Wednesday, September 24, 2014

20mm WWII Canadian Infantry from AB Miniatures - The Battle for Ortona, 1943 (Part I)


About a year ago I was rummaging around my storage shed and came across a collection of 20mm WWII figures that I had originally painted-up for use with Arty Conliffe's Crossfire (a very fine and innovative set of rules btw). This group of figures primarily composed of old, but quite good SHQ, Britannia and FAA models. This discovery began me thinking of how I could make use of these figures for future gaming. I decided that I could conscript my 15mm Flames of War collection (a set of rules I'm not especially fond of) for use with Crossfire and then I could use these venerable 20mm figures for skirmish gaming (Chain of CommandBolt Action, etc). As I sorted through the lot I discovered that  I had scads of German Fallshirmjaegers (from a previous Crete scenario), but I needed some more Commonwealth figures to serve as opponents. 

So, I began snooping around the web and came across Anthony Barton's (of AB Miniatures) superb 20mm WWII range. So credit card was duly unsheathed and an order placed. Nonetheless, as these things frequently go, by the time the figures arrived I had abstractedly wandered off to another project (I know, how typical) so the castings were studiously unpacked, briefly admired and then stored away awaiting further inspiration.

Canadian armour moving through Ortona by Charles Comfort
The spark came a few weeks ago when I began reading about the 1943 battle of Ortona which occurred during the Italian campaign. In the larger scheme of things this battle was largely a sideshow, dwarfed by the campaigns in the Eastern Front and overshadowed by the impending landings in Normandy, but to many in Canada Ortona is regarded as our own 'little Stalingrad' due to its brutal and unrelenting house-to-house combat.

'Reinforcements Moving up in the Ortona Salient' by Lawren Philips Harris
As a brief background, Ortona is a port town situated on the Adriatic coast of Italy, relatively close to Rome along a east-west axis. In 1943, with the Allies lines of supply stretched to the extreme, Ortona was regarded as strategically important as it possessed one of the few ports which could accommodate deep-draught shipping. 


For this reason Montgomery wanted it taken and so General Christopher Vokes, commander of the Canadian 1st Infantry Division, ordered his men to batter their way into the town through a series costly frontal assaults along its approaches. Vokes wasn't necessarily a bad commander, but he really wasn't very good either. Monty regarded him as 'a plain cook' and I think that assessment is fairly accurate. So instead of bypassing the town and threatening to pocket the Fallshirmjaegers garrisoning it, Vokes decided to take Ortona by direct assault. 

Map of Ortona showing the path of the Canadian assaults.
The Germans had positioned themselves very well, establishing interlinking fields of fire for effective ambushes, and had littered the advance with mines and boobytraps. The Canadians found that attacking over the rubble-heaped streets while under enemy fire was extremely gruelling and so the casualty toll rose.  The Canadians realized that they had to develop other means in order to grind ahead or the attack would stall completely. One notable trick they came up with was the tactic of 'mouse-holing' (also used in the fighting at Stalingrad). This involved the Canadians blowing a hole through the adjoining walls between upper floors and then systematically working their way down. While this tactic was effective in keeping the men out of the fire-swept streets, the process was fraught with danger as the advance from room-to-room often involved ferocious close-quarters combat.




Over eight days, from December 20th to the 28th, the Canadians of the 2nd Brigade forced the German paratroopers out of the town, but at a cost of nearly 2400 in dead and wounded. The Moro River campaign (of which Ortona was a part) inflicted almost a quarter of all casualties suffered by the Canadians during the entire Italian campaign. After reading the accounts of the campaign one can appreciate why the term 'D-Day Dodgers' deeply rankled with the men fighting up the Italian peninsula.


I painted these figures to represent men from the Loyal Edmonton Regiment and the Saskatoon Light Infantry which were two of the four infantry battalions which were committed to the battle (the other two units were the Seaforth Highlanders and the Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry). 


I was struck by the photos of the incredible amount of pale/white rubble in Ortona so I tried to replicate the same in my groundwork, with lots of shattered masonry, dust and debris scattered about.


I've pretty much completed a full platoon, with various supports, but I thought I'd show them over two or three blog posts so the sculpts can stand on their own and not be lost within a mass of figures. 


These castings were a real pleasure to work on and I hope you enjoyed looking them over. 

Next: To mix things up, some Post Apocalyptic Raiders!

50 comments:

  1. Lovely figures, and your painting are doing them justice. The bases are really good too!

    I notice you did that "canadian green" version of the uniforms, what colours did you use to paint them?

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    1. Thanks Leif, I'm glad you like them.

