Friday 28 February 2020

Still limping on the long road home from Moscow

For Napoleon's Grand Armee, the humiliating retreat from the Russian capital is about to turn in a nightmare of epic proportions. 

While the muffled boom from the Russian guns, harrying the rearguard, drifts across the endless plain, the Cossacks look for any opportunity to pick off stragglers or fall on unescorted wagons.

The Cossacks attack in waves but are easily held off by formed up bodies of infantry, or scattered when they come under artillery fire.  An unfortunate salvo from the rearguard falls near the wagons and sees a unit of Cossacks driven off by friendly fire!

The Bavarians trudge on, shadowed by the menacing Cossacks, they know their only hope of salvation is to stick together.  Ahead of them in the right foreground the Russian main army is approaching from the flank and has set up a Grand Battery to ward off any attempt by the French to rescue their supply train and come to the aid of the rearguard.

Unprotected wagons are easy prey for the Cossacks, who suddenly appear like ghosts out of the swirling snow fluries.

………and never miss an opportunity for plunder.

The Russian main army makes it's appearance on the field...….

While the Grand Battery prepares to face the French relief force, which has now been spotted racing to save the supply column.

The column escort has now splintered into isolated pockets of resistance which are systematically picked off one by one

A unit of Saxon infantry, allied to the French, take shelter in the ruins of an abandoned monastery.

The Cossacks continue to plunder the column.

Nearing the end of the game, the French rearguard, seriously depleted, stood it's ground heroically just as it did in 1812.  While the Emperor and his staff, in a moment of distraction, fell prisoner to a passing Cossack patrol, okay that didn't happen in 1812 (but it could have!).

And suddenly it was all over!  Time to pack away all the toys and sit down for tea.

The rules used for the game were a Napoleonic variant of Funny Little Wars which are as yet unpublished and are here being playtested.  One new development is the use of polystyrene foam balls impaled on a matchstick (shown here in the centre foreground) so they can be fired from a cannon, this makes their flight rather erratic but it also makes it much easier to see what has been hit.  The figures were drawn from too many sources to list, and included many conversions, but most sharp eyed readers will be able to guess their origin (and if you're really stumped you can always ask!)

Saturday 22 February 2020

Limping back from Moscow

Somewhere in the deep expanse of Russia the Grande Armee of Napoleon I has begun the long march back to it's homeland.  A successful invasion had seen the most glittering army ever assembled in history, chase an elusive foe all the way to the gates of Moscow.  But then the snow began to fall........
A French column is strung out on the march struggling through the drifts and eddies of snow, danger on every side form wolves, partisans and the dreaded Cossacks.  The slow lumbering wagons must be protected at all costs, they contain the food and ammunition essential to the survival of the army, not to mention all the loot plundered from the city.

Much of the Armee is composed of foreign contingents pressed into the service of the Emperor, here the Bavarians show good order as they trudge through the endless bleak landscape.

A French rearguard screens the column from the pursuing Russians, led by the redoubtable Marshal Ney, who is seen here on the left, conferring with Marshal LaSalle (quite amazing really, seeing as the later had been dead for three years by 1812, but history is a minor inconvenience when it comes to playing with 54mm toy soldiers!)

The well supplied, hardy Russian infantry catch up with the column and start to exert pressure on the rearguard.

The Russians throw themselves at the French oblivious to casualties, buoyed up with vodka and inflamed with patriotic zeal.

The French rearguard fall back steadily, contesting every inch of ground, selflessly sacrificing themselves to buy time for the rest of the army.

The column marches on but now stragglers are falling by the wayside with every turn.

The Corsican ogre watches in dismay as his grand ambitions begin to unravel and his army starts to  rapidly disintegrate.

Lurking in the shadows and on the flanks are the ever present and watchful Cossacks!

It was originally going to be a quick game put together at short notice between a couple of players, but such is the enthusiasm of the Funny Little Wars aficionados that it quickly escalated to seven players pitching in a few hundred figures on a thirty foot snowscape.

Well what else are you going to do on a wet, windy Monday afternoon in London?

