Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Spahi - French North African cavalry

Well, I've survived another Christmas excessive feasting and drinking with family and relatives and also finally managed to finish that regiment of North African (Algerian) French cavalry, the Spahis.  The Spahis gained fame in the second (Republican) phase of the Franco-Prussian War after the disasters of Sedan and Metz, in which most of the French cavalry were destroyed in fruitless suicidal charges trying to break the Prussian encirclement.  Apart from a few units who escaped (such as a regiment of the Chasseurs d'Afrique), the surviving French cavalry went into captivity.

North African Spahi trooper and French officer circa 1870.
Although the Spahi were colonial cavalry I read somewhere they not allowed by law to serve in France, but such was the desperation of the French Republican government that they were shipped over from French Algeria.  In the FPW they quickly gained a reputation for their fearlessness and although not exactly inconspicuous in their colourful Arab robe uniform, were superb horsemen (superbly mounted on Arabian horses), proving to be outstanding as light horse cavalry.   Together with the surviving Chasseurs d'Afrique, they were more than a match for the otherwise excellent Prussian light cavalry.  Finally used in a role more suited for modern warfare (ironically the traditional role of light cavalry) and rifle armed, they caused the Prussians a real headache, particularly marauding behind the lines and ambushing communications.  Superb swordsmen, man for man they were also a ready match in close combat.

I started things off as usual, mounting them up on Paddlepop sticks and base-coating before laying down the base colours.
Painting just about finished, based up and ready for a good flocking!
Spahi Command
I'm not sure what make the Spahi figures are (but the horses look very similar to Australian manufacturer Castaway Arts who also do native Arabs and FPW figures) but fortunately I had a spare Foundry mounted French officer to make up a full regiment.  I shaved the figure's thigh-high boots off and used filler to create the native baggy trousers favoured by the Spahi's French officers.  For the bugler it was just a simple hand transplant from sword to bugle (supplied by a Perry's French Hussar!) to finish the command stand.

The only other bit of remodeling was the substitute of a rifle for a sword for one of the Spahis (the one holding it aloft).  The biggest challenge was painting the Arabian horses - again perhaps licence but I've made them all grays as all the historical pics I've seen have the Spahis mounted on grays.

Spahi NCO

One of the things I liked about the uniform is the flowing robes and in particular the dark red hooded cape they wore over the burnoose.  It had a white lining and I have also seen it depicted as white or off-white.  This would have been particularly useful in winter as often mounted on Arabian grays, I'd imagine they would have been quite hard to spot.  No covering up those cornflower blue baggy pantaloons though!

They look just as colourful from the back!
The Spahis were formed in the early 1840s and the native-style uniform remained virtually unchanged from the 1860s until the 1st World War.  

Spahis En Avant!

Well, that's the last of the colourful French cavalry but I've still got some French line battalions to finish so I've got matched sides for wargaming (approx. a division of infantry each with attached cav brigade).  But I'm tiring of the FPW after painting some many of them over the last few months and apart from (hopefully) a game or two over the break, the next project I'm thinking of attempting is (1st Empire) French Eclaireurs of the Guard (Napoleon's answer to the cossacks!) from various Perry's figures.  It should be possible with all the various bits you get in their French cavalry boxes and I have some lances, so we'll see.

Merry Christmas to one and all as this will be my last post for 2011!  I'm taking a break down the coast for a week or so before coming back to resume some domestic duties (a list of 'to-dos' as long as your arm).  Click on the pics for enlargement and please feel free to leave a comment if you want.



  1. What a colourful unit! Very nice. Simon

  2. Great post and excellent looking unit. Very nicely done!


  3. Fantastic looking unit, Doc. You put a lot of work into them and it paid off. I never would've thought to use this exotic unit in a European (FPW) theater. Best, Dean

  4. They look awesome and menacing!

  5. Thanks guys. For the Black Powder players among you, just think 'rifle armed marauders, ferocious charge' - when I found out they actually fought in the FPW, I just had to have 'em! Very exotic and not just French window dressing but if used properly, will give the Prussians some real bother!

  6. Excellent unit, a rather underrated period with classy uniforms too.

    Keep up the good work and all the best in the new year.

  7. Arabian horses, with the amazing heritage of selective breeding as well as their lifestyle, I'm not surprised.

  8. All the best for 2012 Doc

  9. you know I love them exotic :) and the horses are brilliant too. You have the best ones, and most creative ones, Doc!