Le Pantalon Rouge

“Eliminate the red trousers? Never! Le pantalon rouge c’est la France!” (Former French Minister for war, M. Etienne)

As a small boy, one of the key aspects of military history that first attracted me to the subject were the illustrations of brightly-coloured 18th and 19th century uniforms. Of course, the reality of the brutality and horror of war was obscured by those radiant fabrics. Nevertheless, in this era, warfare had evolved in a manner that allowed fashion to blossom alongside function. As the 20th century loomed, these ‘lace wars’ were passing by, irrevocably changed by industrial progress and its deadly armaments. Concealment and camouflage was the only logical response to the modern battlefield and its increasingly deadly weaponry.

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A 1910 postcard showing red-trousered French line infantry marching past a monument to Napoleon. His past glories cast a long shadow over the French army even a whole century after his final campaign.

But there were some refuseniks to the harsh reality of modern industrial warfare. Romantic attachment to these old-style, colourful armies burned as brightly in the French imagination then as it did within me as a schoolboy. When the world went to its Great War in 1914, the French marched off looking much as they would have done fifty years or more before, with red trousers, red kepis, and blue coats.

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The attractive red trousers and kepi would make it even less likely their menfolk would ever ‘come back’

Why had they done this? Great Britain had long since learned of the necessity of concealment from modern weaponry.  In 1902, the French army had actually experimented with a grey-green uniform and helmet, parading with it through Paris, but it had not been adopted. At the inception of the war, some in the French military felt that a rushed change away from their traditional uniform in the name of concealment could be construed by the enemy as ‘cowardice’. Furthermore, the interests of French business which had a stake in the production of the old uniforms also played a part (red clothing dyers, chiefly!), but romance was surely key in ensuring that the French soldiers still retained their bright colour.

“[To banish] all that is colourful, all that gives the soldier his vivid aspect is to go contrary both to French taste and military function.” Echo de Paris.

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In truth, it was probably far more about taste than function. But I can well imagine that I might be one of those seeking ways to justify my instinctive reluctance to abandon the iconic glory of their colourful uniform.

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Early WWI German propaganda postcard making use of colour to more vividly show French prisoners being transported still in their red kepi’s and glowing ‘pantalon rouge’.

By 1915, with losses mounting, the French army bowed to the inevitable. The urgent need for less visible uniforms was being heeded and their initial emergency measures included coyly hiding those sacred red trousers under drab blue overalls. Soon, a new pale uniform colour was adopted (horizon blue) and, after first unsuccessfully trialling a metal skull cap worn underneath the red kepi, the all-metal Adrian helmet was adopted too.

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French infantry uniform sans pantalon rouge…

A cherished romantic tradition died on the day that the red trouser was abandoned, but far too many soldiers had died to bring about that demise. It was a sacrifice which had demonstrated that it was not ‘le pantalon rouge’ that was France, rather it was the men that had worn it.

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It will come as no surprise, then, that I will be painting some French WWI infantry in their 1914 guise. Caesar Miniatures is a manufacturer that I haven’t used before. At first glance their figures look excellent, in my opinion. The only downside being the curious omission of any crossbelt straps and the softness of the plastic. I’ll be reaching for the red paint to make a start very soon…

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My young assistant steps up once more to present my latest box of figures…

 

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Serbia is Saved! Late WWI Serbian Infantry (1916-18)

Continuing my Strelets Serbian infantry winter figures, I’m pleased to announce that I’ve now completed the final dozen figures remaining in the box! The first group of figures demonstrated the early war uniform. These figures all wear the French Adrian helmet rather than the Serbian šajkača hat. Furthermore, some of these also have the French Chauchat light machine gun. So this dates them to the post-1915 period.

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History, 1915-18:

After Serbia had successfully repelled the invasion in 1914, they were once more attacked in a renewed offensive by the German and Austro-Hungarian forces in October 1915. Bulgaria then declared war and attacked shortly after. Despite limited assistance from Serbia’s allies, Belgrade soon fell. Outnumbered and under-equipped, the Serbian army was facing annihilation. Unable to link up with advancing British and French divisions, C-in-C Marshal Putnik ordered a full retreat to the south-west via Montenegro and into Albania.

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The weather was terrible, the roads poor, and the army had to help the tens of thousands of civilians who retreated with them with almost no supplies or food left. Around 200,000 Serbs perished in the Albanian mountains and thousands more perished from disease once evacuated to the Greek island of Corfu. Because of the appalling loss of life, the Serbian army’s retreat through Albania is today considered by many Serbs to be one of the greatest tragedies in their nation’s history.

