Vichy Cambodians

Khmers constituted a portion of the units Vichy fielded in its defence of Cambodia, with one assessment of the campaign against the Thais singling them and the Montagnards of central Vietnam out for being the most reliable of Indochina’s native troops.

Whilst in reality these regulars would have been attired no differently from the rest of their French and Vietnamese brethrens, I wanted to infuse some of the exoticness most people associate with all things colonial into my Vichy battlegroup, so began hunting for pictures of what their parade ground look was.

Sadly, googling “tirailleurs cambodgiens” only brings up the same pre-WWI, fin-de-siecle photographs of barefooted men. Clearly I needed a different search term.

Now, anyone who knows their Southeast Asian history will know that the birth roots of modern Cambodia are to be found in the immediate aftermath of the Franco-Thai War, when the Vichyite governor-general in Hanoi handpicked the teenage Prince Norodom Sihanouk to succeed his grandfather Sisowath Monivong – who, interestingly enough, was so miffed at the ceding of his realm’s most prosperous and productive provinces to the Thais that he thereafter refused meeting anyone French – over the heir presumptive, who the French thought a much less pliable character (oh how wrong they were!).

Which meant that a search for images of the two Cambodian royal ceremonies of 1941 was in order. And boy, was my hunch right.

Google’s limited results pointed in the lone direction of Kampot la prospère, a wonderful repository of Cambodia’s pre-revolutionary past. In the entry on Sihanouk’s coronation we get this excellent view of the troops lining the procession path:

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The men pictured are in ceremonial whites with puttees, sash, and beret of matching colour (possibly yellow, judging from the two extraordinary colour photographs of the garde royale‘ featured in a 1931 issue of National Geographic magazine). With the exception of the shoes, they look identical to those who had participated in the previous coronation parade some 13 years prior, as pictured below in a 1928 photograph belonging to the École française d’Extrême-Orient:

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The blog entry on the cremation of King Monivong is even more useful, as it features soldiers in uniforms the Thais were more likely to have encountered on the battlefield:

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The eagle-eyed will no doubt notice that whilst all are decked out in khaki drill, those furthest from the camera appear to be wearing berets of a different, much lighter hue than those in the foreground. Presumably they are yellow, the colour of the Royal Guard, as seen here in this National Geographic photograph from 1931:

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And the rest? Wishful thinking suggests they are army regulars from the Régiment de Tirailleurs Cambodgiens. And while it would not be unreasonable to assume that the berets these men sport are dark blue like those worn by Vietnamese tirailleurs serving in China and the mountainous regions of Annam,  I couldn’t quite swat away the image of these Lucotte toy soldiers my original googling for Cambodian tirailleurs had thrown up:

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A toy manufacturer’s flight of fancy, perhaps? Perhaps. But Peter Abbott’s incredibly useful Rivals of the Raj has this description (itself derived from Maurice Rives and Eric Deroo’s Les Lính tâp: Histoire des militaires indochinois au service de la France, 1859-1960) of Cambodians in French service at the turn of the century:

“The Tirailleurs Cambodgiens were given a remarkably western uniform reminiscent of the Chasseurs Alpins… [consisting of] a red beret… loose trousers by culottes cyclistes or wide, loose breeches coming down to just below the knee. These were worn with red puttees and bare feet. The beret bore no device.”

Thinking it not outside the realm of possibility that the red would be retained three decades on, I engaged in yet another wild goose chase, during the course of which I chanced upon pictures of an exhibition on Indochina which the Musée de l’Armée in Paris had held between 2013 and 2014. Among the exhibits was a 1931 painting by Marie Antoinette Boullard-Devé, an École des Beaux-Arts graduate who had travelled extensively across interwar Indochina:

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Having found a perfectly good excuse to field some red berets for the Franco-Thai War, it was time to look for figures. I very quickly honed in on Minairons Miniatures’ Spanish Civil War offerings, whose wares were not only sculpted by “Xan” Bautista of Fantassin fame, but also have the extra benefit of having the look I needed – the webbing, for example, is of a pattern very similar to the French, being composed of a Y-strap and a back cartridge pouch of the right shape, while the machine guns are Hotchkisses. And as if that wasn’t enough, Minairons also does separate heads, including berets pulled to the left in the French manner. So here you have them:

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As you can see, the sculpting is nothing short of exquisite, making them a complete pain to paint. Flash was minimal, though rifle barrels and bayonet tips were unexpectedly brittle, something I found out the hard way.

