Sunday 29 January 2012

Tough Terrain

It was the most inhospitable landscape of the Afghanistan hills and passes that proved to be the favoured hunting ground for the diverse hill tribes brought together by Akbar Khan in the first Anglo-Afghan War.  Tough Terrain indeed, but in fact  surprisingly straightforward to construct from a modelling viewpoint!   

Part of my enjoyment from blogging has come from the inspiration I get by what I see on other blogs; many of my favourites can be seen in the side bar to the right.  This post, however has come about as a direct result of the 'Mad Guru' and his wonderful 'Maiwand Day' blog.  The blog takes the form of a visual diary charting the creation of high quality, historically accurate 28mm scale terrain and appropriately painted and converted miniatures for a refight of the battle waged by the British and Afghans on  27th July, 1880, initially in time for 130th anniversary on 27th July, 2010. That deadline may have passed, but let me assure you that the blog is very much still up and running.  A recent post entitled 'Afghan/NWF rocky hill goes VERTICAL' had me champing at the bit to try recreating one of the Guru's wonderful ideas.  The genius of this is that 'Mad Guru' takes a 'nothing' material in the shape of bark chippings and turns it into a simply spectacular piece of terrain!  There is very little point in me trying to relay the whole 'how to' here and so I have restricted myself to a simplified photo-story of my rather pathetic pastiche.  This really is as straightforward as it looks, but you must take the time to have a look at the original yourself.

Initial layout planned
Start to glue down pieces of bark
Add filler to even out contours
Sand & gravel stuck down
Base coats applied
Highlights drybrushed on
Sparse vegetation added to final build
Final piece with miniatures

All that remains is to extend a big THANK YOU, to the man himself, the 'Mad Guru'.  I for one will be following with interest, looking out for more inspirational ides from the most mundane of building materials!

Thursday 26 January 2012

Flashman Follies

Well true to form I have veered shamelessly from my prescribed 'eras' to paint up miniatures that, in some way, represent the latest read.  Perhaps not unsurprising to some, I couldn't find a manufacturer for the Anglo-Afghan wars!  Surely this has to represent a significant gap in the market?  I was fortunate during hours of web based research to come across many splendid blogs and forums (fora perhaps?) that suggested alternatives and it wasn't long before I found myself back at the 'Wargames Foundry' website, finger hovering agonisingly over 'add to basket' bemoaning their blasted Post & Packaging tariff!

And so you have it, not even out of January and I've succumbed to yet another distraction!  I suppose at least this one can actual lay claim to be included by virtue of the fact that it was at least a Victorian conflict, or at least started as one.  The miniatures were from the 'Colonial Miniatures: Indian range' and were actually labelled up as 'Armed Tribesman Chararcters', I just felt that they captured my impression of what Akbar Khan and Narreeman  would have looked like perfectly.

Monday 23 January 2012

Book Review#8. - Flashman

How is it that I have waited  so long to get around to reading 'Flashman'?  Like many, I am familiar with the name from his original appearance in 'Tom Brown's Schooldays' written by Thomas Hughes in 1857, but it is his reincarnation in George Macdonald Fraser's 'Flashman Papers' that we really get to know what happened to the bully that was expelled from Rugby School for being 'beastly drunk'.  
I think it is important to acknowledge from the start that the book contains lurid descriptions of violence to women and defamatory language that some will find offensive; but then what do we expect from a man, who in his own words, is  "a scoundrel, a liar, a cheat, a thief, a coward - and, oh yes, a toady."  Fraser takes the backdrop that is Victorian expansion and weaves Flashman's character through it in such a deft way, one could almost believe he was actually there.  This, the opening chapter, sees our anti-hero sent to the most inhospitable station in the Empire - Afghanistan.  True to form, Flashman manages to avoid all sense of duty and honour but still manages to return home, showered in reflective glory.  There really should be nothing to like about the character of Flashman, yet somehow he worms his way into our psyche, forcing us to laugh and cheer, often at the most inappropriate times.   Take for example this description of General Elphinstone, commander of the British garrison at Kabul, 

"Only he could have permitted the First Afghan War and let it develop to such a ruinous defeat. It was not easy: he started with a good army, a secure position, some excellent officers, a disorganised enemy, and repeated opportunities to save the situation. But Elphy, with a touch of true genius, swept aside these obstacles with unerring precision, and out of order wrought complete chaos. We shall not, with luck, look upon his like again."

Now it is entirely possible that I am looking on this novel a little too favourably, given my predilection for the era, but I have to say that I really enjoyed this yarn.  Even with all his faults I was ultimately left wanting more of Flashman and will no doubt be ordering up the second book in the series shortly.  A favourable four stars.

