Category Archives: Miniatures

The figures and models I play with

1943: my old German tank models get a facelift

In my post before last I said that the next step this project would be to take my old German tanks and bring them up to standard. This I have now done:

I followed a similar process to my Pz III platoon. First, though, the models needed a little preparation. This included fitting aerials. I used plastic bristles from a broom, but to scale 2m (28mm). These were fitted in a blob of superglue. This works very well – they are robust and have survived quite a bit of accidental battering. I also fitted some stowage from the PSC set. Not as much per tank as the Pz IIIs, and especially not for the Tigers. German tanks of this era don’t seem especially laden – not as much as in the Blitzkrieg era, or Allied tanks. The pictures of Tigers show them as quite clean, except for track bits added to the turrets, which I did for one of the tanks.

I primed the bare plastic additions, and also the polythene tracks, which all these models had, using the white metal primer. I still had some of the adhesion problems on the new plastic that I reported for the Pz IIIs. The primer was slightly diluted, but not as much as before, so that problem remains to be solved. If it isn’t dilution of the primer with water, and not the plastic requiring a wash first, I will change primer – artists gesso looks as if it works well.

And then to the base coat of dunkelgelb. I wasn’t able to reuse the paint I mixed last time – it was too far gone, so I had to mix afresh. I wasn’t able to get an exact match – and that is one of the main issues with my use of artists colours, and why I expect that most hobbyists will find this approach unpersuasive. Still, the mix was arrived at much more quickly (yellow ochre and white, with Prussian blue and terracotta brown added – all from “student” quality paints). The result was slightly greener and slightly whiter than the Pz IIIs, event after the application of the brown Quickshade. Actually I think I prefer it – the Pz IIIs look slight too red. The base coat went on in one sitting, but in several layers. The first was quite liquid, the others much dryer. I lightened the mix a bit as I put more on. It’s hard to say whether the layering had any effect, byond smoothing and imporving the coverage. I don’t think the models looked as flat as my old single coat of Humbrol enamels did, but the layering is not visible to my eye. Incidentally the paint dries very thin, so the layering did not obscure the detail. One of the tanks was victim of several layers of Humbrol, though, and the detail was noticeably less sharp on this one. The quick succession of the various layers may have had the effect of taking off excessive accumulations on the detail rather than accumulating it. Anyway, this looks like a good technique. The first coat takes a bit of time to apply; the others are very quick.

After that came the detailing, including the tracks, wheel tyres and stowage. With no crew to paint this was simpler. Then there was a dry brush of dust colour (the dunkelgelb with white), which was not as heavy handed as last time, though there were still some excess blobs.  And so to the Quickshade.

The decals came next. I was more sparing, since these are going to be second-string miniatures. Only two turret numbers. The Pz IVs had no Balkenkreuse on the left (because of stowage) and the Pz IIIs none on the rear. Even so I’m down to my last two of the small (3mm) ones, which will give me issues. I sealed with polyurethane again – but only after the decals had had nearly 24 hours to dry out – they seemed much more robust. Like the Pz IIIs the flash is still visible from some angles though. With the Pz IVs this is made worse because they had to be applied over a slight bump on the turret, which they couldn’t quite do as tightly as I would wish for. I am wondering whether I should revert to a technique I used on my model aircraft 40 years ago – which is to float the decals off the backing paper as normal, wipe off the glue backing them, dry them and then place them using varnish. These modern decals may be too fragile – but this technique worked a treat back in the day. I will have to experiment. Finally I finished with a spray of matt varnish.

Lets look at them in a bit more detail. First the three Pz IVGs:

The lighting conditions were a bit challenging, so these pictures aren’t very good I’m afraid. These are Airfix 1/76 kits. I was very excited when these first came out. Until then the only German tanks readily available were the Tiger, Panther and StuG III. These set up very unequal battles with the Airfix Shermans. And this model was of a higher standard too. One of these models (213, closest to the picture) was my first, which I painted green at first (we knew no better). I then repainted in the fictitious desert orange that Humbrol  produced. The layers of paint did the model no favours. The other two models came in later, when I was more serious about wargaming, and had more money. I painted them in the Humbrol dunkelgelb, with (different) camouflage patterns. The models were a bit tricky to assemble, and there are gaps, and some of the wheels are a bit wonky (and one of the top rollers missing). Also my handling of the polythene tracks was very inexpert. This time I did not think it was worth the time to attempt to correct these errors, I painted as was, with a bit of extra stowage. I numbered them as a complete platoon, and these will be useful on the tabletop, until I can produce some smarter 1/72 Pz IVs (which will be Hs with shurzen on the turret).

The aerials, incidentally, are almost certainly in the wrong place for 1943. Like the Pz III, the Pz IV was originally fitted with a solid, tapered  “stern” aerial beside the turret, which folded down when the gun got in the way into a wooden tray on the side of the hull. But this tray is not modelled on the Airfix kits, so I fitted whip aerials at the back, according to later pictures of Pz IVs that I have seen. This creates less hassle with rotating turrets.

Next the Pz IIIs: The foreground model is a Matchbox kit at 1/76. This was one of my more recent acquisitions, when at last we had a wider variety of models available. It is a nice clean model, which had fewer of the assembly issues than the other ones. Its only problem (apart from being unable to open the hatch) is that the 1/76 scale makes it look a bit small compared to the 1/72 tanks. For this model I replaced the barrel with the flammpanzer one from the PSC kit, as well as smoke dischargers. This gives me an extra tabletop option – though I can’t deploy a complete platoon, as the Germans did apparently at Salerno, though they proved vulnerable to the Shermans. I did not fit an aerial for this one, for the same reason as the PSC kits. The model clearly shows the stern antenna stowed in its box along the track guard.

The backgound model is a conversion I did from the Airfix StuG III. This lacks the detailing of the proper models, but helps make up the numbers. I replaced the gun and rather crude mantlet with the short 75mm from the PSC kit (slightly overscale, but looks OK), along with the smoke dischargers (I couldn’t fit them to the PSC models because of the turret schurzen). The model is a bit wonky, but it gives a bit of support to the Tigers, with which this sort of tank operated. I fitted an antenna to this one, where the folding stern antenna would have been – though the bristle is a bit too thin at the base. Given the weak detailing on the model I though it would help lift it a bit.

And so to the Tigers:Tigers played a significant role in Tunisia, a minor one in Sicily and were not present at Salerno (though the British kept reporting them there!). I don’t plan for them to be an important part of my games, but I have them, and they will be a handy option. The tank at the front is the oldest German model in my collection – an old 1/76 Airfix kit. This was originally painted dark grey. But when I bought the second kit, I thought it needed a facelift – so I added mudguards to cover the tracks at the front, and a stowage bin at the back of the turret, and then painted it in dunkelgelb. It did the job. There was a bit of an issue with the polythene tracks. In photos these looked heavy and lay on top of the track wheels – something this flexible track wouldn’t do – and it wouldn’t respond to being glued down either. This time I managed to partially glue it down with superglue – though it required to be held down for an hour or more while the glue hardened. The aerial was fitted in the only place that photos show single aerials on Tigers (second or third aerials might appear on the turret or engine deck). It probably should be a stern aerial – but what the hell!

The other model is much more modern, it was from Hasegawa and in 1/72. It’s a much nicer model though I made a bit of a mess with the running wheels, and the polythene track is pretty crude. The track needed the same treatment as the Airfix one, and I also stuck the aerial in the same place. In spite of being different scales the two models can work together for now. the size differential seems to matter less than for the smaller tanks.

These models aren’t to a particularly high standard, but the facelift has improved them a lot, and given the models some unity. Back in the day I tended to make models as individuals. But this exercise shows that I am right to concentrate on more basic wargamer models nowadays, like the PSC ones. The moulded tracks look much better than the flexible ones. The running wheels may be less detailed (you don’t get the double wheels) but they are much less work and don’t end up looking wobbly.

I now have strength and depth in German tanks. While my Sherman project still needs to deal with some complexities (getting crew; making decals; more stowage), I will move on to the infantry. I have ordered a platoon each of Germans and British from AB, and they are now ready to paint!

1943: the Royal Scots Greys’ Sherman tanks

Part of the enduring appeal of this hobby is the occasional detective work. Scrabbling for clues, and trying to make sense of what little you have – and in the process debunking generally accepted wisdom. This may be about what happened in a historical battle. Or it may about the appearance of a unit you want to add to your collection. My idea to model a troop of Shermans from the Royal Scots Greys as they appeared at Salerno in September 1943 is one such quest. I have followed it a bit obsessively for the last couple of weeks just for sheer hell of it. And that is the tale I will tell today.

