17 April 2020
Learn how to make a miniature air raid shelter in two different scales.
We know many miniaturists enjoy creating WW2 scenes and those scenes wouldn't be complete without a miniature bomb shelter.
We've got you covered, showing you exactly how to make a WW2 Anderson shelter in miniature with a detailed tutorial in 1/12th and 1/24th scale. Plus, find out about the history of the WW2 Anderson shelter from creator Brian Long who remembers the Second World War...
WW2 Anderson shelter: a history
As a boy at the outbreak of World War Two, I lived with my parents in a colliery village with long rows of houses running for two and a half miles along the North Sea coast. One end of the village was terminated by a minor river used by a few fishermen, the other end was much more important as the river there was used to service submarines. This made us a target for the German air force so overnight, every identical house had an identical Anderson air raid shelter half buried in its front garden.
The shelter consisted of a shell 6’ high, 4-1/2’ wide and 6-1/2’ long. This was made using fourteen sheets of corrugated iron. Six were bolted together to form an arch or tunnel. One end of this was closed by three tall sheets while the other end, which contained the entrance, was constructed using two larger sheets and two smaller ones. The fourteenth sheet was larger than the opening left for access and was set at an angle, on the outside, as a shield.
The handbook said the shelter should be built in a hole 4’ deep but most gave up at 3’. The soil from the excavation was used to cover your iron cave, again as the handbook said, with at least 15” of earth.
At that time fewer than 25% of the population had gardens in which to erect Anderson shelters but still 2,250,000 were built. A survey conducted in November 1940 showed that 27% of Londoners used Anderson shelters, 9% in public shelters and 4% used the underground. The remainder either worked at night or slept in their own homes perhaps using a Morrison shelter. This was made from heavy steel and could be used as a table being approximately 6’6” long, 4’ wide and 2’6” high.
Anderson shelters were given free to people who earned under £5 a week. If you earned above that figure a shelter cost £7. As I came from a large family, we had an Anderson shelter in the garden and a Morrison shelter for the overflow, in the house. Even then red tape abounded and a family could not have two Anderson shelters but you could have the more expensive Morrison shelter.
Who was Anderson?
From 1939–1940, John Anderson 1st Viscount Waverley (1812-1958) was Minister of Home Security. Then as Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1943, it was he who introduced the PAYE system of income tax collection. The original thinking behind the shelter was that it should be erected indoors, but was approved for outdoor use only. This meant that the sheltering public were not in large groups in public shelters but were widely dispersed their shelters in their own gardens.
This was a conscious move from the deep shelters proposed by Ramon Perera who had overseen the construction of such bomb proof shelters in Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War.
On the 10th November 1938 Anderson presented his idea for providing a cheap domestic air raid shelter to engineer William Paterson who along with fellow engineer, Oscar Carl Kerrison, produced their plans within a week, quickly followed by a model. Legend has it that Anderson tested it by jumping on the model which survived.
Satisfied, he handed the plans over to the President of Civil Engineers for evaluation and development. By February 1939 the first kits for shelters were delivered to households in Islington, North London.
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How to make a miniature air raid shelter: materials
Project by Brian Long.
Corrugated material will not bend without the use of special machines but help is at hand. Flat sheets are available at 1/12th scale and metal cans can easily be found for use in 1/24th scale models. But larger cans used in the catering trade can be obtained by the persistent scrounger! Corrugated card can be used to make up any shortfall, but even that won’t bend against the grain.
This model can easily be made at 1/24th scale using cans readily found on the shelves of most grocers.
At 1/12th scale there are slight problems for most of us unless you are good at riveting, bolting or welding, as the largest cans to be found are just too small. Using caterer’s size cans the arched section is only 6” long not 6-1/2”, and the ends, if cut from one piece are 5-5/8” wide not 7”, but visually it works if strictly not correct.
Some of the many cans that can be found on the market.
Make sure to cut the cans in such a way as to remove the stout rim. To make flat sheets from a can is a slow job. Brian recommends holding the tin in a closed drawer and carefully bending it back 1/2” at a time.
Anderson shelters were made in a rush, mass-produced and resulting in rather ragged edges that snagged clothes and cut hands. What is true of the wartime product is also true of your miniature in as much as it will have sharp edges so do take care. Brian ran a small amount of rubber based glue along edges exposed so as to reduce this risk.
