Petits Soldats, Grandes Victoires
Miniature Warfare in Occupied Paris
by Jon Peterson (author of Playing at the World)
“When we were children, we often played war. We had a fine collection of lead soldiers. My brothers would take different countries: Xavier had Italy; Pierre, Germany. Or they would swap around. Well, I, gentlemen, always had France.”
General de Gaulle
In December of 1943, three devastating years of German military occupation had reduced Paris to a shadow of its former self. Everything had long been rationed: meat, bread, wine, cheese, coffee, metal, leather, fuel, anything that might support the sprawling German garrison in France, then numbering more than a quarter million strong. The situation of Parisians ranged from dismal to desperate. Tens of thousands had been arrested and sent to a fate no one could yet imagine; many who remained toiled involuntarily in factories to produce vehicles and weapons for the Wehrmacht. The Allies had secured North Africa and invaded Italy, but were now mired behind the Winter Line southeast of Rome — the liberation of Paris seemed a very remote eventuality. To make matters worse, the Allies had begun bombing France to weaken its value to the German army. The BBC had a few weeks earlier warned the French people of imminent Allied attacks on industrial centers in the area, and before the end of December, a round of airstrikes on Paris would commence.
Seventy-five years ago today, in Paris, on December 15, 1943, at this extraordinary historical moment, three people executed a curious agreement. It concerned a handwritten document, of 56 numbered pages, which survives today in an antique binder labeled as an accounting ledger. But lift back the cover, and this booklet reveals itself to be Règlement de Kriegspiel, that is, “rules for wargames,” whose three authors give their names as P. Fouré, F. Dodeur, and P. Bondoux. Its pages describe a system for a tabletop wargame of the Napoleonic period played with toy soldiers. All three co-authors initialed each page of the document as read and approved, “lu et approuvé,” and swore that they would propose no modification to the rules before January 1, 1945.
As a historical artifact, the 1943 Règlement de Kriegspiel clamors for an explanation. Who were these three people, who, in the darkest hour of occupied Paris, entered into such a solemn compact about so trivial a thing as wargame rules? What did wargames mean to them in that time of danger and deprivation, and what happened to them over the eventful year that they promised to honor these rules? When you tug on a thread of history, you never know what it might reveal.
The Eiffel Tower was the tallest metal thing anyone had ever seen, when its spire rose to mark the entrance to a world’s fair, the Exposition universelle of Paris, in 1889. A few blocks down the Seine from the futuristic pavilions on those fairgrounds, at the Esplanade des Invalides, a reconstructed medieval gate with towers and a drawbridge marked the entrance to a display of antiques and memorabilia of the French army. It included many arrangements of posed mannequins dressed in restored uniforms of historical troops. When the Exposition closed, military history enthusiasts lobbied the government to house such treasures in a permanent museum. This interest group styled itself the Sabretache, a name for a type of satchel affixed to the scabbard of the saber worn by cavalry. This obscure technical term was a good shibboleth for a group very concerned about the minutest details of how such an item would be worn by a given soldier, and whose cypher would be embroidered on its side.
The eminent painter Ernest Meissonier, president of the fine arts jury at the Exposition universelle, put his name first among the many prominent artists and intellectuals who signed an 1887 letter protesting the construction of the radical Eiffel Tower. Modern art was not Meissonier’s thing: he was an elder statesman of the art world, renowned for his meticulous depictions of nineteenth-century soldiers, which required the most intimate knowledge of period uniforms and equipment. It is therefore unsurprising that Meissonier served as the first President of the Sabretache, and that his protégé Édourd Detaille, whose painting “The Passing Regiment” (1875) was shown at the Exposition to much acclaim, would be his successor. Their influence helped persuade the government to create an army museum at Les Invalides to showcase the treasures of the Exposition in perpetuity. By 1893, the Sabretache produced its own magazine detailing quirks of military history, especially those sought by illustrators hungry for accurate information about period military equipment. It accumulated enough contributions that an overlapping society dedicated more narrowly to the study and depiction of uniforms would begin its own journal, Le Passepoil, in 1920.
The expertise of these specialists would in 1925 be sought by the German manufacturers of some of the smallest metal things to be found in Europe: toy soldiers. But to call these figures “toys” belittles the best of them: serious collectors could rival, in miniature, the museum at Les Invalides. Metal soldiers cast just an inch or two high can meticulously copy arms and attire of historical troops, and the artists who painted them agonized over the slightest inaccuracies of color. Both German and French firms had mass-produced military miniature figures for more than a century by this point, though this industry — like much of Europe — rebuilt slowly after the ruinous conclusion of the First World War. The inexpensive flat tin figures popularized by German firms like the venerable Heinrichsen served as tiny metal canvases for painters eager to try their hand at Meissonier’s craft. German tin figure collectors banded together into a society called “Klio” in 1924: with the debut two years later of its monthly magazine Die Zinnfigur, the “Tin Soldier,” Klio furnished the first periodical dedicated to miniature collectors, and a key advertising platform for the many professionals and amateurs who manufactured figures themselves.
The pages of Die Zinnfigur had much to say on the subject of painting historical miniatures, but when it came to French uniforms, artists needed international cooperation with the experts in Paris who had long studied the original uniforms first hand. Collecting toy soldiers was not unknown as a hobby in France at the time: the editors of Le Passepoil quickly connected Klio with the celebrated French playwright Paul Armont, who had been amassing a miniature army for decades. Armont had previously commissioned a figure caster in Leipzig named Otto Gottstein to produce custom tin soldiers exclusively for his personal collection; Armont took great pride in peppering his hoard with figures cast from private molds, unique specimens that could not be bought in any store, distinguished from the commercial wares produced by French firms like Mignot. Armont canvassed Le Passepoil to encourage French enthusiasm for figures, especially the flat “soldats d’étain,” or tin soldiers popular in Germany, referring interested parties to Die Zinnfigur.
In the spring of 1929, Armont organized a first exhibition of miniature soldiers in Paris, and provided a lengthy article for Le Passepoil on the virtues of his pastime. He cited two motivations for collecting miniatures: first, to enable the creation of dioramas depicting scenes of military history; and second, as he puts it, to excel at the game of war, the “jeu de la guerre ou ‘Kriegsspiel.’” Armont would use the Germanic “Kriegsspiel” because wargaming had Prussian roots, in elaborate simulations developed to train officers to command in times of war. In the early twentieth century, amateur hobby wargamers repurposed these wargaming techniques for entertainment, using toy soldiers as playing pieces to liven up games with their painstaking visualization of historical troops. So these scattered early wargamers naturally piggybacked onto the first societies that collected military miniature figures.
