Friday, August 14, 2009

The third best thing to come out of Belgium..

As previously mentioned DG and I had chance for a short (very short!) Sudan game after we'd completed the Battle of Camsix AWI campaign game...

Having been hideously impressed by the excellent painting of a figure on Cavenderia's blog of a Belgian officer representing "Captain Lucien Verbeek [click here - and I suggest immediately!]" I felt moved to try and work him into a little scenario...

Anywhooo... here we have the Rescue of Captain Verbeek. As usual please click on any picture for a bigger view....


Captain Lucien Verbeek is attached to the British army as an observer for the Belgian army, under the direct orders of King Leopold to report back on the tactics and weaponry of the Dervish (in the event they coincide with Belgian expansionist policy in North Africa) but also the British (because you never know..).

While out on a patrol he has become separated from the British column he is attached to, and has been captured and taken prisoner by the Dervish.

He is being held by one "rub" of Dervish who have occupied a rocky outcrop; they are surrounded by other Dervish mounted and footed units.

Quite by chance, while looking for him, the British column has stumbled upon him and the British commander after sending back a message to the main column, decides that he has forces enough to rescue him...


Seven units of Dervish - one mounted on camels. We diced for each to decide if they were rifle armed and two came up as positives - we also decided that it would be expected that the guarding unit would also have rifles making three in total.

The British comprised one troop of Egyptian lancers, one company of Sudanese infantry, one company of Camel Corps, commissariat (comprising ammunition camels), and a horse drawn Gatling gun.

Entry points for the Dervish were all diced for with the exception of the guarding unit who were placed in the central rocky feature along with Captain Verbeek.

Entry points for the Egyptian cavalry, and the Sudanese/Gatling/Camel Company/commissariat (who operated as a group) were also diced for...

The table:

We used a four foot table comprising two foot square terrain tiles gave eight entry points - one per two foot edge.

The dice throws turned out quite well for both sides...

Edge furthest away in the picture is north. For the Imperials, the Egyptian cavalry entered from the top left of the table (left side of the north edge as you look at the picture), while the infantry column entered from bottom left (bottom side of the eastern edge) preceded by the Camel Corps. DG (for t'was he, armed only with an impressive handle bar moustache, a chota peg* in one hand and an umbrella in the other) opted to bring the infantry column on in column of march (which may have been a mistake), the cavalry (temporarily under my command) entered in line..

The Dervish entered largely on separate edges - one of the groups (entering from the other half of the west edge) did, however, comprise two units.

The game

..was very short, and was used mostly towards the end as a means to discuss various improvements that could be made to my Sudan rules.

In a nutshell, the cavalry advanced towards the hill, were spotted by the Dervish who then started rolling on the reaction table without success (we're looking for a "charge!" result guys..)

Following various unit merges (as a result of reaction results), the Dervish began to meet critical mass (in my rules - the reaction table results swing in favour of the Dervish once they start to outnumber the Imperials) and after a successful charge by the Egyptian cavalry on one unit (resulting in the Dervish unit routing), the inevitable "charge" result was rolled - and all Dervish units leapt at the nearest Imperial unit....

...which happened to be the cavalry this picture the Egyptian cavalry have just opted to evade from the Dervish charge and can be seen skedaddling... in the distance is the Dervish unit they had previously routed.

Close up of Captain Verbeek (in his borrowed uniform!) being guarded by the Dervish

Larger view of the battlefield as the Egyptian cavalry move away.. following their evade however, they were subsequently caught by the main Dervish unit and, in the ensuing melee, lost and then routed from the field.

Pushing on with the Camel Corps - still in column (not a good idea) they were in turn caught before they could dismount and were also treated roughly...again routing from the field...

Faced with an enemy ensconced within the rocky natural redoubt and with only the Sudanese and the Gatling left, the British commander decided that enough was enough and retreated from the field (he would have stayed on the field, but it was getting late in real life!)

Post Match Analysis:

  • So.. a short game but enough to get the mental cogs whirring, and DG & I will now spend some more time working on the next version of the rules. Part of our problem is to do with the reaction tables - specifically when, and how often, to use them. I think both of us are keen to cut this down as it helps the game move more quickly/smoothly...
  • I think we want to start applying morale rules to the Dervish rather than just leaving it to the reaction table..
  • Basically we both agreed that it's time there was a little more human control of the Dervish...
  • Refreshments on this occasion were spicy, a rather pleasant Balti Bombay mix, and as we were in the deserts of the Sudan a very pleasant little - chilled - India style ale (Cotleigh "Barn Owl" [click here]) which slipped down a treat on a slightly muggy evening in the loft..

