Tuesday, 10 January 2017

A Rolls in the (Iraqi) Desert

Whilst I'm primarily a 1/48 scale modeller these days, there is always the temptation to investigate interesting subjects in other scales and 1/50 is close enough to my preferred scale to be largely compatible. In the past year I've picked up several 'wargames' models because they cover subjects I can't otherwise get in my scale. Quality varies widely as you might expect but there are a surprising number of good models around and some will happily sit alongside mainstream 'scale' models.

This Rolls Royce Armoured car from Empress Miniatures is one such example. I knew it was underscale by my normal standards, but I kept coming back to it on their website and looking again at the possibilities. Eventually, after several months of procrastination, I bit the bullet and ordered the kit.

Within a week, it had arrived on my doorstep. I had a couple of surprises when I inspected the kit. Firstly there were no instructions and secondly, the vast majority of the parts were white metal with only two pieces (the turret body and central hull unit) being in resin. After some initial panic, a more sober inspection of the parts left me more confident. The lack of instructions was offset by the logical break-down of the parts. A little bit of guesswork and some decent photos of real examples would resolve that. The greater concern was my lack of experience with white metal kits, but that was a challenge I was willing to address.

So, what do you get? That's something of a problem. The spoked wheels and location of the headlamps would imply that the model represents a 1914 Pattern Rolls Royce A/C, but two other features, the taller turret and the offset vision slots in the driver's visor, are indicative of a 1920 Pattern vehicle. However, the production history of the real vehicle is somewhat messy, so a hybrid might be possible. The last batch of 8-10 1914 Pattern vehicles were apparently manufactured with the taller turret and it possible perhaps, that they also had the offset vision slots. The RAF also ordered a number of 'cars' after WWI when the Army initially refused to supply them with vehicles (they later relented). These were referred to as 'Standard Type A' and had the taller turret (and possibly the offset visor) but may have been built on a spoked wheel chassis. Then of course we have a fairly widespread programme of transferring 1914 Pattern armoured bodies off older 'war weary' chassis onto newly built chassis with later features.

You could backdate the model to a 1914 Pattern by altering the vision slots and living with the taller turret. Or you could upgrade it to a 1920 Pattern vehicle by finding (or scratchbuilding) the necessary solid dished wheels characteristic of this variant. The third option is to leave the model as it stands and just enjoy building it into a representative example of the beast - after all, the level of variation in the real vehicles means it could be accurate as it stands for at least one vehicle.

Despite their fame, production figures for the Roll Royce Armoured Car are surprisingly small. It's been suggested that around 100-150 1914 Pattern vehicles were manufactured, perhaps 55 1920 Pattern and maybe 23 1924 Pattern vehicles, plus around 20 additional Standard Type A examples for the Royal Air Force. Thus we are looking at a production run of 250 vehicles or thereabouts. To compound the difficulties, Rolls Royce did not manufacture the armoured cars. All they did was provide the chassis. The armoured bodies were then built up by a number of specialist coachbuilding firms. This was common practice even for RR's civilian sales, where a buyer would purchase the chassis and then have a body built to their own specification.

Rolls Royce armoured cars survived in active service through until around 1942 in ever-decreasing numbers. The last serviceable RAF examples survived until around 1942. A proportion of these had their bodies transferred onto Fordson 4x2 truck chassis around 1940 but some true Rolls Royce Armoured Cars lingered until the very end in North Africa.

Assembly commenced with laying out all the parts and trying to identify them. This proved fairly easy (with a couple of exceptions). Next, each of the parts was gently cleaned up, especially the edges where the parts would mate together. The chassis provides a good starting point for the assembly process and I soon had the axles and engine block glued into place.

The recommended glue for strength is a two-part '5 minute' epoxy adhesive, a material I had little previous experience of. Cyanoacrylate glue will work too, but it lacks strength and the joints tend to be brittle. In several cases I tacked the parts together with cyano, and then flooded the joints with epoxy to provide strength. I suspect I got more epoxy on my fingers than on the model, but that is apparently part of the joy of learning!

Next, I dry-fitted the resin body and rear cargo tray and they both dropped neatly into place. Confidence increasing, I turned to the engine compartment walls and struck my first problem. The side panels were slightly too long compared to the bonnet panels and that meant the radiator didn't fit where it should.

The lack of instructions didn't help and photos of the primed model on the Empress Miniatures website only seemed to confirm the panel length was wrong. At this point I contacted them with a couple of queries and received a very helpful reply. It appears the side panels are indeed slightly too long and also that Empress hope to have some instructions available soon.

 Armed with the knowledge that the engine panels were too long (rather than there being an error on my part), I carefully filed them back to the correct length, working slowly and patiently (and checking their fit to the model regularly. I still didn't get the fit quite right but the problem is conveniently hidden by a spare wheel.


Consisting of just four parts including the Vickers MG, the turret is a combination of resin body and metal roof. A separate roof hatch is included too. For this project, some additional items were also incorporated. Many RAF vehicles had searchlights and an extra MG fitted on a pedestal mount at the rear of the turret roof, usually a Lewis Gun. The searchlight is a 1/35 scale resin item that was found in the spares box, fitted to a copper wire bracket. The additional gun is one of the excellent Lewis Guns from Gas Patch, fitted to a scratchbuilt brass rod pedestal. You could replace the Vickers MG with a Gas Patch item too if you wanted, but the kit item is well detailed for what little of it you see on the finished model. Also added were the rolled signal flags strapped the the sloping turret sides - Brass rod along with small scraps of masking tape provided the raw materials for these.

