Monday 28 September 2015

1/54e Regiment de Ligne

The 54e Regiment de Ligne could trace its lineage back to May 25th 1657 with the raising of a regiment of infantry in Perpignan in Roussillon, by Cardinal Marazin and was named the Regiment Catalan-Marazin.

The first part of the regiment's name originates from the area of France, Roussillon, ceded to the French under the Treaty of the Pyrenees, it being formerly part of the Spanish province of Catalonia, and which ended twenty four years of warfare between Spain and France in 1659.

With the death of Cardinal Marazin in 1661 the King renamed the regiment "Royal Catalan" and then in 1667 it was renamed "Royal Roussillon".

With the changes caused to the army brought about by the French Revolution, the Royal Roussillon became the 54e Regiment d'Infanterie in 1791.

By 1793 it was retitled the 54e demi-brigade de bataille formed from the:
2e bataillon, 27e Regiment d'Infanterie
1er bataillon, Volontaires du Pay-de-Dome
1er bataillon, Volontaires de l'Indre

With the rise of Napoleon, the regiment was retitled in 1803, 54e Regiment d'Infanterie de Ligne under the command of Colonel Armand Phillipon who as its colonel would be wounded at Talavera. Colonel Phillipon would have an eventful career seeing him as the commander of the fortress city, Badajoz at its fall in 1812 after a skilfull and bloodily hard fought defence. After his capture and transfer to the UK, he broke his parole and escaped back to France serving through the Russian campaign and later being captured by the Allies at Dresden in 1813.

Colonel Phillipon

The details of the uniform of the 54e Ligne are less clear than those of the other regiments completed so far and I have shown the two references I have in my own library. The first illustration shows the only picture of a member of the regiment depicted in the Otto Manuscript from 1807 and that is of a sapper with rather unusual light infantry style leggings shown by the more standard white apron.

The other is from Windrow and Embleton's "Military Dress of the Peninsular War" showing a Chef de bataillon in 1811 when the regiment fought at Barossa. The habit is described as being piped red with the collar and cuffs piped white and voltigeurs in traditional yellow collars. The cuff slash in Embleton's illustration shows a blue three button arrangement and that is what I have chosen as my distinguishing feature from what appears a very standard looking French regiment.

As far as the musician's are concerned I have discovered no definite description and so working on the theory that the regiment would pay homage to its Royal Rossillon antecedents decided on a blue jacket with red facings trimmed white.

My 1/54e Ligne is composed of AB figures from Fighting 15's and the Colour is from GMB Flags. As a variation on a theme I have composed the regiment with advancing figures rather than the more traditional sloped arms, so they should make a nice variation on the table.

References used in this post:
Napoleon's Line Infantry, Osprey Men at Arms - Philip Haythornthwaite, Bryan Fosten
French Napoleonic Line Infantry - Emir Bukhari
Napoleon's Soldiers, The Grande Armee of 1807 (The Otto Manuscript) - Guy C Dempsey Jr
Military Dress of the Peninsular War - Martin Windrow & Gerry Embleton

Sunday 27 September 2015

Tom's Graduation Ceremony on Plymouth Hoe

I had a very fun day this week attending our eldest son Tom's graduation ceremony from Plymouth University up on Plymouth Hoe, which is a fantastic site to place one of the largest marquee's in Europe and with some stunning sunny weather made the day complete.

As well as enjoying celebrating Tom's hard work over the last three years and looking forward to his travel and life plans to follow, I was able to take a bit of time to observe the view.

Naturally my eye is always drawn to the military, modern or historic. Plymouth and Devonport is the historical home of the Royal Navy and the place where Sir Francis Drake, observing the Spanish Armada entering the English Channel, remarked that there was still time to finish his game of bowls before leading his ships out to battle.

The Hoe overlooks the entrance to the main harbour at Plymouth and saw the arrival in 1815 of HMS Bellerophon, more affectionately known as the "Billy Ruffian", with its very famous guest on board, General Napoleon Bonaparte, the ultimate celebrity of his day.  This very famous stretch of water hasn't changed much, only the ships look a lot different.

Plymouth is still a very active base today and whilst enjoying the surroundings and festivities I grabbed a few shots of the activity going on around and above us as we nibbled at the canapés.

