A Zulu War game and a South African feast

Searching through a bric-a-brac stall at the local market the other day, I found a couple of tattered old photos of soldiers and warriors in combat.

Looking more closely, these pictures seem to have been taken during an action of the Zulu War of 1879.

Well, actually, that’s all a lie! These are actually photos taken during a wargame a group of us here in Kāpiti, New Zealand, played last night.

Our game pitched Zulus against British, in a test run of Dan Mersey’s colonial skirmish wargaming rules The Men Who Would Be Kings.

Mine host was Herman van Kradenburg, whose collection includes a whole cupboard of figures depicting the wars of his former homeland, South Africa (like the rest of the pictures in this article, click on the photo for a closer look).

Our initial intention was to play the scenario where the British are trying to get a wagon train across the board. However, our memories had obviously failed us, as there is no such scenario in TMWWBK! So we changed to playing a simple meeting engagement, but left the wagons in place anyway. This was just a fun game after all.

The mass of figures that Herman produced from his magic cupboard looked absolutely spectacular on the table.

During the game Herman regaled us with his knowledge of the history of the Zulu War.

Particularly interesting was what he told us about and the different types of warriors and how they used their weapons.

The British also looked splendid in their scarlet coats and white tropical helmets.

The British weren’t all regular infantry, but also included these irregular allies wearing part African, part European clothing.

Right through the game this giraffe was quietly chewing on the leaves of an acacia tree, totally ignoring the tumult of human combat taking place around him.

Here are four of the happy wargamers – Scott Bowman (owner of probably the only pharmacy in the world that has a well-stocked wargaming department!), mine host Herman, fellow South African Rudolf Pretorius, and Ste Haran (like Scott, a British ex-pat).

The fifth happy wargamer was of course yours truly, seen here poring over the TMWWBK rules, whilst Scott considers his next move. [photo by Herman van Kradenburg]

Adding to the African flavour of the night, Herman cooked us a delicious pre-game meal of South African delicacies, including boerewors (sausage), chakalaka (spiced vegetables), samp (maize) and beans, pickled curried fish, bhajia (chilli bites), green fig preserves and home-made bread.

Our pre-game meal was so delicious, and the atmosphere so companionable, that our game started late and we didn’t have time to play to a full conclusion. But, hey, it isn’t about winning or losing – especially with such a wonderful night of feasting, fine figures, friends and fun!

Vignettes of Napoleon and his staff

Continuing on with my recent Napoleonic mini-projects, I’ve painted a few figures I’ve had lying around for years. They depict Napoleon (centre) with some of his staff (left), a sentry and a courier (right). They’re pictured here standing in front of an old resin model of La Belle Alliance, the French command post during the Battle of Waterloo.

You would think a model of Napoleon himself would be very important for any Napoleonic wargamer, so would never have been left lying around unpainted! But for some reason this Perry figure (right) has sat round for a number of years, and has only now got to the painting table.

Perhaps this is because I already have another Napoleon or two in my French army. However, just as I have a number of Sharpe and Harpers in my collection, and also at least two Dukes of Wellington (here and here), I’m obviously not too worried about clones!

I actually painted the group around the table (left) many years ago. But all the other figures in this picture are from the set that has been languishing up till recently without paint.

Perhaps discernable in this picture are the two distinct painting styles I have used over the years:

  • I painted the table group on the left with my old method of a black undercoat followed by the Foundry paint system of layering three colours to build up the shades and highlights.
  • Whereas I painted all the other figures in this picture using my current style of a creamy-white undercoat, and then GW’s Contrast paints to automatically deliver the shades and highlights with just one coat.

In this closer look, we see Marshal Ney with his distinctive red hair, leaning on the map-covered table. Marshalls Soult and Drouot stand on either side.

Even if you knew nothing about the Napoleonic Wars, you would surely recognise the figure of Napoleon himself. This is no accident. Napoleon cultivated an easily recognisable image by keeping his wardrobe simple. In the midst of the finery around him, Napoleon stood out by dressing in the green and white uniform of a colonel of the Chasseurs à Cheval (light cavalry) of the Imperial Guard, topped by his famous bicorne hat, and often wearing a grey overcoat.