A bit of background. The RSGs had fought with the 8th Army in North Africa right up to Tunisia, using Grants and Honeys. While the fight moved on to Sicily they were rested and re-kitted with Sherman III tanks (i.e. the diesel M4A2, and not Sherman IIs, with the cast hulls, or the later M4A3s as sometimes reported). They were then assigned to the British X Corps to take part in the Salerno landings. They were heavily engaged supporting the 56th (London) Infantry Division – with a great deal of distinction. They are about the only British tank unit to get a mention in accounts of the battle, even though it fought alongside 40th RTR in X Corps, and the 22nd Armoured Brigade of 7th Armoured Division also landed. It is not wholly clear whether the regiment formed part of the 23rd Armoured Brigade at this point (as the 40th RTR was).

My main source is photos. I have found these online and in a couple of books I have on the battle – the Osprey title and an old book from 1971 from the Pan/Ballantine history of WW2 (a series that I think was earlier called the Purnell’s history, which I dug up out of the attic).

And now to my first picture, from Wikipedia:

This shows the tank “Sheik” advancing towards Naples after the battle in late September (not far from Pompeii by the look of Vesuvius). It is in a very curious colour scheme, and this has drawn a lot of attention. Lots of modellers have been unable to resist representing it, and there is even a die-cast model of the tank on sale. It has a two colour camouflage base pattern, with pale and medium tone components. This is usually interpreted as Light Mud for the pale tone (one of the standard Mediterranean theatre British camouflage colours of the time – a greyish sand colour) and olive drab for the medium, the colour that the tank would have been painted when shipped over from the US under Lend-Lease. There is a darker tone used to give the dapple on the pale tone – probably the Blue Black that was also part of the standard British set. Other points to note are that there is are two aerial pennants, and the red-white-red British identification flash on the side.

The next picture is from the Osprey and Pan/Ballantine books:It shows a tank of the RSGs during the battle (near Battapaglia according to the Pan/Ballantine). Points of interest: there is a two-tone camouflage, but with light-dark tone, not light-medium. This is surely Light Mud and Blue Black, in accordance with standard British practice of the time. There is a tactical mark on the turret – a circle with the number 8. The Osprey says the circle denotes B Squadron; I think C squadron was more likely (B is usually a square). The number is the tank number. The red-white-red flash is visible and there are two or three pennants on the aerial.

The next picture is from just the Osprey I have now found the original from the IWM collection, and substitute here:

THE ALLIED LANDINGS IN ITALY, SEPTEMBER 1943: REGGIO, TARANTO AND SALERNO (NA 6646) Salerno, 9 September 1943 (Operation Avalanche): A Sherman tank and infantry on the road to Battipaglia. Smoke from a burning ammunition ship can be seen in the background. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205194416

This looks as if it was taken at a very similar time. There are railway tracks in both pictures, and smoke. The barrage balloon indicates that it is quite near the beach. The scan above isn’t that clear – but the camouflage pattern looks the same, and the aerial pennants may be too. But it isn’t the same tank – this one has an AA machine gun on the turret. Of particular note on this picture is the unit ID signs on the left mudguard (i.e. left when facing forward – nautical “port”). The censor has scrubbed them out, but we can see that there are two, and they are both on the left – unlike the normal situation of the Arm of Service marker on one side and formation badge on the other. More on that later. There is a red-white-red flash in the front-centre. Incidentally this tank shows a single-piece nose for the Sherman – instead of the more usual three-piece one for this stage of the war – it is presumably quite a new tank.

The next picture is a poor one taken from the battle and only in the Pan/Ballantine:It is just about possible to see that the camouflage pattern is the same as the previous two pictures (and different from Shah). The regiment’s tanks were clearly painted in a standard pattern. Also note the single aerial pennant, and no AA machine gun. And the rear part of the track guard is still there.

The next picture is from Wikipedia and shows one of RSG’s tanks in the follow up towards Naples, and near contemporary with the Shah picture: Not much to add here except to note that the standard camouflage pattern turns up again. The rear of the track guard is missing -as with Shah and the other later picture, suggesting they were deliberately removed soon after the Salerno battle.

The final picture comes from October as the unit was advancing with 23 Armoured brigade; it comes from the Imperial War Museum:

THE BRITISH ARMY IN ITALY 1943 (NA 8276) A Sherman tank of ‘B’ Squadron, Royal Scots Greys fording the Teano river, 29 October 1943. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205204405

There are a few points of interest here. Once again it has the same camouflage pattern (a shame though that I have no pictures of the right hand side!), though the contrast is much lower than earlier (and similar to the Shah picture). Either that’s the effect of a couple of months weathering, or the Blue Black has been overpainted – or perhaps it just indicates lower ambient light conditions. Note that the stowage turret box doesn’t have the camouflage pattern on it, and in picture two it doesn’t look as if it has been repainted at all – this may have been a late addition. The red-white-red flash is just visible. The tactical mark is a square (as would normally be appropriate for B squadron), but I can’t see a number in it (incidentally don’t confuse it with the outlined panel behind it on the turret).

And now to a secondary source. A Star Decals sheet (these are a valuable resource):

The first two are of interest. the first is an interpretation of Shah. It shows it with a triangular tactical mark, appropriate to A Squadron (on the back of the stowage bin too), but with no number. It is shown in red, as would be used for a senior regiment in a brigade. It also shows an interpretation of the unit ID on the left mudguard – a thistle on on white over black square  The text says that this sign was visible on tanks earlier in the campaign, but can’t be confirmed for this tank with its new camouflage scheme. It is clearly specific to the regiment – not the more usual brigade or division (the thistle standing for Scotland). The second picture is of a tank named Roosevelt – but not from any photograph I have seen. There is some doubt as to whether this is the RSG or 44 RTR (part of 4 Armoured brigade and not at Salerno). The name apparently doesn’t conform to the RSG naming system (Royal Navy ships) – but otherwise it looks very like the tank from picture 2 (though the number is 10). The portrayal of the camouflage pattern is different, but not by that much (mainly the turret) – perhaps just interpretation from an obstructed picture.

And so what are my conclusions? Shah looks like a one-off to me. Other regiments seem to have been using tanks without a camouflage pattern or with a low tonal contrast one (including the 40th RTR, according to the only picture I have). Perhaps the RSGs received one of these as a replacement and then improvised the camouflage scheme from there. I will use the Light Mud and Blue Black scheme, guessing the right side elements that I don’t have info on. The red-white-red flashes will also appear. Fortunately the Italeri kits I’m using have these in their decals. I will also do C squadron with red circle tactical marks and three consecutive numbers. I don’t have definite information on the numbering system, but a Flames of War graphic for New Zealand units suggests sequences starting with 3, 6, 9 and 12 for each of the main troops (and 15 for the HQ troop – 1 and 2 don’t appear to be used within the squadrons). I have four models, and I may do a further tank for the squadron leader, to act as a senior officer for larger games. Which tanks got the AA machine guns I don’t know – I speculate that it is the troop leader.

The next point is to have aerial pennants. These were subject to considerable variation – sometimes daily. I will give the troop leader two pennants and the others one. Perhaps they all get a red one, with yellow for the troop leader, as suggested by the Star Decals sheet. These will give the tanks a British look.

Another aspect of making the unit look British are the unit IDs. Here all I have to go on is the censor’s scratchings out on picture 2 and the Star Decals suggestion. The lower mark looks quite wide compared to its height. That would suggest a three digit number for an Arm of Service serial. That would be an Army level serial as often used for independent brigades (the numbers being 171-3 or 161-3 for armoured brigades). The formal organisational status of the RSGs at this point is a bit unclear – and this is emphasised by the use of a regimental formation sign rather than the more usual division or brigade. The formation sign is, presumably, the thistle badge, and located above the presumed unit serial. I am not sure what I am going to do here. I am tempted to leave these off (as I will the registration numbers and tank names) – but, then again, they do make the tank look British.

So most of the pieces of the jigsaw are in place. What is clear is that I will need to print my own decals on this, for the tactical signs and the unit ID, if I use them. A new challenge!

Update 27 August 2017

I continue to scratch the itch on this one. Some more Google searches have taken me to some new bits of data. First there is this online discussion from 2007 in which the RSG Shermans are discussed. Alas all the picture links are deceased, as it includes one or two pictures I haven’t got – including one which shows the unit thistle badge. There are a number of items of detail that I will ignore – I don’t need the model to be 100% accurate on the technical details. However it did draw me to this Pathé film. Amongst other things it includes the river crossing by the RSG tank in the last picture above. Here is a still from it. You can just about see the thistle badge on the front mudguard (take my word for it – though you do need the eye of faith). Also of interest is that the the front door of the commanders’ hatch has been removed – a common British practice apparently. The Italeri kit has the hatch moulded closed (the one point I don’t like about it). I was going to carve out the closed hatch anyway; I won’t have to make the front hatch door!