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These follow my standard recipe for Vichy colonials, with a basecoat of VGC Beasty Brown and a highlight of VMC Cork Brown being used for the flesh. Not as successful a sunburnt Asian skintone as I had hoped, but I’ll be sticking to it for the rest of the battalion.

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The berets were each given a healthy dollop of Tamiya Quick Dry epoxy putty for that extra bit of floppiness, followed by a triad of VGC Black + VGC Scarlet Red – VGC Scarlet Red – VGC Bloody Red. The same colours were also used for the waist sashes.

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As you can see, my go-to varnish (Daler Rowney) has acted up, despite numerous attempts at shaking the bottle. Shall need to do something about the satin finish soon-ish…

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National Museum of Myanmar

Managed to find time for the national museum in Yangon this past weekend. As to be expected, the emphasis was very much on crafts and artifacts, with there being little in the way of military displays. Collated below are the few depictions of medieval and musket-era Burmans to be found there.

Hopefully this will be of some use for those looking to sample the Curteys and Steve Barber ranges.

Speedpainted Filipinos

These were done on the hoof, spurred on by visits to Manila, my recent discovery of the devastatingly excellent blog that is Just Needs Varnish!, and a long-held secret admiration for the wash-centric painting method advocated by the talented folks at WWPD.

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The Philippine Army was woefully unprepared for war, with the vast majority of those reserves mobilised in the months leading up to Pearl Harbor consisting of under-trained and badly equipped illiterates led by officers — either Tagalog speakers or Americans on secondment — whose orders they could never fully understand (there being as many as 75 different languages throughout the Philippine archipelago according to the Encyclopedia Britannica).

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The figures are from Shellhole Scenics, whose Mexican federales provide near-perfect stand-ins for Filipinos if the colour plates (this and this) of reenactor  and WWII eyewitness Daniel H. Dizon are anything to go by.

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I also took the opportunity to try out the Army Painter acrylic washes I had long ago bought, in an attempt to short-circuit my usual block-painting practices. Sadly the results left a lot to be desired. This I attributed to the already dark tone of the blue chosen as the base colour for the denim uniform, something I proceeded to rectify with additional highlights (which should also have been applied to the webbing and rifle stock, except that would have defeated the purpose of the entire exercise).

The bigger question, of course, is how to complete the rest of the battalion given how I’m not too enamoured of this first batch’s overall look.

More Vichy French

Very chuffed with how fast I was able to churn this second unit out. They may not hold up well in the face of the camera’s unforgiving glare, though at arm’s length on the tabletop they do look quite passable. Honest!

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Funnily enough, it was only thanks to these photos that I came to realise that the helmet badges still need to be painted. I am already looking forward to rectifying this with the next batch.

Vichy infantry

These chaps can double as both foreign legion and colonials, the Indochina garrison having undertaken to standardise its combat troops’ appearance during the mid-1930s (to the extent that even the Vietnamese tirailleurs’ iconic salacco hat was replaced by the Model 1931 sun helmet).

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The wargaming world’s first-ever range of such troops (predating the Perrys’ own 28mm offerings by several years), Elhiem Figures’ WWII French in tropical uniform can also be used to defend France’s honour in places as far apart as Madagascar, Gabon, and the Levant – a very versatile bunch if you ask me!

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The painting pretty much follows the recipe outlined in the previous post, though the bread bags have been given a 50:50 mix of VMC Iraqi Sand and Foundry Boneyard C as a mid-tone to offset the jarring near-whiteness of Foundry Boneyard C on its own.

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Water bottles were done using an improvised VMC British Uniform – VMC Khaki Grey – VMC Khaki Grey + VMC Iraqi Sand triad which I would like to think came out rather well.

Vichy officers

Some chaps to lead the defence of Indochina.

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Though the uniforms have turned out a tad bit too yellow, I’m quite pleased with the overall result and will be sticking to the following recipe:

Uniform and helmet: Foundry Boneyard A – Foundry Boneyard B
Leather kit and shoes: GW Scorched Brown – VMC Saddle Brown
Bread bag: VMC Khaki Grey – VMC Iraqi Sand – Foundry Boneyard C
Puttees: VMC US Drab – VMC English Uniform – VMC Khaki Grey

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The three helmeted figures are all from Elhiem pack FT04. The odd man out is from Shell Hole Scenics. Anoraks will likely note the sculptor’s attention to detail (particularly the extra canvas belt and shoulder aiguillette) as well as my completely ahistorical rendering of his kepi – because the right colours for colonial infantry are just abysmally dull, I instead went with those belonging to the Saharan companies, which meant that the band was given an undercoat of VMC Prussian Blue and highlighted with VMC Deep Sky Blue, while the crown was painted a bright VGC Bloody Red. And yes, I did omit the collar tabs. So shoot me.

