Tuesday, April 28, 2009

"Brothers in Arms"..

Just finished the latest offering from Iain Gale in the "Jack Steel" series - this is number 3, and deals with the Oudenarde campaign and its aftermath...

As seems to be usual with Iain Gale's books it actually opens with the battle itself - always slightly unnerving to be tipped full scale into the battle from the moment you open the first page, as most authors (and I guess Bernard Cornwall's Sharpe books are the perfect example) usually spend the book working up to it, setting it in context, etc. Either way up, the battle is well described - it's clear that Gale is most comfortable when describing the battle scenes...

Where he seems to fall down is the non-battle scenes... I find his characters a little shallow in terms of characterisation, and the plots a little thin & easy. For example, in this book Steel is asked to adopt disguise and travel to Paris to meet with a contact in the French army so as to deliver a personal letter from Marlborough to Louis XIV hoping to bring the war to an earlier close - which he then does, despite the obvious difficulties this would have caused him! With little French, he walks straight into the middle of Paris, straight into the headquarters of the French army (which somewhat interestingly was housed in the Hopital des Invalides at the time, I didn't know that) and handed over his message... OK he's captured but it all seems a little "easy" - all the issues he has are easily bypassed, enemies are persuaded to ignore him by the easiest of excuses and subterfuges....

Having got back from Paris he then finds himself embroiled in the siege of Lille which Gale likens (very heavily) to the experience in WWI, and having taken command of a converged grenadier battalion he then goes off to rescue his wife, gets involved in the battle of Wijnendale (I hadn't heard of this battle, but it sounds like it would make an interesting research topic as it featured a very small contingent on each side - no more than 15 regiments a piece) and generally performs prodigious and many feats of derring-do....

So - did I enjoy it?? Yes.. Would I buy the next one?? Yes... Mr Gale needs to develop his characterisation - give them some depth - but his plots fairly race along and are always exciting...

Steve the Wargamer rates this one as 6 or 7 out of 10.

Friday, April 24, 2009

St George's Day interest...

So St George's Day has been and gone, and how was it for you? From out of nowhere, there seemed to be a whole load of interest in the idea this year - not sure where this came from even now! From my own perspective I just wondered "why??"... ah well maybe I'm just getting old and cycnical... bread and circuses and all that....

..BUT.... one interesting side effect of this was that the local village decided to hold a parade to mark the day, and therefore encouraged all the local shops & traders to put up flags and such, and dress their windows to mark the occasion. So what was so interesting about that I hear you all ask, well have a look at what turned up in the window of the Antique Shop..

...and of course I had to take my camera (and that in itself caused the current Mrs Steve-the-Wargamer to look at me in that way that ladies have when faced with incipient lunacy or dementia, and utter the immortal words "don't be stupid, they'll think you're planning a robbery"!)

First up they had an actual honest to goodness Land Pattern Musket, or Brown Bess, this one (as you can see) was labelled early 18th century - if it was early 18th they'd discovered percussion caps a whole lot earlier than I thought they had! According to Wikipedia "The British Ordnance System converted many Flintlocks into the new Percussion system known as the Pattern 1839 Musket." So I think that more correctly, this one should be labelled as that...

Next up a tunic and hat combination - nothing like a bit of British scarlet on St. George's day! The tunic is probably from the Coldstream's as the buttons are spaced in pairs, and the buttons also have the correct markings for that august regiment - what confirms it though is the hat as that has the right cap badge. I'm assuming it's probably the "undress" cap, as normally they would wear the busby or bearskin. Whoever owned this jacket had won some kind of order as there is a fitting for it on the left breast..

No mistaking this uniform, which took pride of place in the window - can't see the buttons, but the coat had dark blue cuffs (signifying a Royal Regiment) and given the breastplate and helmet I've assumed this is a uniform coat and equipment for the Life Guards the most senior regiment in the British army and part of the Household Cavalry - a truly splendid sight when close up..

Bit more difficult this one as I didn't get close enough to check the buttons - if the uniform goes with the hat however, it's the Oxfordshire Regiment - but - my information tells me that their uniform had Buff facings and this one has dark blue. If it's a guards regiment then the single buttons would indicate Grenadier Guards.. I'll have a closer look on my way home this evening and advise later... note a longer view of the Brown Bess on the left, and a view of me taking a picture to case the joint reflected in the window!

