Friday, October 4, 2013

The Guns of August

I’ve always experienced mixed emotions when it comes to contemplating military modelling of a larger and more detailed variety than wargaming miniatures.

On the one hand, the level of skill, precision and realism on display by modellers at this end of the game is in my opinion nothing short of artistry. Just look at the likes of what was on display at this year’s Euro Militaire. If you have an interest in military history and modelling, it’s very hard not to (a) be simply entranced, and (b) want to emulate.

The flip side of the coin stems from exactly the same reasons. The standard seems simply so high as to be totally unachievable. Gorgeous to drool at online or in magazines, but not a realistic goal for Ordinary Joe Hobbyist.

Be that as it may, I’ve decided to try my hand at a couple of larger scale pieces (and possibly armour kits in the long term). I’ve dabbled in bigger scales before, with varying degrees of satisfaction (not to mention completion!). Now, a trip last May to the Irish Model Soldier Society’s annual show and a subsequent decision to join the club have encouraged me to have another go.

First up on the table, and quite appropriate as we stand on the cusp of the First World War centenaries that begin in 2014, are two 54mm figures from the outbreak of that conflict.
Above is Andrea Miniature’s S3-FO1 Infantryman (Prussia). I’ve always been fascinated by the early First World War uniform of the ordinary German infantryman; topped off by the iconic spiked Pickelhaube. You can see at a glance why the headgear in particular was a dream come true for Allied cartoonists and propagandists, with its instant connotations of barbarism and belligerence. It crops up time and again in contemporary posters and drawings like the US example below (courtesy of Wikipedia).

I have a distinct childhood memory of watching the 1979 film version of The Riddle of the Sands on TV some rainy Sunday afternoon, and being struck by several scenes featuring German soldiers (very much the bad guys of the piece) wearing the Pickelhaube. Inevitably, someone’s uploaded the entire film on YouTube.
Anyway, this figure is for me instantly reminiscent of the early months of the conflict, and of German infantry surging forward in battles like Mons and the Marne (though, to be boringly pedantic, a gas mask container on the figure’s back suggests a date of 1915 onwards).

This isn’t my first Andrea figure – I recall clumsily slopping paint as a teenager on to a Napoleonic kit representing a certain fair-haired 95th Rifles officer at Badajoz. Returning to the brand after an interval of several years, I was able to see why the Spanish company remains a popular choice for white metal 54mm kits.

The kit (purchased from Historex Agents in the UK) arrived in perfect condition, complete with both a painting and uniform guide.  Clean up and assembly was quite straightforward, although I’m somewhat sceptical about the durability of the superglue I’ve used to attach the figure to its metal base – pinning and drilling aren’t yet part of my skillset. A small amount of filling and our man will be ready for primer.

Next is a British figure from a (relatively) new company, Tommy’s War, which concentrates on 54mm resin British and Commonwealth subjects from the 1914-18 period. Having tried (but sadly not gotten as far as finishing) one or two kits from this manufacturer already, I was already aware of the accuracy and character of these figures, and this offering ( TW54003) was no exception.

Representing a bombardier of the Royal Horse Artillery in 1914, the sculpt positively drips with period flavour. Hands perched on hips as though about to bawl out some unfortunate gunner out of sight, this moustachioed NCO is instantly recognisable as a seasoned Old Contemptible of the original BEF. It’s easy to imagine him holding court in the mess of some pre-war garrison like the Curragh or Aldershot.

Though I’m still slightly unsure of myself when it comes to working with resin as opposed to metal or hard plastic, the kit really couldn’t be simpler. There are only four components: torso and legs, head and arms. I’m looking forward to getting this one assembled and prepped.
One of the finest hours for the Royal Horse Artillery during the early part of the First World War came at Néry on 1 September 1914. Here, ‘L’ Battery RHA mounted a determined defence against encroaching German cavalry, with the crew of one 13-pounder gun continuing to load and fire after most of the battery’s other guns had been knocked out early in the engagement. Three Victoria Crosses were earned during the action, and the surviving gun is still preserved in the Imperial War Museum in London. It’s on the gun line at Néry that I envisage depicting this old sweat.

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