Generic Wargame Armies

I am going to start this blog entry by making one thing very clear; I am not – and never have been – an absolute purist when it comes to my wargame armies. This is not to say that I don’t take pride in trying to make my wargame armies look reasonably accurate, but I try not to take it to extremes.

An example of the extreme viewpoint is illustrated by a wargamer of my acquaintance who refused to buy a particular figure from a manufacturer (I think that it was a Prussian Napoleonic Fusilier of 1815) because the 15mm-scale figure was wearing an item of uniform that was supposed to have been withdrawn from service two or three years earlier. This seemed a bit extreme to me, and when I asked whether or not obsolete items of uniform might have still been in service even though they were supposed to have been withdrawn, I was subjected to a long diatribe about the need for absolute accuracy. To that wargamer wargame figures in accurate uniforms were essential for their enjoyment of the hobby.

I do think accuracy is important … up to a point. For example I would not expect to see Pzkpfw V Panther tanks rolling across the French countryside in 1940, but I would not be desperately upset if I saw a 1945 model of a Pzkpfw V Panther tank on the tabletop during a re-fight of the Battle of Kursk. (I know that there are quite a few wargamers who – having read this far – are now foaming at the mouth and giving serious consideration to tarring and feathering me at the first opportunity that arises!)

In my little world my wargame figures represent what I want them to represent, and as long as they are vaguely correct when seen from about three feet away, I am happy. This has meant that I have been able to use my collection to fight a variety of battles from periods and wars that would otherwise have required me to paint a lot more figures than I would ever have been able – or inclined – to do.

Military fashion has been of great help to me in this. In the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars – and to some extent during it – every nation seemed to copy each other’s uniforms. Only the colours used were markedly different, although dark blue does seem to have been used by a lot of countries. By the middle of the nineteenth century French military fashion set the trends, and almost every nation – with the exception of Prussia and those countries that followed their lead – was dressed in similar uniforms. After the Franco-German War of 1870-71 the trend moved away from French military fashion and more towards Prussian/German styles.

The growth of colonial warfare also led to greater uniformity, and by 1900 most countries had colonial armies that were clothed in brown/khaki uniforms when on active service. Even the uniforms worn within Europe became drabber, with only the French – and the countries that followed their military fashions – retaining any significant colour in their field uniforms. Even their colonial opponents tended to wear similar clothing to each other, and my North West Frontier tribesmen – who wear an off-white tunic and trousers with a white or coloured turban – have seen service as Mahdist riflemen and Turkish irregulars.

By the end of the First World War most of the Allied countries were wearing drab-coloured uniforms, and they set the trend for the next twenty years or so. A figure in French uniform (i.e. Adrian helmet and long overcoat or tunic) can be used to represent French, Belgian, Polish, Russian, Yugoslav, Greek, Romanian, and Italian troops without difficulty (only the colour of the uniform might vary from country to country), whilst a figure in British uniform (i.e. British-style steel helmet and tunic) can be used to represent British, US, and Portuguese troops. Even figures in German steel helmets present opportunities for wargamers who are not uniform purists, and could be used to represent German, Polish, Finnish, Irish, and Chinese troops.

This is by no means a definitive list, and it strikes me that if other wargamers took my less purist attitude to the uniforms their wargame armies wear they could get a lot of use out of them.

22 Comments on “Generic Wargame Armies”

  1. Dear Bob,

    I am definitely in the camp of those who do not want to tar and feather you! Last Thursday we played a small game in France 1940 ilk and in order to flesh out the Germans I needed to “draft” some lads using the Sturmgewehr 44. I told them that the weapons were bolt action rifles at the nbeginning of the game, reminded them once, and went from there. The French Renault 17s could be used up to 1943 or so by Rumanians and even possibly Hungarians While there were even a few Somuas used by the Germans during Market Garden and in Normandy. The fact is that with things costing so much today, we'd be damned silly to not try to stretch our gaming dollars.
    We are playing with toys, after all, and some folks can get pretty silly about things like uniforms and the like. That's fine. I once had an elderly man arrive at a game I was running with unpainted figures. (He had a form of Parkinson's which left him unable to paint.) I sat him down and immediately gave him a command. A bit later someone came over and indicated their amazement that I would let him play with “shiny metal.” I looked over and calmy replied -“My game, my rules.” And that's the point – they are your toys and you get to make the call(s) concerning how you will play with them. Let the toy soldier police go on patrol elsewhere.
    A/K/A The Celtic Curmudgeon
    “Grumpy is good.”

