Thursday, 10 July 2014

French Skirmish Line – 1870

Lignards, officers and chasseurs clinging on the their position.

This unit is in a way an ode to my friend Barry Hilton of Warfare Miniatures, and his “I wanna tell you a story” approach to basing his figures. The idea to create a playable unit, but basing it with all the drama and animation of a vignette caught my imagination, and I decided to give it a go.
After flicking through my jpg collection of Franco-Prussian paintings, I settled on the classic image of a French Franco-Prussian skirmish line, holding on heroically while suffering murderous losses. 

"The Line of Fire" Painting by Pierre-George Jeanniot 1886.
Museum of 1870 - Gravelotte.

For those of you familiar with the work of Édouard Detaille, Alphonse de Neuville and Pierre-George Jeanniot, you will recognise this national romantic melancholy sting, which were present in many of the Post War French paintings, as France digested the result of the war and mourned the loss of Alsace-Lorraine.

Detail: a wounded soldier rests his back 
against the wrecked wheel of a canon.

My storytelling unit would take inspiration from Pierre-George Jeanniot’s “The Line of Fire” from 1886. The painting is enormous and extremely impressive. Today it can be seen as part of the permanent exhibition of the 1870 Museum in Gravelotte, so in a way it came home.

Detail: a dead chasseur offering cover to his comrades.

When it became time for basing, I used my standard Victrix 40x40mm bases, a set of three constituting a standard size unit. Now, I wanted to also be able to play this as a skirmish unit, so each base should be able to work on it’s own. It was a welcome challenge, and the result left me with an appetite for further experiments.

Base 1/3

Base 2/3

Base 3/3

As part of my study on the French army of the Franco-Prussian War, I’ve recently acquired the French Military Drill School manual for officers in the infantry. Published 1870 and containing the updated regulations of a decree from 16. March 1869, it’s the most recent version before the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, and the version that would have been carried by the French officers to the battlefields in Eastern France.

"Manæuvres de l'infanterie"
1870 edition published by Ministére de la Guerre 
in collaboration with Librairie Militaire de J. Dumaine.
Paris 1870.

Offering quick reference tables of fire distance to kill on approaching infantry and cavalry along with a multitude of manoeuvres and rules of deployment in the field, this manual gives one an interesting view into the tactical development within the French army of 1870.

An interesting insight to French infantry tactics anno 1870.

So, why did the French apply such defensive strategy during the Imperial campaign of the Franco-Prussian War? One reason is the overcautious almost passive French high command, but interestingly another was the French infantry’s awareness of their superior Chassepot Bolt Action rifle. Beside offering the opportunity for infantry to fire and reload while kneeling or lying down, the Chassepot would out-reach the German Dreyse Needle Guns by more than the double distance (1.200 meters vs 590 meter). This compelled the French, who by no means were strangers to gallant but often fruitless counter attacks, to take up defensive positions and await the approach of the German infantry.

Bird's eye view on the unit.

The Germans in their turn, would rely on a smooth and effective high command using the synergies of having the initiative, the dash and grit of their infantry tactics but most of all, they would enjoy a decisive superiority in artillery, bashing any and all French defensive position with their state-of-the-art Krupp artillery. This is perhaps best illustrated in the losses suffered by each side. Statistically a German soldier would die from a Chassepot bullet, while a French lignard would become a casualty to a Krupp shell.

Thank you very much for reading!




26 comments:

  1. You have certainly achieved your aim Soren, great diorama and painting with your usual informative historical research.

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    1. Thanks Chris, it was really fun to find the balance between creating a drama, and still maintaining the format of a playable unit. I will try this approach with a Prussian unit now.

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  2. Very good - thanks for sharing - great diorama.

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    1. Thanks Pierre, happy you enjoyed it!

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  3. Really lovely vignette style basing- I love it!!

    Darrell.

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    1. Cheers Darrell - it's always nice when one's experiments turn out right. With the limited Franco-Prussian figures on the market, I was happy to find the Gringo40's range, without which this would not have been possible.

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  4. Indeed a stunning unit matey, love your basing and painting

    Best regards Michael

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    1. Thanks Micke, as this was really a first off experiment, so I'm happy you liked the result. More to come, perhaps carrying this approach to basing onto other periods too. Don't know who sculpted the Gringo minis, but I tell you - they were fantastic!

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  5. Those are fantastic! So much character.

    FMB

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    1. Thanks FMB, appreciate the visit and kind comment! I was really aiming at the feeling you'd get when looking at for instance the painting above. The French on their heels, with that "last man standing" kind of feeling. Happy you liked it!

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  6. Splendidly stunning vignettes! Beautiful brushwork. Good find with the French Reglements Drill Manual. Does the manual prescribe the defense tactics that you mentioned?

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    1. Thank you very much Jonathan! And yes, that manual was quite a find. It does offer an interesting chapter on defensive operations, for instance with clear instruction to how a skirmish screen should be deployed covering the retreat of a unit. I'm not sure this chapter was too carefully studied though as the French army prior to the war proud itself of it's offensive tradition and élan, drawing on the legacy of the First Empire. The well oiled German war machine would quickly kill that myth, and the defensive nature of the French was more a consequence of how the war developed.

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  7. Absolutely breathtaking work! I really like your storytelling approach on that base.

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    1. Thanks, you're very kind to say so! It's definitely something I'm going to try and incorporate into more units of my Franco-Prussian collection, and I've got a Prussian unit on the table at the moment!

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  8. Very nice and clever positioning of the miniatures. As always a very interesting read as well.
    /Mattias

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    1. Thanks Mattias, it took a little fiddling around with the minis, but got there in the end!

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  9. Beautifully painted and based!

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    1. Cheers Dean, thanks for dropping by for a read and comment!

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    1. Thanks Stephen, appreciate it! By the way, will Micke and I see you in Copenhagen at DefCon? As you probably know, we are bringing the LUND 1676 collection for some Scandinavian Vendetta!

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    2. Hope so - do you have the date?

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    3. I've got 24th and 25th marked in my calendar - but Michael can confirm! Thomas have started work on Danish infantry, what about you? We sure could use some Danish Jutland cavalry!

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    1. Thanks Christopher, appreciate it!

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  12. Superb painting and a fantastic little mini-diorama Søren. Very nice indeed!

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  13. Beautiful minis, love what you've done with these vignettes!

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