If you’ve been a miniatures hobbyist over the past twenty years, chances are you may have had dealing with the The WarStore. What you may or may not have heard was the passing of the owner, Neal Catapano, this past week.
Housed on the property of Catapano Farms, on the North Fork of Long Island in Southold, NY, the online store had a two-decade history of serving customers near and far before closing suddenly in 2019. Founded in 1999 and just a few years behind online retail giants like eBay and Amazon, Neal’s online store was a bit ahead of its time in the gaming community. The modest online store held a broad inventory of modeling paint, brushes and supplies as well rule books, player aids and miniatures and terrain covering multiple eras, scales and interest from fantasy to sci-fi to historical. Neal was always my first stop before I had a look elsewhere.
Living in nearby Brooklyn and less than a three hour drive away, I regret I never made the pilgrimage to Southold but I was always grateful I received speedy responses to my inquiries and quick delivery of my orders. People notoriously groused online (as people do) about poor customer service, but this was never my experience in my dozens of orders over the years. To the contrary, I found Neal and the staff to be incredibly responsive to inquiries, order updates and special orders — an unfortunate rarity in today’s lowered expectations of impersonal customer service in an ecommerce world. With every online order, my heart always soared with the very personal email verfication:
“Hi! This is Neal at TheWarstore.com. Thank you Very Much for placing your order with us! This email is to confirm that we have received your order, an actual human being has reviewed it here at the store, and we will ship as soon as all of your ordered items can be readied.”
With the decline of local NYC hobby stores, Neal’s WarStore split the difference with a small, independently owned shop feel and the convenience of a 24/7 website. I looked forward to his quirky sale announcements, pre-release specials and holiday shopping messages. The online store wasn’t always the easiest to navigate, although it had improved by leaps and bounds over the past few years. Neal’s title of “Grand Pooh Bah” and his personal email of email@example.com in all communication contributed to the small store experience increasingly absent from the modern world. Although a brick and mortar store had been an extension of The Warstore at one point in its history, it was through the unique online presence that Neal’s legacy was made.
When Neal announced an abrupt shuttering of the business in the middle of last year and a hurried final sale, I felt in the pit of my stomach there was most likely something deeper behind the decision. This past week’s news of his passing confirmed that feeling and charted the true passing of an era.
Rest in peace Neal and The WarStore where their motto spoke volumes to thousands of loyal customers: “We Bring the War to Your Door, For Less!”
For my 28mm WWII Bolt Action gaming, I exclusively use metal miniatures and I don’t duplicate poses. What this means is that I’m working my way through all the models available from a few manufacturers. For my latest additions to my US 101st Airborne force, I picked up the US Paratrooper Squad box and the US Airborne HQ package, both from Warlord Games.
Warlord Games Bolt Action US paratrooper squad and HQ figures
You really can’t beat metal casting for detail and personality, and these models are no different. The HQ set has a nifty medic model on the run and an officer firing his pistol while cradling his Thompson submachine gun in the other arm. A third figure is dropping his binoculars to the side and shouting over his shoulder while another model holds a SMG and barks orders into his radio handset nestled under his chin. The paratrooper squad box gives a good mix of men armed with rifles, a NCO and two others carrying SMGs, and a two-man light machine gun team.
As always, my painting is straightforward — I want the models to look historical yet unique to my style, and I want to put them to use on the table quickly.
Painting 28mm US Airborne
Clean flash from metal models with a sharp knife and glue to metal washer or plastic bases.
Apply filler putty to bases. When dry, scrape off excess with a sharp knife.
Base coat models and bases with flat black spray primer.
Paint uniforms and bandages on helmets with Tallarn Sand.
Paint helmets and knee and elbow patches with Waaagh! Flesh.
Paint faces and hands with Tallarn Flesh.
Paint webbing and packs with Baneblade Brown.
Paint bases, boots, gun stocks and helmet straps with Dark Brown.
Apply Agrax Earthshade wash to uniforms, helmet netting, webbing and packs.
Mix 50/50 Baneblade Brown and Off White and lightly dry brush packs, webbing and socks.
Lightly dry brush bases, gun stocks, helmet netting, holsters and elbow and shoulder patches with Baneblade Brown.
Paint metal gun parts with black and finish with a light dry brush of metallic silver.
Paint eyes with small dots of Off White and Dark Brown. Clean up around eyes with Tallarn Flesh.
Mix 50/50 Tallarn Flesh and Off White and brush highlights on cheekbones, chins, forehead, nose and hands.
Apply Company B decals to shoulders and helmets, followed by a coat of Solvaset decal fixative from Walthers.
