Another project. Set further afield than my European miniatures collection into the current wars in the Middle East.The basis of my current collection is SASM’s range of Middle Eastern and North African figures. With a decent chunk of Empress’ Insurgent and Taliban range on order at the moment.
This blog perhaps isn’t the place to go into the history of the series of conflicts which proceeded the Arab Spring and led to the formation of the territory known as the Islamic State. Through the last few years of fighting the groups under this banner have expanded to control as large a swath of land in Iraq and Syria. Nowadays the combined efforts of multiple State and Non-State actors have beat back the group into a territory a fraction their size, but by no means are they beaten, nor has their wealth in money or arms been diminished to be a trivial threat.
ISIS set themselves apart through just how much territory they were able to seize, and with it the large amount of modern weaponry and equipment not normally associated with such groups. Whilst their propaganda betrays a lack of professionalism in its members, their enemies have gone to lengths to downplay the competency of the organisation in the tactics it uses. Militarising the use of SVBIEDs and bringing to bare tanks and armoured vehicles in their assaults (where they hadn’t been already turned into yet more VBIEDs…). Even now as the group returns to guerrilla warfare, they bring with them years of experience and will continue to be a blight on the region and potentially the world stage for years to come.
For source material on this subject I’d like to provide some links to a few sites which provide some analysis on the group’s tactics and weapons.
Hugo Kaaman’s site focuses on the employment of VBIEDs in the Middle East. And explains in depth just how prolific a weapon these have become and the focus which ISIS puts on them in their tactics. From factories within the major cities captured by the Islamic State VBIEDs were produced on an industrial scale.
Particularly his articles cover how VBIEDs became used in conventional warfare. As these vehicles became unarmoured clumps of metal which would hurtle towards entrenched positions prior to an advance. Along with how specific foreign vehicles like M113 APCs, seem to be used in this role by the group, potentially due to the high value which their former owners put on their destruction whilst in their original roles – which is something I may represent with my own miniatures collection.
Oryx Blog has covered the Syrian Civil War for years now. Besides the other content on their site I’d point to one post in particular covering “The Workshop”, one of the Islamic State’s key production and conversion concerns.
The products of this location and others were key to the production of the antiquates of armoured vehicles which ISIS used over the years. Namely however, each of these sites were making so many vehicles that there was a form of standardisation in the vehicles they used. “The Workshop” and other sites going so far as to give their vehicles serial numbers.
This blog is a good timeline for how the Islamic State modified their vehicles, showing the improvement and eventual degradation in quality as ground and experienced workers were lost. I’ll be having a go at implementing some of the armour packages used on T-72 tanks which came out of the Workshop later on in the project, and if I can source a good enough donor kit, perhaps have go at making one of their APCs based on jeeps with completely rebuilt bodywork which are a bit iconic of videos of later fighting.
I only found Calibre Obscura recently. The owner of the site both posts longer form articles on the main blog, and makes commentary on specific finds on his Twitter page. Focusing on the weaponry of the Islamic State and similar groups, his posts are a treasure trove for those looking to justify arming their fighters with all sorts of unusual weapons (and is how I discovered what the North Korean MANPAD on one of SASM’s models from later on in this post was).
He goes into depth on the specific usage and meaning of certain weapons. For instance in Iraq American made weapons are far more common, whilst in Syria they are more often reserved for higher ranking individuals. Whilst in representing these weapons in 28mm some of the smaller details are perhaps a bit redundant (i.e. The use of useless Chinese scopes as opposed to actual ACOGs, etc), it definitely gives a better feel what your models are actually armed with and why.
I have some plans for what I’ve found out from those posts, and whilst at the moment most of my collection is made from existing miniatures from actual stores, those posts are just fodder for so many conversion opportunities. I’m fascinated by the more professional gear which these Jihadist groups love to show off in their propaganda videos, and whilst it may never actually be used in the field, I wouldn’t mind having some Taliban Red Group in Ghillie suits, or Eastern-European fighters armed with locally modified bullpup Aks and modernised Mosin Nagants.
