Friday, 18 July 2014

Goliath ships, witch burnings and naval catastrophes – The Scanian War

The AD16 from Langton Miniatures Anglo Dutch range 
here painted as Kronan.

The flagship Kronan (ENG: The Crown) was as its name implies the crown jewel of the Swedish navy during the late 17th century. Build at the Skeppsholmen Royal Wharf in Stockholm, and launched in 1668 weighing some 2.300 tons with its 105 guns and 800-man crew, this was one of the Worlds largest ships of its time.

The beautifully decorated stern of Kronan.

Kronan showed ambition, and was intended as a true testament to the military might of the Swedish Empire, which was at its pinnacle during these years. What tied together the Empire with its possessions in northern Germany, Finland and the Baltic states was the Baltic Sea. However Denmark, with it’s superior navy and naval tradition, had historically ruled the Nordic waves. But Sweden intended to change all that, as Kronan would outmatch anything that could be mustered by the Danes.

Kronan; 105 guns and 800-man crew.

With the outbreak of the Scanian War in 1675, it was time to finally teach the Danes a lesson in naval might. 

Sweden’s expansion into Empire was fueled by a deep-rooted military tradition, and left it with a highly capable and innovative army staff, with commanders and tactical doctrines superior to their adversaries. At the same time, the expansion into Empire had also spawned a new race of government administrators with inspirational figures as Axel Oxenstierna (The Richelieu of the North) as their role model. One of these upcoming administrative career sharks was Lorentz Creutz.

Lorentz Creutz, 1615-1676.
Witch hunter and Admiral on Kronan.

Coming from noble decent, Creutz had made a career as regional administrator, at first in some of the Finnish territories but later, and more famously in some of the native Swedish areas.

In 1669 the witch hysteria broke out in the Swedish region of Dalecarlia. Around 90 people were pointed out as being in league with the Black Lord himself, and some of having abducted a score of children to Blåkulla (ENG: Blue Mountain). A few women were even pointed out and accused by their own daughters; others had their name added to the list by use of torture. A trial was arranged to test the dubious innocence of these foul Satanists, and the honorable Lorentz Creutz was appointed to lead it. He hastily left Stockholm to attend the proceedings.

The flames of a hot stake - sure to cleanse the body of any evil.

Out of this colorful bunch of peasantry amounting to 90 people on trial (many elderly women), some were completely freed, as they were children, while others simply had their execution delayed due to pregnancy. However the court managed to convict some 30 people, who were put to the stake – enough to give a good show. 

30 people, mostly elderly women, 
were put to the stake as a result of the witch trials executed by Lorentz Creutz.

 The children who had so willingly acted as witnesses were all thoroughly whipped, in order to cleanse them of any “evil”. A black and ominous atmosphere hung over Dalecarlia in these days, and it is said that the women of the Mora Shire came together to cast a curse on the man leading these horrible proceedings, Lorentz Creutz.

An attempt to recreate the colorful stern in 1:1200 scale.

The King, so overly pleased with Creutz’s handling of the situation, promoted him to a seat in the Royal Council in 1673. Creutz was the man of the hour, and in the King’s eye a natural choice when looking for a capable man to lead the Swedish Navy in it’s coming test of strength with the Danes, with the main tactical objective of opening the seaway to Sweden’s German possession, badly in need of reinforcements. 

Creutz proudly boarded his beautiful flagship Kronan in Stockholm mid-May 1676, and the impressive navy set sails out of the archipelago and on to a southwards and what would prove to be fateful course.

Claas Uggla 1614-1676.
Arguably one of Sweden's best admirals ever.

A Danish naval force of some 42 ships lead by the talented Dutch Admiral Tromp and assisted by Danish naval legend Niels Juel, awaited the Swedes at Öland in the Baltic Sea. Creutz directed a fleet of 57 vessels, and was assisted by perhaps one of Sweden’s most able naval commanders, Claas Uggla. The scene was set for an epic struggle.

The Battle of Öland 1st June 1676.

The Danes, upon seeing the huge silhouette of Kronan in the horizon, were naturally cautious, and left the initiative to the Swedes. Creutz, perhaps feeling extra empowered as he stood on the bridge of the massive Kronan, starting making a series of very complex manoeuvres. One such order was to turn up against the wind, and thus attain a better line at the awaiting enemy.

