"Between Life and Death in the Hürtgen Forest"
Modeling the U.S. Army in WWII

Evolution of the Diorama

By the Numbers . . . .
Completed September, 2001
17 months of construction
40"x23" base
53 figures
38 handmade pine trees
18 other trees
8 vehicles, including 3 trailers
1 pillbox

This dio originally was going to be a scene of medics on break but I realized that would be the same clichéd picture of "soldiers sitting around." So I expanded it to place them in a more compelling context.

The original concept, positioned on Celluclay base

To create the inevitability of this break ending and "business picking up" again, I added a column of weary Joes slogging through the mud up to the front, the next round of cannon fodder. To attest to the fact that the medics had been busy for a long time, I littered the area with stacks of helmets, dozens of empty supply and rations boxes and mounds of discarded uniforms and equipment.

"Last Rites" over the bodies, while black Graves Registration soldiers load the truck

Finally, to further cement the "story" and complete the circle, I added a deuce and a half loaded with corpses and a graves registration team picking up the bodies of those who didn't get saved. To tie the three elements together, I added the knot of soldiers looking at the lines of tarp-draped bodies waiting to be loaded onto the truck and the sergeant pointed them forward to the front.

Amid the endless march of men, some pause at the sight of the dead
Juxtaposition of cleaning up, from the mundane to the gruesome

Extensive research was necessary for this project, beyond just reading about the battle of the forest. Each new idea provoked questions: What was the staffing for an aid station? What vehicles did they use? What medical equipment did they have? Who collected the bodies of the dead?

The Setting

The base of the diorama measures 23" x 42". I needed to create the rough terrain of the Hürtgen forest, so a good amount of Styrofoam was used to create different levels, topped off with Celluclay. The rock formation is a model railroad item, and was painted slate gray as seen in the area. It also underscores the somberness of the setting and symbolically stands for the German enemy that stood in the way of these soldiers. The pillbox comes from Verlinden.

Celluclay over Styrofoam, hemp "grass" planted in H&A dirt

I used Hudson and Allen's "Dirt" and "Mud" for the groundwork, adding acrylic gloss medium for a wet look. The tall weeds came from the tufts of coarse hemp of a fraying doormat; the were plunged into a puddle of white glue and "planted" into the damp H&A "Dirt." The trenches and wheel ruts were filled with "water" made with Envirotex-Lite, a two-part resin product that was applied in layers.

Applying "mud" to painted Celluclay.  Trees begin to appear.

Nearly 40 pine trees were handmade using actual sticks and twigs. I drilled countless holes into them to attach pine boughs from Hudson & Allen and dried "princess pine" from a local crafts store.

The loaded halftrack climbs the hill

Thoughout the process, vehicles and figures were positioned and removed to ensure no new scenic element would interfere with the relationships of the main items.

A lot of research and scratchbuilding went into creating realistic accessories for the medics. The plasma bottles were made from Tamiya wine bottes, and thin wire insulation served as tubing, with wire tips for needles. I created the individual meal K rations boxes with MS Paint and printed them on tan paper. Likewise, I designed and printed the blue booklets with information tags that were tied to the wounded soldiers and the many empty bandage boxes that are scattered about. Dogtags were made from foil, and the small personal effects bags for each of the dead soldiers were fashioned from epoxy putty.

"Between Life and Death..."
The Battle of the Hürtgen Forest
Evolution of the Diorama
M3A1 Halftrack
Dodge Ambulance and Beep
Willys Jeep, 2.5 Ton Cargo Truck, Trailers
The Figures


Modeling the U.S. Army in WWII © 2002—2009 Timothy S. Streeter