Saturday, 4 September 2021

The Field of Battle

"... 'Twas the Sabbath that rose, 'twas the Feast of St. Bride,
When the rush of the clans shook Ben Nevis' side; ..."
The Day of Inverlochy by Iain Lom of Keppoch

In this post I am going to cover recreating the battlefield on which the miniature armies are going to fight.

Determining the precise location of the Inverlochy battlefield is made easier as we know that the Covenanter's left flank was close to the castle of Inverlochy, the ruins of which still stand at the edge of the modern town of Fort William.  We also know that, to avoid forewarning the Covenanters of his attack, Montrose had marched through the hills to the east of the main route down the Great Glen, from Kilcummin.  This would have brought the Royalists to the foot hills of the Ben Nevis range, in a position facing almost due west, overlooking Inverlochy Castle, the Lochy river, and Loch Linnhe.

We know that Auchinbreck drew up his force on a low hillock near the castle.  Despite the changes that have taken place over the last 370 years, with the town of Fort William, with its roads and railways, sprawling out over the battlefield, the hillock where the battle site memorial stands must surely be the battle ground.   This is my view after studying the present day Ordnance Survey maps and walking the ground as it stands today (as much as this is possible in urbanised Fort William!).

I'm not aware of any 17th century maps off the battle or area, but there are plans drawn in the early 18th century when the nearby Fort William was being expanded by the Williamite government as part of its pacification of the Highlands.  These typically show the 'Old Castle of Inverlochy' and so provide some interesting insight into nearby settlements etc. as well as an interesting view of early cartography!  See the Robert Johnson "Plan of Fort William with the country adjacent , in 1710" as an example.

Auchinbrek's position on the small hill, with his left flank resting on the castle, and probably with his right flank refused, curved back to the loch, was an improvised defensive position against an enemy of whose numbers and precise location he was not sure.  Montrose's approach march, in winter, through the Scottish Highlands, had given the Royalists the element of surprise, and left Auchinbreck without an opportunity to manoeuvre.  The one downside to the Covenanters' position was that they would be fighting with their back to the unfordable River Lochy and Loch Linnhe.   This situation no doubt contributed to the large number of casualties once the Covenant army broke and ran, many Campbell clansmen being drowned as they sought to escape.

With this interpretation of the battlefield I began to plan my wargames table.  The key items broke down to: the castle, the small hill on which the Covenanters deployed, the river / loch behind the Covenanters, and the higher ground from which Montrose would advance at the start of the battle.  I knew I would want to sail Argyle's birlinn on the table so I had to adjust very slightly the shape of the river and loch.  I performed some rough calculations, assuming the Covenanters formed up with the regular lowland battalions and Argyle's regiment in the front line, that they made up about 1,500 men, and they were fighting 6 deep.  The result was that this would fit nicely on a classic 8' by 6' gaming table.  Here is my stylised plan.

I was toying with the idea of making some terrain boards myself but I discovered Adrian's Walls ( offered a service of building customs setups using modular boards in polystyrene. (Note that currently, in September 2021, sadly I don’t think this service is offered anymore.)  After an exchange of emails, and a couple of phone calls, I commissioned the very helpful Adrian to build the terrain boards.

Next I needed a castle.  Inverlochy castle is a classic design with four round towers joined by straight curtain walls.  Hudson and Allen (supplied by Vatical Enterprises produce a very nice 25mm castle set which fitted very nicely.  Sadly there is no UK stockist I could find with the castle and so I had to import this piece.  Hudson and Allen also do some very nice highland cottages which I would use as an inconsequential but attractive pieces of side-terrain.  They use an expanded foam to produce their buildings.  I am amazed this isn't used more often rather than the typical resin.  It is much, much lighter, and therefore much more robust.  The detail seems to be just as good as that from resin as well.  (Must be down to a more complex manufacturing process I assume.)

Adrian wanted to use the actual model castle to ensure that the moated area he was putting in to the model boards fitted the model.  I therefore sent him the castle and building which I also commissioned him to paint.  A fabulous job he did, I think you'll agree.  Note the nice bridge across the moat which Adrian built.
The final board, with the the castle and village buildings, I think, looks fantastic.  I wouldn't use the terrain for general club terrain, as it wouldn't hold up to the heavy wear and tare, but as home or show use, it is brilliant.  Here it is with the battle in full swing.
Even with the troops on table, it can look a bit bare, and as I was planning to use the game as a demonstration at a show,  I needed to 'dress' the table.  I gave the Covenanters a camp.  Assorted camp followers from various manufactures (see, a lovely wagon with team from Warlord, baggage from Ainsty (, a wagon from Warbases (, and plastic tents from Renedra ( got the camp done.  Some marshy scatter pieces placed along the shore line helped in that space.  I also used some stone walls and fields to add further interest.

I wanted to add some height to the table dressing and I thought trees would fit the bill.  Inverlochy was at the start of February and so no leaves on trees.  I could have used Scotch Pines I suppose but I wanted something deciduous.  I completely failed to find commercially made deciduous trees without leaves.  I therefore had to resort to make some.  I used Woodland Scenic tree armatures as a base, and after scouring the railway modeller blogs, came across sea-moss as the thing to represent the fine, small branches that make up a healthy tree in the winter.  Sea-moss is easy to buy on eBay.  Gluing the stuff on to the Woodland Scenic armatures was very fiddly, but once done, and after a spray of brown matt car paint the trees looked rather nice.  I even got a complement at a show from Rick Priestly, which sort of made my day!

