This year’s Christmas decorations are already up and, therefore, so are my two new Christmassy regiments; The Mistletoe Guards and the Midwinter Fusiliers! Handmade flags (by my daughter) flying, I first assembled them proudly parading on their specially made plaques:
And here they are either side of the mantelpiece where they will stand guard for the duration of the season:
“We are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmastime.”
Laura Ingalls Wilder
As December looms; here in the UK the days get shorter, the nights get darker and, what’s more, I turn to my hobby with its little rituals and traditions. Once such tradition is my preparation for December’s Christmas decorations. This primarily takes the form of yearly expanding my ‘Christmas Corps’ of festive figures.
Every year since 2013 I have paraded 1/72 scale soldiers, specially-painted with a seasonal twist, on the mantelpiece in the living room. Forming part of our Christmas decorations, these colourful 18th Century-style regiments have Christmas-themed names and commonly feature holly in their helmets, tinsel in their tricornes, and snow on their shoes. And in the case of last year’s artillery group, known as Cracker Battery, even a snowman and snow cannonalls can feature too.
So far, the Christmas Corps is made up figures representing the following:
Figures suitable have been limited to Revell’s classic 7YW range which thankfully have been recently reissued albeit with the disappointing exception of their very wonderful Austrian artillery set.
HaT meanwhile have reissued their own hitherto out-of-stock Prussian 7YW infantry range and also released a new Austrian infantry range to boot. Great news for fans of the 7YW in 20mm and I naturally wondered if I could make use of these impressive HaT figures in my Christmas Corps alongside the existing Revell versions.
Finally, Zvezda some years ago also produced a box of “Prussian Grenadiers of Frederick the Great” which featured their usual very high standards of sculpting and production. That box is increasingly hard to come by nowadays but I had a box in storage and was also fortunate to discover a seller on eBay who was getting rid of some second-hand figures – most of which were those posed either marching or standing to attention. These poses are perfect for any regiment whose martial intentions are limited to merely standing on the mantelpiece during Christmas – so I secured them at a very reasonable discount.
So it comes as no surprise to say that I’ve been hard at it lately with these figures with the intention of raising two more infantry regiments for the Christmas Corps. With the 1st Noel Regiment and the Yule Grenadiers as the 1st infantry brigade, I intend these two new ones to form the 2nd infantry brigade. First off, I’ve been using HaT’s Prussian infantry Marching set to raise some fusiliers. The HaT Prussian infantry box comes with a choice of headdress; grenadier mitres, fusilier caps or musketeer tricornes and I’ve opted for the fusilier caps to create the first regiment in the new II Infantry Brigade.
The Midwinter Fuzileers!
The Midwinter Fuzileers (note pretentious antique spelling) wear grey coats with flat-blue waistcoats and breeches. Their gaiters and facings are white. Fusilier caps have silver plates with a red fabric backing.
With the 1st Noel wearing dark red, and the Yule Grenadiers wearing white, I wanted a very contrasting uniform. Designing a new uniform is one of the great pleasures of the Christmas Corps project and after a few false starts, the neutral grey / mid-blue/ white combination seemed to work nicely – very smart!
Their officer, Colonel Hoarfrost is from the HaT Prussian Command set and is mounted on a faithful steed whom we shall call “Blitzen”. Since these photos were taken, Blitzen’s saddle cloth has been decorated with a yellow star to mimic the motif on the regimental flag. In his tricorne, this Christmas dandy wears some evergreen foliage decorated with pink tinsel:
He is ably supported by an NCO carrying a spontoon.
Their flag, carried by an ensign, has been designed by my daughter. This is a service which she has faithfully provided me with since designing the flag of the 1st Noel Regiment back in 2014!
Hitherto, any festive figures have simply been placed loosely above the fireplace in a group. This year, I’ve decided to provide a more formal presentational platform which I’m currently gluing, painting and varnishing like some deranged Geppetto. More on this soon.
I’m also now working on the other regiment – something which I confess to being quite excited about! This regiment will be presented when they’re ready to take their place on the mantelpiece on their own platform hopefully within a week.
Okay, so the 37th Regiment in the Napoleonic Cavalry Project is actually two regiments as it incorporates a troop of uhlans for good measure…
My approach to painting black uniforms is no doubt excessively complex – after all, when all’s said and done, they all just look… well, black!
