The Western Front, after the costly battles of 1916, found the German Army on the back foot. Therefore, the new men at the top - Gen's Hindenburg and Ludendorff opted for a defensive strategy.
This involved demolishing the existing front lines from Arras to Soissons and moving back to their prelaid Siegfried line. This new position was dubbed the Hindenburg line by the allies who mistakingly believed it to be one solid deep fortification, when it was in fact a network of complex fortifications employing the new 'defense in depth' tactic.
Operation Alberich was to be the most successful initiative made by the Imperial German Army since 1914. It saved some 40 miles of front and freed up 13 divisions to be used in a decisive blow
against the Russians.
Running parallel with Gen. Nivelle's offencive on the Aisne front, the British High Command ordered an attack, east of the city of Arras. Intended as a diversion against the German 6th Army with a possible link-up with French forces. This time limited objectives or 'bite and hold' tactics were to be used. Battle commenced on Easter Monday, the 9th of April and ended on the 17th May. This 18 mile front ran from Vimy Ridge in the north to Fampoux in the centre right on down to Bullecourt in the south.
The first was a huge succsses for the Canadian Corps, the second a good advance by
Gen. Allenby's 3rd Army and the last a disaster for the men of the 4th Australian division.
The wet ground, snow blizzards and the recently demolished/booby trapped positions of the enemy made the going hard on men and machines. All the tanks allotted to the Canadians were lost in the mire and 11 were made redundant around Bullecourt. Some tanks did get into the Sigfried Line but had to withdraw in the face of the inevitable German counter attacks.
It appears that two MkII's were captured, the simple boiler plate proving to be no match for their 'K' or anti-tank bullet. This false sense of security was to be dampend later in the year by the appearence of the Mk.IV. No small wonder then after this armoured debacle that the anti-tank voices in the allied camps were raised. To quote one British army commander:
Photo's of most Arras tanks show them in a smeared/batterd state, and allthough I always strive to place a model in it's natural environment, I had my work cut out here to not make everything look like a mud pie. Brightening the ground with snow was only part of it, adding a plundering enemy and a few nuances gives it a story and hence depth. German infantry were taught to aim at all tank vision slits, and if you screw your eyeballs up you may notice the rather obliging British fake ones painted on the upper sides.
On the starboard side, two 'front -hogs' (one wrapped in an early war tent section) are 'borrowing' the Lewis guns. Not that the German Army did'nt have such devices, the MG08/15 was a hard hitter but weighing in at 40 lbs it was probably more usefull at ripping up tarmac. The lewis guns were a prised possesion and a bounty was paid for their acquisition. Less interested in this is the landser with the broken boot, luckily he has found an English replacement ... and going by his grin it's the right size and side. He's hung on to his old M1914 tunic but his putties and civilian trousers are against regulations. At this time of the war the German army was down but by no means out. The old Hauptmann is probably a recently promoted warrant officer, another sign of the losses of '16. First ... here's the bits that I have kept from you 😉
The new tactics on both sides were still in their infancy.
The German flexible defence was not so effective as the artillery and reserves were held too far back too be of any immediate use, a mistake that was to cause Gen. Falkenhausen his command.
The allied advance lacked proper comunication and cooperation. The tanks were used in a scatterd 'penny-packet' way on ground that would not be suitable to modern tanks. For many the 'infantry only' victory at Vimy Ridge coupled with the 'failiure' of the tanks was proof positive that the Landship concept was over.
Maybe the Tank Corps was due to end before it was born. Maybe, if it were not for the price of the new tactics of Arras-Bullecourt battle. The 'butcher's bill': B.E.F. - 158,660. Imperial German Army between 130,000 and 160,000. The ground taken: 27 sq miles of shattered earth.
Quite a bargin by Western Front standards.
I think this 'old girl' is due for a facelift !
Enter the Mk.II ...
The Metropolitan Carriage of Birmingham began production towards the end of 1916 for the expanding Heavy Branch - Machine Gun Corps. Some 25 Females were built.
Parallel to this, Fosters of Lincon produced 25 of the Male versions with their 6-pdr guns.
Being earmarked for training purposes only, they were not fitted with armoured plate and although this is sometimes disputed, it seems logical to me.
At first glance all of these 'rhomboids' look the same but upon closer inspection there are marked differences. As the Takom kit has been filled out with parts for a Mk.IV Tank the conversion itself is not too difficult as these parts can be back-dated. Still a lot of research hours had to be put in for the finer details.
I'll start with the commanders/drivers compartment or 'dog house' as it was known.
One good thing is that "Takom's Folly" - the too narrow Mk.I cab, can be used here. The Mk.II was expected to use broader tracks - which never materialized, hence the smaller cab.
I started by replacing the Mk.I visors with the Mk.IV versions and grafting on the lower angle lip.
After opening up a rear loophole and countersinking the periscope recesses I began the 'rivet counting'. The Hotchkiss m.g. was fitted last.
The side panels also required some work, most notably the track tension recesses on the front horns. They differ from a Mk I in that the apertures are longer and are slightly squared off.