Lastly, whilst the wars in the Middle East aren’t the site’s main concern, the blog WWII After WWII is also a great resource. They had a multiple post series going covering the weapons of Afghanistan and Syria in the 20th and 21st centuries which provides good justification for rolling out some old war horses.
If you’re into 28mm wargaming the presence which World War II has is unavoidable. You may not be able to buy modern artillery in this scale, but you can find yourself some old German or Russian stuff which is still being used to this day (ah, potentially bolted onto the back of a pickup truck). Similarly, if you can do a bit of sculpting and hack of a bit of anachronistic webbing, stick a head scarf on a figure armed with a Kar 98K and you have yourself a modern day militiamen.
Those sites have been my main inspiration material and factual resources when going into this project. I’d also forward you to the r/shittytechnicals sub on Reddit if you’re into all kinds of improvised vehicles (like the aforementioned artillery pieces on the back of trucks), which has given me all kinds of ideas. Whilst I don’t intend to go for 100% accuracy with these models, having sites like that definitely helps with going for the right “feel” to the collection. And with that whole long preamble, let’s get into the toy soldiers…
The main body of the fighters for the Islamic state are currently being sourced from Special Artizan Service Miniatures. These are a mix of the two sets of Jihadists which they do, representing Boko Haram and ISIS.
Going into the individual sets, its their weaponry and clothing which I find appealing. The ISIS figures come in typical modern Middle Eastern dress (sans T-shirts), wearing a mix of modern and Cold War era webbing (with a lack of ballistic vests in most cases), and namely with near every model being armed with a comparatively modern rifle or sub-machine gun (with obligatory red dots and other attachments). These are then contrasted with the more traditional looking Jihadists that feature in the Boko Haram set, who are mostly armed with ancient AKMs and poor looking clothing.
Out of the sets obviously the ISIS figures fit the look I’m going for with these militants the best, and required no modification. The Boko Haram models do have touches or more Africa specific dress, but are perfectly acceptable (and its hardly like foreign fighters don’t make a good chunk of the ISIS’ membership). I have a set of Tora Bora American Special Forces from SASM as well, who are due a few head swaps though to remove some distinctively Afghan bits and bobs.
When it came to painting these I first attempted a more realistic mix of regular civilian coloured clothing. However, they just didn’t have the right feel to them, and instead I went over a deal of their outfits. Now the majority have black clothing to give them a bit more uniformity in how they present themselves, which is a bit more imposing than a mess of shades and colours, and a bit more characterful for their use in wargaming. Still, there are a few bits of camo and plain clothes here and there to break them up a bit (they aren’t that professional).
All the black’s then contrasted with their European and Desert climate webbing, and the tan components of some of their weapons (to draw attention to these specific military elements, which sets them apart from the usual “dude with a 60 year old AKM” look commonly associated with this type of fighter). I went for a majority light skin tone as I tend to find with most of the fighters pictured in Syria, though I aught to add in some variation with the set set to break up all that pastiness.
Besides the SASM models I also began converting some of Empress’ non-Jihadist figures into something a bit more suitable. These are a mixture of their British and American figures. All of them have had their heads swapped out for a more fitting one from Perry Miniatures Mahdist set, and to break up their overly professional gear a bit I sculpted on some civilian robes to a few.
The leader of this group’s another Empress Brit. I gave him a modern AK from Warlord Game’s Project Z Spec Ops set, and a sword made by Black Cat Bases. With a bit of clay he’s transformed from the original figure, and fits the part quite well I think.
The plan’s to add to these with Empress’ Insurgent and Taliban ranges (replacing the heads on the Taliban figures with more generic ones). I’d also like a few guys done up in the style of the gear shown off in propaganda videos, or more professional units, with a higher proliferation of military clothing and modern firearms, and that’s something which I’ve begun with the Empress conversions.
That’s the state of the infantry forces currently, now onto their support.
Fire Support Technical
If one vehicle is iconic of wars in the later 20th and early 21st centuries its the Toyota pickup truck. Ah, I like in the UK however, so when it comes to finding diecast vehicles the Land Rover is King. So I had a go at applying a conversion now more commonly seen in the Middle East to this old clunker (a reasonable modification of course, as we see all sorts of vehicles appearing in these conflicts – partly due to fixers for these groups importing whatever second hand pickup trucks they can find).
