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Cruising the Desert Part I - Operation Compass***FINISHED***


PeterB
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I would like to say that my interest in tanks came from my late father and in a way it did as I knew he had something to do with them during WWII, but like many ex-servicemen he did not talk about it except to comment that he had “serviced them” when I showed him my Airfix Lee/Grant kit, and I did know he passed his driving test in India whilst driving either a Loyd or Universal carrier used as a battery charger for the tanks he worked on. In fact it was not until after he died that we managed to get hold of his service record and incidentally the 3 campaign medals he had not bothered to claim. It turned out he joined the mechanised 7th battalion of KOYLI and was shipped out to India in late 1941 in the same convoy that HMS Repulse escorted on her way to Singapore to meet her fate when Japan launched their attack. On arrival his unit became 149 Regiment RAC and I subsequently accessed their records from the Tank Museum. It seems they spent a couple of years in India where he managed to contract Malaria and ended up in the big hospital at Deolali which was immortalised in British Indian Army slang by the term “Doolally Tap” meaning mad as it used to house soldiers with mental problems! Then the Japanese attacked from Burma resulting in the horrific fighting at Imphal and Kohima – it seems his lot were amongst the relief forces who cleared the Japanese out and chased them back to Rangoon so I can quite see why he did not want to talk about it.

 

Anyway, as I mentioned elsewhere I started building AFV's etc when Airfix issued their Sherman tank back in the early 1960's I think, and although I did build a few 1/35th scale ones I have concentrated on 1/76 with the odd 1/72 thrown in when nothing else was available – usually for post war tanks such as the Russian T-62 and T-54. Between Airfix, Fujimi, Hasgawa, Esci and Revell I have built up quite a collection but there were a few irritating gaps, such as the early British Cruisers for example. However about 10 years ago I belatedly came across the Milicast range of Resin 1/76 models which includes just about everything I ever wanted. I will start with the early Cruisers, and having built a batch in the colours and markings of the BEF, I will now start this GB with a repeat batch as in the Western Desert early in the war, which should be fun as I intend to use the complicated Caunter camo scheme, of which more later. These are the 3 tanks in question.

This is the A9 Crusier Mk I

A9

This the A10 Cruiser MkII - I believe this is the Close Support version on the left, with an A12 Infantry Tank Mk II aka Matilda II on the right.

A10

And this is the A13 which was initially the Cruiser Mk III but this is a later version of which more anon.

A13

These pics were taken I think  back in around 1987 at the RAC Tank Museum, That was when most of the exhibits were literally crammed into the old building making it difficult to take pics - since then they were able to expand the site with the help of sponsorship from British Steel, Tamiya, and the National Lottery. Last time I visited they had brought in a lot of their collection which had been in storage, and of course they has aquired quite a few other exhibts, so parts of the Museum are still tightly packed and hard to photograph. In the early days their colour schemes were a bit suspect in some cases and as the then Curator told me they used the nearest paint that came to hand - often Deep Bronze Green that was perhaps only correct between the wars - they have repainted many of them at least once since.

 

In this GB I hope to build perhaps 12 tanks/tank destroyers and as mentioned in the chat previously the building should not take long, though the painting etc is another matter. I thought it would be a good idea to build them in groups of three simultaneously, accompanied by a bit of background on them, However, the GB on this section of BM tend to be mostly planes with the odd vehicle and ship thrown in, I suspect some of my potential "viewers" may have only limited knowledge of tanks and might find a bit of general development history interesting - if it becomes boring please tell me. 

 

These are short run mouldings and have some quite incredible detail such as masses of large rivets on the A9 -

 

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Milicast say 1200 but I am not going to count them – there are certainly an awful lot, so whoever made the master for them must have had almost infinite patience. They have two different ranges, the more detailed and expensive “Premier Series” which come with lots of often small and fragile parts to add yourself, and the more basic and cheaper “Battlefield Series” which have most of the parts already moulded on, probably making them a bit less accurate but a heck of a lot easier to build. Most of the ones I will hopefully build in this GB will be from the latter series, but there are one or two from the Premier Series as well. They are all resin, but I will be adding in most cases brass or Aluminium AM gun barrels, piano wire aerials, and in some cases injected plastic tubing to make smoke mortars and bits of spue for headlights and searchlights as above - I trust that is within the rules?

 

For the record it is highly unlikely that Dad ever had to work on any of these 3 tanks in India but may well have come across then during his training with REME as a tank fitter.whilst still home based.

 

Cheers

 

Pete

Edited by PeterB
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This is going to be good. Love the background explanation; the driving test anecdote reminds me of my dad admitting that he never took a driving test but the RAF figured that as he'd never crashed a truck on the airfield he could have a licence when he was demobbed.

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By the sound of it Dad had to drive around for about 5 minutes avoiding trucks but exactly how relevant is driving a tracked carrier to driving a car I wonder!

 

Pete

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2 minutes ago, PeterB said:

By the sound of it Dad had to drive around for about 5 minutes avoiding trucks but exactly how relevant is driving a tracked carrier to driving a car I wonder!

 

Pete

That would seem to match my dad's experience. He always felt that he'd got his licence under false pretences but he was a very safe driver so it must have been a better test than we realise😄

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Thanks Pat,

 

I know there is documentary footage showing the Soviet BT-7 with Christie suspension actually airborne over obstacles, but the ones I am building would have stayed firmly on the ground whenever possible! In fairness, although the vast majority of my builds in the last couple of years have been planes, I did manage to squeeze in 1 Japanese Light Cruiser, 2 tanks and a towed AA gun. As I said in the "chat" pages I do have a lot more tanks etc in my stash so this GB does give me the chance to get  some of them finished and they do have one major advantage over many of the planes - they are small enough to fit in drawers once finished!

