Tuesday 29 October 2019

Limbering Up

“Victory is the beautiful bright-coloured flower.  Transport is the stem without which it could never have blossomed.”  Winston S. Churchill 

In this blog post I discuss the latest figures that I have completed.  Perhaps not the most glamorous of units, but I think a great addition to any 17th century wargames table; artillery limbers.

These limbers, with their teams of horses and drivers, having been sitting in the paining queue for a very long time.  They have always taken sending priority to the flashy horse and foot units.  With no desperate gaming deadlines looming I have finally got around to giving them the attention they deserve.

Limbers are something that I think many of us justifiably ignore for the Pike and Shot period.  Bigger guns tended to be set in fixed positions before the start of a battle, and stayed there for the duration.  They might be assaulted and change hands, even changing hands multiple times, but they were not typically moved from place to place during a battle.  The light guns, such as the 3 and 4 pounders, were sometimes moved with the infantry formations, but this was usually a case of man handling them.

So, what is the point of investing in limbers?  Well, there were a few reasons for me.  Probably the first reason is that they make nice dioramas for the artillery position which I think is sometimes at risk of looking a bit bare.  There was a huge amount of paraphernalia involved in running 17th century artillery batteries, and a few limbers help it look a bit busier, along with other carts, equipment, train guards, etc.

Secondly there are a few battles where one army still needed to pull their heavy guns in to position at the start of the battle. Lützen 1632 is a great example of this.  Wallenstein had set up a position for his army, and Gustav Adolf had to manoeuvre his army to meet it.  As part of this, the Swedish heavy 24 pounders were towed on to the battle field and set up just as battle was starting.  If you want to game deployment activity like this then it looks a lot better to have some proper tows for your guns.

Finally, it gives you some great options for smaller actions.  Now, as well as the baggage carts and pack mules being involved in an ambush, I can add a limbered gun or two.  Perhaps a tasty prize for the ambushers, or perhaps a nasty surprise if the gunners are on top of their game and can get the gun in to action in double quick time.

There are two different manufacturers limbers in this set-up.  I have two three horse limbers which are relatively new out from Warlord Games (link), and a four horse limber from Wargames Foundry (link).

Wargames Foundry's Four Horse Limber towing a Warfare Miniatures Field Piece

The Foundry limber is in actual fact a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster.  If I look back at my black and white Foundry English Civil War catalogue from the early 90s with its hand drawn figure illustrations by the famous Twins (a now treasured possession!)   I can see that originally there was a three horse limber with a rider and a figure on foot.  What Foundry sell now is a four horse limber, with two riders, and the limber it self looks like it has a separate origin.  The traces etc. included also need a bit of imaginative modelling to work out what to use and what to put where.

I spent some time studying Wagner’s Weapons and Warfare, with its lovely examples of cart and limber team hitching, to work out possible ways to hitch up this particular limber.  In the end I had to make some of the traces myself and I used some wound fuse wire for this job.  The eagle eyed will see the two front horses are hitched with slightly different traces, but I think this works as I’m sure there was a lot of ‘make do and mend’ in a typical artillery train.

Warlord Games Three Horse Pike and Shotte Limber, towing a Warlord Games Saker.

The Warlord limbers were more straight forward to work out.  They have a nicely completed example on their website which I used as a guide, and they seem to have used one of the Wagner illustrations as a pattern for their set-up which is also very nice to see.  I couldn’t resist a head swap for the one of the Warlord riders using a spare head from the bits box.  (I find it very difficult to accept duplicate figures in units!)

For all of the limbers I dry fitted everything together but, although I glued the riders to the horses, and the wheels to the limbers, I left everything else separate for painting.

After my earlier experiments with white undercoats and GW Contrast paint it was very nice to be back with black undercoat and my regular Vallejos.  I did use  a technique, new to me, copied from Matt at Glenbrook Games (link).  After their black undercoat was dry and set, I gave the horse and riders a heavy dry brush of Vallejo Flat Brown.  Just as Matt promised, this highlighted the details and also provided a first coat for a lot of the dingy brown accoutrements so common on 17th century figures.

With everything painted and varnished it them came to the part I was probably looking forward to least.  Glueing the things together.  Although I grew up with Airfix kits, I am not a great modeller.  I found this process very fiddly.  Much supergluing of tiny metal parts to fingers, followed by bad language, ensued.  Eventually I got the blasted things together and then had to work out the basing.  

At first I was intent on making the bases long enough so I could add a towed artillery piece behind the limber and it would sit on the same base.  Much discussion with long term gaming buddies followed.  If the limbers are going to spend most of their time ‘unhitched’ then the portion of empty base could look a bit ‘weird’ was the group-think decision.  However, when being towed it also looked odd to me if the artillery piece was not on a base.  I went for a good old compromise.  A separate small base that could be added when a gun was being towed, and taken away when the gun is unlimbered.  I’m sure this will seems like madness to many, but I like the look of it, and it works for different situations.

