Other Gaming Items: Vietnam

I can already hear what my regular readers are saying to themselves: "Vietnam? Viet-NAM ?  What the hell. . . .?"  Well, give me a chance to explain.

Much like the 1:1 scale United States, I never intended to get involved in Vietnam.  For me, WWII was about as modern as I wanted to get, and I had plenty of those miniatures.  Vietnam seemed a little too close to be a good game; after all, I'm old enough to remember watching the evacuation from Saigon on TV as a 10-year-old.  Then, along came Richard Clarke of TooFat Lardies, and the playtest reports from their set of Vietnam rules, entitled Charlie Don't Surf.

All through 2008 and 2009, I kept reading playtest reports about these rules, and they sounded really intriguing.  The Free World player had to consider all sorts of things like civilians, rules of engagement along with military and political victory conditions.  None of that never made an appearance during our WWII games.  In reading the reports, it was clear that the Communist player could win if he paid attention to historical tactics and the two types of victory conditions.  Given that I was already a TooFat Lardies fanboy anyway, I purchased the rules when they came out in 2010.

Once the rules arrived, and before I started painting, there was one more mental hurdle I had to clear.  As I mentioned, I can remember watching the end of the conflict on television so there's no doubt that this is my parent's war.  It turns out that my small hometown of 6-7,000 people has seven names on the Vietnam Memorial and I know that some of them went to high school with my parents (full disclosure: my dad was 4F, so didn't have to worry about the draft).  I was really concerned about how people who had lived through that era would respond when they saw the seminal, albeit divisive,  event of their lives turned into a game.  Well, it turned out to be a non-problem.  In fact, I've even had some Vietnam vets play at a convention and they enjoyed themselves!

Vietnam is a war of striking contrasts and amazing diversity.  You have multi-million dollar jets bombing troops that use human feces on sharpened bamboo stakes as a weapon.  The war has a land, air and even naval component with the brown water operations.  We think of it as a guerrilla war, but South Vietnam actually fell to a conventional invasion in 1975 that numbered 270,000 men, 320 tanks and 679 trucks.  Charlie Don't Surf  handles both the guerrilla war and the conventional one equally well.

I'll be adding photos to this page as we go along.  I'm not sure where game photos will go yet, but when I get back into the jungle there will be photos.

A PBR Comparison

Let me start by saying that the PBR in the title refers to the Patrol Boat, River and not to Pabst Blue Ribbon.  So, for any hipsters in the audience out there, sorry.  Now with that out of the way, let’s get down to looking at some of the different models out there.

The Patrol Boat, River (hereafter PBR) is one of the iconic vessels of the Vietnam War.  Converted from a civilian pleasure craft, this 32-foot-long boat saw service across IV Corps, as well as the Perfume River from Hue to the sea in I Corps.  They were heavily armed for their size, with twin .50 caliber HMGs in the bow, an M-60 LMG and an automatic grenade launcher amidships, and another .50 caliber HMG at the stern.  They were made of fiberglass, and very lightly armored; the idea was high speed would be their primary protection.  While the boats could make 25-28 knots empty, they could not keep that speed up when loaded down for a patrol.  Those patrols could turn violent at any time; by the end of the war, one out of every three men serving in the PBR force had been wounded.  Most PBRs were handed over to the South Vietnamese Navy when the US exited the war.  The boats that were kept in the US to train crews, however, remained in Naval Reserve service until about 1995.   The PBR is probably best known to the public not for its combat record, but for its starring role in the movie Apocalypse Now.  Given how essential the PBR was to the “Brown Water Navy” and its role in the Vietnam War, it seems only reasonable that I look at the PBR models that are out there for wargamers in 15mm.

As of this writing (July 2018), there are four companies that make a PBR in 15mm.  They are, in no order:  Peter Pig, Battlefront, Gomi Designs and Armaments in Miniature.  I have models from three of them (Peter Pig, Gomi, AiM), and will discuss those.  Anything I say about the boats from Battlefront will be based on pictures from their website and reviews from others.  

