Friday, 6 March 2015

Poilus! – Verdun 1916

First batch of skirmish-based Poilus.
The minis are from the wonderful "Forgotten & Glorious" 28mm range.

In some aspects I hesitate to even write about this battle out of pure respect.
But then I remind myself, that there is a generation now, which needs to apprehend and value the lessons inherent in true catastrophes like Verdun.

How do we teach our children, that human life can be so utterly stripped of meaning and consumed by violence? I find it hard, but I also know that it’s important. It’s the road to not making the same mistakes twice.

Young men became veterans.

Ever since I first read about the Great War as a teenager, I’ve been drawn by this epic battle, and to understanding the legend of the “generation sacrifié”. When working a short summer job in Strasbourg at the age of 19, I took my car one weekend, and drove over to see the actual place. I still recall the discomforting feeling in the air, not lost on a Danish teenager about the same age then as many of the 900.000 dead, who’s bones lay buried in the field below. I saw the collapsed trenches, where you still today see rusty bayonets sticking up through the ground, marking the resting place of men buried alive. It was as if it the place itself was one big scar. 

View towards the Douaumont memorial.
Inside the bones of 130.000 unknown dead are stacked. 

Next year we mark the centennial of Verdun, the longest and bloodiest of all the battles in the Great War. With that occasion in mind, I’ve set out together with a few club members here in Stockholm, to paint up a suitable skirmish based collection in 28mm. The goal is to run a series of scenarios from the almost 10 months long battle. There will be plenty of visual candy coming up, as I’m going to photo the impressive trench-terrain club member Nils have made. Look out for that soon.

Close-up on three Poilus - the FG Minis are in my opinion 
the best WW1 French available out there.



VERDUN - BACKGROUND

The name Verdun rings out with importance in history, all the way down to the Romans.
First mentioned during the conquest of Gaul as “Verodunum” (meaning: Strong Fortress), Verdun had a DNA of military significance right from the start. After Roman control of Europe faltered, none other than Atilla the Hun later sacked the city. But, it was during the Frankish era, that Verdun would start to become a symbol of Franco-German rivalry. The sons of Charlemagne meet here in Verdun, to devide their fathers empire into what would later be France to the west, and to a large extend what was the Holy Roman Empire to the east.

The “Generation Sacrifié”
The Battle of Verdun lasted almost 10 months, 
and demanded close to 900.000 casualties.

It was here at Verdun, that the French master architect of defensive fortresses, Vauban, build his line of defence, to bolster and strengthen the conquests of Louis XIV. It was Verdun that became the last French fortress to surrender during the initial campaign of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, and it was Verdun to which France anchored it’s hope once again in 1914. 

A view on the back - equipment and the iconic buttoned-up long coat.
Boots and socks touched up with earth pigment.

In 1916 Joffre had robbed the place of any real defensive artillery, and one could argue the actual strategic importance of Verdun. But, the morale of a people is a tricky size altogether, building on pillars of national symbols and subjective feelings, not always in line with what is militarily practical or even strategically sound. After the initial battles of 1914, acting as an anchor in the French line as the Battle of the Marne played out, Verdun had in many ways become just that. A symbol of France’s ability to hold on, to stand it’s ground.

Poilus getting ready for the charge.

German commander Erich von Falkenhayn, had counted on just that symbolic value, when he planned to strike at Verdun in 1916. His direct tactical dispositions were not made to conquer Verdun, but rather to draw the French army into a mass slaughter. In effect he wanted to “Bleeding France White” as he himself put it. In February 1916 the massive German onslaught would set in.

To be continued – Thank you very much for reading!

37 comments:

  1. Sobering historical event juxtaposed by your beautiful figures.
    Time for a little reflection...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Jonathan, sobering indeed - Verdun is a place I hope to visit again soon, perhaps next summer when they have the 100 years anniversary for the battle. It's a wonderful place for reflection.

      Delete
  2. Ahh... fantastic work on these Poilus. The Horizon Bleu came out fantastic and your attention to detail is stunning as always.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Cheers M - it took some experimenting to get it right, but I'm very happy you second the choice on the blue. It's the key to really have them look the part.

