More of my childhood Airfix Veterans painted and based for the first time.
These OOHO Paratroopers’ figures Set S23 were first produced in 1965, sculpted by John Niblett who produced many of the slender first version Airfix figures.
Some of these “bunch of chubsters“, as Gary Cumston light-heartedly called these figures on this Facebook group (below), have fought bravely in my boyhood battles since the mid 1970s, but oddly never got painted. Maybe their useful khaki green plastic handily required no painting?
They were indeed tall “chubsters”, compared to the slender Version 1 Airfix infantry figures that preceded them.
Parachute regiments were usually made up of men from many regiments and sources. The same is true of my Airfix Figures. These are mostly the green colour 1970s ones but some brown 1990s Playset Coastal Fort / Gun Emplacment ones crept in. (Why make them in brown?)
Now my childhood elite veterans have been joined by a few 1960s/70s figures from Tony Adams and my former work colleague and friend Ken from his 1960s/70s tin of Airfix. Their figures are suitably coded with initials under the base.
To consider this chubster question, what better than to look closely at the figures, whilst painting up and basing some of these veterans?
I checked that I had all the figures and equipment from the Airfix British Paratroopers section of Plastic Soldier Review (which is largely unimpressed by this set) http://www.plasticsoldierreview.com/Review.aspx?id=418
*** Digital camera or iPad photos do tend to show up forgotten or unpainted chin straps, mouldlines and flash etc but I have to remind myself that on the games table, you are seeing them at a distance. These are old figures / moulds too. ***
A few figures and fine fiddly bits were missing from my childhood originals including the two part mortar and base, the officer checking his watch with his “whatever” hand signal and the two deflated parachutes. I searched around and added these from my unused brown plastic 1990s play set figures, many of which were still on the sprue.
There are some surprising details to paint on these rather generic allied Paratroops like the ‘monkey’s tail’ tailpiece or crutch strap, that ran from back to front to button up the smock tight whilst parachuting.
Illustrations – Airfix boxes 1970s OOHO called generic ‘Paratroopers’ – with a US Airborne look on the left? – in this still used artwork by Brian Knight. Source image: Plastic Soldier Review.
The box art illustration by Airfix artist William Champion from the second version British Paratroops 1:32 boxes (shown in Denison smocks below) – still in use 2021.
Where can I get some?
WW2 Airfix OOHO or 1:72 figures seem to go in and out of production, as the British Paratroopers currently are (summer 2021). Recent releases of the Paras up to Red Box packaging style (2012) onwards are still around online for much the same price as the OOHO figure selection currently on Airfix.com
Airfix 1:32 British Paratroops are being re-released late summer 2021.
Painting my Paras at last
I had intended at first to do my usual childhood ‘Airfix basics’ simple painting of black boots, flesh faces and weapon colours.
Usually I use Khaki Afrikabraun for faces as it is not quite so pink and bright pale as flesh paints usually are.
Once I had painted in packs, gaiters and webbing in Khaki (Afrikabraun Matt in Revell Acrylic Aquacolor), it became necessary to use Flesh for the faces toned down with a hint of khaki or green. Any other webbing colour from the paints that I had available and had tried was too grey. I hadn’t considered using any washes at this point.
Afrikabraun – gaiters, webbing pouches and haversack
Tar Black – for boots and weapons
Leather Brown – for hair and wooden parts of weapons
Silver and black mixed for gun metal and grenades
Dark Green – for helmets
Shade and Wash?
Having done the old Airfix figure basic colours, I thought I would try some Citadel shade wash to pick out the detail and shadows of pouches, clothes and faces. I used a Christmas gift from the family last Christmas of Citadel Shade Athonian Camoshade (dark green) and Agrax Earthshade (brown). Nuln Oil (black) was generally too dark.
Flocking and Basing (F and B)
MDF 1p Penny bases from Warbases were used for individual figures, Tuppeny 2p MDF for lying down figures and support weapons.
Apart from lying figures, figures were glued with UHU onto these 1p bases before painting started. It makes them generally easier to paint.
The flock used was a mixture of several Woodland Scenics flock types, some Jacklex packing sawdust, fine beach sand and beach micro-gravel (gathered from beach trips).
PVA Glue mixed with brown and green craft acrylic was placed by cocktail stick onto the Airfix figure base and MDF penny base before burying them in flock in a small tray.
A little later, the figure bases were buried in a tub of the fine beach sand and micro-gravel.
Uniform Research – Denison Smocks
Some online sources, painted sample figures in ads and book illustrations show quite garish bright washes of brown cream and green for camouflaged Denison smocks.
Initially I did not even intend to paint the green sections of these already khaki green plastic figures, unless they required this like Tony Adams’ grey painted figures or the 1990s Brown issue Airfix OOHO Paratroops.
