French Personalities of the Crimean War

Having been very much enjoying painting Strelets characters from their Crimean War Big Box range, I thought it was time to turn my attention the French officer corps. These figures came from their “Last Assault on Sevastopol” box which, in addition to the two dozen officers, also supplied other sprues of French Zouaves, light and line infantry.

Unlike their “Heavy Brigade” set, “Last Assault…” did not come with a detailed list of named individuals. I believe most of the figures are intended to be generic officers therefore although, as Plastic Soldier Review suggests, a handful are undoubtedly intended to be specific personalities. Pioneering photographer Roger Fenton took a good number of photographs of members of the French army including anything from senior commanders to common soldiers, and even a female vivandière (a version of which Strelets also modelled for the Heavy Brigade set).

To begin, the two identifiable French personalities:-


General Aimable Pélissier

Of course, no set claiming to be about the French assault on Sevastopol could be without its commander in chief and one character provided by Strelets seems to fit the bill. The sash and physique suggests that my figure (above) is intended to be General Pélissier (below):

Marshal Pelissier by Roger Fenton, 1855.

Below, my painted figure certainly bares comparison with Pelissier as depicted in Fenton’s image.

Now I look at him, the black and white photograph suggests a brighter colour than the light blue I have painted around his waist, perhaps yellow. Furthermore, le pantalon rouge looks more distinctly le pantalon bleu! Never mind, the white hair and dark moustache have been reproduced well enough.

Pélissier was sent by Napoleon III to the Crimea to replace the existing commander Marshal Canrobert, who was judged too cautious. A more vigorous approach to the siege of Sevastopol eventually reaped its reward with the French storming and taking the Malakoff Tower in September 1855, leading to the evacuation of south Sevastopol by the Russians.

After the Crimean War, Pélissier was showered with awards from home and abroad including the title ‘1st Duc de Malakoff’ in recognition of the Sevastopol assault. The figure wears a number of awards and medals on his chest, the large silver cross being I believe a Légion d’honneur star (or plaque). Strelets have shown Pelissier holding what I believe is a piece of paper or map.

Another Fenton portrait of General Pelissier.

General Pierre François Bosquet

According to Plastic Soldier Review;

“We can’t identify any particular individuals (although doubtless some will have chosen some for themselves), but the first figure in the fourth row looks to be taken from a famous photograph of General Bosquet, and indeed several figures seem inspired by such photographs, which is a very reasonable source to us.”

They are referring to this figure pointing a finger with his hand tucked behind his back.

Fenton actually took a number of photographs of Bosquet, including the one below. General Bosquet seems to have been quite a theatrical character, keen to be photographed in his trademark authoritative pointing pose!

Pierre François Bosquet was an artillery officer who spent 20 years as a soldier in Algeria, during which time he variously commanded Algerian tirailleurs and later some line infantry, rising to the rank of General of Division. Serving in the Crimean War from the very early stages, his division led the French attack at the opening encounter at the Alma.

It was Bosquet who uttered the now famous line when observing the Charge of the Light Brigade;

C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre: c’est de la folie!

(It is magnificent, but it is not war: it is madness!)

Bosquet’s arrival with troops during the battle of Inkerman secured the Allied victory. Seemingly ever present in the forefront of all the action, at Sevastopol Bosquet personally led his troops both on the June attack to capture the Mamelon fort and also the great attack on the Malakov in September, during which he received a severe wound. He survived the war but ill-health led to his untimely death just five years later.


The rest of Strelets’ figures though full of character do not appear to be based directly on any of Fenton’s photographic subjects, so I’m simply presenting them below, in no particular order:

Bugler and Drummer

Two satisfying musicians with lots of colour to them, a bugler and drummer of the French army, 1855.


French Officers and Staff

This figure I liked a lot for his casual stance with hands tucked into his waistband and a face of utter nonchalance:


This next roguish officer seems to be enjoying a glass of something refreshing. I realised when painting this that I have never painted glass before. So, I’ve simply added to silver a little blueish hue, assuming that this old soak has just drained it of a fine ’48 Bordeaux. I like their idea of having his overcoat draped over his shoulders.


If it’s not alcohol that helps my French officers through the rigours of the Crimean campaign, it’s tobacco. Here, a nicely campaign-weary officer contemplates another tough day in the trenches over a long pipe. Hand tucked into his waistband, I fancy he might be enjoying a smoke, post-evening meal.


What I thought was one of the least promising figures has turned out nicely, I am particularly pleased with his greying beard and surprisingly interesting face, glancing askew.