I have unearthed another couple of interesting pictures. This is from another unit at Salerno (the London Yeomanry, part of the 7th Armoured division): The camouflage scheme is similar but not the same. The dark colour may not be Blue Black though. The markings on the front mudguard are temporary identifiers – no doubt this is what those mysterious scratched out marks are on Picture 3 (apart from the thistle badge).

And then there is this picture of a tank from an unknown unit in Italy: Of interest is the right side camouflage pattern, broadly consistent with the RSG. The RSG pattern appears to be based on a standard recommended pattern issued by the army, though some of the darker stripes are a bit broader, and there is no stripe on the back of the turret. This pattern gives me something to work on for the missing bit. I have not been able to find the original diagram that was used though, amid all the verbiage on camouflage patterns. All I know is that the patterns aren’t the same as those used earlier in the desert.

And after I had written that I searched all the Imperial War Museum’s collection on Salerno and found this one:

THE BRITISH ARMY IN ITALY 1943 (NA 6725) A Sherman tank comes ashore at Salerno, September 1943. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205204309

It’s the missing link. The thistle insignia is now clearly visible, above the temporary number. And there is also a clear picture of the front camouflage pattern – though I think there is a bit of variation with the other pictures. Two flags on the pennant. This tank has the three part nose, but is missing the rear track guard. Zooming in I can just make out a circular tactical mark, indicating C Squadron, but not the number in it.

French artillery in 1:100 – Part 8 Finishing off and conclusion

My French artillery
The end result all lined up. From left to right the 12-pdr, 8-pdr, 6-pdr, 4-pdr, and the 10-pdr, 6 pouce and 24-pdr howitzers

I can now declare the project closed. The final stage was painting up some additional crew figures, correcting the old ones I wanted to re-use, and doing the bases. But this is the article I am linking to TMP, so before describing the finishing touches, I want to summarise what I have done.

I have described the scope in my introductory post. I wanted to provide fresh models for my 15mm French army, whose tin men have grown to more like 18mm over the years – which approximates to 1:100. This is not well catered for in the market, because by the time more accurate information emerged, manufacturers had moved on to other scales, mainly 28mm. My main aim was to produce models for wargames that look approximately right – but there is also an element of building a collection too. Having said that I have neither the patience nor the manual dexterity to produce models of collector standard – the standard that I see so often displayed in TMP. Eye candy this is not.

But I hope it is useful to anybody building French armies in 15/18mm. Many of my models are pulled together from old bits and pieces I have had around for years, and I describe how I did this in my posts. But in this article I will summarise what I recommend to people wanting to use what is out there in the market. This is not based on a comprehensive survey of what is there, but what I know of the more popular makes. They are all Blue Moon and AB, though I have considered others along the way. The headings link to the main articles. So here goes:

The 4-pdr

Not easy to get right. Easy for me because I had lots of old Battle Honours models to start with, and plenty of wheels of the size I wanted – but these aren’t easily obtainable these days. The only model of the right scale out there that I know of is Blue Moon. But this is let down by wheels that are too small – and the bigger wheels are in important part of the look of French artillery.

The 8-pdr

Much easier, though I cobbled mine together from bits and I did not buy any of the current models. But both Blue Moon and AB look fine – but these will look best beside models in the same stable, though.

The 12-pdr

The BM carriage is too much too long, based on reviews I have read. The AB one is the right size, and nicely detailed, but the trail doesn’t look quite right in my view. I have two of the ABs and three cobbled together models based on the Blue Moon French Howitzer carriage (!).

The 6-pdr

The Blue Moon model is essentially sound, but has some errors. The barrel needs to be smoothed; you need a new and higher elevating plate from card. The AB model is nice but based on the 8-pdr carriage, which might be accurate for a few, late weapons, but not for most of the era. The barrel also needs to be smoothed. Also on my old AB models the wheel track was much too wide and had to be cut down. This may have been corrected in current models. This is the main artillery piece for my armies, so I needed lots. I made up six from Blue Moon, to go with my 3 old AB ones, and three more I made up from old Battle Honours Prussian pieces.

The 6 pouce howitzer

By this I mean the classic French “6 inch” short-barrelled howitzer that is the subject of most illustrations, often described as “Gribeauval”, but which was probably not all that much used in fact. None of the 15mm models I have seen get this right. The carriage for the Blue Moon model is vastly oversized (I used it for the 12-pdr, and it was a bit too big even  for that!). The AB model is of generally the right proportions, but looks a bit weedy. And the latest model (mine are old ones) might not even be right based on their illustration. I used a BM barrel on the AB carriage, but still wasn’t too happy!

The 10-pdr howitzer

This is another “6 inch” howitzer, and used in the heavy batteries, right up to Waterloo. But the only pictures I have seen are of the barrel.  It was based on an old Prussian design. In fact the simplest way of producing this is to take the AB Prussian “7-pdr” howitzer, which is probably quite close to what this weapon looked like in the later years with a later-style carriage. You can “Frenchify” this by adding trail handles (bend some fuse wire or even a staple) and cut out the ammunition box retaining struts. To get an earlier look I put the AB Prussian barrel on the AB French howitzer carriage.

The 24-pdr howitzer

This was the main howitzer in use by the French, and also, confusingly, usually referred to as “6 inch”. There are no 15mm models of this anywhere that I know of. The closest model is the Blue Moon Prussian howitzer. But the French barrel was slightly longer, and the trunnions further back, so that the barrel projected more from the front. I opted to make my own barrel, but this looked too heavy, and was bit more than my clumsy fingers should have taken on. The Prussian model needs an elevating plate (easy to make from card) and its trunnion recesses are too deep (I filled them with plasticine) – these are applicable to using it in Prussian mode too. Also you may want to Frenchify it – which I chose to do on my 3 models. If you are making your own barrel you can also use the Blue Moon French 6-pdr carriage (or the Prussian 6-pdr come to that).

Now a few words about the finishing. I decided to reuse my existing crews. These were Battle Honours foot crews and Old Glory horse crews for the 1809 period, and AB Guard foot crews. I decided not to use my Battle Honours Guard horse crews – they are too small and not impressive enough, or my BH standard horse crews, as these are bit dull. The BH foot crews are bit underscale for the job, though, and this is a bit noticeable if you get the correct 1:100 scale wheels. Still, I use them to make up the numbers.

BH French crew
The Battle Honours crews manning a couple of 6-pdrs, made from different sources.

The Old Glory figures are fine for both scale and appearance – though the gun models that come with them are not particularly useful if you want them to look right (though mine provided carriages for my 8-pdrs and wheels for the 4-pdrs! These were from an old pack, though, and I don’t know whether this would work nowadays).

OG HA Crew
The Old Glory horse artillery crews with a 4-pdr and a 6-pdr

I don’t particularly like the AB Foot Guard figures either, though they were fine for size and detailing. There is no officer and the pose of figure carrying a n ammunition round looks laughable (casually holding a 12-pdr round as if it was a tube of Pringles), and they are mostly wearing backpacks.  Another problem is that I had painted them in too bright a shade of blue (Army Painter spray colour with dark Quickshade). I tried calming this down with washes of dark blue-grey, and then touching up – but this wasn’t altogether successful.

AN OG Crew
The AB Guard crew with one of my made-up 12-pdrs and the 10-pdr howtizer.

These figures needed reinforcements. I had some Fantassin/Warmodelling crew figures lying around unpainted (bought in Fantassin days). I have been very critical of this range’s artillery pieces, but these figures are perfectly respectable. They are depicted in greatcoats and backpacks, which covers up some uniform details and makes them quite generic – they can double as line artillery or marine gunners. I painted the shakos appropriate to later uniforms.

Fantassin French crew
The Fantassin crews man a 6-pdr and a 24-pdr howitzer

I supplemented these with later era Blue Moon crews. These are nice figures, depicted with shako covers,  tunics and without backpacks. I painted some as line and some as naval gunners (there were some of these at Waterloo, apparently) – though you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference (the naval gunners have red collars).

BM crew
Blue Moon crews man 6-pdrs

I am still playing with painting methods. I undercoat with specialist metal undercoat from a DIY store. This comes in a lifetime-sized tin, but the only one I could lay my hand on was water-based and white. A mistake. Diluted paint (it’s much too thick to go on direct) leaves you with issues of surface tension and coverage (not so good as filling the holes). White undercoat is not a particularly good choice for relatively quick-painted 15mm figures. I gave the figures a first thin coat of raw umber after the undercoat, followed by several coats of a blue mix. In another experiment: I created this mix from ultramarine and raw umber (I use artists colours), instead of my usual Prussian blue base. But this needed lots of coats before it started to look right. I tried to highlight with the brighter ultramarine, but the effect was hardly noticeable. The overall effect was rather nice though (incomparably better than Army Painter Navy Blue plus dark Quickshade!), but not as quick as I wanted! Even if it doesn’t come out in my pictures. I did not feel the need for Quickshade, so just did a raw umber wash on the faces.