 

I was half expecting to see your Perth here unless you have already built it?

 

Cheers

 

Pete

Edited by PeterB
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Ah yes the Perth.

I have managed to lose a bit and haven't got my finger out to replace it. I will do so and hopefully build it in the Silverwings GB instead.

You could say I'm over compensating on the Resin builds instead  !

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Well, here are what you might call the sprue shots!

DSC04775

This is the A9 and as you can see you get the hull, auxilliary machine gun turrets with guns, exhaust silencer, and a rack for Petrol, Oil or Water cans, you also get 2 turrets, the one on the left for the CS version which mounted a 3.7" mortar/howitzer and the one on the right the normal one with a OS QF 40mm 2 pdr - both barrels are provided, Unfortunately you are presumably intended to only use one turret as only 1 set of hatch covers is included but having paid for 2 I decided to cast a spare set for each of the tanks. Somewhere along the line I must have used one of the "original" sets on another build ao there are 2 sets in orange resin. Looks like I may have misplaced the 2 exhaust pipes - probably in another bag!

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This is the A10 which does not have the separate mg turrets and has a Besa mg for the hull front instead. Unlike the ones I built for my BEF group all 3 tanks have sandshields fitted and the front section is on the "sprue".

DSC04779

Finally we come to the A13. This is the later A13 Mk II Cruiser IV/IVA which had spaced armour added to the turret, and in the IVA the water cooled Vickers coaxial mg was replaced by a Besa in a modified mantlet as on the right. The one in my eariler photo is a Mk IV with the Vickers mg whilst the A10 is a Cruiser IIA with a coaxial Besa and a Besa in the hull, and it is the CS version. There were a number of variations on the design of the mantlets on the A13, including additional plating being added which this one does not have.

 

Perhaps this is a good time to explain the armament.

The 2pdr was both simple and effective, being able to penetrate the armour on any German tank up to mid 1941 at combat ranges. It was actually in a free mount, by which I mean it was like a rifle in that it had a shoulder pad that the gunner leant against and he could just move it freely up and down – no gears or wheels to turn, but it did require a well trained and experienced gunner to get the most out of it. However it was only provided with solid shot ammo for whatever reason so was no use against pillboxes etc. A Close Support (CS) version of each of the 3 tanks was built in limited quantities with a low velocity 3.7” mortar/howitzer replacing the 2pdr, but was only intended to fire smoke rounds which I find a bit odd as the later 3” howitzer fitted to Matilda II, Valentines and Churchills could fire HE, as indeed could the 95mm howitzer fitter to those tanks that normally had 6pdr AT guns.

 

Perhaps at this point it is appropriate to say I do not claim to be an expert on tanks but I do have quite a few books, and of course have spent many hours at the Tank Museum. For example, before I discovered the Milicast Cruisers I was seriously considering scratch building them, as I already had done when I converted a Matchbox Comet into the earlier Cromwell. Both the A9 and A10 were to be built using parts from Fujimi Valentine kits which had the same Vickers “Slow Motion” suspension whilst the A13 was to be built from an Airfix Crusader. With this in mind I made an appointment to visit the Museum library where I acquired detailed scale plans and had a very interesting conversation with David Fletcher who was the librarian there for many years – I have several of his books. He had some pretty forthright views about a number of so called experts! I also spent quite some time crawling around the outside of the actual tanks taking pictures and measurements which I have since mislaid! However, I would imagine others viewing this will know a lot more so please feel free to challenge/correct or add to anything I say within reason.

 

Cheers

 

Pete

 

 

Edited by PeterB
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As I mentioned earlier I did not stumble across Milicast models until about 10 years ago - around 25 years after they started up. Unless you read specialist magazines on tanks you too may not have come across them so here is a little background.

 

According to their website, Millicast was founded in 1985, having taken over some moulds for resin tanks from a company called Eric Clark Models which dated back to the 1970's. For several years their products were made in a number of parts, with for example the wheel and track assemblies being separate from the hull. I don't know whether this was due to moulding technique, whether it allowed more detail, or if it was a throwback to plastic kits of the day, each kit coming with an instruction sheet as here in the case of the A13.

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Apparently, in 2004 and at the request of their customers they introduced their simplified Battlefield range which had far less parts and was easier to build – incidentally their shop is located in a district of Glasgow called “Battlefield” so that may have influenced the choice of name! The original kits were re-named the Premiere Range and are still made though many have been switched to the other range. There is I suppose one slight disadvantage to the simplified kits as unlike the Premiere ones, the sandshields for the desert versions are often moulded as part of the body, so there are no less that 11 A13 Cruiser tanks Mk III and IV available - 5 for BEF in France and 5 duplicates for the desert, together with a late one only found in the desert. They also do 6 versions of the later A13 Cruiser Mk V “Covananter” but more on that in another build. The Milicast range is very large and although they mailnly concentrate on British, German, Russian and US tanks from WWII and other vehicles/guns, figures etc, they do also include a few French, German and Italian, together with a couple of WWI tanks and a few post war. In fact the only British tanks not currently in their range would seem to be the Vickers Valentine follow up called the A38 Valiant, the monsterous A39 tank destroyer aptly named Tortoise and the strange WWI throwback called the TOG – "The Old Gang", so called because it was the brainchild of some of the designers of the WWI tanks. As not all their moulds may currently be in use it is possible that they have in fact made some of these earlier and could even re-release them – I don't know but I expect the market would be extremely limited, but then they do include the A33 which was a proposed heavy version of the Cromwell, and the A43 “Black Prince” which was an enlarged Churchill mounting a 17pdr!