Peter Pig:

The PBR model from Peter Pig is probably the oldest one available in this scale.  As their website points out, Peter Pig bean producing Vietnam figures in 15mm back in 1983, and they claim that they were the first 15mm Vietnam figures ever made.  While I can’t verify that, I know that their figures grace many tabletops, mine included.  The PBR is a mixed media kit, with the hull in resin and other parts (radar, guns and crewmen) in metal.  Mine are already assembled and have been for some time, so I don’t have any pictures of an unassembled kit.  As with other kits from Peter Pig, this one is designed for gaming, first and foremost.  The hull is a single piece of resin, with the stern rails, cockpit canopy rails and canopy all molded together.  Consequently, there is no detail under the canopy as the pictures below will show.  

Still a good looking model, given its age

I added the flag, flagstaff and two antennae.  The forward gun tub could be left unglued, so as to allow it to turn.  Since I bought mine from another gamer, they are glued in place.  If you look closely at the pictures, you will see that the gun tub on this boat is somewhat deformed.   That’s my fault, as I tried to get the turret loose and failed spectacularly.  Judging from the picture on the website, the boat does not come with the short mast used to mount navigation lights, although there is a hole for it in the superstructure.  Currently these retail for £8.00 (about $10.56 US) if you order directly from the manufacturer, or $14.79 US if you order from Brookhurst Hobbies in California.  Both of those prices are without shipping.  The website is: http://peterpig.co.uk/

Gomi Designs:

Next up is the PBR boat from Gomi Designs, also in the UK.  Gomi makes an entire range of Vietnam riverine designs, including such rarities as the PACV Hovercraft.  They also make a Swift Boat, which I think may be the only one available in 15mm.  Their website is: https://gomidesigns.co.uk/Vietnam  .  

Like the Peter Pig boat, the Gomi PBR has a resin hull with metal fittings.  That, though, is where the resemblance ends.  This boat has a detailed interior, and metal canopy frames that should stand out correctly from the side of the cabin.  I say should, because I haven’t built this one yet as you can see in the photo.  

The resin used is very clean, but there are a few small bubbles here and there, along with some small resin balls that will need to be cleaned off before you undercoat the boat.  I don’t know enough about molding resin to say what types of molds may or may not be used, so will leave that aside.  Whatever type of molds Gomi uses, he has managed to pack some very nice detail into the cockpit area, as the other picture will indicate. 

A very nice level of detail, considering that all the walls are cast into place.

Keep in mind that while the metal parts might look bad in the photo, nothing has been done to clean them up; they are exactly as they came out of the wrapping.  Overall, I don’t think they look too bad for a one-man operation.  I’ve gotten figures from a major miniatures company (with quality assurance inspectors) that were a lot worse where flash was concerned.  These boat parts will take a few minutes cleaning with a knife; those “major company” figures were so bad as to be unusable.  When this boat is assembled, I will update the post and put more pictures up.  This model costs £12.99 (about $17.15) and is only available from the Gomi website.  Shipping on my package was another £4.85, for an all-in total of £17.85 (roughly $23.57).  There was a second, smaller vessel in my package so your postage might be a little less, or it might not.

Armaments in Miniature:

The third entry comes from Armaments in Miniature, here in the US.  You can find them online at http://www.armamentsinminiature.com/ .  They are best known for their resin airplanes that cover everything from the Spanish Civil War to the Falkland Islands War of 1982 in scales from 6mm to 15mm.  They do, however, have other lines of products that are not as well known and one of these is their line of watercraft.  

The watercraft are largely focused on WWII, but they also have a PBR, which is specifically listed as a Mk II.  The most visible difference between a Mk I and Mk II PBR is that the Mk II was 32 feet long instead of 31, and 11.5 feet wide instead of 10.5.  In 1/100 scale, that is a difference of 3 mm each way.  So, even though this model might be specifically listed as a Mk II, I don’t think most players will be able to tell the difference if you need a Mk I for a scenario.  

An interesting fact about the AiM PBR is that it is all resin.  Things that the other manufacturers have made in metal are made in resin on this model, such as guns, masts, canopy supports and even crewmen.  The next item to take notice of is the INSANE level of detail for a wargaming model.  There are 6 (!) sprues of parts, each bagged separately, and 6 pages of written instructions.  Everything is included, right down to radio antennae.  This is truly a labor of love model for AiM.  

In case you think that I’m overstating the amount of detail in this kit, I’ve taken a picture of the cockpit parts to let you see what all is there.  

