Saturday 30 September 2023

Nizam-i-cedid infantry

In October 2018 I completed the last of five infantry and five cavalry units of an Ottoman contingent to support the British in Egypt (was it really that long ago). While it had been my intent to develop a full Ottoman Army that could stand alone against the French, the only manufacturer of Napoleonic Ottoman figures that I like were by a Brigade Games and as lovely as those figures are I was put off by their higher base cost, the weakness of the $NZ against the $US and the high postage rates from the US which makes these figures some of the most expensive to buy from this part of the world.

So when Alan Perry released the first packs of Ottoman infantry, I got excited because Perry figures are a much better economic equation for me. I even bought the Ottoman book from Caliver Books to get started, but my first figure purchase had to wait until the initial mass of red trousers Frenchmen was completed. So late August, with the last pair of the red trousers under the brush, I included two units of Nizam-i-cedid infantry and one of Malmuk cavalry in my order for the FPW artillery and cavalry that have been passing though these pages of late.

Here is the the first unit of Nizam-i-cedid infantry in the Boustanges hat.

The plan - be it a very fluid plan that will depend on forthcoming releases from the Perrys - is to add another five or six units each of foot and mounted, plus some artillery, which is enough to outnumber the French. If the range expands and covers the Ottoman army that fought the Russians then a slight expansion in that direction is possible too.

Friday 29 September 2023

A Slight Diversion

I had been eyeing this model for some time, but it goes in and out of stock quite quickly and it is quite pricey. But when it became available with a local retailer with whom I had a discount voucher to use, I snapped it up.

It's a lovely piece that will fit in nicely with very clear assembly instructions - and having assembled some  Chinese manufactured flatpack furniture recently this is real blessing!

It went together very easily with a minimal amount of  fiddling about to get parts to fit. Here is the piece assembled and ready for measures 230mm x 190mm on the bases and stands 235mm tall. Technically it is a 20mm and not a 28mm model, but the sheer size of the model disguises that.

And then took much longer to paint than I anticipated.

This will work nicely with any game set in southern Europe, particularly with my Peninsular British and Spanish Napoleonic armies, the Carlist War and with the war in Italy in 1866. 

I was hoping to have it available for last Sunday's Carlist War game, but it was not to be so.

Tuesday 26 September 2023

The First of the French Cavalry for 1870

Mention French military involvement in North Africa and the mind immediately conjures up images of  rolling sand dunes,  charging Bedouin, sweating, sun burnt soldiers of the Foreign Legion, desperate actions against tall odds and the adventures of Beau Geste...pretty much like this...

...but the French experience in North Africa in the four decades prior to the Franco-Prussian War created a depth of combat experience amongst the various French regiments and leaders second to no other army in the world at that time. Nearly every French officer of colonel's rank or higher did his apprenticeship there and many regiments were rotated through African service. Yet the African experience had a profoundly adverse effect on operations in 1870.

Early experience in Africa taught the French that when on campaign closing up at night was crucial. Not only because these less populated regions meant that supplies, particularly water, were hard to come by, but small forces camping in open terrain were extremely vulnerable to the guerrilla tactics of the native forces. So on campaign the rear of the march column always closed up on the head at nightfall. This was all well and good with the small commands in Africa, but with the larger forces involved in the European campaigns it caused problems in that much time was lost at the beginning of each day's march breaking down the camp and forming the column.

