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1866: my next project

My new 10mm Italian troops all together

I began 2023 determined to focus on completing projects already started, my Napoleonics in particular. This didn’t last long, as I worked on reviving my Great Northern War armies and developing a rule system to use them. That show is now done. I have now decided to start a brand new period in a brand new scale. What is going on?

The main thing I hadn’t reckoned on was a revival of my actual gaming. I’m now part of a monthly “club” of half a dozen players from my old club, South London Warlords, that meet in the home of one us. I need games that are conducive to this format. I am also in the process of joining a more local club in Tunbridge Wells. Where that will lead I’m not sure – but that I will need material ready for the club game format. I can put on a game of Lasalle 2 readily enough with my Napoleonics – but these rules are unfamiliar to my fellow gamers. And I hesitate to suggest that they buy a rather pricey rules booklet. These published rules aren’t easy to scan to distribute, even if that was legal – and the clever activation system is a bit awkward in a multiplayer format.

I have been eyeing European wars of 1859 to 1871 for some time. I have been buying Bruce Weigle’s rules, playing the odd game with my friend George, leading up to participating in an 1859 game (part of Solferino) led by Bruce himself at Newbury in 2019. I am also owner of Chris Pringle’s Bloody Big Battles rules for the period, and tried to adapt them to the Napoloenic era – and acquired his extended scenario book. In addition, I have wanted to try out 10mm miniatures. It then struck me how suited this period is to the multiplayer format. On the battlefield the army command function had comparatively little influence, with corps and divisional commanders playing a more decisive role on the day (the army commander doing more to set the day up). Historically it is a very interesting period, marking the transition from smoothbore to rifled to breech-loaded infantry weapons and artillery. The battles were mainly between well-trained regulars, and the short wars meant that there was comparatively little of the complexities of attrition (until 1871, anyway). This makes the wars cleaner than the overlapping American Civil War, as well as the armies being a bit more interesting to look at, including the continued use of shock cavalry.

Three ideas converged. The first is that I wanted to play the battle of Custoza in June 1866. This was a close fought battle between the Austrian army and the Italians – and an interesting counterpoint to the disasters faced by the Austrians to the north against Prussian needle-guns. The second was that I wanted to try 10mm figures. My much loved 18mm Napoleonics are bigger than ideal for big battles, and I find 6mm (which I use for GNW) a bit wee. I wanted to see if I could get 10mm figures table-ready quickly by streamlining the painting process. Third I wanted to try basing figures 30mm by 20mm. My Napoleonics are on 25mm square bases, and my GNWs are on 20mm squares. These look fine when combined into multi-base units. Oblong bases look better when on their own – which they are for Bruce Weigle’s system, for example. This base size looks good for 6mm troops, and I thought they’d work well for 10mm too.

Perusing the Pendraken website, I saw that they did Italians for the period in 10mm. That tipped me over the edge and I made an order, to see how they looked. And I was off. There was a big psychological release being involved in a brand new project in a new period – one not weighed down by questionable decisions on scale and basing made long ago. I now understand why so many gamers do it so often, notwithstanding having failed to complete earlier projects. I have acquired a number of books, and I’m researching the history eagerly. My initial aim is to mount a game for Custoza. The starting point is the BBB scenario for the battle. BBB rules are perfectly workable (I think they work much better for this era than Napoleonics) – but they are still rules for smaller scales being made to work for big battles, with a rather artificial feel in that context. This criticism can’t be made of Bruce Weigle’s system (the 1871 rules adapted for earlier periods – which is what we used in Newbury) – which in particular allow bases to move individually without being forced into constrained base-to-base formations. But these rules aren’t really suitable for the sort of game format I’m planning – they’ll take too long. Besides they are designed for rather smaller battles (there is a Custoza scenario, but it doesn’t cover the whole field for the whole battle). So, fresh from success with my Carolus Rex GNW rules, I’m looking to make my own.

How about the Italians? I bought a Pendraken “army pack” with 90 infantry figures, 30 command figures, 30 Bersaglieri, 15 cavalry and 3 guns. Unfortunately they sent me the 1849-59 version, not the 1859 to 1866. The infantry were in tunics rather than greatcoats, the cavalry were dragoons rather than light cavalry, and I had grenadiers in place of Bersaglieri. I decided I quite liked to the look of the earlier infantry, and the dragoons were nice, and perfectly usable, too. The grenadiers were the main problem – but Pendraken were happy to send me a pack of Bersaglieri (they offered to replace the whole order, of course). So what I have is more an 1859 army than an 1866 one. Since 1859 is on the more distant agenda, that’s not a worry.

The next question was how many figures to put on a base? My first thought was 10 infantry or four cavalry. There is room. But then I thought I could get away with 8 and three respectively – since looser formations were starting to be used in this era. I mounted all the line infantry at 8 to base, except one flag base with 10, to see how it compared. For the Bersaglieri I put then five to a base. This is the result (with the 10-figure flag base):

I made up three groups of four line infantry bases and one Bersaglieri, 15 infantry bases in all. Unfortunately I think the denser basing looks better – and illustrations from the era often show dense deployments. My plan is to mount my next batch, which will be Austrians, at 10 to base (or 5 or 6 jagers),and see how they look en masse. The Austrians particularly favoured dense formations anyway. The flags, incidentally, are from Pendraken. Given the general dullness of the troops (many wore greatcoats in the filed), the flags are an important feature. The Pendraken flags are quite basic, but do the job. They don’t do cavalry flags though, which might be a problem. Talking of cavalry, here they are:

These represent “line cavalry” or dragoons – the nearest the Italians had to elite heavy cavalry, of which they had four regiments. I have representatives from two regiments. A denser basing would be justified here too – but the pack size is 15, one short of what I need for four bases. Since I will (probably) be operating the cavalry in brigades of two or four bases, life is going to be harder if I can’t get four bases out a pack. With three to a base I might even get and extra base. With the cavalry present only in small quantities, that proved decisive, and I will stick to three figures a base – the look is perfectly satisfactory. Here’s the artillery:

These are 8-pounders, the typical Italian artillery piece, which were rifled in 1866 (but not in 1859). They look distinctly like Napoleonic smoothbores to me, but Leon from Pendraken assured me that he did research them, and I know no better. Reliable information on the Italian army of the era is hard to come by, and I’m very thankful that Leon took the job of producing this range on. I have found little consistent information on the line infantry. The Osprey, which covers the topic only briefly, has no pictures of standard line infantry of 1866 – or the Piedmontese army from before. Pendraken supply four crew figures for each piece but I didn’t like one of them. I thought I might reserve four crew figures for heavier weapons.

I will leave description of how I have prepared these figures to another post, when my Austrians are done. My hope is that I can get these troops table-ready quickly. Much more quickly than my 18mm troops, and even the GNW 6mm ones. The jury is out on that. The uniforms are quite simple, and the figures small enough not to need much detailing. Piping and braid need not be attempted! Even the black facings on the Italian infantry present so little contrast to the dark blue coats that I didn’t attempt it. The Austrians wore their greatcoats in the field (removing the tunics underneath in warmer weather), which will be just as simple. This batch of 15 infantry bases, four cavalry and three artillery took a bit longer than I hoped though. I will need over 70 bases of Italians alone if I follow the BBB scenario. I think I will try bigger batches, but of one troop type. This will be pretty boring, but hopefully faster. For the first Austrians though I will do a similar mixed batch, though.

Great Northern War again

My recent game, which the Swedes taking on the Russians

How time flies! It’s been quite a while since I last posted. My hobby focus has been mainly on my Great Northern War project – though as usual the rest of life intervened to limit the time spent on it. I developed my Carolus Rex rules ready for a proper live game in April. Since then I have modified them, and they are now published on here the Rules Page. I have also painted up six more infantry units (mostly Swedish) and a few other bits and pieces. That draws a line under GNW for the time being. It’s on to the next thing now.

The game was with the monthly group from my old club, which I’d had to miss for a couple of months. There were six of us. It was a sprawling affair using the bulk of my Swedish and Russian armies (I left some Russian infantry, a lot of the Swedish artillery, and the Swedish irregular cavalry out), shown in the picture from the Swedish side. There was no serious terrain. Although the Swedes had much the smaller army, the Russians were mainly D class, and the Swedish troop and command quality showed through, especially with their cavalry. The Swedes had one hairy moment, when the Russians managed to rout both Swedish guard infantry units. If the Swedes (played by me in this case) hadn’t done well on a divisional morale check, and then managed to rally one of the units, it would have been a big struggle for them to win. But the game flowed well, and we concluded within the time allotted. The feedback from the players on the rules was very positive – no big holes were revealed, though some tweaking was needed. Cavalry was too powerful against infantry, and flank attacks needed to be a little more effective. The one issue I won’t fix is the card driven activation system, which means that the six players need to go sequentially, reducing the possibility of parallel processing. I think this dynamic adds a lot to game play.

