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Retreat in Normandy
Survivors of the Falaise pocket heading for the Seine River, 24 August 1944

by Gert du Preez

Retreat in Normandy


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The Allied D-Day landings on the Normandy coast in June 1944 and the subsequent two and a half month-campaign have always fascinated me from both a historical and a modeling viewpoint. From the latter perspective, the Normandy campaign provides a considerable variety of subjects in terms of armour, weaponry and uniforms used – any diorama builder’s dream! It is perhaps for this reason that Normandy dioramas have been dominating my display cabinet thus far…


With the diorama described in this article I tried to reflect the atmosphere of the German retreat of late August 1944, depicting survivors of the Falaise pocket heading for Rouen, where the largest part of what was left of the retreating German 7th Army crossed the Seine River into central France. Reference material on the retreat show that while it was conducted very orderly, Army, Waffen SS and Luftwaffe units all got mixed up in the dash for the Seine. From there the army StuG IV, dismounted army motorcyclist and army infantry on bicycles and the two Waffen SS and Falschirmjäger next to the road. The French farmer, walking in the opposite direction to the Germans, was added to give civilian life to the scene and to reinforce the effect of movement.





The Building and Base



As commercially available ceramic/plaster buildings are on the expensive side and because examples of intact buildings are rather scarce, I decided to try my hand at making my own buildings, starting with the garage used in this diorama. While I must admit that the enterprise made me realize why these items are so expensive, the finished product certainly provides a lot more satisfaction when you know that it is your own handiwork…


I based the design of the garage on an item seen in an old catalogue of the French manufacturer JMP and slightly modified it to suit my requirements. Masters for the two front-facing walls, the center dividing wall and the left wall were made from 10mm polystyrene sheets, with the holes for the windows and doors cut out. Balsa wood strips simulating wooden beams were then inserted and glued into the polystyrene sheets above the windows and doors, while the entrance door to the cellar is a plaster casting from a Verlinden item also inserted and glued into the polystyrene sheet. To create the rough texture of the walls, I glued sandpaper cut to the desired sizes onto the polystyrene walls, using strips of a thicker grain paper on the lower part of each wall. Once the masters were finished, moulds of the four walls were made from liquid rubber, a very useful (and cheap) product for the casting of flat, two-dimensional objects, although its elasticity once dry can cause a warped casting if not properly supported during the casting process. After 15-20 coats of liquid rubber each the dried moulds were removed from the masters (the liquid rubber does not stick to any surface, not even the course sandpaper) and plaster mixed with white glue poured in. Once dry, the rubber moulds were carefully peeled off the castings, which were left to dry properly outside the moulds. One more casting of the center dividing wall was then made and cut to size to represent the right outer wall of the building. The joining ends of the five walls were then sanded down to ensure a proper fit, glued together with super glue and the gaps (of which there were many…!) filled with Pollyfilla. Filled-up areas were then stabbed with a rounded nylon brush to ensure continuity in the rough texture of the walls. At this stage all the window and door openings also received a coat of Polyfilla which was subsequently sanded smooth, as did any other areas on the walls which required a touch-up following the casting process.


Note:    A much better way to make moulds is of course to use proper silicast, something I

started doing following this project. While it is a much more expensive method,

especially for a once-off project, having perfect moulds saves you a lot of filling

and sanding on your eventual castings.   


With the basic structure of the garage in place, the window frames (from 2mm x 2mm balsa strips), windows (from .75mm x .75mm plastic strips), shutters and front door (from plastic strip) were constructed and the garage door cut from a 1/50 scale plastic roof section. While the garage door was glued in place before painting, the window frames, windows, shutters and front door were painted separately and glued after the building itself was painted. The roof tiles are plaster castings made from a plastic roof tile section, which were glued onto a solid plastic sheet resting on balsa beam sections glued to the tops of the five walls. Gutters were made from a plastic straw cut in half and the drainpipes from plastic tubing, with strips of thin aluminium tape representing the joints. The telegraph line mount on the wall was made from Evergreen plastic I-beams and the pipe through which the line enters the building is part of a Sd.Kfz 223 frame antenna.


