Mon Infanterie Française!

Having posted on the machine gun crews, I’ve now completed the rest of the Pegasus box of WWI French infantry, so here are some pics of the end result. The figures wear the Horizon Blue coat and Adrian helmet. The trousers are white which were worn by some French units when serving on the Salonika front in 1917-18, which these troops are supposed to represent.

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A chap on Benno’s Figures Forum queried whether the white trousers would have been such a bright shade. My response was ‘probably not’, but my WWI encylcopedia states that the trousers worn overseas on the Salonika or Macedonian front were “Horizon Blue or white”, so I suppose that can be taken literally as I have here. Shades and colours during WWI could vary considerably for many nations suffering supply problems with clothing and dyes, so these trousers are probably as likely worn as anything else!

Below are two figures carrying the Chauchat light machine guns, a weapon featured and discussed in previous posts.

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Pegasus French WWI (19)

Another nicely sculpted figure is in the act of throwing a hand grenade. An illustration in my WWI encyclopedia depicted French hand grenades having been painted in the same horizon blue as the uniform, for some reason, and I’ve reproduced that here.

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The officer wears leather gloves and leather gaiters instead of puttees. He’s armed with a revolver and beckoning his men to follow.

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The separate arms allowed for a number of figures advancing with their rifles at different angles, like these poilus below:-

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En avant! Vive la France!

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The firing figures came together very nicely, once again in very convincing poses:

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There were also two kneeling poses which once again I thought were very effective.

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They certainly took their time to paint up, despite the fact that I didn’t paint the whole box, just about 2/3rds of it. .I’m not sure why painting these figures seemed so demanding on this occasion. All I can say is that I think the end result is one that I’m pleased with and so it was all well worth the effort.

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These are probably the last WWI figures I’ll paint for 2018 I think, although I’ve a number of kits ready for resuming the project again next year. Meanwhile, I’ve been making plans on what to paint in the run up to 2019, more on which will be announced in due course.

Until then –  On ne passe pas! On les aura! En avant et vive la France!

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My Serbs are travelling to Serbia!

Suburban Militarism has received a communication from a nice fellow from Serbia enquiring about purchasing my Strelets WWI Serbian Infantry figures. He explained that he and some other colleagues are intending to create a display in Belgrade’s Military Museum on a key WWI battle involving Serbian troops (Cer or Drina were mooted).

From research the internet, Belgrade’s military museum looks extremely impressive and is located in a part of Belgrade’s ancient fortress, in the historical core of the city.

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Glad to help out with any military museum, I waived a fee for the figures and just requested a contribution for postage. Using a little spare underlay from a newly laid carpet at home, I fashioned a padded box for my troops safe transport over to their homeland. A little double-sided tape under their bases will hopefully keep them all in situ during transit.

By way of introduction, I’ve written a few words of greeting on the back of a postcard that depicts a man of the local Leicestershire Yeomanry cavalry.

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Serbian infantry posted (5)

Seems appropriate that, much like the liberating men of the Serbian army themselves at the end of the Great War, these troops are returning to their homeland as though from exile. Godspeed my Serbian lads (and perhaps lasses…)

And in other Serbia-related news, in an astonishing coincidence the BBC News website chose this week to include a story on Flora Sandes, a British woman who served in the front line with the Serbian army during WWI. Earlier in the year, I included a post on Flora Sandes and other Serbian soldier women who fought with great bravery in combat for Serbia in WWI. The BBC item also includes some information on the Salonica front during WWI and the nature of memorial commemoration of the fallen in the region. Well worth a read.

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The BBC story on Flora Sands and the Salonica Front during WWI.

 

Le Bleu Horizon

Earlier in the year I tackled some Caesar Miniatures WWI French Infantry and machine gun crews of the early war period (1914). As I began painting them, I posted on the topic of an army which sent it’s soldiers into a 20th century war wearing the kind of bright red trousers one might associate from soldiers of 50 years or more before.

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Postcard illustrated by Ernest Gabard who drew a whole series capturing the scenes from the lives of French Poilus.

In the Great War, fashion eventually gave way to function for the French army and their bright colours of the previous 200 years finally disappeared from the European battlefield. I concluded my blog post by mentioning that the French army had been forced to adopt a new uniform with a colour known as Le Bleu Horizon (horizon blue).

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My reference guide “An illustrated Encyclopedia of Uniforms of World War 1” by Jonathan North and Jeremy Black describes the process of choosing a less conspicuous uniform colour:

“Although experiments with grey-green had proved a failure in 1911…a mix of red, blue and white was attempted, although red dyes were more difficult to guarantee in sufficient quantity. Once red was taken out of the equation, a light blue resulted and this was quickly branded horizon blue. Production of horizon blue cloth had begun in the summer of 1914… However, it was only in the spring of 1915 that the cloth was issued in sufficient quantities… Production was so urgent that a variety of colours resulted, most of which could be called light blue or steel blue.”

Interesting that the authors suggest that the red dye originally earmarked for the new colour mix was in short supply (Germany had been a major producer, ironically). Was this another factor in the more away from the le pantalon rouge? Previous research that I’d made suggested that French red dye manufacturers were a contributing factor in retaining the red trousers.

