Sunday 31 August 2014

Prussian Pincers at the battle of Woerth - 1870

The Prussian line taking casualties as they charge.

For this year’s summer holiday we decided to travel through some of Europe’s finest wine regions in the search of some good bottles to stash before autumn. Our trip took us from Chianti in Tuscany, north to France and Avignon for some bottles of Rosé at the Tavel district, on through Bourgogne (I’ve read somewhere that the red from Champs Chambertin was Napoleon’s preferred wine) and finally to Alsace for my personal favourite amongst the white wines, the Riesling. 

A quiet corner of Alsace - with a deadly past!

While in beautiful Alsace, I persuaded my fiancée to accompany my on a visit to the historic village of Woerth in the north-eastern corner of the region. Woerth and neighbouring Froeschwiller were the site of a mayor battle 144 years ago, during the initial days of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. Here the 80.000 Germans of the 3rd Army under the Crown Prince surrounded veteran French commander MacMahon and his 35.000 men of the elite 1st Corps in a gigantic Prussian pincer of pikkelhubes and Krupp guns. 

The battle of Woerth - 6th Aug. 1870.
The map also shows the previous border engagement
 at Wissembourg on the 4th.

The outnumbered French fought like lions, some regiments paying with casualty rates nearing 90%, but the German tide supported by their excellent artillery was too great a force, and the defeat of the honourable MacMahon, the hero of Magenta, would send shock waves through the political top in Paris, and cast a serious shadow over French morale. 

The battle rages in front of Froeschwiller.
Total losses on both side exceeded 30.000 men.

Visiting the battlefield today is well worth the journey, and anyone remotely interested in this period, should consider visiting this wonderful region for its history, food and great wines. Woerth has not grown excessively and the characteristic hills to the west of the village, on top of which the French held their defensive position, and up the slopes of which the Germans would keep charging, are still largely intact from any urban expansion.

Excellent flags for the range offered by GMB.

After the Franco-Prussian War ended, Alsace and Lorraine passed to Imperial German possession up to the end of WW1. During this period a series of monuments to the “glorious campaign” were erected on the battlefield. These serve today as waypoints accompanied by signs along the battlefield trail. For those with smart phones with Internet, the battlefield also offers a QR-code access to more info. The code is present on all signs along the trail.

The Bavarians storming the hill.

Roughly in the center is the monumental tower with top floor viewing platform, situated just west of Elsasshausen along the country road. It offers s 360° view of the battlefield, and needles to say, I spend quite a while up there reviewing the grounds, contemplating the desperate fight the French put up.

The view from the monument.
Woerth in the distance, while to the left one sees 
the hill held by the Turcos under Suzzoni.

Naturally I also had to visit the hill held be the legendary Turcos under Colonel Suzzoni.
It was truly a special feeling to stand on the very spot, where this regiment almost got annihilated. To look down the slopes in front of the position, in the direction from which the Bavarians would have made countless charges, and suffered equally horrible losses, in their attempt to take the position.

Froeschwiller today. 
The occasional car and a dog barking in the distance.

Likewise impressive was the number of monuments and memorials sprinkled over the centre of the battlefield. Here I was perhaps most touched by the one dedicated to the French Cuirassiers (Yes, I have a weakness there). Clad in their shiny armours and horsetail helmets, they were a testament to the imperial glory of France, drawing on the heritage from Napoleon I’s days. But now was the era of the breach loading rifles, and their fate at Woerth was grim.

Canister and Chassepot fire thinning the ranks.

I left Woerth and Alsace with loads of inspiration for my 1870 collection, and started putting together a unit of Prussians when I got home. I imagine them struggling forward in a hailstorm of canister and Chassepot fire, charging up the steep slopes towards the French. The figures are from the previous North Star 1866 range, and full of drama and animation, that suited this purpose excellently. 

Thank you very much for reading!

Sunday 24 August 2014

The 9th French Cuirassiers – 1812

The 9th Cuirassiers.
Figures from Perry - flags GMB.

It is not without a considerable measure of respect that I now humbly touch on what I, and many other period enthusiasts, regard as holy ground - French Cuirassiers.

A wall of metal and a thunder of hooves.

I can still recall the moment and place when I as a 10 year old kid got my first look at these awe inspiring riders. It was in a toyshop with my grandmother, who bought me the 54 mm Airfix plastic French Cuirassiers kit. Now anyone wargaming the Napoleonic period in the late 70ies or 80ies will remember this box. There was something unmistakably majestic about the figure on the box. A feeling that a unit of these riders could invincibly smash through anything the enemy would possibly field. A feeling of adoration that still stays with me today whenever I encounter these gallant riders, with their characteristic horsehair adorned helmets and shiny heavy duty cuirasses. 

The classic Airfix kit that sparked my fascination.

A natural choice for building a collection of Cuirassiers would be the Perry Heavy Cavalry plastic box, and I’ve had a few of these slumbering in a dark corner of my closet since Salute 2012, so it was about time to get on with them.

One of the troopers before basing.
Shows the musket thus dating the unit at 1812 and forward.

