Monday, August 4, 2014

One of the 'Guns of August': 28mm Great War in Greyscale French 75, Caisson and Crew (& Major LaBossiere)

August commemorates the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War. So to mark the occasion I thought I'd finish a set of models for my greyscale project that have been sitting in the wings for quite some time, something fitting for those first terrible weeks of the Great War - a French 75mm gun with its crew and caisson. 

The Matériel de 75mm Mle 1897, or simply 'the 75', became legend amongst the French as it along with its crews carried a tremendous burden in slowing the German advance on Paris in 1914. 

The 75 was a relatively light gun, easy to maneuver and capable of keeping up with infantry in relatively difficult terrain. It was a weapon which embodied  the French cult of the attack which was prevalent at that time - the Attaque a Outrance ('attack to excess') demanded massive, high-tempo assaults and many officers at St-Cyr believed this was the perfect gun to accommodate this aggressive doctrine.  

The '75' also had a very quick rate of fire (approximately 15 rounds per minute, with a capable crew) which allowed it to lay down a deadly carpet of high explosive and shrapnel on exposed troops. 

Nonetheless, once hostilities began, many of the perceived strengths of the 75 proved to be double-edged. While the 75 could indeed put out a terrifying volume of fire in close support, the crews were prone to run out of ammunition quickly - especially in those early weeks of the war. This often left the gun vulnerable and many crews were found dead next to their guns, with their ammunition expended.  Also, while the 75 proved to be an excellent anti-personnel weapon, it did not have a heavy enough shell to be effective for trench bombardments so as the war progressed it became more and more evident that heavier guns were required  - so the 75 lost it pre-eminence in the French arsenal. Nonetheless the reputation (and mystique) of the gun lived on and it was used by several nations at the beginning of the Second World War.  

This model is from Scarab Miniatures. Not a bad kit but it was a bit fiddly to assemble. While I like the crew well enough, they are a bit doughy and muppet-like in some of their features (and their uniform is the later design). I really need to get the new(ish) early-war set offered from North Star as it better fits the rest of my collection.

On a lighter note, it must be mentioned that the French gun's fame was such that it even had a drink named after it, the "French 75" - or perhaps more correctly "Le Soixante-Quinze"!

Beware, like the 75mm Mle 1897, this cocktail may seem lightweight, but it actually packs a ferocious kick...

Finally, I include a French infantry officer of 1914, resplendent in his red jodhpurs, laced kepi and St. Etienne revolver. I've named him Major LaBossiere (one for you J). 

When I look at him I think of a grizzled veteran of 'The Debacle', perhaps wounded at Sedan as an officer Aspirant, leading his young troops from the front, furious that General Joffre would presume that his men lack in fighting spirit. 'Vous n'aurez pas l'Alsace et la Lorraine!'

This figure (a 28mm casting from Great War Miniatures) is for my friend Nick over at Moiterei's Bunt Welt, who kindly painted me a beautiful Viking warlord for my collection and wished a greyscale French Poilu in return. I decided to do a quasi 'Sin City' colour effect on him to add a bit of punch. Here you go Nick, I hope you enjoy him and thanks so much again!