      The uniforms were done with a base 50/50 mix of Vallejo Brown Violet and English Uniform. Second, I washed the uniform down with a thinned Quickshade ink 'Strong Tone' (Agrax Earthshade works well too). Third, I highlighted the raised areas with the original Vallejo mix. Finally, I did a final highlight with Formula P3 Battledress Green (which really makes the figures 'pop' nicely). The dust is Americana Fawn.

      The webbing is Vallejo Green Ochre, washed and highlighted again with the same colour (and lightly dusted).

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    2. Thanks, looks like I have to get that Battledress Green. I have all the rest of the paints, but never thought to mix Brown Violet and English Uniform.

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    3. Yeah, the 50/50 mix gives a good greenish brown base to work up from. I hope you have good success with it!

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  2. Great looking job Curt, I just love the bases. I will really look forward to seeing the terrain you are going to put together for this one. AB are very nice, my Van Doos supports are all AB and they are very nice. I like how you did the Canadian green. Look forward to seeing more.

    John

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    1. Thanks John. Yeah, in regards to the terrain I think I'm going to ask Byron (from SG2 Creations) to make up some shattered Italian style buildings in MDF. The trick will be to rubble them up enough to convey the effect without making the surface unplayable.

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  3. I should also mention, I really like that at 20mm that you can differentiate the weapons, I found this much more difficult at 15 mm, the Bren team and the JL look great. Look forward to reading your CoC reports.

    John

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    1. It is a great scale. I still like 15mm for how they look on the tabletop (distance scale) but I'm with you on the figure detail on 20mm. It seems to hit the sweet spot between 28mm and 15mm. I'll still collect both as I'm a complete nut...

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  4. You have done a beautiful job with some great miniatures.

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    1. Thanks Jacksarge, I'm delighted you like them. Check back in a few weeks and I'll have another section or two up on the blog.

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  5. They look great Curt! I've tried to talk Nick into giving 20mm WWII a try, but he refuses so were staying with 15mm and 28mm. I get his point with maybe 3 scales for one period might be a bit much.:-)

    I hear you on FOW in that after years of trying(mainly due to popularity) I just cannot like the rules and so have decided to switch my 15mm WWII to the Battlegroup series with some re-basing needed. 28mm WWII will remain BA and CoC.

    Christopher

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    1. What? Limiting yourself to 'just' two scales? OUTRAGEOUS! Greg and I are insane as we have WWII in 6mm, 15mm, 20mm and 28mm (and I think I may have some 10s kicking around here somewhere...). The Napoleonics are almost as bad. We're such completely irrational hobby dorks it's not even funny.

      Yeah, I played FOW enough for me to give it a pass. Unimaginative IGOUGO sequence, heavy artillery on the table, tanks arrayed hub-to-hub, limiting D6 system, blah, blah, blah. This all being said I'm delighted it has brought more people into the historical side of the wargaming hobby. Personally I see it as an 'entry drug' to attract gamers from the 40K/WHF crowd and where I hope some of these players will look to try other rules and periods once they see what's available to them.

      I still have to try out Battlegroup...

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    2. "I still have to try out Battlegroup..."

      You won't regret it my friend - IMHO its everything that FoW is not!

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    3. I know you guys are mad for it which is one of the reasons I want to give it a go.

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  6. Very nice Curt. Your painting certainly shows why AB figures are the Gold Standard for WW2, in my opinion. Lovely work. I think you and Monty are right about Vokes, who may have inspired the comment of another general, Ffoulkes, that if the words "Frontal" and "F**k" were removed from the language, then Canadian officers would be unable to discuss tactics or exchange social pleasantries. Just replace "Frontal" with "Flanking" today and the remark holds true.
    Again, great job. Bravo.

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    1. Thanks Michael, very kind of you to say. Yes, it was tragic that Canada spent so much energy to keep its army together under Canadian command (as opposed to being amalgamated within the British structure) only to have the poor luck to have relatively uninspiring generals at those higher levels. I believe the Canadian troops, NCOs and junior officers were often superb, but the senior officers were largely wanting of that essential 'spark' to make the best of them. But that's just my opinion and I know many who would cry me down on this.

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  7. Another historically based and thoughtful project wonderfully executed Curt - well done indeed.

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  8. Excellent work Curt! The painting on the figures is as always top of the shelf and your basing really sets them off. Looking at your stuff I MIGHT be tempted with WW2 in 20mm.... well I am to be honest. Curse you ;-)

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    1. Thanks Nick, very kind of you. I can understand you wavering with the 20mm aspect but the AB stuff virtually cries to be done - it's just that nice.

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  9. Nicely done Curt!!! AB figures are beautiful to paint!

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    1. Thanks Ray! Yes, they are an absolute pleasure. Whenever I see them I think they are 28s.

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  10. Stunning work as usual dude. Particularly impressed with the basing - excellent!

