Strelets French Army Sledge Train (Set 2)

These are dark nights and short cold, wet days here in the UK. Winter can seem a little like something to be endured at times but my latest painting venture puts it all into perspective. Strelets 2nd French Army Sledge Train set includes yet more scene of tragic suffering from the Grande Armee’s retreat from Moscow in 1812.

Once again, as with Set 1, the sledge is being driven by a man wearing a polish czapka, possibly a Polish lancer missing his mount. Cracking a whip, he is seated in an impresive half-lotus posture! The previous driver didn’t fit on the sledge well, so this yogic flexibility at least helps me fit him to the sledge more easily.

Also seated in the sledge are a hussar and a lady holding a baby. This lady is sitting on top of a barrel and wrapped in a shawl. A nice little figure and a poignant one too.

The hussar meanwhile cradles a horse’s leg and hoof, possibly the last remnant of his beloved mount, now a source of food in these desperate circumstances.

Bringing up the rear of this vignette are two comrades in arms. I think that Strelets has again produced impressive and moving figures here. Badly wounded, relying on one’s comrades would be the only slim hope of making it home alive.

Likewise with another pair of Napoleon’s soldiers. Although sculpted separately, these two seemed to go together nicely to me. The blind grenadier’s outside outstretched hand found a natural home on the backpack of the other soldier carrying a heavy sack. Together, they stumble through the Russian snow back to Vilnius.

Whilst others hobble homeward, one character is sprinting to catch up with the sledge. A senior officer, I like to think there’s a backstory to his running; catching up after answering the call of nature; or recovering from a rude awakening when falling face first off the sledge into the snow having dozed off; or maybe he’s seen Cossacks approaching…

Laden with desperately needed provisions, the final figure from the scene is trudging alongside the poor imaciated horse.

Here are the two French sledge train sets, 2018 and 2019 versions of the winter retreat together.

As a reminder, here are last year’s retreat figures. Below: a soldier carrying a small drummer boy and his drum, with a barefoot dragoon looking appallingly cold.

Above: the figures in the sledge; another officer in a bicorne and a mysterious bespectacled gentleman who wears a luxorious fur coat and cradles a locked casket which possibly holds the source of his securing a fur coat and a ride in the sledge – money!

There are two other sledge train sets produced by Strelets for the Russian army. These make for a nice contrast to the French ones, being far better dressed for the cold and well fed too. I’ve kept these back to continue the tradition next winter.

Well, I’m feeling very cold now. Reckon it’s time for drop or two of something to keep out the cold…

It's Snow Time!

It was around this time last year that, taking some inspiration from the onset of winter, I tackled the first of Strelets French Sledge Train sets. The results were really pleasing, unusual and inventive, albeit in a somewhat macabre way.

So it’s a perfect time of year again to attempt Set number 2 of the Strelets French Army Sledge Train sets. This one contains the exact same sledge and horse but with different occupants and walkers.

The figures are nearing the end of the painting process, with just a few things still to attend to or improve. I’ve yet to start on the sledge itself and the base, so I thought I’d share the characters before they get included in a little diorama, similar to that produced last year:


1. The Hussar:

This chap is wearing an hussar uniform with a less-than-regulation, broad-brimmed hat that he’s taken from somewhere. I painted him in what I believe to be the colours of the French 7th Hussar Regiment.

Depicted as as lucky occupant of the sledge, what perplexed me at first was what he was craddling in his arms. Predictably, Plastic Soldier Review got it quite right by suggesting that it was a horse leg! With a little paint, it indeed became clear, hoof and all. All in all a typically odd and delightfully imaginative figure from Strelets.


2. The Blinded Grenadier:

A grenadier of Napoleon’s Imperial Guard is a pleasing inclusion. He is blinded, presumably from a combat wound. Strelets have signified this by a bandage around his eyes, a walking stick and a hand extended out to feel the way. He appears to be wearing a scarf but he needs to urgently button that coat up against the winter snows!


