Having posted on the machine gun crews, I’ve now completed the rest of the Pegasus box of WWI French infantry, so here are some pics of the end result. The figures wear the Horizon Blue coat and Adrian helmet. The trousers are white which were worn by some French units when serving on the Salonika front in 1917-18, which these troops are supposed to represent.
A chap on Benno’s Figures Forum queried whether the white trousers would have been such a bright shade. My response was ‘probably not’, but my WWI encylcopedia states that the trousers worn overseas on the Salonika or Macedonian front were “Horizon Blue or white”, so I suppose that can be taken literally as I have here. Shades and colours during WWI could vary considerably for many nations suffering supply problems with clothing and dyes, so these trousers are probably as likely worn as anything else!
Below are two figures carrying the Chauchat light machine guns, a weapon featured and discussed in previous posts.
Another nicely sculpted figure is in the act of throwing a hand grenade. An illustration in my WWI encyclopedia depicted French hand grenades having been painted in the same horizon blue as the uniform, for some reason, and I’ve reproduced that here.
The officer wears leather gloves and leather gaiters instead of puttees. He’s armed with a revolver and beckoning his men to follow.
The separate arms allowed for a number of figures advancing with their rifles at different angles, like these poilus below:-
The firing figures came together very nicely, once again in very convincing poses:
There were also two kneeling poses which once again I thought were very effective.
They certainly took their time to paint up, despite the fact that I didn’t paint the whole box, just about 2/3rds of it. .I’m not sure why painting these figures seemed so demanding on this occasion. All I can say is that I think the end result is one that I’m pleased with and so it was all well worth the effort.
These are probably the last WWI figures I’ll paint for 2018 I think, although I’ve a number of kits ready for resuming the project again next year. Meanwhile, I’ve been making plans on what to paint in the run up to 2019, more on which will be announced in due course.
Until then – On ne passe pas! On les aura! En avant et vive la France!
Suburban Militarism has received a communication from a nice fellow from Serbia enquiring about purchasing my Strelets WWI Serbian Infantry figures. He explained that he and some other colleagues are intending to create a display in Belgrade’s Military Museum on a key WWI battle involving Serbian troops (Cer or Drina were mooted).
From research the internet, Belgrade’s military museum looks extremely impressive and is located in a part of Belgrade’s ancient fortress, in the historical core of the city.
Glad to help out with any military museum, I waived a fee for the figures and just requested a contribution for postage. Using a little spare underlay from a newly laid carpet at home, I fashioned a padded box for my troops safe transport over to their homeland. A little double-sided tape under their bases will hopefully keep them all in situ during transit.
By way of introduction, I’ve written a few words of greeting on the back of a postcard that depicts a man of the local Leicestershire Yeomanry cavalry.
Seems appropriate that, much like the liberating men of the Serbian army themselves at the end of the Great War, these troops are returning to their homeland as though from exile. Godspeed my Serbian lads (and perhaps lasses…)
And in other Serbia-related news, in an astonishing coincidence the BBC News website chose this week to include a story on Flora Sandes, a British woman who served in the front line with the Serbian army during WWI. Earlier in the year, I included a post on Flora Sandes and other Serbian soldier women who fought with great bravery in combat for Serbia in WWI. The BBC item also includes some information on the Salonica front during WWI and the nature of memorial commemoration of the fallen in the region. Well worth a read.
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).
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
My Austro-Hungarian Pucherna infantry regiment has a pedigree that goes back to 1741. Garrisoned in Transylvania, its ranks are filled by ethnic Romanians. The multi-ethnic empire of Austria-Hungary fought Russians, Serbs, Greeks, Italians, Poles, and indeed other Romanians. In the K & K army, it was not uncommon for Poles to find themselves fighting other Poles, Italians fighting other Italians and Slavs fighting against other Slavs.