Last one - and in many ways the most interesting one - a model 1853 Enfield muzzle loading rifle, converted at some point to become a Snider-Enfield breech loader - the Wikipedia article is good on this one. The original muzzle loader was the weapon implicated in the cause of the Indian Mutiny, but in addition was the Confederate's most imported weapon during the American Civil War. This one according to Wikipedia "From 1866 on the <1853 pattern> rifles were converted in large numbers at the Royal Small Arms Factory (RSAF) Enfield beginning with the initial pattern, the Mark I." I think that this is a mark 1 due to the length of the barrel, and the butt markings showing that the original Enfield it was converted from dated from 1857... fantastic, wouldn't you love to know where it had been??

... amazing to see such history in your own little village street!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Runners complete... and oh dear...

Things are a little slow on the wargaming front at Steve-the-Wargamers pad, activities are moving along, but not in the productive way I would like - having said that the campaign is moving along nicely, I am keeping up on my reading (part the way through the very latest Jack Steel novel dealing with Oudenarde and the siege of Lille - a review coming when I finish it) so all has not completely stopped..

I did finish off basing the runners though (see following)



In the end I went with four based singly (obviously carrying orders somewhere on the battlefield), and two clustered with one of my army commanders (waiting for orders to carry)


...for the time being at least these will provide wargame table colour - should I develop any rules to do with written orders (not likely as I'm not a fan..) or changing orders then they may develop a role of their own - but right now I like the colour they provide to the table..

...and "oh dear"??

...well on Friday I went down to check the boat was OK and found it was not on the mooring and had been moved to another one.. no idea why... quite worrying...

..the tides being what they were the first opportunity I had to get down and check the boat was Saturday morning so after a 5:30 start (ouch!!) I found myself on the boat and holding the frayed end of the old mooring.. looks like it had frayed and broken at the point where it is secured to the big concrete block on the harbour bottom. She must have gone adrift, but some kind soul had rescued her and moored her safely - no idea who, but I owe them a beer as the boat seems undamaged in all respects! Whew..... now all I need to do is go mud wading to find the concrete block and repair the old mooring!

So - "oh dear" (and I can promise you what I actually said was slightly pithier that that..) but all's well that ends well - I have this Wednesday off and am planning my first solo voyage; fishing rod has been found, reel unearthed from the back of the attic (neither used for at least 20 years!) - should be fun..



Oh, and family had the first sailing trip last Monday - we hit nothing, broke nothing, no-one was seasick, the sun shone, the wind was ideal and they want to go again.. job done!

Distance: 3.5 miles (8.5 miles year to date)
Wind: light

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Sometimes...

...as a wargamer your mind goes off in the strangest of directions as a result of something you've read or seen. Take this lunchtime for example, where I was absolutely fascinated by the recent posting by Sir William the Aged on the Wars of Louis Quatorze [click here] blog, about the Polish Winged Hussars....

An elite unit without a doubt, but of course my mind wanted to know why they would they carry those wings - what was the purpose, or reason for carrying those massive contraptions around on their backs....??

Armed with purpose, I headed off to waste yet another lunch time researching, when perhaps I should be doing more constructive!

First stop of course was Wikipedia which tells me that the Polish Winged Hussars were not really "Hussars" at all - by the time in question they were wearing armour, helmets and carried the lance so were more properly lancers, or heavy cavalry... OK, so that's a good start but I still don't know, why the wings???

The first proposal then is that in the 16th century wings or winged claws began to appear painted on cavalry shields. Later actual wings were attached to the saddle, and later still were attached to the riders back. "In 1645, Col. Szczodrowski was said to have used ostrich wings". Wiki says that the painted wings & winged claws were "characteristic" so I'm assuming there is a Polish historical or heraldic link here - perhaps to do with the Polish winged eagle?

Second proposal - again from Wiki and also here [click here] and a number of other sites - is that they were designed to foil attacks by Tatar (or more incorrectly Tartar) lassos...

Third proposal - from Wiki, also here [click here] and also here [click here] is that they were in effect a form of Renaissance "stuka" in that the vibrating of the feathers attached to the wings during the charge made a strange sound that supposedly would upset the enemy's horses and troops....

For the fourth proposal, Tim Newark in ‘The Hussars’ (Brassey’s Book of Uniforms) thinks that the "wearing of these wings seems to point back to the feathers worn by hunter-bandits in the Balkans, especially those known as Delis [this also confirmed at this excellent website {click here}] who fought as scouts and raiders for both sides in the wars against Ottoman Turkey, and adorned their helmets, shields, and clothes with the feathers of birds they had killed". (He further further posits the argument that this in turn goes back to the earlier Slavic races or horse people rewarding bravery with feathers etc. This strikes me as being very similar to native American practice??)

