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


Saturday, 30 May 2020

French Refurb - 70eme Ligne

With an enforced break in the WSS factory, I have had a chance to make a return to my ongoing rescue of some bought-in French Napoleonics - the boys of "Carlo's Army". Here are another two battalions, 1st and 2nd of 70eme Ligne, to join the 3rd Division of the Armée de Portugal, circa Spring 1812 - a period which has always been my natural home. The figures are mostly Les Higgins, vintage 1971 or so, with a few command bods brought in from Art Miniaturen, SHQ and Schilling. My approach to refurb work these days is such that there is probably none of the original paintwork of these figures still visible!

1st Battalion
2nd Battalion
I also took the opportunity to spruce up a couple of colonels which I have based to act up as brigade commanders - I was never happy with them; so here's this morning's picture of the newly-augmented 2nd brigade of the 3rd Divn, led by Colonel Dein of the 47eme, who is relishing his new, cleaner paint job.

Bde Col Dein - 70eme in front, 47eme behind - the brigade awaits the official 9-figure converged voltigeur "battalion", which will be along sometime soon. I've never been able to work out who the official GdB was. The brigade came to the Armée de Portugal from II Corps when Marmont re-organised his new command in Oct 1811, and the brigadier, GdB Roche Godart, returned to France around that time, subsequently serving in Russia. At Salamanca there is no official GdB in place, so maybe the colonels covered the gap throughout this period. GdB Menne had the other brigade. Sorry - this stuff interests me!

Monday, 25 May 2020

Hooptedoodle #367 - Variants on Social Distancing

Photo by Reuters
 I saw this on the BBC website - distancing system laid out at a college in Brussels. There's a lot of useful creativity being applied to some big social problems at present. What worries me is that this particular arrangement, if it follows my house rules for the WSS, requires everyone to face a vertex, and, though it will allow anyone entering a new hex to turn up to 60deg either way without penalty, any larger turn or any stationary turn needs an extra move.

That could be complicated for the students. We'll suspend judgement on this one, for the moment. Might be better if everyone just had their own tape-measure. Old School - yes, that would be more convenient all round, I can see that.

***** Late Edit *****

I found an ancient photo from the 1955 sci-fi movie, Quatermass II, of the scene in which some picnickers are taken away when they have accidentally got too close to the mysterious factory. I'm quite pleased to have found it, just for nostalgia - there is some very loose mention of this episode in the Comments below...

Are you the bloke who asked about the possibility of an amnesty...?

***** Late Edit 2 *****

I knew you would want to see it. If you haven't seen it before, here's Peter Gabriel let loose in his giant plastic ball - this was live, in Milan, during his 2003 tour. I agree - I wasn't sure whether it was me that was insane or him...

Whatever, I wouldn't mind a shot in one of these.


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Friday, 22 May 2020

Action on the River Coa - 24th July 1810 - The Game

The south-west corner of the fortress of Almeida, which contributed little to the action, really, though the Portuguese garrison gunners caused some loss to the French 3eme Hussards when they ventured too close
Well, because playing a game via Zoom was a new experience for us, I had spent some time this week working on camera angles, and lighting (which sounds grand, but was mostly a matter of which lights to switch on, which curtains to close to avoid table-shine and that strange effect you get when the electric lights are on but the far end of the table is in bright sunshine).

All went very well - this techy stuff is well tried and tested now, and was only really new to us greenhorns, so I shall avoid pretending it was stressful or dramatic, or even particularly clever; the game went well - we finished (just) in the scheduled 3 hours, and we learned quite a bit. Interesting. It was a very good day, I think - a lot of fun, apart from anything else.

We started at 10:30am, Goya commanding the French, Stryker the Anglo-Portuguese allies. The scene was General Craufurd's strange episode on the River Coa. The game was chosen because it is not too big (for a first bash at Zoom, like) - we used my scenario rather than the official C&CN #006 from the book (I was a bit affronted by the fact that the official scenario gives Craufurd a couple of gratuitous British Line battalions, just to balance the game - my usual crib about the official scenarios, in fact).