As a final garnish, what Highland scene could go without some Highland cattle?  Here is my herd from Warbases and Gripping Beast; the shepherd and dog from Warlord.

Until next time - Alba gu bràth!

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Speed, Bonnie Boat

"Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing,
Onward! the sailors cry;
Carry the lad that's born to be King
Over the sea to Skye."
Lyrics to the Skye Boat Song by Sir Harold Boulton

I remember learning the Skye Boat song as a 'wee nipper' at school.  Perhaps my fascination with the Stuarts goes back to this point!   The Scottish west coast, with its Hebridean islands such as the Isle Skye, continues to hold a romantic attraction in popular culture, and remains a destination with a wild and untamed beauty.   The mountains, glens and islands of the west coast have always been a place apart from the lowlands; an area joined together by the sea and sea-lochs, rather than by roads.  Inverlochy lies at one of the important entry points to these salt-water routes.  

This is an area where any significant travel, before the modern era, could be faster by boat, rather than by land, across the trackless mountains and glens.  Sea power had controlled the west coast and the isles even before the coming of the Northmen who settled there with their longships. The descendants of the Northmen and the islesmen had evolved the famous 'Viking' longship in to the highland galley, or Birlinn, a Hebridean vessel also powered by oar or sail.  Birlinns were able to beach on most shores, and provide speedy travel around the whole north western sea-board of the British Isles.

By 1645 sea power had shifted to the bigger and better armed square rigged ships from the South.  The local Hebridean birlinns were no match for square-riggers in the open seas, but were still very handy in-shore craft.   Easily able to cope with the shallow lochs to the open firths, birlinns were the ultimate way for a western clan chief, and his followers, to travel.  

No surprise then that in 1645 the Marquis of Argyle had the largest and best equipped birlinn on the West coast.  Why suffer the discomfort of riding over the rough terrain when you could cruise in comfort up Loch Linnhe to Inverlochy castle by birlinn.  Inverlochy castle, like many medieval Scottish castles, was built with easy access to the sea-lanes.  The castle stands at the mouth of the Lochy river ('Inver' meaning mouth or estuary) where it flows in to Loch Linnhe, providing easy access to the loch, and sea beyond.

At the start of the Battle of Inverlochy, Argyle, at the entreaty of his followers, retired to his birlinn moored on the nearby Loch Linnhe, to watch the battle in safety.  Allegedly, Argyle had fallen from his horse a few days earlier, dislocating his shoulder, and this was the reason given that he could not take part in the battle.  

At full sail, and under oars, Argyle's Birlinn glides along Long Linnhe, while on the shore the Campbell army prepares for the onslaught.

Argyle's birlinn, moored on the shore of the loch next to the battlefield, was an iconic part of the battle for me, so I had to ensure the terrain included some of the waterways, and I was going to need a boat.  Ships and boats in 28mm are becoming more popular but there isn't yet a commercially available birlinn.  I was going to need something scratch-built.  The obvious place to start for the hull was a viking longship.  As mentioned above, the longship is the ancestor of the birlinn and for my purpose would work well.  There are mdf and resin hulls available from some wargames manufacturers, but I thought the Revell model kit would provide something of the right size (it is a 1/50 model which is close enough to 28mm) and it is also a plastic kit so is great for conversion.  Stocked by Warlord. .

With sails furled, the oarsmen take the strain, easily outpacing the smaller craft to aft.

At this point I was very lucky to be able to hand-off the Birlinn project to one of my best wargaming buddies who is an absolute modelling whiz, and also loves all things nautical.  He borrowed a couple of my books on birlinns, and then we kicked around some ideas for what Argyle's birlinn might have looked like.  We decided to have some small 'castles' at the bow and stern to emphasise the grandness of this birlinn.  (This matches much of the birlinn art seen on medieval Scottish coins and heraldry.)  My buddy then went to work on constructing the final piece.  Apparently the most challenging part of the build was converting the Revell hull to be a waterline model.  In the end this was done by hand, with a fine saw.  A tiller and rudder were added, and then minimal rigging.  (Full rigging this sort of model makes it almost impossible to game with.)  The sail was designed to be removed so that it could be shown set, or furled.  (This is how it comes in the kit - well done Revell!)   Most of the crew are Scots artillery crew or officers.  Some Dixon 19th century navy rowers were converted to Scots with Bonnets for the oarsmen.  Highly speculative, but possible, are a couple of swivel guns.   A smaller tender was also added, to allow Argyle to come ashore in comfort.

The sails were painted black.  This was to represent the description of Argyle's birlinn setting sail, to escape from the battle, like "a great black bird of ill omen".  A Campbell banner with the black and yellow gyronny pattern was also added.  The finished thing is a fabulous model and sets the whole battle off very nicely.  A totally unique piece.  A massive thank-you to Dave!  May your modelling knife and paint brush long continue to inspire us.

