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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Great War; Great Once Again!

For those who are interested in the Great War, the last few years has seen a boom in all sorts of media and games that highlight the bloody struggle that changed the world forever. This boom is not because the topic is gaining popularity, but rather it’s the fact that we are remembering the 100th anniversary of the conflict. Even after 2018, and the anniversary period is over I still feel that many of us who are amateur historians will enjoy greater company with a new wave of converts who got caught up in the boom.

Flames of War: Great War
While this is not new, I do have some new personal news to share. I finally got off my ass and painted the French and American forces I got many many months ago. The motivation was a hangover effect from painting my Team-Yankee Soviets and West Germans.  I got back into painting and I really wanted to knock these guys out. 

So sitting on my bench collecting dust was each of the box sets and some add-ons so I would have one of each blister and box.  My first project was the tanks, which was 4 Renault Ft-17s, 2 Schneider CA.1s, and 1 Char St Chamond tank. I will admit to being cocky and made the decision to paint all of the tanks in the French camo scheme. 


I found all of the tanks very easy to build and gave them a black base coat. The next step was painting the tank in the right shade of blue, which opened up other issues to me.  I wanted to use the paints I had on hand and try to match the color as best as possible.  I also knew that the same color was not only used on the tanks, but the guns, weapons, and uniforms worn by the French during the war.  Eric "Tarzan" Lauterbach gave me some advice before we recorded a podcast, “it’s the same color as the pants worn by Union soldiers in ACW”. This did not help me very much since I do not own any ACW figures; however I was able to find some blue paints in my collection that others recommend for both the French and Union pants.  I still played around with the shades of light blue I had and actually used a different color on the tanks than I used on the uniforms.

I used the Steel Grey for the base coat, Sky and True Blue for highlights 

After the blue coat, I realized I had the other colors in my collection and found that the French camo was easy to paint.  While it does not look as good as the ones on the Flames of War website, I felt it was close enough.  While the Renault tanks came in the US army deal box, I still wanted to paint them as French since I could not find a lot of data on how the US painted their tanks during the Great War. Plus, the tanks do look better in the camo scheme.

For the Poilu, I used Steel Grey as the main color over the black primer and I was happy how they turned out.  I also painted up some of the officers in the 1914 dark blue and red uniform, to give my army some flavor.  I found the French figures well-made and I even augmented them with some of the better made figures from my WWII French blister that I would never have painted otherwise.  I will say that the rifles on the French models are brittle and many came off during the painting process.  Much like my German and British armies from the past, I used the same torn up scenery on the bases by mixing wall plaster, some sand, and some Vallejo Brown Earth Stucco.  I also used some JB Weld plastic bond to make some shell craters on the bases.  I added some winter grass and overall I am happy on how my army turned out.

 My US Guns  

 I tried to make it look like the 75 at the USMA Museum 

Now for the Yanks!  I realized as I was gluing these guys on popsicle sticks that these guys are the first Americans I have ever painted.  Since I worked with Wayne Turner on creating the Marine and Harlem Hellfighter briefings, I wanted to paint each of the platoons using these two lists.  I know that the doughboy figures are not 100% accurate for either.  The Hellfighters wore US uniforms with French Helmets, weapons, and webbing for most of their time in Europe.  However I recently was given H. Charles McBarron’s “’Hell Fighters’ from Harlem” heritage painting from the Air National Guard and this picture shows them in full US kit. The picture was from their 29 September 1918 attack on Sechault France, so I decided to use that as my historical reference. This attack is also the one in which the unit was awarded by the French the Croix de Guerre.  For the Marines, I also know there were differences in the uniforms (besides color) the Marines and the Army wore.  General Pershing wanted the Marines to wear army uniforms and by the end of the war many marines looked like army troops.  Ignoring the style difference, I decided to paint one platoon as marines and I used Vallejo’s Olive Green paint for the basecoat on these figures.  I liked the way they turned out.

 Pretty close I think

Above, My Marines

I also split the HMG and Mortar platoons in half, painting two stand of each in as either Marines or Harlem Hellfighters. Since the US HQ platoon comes with 3 stands of French Flamethrower teams, I decided to paint those in the brown uniforms worn by colonial troops. 

I make it so I can use either mortar on these stands

Paining the Hellfighters was a bit tougher than expected.  For my only other ethic figures (Japanese, Indians and Gurkha’s) I used Vallejo Dark Flesh with a healthy dab of dark wash which worked out fine.  I tried many different shades and none of them looked just right.  I soon realized what my problem really was; it was not the color as much as the facial features of the figures which are Caucasian.  I ended up using Chocolate Brown with some Sepia wash, it will just have to do.
For the bases, I obviously wanted to use the Sechault background for the Hellfighters and Belleau Wood for the Marines.  The Sechault was done with a mix of quick drying clay and ballast, while the marines were done using the some of the rural plastic bases I had left which has broken bits of trees and branches on the ground.


