Friday, February 21, 2014

Scenics: Two Southern African Vultures

Vultures and carcass by Wargames Foundry (GPR63)

I'm a conservationist by trade, and did a lot of birdwatching in southern Africa in the 1990s when I lived and worked in Namibia.  It is not surprising, then, that my German-Herero War in miniature project includes scenic elements representing the indigenous fauna.  Yesterday I finished this scenic vignette of two vultures squabbling over the barest of bones.

The miniatures are from Wargames Foundry and I painted them up as two vulture species that occur in Namibia today, though they are less common than they once were.  On the left is a whiteheaded vulture (Trigonoceps occipitalis) and on the right is a lappet-faced vulture (Torgos tracheliotus).  They are competitors, and the lappetfaced vulture is dominant and will drive the other away from the food source: in this case the dismembered remains of a quadruped carcass, perhaps a small antelope, army mule or a calf from the Herero cattle herd.  I think this will add a nice, somewhat macabre touch to my gaming table.

Painted Honourable Lead Boilersuit Company Schutztruppe

The Honourable Lead Boilersuit Company no longer produces 28mm figures from its German Colonial line, but I have been fortunate to find several lots on eBay that have allowed me to put both mounted and dismounted Schutztruppe in the field.  I've repainted, and in some cases rebased them, and can now put four HLBS Co. officers, a senior NCO, seven riflemen and a maxim gun team on the field, along with the first of ten painted mounted figures.  A few of these have been previewed here before, but yesterday I finished the vast majority of them and a photo gallery appears below.

There are three duplicate poses, although in one case the figure has a bread bag and canteen that its twin for some reason lacks.  I painted them in different uniforms (khaki feldrock or kord waffenrock), which is particularly striking when comparing the two officers, below.

HLBS Co. German Schutztruppe painted for Southwest Africa, 1904

Major (left) in kord waffenrock uniform; Hauptmann (right) in khaki feldrock

Three figures painted in kord waffenrock uniforms

3 figures in kord waffenrock and the same three 3 in khaki feldrock
Command Group (Hauptmann, Oberleutnant Adjutant, Hauptmann, Major, Feldwebel) and mounted Ritter

Maxim Gun team and Feldwebel

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Copplestone Askari Conversion to Rehoboth Baster Abteilung

Copplestone Darkest Africa Zanzibari Regulars Marching
Copplestone Askari Converted to Baster Abteilung

There were two Copplestone Zanzibari Askaris in a mixed set of German colonial miniatures that I picked up a few months ago on eBay, and this week I decided to do a test conversion of one of them to see whether it would work for the German-Herero war as a native auxiliary from the Baster Abteilung.  The Rehoboth Basters or Bastards are of mixed ethnicity, and one photograph of the unit that served with the Germans during 1904-1907 shows them in light colored German corduroy uniforms with the white litzen removed from the collar and sleeves.

I had some Kneadatite epoxy putty, the "green stuff" that modelers and sculptors use for conversions, so I left one figure alone and gave the other shoes and a peaked feld cap, complete with a small imperial cockade.  In 24 hours this had hardened and was ready to paint.  I painted ed it up and based it tonight and am very pleased with the result.

 Possibly I'll try to sculpt more ammunition pouches with a cavalry harness, but for now this is more than good enough.  I may go back and make the cap a darker brown, and I need to add a couple of silver buttons on each sleeve, but otherwise it is finished and I have decided to complete my Baster unit with similar conversions of  Copplestone's Zanzibari Askaris Marching sets. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Problem with Peter Moor

Evaluating and interpreting primary source material is essential to historical inquiry.   The perspectives of participants in a colonial war such as was fought in 1904 in German Southwest Africa (DSWA) can be profoundly revealing, but one should be wary of accepting them uncritically.  Personal narrative by its very nature is unique to the individual and reflects the time and circumstances in which it is written.  Military after-action reports are likewise drafted with personal and cultural biases, not to mention political considerations.  Even methodical official campaign histories - bloodless prose and all - still embody the values and attitudes of Imperial Germany.  Other accounts, such as testimony about German atrocities in Southwest Africa collected by the British authorities after WWI , were used to support the colony's assignment as a League of Nations mandated territory to the Union of South Africa. 

