backs of many of the figures. I’m usually pretty spare with my basing of basic green flock over a light brown base. That said, I’ve recently discovered easy-to-apply grass tufts from Walthers, a model railroading hobby supplier, and so I added a bunch of those to really make the bases come a bit more alive.

I’ve included a few photos below of my completed British three-platoon infantry company:

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To supplement the standard infantry company and its weapons, I added in the FOW Machine Gun Platoon with the Vickers machine gun. With wide use by the British from WWI to the late 1960s, the hearty Vickers machine gun lays down a hail of fire in support of the swift advancing actions of their infantry countrymen.

britvickersBritish infantry dug in with their Vickers machine gun

IMG_2987Completed British machine gun platoon

Aside from man-packed weapons, many infantry units were accompanied by heavier weapons for when faced by enemy armor. The Ordnance Quick-Firing 6-pounder or 6-pdr was the go-to British anti-tank gun throughout the battlefields of WWII. Hand-hauled short distances or commonly pulled along with the ubiquitous Universal Carrier, the 6-pdr proved most effective in stopping German tanks in the early desert war of Africa. Thicker armor on Panther and Tiger tanks eventually stymied the use of the 6-pdr in frontal face-offs with German crews, but later development of heftier armor-piercing shot by 1944 brought their effectiveness back into play in the last campaigns of the war in Normandy and beyond.

brit6pdrBritish crew with their 6-pdr anti-tank gun in Europe

Again, I needed some of these guys in the mix, so the FOW 6-pdr Platoon was another must-have in my force. I love this little set, especially the officer with his foot planted boldly on a gun’s wheel as he gestures to a distant target. Along with my existing British armor and Royal Artillery Battery, having some anti-tank guns in my force will hopefully provide enough firepower against my heavily-armored German opponents.

IMG_2984Completed 6-pdr anti-tank platoon

Any time I complete a big build, I’m inevitably left with the question of “what next?” First of all, most of my British will begin hitting the game table this coming weekend at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY in a scenario at Aalst from September 18th, 1944 during Operation Market Garden. I’ll be posting an after-action report for the game early next week, and I’m certain I’ll have plenty more to write up on my fresh British boys in the months to come.