A cheap bunker/pillbox

During a recent visit to a local craft shop I saw some ready-made balsa wood/basswood hexagonal boxes on sale for £1.25. I had previously bought some slightly smaller versions with the intention of using them as the basis for some nineteenth century fortifications, but the larger ones looked ideal subjects for conversion into concrete bunkers or pillboxes that I could use with my 20mm-scale figures. I bought two of the boxes, and over the past few days I have been converting them.

The first thing I did was to remove the hinges that held the top and bottom halves of the box together.

I then set the tops of the boxes to one side and marked the position of the weapon slits on each face of the lower half of the box.

I carefully made vertical cut in each face of the box down to the line I had drawn around each box. I then used a craft knife to gently cut along the line between the two cuts on each face of the box. The thin gap that was created allowed then me to use the tip of the knife to gently prise out the wood between the vertical cuts. Once that was down each of the ‘slits’ in the faces of the hexagon was tidied up and sanded.

As I wanted to use the tops of the boxes to form the roofs of the bunkers/pillboxes I needed to make sure that they would not fall off during a wargame. I therefore glued pieces of matchstick in the corner of the bottom halves of each box, making sure that the pieces of matchstick projected slightly above the top of the box sides.

Once the glue was dry I checked that the tops of the boxes fitted snugly onto the bottoms. I then sealed the wood using two coats of PVA glue, making sure that first coat was properly dry before the next was added.

The bunkers/pillboxes were then undercoated before being painted light grey.

I’ve always wanted a copy … so when I saw one, I had to buy it!

Sometimes books are published that just as well might have ‘BUY ME!’ in big letter on them … and sometimes we don’t, and regret it for ever afterwards.

BRITISH TANKS AND FIGHTING VEHICLES 1914-1945 (by B.T.White) is one of those books. When it was published by Ian Allan in 1970 I saw it on sale in a local bookshop and almost bought a copy … but for some reason that I cannot now remember, I didn’t. I did borrow it a couple of times from the library, and enjoyed reading it. I also regretted not buying a copy when I could, especially as I was about to become a student and was – like all students – perennially short of funds from then on.

Even when I had finished college my financial situation did not improve much. My pay as a teacher was not very good for the first few years of my career, and by the time I had enough money to begin indulging my book buying bug, the book was no longer available.

During one of my periodic visits to the nearby Falconwood Transport and Military Bookshop (5 Falconwood Parade, The Green, Welling, Kent, DA16 2PL) I happened to see that they had a near-pristine copy of the book on sale … so I bought it!

The book is as good as I remember it being and – more importantly – it fills a gap in my collection of Ian Allan military books.

Seventy-four years on: D-Day

Seventy-four years ago, Allied forces landed in Normandy, and the liberation of Western Europe from Nazi rule was set in motion.

I was born six years after the landings took place, and I grew up surrounded by people who took part. Most of the veterans are now in their nineties, and each anniversary fewer and fewer of them remain alive.

Next year will see the seventy-fifth anniversary, and one hopes that the present-day governments of the Allied nations will stage commemorative events.

T-34 Owner’s Workshop Manual

Back in what my wife likes to call ‘eighteen hundred and frozen stiff‘* (in other words, a long time ago) when I could still fix my old cars with some spanners, a couple of screwdrivers, and some swearing, I used to own copies of the relevant workshop manuals published by Haynes.

Over the past few years they have begun to publish a range of workshop manuals about a wide range of types of transport, including the RMS Titanic, the AVRO Lancaster bomber, and Saturn V rocket. One of this series that I had not come across before was the manual for the T-34 tank, but as I saw it on sale for only £4.00 in a local branch of THE WORKS, I just had to buy a copy.

The book is subtitled ‘1940 to date (all models)’ … and it certainly seems to do exactly that. Its chapters include:

  • The T-34 story
  • T-34 at war 1941-45
  • Operating the T-34
  • T-34s in post-war foreign service
  • Anatomy of the T-34/76
  • T-34 weaponry and firepower
  • Appendices
    • T-34 variants including SPGs
    • The T-44
    • T-34 turrets

I have several books about the T-34, but this one seemed to cover the technical aspects of the design and its variants better than the rest … and at the price being charged, it was a bargain.

T-34 TANK: OWNER’S WORKSHOP MANUAL was written by Mark Healy and published by Haynes Publishing in 2018 (ISBN 978 1 78521 094 5).

* This expression was used in an episode of DAD’S ARMY by Private Walker when referring to Corporal Jones’s service in the Sudan Campaign.

Soldiers of the Queen (SOTQ): Issue 170

The latest copy of SOTQ (Soldiers of the Queen, the quarterly journal of the Victorian Military Society) arrived in the post on Monday, and I have been reading it over the past couple of days.

