Thursday, February 4, 2016

Entry #11 to the AHPC - Two Mercenary Forces Spanning 500 Years, 1503 / 2003

Ever since the beginning of America's involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, I've had a deep fascination regarding the debate surrounding Private Military Contractors (PMCs). 

I've read several books and journal articles on the subject and my own opinion is varied, but generally negative. On one hand I understand the shell game governments play when hiring military contractors. The use of PMCs allows governments to reduce their official military footprint while still providing themselves with a substantial force to utilize in a variety of situations. Nonetheless, the fact remains that PMCs are not soldiers of a nation state, but rather are beholden to their companies first, to their contracts second and everything else follows in varying degrees of importance. In many instances this pecking order has ended in tragedy, underlying the morally nebulous, and violent, world they work in

Of course, the most famous of these companies is Blackwater Worldwide which was created and owned by ex-SEAL, Erik Prince. I recently finished Prince's autobiography, 'Civilian Warriors' which puts forward his personal perspective on the PMC industry, and the media frenzy whichbesieged his company. While I am sympathetic to several aspects of his story, I did find it bemusing how Prince bobs and weaves with his argument that Private Military Contractors should not be equated with the pejorative term: 'Mercenary'.  Rather Prince believes that he and his industry should be considered no different than the 'dashing' soldiers-for-hire and privateers of history, much like Lafayette and James De Wolf. Soldiers-for-hire? Privateers? Mercenaries? To me, Prince is splitting hairs. All of these are cut from the same cloth. It's true that being defined as a mercenary currently denies a host of rights, both on and off the battlefield, but let's face it, for all intents and purposes PMC's ARE mercenaries - just the same as the Condottieri were in late medieval Italy and David Stirling's WatchGuardInternational was in the 1960s. The only difference is that PMCs of today have a corporate sophistication that a 16th century condottieri would find mind boggling.

Anyway, enough about all that. Let's talk about toy solders. :)  

What we have here are two groups of mercenaries, spanning 500 years, one from 1503 and the other from 2003.

First up are several contemporary contractors, or 'operators' in a mix of civilian and military gear. These are 28mm figures from Eureka Miniatures, sculpted by the very talented Kosta Heristanidis. I really like these models. They're well cast and have a great sense of animation. The other thing I really appreciate is that their weapons are slightly upscaled, giving them more of a presence (and sturdiness) that is lacking from some other modern ranges.

I've kept the palette fairly muted, only introducing a pop of colour here and there with cap, t-shirts and optics. Pretty straightforward stuff.

But iyou want colour, we have it in spades with these Swiss mercenaries from the canton of Bern.  

First up is a command stand featuring a huge (no, really, I mean HUGE) brown bear. Bern has a bear as part of its heraldry, and apparently in one of the period manuscripts there is one depicted in battle, mauling some poor French sod. Being that it is a big wild animal I thought I'd add a doughty halberdier to help keep the beast moving in the right direction. The canton's banner is from Pete's Flags. It's a beautiful piece of work, being printed on tight-weave fabric, but I inadvertently rubbed away some of the inkjet transfer when I was working with it so I had to retouch a good bit of it with brush and paint. Nonetheless, I still quite like it and look forward to using more of his flags in the future.

This halberd unit started it's service last year as group of twelve figures. At the time I chose to base them in threes on 40mm round basesthinking we'd use them primarily for skirmishing rules such as 'Lion Rampant'. 

As things often turn out, we found that while 'Lion Rampant' was good fun, we actually preferred 'Pike and Shotte' for our Italian Wars fixSubsequently, I found that the original twelve figures were a bit too weedy to be a respectable unit for P&S, so I decided to re-base the lot and add another four figures to bring it more up to snuff.

After my experiment with Simon's (aka BigRedBat) excellent irregular-edged bases for my crossbowmen, I decided to ask the good folks over at Warbases to make me a whole mob of them in various sizes. The singlbase shown here is roughly 180mm x 60mm, which is more than enough room to accommodate my existing 4 bases of halberdiers plus a few new additions. (I decided to be lazy and just glue them on the new base and shape the groundwork around them.)

Three new recuits for the unit...

 ...and this red-helmeted horn player (hornist?) was conscripted at the 11th hour to add a bit more mass and colour.

And here is a group shot of the redux halberdier, my recent crossbowmen and the 'Bear of Bern' command stand.

Thanks very much for persevering through this inordinately long post - I hope you have a great day!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Entry #10 to the AHPC - French Fort from 'The De Lattre Line', 1951

French blockhouse along 'The De Lattre Line'

This past week I returned to a project which I started a few years ago: The war in French Indochina, 1945-54.

After the defeat of the Japanese in WWII, Indochina reverted back to French colonial control. Nonetheless the Vietnamese nationalist, the Viet Minh, who had fiercely resisted the Japanese occupation, had set their hearts upon independence and so open fighting between the two soon broke out. 