 

As all 5 of these last mentioned tanks are a bit "exotic", being only prototypes I thought I would end with some pics.

Valiant

A39 - Valentine replacement with 75mm gun.

Tortoise

Tortoise - a heavily armoured tank destroyer mounting a 94mm/3.7" 32 pdr gun - effectively a barely mobile pillbox that was too heavy to cross most bridges. The white or perhaps light grey countershading under the barrel is of note. The same was often done on the 17pdr Sherman Firefly to make them less obvious - the Germans soon learned to target them first before normal short gunned Shermans!

Exel

A33 heavy assault version of the Cromwell cruiser - this one is the second pilot model with the British so called R/L heavy track, the first one having a variant on the US M6 suspension derived from that of the Sherman M4. British 75mm gun which I believe was essentially an enlarged 57mm 6 pdr.

prince

Black Prince "Super Churchill" with 76.2mm 17 pdr. It never entered service as the Centurion was selected instead. The shorter version mounted in the Comet Cruiser was known as the "77mm".

TOG

TOG II* With a long narrow hull for trench crossing, it was originally had all round track and was going to have sponsons on the side, both like the WWI tanks. Each sponson would mount a 2pdr and a French short 75mm howitzer was mounted in the nose as in the Char B, but the TOG 1 replaced the sponsons with the turret from a Matilda II, The TOG 2 had the upper track lowered and shielded and again was to have sponsons, together with a turret mounted 6pdr but by then the Churchill was in service and the TOG 2 was just used for trials. The TOG 2* here was fitted with a mock up turret and a 17pdr similar to that which was later used on the Challenger, of which more in another build. Incidentally, whilst the Black Prince and Tortoise are in the ubiquitous Deep Bronze Green, the other 3 were in the process of being painted in a rather unusual camo scheme on the day I visited David Fletcher at the Museum Library. Perhaps unwisely I asked him why they had chosen that scheme, which I believe was what triggered his rant about "experts"!

Here is the man himself with TOG II* - looks like it was partly it was in primer when I took my pic.

 

I have always found Milicast models to be very accurate with possibly one exception, but I will be covering that in a later build hopefully.

 

In view of the discussion a week or so ago in the "chat" section, I believe I am allowed to prepare the parts before the GB starts, providing I document it - I note one modeller has already started cutting out the parts of his vac form. I may do this, but in any case my next section will be about the preparation whenever I actually start.

 

Cheers

 

Pete

 

Edited by PeterB
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My computer has been acting up for some time so this weekend I expect to be installing a replacement. I may be lucky and manage it in a day but on past form I suspect it may take longer so I thought I would post a bit of the preparation info now just in case.

 

When building these tanks, the first stage is cutting them off the large moulding blocks which on tanks are attached to the underside of the tracks. As the tracks are thin and brittle this requires some care in the use of the razor saw and I have found it best to support the model on a piece of wood held in a very old tabletop version of a Black and Decker workmate.

DSC04790

If anybody is thinking of working with resin kits for the first time please remember that the fine dust created by sawing, drilling and sanding is very dangerous if it gets into your lungs so always wear a mask and work somewhere with plenty of fresh air – I have my windows open and the extractor fan over the hob on full.

 

Anyway that is now done.

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As you can perhaps see Millicast don't usually waste any effort on the bits you can't see - the underside is a bit rough, and on one of the models they have actually moulded it "hollow" which no doubt saves a bit on resin costs.

 

Once the block is off I rub the cut surface down on a wet (keeps the dust down) sheet of wet/dry sandpaper fixed on a piece of wood, and then I very carefully remove any flash and seams – cleaning between the wheels can be a real pain at times and the slightest slip can mean disaster. Of course the way the block is attached means that there is no tread detail on the underside, but as nobody can see that I don't mind. If there is a weakness in these models it is the track, particularly where it is unsupported as on the tiny Matilda I infantry tank, and as that was a Premier kit the track and suspension had to be glued on to the body which requires very careful handling – in fact I admit that I smashed the first kit so the one I now have is a replacement. Fortunately the ones I now intend to build should be more robust, but then I am older and clumsier these days! The final stage is to de-grease them to get rid of the mould release agent which I do by leaving the parts overnight in a jar of water with a denture cleaning tablet in, which is where they are at the moment.  I will show you a pic of the cleaned up mouldings next time.

 

Cheers

 

Pete

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Hi Rich,

 

Unfortunately all my resin German tanks are now built although there is still a bit of finishing off to do - they will not be eligible for this GB, but perhaps somebody else will join in with some. As they are well covered in injection kits I only built an early Panzer II, IV and the command version of the Panzer I. Millicast do some interesting versions of the Porsche Tiger and some SP guns.

 

Pete

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Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, I have found the only way to get a food delivery booked from one of my local supermarket stores is to go on line at 1 minute past midnight 3 weeks in advance - leave it 5 minutes and all the slots are booked! Hopefully things will get easier as restrictions are eased, but in the meantime it means I am up and about at the moment the GB starts so I might as well take advantage. I have sanded down and cleaned up my early Cruiser models and de-greased them.

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You can see what I mean about the lack of detail on the undersides, and that the A13 is hollow.

 

Anyway, in between fettling my replacement computer I might manage to get a bit of work done this weekend. The construction should not take long, though as I have lost the 2 exhaust pipes from the A9  I will have to make some more, probably from metal paper clips - no doubt the originals will then turn up!

