Strelets WWI Austro-Hungarian Infantry in Gasmasks

All of my Strelets Austrian WWI infantrymen are now finished and based. I’ll present my handful of figures wearing gasmasks first and then reveal the other more numerous troops in a second post soon.

strelets-austro-hungarian-infantry-47.jpg

I’ve said it before, these troops in gasmasks present a nightmarish sight. The ‘dehumanisation’ of 20th century mass industrial warfare somehow becomes almost literal when the face of a soldier is replaced with such a mask. The expressionless, glassy eyes are very disturbing. Strelets are to be praised for having the vision to be the only manufacturer of 1/72 scale to produce these figures. I previously painted a handful of their British and French infantry in gasmasks just prior to the inception of this blog on WordPress way back in 2014.

strelets-austro-hungarian-infantry-23.jpg

The Austro-Hungarian army of WWI was increasingly reliant on Germany as the war progressed and in the case of supplying its troops with suitable gasmasks it came to rely mainly on German imports rather than their own creations.  This imported gasmask  would have been variations of the Gummimaske.

s-l300.jpg
WWI German Gummimaske and storage cannister.

So I’ve painted my mask in a similar style to the example above. Strelets, in an apparent oversight, have not included any gasmask storage canisters on the figures, so we must assume that it is either not used and the mask simply stuffed into the haversack or is obscured by other accoutrements.

strelets-austro-hungarian-infantry-22.jpg

strelets-austro-hungarian-infantry-49.jpg

A very 2-dimensional figure below, almost like an old-fashioned ‘flat’ model soldier really. With a bit of paint, I think the fellow looks quite effective though.

strelets-austro-hungarian-infantry-37.jpg

strelets-austro-hungarian-infantry-46.jpg

Strelets, somewhat eccentrically, often like their officer figures to be fitted out in the full regalia due to the rank, even it seems in the midst of a Great War gas attack! The officer below is wearing a yellow sash and has drawn his sword. He is also aiming his far more practical revolver ahead through the gas cloud.

strelets-austro-hungarian-infantry-51.jpg

More regular visitors to my blog  may notice that I have spent a little extra attention on my bases this time for these figures. Rather than just throw some loose grass scatter over a base, in a completely new approach I’ve created a mix of sand and rock and glued that to the base. Once dry, I applied a soil wash for shading and then added dry brushed layers of paint to highlight the texture of the ground. I’ve included just a few tufts of grass to leave areas of bare earth and rock. This is no doubt pretty basic stuff for modellers but is a ‘giant leap forward’ for Suburban Militarism! It takes a bit of extra time to do so whether I’ll be prepared to take a similar approach all the time is in doubt.

Strelets Austro Hungarian infantry (53)

strelets-austro-hungarian-infantry-25.jpg

In 1916, the Austro-Hungarian army attacked the Italian troops at Monte San Michele deploying a mix of phosgene and chlorine gas. This was the first use of gas on the Italian Front and thousands of unprotected Italian soldiers died.

640px-WWI_-_Monte_San_Michele_-_29th_June_1916_Italian_casualties_after_a_gas_attack
Italian dead after the Austrian gas attack on Monte San Michele. http://www.esercito.difesa.it, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50801790

There were many ways to become a casualty in the First World War, none of them anything less than terrible, but even in the midst of the industrialised mass killing of that conflict, gas attacks seemed a particularly barbarous and cruel manner to harm the combatants, even to people of the time.

Strelets Austro Hungarian infantry (40)

The use of such chemical weapons was actually banned under 1899 Hague Declaration, so it’s use was already illegal and therefore a war crime. Being difficult to deploy against the enemy in a targeted and effective way (wind direction could be crucial), and also being easily subject to counter-measures thanks to the development of the gasmask, its use thankfully has largely died out in subsequent conflicts although, as in the recent Syrian allegations, the threat of this dreadful weapon sadly persists even today.

Strelets Austro Hungarian infantry (7)

Gas and my Great-Grandfather: some final words

For years, I had always been told that my great-grandfather had been a victim of a gas attack in the First World War. This, I had been informed, was the reason his mind had been affected to such an extent that after military discharge he was apprehended chasing his family down a street with an axe. Harry Bennett was incarcerated in an asylum where he died only a few years later seemingly in poor physical as well as mental health. I offered a few words about this in a very early blog post back in November 2014.

harry-bennett1
My great-grandfather, Private Harry Bennett, Leicestershire Regt, 1914-18 war.

A soldier in the Leicestershire Regiment, it was whilst he was serving in France that he had written to his wife to suggest that his latest child (my grandmother) should be named Francis, it being a reference to the country where he had found himself while separated at her birth. Actually, at my nan’s funeral a few years ago (she was 98!), it was reported that he rather less romantically suggested she be named “one-too-many” before then proffering Francis! My brother carries the masculine version of that name, and now my own daughter does too, in her middle name.

U136-4th-5th-Battalion-Leicestershire-Regiment.jpg
Men of the Leicestershire Regiment on the march during the Great War.

More recently, some information came my way from my mother regarding his service record. It made no mention of gas poisoning but instead made some references to an injury received in battle, from which he’d recovered, and also a persistent foot problem (“trench foot”?) which resulted in discharge. It now occurs to me that, at a time when post-traumatic stress was not understood – much less accepted – the ‘mental effect of gas poisoning’ story might have been a way in which his shattered mental health could be understood and accepted within his family and community. Traditional notions of bravery and cowardice in war made severe psychiatric breakdowns caused by modern warfare appear to be signs of weakness or moral failing. Being employed by a mental health NHS Trust, perhaps I of all people in my family am in a better position to offer a far more compassionate understanding of my poor grandfather’s condition, a century on from his breakdown.

