February 5th is the start of the Chinese new year, the Year of the Pig. That was also the year I was born in, which I maybe shouldn’t have mentioned since I may never hear the end of it! So that makes my age on my birthday later this year a multiple of 12, although my wife says I must only be 12 since I spend way too much time painting and playing with toy soldiers! Anyway, this seemed a good time to post about my Chinese Warlord armies from the 1920s (how about that for an obviously contrived link), particularly since they’ve never featured much on my blog so far.
Over Christmas I had a sort out with a few of my armies that I hadn’t looked at for a while, working out that I needed to add the odd figure and tidy up some of the bases on which some very old grass/flock powder had gone quite yellow. The first to be done were WW1 Germans, WW1 Austrians and 1920s Chinese Warlord armies and it’s the latter that I’m covering here.
I started building these armies not long after the Osprey Men-At-Arms book on Chinese Civil War armies was published (in the 90s). About the same time I wanted to do some WW1 Romanians and Bulgarians and reckoned that I could paint up figures that would do for more than one army. Romanians in grey-green uniforms and French helmets would pass for Chinese elite troops and Bulgarian “named regiment” infantry (i.e. units with names rather than just numbers) in grey-green and caps would pass for standard Chinese infantry. Problem was that no-one made WW1 Romanians or Bulgarians, or Chinese Warlord troops for that matter!
On that basis, I found that I could use Lancashire Games 20mm WW2 French as Romanians and almost any WW1 Russians as Bulgarians. So I got the first lots painted up and then gradually added extra figures over the years as I found more suitable ones. Finding out after a while that Bulgarian named regiments didn’t wear grey green just meant that the figures transferred to my Chinese armies permanently (although I had to replace them with troops in brown uniforms for my Bulgarians). As my Chinese forces grew, I opted to divide them into four categories, Northern, Central, Southern and irregular, introducing characteristic features in them all where possible. The weak central government in China in the 1920s meant that power was in the hands of provincial strongmen – the warlords!
My Central Chinese forces are shown in the photo above (which is not great, as the weather here’s been dull and I’ve had to resort to using flash photography indoors). Although the first Osprey book on the subject showed uniforms in a distinct grey-green, later books have tended to show less of a green shade, but I’ve tended to keep grey-green common with this army.
I’ve got three 10-man infantry battalions in caps or mixed headgear, and one battalion in steel helmets (the latter were a rarity in 1920s China).
Otherwise there’s only the commander and his bugler and a two-man Lewis gun team. Despite me referring to this lot as Central Chinese Forces, they could be used as any regular forces so I can add them to other armies fairly easily. Quite a few of these figures have had fresh static grass glued over the old yellowing stuff and look reasonable (I don’t think it’s worth re-varnishing them just for this change).
Shown above are my irregular troops, one of whom has been painted this year! There are various figures in amongst this lot, including some in plastic, with more than a few getting straw sun hats made from plasticard and milliput. Although there are only a couple of them above, the most useful figures by far are Britannia Miniatures (now Grubby Tanks) Viet Cong with rifles, since they can be used from the 1880s through to the 1970s without looking out of place.
I’ve got three 10-man units, but if you’re counting you’ll notice more figures. Having extra flag bearers lets me use them as Chinese Black Flag units fighting the French in Indo-China in the 1880s, and adding Chinese regular officers (in grey uniforms) makes them more suitable as 1920s militia or recruits. The artillery crew and gun are for 1880s Black Flags, as is the two-man HQ with flag (and I’ve just noticed that the kneeling gunner needs some new static grass on his base – oops). This lot could equally be pirates, bandits or villagers determined to defend themselves (after ransacking a local arsenal), so quite a flexible bunch.
