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


Monday, 24 September 2018

Senior Debutante - Battle of Santiago Martir 1809

Marshal Victor and his young men decide what to do first
At the end of last week and over the weekend we had a family visitor staying with us; my mother's half-sister, my aunt, in fact, who is 83 and lives in far-off Somerset.

To put this into context, she is a very tough egg indeed. She travels a lot, drives over to France to visit her brother a couple of times a year, and has destroyed all her former hill-walking colleagues, who have all given up trying to keep pace with her. She was on her way home from a tour of the Highlands - particularly castles and the battlefield at Culloden - and took the opportunity to visit us, and thus to visit my mother, who is in a local care home.

Recently, I sent my aunt some pictures of my miniature Battle of Marston Moor, and she was so fascinated that she asked if it would be possible to invite someone in while she was visiting, to put on another wargame, so she could witness it at first hand. Hmmm. I thought long and hard about this, being pretty certain that there would be a very short queue indeed of people volunteering to come out here simply to demonstrate a wargame for my elderly aunt. I decided the best thing to do would be to stage what would in effect be a collaborative solo game - she and I would play out a game together to see what happened. Saturday morning was pencilled in for the occasion.

I dreamed up a fictitious but credible action from Central Spain in Spring 1809, and we used a cut-down version of Commands & Colors:Napoleonics which I have used successfully in the past for very large games. Our game was sort of medium-sized. Everything went well - we had about half an hour's discussion of the situation and the rules, then the game played to a conclusion in just over 90 minutes. The French won easily, which is as it should be, and my aunt thinks that wargames are fantastic. Does anyone know of a more unlikely debutante at a wargame?

The battle takes place somewhere between Madrid and Cuenca. The initial Spanish defensive set-up was decided by a couple of dice rolls, to select from a variety of possibilities. There were a few surprising choices made as a result - choosing to set up in front of a river seemed questionable, but it gave us a nice vigorous game. The Spanish troops included a proportion of Milicias Provinciales, who were kept to the rear, and (because they are colourful and excellent fun on the battlefield, and they don't get out much) a force of guerrilleros led by the dodgy-looking Don Pedro de Gentusa.

The narrative, very briefly, is that General Cuesta has sent forward an advance guard under the Conde de Belvedere, to deny the French the crossing over the Rio Mezquino at Santiago Martir. There are a good bridge and a couple of fords; wagons and artillery cannot use the fords, so the French will save a lot of time if they can capture the bridge. Bonus Victory Points (VPs) are available to the French for possession of any part of the town, the bridge and for each ford. The French will not gain VPs for the elimination of any of the guerrillero units. 9 points wins the day.

The French are commanded by Marshal Victor, Duc de Belluno (or "General Perrin" as he is known here), and he has brought forward his own advance guard in attempt to secure the river crossing. Imagine his disappointment when he arrives and learns that Belvedere is already there...

Victor has the infantry divisions of Leval (Germans) and Sebastiani (French) from IV Corps, and some cavalry from the Reserve under La Tour-Mauburg. Belvedere has the divisions of Del Parque and Portago and a brigade of cavalry under Ramos de Silva, plus Gentusa's fragile irregulars.

Victor has 15000 infantry, 1000 cavalry and 16 guns; Belvedere has 10400 infantry, 1000 cavalry and 12 guns, plus about 1600 irregulars, whom he sticks behind his left flank, to help out if everything else collapses...

General view at the start, from behind French right flank. Note that Belvedere (far side of
the table) defended his right flank strongly (the river behind that right flank is unfordable!)
to keep the French away from the little town, and was persuaded by the initial dice rolls to place
 his left flank on the wrong side of the river (he explained that the idea was that he could retire
them over the fords if necessary...). The fords can be spotted as a rather lighter blue in the river,
beyond the little wood.
Same moment, this time from behind the Spanish right. The troops behind the ridge in the
foreground are the Provincial Militia regiments of Cordoba and Granada, who were kept pretty
much out of sight.
Looking along the Spanish line. The division commanders (just identifiable by the white
edging to the bases) were both wounded during the day. The river this side (downstream)
of the bridge is unfordable, so the troops on this flank are in an uncomfortable situation.
 