Tom is now preparing to set off on his trip to Australia and the Far East whilst his younger brother Will is now back from Paris and has started at Plymouth to study medicine. So for Carolyn and me, its a case of one in and one out!

Next up the 1/54e Regiment de Ligne

Thursday 24 September 2015

Infantry Officers 1845 Pattern Sword - Postscript

I thought you might like to see the new addition to the toy room, which I think makes a really nice centre piece to the whole room.

My new sword really creates a great centre piece to the room and I am really pleased with how well it came up after a bit of TLC.

Having looked at these pictures I can see I will have to move a few books up stairs to create a bit more elbow room for some recent additions to the research library.

Sunday 20 September 2015

3/8e Regiment de Ligne

With the completion of the 3/8e Ligne I can now complete the history of the regiment's involvement in the Peninsular War up to Talavera by looking at their involvement in the fighting over the two days of the battle on the 27th and 28th of July 1809.

1/8e Regiment de Ligne
2/8e Regiment de Ligne

I Corps: Maréchal Victor
2nd Division: Général de division Lapisse (6,862)
Brigade: Général de brigade Laplannes
16th Légère Regiment (3 battalions)
45th Line Regiment (3 battalions)
Brigade: Général de brigade Solignac
8th Line Regiment (3 battalions)
54th Line Regiment (3 battalions)

The 8e Ligne were amongst the first French troops to clash with the British as Victor's Corps pursued Cuesta's Spanish Army of Estremadura back towards the Alberche river bridge and as part of the point brigade under General Lapisse achieved total surprise on the afternoon of the 27th July 1809 when, by crossing higher up the stream, they managed to attack the flank of General Mackenzie's 3rd Division acting as rear guard for the allied army at Casa de Salinas (see the map above for where the action happened)

This small battle was covered in the first scenario of our Talavera series of games "Casa de Salinas"

Casa de Salinas -Talavera game one
Casa de Salinas-Talavera game two
Casa de Salinas-Talavera game three

In the actual clash the British troops were driven back in some disorder, suffering some 450 casualties with an estimated loss of just 100 to the French troops involved.

Position of the French and Allied armies before the main French attack on the afternoon of the 28th July 1809
On arriving in their positions facing the British troops across the Portina stream on the Talavera line the troops of General Lapisse's 2nd Division were not to be called upon until the afternoon of the next day, when following Marshal Victor's failed assaults on the Cerro de Medellin on the previous night and dawn of the 28th July, the combined French forces prepared to launch the main French attack of the battle.

Diagram to illustrate the main French attack - Source Field
As Lipisse's 2nd Division formed up for the attack the front line of six battalions was formed by General Laplannes brigade of the 16e Legere and the 45e Ligne The 8e Ligne together with the 54e Ligne formed the second line of six battalions as part of General Solignac's brigade.

The twelve battalions of the division were drawn up opposite General Sherbrooke's 1st Division and their planned attack would cause them to contact the four battalions of KGL infantry and the 2/83rd foot, the left flank battalion of Cameron's brigade (see the map above to show the positions at the start of the attack).

lst Division: Sherbrooke
Brigade: Campbell
l/Coldstream Guard Regiment (970)
l/Scots Fusilier Guard Regiment (l,0l9)
5/60th Foot Regiment (l coy) (56)
Brigade: A. Cameron
l/6lst Foot Regiment (778)
2/83rd Foot Regiment (535)
5/60th Foot Regiment (l coy) (5l)
Brigade: von Langwerth
lst KGL Battalion (604)
2nd KGL Battalion (678)
Det/lst KGL Light Battalion (l co)(l06)
Brigade: von Lowe
5th KGL Battalion (6l0)
7th KGL Battalion (557)

Laplanne's brigade (16e Legere and 45e Ligne) was arrayed in battalion columns but with the columns having just six paces (about 4.5 yards) between them, suggesting no intention to deploy into line. The following battalions of Solignac's brigade (8e and 54e Ligne) were described as formed in battalion mass or close order columns and deployed as such to allow them to move up quickly to exploit any breakthrough gained by the front line.

At 14.00 the French guns opened up a tremendous barrage across the whole British front with nearly all their guns, and with most of the British line in full view the red coats could only lie down and pray.