3. The Comrades:

I’ve not quite finished them but I like these figures in particular. In a moving scene, Strelets have created two comrades struggling through the snows together. One is clearly wounded, his arm in a sling. His other arm is around his comrade who helps him walk. His comrade is wearing what appear to be very similar to the Opanci peasant shoes I last painted on the Serbian WWI infantry last year. Perhaps a sympathetic local took pity and helped him out?


4. The Plunderer:

This fortunate chap wears a warm regimental forage cap, that looks like a night cap. He’s well-equipped, smartly dressed, and in a piece of great fortune has managed to get his hands on a sack of something. Whatever it is, it’s clearly valuable enough to carry with him.


5. The Mother and Child:

In a reminder of the women and children which accompanied armies of the period, Strelets have included a lady sitting on a barrel in the sledge. She appears to be holding a tiny baby wrapped up on her lap. Appallingly, the outlook for both on the retreat would not be good whatsoever.


6. The Littlest Hobo:

Another well-equipped soldier who stands a better chance than many of survival. He has full packs on his back and has even tied a bundle of privisions to his musket. He’s ditched or stowed away his shako and wraped his head in a warm covering.


7. The Running Man:

A senior officer, perhaps even a Général de brigade, runs through the snows. Perhaps his horse has bolted or the Cossacks are hot on his heels? I think it is more likely that he’s another occupant of the sledge who’s now chasing after it after answering the call of nature! Run, Monsieur Général, run!


8. The Yogic Sledge Driver

The driver of the sledge wears a Polish lancer’s cap but otherwise could pass for an infantryman. Cracking a whip, he is sitting in an extreme crossed-legged position which can only be described as a half-lotus! Very flexible!

9. The Pitiful Pony

The same half-starved labouring pony from Sledge set 1 makes a reappearance. Definitely one of Strelets best horse sculpts, in my opinion. A sad reminder of the very considerable animal suffering experenced in the retreat from Moscow.

So, just final touches to the figures, and the sledge to paint and assemble, before I start to put the whole sledging expedition together and then this suitably snowy scene will probably be the last completed project before Christmas!

Tis’ the Season for Giving… and Receiving!

This time of year, I get to enjoy two days of opening presents. With my birthday being on the same week as Christmas Day, if I’m lucky, I tend to end up with plenty new model kits and books. Time for a quick overview of some of the military related gifts that I’ve received this year.

Firstly, following on from the very pleasing painting of Strelets French Army Sledge Train figures earlier this month, at my suggestion for a birthday present I’ve been kindly supplied with set 2 of this series. It will probably be December 2019 before I even think of getting to work on them, however.

I’ve also come into ownership of two boxes of RedBox’s Ottoman (or Osman) infantry: namely the elite Yeniceri (Janissaries) and Eyalet troops. They are really great quality figures for sure and I’m now committed to developing Ottomania – my Ottoman Turkish army project.

Apropos of this, my father-in-law was visiting a military bookshop in Birmingham recently and asked if there was anything I’d like for Christmas whilst he was there. I mentioned a book on Ottoman armies by the peerless Osprey to further assist my Ottomania project and it seems he took the idea and ran with it!

Written by David Nicolle and illustrated by Angus McBride and Christa Hook, no less than three books on the topic were unwrapped on Christmas Day;

  • The Janissaries (Elite series No.58)
  • Armies of the Ottoman Turks 1300-1774 (Men-at-Arms series No.140)
  • Armies of the Ottoman Turks 1775-1820 (Men-at-Arms series No.314)
Christa Hook’s illustration of 16thC Ottoman Janissaries.

A bit more reading material – something that I’ve wanted for a while is the now well-out-of-print book by R.G. Harris on “50 Years of Yeomanry Uniforms: Volume 1”. Harris was one of the contributors to some of the books in the essential Ogilby Trust “Uniforms of the British Yeomanry Force” series in the late 80s / early 90s.

This 1972 edition has that evocative musty smell of old bookshops and features 32 terrific full page and full-colour illustrations by Edward A Campbell. I was interested to read in the preface that Campbell was responsible for the artwork in the 1931 Players cigarette card series Military Headdress, which I am well familiar with from my own collection.

