Tuesday, January 27, 2015

28mm Russian Civil War Sailors, Commissar & Austin-Putilov-Kregesse Armoured Car

(Please excuse the cross-post from the Challenge blog)

In 1963 the Soviet Union released the film ‘Optimistic Tragedy’.  It won ‘Best Revolutionary Epic’ at Cannes that year (though one wonders how many other films were in the running) and within the Soviet Union it took in 46 million tickets at the theatres (again, ticket ‘sales’ may have been encouraged by the state or perhaps even made free). Politics aside, it was regarded as an important film and was credited for its technical authenticity and production quality.

'Optimistic Tragedy' - Yes, only the Russians could come up with such a title for a movie...

The movie tells the story of a Russian Naval unit which comes under the leadership of a female commissar (named simply ‘The Commissar’) played by Margarita Volodina. The film centers around the struggle for the control (and identity) of a band of anarchist sailors during the Russian Civil War. This group of sailors basically has acted as a self-governing detachment until a female commissar is detached from Party headquarters to bring them under the wing of the Red Army. 

Russian Sailor Beefcake
The plot will remind many of today’s viewers of the movies in which a steely-willed teacher slowly civilizes a classroom of unruly teenagers. It's a historically interesting film, and so inspired by it, I thought it a great opportunity to put together a small vignette depicting a female commissar who is urging forward her unit of Russian sailors for the glory of the Revolution.

Historically the Russian navy provided some of the highest quality cadres for the Bolshevik cause. They were often committed to hardest fighting in both the Revolution and the Civil War – they were depended upon for their professionalism, aggressiveness and steadiness under fire.

A.Z. Zhelezniakov, a Russian sailor who became a prominent Bolshevik commander during the Civil War.
Ironically the sailors themselves became some the last casualties of the Russian Civil War.  In 1921, when based back with the Fleet at Kronstadt, they made demands for the return to the original purpose of the Revolution, namely free elections, free speech and free right of assembly. They were swiftly labeled as counter-revolutionaries and were attacked by approximately 60,000 Bolsheviks, who stormed them over the ice at Kronstadt harbor. After fierce fighting, where they caused appalling casualties amongst the attacking Red Army, the sailors either surrendered or escaped into exile in Finland. Overall, it was an embarrassing closing chapter for the Bolshevik's revolution.

The sailors seen here are all from Copplestone Castings. Wonderful models with very little cleanup required - a real joy to paint. I’ve done them up in a mix of either their regular blue or white(ish) dress trousers.  I did this to add some variation as many of the poses are virtually identical so I reasoned that some men could have resorted to their dress trousers when they wore-out their blues.

The female Commissar is also from Copplestone. On the same base I’ve added a NCO from Footsore Miniatures (previously Musketeer). I had them both based, primed and ready to paint when I realized he had epaulettes on his shoulders and an Imperial rosette on his cap. This is a BIG no-no with the Bolsheviks, especially after December 1917 where they made it mandatory to remove all symbols of imperial rank. In fact it was regarded as a damning insult to be called a ‘Golden Epaulette’ in the Red Army. Anyway, knife and file were duly brandished and the offending insignia was removed so he could be a proper 'Soldier of Equal Rights'.

As with the squad of Whites that I did a few weeks ago, I’ve placed flowers in the groundwork which aligns with their political affiliation (though with all of these fellas being festooned with red armbands and accompanied by a commissar who's waving a honkin’ huge red banner it does seem like a bit of overkill, oh well…).

The vehicle seen here is an Austin-Putilov-Kegresse halftracked armoured car. The Kegresse variant was particular to the Bolsheviks who modified twelve Austin cars to this halftrack model.  The machine gun turrets were off-set to better allow overlapping fields of fire (and just in case you're wondering, the shields on the sides of the guns were designed to protect the barrels’ water coolant casings from being holed from incoming fire).

This 1/55 scale model is from Copplestone Castings and while a bit small for my liking, was a very easy build.  Nonetheless, when I originally unpacked it I discovered that while the resin body was excellent, some of the white metal parts were flawed in that they were missing some of their edge detail, and the existing detail was rather soft.  I sent a note to Mark Copplestone outlining my concerns to which he immediately replied, apologized for the defects, insisted on sending out another model of equal value (post free), and also stated that he would pull the Putilov model until the quality issue was resolved. Wow. Now, how’s that for excellent service?! I'm very impressed and must thank Mark again for being such a gracious vendor, he’ll definitely be getting my business again soon.

Magnetics installed for the turrets.
I painted this model in a two-tone camouflage pattern which I understand was typical to the period. Photographic evidence suggests that some of these vehicles operated without any insignia or slogans so that is what I went with here (and it allows it to be used as a captured vehicle by the Whites, Poles or even for Pulp gaming).

Next up... either some Napoleonic Spanish Guerrillas or something in micro-scale...