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!


  1. Nice bottles, nice regions, great pics and beautiful this post!

    1. Thanks Phil, and yes - those bottles are coming in handy already I tell you :0)

  2. Great work on these figures Soren.I learn more about this conflict every time you post.

    1. Thanks Chris, visiting the actual battlefield have certainly also added an extra dimension to my insights in this war. In Woerth I met an elderly lady, and after a few polite phrases to investigate the reason for my visit, she gave me a detailed account of the battle and the casualties, something she seemed to know by hard. As she was Alsacian, I asked her what she identified herself as today - French, German or Alsacian. She looked deep into my eyes, and said with all the firmness she could muster "je suis francais" :0)

  3. A very interesting post, great looking figures too!

    1. Thanks for the nice comment, glad you liked it Ray - the Franco Prussian War has fast become my favorite in terms of dramatic politics and history. It really is the mother of WW1 and WW2.

  4. Museum-quality brushwork on these fine Prussians. Thanks for the background too.

    1. You're very kind to say so Dean - glad you enjoyed the read too. Thanks for dropping by!

  5. Masterful work with black here, and your red just pops on these. Love the historical background as well!

    1. Cheers Monty, it's my old friend the Foundry system yet again :0) Plus I wash them down with Nuln Oil after the grey or blue highlights to really keep them dark but with depth in the colors. Pleased you liked the write up - I hope to cover the virtual massacre of the cuirassiers in more detail, once I have such a unit ready and drafted from the lead pile.

  6. What a wonderful post. It has everything. Splendid figures, imense history, a lovely anecdote and references to wine. Can it get any better.

    The figures are wonderful. I love the way that you've done the navy uniforms. I find dark blue or navy to be a hard colour to pull off, as the temptation is always to keep highlighting it. Great work.

    Froeschwiller was an incredible fight. So good to see the present day streets. Funny how so many middle European frontiers, once the scene of such carnage, are now so silent and peaceful.

    1. Well Sidney, I'm a great admirer of your excellent WW1 collection, so those kind words are well appreciated, coming from an astute painter like yourself! And you're absolutely right about these villages and regions across the French border. They've seen some trouble in the past. You've probably been to Verdun, and that ghostly feeling of the "lost generation" still lingers in the air when you look across the landscape. By the way, I'm looking very much forward to your opinion on and painting of the FG Miniz!

  7. Another spectacular addition to your wonderful collection! The painting is of your usual high standard, but I also want to highlight the careful placing of the miniature on their bases – a really well-composed unit with great interaction between the miniatures. Top-notch stuff!

    1. Thank you Jonas, really appreciate the visit and glad you liked the chosen basing style - you've been following this project since the beginning, so an additional thanks for staying tuned as it develops. I do hope we'll get a chance at a game before you're off on the "family business". Perhaps my hard hitting league of feminists and pole dancers will see you at the Pulp-table come next weeks club night?

  8. What a striking looking unit! I think you hit the nail with the dark navy blue. I'm pretty interested in the war of 1870/ -71 myself so it's always a pleasure to read about it and look at such beautifully painted figures. Some nice photos also. Seems like time stopped ticking in Froeschweiler.

    1. Thank you very much Moiterei! Indeed it is an interest and very important part of German and European history. I really enjoy painting the German units of the Pikkelhube-era, I only wish there were some Bavarians available from the same range.
      You're right about Froeschwiller - and it added to the "museum" feeling of the whole place, like the housing was almost untouched since the battle. Looking down on the battlefield from that watchtower, you felt like you'd travelled back in time.

  9. Another fantastic battle tour and figure display!

    1. Cheers Jonathan, I've got some Napolenics up next - and (following up on our Vuelta theme) I actually think they were in Spain, at least until Austria started making trouble again...

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