I have made those tweaks to the rules, as well as correcting a few other details. Increasing the effectiveness of flank attacks meant I felt the need to introduce an option to form square for infantry. This is perfectly historical, in fact, but there is a risk of the unit becoming disordered as it forms up. Interestingly I also changed the rules in a couple of places to reflect what we actually played, rather than what I had written. What we did was more intuitive and made better sense. I am pretty pleased with the rules overall. s discussed before, I feel I may have tilted a bi towards playability rather than historicity, especially in command and manoeuvre, but I do think I have caught important aspects of combat in this era. It should be possible to use them for other conflicts than Swedish/Russians in 1708/09, except that I haven’t developed them to cater for the new Dutch fire discipline methods and three-deep lines, used by Britain and the Netherlands, and neither some of the looser infantry and cavalry types used by the Ottomans and others. I might also want to distinguish between “galloping’ and “trotting” cavalry charge tactics. But life is short and I don’t plan to build armies for these other conflicts. Next time, though, I will design a more interesting scenario – the one inspired by Holowcyzn that I used in early play testing is a suitable starting point.

After that I painted one more batch of figures to give me more options for armies on both sides. These were four Swedish line infantry battalions, two Russian guard battalions, a Swedish heavy gun, a small unit of Swedish Drabant cavalry, and seven artillery limbers. While I still have more metal to paint, I plan to draw a line under things for these armies now. I will only paint up more if a particular scenario demands it. If I have enough units to keep a six player game going for four hours plus, I don’t need more.

For the Swedes I painted four units from different regiments: Kalmar, Skaraborg, Västerbotten and Västmanland. Until now I have prepared two battalions from the same regiment, except for two Manning (additional draft) units. But I have the flags and in any case there is usually a bit of bathtubbing going on in my scenarios. The first two of these units are in hats, and the second two in caps (karpus). I don’t think that the karpus was as widely used as I have them in my armies, but I had bought a lot of the figures from Baccus, and they were a bit nicer than the ones in hats anyway (since then Baccus has brought out some better ones in hats).

The Kalmar and Skaraborg infantry units
The Västmanland and Västerbotten units

I have plenty of Russian infantry, but there was something to be said for having a couple more guard units to beef the army up. I painted these from the Semonovsky regiment, with its blue coats. Like my two units for the Preobrazhensky regiment, I attached foil pennons to the pikes. the evidence for this is pretty thin (one of my early source book suggested it), and even thinner for their use in battle (unlike cavalry lances, where the pennons were considered to add to the psychological effect). Still it helps make the guard units special. I painted them mid-blue with a red lining, like the company standards.

The Semonovsky Russian Guard units

The Swedish Drabants were Karl’s personal bodyguard, and like him were often in the thick of the fighting. I didn’t really need this unit, but Swedish armies were heavy in cavalry, and this unit gives me more options. They weren’t up to full regimental strength, so I’ve had to create rules for smaller, two-base units.

For artillery, I wanted a Swedish heavy gun. The Swedes weren’t usually big on artillery, which hindered mobility, but they did use 12 pdrs at Holowcyzn, and I had the metal. Why I bought a mortar I don’t know, as these were generally siege weapons, but having bought them I thought I’d better paint one up in Russian livery. The other piece in the picture is the regimental artillery for the Semonovsky regiment – which was a matter of covering a piece that I had already painted.

The Drabants, the Swedish heavy artillery, the Russian mortar and a light gun

And finally limbers! I’ve made light (regimental) artillery and even field guns relatively mobile, without the need for limbering – so in our game players didn’t bother with limbers, as it takes a whole turn to limber up (limbers were not under military discipline). But in my next scenario there could be a lot more movement, and I had the metal away. So I painted up seven models to join the two I already had. One of these (like both the earlier ones) had two horses; the other single horse ones are there for my plentiful regimental artillery.

For painting technique I followed the same method as my last batch, described earlier this year. The main point of interest came at the end, when I used a rather dark wash. I started to use my Windsor & Newton peat brown ink, but this has turned thick and very red in hue with age. I tried diluted Antelope Brown (Liquitex I think), but this was very yellow – so I added some black, which is strong stuff and overwhelmed the brown. As I merrily applied it (including to the bases), I thought it enhanced the look. As it dried I the result was a bit dark – it’s not just poor photography in the pictures. I felt the need to highlight some of the yellow facings on the Swedes, and some light yellow highlighting on the bases. this proved to be quite a quick and easy process, leaving me to think that perhaps the lighter colours (facings, flesh and weapons) could be done after a dark wash (with paler base colours), using a quick dab of paint. This going down the rout of the black outline style that I have dismissed as being cartoonish. But it may be more appropriate for the tinies.

My next project is 10mm figures for Italian/Bismarck wars of 1859-71. More of that anon.

Understanding Ligny, 1815

Ferraris map of the Ligny field in the 1770s

One of my current projects is the battle of Ligny on 16 June 1815, one of the precursors to Waterloo, which was two days later. The usual script is that in this battle Napoleon comprehensively beat the Prussians under Blücher, and with a bit of better luck would have destroyed them, so winning the whole campaign. But, as I said my earlier article, a number of mysteries surround the battle, of which the most important was how the Prussians lost when they had such a strong numerical advantage.

But researching the battle faces some tough challenges. The biggest is the lack of French sources. It is far from clear when particular formations were committed and exactly where. Prussian sources are plentiful – I think they had a system of after-action reports – but they are subject to the usual systemic biases that will under-report poor performance. One particular frustration is that I can’t find any detailed casualty figures below corps level (and not even that for the Prussians), even though some authors make reference to these. Casualty figures are an important source of evidence, as noted by the French 19th Century writer Andant du Picq, as they are less subject to fakery (if you ignore after battle bulletins). If any reader knows where this data can be found, please get in touch.

My initial focus is on what I am calling “small Ligny” – the battle for the village of Ligny itself, and the chain of villages and hamlets from St Armand to Wagnelée to the west, involving the Prussian I and II Korps, and French III and IV Corps (minus Hulot’s division) plus Girard’s division from II Corps, from about 3pm to 7pm, when French Guard formations started to get involved. This will lead on to some wargames with my army-level rules. I am also intrigued by the possibility of some divisional level games.

For my first stage of research, I have used work by Dutch historian Pierre de Wit, which unfortunately does not seem to be available as pdf downloads online any more. This is dense stuff but closer to the primary sources than anything else I have seen in English (or French come to that – I can just about access text in that language). The main information I have sought from this is which units were committed and when, in terms of each hour of the battle, corresponding to game moves. My objective is both to understand the battle and to calibrate my rules.

Ligny village

“Small Ligny” organises itself into two main zones – Ligny itself to the south and St Armand to Wagnelée to the west. Let’s take Ligny first. This is quite a compact village, either side of the Ligne brook. On the south bank to the west is Ligny chateau, which was capable of being defended all-round by a garrison of a battalion in strength. There are a number of other substantial farms and a church with yard which became focal points of the battle. The brook was a significant obstacle, with one stone bridge at the eastern end of the village, and a couple of other less substantial crossing points. To the west of the village was relatively clear terrain, on a hillside, which is where the Prussians located a grand battery. To the east was a sunken road, orchards and so on, on the way to Sombreffe, which was clearly difficult terrain, and which does not seem to have been seriously contested.

The village was initially garrisoned by one small Prussian brigade (but remember that Prussian brigades equal other countries’ divisions) of six (large) battalions, of which two were initially held in reserve. One of these occupied the chateau, and held it until after 6pm, when exhaustion and ammunition loss forced a retreat. Over the course of the battle the Prussians fed in 14 more battalions, meaning that some 16,000 men were committed. The French committed just two divisions, in 18 smaller battalions, amounting to about 9,000 men. The outcome can be called a draw: the Prussians still held the village, or most of it, but were exhausted. When Napoleon committed the Guard and heavy cavalry they did not resist – the occupants pulled back to the next line of defence.

This is a very striking achievement, and goes some way to explaining the Prussian defeat. Just what happened here? This is important not just to understanding the battle, but also how to simulate battles on the tabletop. The direct sources tell us little. We are left to speculate, or hypothesise, using circumstantial evidence.

The first point of interest is that while the Prussians committed many more men, the number of battalions on each side was roughly similar. I have seen arguments among wargamers who suggest that when doing tabletop simulations the number of battalions is more important than the number of men – and that using standard units to represent each battalion, regardless of size, gives a fair representation. This view, which I have aways found suspect, is given support by this episode. But interestingly, this battle was not fought by coherent battalion formations, as battalions broke up into smaller tactical units. Still the battalion statistic does point to another factor – the French ratio of cadres (officers and NCOs) was probably higher, though I don’t have statistics on officer numbers for the Prussians. Battalions vary more in size of rank and file than they do in cadres – which tend to be dictated by the internal structure (number of companies, etc). And its clear that the Prussian officer corps was stretched by the fact that they tended to use more junior ranks to handle similar sized formations to the French in 1815 (while the British tended to field more senior ones). The ratio of cadres in regular formations (it’s a different matter in elite units) might make a significant difference to battlefield performance, and in particular to stamina – how long they could keep going when sustaining casualties.

