Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The 'Garde municipale de Paris'

Paris, being the heart of France, always had it's very own guards. After the revolution, this guard went through several stages of organization, slowly deteriorating in men and functionality in the latest years of the 1790s. Therefore, the Garde municipale de Paris (or 'Guards of Paris', as I'll call them from now on) where created by personal decree from Napoleon Bonaparte himself in 1802.

Members of this troop had to fullfill some interesting criteria: they had to be between 30 and 40 years old, more then 1.65m tall, able to read and write and (!) they should have to be involved in at least five army campaigns. In other words: the Guards of Paris where not some background police dudes hanging around, they were real war veterans.

Their duties were the same as for the Gardes d'honneur in major cities or the Departemental reserves - they were responsible for inner security, guarded governmental infrastructure, patrolled in the streets, guarded prisons, city gates and protected governmental officials.

The Guards of Paris were organized in two demi-brigades, totally 2154 men strong.What is a bit tricky about this unit is the uniform documentation. Due to several sources claiming this or that configuration for the same time frame, it's a bit hard to say how the uniforms really looked like at this or that time. Although the general colours are of no doubt at all, this problem mostly is about cuff shapes and bearskin/shakos. Therefore, I had to decide for a certain variation in case of the tirailleur/voltigeur figure.

The basic uniform colour of the 1st regiment was green with red cuffs'n collar. The 2nd regiment wore it's uniform with the same colours the other way 'round. For the drummers, I basically found two versions: the one with the golden rims and the reverse-colours version. Well.

In 1806, both uniforms received white uniforms. Sitting at the center of the distribution chain, it is confirmed that they really got those uniforms. The distinctive colour of each regiment - red or green - remained. After the white uniforms were abandoned, they switched back to the old ones (what a waste of money, eh?).

What makes this unit interesting for wargamers is that here you have a 'militia' or 'city guard' unit with veteran status. Plus it makes a bright and colourful appearance.

The Guards of Paris were active on the battlefields from 1806 to 1812. Two batallions were involved in the campaign against the Netherlands and later took part in the occupation of Hamburg. In 1807, they took part in the siege of Danzig and the battle of Friedland. Detachements of the guards also fought in the battle of Alcolea, Bailen and Burgos in Spain.

In 1812, the Guards of Paris got involved in the coup d'etat led by general de Malet. The coup was quickly put down, the guard's colonel and his staff were shot and the Guards of Paris were disbanded. The infantry was used to reassemble the former 134th line infantry regiment, which later took part in the battles in Germany throughout 1813, were it was utterly destroyed.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

The men behind the lines - French departmental reserves of the Napoleonic era

Okay. Let's learn something, shall we? This is going to be a long read, but it contains a lot of information about another not-so-usual aspect of the Napoleonic French military. 

When I started my 'paint all units in PreBardin-style uniforms'-project, I thought it was all about painting battlefield military units. Well - after a while I learned that I was totally wrong. I come from a country where you have the army on one side and the police on the other side. While the army is responsible for protecting the country against foreign enemies, the police is responsible for internal security. One side carries the big guns'n'stuff while the other one is equipped in order to deal with criminals, riots and keeping up public security.

Back in the days of Napoleon Bonaparte, this wasn't the case in the same way throughout Europe. In many states, the king or local nobles payed for armed units that served as a militia which local nobles or representatives sent out to carry out police-like duties. This 'state militia' was the root from which the gendarmerie evolved, a paramilitary force that - in wartimes - often was used as light cavalry or horseback infantry. In other states, this function was carried out by the king's guards.

When I first discovered that there was something like a reserve army in behind of the line army of Napoleon's France, I was really puzzled. I read about 'reserve regiments' especially in the Prussian post-1812 army organisation structure, but the French counterpart wasn't only about creating regiments that were just for filling the gaps in the field army's ranks, the French departmental reserves were an armed body that carried out actual tasks. 
For the project, things got even worse when I found out that the larger cities also had their own military units, called 'Garde d'Honneur' - and that these also had their very own uniforms. So there was an army behing the army behind the army.
When I already thought to have painted most units, the number raised up again. Oh. My. Goodness.

