Thursday, 18 June 2015

Waterloo (1970) the souvenir programme

Everyone else on the wargaming blogosphere seems to be celebrating the 200th anniversary of Waterloo today with quite a few posts featuring the poster for the 1970 film directed by Sergei Bondurchuk.  I wonder how many people will be watching it tonight?

I went to see it with my father, who was responsible for my interest in Napoleonic warfare, when it first came out, in Ashford cinema.

In those days, big films would have a souvenir programme you could buy at the cinema and my father bought me the one for Waterloo which, forty five years later, I still have.  

The brochure told the story of the battle illustrated with some wonderful stills from the film, together with a few pages of behind the scenes information.

I loved this booklet when I was younger and it encouraged me to collect Airfix Waterloo figures, even though I never painted any.  Actually, that wasn't quite true I did paint some in 1995 at about the time my daughter was born.  Her arrival left no time for painting soldiers and I didn't touch a paintbrush for five years.

Although there must be many people, like me, who kept this programme, there must be some younger fans of the film who haven't seen it, so I decided to scan it in its entirety today as my Waterloo commemoration.

I particularly appreciated the map of the battlefield, at a time when I didn't have any other books on Waterloo at all and I used this to lay out my 20mm recreation on the 7' by 7' board which I used to put on the dining table.  This had to be carefully covered with blankets to protect the surface of what was an expensive piece of furniture.  I had to remove the dining room chairs from the room completely, as they actually dated from before the battle itself!

There is much to find fault with in the film today: Such as all the troops wearing dress uniforms, the lack of any of Britain's allies in the arrayed forces, the very mountainous version of Belgium, some terrible dubbing of the multi-national cast and a miscast Rod Steiger's very mannered performance.  

There are other issues which I am acutely aware of too, such as the fact that the venue for the Duchess of Richmond's ball was far from the splendid building shown in the film and was more akin to a barn.  

However, the recreation of the buildings on the battlefield, Christopher Plummer's Wellington and the sheer number of extras make it a favourite.  In these days of CGI we will never see its like again.  

These days the battle scenes would be rendered in the now fashionable monochrome (see The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies) losing the effect of the uniforms, which for a young Legatus was the main appeal of the film.

Looking at shots like this makes you realise how futile it is to try to recreate the feel of Napoleonic battles with units of a couple of dozen figures.  At least my Charles Grant sized battalions of 48 in my Airfix days looked a bit better!

Waterloo really is a battle for small scale figures, much as I dislike their gnome -like proportions!  Maybe something for 15mm?  One day!

I had this shot as a poster on my wall for many years and even then noted the fact that all the troops were armed with bolt action rifles not muskets.  Tragic.

The first metal figures I was given by my father were some Hinchcliffe Imperial Guard but I remember being disappointed that they were in campaign dress.  This is what the Imperical Guard should look like!

For some reason I always got upset at this shot of the burning La Haye Sainte, probably because I spent so much time building and painting my Airfix model!

Even at the age of ten I was very struck by Virginia McKenna, as the Duchess of Richmond, and a couple of years ago I met her at a charity concert at the Yehudi Menuhin School, which is about two miles from where I live.  She was still a very elegant lady.

The only others of these souvenir brochures I had were the ones for Oliver and A Christmas Carol but I didn't bother to keep those, of course!

Anyway, this brochure is still something of a treasured possession and is carefully kept in one of my filing drawers.

Of course, the choice of what music to listen to when writing this post was easy.  One of the other positive things about the film was Nino Rota's evocative music.  Even on one hearing at the cinema I could remember the tune of what I later found out to be the French march La victoire est à nous.  It wasn't until the nineteen nineties that I came across the soundtrack CD in a record shop in Milan.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Not quite Quatre Bras at the Shed

Today, of course, is the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Quatre Bras and yesterday at the Shed we fought a celebratory re-enactment (sort of) using Black Powder and 10mm troops.  There were six of us, seven at one point, and we played for three hours.  I will let Eric describe the battle on his blog in due course.

My British command yesterday: light cavalry, artillery, 95th Rifles, two units of line infantry and some Highlanders

This was the first Napoleonic wargame I have played since 1974 and confirms my view that this is the period for big battle wargaming.  I have now come to realise that I will never be able to paint figures in 28mm for this period, sadly, as they just take too long.  My sole completed unit, the Dutch 27th Jaegers, took seven years to complete!  I don't usually like smaller scale figures but these 10mm ones looked splendid.  Sadly, some subsequent research has shown that no-one does a comprehensive range of Napoleonics in this scale.  There is always 18mm, of course, but I paint these the same way I paint 28mm figures so, apart from using less paint, the time constraints would be the same.  