Ultimately however, I think he's right when he puts forward the final theory which is simply the sheer physical presence they would have given - much like the bearskin for the guards, the size and psychological impact must have been immense. Add to that the brightly coloured, oriental style cloth worn over and about the armour, the lance, the exotic animal skins festooned around the horses and they must have been a truly frightening sight..

Last quote to Newark:

"Bernard Connor, an Irishman in Poland in the employ of Polish King, Jan III Sobieski, in the 17th century, described the appearance of the Hussars as frightful: ‘being stuck all over with wings of Storks, Cranes, Turkey-cocks and cloatted over their Armour with the skins of Leopards, Tygers, Bears, Lions, etc., all of which they do to make themselves more terrible to the enemy.’"

There you go - one little post and I learnt a huge amount about a period of history that I knew little about...

Friday, April 10, 2009

All of a sudden..

...he was 17 again.....



...sigh... still, on the plus side.... at least I don't have the spot problem any more!

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Meanwhile, on the wargaming front I can report:
  • An update to the Campaign Diary - interesting times in the peninsula!
  • An update to the WSS Project Page with the addition of the Black Hat cavalry comparisons to the figures section..


Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Launch day...

As promised, and requested (well one of you did!), just a few pictures of the boat post clean up and preparation...

These were taken on launch day...

..which was just about perfect in terms of sun, but we could probably have done with a little more wind (ie. there wasn't any until we got to almost our destination).

Backing up a trailer with a considerable amount of boat behind the car was an interesting experience - not trailed before anyway, and I couldn't quite get to grips with having to turn the wheel one way to make the boat turn the other!

Finally in the water, and tied up...

..beautiful day - see following - notice complete lack of movement on the water! Almost windless....



...followed by a gentle putter up the harbour to the permanent mooring. No breeze to talk of until we got to almost the end when we had a few puffs that got us moving (5.5 knots at one point!)...

All things considered a very successful first voyage at about 5 miles - couple of interesting incidents and lessons learned... first the lesson; stay inside the channel markers at the top of the harbour (where the water tends to be shallower) - my boat only draws a couple of feet, but we still managed to sit on the mud for a while!

Second the incident - biggest little'un took this for us..



...the rescue services were out and all people taken off safely - cycling to work later in the week I went past and the owner was there stripping out anything usable that was left - it had burned to the waterline. Happily the insurance are paying, but he advised me that this was caused by an engine fire.. very sobering end to a lovely day...

Distance: 5 miles
Wind: light to none

Friday, April 03, 2009

Runners & poll results..

So the poll has come to an end and on the basis of 26 votes I'd say that the jury is still out on whether the new plastic figures really are the be-all and end-all that everyone believes...

Of the 26 votes (so hardly representative!) only 4 people are actually using them, but of the rest of the votes it's split down the middle between emperor's new clothes, and either owning them but not using them yet, or waiting for the right period to come along..

I've also been working on the Marlburian runners from Black Hat that I picked up at Salute - I only have a couple of uniform sources, the major one of which is the following. This is a section of the Blenheim tapestry and the runner in question can partially be seen behind Marlborough in the centre:


My other source was the first volume of the Charles Grant Uniforms book. I think his source is the same as the above but he quotes black caps, blue livery with white small clothes and carried staff of office. In addition to this I can see (I think) orange ribbons at the knee, and perhaps a ribbon of the same colour on the cap?

The Black Hat figures are cast with the ribbons at knee and on the hat, but they're also cast with a waist sash. Bottom line I went for dark blue coats, white breeches, the greyish stockings/hose you see in the tapestry, and orange for ribbons/sash...

I suspect the orange might be reflecting something to do with the British royalty - William had been prince of Orange?? If anyone has any further information on this, please leave a comment...

I haven't based them yet as I'm considering how I'll use them.. probably based with other command figures rather than individually as I don't use a written orders system. Perfect if I did mind!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

"Encirclement", or "Breakout"

With DG's recent visit to these parts (to attend Salute) it seemed more than sensible that he and I get together for a game - his visits are few and far between so all opportunities should be exploited to the maximum...

So it was that on the evening of the 27th he and I met over the field of battle to have a go at the "Encirclement", or "Breakout" scenario from the Grant and Asquith "Scenario's for all Ages" book..

We hadn't played a War of the Spanish Succession game for some time, and having recently completed the Agenois and Howe's regiments (and wanting an opportunity for them to march to their first glorious encounter!) we swiftly agreed that Marlburian period it should be..

Scenario

Briefly the scenario posits the position that one sides army (in this case the Allies) has advanced too far into enemy territory in pursuit of a numerically smaller enemy force (in this case the French).. at the point where they realise they have advanced too far they are then surrounded by an additional two other smaller French forces that, when combined, significantly outnumber them.

