Project Number Seventeen
Spanish BT-5 tank Diorama (1937)
Completed in June 2011
So I used up the last of my packing tape the other day, leaving me with the empty cardboard circle out of the middle. Instead of throwing it away, let's do something crafty with it, eh?
First some backstory. In the mid 1930s Spain fell into a bloody Civil War between the Republicans and the Nationalists. The major European powers saw this as an opportunity to both gain political influence and to test out new weapons for the coming WWII. Nazi Germany threw their lot in with the Nationalists and the Soviet Union jumped in with the Republicans, which turned out to be the losing side. The Russians gave the Republicans many shiploads of guns and material, including over 300 tanks. There are many recorded acts of bravery during the Spanish Civil War, including ordinary Spanish citizens rising up to fight off armored columns. It's a snapshot of that moment in time that I want to attempt to model here in this diorama. What this is hopefully going to be is two figures wrestling on top of a tank. I'm only going to model the turret because I want to use it as a "platform" for the figures.
The scale will be 1/18th, which will make a 6 foot man be a 4 inch figure. This is a fairly common "action figure" scale that you see in the toy aisle of every store. All those cool Star Wars figures you played with as a kid? 1/18th scale. This dovetails nicely with my cardboard circle, which is a hair over 3 inches across.
Ok, first the tank. What I'm going to go with is a BT-5, a lightly-armored high-speed "cavalry tank". These 12-ton light tanks were used throughout the 1930s and into WWII and a total of 50 of them were sent to Spain to fight with the Republicans in 1937. Numerous examples were captured by the Nationalists and put into service against their former owners, this is what I'm going for here. Plans for this type are readily available online (the Rooskies are obsessed with tanks). Here is the vehicle in question...
I picked this type of tank because of the flat-ish, slab-sided surfaces of the turret, which will be easier to model than the more rounded tanks of the war like the FT-17 or Panzer MkI. I also like how the turret is essentially a round cylinder with a flat top, which I think will make an excellent base for the figures. In real life the turret is pretty small, around 5 feet across and around 3 feet tall. So my cardboard circle will work out just fine, I just need to cut it down to size a bit to make it the right height.
The basic plating is cardstock paper, affixed with Elmer's glue. I'll add more details to it later, rivets and bolts (somehow). There's a large bin on back for ammunition storage and a wireless set, with a hatch on the back. The gun mantle I made with Sculpey clay as it's an odd shape, with holes drilled through for the guns. On the turret sides are some metal strips and side vision ports. On the top are a mushroom vent and a periscope and some lifting hooks and such. There's a wide, two-part rectangular hatch on the top as well, which I'll model open. The hatch hinges are thick paper, as are the latches. I've not taken a lot of in-progress photos this time, as I just wasn't in the mood. Here are the few I did bother to take...
The main gun is a 45mm Model 1932 cannon, which I'll model by layers of clay over a bamboo spear. I trimmed about an inch off the muzzle to keep the overall length down, probably should have modeled the whole cannon angled up more. The co-ax machinegun is a 7/62mm DT, which is a trimmed down toothpick. The mantle also has a couple of vision ports and a lifting hook.
These old tanks had pronounced bolts and rivets, in an era before widespread welding, and I want to try to show them. Digging around in the hall closet I found a sheet of iron-on rhinestones that were the right size and shape. A spot of glue on each of 41 used and I think once painted it will look pretty good.
Some internal details might be visible through hatch, though I plan on having a dude half in so a lot of this won't matter. I'm hoping that between dark paint and shadows, I won't need to do anything inside the turret. Speaking of paint, it's time to paint the turret now. This tank will be from the Nationalist's "Condor Legion", made up of what were essential mercenaries from the Germany. Paint schemes seem to have varied from tank to tank, but in general they were Medium Gray. Since this is a captured example, to keep from being misidentified on the battlefield, the Nationalist flag was painted on the rear bin and gun mantle. The hot and rainy spring weather in Spain also means there's a lot of dirt and dust and mud to show. I used acrylic paints, with some heavy weathering dry-brushed on for effect.
Figures now. At this scale, and with the BT-5's turret being relatively small in real life, I'm only going to have room for two figures here. First up is a tank crewman, which at 1/18th scale will be four inches tall. We'll call this guy Heinz, and we'll say he's 27, sandy brown hair, slim build, and blue eyes. The Condor Legion was a German Army unit essentially, so they acted and dressed like regular Wehrmacht soldiers, and presumably Heinz would be an experienced tanker. I'll make him the usual way, Sculpey clay over a heavy wire skeleton. Clothes will be a standard dark brown German hooded rain coat, with binoculars around his neck and black leather gloves. I only modeled the top half as the bottom will be hidden inside the tank (I hope). While not at all perfect, I'm getting better with figures and Heinz is by far my most realistic figure yet (not saying much...).
Heinz is cruising along in his tank, looking off to the right at some smoke on the horizon, when some infantrymen nearby start pointing wildly and yelling for him to turn around. Heinz twists around to his left, just in time to see an old peasant woman standing on his tank's turret, swinging a fence pole at his head. This is Consuela, a 83-year old grandmother, who has had just about enough of these foreign devils driving their tanks through her fields and tearing up her crops. While not really either pro-Republican or pro-Nationalist (she's pro-eating and pro-surviving at this point in the Civil War), she's decided that enough is enough and is taking action into her own hands. I've not tried to model a female before (other than an exceptionally shitty mermaid) so I'm hoping I can get all the curves right. I debated putting her in some flowing peasant dress, but that doesn't jive with "simple farm lady" so I went with overalls and an open-neck white shirt, with black hair tied back and bulky boots. Her skin is deeply sunburned and there's dried mud on her knees and rump, she's had a hard life. She's also kinda ugly, sorry, but I'm still figuring out how to do skin tones and bone structure and all that (getting better, though!). And while she has the gray hair of an 83-year old, she has the bountiful bosom of a 28-year old, though in my defense, my reference model happens to be a buxom 28-year old :).
After some cussing and doing some touch-up work here and there, this diorama is done. Only real problems I can see is that Heinz is looking up too much and maybe the yellow and red Spanish colors are too yellow and red and Consuela is pretty big-boned and looks bug-eyed, but not too bad otherwise. Total time to complete was maybe 8 hours spaced out over 3 days. As I used only left-over supplies from previous projects, the total cost for this one was zero dollars and zero cents (the way I like 'em!).
Here are the final pictures...
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