on Model Railroads
Era by Era Synopsis of Main US Military Vehicles
This is a brief over view of major US military vehicles. These vehicles were also the basis for a number of variant forms. For instance, the M-3 and M-4 Medium tanks were the basis for the concurrent M-7 Self Propelled Gun.
1929 - 1941: M-3 Light tank (Stuart), M-3 Medium Tanks (Grant & Lee), M-3 scout car, staff car, various armored cars, the early jeep (1940), towed artillery (75mm, 105mm, 155mm), anti-tank gun (37mm).
1941 - 1943: M-4 Medium Tank (Sherman), M-3 light Tanks, M-3 Half Track, towed artillery and self-propelled guns (M-7, Half Track w / 75mm), jeep, amphibious truck (DUKW), amphibious tractor (LVT), anti-tank gun (57 mm)
1944 - 1951: M4 A3 Medium Tank (Sherman w/76mm gun), M-24 light tanks (Chaffee), M-3 Half Track, towed and SP guns (M-7, 105mm, 155mm, 175mm, 8-inch), jeep, DUKW, LVT, Tank Destroyer T-10 and T-36, jeep, M-26 Pershing Tank
1951 - 1955: half track, newer self propelled guns & towed artillery (105mm, 155mm, 175mm, 8 inch), M-41 light tank (Walker Bulldog), M-47 Patton tank, jeep, LVT, M4A3 Medium Tank
1955 - 1965: armored personnel carriers (M-69 to M 113), M-48 Patton Tank, M-60 Tank, M - 41 Light Tank, towed artillery, new self-propelled artillery (M 108, M 109, M 110), jeep
1965 - 1985: armored personnel carriers (M-113), M - 60A1 tank, M-551 Sheridan light tank, towed & self-propelled artillery, jeep, AMTRACK USMC personnel carrier, jeep, M548 cargo carrier, M-48A5 tank (National Guard & Reserve units)
1985 - present: armored personnel carrier (M-113), Infantry Assaulkt Vehicle (M - 2 Bradley), M-60A3 tank, M1 Abrams main battle tank, improved versions of existing self- propelled and towed artillery, MLRS, Patriot missile systems, HUMMV ( Hummer ) replaces jeep
1929 - present: the 2 1/2 and 5 ton trucks, with newer improved models supplanting old ones.
Using this table: the vehicles mentioned here are main battle vehicles. We did not mention variations on these main vehicles (bridgelayers, mortar carriers, etc.), which are too numerous to list. Variants usually appear within the first six months of a new vehicle s introduction. Normally, when a vehicle leaves the inventory, its variants disappear also. Note which vehicles appear and which disappear from inventory as time goes on.
While wars have raged in Europe, Asia and Africa, North America has had only a handful of minor military situations during the 20th Century. These include the 1916 American Expedition into Mexico, and occasional forays by the Mexican Army against guerrillas in outlying provinces. There has been no real war here. Though the US and Canada have been involved in several major and minor conflicts, North America itself has not experienced bitter combat. The atmosphere, even at the height of the world wars, has been that of as peacetime military.
The military presence in North America is evident, yet it is not invasive. Most of the direct contact with the civilian world is in those regions with military bases, and with the activities of the National Guard during Summer training and when supplementing civilian emergency agencies. In the latter case, the National Guard is used as a source of additional emergency personnel. On a few occasions, the Guard has been called out to suppress riots. However, its main influence on civilians remains that of emergency personnel.
The military impact on railroads is mainly that of a customer. Civilian railroads have been used to ship military vehicles, equipment and personnel across the continent. Up until 1955, troop trains were the common method of moving military personnel across the country. Because of the excessive weight and size of military equipment, railroads remain a practical means of shipping vehicles. With the development of air power, however, troop trains have become a thing of the past.
The Army, Navy and Air Force have maintained their own railroad equipment for use on military bases and as resources for operating overseas. A case in point are the RS1 and 44-ton diesels, which had been equipped with adjustable trucks to allow use on narrow and wide gauge railways. These were intended for use overseas. Each branch of the military maintains a small railroad corps for its own use. Military railroads act much the same as small industrial railways.
