Another view of ‘The Age of Charlemagne’ (Osprey No. 150)

By Rob Morgan

I somehow didn’t get around to reviewing the Osprey on the Carolingian age, I intended to, but it seems to have slipped away from me, as have a number of others. It’s been my intention to review most of the Medieval titles in the series, but there we are!

I think Jonathan’s a little unfair on this particular Osprey for a couple of reasons.  After all, this is No. 150, published originally in 1984, a long time back. Most medievalists, most medieval wargamers had little or nothing available to them dealing with this substantial period of time. I don’t think I’d seen an article on Charlemagne, or Carolingian armies and wars in any journal or magazine, beyond the dry academic, or a short piece in History Today perhaps. The content was, certainly, groundbreaking for the wargamer, and for those who had been brought to create forces using conversion from Airfix figures especially, in the way that writers like Bob O’Brien and Terry Wise did in Airfix Magazine and “BATTLE!” in the Seventies.

The remit, intended or implied was vast, more than 250 years of warfare, from 741 AD to 1002AD, one of the reasons I bought No.150 (for which I paid, if the sticker on the back cover is correct, £3.25) was the intriguing time line. The king’s names were incredible: Pepin the Short, Charles, the Bald … the Fat … the Simple. What about Louis? The Coward, The Pious, The Child. A dip into this period seemed likely to bring prizes for the modeller and wargamer. David Nicolle wrote beautifully, and though then as now, arguably, information on fortifications and line drawings of stirrups and of arrow-heads are of limited value to the table-top enthusiast, it all went to more than whet the appetite of those who before, had little or nothing. That certainly was the value of this early Osprey title, and many others.

It was a start then. Now we live in more sophisticated times.

I, for one, did have something else to fall back upon when I read this title. A book which should certainly still be used in conjunction with it. Ian Heath’s Wargames Research Group book “Armies of the Dark Ages 600-1066,” published eight or so years earlier, which contains a dozen pages of sound line illustrations and comment supporting the Osprey. Read them together and more will become clear, that’s my suggestion. But, if you asked me what sold the Osprey to me, it’s Angus’ plates. I might have used the line drawings in Ian Heath’s book to produce a few figures, in 20mm scale and plastic, naturally. Angus decided me to dip in.

Using just four Airfix packs, Robin Hood, Sheriff of Nottingham, Ancient Britons and one or two from the Romans, I pottered around the Empire.  The first set of these provided plenty of variants of the examples at Angus’ plate B3, and C3, and of the levy at F1; and from the Sheriff set, the swordsman on foot, provided E2, easily. The long hauberked mounted knight was ideal to produce any of B2, E1 and H2 with little effort. The pennon bearing mounted figure needs little work to create E1 or C1. Some musing over the other figures in these two packs will provide you with a decent small force, the unharnessed horseman (is he the Sheriff?) is an obvious simple conversion to E3. While the Sheriff’s archer makes G1 just as simply!

A glance at the Ancient Britons will come up with a few of the types shown at Angus’ plate C2, the foot slinger figure’s typical, I think. The axeman and two-handed swordsman are ideal too. These were virtually the only reasonably priced packs available 35 or so years ago, and yes, I did convert a few from my spares box — well, Airfix sets were cheap then. I thought of writing a note up, but naval matters took me away. I’ve always been too lazy to paint an army man by man! I enjoyed painting a couple of banners though!

The handful of Charlemagne’s warriors I converted are long, long gone, but if there had been a couple of packs of plastic 20mm figures around then, I’d probably have bought them and made up a decent border raiding force if not an army. Problem is there are only one or two packs around now, decades later. Charlemagne clearly is not that popular.

Pity.

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5 Responses to Another view of ‘The Age of Charlemagne’ (Osprey No. 150)

  1. jimr says:

    Rob,
    After reading your post I was motivated to look in Ebay for old Airfix sets of the types you mentioned. Sure enough, I ended up buying some Romans within the hour. It is your fault. 🙂

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  2. jimr says:

    Rob,

    Having ordered the Airfix Romans, I am now thinking about which Airfix figures would work for other eras, assuming just as much flexibility as you indicated in your post.

    1. Infantry-both WWI and WWII infantry sets for any nation would seem to be usable in either era if you ignore the spikes on the Prussian helmets.
    2. Cavalry- these are needed for for every era except WWII. Which Airfix cavalry sets would be most versatile across eras?
    3. Artillery – I think the same cannon can be used for WWI, ACW, Napoleonic, and Horse and Musket eras. Did Airfix make artillery that I could switch among these eras?
    4. Archers-again, which Airfix archers would be most flexible across eras?
    5. Mounted knights and Foot knights- did Airfix make these?

