Sunday, 29 December 2013

Malleable Mouldings figures designed by Holger Eriksson

Holger Eriksson's Swedish Dragoon trumpeters herald in the New Year!

The five horsemen with the standing poses shown front and profile.  There is another rider in the set, an officer, which is the same figure as the Dragoon shown here but with the right arm cut away and replaced with one carrying a sword.

Among the earliest 54mm plastic figures made in the UK (or anywhere else for that matter) are these Swedish Dragoons made by Malleable Mouldings circa 1946.  The majority of this firms figures were based on designs made by Eriksson and others for Authenticast in Eire but so far as I can ascertain these Dragoons were only ever part of Eriksson's own "Tennfigurer" range of connoisseur models.  The crisp sculpting of the original metal models has not  transferred well to these plastic versions which are crude with excessive flash around the split lines. This suggests they may have been made by compressing material into the mould in the manner of earlier composition figures rather than injecting thermoplastic into them as practised in the 1950's.

A closer look at the rearing horses showing the three different positions of the forelegs (there is a fourth combination: right leg tucked in, left leg out).  The horse on the right clearly shows the split line where the two halves have been glued together and the less common oval base.

The horses are hollow, being formed in two halves and then glued together, the rearing ones are all the same basic pose with the moulds being modified to alter the position of the forelegs, allowing them to offer four different versions.  The bases on these horses are all original, the square/oblong ones are just cut from plastic sheet while the oval one (which is much less stable) has been formed from the same plastic as the horse and glued on.  The horses all have a small pinhole in the saddle which I always assumed was to take a peg from the rider for stability but these are the very first examples I've found which still have the pegs on the riders intact.

Are they rare?  Well that's a very subjective term, too often misused to infer value, certainly they are hard to find but on the other hand they turn up often enough.  These chaps are in this post simply because I found them all together in a junk box at a local collectors fair recently.  For more information on Malleable Mouldings and the other plastic figure ranges made from designs by Holger Eriksson (SAE and Spencer-Smith) see the Plastic Warrior Malleable Mouldings Special Issue

If anyone should read this, I hope you had a peaceful Happy Christmas and I offer you my very best wishes for the New Year, whoever you are.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Sesquicentennial Gettysburg Game

This month, July 2013, celebrates the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg and earlier this week a band of enthusiasts came together to mark the occasion with a wargame using 54mm toy soldiers.  The real battle was fought over three days but we opened our action on day two of the struggle:

Overview of the field from Rock Run Creek looking west

The union forces are concentrated in a salient between the two roads that stretch from cemetery ridge where General Meade has made his headquarters all the way back to Little Round Top, the ground rises steadily from the town of Gettysburg up to the surrounding hills. Flags are placed to mark initial troop deployments (some are dummies) and are replaced by actual units when the umpire decides that they are in line of sight at ground level.

Meade's headquarters defended by a Regiment. of elite Zouaves and an artillery battery.

The rebel attack opens from the east of Gettysburg.

As in all good toy soldier games the cannon are matchstick firing but the guns have been issued with limited amounts of ammunition and conserving ammo starts to become critical as the game progresses, particularly for the Confederates who have limited resupply.

Union infantry occupy the woods to the east of Cemetery Ridge.

Battle opens on the Union right as the confederates advance over open ground towards the woods opposite Meade’s HQ. and push up the road towards cemetery ridge. The woods are occupied by Union infantry and a hot artillery duel ensues which sees heavy casualties on both sides but rebel pressure tells and the Feds are pushed back up the ridge.

Overview of the initial action.

The artillery duel begins.

Confederate Command, with an English observer, Captain William Widdirington: late of the Steam Steel and torpedoes blog

The Confederate Command watch as their attack goes in.

The Confederate advance from Gettysburg along the roads up to the ridge

More Confederate Regiments appears on the Union left, working their way south towards Little Round Top, to close the line with another two Regiments believed to be hidden in the woods.  Up on the hills above, three Union Regiments with two Batteries await them.

The fighting becomes much hotter on the right and a Regiment is rushed from the centre to stiffen the Federal flank.

The Union left flank is rocked by the rising crescendo of the Rebel Yell!

