Operation Tractable
by: Mike Roof

Canadian "Fort Gerry Horse" Firefly Mk Vc and "North Nova Scotia Highlanders" Infantry
This project had its origins in my desire to build something in honor of my late father-in-law who served in the North Nova Scotia Highlanders (NNSH) during WWII in Northwest Europe (NWE). What I was looking for was a plausible and historically correct situation where I could display NNSH infantry figures alongside an armor model – preferably a Canadian badged Firefly Mk Vc. During my research into the combat history of the North Novas, I found my "historical circumstances" with the opening stages of Operation "Tractable." This was the Canadian First Army's follow-up operation to its earlier Operation "Totalize." Together, these two operations set the final Commonwealth forces' conditions north of the French town Falaise and allowed the combined US and Commonwealth forces to destroy the German Sixth Army as it tried to escape out of the infamous "Falaise Pocket."

During Operation "Tractable," the Canadian 3rd Infantry Division, the parent organization of the 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade (the NNSH) attacked south along the east side of the Caen-Falaise road with the 10th Canadian Armoured Regiment (the Fort Gerry Horse - FGH) in support. The attack began on August 14, 1944, and by that afternoon, these units were crossing the Laison (the anglicized spelling of "Laizon") River. So, after a bit of research, I had my historic situation to place the NNSH infantry alongside a Canadian Firefly. Other supporting research led me to the French spelling of the river name (thanks Google Earth!) and to select the features of my Firefly (a later first-batch Sherman Mk Vc without appliqué armor or Houseboat Fittings).

I finally decided to show my FGH Firefly as it approaches the Laizon River and prepares to provide over-watch support as the NNSH "squadies" clear the crossing and far side bank – basically, an illustration of normal tank-infantry cooperation. The tank would need a small amount of spare-track expedient armor on the front (just beginning to appear on Shermans in NWE), Hessian netting, and natural foliage camouflage (which my references showed to be quite common on FGH tanks at this time). A road sign with the river and place names along with properly badged uniforms and vehicle would establish the historic setting for anyone digging deeper to divine the significance of the moment.

The Models and Accessories
  • Tasca, 35-009, British Sherman VC Firefly
  • Aber, 35 L57, 17 PDR. Mk. IV barrel with muzzle brake
  • Voyager Model, PE 35148, Sherman Vc Firefly
  • Panda Plastics, P.N. T-62
  • DML, 6212, British Infantry: Normandy 1944
  • DML, 6065, British Commonwealth Infantry: NW Europe 1944
  • MiniArt, 35069, British Armored Car Crew
  • Hornet Miniatures, Resin heads and hands, Various
  • Bronco, AB-3512, British 25 prd Ammo Box
  • RB, 35P11, 76,2mm OQF 17 pounder projectiles and shells
* The kit and accessory names and numbers are written as they appear on the product packaging.

The Tasca Firefly kit has received rave reviews since its release and was an easy choice for the subject model. I chose to "doll it up" a bit with Voyager PE, an Aber 17 pdr gun barrel, and Panda link-to-link T-62 Sherman track. The basic kit is superb, so I used the aftermarket PE for those few bits that just don't come out well in plastic. I chose the turned gun barrel mostly for its beautiful muzzle break, but the arrow straight aluminium barrel is a nice, if subtle, substitute for the kit's two-part plastic one. The Panda (formerly RHPS) tracks are quite the usual tedious assemblies (for link-to-link tracks), but I like them. They have "press-fit" end connectors which will allow for careful, articulated handling to paint and finish. This is a fragile operation, but with care, it can be done. Also, contrary to common wisdom, Sherman tank tracks usually do show some very slight sagging between the bogies (this is often quite visible), and link-to-link track is the best way to show this. Finally, my initial plans intended to take better advantage of the Tasca kit's articulated suspension. I thought at the time that the Panda tracks would be very useful showing the tank moving over uneven ground. At any rate, the Panda tracks are good kit.

As for the infantry figures, I chose several from DML's line. I like working with plastic figures as I find any needed changes are generally easier than with resin or white metal. I do, as a rule, replace the injection molded heads and hands with well sculpted resin ones. In this case, I used Hornet heads and hands. The tank crew figures started as MiniArt British armored car crewmen. I like to show my crew figures doing their "jobs" when possible, since the machine and the men are inseparable parts of the whole. In this situation, the driver would logically be buttoned up, but a commander directing the action from an open hatch and a loader tidying up his "office space" were logical additions. Unfortunately, no suitable armored crew figures were available, but the MiniArt torsos provided suitable starting points for Canadian tankers wearing the OD tanker's coveralls. Again, Hornet heads and hands were used.
Firefly Construction
I'm sure most of us take a similar approach to starting a build: First looking over the kit instructions and determining up-front those deviations and changes that we want to make. Also, before going any further, I need to explain that while the following description follows the kit instruction sequence, I freely deviate from the recommended assembly steps whenever I feel the need. Hopefully the photos show these deviations if they're compared to the instructions, and my descriptions aren't too confusing because of this.