National Museum, Bangkok

The Bangkok National Museum’s new war room features a stunning, glass-encased diorama of an Ayutthaya-era army manoeuvering in one of the battle formations prescribed by the Treatise on Victorious Warfare, a military handbook first compiled in 1518 (for an excellent little primer on renaissance Siamese warfare, look no further than Cambridge University Press’s A History of Ayutthaya).

The rest of the hall featured actual weapons spanning the 16th to 19th centuries, plus a life-size replica of a war elephant.

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Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall

Back in 2015 I made an unplanned trip to Taipei, during which I managed to squeeze in the briefest of visits to the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. As luck would have it, my presence coincided with the hosting of a modest exhibition commemorating the 70th anniversary of Japan’s defeat in WWII.

On display were paintings of the sort favoured by Asian military museums (which is to say their inattention to historical accuracy and general shoddiness would in all likelihood preclude their inclusion in Osprey books) highlighting some of the Sino-Japanese War’s greatest hits:

Of greater interest to wargamers such as us were the smattering of 1/35 afv kits the organisers had very kindly commissioned:

My favourite, though, were the even smaller batch of action figures on show:

And to end it all, a bloody big diorama of the China theatre of operations. Funnily enough I didn’t feel all that bothered about capturing the thing in its entirety.

National Museum of Thailand

The main hall of the National Museum in Bangkok has undergone a revamp that, whilst much needed, has deprived it of the scale dioramas modellers and wargamers alike would have waxed lyrical about. Thankfully the Fine Arts Department has had the foresight to preserve the old displays  for posterity in a virtual tour available on the world wide web – though I’d like to think that my own pictures will be of use to the more eagle-eyed of readers.

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These miniature reenactments of the medieval monarchy’s greatest hits began with the 1238 ascension of Si Inthrathit, a petty warlord who rebelled against Khmer suzerainty to establish the first independent Siamese kingdom at Sukhothai (whose troop types are available in 15mm from Khurasan Miniatures, in case anyone is wondering).

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This staid scene setter quickly gives way to a rip-roaring elephant duel, the first of many such vignettes, between his 19-year-old son, Ramkhamhaeng, and the local Khmer governor in 1257.

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Ramkhamhaeng’s own reign is believed to have ushered in a golden age of peace and enlightened kingship. The monarch was said to be an approachable sort, and accepted petitions from his subjects in person.

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The king even had the time to devise a new alphabet, which was inscribed on stones for distribution amongst the public. That this ever happened is a matter of dispute, with many a left-leaning academic attributing the stone’s progeny to a 19th century king desperate to convince the encroaching colonial powers that Siam needn’t any further civilising.

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Equally idyllic was the reign of Ramkhamhaeng’s grandson, Mahathammaracha I, whose piety is reflected not only in his regnal name (“Great King of Dharma”) but in the many temples and Buddhas he had commissioned.

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Commoners, on the other hand, had pottery to busy themselves with.

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The Sukhothai Kingdom was quickly overshadowed by its rival to the south, Ayutthaya, which became one of the region’s great mandalas throughout the centuries that followed. Depicted here is the city’s founding along the banks of the Chao Phraya River, overseen by King U-Thong.

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A city of resplendent temples and high stilted houses, Ayutthaya was a very cosmopolitan place, attracting all sorts of characters, from Persian traders and Japanese ronins to Portuguese missionaries and Dutch soldiers of fortune.

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Ayutthaya had its ups and downs, and at one point was subjugated by the Burmese. This state of vassalage was upended in 1583 when a young Siamese prince, Naresuan, declared independence in a quasi-religious ceremony.

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The museum’s remaining dioramas are all devoted to Naresuan’s various derring-dos. These included a decidedly ungentlemanly long-distance sniping of a Burmese viceroy, an incident that ranks as one of the most celebrated feats in Siamese military lore.

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The warrior king also wasn’t adverse to taking on turbaned baddies on horseback.

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It all culminated in a 1592 elephant duel between Naresuan and the Burmese heir-apparent Mingyi Swa at Nong Sarai in modern-day Suphanburi, an event that is commemorated in the province’s seal.

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