A Close Run Thing or Daddy, why have those soldiers got the wrong hats?
by Andy Duff
As a history teacher, I use toy soldiers to offer a 3D presentation of battles in an effort to try and engage my students, most of whom find maps and descriptions ‘boring’. Years ago, for my PGCE (teacher training course) I produced an interactive ‘Battle of Naseby’ which certainly grabbed the students attention and I’ve been producing more battles ever since. At some stage my search for suitable figures led me to the legendary Mike Blake and the loose confederation that is the Skirmish Wargamers (we are not worthy etc) and my wallet’s never been the same since – all those essential figures!
Having ‘done’ Hastings, Naseby, Bosworth, Rorke’s Drift, Concorde and Pegasus Bridge, I turned my attention to Waterloo. Now, I’m going back a couple of years here (ahem) and can safely state that if a figure isn’t available and you convert something else to suit, no sooner have you finished than a manufacturer will produce it (the law according to Sodt and all that).
I started with a batch of Timpo’s finest (there, who said irony was dead?), sadly rather crude when compared with todays output but the stuff of magic back in the 1960’s when purchased for 6d each from the local newsagent. Usefully they do Napoleon, Wellington and Blucher figures.
In that British uniforms of the time were heavily influenced by French fashion, and since the Dutch and Belgian forces had been fighting for Napoleon only a year or so earlier, I took a rather pragmatic approach (pragmatic as in Mike Blake had forty fits when he saw some of my paint ‘conversions’) as to who was fighting for whom and painted accordingly with a hint of milliput where necessary. Thus Timpo French grenadiers sported white uniforms with red facings to become rather exotic Dutch troops (yes, yes, I know) and the British Lancer (sic) now rides for the Prussians. The 1806 Austrian infantry (God bless Italeri) also supplied forces for the Dutch ranks, with an arguably less than suitable paint job. I’d finished this lot when Call to Arms produced their Dutch/Belgian forces. Ho hum.
Recently Conte have come on the scene with their Alamo Mexicans in Shakos, a uniform borrowed from the French and thus clearly intended to be pressed into the ranks of my Waterloo army. These are nice figures although, irritatingly, many of the firing figues are pointing upwards, all trying to hit Davy Crockett I guess. They are also BIG when compared to the puny offerings that are standard fare with ‘Call to Arms’.
The truly gorgeous Italeri Austrian set see plenty of action, as well as the aforemention Dutch troops, they fight for the Prussians, and the helmeted figures, now resplendent in green coats with red facings, serve Napoleon as Dragoons a pied. CTA produce British foot guards and light infantry which can be painted ‘as is’ or with a little work can swell the Replicants 95th rifles to fill the sand pit alongside La Haye Sainte. CTA also offer French line and light infantry, the latter are fine, the former very small but can be hidden in a group of figures with a double thickness base to add a little height. Airfix supplied British and French forces, sadly the remoulds do not seem to take paint as well as the originals did, whereas AIP French light infantry paint up rather better than the figures initially suggest, lending themselves to a blue wash to pick up the detail. Italeri Hussars (beautiful horses but surely truly massive for 54mm scale) and Dragoons appear in great numbers, some of the Hussars repainted to suit British light cavalry.
My initial artillery limbers were Imex ACW offerings with headswaps and a paint job but now we have the Italeri set which can serve either side.
For the actual artillery I was beheading Call to Arms gun crews to produce French forces, AIP do a range but they’re a bit pricy when you want a couple of dozen guns, but again, Italeri came to the rescue and their set includes a useful howitzer. The Imex ACW crews can see service with a head swop and milliput and the recent Accurate Revolutionary gun crews are also in the modelling box awaiting the scalpel and green stuff.
