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"British field uniforms 1890 Europe" Topic

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Allen5729 Jan 2014 6:20 a.m. PST

I am a bit confused. Could someone point me to a picture of what uniforms would be worn by the British army in the field around 1890? I have seen red jackets and a piklehaub type helmet but suspect this is a dress uniform.

Does anyone make 6mm figures of the army in field uniform for this time frame?



Doc Ord Supporting Member of TMP29 Jan 2014 6:50 a.m. PST

The official field uniform would indeed be red jackets with plain cuffs and collars in unit colors. The helmet would be dark blue ( or green for light infantry ) and trousers dark blue with red seam piping. Rifles would be in very dark green and highlanders in trews or kilts according to the unit. The various specialty head gear were to be worn in the field but forage caps would probably be worn.

Personal logo Martin Rapier Supporting Member of TMP29 Jan 2014 8:10 a.m. PST

Yep, Home Service Dress, nice red jackets and Prussian style pointy hats, which were very popular after the Franco Prussian War. All very 'Battle of Dorking'.

Khaki was worn by colonial types in dusty, hot places, however figures in colonial uniforms with pointy pith helmets can easily be painted to represent Home Service Dress in 6mmm.

Try Irregular.

DLIinVSF29 Jan 2014 8:55 a.m. PST

You can't go far wrong with this guide from Perry Miniatures


It's basically a mix of styles depending on the service location.

Personal logo Tommy20 Supporting Member of TMP29 Jan 2014 9:17 a.m. PST

The home service uniforms were many and varied. They drilled and went on maneuvers in them, so in the event of a European war, would no doubt have at least started out wearing them. How long they stayed in them is another matter entirely!

Note: the spiked helmet was not a pickelhaube. The spike itself is the only similarity, as the helmet itself is shaped entirely different.

I agree with Martin. A proper paintjob would probably be enough to convert most 6mm figures. For Guards, Highlanders & cavalry, Crimean War figs might be a good choice.

Line Infantry














Cerdic Supporting Member of TMP30 Jan 2014 5:21 a.m. PST

Paint jobs on Baccus figures would get you most of the stuff you need. Try the Franco-Prussian War and Colonial ranges…..

mrinku31 Jan 2014 2:18 a.m. PST

Since your question was about what was worn "in the field", the answer is simply the khaki kit. Redcoats were last worn in battle in 1885 in the Sudan, and even there it was only one or two occasions. By 1890 you'd only see the home service uniform as dress uniform outside of Britain, and khaki was universal (even in the cavalry), although the Rifles still used black leather equipments instead of brown.

The home service helmet is literally a London bobbie's helmet with a spike – a ball for artillery. If you can see that at 6mm the detail on them must be spectacular – home service or overseas kit will be the same figures with different paint schemes.

YouRebelScum Inactive Member01 Feb 2014 3:50 a.m. PST

Point of fact: the custodian helmet (police) is not 'literally' the same as a home service helmet they are different beasts entirely.

If a European war was off the bat, and not planned, the chances are that forces from Britain would be deployed in home service uniforms which were not just dress… The standard working dress for infantry (except rifles) at home was scarlet until 1902, with the guards having the option of white drill jackets in undress.

However, any European war would probably have seen a change to khaki drab as soon as could have been managed.

Foreign service uniforms around 1890 would have been Khaki drill with pith helmets.

Northbank66 Inactive Member05 Feb 2014 8:08 p.m. PST

Very interesting question!

The British fought the first Boer war in redcoats and blue pants, basically the home service uniform. The Khaki uniforms used in the Sudan and India etc seem like they would not have been suitable for Europe. The Khaki was a very light color and there is no indication that the khaki of WW1 would have been available in 1890. Also although the Khaki uniforms were camouflage of a sort, the tactics used in India and the Sudan were hardly devised to take advantage of that fact.

