Thursday, May 30, 2013

Navwar / Heroics & Ros 1/300 scale aircraft reviews: BAC TSR.2, SEPECAT Jaguar GR.1, Hawker-Siddeley Harrier GR.3, and Hawker Siddeley Buccaneer S.2

It's Review Time!

Back (L to R): 1/72 Hasegawa Jaguar GR.1 and Airfix TSR.2
Front:  Harrier GR3, Jaguar, Buccaneer, TSR.2

I decided to grab a couple of Heroics & Ros / Navwar modern airplanes from The Last Square, both to satisfy my own curiosity, and to have at hand for... eventualities. I picked three British Cold War classics (Harrier GR.3, Buccaneer, and Jaguar) and one almost-ran (the TSR.2).

In truth, only the Harrier and Jaguar are really usable in a normal game of FFT3; they were both common front-line strike aircraft with RAF Germany in 1985, and would have attacked Soviet ground targets with BL.755 cluster bombs, 68mm SNEB rockets, and 30mm Aden cannon. I can easily envision either type of aircraft screaming in low and (hopefully not getting blotted out of the sky by SAMs or ZSU-23-4 SPAAGs) shattering columns of T-80s with well-aimed cluster bomb drops.

The Buccaneer is a little more problematic, because by 1985 most of them had been retasked to the maritime strike role in the United Kingdom, with only 237 Operational Conversion Unit -- not even a line squadron -- earmarked to support SACEUR in the event of a general war. And even then, well, the primary job of the Buccaneer would likely have been delivery of the nine WE.177A tactical nuclear bombs allocated to the OCU; each weapon would have likely had a yield in the land attack mode of about 10 kilotons (or rather less powerful than the 12-18 kt "Little Boy" dropped on Hiroshima, although I rather doubt anyone in the blast radius would have fully appreciated this). However, it's not inconceivable that they could be used in the conventional land attack role, either with 1,000 pound iron bombs, Martel missiles, or more of the ubiquitous SNEB rockets.

As for the TSR.2, then...well. What can I say about this beautiful beast? It's been one of my favorite airplanes ever since I saw a photo of one in an old Air and Space magazine as a boy. On the absolute cutting edge of British aerospace design when it was conceived and built in the early-to-mid-1960s, it was doomed by ballooning costs and declining British economic fortunes, first to be replaced by an ephemeral order of US-built F-111s, and then latterly, by the Buccaneer -- which had been TSR.2's cheaper, less sophisticated rival since its conception. The TSR.2 was to have been a long-range, low altitude, high-speed nuclear attack jet (carrying two 10-kiloton WE.177B weapons in an internal bay) with the added bonus of being capable of Mach 2 at 30,000 feet or hauling about 10 1,000 pound bombs. Some drawings in Damien Burke's excellent book TSR.2 - Britain's Lost Bomber (which I highly recommend) show them with a possible underwing armament of -- you guessed it -- SNEB rockets and chaff/flare packs in addition to any stores carried in the bomb bay.

Anyway, on to the miniatures!


I was motivated not only for my fondness for the TSR.2, but also because I couldn't, for the life of me, find any photos of this mini anywhere on the internet.


As you can see, there's not a ton of surface detail, although the shape, nosecone excepted, is more or less pretty good for a TSR.2. The navigator's cockpit seems to be nonexistent, but as it had rather small windows anyway, this is perhaps forgivable. The underside is almost completely featureless aside from some rather unsightly pitting. There's the vaguest hint of the bomb bay doors, but it really is only a hint.

Of course, this is pretty much the only game in town for a TSR.2, and at under $5 USD for a single example as of time of writing, there's not too much to complain about. With a little filler and some paint, it should look appropriately menacing as it swoops in low over the table at Mach 1.12 to dramatically escalate the Third World War. For FFT3, I'd probably just hedge and use Jaguar stats, since the Jaguar ultimately handled the tactical side of TSR.2's mission, and had an identical payload (although the Jaguar also had two 30mm cannon, which the TSR.2 lacked.)

Buccaneer S.1(? probably)
This mini appears to have the circular (vice ovoid on the later S.2) intakes of the Buccaneer S.1, powered by anemic Gyron Junior turbojets rather than the later mark's Rolls-Royce Spey engines. But at 1/300 scale, it's difficult to be certain. In any case, the Buccaneer was a lumpy jet, and even much larger models have a good deal of difficulty in capturing its peculiar shape; not for nothing was it known as the "banana jet". In general, and especially from overheard, I think it more or less looks the part, but the nose is once again off, and this is especially noticeable in profile view, where the tail also looks a bit like a pile of dirty laundry. The tailplane (which is a separate piece) is also quite thick, though were it not, it would have likely been bent to oblivion and beyond long before it came into my hands.

There were two largish burrs on the tail's mating surface (heyo!) that needed to be filed off before it would fit properly atop the miniature, and once those were removed, the tailplane still showed a slight inclination to list.
Once again, the underbelly was virtually featureless aside from many pits and scratches. 

Jaguar GR.1
This is actually a pretty nice-looking little model, and my favorite of the bunch. It certainly captures the look of the Jaguar to me, chisel-like LRMTS nose and pylons included (incidentally, the overwing fences could, from Operation Desert Storm onward, carry AIM-9L Sidewinders), although some kind sculptor helpfully etched the sculpting date, the line name, and the aircraft type under the wings. Ah well. 
Harrier GR.3
I was very hopeful when I ordered this one that it would capture the peculiarly hedgehog-like nose of the real-life Harrier GR.3, which housed its laser ranger and marked target seeker, but to my disappointment, this miniature bore a pronounced resemblance to the earlier GR.1, which had a more aerodynamic and conventional-looking nosecone, without the LRMTS. This is particularly unfortunate, as most microarmor-scale Harrier minis are of the later AV-8B Harrier II/Harrier GR.7/GR.9 variety, which are very different aircraft in comparison with the Cold War-era AV-8A/GR.1/GR.3.