Next, another nice pose with a shoulder cape and hands clasped behind his back. This chap was a victim of an accidental assault by my wife after I carelessly left him on the dining room table. He has come through okay after corrective painting and hasty re-gluing, although he appears to be keeping a wary eye out for any further outrages.


This is another figure which looked less promising thanks to the face being along the line of the flash from the mould. A little paint has improved my assessment of a convincing pose for a man leading an assault.


Finally, below is an officer of the Chasseurs d’Afrique, a regiment which I painted some years ago from Strelets range of Crimean War figures. It’s not one of their best sculpted figures, another victim of the join on the seam, and it’s curious that his sword is drawn whilst on foot, but I like the ‘Chass d’Aff’ and felt it demanded inclusion!

Fenton took some photographs of officers from this regiment, including this one below of a mounted officer in camp.

Captain Thomas of the Chasseurs d’Afrique

And to conclude, some more images from Roger Fenton of the French officer corps in the Crimea:

I’m toying with the idea of one more batch of these French officers, if you can stand it, before finally moving on to something new.

You know, I think General Bosquet could easily have been talking not of the Light Brigade but of my eccentric hobby – “c’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre: c’est de la folie!” Yes, madness, I tell you! Madness!…

Advertisements

Strelets French Army Sledge Train (set 1)

My Strelets French Army Sledge Train is now finished with snow freshly dusted over the scene. The end result looks suitably cold, I think. Or maybe it’s just the deteriorating weather outside having that effect on me?

In the sledge there is a driver wearing a Polish Czapka, an officer wearing a cocked hat and another man wrapped in a luxurious fur coat. This chap holds a keg and is sitting on a locked casket. Notably, he wears a pair of spectacles. His hat is a bit of mystery to me. If not a specific piece of military headdress, it could be anything stolen or purchased simply to keep his head warm, so I’ve just painted it blue.

I mentioned in my previous post that the driver figure could in no way be made to ride the horse or sit in the sledge without something to sit on. Imperial Rebel Ork suggested I made something out of green stuff, sculpting anything is always a risky strategy for me! At the last minute, I decided to use a 1/72 scale wooden box from my childhood collection of Napoleonic French Artillery. The box was perfect but the driver still didn’t sit well as his legs were too far apart, even after I rashly cut his toes off (which I now put down to frostbite, you see…). He’s leaning a teensy bit far back for my liking,  but as he’s about to wield a whip, I can just about say ‘he’ll do’.

Those walking behind include (from foreground to background below):

  • An infantryman in great coat wearing a Polish Lancer’s discarded czapka.
  • Another infantryman carrying on his back a small drummer boy and his drum.
  • A dragoon with a blanket around his shoulders and without any footwear.
  • At the back, a Chasseur of the Guard amputee using a staff as a crutch.

You may just be able to pick out the sledge tracks in the snow? It looks a little more convincing to the eye!

There’s a convincing sense with these figures or struggle and hardship, particularly now they’re painted and in the snow. Little things that I was pleased with are lost to the camera in these pics; the wooden floor of the sledge and the casket, to name but two.

I think my favourite figure is the soldier carrying the drummer boy and drum on his back. It’s quite a complex piece of sculpting which comes out very well after applying some paint. All the figures look good, though, I think. The barefoot dragoon is convincingly cold with the blanket, for example.

Napoleon himself adopted the use of a sleigh when he abandoned the remnants of the Grand Armee on its retreat from Moscow, so it really was the best way to get around in the snowy conditions.

“It’s a long way to Lithuania…”

I mentioned how much I liked Strelets emaciated pony. The suffering endured by the horses taken on campaign with Napoleon was truly appalling. Virtually all of Napoleon’s 200,000 horses died from starvation, wounds, injuries, exhaustion or, increasingly during the terrible retreat, at the hands of starving men desperate to use them for food.

Even in the opening weeks of the campaign, many thousands of horses died in a great storm. The outlook for this poor, struggling pony in my scene is probably as bleak as for the men walking on behind.

You may notice from the pic below that the horse is moving off to the left. This is simply a feature of one of the poles connected to his harness being longer than the other! But if anyone asks – the horse is very deliberately turning left…

I’ve also added another dozen men to my growing collection of painted Strelets Marching French infantry figures, currently now over 50 strong. It’s a long-term aim of mine to finish both boxes in the coming years and build a 100-man marching column to accompany the sledge train.

Settle down, grab your popcorn – it’s time for a short movie:

Watch a feline Cossack attack my marching column of French infantry!

There’s a second set of the French Army Sledge Train with different figures which I may source for next year’s wintry hobby painting. And finally – just a few last pics showing the marching column making its way across the icy wastes of my lounge carpet:

Sleigh Ride

Recently, I’ve enjoyed getting the fake snow out for basing my Christmas Artillery figures and as the temperature drops here in the UK and December looms, it’s the perfect time of the year to do it, too.