The articles included in this issue are:

  • ‘With a master eye he saw what was needed and did it’: Kitchener’s Indian Army reforms 1902-1909 by David Snape
  • In Defence of a Forgotten General: Lieutenant-General Sir Edwin Alfred Hervey Alderson (1859-1927) by Dr Andrew Windrow
  • Letter to the Editor
  • Captain Willingham Franklin Richardson RE (1843-1875): From Hampshire to the Himalayas by Richard Voss
  • Book Reviews by Dr Roger T Stearn
  • Officers of the Victorian Military Society

This was yet another issue full of interesting articles. I particularly enjoyed David Snape’s ‘With a master eye he saw what was needed and did it’ as it explained why the reforms were necessary and how they laid the foundations of the British Indian Army that took part in the First and Second World Wars.

The Zeebrugge and Ostend Raids: The blockships

The five blockship used during the Zeebrugge and Ostend Raids on 23rd April 1918 were all drawn from the Apollo-class of 2nd class Protected Cruisers. There were twenty-one ships in the class plus eight of the slightly modified Astrea-class, and they were built between 1889 and 1892.

Their characteristics when built were:

  • Displacement: 3,600 tons
  • Dimensions:
    • Length: 314′ (96m)
    • Beam: 43′ 6″ (13.26m)
    • Draught: 17′ 6″ (5.33m)
  • Speed: 19.75 knots
  • Complement: 273 to 300 officers and men
  • Armament: 2 × 6-inch (152mm) QF Guns; 6 × 4.7-inch (120mm) QF Guns; 8 × 6-pounder QF Guns; 2 or 4 × 14-inch (360mm) Torpedo Tubes

By the time that HMS Dreadnought was launched, the protected cruisers were already becoming obsolete, and seven of the class (HMS Andromache, HMS Apollo, HMS Intrepid, HMS Iphigenia, HMS Latona, HMS Naiad, and HMS Thetis) were converted into minelayers in 1907.

Six of the class were converted into blockships for the Zeebrugge and Ostend raids. These were:

  • HMS Intrepid: Expended at Zeebrugge
  • HMS Iphigenia: Expended at Zeebrugge
  • HMS Thetis: Expended at Zeebrugge
  • HMS Brilliant: Expended at Ostend (1st raid)
  • HMS Sirius: Expended at Ostend (1st raid)
  • HMS Sappho: Intended to be used at Ostend (2nd raid), but broke down on the way and not used

HMS Intrepid

HMS Iphigenia

HMS Thetis

HMS Brilliant

HMS Sirius

HMS Sappho

To prepare them for their use as blockships, the vessels were stripped of most of their armament and many compartments were filled with concrete. The extent of the damage inflicted on the blockships during the raids can be gauged by the following photograph:

The Zeebrugge and Ostend Raids: The Mersey ferries

Early in the planning of the operation, it was recognised that there was a need for ships to carry part of the Royal Navy and Royal Marine assault force. Various vessels were looked at, but the criteria of a shallow draught combined with a large passenger-carrying capacity soon showed that a ferry or ferries would be the best type to meet these requirements.

Of the Mersey ferries that were available, the Iris and the Daffodil (later the Royal iris and the Royal Daffodil) were selected. They had been built in 1906, and were twin-screw vessels powered by reciprocating engines that gave them a top speed of 12 knots. They were equipped with flying bridges that were fitted with docking cabs to with port and starboard, and they were steered from the bridge.



Once taken into naval service they were modified so that they could each carry up to 1,500 military personnel. The modifications included:

  • The removal of all furniture;
  • The fitting of armour plate to vulnerable areas of the vessel;
  • Being painted grey.

HMS Iris

HMS Daffodil

During the raid on Zeebrugge, the Daffodil helped to keep HMS Vindictive alongside the mole by pushing the cruiser with her bows. This also enable the Royal Marines she was carrying to cross over to the Vindictive so that they could land. The Iris attempted to land its contingent of Royal Marines directly onto the mole just ahead of the Vindictive. This proved to be very difficult, and eventually she was ordered to withdraw. At this point she was hit by two large shells, which destroyed one of the docking cabs and part of the bridge.

After the raid the two ships were returned to their owners, and 17th May, 1918, they sailed back into the Mersey, where they were rapturously received by large crowds of local people.

After the war had ended, both vessels were given permission by King George V to add the prefix ‘Royal’ to their names. The Royal Iris became a river cruise boat on the Mersey in 1923, and in 1931 she was sold to Cork Harbour Commissioners, who renamed her Blarney in 1937. She served her new owners well and was not withdrawn from service until 1961. In 1932 the Royal Daffodil also became a Mersey-based river cruise boat, but when she was sold to the New Medway Steam Packet Company in 1934, she moved south to the River Medway. Her service there lasted until 1938, when she was sold and broken up.