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Alongside the change of uniform colour, another significant change from 1914 was in the headgear. The soft, bright red kepi provided insufficient protection from shrapnel and concealment to the soldier on the modern battlefield. An uncomfortable metal skull cap was unsuccessfully utilised underneath for a while but eventually a new helmet was adopted, the iconic Adrian helmet.

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North and Black’s encyclopaedia suggests that the Adrian helmet was not the first one to be trialled by the French;

“In February 1915, (General Joffre) was urging that a design by George Scott be put into production, and some thousands were produced before production ceased at the end of September 1915. The Scott helmet was too expensive… so a simpler design by August Louis Adrian, an officer of the commissariat, was commissioned instead. By December,a total of 3,125,000 helmets had been delivered.”

I’m not sure what the Scott helmet looked like. A video on YouTube shows a short film of allegedly of a “Steel Helmet For French Army (1914-1918)” by British Pathe. The helmet looks much like a version of the Portuguese Army’s fluted Brodie helmet, which was made in Britain. Casting further doubt on whether this could be a Scott helmet, the soldier in the video looks like he’s wearing English khaki?

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The Adrian helmet had a broad brim, a flaming grenade insignia and a crested ridge running from front to back. This was held in place with rivets. The emphasis was on protection from shrapnel from above rather than stopping oncoming bullets. The Adrian helmet was put to use by other forces such as the Belgian, Serbian and Polish armies, with minor variations such as changes to the insignia.

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Last week, I spotted a newspaper article showing re-enactors. The blue horizon uniform and the colour of the helmet was subject to different interpretations as can be seen reflected in the different shades of the reenactors’ uniforms.

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2018 French Infantry reenactors during Verdun commemorations (Jean Francois Badias/AP)

Pegasus WWI French Infantry (1917)

So, my latest contribution to the growing Great War project will be more French Infantry. This time they’ll be wearing le bleu horizon uniforms and the Casque Adrian on their heads. The box indicates the year to be 1917/1918, although some stirring text on the back of the box suggests these figures are for the 1916 battle of Verdun. Plastic Soldier Review seem to suggest the equipment date the figures more from late 1915 to 1916.

 

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Thank you, assistant! Pegasus Hobbies figures look superb.

The box cover shows some nicely painted figures wearing white trousers. To provide a little variation for my painting, I’m opting to reproduce this colour of trousers. My encyclopedia explains;

“Troops sent to theatres beyond Europe (French infantry regiments operated in Gallipoli, Salonika and Macedonia and in Palestine) generally wore a tunic (in horizon blue) with horizon blue or white trousers… Although horizon blue was stipulated for all troops from metropolitan France, as of February 1915 troops serving in hot climates could also be issued with a light (linen) khaki tunic and trousers.”

So, boosting my battle of the Balkans figures, I’ll have some Salonika French troops with white trousers.

The figures are by Pegasus, a manufacturer that I’ve never used before. I must say that the figures are terrific, as good as anything I’ve seen in 1/72 plastics. It’s a shame that Pegasus seem to concentrate on WWII, which is an era this blog seldom ventures near, or I would be purchasing a lot more!

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I often seem to have 2 or 3 painting projects on the go lately. Aside from these French infantry, I’m also painting another two 54mm figures, more on which I will no doubt share at some point soon.

Marvin

Presenting Belgium’s Carabinier Cyclists!

My latest venture into WWI figures is complete. HaT’s choice of figures is an inspired one, the Belgian army’s bicyclists being both an interesting and somewhat neglected subject. Much like Belgium itself, the bicycle’s contribution to the Great War can be easily overlooked, yet both played a small but nonetheless significant role in the conflict. Mark at Man of Tin blog, however, has mentioned that the same figures have at least been previously produced in 15mm scale by Peter Laing.

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HaT’s figures are a great attempt a reproducing something which I imagine is extremely complicated to replicate on a 1/72 scale plastic sprue; a bicycle and a rider with rifle over the shoulder.

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Belgian Carabinier Cyclists (25)

That said, some poses I found easier to construct than others and the figure requiring both of their fiddly arms and handlebars all attaching and gluing together was far beyond my ability to make look acceptable! The four separate poses supplied in the box are below:-

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I’ve based on them on what I hoped would look something like a flat dirt track, a little off-roading which would be well within the capability of these Carabiniers on their ‘Belgica’ cycles and made even easier by Belgium’s flat landscape.

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I think the poses are very good too. Maybe some extra dismounted poses would have been even better, with some carabiniers engaged in a fire fight, cycles lying flat on the ground? Can’t complain, though. Extremely fiddly assembly aside, these figures have been really interesting to research and good to paint – a great addition to my Great War project.


And with that, it’s time to look to the next painting task. I have many possibilities and kits coming out of my ears, so too much choice is the problem as ever. What’s more, there are also a few other posts to come to tell of my recent trips out and about. In the meantime, if you’d like to review the other WWI figures I’ve painted so far, feel free to visit my page on the Great War!

Best wishes,

Marvin

Belgium’s Carabinier Bicyclists

“The reasons of the success of the soldier-cyclist are not far to seek. In the first place it must be realised that his mount, unlike that of the cavalryman, is silent in progress. This gives him an enormous advantage over his noisy foe… But silence is by no means the cyclist’s sole advantage. He has a good turn of speed, which is a factor useful alike in attack and retreat.