The bases were new. I need smaller sizes these days. The standard is 30mm square, with 25mm (wide) by 30mm for light guns, and 30mm (wide) by 35mm for the heavies. Two figures populate the bases, except for the heavies, which have three. These aren’t eye-candy. The position of the figures is not realistic. It is all dictated by the needs of  games played on a small table. I am also avoiding the thick MDF (or mounting board) bases that are so popular – they do frame the figures nicely. But I feel that height is my enemy on the table, especially since I am forced into using miniaturised terrain. And I already have magnetic strip on the bottom. So I used 300gsm artist’s paper. That’s thick for paper but thin for a base, especially a larger one with a greater risk of warping. Never mind. I have magnetised bases and I store on steel paper, which should stop the warping.

I use a home-made gloop, consisting of sand, artist’s gesso and paint (I used a dark burnt umber this time – I have used raw umber before). I apply this with a sculpting tool after gluing the figures to the base. After touching up with burnt umber paint, I  covered the bases with a combination of flock and static grass. I’m not expert with the static grass, which comes out  a bit matted in my hands. The flock represents the flattened areas – and only in very small areas is the base of burnt umber left exposed. They haven’t set up in a Japanese garden amongst decorative tufts and rock features. To unify the flock and static grass I give it all a wash of yellow green (using ink and flow enhancer rather than water as a base). I then give a bit of a dry brush with a white/yellow ochre mix. The overall effect is textured and the figure bases are nicely covered up, and the colour doesn’t jar with the table covering. In my earlier batch of bases for my Prussians the overall effect was too dark, which made my dark figures look even duller. So I used a brighter colour of static grass, more yellow in the wash, and was rather heavier (and less dry) with the dry brushing. This looks much better, and I will have to reverse engineer my Prussians somehow. But I don’t think I’d recommend this approach particularly – I think you can get nicer looking results than this.

And now my thoughts turn to my next project. Prussians probably. I have it in mind to do a similar article (or articles) on Prussian artillery, and one on limbers too. But I need more Prussian landwehr!

 

 

 

 

French artillery in 1:100 – Part 7 the 24pdr howitzer

24pdr howitzer

And so last but not least we come to the 24pdr howitzer. This became the standard French field howitzer in the Empire period, and it may have been the second most produced artillery piece for the French in the era, after the 6pdr, being in production from 1804. And yet until recently it has been nearly invisible to historians. No figure manufacturer has attempted to produce it in 15mm that I am aware of. Consequently this has been the single biggest modelling challenge in my project.

This howitzer was introduced as part of the An XI artillery reforms, and seems to have been generally well thought of. It had a smaller calibre than the 6 pouce howitzer it replaced, but it had a longer barrel, and was more accurate. Napoleon was pleased that each ammunition caisson could carry significantly more rounds. Like the 6pdr it was virtually the same calibre as its Austrian counterpart, the 7pdr (150-152mm) – presumably allowing ammunition to be interchanged – though likely to be of different dynamic characteristics. It took its name, 24pdr, from the being the same calibre as the 24pdr heavy cannon. This was a new, rationalised naming convention that does not seem to have taken, though. Some referred to it as 5 pouce 6/7 lignes, but it seems to have been quite common to round this to 6 pouce, or inches, causing confusion to later historians. Since it was about 6 English inches in calibre, English observers called it 6 inch too. In the Royal Armouries catalogue the two examples they have (both captured at Waterloo and cast in or about 1804) are both referred to as 6in howitzers, the same nomenclature as the two much larger 10pdrs. Sadly there are no drawings of these two, and just basic measurements (a single length measurement and calibre) in the catalogue.

It was quite distinctive of appearance, though. At 101cm (muzzle to breeech ring) the tube was about 5cm longer than the Austrian and Prussian equivalents. But the trunnions were further back, giving a barrel that stuck out well beyond the carriage, as the above illustration shows – quite the opposite of the 6 pouce howitzer it replaced. This picture is of one of the pieces captured at Vitoria  in 1813 and now in Lisbon (a picture of it also appears in David Chandler’s Campaigns of Napoleon, inevitably referred to as a 6in howitzer). Did the design change as the wars progressed? DDS suggests it was modified. Indeed its table refers to two different howitzers: the “M1803 7-pdr” – calibre 151.5mm and 101cm in tube length, and the “M1808 24-pdr “,calibre 148mm and length 120cm. And yet I have seen no drawings or other pictures of the later piece. The Royal Armouries examples clearly conform to the former dimensions (allowing that their length includes the button at the rear), as does the photo of a “M1803 24-pdr” in DDS book itself.  The drawings that I have seen in another publication are also of the early version. I need rather harder evidence of that the later design was ever in fact operational in serious numbers.

And what of the carriage? This seems to be closely modelled on the 6pdr carriage. DDS carries a drawing of the “M1803” version. This shows a carriage identical to the 6pdr, alongside a drawing of a 10pdr barrel. Apart from the barrel being of a different piece, the issue with the carriage is that the elevating plate seems designed for the much longer 6pdr barrel. I would expect a much shorter plate for the howitzer, as we indeed see on the closely related later Prussian designs. The pictures of the 24pdr in Lisbon don’t reveal this detail, unfortunately, though otherwise the carriage design is consistent with drawing, allowing for the later addition of trail handles.

But how to model this piece? I wanted three of them. The carriage is easy – the Blue Moon 6pdr carriage would be the logical starting point. But their Prussian 6pdr and Howitzer carriages would be nearly as good, as indeed would be the AB Prussian Howitzer carriage, assuming a shorter elevating plate, or the 6pdr for a longer plate. The Prussians seem to have copied the An XI carriage for their later artillery pieces, with even the reinforcing metal bands on the trail being in about the same places. For the BM models an elevating plate needs to be added (e.g. from plastic card), or at least the rear end. I had some spare BM Prussian howitzer models (from the pernicious BM practice of selling their artillery pieces in packs of 6), so I used these, adding trail handles from bent bits of staple. Also I cut out the two retaining bars for the ammunition case at the bottom rear of the trail.

But the barrel? It is of unique shape, and I searched my bits and pieces for anything that could be adapted. The closest was the BM Prussian howitzer. But the trunnions are too far back, which means that the barrel does not have the characteristic projection from in front of the carriage. It is also a bit thin. I wanted the barrel to be noticeably thicker than the French 6pdr barrel. My first idea was to adapt the BM Prussian 6pdr barrel. This is quite thick (it does have the dolphins too – even though Prussians had eliminated these from their 6pdr in fact). I could saw off the ends,  shorten the remaining barrel, and then stick the ends back on. I decided not to because I had it in mind to use these barrels for their original purpose – to play the part of heavy Prussian 6pdrs, to work alongside the beautiful AB 6pdrs, which would act as the light version. I also thought the area around the middle, which has a bit of a “saddle” would not be easy to replicate. In hindsight I think I made the wrong decision, though, and I may yet try to make an additional piece this way.

But instead I decided to make the barrel from scratch! I took a piece of plastic sprue from a kit for two of the barrels, and rolled some Milliput epoxy putty for the third. On one I wrapped a slither of paper around the middle to get the “saddle”; for the other two I used some epoxy putty (grey stuff – I’m not sure which brand). Trunnions were added from a bit of plastic rod (from the same kit, which was a building). For the dolphins I fashioned something from putty for one, cut bits of plastic for the other two. For the rear I used the sawn off end of some old Minifigs 12pdrs. For the muzzle I used sections cut from a Minifigs artillery wheel hub, with quite a bit of filing down. All of which is easily said, but 1:100 is a small scale, and my fingers aren’t as nimble as they once were. And I didn’t find the putty that easy to work with (perhaps because mine is a bit old?). This was not a particulary neat or precise job. The trunnions and dolphins were particularly difficult – which is why I think my first idea was a better one. A further reason was that the barrel turned out to be a bit too thick. This is OK until it is put next to one of the other howitzer models, when it looks heavier than even the 10pdr. Never mind! One point worth adding is that the BM trunnion recesses are far too deep, which means that the barrel tends to go too low. I used a little bit of plasticine to sort this out – I didn’t find the epoxy putty easy to work with for this job.

And here’s the result!:

24 How

Here are the three types of howitzer together: the 10pdr, the 6 pouce and the 24pdr. in that order. You can see that the 24pdr barrel is too heavy in comparison with the other two. It is a tad over scale and the others a tad under.