All can be valuable sources, but all need to be evaluated in context, and some are more reliable than others. As with any scientific method, it is vital to test and revisit one's own assumptions as well as those of the past.  Sometimes, as my Great Uncle Archie was known to observe; "Maybe it ain't so." 

My interest in the documentary evidence from the German-Herero War places particular emphasis on the material culture of the participants, as I am trying to represent them in miniature for the gaming table as accurately as scale, sculpting, and my painting skills allow.   I am not fluent in German, so my ability to access near-contemporary written evidence  is limited to what I can parse with a basic understanding of the language and what is available in translation.  Photographs can be very helpful, but there is nothing quite like a first-person account for revealing the small details that can add authenticity, and sometimes even provide evidence that is unavailable elsewhere.

Many with an interest in this period of history cite one account in particular that has the added virtue of being available in English translation.  This is "Peter Moor's journey to Southwest Africa; a narrative of the German Campaign."  The original "Peter Moors Fahrt nach Südwest" (1907) was written by Gustav Frenssen and translated into English by Margaret May Ward in 1908.  The English version is accessible in its entirety online, and the usually reliable website German Colonial Uniforms quotes Peter Moor as evidence for elements of the material culture of the Schutztruppe and Seebataillon in DSWA.  

The problem with Peter Moor is that he doesn't exist.  No one by that name is known to have served with either the Seebataillon or with the Protection Force in DSWA as Frenssen's tale alleges.  The Peter Moor of the story is a literary conceit, a composite character based on research, perhaps, but in the end still a work of historical fiction, as a contemporary review in the New York Times makes clear. While there are a number of small and tantalizing details offered in the "narrative" that lend it verisimilitude, the final paragraph of the book reveals that this is not a first person account, but at most an imaginative retelling by a non-participant. 

"When I was sauntering along the Jungfernstieg in my worn-out, dirty cord uniform, with dark, sunburned face, a middle-aged man came up and joined me, and asked me all sorts of questions as we went along.  In the course of the conversation it came out that I had heard of him in my father's house; for he had known my father from childhood.  I related to him all that I had seen and experienced, and what I had thought of it all.  And he has made this book out of it."

At least one other part of the Peter Moor story does not ring true as personal narrative.  That is the chapter entitled "A Dangerous Mission" that takes place during the Hamakari campaign as the various German  sections were converging on the Waterberg.   Moor is dispatched, together with a blonde Berliner, a young Alsatian soldier and a Mecklenberger riding a particularly bad horse, to bring a letter of instruction "to the westerly division, which, as it was the last to arrive from Germany, was still somewhat behind in the march."  Frenssen describes Moor's dramatic escape from ambush as the sole survivor of his four-man patrol, eventually finding his way to a heliograph station, and from there to the headquarters section beneath its identifying gas balloon.

All this is stirring stuff, to be sure, but quite unsubstantiated by the exacting records kept by the Germans of their casualties during the war.  There was indeed a patrol that was wiped out on August 6th, 1904, less than a week prior to Hamakari, but it was a nine-man patrol lead by a German nobleman - Leutnant Hans Bodo
Freiherr von Bodenhausen. They were attacked and destroyed by Hereros under Hosea Komombumbi Kutako near Osondjache to the northwest of the Waterberg.  Peter Moor's adventure seems to have been based on this episode.  While Moor would not have been the first veteran to have exaggerated his service in the telling, the fact that Frenssen is the author of the Moor narrative and that it is was recognized in its time as a novel makes it clearly a work of fiction.

This is a shame, because Peter Moor's Journey is filled with the sort of detail that shows that Frenssen did considerable research to make it believable and may, in fact, have consulted actual participants or their writings.  One recognizes the Landungskorps sailor in his stained uniform guarding the railway, the hapless Eastern Section under "The Old Major" von Glasenapp at Owikokorero and Owiumbo, and the general chronology of the campaign.  If we are to evaluate the veracity of the historical details provided in the Peter Moor text, and whether it has any value as documentary evidence in the light of modernity, we need to know something first of the author.  What was his agenda?  Can he be trusted?

