Saturday, June 7, 2014

Don Cossack (cavalry): Figures Ranges

There a plenty of Cossack ranges out there but many of them are for the renaissance period and wars up to the end of the nineteenth century. So, who makes Don Cossacks that I can use for the Crimean War?

Before continuing, there are a significant array of Cossack ranges which come close. Eureka Miniatures (for example) do a nice range of Don Cossacks for the French Revolutionary Wars. I am sticking closely to the Crimea War period; however, in order to limit conversion requirements. The Eureka figures would require the addition of putty to lengthen the frock coats and the removal of papakha cords for starters and so it is with most sculpts depicting Cossacks before and after our specific period.

Wargames Foundry
Sculpted by Michael and Alan Perry long ago, they offer an unfortunately limited series of poses for generic Cossack cavalrymen all of whom wear a fatigue cap. Superbly sculpted, they conform to the older 25mm size which might not actually translate too badly to the table top along side modern ranges if one identifies their mounts as Steppe ponies.
With only two trooper poses, attempting to furnish an entire regiment with neat, uniformed and uniformly posed figures would not enable me to convey the irregular visual impression I am after for my Cossacks.
The Command set is useful both with and without converting the headdress. Aside from them, the entire and limited range does not readily identify or differentiate between the Cossack Hosts present at Balaclava. I won't mention the stirrups.

The only specifically identified Don Cossacks from Wargames Foundry are an artillery crew and limber set. After them, their offering for Cossacks for this period is exhausted.

Warlord Games

I understand that the evolving range of 28mm figures from Warlord Games is to include the addition of Cossacks. This statement of intent is to be found on their own discussion forum but dates back to February 2012. In the intervening period they have only committed to a gorgeous but slow growing range of British troop types only (Hussars, Lancers and Foot). I will continue to monitor their progress but they appear to be more focused on Napoleonics and WWII for the time being.

Essex Miniatures
An extensive range across many periods: old company with an old series of sculpts. Whilst they don't cover the Crimean War they do have suitable figures from their Russian Napoleonic range. They are simplistic sculpts in comparison to modern styles and in my opinion the poor paint-jobs for their on-line shop doesn't help sell these figures at all. I have experience with Essex Miniatures and find them a solid product which paint up well.


Two lancer variations are offered with a sword wielding third amongst the range. They give a fair representation of the papakha (headdress) minus the pom-pom or plume. The trouser may require extending to the heel for our period but the tunic is about the right length. Reposing these figures is easy given the malleability of their particular white metal alloy. Some modest filing and a bit of putty should take care of most requirements including absenting those misplaced stirrups! Certainly these chaps would make a worthy addition to the irregular ranks of a Don Cossack sotnya.

Perry Miniatures
Always a sought after addition to any 28mm army, we are fortunate that they offer a range of Napoleonic Wars Cossacks, some of which fit the bill nicely.
RN43 Ataman Cossack with Command
Their Ataman Cossack figures are pretty well spot on for the Don Cossacks wearing an oilskin cover cap in lieu of their papakha. Their coats are perhaps a tad long and yet another depiction with stirrups makes me question have I misread something?
RN44 Ataman Cossack winter dress

I believe these figures will fit well for any Don Cossack cavalry of the 54th regiment or above (see my previous research posting on the Don Cossack cavalry). Of course, Perry's do a good variety of wonderfully animated poses.
RN40 Don Cossack Command
Their Don Cossack Command also fits nicely with the unadorned papakha in evidence. I doubt very much if specifically sculpted Cossacks for the Crimean War could be much more fit for purpose.
RN47 Cossacks Skirmishing

Whilst the centre figure is close within their skirmishing pack, they do not provide us with the Caucases fur cap for the Cossack regiments up to and including the 54th regiment. At this time, no one does that I've found.

