Sunday, 19 April 2015

A Very British Landship - The Arms Race Begins!

The Russo-Teutonic Steam Powered Landships created a great stir amongst the intelligence networks of the world and as more information on these mechanical marvels reached the governments of the industrialised nations there was much consternation…

Thanks to the 'Affair of the Lone Banana at Great Southern Oasis' British Admiralty Intelligence found themselves in possession of a complete set of blue prints for the new Russo-Teutonic Steam Powered Landship in June 1876. Details of this incident are Top Secret and the only person with a complete knowledge of how the event unfolded on that fateful day was S.O.E. Operative Edward Bigger. Bigger made a comprehensive entry regarding the proceedings in his personal journal perhaps one day the details may see the light of day? The S.O.E. (the Stealthy Overseas Executive) was created at Queen Victoria's behest soon after the start of the Crimean War to carry out clandestine operations for the British Government outside of the British Isles.

Once the British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli was informed of the existence of the blue prints he secretly issued a directive to the Admiralty and Army, they were to draw up plans for a British Steam Powered Landship and have a fully operating prototype available for Her Imperial Majesty to view in just ninety days! The admirals and generals were worried the project could not be completed before the deadline and believe much more time was required but their senior engineers assured them with the help of American steam engine designers they could meet the deadline with ease! Royal permission was sought and granted for their allies from across the Atlantic to assist with the design.

So it came to pass that Britain's first class of Steam Powered Landships was designed and the first example was built and ready for review by the end of September 1876! What the designers had achieved in a short period was a vehicle that surpassed the European design in almost every facet; in fact it was a shining beacon of all things British!

The specifications of the machine were impressive and the use of curved rather than sloped bow and stern plates gave a much larger usable deck area. The vehicles speed was impressive due to the latest compact high pressure mini steam turbine power plant supplied by the Americans. It was born on eight rubber clad cast iron wheels using the same technology that the Europeans had employed. The armament was impressive boasting four 32 lb main guns in twin turrets with a secondary battery consisting of two quick firing 6 lb cannons and two of the newly developed rapid fire machine guns in armoured casemates. These secondary weapons were placed higher than on that of the Russo-Teutonic vehicles allowing the crewmen to always stand upright instead of being crouched and leaning across wheel wells for prolonged periods. The conning tower consisted of a heavily armoured circular commander’s compartment was part of a comfortably spacious wood lined cabin for the second in command and helmsman. The armour belt was comprised of the best crafted plates British industry could supply and the standard of workmanship in the construction was unparalleled!

The Queen, her entourage, the military commanders and the members of the press were impressed when the vehicle was revealed to them and tested in manoeuvres on Salisbury Plain on September 1, 1876. Her Majesty buoyant from a hearty luncheon inquired of Admiral Wallis as to the name of this smoke belching contraption before her and he told her it was the Dreadnought first of many vehicles of a class that would bear the name. She seemed amused! Sadly unbeknownst to the crowd she wished Albert with his love of technology had been here to see this triumph of British workmen! A tear welled in her right eye.

Unlike the secretive release of the Russo-Teutonic Landship the launch of its British counterpart was very public and was the centre if much fanfare! The public was supplied with the news by the fourth estate and much was made of the revolutionary machine that it would allow the British Empire to flourish for many years to come...

Below are a series of pictures taken of the day of the launch of the first British Steam Powered Landship, the HMLS Dreadnought. The first was taken from an observation balloon above Salisbury Plain and the other by a London photographic Company of some repute Boosey & Sozzled. It is of interest that amongst the soldiers and naval infantry at the scene Captain Darling can be made out in his distinctive blue tunic he was a good friend of Edward Bigger...

 Next time…Scenario Four of ‘The Russian’s are Coming’ campaign begins…

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Building a Steam Powered Landship…

The philosophy behind my Steam Powered Armoured Wagons was to build a fleet of cheap 28mm scale armour for use with the All Quiet on the Martian Front rules and in the occasional VSF game so they were built to war game quality. Originally I was going to build one as a template and then make resin ones but scratch building each from styrene was cheaper and gave me much greater flexibility in the design. The Steam Powered Landship on the other hand even though made out of leftovers from the SPAWs project is what I consider built to model standard (I’ll probably enter it in the local model fair in October). It was planned to be a one off I now know it will be the first of two as I have decided to build a a rival for this one, I'm am hoping to see some dreadnought type pounding matches between them!
As with all my scratch building projects I drew up plans as this always saves me time, I am known to deviate from these but working from them makes life much easier. This vehicle took me only eight days from the cutting the first styrene panel to finishing the painting and assembling (I never count weathering in the build time) and I would say anyone could build something like this!
Here’s the plans I worked from:

This is the hull sides being assembled note I scored the panel lines where applicable before gluing that way I could lay them flat:

 Then add some braces to give it strength and maintain width along the whole length of the sides:

Next wheel units were built and the Lego wagon wheels fitted. The upper hull deck detail was constructed and a pseudo wooden deck was made. The turrets were made from 40mm PVC pipe and capped with styrene:

Here’s a 28mm figure and one of the original SPAW’s to see the size:

Next the conning tower was made, rivets are sewing pins,  port holes are washers and the mast is fashioned from a wooden skewer, the cross member is held in place with glue and a metal pin made from a paper clip. A coal chute was added from sytrene:

Then I made two funnels (smokestacks) from odd bits out of my spare parts box and made a milliput gun barrel which I then cast copies of. The turrets were drilled out to accommodate them and had some rivets added for ‘looks’:

Now the fun began and over a hundred sewing pin rivets were added to the hull for effect. A boarding hatch was added to one side. Four casemates were made from plastic tube and styrene sheeting, the MGs for these are a piece of plastic tube acting as the cooling jacket with a metal rod (from a coat hanger) pushed through it for a barrel and the sight is he end of a sewing pin. Some towing points and hooks for a tow chain were added to the end plates. The side lights are odd Lego bits:

Here’s all the parts ready for painting, I often paint in sections and assemble as is makes spraying easier:

Painting was with Humbrol enamels:

Here it is with some figures after a flag, some rigging and a bit of coal was added to the rear chute:

 Now off to the drawing board to get a second steam Powered Landship designed!