The box comes with 9 hussars and 3 uhlans. Firstly – the 2nd Brunswick Hussar Regiment:
Nine hussars in total all wearing their finery, pelisses, shakos and plumes. One arm ‘option’ included a bugle which I’ve used and assigned to the grey horse.
I’ve never been a fan of separate arms glued onto pegs – they never seem too secure to me, but I recognise it provides some interesting extra choices. One of the figures with fixed arms had a broken sabre which I cut off completely to hopefully give the impression of simply riding.
On the shako is a white skull and crossed bones (the Totenkopf in German), which appeared on both cavalry and infantry regiments in the army of Brunswick.
For the uhlans, with only three figures in the box I wanted to make sure that all my lancers were carrying lances, although the other arm options were available.
The czapkas worn by these uhlans have an attractive colour scheme – light blue cloth with yellow piping. These colours mimic the colours of the Duchy’s flag, which was similar to the Ukrainian flag of today.
To be honest, I didn’t have much faith on these uhlans looking all that impressive but I think they’ve turned out quite nicely.
Biography: 2nd Hussars and Uhlan squadron [Brunswick]
In 1809 Prince Frederick William, Duke of Brunswick, raised a corps of soldiers to fight the French, who had occupied his country since it’s defeat in the Jena Campaign of 1806-07. The whole army were called ‘Black Brunswickers’ because they wore black uniforms in mourning for their lost independence. Brunswick had been absorbed into the newly formed Kingdom of Westphalia which had Napoleon’s brother on the throne.
After an initially successful uprising, Duke Frederick William eventually was forced to England where his army of over 2000 troops (including cavalry) formally entered British army. Now known as the Brunswick Oels Hussar Regiments, the Peninsular War (1808-1814) saw them fight at the battle of Fuentes de Onoro, Salamanca, Vitoria, the Pyrenees, Nivelle, the Nive, and Orthez.
In 1815, the Duke of Brunswick re-raised his army and took two cavalry regiments into the 100 days capaign; the 2nd Brunswick Hussars (684 sabres in 4 squadrons under Major Cramm) and a single squadron of lancers (just 235 men under Major Pott) .
The entire Brunswick contingent was heavily engaged in the Battle of Quatre Bras with the cavalry incurring 46 casualties which included the fatalities of not only the Duke himself but also the Brunswick Hussars’ own commander, Major Cramm.
In Wellington’s despatch of the 19th June, he praised the contribution of the Brunswick troops and their commander;
The troops of the 5th division, and those of the Brunswick corps (The Black Brunswickers), were long and severely engaged, and conducted themselves with the utmost gallantry. Our loss was great, as your Lordship will perceive by the enclosed return; and I have particularly to regret His Serene Highness the Duke of Brunswick, who fell fighting gallantly at the head of his troops.”
During the Battle of Waterloo, Wellington thought it prudent to keep the battle-scarred Brunswick cavalry far from the front line, in reserve near the centre. Consequently, they were only called into action during the latter stages of the battle, counter-attacking the French cavalry attacks costing them a further 92 casualties.
Notable Battles: Fuentes de Onoro, Salamanca, Vitoria, Quatre Bras, Waterloo.
Plenty of free time yesterday allowed me to spend some time preparing the evening meal and – best of all – painting my soldiers. More correctly in this instance, I was painting their horses. Yes – I’m back at the Napoleonic Cavalry Project with the 37th Regiment in the collection. You can make up your own mind whether having painted 37 Napoleonic cavalry regiments is something to be proud of…
When they were available, I prevaricated over purchasing Napoleonic HaT’s Brunswick Cavalry box. HaT figures are always nice, but they don’t often excite me a great deal. As the Nappy Cavalry Project progressed and options for new sets declined, I found myself belatedly wishing I’d secured a box before it had sold out. So it was with some pleasure that I discovered that HaT were releasing the set recently as part of a raft of re-releases.
During the 1806 invasion of Prussia by Napoleon, one of the Prussian Field Marshalls, the Duke of Brunswick, had been mortally wounded during the Battle of Auerstedt. The Duchy of Brunswick itself spent the next five years as part of the Napoleonic kingdom of Westphalia, occupied by French troops.