And stamina is the critical issue here. The Prussians kept on having to feed in fresh troops to keep the battle going, while the French could recycle theirs. My guess is that the French the French used one division at the start (3pm), and withdrew it after about an hour, replacing it with the second. Which was in turn replaced by the rallied first division an hour or so after that. So the French are getting two bites of the cherry for each of their units, to the Prussians’ one. So far as I can tell casualties, in dead and injured, were roughly similar on both sides (about 3,000 for this part of the battle). The tactical situation may also have made it easier for the French to pull back and refresh units (replenishing ammunition in particular). To pull back the Prussians either had to go up the hill behind the village, exposed to French artillery fire, or along the road to Sombreffe, and into III Korps’s zone. They do not appear to have done it until the original brigade (Henckel’s) was withdrawn after 6pm.

There is another factor when considering quality of troops and stamina. Nine of the 20 Prussian battalions were landwehr (7,000-8,000 men), and all them from the Elbe and Westfalia provinces. These had only been incorporated into Prussia in 1814, and these units hadn’t been forged in battle – and nor were they so inured into Prussian military tradition. By contrast the landwehr units in the Prussian III and IV Korps were from the established territories of Kürmark, Silesia and Pomerania, which had been part of the great battles of 1813. It is estimated that the Prussians lost 8-10,000 men as deserters at and after the battle. It is thought that the bulk of these were from these landwehr units – though some did come from the more recently raised regular units, like the 25th Infantry regiment. There were 24 landwehr battalions in the two corps; 9 were engaged in Ligny, and 11 (3 after 7pm) in the west. So a very large chunk of the deserters must have come from the landwehr units in the Ligny battle. And that means that half or more of these troops must have fled. I have not found direct corroboration of this. There is a mention in de Wit of the landwehr troops wobbling a bit early in the battle and having to be rallied. But there were no mass routs. But Henckel’s brigade, with three landwehr battalions out of six, lost half its men in the battle according to one historian; it started with 5,000 men; if we say they took 1,000 dead and injured (being the battle the longest, casualties would have been higher than average), it means that 1,500 of the 2,500 landwehr deserted.

What happened? My guess is that at first the landwehr units would have engaged with reasonable effectiveness, but as the battle wore on the feeling among the men that they had done their part, and the imperative to survive and return to their homes, started to dominate, and they found ways of lying low. Substantial numbers may have been able to drift the rear areas. Once the Prussian army started to pull out in the fading light, these men flooded out along the road from Sombreffe to Namur. What this boils down to a very low stamina level in these units. If we try some sort of quantitative evaluation in wargames terms, we might class the French troops as “veterans”, the Prussian regulars, with their weaker cadres, as “trained” and the newly-raised landwehr as “raw”. If we weight veterans as one third more than trained, and raw one third less, we get a weighting for the French of 12,000, and the Prussians of 13,600. This is clearly much closer, and allows other factors, like stronger French artillery, to be brought into account.

Interestingly, not this analysis shows that the Prussians did not derive a great deal of benefit from being on the defensive, in a garrisoned village. According to French accounts, the first French assaults were beaten off with heavy losses, but they then managed to gain and exploit a foothold. This goes against most wargames rules. I have set up two or three games of the Blücher system based on Ligny, and it was hopeless for the French. Attacking the village was battering their heads against against a brick wall, and they soon ran out of infantry. Another interesting wargames point from this part of the battle is that the French artillery were able to rake the slopes behind the village. This almost certainly this involved a degree of overhead firing – and this was tactically important. Most rules systems allow this, but some (like Blücher) don’t.

St Armand to Wagnelée

This was a bigger and more complicated battle. The contested area was three villages along the line of the Ligne brook. To the south was St. Armand, apparently quite an open village, though with a substantial church and yard. Next to the north, with very little gap, came Longpré, where most of the fighting took place. This included two substantial chateaux – La Haye, heavily contested, and l’Escaille to the east, which the French never reached. Most historians of the battle call this village “St Armand la Haye”, but both current maps and the Ferraris map from before the battle call it Longpré. I think using this name is better for clarity. Next north after a small gap is Wagnelée. There was no serious attack on this village that I can see, but it was an important access point to the battle for the Prussian troops. Between Longpré and Wagnelée, at a crossroads, there was a hamlet of just few houses and an inn, which historians usually call “St Armand le Hameau”, but which is more correctly called Beurre-sans-Croûte. Historians generally refer to the whole area as St Armand, but this can lead to confusion.

St Armand, which wasn’t substantially garrisoned, was the subject of the first French attack, which was initially beaten back by Prussian forces waiting outside, but after the first hour it was occupied by the French and not seriously contested – but possibly after a second French division ws committed. Both sides concentrated their efforts after this in and around Longpré. The Prussians mounted attacks from Wagnelée into the open ground behind Longpré, leading to some open battles including cavalry support. The initial Prussian garrison (in Longpré) was just three battalions, plus some jager companies. But as the fight developed they committed some 29 more in the period I am looking at (and 6 more after that), giving 32 battalions or about 27,000 men. The French committed four divisions, and about 20,000 men in 39 battalions. At the end of this the Prussians had clearly won, and the French forces were close to collapse, forcing Napoleon to commit the Young Guard and most of the Chasseurs of the Old/Middle Guard to this sector. However the Prussians did not achieve what they had clearly hoped for: a breakthrough that would threaten Napoleon’s left flank.

We don’t have quite the same puzzle here Ligny village. The Prussians used fewer landwehr units (just 6 battalions); they also cycled their troops to refresh ammunition. They were in fact on the offensive for most of the time, unlike Ligny. Using the same weighting formula as for the Ligny analysis gives the French 26,700 men to the Prussians 25,300. Given that the Prussians ended up on top, it shows a better relative performance by them. That doesn’t seem to be because of better leadership than at Ligny, though. There are two cases of substantial Prussian attacks mis-firing and being defeated through poor coordination. There seems to have been no leadership at corps level, with brigade leadership undermined by the ad-hoc partial commitment of formations. Instead, the French leadership seems to have not to have been of the same standard as that for Gérard’s IV Corps. The III Corps commander, Vandamme, was very experienced but never made it to Marshal; there are numerous cases of questionable judgement across his long career. And one division, Girard’s, which led the attack on Longpré, was not under his direct command. This formation was over-committed and effectively destroyed, with one regiment fleeing in rout. Meanwhile Habert’s division was (arguably) under-committed, though their participation is not clear (it is known that the Swiss battalion that was in this division was not used) – but Vandamme’s orders may well have been unclear. Also the second division from III Corps (Berthézène’s) sees to have been very early to the fight, in contrast to Ligny. All this suggests a less measured management of resources by Vandamme.


It will be interesting to see how my rules work when I try this scenario out. This exercise will doubtless pose further questions. I have not paid so much attention to the artillery for example – but this is best done once the lie of the land is clearer, and that means modelling this on the tabletop. It is amazing how often historians fail to understand how terrain limited the use of artillery in particular battles (for example how hard it would have been to use artillery to reduce the British strongholds of la Haye-Sainte and Hougoumont at Waterloo). This phase of analysis does point to some places where the rules need a review. For example rallying can’t be done close to the enemy – which create problems for units defending terrain, like the Prussians at Ligny and (perhaps) Girard’s division at Longpré. Also how to feed in fresh units into an undity battle for a built-up area, and the role of strong-points – when to represent and when to abstract away.

A further thought concerns lower-level rules, which use battalions as their principal unit. This battle should be a fertile source of scenarios at this level. But it isn’t because rules tend to deal with built-up areas in far too abstract a fashion, usually giving too much benefit to the occupier. Lasalle 2, my go-to rules, would be hopeless. To get the proper feel of the battle you need to represent the structure of the villages – the streets, farms and churchyards and so on – rather than using undifferentiated terrain areas. It also probably means giving a role for company-sized formations. This is a problem that I might try giving some thought to. One episode, though, the attack by Tippelskirch’s brigade on the French flank, which included cavalry support, has the makings of a good game at this level though. What adds to the attraction is that I have actually made a representation of this formation, with four-base battalions, the core of my Prussian army collection.

Impressionist figure painting – my 6mm GNW army

Six Russian infantry units and regimental artillery. The new Swedish cavalry is in the background

After getting back into the Great Northern War, it was time to bolster my rather limited armies, and run down my lead mountain. My biggest deficiencies were Russian line infantry and Swedish cavalry. So I have painted up six units of Russian infantry, and two units each of Swedish line cavalry and dragoons. I added in some regimental artillery, and a Swedish general. It is some years since I last worked on 6mm figures, so this is quite a break from normal.

