Wednesday 1 January 2014

15mm AB / Blue Moon / Xan French Guns

The Query
So this post is (slightly) a warning to myself to do proper research before buying figures. Back in April when I began my (slow) Spanish project I started out by buying a Spanish Line Infantry brigade from Fighting 15's - this gave me four 32 figure battalions of Spanish Line Infantry fusiliers (the grenadiers are assumed to have been detached) but my Spanish infantry needed some artillery support. I went to the appropriate page for Spanish artillery and there were crew with a comment - "For suitable guns, we recommend French 6pdrs (AB-F42)". I had some AB guns so just bought some Spanish gun crews at Salute (a pre-order packed by Mr Marsh at the last minute!).

I think AB's Spanish gunners look fine - but they needed French Gribeauval 6lb guns to crew - Spanish artillery adopted the French Gribeauval system in 1783. AB make French artillery pieces (including a 6lb Gribeauval) but there seems to be a consensus that the "track" (the distance between the wheels) is too wide. I've got to say this is a view I have some sympathy with. So when I saw some nice Blue Moon British guns on JJ's blog I thought I'd investigate further.

I had some AB French guns already, and had bought the Xan Miniatures French Artillery piece from Empress Miniatures (along with crews - packed rather oddly in sixes; there are only four crew figures - you get a couple of random doubles as far as I can tell) at Salute. So, I dragged poor Giles ( Tarleton's Quarter ) over to the Old Glory stand to get a set of Blue Moon French 6lbers. Obviously, what I should have done, was do some research, and then bought some guns.

On the basis that figure manufacturers cannot agree on what "15mm" actually means when it comes to their figures, it isn't surprising that scale models of artillery pieces should vary too. The situation is complicated by the fact that the French made several changes to their guns during the Napoleonic period (starting out with the Gribeauval system, introducing the An XI system from 1803, and a bastardised version incorporating elements of both shortly thereafter - where the Gribeauval didn't soldier on unaltered).

French 6lb Gun History
The Gribeauval system of field artillery essentially specified that there should only be four calibres of tube employed: 6 inch howitzers, and 4lb, 8lb and 12lb field guns. Further, the components of each gun, carriage  and limber within it's calibre should be standardised - the first large scale instance of the use of replaceable parts. Other changes included assigning gun crew to a particular gun (previously gunners were part of a pool - so could be assigned to a six inch howitzer for one campaign and a 12lb field gun for the next) and battery.

The system was a big success and French artillery was equal to or superior to their rivals across Europe from 1780 onwards - but the system was subject to some criticism within the French army. It was said that the 4lb gun was too small for firing canister, and the 8lb gun was too heavy for mobile field artillery. In Italy, in 1800, Marmont utilised 6lb guns cast locally, and made changes to standardise fewer wheel sizes for the carriage and limbers. Upon his return, Marmont sent a report to Napoleon, who decided to appoint a commission to look at the subject.

In 1803 the Commission made a number of recommendations that were incorporated into a revised system (called the An XI, or "Year Eleven" system in English). Field artillery would have larger guns - the 6lb gun would replace the 4lb gun, and the short 12lb gun would replace the 8lb gun. Alterations were made to the gun carriage - the most visible of which was the removal of the travelling trunnion and the change of shape to the end of the trail (the "ski" kicks up more on the An XI).

There was fierce debate about the changes (not least because there were hundreds of 4lb and 8lb gun tubes cast, and literally millions of rounds of ammunition in storage). In practice, the 6lb cannon was liked but the carriage wasn't (it was alleged it had a tendency to break up on campaign).

As you can see from the above, very brief, version of events, the really anal wargamer can have a field day with French cannon (and you thought it was just shakos v bicornes and long tailed coats v Bardin jackets...).

So in summary, the anal wargamers guide to the French use of 6lb guns:

1789 - 1800: No 6lb guns in your Revolutionary War French Army (if you are intent on 6lb guns you will need to argue for the local use of captured artillery tubes).

1801 - 1803: Limited use of 6lb guns with Gribeauval or original foreign carriages.

1804 - 1808: 6lb guns with An XI carriages - according to the sources I've looked at Napoleon ordered construction of new An XI carriages suspended in 1805 after criticism of the new carriages. So there would also be 6lbers with older Gribeauval carriages serving alongside the new carriages.

1808/9 - 1810: 6lb guns with adapted Gribeauval carriages (1810 saw official re-adoption of the Gribeauval carriages).

So, this is one of those areas where the "official position" and the reality clearly differed.

The Models
Before we go any further the grid on the photographs is 5mm - also as I don't possess calipers I just used a ruler for the measurements and did them by eye.