It is unsurprising that an author like Armont would gravitate towards the latter motive for collecting figures: a diorama of tin soldiers might aspire to faithfully depict Waterloo, but historical wargames let you pose counterfactuals, to ask, “What if?” If you could revisit Napoleon’s most notorious loss, how would you do better in his shoes? This is the sort of question dramatists like to explore — but where an author can just decide what happens, a wargame battle is refought under opposing commands, as a contest between intellects devising new plans or facing new contingencies. Armont was not the first writer whose creativity spilled over into conflict simulation: wargames and literature enjoyed an entanglement that captivated many authors of fiction, perhaps most famously Robert Louis Stevenson. H. G. Wells’s Little Wars (1913) cemented the practice of using toy soldiers to play wargames in the English speaking world, but it would be a mistake to see this as an Anglo-American invention, as Wells tapped into longstanding traditions in Europe when he put these principles into practice.
The success of American adaptations of Armont’s plays in the 1920s, like “The French Doll,” made him a figure of sufficient interest that reports about his unusual hobby made the papers overseas, even. Armont could leverage his celebrity for mainstream coverage of the collecting hobby, and in the last issue of the popular French magazine L’Illustration for 1928, there appeared a four-page pictorial about his collection. Another similar piece followed a year later, and along with the 1929 exhibition, these attracted enough attention that a new French society began to form, with Armont as its President: a group that would come to be known as the Société des Collectionneurs de Figurines Historiques (SCFH). A notice by the group’s Secretary Charles-Félix Keller in a 1931 issue of Le Passepoil notes well that members of this new society divided into three factions: students of historical uniforms, who saw miniature figures as a way to reify their knowledge; constructors of dioramas, who would recreate the scenes of famous battles or military parades; and finally, “les amateurs de Kriegspiel,” hobby wargamers, who, Keller tells us, “study the history of wars past and those to come by using their sometimes quite profound knowledge of the art of war.”
If wargames could indeed grant insight into wars to come, German students of Kriegsspiel were ahead of the game. A 1932 article in Die Zinnfigur showed how far the tradition of German wargames went into eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, with a special emphasis on the 1830 game of Wilhelm von Aretin, a Bavarian soldier who explicitly integrated tin soldiers into wargames. His game used trays that could carry up to ten figures at a time, where each figure represented one hundred soldiers: as a force suffered losses numbering in the tens, those soldiers would be removed from their trays one by one. But if there is one constant in miniature wargaming over the years, it is that all players introduce their own innovations and variants. Die Zinnfigur in 1934 describes the Kriegsspiel activities of the Hamburg subgroup of Klio and complains, in light of the proliferation of conflicting wargame rules elsewhere in the country, that they should somehow be standardized. French authorities seemed unable to agree even on whether to spell the German word with one “s” or two.
The SCFH staged regular exhibitions of its miniatures, which attracted attention from civilians and the military alike, including local figures like General Mariux, who ran the army museum at Les Invalides, and even foreign officials. All of this shows us a diverse and harmonious European community collaborating towards a harmless hobby — but the historical wars that these collectors studied mostly revolved around the rivalry France and Germany. Perhaps French collectors took a particular interest in miniature figures of the Napoleonic period, when French armies conquered much of Germany, to say nothing of the remainder of Europe. And perhaps German collectors took a special interest in the Franco-Prussian War, when the armies of Wilhelm I settled that score by capturing Napoleon III, which led to the extraordinary spectacle of Wilhelm being crowned German Emperor (Kaiser) in the Hall of Mirrors at the French palace of Versailles. A second Kaiser Wilhelm brought the German armies to France again, leading to a costly German defeat and a peace that would grow increasingly fragile during the 1930s. Surely some who used wargames to study military history thought deeply about a potential war to come.
As the political climate in Germany shifted during the 1930s, so did the contents of Die Zinnfigur: by 1934, we can read about Nazi officials attending Klio’s diorama exhibitions and see articles that sign off with “Heil Hitler.” Otto Gottstein, the caster of custom miniatures for Paul Armont, fled his native Leipzig in the face of growing persecution of the Jewish people. Gottstein soon took up residence in England, where his tireless evangelizing for the collecting hobby helped to inspire the British Model Soldier Society in 1935 — he became that organization’s first Vice President. After Armont stepped down as President of the SCFH, and Charles-Félix Keller took his place, Keller would attend the first anniversary dinner of the British Model Soldier Society in London; the two clubs forged a longstanding alliance. In the grand scope of the events of Europe at the time, model figure collecting was a minuscule phenomenon — but we can see in it European society in miniature.
Although the SCFH was younger than its German cousin Klio, France boasted the larger club at the time. The SCFH had 278 members at the end of 1936, compared to 256 in Klio, and just 73 in the British Model Soldier Society. And as small as the figure collecting hobby was, hobby wargaming was just a tiny subset of its interest group: Kriegsspiel fanatics were a secret society embedded in another secret society. In French circles, they numbered little more than a handful.
The first issue of the SCFH Bulletin for 1936 listed wargame rules, “régles de Kriegspiel,” as one of the topics the periodical would cover. But it was not until the following year that two members made a concerted push to integrate wargaming into the SCFH. Jean Besnus and Jean-Daniel Gringoire solicited in the second Bulletin of 1937 interest in publishing a set of wargame rules — they hoped to pool a bit of money for the project, an early attempt to crowdsource funding for game publication. Unfortunately, only six members of the SCFH expressed interest, so they shelved the idea for the time being. One of the six who did express an interest in the Kriegsspiel was Fred Dodeur, who had joined the SCFH early in 1936.
Dodeur would not let his interest in Kriegsspiel lay fallow. By 1938, he had begun developing a wargame with Pierre Fouré, who had been in the SCFH since 1933. They consulted the German rules collected by Besnus and Gringoire, but they volunteered that they drew more direct inspiration from a wargame system described in a work of fiction, the novel Axelle (1928) by Pierre Benoit. Like other writers before him, Benoit found in conflict simulation the inspiration for a story.
