Forward Observer 26

Channeling John Sandars

Not a new Hollywood art movie, but Siggins reliving his earliest days in the hobby. Back then there was only Airfix Magazine before I discovered Military Modelling. Each issue had untold joys, but my strongest memories are of George Gush’s renaissance articles, and the superb 8th Army in the Desert series by John Sandars. I later saw John’s amazing collection at Hatfield House (where is it nowadays?) and was inspired to do… something. My weakness has always been Libya 1940, but I also like Grants…

In that bold, decisive way I have, years pass. I occasionally buy a cheap tank kit, or lay in some 20mm plastic figures. They pile up, like everything else. A couple of years ago my friend Charles needs space, and decides to take his extensive 20mm multi-national tank collection to the charity shop. I suggested he deliver it to me, and I would make the charity donation. Deal done. Then another mate, John, starts working on 15mm Western Desert while he is a mature student. Western Desert. Yes. 15mm? No. WWII is 20mm. It just is. My persuasive personality (and a brief tank painting lesson) wins the day and John swaps to 20mm. We’re off.

Being mental, I start painting Italians, British and Germans.  As research progresses, I realise I am happy up to the Grant and Honey, but don’t really want any Shermans. Later still, I determine an overriding interest in early war kit and so re-resolve to do 1940 Libya (Brits and Italians) and a selection of later war stuff to engage John’s forces. Can you see why I never get anything finished?  But even for me, progress has been impressive. I have mainly accessed models from storage (!), MMS, Milicast, Frontline, Airfix, ICM, Matchbox, Roden, Hasegawa and Revell, with a smattering of others to fill in the gaps. Painting has gone well (see below) and I love to weather desert kit with pigments. It is looking almost like a game… soon. Rules to be decided next.

And finally, a slightly worrying by-product. By far the most appealing element of the Sandars articles, the modelling, and indeed the war itself, are the softskins and early armoured cars. Inevitably there is some cross over with VBCW, civvy street and model railways of the same period. I find myself thinking more and more about civilian lorries, carrying loads that do not go ‘bang’. I have even bought some literature: The Golden Age of Trucking and Klapper’s seminal British Lorries 1900-1945. A future hobby perhaps?

Irrational Fears

I am scared of three things in this hobby: matt varnish, Henry during deadline week* and basing tanks. I think the latter is daft, and looks awful. Probably because I am a modeller at heart. Unusually, I made a fairly strong point of this to John, who of course ignored me and is basing his anyway. As I have been painting and weathering the tanks, and more importantly the fragile armoured cars, I am erring towards basing after all. This is a major volte face for me, and as with the last time I used matt varnish (it went white and ruined 24 Celts), I am advancing cautiously. I think what I really want to achieve is removable bases. Perhaps a hole in the base, with a bolt into a nut on the hull of the tank? This will at least preserve the possibility of removing the base, even though I never will. Any tips?

* Only joking. He’s a teddy bear.


It seems a long, long time ago that I discovered Vallejo paints in France and introduced them to the UK hobby via Wargames Illustrated and Dave Thomas. I suspect a fair few thousand bottles have been sold by now, but as usual in life, I failed to request a finder’s fee! I won’t claim anything similar about the Italian Lifecolor paints, as they have been around the hobby for a while now and I find myself using them more and more. I also see them popping up at figure shows, so they should be easy to obtain.

Lifecolor score by providing accurate military colours for wide range of tank, aircraft and uniform applications. You can buy them in sets of six pots, or individually. So far I have made extensive use of (predictably) the Italian, German and Desert British WWII tank sets. The latter includes an excellent Light Stone (UA225), which I have used for my early vehicles – some overlaid with black – as well as all three colours you will need for the famous but elusive Caunter scheme (UA227/8/9). You may be aware that recent research has moved the Caunter scheme from the light blue stripes of the Airfix Matilda artwork to a stone and grey scheme. I like both approaches, and some of my Valentines will have a blue tint!

Sitting next to these boxes is the Soviet AFV set, as yet largely untested. This offers a selection of subtle colours where most consider ‘Russian green’ as the only option (albeit one with infinite variety!). It also provides ready mixed pots of the elusive ‘4BO’ green (UA237/8/9) that has recently become all the rage in armour circles. It certainly looks the part, and I have used it on PSCo’s T34 discussed elsewhere. Another must have set is the Dust and Rust weathering set. This provides some spot on colours that will make your exhaust pipes look the part and are used by no less than Mig Jimenez himself.

