Mon Infanterie Française!

Having posted on the machine gun crews, I’ve now completed the rest of the Pegasus box of WWI French infantry, so here are some pics of the end result. The figures wear the Horizon Blue coat and Adrian helmet. The trousers are white which were worn by some French units when serving on the Salonika front in 1917-18, which these troops are supposed to represent.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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En avant! Vive la France!

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

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

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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.

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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!

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Le Bleu Horizon

Earlier in the year I tackled some Caesar Miniatures WWI French Infantry and machine gun crews of the early war period (1914). As I began painting them, I posted on the topic of an army which sent it’s soldiers into a 20th century war wearing the kind of bright red trousers one might associate from soldiers of 50 years or more before.

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Postcard illustrated by Ernest Gabard who drew a whole series capturing the scenes from the lives of French Poilus.

In the Great War, fashion eventually gave way to function for the French army and their bright colours of the previous 200 years finally disappeared from the European battlefield. I concluded my blog post by mentioning that the French army had been forced to adopt a new uniform with a colour known as Le Bleu Horizon (horizon blue).

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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2018 French Infantry reenactors during Verdun commemorations (Jean Francois Badias/AP)

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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.

 

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Thank you, assistant! Pegasus Hobbies figures look superb.

The box cover shows some nicely painted figures wearing white trousers. To provide a little variation for my painting, I’m opting to reproduce this colour of trousers. My encyclopedia explains;

“Troops sent to theatres beyond Europe (French infantry regiments operated in Gallipoli, Salonika and Macedonia and in Palestine) generally wore a tunic (in horizon blue) with horizon blue or white trousers… Although horizon blue was stipulated for all troops from metropolitan France, as of February 1915 troops serving in hot climates could also be issued with a light (linen) khaki tunic and trousers.”

So, boosting my battle of the Balkans figures, I’ll have some Salonika French troops with white trousers.

The figures are by Pegasus, a manufacturer that I’ve never used before. I must say that the figures are terrific, as good as anything I’ve seen in 1/72 plastics. It’s a shame that Pegasus seem to concentrate on WWII, which is an era this blog seldom ventures near, or I would be purchasing a lot more!

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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.

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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!