Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Beach Party!

Though neither toys nor soldiers, these whimsical sailors and Marines evoke much of the delight , I find in the realm of toy soldiers.  These classic sailors and Marines of the "golden era" of the U.S. Navy represent my memories of the years I served with the U.S. Fleet as a young 3rd class petty officer on the island of Guam and aboard Destroyers.

These figures all average about six inches in height and though they have a lot of detail they're not intended to be photorealistic but rather, three-dimensional cartoons of the guys I remember serving with back in my version of "the old Navy".

Unlike todays military, three fundamental components of Navy life were: smoking bushels of cigarettes, consuming gallons of bear, and frequenting entire populations of whores.  Throw classic tattoos in the mix and you pretty much have the delights available to sailors in the old days.

This sculpture represents one of those greatest of pleasures, the mass consumption of cold beer at what were termed "Beach Parties".

Held as morale-boosters, a beach-party would be proclaimed by a division officer or a skipper in recognition of a period of hard work, a successful operation, or as a general "well-done" to the crew.  This  celebration of a cohesive crew, the beach-party, would usually occur during regular working hours and might comprise an entire afternoon of baseball, burgers, steaks, swimming, and the ubiquitous swilling of a designated number of beers per man.

Warm beer of a local or otherwise cheap pedigree would be tumbled into a GI can and several large CO2 fire extinguishers would be expended to hose down the brewskis and get them serviceably chilled.  Then the drinking could begin in earnest.  This was back in the days when alcoholism was fairly common, especially among the career sailors, and a stumble-down drunk was tolerated as long as he was sober by his trick on watch.

At a beach party, sailors who didn't drink plied a lucrative business selling their alloted four beers for whatever price the market would bear.  As a result a good time would be had by all!

A picture of hard-earned satisfaction as this first-class petty officer draws deep the sweet elixir of life.

San Miguel was a staple in the Philippines and on the Islands of Guam and Midway.

Back in the "Old Navy" every lifer had a church-key on his key ring for just such eventualities.

Sculpted by yours truly, this is the first of a few of my old shipmates...

that may appear on this blog from time to time.

Soldier (and sailor) on!


Monday, March 15, 2010

Safari Ltd Union Soldiers, with educational leaflet!

From China via la belle France come these five, new, Union soldiers, hand painted, and as delightful as they are  ideosyncratic.

These guys are fairly new to the market appearing within the last two years.  Hand painted and of a semi-rigid plastic they are the first of four sets of both Union and Confederate troops.  My friend Brian acquired these for me during a recent trip to Shiloh National Military Park.

The sculpting of these little 54 mm soldiers is very pleasing to the eye and I would have to call them more cute than accurate, and in this instance cute is just fine.  The anatomy of this set is very nice though photos of some of the figures in the Confederate sets show poses that are quite stilted and unnatural.

The color, finished flat, is vivid and very pleasing to the eye.  The details of the uniforms put me in mind of my always pleasant visits to Canada where everything seems very familiar though somehow "off".  In this case the figures strike me as renderings not of Civil War soldiers but actors in the Audie Murphy movie version of "The Red Badge of Courage"  in that their uniforms are not authentic but a "close enough"  Hollywood interpretation of Civil War uniforms, and that is part of their charm.

Pass in Review!

Flag guy.

Flag guy is the least stable, that is, most apt to fall over.  Nicely-sculpted but poorly-balanced, this little soldier, though marching steadfastly on, bears a most hapless expression.

Somehow I think he realizes how he is currently standing out in the crowd.  The flag is without stars, and considering the fairly steep retail price ($15.00) this seems an unconsionable omission, however it  does provide the ambitious collector the opportunity to paint whichever state device or motif he or she wishes upon the starless field.

The flag-bearer, like all but one of the others, has the trouser stripes of a corporal though no accompaning chevrons. Perhaps a mixup at the base laundry.  Using a broom handle rather than a regulation flagstaff may account for the less-than-confident expression on this soldiers face.

Kneeling shooting guy.

With the facial hair of a porn star, kneeling shooting guy is particularly stable and well-sculpted, though his rifle is at such an unusually high elevation that he appears to be either a reenactor or an unsportsman-like doughfoot about to shoot his adversary in his "special man parts"  Ouch!  Shades of Alonzo Cushing.  Equiped with tiny blanket roll, little knapsack, canteen, and haversack he is without a cartridge box.  Apparently with only "one in the chamber" his work will soon be done.  "See you back at the PX. fellers!"

Semi-crouching loading guy.

His posture is odd,

 more that of a polling flatboatman than a soldier ramming one home.

