Saturday, 13 August 2022

West Country D'Erlon's Assault, Part One: How I made the terrain


Dedicated readers will recall that JP, a Cotswold "neighbour" of wargaming YouTube fame, has been working with me and Kevin East to stage another Waterloo version (see our 1:3 refights in 2015 here). I set the scene briefly back in March Games for 2022. JP started off with the basic General d'Armee scenario for D'Erlon's Assault and we decided to expand it from there to allow for the full scope of my 12 feet x 6 feet customised battlefield . This can give a good part of the centre of the Waterloo field from just West of La Haye Sainte (LHS) to just East of Papelotte and La Haye at roughly 1:20 scale. JP has gone for nearer 1:15 overall in figure numbers and balanced out bases for battalion and regimental sizes. As I write the guys are setting out ready ad we seem to be getting away with it. 

This blog sets out how I made the terrain. As usual the basic system is much the same as earlier tabletops but there are always variations to adapt to the scale of game and figures so I hope you will find it of interest.

This is the Photoshopped map I devised from contours in Adkin's "Waterloo Companion" which also allows for a bit off of-table manouevring. It was used to model the battlefield and for all the planning.

Just to whet your appetites here are JP and Kevin setting up the "on table" French. Allies to follow later

Terrain basics 

I dismantled the old table top which was for the Battle of Madling in April and recovered most of it for reuse. As I contemplated the large swathes of rolling crop fields for Waterloo I realised it would be easier to make the contours from scratch and add on the textures from my earlier Waterloos and Quatre Bras refights. So I kept the flat 8 x 6 basic cardboard base and had to extend it to 12 x 6 with more 18mm MDF boards, and then cover the whole lot with big cardboard sheets (I retain, flattened, any big packing boxes that come to the house) to make a "canvas" for the contour building.

Setting up the background boards (a pack of cheap laminated floor panels from B and Q) at this stage helped me have a firm base to build up to. I'd roughed out a scratch-built LHS (more on that later) to help keep my eye in on the map scale and locations . You can see I've sketched in the basic contour levels on the cardboard

The contour sketches were used to make templates for higher ground
and more cardboard and polystyrene to build up as necessary  

Paper sheets were covered in thinned PVA glue to build up
 layers as papier mâché (pm)

At this point I thought it made sense to paint
 the backboards a rough white primer of acrylic gesso 

Wide masking tape secures the polystyrene or other pieces
long enough to cover with paper and PVA

I reused a lot of textured card and poly pieces from
earlier battlefields.Very little is sent to the tip
 from one game to the next but I have a very full garage!

CG at work in full flow with dilute PVA and paper pieces

A cardboard template provides the basis to build a higher contour
 layer....... piling on waste polystyrene pieces (I never buy any)

....then finishing with papier mâché to blend it all in

I did that over the entire surface

Eventually ending up with a fully contoured battlefield which was left for a day or two to dry thoroughly as a hard shell. As usual I used old metal weights to minimise the chance of warping on drying out


On this hard shell I could draw in the road areas from the
 map reference

Then painted it in roughly with acrylic to help keep me focused

I identified with hatch marks the areas that needed special
 attention for sunken bits. The depth of cardboard allowed me to
cut them out as necessary......

....then fill in with pm to fill gaps and smooth out edges

The main chaussee from Charleroi to Brussels was cobbled.
I restored the same road pieces recovered from Waterloo 2015

Roads now sunken, I repainted for continuity but I would texture them at a later stage

At this point I took the opportunity to paint all the back boards as an
amorphous swirling mass of smoke and low lying
 mist sodden clouds as on 18th June 1815

Texturing fields and roads

This was the most labour intensive part of the whole process but I think the results justified it. Mostly I reused the 2015-2017 Waterloo and Quatre Bras field textures and repainted when necessary. It was like putting together a jigsaw; in some places I left the joins and in others filled them with paint or mixture (see later). I used some commercially bought imitation grass strips (about £3-4 each from "Home Bargains" discount home store gardening section) which needed a lot of painting. The effect of waving ripening crops is good, and soft enough to put figure bases on. For smaller areas I mixed my good old fashioned "gloop" . This is varying proportions of sand, sawdust, plaster filler powder, PVA glue, acrylic or emulsion paint and water, applied mostly with old brushes or occasionally a small trowel.
Probably I can let all my pictures do the talking

The dark piece is the commercial grass. I wanted a big uniform area for the main scene of the historical D'Erlon's attack. I had already painted it a bit before laying, but it would need a lot more painting to look good for this purpose. That old shag-pile rug emerged again in pieces.......