Kronan approaching the Danes at full sails.

The Danes watched in amazement as the giant ship started this alluring dance, and was subsequently tossed around in the waves. In all the excitement of finally getting to deal out doom to the Danes, Creutz and his second in command had forgotten to give the order to close the gunports, and Kronan started to take in a lot of water as the wind pushed it down on its side. This upset the balance of the giant ship, and it quickly capsized. This embarrassment would however turn into a catastrophe for Creutz.

Kronan's apocalyptical end.

With the Danish navy as a stunned audience, this now capsized goliath of the waves and pride of the Swedish navy suddenly exploded into a huge fireball, throwing burning bodies and wooden debris high up into the air. 

All eyes, Swedish as well as Danish, turned in amazement towards the apocalyptic spectacle. The unthinkable had just happened.

The Swedish navy was all but decimated at Öland.

The ensuing naval combat was by all means lost by the now morally zapped Swedes, although testament must be given to the bravery of Claas Uggla, who fought to the bitter end on his surrounded and burning ship, Svärdet (ENG: The Sword), and duly went down with it.

1:1200 - bring out the thin brushes!

After the battle the completely scorched body of Admiral Lorentz Creutz was found floating amongst the debris, only identifiable by his nobility signet ring. I imagine one or two of the women in Mora Shire were not too surprised by his grim fate, and by the cast curse now manifest. 

The Kronan wreck has been a rich source 
for artifacts, uniforms and weaponry.

Kronan went down with only 40 survivors of its 800-man crew. Today the wreck is well preserved and many dives have been made, with finds of artifacts, uniforms, coins and weaponry constituting the core of the Kronan Exhibition at museum in Kalmar next to Öland. 

Thank you very much for reading!

Thursday, 10 July 2014

French Skirmish Line – 1870

Lignards, officers and chasseurs clinging on the their position.

This unit is in a way an ode to my friend Barry Hilton of Warfare Miniatures, and his “I wanna tell you a story” approach to basing his figures. The idea to create a playable unit, but basing it with all the drama and animation of a vignette caught my imagination, and I decided to give it a go.
After flicking through my jpg collection of Franco-Prussian paintings, I settled on the classic image of a French Franco-Prussian skirmish line, holding on heroically while suffering murderous losses. 

"The Line of Fire" Painting by Pierre-George Jeanniot 1886.
Museum of 1870 - Gravelotte.

For those of you familiar with the work of Édouard Detaille, Alphonse de Neuville and Pierre-George Jeanniot, you will recognise this national romantic melancholy sting, which were present in many of the Post War French paintings, as France digested the result of the war and mourned the loss of Alsace-Lorraine.

Detail: a wounded soldier rests his back 
against the wrecked wheel of a canon.

My storytelling unit would take inspiration from Pierre-George Jeanniot’s “The Line of Fire” from 1886. The painting is enormous and extremely impressive. Today it can be seen as part of the permanent exhibition of the 1870 Museum in Gravelotte, so in a way it came home.

Detail: a dead chasseur offering cover to his comrades.

When it became time for basing, I used my standard Victrix 40x40mm bases, a set of three constituting a standard size unit. Now, I wanted to also be able to play this as a skirmish unit, so each base should be able to work on it’s own. It was a welcome challenge, and the result left me with an appetite for further experiments.

Base 1/3

Base 2/3

Base 3/3

As part of my study on the French army of the Franco-Prussian War, I’ve recently acquired the French Military Drill School manual for officers in the infantry. Published 1870 and containing the updated regulations of a decree from 16. March 1869, it’s the most recent version before the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, and the version that would have been carried by the French officers to the battlefields in Eastern France.

"Manæuvres de l'infanterie"
1870 edition published by Ministére de la Guerre 
in collaboration with Librairie Militaire de J. Dumaine.
Paris 1870.

Offering quick reference tables of fire distance to kill on approaching infantry and cavalry along with a multitude of manoeuvres and rules of deployment in the field, this manual gives one an interesting view into the tactical development within the French army of 1870.

An interesting insight to French infantry tactics anno 1870.