The Quatre Bras crossroads.  I send my infantry forward to take possession of it right at the start

Quatre Bras is my favourite Napoleonic battle and I always thought it would be easier to replicate on the table top than Waterloo, so my acquisition of the Perry Dutch was supposed to be the first step towards this.  Eric's version was modified geographically somewhat and he had no Dutch (or Brunswickers) but the aim of the game was for either side to capture and hold the crossroads.  

My British infantry deploy at the crossroads while my light cavalry try to catch up

The Old Bat has no concept of history whatsoever and I was trying to explain the importance of the Battle of Waterloo to her today, but it was fairly hopeless.  "Why were the British fighting in Denmark anyway?" she asked, confused.  Her grasp of European geography is loose, to say the least. 

My immediate opposition emerges form the wood: The Imperial Guard!

This was the first time I had played Black Powder (we converted all the movement distances and firing ranges from inches to centimetres) and. as Eric noted, was akin to Warmaster, not surprisingly given its progenitor.  Personally, I found it odd having no casualty removal and I still can't get my head around stands but despite some oddities (allowing for some huge moves by cavalry, for example) it did actually work very well.

My old games in the seventies were played using the Charles Grant rules and Airfix plastics.  None of these were painted, so both sides were basically cream coloured, except the British light cavalry (reddish brown) and the British horse artillery (grey).  I also didn't base them, so if you bumped into the board they all fell over!  I never owned the French Imperial Guard which didn't come out until 1975 and by then my friends and I were only doing World War 2. We used the American War of Independence  British Grenadiers as a substitute. I had the Airfix Waterloo farm house and my friend Bean Kid had made a splendid Hougoumont from plans in Military Modelling, which I bought off him for £5.  

The thin red line prepares to see off Kellerman's heavy cavalry

For the game I, in the centre, had to hold the crossroads while Mark (on the right) and Alastair (on the left) had to stop the French reinforcements arriving.  The wings both saw quite a bit of manouevre while my infantry force basically stayed put in the centre.  My light cavalry milled around ineffectually until one regiment decided to charge the battery of guns which was pounding my infantry.  They were completely destroyed as a result but did take out one gun which, I think, relieved some pressure on my foot.

I still hold the crossroads at the end of the game

Despite being harried by heavy cavalry, which necessitated forming square and assaulted by French infantry and artillery forces from the left, centre and right, my stubborn British held on to hold the crossroads.  So, thanks again to Giles and a shed full of shedizens for another brilliant game.  

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Confederation of the Rhine: 6th Regiment, 2nd battalion Part 2

LtoR: Six companies of six: Waldeck Grenadiers, Waldeck fusiliers (campaign dress), Waldeck fusiliers (full dress), Reuss fusiliers (full dress), Reuss fusiliers (campaign dress) and Reuss fusiliers (campaign dress)

I now have all the figures for the 6th Regiment, 2nd Battalion as they were organised in Spain.  In the end I have foolishly gone for a 36 man unit rather than my originally intended 24 man unit.  This is mainly because my proposed action will feature relatively few units so I want the ability to break the battalion up into separate units.

I really needed six packs of regular troops and one pack of command but as I needed to buy another pack of command to get a suitable officer to lead the Waldeck grenadiers I used some of the sergeants and drummers to fill up the Reuss component, saving me the need to buy another Reuss fusilier pack.  

The Perry chart posits all the Reuss fusiliers wearing plumes in full dress but another source I read said that only the elite company wore plumes so I have the other two companies without plumes, apart from one figure left over from the pack and some command. Doing this saved me buying another pack which would have left me with more than a dozen figures left over.  Anyway, the unit was a bit of a hodgepodge so some slight irregularity in look won't be too bad.

I have made a good start on the Waldeck grenadiers (far left) and am actually enjoying painting them.  I'm just putting down base colours with no shading, so I can do that at night.  I got hardly any painting done last weekend as we had to prepare my parents in law's house for imminent flooding.  They were evacuated by the Royal Engineers on Monday.  the water's not in yet but I may have to go around there again this weekend.

Detail from one of the Peter Bunde plates

I also ordered the Peter Bunde uniform plates recommended on the Perry website.  Although quite expensive, they are really excellent and give lots of detail my other references do not provide.

So my next target is to finish the Waldeck grenadiers and then move left to right across the unit.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Confederation of the Rhine: 6th Regiment, 2nd battalion Part 1

Reuss Fusiliers

The piece below, from my main blog, kicks off my new Peninsular War project for the battle of La Bisbal.  I am so enthused by these new Perry Miniatures figures that I did something I hardly ever do these days and started them under artificial light last night.  With even just some of the base colours down I can see that they are going to be very striking.  While doing them I had a revelation about why my Napoleonic projects never progress.  I don't like painting French Infantry!  I don't know why!  I just don't.  Something of a fundamental issue for Napoleonics!  


