Monday 5 February 2024

The Defenders of Lorraine

Off to a rather slow start to 2024 here at Boadle Towers. I had finished two 1870 French line regiments and started to do a flag when I was brought to halt by some virus, bug, flu, Covid or whatever the heck it was. That knocked me out for about three weeks, so I've only just finished the flag (see below) and got round to photography. Even then I didn't quite summon the energy to properly compose shots of all the Lorraine village stuff being defended by the new French. That will have to wait, but in the meantime here's the figures and the flag. And a small offer, if my approach to doing the flags would be of help to anyone else doing 1870.

By the way, please note that my email address has changed, though the old one will still find me for the moment. The updated address is now on the profile page. 

Here's the 32nd Line marching boldly towards the invaders. France had some 102 line regiments dressed identically except for a too-small-to-read regimental number on the kepi band. The uniform (almost) reflects the french tricolour and in painting these I focussed on producing bright, clear colours. In particular when you paint the piping on the kepi it's possible to end up with something untidy and "muddy", which I was determined to avoid.

Another characteristic was the mountain of field kit which the French soldier carried piled up on his back. This approach had come about from campaigning victoriously around the world in the decades before 1870: from the Sahara to the Baltic, from Mexico to China. Every soldier carried the means to shelter himself and to cook his rations. The Prussians had never needed to give a thought to this, reckoning to just pile into the nearest barn, which actually worked better when campaigning in well-populated areas, which was the case in 1864, 1866 and 1870-71. The Perry figures show all the proper kit very nicely; it's just a little bit fiddly to paint. This unit has got a "cantiniere" from the metal command pack. The job of these ladies was to provide the soldiers with tots of brandy from the barrel they carried, although there are many tales of them helping the wounded under fire, bringing up ammunition and so forth. They were dressed in a feminised version of their regiment's uniform.

With the plastic figures of the two packs you can create units doing one of three things: marching, charging and firing line. Here the 77th are blazing away with their long-range "Chassepot" rifles. In the open, a firing line would mostly be prone at this time, but when there's a little bit of cover, such as the walls around a village, you would have seen the men both standing and kneeling. The poses in the plastic packs do allow a dynamic mix.

I mount my figures on what some would regard as unfashionably ( or unfeasibly) small bases: 45mm x 40mm for six figures. This is for two reasons. Firstly it's more realistic. Soldiers in close order throughout the 18th and 19th centuries formed up elbow to elbow, so less than two feet per file. At our scale, even the 15mm width I give them is quite loose, but many gamers use 20mm frontage, or even more with open areas on each base, never mind sabot bases and other whatever. Each to their own of course, but I try to avoid "overbasing" because it's unrealistic. Secondly, without going into the obvious arithmetic the smaller your bases for a given size of unit the larger area your tabletop represents, and I want to do big battles.

I planned to do a flag which could be printed off for multiple line units, so my method was to start with an image of an 1812-pattern flag, the pattern of which was broadly copied for the Second Empire colours. I scanned it into the PC, blew it up to almost A4 size, printed it off and then overpainted the whole thing to equate specifically to the 1853-pattern flag carried by the 32nd Regiment. (This flag was captured when Metz surrendered and photographed later on, so we can be certain of its historical appearance.) The colours are on the dark side and I used buff for where the gold will end up. So here's what that looked like (complete with my workings-out). Now there's a lot I could say about the slightly differing patterns of flag used by French line infantry in 1870, but I'll spare you. My approach was to do one single, 100% accurate flag and then just fudge the details for the other regiments. The size of script used for the list of battle honours (different for every single unit and not always even known) is such that when reduced they won't really be legible, hence will do for any unit!

The painted flag was then re-scanned and sized to suit 28mm figures, the colours brightened a bit and the flag copied to produce a printout sheet of six flags. I then painted metallic gold over the appropriate areas and wrapped the flag around the pole using dilute PVA. You want the flag to be sufficiently soaked to bend freely into soft folds, without actually falling apart. Once dry I highlight the areas of red, blue and white which would catch the light. Finally I give the whole thing a coat of PVA, partly for strength and partly because I figure the flags were of silk and would have a slight sheen to them. 