Before fixing the garage to the base (a piece of hardboard cut to 39,5cm x 39,5cm), Verlinden cobble stone road and sidewalk sections cast in plaster were glued in place and a shallow drainage canal in the middle of the road was made from modelling clay imprinted with a liquid rubber cobblestone mould prior to curing. Once these in place, the garage was glued to the base on a 10mm polystyrene sheet (to get it on sidewalk-level) and the areas of open ground covered with Polyfilla, over which was sifted small stones (from plaster) and fine sand while still wet. Once dry, static grass was added where appropriate, including here and there on the road and sidewalk. Dried used tea leaves were glued in place to simulate the ivy creeping up the right wall and over the wooden fence section, which was taken from an old Tamiya Road Signs kit.  





Painting was done from the highest point to the lowest, ie first the roof (Tamiya Red Brown), then the building (acrylic mixture of whites, greys and yellows), the sidewalk and road (Tamiya XF63 mixed with white and flat earth) and then the gravel/grass sections (Humbrol Dark Earth). Once dry, a series of black/raw umber oil paint washes were applied to the whole scene, followed by further individual washes to the different components of the scene (black and burnt sienna on the roof, more black/raw umber on the building, raw umber on the sidewalks and road and black on the gravel). This was followed by drybrushing (with oils) of the various components with progressively lighter shades of the respective base colours. Subtle rust stains on the garage door and on the garage walls were added with thin Burnt Sienna oil washes. Once satisfied with the overall finishing, the ivy and grass were drybrushed with Olive Green and Cadmium Yellow oils, with the ivy receiving a final brushing of Deep Green. Lastly, red brown, orange and white pastel dust was “drybrushed” onto the roof and a coat or two of Mig Productions’ European Dust pigments were added to the street, sidewalk and gravel sections. Finally, Verlinden commercial signs and posters were glued on where appropriate and the “Rouen” and arrow handpainted on the garage.


As I had no intention of doing the interior of the building for this diorama (which I might do one day for a “follow-up” diorama to depict the same scene a few days after the Germans passed through it, this time with the garage destroyed and a Sherman winding its way through the rubble on the street…), I closed off the back of the garage with plasticard and airbrushed it matt black.       





The StuG IV




For the StuG IV, I used Tamiya’s old 1971 kit and combined it with Aber’s three excellent photo-etched brass detail sets specifically designed for that kit (basic set, sideskirt brackets and sideskirts) as well as the equally superb Friulmodel tracks (for which I had to replace the Tamiya sprocket wheels with those from the Italeri StuG IV kit). Zimmerit was applied with a fine soldering iron prior to construction.


After construction and without sideskirts and tracks, the model was primed with Tamiya’s fine (white) primer and airbrushed with lightened Tamiya Dark Yellow acrylics. Then followed Olive Green camouflage stripes (again Tamiya acrylics) to produce a scheme representative of a vehicle of StuG Brigade 394, one of the three independent StuG brigades deployed during the Normandy campaign (the other two being StuG Brigade 12 (Fallschirmjäger) and StuG Brigade 341), according to the publication Les Panzer en Normandie (see list of sources below). This particular scheme is based on a colour plate appearing on page 65 of this publication, in which it is mentioned that some of StuG Brigade 394’s StuGs – which included StuG IVs – managed to escape the Falaise pocket.





As few markings appeared on the colour plate used as reference, I only handpainted German national crosses on the rear plate and sides of the superstructures, as seemed to have been the practice from other references. A series of Raw Umber and Black oil washes was next, followed by dry brushing with a mix of Yellow Ochre and Titanium White oils. Painting of details (tools, vision blocks etc) followed, while scratches and peeled and worn paint were simulated by adding random spots and streaks of first a rusty colour and then a dark grey colour on the most exposed surfaces of the vehicle and the sideskirts, followed by light drybrushing with Humbrol Polished Steel. Rust streaks were added where appropriate with orange pastel powder. An avid follower of Tony Greenland’s painting methods since I bought his excellent book Panzer Modelling Masterclass, I airbrushed the substructure and running gear with Humbrol’s Dark Earth, followed by drybrushing with oils (Yellow Ochre and Titanium White, increasing the amount of white with every drybrushing). 