      Delete
  3. Great paintwork!! I loved the ww1 french as a boy :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Me too John, as with many other collections I started my WW1 collection when I was 12, using the Revell 1/72 WW1 French and German (Remember those?). I was inspired by the "young Indiana Jones" series, that actually feature some great fighting scenes from the Western Front. It's still on youtube if you're looking for some nostalgia:0)

      Delete
  4. Great work and they are also great figures.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you FoW, and I can only agree, FG Miniz are wonderful sculpts, with some great animation and very expressive faces. I've had them in the lead pile for about a year, so it was nice to finally get my teeth into them.

      Delete
  5. Great looking "Hairy Ones", Soren. The Horizon Bleu is perfect. I recently watched "Paths of Glory" again - still a very great movie IMO.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, I've got to see that one, who can resist Kubrick? I can only imagine what he could do with a subject like the WW1 trenches. Thanks Dean!

      Delete
  6. Another very impressive, very nice and very interesting post...and very touching for a French guy!
    Best,
    Phil.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Merci Phil, ton opinion compte beaucoup! A French soldier said the following words after the battle: "They could never ask us to do it again. It would simply be to misunderstand the price we had paid, and what we had achieved"...

      Delete
  7. Replies
    1. Thanks a lot Steve, happy you liked the result!

      Delete
  8. Replies
    1. Cheers Micke, I had to do this project as soon as I saw Nisses wonderful WW1 trench terrain. Next year is the 100th anniversary of the battle, so the perfect reason to start gaming right?

      Delete
  9. Replies
    1. Thanks Mike, really appreciate it!

      Delete
  10. Beautiful painting as always! It's hard to contemplate that many casualties.

    Christopher

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Christopher - it sure is. I'm watching a BBC doc. on the war, and casualties are just staggering. 100.000 dead here, 190.000 dead there. And it just goes on like that, for four years. One French general (Petain) actually got famous for rotating the men in the trenches, so they'd have x days in the front line and then y days of rest. They loved him for it, but eventually he was removed, and replaced by another general nicknamed "the butcher". WW1 in a nutshell...

      Delete
  11. Beautiful job on the Horizon Blue! Can't wait to see more.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Cheers William, more Poilus will arrive soon, and just wait until you see the trench terrain that a fellow club member have built for this project :0)

      Delete
  12. Great post and painted figures Soren,, it really does make you realise how destructive and insane the human race is!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Chris, really appreciate it! Chewing through the history of the Great War just made me realize how big an experiment it was. It was four years of military trial and error, paid with the lives of thousands and thousands of young men. And the willingness to repeat errors was surprisingly big.

      Delete
  13. excellent work Soren! I look forward to seeing more in the near future. Great background information on the battle and the importance of History.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Mark, very happy you liked the minis and the write up. Just wait until you see the trench terrain at the club, that was spectacular! Loads of good games ahead!

      Delete
  14. Great post and very fine poilus!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you very much Phyllion, happy you liked the write up and the Poilus!

      Delete
  15. Beautiful miniatures and truly great painting!
    /Mattias

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Cheers Mattias - you should take a look at Franck's miniatures, they are really great. sculpts He's also got some wonderful napoleonics ;0)

      Delete
  16. This is really some cracking miniatures!
    My poor old WWI minis don't stand a chance next to these...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Ulf, well if you've got some single based French, I think we should give them a run for the money in Nisses trench terrain anyway. He's got so many Germans, so you see, General Pétain needs all the youngster he can find for the front!

      Delete
    2. I got both French and German single based, got about a platoon of each, built them a long time ago for Mud and Blood. I even think I got a few heavy weapons that might not be built yet, but could be =)

      Delete
    3. Sounds perfect! Carry along all of it if you're coming for the Bring-and-Buy event at the club on saturday!

      Delete
  17. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Fantastic looking miniatures Sören!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Cheers Jonas - it's been a while, hope to see you at the Bring-and-Buy on Saturday in Solberga!

      Delete