So that's my method of doing flags. If you think this printout might be of help to you in doing French line flags for 1870, please email me (note new address on profile page) and I will send it over as a Word document. You can then print off a set of flags to the size you prefer and finish them to your taste.

Saturday 23 December 2023

Last Bits of the Lorraine Villages

This is certainly going to be the last post here before Christmas, so I wish you all a very pleasant and peaceful Christmas! Since my last blog update I have done a couple of additions to the Lorraine village project. I did then start off to add a couple of further things (barricades and plants growing up the walls), but somehow the mojo took me elsewhere and I've been painting French 1870 infantry. One unit is done and the second is well under way, so I hope to manage a final post for 2023 showing the village units assembled and defended by their "rightful owners", the soldiers of France!

For your entertainment today we have a batch of small trees all based on pins, which will complement the village units, and some of the previously shown houses which have now had various forms of battle damage added to them. Here's the trees. I made a batch of twenty using my often-described methods. Twelve have a sort of dark olive-ey foliage which is what we see in the "Panorama of Rezonville", then there's four each in two brighter shades. A detail I spotted in the panorama was the trunk of one tree struck and shattered by a shell.

When I made the boundary walls there were lots of collapsed sections so I thought it would be more consistent to have some of the buildings also damaged by the hail of Prussian shellfire. I looked at the battle damage shown in paintings and had a think about what types of damage might be seen. I decided there were four effects to model: bullet strikes on the rendered walls, broken windows, shellholes in the walls and the same in the roofs.

The bullet strikes were made by bodging a sharp point through the walls, teasing out a bit of the plaster with the scalpel point and then re-doing the hole to keep it crisp. Finally a little bit of dark wash is painted into the upper part as shadow.

Broken windows were modelled by pushing the scalpel point carefully through the clear plastic glazing. First you aim for a star shape, then cut out a small section or two in the middle of the broken pane. 

I gave half a dozen of the existing houses a shellhole or two. I used pieces of the trusty Wills stonework sheets, carefully cutting out entire stones to produce a hole with irregular edges. Then a slightly larger hole is cut in the existing wall, which is thinned out from inside and the stone hole glued behind it. 

Finally I addressed the dramatically shattered sections of tiled roof, which we frequently see in the paintings. These were more challenging in modelmaking terms, so I only did a couple. It would be easy to just cut a hole in the tile sheet and insert a grid of woodwork, but I like to work out what would be going on in more detail. I researched how the roofs were constructed in Lorraine and worked from that, using styrene strip for the rafters. I carefully carved some whole tiles out of the same material and integrated them with the edges of the cast tile sheets. The idea is to reveal how the pan-tiling was constructed, with vertical rows of "unders", then the joints covered by vertical rows of "overs". When I painted the tiles I did the previously-covered parts in a lighter colour, presuming they would have escaped the smoke and grime which darkened the visible parts. This may have been over-thinking it! Nevertheless I am pleased with how these details have come out. 

Sunday 19 November 2023

Lorraine Village Boundaries

Here's the latest stage of the Lorraine villages project, which is finally nearing completion. But first:

Sixty Years of Wargaming

It's been dawning on me over recent weeks that it must now be just about sixty years ago when I had my first wargame with actual rules, at the age of eleven. I had played with toy soldiers since being little, but was getting to an age where I questioned why this Airfix soldier should be arbitrarily knocked down rather than the next one. (Some say I've always over-thought things.) Anyway at the end of the school holidays in 1963 my dad took me to see an exhibition in Manchester -we used to live in Sandbach, Cheshire. It was staged by the British Model Soldier Society and entitled "The Livery of War". After spending hours admiring the large figures in glass cabinets around the room we ended up in front of an American Civil War wargame, based on rules and dice. A card explained how it worked. 

