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1700
Dunkirk East Pier

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"MSW crew-mate Mike McCabe shares a very special work with us, in commemoration of the 70th anniversary of Operation Dynamo, I'm very honored to present to you, Dunkirk East Pier."

The evacuation of British and allied troops from Dunkirk under Operation Dynamo is best known perhaps for the part played by the civilian manned small craft, the ‘Little Ships’, but in fact by far the greatest proportion were taken off on Royal Navy manned ships and especially destroyers. These were able to quickly get in and out and take many hundreds at a time, their high speed allowing a fast turnaround.

However as the operation progressed German bombing and artillery fire made much of the harbour unusable, a situation made worse by the fires that raged from damaged oil refineries close to it which produced dense clouds of choking smoke. On the east side of the harbour a breakwater had been constructed which was narrow and intended only to protect the harbour, although high out of the water and with no easy access, it was quickly found that it could be used as an embarkation point, even if a precarious one at times, and many thousands were taken off from there during the course of the operation.

My idea was inspired by a number of photographs showing this action with ships tied up next to the pier and loading soldiers, it was no doubt a chaotic scene with the constant threat of aerial attack.

The Model
One of the most important ships involved in Dynamo in terms of numbers carried was HMS Codrington, in eight round trips she carried almost 4,500 personnel back to Britain, but as a destroyer leader and a more or less one off design there was of course no kit available, so some research would be needed to be able to use the Tamiya E class destroyer kit as a basis.

Another more recent Tamiya release I had been itching to build is their V/W class destroyer badged as HMS Vampire, some quick research showed two options here, Vanquisher and Vivacious of which there were photos of both at the East Pier. I opted for the latter as those of Vanquisher were a little less clear in terms of layout and armament, so I plumped for Vivacious despite her rather more flowery name.

I was very fortunate to receive the help of the eminent naval historian Alan Raven whilst researching Codrington, who was kind enough to send me a large scale copy of the as fitted plans to work from, I am extremely grateful for his help. The process of modifying Codrington from the E class did however immediately become obviously a bigger job than I had thought, so big a job in fact that I won’t detail it all here, I will instead make this the subject of a future article for our sister group, the IPMS Small Warships SIG and will post a link here once completed.

Suffice to say work was required to lengthen the hull in two different places, remodel the bridge add in a new gun position, build the engineers workshop aft of the funnel and change other small details, it turned the superstructure of the ship other than funnels and aft deckhouse into effectively a scratch building exercise, although the excellent White Ensign etched fret was used to detail much of the remainder.

One thing that was apparent though was that the plans had little in terms of deck detail as much of this would have been added during service. Unfortunately few photos of Codrington exist other than pre-war, which also created a problem in terms of colour scheme.

I hatched a cunning plan to deal with the deck detail, more of which later, but anecdotal evidence suggests she was wearing a dazzle type camouflage scheme at the time of Dunkirk. A number of ships of the H class wore a distinctive scheme of light, dark and mid grey at the time, it seemed a reasonable stretch to have my model wearing a modified version of that, I must therefore say the scheme is conjecture, but I think a reasonable one, in any case my motto is always ‘prove me wrong’!

Vivacious was built pretty much from the box with the White Ensign fret, a little extra detail was added on the superstructures and deck supports, but I really do like the kit Tamiya have produced, it is superbly engineered and just seems to capture the fine delicate lines of these ships which are in any case probably my favourite class of RN warships. I really would recommend this kit and I shall be building more, the possibilities of this and indeed the E class for anyone interested in RN destroyers really are huge.

I built Vivacious showing her just coming to tie up to the pier, all hands manning weapons in flash gear and at action stations. On the opposite side Codrington is just leaving, and here is my cunning plan to hide the lack of information, full of troops. Passing both ships is one of the little Dutch coasters known as ‘skoots’ by the RN crews. This little model is from our Fine Waterline range, the kit is left as a basic one just providing the hull and bridge shape as these ships were so variable. I added the deck bulwarks from plastic card doing the same around the bridge area, added a winch and small boat from Battlefleet models and ladders and bridge windows from pe with boat davits from fine brass rod.

The pier was left until last as I was rather fearing doing it with all those supports, however I had not long before bought a chopper but never really put it to serious use, so now would be the time. Using evergreen plastic squared section rod, I measured the desired height and set the chopper to that, about five minutes later I had all the supports cut. So then I set it to the 60 degree angle adjustment, measured out the length and five minutes later had all the cross pieces cut.