Saturday 21 January 2012

"Tipped with a line of steel"

During the Crimean War, the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders formed part of the Highland Brigade that distinguished itself throughout the campaign.   However it was at Balaclava that the regiment won immortal fame when, under the command of Sir Colin Campbell, it formed line in two ranks and repelled a charge of Russian cavalry.  Campbell is reported to have said, "There is no retreat from here, men. You must die where you stand." Never has a regimental motto, 'Sans Peur', (without fear) been more appropriate as the men stood firm against the thunderous advance of the advancing Hussars.

It was the London Times correspondent, William H. Russell who wrote that he could see nothing between the charging Russians and the British except "the thin red streak, tipped with a line of steel". Russell was of course referring to the 93rd Highlanders; they were the only unit standing between the Russian cavalry and an unprepared and disorganised British camp.  British Army tactics of the time would have dictated that  the infantry stand four deep to present a rolling volley of fire.  Furthermore, to have received  a cavalry charge in the open they would normally form into a square to protect themselves; cavalry could easily break a line of infantry!  Why was it then that Sir Colin Campbell stretched his men into only two thin ranks? 

Shortly before the charge the Highlanders were coming under artillery fire; clearly  the best form of defence for this would be an extended line and not huddled together in a square!  In fact rather than surrender a tactically advantageous position Campbell had had the Highlanders lay face down below the crest of the hill effectively making them invisible.

Forming square.

Campbell was an experienced soldier and undoubtedly would have realised the importance of his position; he would have been  fully aware of the need to spread as far as possible in a bid to cover more ground, protect the camp and present more firepower per volley.  Although there are conflicting reports it is believed that the 93rd fired three volleys, the first at such a range that it had little effect.  The second and third, however, delivered such withering fire that the Russian Hussars checked and ultimately turned, breaking off the charge.  So elated where the Highlanders that some began to mount the famed Highland counterattack only to be met by a fierce Campbell roaring, "Ninety-third, Ninety-third , damn all that eagerness!"

On the march.

Throughout the project I was becoming more and more acutely aware that I had been naive in basing the miniatures as individuals.  This was simply a lack of experience and understanding on my behalf.  Now a little older and potentially wiser I’ve constructed the following dynamic movement trays that allow me to place the miniatures in whatever alignment suits their use best.  I can take very little credit for the idea, which I have appropriated from a wonderful posting on the ‘Gentlemen’s Wargames Parlour’ that can be found here.

From this ...
to this!
A huge thank you to James at 'Oshiro Model Terrain' who sorted me out with laser-cut Perspex rings to my specification.
Interesting fact: The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders (now known of 5 Scots) are the only infantry regiment in the British Army to have "Balaclava" in their list of battle honours.

It is only right and proper to acknowledge the painting that has in turn inspired the miniatures that are posted here.  Robert Gibb was an Edinburgh born artist, who in 1881, created one of the finest military paintings of the nineteenth century; certainly in my humble opinion anyway! ‘The Thin Red Line’, was inspired by Alexander Kinglake's account of the 93rd Highlanders at Balaclava in his book ‘The Invasion of the Crimea’.   It is alleged that Gibb had taken a walking holiday in the English Peak District during which time he was reading Kinglake's book.  One afternoon while out walking near Haddon Hall, he glanced up to a slight rise and imagined that he saw a line of burly highlanders, "all plaided and plumed in their tartan array."  On his return to his lodgings, Gibb sketched out his mental image and the rest, as they say, was history.

Monday 16 January 2012

Sir Colin Campbell

 "There is no retreat from here, men. You must die where you stand."

The immortal words spoken by Sir Colin Campbell to the 93rd Highlanders as they prepared to receive the Russian cavalry's charge  at Balaclava.  Campbell had been appointed as the commander of the Highland Brigade of the 1st Division under the command of the Duke of Cambridge; the Division consisting of the 42nd, 79th, and 93rd Highlanders.  His first engagement, during the Crimean War, was at the battle of the Alma, where he led his brigade against the redoubt which had been retaken by the enemy and overthrew the last columns of the Russians.

Leading from the front Campbell was so impressed with courage of the Highlanders at Alma, that after the battle the only reward he asked for was permission to wear the highland bonnet instead of the cocked hat of a general officer.  This permission was duly granted and he started sporting a specially commissioned plume, the top third red in honour of the 42nd and bottom two thirds white for the 79th & 93rd.

More from Great War Miniatures' Crimean range and rather lovely they were too, although I have to admit I was a little anxious at first given that horse and rider were a one piece sculpt.  I decided to base the two together forming a command stand but raised Campbell's miniature a little higher using a piece of slate in deference to his seniority.

