Tuesday, 11 June 2013

15mm Xan Mimiatures & Campaign Game Miniatures British Line Infantry

Well, last week the big news for me on TMP was that Xan miniatures had produced some new British Line Infantry in stovepipe shako suitable for the Peninsula. Now, I adore the AB sculpts and painted a battalion (in a rather poor fashion) last year ( http://tenfiguresaweek.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/57th-regiment-of-foot.html ) but I'm always looking for some new figures. And these are much cheaper than the superlative ABs.

It so happens that I've been looking around at British infantry suitable for the Peninsula lately. I rejected Old Glory because of their inconsistency between ranges (or indeed bags within ranges), Fantassin (Warmodelling) were kicked into touch for the same reason. I don't like the stumpy Essex figures. Which rather left AB and BH in the quality 15mm field. Until recently that is.

Many Americans are admiring the Blue Moon 15mm range and I took a look at the British Line Infantry in Stovepipe here last year ( http://tenfiguresaweek.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/blue-moon-xan-miniatures-review.html ) - if you recall I was fairly underwhelmed by the sculpting.

While browsing the Campaign Game Miniatures (CGM) website for some cavalry (CGM specialise in the 100 days Campaign so most of their stuff isn't suitable for earlier campaigns) I discovered that they had added a few codes from other nationalities, and some British infantry in stovepipes (there were a few battalions in the old gear at Waterloo). Now CGM don't have early command groups - typically the officers wore bicorne hats up until 1811 when the order was given for officers to use the shako (initially the stovepipe and after March 1812 the Belgic pattern) - although they continued to wear the bicorne with their undress uniform.

With that in mind I only ordered the rank and file marching and advancing packs, just to have a look at. You get eight figures in each pack (four variants repeated twice) for £3.60 (they are sold in the UK by QRF). Now lets get my big issue with these figures out of the way first - I'm convinced their legs are too short! Standing them next to an AB Brit it is clear that, while the torso and head are about the same size, the legs (even allowing for the fact the CGM figures legs are bent as they walk) are one or two millimetres too short. Added to this, the heads are broader than the AB figures, and the heads appear to have been jammed down into collars that look taller and stiffer than most illustrations I've seen of the British infantry in the field. Now, I know that a millimetre or two here or there can't be seen from a couple of feet away but the impression I get whenever I look at CGM figures (with the exception of their French Line in greatcoats) is that some giant wargamer has been pressing down on their heads! Having said that, the faces are very nicely sculpted and I think they seem to go well together with the Blue Moon infantry that I have (which, regardless of their other failings, appear anatomically "correct" to me) - both ranges feature the figures leaning forward so I think, once they have been painted, they'll do.

Now having having slagged off their basic posture, these are nice figures in many other respects, generally the detail is well sculpted. The sculptor has sketched in the lace on the jacket and cuffs, there are one or two areas which are a bit weak - I think the water bottle and rolled greatcoat are a bit small on the figures and there is no sense that the greatcoat is rolled up on some figures, it just looks to be a tube strapped to the top of the pack (I refuse to believe that a soldier in the field would be able to roll their greatcoat that neatly). The Trotter pack looks to be about the right size. The faces are nicely done. Essentially, these are good, workmanlike figures and I think they will paint up very well - I just can't find it in myself to get excited about them. And if you want your British officers in bicornes you will need to look elsewhere for a command pack.

Xan Miniatures
Now, I saw the news on TMP that Xan Miniatures had released a number of British Line Infantry packs and I got very excited. While his figures are generally not a perfect match height or build wise with Mr Barton's, his French Legere have the same sense about them (I think his Legere skirmishing pack is simply excellent) - so I had high expectations with the British.

So, how are they? Well, overall, they are very good - anatomically correct with facial detail nicely suggested, the packs and blanket rolls look the right size (possibly a tad large in the context of the size of the figure but not unduly so), the water bottle looks a touch small on one or two figures to me. On a couple of figures the cross belt sculpting is a little too fine but still workable. While the figures are anatomically correct in the sense everything is in proportion a number of figures that have the legs extended also have the torso at an angle to the line of march (so left leg extended to the front, right leg trailing about to be brought forward, and the torso facing to the right at an angle) - which isn't how I walk.

The only issue with flash was that a good proportion of figures had flash between the plume and the musket but this was easily cleared with a little care and a sharp knife. Unlike AB these figures have the musket joined to the side of the head and shako - where the join occurs there is the risk of a bit of difficulty concealing this when painting the figure, but as the shako will be black I don't think it will be a problem.

My big problem with these figures (and generally with the French figures too) is that Xan have taken the OG approach to bases so, instead of the big square base you get on an AB figure, the bases vary in size and are just big enough for the feet of the figure to meet the ground. What this means is that on some figures the bases are very small - so you will need something fairly industrial to stick the figures to your stand without them coming loose again.

One figure in NB2 (like CGM, Xan packs their figures in eight figures per pack with four variants included twice) is bareheaded and has a bandage wrapped over an earlier injury. It is well done but I'd have preferred a figure in forage cap to be honest (I think the bandaged head wound is both a bit of a cliche and that, given battlefield surgery of the time, not many guys would walk away from a head injury).

I had one niggle though - the shako looks too tall to me - it certainly looks taller and thinner than AB, Blue Moon or CGM (all of which look fairly similar to one another). So I embarked on some research.

I got out my ruler and the Xan figures look to be about 16 mm from foot to eye, perhaps 17mm to the top of the head - the figure with the bandaged head is 18mm to the top of the head - but if you look at the picture he looks tall compared to the others. So, if one assumes a 1/100 scale (risky I know) these chaps are remarkably average for the British Army of the time - the bulk of recruits were between 5 feet six inches and five feet eight inches tall (five feet seven inches is 1.70m - so 17 mm at 1/100 - 1mm = 4 inches in real life).

Measuring the shako height it looks to be between 3 and 4 millimetres tall and two millimetres across at the crown - this translates at 1/100 to about 12 inches tall and eight inches across at the top. Looking at Mr Franklin's book on British Napoleonic Uniforms he says that the stovepipe shako introduced in 1800 should be "some eight inches tall and seven inches broad at the top" - he also says a couple of paragraphs further on that "the improved second version of this shako was introduced for wear by other ranks about 1806. It was a lighter pattern, made of felt and slightly shorter, being about eight or nine inches high with a top diameter of seven inches" (my emphasis in italics). I've seen other statements that suggest the shako got shorter as time went on. So something seems a little awry with Mr Franklin's suggestion about the 1800 pattern shako, I think.

I also think in reality it probably wasn't Horse Guards laying down regulations that probably decided this kind of thing but the pattern book of the tradesmen supplying the regiment that had more influence. So, I think somewhere between 8 and 12 inches is probably good enough - use these guys for early arrivals in the Peninsula with early pattern shakos. I think the issue is also partly down to the Xan figures being a bit slighter than the other makers and having smaller heads - I think this makes the Xan shako look a bit taller and thinner than it really is.

Anyway, this is by the by - the Xan figures will make a fine looking battalion. The officers are very nice indeed (I thought their French counterparts lacked elan) and will fit nicely in with AB battalions if, like me, you like to mix different makers figures a bit. The command pack, NB7 contains two standard bearers, two drummers and two officers - each figure is different. As there are two packs of centre company marching (NB1 & NB2) and one pack of flank company marching (NB3) this means that a General de Brigade player can field a typical 30 figure British line battalion with four packs (and with no figure repeated more than twice).

I really like the marching pioneer figure (although he seems a tad short to me) and he will definitely be entering the ranks of my marching AB units. The skirmishing flank company troops are workmanlike rather than inspired but they will certainly do the job. Overall, these are another very nice set of figures from Spain.

So, next the comparison photos:

First up - the command figures from NB7 plus the Pioneer (NB11) - from left to right: Xan, AB, Xan, BH, Xan, AB, Xan, OG, Xan, Blue Moon, Xan, AB, Xan Pioneer - to the right are some British AB figures (awaiting standard bearers),

Next - NB2 (the Xan Flank Comany figures) and the CGM figures, from left to right: AB, Xan, Xan, Xan, Xan, BH, CGM, AB, CGM, CGM, CGM, AB
Finally, NB1 (Centre Co) and NB3 (Flank Co), from left to right: Xan, Xan, Xan, Xan, BH, Xan NB10, AB, Xan, Xan, AB, Xan, AB, Xan.

So, there you have it. I've actually done very little painting at all over the last week. I was distracted by a night out with Giles tasting South African wines, followed the next evening by a work night pouring champagne for some very appreciative customers (and once we had got the customers out the door at 10.30, we started on some very fine Bordeaux indeed - with the result I didn't get home until 2am). It was a very special evening - and I'm still tasting the 1986 Mouton Rothschild in my head. Friday (feeling very tired) I took my wife into hospital for a small procedure and then spent most of the weekend keeping Archie the dog away from her (my wife was grumpy from the anaesthesia so Archie and I spent most of the weekend in the spare room playing Total War on the PC - Archie won't let me paint).

Monday, 3 June 2013

15mm Old Glory SPN5 Spanish Militia

After May 1808 Spain was fragmented with several different regional centres of power (juntas) - most of these were united in one thing, they didn't like the French. Unfortunately they were also not keen on one another, and for that matter were frequently suspicious of the English, who rather reciprocated that feeling.

The Juntas, in an attempt to resist the French, raised a huge number of militia units. These initially used Spanish equipment, and, as time went on increasing amounts of British made uniforms and muskets. Unfortunately, prior to 1808 most Spanish defence expenditure had gone into the navy - the army was definitely the poor relation. Also the conflict between church, state and nobility prior to the war meant that the Spanish officer corps had undergone little formal training, was stultified in its practices, and generally incompetent. What this meant was  that when the Juntas sought officers for the new militia units they naturally looked at former or serving officers from the army - on paper these people looked qualified to train and lead, but unfortunately all too many were useless at both.

The men, saddled with poor equipment, hopeless officers and a lack of training, behaved as you'd expect when thrown into action before they were ready - given a fixed position to defend they were competent but all too often their officers sought to manoeuvre battalions whose soldiers couldn't manage basic drills. When Spanish militia went into battle they frequently ran like rabbits in the face of the French - the lack of Spanish cavalry meant that the French horse could ride down fleeing Spanish with impunity leading to horrendous casualties. The survivors would melt away or be reformed into a new battalion. Conflicting information, continual destruction and reformation of battalions mean that it is almost impossible to produce a comprehensive list of units created in the Peninsula War.

And yet, when they were given time to learn their drills, and were properly led, they could be steadfast in the extreme. It should be remembered that, even though they were thrashed time and again, the Spanish kept coming back for more....

The 15mm Old Glory SPN5 Militia bag allows you to build these ephemeral battalions of inexperienced, badly equipped, ill fed and ill led men from the first years of the war. As you would expect there are the usual 50 figures in the bag. My initial reaction upon seeing them was that they were very nice by OG standards - there are eight different figures in the bag. The figures are wearing bicornes and the "top hat" favoured by the Spanish (which looked very similar to that worn by Royal Marines of the period) and are wearing a smock-like jacket. All of the figures are in that rushing forward high porte sort of pose that OG favour. Amazingly, to me, the rank and file actually had faces that looked human (I've had figures from the OG ACW range - and OG Austrian Napoleonics - whose faces were shapeless lumps of lead). The musket detail was a bit rough, and weak points meant there is a good chance of losing a figure or two as the musket (not the bayonet, the musket) breaks apart.

