Thursday, 26 May 2016

Hôtel des Invalides: Relief map museum

So, I was in Paris last week. It was supposed to be a romantic trip with the missus (10 years anniversary of our engagement in Paris) but somehow I managed to escape for a few hours to the Hôtel des Invalides military museum. Incidentally, it was 10 years to the day that I visited this the last time. Coincidence? I think not.

Anyway, one of the highlights was the very special relief map collection of scale models that is housed in the attic. The models were built from 1668 onwards to help plan the defence of France's new borders under Louis XIV. The models were an excellent tool for developing the fortifications as well as for training soldiers to be stationed there and training the theory of siege craft to these same soldiers.

The models are "exact" replicas. Most are at 1:600 scale and, displaying the surrounding countryside, are quite huge (5 x 5 metres for example). I would just love to play a wargame or receive proper siege training on one of these tables.




Château Trompette (Bordeaux)

Fort de la Rade (Ile d'Aix)

Fort de la Rade today

The full gallery, depicting maybe 30 models of 100 preserved

Tools and materials used to make the models

The museum also had an excellent series of models to display the process of a besieging army making its approach, bombardment and final approach against a "trace italienne" type modern fortress. This awesome series of models depicted hundreds of approximately 6mm (1:300) miniatures in the process of besieging or defending a fortress.

Stage 1: The army establishes its camp and builds fortified lines of circumvallation and contravallation 2.400 metres from the fortress (outside artillery range). These defensive works are established to guard against assaults from within the fortress or from a relieving army.

Stage 2: The besiegers make zig-zagging approach trenches against he points of bastions (to minimize the effect of defensive artillery). At 600 metres these trenches are joined with a trench called the first parallel (parallel to the the fortress wall). Siege artillery is brought forward.

Stage 3: The approach continues as before with zig-zagging approach trenches. The work is carried out only during night time as the defender's artillery is already quite effective at this range. 350 metres from the walls a second parallel is created and the siege artillery is brought to this level. Additional "demi-parallels" are created to bring more guns to bear at the breaching point(s) from various angles.

Stage 4: The approach continues up to the glacis, just 40 metres from the fortress. Assault positions are prepared and other preparations are made for the forthcoming attack by grenadiers against the breach.

Stage 5: Grenadiers capture the demi-lune (outerwork) by storm and heavy guns are brought forward. A heavy bombardment pins down the defenders and makes a breach on the inner works (that has thus far been sheltered from bombardment by the demi-lune). The besiegers start to prepare an assault ramp against the breach, which both facilitates the assault and shelters from fire from the flanks.

Stage 6: The defenders usually surrender at this point, but if they don't the point of assault undergoes a thorough bombardment. If the besiegers still don't surrender after this has been effected, the besiegers will assault the fortress, with little quarter given.

For some reference and perspective, here's some pictures and a report from last year's visit to Rocroi: a model example of one of these modern artillery fortifications.

One of Rocroi's bastions as viewed from the demi-lune (imagine assaulting that!)

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