Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Sunday, 5 July 2015

1809 Spaniards - A Run Out at Last - (1) Set-up

General view from behind the French right flank. The stream in the foreground is fordable
Since a wild monsoon this morning caused our planned family walk to be postponed, I took the opportunity to set up a small battle involving some of the new 1809 Spaniards. I have picked on an action which looks remarkably like the Espinosa scenario from the Commands & Colors Expansion #1 (which I never bought, by the way).

Unusually, for me, I stuck to the given OOB (well, more or less...), and the game will be played using straight C&CN rules (though with my Spanish rules extensions, which are slightly different from Mr Borg's). I hope to play the game tomorrow or Monday - it depends on the weather!

It's rather a busy battlefield, with lots of woodland - I'm not sure how I'll play this. The Spaniards would be well advised to defend, given their limitations in the battlefield drill department, but the French look a bit short in numbers for an assault. Hmmm. The advantage of a solo game, of course, is that there is not the slightest need to have a balanced game, and it doesn't matter if the result is ridiculous (though I may choose not to mention it).

French dispositions from their left

...and the Spaniards, from their right

Spanish units are a mix of "old" regiments (mostly in white), "new" (post 1809)
regiments (mostly in round hats) and a sprinkling of militia

French foot artillery - if the French are to attack, skilful movement of the
artillery is important in CCN

Italians on the French right - including a rare glimpse of the Italian artillery

Not much cavalry present - two light units per side - here's the Spanish
contingent: two regiments of Cazadores a Caballo

And a general view back the other way from the first photo - we are now behind the Spanish right flank

The Imp of Perversity strikes - a cameo appearance by Preston Mill - the
full-size original watermill is actually here in East Lothian, at East Linton,
about 6 miles from where I'm sitting as I type this, and it's
beautifully maintained by the National Trust for Scotland, but it
amuses me to give it a day out in the Peninsular War

French line infantry skulking in a forest of Merit trees - Old School or what?

The French light cavalry also stand and wait in reserve - doesn't look like a cavalry field

Yet another battle honour coming up? - more tales of glory? - this is the
1st Battalion of the 6eme Leger, which is the longest-serving
Napoleonic unit in my collection, albeit with some newbie command figures
acquired over the years
Anyway, it all looks rather nice for a first outing for the new army, so I'll report further once I've played the game. Any similarities between what follows and either history or the official CCN scenario will be, as ever, a complete accident.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Hooptedoodle #179 - Unky's Accident

Liverpool Tramways' Lambeth Road Depot - Unky worked here and at
Edge Lane Works in the 1920s and 1930s
In a previous post I told of what we managed to piece together of the war experiences of my Great-Uncle Alf (always known to my immediate family as Unky). I was reminded of a further story of Unky while talking to my mother recently, and I thought it was amusing enough to add to the library of tales of my long-dead kin which feature here from time to time.

Unky came from Preston, in Lancashire. He and his father (and thus the whole family, including my maternal grandmother) moved to Liverpool in the 1920s. His father (my mum's Grandpa Hindle) had worked with the railways for most of his life, and the family had moved between "railway" towns with his job over the years. My grandmother, for example, was born in Nuneaton. Anyway, Unky and his dad came to Liverpool in order to get jobs with the Liverpool City Tramways, and in fact Unky worked for them (and their successors) until he retired. Because of the move to Liverpool, some years later my grandmother (Unky's kid sister) met my grandfather, without which fortunate circumstance this blog wouldn't exist, for one thing.

Velocette like Unky's
He was always a natural mechanic, Unky - always a petrol head. He was already getting on a bit when I knew him, but he still had a Norton motor-bike, and at some time I remember him having a water-cooled Velocette. He rode motorcycles until he reached an age where he could no longer stand them up again if they fell over, and then he bought himself a car.

Well, actually, he bought a van. After working out what was the cheapest vehicle available, taking into account second-hand price, fuel economy, insurance and taxation, he bought himself a Reliant 3-wheeler van - a grey one. I remember that it always stank of petrol, so presumably something leaked, and my mother wouldn't let me travel in it in case it exploded. The back of the van was always full of bits of motorcycles and old rags.