Benoit’s First World War romance was very popular at the time, though little known outside France today; the American film adaptation of Axelle as Surrender (1931), featuring a young Ralph Bellamy, is now a bit scarce. Something like the period flavor of Axelle can be found in a later French film: Grand Illusion (1937), Jean Renoir’s masterpiece, especially the sequence in which French soldiers are imprisoned in a fortress far to the east, where they enjoy the supercilious hospitality of an invalid German aristocrat. In Axelle, a French prisoner-of-war named Pierre Dumaine is shipped to East Prussia, on the coast north of modern-day Kaliningrad, to the dilapidated castle of the elderly General Reichendorf — who lives among his elaborate dioramas of lead soldiers depicting the great Prussian victories of his heyday, longing for a wargame opponent.
In Axelle, Reichendorf deploys his miniatures to relive the glory of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, especially the Battle of Borny in which he personally fought. Reichendorf’s family had been connected to the Prussian royals for generations, which gives some historical basis for his character to be keen on wargames. The real German Emperor Wilhelm I had learned the game in his youth, during the Napoleonic occupation, directly from the the great Prussian innovators in wargame design, the Reiswitz family. Wargames hold a special appeal for conquered people, who can use them to explore what might have been, or plot what may one day come to pass; the Prussian royals during their exile embraced the game as a family pursuit. Once Wilhelm took the Prussian throne in 1861, wargaming experienced a renaissance in his army, sparking fresh revisions which incorporated all sorts of modern innovations. So in the setting of Axelle, it is not a surprise that a rising officer in the 1870s like Reichendorf would be thoroughly acquainted with Kriegsspiel. Dumaine, a lowly French Sergeant, is first suffered in Reinchendorf castle only to install electric lights, but the general quickly dragoons him into playing the French part in ongoing battles.
As Fouré and Dodeur documented their approach to wargames in the first two issues of the SCFH Bulletin for 1939, their debt to Axelle is unmistakable. Benoit shows the Reichendorf game beginning with the commanders sitting on opposite sides of a room with their own copies of a regional map where they secretly marked the location of their forces with pins. As they maneuver troops into new sections of the map, they ask one another if they will encounter enemy resistance there: if so, a battle will ensue. Axelle explains that “the two maps would then we replaced by a single one, on a finer scale,” and pins from the two secret area maps would be transposed onto the corresponding locations on this more detailed map that both commanders can see. The game in Axelle was thus what we today call a strategy-tactical game, one where armies maneuver on a grand strategic map representing nations or even continents, but encounters between forces are played on a tactical map that magnifies the battleground. Fouré and Dodeur similarly have their opposing armies maneuver on a map of a large scale, 1:50,000, but when conflicting forces met, the action was transposed onto a tactical 1:2,000 scale area map which they mounted on a massive piece of plywood, two meters by one-and-a-half meters long. Unlike Reichendorf, however, they did not deploy pins on the tactical map, but instead used miniature figures such as the tin flats manufactured by Heinrichsen. They adopted a figure scale where a company of 120 soldiers would be represented on the board by three figurines; the formation and activity of the company could be signaled by the directions that individual figures in the cluster of three were pointed.
Reichendorf in Axelle mostly follows established Kriegsspiel practices that would be familiar to officers of his generation — though every wargamer tinkers with rules, and he does slyly boast to Dumaine that he has introduced “a few little improvements of my own invention.” Benoit wisely opts not to weary his readers by embedding a game manual into his romance, but from even his brief account we gather that the “méthode de Reichendorf” involves a way of using dice as emissaries of the god of Fortune, to reflect the influence of chance over battles. When forces meet in combat, each side rolls one die per unit: if six French units face off against four German ones, the French side rolls six dice, and the Germans four. Circumstantial modifiers might increase the die pool, if for example troops are fortified in a town, or positioned up a hill from the opposing forces. The mechanics in the novel are intentionally vague, but the side who rolls the greatest total with their die pool wins, and the losing force must withdraw on the board. Benoit’s vagueness afforded Fouré and Dodeur the opportunity to fill in the blanks as they wished: they developed a similar diced challenge to determine battle outcomes. Their tally of die rolls would be counted as losses against the strength of the opposing company. When a unit lost 40 men in the SCFH game, one of the three figures representing the company would be removed from the board, and its efficacy in battle would drop to half. At a loss of 80 men, the unit becomes entirely unusable. Fatigue and morale would also modify how units moved and attacked.
Perhaps the most striking feature of Fouré and Dodeur’s 1939 wargame is the division of their plywood board into hexagons. “As a square poses some difficulties resulting from the ratio of its diagonal to its side (the famous problem of squaring the circle),” their description reports, “we were led to change the shape of our zone of action: we painted hexagons on the terrain with a five centimeter diameter.” At the 1:2,000 scale, this made each hexagon represent one hundred meters of terrain, where the entire plywood terrain encompassed a space representing four kilometers by two kilometers. Each hexagon could hold only one company: effectively, the game functioned much like a board wargame from two decades in the future, where movement and missile fire ranges were given in hexes.
To anyone student of the history of wargames, Fouré and Dodeur’s 1939 description of their wargame in the SCFH Bulletin is in equal parts important and frustrating. To see such an early game employ a system where you roll pools of dice to determine points of damage against miniature figures is significant enough, and then there is the small matter of the use of hexagons: earlier boardgames had used honeycomb cells, but to find them fused into hobby wargames decades before the founding of Avalon Hill is practically revelatory. That is why we must be frustrated as well to read just a tantalizing description, not a set of rules. They allude to tables that you would use to determine how many points of damage have been scored with various die rolls, but say only that they were an appendix to the rules.
So where were the rules? They might well have advertised their publication in the Bulletin the following year, but unfortunately, around when Fouré and Dodeur began documenting their wargame, the delicate political situation in Europe came to a head, and looming hostilities between the Allied and Axis powers suspended everyday activities. The SCFH and Klio had remained close cousins, despite the growing tension in Europe: collectors were an international community, and their national societies had no particular political leanings. An Italian military attaché attended a SCFH exposition at Les Invalides in 1938 at the very side of a French First World War hero, Maréchal Pétain. Even up to 1939, it was not uncommon to see listed among the membres correspondants of the SCFH persons then living in Germany.