This is a level of detail that I did not expect.
The resin is the usual white one used in AiM’s aircraft models and is almost completely free of bubbles.  In fact, the only bubble I found in the entire kit is in the helmet of the bow gunner, as you can see in the photo below.  

Poor guy.
Just like the Gomi model, once this one is finished I will add pictures and let you know how the build went.  The price for this model is $20.00 and was shipped to me via USPS Priority Mail, so the total was about $27.20 to my door.


As I said earlier, I don’t have any Battlefront PBRs, so this is based on photos on online reviews from other people.  Like Peter Pig, the Battlefront boats have no cockpit interior, being a solid piece of resin with some metal components.  They do have a hint of the coxswain’s armor though, as you can see from this picture from the Battlefront website.  

What is interesting is that they do not seem to have the M60 and grenade launcher in the midships section.  At first, I thought this might be a case of other reviewers not putting them on their models.  However, when you look at this picture of the components, it’s clear that they are not included.  Once again, this picture is from the Battlefront website.  

The thing to note here is that it says, “PBR Contents 2x.”  That’s right; the Battlefront box provides you with 2 PBRs instead of 1.  Officially, the price on their website is $30.00 but they are currently listed as “Preorder” status.  They can be found on eBay for $26.99 to $29.95 with shipping depending on the seller.  So, for purposes of this blog post, they are about $15.00 each.

These are all the 15mm PBRs that I am aware of.  Once the ones from Gomi and AiM are assembled, I will put some more pictures up on the blog and talk about how the builds went.  If the readers know of any other 15mm PBRs, let me know and I will try and find them.  

I think we can look at the boats as they stand and try to figure out which one is “best.”   I guess this depends on what you are looking for.  If you want something that can be put on the table quickly, then either the Peter Pig or Battlefront boats would be your choice.  In my opinion, the Peter Pig boat wins out in this category because it gets the amidships weapons right, and Battlefront completely omits them in their model.  If, however, you’re looking for a no-holds-barred, interior detailed boat, then you might want the Armaments in Miniature one.  My main concern with this boat is that the all-resin construction might make it a bit too fragile for gaming purposes.  After all, I suspect that we all have a “ham-handed gamer” horror story we could tell.  The Gomi boat seems to be a good compromise in this regard, with decent interior detail but without the fiddly construction and with metal parts for more (possibly) fragile areas like the masts.  

Both Gomi and AiM are excellent one-man companies to deal with; both proprietors are as nice as can be, so there is nothing there to help one make a choice.  Consequently, when looking at the two higher-end kits, I’m declaring this a tie.  As I build these two boats, they will be featured on the main page of the blog.

PBR Shootout, Part 1: Armaments in Miniature

NOTE: This review has been copied from the main page of the blog to here for purposes of completeness. 

Welcome to the first of some posts that will be naval themed, while moving up in time a little bit.  On the Vietnam page of the blog, I took a look at the 15mm Patrol Boat, River (PBR) models that are available.  On the main page here, I'm going to take a look at the best models available, and I'm starting off with the offering from Armaments in Miniature.

Just as a quick FYI, this post is going to be a little bit different from the others.  Instead of finishing the entire boat and then publishing the post, I'm going to publish it now and add to it as the construction goes on.

Armaments in Miniature (or, AiM) is probably best known for their 15mm aircraft from various eras.  However, while going through their website one day I found this model, and decided that I had to have one.  The boat appears to be made from the same white resin that their other models are made from.  There is the slightest hint of a mold line on the starboard side and rear of the hull, but it is easily shaved away with the back of a knife blade.  For any other company I would be raving about the cleanliness of the hull casting.  As a long time AiM customer though, I find myself simply nodding and going, "Yeah, about right for them."  That's probably unfair to AiM, but they set very high standards for themselves.

For step 1 of the assembly, I did nothing more than take the hull out of the bag, take a few knife swipes to remove the mold line, and then drill a hole in the tub so that I could magnetize it.  The magnets aren't really necessary, but I think they will make the boat travel a little more safely along with adding some 'gamer protection.'

