1/48 or 1/56, that is the question or, for those with less knowledge of Shakespeare than myself (difficult – my ignorance of the Bard is profound), what vehicle scale is right for Bolt Action?
My first introduction to this question came back when Bolt Action first appeared at our friendly local gaming store. I bought the British starter box from Warlord. This contains a rather neat little Cromwell tank model – one of the old Warlord resin kits. I was quite happy with it until, during a game, a bunch of us noticed that the Soviet tank on the other side of the board was quite a bit smaller than my Cromwell.
In those days I was very new to matters tankish, but there were others around who pointed out that the KV-1 tank was actually substantially larger than the Cromwell, in every single dimension. The KV-1 model in question was also a Warlord resin. This prompted us to compare the Warlord vehicles we had. They turned out to be made to quite different scales. Whilst officially the Warlord scale was 1/56, we found that the reality ranged from 1/50 through to something like 1/64.
Now I hasten to add that Warlord have since stepped up their game on keeping scales consistent – the new plastic kits are reputed to be very accurate – but annoyance at this problem sent me straight into the arms of Tamiya’s 1/48 tank kits. I have quite a few now, but which scale is actually accurate I hear you ask? As you will see, that isn’t quite as open and shut as it would seem…
Bolt Action is a 28mm system. This means that an infantryman is supposed to be 28mm high. If we assume that the average soldier is 6 feet tall (1.83m), which is the firgure usually given as the basis of scale systems, this gives us a scale of approximately 1/64. Of the two scales 1/56 is by far the closest to this value, so that’s that.
Well, not quite. Let’s start a proper analysis by looking at this happie chappie…
This is one of my British soldiers from the starter pack I mentioned earlier. It is a Warlord plastic model and is the standard size for a 28mm figure. According to my measurements this figure is 30mm high, and he’s not standing straight. Taking a few models from my collection and measuring them reveals that those that are standing close to straight measure between 30mm and 32mm, with most of them being dead on 32.
Doing some research on the heights of soldiers during WW2 also reveals that the assumption of 6 feet is wrong. The average height of an American soldier in WW2 was 5 ft 8.4 in (173.7 cm) and an Australian slightly smaller according to Australian Records. Colloquially, both Australians and Americans had a reputation for being taller than European soldiers during this period – likely a result of malnutrition during the Great Depression (malnutrition during childhood and adolescence significantly reduces height in adulthood, a factoid often exploited with great enthusiasm by historians). The German soldiers of WW2 were apparently quite a bit larger than their European adversaries too, thanks to the regular food and exercise programs of the Hitler Youth (at least according to W.L.Shirer, author of Rise and Fall of the Third Reich).
To this we can add one extra fact: in the average wargame soldiers are mounted on bases whilst vehicles aren’t. This adds anything from 2-4mm to the relative height of our mini soldiers to their vehicles.
Plugging these numbers into a spreadsheet (I got bored of doing it by hand), it is revealed that scales from 1/48 (32mm model on a 4mm base/average U.S. height) to 1/61 (30mm figure without base/6 foot soldier) are within the bounds of possibility. I couldn’t get stats for the heights of European soldiers, but if the colloquial wisdom of Americans being taller on average is correct then scales larger than 1/48 are in the picture too.
So what’s the practical upshot of this? In my opinion it comes down to personal choice. Both 1/48 and 1/56 scales are defendable as historically accurate, so pick whichever one you like. In the end nothing convinces like pictures, so here is a comparison…
Now these pictures are not perfect – particularly my last one which I accidentally took at a slightly different angle (I had to snap it at one of our meets as I don’t own a 1/56 Sherman) – but I think they show that both 1/48 and 1/56 scales look just fine next to 28mm figures.