The miniatures are from Bacchus, and were all bought back in 2012. I bought a job lot from a friend who had decided to take a different route on his GNW forces. I then developed an absurdly ambitious plan to build up my armies, and bought loads more from Baccus. Then I got distracted when about half had been painted up, and the painted and unpainted figures lived in a plastic box for a decade or so, rarely seeing daylight. I had enough painted up enough for an interesting game, but choices for force composition were very limited. My plan was to paint up two more batches (this is the first), amounting to half or so of the unpainted ones, and then stop – unless a particular need arises.

My original figures were painted in a manner quite similar to my larger 18mm ones. I painted them up before mounting on bases, and put quite a bit of detail on them. Even the barrels on the muskets. But I noticed that this was taking quite a long time, for a scale which was supposed to be quick! This time I wanted to take a different approach – more inspired by Impressionist painting. Impressionist paintings are beautiful from a distance, but make a lot less sense closer up. This is harder than it sounds!

The first step was to mount them on the bases. Apart from the artillery, these are mounted on 20mm squares of MDF, which I had bought along with the original figures, and of which I have more than I will ever need. The regimental artillery is on 15mm squares. I find this system of basing very attractive – though it is what caused my friend to abandon his miniatures, and buy in others mounted on larger bases, with one base to a unit. Baccus produces its infantry figures in 20mm strips of 4 side-by-side. Three of these fit comfortably on a base one behind the other. Historically formations were four deep, with about 150 files (i.e up to 50 per base). So these bases are both too shallow and too deep! Nevertheless this basing recalls contemporary representations in pictures. This would be easy if I could simply plonk the strips on the bases. But there are two problems. Firstly the command strips (supplied at a ratio of one in five in the packs) only have one standard bearer, along with an officer, flanked by two drummers. I like a good proportion of my units (typically the first battalion of a two battalion regiment) to have two flags. That means cutting up the command strip, and then the line strips to make room for the spares. The second problem applies to the Russians only. Russian infantry at this time was armed with a small proportion of pikes (one in eight); I read now (this wasn’t in the literature in 2012) that these were deployed in every other file in the front rank. I decided to represent this, rather than just plonking a strip of pikes in the back row of the centre stand, as I did before. I decided to distribute them PMPM; PMMP; MPMP – so that the pikes would be on the corners. That means cutting up the pike strips, and also the musketeer strips for the front row. Each pair units uses three command strips, three pike strips and 12 musketeer strips. You can just about see how this works on this close-up:

My representation of the Butyrski infantry regiment

The cavalry is more straightforward. These are come in strips of three, fore-and-aft, so they have to be cut up anyway. I mounted the Swedes three to a base, the cavalry staggered to represent the arrowhead formation, the dragoons side-by-side. Actually the Swedish dragoons fought in the same manner as the cavalry; they were equipped to fight dismounted, but I don’t know of them doing this ever in a significant battle (though I know almost nothing of the later war years), unlike their Russian counterparts. Still this mounting serves to distinguish them on the tabletop. Here are the four Swedish units:

The Swedish cavalry, with the dragoon units alternating

I mount the figures in a matrix of acrylic medium mixed with model railway fine track ballast and raw umber acrylic paint. This is the same method as before. The ballast is something I have had for decades: it is finer, lighter (in weight) and more uniform than the sand I use in bigger scales. It gives the surface some texture. After the assembly is fully set, I primed them with gesso mixed with paint. I went for an overall pale grey-green shade (it has to be pale because of the gesso). This is equivalent to the ground in a canvass painting (thinking back to the Impressionists) – the idea is that the colour doesn’t jar if it shows through (modern painters sometimes use a bright ground, thinking that it adds to the effect when it shows through – not appropriate for the wargames table!). Since it was going to be difficult to paint the bases between the strips, I wanted something that would merge with the base colour comfortably – hence the green element. I was overthinking that – in future just mixing in some raw umber (of which I have industrial quantities, thanks to a mistake by my supplier) with the white gesso will be fine. I used an old paintbrush to do the priming, covering both figures and base. I gave some thought to using an airbrush, but actually it can be a little hard to get airbrush paint into nooks and crannies, and getting between the figures and rows wold be tricky. It didn’t take too long with the brush, but it looked awful afterwards, though a lot better after cleaning with brush soap.

Next was the mass painting stage. At his point I treated all ten units and extras as a single batch, though no colour applied to all of them. I started with the horses, using various shades of brown, with some Payne’s Grey, so get a variety of bays, chestnuts and blacks – with a few greys, mainly for the musicians. Also I applied the main coat colour (blue, red or green), and then dark grey for the tricorn hats. For all this, I used my now standard technique of mixing artists acrylic (mainly Liquitex – as their tube design is easily the best, prolonging their life, as well as being excellent quality). No faffing with oil paints as I do with my 18mm horses. All mixes have a bit of white in them. The red was dramatically dulled down (from Cadmium Red Hue) to reflect cheap dyes and campaign weathering; the green (Sap Green as a basis) and blue (Prussian Blue Hue) were dulled down somewhat less. The horse colours (Raw Umber, Burnt Umber, Raw Sienna and Burnt Sienna) didn’t need much mixing beyond a touch of white – though the Siennas are a bit bright and I mixed a bit of the Umbers in.

After this I concentrated on finishing each unit in turn. The Russian units were in pairs of battalions from the same regiment, and each pair was treated as a batch. My worry was that if I did each colour for the whole assembly, I would start to lose the will to live, as the results would take so long to show – as well as the greater likelihood of mistakes. What did I paint? Flesh on the faces and hands; red or yellow facings on the cuffs only; brown for the muskets (where easy to reach) and the hair at the back of the head for the back row; dark grey for the pikes, cavalry boots and the scabbards for the rear ranks only of the infantry; I used a paler brown for the pistol pouches on the front of cavalry saddles . Accuracy was not a priority: blobs here and there where I could reach the spot with a brush. I ignored the legs of the infantry and the neckerchiefs; these aren’t visible enough. Finally some detailing. The hats got trim of white, yellow or gold. This detail really stands out when viewing the figures from above; similarly the karpuses had a contrasting lining colour (white or yellow – against he red main colour); silver for the bayonets, sabres and the pike trips; visible straps on the backs got quick attention too. The drummers and officers got a little more work (including the flags for the cavalry – a base colour, edging and a blob in the middle). And that was it. The final step was to wash the figures with diluted ink (peat brown or black).

Then, of course, there are the bases. I don’t go for the fashion of elaborate works of art; I don’t want the bases to draw attention away from the figures, and ideally I want them to blend with the table. At this scale my normal techniques of using flock, sand and/or static grass wouldn’t work – the strands and grains are too big – I just used paint and the texture arising from the basing material (i.e. the model railway ballast). It took me a long time (i.e. trial and error) before I settled on a shade of green that wasn’t too verdant or too grey – a combination of black, white, Yellow Oxide and just a little Sap Green. I then gave them a heavy highlight of a white and yellow mix. I also used a white and Raw Umber mix on some of them. I was left with the issue of the base sides. The MDF I am using for the bases is very chunky – typically I use much thinner material for bases, so as to blend better with the table. But I like the feel of the chunky bases, and it certainly makes handling easier – you can grasp the bases rather than the figures. But what to paint them? At first I tried a green to match with the table surface – but then I noticed that these edges were often shaded. I thought a bit of countershading might work, so I used a white and Raw Umber mix. Whether or not the countershading works (not really light enough from the pictures above), I did like the overall result.

The infantry represent three Russian regiments – Astrakhanski, Butyrski and Schlisselbergski, with two battalions each. Uniforms were subject to the colonel’s whim at this stage, and there was a lot of variation. Evidence for particular regiments is patchy, and my sources back in 2012 disagree with the most recent ones (a book from Helion), so there’s a lot of guesswork. I gave the Astrakhanski and Schlisselbergski green coats with red facings – the most common scheme, which later became the standard. I gave both of them a carpus for headgear in place of the usual tricorn – because I had a lot miniatures with these hats which needed using up (Bacchus don’t appear to sell them any more for the Russians) – these I coloured red and yellow and red and white (one of my existing regiments has a green and white karpus – allowing a ready distinction between the three units). The Butyrski regiment I gave red coats faced yellow, with tricorns with yellow trim. I haven’t given them their flags yet – I’m waiting for colonel’s flags with eagles, though I have coloured company flags from Baccus. I painted the regimental artillery crew in the uniform of the parent regiment (though with tricorn hats in all cases), but the gun itself in red, as used on the bigger guns.

The Schlisselbergski infantry.

The Swedish cavalry represent the Småland and Nyland Indelt regiments, along with the Gyllensterna and Taube dragoon regiments. These all had the standard Swedish blue uniforms; I decided not to try and represent the yellow breeches or coat turnbacks, with facing colours (yellow, red or blue coat colour) on the cuffs only. On the Swedish infantry it will be worth a dab of yellow on the front for the breeches and turnbacks for the front rank at least.