Yes, the hull is that clean, right out of the package.
Step 2 is the gun tub, and it consists of three parts.  They are: 1) the gunner, guns and tub, 2) the searchlight, and 3) the gun shield.  I didn't take any pictures of the individual parts, but there is a nice touch here, in that the casting sprue for the searchlight faces down when it is assembled.  So, if you can't cut it completely flush it's not going to show.  This is also the location of the only air bubble I have seen, but I will let the pictures tell that story.

The casting may look rough, but remember the picture is much larger than life size.

So, there's the air bubble.  I appreciate the fact he appears to be wearing goggles or sunglasses.

Yep, he's gonna have a headache all right.
Step 3 is the coxswain's flat, or control center.  As I said before, there's no doubt this is a labor of love model for AiM.  Just look at the details on the control panel.

The right side bulkhead is a separate piece that I've already glued in.
From left to right, there are engine gauges, a compass (it's in the notch next to the gauges), engine throttles and that round thing next to the bulkhead is the radar screen.  I'm going to build and detail this separately, then glue the assembly into the boat.  The photo below, with all the pieces dryfitted together will show why I think that's necessary.

Obviously, a little cramped once it's all together.  But it's very nice!
Turns out there's only so much detail you can add in 1/100 scale.  I put some gloss over the gauges and the compass, but they are so small that it doesn't show up very well.  The bright green thing next to the throttles is the radar screen.  It should probably be black like the gauges, but I wanted a little flash of color in the cockpit.  It too has been gloss coated.

It turns out that this is just the right amount of detail though, because in those cramped quarters:

We're gonna put this guy:

I'm so impressed with the coxswain figure, that I want to show a couple of pictures of him before he's painted.

I had trouble getting my camera to focus on him, but you can still see that he's wearing a beret with badge, and sunglasses.  What you can't see is that he has an open top holster on his right hand side, and that the ribbons from the beret are hanging down the back of his head.  He clearly has on jungle fatigue pants, but you can't really tell what's under his flak jacket.  I originally thought about giving him the traditional chambray Navy shirt, but pictures from the period don't seem to support that.  Once painted up, some more detail pops out and I can see that my skills are declining as I get older.

What's interesting about the figure is something that isn't noticed while you're painting him.  When you put him in the cockpit, you'll see that along with having his hands on the wheel and throttles he is leaned back against the armor behind him.  In other words, he's ready to GO if things suddenly get bad.  That is a very nice touch.

Definitely ready for trouble.
Step 4 deals with the rear .50 cal, along with the rail and cleats.  This is the first place where I did things differently than the instructions suggest.  I wanted the rear  HMG to be able to rotate, just like the forward gun tub.  My first attempt used a metal rod through the bottom of the tripod, and a hole drilled in the deck where the mounting tab would go.  That first attempt looked like this:
The tab on the back is where the gunner will go.
I decided I didn't like that, so went with some small magnets.  How small?  Well, look at the pictures below:

The knife blade is a #11 X-Acto
So yeah, pretty tiny.  The problem with using magnets this tiny in a small spaces is that they almost always wind up going in at an angle.  That's what happened here on both the tripod and the hole in the deck.  No photos of that unfortunately, because I immediately went into problem solving mode.  Rest assured, some nasty words were said.  I finally wound up putting a patch over the magnet in the hull, and building up the bottom of the tripod.
The patch is made of .01 thickness plastic, and is 4 x 4 mm.

Not as clean as I would like, but it works.
It's a Frankenstein looking piece of work to be sure, but the gun does now sit level in the back of the boat.

The gun looks like it might sit a little high, but that's because the stern rail hasn't been glued in place yet.  Yes, the stern rail is a separate piece.  Also, once the gun and gunner are painted and the rail is in place, I will post some action photos.

7/27 update:

Well, my original plan to post photos after the rail and gunner were done didn't quite pan out.  There's some good news and bad news in that regard.  The good news is that I got a burst of work done and finished several steps.  The bad news is that burst came from me screwing up and having to fix it.  