To start this build, I looked for any "major changes" that I wanted to make. I define "major changes" as having to cut up nicely molded kit parts and take steps beyond the "point of no return." For me, a "major change" is one that if I mess it up, I'm stuck with the results. I often start with these kinds of modifications and try to get them out of the way up-front.

In this case, the only part of the kit that I though would benefit from a major change was the air intake grating located on the hull top between the radiator bulge and the rear of the turret. Tasca provides this part a solid molded affair. My goal was to open it up to allow some depth when looking in this area. Careful study of prototype photos showed that the actual grating was not, as I had thought, a composite part made up of welded bars and straps, but rather a mostly single cast piece. Using this info and measurements of the kit part E32 (Step 14), I drew up some working plans and constructed an assembly jig to replicate it.

The jig took care of alignment of the parts for glue-up, but the real challenge was cutting equally spaced notches in the strips. For this, I "gang glued" a stack of styrene strips together using a small drop of CA on the ends. The notch locations were measured out, and the stack of strips was then notched in my mitre box. The glue-up was just a matter of care to keep excess cement off of the jig. Once the cement had dried, the grate received a cast texture using thinned Squadron Green Putty (as described later). When this had dried, the grate was removed from the jig and trimmed to its final size.

Once I had the scratch-built part, I cut out the kit details that my part would substitute for. By scratch-building my part first, I avoided that "point of no return" (cutting away the kit details) until I was satisfied that I had an acceptable replacement.

After this, my most significant deviation from the kit assembly sequence was to get the basic hull and turret assembled so that I could add or enhance the welds and cast textures. This requires a lot of handling which would most likely break off many of the details, so the details were left off until after the welds. I added or enhanced all of the weld beads on the tank. Most were done using thinned Squadron Green Putty. For the weld beads, I mixed the putty to the consistency of warm honey using a 4:1 ratio of lacquer thinner and Testors Cement. The weld beads are masked on each side using narrow strips of blue painter's tape cut with an X-acto knife on a glass surface. The space between the tape strips is filled with the putty applied with a nylon brush. I then texture this with a wooden tooth pick (cocktail stick) trimmed to a wedge and dipped into lacquer thinner. After texturing, the tape strips are then removed before allowing the putty to dry too long (this could result in chipping along the edges). I then brush over the still semi-soft putty welds with liquid cement. This softens the texture and blends the weld into the model's surface. If I get too much glue on the edges of the welds, after it all dries, I buff the edges of the weld and model surface with 0000 steel-wool. This removes any glue marks. The photos show which welds are done with the green putty and which are done with the epoxy putty.

Since I was using the Panda tracks, I skipped Step 1.

In Step 2, I opted to use parts A6 and A5 for the drive sprockets as these earlier and "fancier" parts matched more of my Sherman V references than the other two options. On the solid road wheels in Step 3, I substituted .018 diameter "rivets" punched from .010 Evergreen plastic card using a Waldron Sub-miniature punch and die set for the kit rivets. This was, I thought, faster and surer than using the kit supplied rivets. It also gave me enough rivets for both sides of each road wheel. While I was at it, I added the grease nipples missing from parts B8. These were added using .023 diameter disks punched from .005 plastic with the kit road wheel rivets for the nipples.

I assembled the bogies in Step 5 per the instructions, using the rubber sheet "springs" to preserve the articulation. In retrospect, since I posed the tank on a cobble stone roadway, I could have substituted plastic card for the rubber sheet and glued the road wheel arms in place. Still, Tasca's articulation worked as advertised and was interesting to build.

In Step 5, I thinned down the track skids (parts B15), replacing the bolts (two on each end); I added the four holes in the forward faces of the bogies (parts B18/19 and B21/22), and I also added the four missing bolts on the rear faces of the same parts (holding the return roller mounts).

Step 6 proceeded without changes. In Step 7, I removed the molded on details above and below the left hand engine access door (mounting points for parts E19, 20, 25, and 26 in Step 8). These details didn't appear except in a few of my reference photos. I also didn’t use the kit provided smoke discharges (since the Voyager PE set had nicely detailed substitutes). I left off the towing shackles (parts D8) until later to keep from breaking them off. And finally, I left the idler wheel axels (parts C25) off to allow later adjustment of the track tension.

I didn't use the leaf-spring mounted towing clevis (parts F46, 47, and 49) in Step 8, but I did make the retaining pins that were missing from its mounts (part F24 and 28). I used .025 diameter plastic rod with the PE handles from the Voyager set. I also added the wiring for the smoke dischargers and the crankcase breather tube. The upper part of this wiring was made from silver embroidery thread which has a spiral cover of silver foil over a core of thread. This thread can be gotten from the sewing notions section of any large fabric store. It has a nice texture that replicates certain types of flexible wiring conduit. The wiring from the connection boxes to the smoke grenades was made from .010 diameter lead wire.

