Monday, May 25, 2009

An Extra Since I Haven't Posted in a Couple of Days!

I would never field all these troops at once, but behold my Achaemenid Persian army!

Or at least as much as the camera lens would fit! (The table was two feet wide and four feet long and it was packed solid!)

The Persians themselves are in the center with their mercenaries and subject nations troops out towards the flanks (including some of the Indian elephants that I did an earlier post on!) I get to pick and choose who fights depending on the era and the opponent.

Nearly 500 figures in this lot. It's not my biggest army though. I have 641 Napoleonic French, with about 200 infantry still to do! Total figures painted has now topped 9,500 - still hoping for 10,000 before Jan. 1, 2010.

Alexander "The Great" Rides Again?

I was hoping to have some French 100 Years' War infantry finished by the end of the weekend, but at 4 p.m. Monday and I'm pretty sure that's not going to happen. I'm a little over 2/3 way done.

Hopefully I can finish them next weekend. I like the way they are turning out, and I'm sure once they get in amongst my English, it will look very colorful!

In the meantime, a photo from last year of some of my Macedonians from around the era of Alexander "The Great" and his conquest of Persia (around 330BC), although they can really be used for any of the Successor armies after Alexander's death also.

The general on the white horse in front is actually designed using a painting of Alexander, and is supposed to represent him (and could if I was doing an historical refight), but once the army is finished I will be creating my own Macedonian commander for him to represent. The figures following the general are his Companion cavalry, which formed his bodyguard, and usually deployed on the right hand flank of the army. The infantry in the center would push forward and try to open a gap in the enemy line, and the cavalry would rush forward and exploit the opening.

Still got a way to go with my infantry figures though. I'm planning on working on them (and hopefully finishing them off so this army is ready for use next year) in September.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Elephants In Battle

Many ancient Asian and even African nations used elephants in battle, with the most famous usage being Hannibal of Carthage when he crossed the Alps into Rome in 218BC, starting the Second Punic War.

The inhabitants of Carthage (just across the bay from modern day Tunis) where the descendants of the Phoenicians, and were often referred to as the "Phoeni", as distinguished from the other races that inhabited North Africa at the time, and it is from that term that the "Punic" Wars derived. Hannibal's elephants were from Africa, but they were a smaller species than the African elephant we know today. They apparently became extinct not long after Hannibal's era - possibly due to their use (and losses) on the battle field.

The elephants pictured above are actually Indian elephants, specifically designed for use in the era of the Persian and Greek Wars. After Alexander "The Great" conquered Persia and started using Indian elephants, his successors tended to put more heavy armor on the animals for further protection. Indian leaders were still using elephants in battle in the 1700s when the British and French fought for control of India, but most other nations had stopped using them by Julius Caesar's era.

(Caesar actually took some elephants, driven by dark-skinned African natives with him when he invaded Britain in 54BC. The Celts, who had never before seen either elephants or such dark skinned humans, believed them to be devils).

While they look intimidating, elephants aren't really that dangerous (to a clever enemy) in battle. They are very easily frightened, and ancient generals were very conscious of the risk they would be chased back onto their own troops, causing more damage to their friends than their enemies.

The big "edge" elephants have, however, (and yes, my wargames rules cater for this) is their smell!

Horses are terrified of it, and become much more difficult for their riders to control when they catch wind of it. So if you have elephants, and you are facing an army that has lots of horses in it, you should try to put your elephants in their way.

If you are really observant, you may niotice a painting error in the photo. (I didn't pick it up when I painted the figures, but it stood out like a sore thumb when I took the photo). When I first painted the drivers of the two elephants on the left, I forgot to paint their beards!

I have since corrected the mistake - I just need to update the photo.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Video Action - The French Attack!

This video gives an impression of what it would have looked like to be a French knight charging the English position.   

I tried to use the zoom on the lens to simulate the forward movement, but it stopped just short of the English position.  Maybe you have to assume that is the point when the knight got shot down by the English longbow men!  

Although the experiment didn't quite work perfectly, it does look as though I can use the video camera to give a close up view of what it was like to be fighting in these ancient wars though, so I'm really excited about what I can do when I start shooting some video of my battles with just a little more practice!