When you look at the pictures below, you will see that there are cleats beneath the rail on the stern.  They're about 5mm long, and AiM provides 4 of them in the kit.  If you're thinking that's the perfect size to lose one without knowing it, you'd be right.  So the boat had to sit and wait for awhile while I found something to try and replace what I'd lost.  After a while, I found these:
Very nice people to deal with by the way.
At this point in my life, I'm smart enough to buy two packages of these cleats.  Why, you ask, when there are 8 of them per bag.  Well, although they're bigger than the kit cleats, they are still pretty small:
Each of those hash marks equals 1 millimeter.
Between dropping them and cutting them up for experiments, I KNEW 8 wouldn't be enough.  First, I tried cutting off the base and fitting them into the holes on the kit, but that didn't work.  Finally, I had to wind up doing some minor surgery on the boat itself
One of the scarier moments in my model building life.
Well, after a bit of worrying they did fit and I trimmed the ends of them so that they would be a bit closer in size to the kit ones.  With that done, I finished the aft gunner.  This is where I discovered my first mistake.

For some reason, my gunner is too short to reach the back of the gun!  If you look closely, you can see that the piece of .01 plastic sheet curves up to reach him.  Given how well-engineered the rest of the model is, I'm going to blame myself for this one.  Maybe the gun was supposed to be more elevated on the mount?  Fortunately though, when the gunner is in place this isn't particularly noticeable.

So the stern gunner can be rotated just like the forward gun tub.  Was it worth the trouble?  Well, I think so but your mileage may vary.  It does look good:

As you can see, the midships pulpit and weapons are in place also.  No real problems with anything there, so honestly not much to talk about.  The two weapons are very nicely detailed, but as I have a new camera none of the pictures I've taken show off that detail.

With all that done, I circled back to step 1 and finished up the forward gun tub.  Since my various methods of trying to patch the air hole didn't work, I bit the bullet and reskinned the helmet using green stuff.  I didn't completely fill the divot, but did manage to do a decent job of covering it up.

Since I didn't get the helmet shape quite right, I decided to paint it gray instead of green.  I've seen some pictures of that, so it's not completely unrealistic.  The rest of the tub (guns, uniform, etc) were painted as per the other figures.

So, that's where she stands right now.  The canopy still has to be assembled and installed, and the various masts and antennae installed before I'm done.  I think you will agree though, she's starting to look more like a warship (and a lot more crowded).

7/28 Update:

The object today was to get the canopy assembled and put into place.  Depending on which of the 3 (!) options you choose, this can range from 0 to 8 parts.  The options are:

A) No canopy or frame whatsoever.  Obviously, that's the 0 parts option.
B) Canopy frame but no cover.  That is the 8 part option.
C) Canopy with cover.  That's 7 parts, counting the searchlight and flagpole that go on top of the cover.

According to the instructions, if you choose the canopy with cover, you have the option of not gluing it to the boat so it can be (carefully) removed.  I decided to do this, but to be honest I don't think the canopy will ever be removed again.  I'll explain that later.

The first picture below is the sprue for the canopy, and the next one has the various parts for the frame circled.

Yes, one of the green parts was removed before I thought to take the photo.
If you want to build just the frame, you will need the green parts (those curve around the front of the superstructure), the red side frames and and the circled blue parts which are the top bows that would support the canvas canopy.  I bet this would look fantastic, but I find it hard to picture a boat crew going without some sort of shade for 12 hours.  Due to that, I decided to go with option C.  The fact that these options are available, however, do show the amount of thought that went into the design of this model.  Options A or B would be excellent for some sort of training or repair diorama.  You can get some idea of what that might look like in the picture below.

You do have to imagine the cross frames in place and the assembly painted green.
At first I thought I would have trouble getting the frames painted, but then came up with an idea for a jig that held them in place.  I decided to continue an experiment I've been doing on this boat by using a silver paint for the primer coat on the frames.  I did this on the stern rail and then installed it before I sealed it.  By doing this, some of the green rubbed off in handling and gave the appearance of a metal rail with paint rubbed away to show the natural finish.  In that same vein, I primered the canopy with a khaki, and painted over it in various shades of green.

OK, maybe "jig" is a little too highfalutin' a term....