At the end of the battle of Inverlochy, the last resistance of the Campbell clansmen was clustered around Auchinbreck and the Campbell banner.  Finally the banner dipped, Campbell morale was broken, and all that was left was for those who were still on their feet to try and escape the Royalists.  However, with the river and loch at their backs many Campbells found themselves trapped.  Some tried to swim the freezing waters, but any hope of rescue from their chief was dashed as Argyle's birlinn set its black sail, and escaped down Loch Linnhe, away from the fateful scene on the shore.  Argyle's birlinn had saved him, but the manner of his departure did nothing to improve his reputation, at the time, or since!

I hope you will be tempted to add a nautical element to your battles with Montrose and MacColla.

Until next time!

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Colkitto's Son

Alasdair, son of handsome Colla,
skilled hand at cleaving castles,
you put to flight the Lowland pale-face:
what kale they had taken came out again.
'The Day of Inverlochy' by Iain Lom McDonald

Alasdair MacDonald, or MacColla, was the archetypal Highland hero who in 1644 through 1645 led the Scots Royalist 'Irish Brigade' in the ‘year of miracles’.  His story would make one hell of a Hollywood blockbuster, and it was reading his biography by Stevenson that started my interest in collecting a Scots Royalist army.

Finding a suitable figure to represent MacColla in my wargame army was going to be a tall order!  Both Eureka Miniatures and Warlord sell figures aimed at representing MacColla, but neither of these figures really did it for me.  I was therefore left with having to convert something.  The MacColla figure had to be tall (his was alleged to be a giant of a man), and have a definite Scottish feel.  I also wanted to represent his claymore that, according to legend, included a sliding weight to add that extra bit of impact to any strike.  Although quite probably a fantasy this ‘vorpal’ blade would really set off the figure.  This final figure is made up of a Eureka figure, two separate Foundry figures, a TAG figure, and some Green Stuff.  I think the resulting figure looks suitably commanding, and should strike fear in the hearts of his Covenanter enemies.

To accompany MacColla I used two of Warlord’s brilliant highlander range.  These two represent MacColla's bodyguards: Dubhaltach MacPhee and Calum Mor MacInnes.  (Probable translation: Black-haired MacPhee and Big Calum MacInnes!)  I have one wielding his own deadly claymore (from the Warlord MacColla figure pack) and the other (converted from a normal Warlord highlander) carrying MacColla’s yellow colour, inspired by the wonderful Project Auldearn blog.

MacColla was the younger son of a clan chief, of a minor MacDonald sept.  Hi father was known colloquially as Colkitto, or Coll Ciotach in Gaelic.  Colkitto would be worth his own Hollywood movie, as he probably got his epitaph for being crafty!  Being a MacDonald aye this time meant that Colkitto and his family were arch rivals of Clan Campbell, and were always at odds with the Campbell chief, the Marquis of Argyle.  Colkitto, and his sons, feuding with Argyle and the Campbells led the them spending a lot of time imprisoned by the Campbells.  No surprise then that MacColla spent a lot of his early adult life with relations in Ulster, away from Argyle’s power base in the Southern Hebrides.  It is in Ulster that MacColla learnt his trade as a soldier.   As a large and imposing figure, he quickly gained a reputation as a fighter, and he seems to have also developed in to an inspirational leader and a canny tactician.

At the start of the conflict in Ulster MacColla was fighting in a mixed Protestant-Catholic force against the Catholic rebels in Ulster.  He had some notable successes in the smaller scale actions there and is sometimes credited as creating the infamous highland charge; a single, close range, volley of fire, followed immediately by a charge to contact. (Even if this tactic was introduced to the Scottish Highlands by MacColla, it is likely that it originated in, and was brought back from, the fighting in the Thirty Years War on the continent.)

When the Scottish Covenant government, led by non-other than Argyle, sent forces to support the Protestants in Ulster, old rivalries came to the fore and MacColla was forced to switch sides to the rebels to save his own skin.  He was warmly welcomed by the rebel forces, along with his followers.  When the leading Royalist in Ulster, the Duke or Ormond, raised a brigade of infantry to send to Scotland MacColla was the natural choice to lead them.

After landing in Scotland, despite his fighting credentials, MacColla wasn’t perceived by the Scottish highland chiefs to have sufficient authority to lead a war in the King’s name against the Covenant government.   Providence then brought MacColla and Montrose together.  Montrose, as the King’s Lord Lieutenant, brought the required legitimacy, and Montrose desperately needed MacColla’s men.  Over 1644 and 1645 Montrose and MacColla combined ran rings around the more numerous, and supposedly more professional, Covenant forces sent against them.   History remembers the noble Montrose as the sole leader and military genius behind the victories.  What part did MacColla have to play in the victories?  Well that makes a fine topic for wargamers’ discussion, preferably over a wee dram!

Until next time - Alba gu bràth!

Slapping On Some Paint

Have no fear of perfection - you'll never reach it.  Salvador Dali

Warning!  This is not a "how to paint figures" tutorial.  Rather it discusses the trials and tribulations of turning the lead mountain in to table ready figures.

When I first started playing wargames as a child the biggest hurdle to overcome was being able to afford enough toy soldiers to sufficiently fill the table for a game.  Every figure purchased or gifted was eagerly painted, based, and on the table in double-quick time.  Now in adulthood, of course, it is different.  My shelves sag under the weight of the great unpainted horde.  I can afford to buy the little lead and plastic marvels far faster than I have the time to paint them.

To compound the lack of time, big battle games need a fair few figures.  My interpretation of Inverlochy has about 500 figures to cover both armies.  The lead mountain is intimidating.  I don't think I am alone here.  Looking at the games becoming popular at the moment there is definitely a move away from big battle games to 'skirmish' games, with reduced head-counts of figures required.    Given enough time I can paint to a table-top standard that I'm happy with, but I realise I am painfully slow compared to hobby friends.  As my Inverlochy project progressed it became clear that, if I was ever to realise my dream of re-fighting Inverlochy on the table top, then I was going to need help.  I was going to have to 'out-source' some of the painting to the professionals.

This was a big step for me as up to this point I had always painted everything in my wargames forces myself.  There is a very strong 'do-it-yourself' and 'do-it-for-cheap' dogma at the roots of wargaming, probably going all the way back to H. G. Wells original book 'Little Wars'.  The good side of this is that the hobby encourages us all to get better at many crafts and skills.  The flip side of this for me was a feeling that I had to do everything myself.  In the end it was a choice between getting things done in a reasonable amount of time, and holding on to the DIY ideal.  Getting things done won! Now, when I look at the progress made after getting help, it was easily worth the investment for me.  (What is more, getting past the first psychological hump of having two small forces table-ready, has encouraged me to go on building my mid 17th century collection.  I am probably more productive now than I have ever been.)

Through recommendations from friends, and also using friends who do a bit of figure painting on the side, I was able to secure the services of a couple of people to help paint my 'mountain' at a cost that seemed reasonable.  It needs some time and effort to find the right people, and also to agree the style and colour palettes I wanted to be used.  Also people aren't necessarily familiar with 17th century fashion.  But it was definitely worth it in the end.  A mountain of lead was eventually turned in to two table-top armies.

For painting guides I recommended two Ospreys:

  • Men-At-Arms Series 331 Scots Armies of the English Civil War
  • Warrior Series 21 Highland Clansman 1689-1746 (despite the date in the title it covers the ECW period very nicely)

I decided to keep the basing of figures 'in-house', so to speak.  I also added the pikes for the pikemen, and the Colours for ensigns or cornets (see a future post for more details on flags).  This has helped me maintain a single overall 'look' to the armies.   I have done some of the figure painting myself.  I do enjoy the painting/modelling part of the hobby, and so I kept favourite parts of the miniature armies to paint myself; mostly command groups, vignettes, and artillery.

Here's an example of one of the command groups I painted.  None other than Alasdair MacColla, the 'Devastator'! (More on him in a future post.)

When I started this project I was still a died-in-the-wool enamel painter.  White Spirit fumes were part and parcel of the job of painting for me.  I had a set of colours, built up over many, many years that I was happy with.  All of my gaming buddies switched to acrylics years ago, but switching was just too big an effort for me.    Despite that fact that many of the figures were not painted by me, this project has gotten me far more in to the paining and modelling scene.  Eventually I decided I would give these new fangled acrylics a try.  A starter box of 16 Vallejo colours got me going.   Twelve months after the initial experiment I can now say that I have fully made that switch.  I even use a wet palette!  I do really like how easy it is to squeeze out a few more drops of paint from a dropper bottle.  I'm still building up that repertoire of colours, but I don't think I will go back now (Humbrol Enamel Matt Black 33 is a great brush-on undercoat however!).  I don't think my figures look any better (yet) but it is easier / faster, and my white spirit habit is receding :-).

This picture also shows an example of my basing.   I used Warbases for all of the bases (  Great company.  Super product and very helpful team.  I like the 2mm thick stuff they do.  My post on Building the armies ( covers the details on frontages etc.  For the command bases I typically use circular bases, and use whatever size fits the vignette that I have tried to create.

The painted figures are varnished and then glued to the MDF bases.  Following this a mixture of PVA glue, filler (known as spackle in the USA), and acrylic paint is liberally applied to hide the figures' bases, and sharp sand sprinkled on to the still wet mixture.  When dry this is highlighted.  Once the highlight is dry (very important to let it dry!) then static grass and hobby bushes are added with the help of thinned PVA glue.  Finally the base edges are tidied with a dark brown marker pen (I found black a bit too contrasty).

For bases I can't find a better colour than Humbrol Matt 29 Dark earth.  I have used it in enamel and acrylic (and spray can).   I haven't found another paint to match it.  I highlight this with cream or beige.   I used Army Painter Steppe Grass for the static grass.  Quite a dark blend, but seemed to fit right for the Highlands of Scotland in a wet February.  The 'bushes' represent the dried out heather which goes brown in the winter.  Busch Brown (3 Colour) Foliage is the best I have found so far.  Amazon stock it in the UK.

A final word on varnishing.  I prefer a nice matt finish.  At the start of the project I was using Humbrol Matt Coat.  I have gone off this.  Perhaps I've had a bad batch but this doesn't seem as good to me as it once did.  MacColla above has already started to go a bit shiny.  I prefer to brush on my varnish, and I am now a convert to "Daler Rowney Varnish: Acrylic Matt Varnish".  Very matt, very good (also available from Amazon)!  You do need to give the bottle a blooming good shake though.

Until next time.

