A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Friday, 27 May 2016

Sieges - The French Siege Train in the Peninsular War

One of the fortress gates at Almeida
My previous post identified the 25mm scale model I propose to use for Napoleon's 24pdrs in his siege train in Spain. So the next obvious question I have to ask myself is, "How many of these will I need?", which leads on to a pile of more general questions about what the siege train consisted of in real history.

Having thought about it for a while, I have decided that a rather pleasant way to educate myself on this topic is to re-read (and this time complete!) Donald D Horward's wonderful Napoleon and Iberia, with extra detail and nuts-and-bolts OOBs and equipment lists supplied from an ebook of Belmas' Sieges which I have here.

I am still assembling the bits and pieces to set about this, and am doing some preliminary poking about - just to get a feel for the subject. The French siege train is not brilliantly documented, unless you really dig for it. Horward's book is concerned with the French sieges of Ciudad Rodrigo and Almeida in 1810, but if you look up the siege of Ciudad Rodrigo on Google all you will find is Wellington's successful siege in 1812.

In 1810, the French force before Ciudad Rodrigo consisted of Marshal Ney's (augmented) VI Corps, comprising the three infantry divisions of Marchand, Mermet and Loison, with a minimal cavalry force of one small light brigade under Lamotte, and with VI Corps' own artillery, commanded by General de Brigade Charbonnel, of 3 foot companies and 2 of horse - that's one foot battery for each infantry division, one horse battery for the cavalry and one horse battery as a reserve.

Charbonnel - commander of VI Corps' own artillery
In addition, attached to Ney, was the siege train of the Armée de Portugal, arrived from France, and equipped with 50 guns.

General Eblé - in charge of all the artillery of the Armée de Portugal,
including the siege train 
Here's the French OOB:
Belmas gives a lot of detail about the siege train - including the returns of it's commander, General Eblé - this covers how many roundshot and shells were fired, how many kilos of powder used, how many gabions used and so on and so on. For the moment, I shall merely note that the 50 guns consisted of 10 canons de 24, 7 canons de 16, 12 canons de 12, 8 obusiers (24pdr howitzers, I deduce from the returns of consumption of ammo), 4 mortiers de 12p, 3 mortiers de 8p, 4 mortiers de 6p and 2 pierriers (did they really fire rocks?). Again, I'm feeling my way here, but I gather the mortars are measured in pouces, so that a mortier de 8p is an 8-inch piece (approximately).

The siege train has seven identified companies of Artillérie à Pied - I have no idea (at this stage, anyway) whether these were kept as distinct "battery" units, or whether the personnel were mixed. Seven companies would be a sensible way of organising 50 guns anyway, so I have assumed that the artillery of VI Corps was available over and above the 50 pieces of the siege train.

I was surprised at the high proportion of 12pdr guns in the siege train - this suggests that the 7 companies might break down into something like:

2 batteries of heavy siege guns (24pdrs and 16pdrs), 2 of 12pdrs, 1 of howitzers and 2 of mortars. Adding a large sprinkle of wargamer's licence, I propose to make that 3 units of big guns (at 2 gun models per unit), 1 of howitzers and 2 of mortars. I already have plenty of 12pdrs with my field army, if they are needed - this would also make the French siege train a bit smaller than the Allied one.

That's a first stab, so I should order a further 5 of the big MALA3 castings from Miniature Figurines for my 24pdrs. I may change my mind again, once I get another chapter further into Horward. This is the sort of little project I like - books with post-it tabs sticking out everywhere, lots of scribbled notes - excellent.

The siege train of the Armée de Portugal didn't last very long - it was captured as part of the 158 French and Spanish guns taken in Ciudad Rodrigo when Wellington took the place back in 1812.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Sieges - French 24pdr

Thanks very much for the various suggestions received for siege gun castings. Special thanks to Mr S Wargamer, of Hampshire, who drew to my attention item MALA3 in the current Miniature Figurines 25mm catalogue - officially described as a Marlburian siege gun.

So I imported one to try it out. It looks as close to a 24pdr Vallière system gun, such as would have been used by the French in the Peninsula, as I think I'm going to get without having something specially made. The wheels are 21.5mm diameter, which is correct for 1/72 scale - I included some spare NapoleoN gunners to give the idea. Looks pretty good, I think? The Vallière guns were some 75 years out of date by the Napoleonic wars, but the big siege bangers were well down the queue for modernisation - the Gribeauval principles of light weight and standardised parts didn't really suit the heaviest stuff. Which means, I guess, that this gun could take part in a siege at any time from about 1690 to 1830, for any number of nations - a coat of dirty olive green paint and no-one will know the difference. Once I have it painted, I'll photograph it next to one of the British iron siege guns, for comparison - but don't hold your breath.