The Army had experimented with rail-mounted weapons from the Civil War until the 1950s. A variety of railway guns were developed. This paralelled the work of European Armies. Railway gun development peaked during World War I. It saw a brief resurgence in Europe during World War II, with a handful particularly large models, but by then was in a decline. US railway guns saw minimal use during that conflict. The development of nuclear artillery led to experimentation with railway-mounted nuclear cannons during the 1950s, but these were abandoned.
Another combat railway invention was the armored train. American armored trains were built for use near the front lines in World War I; prototype US and Canadian armored engines had been made for use on the Pacific coast but were never actually implemented. The armored train was actually a European phenomenon, with rolling fortresses being developed by Germany, France, Britain and Russia in the early half of the 20th century. They were obsolete by Wordl War II, thanks to air power. A few remained in service until the end of the war. Armored trains were not part of the American railway scene.
Aside from unusual examples listed above, American military railway equipment is the same as its civilian counterparts. Locomotives and rolling stock are standard railway cars painted in the markings of the military. More often than not, military equipment is shipped in civilian railroad cars.
The only place where one finds ongoing development of military railroad equipment is in the realm of tinplate trains. During the 1950s, several manufacturers developed such odd cars as target cars, rolling missile batteries, strange railway guns and even exploding boxcars. Tinplate manufacturers continue to develop new and strange military trains, while the military itself has remained content with its complement of civlian-style switchers and rolling stock.
Adding a military dimension to model railroading can be interesting. There are several options, from running a small military switching railroad to including troop trains in a 1940s -era layout. No matter what the options, we must take into account the nature of the military itself. For sake of realism, it helps to understand that the stateside military is a unique thing all to itself. In North America, the presence of the military is particularly benign. (Many would be surprised that this has not been the case elsewhere.) Because of its peacetime status even in wartime, the North American military is a unique insitution. For model railroading, it is a regular customer, a source of trackside dioramas and an industrial railroad all its own. Take your pick! The Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines can be incorporated into a model railroad without upsetting that railroad s civilian character.
Granted, there are problems. We cannot use military modeling techniques here. Military modelers specialize in combat or near-combat dioramas. Their methods are intended to replicate the conditions, wear and damge incurred by battle. For railroaders, there is no combat presence. We will not have occasion to reproduce combat conditions in miniature. Our miniature military is thousands of miles from the nearest war zone.
We cannot use the standard model railroading techniques, either. Military vehicles are unlike their civilian counterparts. Likewise, weathering and other aging techniques have no place here. Military vehicles are kept in top operating condition, so we won t have opportinities to replicate corrosion, wear or incidental damage.
Come to think of it, we can t use military models and figurines right out of the box. 95% of all military miniatures are sold in their combat mode. Soldiers wear full battle gear and carry weapons; tanks and other vehicles carry their battlefield accouterments. That s fine in a war zone, but not in a peaceful region. We have to use unique modeling techniques and we must alter the miniatures to prepare them for model railroading.
Before we go further, it s a good idea to see how well model railroaders are equipped by the military model makers. Those working HO scale will find plenty. There is a lot less for N, S and O scale. (I have seen very few military models in 1/64 or 1/160 scale, and only a handful for 1/48). The main military modeling scales for 20th Century conflicts are 1/87, 1/76 - 1/72, 1/35 and 1/32. A handful of kits are offered in 1/48 and 1/24. There are fewer kits and minatures today that there were in 1977. Twenty years ago, military modeling was very popular. It has only recently started to revive itself.
Those working HO have two affordable sources of vehicles and figures: ROCO Minitanks in 1/87 and Roskopf minioatures in 1/90. Of the two, ROCO s miniatures are preferable. The ROCO vehicles are a perfect match for HO scale, and are much easier to work than their slightly offscale counterparts by Roskopf. ROCO excels in detail. I ve been using the Minitanks since 1959, and have yet to see anything that equals them.