Reliant van - obviously this is not Unky's actual van, but it's
about the right year, and I think his looked like this
[Before we get into the Tale of the Accident, I can tell you that it was all right in the end - he wasn't injured - so now you may relax and enjoy the scenery without getting anxious.]

Unky used to go everywhere in an enormous, smelly old raincoat - apart from the smell of petrol and engine-oil, I think it must have been rather like the coats worn by cavalry in the ECW - capable of standing up on its own - maybe even of walking away on its own. He had worn this coat throughout his biking days, and now he drove his van in it.

One day, in about 1958, he was driving his van along the East Lancashire Road, which is a sort of expressway which connects Liverpool and Manchester, and he was lighting a cigarette (Capstan Full-Strength - always) when he dropped his lighter, and it rolled under the passenger seat. Unky reached down with his left hand, behind the seat, to retrieve it, and his arm, in the thick coat, became stuck behind the passenger seat - he couldn't get it back, so he was now driving one-handed along the East Lancs, with his left arm jammed down behind the passenger seat.

We know exactly what happened next, since he dined out on the story for some years afterwards. He took his feet off the pedals, placed them flat on the floor and lifted himself so that his backside came clear of the driver's seat, and he levered himself up on the back of that seat (no seat belts in those days).

He never found out whether this would free his left arm, because at this point the back of the driver's seat (which was a very crude fibreglass moulding, underneath the upholstery) snapped off with a noise like a rifle going off, and Unky shot backwards into the rear of the van. The vehicle, out of control, tipped over onto one of its front corners and one rear wheel, and described a graceful circular path until it came to rest in the middle of a flower bed on the grass verge, just outside the town of St Helens, fortunately without hitting anything.

A passing motor-cycle cop saw the whole incident, and rushed over, but was temporarily nonplussed to find that there was no-one driving the van, since Unky was lying in the back in some disorder, under a pile of junk. The van was recovered, but was written off. He was subsequently charged with driving without due care and attention (or whatever the offence was called in those days), though he was never fined or convicted, and he was charged four pounds seven shillings for repairs to the municipal flower bed.

Capstan - Unky chain-smoked Full Strength; he survived the motorbikes
and the Wehrmacht, and even getting bombed at Dunkirk, but the Capstan
got him in the end

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Hooptedoodle #178 - Juveniles!

Quick wildlife interlude - our garden is full of baby birds at the moment, and the Contesse has been busy with her camera. These pictures show some of the juveniles on our garden feeders, being fed or being shown how to use them by their parents.

For the first time, we have a family of Nuthatches - previously we have only seen odd individuals, but this Summer we have some chicks, and you can hear the distinctive chirping song throughout the day. I've never seen a baby Nuthatch before - this one is watching one of his parents working on the peanut feeder, and he appears to be unconvinced about all this silly hanging-upside-down business - none of the other birds seem to do this, and it must be a bit embarrassing.

And here is a rather chunky young Greater Spotted Woodpecker (left - red cap), who looks a bit large to still be getting nuts fed to him by his mum, but he doesn't seem embarrassed at all.

I realise that garden birds are perhaps not everyone's cup of tea, but we get a lot of pleasure from watching them, and they are quite a big part of our life here - we live in a very rural area, and our garden is next to a wood. Anyway - a baby nuthatch is certainly a first for me.

Just one more - this is a video clip my wife took with her iPhone in the car park at our local hospital - this baby Bluetit insisted on sitting on her car windscreen wiper - wouldn't budge off it, so eventually she had to pick it up and place it on a nearby bush. We like to think that its relatives would find it before too long.


Monday, 29 June 2015

The Danube - Now I May Have to Go Back!

In September 2013 I went with a friend to realise a long-held fantasy and visit Napoleon's 1809 battlefields on the Danube. If you wish, you can read something of my trip here.