The Duke’s son, himself a major general in the Prussian army, loathed the French as much as his father and dedicated himself to fighting for liberation for his Duchy. He raised a corps which became known in England as the Black Brunswickers for their all-black uniforms (apparently adopted ‘in mourning’ for their homeland). After some initial success, he and his troops fled to Britain to become part of the British army where they faught in the Peninsular War. A re-raised Brunswick corps faught at Quatre Bras (where – like his father – the Duke was killed fighting the French) and also at Waterloo where they saw the French finally defeated.
The Duke’s Black Brunswicker corps have been reproduced in various ways by HaT and recently by Strelets. The Brunswick Corps cavalry consisted of a regiment of hussars and a squadron of uhlans, both wearing the ubiquitous black uniform. HaT’s Brunswick cavalry box reflecting the relative sizes of the regiments includes 3 uhlan figures and 9 figures of the hussars.
The pre-Raphaelite painter Millais, painted the above in 1860 following a conversation with William Howard Russell of the Times:
My subject appears to me, too, most fortunate, and Russell thinks it first-rate. It is connected with the Brunswick Cavalry at Waterloo…They were nearly annihilated but performed prodigies of valour… The costume and incident are so powerful that I am astonished it has never been touched upon before.
In terms of my own painting, I’ve been here before – painting black-uniformed Germanic hussars in 2015 in the early days of the project. These were Waterloo 1815’s Prussian Leib Hussars who also wore the death’s head symbol on their shakos. The key difference between those Prussian uniforms and the Brunswick Hussars is that the Brunswickers go even further with all that Gothic blackness, having black lacing and black breeches too.
Better get back to those horses. Speaking of which, I’ve come to the conclusion that my horse painting technique has stood still for too long and have pledged to slowly develop my ‘repartoire’. Firstly, I’ve turned my attention to my dun horses. We own a dun pony called Woody, so I feel it’s important I always paint at least one in any given regiment. Trouble is, I’ve never been quite happy with them, so I’ve changed the colour mix and I’m already a little happier with the shade for the coat.
Next, inspired by Bill’s magnificent dapple grey from his glorious Spanish hussars (Tiny Wars Played Indoors blog), I might turn my hand at some variations too. Palominos, Piebalds or Strawberry Roans anyone?
I’ve been reading the Google-transcribed text of “Records of the Norfolk Yeomanry Cavalry“, wordily subtitled; “To which is added the Fencible and Provisional Cavalry of the same county, from 1780, to 1908”.
I referenced this work last year in my post on the history of yeomanry cavalry on a north Norfolk estate; Horsemen of Holkham Hall, a stately home which I visited during the summer of 2018. In the post, I was unsure as to what colour uniform the local Holkham Yeomanry Cavalry actually wore and speculated they were likely to have adopted the popular choice in Norfolk of red coats with white or blue breeches.
The only real clue that I could find lay in the words of the Holkham troop’s commandant, Thomas Coke of Holkham Hall, who petitioned the Prince of Wales for permission to raise the troop. The letter, reproduced in Records of the Norfolk Yeomanry Cavalry, has Coke writing;
“I have to request your Royal Highness’s permission that we may wear the colours of ye loth for our uniform…”
Ye loth? I speculated in my post that it could even be a miss-scanned ‘yellow’. Judging from similar instances of typographical errors appearing in the document, it now becomes clear to me to be “the” (written as ‘ye’ in those days) and “10th” (i.e. that numbered regiment of Light Dragoons). Reading on, makes it blindingly, and embarrassingly, obvious;
“I have to request your Royal Highnesses permission that we may wear the colours of the 10th for our uniform, and that your Royal Highness would have the condescension to order two soldiers from that Regiment to drill us;…”
Furthermore, the Prince Regent was in fact Colonel of that Regiment, the 10th Light Dragoons, an office he held from 1796-1819, so it would make perfect sense for Coke to petition the Prince of Wales in this manner, newly raised yeomanry troops otherwise having permission to wear whatever style uniform they (or their benefactor, in this instance Coke) preferred.
So, if the Holkham Yeomanry Cavalry apparently wore a uniform which imitated the 10th Light Dragoons then we might reasonably assume they would have worn a jacket and Tarleton helmet looking something like the Prince of Wales’ own officer’s uniform seen below:
Being Colonel of the 10th (‘The Prince of Wales’s Own’), the Prince took great pride in his regiment. Barred from active service, he ‘…channelled his interest into collecting and into the design of military dress and accoutrements. As Colonel Commandant, and later Colonel, of the 10th Light Dragoons, patterns of uniforms and equipment were submitted to the Prince for approval, many of which he retained at Carlton House‘ (Royal Collection Trust). It is known that he wore the Tarleton above at a review in 1798, which is around the time that Coke was raising his Holkham Yeomanry.