Frenssen lived between 1863-1945.   His fictional works were very popular in his day, both for his vivid descriptions of regional and rural life that made him a leading figure in the
Heimatkunst  or "Homeland Art" movement,  and for his strong nationalism and support for German colonialism.  One sees evidence of these aspects of his writing in the Berliner, Alsatian and Mecklenberger of Peter Moor's "lost patrol".   A number of Frenssen's works beside Peter Moor were translated into English where they found a wider audience.  Frenssen was even nominated in 1914 for the Nobel prize in literature.
Frenssen (at left)  and his wife with members of the Nazi-dominated Eutiner poetry circle

He was also a disturbed and enigmatic figure: a Lutheran pastor who came to reject Christianity; a introvert who wrote engagingly about common people but was obsessed with racial hygiene; a Kulturpolitiker as well as a novelist who shifted firmly into Nazi propaganda; and one whose books were banned in occupied Germany after the war.  He was neurotic, insecure, and  according to an article by Frank X. Braun  published in 1947, came to see Adolf Hitler as "a second and greater Bismarck."

It is possible to respect the art and reject the artist - how else can one appreciate the music of Wagner?  A text like Peter Moor, regardless of how subsequent readers may interpret it, through whatever cultural or critical lens, cannot be so easily divorced from authorial intent.  It can be treated  as an artifact, as an example of colonial zeitgeist, but it is not a soldier's narrative and it is not a credible source of historical documentation for the material culture of the Germans and their adversaries during the 1904 war in Southwest Africa.   Other participant accounts, mostly in German, will have to serve.

[Dr. Talya Leodari, my fianc
ée, contributed to the development of this post.]


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

No White Feathers: Misreading a Key Element of the Material Culture of the Witbooi Nama in 1904

At the outset of the German -Herero War in January, 1904, the white soldiers of the Schutztruppe and its reserves were bolstered by several hundred African allies.  The largest group of these native soldiers was a contingent of about 120 men from a Nama sub-group known as the Witboois. 

They were an Oorlam or mixed race people and the last of five Oorlam clans that made the the trek north from the Cape in the early to mid-19th century to settle in what is now south central Namibia.  Since then, the Witbooi have assimilated more thoroughly with the Nama,
referring themselves by the clan name ǀKhowesin in the Khoikhoigowab or Damara/Nama language, but during the German colonial period they more commonly used a variant of Afrikaans, and the name "Witbooi "means just what it sounds like in that language.

Hendrik Witbooi (d.1905) and others wearing the knotted white turban of their clan
Their leader during the critical period between 1885 and 1905 was Hendrik Witbooi, a remarkable person who fought against both the Germans and the Herero in the 1890s, then allied with the colonial power until October of 1904 when he lead his people in a guerrilla war of resistance.

Hendrick Witbooi and Nama Horsemen wearing Imperial armbands (likely late 1890s).
 The men riding with Hendrick Witbooi in the image, above, wear white turbans around the crown of their hats, and in one case, a pith helmet with a hatband in Imperial colors.  Many writers have concluded that the tail end of white cloth that extends above the knot on the top of the hat, clearly visible in this and other contemporary images as well as in versions of the Witbooi turban used today as ceremonial regalia,  is actually a white feather.  I believe this comes from a misreading of a section of Witbooi's  October 3, 1904 letter in which he announces his declaration of war ; 

"...I have now stopped walking submissively and will write a letter to the [German] Captain saying that I have put on the white feather and that the time is over when I will walk behind him ̧ The Savior himself will now act and He will free us through His grace and compassion...."
It is clear from the images provided here that this is not a correct interpretation of the meaning of Witbooi's (translated) words.
  It is the turban itself to which he refers, worn during times of war. A metaphorical feather, perhaps, is formed by the topknot, but there is no evidence that a real feather was ever stuck in the turban, nor is one used in modern versions of the same turban (color photos below courtesy of the Gibeon Village Council website).