In December of last year I added to my growing contingent of Strelets French army figures marching through the snow. I’ve just painted another dozen men to add to this already large group and am now planning to add something extra too to it too. This snowy retreat from Moscow will now include “Strelets French Army Sledge Train 1“, set.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is strelets-french-infantry-marching-6.jpg

Strelets produced four separate sets of sledge trains back in 2015, two for the French army and two for the Russians. Needless to say, as these sets are depicting Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow in 1812, the Russians are looking decidedly healthier and better equipped on their sledges than their French counterparts! 

 So, let’s take a look at the figures in the box:

First of all – the sledge with its horse in harness. The sledge is a simple wooden affair on skis, as you might expect. Strelets have depicted a suitably thin horse with plenty of bones on display, suggesting that the hardships were not confined to the men. Often, I find Strelets horses too bulky and stocky – one of the reasons no Strelets cavalry set has ever found its way into the Nappy Cavalry Project. This starving horse brings the anatomy pleasingly into more believable proportions.

The sledge is drawn by an emaciated horse in harness.

The driver below looks like a lancer of the guard who has fortunately purloined a warm coat from somewhere. There’s a real problem as to where to put him as he appears to be sculpted to sit on something but the sledge unfortunately does not come with an armchair! I’ll work something out, maybe I’ll have him standing but in crouching position?

The driver

The set also comes with walking stragglers. The figures are very pleasingly old-style Strelets, which is to say each figure is full of great character and eccentric attention to detail. Recent sculpting is more refined but lacks a degree of personality.

  • Below Left: Appears to be a Chassuer a Cheval of the guard  who unsurprisingly has chosen to wear his fur-lined pelisse to keep out the cold. He is also an amputee, leaning on a crutch. His chances of hopping the 1000km from Moscow back to Vilnius are slim, I’d imagine!
  • Below centre: This poor fellow ‘s helmet suggests he is a dragoon. The blanket around his shoulders looks inadequate for a Russian winter. His bare feet puts his chances of survival very low indeed.
  • Below right: Like the sledge driver, this man wears a polish czapka suggesting he might be a soldier of the Polish legion, or simply an infantryman wearing any discarded head protection he can find. Uninjured and with a long coat, my money is on him being the most likely of the trio to get home.
Having one leg or bare feet was not a recipe for survival on the long retreat through the Russian winter…

The fellow below has two burdens to carry through the snow; a drum and a small drummer boy clinging to his shoulders. It’s a touching idea and one that reminds us that children and families also accompanied the French army and shared in the appalling suffering of the retreat.

There’s always one who seems to look after himself while everyone else suffers. This man is lucky enough to be riding in the sledge. He also has a very warm fur coat and a pair of fur lined peasant boots. A hat and hood protect his head and he appears to have glasses or even goggles. Instead of a child, he cradles a barrel of something alcoholic to keep out the cold. He also has a handy seat in the form of a locked casket which, presumably, contains food or even money with which to buy all the best winter clothing!

This chap has the right idea – wearing a fur coat and riding in the sledge.

Riding next to him in the sledge is an officer, identifiable by his cocked hat. The officer is again fortunate, no doubt thanks to his rank, to have a full length coat and a ride in the sledge.

The cocked hat of the officer – a man abusing his position to ride the sledge!

So that is a preview of the sledge occupants and stragglers accompanying the column of French infantry I’ve been building up in recent years. Hopefully, now well under way with just a few figures to paint I should be able to update on my progress soon.

In the meantime, here’s a bit of light music to accompany the post, though I’m not entirely sure Leroy Anderson had Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow in his mind when he composed “Sleigh Ride”…

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.

Pegasus French WWI (24)

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.

Pegasus French WWI (20)

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.

Pegasus French WWI (10)

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

pegasus-french-wwi-8.jpg

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

pegasus-french-wwi-18.jpg

Pegasus French WWI (22)
En avant! Vive la France!

Pegasus French WWI (21)

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

pegasus-french-wwi-6.jpg

Pegasus French WWI (7)

Pegasus French WWI (1)

Pegasus French WWI (3)

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

Pegasus French WWI (12)

pegasus-french-wwi-15.jpg

pegasus-french-wwi-16.jpg

pegasus-french-wwi-14.jpg

Pegasus French WWI (13)

Pegasus French WWI (11)

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.

Pegasus French WWI (1)

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!