Along the French line, from their left. The infantry on this side are Sebastiani's division,
Leval's Germans at the far end.
The Spanish centre - grenadiers in the town. The Walloon Guards and some of the best
of the line infantry on the far side of the road, in front of the fords. Victor decided that
a direct attack on the town would be costly...
...so he commenced a demonstration against the (stronger) Spanish right flank, to
discourage Belvedere from shifting any troops to support his left...
...where a major fire-fight commenced, which resulted in a big panic in the Spanish
army. The Walloon Guards were eliminated very quickly, General Del Parque was
wounded and captured, and the defenders on the Spanish left melted away.
At this point, the French only had to march forward; taking possession of the two fords would
be enough to get up to 9 VPs and win the day
Cometh the hour - nothing left on this flank but to send forward some of the guerrilleros,
to keep the French off the fords while reinforcements came from the town. They surprised
Leval's Confederation troops with the accuracy and weight of their musketry, but they didn't
last long...
...and Leval himself took one ford with the 2nd battalion of the 2nd Nassau. Just 1 VP
needed - get more infantry on the second ford (where are the light infantry when you need
them?). At this point Don Pedro himself brought up another unit of irregulars, but the game
ended suddenly...
...and it came in an unexpected way. The Lanceros de Carmona advanced to help delay the
French advance, but they took fire and, though they lost no men, they were forced to fall back.
On the French turn, the lancers took more fire, this time from the converged voltigeurs of Chassé's brigade
in the wood; again, they suffered no hits, but they did receive two "retreat flag" results. Without
support, and with no Leader present, they were obliged to retreat for both the flag rolls. Spanish
regulars have to retreat 2 hexes for each flag, and 1 hex movement forced the lanceros back into
the corner of the table - they couldn't cross the river at this point, so they had to take 3 loss counters
 in lieu of the extra retreat. The unit is only 3 "bases" strong, so 3 losses eliminated it. That was the 9th
VP - game over.
Here's a general view of the vanished Spanish left flank. Surmising beyond the technical end
of the game, the French now had the fords, and were able to cross the river, which would make
things very sticky indeed for the rest of the Spanish army. The boys in the town might make a
run for it over the bridge, or might fight on. Or, of course, they might surrender...
Here's the end of the game from another angle. The Spanish right flank, out of the picture to
 the left of the town, would now be cut off, and would mostly become prisoners, I think.
This photo gives us a rare glimpse of the Conde de Belvedere, with the yellow base-edging,
near the bridge, next to the beaker of red loss counters. We agreed that the Conde would have
a very fast horse (certainly it had been resting throughout the action), and he would be able to
go to report in person to Cuesta on what had happened to the advance guard. 



Sunday, 23 September 2018

Flotsam and Jetsam (and Sesame)

At the end of 2016 I spent a remarkable month clearing out my mother's house - in a big hurry - prior to selling it, since she was going into a care home. I did this more or less single-handed - just a bit of help to shift big items. I used my van to take things to the dump. Long days, late nights. Looking back, I have difficulty believing that I managed to be so vigorous and single-minded about it - I guess I was focused on how badly we needed to sell it.

I spent a while with mountains and boxes of junk in our garage. A lot of things went to the charity shops, we gave stuff away by the cubic yard; I did manage to sell a few things, locally and on eBay, but mostly this whole period was just a monster chucking-out session. In amongst all the other debris, I hung on to a few items which had some personal sentimental value to me - not very much, in fact - my granddad's pocket watch, a couple of bits and pieces that meant something in my childhood.

I left home when I was 17, to go to university, and never went back apart from short visits. Over the years, my parents lives and my life rolled along independently. That does make it easier when ditching a lifetime's agglomeration of someone else's junk.