“… the ability to take cover often spells the difference between victory and defeat, and here the cyclist scores distinctly. He has but to lay his mount down flat upon the ground and it is practically invisible.” Cycling Weekly Magazine, October 1914.

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Cycling and Soldiering

Cycling and soldiering may at first appear to some to seem almost mutually exclusive. Cycling, particularly of the sort from over a century ago, may suggest a rather quaint pursuit. It may bring to mind scenes of gently wayfaring Edwardian ladies riding prettily through leafy English lanes, or middle class gentlemen with their tweed suits and flat caps. Yet, as the mass industrialised slaughter of the Great War began, cyclist battalions were a common feature in many armies. Indeed, the very first British army casualty of the Great War was to be a cyclist.

On August 21, 1914, in southern Belgium, a 17-year old British soldier named John Henry Parr was sent on a mission with another reconnaissance cyclist to obtain information on the German army’s position. While offering covering fire for his comrade, who escaped on his bike, Parr was shot and killed, thus becoming the first British soldier to die in the Great War. The Bicycle Times, “From the Archives – World War I: Cycling Into Battle”, 27 Dec 2016.

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Germany, USA, Austria, Italy, Russia, Japan, France, Belgium and others all had their own cycling forces too. Great Britain had 14,000 cyclist troops in 1914. In the French and Belgian forces during WWI, an estimated 150,000 troops had made use of the army bicycle at various times. The practice was by no means exclusive to WWI, either. In fact, I painted some metal WWII Dutch army cyclists by Early War Miniatures for a Benno’s Figures Forum Group Build a couple of years ago. Surprisingly perhaps, the practice continues right up to the present day with some troops adopting the cycle for patrols even when deployed in global hotspots.

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German army cyclists, c.1910

The use of the bicycle in warfare first began to be initially explored in the British army by militia and volunteers, not in the more conservative regulars. Cyclist manoeuvres involving volunteer units was first held in 1880 and repeatedly thereafter gathering support amongst those who could see in their use great tactical advantage, speed of movement, and affordability. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle even argued the case for the Yeomanry switching from horse to cycles. Bicycles, it was argued, were silent and swift, increasing mobility on the battlefield for troops. They enabled soldiers to carry more equipment and were far easier to replace when compared to horses or vehicles and required minimal maintenance.

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The Anglo-Boer War gave the first significant opportunity for the British army to explore the bicycle in warfare. It was used by both the British and the Boers, although it met with some opposition by disdainful cavalry commanders at the time. It also came in for criticism as some general staff questioned its ultimate value on the rugged terrain of the ‘trackless veldt’.

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Caption reads: “A man of the “Handy Corps” –
“Handy afoot, handy awheel swift as a bolt from the blue,
Ready to ride and ready to tramp, seeing the business through;
Always there in the nick of time, always right up to the fore,
Eager to take their share in this fight are the men of the Handy Corps”

The BSA and Military Bicycle Museum describes the types of bicycle used by the military:

“There were two types of military bicycle: the roadster and the folding bicycle. Armies experimented with bicycles from the earliest era, but they were not generally accepted until cycle design had evolved sufficiently to produce a robust machine capable of withstanding typical military use. Roadsters were ideal for dispatch riders. Folding bikes were used first by Italian and French armies, and the Faun design, patented in 1896, was used by various British manufacturers, culminating in BSA’s well-known WW1 Folding Bicycle.” The BSA and Military Bicycle Museum

Belgian’s Bicycle Battalions

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With the advent of WWI, the thickly-roaded districts of France and Flanders meant that military cyclists would find the ground better suited for their wheels than combatants found in the South African veldt. The flat landscape of the low countries meant that Belgium in particular was an ideal environment for military cyclists and they were well used in the initial stages before the static stalemate of the trenches set in.

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French WWI chasseur cyclists by the roadside.

Four Carabinier battalions of the Belgian army had attached companies of cyclists. They wore a distinctive uniform with a somewhat old-fashioned peaked hat similar to a kepi. Their cycles were the “Belgica” which was a foldable cycle. This allowed the bicycle to be slung across the shoulder when encountering difficult terrain.

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A dedicated military cycling school in Belgium provided troops with specific training in reading maps, reconnaissance and communication techniques, as well as the mechanical skills needed to maintain the bicycles. Innovation with the military bicycle was rife:

While attempts to convert them into actual weapons by mounting machine guns on handlebars and makeshift sidecars ultimately failed, the bicycle did prove to be very adaptable during the war. Bicycle ambulances were created by welding two bicycles together, side by side, and placing a stretcher in between them. Tandem bikes allowed for a primary pilot to sit at the front and a gunner at the rear. And some bikes were rigged to tow machine guns and other small artillery into position. The Bicycle Times.

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The German invasion of Belgium began on 4 August 1914 and their own Jaeger cyclists went ahead of the infantry with leaflets requesting calm from Belgian civilians. Reconnaissance was often made by bicycle but the cyclist troops were also often hotly engaged, being the first into contact with the enemy. At the very first battle in Belgium, at Halen, the Belgians successfully repulsed German cavalry attacks with a force which included a company of 450 cyclists. Their concealed massed rifle fire inflicted large casualties upon the Germans.

