I think there are definite advantages to building aircraft models on a larger scale, certainly when it comes to details of the shape. However, It’s always a joy to see what Peter Dornbach (dornbi) can do with LEGO on a smaller scale.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’ve wanted to try my hand at some alternative WWII vehicles for quite a long time. Long enough, in fact, that I originally planned to use sand green, then dark green, then sand green again (as these color became available, or had new parts show up). Of course, when I finally built something, I ended up using olive green.
The idea with this creation is a sort of “what if” scenario. In this case, what if WWII lasted longer, and militaries started fielding diesel driven mecha. Far-fetched, perhaps, but it certainly seemed like fun.
I also tried something new (for me) with this creation, and photographed it only in a scene. I’m hoping this presentation is pleasing to our readership.
Trench warfare is today’s topic in military history and our guest lecturer is BeLgIuM ww2 bUiLdeR, who has just posted a fine example of the genre entitled Red Tree bunker All the boilerplate is present and accounted for: radio room, racks, command and control center, searchlight and of course many weapons and soldiers. According to the builder, the bunker system is not modeled after any one specific location, but rather a representative sampling of many locations. My favorite detail is the decapitated tank turret re-purposed as an anti-tank gun emplacement.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you don’t want to click through the photos individually, check out this slideshow Brian made:
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.