This Just In…

After a longish hiatus I’ve come back to give you an update. Major projects underway at this time include a complete rehab/refurbish and repaint of my 1/2400 scale modern aircraft carriers and large deck amphibs. Originally these had their flight decks painted flat black. While this choice made the aircraft and deck decals stand out better it wasn’t realistic. With something like 15-20 ships, when I include the LHA/LHD classes, this has been a major undertaking. GHQ has informed me that my special order replacement parts should be going in the mail today so unfortunately that project will have to be a future post.

Another future post will cover my ongoing, if slow, attempt to paint my growing 1/6000 scale modern fleets. Currently, I have a collection of a little over 450 ships with another 20 due to arrive any day now. I’m struggling to paint them all and fix the carriers and build the naval base diorama (yet another future post)… I am about 25% complete overall, all of them are primed, most have their base hull color and now I’m going through, ship class by ship class, painting decks and details. Still not sure how I want to address the water effects for their little bases though.

So, if all of that lies in the future what is this post about? Well, occasionally when I have a bit of extra cash I look around to see what’s new from various manufacturers. Today I’m going to be featuring Viking Forge‘s Mini-Fleet line of 1/2400 scale warships. I’ll simply refer to them as VF. I have mentioned them before and they have some pretty interesting stuff in their product lines. If I understand their products correctly they are a licensed manufacturer of Sea Battle miniatures, from Austria, as well as making their own models. If you look in their catalog the items with numbers that begin “SB” are Sea Battle products and those without are VF products.

In general, all the products in the VF catalog are well proportioned, crisply cast and well detailed. You won’t find the hyper-detailing of GHQ’s products but you will see scale appropriate details. From time to time some of their models have moderate seam lines or flash as well as loss of crispness in the details. This is likely due to the age of the molds being used and affects all casting molds eventually. It would be interesting to find out if they have their own masters here in the U.S. or if they have to import new ones from Austria. Another company that carries Sea Battle in the U.S. is ALNAVCO. I talked to them years ago, before VF picked up the licensing, about this range and why it was so expensive. ALNAVCO imported their models from Austria so on average you’re paying almost $10 more per model. The catalog numbers are essentially the same. The models are the same, I have one ALNAVCO purchased JMSDF Oosumi LHA (catalog number SB353) and one purchased from VF (catalog number SB353). They are identical. ALNAVCO sells theirs at $23.50, when I bought it it was maybe half that. VF sells theirs for $6.95. I’ll leave it up to you.

Enough! On to the pictures. My most recent acquisitions are a pair of French Navy LaFayette frigates, a pair of RoC Navy Kang Ding frigates, a Wichita class AOR for the USN, and a pack of four Type 022 FAC for the PRC PLAN. The first three items are Sea Battle molds and the FAC are a VF creation. The Kang Ding’s are modifications of the French LaFayette class so I bought the French ships just to see if the VF marketers got out ahead of the modelers.  Here are the results and I hope you enjoy.

French Navy LaFayette Frigate. 1/2400 Scale Model by Viking Forge

French Navy LaFayette Frigate. 1/2400 Scale Model by Viking Forge

 

French Navy LaFayette Frigate. 1/2400 Scale Model by Viking Forge

French Navy LaFayette Frigate. 1/2400 Scale Model by Viking Forge

 

RoC Navy Kang Ding Frigate. 1/2400 Scale Model by Viking Forge

RoC Navy Kang Ding Frigate. 1/2400 Scale Model by Viking Forge

 

RoC Navy Kang Ding Frigate. 1/2400 Scale Model by Viking Forge

RoC Navy Kang Ding Frigate. 1/2400 Scale Model by Viking Forge

 

US Navy Wichita Replenishment Oiler. 1/2400 Scale Model by Viking Forge

US Navy Wichita Replenishment Oiler. 1/2400 Scale Model by Viking Forge

 

US Navy Wichita Replenishment Oiler. 1/2400 Scale Model by Viking Forge

US Navy Wichita Replenishment Oiler. 1/2400 Scale Model by Viking Forge

 

PRC Navy Type 022 FAC (Houbei Class). 1/2400 Scale Model by Viking Forge

PRC Navy Type 022 FAC (Houbei Class). 1/2400 Scale Model by Viking Forge

 

PRC Navy Type 022 FAC (Houbei Class). 1/2400 Scale Model by Viking Forge

PRC Navy Type 022 FAC (Houbei Class). 1/2400 Scale Model by Viking Forge

 

The Wichita models looks like it is showing signs of aging. The seam lines are more pronounced than I would have liked and the area around the flight deck looks like it has lost some detail over the years. Don’t get me wrong this is still a very good model I just think it might be getting a little long in the tooth.