The Wheels

Already mentioned is the fact that spoked wheels are the most common option for a 1920 Pattern Rolls Royce, but Empress Miniatures took the view that creating them was worth the effort (although apparently it nearly defeated them!). The wheels are supplied in two halves, an 'inner' and an 'outer'. The inner halves are all identical, but there are two types on Outer. Most of the wheels use a spoked outer half, but the inside wheel of the pair on the rear axles are each provided with a half that has no spokes (to help with the assembly of the double rear wheels).

The solution Empress have come up with for the spokes impressed me. It allows the wheels to be cast in white metal whilst at the same time providing a genuine three-dimensional look to the finished wheels. Some filling and sanding was inevitably required along the join line but careful pre-sanding minimised this.

My kit was supplied with an an extra outer half (and one less inner half), leaving me with one mismatched wheel. I contacted Paul at Empress Miniatures by email, explained the problem and within four days, a new wheel unit had arrived on my doorstep - excellent service!

Rather than scrap the two spare 'outers', I cobbled them together to create a third spare wheel. Arguably, you need more because most cars seem to have carried two spares on each side officially (and often more, strapped to other parts of the body and even the turret roof).

When it comes to stowage, contemporary photos show a mix of heavily stowed vehicles and almost 'clean' examples. This is in part due to the way they operated. Much of their operational use was for local patrolling from a permanent base. In the case of the RAF Armoured Car Squadrons, this usually meant an airfield. Throughout much of the 1920s and 1930s, the RAF operated a 'combined arms' policy where armoured cars and aircraft were used to support each other on operations. It was only on longer patrols or when deploying to a new area that the vehicles carried more than the minimum levels of stowage. I decided to add a number of items, some from scratch and others from the spares box. The tow rope on the front suspension 'horns' is braided copper wire, whilst the drum, two and four gallon cans and rolled tarpaulin are Red Zebra and Black Dog items.

The figure is an item from The Fusilier. He is one of a three-figure set that includes two ground crew, both holding up parts of aircraft as trophies. The pilot/officer figure seemed an appropriate character to place alongside the Rolls. Throughout the Inter-war years, a high proportion of officers in the RAF armoured car companies were pilots serving a ground tour, whilst others were former pilots no longer medically fit to fly but still wanting an RAF career. This must have helped foster a close cameraderie and cooperation between the 'cars' and the aircraft squadrons and probably accounted for the high levels of success of this combined approach to their colonial policing role.

Colours and Markings

My plan was to represent an early 1920s RAF 'car' in Iraq. There were a number of reasons for this. In part it provided an interesting counterpoint to recent RAF activities in Iraq and in part because my father spent much of his National Service based at RAF Habbaniya, where some of the armoured car units had been based in the 1930s - tenuous I know, but it's what inspired me to complete the model.

The overall colour is a matter of some debate. Contemporary monochrome images show vehicles in both 'dark' and 'light' overall colours, suggesting that some vehicles were probably Deep Bronze Green (or similar) and that others were a desert sand (or similar) shade. I wanted the 'dark' option as I felt it provided an interesting counterpart to the sand coloured vehicles that people expect to see.

The model was given an initial coat of Halford's Grey Primer to provide a key for the paint and also to highlight any small imperfections in the construction stage and allow them to be corrected.

For the main colour I used Tamiya XF-53 JGSDF Dark Green, with a touch of XF-58 Olive Green added. I felt that the car would have a faded, dusty appearance so I didn't want to go any darker, especially as subsequent washes would darken the shade anyway. With the paint thoroughly dry, I started with the first of those washes, a mix of Burnt Sienna and Lamp Black oil paint thinned heavily with white spirit. This was applied over the whole model initially, before the detail was picked outmore carefully with a slightly darker version of the wash. Some subtle streaking was added down the vertical sides of the hull and turret (too subtle probably as it doesn't really show on the finished model). Next I turned to a bottle of XF-49 Khaki. Using a wide, flat-profile soft paintbrush, I gently started to dry-brush the model, slowly bringing out the raised detail as I worked across the model in stages.

At this point I decided on the final selection of markings to be used. RAF 'cars' were often named, but not all the time. As I wanted to create a generic example of the type, I went with a simple serial number. I also added a pair of RAF roundels to the body. Prior to applying the decals (all found in my decal collection from various sources), the relevant body panels on the model were gloss varnished with Johnson's Klear to help with decal adhesion. After the decals had been added, a couple of coats of Vallejo Matt Varnish were added to hide the glossy appearance of the panels.

Final thoughts

Correspondence with Empress Miniatures indicates that they hope to release other variants of the Rolls, and that the solid, 1920 Pattern wheels are also on the cards. Overall I really enjoyed this project. It challenged me to work with new materials and new adhesives and that added to the satisfaction of completing it successfully. It is a subject that isn't available as a mainstream kit in 1/48 scale and whilst this is strictly speaking a 1/50 scale model, it's close enough to sit comfortably amongst my growing collection of quarter-scale models.


The Rolls Royce Armoured Car

David Fletcher

Osprey New Vanguard No. 189 (2012)

ISBN: 9781849085809

In Every Place - RAF Armoured Cars in the Middle East 1921-1953

Nigel Warwick

Forces and Corporate Publishing Ltd (2014)

ISBN: 9780957472525


Empress Miniatures - www.empressminiatures.com

The Fusilier - www.thefusilier.net

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