Monday, 21 May 2018

Popski's Private Army - Part 2

So in surprisingly little time this thing is built, prepped and ready for the paint shop. It is my routine to leave as many parts loose for painting as I can, in hindsight not a great idea when you keep staring at a box of prepped pieces that doesn’t seem to get any smaller no matter how many parts you finish.
After mounting the endless pieces of stowage on cocktail sticks I primed these and the jeep with the excellent Badger Stynylrez black primer, sprayed out of the bottle at a fairly high PSI. This product is my go-to primer for pretty much anything nowadays, it dries quickly, shrinks down over detail well, can be sanded if necessary and is pretty much bulletproof once cured. I usually prime figures in grey but I like to mix their grey and white primers to give a lighter grey to start from. No real science here, the black is obviously more forgiving on a vehicle if you miss a bit with the base colour and I’ve pretty much always used a light grey primer for figure painting, it doesn’t mute the colours as much as a black base can.
I had a very clear picture in my mind of how I wanted the jeep to look; a light tan, almost ochre colour to represent maybe a very faded brown olive. For the base colour I laid down a coat of Tamiya Khaki XF-49 with a dollop of X-22 Clear Gloss added for a slight sheen. Adding XF-57 Buff to the mix I then highlighted some of the panels and edges to add some interest to the bodywork. Once this basecoat had dried I distressed the base finish using a Vallejo wash, in this case 76521 Oiled Earth. This colour is very similar in tone to the base Khaki when dry but just slightly darker, it looks awful when you are applying it but trust me, once dry it looks fine. Dabbed on with a sponge it represents surface imperfections and staining very well, it is a subtle effect but definitely a worthwhile one.

For the next few days I jumped backwards and forwards between chipping effects and various oil washes over several sessions, building up the effects and layering them over each other until I was happy with the result. Don’t try and do this in one session, from experience you will get bored, overdo the effect or worse, rush it. Weathering is a layering process; it needs to be considered at every step. Why is that area chipped? What caused that streak? Would that be rusty?  - There is a lot more to it than buying a jar of the latest wonder-product and slapping it on without consideration. Take your time, think it through.

I wanted a used canvas look to the seats and for this I started with a base of Vallejo 988 Khaki. I lightened this by adding 986 Deck Tan and stippling on the highlight areas, subsequent shading was done with washes adding 822 German Camo Black Brown into the base Khaki. In hindsight, although pleased at how the painting came out, I really should have physically distressed the cushions lightly by creating some indentations and creases. I’ll definitely do this for the next time (or maybe even sculpt the cushions) as I think it will certainly add something to the effect, hopefully making the seats look more realistic.
The stowage components were picked out in various acrylics, keeping the tones complimentary but just different enough to remain interesting. I also tried to account for a zenithal lighting effect, considering where each part would be on the vehicle and shading and highlighting to suit. The one essential caveat is that every part, and that includes the stowage, needs to be painted and weathered with the same care as everything else so it looks like it belongs, not just a badly placed afterthought.

So after what seemed like an eternity, all of the stowage was painted and the process of installing it all in-situ could begin. Looking back, yes it probably would seem easier to glue everything in place and just paint what was visible but I seem to have a unique knack for making a simple job more complicated. 

There are still a couple of things to paint, and one or two touch-ups to do, but I'm sure you will agree it is starting to look the part. Once I have added the dust layers it should hopefully tie everything together and make it look a lot more lived-in.
But before that I need to sort out a base and some figures and that will be coming up in the next part...

Popski's Private Army - Part 1

Vladimir Peniakoff, or “Popski”, certainly was a character. A Belgian national already in his early forties at the outbreak of war, he was initially rejected by the Royal Navy and the RAF before finally being accepted into the British Army. After arriving in Cairo as a 2nd Lieutenant, Popski was initially assigned to mundane garrison duties but quickly plotted his “escape” and formed the Libyan Arab Force Commando (LAFC); a small group of British and Libyan soldiers who went on to operate behind enemy lines in the Eastern coastal region of Libya.
After harassing axis forces for several months Popski returned to Cairo in mid-1942 only to discover that his LAFC had been disbanded while he was away; even the Army paymasters had forgotten about them. Justifiably annoyed, Popski did not receive the sympathy he expected but received critical remarks about disappearing into the blue to run a private war with his private army and then expecting to be paid for his fun. Although obviously an insult the new name stuck and later the official designation for Popski’s outfit was changed to No.1 Demolition Sqdn., P.P.A. (Popski’s Private Army); at the time the smallest independent unit in the British Army numbering just 23 personnel.
Sometimes working closely with other Special Forces units; the LRDG, SAS, and others; the PPA was given great autonomy in their operations. Utilising heavily armed jeeps (mounting at least one .50 cal and one .30 cal Browning machine gun each) the firepower of this jeep patrol would have been formidable. This, added to their mobility and the fact they generally had the advantage of surprise, accounted for several successful engagements against forces many times their number.

