Tag Archives: Military

Tanks and fighter planes, dioramas of World War II battles, dreadnoughts and battleships — LEGO builders have an obvious fascination with the arms and armor of the military-industrial complex. Find all these LEGO weapons of mass destruction right here on The Brothers Brick.

The lightweight fighter just entered the big league

Most of the older models by Everblack are essentially his own refined versions of models that were already out there. They are very nice and I’ve blogged a few, but with his new F-16 he has moved into completely new territory.

F-16 Fighting Falcon (3)

The F-16 was developed in the seventies as a lighter and cheaper alternative to the F-15 Eagle. As such, it’s relatively small for a modern jet. Everblack’s model isn’t small, however. Its scale is a whopping 1/18, which is about twice as large as his previous models. This large scale has allowed him to do some beautiful sculpting on the jet, skillfully using curved slopes. Judging from the way the undercarriage and the wings bend, the large size does come with a few penalties, but my word, it looks stunning.

My howitzer is bigger than yours

In the fifties, the United States experimented with artillery that could launch nuclear weapons. Not to be outdone, the Soviet Union developed the 2A3 Kondensator 2P self-propelled howitzer. Andy Baumgart (D-Town Cracka) has built a highly detailed 1/30 scale model of this unusual piece of Cold War history.

Soviet 2A3 'Kondensator' 2P

Early nuclear weapons tended to be on the bulky side. Consequently, whilst many modern self-propelled artillery pieces have a caliber of 155 mm (6.10 inches), the caliber of the Kondensator was a whopping 406 mm (16 inches), which is more in line with a battleship main battery. It was one of the largest self-propelled artillery pieces ever built. It was unwieldy, had a low rate of fire and never entered service, but it makes for an impressive model.

Volleying doom for doom

During World War II, the Allies fielded approximately 50,000 M4 Sherman medium tanks. But ignoring the hard lessons that the Soviet Red Army learned about German armor on the Eastern Front, the United States and its Western allies delayed production of better-armored tanks with bigger guns until very late in the war. That bigger, better tank — one that could go head to head against German tanks — was the M26 Pershing. However, only 20 Pershings saw combat, between February and May 1945.

M26 Pershing heavy tank (1)

American 3rd Armored Division veteran Belton Cooper argues in his 1998 book Death Traps that this delay in fielding the M26 Pershing in favor of the existing M4 Sherman cost thousands of lives on both sides by delaying the end of the war in Europe for six months. As much as I love the Sherman for its iconic “tankiness,” I was inspired while reading Death Traps to try my hand at a Pershing as well. (I was also running out of Technic chain link for narrower tank treads until my first batch of Brickmania Track Links arrived, so I was forced to use the wide LEGO tread pieces if I wanted to build anything.)

After more than a decade on the web and a dozen LEGO events, one of my failures as a builder is that I tend to build first for static display and photography rather than functionality, and it takes a couple of iterations before I go back and give my models a bit more of an interior life. I’ve tried to improve this over the last year by adding internal details to my vehicles like a removable engine in my Shermans. But I still struggle with tank guns that elevate and depress properly. I’ve now addressed this shortcoming with my latest tanks, including this Pershing, my Soviet KV-1, and a couple of my newer Stuarts. Given differences in turret design, the challenge has been that each tank has required a different solution to achieve an elevating gun, ranging from guns that pivot on Technic pins to ones that go up and down on simple hinge bricks. It probably shouldn’t be this hard…

Strangely perhaps, my favorite detail on my Pershing is the set of stowage boxes on the sides, which are half-stud-offset in two directions to leave half-stud gaps between the boxes and a half-stud lip at the edge of the tank. You can see this best in this comparison shot, which shows just how much lower and wider the Pershing is compared to the older Sherman — a difference that made the Pershing simultaneously harder to hit and more agile on rough terrain.

M26 Pershing vs. M4 Sherman

Finally, here’s a quick little build I tossed together to showcase some of the rarer BrickArms elements that I’d picked up around BrickCon last year — an original American version of the M3A1 Scout Car that I posted last summer in Lend Lease program Soviet livery.