How to make a WW2 Anderson shelter in miniature: tutorial
You will need
- 3/8” Ply or MDF for base, framing of the box and supporting walls (optional)
- 1/16” ply or wood for floor of shelter
- 1/8” Ply or wood for surface of garden
- Pollyfilla to cover the 1/24th scale shelter and texture garden. For the larger model rags soaked in emulsion paint or a mixture of 50% glue to 50% water
- Grass and shrubs were made using ‘Heki’ landscape materials. Grass comes in sheets or scatter, this design uses: Scatter HK 3312, Scatter HK 3318, bush kit HK 1530, lichen HK 3214
- Flowers and vegetables depend on what you have in your toy box or you may prefer to make them
- A miniature flag (this flag came from a bag of British farm produce)
- Paint in white and grey
Cutting the metal to size
Diagrams NOT to scale
1. The below diagram (1/12th scale) shows the front of the shelter built up with sheets of corrugated metal 2-1/2” wide. While four sheets are used here only three are required for the back (at 1/24th scale cut the ends from one sheet each).
Note: The blast shield placed in front of the entrance should be 2-1/2” x 3-1/2”. Being larger than the entrance it could not be blown into the shelter. I cut ends from one piece of a caterers can it being only 5-5/8” wide instead of 7”, but doing this you will not be required to bolt, weld or rivet pieces of corrugated tin.
2. The smaller cans used for a 1/24th scale model can be cut using a Stanley knife. Brian used a Dremel drill to cut the door in the larger cans used for the 1/12th scale model. All other cutting was with a stout pair of scissors.
3. The below diagram (1/12th scale) shows the side view and how the shelter sits in the 2-1/2” deep hole below garden level and the foot well in front of the entrance.
If you love getting to know the history behind WW2 miniatures and their scenes, you'll love our Meet the Maker article, all about VE Day and some very intriguing characters...
Assemble the base of the miniature Anderson shelter
Diagrams NOT to scale
4. Mount on a board 12” x 12” with four sides 2-1/2” high if you wish to have a bit of a garden. But if not then a smaller board would suffice. In effect this forms a box into which the shelter is placed.
5. For inside the box cut two pieces A and B of wood 2-1/2” high x 7-1/4” long for the front and back. Cut out a 2-1/2” x 1-1/4” deep section in piece A as shown. For the sides cut two pieces C and D 2-1/2” high by 6-1/2” long.
6. Glue the four pieces inside the box with pieces C and D, 4-3/4” apart to form the sides of the hole in the garden. It is important that there is a 1/8” gap left between the sides and the front and back to allow the ends of the shelter to slot in.
The back wall should be positioned 1-1/2” from the side of the box to allow ample space at the entrance end at the front.
7. The arched section is under quite a bit of tension and the bottoms will tend to spring inwards. To overcome this, fit a floor using 1/16” thick wood but with a 1/16” gap along each side to slot the metal sheet into. Also fit some form of brace to the outer face of the side pieces. Brian used 3/4” quadrant.
8. The arch and gable ends in place prior to covering the box to form the surface of the garden. Before fixing the surface for the garden area you may like to tile the floor inside the shelter. Brain used actual tiles but paper or card would work too.
The tiled floor and foot well.
9. Cut out the 1/8” wood for the back, sides and front garden areas. Remember to cut the 1/8” gap in the side pieces to match those in the walls below to slot the shelter front and back into. Glue sections in place.
10. Once you are happy with the fit of the shelter dismantle it and paint the interior walls white and exteriors grey.
The front entrance
11. This has a wooden frame. The top and the bottom each consist of lengths of wood a little longer than the width of the doorway. Cut a small notch into the ends of these so that they can slip into position with the corrugated metal fitting into the notches. The side pieces have square cut ends and should be a tight fit between the top and bottom pieces. Finish with a small dab of glue at each corner to hold them. At 1/12th scale, Brian used 5/16” wide architrave.
Having built the main structure for the Anderson shelter, we are now going to landscape the exterior and surrounding area and make the furniture. The landscaping is a very much ‘do what you want and be creative’ project so do just that. These instructions will get you started then you can be really creative and plot and plan your garden as you wish.