It was a great adventure for me - it's a wonderful part of the world, and we met some marvellous people - I was, as I said at the time, staggered by the kindness and the assistance we received from local enthusiasts. We had to scope our visit carefully, because of the time and funds we had available - we decided, reluctantly, not to visit Aspern-Essling or Wagram, and we never did make it to Landshut, but we spent some excellent days at Abensberg, Eggmühl, Ingolstadt and Ratisbon (Regensburg), and then moved on to enjoy the Army Museum and the cream cakes in Vienna.

Napoleon's 1809 campaign is something of a pet topic. I can hardly claim to possess a great deal of expertise, but it has always had a strong appeal - the Emperor and his Grande Armée maybe in their final glory, fabulous setting in the heartland of ancient Europe; I have spent some years collecting books on the period, and promising myself that, when I was retired, I would make it a serious study to keep my wits sharp.

Well, of course, I have now achieved the retired bit, and our 2013 trip was a great success and something I still think about a lot. As preparation for that visit I struggled to get an overview at the right sort of level to do some planning, and to see how the parts dovetailed. I experienced the latest in a series of ghastly failures to come to grips with Claudio Magris' literary travelogue, Danube, and probably decided, once and for all, that I am not worthy. I made better headway with Patrick Leigh Fermor's epic journals describing his walk along the Danube in the 1930s, but PLF, sadly, did not get to the Regensburg area. On the history front, I found John A Gill's four wonderful books on the 1809 campaign to be too detailed for a fast pass, and promised myself that they will form a major element in the "serious study" period which is yet to come. The general histories, such as David Chandler's and a couple of John Elting's books, did not get into enough detail - excellently written, but aimed at a high enough level to fit into a broader narrative.

Eventually I did my scoping based on F Loraine Petre's 1809 book, plus one by Gunther E Rothenburg - that worked OK, though the maps in Petre's book are beggars to unfold, and are definitely not recommended for windy battlefields. I also brought back a great stack of archive material from the Abensberg museum and elsewhere which has taken a place in the heap for future study.

Well, almost two years later I have finally got hold of just the books I should have had as a starting point. I recently bought James R Arnold's Crisis on the Danube and Napoleon Conquers Austria, which, respectively, cover the whirlwind period at the start of the campaign and the later period near Vienna. Highly recommended - these are moderately sized paperbacks (the latest editions are self-published, primarily because Mr Arnold was not prepared to settle for the kind of quality associated with modern publishing and manufacture), written in a sensible, lucid style of which Petre himself would surely have approved. The level of detail is excellent for an introduction to the subject, or for setting a framework for deeper study. I particularly appreciated the nicely-constructed diplomatic timeline at the beginning of the Crisis volume, and the battle descriptions are clear and concise and supported by useful monochrome maps and illustrations. I am enjoying making good progress through the first volume - this is exactly the sort of overview I could have done with in 2013, and will set me up nicely for a more detailed potter with Gill's books and the Elting & Esposito atlas (and, if I can find a decent one, an appropriate boardgame would be good, to follow the moves). Only things I will miss now will be the beers and the walks and Dampfnudel Uli's steam dumplings.

You know, I may have to go back sometime. I have mentioned the subject to the Contesse. She would not be up for standing in the rain on the Isle of Lobau, I think, but the other aspects of such a trip would probably be fine.

Arnold's website is worth a visit, by the way.

I'm also currently reading John Gribbin's excellent In Search of Schrödinger's Cat - a layman's guide to quantum mechanics. Thus far I have been following the historic development of the ideas - he hasn't lost me yet - and we are fast approaching the bit where I may get a little spinning of the head and a violent craving for caffeine. I am not intimidated - the whole topic is explained in a straightforward, clear manner which I have found to be excellent (even for an absent-minded old goat such as me). Though the academic fields are (literally?) light years apart, Dr Gribbin's book offers a pleasing contrast to the Claudio Magris' volume I mentioned above, which is mostly a monument to its own cleverness.

I am not embarrassed to be seen to be reading popular science - most of the physics I covered in my mathematics degree course would have been very familiar to Good Old Sir Isaac, so this is a rewarding area of, well, gentle enlightenment rather than education, I guess; rewarding if I can avoid explosion of the cortex. There seems little risk of my using this blog to further our shared understanding of the quantum, but it is going well, thus far.

