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All Along the Watchtowers

Scratchbuilding 15mm watchtowers

Poste Kilométrique guarding a bridge

One of the key features of the pacification strategy used in Cochinchina and later extended to Tonkin was the poste kilométrique (PK), an isolated watchtower manned by a handful of auxiliaries and dotted ever kilometre along the lines of communications.

A larger tower was also the central feature of every outpost, most of which were only slightly modernised versions of the "moat and keep" castle.

The PK towers

These were introduced in the southern delta in 1947 and later extended to the Central and Northern Highlands and the Red River delta.

Typical PK towerMost towers were about 3-4 m wide and 5-6 m high with 30 cm brick walls. Roofs were usually tiled and both four-sided and two-sided were common. The door, if there was one, was set about 2 m off the ground and was accessed with a ladder which was pulled inside the tower at dusk. In many cases, the risk of one of the defenders opening the door during a Viet Minh attack (a relatively frequent occurrence) was avoided by having no door at all, access being possible only by a ladder reaching the top of the tower ! From 1950, as the Viet Minh fielded increasing numbers of hollow charge weapons, a layer of logs or bamboo was often added for increased protection, covering either the base or the whole of the tower.

These towers are probably the simplest structure to scratchbuild. Here's the method used for a very quickly built one.


  • Cardboard and/or balsa. I used an offcut of 2 mm balsa sheet for the walls because it happened to be handy but I don't normally like to work with balsa.
  • Thin Bristol card
  • PVA glue
  • A small sheet of printed brickwork (Faller N 2559) which was found in a model railroad shop after the tower was started. This is not strictly necessary but if you are in a hurry, it is relatively cheap and gives a reasonably good irregular brickwork result without much effort.
  • Bamboo skewer and/or matchsticks
  • First the templates are drawn. In this case, it was simply four 4 x 6 cm rectangles with three 5 mm crenellations. Three of the sides had a 5 x 2 mm firing port centred about 28 mm off the ground and the fourth had a 15 x 8 mm door 20 mm off the ground.
  • After the templates were glued to the balsa with paper glue, the walls were cut from the sheet and the firing ports cut out.  A 36 x 36 mm square floor was also cut from cardboard.
  • The wall edges were then chamfered by the simple expedient of lightly clamping them to a steel ruler and then removing the excess wood with a cutter. Of course, this is not necessary if you know from the start that you'll be covering all sides with printed card in which case you can simply have overlapping corners.
  • Before the walls were glued together, strips of cardboard were glued on the inside face to act as supports for the floor. These were about 15 mm from the top but the exact height depends whether you want a removable roof to place figures in the tower or not. If so, it will depend on the size of your figures and the thickness of the base so it's best to experiment in any case.
  • The walls were then stuck together with PVA glue and then covered with the printed card. Each printed card face was cut oversize and the firing port cut out from the back (easy to do since the card is backprinted with a millimetre grid). The printed card was then glued with more PVA, taking care to adjust the firing port, and then the excess was trimmed with scissors and a sharp cutter.
  • The floor can be left plain if you use a four sided roof which will be pretty much hide it all or a trapdoor and planking can be added with thin Bristol card with some basic painting in both cases. Likewise painting the inside faces of the tower's platform needn't take too much time : simply paint a base coat in a colour which is reasonably close to the brickwork.
  • The roof is simply made out of thin cardboard and tiled with bristol card with a supporting structure made of matchsticks or bamboo skewers.
Coming next :
  • Log and thatch towers

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