The Nyland Indelt cavalry

And that was it. Alas my photography at this scale is a bit weak, so I’m not giving much of an impression of the result. They are a bit dark maybe (but they need to fit in with my earlier figures) – perhaps an example of the rule that you should use paler colours for smaller scales. But the results work on the tabletop – the Impressionist approach works, and is certainly quicker than attempting too much detail (and correcting minor mistakes). I did need to repaint the bases on my earlier figures to make the assembly more coherent – but I didn’t like these earlier bases anyway – they were too bright and too dark. I will move straight on to next batch, which will add four Swedish infantry units, along with two more units for the Russian Guard, a Swedish heavy gun, a Russian mortar and more limbers.

Carolus Rex – my Great Northern War rules

My trial game using IDV reaches its climax

I have mentioned that I have a small 6mm (Baccus) collection of Swedish and Russian troops for the Great Northern War in the period 1708-09. I offered to bring these out for a game with my South London Warlords friends at one of our regular meetings in Beckenham. The game had to be postponed, alas, but it has got me going on an interesting project: developing a set of rules that I can use with these miniatures with friends not inured in rules systems or the period.

There was no time to develop new rules for the planned game in January. My idea was to use Helion’s In Deo Veritas (IDV) rules, by Philip Garton. I reviewed these a while ago (here and here) for use with my GNW forces – when I thought they were an answer to a prayer. They are really designed for an earlier era, but I thought that it didn’t matter much; indeed Helion and Philip brought out Captain General, a supplement to take them into the early 18th Century. They are pitched at exactly the right level for the games I want to put on.

The problem for the January game was that the format isn’t very user-friendly – the rules are spread over 66 pages with lots of nice pictures and large script, and four pages of quick reference tables in smaller script. This is how publishers like it – Osprey’s Lion Rampant is the similar. Scanning them to prepare other gamers is deeply impractical, as well as a breach of copyright. I like my rules to be compact, allowing the minimum of time to check things out. The rules are also a bit vague in places. This doesn’t seem to bother most people – IDV has a fan club, and people are generally complimentary about the presentation in reviews. One reviewer does try to deal with some of the ambiguities, sharing a correspondence with Philip. I have tried contacting Philip via Helion on a couple of queries, but without luck. What I decided to do was to write my own compact version of the rules, tailored to my basing system and the troop types I was using, with a couple of extra rules to cover the peculiarities of the Swedes, and dealing with aspects of the rules that I felt were unclear. This came to six pages (just) in 10 point script with a two-page quick reference. I then ran a trial scenario at full strength (illustrated above), after having already played a game with the original. This showed the need for a few adjustments, but the rules were suitable and ready for my January game.

But then some serious health issues arose with my wife. We were going in and out of hospital, with the prospect of a big operation in February or March. This meant having to apply an isolation regime, in case of picking up an infection that would throw everything off kilter. My January game was off, and any February one was looking very shaky. This was a big blow, but the enforced idleness gave me an opportunity. Some aspects of IDV were a serious problem for me, applied to this particular period, even though it gives a thoroughly entertaining game. And there were other, lesser things I wasn’t so keen on. I now had time to write my own rules taking in aspects of IDV that I liked (which in turn were largely culled from other systems – such is the evolution of our hobby), and combine them with ideas from other rules. And one set in particular: Gå På (GP), by Thomas Årnfelt. These were the rules that brought me into the period, and which I had used quite a bit. They were innovative, and used the GNW as their starting point, rather than tagging GNW on to the wars of Louis XIV – the unusual Swedish army was handled with proper attention. But the rules are too complicated to throw at my club colleagues for a quick game. The core rules are 35 pages, with only a few line drawings for padding. A lot of time in games was spent trying to find a particular rule to check something. There’s a further problem: poorer quality armies (including the Russian one) were prone to collapse, even when they had a substantial numerical advantage. It was hard for the Swedes to lose, even with a half the number of men, provided they were handled aggressively. Regardless of whether this is historically sound (which I don’t think it is for the Russians in 1708/09), it didn’t make for good gaming. The friend that I had played so many games with gave up on them after a while. The problem could be addressed by weighting the Russians with guard and veteran units, but that is a bit artificial.

The biggest problem by far for me with IDV is that the armies are too responsive – there isn’t enough friction, and this is not impacted by quality of leadership. There is friction – with the use of Attack/Hold/Withdraw orders constraining choices, and restrictive rules concerning direction changes. But against this move distances are long for the standard 4ft by 6ft table which speeds things up a lot. My test scenario was inspired by the battle of Holowczyn in 1708. The Russians are dispersed across the table, with a river and marsh separating one substantial division from the rest. The Swedes need to get across the river, and tackle the Russians piecemeal before they can concentrate. I played it twice with IDV, and both times the Russians had no difficulty concentrating and destroyed the Swedes before they could properly establish their bridgehead. In the historical battle (admittedly fought over a bigger area), the Russians never came close to concentrating properly, and were defeated without many of their troops being engaged. The Swedish-Russian conflict was one of asymmetry. The Swedes had a small, high quality army, with effective and aggressive leadership. By this time, the Russian army was no pushover (unlike the pre-modernised army at the start of the war), but it was inferior and ponderously led. Beating it required manoeuvre. That is what makes the pairing so interesting. This simply can’t be reflected in IDV.

My solution was not in fact derived from Gå På, though it does have a system for doing so. Instead I used the PIP system, invented by Phil Barker and his friends, and used in the revolutionary De Bello Antiquitatis (DBA), and developed in Horse, Foot, Guns (which I have done a similar rewrite job on for Napoleonics). You throw a dice, and this gives you points with which you can spend on moving units around. I applied this a wing level (renamed “divisions”) , using an average die, and dropped the orders system. The orders gave an interesting dynamic, but there is less need to contain the players with the PIP system. There are plenty of other changes, but I have kept the system where the divisions are activated at random using cards (before joint shooting and close combat phases), as this gave a really good chaotic feel to the games. I particularly wanted to reduce the dice throwing in shooting and close combat (you throw for hits, then saves for both sides in IDV), and simplify other throws, where the number of modifiers was too heavy. Most dicing involves two six-sided dice, instead of either just one, or multiples. I reran the trial game, modifying the rule mechanisms after a couple of moves when they weren’t working. This time the Swedes won comfortably, though the Russian army did not collapse. But their poorer quality units were no pushover; towards the end one standard (D class, as I am calling IDV “Raw” and GP “Green”) unit routed a Swedish A class one, though admittedly taking it in the flank. I think the outcome turned on a few decisive throws and card draws, and on a different day there would have been a very different outcome; fortunes swung either way. But the Russians only had ten infantry units (two B, two C, six D) to the Swedes’ eight (two A, four B, two C), so they probably should have had been up against it.

I am pretty pleased with the result, which I have named Carolus Rex in honour of Karl XII of Sweden, the central personality in this conflict, but I’m making one more significant change – which is to cut down the move distances to more like GP ones from the ones based on IDV. That’s to constrain manoeuvring round the flank without the other wide being able to react. This needs to be play tested before being unleashed on the public – but I won’t be doing that just yet. If anybody wants to see what I’ve come up with (the rules are now just over 7 pages of A4 in 10pt script, with a two page quick reference) then get in touch. They are designed for a very specific period and forces, but should readily work for later encounters between Sweden and Russia (the Swedes have fewer high quality units), and to the Danish and Saxon armies too. Earlier Russian or Polish armies though, never mind Ottomans, would require some new troop types. I’m also not so sure about Western European armies – where fire discipline was better developed by some armies, and three-deep lines (from four) began to be used. They are designed for GP basing, with three bases to an infantry unit, in my case 20mm square. At the smaller scales it is now fashionable to have single base units, 60mm-90mm wide. The rules could be used for this, though march columns would need to be dropped (they were rarely used in proximity tot the enemy anyway) and the shooting rules would need to be adapted.

This has been an interesting exercise. My earlier rule-writing efforts (Napoleonic and WW2) have been steeped in history. This time my historical knowledge is relatively light, and I have a strong focus on playability. In two cases I think I may have sacrificed faithfulness to history to playability. I have made the units quite easy to manoeuvre, in an era before such innovations as cadenced marching were in widespread use. But players get frustrated when they can’t do things, and I have noticed a modern fashion to take the faff out of moving units around on the table (Sam Mustafa’s Blucher and Lasalle rules for Napoleonic wares for example). Second it is relatively easy to rally units to bring them back into battle. This is actually quite hard in IDV and GP. But I have just four cohesion states (Good Order, Disordered, Shaken and Broken) and no casualty removal. It’s quite easy to knock a unit into Shaken or Broken status with some moderately good dice, so for playability purposes I thought there needed to opportunities for recovery. In my trial game the Russian commander spent practically the whole battle scooping up shaken and broken units, rallying them and sending them back in (not always successfully). I really don’t know how historically faithful this is. Still in the real Holowczyn I think there were reports of the Russians doing this – so I might not be so far off the money after all!

