One of my kind older modeller colleagues at work, who is currently downsizing, handed me a tin that “might be of interest to me”.
Unopened for years, these appear to be relics of his late 1960s figure gaming days.
The heady smell of vintage Airfix plastic was the first thing I noticed.
A few Bellona vac-formed walls and a ruined house and bridge.
Underneath these were a surprising mix of old 1960s Airfix figures, some still on their sprues. Figures, guns, horses.
Like many Airfix figures, some of them are fragile or broken. Some of them are cut up ready to be converted.
A few WW2 British paratroops and a few scrapbox items aside, this was a fantastic and kind addition to what survives of my family 1970s historical Airfix figures although I am very conscious of how fragile some of these figures now are.
The bottom of the tin has a scurf of fragile broken bits of figure and the trimmed off kepis from past conversions.
I look forward to painting some of these figures this winter.
Blogposted by Mark, Man of TIN, 8th September 2017.
After an evening fiddling with Heroscape terrain hexes on my two portable gaming boards, I finally had a suitably cluttered landscape for an interesting solo skirmish game using my recently rebased vintage Airfix OO/HO American Civil War figures.
These veteran Airfix figures had been stored away and not seen any action since the late 1980s!
Landscape and scene setting
First of all, using hexes to cover the two wooden box lid portable game boards, I built a straight ridge (one hex wide and two hexes high) across the centre half of each board topped with grey Heroscape hex tiles to suggest a ballasted railway line.
A strip of blue felt between the two box lids suggested a ravine with fast flowing Hicksville River, too wide and deep for troops to cross except on the railway bridge. This river was effectively one hex wide but deep and steep edged.
This river crossing instantly created a defendable feature that bottlenecked any troop movement from either side.
The straight track from my “Train in a Tin” set (Apples and Pears or Fred Aldous Ltd) was laid along this grey ridge.
A very quick railway plank bridge had to be made. This was constructed with coffee stirrers, superglue and fast colouring with dark brown felt tip pens and black Sharpie pen edging. Not quite an atmospheric American covered wooden railroad bridge but functional enough.
A simple platform was made in the same way for the small backwoods forest halt of the good old AT & PR Railroad to match the tiny wooden railway hut that has featured in several games.
Other ridge features were set up along the box edges to create a pine ridge with some stony high ground and cleared forest with some impassable forest hexes with vintage Merit pine railway layout trees.
These Merit trees were the type that you see in Donald Featherstone’s photos in his 1962 book War Games; I bought some last year secondhand ‘For the Christmas Decorations Box’ – cunning. Indeed the rules used are my hex version of Donald Featherstone’s Rules for Close Wars appendix to his War Games, blended with some of his Horse and Musket era rules for the American Civil War in the same book.
Simple rules a dice thrown at each turn beginning to see who moves first, then who moves second fires first. Basically Move (Melee?) / Move (Melee?) / Fire / Fire. Casualty savings throws (d6 roll a six) to survive were used for casulaties hit by enemy firing only, not for Melee casualties.
Melee was done using the clever Kaptain Kobold dice reduction of my Duelling game, taken from Donald Featherstone’s excellent simple chapter ‘Wargaming in Bed’ in his Solo Wargaming. Each figure in melee is given two life or combat points (using counters or tokens), and the attackers declared as whichever side moves into Melee. Using one d6 dice, two opposing figures battle it out.
1-2 Attacker Hit (lose 1 point)
3 Both Hit, each lose 1 point
4 Neither Hit
5-6 Defender Hit (lose 1 point).
Firing range was four hexes for a rifle or musket, two hexes for a pistol.
Movement range for infantry is two hexes at a time, whilst climbing a hex high hill takes a whole move. Heights of two hexes or more are impassable without any form of adjoining slope with one hex at a time step up.
This deliberately narrows the movement options and crossing points.
Playing 1:1 skirmish level, 1 figure equals 1 man.
The year is late 1861, early enough in the American Civil War for the colourful Zouave uniforms to still be in confusing use and not have quite fallen apart.
The scene is way out into the back woods, mountains and pine forests of America.
The usual timetabled AT & PR railroad train is believed to be carrying Union troops and supplies through the Pine Ridge mountains over the steep and fastflowing impassable ravine cut through the mountain by the Upper Hicksville River.
Before the train reaches the stone edged tunnel through one of the Pine Ridge Mountains many steep and forested rocky ridges, it has to slow to cross the simple railroad bridge over the river ravine and also to pick up any passengers, mails or freight that might be waiting at the tiny wooden AT & PR halt.
Coerced or cooperating with Confederate forces, the AT & PR railroad official (seen wearing the bowler hat) has not warned the train crew that the track on the halt side of the river is blocked by several large tree trunks.