Up on Little Round Top the Yankee commander starts to get anxious that the expected rebel attack against him might just be a faint and he makes a probing advance to force the issue. Too late he discovers that he has been duped, the main attack is well advanced on the right while he has been sitting on the left with half the army and it’s guns.

Union troops on the left advance across The Wheatfield and form line around the Peach Orchard.  (the plant markers were used to indicate geographical features)

The Union left makes up for lost time, engaging the Rebel right to the relief of the hard pressed Zouaves holding the centre.

Effective Confederate artillery fire takes out the first Union battery.

Good shooting from the Rebel guns took a fearful toll on the massed ranks of Union troops squeezed into the salient.

Pressure builds up on the right as more Confederate regiments are fed straight into the attack as they arrive in the line.

And yet more Rebels!  the whole of the South must be here today.

The struggle to hold the woods continues

The Iron Brigade and Berdans Sharpshooters join the line as the last reserves are thrown in to face the final assault of the day

As dusk closes in the last couple of moves are played out, on the left the effect of massed rifle fire sweeps away the the Confederate right wing but in reply the Rebel counter battery fire finds the Union caissons and blows away the entire battery. 

It was planned to play the game over two days and as the first came to a close honours were fairly even. The Confederate right had been destroyed and their artillery were now running perilously short of ammunition but their main strength remained intact on the left and in the centre. Union forces still held the ridge but had taken a fearful pounding and had lost nearly all their guns, both sides settled down to spend the night on the battlefield, in the morning they would redress their lines and continue the struggle.

Sadly I was unable to stay for the second days play so this is all I have to offer you but hopefully the story will be taken up and continued on the Megablitz and more blog of Mr Tim Gow who commanded the armies of the South on the day.
The game didn’t follow the path of the original battle and it was never intended that it should do so (especially with the well known Rebel sympathies of some players on the Union side!). All the players contributed several regiments each, the sight of so many toy soldiers set out on an extensive terrain was quite inspiring and made the effort of painting them up all the more worthwhile.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Summer Samurai

I recently read on a blog somewhere that "England is a country which gets nine months of Winter followed by three months of bad weather".  It's not true.  But given the washed out Summers we've had over the last two years it might as well be.  So when the sun unexpectedly shone last weekend I was unprepared for it but headed for the garden with my trusty camera and here are the results:

The figures are Samurai made by Furuta of Japan and they are  perhaps one of the best kept secrets in the world of 54mm plastic toy soldiers.  I've had these for a few years now and they rarely come out of the box, which is unforgivable, but they need basing and I'm not confident that my modelling skills are quite up to the job yet.

Made in hard plastic and factory painted they come in parts which clip together very snugly.  They are actually pieces for some sort of role playing game and you buy them individually in little packets a bit like Pokemon and such stuff.  Each figure comes with a sheet which I think describes his character but as it's all in Japanese I can tell you nothing more.  The figure bases are black plastic trays, also somehow integral to the game, which are quite unsightly and therefore need to be replaced (work soon to be in progress)

The sculpting is sublime, the foot figures are suspended in those balletic poses that only Samurai can achieve before they launch themselves cat like with blades swiping sending limbs flying and blood spurting in every direction.  The horses are so animated you can almost hear their nostrils snorting with the exertion and smell the sweat on their flanks.

I've long had it in mind to use them in an 1870's Satsuma Rebellion style wargame pitched against the "Funny Little Wars" Japanese army I've been working on but I think I would find it too upsetting if they lost! 

The backdrop is a stream I built in my back garden (two years ago just before the weather turned bad) with the intention of using it for garden wargaming.  It runs between two ponds the length of a shady border, where previously only weeds would grow, and in the absence of any military activity has become the habitat of varied wildlife, edged with rockery it is my own personal Hindu Kush.  It was inspired by the garden of Mr John Ruddle which has become internationally famous for it's landscaping which represents all the continents of the world laid out for 54mm wargamig.  I have visited John's garden several times but sadly without my camera so cannot share more with you.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Der Kampf Gegen Russland

I have finally managed to track down the boardgame mentioned in the last post, at the Nuremberg toy museum and here it is:
Bottom right hand quarter of the board showing Russian Cossacks and infantry.  Picture courtesy of the Nuremberg Toy Museum

Here's what they have to say about it:

"Kampf gegen Rußland - Ein neues Kriegspiel" aus dem Verlag Joseph Scholz, Mainz mit Zeichnungen von Th. Cronberger. Der Spielplan gibt einen Blick auf das von einem Fluß durchzogene Schlachtfeld wieder - links des Flusses stehen die deutschen Truppen, rechts die russischen. Ziel des Spieles ist, die gegnerische Festung in Besitz zu nehmen. 2 "Festungen" aus Blech, Spielmarken aus bedruckter Pappe, Holzstäbchen zum Bewegen der Spielmarken.  Scholz' künstlerische Spiele "Spiel mit" & Monogramm J Sch M
"Fight against Russia - A new war game" from the publisher Joseph Scholz, Mainz with drawings by Th Cronberger. The gameboard is a view of a river by the early battlefield - left of the river are the German troops, the Russians are on the right. The aim of the game is to take possession of the enemy fortress. Accessories are 2 "fortresses" of sheet metal, tokens of printed cardboard soldiers and wooden sticks to move the tokens.

The picture shows the box art and the lower right hand quarter of the game board. sadly the least interesting section but it gives a flavour of the artwork.

Monday, 17 June 2013

War Games at the Museum of Childhood

I was unable to make it to the London Toy Soldier show last week, so in order to make up for that I decided to head off to the Museum of Childhood (part of the V&A) in Bethnal Green, London, and view their new exhibition:  War Games

What with it being the centenary of H G Wells' publication of "Little Wars" I had hoped to see a chronology of Kriegspiel with lots of toy soldiers, and in fairness you get some of this but not nearly enough (okay so I'm biased - what do you expect).  The exhibition tries to be child friendly with interactive bits for the kids while offering quirky and nostalgic exhibits to rope in the parents.  It asks those dusty old questions - "do war toys lead to aggressive behaviour" "are war toys gender specific" "what are society's changing attitudes to war toys" - and other such old bunk, just give us the toys!

So what's on show: boardgames, puzzles, guns (including the awesome Johnny Seven one man army -remember that one), dressing up uniforms, books (including Little Wars), Lego, Action Man, tanks, planes, ships and toy soldiers (paper, flats, hollow-cast and composition).  Many of the items are on loan from the Nuremberg Toy Museum so this may be a rare opportunity to see them. 

My top 5 exhibits are:

"Der kampf gegen Russland" a boardgame from 1916, the board shows Austrians fighting Russians across a river with three bridges.  The artwork is inspiring, on the Austrian side there is an armoured train, a battery of Skoda guns, Medics, Pioneers, Croats, Hussars and Uhlans, on the Russian side of the river hordes of infantry and cossacks appear to be taking quite a pounding.  There is a theme of "toys as propaganda" running through the exhibition and the premise of this game is that the cause of the Great War was all the fault of those pesky Ruskies.

"L' Heroique Peuple Serbe" a sheet of paper soldiers of the WW1 Serbian army in animated action poses from 1915.

A group of early 9cm composition toy soldiers which includes a vignette of a German and French soldier in the uniform of 1914 locked in hand to hand combat (one I hadn't seen before)

A stunning tinplate German torpedo boat made in 1912 by Gbr. Bing

Two beautifully and accurately made cardboard panzer tanks, dated 1930 - 41, scaled to go with 7cm composition figures, probably made by a father who couldn't afford the tinplate manufactures of the time.  They are delightfully home made but then I read that they were owned by a ten year old boy, killed in the Allied bombing of Nuremberg, and that sudden stab of reality left me reeling in horror.

The exhibition is in London until March 2014 and then goes on tour to Carlisle and Coventry, entry is free so go and see it if you can, but don't expect too much, it's not a large collection.  Sadly photography is prohibited and there is no booklet to accompany it so this post is without images.  I have searched the net for pics but without success so if you find any do let me know, I would especially like to get a copy of that boardgame.  However the BBC did make a short news report showing some of the items, and here it is:

I am recently returned from the Greek Isles.  "And how is that bastion of EU austerity managing" you might wonder?  Well the sun still shines and the sea is still blue but most of the tourists have decamped long ago to cheaper climes outside the Eurozone, like Turkey and the newly discovered Croatia.  Prices have remained relatively unchanged since I was last there three years ago, but with reduced tourist numbers at least half the bars, restaurants and shops are boarded up.  Those that remain, the long established family owned businesses are struggling but have upped their game in terms of quality and service so the owners remain stoically cheerful.

You notice other little things too: previously all the taxis were Mercedes, now they're Skodas (VW's in all but name, but manufactured in Czech, outside the Euro).  Plots of land left empty for a decade pending development have been turned over to agriculture, nobody is building any new development and it doesn't look like they will be for a while.  Instead older properties are being renovated and improved.  Many more people are keeping their own chickens. 

I have always frequented resorts favoured by German tourists because the food is noticeably better, now the Germans are nowhere to be found but the food is still better.  The ubiquitous Chinese made tourist tat has been swept from the shelves of the souvenir shops to be replaced by stylish locally made handicrafts, so although the clock has been turned back in some ways there is also something of a renaissance and in the longer term I feel it may be for the better.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

New Book - Soldats Pastiques: Cyrnos et Jim

Available at the Plastic Warrior Show a couple of weeks ago was this new book on two major French manufacturers: Cyrnos and JIM (Jouets Incassables Modernes en Matiere Plastique).  Once you get past the major Marques of CGB Mignot, Quiralux and Starlux, French made figures in all their metiers are notoriously difficult to identify, they carry little in the way of markings, while packaging, advertising and catalogues hardly exist (compared to the plethora of material surviving for U.S. British and German makers) and so this book is much overdue and greatly welcomed.
Soldats Plastiques - Cyrnos et Jim, author Alain Thomas,  A4 soft cover format, 136 pages illustrated throughout in full colour.  Depot legal: D/2013/6284/1

Written by Alain Thomas who is well known for his previous three books on Starlux which were written in collaboration with Jerry Meimoun, I couldn't see any ISBN number so take it to be self published, as is increasingly the case these days.  My copy cost me £25, I think you can buy it a bit cheaper direct from the author but then you have to pay postage so it all works out even in the end.

The text is only in French but it is very easy to follow even if you have very basic language skills (like me), as always with such books they are all about the pictures and this one does the job admirably as you can see from the sample page above.  The first 70 pages concern JIM and the remainder are devoted to Cyrnos, each section follows the history of each company from aluminium into plastic figures, how to identify them and then a pictorial cataloguing of their various ranges.  Both companies products are common enough in France but don't appear to have ever been exported so have only become known outside their mother country in recent years through the more International collectors shows or the ever present ebay.  This book is well researched and beautifully presented, the figures of these two companies deserve to have a much higher profile on collector's radar and I understand that this may be the first in a series of such publications on the lesser known French manufacturers.  Highly recommended.

Monday, 13 May 2013

New Replicants figures at the Plastic Warrior Show May 2013

The annual Plastic Warrior Show was held on May 4th 2013 and it has become something of a tradition for Replicants to launch new product at this event each year, this time around they had ten new figures and here they are:

The new Replicants figures, painted, on their stall at the PW Show, the photo didn't come out that great so clearer pics are below.  Back left are four Culloden Scots, back right two ACW and front centre four new medieval knights with the existing figure of Simon de Montfort that they were made to accompany.

The four new Jacobite Scots, executed in true swashbuckling poses full of action and originality.  Sculpted by Peter Cole who constantly strives to defy and confound the limitations imposed on producing figures from a two part mould, the chap clubbing with rifle is probably my favourite and the one with two pistols is straight out of the old Rob Roy comic strip. 

Along with the previous four Replicants in this series, the six Cherilea highlanders and a clutch of various AWI militiamen that will stand in as lowland Scots I have about thirty figures ready to portray the Jacobites for the expanding C18th project, and that's before delving into the realm of conversions, so this interest is beginning to gather it's own momentum, much encouraged by this: 

The Battle of Culloden in 54mm as portrayed by Dirk Donvil's Belgian group PMCD Mobilisatie.  Enjoy.

Actually I would prefer to be directing my attention towards the Jacobite Rising in Ireland but I don't think the figures above would fit the bill and I can't find  anything much in the way of uniform sources.  Anyone out there able to give me a steer in the right direction?

The four C13th knights to go with the previously issued figure of Simon de Montford at the Battle of Lewes in the 2nd Barons War.  Great animation, the bases are sculptured in the style of the old Britains "Wars of the Roses" knights, which has become something of a signature for Replicants figures.

