Friday, November 27, 2009

Raid on St. Michel - Game 2 - "Rear Guard".. The Battle...

On Friday evening (the 20th) DG and I met on the field of Mars to decide the outcome for the second teaser in the linked series of games that make up the "Raid on St. Michel" mini campaign; as promised here is the write up on the game..

OOB

First then, the orders of battle:

Playing the part of the country of Lorraine in this campaign are the French - a relatively small force. You'll note that one of the two guns is weak - this was the artillery that made such a poor showing of it at fight for the Bridgehead. They were advised that heads would roll if their performance wasn't improved...!

Other than that - two regiments of horse, two regiments of foot (please click on the tables and any of the pictures for the usual far larger view):

The British on the other hand (playing the role of the VFS) had a veritable cornucopia of troops to play with.

All units were at full strength, as despite some of them having fought their way over the bridgehead casualties had been light to non-existent.

The Allied forces then comprised 3 guns, ten battalions of foot, four squadrons of horse:

Terrain/Table:

An analysis of the table however, should show that despite their far inferior force (only in numbers my friends, not their fighting qualities..!) the French were in a strong position, because in effect this game is almost a re-fight of Thermopylae.

The river is impassible expect at bridge or ford so any change of plan involves a costly (in terms of time) march back to the ford. In addition there are two obstacles that the attacking (Allied) commander had to deal with.

To the west of the river the sides of the gorge come in towards the river causing a very narrow defile that makes deploying those large numbers of troops very difficult.

To the east of the river, the approach to the bridge is dominated by Hougemont, oops, the farm, at the southern end of the gorge - a real stronghold of a position.

So how did DG (as British commander) decide to handle this... read on for the report of how the game unfolded..

The Game

The scenario calls for an "advance guard" to enter the table before the main body of the army - in the following you can see how DG's plan began to unfold. DG had deployed all his medium cavalry as the screen for the advance guard, but on the far side of the river (the east side) he had far fewer troops than on the west side... by a factor of more than two..

DG's advance Guard enters the table - just one infantry and one cavalry regiment to the east - more than double that to the west

DG had concentrated most of his Advance Guard on the west bank of the river, and when the main body came on that also proved to be the case, with no further troops being deployed on the eastern bank of the river. With that number of troops, and a time constraint as well (DG only had so many moves to exit the table at the other end), things soon started to get a little congested...

DG's main force jostles for position as they shake out into line to attempt an assault through the defile...

I on the other hand - despite a somewhat scary paucity of troops had a couple of advantages, in fact three - the first two were the obstacles previously mentioned which both landed nicely within my deployment zone, but also because I had the ability to deploy in a hidden state.

My dispositions were thus as follows (and I had to plan these before the game - not knowing what DG was going to do)

One of my artillery units as mentioned took a hammering at the bridge - this one I placed within the barn using a hidden deployment. The barn had a rather handy opening that faced down the valley - I hardened my heart to the undoubted damage that firing from within the barn would have to the gunners ears!

The other gun I placed on the west side of the river, just north of the bridge and close to the bank so that they could fire at maximum range without impediment.. and before you say anything maximum is only 2 foot - and this was an 8 foot table - so DG had plenty of time to manoeuvre...

The cavalry were both deployed on the east bank - I had just assumed that it looked like the more obvious choice. I deployed both hidden in the farm area (behind the buildings).

My infantry I also deployed in hidden mode - one regiment (Toulouse) were deployed in the woods on the east side of the valley (on the slopes of the valley side, looking "down" towards the river). I was looking for a possible enfilade...

The other (Lee - the Wild Geese) I positioned in the lee of the defile on the west bank...

...and so I waited for DG to arrive...

The action then turned out to be quite literally in two parts - east and west of the river.

East bank of the river:

Taking the east side first, this was a simpler engagement in many ways though not without its "moments". You may remember from above that DG had opted to make this his "light" bank - he had only sent one battalion of foot, and one squadron of cavalry. I on the other hand had two squadrons, one gun, and a battalion - all things being equal then I should have expected to win the fight her, and so it turned out.

With two small hills in the middle of the approach blocking visibility to the woods where I had my infantry concealed, and the barn, DG opted to send his cavalry between the hills and the river - which meant I didn't need to reveal my infantry in the woods. Having said that the moment he moved them the other side of the hill it was clear I was not going to get an ambush, so I decided to pull them back to the farm complex. This manoeuvre was completed, but not without a few heart stopping moment while they changed formation (or rather didn't)!

DG's infantry came over the hill which gave me my first opportunity to fore with the artillery in the barn - setting a bit of a pattern for the rest of the evening (I'll admit it, I was damn lucky... for a change!) the first blood was spilled, and DG's battalion of foot was stopped in their tracks..