Just a doo-dad. Old junk - £1 coin for scale
One thing I rescued was the little item in the photo. From my earliest memory, it sat on the dressing table in my bedroom. I knew it had been in the family for years, but knew nothing else about it. Originally I didn't know what teak was (I assumed it was a part of a ship), though I did know that HMS Sesame was a ship (or had been a ship). I remember being painfully embarrassed at the age of about 5, when my Auntie Monica spotted it and asked me about it. Not only did I know nothing about it, but she explained to me that it was not pronounced Sessaym - two fails in one effort. Amazing how these things stick in the memory.

Since I rescued it from the back of a cupboard at Mum's house, it's been sitting on top of my painting bureau, collecting solitary cufflinks, buttons, paper-clips, rubber bands, pins - pretty much the same stuff that went in it in the old days. Typecasting? Anyway, it occurred to me that I still know nothing about it, though it and I are old friends. So I had a poke about online.

First off, there are masses of these on eBay and elsewhere. Also barometers, inkstands and similar, all with the same plaques. There must have been a lot of teak in the old Sesame. Shades of fragments of the Original Cross. Or the Berlin Wall. The other thing I found out is that there were two HMS Sesames.

One was a destroyer built in 1917, which was broken up in 1935. The other was a rescue tug which was sunk by an E-Boat a few days after the D-Day landings. Since the ship sunk in 1944 is in fairly deep water off Le Havre (it is a well-known wreck site for divers), and since the public appetite for souvenirs from sunken ships would have been pretty feeble in 1944, I guess that my little barrel must be from the 1935 breaking-up of the destroyer.

No big deal, obviously, but I'm quietly pleased to have finally got around to checking up. You may well have one of these sitting on a shelf somewhere yourself - there are certainly a lot of them about. Mine, as you see, is rather battered. If anyone knows of any interesting stories concerning HMS Sesame, I'd be very interested to hear them.

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Blog Matters - announcement


I am delighted to note that The Jolly Broom Man has now launched his new blog, and a very fine thing it promises to be. The subject matter is the English Civil War, and we are marched straight into a very ambitious campaign, which looks very exciting, to say the least. The blog is entitled 1642 And All That (click to visit) and is thoroughly recommended.

The tabletop element of these activities is conducted in 6mm, and it all looks terrific. The blog is entertainingly and engagingly written, and contains much of interest - JBM, apart from being a noted restorer of ancient French buildings, also does a very nice job with a smaller brush, and has service as a re-enactor on his CV.

6mm Horse, ready for action - Baccus, I think
6mm House - there's also some very attractive scenery on show

So why are you still reading this? - get over there at once and check it out. Tell your mates. Here's another opportunity to click on the link. My enthusiasm is not just because the JBM is a friend of mine, by the way, and he certainly is not paying me for the plug (perish the thought). How could you suggest such a thing?

[The photos are reproduced without JBM's permission, but give an idea of what he's on about.]


Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Hooptedoodle #313 - Shepherd's Warning


06:17, 18th Sept, South-East Scotland, looking - erm - South-East.

Only seems a few weeks since it was getting light at 3am - something shifted while I wasn't paying attention. This is actually a fine morning, after a very wet night, but the forecast is a bit wild - winds and more rain. Looks nice, though?

Photograph by permission of Contesse Foy, 2018. 

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Hooptedoodle #312 - The Limpet and the Critic

This evening I have the house to myself, since my wife and my son have gone to an information evening at his school.

I like to dine simply on these occasions, so I made myself a sandwich of peanut butter (crunchy, of course), Jarlsberg cheese and just a touch of Marmite. Pretty good - all I needed apart from this was a glass of water and I was happy enough. Switched on BBC Radio 3 and caught part of a concert given in Edinburgh by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. Main item on the programme was to be Vaughan Williams' Sea Symphony, of which I've never been very fond, but we kicked off with Thea Musgrave's Turbulent Landscapes, which I really don't know at all. The theme of Ms Musgrave's suite is a musical interpretation of 6 paintings by the artist JMW Turner, and batting at No.4 was Turner's very quirky War: The Exile and the Rock Limpet, which I hadn't thought about in years. I have always found this picture very haunting, though I never quite knew what to make of it. You may write an essay on it for your homework - 1000 words will be fine. Perhaps you could bring out the implied contrast between imperial glory and the minutiae of Nature - or any other theme you like will be fine. You will have marks deducted if you mention the size of Napoleon's hat, by the way. Reference to the British guard will be OK, however.