Here the OOB Mk I panels.
Before I assembled the sides, I fixed the Mk IV apertures to the inside walls and frazed out the difference accordingly.
With the help of plastic strip and kit I formed the outside lip.
On the rear horn the detail for the deleted Mk I steering assembly has been removed/filled in.
Right then, let's see if you've been eating your carrots 😉
The left picture has a mistake which I've corrected on the right. Spot the difference ?
A lot of controversy still surrounds the Mk.II and apart from it's type of steel it's theatre of operations has also been questioned.
It has been assumed, that these tanks saw action in the Middle-East, indeed they were ear-marked to be sent and would have been if a batch of Mk.I's didn't turn up at the docks first.
No Mk.II's were sent to Palestine but some Mk.IV's were sent for Third Gaza (Nov 17).
They were however dispached to France in a hurry (5 were held back for transmission trials) just in time for another 'war winning' offensive. This time the 'show' was some 20 plus km's of front just South of the city of Lens. Although 15 older Mk I's were involved in the attack it was
the Mk.II that became known as The Arras Tank.
Here's a few more details.
For the new roof I cut the exhaust stacks off the Mk I and transferred them to the lower (Mk IV) version. Filling in the latters rear exhaust mounts. The new hatch (reminiscent of a cheese dish) was made up of two parts found in the kit, scratch and the use of my trusty RP Toolz rivet punch set. It was considered to fit additional armour to the top of these tanks (burster plates), nothing came of it so the holes were filled in with bolts or in my case - the P.E. versions.
I'll finish this step with the rear wall which now sports a piece of plate just above the old hydraulik station and some updating on the door.
The well detailed Takom tracks are a quick clip-together affair. This nerve saving idea is negated because the outside faces have small pin holes in the centre which requires (where visable) filling and sanding.
They are also fitted with plate extensions, spreading the weight in lieu of the wider tracks. Although often seen on tanks at Arras they could be fitted to any 'rhomboid'.
Some more plate ... count the rivets! 😉
Another thing that makes the Mk.II Female special is the story about her sponsons.
Yes, well ...
As unarmored training tanks they were retro fitted with Mk.I armored sponsons, giving them some degree of protection. The Lewis MG was deemed far better for tank use then the Vickers or Hotchkiss, and all Tanks at Arras were fitted thus. The Vickers apertures required some adaption, a process called sleeving. I have tried my utmost to recreate this after studying some original photo's. I've also 'beefed-up' Takom's Lewis guns slightly.
Other parts have received a 'tonic' including the unbelievably small 'cat-flap' sponson doors.
"Watch out for the bits!"
Just for the record - as this part can hardly be seen ...
According to Takom's plans for their Mk I, the return rollers should be their B type or lightweight version. It has been stated elsewhere that this is a mistake and that all tanks were fitted with the heavy version (Takom's A type).
However, I myself could find no evidence of these heavy rollers from Mk I or Mk II factory/wreck pictures. Although there are plenty of examples on Mk IV's.
Although this picture is not meant to be proof positive for lightweight return rollers on Mk II's,
it made me ponder as to how it got there ... if it was an ex roadwheel, why throw the thing on top instead of tossing it inside?
Ah well, whatever ...
Here's the 'weaker sex' in the buff :
... and as a passionate Diorama builder I'd say, that's the easy bit over with 😉
Do you remember that poor mad bugger in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" ?
Well ... now it's my turn!
The model has been base coated this time with a black enamel. Normally I use acrylic but I'm on a timetable here and the latter with me cops for a drying time of five days.
Hairspray coat (acts as a barrier/destabilizer), factory grey acrylic (light grey on sponsons).
Two hours drying time.
Brown acrylic with cloud highlight. Cam on sponsons (remember early MkI versions).
Two hours drying time.
A misting with water prior to scratching (to destabilze the layers). I've made a bit of a hash of the front starboard. I forgot to clean the area up after pushing it into the wet groundwork and concequently had to rub harder than normal to eraise the gunk. I'm not too bothered as it can easily be repaired. Still it's a good example of what can go wrong.
The rear section looks better. Scratched and rubbed with a course brush.
Same for the sponsons. There are some specs of raw plastic but these can be pin painted later. The main thing is to let the water layer half dry out or until the 'orange peel' reaction on the surface is gone and just go lightly. Whatever happens, don't panic or grow impatient (rub harder) because (trust me) ... salt water tears won't help.
I'll leave all this to dry out (stabilize) and give it an acryl varnish in a couple of days before washing etc.
Clanking it's way on the Gun Bucket tonight, we have a washed MkII and sponson.
I'll admit, it looks scruffy and the tracks are too orange but that's not bothering me at this stage. What matters at the moment is that it has depth (black and grey undertones) and a workable tone that can speak for itself on a Diorama.
I've painted some small black lines on the side ... any idea's why?
I usually make more bits than I need. I don't want to be caught out when I'm working things into the wet groundwork on D-Day, or Down Day as I call it.
I'd thought I'd let the 'little fellas' present themselves up to priming, no point in dragging things out ...
For comparison read my Mk I Male building report: