The Battle of Fuentes de Oñoro 1811 (A Scenario for Napoleon’s Battles)

In the first few months of 1811, Wellington had turned back yet another French invasion of Portugal at the Lines of Torres Vedras and had gone onto the offensive, pushing Marshal Masséna‘s army all the way back into Spain.  However, Masséna arrived back in Spain to find full supply depots waiting for him, enabling him to quickly rebuild his exhausted army. 

Inadvertently taking advantage of Wellington’s temporary absence and General Erskine’s incompetence, Massena then managed to force a supply convoy through Allied lines to resupply the French garrison of Ciudad Rodrigo fortress.  He also had a supply convoy ready to push through to Almeida fortress, but Wellington had returned and was now blocking the road to Almeida.

Where the road from Ciudad Rodrigo to Almeida crosses the Spanish-Portuguese border, the border is defined by a long, narrow and easily-defensible ridge, dominated by the ruins of the Spanish Fort Concepcion. The fort had changed hands a number of times since 1808, but had finally been blown up by Robert Crauford’s Light Division during the retreat of the previous year.  It was along this long ridge that Wellington deployed his army; his left flank resting upon the ruins of Fort Concepcion and the right flank upon the village of Fuentes de Oñoro at the head of the valley of the Dos Casas.  A large and well-organised Spanish Partisan Corps under Julian Sanchez held outposts further south, at Poço Velho and Nave del Haver.

On 3rd May 1811, Masséna made a direct assault on Fuentes de Oñoro, which seemed an easier prospect than launching a direct assault across the deep, steeply-sided and wooded valley to the north (and repeating his drubbing at Bussaco the previous year).  However, the densely-packed streets and maze of stone walls around the village proved to be a nightmare for the French infantry and they were eventually beaten back with heavy losses.

Massena spent 4th May demonstrating in front of Wellington, pinning the Anglo-Portuguese Army in place while scouting out a better point to attack.  The terrain north of Nave del Haver, although boggy, wooded and crossed by several streams, seemed a better bet; particularly as it seemed to be thinly-held only by Spanish partisans.  Ordering Reynier’s II Corps to continue demonstrating across the valley in front of Fort Concepçion, Masséna ordered Drouet’s IX Corps to renew the assault on 5th May, while Loison’s VI Corps and Junot’s VIII Corps (reduced to only one division), together with the bulk of the army’s cavalry under Montbrun, moved south to hook around Wellington’s right flank at Nave del Haver.

Suspecting that something was afoot, Wellington moved Houston’s 7th Division and Cotton’s Cavalry Reserve south to extend his right flank, to occupy Poço Velho and to support Sanchez.  However, as dawn rose on the 5th, the seriousness of the situation quickly became apparent!  Ordering the 7th Division to retreat immediately across the River Turones, Crauford’s Light Division was sent to cover the withdrawal

It’s here that our scenario starts on the morning of 5th May 1811; Houston’s 7th Division and Cotton’s cavalry are out on a limb, though Wellington can’t afford to send too much to support them, or he’ll risk fatally weakening the position at Fuentes de Oñoro.

This scenario is designed for Napoleon’s Battles rules, which is a ‘grand-tactical’ ruleset where each tactical unit represents a brigade (roughly 1:100 figure ratio).  It would also be easily convertible to a similarly-scaled set of rules, such as Age of Eagles.  I have also run this scenario at a much larger scale, at 1:20 ratio using General de Brigade rules, during the third and final AB Figures Wargames Weekend in 2001, though the large map made it difficult!  Even with 16-foot tables, I still had to compress the frontage by a few feet to fit the entire battle in!  The battle also lends itself well to breaking up into smaller scenarios; e.g. the retreat of 7th Division, with the Light Division marching to the rescue and the assault on Fuentes de Oñoro village.  

71st (Highland) Light Infantry

Briefing – Lieutenant General Viscount Wellington
Strategic Situation, April to May 1811


Once again, you have managed to eject a French army from Portugal.  This time it was a combination of delaying actions, ‘scorched earth’ tactics and of course your fortified defence lines at Torres Vedras that decided the issue.  That notwithstanding, Marshal Masséna, the Prince of Essling somehow managed to stay camped before your lines for many weeks before being compelled to retire.  How he managed to find forage in that devastated land, you will never know.  Indeed, it would seem that French soldiers can even eat grass when necessary!

With the shattered French ‘Army of Portugal’ sent scurrying back to Ciudad Rodrigo and Salamanca you had anticipated that Marshal Masséna would not be able to put another army into the field again until at late Summer at the earliest.  Indeed, there could surely be hardly a single horse left alive in Masséna’s army, as they all seemed to be lying dead along the Salamanca road (or in the soldiers’ bellies).  Therefore, having seen the last Frenchman stagger back into Spain, you felt secure enough to leave your army under Spencer’s command, with instructions to blockade Almeida and Ciudad Rodrigo, but to avoid contact with any French field army until you returned (full investment of these fortresses being impossible, as you have no heavy artillery train).  With these instructions issued you departed for Extremadura, there to hold conference with Beresford, Blake and Castaños (to discuss operations in that province against Marshal Soult and the fortress of Badajoz).

Upon your return to the army two weeks later, it came as something of a surprise to learn that the idiot Erskine had allowed not only a French supply train to pass into Ciudad Rodrigo unmolested, but had stood idly by while Marchand’s division had also marched into the city!  Erskine (a confirmed lunatic) was foisted upon you by Horse Guards to command the Light Division during Crauford’s absence.  Thankfully, Crauford has just returned to the army, allowing you to quietly shift Erskine into a line division – blockading Almeida ought to keep him out of harm’s (and your) way.

However, Erskine’s blunder has had further ramifications.  Using Ciudad Rodrigo as a base, Marchand is patrolling aggressively and is actively preventing further attempts at blockade.  Incredibly, it would seem that Masséna has already managed to refit his army and is once again on the march.  According to the spy Mirador in Salamanca, the depots in Salamanca were stuffed full when Masséna’s army staggered in, thus enabling him to quickly get his men back on their feet.  He has since been joined by additional troops from the Duke of Istria’s ‘Army of the North’, and has been able to assemble a supply convoy which he now plans to force through your lines to relieve General Brennier’s beleaguered garrison at Almeida.

With a blockade of Ciudad Rodrigo now impossible, all that can be done is to frustrate Masséna’s relief attempts long enough for Brennier to be starved out of Almeida.  The line you have selected to defend lies just to the south of the ruined Fort Concepçion and lies roughly north-south along the Spanish-Portuguese border, straddling the main road between Ciudad Rodrigo and Almeida.  This position is reasonable as to the front of the left wing runs the deep ravine of the River Dos Casas, while the right wing is protected by the defensible village of Fuentes de Oñoro.  The line is rather long; about seven miles in all, though it will be difficult for Masséna to turn a flank, as to the left (north) lie mountains and deep ravines, while to the right (south) there is a tangle of streams, bogs and woods.  A frontal assault across the Dos Casas would surely result in another Bussaco.  The main disadvantage to the position is the gorge of the River Coa, which lies directly to your rear.  Any retreat would entail either the passage of the single narrow bridge at Castello Bom (too frightful to contemplate) or the larger bridge just to the south of Almeida, which would run the risk of serious casualties from Brennier’s fortress guns.

Portuguese 1st (Lippe) Infantry Regiment

Tactical Situation, 3rd to 5th May 1811

At last on the 3rd, the alarm is raised; the Light Division and cavalry have encountered Masséna’s advance guard and are falling back to your main line.  It is not long before the French columns begin to appear on the crest of the ridge opposite.  The main enemy strength (of approximately one infantry corps, plus cavalry in divisional strength) seems to be opposite Fuentes de Oñoro, though there are two or three divisions opposite Campbell’s 6th Division and Erskine’s 5th Division, to the north.

Toward late afternoon on the 3rd, the French begin to develop an attack; two divisions of infantry advance into Fuentes de Oñoro, where the high stone walls and barricades are bitterly contested by the massed light companies of 1st & 3rd Divisions, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Williams of the 60th Rifles.  However, Williams is soon wounded in the fierce and confused street fighting and the light companies are forced to concede ground.  With the light companies now only managing to hold on to the top of the village, centred on the church, Cadogan’s 71st Highland Light Infantry charge into the town and sweep the French back across the Dos Casas.

There are no more French attacks that evening, though the Light Division is moved into reserve behind Fuentes de Oñoro as a preventative measure, alongside 1st, 3rd and 7th Divisions who are already concentrated there with Ashworth’s Portuguese, the cavalry and the bulk of the artillery.

Apart from a little desultory skirmishing across the river, very little happens on the 4th. However, there are ominous movements beyond the main French line, which suggest that the French are shifting their strength to their left in preparation for a renewed assault.  To guard against any surprises on your right, Sanchez is ordered to extend his scouts out beyond the village of Nave del Haver.  Meanwhile, Houston’s 7th Division (consisting largely of light infantry) and Cotton’s Cavalry Division, with Bull’s Troop, Royal Horse Artillery under command, are sent to guard the Poço Velho sector.  The garrison of Fuentes de Oñoro is stiffened with two veteran regiments, the 71st and the 79th.

It is now dawn on the 5th; a courier has just arrived with disturbing news; the Spanish have encountered French cavalry in divisional strength near Nave del Haver and have been put to flight having hardly fire a shot, damn them!  You now realise your error, which could well prove fatal for Houston’s 7th Division; they are isolated, inexperienced, in the open and are faced by a large enemy force of all arms, many times their number.  Slade’s and Arendschildt’s cavalry ought to be able to the delay the French somewhat, but it will take more than that to rescue Houston!  Summoning Crauford to your headquarters, you give him your orders…

14th Light Dragoons

Centre & Right of the The Anglo-Portuguese Army

Lieutenant General, Viscount Wellington
(7 Free Rolls)

Cavalry Division – Lieutenant General Stapleton Cotton 5”E(7)+2 [1F]
Slade’s Brigade                                                                                 12 BrHC [4D]
Arendschildt’s Brigade                                                                   12 BrLC [5D]
Bull’s Troop RHA                                                                             Br6#
Ross’ Troop RHA                                                                              Br6#

1st Division – Major General Sir Brent Spencer                   4”A(5)+0 [3F]
Stopford’s Guards Brigade                                                             16 BrGD [5D]
Nightingales’ Brigade (Highlanders)                                            16 BrLN [6D]
Howard’s Brigade (inc. 71st)                                                          16 BrLT [6D]
Von Löwe’s KGL Brigade                                                                 16 BrLN [6D]

3rd Division – Major General Sir Thomas Picton                 5”E(8)+2 [2F]
MacKinnon’s Brigade                                                                      16 BrLN [6D]
Colville’s Brigade                                                                              16 BrLN [6D]
Power’s Portuguese Brigade                                                          16 PtLN [8D]
Williams’ Massed Light Companies                                             16 BrLT [6D]

7th Division – Major General William Houston                    4”A(6)+0 [1F]
Sontag’s Brigade (inc. Brunswickers & Chass. Britanniques)  20 BwLT [10D]
Doyle’s Portuguese Brigade                                                            16 PtLN [8D]

Light Division – Brigadier General Robert Crauford          5”E(8)+2 [1F]
Beckwith’s Brigade                                                                          16 BrLT [6D]
Drummond’s Brigade                                                                      20 BrLT [8D]

Independent Brigade – Brigadier General Charles Ashworth 3”A(5)+0 [1F]
Ashworth’s Portuguese Brigade                                                    20 PtLN [10D]

Spanish Partisan Corps – General Julian Sanchez                3”G(6)+0 [1F]
Partisan Cavalry                                                                                12 SpIRC [8D]
Partisan Infantry                                                                               16 SpGRL [11D]


1. Bull’s & Ross’ Troops RHA may start the game attached to Cotton, Houston or Crauford, at Wellington’s discretion.

2. The British cavalry numbers incorporate Barbacena’s very weak Portuguese cavalry brigade.

3. Sontag’s Brigade of Houston’s 7th Division had around 900 British Light Infantry (51st & 85th Regiments) and around 1,400 men from the Chasseurs-Britanniques and Brunswick-Oels Regiments.  These latter regiments allegedly suffered from rather serious discipline problems and as they represent the majority of the brigade, I’ve classed the unit was Brunswick Light Infantry (BwLT), as they have slightly lower stats than British Light Infantry (BrLT) in Napoleon’s Battles.

4.  The Spanish Guerrillas do not count toward overall army strength or against army morale.

5.  Wellington may use the optional rule that allows him to be given a ‘React’ marker, as for cavalry, in lieu of a normal move.  Wellington may then spend his React marker to move in one of the Reacting Cavalry phases.

Le Légion du Midi

Briefing – Maréchal André Masséna, Prince d’Essling
Strategic Situation, April to May 1811

Masséna at Wagram, 1809

In the past few months, you have seen your army dashed against the ‘Stone Wall’ of the English army at Bussaco, you have seen your army starve before the walls of Lisbon and you have seen your army bled white by the long march back to Salamanca.  The Army of Portugal has never before been in such a terrible state of repair; regiments down to merely weak battalion strength, cavalry regiments with only enough horses to mount a single squadron and batteries fully equipped with guns, limbers and caissons full of ammunition, but no horses to pull them.  Worse still, you have now been pushed well back into Spain, leaving isolated garrisons in the fortresses of Almeida and Ciudad Rodrigo.

Having arrived back at Salamanca, you have found replacements to make good your losses and the lads have been issued the last six months’ back pay, which has raised their spirits more than any victory.  You have also had two weeks respite in which the men subsequently spent their back pay and are therefore ‘rested’ and eager to get back into the fight (at least that’s what they say to your face).  However, the Duke of Istria has so far only delivered one-tenth of the supplies he had promised and has sent only two cavalry brigades and a handful of draught horses out of his entire ‘Army of the North’ (which he says he needs to maintain control of Castile and Léon).  Worst of all; the bastard poseur has come along in person to ‘assist’ you in your campaign.  He will undoubtedly attempt to lead his Guard Cavalry Brigade in a glorious charge (after the moment of victory, of course!) and thereby attempt to steal your laurels.  That preening, hair-powdering fool has never forgiven you for gaining your principality at Essling!

Back to the campaign: thanks to the uncharacteristically slow response of the British Light Division ‘Grasshoppers’, you have already managed to get a convoy of supplies, plus Marchand’s division, into the fortress of Ciudad Rodrigo, thereby saving that garrison.  You now have a second convoy ready to push through to Brennier’s besieged garrison at Almeida.

Your army is once again on the march and is in pretty good shape, having been further reinforced by Fournier’s excellent (though painfully weak) cavalry brigade.  However, Junot’s VIII Corps is down to just one division and Drouet’s IX Corps (consisting of a mixture of raw 4th battalions) has been screening Wellington’s army since your retreat.  They have not had a chance to rest and are not in good shape at all.