Subsequent firing saw more damage dealt out to both the foot and the horse, until, in the end, the foot broke and wouldn't/didn't return. In the meanwhile, with events unfolding as they were on the west bank, I decided to send my two squadrons of cavalry over the bridge to assist.

I almost wished I hadn't as it was at this point that as a result of some uncharacteristically bad shooting, DG managed to get his horse to the barn, and I looked in real danger of losing my gun (and therefore the battle)

DG did however, manage to get his cavalry to the barn

Something wicked this way comes... DG's cavalry about to come knocking at the door with a request to my artillery to "please come along, like nice gentlemen"...

Happily, a sharp rap on their knuckles from the artillery on the west side of the river saw them off for good... just as well really as my infantry had fumbled another change of formation and were in no position to help!!

At which point I decided enough was enough and it was time I got the gun away - I sent the infantry with them as a rear guard in the event that DG managed to get his guys across the bridge.

West bank of the river:

Things were altogether much more fraught on the west bank of the river, for a start there was a quite unfeasibly large number of infantry battalions approaching!

Happily - the success of the artillery on the east coast of the river was also replicate on this bank and a steady stream of casualties were inflicted on the advancing "hordes". I was helped in this by the occasional shot from the gun in the barn.

Soon however the advancing Allied units were close enough that I had to reveal the wild Geese so these joined the artillery, forming a line just beyond the defile.

French front line - artillery with Lee's to their flank...
French cavalry reinforcements arrive - in this case Bavarian cuirassiers - "get those damn cows out of the way!"...

After this things began to hot up as DG struggled to deploy enough if his battalions into line in order to make a concerted and coordinated attack...
First off the Dutch - have a go - this is Beinheim, supported by some Swiss (Sturler's)...

..next up Orkney's, supported by the Foot Guards - still in column - Beinheim have broken and run...
..wider angle of the same view, behind the French line you can see the other French cavalry arriving; on the other bank the artillery and accompanying foot are readying to leave...

At which point it all got very messy, and very complicated - the Allied assault was such that I felt that the only solution was to get the artillery away (losing it was an automatic lose for the scenario as a whole). In retrospect I might have done that a move earlier, because the subsequent moves were very close!

In this final picture you can see the gun on the far bank is now safe, on this bank however, the cuirassiers have been broken and are in rout (the red pin) following their attempt to bolster the line. The French Commander in Chief is attached to them in order to improve their possibility of passing the next morale check.

Lee's are shaken (the yellow pin) so a morale check will soon be required. The other French cavalry are placing themselves between the Allied forces and the other gun.


..and so it ended - Lee's broke and routed from the field in the end - the French cavalry shield the gun until it left the field, before departing themselves.

Just for once, a French victory...!!

Post match analysis:
  • The French won this game on victory points, having inflicted twice as many casualties as they suffered (in the end it was 9 to the British versus 21 to the French), whilst protecting their artillery (just!)
  • This is a real killer of a scenario for the Allies (this time) - there is very little they can do other than batter and batter at the French line, while the French throw everything at them that they can! Reading the write ups from Charles Grant's and Phil Olley's game, it would seem that they experienced much the same!
  • We both agreed that artillery in the rules can move too quickly and fluidly, so an enhancement is on it;s way to slow it down - artillery in this period was heavy, and slow, hopefully the rule changes will help to enhance that
  • I diced for casualty recovery after the game, and suffice to say my luck departed the building - DG recovered 11 of his 21 casualties, while I only recovered 2 of my 9!! Typical... we're now looking forward to the third scenario...

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Warfare 2009...

Just back from Warfare (at Reading) and am full of enthusiasm following what I thought was one of the best Warfare's in ages... loads of good traders, games, demonstrations, and everyone (seemingly) enjoying themselves..

On the purchasing front the American Civil war project got the lions share this time round... a good chat with the man on the Newline Designs stand resulted in me picking up four of his unit packs for a very reasonable show price special offer - 3 packs of infantry (24 per bag, two with kepi and one with slouch hat) and one pack of artillery (four 12pd'er Napoleons with crews). I then added in limbers and horse teams to make two of the guns mobile.. all that for just over £40, and 20mm as well! Outstanding value and very recommended for anyone thinking of all dipping their toes in the water.. why would anyone consider plastic Perry when they can have metal Newline???

..and that was mostly it on the purchasing front - just a few more bases, plastic card for the War of the Spanish succession project and MDF (a first for me) for the American Civil War project, and that was it.

