Wednesday 7 September 2022

Basic Earthworks

I'd like to keep up a rhythm of something like weekly posts, so here's something simple I made earlier this year. These earthworks were made to a specific shape for a Franco Prussian war refight of the action at Villers Brettoneux in 1870, but the method will work for any shape or number of basic works, useable for games from the 16th to 19th centuries. 

Earth would be dug out and piled to a sloping profile behind the trench, usually supported, "revetted" by wicker panels, planking or gabions, ie earth-filled tubes of wickerwork. Most soldiers of those times were from an agricultural background and would be familiar with knocking up fences and so forth out of wicker. Short swords or sword-bayonets would be adequate for cutting the necessary shoots from bushes and trees nearby. The only other tools required were shovels for digging the earth. These might be supplied from the engineers' tool wagons, or given time could be collected from the local peasantry.

I wondered whether these earthworks would be wholly or partially covered in grass. Eventually they would, I'm sure, but how long that would take must have depended on the time of year and the weather. During a rainy spring or summer, greenery must have sprouted up within days, but this wouldn't happen during either dry weather or winter. I didn't have any pictorial reference for a partially grassed over look so decided to leave these ones bare. 

The materials used are just triangular-profile strips of blue foam, and Renedra wattle fencing panels glued to the rear. You could use white expanded polystyrene foam, although it's a bit delicate and a card base underneath would be a good idea. In this case I made the revetments with a slight forward slope, but that slowed the process, and isn't really necessary. The fronts are textured with PVA and household filler with sand chucked on top. Paint the earth a colour compatible with your terrain and figure bases. I went to town colouring the revetments, but a couple of drybrushes and a dark wash would give almost the same result. 

The troops defending the works below were painted by my friend Garry Broom. They are French second-line troops of 1870/71. Gardes Mobiles are seen in their usual blue and red, and there's an unusual unit of the Garde Nationale Mobilisee, the 1st Regiment of the Legion du Rhone, the "Defenders of Lyons" dressed in black with red piping. This unit fought respectably enough at a couple of actions, but the 2nd Regiment raised was a bit awful. There were even a 3rd and a 4th Regiments who didn't see combat. Which was perhaps just as well.



  1. Nice and simple John, but very effective, with the wattle fencing adding a lovely bit of detail to it. For mine I used a wooden plank effect as that was what was easily available for my 10mm figures. As for the grass on the slope, I've read that for more permanent fortifications, they were covered with turf as that helped anchor the earth in position (you could peg it down) and also made it slippery to try and climb up compared to bare earth.

  2. These look excellent John . I have just done the exact process you have shown here for some ECW defences , I made mine a little more ragged , as if they were made in a hurry so a little bit of the fence shows through in places. Mine do not look half as good as yours and Garry has done a great job bring those figures to life, they are full of character.

  3. Thanks, guys. Not sure if you're winding me up there, Kym! I keep politics well away from this blog, but suffice to say I am *not* a fan of unelected monarchs.

  4. haha sorry--it seemed I had to say something with my avatar such as it is on that day - but I agree toy soldiers should be a safe space where politics doesn't intrude.

  5. Too late Kym, you've got me going now! OK, in another life I was active in left-wing politics for many years and quite a senior elected trade union representative. I'm more proud of what I achieved in those spheres than in modelmaking, because it benefitted people in the real world. But that's a very different area of life to wargames. (There might be tiny connections I suppose: curiosity about how things work, a level of focus, an interest in history actually.)

    However, I've always had friends who have different opinions of the world. We all come to our views based on different experiences and circumstances. Thoughtful people may hold different opinions without any of us being either stupid or evil. That is a valuable lesson that having a non-political hobby teaches us. End of ramble.

    Back on planet modelmaking, the grand chateau has been built and paint is going on; I expect it to be finished in a couple of weeks. Before that I hope to post once or twice on other stuff.

  6. Excellent--looking forward to seeing the chateau soon. :)

    As for politics...I have always found it hard to classify myself. As a younger man I considered myself a socialist but I became disillusioned by the trade union movement which (in Australia) features some very corrupt unions. I would now probably consider myself to be a Tory-socialist or maybe a Tolkien-esque anarcho-conservative. I am a monarchist but I recognise that it is inherently ridiculous. My answer to that is that, for Australia anyway, it just works. If someone comes up with a better republican model I'll vote for it, but they haven't done so yet!

    1. Hopefully none of that is too offensive :) I think without going into it too much further we probably have similar views on many things, and I very much respect and admire your achievements in the union movement.

  7. Thanks, Kym, and you haven't said anything remotely offensive of course. You seem to have a bit of everything in your outlook! That's how most folks are though, I think. Only the minority who are seriously into one particular belief have anything like a consistent set of views. I think everyone would agree we are living in an ever stranger and more disturbing world now, so rational, open-minded thinking is what we need.

    Now I am tickled by a bit of pomp and ceremony as much as the next history fan, but the feudal flummery that is rammed down our throats in GB now, at a time of very serious problems, is wrong on so many levels. So GSTP, Kym! (God save the People.)

    And on this note, let us end our digression and get back to serious game-playing and toy-building!

  8. Hear hear. toy soldiers are much more interesting anyhow! :)