My Northern troops are shown in the photo above. There are two 10-man infantry battalions, a cavalry squadron, a medium machine gun (MMG) team, a two-man HQ and a spare guy with a flag! Most are wearing winter uniforms and are WW2 Chinese by Stonewall Miniatures
These forces can be bulked out by Central and irregular forces as required, particularly since some of the spare officers for the latter wear the typical stiff Northern kepi. I’ve gone more for grey with these and they also form the basis for my first WW2 Chinese infantry battalion.
Shown above are my Southern troops. There are three ten-man battalions, although the troops dressed in lighter blue-grey are really Central troops who have joined the southern Kuomintang/Nationalists in their Northern Expedition to unite all of China. I’ve gone for more of a rag-tag look to the rest but kept khaki as the predominant colour since it was more commonly worn by Southern troops.
The Maxim MMG team are Britannia Miniatures Viet Cong but ideal for Southern warlord troops. I’d like to add another battalion to this force just to get some more khaki in amongst all the grey uniforms.
I’ve grouped the transport and heavy weapons in the (bit too dark) photo above, mainly because they can be parcelled out to almost all of the factions. The two Peking carts (rear row centre and right) are scratchbuilt (OK, the horses aren’t) and can do for any period. The ox cart is by Irregular Miniatures and the heavy mortar in the middle is an old Skytrex Russian WW2 120mm mortar – the Chinese were big users of mortars in all calibres, since they were easier to use and transport than artillery pieces.
The camel team carrying a mountain gun are by Stonewall Miniatures, although I added spoked wheels to cover the tyred wheels cast onto relevant camel. The 75mm Krupp mountain gun is by Liberation Miniatures (I think) and I also use it for my Balkan Wars/WW1 Bulgarians.
Gunners are a mixture of Irregular Miniatures WW1 Russians and the old Airfix WW1 Royal Horse Artillery figures, since Chinese gun crews are non-existant as far as models are concerned. I’ve also got a couple of Liberation Miniatures 20mm Oerlikon guns on tripods and I’ve added wheels to one of them for variation. I can also use WW1 French 75mm, British 18-pounder and Krupp 75mm field guns for the Chinese if I dig them out from some of my other boxes.
I also have armour for my Chinese, probably more than I should have! The armoured lorry (back row, middle vehicle) is just guesswork, but based on contemporary vehicles. The gun in the front plate can be changed from a machine gun to a 37mm gun and the whole body lifts off if I just want a conventional truck (the armoured body and turret are scratchbuilt, the truck underneath is resin). The Model T Ford patrol car (back row, extreme right) is a bit overscale but has character – the gunner can be moved to allow the gun to point forwards, backwards or to either side. It’s really WW1 Russian, but Chinese warlords employed significant numbers of White Russians in their armies after the Russian Civil War.
Manchurian-based forces used the ubiquitous Renault FT light tank (the lower vehicle in the picture above) and I’ve got two of them, one gun-armed and one with a machine gun. The camouflage scheme and markings are based on a Chinese FT shown in the old Osprey Vanguard book by Steve Zaloga. The upper vehicle in the picture is a French Schneider CA tank, reportedly used in China although no photographic evidence exists. I’ve got two other Schneiders for my WW1 French, so having a third in plain grey gives me the option of using it for my Chinese if I want to. It’s an Early War Miniatures resin model in a brown wash, but the camera flash has shown the shading/muckying as almost black.
A small number of Citroen-Kegresse armoured half-tracks were used by the Chinese (shown above right). Shapeways very recently brought out a 3-D printed model of this, but I had to resort to going for something that looked close enough when I built this one years ago. The model is an SHQ Miniatures Polish Wz34 armoured car with track units added from a French Renault UE tracked supply trailer and it’s not a bad representation. The other two vehicles are Carden-Lloyd machine gun carriers, used from the very late 1920s by the Nationalists – these are Early War Miniatures metal models, and I’ve added a Nationalist crew to the open-topped version.
So, those are my Chinese Warlord armies in their entirety! Apart from another Southern infantry battalion I’m not really planning on adding anything new to them (and, in fact the box they live in won’t take more than that). But it’s a new year after all, so things may change!