Waggons (note period spelling) came from CTS Marx re-issues and more recently the DSG offerings. Those bemoaning the lack of standing horses, as opposed to those thundering across the table, need look no further than Breyer who produce a useful mixture to pull their Wild West buckboards and buggys. The other prime candidate is the CTS horses that they supply with their Mexican helmeted cavalry, or French Lancers as they’ve now become – I replaced their bendy lances with welding rod and re-armed those sporting pistols and sabres to produce enough lancers. A minor problem is that some of these figures are lancers with a cuirass, but, hey, nothing’s perfect! One of our intrepid gang (thanks Les) produces a large range of metal heads to convert these figures to Shako, Czapska and all that, as desired.
In order to generate enough horse variations in the cavalry, I’ve robbed sets as disparate as HaT Romans and Italeri Confederates. Of the latter I started by giving the figures to the kids up the road until Mike Blake reminded me of the first rule of wargaming – never throw anything away, and promptly decapitated an unsuspecting cavalryman. The Confederate with the shoulder cape now wears a Hussar shako and rides with the French, the bottom half of another Confederate has been mated to the top half of the Timpo Grenadier officer and cuts a dashing display (well, if you don’t look too closely and sort of squint a bit and…). The CTA cavalry figures don’t look too out of place (they’re a bit small, yes Mike, alright, they’re bloody small) if remounted onto Italeri Confederate horses (I’ve yet to find a use for CTA horses). Both Italeri and CTA produce Scots Greys, neither set is particularly noteworthy but a mix of the two provides a suitable regiment. These of course were issued after I’d bought some highly collectable (read expensive) Britains figures. I used reworked and repainted CTA dragoons as British heavy cavalry until CTA produced a couple of sets of the Brits. CTA have also recently issued Cromwell’s ironsides, a head swap and yet more milliput generate a nice line in curassiers to swell the ranks (another task firmly on the ‘manana’ list). Recently DSG have been issuing Napolenic period stuff, perhaps inevitably, mine await painting!
For buildings I use the ‘Britains’ ones, actually produced by Ertl, adding a few walls and model railroad trees for verisimilitude. Britains also supply a small calf to cavort in front of a Royal Horse Artillery (AIP) crew at the onset of the battle (they ate it very shortly afterwards).
So, there we have it, Waterloo for beginners. I have used this set-up to present the battle to a number of schools (part of an A level history project in Hampshire and Surrey), as you can see it’s something of a work-in-progress, with new figures coming onto the market all the time I doubt it’ll ever truly be finished!
Addendum; since I started writing this (I’m a very slow writer) Italeri have introduced their French and ‘Allied’ staff sets and another French gun with crew. Also I painted a load more Italeri ‘Prussians’ only to be informed that AIP will be releasing them.
Time moves on - Waterloo 2 – not quite the movie.
It has long been the practice of the movie industry to create sequels to successful films (or not so successful films come to that). Authors too seem to go in for a series or trilogy or “how can I wring some more money out of this tired and hackneyed idea?" So it will come as no surprise to hardened readers to discover that, after our debut success (there, who said irony was dead) the unholy trinity of Duff, Blake and Roope should again be darkening the doors of the National Army Museum with ‘Waterloo – the comeback tour’.
Those who have stayed with my outpourings on this subject will be aware that ‘Blake Painting enterprises – modeller to the stars’ felt that some of my ‘interpretations’ of figures stretched accuracy just that bit too far – especially the Dutch Grenadiers in white uniforms with red facings. And so it was that Mike and Wayne (a really, really big ‘thanks chaps’) sat in the painting surgery at Blake Towers and produced some 75 (that’s seventy five!) Dutch/Belgian troops – all on posh bases, wiv flags and drums and all that. These have attracted many a positive comment. Also adding a touch of splendour are ‘command bases’ for the three lead figures, with Blucher sporting a particularly magnificent Meerschaum pipe. It must be said, nauseating sycophancy aside, that these new figures did add a touch of splendour to what otherwise might have been quite a common brawl. Mike also turned up with the new Hougemont well from the Britains collection.