M3A1 Scout Car - US Army - Early War (1)

I managed to pack all of the following custom elements into this tiny little armored car:

  • BrickArms M2HB .50 caliber machine gun (prototype)
  • BrickArms M1917 .30 caliber Browning machine guns (x2 prototypes)
  • Citizen Brick US Army Ranger torsos
  • BrickArms brodie helmets
  • BrickArms M1 Garand rifles (x2 overmolded “Reloaded” version)
  • BrickArms M1917 printed crate
  • Citizen Brick diamond plate tiles

For those of you curious what “overmolded” means, it’s an injection molding process in which a second color of plastic gets injected on top of another, bonding the two together. Will Chapman of BrickArms has been experimenting with the technique for a year or two, with absolutely beautiful results. But don’t expect to see this in large quantities anytime soon — Will hand-injects each batch in his secret laboratory. Josh and I had the privilege of visiting the BrickArms workshop last year, and learned first-hand just how labor-intensive the overmolding process is. Nevertheless, some of the overmolded items are available for sale from BrickArms resellers.

3...2...1...Launch!

In little more than a week, I’ll be joining more than a dozen other members of the Brickish Association at Brighton Modelworld in the UK. This is a show for scale models of just about any kind imaginable. In the last years it has seen an ever-growing contingent of LEGO builders displaying their models to a discerning audience. Brighton is a wonderful town and the show is always huge fun. Expect a report in due time. At Brighton, among other things, we’ll be displaying a collection of rockets and missiles, including the whopping minifig scale rocket from Tintin built by Ian Greig (bluemoose). This idea prompted me to have a go at a few of the military models that have been on my to-do-list for months.

Patriot missile TEL

The first is a Patriot missile Transporter-Erector-Launcher (TEL), as used by the Dutch military. Patriot is an American surface-to-air missile system intended against aircraft and ballistic missiles. A single system consists of a number of trucks with a radar, command post, generator and communications equipment, coupled to a number of launchers. In the Dutch military, these launchers are mounted on trailers pulled by DAF YAZ-2300 tractor units. Dutch, American and German Patriot units are currently deployed to Southern Turkey, to defend against Syrian ballistic missiles.

Shahab-2 ballistic missile TEL (9)

My second model is a ballistic missile on its TEL. The (in)famous R-17 Elbrus, better known as the Scud, was developed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. It was widely exported to Soviet allies, including several Warsaw-pact countries as well as various counties in the Middle East, such as Syria, Libya and Iraq. Scud missiles also found their way to North Korea, which developed its own versions and in turn exported those to Iran. My model represents an Iranian missile, known locally as the Shahab-2, on its Russian-built MAZ-543 TEL.

Ballistic missile defense is a fascinating high-tech and high-stakes business. A typical short-range ballistic missile, such as the Scud, travels through the upper reaches of the atmosphere and plummets down towards its target at about five times the speed of sound. To intercept it far enough from its target, the interceptor missile travels at a similar speed. The intercept has also been described as hitting a bullet with a bullet.

The models were interesting to build, because they have lots of details and things that hinge, but also because of their camouflage. Camouflage is designed to break up the contours of an object and to allow it to blend into the background. The colours tend to be arranged in patches. Randomly throwing bits with different colours together doesn’t give you the right look. I tend to use the following guidelines:
1) the border between colours should ideally never be a straight line of more than 3 or 4 studs long before it changes direction.
2) once a border has changed direction once, it should change direction again quickly
Of course, this gets progressively more difficult as the number of colours in the scheme increases and as you move to smaller scales. I wouldn’t have been able to do it if I hadn’t finally gotten my hands on decent numbers of small dark green plates.

Brickmania Track Links roll into production [Review]

Last May, Dan Siskind of Brickmania launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the production of a new kind of track elements designed to work with LEGO. Early this year, my backer reward package arrived, and I’ve been building (and rebuilding) furiously ever since.