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Model soldier manufacturer HaT has recently produced a couple of WWI cyclist sets for German Jaeger and Belgian Carabinier cyclists, and it’s the latter which I’m currently working on for my latest edition in my WWI project.

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My assistant presents…

The cycles themselves are already painted, as you can see below, and are simply awaiting their riders which I’ll be presenting as soon as I’ve finished painting and mounting them on their bikes!

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Parked ready for their cyclists – a dozen 1/72 scale WWI Belgian army bicycles.

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Exhausted Belgian army cyclists at rest by a roadside.

 

Strelets WWI Austro-Hungarian Infantry

My Austro-Hungarian Pucherna infantry regiment has a pedigree that goes back to 1741. Garrisoned in Transylvania, its ranks are filled by ethnic Romanians. The multi-ethnic empire of Austria-Hungary fought Russians, Serbs, Greeks, Italians, Poles, and indeed other Romanians. In the K & K army, it was not uncommon for Poles to find themselves fighting other Poles, Italians fighting other Italians and Slavs fighting against other Slavs.

Anyway; the figures. First up; this is the finished officers armed  with revolver, binoculars and, somewhat anachronistically, a sword. No Austrian officer would have worn one in the Great War but I suppose it’s a way for Strelets to identify the officer more clearly for wargamers.

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None of the Other Ranks are wearing any metal helmets, just the kepi which, along with the rest of their dress, probably dates them to the early war period.

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I like this next figure, head down, holding on to his hat and running through the storm of bullets and shrapnel – though whether it is towards or away from the enemy lines, who can tell!?

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I’ve painted a couple of men carrying some type of machine gun. Being more knowledgeable than I about Austro-Hungarian machine guns, I can only quote Plastic Soldier Review who had this to say about it:

The standard machine gun of the war was the Schwarzlose M07/12, but this is not that. It has a bipod just in front of the ammunition feed, which must be fairly close to the point of balance, and it has a drum feed rather like the later Thompson sub-machine gun. This makes it look like the lightened German MG 08/15, although when this weapon was given a drum feed it was on the side rather than underneath. As an intended assault weapon its water jacket would have been emptied before being carried like it is here, yet it would still have been much heavier than this figure seems to suggest. However we can find no evidence that the Germans gave numbers of this weapon to the Austrians, so the question must be why it is in the arms of an Austrian.

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Perhaps, then, Strelets have simply been unfussy in their desire to include a machine gunner in the set, useful potentially for wargaming purposes. Incidentally, I have forgotten to paint the stock a wooden colour, something that I will attend to one day…

Other weapons include, of course, the rifle which is depicted being fired either standing or kneeling.

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Also, there are examples of men throwing a hand grenade. It appears to be similar to the German stick grenade, nicknamed the ‘potato masher’ by the British troops. I understand that the Austrians hand their own version of the stick grenade which was thicker and bulkier, so this might be a good match. With the empire having supply problems, I suspect that shortage of materials may have resulted in different versions or even German imports.

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The faces of Strelets figures often seem to suggest something of an individual character about them, such as this chap kneeling and loading his weapon.

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Finally, the use of the bayonet is being practised by this soldier who is holding a suitably aggressive expression.

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And with that group of Austro-Hungarian infantry now despatched, I’m left musing what to paint next in my growing WWI project…

For now, with my summer holiday immanent, a short hiatus will begin as Suburban Militarism will be putting down the brush and taking a well-deserved vacation and heading for a beach. Until next time, best wishes to all my friends and visitors!

 

 

 

Strelets WWI Austro-Hungarian Infantry in Gasmasks

All of my Strelets Austrian WWI infantrymen are now finished and based. I’ll present my handful of figures wearing gasmasks first and then reveal the other more numerous troops in a second post soon.

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I’ve said it before, these troops in gasmasks present a nightmarish sight. The ‘dehumanisation’ of 20th century mass industrial warfare somehow becomes almost literal when the face of a soldier is replaced with such a mask. The expressionless, glassy eyes are very disturbing. Strelets are to be praised for having the vision to be the only manufacturer of 1/72 scale to produce these figures. I previously painted a handful of their British and French infantry in gasmasks just prior to the inception of this blog on WordPress way back in 2014.

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The Austro-Hungarian army of WWI was increasingly reliant on Germany as the war progressed and in the case of supplying its troops with suitable gasmasks it came to rely mainly on German imports rather than their own creations.  This imported gasmask  would have been variations of the Gummimaske.

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WWI German Gummimaske and storage cannister.

So I’ve painted my mask in a similar style to the example above. Strelets, in an apparent oversight, have not included any gasmask storage canisters on the figures, so we must assume that it is either not used and the mask simply stuffed into the haversack or is obscured by other accoutrements.

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A very 2-dimensional figure below, almost like an old-fashioned ‘flat’ model soldier really. With a bit of paint, I think the fellow looks quite effective though.

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Strelets, somewhat eccentrically, often like their officer figures to be fitted out in the full regalia due to the rank, even it seems in the midst of a Great War gas attack! The officer below is wearing a yellow sash and has drawn his sword. He is also aiming his far more practical revolver ahead through the gas cloud.

