Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Finishing forces: Vichy French in the Levant and 1914 BEF, Germans

 Lot of different odds and sods to finish off over the last month or so. My Vichy French Armee l'Orient - at least the Perry's figures/Blitzkrieg armour & vehicles - are done. Well, sort of - its such a colourful and unique force I keep finding new units I'd like to have. Oh who am I kidding!!! I want the Perry's  French Mountain Howitzer and Senegalese crew too! Then of course there are the Foreign Legion who fought on both sides... and then there's the Renault R35... as you can see Rubicon also do a lovely model of the Renault as well but good luck being able to find one as they're as scarce as hen's teeth! And that's the problem with these eclectic projects of mine - they tend to get a life of their own! 

The latest I'm intending to acquire are the Circassian cavalry - there were also mounted Algerian Spahi - both rather good scouting cavalry which actually worked in the rugged and mountainous interior of the Lebanon (well, those that didn't defect that is!) Anyway I've found the perfect figures for them in the Gringo 40s French Spahis in their Tonkin colonial range.  But at $10AUS a figure I'll have to save up my Shekels! The French had 4 regiments of North African Spahis in the Levant in addition to the Circassians, Druze etc, etc. so a horse mounted cavalry unit (to counter my excellent British Yeomanry unit) is de rigor mon ami!

The French led Senegalese colonial light infantry (tirailleurs) along with the Tunisians, Moroccans and Algerians fought well in the campaign and proved tough opponents. According to the army list in James superb book ('Australia's War With France' - Appendix 2) the French fielded no less than 16 battalions of these tirailleurs. As far as I know Perry's are the only makers of any 28mm French colonial figures for this campaign but it would be interesting to get a unit or two of the other colonial tirailleurs. 

Next cab off the rank are my WWI 1914 figures. I just got an order of BEF and various Germans from Northstar which has allowed me to finish off those two armies to add to the Belgian one I did earlier. Of particular fun were the respective high command stands I've made for them, just finishing the Germans a few hours ago. 

I've painted the BEF command as Corps Command staff 1914-15. I particularly like the Jaeger field telephone unit that came with the German command figures. I was thinking of putting them in a ruined church or similar but in the end decided to let the figures speak for themselves as it were as they're such a nice group. For all the major command stands for these I've put some red Flanders poppies on them somewhere.

Also with the Northstar 'Great War Miniatures'  were two units of dismounted cavalry - British Dragoons and German Uhlans. I've procured an officer for each unit, lightly converting the German one into a cavalry officer in soft cap rather than czapka-style hat. Again, nice figures.

The British officer is a spare Woodbine cavalry officer I've had floating around. Also with the BEF I've got some Imperial Indians - Sikhs and Lancers (Hodson's Horse) I can add so the Germans are now quite outnumbered!

Amongst the other figures now completed are a generic Lowland Scots unit (originally London Scots from my 1916-18 army in Palestine). Again I had enough command figures previously to 'flesh out' a large (or two smaller) Scots units for my BEF. As you can see - just a wee bit 'o re-basing required!

Other useful additions included a British cavalry command and similar for the German Hussars.

And last but not least a close-up of the German Uhlan officer. The conversion was literally Swedish cuffs, full collar and single breasted jacket with the aid of a scalpel and a bit of green stuff!

Not quite sure whats up next - there are Muskets and Tomahawks units of British Rangers and frontiersmen etc, recently acquired requiring paint - but I may have to put them all on hold while I extractus digitus and sort some wargaming scenarios out for all of the above! 

Cheers, Doc

Sunday, May 2, 2021

More French in the Orient - this time WWII and the Levant

Nearly 80 years ago - six weeks from June to July 1941 to be exact - the Allies fought a brief but vicious campaign against the Vichy French colonial territory in the Levant (now modern day Lebanon and Syria). In this short conflict the Allies prevailed but at a cost of over 1,000 lives on either side including over 400 Australians. To put it in perspective that's ten times our losses suffered in Afghanistan in over ten years but in just six weeks! Yet it is virtually unknown, coming as it did just after the disastrous campaign in Greece and the unsuccessful defense of Crete (German airborne assault Op MERCURE) and before Tobruk and El Alamein. And of course by 1942 when these troops were pulled back to defend Australia and fighting for survival on the Kokoda track. The entire episode in Syria and Lebanon was quickly forgotten which is a pity as the achievements of the Australians were as impressive and courageous as any of the better known battles in WWII.  The French they were up against were a formidable foe. The French colonial Army de Orient were well-led, trained, equipped and highly motivated - which came as a great surprise to the British commanders who had expected little (if any) resistance.  This episode would have likely remained in obscurity, unknown outside the official (Australian) military histories (as I did in the AWM's Vol II 'Greece, Crete and Syria' of Australia in the War of 1939-45 published by the Australian War Memorial in 1953 on my father's bookshelf!) but for a masterful retelling of the entire thing by Richard James in his 'Australia's War with France - The Campaign in Syria and Lebanon, 1941' (Big Sky Publishing 2017).

