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The figures and models I play with

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