Twenty-five years ago and still we’re on course. It is hard to believe that so much time has elapsed since SMS began life in its second reincarnation. Didn’t know that did you? Well a few, very few, remember when SMS existed as a historical miniatures manufacturer ONLY. Those indeed were the early days in the industry, not quite the dark ages but close. When was that you might ask? Early ‘70s.
Military miniatures have existed for a long, long time. If one were to include the full size army buried with one of the earliest Chinese emperors, that would give you several thousand years. Gaming with a full size army just isn’t available, or practical for that matter, to anyone but an Emperor or the equivalent. 54mm figures had long been a standard for collectors and while 19th Century subjects and older were well represented, the 20th century offerings were not as numerous but would soon blossom forth. SMS (1) would make some contributions in this area offering unique figures sculpted by Beverly Gordon, an award winning sculptor in the southern California area. Several of her winning figures were reproduced and offered to the world at large and a line of desired figures outlined by SMS’s COO owner (Norman Harms) were added later.
The “Micro…” aspect of the wargaming hobby was in its infancy at the time as well. Although a similar scale, 1:300 or 1 inch equals 25’, had been around and more abundant in the European market of the period, the appearance of the C-in-C and GHQ lines, scaled at 1:285, 1 inch equals 23’ – 9”, presented in the U.S. brought the playing field to a higher level of quality and general availability to the hobbyist-gamer. And so began the “micro – era”. Gone were playing with the “little green men” and oh my look at the different vehicles with new ones coming on a more or less regular basis. These were the early days as mentioned, and a fully developed miniatures line takes time and more importantly money, to complete. And while “all good things come to them that wait”, gamers can be impatient.
Another need and niche to fill had been found. A design team formed by the soon to be SMS (1), found Mr. Steve Clayton and Mr. Jay Thompson appointed as the design-sculpting members. Both gentlemen were knowledgeable in the history of WW II and both master modelers in their own right as well as very early members of George Bradfords’s AFV News, as was our leader himself (member number twenty-two as a matter of fact) .
The first offerings in our “micro” line presented conversion kits to change existing models to other vehicles, exactly as the original full size pieces were changed to different uses. Didn’t have a Jagdpanzer IV in your collection, change C-in-C’s or GHQ’s models with the addition of the SMS modification kit. Apart from the conversion kits, several stand alone models were created to fill needs of the time. Naturally as the basic model manufacturers expanded their own lines with their own individual vehicle presentations, these add-ons were killed off. They had served their purpose and were retired with honors.
The final model undertaken by SMS (1) would have opened another door in an area to be expanded, a line of 1:2400 ship models. The flagship model would be the RMS QUEEN MARY. This time the master modeling was performed by the boss and closely supervised by Mr. Robert Camp of Newport Beach, CA. Mr. Camp, it must be noted was the caster of our other offerings and not just for SMS (1), but well entrenched in the industry producing pieces for several other manufacturers as well as more than a couple of high aspect jewelry stores and on occasion custom casting. Mr. Camp was a perfectionist and knew how to get the best results for a product and production quantities.
As matters would develop during this time, administrative needs and requirements amongst the various individuals would evolve to a point whereby future growth of one of the lines would be impossible to implement. While the hard decision to close the production line was made, the last model would be launched by Mr. Camp and shortly found available to the public onboard the actual vessel herself in Long Beach, California.
SMS (1) had been created to represent operations and differentiate itself from another undertaking existing at the time in the guise of ACTION BOOKS of Buena Park, CA. As a retail book seller, the original operation had been purchased from Mr. Uwe Feist prior to his return to Germany in the early 70s. This venue had been begun as an outlet for his writer’s copies of publications done for Aero Publishers, Fallbrook, CA and essentially how the boss began his writing career. This paid for the business when transferred to Mr. Harms and paved the way for some twenty plus other publications written by, edited by or later published by him. All these various undertakings, however, came to a halt in the end of the seventies decade.
At the same time a career change presented itself. In 1980 this major career undertaking came into being with the successful passing of a major professional examination and thus the title “Professional Land Surveyor” could be appended. Now, no longer working in a sub-professional surveying position and taking advantage of the construction boom in southern California at the time, the change was made from public sector employment, building freeways for CalDOT and the City of Long Beach (airports, harbor and beach improvements) to private sector operations as one of the professionals in-charge of various building programs, industrial and housing developments in the area. That degree of responsibility precludes time to devote to modeling, writing or other matters outside immediate family responsibility. The interest doesn’t go away, just placed on the back burner. You don’t just quit, but the fire is turned down.
