Monday, 26 August 2013

The Verdun Project: French Support Weapons and Veteran Infantry (Part 1)

I’ve wanted the French forces I’m building up to be accompanied by a few support weapons. A number of these were critically important at Verdun, and in the later French offensives of 1917 and 1918.

Unfortunately, the modelling choice of support weapons in 28mm is not very extensive. Its really a question of assembling the support elements from a variety of manufacturers, and bringing the different weapons together as a unified force by similar basing and painting techniques.

I wanted in this post to give an overview of the figures available, and also give a bit more of an insight in converting late Great War French figures. Please bear in mind that I’m very far from a great military modeller, and the bulk of conversions are really just to add some variety into the French forces I want to field on the wargaming table.  I also thought that a couple of insights into how th various 28mm model kits fit together might be helpful.

First up, is “Le Soixante-Quinze”....


Errr….not quite, although the cocktail of the same name was created in 1915 at the New York Bar in Paris, supposedly because the effect of the drink was felt by stunned Parisians to be a little like being shelled at the front! 


No, the “Soizante-Quinze” I’ve been focusing on is the famous French 75mm artillery piece, used widely in the French army during the War but only really effective against targets which were not deeply entrenched owing to its low trajectory of fire. The brace of 75s I’m building are from Scarab Miniatures. I’ve had these for a long time, and they’re undoubtedly a handsome pair of models – although not without some difficulties in construction. Unfortunately, the gun shields are not quite accurately modelled, in that the gun shield aperture is slightly wider than was used in late war version of the gun.  I think I can live with the slight difference though.



Pinning the barrels onto the gun carriage is, I think, recommended.  The 75 had a long barrel which does not balance well on the carriage in the model version without some strong suport.  Pinning through the gun carriage and into the underside of the barrel really helps in this regard.  Also the gun wheels are very narrow on the model – and while this is accurate, the model needs careful and delicate handling at all times once assembled. 

Fixing the gun shield in place needs a lot of care. There are no orienting lugs on which the shield can be glued onto the carriage, and the gun shield is too thin to pin effectively. I therefore opted to fix a block of blue styofam under the carriage to give the gun shield something to attach and glue on to. This seems to have fixed the shields in place firmly, and hopefully the Styrofoam block should be invisible on the finished model once painted.


Here’s the assembled guns with Brigade Miniatures’ late War gun crews (to match with the French Infantry I’ve been painting).

 

You’ll see that the base work is undulating. This is intentional, and helps the ground support the slightly flimsy gun wheels and provide a bit more base for the wheels to be glued to when finished. Although the undulations look prominent in the photos, they should (fingers crossed) be virtually invisible when the bases are painted and the groundwork finished.


Next up, a brace of heavy machine guns. First, a captured MG08 on a sled mount being crewed by French gunners, and second a Hotchkiss Mle 1914. I forget where I picked the MG08 from, but it fits very well with the Brigade Games’ gunners. It wasn't unheard of for French gunners to have captured German machine gun positions and to have turned the guns on their former owners (I’m sure that the same was true in reverse – some German stosstrupps certainly used the French Chauchat light machine gun because of its weight and ease of deployment).


The only additions I’ve made to the models and the gunners are to fashion some ammunition belts for the MG08 and an ammunition strip for the Hotchkiss, both of which can be added when the figures are painted. The ammunition strip was made from thick foil from a wine bottle (not sure which vintage!), with the “bullets” being “grey stuff”. You can actually buy some excellent ammunition strips from Jeff at Dragon Forge Design, but I’d run out!


Then I made up another Crapouillot trench mortar from Brigade Games, and a couple of infantry mounted 37mm trench guns from Old Glory. The latter are difficult models to assemble, but were a significant part of French small unit tactics in 1917 and 1918. I pinned the 37mm gun to the ground mount very carefully with fine wire, without which mounting the gun is pretty precarious. The model is worth the (considerable) trouble to assemble, and fits very well for size with Brigade Games’ late War French figures. You may wonder why I didn’t use the Scarab Miniatures’ 37mm trench gun. While the Scarab 37mm is an excellent model, it looks very large alongside the Brigade Games models. It’s a shame that the rank-and-file Scarab models were not cast just a little smaller to fit with the Brigade Games range, but the Old Glory figures are a good substitute.