While brushing out perfectly well, Lifecolor paints are also ideally suited to airbrushing. As such they are a natural fit for The Airbrush Company in Lancing who sell them alongside the Iwata range of airbrushes and compressors. As an existing user of Iwata kit – the superb TR1 trigger airbrush – I was very pleased to have a trial of Iwata’s newest compressor, the Smart Jet Plus. The ‘plus’ equates to more power and the addition of a handle which also acts as a reservoir tank, evening out the airflow and removing virtually all the pulsing. The compressor itself is very quiet, and has a useful auto cut off feature once the reservoir has filled. It excels at low pressures, which most Iwata brushes require, and I have to say it was a pleasure to use – you can see the results in the pictures, which speak for themselves. Very highly recommended. I will be covering more Lifecolor products in future issues.

Bench Update

I have lost the skill of drybrushing. Annoying. I used to be really good! I blame washes. And acrylics.


My book reviews normally go into Recce, but I must briefly mention two new books that have impressed me greatly. Firstly, as flagged On Radar last time, is Les Tercios Espagnols 1600-1660 (Pierre Picouet, LRT Editions). This is a paperback book, 144 pages, with a high price ticket (try, but is now one of the gems of my collection. The text is French, which I am slowly working through, but the pictures, flags and diagrams are outstanding. The highlight is a decent selection of Wilke’s beautiful colour illustrations of Thirty Years War troops. A lovely book.

I suspect a lot of work went into compiling the Tercios book, but that time and effort would pale considerably compared to the two volumes of 1940: Le Soldat Francais (Olivier Bellec, H&C). This is an impressive piece of research, even if it is to be expected given the previous books in the series – this one is about the home team! 1940 is the long awaited photographic guide that covers uniforms, headgear and insignia in one volume, and equipment and weapons in the second. That this takes two 140 page books indicates the level of detail on offer. Suffice to say, when I reached the six page section on snow shoes, mountain boots and galoshes, all lovingly photographed, I knew this was redefining ‘comprehensive’. Really, there is far, far more information than you will ever need here, which probably says it all. An incredible publication. You’ll know if you need it or not!


I am very fortunate in having a group of friends who still regularly buy boardgames. As they can now be over £50 each, I probably buy around two or three per year after extensive deliberation, and none without at least a couple of plays. For that reason, I feel wary about recommending them to you lot!

Anyway, there is a lot of good stuff about at the moment. I have recently taken delivery of Commands & Colors: Napoleonics, largely based on my enjoyment of the earlier Ancients title. I will be honest, I didn’t think the Napoleonic version would fit my interests too well, but having played I can say that it definitely scratches an itch. This is not a game for the purist, the detail freak (if you want regimental names, forget it), nor will it satisfy the command and control/simulation buff. Instead it offers a broad brush depiction of a battle with some neat ideas and decent narrative. We found it worked better at the small battle level rather than fighting Waterloo, and there are some oddities which you might wish to fix with house rules – the lack of defensive first fire is chief amongst these. But like C&C:A, it gives a rattling good game in a couple of hours – ideal for when you can’t be bothered to get the figures out.  I would say C&C:N is what Sharpe is to History.

In a quick flurry I can also highly recommend Julius Caesar, a hard fought, balanced and entertaining block game, Wars of the Roses, ditto, and Bulge 20, easily the best Ardennes game I have played in the hobby in the last thirty years (you do get to play a lot of them), and by far the best of this month’s selection.

Closing The Hatches

I am going to put Forward Observer on the shelf for a while. I suppose finishing at 25 would have been neater, but them’s the breaks. The reason? I simply can’t keep up any more. There is so much product in my remit, spanning several hobbies and topics, that it has become near impossible.

Equally draining are the not inconsiderable financial, and space, aspects. I attempt to chase, try out and review new products with predictable impact on my wallet and house. There are some very generous and helpful companies who send me review samples, but most don’t do a discount – which is fine. And you know what has happened to all prices, postage and customs charges. Don’t get me wrong, it is great fun to follow the cult of the new, but I have to admit I can no longer afford it, and certainly not to the detriment of everything else.

So, perhaps by coincidence, I recently got to the point where I knew, definitively, that I didn’t need or even want anything else in the house. Not a single figure, book or tank, another tuft or tube of oil, not even a pack of bases, until I have cleared out and used at least some of what I have.

I also want to step back from the hobby a little. I know from past experience that if I get too close, and too involved, then my enjoyment suffers, sometimes with disastrous effect. My inner demons (mean little baskets) are certainly doing their worst at the moment. In time, I want to sit and make some trees, paint some horses and progress my ‘shiny’ technique which has reinvigorated my Napoleonic project (thanks Doug). Slowly. Savoured. Stress free.

I have really enjoyed my quarter century manning the observation post, hopefully have alerted you to some new ideas or products, and many thanks for all your support and encouragement.

Mike Siggins