Monday, January 28, 2013

Observer Section: Part One ... Part Done

Deployed observation section for the western desert
 It sometimes seems to me that a model army for WWII is never finished. There's always something extra to add. Some time back I completed my RHA battery for the early war in the Western Desert. To be precise, they were intended as part of my Jock Column. As I wargame using Rapid Fire rules, no battery of guns is able to  engage in indirect fire without an observation crew - a good motivator to cover off on the more interesting units. As my battery of two guns required four 1/72nd scale Airfix 25pdr kits - two deployed guns and two towed - I had two Quad kits left over as I only previously required two vehicles to pull or park beside my different gun assemblies. How neat? I had just the kits I required for my observers.

The kits required some major conversion. I cut away most of the rear cabin and set about scrounging my bits and bobs collections to gather enough campaign detritus to identically fill the rear tray sections. I was careful to ensure that the models represented the same vehicle - one on the move and the other a deployed variant with the same equipment but moved and utilised in part. Luckily, most parts were to hand, including the radios which I fitted with aerials.

I used the usual Green Stuff to create tarpaulins and rolls, bound planks in wire and created a large box with balsa and more Green Stuff. The real creating came with the construction of the ladders- one in travel mounts and the other fixed and elevated behind the passenger compartment - both made of plastic card. In modelling the deployed observer, I only had one picture to go by which I have in my Osprey Campaign Series issue, Operation Compass.

A few assumptions about what I was looking at were made but the general idea is the vehicle deploys behind a ridge or in a depression - the vehicle hidden from view except the observer, ready for the get-away. Alternatively, the unit can be in the open desert looking from the extent of the horizon. When the model is complete, the deployed variant will have a support cable or chord from the ladder to the cabin, the chap with the coil will have an extension line running to the aerial, and the make-shift table will have a map on it. Anyway, there's a little touching up to do before I'm ready to undercoat and paint this lot as you can see but that won't be for some time. Nevertheless, I'm a lot closer to finishing them off than I have been for years - I've been wanting to build them for a long time.

On the move.

Crusader Miniatures Review: British 28mm SYW

Crusader Miniatures RFH003 British Grenadiers SYW
Crusader Miniatures

A relatively new range of miniatures sculpted by Mark Sims and disturbed through Nick Eyre’s Northstar Miniatures, Crusader Miniatures recently expanded the range of British infantry with the newly included grenadier pack (Code RFH003). Together with codes RFH001-2, these figures represent the best quality 28mm figures available for wargaming in the Seven Years War.

Product Availability, Sales and Service
Almost the only limitation in this range is just that – the limitations on castings to date. This range of British infantry come in a marching or standing shoulder-arms order only, for command, line and grenadiers. Presently in order to represent grenadier officers or NCOs with any real distinction requires figure conversion for anyone wishing to field larger battalion models with greater company definition.

Nick Eyre’s efficiency in sales and despatch is second to none and his website is well engineered making ordering and receipt a breeze. Nick is also an involved merchant, advertising regularly on forums such as TMP and also e-mails updates to the ranges he stocks together with a newsletter and through publication of Kevin Dallimore’s on-line ‘Northstar magazine’. In fact, whilst having purchased the line fusiliers and command packs previously it was my assumed necessity and intention to make my own grenadiers to accompany my Crusader battalion. Nick’s advertising meant that I was able to purchase the grenadiers almost immediately they were released – a great relief.

They are also competitively priced at GBP9.60 for a pack of eight figures (codes RFH001 & 3) and GBP5.40 for RFH002 (command) giving as unit price of 1.2 and 1.35 respectively; Messer’s Sims and Eyre proving yet again that quality is affordable.

CODE RFH0003 Grenadiers
Coming in the poses for standing shoulder-arms, the packs of eight (8) figures are sculpted a various attitudes with arms and heads at various positions and angles. This is very much in keeping with a trend championed by the Perry’s and one of which I heartily approve. The range of figure packs available does remain in its infancy – the same three packs are available in different nationalities including a much needed French grenadier pack. The proportions are very life-like and very much in the ‘modern’ camp of realism as opposed to traditional toy soldier style or the curious caricatures of the competing Foundry range. Good sculptors being in the demand that they are and with their own various interests, it remains to be seen whether Crusader Miniatures Seven Years War range attempts to become comprehensive with advancing poses, firing lines and the like. If it were to do so, I imagine they would form the nucleus of all Seven Years War miniature armies from that time forward.

