Thursday, December 26, 2013

From Curt: 28mm French Paratroopers in Indochina, 1954 (55 points)


Back when the earth was still cooling I wrote a large portion of my graduate thesis on the Vietnam War.  At that time my studies largely focused on the later American entanglement and I had only a rudimentary knowledge of France's earlier involvement in the region. Nonetheless, as I grew older and became a 'reluctant Francophile', I began to read more on the First Indochina War to see if I could gain a deeper understanding of it.

A French Legionnaire advancing along an elevated track with a M24 Chaffee in the background.
The Fist Indochina War lasted from 1946 through to 1954. In simple terms it was fought because of France's desire to reassert its colonial dominance in a region which it had ruled since the mid 19th century. For them to retake control, the French had to bring to heel a growing nationalist movement which was eager to secure independence from any foreign influence. So, political partition grew into insurgency and insurgency escalated to full-scale war with more and more French (and later American) resources being committed to the conflict. Ultimately over 190,000 French Union troops would be involved in Indochine with over 75,000 being killed over 8 years of fighting (a sobering statistic when compared to the 58,000 Americans killed during their 18 years in Vietnam). Not surprisingly, to the French, the war in Indochina (also known as 'the dirty war') is a very painful chapter in their country's history and it has only been in the past decade or so that they have been able to re-examine these events with some level of dispassionate introspection.

A tragedy in the making: French paratroop in reinforcements at Dien Bien Phu, 1954.

Though it has been largely overlooked by the anglophone wargaming community, the First Indochina War offers a rich selection of interesting uniforms, weapons, armour, aircraft and most importantly ferocious scenarios for gaming.  For example, the French conducted literally hundreds of paratroop drops during the war, from tiny squad-level deployments to full divisional drops. They made extensive use of WWII era armour in their heavily armed Mobile Groups, to which the Viet Mihn took particular relish in engaging with ambushes and pitched wave assaults. They conducted complex amphibious operations with armoured assault boats and specialized riverine craft. Also, 'The de Lattre Line', composed of scores of concrete pillboxes stretched across Indochina, was continually assaulted by Viet Mihn detachments, with many being over-run in savage night assaults. So as you can imagine there is much grist for the wargaming mill.

In terms of equipment, French paratroops used several unique weapons during the conflict. For example, both the MAT49 sub-machinegun and the MAS36 rifle could be folded-down to make them more compact for paradrop drops.

The efficient MAT49
The MAT SMG with collapsed foregrip and wire stock.


The MAS36/CR39 with its characteristic folding aluminum stock.

The French utilized a wide variety of WWII armour during their war in Indochina. M3 Stuarts, M3 Halftracks, M24 Chaffees, M8 Howitzers, M36 Jacksons were common, and even captured Japanese tanks from WWII were utilized. So, lots of interesting gear for the discerning Tread-head!

Chaffee in a flooded rice field
M8 Howitzer and M3 Halftracks.

M5A Stuarts and their Legionnaire crews.
So with all this in the back of my mind I was delighted to see Red Star Miniatures release the beginnings of a new range of miniatures focusing on this conflict. These are beautifully crisp 28mm castings sculpted by the very talented (and incredibly prolific) Paul Hicks. 

So here is my stab at painting this period. In this ten-man group there is a potpourri of troop types. Like my other figures used for skirmish games I've based these on various shaped bases to help identify their roles. (I decided to go a bit overboard on the greenery to reflect the verdant setting.) 

The two chaps on the square bases below are junior NCO's. These fellows would typically be armed with MAT SMGs or M1 Carbines.






Figures on round bases will be the core troops, the rankers, typically armed with the shortened MAS36/CR39 rifle with its distinctive aluminum stock. (I will have some of these ready for a future post.) The figure on the octagonal base denotes a ranker with a special weapon, this one is armed with a MAT49 SMG. 


The two man teams on the pill-shaped bases featured here are a LMG team firing their FM24/29 while on the move and a 60mm mortar team hustling to a new firing position.






The large circular unit is a 60mm mortar team deployed with a handheld radio operator who's receiving coordinates for a fire mission.




I have an officer base which is hexagonal in shape but it's not quite done yet - again, that will have to be for a later post.



So yet another period to delve into. Since I'm planning to use them for skirmish-level gaming (probably adapting 'Chain of Command') I'm not expecting to collect too many of these models. Right, famous last words...

These ten figures should give me a base of 50 points, nonetheless I hope nobody will begrudge me as I'm adding another 5 since the mortar was a complete swine to put together.

As my attention span is like a dog's in a squirrel-filled park I will move onto something COMPLETELY different for my next entry...

A wonderful photo by Robert Capa of a French Mobile Group driving past a young Vietnamese woman.