No extra photos of the new ACW standing and kneeling figures, I didn't get them because frankly I am awash with such poses, but there must be a big demand for them or they wouldn't have bothered to bring them out.  The two figures are suitable for either side and look very similar to earlier Replicants/Marksman issues.  All Replicants figurees are distributed by Steve Weston's Plasticsoldiers

Other new figures at the Plastic Warrior Show were a range of Marlburians sculpted by Mr Len Cooksey of Ivanhoe figures, moulded in resin.  Sadly I can't show you them because by the time I'd battled my way through to his stall they were all sold out!  No doubt they will reappear at the London Show in June (but sadly I may not be able to attend this)

Amongst many other things I picked up a couple of sets of Barzo Conquistadors for a C16th/Wars of Religion project that has been simmering away for a while now, the musketeers and crossbowmen will be useful but the rest of the poses are a bit odd and will need some work before they see the light of day again. 

And finally..............a gratuitous shot of tables groaning under the weight of plastic. 

The Plastic Warrior Show moved to a new venue this year just a couple of miles up the road from Richmond, West London, where it has been held for the past twenty years (yes it really has been that long) and there was a fair bit of anxiety about how the new site would be received.  Happily it seems to have gone down very well with the dealers and attendance through the door was way up on previous years, so our fears about people finding the place were groundless.  In addition to the horde of Continental European dealers and collectors who made it (far to many to mention individually), we welcomed Ron Barzo and Jim McGough, Paul and Laurie Stadinger all from the U.S.A. and Brenton Hoffman all the way from Australia. 

In fact there was only one person who complained that the new venue was too difficult to get to and he had come all the way from.................. you guessed it.  London!  

See y'all next year folks.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

H G Wells "Little Wars" Centenary Games April 2013 - part 2

The sun came out for round two of the H G Wells Little Wars Centenary Games and so we all decamped to the garden for some proper wargaming!  The scenarios for the second and third rounds came from Colonel Monseneurgue's 1913 work "Cavalry Practical schemes".  In true Wellsian fashion each side was designated as Army Red or Blue regardless of the national army they represented and each side was given sealed orders and objectives.  In game 2 Army Red had troops posted in woods at either end of a central road which it had to hold until reinforcements could come up, Army Blue was an advance guard required to clear the woods, secure the flanks and open the road  for it's Army Corps to pass through.  Here are some pics:

The Forbodian Horde commanded by TG, missing from the lineup in the previous post, took to the field for round two in place of the Turks as I was drafted in to co-umpire this session.

Bastions of Empire, the Mounties and Skinners Horse stand firm ready to do their bit.

The immaculately presented Horse Artillery of Army black

A rather neat Russian Mountain Battery takes up position

In typically Wellsian pose ST draws a bead on the enemy cavalry.

The second round came to a close as dusk closed in and after a hearty toast to all concerned the Gentlemen were lead on an Historical Tour of the Old College before retiring to change for dinner.

Sunday Morning saw hostilities resumed after breakfast, the final scenario introduced hidden movement and finds Army blue holding a major road with two entrenched guns, facing two regiments of Red infantry with two guns.  The remaining Blue forces are hidden behind the tree line while Red is moving unseen around the flanks, the game is afoot:

At the start of move two, Red's guns have moved into the positions vacated by Blue's artillery and their infantry find Blue retreating in echelon.

Blue's secret orders are to withdraw from this exposed position and beat a fighting retreat back to hold a second line along the next treeline, but above all they must save the guns!  Red's orders are to prevent the guns getting away.  A number of dummy markers were used by both sides to cause confusion as the troops moved into open sight.

On the left flank Blue's cavalry charge Red's lancers who are threatening the withdrawal of the guns.  Blue wins the melee and the guns continue on their way.

Just to add a little spice the Umpire now issued additional secret orders to both sides, Red was to bombard the South West area of the field (which just happened to be empty) while Blue was to counterattack to the North East of the field.

The almost suicidal Blue counter attack to the North East goes in and succeeds in pushing the Red flank back, blunting their advance and enabling the Blue guns to consolidate their new defence line......  just as play stopped for lunch.