Step 9 builds a beautiful model-within-a-model of the three-piece Sherman transmission which went together with no problems. I again left off the towing shackles (parts D8) until later. I did add the missing final drive oil drain plugs on the bottoms of the two drive bulges. Once this sub-assembly had dried over night, I added and enhanced the cast texture using Squadron Green Putty reduced with ordinary lacquer thinner and Testor's liquid cement (again using a ratio of about 4:1, lacquer thinner to cement). I used a mixture a bit heavier than milk, but lighter than cream, brushing it on in a couple of coats. This dries quite quickly and can be stippled with a nylon brush as it dries for added texture.

I added some additional details to hold the exhaust deflector / grating (part E39). These appear as angled shelves on the insides of parts E29 and 36 and on part E24. I made these with Evergreen strip and Grant Line nut and bolt castings. I also opened up the ends of the exhaust "fish tails" by carving out one side on each and then adding pieces of .005 plastic card to create the rectangular openings. These plastic card pieces were added overly large and trimmed to fit after the glue dried.

In Step 11, I added "pads" under the lifting eyes (parts D1 and 2) on the front and rear. These were made from plastic card, with cast texture added using thinned putty, and weld beads from Milliput two-part epoxy putty. These welds were textured with a toothpick (cocktail stick) trimmed to wedge shaped end and wetted with ordinary water. Milliput putty was also use to "thicken" up the fronts of the driver's and co-driver's hoods. Reference photos show these bulging outward to the front creating slight undercuts at their bottoms. After the epoxy set, I added cast texture to them using the thinned Squadron Green Stuff. The kit also needs drain holes drilled under the bullet splash guards (parts E27 and E28), as well as on the outboard bottoms of the curved splash guards for the fuel filler caps (parts D 4 and D7 in Step 17). The ventilation fan covers on the upper front corners of the hull should also have drain holes in their outside bottom edges. (I missed these!)

I ground away the hinged periscope cover on the top of the hood in front of the driver's hatch. I then opened up a rectangular hole for one of the extra kit periscopes (the co-driver's scope is not used). A new hinged cover was made from beveled styrene strip and this periscope was installed before connecting the upper and lower hulls.

Before closing up the upper and lower hulls, Step 12, I painted the interiors flat black. I also painted and weathered the inside of the exhaust sub-assembly from Step 10.

I started Step 13 by cleaning up all of the kit's periscopes. These are very nice clear parts, and if finished carefully, they will replicate the prototypes very well. Once I cleaned up the attachment points and mold seams, I washed the periscopes, and once they were dry, I cut masks for their faces. I made these masks from common blue painter's tape, cut with an X-acto knife on glass. Once the masks are in place, I airbrushed all of the periscopes with Citadel Miniatures Mitral Silver. When the silver had dried, I then airbrushed the 'scopes with flat black. After that dried, they were ready to mount in the model (while leaving the masks in place until after the final finish and assembly).

Since both front hatches were to be closed, I didn't add the head pads (parts G6). I also didn’t use the counter-balance springs (parts G11) and instead used the parts from the Voyager set with Grant Line bolt castings for the tension adjusters.

The rear upper hull, Step 14, needs some minor additions. I added the lifting handles to part E10 using bent brass wire. Note that the real handles slid up and down in holes drilled in the hatch, so that when not actually in use, they lay flat on the hatch (i.e. no tripping hazard). I used the mounting location for the gun travel lock on the hatch E10. I added the ends of the various hinge pins on the travel lock using disks punched from plastic card. The travel lock also needs a retention latch. I made mine from styrene strip, brass wire, and a spring formed from copper fuse wire wound around a drill bit. The radiator filler armored cover (part E18) got hinge pin ends from the same punched disks. Finally, I left off the sledge hammer (part C24) until later when I fashioned all of the tool mounts.

In Step 15, I opted to use the hull MG plug F26 as it matched the majority of my reference photos. I added the heavy weld beads around this part with two-part epoxy putty. I used the Tasca PE headlight guards since the Voyager parts were overly complicated. Tasca should be congratulated for including the bending jig for the light guards. It worked perfectly after the PE parts were annealed.

I attached these guards (as I do with all the PE parts) using two-part, 5-minute epoxy glue. This type of glue comes in a "twin-barreled" syringe and is marketed by several firms. I use the ordinary stuff purchased at the local home improvement store. An economical method for using this glue is: On either side of a disposable nonporous surface, squeeze a dollop of part A and part B. Use a toothpick to dip a drop from each puddle and mix this on of a second disposable surface. (I use the bottoms of disposable single-serving fruit cups.) Carefully wipe the toothpick off after dipping the first part of the glue so as to not to contaminate the other puddle. By dipping small drops (smaller than can be squeezed out of the syringe) and mixing these on a second surface, the original puddles will remain ready for use. This goes quite quickly in practice, and the original puddles, if not allowed to flow together, will remain usable for hours. The epoxy glue is much stronger than CA and has a degree of flexibility that resists shocks. It also has a much longer working time than CA which allows for the detailed positioning of the PE parts.