But I know you lot didn't visit Doc's blog for a history lesson so here are the figures and models I've done up to represent the Vichy French the Australians encountered. The first cab off the rank is a great little 1/72 model (Hobby Boss - a Chinese firm) of a Vichy Dewoitine D520 fighter. The French air force was well-equipped with fighters and bombers that were easily a match for the Allies, and the French pilots gave good account of themselves downing two Hurricanes and strafing Australian convoys on the coastal road near the Litani River.  The Dewoitines were the best French fighters of the war. Colourful too! 

The French colonial Army of the Levant was also a colourful one: "...an amalgamation of French Foreign Legion troops, regular French army troops, colonial troops from North Africa [and West Africa] and local troops." (James, p120). The Legion were four battalions of the 6th Regt Etrangere, the regulars were three battalions of the 24th Mixed Colonial Regt. - Frenchmen supplemented by Senegalese - and some 13 battalions of African Tirailleurs (light infantry rifles from Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Senegal and a dozen or so local (i.e. Syrian and Lebanese) battalions - there was even an Indochinese 'Construction' battalion! In addition there were some 2000 Spahis light cavalry (from Algeria, Morocco - even local Druze and Circassians!) mostly mounted but also in lorries and armoured cars. Piece de resistance of the force were the two armoured regiments, the famous 6th and 7th Chasseurs d'Afrique equipped with 90 of the latest French light tanks including the Renault R35s - for which the Allies initially at least no answer as their armour was too thick to be penetrated by the British Boyes AT rifles (save at point blank range or from the side or rear) the Allies had. Allied 'armour' consisted of armoured cars (mostly Herringtons and older Rolls Royces) Vickers light tanks and Bren carriers i.e. usually no match for the French!

The figures are all Perry from their WWII range and armour from the associated 'Blitzkrieg'. The latter include a Dodge 'Tanake' armoured truck sporting a 37mm gun and at least one Hotchkis LMG and a Somua S35 with a 47mm gun. Although the Somua's were sent to Africa including to equip the Chasseurs d'Afrique  they appear to have been with Vichy forces in West Africa and Tunisia and not in the Levant, although I haven't been able to confirm this. Bugger. It was the only French tank available I could get my hands on! Fortunately also available was a nice 75 gun and Vichy crew.  The Tanake is a particularly nice model. About 30 1&1/2 ton Dodge trucks were converted into gun truck/APCs by the French and used by both Vichy and Free French forces in the Levant and North Africa.

Although I haven't photographed the French and Senegalese infantry yet but will post them in due course. I also have the British, Australian and Indian units (and armour) that fought in the Levant as well. I've tried to put a scenario together for this but will need to put more work into making a proper Chain of Command Early War campaign. 

The blue at the end of the table represents the Litani River the Allies had to cross at the start of the campaign. I'll have to come up with some proper lists of what was available to respective commanders. It will certainly be a challenging game or two to recreate on the tabletop.

Between that and currently finishing off my 1914 BEF (British cavalry done, halfway through a Scots unit, dismounted and command still to do) and Germans (German mounted finished, dismounted Uhlans and Command still to do) I daresay I will have my hands full!

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Wargaming the French in Egypt: Desaix' Pursuit - encounter beside the Nile

I devised a game scenario based on Desaix's famous pursuit of Mameluke leader Murad Bey in the Upper Egypt campaign (August 1798 - August 1799). The game is loosely based on several incidents during the campaign. The first was in March 1799 with Desaix' General De Brigade Belliard's small force of 1000 men (and one light gun) encountering 300 Mamelukes and 3,000 Meccan infantry (Arab fanatics) at Abnud north of Luxor. A desperate hand-to-hand battle ensued for two days with the French eventually dislodging the Meccans and destroying most of them but suffering over a hundred casualties in the process - one of the heaviest losses suffered by the French in the campaign at that point. Once over Belliard resumed his marching between Qena and Aswan. The second is one I've described before, the destruction of the French flotilla at Qena (just north of Abnud) in April 1799 by Murad Bey's ally Sheriff Hassan and 2,000 more Meccan fanatics. In his marches up and down the Nile after being resupplied Desaix had been forced to leave his flotilla which was subsequently attacked and largely destroyed. Belliard's force was barely 20 kms away but had no idea the Mamelukes and their Arab allies had slipped in behind them. This must have been quite a blow as Desaix relied heavily on his flotilla for resupply and to move long distances up the Nile. Because of the dangerous shoals Qena was about as far as most of the larger vessels like the flagship L'Italie could go but at the time it was also serving as a hospital ship for hundreds of soldiers suffering opthalmia and dysentery.

In this scenario the French have landed much needed supplies at a riverside village and await the main French force which is within a day's march. Unbeknownst to them the Mamelukes extensive spy network has alerted them to the presence of the flotilla and they have dispatched a large infantry force to capture the supplies and destroy the French there before the French main force arrives (which the advance scout force - Dromadaires & Dragoons - can begin to arrive at the of the end of the table on a D6 from Turn Four).

To protect the supply dump the French have two small battalions of the 14th and 21st Demi-Brigades and a Naval Bde consisting of two small battalions and one 4 pdr gun. There is artillery support of one howitzer aboard an armed sloop.