French Knights of the 100 Years War

The cornerstone of French armies of the 100 Years War was the mounted knight.

Mounted on his sturdy warhorse, well protected with his armor (and early on, also a shield) the knight was an intimidating foe to face as he charged at you, and when a large army of several thousand knights assembled, standing in their way wasn't usually a good idea.

The French of this era were also very class-oriented, which bought an unhealthy amount of snobbery to their battlefield tactics. The knights were generally of noble birth - peasants simply couldn't afford a horse, much less armor and quality weapons.

Their "elitism" demanded that they occupy the first line of battle, with the "lesser" ranks of society forming up behind, and following up to clean up any remaining resistance.

Against armies that were intimidated by the sight of the knights, this worked well. But the English longbow men proved equal to the challenge.

Their arrows were able to penetrate the French armor, and the inability of the French to alter their tactics to counter the power of this weapon meant that in battle after battle, thousands of French nobles died pointlessly in stupid frontal attacks, when perhaps a more considered approach, and better use of the "less noble" archers and infantrymen, might have yielded a result.

English Longbow men

The longbow proved to be the dominant weapon throughout the 100 Years War and its effectiveness helped the English defeat much larger French armies at Crecy, Poitiers and Agincourt, as well as numerous other battles.

As much as 80 percent of an English army of this period could have been longbow men, although without support from more heavily-armed men-at-arms and cavalry, they were vulnerable if an enemy could get up close. They didn't carry a shield, and like most archers (whose role was more that of skirmishing than heavy combat duty), wore little or no armor.

French armies of this period usually consisted mainly of heavily armored knights on horseback. The longbow men therefore frequently dug wooden stakes into the ground immediately in front of their position. The stakes were tilted, pointing upward towards the stomach of any approaching horse, giving the longbow men similar defensive power against the initial approach of the French knights to a man armed with a long spear or pike.

As the French approached, the longbow men would fire a constant stream of arrows, bringing down as many men and horses as they could.

Even if the French did breach the English lines, discipline amongst the knights often prevented them from taking advantage. More than one battle saw the French snatch defeat from almost certain victory because rather than stick around and finish off the English infantry, they continued on to loot the English camp at the rear of the position. This allowed the English time to regroup, deal with isolated pockets of Frenchmen who did stick around to fight, and then counter-attack.

Monday, May 18, 2009

English Hundred Years War Army

This has been my latest project, with the last of the figures in this photo just finished over the weekend just gone. It isn't my full English army by any means, but it is the "core" of the army.

From the time of William of Normandy's conquest of England in 1066, the kings of England maintained lands in what is today regarded as France, and through conquest and political marriage, they acquired even more territory.

In 1338 King Edward III decided to take things a step further, and pressed his claim to the title of King of France. The following year he led an army into France, beginning what became to be known as the 100 Years War. Probably the best known personality from this war for most "non-military" people is Joan of Arc, however she played only a very minor role 1428-1430. From a military stand-point, the power of the English longbow, which delivered decisive victories against great numerical odds to the English at Crecy (1346), Poitiers (1356) and Agincourt (1415), and the political feuding between the Burgundians and the Armagnac ruling family in France which broke out in 1417 were far more significant.

By 1435 the Burgundians had rejoined the French camp, and together they began to drive the English off the continent. By 1454, only Calais remained in English hands, and English attention turned to the "War of the Roses" btween the rival houses of Lancaster and York for the throne of England.

Pictured above is a typical English army, with longbow men in front, protected by stakes to deter enemy horses from approaching too close. Behind the longbow men are two units of men-at-arms, who provided the "muscle" when the enemy did get close enough to go toe-to-toe. At the rear are the mounted knights, waiting for their chance to counter-attack the weakened enemy after the foot soldiers have driven them off.

Over the next day or two I will post some closer up photos of each group, and also a video which I hope you will enjoy.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Some Early Picts - from Scotland!

The Picts were one of the older peoples of Scotland, dating to pre-Roman times, but remained a real headache for the English (and Romans) up until 839AD. In that year, while putting down a rebellion by the Scotti (who gave their name to Scotland) under their king, Alpin, when a large army of Norsemen (Viking) came up on their rear, and pretty much destroyed the Pictish army, killing their king Eoghann.