M4 Sherman medium tanks

My new M4A1 Sherman with a dozer attachment is typical of the engineering vehicles used during the invasion of Normandy, with deep wading snorkels that enabled the tank to be dropped off farther from shore and drive mostly underwater on the sea floor. (I think Dan’s design for his early-production M4 Sherman turret can’t be improved, so I replicated his turret design while adding my own gun barrel for consistency with the rest of my tanks.) Both the M4A3 on the left and the dozer tank use two-wide Track Links, while the M4A3E2 Sherman “Jumbo” on the right uses official three-wide LEGO tracks.

In order to switch the M4A3 with the short 75mm gun barrel from its existing three-wide LEGO track to Track Links, I had to rebuild the suspension. As a result, I don’t think this version — possibly my last — shares more than a few bricks with my original attempt at a Sherman that I first posted nearly four years ago.

LEGO currently produces three types of elements that builders use as tank treads, and all of them are hard to get in any significant quantity (and thus fairly expensive). For those of us who build historical or real-world LEGO models, each of these also has unique problems:

  • One-wide Technic chain link: The open chain links don’t look a whole lot like actual tank treads.
  • Three-wide Technic tread: The best official LEGO option for many tanks, but three studs wide is one stud too many for most American tanks of World War II.
  • Five-wide tread with Technic pin holes: Far too huge for anything most minifig-scale applications.

The most significant gap in available parts is the lack of any official two-wide track. Using two parallel sets of Technic chain link (as I did on my M7 Priest) is cost-prohibitive at best, and doesn’t look all that great. From a historical standpoint, German and Russian tank designers realized that relatively narrow track would just sink in mud, miring and thus disabling the tank. As WWII veteran Belton Cooper described in Death Traps, American tank designers didn’t get that memo. To build historically accurate American tanks, LEGO military modelers need something other than the official LEGO options.

The two-wide Track Links tracks work beautifully on American medium tanks like the M3 Lee/Grant, M4 Sherman, and all the tracked vehicles based on their chassis (such as the M7 Priest and most WWII tank destroyers). Dan himself has been replacing the existing track on many of his vehicles with Track Links, including this beautifully camouflage-patterned M3 Grant and M10 tank destroyer.

M10 Tank Destroyer

Just like regular LEGO track, Track Links clip together with small pins on each side, and they work well with a variety of LEGO gears. Both the single-wide and double-wide Track Links wrap around the gears better than LEGO tracks or chain links, and they roll just as well. Here’s my M3A1 Stuart light tank sporting the single-wide Track Links.

M3A1 Stuart tank (1)

On a related note, you’ll notice that many military builders have begun using the new BrickArms M2HB .50 caliber machine gun. I still like my own brick-built .50 cal, but it’s also nice to have an absolutely accurate option that’s consistent with the BrickArms .30 caliber M1919 Browning machine gun.

M8 Scott howitzer motor carriage (1)

In addition to Track Links and a .50 cal, my M8 Scott 105mm Howitzer Motor Carriage (with a gun that elevates/depresses and an ammunition trailer) includes several other custom elements:

  • Brickmania armored division minifig
  • BrickArms shells
  • Citizen Brick diamond plate tiles

Will Chapman gave away several prototype M2HBs at BrickCon, and now the production version is available from resellers like Brickmania and G.I. Brick. One difference between the initial prototype and the final production version is that the ammunition canister is a bit looser. It won’t fall out, but it does have a tendency to flop around a bit. Based on the high quality we’ve come to expect from BrickArms over the years, I’m confident that a bit of retooling will address this minor issue soon.

Brickmania Track Links are available in three colors — black, steel, and reddish brown (great for mud/rust) — on Brickmania.com, along with the new BrickArms M2HB.

I’ll also be posting reviews of several Brickmania kits that include Track Links over the next week or two, so check back here for more.

Victory in Stalingrad

71 years ago today — on February 2nd, 1943 — the Red Army defeated German forces who had occupied Stalingrad more than 5 months earlier. Nearly half a million Soviet men and women were killed defending their city from Nazi aggression. The Battle of Stalingrad is arguably the turning point of World War II — a horrendous loss for Hitler and the Third Reich that weakened German forces and led ultimately to Allied victory 2 years later.

