Saturday, November 12, 2011

Ye XVII Century Men-o'-War in 1:1200 scale

...In which ye protagonist doth wax eloquently about ye Langton Miniatures ships, and how they doth be both exquisite and expensive.

A Dutch 60-gun ship

Well, this was going to be a post about some Borodino-related material, but the pictures I took didn't turn out. Being too lazy to take new ones, I decided to blather about this instead.

Stern quarter view, showing detail.

Yes, it's yet another new project: this time the Ango-Dutch Wars of the XVII century (that's 17th, for the not-Roman-numerally-inclined). These were purely naval wars (from the English point of view, at least), and so this will be a purely naval project. That's good, since one of my main motivations for getting into it was for a change of pace from painting ranks of infantry and cavalry. Strangely, this is going to be my first-ever naval project-- and I say strange, because I'm a huge naval buff, with shelves full of books on ships in general and many a sea war in particular.

English 2nd rate (82 guns) alongside Dutch 60-gun ship, with a pencil for scale.

Anyway, I felt it was high time to do something naval. My main area of familiarity is actually the age of ironclads and pre-dreadnoughts, although I confess a healthy interest in the navies of the two World Wars and in the age of sail as well. Unfortunately, given my preferences, I couldn't find many ironclad miniatures that matched what I was looking for in terms of scale, price, and quality. However, broadening my search, I came across Langton Miniatures.
Langton Miniatures' AD6 - British 2nd rate (Royal Katherine, 76-86 guns). The description is something of a misnomer; since the Dutch wars were fought before the Acts of Union united England with Scotland (and later Northern Ireland), these were properly English ships.

Langton is actually a company I'd been aware of for some time, mostly by reputation; they're held to be the manufacturers of the finest 1:1200 scale ships money can buy-- albeit the most expensive. Well, having now sampled their wares, I can confirm that theirs is a reputation well deserved: they look spectacular... and are spectacularly expensive.

Broadside view of the Royal Katherine. This was the first of these ships I did; consequently there are a number of errors in the rigging, and it isn't painted quite as nicely as might have been. A good learning experience, however. My previous work with small-scale modeling certainly helped.

The spectacular-looking part is what's really important though, and so I was pretty much doomed to make the attempt, regardless of cost, as soon as I got to looking through the Langton picture galleries, inadequate though they may be. And since spectacular-looking was now the goal, I quickly opted for one of the age of sail lines, since it seemed a bit extreme to spend £6 on some clunky-looking American Civil War ironclad, no matter how beautifully sculpted and cast. The Anglo-Dutch line finally got the nod because the ships' over-the-top baroque decor always seems to give them more personality than their better-known Napoleonic-era counterparts. A glance through the paintings of the Dutch Old Masters will show what I mean.

Langton Miniatures' AD15 - Dutch, 60 guns. The model is generic, not having been sculpted to represent any particular vessel. My rigging technique shows some improvement here, and tying the flags on rather than wrapping them around the masts also looks better.

Of course when it came time to get out the paintbrush, I quickly discovered that 'personality' can be a double-edged sword. Most Napoleonic-era warships were built in classes, and thus had one or more nearly identical sisters; paintwork too tended to follow broadly similar lines. Not so in the period of the Dutch wars, where ships tended to be one-of-a-kind, with very distinctive decoration.

Royal Katherine. The sails and ratlines are brass photoetch; the rigging is acrylic thread. Flags are homemade paper.

With this in mind, I decided to base my first pair of ships on specific historical examples-- insofar as any kind of examples could be found, of course! The 17th century was a long time ago, and record keeping back then wasn't quite up to modern standards. In fact, if it hadn't been for the improvement of painting techniques, and the increasing predilection of the aforementioned Dutch Old Masters for realistic nautical scenes, we wouldn't have much idea at all of what these vessels looked like.

Eendracht or Eendraght with rearing lion stern art.
Since the English 2nd rate was sculpted as the Royal Katherine, the Royal Katherine she would be. Some Google-fu turned up pictures of a model of the ship, whose accuracy I can't vouch for, but which at least gave me a colour scheme to work around. The heavy gilding on the stern facade was common to most English warships, and can clearly be seen as the ancestor of the more subdued decoration of Napoleonic-era ships. During the Dutch wars, English men-o'-war were rated by the number of crew they carried, rather than the number of guns; hence the Royal Katherine saw service with anywhere between 70 and 90 guns. She had a colourful history, fighting in all the major battles of the Second and Third Dutch Wars. Although never a flagship (there were always enough English 1st rates to serve those roles), she was still larger than any of the Dutch warships she opposed, and thus constantly in the thick of the fighting. During the Battle of Solebay in 1672 she was captured by the Dutch, but recaptured later the same day; in De Ruyter's raid on the Medway she was sunk to prevent her capture, but avoided being burnt by the Dutch. Refloated and repaired, she served in the wars against France, being renamed Ramillies after the Duke of Marlborough's great victory in the War of the Spanish Succession. Later, in the Seven Years' War, she served as the flagship of the unfortunate Admiral Byng during the Battle of Minorca.

Some of the extraordinary detail on these tiny models is visible here. Cannon and gratings are well defined and easily painted, as are the decorative quarter galleries and figurehead.

