Tuesday, January 13, 2015

20mm WWII Canadian Infantry at Ortona (Part III)

Several months ago I started a project to collect and paint the forces which were involved in the 1943 Battle for Ortona. To most, this battle, if known at all, is regarded as nothing but a tiny sideshow within the larger Italian campaign, but for Canada it is our ‘little Stalingrad’, the battle that brought us out from the shadow of Dieppe and re-established our reputation as a battle-winning partner of the Allied 'family'.

The struggle for Ortona was known for its vicious, grinding and intense urban combat. Fighting which the Canadians earned a hard-earned reputation for effective house-clearing during those last weeks of 1943. Their opponents were tough veteran Fallshirmjaegers from the 1st Parachute Division and as such the fighting was ferocious, often with no quarter given or received. In the end the Canadians drove the German paratroopers from the town but at a fearsome cost. Almost 1,400 men from the Canadian 1st Division (the Loyal Edmonton Regiment, Seaforth Highlanders and the Three Rivers Regiment specifically in Ortona) lost their lives during this campaign.

The models you see here are 20mm castings from AB Miniatures. These figures are, in my opinion, the best models available for this period, in this scale (and arguably most 28mm ranges as well). They are quite lanky and have a wonderful sense of animation. Many of the figures do a great job in telling a story by how they're posed. For example, I love the figure of the soldier about to throw a grenade. He is leaning back, probably meant to have his back against a wall, finger-to-pin, waiting for the signal from his section to throw his Mills bomb into an enemy-held room. There is also a figure of a rifleman on his knees firing up to an upper story. You get a sense that he has just come up from a prone position to get a quick shot before dropping back to cover again. Amazing sculpting in any scale.

This is the last section of my Canadian platoon, which also has the command team and some special weapons teams. (The other two sections, and a bit more background, can be seen here and here.)

Okay, in more detail, we have:

The Command Team, made up of the CO accompanied by his radioman, his senior sergeant waving the boys forward and a corporal charging forward with Sten SMG at the ready (the presence of the Stens are a bit anachronistic as the Canadians typically hated them and exchanged them for Thompsons at every  opportunity). The base shapes is what I use for all my skirmish gaming. Hexes for officers, squares for NCOs, rounds for troopers, octagons for special weapons, oblongs for weapon teams.

Next is an artillery Forward Observer with his radioman. Along the Moro River and in Ortona the Fallshirmjaegers specifically targeted Canadian radio operators and the brigade went through an appalling number during the month's fighting.

Here are the dogface infantry. Nothing too sexy, just the trusty SMLE rifle, loads of ammunition and a bunch of grenades. As I mentioned previously there is some brilliant animation here, specifically with the man with the grenade and the kneeling rifleman. 

Finally, here is an assortment of heavy weapon teams. 

First up a set of PIAT teams. One pair legging it and the other deployed prone for firing. The Candadians reportedly loved the PIAT and even used the weapon for 'mouseholing' during their house-to-house fighting (something that sounds suicidally dangerous to me, but I suppose when the situation demands...). 

The next duo is a 2" mortar team. From what I understand they used these to try to mask the movement of men clambering through the rubble-filled streets. 

Concluding the special weapons is this Bren gun team. I like the third man hollering back telling others from the section to bring up some more ammunition.

Another debut in this post are three MDF buildings, the designs of which I had commissioned from Byron at SG2 Creations (who, I must add, is also one of our generous prize sponsors for the Challenge). The need for region-specific buildings came about when I noticed that there were not many retailers who were providing buildings for the Italian campaign in 20mm. Byron and I poured over period photographs of the buildings at Ortona and have come up with a base ‘recipe’ to represent the narrow multi-story structures that were typical to the town. 

MDF buildings are great but one thing that they have a hard time at conveying is the wonderful bodged randomness of older architecture. We all know that any pre-20th century building is a conceit to straight walls and level floors. As such I decided to roughen up the flat, perfect face of these buildings by giving them a rough skim coat of Liquitex gel medium. Once dry, I drybrushed them in khaki and tan to give them that quasi-Mediterranean look.

While the stucco is a bit dour, Ortona was (and still is) a vibrant seaside resort town and so I thought I’d paint the shutters and doors in somewhat brighter, more festive colours. I used thinned-down ink to give them bit of a sun-bleached, care-worn look. (I have to apologize for the roofs as I haven't figured out how I want to replicate the tile. In the meantime I've just painted them a reddish terracotta so they don't look so 'MDF-ish'.)

These three buildings are separate structures so they can be swapped around, but I’m also having Byron make up some 3 and 4-unit row house sections that will have common walls but irregular roofs and facades. We’re also doing a bunch of wrecked structures (as, sadly, most of Ortona was destroyed) that will use these structures as a basic template. It should provide for a tabletop that is thematically closer to the actual location. I have a couple ideas for special one-off buildings that were notable during the campaign but I’ll post on that when things get more clear on how they're coming along.

Of course, if you're looking for an excellent and economical set of Italian Campaign buildings you now know Byron is the man to talk to. :)

Thanks for visiting folks!