As there were so many of these companies, painting them one by one would have shot the number of necessary drummer and officer figures under the ceiling, resulting in buying boxes of figures just for getting enough of just two figure types. On the other hand, I thought that people would like to see the system in behind of the different uniform colours. So the idea was born to put one figure per company onto one display. But making the groundwork for a marching block of more then 30 figures was a nightmare - and that's why I just finished this project a few days ago after a period of at least eight months from which I finished the last of these figures. Now here it is. 

By decree of May 1805, France created reserve companies for the internal security business of the countrie's departements. The size of the specific companies differed according to the population size and financial power of each departement. Actually, these companies were positioned somewhere between the gendarmes and the regular troops. Their duties were the protection of the justice apparatus and key infrastructure (prisons, prefectures, archives, depots) plus being a guard for official representatives. With having the reserve companies under their command, regional governors, who were the local representatives of the emperor's authority, received their very own armed force. 

To build up that reserves, the total number of conscripts of each year was split up - while one part went to the regulars, the others went to the reserve companies. The other way round, conscripts that didn't perform well in the reugular regiments were send to the reserve and vice versa. Officers were either retirees from the line regiments or magistrates. 

From behind, they look almost all the same

Being in the reserve nevertheless meant being a soldier - laws and regulations were the same. The prefects as commanders were responsible for the quality, morale and payment of their troops and had to write regular reports about troop conditions to the ministry in Paris. Nevertheless, reserve recruits were not to expect medals and a military career. The daily business of the reserves was guarding buildings and roads, catching deserters, guard prisoners and protect public officials. Apart from that, regular exercise and weapon training guaranteed that the reserves were always able to fill up the ranks of the line regiments. 

The departemental reserves were no doubt being considered to be real soldiers. Some reserve companies even went into direct combat, for example in the Peninsula or to counter the landing of British troops in the Walcheren area. Eastern departemental companies took part in the fighting during the 1814 campaign on French soil. In Napoleon's view, the reserves were a big pool of supply for the grande armee. Every now and then, hundreds of men were drawn away by the emperor's decree in order to fill up the losses of the line regiments or even to build up new regiments. 
Seven different distinctive colours in four combinations each

By the table, all departemental reserves were equipped in the same way as the linen fusiliers. In order to give each departement's force a specific distinctive uniform, the ministry invented a colour code. The methodology was simple. There were seven basic colours: white, poppy red, dark green, yellow, orange, purple and black. The first seven legions (companies) wore their distinctive colours on breas, cuffs and collar. The 8th to 14th on breast and collar, the 15th to 21st on breast and cuffs and 22nd to 28th on breast only. Drummers wore the company colour code in reverse order.
Drummers wore reverse colours
close-up: note the differences in the colour code (cuffs, collar, breast)

By 1807, bicornes were replaced by shakos. Due to decree of 1808, the blue uniform was replaced by a white one, but in the same way as this was handled in the regular army, the colour was switched back to blue again without many companies even having received the new uniforms. As I found no documentation on which company actually got a white dress, I decided not to paint them at all. 

The result looks really nice, doesn't it? It's certainly the largest 'unit' of this project so far.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Bodyguards - the Velites de Turin

To strengthen his reign, Napoleon Bonaparte put a lot of his relatives onto European thrones. Sometimes, there had be certain arrangements to be made to secure them. At least, so it seems if you look at the Velites de Turin.
They were created in March 1809 as a battalion in order to protect prince Borghese, Napoleons brother-in-law, who served as governor-general for the French departments in northern Italy. 

Having guard status and officially being part of the Imperial guard, they wore guard uniforms. Originally, most of the ranks were build up with Italian men while the officers came directly from the French guard grenadiers.
The Velites de Turin fought actively in the battle of Leipzig, mainly in the covering of the French retreat. They were also actively fighting during the campaign of 1814.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Guards of Venice

Well - here we have something rather off-line again. And things will - I promise - get even worse regarding the diversity of this Pre-Bardin uniform thing. I discovered a new book that brought up a whole new aspect that I didn't have on screen until now. And it brings new uniforms, new units... gosh... if I knew that before...

Venice, a former big European player during the centuries which had declined into a local player when Napoleon showed up, brought in it's very own guard unit when the army of the Kingdom of Italy was formed. Here it is:

Doesn't look spectacular, I know.