58 comments:

  1. Lovely job again! Your basing is superb and (even if not really interested in the region) instantly tempted me to do something similar... to stay with my main focus of interest maybe some Chindits in the future? What make are the larger tufts?

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    1. Thanks Nick! Yes, I'm very interested in Chindits as well - a very characterful campaign. As to the groundwork see here, for the larger grass 'clumps' I actually clip long railway grass (Woodland Scenics) and glue it in place with a hot glue gun. Then, before the glue cools, I quickly fan the tuft of grass out with the tip of a hobby knife. I then clip the tops with moustache scissors (handy things those) to give it a bit more of an irregular look.

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  2. These guys are really nice i love the basing, i haven't ventured into this theatre of conflict yet but this does make one want to

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  3. Lovely, and an interesting big of history. "Not expecting to collect too many model" oh yeah... I believe you... NOT

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    1. I know, I know, why I event wrote that is beyond me...

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  4. Great work they look great and cheers for highlighting a new period for me
    Peace James

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  5. Very nice and the new Hicks figures look great. The base work really makes the figures (and seems accurate to the terrain of Vietnam). I've always wanted to Wargame this period since reading Bernard Fall's "Street Without Joy." Might have to shoot off an order to Red Star Miniatures soon.

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    1. Funny, I have just finished 'Street Without Joy' and am now reading 'Hell in a Very Small Place' - both are so rich in period detail and are a great source for scenarios.

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  6. Awesome figs (how do you find the time?!!!) and a really interesting article.

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    1. Oh, sorry I forgot to place the link to the store. Fixed that. They are from Red Star Miniatures and are also available through Empress Miniatures.

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  7. Those are excellent. A delight to see.

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  8. Excellent painted figures and a really interesting post.
    Cheers and thanks

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    1. Cheers Kiwi, I'm happy you found it interesting.

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  9. Well done... I seem to have a weird liking for all the early stages of all the usual/popular wargaming periods... I've long been interested in Vietnam, so the focus on the early French involvement is right up my street!

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    1. I know EXACTLY how you feel. I'm always a sucker for these odd-ball theatres of history.

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  10. Lovely figures and very well painted. Interesting introduction to the era too - sounds good for gaming, unlike the US in Vietnam

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    1. Yes, the French involvement was largely focused around mechanized and positional infantry campaigns. They did not have the airpower or artillery support that the Americans could take advantage of (which sometimes is very difficult to model on the tabletop).

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  11. Those are rather impressive Curt and I enjoyed the historical context too.

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  12. Excellent, it is an interesting period, I worked with an ex-legionnaire who talked about the Dirty War (he was not in the Legion at that time) but beyond that my knowledge is quite thin

    Ian

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    1. Oh, how very interesting. The Legion is such an fasinating military organization - almost archaic in its traditions but rock hard!

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  13. Those look just super Curt! Why am I not surprised you have done something I've been considering! Excellent basing btw. So, you have taken the lead in our side bet....for now.:-)

    Christopher

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    1. Thanks Christopher! I know, I know, I expect your return volley momentarily.

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  14. Very evocative basing and painting, Curt. It is as you say a particularly fascinating and understudied one, and an especially tragic one. All that life and treasure thrown away on a dream of empire in an attempt to assuage the national humiliation of 1940. And one has to admire the Vietnamese for rolling up their sleeves to see off one occupier after another … Japan, France, the US. AS someone said, history may not repeat itself, but it certainly rhymes.
    All the best to you and Sarah, hope you are enjoying the holidays. I am sure Regina has a little snow. :)

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    1. Thank you very much Michael! Yes, it is a fascinating period (and region) to study. I've always been bemused at the West's feeling of effrontery that the Vietnamese people would want to control their own affairs and pick a political system that did not conform to theirs. Shades of 1776 and 1789 perhaps? The French nor the Americans never accepted the similarity to their own situations. The arrogance of the West was appalling.

      Thank you for the Christmas well wishes! I hope you and Kay had a lovely Christmas in your new home. Best wishes to you both in the New Year!

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  15. Very nice figures, Curt, a great painting work... that I´m going to use with those same models I have on my painting table! Great news from "Red Star Miniatures".

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    1. I thought I'd try to beat you to the punch Juan! ;P Yes, it's very good news that Red Star has just announced the first of their Viet Mihn models. I very much look forward to painting some of those up.

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  16. Great work on these paras. I used to be intrigued with this period - particularly the Siege of DBP and the Para Mafia with the likes of Marcel Bigeard. Although a bit on the hokey side, there's a movie called Lost Command starring Anthony Quinn in a role that supposed to be Bigeard. The beginning of the movie show the siege as well as their captivity. Then it moves onto the Algerian War. Interesting and dark period. Best, Dean

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    1. Thanks Dean! Yes, 'hokey' is a good term for 'Lost Command'. If you ever get the chance check out 'Dien Bien Phu' (1992) by Peter Shoendoreffer who was a veteran of the battle, it's very good and very authentic for uniforms and equipment.