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More regular visitors to my blog  may notice that I have spent a little extra attention on my bases this time for these figures. Rather than just throw some loose grass scatter over a base, in a completely new approach I’ve created a mix of sand and rock and glued that to the base. Once dry, I applied a soil wash for shading and then added dry brushed layers of paint to highlight the texture of the ground. I’ve included just a few tufts of grass to leave areas of bare earth and rock. This is no doubt pretty basic stuff for modellers but is a ‘giant leap forward’ for Suburban Militarism! It takes a bit of extra time to do so whether I’ll be prepared to take a similar approach all the time is in doubt.

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In 1916, the Austro-Hungarian army attacked the Italian troops at Monte San Michele deploying a mix of phosgene and chlorine gas. This was the first use of gas on the Italian Front and thousands of unprotected Italian soldiers died.

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Italian dead after the Austrian gas attack on Monte San Michele. http://www.esercito.difesa.it, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50801790

There were many ways to become a casualty in the First World War, none of them anything less than terrible, but even in the midst of the industrialised mass killing of that conflict, gas attacks seemed a particularly barbarous and cruel manner to harm the combatants, even to people of the time.

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The use of such chemical weapons was actually banned under 1899 Hague Declaration, so it’s use was already illegal and therefore a war crime. Being difficult to deploy against the enemy in a targeted and effective way (wind direction could be crucial), and also being easily subject to counter-measures thanks to the development of the gasmask, its use thankfully has largely died out in subsequent conflicts although, as in the recent Syrian allegations, the threat of this dreadful weapon sadly persists even today.

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Gas and my Great-Grandfather: some final words

For years, I had always been told that my great-grandfather had been a victim of a gas attack in the First World War. This, I had been informed, was the reason his mind had been affected to such an extent that after military discharge he was apprehended chasing his family down a street with an axe. Harry Bennett was incarcerated in an asylum where he died only a few years later seemingly in poor physical as well as mental health. I offered a few words about this in a very early blog post back in November 2014.

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My great-grandfather, Private Harry Bennett, Leicestershire Regt, 1914-18 war.

A soldier in the Leicestershire Regiment, it was whilst he was serving in France that he had written to his wife to suggest that his latest child (my grandmother) should be named Francis, it being a reference to the country where he had found himself while separated at her birth. Actually, at my nan’s funeral a few years ago (she was 98!), it was reported that he rather less romantically suggested she be named “one-too-many” before then proffering Francis! My brother carries the masculine version of that name, and now my own daughter does too, in her middle name.

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Men of the Leicestershire Regiment on the march during the Great War.

More recently, some information came my way from my mother regarding his service record. It made no mention of gas poisoning but instead made some references to an injury received in battle, from which he’d recovered, and also a persistent foot problem (“trench foot”?) which resulted in discharge. It now occurs to me that, at a time when post-traumatic stress was not understood – much less accepted – the ‘mental effect of gas poisoning’ story might have been a way in which his shattered mental health could be understood and accepted within his family and community. Traditional notions of bravery and cowardice in war made severe psychiatric breakdowns caused by modern warfare appear to be signs of weakness or moral failing. Being employed by a mental health NHS Trust, perhaps I of all people in my family am in a better position to offer a far more compassionate understanding of my poor grandfather’s condition, a century on from his breakdown.

 

National Army Museum: Day Trip #14

Finding myself on a rare trip to London with my wife, I somehow persuaded her that a short detour to the nearby National Army Museum might be in order and she graciously agreed. The National Army Museum is situated right next the Royal Hospital in Chelsea and entry to the museum is entirely free. It was founded in 1960 “for the purpose of collecting, preserving and exhibiting objects and records relating to the Land Forces of the British Crown”.

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I think I must have last visited when I was about 14 years old for a seminar organised by the Victorian Military Society; so, ah, that’s a few decades ago now. It has changed beyond recognition since being reopened recently after a 3-year, £24 million redevelopment. A press release had this to say about the redesign:

Following an extensive review of the existing National Army Museum brand, the museum set out to transform perceptions of a dark and austere military museum to a modern, bright, engaging and relevant space fit for the 21st century.

As someone with a long-standing interest in military history, I must confess that I’m never happier than in a “dark and austere military museum”! Hearing of its transformation therefore into a “relevant space” concerned me a little. Would it be relevant to me? The press release continued:

Working with creative agencies … the new National Army Museum brand is reflected in the physical museum, its website and has influenced designers across the project in every aspect, from permanent gallery displays and public spaces, to interior design and signage.

We strive to talk about our subject in ways that are at once insightful, sharing, conversational, stimulating and above all real and relevant. We want to inspire conversations, not just questions and answers, and support genuine and meaningful encounters with our story for audiences of all ages and backgrounds. The new brand encapsulates this position.

OK. I got to admit that I don’t really go in for all this ‘branding’ speak. A “genuine and meaningful encounter” for me is what happens when I see a military exhibit. What’s “relevant” probably depends more on the individual visitor and is difficult for a curator to anticipate. As for what’s “real” – there’s surely nothing more real than an historical artefact; interactive screens, vinyl wall displays and branding designs are ultimately mere simulacrum. So, though I appreciated the desire for the NAM to engage with as wide a portion of the general public as possible, I was visiting with some concerns as to how engaging I personally would find it.

