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!

The March of Time: Old Soldiers to New Recruits

Back in 2013, I was new to painting figures. I had dabbled before in 25mm metal castings before but only began to really dedicate regular time, patience and, ah, money in 2012. At the time, on the 1st floor of a huge model and toy shop in my home town, boxes of 1:72 scale plastic soldiers of every description occupied an entire room. Then, one day, I walked in to the shop to find it all gone. The floor to ceiling high wall coverage by countless boxes of plastic troops of every description and from every manufacturer had all but disappeared.

The venerable old store was closing down and clearly, in the weeks since I’d last visited, I’d missed the ensuing super-sale bonanza. Modelling vultures had already picked the carcass clean. There would be time to have a little cry about the old shop’s fate later back home but at that point I could see a handful of boxes still remained on a shelf – the last remnant half-companies from an army on sprues once numbering many 1000s of figures.

The Marmite sculpting style of the early Strelets figures ensured they featured heavily amongst these final unwanted boxes. I decided to pick up two of their marching French Napoleonic infantry sets; French Infantry on the March (1) and French Infantry in Advance. The unloved kits hadn’t remained unpurchased due to over-pricing – priced only £2.50 each with the added inducement of a ‘buy 1 get 1 free’!

Hmm, whatever happened to French Infantry on the March (2)?

As I took them home to mourn the passing of that enormous model soldier department (not to say it’s ever helpful, knowledgeable, but sadly soon-to-be-redundant staff) I suspected that these figures would probably go forever unpainted, stowed somewhere in the loft. In truth, it was a purchase motivated by sympathy rather than by desire.

And then, a few years later, in March 2015. I decided to paint some with a view to maybe submitting them to an international group painting project. In the event, they weren’t sent abroad but I had at least now made some effort on 18 of them. To my surprise, I enjoyed painting them a lot, with no less than 24 individual poses across the two boxes, there was real personality from a crowd otherwise depicted doing more or less the same thing. Both boxes featured the troops wearing greatcoats so mixed perfectly well together.

These painted figures remained un-based for a long while until, during a heavy blizzard on a December day in 2017, I realised that their greatcoats suggested they’d do well marching through snow (an obvious idea given one box’s art even depicts snow) and somehow, I ended up adding a further 26 to make 44 marchers. And last year, continuing what was becoming a yearly tradition, I dutifully painted another dozen to follow the Strelets French sledge train I’d painted. This latest dozen painted only this week takes the painted group it up to 68.

Since 2008, both of these marching sets are now virtually unavailable but Strelets have recently made a new replacement; their French Infantry on the March (1), with apparently more on the way! I’ve tackled a sprue of these new figures to compare with the old figures. These will be the future of my French winter marching tradition once the old sets are finally exhausted.

New recruits on the march!

They are very different to the original sets indeed.

Firstly, the new set has its marchers appearing sideways on the sprue, rather than face on. This has the effect of the figures being quite slender, almost appearing as a semi-flat.

Two of the figures wear some unusual headgear. PSR identify it as a pokalem, also known as a bonnet de police. Blue and piped with red, this early kind of informal headdress was warm and comfortable with ear flaps which could be worn up or down (as in these chilly examples), it could even be worn under shako.

Details, as with all newer Strelets figures, are much more subtle than before but overall the proportions and poses of these figures are impressive, even allowing for their semi-flat thinness.

To more clearly differentiate between the older regiment and the newly raised troops, I’ve adopted a grey greatcoat for the new recruits with a green ball plume.

The old style figures are now down to their last couple of remaining sprues. Do I have a preference between the sets? Plastic Soldier Review prefer the new set of figures. But for all that, when it comes to painting, I can’t help but have a fondness, perhaps even a bias, for the ‘Old Guard’, those original, ugly and unloved refugees from a dying High Street model shop.

They march and sing:
“Napoléon avait cinq cent soldats.
Napoléon avait cinq cent soldats.
Napoléon avait cinq cent soldats.
Marchant du même pas !”

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.