    I was lucky to enough to see that Lawren P Harris painting at a Winnipeg Art Gallery show last year - it was really something to see in person. So cool that you have it in this post, it was the first thing I thought of when you mentioned Ortona to me the other day!

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    1. Thanks Greg!

      Oh wow, I would have loved to have seen that show as I love all the work from the Canadian War Artists. That collection ( and The Beaverbrook Collection from WWI) are national treasures.

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  11. Great stuff Curt. The basing is spot on. I love your potted histories that go with projects like this. Arty Conliffe is certainly a clever chap. We love Shako and haven't touched another set of Naps rules since we started with it/

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    1. Cheers Millsy! Yes, I'm a big fan of many of Conliffe's designs (though some of his mechanics can be a bit weird at times). 'Shako' is a great set of fast-play rules and were a long-time favourite of the Fawcett Avenue crew.

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  12. Excellent miniatures and a perfect paintjob.

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  13. Great looking figures and a superb blog entry.

    Cheers, Ross

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    1. Thanks very much Ross, I'm happy you enjoyed it.

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  14. Fantastic painting work, and a very interesting small battle. The models from AB are really nice, better, in fact, that some 28mm ones.

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    1. Gracias Juan! Yes, the AB range is perhaps one of the best in any scale for WWII. (And their 18mm Napoleonics are right up there as well, IMO)

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  15. Its a real pleasure to see such lovely painting accompanied by a nice historical write up. Its one of those blog entries where you can take a cup of coffee and sit down for a good read. Quality, thanks!

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    1. Thanks very much for the note - I'm very happy that the write-up goes well with a mug of coffee. As good a testimony as one could want!

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  16. Really good job on these guys. Interesting situation; I may try to do a Command Decision scenario for it.

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    1. Yes, I think it work very well as a CD-scaled scenario! Hmm, now that I think of it, I wonder how it would work with 'Spearhead'?

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  17. Excellent painting and basing. I recall reading that during the Ortona battle the Germans couldn't budge some Infantry from a building so they sneaked around it and planted demo charges and brought the whole building down. It resulted in the same happening to them though.
    cheers

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    1. Yes, in Zuehke's 'Ortona' he relates that incident occurred during the morning of the 27th of December 1943. 24 men from the Edmontons were in the house when it was demolished by the Germans. The Canadians, feeling that the combat to date had been fierce but not vindictive, felt that they needed to retaliate. So Cpt. Bill Longhurst took a party behind German lines and upon finding a building heavily held by Fallshirmjaegers quietly sent in a party of sappers with heavy explosives and brought the entire structure down. This began a tit-for-tat series of demolitions, by both sides, where large portions of the town were blasted apart by explosives. A very sad thing to happen to a previously picturesque seaside town. From what I've read, the town was rebuilt and has since regained its status as a nice holiday destination with several nice beaches nearby. I'd really like to visit it one day in order to tour the countryside and visit our lads interred there.

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    2. Likewise would like to visit Ortona and Monte Cassino. But also see the big place Gladiators entertained the masses and Emperors ruled.
      cheers

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  18. Very nice, as usual, Curt! When I started painting some FOW a few years back, I did Seaforths for infantry, and Calgary's for tankers - with 90th Grens for the Germans. Look forward to seeing more along these lines!

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    1. Thanks Kev! I didn't know you did 15mm stuff for Italy - very cool. Yes, I'm going to do some Shermans IIIs from the Three Rivers Tank Regiment along with some mortars and machine guns from the Saskatoon Light Infantry. A nice little force for CoC or somesuch.

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    2. CRIPES! --2006? I didn't realize they were THAT old! http://www.mts.net/~kevinjrh/gaming/fow/canadians/fow_canadians_seaforths.htm

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  19. Oh, and you got "Tango-ed" on TMP! http://theminiaturespage.com/boards/msg.mv?id=360839

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    1. Ah, yes! Tango01 is one of my frequent boosters (bless his soul).

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  20. Superb painting and basing on some quality figures Curt.

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    1. Thanks very much Pat! High praise indeed coming from you - I find your collection in this period to be one of those who have hit the gold standard in the hobby.

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  21. Guess you beat me by 2 months in the race for some AB's. Fantastic range of figures but it's always inspiring to see you can make something 'special' out of a bunch of figs. Love how you tackled those with this theme, now bring us some more...

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    1. Thanks Mike! I should have some more of these lads up in a week or so.

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  22. I'm a bit late but...fantastic paintjob and great post, love the illustrations!

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    1. Thanks very much Phil! Harris and Comfort were two of several artists commissioned by the government to follow the troops and paint scenes of the front lines. They are seen as a great treasure here in Canada and are often used in posters and cards.

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