Sunday 16 February 2020

TAG Cossacks

I'm about to embark on a new project which involves painting up a load of Cossacks, happily there are lots of figures available thanks to the current Russian manufacturer Engineer Basevitch who has included several in his many excellent and unusual sets.  The problem is that I want them to be a generic unit that can be used from 1800 through to 1930, so what colour do I paint the tunics?  When in doubt I always look at what the toy manufacturers have done in the past, not always historically accurate, but good enough for me and with that in mind I dug out my old composition Cossacks made by TAG.

The figures I'll be painting are all wearing the distinctive cherkesska tunic with sown in cartridge pockets like these above.  The first two figures here are TAG and I assumed the third one was too when I bought it, but when I put them all together I see it's very different, obviously shorter with finer detail and made from white plaster, it's very TAG in style so it could be a later improved line of production but I'm just speculating here.

I've never been entirely sure what this thing hanging on their back is meant to be but I assume it's meant to be a traditional bashlik hood.  I'm not sure this exercise is helping with my uniform colour quandry!

While I had the Cossacks out I thought I might as well photograph the rest of my TAG figures,  These are curious creatures, made in England after WW2, but beyond that nobody seems to know much about them or who made them, the only clue being the large "dogtag" they wear tied around the neck which proclaims them to be "A TAG Educational Toy".  From left above are 2 Royal Armoured Corps, a paratrooper and an infantryman.  I've always been curious, on what basis TAG could claim these to be educational?

Mostly they're made from a green/grey composition material very similar to Milliput which put me in mind of the gunk people used back in the old days to repair the rusted patches and rotted wheel arches on their car.  Other materials such as plaster are also used.  I think the MP in white helmet is just an ordinary infantryman who has been embellished by a previous owner, I'm not the culprit on this occasion but I have to admit to ruining many a good toy soldier with dodgy painting in my schooldays.  The center figure is a British Military Police "Redcap" (factory painted) followed by two rather robust Guardsmen.

The reverse side of the "dogtag" gives unit information.  I wouldn't normally bother showing a back view but on this occasion I was quite taken with the detailing of the parachute harness and sten gun slung on the MP, it shows a modicum of research and modelling on what are otherwise very crude toys.  I've never consciously collected TAG figures, I don't really like them and I'm not even sure how I came to have these.  I guess you just acquire the odd figure here and there then before you know it a collection has quietly crept up on you.

Monday 10 February 2020

Milliput or Green Stuff?

For several decades now I have been happily converting toy soldiers using the two part modelling compound known to all as Milliput, which does have it's limitations and sometimes causes a bit of skin irritation.  In the meantime, the rest of the world seems to have passed me by and moved on to using a similar product known as Green Stuff.  Not wanting to miss out, I wandered down to Games Workshop to see what all the fuss was about and bought some.

I spent much of last year basing and painting up just about every Viking, Saxon and Norman figure that I could find, so in order to get a bit of variety I started combing through the junk boxes at toy soldier shows looking for damaged figures to repair and anything that might be easily converted without too much effort.  My first attempt with Green Stuff was just adding beards and extra hair, nothing too ambitious!

In The Works (a UK book, toy and craft shop) I found some rather useful little wooden disks, they come in three sizes, the middle one is perfect for circular shields on 54mm toy soldiers, while the small one is good for bucklers etc and the largest I will use as an alternative to metal washers for bases.  The same store also provided "Pearl Stickers" I'm not sure what you are supposed to do with these but they are little half domes of plastic, sticky on the flat side, and perfect for making shield bosses.

The look I was going for was a sort of generic Hiberno, Celtic, Pictish barbarian look.  The first two above started life as Indians in the Jean Hoefler (German) Wild West series, with feathers and trouser fringes trimmed off, then facial hair, shields and suitable weaponry added, the monk was a Hoefler nativity figure of Joseph who has had a crucifix on a pole added.  Finally, a Cherilea (UK) Saxon, who had lost his spear has been rearmed then given a shield and painted up as a "Wild Irish" noble.  

Another wild west Indian, this time by Cherilea, brandishes a new sword while hurling insults at the enemy.  A Cherilea Saxon archer who had lost his bow is now throwing a dart, a peculiarly Irish weapon of the time, the scar from the quiver trimmed off his back has been hidden under a shield which is hung on a strap cut from metal foil.  Next a REAMSA (Spanish) Viking is unaltered, just painted up to join the Irish warband.  The last figure is from a recent wild west set made in China, I think sold under the brand name Supreme, the rest of the range are really rather poor but I quite liked the pose of this one thrusting with a spear.

