Tag Archives: World War II

From sprawling dioramas depicting the invasion of Normandy to full-scale LEGO aircraft carriers and battleships, the Second World War is a frequent subject among LEGO builders fascinated by the conflict’s history, people, and weaponry. Here on The Brothers Brick, you’ll find everything from LEGO M4 Shermans and Tiger tanks lumbering across the landscape to F4U Corsairs, P-51 Mustangs, and Mitsubishi Zeros patrolling the skies.

The P-61 Black Widow is a sinister beauty

If, like me, you’re into LEGO aircraft models, this week is off to a rocking start. Yesterday I had the pleasure of featuring mrutek’s P-51 Mustang; today I am happy to present the P-61 Black Widow by Sydag.

[P-61B-15] The Black Widow : A Study In Black.

The first radars entered operational service prior to the Second World War, but during the war the equipment became sufficiently compact to be fitted to aircraft so that they could find targets at night. However, radars were still fairly bulky and interpreting their signals was a fine art. Some single-engined single-seat fighters were equipped with radars, but most night fighters were bigger twin-engined machines, with a dedicated radar-operator in addition to a pilot. The P-61 Black Widow was the US Army’s purpose-built night fighter, used during the latter part of WW2. It carried a gunner as its third crew-member.

Having built my own version of the P-61, I can really appreciate the shape of Sydag’s model. Our models are similarly sized, but because he has decided to forgo having space for a minifig crew, the fuselage on his model looks far more accurate and elegant. It’s sinister and beautiful at the same time.

This P-51D Mustang is ready to take on the Luftwaffe

I have come to admire mrutek for his models of some of the lesser-known aircraft of the Second World War, such as the A-20 Havoc and the Yakovlev Yak-1, but he has now turned his attention to a rather more famous aircraft: the P-51D Mustang. The P-51D combined a license-produced Merlin engine (famous for its use in the British Spitfire) with an airframe that could carry enough fuel to fly all the way from England to Berlin, escorting bombers. Nonetheless, the aircraft was sufficiently fast and agile to take on the best the Luftwaffe could throw at it. The P-51D was the first Mustang version with a bubble canopy, that offered excellent visibility to its pilot, and is an aviation classic.

Mustang_1

The model carries very attractive markings similar to those of the USAAF’s 361st Fighter Group on D-Day, with its yellow nose and invasion stripes. It’s not all perfect, though. For instance, I think the nose is a bit too long and should curve upward more at the bottom (I have purposely chosen a picture where this isn’t obvious). I also think that the distance between the leading edge of the wing and the front of the canopy should be a bit bigger. I know that building WW2 fighters isn’t easy, however, and overall this is an instantaneously recognisable model with some very nifty techniques.

“I know nut-zing!” Awesome LEGO Hogan’s Heroes diorama by Brian Williams

Brian Williams (BMW_Indy) is back making awesome dioramas. This time he’s cooked up this excellent cube of goodness from Hogan’s Heroes, one of my all time favorite TV shows. There’s everything from Carter’s underground chemistry lab to the hidden antenna in the flagpole. You’ll have to inspect the barracks more thoroughly than Schultz, but you might just recognize some great nods to specific episodes. Plus Brian has outfitted the whole thing with lights, so it looks great in photographs. Note the cool textures on the walls using the antistuds on the backs of plates, and the edges of wedge plates for the rough-hewn walls of the tunnel network.

Hogans Heroes - Overview

If you don’t want to click through the photos individually, check out this slideshow Brian made:

Soviet armor forged in the Arsenal of Democracy

Thanks to having run out of LEGO track (I can’t wait for Brickmania Track Links), I’ve been forced to build something with wheels. Between June 1941 and September 1945, the United States delivered 400,000 Jeeps and trucks, 12,000 armored vehicles, 11,400 aircraft, and 1.75 million tons of food to the Soviet Union as part of the Lend-Lease Program. The US often reserved the latest arms and armor for its own armed forces, and older or obsolete designs ended up on ships to the USSR to fight the Third Reich on the Eastern Front.