But then Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, which caused France and the remainder of the Allied powers to declare war. The pages of Die Zinnfigur for October and November of that year led with a piece celebrating the Polish campaign, and even a memorial to a Klio member, Lieutenant Everhard Grochtmann, who had perished in the assault — his obituary is marked with an Iron Cross enclosing a swastika in its heart. The German success in Poland, and a tepid initial response from the Allies, led to the German invasion of France in 1940, which was followed by an Italian invasion, and then, as of June, the occupation under the terms of a punishing armistice.
All of French society was upended by the occupation, and the SCFH can serve as a representative microcosm of the whole — provided we remember the membership was almost entirely male and had a decidedly military inclination. A list in the spring 1940 Bulletin — the last before the journal’s discontinuation — names no less than 42 members of the SCFH who were mobilized in response to the German invasion, out of a Society then numbering more than 300. Many would become prisoners of war in the course of the battles that followed, with some remaining in captivity for years after the armistice. Officers would be sent to an Offizierslager (abbreviated as “Oflag”) and lower-ranking troops to a Stammlager (or “Stalag”).
Life in these prison camps was grim, but soldiers captured during the German offensive in France were ostensibly treated under the terms of the Geneva Convention. Most of these camps were army barracks that had been repurposed to hold captives; some, like the infamous Oflag IV-C at Colditz, were enclosed within imposing German castles. The International Red Cross had regular access to inmates, who could send and receive mail, including packages of food and goods from France. Prisoners were encouraged to read, to play music, and even to stage plays. There is a famous scene in Grand Illusion where the prisoners put on a theatrical review, and when SCFH member Roger Boutterin arrived at Stalag IX-A, his knowledge of historical military dress helped to inform the costume design for a live show featuring musketeers and Renaissance swashbuckling. The treatment of prisoners then remained close to the picture painted in Axelle of German prison camps two decades before where, in one passage, an honorable guard captain takes particular care that his own troops not pilfer food sent to the French even when their own supplies had begun to dwindle.
For those who remained behind in France, the situation was little better. Adolf Hitler came to occupied Paris in June of 1940, triumphantly posing in front of the Eiffel Tower — a monument that had become iconic, defying Meissonier’s misgivings. The first communication members of the SCFH received after the armistice came in the form of a letter, dated September 1940, from Charles-Félix Keller, the Society’s President. Keller, who was Swiss, had fled to Lausanne, on the shores of Lake Geneva, and taken up residence at the Hotel Mirabeau. From there, he periodically shared news from SCFH members who were scattered across the Europe and the globe.
At first, Keller had to duplicate his personal letters for distribution. All French media at the time was officially controlled by the German propaganda machine. In the new political environment, it would be impossible for the SCFH to publish its Bulletin — but a few years into the occupation, the SCFH did manage to issue a regular Circulaire, a shorter, less polished newsletter which kept the membership abreast of current events. It originated from the zone libre, the area of France still under the nominal independent control of the puppet Vichy government led by Maréchal Pétain. While only two issues of the Circulaire came out in 1942, it appeared six times in 1943.
Amidst the terrifying anti-Semitic policies of the occupying power, as well as the forced labor and the rationing, the loss of property heaped further sorrow on the conquered French people. Famously, the German army seized much of the fine art remaining in Paris museums and private collections. But all sorts of private possessions were looted by the occupying forces, who were not above pilfering fine historical figurines. One SCFH member, Baron James Baeyens, remained overseas in the United States, but learned that his own collection had been seized, as even French citizens who fled the occupation, or just happened to be out of the country when it happened, were summarily stripped of any property rights. Surely numerous other acts of outright larceny parted SCFH members from their most prized possessions during the occupation.
The membership of the SCFH still in France nonetheless took care of their colleagues in the prison camps, with the limited resources at their disposal. Mauirce Lairiez collected donations from the club membership to send care packages to those long-term guests of the German state, including miniature figures, brushes, and tubes of paint. When Captain Maurice Bassac was released from Oflag X-B near the end of 1942, he reported to the SCFH that a small collecting group calling itself “Le Bouton de Guêtre,” or the “Gaiter’s Button,” had formed within the camp itself, holding its own workshops, conferences, even exhibitions. Christian Resnier de Labarrière, who received a citation for his courage at Saint-Valérien in the last stages of the French defense, just two days before Marechal Pétain called for French forces to stand down, also reported the creation of a small club of collectors in his own prison camp in 1943. Issues of the SCFH Circulaire even made it into the hands of captives.
News of the fate of prisoners was often unreliable, as they would frequently be shuffled between camps as facilities opened and closed, and sometimes reports of someone being released would later be retracted as premature. The third Circulaire announced Hugh de Krogh would be returning to France early in 1943, but by the end of the year, they had to issue a correction. Hugh de Krogh was shipped all the way to Stalag I-A, in East Prussia, to a facility that would have looked eerily familiar to Pierre Dumaine. Many prisoners found themselves transported farther to the east following the Allied invasions of North Africa at the end of 1942. At that time, Axis forces abandoned the charade that was the Vichy government, completing their occupation of the zone libre in southern France to prepare for an Allied assault.
In Paris, the SCFH still managed to hold regular meetings at 32 rue Charlot in the 3rd arrondissement, and the membership steadily grew over this period; almost every issue of the Circulaire named five or ten new members who had joined. Some Society members would not live to see Paris free again: Paul Armont, founding President of the Society, died there in May 1943. When the Allies used North Africa as a springboard to invade Italy in September, the situation grew more precarious. Allied bombings began on facilities like a Renault aircraft factory in the outskirts of Paris that supplied the war effort. The fight had come to the French capital at last. But it was far from certain what was to come. Would Allied forces race through Italy, and enter France from the southeast? Would an invasion force cross the Channel?
It was in this moment of agonizing uncertainty, in that bitter winter, that Pierre Fouré and Fred Dodeur returned to their work on wargaming rules: their Règlement de Kriegspiel was born of it. War is the most uncertain of human endeavors, and games which show it as something that can be understood, even managed, have an inescapable appeal to people who live through wartime. Perhaps it is no accident that the Règlement focused on games of the Napoleonic era, a time when French forces trounced Germany and Italy alike.