Here are the four options for ranks and file - two in top hat, and two in bicorne. I've no idea whether the packing in these is consistent or not but there are twice as many top hat guys as bicorne chaps.

And here are the same figures from behind.

I think the command figures are weaker sculpts (see above). The top hat standard bearer, to me, doesn't fit with the mad charge of the other figures in the bag, and the left arm on the bicorne standard bearer looks like it has just been stuck on the torso (also the flagpole goes right across the face of the bearer - which means if you are planning on removing it to replace with brass wire, you'd best have a steady hand). The officer in top hat works pretty well but his bicorne counterpart looks awful to me. There is only one drummer  (in top hat) who looks okay. In all there are 4 command groups included (two bicorne officer and standard bearers and the same again with top hats - plus four drummers in top hats).

And the same figures  from behind.

So, overall, these weren't bad figures - nice energetic poses, some nice details but let down by the usual OG niggles of poor finish and occasional iffy sculpting. Thinking about it, I'm inclined to ditch some of the command figures and replace them with AB. Two options occur to me. First, as many of the militia units were commanded by officers seconded from regular battalions or brought back from retirement, use regular line infantry command figures, and secondly, as AB do some Spanish militia packs buy a pack of officers for those.

Next, a picture of the rank and file with the usual AB French Line figure, his Blue Moon French counterpart, and a Xan miniatures French Legere figure.

And the command figures with the same figures for comparison. I've also slipped in an AB Spanish Militia officer who seems, to me, to work quite nicely.

All in all, I liked these figures, in some respects they are the nicest OG figures I've yet seen. I think they'll be simple to paint and work quite nicely. Of course,

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Why Foreigners Get So Confused By The British...And A Diversion

As I work for a company owned by French & Portuguese companies this seems rather familiar:

Some weeks ago a friend and I were talking about modern life and I commented that the advent of satellite TV and the proliferation of channels meant that, as a nation, our shared experiences were becoming more dilute. When I was a boy (in the late Sixties / early Seventies) there were just three TV channels (in black & white to boot) and the coming of Channel 4 was a big deal. What this meant was that, as a country, a good chunk of the population watched the same programmes - I fondly remember "The Likely Lads" and "World at War" - which gave all of us some shared references - these days we're all watching different things. I also seem to have a busier life than when I was seven or eight years old - missing an episode of a series seems to be very easy for me these days.

Anyway I said I had a list of TV programmes that I wanted to watch but hadn't got round to yet - "The Wire" being one such. Anyway, to get to the point, my friend said I should watch "Battlestar Galactica" - to which I replied "I'll bear it in mind" (see image above for translation). To my surprise a DVD of the pilot and 1st series arrived in the post a few days later.

Last week, as I cleaned some 15mm ABs I'd got from eBay (you know the kind of thing - "50 part painted AB figures" that you can't really see - so I get them and they are ABs, and they have been part painted. But whomever started them was presumably using a house painting brush.) I put the first DVD on. The pilot was a bit slow (scene setting, establishing the characters, all that c**p) but the first series itself was quite fun - it is a rather grimy military drama that is set in space and covers some fairly serious ground without beating you round the head with it. It also is about as far from "Star Trek" as you can get - no photon torpedoes or phasers, no shields, and intelligent storylines that stretch over several episodes. The show ran from 2004 - 2009 and is definitely a product of it's time - themes discussed include suicide bombers, responses to terrorism, religion, identity, all kinds of stuff. I'm planning to pick up the remaining series (there were four).

But, best of all, it features a Canadian actress / model called Tricia Helfer - who frankly, makes me stupid whenever I see her on screen  - believe it or not, she plays a Cylon - and she does it very well (and before you ask I'm not being sarcastic here, she actually is very good in the role). I usually leave gratuitous shots of good looking ladies to Legatus Hedlius but for this woman I'll make an exception!