Accuracy
Starting from the head down, Crusader Miniatures offers a well proportioned mitre cap with good broad front flap and head band for detailing. The face of the mitre is the more common smooth face leaving the detailing for the painter or a decal should anyone treat us to one in the future. The faces are identical throughout and have a set, determined demeanour and are very humanistic – unlike the doll-faced visage of the Front Rank figurines. The detailing of the uniform is superb with small but pronounced buttons on lace and gaiters to aid the painter. Whilst the mitre is piped as one would expect, the lace is not cast on cuff lining or coat other than the lapels. There is a lace line on the waistcoat.

As far as is possible, as I have come to expect, the uniform jacket as of a generic type with a short lapel, turn-backs and common cuff – not overly suited for regiments such as 35th foot with the fishbone lace. Any pocket design is obscured on these figures by the soldier’s equipment – standard cartridge box on the right hip and hide haversack on the left. The grenadiers are also sculpted with, curiously, what is presumably the 1742 or 1751 pattern hanger or infantry sword. I say curiously due to the habit and preference of grenadier’s to adopt basket hilted variety and a lack of regulation governing swords at his time in the British army. The muskets are plain with the slings detailed but not the receivers. It is the bayonets; however, which are to be admired. Beautifully proportioned requiring little filing but responding well to touching up, they are about as good looking as bayonets get – other manufacturers erring on a casting overly thick or too flimsy to last. The castings being of white metal, only the Elite Miniatures range with their pewter content compares to my mind.
Casting

The crispness of these figures was only to be expected given the recent release with rubber residue evident on two of eighty or so figures (all codes) which I purchased. Flash is evident in the normal locations: where the hanger meets the coat-tails; at the casting join on the under-side of the tricorns at the hair line (only some) but is in significant evidence about the hanger grip and hilt. For best results, I recommend hand-drilling through the guard and finishing off with a fine bladed scalpel which, whilst time consuming certainly provided for a well defined result. Whilst some hangers guards were incompletely cast, I was satisfied with them as a whole and those with a gap, were closed off easily enough. I also would stress that the handles and hilts are cast away from the body of the figures, enabling such attention to render a clean and fully developed representation which is often otherwise the case with other manufacturers.

British Infantry Sergeant (RFH002) decapitated for grenadier conversion
Conversion
I have made two conversions for my Crusader Miniatures figures which I am using for the single largest battalion in the field at Quebec – the 48th foot. As such, my battalion model with have ten grenadiers including an officer and sergeant for the company, positioned either end of the line. In order to make my NCO and officer, I have taken spare figures from the second line command pack I purchased and set about swapping heads. Consequently, my sergeant will be fusil armed but gesturing, requiring a spare grenadier head and additional cartridge (‘belly’) box (green stuff) where the line sergeant’s belt buckle is cast. The officer similarly required a new head and will be spontoon armed.

Converted Sergeant (left) and Officer (right) from RFH002

The necks are well defined on these figured without being goose-like and I was easily able to snip the heads off using my Stanley wire cutters. A little light filing afterwards and I was ready to drill the receiving holes in the head and body of the figures with my hand-drill – being sure to drill toward the back of the intended join where the spine would be. A drop of Selleys Araldite and the pins are set into the body of the figures first, then the heads glued on afterwards when the steel wire pins are trimmed to the right length.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Table-Top Battle Report: Protecting the Flank

Firstly, this battle report needs to be read in conjunction with the scenario "Protecting the Flank" written by me (Unlucky General) and play tested by Grant Astill and Matt 'Bluewillow' Williamson. See my previous posting. This game was played on a 6'x8' table using Black Powder rules and 28mm miniatures.
The Table-Top Battlefield
Matt took the role of the British Major Des Astor of the Light Division. In command of four (4) companies of Rifles with two squadrons of Light Dragoons and a battery of Royal Horse Artillery, his mission was to take or destroy the bridge over the Greco at the village of Burro. The initial attack was to be with Riflemen only: the horse and guns to follow after dawn.

It was to be an attack using the cover of darkness and he immediately discovered two rifle companies were separated during the night march on Burro and duly rolled to see where they would arrive. As it happened, one of the two companies ran into the main group upon entry but the other found itself stumbling about in the midst of a cow herd.
Initial Deployment
It was at this time that Matt rolled for the Staff Rating of Des Astor in accordance with the Black Powder rule set and perhaps all too predictably, he rolled poorly. With a rating of just six (6) Matt's Major Des Astor was to live up to his name; described in Black Powder as a 'Poor, an indecisive or reluctant commander prone to dithering.' An evil portent for the British.
Picket hidden by darkness and distance ... until sun-up.
The French, if they were there, were nowhere to be seen but Astor played it safe and moved at half speed (see STEALTH rule) to avoid detection. The company in the cow paddock advanced to the stone wall boundary but went no further. In fairness to Matt, he was unfamiliar with the Black Powder rules and as a wargaming gentleman of the first order, he refused to go back on decisions based on ignorance even when the opportunity was offered by the umpire (Unlucky General).