Although I haven’t had as much LEGO time over the last six months or so, I’ve managed to keep building. Spurred on by the new Brickmania Track Links, I finally got around to photographing the dozen or so models I’ve pumped out since BrickCon in October. The buildings and minifigs in my diorama of Stalingrad were part of the “Operation Brickarossa” collaboration last year, but my KV-1s tank is new.

Victory in Stalingrad (1)

Compared to smaller and stranger tanks I’ve built, the KV-1 was relatively “easy” and I don’t have a whole lot in the way of build notes. One recent change to my building methods is to try to include more functionality from the start. Admittedly, I failed to do so on the turret hatches, but this is one of my first tanks to include a gun that elevates and depresses properly.

With several hours of photography and editing out of the way, I’ll be posting the rest of my models on Flickr, along with write-ups here. In particular, check back for full reviews of the new Track Links, BrickMania kits, BrickArms items, and more.

New shoes for old tanks

Remember the Brickmania track links kickstarter project? It reached its funding goal and the first models that use these tracks are now appearing online.

B/V-88 "Athena" Trackmania

These fine examples, an M4 Sherman and two different versions of the Stuart light tank, were built by LegoUli. These already were some of the best examples of minifig-scale US WW2 tanks out there and built in old dark grey to boot. This is a difficult colour to use, because all kinds of handy parts builders have become used to, such as cheese slopes, were never made in this particular shade. It is probably the closest match to the colour of the real vehicles, though. The old track shoes were a bit narrow, but thanks to the new track links, this has now been rectified.

Jump Jet

Peter Dornbach (dornbi) has built a very neat model of a Cold War classic: the British Sea Harrier. The Harrier has a somewhat odd-ball appearance, which is captured beautifully in the model. The odd shape is largely due to the aircraft’s unique Rolls Royce Pegasus engine, which allows the aircraft to take off and land vertically. This ability is why it is sometimes known as the Jump Jet.

Sea Harrier FRS.1 (3)

During the Cold War, many air forces worried about the vulnerability of their airfields to enemy strikes. Fighters that can operate from a much smaller strip, at a time of crisis, can be dispersed to smaller and better concealed locations away from their main base. Building a jet that can take off and land vertically is a big challenge, however. A whole range of different ideas were tried, including having additional lift engines mounted vertically inside the aircraft. This obviously was a very heavy solution. Using rocket boosters to launch a conventional jet from a short ramp worked, but left the jet in question with no place to land. The only successful design was the British Harrier, whose Pegasus engine has four jet nozzles that can be swiveled down to direct the jet’s entire thrust upward. Despite its diminutive scale of only 1/48, Peter’s model has these swiveling nozzles.

Its ability to operate without long runways made the Harrier an attractive choice for shipboard use. British Harriers gained most of their fame (or notoriety) in the 1982 Falklands War, where Royal Navy Sea Harriers, operating from small aircraft carriers, racked up about 20 air-to-air kills against the Argentinian Air Force and Navy, including against far faster Mirage fighters.

Battlefield taxis

For some reason, a lot of military builders choose to build their military vehicles in dark grey. I suspect that it is because more suitable colors, such as tan, dark green or olive green, are expensive and because relatively few parts are made in them. Of course, if you do want a color that is available in vast quantities, you could always opt for a United Nations color scheme. This is exactly what Project Azazel has done for two of his new vehicles: an M113 Armored Personnel Carrier and a Armored Infantry Fighting Vehicle (AIFV).

UN M113 APC and AIFV

The M113 was developed in the mid-fifties, when the US Army needed a new Armored Personnel Carrier. It had to be smaller and lighter than existing vehicles, so that it could be transported aboard the then-new C-130 Hercules airlifter. The key to keeping the weight of the M113 down was a new welding technique that allowed using aluminum for the armor instead of steel. It first entered production in the 60s and is still in use with the US Army and many export customers all over the world. It also spawned many different versions, including the AIFV. This was a more modern and more heavily armed version. It wasn’t adopted by the US Army, but was further developed for export customers, including the Netherlands, Belgium, Turkey and South Korea.

One thing I like about the model vehicles, besides their refreshing white paint scheme, is that they don’t appear to be ridiculously large.