 

3 Hows

And here it is with the 6pdr gun (Blue Moon version), its normal companion.

24 how 6pdr 2

And again with my Old Glory horse artillery crews:

24 how 6pdr 1

So what would I recommend for anybody that wants one of these to support their 15mm army? Straight out of the packet the closest fit is the Blue Moon Prussian howitzer. The barrel doesn’t poke out far enough, but actually the fit isn’t so bad. I would urge doing something about the trunnion recesses so the barrel doesn’t sit too low, and I would add an elevating plate under the barrel – advice that applies just as much to the Prussian version. If somebody quibbles you can always say it is a captured piece! The second alternative is to use the BM 6pdr and attempt the barrel conversion. You will need something to cut the barrel with though, like a jeweller’s saw. Using a knife has a tendency to squash the barrel.

And that completes my collection. Something is gestating on limbers, but BM have recently released their limber models, and these are well worth a look. I will complete my series of posts with a wrap-up piece though, and some pictures of all the types together.

Part 8 – Finishing off and conclusion

 

French artillery in 1/100: Part 6 – the 6in howitzers

An so we come to the howitzers. Howitzers are often ignored by wargamers, as they usuallyFrench howitzers only comprised one section of two  in each battery – so there is only a call for them if you are representing pairs of guns. My games are grand tactical where each tabletop piece represents one or two complete batteries. And yet I have always had a soft spot for the type, and found ways of including one or two on the tabletop. And when it came to this project the howitzers caused me more research problems than any other aspect – and so has the modelling. Confusion reigns from start to finish. Let’s begin by considering the diagram to the right, which shows a drawing of each of the three howitzer types that the French used in the field, alongside captured weapons. Each of them is usually referred to as a 6 inch howitzer. In addition to these three RC in his Osprey offers some pictures of an earlier “Gribeauval” howitzer that was not in use in our era, so far as I know.

The one at the top is the “real” 6 pouce ( = thumb = inch) howitzer, that was cast in the 1790s, and dominates all illustrations of French howitzers. Its calibre is exactly six French inches, which were slightly longer than the ones in modern use in Britain and the US. I will call this the 6 pouce. The second is the heavy howitzer, based on the Prussian 10pdr howitzer. It was never produced in large numbers but it accompanied French 12pdr batteries right up to Waterloo. I will call this the 10pdr. These two I will deal with in this post. The third is the An XI howitzer, more properly called the 24pdr, or sometimes the 5 pouce 6 or 7 lignes (12 lignes = 1 pouce). It is nearly six English (and modern) inches in calibre, and is thus it is usually called a 6in howitzer by British observers. Perhaps disliking the alternative nomenclature, the French also seemed to have used this name very often too. It is much the most important of the three militarily, and also the most challenging to model, so it gets a post all to itself. I will call it the 24pdr. Incidentally DDS uses modern inches to distinguish the three (6.4, 6.8 and 5.9 respectively), but I don’t think this helps – if you must impose modern nomenclature, then surely the metric system is preferable and transparent.

So first to the 6 pouce. This is the 8pdr of the howitzers. From the literature and illustrations you might think it was the only howitzer the French had in service. And yet it was not all that widely used – though it is hard to tell for sure because when orders of battle refer to 6in or 6p howitzers they may be referring to any of the three designs, and possibly some captured 7pdr howitzers too. A number of barrels pop up in illustrations; all were cast in the 1790s, and I don’t think any were cast later. RC says that more were cast between 1804 and 1813, but I am sure he is confusing it with the 10pdr. The 6in howitzers captured at Waterloo and in the Royal Armouries, when not referring to the 24pdrs, refer to two 10pdrs, one cast in 1795 and the other 1813 (the entry for the latter was shown in my previous post). The 6 pouce was regarded as inaccurate and its carriage had a tendency to shatter (according to RC). Still, a number were used well into the Imperial era. There is an example in Les Invalides mounted on an An XI carriage, clearly from later on. And the official documentation seems to keep mentioning it. Whether it was used in Spain, like the Gribeauval guns, I cannot tell. All the howitzers described in both French (as published by Nafziger) and English (the report of artillery captured at Vitoria) sources refer to all the field howitzers as 6in. The surviving example from Vitoria in Lisbon is a beautiful 24pdr, showing that the French, as well as the British, referred to the 24pdr as “6 inch”. The Spanish government may not have used this design, unlike the Gribeauval guns – and these were the main source of artillery for the French in Spain, apparently.

Be that as it may, unlike the other howitzers, there are some lovely drawings of it and its original carriage. Some of these originate with designs sent by the French to the United States. One (after de Scheel 1800) is reproduced in part in DDS, and shows the original elevating mechanism – with a triangle of wood moved by a screw to the rear. Here is another version of this drawing:

img981

This is the source of a nice picture in RC – though this elevating mechanism (quite unlike the Gribeauval one) was replaced in 1792 according to DDS (the elevating screw came from below the barrel). Artists and historians seem attracted to these drawings and have quickly appropriated them to represent all French howitzers. It is used, for example in Mark Adkins’s book on Waterloo, in spite of the fact that it was almost certainly not used in the 1815 campaign. The visual appearance is certainly striking. You can see from the above drawing that the barrel is very stubby; there is not much barrel in front of the trunnions and it barely projects from the carriage. But it is also very chunky. as is the carriage, which, apart from the elevating mechanism, seems to have a family resemblance to Gribeauval pattern (though the cheeks do look a bit chunkier, they have that characteristic bend) The wheels are the same as the 8pdr and 12pdr, but the trails are shorter, though longer than for the 4pdr. One remarkable picture in DDS shows this carriage mounting a 24pdr from about 1822 – including the triangle of bolts relating to the obsolete elevating mechanism. This may be an attempt to render an 8pdr carriage, which we are told was in use at the time, but it clearly refers to the obsolete 6 pouce carriage.

There is a bit of problem with the drawings though. The barrel seems to be subject to different drawings from the carriage, and the scales get wonky. According to the above drawing the length of the trail is 187cm; according to the picture in DDS it 298cm. According to a table of dimensions in RC (which looks authoritative, though the metric conversion can be shaky) it is 268cm – which is the version I take as accurate. The DDS scale appears to be accurate for the barrel, but not the carriage. The colour illustration in RC seems to have overcome these problems, though, to produce a very nice picture, albeit with the out of date elevating mechanism.

How to model the 6 pouce? Unsurprisingly, it is the only French howitzer that any of the manufacturers has attempted. But they haven’t given it much attention. Battle Honours gave us a barrel, but supplied it with their “light” gun carriage, which I have used for the 4pdr. Old Glory and Fantassin/Warmodelling give us a tiny barrel to plant on a standard 8pdr carriage. Minifigs produce quite a nice model, but under scale for my purposes. AB get the closest. The overall dimensions and topography are correct on my models, bought over 10 years ago, and it even gets the elevating mechanism right, but apart from the wheels it just looks a bit weedy. The barrel, in particular, is much too thin – it should rival the 12pdr in girth (the calibre is larger after all (166mm to 121mm). The model may have changed, though. The picture in the link on the Fighting 15s site seems to show an 8pdr style carriage, not unlike the one used for the 6pdr. The recent Blue Moon offering is nothing less than a disaster. The carriage is hopelessly over scale (33mm long, or 330cm in scale). The barrel is on a more accurate scale, but lacks heft, though it is better than the AB attempt. The wheels are fine though!

So what to do? I used the BM barrel on the AB carriage. I already had three of the ABs, and I used two for this purpose. Some of the BM carriages I converted to 12pdrs, and I have used all the wheels – so I have managed to get something form £12 purchase of six. If you are starting from scratch I can only suggest you use the AB version and grit your teeth – unless you fancy scratch building the barrel yourself – it has quite a simple shape after all. I remain a bit disappointed with the carriage though. And if they have changed it to the 8pdr type, then this is something of a blank. The closest I can get is the Minifigs Prussian 10pdr, but the wheels are too small, the carriage a bit too broad, and the barrel nothing like right. It may be easier to model it on the AnXI carriage – see my next article. The barrel will still be an issue!

And now for the 10pdr. During the 1790s, apparently, the French were impressed with the Prussian 10pdr howitzer. So much so they produced a copy for their own use in 1795. I’m not entirely clear why. Perhaps problems with the 6 pouce howitzer led them to look on foreign weapons more kindly. But its more obvious competitor was the 7pdr howitzer, and Austrian 7pdr howitzer was certainly well regarded. DDS mentions the use of captured Prussian and Austrian ammunition. Perhaps the French just wanted something hefty to join their 12pdr batteries. And this piece was hefty at some 670/680Kg. That was twice as heavy as the 6 pouce, and heavier than the 8pdr gun – and only 100Kg lighter than the 12pdr. And it wasn’t a particularly new design – the original dated from 1743 according to DDS, and I have seen a picture of the barrel of the Prussian version complete with antique dolphins, representing mythical sea creatures, not the simple handles of the Napoleonic era. Still, it continued in use throughout the era, with additional pieces cast in 1813. Two were taken away by the British at Waterloo and are now in the Royal Armouries, one dated 1795, the other 1813.

