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.
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.
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.
The officer wears leather gloves and leather gaiters instead of puttees. He’s armed with a revolver and beckoning his men to follow.
The separate arms allowed for a number of figures advancing with their rifles at different angles, like these poilus below:-
The firing figures came together very nicely, once again in very convincing poses:
There were also two kneeling poses which once again I thought were very effective.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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”.
“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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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…!
In the course of my research about the Serbian army in WWI as I continue to paint my Strelets figures, I was surprised to have come across a number of examples of remarkable female soldiers who fought in combat roles for the Serbian army. It’s all the more surprising, perhaps, that at a time when in Great Britain the electoral franchise had not even been extended towards women, there were to be found numerous examples of brave and adventurous women soldiers serving in combat roles with the Serbians on the Balkans Front. Here are some of the more notable ones that I’ve discovered:
Captain Flora Sands:
The first Serbian female soldier that came to my attention was in fact a British woman fighting for the Serbian army, Captain Flora Sands. Even as a very young woman (she was something of a ‘tomboy’) she enjoyed riding, shooting and driving racing cars. Yet, for all that, this adventurous spirit eventually ‘took a job as a secretary’, which perhaps says something about the job opportunities for women at the time. Not to be denied a life of adventure, Flora joined the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY), the only quasi-military organisation for women in Britain at that time. This enabled her to travel to Serbia and Bulgaria during the 1912 First Balkan War.
At the time of the First World War in 1914, a ‘middle aged, chain-smoking’ Sands served with the Serbian Red Cross only to become separated from them during the desperate retreat through Albania the following year. She eventually joined up with the Serbian Army and enrolled as a private. Action soon saw her promoted through the ranks to Sergeant Major and, ultimately, Captain, until being badly wounded by a grenade whilst in the thick of hand-to-hand fighting during the Battle of Bitola. This effectively ended her front line military service.
Sands survived the war, married a fellow officer and settled in Serbia where, in true pioneering style, she was said to have driven Belgrade’s first taxi cab! She was awarded the Order of Karađorđe’s Star, Serbia’s highest civilian and military decoration. Only a few years ago, this English woman was still remembered in Serbia via the release of a postage stamp with her face upon it.
Sergeant Milunka Savić
The second woman I discovered was Sergeant Milunka Savić who was brought to my attention by my Serbian friend from Benno’s Figures Forum. She was an astonishingly brave and tough personality, possibly even the most decorated female soldier in recorded history!
Her enrolment is shrouded in some doubt but the most popular story states that it was a consequence of her responding to the enlistment call intended for her brother:
In 1913, her brother received call-up papers for mobilization for the Second Balkan War. She chose to go in his place—cutting her hair and donning men’s clothes and joining the Serbian army. She quickly saw combat and received her first medal and was promoted to corporal in the Battle of Bregalnica. Engaged in battle, she sustained wounds and it was only then, when recovering from her injuries in hospital, that her true gender was revealed, much to the surprise of the attending physicians…
It’s interesting to note that the means of her discovery (injuries sustained in combat) bears similarity to the experience of British female soldier Hannah Snell in the mid-17th century, who narrowly avoided a similar discovery by employing the services of a local doctor rather than the regimental surgeon.
At the time of her discovery by surgeons, she was already a decorated soldier who had been promoted and had experienced up to 10 engagements. Despite being a woman, therefore, Marshal Putnik agreed that she was to be retained as a valued combat soldier and Milunka Savic went on to commit further acts of valour.
…Typically for her, she ran through no-man’s land between the fronts throwing hand grenades, sprang into the Austrian trenches with a bayonet and – still alone – captured twenty (!!) soldiers.
This act won her the order of Karađorđe’s Star for the second time, (the first being gained after the Serbian victory at Kolubara). She would go on to be lavishly decorated by other Allied nations also, such as Britain, France and Russia. In the thick of the action, she was wounded nine times in total. There are numerous tales of her abilities and bravery. In one such tale, French officers had challenged her to demonstrate her skill with hand grenades only to witness Milunka confidently hit a bottle of cognac at 40 metres. The French must have been very confident she’d miss to have risked a bottle of cognac!