The new National Army Museum is split over its floors into separate galleries respectively titled “Soldier”, “Battle”, “Army”, “Society” and “Insight”. It sounded all a little bit vague to me and, pressed for time, didn’t assist me to identify where I might quickly find topics that I’m most interested in. Nevertheless, I suppose it’s an imaginative attempt to introduce the topic to the more general visitor who might not have such preferences.

Inside, the museum certainly looks impressive. It’s open and inviting, strikingly fresh, modern and clean.

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Plenty of open floor space – a NAM gallery.

Perhaps it’s a trifle too clean? There are lots of open space which, I couldn’t help but feel could have been used to display more exhibits! Thankfully, there are still plenty of exhibits to be found for a military history nerd like me to enjoy. So, I’m going to review some of the best.

The “Soldier Gallery” contained about a dozen uniforms worn by manikins in glass cases. The arrangement was seemingly random although, with such a wide subject, perhaps such indiscriminate juxtapositions are as good an approach as any. I’d have liked to have seen more of them, nonetheless!  Lawrence of Arabia’s Bedouin robes were on display as were the below examples of the superbly ornate 10th (Prince of Wales Own) Light Dragoons (Hussars) and the very smart 1st Duke of York’s Own Lancers (also known as Skinner’s Horse), a cavalry regiment of the British Indian Army.

I was particularly pleased to see an example of the striking First Aid Nursing Yeomanry uniform on display. Having discussed Serbian women’s involvement in WWI and having taken part in FEMbruary earlier this year, female involvement in warfare is a topic that has cropped up a number of times on Suburban Militarism.

The pouch on the rear of the uniform states “FAYC”, referring to them being yeomanry cavalry, i.e. they were expected to ride horses. Any hard riding would have been severely hampered by the presence of that long navy skirt. No doubt many in the FAYC would have rather worn far more practical riding breeches. The very fine scarlet uniform closely resembles the kind of smart Full Dress uniform in use by some of the male yeomanry of the time. For Service Dress, the men were already moving on to the more practical khaki – displayed alongside was the excellent Anglo-Boer War-era Imperial Yeomanry uniform.  The style and colour of the FAYC uniform was a sign that women were not at all expected to get involved in the front line of battle. My post on the Female Soldiers of Serbia gives some indication of how this restrictive expectation was thwarted by many brave women in reality.

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A display of artefacts of volunteer soldiering

There was a nice display case (above) of some exhibits which, unfortunately, were not labelled for identification. The interactive screens nearby may well have been able to tell me more but a lack of time moved me on and so I was left to speculate what the peculiar white japanned dragoon helmet was (some yeomanry musician’s helmet?), or the age and regiment of the light-blue sergeant’s coatee of some light cavalry.

I was pleased to see some of the colourful and unusual dress from British empire forces from overseas. A uniform of a West Indian regiment was treat to see, it’s style modelled on the renowned Zouaves of the French army, apparently on the instruction of Queen Victoria herself. A fascinating account of the history of the West India Regiments from its iniquitous slavery beginnings through to 1927, “Slaves in Red Coats“, can be found on the NAM website. Further exploring British army uniforms across the globe was the above West African Frontier Force uniform. Like the West Indian version, this Lance Corporal of the Nigeria Regiment also sports a Zouave-style jacket and red fez but without the white turban wound about it.

Waterloo, Wellington and Napoleon loomed large in the displays in the Battle Gallery. It was a great experience to stand so close to exhibits such as Wellington’s cloak and General Picton’s top hat from the battle.

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With apologies for the blurry image – Lieutenant-General Picton’s top hat.

Looking at that top hat, I was reminded of the scene in the epic film “Waterloo” by Dino De Laurentiis where Lt-General Picton is shot and killed leading his troops forward in a scene brilliantly portrayed by Jack Hawkins. The sight of a gentlemanly top hat and umbrella in the midst of a brutal battle was memorably incongruous. In the film, a gruff Hawkins cries to his men “On! you drunken rascals, you whore’s melts, you thieves, you blackguards!” But his tirade is halted as the top hat is suddenly scarred by shot, the only sign that Picton himself has been hit also. The hat is last seen tumbling to the ground alongside it’s owner on the Belgian hillside, swallowed up and lost in the ongoing battle. Picton was described by Wellington as being a  “a rough foul-mouthed devil as ever lived”, but respected his great ability to command. His last words were reputedly a far less coarse “Charge! Charge! Hurrah! Hurrah!” as he lead his troops to counter-attack the French.

An impressive cuirass and helmet of a French Carabinier was displayed as was the skeleton of Napoleon’s famous grey horse “Marengo”, which he rode throughout many a campaign. The Arab mount was visibly a rather small horse, judging by the skeleton. It suffered 8 wounds in battle but survived to a grand old age of 38. Captured at Waterloo, it ended its days living a deservedly quieter life in England. Astonishing to think of the dramatic events, places and people that the now sightless Arabian stallion must have once seen.

I encounted a magnificent diorama of Waterloo that I’d heard about previously. It was first developed by Captain Siborne over a decade after the battle happened making use of his own obsessively meticulous research. Financial issues as well as the immense work involved delayed its completion until 1838. Incorporating, in its original form, over 70,000 tin soldiers (5mm scale) it demonstrated an immensely detailed recreation of the landscape. Siborne reputedly fell foul of the Duke of Wellington, who apparently voiced disapproval for a perceived incorrect excessive bias towards the role that the Prussians had taken, though this is disputed amongst historians.