Monday, 3 September 2018

The Tyranny of Choice

“The onus of supply rests equally on the giver and the taker.” General George S. Patton

In this post I’ll go through the figure manufacturers that I’ve used.  I like variety in my wargames units and so I often find myself using multiple manufacturers.  I know that many people pick a single manufacturer's range and then stick with that.  However I like an irregular look to my units so normally end up with a mixture.  If I can build a unit without a single duplicate figure in it then I am a happy bunny!

The ‘English Civil War’ is now a well supported period by figure manufacturers and even the fringe parts of the conflict, like Montrose, are covered.  I never expected to use a single source for my Inverlochy battle, but I perhaps didn't expect to end up covering quite so many.  Perhaps this is the collector coming out in me.  Here are the manufacturers I’ve used, presented in the order I started buying figures from them.  I bought the first figures in the early 2000s; this has been a slow burn project!

Please note; what makes a nice war game figure very much comes down to personal choice.  The views below are just that.  I would suggest anyone gets a few samples of a range before jumping in and making a big order!


Foundry’s ECW range, sculpted by the Perrys, was ground breaking when in came out in the late 80s (or was it the 90s?).  Historically accurate 17th century soldiers!  No more musketeers in lobster pots or left handed pikemen.  It is still a quite extensive range with lots of diorama fillers included as well. Most importantly for me it includes a good selection of Highlanders.  Indeed, until Warlord came along, The Foundry Highlanders were one of the only choices in 28mm.  The sculpting style perhaps looks a bit dated now, but I have a huge fondness for these characterful figures.  Any foray in to this period by me is going to include at least a sprinkling of Foundry.  Still one of the limited number of places to go for period dead horses and artillery limbers!

Old Glory

Old Glory 25s are sold in big packs and I at first hoped that their ECW Highlander packs would bulk out my Foundry Highlanders.  Although they fit with Foundry size wise, their style doesn’t suit me.  I have only used 1 or 2 figures from the packs I bought. Not recommended.

Front Rank

“Do they have an ECW range?” I hear you cry.  Well, no, but they have a very nice ‘45 collection including Highlanders. Very minor conversions may be necessary but they fit size wise and include some nice wounded/dead figures.

Perry Miniatures

I can’t say enough good things about their English and Scottish Civil War ranges. They are just lovely.  I understand that they set the size of the range to match their earlier Foundry work which perhaps makes them on the small side for today’s 28s.  My only regret is that they didn’t do more Highlanders.  I can’t consider a regular foot or cavalry regiment without including some of these.

Eureka Miniatures

Just as I was starting to think about this period a discussion thread on the old WECW Yahoo Group started about this mysterious antipodean company who make figures on demand.  All you needed were enough advanced orders.  Walter Morrison, from the wonderful Project Auldearn blog, was the driving force behind getting a range of Irish and Stettin based Highlanders produced. I happily invested in the venture and a nice range of figures were produced. (See Project Auldearn for superbly painted examples.)  They fit well style wise with the Perry figures. I think they are a bit small though. Even compared to the already small Perry figures. I have used some of these, especially the Irish brigade figures (which are not so small) but few of the Highlanders.  If you are using mainly  Perry then I recommend the Irish Brigade figs. from Eureka. Otherwise I think you may find this range too diminutive.

Warlord Games

My whole project stalled for some time, partly due to a lack of being able to find enough figures that I liked enough.  Then came Warlord games, galloping to the rescue like John Wayne in a Western movie!  Luckily for us 17th century wargamers, John Stallard at Warlord is a huge ECW fan, with a special interest in the war in Scotland.  So, as well as plastic box sets for generic infantry and cavalry we also got superb metal ranges for the Irish Brigade and (be still my beating heart) Highlanders! Hoorah!  These ranges re-started this whole period for me.  They fit well with Perry and Foundry and so Warlord have become the biggest proportion of figures in my collection.   Needless to say, highly recommended.

Some highlights of the Warlord range.  Many of the Highlander and Irish are available as box sets and as individual figures! Yes, you read that correctly, individual wargames figures.  Not very common nowadays.  Perfect for getting your wild, irregular clan looking just right.  The plastic cavalry horses are great figures and size wise more accurate than most metal ranges.  I wanted to be able to show a difference in horse size between the large English Hunters and the smaller, wiry Highland nags.  So in my collection well mounted cavalry get Warlord plastic horses, and others (Scots, dragoons, etc) get Perry horses.  The plastic ECW sets are also great for conversions and Warlord do lots of nice metal extras such as Scots bonnets and lances.  Warlord also have a great range of civilians; who doesn’t need a Hedge Harlot for their camp followers?!

Redoubt Enterprises

Quite tall and so don’t fit well with my preferred Warlord/Perry/Foundry.  I have a few Redoubt civilians from their Three Musketeers range. Useful.

Bicorne Miniatures

A very complete range. On the big side so don’t fit well with my collection. I have included one or two as “the big lad” in the company.  They are a bit mixed. Some are gorgeous sculpts, some not so much.  If you are going for the bigger size of 28mms then this is the range for you.

The Assault Group (TAG)

TAG have a nice Scots range and also a Thirty Years War range.  They fit size wise with Warlord/Perry/Foundry.  Some of the sculpts don’t do it for me, but others are great.  I have just one or two of the command figures. They have some nice mounted officers, but I’m not keen on the horses.  Worth checking out. They have a well illustrated website.