What of its carriage? Here I have practically nothing to go on. DDS declares that the commonly depicted 6 pouce carriage was the Prussian original for this (in the caption to the drawing of the 6 pouce carriage, which shows a very clear drawing of the 6 pouce barrel alongside). I don’t believe this – the design is surely more modern and takes features from the Gribeauval design. But in the absence of any better data, I have decided that ithis carriage was used for both designs. The trail would no doubt have to be widened a bit to take a significantly broader barrel, but I expect that was standard stuff in those days before precision manufacturing. My basis for this (apart from assuming that there might be something in the DDS reference) is a picture in RC showing a Guard artilleryman in front of a howitzer (see below); this is clearly the 6 pouce carraige, but the barrel is a bit ambiguous (a bit too long-nosed for the 6 pouce, without looking like a 10pdr). This picture seems to date fromGuard howitzer late 19th Century, and is thin evidence indeed. But if in doubt I often take a lead from artists confronted by the same problem; the 10pdr was surely the howitzer used by the Guard foot batteries.

Whether this carriage was really robust enough for this brute is another question. Later in the era tangential references in DDS suggest that it may have been mounted on on a modified An XI carriage with an elevating plate. But there are no illustrations of this piece, apart from the barrel, that I have seen anywhere, so this amounts to guesswork. One thing can be said about its appearance though, apart from being very bulky: the trunnions are towards the bottom of the barrel (like many pieces of heavy artillery). This means that it would look as if the barrel was perched on top of the carriage, compared to how other weapons look.

Modelling this piece, almost invisible to history, might seem a hopeless task. But not so. I had bought the AB Prussian 7 pdr howitzer to support my slowly developing 1815 Prussian army – but it looked wrong. The barrel looked far to big, and it perched on top of the carriage. As I became aware of the 10pdr, the penny finally dropped. This represented a 10pdr howitzer, not the 7pdr! The dimensions measured up too – though since my French artillery barrels have a slight tendency to be oversized, it might not look quite right in comparison – though fine next to the 6 pouce, as it happens. I used this barrel on the AB French howitzer carriage. I had to add trunnions to it (the AB model moulds these to the carriage not the barrel) from a plastic rod – quite hard for my clumsy fingers, though. I simply borrowed a barrel from one of my many old Battle Honours Austrian howitzers to put on the original Prussian carriage, to give quite decent looking 7pdr. If you don’t want to do this, simply convert the Prussian carriage to a French one. In essence the Prussians copied of the French An XI carriage design for their later ordnance, so it makes quite a plausible carriage for French service. Just cut out the retaining bars for the ammunition box underneath rear end of the trail, and add some trail handles if you feel up to it (bend and cut some fuse wire or ordinary stationery staples and glue on). If you have the patience (I did not on my Prussian conversions) you can also cut off/file down the rings on the right of the rear transom.

So here are my models. The 10pdr is on the left, the 6 pouce to the right.:

6in hows 2

And here is the 6 pouce next to the original AB Prussian “7pdr”. The Prussian howitzer wheels are too flat – a common problem with AB models – but these can be bent into shape with pliers. Apart from the flat wheels, and mounting the wrong sized barrel, the AB model is a beauty, incidentally. Note that the AB French model doesn’t have the distinctive trail handles, which it really should. I haven’t had the patience to add them in this case!

AB howitzers

Next article: the 24pdr howitzer

 

French artillery in 1/100: Part 4 – the 12pdr

Gribeauval_cannon_de_12_An_2_de_la_Republique_top_viewAnd now for the big one. The 12pdr was the standard reserve artillery piece in the French army. These weren’t used in great numbers but they might described as “charismatic”. 12pdr batteries were present at army corps level, and the Imperial Guard had a number of batteries, the elite of the French artillery.

The best known version was the Gribeauval one. The picture above is from Les Invilades, the French army museum in Paris, and dates from about 1794, apparently (that may just be the barrel, though). It’s a big brute. Funnily enough the carriage dimensions aren’t that different from the 8pdr (though beware a misconverted metric measurement for cheek length in the dimensions given in RC – the Osprey). The wheels are the same diameter (146cm) and the axle the same length (209cm). The cheek length is 302cm compared to 286cm, and the cheeks are thicker. The overall appearance of the carriage is beefier than for the 8pdr. And the barrel is much bigger of course (211cm from muzzle to base ring, as opposed to 184cm – more misconversions in RC, incidentally): 880Kg, as opposed to 580Kg. Incidentally DDS suggests that the 12pdr barrel was 985Kg in weight, but the two 1794 examples in the Royal Armouries are slightly under 880Kg, the weight given in RC.

How the weapon evolved during the wars is not so clear, though. In the An XI review the 12pdr was retained but redesigned. The barrel was nearly the same length, but a bit lighter at 760Kg. Like other An XI designs the barrel did not have the reinforcing rings at the centre, the barrel being smooth from the breach ring up to the muzzle zone. The carriage was also of similar general dimensions to the old one, but straighter, lighter and with the characteristic upturned end. The axle had a wooden casing, the two trunnion positions were a bit closer together, and there was an additional metal band near the axle, between the trunnion recessess – probably the easiest way to tell the difference at a quick glance (though the second reinforcing band on the trail is further back than the Gribeauval design too). Remarkably, one of these carriages is at Les Invilades (with a broken wheel – pictures feature in both RC and DDS):

12 pdrIncidentally this shows the trail handles, which were not part of the original An XI design. The barrel on this weapon, however, is not the An XI 12pdr (you can see the reinforcing rings in the centre) – it looks like the Gribeauval version.

Were many of these newer designs ever made? It’s hard to tell. According the DDS the An XI system was suspended in 1805, and by 1808 the original Gribeauval designs were reverted to, subject to some modifications. Old pieces were converted. DDS says that all the An XI 12pdr carriages had been replaced by 1812. In which case for one to have survived is quite remarkable. Alternatively it might be that “replacement” did not involve much more than adding the trail handles (visible in the picture above) and other accoutrements required for the old system for manhandling the guns, and recesses for stowing the ammunition coffret on the trail in transit. If so quite a few modified An XI carriages might well have survived until the disaster of 1812.

What did the post-An XI 12pdrs look like? These are referred to as “M1808” by DDS, but I think this system of classification (Original An XI = M1803, etc.) suggests more system and uniformity than there really was, as well as being a modern artefact. DDS carries a couple of pictures of later carriages. One is one of the Royal Armouries pieces, thought to have been captured at Waterloo; the other dates from 1821 and is at Les Invilades. The former has a distinctly turned up trail end, but otherwise looks very similar to the 1794 picture above. The 1821 one is not a complete picture – the trail ends are not shown – and I can’t even be certain it is different from the “1794” one in the first picture above. It may well be my imagination, but I think that both of these later carriages look a bit lighter than the older one, though.

I’m sure none of the original Gribeauval pieces were withdrawn after 1803. Many tubes from the 1790s or even earlier still survive. DDS count just 20 French made 12pdrs in service in 1807, so it would seem that the army had quite a reserve of old barrels, unused perhaps because of the shortage of horses. A number of An XI pieces were made and then subject to relatively minor modifications. Then a number of post An XI pieces were made, often remounting old tubes. Amongst the 58 captured French 12 pdrs brought to Moscow on the Tsar’s orders in 1813, the tube manufacture dates are 1767 to 1811, with only 15 post 1803. No doubt further tubes were cast in 1813 – but none has popped up in any of the publications that I have read. In fact no tubes later than the 1790s have – which makes judging the appearance of later castings difficult to judge.

Now for my models. I already had two AB 12pdr models. While being generally unenthusiastic about them, I haven’t rejected them. What I don’t like is the trail, which has quite a small gap between the cheeks and there is no splay. But from most angles they are quite reminiscent of the Royal Armouries Waterloo piece, without the turn-up at the trail end. One good feature of the AB models – which Battle Honours (also by Anthony Barton) also reflects – is that the elevating plate is in the right place, rather than being way below the barrel, which Blue Moon tends to get wrong. I wanted at least three more pieces though. I was put off BM by LittleArmies‘ review of their 12 pdr. The trail was 36mm long – 5/6mm too big, though it did have a nice uptick at the end, signifying a late war carriage.

