Confused by Zouaves – some Airfix ACW Paint Conversions


Union Blue – and a bit bashed  – all that we had of our family’s American Civil War Airfix OO/ HO Union Infantry troops, a scarce set by the mid  1980s when I painted these.  Reinforcements were needed from unusual sources.

I am this weekend I confess – Confused by Zouaves.

I have recently rebased and flocked some of my original 1970s and 1980s paintings of Airfix OO/HO American Civil War infantry, along with some other Airfix WW2 figure conversions to other troop types.

We had very few American Civil War Airfix OO/ HO troops, as they were  a scarce set by the 1980s. Reinforcements were needed from unusual sources!

US 1st Sharpshooters (Berdan’s Sharpshooters) a green repaint of a few Union Infantry figures with a couple of Atlantic US cavalry mixed in. Defending a branch halt of the AT&PR Railroad, with the swiftly repainted rolling stock and engine from a “Train Set in A Tin.”
More Union Infantry reinforcements, paint conversions  from more easily available Airfix WW2 Japanese Infantry.

I  have liked for a long time  the Airfix WW2 OO/HO Japanese (and Russian) infantry for their slender build and possibilities for conversion to troops from other periods.

The unusual figures of the Airfix WW2  Japanese infantry standard bearer and bugler make useful Union Infantry command figures. These are now quite fragile plastic  – the officer has lost his fragile sword. Painted c. 1983.


Sometimes I can tell looking back what (roughly) these reinforcement figures were supposed to be or were inspired by, helped by looking again at Kannik’s Military Uniforms of the World in Colour by Preben Kannik’s and the Blandford book Uniforms of The American Civil War  by Philip Haythornwaite. Both books were sporadically available in our local branch library.

Another paint conversion of Airfix WW2 Japanese Infantry – but which Grey Zouaves are they and fighting on whose side?

This grey  Zouave unit with red kepis at first appear as probably meant to be Wallace’s Zouaves (the Eleventh Indiana Volunteers) nicknamed the “Union Greys”.

They were  created or converted by repainting Airfix WW2 Japanese Infantry.

I love(d) this page a lot in Preben Kannik’s Military Uniforms of the World  in Colour.

Wallace’s Zouaves featured in the few, the very few, ACW uniforms shown in Kannik’s Military Uniforms of the World in Colour,  as well as Philip Haythornwaite’s more extensive ACW Uniform book (Plate 25). Text notes reveal the unusual career of Lew(is) Wallace,  their commanding officer, who went on to write Ben Hur, amongst other things!

But are these 1983 Airfix conversions really  Wallace Zouaves?

Union Grey Wallace’s Zouaves from Indiana or Confederate McClellan’s Zouaves from South Carolina? The flag suggests the latter. 1983 conversions from Airfix WW2 Japanese Infantry.

I  painted these grey coated Zouaves with a  “first National Flag” of the Confederacy  with the grey coated Zouaves, suggesting they may be instead Confederate McClellan’s Zouaves or Chichester Zouaves Cadets, both from Charlestown South Carolina.


Kannik notes that these “Union Grey” uniforms faded out quickly early in the American Civil War, no doubt to avoid confusion with such Confederate Grey or Zouave regiments.

No doubt also that many of these fine colourful uniforms would have quickly been adapted to the rigours of whatever could be found or repaired on campaign.

More Louisiana Tiger Zouaves from Airfix WW2 Commandos and Japanese Officer – some of these figures look a bit rough or roughed up, the bottom of the spares box maybe in about 1983?

I am not entirely sure of all the intended regiments of the Zouave figure conversions  35 years on, even looking through the original uniform books I had available.

Why so many Zouave regiments? I wondered.

“In the United States, zouaves were brought to public attention by Elmer E. Ellsworth. Inspired by his French friend Charles De Villers, who had been a surgeon in the North African zouaves, he obtained a zouave drill manual. In 1859, Ellsworth took over a drill company and renamed them the “Zouave Cadets”. The drill company toured nationally, performing the light infantry drill of the north African zouaves with many theatrical additions. “Zouave” units were then raised on both sides of the American Civil War of 1861-5, including a regiment under Ellsworth’s command, the New York “Fire Zouaves” …”

Source: Wikipedia Zouave article  entry

None of the Airfix boxes with their uniform pictures had survived in my family by then, so further uniform notes could only be glimpsed in the pages of the old  Airfix Catalogues or Military Modelling magazine and the eye-candy illustrations of Miniature Wargames.