The Picts ruled the north, east and most of central Scotland. Originally they were a coastal people, but as they mixed with other cultures, they assimilated into the general population.

Unfortunately, they left no written language, so not a lot is known about them for certain, although some artwork etc has been discovered. They appear to have been a very cultured people, despite the Roman portrayals of them as wild savages intent on destroying the Roman province in Britain.

Their line of descendancy was through the female line rather than the male.

I'm not quite artistic enough to get complicated tartan-style colors on the cloaks, or the blue body-paint that the warriors used to decorate themselves with for battle. So they're not quite as colorful as their real-life counterparts.

Like most Celtic peoples, they fought in loose formations, so even though their warbands might contain large numbers of troops, they are not much good in a hard toe-to-toe dust-up. They are better in wooded or hilly areas, where it is hard for disciplined troops (such as the Roman legions) to keep their formation, and where they might be able to "divide and conquer" their enemy through a series of ambushes.

The pics show, from top:

1: Pictish queen "hyping up" her men folk by showing them the severed head of a recently killed enemy. (The guy in the white shirt standing in front of her is the driver of the chariot!)

2: Pictish warriors waiting to start fighting.

3: Pictish crossbowmen looking for someone to shoot at.

Throughout the coming week I'll be putting up pics of the English 100 Years War figures I've been painting over the past month or so, and hopefully also, some video!!!! (The video looks okay on the camera - its justa matter of what it will look like on the computer!)

Fingers crossed! (I'm REALLY hoping the video turns out well as this will be great for showing battles on the site!)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Meet Prince Vasiliev Nikolaivitch - (Post Mongol Conquest Rus)

The early Rus were effectively first cousins of the Vikings, and their armies reflected this, being mainly infantry, who travelled by rivers and other inland waterays by boat to reach their destination, then disembarked to ravage the countryside and fight whatever battles needed to be fought.

As trade took place with the Arab nations to the south, and then especially after the Mongol invasions and conquest that began around 1230AD, Rus armies began to use the horse more frequently. By the time the Mongol Empire declined to the point it lost control of the Rus lands, Rus armies were often all, or at least mostly, horsemen.

This Later Rus army I only started building earlier this year, and it hasn't actually fought yet. Its initial commander will be Prince Vasiliev Nikolaivitch, who actually strikes quite an impressive pose! (I was REALLY pleased with the way he came out after being painted!)

My Later Rus army can in fact be used to provide key elements of Russian armies from 1,450AD (when the Rus broke free from the Mongol Empire) through to 1,710 (when Peter "The Great" reformed the army) although from the early 1600s on, the cavalry will only be a portion of the army, as the famous/notorious streltsi units (which I haven't yet painted up) became a force at that time.

Oh, one final note. These generals I have in charge of my armies are fictional characters, but named and given personalities very much in line with their historical counterparts. For each of my personality figures I have created a family, as well as individual personalities etc which will affect the way they lead their armies in battle. As younger members of their families come of age, I might allocate them junior roles within the army, or diplomatic tasks within a particular campaign, all of which allows me to study the nation a little more thoroughly than just from a military stand point.

And when I get campaigns going of course, the family goings-on can create an interesting backdrop to the military action! When I start writing about my battles you will start seeing this come through!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Meet Amorges of Persia (and some notes about Persian chariots)

Amorges (top photo) is the Commanding General of my Achaemenid Persian army, which some of you may have seen on display at either last year's Wells County Historical Society Collectors' Show in August, or at the county museum during December.

The Achaemenid Dynasty essentially built the Persian Empire, emerging as vassals of the Medes at the time of the breakup of the Assyrian Empire between 625-609BC, and then winning their independence from the Medes in 552BC, under King Cyrus II ("The Great"). The Achaemenid Persian Empire lasted until Alexander "The Great" conquered it in his campaign of 334-331BC.

From a military standpoint, the Empire began to decline following the unsuccessful invasion of Greece in 480-479BC. This invasion was "highlighted" by the battles of Thermopylae (which was the theme behind the movie "300") and Plataea, which effectively destroyed the Persian invasion plans.