Friday, 3 April 2015

Birth of the Steam Powered Landship!

Mankind was much changed by the Great Martian Invasion in 1874 mens minds were broadened and their outlooks extended! The developed countries of the world with established manufacturing industries became aware that the machines and weapons designed for use against the aliens could be developed further and produced with ease...

1875 saw the world war against the Martian invaders of Earth enter its second and decisive year, employing the mighty armoured wagons supplied by the United States of America human armies all around the globe had scored decisive victories against the alien’s fighting machines they had effectively turned the tide of the war. Now with the defeat of the Martians in sight political and military leaders looked to the future and what influence the revolutionary Steam Powered Armoured Wagons would have on the strategic options of the major powers.

As a result of the new technologies the world’s democracies were utilising in late 1875 a secret meeting in the depths of the thick woods of East Prussia was convened between the crowned heads of Imperial Russia and the recently established German Empire. The beautiful snow clad trees and fairy tale wooden cottage chosen for the location of the meeting belied the talks true nature. The discussions were heated despite the coolness of the winter temperature and they dragged long into the night. In the cottages main living room astride a large oak table abounding with vodka and schnapps the Russian Tsar and German Kaiser discussed their fears of a spread of democratic policies of the United States of America, France and Great Britain spreading into their own countries and poisoning the minds of the general populace. While the wild and cold winds blew on that dark night they entered into an unholy alliance and vowed to create for their two countries armies a fleet of armoured vehicles that would ensure their autocratic rule would continue unchallenged well into the future!

That night the Emperors tasked the best Russian and Prussian industrialists, scientists, engineers and metallurgists with creating an armoured wagon superior to the current generation of ones that originated in the United States and were in use by the armies of the world in their crusade against the Martians. The brief given to these experts was to design and build the largest, most heavily armoured and armed steam powered wagon possible.

The teams of specialists toiled long hours during the northern winter of 1875-76 drawing up blueprints and creating vehicle mock ups in an effort to furnish the Tsar and Kaiser with the armoured wonder they desired. Eventually in March of 1876 while the rest of the world continued to celebrate mankind’s defeat of the Martians they were ready to display a prototype before their Monarchs. The leviathan they had constructed had eight independently sprung iron wheels with rubber pads called tyres, the initial wooden ones could not support the machines weight. Power to drive the vehicle was supplied by two small high pressure steam engines each with its own funnel. Each of the eight wheels had its own leaf springs and in an unrivalled technological feat the steering controls turned every wheel individually allowing the huge vehicle to turn in a space similar to that of the smaller United States designed armoured wagons. Thick armour protected the crews and the armament was impressive; the landship boasted four 32 lb breech loading cannons in cast iron twin turrets and four of the new automatic ‘machine’ guns two per side in their own casemates. An armoured conning tower was placed centrally on the vehicles main deck with good vision through post holes that featured armoured shutters that could be deployed when in action with enemies.

When the prototype was displayed and tested before the two autocrats on a level clearing deep in the impenetrable forests of East Prussia in the spring of 1876 it was officially listed as the Steam Powered Landship Mark I and it performed like clockwork!

The Tsar was heard to call to his generals while gesticulating madly, ‘That’s what I need!” while the Kaiser was suitably impressed and belived that this vehicle would place his military in a position to defeat any country that threatened Germany. That very evening a production order was placed for the vehicle with German and Russian industrialists and production was to begin forthwith. A stockpile of the landships was to be amassed as a matter of urgency.

Interestingly a handful of crucial design flaws where hidden from the Royals and their military advisors that day by the cunning industrialists who drove the project and whose financial future was ensured if orders for Steam Powered Landships were placed. Despite the impressive features the new armoured vehicle boasted there were a few areas where the new behemoth failed to match the lighter Steam Powered Armoured Wagons emanating from the United States of America. Firstly each landship cost the equivalent of 5 of the smaller vehicles. Secondly the speed of these machines was only half that of their smaller United States designed counterparts. Thirdly the uphill performance was very poor and tactically vehicles would need to travel in pairs as it needed two coupled together to scale anything but a gentle incline. Then when moving down a slope the landships speed was equally slow and if any pace was acquired it would quickly overheat the break units resulting in the inability to stop! Lastly virtually all but the mightiest bridges in the world lacked the integral strength to support the weight of the landships so the developers designed a second version which carried heavy duty bridging equipment, there would be one of the special bridging vehicles to be produced for every four fighting units.

Despite the above drawbacks manufacture of the Steam Powered Landship commenced in April 1876 and many were soon in the hands of Russian and Prussian crews and were undergoing shakedowns to prepare them for action!

Unknowingly the developed powers of the world had just stumbled into the first industrial arms race in mans histiory!

Below is a picture taken of the Russo-Teutonic Steam Powered Landship  under guard in the East Prussian woods awaiting its demonstration before the Crowned heads of Imperial Russia and the German Empire. It was smuggled out Germany by an agent acting for the western democracies, Edward Darling who successfully evaded detection by the  border guards disguising himself as a sauerkraut vendor…
Next time…Scenario Four of ‘The Russian’s are Coming’ campaign…