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75th Anniversary of Battle of Monte Cassino and Northern Italy (Terrain Build)

75th Anniversary of Battle of Monte Cassino and Northern Italy (Terrain Build)

Project Blog by redvers

Recommendations: 213

About the Project

Firstly, I’m aware that the 75th Anniversary for the first Battle of Monte Cassino is 12th January 2019 however, this project is about preparing for some of the games that I’m thinking about running. I’m a slow painter, so I need plenty of time to prepare! In this project, I will look at building the terrain that I will need for the battles. I have another project looking at the forces that I need to build and paint to better re-create those involved.

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Trenches - Building the sub-structure

Tutoring 3
Skill 4
Idea 4
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The German defenders in Italy were very well dug in and had created a series of defensive lines across the country. Because of this, I’m going to need some trenches to represent the dug in nature of the defenders. Unlike the BoW crew with their Bolt Action desert trench table, I can’t glue foam to a wooden base. My trenches will be placed on the table as ‘terrain’.

I’ve started with 3mm foam underfloor heating insulation. I’ve used this to craft hills and other objects as it is very easy to work with. I’m going to build the trenches in 4″ strips and have cut three 4″ lengths of foam, each of narrower width. I’ve then proceeded to glue these together using PVA and held in place with a cocktail stick. I’ve made sure that each strip starts flush with one long edge – this will make the inside of the trench wall.

I’m going to need a fair amount of this, so I made quite a few.

Trenches - Building the sub-structure

Once the PVA has dried, I mounted each piece of foam onto a plasticard base. I’ve made sure that the plasticard is slightly wider and longer than the foam base. This will give the basing material something to stick to.

The strips of foam create a stepped effect which won’t be ideal for the polyfilla cover so I then went across them with a sharp knife to lessen the stepping.

Finally (in the last picture below) I have scored the plasticard to give the polyfilla something to stick to.

I also want to break up the uniform look so will create some craters in the front of the trench line. To do this, I’ve started by cutting out circular areas of the foam.

The start of a craterThe start of a crater

The next job will be to apply the polyfilla top. This will provide some weight, definition and hold the whole thing together.

Defensive Obstacles - Finishing them off

Tutoring 2
Skill 6
Idea 3
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Time for an update.

Once the paint from the previous step had dried I flocked up the bases. I mixed up a 50:50 water to PVA mix and painted this onto the bases where I wanted the flock to stick. I then applied three separate flocks, a brown, light and a dark green. This was then left to dry.

Once the flock had dried, I soaked some clump foliage in pva/water and stuck this to the base to represent bushes. Once this was all dry, I have sprayed the whole base with a 4:1 water to PVA mix to seal everything down.

For the minefields, I’ve just flocked the base and left it as is. This is after all just area terrain and I think that fenced areas and signs will impede the models should the choose to enter the minefield.

I’ve left patches of the barbed wire and tank trap ground bare to make it look as if the defences are newly laid.

A not very interesting or exciting minefield (but it will blow you up if you enter it)A not very interesting or exciting minefield (but it will blow you up if you enter it)
Tank TrapsTank Traps
Barbed wireBarbed wire
The combined defencesThe combined defences

Defensive Obstacles - Getting the colour down

Tutoring 6
Skill 7
Idea 6
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It’s been busy recently in the Redvers’ household but I’ve had some time to advance this project. The filla took 24 hours to dry properly and securely hold the tank traps and barbed wire in place. For the ground, I took my cheap, dark brown paint and mixed in some PVA glue, mainly to hold the sand in place. I applied this liberally over the filla.

Once the first coat was dry, I mixed up a darker brown wash and applied this, allowing it to run and pool. I also applied the wash to the tank traps to give them a dirty look and also to the barbed wire to dull down the shine and provide a ‘rusty’ look.

Tank traps with the wash going down - I've deliberately used a lot of wash hereTank traps with the wash going down - I've deliberately used a lot of wash here
Barbed wire with the wash appliedBarbed wire with the wash applied
Barbed wire fully driedBarbed wire fully dried

The above pictures also show the results once dry. You’ll note the lighter areas where the filla is still somewhat visible. I’m ok with this as these raised areas would naturally be lighter so I’m going to leave these as is.

Next step is to flock these up and they should be finished.