Have these logs ‘fallen’ or been placed there to stop or derail the train?
If they had wanted to, of course, the Confederate forces could have blown up the track, the bridge or the tunnel. This would inconvenience them as much as the enemy. Disrupting rather than destroying the railway line or capturing the train and any enemy troops or supplies it carries is a far more attractive proposition.
Stopping the train and destroying its union troops is the first Confederate priority.
For the Union forces, clearing the track and keeping the railroad going as a supply route to their forces throughout these hostile mountains and forests is the main Union priority.
Being captured for either side is not an attractive proposition, judging by reports of the disease-ridden prisoner of war camps run by each side.
Initial dispositions on each side are about 25 troops each with the option of reinforcements later (3d6 rolled to see which turn these arrive).
A small section of Confederate Zoauves and other Confederate infantry (overall about 25 men) lie in wait on either side of the bridge, focussed and ready, aimed at the Union side of the bridge as the train slows down. A proper ambush has been laid.
On the left side of the track are grey coated Zouaves with red hats carrying a “first National Flag” of the Confederacy, a section of McClellan’s Zouaves from Charlestown, South Carolina.
As the Union troops detrain to investigate and move the blockage, the Confederate troops are ready to open fire. A d6 dice roll ( Detrain 1-3 on left side, 4-6 on right side) was thrown for each section of Union troops to work out where they would detrain. Detraining both on the right, the train provides some shelter from the Confederate bullets on the left. First casualties occur on either side from rifle and musket fire along the river bank.
The Union Zouaves with red caps, blue jackets and red trousers with white spats or puttees are a section of Union 14th New York Volunteers (later the 84th New York Infantry Regiment) known as the “Brooklyn Chasseurs”. They are accompanied by a section of more normally clad Union Infantry. Again, overall about 25 Union troops.
Turn 5 – the train steams carefully away, unable to continue and heads back to pick up more Union reinforcements (3d6 rolled for the when return turn) and how many (3d6 for number of reinforcements).
Union troops can fan out across the few crossing points where the hexes alongside the train line are shallow enough to allow access on or off and across the track. This is all part of building a cluttered terrain that dictates or restricts movement and the shape of a solo game.
A bird’s eye view was taken (from an observation balloon no doubt) at a break in the game when the game boards were lifted off the table for a while (Folks gotta eat!)
The quickest way for Union troops to clear the track was to rush the bridge, despite the risk that they were advancing right into the killing zone formed of overlapping Confederate fire.
A game rule that a man could not climb any height higher than one hex at a time taking one whole move to do so meant that the railroad embankment formed quite a barrier to movement across each board.
Turn 5 – As Confederate and Union troops spread out and exchange fire along the river bank, the Confederate Infantry Officer is killed. Advice is rolled for morale on loss of officer aD6 roll 1 to 3 steady, 4 to 6 retreat in disorder. Troops affected roll again each move until they are steady and able to fire or move as desired.
Off His Own Hook
As in most of these Close Wars small skirmish games, troops shoot at each other or charge ‘hell for leather’ towards each other or their objective, fairly regardless of personal safety and often without much input from officers. Loss of officers does not bring my games to a halt. This creates a good, fast and gutsy game.
Reading the Osprey Combat book Union Infantryman versus Confederate Infantryman Eastern Theater 1861-1865 by Ron Field, this does not seem too unrealistic:
“…the Infantryman usually found himself fighting independently or to use the contemporary term “off his own hook” when engaged in close combat with the enemy. Only then did the true qualities of courage, mixed with a string survival instinct , blend with drill and training in order to define the infantryman of the Civil War from 1861 to 1865 (Field, page 5) …
“However as the Civil War unfolded, attacking forces were not necessarily mown down before they arrived in near proximity of an enemy armed with rifled weapons, but – due to the effect of black powder smoke, which obscured visibility – often managed to get within close range , where they exchanged fire until ammunition was expended. … Despite advances in tactics and technology, and rigid textbook training, the infantryman in close combat inevitably fought independently and “off his own hook” throughout the Civil War as the din of battle and loss of leadership took its toll. Thus, survival and success were dependent on personal courage, and on the drill and training received in preparation for battle.” (Field, Page 8)
” Off His Own Hook” – this is very much the case in my skirmish games.
By Turn 7 or 8 it was fairly clear with the steady losses that the game would soon be over so I decided to add reinforcements. 3d6 were rolled to see when Union reinforcements would return by train (Turn 12) and how many (15 troops). To be fair, Confederates were given the chance of reinforcement through the safety of the empty railway tunnel – so with 3d6 rolls, 10 more brown-coated Confederate Louisiana Tiger Zouave reinforcements will arrive in Turn 10.