As the Prussian/Germans and the French were still using basically parade uniforms for combat it does make one think that any European war in the 1890's would probably have at least started with troops dressed in brightly colored uniforms.

As the British had not gone through the trauma of aimed rifle fire that they experienced from the Boers it would also be interesting to find out what tactical formations would have been used. Especially as, again, the shock of the aimed rifle power of the Boers would not have led to the small arms training that made the BEF such a potent force in 1914.

Presumably line and column, until fire power dictated/forced more open formations and drab colored uniforms. That would have needed quite a lot of convincing for European Generals steeped in tradition. The Germans in 1914 were still advancing in column, not sure about the French.

Just an opinion.

mrinku06 Feb 2014 2:11 a.m. PST

Oh, one notable exception to the universal overseas service khaki – Scots units still wore tartan kilts and trousers, though it was khaki from the waist up :)

Marines on shipboard wore non-khaki, too.

Good question about any hypothetical European service. I tend to agree with Northbank that they would have worn home service. They also typically shipped out in home service and were issued with overseas kit on arrival.

Bindon Blood06 Feb 2014 4:29 a.m. PST

"The Khaki uniforms used in the Sudan and India etc seem like they would not have been suitable for Europe. The Khaki was a very light color and there is no indication that the khaki of WW1 would have been available in 1890. Also although the Khaki uniforms were camouflage of a sort, the tactics used in India and the Sudan were hardly devised to take advantage of that fact."

As it turns out they were not particularly suitable for South Africa either. By the end of the 2nd Boer War, British troops were wearing khaki drab rather than khaki drill uniforms…

mrinku07 Feb 2014 6:11 p.m. PST

It is worth noting that the British experience of colonial warfare did end preparing them better for the modern European war when it came. In particular, the lessons of the second Boer War meant that they were experienced at fighting against modern repeating rifles. But that is a few years after the OP's question. In 1890 they were in much he same boat as France or Germany, though arguably far more experienced, especially off the various campaigns of the 1880s. Even though they had veteran colonial and marine troops, French metropolitan troops were generally kept in France, while Britain sent her regiments overseas.

Even if they were to deploy in parade kit in Europe, the British troops would have switched to appropriate campaign issue if it became clear it was better, and there would not have been any fuss in doing so.

Lion in the Stars07 Feb 2014 6:49 p.m. PST

Khaki is much lighter than what the Brits went to for their battle dress (compare Vallejo English Uniform, Khaki, and Dark Sand).

I'd expect the Brits to deploy in Home Service, and any Indian troops showing up to the fight in Khaki.

mrinku08 Feb 2014 1:09 p.m. PST

Khaki varied a lot. And overseas kit was issued overseas. If field uniform was required for Europe, it likely would have been made and issued to suit. But yeah – at the start of any fight it's likely they would have only had home service uniform to wear.

mrinku12 Feb 2014 1:52 p.m. PST

Oh, one other small point about the uniform – even when wearing the home service kit abroad, the white helmet cover was almost always used and the spike taken off. Even troops marching off the boat in white pipeclayed leather and immaculate red jackets always seem to have their helmet cover on. Almost inevitably these covers were browned up in the field using materials to hand (tealeaves, mud etc).

And there was also the forage cap, typically a blue glengarry, though these don't seem to have been worn in battle terribly much.

Guthroth09 Jun 2014 10:43 a.m. PST

Many photos pf the period show a flat cap in what is called 'drill order'.

Would these have been worn for home service in the event of an invasion ?

Imperium et libertas Inactive Member09 Jun 2014 3:55 p.m. PST

There is a danger that too much emphasis can be put on the lessons learned in the (Second) Boer War British troops had faced modern rifles on the Northwest Frontier prior to this, and even the earliest battles of the Boer War saw infantry attacks performed with very wide spacing between the men: in fact, the very first battle of the war, Talana Hill, saw the British infantry advance with 10 yards between men.
A lot of focus has been put on the two incidents in the war where British troops were caught in close order (Hart's Brigade at Colenso and Wauchope's at Magersfontein, the latter being a matter of timing, and was never the intended formation to be in at that point) rather than recognising that these two incidents were very much the exception throughout the conflict.
Indeed, the 1896 edition (ie. three years prior to the Boer War) of Infantry Drill advocated adopting extended formations when within half a mile of the enemy.