The searchlight and flag staff will go on after the canopy is in place.
Unfortunately, once the canopy is in place the beautifully detailed cockpit and coxswain figure pretty much disappear.  Yes, I guess I knew that, but I didn't know it until the canopy was in place.  Nevertheless, I still think it's the most accurate way to go for a boat on patrol.  Fortunately, I left the canopy unglued to the boat as the mounting holes for the side brackets are sufficiently deep to hold it in place.  Given the way those front pieces glue to the side brackets though, I don't think it will come off very often if at all.  Once the radar, mast and antennae are in place, I think it might be even harder to take it on and off without breaking something.  I put the searchlight and flagstaff in place, but did make one minor modification.  As you can see from this photo:

the flagstaff comes with a flag molded to it.  I cut the flag off and used just the flagstaff.  I don't think my skills cover painting a decent looking US flag, and it only took about 25 minutes to whip up a double sided one in a graphics program.  I'll put that in place after the model is finished.

As of right now, the boat looks like this:

With the canopy in place, she really looks like a PBR now!  Just a few more parts, and assembly is finished.  My next update will include the finished boat (although it might not be completely weathered to my satisfaction), and my thoughts about the model.

8/4 update:

The boat has actually been finished for a few days, but I haven't had a chance to sit down and take the finishing photos.  Also, if you've been following along this far, the last couple of steps are really a bit anticlimactic.  For the next to last step, you simply install everything that goes on the front of the cabin.  They are, in order of assembly: 1) the ship's siren [it's labelled "light(?)" in the instructions, but is actually the siren], 2) the mast with navigation lights, 3) the two whip antennas and 4) the radar and mast.  All very simple, as you can see from the picture below:

I did make one change to the model at this point.  Instead of using the two resin whip antennae, I decided to cut two pieces of .025 music wire and use that.  In theory, this will hopefully protect the resin mast and radar from gamer's hands.  In retrospect, I should probably have replaced the radar mast with some of the same stuff.  If you should decide to do the same thing, I would suggest changing the assembly order up and putting the antennae in last.  

The colors for the formation lights are based on the instructions for the Tamiya 1/35 scale PBR model.  From looking at pictures of the real things, it appears that they could be in various orders, so my red/blue/green top to bottom is not necessarily the only way.  The red light on the top of the mast is supposed to be an infra-red distress beacon, so I painted it more of an orange-red color, but the difference is not that noticeable.  All of the mast lights and the two searchlights were hit with a coat of Vallejo gloss varnish.

The last step is to glue the six tires to the sides of the boat.  It's not necessary to use thread for this, as AiM has very helpfully cast lines around the cleats that can be painted, just like the line for the anchor.  When I had to replace the two amidships cleats though, that detail was lost to the knife.  So, I simply tied some of my tan string to the tires, glued them in place and then tied the thread around the cleats.

It's a small detail, but one that really catches the eye.
The front tires are handled a bit differently, since the forward cleats molded to the forward deck.  For those, I ran the lines down the sides of the cleat, glued them in place and then glued another piece of string over the top to give the appearance of being wound around the cleat.

A picture is better than an explanation in this case, I think.
With that, the boat is complete, as you saw in the side view picture.  I haven't put the flag on her yet, but that will only take a couple of minutes.  If my printer can't make a crisp enough one for me, then I will buy a decal from somewhere.  I haven't weathered the boat much, other than some scrapes on the gunnels where the metal would show through and a faded canvas top.  As to what sort of weathering could be done, below is a picture of some real PBRs:

So clearly some fading on the cabin front and darker patches on the hull would not be out of place.  My personal favorite is the self-painted(?) whitewall on the side for a touch of class.  That is definitely something to consider for the next model I build.

Final Thoughts:

Well, my first thought is that I probably should have built this one last, as I'm afraid everything else is going to suffer in comparison to it!  To call it a gaming piece is to sell it short; it is a true 1/100 scale model.  As I said earlier, I am a little worried about the all resin construction, as opposed to the traditional mixture of resin and metal.  The wire antennae that I installed should go a long ways towards protecting the taller resin parts though.  

In short, this is the Cadillac of 15mm PBR models on the market.  It's also the most expensive, at $20 a copy plus shipping as of August 2018.  Is it worth it?  I think so.  Buy this model, and there is no need to do any modifications or add any parts, unless you are building a VERY specific PBR.  The different options for the canopy give the possibility of building  3 different boats without them looking alike, which could be very useful for diorama builders or people who want variety on the game table.  If you're interested in Vietnam-era Brown Water Navy craft, then this is a must have for you.

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