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Capt Siborne’s enormous and intricately detailed 1838 model of Waterloo. The Allies are to the left. Hougoumont chateau is visible centre-right and some Allied squares are visible centre-left.

Finally, I visited the Soldier Gallery which presented a wall resplendent with all manner of exotic military headdress!

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Military headdress extravaganza on display at the NAM.

Again, it was a somewhat random approach to take but ultimately looked impressive. Up on this wall, I discovered my very first example of a British hussar’s Mirliton, which was very pleasing to see. This headdress was something which I’d modelled for the first time earlier this year when painting my Swedish Morner Hussars.

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Amongst other new discoveries was the Light Company helmet pictured below from the time of the American Revolutionary War. Note the face on the crest, the red horsehair and turban. The appearance of the figure of Britannia on the front plate identifies this as being the 9th Regiment of Foot, later the Norfolk Regiment (see Rule Britannia! My report on the Norfolk Regiment Collection from 2016).

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More examples of headdress below including some very spectacular Dragoon helmet crests sandwiching a grenadier’s mitre cap.

Exhibits shown below are of the Napoleonic British Dragoon Guards and an 1834 Lancer’s Czapka of the 17th Regiment, notable for its skull and crossbones cap badge indicating ‘Death or Glory’. Both tremendously ostentatious and decorative objects.

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Left – Dragoon Guards helmet c.1812. Right – A Czapka of the 17th Lancers c 1834.

My wife and I then underwent instruction by a virtual Drill Sergeant, which involved standing on a specific area and having a video of sergeant bellow instructions at us. He offered “helpful” advice and “considered” assessments of our relative performance. I’m pleased to say that he was slightly less annoyed by my performance than by hers!

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Khaki: An 1860 Indian Army cavalry officer’s frock coat, not standard issue so probably privately purchased.

Sadly, I then had to rush off before I had a chance to experience either the Society or Insight galleries. All in all, I had an enjoyable visit and discovered some great objects. I’m not sure the ‘theme’ approach quite works for me and some of the efforts gone to engage a wider audience were sometimes just not relevant or of interest to me as a visitor with an established interest in the topic. That said, I do fully understand and accept the drive for a national museum with free entry to engage the widest possible audience and not just the history nerds like myself.

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Portait of Captain William Tyrwhitt Drake of the  Royal Horse Guards, 1815. His helmet is above the portrait (without the plume).

The NAM’s efforts to make its exhibits available online via it’s website – or by appointment to its storage facility – and to also reach out with create ‘extra-curricular’ evening talks, events and displays are to be commended (viz. a recent cultural evening of food, music and performances to launch a display on Romania’s WWI involvement).

The very well refurbished National Army Museum in particular had very helpful and friendly staff. With free entry and lots to see, it can only be recommended to those with any degree of interest in military history.

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An eerie 1915 Gas Hood – an early response to gas attacks.
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Lewis Gun, foreground.

Men of the Common Army

My Austro-Hungarian troops of the First World War have come on apace. Althoug a little ‘rough and ready’, Strelets are always fun to paint with the result usually containing unusual poses and characterful faces.

The Austro-Hungarian army consisted of three distinct parts:

  • the Common army (Gemeinsame Armee),
  • the Imperial Austrian Landwehr (a territorial reserve)
  • the Royal Hungarian Honved  (the Hungarian equivalent of the Landwehr)

These troops of mine represent a regiment from the Common Army. Specifically I’ve nominated them as being from the Infanterieregiment Pucherna (numbered the 31st) and given them the yellow facings that characterised the regiment. It was a Romanian regiment garrisoned in Nagyszeben, capital of Transylvania which was then under the dominion of Austria-Hungary.

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“Infanterist” painted by Hans Printz in 1914

Anyway, with some remaining ‘bits’ still to do and of course the basing still to sort, here’s how some of them are looking so far. First off; a handful of troops from the Strelets WWI Austrian Infantry set:

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And a preview of the other Strelets figures from the WWI Austro-Hungarian infantry in Gasmasks set. I only have one sprue of this set, bought in a private sale with another hobbyist, hence only a handful of figures. The reflection in their eye pieces give them a suitably nightmarish aspect.

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Being an early Strelets set, there are lots of poses, some of which I haven’t displayed as yet but will do so when I’ve got them all based and ready to present; hopefully some time later this week.

Pike Grey and the “K & K”

Earlier this year, I had begun to paint some 1st World War figures, starting with Serbian infantry, followed by some 1914-era French. Figuring that I’d like to turn my attention to the Great War once more, I’ve reached for some figures from a country that has been overlooked by plastic 1/72 scale manufacturers hitherto; Austria-Hungary. This is perhaps surprising given the nation’s size and significance to the conflict. In fact, only HaT and Strelets have made any Austro-Hungarian figures that I’m aware of at 1/72 scale.

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Contemporary WWI postcard depicting troops of Austria-Hungary in action.

Neither manufacturer has made sublime figures, in my opinion, but I’ve opted to go for figures by the Ukranian manufacturer Strelets. Strelets have recently manufactured an impressive new kit; the WWI Austro-Hungarian Honved (a Hungarian version of the Austrian Landwehr). However, I’ve gone for their earlier, and now increasingly rare, sets of “WWI Austrian Infantry” and “Austro-Hungarian Infantry in Gasmasks’.