* Chota Peg: "To keep late Anglo-Saxon citizenry on the straight and narrow, King Edgar ordered that pegs be fastened in drinking vessels at given intervals; anyone who drank beyond these marks at one draught was liable to punishment. Meant as a deterrent, they became a provocation. Peg-tankards contained two quarts, and were divided into eight draughts. They inspired such expressions as "to take him down a peg" and "to put a peg (nail) in one's coffin". In popular parlance any drink of spirits became known as a peg.

Anglo-Indian in origin, a chota peg is a slang term for a drink of a spirits (usually brandy or whisky) and soda water". DG has obviously served time in the Indian army earlier in his career...

Oh..... and the first and second best things....??? Their beer and their chocolate of course!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Frejus... Part 2... Operation Dragoon...

It's all getting closer now, the holiday that is, which is quite nice - the other day I even had the air conditioning system in the car re-charged. Analysing this I think it was probably in the hope that we'll need maximum benefit where we're going - more than likely however, that'll be a cue for the worst weather in the northern Med in the last 50 years....

For this post I'll touch on a true battlefield event in the area we're staying (with the best will in the world, the unopposed arrival in Europe from Egypt of the "Corsican Ogre" can't really be defined as a battle field!), namely "Operation Dragoon"... as usual click on any picture for a bigger view.

Operation Dragoon was a beach landing in WWII though almost certainly not as well known as the landings in Tunisia, Italy and of course Normandy.. Operation Dragoon was the Allied invasion of southern France, and occurred on August 15, 1944. The invasion took place between Toulon and Cannes (see map - for which I thank Wikipedia [click here]) but the bit I'm most interested in was that part of the invasion force designated "Camel" as this is local to where we stay... (it's the same port Bonaparte returned to)

The Wipedia entry is very good on Dragoon and I recommend a proper visit but in summary ninety-four thousand troops and eleven thousand vehicles were landed as part of the first days fighting, supported by naval gunfire from Allied ships, including the French battleship Lorraine, British battleship HMS Ramillies, and the American battleships USS Texas, Nevada and Arkansas and a fleet of over 50 cruisers and destroyers. In addition there were seven aircraft carriers providing air cover along with landing strips in Corsica.

Bottom line, despite the somewhat shaky build up (the British and Americans couldn't come to an agreement on whether the landing was a good idea - the British would have preferred to see the troops either in Normandy or Italy, or if a landing was really required Churchill preferred the Balkans because of the oil supplies) this was no half hearted effort..

The assault troops were mostly American (3 divisions), reinforced with the French 5th Armoured Division, all under the command of Lieutenant General Lucian K. Truscott, Jr. "Camel" was the specific objective of the American 36th Infantry Division which in itself had been involved in both the Salerno landings, and at Anzio. I think it fair to say this was a hard fighting division...

Operations of the 36th US Infantry Division were among the most difficult of the entire invasion. Four beaches were designated:
  • Red Beach was located in San Raphael. This was considered the most important beach because of the port (for re-supply) and the fact there was an airfield nearby (in fact there still is) but it was heavily defended by underwater obstacles, by concrete pillboxes and gun emplacements.
  • Green Beach, a 250-yard rocky strip backed by a sharp incline near Cape Drammont.
  • Yellow Beach in front of the town of Agay, was a small horse-shoe shaped bay, protected by submarine mine netting. (It looks like this one was considered more carefully defended than it was actually worth, and a planned direct attack on this beach was later dropped).
  • Blue, a few miles from Green, could accommodate only two small boats at a time.

The attack:

At 0800 the assault began with an attack on Green Beach after a naval bombardment. The Germans were taken by surprise and by 1000 hours Drammont and Cape Drammont, surrounding Green Beach, were reported clear. Casualties had been extremely light. Pushing north from the beach through Agay, troops encountered resistance from the defences around Yellow Beach.

On Blue beach resistance was heavier with anti-tank guns firing on the landing craft, but this was soon finished and troops took control of the heights overlooking the beach.

On Green beach (straight after the landings on blue) troops landed in a column of battalions from 0945 through 1035. The high ground to the north west was taken and elements then began to move west towards San Raphael/Red beach.

So far so good....

At 1100 troops were loaded into assault boats for the Red Beach landing - this was due to be hit at 1400 (that would have been an uncomfortable 3 hours..). All indications were that this was going to be far more difficult - enemy shore positions were now well aware (no element of surprise) and allied mine sweepers were taking hits, and in some cases being sunk. Following an air and naval bombardment, specially-designed robot demolition boats were sent in, but got stuck. The decision was made to re-direct the assault boats to Green beach (as it was already taken) - this undoubtedly saved a lot of lives.

These troops landed on Green at 1530 and then swung north and west to attack Frejus from the north.. other troops were ordered to clear Red Beach from the rear after they had taken San Raphael. All objectives were taken by the early hours of the next day.