Once the epoxy glue had set, I formed small weld beads on the hull attachment points using the two-part epoxy putty. The front fenders (parts C48 and C49) were thinned out on their bottom / inside surfaces and got small vertical reinforcements from styrene strip per my reference photos.

In Step 16, I added the air breather tubes running from the firewall and visible under the ends of the air inlet grate. These were made form styrene tube and painted white. The engine deck was then glued on. The tail light PE guards received the same treatment as described above for the headlight guards. Pay special attention to the tail lights: they are in fact different from one side to the other. This is correctly shown by a scrap diagram in Step 17. The instructions are accurate when they show only the left side light has a red upper lens. (This is a detail that many Sherman builders get wrong. It's also a common detail on many other US manufactured vehicles.)

Steps 16 and 17 were where I fabricated the mounting brackets and footman loops for all the tools. All the tools had their molded on mounts removed. The Voyager PE mounts were then folded as per Voyager's instructions. Once the PE mounts were ready, the tools themselves were used to ensure that the locations and spacing for the mounts were correct. Each set of tool mounts was then carefully glued on with epoxy with the tool serving as a "template" for positioning.

Once the glue for the tool mounts was set, I added the footman loops for the tie-down straps. Their locations were marked off using reference photos. Note that none of the tools on this tank had more than one footman loop. The loops are arranged so that tie down strap pulls the tool into the mount and holds it there. This is another detail that many model builders get wrong. Although there are exceptions, and it might seem counter-intuitive, most US vehicles have this type of arrangement – only one footman loop per tool. (Look at the breaker bar and mattock handle on this model – these two tools only have a single footman loop between them!) The loops were made using disks punched from .010 plastic card and sections of sprue stretched to about .010 diameter. The diagrams show how these were constructed. The tie-down straps were fashioned from heavy aluminum foil with PE buckles. The foil was cut a single long piece. This was then painted front and back. After drying, it was cut into shorter manageable lengths, each length was folded into a "V" shape, and the pre-painted PE buckles were threaded on over both ends. The straps were then spread out flat, ready for adding to the model during finishing.

The fire extinguishers were detailed with brackets made form styrene strip and the Voyager PE parts per my references.

I replaced the kit stowage box (part F29) with the Voyager box and mounts. The Voyager box, by the way, fit the kit attachment points molded onto part E15. The Voyager locking pins and keeper chains even fit perfectly once I drilled some #80 holes in the upper mounting points. This was very convenient as it allowed me to remove the box and keep it safe until final assembly.

I only added the bogie assemblies and final drive covers (parts A10) during Step 18, holding the drivers and idlers separate for final finishing.

As mentioned earlier, I omitted the House Boat fittings on my model. Frankly, I couldn’t discern a predictable pattern in which vehicles had them and which didn't. Clearly, based on Firefly development vehicle photos, the House Boat fittings were added to the very earliest production vehicles. Fireflies appeared to be issued incrementally to units as they were produced, and it also appeared that British units received priority for the first Fireflies produced. So, while it seemed reasonable that some Canadian units received some of the earliest production Fireflies, those early vehicles with the House Boat fittings appeared to be the exceptions in Canadian units. My best guess was that the majority of Canadian Fireflies were without the House Boat fittings: I skipped Step 19. (Of course, I could be all wrong here….)

In Step 20, I elected to leave off the appliqué armor. Here my research suggested that the "block" of Sherman Mk V's selected for the initial conversion to Fireflies (in the majority at least) did not receive the up-dating / re-building changes which included this armor. Again, clearly, the second or third "blocks" of converted Mk V's were brought up to the later standard in the US (training M4A4's remanufactured at the Chrysler plant) before being shipped to the UK. These up-dated changes appear more common also on the Sherman I's possibly because those tanks were "refurbished" as normal gun tanks before being selected for Firefly conversion. But I digress… and again, I could be all wrong here. My references just didn't allow clarity on these points.

To add the sand-shield brackets along the sides of the model (kit PE parts PE1, 2, 5, 6, and 20), I started at the rear after adding kits parts PE4. That is, I started with the rearmost shield brackets (PE 5 and 6) because the critical fitting point is the juncture at the rear corners with parts PE4. Again, I used epoxy glue for strength and working time adding the pieces from the rear towards the front. Once the epoxy glue had set, I added stitch welds along the tops of the brackets using two-part epoxy putty.