The Hellfighters of Harlem

The last part of this project was the British Mark V* tank. I picked this up because this model truly is a “Landship”. The Mark V* is really just extended version of the Mark V so I just had to have one in my collection.  In fact the only thing I do not have in my Great War collection is the regular version of the Mark V tank.  I did not see much of a difference in the model other than the machine guns that were sticking out of it. Plus the Mark V* comes with removable sponsons which feature the Hotchkiss machine gun, so using these on my Mark IV tanks gives me Mark V’s.

As I am writing this Battlefront is having their sale on all the Great War stuff, while I could have picked up the Mark V’s, more FT-17 tanks, or an extra platoon of US and French infantry (my Brits and Germans have 3 platoons of infantry each) I decided against it because I am not playing as many Great War games as I would like to.

Electronic Warfare: Battlefield 1 & Verdun
EA Games newest installment of the Battlefront series was released recently which features the Great War.  I was a closed Alpha and an Open Beta tester on this game and I was excited for it to come out.  It is not that the Great War needed a shooter game, I have been playing Verdun for a long time and I can’t say enough great things about it.  For those who like the Great War or liked playing any of the Red Orchestra games will love Verdun.  Perhaps the only drawback of this game is that the games are limited to 32 total players on both sides and I rarely see many full games. Verdun focuses on the squad and is best to play with 3 of your gaming buddies. Verdun does not feature any of the flashy weapons that BF1 has, so no tanks, zeps, of dreadnoughts.  Verdun does do a great job on focusing on the war in the trenches where each side attacks or counterattacks multiple times during a game.

Battlefield 1 will not disappoint those who have played earlier versions of the game that took place in WWII, Vietnam, and in current conflicts.  You get all the usual stuff in the game, planes, tanks, guns, and even zeppelins and dreadnoughts, however the setting is  the Great War.  The maps cover the war on the western front, Italian, and desert theaters in stunning detail and in each game you see the nations who fought there, so along with the British, US, and Germans, you also have the Italy, Turkey, and Austro-Hungary in the mix.  No Russians or French, which is something they have to address in future expansions. 

Much like the preceding games in the Battlefield line, you can select from 4 classes of solders to play (assault, medic, support, and scout) and as you level up more gadgets and guns become available to you.  On the field of play, you can also find “elite” classes such as a soldier armed with a flamethower which reminded me of the similar feature found in Star Wars Battlefront.
Along with usual rush, domination, death match and conquest missions, BF1 features an operations which is are linked missions over multiple maps and a mode called “War Pidgeon” which you try to capture birds to call in artillery.  I tried the latter and found it for the birds in fact.
The neat new feature is the single-player feature which takes you on a tour of the war; from the air over the trenches, to the shores of Gallipoli. The game even starts with you fighting as a member of the Harlem Hellfighters and each time you die, a name of a soldier who died in the Great War appears on your screen.  I think the single player is a neat history lesson and I will check out this mode out some more in the next few weeks.

The formula for this game has not changed over the years, you kill things, if you kill a lot of things you get better stuff to kill with.  The reason why we come back for each iteration are the maps.  By far these are the best maps the series has ever had.  From sand storms in the Sinai to the city streets of Amiens, each map has a unique feel and a unique learning curve.  Maybe it’s me, but the maps just seem bigger and have more stuff in them.  So far I really love the Argonne Forest map, with the woods and the underground bunkers.

For folks thinking of passing on this title because of the setting, I would recommend that you try it.  Mechanics wise all the games operate the same but if you must have your missiles and choppers then you will never find out how fun it is to ride a horse!

More Media
In previous articles I mentioned how everyone interested in the Great War should listen Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History; well I have another podcast to recommend for you; the Great War Podcast   by Daniel Clark.  The podcast that Daniel started in 2014 is the chronological story of the war which is told in a clear, concise and sobering manner (everything “Why we Fight” isn’t).   New episodes come out every other month and he just released episode 47 which covers the climax at Verdun.  These are not 1 episode 1 battle podcasts, Dan did 5 episodes on the battle of Jutland alone, so you can see that not only is the podcast deep, but Dan is also my hero. Dan’s delivery is very deliberate and you can tell each episode is scripted, however it is easy to pay attention to and be on the lookout for the many puns or pop culture references Dan throws into some of the episodes.
I hope the recent wave of interest of the Great War grows and I can tell you about more products in the future, and I hope most of all to get my French and Americans on a playing table soon.
Twitter: @MitchWPPD

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