Actual soldier figures are another story. ROCO s figures are mainly World War II era soldiers in combat gear. Other manufacturers offer HO sized figures of various kinds. Airfix, Humbrol and Revell sell 1/76 scale figures covering many armies and eras. The main problem is one of size. Some are HO scale and some are too large. Again, the combat gear detracts from their value to the model railroader.
From 1916 to 1975, US military vehicles came in three basic colors: olive drab, battleship grey and Air Force blue. Since 1975, combat vehicles are painted a camouflage pattern. This degree of standardizations runs throughout the military.
What makes for realistic military vehicles? The answer for the model railraoders differs from the military modeler. Let s look at a few of the things that affect these vehicles. It might shed a new light on things.
Model railroaders are specialists in weathering. Because scenery on model railroads can represent things from 1 to 100 years old, modelers can do everything from a light dusting to heavy corrosion. Model railroaders love heavy weathering. In a field where the working life on a locomotive can be from 15 to 60 years, age is sure to show.
Military modelers weather and stress their miniatures. They tend to overdo it. In reality, the average combat life of a vehicle is less than 1 year. Vehicles don t have much opportunity to age before they are destroyed or called back for an overhaul. In peacetime, vehicles can last for upward of 20 years. However, unlike the railroads, the military has the manpower, spare parts and money to keep all of its equipment in top condition. They can repair it, repaint it or replace it.
Ongoing maintenance keeps military vehicles in smooth running order. Troops assigned to a vehicle regularly check the batteries, oils, and everything else. They will touch up any spots where paint has been chipped or scraped off. Parts that wear or break are replaced. If there is major damage, the vehicle is shipped first to the battalion maintenance garage. The vehicle will be repaied there, if possible. If not, it is sent to the divisional maintenance battalion. This unit has all kinds of specialized equipment for a major overhaul and even partial rebuilding. Those vehicles which cannot be handled by division are scrapped, cannibalized or returned to the manufacturer for rebuilding.
Military vehicles rarely look factory fresh, but there s no doubt that their condition hasn t deteriorated. This requires a subtle approach to weathering and wear.
Most folks who model military miniatures haven t any military experience of their own. The same goes for most model railroaders. The average person gets his information about the military from history books, documentaries, TV shows and movies. They all give a lopsided view for various reasons. Historical footage tends to focus almost entirely on combat or tactics. It doesn t cover the day-to-day routine of stateside military life. Movies and TV shows are entertainment, and that means either combat heroics or comedy. These are quite different from everyday military life.
If you think a military post is bristling with guns, forget it. Soldiers only carry weapons and wear helmets under the following conditions:
Soldiers only carry field gear when in combat or field exercises. At all other times, firearms are stowed in carefully-controlled arms rooms, and the helmets and field gear are stowed in the barracks. Tanks and heavy equipment remain in the motor pool area.
When you come onto a base, you will likely enter the built-up area, known as cantonment. The only tanks you might see are one or two used as monuments. The only guns will be the sidearms worn by military police or rifles carried by a unit that s practicing parade drills. Most servicemen will wear regular fatigues and soft caps. The only vehicles you ll see moving are sedans, jeeps or hummers, and trucks. A military post is not bustling with activity. It has a routine, almost boring quality. In fact, it is boring. The place might look like a hokey industrial park or suburb, with a high degree of standardization. Military bases are regulated, controlled areas which have been designed to conform with strict regulations. There is nothing innovative or attractive. Every inch of the base is intended to be strictly utilitarian.
The boxes of HO scale soldiers that are marketed in hobby shops are almost always designed in combat action poses. That s fine for miniature wargamers and military modelers, but not for model railroaders. For our purposes, we prefer soldiers in regular everyday fatigue uniforms, wearing the appropriate soft caps. That means a lot of work in converting figures from combat to peacetime.
The simplest technique is to cut away a soldier s helmet and replace it with a cap made of putty. The brim or peak of the can can be made by a crescent of sheet plastic. It also helps to remove backpacks and other field gear, along with weapons. A craft knife and file can do wonders here.