The miniature also looked a little husky, especially around the tail, and slightly flatter than a Harrier ought to look in my opinion. I thought I might be able to do a little damage control with a file, so I tried my hand at it.

Reprofiled nose.
It's far from perfect, and it certainly doesn't look amazing, but I think it will serve.

Anyhow, those are my reviews. Hopefully my terrible cell phone pictures will enable you to make some judgement for yourself as to whether or not any of these will work for you.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Painting the (thin, red) line

I've finally mostly finished painting all twenty (although I'll only be using sixteen) GHQ Challenger Is and most of my support vehicles, less some FV432s that I have yet to obtain and my Tracked Rapiers.

My "method", such as it is, is roughly as smart as Brando's in Apocalypse Now, i.e. not at all. First I wash the miniatures in soapy water, then I primer them with Tamiya Extra Fine grey primer, then I airbrush them Tamiya NATO Black, and then I carefully use small pieces of poster putty to mask wherever I want black strips and then go over them again with NATO Green. THEN, I give them a dark brown ink wash. They actually look reasonably decent in person, but there's still more to do. I need to paint the treads (Testors acrylic RAF Dark Earth, drybrushed with silver), seal them with a Future clearcoat, and then possibly apply formation sign decals using the GHQ ones intended for WWII vehicles. Then I'll seal them up with Testors Dullcoate. Phew!

Excuse my terrible cell phone camera.

Assembling Maggie's Army

I'm too young to have any real opinion about Margaret Thatcher as a Prime Minister, and judging from the fierce opinions on both sides of the debate, I'm happy to not poke at the subject too much, lest I unleash a torrent of heat, unaccompanied by light upon myself.

However, the British Army of the Rhine was her army, sort of. I eschew definitive statements generally, because we live in an infinite universe, but "Maggie's Army" had a ring to it, and so I went with it. I suppose had things not been terribly different, it might have been "Neil's Army". Probably never "Roy and David's Army".

Anyhoo. I decided to more or less base the force I'd field in FFT3 after the 7th Armoured Brigade, descendants of the immortal "Desert Rats", one of my favorite World War II-era British formations. I have an odd penchant for small, inoffensive-looking mammals, and you can't do much better than the noble jerboa for that. If there had been a British formation with a hedgehog theme, I'dve gone that way, but no such luck.

Since our gaming will be set around mid-1985 (shortly before Gorbachev's accession to power, but after nifty toys like the T-80BV and Challenger began to appear), I'm basing my army around the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, which joined the brigade in May of 1985 along with their powerful and brand-spanking-new Challenger 1 tanks. They're supported by the 3rd Battalion (The Royal Sussex) of The Queen's Regiment, now amalgamated out of existence into the Princess of Wales' Royal Regiment, which was the mechanized infantry component of the brigade until the start of 1986.

Because I know Josh intends to bring some Hind gunships to the fight, I'm supporting my infantry and tanks with the Tracked Rapiers of 11 Air Defence Battery, 22 Air Defence Regiment, Royal Artillery. I'm also bringing some helicopters of my own, though they're relative lightweights: ITOW-firing Lynx AH.1s of 651 Squadron, Army Air Corps, the British Army's "teeny-weeny airways". Lastly, I'll be supported by a battery of off-board 155mm SP guns of the 40th Regiment, Royal Artillery.

I won't lie, I had a lot of fun figuring out which units made up my force. Regimental history and loyalty are strong parts of the British Army's tradition, and I like the idea of repping specific actual regiments on the tabletop. I can't promise I'll do them much justice, given my poor tactics, however.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Without form and void

My friend and frere de l'autre mere Josh surprised me a few weeks back by suggesting we try and get into Cold War microarmor. In the twilight of my declining years, this suggestion elicited roughly the same amount of elation that a highly specific and wholly indecent proposal from a fetching young woman might have caused me in my later teens. The folly of youth! I had no idea back then that they even made miniatures smaller than 28mm. What a naif I was.

I was, at any rate, surprised, not only because Josh lives a solid eighty miles away from me, somewhere in the barren wastelands of western Illinois (I live in the very northern suburbs of Chicago, about equidistant between it and Racine), but also because he'd recently become a father, and my mental picture of fatherhood is sort of a hellish nightmare world of perpetual screaming, punctuated intermittently by filthy diapers or expensive doctor visits. But I certainly wasn't going to ask him to stay his hand.

After some sleuthing, we decided to settle upon A Fistful of TOWs 3 for our rules. I would have loved to go one miniature equating to one vehicle,  like in, say, Mein Panzer, which I've long owned and never played, but they still haven't quite made it into the Cold War era yet. Anyhow, based on my perusal of the sample rules, and with the promise of easy-resolution artillery (I cut my miniatures wargaming teeth on Battletech, where the artillery rules are rather nightmarish), we decided to pull the trigger.

Picking forces was easier than picking rules; I always play British, as I feel an immense, inexplicable, and (to any actual Briton, I'm certain) profoundly annoying fondness for just about everything and anything hailing from the UK. Josh, of course, had already opted to go Soviet.