The French have landed their small infantry force and pushed to the edge of the village in the nick of time. One Naval unit and disembarked gun are in the middle of town, with the second unit still disembarking. A single battalion of the 21st DB is covering their right.  The only way back to the flotilla is via the dilapidated local dock, one of which is barely usable. 

The Mameluke force consists of two infantry 'brigades' of Fellahin/Egyptian infantry and Sekkan unit (Jizail armed Balkan/Greek mercenaries) & one 4 pdr gun plus Mameluke/Bedouin Arab cavalry (12 figs). The second 'brigade' consists of Cairo Janissaries, Sekkans and Meccan fanatics plus an 8 pdr gun. Both the Egyptian infantry and Meccans are large units (30+ figures each). Also available from Turn Four is another main force of Mamelukes (24 figures) who arrive along the other side of the table.

The Meccan fanatics waste no time and set about charging the Legere at the village edge.

The Egyptian Fellahin infantry - encouraged by their Imam - get ready to charge while the Sekkan unleash surprisingly accurate galling fire from the cover of the palm grove in front.

The Egyptians burst through into the field but suffer a deadly bombardment from the French flotilla howitzer and are then met with an equally devastating fire from the Naval Brigade, gun and the 21st DB battalion lined up opposite.

The Ottoman 4 pdr provided accurate fire on the French in support of the attacking Fellahin. Behind them the Meccan's furious charge is barely stopped for the moment by desperate volleying from the French Legere. 

 By sheer weight of numbers the Meccans have forced the French back towards the village at the end of Turn Two. Fortunately for the latter the Meccan's enthusiasm to come to grips with the hated Infidel has masked their own gun which only got one shot in (and missed!)  The French in danger of being outflanked by the Meccans managed to buy enough time to retreat into the village building.

Turn Three saw maximum pressure on the French. While the Egyptian Fellahin were destroyed and fled the field the Sekkan's sniping and Ottoman gun wiped out the Naval gun crew and reduced both the 21st DB and one of the Naval battalions. Then the Mamelukes made one of their maniacal charges that only just stopped short of contacting the other Naval battalion. It was too much for the other one which having lost the gun crew and under bombardment broke, leaving a hole in the French line.

Although they didn't break, the other French Naval unit after losses from an initial exchange with the Mamelukes, prudently withdrew into the village, forming a line between the building and the village well.  The other unit sought shelter in the building and somehow rallied (their surviving officer was made of sterner stuff!) while the 21st bttn formed an emergency square (which came under immediate fire from the Sekkans and that damned Ottoman gun!) The Mameluke/Arab horse saw a final opportunity and charged once again. At the same time the Meccan fanatics surrounded the remaining Legere in the building and tried to fight their way in. The second Sekkan unit moved up in support and it looked like it could be all over for the French.

The Cairo Janissaries being the best trained of the Ottoman/Mameluke force were surprisingly reluctant to join their Meccan comrades attacking the village. Their well-trained artillery piece likewise were frustrated at not being able to fire at anything. Although they appeared about engage (my fault I forgot to add their shooting in the last turn) the Sekkans had spent some time getting into position for the final attack that never came!

The penultimate Turn proved disastrous for the Mameluke side. On the verge of a rather complete victory the Mamelukes failed to break the French Naval Bde and instead broke themselves! The French defensive volley accompanied by a naval grenade or two from the neighbouring rooftop (not sure if I should have allowed that but... )  saw the Mamelukes fail their moral and adopt their other tactic - run away! (Despite the exhortations of the Imam!) This was also aided by a spectacular direct hit on the Ottoman gun by the French flotilla howitzer. By this time the Meccan fanatics had also been reduced to less than half their number so when the Mamelukes rode off ALL the Mameluke army had to test and due to excessive casualties they too broke and ran. Only the Sekkan mercenaries stayed put but seeing the rest of their comrades running decided discretion the better part of valour and also withdrew. [Note to self: make sure to put an independent Mameluke command in charge so the army doesn't run away if the Mamelukes do!]

Bang! The Ottoman gun is no more!

The surviving Meccan fanatics have also had enough and scarper!

The remaining Naval Bde can't believe their luck.

The sloop's howitzer did a sterling job!

The Imam pleads but they just shout 'Allahu Ackbar!' and ride harder in the opposite direction!

And suddenly it was all over bar a bit of shouting in the distance (probably just a distraught Imam)

It was getting too hot both in the village and on my gaming deck to get the French advance scout force and second Mameluke force on the table in time so I called it a day. Quite happy at how the scenario played - I think it could be either as a game on its own or part of a larger battle or series of encounters. [Thinks: there is also a sizable Ottoman Turk force I could introduce!] Making the Nile river sections, repositioning the village at one end of the table and bringing in the French flotilla has made all the difference. Its now ready for a proper game down t'club!

Oh yes, the gaming scenario is based on the General de Brigade 'Napoleonic Scenarios 4 - Against the Ottomans'  and the rules used are likewise a specific adaption of General de Armee.

Well hoped you enjoyed it - please feel free to comment and/or with any suggestions.

Cheers, Doc