As you advance toward Almeida, the British Light Division and cavalry steadily fall back, skirmishing all the way and inflicting a steady trickle of casualties on your voltigeurs and light cavalry.  At last Marchand, leading your vanguard, reports that he has discovered the main English position, stretched over five miles along the ridge between the ruined Fort Concepçion and the village of Fuentes de Oñoro.  The English position is protected along its front by the River Dos Casas, which carves out a deep ravine as it flows north from Fuentes de Oñoro and forms a significant obstacle.  However, to Wellington’s rear is the almost-impassable gorge of the River Coa.  If Wellington is compelled to retreat, he will be forced to cross either the bridge at Almeida (under Brennier’s fortress guns) or at Castello Bom, where the bridge is extremely narrow and forms a significant choke-point.  A British withdrawal will therefore at the very least, inflict a significant loss in baggage and artillery upon Wellington, thus crippling his attempts at offence for the remainder of the year.

However, risking a frontal assault across the ravine of the Dos Casas carries with it the risk of another Bussaco, while the depth of the ravine to the north of Fort Concepçion makes an envelopment of the English left impossible.  The only options left open to you are; to assault Wellington’s right flank strongpoint of Fuentes de Oñoro where the valley is much more shallow, or alternatively to attempt an even wider flanking movement using your superior numbers of cavalry and roll up Wellington’s right flank from the south (though the boggy and wooded terrain in this area will make co-ordination extremely difficult).

5th Hussars

5ème Hussards

Tactical Situation, 3rd to 5th May 1811

Having spread your army widely across your front to keep the English guessing, you launched your first assault against Fuentes de Oñoro on the 3rd.  Ferey’s and Marchand’s divisions were heavily engaged against Wellington’s élite ‘Grasshoppers’ and ‘Amazons’ for most of the evening in bitter house-to-house fighting, but were eventually pushed back across the Dos Casas with significant losses.  However, Ferey has managed to retain possession of the houses on the eastern side of the stream, which will serve as a useful launching-point for a future assault.

It has now become clear that Wellington has moved his main strength into position behind Fuentes de Oñoro, though significant forces still remain to the north, thus preventing Reynier’s II Corps and Junot’s VIII Corps from exploiting this shift of position by the enemy.  It is time to enact the contingency plan; Montbrun has discovered the right flank of the English line, which is placed at the village of Nave del Haver, some four miles to the south of Fuentes de Oñoro.  This outpost consists of little more than a few Spanish irregulars (probably of Don Sanchez’s guerrilla band), while there is a small garrison of English and Portuguese infantry in Poço Velho, approximately two miles to the south of Fuentes de Oñoro.  There is little else in this area, other than the occasional cavalry picquet.

Marshal Bessières

You have spent the whole of the 4th shifting your divisions quietly to the south.  While Reynier’s II Corps and Drouet’s IX Corps have remained demonstrating before the enemy, Junot’s VIII Corps has been pulled out of the right wing, to form the reserve for your flanking movement.  Loison’s VI Corps (less Ferey’s division) is also on the march; its mission being to overcome opposition at Poço Velho and outflank the English position at Fuentes.  Montbrun, with all cavalry under command (except Reynier’s and the Guard) is to widely outflank the English position, cover Loison’s left flank, and threaten Wellington’s lines of communication.  Once the English right wing is fully engaged, Drouet will strike the killing blow through Fuentes de Oñoro.

It is now dawn on 5th May.  The Duke of Istria has disappeared.  He’s probably off somewhere trying to get himself some glory!  At least he is no longer standing on your shoulder offering ‘advice’ and questioning your every decision.  In the distance, the crackle of gunfire announces that Montbrun has made contact with the enemy…

1er Chevauxléger-Lanciers de la Garde

Centre & Left Of The French Army Of Portugal

Maréchal André Masséna, Prince d’Essling
(8 Free Rolls)

VI Corps – Général de Division Louis Henri Loison           8”G(6)+1 [3F]

Division of Général de Division Jean Gabriel Marchand 4”E(7)+1
Maucune’s Brigade                                                                         16 FrLT [8D]
Chemineau’s Brigade                                                                     16 FrLN [8D]

Division of Général de Division Julien Mermet                   4”A(6)+0
Menard’s Brigade                                                                            28 FrLN [14D]
Taupin’s Brigade                                                                              28 FrLN [14D]

Division of Général de Division Claude François Ferey    4”G(8)+1
1st Brigade (inc. Légions du Midi & Hanovrienne)                  16 FrLT [8D]
2nd Brigade                                                                                      16 FrLN [8D]

VIII Corps – Général de Division André Junot, Duc d’Abrantes 9”G(6)+0 [1F]

Division of Général de Division Jean-Baptiste Solignac    3”A(6)+1
1st Brigade                                                                                        24 FrLN [12D]
Thomières’ Brigade (inc. Régiment Irlandais)                           20 FrLN [10D]

IX Corps – Général de Division Jean Baptiste Drouet d’Erlon 9”G(5)+1 [3F]

Division of Général de Division Michel Claparède              3”G(7)+1
1st Brigade                                                                                         16 FrPLT [10D]
2nd Brigade                                                                                       16 FrPLN [10D]
Massed Grenadiers & Carabiniers of IX Corps                           16 FrGN [6D]

Division of Général de Division Nicolas Conroux de Pepinville 3”A(5)+0
1st Brigade                                                                                         16 FrPLT [10D]
2nd Brigade                                                                                       24 FrPLN [14D]

Army Reserve

Reserve Cavalry Division – Général de Division Louis Pierre Montbrun 4”E(8)+2 [2F]
Cavrois’ Brigade (Dragoons)                                                          8 FrLC [4D]
D’Ornano’s Brigade (Dragoons)                                                    8 FrLC [4D]
Fournier’s & Lamotte’s Brigades (Chasseurs, Hussars & Dragoons) 12 FrLC [6D]
Wathier’s Cavalry Brigade (Chasseurs & Hussars)                    12 FrLC [6D]

Reserve Artillery
Foot Battery                                                                                       Fr12#
Horse Battery                                                                                    Fr4#

The Army of The North (-) – Maréchal Jean-Baptiste Bessières, Duc d’Istrie 4”E(6)+1 [1F]
Lepic’s Imperial Guard Cavalry Brigade                                     12 FrGLC [4D]
Garde Volante-Batterie                                                                    FrG6#


1. Montbrun’s Reserve Cavalry Division may be commanded by Masséna, Loison or Junot.

2. Fournier’s IX Corps Cavalry Brigade and Lamotte’s VI Corps Cavalry Brigade were both very weak and have therefore been combined as a single unit. They were placed under Montbrun’s command, along with Wathier’s Brigade from the Army of the North.

3. The Reserve Artillery Batteries must be assigned to divisions at the start of the game.

4. Bessières had absented himself from the battlefield to look at some entrenchments (!). In his absence, Lepic (to Masséna’s fury) absolutely refused to move the Guard Cavalry without explicit orders from his Marshal. Bessières’ Division (Lepic’s Guard Cavalry and the Guard Horse Battery) may not therefore be moved until Bessières arrives (on French Turn 10 Bessières is simply placed on the table within 4 inches of his units). Bessières may only activate using his own initiative rating of 6 and may not be activated by the C-in-C in the normal manner. Bessières’ units may not be led by attaching the C-in-C. From Turn 10 onward, these units may however, conduct half-moves in the normal manner if Bessières fails to activate.

5. Wathier’s Cavalry Brigade belongs to Bessières’ Army of the North, though has thankfully been placed under Montbrun’s command and does not suffer the restrictions placed on the rest of Bessières’ command. As Bessières largely absented himself from this battle, he may not re-take command of Wathier during this scenario.

6. Ferey’s Division is temporarily detached from Loison’s VI Corps and starts the scenario under Masséna’s direct control.

Le Légion Hanovrienne

Terrain Notes

Above:  Terrain Map (each grid-square is 1km and in Napoleon’s Battles represents 12 inches square).

Above:  Deployment Map.

Each orange square on the map is a built-up sector and may be occupied by one infantry unit and has a defensive modifier of +3.

The River Turones, running south from Villar Formoso, is only passable to artillery at the river crossings marked where tracks cross the river (a mix of fords and bridges).  It is fordable to infantry and cavalry along its entire length as Rough Ground.  All other streams are fordable to all troops as Rough Ground.

The woodland shown on the map comprises boggy cork-oak thickets and is impassable to artillery, except on roads.  Other troop types may pass through woodland as Rough Ground.

42nd (Royal) Highlanders (Black Watch)


Troops must be deployed within their deployment areas shown above, but may be shifted up to six inches from their starting positions, though no closer to enemy units.  Units may be deployed in any formation or facing. 

Commanders and artillery units may be deployed anywhere within their army’s deployment zone, but no closer to the enemy than the closest formed unit in that formation.

Game Length & Sequence

The game starts with the French 0700hrs turn.

The game ends with the Allied 1630hrs turn (Turn 20).

The only reinforcement for either side is Marshal Bessières, who may be placed on table within 4 inches of his units (Lepic’s Guard Cavalry Brigade and the Guard Horse Battery) at the start of the French 1130hrs turn (Turn 10).

Victory Conditions

There is only one victory condition: The French must force Wellington to retreat by breaking Allied Army Morale.  Any other result will be classed as an Allied victory.

Unit Labels for Napoleon’s Battles

Posted in 15mm Figures, Napoleon's Battles (Rules), Napoleonic Wars, Scenarios | 10 Comments

‘Active Edge’: Building a Cold War BAOR Battlegroup

My good mate, lapsed wargamer and former Best Man, Gary P was recently browsing this blog.  As a long-serving senior officer of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, a veteran of numerous wars and operations, a Staff College graduate and having undertaken staff-rides and battlefield tours with worthies as illustrious as Brigadier Richard Holmes, I awaited his professional military assessment of my writings…

“Like the tanks.  Not so keen on the queer-arsiers, drag-goons and stuff.”

High praise indeed.

I was going to post more queer-arsiers today, but instead, here are more tanks for Gary…

As per the title, here are some bits of my British Army of the Rhine (BAOR) wargames army in 15mm.  All the models are by QRF Models and a lot of them are the same master models as the old Miltra range of 1/100th military recognition models.  They’re perhaps not the best models in the world by modern standards, but up until only three or four years ago they were the ONLY models in this scale and I like ’em! 🙂

Chieftain Mk 5

I picked 1984-1985 as my chosen period for ‘The War That Never Was’ primarily because it’s the period depicted in General Sir John Hackett’s book The Third World War, which then became the background setting for Harold Coyle’s Team Yankee and Kenneth Macksey’s First Clash.  It’s a period of great flux in both Soviet and NATO armies, when huge leaps forward in NATO technology, such as Challenger, M1 Abrams, Bradley, Warrior, Apache, etc, were just starting to appear, but the older kit was still very much soldiering on.  It therefore gives the wargamer a wide range of options.  The huge NATO exercise Lionheart ’84 (which included the largest peacetime British military deployment of all time) also provides a huge amount of photographic and film source-material for modelling, as well as a wealth of scenario ideas.

Listing exactly who had what and when in BAOR at the time is a truly gigantic subject that I’ve tried to cover in my orbats and TO&Es (linked), though trying to research this topic isn’t helped by some huge organisational changes right across the British Army and especially in BAOR that took place at the end of 1982.  I’m slowly building up enough troops to put an Armoured Regiment battlegroup or Mech Infantry Battalion battlegroup on the table.  I may eventually expand this to include a Para Battalion (primarily for the Falklands War of 1982).  I use my own Cold War mod of Battlefront: WWII rules (very much a work in progress and titled Battlefront: First Echelon).  These rules work at a ratio of 1 model tank representing 2 or 3 actual items and a stand of infantry representing a single rifle section.  The basic unit of manoeuvre is the company/squadron and in most scenarios an ‘army’ will represent a full battalion-sized battlegroup.

Above:  An Armoured Squadron, equipped with Chieftain Mk 5 MBTs (they could alternatively be Mks 6 to 8, which were earlier marks upgraded to the same standard or Mk 9, which was a refurbished Mk 5).  From January 1983 onward, an Armoured squadron had four Troops, each with 3x Chieftain and a Squadron HQ with 2x Chieftain, which in game terms boils down to five models.  The only exception to this was the Berlin Squadron, which persisted with the old organisation of 4x Chieftains per Troop and a Squadron HQ with 2x Chieftain (nine models).  Most Armoured Regiments had four Squadrons (Called Type 57 Regiments, as they had 57 tanks including the RHQ tank), though a few had three Squadrons (Type 43 Regiments).

Following their debut during Exercise Lionheart ’84, some brigades replaced their Chieftains with the Challenger MBT.  This replacement programme began with 7th Armoured Brigade in 1985, followed by 4th Armoured Brigade in 1986 and 6th & 33rd Armoured Brigades in 1988.  22nd Armoured Brigade also partly-re-equipped with Challenger by the end of 1989.  The remaining brigades soldiered on with Chieftain into the 1990s, when they were either disbanded or were re-equipped with Challenger 2.  All remaining Chieftains were upgraded from 1986 with the rubber/steel sandwich composite Stillbrew armour-package, thus creating the Chieftain Mk 10 & 11 with its distinctive thick turret-mask.

Above:  A Mechanised Infantry Company equipped with FV432 armoured personnel carriers.  There were three such Companies in a Mechanised Infantry Battalion, plus a Support Company.

British infantry companies followed the familiar ‘triangular’ pattern of three Platoons, each with 3x Sections.  Each Section consisted of 8-10 men, plus the FV432 APC and its crew of two and was led by a Corporal.  The core of the Section was the belt-fed L7A2 7.62mm General Purpose Machine Gun (‘GPMG’ – British designation for the FN MAG), with the remaining men being equipped with L1A1 7.62mm Self-Loading Rifles (‘SLR’ – British designation for the FN FAL).  The Section also included an 84mm Carl Gustav Recoilless Rifle, the gunner of which could occasionally be armed with an L2A3 Sub Machine Gun (‘SMG’ – or Sterling Mk 4) in lieu of SLR.  The Section would also be issued with numerous M72 66mm Light Anti-Tank Weapons (‘LAW’) for short-range defence against armour.  It was also quite common for Sections to beef up their firepower with one or two L4 Light Machine Guns (‘LMG’ – 7.62mm version of the Bren).

The Section was usually organised along WW2 lines, with a ‘Gun Group’ of three men (one of whom was the Section 2IC, a Lance-Corporal) and the remainder grouped under the Corporal as the ‘Rifle’ or ‘Assault’ Group.  Some units had started to experiment with equal ‘fireteam’ groupings (often called ‘Bricks’) of 4 men apiece, using the GPMG as the core of one fireteam and an L4 LMG for the other.  This all changed from 1986, when the new ‘SA80 Family’ of the L85 5.56mm Individual Weapon and L86 Light Support Weapon were introduced, replacing all the SLRs, SMGs and LMGs, as well as all the Section-level GPMGs.  Sections were now permanently organised into two equal fireteams, each containing an L86 LSW and 3x L85.  However, it has to be said that some units managed to hang on to Section-level GPMGs on an unofficial basis (and even LMGs on occasion, until those were finally withdrawn from service in the 1990s).