I’m aiming at 4 large units, which for my collection means 12 figures per unit. I’ve decided to spiff them up with a few of the metal casualty poses, to generate more animation than the boxes offer. 

In 1812 the 9th Cuirassiers held the following battle honours on their flag: Austerlitz, Jena, Eylau, Friedland, Eckmühl and Wagram. During the Russian campaign the 9th received 2 “Sabre of Honour”, and at Borodino they were part of legendary French cavalry commander Nansouty’s 1st Corp, forming a part of Murat’s Cavalry Reserve. 

Cuirassiers saluting their Emperor before the charge.
The battle of Friedland 1807.

The French Cuirassiers played a key role and formed the brunt of several mounted and very bloody charges on the entrenched Russian artillery and infantry on the Great Redoubt during the afternoon’s fighting at Borodino. Not only at The Moskova but certainly in most of Napoleon’s campaigns, the Cuirassiers were called upon to preform the most difficult and toughest of charges. A role in which they specialized, and often acted as a heavy “snow plough” bearing down on the enemy’s infantry, shaking the very ground with a thunder of hoofs as they charged home. They were formidable in this role, and the heavy elite of their time.

It would take considerable discipline for an 
infantry unit to stand and receive a charge like this. 

As a testament to their ruthless efficiency, a Russian infantry Corps of 30.000 men lost 33% of it’s strength by just one single charge of the French Cuirassiers at the Battle of Montmirail in 1814. 

Regimental colors with battle honors.

In 1804 French cavalry counted 12 of these Cuirassiers regiments, which were lovingly referred to by the rest of the army as “The Big Brothers”. With their heavy double plated cuirass, they were the hammer and the chock troops of the day. Armed of course with their heavy cavalry saber, they also packed two pistols, and from 1812 even a musket with bayonet. 

The Great Redoubt at Borodino 
after the charge of the heavy cavalry.

Under the heavy cuirass the troopers wore a dark blue habite-veste with cuffs and turn backs in regimental colors, as were the tags edging the chabraque made from sheep’s wool. These colors would be red, purplish dark red, yellow and a light rose color. The standard breeches were from light sheep’s skin or on campaign protective riding pants, buttoned in each side.

Cuirassiers charging at Eylau 1807.

The trumpeters would be dressed rather lavishly and with no apparent restrictions up to 1812, when an Imperial decree ordered them into habite-vestes of complimentary colors (the Funcken plates show green yellow and rose), no cuirass and white horses hair in their helmet.

Awe inspiring film clip showing 
the true punch of a Cuirassiers charge.

I will leave you with this short clip from the 1994 movie Colonel Chabert. It shows the “Eagles of Eylau” –the French Cuirassiers as they charged into the Russian line. The mere sound of a distant thunder of hooves building up can give me goose bumps – imagine being an enemy infantryman on the receiving end of such a charge!

Thank you very much for reading!

Sunday 17 August 2014

French Voltigeurs – 1812

 French Voltigeurs based on 40x40 bases. 
Only two figures per bases to signify skirmishers.
Figures are all Victrix.

Yet again I return to the baneful field of the Moskova to add to my Borodino collection, this time to start work on the French infantry. 

At Borodino no less than 120.000 men of La Grande Armée were present under Le Tricolore, and I decided that the first units to cross the painting table would be the ones initially committed in the attack on the fleeches. So accordingly I’ve acquired the GMB flags for the 57th and 25th infantry regiments, part of Davout’s 1st Army Corps, as both units were at the very front of this first push at Bagration’s defences.

Before painting the line infantry figures, I wanted to do up a few units of French Voltigeurs. These skirmish specialists would be applied en masse as a swarm in front of the charging infantry columns, a tactic somewhat perfected by the French, and thus a natural addition to my collection.

A Funcken plate showing French fusiliers, grenadiers and 
voltigeurs in the period 1806-1810.

The Voltiguers were men chosen for the small physical size, their agility and their expert marksmanship. Their main tactical function on the battlefield would be to spread out thin and screen the enemy forces with a constant and harassing fire, enough to keep an annoying level of stress in the ranks of whomever the French were fighting.

The main armament was the 1777 musket, weighing in at 4,65 kg and measuring 1,53 metres in length and using a 17,5 mm calibre ball. This weapon was only reliable up to 110 metres, and thus inferior to many of the weapons of the other European armies at the time. Despite some attempts and modifications, the French infantrymen often threw away their issued musket when they had gotten their hands on a foreign weapon after a battle.

The voltigeur units had no tambours, only cornets.
The hunting horn on pouch a clear reference to role of the light infantry.

In terms of uniforms, the light infantry wore the standard habite-veste but with small modifications to the colors of for instance the epaulettes. Also the Light infantry was first to adopt the Hungarian Chakot.

Deployed for battle, a French battalion would field its fusiliers in the centre while grenadiers would be to the right and the voltigeurs to the left. Two or three regiments would form a standard brigade, while two such brigades would form a division.

Close up of one of the bases.