It was agreed that I would command the French and DG the Allies.

The Allied mission is to breakout and exit from one edge of the table without losing a significant part of their force.. a win is therefore dependant on them losing less than a specific percentage of the force, while a draw is a higher percentage, and a loss is an even higher percentage.. I won't go into details as you really need to buy the book which deserves a place on any thinking gamer’s bookshelf!

So in the following you see the table layout, and the position of the three French forces and the Allied force...
It's clear then that the force breaking out needs to chose the direction they do this in carefully, so in order to give DG some time to think I had already deployed the French forces allowing the British to react to this by setting up second.

Another view of the starting positions - this time showing force designations:


The Game

DG decided that he was going to break out in the direction of the church and I for one thought his plan to enable this was quite sound - he left his cavalry and artillery to cover the withdrawal and set his infantry off immediately in the direction of my much smaller blocking force "B" (this comprised three regiments of foot, one of which was the Agenois regiment, and an artillery piece).

While he did this I started moving my cavalry in force A & C and the artillery from force A forward (both sides were allowed only light pieces with limited range) ready to launch my first attacks on DG's cavalry blocking force.

The cavalry attack by force A proved disastrous as extremely poor morale and a lack of moral fibre (ie. a 1 on the dice!) resulted in the first unit leaving the table.. if they had any battle honours to strip I would have taken them!
In this picture DG's foot are hot footing towards their date with destiny... well, the Agenois Regiment anyway!

The artillery however opened fire, and the first casualties began to appear in the ranks of DG's cavalry..

In the face of a gradual advance by the infantry from forces A & B his cavalry started to pull back slowly...

At the other end of the table however his infantry had finally reached the church and started to deploy from column of march to line... despite, or perhaps because of, the urgency of the situation the 1st Foot Guards failed to complete the evolution - difficult to believe, but in the heat of the moment even Queen Anne's finest sometimes miss their step. Sensing a huge opportunity the colonel of the Agenois Regiment charged his men forward on their disorganised ranks. The Guards throw to see if they stand the charge - despite the negatives for their disorganised state they stand!! I can see DG chuckling even now... We agree that it makes little sense that they be allowed to counter charge, so move to the melee - we throw the dice - I score low, DG scores high, and the Agenois regiment are sent packing in huge disarray (rout and lose 2 strength points from their complement of 5). Quelle domage....!

In the ensuing morale checks they fail again and the second French regiment leaves the table...

I would say that this was the nadir of the French fortunes - two regiments gone, can't get past his cavalry, and four of his foot regiments bearing down on two of mine - one of whom (the Royal Italienne) are in total disarray having failed to complete the deployment from column to line .... it was not over yet, however...
At the other end of the table I had managed to pin one of DG's cavalry regiments with my Irish foot (Lee's - see the picture just above) while getting the cavalry away to advance east. In the next picture you can see them just passing the building and broken ground in the far right distance...

Melee's at this end of the table saw at least one of the British cavalry units break, but the main damage was done by the recovered Royal Italiene, and the attached gun - in one move both units managed double six score's on the Guards causing massive casualties, that in the end signified my victory conditions had been met.

Post match analysis:

  • I think it very unlikely that DG and I will ever have another game where the disparity in dice rolls was quite as marked as it was in this game. 1's, 2's or 5's & 6's were the mark of the evening - even when using double dice. On the plus side I think we'd agree that there was an equal disparity on both sides - sometimes I was lucky (the shooting on the Foot Guards) sometimes DG was (Agenois foot, and Chartres cavalry, routing)
  • I think the key to this scenario is the artillery because of it's ability to inflict damage (ie. win points towards your victory total) at a distance - initially both I, and I think DG, thought it might be the cavalry that were the winning edge because of the distance they can move. If we were to play this again then, I think my decision would be tempered by this - in this case the obvious soft spot is the French "C" force. Isn't hindsight a wonderful thing!?
  • We did have a couple of interesting melee's where units managed to contact flank and rear, but the rules (we used my variant of Will McNally's SYW rules) are flexible enough that we managed to work through these and iron out any inconsistencies. I almost had another disaster when charging into the flank of one of DG's cavalry regiments only for them to stand and fight back - oh no I thought - "I've been here before". Luckily (for that is what it sometimes is) I prevailed... So in summary, no rules updates required, though I may need to make some modifications to the formations allowed for western European units as DG had one of his infantry units wandering around in a block of four for some time...!
  • Other than that this was a nice straight forward game - it didn't take long - a couple of hours maximum but that was no bad thing as were going to Salute the next day and had an early start..