Saturday, January 31, 2009

Jungle Outpost: Site Delta

Now a brief departure from my regular posting on 54mm ACW plastic soldiers. I'd like to share with you an account, entirely true in every detail, of the length each of us may one day have to go to in the name of freedom, liberty, and a nice looking lawn.


The photographic evidence was chilling; Soviet-made missiles literally in my back yard!  Tensions were piano-wire taut and we may have been mere moments away from Armageddon. The only option, distasteful though it may have seemed at the moment, was embodied in those two desperate words:

"preemptive strike".

This was over the Independence Day weekend in 1999. I was home with my family in Grand Rapids Michigan when a telephone call summoned me from the garden and into a nuclear near-nightmare.

I was informed of the satellite and U2 photos. Concerned but not yet convinced, I authorized a quick covert mission by an operative inside our Havana network to infiltrate and take photographs. Those few grainy snapshots, taken at close range, gained the free world crucial information and, sadly, cost that operative her life.

Thus begins an only-recently declassified saga of desperate courage in the face of nuclear annihilation that I dubbed:


Photograph exhibits 13 through 17, taken on  7-3-99  of Site Delta, gathered by field operative NAME REDACTED .

This crucial piece of photographic evidence clearly shows the missile (Sovietski plastikon 334) deployed with support and fuel trucks arriving at launch site.

The launch site was a beehive of activity with Cubano paramilitary and Sovietski advisers hurriedly making preparations for what can only be assumed to be a first-strike against Tampa.

This photo was one of the last gathered by operative NAME REDACTED from the heights overlooking Site Delta.  This view would have been sufficient evidence upon which to have initiated preemptive strike implementation sequencing.  However, operative NAME REDACTED, in the highest tradition of the AGENCY NAME REDACTED moved ever closer, at great risk and in selfless devotion to duty.  Below is the final photo.  Moments after attaching the microfilm canister to carrier pigeon NUMBER REDACTED the operative was terminated by Cubano sentries.

Final close-up with approaching Cubano paramilitary (blurred image) in lower right  corner.
Of interest in this shot is the U.S. manufactured jeep dating from pre-Marxist revolutionary days.

Within 50 minutes of receipt and processing of the microfilm the president authorized a strike.  Emergency funding was couched in an appropriations bill providing for Federal funding of high school Future Farmers of America exchange programs with Saudi Arabia. 

A two-member strike team infiltrated the Site Delta perimeter at 1115  hours on July 4 1999.  Sequential photos taken from agency operatives accompanied the official report of which selected views are included below.

Photo 37

- Site Delta guard tower.  Deployed missile on right.

Photo 42b

- Initial attack assessment shows superficial damage inflicted by Naval gunfire support (NGS)  provided by destroyers U.S.S Dehaven (DD-727) and U.S.S. Higbee (DD-806).   hardened and concealed bunkers remain intact, missile is overturned but still operational and threat-positive.

Photo 76 

- Photo recon flight recorded Cubano personnel down and missile overturned though undamaged. One six-pounder field gun (previously unobserved) now evident and disabled. AAA vehicle is intact and tracking recon flight.

Photo 38

- Strike team begins overt operations. Smoke from NGS pre-strike shelling rises to the right.

photo 80

- Strike team deploys close-in incendiary charges including white phosphorous and shaped thermite charges.

photo 83
- Strike team assumes "brace" protocol for imminent shock wave.

photo 87

- Photo recon flight records abject devastation on Site Delta. All aggressor personnel neutralized, all vehicles rendered inoperable, missile detonated by thermite and incinerated.

photo 91

- Site Delta eliminated as a threat.  Cubano delegation opens negotiations within four hours of stand-down of operation.  Sovietski advisors recalled to CCCP within 72 hours.  Pravda reports:

Программы земледелия Cubano научные работники модельной теперь самодостаточные, радушные домашние камрада земледелия большой и победоносной родины!

"Cubano model agriculture program now self-sufficient, welcome home comrade agriculture scientists of great and victorious motherland!"  

 Threat averted.

As I returned to my back yard celebration with the family, my wife commented that I was absent overly long for just having gone out for ice and condiments.  She also noted that I smelled of kerosene.  

My secret and irrevocable loss of my own humanity was a small price to pay for the security of the free world and the safety of my own backyard.

                                                    Heart of Darkness


See you on the 15th

Soldier on!


Monday, January 26, 2009

Prolific poster award

Check out the work of Mike Creek over at Bunker Talk.  He's got some great stuff going on.

See you on the first with a late 20th century backyard scenario, yes I know, I do ACW,  but I came across some old photos, so...


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

J'aime des zouaves !

The zouaves of Marksmen: great potential, 
lost opportunity.

I don't know how long ago Marksmen produced these zouave figures, but I do know that they are simultaneously some of my most, and least, favorite figures on the market.

The limited but imaginative poses are very animated, generally in quite a delightful and naturalistic way.  The sculptor must have had a knack for cartooning as the massing and proportioning of some of these figures remind me very much of the "Willie and Joe" cartoons of Bill Mauldin.

The casting however, undoes all of the good that has gone before it, with sloppy separation lines, gross amounts of flashing, and a distractingly waxy appearance to the oddly translucent blue plastic.

Not only is the particular hue of blue used a little off, but they also cast these guys in RED,

and regular readers of my blogs know few things  annoy me more than fascism and casting toy soldiers in ridiculous colors.

"But wait,"  you insist, "Weren't zouaves known for their colorful uniforms?"

"Certainement! But this is simply too much.  Here's my inflexible rule:

Mannie's inflexible rule:
Yankees are  dark blue.
Rebels are any shade of gray, brown, tan, taupe,  beige, and perhaps even ecru.