But then I had a look at the BM French howitzer carriage. This is way too big for the howitzer itself  – my biggest disappointment with Blue Moon, and of which more later. But the carriage and wheels work as the basis for a 12pdr. It is a tad overscale, but tolerable – and better over than under for this piece. The carriage required a few modifications. The rear trunnion recesses had to be cut and filed out. The rear of the elevating mechanism had to be cut out, and an elevating plate (plastic card) put in. A transom (also plastic card) had to be added in between the trail cheeks. The barrels were supplied from stock (I think from old Series 2 Minifigs), though the trunnion slots were a bit deep and I filled them with a little plasticine. In the end I had something quite pleasing, which I think looks the part next to my other models, rather better than my AB piece.

Here are the three converted 12pdrs with AB Old Guard crew figures:

3 12pdrs

And here is a rear view of all five, with the two AB models to the right:

5 12pdrs

And finally a comparison between the AB and the conversion a bit closer up:

2 12pdrs

So how would I recommend readers get their own 12pdrs without going through the conversion palaver? Well I have said that the AB version is perfectly acceptable, and you can buy them singly at £2.40 each. My worry is that they do not look at their best next to Blue Moon 6pdrs, with their heavier and wider trails – and the BM 6pdr is nicer than the AB version (more of that later). The BM 12pdr might be worth trying if you don’t mind finding £12 for 6. The carriage is too long, but the other dimensions look OK. Better too big than too small for this one. You will not find anything suitable in Old Glory, Fantasin/Warmodelling or Battle Honours. All of these try putting a 12pdr tubes on an 8pdr carriage (though in the Warmodelling case, this isn’t too bad size-wise, it’s just rather vaguely modelled). As this is quite a widespread practice, buying this one on spec is not advisable. You might even attempt my conversion using the BM howitzer parts – but you will need to find some 12pdr barrels from somewhere.

And if you want to do the An XI 12pdr? You can get the barrel by filing down the central reinforcing rings from the Gribeauval version, but the carriage looks a tall order. The BM 12 pdr is the closest, though too long. Converting it would be hard work though. For me this is the one that got away – I would have liked one of these in my collection!

Next article: the 6pdr

 

French artillery in 1/100 Part 3: the 8pdr

Now on the the most well-known of Gribeauval’s designs: the 8pdr. According to the old wargamers’ beliefs, which are remarkably persistent, this was the main piece in use by the French throughout the wars. Every 15mm figure manufacturer has a go at this one.

The 8pdr seems to have been well liked by the artillery men that served it, who forgave its weight. One aspect of the weight was that a second set of trunnion recesseses was required, and the barrel (580kg) had to be moved between them each time the weapon was limbered or unlimbered. No doubt this was easy enough for a practised crew. The weapon had more hitting power than almost all its field opponents (usually 6pdrs – the British 9pdr was the exception, and this could match it). Perhaps that gave the crews a better sense of security in the counterbattery exchanges which were so much a feature of the wars.

But the weapon was less popular with the war ministry. The extra weight meant more expensive metal. A typical 6 pdr weighed just 400kg. And no doubt this discrepency applied all the way down the line: the cost of ammunition, and the number of horses and caissons need to shift things around. So in the An XI reforms of 1803 it was decided to phase the 8pdr out.

This meant that probably not all that many of them were manufactured. In the pre-Empire era the French were notoriously short of artillery. This persisted into the early Empire when several corps were kitted out with captured artillery, such as Austrian 6pdrs. And after that they were officially obsolete. So they would have missed out on the big manufacturing push in the early Empire period.

Still, they continued in use after 1803. No doubt the field units were reluctant to give them up, and the first priority was to replace the captured guns with the new 6pdrs. According to the orders of battle for the 1809 Austrian campaign, quite a few units were still equipped with 8pdrs. This included the horse artillery supporting the cuirassier divisions – showing that the piece’s weight was not too much of an obstacle even for use by the horse arm. By 1812, though, they were gone, except in Spain. There were none at Waterloo.

As with the 4pdr, though, they experienced a bit of an afterlife in the Pensinsula. This was partly because the Spanish had them, and it was convenient for the French to take these over. Some divisional batteries used them, but they were also used in a reserve artillery role, in place of the  12pdr. Nearly as many of them were at Vitoria as 4pdrs – though how many of them were actually in use, rather than left on the Park, is an open question. (As it happens I suspect that all, or almost all, of them were brought into action in that battle, mostly as reserve artillery, and the 12 pdrs were left in the Park).

That wasn’t the end of the story though. The post-Napoleonic regime brought them back for use in the horse artillery, and their use continued beyond 1827.

There are no photographs of surviving 8pdrs with original carriages – which means that probably none have survived. Oddly enough I haven’t even seen any detailed drawings either. There is a rather fine model in the French Army Museum, which gets a lot of pictures in the publications, though, so I suspect that detailed drawings do exist. A few barrels survive, including one in Britain’s National Armouries.

For my models I wanted just three of these, enough for the artillery-light Peninsula and revolutionary wars battles, and to play a role in any 1809 scenarios. I decided to assemble them from bits and pieces I had to hand, rather than buying them new. I took the carriage from my Old Glory pack. These are quite nice, at about the right scale. It is nicely detailed, and I find the proportions are pleasing to the eye. There’s a slight splay on the trail, which not all models attempt. A trail spike is moulded stowed on one side, which won’t be to everybody’s taste (the same is true for my Battle Honours 4pdrs). The main problem is that the elevating plate is too low for the firing position – though works perfectly well for the travelling position on the rear trunnion recesses.

The trouble with the OG models is that the wheels are too small (though at least they can be reused for the 4pdrs!), and the barrel doesn’t work. The wheels look quite nice – but I want to acheive the big-wheeled look in my models. Truth be told I’m not entirely sure which barrels came from which models with my old bits and pieces, but I’m not that impressed with the ones I think are from OG (nor the ones I know came with the OG Prussian pack). The three OG carriages I was using (with their original wheels) had barrels borrowed from (I think) BH 8 pdrs (where the carriage is not as nice). I took the wheels from the Blue Moon French howitzers. This pack was a major disappointment, of which more later, so sparing three pairs of wheels was not a difficulty.

As for the barrels, my BH ones would have done at a pinch, but they were a tad small. The main problem with them was that they did not look much different in size from the Blue Moon 6pdr barrels – and I needed them to look substantially bigger (while being clearly distinguishable from 12pdrs). I found one really nice barrel, though I don’t know where it came from (it might be a very underscale BH 12 pdr). The other two were, remarkably enough, taken from my series 2 Minifigs Austrian 6pdrs, which says something about the accuracy of those old ranges! I cut the rear portion of the elevating plate from from plastic card and glued it to underneath and the back of the barrel.

The overall result was quite pleasing. This picture shows the three with OG horse artillery crew figures on my old basing system. The two Minifigs barrels are closest to the camera:

8 pdr models 2

A rear view without the crews (on an uneven cloth!):

8 pdr models 3

And here next to my 12pdr, the latter with AB Guard foot crew figures:

8pdr12pdr models

How would I recommend readers model the 8pdr from scratch? No need to repeat my palaver. Based on LittleArmies‘ reviews, the Blue Moon 8pdr is probably perfectly good, if your budget can stretch a pack of 6 for £12 in the UK. AB also do an 8pdr, though I haven’t seen it and neither did LittleArmies. But I have seen their 6pdr and 12 pdr and a picture. It is likely to be nicely detailed, with the trails dead straight and a little narrow. But the wheels will be about the right size, and the elevating plate probably in the right place. And you can buy them one at a time (at £2.40 here in the UK). If you are using the 12pdr and 6pdr from AB (which I will post about in due course), then this may be the best choice.

As I have already said, I don’t like the BH 8pdr, even if it was readily availalble; the OG version has the problems I have mentioned, as well as being sold in packs with crew (though these should be usable, unlike the BH ones). Incidentally, LittleArmies has two different versions of the OG artillery, neither of which match mine, though he wasn’t entirely sure where his originated from. So there’s also a risk that what you get now does not match ones I had in my 1809 Horse artillery pack, bought before Timecast days. The Warmodelling/Fantassin models are really quite horrid, and I would avoid them. LittleArmies says the XAN version works well, though I would find the wide carriage a bit off-putting. I haven’t seen the Minifigs version, but they tend to be a bit small. There will be many others out there which I haven’t seen, of course.

Next article: the 12pdr

French Artillery in 1/100 Part 2: Gribeauval and the 4pdr

4pdrMy first item is the 4pdr Gribeauval gun. I’ll start with an introduction to the
Gribeauval system. Gribeauval was an officer who learnt much of his trade in the Austrian army, and who overhauled French artillery in the 1770s. His name has become practically synonymous with French artillery of the era.