Mention of marks deducted reminds me of a private joke which my late cousin Dave and I kept going for years. We lived through a period when it seemed that new works of art were judged by the weight of the justificatory text which accompanied them, rather than the work itself. We once attended a concert at the Liverpool Philharmonic at which the first item was a recently-commissioned orchestral piece about the coming of the Industrial Revolution to agricultural Britain (well, England, I guess). The composer himself gave an introductory talk lasting about a quarter of an hour, in which he described his interest in the subject, how (and why) he had been approached to compose the piece, and how he  had attempted with contrasting tone colours and symmetrical harmonies to create an image of smoke and fire against a rural idyll. He then conducted the piece himself, and I swear it lasted about 4 minutes.

Dave and I were transfixed. We were about 17, and we immediately declared war on critics, radio announcers and all pseuds in general, and we invented a scoring system, which awarded "faults", rather in the style of equestrian show-jumping. The speaker/writer could collect single faults for the use of undergraduate gushiness such as "lambent" or "plangent" (etc), and there were also a few biggies for words or phrases we really disliked. A "clear round" was a rarity - a text or talk which contained no offending words at all.

Back to the present, the night of the peanut-butter sandwich. Tonight's announcer on the BBC (who was only reading a prepared script about  the Musgrave piece, poor sod) scored 4 faults for "juxtaposition", which is always accompanied by a faint klaxon, but otherwise performed well enough. Dave died and dropped out of the game years ago, but I still keep my hand in with the scoring system when I get the chance. I have a few newbies since Dave's time - "Zeitgeist" gets 8 faults - which is a double-refusal or something - and I have a few others.

This all smacks a little of inverted snobbery, which is never attractive, but it really just reflects a long-held prejudice against the posturing bourgeoisie - though it occurs to me that it may reveal me as the biggest pseud of the lot!



**** Late Edit ****

Because the comments got me interested again, I thought I'd put a link to the relevant Part IV of Thea Musgrave's suite, as discussed.



Now here's an interesting idea: after you've heard the music, you could go and paint a picture giving your idea of what it portrays. Then someone could write another new piece of music interpreting your new picture, and so on, for ever. Great, eh? Like the most pretentious game of Chinese Whispers in history. If we produce a variation on the showjumping analogy, the limp little quote from La Marseillaise must be worth 8 faults on its own? And, just in case you missed it (because you were asleep?), there is a reprise at the end, which is no more inspiring and must be worth a further 8 - no VAR allowed.

****  ****

Monday, 10 September 2018

Donkey Award: Snake Sabres - a short digital digression

A few years ago, I saw mention of the fact that someone had developed a mod for a dice-rolling app on a smart-phone, so you could play Commands & Colors using your phone instead of Stone Age dice. Apart from a faint feeling of weary revulsion at the time, I did nothing more than make a mental note that the human species had achieved this further landmark in our technological evolution.

I was thinking idly about this the other day, and recalling that I had (luckily, perhaps?) never seen an example of this fine thing subsequently. I Googled, as one does, and found this thread on the user website, which seems once to have included a picture of the smartphone app doing its C&CN thing, but the picture has now gone missing.

Photograph missing - this is not the original missing photo, of course, it is another one
Well, it goes without saying, I don't actually care a button [perhaps "couldn't give a toss" would be more apt?], but this has piqued my interest again. My personal view is that the use of the actual, physical dice in the game (rather than an app) is a good thing, since

(1) it provides an element of much-needed exercise

(2) it gives a rare opportunity to switch the damned smartphone off and put it back in one's pocket, which is just the sort of reason we might play C&CN in the first place. [Even better, put the smartphone beneath the visitor's rear tyre, on the driveway.]

