Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Favourite Units of Mine No.5

Not a unit per se but an institution in British Military History - the British Napoleonic Infantryman.

Like a lot of gamers out there, my first meeting with the British Nap Infantry was with this guy and his friends

The Airfix HO/OO scale British Napoleonic Infantryman

I must have, at one time, had a few hundred of these guys, along with the Highlanders, Hussars and Artillery, as well as their French opponents, but I was at an age (about 7) when the Napoleonic Wars didn't really mean anything to me. I was just fascinated with the style of the figures, the weaponry - I always liked the figure with the pike and wondered why he had a spear (as I would have called it then) when all the other figures had rifles (likewise I didn't know about muskets). But many an enjoyable day would be spent lining them all up and knocking them down with marbles until the last man was standing (usually the wounded guy as with his wide base he was so difficult to knock over and kill off completely!).

But there was never any thought about painting them until one day, while on holiday, dad brought back a box of these guys

The 1/32nd scale Airfix British Napoleonic Infantryman.

Firstly, these guys were huge compared to their little yellow brothers. And secondly, on the back of the box, it showed you how paint the figures! Of course dad was pestered intensely to paint these guys up and give him his due, he did have a go, having secured some enamel paints from the local toy shop.

Alas none of the painted figures remain in any state to photograph (we are talking almost 40 years ago). They were well played with figures and we didn't know about such things as washing the figure and priming it and then adding a varnish to seal the paintwork, so the paint inevitably chipped off from repeated marble hits and being chucked back in the box at the end of play.

As I got older and  became more and more interested in History I would read more and more about the Wars of Napoleon. What seemed like a recurring theme was the continued success of the British army against the French and the role the British Infantryman played in securing the eventual defeat of Napoleon. Yes, I know the British lost battles too, but I didn't pay too much attention to these (there must have been some skullduggery going on, on the part of the enemy, before they could beat a British Army), but instead would concentrate on reading about the great Peninsular War battles and of course, Waterloo. Of course, by the time I left school and went to University, I was much clearer about the sequence of events that took place during the conflict and had a better appreciation of what actually happened, but still the feeling that the British Infantryman beat everyone he faced never quite disappeared.

Gaming at the Dundee University Wargames and Role Playing Society was for the five years I was there, a total Napoleonic Wars free zone, no one was interested in playing it so the interest in the period dimmed. So it wasn't until much later, when I started going along to the Kirriemuir Wargames Club that I started to see Napoleonic Gaming played on a regular basis. No longer was it plastic Airfix soldiers but instead serried ranks of Hinchcliffe and Minifigs figures, and painted in great detail. This was the stuff. And yet, I didn't rush out and buy any of these figs, instead, a group of lads at the club, including myself, went in a totally unexpected direction

The 3rd Regiment of Foot "The Buffs" in 6mm by Irregular Miniatures

Of course, I bought a British Army and over time fought many a successful action, due in no small part to that great, thorny topic, "British Infantry in Line Firing  +1". We used the Irregulars own rule set "The Irregular Miniatures Rule Box" where the rules were written on 8 postcard sized cards - these are still available from Irregular and also from Angel Barracks.

Eventually, the 6mm figures fell out of favour, other periods beckoned, although games with 28mm figures still took place at the club. But I always had to play with somebody else's figures, but where ever possible I would play the British.

It wasn't until Victrix Miniatures came along and released their plastic sets that I eventually took the plunge and bought my first 28mm scale Napoleonic models.

The 3rd Regiment of Foot "The Buffs" in 28mm by Victrix Miniatures

Here was the chance to build my own British Army in a scale that would look impressive on the large tables similar to the displays that I had seen at various shows over the years and at a price that would not lead to bankruptcy.

And eventually after all those years, the penny suddenly dropped as to why I hadn't rushed out and bought any before - they are bloody hard to paint!

So far, I have only managed to paint 2 battalions of figures in the 2 years plus that I have had the figures. It has been a long and it has to be said somewhat tedious progress but I will get there. They are British Napoleonic Infantry after all and they beat all comers.......


  1. Good post and as you said the main reason I never got into it fully except through the club was...."And eventually after all those years, the penny suddenly dropped as to why I hadn't rushed out and bought any before - they are bloody hard to paint!"

  2. never realized there was such a difference in millimeters until you place them side by side. :D

  3. Really enjoyable post,
    Spot on with painting British Naps. I always found it hard to find a good set of reds (have them now) however I also struggled with the British lace and belting.
    Really impressed with anyone who can detail 6mm Naps! 10mm is the limit for my eyes

  4. Airfix was and is my greatest love in the fig world. I still have 1000´s of them and suprisingly the Nappoleonic ones aren´t (yet) suffering the dreaded plastic rot, they are still as pliable as ever, some 30 years on.
    Great post!!

  5. Thanhs guys!

    @paulalba- What reds are using for your Brits. I have been using the Foundary scarlet, mainly because it was all had at the time but actually, I think it looks okay.

    @Paul's Bods - thankfully plastic rot hasn't affected my warriors, but I really don't see me having the time to get them painted up

  6. I recall painting a few HO Brits...the experience decided me on Austrians (or in those days, Airfix French). Spray white, paint black and flesh bits, paint regiment colours, base, give em a flag, job done :-)