Before the second turn was up, the isolated company managed to DISTURB the cows and announce their presence to any waiting French - but none were sent to investigate. Worse still, the same company remained at the wall, continued to cause reactions amongst the nervous herd and were not to leave that position until well after sun rise. In spite of his orders, Astor seem paralysed and dithered until sunrise whereby he closed on the bridge and engaged whatever French he could see with rifle fire.

Sunrise - surprise!
Meanwhile, Grant has rolled for his Major Paul Tron who similarly earned his name with another role of six (6)! With both opposing commanders of such poor quality, the wargame was bound to become a comedy of errors.

Through a combination of unfortunate rolling, cautious decision making and a seeming aversion to risk what few troops he had, Astor failed to achieve the bridge before sun-up. Having formed an arc about the Villa end of the bridge, the Rifles appeared to be playing defensively and with full light restored at turn seven (7), everyone could see sentries on the bridge. At this point, fire poured out from the villa where another company of Voltigeurs had been waiting.

The alarm was thus raised and Grant rolled well for the guard to emerge from their billets the following turn. The initiative and element of surprise was certainly well and truly lost by Astor. Not only was he being faced off by superior numbers, but from behind buildings and the village stone walls which commanded the river from the French side. To make maters worse, the following turn (nine) Grant rolled well for the immediate appearance of supporting cavalry - a squadron of hussars which arrived by the church.

By this time, posted sentries on the hills about the church moved together with the hussars toward the river and forced a crossing down-stream from Burro; threatening the rear of the Rifles. The crossing was hard going; however, and at half speed. With a poor Staff Rating, Major Tron was unable to hurry even his cavalry - despite their Marauding ability of ignoring distance penalties for receiving orders, they either moved once per turn under own Initiative or Grant failed his command rolls.


When they finally did get across and behind the Rifles, it was already turn eleven (11) and Astor's Light Dragoons and artillery had arrived. Unlimbering immediately, they opened up on the Voltiguers in the villa and began taking a toll - eventually forcing it's abandonment. At the same time, Grant had rolled for more Hussars and they appeared behind the British front, on the left of their side of the table. Limited by his ongoing command restrictions, they too only made it one move before Matt in his turn rolled for the appearance of a squadron of KGL Hussars who appear immediately to the rear of the recently arrived French cavalry!
Dawn re-enforcements
Buoyed with new found confidence, Matt sent in the charge and a brisk melee took place as the French horse turn to face. Following some famously poor dice rolling, the KGL were off the table just as soon as they had appeared, with the French Hussars retiring to regroup with their comrades.

The Vistula Lancers appear on the British side of the Greco
 and French Hussars join after seeing off the KGL. But there
 are more Light Dragoons ahead.
Pretty much at the same time, on the other side of the battlefield, more French cavalry had arrived to force the extraction of the horse artillery and commitment of Astor's Light Dragoons. To cut a long story short, through the course of this 26 turn wargame, the balance hung for well over half of it, neither side giving much ground about the bridge. Relief squadrons from both sides appeared throughout the day and at all edges of the table, dashing about the place and skirmishing furiously with one another.

Curiously, there was only one instance where anyone's cavalry charged down on infantry and that was toward the end when Matt committed a squadron of Light Dragoons against a relieving company of Voltiguers who had crossed over the Bridge. Amazingly, they succeeded in fighting off the horsemen and kept their ground - stalwart fellows!

Sometime after midday (turn 16) Grant began dicing for the arrival of the French main column - none too successfully. Over the course of the following eight (8) turns, he only managed to get two battalions of foot (without skirmishers) and the General de Brigade down the road toward the bridge. The first battalion to arrived was checked almost immediately by the appearance of more KGL Hussars from out of the corn field behind Burro. Forming square, they eventually saw the cavalry off but had choked the road and caused a significant delay. The appearance of a further squadron of British Light Dragoons by the river on the French side made the approach to Burro far from certain for Grant.
The beginning of the end ... for Astor
Great things were expected with the arrival of the General de Brigade who has command of the infantry and any units from the main column. With the two existing and poor commanders, a man of real talent was capable of profoundly affecting this game using the Black Powder rules. Grant rolled, we all fixed our gaze on the turn of the fate as he scored, of all things, a five (5)! How could this be? It seems that le General HAD sent his best man to take the bridge after all as HE was even worse - a fool, "a feckless blustering imbecile, justly despised by his men and fellow officers alike."

