A few years ago I bought the DVD 1939 Battle of Westerplatte from Belle and Blade at Historicon in Fredericksburg, VA. The movie is about a garrison of about how 200 Polish soldiers, defending ammunition stores on Westerplatte near Danzig, held out for a week against overwhelming German forces. The movie is well done and offers a lot of scenario opportunities for those who like to game early war WWII.
In one of the opening battle scenes, units of SS and SA troops advance through the woods towards Polish lines, unaware of entrenched Polish soldiers in front of them. During this scene, a Kriegsmarine propaganda cameraman is present to film what the Germans expected to be an easy and quick victory. The German forces are surprised and cut down by the Polish firepower, quickly retreating, having sustained heavy casualties. The cameraman in this scene is the one I wanted to reproduce for my use.
When I saw the Warlord Games German Army Propagandakompanie Cameraman I knew I found the base figure I would use to make this conversion. There are times that I just cannot let well enough alone; this was another of those times when the stock figure, while excellent, would not do.
I tried to take photos using my cell phone but most ended up too blurry so I will try to show how the conversion was made using the stock photos from the Warlord site and the few surviving pictures I have. The figure itself is an excellent sculpt and cast. There was very little flash and cleaning was quite easy. The first decision made was to not alter the trousers/boots. In the original movie, the cameraman wears long trousers and shoes. The figure works nicely as it is so I left that alone.
The next step involved cutting off the soldier’s garrison cap. I prefer to use a duller X-Acto blade because the cut is a little slower and I feel like I can get more control. One key here is, as I placed the figure face down on the table to cut, not to put too much pressure on the figure as it could damage the delicate camera lens attachment to the camera body. Two cuts were needed to remove the hat, using a gentle rocking motion with the knife blade. Once removed, I used a hand drill to make a hole in the top of the now flat head; I opened the hole a bit with the X-Acto knife. This hole gives the sculpting putty something to “hold on to” in later stages. I also trimmed the lower edge of the of the figure’s blouse. From experience, trimming or rounding the shirt/jacket/blouse edge helps when adding additional length to the clothing by removing the sharp edge and allowing a smooth transition.
The sculpting putty I prefer to use is ProCreate. I find this putty easy to use and manipulate. I bought a #5 Sculpting Tool from Brigade Games years ago – this is an excellent single tool for sculpting. I mixed two parts in equal proportions and wrapped a portion of it around the waist of the figure, increasing the length of the blouse/jacket to just above the knee. How much to use is guess work – sometimes I have to add a little more, sometimes I have to cut off excess. I also matched the front seam of the new jacket with the front left seam of the original blouse. I used both ends of the sculpting tool to push the putty where I wanted it to go on the figure – to the edge of the camera case and to just above the original belt. Another tip from Chris Hughes (Sash and Saber) was used to flatten the surface of the new jacket and smooth the transition/edge of the putty to the figure – saliva dragged across the figure with a fingertip. Yes, it is pretty gross to have a small capful of spit on the table but I am in the privacy of my craft room and no one sees what I am doing. One key tip I got over the years was to make small divots where the coat buttons will go with the tip of a straight pin. This helps them stay in place better and make the buttons more durable. I used my right hand to sculpt so I made the button hole on the left first – this let me see the holes better to make the ones on the right at the same level. The holes in the photos look big but they really are small. I let the figure dry overnight.
I had intended that the cap would be done in three phases – the peakless brim, the cap top and the cap tails. In practice, I found that I had guessed the amount of ProCreate correctly and after making the round brim, the extra putty on the top was simply pushed down to form the soft top of the cap. I used the rounded, thin edge of the #5 tool to shape the hat to what would be the figure’s head. The flat, knife-like edge was used to slope the sides down a bit and lift the front of the hat a little. The task ended up being much easier than anticipated. Again, I let this portion dry overnight. From experience, when working on too many parts of a conversion at one time, I invariably stick my finger or grab a newly sculpted part that was exactly the way I wanted it and damage it.
Finally, I added the “tails” to the hat and buttons to the jacket. I rolled out a thin piece of ProCreate to make a thin snake cutting off one end to make the edge flat. I cut a piece to the length I wanted and stuck it to the back of the hat and upper jacket. With the rounded, thin end of the #5 tool I gently flattened the rounded snake to make the flat tail. I did the same a second time for the second cap tail. The cool thing about doing this is that I could be as creative as I wanted with the tails, lifting the edge of one in the air and leaving a gap under the top edge – as the figure would not be cast, these additions could be almost anything you would like to sculpt.
The buttons were just as easy to make. I cut off a very small piece of the snake and then cut that a bit more. Having made the mistake before, using what seems to be a small amount will actually end up looking like a big old clown button on the jacket! The piece of putty for the button is incredibly small – the line on the right is for reference and is the thickness of a felt tipped pen. Small! Use something small like a straight pin to pick this up and place it into a hole; use a flat edge to push it down into the hole/make the flat button look. After letting the figure dry overnight, I was ready to paint it.
The base color is black with the main color a 50/50 mix of black/navy blue. I used navy blue for the highlights to give the jacket the hint of blue look that I wanted. I used gray as the base for the white colored cap. I was very pleased with the final conversion and painted figure. Now I just need to finish painting my Polish figures and hope that someone makes SA figures so I can recreate this movie scenario!