Our game paralleled quite a few areas of the real battle - interesting. Craufurd should, by rights, have retreated across the only bridge over the Coa a day or so before he did. He was certainly instructed to do so by his Commander in Chief - in the event he hung on, while Ney's VI Corps bore down on him; presumably he had hopes of gaining some kind of personal triumph against the advance guard, but he risked his entire Light Division with no real justification - he was still going to have to retreat eventually. Still, I guess you had to be there, as they say - it's all very well being smart about it now...

Our game required the accumulation of 7 Victory Points for a win - there was some fancy stuff around the availability of extra VPs for successful evacuation of Craufurd's units across the river, and there was also the issue of having a train of wagons and mules to evacuate, too. The challenge for Craufurd was knowing when to cut and run.

It was very close. These games are usually very close, but this one was probably the closest yet [cue rolling of eyes]. Craufurd himself spent some of the early part of the game resting (apparently) in a wood, but he manoeuvred his little army with skill, through a series of reverses. He evacuated half the wagon/mule train (the other half was destroyed by the French cavalry), he also evacuated 2 of his combat units, and he inflicted enough damage on the enemy to amass 6 VPs - at this stage the French, whose VP all came from eliminating Craufurd's units, had also got to 6 VPs.

Craufurd himself, with a battalion of the Rifles, was on the bridge at that moment, and his next turn would allow him to march them over the river to safety, to get the required 7th VP.

Didn't happen - his turn never came. The French threw in the last of all they had on their left flank, including a charge on the battered 14th Light Dragoons by the last intact battalion, the 1/66eme, led by General Ferey himself. Since the 14LD were not in good shape, and did not have room for the approved Retire & Reform ploy, the infantry won this scrap - a rare example of an attack column defeating horsemen - and the game was over, leaving Craufurd to go to discuss his day with Wellington.

General de Brigade Claude-François Ferey - probably man of the match
Excellent fun - we didn't learn too much from things that went badly, because there weren't many at all - about all I can think of was that the usual red loss counters do not show up well on camera, so we'll use white in future. One important skill in learning, I think, is to make sure you remember the things that did work - and there was plenty of scope for that.

My colleagues, of course, mucked in with their usual excellent enthusiasm and good humour, which was a massive contributor to our success. I was the umpire and general labourer, and it is quite hard work, but I had a terrific time - from time to time I felt apprehensive, because I was charging about, hyperventilating, while my guests were really only getting to watch through the keyhole, but it seems that everything was fine at their end too.

I think it proved worthwhile spending time and attention on the hardware - we had my Android tablet on a high stand - some 7 feet up in the air - as the main camera, at one end of the table, and my iPhone - also 7 feet up (and permanently connected to its charger, since Zoom will flatten a phone battery in no time at all - please take note!) - as the second camera, at the other end. The iPhone attended as a separate guest - Max Foy, in fact, who has his own Zoom account (not many of Napoleon's generals have Zoom accounts, I think). It also proved to have been a good idea to invest some time in setting up a grid reference system for the hex table, and to produce some good maps for the players.

My thanks, as ever, to Goya and Stryker for being such good chaps and making the game a success. Now that we have some experience, we are considering allowing one or two guests/observers to drop in on future games - we'll have to weigh that up, since there isn't a lot of time for chat, but it's all good so far!

One thing I was aware of was the lack of time to take decent photos, so apologies for the unbalanced set I managed to salvage - in particular the end of the game was a little frenzied, so there is a shortage of pictures of the climax! It's worth saying, I think, that playing a game by videoconference introduces a lot of obvious challenges, but it also encourages the players to be very methodical about following orderly turn sequences, for example, and this actually helped the game to run smoothly.

Points duly noted! Oh - yes - being umpire is fun but it's a bit of a work-out - I recommend a bottle of Lucozade on stand-by!

