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):

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

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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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…

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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!

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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.

 

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

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Infantrymen in position for the as yet invisible mitrailleuse…
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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.

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

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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.

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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…

 

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!

Featured Figures: Chasseurs d’Afrique (Crimean War)

It’s been a long while since I showcased some of my Strelets Crimean War range, so I thought I’d dig some out.

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The Chasseurs d’Afrique (aka the “Chass d’Af”) featured memorably at the Battle of Balaklava, assisting the charge of the Light Brigade by clearing the Fedyukhin Heights of Russians.

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Phillipoteaux’s painting of the Chasseurs d’Afrique clearing Russian artillery from the Fedyukhin Heights during the battle of Balaclava.

As with many Strelets figures, the sculpting is an acquired taste. The figures have lots of life and character to them, but undoubtedly lack the finesse and anatomical accuracy of some other manufacturers, particularly with the horses, I think.

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Furthermore, these were painted about 4 years or more ago, about the time I really took up figure painting properly as a hobby, rather than the occasional rough daubing of paint I had been doing. So my painting was still very much evolving at the time I painted these and I think it shows.

 

Strelets always have my gratitude for covering the Crimean War conflict in such detail and these Chasseurs d’Afrique make for a wonderful addition.

Mamelukes of the Imperial Guard (Nappy Cavalry Project Set #25)

Italeri have produced a number of very impressive Napoleonic cavalry kits and I’m pleased to have finally tackled their Mamelukes set; possibly one of their best.

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It has involved painting a lot of detail in a large range of colours, which in turn has meant a much larger investment in time to produce them. Was it worth it? I like to think so, they are unique in my collection and looks pleasingly colourful.

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Whilst it’s taken quite a while to get them painted, but the sheer exotic value of their turbans, scimitars, etc, etc, has kept me going.

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The Mamelukes made up a very small force in Napoleon’s cavalry, but the impact of their fame gave them an importance far beyond their limited numbers, and it’s no surprise that Italeri and HaT (amongst other manufacturers) have featured them in their range.

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Well, I can now place these figures into the cabinet with the other Nappy Cavalry Project regiments. And that means I can finally get on with packing for my much-needed summer holiday! Until I return, I send my very best wishes to all readers of this humble blog and leave you with the usual regimental biography and photos!

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Now, I wonder if there are any regimental museums where I’m going…


Biography: Mamelukes of the Imperial Guard [France]

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The word “Mameluke” is an Arabic term meaning ‘property’, indicating the status of Mamelukes as being slaves. Since the 9th Century, the Mamelukes were an influential military caste of slaves which rose to become a power in Egypt eventually ruling as the independent Mameluke Sultanate until 1517, and thereafter ruling as vassals of the Ottoman Empire.

In 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte led his French ‘Army of the Orient’ to invade Egypt to both protect French trade and threaten Britain’s own. The most formidable force in the Egyptian army was undoubtedly the Mameluke cavalry. Equipped in an almost medieval fashion, sometimes including chain mail and iron helmets, they were expert horsemen and swordsmen. Armed with curved sabres of very high quality, they could out-fence most conventional cavalry and were observed to have actually sliced through French muskets.

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Napoleon soundly defeated the Mameluke army at the Battle of the Pyramids where he repelled their massed cavalry attacks. The formidable Mameluke cavalry had impressed him, however, as the only effective arm of the Egyptian army. Consequently, on the 14th September 1799, French General Kléber established a mounted company of Mameluke auxiliaries which were soon reorganised into 3 companies of 100 men each known as the “Mamluks de la République”. In 1803, they were again organised into a single company attached to the Chasseurs-à-Cheval of the Imperial Guard.

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Whilst the officers were occasionally French, the rest of the force were at various times made up of Greeks, Egyptians, Circassians, Albanians, Maltese, Hungarians, Georgians and Turks (amongst others. All were armed with a brace of pistols; a long dagger tucked into their waist sash; a mace; and later even a battle-axe.

The Mamelukes served in Poland, Spain and in Russia, fighting at the Battle of Wagram and most notably at the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805 where the regiment was granted an eagle and its roster increased to accommodate a standard-bearer and a trumpeter. Service in Spain led to a famous painting by Francisco Goya depicting their charge against the uprising of the citizens of Madrid on 2 May 1808, a massacre which in part led up to the Peninsular War.

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El dos de mayo de 1808 en Madrid By Francisco de Goya

In 1813, losses accrued over many campaigns meant that the Mamelukes were inevitably reinforced with Frenchmen who were designated as ‘2nd Mamelukes’. Of the 2 companies of Mamelukes, the 1st was ranked as Old Guard and the 2nd as Young Guard.

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On his return to power in 1815, Napoleon issued a decree stating that the Chasseurs a Cheval of the Guard would include a squadron of Mamelukes. It is not known whether they formed a complete squadron at Waterloo, or simply attached themselves as individuals to various units; Mamelukes were almost undoubtedly present, however.

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Following the restoration of the monarchy in 1815, there were widespread reprisals against individuals or groups identified with the defeated Napoleonic regime. These included the small number of Mamelukes who were still in the army. Eighteen of them were massacred in Marseilles by vengeful Royalists while awaiting transportation back to Egypt.

Monsieur Ducel Mameluke de la Garde  1813-1815.
Monsieur Ducel Mameluke de la Garde 1813-1815.

The brightly coloured Oriental dress and exotic weaponry of the Mamelukes gave them an influence far beyond the small size of their regiment; an influence felt beyond the battlefield into fashionable society! The Mamelukes loyalty to Napoleon was never questioned and they, fatally for some, became synonymous with him and his empire.

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Notable Battles: Austerlitz, Wagram, Waterloo.

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More Mamelukes…

I’ve made some real progress on the Italeri Mameluke figures this past week, the 25th regiment in the Nappy Cavalry Project. These are beautifully sculpted figures, as fine as any other plastic 1/72 set out there.

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Though they are a pleasure to paint, it’s been a slower and more complicated process than painting regular forces due to the great variety of colours required and which differ from one figure to the next.

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Mameluke standard bearer

With the exception of the red trousers (saroual) and headgear (cahouk), each figure requires a different colour scheme. Starting each single figure required some wardrobe decisions to be made, I felt like an insecure lady deciding what to wear on a first date!

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Hopefully, I’ve made some reasonable choices.

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It’s been interesting to paint the unusual accoutrements: the turbans; the daggers; the beautifully curved scimitars; and the pistol holders wedged into the waistbands.

Next for those horses, a task which one might think I’d tire of. I still enjoy painting them, thankfully, and these Italeri horses seem as well sculpted as their riders. Updates to follow in due course. I’m looking forward to painting those arabic saddles. With luck, I might even get the whole regiment finished before my forthcoming summer holiday in July!

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A not-quite-finished bugler. He’s the only one with a white plume and green headgear.