After the war, she was married and had a daughter, but soon divorced and, being illiterate, was forced to take a job as a cleaner in a bank. She fell on hard times, which were made even more difficult by her compassionate decision to care for three adopted orphaned girls. Standing up to the Nazis in WWII landed her 10 months in a concentration camp. As tough as ever, she and her girls survived and endured in poverty until, belatedly, she was recognised by the Yugoslav state and rehoused in small accommodation just prior to her death at 81 in the 1970s. With great ceremony, in 2013 she was buried in the Alley of the Greats cemetery in a service led by the Serbian president to be nationally recognised as a great Serbian war hero.
Yet another to come to my attention was Sofija Jovanović, apparently she is sometimes referred to as the ‘Serbian Joan of Arc’. She was a graduate from Belgrade and had applied to volunteer for the infantry immediately after the outbreak of war. Like Milunka Savic, Sofija served initially in the Serbian Army using a man’s name – Sofronije Jovanović – and was soon in action in the early days of war in 1914. I am not entirely sure at which point her true gender was discovered, or in what manner, or even why she was retained. I am also unsure of her army rank but one photo shows her with an officer’s sword.
I do know that she served in the defence of Belgrade and, as with her sister soldiers Flora Sands and Milunka Savic, survived the horrifying, brutal retreat through Albania to achieve evacuation by the Allies. Rearmed and re-equipped, she fought with the Serbian army on the Salonika Front until Serbia’s final liberation in 1918.
I regret that my cursory research of mostly English Language sites has uncovered little more information than this. The images I have uncovered reveal both a smart and richly decorated officer (above) and a tough guerilla fighter (below). The latter picture is a postcard dated 1912 and therefore appears to suggest that Sofija was an experienced soldier and a known female combatant even before WWI, having been a veteran of the Balkan Wars 1912-13. In the postcard, she wears the traditional Serbian šajkača hat and opanci shoes. The rest of the uniform seems (although artificially colourised) to be a dark blue or black uniform. It appears to be the 1896 double-breasted kaporan or tunic. This could indicate she belonged to the 2nd ‘Ban’ or line reserve which was less likely to be equipped with the new single-breasted, olive-grey 1908 pattern familiar in the 1st Ban.
It would be remiss not to mention Antonija Javornik, aka Natalija Bjelajac, another woman whose combat achievements were heroic. I’m not entirely sure how it was that she became a combat soldier or was allowed to do so as woman; there is no suggestion of disguise so it’s possible that she simply made a kind of natural transition from army nurse to soldier. Unfortunately, I’ve only located the one picture and I have found it equally difficult to find out much about her that doesn’t require some translation from the Serbian. Consequently, I respectfully reproduce the following in its entirely from the English language Serbian history site – “Meet the Serbs“:
Natalija Bjelajac was the Serbian army sergeant and a nurse. However, her real name is Antonija Javornik. She was born in 1893 in Maribor, Slovenia, the city where she finished elementary education and left on the eve of the Balkan wars. Impressed by the stories of Uncle Martin, an officer and a lieutenant in the Austro-Hungarian army who changed sides and became a Serbian soldier, Natalia decided to follow his footsteps and go to Serbia to help the Serbian people in his mission of liberation and unification of the southern Slavs. Just when she started to attend a course for nurses, the First Balkan War broke out. In this war, Antonija was a nurse in her uncle’s regiment. They both participated in the liberation of Kosovo and Metohija and the siege of Shkodra. In the Second Balkan War she already fought as a volunteer, with a gun in her hand. On one occasion, she captured an entire battery of Bulgarian soldiers and earned herself her first medal.
In World War I, Antonija fought alongside Serbian soldiers [at the battles of] Cer, Drina and Kolubara. She used a false name Natalija Bjelajac to protect her family in Maribor from the Austrian retaliation, in case of being captured by the enemy. In one of these battles she received another medal. Her uncle Martin died heroically In the Battle of Cer, but Antonija continued to fight with even greater zeal. In the battles on Kaimakchalan (12-30. September 1916), Antonija managed to capture 30 Bulgarian soldiers by herself, and was awarded once again. In breach of the Thessaloniki Front, on 15 September 1918, she had shown great courage, but was severely wounded in the leg and the chest. The wounds healed, but a shrapnel remained in her leg for the rest of her life as a memory of passing through the “Gate of Freedom”. She met the end of the war as a sergeant in the Serbian army. Twelve wounds and twelve medals were there to remind her of the turbulent past. In addition to several medals for bravery and the Order of the White Eagle with Swords, Antonija also became the Knight of the Karađorđe’s Star with Swords and a knight of the French Legion of Honour. She died in Belgrade in 1974 at the age of 81.