Turn 9 – Melee on the bridge and amongst the track blocking logs. A Melee of Union officer versus Confederate officer, Bugler versus Bugler, infantryman versus infantryman – saw all three Union Infantry troops lost. Disaster!
The lone Union Infantry standard bearer from this unit is left alone on the Confederate side of the bridge and has to race back (Turn Ten) to his own side to avoid capture of himself and national flag. One of the Confederate Zouaves fires a shot and sets off after him …
I found that too many colour or command party troops means that this reduces the fighting numbers of infantrymen, so I deemed a quick new game rule that officers and standard bearers carry sword and pistol, whilst buglers carry a rifle (just like the Herald 54mm ACW Bugler) for firing and melee purposes.
Train crew variously carry rifles and pistols in hostile territory.
When in doubt, playing solo, dice options were written down such as in the Turn Ten picture. Here the small command group of Union Zouaves had the d6 dice option 1 to 2, stay put in / move into safe firing position, which they did, 3-4 retreat or 5-6 move forward into melee / rush bridge again.
Equally a random dice or card option to ‘do nothing’ or to ‘retreat in disorder’ could have been added.
Turn 10 – Ten Louisiana Tiger Zouaves appear through the tunnel, making the few outnumbered Union survivors doubtful of whether they will survive the onslaught. Only five scattered Union Zouaves survive including their officer, standards bearer and bugler, alongside one lucky Union infantry standard bearer.
Luckily a d6 dice roll (1,2 or 5 no train sound heard or 3,4 or 6 returning train hoot heard) means that the survivors hear a distant hoot and hold on, awaiting the train for rescue or reinforcements.
Alternatively if no sound was heard, a dice could be thrown to see if they stay put or retreat. They stay put, whilst the surviving Union standard bearer is sent back down the track to brief the reinforcements on the train about the situation at the bridge and river crossing.
Turn 12 – When the train finally arrives, the train crew and Union reinforcements come under Confederate rifle fire. Throw d6 for undercover train crew in cab – 1-5 no damage to train crew, 6 train crew hit, throw casualty savings throw of 5 or 6 to survive. Luckily no train crew casualties but already one Union reinforcement is brought down as he detrains.
The train departs again in Turn 13, before it can be captured and giving space to Union troops to move across the bridge again.
By Turn 19, only two Union standards bearers are left after several disastrous melee sessions for the Union and some well aimed fire from the Confederate troops on the other side of the river.
The timely return of the train forces a few of the Confederate Louisiana Tiger Zoauves back across the bridge, whilst pistol and rifle fire from the train crew supports the retreat of the two Union standard bearers. In melee, one of the Union standard bearers is killed.
Turn 21 – Leaving his usual flag safely on the train, the lucky Union standard bearer (from Turn 10) leaps down to retrieve the fallen Union standard, before the Confederates capture this.
The last shots of Turn 22 ring out as the fallen standard is carried back to the train, which steams backwards in retreat.
This last heroic act earns the lucky Union standard bearer my medal of honour for bravery (inscribed underneath his card base for future reference).
PR (short for Battle of Pine Ridge) is inscribed on the base of each of the surviving Confederate and Union troops.
An enjoyable game, with a Buchanesque ending, a game which could have a sequel if wished in future. Will the train with reinforcements return to unblock the crossing?
Playing 1:1 skirmish level, 1 figure equals 1 man, I was pleased to get a few of these vintage Airfix troops into action, albeit at Sergeant led Section level (15 – 30 men) or Corporal led Squad level (8-16 men) rather than Regiment or its ten companies of 64 to 101 men, or Platoon level (30 to 50 men). So I had a few more buglers, officers and standard bearers than strictly necessary for atmosphere or the look of the thing. Squads were apparently, according to Ron Field, divided further into 2 or 4 man skirmish groups known as ” comrades in battle”.
Who was that brave standard bearer? If I had had more preparation time, instead of making bridges, I would have ascribed individual names to the colour / command party figures and to the standard Union and Confederate regiments involved.
Now off to watch Buster Keaton jousting logs off the track from the cow catcher of a speeding Civil War train in his silent 1926 masterpiece The General … blazing covered bridges, cannons, troops and all. Marvellous clip at https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=aaWhqGVXILQ
I managed to finish my American Civil War skirmish today with my rebased vintage Airfix figures – The Battle of Pine Ridge River crossing – fighting for a railway bridge over a rocky ravine cutting of the good old Hicksville River USA, sometime in 1861 whilst zouaves still had confusing uniforms.
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!
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.
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.
They were created or converted by repainting Airfix WW2 Japanese Infantry.
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! https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lew_Wallace
But are these 1983 Airfix conversions really Wallace Zouaves?
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.
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” …”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Good to see on many people’s blogs that these charming ACW figures have retained their nostalgic appeal.
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.