Next I need to paint up some more units to give me more options in future games.

Update 3 February

No matter how hard you try to draw a line under rule writing, the brain moves on. I said above that I am using the PIP system for giving orders to units to move around the field. I’m having further thoughts on this. I had already decided to go for the idea of generals moving from unit to unit to issue orders in person, rather than using such ideas as “command distance”. This is based on the idea that staff systems had yet to develop, and that most communication was in person (though admittedly orders would tend to be valid for more than a single move). This may be another case of game play getting ahead of history. The general would be limited by an overall movement allowance (generous at 24in), with the number of orders issued limited by PIPs. But what if instead of PIPs I used the die score to determine movement allowance? Say 3in per pip, which (using an average die) would mean 6in to 15in – but putting no limit on the number of orders. Perhaps a cost (say 2in) for each order. You could keep track using a D20. A low score represents the general gathering information and trying to decide what to do. I remember reading Paddy Griffith saying wargamers had little concept of how generals had to manage their time…

Grouchy’s Waterloo by Andrew Field: Ligny

I’ve had this book for some years, and I’ve grazed from it, especially its account of Ligny. But recently I reread it in its entirety, and that serves to help me refocus on Ligny. I last studied this battle in detail in 2018, producing this article, in which I voiced my frustration with English language historians. That included this book.

This book, of course, is only tangentially about Waterloo – but you need to get the W-word into the title for it to sell, especially if the N-word or the other W-word (i.e. Wellington) doesn’t work. There is a discussion of why Grouchy never made it to Waterloo, which I suppose is link enough.

What this is actually about is the right flank of Napoleon’s assault on Belgium in 1815, and Grouchy’s role in it in particular. As with his other works on this campaign, Mr Field’s brief is to present French sources, which are typically under-represented in English language writing. That gives it a lot of value – but one of my main frustrations with most military history is that it is written predominantly from one side’s sources, and from their point of view. For all that, Mr Field does mention Prussian sources where relevant. My main frustration with the work is the one I raised in my earlier post: he “lets the sources do the talking”. He often uses the quotations as a substitute for his own narrative, and he rarely tries to pull the accounts apart to throw light on what is likely to be inaccurate or belong to another episode in the battle.

The main attraction of this book is its accounts of the battles of Ligny and Wavre, alongside the combat at Gilly. For all the one-sidedness of the sources, the accounts are as clear as any I have read, and his overall judgements seem sound enough. It is notable that he emphasises that the Prussian army wasn’t crushed, as breathless French-sourced accounts tend to suggest. He does indulge in critiques of the various commanders’ decisions though. Most historians do this, though I prefer a little more of AJP Taylor’s “What happened and why” – still it does help to understand that there may have been better choices.

Ligny is my main focus. One of my planned focus points for 2023 (I hesitate to call it a New Year resolution) is this battle, moving towards reconstructing it on the tabletop using my newly developed rules. Alas probably solo. I had allowed myself to be a little diverted by Waterloo, and especially the Prussian role there. I am left with a number of puzzles about this battle:

  • Why did Wellington, on his visit to the site before the battle, suggest that Blücher had deployed his men on forward slopes exposed to French artillery, drawing the riposte that Blücher “liked his men to see their enemy”. In fact the Prussians were so well concealed that Napoleon was confused as how many corps he was facing. Prussian reserves did have to cross a forward slope to reach Ligny, and did suffer – but their initial deployment was out of sight. Mr Field does not mention this. So much of the British reverse slope mythology is built on this episode – and yet I can’t believe that Wellington completely fabricated the story (though there are no corroborating witnesses).
  • Where did Vandamme’s corps start the battle? Almost all maps of the battle show it to the west of the St Armand complex, to the right of Girard’s division of Reille’s corps. That leaves a large gap between it and Gérard’s corps. Mr Field remarks on this gap but moves on. I think it is likely that the corps was in fact to the right of Gérard and astride the road out of Fleurus towards St Armand. This is what the language of the French sources suggests, and it also explains how these units came under artillery fire as they approached, as the first-hand accounts suggest, though these aren’t entirely reliable. An early Prussian map shows the corps in the westerly position and I think that most people have simply followed this.
  • How did the Prussians lose? The big question. They had more men and a decent defensive position. They just seemed to burn through their men more quickly in the two built-up areas. But why? Reinforcements had to expose themselves to French artillery, but that hardly seems enough to account for this. Mr Field does not address this question directly, but his assessment of the casualties on both sides does throw some light on it. They were similar, once you take out the desertions from some Prussian units. That suggests that the casualties in the street fighting were roughly similar – but that the stamina of the French was much better (a bit like the success of the British infantry at Albuera). I think the presence of so many recently established landwehr units (the Westfalian and Elbe units were formed only in 1814) may account for this. It also suggests that the advantage to defenders of built-up areas, a prominent feature of Blucher rules among many others, needs to be rethought.
  • What happened to the Prussian units that fought in Ligny? Reading the account of the battle, you would think that the Prussian units fed into the village disappeared, but this is clearly nonsense, as they turn up later, but depleted, at Waterloo. Mr Field adds something rather interesting. At the point of the famous Guard attack on the village, there seemed to be few Prussians actually in occupation – accounting for its rapid success in taking the village. This suggests that the Prussian command had been pulling out exhausted units, and had effectively abandoned the village by the time the Guard struck, leaving the defence principally to the cavalry as the French came out of the village.
  • Could d’Erlon’s intervention have been decisive? The standard French account of any lost battle is that but for one missed opportunity the battle would have been a triumph. In this case d’Erlon’s failure to arrive with his whole corps, and the hesitancy of the troops that did make it, was the missed opportunity. They could have cut off the Prussian retreat and helped nearly annihilate the Prussian army. The first problem with this is that they did not turn up where Napoleon had intended them to – on the road from Quatre Bras. This would have taken them right into the Prussian rear. But this was never a possibility (and Blucher would not have stood at Ligny, or not in the deployment he did, had this been a realistic possibility). Wellington’s army was in the way – a fact that Napoleon had no understanding of. The second problem is that he turned up pretty late, at about 6pm. As Mr Field points out, the Prussians hadn’t collapsed at this point and (though he doesn’t say this), may already have been contemplating withdrawal. D’Erlon may simply have hastened the Prussian withdrawal, rather than annihilating the army.

These are the questions that I hope my efforts will throw some light on!

My Brengun 1/72 A-36 Apache

And now to the last of my recent batch of US aircraft: the A-36 Apache. Unlike the other two aircraft, which were more or less ubiquitous to the US war effort, this one had limited use. But t it was one of the most important aircraft types in US use in 1943 in the Mediterranean theatre, especially in the ground attack role – so bang in scope for my project. There were very limited options for modelling it though – with the Brengun kit being the most obvious. It wasn’t a great kit, but much easier than the RZ P-38.

The A-36 is, of course, an early version of the North American Mustang, which in its P-51 incarnation became one of the most important aircraft types in the war. It was named “Apache” by the makers, but this never caught on. In theatre there was a move to call it “Invader”, but eventually the name of its fighter cousin was the one generally in use. It was powered by an Allison engine, as were the first P-51s. This rendered disappointing performance at higher altitudes, and it wasn’t until it was powered by the Merlin engine that the type really came into its own. Doubtless this led to the development of the ground attack version, where it would operate primarily at lower altitudes. This included the fitting of dive brakes, which allowed it to do near-vertical, Stuka-like, dive-bombing attacks. I’m not sure how often it used this capability, which required experienced pilots, and I think it more typically used shallower dives (like the RAF used for the P-40 Kittyhawk, its equivalent aircraft). Its successor, the P-47, did not have this capability. Some were armed with four 20mm cannon – but this option was not available in the Brengun kit, where the plane has six 0.5in machine-guns, including two in the nose. The aircraft could look after itself if it met fighter opposition, and, apparently, 86 kills were claimed in combat, with one ace. It was used as an escort fighter on occasion, but wasn’t so popular with bomber crews, as it was easy to mistake its profile for the Bf-109 or Fw-109 – as well its lack of performance at higher altitudes. A-36 was highly effective in its fighter-bomber role, apparently, but suffered from high casualty rates. That partly went with the job of tackling well-defended targets at low altitudes – but there were structural vulnerabilities, especially compared to the P-40 and P-47. They were in use until well into 1944, though.

The kit was OK-ish. There was the usual lack of lugs and recesses to hold parts in place, and no undercarriage up option. But the undercarriage doors weren’t too hard to fit. Some parts didn’t fit properly, especially on the underside. That included the air intake, and the vent behind it, which left an ugly gap. The air brakes for the underwing didn’t fit either (thought the ones on the top of the wing were OK). I ended up by bodging the intake a bit, but this is invisible from most angles. The rear cockpit was a bit awkward, as the overhanging bit of the fuselage above of the rear side windows was moulded into the canopy part. This mean it had to be seamlessly integrated into the fuselage, and then painted (which is trickier on acetate). There was no question of adding the canopy after the paint job, as I did with the P-38. But I now understand that this is usually better anyway. Filler helps integrate it with the fuselage. I didn’t do an especially nice job with the aerial, but this was tricky, as it required a hole to be drilled – not easy on acetate.

