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.
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.
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:-
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.
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!
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
The third regiment from HaT’s Swedish Napoleonic Cavalry set is ready for parade. A pleasing dozen of figures to paint with their large bicorne hats and clear, crisp sculpted details.
Obeying the information I uncovered, I depicted them all riding ‘dark coloured’ horses; painting up some bays, dark bays and black horses.
Just the two poses, but I quite liked the relaxed look of the figures. Below – one of the carbine carrying troopers.
Uniform colours were blue coat, yellow facings, buff-coloured crossbelts and breeches. Sabretaches appeared to be blue with three yellow crowns. Shabraques, likewise blue with yellow edging. The bicornes are shown with a tall white plume.
I’ve suggested before that HaT’s horses are OK without reaching the superb sculpting of some others I’ve painted, but after applying some paint, I do think they look good and have gone up in my estimation a little.
So that leaves two more regiments to paint; Cuirassiers and Light Dragoons. Last time, I indicated which regiment from the box I was going to paint and then painted something different. So, this time I simply say – expect news of another Swedish regiment soon! In the meantime, the usual regimental biographical information.
Biography: The Scanian Carabineer Regiment
This regiment was first formed in 1676 and named the Blekinge Regiment of HorseBlekingska regimentet til häst. Commanded by Hans Ramsvärd, the regiment was also known as Ramsvärd’s regiment to horse. They fought during the Skåne war, including the battles of Lund (1676) and Landskrona (1677).
In 1679, the regiment was permanently transferred to Scania, in the southern tip of Sweden, despite being initially associated with the Blekinge province. Ljungbyhed, a town in the northwest of Skåne (Scania) was the base for the Carabineers.
When the Great Northern War began in 1700, it was transferred to the Baltic States before then campaigning in Poland and Russia in the years up to 1709. During this time, the regiment took part in the Swedish victory over the Saxons at Kliszów (1702) and then later in the terrible defeat by the Russians at Poltava (1709). The survivors of the regiment surrendered with the rest of the Swedish army at Perevolotjna, but a group also accompanied King Karl XII in his flight to Bender in modern-day Moldova.
The regiment subsequently participated in most of Sweden’s wars during the remainder of the 18th century. In 1757, the entire regiment was part of the expeditionary force sent to Pomerania under Field-marshal Mathias Alexander von Ungern Sternberg. On November 18 1758, a detachment of the regiment was part of General von Lingen’s force at the combat of Güstow. It served in the successive Pomeranian campaigns until 1761.
In the latter part of the century, the name was changed to be the Southern Scania Cavalry Regiment (Södra skånska kavalleriregementet), before becoming the Scanian Carabineers in 1805. In this guise, it took part in the final stages of the Napoleonic Wars, during the 1813-1814. The only other heavy cavalry regiment in the Swedish army at this time were the cuirassiers.
The Scanian Carabineers later changed its name in 1822 to the Scanian Dragoon Regiment. This name was then retained until the final decommissioning of the force in 1927.
I confidently announced in my last post on the Nappy Cavalry Project that my next regiment from the HaT Swedish Cavalry box would be the Smaland Light Dragoons. I then promptly picked up the Scanian Carabineers and began work on that regiment instead. I’m a bit like that. Capricious.
A Carabineer, ( Carabinier or Carbineer) was originally a French word intended to indicate cavalry armed with carbines, a lighter firearm than the longer musket. Although originally a concept for light cavalry, it seems that Carabineers were frequently equipped as medium or heavy cavalry. Napoleon’s French Carabiniers were eventually armed with a brass-lacquered cuirass, and the British version, called the Carabiniers, were otherwise known as the 6th Dragoon Guards, technically a medium-heavy cavalry formation.
Anyway, the Swedish Scanian Carabiniers were a heavy cavalry formation and were distinguished by their very broad-brimmed bicornes and tall white plumes. They had separate uniforms for undress (yellow uniform) and service dress (blue uniform). I’ve opted for the latter for my figures.
Just the two poses, one with carbine in hand (appropriately):
…and the other figure with sword drawn:
At least I get to paint a different horse after the previous 24 Swedish cavalrymen required the very same duo of horse figures! Apparently, the standard Napoleonic Swedish cavalry horse would barely pass as a pony, today. However,
“…the Cuirassier Corps and the Scanian Carabineers – the two Swedish heavy cavalry regiments – were to have horses exceeding 1.45m in height. Any colour of the horse was generally accepted, but for the heavies – the Cuirassiers and Carabineers – they had to be of dark colour.”
So, some dark-coloured mounts are required. They will be next up to paint, although – truth be told – I’ve a few other things on the painting table at the moment competing for my attention…
A series of regular blog posts displaying images from “British Cavalry Uniforms of the 19th Century”; a set of trade cards issued by Badshah Tea Co. of London in 1963.
#6: The 6th Dragoon Guards
“Raised in 1685 and known as the King’s Carabiniers, partly because the men were armed with long pistols known as ‘carabines’. The regiment was amalgamated in 1922 with the 3rd Dragoon Guards to form the Prince of Wales’ Dragoon Guards. This is an officer in 1888.”