Заставник 11. пешадијског пука са својим заменицима под Ковиловом Шумадијска дивизија

Post-1915 Uniform and Figures:

The remaining Serbian army needed new equipment and uniforms from their allies before it could rejoin the front line and take on the Bulgarian, Germans and Austrians to liberate their homeland. I’ve painted Strelets’ ‘post-retreat’ uniforms separately as examples of the later war Serbian soldiers that liberated their nation. On the uniforms, Serbia.com has this to say:

“The part of the Serbian army that survived the retreat through Albania, arrived at Corfu in torn and dishevelled uniforms. After recovery, the Allies gave them new uniforms such as the French “Blue Horizon” (fr. horizon bleu) and the British “Khaki”.

And from Osprey’s “Armies in the Balkans 1914-18“;

“Other ranks were issued with M1915 French ‘horizon blue’ field uniform, the M1915 French African Army khaki version; or the M1902 British service dress uniform…(with) the French Adrian helmet with Serbian badge.”

Naturally, for my Strelets figures I went for the less common M1915 French African Army khaki version. My Osprey guide’s illustration of this uniform didn’t seem a close colour match for examples I found on the web. So, I’ve gone with the web versions instead.

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Museum exhibit of the French African army uniform.

I was anxious to get the right colour for the French African Adrian helmets, a kind of rusty brass.  I like to think that my mixing of gunmetal and red leather colours was very successful – I’m really pleased with it. Trouble is, with the metallic shine it doesn’t come out very well in photos!

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Late War Serbian Infantry (14)

Four of these late war figures are armed with the French Chauchat light machine gun which had a wooden handle and stock. It used an unusual half-moon magazine which held up to 20 8mm Lebel rounds. It was a light, portable gun that could be mass-produced quickly, cheaply, and in very large numbers.

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However, it was certainly not without problems, indeed according to this short YouTube film, it was considered to be ‘the worst machine gun ever’, being hopelessly susceptible to defective magazines, constant jamming, overheating and a heavy recoil with inherently inaccurate sights!

My officer is depicted still retaining his Serbian hat, which was apparently still a usual post-evacuation feature…

…and some of his men still wear the Opanci peasant footwear with embroidered socks.

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All in all, these Serbian Infantry in Winter Dress have been very reasonable figures. I personally like a little more crispness of detail, especially in the faces, but the choice of army was an inspired choice for Strelets – bravo!

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Late War Serbian Infantry (4)

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Coming up next:

I’ve got some WWI figures lined up. However, following on from my recent post about female soldiers in the Serbian army, I will be supporting #FEMbruary. More on that in the next post…!

 

Early WWI Serbian Infantry (1914-15)

The first part of my Strelets Serbian infantry in Winter Dress are finished!

I’ve split the box into early war figures (1914-15) and later war figures (1916-18). The key difference is really just the French Adrian helmet instead of the Serbian traditional šajkača hat. The late war figures will be next but the majority of these Strelets figures wear the šajkača and it’s these (of the 1st Ban / army) that I present below.

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Serbian Infantry Early (12)

I’ve based the figures in a landscape which has featured a dusting of snow, so possibly just prior to their epic retreat with Serbian citizens through the Albanian mountains with the winter snows on their way.

Though some wear puttees around their lower legs, for the others I’ve tried to pick out in paint the classic Serbian peasant footwear, the opanci shoes with their horn-like endings to the toes. Likewise, I’ve added some colour to emulate the floral embroidery design often found on their thick woollen socks, the bright red colour of which symbolised the blood lost at the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 fighting the Ottoman Turks. Little of this is visible in the snow and grass – but at least I know it’s there, dammit!

An experimental twist of the arm (above right) made for a more realistic pose for the grenade thrower than came off the sprue (above left), I think. However, the pose is clearly far better than the Plastic Soldier Review’s sour description of it being “the most unconvincing, flat and generally poor grenade pose we have ever seen”.

Plastic Soldier Review also had a bit of rant about the folly of Strelets depicting Serbian soldiers armed with Lewis machine guns, something they said would never have happened. Britain was an ally, so I’m happy to believe some examples may have gotten through. For example, Britain sent Rear-Admiral Troubridge with a naval force to help defend Belgrade, perhaps some examples accompanied that mission? Actually, that story about Admiral Troubridge is a fascinating one and I recommend reading the excellent Succour for Serbia: The British Naval Mission to Serbia in 1915. Anyway, I’ve trimmed one figure (above left) without the Lewis gun (which should keep PSR happy), leaving the figure vaguely gesturing instead.

