Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Gaming the French colonial expansion

My 15mm colonial collection is mostly Anglo-centric. Truth be told, I have a significant portion of my figures for Italians in Abyssinia, but the rest is, by and large, for British theaters of action: Sudan, South Africa, North-West Frontier. In the closet, there are a few bags of unpainted Chinese: years ago, I bought some Old Glory 15 for the Boxer Rebellion. I have yet to paint those miniatures, but ideally they will provide some variety adding American and German troops to the lot.

One area, though, that in my opinion remains under-appreciated is French colonial conflicts. From the Sahara Desert to Equatorial Africa, to Fashoda, to Madagascar and Indochina, the period doesn't lack in color. Alas, when we think "colonial French," we seem to limit our view to the French Foreign Legion, with her kepis and blue overcoat. This should not be the case. French deployed a variety of colonial troops, recruited almost in every corner of their vast empire. And it seems that, with a few minor conversions, a wargamer should be able to cover almost all the bases, and add variety and character to his colonial collection.

Just for sake of divertissement, I did a little of research about French colonial units can I could easily created in 15mm, based on existing ranges, or fortunate purchases from companies now out of business. Here's some ideas about how to spice up your French presence oversea.

  • Zouaves, Turcos, and Tirallerus Algeriens are easily available from most of the Franco-Prussian War sets. Having seen a few, I came to the conclusion that Essex miniatures would be the best "colonial" conversions, as they are slightly less heavily packed than their counterparts for the European theatre.

  • Infanterie de Marine is actually available at Old Glory 15, in the aforementioned Boxer Rebellion range.

  • Infanterie is the basic infantry, as represented in some of the late 19th century prints: white pants, blue jacket, and white colonial casque. Here's one found on the internet.

    Units of Infanterie would be easily converted from the existing French Marines by Old Glory.

  • Tiralleurs Senegalais would be converted from the Sudanese infantry made available by Old Glory 15 in their Sudan range. In the following print, also found over the internet, some of the Senegalais troops can be spotted in the background.


  • Tirailleurs Tonkinois et Annamites. As far as I know, they were only produced by Frontier Miniatures in a Boxer Rebellion range that has gone, unfortunately, OOP a long time ago. I was able to secure two bags, about 100 figures, in a circuitous manner. I found online a gentleman who happened to be friend of the Florida man who owns the moulds. Apparently, he was willing to occasionally produce a few bags here and there, for friends or upon request. I have never been able to get in touch with him directly -- apparently he only attends conventions in the South, and he does not respond emails nor phone calls. Bizarre. The topic was discussed on TMP a few years ago. This is very unfortunate, because these are (were) very good miniatures. I have never understood while they have never been taken back to the market. [For some mysterious technological reason, a webpage for this range is still online, several years after the manufacturer and retailer ceased all activities.]


Overall, this would be a fun project. Maybe the French takeover of Madagascar might be played for a small campaign, or maybe a fictional German intervention in Madagascar in the late 1890s might be created. In general, I feel colonial French have a lot of potential, and when my life will come back to some after-move normality, I may be willing to explore the possibilities.

1 comment:

Bob Cordery said...

I must admit that I have considered spreading my wings a bit when it comes to my colonials and including Italian, French, Spanish, German, and US troops (and their opponents)in my collection. The problem is getting enough time to do so. Since I started blogging I have had so much stimulus to do things that really interest me that amount of time I have to actually do them is seriously reduced.

Ironic, isn't it?

Good luck with your new project, which I will follow with interest,

Bob