Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Building a Small Army

I really enjoy the uniforms of the early 20th century. You had none of this camouflage, which just looks, I don't know... overdone. Effective, yes, but overdone. When the first guns of August 1914 echoed across the frontier in western Europe, the French marched into battle with uniforms that looked similar to those of the American Union Army of the US Civil War; the fact is both the North and the South's uniforms were based on French designs. Interestingly, there are not too many French troops available.
There are period soldiers available, though. Armies in Plastic makes a series of World War I soldiers, as well as late 19th - early 20th century troops as well. These easily lend themselves to the combat being planned. But, many of these soldiers have helmets, and for the early phases of the war are out of place (to my knowledge, only the Kaiser's armies had helmets, possibly the Italians as well). The other Allied armies didn't start wearing the steel helmets until a year or so into combat (though the Brits may have obtained them earlier). If one wishes to model earlier troops, say French infantry wearing kepis, there's some customizing that needs to be done. If you need plenty of them, you may need to make compromises. Which brings us to BMC's inexpensive Civil War soldiers.
For many of the troops, just a simple paint job is enough to make them look "French" (and for the vast majority of them, this will be the route I take). However, there are some anachronisms that will need to be addressed to make them look more accurate, if even a little.
The first is the cap itself. Both the Union and the Confederacy used hats that were based on the French kepi, as were the uniforms in general. The French kepi, though, was generally stiffer than its American cousin and more often stood up. As time and battles went on, the kepi may have deflated somewhat, resembling more the American hat. Making a more French kepi would probably involve cutting off the hat above the brim and replacing the cap with one made from Sculpey or FIMO, or even epoxy putty. If you need plenty of them, you may be able to make a simple mould for the task.
Another problem is footwear. The French wore either boots or ankle boots and wrappings. Either way, the trousers were tucked into them. The BMC Civil War troops have the trousers hanging over the boots (which, I might add, looks rather sloppy). This is probably left up to the modeler's discretion; I might modify a few, but not many.
The last problem has to do with facial hair.
The beards that were common on American soldiers during the Civil War just weren't common on French and Belgian soldiers of the opening months of the Great War. Some probably had them, but they were probably the exception, not the rule. Most, if not all, of the BMC soldiers have them. Discretion again; you could end up trimming them off for days. Perhaps it would be better to keep some beards.
I've already finished one soldier.

He came out adequately enough.
I didn't bother trimming the mould seams and left the ejection pin marks. My manner of painting this soldier was experimental. Rather than using a spray primer or PVA glue (which is a popular method for softplastic figures), I used craft store acrylic satin varnish. This gave a little more bite to the acrylic paint to follow. After the colors dried hard, I sealed the figure with Testors' DullCote. Once that had dried, I painted over the black "leather" with satin varnish to give it a slight sheen.
I'm pretty pleased with the effort. I've not done a 1/32 - 54mm scale soldier in years, and this was really meant to be a fun project. And, to be honest, it was.

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