I simply cannot see any British army taking the field wearing red in the 1890s either in Europe or further afield: despite being taken by surprise and completely wrong-footed by Kruger's invasion of Natal, none of the regiments rushed to South Africa arrived there expecting to fight in red (or had to fight in red until replacement uniforms were organised), so obviously there was plenty of khaki to go round.
Why would anyone send men to fight in khaki in the Sudan and South Africa, but expect them to wear red in Europe? I cannot see the logic.
One should also remember that the moment reinforcements arrived in South Africa to stem the Boer invasions, they made even greater efforts at camouflage kit was stained, buttons removed or covered, unit flashes were made as small as possible and officers got rid of Sam Browne's and swords. The Royal Marines stained their white tropical uniforms with coffee upon arrival in Durban and the Scots Greys even dyed their famous grey horses brown and green. And none of this was because of 'lessons' taught to the British by the Boers this was at the very start of the war.

If such things were implemented in South Africa, why would it have been so completely different in the case of a European conflict? Of course, we can never know for sure as the British army fought no such European war at the time but I think the chances they would have worn red in any such conflict exceedingly remote.

There is a popular notion that the British army was rudely jolted into the modern age by the clever old Boers, but, while there were certainly plenty of lessons learned in the conflict (as in every conflict) I think the idea that the British army of the time had some sort of Napoleonic / Brown Bess mentality simply does not stand up to scrutiny.

Lion in the Stars10 Jun 2014 9:04 a.m. PST

I think the idea that the British army of the time had some sort of Napoleonic / Brown Bess mentality simply does not stand up to scrutiny.
There was still quite a culture of Napoleonic behavior across all the branches (particularly in the senior ranks!), but it was probably most pronounced in the Royal Artillery.

When you have artillery field manuals that insist it's perfectly safe to stand within 900 yards of an enemy armed with modern rifles, there is something seriously WRONG with your military thought processes.

How many entire gun batteries were shot dead because they were within small-arms range of the Boers?

And what General was it that gave explicit orders that his troops were NOT to take cover while advancing?

Imperium et libertas Inactive Member10 Jun 2014 10:07 a.m. PST

Lion in the Stars

I can't think of any entire gun batteries which were shot dead because there were within small-arms range of the Boers perhaps you can elaborate?

The closest I can think is the case of Colenso where Colonel Long MISTAKENLY deployed too far forward, but even there, the gunners held their own for a long time and even silenced their opposition for a while. When ammunition stocks began to dwindle, the surviving gunners then retreated to a donga.

Interestingly, at Modder River, the Royal Artillery actually deployed their guns further forward than was the case at Colenso, and it worked very well.

There is no doubt that the Royal Artillery's guns were outdated in comparison to the guns the Boers had recently bought in their armament splurge, but that is not evidence of Napoleonic attitudes: simply a matter of timing one cannot change weapon systems every year or two: they have to earn their keep.

The leading expert on artillery in the Boer War, the late Major Darrell Hall, summed up the Royal Artillery: 'In most cases the British guns were inferior, but they were used boldly and discipline was very good.'

I would also appreciate examples of the 'culture of Napoleonic behaviour across all the branches' can you provide some?
I am unaware of a general giving explicit orders that his men should not take cover when advancing. There was something to that effect (with no reference provided) in a 'book of military blunders' as I recall, but that also included so many other mistakes and fallacies that I would take it with a pinch of salt. However, I would appreciate it if you can provide a specific example with reference as this one instance would be very interesting in light of all the examples where the opposite occurred.