Great War Miniatures
My favourite range for my Balaclava Build has yet to add to their Russians and include Cossacks. The only option is to brand their light cavalry in caps as Cossacks. Sometimes portrayed as wearing such in illustrations of the Crimean War, this may have been opted for but there is little evidence to confirm this mode of dress. It is certainly the approach adopted by Wargames Foundry (above). If confirmed, the Great War Miniatures sculpts would require removal of the sabre guard and the replacement of at least some sabres with a lance. Of course, some headdresses might be replaced with putty oilskin caps, modelling of uncovered  papakha or the Caucasian fur caps if you're up to the challenge. All in all, it would take some effort to turn these line cavalry figures into Cossacks.

So, as far as I am aware, this is our lot. I am near to deciding on my approach for the 53rd Cossacks. Whilst yet to commit, it will most probably be a mixture of the above. Either way, I will have a lot of hat building to do.

Don Cossacks (cavalry)

What is or was a Cossack by 1854? In ethnic terms, they were generally by this time dominated by Greater Russian peoples. Socially, they were based on nomadic structures but this had been changing for many generations as had their cultural independence.They spoke Russian, observed in their own way Christian Orthodoxy but retained the strong influence of their Tartar origins in custom, law and in the way they waged war.

What is certain is that not all Cossacks were the same and there were most probably significant differences between regiments, Cossack hosts and the specific army they served in. The Don Cossacks were the most significant of the Cossack hosts from the time of the Napoleonic wars. Born to the saddle, a conspicuously high proportion of the male Cossack population (60% plus) was under arms in constant service to the Tzar in return for communal lands. From 1835, service was set at 35 years from the age of nineteen years.

In  real terms, the Cossack people of the Don were a war machine for Russia who were organised and collectively equipped their men for a lifetime of service under arms. What they were not by this period were disparate bands of brigand-like, barely civilized marauder skirmishers - the romantic and outdated concept of the irregular, unreliable maverick scouts in the style of Hollywood's Taras Bulba. Some of these classical traits and customs, identity and behaviours were surely a feature but we need to be careful not to allow mythology to lead us to cliche.
Russian Cossacks taken 1854 by Szathmary (the Royal Collection UK)
If we take a longer look as Szathmary's photo (above) we see a group of quite uniformed and smartly turned out soldiers. Their mounts are not so different from other cavalry as we might have imagined. Though black & white, the photo shows they appear to be attired in the dark blue proffered by the Tsarist government in this period and with little adornment. To be sure, it appears to be a set of officers and staff: there's not a wild fur coat, bandolier or pig-tail in sight. For more detailed discussion further on, their papakha headdress is uncovered and shows the formal red bag and what I make to be signs of several pom-poms or white plumes on the left of the crown rim.


Generations of uprisings and successful Tsarist suppression had affected increasing dominance from Moscow in local political power structures and a closer alignment of the Cossack military machine with Imperial Russian military organisation. Nevertheless, they continued to cloth an accoutre themselves for service, albeit more uniformly than in previous periods. Mount and saddlery was an expense born by the Cossack trooper. Whilst furnishing artillery and infantry regiments on campaign, the Don and other Cossack hosts continued to fulfill the irregular cavalry role for which they had long been renown.

The principle organisational unit remained the Sotnya (or sotnie): either a cavalry squadron or infantry company of 100 men. Six sotnya formed a cavalry regiment, most of whom would have mounted their own steppe ponies drawn from their vast herds about the Don. They rode them without stirrups, exerting control through the nagaika (whip).

They had their own rank titles up to Lieutenant-Colonel which mirrored the Imperial army ranks. For my wargaming purposes, it is perhaps only the Lieutenant-Colonel or starshina and major (esaul) whom I need to identify at a 1:20 representative troop scale.

Uniform (or perhaps more accurately: Dress)

Seaton & Youens (The Cossacks, Osprey Men-At-Arms 1972) emphasize the inaccuracy or rather falsehood in artistic depictions of uniformly attired Cossacks at war when compared to the written records and later photographic evidence. Considerable variation in basic clothing within and certainly between sotnyas of a regiment would appear highly likely. Having said that, the above photo of Szathmary's clearly show some smartly turned out and clearly 'uniformed' Cossacks and it appears that some level of uniformity was achieved at this particular time. This was certainly the desire, intent and practice of the Tsarist government in its employment of Cossacks for the first part of the nineteenth century.