Here was the answer. Excellent news, by having rules of this kind I could go on playing with little soldiers! My dad and I agreed we would make up some World War Two rules and have a game, the first of which must have taken place just about sixty years ago now. I had many epic games with my dad, first WWII, then Franco-Prussian funnily enough, then Napoleonics, and most things since those days. It's fair to say I didn't think this peculiar pastime would be keeping me out of mischief sixty years after I discovered it.

On reaching the 60th anniversary some would be announcing how they celebrated it by refighting Leipzig on a hundred foot square table. But actually I've hardly had a game in months, being too busy building scenery. One of the good things about wargaming actually, is you can pursue the parts of it you are enthused by, changing your focus as the next thing stirs you.  Another sixty years would just about give me chance to do all the things I want to do in this hobby, so fingers crossed.

Lorraine Village Boundaries

Here's all the bits of wall, fence and hedge I've made to enclose the buildings and village bases previously shown. There's forty-two sections altogether.

The hedge sections are like this. The usual rubberised horsehair and dyed granulated cork were used. I worked carefully to get a nice, open structure here, because solid blocks of hedge would only be appropriate for a well-manicured domestic boundary. The hedge sections are in two colours, slightly lighter and slightly darker, though this doesn't show too well on the photos.

Fences are occasionally seen in contemporary images of Lorraine. They seem to have been rough versions of the classic picket fence, and whitewashed from time to time. On this section I made a broken down, overgrown end to the fence.

Walls were the most common garden boundary in Lorraine, and here's a vignette from the Panorama de Rezonville, which shows the look I was after. As with the buildings they were made from rough stone rendered over, but here with an unusual triangular-section top.Note also the blotchy colour and the frequent collapsed sections.

This is my attempt to get the above look. The plan wall is just made from three thicknesses of mounting card, trimmed and filed to get the shape along the top. Both ends of every wall or fence section culminate in a broken down end, a gatepost, or the wall disappearing into a hedge.

A close-up of one collapsed section. I think some of these may have fallen down with age and others in the painting are meant to have been hit by shells. I used the Wills stonework sheets, backed with 2mm styrene sheet and then carved to give stone texture on both sides and at the ends. I made a pile of loose stones from the same materials, styrene strip and a few suitable-sized pebbles.

Sometimes the walls were topped with tiles, so I made some sections accordingly, using strips of ridge tiles left over from the buildings.

Here's an idea of how these sections are meant to be used, enclosing the village bases whilst leaving gaps to suggest gateways. There must have been some sort of gates there once, but the panorama just shows gaps, so I did the same. I think it's possible that troops bivouacing there the night before the battle had actually used them to fuel their camp fires!

This is how closely the boundary sections are designed to fit around the village bases. The outsides have various projections, but the insides are made clean of any interference.

Finally you see how the boundaries look when defended by infantry. The heights of the walls are about 20-22mm, which seems to fit "firing-line" units. In use, the figure bases would be on top of a village base, raising the figures up another couple of millimetres.

Of course there will be buildings in the final version of these village units. And trees, which in fact I've almost completed now. I may go back to a couple of the houses and add some damaged sections to wall and roof, and I am also tempted to make a couple of barricade sections, with carts and furniture piled up to block the road leading into a village. Both of these would look nice, but having spent most of 2023 on these villages I'm not sure it would be time optimally spent. Given that I may not actually have another sixty years of wargaming time to go. 

Wednesday 4 October 2023

Lorraine Village Bases

Despite a little side job of improving some laser-cut Wild West buildings, the Lorraine project lumbers onwards. I've now made a large batch of village bases, which you see below. These are based on pieces of felt and so are flexible, in the same way as the previous wood bases and road sections, so they go on hills and slopes. 