Uniforms have changed greatly over the years. Here is a brief look at combat and fatigue uniforms since the Civil War:
From the Civil War until 1965, soldiers wore their chevrons of rank sewn onto the combat uniform sleeves. After 1965, a separate subdued green and black patch replaced the color cherons and full-color unit patches. The rank chevrons were gradually replaced by rank pins which were clipped to lapels. Since 1970, the only time chevrons are sewn on sleeves is for the dress uniform.
The rule for the military is that hats are worn out of doors, and no hats are worn indoors or under cover. The only times you will see soldiers without hats outside is when they are eating. Another rule is that troops are not supposed to stand around withtheir hands in their pockets. All buttons on the uniform are to be buttoned. Yes, friends, the military is fussy about that.
Weapons for the average soldier have also changed. The Civil War rifles were mainly cap- and-ball with a few Sharps carbines, revolvers and swords for officers. By the end ofthe century, these rifles were replaced by their bolt-action counterparts. The 1903 Springfield became standard US issue, and the Colt .45 Automatic was the standard officer s weapon as of 1915. Swords disappeared from regular line units, and were retained only by cavalry until 1941. 1916 saw the introduction of a new range of infantry weapons. The Lewis gun was the first American light machine-gun. It ushered in the era of the light automatic rifle, or BAR, and the submachine gun. The BAR, submachine gun and rifle were provided with wooden stock and blued steel barrel and receiver.
In World War II, the M-1 Garand Rifle and M1 Carbine were semi-automatic weapons. The M-1 remained in use with US forces until the mid-1960s. In 1959, regular Army and Marine forces received the new M-14 Assault Rifle, while Reserve and National Guard remained armed with the M-1 for several more years. The M-14 is distinguished by having a long magazine. (Yes, you would notice it on an HO sized figure.) In 1965, the Army started issuing the M-16 Assault Rifle to troops in Vietnam. This rifle gradually supplanted the M-14, and by 1973 the M- 16 was the main rifle for all US forces. The M-16 is all black in color and has a notable shape that distinguishes it from all previous rifles. In the late 1950s, the Army also issued the M-60 light machinegun to replace the BAR and .30 caliber Browning machine gun.
From the Civil War until 1941, bayonets usually had blades of ten inches or greater. During World War II, these were gradually replaced by shorter 6.5 inch blades and have remained so up to the present. As a general rule, troops have not marched in parade with fixed bayonets since the 1880s.
(Note: I have not gone into grenade launchers, rocket launchers, bazookas or similar heavy infantry weapons. These are rarely seen outside of combat situations. Rifles, pistols and some other weapons might appear in parades or a high-security convoy. Heavier weapons are intended only for combat, and their use of explosives and high-impact ammunition would make them undesirable for security within North America.)
Weapons are usually locked in an arms room. Rifles, pistols and light automatic weapons are stored and locked to racks. When troops travel by convoy or train, these racks are carried in a separate vehicle or car.
When do you see soldiers with weapons? Military policemen always carry a pistol and a club or baton. You would see MP s directing traffic, manning the gates at a base, and guarding some convoys.
Regular troops will carry rifles on parade, especially on special occasions. They will wear either dress uniforms or fatigues with steel helmets. Field gear will be absent, and troops will not have fixed bayonets.. Regular troops carry rifles with fixed bayonets for riot duty. There have been several major riots in this century where National Guard and Federal forces have shown up with fixed bayonets.
Troops will carry rifles and full gear when engaged in field training and maneuvers. The only time they will assume a firing position is in mock combat or when practicing on the range. Be aware that real soldiers are very careful in how they handle rifles. They carry them safely. You won t see men swinging them in the air, using them as a club or otherwise abusing their weapons. The Army and Marines are very strict when it comes to handling any weapon. Troops are taught to respect weaponry from the beginning.
Always remember that soldiers are people. They don t sit or stand in parade formation except when it is required. Soldiers will relax whenever possible.