Nevertheless, Grant had managed to march two infantry battalions toward his objective and it seems improbable that Matt could achieve his - the destruction of the bridge. Matt's Major Astor had only one more card to play - he knew that the bridge was heavily mined with powder and it appeared the French did not. It was agreed that there would be a chance, albeit a slim one, that a lucky shot from his gun might detonate the charge and blow the bridge sky-high.

The bridge over the Greco was an old stone structure but with a wooden deck. It was agreed that is he could hit it on a roll of six (6), then roll a further six (6) would set off the charge underneath. Looking back, I'm surprised none of us came up with the idea earlier. With so much enemy cavalry movement about; however, getting the gun into position was difficult and in the end Matt only got two shots off and neither of them successful.
Cavalry everywhere and time to move that gun. By days end, this
was all of the table-top left in British hands.
By dusk, the advance elements of the French column were at the village, the bridge was still in their possession and the British further from the Greco than they had been since the start of the game. With re-enforcements not due to arrive until later than night, the next day's battle would see the main British force having to fight their way out of one quatre of the table-top. I rather think Wellesley will elect to withdraw deeper into Portugal.

OBSERVATIONS

I think the scenario played out very well and all agreed it was enormous fun. It took us about six hours to play but might have cut that time down with greater familiarity with the Black Powder rules. Grant was of the opinion that whilst great fun, there was too much cavalry and a 2in6 chance for their appearance would have been better.

The British player needs to make best use of the dark and push hard for the bridge. Attacking from several different approaches at once and leaving the half-movement STEALTH advantage until getting closer to the bridge may have served Matt better. Even if observed and contacted, another company may avoid detection depending upon the sentry and patrolling patterns of the French player.

Black Powder firing and especially skirmisher firing can be devastating but in this game, in spite of everyone blasting away turn after turn, it wasn't until the afternoon turns that units began to break. The British need to take risks - do or die. Certainly, a better commander capable of pushing his troops harder would have had significant advantages. If rolling two or even three under a Command roll enables a unit so commanded to move two or three times per turn. At STEALTH movement rates, a good roll would enable the Rifles to move up to 18" over even ground. With a poor commander like Matt's Major Astor, this was next to impossible.

When DISTURBING cattle or pigs, it is prudent to remove the unit using cover of darkness. Matt failed to do this and Grant could have sent a company to investigate but Grant preferred not to leave the confines of the Villa or Bridge and had allowed for no patrols. Perhaps he was right to.

FINAL WORD

This was the first of four games we played this weekend (different era, scales and rules) before I'm posted overseas for a couple of years. It's going to be some time between games. Between the three of us we have a couple of thousand figures and play at a 1/20 representative scale in favour or big battalions.We could have set up for a massive bash but I have to say, this evolving skirmish 'pre-battle' was something different and great fun. Fighting with skirmishers and squadrons rather than regiments is dynamic and enjoyable.

Scenario: Peninsula Wargame

Protecting the Flank

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Project QUEBEC: 25% and recruiting


Project QUEBEC has reached the 25% mark with 146 figures completed out of my total of 422. To mark the occasion I've done what I'm sure many of you also do from time to time - get 'em out and behold them.

The first image is of a screen of light infantry (Dalling's Lights) in front and between the 38th to the right of shot and the Louisberg Grenadiers to the left. Holding the rear is Frasers 78th highlanders with a battery of two 6 pdrs on their immediate left.

This posting is all about incomplete projects as they are arrayed on a barely started piece of synthetic fur terrain for another project of mine (Project Lewes) so the images are a bit of a cheat - or is that cheek?


As you can see, the terrain doesn't match the figures basing but I hope when I get to sculpt the Plains of Abraham, the match will be near perfect. Anyway, it's all a bit of frivolous fun and the last chance I will have to do this in many months.

Quebec Project: Bragg's 28th Foot


Originally raised in 1694 by Sir John Gibson and known by his name, the regiment was numbered the 28th foot in 1742. By 1734 the regiment found itself under the Colonelcy of Phillip Bragg who presided over it for 25 years, whose leadership endured long afterwards through the regiment's first nick-name - 'The Old Bragg's'. The regiment had been in action at Fontenoy in 1745 where it suffered heavy losses, then was garrisoned in Ireland from 1749 to 1757.