The issues were evident in the Crimea and Italy, but ultimate success in those campaigns meant that the cracks were conveniently papered over and the Napoleonic system of improvisation (systeme D – “on se debrouillera toujours” or "one always muddles through somehow”) was deeply engrained in the French military. In the opening stages of the 1870 campaign just how serious a failing systeme D was became glaringly obvious. On the morning of 31 July the French 2nd, 3rd and 4th Corps were moving forward to participate in the reconnaissance in force at Saarbrucken. The divisions were supposed be on the road by 0500, but Montaudon's First Division 3rd Corps, that was to take over the advance, received word that the divisions camped in front would not be ready to march until 0700 and that the arrival of Montaudon there before 0900 would cause “a regrettable tangle”. When the march did get under way it was painfully slow. Laveaucoupet's Third Division of 2nd Corps left its position at 1030 and took the better part of seven hours to march eight miles to its destination. Metman's Third Division, 3rd Corps, took six hours to travel a similar distance while de Lorencez's Third Division, 4th Corps, coming from another direction left camp at 1000 and only its vanguard arrived at its position six hours later, again after a march of just over eight miles. The whole of the next day was required to shuffle the divisions into their final positions. Some fourteen days later, at Rezonville, had the French columns been set in motion earlier they might have avoided the German interception.

However, the greatest damage done by the African experience seems to have been that the French cavalry had completely forgotten the art of reconnaissance. Instead of spreading out across the countryside in small patrols, observing as much as possible of the country before them, the French cavalry limited their reconnaissances to known routes and in squadron sized patrols that were easily observed and avoided by the Germans. This shortcoming was in part a result of the African experience and that vulnerability of small bodies and marked a failure to adapt back to the European environment, but was worsened by conflicting messages from Imperial Headquarters about how cavalry should be used. Before active operations began Louis Napoleon stated that reconnaissances did not need to be aggressive, implying that the cavalry should not stray far from their main bodies. Then four days later his chief of staff, Leboeuf, issued a contrary instruction: “Let your cavalry be seen. It must reconnoitre the whole of the Saar, and must not fear even to cross the frontier”. That confusion saw the cavalry either being withheld or, when they were committed to reconnaissance, they quickly broke contact instead of trying to force the issue. This lack of detailed reconnaissance resulted in Army intelligence having to work with rumour, speculation and reports of the foreign press that consequently formed a false picture of the German positions. The German cavalry, on the other hand, kept their reconnaissance parties small (in groups as small as three and on some occasions to a single rider). They spread out across the whole of the frontier reporting back all they saw and heard. Consequently the German commanders were much better informed of the French forward positions.

Examples of the French weakness in reconnaissance can be seen at Wissembourg on 4 August and at  Spicheren two days later. At the former a single French division was isolated at Wissembourg, separated from any serious support by a full day's march. When Douay, the divisional commander, heard rumours of a significant German force headed his way he ordered Colonel de Bonne with two squadrons of the 11th Chasseurs à Cheval to go forward in reconnaissance. De Bonne's attempt at reconnaissance can only be described as farcical. The cavalry rode through the streets of Altenstadt, a suburb of Wissembourg, then another two kilometres east along the line of the Lauter River. No attempt at all was made to press beyond the frontier towards Schleithal, the nearest German town, despite information from local residents that German troops were in the area in large numbers.  The reconnaissance was more like a leisurely morning ride than a serious attempt to identify any threat to the division. De Bonne returned to camp at 0730 reporting that no enemy was sighted.  Douay, convinced that there would be no action on this day, ordered the division to rest while 80,000 German troops were converging on the town. 

At Spicheren Frossard, commanding 2nd Corps, was deeply concerned about his exposed position. He had to hand sixteen squadrons of cavalry, more that sufficient to push pickets out for some distance along all crucial roads, yet Frossard pushed out only three reconnaissances, none of which was far ranging. The first was by a squadron of dragoons sent towards Saarbrucken where they sighted German cavalry, turned tail and returned to their own lines having made no effort to push the enemy and ascertain their true strength. The second was to the east where a squadron of the 5th Chasseurs à Cheval pressed to the top of the Simbach Ravine where they halted when they noted that no enemy was seen along the line of the Saar, some two and a half kilometres further to the east. The third was to the west, the direction from which Frossard expected a major German advance, and pushed only as far as the Frontier less than 3km from the front line. This reconnaissance returned late morning reporting evidence of enemy infantry operating in the area (although strangely no German infantry crossed the Saar until noon and none were that far west until late in the afternoon) but failed to note the presence of German cavalry even though the whole area was crawling with them. Thereafter Frossard's cavalry was formed enmasse in line of battle, waiting for an opportunity that never came.