Defensive Obstacles - Applying the basing material

Tutoring 5
Skill 7
Idea 5
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I like using filler (spakling paste) for my basing. It’s creates a decent texture and can hold things down if attached while wet which effectively places those items ‘in to the terrain’ rather than ‘on top of the terrain’.

I start by scoring the MDF base with a knife to help create a rough surface area for the filler to adhere to. It’s then a simple case of applying the filler. I use my finger and some water to smooth it out and create undulations so it looks more natural.

An MDF base covered with filler that has been smoothed with some waterAn MDF base covered with filler that has been smoothed with some water

For the mine fields, I will simply sprinkle over some sand and small stones/cork chippings to create some texture and leave to dry.

For the tank traps and barbed wire, I pushed the primed tile spacers into the filler and applied a small blob of filler around the base of each ‘post’ to create the impression of these posts being fixed into the ground. Again, some water and my finger smoothed these blobs out to make them look more ‘natural’.

The tank traps with the pre-smoothed blobs of filler around each postThe tank traps with the pre-smoothed blobs of filler around each post

Same approach for the barbed wire posts. Once the posts were attached, I gently pushed the coils of barbed wire into the filler along the line of the posts. Not to far, just enough to hold them in place.

Attaching the barbed wireAttaching the barbed wire

Finally, I applied sand over the base to create texture and left it all to dry. I generally leave this 24 hours to make sure it has fully dried. You also need to be careful of warping, particularly with the longer stretches (which is why a 4″ length of base is better than the 8″ base). I’ve noticed a few of mine warping so carefully hold the ends down with some weights to avoid this.

Defensive Obstacles - Barbed Wire

Tutoring 6
Skill 3
Idea 6
2 Comments

I thought about making my own barbed wire but then found that it’s very cheap from a number of sources, so that seemed the easiest option.

The width of a standard pencil seems close enough for the diameter of a coil of barbed wire, so I’ve wrapped the wire around this to shape it. I’ve created 4″ lengths which I will fix to the bases when I apply the basing material.

Having done this for all of the bases going to take the barbed wire, I had a nice blister developing on the end of my index finger. Does this count as a hobby related injury?

One of the lengths of coiled barbed wireOne of the lengths of coiled barbed wire

Defensive Obstacles

Tutoring 6
Skill 5
Idea 5
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The battle for Italy was a series of assaults on heavily defended positions. With the bunkers and machine gun nests complete, I’m going to need plenty of obstacles to slow the attackers down. So I need to make minefields, tank traps and barbed wire entanglements.

I’m going to use the same approach for all of these to keep things simple. And for the minefield, I’m just going to create an area terrain, no signs with skulls on or ‘obvious’ mines buried in the ground.

In Flames of War, these area obstacles are usually 2″ by 8″. I will start with some 3mm MDF and cut some bases to the above dimensions. I will also cut a few to 2″ by 4″ so that they can fit around other terrain. I’ve chamfered the edges so that it will eventually blend in with the table.

Defensive Obstacles

The tank traps and the supports for the barbed wire will be made out of tile spacers. I bought a bag of 200 of the smallest spacers I could find from my local tiling shop for a couple of quid. These are 2mm in width (ideal) but have a bit more depth to them than I would like.

In the picture below, you can see on the left an original spacer. I’ve then trimmed the ends off so that they are about 6mm in length. The one in the middle will be used for the tank trap and the one on the right will be used for the barbed wire.

The tile spacers. In the middle and right, cut to the correct size.The tile spacers. In the middle and right, cut to the correct size.

The tank traps need two spacers glued together to create a cross shape. Everything was then primed with my cheap, trusty Halfords grey primer.

These are now ready to be added to the base.

Primed and ready to go.Primed and ready to go.

Bunker and Nest update

Tutoring 1
Skill 3
Idea 2
No Comments

I sealed the flock of the bunkers and the nests with watered down PVA. Once dry, this left a slight sheen over some of the model that I didn’t like so I have decided to give both the bunkers and the nests a matt varnish.

Bunker and Nest update
Bunker and Nest update
Bunker and Nest update

Machine Gun Nests - Finished

Tutoring 5
Skill 8
Idea 7
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Annoyingly, I had taken some more photos of the next steps in painting the machine gun nests but deleted them. Grrrr.

