Tuesday, 13 November 2018

The British Airborne Buildup

Operation Market Garden has been a field of special personal interest since probably the prémiere of A Bridge Too Far back in the 70s (I actually watched the film in London cinema during one of my summer trips to study English). In November 2015 I have the opportunity to visit Arnhem and did part of the Hell’s Highway (we detour to visit themust-see Overloon Tank Museum) too.

My attention to the battle has recently taken a new interest after the publication of Beevor’s "Arnhem" and specially after reading a short work by a Dutch military historian R.G. Poulussen “Lost at Nijmegen” and Robin Neillands’ “The Battles for The Rhine 1944”.

Beevor’s is (I must admit) a very good and readable book, very decently covering the Allied and the German sides; but it can be argued that adds very little to the knowledge we have of Operation Market Garden except updating some of the information.
Poulussen on the contrary is an excellent research work that digs deep in the decisions taken by the US 82nd Airborne and specially Gavin in his area. The argument goes that Arnhem was actually lost at Nijmegen (the books title) because instead of planning and prioritizing taking the Waal bridge, the US units were ordered to take and consolidate first the Groesbeek Heights.
 In fact, just after landing Colonel Lindquist 508 PIR could have easily taken control of the bridge due to the confusion and small size of the German forces in the city. The delay allowed the Germans, first to reorganise and second to pour reinforcements coming from Arnhem itself. 
The story as it’s been usually told is that Horrock’s XXX Corps delay in reaching Nijmegen sealed the fate of the British 1st Airborne Division. Poulussen using a full array of contemporary documentation available in the Dutch, British and US archives argues that, on the contrary, XXX Corps spearhead units actually arrived with a very slight deviation on the planned timetable. It was then Gavin’s decisions that led to the destruction of the British Airborne Division.

Neillands is an excellent book that put Arnhem (and The Bulge) in the wider context of the Allied strategy after the Normandy breakout… or better said the lack of strategy. A fascinating reading that puts Eisenhower in a poor light, although the author admits that he suffered from significant political pressures and a very disloyal behaviour of his Corps Commanders  (Patton particularly although not exclusively). And defends Montgomery as a great military commander, although his lack of political and personal abilities created a lot of friction in the Allied high command (SHAEF) and very little rapport with the US commanders.
After reading this, one concludes that Market Garden was not such a doomed operation and for the sake of Monty’s vanity. This is not to say that it wasn’t a risky operation, but a better planning may have ended in a different result.                  
 In the middle of my reading, Richard Clarke and Nick Skinner decided to do a quick trip to Arnhem just before the Crisis wargaming event at Antwerp. And they came back from the trip with some very surprising views and remarks about a lack of proficiency of the British Airborne units, specially compared to the Germans.
This led to a very interesting discussion in the official TooFatLardiesYahoo Group that I very much encourage everyone to read. I also found remarkably interesting the podcast (“Oddcast” as they have branded their audio channel) recorded live while travelling the Hell’s Highway and the Arnhem.
After such a long (much longer that I initially thought) introduction, nobody would be surprised that my next painting project will be … a British Airborne force for Chain of Command, in 28mm of course (God’s Own Scale!).
It will also help to fill a long-time gap in my 2WW armies’ collection: I have already painted US Airborne and Fallschirmjager platoons over the past few years. So the only one missing were the British.
The Chain of Command platoon is as follows:
  • HQ Section with 2 Senior Leaders, PIAT, sniper and 2 inch mortar teams.
  • 2 sections with junior leader, one rifle and ane LMG (Bren) teams respectively.
  • 1 section with 2 LMG teams
I’m planning to add some supports: medic, flamethrower team, engineers, additional PIAT team, an airborne jeep, 6 Pounder AT Gun, heavy mortar and artillery forward observer and Bren Carrier (tractor to tow the AT gun).
Wargamers in 2018 are blessed with so many manufacturers that it really makes hard to decide what to use to build your army. I have been struggling to decide between the Wargames Foundry (old Perry Brothers designs) beautifully sculpted despite the time passed and the recently released Warlord plastic range.
I’m suspicious of Warlord because the initial plastic ranges were of relatively low quality material and the sculpting was not good at all (re: British and German late war infantry were flimsy, bayonets ad rifles easily broken while transporting and/or playing).
So I decided to order a single sprue of the British paratroopers and must say that the sculpting has very positively impressed me. The heads are full of character, poses are dynamic, lots of equipment that be can used as stowage in the vehicles and the box offers an almost infinite potential of combinations to single out each model individually.
These are the photos of the six models I have just built from the sprue:

And this is a close-up of the heads


The pro of the Warlord box is that you have 30 minis for the price of two metal blisters. The con is that you have to do some gluing and take decision about poses and equipment.  But the models are really great and easy to assemble.
One major weakness of the box is the Bren team. No prone figure is included in the box and if you use the standing ones, you end up with a Rambo-like Bren gunner, not much to my taste. So I’m using basically the box for the fusiliers and the Stens-armed models and I have acquired some additional metal Bren gun teams to complete my platoon.
I have also decided to mix both the Warlord and the Foundry ranges. A first shipment from Warlord has arrived with the plastic sprue, the airborne jeep, a Vickers MG, the HQ section blister and a characters blister with Urquhart, Frost and umbrella-famous Digby Tartham-Warter.
The airborne jeep for the recce squadron is another brilliant model from Warlord. It is a resin and metal combination with 4 crew, full of character and easy to build (just a dozen pieces).

A second shipment is on its way with some reinforcements from Warlord (including the 6 pounder and the Bren Carrier) as well as two blisters from Foundry (the infantry section and the support weapons).
As for painting, I have just finished last weekend a first model I was using to test the Dennison smock cammo and I’m quite pleased with the results

My objective now is just to finish building the models, basing and priming before undertaking my spine surgery (scheduled for November 28th), which will take out of action for a few weeks. The British Airborne force is my core project for this year’s International Painting Challenge (9th Edition) organised by Curt Campbell owner of the Analogue Hobbies blog. This is an annual friendly competition with over 100 participants from across the globe and will start as usual on 21st December extending all the winter period.      


  1. Great movie, great history, and great looking figures. The camo looks perfect and the head sculpts are superbly detailed.

    1. I was highly impressed with them, and except for the issue of the Bren gunner mentioned, I really love the models.

  2. I will look forward to seeing these figures painted during the Challenge.

    1. Should I recover from my surgery, no doubt I'll be there

  3. Benito, your test figure looks great. It would be very tempting to build those models and paint them.
    I have Beevor's book on order, and will look for the others. Thanks for this post!

    1. What best reading for your 14-20 hours(?) flight to Australia, flleing away from the harsh Canada winter. Enjoy the trip and post some photos in Twitter please!!

  4. Like others, I'll look forward to seeing these being painted up during this year's Challenge :)

    Have you considered the Para figures from Artizan?

    1. Tamsin, good to see you around. I do like Artizan models a lot and in fact my US paratroops and infantry, as well as most of my German infantry units are from them. In the case of the British, I liked the Wargames Foundry (old Perry Brothers sculpting) models more than the Artizan, and these are going to be the core of the force. After having a direct look to the Warlord plastic (very good quality as I mentioned in the post), I decided to use tham as well

  5. Nice camo! I look forward to seeing more of your lovely work during the challenge and best of luck with the operation.
    Best Iain

    1. Eagerly waiting for Curt to unveil the IX Challenge topic