These pieces may not exactly look imposing on their own, but they are designed very carefully for my gaming needs. They're also exact to the groundscale of my rules (1" to 100 metres), and show in (only slightly simplified) form the actual ground areas of villages in Lorraine. Specifically they are based on the settlements which featured in the battle of Colombey-Nouilly in 1870. There were a lot of small villages on that battlefield, over twenty in fact, and this is common in many of the densely-populated areas where the FPW was fought.

This what the bases look like. Construction started with pieces of brown felt (thought the starting colour doesn't matter really), textured with thinned PVA and fine sand. Once dry they got a solid coat of dark brown and then two lighter drybrushes. Actually it's not strictly brown but something slightly grey-er;  camel colour, I would call it. This represents bare earth suitably, but needs to be brightened up with semi-random patches of static grass. In this case I didn't want the grass to be long or particularly standing up, as I want buildings and figure bases to sit flat on the village base. So the mega-grass applicator stayed on the shelf and the grass is just stuck on with slightly-thinned tacky glue, which holds a a denser coat of grass than standard PVA. I used quite short static grass, pile it on very thickly and press it down with my hand, then once dry brush it off with quite a stiff brush. Finally it's drybrushed yellow-green.  

This is close to the finished village look, though we still have freestanding sections of walling to come. Buildings and other bits and pieces will actually cover most of these bases. Larger bases will have several buildings on them, perhaps including a church or whatever. As well as the earth and grass texture, there are areas on the bases which suggest vegetables or flowers being cultivated. They are just spots of tacky glue, with my dyed granulated cork "leaf" material pressed onto them. 

Here's why I use felt for various terrain bases rather than somthing rigid. The felt will bend between your fingers so as to conform to hills and slopes. And it stays that shape until you bend it straight again when putting the terrain away at the end of a game. It is never going to break or anything.

Here's how these bases work in game terms. The Prussian regiment fits (near enough) onto the village base, so placed along the edge, "defending" it. The figure bases and village base integrate nicely. The house can just be moved back a bit so that we are still seeing a "village". But the felt base defines the footprint of the village in game terms. And because there are no fixed walls, etc, it's easy to place that wargames unit whose move places it part-way through a village area, even diagonally.

Here's the whole set of village bases, thirty-five in all. Because they are quite quick to make I thought I'd just do "plenty" rather than trying to work out exactly how many might be needed. Most of the village bases are quite small but some equate to the ground area of towns or the outskirts of a city. Of course bases can be placed adjacent, or even overlapped at a pinch, so any configuration should be possible.

Sunday 3 September 2023

Lorraine Tavern and Factory

Hello again! Here's the tavern and industrial building I made as part of the ongoing Lorraine 1870 project. The scratch-built tavern is based on the one in a well-known painting by De Neuville, for which see below. The artist showed one corner of this inn/ tavern/ pub in great detail, though no clue is available for the rest of the building. The kit-bashed factory on the other hand is a generic thing, which is very typical of nineteenth-century industrial buildings, but not specific to Lorraine, or even France necessarily. More details in the picture captions.

I am now all done with the buildings part of my Lorraine project and am busy making simple bases to group things on. I'll make a few sections of wall and fence, and perhaps some small trees to complete the villages. Then I will be very glad to turn my hand to painting some nice figures (Perry plastic French), because I've been a bit too long on this project. 

Despite some long-winded processes on terrain, rules and figures, my enthusiasm for this period has received a much-needed boost recently in the form of a tremendous series of books, "The Destruction of the Imperial Army" by my pal Grenville Bird, published by Helion. Grenville has spent years putting together official accounts and personal narratives into a clear, even-handed and fascinating history, focussing on the battles of the "Imperial Phase" of the war. It's really very good indeed, despite some technical errors and overcrowded maps. I've been pleased to plug this book a little by leaving a review on Helion's blog, the page and various Facebook groups. If you wanted to read what happened in the battles of the FPW, this is the place.