One such vehicle was the M3 Scout Car, an armored car created by the White Motor Company in the late 1930s. You can clearly see the M3 Scout Car’s heritage in the later M3 Halftrack, which I’ve included here with the Scout Car — both in Soviet livery.

Soviet Armor Forged in the Arsenal of Democracy

Recent posts about my LEGO World War II models didn’t really discuss materials or building techniques. While I wholeheartedly agree with LEGO’s stance not to produce LEGO sets based on recent real-world military conflicts, it does leave a gap for the minifig-scale LEGO military modeler. Several custom accessory vendors fill that gap. Here’s a quick run-down of the custom items I’ve used in my recent models.

  • Weapons and headgear by BrickArms: Will Chapman has been branching out from American and sci-fi weaponry over the last couple of years, with PPSh & DP-28 machine guns, Mosin-Nagant rifles, Tokarev pistols, and even an ushanka hat for those long Russian winters.
  • Flags and trenchcoats by Cape Madness: My Soviet armor wouldn’t be the same without a proper Soviet flag. Naturally, LEGO isn’t going to make one of those… My thanks to Dave Ingraham for generously giving me a large selection from his catalog.
  • Printed accessories from Citizen Brick: Though a bit on the pricey side, Citizen Brick sells a variety of interesting elements you can’t buy from LEGO, including printed BrickArms headgear like the ushanka with the red star and the medic helmets I’ve included in previously posted models.
  • Printed BrickArms crates from Brickmania and G.I. Brick: Quite possibly my favorite recent addition to the BrickArms catalog, the crates are long enough to hold long guns and come in a variety of realistic colors and useful patterns. Frankly, I feel a compulsion to collect them all…

M3 Scout Car (1) M3 Scout Car (2)

The Soviet decals — “CCCP” and so on — are stickers salvaged from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull LEGO sets (a theme rife with exceptions to LEGO’s policy, but full of elements useful to the military builder).

I’ve written before about how much I enjoy research while building LEGO models based on historical people, events, places, and vehicles. Though I haven’t posted anything in a few weeks, I’ve continued improving many of my existing WW2 models based on feedback from other builders and better photos I’ve come across.

Once I’m reasonably happy with a military model, I like to reproduce it so I can make further variations without destroying each one in turn. Here’s my much-improved (I think…) M5 Stuart Light Tank alongside a new M4 Sherman Medium Tank.

Sherman & Stuart tanks of the 761st

I rebuilt the front of the Stuart to reduce how much it projected in front of the treads, lowered the turret by a plate, and gave the turret a proper commander’s hatch. The Sherman has a brand new turret, using 1×3 arches that I first saw built into the turret on the Brickmania Sherman I reviewed earlier this year — another example of how LEGO builders are indebted to each other to improve their designs.

I’m still not sure what I’m going to do with all my World War II armor (LEGO Italy circa 1943 seems overdue for liberation), but I’m certainly enjoying the vehicle builds along the way.

Learning to fly in WW2

The latest diorama by Gary the Procrastinator shows a not unusual day in 1943 at Randolph Field. Back in 1943, the US Military had a need for large numbers of new pilots to fight in World War II. Their standard training aircraft was the Boeing Stearman 75 Kaydet, often known simply as the Stearman. Like many aircraft of its era it was a so-called tail dragger, with an undercarriage that consisted of two main wheels and a tail wheel. Taking off and landing in such an aircraft could be tricky, in particular in crosswinds. In the diorama, one trainee pilot gets it right. The other, however, has veered off the runway, the main wheels have dug into the grass and the aircraft has nosed over.

Stearman PT-17 Kaydet Diorama, Overview

The aircraft models are beautifully built in the colours typical for these trainers and, while the landscaping is a little more straightforward than on Gary’s march to Gettysburg diorama, the tyre marks on the runway and through the grass are a nice touch.