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Serbian Infantry officers

A little more trimming on the officers; those swords would have been a useless luxury on the battlefield, never mind the retreat through the Albanian mountains. One officer figure, therefore, I created sans sword and without a revolver either (above left) . They have ‘some colour’ to indicate the appropriate enameled tricolor cockade on their variation of the šajkača cap.

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I am really pleased that Strelets have now produced this under-represented but crucially important part of the Great War armies. The figures themselves are good and well proportioned. The only downside, I’d say, is that the faces lack a little of the crisp detail and character so familiar to early Strelets sets. But that’s a quibble; I think these early war Serbs make for a great first set of figures for my 2018 WWI Project.

And it’s more Serbs still to come with the late war figures. These are already under way and with only a dozen to do rather than 30-odd, shouldn’t take much longer. In the interim, I’ve been researching a little Serbian WWI history, but more on that in the next post…

Warsaw at War: 13th Regiment of Polish Infantry

I can confirm that the last of my Strelets Polish Infantry on the March box are now fully painted and based. Minor quibbles aside (those muskets seem a little bendy), Strelets deserve to be applauded for this set which is impressively sculpted.

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13th regt polish infantry (14)

The 13th Regiment was the only Napoleonic Polish regiment to wear white instead of blue uniforms. Apparently this was because they wore uniforms which had been captured from the Austrian army.

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Officer

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The drummer was painted based on a depiction in a watercolour I found on the web. I do like the light blue Czapka, red lapels and white uniform colour scheme! Hopefully, he looks similar to the painting? Oh darn it, I’ve just noticed that his collar is the wrong colour…

The flag bearer had a bare plastic flag attached which required me to paint the details on its curved surface. I wasn’t sure what the flag would have looked like for the 13th regiment and so I simply copied one depicted belonging to another regiment. The result is hardly a masterpiece as I didn’t spend too long working on it, but I’m happy enough with it and I enjoyed the challenge.

And so, that’s all the Napoleonic Poles completed. My next painting challenge is already well under way. It’s another new Strelets set but the era is completely different. I can announce that for 2018, Suburban Militarism will be venturing into the First World War.

Men in White Coats

My 13th Regiment of Polish infantry are slowly approaching completion. With an all white uniform and light blue facings, the challenge is to avoid them looking a little too luminous and bright, yet still pleasingly colourful.

ce01a6b42cbd60b2a2b92a115eaf82ad I’ve used ‘turquoise’ rather than light blue for their facings simply because I preferred the shade (so there!).

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In progress: The 13th Regiment of the Polish army.

I started to paint the drummer in reverse colours until I found a print showing the 13th drummer in white, reversing the blue lapel colour with the red cord colour. So, I’ve gone back to the start with that figure. I’m a little apprehensive about painting a heraldic double-headed eagle onto an uneven surface (i.e. on to the draped flag). The results could be comical!

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I think my ultimate aim with these figures is to place them as if taking part in an advance across a battlefield. Hence, unlike with the previous regiment, I’ve left the bayonets in place. In the meantime, the equipment and muskets are still to do, not forgetting the regimental flag and the drummer too. Updates to follow once these are done…

Polish Infantry on the March

I’ve now finally completed my 20 figures of Strelets’ Polish Napoleonic Infantry! I decided that it would be fun to place them in a mini diorama, marching wearily along some muddy country lane, mud on their boots and trousers.

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They are the 12th Infantry Regiment, which wore the usual dark blue coat (called a kurtka) but were distinguished in the Polish army by their unique yellow collars.

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I think they look rather impressive and a clear improvement on many of their figures from the past.

I’m already working on the rest of the box; 24 figures which include the four command figures (flag bearer, officer, NCO and drummer). This will be the 13th Regiment. Being a chap that always likes to paint something a little different to keep me interested, I’ve selected this regiment because (unique amongst Napoleonic Polish infantry) they wore white uniforms. These were in fact captured Austrian infantry uniforms which sported a fetching light blue colour for the lapels, collars and cuffs.

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13th Regiment, Polish Legion.

With 24 figures to paint, it will take me a fair while to get them finished. I’m enjoying my painting however, so it’s not a chore. The white uniforms are already done and I will be adding some light blue for the facings next. I’ll post an update once I’ve got something decent to share!