Gribeauval instituted a whole system – this included artillery pieces, carriages, limbers and caissons, and standard methods for moving and handling the guns. This level of standardisation was revolutionary, and resisted at first. But it brought French artillery of era up to being the best in the world.

Gribeauval’s artillery had a number of characteristic features that gave them a distinctive appearance, when compared to other artillery of the time. They had big wheels, an elevating plate and screw underneath the barrel, the trail had a distinct kink and a curved end, the axles were metal rather than wood, and there were distinctive trail handles poking up from the middle of the trail brackets (part of the system of manoeuvring the piece). Apart from the elevating plate (not visible) and the trail handles (not present on this example), these are visible on the picture of a 4pdr above (captured by the Portuguese at Vitoria in 1813, and probably originally in Spanish service). Soft metal models, such as the miniatures I use, do not attempt to model the axle, which is rather thin, but otherwise all these features should be part of a model.

Three field artillery pieces were part of system: 4pdr, 8pdr and 12pdr. A 6in (or rather 6 pouce; pouce = thumb =inch – the French inch is distinctly bigger than the Imperial one now in use) howitzer is also associated with the system, but this was introduced in the 1790s, or perhaps slightly earlier. More on that later. The 4pdr was associated with horse artillery (or light artillery in French terminology).

But the lightness of the piece came at a cost in hitting power, and there was also a cost to not standardising ordnance across the light and field arms. In most field conditions it was perfectly possible to use the 8pdr in the horse artillery role, and this was frequently done. So the 4pdr was scheduled to be phased out by the time we reach the Imperial era, when a 6pdr was to replace both the 4pdr and 8pdr.

But it lived on in three contexts. First because it took time to replace it in early campaigns; there still quite a number used by horse batteries in the 1809 campaign against Austria, for example. Second, in Spain and Portugal the rougher terrain and type of fighting made it lightness more useful, and in any case they took over quite a few from the Spanish army, which had also adopted the Gribeauval system. It was the most often used calibre for divisional batteries, as well as horse batteries, there. More were in use at Vitoria as late as 1813, than any other calibre. And thirdly they were used as regimental artillery in the campaign against Russia in 1812.

I have quite often run Peninsula battles, and have an eye on the early Imperial ones, so I wanted quite a few of these: six in fact. I’m lucky though, because the Battle Honours “Light artillery” pieces are quite a good fit, and I’ve got lots of them. These may in fact be meant to be 6pdrs in a smaller scale (BH are generally smaller than 1/100), but no matter. The barrel is about right; the carriage is a bit long, but not by much. The wheels would do, but are a bit small  (they should be over, not under 13mm in diameter). As it happens I have plenty of wheels of the right size from BH 8pdrs or Old Glory artillery – I substituted the latter. Another nice thing about these models is that the elevating plate is high enough (just – the tube does point up a little). Sorted. Here are a couple of pictures of the end result, with an 8pdr for comparison. The crews are Old Glory horse artillery, and the basing is the old one. My miniatures photography skills need a bit of work too:

4pdr8pdr models 2

4pdr8pdr models 1

But for any readers who want to make 4pdrs from what is currently available, this is not a viable route. I bought my models when BH were a going concern and sold their artillery in packs of three, without crew. They then went out of business. Recently they resurfaced, sold by TimeCast in packs with crew. TimeCast have stopped selling them but OldGlory15s.com in the US still seem to. But I don’t know which pieces are in which pack. I would be guessing if I suggested the horse artillery had these! Besides the figures are a bit small and will probably be unusable (the Guard Horse artillery ones certainly are); the 8pdrs and 12 pdrs might provide a few usable parts but no more.

A better bet are Blue Moon. These are about the only manufacturer producing new models in this scale right now. The have an awkward practice of selling their artillery in packs of 6 for £12. But according to LittleArmies they are quite similar to the BH ones, only with wheels that are even smaller. You can choose to live with this, or you can try hunting for bigger wheels from somewhere. Mine were from Old Glory (French horse artillery – but Prussian foot artillery would do also). At least the crew figures are more usable than those from BH, though I generally prefer Blue Moon. A think the big-wheeled look is so part of the appearance of French artillery, that I would find the small wheel size very off-putting.

AB, the Rolls Royce of 15mm figures, don’t do a 4pdr. Old Glory provide standard 8pdr carriages with different barrels. Warmodelling do the same, though I haven’t bought their 4pdr (I have the 6, 8 and 12pdr and howitzer, to my great regret – they are pretty much unusable). Minifigs do a 4pdr, but I’m wary after trying their howitzer, which came out too small.  I can’t speak for anybody else.

Next article: the 8pdrs

French artillery in 1/100. Part 1 – setting the scene

Over the last months I have been overhauling and re-basing my French army. Apart from looking a bit tired I had two problems. First the infantry (all in 15/18mm scale, or 1/100) were based in one rank on a single base, one inch (25mm) wide and half an inch deep. I am moving to one inch squares, with the figures in two ranks of three. These look much better and are easier to handle. The deeper bases create a host of problems for game mechanics, especially in the grand tactical games that are my main focus, but I have decided to take those challenges on. The second change was artillery, where the bases are too deep (40mm for the most part – a shade over 1.5 inches). This was messing up limited tabletop space. So I am cramming them onto shallower bases (a bit wider if need be) with fewer crew figures.

The first task was rebasing my mainly 1809 Old Glory infantry, which are the backbone of the army. This involved some conversions (mainly head changes) to get the elite company poses looking consistent, and painting up skirmishers (which came from Blue Moon rather than OG). This is now done, bar finishing touches to the bases. That still leaves the Imperial Guard, which I will leave for later. The next task is the artillery, where I don’t just want to rebase, but I want to completely overhaul my rather inadequate models, to align them better with what is currently known about them, and allow later campaigns (especially Waterloo) to be depicted more faithfully.

I have been researching this for months. My aim is to have a complete range of models representing all the main field artillery types in use by the French, and substantial numbers of 6pdrs, which I currently lack.

You would think that for something  as basically factual as this, it would be not too hard to work out what these various pieces looked like. But in fact the information out there is mired in muddle and misinformation. When I started the hobby in the 1970s, all the English language literature suggested that the French operated the Gribeauval system with the use of 4pdr, 8pdr and 12pdr guns an 6in howitzers throughout the wars. In fact it turns out that from 1803 these weapons were being replaced by a new system, the An XI, instituted by Napoleon. By Waterloo most of the artillery were 6pdr guns and 24pdr howitzers (actually a bit lighter than the old “6in” ones). Unfortunately most 15mm figures ranges were cast when the old story was still current, and when good data on the newer pieces were scarce.

Two more recent publications have helped somewhat. The first, in 2003, was the Osprey booklet Napoleon’s Guns 1792-1815 (volume 1 is the relevant one) by René Chartrand (which I’ll call RC). Then came Napoleonic Artillery in 2007, Anthony and Paul Dawson and Stephen Summerfield (DDS). These are big advance, but I have found inaccuracies in each.

The truth is that there isn’t all that much good data out there. Few examples of the pieces survive with their original carriages – though more of the tubes do. There are some technical drawings – which exert a disproportionate influence over how the weapons are represented. There are also some official papers and some contemporary tables giving some measurements. This was before the age of precision manufacturing and machine based mass production.  Standardisation was the theory, but less so the practice. Carriages might be made without detailed drawings to work from, or the drawings might be lost. Changes might be improvised in the field without any clear records. That leaves plenty of gaps into which people must speculate.

I am not attempting accurate representations of the pieces – that is too much. My objective is similar to that of artists – to get something which is recognisable – and also I want the models to look more or less right next to each other.

And before I move on to the detail, I want to say a bit about my collection to date. I started building my 15mm armies in the 1980s, using early (series 2 I think) Minifigs. I didn’t take to their artillery, and I quickly replaced them with Battle Honours in the 1990s. But I didn’t particularly like these either (or the heavier pieces and howitzers anyway), so I brought in a few Old Glory and AB models. That leaves me with a lot of old bits from which to make my models – especially including a few Austrian and Prussian models that I have acquired along the way. In order to help readers without these resources, though, I will offer guidance on how to reproduce these from stuff that is currently available.

What I haven’t done, though, is gone on a spree of buying all the models that are available from the different manufacturers. I have made a few speculative buys of French and Prussian pieces (I am assembling a late Prussian army too – and their later pieces were quite similar to the French ones). I must particularly acknowledge a debt to fellow London blogger LittleArmies, whose review of 15mm models, including exchanges on TMP, has been of enormous value.

I must also acknowledge help from author Kevin Kiley, who helped me find a number of very useful drawings, supplying me with scans of a number of them. Plus a number of contributors to TMP – including Stephen Summerfield (of DDS) – who have taken the trouble to illuminate a number of details.

Next article: Gribeauval and the 4pdrs