Elsewhere though the Germans were under prepared and outnumbered badly - a lot of their troops had been diverted north to Normandy, in the face of the invasion and a large French resistance operation, the rest were pushed back and as a result the Allied forces met little resistance as they moved inland. They were twenty-miles inland within twenty-four hours, but this very lack of resistance was to provide the worst problem the Allies had - quite simply they couldn't get enough fuel ashore as quickly as they needed to both follow up the enemy locally, and provide resources to troops in Normandy. As a result a number of major German units escaped to continue the war in northern Europe.

Really looking forward to visiting this - Red beach is closest to where we'll be, but based on pictures I'd also like to see Green..

Interesting snippets:
  • Marseilles was one of the key objectives of the campaign, but I hadn't realised that (after getting it going again) the allies landed a third of their fuel requirements for the troops in Normandy through it (never mind local requirements)!
  • Audie Murphy was in Operation Dragoon, he was in the 3rd Division which landed at 'Alpha'. "...Murphy's best friend, Lattie Tipton (referred to as "Brandon" in Murphy's book To Hell and Back), was killed by a German soldier in a machine gun nest who was feigning surrender. Murphy went into a rage, and single-handedly wiped out the German machine gun crew which had just killed his friend. He then used the German machine gun and grenades to destroy several other nearby enemy positions. For this act, Murphy received the Distinguished Service Cross..." courtesy of Wikipedia..
  • Good website! It provided the operational plan above but has a host of good pictures...
  • 36th Infantry divisions role - another good website!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Frejus... Part 1... Napoleon..

I think "Vive l'Empreur" got it - or at least I think he/she did as the comments left always look like spam with my poor appreciation of French/Spanish!! Yes, the 'Steve the Wargamer road train' is pulling into Frejus this summer - and by way of a post let's touch on the Napoleon effect first... as usual, click on any of the following graphics for a bigger view.

Frejus was the port that Napoleon returned to after his abortive campaign in Egypt..
Napoleon's Arrival at Frejus on the return from the Egyptian campaign, 9th October 1799 (coloured engraving held in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France)

My research has turned up that Napoleon left Alexandria on the 22nd or 23rd August 1799, leaving Kleber in charge of the French "Army of the East" - the story is that Napoleon told him he had been ordered back by the French government but this was not the case. It was more to do I think with news reaching him from his brother of the poor state of affairs in France.

Anyway - he sailed in two French Venetian built frigates named the "Muiron" (that's a scale model of her to the right) and the "Carrere", accompanied by his staff (Murat, Berthier, Marmont, Andreossy, Duroc, Bessieres and Lavalette). Napoleon being on "Muiron", and most of the others on "Carrere".

Despite a few close calls (the British navy controlled the whole of the Mediterranean) he arrived safely in Frejus on October 8th or 9th (depending on the narrative) and was rowed ashore at St. Raphael...

The Muiron has an interesting history/provenance by the way (and yes, the following is not strictly related to research on Frejus but you know how easily distracted I am!)

Apparently the ship was named after Jean-Baptiste Muiron (1774-1796) who was one of the "big men" of the Napoleonic period. He was Bonaparte's ADC in Italy, and was killed in a hail of Austrian bullets at Arcole bridge on the 15th of November, using his body to protect his general*. Napoleon ordered the frigate to be named in homage...

"Muiron" was part of the fleet which sailed to Egypt in 1798, but managed to escape the catastrophe at the Battle of the Nile (Aboukir Bay).

After he had returned to Europe in her Bonaparte continued to give her special attention; in 1807, the emperor wrote to Decrès: «I wish this frigate, upon which I returned from Egypt, to be kept as a monument and preserved, if possible, for several hundred years. I would feel a superstitious pain were a misfortune to happen to this frigate».

In 1803 the First Consul commissioned a 1/72 scale model of the boat ("Trafalgar" rules do you think??! ) and while the actual ship was to be the object of daily ceremonial commemoration in Toulon, the model was to take pride of place in Napoleon's library at Malmaison.

(* At Saint Helena, Napoleon still remembered the companion who had sacrificed himself to save his life and made the last codicil in his will the bequest of «one hundred thousand francs to the widow, son, or grandson of my ADC Muiron, with me at Arcole and killed whilst covering me with his body»).

Good stuff! I look forward to visiting St. Raphael which is infeasibly close to where we'll be staying..

Stay tuned for:

1/. The next Frejus post which covers "Operation Dragoon"..
2/. A report on the finish of the Battle of Camsix....
3/. A small Sudan engagement - the rescue of "Captain Lucien Verbeek [click here]"


On the sailing front another beautiful day yesterday afternoon with a solo trip into the harbour, in the face of a wind that wherever I sailed seemed to be right on the nose!

Winds were fairly light however, the sun was warm, the sandwich was good (egg and sausage!), there were some pleasant tunes on the radio..... and all was definitely right with the world....!