 

Here is the final bit of general background before I start describing the actual tanks I am building.

 

I think it is fair to say that the British ended WWI as the leaders in tank design and use but that lead was soon lost due to the usual underfunding after a war, together with a certain lack of interest from the Army who still seem to have been rather attached to the idea of cavalry on horseback and did not really see much use for nasty smelly tanks – Ok I am being humerous to some extent but it really does seem to have been part of the problem! The experimental multi turreted A1E1 tank of the early 1920's was proved to be a bit of a dead end by the Russians later with their T-28 and T-35, though the Germans also went through that phase with their 6 Grosstraktor prototypes, perhaps inspired by plans of the A1E1 provided by the spy Norman Baillie-Stewart. It was big, heavy, expensive and needed a crew of 8 and only the one was built.

20180321191534-08

 

In reality the main tank used by the Brits between the wars was the much cheaper Vickers Medium Mk I and later Mk II, which I believe was actually the A2 though I am not sure – the numbering system gets a bit confused early on.

20180321191534-03

 

This had a crew of 5 due to there still being extra mg sticking out of the side sponsons which you can't see in the pic, and it was supported by a host of Vickers Carden Loyd light tanks, probably designated A4 originally though it is hardly ever referred to as such. And so the British Army bumbled along secure in the knowledge that there was unlikely to be a war in the near future requiring tanks, as indeed did the Americans, but when it became apparent in the mid 1930's that there might just be a war a number of relatively mediocre designs were produced due to the ever present reluctance to actually spend money. The worst of these was probably the A11 Infantry Tank Mk I aka Matilda I, apparently it got the nickname from a cartoon duck.

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Crew of 2, one Vickers 0.303 or 0.50 water cooled mg in the turret and with a 70HP engine it was slow. Built to the cheapest price possible with no protection for the running gear 140 were built, most of which were left behind in France after Dunkirk. The one thing in its favour was that the armour was very thick and only the German 88mm could penetrate it. On the turret you can see the so called Chinese Eye which some sources attribute to the influence of the Chinese labourers employed by the Army for cleaning etc - supposedly it comes from a "pidgin Chinese saying" -'No have eye, how can see'!

 

More another time.

 

Cheers

 

Pete

Edited by PeterB
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Reading through your posts isee you use a denture cleaning tablet for degreaseing. This sounds interesting as I've been using dishwashing liquid (Ecover) which is ok but takes a bit of effort with a tooth brush with risk to small brittle parts. I like the idea of just leaving to soak. Do you need a particular brand or will any do

Cheers Alistair

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Hi Alistair,

 

It works fo me and I do not even bother priming usually as my old White Ensign Colourcoats paints seem to cover pretty well. I started with Steradent? but now use the cheapest generic brand I can find, usually only 1/2 a tablet in a small jar. I think I may have read about it somewhere, probably in a magazine or on the Milicast website. Just leave it overnight (like dentures) then give it a good rinse under the tap - preferably in a sieve to avoid any loose pieces going down the plughole - I leave the plug in anyway as a precaution. I suppose a few drops of household bleach would do the same thing but I am not sure how the resin would react - at least I know that the tablets do not damage the plastic or whatever old fashioned dentures are made of.

 

Cheers

 

Pete

Edited by PeterB
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OK, I am ready to start building which should not take long.

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The new ones are at the top but I have included in the pic the two other types that were also active in Operation Compass just for completeness as I will be finishing them off in parallel. In the foreground is a Vickers Light Tank, in this case the JB Models Mk VIC. I have tweaked the original kit by adding a radio aerial and the partial sandshields fitted in the desert, after stripping off my original inaccurate paintwork. Next up is one of my Fujimi Matildas. This is actually a Mk IIA* to be precise and has a number of differences from the A12 Matilda I Milicast model I built for my BEF Grouping - the water cooled Vickers coax Mg being replaced by a Besa and the  twin AEC diesel bus engines being replaced by 2 Leyland diesels, as a result of which there is now an exaust pipe on either side at the rear, whereas the Matilda AEC engined Matilda I and Matilda II had just the one. I should perhaps explain that both the A11 and A12 tanks shared the nickname Matilda, with the latter being sometimes called the Matilda Senior or Matilda II but as all the A11's were either lost in France or out of service by this time the A12 was subsequently  just known as the A12 Infantry Tank Mk II Matilda followed by a Mark number - I. II. II*, III etc. I have stripped this one back and done a bit of detailing such as Aber 2 pdr and besa barrels, radio mast and mount, headlights and the vertical plate on the rear right track guard used for registration or other markings. When I stopped my build/refurb 2 years ago, I had actually made a start on the Caunter camo scheme but more on that later.

 

So, on with the story.

In 1934 Sir John Carden at Vickers responded to General Staff requirement for a replacement for the Medium Mk II which would have the features of the 1926 Medium Mk III aka the “16 tonner”which never entered production. It was to be be lighter so it could be powered by an off the shelf commercial engine and of course cheaper as ever! The end product was a tank with armour of between 16mm and 4mm, powered by an AEC 9.64 litre bus engine giving it a maximum road speed of 25mph. It was armed with an Ordnance QF 40mm 2 pdr anti tank gun and a coaxial water cooled Vickers .303 mg in a turret derived from the A7 together with two turret mounted mg at the bow, resulting in a crew of 6. It introduced  what I thought was the so called Vickers slow motion suspension that was also on the later A10 and the Valentine but actually in one of his "Tank Chats" David Fletcher says it was called the "Happy Chance" suspension as Carden apparently came across it by trial and error it seems.  Frankly the tank was a compromise - although reclassified as a “Cruiser” implying speed, it was not really fast enough, the armour was rather thin, and the 2 turret mg were next to useless, the crew members being very restricted in space and vision and having very poor ventilation. The War Office then asked Carden to design a more heavily armoured version to provide support for the infantry apparently though still classing it as a Cruiser, and he produced the modified A10 Cruiser Mk II. This was essentially the same tank with the mg turrets replaced by a 7.92mm Besa hull mg and some of the frontal armour increased to 30mm, but the extra weight reduced the speed to only 16 mph. In the Mk IIA version the water cooled Vickers co-axial mg was also replaced by a Besa.