Anthony Barton: AB-F42 - French 6lb Gun @£2.60*
This is a 6lb gun on a Gribeaval carriage. So some basic measurements - the outside diameter of the wheels should be 4 feet 6inches (146cm) and is 15mm in the model (so bang on 1/100), and the iron axletree should be 6 feet 5 inches (206cm). There is a 20mm "track"in the model (from one wheel to the other) so 6 feet 6 inches - now the question arises, did the measurement of the axle include the wheel and linchpins? I'd submit that it should - on this basis the model measures 27mm at it's widest point. The wheels have a slight indent (which is wholly accurate) but the hubs are much larger than in real life with the result that the wheels look (and are) too far apart. I'd surmise this is one of those moments where the anal wargamer has to decide whether he wants a playable piece or a wholly accurate model. The strapping on the cheeks of the carriage all looks in the right place - this is a very nice model, if one can get over the overwide look of the gun.

Blue Moon: 15 FE 02 - 6 Pound Gun @£2.00 (Six models for £12.00)
Looking at the carriage, it seems fairly clear that this is a 6lb gun mounted on a An XI carriage. Irritatingly, I can't find the detailed dimensions of the An XI carriage but it's size would appear to be closely related to the Gribeauval 4lb carriage. The diameter of the wheel on the Blue Moon 6lb gun is 16mm (5 feet 3 inches), the "track" is 20mm and the axle is 22mm wide including hubs (the indented spokes are more pronounced than on the AB gun so the effect of the wide hubs isn't so pronounced. So, the diameter of the wheels is possibly a tad big but on the width issue the Blue Moon carriage is much better. The carriage looks bang on in terms of shape and details - this is a nice model and is the equal to the Anthony Barton gun. Packaging six models together in one bag seems a bit odd though

Xan Miniatures NFA10 - Cannon 6 & 8lb @£3.00
Back to the Gribeauval pattern carriage - although this one has a wider trail than the AB or BM. 15mm wheels, 17mm track and 22mm wide including hubs. On this model the indent of the spokes is barely there, if at all. The hubs seem much smaller with the effect that, of the three guns, this looks most like it should from the front. In terms of the carriage itself the detailing is less exaggerated than on the BM model. I'd use this gun nevertheless, it looks "right" except for the width of the trail - if an opponent were rude enough to point this out I think I'd just suggest this was one of the multiplicity of captured guns in the French arsenal, and that Spain appeared to regularly draw the short straw in supply terms for the French army. If you look closely, you can see that the trail spikes are still mounted on the carriage. One comment I'd like to make - I bought this gun eight months ago and it has been sitting on my desk unassembled for most of that time - I'm embarrassed to say, I'm unsure whether this is the 6 or 8lb barrel!

*Unusually, the price of AB has been falling over the last year as the Sterling to Aussie dollar rate has moved in our favour - AB guns were £3.00 in January 2013 (I'm slightly disturbed by this as it means my leadpile has dropped in value over the last 12 months - although as I've been supplementing my stocks that should make up for it, I've been adopting the same attitude to my pension plan over the recession).

Spanish Use Of 6lbers
This exposition has clearly drifted away from what guns I should offer my Spanish crewmen to serve - logic would indicate that they should be serving a gun with the Gribeauval pattern carriage - I'm unaware of any evidence that they switched to the An XI carriage and there weren't many instances of the Spanish capturing French guns - generally it was the other way round! Furthermore, as I actually started to research this a bit (I bought a couple of very nice books on Napoleonic artillery while searching for information), I couldn't find any evidence the Spanish actually used 6lbers - at this point I felt confident enough to email Ian Marsh and ask what sources he'd used to back his suggestion, I also posted a query on TMP.

I got a very prompt response from both. Dr Steven Summerfield who said on TMP that the Spanish didn't use 6lb guns until 1811 - and Ian Marsh also quickly replied as follows - "The issue is largely that AB doesn't make 4pdrs, so to have a small looking gun you have to use the 6pdr. It's a long time since I made the suggestion on the site, and I suspect I assumed the Spanish, being somewhat prone to losing their materiel, would probably make good losses at some point with captured French guns after successful British actions and sieges.

However, your email has encouraged me to read around, and I will change the advice on the website.

As for limbers, you are currently stuck. Ideally you'd want oxen pulling a French limber, and that isn't a possibility." 

I'd asked what Ian what he suggested for Spanish limbers and caissons etc - logic would indicate French pattern equipment but the limber riders would be an issue. He responded as an afterthought that Eureka do oxen pulling carts, but that as he didn't have the moulds in the UK he couldn't offer the oxen separately.