Platoon HQs usually included an L9A1 51mm Light Mortar, as well as another GPMG, though with a sustained-fire tripod and an optical sight to enable indirect fire (indirect MG fire being a traditional speciality of the British Army since WW1).  Sustained-Fire GPMGs were sometimes massed at company or even battalion level, depending on the type of battalion.  The platoon would be transported by four FV432 APCs; these normally had a pintle-mounted GPMG on the commander’s hatch (the circular hatch at the front-left of the vehicle), though many were modified with the Peak Engineering turret, which enabled a GPMG gunner to operate under armour.  This turret was placed centrally on the vehicle, with a small hatch to the rear (replacing the large circular ‘mortar hatch’ of the original design).

In game terms, this all boils down to 1x Company Commander stand, 9x Infantry stands (three of them with Carl Gustav), a GPMG (Sustained Fire) stand and a 51mm Mortar stand.  I must admit to having economised on APC models (one model per platoon instead of two), to save on table-clutter.  In any case, attached MILAN teams, artillery observers and the like will add yet more FV432s and it starts to become something of a traffic jam…

Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicle

Following a successful trial of the Warrior Mechanised Infantry Combat Vehicle (MICV) during Exercise Lionheart ’84 and again in ’86, Mech Infantry Battalions were slowly converted to Warrior, being re-designated as Armoured Infantry Battalions.  Battalion organisation remained largely the same, though the FV432s of the three Infantry Companies and some of the Battalion Tactical HQ replaced their FV-432s with Warrior.  Support Company elements such as the Mortar and MILAN Platoons retained FV432.  The dismountable Rifle Section strength was reduced to seven men in Warrior-equipped units.  Only three battalions had converted to Warrior by the end of 1989; one battalion of 4th Armoured Brigade converted in January 1988, followed by a battalion of 6th Armoured Brigade later that same year and a battalion of 7th Armoured Brigade in October 1988.

Above:  An Armoured Squadron Group, comprising an Armoured Squadron HQ, with three Armoured Troops and a Mech Infantry Platoon.

While Armour and Mech Infantry could act as ‘pure’ units, companies/squadrons were frequently cross-attached on a mission basis to create combined-arms battalion/regimental Battlegroups.  For example, an Armoured Regiment might swap one of its squadrons with a company from a Mech Infantry Battalion.  Platoons/troops could then be further swapped within the Battlegroup to create combined-arms company/squadron groups.

Above:  A Mech Infantry Company Group, consisting of a Mech Infantry Company HQ, two Mech Infantry Platoons and an Armoured Troop.

A pair of Royal Marine Commandos wearing DPM uniforms, with one wearing OG Lightweight trousers.

In terms of kit, British troops of the period wore Disruptive Pattern Material (‘DPM’) uniforms which although manufactured to a theoretically common pattern, could vary rather wildly in quality and colour!  I use Humbrol 83 Ochre as the base colour (this is the same colour I use for WW2 German ‘Dunkelgelbe’).  Then curving ‘swooshes’ of Humbrol 70 Brick Red, Humbrol 80 Grass Green and Humbrol 33 Black.  It’s worth noting that the brown and green elements could be surprisingly bright in shade – a lot brighter than the somewhat similar US Woodland Pattern.  Trousers could alternatively be replaced with denim olive-green ‘Lightweights’, for which I use Humbrol 86 Olive Green.

The DPM uniform was topped off with a Mk 4 steel helmet (essentially unchanged from the 1944-vintage Mk 3), which was invariably covered with a layer of ochre hessian sacking, then an olive-green scrim net, which was in turn woven with enormous quantities of hessian strips (in brown, green and ochre shades), dark green/reversible brown plastic ‘foliage’ and/or natural foliage and grass.  Webbing equipment was 58 Pattern in olive green.  However, this all changed during the late 1980s ‘SA80 Period’ to the Mk 6 kevlar helmet, with a standard DPM fabric cover, incorporating olive-green elastic strips to hold camouflage material and foliage.  The webbing also changed at this time to Personal Load-Carrying Equipment (PLCE) which was printed in DPM camouflage.

Above:  An Armoured Regiment’s Close Recce Troop.  From the mid-1970s until December 1982, all close recce tasks were handled by the Medium Recce Regiments, who in wartime would attach a Troop to each Armoured Regiment and Mech Infantry Battalion.  However, this proved unworkable in practice, so the Close Recce elements were handed back and the Medium Recce Regiments in Germany then concentrated on the ‘Covering Force Battle’.

Each Armoured Regiment HQ Recce Troop, consisted of eight CVR(T) Scorpion recce vehicles, armed with a 76mm gun.  In game terms this boils down to four models.  Mech Infantry Battalion Support Companies had a very similar Close Recce Platoon, equipped with eight CVR(T) Scimitar recce vehicles, armed with a 30mm Rarden Cannon.  It’s a complete mystery to me as to why they used two different (yet very similar) vehicles in an identical role.  After the end of the Cold War they eventually converted all such units to Scimitar or Sabre (Sabre was a Scorpion converted to 30mm Rarden Cannon armament by swapping the turret with the turret taken from a redundant CVR(W) Fox armoured car).

Above:  A Guided Weapons (‘Swingfire’) Troop.  Another element of Armoured Regiment Squadron HQs during this period was the Guided Weapons Troop, which consisted of nine FV438 Swingfire Anti-Tank Guided Weapon Vehicles and a Troop HQ consisting of a pair of Ferret Scout Cars.  In game terms, this becomes three FV438 models and a command Ferret.

FV438s had actually been taken away from Armoured Regiments during the extensive reorganisations of the late 1970s and massed along with the Swingfire-armed CVR(T) Striker vehicles of the Recce Regiments, in large Guided Weapons Batteries, operated by the Royal Horse Artillery.  This reorganisation was reversed in January 1983 and the Guided Weapons Troops were handed back to the Royal Armoured Corps.  However, the Guided Weapons Troops of Armoured Regiments only lasted until 1986, when they were finally disbanded.  However, FV438s remained in war reserve storage until the 1990s and CVR(T) Striker saw successful action against Iraqi armour in 1991 and again 2003.

Above:  A MILAN Detachment.  Mech Infantry Battalion’s primary anti-tank element was the support Company’s MILAN Platoon, which consisted of 16 MILAN anti-tank guided weapon detachments (i.e. a MILAN firing-post and crew).  These were broken down into four Sections, each of four MILAN.  Three Sections were transported by six FV432 APCs with two MILAN per vehicle.  The fourth Section was designated as the Mobile Section and was equipped with four CVR(T) Spartan APCs, each carrying a single MILAN.  In game terms this becomes eight MILAN, three FV432 and two Spartan.

CVR(T) Spartan MCT

In the late 1980s the Spartans of the Mobile Section were upgraded to Spartan MCT (‘MILAN Compact Turret’) standard.  These each had a pair of ready-to-fire MILAN missiles on a fully-traversable turret that could be fired from under armour.

An FV180 CET. Note that the bucket was actually at the rear of the vehicle, though it had two drivers seated back-to-back, so could drive in either direction with ease. This superb vehicle was also fully-amphibious and was equipped with a rocket-propelled land-anchor.

Above:  A Royal Engineers Field Troop.  Each Armoured Division in Germany had one or two tracked Engineer Regiments, each consisting of three Field Squadrons.  Each Squadron had three Field Troops and an FV180 Combat Engineer Tractor (CET) Troop, consisting of four CETs.

An Armoured Regiment or  Mech Infantry Battlegroup would normally have a Field Troop attached in order to handle its immediate Sapper needs, though further Sapper assets could be assigned, depending on the task.  The Troop was carried by FV-432 APCs, plus a pair of CVR(T) Spartan APCs for recce tasks.  In game term this becomes 1x Command Sapper stand, 1x Recce Sapper stand, 2x Sapper stands, 1x FV432 and 1x Spartan.  The Ferret Scout Car is an interloper and is probably be a liaison officer from a Regimental HQ.  The berets look a bit grey in the photo above, but they’re meant to be a very dark blue.

Above:  An Armoured Engineer Troop.  For heavier Sapper needs, 32 Armoured Engineer Regiment would provide the goods!  The regiment had three Squadrons, each initially of three Troops and an FV180 CET Troop.  Each Troop had an AVRE Section with three Centurion AVRE (Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers) armed with a 165mm Demolition Gun and fitted with dozer blades and a cradle for carrying fascines (i.e. large bundles of plastic pipes, used to fill ditches or form a ramp), a Bridging Section with three Chieftain AVLB (Armoured Vehicle-Launched Bridge) and a command/recce element in Ferret Scout Cars.  In game terms this becomes one model of each type.  The CET Troop had four FV180 CETs (two models) and I’ve attached one to this Troop.

During the mid-1980s a fourth such Troop was added to each Armoured Engineer Squadron.  In the late 1980s two of the Squadrons each received a Troop of three Centurion AVRE 105, which were converted former Royal Artillery Centurion Mk 12 OP tanks.  They retained their 105mm L7 guns, but were only equipped with HESH ammunition for the purposes of obstacle-demolition.  They were also fitted with mine-ploughs instead of the dozer blade normally seen on Centurion AVRE.  The third Squadron received a batch of twelve locally-converted Chieftain AVRE (known as ‘ChAVRE’ or ‘Willich AVRE’), which lacked any armament heavier than GPMG, but still enabled Sappers to carry out engineering tasks while under armour.  The old Centurion AVRE were now designated ‘AVRE 165’ to differentiate them from thr AVRE 105 and ChAVRE.

Above:  A Royal Artillery Light Air Defence Section.  To provide some local, short-range air defence for the Battlegroup, I’ve got a Royal Artillery Light Air Defence Section, consisting of a pair of Blowpipe SAMs and a CVR(T) Spartan.  Each Armoured Division in Germany could normally call on the services of a single Light Air Defence Battery, consisting of 36x Blowpipe SAMs to defend its front-line units.  The Battery was divided into three Troops, each of 12x SAMs and each Troop would normally be allocated to an Armoured Brigade.  The Troop would then be further broken down into Sections and Detachments, which would be allocated to Battlegroups.  Each pair of SAMs would be transported by a Spartan.  Contrary to what you might read in ‘Team Yankee’ rules, SAMs WERE DISMOUNTED TO FIRE!  They absolutely were not fired from the vehicle!

1 (Br) Corps also had two Royal Artillery Air Defence Regiments equipped with Rapier SAMs to provide defence-in-depth.  Each Regiment had three towed Rapier Batteries and one Tracked Rapier Battery, with twelve launchers per Battery.  From 1985 one towed Battery per Regiment was also converted to Tracked Rapier.  The Corps would also be further reinforced by four TA Light Air Defence Regiments, with around twelve Batteries in total.  These batteries only had 16x Blowpipe SAMs per Battery, divided into two Troops of eight.  They were transported by Land Rover, rather than Spartan.

From 1984 the Blowpipe SAM began to be replaced with the far more effective Javelin SAM (not to be confused with the later anti-tank missile of the same name).  TA Air Defence Regiments began receiving Javelin from 1988.  Happily, Javelin was visually identical to Blowpipe, so we can use the same models. 🙂

Above:  A Royal Artillery Forward Observation Officer (FOO).  Every Infantry Company or Armoured Squadron Group in 1 (Br) Corps would have a FOO Team attached; either from the divisional Field Artillery Regiments or from supplementary Forward Observation Batteries (many of these would be provided by the TA).  The normal OP vehicle was the FV432, often fitted with a dismountable thermal-imaging sight on the commander’s hatch, in lieu of a GPMG.  A ground-surveillance radar set was also carried (which seems to have been used dismounted – I’ve never seen a photo or heard of one mounted on a vehicle).

Divisional guns were a 50/50 split of Abbott self-propelled 105mm guns and M109 self-propelled 155mm guns.  1st Armoured Division had two Regiments of M109 and one of Abbott.  That ratio was reversed in 4th Armoured Division.  3rd Armoured Division had one Regiment of each.  Each Regiment had four batteries, each of six guns (theoretically increased to eight guns in wartime).

Above:  An RAF Forward Air Controller.  This chap, wearing RAF beret and glasses, mopping his brow and looking completely out of his depth, reminds me of someone…

[Edited to add]: Painting Vehicles

I paint my Cold War British vehicles in much the same way as my WW2 British.  Colour purists will shout that it’s not the right shade of green, but it looks right to me.  To my eye (and having seen them parked next to each other on occasion), British vehicles looked distinctly greener and less brown in hue than their German, Dutch, French and Belgian cousins of the period.  Brighter than the Americans, but not as eye-wateringly bright as the Danes.  Staring with a black undercoat, I paint them a basecoat of Humbrol 75 Bronze Green and then more Humbrol 33 Black for the camouflage.  The green bits are then given a top-coat of Humbrol 159 Khaki Drab and the black bits are highlighted Humbrol 67 Tank Grey.

I’ll then do the tracks, exhausts, stowage and markings in appropriate colours before giving the whole lot a dry-brush in Humbrol 72 Khaki Drill.  I also had mud-splashes up the sides in the same colour.  Lastly, I then pick out the vision-blocks and IR lamps in black and other lights in silver, red or orange, as appropriate, followed by crewmen and pintle-mounted MGs (I tend to find that these get lost in the muck if dry-brushed, so prefer to keep them clean.

British vehicles were meant to be camouflaged at a rough ratio of 2:1 green to black, unlike the very similar Danes, who stipulated a ratio of 1:1.  Like the Danes, the corners were meant to be painted black, though judging from photographs, this was routinely ignored.

Back to the queer-arsiers…

Posted in 15mm Figures, Battlefront: First Echelon, Battlefront: WW2, Cold War, Cold War - NATO Armies, Painted Units | 2 Comments

My ‘Partizan in the Cloud’: The Cassinga Raid, Angola 1978

This weekend should have been spent schlepping up to Newark for my annual pilgrimage to the Partizan 2020 show, but as with so many events at the moment, Partizan has been forced to cancel.  However, they are running the show online as ‘Partizan in the Cloud’, so here’s my contribution – a refight of the Cassinga Raid, Angola 1978.

Following an anti-personnel bombing strike on central Cassinga by SAAF Canberra bombers, a SAAF Buccaneer strikes a SWAPO-PLAN air defence site on the edge of the town.

The game is played in 15mm, using modified Battlefront: WWII rules.  The table is a 6-foot square, representing a 3km square in scale.  All models built and painted by me.  The infantry models, along with a lot of the vehicles and buildings are by Peter Pig, with some by QRF and Skytrex.  The aircraft are various plastic kits and one 3D-printed model (the links below have all the details).  Trees and scenic materials are by Woodland Scenics.

I know a lot of fellow-contributors will be setting up their games at home, but I don’t have the room for that, so here are some previously unposted photos of the game at Crusade 2020 in Penarth and links to my previous blog-posts on the terrain-building, modelling, scenario, play-testing and the game as played at Warfare 2019 in Reading.

Oh did I mention that we won Best Demo Game at Warfare 2019…? 🙂

Here are the links to my previous posts on my Cassinga Raid game:

Some Angola Air Support

Some More Angola Air Support

Building Cassinga

Play-Testing The Game

The Game (as played at Warfare 2019)

The Cassinga Raid Scenario

Following very closely behind the air-strikes continue on the town, SAAF C-160 Transall and C-130 Hercules transport aircraft drop SADF paratroops all around the town.