Cover bases in white glue and cover in 50/50 mix of fine light green and dark green grass flock.
Glue small pieces of clump foliage to base.
Spray coat completed models with matte finish
First some finished pictures of the command models:
One of the most common, flexible and deadly weapons used by German forces in World War II was the 8.8cm FlaK 36 gun. Building on earlier models from the late 1920s and early 1930s, the piece could be used for both anti-aircraft and direct anti-tank fire. Known commonly as an “Eighty-Eight,” this iconic artillery was encountered on battlefields from Africa to the Eastern Front to the coast of Normandy in both fixed defensive positions or in support of mobile ground forces.
I’ve been away from modelling any Flames of War miniatures for a while, but I’m planning on running a couple historic beginner games at the HMGS Fall In! convention in Lancaster, PA in early November. One of the scenarios, Sint-Oedenrode, requires some 88s, and I’ve long relied on loaners from other members at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY. I figured it was high time I add these weapons to my 15mm collection, so I ordered the set from my go-to supplier The Warstore and the box arrived in just over a day.
The models, including two metal 88s, a resin Sd. Kfz. 15 command car, two resin Sd. Kfz. 7 half-track tractors and a ton of crew and bits, glued up quickly on the marvelous cast scenic bases I’ve come to expect from FOW designers. My German painting goes pretty quickly with a black spray primer coat followed by some dark grey brushed on as base for uniforms, vehicles and guns.
Log emplacements, ammo boxes and equipment get painted up in coats of varying browns and greys. The gun and vehicle grey basecoat are washed in a dark brown and then followed up with some highlights in dry-brushed silver, light grey and brown muds. The huge shells scattered on the ground and fresh rounds in the arms of the crew are done in metallics, and the vehicles are detailed with decals. The final touches are done with static grass applied with white glue around the bases and a few sprays of matte finish to protect the models and dull down any remaining shine.
In all, the entire platoon took me a couple hours. As with most FOW models, there’s a lot of personality, poses and details in this kit. I love the commander’s stance with binoculars aimed at the horizon and his junior officer reaching for his bag. The main gun bases and the extended separate bases of extra crew make each piece a little diorama of its own. By carefully applying grass to certain areas, I was able to blur the line between the bases, making them appear as one big piece with a quick look. Of course, along with the detail in the models does come some cost, but the usability of these models in so many FOW games makes adding the 8.8cm FlaK 36 platoon a fantastic long-term investment.
On the ground, African-Americans in WWII were most often relegated to support roles early in the war as truck drivers, stevedores and cooks. By late in the war with reserves of Allied soldiers dwindling throughout the European campaigns, black soldiers were pressed into service at the front lines of the Battle of the Bulge and the Italian Campaign. It was in the actions in Italy where the famed 92nd Infantry Buffalo Soldiers added another chapter to their service history.
Shoulder insignia of the 92nd Infantry Division ‘Buffalo Soldiers’
The Buffalo Soldiers in the Italian Campaign
The name “Buffalo Soldiers” dates back to the frontier Indian Wars of the 19th-century when post-Civil War free blacks volunteered for service in various US army capacities in the West. Later, these units continued serving in various capacities through the Spanish-American War and into WWI. Reactivated in 1942, the Buffalo Soldiers of the 92nd Infantry Division finally made their way to the war via Italy in the fall of 1944.
Video of the 92nd Infantry arriving in Italy in October 1944
As part of the US 5th Army, the 12,000 men of the 92nd Infantry made up part of the multinational Allied coalition of US, Brazilian, British and UK Commonwealth forces which sought to break the Gothic Line. Cutting across Italy, the Axis hoped to hold off any further Allied progress north to meet with other Allied forces pressing through Europe from Normandy inland toward Berlin.
A 92nd Infantry Division mortar crew firing near Massa, Italy
Led by senior white officers in otherwise segregated units, the 92nd Infantry made up a key element of the left flank of the Allied push up through the Italian peninsula. Crossing the Arno River and proceeding north, the 92nd made its way up the Mediterranean coast through Lucca, Massa and on to La Spezia and Genoa by the time of Axis surrender in May 1945.
The legacy of the contributions of the 92nd Infantry Division’s effectiveness in Italy has been much-debated. A paper from the 1950s does what I read to be a good job in explaining the challenges the Buffalo Soldiers faced — delays in reinforcements, shortages in re-supply and a lack of training for the kind of terrain encountered in Italy. I believe much of this can be chalked-up to the ingrained organizational racism against the segregated units. Post-war, the members of the Buffalo Soldiers also returned to a United States still entrenched in racial discrimination. It was not until the late 1990s that two members of the 92nd were recognized with Medal of Honor commendations, some fifty years after the war’s end.
