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

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