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    • admin2 says:

      From Rob Morgan
      Well, that’s a shopping list, Jim. I suspect it would be unlikely that you could discover a collection of Airfix Magazines from the period 1964 to 1973, but these five questions and the astonishing array of answers to them, along with practical articles on conversion and painting and wargame rules, appeared in regular and still very useful articles written by such stalwarts as Chris Ellis, Terry Wise and Don Featherstone, among others (no, not me, I was a teenager then). Brief answers below.
      1. NO! The WWI sets are very period specific. The British and Germans are 1914-1916. Cutting off the pickelhaube spike extends the German period by six months or so, as you create a Fitzhelm head (think German police). They can be cut about for the Franco-Prussian War too. The British can be used post-1916 in Ireland, that’s about it. I have never found any use for the American infantry set. The French are different. From 1916 onwards, they can be Belgians, or used in the Russian Civil War, or Colonial wars, in the 1939-40 Blitzkrieg period or even early Vichy or in the French colonies.
      The WWII infantry sets are a very mixed bunch, some you can use beyond 1939-45, but do look at the scales. The British paratroops are huge and the Afrika Korps are small. The best of the bunch are the Japanese, which can be used from the late 1920s to the 1950s Malay insurrection and Korean War. Some potential in Vietnam too.
      2. The best cavalry set is the French cuirassiers, used from Bonaparte’s time to 1914. They have uses in the Crimea, in Italy, in a range of risings and, of course, the Franco-Prussian War. The US cavalry don’t fit in with anything at all, sadly. The best Airfix cavalry is actually a mix of the outriders from the ACW artillery set on Cowboy horses, they will provide troops for the Risorgimento, most rebellions, the Franco-Prussian War again, and the Boer War and early WWI. Beyond that, to China and the Russian Civil War and Chaco War.
      3. Guns? Well, for the earlier part of the period in question, Airfix made a gun in the French Napoleonic artillery set which could pass for anything from 1700 to 1880 — latterly in colonial warfare as a ‘native’ gun. The best gun in the Airfix series is the 12pdr. Napoleon in the ACW Artillery set, which in numerous issues of the magazine was converted into guns and howitzers for the 19th and 20th centuries, Russian, French, German, Italian, a whole range of them. It will serve for the period 1840-1880 without any serious alteration, of course. The WWI gun has little value beyond that war and perhaps for Operation SeaLion in 1940.
      4. No argument, the Airfix Robin Hood set has a lot of bowmen, good figures, and at one stage Bob O’Brien converted them into a wide range of ancient and medieval archers of all sorts of states, tribes and armies, just with simple paint jobs. Tremendous value as a set for the wargamer even nowadays. From Classical times to the Tudor era.
      5. The only source is the Sheriff of Nottingham set, which when coupled with the Robin Hood figures as levies, certainly makes a decent army. You have to be selective though, figures are pre-1350AD generally.
      If anyone knows of a definitive index to Airfix Magazine, it may be possible to track down the articles I mentioned.

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  3. jimr says:

    Rob,

    Thanks for the insights. I ordered Romans and will look for Robin Hood and Sheriff of Nottingham. FYI, the British horse artillery set seems to have some flexibility regarding use of the horses with riders.

    Since I use a single figure to represent a unit in OHW, I only need a handful of figures for each era, some of which can be multipurpose.

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  4. JAird says:

    Airfix magazine certainly did offer some “inspired” conversion articles enabling the wargamer to get hold of the armies she/he wanted. Sometimes one had to be very imaginative: WWII Japanese converted to Renaissance Pikemen (George Gush series of articles) took a little bit of a suspension of disbelief. The Robin Hood set was very useful though and could be converted to just about any light troops one could want. Just add a thumbtack for a shield! The Native American set also provided a lot of scope, and a bit of plastic surgery could turn the 7th Cavalry into Steppes archers (just swap the torsos!).

    There are quite a few copies of Airfix Magazine available on the Internet Archive: https://archive.org/search.php?query=airfix%20magazine The February 1968 issue has a use for WWI British – use their heads on Union infantry to get passable marines for the ACW!

    And real copies can be found on Ebay – sometimes even at sensible prices. They used to be a staple of the “any magazine 50p ($1)” boxes of second-hand traders at wargame and model shows, but that seems to be a thing of the past now.

    It’s all very nostalgic, and it’s fun to cut up the occasional figure and swap heads etc: but imagine the wargamer who was actually doing this for real: converting box after box of figures because there wasn’t any other choice. The easy way to find exactly what you want is to check Plastic Soldier Review which has reviews of hundreds of boxes of 20mm plastic figures, and then get the sets you need from somewhere like Hannants. Life’s a lot easier now!

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