I decided to model plane 42-84067, which was included in the decal pack, and on the box art. But the decals were for 1944, when it had completed lots of missions. I wanted it as it might have looked in Sicily or Salerno. That meant the only decals from the box I used were the number and the ID stripe on the tail (which probably dated from this time). The over painted battle ID letter “A” was almost certainly later. The national insignia needed the red outline, so I used my trusty sheet from eBay. It has the yellow ID stripes on the wing, which seem to be standard on US single-engined aircraft in the Med. These stripes were painted first and then masked – as overpainting pale colours onto Olive Drab is hard work. Nevertheless the yellow paint was didn’t go on very nicely, and it looks a bit rough. As with the P-38 the red spinner is a bit bright in hindsight.

And that’s it – an interesting aircraft to support my tabletop forces, which ended up looking pretty good.

RS Models 1/72 P-38F Lightning

The box artwork

And so to the P-38 – which proved a nightmare. I wanted one of these iconic aircraft, in the early F variant that would have been in action in 1943. The RS Models kit was the only show in town, and the online review on modelling didn’t alert me to any major issues. Still the overall result looks fine if you don’t look too closely!

The P-38 at this stage of the war was primarily an escort fighter, assigned to bomber formations. Although it was outperformed in combat by the Bf-109, the primary German interceptor of the time (the Fw-190 being used mainly for ground attack), the P-38 had an impressive range, and so was able to accompany the bombers on deeper missions. Bomber crew gunners liked them because they were instantly recognisable as friendly. Although on occasion they took heavy losses, they did a decent job of keeping the fighters away from the bombers. The interest from my point of view though was that on critical occasions, such as the campaign for Sicily and at Salerno, they were used as fighter-bombers. Their range was a major asset, and they could manage a decent bomb load too.There’s also a bit of nostalgia. One of our favourite models as children was an old Airfix P-38 made up to a very nice standard by my elder brother.

The main problem with the model was that the parts didn’t fit together properly, and, as with a lot of modern models there were no lugs and recesses to hold things in place. Problems began with the undercarriage doors because, as is often the case with modern models, there is no undercarriage up option. Modelling with the undercarriage up means trying to fit badly fitting doors into the wheel well openings. For this model, the fit was more than bad. This wasn’t made easier by the curvature, which was particularly pronounced and complicated on the booms. It took an immense about of time of cutting filing and sanding to get anywhere at all, and in the end I applied liberal amounts of filler too, both the cover gaps and build up. Even after all this effort, the result was pretty clumsy – at least I won’t be looking at the underside that often:

The next challenge came when trying to assemble the central fuselage. There was no room for the interior assembly, and the bottom was too narrow. Cue more frantic cutting and filing, and a bit of bodging too. And when I finally managed to get this assembled, the match between the lower and upper assembly was poor. More filing, sanding and and filler. If you look closely you can see where I’ve tried to build up the surface with filler to get something reasonably smooth. There were similar, though thankfully lesser, problems almost everywhere in the assembly. The result was that the whole thing took much, much longer to put together than any other model I’ve done, with a fairly mediocre result to show for it. But it is acceptable within my “don’t look too close” criteria. The lumps and bumps don’t show up in the photos at least!

The problems didn’t end there. I left the cockpit off before painting, to add on later, saving me having to mask it. But, of course, the fit was terrible (I can’t believe I didn’t check or notice this beforehand). So I needed to cover the gap with filler – which meant more paint and patination to try to blend it in with the rest. This didn’t altogether work, and the finish on the inner-upper wing is a bit rough.

The final problem was all my own fault, though. I applied the decals on the booms in the wrong place – with the insignia on the air intakes, and the ID letters on the rear boom. I was able to remove the insignia decals (which came with the kit) and replace them with one from the sheet I bought from eBay (I had already used these on the wings to get the right size), in the correct place, in front of the intake. But the ID letters should be on the intakes – and I didn’t have anything in stock to do this (the model decals look too big anyway). So I left them! The plane modelled is one of the schemes in the box, except that I was trying to model it earlier in its career – as it would have been at Salerno or Sicily. I left out the kill/mission marks from the nose, but left the nose art on the port nose – actually surely too far forward as it was probably only there to make room for the mission tally marks.

One further thing is worth remarking on. The red on the spinners and under-wing tips is quite bright – you wouldn’t think I did quite a bit of dulling down on the original pigment. Red spinners were a standard Allied ID feature for fighter aircraft. The British used Insignia Red (used on the national insignia) which was quite a dark, dull red, so as to be less conspicuous. I had read that the US equivalent paint was much brighter, until they dulled it down later in the war. So I’ve tried to represent the earlier version. I used the same shade on the other two models assembled in this batch. I should have dulled it down a little more though!

This is an iconic aircraft, and I’m glad I have one for my collection. But if I want to do another one I will start with a different model, perhaps converting a later version.

My Airfix B-26 Martin Marauder

The box artwork

The first of my latest batch of aircraft models for to describe individually is the B-26. I bought this kit back in the late 1970s, as a gift to my younger brother. But he was losing interest in modelling and left it in my parents’ attic, from whence I rescued it during one the their periodic clear-outs as they moved and downsized. Since then it lurked in my attic. After moving house in 2020 I decided that I was going to assemble this model – indeed it sowed the seed of the idea of my 1943 aircraft project. I have always liked this aircraft.

Along with the B-25 Mitchell, the B-26 Marauder was one of the two principal medium bomber types in US service in WW2. More B-25s were produced, and many more survive today – but, apparently, more of the B-26s were in use in the European theatre. That is certainly true of the Mediterranean in 1943 – three bomber groups were in operation, compared to two for the B-25. The B-25 had a longer range, and so more useful in the Pacific, I read. Still Catch-22, set in the Med, featured the B-25. The B-26 had a bit of a tricky reputation, as it required quite a high landing speed – and there were quite a few accidents in the early days. Tweaks to the design, and better training, overcame the problems, however, and the overall casualty rate was lower than the B-25 in the end. I guess that was because it was faster, and so harder to intercept. Anyway, to my eye it is much better looking, with its cigar-shaped fuselage, compared to the boxy B-25.

I wanted to make an aircraft as it would have appeared in September 1943, when B-26s supported the Salerno battle. That meant a plain olive drab and grey scheme, and no large battle number on the tail – so characteristic of later on (they were introduced a month or so after Salerno). The insignia had the red outline. I wanted to depict an actual aircraft, where I was limited by two main factors. First, the model depicts a later variant, with a distinctly different tail gun position (and may be differences too). That ruled out quite a few planes in operation in 1943. Second I wanted to be able to make up the tail numbers from as few sources as possible, including the original Airfix decals. This pointed me at number 41-34925 “Kismet” from 37th Squadron of 17th Bombardment Group. This plane survived the war, completing many missions. One tricky issue was nose art, which I was really not keen to get into. The illustration I found from Mark Styling showed this plane with quite simple nose art (apart from the many mission markers visible in later line). It has the word “Kismet” with further words “Sine Qua Non” in a curve below – all quite small and in yellow lettering. No cartoon characters, bombs or busty ladies. This would not have been impossible for me to put together and print off, though yellow printer ink would not have come out strongly without a bit of white ink to give it body – but I didn’t fancy doing it. Besides I noticed on pictures of planes in action in 1943 that nose art was often absent (see below) – so the model has nothing.

The completed model from the front.

The first stage of the project was to paint and assemble the interior. The model came with three crew figures: two for the cockpit and one for the gun turret. I had already used on of the cockpit figures for my P-47, and since the remaining one would not have looked right next to one of the PJ figures, I put two from PJ in the cockpit. The turret figure was quite crude, with a huge circulardvice in place of his hands to provide a pivot for the guns. I decided to keep it, and in faction can’t see much through the turret plastic, so this didn’t matter. The online sources did not give any consistent colour for the interior, though it is usually represented as green – a mix with the chrome-yellow primer in use. I decided to follow another source, which said it was a mix of black and treated aluminium. You can barely see it though! The transparencies are quite thick, so visibility is not perhaps what it should be.