And speaking of Frossard's cavalry, what follows here is the first of what will be four regiments that formed the cavalry division that was attached to his Corps. This was Marmier's Division, but Marmier was in transit from Algeria when active operations began and he was unable to join his command before the Army of the Rhine was bottled up in Metz. In his absence 61 year old general de brigade Paul de Valabrègue commanded the division. Born at London in 1809, the son of a former Napoleonic hussar turned diplomat,  he enlisted in the Foreign Legion in 1834, joined the spahis the following year, then the Chasseurs d'Afrique five years later. After ten years of African service he transferred back to France where he served in the 9th Dragoons, the 2nd and 3rd Cuirassiers and led the 6th Hussars in Italy. Made general de brigade in 1865 he took over Marmier's  Division that comprised of two brigades, Valabrègue's own brigade, the 4th and 5th Chasseur à Cheval regiments, and Bachieler's brigade, the 7th and 12th Dragoons. The regiment shown below in this post is the 4th Chasseur à Cheval. 

 general de brigade Paul de Valabrègue

For the 4th (and the 5th regiment that will follow in a couple of weeks), I have had to alter the headgear. The figures are supplied in the 1868 uniform with kepi, but only the 1st, 6th and 9th regiments had received the new uniform by 1870. So there was a need to create a talpac (a shallow lambs wool shako) for the 4th and 5th regiment, so out came the milliput and 11 talpacs were made - I chose to leave the senior officer in a kepi.

The Regiment, in their new talpacs, in the painting queue

This regiment also wears the green 1858 jacket and not the 1868 light blue one.

As nice as these figures are, the swords are way too thin and were badly bent in transit - to the extent that it was impossible to straighten them - and I know they will not withstand the rigours of the gaming table...I can see the need to cut then off and replace them within flattened steel wire.

Monday 25 September 2023

The War in Spain

Sunday's game was a First Carlist War game. The basis of the scenario was that Don Carlos was with his army in the field and had allowed his army to rest near the convent of Nuestra Señora de la Infadelidad above a sleepy village. While they rested a significant Isabellino force, supported by the British Legion and the French Foreign Legion attacked

The Carlists deployed a brigade of seven battalions and a mountain gun on the right, around the Convent, with two brigades each of two units of cavalry in support. In the village they deployed another seven battalions and a field gun while the left was held by five battalions, a field gun, two cavalry units and a mountain gun.

Don Carlos saving "Good Morning" to the troops.

The main Isabellino force of fourteen battalions, three cavalry units, a horse gun, a field gun and a mountain gun approached from the Carlist right while the allied contingents - the French Foreign Legion of four infantry battalions, a mountain gun and a unit of cavalry, and Brutish legion of seven infantry units, a gun, two stands of rockets and unit of lancers - approached from the left.

The Carlist infantry prepare the village for defence

The action started on the Carlist right where the cavalry were quickly engaged. One Carlist unit charged two Isabellino batteries  and drove the gunners off. Two more regiments of Carlist cavalry were caught halted by two regiments of Isabellino heavy cavalry, and in the ensuing combat the Carlist managed to beat off one charge, while they were sent reeling by the second.

 On the Carlist left the French were massing near the village, while the British curled around the left flank.

A unit of French cavalry boldly ride forward and a unit of Carlist cavalry matched it. Charge and counter charge followed. It was an even fight but when I rolled seven out of seven hits to the French two, the French cavalry decided that that as enough for a game of soldiers and dispersed to the wind. The Carlist troopers, unable to exploit their success, rallied back.

The French cavalry moving boldly forward

On the extreme left the Carlist mountain gun took careful aim in the British Legion, but did only trifling damage.