Schnellboot Docked at Night

More and more it seems that we are seeing lighting integrated into a model’s presentation. When done right, it can create a wonderful ambiance for the photo. Nate Flood’s Schnellboot (Fast Boat) is a perfect example of this. The lighting and simple diorama sets the perfect mood for the image. Nate says that the photo is courtesy of Jim Liermann, so it appears this was a team effort.

Lego Schnellboot docked at night. Photo courtesy of Jim Liermann

For those that want to have a closer look, there are further photos of the Schnellboot in Nate’s flickr photostream.

Thanks a bunch to Mike for the heads up on this shot…I surely would have missed it.

8.5-foot USS Yorktown WW2 aircraft carrier by Marcello De Cicco

It is not as big as the USS Intrepid by Ed Diment or the USS Harry Truman by Malle Hawking, but you have got to admire this LEGO aircraft carrier, USS Yorktown, by Marcello De Cicco.

The model represents the second aircraft carrier named USS Yorktown. The first was sunk in 1942, during the Battle of Midway. One of the new Essex class carriers then under construction was named Yorktown in her honour and had a long and distinguished career that lasted until the Vietnam war. Like her sister ship, USS Intrepid, she has been preserved and now is part of a museum.

The model was built to a scale of 1/108. That is a rather small scale for building aircraft models and I am impressed by the level of detail that the builder has managed to achieve. Small is a relative term, however. With aircraft carriers being stupendously big things, this model is still a pretty whopping 8.5 ft. (or about 2.6 m) long. The photo quality does not really meet our usual standards, but I can imagine that something this big is not exactly easy to photograph and the ships in the background do not look shabby either.

Many thanks to Brick Tales for the heads up.

The 442nd Regimental Combat Team and Sen. Daniel Inouye in LEGO

This post isn’t about politics. Well, mostly. On Monday, I expressed some anger about the way Memorial Day has become increasingly trivialized here in the United States, but I didn’t apply the nuance I usually expect from myself, even when writing about the intersection of our LEGO hobby and the real world — of which complex political issues (including my pacifist viewpoint) are most certainly a part. I’ll try to do better as I explore an issue that I think lies a bit closer to home for LEGO fans reading this blog.

Why is it that ethnic minorities are so under-represented in our LEGO depictions of military history — World War II in particular? Why are the LEGO minifigs storming beaches and liberating France presumably all white? Where are the Tuskegee Airmen, the Nisei soldiers, the Filipino sailors, the Navajo Code Talkers, and many more?

I realized recently that I was guilty of this oversight myself, as illustrated amply in the links to my own models above. I’m correcting this today with a rather simple photograph depicting 2nd Lt. Daniel K. Inouye as he marches with his platoon toward the ridge in Tuscany where he would single-handedly take out three German machine gun nests, losing his arm — and earning a Medal of Honor — in the process.

The 442nd Moves Out (B&W)

Daniel Inouye went on to become a US Representative and Senator from Hawaii, serving his state from the first day of statehood in 1959 through his death at the end of 2012.

(Frustratingly, I also realized that I don’t have the LEGO landscaping talent to attempt the ridge scene itself. And as an infantry regiment, the 442nd wasn’t equipped with the “interesting” tanks and other armor I’ve been building.)

There are historical reasons that answer my questions, of course. The United States military was officially segregated until after World War II ended, and most non-white units did not serve in front-line combat roles. Thus, the ever-popular and exciting scenes depicting the first moments of D-Day, for example, sadly but accurately exclude minorities like African-Americans and Japanese-Americans.

