Marching On!

Have made good progress with figures lately, although some bits have been easier than others.  And although we’re now in May (already!) the figures included in this post qualify for the monthly painting challenge over at Ann’s Immaterium (aptly titled the Paint The Crap You Already Own challenge)!

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Following on from the Prussian artillery unit painted at the beginning of the month, my next unit has been some Franco-Prussian War marching Prussian infantry.  I thought that an extra infantry unit would be a good idea to ensure I’ve got enough to outnumber their French opponents, and a marching unit is a bit different from the others I’ve painted.

The down side was that nine of the ten figures are identical, and that tied in with something I’d read about over at the Comrade’s Wargames blog recently!  Since I thought painting them would drive me a bit mad (as if lock-down isn’t already contributing to that) I opted to paint one test figure to get the colours right, followed by three batches of three figures (also doing some bits on other things as well).  To cut a long story short, it all went wrong from the beginning!

As I mentioned when I described the Prussian artillery unit, the Prussians I painted in 2015 had a black wash applied for the shading, whereas current figures are just being painted with a shade coat first and a light layer over the top (my usual style).  Unfortunately, when I came to paint the greatcoat on the first figure, I realised I’d used too light a colour for the shading, so that there was little contrast between the colours.  Plan B was to therefore paint the highlight in a lighter colour.  Whereas it looks OK, it means the grey of the coats is too light, but I’ll have to live with that.  Prussian coats are described as black-grey, but most illustrations show them lighter anyway and I always err on the light side anyway to offset the small size of the figures.  Dress it up and justify it however I may, it means they’re basically wrong!

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The marching figures are all from the Emhar plastic 1:72 FPW Prussian infantry set and are nice figures.  Unlike the French infantry from the same manufacturer, the coats have less creases and folds in them and seem more realistic representations of heavier woollen coats.  The officer in the top picture was painted along with the marching troops (he’s a metal figure from Hagen Miniatures) but I’ve switched him for an older B&B Miniatures Prussian officer to take charge of the marching unit (he’s in the second picture, clearly showing his darker coat and shading)!

Originally I was just going to feature the above guys in this post but, since they’re not particularly interesting, I thought I’d add in the last figures to get painted in April for some variation (and a bit more colour).

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These are all 20mm B&B Miniatures FPW French – an HQ and a Mitrailleuse team.

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The HQ unit shows a French senior officer conferring with one of his aides, the latter consulting his map of Germany and wondering why he hasn’t got a map of France (that happened apparently – the French were expecting to invade Germany so issued maps accordingly, which didn’t serve them too well when things went the other way.  Conversely, the Prussians were well supplied with tourist maps of France).  These figures are, significantly for me, the last of what I would describe as “essential” figures I need to wargame the conflict.  The Mitrailleuse team, on the other hand, represent figures that are “desirable” i.e. nice to have for the variation, but not core troops.

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In French, mitrailleuse is the term used to describe a machine gun.  In English, Mitrailleuse is the name given to the first machine gun in French service in the Franco-Prussian War, the Reffye Mitrailleuse.  For some reason, manufacturers of wargames Mitrailleuse crew seem to always have them wearing the shako with plume, rather than the more common (and practical) kepi.  I’ve never found any references showing the shako actually being worn by artillery crews, although it was the prescribed headgear for the campaign.  Consequently, I’ve had to apply a bit of guesswork to the shako, since it could be worn with or without a cover.

The Mitrailleuse was developed in secret and only entered service shortly before war.  Consequently, its deployment and tactical use had not been thoroughly developed and it tended to be deployed in batteries as an artillery piece.  Although the Mitrailleuse was a contemporary of the Gatling gun, the operation of the two pieces was significantly different and I recently came across an excellent video on Youtube showing its operation (it’s only four minutes, but worth watching the whole thing).

A clever piece of Victorian era engineering!  I have a feeling that the B&B model more closely resembles the Montigny Mitrailleuse, a forerunner of the Reffye weapon according to Wikipedia, so another video seems appropriate (both use similar principles of operation).

Whichever one it is I’ve got, I’m happy with how the model’s turned out!  We’ll just not mention those Prussian infantry!

38 comments

  1. A particularly nice crop of new recruits to your pained forces here, John. 🙂

    Too bad that the great coat colors aren’t historically accurate, as you pointed out, but I wonder if like with other armies through time was there some variety based on what materials could be gotten or were the Prussians’ uniforms pretty much uniform throughout? (I have no idea but if anyone could pull off such a feat, it’d be the Prussians!)