So to a brief text narrative of the steps. I primed the model as I wanted the paint to adhere correctly to the cocktail sticks. This was a simple grey primer from Halfords. I then painted the filler in the same was as the concrete bunkers, with the cheap brown paint.

The cocktail sticks got a Camo Medium Brown base which I then applied a wash to. I think two washes to try and get some depth. To finish, I lightly dry brushed some middlestone over the sticks and applied a thin coat of middlestone to the ends of the cocktail sticks with the intention of making these look like the sawn wood rather than the rough bark.

The flocking and hedges was exactly the same as the concrete bunker.

These just need to be sealed now with some watered down PVA and perhaps an matt varnish applied to the logs to complete.

I also attempted to build a nest out of just cocktail sticks applied to the filler. This was an attempt to create a non ‘dug in’ nest. Frankly it was very fiddly and just doesn’t look as good but they might still get used so I painted them up anyway. I’ve included them below as how not to do it!

Machine Gun Nests

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Skill 6
Idea 7
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I’m going to try and make a machine gun nest that is made of logs and dug in to the surrounding ground. I’ll start with a base made of 3mm MDF cut into the approximate size of a medium FoW base. I’ve chamfered the edges and scored the top.

Machine Gun Nests

I’m going to build the earth out of filler so the scoring will help with the adhesion. I’ve place a decent amount on to the base and then an extra dollop in the middle.

The logs will be made out of cocktail sticks (tooth picks) which are a decent scale for 15mm. I’ve started by sticking two uprights at the front of the base.

Machine Gun Nests

Behind the uprights, I want some short logs sloping backward to create a V shape. The idea being that the machine gun would be positioned at the apex of the V. To do this, I’ve gently pushed the dollop of filler forward toward the uprights while pushing the short cocktail sticks in to the filler.

Machine Gun Nests

I now need to create the roof. I’ve cut some longer cocktail sticks and have gently pushed these into the dollop of filler and across the V of the short sticks.

I then put a little more filler over the ends of the newly laid ‘roof’ to hold these in place and to make it look like the nest is dug in.

Machine Gun Nests

Final step was to push the filler at the apex of the V out of the way to create the impression of an opening (like drilling out the gun barrel!). I’ve also put some water on my finger and smoothed out the filler.

I just need to leave these to dry now – I’ll give it 24 hours just to be sure as the filler is quite thick in the middle and will take a bit longer to harden.

Finished Bunker

Tutoring 5
Skill 7
Idea 5
2 Comments

I’ve now given the bunker a light dry brush of mid grey.

I lightly drilled out the gun barrel – not all the way as it was quite fiddly but enough to create the imitation. I painted the gun barrel middlestone and then applied a wash.

With the basing, I started with the clump foliage. I soaked this in a 50:50 mix of water and PVA until it was sodden. I then applied it straight to the base and left it to dry. This was, I avoided any of the scatter getting stuck the ‘bushes’.

Applying the scatter was just a case of painted the PVA on to the base and sprinkling. I went for a mix of a dark and mid tone scatter to build in some variation. Once dry, I sealed this all down with a water/PVA spray – about 5 to 1 ratio.

I think these bunkers are now finished. A couple are a little rough and ready> i probably should have spent more time on the cutting of the foam to get a better angle and end result but otherwise, I’m quite pleased with the result.

Next up, I will look to build some machine gun nests.

The Based Bunker

Tutoring 5
Skill 5
Idea 3
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Once the filler was dry, I’ve given it a couple of coats of thin, brown acrylic paint. I’ve got some cheap acrylic for this which cost about £4 for 500ml on Amazon. I only use it for terrain. I’ve also used a cheap brush as filler is quite rough and ruins the bristles.

The Based Bunker

Next up, I will need to paint the gun barrel and give the bunker a light dry brush. I can then flock the base and it will be finished.

Changing the base

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Skill 0
Idea 1
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Having now seen the bunker sat on the table, I think it needs something to blend it in to whatever table it is sat on. I’ve taken some 3mm MDF sheets and cut bases that are larger than the bunker and chamfered the edge.

Changing the base

I’m going to use filler to stick the bunker to the base. To ensure a good contact, I’ve scored the base. I’ve then put some filler on the base, pushed the bunker in and then sculpted the filler around the bunker.