By 1950 the French found themselves hard pressed and bogged down by the Viet Mihn and so within this setting General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny, France's most senior commander, was called in to redress the balance. General de Lattre was only in Indochina for less than a year but within that time he reinvigorated the French forces and dealt the Viet Mihn a series of stinging defeats. 

One of de Lattre's strategies was to enclose the entire Tonkin river delta with a sequence of concrete fortifications in order to better protect this strategic region. These 1200 forts became known as 'The De Lattre Line'. The forts were constructed to house anywhere between 10 men to several hundred defenders, but were usually fairly small affairs, often hexagonal in shape. From what I've been able to gather they were frequently designed like a seashell, with the rooms winding in towards a central magazine/radio room. This way the garrison could fall back, room by room towards the center. Also, some forts had the luxury of an old tank turret being installed on the roof to provide additional fire support.

Not so easily deterred, the Viet Minh frequently attacked these outlying forts in order to break into the Tonkin area, cause havoc and try to reduce the French grip on the area. 

In his book, 'Street without Joy' Bernard Fall describes a typical attack on one of these forts and it's a harrowing read.  I won't go into great detail here but, in short, the Viet Mihn would usually use the cover of darkness to approach the fort and drive-in its defenders. As the French airforce had no capability for night-flying, and their artillery was nowhere nearly as plentiful as what the Americans would enjoy a decade later, the defenders had to hang on, fight through the night and hope for support in the light of the morning. 

The French would fight in pitch darkness, being as the use of interior lights would outline their fort's firing slits to the enemy. As the night battle wore on, the interiors would fill with choking cordite smoke, with the darkness only cut by the flash and roar of automatic weapons fire. 

Meanwhile back at French headquarters, staff officers would crowd around the radios to listen as the fort's radioman gave up-to-the-minute status of the fighting.  On more than one occasion a frantic last message would come over the wireless announcing that the defenders were out of ammunition and the Viet Minh were breaking into the last room (this often punctuated with a stentorian, 'Vive la France!'), or the next morning, the relieving French aircraft would fly over the besieged fort and discover the entire area masked by a cloud of red-brown dust, the fort obviously destroyed.

As soon as I read Bernard Fall's description of these desperate actions along 'The De Lattre Line' I knew I wanted to try to replicate it on the tabletop. I asked my good friend Sylvain to help me construct the fort, providing him with photographs and describing what I understood to be the interior layout. He provided me an excellent base model (thanks Sylvain!) to which I added some additional details, such as the raised viewing cupola, roof bracing and a Renault turret position. I then applied a skim coat of texture gel to reflect the concrete construction and painted it similar to my existing Indochina collection.  After it dried I liberally targeted various corners, edges and surfaces with a brown wash to mimic the mildew that would quickly grow in a jungle environment. 

I apologize for being a little liberal with the foliage in these photos. In reality, the French would have the whole area around their forts cleared to allow for effective fire lanes.  Nonetheless, I wanted to see if my experiment of a light overspray of khaki would take the shine off the plants' plastic leaves. It seems to have worked and so will be trying it with the rest of my 'Littlest Mermaid' foliage. :) 

There you have it folks, thanks for taking the time to visit.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Entry #9 to the AHPC - Heidi & Hildegarde von Biguns and the Death Bell of Breugel-Bosch

I'm having a lot of fun with this Painting Challenge, ricocheting between different projects and enjoying working on a wide variety of figures. This time I return back to the Renaissance, or a perhaps a slightly skewed vision of the Renaissance.

This set of 28mm models is from Lead Adventure Miniatures. I'm a huge fan of most of their ranges and I really love the aesthetic of their Renaissance models. While they are certainly grounded within a historical context, these figures have a rather odd, very mannered, twist to them.  I've been so taken with them that I've collected a whole series of related miniatures that I hope to form into a distinct collection - but more on that later.

As soon as I saw this set advertised online I knew had to get it as it's just so whimsically dorky.  Depicted here is a 'crew' of a highly improvised artillery piece, a great town bell, 'The Death Bell'. We see that the bell is just about to be fired in the defense of their town of 'Breugel-Bosch'.

The leader is a rather formidable woman, dressed for the occasion in helmet, partial Landsknecht regalia and sword. She wields an improvised rammer made of an old broom stick and scullery brush. This is Hildegarde. She is overseeing her sister, Heidi, in the firing of the Death Bell. Heidi, as we can plainly see, is a little more of a reluctant soul than her brash sibling. Both sisters are trying very hard to ignore the sage advise of their cousin Henri, who lost both his legs as a gunner serving in the Italian Wars. He is seen here on his hand cart, bringing up more ammunition for the ladies.

While working on these castings I came to the conclusion that they deserved a little more pimping out. The stock bell came with a cavernous opening, but with nothing to put in it. I thought that this wouldn't do. It was just crying out for some deadly missile to be nestled inside, ready to be blasted out at their enemies. At first, I made a big cannonball with some greenstuff and popped that in to see how it looked. It was okay, but it still seemed rather, meh, a bit boring. 