So what’s next?  Well it doesn’t look like I’ll be able to make it to The Other Partizan in October, so if I’m spared I’ll be at Partizan 2021 with The Cassinga Raid… It’s a shame to waste it… 🙂

Here are some more photos of the game.  Have a great weekend and stay safe.  See you at Partizan 2021! 🙂

SWAPO-PLAN’s morning parade at Cassinga is rudely interrupted by a formation of Canberra bombers and hundreds of anti-personnel bombs.

An overview of the battlefield from the eastern side of Cassinga.

An SAAF Cessna 185A Air Observation Post directs air strikes and keeps an eye out for Cuban reinforcements.

Captain Tommy Smitt’s sorely-understrength ‘D’ Company, along with Lieutenant Pierre Peters’ Anti-Tank Platoon, assault the SWAPO-PLAN Engineer Company HQ at the southern end of Cassinga. Their mission is then to establish a road-block to prevent any Cuban armour from interfering in the operation.

Lieutenant Johann Witt’s 9 (Independent) Platoon assaults some fortified villas at the northern end of Cassinga.

Commandant Jan Breytenbach lands by parachute right in front of the SWAPO-PLAN trenches and launches an immediate (and successful) close-assault on the position!

Elements of ‘C’ Company assault outlying trenches on the eastern side of Cassinga, but come under fire from a bunker on the edge of town.

Survivors of the devastating opening air-strikes claw their way off the parade square and into cover.

Posted in 15mm Figures, Battlefront: First Echelon, Battlefront: WW2, Cold War, Cold War - Angolan Border War, Crusade (Show), Games, Partizan (Show), Scenarios, Warfare (Show) | Leave a comment

The Royal Marines Armoured Support Group in Normandy 1944

Centaur Mk IV ‘Hunter’ of ‘H’ Troop, 2 Battery, 1 Royal Marine Armoured Support Regiment

As it’s VE Day (or at least it was when I started writing this), I thought I’d better do a WW2 post… 🙂

The Royal Marines Armoured Support Group was a short-lived organisation created for the Normandy Landings of 1944 and disbanded two weeks after D-Day (being resurrected in Afghanistan in 2007).  The initial plan was for a number of Landing Craft Tank (LCT) to be armoured (thus creating the LCT(A) variant) and armed with redundant and de-engined Centaur Mk IV Close Support Tanks, which would simply act as gun-turrets from the deck of the LCT(A).  These would provide close gunfire support with their 95mm Close Support Howitzers for the landing craft flotilla during the run-in to the beach and would then continue to provide support from the beach after grounding.  The Centaurs would be crewed by Royal Marines, whose traditional role included manning the gun turrets of Royal Navy warships.

However, during a demonstration of this concept during a landing exercise, Field Marshal Montgomery demanded to know why these tanks were not advancing from their beached landing craft.  Incensed by the reply, he demanded that the Centaurs be re-engined with immediate effect.  This order was successfully carried out, although the Centaur’s underpowered and unreliable Liberty engine arguably didn’t provide them with much more mobility…

Centaur Mk IV ‘Achilles’ of ‘A’ Troop, 1 Battery, 1 Royal Marines Armoured Support Regiment. This is an original coloured photo – not colourised.

Having been given the ability to fight on dry land, strict orders were now put in place for the RMASG to advance no further than one mile inland from the beaches.  However, as an illustration of how rigorously this order was applied, on 11th June RMASG Centaurs were to be found fighting at Cristot and Rots; some eight or nine miles south of the coast!

Five RM Armoured Support Batteries were created, each consisting of four Troops.  A Troop consisted of four Centaur Mk IV 95mm Close Support Tanks and a single Sherman Mk V (M4A4) Medium Tank for the Troop Commander.  Battery HQs had at least one Sherman Mk V (I’ve got no exact figures, but the history of 1 RMASR mentions a Battery Commander’s tank.  The Regt CO and 2IC had Jeeps).  Although officially classed as ‘OP Tanks’ the Troop Commanders’ Shermans had 75mm guns and would join in with shoots.  The Battery Commanders’ tanks may have had dummy guns in the same manner as Royal Artillery Battery Commanders, but I’ve no exact information.

The Batteries were numbered 1 to 5, with each Battery having a sequentially-lettered Troop.  No.1 Battery had A-D Troops, No.2 Battery had E-H, No.3 Battery had J-M, No.4 Battery had N-Q and No.5 Battery had R-V Troops.  The letter I was skipped, which was common practice at the time, to avoid it being confused with the number 1.  Nos. 1 & 2 Batteries were grouped into 1 RM Armoured Support Regiment, which would support 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division on GOLD Beach.  Nos. 3 & 4 Batteries were grouped into 2 RM Armoured Support Regiment and would support 3rd Canadian Infantry Division on JUNO Beach.  No.5 (Independent) Battery was assigned to 3rd Infantry Division on SWORD Beach.

Sherman Mk V ‘Fox’ belonging to the Troop Commander of ‘F’ Troop, 2 Battery, 1 RM Armoured Support Regt.

All tanks were distinctively marked with compass-graduations around the turret, with the front of the tank being 180 degrees.  This was to enable the Troop Commander to ‘easily’ calculate the bearing from gun to target by calculating the difference between the landing craft’s heading and the bearing that the gun was laid on to…  You probably had to be there to understand it…  The only other significant marking was the Battery tactical marking, which in all cases was the colours of the Royal Marines: namely a royal blue square, with a horizontal stripe of yellow, green and red.  This was then superimposed with the battery number in white.

A Centaur of 4 Battery, 2 RM Armoured Support Regiment on JUNO Beach

The majority of tanks also seem to have had an individual name painted in white across the circular blanking-plate where the MG port would normally be situated (or on the transmission-housing in the case of Shermans).  The tank’s name always started with the Troop letter.  For some reason I didn’t paint mine with names and I also missed the red/white/red national recognition flash.  This was a marking that pre-dated the Allied Star as a recognition marking and was still carried by a few vehicles on the lower hull front (and hull sides in the case of Shermans).  In black and white photos, the red part tends to become invisible, but the central white square of the marking is very clear.  There may also have been the standard Allied Star on the turret roof or engine deck, but no photos show it.

Vehicles were mostly painted SCC 15 Olive Drab, though a few were still painted in SCC 2 Service Drab (i.e. brown), which was the standard colour for all vehicles in the UK from 1941-1944, when it was replaced by SCC 15.  The short timeframe between the switch to SCC 15 and the Normandy Landings meant that a lot of British and Canadian vehicles were still painted SCC 2 in Normandy.  I must confess that I painted mine about 30 years ago, and foolishly believed someone when he told me that ‘all British tanks were painted Bronze Green’, hence the slightly dark and bluish shade of green used here (which is Humbrol 75 (Bronze Green)… 🙁  I’m absolutely not going to repaint these in the correct shade of green…  Nowadays I use Humbrol 75 as the base colour, with Humbrol 159 Khaki Drab to represent SCC 15.  For SCC 2 I used Humbrol 29 Dark Earth.

The RMASG crews wore the badge of the Combined Forces on their Battledress sleeves, with the red-on-blue ROYAL MARINES shoulder-title above.  In most cases they were not Commando-trained, so wore a navy-blue beret, with Royal Marines badge on a red ‘tombstone’ cloth backing.  Commando-trained personnel would wear a green beret.

A US Navy LCT(A) off Omaha Beach, loaded with Shermans instead of Centaurs. Note the raised firing platform and shockingly low freeboard.

Severe problems were caused by the RMASG’s LCT(A) transports, which apparently caused more casualties to the RMASG than enemy action. The armour-plating and raised fighting-platform for the tanks had added a considerable amount of weight and had offset the vessel’s centre of gravity to a dangerous degree. The low freeboard and top-heavy nature of loaded LCT(A)s resulted in the capsizing of several vessels during exercises and further losses were suffered in heavy seas during the actual landings (though I’ve been unable to determine exactly how many were lost).

Each LCT(A) could carry three tanks – two tanks on the fighting platform and a third (command) tank to the rear.  Each Troop was carried by two LCT(A)s – two Centaurs in one and two Centaurs with the Troop Commander’s Sherman in the other.  The Battery Commanders’ Shermans would occupy spare command tank slots.

I play Battlefront: WWII, which represents tanks at a ratio of 1:2 or 1:3.  So in game terms a full battery would have 2x or 3x Sherman and 8x Centaur.  My battery is therefore understrength, with 2x Sherman and 6x Centaur (in any case I’m not aware of any batteries fighting unified and at full strength).

As mentioned above, the RMASG was disbanded just two weeks into the campaign.  However, twelve of the Centaurs and some of the Shermans were passed to 53rd (Worcestershire Yeomanry) Airborne Light Regiment RA, 6th Airborne Division, which until that point was equipped with 75mm Pack Howitzers.  The Centaurs were initially split between two of the regiment’s existing batteries but were eventually grouped as a new battery, designated ‘X’ Battery.

In August 1944 the Centaurs were taken over by Royal Canadian Artillery personnel, being now designated 1st Canadian Composite (Centaur) Battery RCA.  This unit continued in the same vein as ‘X’ Battery, beefing up the strength of 53rd Airborne Light Regiment, 6th Airborne Division.  During Operation PADDLE (the breakout to the River Seine), the battery was attached directly to 6th Airborne Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment.  The Centaurs were finally retired at the end of the Normandy Campaign, though some remained as training vehicles for Free French forces.

The models are all rather ancient pre-Flames of War 15mm resin and metal models by Battlefront Miniatures, painted by me about 20 years ago.  The Centaur models actually had hull MGs, so those had to be cut off and the plate filed flat before painting.  I never want to have to paint these again…



Posted in 15mm Figures, Battlefront: WW2, Painted Units, World War 2, World War 2 - British Commonwealth Armies, World War 2 - Normandy 1944 | Leave a comment

Napoleonic Reinforcements

I’m in trouble with Mrs Fawr… The lockdown means that I’ve been painting AB Figures Napoleonics at an unprecedented rate and have been buying bare metal at an even greater rate, primarily due to hoovering up the remaining stock of (discounted) Spaniards and 1806 Prussians at Fighting 15s before anyone else nabbed them (I’m now admitting this in public, because I’ve now bought them all)!  Appeals for clemency based on the monetary savings due to staying at home have been rejected, based on fabricated evidence…  Someone else has clearly been adding empty beer, wine, whisky, cider and gin bottles to our glass-recycling bin!

Anyway, in anticipation of the end of lockdown (ever the optimist…), I’m planning a couple of big Napoleonic games, starting with the Battle of Liebertwolkwitz, 14th October 1813, which was a large cavalry clash and preliminary to the Battle of Leipzig.  This was primarily to give me the incentive to paint my Duchy of Warsaw Army, which is now finished and will be the subject of another article.  My extremely shabby Russian army also needs reinforcement and sprucing up, so I’ve re-flagged all my Russian regiments, rebased a load of units that were still based for WRG rules (which I stopped playing nearly 30 years ago) and have made a start on some new Russian units, starting with Cossacks and Cuirassiers.  In the meantime, I’ve also been painting other Napoleonic bits and pieces, such as these Brunswick staff officers:

Above:  I painted the Duke of Brunswick for my 1815 collection a few years ago, when AB brought him out for the 1815 Bicentennial.  However, as he was killed at the Battle of Quatre-Bras, command of the Brunswick Corps passed to Oberst von Olfermann and so you need another Brunswick command figure for Waterloo.  I had been using a spare Brunswick Hussar officer figure for Olfermann, but AB Figures brought out a set of three new Brunswick staff officers last year, so I had to buy them…

Above:  The ‘Black Duke’ of Brunswick is the one wearing the kaftan and floppy hat.  The uniform of the Duke and his staff was very similar to that of the Brunswick Hussar Regiment; namely a plain black hussar uniform, with black braid, black buttons, sky-blue collar and trouser-stripes and silver death’s-head motifs (the whole ensemble was chosen to symbolise mourning for the death of the Duke’s father at the Battle of Auerstädt in 1806 and for the occupation of his country by the French).  Brunswick staff officers apparently had gold lace edging to the collar and cuffs; that of the Hussar Regiment was black.

Above:  Oberst Olfermann here wears an undress cap that was worn as a more comfortable alternative to the shako (or cocked hat, in the case of senior officers).  As a senior field officer, his collar and cuffs are edged with silver lace.  I’ve also given his shabraque silver lace edging, though this is conjectural.  The green leather gloves were apparently a fashionable affectation adopted by some Brunswick officers.

Above:  As I play Napoleon’s Battles, which is a high command-level set of rules, divisional commanders are normally based as single figures on a 25mm-square base and my Brunswick commanders were previously based in that manner.  However, these staff officer figures are too good to waste… And they called it the Brunswick CORPS, after all… And they’re my toys, so I’ll base them as corps commanders if I want to… 🙂

Above:  I’ve shown Prince Eugène, Viceroy of Italy here before.  However, while painting the Mamelukes of the Imperial Guard recently, I decided to add a Mameluke servant to Eugène’s staff.  The Mameluke servant comes from AB Figures’s Napoleon & Staff set, as indeed does the figure I used for Eugène, as well as two of his staff.  While touring the Chateau de Fontainebleau a few years ago, I noticed a portrait of Eugène with his own  Mameluke manservant, no doubt imitating his step-father Napoleon, so thought it would be a good use of this figure, which I had in my spares box.

Above:  As mentioned a few weeks ago, it suddenly occurred to me that the Prussian Hussar ADC figure, with its falling feather plume, would make an excellent Hungarian general in campaign dress, so I painted him up as such.

Above:  I then got a little bit carried away and decided to get all my Austrian hussars out of the box…

Above:  While we’re at it, here’s the other Hungarian general, which was done with a standard Austrian Hussar officer figure.

Above:  And so to the Cossacks…  These are absolutely magnificent figures!  I’ve lost count of how many pose and dress variations there are within the range; there are eleven different figures here (plus officer) and that’s by no means all of the variants!  However, the posing (and the softer metal used by Eureka compared to the harder metal formerly used when production was here in Wales) means that the cast lances wouldn’t last five minutes in my clumsy hands.  So for the first time ever, I decided to replace all the lances in the unit with steel spears.  These are 50mm spears from North Star, cut down to 35mm (however, North Star have now stopped selling these).

Above:  After much drilling, gluing and swearing, I finally re-speared the Cossacks.  Only another 48 to do… 🙁

Above:  The Cossacks mounted on their ponies and awaiting paint.

Above:  The finished Cossack Pulk, plus Hetman Platov (on the white horse, waving a mace).

Above:  I decided to do these as Don Cossacks; like most Cossack hosts, the Don Cossacks wore a fairly bright blue uniform (with varying degrees of uniformity).

Above:  I could also have painted them in various shades of ‘civvy’, but decided to go with a fairly uniform look.

Above:  The distinguishing facing colour of the Don Cossacks was red (with red lances), though period prints and paintings show this to be worn fairly sporadically.  Trouser-stripes seem to have been fairly universal and busby-bags and cap-bands were generally in the facing colour.  I’ve given the tunics of this mob a random selection of red collars and/or cuffs, or just piping or nothing at all.