For the statistics, I have now painted 313 figures representing more then 60 different units. That's about 120 left to be painted - if I don't find more units.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Veterans of Rome

Here's another unusual unit represented for my Pre-Bardin-uniform project. It's a soldier of the Veterans of Rome.
I found this uniform in a book filled with old Knoetel uniform plates. Napoleon annexed the Papal States in 1810, following a number of disputes with the pope. At this time, the Papal State army was considered to be the most worthless of the continent. Whoever was found worthy of serving in a regular unit, was transferred to the regiments of the Kingdom of Italy.

However, there was still a bunch of men left - and as it was considered to have these people rather in a uniform and under some sort of control then having these men roaming the streets, the battalion 'Veterans of Rome' were raised as a military unit for local security purposes.

If used in wargaming scenarios, I would say that this unit is merely militia with a minus on morale and combat abilities.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Dutch Corps Israelieten - and a historical remark

In 1808, King Louis Bonaparte, ruler of the Kingdom of Holland by the hands of Napoleon Bonaparte himself, made a decision to raise an infantry unit exclusively from the jewish population of 'his' country.

The unit raised up to regimental status, although it suffered from never getting enough recruits. It was dressed in the same uniform as the 2nd light infantry regiment - the only difference was the shako plate, showing the letters 'CI' for 'corps israeliten'.

I wasn't able to find out what the main reason for creating this unit really was - some write it was because of the special jewish nutrition, some write it was all about promoting jewish citizens' rights. Whatever it was, as far as I was able to find out, the Israelites Corps never saw actually any battle and was disbanded in 1810, it's soldiers were put into other regular infantry regiments.

Because of this short lifespan, the regiment remains one of the oddities of the Napoleonic era, although all-jewish regiments had already been in service in Russia and Poland in the late 1780s. Receiving citizen's rights due to the Napoleonic juristictional reforms that took place in many French dominated countries, jews began to join the armies, although it seems that not many of them were actually recorded. Or perhaps it was something that noone ever documented very well.

When Prussia joined the Coalition forces in the liberation wars against Napoleon, jews had been given citizen's rights in Prussia as well. This led to hundreds of young Prussian jews joining the army, although an exclusively jewish unit never had been established.

I find this matter really interesting. In the archives of the 'jewish history' of the city were I grew up, you can find this picture:

These are jewish citizens who fought for the Kaiser during WW1. The man on the left must be a NCO who has been decorated with an Iron Cross. In fact, thousands of jewish men fought on the German side during the first world war. They were as patriotic as their christian comrades were and the merits they earned during the 'Great war' later led many of them to the fatal mistake that even a Nazi government would never commit atrocities to the former brave soldiers.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Re-start the whole photo thingie...

Hello and welcome back!

...and sorry for the long absence...

Well. I've been busy painting things for the FIGZ which I then wasn't able to take part to. Blame me. At least I have some entries for next years' competitions. One should always see the positive side of the story, right?

Well. I have a new job and some new private issues and a second book to complete and not much time for painting. Next thing is that I have mostly painted things I'd like to have complete before showing them here. That is, for example, the display with all French reserve infantry regiment representatives or, on the other hand, a US infantry line for the 1812 theatre. For the first, I have completed all the figures, but not the groundwork of the base, for the second, there are still 13 infantrymen that I need to complete. So... well. I have done something.

With completing the officer and drummer for Italian light infantry, I've finished the light infantry units for my pre-Bardin uniform project. I'll do the veterans and the Venetians next, so that my Italian army will soon be complete.

To compensate my photography troubles, I have now invested some money and bought myself a small transparent photo tent. I'm still in the experimental stage - it will take me some time to find out which positioning and lighting brings the best results. But as far as now, I'm pretty satisfied with my first snapshots. Well... the inlay needs to be either flattened or replaced with something smoother, but the overall snapshot result looks far more pretty than what I was able to achieve during the last months - which was, to be honest, one of the reasons why I stopped making photos at all. When the summer set in, the large trees in front of my windows filtered every sunlight replacing it with a smooth greenish light. Which is, in fact, a catastrophy if you want to make good photos.

For example, this is a closeup of a casualty figure. Please feel free to tell me what you think about the photo quality. Every hint is welcome. ;-)

When I've found out how to use this photo tent in its' best way, I'll take up my pre-Bardin Nappies and make a complete set of new pictures and then, I will refurbish the complete project catalogue. :-)