And his odd backward-leaning stance makes him seem to defy gravity.  but of the five he is the one most resembling Mickey Dolenz of the Monkees...

and that' good enough for me.  Note that corporal Mickey has chevrons to match his trouser-stripes.

Fully-upright loading guy

Of the four armed soldiers, fully-upright loading guy bears the least personal equipment - knapsack only.

Perhaps he intends to borrow cartridges, caps, hardtack, and water from his comrades.  There's one in every company "Hey man, can I bum a smoke?"

Though it appears that he's ramming his rifle with a length of black gas pipe, and reenactors will balk at his abundance of buttons,

I look askance at his abundance of mascara.

Standing shooting guy.

This soldier has a very forthright and determined stance, he is a contender, very well balanced and wonderfully sculpted.  This is the best sculpted figure of the group

Drawing a bead on the sesesh.

The scowl on his face is probably reflective of the fact that in his haste to action he mistakenly...

grabbed his disco bag rather than his cartridge box.

Nonetheless, I wouldn't trifle with him...

or with his comrades, a distinctly soldierly looking group of Yankees and an asset to any regiment.

On the down side, these figures are cast sans base, as a result they are very unsteady on their feet, usually as likely to become casualties as they are to stay steadfastly on the firing line.

Safari Ltd would do well to reengineer these little GIs to provide them the ability to actually participate in a "standup fight".

The packageing is attractive,

 and the "Enclosed Educational Leaflet" is all that it promises..."enclosed".

A fairly pedestrian fragment of a wall is included, somewhat sub-scale.

 Additional history is on the package and does do a concise, if overly simple, history of the causes of the war citing "state rights" and slavery.  Owing to the manufacture of this product in China, the slavery nod rings with an odd irony.

All in all, perhaps my friend Brian has provided some needed role modelling for other friends in hopes they will buy me the remaining sets of Safari Ltd 54mm American Civil War soldiers.

Retailing at around $15.00 they are priced at about twice what they should be, but at this price they provide another reason to be thankful for thoughtful and generous friends.

See you on the 1st

Soldier on!


Monday, March 8, 2010

Hill's Division arrives at Sharpsburg!

Victory Wood Working and Toy Soldiers Forever teamed up to provide some woodworking and toysoldier fun for Antietam National Battlefield which is launching a new Educational program for 8th through 12th graders this year.  The program explores the challenges of gathering accurate intelligence, specifically estimates of the strength of opposing forces based upon visual observation and the limitations of the modes of battlefield communications during the American Civil War.

I volunteered some design and fabrication time to make the physical components for this new program which included nearly 800 BMC/Americana soldiers in representative regiments of approx 40 men each mounted on poplar flats and two cool looking cases in which to safely store and transport them.

Here is one of the box carcasses prior to clamping and glueing.  Soliders, mounted on one of the poplar flats are in the foreground.  Note the slots milled into the sides of the box and the flats fitted into storage position.  The flats are grooved and I had to melt holes into the base of each of the plastic soldiers to maximize the adhesion abilities of the "Liquid Nails" used to affix the one to the other.

Mounting the horses was particularly challenging as the hooves provided very litlle surface area to attach to the flat.  To provide more secure anchorage, I used coathanger wire, bent in a flat-bottomed "U" shape   The base of the "U" was then fitted and glued onto a groove on the flat after heating the uprights to red-hot and passing the through the body of the plastic horse.

This resulted in a very stable (nice pun!) and durable mount for the horse.  (note: no horses were harmed in the making of this photograph).

Though Liquid Nails is not recommended for plastic, the grooved flats and the dimutive cannon wheels provide plenty of surface area to assure good adhesion.

Artillery and infantry units were mounted in both deployed as well as "on the march" positions.
As BMC/Americana sells only mixed lots of blue and gray soldiers, and that this is A.P. Hill's Division, all soldiers, once mounted on the flat and regardless of their actual loyalties, were given a nice overcoat of gray spray paint.

These are the finished transport cases.  With heavy duty handles and casters they are very easy to transport...

and they provide organized protection for the soldier-covered flats.

Its surprising how many soldiers can fit in those two cases.

Confederate artillery  in  battery with infantry support moving into position behind.

Confederates on the firing line hitting the 16th Conn. in the flank on the afternoon of September 17th along the Harper's Ferry Road just outside of Sharpsburg.  A bad day for the Nutmeg State.

One flat is the headquarters group with mounted officers, dispatches being sent off, signal, state and battleflags.  Easy to identify, even at a distance, as a high-value target.

Artillery column arrives just in the nick of time...

as A.P. Hill's Division arrives to save Lee from defeat.

All in a days work for Victory Wood Working and Toy Soldiers Forever.

Soldier on!