So that is it.  Probably not a complete run down of all mid 17th century 28mm figures, but I think there is probably something there for everyone.   Although I have enough figures table ready for Inverlochy, I am (of course!) still buying figures.   Packages from Warlord, Perry and Foundry still arrive at my house with alarming regularity, so I would say these are the top three, respectively.

There are some interesting new manufacturers from Eastern Europe appearing that have some tempting ranges.   I'll wait to get some in my mits before commenting further.  The pictures I have seen look astounding.  If you have any recommendations then please post in the comments.

Until next time!

Thursday, 23 August 2018

Raise High The Black Flags

"Raise high the black flags, children. No pity. No prisoners. I'll shoot any man I see with pity in him. Forward!"  Sergo Zakariadze as Field Marshal Gebhard von Blücher in the 1970 film Waterloo.

The large colourful flags carried by the infantry in this period are surely one of the big visual attractions to wargaming the British Civil Wars.  With a lack of uniforms it is often a unit's flags or Colours, as they were known, that help us to differentiate units, just as they were in the real wars of the mid 17th century.

Some Colours (infantry flags) and Cornets (cavalry flags) from the British Civil Wars are documented.  Some of the design patterns are known which allows others to be inferred.  We are then left with guess work for the rest.

Great sources for the Colours carried at Inverlochy, and any other battle involving the Scots, are:
  • 'Scots Armies of the 17th Century Volume 2: Scots Colours', by Stuart Reid, published by Partizan Press.
  • 'Scots Armies of the 17th Century Volume 3: The Roaylist Armies 1639-46', by Stuart Reid, published by Partizan Press.
Regular Covenant foot regiment Colours typically had a white field with the colonel's crest in the centre of the field, for the Colonel's first company, and then nine company colours with saltires for the remaining nine companies making up the (ideal) regiment.  Now, even though I think the flags look great, 10 flags to a wargames unit feels a bit excessive.  I decided to scale this down to two Colours for a regular regiment.  During a battle the Ensigns carrying the Colours, one for each company present, would typically be formed within the protection of the pike block.  Two Colours for my model regiments would mean I could have the Colours carried by the centre two figures in the 3 ranks of 6 figure pike blocks I use.   I think it sets off the Regiment nicely, also showing the Ensigns safely protected by surrounding pikemen.

Obviously there was no set system for flags carried by the irregular highland units.  My assumption is that some my have had no flag or standard, but some important clan figures, especially the chiefs, may have some sort of banner including their heraldic symbols.

Covenant Colours

For the Covenanters I hoped that Colours for the regular foot would be easiest to track down.   
Much like the variety of figure manufacturers, I have also used a variety of 28mm flag producers.  I have included links in the description below.

Roughe's provisional battation was made up of 8 companies from the Earl of Tullibardine's regiment.  Tullibardine's Colours can be inferred from a set captured at Preston in 1648, a white field with a red saltire for the company colours.  GMB Designs do fabulous 25/28mm flags and as fortune would have it GMB covers this regiment.
One of the things I really like about the GMB Covenant flags is that they produce them showing the writing on the Colour having been painted on to one side of the material of the flag, and has then having 'leeched' through the silken material, in mirror form, on the other side.  Great attention to detail!

Cockburn's provisional battalion was made up of 8 companies from Wauchope of Niddrie's regiment.  Unfortunately no Colour is documented for Wauchope's (that I have found so far!) and so I was left with a free hand.  I decided to go with a generic blue field white saltire set, the classic colours of the St. Andrew's cross, again from GMB.

The colours for Argyle's regiment can be inferred from a set again captured at Preston, which are based on the Campbell heraldic colours of black and yellow.  The Colour has a black field with a yellow saltire.  GMB also do this flag.  All great so far!

In one of the accounts of the battle of Inverlochy it describes the Covenant last stand being made under the 'great Campbell banner'.  It is not clear exactly what this looked like, but the black and yellow gyronny pattern is a fundamental part of the Campbell's coat of arms, and would make a great flag.

As a conjectural Colour I couldn't find this from any of the commercial flag producers so I painted this myself, not too tricky as it is a relatively simple pattern.  I have used this colour on Auchinbreck's command base.

Being made of a light material 17th century flags were relatively fragile, and being the rallying point for their unit, they were often in the thick of the fighting.  Therefore I like my flags to show some wear and tear, especially those belonging to veteran units that have seen plenty of action.  This can provide a nice visual key to troop experience.  Fresh, inexperienced units, will have pristine flags, while grizzled veteran's Colours will show some damage and wear.  During the period it was not unusual for a captured colour to be little more than a few tatters left on the flag pole.  I hesitate to go this far for my veteran units, but some rips and tears are good to show the unit has seen combat before.

There are no records I have found of any other Covenant Colours at the battle, probably because the remaining troops were irregular highlanders.  I decided to give a couple of the highlander units Colours with simple heraldic devices.  As part of the wider Campbell clan I kept with the yellow and black colour schemes.  I created these by 'photoshopping' the heraldic symbols and printing out on paper.  I then painted over the printed flag to produce the final version.

Royalist Colours

No examples of the Irish brigade's Colours have survived but their Colours were described by one contemporary source.  Due to the brigade's fame with wargamers several commercial flag producers include inferred Irish brigade designs.  I went for those from Body's Banners.  I gave them a lot of 'weathering' as befits the Colours belonging to veteran unit, and also used a fine line marker to add a bit of contrast to the intricate details.   Despite the contemporary descriptions there is no indication of which designs went with which Irish regiments and so you have a free hand here.

One Royalist colour that must have been at Inverlochy was the Royal Standard of Scotland, presented to Montrose by King Charles.  It would have been the presence of this Colour, before anything else, that would have told the Campbells that it was Montrose and his whole force that was before them on that cold February morning.  In some accounts Montrose has the Royal standard unfurled to a fanfare of trumpets and so this is how I have represented Montrose's command base.
Anyone who produces flags for Montrose's army always includes the Royal Standard.  I have used the one from GMB Designs, with the addition of some black lining and some shading around the standard pole.  The trumpeter is from Foundry, while the Montrose figure is a converted (I changed the hat!) Warlord figure on a Perry horse.  The Standard is carried by a Perry Scots figure.

I also wanted to have a flag for MacColla's command base.  I took inspiration for this flag from the great Project Auldearn blog, .
I used Photoshop to tweak slightly, printed it out, and then painted over the printed version.  You can see that I added some battle damage to this flag as well.  Couldn't really expect MacColla to not have been in the thick of the action!

Since I produced this base Flags of War have started to do some nice Scots Royalist colours, including some that use this design from the McDonald heraldry.  I have started using Flags of War for my latest projects and highly recommend them.  See their site here: .

I then wanted some standards for the Royalist Highlanders.  There were quite a few different clans present in the Royalist ranks and plenty of high-ranking clansmen, but I went for two which had easier / eye catching heraldic banners.  The Camerons red and yellow striped banner is unmistakable, very pretty, and easy to produce!   Flags of War (see above) also do a nice Cameron flag in their '45 range.
This is a simplified version of the Maclean of Duart heraldry.  One account talks about the "great green Maclean banner" and so that is why I went for green.
Finally I wanted a troop Cornet (cavalry flag) for Ogilvie's troop.  This isn't recorded, and it is possible they didn't carry a flag.   I used this colour that was carried by Montrose's cavalry in his ill-fated 1650 expedition.  It is produced by Body's Banners (see above).  

Preparing Flags

I have had several comments from people saying they liked the way my flags appeared to be flowing in the wind, so I thought I would share my process, which is quite simple.  All the flags I have used are paper based; both the commercially available ones (which I believe are inkjet printed), and my diy jobs which are inkjet printed on to ordinary photocopier paper.  

1. I cut out the flags using a sharp modelling knife and a steel ruler, on a self-healing mat.  (I get a straighter edge than using scissors.)

2. I pre-fold the flag and check it on the flag pole to ensure that the corners all match-up.  (Most of my flag poles are brass 'pikes', cut short.  17th century Colours had to be flourished one handed, and so  the poles were not much longer than the depth of the Colour; just enough to get a good hand hold.)

3. The magic formula for sticking the flags together is Pritt (other glue sticks are available!).  I give one half of the inside of the flag a good coating of the non-sticky sticky stuff (they do a blue stick which dries clear, but allows you see more easily where you have glued while still wet).  I then add the pole in to the flag and fold over, being careful to make sure the corners match up.  

4. Before the Pritt dries you have a bit of wiggle room to match up the corners.  If you have not cut out the flag perfectly square then you may find the two halves of the flag do not overlap perfectly.  Trim with small scissors.  Also at this point, with tweezers, I press the flag up tightly against the pole, making sure they are no gaps left at the top and bottom.

5.  Now the fun part!  Before the Pritt dries, bend the flag to make it look likes it is flowing the wind, and being flourished. The Pritt makes the paper quite malleable.  I try to make gentle folds in both directions and axis.  As the Pritt dries the flag will unbend a little, so you can be quite firm with your bends, but avoid creases.

6. Now is the time to add any battle damage to your flag.  I use a pin vice and drill to punch holes, and the craft knife for tares.  If the tares at the edge, then a bit more gentle folding.  Rolling corners of our tattered flag around a paint brush handle can help to give nice curves.

7.  Leave the flag to dry.  I leave them overnight to be sure.  It will be quite stiff when dry.  

8. The most critical part of the process; now paint the edges of the flags!  I can never quite believe it when I see people who have painted lovely figures and added lovely flags, but the flags have a paper white edge all around.  I often find that inks work well for this as it soaks nicely in to the paper.  I sometimes shade the flag a bit, and also add staining (dark brown washes) to taste.

9.  A warning.  Pritt is fabulous at sticking paper to paper.  Not so good at sticking paper to brass.  You may find that your flags will loosen from their poles over time.  A small dab of super-glue will secure it.  However, I have found this flaw useful on occasion for making it easier to swap flags, so think carefully before applying the super glue :-) 

That was a much longer post than I was expecting,  just to cover the Flags.  With Flags of War's offerings no available we really are spoilt for choice on commercial offerings.  No excuse to not bedeck your force with all sorts of colour and Colours now!

Until next time!

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Building The Miniature Armies

"Troops who march in an irregular and disorderly manner are always in great danger of being defeated."  De Re Military by Vegetius.

This blog entry covers my rationale for how I formed the units of miniature figures to represent the two armies.