I like my military music, so I’ll sign off with a video of Polish Army Band marching through London in 2015 wearing dark blue uniforms and Czapka helmets similar to their Napoleonic ancestors that I’m painting.

Bye for now,

Marvin

12th Polish Regiment (2)

 

Poland Is Not Yet Lost!

 We'll cross the Vistula, we'll cross the Warta,
 We shall be Polish.
 Bonaparte has given us the example
 Of how we should prevail.
"Mazurek Dąbrowskiego" (Poland is not lost); 
Polish National Anthem.

Happy New Year from Suburban Militarism!

The 1st of January is a time for reflection on past achievements and future intentions. 2017 saw yet more regiments added to the Napoleonic Cavalry Project; a 28mm Victorian rifle volunteers project; some 18th century British infantry painted for the Bennos’ Figures Forum group project; a number of museum visit reports were added; and I ended the year creating some Christmas cavalry and painting lots of marching Napoleonic French infantry.

As for 2018, in my previous post I alluded to receiving a generous number of new model soldier kits as Christmas (and birthday) presents. With these kits, there’s a definite East European theme taking shape for 2018 and – dare I say it – a distinct focus on the First World War too (in a departure from my more usual 18th/19th centuries). But it’s familiar Napoleonic territory to start the year as I launch straight into the first of these new kits; the newly released Strelets Polish Infantry on the March.

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My assistant kindly displays one of my (many) soldier-related Christmas gifts.

These Napoleonic figures represent men of the Polish Legions, a force formed by Polish patriots who saw in the rise of Revolutionary France and Napoleon an opportunity to re-establish their nation which was dissolved and partitioned amongst its powerful neighbours in 1795. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth had been in existence since 1569. Once one of the largest nations in Europe by both size and population, by the time of its eventual demise Russia, Prussia and Austria had all taken a share of the territory.

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Napoleonic Polish infantry in action.

In 1797, two years after partition, a passionate nationalist desire for re-establishing a Polish nation saw a sizeable volunteer “Polish legion” created within Napoleon’s French revolutionary army. At this time, a popular piece of music was written to inspire this new legion which would later become the Polish national anthem; “Poland is Not Lost”.

The Polish Legion fought in many theatres of war with the French including Italy, Haiti, Prussia, Russia and in the Peninsular. Whilst Napoleon was more than keen to use the 20-30,000 highly regarded Polish troops for his military campaigns, he showed less passion for their cause – establishing Poland as a nation. Eventually, a diminished Duchy of Warsaw (under the sway of France) was created, but it was dissolved once more following Napoleon’s eventual defeat.

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Napoleonic Polish troops wore predominantly blue uniforms closely following that of their French sponsors, although a distinct addition was their iconic Czapka helmet. Indeed, the Czapka which was worn by Polish lancers would go on to become a standard feature of most European lancer regiments later in the 19th century.

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My Strelets Polish regiment is the 12th Infantry Regiment. They wear the usual all blue coat and trousers (in summer, they wore white trousers), white lapels, red cuffs and (uniquely) yellow collars. I’m minded to create an alternative Polish regiment with the remainder of the box (which also includes command figures). Possible alternatives could include the 13th Regiment (below left) which wore captured Austrian army uniforms and were therefore predominantly white. Alternatively, I could also produce one of the three “Vistula Legions” (below right), which in addition to the usual blue uniforms featured distinctive yellow lapels, cuffs and collars.

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These slender Strelets figures are a significant departure from much of their early creations, such as the marching French infantry that I’ve just recently finished off. The detail isn’t always as crisp and clear as with some manufacturers making it tricky to paint, but it is sufficient to produce most details adequately. The poses are really effective and there is a nice cohesion to this marching force that was absent in the old French infantry set I’ve just finished with. As with that French set, I’ve cut off their bayonets which would have been unlikely to be fixed when on the march.

I’ve made real progress already thanks to all the free holiday time, and here’s a couple of quick snaps taken in the home and garden of some of the 20 figures I’m working on so far. I’ll update once they’re completed, which hopefully could be by the end of the week.

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Strelets French Infantry on the March

After a very satisfactory Christmas Day with my family, I’ve enjoyed a bracing Boxing Day walk in the hills. Sitting back with a glass of iced single malt, I’ve been surveying the embarrassingly high number of model soldier kits which have been bought for me as Christmas presents. More details on these will no doubt feature in forthcoming posts…

The holiday has allowed me time to do plenty of figure painting already and I’ve (somewhat astonishingly) completed my large group of Strelets’ French Infantry on the March.