This one’s an old Mk III Land Rover which you’ve probably seen appear a few times now with my modern Ukrainian forces. I went for a different flare this time though, instead giving it a more hastily improvised look to its armour and the inclusion of a now standardise mod of a BMP-1 turret fixed onto an armoured cab. Typically vehicles of this sort would have received a fresh paint job though I’ve seen ones which are a bit more rough and ready than those though (presumably down to the degradation of the workshops producing them).
The model itself was simple to make. Take the Corgi diecast, replace the Wheels and Bumper with Spectre Miniatures parts for better detail, slap two bits of plasticard (one with an add on for the window) onto the front for the armour, and a box at the back with a hole cut out of it for the turret. The turret’s also by Spectre – taken from that modernised BMP-1 for my Russian forces – , and whilst the proportions are a bit off, it works fine for this purpose. I added a few weld seems to the armoured cab and a ladder at the back for access (though didn’t add the commonly seen rear door as the hatch at the back of the diecast isn’t a separate piece like on the other ones I have, and too much of a pain to remove). A not too time intensive conversion.
As for its paint job. I had considered going for some subdued blue or red to betray the vehicle’s civilian origins, but instead I went for a tan colouring. This perhaps indicating that the vehicle had been already in use by the Jihadists or another group, then converted into its current role at a later date. It also allowed me to go ahead and make the improvised elements super rusty (and I forgot to mention, the rust texture coming from stippling on some Games Workshop Liquid Greenstuff before painting). This meant that I didn’t have to repaint the spare BMP-1 turret that I already had, and could go overboard on the weathering effects. All this was then followed by adding some slogans to the turret, and painting the group’s insignia on the sides, followed by then splurging a liberal amount of dirt and grime over the vehicle to show its been through quite a bit of service (reading up on the usage of ISIS’ technicals, some of these are transported miles from the workshops they originate from to the guys in the field).
I have to admit that I prefer technicals over conventional military vehicles. Ok, regular military vehicles which then have improvised elements come a close second too, but the conversion opportunities available with this sort of vehicle are just too difficult to pass up. This one was made with the materials which I had available at the time. In future, if I can source the right diecasts (or buy SASM or Spectre’s pickup trucks) I’d like to make some wackier mods, up to and including sticking a ZIS-3 on the back of one (what do you meant that’ll wreck the suspension? Bah!).
I think that I’ve gone on enough about the nature of “Suicide Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices” already in this post, and you can find links to sites which go into more depth further up. With my own miniatures I’m choosing to represent those sorts of vehicle which are more commonly seen out in the open desert. With tan paint jobs and heavier armour to increase their survivability where those in urban environments can better rely on buildings to obscure their approach.
The pair of SBVIEDs which I currently have are both made from WWII trucks. The larger uses a 1/48th scale Opel Blitz from Tamiya as a base, and the smaller of the two (with the exposed rusted metal armour) being made from a 1/56th scale GMC CCKW-353 by Rubicon models. Frankly you could make these with just a set of wheels and a tonne of plasticard, I just had a pair of kits which weren’t being used and this allows them to be placed on their sides (with a tonne of smoke of course) should they explode or be knocked out.
The boxy look of this sort of vehicle makes them easy to replicate. Just start slapping on plasticard sheets for the basic shape, then add a minimal level of detail. These aren’t supposed to be for comfort, or long term use, so you can avoid adding all the little bits and bobs you’d see on other improvised vehicles (headlights? Oh you spoil us…). I did add some bar armour to the back of one of these, though that was more to break up all the flat panels more than anything (and if I was wanting to be realistic it should have been added to the front. That one however was made before this project and I hadn’t done much research).
Both of them have far too much weathering to be realistic. I guess chalk that up to them being inside some workshop(s) which had been hit a few times by airstrikes. Clean vehicles just aren’t a thing which I’m into, so after I’d done the basic paint job and ink effects, I just had to go ahead and dirty them up a fair deal. Oh well, they look the part.
