Thursday, October 30, 2014

Tanktober Film Festival: Osvobozhdenie (Liberation 1969-1971)

One great thing about Tanktober has been that it's given me the opportunity to discover some terrific Soviet and Russian movies. Chief among them so far has been Liberation (Osvobozhdenie), a five part, over six hour epic of the war on the Russian front from Kursk in 1943 to the fall of Berlin. The films were shot between 1969 and 1971, and were the most expensive war movies ever made in the USSR. I'm only half way through part 2 so far, but enjoying them immensely.

Compared to the sorts of movies being made in the west around the same time, Liberation really has to be seen to be believed. The sheer scale of the battle scenes of Kursk and the crossing of the Dnieper are extraordinary, with rows of Zis 3 guns and T-34/85s and SU-100s tearing across the fields. There are inevitable inaccuracies, such as the use of T34/85s at Kursk, but they have certainly made a big effort to make the films as realistic as possible, with some pretty convincing Tiger Is and less convincing Panthers based on IS-2s taking the field, although always in panzer grey.

One of the most interesting features is the propaganda in the film, and particularly the portrayal of Stalin. He gets a fairly sympathetic treatment, but is shown as largely deferring to his generals, with some of his decisions like that to treat Soviet POWs as traitors shown to be counterproductive. The Western allies are shown as dragging their heels somewhat with the second front, with some subtle distortions like the landings in Sicily being described as a response to Soviet success at Kursk.

Get hold of a copy if you can - Liberation really is very good.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Tanktober Miracle

Tanktober is a magical time of year. Today I realised just how special it is. On Monday I went to Hobbyco in Sydney on a whim, strode purposefully into the shop and said 'I would like to get a remote controlled tank, preferably a T34.' The chap behind the counter said 'turn around - that came in half an hour ago'. Sitting on top of a bunch of shipping boxes was this beauty. I handed over $50, and took my pet back on the bus to his new home. He has accompanied me to school, and I'm enjoying taking him for walks.

Today, my friend Sian decided she wanted the Tiger I in the same series so we could have a battle (the tanks have infra-red guns in them). I rang up Hobbyco to see if they had one. The bloke I spoke to claimed the shop had never sold such a tank as the one that was sitting on my lap being patted while I spoke to him. Sian and I went to investigate instead of facing the horror of exam marking. Even in person Hobbyco claimed no knowledge that such a thing ever existed. 'No, we don't have those. We have some for $200 but they're smaller. We're not even sure tanks even exist. What's a tank? Who are you people? What do you want from us? Take some Lego and go, for god's sake, just go!' and so on.

Eventually it turns out that my tank was something a rep from the distributor had added to a shipment because it came from a shop that had closed down, and they don't even make these anymore, and certainly wouldn't for $50 if they did.

Or so they said.

But we know what really happened, don't we? The god of tanks has smiled on Tanktober, and given me this wonderful blessing.

Stal! Stal! Stal!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Many, Many Tanks

Whew! This week in Tanktober I finished my Company + Platoon of T-26s for Battle Group Barbarossa. That's a total of 20 tanks along with a OT-26 flame thrower tank thrown in.

The T-26 (1933)s are from Minairons, the ones with the 1939 turret and the OT-26 are from Zvezda.

Now some BT-7s, I think...

Looking Good in Tanktober

Yeah baby!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Tanktober, Los!

It has been a busy week in Tanktober...

Firstly, I think we can agree that I'm looking pretty stylish.

The Tanktober film festival (aka me on the sofa while the kids are going to sleep)rolls on with a look at Beyyi Tigr (The White Tiger) (2012, dir. Karen Shakhnazarov).

This is a very interesting and odd film. During WWII, a Soviet tank driver is burned in his tank during a battle with a ghostly white German Tiger tank. He survives, miraculously, without a mark on him, but having lost his memory. With no name or past, he instead becomes something of a Tank Whisperer. Tanks speak to him, and he prays to the god of tanks. He is his instrument to bring vengeance against the White Tiger, a tank perhaps even without a crew, that appears in battle to wreak havoc on the Soviet tank men, and which even the Germans speak of in hushed tones. For the tank spotters amongst us, the movie features the (unconvincing below the turret) Tiger, T34-76s and 85s, ISU-152s, SU-100s, BT7s, Pz IVs and even a couple of Lend Lease Matilda IIs and M3 Lees. For the contemplative amongst us the film offers a metaphor for the forces called into being through violence that Thucydides might have appreciated, and which probably resonates more deeply with an appreciation of the Russian fascination with and fetishisation of their tanks of the Great Patriotic War.

But on to cake! The highlight of the week has without a doubt been my wonderful colleague Sian's decision to humour me by making some tank cupcakes. She arrived at school with these yesterday, and I think you'll agree that they are an amazing example of Blitzkrieg baking.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

I Hate Google+

Apologies if you have attempted to comment on my blog over the last week and have been unsuccessful. I briefly enabled Google+ Comments until I realised that it meant that only visitors with Google+ would be able to comment. I then attempted to disable Google+ Comments and cocked it up, leaving the Blog in some Kafkaesque limbo where Google+ was disabled but still controlling my Comments. I've just managed to sort it out, but I think it means that if you do have Google+ and have commented on my blog your comment has now been lost. Normal programming should now have resumed. A pox on Google+. I suggest the read the fine print more carefully than I did should you be considering linking your blog to it.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

T-26s for Tanktober

Today I finished off my first 12 T-26s for Battle Group Barbarossa. That still leaves me 5 short of a Company, and I have about another 8 in the assembly line. I haven't done much with extra stowage etc. Partly because I'm painting about 20 of the things, but looking at photos from 1941 they don't often seem to have carried much extra gear, so I don't think they look too bad.

Kits are a mix of Zvezda T-26 (1939)s and Minairons T-26 (1936)s.

Tanks, Art and Subversion

This week in Tanktober I’ve been thinking about tanks that have been used as subversive pieces of art. A tank is such a powerful militaristic symbol that painting it in some incongruous colour scheme instantly creates a great juxtaposition of images. Here are a couple of repainted Soviet tanks from Kiev that demonstrate my point.

One of the most famous an influential examples of this was the monument to WWII Soviet tank crews in Prague. The memorial displayed a IS-2 tank bearing the turret number 23. Apparently after the Prague Spring of 1968 Czechs saw meaning in this number. In 1945 the Soviets liberated the Czechs from the Nazis, then in 1968 (1945+23) the Soviets used tanks to suppress democracy in Czechoslovakia. The monument therefore acquired the double meaning of liberation and occupation.

In 1991, the Czech artist David Černý painted the tank pink, and added a large extended middle finger on the top of it. He was arrested, the tank was repainted green, but then rapidly painted pink again by members of the newly elected Czech parliament in protest against Černý's arrest. It was then repainted green and pink again several times until the monument was finally removed, and the much abused IS-2 relocated to a military museum. Where it is still pink.

Černý is also responsible for another installation of the rear portion of a T34-85 buried in the ground, also painted in pink. It is probably due to him that the idea of juxtaposing the colour pink with the menacing shape of a tank has been so often emulated since, as in the Mandela Way tank.

The Mandela Way T34-85 is a former Czech Army tank improbably situated on a street in Bermondsey, London, with its gun trained on the local Southwark Council Chambers. It was a former movie prop, and you can see it in action crashing through a wall in the (great) 1995 movie of Richard III.

The Mandela Way tank has been repainted a number of times. Here are some of my favourites.

The subversive image of a pink tank has been made good use of in the UK by Amnesty International. This Abbott self-propelled howitzer (although I suppose you can call it a tank) appeared in a Brighton gay pride march in 2005, a great bit of PR that practically invited newspaper headlines like 'Amnesty brings Out the Big Guns in Support of Gay Rights'. Nice to see something called Abbott standing up for human rights. Which is an observation that might resonate if you live in Australia.

I'm also a huge fan of guerrilla knitting, or yarn bombing if you prefer. Bringing together a tank and yarn bombing, as here in Denmark...well that's just brilliant.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Tanktober Film Festival: Lebanon (2009)

The Tanktober film festival continues with a look at Lebanon (2009), directed by Samuel Maoz, and the first Israeli movie to win the Leone d'Oro at the Venice Film Festival. The movie follows a crew of young Israeli tank crewman during the first day of the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. The action focuses particularly on the gun aimer Schmulik, and draws heavily on the experiences of Samuel Maoz himself as an army conscript in 1982. Schmulik's tank (a Sh'ot, or Israeli Centurion) is operating in support of a unit of paratroopers during the film as they work their way through a heavily bombed Lebanese town. Perhaps uniquely, the entire film is set inside the tank, which becomes steadily more grimy and claustrophobic as the story progresses. The only time we ever see what is going on outside is through Schmulik's gunsight, with every pan or zoom being accompanied by the hydraulic whine of the tank turret rotating.

Often harrowing, the movie doesn't really add much to the well worn themes of the impact of war on the young men who have to wage it, and the terrible things they do. On the other hand, Maoz said of the film that 'I'm trying to explain that war cannot open for you the option to be moral.' Pondering this central idea preserves Lebanon's relevance.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

SAGA at MOAB 2014

I had a great last day of my holidays yesterday down at MOAB, Sydney's biggest annual wargaming event. I took part in the SAGA tournament, and had an absolute blast. Three games over the course of the day, and I was fortunate enough to win the day with my Pagan Rus. Although I've been preoccupied with Battle Group of late, the day reminded me of what a terrific game SAGA is. Every game had a great narrative feel to it, with the epic struggle between my warlord and his Anglo-Saxon counterpart in the first game being particularly memorable.

As always, in my experience, the day was played in the spirit of very friendly and good-natured competition. I don't know what it is about SAGA, but it just doesn't seem to attract dickheads. Long may it continue.

All hail the dice gods.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Late War Panthers for Battle Group

The first fruits of Tanktober are these three Panthers for Battle Group Fall of the Reich. Kits are from PSC, with one of the commanders from Peter Pig.