Guard Cossack papakha 1790
That item of dress which identifies the Don in the Crimean War from any other type of Cossack is perhaps his headgear: the papakha. A tall cylindrical busby of pressed, rough lambswool, the papakha is Turkish in origin. It is similar to the common Astrakhan cap which is essentially of the same design and material, but the Don papakha is conspicuously taller. The crown was red and sometimes formed a bag which extended some way down the right side. Particular Don Cossack regiments might even include a white pom-pom or plume fixed to the left of the top rim but this may have been mostly for guard regiments and a governmental inclusion in the European style. Thomas & Scollins (The Russian Army of the Crimean War 1854-56, Osprey Men-At-Army no:241) highlights the practice of forming the papakha oilskin cover into a cap of its own for use in the field - see below illustration of 60th Don Cossacks.

Vansen's sketches of 42nd Don Cossacks
The black fur and cloth cap worn in the Caucasus was retained by those regiments who fought in that army which included the first 54 regiments. Vansen's sketch (illustrated right) shows the crown of the cap which would have been red with white piping for the Don regiments.
Mid-ninetheenth century Cossacks (note red crown and piping)

60th Don Cossacks (note the oilskin cap)

The tunic (coat) or tchekman worn by the Cossacks of the Crimean War reflects this particular period of attempts by Moscow to bring greater conformity to Cossack appearance in the field. In the European style, this tunic may have been common beyond the 60th Don Cossacks (illustrated left). Pants were predominately blue with a single and relatively wide red stripe (see Vansen's sketch above). Collar and shoulder straps are blue and red piped generally.


Don Cossack cavalry had by this period long favoured the lance (without pennon) as their principle weapon. They were armed with a rifle (no bayonet) and a curved sabre (the shashka). Both the Caucasian and Cossack shashka originated in design from the 12th century and was an ornately decorated single edged, curved and hilt-less sword with a counter-curved grip. Wider than the European sabre, the shashka blade is seen often with more than one fuller. Cossacks also took whatever additional arms the individual chose to carry - mostly pistols and knives.

Other References

Vezio Melegari: "The World's Great Regiments" 1968.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Szathmary - Crimean Combat Photographer

Carol Pop de Szathmari
Not just in the interests of balance, this site needs to include mention of a man who may be regarded as the world first known combat photographer – Carol Pop de Szathmari (also Szathmáry Pap Károly). Born 11 January 1818 in Cluj, Kolozsvar (modern day Romania) this painter and traveler began working with portrait photography before the war, having developed several ranking contacts through his portraiture. At age 36, he took a specially fitted wagon for developing his photographs, arriving in the Crimea in 1853 to capture the first photographic records of the war – later exhibited at the World Exhibition in 1855.

Unlike Fenton, Szathmari photographed both sides of the early war - recording images of the Russian and Turkish combatants. His works were exhibited, gaining several awards and he was widely reproduced in magazines and print. It is regrettable that most of his works and none of his albums have survived into the 21st century. What few images remain can be found in the British Royal Family’s Royal Collection available for viewing on-line.

The first image shown (left) is from the Royal Collection and depicts Don Cossacks taken in 1854.

The three soldiers depicted next (right) are Ottoman officers - a  Captain, Colonel and Major taken also in 1854.

We are told of the hazards Szathmary encountered as he crossed the lines to expand his portfolio. Near Oltenitza Szathmary had a close encounter with Turkish artillery who it is understood thought him a Russian spy and took some thankfully poorly ranged shots.

Turkish artillery limber and crew (left) taken 1854.

 Turkish artillery officers (right) 1854.

Three pictures can also be found at the International Museum of Photography and Film, George Eastman House (Rochester, New York): "The Russian lancer's encampment in Craiova", "The Bombardment of Silistra" and the portrait of Lieutenant General Soimonoff.

Szathmary was the first certified photographer in Romania and one of the first ten photographers in Europe. He became the official photographer of the Romanian ruler Alexandru Ioan Cuza and of the first king of Romania, Carol I of Romania. Most of his life he worked and lived in Bucharest, where he died in 1887 aged 69.