We identified that we needed a way to speed up the setting up process and a way of moving large bodies of men simultaneously. I painted up crews for all the guns (more of a token representation at the first effort) and based all the guns on old CDs with a couple of gunners and some scatter. This actually looks rather good, he says, modestly. I also repainted the guns in their correct colours (again, they had been representational – all part of the moving map in 3D idea). French limbers were now in place, albeit without the horses – they simply take up too much space even in four-horse teams.
In order to shift D’Erlon’s mighty corps faster than one figure at a time the movement tray was fashioned from plasticard and coffee stirrers with a generous covering of scatter. With the new casualty figures as well this worked much better.
I painted up another regiment of dragoons – you simply can’t have too many of these! The French cavalry were also paired up onto bases to expedite the charges (Mike finally despaired of my CTS Mexican repaint lancers and took them away for a rebuild).
The forming of British squares was made much easier by mounting the figures in fours, so that using six bases, with ‘fillers’ for each corner, created a complete square.
For the next time (yes, we’ve been asked back), we could use some more French infantry to really take on the Prussians (it’s a bit of a token show at the moment). I will (Scout’s honour) produce some Prussians in shakos to replace the Austrian repaints that currently serve. Now that AIP and Italeri have brought out 95th rifles we can not only swell the sad little Replicants contingent but also produce the correct KGL light forces for La Haye Sainte. I may even sort out another movement tray for the Imperial Guard (they shared D’Erlon’s one on this occasion).
Patient readers (and thanks to both of you) will doubtless be surprised to note that I went for the sequel to success. Yes dear hardened reader, the Waterloo roadshow went been on tour again. It all sounded so innocent – “any chance you could bring a few toys along and impress the kids”?
The anniversary of Waterloo fell on the outing event weekend so the choice was obvious. Not only that, I’ve been busy; as mentioned in previous despatches, I needed more French infantry to really take on the Prussians (it was a bit of a token show last time, still is in all truth although I have painted up more Dragoons a pied). I promised Mike faithfully that I would produce some Prussians in shakos to replace the shameful Austrian repaints that initially served – AIP to the rescue (seems a shame to waste those Austrians though). I’ve also acquired some Waterloo 1815 Prussians to add to the mix (these are still in undercoat – were you expecting miracles? – late news update: actually, I’ve now painted them and cannot, hand on heart, commend them to you – another opportunity lost). I bought some Italeri 95th rifles to swell the current sad little Replicants contingent and a chance purchase at the Plastic Warrior show - £3 for another box of same, meant I could generate the correct KGL light forces for La Haye Sainte (cunningly differentiated by painting them in grey trousers as opposed to the green of the Rifles)
As ever the figures painted by Mike and Wayne ‘modellers to the stars’ drew admiring comments and give the allied line a nice visual shift from an endless string of red. Also attracting many a positive comment were the ‘command bases’ for the three lead figures, (Blucher mit Meerschaum, Napoleon avec haemorrhoid cream etc).
The legendary Dutch Grenadiers in white uniforms with red facings (which previously so offended Mike’s sensibilities) have undergone a repaint and rejoined the Imperial guard
A careful investment made for Warfare last year was a selection of Schleiche trees and these reappeared to fill in the gaps in the chorus line and give more height to the proceedings.
The French cavalry now look a bit fab, Mike finally despaired of my CTS Mexican repaint lancers and took them away after the last event for a rebuild, repaint and flag chappie. These wonderful donkey whallopers of course now show up my feeble efforts but I’ll keep plugging away
The new British squares again proved much faster to deploy, I’m now beginning the mammoth task of redoing the bases in correct SWG style rather than the existing ‘Warhammer – the early years’. I still feel there’s an opportunity for a manufacturer to produce a decent set of Brits – none of the efforts to date are especially good.
Nassau forces, now there’s a thing – seemed a shame not to do some, especially when Italeri produced early Austrians that could provide the perfect officer, they also wore white shako covers – where’s me paint brush? These looked good in the garden at Hougoumont; I’m currently doing headswaps to crete Nassau grenadiers (colpacks).