Anyway; the figures. First up; this is the finished officers armed with revolver, binoculars and, somewhat anachronistically, a sword. No Austrian officer would have worn one in the Great War but I suppose it’s a way for Strelets to identify the officer more clearly for wargamers.
None of the Other Ranks are wearing any metal helmets, just the kepi which, along with the rest of their dress, probably dates them to the early war period.
I like this next figure, head down, holding on to his hat and running through the storm of bullets and shrapnel – though whether it is towards or away from the enemy lines, who can tell!?
I’ve painted a couple of men carrying some type of machine gun. Being more knowledgeable than I about Austro-Hungarian machine guns, I can only quote Plastic Soldier Review who had this to say about it:
The standard machine gun of the war was the Schwarzlose M07/12, but this is not that. It has a bipod just in front of the ammunition feed, which must be fairly close to the point of balance, and it has a drum feed rather like the later Thompson sub-machine gun. This makes it look like the lightened German MG 08/15, although when this weapon was given a drum feed it was on the side rather than underneath. As an intended assault weapon its water jacket would have been emptied before being carried like it is here, yet it would still have been much heavier than this figure seems to suggest. However we can find no evidence that the Germans gave numbers of this weapon to the Austrians, so the question must be why it is in the arms of an Austrian.
Perhaps, then, Strelets have simply been unfussy in their desire to include a machine gunner in the set, useful potentially for wargaming purposes. Incidentally, I have forgotten to paint the stock a wooden colour, something that I will attend to one day…
Other weapons include, of course, the rifle which is depicted being fired either standing or kneeling.
Also, there are examples of men throwing a hand grenade. It appears to be similar to the German stick grenade, nicknamed the ‘potato masher’ by the British troops. I understand that the Austrians hand their own version of the stick grenade which was thicker and bulkier, so this might be a good match. With the empire having supply problems, I suspect that shortage of materials may have resulted in different versions or even German imports.
The faces of Strelets figures often seem to suggest something of an individual character about them, such as this chap kneeling and loading his weapon.
Finally, the use of the bayonet is being practised by this soldier who is holding a suitably aggressive expression.
And with that group of Austro-Hungarian infantry now despatched, I’m left musing what to paint next in my growing WWI project…
For now, with my summer holiday immanent, a short hiatus will begin as Suburban Militarism will be putting down the brush and taking a well-deserved vacation and heading for a beach. Until next time, best wishes to all my friends and visitors!
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.
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:
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.
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.
Earlier this year, I had begun to paint some 1st World War figures, starting with Serbian infantry, followed by some 1914-era French. Figuring that I’d like to turn my attention to the Great War once more, I’ve reached for some figures from a country that has been overlooked by plastic 1/72 scale manufacturers hitherto; Austria-Hungary. This is perhaps surprising given the nation’s size and significance to the conflict. In fact, only HaT and Strelets have made any Austro-Hungarian figures that I’m aware of at 1/72 scale.
Neither manufacturer has made sublime figures, in my opinion, but I’ve opted to go for figures by the Ukranian manufacturer Strelets. Strelets have recently manufactured an impressive new kit; the WWI Austro-Hungarian Honved (a Hungarian version of the Austrian Landwehr). However, I’ve gone for their earlier, and now increasingly rare, sets of “WWI Austrian Infantry” and “Austro-Hungarian Infantry in Gasmasks’.
The style of Strelets figures tends to prompt a polarised response from hobbyists but I must confess to being a fan. They’re not ‘beautiful’, but typically they’ve plenty of character and loads of crisp detail to hang your paint on.
Going into the Great War, the Austro-Hungarian Army introduced a uniform colour known as “Pike-Grey” (“hechtgrau” in German) for general issue to the infantry in 1908. The main headdress in the field was the kepi, also coloured the same pike-grey. I’m unsure as to why the shade of grey was named Pike. ‘Hecht’ refers to the predatory freshwater fish, yet that is largely olive-green in colour with little in common with the light grey uniform shade.
