Sunday, 7 December 2014

Preparing miniatures for gaming the Russo Japanese Naval War 1904-1905

In the beginning...

Ive had a long interest in all thing military, mechanical and mighty...and naval! It stood to reason therefore that I would come across the world of pre-dreadnoughts and start getting sweaty palms looking at all those guns strapped on top of fragile boats at some point and start salivating at how many dice I could potentially start throwing at another player!

After much tooing and froing I decided that I wasn't happy with the quality of the miniatures that were out there for the scale that I wanted to game in... until I found Jim's miniatures at War Times Journal (!

These impressed me enough with their sharp, clean detailing and lack of flash and mould lines at 1/3000 that I decided that I may put in a small order... but which nations to choose?

Well the French and the English were ruled out for me cos there wasn't enough going on for those nations in this period to keep me happy and Im starting to lose count of how many German armies Ive had over the years so I opted out there. The Chinese selection wasn't quite large enough to build a decent fleet list when I was looking at them, although they were something I could foresee myself becoming interested in... that left either the Spanish-American War or the Russo-Japanese War (what pre-dreadnought conflicts remained barely had any ships available at all for them).

I decided against the Spanish-American War on account of the embarrassingly comprehensive whooping the Americans gave the Spaniards, I figured it wouldn't make for an amusingly competitive game instead being more of a turkey shoot and if I gamed the Russo-Japanese War a good selection of the Japanese Fleet could be backdated by 10 years to enable me to game the Sino-Japanese War of 1895 as well in the future.

Reading around the Russo Japanese Naval war I discovered that there were quite a few misconceptions about the results as well. The Japanese for example didn't quite have it all their own way, with Russian gunners actually having an appreciably higher accuracy than their Japanese counterparts at the Battle of the Yellow Sea, possibly due to the method of centralised fire control on the ships, Admiral Makarov was a fascinating character, great examples of doomed heroism such as the Variag at Chemulpo in 1904 where she sails out of harbour with the Gunboat Korietz straight down a narrow channel and into the waiting guns of Japanese Admiral Uryu's squadron and gets duly torn to pieces. This heroic vessel eventually foundered off of the cost of Scotland after the Russian Revolution where a monument to her exploits now stands to her eternal glory, and finally there were so many scraps around fascinating coastlines, such as the one outside of Vladivostok, that it would have been a crime not to at least try getting a squadron or two together in order to throw handfuls of dice and watch bits fall off of the ships involved! One can only ponder what could have happened if Makarov had survived, if Admiral Vitgeft had had bigger balls earlier on, what he may have achieved as his tactical leadership seemed to be pretty good and what may have happened if a higher calibre of admirals were available to lead the Russians more consistently throughout the conflict...

I received my first order of pewter 1/3000 Russian ships from Jim about a week after I ordered them. Good price and quick turnaround... nice! I bought the entire Russian fleet from Tsushima, all three divisions and attached merchant ships, whilst another guy at my wargame's club decided to buy the Japanese fleet although I have since purchased the Japanese fleet as well!

The miniatures themselves were FAR superior to anything that was out on the market elsewhere at this scale in my opinion at a price that meant a decent amount of ships could be built up relatively economically. They were clean and solid... the two things they were missing were masts and bases! These days Jim has moved on to casting from resins and the detail he is getting from them is truly staggering! Really! Go see!!

Its at a point like this that a gamer needs to make a decision about how much effort to put into preparing something for gaming use. I'm a guy that derives a lot of pleasure from creating something worth looking at and when I'm 'in the zone' its one of the only times I can get my head to slow down and relax so there are obvious benefits to me. I decided I needed to go the whole hog and make masts for the ships and sculpt proper bases (although I used blue cardboard for a short whilst in order to actually get a few games in!), although all of the bases I now use have come from East Riding Miniatures (

So, it came down to the preparation of the ships. All flash was cut away, and bottoms of the ships flattened from any minor bending that postage may have caused.

The next thing that needed addressing were the masts. I immediately opted to use Guitar string because of its enormous tensile strength combined with the awesome variety in thicknesses. For the masts I typically used 12-13 size string and for the Yards I typically used 8-9 size strings. One major concern I had was regarding the super-gluing of the yards to the masts. ANY knocking at all would knock the yards off again, and that to me just sounded like an absolute ball ache...I opted to solder them in place. So in groups of three or four ships I collected photographs and illustrations of the ships in question so I could mimic the mast arrangements and then proceeded to actually build them, drill the hulls (and I cannot tell you how many drill bits I have trashed doing this now!), glue the masts in place and then glue the ships in groups to the wooden batons that I have been using for the last 15 years, ready for painting.

Once all of this jazz was completed the ships were base coated, and painted... but more on that later!

Once the ships were painted it was time to do the sea bases... these took me fully three years to decide how to do them. I wanted them to look absolutely mint and totally convincing because with ships so small the sea bases could make or break their appearance! I finally came down on a decision on how to do them and I was happier with them than I thought I would be... but more on them later as well! LOL. The real issue was whether or not I chose tranquil sea bases or the turbulent looking sea that has so much visual character... well in my quest to avoid all things flat and featureless I opted for sculpting the turbulence of the sea.

As I write this I still have some of the merchant ships from both sides of the conflict to paint but other than these I own, and have painted and based almost every single ship that was present in the Yellow Sea and Straits of Japan between 1904-1905, including shore batteries, fortresses, buildings, store houses and factory units and a whole lot of small naval tokens for harbour based ships and boats and of course the obligatory shell splash markers that every naval wargamer finds so much pleasure in littering his wargame table with!

The only thing left to do other than the 40 or so merchant ships I have to paint is to write the rules for the games which will hopefully be all but done by New Year 2015...

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