Viking Forge 1/2400 Scale Wichita Class AOR Showing Minor Seam Slippage.

Viking Forge 1/2400 Scale Wichita Class AOR Showing Minor Seam Slippage and Detail Loss.

 

The new frigate models were very clean and crisp with very minor seam lines, on par with any manufacturer anywhere.

Viking Forge 1/2400 Scale Kang Ding and LaFayette Frigates Showing Very Minor Seam Lines on Flight Decks.

Viking Forge 1/2400 Scale Kang Ding and LaFayette Frigates Showing Very Minor Seam Lines on Flight Decks.

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A Look Around

As part of the Tow Tank feature I would like to offer a look at what is out there from some of the manufacturers. In depth analysis, in terms of fit and finish, of these models will follow. For now I simply offer a view of what one gets when they order a particular miniature. Some are quite good, some are less so. You can judge for yourself.

Viking Forge

Here are some of the offerings from Viking Forge for the PLAN. These models were purchased about seven years ago and the good folks at VF have increased their range of available ships since then. I’m in the process of acquiring the new ships re-shooting the finished models.

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VF 1/2400 scale PRC Type 052C DDG in the blister pack

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VF 1/2400 scale PRC Type 052C DDG

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VF 1/2400 scale PRC Type 052B DDG in the blister pack

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VF 1/2400 scale PRC Type 052B DDG

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VF 1/2400 scale PRC Type 054 FFG in blister pack

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VF 1/2400 scale PRC Type 054 FFG

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VF 1/2400 scale Type 053H FFG in blister pack

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VF 1/2400 scale Type 053H FFG

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve Got A Guy…

If you’ve ever lived the life of an Ex-pat far from your home country then you have probably experienced some level of culture shock.  It takes far longer to get even the most mundane tasks accomplished until you can figure out how things work.  Where can you get hobby paint? Or tools?  Or anything you need for that matter.  Often knowledge and wisdom come slowly – mostly through tribal knowledge.  When I lived in Bahrain it was a phenomenon I like to call “I’ve got a guy”.  You need your date palms pruned?  I’ve got a guy.  You need your son driven to rugby practice? I’ve got a guy.  You get the idea.  Well this is another post about decals, specifically 1/2400 scale ship decals.  If you need decals for an aircraft carrier, a modern PRC destroyer, or a U.S. cruiser…  I’ve got a guy.

Actually in this case it is two guys, Tanner and Brad.  Tanner handles the design and Brad does production and sales I believe.  Brad sells these decals through an ebay storefront known as Taskforce2400.  Copyright information on the decals will either say WWII Central, Tanner’s handle, or Taskforce2400.  To date all the decals in both the modern and WWII ranges are specifically sized for 1/2400 scale ships from GHQ.  The picture below offers some idea of the range of modern vessels covered.  The decals are full color which is both a benefit and a problem as will be shown a bit further down.  The selection is not limited to helo decks by the way.  In fact the LHD deck decals are some of the most detailed decals I’ve seen.  My latest LHD is still in progress so the big reveal will have to wait.  Additionally, Brad and Tanner have recently added RN Falklands campaign deck decals for the Type 42, 22, and 21 ships.  I have these on order but they haven’t arrived yet.

An array of modern deck decals for USN, RN, and PLAN ships from Taskforce2400.

An array of modern deck decals for USN, RN, and PLAN ships from Taskforce2400.

If you prefer WWII they offer a wide selection of carrier deck decals as well.  There are many more designs than the two included below including decals for Graf Zeppelin and Aquila.  Some of the decals are offered in slightly different designs which feature different color shading, air recognition symbols, or line markings.  I believe the goal is to be able to model any fleet carrier, light carrier, or escort carrier from the war.

Flight deck decal for GHQ 1/2400 Ark Royal by WWII Central.

Flight deck decal for GHQ 1/2400 Ark Royal by WWII Central.

1/2400 scale flight deck decal for USN CV-5 or CV-6.

1/2400 scale flight deck decal for USN CV-5 or CV-6.