Last but not least, I’ve had it in mind to build up half a platoon (maybe more) of veteran French Poilu. These could be veterans, Foreign Legionnaires or simply hardened defenders of a Verdun position. I made a few head swaps (replacing Adrien helmets for wounded heads and caps), added a few extra bedding rolls and packs to the “barda” (field packs) of the Poilu, and roughened up the greatcoats of some of the troops. I found that the head swaps worked best with building up the greatcoat collars of some of the figures (but that may just be me as I always seem to make a mess of head-swaps).


 



I added an M2 gas mask on another prone infantryman accompanying a Chauchat automatic rifle to disguise the slightly mis-cast face on this figure.  As I've mentioned before, producing a reasonable version of the M2 gas mask is very simple in this scale.


I also used the brilliant hand grenade pack from the very highly recommended Victoria Miniatures to swap out the very late War hand grenades cast on the figures with some earlier Foug or P4-style grenades from earlier in the War and which were more suitable for 1916 (as shown in the two photos below).

 
 
 
 
 
I also based up my final pack of Old Glory French casualties, this time simply for decoration and without holders for “shock” or “wounds” dice.
 
 
So here’s the infantry force ready to paint. I added a more “front line” command stand, complete with artillery spotter, which is a bit more common-place than the Battalion command stand in full dress I painted last month.
 


 All I need to do now, is to paint them!

26 comments:

  1. Lovely work and great conversions I look forward to seeing these completed.

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    1. Thanks Andrew. I'm hoping to have them finished in the next few weeks (cue sounds of laughter from the back)...

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  2. Looking fecking good, it's all about the time, effort and little extras you do that puts you ahead of nearly everyone else, top notch!

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    1. Thanks Fran! I did try - those head swaps just never seem to work for me!

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  3. Thanks for sharing Sidney, it will be useful for the future.
    Pat.

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    1. Thanks Pat, and thanks for dropping by!

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  4. Thanks for sharing this. It is interesting to read what you went through to build these. Always can reuse those ideas for other projects.

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    1. Exactly my thoughts - even if you never paint a Great War figure in your life, hopefully there's something here for you, Chris!

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  5. Brilliant! I can't wait to see paint on these fellows! I'm currently working on my “Soizante-Quinze” and should have it up in the next little while. It should help to keep the Bosche heads down...

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    1. I can't wait to see your "Soixante-Quinze" as well, Curt. Which model did you got for?

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    2. Mine is Scarab as well. I'm using their crew as I liked the seated gunners. I wish someone did a crew in early-war kepi. I think I'd also like to try the Empress SCW casting of the 75 as it looks very nice.

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    3. The Empress 75mm casting does look very nice indeed. I didn't know they made one. It looks considerably smaller than the Scarab version. As I can't see the French 75s being used that often on the tabletop, I think I'll stick to the Scarabs...for now!

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  6. Stunning conversions! Looking forward to seeing them painted.

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  7. Great seeing this stage and your conversions. I'm sure these will come up a treat in your usual style.

    Frank
    http://adventuresinlead.blogspot.com.au/

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    1. Fingers crossed, Frank...I'm already starting to worry about the 75s!

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  8. As always, excellent work. I am always interetsed in seeing how your projects advance.

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  9. Really nice - and I like the bases in particular.

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    1. Thanks Colonel! The idea is to have the veteran/ hardened infantry on wood-like bases (fallen tree branches and shell splinters and the link). More trees, less bricks!

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  10. Great stuff, look forward to the end result

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  11. Just back from my summer break and catching-up with the blog list! Your French project is starting to take shape and promises to be terrific. And very timely with the I WW anniversary next year looming!

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    1. Thanks Benito, and welcome back! I'm aiming for getting all things French done by the end of 2013....four months left and counting!

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