If you know the painting, I am hoping this will already be ringing some bells with you: the railed stairway, the cross of Lorraine tavern sign and the crumbling render. I had to use educated guesswork as to the parts of the building which aren't in the painting. A unique feature is that the basement level of the walls, and some of the window frames, are painted grey, but this paint has faded and peeled off to show the render, which in itself is crumbing. I think I've got the effect, more or less.

The image suggest some posters and notices pasted onto this wall, which adds a nice bit of colour and interest. I found advertisements and official notices from the French Second Empire period online, scaled them down, printed them off, pasted them on with thinned PVA and gave them a soft outline. Colourful posters and painted adverts became a notable feature of the French scene later on, but in 1870 "brands" hadn't really been invented, so it's signs for local entertainments ("grand velocipede race"!) plus imperial proclamations.  

The tavern is built with the local vernacular materials, but has a more symetrical layout, there being no need for agricultural spaces. A challenge with this model was to make the tavern sign and the iron railings resistant to the careless handling that a wargames model always gets. The sign is on quite a thick piece of styrene and hung on brass rod, which is very solidly rooted into the building. Hand painting that sign was the most frustrating piece of work I've done in a very long time! The curly parts  are from a plastic dolls house fence. I made the handrail uprights in styrene but every single one broke during the painting process. In the end I had to replace the them all with 1mm brass rod. This material is just about soft enough to be hammered flat at the ends and have holes carefully drilled through with a twist drill.

Here's what I ended up with for the rear of the building. A door into the cellar and windows which tie in with the layout of the building's front. 

And here's the original painting. It's called "Le Porteur de Depeches". The story it tells is that a French soldier has tried to sneak through the German lines at the siege of Metz in civilian clothes carrying messages. He's been caught and is being roughly searched in front of the hard-faced German staff taking refreshments outside the tavern. As a soldier captured in civilian clothes he can reliably expect to be shot. So the theme is the despatch-bearer's proud defiance. The cross emblem and title of the sign is allegorical: this is a calvary and the man is sacrificing his life, for France! 

I needed a factory-type building for an eventual refight of the Battle of Spicheren, fought in a quite  industrialised area of the Franco-German border. I remember reading something about the Stiring Wendel ironworks in a Donald Featherstone book back in the mid-1960's, and being intrigued by the paradox of soldiers in bright uniforms fighting over grimy factories. This structure started as a model railway kit by the firm of POLA.  

All the walls are extended downwards to give a credible door height,  using Wills styrene brick sheets. The brick pattern on them is significantly smaller than the kit, but carefully put together and painted the same it's not noticeable. I added doors at both ends of the building from my stock of resin parts. 

The roofing on the kit is mostly fish-scale tiles, which aren't the exact thing for Lorraine, but they were common in adjacent provinces and nicely sculpted, so I was happy to use them. The tiles on the little tower are the "stripey" kind, which is the most common right across France nowadays. They are known as "tuiles mechaniques" as they're factory-made. They'd just about started to appear in 1870 as it happens.

I did wonder if I'd "drowned" the carefully-painted brick- and tile-work in black washes, but it shows up okay, certainly under the bright photographic lights. I paint very dark "shadows" into any corners to add to the three-demensional impression.

And finally, Prussians of the 7th Grenadier Regiment storm past the factory to show the overall scale.

Friday 25 August 2023

Lorraine Cross and Village Pumps

I've now finished these village "bits" and also the tavern and industrial building that you may recall from a WIP post a little while ago. They are all photographed too, but I'm going to just show these bits for now because there would be more images than I like to post at one time. I'll do another with the buildings very shortly.

This village cross model was made out of styrene rod and sheet, the Jesus and other figures coming from a model railway set of calvaries and the like, produced by Faller. In this case I closely copied the original, which you see next. I quite like the shading on this cross, which is really sharp without being too cartoonish.