Sites of interest about the 6th Dragoon Guards (also known as the Carabiniers):
The Carabiniers-à-Cheval, the penultimate regiment in this year’s project, have now been finished. They’ve been fun to do and have a look that is pleasingly unique. Italeri have, not for the first time, produced a terrific set with these figures. This was a set I bought ridiculously cheap a few years ago when my local hobby shop closed down, perhaps I should dedicate them to their once truly terrific model soldier department?!
Painting the Carabiniers white uniforms and their black horses was the biggest challenge. I like to think that the end result is satisfying but, looking at these pictures, I can only state that what seems to work rather well to the eye just isn’t being reproduced in photographic form. The white uniforms look too white and the black horses somehow look grey! They’re a little better than that though in ‘real life’ and you’ll just have to believe me…
As we move in to the final two months of the year, I now aim to do one more regiment, plus a final end-of-project special feature which I’ll reveal nearer the time!
Voici les Carabiniers:
Biography: 1e Carabiniers-à-Cheval [France]
In 1679, French cavalry regiments were required to have two carbine firing specialists in each company. Some years later, these carbine-wielding marksmen were grouped into dedicated carbine companies, one for each regiment. By 1693, the next logical step was to group them all into a dedicated regiment: The Royal Regiment of Carabiniers.By the time of the Seven Years War, it was named the Royal carabiniers de monsieur le Comte de Provence, and based in Strasbourg. In 1774, they became the Carabiniers de Monsieur. Two regiments of carabiniers were appeared in 1787 and, in an evolution from their original light cavalry role, were now designated as ‘heavies’, wearing blue coats and bicorns.
By the time of the Revolutionary Wars, they were now distancing their royalist heritage and wearing tall bearskins, effectively being Horse Grenadiers for a short while. The French Ministry of War ordered that the carabiniers must always be chosen from seasoned and reliable soldiers. After losing their Horse Grenadiers title, they continued to wear bearskins (inconveniently without any chinstraps) and blue coats sporting a scarlet trim for 17 years in total.
The Carabiniers-à-Cheval featured in many campaigns for Napoleon; they fought against the Russians and Austrians at Austerlitz; and in the 1806/07 campaigns against Prussia and Russia (e.g at Friedland). In 1809, with the temporary absence of the Guard cavalry, the 1er Carabiniers Regiment formed Napoleon’s escort. During this campaign however, at Aspen-Essling and Wagram, Austrian lancers they encountered hurt the regiment sufficiently for Napoleon to decide to equip them with metal helmets and cuirasses covering both front and back. This change also stipulated the adoption of a dramatic all-white uniform and brass sheathing on the cuirass plates. On their heads was a romanesque helmet sporting a red woollen crest.
The Carabinier regiments traditionally rode on large black horses. The Russian campaign restricted the availability of horses thereafter such that other colours had to be ridden in compromise, albeit on the best mounts available. They distinguished themselves at Borodino in 1812, and later at Dresden and Leipzig in 1813. Fully engaged in the defence of France at Montmirail, Craonne and Reims, they survived the first restoration of the monarchy in 1814 mostly thanks to their traditional royalist heritage.
The regiment missed the action at Quatre Bras but at Waterloo both regiments played a part. They were attached to Kellerman’s 3rd Cavalry Corps, alongside the 2nd and 3rd Cuirassiers, each fielding a little over 400 men. For much of the day, they were inactive. In late afternoon, when Marshall Ney ordered mass cavalry attacks against the Allied squares, Kellerman specifically ordered the Carabiniers a Cheval to hold back and remain out of the carnage. Ney eventually found them sheltering in a hollow and, in a rage, ordered them to join the main cavalry attack. These fruitless charges on Mont St Jean ridge caused them heavy casualties and the defeat at Waterloo proved to be the denouement for both the regiment and its emperor.
The 12th regiment in my project is already well and truly underway. After a number of figures from other manufactures (Waterloo 1815, Zvezda and Revell), I’ve chosen to return to an Italeri set with the excellent “French Heavy Cavalry”, or perhaps more accurately “French Carabiniers-à-Cheval”.
In truth, I started this set right back in May but wasn’t entirely happy with the way it was progressing, and then I got distracted by another set of figures…! But I’ve had to come back to them because they have such an astonishingly ostentatious uniform. Furthermore, I have yet to attempt a regiment in this project wearing a cuirass. With their impractical white uniform contrasting starkly with a red woollen crest, that brass cuirass with blue trim is an outrageous final flourish. It all makes for a distinctive addition to the project.
So now I’ve just got to paint it, something I wasn’t entirely comfortable doing last time. Defining details on a white uniform is always a real challenge for the figure painter. Then there’s the brass cuirass – there’s just not very much I can do with sheet metal other than add the paint! Nevertheless, they look terrific in white, red and brass and I’m enjoying painting them immensely.