Why is this important?  Well if you game with or collect modern warships you have to deal with aviation capable ships, after all helicopters are everywhere.  Until now there have been very few options.  Paint the lines yourself, find decals, or go without.  I certainly don’t have the talent to paint flight deck lines in this scale so that was a non-starter.  I don’t really want to go without if I can avoid it so that leaves decals.  I’ve tried to make my own decals with some success

1/2400 scale USCG Cutter by Viking Forge.  Decals by the author.

1/2400 scale USCG Cutter by Viking Forge. Decals by the author.

But making your own decals is hard and white lettering, marks, or lines don’t work very well unless you have access to an ALPS printer which I don’t.  Even my attempts to find a good used ALPS printer on ebay were totally frustrated.  So most of the time I went without as evidenced by the bare helo deck on the USCG Cutter.  Then in the mid 1990’s another option appeared, SeaBat Replicas.  For a while these were a godsend.  They offered a limited range – only the USN 1/2400 ships offered by GHQ were covered.  But there was one huge advantage SeaBat offered and that was hull numbers for the whole class and usually in three different colors.  The SeaBat decals were white lines on clear film so, unlike Taskforce2400 decals, whatever color you painted your deck would show through.  Here are some of the SeaBat decals still on the sheet.  It is hard to make out the white markings but they’re there.  In 1998 or so these stopped appearing on store shelves so I quickly bought out any remaining stock I could find in hobby shops or on ebay.

1/2400 scale deck markings for Ticonderoga class CG by SeaBat Replicas.

1/2400 scale deck markings for Ticonderoga class CG by SeaBat Replicas.

1/2400 scale model of Spruance DD by CinC, decals by SeaBat Replicas.

1/2400 scale model of Spruance DD by CinC, decals by SeaBat Replicas.

1/2400 scale model of Arleigh Burke DDG by GHQ, decals by SeaBat Replicas.

1/2400 scale model of Arleigh Burke DDG by GHQ, decals by SeaBat Replicas.

1/2400 scale model of Oliver H. Perry FFG by GHQ, decals by SeaBat Replicas.

1/2400 scale model of Oliver H. Perry FFG by GHQ, decals by SeaBat Replicas.

Here are the Taskforce2400 decals for comparison.

1/2400 scale model of Ticonderoga CG by GHQ, decals by Taskforce2400.

1/2400 scale model of Ticonderoga CG by GHQ, decals by Taskforce2400.

1/2400 scale model of Jiangkai II by GHQ, decals by Taskforce2400.

1/2400 scale model of Jiangkai II by GHQ, decals by Taskforce2400.

So here you can see one of the problems of the Taskforce2400 approach.  My old flat black flight decks are not technically correct in terms of  accurate color representation.  Personally these are more game pieces than museum pieces so I don’t worry about it that much.  When you use decals which have the deck color included it can really stand out if it doesn’t match you planned deck color.  The Jiangkai II for example looks kind of wonky because the blue gray deck color referenced from pictures here does not match the gray of the flight deck decal.  The white balance of the photo above is a little off but the deck decal matches nicely with the gray of other photos of Jiangkai IIs just not the pictures I chose to use.  So who is right?  Well it looks kind of silly so I’ll probably have to strip the ship down and repaint to match the decal.  Guess I should have waited to paint the ship until after I had seen the decal. Oh well.

I really like these decals and I love that the range is continually expanding.  If I could have one wish it would be for them to expand their coverage to the Viking Forge line of 1/2400 scale ships as well.  Unfortunately because they can’t print pure white decals I don’t think they’ll be able to make hull numbers anytime soon.  One other note about applying the decals.  If you use the Micro-Sol/Micro-Set approach be aware that the decals will bubble and wrinkle and generally look like an epic fail but will then smooth out very nicely.  Don’t get too anxious and start trying to smooth it out or move it around.  If you can’t resist you stand an excellent change of tearing or stretching the decal.  Good luck and I hope you enjoy.

 

Mini or Micro?

I have been a fan of microarmor (1/285 scale) and micronauts (1/2400 scale) since discovering them in college in the mid 1980’s.  The details and the quality of many of the models, given their small size, was very impressive.  In the past few years however I’ve found something which is even better – for some applications.  The Figurehead range of naval miniatures are smaller (1/6000 scale), less expensive (on a per model basis), and have a larger product range than 1/2400.  I suppose now is a good time to caveat my comments with the fact that I’m speaking about post-WWII models.  I’m just not familiar enough with earlier ranges to judge which ones are most complete.

