Some many moons ago I was bragging about my proudest model yet, the Cromwell Mk. IV in 1/35, but I was also teasing a diorama for it, right? Well, here it is, a snippet of 1944 Nijmegen, specifically the arch bridge over the Waal river (Waalbrug), 600m of concrete that managed to turn the tides of WWII.
How it was almost not to be
Nijmegen is a Dutch city arching along the Waal river, crossing it through three bridges: De Oversteek (opened in 2013), the railway bridge (opened in 1879) and the road bridge, Waalbrug, our star of the day. The Waalbrug was built from 1931 to 1936 and when it opened, it was the longest arch bridge in Europe. At the beginning of World War II, in an attempt to slow down the Blitzkrieg push, Dutch authorities decided to blow it up. This managed to complicate German operations, but only as a minor nuisance. Later on, during German occupation, the bridge would be repaired and reopened, but not spared of challenges.
Given their clear strategic value, with the Allied advance taking its toll on German defenses, on September 17th 1944, the two historical bridges of Nijmegen got rigged with explosives. The plan was to blow them up once more, but now to stop the push of the invading troops. The railway bridge was the first to go down, followed by a detonator trigger that should have collapsed the Waalbrug. But to the shock of the Germans, nothing happened. Little did they know that a young Dutch Resistance member, Jan van Hoof, had sabotaged their plans by disabling the demolition system.
Hero of the Resistance
Up until 1941, Jan van Hoof had been a proud member of the Dutch Scouts, a voluntary non-political educational movement for young people. With the Nazi occupation taking hold of the country, his group was disbanded, their activities declared illegal, and all their belongings passed on to the Hitler Youth and Dutch Nazi Youth organizations. Although the risk was high, many scouts kept meeting in secret, organizing activities and naturally sliding towards the anti-Nazi Dutch Resistance. Jan van Hoof was no exception and as part of the Resistance, he saw the Allied invasion as the means to an end, the hope towards a brighter future, towards freedom.
With this in mind, taking advantage of the chaos around the early days of Operation Market Garden, van Hoof managed to crawl on the Wallbrug bridge and cut the cables leading to the demolition charges. This would ultimately allow the Allied armor and troops to cross the river and liberate a significant part of The Netherlands. Although he put his life on the line, single-handedly keeping the Waalbrug up, he would later go to his family and only modestly declare that “the bridge has been saved”.
On September 19th 1944, Jan van Hoof was atop a Guards Armoured Division Humber scout car, guiding a column through Nijmegen. At one point, they were spotted by a German anti-tank gun crew and fired upon. The car was set ablaze, and the crew were not able to escape in time. Jan van Hoof was thrown off the car by the hit, surviving the fall, but not for long. Seeing his distinctive Dutch Resistance armband, German soldiers caught him, beat him and shot him in the head. He was 22 years old.
I’ve not built many sceneries for my models, but the ones I did take on were mostly depicting rural areas, muddy roads and pretty pastures. This was my first attempt at an urban setting, but what made it even trickier was the actual place being depicted, a bridge. You see, in dioramas it is usually recommended to have roads and vehicles placed at an angle, ideally not in the middle of the terrain. But how can you do that with a suspended rectangle, provided you’re not going for a full waterway-and-bridge-pier combo? Took me a while, but I eventually came up with the idea of a circular diorama. Went out and bought a round chopping board, sanded the margins and half the job was done. Well, sort of…
Having decided on the shape, I went in to identify key elements from the picture above: road, sidewalk, barbed wire barriers and the wooden guardhouse.
The gallery above is pretty self-explanatory, but just in case you’re having trouble, the process is quite simple. I outlined the sidewalk with a wooden corner decoration and a piece of balsa wood. Then I proceeded to ultra-glue some GSW 1/35 bricks as tiles and fill-in the concrete part with the magic solution from AMMO by Mig. In such a thick layer it took ages to dry, but at the end it looks exactly like you would expect. Some finishing touches left, used Vallejo Plastic Putty as a grout for the tiles, glued a cut-out of some Tamiya cobblestone paper (TAM87165) and applied some of the concrete mix on the road, just for texturing.
Next up, I wanted to buy some barbed wire barriers, but couldn’t find anything that fit the size and theme, so I went in and scratchbuilt some. Cut some L-strip styrene to shape, glued it and then used this amazing Plus Model photo-etch barbed wire set to quickly make my own barrier. Oh, and this set is so damn accurate, it kept clinging to everything around the workbench! Not much to say on the guardhouse, it’s also from Plus Model and it comes as multiple pre-cut wooden sheets. A bit of superglue here and there and the build is done.
As opposed to the build process, which was fairly well documented, the painting phase doesn’t have any work-in-progress pics as I kept being unhappy with it until the end. I didn’t have a preset recipe for the result, it was mostly a full day of trial and error. Some highlights could include the individual painting of cobblestones with various shades, earth texture enamel products from AMMO by Mig, but also Lifecolor rust paints for the barbed wire and guardhouse roof. In the end, it was a fun experience and you can see the final result below: