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Monday, September 18, 2017

Bolt Action German armoured platoon for Tunisia 1943

By Bryan,

I've been working away for a while now on a German tank platoon for Bolt Action, based on the 10th Panzer Division in the 1943 campaign in Tunisia. I thought I would share it as I think it's a rather interesting force, being a bit different to the 'classic' Afrika Korp that most people choose to collect. I'll take you on a tour of the force and how I collected and painted an army based on the fall of the Axis in North Africa.

Here is an overview of the platoon, a 'Tank Wars' format of armoured vehicles making up the compulsory choices and the infantry in support. You'll notice it's not really much of a tank platoon as there are only two Panzers! This ad-hoc Kampfgruppe has a Marder tank hunter but most interestingly...many of Uncle Sam's halftracks!

It's these photos of the Germans using captured US halftracks that really inspired this force. From what I can work out, the US defeat at Kasserine Pass allowed the Axis forces to take a large amount of armoured halftracks and jeeps from the battlefield in good working order. Being desperate for supplies and equipment of any kind due to their tenuous supply routes being dominated by Allied Air attack these Beute (booty) vehicles were very welcome.

Here you can see literally columns of captured US halftracks mixed with the German ones. I think visually this is a really unique look that instantly says 'Tunisia 1943' rather than the more traditional looking DAK of 1941-2. By this time the Axis forces in Tunisia were a really mixed force, with Fallschirmjäger brigades, Gebirgsjäger Divisions and even Strafbattlions being flown in to shore up the beleaguered remnants of the Afrika Korp. I plan to add these types of troops later but for now I have focused on making this Panzergrenadier based force mounted in the US halftracks.

The center-piece of the platoon is definitely the Tiger 1 tank. It's an imposing 1:48 scale resin beast from Blitzkrieg Miniatures and painted up as vehicle 232 of the 503rd Heavy Panzer Battalion, the same unit as the famous 'Tiger 131' captured in Tunisia by the British and still running today.

The Tigers arrived in Tunisia in late November 1942 and it was the first time the Western Allies had faced these heavy Panzers. There are three theories on what colour they were painted; an overall sand colour, this plus some olive green camouflage splotches and also an overall darker olive green using paint obtained from the Italian airforce. I went with the mixed pattern like the restored Tiger 131 at Bovington. It didn't tun out exactly to plan as the lighter colour came out a bit too light, and not yellow enough. But I am happy with the model as a whole.

Another favorite model in my platoon is Rommel himself. After seeing this photo of him encouraging his men in their captured US halftrack I just had to include him. Lucky for me the Artizan Designs range I am using from my infantry has a Rommel miniature. 

Sculpted by the incredible Mike Owen, he was a joy to paint and makes a great leader for my army...even if it is unlikely he ever led at platoon level! You never know...his men said he had a habit of "being everywhere..."

When painting my Rommel miniature I followed the painting guide for him in the Painting War: WW2 German Army book.
One of the really unique vehicles in this force which only existed in this time and place is the T30 75mm HMC. It's a self propelled gun captured by the Germans from the 1st Armoured division.
It features a pack howitzer from the US Paratrooper range. The gunshield and mount was scratch built by the talented Jakob Lotz using plasti-card. The halftrack is a Corgi 1:50 diecast vehicle and the crew comes from the Warlord Games 88 crew.

Here you can see the actual vehicle being used by Panzergrenadier Regiment 86 at Sidi-Nsir in February 1943. The Germans used sand coloured paint to cover over all the US markings and avoid friendly fire.

In the game I will be using the rules for the German SDKFZ 251 ''Stummel'. It's an armoured halftrack that can carry 8 men and is armed with the light howitzer, so essentially the same vehicle. It is one of the 5 'tanks' in my platoon, even though it can transport some of the infantry as well, very handy.

Next up are the Panzergrenadiers themselves in the captured halftracks. I have three small squads to ride along in close support of the Panzers and form an armoured battlegroup to take on the Allies in the hills of Tunisia. Although the squads are small they pack decent firepower carrying an MG42 each. One visual thing I have done to make my infantry look different to the 'classic DAK is to include lots of trenchcoats. The Germans in the photos seem to be wearing them a lot as Tunisia is more temperate than the Sahara, and the campaign was fought over the winter time.
I made good use of the Warlord Games plastic infantry sets to convert up crew for these halftracks. Specifically I used the Russian winter infantry set for the greatcoat bodies and combined these with the Late War German Grenadiers. Plastic models are a lot easier to make custom vehicle crew with as you can pose them exactly how you need and are easy to modify.

If you are interested in how I painted my infantry you can follow my step by step guide here.

All the vehicles are 1:48 or 1:50 scale, but I feel this suits the larger infantry sculpts I have from Artizan Designs. 

You can't have a German armoured force without a Panzer! So I have a Panzer IV from the 10th Panzer Division. The Axis forces had a fair few of these long barreled versions in Tunisia as opposed to the earlier campaigns in the desert. Again, this is a resin model by Blitzkrieg miniatures which I added a converted crew model to.

The force is essentially a Panzergrenadier platoon mounted in armoured halftracks supporting the two Panzers and Marder, a very ad-hoc Kampfgruppe. I feel this suits the last stand of the Axis in north Africa though.

I also took the opportunity to add a Nebelwerfer 41 to my Tunisia platoon as the DAK didn't have these in earlier campaigns, so again it's something a bit different that marks this platoon out as very much in Tunisia '43. I have taken the crew and artillery base from my DAK platoon's PAK38 and switched the gun.

A Nebelwerfer in Tunisia 1943.

Okay I am leaving my favorite model until last as it's somewhat the center-piece of the army and central to it's theme. I have always wanted to paint up a Tiger tank but the only army of mine that could really include one would be my DAK, but only if I 'shifted' them over to later campaigns in Tunisia as the Tiger I only arrived on the continent in November 1942, missing the desert war itself. 

The Tiger tank gave me another excuse (along with the captured US halftracks) I needed to expand my existing DAK force into a whole new platoon, which opened up options for many other new bits of equipment the DAK did not have. It also gave me an army to play the many US players at my club with.

The miniature itself is the 1:48 scale resin kit from Blitzkrieg Miniatures. It's a huge chunk of resin and the kit comes in 3 parts, so assembly is easy. The only disappointing thing was the turret hatch is closed, so I had to build my own so I could model it open and have the tank commander up there in the turret.

The tank commander model is actually a Warlord games DAK motorbike rider which I cut in half and added headphones too.

I chose to try and paint the same hull colours as the existing example of this tank which is now in the UK at the Bovington tank museum. In the end the main hull colour is a little too bleached out and could be more yellow. But, I am happy with how it turned out anyway.

The sheer size of the model and it's many flat armour panels gave me a great canvas to play with the weathering effects. I used enamel products from AK Interactive to get the shading, streaking, dust and oil effects.

For more detail on these techniques, check out my step by step guide here.

Well that little tour of my latest platoon for Bolt Action is over. I think the Axis forces in Tunisia offer their own fascinating and fun options to collect as a force somewhat different to the more popular and well known Deutsches Afrika Korp. I do see myself adding some more units to this eclectic platoon in the future... maybe some Fallschirmjäger,  or even some Italians caught up in the last battles for the Axis toe hold on the continent...

Wow, what an amazing force that Bryan has put together and I think my favorite so far. We are very lucky to have his incredible talent in our community - Patch

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