Whilst likely not the focus of your average scenario for practicality’s sake (“Boom” – yeah, everyone on the board’s dead. Fun game!”), they’re easy enough to make and iconic enough that I had to have at least one of them. Meanwhile I do have a BMP-1 on order from Spectre Miniatures which I intend to turn into another variant of these, more for the visual flair and being able to say I have one more than anything (and so far I’ve liked showing off what can be done with their kits with a bit of work – re: that Ukrainian Humvee of mine).
leFH 18/40 10.5cm howitzer
This one’s entirely inspired by a post on the WWII After WWII blog. A World War II era Howitzer which has passed through however many hands till it arrived with its current owners. Who’s to say who and when that paint job was applied …its worn enough that it could’ve looked that way since the 60s. 😛
With the ease of accessing WWII models, sticking in something like this is kind of obligatory and goes to show the dysfunctional nature of all the kit being used in modern conflicts outside of Western Armies (hell, WWII US Howitzers are still being used by NATO forces with a bit of modernisation…). This grizzled old thing has plenty still going for it …that is, if you can find the ammo (though craft ammunition is apparently being made in the workshops of the Middle East to this day for all sorts of obscure calibres).
The model’s a holdover from my Alternative History WWII German force. I never did paint it for them, and when this thing cropped up in that blog I couldn’t not include it with these forces. Its a kit by Warlord Games in 1/56th scale. Not the easiest to assemble, but a treat once that hurdle’s overcome. I removed the gun shield to be closer to the similar looking real howitzer (which isn’t the same model, but at least within the same era, and reasonably archaic) and then painted the model as is. I wasn’t in the mood for removing the extra gear like the ramrod as its conceivable that the crew may have found another one – even if that blog does mention that its doubtful that these are in too serviceable a state these days.
As for the paintjob, its an emulation of what’s been done on the real one. With the extra tools and smaller wheels I couldn’t perfectly achieve it, but its close enough for my needs. Perhaps not as grimy as the real one either.
My intention is to sculpt some crew figures to go along with this. There just aren’t that many miniatures of modern artillery crews out there, due to modern games being more the affair of smaller scale battles where artillery is more an off table asset (though I intend to use this piece more as an objective or bit of terrain than something actually participating in the game. Though you never know, trust the owners to use it as a direct fire weapon).
So far that’s a week’s worth of painting and building now put to the side and on display for you folks. To be honest its probably already enough to play most games with, but as with all my projects, that’s just not good enough for me…
Currently my list of plans cover adding more fighters to the range, mostly from Empress, and to finish off the remaining SASM figures I have left. Besides them I have ideas for a whole load of vehicles.
So far the vehicles which I have on order are set to make: 2 Bikes with DHsK Machine Guns mounted on their rears, a T-72 with Improvised armour, a SVBIED based on a BMP-1, an up-armed BMP-1 with Improvised armour, an M113 with a classy all black paint job and ISIS insignia, technicals mounting larger artillery like the Soviet Zis-3, and potentially a BRDM-2 outfitted with a Humvee’s turret.
If things go well with this I’m also partly considering doing a second force in this setting. Whilst realistically they may not see much use (as my usual opponent prefers to use his models), that pile of models which have never seen a gaming board is tantamount to that never stopping me… The options I’m considering so far are either a Kurdish force, Private Military Contractors, or potentially some Russians. (…Or I could get real silly and do some Israelis)
So far the Russians may not be the best option, as that would require duplicating models which I already have, but in desert camo. The Kurds would be simple to do, just more improvised armoured vehicles and old gear, though with their fighters having more of a paramilitary look to them. The PMCs would be a small force, but an opportunity for some silliness, with a mix of weird and exotic weaponry and various vehicles not really used much by the State forces in the region (obviously going for more of a fictionalised PMC force than any specific real one).
We’ll have to see how things pan out. So far what I have is fairly respectable, and if there’s enough interest it may expand into something more significant. Expect to see more posts covering this and my other current modern project set in Ukraine throughout the month (I have a backlog of WIPs to finish off for that).
Till then, thanks for reading folks. 🙂