 

Next came the A13 which was produced in quite a few versions Between the wars the rather eccentric American engineer J. Walter Christie developed a new suspension system involving large diameter road wheels without return rollers supported by a fairly bulky spring suspension system which allowed far greater road speeds and a much easier ride cross country. As track wear was to be a serious problem for many years, his initial versions offered the option of removing the tracks and running on the wheels when on a metalled road, steering by means of the front moveable wheels, but the US were even less interested in tank design than the Brits and also suffered from disputes over who actually would control tanks – congress coming down in favour of the Cavalry. Christie only managed to sell a handful of “Cavalry combat cars” in the US and then had a falling out with the authorities, but the Russians, by somewhat devious means, acquired a couple of Christie chassis and used them to develop their BT series of fast tanks, which later led to the T-34. The Brits noted this and acquired 2 Christie chassis shipped as “tractors”and a licence to use the suspension, and the relatively high powered lightweight Liberty engine.

 

The Brits did not think much of the tank itself and so Morris Commercial Cars Ltd designed a totally new body around the suspension, forgot about the trackless running option and fitted a Nuffield built Liberty engine. The A-13 Cruiser Mk III was the result with initially 1 x 2pdr and a coaxial Vickers, 14mm to 6mm armour and a road speed of 30mph, later morphing into the A13 Mk II Cruiser Mk IV and Mk IVA and the A13 Mk III Cruiser Mk V Covenanter. In terms of the A13 Mks I and II the main differences are between Vickers and Besa mg, different gun mantlets and in the case of the latter spaced armour added to the old A9/A10 type turret, but I will clarify that during the actual build.

 

Next time I will actuallly start building the ruddy things! Sorry if I am ranting on a bit but as the builds are extremely simple I thought I would pad it out a little for those unfarmiliar with the subject😁. The other build threads will be a lot less verbose - and yes I have said that before in other builds but at least I won't be repeating the history, just giving brief details of the tanks I am building.

 

Cheers

 

Pete

 

Edited by PeterB
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Well, I did say it would not take too long - the hulls of both the A9 and A10 are done, and that of the A13 needs nothing adding AFAIK. The turrets will take a bit longer I suspect.

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Above is the A9. Note the two sub turrets with their water cooled Vickers mg - the cooling sleeves around the barrels have a "saddle" of armour over the top but the bottom is exposed - clearly they were worried that if the casing was penetrated then the water would run out and the gun would overheat. The same applied to the coaxial mg in the turret. I had to manufacture replacement exhaust pipes to and from the silencer, one in plastic rod and one from a paperclip. I also added the front turrets, mg and the drivers front hatch. Incidentally after looking at the pics I noticed quite a bit of flash between the wheels that I had missed so I have dealt with that.

 

And this is the A10.

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It just needed the exhaust pipes and silencer adding together with the hull Besa, though I have not as yet decided whether to add the optional long range external fuel tank on the left front track guard, and both come with optional POW (Petrol, Oil and Water) racks containg the old fasioned British "flimisies" - thin square tin cans that had a reputation for leaking which is why the Brits replaced them with a copy of the much better German version, aka Jerrycans. At least you could fill a flimsy with sand, pour on a bit of petrol, light it and brew up your tea! One curious thing you might have noticed is that in the desert these early Cruisers were fitted with partial sandshields on the trackguards, but only on the left hand side for some reason - later tanks had them on both sides!.

 

As you can see the hulls are essentially the same except for the front where the A10 replaces the two small turrets and the narrow projecting driver's "cab" with a straight plate with a vision port and two hatches on top, and perhaps as a consequence the front end is actually about 8" shorter. The original A10 Cruiser II had a Besa mg mounted in the front plate, protected by an armoured sleeve so that only the last few inches of the barrel projects, but still had a water cooled Vickers in the turret, but this will be the Cruiser IIa which replaced the turret Vickers with another Besa. The Besa was, like the Bren, a copy of a Czech mg, but unlike the Bren was left at 7.62mm rather than being re-jigged for 0.303 ammo and was produced by the Birmingham Small Arms company rather than the Enfield Armoury. 

 

Milicast say that one advantage of their short run (20-30 per mould usually) is that they can get more detail than in an injection moulded plastic kit. Whilst modern plastic moulding techniques have no doubt improved you can I hope see what they mean - rivets, mesh effect on the silencer, sometimes lifting lugs on thop of the turrets wher the mould was fresh and I have not broken them off, and those nicely detailed air intake louvres on the side. I am not a great fan of moulded on tools, but these are not bad - they have even managed to get an undercut on the spade in the above pic which I guess is only now available with slide moulding in plastic kits?

 

So, the tanks I am building in this thread are the ones that took part in Operation Compass, which tends to be a somewhat forgotten battle as it pre-dates Rommel.