The barrage lasted a full hour and it wasn't until 15.00 that the divisions of Lapisse  and Sebastiani started their advance. The second line of battalions were kept well behind to act as the reserve, finally stopping behind a stone wall to await the results of the initial attack, but close enough to take advantage of any success.

The Guards brigade were also part of Sherbrooke's division and are seen here in combat with Sebastiani's 28e and 58e Ligne 
An ensign of the 3rd Guards recalled
"The French came on over the rough and broken ground...... in the most imposing manner and with great resolution."

The French skirmishers pushed back the British light troops with ease and crossed the Portina without interference from the silent red line beyond. Sherbrooke's division covered more or less the same frontage as the two French divisions that were advancing against it. General Sherbrook had issued strict orders that the first volley should not be delivered until the French columns were only 50 yards away, and the volley was to be immediately followed by a bayonet charge.

When the French columns approached to within extreme musket range and the expected volley failed to happen, the troops within the advancing columns became more agitated as the range decreased with every step. A French officer described the attack

"The French charged with shouldered arms as was their custom. When they arrived at short range, the English line remained motionless, some hesitation was seen in the march. The officers and NCO's shouted at the soldiers, 'forward march, don't fire'. Some even cried, 'They're surrendering'. The forward movement was therefore resumed; but it was not until extremely close range of the English line that the latter started a two rank fire which carried destruction into the heart of the French line and stopped its movement, and produced some disorder. While the officers shouted to the soldiers 'Forward: Don't fire', the English suddenly stopped their own fire and charged with the bayonet. Everything was favourable to them; orderliness, impetus, and the resolution to fight with the bayonet. Among the French on the other hand, there was no longer any impetus, but disorder and surprise caused by the enemy's unexpected resolve. Flight was inevitable."

The first French line broke and rushed back over the Portina and began to reform behind their second line. The British charge became uncontrolled and swept on after the fleeing French, with only Cameron able to halt his brigade short of the Portina. The Kings German Legion troops began to receive fire from the French guns on the Casajal and were then met by volleys from the 8e and 54e Ligne who then charged with the bayonet and routed the Germans back the way they had come.

General Langwerth seized a Colour and attempted to rally his men and was promptly cut down before he could gather any of them together. As the defeated redcoats fell back from the attack the 16th Light Dragoons moved forward to occupy the ground vacated by their two brigades, allowing the Germans to form in their rear. The KGL battalions were very hard hit in this desperate retreat with the 1st Battalion losing half its numbers (387 men) and the 5th Battalion over 100 men as prisoners alone

It was then that Wellesley seeing the gap in his line and how hard pressed the KGL brigades were, directed the only battalion he felt able to release from the defence of the Cerro de Medellin and hold back the attack of the 54e and 8e Ligne. The 1/48th were still nearly 800 men strong and under Colonel Donellan advanced on the two French regiments and issued "a close and well directed fire" that arrested the French advance. Indeed the first volley was all it took to cause these two regiments to turn and flee back the way they had come allowing the Germans to rally and recover some of their order.

This final action was not without cost to both sides with General Lapisse killed outright and Colonel Donellan falling wounded from a musket ball hit that shattered his knee and would cause his death a few days later. The KGL brigades had lost Langwerth and his two battalions were reduced from 1,300 men to just 650 men at the end of the fighting; Low's brigade was also left with just 600 men losing 350 casualties in the afternoon battle which included 150 prisoners to the French.

As far as Lapisse's division was concerned, they had lost their divisional commander killed together with 1,767 men killed, wounded and missing, the most casualties lost in any of Victor's divisions. The 8e Ligne in particular lost 437 men over the two days of battle, with 44 killed and 393 wounded.

My 3/8e Ligne is composed of figures from the AB range, from Fighting 15's and carry an adapted fanion from GMB Flags.

