Saturday, June 27, 2020

The Battle of Guam: Archival footage of LVT (A) s

Here is some really incredible footage of LVTs heading for one of the invasion beaches of Guam.

The footage of the amtracs starts at 3:54.  This is really worth a look and it will inform how I will paint my LVTs.

Soldier on!


The Battle of Guam: making the jungle floor.

Bungle through the jungle

Here I am on Guam in 1971.  I spent nearly all of my off-duty hours hiking the island; this was, and still is, called "boonie stomping."  For an eighteen year-old kid from rural Michigan, this was a very exotic place, and I loved just about every minute of it.  Guam has beautiful, reef-protected, white-sand beaches,  grasslands, mountains (Pacific island-style, not Montana-style), and lots and lots of thick jungle.  The denizens of the jungle (when I was there) were small deer, wild boar, monitor lizards, birds, and LOTS of spiders and mosquitos.  The latter owned the jungle.  The first thing one does before launching off in to the jungle, is to find a good "spider stick"...the stick that you constantly waved in front of you to knock down spiderwebs that are across the trail; and the spiders are BIG.  

The others kings of the jungle are the mosquitos.  Near water and at the bottom of ravines were the worst places for mosquitoes...actually they were the best places for the mosquitos; they were the worst places for the booniestompers.  One time I swatted my bare forearm and killed eight mosquitos in that single blow.  Insect-repellant gets sweated off fairly quickly in the hot steamy jungle.

A hot and steamy jungle is something that you have to experience to really understand what it feels like.  It's so hot, and so humid, that you actually feel a pressure bearing down on you.  You are sweating by the pint while battling mosquitos, struggling through the razor-grass to get to higher ground and the ever-present breeze that you'll find up there, for some relief.

Thinking back, I'm amazed at how little water we carried, usually just one canteen for one or two guys.  We'd restrict our consumption to sips of warm water, where normally, today, I'd be guzzling it by the bottle.  I don't know how we did it...frankly, I don't know how we did any of it back then.

This jungle is something that I can only approximate on the toy soldier table, I would need a lot more vegetation than I have available, as well as a wider variety.  We may think of jungles in the Pacific as being mostly palm trees...not so.  The jungles on Guam are choked with mahogany trees, bamboo, tangan-tangan, groves of bamboo, ironwood, coconut palms, and lots and lots of other stuff.

For my version of the Guamanian jungle I have recast Marx palm trees and ferns, aquarium bamboo, and aquarium grass and ferns.

These aquarium products were a breakthrough for this project, it was a recommendation from a friend on a toy soldier forum.

Plastic aquarium grass is readily available and very inexpensive.

It  comes in 9"x9" squares and I bought two varieties...

ferns, and grass.

Each tuft is molded in two tones of green which makes them look  realistic.

Each tuft is fastened to the flexible plastic grid below by a small stud.

The grid will be a cinch to cut into irregular shapes.

By unfastening from one grid and fastening to the other, I was able to achieve a nice mixture of grass and ferns on a single grid.

The grid allows you to poke the Marx palm trees and ferns through the jungle floor - concealing their bases, for a very convincing look.

There are places on Guam that look just like this lightly-wooded area, I've hiked them.  For more intense jungle I will pack a lot of trees in the grid as well as the plastic bamboo.

Eventually, when this Marine is painted, he and his colleagues will be struggling through terrain that is very familiar to me...

Though fortunately, I didn't have people shooting at me.

Stay tuned, this will be a long hike together.

Soldier on!

Monday, June 15, 2020

The Battle of Guam: Gun Beach pillbox

Gun Beach.

Gun beach was a must-visit destination when I was a sailor stationed on Guam in 1971.  The snorkeling was great, but the location was remote and difficult to get to.  It involved a long hitch-hike from the Naval Communication Station at Finegayen.  

Hitch-hiking was the main form of transportation for servicemen on the island back then. We never knew how long we'd have to wait but we could always count on a ride eventually.  This was the main way that GIs got to meet Guamanians.  It was safe, fun, and reliable.  

Back to the narrative.  We got dropped off at a two-track trail that wound through the jungle. At that point the "boonie-stomping" began. We were huffing and puffing, sweating, battling spiders and mosquitos the whole way.  After a long, hot, and strenuous hike, we broke out of the jungle and found ourselves on the shoreline...but we weren't there yet, we still had a mile to go, navigating a shoreline that was as rocky as it was sandy.  As I recall, we rounded a bend and saw in the distance the distinctive bluff that towered over Gun Beach. 

 Finally we were there.  

A short breather was followed by getting into our trunks and gearing-up in our masks, fins, and snorkels.  The water was the perfect temperature and crystal clear...typical for Guam.  As we were inside the reef, sharks were never a problem.

While we were there I hiked around to find the gun for which the beach was named.  It was easy to find...a rusting short-barreled, large caliber gun in a crumbling concrete and coral pillbox. 