 

Men of the Common Army

My Austro-Hungarian troops of the First World War have come on apace. Althoug a little ‘rough and ready’, Strelets are always fun to paint with the result usually containing unusual poses and characterful faces.

The Austro-Hungarian army consisted of three distinct parts:

  • the Common army (Gemeinsame Armee),
  • the Imperial Austrian Landwehr (a territorial reserve)
  • the Royal Hungarian Honved  (the Hungarian equivalent of the Landwehr)

These troops of mine represent a regiment from the Common Army. Specifically I’ve nominated them as being from the Infanterieregiment Pucherna (numbered the 31st) and given them the yellow facings that characterised the regiment. It was a Romanian regiment garrisoned in Nagyszeben, capital of Transylvania which was then under the dominion of Austria-Hungary.

sdfdsfs
“Infanterist” painted by Hans Printz in 1914

Anyway, with some remaining ‘bits’ still to do and of course the basing still to sort, here’s how some of them are looking so far. First off; a handful of troops from the Strelets WWI Austrian Infantry set:

Strelets Austro hungarian ww1 (1)

Strelets Austro hungarian ww1 (20)

Strelets Austro hungarian ww1 (19)

Strelets Austro hungarian ww1 (18)

Strelets Austro hungarian ww1 (15)

Strelets Austro hungarian ww1 (14)

Strelets Austro hungarian ww1 (13)

Strelets Austro hungarian ww1 (12)

Strelets Austro hungarian ww1 (7)

Strelets Austro hungarian ww1 (6)

Strelets Austro hungarian ww1 (5)

Strelets Austro hungarian ww1 (4)

Strelets Austro hungarian ww1 (2)

And a preview of the other Strelets figures from the WWI Austro-Hungarian infantry in Gasmasks set. I only have one sprue of this set, bought in a private sale with another hobbyist, hence only a handful of figures. The reflection in their eye pieces give them a suitably nightmarish aspect.

Strelets Austro hungarian ww1 (17)

Strelets Austro hungarian ww1 (11)

Strelets Austro hungarian ww1 (9)

Strelets Austro hungarian ww1 (8)

Strelets Austro hungarian ww1 (3)

Being an early Strelets set, there are lots of poses, some of which I haven’t displayed as yet but will do so when I’ve got them all based and ready to present; hopefully some time later this week.

Photos of Strelets WWI British and French in Gas Masks

As promised below…!

My humble camera is never the best but hopefully these photos are adequate.

Strelets British Infantry in Gas Masks
Strelets British Infantry in Gas Masks
Strelets British Infantry in Gas Masks
Strelets British Infantry in Gas Masks
Strelets British Infantry in Gas Masks
Strelets British Infantry in Gas Masks
Strelets British Infantry in Gas Masks
Strelets British Infantry in Gas Masks
Strelets British Infantry in Gas Masks
Strelets British Infantry in Gas Masks
Strelets British Infantry in Gas Masks
Strelets British Infantry in Gas Masks
Strelets French Infantry in Gas Masks
Strelets French Infantry in Gas Masks
Strelets French Infantry in Gas Masks
Strelets French Infantry in Gas Masks
Strelets French Infantry in Gas Masks
Strelets French Infantry in Gas Masks
Strelets French Infantry in Gas Masks
Strelets French Infantry in Gas Masks
Entente Cordiale! Strelets British and French Infantry
Entente Cordiale! Stelets British and French Infantry
Strelets French Infantry
Strelets French Infantry
Strelets British WWI Infantry
Strelets British WWI Infantry

WWI in Gasmasks Project

One of my little projects on the go is the painting of some WWI Strelets sets. In particular these are the sets featuring most of the primary combatants in gas masks.

In seemed timely to begin these sets for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s the centenary of the beginning of that terrible conflict. Another reason relates to my own Great Grandfather on my mother’s side Harry Bennett, who enlisted in the Leicestershire Regiment.

My great grandfather, Private Harry Bennett, Leicestershire Regt, 1914-18 war.
My great-grandfather, Private Harry Bennett, Leicestershire Regt, 1914-18 war.

He was a victim of gas attack in the war and, although he survived and was invalided home, it seems that both his physical and mental health were broken by his experiences and he tragically ended his days in an asylum. I’ve never forgotten that and maybe that’s part of the reason I’ve steered clear of 20th century conflicts in my work: they’re a little too close to home. Whichever type was used, to be gassed was a truly horrible experience.

Being the only set that I know of which depicts troops in gas masks, I think Strelets have done a good job, though I know their sculpting is not to everyone’s tastes. There’s something about the facelessness of the figures with their empty, glass goggles dehumanises them, turns them into nightmarish wraiths, staggering out of the poisoned air with blank faces. They become a perfect icon of the extreme form of mass-mobilised inhumanity which industrialised warfare had brought to the world.

The use of gas in WWI always makes me think of a Wilfred Owen poem;

“Dulce et Decorum est”

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

NOTES: Latin phrase is from the Roman poet Horace: “It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.”

So, yes, these are the first 20th century troops that I’ve ever painted! I’ve tackled the British and French infantry versions, hoping for German or other ones for Christmas and birthday (2 days later). I’ve never dealt with camouflage or drab clothing, never mind Lewis or Chauchat machine guns or gas masks. I’ve enjoyed painting them though and I like to think they look okay too. Hopefully, they may even feature on the mantlepiece this Christmas; my very own Christmas Truce vignette.

Strelets British Infantry in Gasmasks.
Strelets British Infantry in Gasmasks.
Strelets French Infantry in Gasmasks
Strelets French Infantry in Gasmasks

More photos of the Strelets figures to follow shortly.