Sources used in this and the other posts on the 8e Regiment de Ligne;
Napoleon's Line Infantry, Osprey Men at Arms - Philip Haythornthwaite, Bryan Fosten
French Napoleonic Line Infantry - Emir Bukhari
Napoleon's Soldiers, The Grande Armee of 1807 (The Otto Manuscript) - Guy C Dempsey Jr.
Napoleonic Armies, A Wargamers Campaign Directory - Ray Johnson
Talavera, Wellington's First Victory in Spain - Andrew W. Field
The Peninsular War Atlas - Colonel Nick Lipscombe

Next up the 54e Regiment de Ligne

Friday 18 September 2015

Infantry Officers 1845 Pattern Sword

"The Infantry officer's regulation weapon was his sword, this still being of the Gothic-hilted 1822 pattern with brass guard but with the 32½-inch, fullered blade introduced in 1845, carried in a steel scabbard. To supplement this elegant but useless weapon, officers would equip themselves with revolvers, the most popular types being the Webley and the Adams."
Michael Barthorp - The Zulu War, A Pictorial History.

Just recently I was offered a family heirloom that turned up in house clearance, well more like shed clearance, on Carolyn's side of the family.

My new sword standing in my old golf ball holder soaking in a vinegar solution
Probably, as in most wargamers extended family, it soon becomes common knowledge that you have a passion for military history and you get offered various bits and pieces that no right minded person would be interested in but that you might just find some fascination in.

So it was with some interest that my son Tom came back from doing a bit of shed clearance announcing he had a present for me.

No one seems very sure of the provenance of this interesting piece of militaria, only that it has been in the said shed for "donkeys years" and if the damage to the hilt and accumulated rust mixed with cob webs is anything to go by that looks pretty likely.

From my initial research it would appear we are looking at an 1845 pattern British Infantry Officers sword, and a proper fighting sword, not some little dress piece. As you can see the years and storage have not been kind but the vinegar solution is starting to reveal the blade below all that rust.,_1827,_1845,_1854_and_1892_Patterns)

As you can see in these pictures, the hilt has the folded down section to allow it to be carried close to the wearer, this feature was dropped with the 1854 pattern and the remnants of the fish scale handle would indicate an officers weapon rather than a sergeants.

Who knows perhaps this old blade saw service in Zululand or even El Teb. The research into where this came from goes on as does the cleaning.

Simon Smith's "Saving the Colour" really captures the look of the ornate gothic hilt of the 1845 pattern infantry officers sword

So on to part two of this post and my new sword just about ready for moving into JJ's toy-room.

As you can see the vinegar solution did a good job on removing the years of accumulated rust which as well as revealing the pocked marked damage done to the blade also showed up the proofing mark just below the hilt in the picture below.

The handle is in a terrible state but at least some of the original fish scale grip is still in evidence and I have started on removing years of grime on the brass work to reveal the splendour of the Royal monogram VR, on the superb Victorian style hilt. In addition the fold down thumb guard is back in working order and can be seen folded down in the picture below.

In the picture below you can see the thumb guard up and a closer look at the remnants of the fish scale grip.

Further cleaning of the hilt revealed the lovely ornate scrolling on top of the pommel

The close ups of the blade reveal the damage done by years of rust. However on cleaning there is still an edge in parts to this blade and I had to take care when applying the turtle wax to prevent further rusting to the revealed steel.

Despite the damage done to this fine looking weapon, I am pleased with the state I have managed to bring it back too and love the history behind the period this old blade represents. The 1845 pattern sword can truly be described as the sword of empire.

Tuesday 15 September 2015

Walk to Ladram Bay and the East Devon Coast - WWII History

The weekend before last, Carolyn, Tom and I decided to do the walk from Budleigh Salterton to Ladram Bay following about six miles of the South West Coast Path. Budleigh is the next town along the coast from Exmouth and so we parked the car up in a nearby lane, put the walking boots on and set off to the cliff path.

Carolyn and Tom stride along the footpath towards the cliff route that starts from the mouth of the River Otter on the right of picture
This part of East Devon is what I would describe as "God's own country" and when the sun is out there is, for me, no finer place on earth to be wandering about.

Map top illustrate the route and length of the South West Path and the little section we walked
As we neared the cliffs at the mouth of the River Otter I took some pictures of the beach, river and Budleigh Salterton a former Roman settlement where salt was gathered, hence the town's name.

This part of the country, on the south coast was right on the front line in WWII and with northern France over the horizon fears of a German invasion in 1940 caused lines of bunkers to spring up in many south coast  river and beach areas.

The British General Staff really worried about a German landing this far to the west and a major stop line that still has anti tank gun bunkers in place is just a little way along from here at Axminster in the valley of the River Axe.