This would rather disqualify the Blue Moon AnXI guns from service with my Spanish army - which is a shame as I actually liked the look of this model the most in just about every other respect. So, given the options, I could use AB guns and just have to try and overlook the overwide look of them - which will bug me, I know.

The question of guns therefore went into a hiatus for a few months - about a month ago I looked at the Blue Moon website and the French 4lb and 8lb guns both have Gribeauval carriages - I emailed BM and a very kind lady, Teresa, forwarded my question on to the designer (Gregory) who confirmed this was the case within a few hours of my asking the question (so top marks for customer service to BM). I therefore bought some 4,8 and 12lb French guns from Old Glory UK (if you have been counting, you will realise that this post has caused me to buy 25 guns of one sort or another!) which took about a week to arrive and very nice they are too.

Blue Moon 4lb, 8ib and 12ib Guns

Ok, so here we have the BM 4lber gun (BM reference 15-FE-01). These fellows appear in several GdB OOBs being served by French Horse Artillery crews, and also by the Spanish (so the guns that I originally thought would get least use when I ordered these a few days ago will probably be used the most, initially at least). I used an Osprey, Napoleon's Guns 1792-1815 (1) for the measurements quoted below.

The first thing I thought when I saw this model was "gosh that looks small" - and the first thing I measured were the wheels which are 11.5mm in diameter (so, at 1/100 that is equivalent to 1.15m or a shade over 3 feet 9 inches) - this is small as the Osprey quotes 1.35m (or 4 feet 2 inches). And in 15mm scale a couple of millimetres rather stands out. The carriage is 25mm long (and the Osprey gives a "cheek length" of 235.5cm) so not too far off the original. Now the common problem with gun models is that they look too wide, so how did the BM 4lb gun do? The Osprey quotes the iron axletree length as 197.4cm (or 6 feet, 5 inches give or take a fraction of an inch) - measuring from the inside of each wheel (so including the inner hub) gave me a figure of 1.5cm so way too narrow (remember those mm stand out at this scale) - the equivalent of 19 inches. If you measured to the outer hub (so at the gun's widest point) it would be pretty much bang on.

So, overall, this gun is out in a couple of respects - height of the wheels and possibly the width of the track and length of the carriage. But if you are looking to represent the smaller guns on the table this model works well overall - one of those instances where the look of the thing is better than the sum of the parts.

Next up, the BM 8lb gun (BM reference 15-FE-03). At first sight this gun and carriage is very similar to their 6lber. The most obvious difference is the "kick up" at the end of the trail of the 6lber is more pronounced (although not as pronounced in the book "Napoleonic Artillery" by Duncan, Duncan and Summerfield, page 71 - I'm surmising that the BM 6lb model is an M1808), and the Gribeauval 8lber carriage has two trunnion positions rather than the single position on the 6lb An XI carriage. The 8lber has the same size wheels as the 6lb carriage (so 16mm diameter, or 5 feet 3 inches), and the track is 18mm. The axle is 22mm wide including hubs. Frame length is 26mm.

Finally, the BM 12lb gun (BM reference 15-FE-04). My first thought after putting this thing together was that it is one big carriage (36mm long) dwarfing the other guns. Wheel height is again 16mm. Track is 20mm, and hub to hub width is again 22mm. My next thought was that the "kick up" at the end of the trail was quite pronounced making it look like an early An XI gun (the 12lb An XI retained the travelling trunnion so this isn't a point of difference like it is on the 6lber). Actually - re-reading my correspondence with the BM people, I didn't actually ask about the provenance of the 12lb gun so it may well be a An XI.

A few general comments about the BM guns: The castings were pretty clean - I didn't do any preparation to any of guns before assembling them for this review. One minor issue I noticed with all the BM barrels was that the mould looks to be poured via the righthand trunnion (as you sight down the barrel) and the casting is a little rough here which means that the barrel doesn't fit cleanly into the carriage "pulling" the barrel to the right as it sits on the carriage. But this is nothing that a few minutes with a file won't fix.

I'd also point out that all the guns came with ammunition boxes despite my neglecting to photograph them!

And here are a couple of pictures of the guns lined up together:

Ok, From left to right: Xan Miniatures, AB, BM 4lber, BM 6lber. 

From left to right: BM 6lber, 8lber and 12lber.

From left to right: BM 6lber, 8lber, 12lber and a BH 4lb (?) gun I had laying around.

From left to right: Xan Miniatures (and before anyone comments I haven't stuck the barrel on this one), AB, BM4lb gun, BM 6lb gun.

In conclusion, I'm sure I've made some errors in terminology and detail - if anyone wants to comment on my ignorance feel free and I'll make the appropriate edits! Anyway, I hope this is useful. 