Three more recruits for the Irish warband, a Hong Kong copy of a Marx (USA) Viking has been given a long handled axe, another REAMSA Viking just given a paint job and a Beja Tribesman made by Armies in Plastic (USA) who is suitably barefoot and ragged to look the part.

Getting back to the Green Stuff, I found it easy to mix and easy to apply but it hardens much faster than Milliput so you have to work fairly quickly, I wasn't expecting that and I don't see how some modellers on other blogs can do such extensive and intricate work using it. I guess it's a bit of a learning curve but on balance I think I still prefer the Milliput.

This lot would never win any prizes in a modelling competition (not that I go in for that sort of thing) but I think I'll get away with it when they're all mixed into a horde on the wargame table.  At the end of the day it's all just a bit of fun...……..isn't it?

Sunday 2 February 2020

One Hour Wargames in the Dark Ages

With the Christmas break a distant memory it was time to get the new gaming season off to a start, and as Anthony had recently acquired a collection of Saxon and Viking toy soldiers made by Expeditionary Force of Singapore we had to give them an airing.  Here's how it went:

We chose to play Fighting Retreat, (scenario 20) from One Hour Wargames by Neil Thomas, which sees a small Viking warband falling back while delaying a larger force of pursuing Saxons, thus allowing the main body of raiders to escape to their longships laden with the plunder.

Above, the raiders have crossed the river and their skirmishers have occupied the woods ready to surprise the Saxons who are just approaching the ford in the river.

Here the mounted raiders are putting distance between themselves and their pursuers while the slower moving footmen, realising that they risk being ridden down, have turned and formed a shieldwall.

We have used this scenario before for a medieval game (OHW link on the right should find it), but this time it played out very differently.  The thing we like best about OHW is that it uses the same basic rule structure for every historical period, but there are subtle changes to how the rules work, within each particular period, to reflect the developments in weaponry and tactical practice as military science evolved.  

The Saxon host cross the river at the ford, cavalry in hot pursuit, followed by fleet footed skirmishers and finally the mass of infantry.

So the basic game is very quick and easy to master, but what intrigues us is testing out the effects of those subtle changes to see how well they reflect the chosen period.  In this case we found the unit movements were much more fluid and less formal than in the medieval period, also the skirmishers of these Dark Ages were much less effective than the bowmen of the later period.  But the most notable difference was the resilience of the infantry formed up in a shieldwall, which was very hard to crack.

The Viking shieldwall braces itself for the impact of the Saxon cavalry, but holds without difficulty. The supporting infantry, following close behind, are forced into a bottleneck created by the ford and don't have enough room to manoeuvre around the melee.  Looks like I didn't think this move through  very well!

The Viking shieldwall has finally broken, but the Saxons have lost their cavalry and time is running out to prevent the raiders escaping, the Saxons surge forward and easily brush aside a unit of skirmishers.

The Saxons form sheildwall and face the remaining Vikings, they realise that the main body of raiders are clean away with the plunder, and that they will be advancing uphill fighting at a they decide to pack up and go home for tea.

These plastic Expeditionary Force figures are described as 40mm but they are clearly bigger than that, we compared them against my 40mm Elastolin Vikings and they towered over them (should have taken a pic for comparison, sorry about that!).  They come factory painted in the neat flat style you see here, personally I would give them a wash of brown stain (which is what Elastolin used to do) to give them a bit more definition, but they're not my toys so that won't be happening.

Anthony has mounted them on circles of MDF which provides greater stability on the table and also give them more of an "Old school" look.  This is the full range here; cavalry, infantry and archers for both Vikings and Saxon, that's the full extent of the range, shame they didn't extend to Normans but as Expeditionary Force have now moved upscale to 54/60mm figures this may be all we'll ever see from them in this size.

These were the first range issued by Expeditionary Force and were aimed at wargamers, the sculpting is excellent and while the plastic weapons look rather fragile they are in fact very robust.  Just wish we could find some other ranges (plastic or metal) that would compliment them, A Call to Arms Normans are a little too large, while the old Kellogs/Rubinstein "Warriors of the World" figures are about the right size but they are limited to just one Viking and one Norman.  Ho Hum.