When deciding how to represent units on the wargames table a number of things have to be taken in to account;  figure size/scale, figure ratio to actual unit strength, wargames rules, and most importantly what looks pleasing to the eye.

Figure size.  

When I first imagined wargaming Montrose's battles it was always going to be in God's own figure size, 25/28mm.  The real armies are small enough that this figure size is easily feasible in terms of cost and size of table, and nothing beats the look of a nicely painted 28mm figure.  There are also lots of manufacturers of figures and terrain in this scale.  We are living in a golden age for wargamers and we really are spoiled for choice.

A Pleasing Wargames Unit.  

My next step was to work out what size and shape of unit would like nice, to me, when placed on the table.  I emphasise "to me" as this really does boil down to personal taste; with this taste being based on our experience of playing games and the influence of the wargames eye-candy we come across at shows and in the wargames press.

It seems to be the 'norm' (down our way any how) to base 28mm infantry figures four to a square base, in two ranks, each of two figures.  Therefore, as a starting point, my infantry units are going to be made up of these four figure bases.  In this period of history regular infantry units were typically made up of one-third pikemen (pike) and two-thirds musket-men (shot).  The shot was typically split in to two 'wings' which were formed up on either side of the central block of pike.  On this basis a wargames unit of mid 17th century soldiers can be represented with six x four figure bases of shot and three x four figure bases of pike.  Three bases of shot formed up on either side of the pike shot then looks pleasing to my eye, and seems a very common approach taken by other wargamers in this period.  It looks something like this.

My chosen size and configuration for a regular unit of pike and shot, with a rabble of irregular highlanders in the background.
The observant will see that I have already departed from my starting point as I have 3 ranks of figures in the unit of pike.  This is based on the colour parties (the chaps carrying the unit's standard and those charged with protecting them) being formed with the pike rather than the shot, and also because I just think it looks nice to have slightly deeper pike blocks!

Historical note.  

At this time in the 17th century the infantry typically formed up six ranks deep, both pike and shot.  Even with a small battle like Inverlochy (less than 5000 men in total) it will be necessary to have a figure to real men ratio of something like one figure to ten or twenty real men.  This is so we can fit the battle on to a reasonably sized wargames table.  Therefore we have perhaps 36 figures representing 500 men.  So the figures take up an area approximate to the real men they represent I'm happy using two or three figure ranks deep to represent six real ranks as a necessary wargames abstraction.  

Highland Irregulars

This regular infantry formation suits the Irish brigade regiments in the Royalist army, and the lowland  regular infantry battalions in the Covenanter army.  However, one of the things that drew me to this battle was the fact that both sides also have lots of irregular highland infantry.   These would be fighting with, for the most part, what ever arms they possessed.  They would be drawn up behind their clan leader in loose formations and would not be fighting in regular ranks and files.    If I used my 'standard' two by two, four on a base method then these highlanders would look too regular.  My standard four figure base is 40mm by 40mm which doesn't leave enough room for 28mm figures to look like a disorderly rabble.  I was discussing this conundrum with another Friend of General Haig (our wargames club) who suggested making the bases deeper than normal.  I liked this idea and went step further and went for 60mm by 60mm bases on which I would fit six figures.  This allowed plenty of room for a nice rabble effect, and handily meant that I was sticking to 20mm frontage per figure so that I could match frontages where necessary.

Some rules put highlanders in deep formations.  This is probably right for the moment that a charge swept in to an enemy unit.  As the irregular unit charged forward some would run faster and the less quick, or less eager would fall in behind leading to a ragged column by the time of impact.  However, information form the 1745 period suggests that 4 ranks was the standard formation for highlanders to form up in.  Gentlemen in the front rank, and 'arrant scum' filling up behind.  Therefore the highlanders would be in wider formations to begin with.  Allowing the highlanders to form up in something akin to an assault column from the start also makes them very manoeuvrable, something that these ill-disciplined troops shouldn't benefit from.  I decided to make up my highlander units of four bases of six by six figures.  This would make them suitably unwieldy and allow them to be out manoeuvred by a skilful, regular opponent.

Camerons and MacLeans prepare to start a 'Highland Charge'.
The picture above shows two such highland units on the table-top, supported by a regiment of Macolla's regular Irish.

Argyle's Highland Regiment

In my blog entry for the Campbell army ( I proposed this regiment being formed like a regular infantry unit but armed in a more traditional way.  I therefore set up the wargames unit with three bases of four lochaber axe men, three bases of four shot, and three bases of four bowmen.  I treat its as a regular unit but with different rules for the slightly different weapons.

Argyle's Highland Regiment, backed by the Campbell irregulars.

Ogilvy's Horse 

There was only one small unit of cavalry at Inverlochy; the independent troop of horse led by Sir Thomas Ogilvy.  This was a small unit of 50 men.  I chose to represent this with 8 cavalry figures.  Any less and it became a bit lost.  I used to base cavalry two figures to a 50mm by 50mm base.  Horse models seem to have become longer and so I have moved to 50mm wide by 60 mm deep now.  I form the unit 4 figures wide by two deep.

Ogilvy's Horse.
I hope this meander around how I have formed the wargame units to refight Inverlochy is useful.  Very much of this is just down to personal preference, so take or leave what you will.

Until next time!