Napoleon is depicted here standing with his ordnance officer, Gaspard Gourgaud, wearing a light blue coat and grey overalls. Gourgaud held this position from 1811, and was to eventually accompany the Emperor to his final exile on St Helena.

On the left is a stalwart sentry from the Old Guard. Napoleon took great care of his Guard. The Grenadiers of the Old Guard were known to complain in the presence of the Emperor, giving them the nickname Les Grognards, the Grumblers. The Guard received better pay, rations, quarters, and equipment, and all guardsmen ranked one grade higher than all non-Imperial Guard soldiers.

To the right a courier salutes after dismounting his horse. I’m not 100% sure what unit he is from, as I merely copied the colours of the example on the Perry Miniatures website. But I have always liked the French penchant for red trousers (which became more evident in the later period of Napoleon III).

Well, that’s it with painting miniatures for the moment, because I have reached the very bottom of my ‘lead pile’. So I now have the enjoyable process of deciding what to purchase next. And now that the Perrys have started a brand new Franco-Prussian War range, maybe there is an opportunity for more of those madder red trousers!

Making a Spanish village on the cheap

This posting is a combination of two articles that first appeared on the now-defunct Kapiti Fusiliers website in around 2005 and 2007. I am republishing these articles because they describe how I made the Spanish buildings that sit in the background of several of my more recent postings.

Making buildings for wargames

Can’t afford miniature buildings? Fusilier Roly Hermans shows you how he made his own complete 25mm Spanish village for less than $NZ40.

Since I started back into wargaming a few years ago, almost all my hobby finances have gone into miniature figures. So the terrain for them to fight over has been sadly lacking. But no longer – I’ve now made a whole village for myself.

I’d often thought about scratch-building some houses, but never really known where to start. The breakthrough came when I discovered a product called “foamboard”. This is a 5mm-thick sheet of foam, backed on both sides by paper. It can be easily cut with a craft knife, yet is sturdy enough to make a strong model. It also has another neat advantage, which I’ll come to later. Foamboard can be bought in large sheets from stationary shops – I got mine coloured black, which saved a lot of undercoating later on.

The first step in planning to build miniature houses is exactly the same as that for painting miniature soldiers – research. I wanted my terrain to go with my Peninsular War miniatures, so visited the library and got out some landscape books about Spain. I also looked for design ideas in catalogues of commercially made wargames buildings.

From the library books, besides learning about the design of Spanish houses, I was also able to extract some doors and windows from the photos, and scan them in to use on my miniature buildings. The resulting sheet is shown below, for anyone who wishes to use these doors and windows (click on the image to see the fullsize version).

Once I worked out the design of my houses, I drew the shapes of the walls onto the foamboard and cut these out carefully with a craft knife. I also cut out the openings for the doors and windows, all sized to match the windows on the above mentioned sheet.

Now comes the bit where foamboard has a really neat feature: the corner joints can all be easily rabbeted (I think that is the technical term!). I got this idea from Major Tremording’s Colonial Wargaming site [sadly this site is now gone too, but the article concerned can be found on Wayback Machine]. Rather than explain it in detail here, I suggest you look at the illustrated instructions on how to rabbet corners on this page of his site. The technique is surprisingly easy, makes tidy corner joints, and also saves the complicated mathematics of allowing for the thickness of the construction material at the design stage.

If you want to add features such as corner-stones, do so now. I used cardboard from a cereal packet, cut into small strips and folded around the corners of a couple of the houses. Rather painstaking, but worth it for the effect (see the house on the right, above). I also glued on some random patches of brick-paper which would represent where the plaster had fallen off the building.

Once the house is constructed using the rabbeting technique, then comes the exciting part – texturing and painting. I coat the walls with thinned-down PVA glue, then sprinkle them with a mixture of fine and coarse sand. Once dry, another coat of thinned-down PVA is applied to seal the sand onto the walls. They look pretty terrible at this stage, but, never fear, the next step of the process will fix that!

Painting is done with several colours. Firstly I outline the patches of bricks in black. Then I apply a dry-brush of yellow oxide artist’s acrylic to the walls – the sand is very thirsty, so you have to use tons of paint to do this! Next, a dry brush of arylamade yellow, and finally a dry brush of titanium white.

