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:

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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.

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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”…

In the Bleak Midwinter…

Just as the snow outside has at last thawed to an icy slush, indoors I’ve been adding my own fake snow to some figures. Those Strelets French Napoleonic infantrymen on the march, which have for so long been awaiting basing, are now ankle-deep in the white stuff. I’ve also just decided to cut off any fixed bayonets in order to make them a little more uniform, though they’re still showing in these pics.

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Their brethren, meanwhile, all 26 of them, are having their greatcoats painted. I’m struggling to get the coats to a similar shade as that painted two years ago, they should look closer in colour than in these photos but regardless I’m just going to go for it. Different shades can only add to that wonderfully shabby look with its patched up clothing.

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And they will certainly need those coats in this bleak midwinter…

The Christingle Dragoons

Having completed the Carolling Hussars recently, I’ve been working on the other regiment for my Christmas decorations; the Christingle Dragoons.

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The dragoons are Revell’s Austrian Dragoons of the 7 Years War. I’ve painted some a few years ago as the Prinz Savoyen Dragoons, so I know they’re an impressive set. My only quibble is that the beautifully sculpted horses for these dragoons seem to be a significant few ‘hands’ higher than the hussar horses in comparison (see below)!

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Like Don Quixote and Sancho Panza… OK, so the Christingle dragoon’s horse (right) is rearing up but it appears quite a bit taller than the squat Carolling Hussar’s mount?

As with the Carolling Hussars, I’ve based the uniform design on a real 7 Years War regiment; the Prinz Karl Chevaulegers of the Saxon army. This regiment was named after Prince Karl of Saxony (Duke of Courland) and took part in a number of key battles in the war (Breslau, Leuthen, Torgau, etc.).

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Prinz Karl Chevauleger uniform

My Christingle Dragoons are named after a curious symbolic object used in Christian Advent services. The Christingle apparently originated with a German Bishop called Johannes de Watteville in 1747, but it took until the 1960s for it to become a British custom which has since grown in popularity. My first encounter with it was a few years ago when daughter first attended a local Christingle service on Christmas Eve.

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A Christingle

The Christingle is usually constructed with an orange, a candle, a red ribbon, some cocktail sticks and sweets. I suppose, on reflection, an orange uniform with red facings might have been more appropriate!? Never mind, I think green, red and white are good Christmas colours.

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Just as I did with the Carolling Hussars, I’ve also added a little tinsel to their tricornes; red tinsel for the hussars and gold for the dragoons. Also, you may notice that I’ve painted a small orange and candle Christingle motif.

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I fancy that some more festive decorations could improve my Christmas cavalry still further. Perhaps some extra tinsel, a mini bauble or some glitter around the base?

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Taking aim at a plump turkey for the regimental Christmas dinner…

But my “contribution” to the household Christmas decorations won’t be complete until I finish off the two flag bearers for the two regiments. My girl has designed the flags for my two Christmas infantry regiments in previous years. I’m awaiting her designs for the cavalry flags while I am finishing off the two figures themselves. I asked her to make the designs in the swallow-tailed shape of British light cavalry regiment guidons. I’ll share the finished figures in due course!

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Let it Snow!

I’ve been keen to showcase the completed Lifeguard Cossacks, but I’ve been held up waiting for my fake snow to come through the post. Late this afternoon, it finally arrived and so I’m now eagerly scattering snow about like a stagehand in “Frozen: the musical”.

Will post pictures of these wintry cossacks, the 11th regiment in my nappy cavalry project, shortly…

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One of my cossacks now riding across the, err… snow covered Russian steppe.