Once I had done the green or brown wash, I thought this might suffice.
However, having done the Citadel wash which seems at first to add a shine on matt colours, I went back and spent some time adding brush shade mixes onto the Airfix plastic green base colour of Olive (dark) Green and Dark Earth (brown) Revell Acrylics.
Whilst I did this, I listened for the first time to the DVD Special Features film makers’ commentary by “special effects, designers, cinematographers and film production staff” on my trusty A Bridge Too Far DVD.
After I had done this and it had dried, I couldn’t easily tell what I had done, which is hopefully the opposite of garish.
Early Denison smocks were supposed to slowly fade and the colours wash out.
These familiar Airfix Para figures seem to hold up well enough for me for gaming, especially considering that these figures that are almost 60 years old. Their modern equivalents are probably these 28mm Warlord Games Paras or any other plastic 1:72 / 1:76 British Paras you can find.
A Bridge Too Far 1977 quote: Anthony Hopkins as John Frost: “D’you know something’s just occurred to me. We’re wearing the wrong sort of camouflage … all very well for the countryside but I doubt if it’s going to fool anyone in the town …”
To Scrim or Not Too Scrim?
I watched an interesting YouTube video on helmet scrim using finely cut up bandages https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=vdj1a8Irgu4&feature=youtu.be
I tried this out but found my old time-expired bandages, once cut up were more like cotton fluff plastic than cloth, so I only did one trial figure in this style. I then trimmed a few millimetres of edging from a green gaming cloth, which had more of a weave to it and the benefit of green shade colours. I tried this finely chopped material out on a damaged figure and a few lying figures.
To Scrim or Not to Scrim and how?
Scrim Plus point: It does hide the unfortunate mould rim line or dent across across the top of the helmet.
Scrim Minus point: Many of the archive pictures that I looked at did not show British Paratroops with helmet scrim net or a leafy head scrim.
I want these figures to be as versatile for (ImagiNations) gaming in different theatres as possible, although generally on grass flocked bases.
What do you think?
Essential Reading Matter
Wargaming Airborne Operations by Donald Featherstone (1977) – same period as A Bridge Too Far film. The appendix sections show Airfix publicity shot pictures of the new German Paratroops OOHO and German Mountain Troops, along with OOHO British Paratroopers with minimal painting style.
In the game photographs, it shows that generally Featherstone barely painted his British Paras, or the newly released 1974-76 issues of Australian, US Paratroop, German Paratroop or Mountain Troop Airfix figures.
By chance, timely figures or the stimulus for producing this book?
Interestingly he also hadn’t added or updated to the Version 2 British Infantry or German Infantry, still using his Version 1 Infantry Combat Group and German Infantry from his WW2 game in War Games (1962) fifteen years earlier. Along with Matchbox US and German Infanty, he had surprisingly used Atlantic German and US Infantry in his games though instead.
A reprint by John Curry in the History of Wargaming project also includes Bob Cordery’s Tarred and Feathered grid update of Lionel Tarr and Donald Featherstone’s WW2 rules in War Games (1962).
Osprey Combat: British Paratrooper versus German Fallschirmjager (Mediterranean 1942-43)
A Bridge Too Far by Cornelius Ryan (extract) from True Stories of World War Two (Reader’s Digest). This thick hardback book of extracts was a welcome teenage Christmas or Birthday present from my parents.
Essential Viewing Matter
I chose A Bridge Too Far as my Desert Island one film challenge Duchy of Tradgardland blog post that has most introduced my gaming:
“Hard to choose from the raft of westerns and 50s/60s war films and Battle Victor comics etc, the Zulu, Waterloo films mentioned. Probably ‘A Bridge Too Far‘ from its plan of ops beginning, suggested flaws before the gliders launch, its series of plucky little character vignettes, unlucky blunders, plucky heroism, independent individual skirmish actions and IGO YUGO-ness (now the Allied side, now the German side). Obviously the same could be said of The Longest Day and Battle of the Bulge movies, all a bit mashed together in my head. This happened roughly around the same time as finding Donald Featherstone’s Airborne Wargaming book from the library.”
This film has its detractors https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Bridge_Too_Far_(film) but this broadly accurate film by producer Joseph Levine, scriptwriter William Goldman and director Richard Attenborough is a suitable memorial to many brave young men who died in this tragedy of human flaws in the planning and general bad luck.
Like Attenborough’s earlier film version of Oh What a Lovely War! and many late 1960s and 1970s war films, it is arguably / almost an anti-war film. (‘Discuss’. Film Studies 101).
These Para figures will one day grace the gaming table again as they did in my childhood and teenage games but probably not in a historical reenactment game.
Maybe in ImagiNations games as the First Angrian Parachute Brigade?
Blog posted by Mark Man of TIN, 18 July 2021