Now the house is ready for its windows and doors. Simply glue these in place behind the respective openings. I then glue some scrap foamboard behind the paper windows to make them stronger (I don’t want anyone poking a finger through them!). I make shutters out of corrugated card, and some windows have foamboard window boxes with scenic flock plants.

The final stage is the roof. I was planning initially to use a technique described by well-known terrain modeller Gary Chalk, in which he uses cordouroy cloth, set with PVA glue, and dry-brushed. However, I found a perfect product in my local hobby shop – a sheet of plasticard that has been pre-moulded into pantiles. This was the costliest part of my project (all of about $NZ20!), but the resulting roofs do look the part.

And there you have it, one complete Spanish village. By using the buildings in different configurations, and using a few freestanding wall pieces to connect them, the layout possibilities are endless. Now I am inspired to set up a scenario game at the next club night, involving the British and French fighting over my village terrain.

And here is the second Kapiti Fusiliers article, which appeared in May 2007.

A peaceful little village somewhere on the Peninsula

Recently Fusilier Roly Hermans added a few new Spanish houses to his terrain, and painted some Perry civilians to inhabit them.

A year or two ago, I made some Spanish houses out of foam-core board for my 25mm Peninsular War games, and wrote an article for this website on how the construction was done [i.e. the article above].

Being a regular visitor to Paul Darnell’s beautiful Touching History website [now no longer existing] I snapped up his book on terrain-making, and used it as a guide to make some more buildings to add to my collection.

I was also impressed with a fantastic 40mm game put on by the Durham Chosen Men [yet another defunct website] and liked their half-timbered ‘bodega’ so much that I copied it to give a bit of variety to my otherwise plastered buildings.

Looking at all the resulting buildings, I realised that they looked a bit spartan without any landscape detail, such as streets, courtyards, gardens and so on. So my latest project has been to tie all my buildings together as a fully landscaped village.

I laid out the village as a crossroads with a small plaza in the centre. Each quadrant of the village is a separate small baseboard, so I can break it up into several smaller hamlets if necessary. I’ve made the buildings themselves detachable from their baseboards, so that I can still use them individually.

A view of the churchyard, with the plaza and bodega in the left background. Note that I still need to put plastic tile sheeting onto the roof of the bodega.
A ground-level view of one side of the village. The exposed stonework and the windows are done with textures printed out on the computer, while the shutters are corrugated card.
The cobblestones are also just print-outs of texture images from the internet, jazzed up with a little sand and flock glued on in patches.
The churchyard will work perfectly well as a stand-alone terrain piece.

The village now needed some inhabitants. Just in time Perry Miniatures released a very nice range of Carlist Wars civilians. Although this period is a few years after the Napoleonic Wars, the costumes would not have changed that much, and so they were perfect for my purposes. 

The Earl of Uxbridge, still with two legs

In January I penned a short Quick Fire! article for Wargames Illustrated. Payment was a figure from their ‘Giants In Miniature’ range. I chose a model of the Earl of Uxbridge to add to the general staff of my Napoleonic British army.

This is a very nicely sculpted miniature, depicting the Earl in hussar uniform sitting astride his horse. He is in a casual stance, hand resting on his horse’s hindquarters as he turns to look behind him. Man and mount are a single casting.

The Earl’s horse looks every bit a thoroughbred, rather than the sturdier horses my cavalry are mounted on. I usually paint my horses with oils, which is a messy business. But for this one I tried something simpler. I just painted it with Humbrol red matt enamel, darkened the lower legs with black wash, then coated the whole horse with GW’s ‘Grunta-Fur’ Contrast paint.

I also painted the Earl himself entirely with GW’s Contrast paints. The elaborate gold frogging on his uniform was very simple to do with just one quick coat of Adrodas Dunes. The paint does all the work of shading and highlighting by itself! I am really pleased with Contrast paints, especially their flesh and other lighter colours, and also their red. Darker colours such as blue or green don’t come out quite so well in my opinion, but are fine for the lazy painter that I have become lately!