I was wanting to give them an early 1945 look, so painted one in ambush scheme and the other with a hard edged Rotbraun and Dunkelgelb over green base colour.

The foliage on the gun barrel is mainly there to cover where I snapped it while trying to fit it into the mantlet.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Tanktober Film Festival: Girls und Panzer

Tanktober film festival continues with 'Girls und Panzer', a bizarre Japanese anime series set in a world where high school girls compete against each other in tank warfare using WWII tanks. All the tanks are accurately rendered to represent the real things, which is more than can be said for the high school girls. In the scene included here you can see the girls in their Hetzer, M3 Lee, Char B1 bis, Porsche Tiger and StuG IIIs (that's me showing off) battling a rival team who have brought along a Maus. The background music is of course the Panzerlied, that mawkish WWII German song about how it won't be too bad really if we all get killed in our tank. Delight as Japanese high school girls say things like 'our AP shells can't penetrate their frontal armour at this range', and try not to think about the psyche of whoever thought up this nonsense.

What a funny old world we live in.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Looking Good in Tanktober

Today's Tanktober fashion has a good story attached.

When in Krakow, I wandered into a cool alt clothing store - you know, where you have to step over the bongs and tie dye to get to the T Shirts. I was having a look at this one when the young woman who worked there asked if I wanted a hand. She looked the part - dreads, piercings, tats - and spoke English. We got chatting and I asked her what the words on the shirt meant, and from memory it translates as 'If you want to know what hell is like, climb into a tank and close the hatch'. She told me it was a quote from a famous Polish TV series. I asked if it was from 'Four Tankmen and a Dog', and she told me it was. She was amazed that I knew of it, and told me she grew up watching it every year on TV.

Four Tankmen and a Dog (Czterej pancerni i pies) ran from 1966-1970 on Polish TV. The 21 episodes followed the adventures of the crew of a T34/85 tank in the Polish First Army (as part of the Soviet army) during the last year of WWII. It was pro-Soviet propaganda, but also proudly Polish enough that it seems to be still fondly remembered by many of those who grew up with it. Well worth a look (on Youtube) during this special time of the year.

Seems to be a T34/76 on the shirt though...

Thursday, October 2, 2014

15mm T26s Compared

Chris was asking about the different T26 models that appeared in my epic Tanktober undercoating effort, so here's the explanation and comparison.

The centre model is a T26 (1933) from the Spanish company Minairons, the other two are by Zvezda. The tank on the left is a T26 (1939), and the one on the right is an OT-26 flame thrower tank. Since I'm making a company of 17 T26s for Battle Group Barbarossa I wanted some variation in the unit, which is what you would have expected to see in real life.

Dimensions-wise, the kits from the two manufactures mix very well, being identical in length although the Minairons one is a teensy bit wider, but nothing that will be noticed on the table. The great advantage of the Minairons T26 is the separate commander's hatch,and inclusion of a commander figure, although the commander in the picture here is actually from Plastic Soldier Company.

Both models are simple to put together, and if you plan to mass produce a unit of 17 tanks these aren't an arduous type to choose! The Minairons detail is not as sharp as that from Zvezda, which is most noticeable on the running gear, but both kits are strongly recommended to mix together in the same units.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Happy Tanktober!

Happy Tanktober everyone! This month I shall be giving my OCD free reign to obsess over all things armoured. I shall be painting many tanks, probably sharing the odd story or interesting fact about tanks, particularly over on Facebook, and I will be having a bit of a film festival of movies set entirely or mostly inside tanks. Or at least ones where tanks feature prominently. Any suggestions are welcome. I blame the good people responsible for the Battle Group rules and Will Townsend at the Plastic Soldier Company for fueling this madness.

I'm certainly not short of some assembled tanks to get the ball rolling this month.

To start with, today I undercoated a bunch of early war Soviet armour today for Battle Group Barbarossa, including over a company of T26s and over a platoon of BT7s (the excess likely to end up in a Finnish army), along with a monster T35, all from Zvezda.

Usually I would have gone out of my way to individualize the vehicles with stowage etc, but looking at photos from 1941 I can't find too many that show T26s of BT7s carrying much extra kit. I suppose much of the time they just didn't last long enough for their crews to accumulate any. Does anyone have any thoughts on this, or photos that show the contrary?

I was greatly assisted today to get everything undercoated with a can of the PSC Russian armour spray paint. Usually I have used Tamiya Olive Drab 2 as my base Soviet armour colour, but I'm very happy with the switch to the PSC paint. It certainly pays to take the instructions seriously to use several thin coatings, as the paint does cover quite thickly if you spray too closely. Conversely, this means that if you give the model several light coats the surface ends up with quite a nice texture. As usual, the shade is really too dark for 15mm, so dry brushing on some lighter coats will be necessary to allow for scale effect. One other minor thing I noticed about the PSC paint is that it seems to be under less pressure than, say, the Citadel Skull White primer I was using. This is good news when it comes to spraying small objects like turrets that the Citadel paint was tending to blow all over the place!