Above:  Some figures have full shabraques, so I’ve given those a red edging – silver for the officer (Cossack shabraques also had red diagonal stripes across the corners).  There is a very nice selection of random headgear on these chaps; from full-dress busbies with cords and bags (plumed in the case of the officer), plain busbies, tall floppy cloth caps and a sort of ‘false busby’ (i.e. a stovepipe shako with cords and ‘bag’ – seen on the left-hand figure above).

Above:  I found some Don Cossack flags on line and printed them off (I’m lucky enough to have my own laser-printer).  However, I’m not really happy with the quality of this one, so I’ll have a search for some higher-resolution flags and replace this at some stage.

I should add that in Napoleon’s Battles game terms there should be four cavalry figures per base, but the posing of these figures makes that absolutely impossible.  In any case, I like the ‘ragged swarm’ look for Cossacks.  So I put three figures on each base, but in game terms count them as four figures.  It also saves me cash! 🙂

Anyway, that’s it for now!

Posted in 15mm Figures, Napoleon's Battles (Rules), Napoleonic Austrian Army, Napoleonic French Army, Napoleonic Minor States, Napoleonic Russian Army, Napoleonic Wars, Painted Units | 11 Comments

Churchill Tanks in NW Europe 1944-45 (Part 2)

‘C’ Squadron, 9 RTR, 31st Tank Brigade, Normandy 1944

As if the lockdown weren’t already tedious enough, here I am again with the second part of my Churchill tank waffle!  And there was much rejoicing.  Yay.  If you’re still here, this time I’m looking in a bit more detail at organisations and vehicle markings.

As discussed in Part 1, there were three Tank Brigades in 21st Army Group (i.e. NW Europe from 1944-1945 – Normandy to Germany); the 31st Tank Brigade, 34th Tank Brigade and 6th Guards Tank Brigade.  Theoretically distinct from Armoured Brigades, the Tank Brigades were equipped with ‘Infantry Tanks‘, which were thickly-armoured and designed to provide close support to infantry in the assault over difficult terrain.  By 1944 this role was filled exclusively by the Churchill series (a.k.a. Infantry Tank Mk IV).  Armoured Brigades by contrast, were meant to be massed in Armoured Divisions and filled with ‘Cruiser Tanks‘ (which by 1944 meant the Cromwell series), designed to exploit the gaps in enemy lines and flow through en masse to exploit the enemy’s vulnerable rear.

In reality, the production of both Churchill and Cromwell tanks fell far short of the numbers required.  Only two Armoured Brigades were equipped with Cromwell (22nd Armoured Brigade & 1st Czechoslovak Armoured Brigade) and only five Tank Brigades (the 6th Guards, 31st & 34th in NW Europe and the 21st and 25th in Italy) were equipped with Churchill.  The 1st Armoured Engineer Brigade were also equipped with a Churchill variant, the AVRE.

The remaining 25 (or thereabouts) Tank & Armoured Brigades under Commonwealth command worldwide were equipped with American Sherman Medium Tanks (except for two Tank Brigades in Burma, still equipped with Lee/Grant Medium Tanks).  The Sherman had much the same firepower as the Cromwell and Churchill, though had the potential to be upgraded to ‘Firefly‘ standard with the superb 17pdr gun.  However, like the Cromwell, it had mediocre armour-protection.  In terms of mobility the Sherman had superb mechanical reliability, though was slower than Cromwell and a lot faster than Churchill.  Nevertheless, the stoic Churchill could go places that other types simply could not (as amply demonstrated in the Battle of the Reichswald).

A pair of Churchill Mk VIIs belonging to 107 RAC push through the Reichswald mud, 1945

Five independent Brigades in 21st Army Group (2nd Canadian, 4th, 8th, 27th and 33rd Armoured Brigades) were equipped with Sherman and were therefore designated as Armoured Brigades, even though they were there to provide close infantry support and do the exact same job as the Tank Brigades…  The Armoured Brigades assigned to Armoured Divisions also often found themselves employed in the infantry support role…  It’s therefore safe to say that the doctrinal lines between ‘Tank’ and ‘Armoured’ Brigades became extremely blurred in the later half of the war.

Here’s a basic organisational diagram for a Tank Brigade (though I’ve only included the ‘teeth’).  Note that they would never fight as a unified brigade, but instead existed as a ‘holding formation’, allocating individual Regiments and Squadrons (sometimes as little as a Half-Squadron) to support infantry formations.  There was therefore no organic Motor Infantry, Field Artillery, etc.:

Notes on Tank Brigade Organisation

(a)  The 31st Tank Brigade differed slightly from this organisation, in that it had only two ‘normal’ Tank Regiments.  The third regiment was equipped with Crocodiles and operated on a semi-independent basis.  In September 1944 the brigade was reorganized as two Crocodile Regiments and in November 1944 was brought back up to full strength with a third Crocodile Regiment.

(b)  Command Tanks could be Churchills of any 6pdr or 75mm-armed type, but were increasingly upgraded to Mk VII. 34th Tank Brigade arrived in Normandy with 24x Mk VIIs, all of which were allocated to Regt, Sqn and (some) Troop Commanders.  In Crocodile-equipped Squadrons, Sqn HQ tanks tended to be Mk IV (75mm) or Mk VI.

(c)  OP Tanks were mainly Churchill Mk III or Mk IV.  They were armed with a 6pdr or 75mm gun and had an extra radio for the use of an attached FOO.

(d)  The Intercom Troop (sometimes known as the Liaison Troop) was equipped with Humber Scout Cars.  These would be embedded with neighbouring unit HQs, in order to provide a direct radio link and liaison officer.

(e)  Recce Troops were very large – 11x Stuart Light Tanks and almost the size of a Squadron in their own right and often referred to as the ‘Recce Squadron’ in many accounts.  The Recce Troops of 31st & 34th Tank Brigades were equipped with Stuart Mk III Light Tanks (M3A1), while 6th Guards Tank Brigade had Stuart Mk V (M3A3) and Mk VI (M5).  Some of these were ‘jalopied’ as the campaign went on. Details are difficult to obtain, but a typical pattern was to retain one turreted Stuart in each ‘Patrol’ of three (this was the system used by 7th Armoured Division).

(f)  Regimental Anti-Aircraft (AA) Troops were equipped with Crusader AA Mk II Tanks, armed with twin 20mm Polsten Guns.  However, the AA Troops were disbanded during the Normandy Campaign.  Nevertheless, some regiments retained one or two Crusader AA Tanks as part of the HQ Troop.

(g)  Close Support (CS) Tanks were all Churchill Mk V.

(h)  Two tanks in each Troop were typically armed with 75mm guns (Churchill Mk III*, Mk IV (75mm) or Mk VI, with possibly a Mk VII for some lucky Troop Commanders).  The third tank was armed with a 6pdr (Mk III or Mk IV).  There is some anecdotal evidence to suggest that some units of 34th Tank Brigade managed to retain enough 6pdr tanks to deploy to Normandy with the ratio reversed – 1x 75mm to 2x 6pdr.  However, heavy combat losses during Operation GREENLINE and the Battle of Grimbosq meant that the ratio soon settled out to the normal ratio and this is reflected in their 1st December 1944 strength return.

A Churchill Mk IV OP of 9 RTR’s HQ Sqn, together with a Humber Scout Car of the Intercom Troop.

31st Tank Brigade

The badge of the 31st Tank Brigade was a green ‘diablo’ (i.e. the up-ended bow-tie symbol shown above). Some units (such as 33rd Armoured Brigade, which had a green and black diablo sign) would paint a thin white line around the diablo to make it stand out against the olive drab, but 31st Tank Brigade do not appear to have done this. With their transfer to 79th Armoured Division in September 1944 they adopted the triangular Bull’s Head badge of that division (above), though some crews appear to have painted the green diablo on their tanks in addition to the Bull.

A Churchill Mk IV (75mm) or Mk VI of 7 RTR in Normandy (note the ‘991’ serial)

A Crocodile of 7 RTR after their incorporation into 79th Armoured Division.

The white diagonal slash through the Arm-of-Service sign, going from top-left to bottom-right indicates Army Group Troops (i.e. units and formations reporting directly to an Army Group Headquarters, in this case 21st Army Group).  The observant will have noticed that I painted mine wrong – from top-right to bottom-left, which actually indicates Lines-of-Communication Troops.  That SHOULD have taught me to stop relying on my faulty memory, but articles on this blog clearly demonstrate that I have not learned my lesson…

* In September 1944, 9 RTR transferred to 34th Tank Brigade and was replaced in November 1944 by 1st Battalion, Fife & Forfar Yeomanry (1 F&FY), who adopted the markings formerly carried by 9 RTR.  Thankfully, they slotted into the same seniority slot, so 7 RTR and 141 RAC did not have to repaint their markings to make way for 1 F&FY.

A Crocodile of 141 RAC supporting US troops at Brest, September 1944.  This photo gives an excellent indication of the remarkable range of the Crocodile’s flame-projector (roughly 200 yards).

34th Tank Brigade

The white bar beneath the Arm-of-Service sign indicates Army Troops (i.e. units reporting directly to an Army HQ, in this case British 2nd Army.  A white bar above the AoS sign would indicate Corps Troops.

The vehicles of 34th Tank Brigade were painted with both the ‘mailed fist and mace’ badge of the brigade and with the shield of 2nd Army.

* In September 1944, 9 RTR transferred from 31st Tank Brigade to 34th Tank Brigade, replacing 153 RAC.  9 RTR now became the senior regiment in the brigade and therefore took the markings previously carried by 107 RAC (156 serial with red squadron signs).  107 RAC and 147 RAC were bumped down the pecking-order and similarly had to repaint their markings.

To explain the concept of ‘seniority’, regiments on parade line up in order of seniority and the same applies to brigade markings, as shown on this list (senior at the top, junior at the bottom):

1. Dragoon Guards (seniority by number)
2. Cavalry of the Line (Hussars, Dragoons and Lancers – seniority by number)
3. Regular RTR Regiments (1-12 RTR – seniority by number)
4. Yeomanry Regiments (i.e. Territorial Cavalry Regiments – seniority by date of formation)
5. Territorial RTR Regiments (40-51 RTR – seniority by number)
6. RAC Regiments (infantry battalions converted to armour – seniority by number)
7. Indian Cavalry Regiments (seniority by number)

Where the Foot Guards Battalions converted to armour fitted into all this is anyone’s guess, but thankfully they were never brigaded with anyone else, so seniority was as per the Foot Guards:

1. Grenadier Guards
2. Coldstream Guards
3. Scots Guards
4. Irish Guards
5. Welsh Guards

A column of Churchills of various marks in Normandy, being led by the No.7 Troop Leader’s Mk VII of ‘B’ Sqn, 147 RAC. Note the ‘157’ serial on the lower hull and the Troop number helpfully painted within the ‘B’ Sqn square on the canvas muzzle-cover.

6th Guards Tank Brigade

The Foot Guards had various unique, quirky and non-standard designations for companies and squadrons.  The 4th Grenadiers and 4th Coldstreamers each numbered their squadrons 1, 2 & 3, while the 3rd Scots opted for the rather bizarre ‘Right Flank’, ‘Left Flank’ and ‘S’ Squadrons.  This led to some strange conversations with officers from other regiments, who were easily (and understandably) baffled by statements such as “Right Flank Squadron is over there, on the left flank.”

A Churchill Mk IV of 3rd Scots Guards in Normandy (note the ‘154’ serial).

A Churchill Mk IV (75mm) or Mk VI of 4th Grenadier Guards (‘152’ serial) during the Winter of 1944/45.

A Churchill Mk III, IV, V or VI of 6th Guards Tank Brigade carrying US Paratroops of the 17th Airborne Division after crossing the Rhine in 1945.

Sometime shortly after the end of the Normandy Campaign, all independent Armoured Brigades and Tank Brigades were ordered to adopt the standard marking scheme shown here, which was already in use by the Armoured Brigades of Armoured Divisions.  However, this order was only sporadically obeyed.  There is photographic evidence to show that 6th Guards Tank Brigade obeyed the order, though kept the white ‘Army Troops’ bar beneath the sign.  I don’t know if 34th Tank Brigade ever obeyed the order.

31st Tank Brigade by that stage belonged to 79th Armoured Division and were no longer independent.  In any case, the 1st Armoured Brigade (Sherman Crabs) was already using this scheme within 79th Armoured Division.  31st Tank Brigade therefore kept their old markings, even though the diagonal stripe indicated Army Group Troops, which they had ceased to be since joining an Armoured Division.

A Churchill Mk IV of 3rd Scots Guards in 1945, displaying the new ’53’ serial (with white ‘Army Troops’ bar).

The Troop number was commonly painted inside the geometric squadron sign and was usually painted in the same colour.  White was also sometimes used.  Troop numbers were sequential through the regiment, so ‘A’ Sqn had 1-5, ‘B’ Sqn had 6-10 and ‘C’ Sqn had 11-15.  Sqn HQs typically used ‘HQ’.  Regt HQ tanks did not normally have anything within their diamond symbol, though there were unit exceptions (I’ve not seen anything specific for Churchill units).

Tanks within each troop were further differentiated by a callsign.  The Troop Commander would simply be identified by the troop number, while his two subordinate tanks would add the suffixes ‘A’ and ‘B’.  These suffixes were sometimes painted alongside the troop number within the squadron sign, but this was not common.  Callsigns were sometimes painted on the turret rear or on a removable plate attached to the turret rear.

Squadron signs were commonly in-filled with black while training in the UK, but this was rarely seen in NW Europe.

* This example was seen on a Churchill Mk III* of ‘B’ Sqn, 153 RAC in Normandy.

Wargaming Representation

In game terms, as a player of Battlefront: WWII, all my armies are organised at a ratio of 1:2 or 1:3.  A Churchill Squadron of 19 tanks therefore boils down to 7 models – five models each represent a Troop of three tanks and two models each represent a pair of tanks in the SHQ, like so:

1x Churchill Mk III*/IV/VI 75mm Command Tank
1x Churchill Mk V 95mm Close Support Tank
3x Churchill Mk III*/IV/VI 75mm Tanks*
2x Churchill Mk III/IV 6pdr Tanks*

* Alternatively, for 34th Tank Brigade in Normandy, the ratio of 75mm to 6pdr tanks could be reversed.

‘C’ Sqn 9 RTR, 31st Tank Brigade, before the arrival of Mk VII on 12th July 1944.

Following the introduction of Mk VII tanks, the squadron looks like this:

1x Churchill Mk VII Command Tank
1x Churchill Mk V 95mm Close Support Tank
1x Churchill Mk VII Tank
2x Churchill Mk III*/IV/VI 75mm Tanks
2x Churchill Mk III/IV 6pdr Tanks

‘C’ Sqn 9 RTR, 31st Tank Brigade, with Churchill Mk VII included

If you prefer to use a blanket 1:2 ratio, you could add another two tanks.

Models & Painting

All the Churchill models shown above are Flames of War/Battlefront Miniatures models, painted by me.  The Humber Scout Car is by Peter Pig.