In the initial charges on the fleeches at Borodino, the French divisional commander Compans, choose to attack the Russians using a small wood as cover for his advance. This skilful move was however repulsed and the brave Compans himself wounded in this opening move.

The Russians, who understood that the attack was no feint, started to pour in reinforcements. At the same time Davout, a legendary Marshall of France who was no stranger to peril, rode forward personally leading the 57th in the subsequent charge. He succeeded in pushing back the Russians and capturing the outpost. 

A unit of French voltigeurs inch forward 
while skrimishing with the enemy.

Bagration would have none of it, and immediately committed both a regiment of hussars and the heavier cuirassiers in and effort to push back the determined French infantry. This called for yet a French counterattack, which was ordered without delay, and the 1st Cavalry Corps made a crushing charge, repelling the Russian horse. This jabbing back and forth at the fleeches later spiralled out of control, and the centre of the Borodino battlefield would eventually suck in both Ney’s and Davout’s complete forces and reserves. 

Voltigeurs on a river recon - Wagram campaign.

But the French Army had finally got the long waited chance to fight the Russians, and Napoleon, in my opinion not showing too much of his characteristic tactical genius, was determined to grind it out with a simple frontal charge on a defensive position. Something the Russians were all too happy to accommodate.

Next up the classic charge of the French Cuirassiers and the push on the big redoubt.

Thank you very much for reading!

Saturday 9 August 2014

Picking up the brushes again - French Elite Dragoons 1812

The elite company of the 7th charging forward

Dear readers trust this update finds you all well. The Black Powder Games Blog have for some weeks now been resting quietly in the cool shade, while yours truly have been out and around getting either scorched or drenched by the rather extreme summer weather we’ve experienced in Europe. 

French Dragoons - Funcken plate.
The elite trooper is seen forward left.

This year’s summer holiday took us through some of France’s finest wine regions. Most notably we visited Alsace to get our hands on some good Riesling. While in the region I managed to persuade my fiancée to spend a day with me walking the historic grounds around Woerth, the site of a mayor Franco-Prussian battle in 1870. As it turns out, the Alsacians have not forgotten this part of their turbulent history – but more about that in a later post.

"Russia against Napoleon" by Dominic Lieven.
In my opinion the best book, not only on Borodino, but on the complete 1812-1814 
joust of giants between the two "eagles" the Tzar and the Emperor.

One of the books I enjoyed reading, as I was sweating it out in the poolside umbrella shade, was the excellent “Russia against Napoleon” by Dominic Lieven. 

Recently published (2009) I found it a very refreshing and detailed source, taking Russia’s perspective on the 1812 campaign, and subsequent defeat of Napoleon in 1814. The book covers the total spectre of this timeline, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone interested in this part of the Napoleonic Wars and the spectacular Russian army of 1812-1814.

The bugler - characterized by the different colors worn on 
Colback, Habite-veste and Chabraque.

But now it’s time to get back to the painting table and to the blog.
Freshly inspired by the Lieven book I threw myself at some Elite Dragoons constructed from the Perry French Dragoon box. 

Borodino or as the French call it "The Moskova"

As my collection is aimed mainly at Borodino and 1812, this unit is fielding the flag of the 7th Dragoons, which would put them in Thiry’s brigade, part of Grouchy’s 3rd Cavalry Corps. A veteran unit of Austerlitz, where their Colonel was awarded the Legion d'honneur for capturing the Austrian General de Wimpfen, the 7th was again in the thick of it at The Moskova. Grouchy’s Corps was one of many sucked into the fray at the Great Redoubt, where he made several charges at the Russian infantry squares formed behind it.

The regimental standard - the 7th made several charges at Borodino,
so I spiced up the ranks with a wounded hero.

The Elite Dragoons were men of certain merit, drawn from the ranks to form a crack elite company within the regiment. They were distinguished by the bearskin “Colback” and the red epaulettes, similar to those of the sapeurs. 

"The capturer of de Wimpfen"
The Colonel of the 7th was awarded the Legion d'Honneur 
for capturing the Austrian General at Austerlitz.

Their uniform had been almost unchanged since 1791, but in 1812 they were issued the new habite-veste, which was close to that of the infantry in cut and design. Weapons-wise they carried a sabre, a pistol and the model 1777 musket (1,41 m) to which they were able to attach a bayonet. This mix of cavalry and infantry weaponry was a testament to the tactical DNA of the Dragoons, meant to fight one moment as mobile light infantry and another as formed cavalry.

Another shot of the bugler. 
The Perrys know how to make them, a pleasure to paint these.

Their chabraque was made from sheepskin lined with tags carrying the regimental colour (Key colours were yellow, orange, red and purple). In order to have the bugler stand out, he would be saddled on a black sheepskin while wearing habite-veste and Colback in complementart colors to the rest of the unit.

Shot from above to reveal the Colback top detail of the white cross on red.

With 30 regiments raised in total, the French Dragoon force proved a vital component in Napoleon’s Spanish campaign, and would later win further glory at Nangis and Provins during the desperate fighting in France in 1814. 

Thank you very much for reading!