Most of the buildings in the background of these photos are ones I scratch-built quite a few years ago. They’re made of foamcore board, coated with glue and sand, then dry-brushed with beige, yellow and finally white. The windows and doors are simply printed-out paper fund on the internet, and the roofs are textured plasticard intended for model railway buildings.

Henry William Paget, 1st Marquess of Anglesey, KG, GCB, GCH, PC (17 May 1768 – 29 April 1854), was styled Lord Paget between 1784 and 1812 and known as the Earl of Uxbridge between 1812 and 1815. He took part in the Flanders Campaign and then commanded the cavalry for Sir John Moore’s army in Spain during the early part of the Peninsular War. His liaison with Lady Charlotte, the wife of Henry Wellesley, made it impossible for him to serve for the rest of the Peninsular campaign when command passed to Wellington, Wellesley’s brother.

During the Hundred Days campaign, Uxbridge led the charge of the heavy cavalry against Comte d’Erlon’s column at the Battle of Waterloo. The most famous story about Uxbridge was when one of the last cannon shots fired at Waterloo hit his right leg, necessitating its amputation above the knee. According to anecdote he was close to the Duke of Wellington when his leg was hit, and reputedly exclaimed, “By God, sir, I’ve lost my leg!”, to which Wellington replied “By God, sir, so you have!”

Perry vignette of Wellington and his staff

I love vignettes. When I see a well-presented game, my eyes are initially drawn to the terrain, and then to any vignettes. The actual fighting forces only come third!

So my last few painting projects have been a series of vignettes depicting British camp life during the Napoleonic Wars produced by Perry Miniatures, culminating in this wonderful portrayal of Wellington and his generals studying a set of maps spread across a table.

Seated at the rear, Sir Thomas Picton leans forward with his right arm on the table, his civilian hat and stick lying discarded on the table beside him. He is intent in conversation with Sir Edward Pakenham, resplendent in full uniform, and perching with his foot up on the bench.

Bald-headed Sir Galbraith Lowry Cole sits with his back to us, taking something from his pocket, whilst the Spanish liaison officer Brigadier Miguel Ricardo de Alava leans forward in his chair. An aide-de-camp stands nearby, arms crossed nonchalantly behind his back.

General the Earl of Wellington himself is instantly recognisable, not only from his simple attire and ‘Wellington’ boots, but right down to his distinctive hooked nose.

Considering the subject matter is a fairly static group of standing and sitting figures, the animation sculpted into them is surprisingly dynamic. The poses are all so natural and unforced.

Meanwhile Sir Stapleton Cotton, gorgeously uniformed in hussar full dress, has just arrived. He hurries over to the table, having handed the reins of his mount to a passing private, who is no doubt admiring the tiger-skin shabraque draped across the horse’s back.

These figures were painted almost entirely with GW Contrast paints. I love the way the lighter colours work really well in providing instant shading and highlights. But I do sometimes find that darker colours such as blue and black can turn out a bit blotchy. This is exacerbated in these pictures, as blue is a notoriously difficult colour to photograph properly.

The Spanish buildings, by the way, were scratch-built by me many years ago. The windows, doors and exposed stonework are printed paper. The shutters are corrugated card, and the roofs are cut from a plastic sheet intended for model railway buildings. The wall texture is just sand that has been spray-painted black, then dry-bushed with ochre, yellow and finally white.

A Napoleonic Portuguese telegraph station

Perry Miniatures produce this delightful set of model soldiers depicting a group of Portuguese signalers, complete with their semaphore pole.

In 1810 the Anglo-Portuguese army had a network of optical semaphore stations that ran in lines forming an inverted Y, from Lisbon to the frontier fortifications of Elvas and Almeida. Each station was manned by a small group of soldiers from the Corpo Telegraphico.

Signals were passed using a moveable 3-foot square panel that could indicate six numerals. Combinations of these numbers corresponded to hundreds of words or part-phrases in a code book.

The Perry models include a cross-legged engineer officer reading a message from next station in the line, his telescope supported on a stoic telegrapher’s shoulder. Another man notes down the code-numbers as the officer calls them out.

Behind them a fourth telegrapher is busy re-sending the message further down the line, using a rope to control the pivoting semaphore arm.