Cortex intact? Check...

Friday, 26 June 2015

1809 Spaniards - Milicias Provinciales completed

...and here are the same flags, with attached infantry. Four battalions of provinciales, in M1805 regulation dress, with a proportion of the other ranks in brown jackets instead of white. For what seemed like good reasons at the time, I did one battalion in white, one in brown, and two mixed. All officers have white jackets, since rank has its privileges.

My thanks to my friend Goya for help with the command figures.

These fellows look fine - I'm pleased with them - but this is the militia, gentlemen - in Commands & Colors these fellows suffer triple retreats, so they need to be treated with care. Fortunately they are spread among the line divisions...

I took photos with and without flash, and since I didn't think either was very successful, I've posted both! These guys can now go safely into the box files, and I can start looking at some more cavalry. I'm also giving some thought to a "unit" of British infantry (mixed facings) armed with shovels, to provide some labour for siege trenches. Hmmm - spoiled for choice!

Thursday, 25 June 2015

1809 Spaniards - Flags for the Milicias Provinciales

More downloadables from Max Foy's Cheapo Productions Homebrewed Flags department. If these are useful, please feel free to use them - please just mention me if you pass them further. If you click on this image, to get the big version, save that, and print it on your premier-quality paper with the image 50mm high - that will give you flags which are correct for 1/72 or 20mm scale. As I always mention, the green surrounds are not part of the flags, and the resolution will not be good enough to print them any larger than 28mm scale.

Provincial Militia, 1809 - Top, L to R: Granada, Jaen
Bottom, L to R: Ciudad Real, Cordoba

Here, then, are the regulation coronelas for the provinciales of Granada, Jaen, Ciudad Real and Cordoba, all ready to have a bad day at the Battle of Ucles. I hope to have the tabletop units finished,  with their flags, in a day or two, so a photo should appear in the fullness of time.

I confess that I wimped out on the Cordoba flag - I was so impressed by Bueno's prints of blue militia flags for units from the Asturias that yesterday I produced a striking red, non-regulation flag for Cordoba bearing some funky text and the province's coat of arms. It looked fantastic, but after a night worrying about it I replaced it with the normal, boring coronela this morning. Of course I haven't the faintest idea what the unit actually carried into battle, but the version reproduced here is pretty much what they were supposed to carry!

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Fringe Players - tabletop units with an undeserved popularity...

Regimiento de la Muerte, 1809
Most wargames armies have some unit somewhere that turns out to be a bit of an embarrassment – mostly it’s because by rights it shouldn’t be there, and mostly that is because their owner fancied the uniforms, or found the figures cheap at a swapmeet. How many miniature Napoleonic French armies contain a completely inappropriate unit of Mamelukes of the Guard, for example? My own follies in the building up of my Peninsular War armies include a post-1813 line chevaux-legers unit (never set foot in Spain), which I still include in the OOB when it suits – well, they might have appeared (I got some old Garrison figures on eBay); the other was a smashing unit of Les Higgins/PMD Scots Greys – I converted the command figures and everything. This unit still causes me some grief, in retrospect – they were absolutely beautiful, but historically the regiment spent the entire Peninsular War in Britain and – more seriously – they threatened to encourage me to expand my collection to cover Waterloo, with two distinct types of light dragoons and so on. So I sold them on eBay a few years ago, and they went for the starting bid, which was a major heart breaker - not entirely because I am a skinflint, but because I loved them and was insulted.

In this vein, one unit which has always intrigued me is the Regimiento de la Muerte, one of the Spanish “new regiments” raised after the French invasion. These guys appear in just about every known book of uniforms for the Peninsular War, the early use of a British looking uniform is notable, and they became such an iconic Spanish unit (beginning at a time when relatively little was known about that army - by me, certainly) that a lot of tabletop Spanish armies had them. Bueno did a few illustrations of them, though I’m not sure why they have such prominence - Douglas Miniatures, in particular, had only three Spanish Napoleonic figures – a classic line grenadier, with bearskin, and a fusilero and officer of the “Death Regt”. The Death boys will paint up as 1812 blue-uniformed chaps, so they are useful anyway.