.....but was reunited

Some may remember this teddy bear fur from 2015

Paint pots, PVA container and weights used to help secure some of the "jig-saw" pieces while the glue dried

These bits started life as plastic astroturf mats

I put hedges in place and ensured the roads would be wide enough
 to march JPs figure bases down, although I used some
 of my 18th century infantry and cavalry as testers

Wellington ordered gaps to be made in hedges.
 Mine are wide enough for a 3-figure base

More astroturf

and now I'm reusing the original 2015 vegetable plots from Hougoumont

Above and below: nice green gloop was used for the fields I did
 not have suitable old pieces for

sawdust and sand mix for the Papelotte and La Haye building footprints

Some of the joins needed green gloop to blend them in;
they will be dry brushed later 

Finished the texture except for dry brushing and the roads

A darker earth colour gloop for the sunken road banks

then a medium brown for the base of the roads

When fully dry all the glooped surfaces were skimmed with my
 surformtool to get rid of obvious nibs and highpoints.....
......which left lots of dusty rubble to collect up

Above and below: all drying off nicely for dry brushing

I used various shades of lighter greens all over until
 I was satisfied the whole "painting" had a unified look

The roads were dry brushed with shades of lighter browns to cream

Pretty well content with this now

Above and below: Kevin brought his box of lovely 25mm Hovels
 and other buildings for me to play around with to create
 a semblance of these two farms on the required footprint size

They will be blended into the terrain later with trees ,
bushes and more sawdust

Making La Haye Sainte

Much discussion went into how to render this famous object of our Waterloo battlefield. At this scale the footprint, if you reduce the orchard and garden, is big enough to give some idea of the reality. But not at 28mm or even the 25mm of the Hovels model we used in 2015. I decided we could do it in modified 20mm (1/76 scale if you like), but being the cheapskate I am I was not keen to buy a scale model only to discard about a quarter of  it. So on the internet I found a commercial version in MDF at roughly this scale in which they had kindly published the templates of the MDF pieces, as well as photos of the model finished in different colour schemes. There were no instructions of course but I saved the files and printed them off to give me about a dozen sheets of "authentic" LHS from which to make my version about 2 inches narrower

Paper prints of MDF templates and the colour photos of complete kit

I made it up and modified it and then strengthened the whole thing with balsa wood sheet and strips.

Painted a rough dark brown on the inside faces

I put a thin coat of brown paint and PVA over the whole thing to harden
it off but leave a fair amount of the detail to aid my painting later.
Basically the same technique as I use for painting figures in
my two dimensional art work

I checked with my SYW figures on the same base sizes as JPs that it could hold about two
battalions worth in our scale. That would allow 2 Light Battalion KGL to be reinforced and/or the French to attack inside too

At this point I was satisfied it would work and so used it, as you see above, as a constant reference point for the model terrain building. But it was not till Kevin brought his models round that I started painting as I wanted to ensure compatibility with his superb building paint jobs. First there was the pretty tedious job of cutting out and fixing lots of detailed bits like the doors and window shutters.

Thin coats of green for the woodwork

The basic grey and white after thinned "burnt sienna " for the exposed brickwork

Tedious but satisfying detailing of roof tiles

outlined here and there with fine liner pen

I also highlighted a lot of the brickwork with orange and outlined that too, and added weathering stains to the white 

The finished LHS in situ after sawdust gloop base and dry brushing

Classic view from Wellington's Elm

A Tour round the finished Table

I hope the following series of photos will speak for themselves

Setting out the armies

Now JP told me today that he has some taster YouTube videos on this project for the benefit of his many hundreds of followers, released on 13th August, here is a link

For the benefit of my many hundreds of visitors here is my taster of pictures taken during and after the set up (in a sweltering 33 degrees C).

As the Grand battery assembles the exposed Bijlandt's Dutch-Belgian brigade is ordered to form columns and march westwards ASAP

Here they are spreading out on the march

The view from behind the Allied first lines, more are off the table

The Grand Battery opens up.....and the feeble artillery response from the few Allied batteries deployed at this stage

Two views along the length of the Grand Battery

What will be the outcome of the initial bombardment?  And how will our Cotswold/West Country D'Erlon's Assault develop?....both sides still have significant reserves off table - about 3000 figures to play with in all........see Part Two next week.