I was tempted by another set of American Civil War rules - The Long Road North - in fact I went back to the stand at least three times for a read. I still might indulge if the search continues to deliver the same shoddy goods it has up until now but first impressions are that while it is very clear, and there are lots of diagrams, it has written commands (however simple... yuck..!) and simultaneous movement... so holding fire for the time being..

So on to the games - and I'll be totally upfront and say that this was a clear case, no hesitation, 100%, didn't even have to think about it, clear cut, decision... the winning game was so damned good I'm not even going to make you wait through a countdown.. it was quite simply so brilliant that it made the hair on the back of my head stand up (quite literally, actually - a most unusual feeling!)... feast your eyes on this!

Over twenty one feet long...

All figures by Front Rank..

The Battle of Blenheim...

The chaps doing this had taken five years to paint the figures..



Spent a lot of time at this part of the battlefield - French battalions crammed in Blenheim as the British battalions carry the assault across the stream...



Eugene leads his troops against the Bavarians...


I recognised at least two of 'my' regiments here - Sturler's and Heidebrecht..



Immense game, this might give you an idea for how big it was..!

...and despite all that can you believe this game only got second best game in show...???! They were robbed...

My second best game was the one that took the best game in show competition - very good - but not as good as that first game.. in my humble opinion...

Brilliant looking Vietnam game.. "'Gooks on the wire' - The Battle of Lang Vei"..

This game was put on by Battle Group South..

All figures are 28mm - I especially liked the river craft..

Last of all - this was a Zulu participation game by the South London Warlords - nice simple terrain, nice figures - all contributed a good looking "whole"..



The old chief on the hill...

..and that was it - brilliant show and I'm already looking forward to Salute! Jumping Smileys

Friday, November 20, 2009

Raid on St. Michel - Game 2 - "Rear Guard".. Setting the picture...

At last a game.... DG is down this weekend for the "Warfare" show in Reading on Sunday, so we've grabbed the opportunity for a game tonight..

You may remember that we are playing the Raid on St. Michel mini campaign (read here for the write up of the first game) and are now up to game 2 - the Rear Guard.

In summary, DG has now now (very! ) successfully crossed the bridge, pushing aside my (minimal) French forces with little or no problem.

He is now pressing on towards St.Michel (after a good nights rest) and is just about to enter the St Michel Gorge which leads to the city.

The following are taken from the north end of the gorge looking towards St Michel (south)


The light green paper on the sides is wall paper lining paper as I don't have access to the impressive terrain cupboard that Mr Grant has! They represent the hills that in the book show the sides of the gorge. In game terms they are steep - any hills on top of those slopes are impassable...

Learning from the mistakes in the first game the woods for this game are dense/heavy.

The river is impassable except at the ford (in the foreground) and the bridge (far end of the table).

The floor of the gorge/valley is clear going except for the two hills and the buildings.

In this game the French (as defenders) have the opportunity of hidden deployment.

VICTORY CONDITIONS

Victory points for this game are measured in how quickly the British can break through, but also how many casualties they take while doing it. Unlike the last game the French also need to keep casualties to a minimum.

So - French win if either
  • they inflict twice as many casualties as they take - but still manage to get away, or,
  • it takes the British enemy more than half as many moves again to cross the table as it would if they were unimpeded..

The defender will lose if he loses one or both guns.

To do this DG has about 8 battalions of infantry, half that of cavalry, and 3 guns - he also has transport - suffice to say I have considerably less than that in all arms!

In the next post I'll document orders of battle and how the game played out..

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Who are these guys made by??

A long (very) long time ago I bought these guys - these were the first metal figures I ever bought..



They're Numidian cavalry as I think I must have had the idea I wanted to start a Roman Republican army - I remember converting boxes of Airfix Romans (it wasn't much of a conversion, all I did was stick a cut-off pin in the helmet for the helmet feather and cut new oval shields made from card!)..

Now I have an idea I must have been about 14 when I bought these, and I bought them on a visit to a wargame shop in Nottingham - I also think I only bought the riders as the horses are clearly not the right ones and must have been bought at a later date!

So - has anyone got any ideas who made them??

Saturday, November 14, 2009

AWI challenge....

..by way of a small diversion - a little challenge for you... smileys

Your name is Nataniel Greene, Major General in the US army, and you are commander of a small force of troops on some God forsaken hill (the locals call it Hobkirk) in the middle of nowhere (a.k.a southern Carolina), faced by a similar sized force of British commanded troops under the command of Colonel Lord Rawdon.