Boer General Viljoen gave a rather different account of how the British infantry assaulted "in scattered formation … much less visible to our marksmen. When advancing to the attack the British foot soldiers were wont to crawl along on their faces, seeking cover whenever that was available; thus advancing, and especially when they were supported by artillery, their men proved very difficult to repulse"

Imperium et libertas Inactive Member10 Jun 2014 10:12 a.m. PST

After a couple of months of the war, Lord Roberts issued some field notes to his officers, prior to his great advance on Bloemfontein and then Pretoria.

Here is the section on the artillery:

As a general rule the artillery appear to have adapted themselves to the situation, and to the special conditions which present themselves in a campaign in South Africa. The following points, however, require to be noticed:

1. At the commencement of an action artillery should not be ordered to take up a position until it has been ascertained by scouts to be clear of the enemy and out of range of infantry fire.
2. When it is intended to take a position with infantry the preparation by artillery should be thorough and not spasmodic. Unless a strong force of infantry is pushed within 900 yards of the position, the enemy will not occupy his trenches and the guns will have no target. It is a mere waste of ammunition also to bombard an entrenchment when the infantry attack is likely to be delayed, even for a short time. To be of real value the fire of the guns should be continuous until the assault is about to be delivered.
3. The expenditure of ammunition is a matter which can only be regulated by the circumstances of the moment; officers commanding should, however, always bear in mind that the supply of artillery ammunition in the field is necessarily limited.
4. It is of great importance that artillery horses should be kept fit for any special effort. They are not easily replaced, and it is the duty of artillery officers to represent to the commander of the column whenever they consider that their horses are being unduly worked, as regards either pace or distance.

Imperium et libertas Inactive Member10 Jun 2014 10:27 a.m. PST

Here is a pertinent extract from Roberts' section on Infantry tactics (I cannot type the whole thing!), but please note his remark on the use of cover:

When the extreme rifle range from the position is reached (1,500 to 1,800 yards) by the advance troops, or before, if they find themselves under artillery fire, all column formations must be given up, and, when advancing to the attack of the position infantry must be freely extended, even on occasions, if necessary, to six or eight paces, the front and both flanks being well covered with scouts. This extended formation will throw increased responsibility on battalion and company commanders. The objective aimed at, therefore, should be carefully explained to them. They should be allowed to make use of any opportunity that may offer to further the scheme, on the distinct understanding that no isolated acts are attempted, such as might endanger the general plan. During the attack commanding officers must be careful not to lose touch with the troops on their right and left, and they should, as far as possible, ensure their co-operation. Every advantage should be taken of cover, and battalion and company commanders should look out for and occupy positions from which they would be able to bring an enfilading fire to bear upon the enemy. The capacity of these officers will be judged by the initiative displayed in seizing rapidly every opportunity to further the general scheme of attack.

And it is not as though Roberts had suddenly come up with any of this: Ian Beckett describes his notes as a 'textbook summary of the advanced tactical ideas of the previous three decades' which had been going on within the British army.
Rather amusingly, some German army observers criticized Roberts for tending to avoid costly frontal assaults, reporting that 'Lord Roberts's system throughout the whole campaign was to manoeuvre rather than to fight'.

I am struggling to see much of a culture of Napoleonic behaviour in any of this?

xLAVAx Supporting Member of TMP10 Jun 2014 10:37 a.m. PST

Not to hijack the thread, but if Khaki was used, what color would the vehicles (VSF)/artillery be?

huevans01110 Jun 2014 1:27 p.m. PST

The Canadian militia was taken out of scarlet and put into khaki around 1910 and COMPLAINED long, loud and violently about being made to wear such a drab and unmilitary colour. So much for common sense.

Imperium et libertas Inactive Member10 Jun 2014 1:34 p.m. PST

And yet all the Canadian units which were deployed on active service to South Africa (and served with such distinction) wore khaki. Common sense prevails.

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