Where will it all end? Italeri have brought out more stuff, waggons and ephemera, clearly essential to such an undertaking. They also do French infantry in bicorn hats – before someone starts whining about too early, I would argue that every army has its old sweats who insist on wearing outdated kit (and certainly true in the British army today). More artillery? – yep. More Prussians? – why not. More, more, more…
I rather fancy closing future sessions with the strains of Dave Davis’ guitar as it breaks into the classic opening riff of Napoleon’s favourite tune – Waterloo Sunset.
So, where will it all really end? In madness probably – look what happened to Silwell, but at least, oh patient reader, you can now tell your kids why that man’s got the wrong helmet.
Waterloo – it ain’t over ‘till it’s over and it ain’t over yet
Hi readers, a Mrs Trellis from North Wales has written in to ask "what happened next" after the great Waterloo outing of last year. Paul also seemed vaguely interested so herewith an update.
Now, for all those of you who think I’m a total saddo that only has a Waterloo project in his life, there’s also the Hastings project, the Bosworth project (part of the Hampshire schools A level introductory course), the Naseby project (for which the legendary Mike Blake is currently working on some special new figures for a great new scenario), and the Pegasus Bridge project. I taught the latter at college last month and a fellow lecturer kindly gave me a bin liner full of landing-craft kits – result or what!
Anyway, back to Waterloo stuff. The painting bench is never idle - I’ve been converting Dutch and Belgian forces to represent Nassau troops – some were present in white shako covers last year – the addition of greenstuff to the gaiters of French light infantry has converted a few more and the careful purchase (thanks Les) of some white metal heads in colpacks has led to a new series of Nassau grenadier conversions. I only really needed a couple of figures but ended up making ten, you know how it is.
Readers with long memories, and patience, will recall that, originally, my British Light Cavalry were Hussar repaints, well now I can field the new Italeri British Dragoons in their slightly dodgy shakos (which means I’ll have to repaint the bloody hussars again). Gabby, another member of the SWG, kindly donated a small box of old airfix figures to the project and they’re on the painting bench as well.
Big news is the long awaited arrival of the new HaT French figures – four different boxes of light infantry, ooh the excitement. Actually, if they paint up ok, I may end up doing a considerable remodelling of D’erlon’s corps although there is a rumour (well, since I started writing this it’s more than a rumour as they’ve now announced it on their site) that Victrix are bringing out their wonderful 28mm figures in 54mm – endless opportunities for conversions without having to cut and shut polythene, ah, the joy of it all.
The recent Italeri late 18th century Austrians have yielded a couple of recruits – careful trimming of the helmet and a smear of greenstuff to represent a shako cover and on with another of my legendary dodgy paintjobs. It’s not all French stuff of course, far from it. The Hannoverian forces are getting an additional influx of troops, mainly 95th rifle repaints (black undercoat this time which gives them a mean and moody look). Another chum from SWG (thanks Wayne) has taken the Dunker church that I was using to represent Hougoumont and added another to it, converting the whole lot into quite a building. You’d think that, basically, bolting two Britains buildings together (although allegedy actually made by Ertl) would be relatively straightforward, but it wasn’t – if we’d known then what we know now…!
Anyway, look out for it a a show next year. Yes, another project, Waterloo but not as we know it Jim. Oh and Santa brought me The Waterloo Companion – I hate to sound cliched, but if you only buy one book on Waterloo, make it this one. The colour plates alone are worth the purchase price – lots more ideas for conversions.
More stuff? Well, the French artillery is mainly manned by Italeri figures and their colpacks are far too skinny and I really ought to use some more of Les’s lovely metal heads, which would mean taking the figures from their CD gun bases to repaint and then redo the gun base and then…..
Vigilent viewers will have spotted the new Italeri French supply waggon, this comes with a trio of rather nice figures which I intend to use as a vignette when the current painting fest is over.
Andy Duff – Skirmish Wargames Group