The 203mm M-1931 tracked howitzer, better known as the B-4, was part of the Red Army’s heavy artillery under the direct command of the Stavka Strategic Reserve, the Soviet general staff. Its fearsome 8-inch shell was capable of destroying virtually everything it hit, from reinforced concrete fortifications to large buildings. Its effects caused terror among the German infantry, who came to call it “Stalin’s sledgehammer”. All those units that fell into German hands were quickly put to use against their former owners.
Its debut on the front was during the Winter War of 1939 against the Finns. During this conflict, the B-4 demonstrated devastating effectiveness, not only as field artillery, but also in direct fire against Finnish bunkers. During the Second World War, it was used on all fronts and campaigns, even demonstrating its great effectiveness by beating the fortified positions in buildings of the last defenders of the Reich in the Berlin of April 1945, as the graphic testimonies of the Red Army during those terrible days show.
One of the main characteristics of this howitzer, in addition to its enormous 203mm calibre, was that it used a tracked train, instead of the classic wheels for transport, which gave it a characteristic and differentiated aesthetic that was very easy to recognise.
In order to move the mass of some 19 tonnes of the approximately 870 units built, it was necessary to use the Stalinets S-65, a slow but efficient heavy tractor of agricultural origin, manufactured in the gigantic Cheliabinsky plant in the Urals, where the version of the T-34 76mm with a cast iron turret was also produced.
203 mm howitzer M1931 (B-4) in 20mm
For our 203 mm Howitzer M1931 (B-4) in our favourite 20mm scale we have chosen the model marketed by SHQ Miniatures in metal. In addition to the howitzer itself, the model includes the two-wheeled armature used between the gunner’s piece and its tractor to facilitate the movement of the heavy steel mass on tracks.
For the gunners, we have selected the Katiusha multiple rocket launcher crew (3) from Wartime, to which we have added an officer already discontinued from Battlefield, receiving orders by phone.
The model has not been customised, it has been assembled as it comes from the factory. As the piece is a heavy metal part, it requires the tracks to be well fixed to the frame. For this we have used cyanoacrylate, always taking extreme precautions when handling this type of glue, which can be very dangerous if not as a precaution.
Painting the 203 mm howitzer M1931 (B-4)
For the base paint of the 203 mm Howitzer M1931 (B-4), we have used the 4BO Russian Green box from the AK Wargame series. But before that we have given an airbrush coat of primer in dark green mixture of Black and Olive Green from Vallejo’s Surface Primer. Then we have panelled with Russian 4BO Base and then some lights also palyed with Russian 4BO Light Base. Both layers also airbrushed. To finish the base we have given some brush lights with Russian 4BO Highlights for edges and all those areas where there is more wear and tear.
Once the paint is well dried, we varnish with a thin layer in acrylic matt to seal the work done so far. In this way we avoid that we can spoil them during the “mistreatment” that follows.
Before weathering, we apply a wash to highlight the cracks, grooves, holes, etc… that helps to give volume and depth to the different elements of the model. We use Wash Dark Brown for green AK vehicles.
Now we start with the weathering. The first step is to paint flakes and rust with a brush. The first is done in two layers: one by lightening the Russian 4BO Highlights with a very light color to delimit the edges of the chipping. Then a second layer of oxidation with AK711 Chipping Color or German Brown Camouflage Color 822 from Vallejo.
We continue applying streaking grime effects from top to bottom in various shades using diverse products: Dark Streaking Grime for green vehicles from AK, and Streaking Grime for winter vehicles and Dark Streaking Grime from Ammo MIG. These effects are given with White Spirit or with traditional solvent for enamels. When applying them, the mixtures of effects and solvent act as filters attenuating the colors and pasting them together, considerably improving the final result.
After this draining we apply Ammo MIG water marks, another type of clear streaking grime to simulate the effect of water on the metal. We apply them from bottom to top, the opposite of the previous effects.
Once the whole set is dry, we return to matte varnish and finish the work of painting the gunner’s piece.
As painting the 203 mm Howitzer M1931 (B-4) for an urban environment, we have not used pigments, but could always be added on the undercarriage and chains to simulate dust and mud.
203 mm howitzer M1931 (B-4) crew
The figures wear the Soviet army uniform used by the Frontovikis from 1943. It is mainly distinguished by the czarist type shoulder pads of the gymnastiorka (traditional shirt tunic).
Each crewmen carry a Katiusha rocket. It has been necessary to convert these rockets into 203 mm projectiles. To do this we have cut them in half, eliminating the lower part of the rocket. In the case of the kneeling soldier, we have completely removed the rocket from the original figure and arranged his hands to manipulate the crane that facilitated the loading of the projectile into the howitzer. We have also put shoulder pads on his telogreika (traditional padded jacket). Although these were not regulation in this type of clothing, many veteran NCOs sewed them to distinguish themselves.
For the commanding officer, we have replaced his left arm, which is excessively long from our point of view, with a slightly shorter one. This new arm, instead of signalling, is indicating speed to the subordinates.
The figures have been painted with Vallejo acrylic colours: a mix of Brown Green 879 and Khaki Grey 880 for the earthy khaki tones, and Russian Uniform 924 for the more greenish ones.