I have recently chanced upon a small additional supply of 1812-style S-Range Spaniards, which is very pleasing, and one possibility was that they could be painted up as the Muerte, and thus swell the ranks of my 1809 army, since my 1812 army is probably quite large enough. Problem is that my OOB is based on the battles of Ucles and (a bit) Ocaña, and Muerte were not at either of these places. Out of general interest, I thought I’d check out my JJ Sañudo database, and see what the facts are for Muerte.

Funcken: Who's the guy in the middle, then?
Well now. First thing to note is that their full name was Voluntarios de la Muerte o Victoria, they were raised in 1809, and disbanded 18 months later, and the second thing is that there was a completely different, much more famous light infantry unit named the Voluntarios de la Victoria (this is Volunteers of Victory – nothing at all to do with the city of Vitoria) who were featured in the old S-Range catalogue (SN7s, complete with brimmed hat) and had a long and distinguished war record right through to Toulouse in 1814.

Clonard plate: Left to Right: Voluntarios de la Patria, Leales de Fernando VII,
anta Fe, La Muerte, Voluntarios de la Victoria
So what of the iconic Muerte, so well known to wargamers? Since it is not lengthy, and might be of interest, this is their full regimental history:

30 Jan 1809 - Single-battalion unit of line infantry raised by D. Francisco Colombo

18 Mar – present at action of Villafranca

20 Mar – official army return describes them as “Regto de la Victoria”, 1 battalion, strength 500 men, under “Capitan” Colombo

22 Mar – 500 men, under Colombo, present at action of Pontevedra

23 Mar – At Vigo, in Galicia – regt formed into 3 battalions, totalling 1000 men; these were built around 1 company of the “Regto de la Victoria”, 1 company of the line Regto de Zamora and 1 company of the Granaderos Provinciales de Galicia, with a substantial intake of volunteer recruits

24 Apr – Action of Santiago; regiment listed as “Regimiento de la Muerte”, consisting of 3 battalions.

26 Apr – at Caldas de Reyes

2 May – attached to La Carrera’s Division on the Miño, at a strength of 1 battalion [where were the rest?]

June – at the Siege of Tuy

7 Jun – 1 battalion present at Battle of Puente Sampayo, with Noroña’s Divn.

30 Jun – return has “Regto de la Victoria o Muerte” at a strength of 1725 men, which seems unlikely.

3 Jul - …they are once again “de la Muerte”, commanded by Colombo.

18 Oct – Battle of Tomames, 1 battalion with the Vanguard Divn, commanded by Mariscal de Campo Martin de la Carrera – 1 killed, 5 wounded, 1 slightly wounded(?).

23 Nov – Action of Medina del Campo, with La Carrera’s Vanguard Divn.

28 Nov – Battle of Alba de Tormes – 148 men present with La Carrera’s Divn.

18 Dec – Regimental cadre(?) marched to Galicia; 135 men transferred to 1st Voluntarios de Cataluña [which is, in fact, one of the units in my Ucles OOB army].

5 Feb 1810 – Possible that 1st Vols de Cataluña present at defence of Badajoz.

15 Jun – 1 battalion in Galicia, with Imaz’s “Vanguardia Provisional” division.

1 Jul – regiment disbanded – remaining strength absorbed by the Regimiento de Lobera.

And that, it seems, was that. It would appear that the battalions served separately, and their war service was brief but active – the numbers seem to have fluctuated wildly, though this may just be dodgy record keeping, and I would guess that the bulk of the men in the ranks had little training or experience. I have no wish to disapprove of anyone who served in defence of his native land, but the unit seems to be notable primarily because plates of their uniform survive rather than as a result of any particularly distinguished combat record. I shan’t bother adding them to my 1809 line-up – not least because they didn’t exist until some months after my target OOB.

I find Sañudo’s database a veritable goldmine of information – a great find.