So, why did the French apply such defensive strategy during the Imperial campaign of the Franco-Prussian War? One reason is the overcautious almost passive French high command, but interestingly another was the French infantry’s awareness of their superior Chassepot Bolt Action rifle. Beside offering the opportunity for infantry to fire and reload while kneeling or lying down, the Chassepot would out-reach the German Dreyse Needle Guns by more than the double distance (1.200 meters vs 590 meter). This compelled the French, who by no means were strangers to gallant but often fruitless counter attacks, to take up defensive positions and await the approach of the German infantry.

Bird's eye view on the unit.

The Germans in their turn, would rely on a smooth and effective high command using the synergies of having the initiative, the dash and grit of their infantry tactics but most of all, they would enjoy a decisive superiority in artillery, bashing any and all French defensive position with their state-of-the-art Krupp artillery. This is perhaps best illustrated in the losses suffered by each side. Statistically a German soldier would die from a Chassepot bullet, while a French lignard would become a casualty to a Krupp shell.

Thank you very much for reading!

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Thirty Years War figures from Horcata Miniatures - A Review

Horcata Miniatures Light Cavalryman.
(The Horse is Front Rank)

When visiting SALUTE this year I had arranged to meet up with Czech miniature producer Emil Horky, the owner of Horcata Miniatures. Emil was there for the second time, and was accompagnied by his son who is also interested in the hobby.
It was a real pleasure meeting the Horkys, and their miniatures deserve some attention here on the blog. Something for all you interested in the Thirty Years War or ECW.

Same miniature seen from the other side.
Lovely clean sculpting with clear details = easy to paint!

I first found Horcata Miniatures when searching the internet for really good Thirty Year War miniatures in 28 mm. For me this means modern sculpting, naturally proportioned miniatures and reasonable prices.

Their website give away Horcata Miniatures as a very personal project run by a period enthusiast, and my God the miniatures were fantastic. Sculpted by Paul Hicks, and with both cavalry and infantry in abundance, I couldn’t keep away.


The figures are delivered carefully wrapped and packaged.
There is no branded packaging or extras, just high quality miniatures.

Cuirassier discharging pistol.
Perfect for your caracole formation.

The range is sculpted by Paul Hicks, and in all the positive ways imaginable this shows.
It’s very clean and crisp sculpting, with well-proportioned miniature looking incredibly inviting to paint. Also there doesn’t seem to be a lot of recycled figures/poses. They all look very individually made, and this will of course add character to the finished units.

Size Comparison:
Left to right: Foundry, Horcata and Warlord.

The horsemen are about 30 mm from heel to tip of the head.
This is about the same size as for instance Warlords plastic ECW cavalry.
Comparing them with Foundry and Warlord, I find Horcata mixes very well with both,
and should anyone have a collection in the mentioned makes, I wouldn’t think twice about mixing in some of the Horcata minis, even in the same units to spice them up.


Each figure is GBP 1.40 - cavalry and infantry alike.
However, the horses will add an extra GBP 1.90 (see Range),
so each cavalry figure is really GBP 3.30 per figure & horse.
Foundry is about GBP 4.00 per figure & horse
Warlord metal blisters are about GBP 2.33 per figure & horse.
Warlord plastic cavalry about GBP 1.66 per figure & horse.

Light cavalryman skirmishing

At the moment Horcata offers 17 different cavalry figures and 33 different infantry figures. That is actually really good, when considering in a normal plastic kit you’ll get 2-4 dollies with a few arms/heads options. So there is real potential to add some character to your ranks with Horcata.
A note about the cavalry; Horcata offers only the riders. Each miniature is sculpted with saddle to fit the horses from Front Rank Miniatures, which is OK, as long as you’re aware of this. 

The infantry range is full of character!

The website contains both historical info on the Thirty Years War, a blog with regular updates on the range and a webshop which helpfully have imagery showing the miniatures washed in black for better view of the sculpting. 

Lovely animation in the sculpting.

Rating: 8/10. 
Horcata Miniatures would get a clear 10 points for the quality of their miniatures, but with a deduction for not having their own horses and the lack of branded packaging (which could really push this amazing product) I’m at 8 points in total. 

So, dear Wargamers - if you don’t have these minis in your TYW or ECW collection, you’re missing out on some real characters for your ranks.

Thank you very much for reading!