  2. Fitz-Badger says:

    Yep, to each their own. I'm hardly ready to tar and feather anyone. ha ha
    Of course, my figures and games are far from historical! If anything, my gaming inspiration is more Hollywood and less history. I even enjoy fantasy gaming, imagine that.
    As long as people are enjoying what they do, and not trying to dictate to others, that's great.

  3. Stu Rat says:

    Are turkey feathers OK?

    I don't have a problem with what you say, but the opportunity to check tarring-and-feathering off my bucket list…

    I once used Airfix Prussian Infantry (Landwehr) as U.S. troops for the Mexican American War. And the French Waterloo sets did service as the Mexicans.

  4. Most of my armies are based on Funken, so I can't say anything…


  5. arthur1815 says:

    I'm whole-heartedly with you in not being obsessive about uniform details – especially ones that would be invisible if a real soldier was observed from a distance that made him appear to be only 15-25 mm tall!
    What surprises me about you anecdote is the rejection of your eminently reasonable argument about out of date/regulation kit remaining in service. One need look no further than the 28th Foot, still in stovepipe shakos at Waterloo!

  6. Ian Dury says:

    Totally agree with you Bon, one of the reasons I went for a Prussian army for 1870 is that they can serve anywhere between the 1840s up to the opening days of the First World War, albeit various details of the uniforms are strictly wrong outside of the 1870s…
    And if you want another real-life example of out of date items being re-used, when he joined the Navy in 1942, my Dad was issued with and trained on a Lee-Metford rifle that had last been used before the Boer War…..

  7. CelticCurmudgeon (Jerry),

    I am pleased to hear that we both agree about this … and your examples make perfect sense.

    I like the story about the elderly wargamer … as I am none too young myself and my eyes are going, I could end up being like that myself!

    All the best,


  8. Fitz-Badger,

    Hollywood-inspired wargames armies! Is there any other sort? Tim Gow has a Hollywood Panzer division where all the equipment is American painted and marked to look German!

    It looks very impressive.

    All the best,


  9. Stu Rat,

    Turkey feathers are fine as long as I get to eat the turkey afterwards!

    I think that your use of those Airfix figures are inspired!

    All the best,


  10. Xaltotun of Python (Rob),

    Nothing wrong with Funken in my book! There was a time when they were the only source available.

    All the best,


  11. Ross Mac,

    Cheers, old chap.

    All the best,


  12. Arthur1815,

    I wonder if anyone told the Iron Duke that he was fielding an incorrectly uniformed unit? Perhaps Napoleon should have complained to the umpire so that the result could have been declared void!

    All the best,


  13. Ian Dury,

    One of the things that I loved about Peter Laing's figures was their inherent geneticness …. assuming that such a word exists!

    Lee Metfords would have been regarded as ultra modern weapons by some Home Fuard units in 1940, and I have always wondered how pike-armed troops would have dared when used against tanks.

    All the best,


  14. Ian Dury,

    Bon sounds good to me!

    All the best,


  15. Tim Gow says:

    In every game I make an effort to include at least one item which will deeply offend the self-styled 'proper' wargamer.

  16. Tim Gow,

    A very commendable policy in my opinion … and one with which I wholeheartedly agree!

    All the best,


  17. Dick Bryant says:

    First of all, Wrgamers DO NOT tar and feather- they white glue and flock!

    I had a wargaming freind who, though in dire need of some 20 British stnads to complete the T.O, & E of a Peninsular battle, refused to use mine as they were depicted in Belgian Shakoes! The Brits went to war understrenght! I, on the other hand, have used Austrians as Spanish in the Penninsula.
    “No Scenario Survives First Contact With a Wargamer”

  18. Chris Kemp says:

    Pushing against an open door there, Bob :O)

    Regards, Chris.

  19. Dick Bryant,

    Glue and flock! That comment made me laugh out loud! Very funny and very clever!

    Anyone who fails to use all the troops that are available to them deserves to be beaten … especially by Austrians pretending to be Spaniards!

    All the best,


  20. Chris Kemp,

    I suspect that you are correct. No harm in pushing though.

    All the best,


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