All Churchills of the period were painted all-over in Standard Camouflage Colour (SCC) 15 Olive Drab.  You can find recipes for EXACT matches of this shade online and some paint-manufacturers are now producing perfectly-hued paint, but I’m a wargamer, not a modeller (I’m also a lover, not a fighter; which is ironic, as she doesn’t ‘alf put up a struggle…), so I find standard Humbrols to be a good enough match for me.

I start with a thin black undercoat, then paint the tank all over in Humbrol 75 Bronze Green.  I then do a second coat with Humbrol 159 Khaki Drab, leaving some Bronze Green in the deeper shadows.  I tend to find that the Bronze Green base deepens the final colour.  I then paint on the markings and do a final dry-brush with Humbrol 72 Khaki Drill.

Anyway, that’s it for now.  I mentioned AVREs earlier, so I might talk about those next time…

Posted in 15mm Figures, Battlefront: WW2, Painted Units, World War 2, World War 2 - British Commonwealth Armies, World War 2 - Netherlands & Germany Campaign 1944-45, World War 2 - Normandy 1944 | 6 Comments

Churchill Tanks in NW Europe 1944-45 (Part 1)

In my (unpaid) role as historical consultant for Dave Brown Esq, I was this week discussing with him the various marks of Churchill tank used by the British 21st Army Group (i.e. NW Europe from 1944 (Normandy) to 1945 (Germany)) , how they were organised, who used them and when.  It occurred to me that this is a perennial internet forum question and one I must have discussed a hundred times or more, so a blog-post is probably long overdue…

Marks of Churchill Tank in 21st Army Group 1944-45

Churchill Mk III

Churchill Mk III with Mk 3 gun without counterweight.

The Churchill Mk III had a very squarish, welded turret and was armed with a 6pdr (57mm) gun.  It retained the hull-design of the Mk II, with rectangular side-doors and MG-port.

Early production Churchill Mk III (and Mk IV) tanks had the shorter (L43) 6pdr Mk 3 gun, while later production tanks had the slightly longer (L50) 6pdr Mk 5 gun.  The Mk 5 gun used the same ammunition as the Mk 3, but had slightly improved muzzle-velocity and therefore slightly improved range and armour-penetration.  Those tanks fitted with Mk 3 guns were eventually upgraded to Mk 5 guns and there were probably no Mk 3 guns remaining on tanks sent to NW Europe.  However, as there was no special mark-number for tanks fitted with Mk 5 guns, they are not differentiated in unit strength-returns and it is therefore very difficult to be certain, so never say never!

Unlike their towed cousins, 6pdr guns fitted to tanks did not have a muzzle-brake.  There was normally just a slightly thicker collar around the muzzle (as shown on my model and the photo above). Depending on the elevation-system used, some 6pdr guns could also have a muzzle counterweight-collar fitted, which can look like a muzzle-brake at a distance, but lacks the holes at the sides.

Churchill Mk III with Mk 3 gun and muzzle-counterweight

Further improvements to armour-penetration were gained when the revolutionary 6pdr Armour-Piercing Discarding Sabot (APDS) was introduced in June 1944.  Although this ammunition was unstable at longer ranges, it gave 6pdrs a significant advantage at closer engagement-ranges.  The 6pdr Mk 5 gun already had a very slight advantage over the 75mm gun in terms of armour-penetration, but the APDS round was a game-changer.

Although 6pdr APDS was prioritised for those Royal Artillery Anti-Tank units still equipped with 6pdr, some supply was made available to Infantry Battalion Anti-Tank Platoons and Tank Regiments.  Consequently, Tank Regiments suddenly halted their 75mm upgrade programmes and where possible, started to retain a 6pdr tank in each Troop of three tanks.  However, as their primary role was infantry support, the superb HE effect of the 75mm was still the primary gun-type (no matter how much us wargamers want the better anti-tank capability!).

Churchill Mk III with Mk 5 gun and counterweight, plus applique armour on hull-sides and turret-front.

A number of Churchill Mk III were up-gunned with 75mm guns, creating the Churchill Mk III* (‘Mark Three-Star’).  This upgrade also included an additional 37mm of applique armour on the turret-front and hull-sides.  Roughly half of the Churchill Mk III in the 31st and 34th Tank Brigades (around 30 in the 31st and 50 in the 34th) had been upgraded to Mk III* before June 1944.  Some 6pdr tanks also received the applique armour upgrade, as shown above.

Churchill Mk III*. Note the muzzle-brake of the 75mm gun.

Being rather long in the tooth, the Mk III gradually disappeared from the order of battle throughout 1944 & 1945, being replaced by Mk IV, Mk VI and Mk VII.  They were virtually all gone by the time the Rhine was crossed in 1945.

Churchill Mk IV

The Churchill Mk IV had exactly the same armament and the same hull as the Mk III, though had a cheaper, cast turret with a distinctive rounded profile.  This turret would also go on to be used in the Mk V and Mk VI (as well as Mks IX-XI, which were up-armoured Mks IV-VI but never saw active service during WW2).

As with the Mk III, early-production Mk IVs had the Mk 3 gun and later models had the Mk 5 gun.  Again, these could be fitted with muzzle-counterweights, depending on the type of elevation system fitted.  It is highly unlikely that any tanks fitted with Mk 3 guns saw service in NW Europe.

A column of Churchills is led by a Mk IV (Mk 5 gun with counterweight)

As with the Mk III, many Churchill Mk IV were upgraded with 75mm guns, though there was no applique armour upgrade and no special mark-designation.  These upgraded tanks were absolutely identical to the Churchill Mk VI and were either known as ‘Mk IV (75mm)’ or as ‘Mk VI’, although strictly-speaking the designation ‘Mk VI’ indicates a factory-built 75mm tank.

Some Mk IV tanks (typically 8 per brigade – 2 in each Tank Regt HQ and Tank Bde HQ) were designated as ‘Mk IV OP’.  In this instance ‘OP’ means ‘Observation Post’.  These were fitted with a second radio set and the loader would double as a second radio-operator (the co-driver being the primary radio-operator).  These would be made available to attached artillery Forward Observation Officers (FOOs), who would replace the tank commander, while their radio operator would replace the loader.  Contrary to popular wargames-lore, these DID NOT have dummy-guns and were fully armed, though ammunition stowage was reduced in order to accommodate the extra radio.  If ‘proof of armament’ is needed, 6th Guards Tank Brigade recorded upgrading its Mk IV OP tanks to 75mm guns (I’ll discuss OP tanks more fully in another article).

The 6th Guards Tank Brigade had 164x Churchill Mk IV in June 1944 and all had been upgraded to 75mm guns.  However, around one tank per Troop of three had been converted back to 6pdr by the time they deployed to Normandy in mid-July 1944.  I’ve no idea if this was by physical re-conversion or was done by swapping them with 6pdr-armed tanks from depots.  31st and 34th Tank Brigades each had around 20-30 Mk IVs in June 1944, some of them converted to 75mm guns.  However, the numbers of 6pdr-equipped Mk IVs increased markedly as the campaign went on as they replaced lost obsolete 6pdr-armed Mk IIIs.

Churchill Mk V

The Churchill Mk V was essentially the same tank as the Mk IV, though had a 95mm Close Support Howitzer as its main armament.  Each Tank Squadron HQ had a pair of these and this remained essentially unchanged throughout the campaign.

The role of Close Support tanks was to provide heavy HE and smoke support to the tanks, primarily providing overwatch to suppress and destroy enemy anti-tank guns.  There are many misunderstandings and myths regarding British Close Support tanks and it’s important to understand that they are there to support their fellow TANKS, not the infantry; the other tanks in the squadron are supporting the infantry… I hope that’s clear! 🙂

A restored Churchill Mk V at Overloon War Museum in the Netherlands. Marked as ‘B’ Sqn, 4th Coldstream Guards, 6th Guards Tank Bde.

Another myth that often pops up in wargames literature and discussion is that ‘they were only armed with smoke’.  This is completely untrue and is also untrue of the 3-inch Close Support Howitzer that came before the 95mm (as fitted to Churchill Mk I/II, Matilda, Crusader, Valentine and Tetrarch CS tanks).  It’s also untrue to a certain extent of the early-war 3.7-inch Close Support Howitzer fitted to A9 & A10 Cruiser Tanks.

The myth stems from the early days of the war and the fact that the standard ammunition load-out for A9 & A10 CS tanks only included two rounds of HE – the rest being smoke.  To add further insult, the A9s & A10s arrived in France without any 3.7-inch HE rounds whatsoever!  The 3-inch CS Howitzer that followed proved to be a decent enough weapon and proved invaluable when supporting 2pdr and 6pdr-armed tanks with little or no HE capability.  However, it was made obsolete by the advent of 75mm main tank guns and superb US 75mm HE ammunition, hence the move to a more powerful 95mm weapon.

Churchill Mk VI

The Churchill Mk VI, as mentioned above, was the 75mm-armed variant of the Churchill Mk IV.  Many Mk IVs were upgraded with 75mm guns and are commonly referred to as ‘Mk VI’, but proper Churchill Mk VI tanks were factory-built as such.  Factory-built Mk VI tanks eventually became the majority Churchill type in NW Europe as they replaced Mk III* and Mk IV (75mm) combat-losses.

Churchill Mk VI (or possibly a Mk IV (75mm)) of 31st Tank Brigade, Operation EPSOM, June 1944.

Churchill Mk VII

The Churchill Mk VII was a significant improvement on earlier Churchill marks, with a completely redesigned composite (part-cast, part-welded) turret and an improved hull.  The turret looked somewhat similar to that of the Mk III, but had a thick ‘rim’ around the bottom edge and ‘cheeks’ either side of the gun-mantlet.  The hull’s rectangular side-hatches and MG port were now replaced by circular versions.  The biggest improvement was in terms of armour-protection, which exceeded that of the Tiger I.  However, the main gun was still the standard 75mm, which meant that if two Churchill Mk VIIs squared off against one-another, they would struggle to knock the other out…

While this considerable improvement in armour-protection was welcome, the Mk VII remained rare as a battle-tank.  The primary reason for this was that Mk VIIs were prioritised to Crocodile units, which (aside from a few older types used as Regt HQ, Sqn HQ and CS tanks) were completely equipped with Mk VII Crocodiles and used up a large chunk of the production capacity.  For example, 9 RTR (31st Tank Brigade) only received its first ten Mk VIIs on 12th July 1944, as part of the replacements for the horrific losses suffered by the regiment on Hill 112 during Operation JUPITER (10-11 July).  When Mk VIIs were delivered they almost always went primarily to the Regt HQ, Sqn HQs and occasionally filtered down to Troop Commanders.  I’ve never come across one in NW Europe that wasn’t an officer’s mount.  By contrast in Italy, they did try to form complete Troops of Mk VIIs to act as a spearhead.

A further development of the Churchill Mk VII was the Churchill Mk VIII, which used exactly the same turret and hull, though like the Mk V was armed with a 95mm Close Support Howitzer.  These were certainly in production during 1944 and 1945, but I’ve been able to find no evidence whatsoever for their combat use or even deployment in NW Europe.  The same goes for the upgraded Mks IX-XI.

Churchill Mk VII Crocodile

The Churchill Mk VII Crocodile was a further development of the Mk VII to create a formidable flamethrower tank.  The most obvious difference between a standard Mk VII and a Crocodile was that the Crocodile was equipped with an articulated armoured trailer to keep the flamethrower-fuel and propellant gas safely OUTSIDE the tank… The other difference was that the hull machine gun was replaced by the superlative flame-projector.  This meant that the Crocodile, unlike most other flamethrower tanks, retained a turreted main gun that could be used for long-ranged engagements.

The fuel and gas was fed from the trailer to the projector via an armoured pipe that ran beneath the hull, thus keeping the dangerous materials firmly outside of the crew compartment.  The trailer’s armour was proof against small-arms fire and fragments, but vulnerable to fire from anything heavier.  The crew therefore had to use the heavy armour of their tank to shield the trailer as best they could.  Things were complicated further by the fact that the trailer made reversing out of trouble somewhat awkward!  The trailer could therefore be ejected and abandoned at the press of a button.

Late production runs of Churchill Mk VIIs were all fitted with the fittings (trailer coupling, fuel-pipe, etc) for Crocodile equipment, so that any Mk VII could be quickly and easily turned into a Crocodile simply by replacing the hull MG with the flame-projector.  This does NOT mean that ordinary tank regiments could refit their Mk VIIs – it just means that combat losses of Crocodiles in Crocodile units could easily make good their losses from a generic pool of Mk VII replacement tanks.

One regiment of 31st Tank Brigade (141st Royal Armoured Corps or ‘141 RAC’) was equipped with Crocodile in time for the D-Day Landings, though only two Crocodile Troops were landed on 6th June and they only fired some 75mm and MG ammunition – no flames!  141 RAC spent the entire Normandy Campaign largely divorced from their parent brigade, being split up into Squadron, Half-Squadron and Troop-sized detachments, supporting various units.  On one occasion they even supported the Americans in assaulting a Napoleonic fortress at Brest.  This meant that 31st Tank Brigade had to soldier on with only two Tank Regiments (7 RTR and 9 RTR).  Note that 141 RAC was NOT a part of 79th Armoured Division at this time, although it would often work alongside the ‘Funnies’.

However, in September 1944 the 31st Tank Brigade was formally absorbed into 79th Armoured Division as an ‘All-Crocodile’ Brigade.  7 RTR was also now converted to a Crocodile regiment and both they and 141 RAC now wore the triangular yellow badge with the bull’s head of ‘Hobart’s Funnies’.  9 RTR had transferred out to 34th Tank Brigade, but 31st Tank Brigade was finally brought up to strength in November 1944 with the addition of 1st Fife & Forfar Yeomanry as its third Crocodile regiment.

Crocodiles of ‘A’ Sqn, 7 RTR

Models and Painting

All the models here are Flames of War models (Battlefront Miniatures) from my own collection, painted by me.  I’ll cover painting and marking in more detail later.

I’ve suddenly realised that what was going to be a short blog-post has turned into a mahoosive one (again), so I’ll talk about organisations next time!

‘C’ Sqn, 9 RTR (31st Tank Brigade) in Normandy


Posted in 15mm Figures, Battlefront: WW2, Painted Units, World War 2, World War 2 - British Commonwealth Armies, World War 2 - Netherlands & Germany Campaign 1944-45, World War 2 - Normandy 1944 | 6 Comments

Happy 2nd Birthday Jemima Fawr!

Yes, it’s that time of year again!  Where does the time go when you’re having… OK, a mildly acceptable time…?

This time a year ago we’d had just over 20,000 hits on the blog after the first year and now we have had nearly 60,000!  So our hits have almost doubled in the last year!  🙂 OK, a considerable amount of that is probably me clicking from the work computer in a vain attempt to improve my stats and make it look like I have followers, but it is truly wonderful to see that long-term sufferers of insomnia have really got behind this site to cure their affliction.

We’re probably still not enough to count as ‘Viral’, but who wants one of those nowadays…?  Last year we were probably popular enough to class as ‘Fungal’, but now I’m confident that we’re firmly established as a ‘Persistent Yeast Infection’.

I’m also extremely proud of all the e-mails and messages I’ve received to say that this site is being blocked by their work computer or by their child-access settings on their home computer.  I think you’ll agree that this is quite an achievement for a website about toy soldiers.