The machine gun bunker now covered in undergrowth, seen above was mirrored by a similar construction at the opposite end of the shingle bank seen in the picture below with Budleigh in the background. I remember reading the wartime diary of Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke, which makes fascinating reading if you haven't read it, when he described, on taking up his role as Chief of the Imperial General Staff, his concerns with the readiness of the defences he found and the suitability of certain commanders.

Alan Brooke, 1st Viscount Alanbrooke

On the 10th July 1940 he wrote about visiting defences like these in the Exeter area,
"Left here 9.15. Motored to Frome where I visited 144 Inf Bde, then lunched Honiton with Barney at Bloomfield's where we had as good a meal as usual. Met Green SW area in Exeter at 2.30 pm and interviewed Fitzgerald. Then moved to Totnes where I saw 90th Inf Bde and looked at beach defence, much more work and drive required. Finally arrived Admiralty House at 8 pm and discussed defence problem with Admiral Nasmith (C in C Plymouth and Western Approaches) after dinner. From what I have seen I am not happy at the state of the defences in these parts, people have not yet realized the danger of attack." 

Two days later on the 12th July he wrote,
"This was supposed to be probable day of invasion! Spent the day in the office mainly occupied in writing a letter asking for Green to be relieved of the command of the South Western Area. He is too old and lacking in drive ever to make a job of the defence of Devon and Cornwall."

This and the other old bunkers that litter this part of the country are, together with Alan Booke's diary entries, reminders of the serious threat the country faced seventy five years ago.

View from the old bunker over the mouth of the River Otter. The other bunker is at the end of the shingle bank thus providing cross fire over the beach area ahead
As we proceeded out along the cliff path towards Ladram I took the time to enjoy another passion, which I share with Lord Alanbrook, and to photograph the wildlife on the waters-edge and in the fields. As well as the stunning cliff and coast line along this part of Devon and its listing as a World Heritage site now known as the Jurassic Coast; if you take the time to look there is plenty of wildlife to see.

One of natures greatest fish catchers, the Cormorant allows its wings to dry following a recent underwater hunt
The red sandstone cliffs are full of fossils from the Jurassic period and are very distinctive to East Devon
Another one of natures great fish catchers, usually seen inland on freshwater, but just as happy on the shore line - the heron
As we walked further on over the cliffs the view inland soon catches the eye with Devon's rolling hills and valleys showing how the area got it's Celtic name, Devon which means just that "hills and valleys".

As we moved further on through rolling farmland a flashing forked winged bird shot across the pasture ahead and then landed on a far off hay bale. It seemed very nervous and aware of our presence as I slowly edged into the stubble and managed to get a maximum telephoto shot of a kestral.

Kestral on a hay bale
At about the half way point of our walk we came upon a roofless construction with a balcony facing out to sea made of that classic concrete seen on buildings on WWII airfields. However this cliff path was not traversing an airfield.

The notice board on the front wall explained the history of this WWII air gunnery observation post and how the sea bed in the bay opposite ended up becoming littered with spent shell cases from RAF gunnery tests including new marks of Spitfires, Hurricanes and Typhoons as RAF aircraft started to up-arm from .303 machine guns to 20mm and sometimes 40mm cannon followed by rockets prior to the Normandy landings.

The remains of the Brandy Head gunnery observation post

From Brandy Head the path soon took a distinct downward path as Ladram Bay and the thought of a refreshing cup of tea came into view. After a two hour walk with stops to take pictures we were certainly ready for refreshments before starting the walk back to the car.

The path across the fields down to Ladram Bay
The walk back seemed to go much quicker and having grabbed my pictures on the way out had less stops. Not only that, but I was up for cooking dinner so wanted to get back to get started in good time.

This time of year is when the wild geese move onto the local estuaries to winter here in the south west and seeing their V shaped flight formations becomes a common sight, particularly at dusk as the birds, like these Canada Geese, move up from the water onto the open fields to roost and congregate in numbers. I was really pleased with the picture below showing them gathering as more groups came in on final approach to the field above where we parked the car.

As you can see the weather was gorgeous and with the days getting shorter and cooler we certainly made the most of a very pleasant afternoon walk.