It’s also challenging to use LEGO as a medium to reflect real-world diversity. With LEGO Friends as a welcome exception — Heartlake City is certainly a multi-ethnic LEGO society — theoretically, only LEGO sets from licensed themes like Star Wars and the Lone Ranger include explicitly non-white characters. Why is it that a person of color has to be in a movie in order to be included accurately in a LEGO set? (Try asking LEGO that the next time you call Customer Service.) LEGO has claimed in the past that yellow minifigs are somehow race-neutral. Rubbish — tell that to a 9-year-old African-American girl wondering why people like her are so grossly under-represented in LEGO minifigs. And yes, LEGO is a Danish company, but that’s no excuse either.

Thanks to LEGO, we builders don’t actually have too many “non-white” minifigs to work with. For my Nisei soldiers of the 442nd, I had to dig up LEGO Ninjas minifigs from the 1990s, along with a few Ninjago minifigs. I shouldn’t need to go to themes with stereotypical ninjas in their name to find Asian minifigs. And for my African-American tank crew from the 761st Tank Battalion (below), my choices were even more restricted.

M4A3E2 Sherman "Jumbo" of the 761st (1)

But I can’t give us WW2 LEGO builders a pass for focusing so obsessively on Normandy (with a bit of North Africa or Stalingrad thrown in from time to time) at the expense of the much-larger historical context, which did indeed include people from every thread of the vast tapestry of American society. Nor is the “limited LEGO palette” an excuse. What’s a bit sad about our collective obsession with D-Day is that we’re overlooking heroism and drama that is just as interesting and just as “buildable” in LEGO. By starting with the question “What can I build?” I’ve learned about people and events I’d never have learned in my high school American history classes (and certainly not in the Japanese history classes during elementary school earlier in my life).

Unfortunately, I’ve also encountered darker obsessions among some LEGO World War II builders. I can’t count the number of teens (apparently) who’ve included references to the Third Reich in their Flickr screen names — some going as far as to include the SS lightning bolts or even swastikas. I’ve also seen casual use of dated and hateful terms like “Jap” and “Kraut.” It makes me angry, but it also makes me very sad. Such behavior is unacceptable, and flies in the face of the very values that the Allies fought to defend in World War II. These are the kinds of actions I was alluding to with my “trite hand-wringing about ‘kids these days’” in my Memorial Day post. It’s hard to believe such attitudes toward fellow human beings don’t color what these builders choose to create with LEGO (or how they treat their fellow human beings in real life).

Whatever the reasons, we can and must do better.

The LEGO Military Annual Build Competition is happening now through July 10. With that in mind, I’d like to issue a challenge to those of us who are building something in the numerous contest categories: Build your models and minifigs in ways that reflect the true diversity of the men and women in the armed forces — whether you’re building something historical from World War II, Vietnam, or more-recent conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan, or whether you’re creating something from an alternate or future timeline.

African-Americans, Japanese-Americans, Filipino-Americans, and other minorities fought racism and prejudice during World War II even as they battled the Axis Powers in the war itself. When they arrived home, they built on that experience to begin the Civil Rights movement, as well as the drive toward Hawaiian statehood and an independent Philippines. Those of us building LEGO creations based on historical conflicts like World War II owe it to the men and women who served to accurately reflect their experience.

Only the monstrous anger of the guns / Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle

I get angrier and angrier with each passing Memorial Day here in the United States. Baseball announcers blithely wish each other “Happy Memorial Day!”, car companies attempt to entice me with “low, low APR”, and everyone celebrates the service of active-duty and surviving military personnel. No, Memorial Day is a day of somber remembrance, not to be confused with Veterans Day, and it’s a day — like Remembrance Day in other parts of the world — to honor those murdered by their governments in defense of long-forgotten political agendas. It’s a day that should remind us just how evil and unnecessary war is — not how cool it is.

And yet, there is real heroism in what many men and women in the armed forces accomplish in the face of such horror. I’ve mentioned before how much World War II fascinates me, not least because I grew up surrounded by abandoned bomb shelters in Japan and because my American grandfather served as a medic during the war.

One way I explore that fascination — and learn quite a bit of history in the process — is to research the people, places, and equipment of World War II. This year, I’ve been building for more than a month leading up to Memorial Day, and I have quite a few new builds to share.