The above extreme close-up photos show my somewhat impressionistic painting style. They really do look better than this when held at arms-length!

But despite my untidy paintwork, the character that the Perry twins have instilled into the faces of these figures is undeniable.

I’ve based this set so they can be placed on top of a tower I converted many years ago from a plastic toy in the old ‘Weapons and Warriors’ pirate playset.

A British campsite during the Napoleonic Wars

Here’s a rather bucolic scene sometime during the Napoleonic Wars, with British infantry and cavalry relaxing in camp.

These are all Perry Miniatures figures from their 28mm metal Napoleonic British range. They come as separate sets depicting various scenes of camp life.

The fun with these sets is arranging them on a base to tell a story. Here a couple of soldiers and a female camp-follower tend their large cooking pot. Behind them another soldier chops wood for the fire, whilst his mate makes a welcome arrival carrying a goat he has caught to add to the broth (tastier than the rats on the crates!).

This bases tells the story of the changing of the guard. On the left a sergeant directs his men who have just come in from patrol duty to remove and stack their heavy packs.

Meanwhile a portly young officer inspects one of the relief party heading out on guard duty. This officer figure doesn’t actually come from this particular set, but I thought he added a nice touch to this scene.

In the background another of the incoming patrol wipes his brow tiredly whilst his mate stacks their muskets.

The last of my vignettes shows a group of dragoons playing a game of cards, surrounded by their discarded helmets and even a saddle.

In contrast to the dragoons’ campaign uniforms, the two hussars ambling into camp are very ornately dressed.

These figures exemplify the amazing talent that the Perry twins have for lifelike anatomy and naturalistic posing.

They are all painted in my usual rather impressionistic style – they don’t bear too close a look, as you can see if you expand these photos! I used GW Contrast paints exclusively for all these figures.

The bases are MDF coated with real sand and dotted with a few pumice stones, roughly sprinkled with static grass and clumps of long grass. I don’t paint my base terrain – it is all ‘au natural’, as I think why paint your sand when that is what real terrain is made of!

Whilst these figures won’t play much part in any wargame other than for decoration, they are still a welcome addition to my Napoleonic British army.

Realistic 3D-printed Dutch farm

Recently a friend 3d-printed for me a couple of lovely Dutch farm models from edition 2 of the World at War range of STL files designed by Najewitz Modellbau.

Now, I don’t know that much about Dutch architecture, living half a world away from the Netherlands. But from my occasional trips to see my extended family over there, these models in my opinion certainly appear to have captured the general look and feel of rural Holland.

The roof and top floor can come off, but there is no interior detail apart from some rudimentary rafters (which my friend had trouble printing anyway, so I ended up snapping off the remnants).

Although my wargaming (what little I get to play, anyway!) is done with 28mm figures, I asked my friend to print out these buildings at a size that was designed for 20mm miniatures. This is because I prefer my wargaming buildings to have a smaller footprint. I think 28mm figures still look fine against them on the tabletop.

I painted the brick areas with a dull red undercoat, then rubbed in DIY plaster filler paste with my finger. I immediately rubbed this off again with a sponge, leaving the filler sitting in the cracks between the bricks. It was a simple (albeit somewhat messy) process.

Choosing colours for the shutters and woodwork was fun. I settled on a green and red colour scheme, which to me looks suitably Dutch.

I was really pleased with how the brickwork came out, as you can see in this pic of the barn with a Dutch Landsverk armoured car idling outside.

Here we see a couple of German paratroopers patrolling past the farmhouse. The model includes shutters and the ornate ironwork on the gable.

I must say that since my first encounter with 3D printing back in 2015, the opportunities now presented to wargamers by this process have become endless. Gone are the days when we see the same few resin buildings decorating everyone’s tables!

Many thanks to my friend who printed these models for me: Scott Bowman, owner of probably the only pharmacy in the world that has a wargaming section!

WW2 French anti-tank gun and tractor

The latest additions to my WW2 colonial French army are the Canon de 47 mm Semi-Automatique Mle1937 and Laffly S20TL truck, both made by Warlord Games.

Before the development of the 47mm anti-tank gun, French artillery had used the venerable 75mm Mle1897 field gun in an anti-tank role. But they really needed a more specialised gun that would be ready to fire very quickly, with a good traverse to follow its targets, and that would also be small and lightweight enough to be hidden and moved easily by its crew.