Meanwhile the French Foreign Legion moved to attacked the village. A Carlist column charged out of the streets against one French Battalion starring a combat that raged for four turns, eventually destroying the French battalion, but exhausting the Carlists as well. The main French force then attacked the left of the village and initiated a long fight that eventually saw the Carlists evicted from that building.

The French commander looks anxious...

...while the Carlist clergy take up arms

In front of the convent the firefight between the infantry rages on but no one is getting the upper hand.

On the Carlist extreme left the cavalry charge again and break two British Legion battalions.

But the exhausted cavalry  is shot up by the remaining British.  A firefight between the infantry knocks both forces about badly and in time the British decide enough is enough and break off. The French, having take one building are attacked by more Carlists pouring out of the town and after an extended fight the French are driven off.

On the Carlist right, things have not gone as well as hoped and the Isabellino forces have closed in on the  Convent. 

The irresistible march of the Royal Guard

Don Carlos had by then left the convent and joined his units in the village.

The battle came to a conclusion. The Don was safe , but both armies were badly knocked around.

Many of the photos included here were provided by John L., who fought bravely in the Isabellino ranks.

Saturday 23 September 2023

The Mitrailleuse Battery

The final unit in the divisional artillery for Vergé's Division is Captain Besancon's mitrailleuse Battery number 6, 5th Artillery Regiment.

I have discussed the mitrailleuse before on these pages and expressed my view that it was a largely failed
concept and should be described as a volley gun rather than a machine gun, but it was still an important part of the French arsenal in 1870, if only because it made up one third of the divisional artillery in the Imperial army.

In short the mitrailleuse was a collection of 25 rifle barrels arranged in five rows and encased within a brass cylindrical casing. On the turn of a handle it fired each row in a sequence of barrels left to right (in direction of fire) 1,4,2,5,3. It fired 13mm bullets in a metal cartridge with a substantial powder charge that gave it an extremely high muzzle velocity for the time, nearly a three times that of the Chassepôt and five times that of the Needle Gun, which gave it tremendous hitting power even at ranges as far out as 2000 meters. With an almost flat trajectory out to 500 meters it had a good depth of fire, but an extremely narrow spread of shot that even at 2000 meters range was a maximum spread of 15 metres. This lack of spread was one of the mitrailleuse's greatest weaknesses. It was also extremely difficult to range the weapon because without an explosive round the only way to judge the range was to observe the damage to the target or to watch for the dust thrown up when it hit the ground. Both of these ranging techniques were difficult at extended ranges, especially through the smoke generated when it fired. In fact in two of the opening battles, Froeschwiller and Spicheren, it rained heavily the night before and there was no dust the throw up. 

Perhaps the biggest inhibitor to success was that the weapon had been developed in secrecy and the operating crew had to be trained in its use in the field. Despite the secrecy the Germans had a pretty good knowledge of its existence and capabilities and were sufficiently wary of it to target it early in the action. At Wissembourg the mitrailleuse battery was caught in a crossfire between three German batteries from the moment it opened fire with catastrophic results -  one of the ammunition carts was hit and a large number of crew were casualties, causing the battery to retire from action. That same explosion killed General Douay, commanding the division. Two days later the mitrailleuse battery in action on the Rothenburg near Spicheren was targeted by four German batteries and forced back with two weapons temporarily dismounted.

That said, mitrailleuse did have its successes and there were numerous diary entries from German soldiers that spoke of its effectiveness. The most notable casualty of the weapon was General von François who was struck by five mitrailleuse bullets while leading a charge up the Rotherburg at Spicheren. 

For anyone who has an interest in the technical aspects of this weapon, this YouTube video may be of interest and you might want to check out Steve Shann's new book on the subject here.

Below is the first of what will be three mitrailleuse batteries in my FPW army.

The officer trying to observe the fall of shot...

And here is the divisional artillery for Vergé's Division - two field and one mitrailleuse battery.

So with three posts in three days on French artillery that's enough  about guns for now and I will move on to a new least for a week and a bit.