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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”…

Strelets French Infantry on the March

After a very satisfactory Christmas Day with my family, I’ve enjoyed a bracing Boxing Day walk in the hills. Sitting back with a glass of iced single malt, I’ve been surveying the embarrassingly high number of model soldier kits which have been bought for me as Christmas presents. More details on these will no doubt feature in forthcoming posts…

The holiday has allowed me time to do plenty of figure painting already and I’ve (somewhat astonishingly) completed my large group of Strelets’ French Infantry on the March.

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It has been an interesting process, returning to paint Strelets figures again. Being nearly two years since my last serious Strelets painting, I had forgotten how different an experience it is when compared to figures from other manufacturers.  Furthermore, my painting style has developed and consequently I’ve had to rethink how to approach these figures.

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Being less ‘pretty’ and refined than other figures, it’s a different aesthetic. Strelets figures look their best in larger groups rather than showcased individuals. This marching cohort is perfect for showing off Strelets. Their chunkier figures make for clearer details when seen from a distance, ‘en masse’. Incidentally, newly released Strelets figures appear to be sculpted to an increasingly refined standard than with these early French infantrymen.

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Although, it’s been a challenge at times and involved some repainting, I’ve been really enjoying the process. As a result, I intend to paint some more Strelets figures which have just come through as Christmas presents!

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Now, I wonder if I get even more figures for my birthday, tomorrow…?

 

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…

Snow Business

Ice and snow have come early this year. It’s a phenomenon which is more usually seen over here in January or February, rather than a whole fortnight before winter solstice. With my Christmas cavalry now taking their place with the other seasonal decorations, I’d been wondering what to turn my brush to next when a glance through the window at the winter scene outside gave me an idea…

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The snowy scene near my home this week.

Back in early 2015, I found myself painting 18 marching French infantrymen with a view to submitting one of them to the Benno’s Figures Forum Waterloo group project. The figures were from two (seemingly now largely unavailable) Napoleonic sets by Strelets; “French Infantry on the March” and “French Infantry in Advance“. Both sets feature Napoleon’s finest on the march in greatcoats and these two sets combined supplied a whopping 24 unique poses simply depicting men walking with muskets!

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Strelets French marching infantry in greatcoats. Just £2.50 plus a BOGOF offer?! Ah, Dominoes model shop – you are so very sadly missed…

The style is typical Strelets and figure painters tend to either like them or hate them. Me? I appreciated the campaign-worn, ragtag look to the men. I also rather liked their more characterful style which livens up the process of producing lots of figures ultimately doing exactly the same thing – simply marching.

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You will notice from the photos above that I never got around to basing them. The snow-covered landscape outside has given me the inspiration to mimic the Strelets box art depicting them on the march in the snow (presumably in the Russian winter).

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On the march in the snow: Strelets box art.

Having located the required boxes and prepared 14 more figures for paint, I subsequently found another dozen already primed in readiness from back in 2015…

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14 figures ready to go!

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Err, make that 26 more figures…

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Not forgetting another 18 just requiring a snowy base!

That makes for 26 Strelets figures to paint; all wearing the same beige greatcoats and all just marching! Will I get bored and quit? Possibly, but I fancy giving it a go as it makes for a nice change from painting just a handful of figures only. Consider it an end-of-year palate cleanser before my next project (or palette cleanser if you will ‘scuse the painting pun). Incidentally, Strelets also have no less than four separate Napoleonic kits available just featuring Russian and French winter sledge trains! They like their winter troops.

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But wait – one more thing: in my collection, I also have soldiers based in snow from three other Strelets sets featuring troops in ‘winter dress’ (it must be something to do with the manufacturer being Russian…). I have British guardsmen in Crimean War ‘winter dress’ and also two kits from their 1877 Russo-Turkish War range featuring Russian and Turkish troops in hooded greatcoats. All of these are currently just standing in modelling clay painted white but they could all really use some of my very wonderful “Woodland Scenics’ Soft Snow” treatment. So: yet more winter work to do!

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.