The Western Desert theatre was, together with Singapore and India, the poor relation of the British Army and Air Force at the start of WWII. However, as time went by forces in Egypt were built up consisting of mostly light tanks and armoured cars, but including a small number of the early Cruiser tanks in 4th and 7th Armoured Brigade, 1, 2 and 6 Royal Tank Regiment, together with some Matilda II Infantry tanks of 7th RTR. Opposing them in Libya were far more numerous Italian forces holding a number of defensive positions. This is not the place to give a full history of the campaign but suffice it to say that General Wavell decided to carry out a “5 day raid” into Italian territory which Churchill complained was far too conservative.

 

In the end Operation Compass which started on December 9th 1940 smashed through the Italian defences with far more ease than anticipated, and lead by Lt-General Richard O'Connor they continued on to February 7th 1941, pushing as far west as Tobruk and capturing 110.000 Italian troops including 22 Generals, an Admiral and the official Italian Army brothel, together with 180 Medium Tanks, 200 Light Tanks, innumerable soft skin transport vehicles and 845 artillery guns at the cost of 500 dead, 1373 wounded and 55 missing (source Osprey Campaigns 073). By that time the tanks were worn out and so were the troops and Churchill's demands on Wavell to reinforce Greece had left him undermanned – under different circumstances he might have managed to advance as far as Tripoli which would have been very interesting. As it was General Erwin Rommel arrived there on February 12th closely followed by the first elements of his Afrika Korps and the chance was missed. This campaign is often overlooked and the exploits of the slow but heavily armoured Matildas tend to dominate most accounts as the Italian guns could not penetrate their armour and the demoralised infantry either bailed out or surrendered. The Italians tend to get a bad press which may or may not be deserved, but their artillery troops were brave enough. However, after watching all their shells just bouncing off the cast armour of the Matildas even they lost heart. The three Cruiser tanks I am starting to build will be marked and painted as they would have been in this campaign, but more on that later.

 

Cheers

 

Pete

Edited by PeterB
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18 hours ago, PeterB said:

Hi Alistair,

 

It works fo me and I do not even bother priming usually as my old White Ensign Colourcoats paints seem to cover pretty well. I started with Steradent? but now use the cheapest generic brand I can find, usually only 1/2 a tablet in a small jar. I think I may have read about it somewhere, probably in a magazine or on the Milicast website. Just leave it overnight (like dentures) then give it a good rinse under the tap - preferably in a sieve to avoid any loose pieces going down the plughole - I leave the plug in anyway as a precaution. I suppose a few drops of household bleach would do the same thing but I am not sure how the resin would react - at least I know that the tablets do not damage the plastic or whatever old fashioned dentures are made of.

 

Cheers

 

Pete

Thanks pete

I will borrow one from my Father in law to use on my Arba resin . Lucky i have all my own teeth :) Going to get cleaning tonight .

Cheers Alistair

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The turrets are now done as far as they can be for the moment.

DSC04817-crop

Originally all 3 tanks had exactly the same basic turret with two openings in the top. The right hand one for the gunner was rectangular and was split laterally with two small outwards opening covers. The left hand commander's hatch was circular, but on the A9 and A10 it was surrounded by a raised square coaming on top of which sat a curiously shaped cover which resembled a flattened pyramid. It was split laterally with the front section being larger as it incorporated a viewing device. I guess the shape was intended to give the commander a bit more headroom so he could see further. On the A13 the circular hatch opening was extended upwards and the cover was split into two semi circular doors but it did not swivel like the later cupolas. As you will see I have used my home made resin hatch covers on the A10 as I must have used all the originals on my previous one's spare turret. The Christie type suspension on the A13 is noticeably different from the one on the other tanks.

 

Now we get to the bit where Milicast are a rather inconsistent – there was a small spot light mounted on the left side and operated by the commander and a pair of smoke mortars mounted on the right side except in Close Support tanks (they could fire smoke shells) and they only provide them for one of the models so I have had to fabricate the rest myself. The lights come from the “pimples” on scrap plastic sprue where parts were attached, reshaped and cut off before being glued on to a small length of wire which goes in a hole drilled in the turret side. The mortars or perhaps more correctly "bomb throwers" are made from short lengths of plastic tube with a length of rod protruding from the bottom and two are glued together and mounted on an angled sliver of plastic card as a “bracket”. The tubes are rather overscale as the original was 4" diameter but the best I can do. On the A13 I have also had to add a piece of card for the aerial mount – they provide one on the other turrets. Aerials are made from lengths of piano wire, in the case of the A13 with a short length of brass tube for the base section and will be added later knowing how clumsy I am..

 

After that it was just a case of adding the Aber 2pdr barrels and also the Besa barrels they include for the A10 and A13 Cruiser Mk IVA with the added  armour bolted on and they are done.

 

A word on smoke mortars -

At some point it must have been decided that it would be useful if tanks could lay down a smoke screen, either to hide themselves from enemy guns when attacking so that they could close the range, or else for when they were retreating. On the British light tanks and the A11 there were 2 external mortars, one on each side of the turret whilst on the tanks in this build they were mounted as a pair on a bracket attached to the right side of the turret and angled forwards. They consisted of a short mortar tube at the bottom of which was it seems the entire firing mechanism of a Lee Enfield rifle. A blank cartridge was inserted into the breech, a smoke shell dropped down the tube, all of which had to be done on the outside of the tank, and the device was fired from the inside by pulling on a lanyard attached to the trigger and passing through a hole in the turret side. Later, this was to some extent replaced by a sort of oversized "Very" flare pistol mounted inside the turret and firing through an aperture in the top plate. It was only a single unit but could be broken open at the breech like a shotgun to insert a new cartridge and shell, all within the safety of the turret. Modern tanks still have external mortars often with anything from 6 to 10 tubes as side, either individuually or in blocks and angled to give a wider pattern, but they are fired electrically and can dispense normal smoke and also smoke that confuses thermal sights to some extent I believe.