Ljubica Cakarević, was born in Uzice and became a school teacher there. In 1914. her father and brothers were among the first to go to the front to defend their homeland. Once Serbia was occupied by the enemy during the First World War, she refused the invitation of the occupier to work as a teacher and performed tough rural jobs instead.
After three and a half years of this labour, Ljubica was forced to leave occupied Serbia in order to escape the Austro-Hungarians, who had issued a warrant for her in the summer of 1918. With a few more people, under the leadership of the Duke of Lunet, Ljubica started out to find the Thessaloniki front to join the rest of the Serbian army. After 27 days of avoiding the pursuit and ambush, the group of starving, exhausted, almost barefooted people came close to the battle lines.
Along the way, they saw burned villages with hanging corpses of people killed by the Austrians, Hungarians, Germans and Bulgarians. The group somehow broke through the Bulgarian positions and finally appeared in front of the Serbian army in a state of complete exhaustion.
After 27 days of this traumatic journey, she testified to the Supreme Command of the Serbian Army, giving an account of the occupier’s crimes. Ljubica Čakarević was part of the Serbian army which liberated its homeland, breaking through the Thessaloniki front on September 15, 1918. For her service she was decorated with the Golden Medal for Courage, the “Miloš Obilić” medal. Ljubica notably became the first freelance journalist of a newspaper for the enslaved Serbia which was produced on the Thessaloniki front. So it seems this brave woman fought with both the pen and the sword.
Once more, I know little about this lady, but I do know that Lenka Rabasovic narrowly escaped capture by the Austro-Hungarians and escaped to the mountainsto join her brother’s Chetnik squad. As a Chetnik, she was akin to a nationalist guerilla fighter rather than a regular soldier. The Chetniks had been active in the two Balkan Wars (1912–13), and as they had proven valuable during that war, the Serbian Army used them again in World War I (1914–18).
Lenka quickly learned to handle a rifle, a knife and a bomb, and bravely fought in all the battles with the enemy. Occasionally, she acted as a courier or messenger in disguise, maintaining communication between the Chetniks of the mountains and settlements then still under the Austro-Hungarian / Bulgarian occupation.
Her brother was killed in 1917. I note that this date coincides with the failed Toplica Uprising, a Serb rebellion in 1917 carried out by Chetniks against the Bulgarian occupation force which was eventually suppressed. Lenka survived one wound and remained in arms until liberation in 1918.
Of course, many Serbian women demonstrated their valour and fortitude or suffered enormously in many other ways during WWI; be it as nurses, workers, farmers, civilians or carers. Over the past century, some of the stories of these soldier women’s achievements may have merged myth with fact. Yet there is no doubt about their incredible bravery and valour which was proved time and again in brutal combat. Some of them would have been considered a truly astonishing soldier in any era and for either gender.
I found even more references to other women serving the Serbian army, such as the courageous and adventurous Australian woman Olive Kelso King who served as an ambulance driver. But that’s probably more than enough for now!
In the meantime, I am continuing with finishing the last batch of Strelets Serbian WWI figures which are wearing a very different colour uniform to the early war figures. I feel I should look very closely at them, perhaps a Milunka Savic or a Sofija Jovanović stands disguised within their ranks…
My latest painting venture will take me into the First World War. Indeed, for 2018, it may be that I visit a number of topics for the Great War which ended 100 years ago in November. The war truly was a world war, taking place across Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and across the world’s oceans. It drew in many countries and the obvious protagonists (Germany, Great Britain, etc.) have often been depicted in 1/72 scale model figures. Other nations have been more neglected and, where possible, it is these that I’d like to concentrate on.
So, the first WWI kit of 2018 will be Strelets’ new release; Serbian WWI Infantry in Winter Dress.
First, a little history…
Serbia and the Great War
The Great War which ended nearly a century ago, began in the Balkans. This enormous conflict, which sent shock waves throughout Europe and the World, was inaugurated when on 28 July 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia.