My latest Perry Miniatures based and undercoated

I have always had a hankering to paint some units for the Peninsula War and, thanks to Sharpe, initially was looking at doing Talavera, which featured in both the book and the TV adaption Sharpe's Eagle.    Later I became interested in the battle of Barossa where Sergeant Patrick Masterson  of the 87th foot took the first French Eagle of the Napoleonic Wars for the British (and was promoted to ensign as a result).  Indeed, I actually started to paint quite a lot of 20mm plastic figures, so I could reenact this battle, about 15 years ago.  More recently, I bought quite a lot of Victrix plastics but just couldn't face putting them together. There were no instructions and I couldn't work out what pose they would eventually be in from looking at the parts.  I also didn't like the anatomy on them (particularly the French). I bought Sharp Practice thinking I might do some skirmishes but that never happened.

More recently, I finished my first full Napoleonic unit,the 27th Dutch Jaegers and started to paint some Perry Prussians, having now got over my fear of painting Napoleonics.  They were slow and tedious work but I wasn't frightened of them any more.  My biggest problem has been that I try to paint forces only for historical battles.  I can't bring myself to line up random units for a fictional encounter.  As Steve the Wargamer said in a recent post it's because I also come at wargaming through an interest in history.  Therefore trying to paint figures for a specific Napoleonic battle (even a small one) is patently insane when you are doing both sides.

Anyway, I was thinking about all this again when I saw the first of the Perry's Confederation of the Rhine figures.  Now I have always only ever been interested in the 100 Days and the Peninsula.  I dismissed all the people who bang on about Austerlitz, Lützen and Leipzig and wanted Austrian and Russian armies.  I had no interest in these parts of the Napoleonic Wars at all.  I have to confess that I didn't even know whose side the Confederation of the Rhine was on!  So I ignored the first Perry figures in this range.  Recently, however, they have brought out some troops for Reuss and Waldeck and I am lost!

For no reason I can logically explain I fell in love with the uniforms of these principalities because of my Blandford Military Uniforms of the World book by Preben Kannik.  I must have been given this book just a few years after it came out in 1967.  My favourite part of the book, when I was little, were the twenty pages of Napoleonic uniforms and my favourites of these were the Reuss and Waldeck uniforms.  They were not even the flashiest Napoleonic uniforms in the book but their striking blue and white colours appealed to me.  I even painted some of my Airfix French (the soldiers from the French artillery set with the big shakos) in the colours of Waldeck.   I never imagined that figures for these forces would ever be released in 28mm.  Once I saw them I knew I had to have them but what would I do with them?  Then I discovered that they fought in the Peninsula in a composite battalion.  I could have both the Reuss and Waldeck figures in the same unit: the 6th Confederation of the Rhine regiment.  The Perry Miniatures site even has a helpful organisation chart for the battalion in Spain.

So I will need six companies altogether in the French manner. One company of Waldeck grenadiers, two of Waldeck fusiliers and three companies of Reuss fusiliers.  I will aim at 6 companies of four to start with, with the option to expand to companies of six if I get along with them.  I need to buy a command pack and can include one figure in each company.

Even more interesting they fought in the battle of La Bisbal. It wasn't much of a battle and the outnumbered Confederation troops soon surrendered having been pinned down in a small castle in the town centre.  It all took place, however, in a part of Spain where I used to go on holiday when I was young. So names like Palamós and  Girona resonate with me.  The only source I can find on the battle mentions 2 battalions of the 6th Confederation of the Rhine and two battalions of the 5th, the figures for which the Perries also do.

The very promising looking Eagle Figures

For the Spanish it was in the period before they were issued with the British-made uniforms so would have been still resplendent in their bicornes. I have found a company I have never heard of before called Eagle Figures which does figures of a similar build to the Perry ones (the Front Rank ones are far too chunky, for example).  They even do a figure representing one of the Swiss regiments which was present at La Bisbal plus artillery and cavalry.  They only sell figures individually (no choice of poses but then the Perry ones are all in the marching position too - very old school) so I have ordered one to see what it looks like compared with the Perry ones.

One thing I have discovered as regards searching on the internet is that it pays to search in the language of, in this case, the location of the battle you are looking for, so I managed to find some pictures of a 200th anniversary reenactment of the battle which has given me at least one interpretation of the uniforms of the Spanish.  Fortunately, this does match with at least one written source I have found. Interestingly, the Spanish also had basically light blue and white uniforms ,so the two sides will compliment each other most artistically!  Having started off saying that I am not interested in fictional battles this one will be a slightly "what if" conflict given that a bunch of Germans holed up in a castle who surrender as soon as the Spanish started massing outside doesn't make for a very interesting wargame.  Anyway my wargames projects are all only really an excuse to paint figures.  The gaming bit almost never happens!