The locomotive is the predecessor of land vehicles. If you notice, many terms used to describe parts of a train have made their way to cars and trucks. Things like cab and body are railroad terms.
The tank is a land vehicle that has a nautical connection. Initially, it was designated a land battleship. Nautical terms were applied, and have remained the protocol for military armored vehicles.
If you want to understand tanks, you have to pick up a few nautical terms. To begin with, the US has a standardized formula when it comes to the characteristics of armored vehicles. Here s a breakdown of what goes into a tank:
Now that you know the parts of a tank, we can explain military vehicles. The complement of combat vehicles includes:
We can spend months going over the combat side of armored vehicles. We could spend a lot of time just looking at the tanks used during one part of World War II. Consider this: tank production has been an ongoing thing since 1935 for the US, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and Japan. Perhaps a dozen smaller countries contributed a few vehicles during short periods. (Most other countries either buy their tanks or copy the designs from the six makers.) That s a LOT of armor. But we re model railroaders, so we d rather spend most of our time looking into things like Geeps and Dash-8s and Baldwin Centipedes. The study of armor is not a prerequisite for us. In fact, most of the information given in this chapter is strictly informational.
To familiarize you with tank work, we will start with a simple project:
How does a tank look when it is traveling? Seeing as most models are made to look combat-ready, we have to make a few changes. A vehicles in transit is generrally stripped of all unnecessary gear. It won t be sporting pioneer tools, tow cables or radio antennae. And it will not be sporting any weapons other than it s main cannon. All small parts and other gear will be stowed separatelt for shipping.
A peculiarity of tanks, self-propelled guns and tank destroyers is how they stow the cannon when not in use. Travel lock means that the gun is locked into place with an exterior fastener. This lock is part of the hull. It us hinged, and has a circular clamp. The gun is positioned over the travel lock and the barrel is lowered into the clamp. The clamp is them shut tight. Travel lock prevents the gun from unnecessary shifting or jarring. In most US tanks, you will find the travel lock built over the engine compartment. If the model has it molded onto the compartment, you will have to make one of sheet plastic.
All exposed glass and apertures will be covered with canvas if the vehicles is being transported a long distance - sat 50 miles or more. Soldiers are fastidious about this. It;s easier than replacing a part.
If your kits comes with jerry cans, machine guns or other tools, relegate them to the spare parts box. And if pioneer tools are molded to the hull of your kit, get ready to file and sand! Remove tools and tow cables.
If you use a ROCO minitank, Roskopf tank or ather pre-assembled kit, then dissassemble the main compnents. First remove the turret. Now, separate the upper hull from the lower. ROCO tanks hitch all vehicles with a clip on the front and back of hulls and chassis. Don t be afraid to break this clip. Place the front hull aside. Now remove the track sections. Last of all, take those silly wheels off the bottom of the hull - the ones put there so kids can slide the tank on a table.
The track pattern is replicated on the oputside of the track, but not the inside. Take a sharp tool and score even lines inside the track, replicating the outside pattern. Simple scored lines will do. Now we can address that clip. Cut off the tongue and clip on both sides of the hull. Sand it down afterward.
As this is a US tank, we will paint the whole thing Olive Drab and allow it to dry. (Remember the old Army saying: If it moves, challenge it. If it doesn t move, move it. If you can t move it, paint it olive drab. )
We will start with the track. Paint the tires that rim the bogey wheels first and allow them to dry. (If your kit s idler has a tire, paint it as well. Some idlers have tires; some don t.) Next, paint the tracks a dull steel color. While the wheels are drying, cover the headlights with canvas. Use thin tape. Paint the canvas a slightly lighter, flatter shade of olive drab.
Make a thin wash of black paint and apply it to the entire track-wheels assembly. Wipe it off the exposed surfaces, so that it only fills cracks.
Assemble the tank, gluing the hull together. When dry, fill in the crack with putty and sand. Put the gun in travel lock. (If you kit didn t have a travel locl. you should have made one.) Paint the travel lock and the sanded hull area olive drab. When dry, apply a very thin black wash to the entire hull and turret. Wipe away immediately. Make an effort to get grills and especially the engine cover grill.