I have to say that the gun was fiddly to assemble - casting was not brilliant, so a lot of cleaning up of the pieces was needed, and supergluing the little plates to attach the trunnions is exciting - do not sneeze. Mission accomplished, anyway, so if a klutz like me can manage it, it must be plain sailing.

I'll have a look at this for a few days - if I still like it, I'll order up another seven of the things - that's enough for 4 batteries, and I'll start looking around for howitzers and mortars to suit - better read up on my pdf copy of Belmas to check what they had in the train. I'll also need more gunners - I have some spares, but not enough. I am a little shaken to see that the Art Miniaturen range seems to have been cut down a bit - at least it looks that way on the new website - so I may be looking at multiple sets of the cheap-and-cheerful Kennington gunners to make up the crews.

And yes - thank you - I do realise that the silly little rammer/sponge is not going to serve that monster very well, so less of the vulgar humour, if you don't mind...

Friday, 20 May 2016

Hooptedoodle #221 - Barry

This is not Barry.
I spent a number of years playing in a jazz group with Barry. He was a professional bass player – very politically active for the rights of your artisan, blue-collar musical intellectual, and endlessly contemptuous of amateurs like me.

I quite liked the guy – sometimes his attitudes made him a hard person to warm to, but when he forgot himself he was affable and amusing company. There was a specific amount of alcohol required – after a couple of drinks he was relaxed and articulate, a few more and he was aggressive and paranoid.

“The big problem I have with blokes like you,” he would tell me, “is that you are just playing at it – you are taking work away from hardworking professionals, who earn their living at it, and who are mostly better than you.”

“You mean to tell me,” I would respond, “that if I were to pack in my day job – today – I would instantly become a better player and you would take me seriously?”

And Barry would mumble vague obscenities and shuffle off for a drink.

Barry was a Glaswegian – with matching chips on both shoulders. As a musician, I thought he was sort of OK – maybe I never saw him at his best, but I would not have taken much trouble to book him myself. When he was a young chap, he got busted by the police for possessing cocaine, and they made a deal with him. If he told them who supplied his stuff, they told him, he would not go to prison.

Classic double-cross. Barry told them everything they needed to know, and they put him in Barlinnie anyway, and when he came out there were people looking for him. So he worked on the P&O cruise boats, and he worked for a while in London, and then he went to live in Zurich. While he was there he played with a lesser-known elder statesman of the English Dixieland jazz scene – Bob Wallis, and his Storyville Jazzmen, no less. Wallis may have been in political exile too – I have no idea – but Barry had some wild tales of Zurich and of tours with Wallis’s elderly band of alcoholics. Bob Wallis had only one eye, and he used to carry a variety of glass eyes with him to suit the occasion; apart from having one which made a pair with his good eye, he also had a red one, a plain white one and a spectacularly patriotic Union-Jack one. He also used to feature the tune Please Don’t Talk about Me, One Eye’s Gone. Must have been quite a show – apparently the band were very popular in Russia.

Eventually Barry got married, and Wallis retired in ill health and broke up the band (he returned to England and died not long afterwards). Barry decided that things in Britain were probably calmer now, so returned to his homeland – which is when I met him.

Barry was always very nervous – he always owed money to the Union, or the taxman, or somebody or other, and – of course – there was still a faint echo of Glasgow from the old days.

One day someone phoned him from the Performing Rights Society. Sorry to bother him, but they had been trying to trace one Barry Shaw, the double-bass player – was this him? No, said Barry, instinctively, from years of practice – never heard of him. The man apologised for any inconvenience, and left a contact number, in case he somehow came across the right Barry Shaw.

After a couple of days of being encouraged by various drinking friends, Barry phoned the man at the PRS. He had just remembered that he was, after all, Barry Shaw the double-bass player.

The man was delighted – could he confirm, then, that he had played on the original Tubular Bells sessions with Mike Oldfield?

In fact, I knew something of this. Barry used to tell of a nightmare booking he had once received, where he was required to play double bass at a “pop” recording session full of “upper class hippies”, in “a ****ing castle in Oxford or somewhere”, which experience he still recalled with a shudder, though he understood the record had been quite successful.