Up until the summer of 1943 the unit was mainly engaging enemy units throughout Libya and Tunisia, however the withdrawl of Axis forces from North Africa moved more quickly than expected and the unit began preparations to fight in Italy where it operated for the duration of the war.
Popski’s Private Army finished the war with a flourish, sailing some of their jeeps on landing craft to St. Mark’s Square in Venice where they drove round and round the square “just for the hell of it” -  the only wheeled vehicles to have ever been there.
For anyone interested in a more in-depth account of the history and exploits of this unit I highly recommend taking a look at and the “Friends of Popski’s Private Army” facebook group.
The Model
I must admit, before taking on this project I had never even heard of Popski’s Private Army, but the more I looked into the unit and read of their exploits the more I became interested in building one of these armed jeeps.
From a modelling perspective it seems that the SAS and LRDG definitely get all the glory and although the obvious parallels are there with regard to heavily armed jeeps, this detail/conversion set from Resicast makes a welcome change from the norm. The set is designed around the excellent Tamiya jeep and although there are a few components to replace the kit parts, the majority of this set is based on the unique stowage and armament arrangements.
Packed in their trademark sturdy cardboard box this set is brim-full with parts, sadly many of which will be left-over at the end of this project. Initially I thought there were enough parts in this set for two vehicles but there are a couple of key components where only one piece is supplied. However, anyone with minimal scratch-building skills and a decent spares box shouldn’t have any problems duplicating the required parts should you want to make a two-vehicle patrol from this set.

The photo of the kit contents gives you some idea of the sheer number of parts in this set and all are extremely well cast and free of any moulding flaws. There was the inevitable clean-up on some parts but this is to be expected with resin kits and certainly nothing to cause any concern. A nice touch is the inclusion of two decals representing the astrolabe emblem for the front grille badge.
The instruction booklet is a comprehensive series of photographs showing where parts are fitted and there is also a helpful breakdown describing what each part is; sounds obvious but it makes a lot of sense to know what something is when you are deciding where to glue it. Most of the major stowage parts are pretty specific as to where they go but there are a couple of things that are provided as options, depending on your preference.

There are two alternative stowage pieces provided for the bonnet, either of which look great, along with a choice of armament placement. All vehicles carried both a .30 cal and a .50 cal but these could be interchanged between the front and rear mounts. Popski’s own jeep mounted two .50 cals, and there is evidence of at least one jeep mounting twin .30 cal guns at the front. The Resicast set provides all the parts necessary to build any one of these options and still have guns left over.

There are a couple of things that immediately distinguish a PPA jeep from say, an SAS or LRDG vehicle, one of which was a unique jerry can mounting on the front bumper. This set thoughtfully provides those but also the empty racks as separate pieces should you wish to show one or both of the jerry cans removed, as I did to show the astrolabe emblem more clearly.
The other thing that sets these vehicles apart is the mounting of (usually) two spare wheels at the rear but on the left of the vehicle, the other side from the normal mounting position. Rumour has it that this was done because jeeps were often “acquired” by dubious means; if another unit decided to “acquire” it back the PPA jeep would be immediately recognisable from a distance because the spare wheel was on the wrong side !

There is very little surgery required to the Tamiya base kit for this conversion, a few holes to fill for the unused passenger seat is one such procedure. Some of these jeeps moved the single bench seat from the rear to the front in its’ place, mainly to allow for stowage in the rear but also sometimes a patrol would carry a local guide, hence the need for an additional seat up front. There was also an adjustable frame fitted just behind the seats to mount a canvas cover over the rear section of the jeep, although this frame comes as part of the detail set, it is very fragile so used it as a template and remade mine with brass rod.

The only other area of modification that will require some care is the fitting of the front pedestal MG mount. This requires you to drill a hole in the Tamiya dash/bonnet panel (part A35). The Resicast instructions are incorrect here, they suggest drilling an 18mm dia. hole 6mm in from the side, this is obviously a typo. You will see that this has to line up with the support plate below so just ensure everything is straight and vertical.

The new rear panel is a straight replacement for the kit part but the new one has the mounting holes that are visible once all the rear brackets have been removed. For some consistency I followed this up by drilling out all of the holes on the jeep sides where the canvas tilt frame fittings and grab handles would have been removed too.
Although this Resicast set is extremely comprehensive I decided to add a few extra parts of stowage from my spares box to make it look a little more lived-in and personal. I used a PIAT and a 6pdr ammo box from Bronco, the rest mainly bags and packs from Tamiya with an Accurate Armour Bergen pack to bulk it up a little.

Part 2, Painting is here.