So for those who haven’t been keeping up, my main ‘thing’ in the last year has been my demo game of the Cassinga Raid (Angola 1976), which won Best of Show at ‘Warfare 2019’ in Reading (definitely the world’s greatest wargames show and I won’t hear another word).  I also took it to ‘Crusade 2020’ in Penarth this year, but ‘Partizan 2020’ has sadly been cancelled for obvious reasons, so perhaps next year…

I’ve also managed to do some American Civil War, Napoleonic, World War Two, Very British Civil War, X-Wing and other Cold War games, but nowhere near as many as I’d like.  Sadly, that’s the trouble with being a shift-worker…  The plus-side being that they let me paint in work, so don’t feel too sorry for me…

My main objective at the moment is to play a couple of epic Napoleonic games when we finally get out of isolation from the Flu-Manchu.  My new wargaming-buddy Rhys asked to play ‘something with Russians’, so I thought perhaps the epic multi-national cavalry clash at Liebertwolkwitz in 1813.  It’s a fun scenario that I’ve played before and it also gives me the spur to refresh my knackered old Napoleonic Russian collection with some new flags, new units and a lot of rebasing.  It also gives me the mojo to finish off my AB Figures Army of the Duchy of Warsaw and a corps of Austrians wearing shako.  Once those Austrians are done, I’ll have enough Whitecoats finished at long last to do Aspern-Essling. 🙂

If we’re spared… 🙁

As for the blog, despite my best efforts there are still stacks and stacks of models, collections and scenarios that have still got to see the light of day.  People also seem to like my half-arsed painting guides, so I’ll try to do more of those and make a bit more of an effort to get them accurate…

Thanks for reading and stay safe out there, people… People…?  Where did you go?  Oi!  Wake up at the back!

Posted in Uncategorised | 14 Comments

“La Garde au Feu!”: My 15mm French Imperial Guard (Part 7: The Heavy Cavalry)

As discussed last time, I’m finally done with the Imperial Guard!  So here’s the last part – the heavy cavalry regiments of the French Imperial Guard:

Gendarmes d’Élite de la Garde

Again, I’m starting with something of an oddball unit, as the Gendarmes d’Élite were more of a military police unit than a cavalry regiment and for the first half of their existence included an infantry element.  They were nicknamed ‘The Immortals’ by the rest of the Guard, as they would very rarely be committed to battle.  However, they did occasionally fight en masse, particularly from 1812 onward, and did well in battle.

I must admit that these figures, like the Mamelukes, are fairly redundant for me as the Gendarmes were rarely present in sufficient strength to be fielded on table as a separate unit and they’re NEVER going to appear as a 12-figure unit!  The highest battlefield strength I can find for them is in September 1813, when they had 536 men present and on-strength.  That equates to around 7 figures for Napoleon’s Battles! 🙂  So they might turn up as a small unit at Bautzen, Dresden or Leipzig, otherwise they might be adding an extra base to one of the other Guard cavalry regiments.  However, I just HAD to have these when they came out (ironically at the same time as the Mamelukes, about two years ago).

The Gendarmes wore a uniform that was almost identical to that worn by the two Carabinier regiments prior to 1810, namely a dark blue habit coat, with scarlet lapels, cuffs and tail-turnbacks and plain blue collar.  Buttons were silver and a white aiguillette was worn on the left shoulder, while a trefoil-shaped contre-epaulette was worn on the right shoulder.  On campaign a much plainer surtout coat was worn; this was single-breasted and lacked the scarlet lapels and cuffs of the full-dress habit, though the aiguillette and contre-epaulette were still worn (some sources show plain scarlet cuffs on the surtout).  Waistcoat and breeches were a deep yellow-buff buckskin and all belts and gauntlets matched this colour.  Most (but not all) sources show the belts as having white edging.  The sabre-scabbard was brass.

The bearskin cap had white metal chinscales and a black leather visor, edged in white metal.  On the back was a scarlet patch, decorated with a white grenade badge.  On the left side was the national cockade with a white plume above and hung with white flounders.  Hair was worn in a queue and was powdered when in full dress.  In 1814 and while I Royal service, the Gendarmes d’Élite replaced their helmets with ornate steel helmets, decorated with brass fittings and a high, black woollen crest.  The regiment wore these helmets during the 1815 Campaign.

Shabraque and square valise were dark blue, edged with a double row of white lace and an Imperial Crown badge at the rear corners.  Like the Empress’ Dragoons, the Gendarmes d’Élite had three holster-covers on each side of the saffle, again heavily decorated with lace.  Like other heavy cavalry regiments, the (dark blue) cloak was normally stowed on top of the valise with the (scarlet) lining exposed.  Horses were (ideally) very dark bays.

Officers had the same uniform, except that all lace decoration was silver lace and the aiguillette was moved to the right shoulder.  They also had full, fringed epaulettes in silver.

Trumpeters wore ‘reversed colours’ of a scarlet habit with dark blue lapels, cuffs, tail-turnbacks and scarlet collar, all edged in white lace and with white buttonhole-lace on the lapels.  Some sources show a blue collar.  The aiguillette, contre-epaulette and trumpet-cord were of mixed crimson & white threads.  Some sources show the positions of aiguillette and contre-epaulette as being the same as the rank-and-file, while others show them reversed, as for officers (the figure has them reversed, with the aiguillette on the right shoulder).  Plume was scarlet with a white tip.  Equipment and horse-furniture was the same as for the rank-and-file.  On campaign a surtout could again be worn in lieu of the habit.  This seems to have initially been sky-blue with crimson facings and white lace, but changed to match the habit colour of scarlet with blue facings and white lace.

The trumpeter’s uniform changed during Royal service in 1814/15 to a sky-blue habit with crimson facings, laced as before.  This was worn with a bicorne hat that was edged in white lace and a fringe of alternating crimson & white ostrich-feathers.  This was topped off with a tall white plume.  Horse furniture was now sky-blue with white lace as before.  This uniform was worn during the 1815 Campaign.

The Gendarmes d’Élite had an Eagle and drapeau, but AB sadly didn’t include such a figure.  I suppose I could have included a Grenadier à Cheval Eaglebearer (and ignore the lack of a peak on the bearskin), but at the time I could only buy figures in packs from Fighting 15s rather than single figures.

Dragons de l’Impératrice de la Garde (Empress’ Dragoons)

This regiment was formed in 1806 from selected cavalry troopers of the Line and officers from the Chasseurs & Grenadiers à Cheval de la Garde.  Initially comprising three squadrons, with a total strength of just over 800 men, the regiment was presented by Napoleon to his wife and titled La Régiment de Dragons de l’Impératrice (The Empress’ Dragoon Regiment).  Following its baptism of fire during the Battles of Eylau and Friedland in 1807, the regiment was expanded to five squadrons, with a little over 1,250 men.  The regiment was rapidly reformed in 1813 following massive losses in Russia and was increased to six squadrons, though the 5th and 6th Squadrons were designated as Young Guard.  Following Napoleon’s abdication in 1814, the regiment was incorporated into the restored Royal Guard.  In 1815 they returned to the Eagles and fought at Ligny and Waterloo.

The uniform consisted of a dark green habit, with white lapels, green collar, scarlet tail-turnbacks and scarlet cuffs, white cuff-flaps and brass buttons.  An aurore aiguillette was worn on the right shoulder and an aurore contre-epaulette was worn on the left shoulder.  The tail-turnbacks were decorated with aurore grenade badges, outlined in white.  The habit could be replaced on campaign with a simpler single-breasted surtout, which was coloured the same as the habit, except that it lacked lapels and cuffs.

The helmet was all brass, with a black horsehair mane and a small black horsehair tuft on top of the brass aigrette (in the case of line Dragoons, the aigrette was all black horsehair).  In place of the brown sealskin ‘turban’ worn by line Dragoons, the rank-and-file of the Empress’ Dragoons had a faux-leopardskin turban (painted canvas), which extended forward to cover the visor and was held in place by a brass lip to the visor.  In full dress a scarlet plume was worn on the left side.  Belts and gauntlets were white and the sabre-scabbard was brass.

Trumpeter, Full Dress

The waistcoat was white and breeches were whitened buckskin (a very pale buff).  On campaign white cloth breeches would be worn, but these had been replaced by 1812 with grey cloth breeches.  The shabraque was of exactly the same style as that described above for the Gendarmes d’Élite, though was dark green with aurore lace and crown.  Note that the saddle had THREE holster-covers on each side, not two as incorrectly shown in the illustration above.  Horses were chestnuts, although with my rubbish horse-painting, I’d describe them more as conkers…

Officers had the same basic uniform as described above, though had gold lace, buttons and aiguillette, as well as gold fringed epaulettes.  They also had real leopardskin turbans on their helmets and the helmet decoration was generally richer.

Young Guard Squadrons 1813

Trumpeters had a full dress uniform of a white habit, with sky-blue lapels, cuffs, tail-turnbacks and white collar, all laced with gold lace, including the buttonholes on the lapels.  The aiguillette, contre-epaulette and trumpet-cord were made with mixed gold and sky-blue threads.  The helmet had a white horsehair mane and crest-tuft, as well as a sky-blue plume in full dress.  Horse furniture was sky-blue with gold lace.  On campaign trumpeters could wear a sky-blue surtout, with crimson collar and tail-turnbacks.

As mentioned above, in 1813 the 5th & 6th Squadrons of the regiment were designated as Young Guard.  Unlike some other Young Guard contingents, these troops were actually dressed very similar to their Old Guard comrades.  The only significant difference was that they lacked the aiguillette; instead having just two aurore contre-epaulettes.

2ème Éclaireurs 1813-1814

In December 1813 the regiment was reinforced by the newly-raised 2ème Éclaireurs de la Garde (also known as the Éclaireurs-Dragons), who provided light cavalry and reconnaissance support for the Empress’ Dragoons, being primarily tasked with the aim of keeping the Cossacks at bay.

The 2ème Éclaireurs were dressed very similarly to line Chasseurs à Cheval of the period, in green uniforms with scarlet facings and tall scarlet rouleau-style shako.  However, they were equipped as light lancers.  AB Figures sadly don’t produce anything similar, but Sho Boki Miniatures do some very nice figures for the 2ème Éclaireurs.

Grenadiers à Cheval de la Garde

And so to the last one: Although originally raised as light cavalry in 1799, the Grenadiers à Cheval ‘properly’ started life in 1800 as the junior regiment of the Consular Guard, with the Chasseurs à Cheval being the senior regiment.  Within  few months, the regiment distinguished itself at the Battle of Marengo.  In 1804 the Grenadiers à Cheval, along with the Chasseurs à Cheval and the Mamelukes, became the cavalry arm of the Imperial Guard.  By 1812 the regiment had expanded to five squadrons and over 1,000 men, but the terrible Russian Campaign reduced that number to fewer than 200. Rapidly reconstituted in 1813, the regiment took to the field again with four Old Guard squadrons and two Young Guard Squadrons.  With the abdication of Napoleon in 1814, they became part of the restored Royal Guard, but returned to Napoleon’s side in 1815 for their final campaign in Belgium.

The Grenadiers à Cheval were uniformed and equipped very similarly to the Empress’ Dragoons described above, except that the habits, surtouts and shabraques were dark blue instead of green.  Details of facing colours, lace, aiguillettes, epaulettes, equipment and officers’ distinctions were all exactly the same as the Empress’ Dragoons.  The obvious difference is the headgear: the Grenadiers à Cheval wore a tall black bearskin cap, which was fitted with brass chinscales.  On the back of the cap was a red patch, decorated with a cross of aurore lace (gold for officers) and on the left was the national cockade.  In full dress a scarlet plume was fitted just above the cockade and aurore flounders were suspended on the right.  Aurore cap-lines were also sometimes worn in full dress.  Unlike the Empress’ Dragoons, the saddle had only two holster-covers on each side and horses were blacks or very dark bays.

Young Guard Squadrons 1813

Trumpeters had a sky-blue habit with lapels, cuffs and tail-turnbacks in light crimson and collar in sky-blue, all edged with gold lace.  As usual, they had the option of wearing a simpler surtout in the same colours.  Aiguillette, contre-epaulette, trumpet-cord, flounders and cap-lines were made of mixed crimson and gold cords.  Horse furniture was sky-blue, laced gold.  The bearskin had a sky-blue plume.

Some sources suggest that Grenadier à Cheval trumpeters’ bearskins were made of white fur, but again this seems to have been a Victorian embellishment.  Billions of pixels have gone to their meaningless death during internet flame-wars on this very subject… Thankfully I didn’t know this when I painted these some 25 years ago, so my trumpeter has a lovely white bearskin! 🙂

The two Young Guard Squadrons formed in 1813 seem to have worn the ‘undress’ version of the standard Grenadiers à Cheval uniform, namely the plain blue campaign surtout, which had plain collar and cuffs, no lapels and scarlet tail-turnbacks.  They didn’t wear the Old Guard aiguillette, but they did have an aurore contre-epaulette on each shoulder.  All other aspects of uniform and equipment seem to have been the same as the Old Guard squadrons.

1er Éclaireurs (Old Guard Squadron) 1813-1814

In 1814 the regiment was reinforced by the 1er Éclaireurs de la Garde (also known as the Éclaireurs-Grenadiers), who like the 2ème Éclaireurs described above, were there to provide the heavies with a light reconnaissance and anti-Cossack capability.  The 1st Squadron of this regiment was classed as Old Guard and was uniformed very similarly to the Gardes d’Honneur in hussar style, albeit equipped with a lance.  The regiment’s remaining three squadrons were dressed in line Chasseur à Cheval style, much like the 2ème Éclaireurs, though with black, bell-topped shakos, laced red.

Anyway, that’s it for the Imperial Guard… Until the next unit, of course…

Posted in 15mm Figures, Napoleon's Battles (Rules), Napoleonic French Army, Napoleonic Wars, Painted Units | 4 Comments

“La Garde au Feu!”: My 15mm French Imperial Guard (Part 6 – The Light Cavalry)

At long last, with the completion of the Mameluke Squadron of the Guard, I’ve finally ‘finished’ my French Imperial Guard… OK, perhaps I might eventually get some greatcoated Old Guard infantry for 1815… and I should probably spruce up those Berg Lancers I’ve got here somewhere… and perhaps add some Young Guard cavalry for 1813… and perhaps some Eclaireurs for 1814… and perhaps the 3rd ‘ex-Hollandais’ Grenadiers for the hell of it… oh and the Neapolitan Guard Horse Artillery were in the Guard for a while… and… oh bugger…

Anyway, until I start adding more, here are the cavalry of my ‘completed’ Imperial Guard.  As usual, all models are by AB Figures:

Gardes d’Honneur

I’ll start with an oddball unit: the 2ème Gardes d’Honneur.  Following the disastrous Russian Campaign of 1812, Napoleon wanted to rapidly expand the cavalry arm, so placed a levy on the nobility and wealthy bourgeoisie of the Empire (including the Netherlands, Belgium and Italy) requiring them to send one of their sons, equipped and mounted, to become a member of his personal bodyguard (a cash levy was imposed on those without sons to send).  As an incentive, these new recruits would form part of the Emperor’s ‘personal bodyguard’, would be paid the same as Chasseurs à Cheval of the Guard and after a year would be commissioned as Sous-Lieutenants.