The development of the 47mm anti-tank gun offered them all of these features. The traverse and elevation as well as the speed and precision at which the gun could be aimed were excellent. These features, combined with its outstanding accuracy, offered a gun able to engage and penetrate all German tanks at 1,000 meters.

The 47mm antitank gun was easier for the crew to move alone than a 75mm field gun, and was even able to fire from its towed/moving configuration.

The tow vehicle for my gun is the rather ugly Laffly S20TL (TL being short for “tracteur, châssis long”). This particular model of the Laffly truck was intended primarily to transport men of the light mechanised dragoon regiments. I would probably have been more correct to have a Laffly W15T, which was the low-profile version specially built for towing the 47mm anti-tank gun.

Laffly trucks were characterised by the excellent off-road capabilities and specific trench-crossing features provided by extra rollers at the front and underneath the chassis, uncommon for military vehicles at that time.

I have painted my models to represent (very loosely) the 1st Artillery Regiment of the Free French Army, who had seven 47mm anti-tank guns at the Battle of Bir Hakeim in May-June 1942. Unfortunately for me, the gunners supplied by Warlord Games for their 47mm anti-tank gun are in European theatre uniforms – but they will just have to suffice for now!

Info from:

Chunuk Bair diorama to mark Anzac Day

This Sunday marks Anzac Day, celebrated in Australia and New Zealand on 25th April every year. I was approached recently by my local library here in Paraparaumu, New Zealand if I had any model soldiers I could put into their Anzac Day display.

I didn’t have any WW1 figures myself. But a few years ago the Kapiti Wargames Club (of which I have been an itinerant member) played a leading role in painting figures for a massive diorama in Sir Peter Jackson’s Great War Exhibition in Wellington that ran from 2015 to 2019. Over 5,000 of these specially commissioned 54mm Perry Miniatures figurines were painted by 100 volunteers from wargaming clubs all over New Zealand.

Although the Great War Exhibition is now closed down and its diorama in storage, I knew that the club had a number of left-over and reject figures on loan. I managed to borrow a couple of dozen of these miniatures, and decided to build a small diorama to show them off.

My diorama takes centre-stage in the library’s lobby. A wall hanging of scarlet knitted poppies makes the perfect backdrop.

My diorama loosely represents one of the Turkish counter-attacks during the Battle of Chunuk Bair. Before dawn on 8 August 1915 the Wellington Infantry Battalion took the crest of a hill called Chunuk Bair at Gallipoli, the Turkish defenders having retired during an artillery bombardment. 

Hundreds of the Wellingtons would be killed during the next few hours in a gallant but forlorn attempt to hold the crest against determined Turkish counter-attacks. Of the 760 New Zealand soldiers who had made it to the summit, only 70 were still standing by the end of the day when they were relieved by other units.

Their victory was short-lived though, as two days later the Turks recaptured Chunuk Bair for good.

Now, I’m no Weta Workshop (the famous film effects company that constructed the terrain for the Great War Exhibition). My diorama is just a simple piece of polystyrene foam shaped to depict a trench.

My ground-cover isn’t any fancy scenic product either. It is just dirt and stones scrapped up from a paddock outside my house! The plants are plastic Christmas wreath decorations, given a dusting of light beige spray-paint. The sandbags were part of the Great War Exhibition stuff that I was loaned.

The figures were in a bit of a state when I got them, and many needed some touching up. They are on the whole not the best-painted of the figures from the crowd-painting project, but they look adequate enough from a distance.

I had quite a few Turkish casualties, but no firearms for them. So a friend from the club, Fern Campbell, 3D-printed some rifles for me to scatter about on the ground. She made an excellent job of these.

Here’s an overhead view of the entire diorama. I quite like the way the trench cuts through on a diagonal, which makes the composition more interesting than if it had been parallel to the edge of the diorama.

The diorama will remain in the Paraparaumu Public Library for the next week or so. After that I will have to disassemble it and return the figures. Maybe one day they will take their place in a restored version of the entire 5,000-figure Great War Exhibition diorama!