I was asked on TMP to add some more manufacturers guns - to be honest I'd thought about doing this but the above post was originally started about eight months ago and I'm now pretty fed up with it! Anyway, I've looked though the Bollinger LGA (that is La Grande Annee - not La Grande Armee) box where all the unpainted French lead is stored and I found some more guns.

Old Glory 
Now, I think these are OG (long time readers of this blog will be aware that several years ago - back when the US Post Service still let their citizens send goods by surface post - I bought a very big box of French, Austrians and Russians from a chap in California and these guns are from an unmarked bag from the box). Looking at the website of the current UK agents, TimeCast, just shows labels such as "Foot Artillery, Full Dress" with no mention of gun size or carriage type - so its difficult to review how close they are to the original. Both guns are cleanly cast with good levels of detail (I'm not really sure if that big barrel goes with the carriage to be honest - there were also some howitzer barrels in the bag too). So here are a couple of photos with some measurements.

Gun "A" - wheel diameter 11mm, track 16mm, hub to hub width 22mm, cheek length 25mm.

Gun "B" - wheel diameter 12.5mm, track 17mm, hub to hub width 23mm, cheek length 26mm 

Fantassin (Warmodelling)
After saying on TMP I didn't possess any Fantassin artillery I found a gun and crew. Again, I'm unaware of what calibre it is supposed to be (I bought a "division pack" from Dermot at CGM in Spain a few years ago after hearing good things about their figures from TMPers - and that was really poor advice...) as it is in an unmarked bag with some French foot artillery figures. I'll do a photo and give measurements - but frankly this was the worst casting of any of the guns with softness and flash in the area below the trail spikes on the left hand side of the carriage, more flash at the front of the carriage, and rough areas on the wheel rims (which also didn't fit neatly to the axles). The transom appeared to me to out of true giving the carriage a slightly twisted appearance. Finally all the other guns had an indent at the mouth of the barrel - not the Fantassin gun. Also the two wheels were of different thicknesses. All in all, it was a chunky mess! 

Wheel diameter 15mm, track 18mm, hub to hub width 23mm, cheek length 28mm.

And just to show how awful the Fantassin gun is here are two shots - the first from the rear showing (hopefully) how the transom is out of true. 

And secondly how the wheels vary in thickness.

Battle Honours
Now this is from a really old pack (back when they were Kitney & Company and included a cardboard stand along with the gun and figures) labelled ART5A - I looked back through my earliest Wargames Illustrated magazines and I think this a French 8lb gun. It is much smaller than the 6 or 8lb offerings from BM (or AB) but then so are the crewmen - this gun is much closer to the BM 4lber in terms of the carriage size. There is a clear mould line running horizontally down the middle of each cheek which is a bit obvious but apart from that is a very clean casting. I think it is one of the nicest guns of the lot - there is detail but it isn't exaggerated. I guess if you pair it with the appropriate figures it would look fine. 

Wheel diameter 13mm, track 17mm, hub to hub width 23mm, cheek length 24mm.

The above are from left to right: OG Gun "A", OG Gun "B" and the Fantassin Gun.

Left to right: Battle Honours, OG Gun "A" and BM 4lber.


  1. A fine review. I have switched over to AB for almost everything Napoleonic just because the castings are clean and crisp. The guns do appear to be a bit wide, but then again with Essex, they appear too narrow. Unfortunately, the cannons I've seen in real life are American ones and I'm sure they were just as confusing and varied.

  2. An excellent review, this should prove useful to folks wanting to know sizes.

  3. Nicely done,
    The wide AB French guns have always troubled me. Don't know enough to make any comment though.

    1. Hi Paul,
      That Fantassin gun will be heading North for David pretty soon!

  4. With all the new information and some very good books out there with nice scale drawings, I think that you will find a lot more wrong with the AB guns than noted.

    Also, I would suggest that if you are looking for French 6 pdrs and don't want to use a system XI carriage, then I would suggest putting the 6 pound barrel on a 8 pdr carriage.

    If I understand what I read about the French guns is that neither their 4 or 8 pdrs were as effective as the British 6 pdr. Thus the need to create a 6 pdr. The only information that contain any line drawings for a French 6 were those of the system XI.

    Also, it should be noted that if the French were using captured barrels for their 6 pdrs, and assuming that they were British tubes, you have about 6 to 7 choices in terms of style, length and design.

    1. Hi Joel,
      The original 6lb guns were locally cast in Northern Italy for the French army after Marmont found that his 4lber were too light and the 8lbers were too heavy. The French also captured an immense amount of material from the Austrians during the course of the war. So you'd be certainly correct to include some Austrian guns in your French forces if you wished. I doubt if there were so many British tubes available for that to be a real option in the greater scheme of things.