Consequently, four regiments of Gardes d’Honneur were raised from this levy in 1813.  However, the existing Imperial Guard resented these ‘entryists’ and resisted their inclusion into the Guard.  So while the Gardes d’Honneur served with Guard, they were never of the Guard.

Despite their high pay and status, discipline among the Gardes d’Honneur proved to be extremely poor and members of the 3e Gardes d’Honneur even attempted a mutiny.  When sent to war in Germany in 1813, the four regiments were split up between the brigades of the Guard Cavalry, in the hope that they might be steadied by the presence of veteran Guard units.  In the event, the Gardes d’Honneur performed well enough on the battlefield at Leipzig and Hanau, though desertion continued to be a large problem, especially among the Dutch contingent.

I painted these chaps about 20 years ago and used French Hussar figures, which fit the bill perfectly except for the very minor detail of the shako-badge.  These figures have the lozenge-shaped badge of the Hussars, while the Gardes d’Honneur had an eagle & crescent badge.  All four regiments wore the same uniform of green dolman with scarlet facings, green pelisse with black fur edging, scarlet breeches and scarlet shako, with all lace and cords white and metalwork silver.  Green overall trousers with a red (or white) stripe were worn on campaign.  Shako-plumes were green, with pompoms coloured by company (there was no élite company).  Shabraques were simple white sheepskins with green vandycked edging, with a green valise, laced white.  Belts were white and sabretaches were plain black leather with a silver eagle badge.

Regiments were identified by the regimental number, which was embroidered on the ends of the valise, shown as a metal numeral on the sabretache and was pierced into the crescent part of the shako badge.  The shako-plume was also coloured by regiment: 1st Regiment – red, 2nd Regiment – sky-blue, 3rd Regiment – yellow & 4th Regiment – white.

Officers’ lace was silver and they had a green pointed shabraque with silver lace edging.  Trumpeters had ‘reversed colours’ of a scarlet dolman with green facings, scarlet pelisse with black fur edging, white lace, black sheepskin shabraque and plumes of the regimental colour tipped with green.  However, some sources show other variations, such as a sky-blue pelisse worn over a scarlet dolman, a scarlet pelisse worn over a sky-blue dolman with scarlet facings, sky-blue pelisse AND dolman, sky blue dolman with green facings, green dolman and pelisse with ‘Imperial Livery’, fur colpacks and various colours of overall trousers and full shabraques…  In other words, as with line Hussars, you can’t go far wrong if you just make up your own trumpeter’s uniform…  The Gardes d’Honneur were not issued with Eagles or standards.

1er Chevaulégers-Lanciers de la Garde (Polish Lancers)

The Chevaulégers Polonais de la Garde were initially raised in 1807, though at that time were not equipped with lances.  Then in 1809, at the Battle of Wagram, the Chevaulégers Polonais distinguished themselves while in combat against the Austrian 2nd (Schwarzenberg) Regiment of Uhlans, using captured Austrian lances against their former owners with great effect (the lance being the traditional weapon of Polish light horse).  Consequently, Napoleon ordered that the regiment be equipped with lances and re-named as the Chevauléger-Lanciers Polonais de la Garde.

In 1810 the creation of the 2nd Regiment of Guard Lancers (see below) meant that the Polish Lancers of the Guard were now designated as the 1er Chevauléger-Lanciers (Polonais) de la Garde.  A 3rd Regiment of (Lithuanian) Guard Lancers was briefly raised in 1812, but ceased to exist at the end of the Russian Campaign.

The Polish Lancers were reconstituted in 1813 following catastrophic losses in Russia, with Young Guard squadrons also being added to the ranks.  In 1814 a single squadron of Polish Lancers accompanied Napoleon in exile to Elba and returned with him to fight at Waterloo (as a single squadron, attached to the much larger 2nd (‘Red’) Regiment of Guard Lancers).

General de Brigade Krasinksi

The uniform of the Polish Lancers was as shown; being mainly dark blue with crimson facings, white epaulette and aiguillette, white lace and silver metalwork, topped off with crimson-over-white lance-pennants.  In full dress they could also add white plumes and cords.  A simpler jacket in sky-blue cloth was also worn as an ‘undress’ or campaign garment.

Trumpeters had a white kurtka coat with crimson facings, trousers and shabraque for parade dress.  However, they often wore a much simpler sky-blue jacket on campaign.  Officers of the regiment also had the option of crimson full-dress trousers and a white ‘gala dress’ kurtka, as modelled by Général de Brigade Krasinski here (right).

The AB Figures Guard Lancers sadly don’t include an Eagle-bearer figure.  I had one lancer with a mis-moulded lance, so I converted him into an Eagle-bearer using an Eagle cut from a spare infantry Eagle-bearer, drilled out and glued onto the existing lance-shaft.  The flag is by Fighting 15s.  I really like the look of having an Eagle in the unit and wish I’d also done it with the Red Lancers (below), which I painted first.

A single Young Guard Squadron was added to the regiment in 1813, but I’m struggling to dig out the uniform details.

3rd Éclaireurs in 1814

In 1814 the regiment was brigaded together with the 3ème Régiment d’Éclaireurs (3rd Scout Regiment – also known as the Éclaireurs-Lanciers, as they were attached to the Lancers).  This regiment was raised from the remnants of the Duchy of Warsaw Uhlan Regiments and wore a much-simplified version of the Polish Lancer uniform, as shown on the right.

The idea figures for making either the Young Guard Lancers or the 3rd Éclaireurs would be AB Figures’ Vistula Legion Lancer figures, which have covered czapkas, full shabraques and simple shoulder-straps.  I might do them one day…

2ème Chevauléger-Lanciers de la Garde (Dutch or Red Lancers)

As mentioned above, the 2ème Chevauléger-Lanciers de la Garde were created in 1810, being raised from the Dutch Royal Guard Hussar Regiment.  Additional officers were drawn from other Dutch cavalry regiments and further drafts of men were drawn from Dutch hussars serving in Spain.  Consequently, this regiment was often known as the ‘Dutch Lancers’.  By the time they went into Russia in 1812 the regiment had grown to a colossal 1,400 men.

After being almost wiped out in Russia, the regiment was rapidly reformed in 1813, with five Old Guard Squadrons and five Young Guard Squadrons being raised, for a total possible strength of 2,500 men.  However, the majority of the regiment were now Frenchmen, rather than Dutch.  Following Napoleon’s abdication in 1814, the regiment became part of the French Royal Guard, before returning to the Imperial Guard again with the Emperor’s return in 1815.

The uniform of the 2ème Chevauléger-Lanciers de la Garde was arguably one of the most spectacular uniforms of the period, being a scarlet kurtka jacket with dark blue facings, yellow epaulette with blue crescent, yellow aiguillette and yellow metalwork, worn with scarlet trousers with a double blue stripe.  This was topped off with a scarlet czapka cap, adorned with yellow lace and the same ‘sunburst’ plate as the Polish Lancers.  White plumes and yellow cords were worn in full dress.  Lance-pennants were white-over-scarlet and shabraques were dark blue, edged yellow with a scarlet valise, also edged in yellow lace.  Dark blue overall trousers with a red stripe were worn on campaign and a simplified ‘undress’ jacket in sky-blue cloth could also be worn as campaign dress.  Trumpeters again had a white version of the uniform, but would often wear a simple sky-blue jacket on campaign.

2nd Lancers Young Guard Trooper 1813

The five Young Guard Squadrons of the 2ème Chevauléger-Lanciers de la Garde wore a uniform in ‘reversed colours’; namely a dark blue kurtka jacket, with scarlet facings and scarlet trousers with blue stripes.  The kurtka did not have the epaulette and aiguilette and instead had simple shoulder-straps.  Horse furniture was the same as for the Old Guard Squadrons.  Some sources (such as Knötel’s print on the right) show the czapka as being of the same pattern as the Old Guard Squadrons.  However, other sources show a simplified version, with a simple brass ‘N’ badge on the black body of the czapka instead of the ornate sunburst-plate.  At least one such simplified Young Guard czapka still survives.

Again, AB Figures’ Vistula Legion Lancer figures are perfect for these troops, albeit with covered czapkas.  I’ll eventually need to do these for Leipzig, as there were an awful lot of Young Guard cavalry at that battle!

Chasseurs à Cheval de la Garde

The Chasseurs à Cheval were the oldest regiment of the Imperial Guard, having originally started life in 1796 as General Buonaparte’s Squadron of Guides de l’Armée d’Italie.   After becoming part of Napoleon’s Consular Guard in 1800, the Chasseurs were expanded to a regiment of two squadrons in 1801, then to four squadrons in 1802.  In 1804 the Consular Guard became the Imperial Guard and the regiment was expanded again t0 five squadrons.

After suffering huge losses during the Russian Campaign of 1812, the regiment was rapidly re-formed in early 1813, this time consisting of eight squadrons (five designated Old Guard and three Young Guard).  With Napoleon’s abdication in 1814 the regiment (now reduced to four squadrons) was absorbed into the Royal Guard, though returned to the Eagles with Napoleon’s return in 1815.

The uniform of the Chasseurs à Cheval de la Garde was of hussar style.  The dolman was dark green, with green collar, scarlet cuffs and aurore lace.  The pelisse was scarlet with aurore lace and black fur edging.  All buttons were brass.  Breeches were pale yellow buckskin, but green cloth breeches, laced in aurore could also be worn in some orders of dress.  Dark green overall trousers with a red stripe could also be worn on campaign.  The black fur colpack had a red bag, piped aurore and had a cockade on the left-side, from which sprouted a green plume with a red tip and a pair of aurore ‘flounders’.  Belts were white and the sabre-scabbard was steel and worn with a heavily-embroidered sabretache (which could be replaced on campaign with a black leather version, decorated with a brass eagle badge).  Shabraque and valise were dark green and edged in strips of aurore and scarlet lace.

A green habit coat could also be worn in some orders of dress and this item was typically worn by Napoleon and by Marshal Bessières (below).  The habit was faced scarlet, with scarlet piping on the lapels and was worn with a scarlet, braided waistcoat.  A bicorne hat was also often worn in this order of dress, which was typically limited to walking-out and to officers acting in staff roles.

The AB Figures Chasseurs shown at the top are modelled on the appearance of the Chasseurs at the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805 (as shown in the painting above), where the order of dress was to wear their pelisse as a jacket, with the green cloak rolled and worn en bandolier, to provide partial protection from sword-cuts.

Trumpeters had sky-blue dolmans, faced in a pinkish-crimson shade and laced in mixed crimson and gold.  These colours were repeated on the bag of the colpack, overall campaign trousers, sabretache and shabraque.  The pelisse was pinkish-crimson with black fur edging and mixed crimson & gold lace.  Plume was sky blue with a pinkish-crimson tip and flounders were mixed crimson & gold.  Some sources have suggested white fur colpacks, but that seems to have been a red-herring, traced back to one Victorian artist (of course, I didn’t find this out before I painted mine…).

Officers had uniforms in the same colours as the rank and file, except all lace was gold and the fur edging to the pelisse was white.  Scarlet breeches could be worn in some orders of dress.  Leopard-skin shabraques were also de rigeur among the beau sabreurs of the Chasseurs á Cheval de la Garde!  Senior officers might also have white egret plumes.

The Young Guard Squadrons raised in 1813 had a significantly different uniform to the Old Guard Squadrons, as illustrated below.  However, I’ve not painted any of these yet, as AB Figures don’t do a suitable hussar-type figure with full shabraque and no pelisse.

The Young Guard Squadrons wore the same dolman jacket as the Old Guard Chasseurs, though they were not issued with a pelisse.  Dark green cloaks were again commonly worn en bandolier, as shown here.  Trousers were dark green with a double aurore stripe.  Instead of the fur colpack, the headgear was a scarlet shako, decorated with a brass eagle badge, edged in aurore lace and topped off with an aurore pompom.  The tall rouleau style of shako was also worn.  Equipment was the same as the Old Guard Squadrons, though the sabretache was of the plain black campaign style.  The shabraque and valise were scarlet, edged dark green and the saddle was covered by a white sheepskin, edged in dark green cloth.

[Edited to add: The closest figures are AB’s Dutch-Belgian Hussars, which have full shabraques, dolman without pelisse and even have rolled cloaks worn en bandolier, but sadly have covered shakos, so you won’t get to see those lovely scarlet shakos. One suggestion is to use a late French Hussar officer, so that at least he has a visible scarlet shako. That’s certainly a good idea…]

Mameloucks de la Garde (Mamelukes)

This last unit of light cavalry is something of an indulgence on my part and will never see action in a game, other than as an additional stand or two of figures to beef up the strength of the Chasseurs à Cheval de la Garde in some scenarios.  Even at their absolute maximum strength, the Mamelukes in game terms would only be represented by 3 figures at the 1:80 ratio I normally game in (using Napoleon’s Battles rules)!  In most scenarios, the Mamelukes would only add a single figure (maybe two) to the strength of the Guard Cavalry!  However, once I saw these figures, I just HAD to paint them…

The Mamelukes originally started life in 1799 as a company (i.e. half-squadron) of mounted Syrian Janissaries attached to the headquarters of General Kléber.  By 1800 they had been reinforced by Mamelukes and increased to a squadron of three companies, totalling 300 men, now titled the Mamluks de la République.  Many of these men were then brought back to France a new squadron of Mamelukes was created at Marseille.  However, difficulties in obtaining recruits meant that this unit was soon downgraded to a single company.  In 1803 the Mamelukes were permanently attached to the Chasseurs à Cheval de la Garde; an association that would last throughout the Napoleonic Wars.  In 1813 a second (Young Guard) company was formed from Frenchmen and the Mamelukes were once again designated as a full squadron.

With Napoleon’s abdication in 1814, seven Mamelukes accompanied the Emperor into exile, while the remainder (now reduced to a company again) joined the Royal Guard.  By this date, only eighteen ‘true’ Mamelukes were still with the unit and these men were massacred by the population of Marseilles!  However, the squadron was formed again in 1815 and 94 former Mamelukes rejoined the unit, which was once again attached to the Chasseurs.

The ‘uniform’ of the Mamelukes was initially a hotch-potch of native Middle Eastern dress, but some uniformity started to appear in the early days in the form of the cahouk cap, which was initially green with a  white turban.  In 1805 the cahouk had become red as standard and was decorated with a white turban, black aigrette plume and brass crescent and star badges.  The baggy trousers were universally coloured dark crimson.  Dark green shabraques and crimson valises were issued; these were edged in crimson & white lace, with a fringe of alternating crimson and white threads.  All Mamelukes wore a high-collared shirt, collarless waistcoat and sash, though the colours varied wildly and these were typically heavily laced in gold.  Belts were traditionally green or red leather, though issued white or black belts also appeared.

Anyway, that’s it for now.  The Guard Heavies are next and that should finally finish off my Guard.



Posted in 15mm Figures, Napoleon's Battles (Rules), Napoleonic French Army, Napoleonic Wars, Painted Units | 8 Comments