Changing the base

Painting the Bunker

Tutoring 3
Skill 6
Idea 3
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I’ve used the Halfords’ grey primer spray. The foam isn’t going to take paint well so I really need a good base for this. The primer also has the added advantage of being a good concrete colour!

After the primer, I’ve given the bunker a black wash.

Painting the Bunker

Tidying the Bunkers

Tutoring 6
Skill 7
Idea 4
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As seen from the previous entry, some of the sides are a little rough. I’ve taken some filler and plastered this around the model and let it dry. I’ve then sanded it down and despite the pictures making it look lumpy, it’s actually smooth. The filler also adds some texture.

Bunker Build

Tutoring 3
Skill 2
Idea 5
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I’ve have some left over 25pdr gun barrels. While these aren’t German, once mounted in the bunker, it hopefully won’t look too obvious. To allow the guns to be mounted, I’ve cut a little groove into the foam to take the gun.

I’ve also cut a slice out of the short side which will become the bunker gun opening once glued together.

A lot of super glue was used to put the two pieces together with the gun held between them.

I’ve then tried to carve the upper part to create a slope around the top. Having looked at a lot of bunkers, this appears to be common.

Carving the foam was very easy with a sharp knife (I used the knife that came in the foam!) however my skill let me down a little and each bunker is not particularly uniform.

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Skill 0
Idea 0
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Starting the Bunkers

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Idea 1
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I’m going to kick off with creating the bunkers that littered the defensive lines created by the Germans. They weren’t present (as far as I know) at Monte Cassino but were further North.

I have some left over high density foam that was used to package some kitchen knives. This can be carved easily with a sharp knife and I think I can sculpt it into some bunker looking shapes. It’s also effectively free!

I’ve started by cutting the foam to the same size as a FoW base. I plan to glue two pieces together and mount a left over gun barrel from the bits box between the two glued halves.

Caveats

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Before I start out, I want to explain some caveats (or excuses!)

I’m limited by skill, time, space and cost (in that order of descending severity!). I’m going to have to compromise in some areas and the first area will be going for more generic, re-useable terrain vs. specific Italian terrain. I’m therefore going to make some terrain elements that can be used across a lot of different battlefields but at least fit in to an Italian battlefield.

I plan to build some specific terrain items. In particular, I have a lot of sofa foam that I plan to turn into at least a part of the imposing hill that overlooks the town of Cassino. I also hope to build some Italian houses at some point but I’ve no idea how yet….

There may also be large gaps between updates, simply because real life can sometimes get too real and take over.

The Background Blurb

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Idea 5
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I’d like to briefly explain why I’m looking at Monte Cassino and Northern Italy. I was first drawn into WW2 through some of the BoW Flames of War vlogs. Previous to this, I had not gamed historical battles and had mainly been interested in Sci-Fi and Fantasy gaming. After spending some time looking at FoW and WW2 I decided to take the plunge and found myself particularly enjoying the history and geo-political background to the gaming. This was all helped by some of the excellent History articles penned by @Oriskany et al.

I felt that Northern Europe and the Eastern Front had been covered extensively and I wanted to consider some other theatres of WW2 without getting too obscure. Italy looked an interesting bet, particularly as the Royal Sussex Regiment (I live in Sussex) and the Royal Essex Regiment (my home county were involved). My wife is South African and I also found that there were several SA divisions involved in the fighting. So, even with such tenuous connections, it seemed a good choice.

Italy also provides a great representation of the effort the Commonwealth and the world in general committed to supporting the Allies. The British Army alone contained Polish, Canadians, New Zealanders, Indians and South Africans. The Free French also fought and included forces from Morocco and Tunisia. The US were well represented on the Italian peninsula and part of the US forces also included the Brazilian Expeditionary Force.

Monte Cassino was a particularly hard fought series of battles starting 12th January 1944 and German resistance lasted until their eventual retreat on 17th May. The efforts and heroic actions on both sides defy my comprehension and during the course of the battles, the British army handed out five Victoria Crosses. Following the capture of Monte Cassino, the Allied forces were able to break through the Gustav defensive line and push North to meet up with the US VI Corp who had landed at Anzio on 22nd January and had been hard pushed to hold their positions. The link up of the two groups opened the road to Rome and Northern Italy.

My Army build project can be found here: https://www.beastsofwar.com/project/1224831/#snav

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