Then using stringers for the length of the pier I glued each vertical pillar in place the desired distance apart, let it dry and then attached the angle pieces. Once this was done I used evergreen planking to add the decking, finishing off with some chunky pe railing that was too heavy for ships but would simulate wooden barriers well.

All this took about two hours, I could not quite believe it went so fast but this was pretty much entirely down to how quickly and accurately plastic can be cut with a chopper, I would highly recommend it if you have the need for something similar or do much scratch building, I bought mine here, no connection!

Of course the most obvious requirement for any Dunkirk diorama is going to be figures, lots of them. In this case I used the Eduard ones as they are better value even if they need a little work. Firstly I thickened them up with white pva glue so they are less flat, then to try and replicate helmets I added a blob of glue to the heads of each figure.

This works ok, but given the number involved anything more would have been soul destroying. Adding these to Codrington was not an easy task, firstly there was the question of rig first or add figures first, if rig first I would probably knock off most of the standing rigging in the process, if figures first I wouldn’t have space for the rigging, so the compromise was work out where the lines would go, add figures everywhere but those places, add the rigging then fill in around them, which was tedious but worked.

I find using figures a little like rigging; there is only so much I can do in a sitting, so I tended to do perhaps 100 at a time to gradually build up the scene. When I stopped and had added what I felt was enough I had got through nearly three frets of figures so I think there are about 900 figures in the scene, if you want to know exactly, you can count them for yourselves.

The model was assembled with the pier at an angle to allow space for the coaster and the ships attached to the base in situ, water is the usual watercolour paper and acrylic paint, rigging stretched sprue and all painting with Humbrol enamels.

For the photographs I made a quick background to try and show the smoke from the oil refineries, photos are with a Nikon D70 and 150mm macro lens at highest possible aperture to get the best possible depth of field, shot in daylight with two lamps with daylight bulbs used to fill in any shadow.

I think the completed model captures the scene quite well, it is difficult for any model to quite get the essence of confusion, panic, fear, stoicism and bravery that Dunkirk epitomizes to me, but hopefully it is some way there.
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About the Author

About Mike McCabe (MikeM)
FROM: WALES, UNITED KINGDOM


Comments

Stunning work Mike. Certainly set the bar high for others to emulate in the 'Dunkirk' build. BTW, Has anyone contacted Eduard about making 'soldier sets' in 1/700??!! - Looks like there could be a significant market if we all follow the example set by you. Jim S
JUN 01, 2010 - 11:11 AM
Beautiful Mike!
JUN 01, 2010 - 02:35 PM
amazing work, echo all the sentiments already expressed, BZ!
JUN 02, 2010 - 12:59 AM
Jim That's an interesting thought. Thanks to all for the kind words! Mike
JUN 02, 2010 - 06:18 AM
Mike, Great diorama, really captures the feel, and tells the story. How did you the figures that tightly packed? When I have tried, being clumsy I tend to end up up knocking more off that I put on after a while. Si
JUN 02, 2010 - 10:31 PM
I use just a tiny dab of super glue on the feet, they stay in place fairly well so you can gradually work around them all. Even so quite a lot fall of and have to be replaced, all a matter of doing it a bit at a time really Mike
JUN 03, 2010 - 12:50 AM
Fantastic work there Mike.....you really captured that moment in time very faithfully... well done Louis Malta
JUN 07, 2010 - 08:50 PM
A good start to our Dunkirk Campaign theme in the "Fleet manoeuvers" section, and some inspiration to be taken here. I also thought about the number of soldiers used ,so, in the dio I am doing in the campaign, I have made the beach as short as possible although I will have to cut my soldiers in half etc as they line up in the sea. I was cautious about saying there was confusion, although there is always the "confusion of battle", as they all lined up down the beach - a British thing we do. And then, the base - I am keeping mine as tight as possible to pack it with as much as possible to later include small boats and aircraft and then, explosions - something which I've alwyas wanted to do but never had the right subject. Then, blood and limbs, this is war so do the shallows have a pink tinge? a dreadful thought. A very good start, Mike, so what are you doing in the campaign? Peter F
JUN 08, 2010 - 12:56 AM
I had a good close up look at this when Mike and myself put on a Finewater line display at the South Cheshire Militair show. He does like his figures, puts what i do to shame, just looking at it brings me out in a . Remember seeing his HMS Starling for the first time and thought he's not going to top the figure count after this one but how wrong was i. Always a pleasure to see his work Roy
JUN 08, 2010 - 05:14 AM
I'm a little late to the party, but just have to join the chorus of oohs and ahhs over this epic diorama. I also put figures on my 1/700 ships at sea, but this takes the cake. Stunning.
JUN 20, 2010 - 07:08 AM