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  17. Very nicely done! With all the extra pics of fighting vehicles, I think this is just the start of a new project! A chaffe here an M3 there...a few nonparas....need some ground pounders....oh look a nice bunker! ;)

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    1. Ooh David, you've hit the nail right on the head. I have great plans for this 'little side project' (even a quaint concrete bunker to accept French coffee and Viet Mihn wave assaults). :)

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  18. Very nice Curt, I liked reading all the background to these as well thanks

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  19. Indeed a very little known conflict. Even in France where we speak about it for about... 5 minutes in History classes.

    Very good lot of figures.

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    1. Very interesting Seb. I'm sure its very painful (and thus avoided) with both Indochina back-to-back with the Algerian war.

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  20. These are great! I picked up a handful of Aztizan US paras a while back thinking I'd do a bit of converting to make them look like FFL paratroopers... but they're still sitting in a box half done... Nice to see someone's finally making some in 28mm (platoon 20 did some back in the 90's - which I think I have a few of somewhere...? but not nearly enough to play a game with).

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    1. Thanks Tim. I'll have to check out those old Platoon 20 for interest sake. Red Star has just announced their Viet Mihn and they look very good (Paul Hicks of course).

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  21. That is a really clever and effective way of identifying rankers from NCO's or other leaders. I might have to pinch the idea

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    1. Thanks Nigel and please pinch away! The system really 'sings' for 15mm scale where it's more difficult to see what the figures are carrying for weapons / rank / etc. but I find the bases-shapes are still good for 28mm. You can determine at a glance what the troop type is.

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  22. Jesus this is some nice work Curt. I would have given you an extra 10 points for that basing.

    Also I like the history you added as I don't know much about that period of the war. The American and the little known British involvement, I know rather a lot about. My father was there acting as an "adviser" with the Brits and was close friends with William Colby. I knew William Colby as he visited our home quite a bit after 'Nam. We were told his name was Leon and he was the only friend my father had in his life time. Colby used to bring me Nancy Drew books from America and I just loved him. I found out who he really was when he was on the telly spilling his guts in front of Congress. It was after that, when I found out what he and my father really did during the Vietnam War.

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    1. Thank you Anne. That is very interesting that you have a connection with William Colby through you father's service. He was a fascinating man. A democrat but also a hawk. I don't agree with his views that by the early 70's the pacification of Vietnam was working but I admire his honesty and dedication to his post. I think of him as one of the few men, at that level of command, who had real integrity - I just think he spent most of his professional career trying to fix a problem that really did not exist. Quite tragic really. Thanks very much for your comment!

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  23. Cracking stuff sir, not the least the background which was very interesting. Your camo is top notch and your basing sets it off a treat. You're always handing out extra points for basing, surely your own work deserves another 10 points?!?

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    1. Thanks Millsy, very kind of you. Oh, I felt bad enough giving myself extra points for that damned mortar so I just couldn't for the groundwork - it would seem too self-serving, I think. But I thank you for the sentiment!

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  24. Hi Curt,
    You've done a great amazing work on them!
    We give to You an Extra Bonus of 10 points for these splendid figures!
    the roots of the French paratroopers!
    par Saint Michel ! Vive les Paras!

    All the Best.

    GillesW

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    1. Thank you very much Gilles - your kind words are much appreciated.

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  25. Great work dude. This is really, really nice stuff.

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    1. Thanks Buddy! I hope we can get this on the table for a game by spring...

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  26. Really great work on some minis that I'm quite keen on myself.
    I will get some soon. For now I've just finished some Second Indochina War minis
    Huzzah Sir!

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    1. Thanks very much bikewrench! I think you'll enjoy working on these castings as they're a real treat.

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  27. Superb looking figures Curt and a very underplayed period, infact I've never seen figures for this period before!!

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    1. Yeah, its a real sidebar period though its strange as it involved so many combatants and was quite ferocious.

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  28. As usual, that's some beautiful work there, Curt. How did you do the extra tall grass on the bases? Tufts?

    I agree, you should give yourself some points for the base work!

    I also appreciate the history and background to the period. It's great.

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    1. Thanks very much Rob.

      I did the tall grass sections using Woodland Scenics long grass cut down to length and then inserted into a blob of hot glue from a hot glue gun. At this point the clump of grass is now just sticking straight up out of the cooling glue so I quickly use a hobby knife to 'fan out' the grass before the glue sets. Also, from time to time I'll use moustache scissors to clip the top of the grass to give it more of an irregular natural look. It sounds more involved than it actually is - once you have the various bits the process is a doodle to do. I probably did all of these bases in under 10 minutes.

      The shorter grasses are tufts of various lengths sourced from Tajima.

      I hope this helps!

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