Fouré and Dodeur then lacked any means to print the rules, when resources in Paris were so scarce, and what little there was, the Germans strictly controlled. Dodeur wrote out the text longhand. Their decision to commit these rules to a book labeled as an accounting ledger may have been a simple matter of using what was on hand — or an effort to conceal the volume’s contents. Worn writing on the spine of the book reads “Lettres de Voitures,” purporting to contain waybills that recorded shipping goods. Just a dull set of records on a shelf, nothing to attract the interest of authorities who might find wargaming a seditious activity.
Within the bindings of the ledger, the fifty-six pages are sparsely populated, some containing only a sentence or two under headings for the various articles of the rules. There are pages of charts familiar to wargame aficionados, quantifying fire and movement for different unit types, showing how many dice are rolled under particular conditions. A depiction of artillery range shows the hexagons alluded to in Fouré and Dodeur’s 1939 article in the Bulletin. There are passages on victory conditions, retreat and pursuit, on fighting in the open, in the woods, or in cities. Some topics were quite timely: like handling the evacuation of prisoners from one place to another without risking their escape.
Fouré and Dodeur did not produce the Règlement alone: at the first SCFH meeting of 1944, they presented as a new member Paul Bondoux, a local restauranteur, who avowed his interest in Kriegspiel. With that, the three names credited as authors of the Règlement are all accounted for. In the spring, the SFCH formed an official “Section Kriegspiel,” a subgroup run by Fouré and Dodeur. Those who were interested could inquire at Fouré’s residence at 128 rue de Rennes in Paris. They made some further converts: a Henri Lauga, who had joined the SFCH just before the New Year, also signed the pledge to respect the Règlement de Kriegspiel and added his own initials, “HL,” to the chorus of “lu et approuvé” at the bottom of each page of the manuscript on February 2.
Pierre Benoit infamously lent his name to the Groupe Collaboration, a faction of prominent French intellectuals who openly courted better relations with the occupying power; he was frequently to be found dining at the German embassy during the occupation. We might wonder where his protagonist Pierre Dumaine would have thrown his lot. In Axelle, Dumaine never took to wargaming with quite the same glee as his captor, but the story ends before we learn much about his life in Paris after the war. Would he have seen Paul Armont’s miniatures on display in L’illustration and felt something like nostalgia? Had he only been real, might we have seen his signature on the Règlement de Kriegspiel as well, playing through the glory of French victories in the Napoleonic wars?
If wargamers in occupied Paris were truly a secret society within a secret society, they were not the only ones. Several members of the SCFH who remained in France provided clandestine assistance for the French Resistance, including Pierre and Georges Bretegnier, Albert-Jacques Bieber, and Christian-Gérard. In addition to being the general secretary of the SCFH, Christian-Gérard had been secretly working for the famous Musée de l’Homme Resistance group since 1940 as their Deputy Chief of Information Networks. The efforts of the Resistance within Paris intensified after the Allied landing at Normandy Beach on June 6. As the German war machine’s hold began to weaken, there were mass arrests for “gaulisme,” which refers as much to French patriotism as to the patriotic name of General de Gaulle himself, the leader of the Free French government-in-exile. Bieber, who had been awarded a Croix de Guerre in the First World War, was one of those detained. Pierre Bretegnier managed to escape when he was captured.
Another SCFH member who was arrested for gaulisme in the last days of the German occupation was Pierre Fouré. It turned out there was more going on at the Fouré residence at 128 rue de Rennes than just wargaming.
Pierre Fouré’s father Robert led a double life. A career soldier who joined the colonial army young and had fought in Southeast Asia before the outbreak of the First World War, Robert Fouré returned to Europe in time to participate in the Gallipoli Campaign as part of the French forces who landed at Kumkale, in Turkey, in April 1915. He came back with a metal plate in his skull and a promotion to captain. After the war, he served in the French occupation force in Germany, and then accepted a series of colonial appointments in French North Africa, where in 1938 he was promoted to colonel.
Colonel Fouré thus found himself in Tunisia in 1940 when the French government signed its armistice with Germany. Under the terms of the treaty, the French forces in North Africa now reported to the Wehrmacht. Nor was this a polite fiction: when Allied forces landed in Oran in 1942, French soldiers died fighting them, including a young member of the SCFH by the name of Jacques Vincent. Vincent was part of the 2nd Regiment of Chasseurs d’Afrique, whose commander had ties to the French Resistance and tried desperately to minimize loss of Allied life, perhaps at the cost of some of his own men.
Rather than serve under a German command, Robert Fouré — who was then approaching sixty years old — accepted early retirement late in 1941 and made his way to occupied Paris. There he sought out the patchwork of Resistance organizations that had begun to coalesce in the heart of France. The National Council of the Resistance, which formed in May of 1943, marked the first attempt to unify the eight leading Resistance movements of the time, which reflected a mix of constituents, strategies, and ideologies. Colonel Fouré became attached to Libération-Nord, one of those eight groups.
In the shadowy world of these Resistance groups, several members of the SCFH played notable roles. Louis Nouveau of Marseille is perhaps the most famous of these — and incidentally, Nouveau was another SCFH member who expressed interest in Kriegspiel in the Bulletin back in 1937. In a letter Keller sent to the SCFH in 1941, he reported Nouveau was innocently trying to forget the sadness of the present time by continuing to paint his tin soldiers. But it turns out that Nouveau and his wife Renée secretly formed part of the “Pat Line,” a network established by a Frenchman operating under the pseudonym “Patrick O’Leary” who helped smuggle Allied soldiers out of danger. The risks of these operations cannot be overstated. Early in February 1943, Nouveau was apprehended near Tours while trying to assist a group of American airmen escaping back to the United Kingdom. Nouveau was sent to Fresnes, a German-controlled prison south of Paris where political prisoners and Resistance members faced inhumane overcrowding and well-documented mistreatment by the guards.