Reverend Hendrick Witbooi (1934-2009) wearing the traditional knotted white turban covering the crown of his hat.

Honor guard at Rev. Witbooi's funeral, including horsemen wearing the knotted white turban.

An image of Lt. Gen. Lothar v. Trotha inspecting Witbooi troopers at Okahandja in June 1904 (source Bayer)
Fate was not kind to the Witbooi troopers who served under the Germans during the Herero War of 1904.  19 of them deserted with their arms after Hamakari and returned to Hendrik Witbooi at their home place of Gibeon.  It is said that they were alarmed that their people might be crushed just as brutally by the Germans as the Herero and that their report was part of what motivated Witbooi to declare war in October, 1904.  

The remaining 90 or more Witbooi auxiliaries were disarmed when hostilities began with the Nama and were sent in a group of 118 prisoners to labor in German Togo where at least 63 of them died of disease. The survivors were transferred to German Cameroon in 1905 along with more Witbooi Nama prisoners, and there were more deaths in exile until they were  finally repatriated to Southwest Africa by Governor Lindquist after the fighting found down and the Nama had been broken and decimated.

Monday, February 10, 2014

First Batch Painted Dismounted DSWA Schutztruppen 25mm - 30mm

Dismounted DSWA Schutztruppe Miniatures,  25mm - 28mm Figures, Various Manufacturers
In addition to the four mounted figures featured in the previous post, I have also finished painting my first batch of Schutztruppe figures on foot.  These include officers, NCOs, a musician, a two figure wounded set, and a number of private soldiers from a range of manufacturers in 25mm - 28mm scale.  Those who wargame in 25mm scale will need to rely on a large number of  Matchlock/Falcon and Askari's figures for this period, while choices are more numerous and varied  in 28mm.

Officer and men, Honourable Lead Boilersuit Company (HLBS), 28mm
These three figures are from the Honourable Lead Boilersuit Company's late, lamented German Colonial line.  I picked them up on Ebay last November, but based them and repainted everything from the neck down, mainly because they were in their gray, home uniforms rather than tropical khaki "feldrock".  I wish I had the ability to paint the eyes the way these were done by the previous owner, however, and aspire to develop that technique.  I have another, rather expensive eBay lot of HLBS that requires complete repainting and includes duplicates of these three figures, along with three other soldiers advancing, two other officers, an NCO and a two man Maxim gun section.  HLBS Co.'s Schutztruppe came properly equipped with cavalry boots and accoutrements and I wish they were still in production.  The commander figures are extremely helpful for meeting the field, line and staff officer requirements to complete the German forces in the  much anticipated Jones /Alvarado Herero War scenario and rules book.

Brigade Games, Great War in Africa, Germans in Slouch Hats
HLBS is comparable in scale to the 28mm Great War in Africa figures produced by Brigade Games.  Although they are wearing puttees and do not have the cavalry accoutrements  that were issued to the Schutztruppe in Southwest Africa, I have a few of these and they paint up well.  I also painted the German big game hunter from a set in Wargames Foundry's 28mm Darkest Africa Line, complete with monocle, as if he were an officer in the Schutztruppe.  It's not easy to find on the Foundry website, but is often
Foundry, Big Game Hunter 28mm
offered directly from the manufacturer on eBay.

Pulp Miniatures make lively and robust 28mm German colonial figures, both Schutztruppe and Seebataillon, and though they too lack the ammunition belts and harness that were issued in Southwest Africa, they are wonderfully detailed , very clean sculpts.  I painted up two in Südwester hats and one marine in a feldcap as if he were in the Schutztruppe.  I worked very hard to get all the detail painted correctly on his hat, including the blue piping around the crown of the hat and a leather chin strap above the visor.  It took me longer to finish painting these than the
Pulp Figures, Colonial Germans 28mm
others, in part because their faces were sometimes hard to get at with my brush and also because of the richness of the detail.  While they are slightly larger than the HLBS and Brigade Games figures it is not particularly noticeable when they are mixed together.