Pegasus French WWI (23)

 

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.

ww1-a-170-charge.jpg
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).

s-l1600 (8).jpg

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.

ww1-b-240-gabard.jpg

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.

s-l1600

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?

scott helmet

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.

helmet.jpadrian g

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.

ipanews_bf9571b4-485f-4634-9b0e-76e6ac6ec361_1
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.

 

Pegasus french (2).jpg
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!

s-l1600 (4)

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

Voilà les Poilus: French WWI Infantry (1914)

You’ll be pleased to note that this will be the last of my ‘franglais’ titles for a while because the French infantry are all finished. After posting on the machine gun teams from this set, I hereby present the remainder of my box of Caesar French WWI Infantry from 1914 (apologies for the slightly dingy photos lacking in daylight – I hate this time of year):

Caesar French WWI infantry (26)

Yep, these Caesar figures are very impressive. The proportions are good and the sculpting and mould are too.

Caesar French WWI infantry (31)
French WWI infantry Caesar (13)

French WWI infantry Caesar (16)

The only downside is that the soft plastic has allowed the rifles to occasionally bend and I have been unable to put them back into the correct position without them just bending right back again! I wouldn’t expect that the poilu on the left below will hit a great deal at any range…

french-wwi-infantry-caesar-282.jpg

french-wwi-infantry-caesar-381.jpg

Aside from the machine gunners, the box also came with a small group of infantrymen lying prone on the ground. I’ve placed these together on the same base in a kind of firing line. Half of them are loading and the other half firing from behind a small rise in the ground. Despite the cover, the German army will have an easier time identifying where they are thanks to the bright red kepi on their heads. Furthermore, the kepi will not offer much protection when the bullets fly. The dull, all-metal Adrian helmet is yet to be adopted…

The officer I’ve painted with a blue cover over his red kepi, which is I believe named the ‘Saumur’ version,  which was usual by the time of the Great War. He has binoculars in  a case; a sword, which was pretty useless in modern combat; and a revolver, which was more useful in close combat. He has been sculpted blowing a whistle, a nice touch by Caesar as it was a vital communication tool on World War One battlefields. He also has spurs on his ankles which horse riding company commanders such as captains or lieutenants would have had. My rank cuff stripes of gold lace have been too widely spaced, I reckon.

Caesar French WWI infantry (28)
French officer blowing a whistle. Would have been handy for refereeing duties during the 1914 Christmas Truce…

This nicely thought out set also came with an interesting ‘walking wounded’ figure. He has presumably received a bullet or shrapnel wound to the left arm and been subsequently treated at a dressing station behind the lines. On reflection, I might get a bit bloodthirsty and add a little seeping through red paint to one or two of them white bandages. Convincingly, they have had their backpacks and weapons removed prior to receiving their treatment at the front. Presumably, they will be transported off somewhere to convalesce – lucky buggers!

So that’s the Caesar French poilu ticked off; the third group of figures from the First World War. Going through my embarrassingly excessive collection of soldiers, I’m in the process of considering what to do next and will no doubt reveal all soon.

Caesar French WWI infantry (27)

 

La Mitrailleuse

Mon Dieu! I’ve now completed the French WWI Infantry by Caesar Miniatures! Before I present the rest of the box, I thought I’d first showcase my machine gunners. The box includes three sets of these machine gun crews and I attempted two of them:

french-wwi-infantry-caesar-362.jpg

French WWI infantry Caesar (33)

french-wwi-infantry-caesar-342.jpg

french-wwi-infantry-caesar-40.jpg

In my limited knowledge of WWI armaments, I initially assumed the machine gun was a Hotchkiss, which took ammunition in the form of the long metal feed strip that one of the men can be seen holding, kneeling down and ready to insert into the side.

French WWI infantry Caesar (31)

The French did adopt the Hotchkiss guns but only, it seems, as late as 1917. At the beginning of the Great War, the French were using another model of machine gun; the Mitrailleuse Mle 1907 T, otherwise known as the St. Etienne.

mitrailleuse french postcard
Beautifully painted contemporary postcard entitled “La Mitrailleuse”. Men can be seen holding the ammunition feed strip ready.

So, being 1914 figures, I must assume that they are using the St. Etienne Mle 1907 mitrailleuse (machine gun). This gun was a development from the disappointing Puteaux APX. Although superficially similar to the Hotchkiss, the St. Etienne was intentionally radically different in its design in a deliberate attempt by the French government to circumvent the patent held by the private firm Hotchkiss et Cie.

01e6be57886e51c0d70180d2f2a05483--heavy-machine-gun-machine-guns
French troops operating the much maligned Puteaux APX machine gun, forerunner to the St. Etienne.