Figurehead also seems to offer the most complete line of vessels for a full Falkland Islands campaign.  The only other line that comes close is SeaWulf, but I don’t think theirs is as complete and for 1/2400 scale the quality isn’t as high as GHQ, CinC, or Viking Forge/SeaBattle.  Don’t get me wrong I like the SeaWulf line because they offer ships no one else does like the Leander class frigates and all the variants of that class but they are gaming quality not collector’s quality pieces.

With a new affinity for 1/6000 scale I’ve launched on a naval expansion program that will provide a significant increase in capability and diversity of my navies.  In truth the original attraction to this scale was the breadth of models available.  GHQ makes some fantastic models but they have a very narrow selection in modern naval miniatures.  They are trying to correct that now but with eight major product lines spanning five scales, modern naval is almost the red-headed step-child.  As an example, the announcement for the 2014-2015 product year had four modern naval vessels out of forty-seven new models.  About 8.5% of their new model production.  The WWI and WWII lines each will be getting four new models as well so overall naval enthusiasts will be getting about 25.5% of GHQ’s attention next year.  Just think what wonderful models could be made if a company of GHQ quality focused only on naval units, but I guess its the sales revenues of all the other things that allow them to expand as they have in the first place.

Back on point, it was the breadth of models available that attracted me in the first place.  For several years now I have been working on a scenario supplement for the Harpoon ruleset published by Clash of Arms Games.  My supplement is devoted to aircraft carriers and naval aviation.  I have more than a dozen scenarios from 1962 to 2013 researched and written, some large, some small, some historical, some ‘might-have-been’ and so on.  If you follow my blog then you know real life often interrupts my projects and the Harpoon supplement is no exception.  At this point I’m not sure CoA will ever speak to me again much less publish my work.  Maybe I’ll have to go into micro publishing and do it myself…  I digress.  Some of the scenarios I’ve written that take place in the 1960’s have no miniatures in 1/2400 scale, only Figurehead makes appropriate ships.  Naturally I want to someday be able to play my scenarios on the table top and Figurehead, for the moment at least, is the only solution.

All of this got me thinking about the hobby and scales and names and things.  While GHQ has trademarked certain names like Micronauts, is “micro” really appropriate anymore when there is something even smaller?  A similar situation exists with Micro Armor, also a GHQ registered trademark.  With 1/600 scale tanks and vehicles on the market should the smaller version become ‘micro’ and the 1/285 range become ‘mini’?  Or maybe the 1/6000 ships and 1/600 tanks should be called ‘nano’.  There may be a marketing downside to that however.  The word ‘nano’ makes it sound impossibly small.  I doubt GHQ will give up their trademarks so the point is moot.

The Nature of Cheating…

I’m not a snob or purist by any stretch of the imagination.  I enjoy this hobby because so much is left up to the individual in terms of what level of effort they want to put into it.  There are certainly plenty of ways to ‘throw money at the problem’ and hire someone to design, build, or paint something that could be made with some personal research, effort, and patience.  What is cheating or maybe I should ask when is it cheating?  Is it cheating when you mail off a box of miniatures to have someone else paint and detail?  Is it cheating when you buy something ready made off ebay?  Is it cheating when you use decals instead of painting by hand.  I doubt ‘cheating’ has any real context in this hobby unless you’re entering into modeling competitions trying to pass off another’s work as your own.  So… why ask the question?

For many years I have been collecting various miniatures ranging from age of sail, WWII, and modern warships to modern armored vehicles.  Almost all of them I have painted myself with varying degrees of success.  There have been some models however, particularly my warships, which have languished in the ‘To-Do’ box because I can’t quite figure out how to finish them.  Usually they need flight deck markings with very scant information available.  Aircraft carriers, especially WWII Axis powers carriers, are a particular challenging in this way.  For a couple of years now I’ve had GHQ’s excellent CV Aquila and Graf Zeppelin sitting waiting for me to figure it out.  Today I made the leap.

Before I get to the reveal let me digress a bit.  Researching the historical records and painting WWII warships in appropriate camouflage patterns is one of the things that got me hooked in miniature wargaming.  When I get a more suitable background made I’ll put together my North Atlantic convoy for a photo shoot.  Here are some GHQ Liberty Ships I painted using schematics and paints from Snyder and Shorts.