The M7 Priest was self-propelled artillery (a “Howitzer Motor Carriage” in WW2 parlance) based on the chassis of the M3 Lee/Grant series of medium tanks.

M7 Priest (1)

My M7 Priest incorporates a 105mm gun that I reverse-engineered from the Brickmania M2A1 Howitzer kit (since I’d built a complete one to tow behind my GMC CCKW).

The Priest has an open top, so I spent quite a bit of time trying to get the interior right. I built ammunition stowage (by inverting 1×1 bricks and attaching them with the One Ring) and gave the floor corrugated steel plating with printed tiles from Citizen Brick.

M7 Priest (5)

See more photos in my M7 Priest photoset on Flickr.

The GMC CCKW 2.5-ton truck, or “Deuce and a Half,” served in many roles during and after World War II, with numerous variants to support all those roles. Even though I’m quite happy with the other models I’m unveiling in this post, my favorite is definitely this maintenance/recovery version of the CCKW.

GMC CCKW Maintenance/Recovery Truck (1)

The details are all modular, and I can quickly convert this rather complex truck into a number of other variants, including this one with a towable M45 Quadmount anti-aircraft gun.

GMC CCKW Truck with M45 Quadmount (1) GMC CCKW Truck with M45 Quadmount (2)

My Willys MB Jeeps also got an upgrade, with two new variants — both with Bantam trailers.

Willys MB Jeep with Bantam Trailer Willys MB Jeep Ambulance with Bantam Trailer

All these non-combat vehicles were making my minifig soldiers feel a little under-powered, so I built them an M5A1 Stuart light tank and an M8 Greyhound armored car.

M5A1 Stuart Light Tank (1) M8 Greyhound Armored Car (1)

Finally, it occurred to me recently just how little the average World War II LEGO model reflects the real-world diversity of the men and women who served in the United States armed forces during World War II. The segregated U.S. Army resisted placing African-Americans in front-line combat roles until fairly late in the war, but the all-black 761st Tank Battalion served with distinction in major engagements like the Battle of the Bulge. I made some minor modifications to my M4A3 Sherman tank, including the addition of a lip that overhangs the wider tracks, thus making this the M4A3E2 variant. While I was at it, I replaced my crew with members of the 761st.

M4A3E2 Sherman "Jumbo" of the 761st (1)

I’m currently working on something for the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, or “Nisei Soldiers.” In the meantime, you can see more photos of everything I’ve posted here in my photostream on Flickr.

The title of the post is an excerpt from “Anthem for Doomed Youth,” by Wilfred Owen, an English poet who died in combat one week before the end of World War I. It seems doubtful that I can convince a generation of youth who’ve learned more about war from the “Medal of Honor” video games than from challenging poetry to read Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, but it’s worth a try…

Brickmania M2A4 Light Tank (USMC) [Review]

After reviewing the Brickmania M4 Sherman and WC54 Ambulance custom LEGO kits last week, I’m going in a bit of a different direction by reviewing something I haven’t managed to build myself — the M2A4 Light Tank in United States Marine Corps livery.

For comparison, here’s Dan Siskind’s M2A4 Light Tank next to the M4 Sherman I reviewed last week, with a Citizen Brick Marine for scale:

Brickmania M2A4 & M4 Sherman tanks

The M2 Light Tank was produced in limited numbers in the years leading up to World War II — only 375 left the assembly line — and they only saw combat on Guadalcanal, with the US Marines. Nevertheless, the tank was an important evolutionary step along the way to the subsequent M3 “Stuart” (photo below) and M5 light tanks. (The M2 Light Tank never entered British/Commonwealth service during WW2, and thus didn’t get a nickname like the Stuart, Lee, Sherman, Chaffee, and so on. It was only later that the US military formally adopted the British convention for naming US tanks after American generals.)