The original cross stood just north of the village of Rezonville and forms a centrepiece of the epic painting "Panorama de Rezonville" by Detaille and De Neuville. From which this fragmentary image is extracted. The mounted figures in this fragment are the staff of Marshal Conrobert. Sadly I have no French staff painted yet, so I've had to show the model with Prussian staff instead. I chose not to do the effect in the painting where the lower part of the cross is a darker, greyer colour, presumably to indicate the gathering shadow of early evening. I thought it would look a bit odd on a wargames model.

Also from the Panorama is this village pump and trough. Pumps mostly replaced wells in the nineteenth century, before giving way to piped water in the twentieth century, at least in developed parts of the world. Working the big handle up and down pumped water out of the ground and through the spout, to fill either buckets or the drinking trough for animals.

Without wanting to go too mad, I tried to get a water effect in the troughs. I used two thick layers of clear acrylic packaging covered in PVA, finished with gloss varnish. I think it's come out reasonably convincing. Remember it's only supposed to be a few inches deep, not some dark, deep pool.

Here's the original from the Panorama, an image which some of you may recall from the Detaille book on the French army published some 30 years ago now. I loved this scene and it's nice to model it after all these years. The figures, by the way, are Grenadiers of the Imperial Guard, who were defending the village by the end of the battle.

This second well is based on a French one of about 1850, shown nicely in a contemporary cartoon. Again the central column of the pump is wood with the working parts being iron. I guess the two iron strips fixed above the trough are to make a convenient spot to rest a bucket while you worked the pump. I got the original image from the Alamy image database, but their cunning programme stopped me showing it without paying Alamy £9.99, which I am too mean to do! The figures are Prussian Jaegers, form the North Star 1866 range.

Sunday 23 July 2023

Lorraine Churches Completed

The two churches forming part of the Lorraine FPW project are now complete. As both models are based on actual churches, I thought I'd show you photos from my research folder, so you can see how far they reflect the originals. And also how far they don't -because the often-discussed constraints of space and groundscale mean they have to be "condensed". So there are simplifications, volumes are reduced, three side windows become two, and the details are somewhat larger in proportion to the whole building. Nevertheless they do reflect the originals in style, colour and atmosphere.

The first original is the church in the village of St Privat, a key point in the epic battle of that name and the site of a famous painting by Alphonse de Neuville.  This photo is obviously taken immediately after the battle and is the only photographic record that's come down to us. I did find a very rough sketch taken from the other end of the building, but that's it for source material.Althought the famous churchyard wall and gate is still standing the church was demolished and a more elaborate replacement built in a different part of the village.

Photographed roughly from the same angle as the above shot, I am fairly happy with the way this evokes the original, subject to the constraints I mentioned. How did I know what the roof and spire were like, you may wonder. Well all the village churches in these parts had roofs of the same pantiles as the houses. There are a number of paintings of the battle which vaguely show the shape and materials of the spire, so I've gone by the one that is most accurate in other details.

These are very much the standard elements of the Lorraine village church, which don't vary as much as in other regions of France. I experimented with a new way of representing semi-exposed stonework, which as come out OK-ish, but not all that I was hoping for, so I'll experiment further in future. I've posed the model with a stand of Perrys chasseurs a pied, painted by Garry Broom.

The second church is inspired by the one at a place called Bremenil, which is nearby in Lorraine, although not specifically fought over in the FPW. What made me choose it was the nice, unusually-shaped spire. I nearly went with the the church of Rezonville instead, and one correspondent kindly sent me further images, but I just liked this one best. I had hoped to show the interesting way the main roof slopes down to the front, but the condensed proportions didn't allow this in the end.

This church is still standing, despite heavy damage in World War One, so it's easy to get modern images of the colours and details such as the door surround. As mentioned in a WIP post, I made the spire from the Redutex texture sheets, but I completely overpainted them in fact.

As with the Lorraine houses, the stonework and rendering varied within a certain range of colours. In the end I made the crosses on both churches out of 1mm brass sheet for robustness, sawn and filed to shape. The worst that tabletop accidents can do to a solid brass part is bend it or break it out, either of which can be quickly repaired.