Tiger miniatures produce Schutztruppe figures that are larger than the 28mm offerings from other manufacturers, with some approaching 30mm scale.  The one I painted up, an officer in a double breasted greatcoat, shown here with a Tiger mounted Schutztruppe figure that was discussed in the previous post.  The officer on foot came with a five figure artillery crew, and when he is placed next to smaller figures such as those produced by Old Glory, Askari, or the diminutive
Tiger Miniatures, 30mm
Matchbox/Falcon lines , he is a true giant.  Tiger sculpts are rougher than the others brands discussed here, but a careful paint job can help add detail and they have figures advancing at the trail that are not available elsewhere, so I am likely to include a few of these on my table.

Old Glory makes a 4 figure German Maxim gun set that they call their Spanish Fantasy Pack (SAW-26).  It took a while for them to get my order straight but once I received the right set I painted up the officer as if he were wearing the brownish "kord waffenrock" piped in blue with blue cuffs and collar and silver
Old Glory Germans from the SAW and Boxer Ranges, 25mm
litzen (white for private solders) at the collar and cuffs.  Here he is, at left, with another Old Glory mounted officer figure that I shared earlier.  He is too small to stand in a unit with the Tiger figures but can serve with the other 28mm makes.

Askari Miniatures produced these wonderful 25mm  figures, below, as part of a four piece Schutztruppe command set released last October.  I am very pleased to have been able to paint the cord and tastle around the bugle on the musician's back in the imperial colors, and the blue and white "swallows nest" on each shoulder.  The tip of the rifle snapped off, unfortunately, but I am still delighted with how the figure turned out.  The officer with the drawn sword makes a nice change from the many others with binoculars.  Askari are closer to 26mm in scale, a bit small along side the 28mm but still usable with them.

Askari Miniatures, German Commander and Musician, 25mm

Matchlock Miniatures produces most (but not all) of the German Colonial figures originally sculpted by Falcon.  As Falcon has been unresponsive to my efforts to contact them, I have made two purchases from Matchbox, ordering single figures in each pose.  They are very small, a true 25mm, and will not look right next to those that are 28mm or larger.   Most are sculpted as if wearing the corduroy waffenrock uniform, and they include some unusual figures such as these walking wounded.  My plan is to use a small number of these dismounted figures on my table, and perhaps to paint some of them as Hereros in captured uniforms (though the scale issue will be a factor there as well).
Matchlock/Falcon Miniatures, 25mm

I painted all of these figures in a mix of Vallejo Acrylics.  The khaki is largely German Camouflage Orange Ochre 128 with lighter and darker shades created by adding either Dark Sand or Ochre Brown.  I used a range of blues and grays to get the hat and trim colors, and the leather is a base of Cavalry Brown with a touch of Light Rust and New Wood.  I also used English Uniform and Tan Yellow, as the khaki and corduroy were often mixed even in the same unit and faded to a range of shades. 

I am still working on how best to add highlights and shading to faces, as was done with the HLBS figures, above, and  how much I want to outline edges in a darker color to make things like chevrons and marksman's cords stand out.  I still have not solved the problem of how to make the shoulder straps in this scale look like they are comprised of 4 cords woven in imperial colors.  Still, I feel good about what I've managed to do thus far.  Next up,  Native Auxiliaries (Witboois)!  Meanwhile, here is the vanguard of the Schutztruppe to take its curtain call.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

First Batch of Painted, Mounted Schutztruppen (25mm - 30mm)

DSWA Schutztruppen on Horseback, Various Manufacturers
Mounted Rider with Slung Rifle (Matchlock 25mm)
The German Southwest Africa Schutztruppe was mounted infantry, and during the German - Herero War of 1904 the riders fought most of their engagements on foot.  The Jones - Alvarado Herero War Scenario and Rules Book, scheduled for release next month, calls for just a single 8 man mounted section with an officer and NCO and six troopers.  Three mounted command figures are also needed. 

This still presents a challenge, as there are only a few sources for mounted Schutztruppen in 25mm or 28mm scale, and one of the best - those from the Honourable Lead Boiler Suit Company - are no longer in production.