I swept away the spiderwebs and took a look inside.  The pillbox wasn't impressive only because it was so tumble-down and filled with debris; nonetheless, it was evident that, in its heyday, this was a formidable fortification with a menacing gun.

For my Battle of Guam project, I want to connect it to as many of my own experiences as I can from my days on the island.  To that end, I recreated a 1/32 version of the Gun Beach pillbox.

By the way, Gun Beach, like all of Guam, is considerably changed from my day:

The project began with the construction of the pillbox.  I used sheet styrene throughout.

The most time-consuming component was the stepped-embrasure.  I used the sheet styrene at right angles to all surfaces at the embrasure as well as the rear entrance to simulate very thick concrete walls.

 I'm trying to do this project with materials that I have on hand...nowhere is this more evident than with the construction of the gun.

The gun barrel is part of a cast-off technical pen, and the recuperator is a piece of dowel.

The cheeks of the gun were laid out on a sheet of craft plywood and cut out with the scroll saw.

The next operation was at the drill press where I drilled out the holes for the trunnions.

Finding the center on the pedestal to drill a hole in which to mount the pintle.

I took a scrap of mahogany to the bandsaw to cut a square breech-block.  

The elevation wheel is a spare road wheel from one of the Tamiya Chi-ha tanks that I've made for this project.

The finished product.  I opted to apply a camouflage pattern to the portion of the barrel that protrudes from the embrasure.

I used hot glue to affix the gun to the floor of the pillbox, and with that, it was time to glue on the roof.

The rear entrance.  To provide a textured finish, I painted the pillbox in Tamiya gray primer overall, and then with some Testors black spray paint, I stood back about two feet from the spray booth and applied a very light spray.   I followed that with Tamiya haze gray in the same manner.  I'm pretty happy with the result.

Looking into the pillbox from the back entryway.

For the finished project, the pillbox will be bermed into the styrofoam terrain, concealing much of it.

I will probably be making two more pillboxes, one will be a copy of the Agana channel machine-gun position, and the other will be one of the very small ones on Tumon Bay that I used to change into my swimwear.

Preparations like this will be going on for a long time before the battle begins.

Watch this space and...

Soldier on!

Monday, June 8, 2020

July - August, 1944: The Battle of Guam

Hi toy soldier enthusiasts,

Toy Soldiers Forever! the blog, is taking a break from the American Civil War and heading to the Philippine Sea of WWII, and the Battle of Guam.

(A test photo)

I expect that this project will last two  or three years, and I'm really excited with the prospect of heading in a new direction,

My interest in the Battle of Guam stems from my own experiences on the island.  When I was in the US Navy I was stationed on Guam from 1971 to 1972...I arrived there when I was eighteen, and the experience shaped me during my formative years.

When I was on the island, the War was still vivid in the memories of the adult Guamanians and Chamorros.  Shot-up and abandoned war materiel was all over the island, as was unexploded ordnance. All of the beaches were covered by pillboxes and gun embrasures, and inland one found abandoned American and Japanese tanks and American LVTs.  While I was on Guam, the last Japanese straggler Sgt Sochi Yokoi was captured (gently).

The war still echoed on the island, and I really got caught up in it, spending nearly all of my off-time hiking in the jungle, walking the beaches, or snorkeling the shallow waters of the reef.

The Guamanians are fiercely proud of the fact that they are Americans, and today the island is a modern tourist destination with world-class amenities but still offers lots of unspoiled, barely touched, places of natural tropical beauty.  The Guam that I experience was very different than the Guam of today.  The island was just beginning to explore the Japanese tourist industry, building a modern and attractive first-class hotel, the Guam Dai-Ichi.  While I was on the island, its first MacDonalds opened...which was like a little slice of home for the GIs stationed on the island

In short...I loved it.

Over the summer and autumn the toy soldier will be transformed, first into an invasion beach, then it will become the interior of the island.  I also plan on recreating a tiny portion of the capital - urban setting and an important reminder that this remote part of America was most definitely not  a collection of primitive people and grass huts.  

Right now I am gathering, assembling, and painting materials.  Later the fabrication, in foam, of the terrain will begin.  My trusty painted backdrop of the Cumberland Valley will disappear and a Pacific Ocean seascape will first take its place, followed by an island landscape.

The plan is to tell discrete battle stories, much like my multi-installment Battle of Greenbrier.  Most of the installments will somehow be connected to photographs, artifacts, or stories that I brought back with me from my time on the island.

I've really been enjoying the preliminaries and I will be posting progress reports as the project progresses.  I hope that you will come along on the journey.

By the way, a week ago I retired from the National Park Service, so I have so much more time that I can dedicate to my hobbies.  I can't wait.

As we say on the island - 

Hafa Adat!

and soldier on!