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It has been an interesting process, returning to paint Strelets figures again. Being nearly two years since my last serious Strelets painting, I had forgotten how different an experience it is when compared to figures from other manufacturers.  Furthermore, my painting style has developed and consequently I’ve had to rethink how to approach these figures.

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Being less ‘pretty’ and refined than other figures, it’s a different aesthetic. Strelets figures look their best in larger groups rather than showcased individuals. This marching cohort is perfect for showing off Strelets. Their chunkier figures make for clearer details when seen from a distance, ‘en masse’. Incidentally, newly released Strelets figures appear to be sculpted to an increasingly refined standard than with these early French infantrymen.

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Although, it’s been a challenge at times and involved some repainting, I’ve been really enjoying the process. As a result, I intend to paint some more Strelets figures which have just come through as Christmas presents!

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Now, I wonder if I get even more figures for my birthday, tomorrow…?

 

In the Bleak Midwinter…

Just as the snow outside has at last thawed to an icy slush, indoors I’ve been adding my own fake snow to some figures. Those Strelets French Napoleonic infantrymen on the march, which have for so long been awaiting basing, are now ankle-deep in the white stuff. I’ve also just decided to cut off any fixed bayonets in order to make them a little more uniform, though they’re still showing in these pics.

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Their brethren, meanwhile, all 26 of them, are having their greatcoats painted. I’m struggling to get the coats to a similar shade as that painted two years ago, they should look closer in colour than in these photos but regardless I’m just going to go for it. Different shades can only add to that wonderfully shabby look with its patched up clothing.

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And they will certainly need those coats in this bleak midwinter…

Snow Business

Ice and snow have come early this year. It’s a phenomenon which is more usually seen over here in January or February, rather than a whole fortnight before winter solstice. With my Christmas cavalry now taking their place with the other seasonal decorations, I’d been wondering what to turn my brush to next when a glance through the window at the winter scene outside gave me an idea…

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The snowy scene near my home this week.

Back in early 2015, I found myself painting 18 marching French infantrymen with a view to submitting one of them to the Benno’s Figures Forum Waterloo group project. The figures were from two (seemingly now largely unavailable) Napoleonic sets by Strelets; “French Infantry on the March” and “French Infantry in Advance“. Both sets feature Napoleon’s finest on the march in greatcoats and these two sets combined supplied a whopping 24 unique poses simply depicting men walking with muskets!

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Strelets French marching infantry in greatcoats. Just £2.50 plus a BOGOF offer?! Ah, Dominoes model shop – you are so very sadly missed…

The style is typical Strelets and figure painters tend to either like them or hate them. Me? I appreciated the campaign-worn, ragtag look to the men. I also rather liked their more characterful style which livens up the process of producing lots of figures ultimately doing exactly the same thing – simply marching.

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You will notice from the photos above that I never got around to basing them. The snow-covered landscape outside has given me the inspiration to mimic the Strelets box art depicting them on the march in the snow (presumably in the Russian winter).

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On the march in the snow: Strelets box art.

Having located the required boxes and prepared 14 more figures for paint, I subsequently found another dozen already primed in readiness from back in 2015…

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14 figures ready to go!
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Err, make that 26 more figures…
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Not forgetting another 18 just requiring a snowy base!

That makes for 26 Strelets figures to paint; all wearing the same beige greatcoats and all just marching! Will I get bored and quit? Possibly, but I fancy giving it a go as it makes for a nice change from painting just a handful of figures only. Consider it an end-of-year palate cleanser before my next project (or palette cleanser if you will ‘scuse the painting pun). Incidentally, Strelets also have no less than four separate Napoleonic kits available just featuring Russian and French winter sledge trains! They like their winter troops.

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But wait – one more thing: in my collection, I also have soldiers based in snow from three other Strelets sets featuring troops in ‘winter dress’ (it must be something to do with the manufacturer being Russian…). I have British guardsmen in Crimean War ‘winter dress’ and also two kits from their 1877 Russo-Turkish War range featuring Russian and Turkish troops in hooded greatcoats. All of these are currently just standing in modelling clay painted white but they could all really use some of my very wonderful “Woodland Scenics’ Soft Snow” treatment. So: yet more winter work to do!