Nevertheless, I managed to find 10 HLBS mounted figures, including an officer, NCO and eight riders, in an unpainted condition on eBay.  They are 28mm scale, came from a seller in France and were a steal - not always the case.   I have painted one of the HLBS riders up in a test batch of 4 mounted figures, one from each manufacture.  The results are here before you.

The single rider, above, is from Matchlock
HLBS, left and Tiger Miniatures, right: 28mm
Miniatures, cast using molds from Falcon Miniatures USA .  I have found Falcon to be singularly unresponsive to requests for its own offerings.  Not so with Matchlock, which has many but not all of the falcon Line available.  This figutre is in true 25mm scale and looks positively hobbit like next to the largest figures from HLBS and Tiger miniatures (at right).  The Tiger trooper, closer to 30mm than 28mm, came in a set with 2 riders on camels, but I swapped out the mount for a horse that came with another set with 2 riders wearing WWI era Tropenhelms.

The last figure, below,  is a German officer from the Old Glory Boxer Rebellion range that came in the Great Powers High Command set of six mounted figures representing the various powers that fought in China in 1900.  It is a hefty 25mm scale that works with 28mm figures.  He required a little bit of putty to fill in a gap in the brim of his Südwester hat but is one of only a couple of options for mounted German commanders available that will work for this period and his horse is suitably spirited.

Old Glory German High Command Figure (Boxer range, 25mm)
Alternate View, Old Glory German Commander
I have decided to use the Tiger and HLBS figures for my gaming table.  Possibly I will paint one of each as Hereros in captured uniforms, perhaps one of them as a Herero commander.  That will still give me enough to meet my needs for mounted Germans, though I would very much like to have another Officer figure.

No manufacture of mounted Schutztruppen thus far has sculpted horses with proper tack and associated accoutrements, including the bucket holders for the rifles that were attached to the saddle in front of the rider's right leg. There is a good possibility, though, that Askari Miniatures will produce mounted Germans this year. They are closer to 26mm in size, but beggars cannot be choosers and I am sure will be as admirably detailed as their dismounted compatriots.

Tiger Mounted and Dismounted Figures (really 30mm, esp the officer)

Mounted Schutztruppen: Tiger, HLBS, Old Glory, Matchlock/Falcon

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Scenics: Springbok Herd and a Lion

Antelope from Irregular Miniatures Painted as Springbok
I'm working through my first batches of German Schutztruppe, both mounted and on foot, and it's taken me longer than the first Hereros did because I've been struggling to get the paint mix right for the various shades of faded khaki and corduroy brown (not to mention the whites of their eyes).

Along the way, I've taken the opportunity to use some of that excess paint to work on some scenic elements, particularly wildlife.  That has been a welcome change, using different techniques, and I'm quite pleased with the results.

Here are some antelope figures I picked up from Irregular Miniatures and have painted as Springbok.
They work fine for 28mm scale, though they are well fed little antelope and my partner teases me about my "goats".  I am very fond of them, as they remind me of the herds I used to see in Namibia.  I used a palette of orange ocher mixed with sand yellow for their fur, and dark brown with grey highlights for the horns.   I have other antelope that I will get around to painting - gemsbok and greater kudu,- and my gaming table could start to look like Etosha Pan (which would really only be appropriate only for the attack of 500 Owambo warriors on a handful of Schutztruppe at Fort Namutoni).

The springbok seem blissfully unaware that there is danger nearby.  I picked up this lion in a Big Game Hunt set by Foundry that also had a great German figure in a Sudwester hat and a monocle, and some Africans in European clothing who have gone off to join the Herero forces.  I used various tans and sand colors for his tawny coat, dry brushing the mane and using a stone gray for his underbelly.  I am especially pleased by his eye, the same orange ocher as the Springbok with a black spot in the center which I added with the aid of a round, pointed toothpick.  I have more to do with the groundwork on this figure and will be adding tufts of grass, but he is quite splendid and I guess I'll have to get some crouching lionesses to add to his pride.