Below is Roger Fenton's portrait of Sir Colin Campbell (for more Fenton information may I respectfully direct you to a previous post entitled, 'I'm ready for my close up, Mr. Fenton') depicting a man clearly feeling the strain of the position of office that he holds.  The lines of concern and anxiety are heavily chiseled across his forehead.  On the 9th April 1855, Fenton wrote of him: "Sir Colin Campbell I have not yet got; he is up at four every morning and either writing and not to be disturbed, or scampering about".

Wednesday 11 January 2012

Stand Firm!

I appreciate that this may appear all too similar to a previous post, but I can assure you that many more hours have been spent toiling away, not to mention more blood, sweat and tears shed in finishing these off. 

Closing in on the finishing line now and hope to bring this little project to a natural conclusion soon.  As before, Great War Miniatures' Crimean range, available through Northstar Military Figures.

Sunday 8 January 2012

Big Wullie

I don't know who was more embarrassed myself of the saintly Mrs. Awdry when she returned home, earlier than expected from the gym, to find her beloved with 'Big Wullie' in hand, singing along to A-ha!  (damn that iPod random song shuffle, you just never know what you're going to get.)  It wasn't until I read a comment by Der Feldmarschall on the previous post that I remembered that I too had a "Big Wullie" lurking at the bottom of the 'to do pile'.  Given that the tartan paint pot was still open on the table it seemed like an opportune moment to paint him up.

I've to photograph the process of painting the tartan kilt to demonstrate how a  simplified approach can produce acceptable and pleasing results.  It is only fair to acknowledge that there are some very good, and much more sophisticated, 'how to' guides available; one I find myself returning to time and time again can be found at 'Toy Soldier, online gallery'.  More recently 'Der Feldmarschall' directed me to a tutorial on painting tartan by Dave Taylor that can be found here.  The following is my humble attempt at a guide for 'Government' or 42nd tartan.

Stage 1: Base coat the kilt in Blue, in this case Games Workshop, 'Regal Blue'.

Stage 2: Paint vertical green stripes around the kilt.  Games Workshop 'Snot Green'.

Stage 3: Horizontal Stripes added in the same colour.

Stage 4:  Where the lines cross, paint a dab of lighter green.  For me it was a mix of Games Workshop 'Goblin Green' and Vallejo 'Golden Olive'.

Stage 5: Using a fine brush apply black ink to outline the green stripes.  This has the added advantage of tidying up any little wobbles that may have occurred earlier!

The black ink will often dry with a shine to it, but this can be rectified with a coat of matt varnish.  It really is that simple; just hope this helps to ally any fears or worries some may have at attempting tartan.

Thursday 5 January 2012

Twelfth Night!

Well tonight is 'Twelfth Night' and so, as to avoid more bad luck than is strictly necessary, the Christmas Banner has had to come down; sad really as I rather enjoyed the effect.  Still with Colonel Burnaby rightly restored and unmolested it seemed only right and proper to add a splash of colour to the place.

Some might remember that this little side project started way back in July with 'A Very Thin Red Line!'  but nothing more has happened apart from a dusting of undercoat.  Still with the chimes of the New Year still ringing in my ears there is a sense of urgency around 'Awdry Towers' which sees me revisiting long forgotten ideas in a bid to bring then to some sort of conclusion.  All very commendable you might think but I know only too well that in a matter of months, if not weeks, I will find myself distracted yet again and these burly Scotsmen will be destined to gather more dust for another six months!

As before Great War Miniatures' Crimean range painted up to represent the 93rd Highlanders who repelled the charge of the Russian cavalry at Balaclava.

Tuesday 3 January 2012

Hip, Hip, Hussar!

Enough of making resolutions, time to get back to work!  And my word I've made hard work of this project, which originally started when a good friend, often referred to as the 'Provost Marshal', presented me with over thirty 'Wargames Foundry'  British  Cavalrymen.  It had been his intention to use them to represent the regiments that made up the Light Brigade on that fateful day when they charged the guns at Balaclava.

So with the final addition of the 8th King's Royal Irish Hussars we have closure - or do we?  Whilst it is true that the original miniatures have now been completed perhaps it would be only fitting to order up some artillery for them to charge.  Then, of course there is a command group, perhaps even some Chasseurs d'Afrique.  To make matters worse I understand that Warlord Games are about to release some 17th Lancers sculpted by none other than Paul Hicks; I'm doomed!

Still at the very least then this chapter is complete and for those that missed the saga develop feel free to click on the TITLE of the photos below, that should take you to the relevant posting.

The Charge of the Light Brigade
The Death or Glory Boys
'The Enemy Within'
'Lord Cardigan & his Cherrybums'
'4th (Queen's Own) Light Dragoons'
'13th Light Dragoons'
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