So, another Napoleonic project begins but I am very aware that the only unit of Napoleonics I have finished took seven years to complete!  Still, you're not a proper wargamer if you don't have some part-painted Napoleonics under way!

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Dutch 27th Jäger completed!

Well, I have finished my first Napoleonic unit: the Dutch 27th Jäger.  I chose this unit as they were pretty much the first allied unit engaged at Quatre Bras.

They hadn't been the 27th Jäger for very long when they fought in the Waterloo campaign.  Until January 1815 they were known as Bataillon Jäger number 6. The January 1815 re-organisation was the third in a year for the Dutch army as it re-established itself following independence being regained in 1813, after nearly twenty years of French domination.

On 15th June, the day before Quatre Bras, the unit had 739 NCOs and men and 23 officers.  Most of the men were Dutch although there were also 43 Germans, 26 Belgians and 15 men from other countries.  As with all Dutch units they followed the French organisation of six companies, including two flank companies..

The commander of the battalion at Waterloo was Luitenant-kolonel Jan Willem Grunebosch who had been appointed in April that year.  He was an experienced officer who has served in senior positions under both the Dutch and French regimes; having been either commander or number two of two Dutch line battalions before this.

Uniforms consisted of a British style jacket in green with yellow cuffs and collar and red turnbacks.  The shako plume was green and yellow over green for the flank companies (white for senior officers).  They had a blue British issue canteen but French hide packs.

The Netherlands army hadn't had time to issue standards to its troops by the time of the Waterloo campaign but several units went into battle with unofficial flags and the 27th seems to have been one of these.  The original of the orange flag depicted in my unit is now in the Royal Netherlands Arms and Army Museum in Delft and it seems quite likely that it was carried at Waterloo, as it wasn't a colour as such but a battalion flag.  

In the Waterloo campaign they formed part of the I Corps under the Prince of Orange's 2nd Netherlands Division commanded by Lt Gen Baron de Perponcher Sedlnitsky in Major General Count van Bylandt's 1st Brigade.  Once messages arrived that Napoleon had crossed the River Sambre into Belgium Perponcher, on his own initiative, ordered Bylandt to take part of his brigade to Quatre Bras where the 2nd Brigade was already concentrated.  The 27th were one of the first units on the road.

By the early morning of 16th June they were stretched out in a mile long picket line south of Quatre Bras and the Grand Pierrepoint farm.  Two companies actually skirmished forward driving some French infantry back. They took the brunt of the fire from the 22 French cannon that opened fire that afternoon.  They were then advanced upon by columns of French infantry, lancers and Chasseurs à cheval.  In order to avoid being cut off they retreated to Gemioncourt farm, firing constantly at the much greater numbers of Frenchmen.  During the ensuing attack on the farm (only the two flank company were actually inside the buildings) the 27th were caught by the 6e Chasseurs à cheval before they had time to form a square and suffered casualties of nearly one third. Luitenant-kolonel Jan Willem Grunebosch had his horse shot from under him and was so badly wounded by sabre cuts as he fought on foot that Captain de Crassier had to assume command of the battalion. The 547 survivors managed to regroup further north.  The flank companies of the 27th, together with several companies of the 5th Militia (the next Dutch unit I am going to paint!) held Gemioncourt farm long enough to help delay the French advance and give reinforcements under Wellington time to reach the battle.  Eventually they had to leave the French to the farm and were attacked by French cavalry as they withdrew but their job had been done. The 27th had been in action the whole day.

At Waterloo, Bylandt's brigade, which had taken a hammering at Quatre Bras, fought alongside Picton's men to drive off D'Erlon's massed columns.  They also took a lot of cannon fire at Waterloo early on when they were placed as a picket line in front of the British left flank and by the end of the two battles the 27th's losses were 44%.

Anyway, I am delighted to have finished my first unit for the small portions of Quatre Bras I intend to refight. Next it will have to be a French battalion!

Sunday, 11 November 2012

8 more Jaegers

I finished eight more Jaegers today including the commander of the unit at Quatre Bras and Waterloo, Luitenant-colonel WJ Grunebosch.  I now only need three to finish them so will zap off an order to the Perries today.  I can't believe I have nearly finished a Napoleonic unit!  On with the Prussians now!

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Dutch Jaegers - Progress

Here are my Dutch Jaegers to date and I have just started another seven figures.  Having decided to go with the Black Powder rules rather than Charles Grant's old school rules the unit size can be reduced from my originally proposed 36 figures to 24 figures (six companies of four).  In reality the 27th Jaegers had 800 men on the field which makes them bigger than most British battalions by about 1/3rd.  French battalions were even smaller but I am going to put them into regimental units; combing three small units of twelve into one 36 man unit which will keep the proportions about right.

I have all the flankers I need and just need to paint ten more centre company figures and give them a mounted Colonel.  I have just started the next seven figures so just need one more pack to finish them.