Ultimately, Barry was delighted, too – Oldfield’s record had, of course, been a very considerable success, and at the time – in error! – Barry had signed for a share of royalties instead of a cash fee – something he would never normally have done (since he always needed cash). The PRS now had a cheque for him in respect of his back royalties accumulated since 1973. Barry had only been a makeweight on the session, but his share was still many thousands of pounds – far more than he would normally see in years. I don’t know how long it took him to drink his way through this windfall, but I know he gave it a serious go.

Eventually the years of bad living caught up with him – he had increasing problems with his joints (which we all thought was most apt), caused by excessive alcohol intake and many years of poor diet, and he suddenly died of pneumonia, one winter following a fairly insignificant illness. He was only in his early 50s, but old beyond his years.

That’s all a bit downbeat, I guess, so I’d like to end with a story of Barry which he used to tell about himself. Once he was established back in Edinburgh, he received a phone call one day from a well known firm specialising in double glazing and conservatories. They asked him to confirm that he was Mr L B Shaw of 56/3 King’s Road, and – guardedly, I imagine, he admitted that he was.

In that case, he was told, he was in luck, because the firm in question was looking for sales in his postcode area, and if he would be prepared to allow it to be used as a showhouse for a year, they had decided that his address would be ideal for their purposes, and they would build him a conservatory at only 50% of the normal cost.

This may be what Barry imagined...
Barry played along with this – he said he was really quite interested, but he wanted to know more about the type of conservatory – what would it be made of?

Well, they said, you can have one in Canadian Cedar, or Lacquered Pine, or just straightforward white UPVC – all weather-proofed and double glazed and insulated to the appropriate British Standard, naturally.

Sounds good, said Barry, but what about the legs?

What legs?

Well, since they knew all about him and his postcode, and had selected his address specially, they would also know that he lived in a 2nd-floor flat, so he wanted to know what the conservatory would stand on.

The phone went dead. Barry said he was actually very disappointed. Cold callers, eh?      

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Foy Figures' Spanish Cavalry - Guest Appearance...

Ben has painted his as the Line Cavalry regt Farnesio - the gauntlets covering the
cuff details mean that you can paint the same figures as dragoons with no problems
I'm absolutely delighted to see that Ben at the Monsieur le Rosbif blog has painted up a unit of the Hagen cavalry figures I commissioned last year. I have figures for 4 regiments'-worth of these guys still waiting in the painting queue, but Ben has done his usual sumptuous paint job, so I am now encouraged to get on with them.

Thank you Ben - nice job! If mine turn out half as well as yours then yours will be twice as good as mine (or something)...

Monday, 16 May 2016

More Old Crockery

My new collection of used pottery ornaments was recently on display in the photos of the ECW Siege of Middlehampton test game, and it attracted some favourable comments. As I've mentioned, I have taken a liking to Tey Pottery buildings, which were produced by a now-defunct firm based in Norfolk, were made in a fairly constant scale, in the region of what I would call 15mm, and are readily available at pretty low prices on eBay. I think this is a decent, low-cost way of getting in extra buildings - cheaper and less work than buying in resin castings and painting them up, and possessing a lot more charm and general brio than industrial MDF.

I have to put my hand up straight away and admit that I have been applying matt varnish to the things, in order to use them as wargame scenery, which should rightly appall any serious collectors, but am well pleased with the little 17th Century town centre I have built up with them.

The one obvious gap in my town is the lack of a cathedral, or at least a big parish church - in all of John Speed's town maps, the churches are the key points, and districts and town gates were commonly named after the religious buildings.

The off-the-shelf Tey churches are rather unimposing, but they also did special commissions, and one such appeared on eBay a couple of weeks ago. I was rather taken with it, decided I would be prepared to go as far as £12 or so to provide spiritual enrichment for my ECW townsfolk, and looked on as the auction closed on the Sunday evening. Hmmm. There was a sudden rush of interest at the last minute, and the church sold for £125 or thereabouts, which proves it was quite a nice church, I guess, but I hadn't thought it was as nice as all that.

Anyway - water under the bridge - I wasn't bothered, but I've kept an eye open to see if any similar items came up. Sure enough, one did, within a week - not Tey, this time, but a very similar size and format. This one stayed within my price range, I bought it and it arrived this morning.