A few more Union Zouaves converted  c. 1983 from Airfix WW2 British commandos with WW1 French infantry officer and Confederate Bugler. Rifle butts (becoming or always ) somewhat flimsy.

Converting easily available first version  WW2 British Commandos to Zouaves worked surprisingly well, on account of the puttees, soft caps, straps and spindly rifles.

The Zouaves with red caps and red trousers with white spats or puttees probably represent the Union’s  14th New York Volunteers (or 84th New York Infantry Regiment) known as the “Brooklyn Chasseurs”, pictured in Haythornwaite’s Uniforms of the American Civil War Plate 24a.

Equally they could be the red trousered, red capped 1st Battalion Louisiana Zouaves fighting  for the Confederacy, shown on Plate 55. Confusing in battle!

You will also notice that the Louisiana Zouaves in the Kannik book look different to the Haythornwaite book – confusing for a young boy with his paints. I needed Confederates more than Union troops as I had few of the original Airfix Confederate Infantry.

Michael Chappell’s colour illustration plates to Philip Haythornwaite’s Uniforms of the American Civil War (Blandford, 1975/85)

Converting WW2 infantry into 19th Century troops? 

Such strange figure conversions did not seem odd at the time in the early to late 1980s as these original ACW Or other Airfix historical figures were much sought after second hand. I remember a dealer called “Andy Peddle, Sunnymead …” regularly advertising in the small ads of Miniature Wargames each month for further stock of such loose figures. The price quoted by dealers alway seemed too high on my pocket money or paper round budget at the time – ” I will pay 3p per foot figure, 6p per cavalry figure, 12p per cannon, waggon or limber” advertised one Mr. S.  Russel  of Wingham. No doubt they were resold for more.

Send no SAEs or payment, this small ad was just one of the Airfix second hand dealers from one issue of my Military  Modelling magazines (July 1983). Old lead met scarce plastic on the same page.

To give a comparison, in the same 1983 magazine (cover price 80p) the new Esci 1/72 figures were being advertised for a £1 per box of 50 Esci figures. Soon Esci would have their own range of ACW and Colonial or historic figures but too late for me. I was moving on to Peter Laing metal 15mm at 7p a foot figure.

Atlantic Wild West cowboys painted up as Confederate infantry or Dismounted Texas Cavalry  and an Airfix Confederate infantryman for comparison, painted 1983.

In the absence of Airfix ACW, I generally made do with whatever bizarre tiny Atlantic Wild West packs turned up, sometimes cheaply in model shops like Beatties, although these seemed more like diorama sets than gaming figures. The Atlantic Wild West range  provided a few scruffy Confederates and 7th cavalry on horses with bases unlike the irritating Airfix horses. I  also painted up whatever American Civil War looking figures I could make from leftover WW2 infantry or Cowboys.

A few vintage Airfix Confederates and some running Airfix Cowboy conversion Confederate figures in my handy “Just In Case” portable fishing tackle box set of figures for holidays and working away from home (see blogposts c. April 2016) 

I was always puzzled that no flag or standard bearer figure was produced by Airfix with their ACW infantry sets but I checked here on Plastic Soldier Review and there is no sign of one:

Again in 2017, these Airfix ACW figures have disappeared and I don’t think that HAT  did a reissue a few years ago. They don’t seem to have been in production since early 1980. No fort or playset reissue ever featured them. Some boxes and loose figures lurk on E-Bay and online shops, becoming increasingly pricy and, for the old 70s stock, increasingly brittle.

Will they ever be reissued again? The 150th anniversary of the American Civil War has now gone by.

A good volley line of Airfix Union infantry enough for a skirmish against the Confederates.

Good to see on many people’s blogs that these charming ACW figures have retained their nostalgic appeal.

My few Airfix Confederate infantry so Reinforcements are on the way!

2017 – More reinforcements!