Your forces are as follows (you can tell what quality by the strength/morale difference):

1st Brigade (Williams)

  • 1st Maryland 4/4 (Strength/Morale)
  • 5th Maryland 5/5
  • 2 x 6 pdr. Guns each @ 5/4

2nd Brigade (Hugel)

  • 4th Virginia 5/5
  • 5th Virginia 5/5

Reserve

  • Militia 4/2

The British have:

1st Brigade (Turnbull)

  • 63rd Foot (British foot) 4/5
  • Kings Americans 4/4
  • NY Volunteers 5/4
  • 6 pdr. 5/5

2nd Brigade (Rawdon - C.in.C.)

  • Volunteers 5/4
  • Militia 4/3

Your surroundings/dispositions are as per the following (no change to initial dispositions are allowed). Click on the graphic for a bigger view...



In game terms:

  • the British start as moving player,
  • they have managed to approach within very close range of your forces by using the cover of the (open) wood (I used 9" for my rules - to put it in context maximum range for muskets in the rules is 6")
  • they are at bottom of a (gentle) slope, whilst you are at the top..
  • all artillery is deployed

So - what are your orders?

Like I say - just a little fun with a scenario that I found whilst doing some housekeeping on my new PC - amazing what you keep! I remember playing this game solo - the result was un-historic, and that's all I'll say.. smileys

For reference:

Wikipedia article..

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Stirling Bridge diorama...

As mentioned in the previous post, I thought I'd post the article by Charlie Wesencraft on building the Stirling Bridge diorama I saw at the Bannockburn visitors centre. This came from the Spring 1988 edition of "Practical Wargamer" ..

Interesting that Stuart (Asquith - the editor) should describe Charlie as a noted modeller. I've always thought of him as more of a wargamer than a modeller, assuming that is that I have the right Charlie Wesencraft in mind!

Anyway - here you go, and enjoy (please click on the pictures to enlarge)..



Saturday, November 07, 2009

I have been to.... Bannockburn

As I mentioned in my last post the Bannockburn trip was a bit of a two edged sword - half good, and half disappointing - but read more following.... For reference by the way, Wikipedia is excellent for this site, I also recommend the National Trust of Scotland site [click here]

First the history bit - and bear with me - I like to understand what happened where and when, if I visit a battlefield... .

So where I left this in the last post, the English in Stirling Castle had just agreed a stay of execution with the Scots until mid-summer 1314 - if the English army didn't appear to relieve them by then, they would hand the castle over to the Scots. Edward II in the meanwhile, (son of "Longshanks") was raising an English army to do exactly that....

Bruce's army had been assembling in the Tor Wood (near Stirling - see Wiki maps below) from the middle of May, but on the 22nd June (a Saturday), with his troops now organised into their respective commands, Bruce moved his army slightly to the north (towards Stirling) to the New Park - most of the accounts say that this was to take account of the better cover provided by the more heavily wooded Park. Their position was helped by the Bannock Burn and the boggy ground around it. They also dug pits either side of the road which they covered and disguised, and laid caltrops to trip and cripple the English horses.

Robert the Bruce's army was chiefly composed of infantry armed with long spears but he also had a small cavalry force of about 500 men-at-arms. Lots of sources, but from what I cant tell there were about 6-7,000 men all told. Most would have been equipped with the aforementioned spear, a helmet, a thick padded jacket down to the knees and armoured gloves - one thing, they were quite well equipped for a medieval army, but they'd been at war with England for a long time which always gives opportunities for captured equipment to be re-used. The rest of the army would have been archers (very few - 500 or less) and men-at-arms.

In appearance they would have looked very similar to their English opposite numbers..

The English army on the other was much larger - consisting of about 2,000 cavalry and 16,000 foot. Edward was also accompanied by a host of the nobility, some of he very seasoned campaigners, and a large number of them Scots opposed to Robert the Bruce.

Day 1: 23 June



True to form, and in a way that characterised the English campaign there was a reckless advance by the vanguard of Edward II's army - led by Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester, and Humphrey de Bohun (pronounced Boon), Earl of Hereford. Sir Robert Clifford and Sir Henry Beaumont, with cavalry, went to ford the Bannock Burn.

This was where one of the most famous engagements in medieval times occurred - "one English knight, Sir Henry de Bohun - a nephew of the Earl of Hereford - saw King Robert. Although the king was only lightly armoured and riding a pony he was wearing a gold circlet. Bohun decided to attack, because to defeat the enemy leader in single combat - one man against another- could make him very famous. But King Robert was able to dodge him when he charged and struck Bohun on the head with his battle axe so hard that he split his helmet and skull, and broke the axe".