Zouave  uniforms were characterized by many things including voluminous pantaloons much like the zouave  below...

whom Van Gogh managed to catch in a moment of ...of...brushing crumbs from his lap.  Pesky hardtack!

But I think It should be enough to let the distinctive features of the uniform, the gaiters, pantaloons, short jacket, fez, eloquently suggest that these little 54 mm guys are zouaves rather than casting them entirely in red.  Gads!  C'mon  Marksmen (et. al.) the consumer isn't as stupid as you think.  

Of course Marksmen isn't alone in this playing down to the toy soldier consumer, Armies in Plastic does the same thing, and I'm sure others do as well. 

Enough already!  On to the figures

This guy is  perhaps the least interesting of the bunch, a fairly conventional pose, and uncharacteristically subdued pants for a zouave.  I do however appreciate his fez, distinctive facial hair, and that fantastic necktie.  The anatomy is quite good and if the base were as substantial from side to side as it is from end to end this figure would be much better balanced and stable.

It also demonstrates the bane of this particular product...

those hideously distracting separation lines.  Yikes! that's sloppy work.  "I know," sez the set-up man at Marksmen "I'll put the separation right across his face where no one will notice it."

Nice going, genius.  But take heart, I feel another  mood swing coming.

Take a look at this pose.  Its dramatic and dynamic with great animation as well as outstanding anatomy with a little bit of that cartoon influence I was talking about.  Look how braced and steady this guy is, and the details of his uniform are so evident right down to the tassel on his fez.  

For a standing shooter this guy is a stand-out among all ACW 54mm plastics, perhaps my favorite.  He is drawing a bead on someone with a grim determination that convinces me there's going to be some broken plastic downrange.

This is an outstanding, well imagined, and beautifully sculpted figure.

The weaknesses include again, the narrowness of the base which provides little weight or stability,

the excessive casting marks and sloppy flash which detract from the otherwise superb sculpting,

and the dreadful seperation lines, which turn our zouave into a Yankee Harvey Dent.  

A second really outstanding imagining of a zouave is the "charge bayonet" guy.

Although the animation and sculpting are again outstanding and exciting,

the execution mitigates the effectiveness of the figure.  Careful engineering and better plastic would have provided a much fiercer figure.  Imagine a phalanx of these as executed by Italeri or even Imex.

The "holding flag and shooting guy" is a textbook encapsulation of what is so frustrating about what Marksmen has foisted upon us.

Look at the precarious balance of this figure, nearly toppling over due to the lack of weight and mass in the diminutive base.

And I'm not certain what the sculptor was trying to get across here...

flag, or tattered tee shirt?  You decide what this odd bit of plastic is supposed to be.

But, again, this figure represents the strengths of the enterprise with some outstanding detail.

The trunk and head are fantastic, the moustache fabulous (hey isn't that the guy who used to be the principal of Horizons High School!?), the buttons, though large, are quite delightful...

as is the piping along his vented jacket.

Epaulets no less, fantastic. Bravo!

Cartridge box, more piping, and buttons, this guy has more detail than a Victorian wedding cake!

Check out his discarded fez lying at his feet.  Sigh, if only the sculptor and the set-up man hadn't been feuding, this would have been a much nicer piece.

Here's another good one.  Though not a particularly imaginative pose, it still has great balance and is superbly sculpted.  Whoever this sculptor is he (or she) has mastered anatomy, massing, and the concept of "drawing a bead" on someone.

And, predictably, closer examination reveals the sloppiness of execution that characterizes these Marksmen figures.

One wonders if the plastic was simply not at the right temperature when the casting was done.  And that translucent waxiness is very distracting.

I've saved the best for last.  Here is, to date, my all-time favorite ACW 54mm plastic figure, whom I like to refer to as...

                                              "the jaunty campaigner"

This single figure represents that which I wish more companies brought to the transaction; a small amount of whimsy, or what I like to call "cartooniness" in their sculpting.  I love the breezy demeanor of this veteran as he ambles down the dusty road in search of an unguarded smoke house or chicken coop.

The animation of this figure is nearly transcendent, leaving all other companies in the dust of this happy warrior.

This figure, with baggy pantaloons, and battered boots puts me very much in mind of the cartoonist Bill Mauldin,

and his wonderful "Willie and Joe" characters from WWII.

This figure also has outstanding detail, including bulging backpack and haversack, as well as a tin cup.

But, sadly, the illusion comes to pieces with the ham-fisted clumsiness of the casting engineers at Marksmen...

with this final, and most aggregious example of dreadful casting.  What a waste of an otherwise outstanding sculpting.  Something at Marksmen must be very wrong that their casting department is so out of touch with their sculptors and that their marketing department is so out of touch with their clientele.

For a glimpse how it can be done right and for more of this wonderful "cartooniness" in figures go here for a Youtube video featuring some fabulous 54mm figures from Aurora that are very much informed by the Anime style.  I'd love to see ACW figures so brightly and spritely done. Thanks to Vintage Castings for making this video available (I dig the music too).

Final thoughts
Of the four figures below (which will all be reviewed in later postings) we have, from left to right:
                    Marksmen      Italeri    Hat Industries    Armies in Plastic

Just imagine how utterly outstanding, how fabulously breathtaking the Marksmen zouaves would have been had the casting been undertaken with the same skill as shown by the fine folks at Italeri.

What a sad, sad, missed opportunity.

So now we bid a fond adieu to the zouaves that fill out the ranks of my collection;

exotic, colorful, and evocative of...

times past, perhaps?

See you on Feb 1.

Soldier on!