And so a most enjoyable weekend of wargaming came to a close.  It was interesting to play the games on table and in garden consecutively (albeit with distances reduced for the table), although they are the same rules the dynamic of the game becomes very different.  Machine guns and snipers featured heavily in most of the games and added greatly to the challenge, the artillery was all matchstick firing and the standards of accuracy generally left much to be desired! 

Overall Winner of the Competition was Dr. Anthony Morton, the title of Most Gentlemanly Player was conferred upon Mr Jack Wright and as previously mentioned Best Painted Army went to Mr Stephen Thomas.

Since my return, time has been much taken up with finalising arrangements for the Plastic Warrior Show but more of that anon.

Friday, 3 May 2013

H G Wells "Little Wars" Centenary Games April 2013 - Part 1

Last weekend, the 27th/28th April, a diverse band of toy soldier enthusiasts were drawn together in the Surrey countryside, it wasn't a wargame convention or a collectors show but more a celebration to mark the 100th anniversary of the publication of H G Wells' book Little Wars.

The event had been at least two years in preparation and was the brainchild of Mr Paul Wright, author of "Funny Little Wars" (an updating of Wells' rules to take account of small arms fire, morale etc.) ably supported by members of the Funny Little Wars Yahoo Group for chaps who enjoy playing with larger size toy soldiers.

The event was split into three rounds, each with four games being played simultaneously.  First up was a staging of Wells classic Battle of Hooks Farm, which had to be played indoors due to rain, and here is what the armies looked like:  (click to enlarge)
The Russian contingent (Army Green) commanded by Dr Mike Snape, the infantry are by Armies in Plastic (AiP), the cavalry converted from Britains show jumping riders and Italieri Mamelukes.

Army Red/White/Blue, the American Rough Riders led out by Mr Jack Wright. more AiP infantry with cavalry by Britains Deetail and Paragon Scenics

Dr Anthony Morton offered us his Army Red/Khaki, The British Army in overseas order, most effectively formed up on movement trays from Warbases (note to self: must get some of these) 

By the unanimous vote of all present this Teutonic Army Black won the "Best Painted Army" prize for Mr Stephen Thomas.  More AiP infantry, traditional Britains 4.7s and elephants!   Well who wouldn't vote for them.

The composite Imperial Force comprising RN blue jackets, Canadian Horse and these rather splendid cyclists under command of the Duke of Tradgardland aka Mr Alan Gruber

Here we see Army Red face up against errrrrrr.... Army Red?  At the far end of the table a satisfyingly nostalgic collection of old Britains and other hollowcast figures from Messrs Julian Spilsbury and Andy Hussey advance toward a solid red line of the Little Wars Revisited range of figures produced, and commanded here. by Mr Mike Lewis.

........And finally my own humble contribution to the proceedings, the steadfast Turks of Army Turquoise.  the central column and artillerymen are my conversions from BMC American Civil War figures while the flanking Regiments and cavalry were fashioned from HaT figures by the skillful hand of Canadian veteran gamer Mr Ross Macfarlane

One army is missing from the lineup above; the Forbodians of Mr Tim Gow who was charged with assisting to umpire the first round.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

H G Wells would have approved

My second and final report from the March 2013 London Toy Soldier Show are a couple of items built and being sold by an enthusiast for playing "Little Wars" (sadly I didn't make of note of who he was!)
The Nile gunboat "Bordien", I like the way the Britains AA gun has been mounted for'ard and the crows nest/conning tower thing on top of the aft mast, not so sure about the side paddle though.  Still a very nice model and one which has given me plenty of thoughts and inspiration for making my own waterline version.

On the same stall a heavy howitzer, simply made from the barrel and trail of the Britains 4.5" Howitzer with wheels from the 4.7" Naval gun which gives it the appearance of being something much heavier, it reminds me of those big WW1 Austrian Skoda guns.  It just goes to show what you can do with a few bits of broken old guns bought in a job lot on ebay.

And finally..........mention of H G Wells leads me neatly onto the Little Wars Centenary Games to be played out over the weekend of 27th/28th April at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.  Sadly this event is not open to spectators or the public as Sandhurst is a high security military base but several of the participants are regular bloggers so hopefully we will see plenty of reports with photos after the event.  I shall be leading out my redoubtable Ottoman army and the games will be played outdoors so I am keeping my fingers crossed for good weather!