Recently a retired work colleague kindly gave me an old biscuit tin of 1970s Airfix figures, a jumble of loose figures and some on sprues, predominantly ACW and AWI figures with a few British Paras mixed in. A relic of his 1960s and 70s flirtation with wargames  before American railroad modelling took over, I shall unpack this Airfix owl pellet in a future blogpost. There look to be some Confederates and ACW artillery lurking!

I also chanced upon two half price “Red boxes” of recently produced Airfix WW2 Japanese Infantry from a shop closing down its models section (mostly it was all Airfix USAAF aircrew boxes) so I should be able to produce some more reinforcements in the future. USCT US Coloured Troops are one thought, and finally some more unconfused Zouave regiments?

Zouaves troops also turn up in my  Bronte gaming scenarios, based on troop descriptions in the Bronte family Angria and Glass Town scenarios – I’m sure all these vintage Airfix figures will find a role in these Imagi-Nations, just with a new standard bearer or two.

Gingham shirts and ticking trousers – the colourful clothes that match the description of some Imagi-nations Bronte fiction Zouave troops c. 1830s -1840s (Hawthornwaite, Uniforms of the American Civil War Plate 18 )

I shall end here, slightly less confused by Zouaves but not much ….

Blogposted by Mark, Man of TIN, 16 July 2017



15 thoughts on “Confused by Zouaves – some Airfix ACW Paint Conversions”

  1. Drool. I always dreamt of conversions but whilst I have sufficient ambition, it is not matched by imagination or supplies of banana oil!


    1. Slice away a bit yes, pin a flag yes, but I try not to do the slice up and re-head type of conversions. I prefer mostly paint conversions as I have always been what my parents called a bit “cackhanded” at small scale. I have yet to try the semi-legendary 1960s Banana Oil of Donald Featherstone era! Glad you enjoyed the article it was good to rediscover these old favourites and childish efforts. I look forward to trying some new ones! Mark, Man of TIN blog.


  2. Your post partially explains the confusion at the first battle of Bull Run. Shortly before the start of the Civil War, after Ellsworth’s tour, many individual militia companies started to stylize themselves as Zouaves. These companies designed their own uniforms. As the better organized states would place these companies into regiments of 10 companies, it is easy to imagine a regiment of militia! Of course, at the start of the war the states would provide uniforms to the regiments so they would be more “uniform” in appearance. However, each state would decide on the uniforms. Many northern units were provided grey uniforms. Confused? So were the commanders on the field of battle at Bull Run.


    1. Thanks for this John (and for your interesting on the ground Antietam battlefield tour post a few weeks ago).
      Very interesting about First Bull Run / Manassas confusion of uniforms early in the Civil War. Didn’t know this (but there are seemingly so many battles big and small in such a widespread nationwide conflict) After reading your comment, I read a quick battle summary on Wikipedia and it mentioned a little more about the confusion of the early “non-uniforms” blue / grey and Zouave unit confusion. Highly understandable confusion in the heat and smoke of battle and just asking for many a “friendly fire” incident.
      What a splendid confusion a regiment of different state company militias would be, a very showy motley bunch!

      I can understand with the swish and stylish exotic Zouave uniform fad or fashion how they made it into the Bronte fictions in the 1830s and indeed they pose a challenge for Imagi-Nations games about spotting whose troops are whose, if no standard uniform colour for each side exists.
      Thanks again for the insight. Mark, Man of TIN blog.


  3. Inspirational conversions,cunning plans and the alike. I really enjoyed your post. I look forward to seeing the troops in action .


    1. Thanks Alan. Hopefully they should be in skirmish action in the next week or two, fighting to Featherstone rules of course! I look forward to making some fresh Airfix reinforcements as well, in between flits to 54mm and 15mm! Hope your painting is going well. Mark, Man of TIN.


  4. In regard to the commandos the one with the bazooka could become an artilleryman. The sub-machine gunners might look a bit out of place, unless you cut away the weapon and use them as more gunners!

    Conversions in HO scale relying mostly on paint jobs are more forgiving than in 1/32 because modern combat uniform details are less obvious at that scale. I remember Terry Wise did that kind of thing with Africa Corps as zouaves (although the rifles are a bit short for muskets).