As discussed earlier, I replaced the kit main gun barrel and muzzle break with the Aber turned metal parts. These were direct replacements for the kit parts and didn’t offer any problems in Step 21. The Aber barrel is, however, heavier than the plastic kit parts, so I found that in final assembly, I had to glue the gun mount (part F7) to the poly caps using a big drops of CA to hold the gun's elevation. I added a locking bolt to the top of the muzzle break with a Grant Line casting, and I added two missing flush mount slotted screw heads on the top of the inner mantlet (part F31) using .6mm brass turned screws from Lion Marc. The Voyager perforated cooling jacket for the .30 cal co-ax MG was used along with the muzzle end of the kit's MG barrel. I used a piece of hypodermic needle for the actual MG barrel. The Voyager MG barrel jacket was easily formed after annealing by rolling it with a piece of stainless steel tubing over a couple of sheets of paper on a glass surface. The paper provided just enough "give" in the surface to allow the tubing to impart the needed roll.

In Step 22, I left the PE periscope guards off until final assembly. I elected to use the turret bustle box made of parts F34, 39, and 40 with the "square plate" cover (part F33). This seemed to be the most common arrangement from what I could tell. I didn't use the optional spot light (parts D13 and G15), and in Step 24, so I added the mount cover and keeper chain to the turret top for it.

Step 23 required some filling, texturing and weld beads before adding any details to the turret. I "welded" my shell ejection port (part C18) closed. This seemed to be one of those early modifications that were common on the Sherman Mk V's used for the initial Firefly conversions. The welds for this and the radio bustle box were made from two-part epoxy putty. Cast texture was added to the turret using thinned Squadron Green Putty as described in Step 9. The turret interior was airbrushed flat black. I added a pair of Bronco 25 pounder ammo boxes to the radio bustle, "securing" them with epoxy putty spot weld beads. I positioned these so that they would not interfere with the radio access openings on the top of the bustle.

In Step 24, I added the commander's cupola hatch latches on the outsides of where parts C8 and C9 join C14. I also added the cupola rotation lock knob on the inside (at about the 1 o'clock position with 12 o'clock being dead ahead). The cupola combing pads got recesses for their mounting screws drilled into them. The mount for the folding .50 cal MG barrel clamp was added to the rear (6 o'clock) of the cupola. This was made from styrene strip. I drilled sighting holes in the rear, vertical portion of the commander's sighting vane (part F22). I didn't add the cupola or the loader's hatch until later. Instead of using the kit's PE footman loops on the turret side (which held the issue camouflage net), I fabricated these loops using the same process described for the tools.

Final details, such as the PE periscope guards (PE16 and PE17) and the towing shackles (D8) were added at this time. The tools and their tie-down straps would be added later in the finishing stages.

Building and Painting the Figures
Building the crew figures started with adding a "bridge" to the turret interior to mount the figures on. This "bridge" was made from a piece of .040 plastic card and painted flat black. It was necessary to do this first to establish the critical vertical dimension which then determined how tall each figure would have to be.

As can be seen in the photos, the turret crew figures were modified with new arms made of twisted brass wire covered with two-part epoxy putty. New Hornet heads and hands were used on both. There was no precise step-by-step to get these figures posed correctly, but rather a back and forth dry-fitting process. The commander's head was modified using an Ultracast Mk I steel tank helmet with scratch-built head phones and an elastic chin strap added to the rear. His microphone was also scratched up with styrene bits. The wire leads were made from .010 diameter lead wire that is made for tying fly fishing lures.

A FGH beret badge was trimmed out of .005 plastic for the loader's hat.

The infantry figures were built pretty much stock in their poses. Again, I replaced the heads and hands with Hornet parts. I did substitute some of the equipment with Tamiya parts to reduce the "sameness" between them. Any necessary extra equipment straps were made from .005 plastic card. The weapons' slings were made from the same heavy aluminum foil that the tool tie-down straps were made from. Sling swivels (the metal loops that hold the slings to the weapons) were made from thin copper fuse wire.

The Bren gunner has a Hornet head with an Mk III steel helmet. The Canadian 3rd Infantry Division, being one of the original D-day assault units, was partially equipped with these. The use of the Mk III helmet was also more common than many modelers realize. Careful examination of wartime photos might reveal some surprises.

I begin painting figures by airbrushing Tamiya flat white as a primer. I follow this up by blocking in all the basic colors using acrylics. I either airbrush or hand paint these acrylic undercoats. When possible, I prefer the smooth airbrush applications, especially for the larger uniform areas and flesh tones. I paint the entire figure, to include all the details with acrylics. I vary the acrylic flesh colors to get some differences in the complexions of the figures.

On top of the dried acrylics, I use artist oil paints, starting with the face and hands. These areas get a wash made of burnt umber, most of which is removed using a brush dampened with mineral spirits. This is followed by flesh tones mixed with the oils. The large uniform areas come next, again, over painting the acrylic colors with oils. Generally, I start with the shadows and work out to the highlights. Details are painted next, with insignia usually last. I use more or less traditional wet-on-wet blending techniques with the oils.