The Germans were always just one step behind the Resistance. Of necessity, it was a time of shifting organizations and aliases, which makes the exact situation of Resistance fighters difficult to describe with certainty. Fouré, like many Resistance leaders, worked under more than one nom de guerre: sometimes as “Leroy,” or under the alias “le Targui,” a name for the Tuareg people of North Africa he would have known from his colonial posting. The Resistance could only be so bold — the German military government in Paris kept tens of thousands of hostages, and in retaliation for violence against a single German official, they would summarily execute prisoners by the dozens. What followed was therefore largely a campaign of sabotage, thwarting the German plan to leverage French industry for the war effort. As the various Resistance groups coalesced into a unified front, the Force Françaises de l’Intérieur (FFI), Robert Fouré became the chef d’état-major, the chief of staff, for the region surrounding Paris.
A high-profile role in the Resistance was a perilous responsibility, one that fell on Fouré after the apprehension of his predecessor. His son’s wargaming rules warn that “a general or an état-major can be disabled or captured in the course of combat,” an eventuality that may have special consequences. In April, the Gestapo came to the Fouré household at 128 Rue de Rennes in search of le Targui. At one point, Robert’s wife Alice managed to convince the Germans that it was in fact her brother they were looking for. Eventually le Targui could no longer elude his pursuers: he was arrested on May 17. Fouré had been a colonel in the French army, but once he took off that uniform and joined the Resistance, the Germans saw no obligation to treat him under the terms of the Geneva Convention. He would not be sent to an Offizierslager — instead he too was sent to Fresnes prison, joining Louis Nouveau and other political prisoners in a harsh facility that was now operating at ten times its designed capacity.
It was the darkest hour of the occupation. There is a crucial passage in Axelle where Reichendorf has sprung a trap on the French forces commanded by his wargame opponent Dumaine. That moment in the novel coincided with the finale of the spring 1918 German offensive, a time when they believed France’s defeat was imminent. By this point, Reichendorf and Dumaine had gamed through six variations of the Battle of Borny on the tabletop, and all but one had led to a decisive German victory. Reichendorf’s obsession with replaying this situation over and over seems to reflect a frustration with his inability to participate in the real war going on hundreds of miles to the west, as if the French would have been easily trounced if Reichendorf himself could still lend his military prowess to the German command. By defeating Dumaine, he was defeating France itself. In this scene of the novel, the opposing commands of Dumaine and Reichendorf met on the outskirts of Metz.
For this fictional battle within a fictional narrative, Dumaine entrenched a mix of infantry battalions and artillery in the town of Noiseville, which would grant him eleven die rolls, against twenty-seven from Reichendorf’s massive force. The old general cannot resist gloating over his imminent victory, taunting Dumaine that he is dans un joli guêpier, perhaps we might say a “in a can of worm.” They take turns rolling for their forces, passing the dice cup back and forth. But Dumaine keeps rolling sixes, and the general ones and twos. “Tonnerre de malédiction!” the general cries, betrayed by the dice he had himself introduced to the game, as discovers how fickle the god Fortune can be. Benoit is using this as a literary device, a sort of synchronicity, to foreshadow that elsewhere, on the Western front, against every German prediction of probability, Allied tanks were repelling the German advance, and the tide of war had shifted.
The failure of the German spring offensive was a turning point in the First World War, and a similar turning point awaited the Germans in 1944. On June 6, just three weeks after the arrest of Robert Fouré, Allied forces launched their assault on northwestern France. As they advanced across the country, Resistance efforts in Paris stepped up, and gaulisme was on the rise. Given everything else going on at 128 rue de Rennes, it is not surprising that Pierre Fouré was himself active in the FFI — nor that he would also be arrested by the Germans.
But it turns out Pierre Fouré was one of the lucky ones, who would be released rather than shipped across the Rhine. The worrisome prospect of the Allies liberating political prisoners in France prompted the Germans to send Robert Fouré and nearly 3,000 other Resistance fighters to the Büchenwald concentration camp in the middle of August. This included Louis Nouveau, who had now spent a year at Fresnes, as well as SCFH member Pierre Néraud. Robert Fouré stayed in Büchenwald only a month or so before he was transferred to the Dora-Mittelbau camp. Since these political prisoners had little means to communicate with the outside world, Fouré’s family then knew only that he had been deported.
By August 19, as an Allied army neared, the FFI and the people of Paris made a desperate stand against the occupying forces. There was a general strike, and posters went up around the city calling for insurrection; barricades were assembled, and indeed Pierre Fouré directed the building of one of them, at a major intersection just a few blocks from his house. Cars emblazoned with the initials of the FFI conveyed Parisians who fired what handguns and rifles they had at their oppressors. The fighting reached its most intense on August 22 and 23, the day before General Leclerc sent the first Free French troops into Paris. Hundred died, maybe more than a thousand, in an open war on the streets. And almost incredibly, the last of the SCFH members to sign the Réglement de Kriegspiel with an oath of “lu et approuvé” dated it August 23, 1944: Roger Triaureau, who had joined the Society a few months earlier.
What would a wargame, or indeed any hobby, have meant to the SCFH members in Paris on that day? It may have just promised a means of escape. The last Circulaire distributed before the tumultuous events of August 1944 printed an excerpt from a letter by one member who explained: “In these most painful moments we are living through, the arrival of the Circulaire brings great joy. The time spent reading it, the responses that it elicits, lets my thoughts escape all this for some few moments, and that is a great comfort.” But surely some other diversion, one unconnected to war — maybe tennis, or stamp collecting — could have transported one’s thoughts farther from the calamity of the time. Maybe what toy soldiers and wargames offered was not an escape from war, but a reinterpretation of it, a way to transform something huge and dangerous and uncontrollable into a plaything on a table. As it was for General Reichendorf, maybe wargame victories alleviated feelings of helplessness, substituting a decisive success for the agonizing uncertainty of real battle. Did they play a wargame then, on August 23, and if so, who were the combatants, who won or lost, and what were the true stakes?
When General Leclerc ordered his troops into Paris, he did so in defiance of Allied command, out of a conviction that the uprising demanded military support. His forces joined the FFI’s battle and together, they triumphed. Henry Rol-Tanguy, Robert Fouré’s successor in the role of chef d’état-major in the Paris FFI, co-signed the German articles of surrender. General de Gaulle, in a triumphant speech days later, insisted that it was not some outside power that liberated Paris, it was the French people.