Whilst originally an English regiment (Bristol) and having retained a core of seasoned troops by this campaign, the 28th had already served in Newfoundland, Spain and the Low Countries throughout it's 65 year history through the campaigns of the Nine Years War and the Wars of the Spanish and Austrian Successions. Like so many units of the British regular army, it would have arrived in Quebec as a polyglot force with a core of fighting Irishmen. Nevertheless, after having arrived in Canada in 1759 the regiment was held in reserve at the siege of Louisberg and formed part of its garrison.

The 28th was actively employed during the Quebec campaign, engaging skirmishers at Montmorency Falls and suffering losses at Beauport. On the day of battle on the Plains of Abraham, we are told that Wolfe led the counter-charge at the head of the regiment, although he fell whilst attached to the Louisberg Grenadiers. 
My first tricorne figures for Wolfe's army - Redoubt fusiliers at the ready
Colonel

Phillip Bragg himself was an active old soldier, having fought with the 1st Foot Guards at Blenheim (1704), holding a captaincy with them. Returning to Ireland some time around 1713. Achieving the post of Master of the Royal Hospital at Kilmainham (1732) Bragg was made Brigadier General and commanded in Flanders with Lord  Stair and was later promoted Lieutenant General in 1747 and from 1751 he continued to serve on the Staff. and he became Member of Parliament for Armagh. He died in 1759 of unrecorded causes but at 'an advanced age' in Ireland.
Striving for animation: Identical figures irregularly posed for an illusion of individuality
Lieutenant Colonel

Another Irish soldier and commander of the 28th in the field at Quebec was the then, Lieutenant-Colonel Hunt Walsh. Aged 39 at the time, Hunt Walsh attained his commission with the 28th and rose to Major by 1753 and purchased his Lieutenant Colonelcy of it in 1757. He survived the engagement at Quebec and went on to full Colonel by 1760, purchased Colonelcy of the 56th foot in 1766, Major General 1772, Lieutenant General '77 and General in 1793.He was also the Member for Maryborough between 1764 and 1776. He died in 1795 aged 70.

The usual two-deep formation at Quebec, my 38th foot of 32 figures
Modelling

As I may have mentioned previously with my Quebec build, the variance in the available Seven Years War figure ranges forces a collector to compromise. And I doubt if I will be forced to compromise as I have done so with my version of the 28th Foot.
References

Anyone attempting this unit will find very little pictorial evidence for it on-line. The essentials are nicely covered in the Project SYW website and it's link to the Fife and Drum - in fact both are essential. After these references, images get very thin on the ground, the Wikki page for the regiment being surprisingly incomplete. I had few pictures in any of my printed material but then, my collection is not that extensive either.

The Soldiers of Gloucester website has a number of prints and a handy search engine to help the visitor navigate through a rather extensive collection. The prints of the SYW are not necessarily from the period but include a few picture cards or prints by John Marsham composed around 1880.
Dotted lace representing diamonds and zig-zag stitching
Lace

The first and most obvious compromise needed is in the use of the castings themselves. None of the ranges known to me provide for double-lace cuffed coats and that's what the 28th foot wore in this period (see Marsham's grenadier above). So, whilst a bigger man than I might have elected to paint on the extra row of lace, I thought better off it. This may have been different if I worked in a scale any larger than 28mm.

The second compromise also related to the lace. The 28th had dark blue diamonds and zig-zag blue thread shot through the lace making for a particularly complex difference to their uniform. So, again ... how to represent this in 28mm? Well, with a finer brush, steadier eye and a magnifying lamp even more powerful than mine a younger and more skillful painter might have attempted all that detail to an exactitude but not me. Instead I opted to represent it by dotting the lace which I hope is a good approximation. I note that of the few examples of the 28th foot that I've found, figure painters have opted to rely on a plain white lace and I can't say as I blame them - it damn near sent me mad.
Probably about as good as I'm going to get with my material flags
Colours

For this battalion, I went for a newer, darker looking jack and have persisted with making cloth King's and Colonel's colours. I am satisfied with the process now of sketching the pattern on the cloth prior to folding them concertina style, wrapping them in cotton and soaking them in a PVA water solution for about an hour. Throughout the painting process, the cloth gradually unfolds (partially) and developed a ruffled, irregular kink and I think looks quite realistic.

Colonel's colour developed sharper creases for some reason
Anyway, I'll let the photos speak for themselves in all other respects. This is the fourth unit I have completed for Quebec not including the artillery but the first regular line regiment with the tricorne hats. Now well over the 100 mark, I'll move on next to the largest unit to push things along and also try my hand at figure sculpting for my brigadiers and Wolfe himself.
I have really enjoyed painting these Redoubt Miniatures