Campbell’s illustration of an officer of the Norfolk Yeomanry (see also my post on the Norfolk and Suffolk Yeomanry collection).

Campbell’s paintings were based on ‘painstaking research’ of which most apparently is sadly unpublished. Even more tragically, the preface informs me that “the author of the text is preparing a second volume on the Yeomanry which will incorporate a further selection of Captain Campbell’s work…”, yet I can find no evidence that Volume 2 was ever published.

Uniform of the Northamptonshire Yeomanry, an example of which I saw earlier this year in Northampton.
Officer of the Shropshire Yeomanry, another uniform that I saw earlier this year during my trip to Shrewsbury.

So much to read, so much to paint, but so little time. I really need to get on with some chores, not to mention hours of overtime that I need to do. What’s that quote? “Starve your distractions – feed your focus!”. Trouble is, I rather prefer the distractions…

Strelets French Army Sledge Train (set 1)

My Strelets French Army Sledge Train is now finished with snow freshly dusted over the scene. The end result looks suitably cold, I think. Or maybe it’s just the deteriorating weather outside having that effect on me?

In the sledge there is a driver wearing a Polish Czapka, an officer wearing a cocked hat and another man wrapped in a luxurious fur coat. This chap holds a keg and is sitting on a locked casket. Notably, he wears a pair of spectacles. His hat is a bit of mystery to me. If not a specific piece of military headdress, it could be anything stolen or purchased simply to keep his head warm, so I’ve just painted it blue.

I mentioned in my previous post that the driver figure could in no way be made to ride the horse or sit in the sledge without something to sit on. Imperial Rebel Ork suggested I made something out of green stuff, sculpting anything is always a risky strategy for me! At the last minute, I decided to use a 1/72 scale wooden box from my childhood collection of Napoleonic French Artillery. The box was perfect but the driver still didn’t sit well as his legs were too far apart, even after I rashly cut his toes off (which I now put down to frostbite, you see…). He’s leaning a teensy bit far back for my liking,  but as he’s about to wield a whip, I can just about say ‘he’ll do’.

Those walking behind include (from foreground to background below):

  • An infantryman in great coat wearing a Polish Lancer’s discarded czapka.
  • Another infantryman carrying on his back a small drummer boy and his drum.
  • A dragoon with a blanket around his shoulders and without any footwear.
  • At the back, a Chasseur of the Guard amputee using a staff as a crutch.

You may just be able to pick out the sledge tracks in the snow? It looks a little more convincing to the eye!

There’s a convincing sense with these figures or struggle and hardship, particularly now they’re painted and in the snow. Little things that I was pleased with are lost to the camera in these pics; the wooden floor of the sledge and the casket, to name but two.

I think my favourite figure is the soldier carrying the drummer boy and drum on his back. It’s quite a complex piece of sculpting which comes out very well after applying some paint. All the figures look good, though, I think. The barefoot dragoon is convincingly cold with the blanket, for example.

Napoleon himself adopted the use of a sleigh when he abandoned the remnants of the Grand Armee on its retreat from Moscow, so it really was the best way to get around in the snowy conditions.

“It’s a long way to Lithuania…”

I mentioned how much I liked Strelets emaciated pony. The suffering endured by the horses taken on campaign with Napoleon was truly appalling. Virtually all of Napoleon’s 200,000 horses died from starvation, wounds, injuries, exhaustion or, increasingly during the terrible retreat, at the hands of starving men desperate to use them for food.

Even in the opening weeks of the campaign, many thousands of horses died in a great storm. The outlook for this poor, struggling pony in my scene is probably as bleak as for the men walking on behind.

You may notice from the pic below that the horse is moving off to the left. This is simply a feature of one of the poles connected to his harness being longer than the other! But if anyone asks – the horse is very deliberately turning left…

I’ve also added another dozen men to my growing collection of painted Strelets Marching French infantry figures, currently now over 50 strong. It’s a long-term aim of mine to finish both boxes in the coming years and build a 100-man marching column to accompany the sledge train.

Settle down, grab your popcorn – it’s time for a short movie:

Watch a feline Cossack attack my marching column of French infantry!

