Since starting to play Flames of War, I’ve been spending a lot of my free time researching, modeling, and 3D printing WWII minutia and want to share some of that with other hobbyists out there.
Today’s post is about creating “scatter” for American 81mm mortar teams. I’ve been working with US735, an old Battlefront metal figure blister pack. In typical Flames of War fashion, I’ve been placing three figures on a medium base, facing the long side. Unlike some of the HMG teams which include ammo belts and crates, the mortar pack doesn’t include any scatter, so I wanted to add some of my own 3D printed objects.
I decided the obvious object to use would be different variations of crates with mortar rounds in them. What wasn’t obvious was what 81mm mortar crates actually looked like. I realize that at this point many hobbyists might say, “Who cares? Just add some crates, people will know what they are.” But not me; half the fun is the research!
Initial Search for Pictures and Dimensions
A cursory Google image search indicates mortar rounds came in wooden crates with metal hinges and rope handles. Many of the surviving examples still have their labels relatively intact and describe the type and number of rounds (and their fuses) enclosed. The markings are key to finding out which crate size corresponds to which ammunition type.
Two of the most common variants seem to be the M43A1 Light HE and M56 HE. The M56 HE rounds are considerably longer and only three are placed in a long crate, whereas the M43A1 Light HE are shorter, and stacked two-by-two in a crate of four. The following are rough dimensions provided by people on eBay who were selling these crates:
M43A1 Light HE: 17” × 10” × 10” (w/d/h)
M56 HE: 26” × 15” × 6.5” (w/d/h)
Sadly, none of the pictures indicated how the mortars were packed in. Was it with straw or fabric padding? Or possibly some sort of wooden rack? In order to answer this, some historical photos would be needed.
Diving Deeper with Historical Photos
Battlefront Miniatures has a very interesting article by Ales Potocnik about how he models figurines. Potocnik mentions he spends a lot of time pouring over historical photos looking at all the details and mentions specifically that:
After all I am looking at gear details on photos where it is not always the intention to capture that at all.
Scatter often tends to fall in the category of “not really worth documenting,” but a few photos of 81mm mortar teams reveal two huge details about how our scatter should look:
- It’s not just about the crates: they’re rarely visible. The fiber tubes however, are scattered everywhere! That’s what we need to cover the bases with!
- Prior to firing a barrage, or in our case, playing Flames of War, mortar teams often unpacked their mortars and stacked them lengthwise like firewood.
The images below illustrate this very well:
Creating the Models
I decided I’d create 12 different models to 3D print. This set would include six models for both the longer M56 rounds and the shorter M43A1 rounds:
- A single mortar round,
- A stack of mortar rounds,
- An open fiber tube,
- A closed fiber tube,
- An open crate in 2 parts,
- A closed crate;
My first draft of the models used the real scale and tried to copy the design as closely as possible. Unfortunately after the first test print it was obvious that details like the cracks between the wood of the crates were lost, and that true 1:100 scale would be far too small. Tweaking scale and removing some details are two things I hate doing, but it’s important to do both for manufacturability and for visual fidelity. With this in mind, I made two changes: I re-modeled the crates about 75% larger, and accentuated details such as the cracks between the boards to increase the impression that it was a wooden crate and not a metal case. For reference, I compared my model to a .50-cal ammunition crate from Battlefront. It’s easy to feel like “This is going to look so silly,” when you’re nearly doubling the size of some detail, but it tends to look right once it’s on the table. In this sense, modeling minis tends to be more of an art than a science (which sounds obvious, but for a hobby that obsesses over historical realism this balance can be tricky to find).
I also tend to keep the models as simple as I can: the fewer vertices and polygons there, the easier it is to adjust and modify the shape.
Adding Prints to Bases
Sadly my new AnyCubic Photon resin printer wasn’t quite ready for the job, but I was anxious to get these units finished up and painted before a tournament. Below is the FFF print, done on an Ultimaker 3 with white PLA and an AA0.25 core.
I glued them to the bases and painted them with Vallejo acrylics. The tubes are simply 950 Black, the cardboard parts are 874 Tan Earth, lightened with 919 Cold White, and the crates are a mix of a lot of colors. To be honest, I don’t really remember what all I mixed until I got a color that reminded me of a warm wood tone, but it definitely had a bit of 874 Tan Earth, 72055 Polished Gold, and 818 Red Leather to create a rich, warm ochre, which I lightened up significantly with the cold white. I put a wash on top of 50:50 Army Painter "Soft Tone" Quickshade and airbrush flow-improver to help it really get into all the nooks and crannies.
Below is the final result. I’ve left off the foliage so you can see the smaller details more clearly.