Luck or otherwise you can only imagine the morale benefit to the Scottish army! Bruce's own division rushed forward to engage the main enemy force. After fierce fighting, in which the Earl of Gloucester was knocked off his horse, the English knights were forced to retreat to the Tor Wood.

So ended the first day..

Day 2: 24 June

This is where it all gets a bit difficult; trying to figure out where the action was on the second day is quite difficult as the evidence is scanty, and conflicting... the map following shows the battle as occurring in the area known as the Dryfield, the other theory is that the action took place further north & west on the Carse - in the loop of the river that you see... either way the end result was the same.

For the record though, I think, having looked at the maps that the Carse theory is more likely....



The Bruce's preparations (caltrops and pits) had made the direct approach to Stirling too difficult, Edward needed an alternate plan and came up with perhaps the worst one... he ordered the army to cross the Bannock Burn to the east of the New Park - on to the Dryfield, or the Carse, depending on your point of view.

Not long after daybreak the Scottish spearmen began to move towards the English.

"Edward was surprised to see Robert's army emerge from the cover of the woods. As Bruce's army drew nearer, they paused and knelt in prayer. Edward is supposed to have said in surprise 'They pray for mercy!' 'For mercy, yes,' one of his attendants replied, 'But from God, not you. These men will conquer or die.'" Not the brightest spark, our Edward.....

He then managed to irritate one of the English earls to such an extent, he then lead a(nother) impetuous charge at the Scottish spear-men. The Earl (Gloucester) was killed along with other knights.

With the advance of the Scots, and the size of the army, the English were starting to have difficulties manoeuvring in the small area they occupied.

Bruce then committed his whole Scots army to an assault on the increasingly disorganised English army.

Allegedly, the English were now so tightly packed that if a man fell, he risked being immediately crushed underfoot or suffocated. Worse, the English knights began to escape back across the Bannockburn.

"With the English formations beginning to break, a great shout went up from the Scots, "Lay on! Lay on! Lay on! They fail!"" If that mental picture doesn't want to make you start painting medieval wargame armies I don't know what will!

Whether by accident or not, the Scottish camp followers had heard the furore and grabbed any weapons they had to join in - apparently they also grabbed banners and flags, which to me makes it sound like it was a coordinated action. The sight was enough to make the English think that the Scots had reinforcements, and they broke....

"Some tried to cross the River Forth where most drowned in the attempt. Others tried to get back across the Bannockburn, but as they ran, “tumbling one over the other” down the steep, slippery banks, a deadly crush ensued so that “men could pass dryshod upon the drowned bodies”."

Post match analysis
  • Edward fled with his personal bodyguard, he arrived eventually at Dunbar Castle, from here he took ship to England.
  • The rest of the army had 90 miles to cover to the English border. Historian Peter Reese believes that at a minimum two thirds of the English army were taken, captured, or killed - 11,000 lost... a massive blow.

...so how did the actual visit go??? Well worth it, but disappointing at the same time.. The down side is that the Bannockburn battlefield is now well and truly built over so it's not really possible to see any of the major features - the woods have largely gone, and the Dry Field and the Carse are pretty heavily developed...

The upside is that they do have a very good visitors centre:



With some excellent exhibits:

I'm sure I remembered seeing an article in an old Practical Wargamer about this exhibit, and sure enough when I got home I found it in the Spring 1988 issue - this is Charlie Wesencraft's handiwork and represents the Battle of Stirling Bridge, Wallace's earlier victory in 1297.. I have the magazine, so if there's interest I'll post the article. Suffice to say the exhibit is still in top notch condition 21 years after it was first made.

As it happens they also have a brilliant children's education area - with replica armour to get dressed up in, not for the first time I wished I was 40 years younger!

Moving outside of the centre the hill to the side is dominated by this monument:

This concrete and brick ring ring contains the following monument - this is known as the Borestone and marks the spot where Robert the Bruce raised his standard before the battle - it lies at the edge of the old New Park - Bannock Burn would be behind you at the bottom of the rise, as you look at this monument:

Walking on through the ring you are heading north - I took the following as I left the ring - looking north - a bit of a misty day, but in the distance of this picture you can just see Stirling Castle - that's how close the battle was.

There is also this quite magnificent statue of the Bruce...



...and that was my visit - brilliant day out with my Dad, and to round it off on the way home we went into Dunfermline for a few beers (at a brilliant pub called the Commercial Inn) and he just happened to mention that Robert the Bruce is buried in the cathedral there! So as a kind of bookend to the day we walked over to see the place... unhappily the cathedral was closed that day, but it's clear who's buried there from the crenellations on the tower



...and there you have it - I hope to visit Stirling Bridge and the castle next time I'm up in Scotland...