 

I have pressed on with the build fairly quickly as I am about to instal my replacement computer and might be "off the air" for a while.

 

Cheers

 

Pete

 

Edited by PeterB
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So, final post until after I have hopefully installed my replacement computer. The nexr stage is going to be slow anyway and includes the bit I and I suspect many other tank modellers dislike intensely - painting the tracks and the rubber tyres on the wheels.

 

So, what colour do you paint a tank in the desert? perhaps, to paraphrase Henry Ford, "any colour you like providing it is sand"? Before the war the answer was as light a colour as possible to reflect the heat, as living in a metal box in the desert sun is not nice. Tanks were white or cream I believe, but once the war started thoughts turned to a “sand” colour. However sand has various shades depending on where you are and throughout the desert conflict the Army used 3 main shades – Portland Stone which is a light colour verging on cream, Light Stone which is lighter that the RAF's Middle Stone, and latterly “Desert Pink” which was more appropriate for Tunisia apparently. Sometimes the tanks were just left with the base colour over everything, but more commonly a so called disruptive colour was applied over the top. The problem is that whereas in the broken landscape of Europe with fields and trees various shades of green worked quite well, the desert was somewhat flat, and any movement resulted in clouds of sand being thrown up. Hiding vehicles when stationary was one thing, but when they were moving it was almost impossible and the best you could aim for was to break up their silhouette so that an enemy gunner would struggle to decide the range and direction of his target. From the start of the war to mid 1940 the official answer was Light Stone, perhaps with a disruptive pattern of "dark sand" which Mike Starmer thinks was close to Hu 110 "Natural Wood". 

 

Enter Brigadier J.R.L. “Blood” Caunter of 4th Armoured Brigade (the nickname apparently came from his favourite phrase “Buckets of Blood”). During camo tests in 1940 he came up with what seems to be a variation of the WWI naval “Dazzle Scheme” and was a disruptive scheme using three colours. The “official” Caunter scheme accepted by the Army shortly before Operation Compass was for a base colour of Portland Stone BSC 64 with a geometric pattern of 2 disruptive colours – Dark State BSC 34 and Silver Grey BSC 28. A lot of thought apparently went into this and patterns were issued which were believed to achieve the maximum disruptive effect. It was accepted that there would be times when colours were not available so "official" alternatives were given, and likewise variations were allowed for different locations, for example Light Purple Brown BSC 49 instead of Slate in the Sudan. Also the base colour changed at one point from Portland Stone to Light Stone BSC 61 and then back again. The scheme was eventually replaced in October 1941 when an overall base colour of Light Stone came in, though again various disruptive colours were used over it at times.

 

In line with the decal instructions from Dan Taylor's Modelworks I have painted my A9 in Light Stone, and the other two will be in Caunter with a base of Portland Stone.

DSC04819-crop

The old White Ensign Colourcoats cover very well and dry quickly, providing you give then a really good stir. The disruptive colour Silver Grey is problematic as recent research shows that it is actually a green/grey but many illustrations in books show a blue grey as in the pics of certain Tank Museum exhibits.

DSC00524

Mike Starmer mentions that certain units seem to have mixed up a blue grey, or perhaps used Sky Blue, possibly from RAF or RN stores and in my much earlier pic of the A10 in the Tank Museum years back you will see that they had also at that time used a much lighter grey than the official Slate as well - compare it with my earlier group shot of my A12 Matilda which is in Portland Stone and Slate - I  have mentioned previously that the then Curator told me that the paint schemes were not always accurate., The  Matilda above  is painted it to represent “Golden Miller” which was I believe involved in the siege of Tobruk where paint supplies might indeed have been a problem so they could even be right! Incidentally you can see the size of the 40mm 2pdr shell displayed in front.

 

Speaking of Mike Starmer he does a useful series of book on British Army colours of which this is one.

DSC04821-crop

 

So on with the painting in between fiddling with the computer.

 

Back in a while I hope!

 

Pete

Edited by PeterB
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It took some time but my replacement computer is up and running though it will take some tweaking and will probably be weeks before I have got everything back in place. In between I managed to make some progress and the A9 is just about painted.

DSC04824-crop

Pic is a bit blurry and I still have do do a bit of weathering on the wheels, tracks and exhaust, but first I will get the decs on. According to the decal instructions this and indeed most of the A9's remained in the overall light stone and were not painted in the Caunter scheme, which is a bit of a blessing as getting the straight line pattern around those front mg turrets would have been a real pain. Now I have to paint the other two which will take a lot longer! I am never sure what colour to paint the tracks but they have ended up a rusty dark grey - fine for in Europe but there was rather less rain in the desert! I am also unsure if the headlights were blacked out or not in this theatre.

 

This is I suppose my 7th computer if you count my old Commodore 64, and to date I have run Windows 95, XP, Vista and 7 but this is Windows 10. Fortunately I have managed to recover everything I had paid for with the exception of one game that will not run on Windows 10 apparently, but that is OK as it runs on my son's machine and he is the one who plays it! I think it will take me a while to unlearn my previous Windows and get used to this version but I will persevere.