Once the painting was completed, I added a white 4mm Greif light lens to the headlight without cover as well as a 1.5mm red lens from the same manufacturer for the reflector on the rear mudguard.   


The metal tracks received a base coat of Humbrol Dark Earth (as per the Tony Greenland method), followed by several washes of Raw Umber oils, which on a dark surface normally dries to a dust colour. (In this regard, applying Mig Productions’ European Dust pigments should certainly be a more effective and less time-consuming option.) Drybrushing with Humbrol’s Polished Steel completed the tracks.  


Finally, a few branches for camouflage against air attack – a common feature on German vehicles throughout the Normandy campaign – were fixed to the StuG. These were made from Verlinden’s excellent Trees and Hedgerows set, which unfortunately does not seem to be available anymore.








The StuG crew consists of slightly modified Verlinden figures (commander and gunner), a Dragon driver – the commander and driver with Hornet replacement heads – and a Warriors loader (sitting outside the fighting compartment). The commander was given a new right arm from Dragon, while the Warriors figure’s right leg was straightened (cut and filled with Milliput) to better fit his position on the toolbox.


The three cyclists are from Tamiya and were given Hornet heads and a Verlinden hand here and there to better grip the handle bars. The two riders’ hair was sculpted from Milliput on bald Hornet heads, while the wounded man also received Milliput bandages around the head and left hand. The bicycles are from Tamiya, again super-detailed with Aber’s photo-etched sets. Rifles are from Dragon and their slings from paper with Aber buckles.





The two SS men and the Fallscirmjäger are Wolf items with Hornet replacement heads, with only the MG 42 gunner having been slightly modified from carrying an extra ammo case on a wooden stick to resting his hand on the MG, which received a tin foil sling and an Aber buckle. The dismounted motorcyclist is from Hornet.   


The French local is a Verlinden figure.








Once all the component parts of the diorama were finished, various accessories were painted and added, ie the Verlinden gas station, equipment associated with a garage (oil and fuel drums, an old engine block, old tyres, cans etc), a wagon wheel, a water-filled barrel and a telegraph pole. A few empty Verlinden Panther ammo cases and a cardboard box were also added, not only to fill some empty space, but also to reinforce the idea of a hasty retreat.  


Prior to fixing the model, figures and accessories to the diorama base, the latter was “framed” by gluing cheap pine wood mouldings (cut to size, stained with thinned Burnt Sienna oil paint and given a few coats of gloss varnish) to its sides. Where my free-hand 45-degree angles did not fit properly, I used Milliput to fill in the gaps prior to staining.








·        Les Panzer en Normandie (Yves Buffetaut & Jean Restayn, Militaria Magazine, Hors Série no 1, Histoire & Collections, Paris).


·        La Bataille de Normandie (Yves Buffetaut & Jean Restayn, Militaria Magazine, Hors Série no 13, Histoire & Collections, Paris).


·        Operation Goodwood (Yves Buffetaut & Jean Restayn, Militaria Magazine, Hors Série no 26, Histoire & Collections, Paris).


·        Normandie: Août 1944 – La Retraite Allemande (George Bernage, 39-45 Magazine, Hors Série no 4, mars-avril 1988, Editions Heimdal).


·        Sturmgeschutz III & IV, 1942-45 (Hilary Doyle & Tom Jentz, Mike Fuller, Peter Sarson, New Vanguard No 37, 2001, Osprey Publishing). 


Sturmgeschutz III & IV, 1942-45
New Vanguard 37
Author: Hilary Doyle & Tom Jentz
Illustrator: Peter Sarson, Mike Fuller
US Price: $14.95
UK Price: £8.99
Publisher: Osprey Publishing
Publish Date:
 June 25, 2001
Details: 48 pages; ISBN: 1841762865
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Buy it from Osprey Publishing



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Model, Images and Text Copyright © 2004 by Gert du Preez
Page Created 29 September, 2004
Last Updated 29 September, 2004

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