War games a battle of BBs and brains

September 11, 2004|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

Rather than two-ton shells, BBs served as ammo.

And the battles did not take place in the Leyte Gulf or off the coast of Jutland. These skirmishes played out yesterday on a murky pond off Pulaski Highway in Harford County.

Members of the International Radio Controlled Warship Combat Club gathered to play war with grown men's toys - heavy cruisers, aircraft carriers and destroyers, hand-made and, in some cases, ornate scale replicas of the Allied and Axis ships that plied the seas in the two world wars.

Some warriors came from Canada, while others call Philadelphia or Niagara Falls, N.Y., their home ports. The combatants in town for a weekend of maritime fun included a businessman, a dentist and a painter.

"I must say we are an eclectic bunch," said Matt Moury, a nuclear engineer from Annapolis. "Sure, this is our hobby and passion, but it's also a way to involve our children with us in learning history and building things."

Some of the replica ships in the weekend-long event include the DKM Bismarck, USS Des Moines, SMS Nassau, USS North Carolina, and the IJN Yamato, all of which had roles in World War I or World War II naval battles.

The model boats are constructed of fiberglass, balsa wood, brass and other materials. They are built to 1/144 scale, meaning each inch in the model represents 12 feet on the actual ship. Some are more than 6 feet long. They are powered by battery motors and are maneuvered with a radio unit similar to those used to control model airplanes.

"You can't get these at Radio Shack," said club member Steve Pavlosky, owner of a Chick-fil-A in White Marsh.

The club's Northeast Fall Regionals got under way yesterday with seven hobbyists. By the end of the weekend, about 40 were expected to join in the action.

The Super 8 Motel in Joppa was chosen for the meeting because of the property's large pond, home to geese and ducks, none of whom seemed bothered by the show.

The battle zone is encircled by yellow caution tape, and anyone within the zone must wear safety glasses.

The battles begin with a toot on a whistle. The boats maneuver to shoot at the other opponents with BBs fired from a brass "cannon" that is powered by compressed carbon dioxide gas.

If a vessel is struck on its balsa wood shell and begins taking on water, a pump sends up a spout and gives the ship a little more time in the fray.

When vessels are sunk, their owners wade into the water to retrieve them. They apply a thin fiberglass patch to the hole, wait 30 minutes for the glue to dry and rejoin the battle.

Ron Colangelo, an environmental laboratory technician from Niagara Falls, gave his reasons for taking up building and fighting the model warships.

"I played ice hockey, and one day it was clear that the sport was a younger person's pursuit," he said. "And besides, this is perfect for me because I love military history."

His ship, the storied World War II German vessel Bismarck, fought gamely during a small contest on the pond.

The International Radio Controlled Warship Combat Club was started in the 1970s when, members said, flying model airplanes became boring. Today, the IRCWCC has chapters in the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Germany.

Some members will be joined this weekend by their spouses and children. But for a majority of the hobbyists, this war on the water is strictly a guy thing.

"All human beings have hobbies, distractions from the rigors of daily life," said Pavlosky. "Some men have golf, others have fantasy football leagues. This is our getaway from reality. The way we look at it, this is part artistic, part mechanical and part history. It's better than being a couch potato."

Longtime member Bob Amend of Red Line, Pa., wore his old Coast Guard hat, decorated with an Iron Cross and German Eagle. His T-shirt indicated he also was also a paintball combatant. He said that his interest in the Civil War has landed him appearances on the History Channel, dressed in uniforms of both the Union and Confederate armies.

Larry Dingle, a member of the Navy assigned to the Patuxent River Naval Air Station, said that "two of my four sons are really into this. It's a good way for us to spend time together and understand world history a bit more."

And Dingle had his own fashion statement.

He showed up yesterday wearing a T-shirt bearing a picture of a U.S. aircraft carrier and this slogan: "4.5 acres of sovereign U.S. territory ... 97,000 tons of diplomacy."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.