A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

A Time for Transport

What follows is not in any way a suggestion as to how anyone else should organise the building of a wargames army - far from it - it might be an example of how not to go about it. This is simply a brief illustration of how I have done it myself. I could no doubt have done it better, or in ways which I would have found easier.

I have a number of boxes in which I keep my figures for painting. To the casual observer it may look like chaos, but there is a kind of mad system at work. At the very bottom of the food chain, heaps of spares and things-which-might-come-in-useful are just bagged into approximately generic lots ("Scruby horses", "Broken Higgins for Heads" etc) and kept in shoe boxes somewhere up on the top shelf in my den/office. Things which have been sorted into potential units go into small, labelled plastic freezer-packs - "Garde de Paris - need colonel" etc. These packs live in a couple of boxes of the sort which used to hold bulk copier paper, and these are labelled, respectively, "Skirmishers, Command, Infantry & Odd Bits" and "Artillery & Cavalry", and kept on a lower shelf.

These last two are the boxes which used to cause me some stress. The bags on the top shelf were so informal that I had only an approximate idea what was in there - rootling through them from time to time was quite an adventure. By the time stuff was sorted into the freezer packs I could see exactly how much I had still to paint - exactly which units would have been fighting on the tabletop if it were not for my awful laziness. As my liking for painting complete units tailed off, and especially at times when I was tired or under pressure elsewhere, this bit of the hobby began to irk me quite seriously!

Since then I have discovered the advantages of contracting out the paintwork to professionals, and I now happily maintain a final box, which is "Projects in Hand", where units get their final fettling before being shipped off for painting. I do, of course, still do a fair amount of painting myself, but these days I pick and choose what I am going to do - a special general with a silly hat and a big nose is fun, 22 identical fusiliers is less so. A lot of this is down to my ageing eyeballs.

I'd rather not examine just why or when the lead mountain stopped being a hobby and become something of a threat - it probably had a lot to do with what was going on in my life at various times - it may even have something to do with noticing that I was getting older faster than I was painting, and that I probably would never get to finish my planned armies. Who can say? - whatever, it's OK now. Even if the Grand Plan keeps changing and sprouting heads, I am no longer afraid! I can go into the office cupboard without flinching...

I am almost getting to the point of this post. The contents of the "Artillery & Cavalry" box have gradually evolved. Because fighting units have always had priority for precious painting time, things like limbers and ammunition carts have kept falling back down the queue. There was a potential worsening of this situation with the arrival of the Commands & Colors rules, since limbers are not really needed. Well, I've made a decision - last night I sat down and worked through that box, and actually counted how many horses and drivers I am short of for a full complement of limbers, and labelled up the boxes. There will be a lot of limbers, also some caissons, a couple of pontoon wagons, some supply carts (mostly ox-drawn) and a mule train. There is also a general's carriage. The intention - and it has survived to this morning, so it might be serious - is that, while the production of infantry units and so on continues, it is time to get working on the vehicles.

There's some excellent raw material in the freezer packs - limbers from the exquisite old Hinchliffe 20mm range and from Lamming, Lamming caissons, S-Range Minifigs wagons and carts, oxen and mules by Jacklex, and horses by all sorts of people, but all vintage stuff. I also have a number of boxes of Italeri, HaT and Zvezda equipment, all of which is certainly very good, but my intention is to use metal as far as possible - exclusively if I can. Shortage of drivers is problematic - a fair amount of conversion work will be needed, and some people are going to be quite surprised to find themselves in the Corps of Transport after all this time. For reasons of space and stinginess, I use 2-horse teams for foot artillery and all wagons - normally with a driver on foot. I find that a mounted driver on a 2-horse team looks a little odd, and draws attention to the unrealistic number of horses. My horse artillery have 4-horse teams and mounted drivers. Such limbers as do already exist in finished form use Hinton Hunt horses and Hinchliffe equipment, so the pedigree is good thus far.

My standard base size for foot artillery teams on the march is 45mm x 110mm including the gun. The horse artillery base size isn't fixed yet, but I'd like to keep it as small as possible. The guns themselves require a decision. I've always assumed that I should keep the cannons loose, so they can be deployed with the gun crews for action as required. This has a pleasing, Old School feel about it - actually bringing the guns into action. There are two reasons why this is not a great idea:

(1) My artillery batteries have 2 gun crews, but only a single representative limber

(2) However hard I try to remember to keep everything horizontal, the loose-mounted guns always finish up falling on the floor, which is bad all round.

Thus - since I have enough guns to do it - my current idea is that I'll glue cannons permanently into position behind the limbers. I can use some of the cannon which I don't like as much (or which are a bit flimsy) for this job - Rose, Hinton Hunt, the odd Kennington etc - and concentate the Hinchliffe and NapoleoN equipment for the gun crews. Commands & Colors rules have batteries with a strength of 3 "blocks" (sub-units), so I hope to be able eventually to use a standard unit of 2 deployed guns + 1 limber as my 3 "blocks".

How to get them painted? I think I might quite enjoy painting wagons and so on, but lots of draught horses sounds like a job for a painter. Some of the limbers start life as a small cloud of bits, so some assembly is necessary before painting. My first thought on this was to assemble complete units, mount them on MDF bases and send them off for painting. I've gone off this idea a bit because the inner sides of the horses would be hard to paint well without the involvement of trained fleas, and because fully assembled units would be heavy and fragile in the post. I think that shipping out packs of unattached horses for painting and building up the units when they come back would be better. I have come to believe that almost anything is possible, using superglue for component assembly, PVA for gluing onto bases, and touch-up and copious matt acrylic varnish to cover up the proverbial multitude of sins.

I'm not sure how quickly this will progress, but at least I now know my enemy - I have counted the horses and drivers...   If I pick away at this, and do limbers and transport vehicles as opportunity arises, I can keep it moving without holding anything up - the battles don't actually need limbers. Which, now I come to think of it, is exactly the sort of thinking that got me to my present position.


  1. Is that the old Minifig Ox cart? or do oxcarts just tend to look alot alike?

    I've found myself casting the odd wheel recently in preparation for more limbers, one day, still convincing myself that the world won't end if I only use 2 horses for foot artillery.

    What I really need though is a new pontoon wagon, that might actually get used.

  2. Yup - that's the S-Range ox cart. The driver is Hinton Hunt, dressed for the school production of Joseph's Technicolour Dream Coat, but I'll soon fix that.

    Clive and I have a theory that the current (square-ass) Minifigs equipment is almost identical with the S-Range stuff, so I have put this to the test and ordered a new pontoon wagon to go with my very old S-Range one. I am confident that the horses will be the new breed, but they can be replaced with vintage stock and recycled for dog meat (or boeuf Bourgignon in the French army).

    If the theory turns out to be true, this will be the second such pleasant surprise of recent times - I found to my delight that Hinchliffe's current 25mm 18pdr siege gun is spot-on for 1/72 scale (and thus well underscale for their own figures).

    Good breaks are made even sweeter by their rarity.