Distance: 4 miles (82 miles year to date)
Wind: Light (Force 2 gusting 3)

Friday, August 07, 2009

"We prefer the plague to the Austrians.."

Yee goods where has the time gone - many, many, apologies for the lack of posts recently, I can only put it down to sheer weight of work, visits by family, and other time wasting activities..! Anywhooo... hold on to your seats, this will be a bumpy one as I have a fair amount to pass on...

First off - while the Battle of Camsix carries on (DG and I are most of the way through move 14, and my apologies for not bringing that up to date) news has reached Steve-the-Wargamer that that inestimable fellow DG is within striking distance of the (the slightly hot and stuffy) loft, and will in fact be visiting this evening! I have every expectation therefore that the Battle of Camsix will now be fought to a conclusion on the physical tabletop - always a preference to a virtual one...

I'll be the first to admit that a virtual game (and Battle Chronicler has turned out to be very good for this) is better than no game - but an amiable chat across the table top accompanied by banter, fine biscuits and warm tea is much preferred - I'm looking forward to it, and if all ends as quickly as I think I'm hoping for a quick foray into the deserts of Egypt for either a Sudan or WWII game afterwards...

Next up have just finished this - a fictional depiction of the life of Robin Hood. It's set in the early middle ages (I'm no medievalist so think start of Richard I a.k.a the Lion-heart's, reign) which is the usual setting for stories about Robin Hood, but has a far more gritty, historical basis than most of the Robin Hood stories/dramatisations... and yes, I'm thinking of the recent BBC effort in this regard....!

There's a big sticker on the front of it (you can see it in the picture) that says that if you don't think it's as good as Bernard Cornwell you can have your money back - welllll... I know that imitation is supposed to be the most sincerest form of flattery, but this was like reading a very very good TV impressionist writing Cornwell - he even has those little prose habits that Cornwell has off to a tee. For example, Cornwell has this habit of describing something very peaceful, idyllic, happy or rural, and then in one sentence at the end of the passage he'll write something like "and then so and so turned up with his army, the sky turned black with the carrion crows, and so we went to war" etcetcetc Well this guy does it too!! All in all I found it a little disturbing - it brought to mind that section in "1984" when Orwell describes the computers writing books for the proles to keep them happy; simple, repeatable, mechanical, plots....... historical & black powder Mills and Boon for the masses.... yikes...

Did I enjoy it?? Hell yes... A brilliant read and I raced through it.. the depiction of Robin is good, plenty of depth to the character, the baddies are genuinely not nice people, we have crossbows, Flemish mercenaries, bows, swords, a bit of love interest, good plot, and a mystery to boot... what's not to like. The thing I also liked about it is that the plot goes away from the legend for the next book - not going to spoil the ending but I'd never heard any stories that had Robin Hood doing what he's going to do in the next book...

Steve the wargamer gives this a seven out of ten - I deducted a point because of the rampant "style plagiarism"! Mr Donald is a very good writer (I think he was/is a journalist on the Times), but he needs to develop his own style a little more.... and yes, I know I have no skills in that area at all so have no real right to cast judgement!

Next up - Steve the Wargamer takes his road train out on holiday fairly soon, and as part of the fun and enjoyment of these trips is the places I get to see, I will merely give you a 'heads up' to look out for some posts over the next week or so, on the battlefield that is on the doorstep of where we're staying this year - the following is a little clue..

Next - and last - some sailing... the UK has had some of the most rubbish weather known to man over the last few months, when it hasn't been raining with no wind, it's been glorious sunshine with too much wind (yes this is possible when your boat is only as big as mine!) so you can imagine that I've been fairly champing at the bit to get out again following those first tentative adventures...

Since the last time I wrote we've ventured out a couple of times - one considerably more successful than the other, but hey, we're still afloat and no-one has been damaged yet!

First trip was on the weekend of the 25th and 26th, just me and the smallest person but it was *way* too windy even with all the reefs I put in - we had a quick run to the end of the creek, turned round and came right back - little'un said to me half way down "Daddy, is the bar still open??" - she had the right idea, and that was where we ended up!

Distance: 3 miles (63 miles year to date)
Wind: Heavy (Force 5 gusting 6)

The next trip was much better though - quite possibly the best sail of the year so far, when little'un and I (she's turning into quite the 'foredeck gorilla' she has a knack with the roller furling on the foresail, and steers a good course if I need to do something!) went on a marathon sail all the way from our mooring, up to Emsworth to wave at family members out for a walk, and then all the way down to the bottom of the harbour, and for the first time *out to sea*! Not far I'll admit, as I needed to get back in time for the tide on the mooring... but we rounded the Eastoke mark coming back - bit of a milestone all round and much chuffed....

Distance: 15 miles (78 miles year to date)
Wind: Medium (Force 3 gusting 4)