    I once played a Bull Run game at 1/32 on my drive way. In panned out the same. Confederate troops moved troops by train to concentrate at one point and a blue clad unit of Confederates inadvertently fooled the union into delaying firing at the until it was too late.


    1. James
      I like your ideas for the Airfix OO/HO commando bazooka conversion into (Zouave) artillery. The dying man will fit the artillery bill too, the man with TNT detonator box etc whilst the half body canoeists may become signallers or artillery or standard bearers. with a quick graft onto spare bodies.
      The sub machine gunners I think are due to become space marines.
      As for 1/32 commandos into zouaves, only a paint bash will tell if they make convincing zouaves at a distance – I think probably not. WW2 Matchbox and Airfix Japanese infantry (and pirate copies) with soft caps and rifles do make reasonable ACW infantry with a simple paint conversion to bulk out other regiments. Even down to the havelock neck sun protectors that were sometimes worn.
      Mark, Man of TIN blog.


  5. The Airfix ACW figures were in fact brought out again by BUM (Barcelona Universal Models, IIRC), some years years ago, although not by complete sets; scenery and other items were added instead. I just checked with the BUM website, however, and their ACW sets now include completely different figures. Also, PSR does not list the sets at all, so they are again out of production. Nevertheless, these old sets may be found in dusty corners in small shops, so it’s worth a look.

    Chris Johnson


    1. Many thanks for your detective work – I recently bought a delightful colour illustrated book called Airfix’s Little Soldiers by Jean Christophe Carbonel which features all the box artwork and pictures of the figures, almost like Plastic Soldier Review in book form. Looking through It mentions BUM figures reissues, not a company I was aware of.

      Luckily in those ” dusty corners” that we all dream of, I recently found a small stash of blue box Airfix 1970s including some ACW in a charity shop – and bought the lot there and then. Ditto some boxed Airfix figures lurking at the back of a computer gaming shop. I have also been given a 1970s biscuit tin of mixed Airfix figs mostly on sprues by a work colleague who has retired and who modelled American railroads – both groups of which seem not too brittle. I will feature these lucky hauls on the blog.

      I just wish Airfix would reissue their historical figures, on a consistent basis, and so strange that they missed the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War but covered the Somme and Waterloo. Puzzling.
      Best wishes, Mark Man of TIN


  6. 1979. Made zouaves using Airfix Legion Etrangere, Made State Militias with Airfix Napoleonic Prussians. And made the Charleston Dragoons using Airfix French cuirassiers! ACW cavalry wath a mixture of Airfix and Atlantic.


  7. Thanks Victor – my Zoauves from Airfix British Commandos were probably made around the same time (early 1980s) as ACW figures became hard to find in the shops, as did Foreign Legion figures.
    Never got as far as cavalry conversions – I preferred Atlantic ACW 7th cavalry due to the horses fixed on bases.


  8. What fun!

    Back in the 1980s I used to play ACW games at the Cambridge Wargames Club with Pat Wallis, and he made his Louisiana Tiger Zouaves by cutting off the top of the helmets of Airfix WWI French soldiers to turn them into straw hats … it was a surprisingly effective conversion, and I have a small battalion of them done in the same way.

    He also used Airfix Waterloo French Cuirassiers to make the Charleston Light Dragoons … but he had them at regimental strength whereas in fact they were just a company! In my youthful ignorance I followed suit so I too have a full cavalry regiment of the blighters!

    (These two units were Pat’s favourite formations, and I soon learned that the best way to beat him in any wargame was to concentrate all my artillery fire on them and wipe them off the face of the table as swiftly as I possibly could, after which he suffered a kind of demoralisation effect the like of which no rule book could ever prescribe … )


    1. Great memories – thank you for sharing!
      A clever strategy, you knew your opponent – hit the pretty favourite regiments first, the others will soon go home.
      My scruffy regiments didn’t have this kind of spit and polish favouritism problem.

      Hmm, I’m tempted to try this hat trick on a bashed old French Poilu.

      Zouaves worked well enough with British Commandos as there were lots of these boxes around in shops, whereas Late 70s early 80s Airfix WW1 and ACW figures were a scarcity in my local shops. I remember people advertising for sale and wasn’t in the back of the magazines.


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