Then I came upon the idea that these citizens would want to pack this thing with whatever they could find in town that could be considered lethal. I immediately thought of a blacksmith's anvil and laughed aloud. I rummaged around and, surprise, surprise, found one as part of a Napoleonic forge set from Westfalia Miniatures (sorry Kawe!). From there it was just a matter of trimming down the anvil and adding some other bits, such as a sword, spear, and a few polearms (donations from the town's armoury). Done! Now the gun has a load of improvised scattershot to wreak havoc amongst their foes!

I really liked the pillow as a recoil brake and made sure to give it a nice needlework pattern. I imagine that it's been donated to the cause by one of the town's worthy ladies - a noble sacrifice from her sitting room. 

For the groundwork I wanted to try something a little different. I really liked Sidney's cobblestone base which is featured in his latest theme entry. I didn't have anything like that handy, so I made a rather impressionistic version of a cobblestone road by gluing oblong shapes cut from an index card. Once dried I simply painted, drybrushed them up to look like flagstones, and then added some grass between the 'stones' (clipped-up tufts work well for this).

I've kept to an autumn theme again so that this 'HEAVY artillery unit' can fit in with my other Renaissance stuff.

So, there you have it. The Death Bell of Breugel-Bosch, crewed by Heidi & Hildegarde von Biguns (and helped by their cousin Henri).

Thanks for visiting folks and have a great week!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Entry #8 to the AHPC - Three Denizens of Edgar Rice Burrows' Barsoom

First, I want to tip my hat to Sander for this project's inspiration. During last year's Painting Challenge he submitted a wonderful entry that got my mind whirling and my pocketbook prised open to order these great figures.

In 1912 Edgar Rice Burrows published 'A Princess of Mars', the first in what would be 11 novels making up the John Carter of Mars series. Burrows is seen as one of the founding fathers of science fiction and his writing, while a bit anachronistic, still entertains today much as it did over a century ago.

These figures were a close contender for my 'Nostalgia' entry as I've had a real soft spot for the series since I was a teen. I have fond memories of going through the turnstile of novels in our town's pharmacy (which was the only place to buy novels and magazines) and taking furtive glances at the salacious covers of the John Carter paperbacks, trying not to be seen by the store's staff. To me, the art of John Carter is inseparable from the writing itself and I can't help but think of all the wonderful overwrought covers from artists such as Frank Frazetta, Frank Schoonover and Joe Jusko as I reminisce about the novels.

So here we have three denizens of Mars, or 'Barsoom', as Burrows called the Red Planet in his novels.

These 28mm figures are from Tin Man Miniatures. They are really wonderful castings, with very nice poses and, for the most part, requiring almost no cleanup.

This tall, green, four-armed fella is called a Thark. They are a warrior race which show up frequently in the John Carter novels.  He's armed with a pair of cutlasses and has a holstered pistol as well.

I decided to eschew metallic paints for this project as I thought the NMM approach would provide for a more interesting cartoony, cell-shaded effect to the figures.

The above figure is a female Barsoom assassin. I spent some time mulling over what colour to go with and finally decided with a simple deep red as it's often heavily used in the series' cover art

I did a blocky highlighting style to make her robes and boots quite pronounced.

The 'Wild Ride' vignette is a fairly complex white metal model with around 20 parts. It required a fair bit of pinning and filling to complete, and while I'm still not completely happy with it, I still really like the sense of movement it gives. 

I decided to go with a blue skin tone on the beast as I like the sharp contrast against the red-themed groundwork and, well, it's a freaky looking alien so it seemed to fit.

In regards to the bases, I was at a bit of a loss as at first.  I wanted groundwork that was distinctly alien, but yet not so over-the-top to overpower the figures. In the end I decided to use bits of bark built-up with glue to create a stratified rock effect which did a decent job of blending with the original bases, and then went with a pale orange/red base colour and just highlighted from there. 

As to the vegetation, Burrows describes much of Mars being covered with loamy, yellow-red plants so I thought I'd use some old 'autumn' foam flock which I've always thought looked a bit too weird for Earth anyway, but it's finally found it's home on Barsoom.

Thanks for dropping by for a visit folks!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Entry #7 to the AHPC - 28mm Napoleonic French Officer During the Retreat from Russia, 1812

This week, for the Challenge's 'Epic Fail' theme, I returned to a project I began a few years ago. It depicts a campaign which I think easily fits the theme: the 1812 French retreat from Russia.

So here is a single figure of a French officer, ragged and cold, in the midst of attempting to rally his comrades. In my mind's eye I see breath misting, desperate figures shuffling through the snow, and the ominous shadows of Cossacks emerging from a distant treeline.

28mm figure by Perry Miniatures and I would argue one of their best sculpted ranges.

Thanks for dropping by and have a great week!