I'm going to throw this next bit of background in, as westerners tend to overlook it, just focussing on the Persian invasion of Greece, and casting the Persians simply as the "bad guys". (The Persians after all were the ancestors of the Iranians, who aren't exactly "flavor of the month" these days politically in the west.)

In fact, the first real act of the Greek/Persian Wars occurred in 498 when the Athenians sent troops to help Greek settlements in the Persian province of Ionia revolt, and embarked on a particularly destructive rampage. The unsuccessful (or perhaps simply aborted, depending on your sympathies) Persian expedition against Athens in 490BC was an initial reprisal for this action, with the full scale invasion mentioned above becoming the "repayment" in the light of this failure.

If, therfore, you look at the Greek action of 498BC as an olden day 9/11, then perhaps the Persians weren't quite so unjustified in seeking retribution with their subsequent invasion attempts?

The Persians used heavy chariots, pulled by four horses, in two ways. They could be a mobile command post for their King (or his appointed general), which Amorges is doing in the top photo, or as an early version of today's "suicide bomber". The chariots had sharp scythes extending from the wheels, and also the horses harnesses, which you can see better in the second photo.

They would line a group of chariots up in a line opposite the most densely packed formation in the enemy army, and then just charge at top speed. If the enemy soldiers avoided being trampled by the horses, then they were cut to pieces by the scythes. When the impact occurred of course, it was pretty devastating for the chariot (and horses and men also, and unless the driver jumped off before the point of impact - which wasn't exactly the safest thing to do either - he would probably be killed in the collision, in the same way you would be if you drove a car into a brick wall.)

The chariot charge would be followed up by either horsemen or foot soldiers, who would then use the chaos caused by the crash to catch the enemy troops unprepared for another fight. They can do a lot of damage if you use them correctly, but you only get one shot with them!

Cyrus II is reputed to have fielded as many of 300 chariots in one of his battles. They were not taken on the invasions of Greece, as they required flat open ground on which they could build up speed during the charge, and Greece is very hilly. Also the space they occupied on either a boat, or even in an army marching over land was considerable.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Meet Makbai Khan - The Leader Of My Mongols

Makbai Khan (center, on the white horse) and his general staff survey the scene as they prepare for another campaign!

Prior to 1204AD the Mongols were a disparate band of nomadic clans, and spent too much time warring amongst each other to be a real threat to their neighbors. In that year however, a young warrior named Temujin defeated the last of his rivals to unify the nation and become "Great Khan" . Temujin is perhaps better known today as Genghis Khan.

Mongol armies were highly organized, on a decimal basis, and mostly mounted on horses, which meant they could travel long distances in rapid periods of time. At its peak, the Mongol army consisted of 40 tumen (a "group" of 10,000 men). Each tumen comprised 10 minghan (1,000 men each) made up of 10 jagun (100 men) made up of 10 arbun (10 men).

Each year, representatives of each of the Mongol clans would gather at the annual kuriltai (sort of like an annual general meeting if you like) and the Great Khan would assign campaigns and other tasks for the coming year.

Makbai Khan is really hoping that the Great Khan will ask him to lead his forces against the Rus (who occupied the land now known as Russia) at the next kuriltai. That is still a few months away yet though, so we will see how that turns out then.

Welcome To My World!

Welcome to my (new) Web site dedicated to my collection of toy soldiers.

At the time of writing, I currently have 9,550 figures painted from a variety of periods back as far as New Kingdom Egypt, through to American Civil War. Most are plastic, all about an inch tall, and all painted by me. I'm the first to admit I'm not as good as some of the real artists whose work adorns the various magazines dedicated to the hobby, but I can do a good enough job to make me happy, and that's the most important bit!

(The above photo gives a good idea of the size - all figures pictured are from around the time of Alexander the Great - from left to right, a Greek Hoplite, an Indian elephant, and Alexander himself!)

When time permits I fight battles with them, using rules that I have written.

As this site becomes more established, you will get to meet some of my key figures, (hopefully) learn a little about the history behind the armies they belong to, and join in the fun as they embark on the various campaigns that I have in mind for them.

Who needs a television set for entertainment when you can ride alongside Napoleon at Austerlitz, or Genghis Khan or Alexander the Great they conquer Asia?

I hope you enjoy the site!