I allow the figures to dry for a few days, and then give them a flat overcoat with Testor's Dull Coat reduced with ordinary lacquer thinner.

Painting and Finish on the Firefly
Before painting, I gave all the sub assemblies a good wash in warm soapy water, gently scrubbing with a soft water color brush. I rinsed these under warm running water (with a plug in the sink for the inevitable loose parts). I spread the parts out on paper towels and allowed them to air dry completely. As you can see from the photo, I start painting with numerous sub-assemblies and parts, doing much of the final assembly as I progress through the finishing steps.

An exception to this washing are the Panda tracks which are simply too fragile to take the handling. These were pinned to a piece of foam-core board for painting.

The tracks got an airbrushed coat of Floquil model railroad colors "Rail Brown." After this dried, I airbrushed metallic Citadel Miniatures acrylics. I started with "Bolt Gun Metal" and followed this with "Chain Mail Silver." These metallic colors were sprayed on the wear surfaces on the inside and outsides while avoiding the outsides of the end connectors. I applied Rub-n-Buff "Silver" to the centers of the insides of the tracks using a piece of make-up sponge. Finally, several different colors of pigments were applied as heavy washes and fixed with Woodland Scenics Scenic Cement.

Painting the tank started with Tamiya White where the unit serials would be and an "insignia yellow" color sprayed where the squadron markings would be. The white strips for the serials and the triangles for the squadron signs were then "reverse" masked and red was sprayed on for the unit serial squares. After the red dried, these areas were also reverse masked with blue painter's tape.

Initial earth textures were added on the lower hull and suspension with "stucco textured" artist acrylic modeling paste. This was sparingly applied using a large round brush being careful that dried paste would not interfere with final assembly.

The lower hull and bottom of the tank got airbrushed with a mix of Tamiya Flat Earth and Khaki. The tank then got its OD (SCC 15) mixed from Tamiya OD and Dark Yellow. This mix was post-shaded by lightening the color in successive applications with more and more Dark Yellow sprayed into the centers of larger panels and upper surfaces and in vertical streaks on the sides.

The base OD was then followed up with a lighter layer of earth colors on the lower hull and suspension. These lighter colors were mixed up from Tamiya Flat Earth, Khaki, and Buff and were sprayed on the higher points of the suspension bogies, etc. Again, a sort of post-shading effect was used.

After allowing these base colors to dry, I then sprayed the aerial recognition star on the upper rear hull deck. A painter's tape mask was cut for this using a Stencil-it PE set. Tamiya Flat White was used. I intentionally pulled up the edges of the tape mask to allow a small bit of "over spray" on the edges of the star and its surround.

Water slide decals were a mix of kit decals, Ultracast 2CAB unit flashes, and Bronco 25 pdr ammo box markings. These were applied over a gloss coat of Tamiya Clear. The unit serials (52 on painted red boxes with white stripes) were Woodland Scenics Dry Transfer numbers. I used two different styles of numbers. One represents the initial markings, and the second (on the front final drive bulge) represents a "field applied" number (since the initial marking was covered by the spare-track armor). After the decals were dry, they were over coated with more Tamiya Clear, followed by Testor's Dull Coat.

I added some light "chipping" using Vallejo and Citadel paints. This was followed by "oil dot" "color modulation" using blue, ochre, raw sienna, and white oil paints. Next up were washes mixed with oil paints and mineral spirits. I used both general washes (on the lower hull and suspension) and pin washes.

I added the tools and their straps after the washes, but before the final weathering. This way I could get the chipping and pin washes under the tool locations. This also allowed me to paint the tools separately. The wooden parts were airbrushed with Tamiya Desert Yellow, and metal parts were brush painted with Poly Scale Engine Black. The metallic wear was done using Citadel TinBitz and Bolt Gun Metal followed by Citadel Brown Ink wash. Once the acrylics had dried, I added the wood grain by brushing on umber and sienna oil pints.

I painted the rubber on the road wheels, the bare metal on the return rollers and idlers and sprocket teeth before the next step. I over-sprayed the model with a glaze mixed up from a few drops of Tamiya Buff and Clear thinned with X-20 airbrush thinner. The glaze is mixed at about a ratio of 5:10:85, colored paint, clear, and thinners. Because so little colored paint is used, the clear is needed in the mix to act as a binder.

Pigments are mostly from either artist soft pastel sticks or dry artist pigments (Gamblin brand). I did use a bit of Mig Dry Mud and European Dust. I use several methods of application for the pigments. Most were applied as washes mixed with ordinary water and then fixed after drying with Woodland Scenics Scenic Cement. The heavier, textured applications were "sprinkled" on as dry powder onto areas wetted with the Scenic Cement. These were built up in layers using different colors. The "mud" and "earth" spatters on the rear were pigments mixed to the consistency of milk or cream with water and "flicked" on using a stiff bristle paint brush and a piece of cardboard. I used dry pigments mixed to a "dirty rubber" color on the faces of the road wheels. Other dry pigments were used for light dust on the sides of the tank.