Choosing a Dutch ship proved to be somewhat trickier, as each vessel had a unique design painted on its stern, often executed by one of the great painters of the Dutch school. Out of all the +/- 60-gun men-'o-war I could find a picture of, the one that most resembles the Langton model was a painting of the Eendracht, one time flagship of the United Provinces, by Ludolf Backhuysen. Ironically, the painting was made after the ship's destruction at the Battle of Lowestoft in 1665, and many of the details are considered incorrect; unfortunately most other depictions of the ship tend to disagree with each other, so no one is really sure what the Eendracht looked like. In any event, I used the Backhuysen painting as a guide, and if the end product doesn't look like the Eendracht, she at least looks like a Dutch ship with her fine lines and painted stern. The Eendracht herself had the same sort of chequered career as most major warships of the day; she saw service carrying as few as 56 and as many as 73 guns, being victorious against the Swedes in the Battle of the Sound, but later was blown up in the midst of a duel against the 80-gun HMS Royal Charles during the aforementioned clash off Lowestoft (The Royal Charles herself was towed away as a Dutch prize during the Medway raid).

Comparison between the Royal Katherine (left) and Eendracht (right). The brighter sails and higher contrast between hull, strakes and gunport lids on the latter really make it stand out. Sail placement, rigging, and flags are also much improved.

I've got a few more English and Dutch ships to assemble in due course, so you can expect to see those in the future, as I try to get a grasp on tiny model shipbuilding. Happily, this is very much a do-whatever-the-hell-I-feel-like project, since once again I have no particular ruleset in mind. Heck, this time I don't even have a particular order of battle to aim for; given the massive scale of the major battles (100+ ships per side), and the huge costs of the models (approaching $20 per ship, after postage and packaging), I haven't a hope of being able to assemble forces for anything big. I may just work my way through the range, and decide after the fact whether or not I even want to game with these expensive little gems.

Next time: something different again. Maybe.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Little Prussian Sideshow

...In which our protagonist starts takes another miniscule bite out of his pile of accumulating lead, and begins yet another project unlikely to go anywhere, this time with Prussians.

Two battalions of the Prussian IR no. 49 Muffling. Colonel Muffling himself rides with the first battalion.
Another quick post this week (shocking, I know!). This rather small and whimsically-embarked-on venture is not so much a project as an experiment. I like to call it:

You can't have enough Napoleonics

Yes, those tumultuous decades bestriding the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries are the one period that I seemingly can't get enough of. To those in the know, it's pretty easy to see why: there were not one or two, but many competing powers of near-equal strength, all with expansionist foreign policies; the battles were big, the uniforms flashy, and all the shooting tended to take place at manageable distances. There were great personalities, epic battles, whirlwind campaigns and bitter slugging matches as well. In short, it's a great period for wargaming... except the only Napoleonic miniatures I've heretofore owned have been part of my Borodino project.

Adler PA 2C - Prussian Musketeer, bicorne, marching. Nice detail, as can be expected from Adler Miniatures. The hat lace is somewhat tricky to paint behind the musket stock, and the three multicoloured pompoms can be tedious, but hey-- you can't claim the detail isn't there.

Not that there's anything wrong with what I've done for Borodino. It's all turned out quite lovely, and I look forward to doing more. Sadly, the issue is that I don't really see myself gaming with them. I've barely scratched the surface of the Borodino order of battle, and I've already got more troops than I can comfortably fit on my gaming table.

Why just learn from someone else's mistakes, when you can learn from your own as well? 

Anyway, I wanted to do some period gaming, of necessity on bases smaller than the 60mm x 60mm I've been using for Borodino. The thought of doing 1812 again with different basing seemed redundant, so I looked at all the other Napoleonic campaigns I was interested in (which, admittedly, is most of them), subtracted the ones lacking complete 6mm figure ranges, and picked one. I blame Andy McMaster over at Another Slight Diversion for the end choice, since he was working on an 1806 Prussians-versus-French project during the time I was pondering all this over.

Adler PA 8A - Prussian Musketeer cmd (5). Again, very nice sculpting. Apparently the early Prussian range hasn't been that popular; on the plus side, this means that the molds are in good shape and the figures have relatively little flash. The officer's sword and the bottom of the colour guard's spontoon (or half pike, or whatever) are fairly flimsy.

Settled on 1806, it was time to figure out how to do it. I'd agonized over basing size, unit scale and figure choice for Borodino, and I wasn't eager to repeat the process. Many a 6-mil gamer before me has confronted the basing issue; their reminiscences can be found all over the net. Long story short, I went for 60mm x 30mm, because: a) I already had some spare bases, b) I knew I could paint enough figures to cover one in two or three evenings, and c) they would work for a variety of rule sets. No, I didn't have any particular rules in mind when I made the decision, and I still don't.

The arse end of the two battalions. By 1806, the Prussians had given up their powdered wigs, but evidently soldiers were still required to wear a pigtail. Also clearly visible is the straggling line on the 1st battalion; many gamers complain about Adler's singly-based figures, but I find the basing possibilities more than make up for the annoyance they cause.

For unit scale, I went with one base = one battalion; again, a common choice, and visually appealing to boot. The figures I went with were largely determined by what I was already doing-- I'd already done lots of French, so I decided to start with the Prussians for a change. I was already planning another order from Adler for some Borodino odds and ends, so Adler it was going to be. And since their 'advancing' pose tends to significantly increase how long it takes to base them, I opted for the ol' march attack. Lessons had been learned.

One step forward, two steps back

So am I going to plunge headfirst into the 1806 campaign on 60 x 30 bases? Well, no... Like I said, this is more of an experiment than an outright project. Also, I'm a dedicated fan of Richard Borg's Commands and Colors: Ancients and Memoir '44; and since I bought these figures, GMT has since released the new Commands and Colors: Napoleonics. I'd love to do armies for C&C:N, but that would mean Peninsular War armies, and multiple bases per unit. In short, I'm still pondering the possibilities.

Next time: something different. Hopefully with more and better pictures.