It wasn’t until I had the nearly finished painting that I realised I had nothing of a suitable base size in my Warbases ‘collection’ (a RUB 4L box brimming with mdf goodness).  I made a guess-timate of a length that would work for all three limbers at 150mm, and went for 50mm width which matches by cavalry bases and would therefore work for my roads etc.  Most of my baggage type things are on round or oval bases to differentiate them from the fighting units.  I thought these round cornered bases offered by Warbases (link) were a good look for the limbers.  (They were kind enough to make a special order for me as 150x50mm is not one of their standard sizes.)  The additional bits are 80x50mm.

There you have it.  A long term wargaming itch finally scratched, and I have some nice limbers for my artillery train.  Now I want some limbers pulled by oxen for a different look - there is always something else!  :-)

Until next time!

Andy @ FOGH.

Thursday 3 October 2019

New Paint, New Fur and New Research

I have been having a bit of a hobby hiatus over the summer as I prepared for the next big project.  This blog post describes some of the things I have been experimenting with and some of the research for the Swedish-Polish war.

Contrast Paint

Games Workshop remains a behemoth in the wargames industry and so their 2019 release of a new wonder paint has been on every conceivable wargames media channel.  Even I, who has only just discovered acrylics, was intrigued. I decided to buy a few select colours and try them out.  I also bought a spray can of the special primer recommended by GW for us with the Contrast paint.  As I'm sure you will have already seen  these new paints are designed to provide a base colour and initial shade by replicating a heavy wash over a light undercoat.  I had two hopes.  First was that these paints would provide a means to paint a lot of yellow uniformed troops for the Swedish Yellow Brigade which is planned. Secondly, that these paints would speed up painting the horses for the many cavalry units planned.

I prepared a cross section of spare figures from the lead pile.  Mounted and foot figures, using plastic and metals.

Warlord Pike and Shotte 28mm cavalry from their plastic box set.
28mm Pike and Shote infantry from (left to right): Avanpost, Warlord plastic (x2), Warlord metal and Perry metal (x2).
Undercoated with GW Wraith Bone primer.
Undercoated with GW Wraith Bone primer.
I was pleasantly surprised with the primer.  It went on very nicely and gave a smooth, even coat.  It was a bit of a shock for someone who has been undercoating in black for decades to see first hand what figures looked like in off-white.  I was amazed how much the details of the figure standout like this.

Just primer in the back rank, and primer washed with GW Agrax Earthshade in the front rank.

I had seen a YouTube video by a very good painter (see Sonic Sledgehammer Studio) where he had tried giving figures a wash of dark brown (GW Agrax Earthsahde) after priming and before base coats.  I decided to give this a go on some of the figures.

Then I was ready to start slopping on a heavy coat (as advised by GW) of the Contrast paints.  I must admit that I found this bit very hard!  It is a completely different approach to starting dark and building up to the light that I normally do with black undercoated figures.  I had also forgotten how much more difficult it is when you can't just miss a tricky-to-get-to bit and leave it black / primer coloured.

I was disappointed by the effect that I could get to with the horses.  I couldn't get the paint to work so well on the broader surfaces of a 28mm horse.  It also feels like the paint requires you to get it right first time. A second coat will often over darken and loose any shading effect.  I found the pre washed figures easier to work with, and I like the slightly more dingy look (see the left hand of each of the two sets musketeers below for the pre-washed figures.)  In most cases I was left wanting to do a further highlight to get to the level of contrast I wanted to get to.

"Table Ready"

The verdict.  I don't expect to change my basic approach because of these new paints.  I am going to stick with black undercoating and regular paint built up in layers.  However, just this very small experiment has got me to relook at my basic approach.  These new paints have resulted in me looking at a lot of other people's work and approaches, and reading a lot of paint / painting reviews.  So, while I was at first a bit disappointed that I hadn't discovered a quick route to painting Nirvana, I have come away with some smaller improvements to my approach due to the research:

  • The near white undercoat does make looking at what you've got to paint so much easier.  I saw a lot of people talking about "zenithal highlighting" which seemed an interesting compromise between black and white undercoats.   I then read (on Twitter) Matt from Glenbrook Games writing about an approach he uses with an initial Vallejo Flat Brown dry brush over a black undercoat.  I have now used this a couple of times and it is great at showing the details on the figure, and for the very brown 17th century, getting figures closer to their table ready state.  Thanks, Matt!
  • You don't have to use the Contrast paints over white, just over lighter colours.  The black (Black Templar) when thinned a bit is great for black horses and black armour, when used over brown or steel.
  • I can get really good reds and yellows when starting over lighter colours.  I always struggle with these two colours with a black undercoat.  Even though I still don't use a whole white undercoat, I have started to do a base coat for these colours on the figure with a pale colour first.  Then adding the red or yellow.  
  • The Contrast paints are a useful addition to the painters arsenal.  I am sure that I will find more uses over the coming months.

In closing on Contrast paints, I must say that several of my gaming buddies have had absolutely stunning results with the paints, and knocked out vast quantities of table ready figures in accelerated timescales.  Just like everything else, it is horses for courses.  I would recommend people have a play with a pot or two.  A bit of experimenting can throw up some interesting results, even if its not what you were expecting!

New Fur

My next big project is looking at the Battle of Dirschau 1627 between the Swedes and the Poles.  It has an interesting battlefield with, amongst other things, a lot of small streams and marshes.  I am looking at doing another teddy-bear fur mat for the terrain, but I haven't tackled streams and marsh yet.  I have some off-cuts from my last foray into fur and so I decided to experiment.

Antelope Brown short faux-fur.

Early stages were straightforward and followed my earlier approach (see earlier post, Fun With Fur).  My cheapo Amazon dog trimmer does sterling work on shaving all the way down to the backing material for the roads / streams etc., or just a light trim with the depth guards on.  Sharpie marker is a handy way to draw out designs before shaving.

A messy outdoor job.

Lots of combing required to get rid of shaved fur and a job best done outdoors.  Small scissors are useful for making more subtle trims to the mat.  Here I was trying to represent a marshy area

Careful snipping.

My last mat was coloured using a range of acrylic paints I had around the house: house paints, children's paints, and artists paints.  This works ok, but it requires an awful lot of combing to stop the fur getting matted by the paint.  I decided to try some alternatives.  First of all inks.  My logic was that these shouldn't clog in the same way as the thicker paint, but should still dye the fur.   I tried Windsor and Newton inks, some other artist inks (one in a handy spray applicator!), and normal model washes / inks.   These all worked in a similar way.  Not as opaque / strong colours as the paint, and you couldn't lighten a dark fur with this approach, but much less clogging.

Paint below the stream and inks above the stream.

After some internet investigation on the dress making, and teddy bear making, forums, I discovered there is such a thing as "Material Paint".  It is typically used to change the colour of all sorts of sewn material.   This still seems to be water based and acrylic, so I'm not sure what the difference is to, say, house paint.  This stuff was great in that it didn't clog like the other paint, and covered better than the ink.  A result!  It is more expensive than house paint, and not as easily available.  Full scale trials are planned for the future.

I then need to work out the streams and other wet bits.  I want to build these in to the mat in the same way that I have for the roads.  The roads I did previously were a mixture of paint, sand a PVA applied to the bits of the matt shaved down to the backing material.  When dry this was dry brushed, and remained flexible enough to roll the mat up.  For the wet areas I want something that I can apply to the backing material, and will give a smooth surface that will be painted and take a coat of gloss varnish or similar.  After studying many Terrain Tutor videos I have been experimenting with decorators caulk, both neat for the streams, and with added sand for the roads.

Filler, glue, paint and sand.

Results so far suggest that I stick with the original approach for there roads, and that the neat decorators caulk will be best for streams, and wet areas of marsh.  I also think the marshy bits need more open areas of water, rather than the polka dot effect I have ended up with here.

Sand, paint, glue and filler

So, still some way to go on the fur experiments.  I have sourced some new fur material so that I can start in green this time.  I have  bought two 7' x 5' fur mats from Killing Fields, supplied in the UK by Company D Miniatures.   You can see Pappenheim and escort having a test ride across the new fur below.

Killing Field's Fur Mat.

Project Research - Dirschau / Tczew 1627

My next big 17th century project is going to be refighting the battle of Dirsahau (to the Swedes/Germans) and Tczew (to the Poles) which took place in 1627.  I have done a sweep of the internet material available, and picked up some books to start reading about the battle.  I have amassed so much material so far that I have started a separate page on the blog (here) to record all of the material.  Partly this is in case it is useful to anyone else, and also to help me remember what I have already found!  

The page linked to above explains why I have chosen this battle, but in summary, I chose Dirschau / Tczew 1627 as it seemed to have the most interesting forces and terrain of the late 1620s battles, and it also had Gustav Adolf, and the top Polish general of the period Stanisław Koniecpolski, in command of their respective armies.  I think this is an interesting period to look at as it is Gustav Adolf and the Swedish army evolving,  and developing tactics, that will provide so decisive when translated to the main German theatre of war.

Broadly the project will fall in to these streams of activity.

  1. Making the battlefield in teddy-bear fur, with integrated streams, roads and marshes.
  2. Large Swedish camp behind extensive earthworks, and the walled town of Dirschau/Tczew.  
  3. Polish camp, and several small Polish villages.
  4. Increase my existing Swedish forces with more cavalry, and for the foot, the Yellow Regiment.
  5. A whole new Polish force, with a good helping of Winged Hussars, of course!

You will therefore see that I have plenty to be getting on with!  I hope to share the progress on the blog here.  I may allow myself an out of period distraction at some point, but at the moment the painting table has artillery limbers on it, and next in the queue is more Croats.

Until next time!

Andy @ FOGH.