The liberation of Paris did not mark the end of the war or the suffering it brought to the French people. The final push to rid France of the German army still claimed lives, including some of the membership of the SCFH. Raymond Balay had only joined the Society at the end of 1943; the next year he fought as a member of maquis, the Resistance fighters who took to the country and engaged in guerilla war with the Germans. On September 4, 1944, he died along with around fifty fellow maquisards assisting British SAS parachutists who were in a firefight with retreating German forces near Maçon. Even closer to the border, SCFH member Edouard “Teddy” Rasson lost his life on November 24, 1944, the day that the French army liberated Strasbourg and pushed the occupying forces back across the Rhine. He was shot by aircraft fire while riding in a jeep.
For every such sad ending, there were also stories of extraordinary perseverance. SCFH member Raymond Boverat had been a longtime prisoner in Germany who managed to escape to Sweden, from there crossing to Britain. In the summer of 1944, he parachuted into rural France, where he joined up with a maquis unit. Although he was wounded in the liberation effort, he recovered and then served as captain for a regiment of Parisian FFI members who had now been integrated into French regular army as they pushed on into Germany. After the war, his remarkable heroism would see him named a Chevalier in the Legion of Honor.
For the people who stayed in Paris, life returned to something as close to normalcy as it could while the campaign to topple the Nazi regime proceeded. Fresnes prison, restored to French control, now held those accused of collaborating with the Germans, including for a time one Pierre Benoit. General de Gaulle called upon the French people to marry and have babies, and many in the Society followed suit, taking part in a French Baby Boom. Pierre Fouré married in October — at the time, the fate of his father remained unknown. The SCFH Circulaire could only report that “Colonel Robert Fouré has unfortunately been deported” and express “hopes for the prompt return of Colonel Fouré.”
In these somber times, the SCFH found that even something as small as a toy soldier could play its part in restoring the French national spirit. In celebration of the holidays, Pierre Bretegnier installed at the Galeries Lafayettes — the poshest of Parisian shopping centers — a huge diorama depicting the entry of French forces under Napoleon into Berlin in 1809, a historical event that everyone hoped would soon recur. But the SCFH would make a grander gesture with their ninth society exhibition, this one staged at the Musée Cognacq-Jay, then located around the corner from the Opera in Paris. Entitled “Petits Soldats, Grandes Victoires,” it opened just months after the liberation of Paris, on November 3. The exhibition was originally intended to run into December, but it was extended until January 8, 1945, and then its close was pushed to February 11 as thousands flocked to see it — totaling more than 45,000. The SCFH had to make do with those materials that were on hand in the wreckage of Paris, but even with a few compromises, the results were still inspiring. One of the dioramas even showed the landing at Normandy Beach on D-Day, though there were only six German figures available to defend the beach. Might anyone who had fought on that shoreline have seen it, and fancied themselves miniaturized there in the Musée Cognacq-Jay?
The “Petits Soldats, Grandes Victoires” exhibition even made it into a contemporary newsreel that begins by showing the lamentable situation of the Museum of the Army at the Hôtel des Invalides, the permanent archive of military history that Meisonnier had championed a half century before. “Here as elsewhere,” the narrator reports, “the ex-occupant marked his passage.” Suits of armor, antique guns, and flags had all been looted by the Germans. The camera then moves to the Musée Cognacq-Jay, where the military history of France is being replenished in miniature. It reviews the various toy soldiers put up by the SCFH in their dioramas before fading to contemporary footage of the French army marching down the Champs-Elysées, preparing for the assault on Germany. “After lead soldiers comes an iron army,” the narration concludes. It was as if the very figures posed by the SCFH had abruptly grown to life size to avenge the French people.
It was only when the Allies invaded Germany in 1945 that the extent of the devastation visited on the people of Europe became clear. It is not the place of this cursory essay to convey the enormity of that tragedy, but just to show how it impacted the small community of miniature figure collectors of France. Pierre Néraud, an SCFH member, perished in Büchenwald on March 27 of that year. Just a few days earlier, a fellow collector and Resistance member, Jean Walther, died at nearby Plömnitz-Leau on his way to Büchenwald. Only Louis Nouveau, of the SCFH members deported to the concentration camps, would miraculously return alive to France. He survived a year in Fresnes, followed by a further fifteen months in Büchenwald, but came back to receive the George Medal from Britain for his service in participating in the “Pat Line” rescues of Allied troops; his wife Renée, who continued to support the war effort from London after Louis’s deportation, would be named a Member of the British Empire.
In the novel Axelle, General Reichendorf lost three of his sons to the First World War early on, and had but one surviving, a commandant named Dietrich who visited the ancestral manse in East Prussia on leave, before Germany’s fortunes in the war began to turn. His elderly father expressed impatience with the German strategy, as if he cannot fathom why a bold cavalry charge would not secure an immediate and lasting victory. His son Dietrich is eventually forced to explain that war in the 1870s simply was not comparable to the world of trenches, barbed wire, and poison gas that he has seen: “This war we are waging, it is a different war. A war, you see, of which you couldn’t have the slightest idea.” On this point Pierre Dumaine, who had seen action on the front, felt some kinship with Reichendorf’s surviving son. Nonetheless, as he descends into bedridden delirium, General Reichendorf still fancied Germany’s tactical problem to be solvable through the proper application of nineteenth-century Kriegsspiel.
As different as the Great War was from the conflicts of the nineteenth century, the concentration camps of the Second World War were unimaginable in the warfare of the past. Only the darkest rumors foretold what Allied forces would find when they reached the camps in Germany. Colonel Robert Fouré is believed to have died sometime after the Allied liberation of the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp, where he was last seen — many prisoners were hastily evacuated and mercilessly executed. His body was never found, and indeed many of the details of his service to the Paris Resistance were only discovered decades later, in files carefully hidden at the top of the elevator that went up to his Paris home. But his role in the Resistance has not been forgotten: in 2004, a plaque was placed at 128 rue de Rennes commemorating his service and his sacrifice.
Adolf Hitler took his own life not long after the disappearance of Colonel Fouré. As Allied forces took control of Germany, Pierre Fouré was one of several Society members who traveled to Germany in order to help sort out what happened and to hunt down plundered French belongings, including miniature figures and casting molds. He would spend much of the next three years there, even reporting back to the SCFH about which figure casters in Germany had withstood the war, and which had been permanently shuttered. Many had lost things that could never be replaced, but perhaps restoring toy soldiers to France provided something like closure — even if there was one soldier Pierre Fouré could not bring home.