 

Cheers

 

Pete

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Earlier on I said that building these models was the easy part, and the main job was painting them. Contrary to what a few of you might expect Tanks are just a s bad as planes when it comes to paint scemes and markings. For example, this is the set of White Ensign Colourcoats paints I bought years ago - it only covers British Tanks and other vehicles/guns and it is missing at least one dark green for SE Asia but does include US OD as the Brits did not always repaint the Lend-Lease tanks unless they modified them, and then only partially in many cases so British OD on the gun, mantlet and turret of a Sherman Firefly and the rest US. It is for BEF, Desert, Italy and back to Europe after D Day, plus of course tanks retained in the UK for training etc.

DSC04532-crop

As to the markings they are nearly as bad! This is an example of the A13 Cruiser Mk III as in the Tank Museum many years ago - I have showed you it before.

A13

It carries the full set of markings as it would have done in Europe, minus the patch of gas indicating paint -a sort of yellowish green. On the bow you have the Divisional marking on the right of the pic - 7th Armoured Division which was originally just a red square containing a white circle, which they inherited from Percy Hobart's day  when they were the "Mobile Force(Egypt)", to which they added a Jerboa or Desert Rat in late 1940, and some time later the design was changed to just a white background square with the Jerboa - versions existed with the rat pointing either left or right and slight differences in shape such as the tail curved over the head. In the middle is the bridge classification 14 which was rarely seen in the desert, and on the left the so called "Arm of Service" marking which identified the actual regiment if you knew the code - they changed it quite often to confuse the enemy. A plain black/red/green/brown square meant an armoured unit in terms of seniority - not sure exactly how that worked but the British Regimental system at that time had a lot of history going back centuries in some cases and I presume "older" regiments were more senior (for example with the foot guards Grenadiers are senior to Coldstream who in turn are senior to Scots Guards and so on), or maybe it was to do with the command structure.  Anyway, Black was formation HQ, Red Senior Brigade HQ and 3 principal combat units and so on. The 26 makes it the junior armoured regiment in the 4th Armoured Brigade but you would need the list to work out which one that was in 1940 in Egypt.

 

Moving on, the serial number starting with a T for tank was on both sides of either the hull or turret and could be either black or white it was usually repeated at the rear together with the division badge and AOS marking. The white/red/white striping was an identifying mark which actually did not come into use until 1941 I thought which clashes with the AOS - the Museum have since repainted this tank in the markings of the BEF. Like a lot of tanks it carries a name "Emperor" which , as it starts with an "E" probably makes it 5RTR, and on the rear of the turret side is a red triangle which is one of the geometric symbols introduced at the start of the war for identification using colour and shape. The normal symbols were a a triangle as here for A or first Squadron, a square for B or second, and a circle for C or third, with a number of other markings added such as a diamond for some HQ's. Red was the most senior regiment or battalion, yellow 2nd senior and blue junior, but some were green and some white I think as well, so the above tank is from A Squadron of the most senior regiment - by this stage you may be considering taking an alcoholic drink or having a lie down but I have nearly finished!

 

Anyway, to get to the point (at last), when tanks reached the desert and were repainted more often than not most of the markings were overpainted including the serial, bridge class sign, badge and AOS markings, though sometimes the serial was painted round leaving it on a green patch of old camo. Later some of the markings were reinstated but a pic I have of this A9 shows just the turret makings thus-

DSC04827-crop

It belonged to B Squadron  = "Square" 1st Royal Tank Regiment and carried the name "Arnold" in keeping with 1 RTR's policy of using names beginning with "A". The pic I have is undated and seems to show the tank in Caunter paint so maybe they did get round to repainting it after Compass or perhaps it is in the even earlier Light Stone/Dark Stone or Dark Sand  scheme - the A9 lingered on for another year or so after Compass.

 

So having got that off my chest I won't need to do it again in the next few builds/threads.

 

Cheers

 

Pete

Edited by PeterB
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So, I have added the quite thick and long single aerial for the old pre-war No.9 radio set to the A9 and it is about done. The others have been touched up and are ready for me to start adding the 2 disruptive colours for the Caunter scheme, but I will start on the 2 Matildas and the Vickers Light Mk VIc in the background (which were in Operation Compass but are not part of this GB being injection moulded) to "get my hand in" as it were. The Matilda at the rear in light stone will be painted in my take of the improvised scheme using perhaps paints from the Navy (according to the Osprey book on the Matilda by "Dai Library") as shown in my earlier pic of "Golden Miller" in the Tank Museum.

DSC04829-crop

I still need to do a little weathering on the A9 and add some stowage, but I will leave that until the others are painted. Talking of stowage, you can see pics both in the desert and in Normandy of tanks so overloaded with boxes and cans etc that they could not traverse the turret - presumably this was only the case when they were moving forward and not expecting to go into action. However, in the desert they did cover considerable distances between battles and the supply train was not all that good so they did have to carry things like Petrol, Oil, Water in POW racks, food rations, and also the makings of a bivouac such as bed rolls and canvas sheets, together with their personal kit so I have some resin stowage from Milicast which I will use. Of particular interest are the so called "bail out packs" ie tin helmets,haversacks with food, water and medical supplies etc, which were hung on the outside of the hull. If the tank was hit and they had to bail out then they did not have to waste time and risk their lives groping around in the turret trying to find their kit before getting out. Some tanks were actually fitted with rails on the sand shields to take these and also to attach the awning when taking a rest.

 

You will be pleased to know that there will be no more rants lectures in this build thread and very few in the other two or three.😁

 

Cheers

 

Pete

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  • PeterB changed the title to Cruising the Desert Part I - Operation Compass***FINISHED***

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