I am confident that some worthies will use this phone app and think that the game is all the better for it, and I can only say bless them, so I do not wish to mock or condemn anyone here, but if it was such a raging success, why can't I find a photo anywhere?

Anyone got a link to a picture of this app? If so, I'll be grateful and vaguely interested. If not, especially if this is because the whole idea was dropped as a stupid affectation, then I may even have a glass of the old Pinot Grigio with my dinner. How can I lose?

In a vague sort of way I am reminded of a walk I did along Hadrian's Wall six years ago, when one of my companions was in a sweat every evening trying to find somewhere to re-charge his iPhone, since he had a compass app on it. The idea of a flat phone battery resulting in our getting dangerously lost on a walk where you can either go east or west at any moment was too awful to contemplate, but fortunately I (secretly) had a small device in my pocket which used a magnetized steel pointer on a round dial to show the direction, so we were probably safe enough.

Oh yes - the title of this post is an insiders' joke term for the dice roll you need to kill a General in C&C. What fun we have, when you think about it. Since this post is a bit short of visuals, here is the house Donkey Award logo, to make the point.


Sunday, 2 September 2018

Cuirassier Factory

An everyday story of refurbishment.

4 regiments smartened up and based, with gaps left for command figures, still to arrive.
The boys on the botttle-tops have not yet been varnished, just in case I need to change the facing colours
This started a few weeks ago when my old acquaintance Paul got in touch to say he had found some more Les Higgins/PMD Napoleonic French cuirassiers (he thought he had got rid of the last of his Napoleonic figures some years ago - his cupboards must be interesting). They were in reasonable condition, and was I interested?

Well, of course. Historically, I have not been very interested in cuirassiers, since I am a Peninsular War man, and I already have the 13th regiment, which has been all I need, really. However, I am now building a Bavarian army, suitable for the Danube and various other exotic Central European (and Russian) theatres, and also I now have friends who own Austrian and Prussian troops, so my appetites are widening. Also, Paul is a good painter, and his old toys are always an attractive proposition.

A deal was struck, and the soldiers arrived. Back in the day, PMD made a cuirassier trooper (NF33), but no command figures, though their dragoon trumpeter (NF32) is perfectly suitable for a job in the cuirassiers. No cuirassier officer, though. The figures I bought from Paul include a converted trumpeter, produced from a dragoon trooper, and an eagle bearer, also a conversion. I've changed the trumpeter's uniform pretty drastically, and the flag will have to go as soon as I arrange something better, but I'll use them both.

It will take a little juggling, but I'll have enough figures for 4 regiments, to provide a reserve cavalry division. I have ordered some packs of command figures from Art Miniaturen. How exactly the regiments will be staffed depends on whether I like the Art Mini eagle bearers. If I do, it's dead easy - just put the command figures into the empty spaces in the four based-up regiments as shown in their current-state photos.

The alternative is to omit the eagle bearers and make up the numbers by switching the remaining spare troopers (repainting facings as necessary) and just use the Art Mini officers and trumpeters.

The regiments I've selected are the 2nd and 3rd (red facings) and the 7th and 8th (yellow) - these facing colours will work for both the 1809 and the 1812+ periods. I'll paint the trumpeters in the earlier style (before the Imperial Livery), which, again, will suit either period.

I've put this project back in the cupboard until the Art Mins arrive. You should hear more about these chaps soon.


Digression: I was considering the word "refurbish", which I seem to use a lot these days, and wondered whether there was such a word as "furbish" - which, of course, there is. Maybe I knew that, but had forgotten. Anyway - the point is that I understand that furbish means "to renovate, polish, or return to new condition", which - confusingly - is what I think "refurbish" means. Does this mean that if you refurbish something you are furbishing it again? I shan't worry about this, but I'd be disappointed if I embarrassed anyone (especially myself) by getting it wrong.