    That was funny to read about the maps and not surprising. I wonder how many points of interest in History have turned on such things? A lot I bet.

    Interesting videos. I was struck by how all of these field pieces, including the gatling gun were limited by the fact they were fed by a magazine or clip of some sort and that got me to thinking about belt-fed machine guns. Found an interesting article that talks a little about the transition to the more lethal weapons of WWI, etc. The key bit in the article for me was:

    “The introduction of smokeless powder in the 1880s made it possible to convert the hand-cranked machine gun into a truly automatic weapon, primarily because smokeless powder’s even combustion made it possible to harness the recoil so as to work the bolt, expel the spent cartridge, and reload.”

    https://www.britannica.com/technology/machine-gun

    How were the field pieces used tactically? I’m just guessing but in my imagination I can see where they would have utility at breaking up formations but they seem like to my uneducated eye that they’d have limited use as an area suppression weapon unless deployed in large batteries with well drilled crews that could both reload their individual weapons quickly and work in concert with their fellows.

    Whatever the case, I like the pretty, colorful uniforms you painted and that guy looking at his map is priceless when you point out their map problems. In my mind I can see the frustrated, clueless look on his face while the guy with the glasses, who thinks he knows more than he does, keeps telling him contradictory things but with a steady, invariable mien of knowing exactly what he is talking about.

    A worthy addition to the April challenge forces and with all of the many, many entries it is going to be a large round up indeed!

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thanks Ann! 🙂 I’ve had to think about this a bit!

      The French tended to generally hold their artillery back, whereas the Prussians had learned the lesson of the war against Austria in 1866 and pushed it forward to soften up enemy positions before the infantry launched their assault (in the Franco-Prussian War there are numerous examples of Prussian gun batteries having to be withdrawn because of the casualties they’ve taken from small arms fire). So initially the French deployed Mitrailleuses in the same way and it wasn’t until they used some at shorter ranges that they became much more effective. Since this was the first war in which “machine guns” had been issued on a regular basis, there was no previous experience to learn from. I hope I’ve got this generally right!

      I’m not as sure about the smokeless powder reason given though, and I’d have a different take on this. Black powder rapidly builds up a deposit on a weapon, so it’s maybe no coincidence that early “machine guns” are multi-barrel weapons, since a single barrel weapon would foul up quickly at even a moderate rate of fire. With lower residue smokeless powders, it became more feasible to have single barrel weapons, since they could fire more rounds before needing cleaning. The change from black powder to smokeless powder also seems to be accompanied by the shift from large, multi-barrel “machine guns” on artillery carriages to single barrel weapons on lighter mounts. Finely-milled black powder would probably still work in an automatic weapon, but fouling would be the issue, not the rate of combustion of the powder. Early machine guns tended to use the blowback or recoil principle of operation so would probably still work, whereas the more widely used gas-operated weapons of today would suffer from gas ports fouling up too quickly. I’m not saying I’m right here, more just chucking in an alternative reason that fits in with the circumstances!

      Liked by 3 people

  2. p.s. I said “pained” for “painted” in the first sentence but perhaps with all of their map problems and so on perhaps the typo is serendipitous?

    Liked by 3 people

  3. They look great to me, John. 🙂 It’s funny how we stress of shades of colours whereas I think the reality for many armies and many eras was that colours were often subject to a wide variety of variation depending on clothing suppliers, fading, shortages, etc. I suppose though that we have an idea of how we want them to look and it disappoints when it doesn’t match up!

    Sometimes I very simply add a thin black wash over something like that and it dials down the shade a touch. You’d have to be careful around the white belts but it might be worth a try if it’s bugging you.

    I do like the way you do your colourful French figures. I painted a WWI-era mitrailleuse on a tripod with its bullets inserted on a long metal strip. This early ones do look like artillery at a distance.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks Marvin! 🙂 I’d thought about a thin black wash, but my success rate with the washes is lower than my success rate in getting colours right! Glad you like the French. The early multi-barrel machine guns all started out on artillery carriages and the similarity extends further with the Mitrailleuse models, since they mounted all of the individual barrels inside a bronze casing. Their general lack of success was because the French used them as conventional artillery pieces, deployed in batteries at long range.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Pete! 🙂 My plan is to have my troops ready for games in August, since that’s the 150th anniversary of the first actions of the war! Whether I’ll be able to get out of my house for any sort of game by then remains to be seen!

      Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks Dave! 🙂 I tend to think of movement bases as a necessary evil, but they’re practical and they really speed the game up! I’ve cheated a bit with rules, in that I use the infantry bases one way on for column formation and turned through 90 degrees for lines (maybe 5×3 would have been better).

      Liked by 3 people

  4. Typically I make a point of looking at the pictures and then go back to reading the narrative. As a consequence I looked at the men in grey and thought, wow they look very nice only to read of your disappointment in terms of accuracy. Well I still think they look great and if it were me I would question the accuracy of the literature you have been reading instead . 😊

    Liked by 5 people

  5. Great work John on all your figures, if you ever need to darken a colour down, you can always do a glaze of a darker colour to achieve this, it will also help blend transitional colours

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thanks Dave! 🙂 With hindsight, I maybe should have at least have given it a try after painting the first figure – Nuln Oil might have worked. Part of the problem was that I painted them backwards, with the coat actually being the last thing done!

      Liked by 4 people

  6. Really nice post John, and I did enjoy the mitrailleuse video. Interesting design, and almost similar to a daVinci design, no?

    I did like your Prussian’s color as gray as it was. On the tabletop it must be quite striking, and as for uniform poses – how Prussian indeed!

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thanks Mark! 🙂 I thought the videos were really good, very clear explanations of how the weapons work, and maybe inspired by da Vinci! I’ll be honest, the lighter grey does look better and it’s nice to have a differently posed unit!

      Liked by 3 people

  7. Damn the volume on that video!
    Anyway, what I wanted to say was that I love the crispness that you’ve achieved on the grey greatcoats on that unit of marching Prussians! Even as duplicated monopose models they absoilutely look the part of a well-ordered squad striding forward together. Great work!

    Liked by 4 people

  8. Once again John a lovely turned out bunch of soldiers. As long as it is grey does it matter whether its lighter or darker than the original, as with the french napoleonic period cloth was scarce as war raged on so a mish mash set of battle uniform became the norm. Try a dark wash over one of them, if it looks ok do them all, if not you only got one to paint over.

    Liked by 2 people

        • I use Vallejo Model Color now for nearly all my figures, apart from the odd colour that I’ve used historically. After it’s properly dried for a day it’s usually quite matt (although the metallics remain shiny). But I varnish everything currently with Humbrol enamel matt varnish spray, which usually come out very matt! There is a risk with enamel varnish that it will yellow with age, but I’m very wary that a lot of acrylic spray matt varnishes go frosty after drying and ruin figures, so I’ve given up with them. Vallejo do a matt varnish bottle and it goes on well, but still dries with a slight sheen.

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          • i am currently using citadel paint, only got a couple of vallejo ones, i do have matt varnish however so i will try that out, got a french post coming out soon, i will use it on them..

            Liked by 1 person

          • I’ll be honest with you, I’ve only tried a couple of GW/Citadel paints (usually metallics), mainly because the names they use mean absolutely nothing to me! I’ve been quite happy with Vallejo paints. I also use Humbrol acrylics in some cases, usually in place of the enamels I would have traditionally used, but Humbrol acrylics are a bit thicker than Vallejo paints. In some cases, Vallejo colours are close to or match Humbrol colours, in which case I’d opt for Vallejo.

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  9. The Prussians look awesome and I didn’t realize the Germanic countries used those helmets that far back. WWI is one of my favorite eras in history and I know the Germans wore those hats briefly at the start of the war and French and possibly the English, found that the spikes helped guide their shots if you know what I mean. The Germans wisely ditched the helmets once they realized it! Thanks for the follow and I look forward to seeing more awesome historical minis 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Kuribo, I appreciate that! In the early phases of WW1 the Germans basically wore the same helmets but with a cloth cover and you’re right, they realised it made them more conspicuous in the trenches so they unscrewed the spikes, before finally adopting steel helmets in 1916. And I’m looking forward to following more of your posts! 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  10. Well mate in regards to the coats they look really great even if historically wrong but when I paint my figures I like to paint them as I feel they look better and turn a blind eye to there real colour . Like when I paint my Napoleonic British jackets, I know they should be brick red or have even been faded to varying shades of pink but I still paint them scarlet!
    The video was a bit of a bonus, really well done I have always wondered how they worked and now I know ,thanks John.

    Liked by 1 person

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