Minolta DSC

If you’ve spent any time at all on the GHQ user forum lately you’ll know that one of the regulars, who goes by the avatar WWIICentral, has developed a range of decals for aircraft carrier deck markings.  Tanner, his real name, has created full color, highly detailed decals sized specifically for GHQ miniatures.  His website can be found here.  There is also a very helpful slideshow tutorial which shows how to put the decals on the ships.  In the past I haven’t been a real big fan of full deck decals for aircraft carriers.  I prefer to model the ships with a sizeable deckload of aircraft, I’ve even ordered additional sprues of aircraft to make the deck look more full.  Unfortunately, the aircraft glued to the decal instead of directly to the model means any rough handling will cause the decal to tear and the aircraft to fall off.  I think you can just make out one vacant spot in the first row and another in the last row where an airplane has torn free.  In this case the decals were from a now defunct company, SeaBat Decals, which offered quite an extensive array of hull and deck markings.  I’m curious to see if Tanners will be any different.

Minolta DSC

In the past I have tried to make my own decals for some of my modern ships.  For the JMSDF Ousumi from Viking Forge I actually purchased a 1/700 scale plastic model so I could get my hands on their decal sheet.  After scaling for 1/2400 I was able to use it as a template for my own simplified version with just the major deck lines.  Is that cheating?  The trouble is I don’t have a printer capable of printing white.  Using the next best alternative I used white decal paper overlaid with the deck color I had chosen.  This allows the white lines to show through where the deck color isn’t applied.  I was never able to achieve results better than ‘wargame’ quality.  The decal, especially white decal paper, has thickness and it was a thickness that was obvious at 1/2400 scale.  I’m very curious about how Tanner solved that problem or if he is just using a different decal paper.

So far I’m very impressed with his business.  I placed an order for the Aquila decal and the Graf Zeppelin decal as well.  Priced at $6.99 a piece, about 44% of the cost of the model itself, the price seems kind of high.  Admittedly I say that without having the product in hand to really evaluate it.  The catalog pictures look great so maybe it’ll be worth every penny.  The service after the sale has been outstanding so far.  In addition to the automatic order confirmation and shipping notices I received an email from Tanner himself thanking me and letting me know that my order was already shipped.  That was a nice touch.  Once they arrive I’ll have to break out the old ‘To Do’ box and finish up these models but that will be a future post…

Pivot to the Pacific

While I ruminate on how to proceed with my monument it is time to change directions a bit and look at 1/2400 modern naval war gaming.  I want to focus on the various models offered covering the People’s Republic of China (PRC).  The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has been undergoing a renaissance of both naval theory and naval architecture.  For many years the PLAN relied on ships and ship designs cast off from the Soviet Union.  No longer.  The PLAN has been building homegrown designs in all categories from submarines to destroyers to amphibious ships.  While it is true that they still use some Soviet/Russian ships and submarines like their “new” aircraft carrier, the naval construction program is very robust.

Here is part of my PLAN fleet.

PLAN Fleet – Models by Viking Forge

These particular models are by Viking Forge.  They have a good level of detail and are very reasonably priced and as far as I can tell they were the first to bring modern PLAN ships to market in 1/2400 scale.  The two closest ships in the front row are Type 052C (Luyang II) DDGs.  The middle two ships in the front row are Type 052B (Luyang I) DDGs.  The final two ships in the front row are Type 053H1 (Jianghu II) FFGs.  I’m working on hull numbers and deck markings next.

GHQ has decided to get back into modern micronaut market with some new PLAN vessels of their own.  Its amazing to me that a company like GHQ – self titled “Best Damn Wargaming Products” supplier since 1967 haven’t produced a new modern naval vessel since 1990.  That was the year they produced the LHD.  I’ll try not to harp on them too much about that because I am very happy they have had a change of heart.  Their newest models are the PLAN aircraft carrier, Liao Ning, the Type 054A (Jiankai II) FFG, and the Type 053H3 (Jiangwei II) FFG.  Here are the unpainted models from their catalog, unfortunately mine haven’t arrived yet.

Liao Ning Jiangkai II Jiangwei II

Now if I can just get one of these fine companies to start making the PLAN amphibious vessels we could have a really good battle in the Spratlys.  Better yet, maybe a little dust up with the JMSDF over the Senkaku Islands is in order.  Guess I better get the fleet painted.