The St. Etienne fired it’s 25-round metal strips of ammunition at a rate of fire which was adjustable between 80 and 650 rounds per minute. At a high rate of fire, I imagine the men feeding the 25-round magazines would have had their work cut out! The bullets were the standard 8mm Lebel and, as with the Chauchat light machine gun seen in use by my recent Serbian infantry figures, the St. Etienne suffered gravely from stoppages and maintenance issues in the dirty and difficult conditions on the front line.

etienne3
The St. Etienne Mle 1907 mitrailleuse. Note the seat low down on the rear leg. The small wheel and handle are presumably for elevation and direction changes.

The Hotchkiss was to considered to be much more reliable than the St. Etienne and was eventually adopted in mid-1917. Many obsolete St. Etienne’s were then sent to reserve units and allied armies such as the Italian or Romanian. forces

While I’ve been painting these machine guns, a little thought was nagging me about a Great War painting I vaguely recalled being titled “La Mitrailleuse”. Sure enough, I discovered it was the title of a 1915 painting featuring French soldiers at a machine gun position by Welsh artist and Great War soldier, Christopher Nevinson.

La Mitrailleuse 1915 by Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson 1889-1946
“La Mitrailleuse” 1915 painting by C.R.W. Nevinson

A BBC article from a few years ago had this to say about Nevinson’s “La Mitrailleuse”:

“It is a portrait of this first experience of truly modern war – rooted, as it now was, in mass production and the mobilisation of organised industrial process. In the painting the men are drawn with the same hard, angular, rigid lines as the gleaming silver-grey gun they are operating – the men are robotised to become, with the fiercely powerful weapon they are wielding, complementary parts of a coordinated destructive enterprise, humanity absorbed into the killing machine.” The Faceless Men – by Allan Little

The men in the Nevinson painting are wearing metal Adrian helmets, having abandoned the red kepi. However, they all still have the blue overcoat and the soldier operating the weapon is clearly still wearing the famous red trouser. In this image, the echoes of romantic military uniforms from the past are fading fast, but not yet quite disappeared completely. Le Pantalon Rouge is the only vivid and bright colour appearing in the painting.

french-wwi-infantry-caesar-322.jpg

Looking at my figures, it does seem that some respects an incongruous image – a soldier wearing a 19th century-style colourful uniform sitting at an icon of industrialised killing. With the eventual change away from Le Pantalon Rouge into less colourful, camouflaged uniforms, these men would indeed merge ever more closely with La Mitrailleuse and become simply part of the industry of killing.

tuck oilette postcard french

Praise is due to Caesar Miniatures for producing these machine gun teams which, even with my typically ham-fisted attempt at model construction, look rather impressive.

I’ll be presenting the remainder of the box of figures shortly…

french-wwi-infantry-caesar-352.jpg

En Avant!

I’ve had a challenging week requiring visits both to the doctors and the dentists which, given my hopeless ‘white coat syndrome’ is the stuff of nightmares, so far as I’m concerned. What was worse, due to home improvements and other commitments, I was unable to so much as lay a single brush on my latest figures until today!

DSCF4534 (2)
A little application of Daler-Rowney matt vanish will take some of the shine off their coats.

So, it is now well and truly “en avant” with my French early WWI poilus! These early WWI French infantry by Caesar stand already well advanced. There’s lots to paint, plenty to do to improve upon from what’s already painted and significant little details still to add, but they’re definitely getting there.

My aim is to create separate bases for all the standing or kneeling figures.

 

DSCF4539 (2)

I’m also developing two separate machine gun (mitrailleuse) teams with each group on a separate base.

dscf4546-2.jpg
Infantrymen in position for the as yet invisible mitrailleuse…

tuck oilette postcard french
Beautifully painted Tuck Oilette postcard showing French infantrymen with a mitrailleuse. An officer stands to the right.

And finally there are also six figures all lying down, either loading or firing their rifles. These will be based all together, lying low on the ground whilst taking pot shots at the advancing Bosch in the distance.

dscf4549-2.jpg

Hopefully, I might get time to push them towards final completion by the very end of the week. Well, possibly

DSCF4530 (2)

Infanterie-française-rol.jpg
En avant!

 

 

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.

1910 french
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.

s-l1600b
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.

french-postcard.jpg

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.

frcolour
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.

french-postcard-7.jpg
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.

french postard 9b

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…

DSCF4523 (3)
My young assistant steps up once more to present my latest box of figures…

 

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.

Strelets French Infantry Marching (6)

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.

Strelets French Infantry Marching (7)

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.

Strelets French Infantry Marching (3)

Strelets French Infantry Marching (4)

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!

Strelets French Infantry Marching (1)

Strelets French Infantry Marching (9)

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