12. To build up the ground on top and around the shelter soak your rags in a solution of 50% glue to 50% water, or use paint.
13. Drape the rags over the model, building them up to create an uneven surface.
14. Alternatively, you can work your landscaping with Polyfilla, which Brian used for the 1/24th scale bomb shelter.
15. At the front on either side of the shelter a wall is required and a line of bricks within the garden area as shown. Miniature bricks, sandbags, stone and turf sods were also used here.
16. Once in place and the shelter fully draped with rags, paint it all grey.
17. The shelter and garden area is now ready for you to use any landscaping materials you have to create the grass, shrubs, plants and vegetable garden.
18. In season, the piece of garden just outside the front entrance was planted with good old-fashioned cottage flowers while the rest of the garden was turned over to vegetables to help the war effort. You can create the same effect if you wish.
19. The hanging blind in real life was anything from a hessian sack to a piece of old carpet. First, drill two holes to slip the retaining cords through then glue your choice of material to the wooden door frame.
20. As the metal used was once a round can it and will try to return to that shape and as a result will not sit flush with the end of the shelter without help. Brian drilled a 1/16” hole towards the front of the top above the entrance and then screwed an eyelet into the back of the front to take a bolt, but also made use of the screw end that came through the other side. Onto this, he fixed a patriotic name board.
Make a bolt from stout wire and insert through the eyelet and into the hole to hold the wayward front flush with the outer edge of the arch.
Cutting list for furniture
- 2 lengths of 1/4” square wood by 5-1/2” for front legs
- 2 lengths of 1/4” (6mm) square by 3-1/2” for back legs
- 4 end pieces 1/4” (6mm) square by 3/16” long
- 4 bed sides 5-3/8” long made from 5/16” wide architrave. Cover this frame by using short planks or strips of canvas
- 2 lengths 1/4” square by 13/16” long for ends
- 4 lengths 1/4” square by 1-1/2” long for legs
- 2 bed sides 5-3/8” long made from 5/16” wide architrave. The top is made using 5-3/8” long planks
Important: remember, the maximum width of the beds is 1-1/2”.
21. The platform on the floor was made using 3/16” square wood. Brian used seven lengths of 4” and three cross members 1-1/2” long. The unit between the beds is optional and can be anything from a board resting on the beds, an old box or crate.
Furnishing the Anderson shelter
Most people made their shelter a little home from home but the number of people in the family dictated how much furniture was required.
Components for the bunk beds.
Simple homemade bunk beds were universal as not only could you sit on them but also if it was to be a long night you could lie down. If space allowed it a small table for a lamp or candles could be used.
End frames of the bunks with long side pieces and planking for the top.
22. Brain suggests a bunk bed on one side, with a single one on the opposite side. At the back between the beds a table or bench with shelves above for any small items of food taken into the shelter with you.
Bench bed with component parts
Beds were narrow and made using any scraps of wood to make the frame and supports. The mattress support could be wooden slats, wire mesh, heavy webbing or a sheet of ply wood or planning.
23. In your model use 1/4” (6mm) square wood for the corner posts and lengths of skirting or similar for the frames.
On the floor most people had a wooden platform just to keep their feet off the cold bricks or concrete. There was only the blast shield to protect them from the elements.
The above diagram shows bunks with wooden slats, wire mesh and a large flat sheet of wood forming the base. Note how the upright at the back of the bunk beds is shorter than that at the front. This was to allow for the curve in the roof.
Bed frames with some planking in position
24. Place the furniture in the shelter. A single light bulb hangs from the roof, with the wire on the back wall going out through the floor and to a transformer (optional).
The below diagram shows a cutaway view of an Anderson shelter. Here, the mother has rations for the extended stay and is sorting out the boy’s gas mask.
And here's how your finished 1/24th Anderson shelter should hopefully look! No worries if there's differences, it's your personal miniature Anderson shelter, so you wouldn't want it to look exactly the same as anyone else's.
No matter your size choices or style of WW2 Anderson shelter, now you know how to make a miniature Anderson shelter, you can create one to fit perfectly with your scene.
Looking for more miniatures to make for your Second World War scene? Do you have a sweet tooth? Then you're in luck, all you need to do is head on over to our miniature wartime sweets tutorial.