 

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WWI Austrian Infantry…
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…and they also come in gasmasks.

The style of Strelets figures tends to prompt a polarised response from hobbyists but I must confess to being a fan. They’re not ‘beautiful’, but typically they’ve plenty of character and loads of crisp detail to hang your paint on.

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Going into the Great War, the Austro-Hungarian Army introduced a uniform colour known as “Pike-Grey” (“hechtgrau” in German) for general issue to the infantry in 1908. The main headdress in the field was the kepi, also coloured the same pike-grey. I’m unsure as to why the shade of grey was named Pike. ‘Hecht’ refers to the predatory freshwater fish, yet that is largely olive-green in colour with little in common with the light grey uniform shade.

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“We want to win and we have to win!” – The Central Powers of Germany and Ottoman Turkey, with Austria and Hungary (distinguished by the ornate knot on the trouser thigh).

A little history:

The empire of Austro-Hungary was inaugurated in 1867, being a dual-monarchy split between Austria and Hungary in place of the former single Austrian Empire. The empire’s full official and very wordy name was “The Kingdoms and Lands Represented in the Imperial Council and the Lands of the Holy Hungarian Crown of St. Stephen”. The new dual monarchy was formed following Austria’s defeat at the hands of an increasingly powerful Prussia in 1866, which marked the decline in power and influence towards Prussia (and consequently Germany) and away from Austria. The empire and it’s army was colloquially known as the “K und K”, or the Kaiserlich und Königlich, referring to the Empire being both Imperial and Royal (i.e of the Austrian emperor and Hungarian king).

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Christmas 1914 for a wistful infantryman of the “kaiserlich und königlich” army.

It was certainly a curious conglomeration, the Austro-Hungarian empire, which eschewed the increasing popular idea of nations bound by ethnic identity then sweeping Europe. The state instead consisted of many different ethnic groups speaking different languages (including German, Hungarian, Czech, Slovak, Polish, Ukranian, Croat, Slovenian, Italian and Romanian). Their ageing monarch at the outbreak of the war in 1914 had ruled these disparate lands for 66 years.

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The cataclysm began with the declaration of war by the Austro-Hungarian empire upon Serbia in 1914. As the other Great Powers were drawn inexorably into the conflict, the Dual Monarchy found itself faced with war against Russia to the east as well as Serbia and Montenegro in the Balkans to the south. In May 1915, another front opened with Italy’s entry into the war on the side of the Allies.

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Serbian cavalry charges Austro-Hungarian troops, December 1914. The Austro-Hungarian army broke and fled back across the Danube for the second time.

From the very beginning, things did not go well for the empire. It’s invasion into Serbia saw the K&K army ignominiously expelled to the dismay of the Emperor, being badly beaten by the Serbs at the battle of Cer. A second invasion later briefly took the Serbian capital Belgrade only for the army to be badly defeated and ejected once again by a Serbian counter-attack at the battle of Kolubara in the winter of 1914. Another front then opened with the Austro-Hungarian campaign in Russian-controlled Poland which was to prove another failure. A counter-offensive by Russia them also cost the Austrians many casualties and prisoners of war and resulted in lost territory.

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Austro-Hungarian troops engage the Russians in the Carpathian mountains.

With German and Bulgarian assistance however, the Austrians eventually managed to conquer Serbia and Montengro (see my earlier post on the flight of the Serbian army through Albania) but were confronted by renewed assaults by a re-equipped Serbian army and its allies, the French, British, Romanians and, latterly, the Greeks. Their heavy reliance on German help effectively made the Austrians increasingly subordinate to their allies. To the embattled Germans, fighting with an ill-equipped and beleaguered ally was akin to being ‘shackled to a corpse’ (a quote widely attributed to German General Erich von Ludendorff).

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K & K troops defending a mountain pass against Italian troops.

As the war progressed, Italy exerted great pressure on Austria-Hungary who, once again, required the assistance of German armies to turn the tide. The Russians withdrew from the war after the 1917 revolution but eventually, terrible food shortages and political strife at home, together with declining fortunes both in the Balkans and the Italian front, led to the empire’s own disintegration and collapse. The Czech, Slovaks and Hungarians eventually declared independence and forced the remainder of this once extensive ’empire’ to sign an armistice on the 3rd of November 1918, 8 days before the Germans did the same.

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Fierce combat against the Italians in the desperate Battle of Doberdò, 1916. Mountain warfare in the mountains was a feature of the war against the Italians.

Despite defeats, setbacks and poor equipment; and despite the fractured ethnic and linguistic nature of the empire, the Austro-Hungarian army had endured for four long years of war against the allies. In its battles across the mountains of the Alps and the Carpathians; in Italy, Slovenia, Serbia, Poland and Romania; against the Russians, Italians, Serbs, Montenegrins and others; the K&K army had suffered over 1 million military combat deaths (the 4th highest of any country in WWI) and a further 3 and half million soldiers wounded. It was a terrible price to pay for a defeat that would ultimately see its old empire disappear into history.


I’ll be presenting my Austro-Hungarian army of 34 figures, gas-masked or otherwise, soon.

Marvin