Some of the silver, bare metal wear (like the outer edges of the road wheels) was replicated using a silver colored pencil.

Hessian / Scrim Netting
I put a lot of thought into devising a way to replicate the woven look of the real net and scrim. Basically, the only way that I could think to do this was to follow the process used to create the prototype netting: To get the woven look, I would need to weave the scrim into the net.

I started with ordinary medical gauze pads. These pads were dyed using a dark green fabric dye in a glass Pyrex measuring cup. I added boiling water in the cup and about a half of teaspoon full of the powdered dye. I stirred the dye up with a wooden stick and then added the gauze pads to soak for a few minutes. The coloring process goes quickly.

I then rinsed the cup with the colored gauze pads still in it under cold running water until the water ran clear. The pads were then squeezed out in paper towels and spread out in a single layer on waxed paper to dry. I blotted them with more paper towels to speed up the drying. When spreading the gauze out, I tried to retain the, more or less, regular square shapes where the threads crossed each other. This was hard to do along the edges, but pretty easy to do in the centers.

After the dyed gauze had dried, I rolled it up in a paper towel, and then I applied Woodland Scenics Scenic Cement with an eye dropper to it. Rolling the gauze helped to keep it from wadding up, and the paper towel helped to spread the glue evenly. I then un-rolled the gauze back flat on waxed paper. Once the gauze dried, I had a very stiff sheet of colored "net" that would retain its shape.

For the scrim, I used thin tissue, the type that's used to wrap shirts or as packaging in gifts. I bought this in the gift wrapping section of a local Wal-Mart. It comes pre-colored, and I chose a pale yellow.

Sheets of this tissue were airbrushed with Vallejo khaki, brown, and OD. The tissue will be thoroughly wet and the paint is a bit "runny," so this step is a bit messy. Newspaper, a flat surface, and a couple of paint bottles as weights to hold the tissue down by its corners were helpful.

After allowing the airbrushed tissue to dry completely, I cut manageable sized squares out of it. These were then sliced into strips about 1.5mm wide using a new X-acto blade and a metal ruler on a glass cutting surface.

Next, I cut pieces of the stiff gauze to the approximate size for the net on the model. Using tweezers, I then wove the tissue strips into the gauze net. The glue keeps the gauze threads connected to each other at their intersections, so the whole mess doesn't unravel on you. This is, needless to say, a very tedious process. A few square inches of net literally took several hours to weave with the scrim. However, the results were worth it, I think.

Once I had the scrim / hessian strips woven into the net, I then attached the netting to the model using thread and wire ties. Rather like rigging a model ship, use pieces of thread or wire which are long enough to handle and tie, then trim close to the knots. I pre-painted the fine copper wire a rust color, too, before using it to secure the net.

Once the net was secured to the model, I used a wet paper towels to blot and saturate the net / tissue and restore its flexibility and induce natural sags. The net / tissue can be manipulated to get folds and drapes while it is still wet. I used a bit more of the Woodland Scenics Scenic Cement to add some body and stiffness to the tissue strips, too. (The Woodland Scenics Scenic Cement is basically a PVA-type glue, pre-thinned with a wetting agent added. Once dry, it can be "reactivated" by ordinary water. Its main advantages are that it's pre-mixed and it dries dead flat. Very handy stuff.)

As the net started to dry, I used small scissors to trim it to shape around the edges. Finally, I over-sprayed the dry netting with a glaze mixed with Tamiya Buff, Clear, and X-20 thinner to tone down the color intensity and get harmony with the rest of the weathering. I also touched up the rusty wire where the paint chipped off of it.

If (when) I do this again, I'll try to weave the scrim into the netting using more prototypical patterns (called the "Greek Key" by my friend Keith). Also, using scrim strips a bit narrower than 1.5mm might help achieve the "tattered" look of most of the real nets.

Final Assembly
I added the figures to the turret from the inside for the loader and at the same time as the cupola for the commander.

After loosely adding the drive sprockets and idler wheels, I threaded the Panda tracks onto the model by holding it with the front straight up. The tracks were passed down between the drivers and hull sponsons and along the tops of the bogies until an inch or two was hanging down past the idlers. The track was then wrapped around the drivers and under the road wheels. Then, with the tank sitting level on the track, the ends of the track were joined at the rear between the last road wheels and the idlers. I did one side first, then the other. I did find that I had to reduce the number of track links from the specified 84 to about 82 per side and adjust the idler wheel axels to their extreme rearward angle.