Spike Lee’s Miracle At St. Anna
As a wargamer and film fan, I often turn to the movies to cross-pollinate my interest in a period. Spike Lee’s Miracle At St. Anna from 2008 tells the story of four soldiers from the 92nd Infantry who hide out in a small Tuscan village and bond with its residents amid the oppression and danger of German occupiers. Lee’s movies often run hot and cold, and Miracle at St. Anna met with mixed reviews, poor box office results and a fair amount of criticism over the lack of historical accuracy. All that said, the Italian locations and strong individual performances makes the movie worth a view for a rare glimpse of African-American soldiers in WWII cinema.
Modelling the 92nd Infantry Division for Flames of War
In late February 2014, the revised Flames of WarRoad To Rome and Fortress Italy compilation was released as an updated and expanded guide to the Italy campaign of 1944 and 1945. The Fortress Italy book covers the German and Italian defenders, and Road To Rome outlines the Allied US, British, Polish, French and lesser-known UK Commonwealth forces from Canada, New Zealand, India and South Africa. A third book, Italy Battles, provides special mission rules, battle scenarios and campaign notes for Anzio (aka “Operation Shingle”) and Monte Cassino.
Having dedicated years of my FOW modelling and gaming to Western Europe, these books provided a great opportunity for myself and other members of Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY to dive into a club-wide Italian project. I’ve also been wanting to put together a unique company for my FOW collection, and I was pleased to find the 92nd Infantry Regiment outlined in the Road To Rome book. With all our focus on the Italy theater, we’ve decided to dive headlong into a multi-month FOW Infantry Aces campaign, and there will be more to come with updates on our new Infantry Aces blog.
For my 92nd Infantry I decided to snap up the two sets from the Plastic Soldier Company – Late War US Infantry 1944-45 and US Infantry Heavy Weapons. At about $26 a box from my favorite online dealer The Warstore, the PSC kits are a huge value in fielding an entire infantry company along with bazooka, machine gun and mortar supporting weapons. Assembly involves lots of small parts and bases must be purchased separately, but getting a whole company on the table for a fraction of the costs of FOW models can’t be beaten.
Pvt. Fred “Radio” Rogers and Lt. Daniel McFeeley
To fill out my force, I picked of the FOW Infantry Aces set for about $12. The pack gives you nine stands of character models to create special Infantry Ace command stands for use in the Infantry Aces campaign. The blister pack includes general US, British and German models with special Fallschirmjäger, Japanese-American Nisei, Kiwi and turbaned Indian characters. I shared the models with my fellow players at our club, and modelling these guys really adds some nice personality to the game. For my Command Ace stand, I’ve modeled the fictional Pvt. Fred “Radio” Rogers and Lt. Daniel McFeeley leading the way for my company.
One of my three rifle platoons for the 92nd Infantry Division
In the FOW Italy campaign, the 92nd Infantry Division is rated as Confident-Trained making my force cheap and numerous. To start, I’ve constructed three rifle platoons with two rifle squads each plus a platoon command and bazooka in support. Along with my rifles and McFeeley and Rogers leading the way, I’m also bringing a weapons platoon in support. The platoon packs a punch with three 60mm mortars and four M1919 machine gun crews.
My Buffalo Soldiers mortar and machine gun weapons platoon
For all my models, I glued the PSC soldiers and equipment onto FOW bases and then hit them with an army green spray coat base. Boots, equipment, rifle stocks and flesh got a dark brown. Pants were done in a tan paint and leggings got a brownish off-white color. Guns were finished off in a metal coat. Basing involved a layer of fine gravel and larger rocks coated in a brown wash and then dry-brushed in a grey-white. Finally, tufts of brown-green grass completed the Mediterranean look of the models.
The beginnings of my platoon will be hitting the tabletop shores of Italy this coming weekend in their first round of our club’s Infantry Aces campaign. In the coming weeks I’ll be adding additional infantry weapons support with additional mortars, machine guns and more infantry. Even before these guys see their first action, I’m pretty thrilled to have put in the time to create some pretty unique models that I haven’t found modeled anywhere else at this scale. As in WWII years ago, I think the 92nd Infantry Buffalo Soldiers have been too often forgotten by mainstream history and many gamers alike. With my soldiers hitting the field again, I hope to bring a bit more glory back to these men who not only contributed to the fight against Axis fascism but also stood bravely against the tide of so much history against them.