The Serbian Army at the beginning of WWI was a tough and experienced force which had emerged victorious from fighting two Balkan Wars in 1913; firstly against the Ottoman Empire and latterly against former allies Bulgaria. The Serbian army immediately scored a great success at the Battle of Cer; the first major battle of the First World War. In November 1914, Belgrade was briefly occupied by the invaders but then subsequently liberated in another remarkable and costly victory against Austria-Hungary which occurred at the Battle of Kolubara.
All this was in vain, however, as Bulgaria joined with Austria and Germany in an offensive which saw the Serbian army retreat all the way to the Albanian coast where allied ships evacuated them to Corfu. Here it was reorganised and re-equipped using Entente uniforms. The army then rejoined the fight to liberate its homeland fighting alongside French (mostly), but also British and Greek allies, finally achieving its liberation in 1918 after Bulgaria capitulated.
The cost to Serbia for securing its liberation was truly appalling. A staggering 58% of the 420,000 strong Serbian Army died (nearly 8% of total Entente deaths), leaving 100,000 still serving at the point of liberation. The nation suffered approx 450,000 civilian deaths due to disease, privations and in uprisings against the invaders. Much of this treatment of the Serbian population was captured in photography and appeared to be war crimes.
One of my fellow hobbyists from Bennos Figures Forum, a Serb, shared with me some time ago the following story from his own family history during this time.
My great great grandmother died during battle of Cer, she was in hiding with her son Gvozden, while her husband was fighting with an army…She realized something she forgot, devil knows what at home, she went back and the K und K army captured her and put her in the house and [set the] house on fire…
The “K und K army” refers to the Kaiserlich und Königlich or “Imperial and Royal” army, a colloquial term for the Austrian-Hungarian forces. The harrowing effects of the conflict were certainly not solely suffered by Serbian soldiers alone.
The Serbian army wore the same uniform going to war in 1914 as it had recently worn in the Balkan Wars the previous year. My two Osprey guides to the Serbian army at this time suggest that they wore the M1908 “khaki” woollen uniform with a double-breasted (winter) coat which was in the same colour as the uniform. As the Strelets troops come wearing their winter coats, this information is helpful. Their uniform colour is also described in the Balkans Wars 1912-1913 book as being green-grey, not khaki, yet this is the same uniform as worn in 1914. Choosing the right colour, as so often with painting soldiers, is a matter of making some choices.
It goes on to detail the red branch colour collar patches on the coats which denoted the soldiers to be of the infantry (blue = cavalry, black = artillery, dark brown = ambulance and maroon = engineers). Trousers were tucked into thick woollen peasant socks and the distinctively curved opanci peasant shoes were worn if black marching boots were unavailable.
The Serbia.com website has a very informative page on the WWI Serbian army uniform. It describes the colour of the uniform a little differently. It says:
“The Kingdom of Serbia was one of the first European countries that introduced olive-grey uniforms in 1908. In this uniform, Serbian soldiers went through the Balkan wars (1912-1913), not knowing that they would not have time to put it off, as a new conflict was waiting around the corner, a war in which Serbia would take a heavy toll.
Tired and overwrought, the Serbian soldiers were mostly distinguished in this grand theatre of world war by a cap called šajkača, which was worn, without exception, by anyone who fought under the Serbian flag. However, not all šajkača caps were the same. Officer’s cap was firm with a sun visor and a cockade (enameled tricolor cap insignia with the king’s monogram)…
…The trousers were wide at the hips and narrow at lower legs. The majority of the Serbian army wore the so-called opanci (rustic footwear made of leather), although some soldiers wore boots combined with curlers that offered protection during cold days. An integral part of the uniform was the pouch usually made of cloth in which the soldiers carried their supplies.”
The Strelets figures are quite a departure from the old figures. They are slender and all to scale and in proportion. Great news for wargamers who felt that Strelets were a poor fit with other manufacturers figures on the war game table. On the downside, the figures lack a little of the character and crisp details which made painting them fun. Ah well, there’s seldom such thing as the perfect figure.
So, I’ve been busy working on creating a decent olive-grey / green-grey / khaki / insert-colour-here uniform. I’m already very well advanced so I will share more on how I’ve got on soon!