When Fouré, Dodeur, and Bondoux promised, on December 15, 1943, to abide by their Règlement de Kriegspiel until January 1, 1945, they could not have imagined how much the world would change in the course of that year. It is a small miracle that the rulebook, to say nothing of its authors, survived the time. But game systems are by their nature constantly evolving as their exercise inspires players to explore new directions. In that accounting ledger we see all sorts of undated pencil corrections; the entire page 34 is scratched out and labeled “annulée.” For a wargame system, change is not a failing, but instead a sign of relevance, that it is still in use — games change as much as the people who play them.
The SCFH Bulletin resumed after the war, and its first issue carried an article by Fouré and Dodeur translating a piece in Die Zinnfigur about the history of wargames. In 1948, Pierre Fouré and his wife had a son, but Fouré never outgrew toy soldiers or wargames; he soon served as general secretary of the SCFH. In the decades following the war, interest in Kriegsspiel only became stronger in the Society’s ranks. Pierre Bretegnier had a couple of articles in the Bulletin about wargames in 1948, and by 1953, Jacques Laurent had begun his own series building on the prior work of Fouré. When the SCFH staged an exhibition in 1955 in the Palais de Chaillot, just across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower, Fouré created an unusual exhibit in a room which had been restored with period furniture to resemble a Second Empire salon, the sort that might have existed in France at the time when General Reichendorf first learned wargames. There, on a table covered with a hexagonal board, Fouré set figures representing Austrian and French forces in conflict, with a set of dice on hand ready to decide the next combat.
Fouré, Laurent, and their associates circulated a mimeograph revision of the Règlement de Kriegspiel in 1955, and supported it with a few articles in the Bulletin. Laurent stressed that they had made only a very limited run, of which he retained but a few spare copies available to ship for 400 francs within France and 450 internationally. Enthusiasm for the game spread from Paris to regional clubs, where no one could resist tweaking them: a group in Metz adapted the system from its Napoleonic origins to work for the Franco-Prussian War, and from there it spread to subgroups in Strasbourg and even Koblenz. Jean Besnus, who had lobbied for wargames in the SCFH two decades earlier, could report on running a five-person game in 1957 which he planned to straddle two or three evenings. By that point, the Bulletin had for some years been running reports about the miniature collecting communities in California, where Jack Scruby had begun organizing a secret society of his own, culminating with his War Game Digest, which finally gave the wargaming hobby its own voice.
In the early 1960s, Anglo-American fanzines like Donald Featherstone’s Wargamer’s Newsletter and Jack Scruby’s Table Top Talk made their way to Paris, and Featherstone’s 1962 book War Games happened to cross Fouré’s desk. Fouré viewed these rules as less strict than his own, and opined with some bemusement, in the January 1964 issue of the Bulletin, that the rules raised all sorts of problems that French wargames no longer encountered, thanks to their decades of development. He was nonetheless skeptical that the SCFH rules could be of much assistance to the English-speaking audience: “Unfortunately, the Anglo-American rules are completely different from ours, because they depart from basic principles that are totally different.”
His reservations notwithstanding, since Fouré had already taken the step of printing up a revised version under the name Le Kriegspiel in 1964, he decided to reach out to both Scruby and Featherstone, offering copies of the work to their respective readerships. Featherstone noted receiving his copy in Wargamer’s Newsletter #28, saying that “It was sent to me very kindly by Pierre Fouré… who mentions on his card that he can correspond in English.” Scruby as well mentions receipt of Fouré’s “well printed book of 32 pages” in the September 1964 issue of Table Top Talk.
Then, in May 1965, Scruby reported that a Maryland wargamer named Pat Condray had been working on a translation of Fouré’s rules, which he had now made available as an English translation under the title Le Kriegspiel, a 36 page mimeograph trading at $1.50 plus postage. At the time, very few comparable wargame products were on the American market: the year before, Scruby had printed his own Fire and Charge, and John Candler of the famous “Dayton Gang” was then selling his green binder of Miniature Wargames du temps de Napoléon, but neither game had roots anywhere near as long as Fouré’s.
When Fouré’s rules saw an English translation, hexagons had only recently become common in board wargames — Avalon Hill had converted its Gettysburg from a square board to a hexagonal one in 1961 — but of course Fouré had based his system on hexagons two decades before. Avalon Hill targeted its board games at young adults who grew up after the Second World War; some of their best customers were born in the Baby Boom, in an age of nuclear anxiety as far removed from conventional warfare as the Second World War would have been to Napoleon. By the time Fouré’s game reached America, Avalon Hill had trimmed the dread and horror of the World War II down into gameable scenes like D-Day (1961), Bismarck (1962), Stalingrad (1963), and Afrika Korps (1964). They made sense of those tumultuous events by translating them into the language of hexagons.
Pat Condray went on to start his own wargaming magazine in 1968 called the Armchair General. When he undertook a revision of his original translation of Le Kriegspiel, under the new title The Wargame, he offered it free to anyone who paid for a subscription. It would not be an exaggeration to say that these became the house rules of Condray’s zines, and his journal carried pictures of miniature wargames playing out on hexagons. Pierre Fouré himself even contributed an article to the Armchair General about the applicability of his rules to naval wargames. Among the readership of that magazine at the time was a fellow named Dave Arneson, who was avid about Napoleonic naval wargames, and who would go on to collaborate with Gary Gygax on a set of rules called Don’t Give Up the Ship — and then on a little game called Dungeons & Dragons.
At the close of the 1960s, the SCFH issued its final Bulletin. From that point forward, the Society folded its news into the Sabretache, which had with some interruptions survived since the days of Meissonier. In its pages, up through the 1980s, we can still find periodic contributions from Pierre Fouré. Many remember Fouré in the French gaming community as the “father of hexagons.” Once Dungeons & Dragons had taken over gaming, the French magazine Casus Belli covered fantastic adventures as well the wargaming scene — and its seventh issue, in March 1982, features a picture of Napoleonic miniature figurines in battle furnished by Fouré. By that point, the intense visualization that miniature figures brought to gamers earlier in the twentieth century had started to give way to the computer graphics favored by a new generation. Much had changed, but as we look across the gulf of time back to that bitter winter of December 1943, we can only wonder at how much endured.