Assembly came next. This was much easier than for my P-38 model – the fit was generally OK, and there were lugs and recesses to hold parts in the right relative positions. Still it was not as tight as some more modern kits that I have assembled – though not the other two in this batch. I should have spent a bit more time filing down parts to get the fit a bit tighter, especially the bomb doors and the engine nacelles. Fairly liberal amounts of filler were needed in places, causing some of the panelling detail to be lost. – and I needed to use tape to keep the fuselage together while the cement was setting. One issue worth mentioning was transparencies. Except at the rear and nose I stuck these in before painting. The cockpit canopy because I wanted to use filler to ensure a seamless join with the fuselage; the various portholes, etc. because they had to be stuck in from the inside, and the turret because it looked too tricky to do later. These had to be masked. The main problem was that I used specialist glue for canopies – after problems with superglue causing damage – and these had weaker adhesive properties than I was used to. One of the side windows fell into the body of the fuselage, and could not be recovered. I had to bodge a replacement carved from sprue. I had to do something similar to one of the wing lights which I dropped on the floor and couldn’t find. Incidentally in the kit there are windows for the two openings at the bottom back of the fuselage, just under the tailplanes. In 1943 these openings were ports for a machinegun, so I left the transparencies out – though I did not attempt to show include the weapon.

From the rear quarter

I have already outlined the strategy for painting and finishing. The decals required were minimal. I got the national insignia with the red outlines from eBay. The tail numbers were a combination from the original model and an ancient Airfix P-47 kit (which were slightly duller – which I tried to correct with a bit of yellow paint). The overall result is a bit darker and greener than often depicted (for example in the box art above) – though I think the artificial light mixed in with the natural light in the picture makes it a bit greener. It is meant to show a relatively new plane, not quite as weathered as normal. Here is a new contemporary picture of planes from 17 BG in flight:

These are planes returning from a raid on Sardinia in November 1943, shortly after the big battle numbers on the tail were added; No. 17 (Uden Uden’s Oil Burner) has a damaged engine from flak and is limping home, escorted by the others (from a different squadron) – it did make it to safety and went on the complete many more missions. Both it and 97 behind it were candidates for my model, but the tail numbers weren’t as easy to source. Incidentally I can’t see any nose art on either the plane – though the front plane at least was photographed later in the war with nose are on both sides. Sometimes it was just on the port side. This picture shows the slightly weather-beaten matt look, with not much contrast between the olive drab and grey. No 17 has a lot of paint damage on the tail, but not much elsewhere.

And here’s the underside:

The underside

The weathering is a bit heavy-handed – but I have no photos of what it would have looked like in practice. The underside did get a hammering from the dust airstrips – but I don’t know how that looked!

There’s plenty on the model that could have been done better – but I’m glad its decades in the attic weren’t in vain!

Three US planes for 1943

The new trio overflying the wargames table: left to right: the A-36, the P-38 and the B-26

Back to aircraft modelling. The next batch of 1/72 planes in my 1943 project represent the Americans. These are a B-26 Marauder bomber, a P-38 Lightning fighter, and an A-36 Invader/Apache fighter-bomber. Since my main focus is on the British and Germans, these were the only American planes that I initially planned, although I now plan to do a P-40 as well, but not in the olive drab scheme like these, but the RAF one. As usual I will use this post to describe the common aspects of the project, and then publish separate posts for each model.

This project took quite a bit longer than expected – something I have said about each of my most recent projects – it’s probably age! Two things in particular held me up. First the B-26 model is a big one, compared to the single-engine types that I have attempted so far; and the P-38 isn’t a small one either. Bigger models do take more time. Second, none of the models were particularly easy to put together, and the P-38 the worst of all the models to date – worse than my Stuka and Hurricane. And that takes a lot more time, as you attempt to reconcile ill-fitting parts, and then patch up the results with filing , sanding and putty. It doesn’t help that I model with undercarriage up, which only the B-26 kit (a 40-year old Airfix job) catered for, and as with all long projects I then went through a flat patch – especially since the studio where I assemble my models is in the garage block, and not part of the central heating system – so it was pretty cold in the patch of freezing weather we had. One afternoon was just too cold for me to try! Still, they were finished in time for Christmas.

Another view

The steps I went through were the painting of the interior and crew, assembly (easily the most time-consuming phase), priming and painting with the airbrush, and then the various finishing steps, including decals. Not a huge amount to say about the first stage. I had to supply my own crew figures apart from two from the B-26: I dipped into my stock of figures from PJ Productions. I will describe the assembly process for each model in my later posts, as each was a very different experience. The painting and finishing processes were pretty similar, so I’ll say something about that now.

In spite of my frustrations, I persisted with the airbrush for these models. I used white primer from Vallejo. I then mixed my own paints for the main event. For the undersides I mixed a neutral grey from the black and white paint pots that came with the airbrush. For the olive drab I mixed the basic colours using Liquitex artists paints, mixed with Liquitex airbrush medium and on occasion with thinners. The airbrushing was hit and miss. Sometimes things went well, and the paint left the brush with a nice flow. I haven’t managed to get a precision spray yet, but I don’t think that is supposed to be the strength of this particular model. On other occasions I couldn’t get the flow right at all – it came out too thin, or wouldn’t come out properly at all. As a result the process took more sessions than it should. The primer tended to clog on the nozzle, and it needed wiping quite frequently. This didn’t happen for main paints so much (and not at all on the olive drab mixes) – but these were prone to clogging further back in the mechanism when they weren’t too thin. One thing I discovered to be a bad idea was mixing in the cup – by adding thinner to a mix that was a bit thick, for example. I had been encouraged to do this by a video tutorial. I think the thicker paint tended to get into to the system and clog it before being mixed properly. If mixed separately to the right consistency, and then put in the cup, things went much more smoothly. I like to think I’m getting the hang of the airbrush, but I’m not sure, to be honest. It produces a lovely finish, but is it worth the trouble?

I used two mixes for the olive drab. For the P-38 and A-36 I used the usual yellow oxide/black/ white combination (though I may have started with neutral grey and yellow and tweaked with black/white). This was the as same as for my P-47 trial model, but a bit lighter. For the B-26 I wanted something a bit greener. I started with Sap Green, and mixed various things into it. The first attempt was too green, but with tweaking I got a satisfactory result, looking close to a lot of artist’s portrayals of the aircraft. This was a bodge as I kept adding different things to the mix, though, and I can’t say precisely how I got there. My general rule is to only use two pigments/premixes and white for mixing – that makes it much easier to replicate. I would need a different method to repeat! The first mix was to represent a more weathered finish – the colour reportedly turned quite brown after exposure to the elements. The second, which is closer to the commercially available mixes, was for a newer aircraft. I am pleased with both results. Incidentally the pictures were taken on a dull day (I gave up waiting for the sun!), so there’s a lot of artificial light in the mix, which tends to make things a bit greener.

The A-36 alongside my P47 model, showing the paler version of olive drab

I used a combination of tape and Blu Tak to mask. This included the canopies for the A-36 and (mostly) the B-26. I left the canopy off for the painting stage for the P-38 and the B-26 nose and tail to be stuck on later. This was a mistake for the P-38, as it was so ill-fitting it needed filler and more paint later. Blu Tak works better than magic putty, as I needed it to stay in place for days. The magic putty is easier to put on, though, and I did use it for varnish spray.

After the decals came the oil paint patination: small blobs of oil pigment in various colours (white, Payne’s grey, yellow ochre and raw umber) brushed vigorously into a very thin layer with a fore-and-aft or up-and-down motion. The paint did not spread as easily as before – perhaps because of ageing, or perhaps because it was colder than normal – but nothing that a little extra linseed oil couldn’t sort out. I’m getting better at this – I have had a tendency to over-apply; and there was the disaster of trying to apply over matt varnish! The undersides were left looking pretty messy – but with the dust from Mediterranean airfields, I gather that they did get into a bit of a state. This stage left the models with quite an appealing off-matt finish: but photos of US planes in theatre usually show a very matt finish. So I sprayed on Winsor & Newton matt aerosol spray, which leaves a very matt finish. I protected the decals with some gloss varnish first – though I doubt there was a real danger from contact with matt varnish – but I wanted to play safe. The next step was to represent a bit of paint damage using a silver/pewter coloured pencil. I didn’t want to overdo this; I think ground crews were usually quite diligent in repairing damage. But it’s usual to represent quite a bit of damage on a B-26 – they were especially exposed to flak explosions – so I tried a bit harder on this, though still quite subtle. Finally I applied some powdered pastel in various mixes of grey and brown. The biggest job here was applying the exhaust stains on the A-36. I couldn’t see anything comparable on old photos of the P-38 though, and not on the B-26 either. In the end it did a similar job to the oil paint, in producing a rather weather-beaten finish, with the effects of air flow as well. On the B-26 I tried to show a bit of differential weathering on the canvas control surfaces – but not very successfully. With the high-matt finish for these models, I could have skipped the oil paint stage, I think. For my British and German models, where I like the off-matt finish that the oil leaves, it’s a different matter.

As usual, close examination of these models reveals a lot of things I could have done better (or in the case of the P-38 model, defects I couldn’t quite remedy) – but I’m not comparing myself to the master-hobbyists. I want good-looking models from a respectable distance – and that is what I have ended up with!