A little history:
The empire of Austro-Hungary was inaugurated in 1867, being a dual-monarchy split between Austria and Hungary in place of the former single Austrian Empire. The empire’s full official and very wordy name was “The Kingdoms and Lands Represented in the Imperial Council and the Lands of the Holy Hungarian Crown of St. Stephen”. The new dual monarchy was formed following Austria’s defeat at the hands of an increasingly powerful Prussia in 1866, which marked the decline in power and influence towards Prussia (and consequently Germany) and away from Austria. The empire and it’s army was colloquially known as the “K und K”, or the Kaiserlich und Königlich, referring to the Empire being both Imperial and Royal (i.e of the Austrian emperor and Hungarian king).
It was certainly a curious conglomeration, the Austro-Hungarian empire, which eschewed the increasing popular idea of nations bound by ethnic identity then sweeping Europe. The state instead consisted of many different ethnic groups speaking different languages (including German, Hungarian, Czech, Slovak, Polish, Ukranian, Croat, Slovenian, Italian and Romanian). Their ageing monarch at the outbreak of the war in 1914 had ruled these disparate lands for 66 years.
The cataclysm began with the declaration of war by the Austro-Hungarian empire upon Serbia in 1914. As the other Great Powers were drawn inexorably into the conflict, the Dual Monarchy found itself faced with war against Russia to the east as well as Serbia and Montenegro in the Balkans to the south. In May 1915, another front opened with Italy’s entry into the war on the side of the Allies.
From the very beginning, things did not go well for the empire. It’s invasion into Serbia saw the K&K army ignominiously expelled to the dismay of the Emperor, being badly beaten by the Serbs at the battle of Cer. A second invasion later briefly took the Serbian capital Belgrade only for the army to be badly defeated and ejected once again by a Serbian counter-attack at the battle of Kolubara in the winter of 1914. Another front then opened with the Austro-Hungarian campaign in Russian-controlled Poland which was to prove another failure. A counter-offensive by Russia them also cost the Austrians many casualties and prisoners of war and resulted in lost territory.
With German and Bulgarian assistance however, the Austrians eventually managed to conquer Serbia and Montengro (see my earlier post on the flight of the Serbian army through Albania) but were confronted by renewed assaults by a re-equipped Serbian army and its allies, the French, British, Romanians and, latterly, the Greeks. Their heavy reliance on German help effectively made the Austrians increasingly subordinate to their allies. To the embattled Germans, fighting with an ill-equipped and beleaguered ally was akin to being ‘shackled to a corpse’ (a quote widely attributed to German General Erich von Ludendorff).
As the war progressed, Italy exerted great pressure on Austria-Hungary who, once again, required the assistance of German armies to turn the tide. The Russians withdrew from the war after the 1917 revolution but eventually, terrible food shortages and political strife at home, together with declining fortunes both in the Balkans and the Italian front, led to the empire’s own disintegration and collapse. The Czech, Slovaks and Hungarians eventually declared independence and forced the remainder of this once extensive ’empire’ to sign an armistice on the 3rd of November 1918, 8 days before the Germans did the same.
Despite defeats, setbacks and poor equipment; and despite the fractured ethnic and linguistic nature of the empire, the Austro-Hungarian army had endured for four long years of war against the allies. In its battles across the mountains of the Alps and the Carpathians; in Italy, Slovenia, Serbia, Poland and Romania; against the Russians, Italians, Serbs, Montenegrins and others; the K&K army had suffered over 1 million military combat deaths (the 4th highest of any country in WWI) and a further 3 and half million soldiers wounded. It was a terrible price to pay for a defeat that would ultimately see its old empire disappear into history.
I’ll be presenting my Austro-Hungarian army of 34 figures, gas-masked or otherwise, soon.
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):
Yep, these Caesar figures are very impressive. The proportions are good and the sculpting and mould are too.
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…
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…