It’s a dark blue jacket with a pale yellow, almost buff, facings, with twenty one lines of silver lacing across the chest. The Tarleton helmet has a black silk turban with silver chains surmounted by a crest of black fur and a white feather plume. I wonder how closely the Holkham Yeomanry troop imitated this arrangement.
The Prince had a number of portraits created depicting him in an earlier version of the uniform around the time of his first appointment to the 10th Light Dragoons in 1793. The turban on the Tarleton is different, a leopardskin, and the braiding can be seen to be a more sparse arrangement.
It has been my intention for a while to create some Holkham Yeomanry in some form or other, preferably in my favourite 1/72 scale as an unusual addition to the Napoleonic Cavalry Project. HaT have been crowdfunding some Peninsular War-era British Light Dragoons which should be issued at some point, so these might well do the trick but progress to production has been slow (a couple of years in the making so far, I think), so I might have to be patient for those for a while longer yet.
For a more immediate fix, there’s always the Strelets issue of British Light Dragoons in Egypt. Their heavyweight horses look like they’ve been out in the fresh springtime pasture for far too long. Also, unavoidably I suppose, some of the riders appear to be in less than ideal poses – either involved in either some wildly vigorous sabre drill or perhaps in the midst of putting down an insanely violent bread riot in Wells-Next-The-Sea!
Well, this is all food for thought in my attempt to bring the Holkham horsemen back to life, in some half-assed way or other! Time to get back to those other cavalry figures that I’m painting.
As the fourth year of Suburban Militarism on WordPress comes to a close and a New Year looms, it’s a time for reflection. Swedish Napoleonic cavalrymen; Ottoman Turkish artillerymen; Serbian and Austrian infantry of the Great War; Belgian Carabinier cyclists; 28mm Yeomanry figures based on illustrations by Marrion; Saxon Cuirassiers and not forgetting some Napoleonic Poles back in January.
So, here’s a brief pictorial overview of some of the figures painted over 2018.
Looking forward to 2019, I know well enough by now not to forecast my painting plans in any great detail as distractions lead me on to other unforeseen areas over the year! However, currently demanding my attention are:
My Ottomania project – now well under way with the artillery corps progressing nicely;
The Great War project – I have a number of excellent kits I intend to tackle as I continue to develop my WWI collection;
So far as the Napoleonic Cavalry Project is concerned, 2018 has been the year of Swedish cavalry. HaT’s five regiments contained within their Napoleonic Swedish Cavalry set have now all been painted over the course of this year. These regiments were;
I’ve enjoyed painting these Light Dragoons. Being perhaps the least remarkable of the five Swedish cavalry regiments painted this year, it would be forgivable perhaps if I found the painting almost a chore. Instead, it’s reaffirmed my love of painting Nappy cavalry; all that colour, detail and of course the horses.
Those details I mention have included painting a tiny silver and red badge on the centre of the shako in a nod to Småland’s symbol of the red standing lion with crossbow. There’s also yellow cord and a rosette plume holder.
There’s also yellow trim to be found on the shoulder flaps, facings, tunic and waistband.
The pouch belt is buff, not white, as are the overalls.
More yellow appears on the edge of the horses’ blue shabraques.
As with all the other regiments in this box, the poses were limited, the emphasis on the set being on providing a variety of regiments rather than poses. The two poses were nice enough, however.
Pose 1 – charging:
Pose 2 – At the walk:
There are plenty of other great kits I’m still intending to tackle in this long-term project, but with November looming, it’s probably the last cavalry regiment to be painted until the New Year. So, now it just leaves me to present the usual regimental biography!
Biography: The Småland Light Dragoons
This regiment began its history in 1543 when raised in Kronoberg and Kalmar. Called the Småland Cavalry Regiment, the regiment’s name referred to its recruitment area of ‘Småland’ – a province in the south-east of Sweden. During the Scanian War, the regiment took part in the battles of Lund (1676) and Landskrona (1677).