Once the tracks were on the model, I passed a thin strip of brass between the top of the track and the sponsons. I was then able to use a pair of tweezers to twist any out of alignment end connectors back into order while the brass strip kept the track blocks from twisting. On the bottom run, I held the tank down on a flat surface and repeated the process to straighten out any end connectors or track blocks. Once the tracks were straightened out to my satisfaction, I fixed the upper runs by brushing Woodland Scenics Scenic Cement into the end connector joints. I left the bottom runs alone to conform to any irregularities in the final base.

Diorama Base
The base was made from scratch using conventional, traditional materials and techniques.

The foundation was a pre-milled walnut decoupage plaque. I gave it a bit of stain and used "rattle can" gloss lacquer for its finish. I buffed it with 0000 steel wool between coats of lacquer, and added a piece of black felt to the bottom.

The terrain started out as ½" thick sheets of polystyrene foam board. I cut a rectangle the same size as the upper edges of the foundation plaque. I placed the model and figures on this and arranged them into my final composition. Once I was satisfied with the composition, I used a permanent marker to mark the locations of the key elements.

To achieve the various elevations, I used additional pieces of the ½" foam board stacked "layer cake" fashion with the edges beveled appropriately. These layers were hot glued to each other.

The cobble stone roadway is made of two layers of.40 styrene sheet. The top layer was curved to get the crowned effect (the center of the roadway is higher than the edges for drainage). I used rectangular styrene rod spacers between these two pieces to retain the crown. On top of this, I glued down a single layer of Woodland Scenics Large Scree stones using thick PVA. I left the portions of the cobbles which would be torn up by the tank's pivot steer empty. Once the glue dried, I hot glued the roadway to the foam boards. This created a terrain "module" which could be finished apart from the foundation plaque.

This module was coated with ordinary plaster of Paris to achieve the near final contours in the elevations and smooth tidy looking sides (instead of the raw foam). I did not put any plaster in the cobble stones. Those were grouted later with Celluclay. After the plaster set, I used a sanding block to level the sides. The sides took about three thin coats of plaster, sanding after each, before they were nice and flat.

Next I brush painted the sides Poly Scale Engine Black and airbrushed the entire top (roadway included) with Tamiya Flat Earth. At this time, I did not worry about over sprayed earth on the black sides. These paint coats seal the plaster and PVA glue, through, from subsequent wet layers.

I mixed up a bit of Celluclay, pre-coloring the mix with tube acrylic burnt umber paint. This Celluclay mix also got a good dollop of thick PVA. It was spread thinly over the top of the entire base to include grouting the cobble stone road way. I used a wetted finger to rub it off of the tops of the stones, and I contoured the tank tracks while it was still pliable. I used bits of brown construction paper to create the overhanging turf edges on top of the eroded bank. Celluclay was then added to the top edges of this overhang. Small bits of real plant roots were used for the roots hanging from the turf edge.

As it was drying, the Celluclay received different colors of acrylic paints either brushed or sprayed on. I also added different colors of pigments directly onto the damp surface. In particular, I used several green colors along the bottoms of the drainages on either side of the roadway.

Noch and Woodland Scenics static grass was next applied and fixed with Woodland Scenics Scenic Cement from an eye dropper. The loose cobbles, torn up by the tank, were added and glued down in the same manner. Once these materials dried, additional layers of ground cover were added from mixed Woodland Scenics ground foam products, more static grass, and Noch leaves. The grass clumps are MiniNature / Silfor products.

The road sign is scratch built from Evergreen styrene sheet and strip. The lettering is made from Woodland Scenics Dry Transfers on clear water-slide decal film. Once I had the place names laid down, I used their dimensions to determine how large the sign would be. The concrete texture on the sign post is artists' acrylic texture medium, and the bolts securing the sign to the post are from Grant Line.

Once the terrain module was completed, I touched up the sides with black and hot glued it down to the foundation plaque. I then attached the figures and the tank with PVA.

Next was removing the masks from the clear faces of the periscopes. Finally, I added the cut foliage camouflage to the tank. It was made from Silfor Sea Foam and Noch leaves. The sea foam branches were first airbrushed a light gray color, and 3M Spray Cement was used to fix the leaves. After drying, I followed up with a light coat of hair spray to further fix the leaves. These branches were attached to the model without any glue, just like the prototype, and in places that would not interfere with the crew's vision or the fighting ability of the tank.

This was a long but enjoyable project. I had great fun and learned a lot delving into the details of the Canadian 3rd Infantry Division and 2nd Armoured Brigade and the battles they fought.

As always, I owe thanks to my friends and fellow model builders in the Central South Carolina AMPS Chapter and the Mid-Carolina IPMS Chapter. I'm sure you guys must get tired of seeing the same model meeting after meeting, but you're always patient and polite about it! I'd also like to thank the many folks here on Armorama who freely gave me their opinions and thoughts as I posted this project over in the build blogs.

Finally, though, the real thanks are due to those brave guys who gave it their all on the beaches of Normandy and across the fields of Northwest Europe.

Cos Cheum Nach Gabh Tilleadh! Indeed!

This article comes from Armorama