I haven't got the dreaded matt varnish on it yet, but I thought I'd show it off a bit. The 20mm Les Higgins drummer in the picture would have to stoop a little to get in through the doors, but that's exactly the size of buildings I like, to keep the footprint down. This is from Sulley's Ceramics - new to me, very similar to (and frequently confused with, I think) Tey Pottery buildings - nice, isn't it? Maker's label on the underside gives an old-format UK phone number, which must date the model earlier than 1995 - I'd say 1980s, but I'm guessing.

The original church is in Suffolk, I understand - if anyone recognises it, please give me a shout! Also, if you recognise it as the trinket that used to sit on your mother's piano, give me a shout anyway.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Battle of Alquèzar - 14 May 1813

The guest general duly arrived today, and, with appropriate ceremony, the battle of Alquèzar took place after lunch (how civilised is that?).

The action was loosely based on the published GMT scenario for Vauchamps, though for the purposes of today's game it was set in Spain. On the face of it, it looked as though the French troops might be a little short of numbers to attack successfully, but I felt that the fragility of the Spanish defenders, and the disadvantage at which they have to fight when they require to manoeuvre, might compensate for this.

The first French attack on the village was repulsed - quite a bloodbath - at which point the Spanish army was ahead by 7 Victory Points to 4 (9 needed for the win), but after some switching of his reserves to his right flank D'Armagnac made a second attack which went rather better. During the wait for this second attack, the Spanish general was panicked into making a couple of unwise (as it turned out) forays with his light cavalry, and lost General Morillo (wounded and captured) and sufficient additional troops to turn the day. The French won 9-7. From the jaws of victory, etc.

The game went well - once again, the artillery of both sides was disappointingly ineffective, and the Spanish line infantry's poor ability to sustain effective musket fire when advancing was a handicap.

We used a cut-down version of C&CN, without the Command Cards, and the game lasted a little over 2 hours. My thanks to Matthew for his invigorating company and his participation - excellent fun.

Here are some photos from the action - the OOBs are in my post from the other day.

The combined voltigeurs from Leberknödel's Pommeranian brigade 

Things getting a little hot for the regiments of Leon and La Union

The Pommeranians were running out of men at this point

The French organised a second attack with fresh troops, but it took a while to develop.

The "Tulips" - the Grenadier battalion "Zum Alten Greif" - Scruby figures...

One of the Pommeranian light cavalry units did great damage to the Spanish horse...

...and here they are, doing it

This Spanish foot battery never hit a thing all day. Not a bloody thing.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Artillery Wheels

Gentlemen - if you please, a small request for some guidance....?

Nice illustration of Vallière-system 24pdr from the 18th Century, which would
not have been wildly out of place at Zaragossa or Ciudad Rodrigo 80 years
later - picture by Christian Rogge, used without permission.
Now that I have a pile of new siege equipment, and am therefore running out of excuses, I hope to make rather better progress with my proposed French Napoleonic siege train. My scale requirements are what I like to think of as 20mm, but in fact they are really old-fashioned "true 25mm" - i.e. men about 21-22mm to the eye - which is, as near as you like, 1/72 scale in scientific money. No-one makes anything like a proper French siege gun in this scale, as far as I know, so I have been doing a little poking around. I fancied the idea of an overscale 12pdr cannon mounted on my size of wheels - I have purchased a test casting of a cannon which is actually made in 28mm scale, but it would pass for a Napoleonic 24pdr if I could get some better sized wheels.

Most of the French siege guns in the Peninsula, for example, were pre-Gribeauval - old Vallière pattern guns. My test casting would pass for one of these, but it came with 30mm, 12-spoke wheels - far too big, man.

According to the information I have to hand, the diameter of the wheels on the French 24pdr should be either 58" or 60", and the discrepancy may be due to the confusion caused by the pesky "Paris foot" measurement used by the French - 1 Paris foot is/was equal to 325mm. I reckon that at 1/72 scale I am looking for wheels of 22 or 23mm diameter, 12-spoke, pretty chunky build. Thoughts of Lamming come to mind, but I'm not sure of the size of Lamming wheels.

I still have some more research to do, obviously - does anyone know of a firm who sell suitable artillery wheels in white metal? If I could get my hands on an odd wheel of the right size (out of copyright, of course), I could probably commission a small supply for my French siege guns. It does seem to me, though, that a wheel casting is an obvious spare part for someone, somewhere to have in production as a stock item. Haven't found anyone yet, but I'd be delighted to get some ideas.