When the “fire” could be applied, some basic research was conducted in the National Archives branch in Laguna Niguel, our backyard, and several “vacations” had found the research team in the other California NARA branch in San Bruno, just south of San Francisco. The result of these remarkable treasure digs produced over twenty thousand copied pages of original documents dealing with the U.S. Navy in the Pacific during WW II. The subject matter ranged from operational orders, combat reports, intelligence matters to detailed plans for various equipment changes (i.e. the gun rail to keep PT boat machineguns from shooting up their own superstructures) to the official mailing list of all the ships in the Pacific and their group/unit assignments. And there were treasurers even the staff at the archives didn’t know they had which we found and presented to them as an “oh by the way did you know …”; an original wet ink signature order issued by Admiral Nimitz as head of the Bureau of Navigation and an order signed by General MacArthur after the end of the war (as well as the transmittal order to deliver his car to him in Japan by the captain of the merchant ship in charge of the operation). History just doesn’t get any closer and what a thrill!
The collection of history serves no purpose unless it can be shared with a like minded audience. Most people just don’t have the time nor finances available to spend hours in an archive, library, etc. A two year period was required to acquire the NARA documents and we can be absolutely positive about costs for at that time they were charging ten cents per sheet for photo copies, checks or cash only. While this assembly of information is bits and pieces of the larger picture of WW II, several groups were found in their entirety and just cried out for publication to those individuals interested in the sea war in the south and southwestern Pacific (these are the records found in the two western NARA locations).
Having spent some ten years working in the publishing field for Aero Publishers, Feist Publications, Doubleday & Co., and Squadron/Signal Publications, it was not an unknown field of endeavor but would entail additional acquisition of knowledge in the publication operations area, just another challenge. Scale Specialties (II) rose from the shadows to act as a covering agent for projects envisioned to extend beyond just publishing which is what the “M” in “SMS” would signify – maps (land surveying), manuscripts, miniatures, media consultant (e.g. Tora, Tora, Tora, Sharks of Steel and Saving Private Ryan), and markings (printed ship’s names for wargaming purposes) and our latest entries being historical scale markings (in the form of historically accurate water-slide decals) for armour and aircraft models used in wargames.
The second date of operational involvement is emblazoned on our “SMS” logo, “1987”. This creation was followed shortly thereafter by the release of our first house publication, HARD LESSONS, Vol. One, one of the data/record groups recovered from the Laguna Niguel NARA facility (since with moved). The subject matter consisted of a collection of after action battle reports for the first year of the Pacific naval war prepared for Admiral Nimitz and his command staff. The importance of these reports pointed out clearly that things were not a bed of roses for the U.S. during this period of the war and was a closely run operation – frankly, the real truth behind the newspaper headlines.
With the deep involvement in the history of the early naval battles necessarily needed for HL, interest in wargaming play was rekindled, this also having been placed on the back burner as it were. Not an unknown here as the CO had been involved in the play testing and final production of the naval wargaming rules for GENERAL QUARTERS I, II and later III. Again available time prevented more time spent playing. The field itself had grown in the meantime, more models and rule sets but more importantly – more people interested in playing (a far cry from the mid ‘60s). Additionally, some new model/playing scales had been introduced and taken hold in the public mind and expanded overall interest, growing the field even more.
Once again the stars were in alignment and interests in military miniatures, historical research, availability of well presented publications dealing with military history and preservations and a totally new generations of people (translate that to be “customers”) interest in such subject matter and the second incarnation of SMS had been launched. This time a page from the Action Books game plan was also revived and a presence at gaming conventions in the southern California, followed by northern California in 2003, was started. Being able to present the many outstanding military history / research books and miniature lines from our not your normally seen selections and talk directly to our customers has been particularly rewarding. More so in the fact that the CO is now able to share much of his acquire knowledge of the past sixty years by way of new publications and productions – NOW to include historical decals for miniatures that have been of personal interest to him as well as requested by our customers.
Interestingly, when the NARA expeditions were underway, a document was recovered wherein a naval request had been made for quotations made by notable naval personnel. Many were listed but one was discovered that fit well SMS’s CO. Attributed to Admiral Richard E. Byrd for one of his South Pole ventures, it states, “I will find a way or make one.” That’s a nice summation for Scale Specialties next twenty-five years of projects.
Stop by our web site and see what we’re up to and where we’re going to be.
For Scale Specialties
Norman E. Harms, PLS
Director of Operations