In its early days at the end of the 17th century, a ‘cassock’ had superseded the previous
buff coat and it was decided that the Swedish uniform should be only in one colour; the familiar Swedish blue. The regiment was also allotted grey greatcoats in 1701, with yellow lining, collar and cuffs. For headdress at this time, they wore a tricorn with a narrow gold braid edge. During the Great Northern War, the regiment fought at Klissow (1702), Pultrusk (1703), Warsaw (1705) and Holowzin (1708).
During the Seven Years War, the Småland cavalry took part in a number of minor engagements. One example is of a detachment of 50 men which joined a Swedish force despatched to chase away a force of Prussian cavalry reconnoitring the Swedish positions. During its approach of the Prussian scouting party, the Swedes were attacked by a large body of cavalry. The Swedish cavalry fled the field after firing a single volley. Another detachment of 60 men was part of the Swedish force defending the crossing at Nehringen which they did before undertaking a fighting retreat in good order without casualties.
In 1758 300 men of the Småland Cavalry Regiment, under Lieutenant-colonel Baron Klas Erik Silferhjelm, took part to the battle of Tarmow, being charged and routed by 5 squadrons of Möhring Hussars. Two days after this, four squadrons of the regiment took part in the successful defence of Fehrbellin against a Prussian assault.
In 1790, with the Revolutionary Wards looming, the Småland Cavalry Regiment (Smålands kavalleriregemente) became known as the Smålands Light Cavalry Regiment (Smålands lätta kavalleri- regemente). It was then subsequently renamed again in 1801 as the Småland Light Dragoons (Smålands lätta dragoner), being the subject of the HaT set of figures.
The regiment at this time had adopted a Russian-type shako with long yellow cords. On the shako was a yellow Swedish cockade and a cap plate featuring the provincial coat-of-arms. Swedish cavalry favoured buff instead of the more common white belts. Their standard was yellow with the heraldic sign of Småland, the standing lion with the crossbow, in red.
In 1806, it received another new name; the Småland Dragoon Regiment, (Smålands dragonregemente) . In 1812 part of the regiment was converted into infantry – Smålands dragonrementes infanteribataljon (the Infantry Battalion of the Småland Dragoon Regiment).
The converted infantry battalion later became part of Karlskrona grenadier regiment. The remaining cavalry received its final name change to the Smålands Hussar Regiment (Smålands husar- regemente) in 1822. The regiment was located in Eksjö and was disbanded in 1927.
2018 has so far seen me add another five regiments to the now 30-strong Napoleonic Cavalry Project which was begun back in 2015. In what will probably be the final cavalry regiment produced this year, I’m finishing off the remainder of my 2 boxes of HaT’s Swedish Napoleonic Cavalry. From this kit, I’ve previously painted;
All of which just leaves my final Swedish regiment – the Småland Light Dragoons.
In the contemporary print above, the regiment is shown in 1807 wearing a long-tailed navy blue coat with yellow facings, buff-coloured riding breeches and black shakos. Around the waist is a yellow cord sash. The black shako is shown with a peak and this is also reproduced in the sculpted HaT figures yet in this is not visible in Preben Kannik’s illustration of the regiment of 1808 (found in “Military Uniforms of the World in Colour”).
This style of shako reproduced by Kannik, with a tiny – almost non-existent peak – is seen in another contemporary illustration of a Swedish cavalry regiment; the Nylands Light Dragoons of the same year. From these illustrations, the shako appears to have yellow cord around it, something which is reproduced on the HaT figures. The rest of the uniform appears very similar to HaT’s sculpted figures with its waist length coat, although HaT’s troopers are wearing campaign overalls rather than riding breeches.
The horses supplied by HaT are of course very familiar to me, being the same already used for the 18-strong Mörner Hussar regiment and also for the King’s Horse Guard.
Aside from the headdress, the uniform looks closest to the Scanian Carabineers which I painted earlier on in the year. For that reason, I toyed with painting them with yellow coats instead. This was an undress uniform colour adopted for Swedish cavalry regiments for field duty resulting from wearing the reverse colours of the full uniform.
In the final event, I decided to reproduce the same blue coats wonderfully depicted by Danish illustrator Preben Kannik. His “Military Uniforms of the World in Colour” book was a regular source of pleasure during my childhood and indeed continues do so right up to today. It contains many uniforms or regiments I’ve painted previously in the project and also, it must be said, regiments which I still intend to attempt.
The Småland Light Dragoon figures are already well under way, so I hope to have something to share on progress reasonably 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!