There’s a second set of the French Army Sledge Train with different figures which I may source for next year’s wintry hobby painting. And finally – just a few last pics showing the marching column making its way across the icy wastes of my lounge carpet:

Sleigh Ride

Recently, I’ve enjoyed getting the fake snow out for basing my Christmas Artillery figures and as the temperature drops here in the UK and December looms, it’s the perfect time of the year to do it, too.

In December of last year I added to my growing contingent of Strelets French army figures marching through the snow. I’ve just painted another dozen men to add to this already large group and am now planning to add something extra too to it too. This snowy retreat from Moscow will now include “Strelets French Army Sledge Train 1“, set.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is strelets-french-infantry-marching-6.jpg

Strelets produced four separate sets of sledge trains back in 2015, two for the French army and two for the Russians. Needless to say, as these sets are depicting Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow in 1812, the Russians are looking decidedly healthier and better equipped on their sledges than their French counterparts! 

 So, let’s take a look at the figures in the box:

First of all – the sledge with its horse in harness. The sledge is a simple wooden affair on skis, as you might expect. Strelets have depicted a suitably thin horse with plenty of bones on display, suggesting that the hardships were not confined to the men. Often, I find Strelets horses too bulky and stocky – one of the reasons no Strelets cavalry set has ever found its way into the Nappy Cavalry Project. This starving horse brings the anatomy pleasingly into more believable proportions.

The sledge is drawn by an emaciated horse in harness.

The driver below looks like a lancer of the guard who has fortunately purloined a warm coat from somewhere. There’s a real problem as to where to put him as he appears to be sculpted to sit on something but the sledge unfortunately does not come with an armchair! I’ll work something out, maybe I’ll have him standing but in crouching position?

The driver

The set also comes with walking stragglers. The figures are very pleasingly old-style Strelets, which is to say each figure is full of great character and eccentric attention to detail. Recent sculpting is more refined but lacks a degree of personality.

  • Below Left: Appears to be a Chassuer a Cheval of the guard  who unsurprisingly has chosen to wear his fur-lined pelisse to keep out the cold. He is also an amputee, leaning on a crutch. His chances of hopping the 1000km from Moscow back to Vilnius are slim, I’d imagine!
  • Below centre: This poor fellow ‘s helmet suggests he is a dragoon. The blanket around his shoulders looks inadequate for a Russian winter. His bare feet puts his chances of survival very low indeed.
  • Below right: Like the sledge driver, this man wears a polish czapka suggesting he might be a soldier of the Polish legion, or simply an infantryman wearing any discarded head protection he can find. Uninjured and with a long coat, my money is on him being the most likely of the trio to get home.
Having one leg or bare feet was not a recipe for survival on the long retreat through the Russian winter…

The fellow below has two burdens to carry through the snow; a drum and a small drummer boy clinging to his shoulders. It’s a touching idea and one that reminds us that children and families also accompanied the French army and shared in the appalling suffering of the retreat.

There’s always one who seems to look after himself while everyone else suffers. This man is lucky enough to be riding in the sledge. He also has a very warm fur coat and a pair of fur lined peasant boots. A hat and hood protect his head and he appears to have glasses or even goggles. Instead of a child, he cradles a barrel of something alcoholic to keep out the cold. He also has a handy seat in the form of a locked casket which, presumably, contains food or even money with which to buy all the best winter clothing!

This chap has the right idea – wearing a fur coat and riding in the sledge.

Riding next to him in the sledge is an officer, identifiable by his cocked hat. The officer is again fortunate, no doubt thanks to his rank, to have a full length coat and a ride in the sledge.

The cocked hat of the officer – a man abusing his position to ride the sledge!

So that is a preview of the sledge occupants and stragglers accompanying the column of French infantry I’ve been building up in recent years. Hopefully, now well under way with just a few figures to paint I should be able to update on my progress soon.

In the meantime, here’s a bit of light music to accompany the post, though I’m not entirely sure Leroy Anderson had Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow in his mind when he composed “Sleigh Ride”…