Decals are easy. Place a white star on either side of the turret, and one on the front hull. For this vehicle, we will palce a small one on the rear mud guard and the real hull. Next, place the serial number decal. (All US verhicles have these.) Our tank is pre-NATO, so it doesn t have the tonnage disk or unit markings on the bumper. Use a softener to make decals adhere better.
Our tank will be travelling on a train, so it might get dusty. A very thin wash of dust can be applied to the hull and wheel area. Do not apply to engine compartment grill! It is better to drybrush a little dust on the raised bars of the grill than have it seep into the cracks and ruin the effect.
The last trick is to apply a dull coating. And there you have it: a standard tank. Put one of these on a flatcar and you re ready for the military.
To do a wheeled vehicle, we dissassemble our miniature and file off the tongues and clips. The main difference here is that we paint the seats a lighter olive. Seats in these vehicles are canvas.
For trucks, the benches in back are left olive drab. We don t paint them differently, as they are painted when the rest of the truck gets painted.
If you are doing an opened armored vehicle - say a scene where a recovery team is removing the turret - you have to do an interior paint job. Sealed armored vehicles such as tanks and personnel carriers are painted gloss white inside. The only parts of the interior not painted white are the insides of hatches.
One other thing: paint ages slightly. You can add a tiny amount of yellow to make off- shades of olive drab. This gives you a slight variation in the color of vehicles. It has to be slight. The military would not allow a vehicle s paint age enough to stand out from the rest.
To crew a vehicle, you need the appropriate miniatures. Tank drivers always wear their olive drab tanker helmets. In a road march, there will be another crewman in the turret with a similar helmet. His job is to help guide the driver. However, the extra rider won t appear i na motor pool or when loading behicles on a train.
Army and Marine protocol assigns each vehicle a commander. This fellow rides in the front passenger seat of wheeled vehicles, and in the main hatch of armored ones. When an officer is being driven around, he always takes the front passenger seat of whichever vehicle he rides.
You can t escape it if you do passenger lines circa 1941 - 1955! Troop trains were common, so be prepared. Civilian railroads pressed their passenger cars into service to ferry soldiers and sailors. The trains would naturally have baggae cars filled with the tropps personal gear and racks of rifles. There might a couple of flat cars carrying heavy vehicles or even folded- down, tarp-covered warplanes. Depending on your railroad s location, you will have soldiers or sailors in abundance. They will usually be waiting at a separate platform or separate end of the passenger platform, if it s a troop train. For interurbans, trolleys and commuter lines, there are always mobs of servicemen heading back from a weekend pass. That s what you have in this era.
You can even arrange to have regular operations halted for a priority military train coming through with troops and armaments headed to port. Photos of troop trains are common, especially during World War II.
During the war, key railroad junctures were guarded against saboteurs. The Bergen Tunnel cut outside Jersey City was manned by rifle-toting soldiers during the way. It was a vital place. You can reflect this in your railroad by placing sentries at especially sensitive places: important tunnels, bridges, etc. There were always small patrols on the shore and waterfronts. If you want to do the US during The Big One, remember that saboteurs were a very real fear.
And don t forget the propaganda posters. Buy war bonds Uncle Sam Wants You A slip of the lip can sink a ship! Propaganda posters were everywhere! (Here s a peculiarity: many who study propaganda and advertising have bought the myth that Josef Goebbels, the Nazi propagandist, was a master of the art. Actually, America was the best at this art. If you want to see master work, see the Why We Fight film series by then-major Frank Capra. You can also check out the superb posters that were all over America in those days.)
This is a brief guide to the military for model railroaders. It is enough to get you started. If you want to seriously consider some military additions to your miniature railroad, you can research your subject through historical books sold to military enthusiasts. I suggest that you first look at general books aimed at your specific era. When you know the equipment that is appropriate, find actualy photos of those vehicles. Use them as a guide.
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