M3-Stuart-Fort-Knox-1For me, though, I love the M2/M3/M5 tanks because they’re so small. Modern main battle tanks like the M1 Abrams or Challenger 2 are like battleships on land, with low profiles that give them a distinctly sinister look. We drove past Fort Lewis on our way from Seattle to Portland recently, and I pointed out an M2/M3/M5 sitting on a plinth near the highway to my wife. “Oh, what a tiny tank! It’s adorable!” she exclaimed.

My sentiments exactly. Yes, the M2 and its immediate descendants were machines of death and destruction no less so than a Merkava or Leopard, but they are just a teensy bit more twee. (The adorably tiny light tank has also influenced popular culture, in games like Advance Wars and movies like Tank Girl.)

So, the M2 Light Tank would seem like a perfect fit with LEGO. I tried building an M3 Stuart a couple years ago, but I failed miserably (though I still have my tablescraps in a little plastic bag). Thankfully, Dan Siskind has managed to fit nearly every detail of the M2 into his custom LEGO kit, at a scale that fits neatly on my 1/35th schematics for the M2 Light Tank in World War II AFV Plans: American Armored Fighting Vehicles. (Still slightly too tall, but I give LEGO tanks a pass for that at this point.)

The Brickmania M2 Light Tank includes a rotating turret with a gun that can move up and down, proper bogies and road wheels, a BrickArms M1919 machine gun, nicely angled glacis armor plating at the front, and even rear engine doors that open and close.

The single-chain tracks work very well for a smaller tank like this, and enable Dan to keep the tank’s height manageable without losing too much detail. The suspension is interesting because Dan has built the first layer of the tank’s body using 1x plates rather than a larger plate, allowing him to attach 2×2 plates with Technic pin holes to the underside using their hollow studs. This creates a half-stud offset that gives the road wheels the correct spacing — definitely something I would never have thought to do.

The angled antenna gives the tank a jaunty look, and deserves a brief discussion on its own. Internally, Dan achieves the angled antenna by inserting a clip/claw into a 1×2 brick with a Technic pin (and then clipping on a telescope for the antenna to attach to). The clip inside the 1×2 brick’s Technic pin is, of course, an “illegal” connection. Apparently, there are actually two different molds for the 1×2 brick element — one with a fairly open Technic pin, and another with much thicker walls on the pin, preventing you from fitting anything inside the pin. Because BrickLink doesn’t distinguish between these two very different parts and Dan sources all the parts for his kits on the secondary market (like all adult builders and purveyors of custom kits), my kit happened to include a brick that wouldn’t accept the clip piece.

I contacted Dan about my problem, we identified the cause, and he promptly shipped out a “service pack” with the correct part. I bring up this minor issue in my review for two reasons. First, I just think it’s really interesting what kinds of challenges a custom kit maker has in assembling their kits in quantity. Second, I was impressed by Dan’s customer service. And it’s not just because he knew I was reviewing his kits for TBB — it’s something I experienced years back when I picked up a couple older kits to review (though my actual review was extremely brief), and when I’ve bought smaller items through his store over the years. Like Will Chapman of BrickArms, Dan is just a plain good guy, and it’s clear that that comes through in his interactions with fellow builders and with customers.

At 473 LEGO elements, this is a surprisingly substantial set for such a small tank — the completed model has a nice heft to it worthy of the name “tank.” It’s also sturdy enough for play, and fits nicely in my hand compared to larger models. If tanks could be swooshed, the Brickmania M2A4 is definitely swooshable. (What’s the non-flying equivalent of “swooshable”? “Zoomable?”) At $150, the price is comparable to other custom kits on the market.

Overall, Dan’s M2A4 may just be my favorite Brickmania kit yet. Going small can be substantially harder than going big, and Dan has pulled it off wonderfully. Ultimately, though, my positive experience with the Brickmania M2A4 Light Tank was influenced as much by great problem-solving and customer service as by the excellent design of the model itself.