View from above the fortress of Almeida, looking along Craufurd's line towards the bridge at the far end. The little stone-wall enclosures are the remains of old vineyards. Craufurd is on the right edge of the picture, with the white edge to his base.
General view at the start from the French right flank - Ferey's brigade, who did much of the work, are at the far end. Loison, the division commander, like Craufurd, has the white base-border befitting his rank.
Ferey, with two battalions of each of 82eme and 66eme, plus a battalion of Légère, has a couple of batteries and support from the 15eme Chasseurs à Cheval (regular stand-out performers on this table). He sets about the Allied right flank.
And the first target is the 52nd Foot, on the end of the Allied line, with Sydney Beckwith attached. The 52nd suffered heavily and very quickly (something to do with being in the open), and eventually had to fall back behind their more sheltered colleagues.

On the Allied left, in front of the fortress, Col Robert Barclay has Rifles and the 43rd Foot, plus Ross's Troop RHA

A couple of gaps in the Allied right - some of Anson's light cavalry arrive, to help out
A more general view, around the same time - the battered 52nd Foot, identifiable by the stack of red markers, were not impressed by Col Beckwith's speech-making, and took little further part in the fighting, though eventually they were safely evacuated over the bridge. 
Bitter fighting near the bridge - Ferey brings up the 82eme - the black square means that - that's right, good guess! - the unit is in square; no time in a game of this sort to arrange the bases in a nice square, though it could be done in a more leisurely context.
Baron Ferey had a really exciting day - as a succession of units to which he was attached were eliminated, he would move on to someone else - at various times he was briefly attached to the foot artillery, the 82eme and the 66eme, and here he personally brings up the 15eme Chasseurs à Cheval - that's him with label #14 on his base - if he doesn't get made a Count for this then he should. No staff casualties on either side this day, by the way.
The chasseurs were repelled by the KGL Hussars, here seen with Gen George Anson, but they reappeared subsequently to help out with the final scrap. The last of the wagons is heading for the bridge and safety - it may seem unimportant, but that's another half a VP, and these things are hard-won.
Craufurd has now appeared in the battle line, as he prepares for his final stand. Though it was a struggle, Stryker handled the retreat over the bridge and the rearguard action with considerable skill.
Not much remaining on the French left by this stage - the 15eme Chasseurs are out of picture, getting their breath back and being egged on by General Ferey, but this is about it, though there is a flank attack coming in on the Allies from some of General Gardanne's dragoons.
Meanwhile, the French right, mostly General Simon's brigade of infantry, has hardly moved. There may be some awkward silences at dinner tonight.
Suddenly, very quickly, 6-all becomes 7-6 to the French, as Ferey, with the 1/66eme in column attack, manages to rout the British 14th Light Dragoons. The game is over - still within the 3-hour Zoom session. Stryker estimates we played out 14 turns in the 3 hours, which is not bad going at all in the circumstances. Well done, everyone!
Here you go - it's official - the French win 7-6. Yet another close one!

***** Late Edit *****

I received a couple of questions about the reference letters around the edges of the table - this was to make it easier to match the table up with the "official" set-up map I sent to the generals. Here's the map:


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Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Hooptedoodle #366 - Happy Birthday John Cruickshank

I recently put up a post about John Cruickshank, the son of a one-time neighbour of mine in Edinburgh, who flew with Coastal Command in WW2 and was awarded the Victoria Cross in 1944 when he sank a U-Boat, bringing his Catalina home safely despite being seriously wounded in the attack.

As I mentioned in my earlier post, Mr Cruickshank is still alive, and I think he lives in Aberdeen; tomorrow (20th May) will be his 100th birhday and, though I never met the man, I have left myself a diary reminder to drink a toast to him tomorrow. I'd be pleased and honoured if anyone would care to join me (figuratively speaking, of course).

Photo borrowed from The Scotsman
Every possible good wish, John - wherever you are - congratulations, and thanks for your gallant efforts all those years ago!

I found the following movie on Youtube - I'm sorry about the running numbers in the centre of the picture, but I thought it was pretty good - a dramatised documentary from 1943 about Coastal Command, with a musical score by Vaughan Williams, no less. Much use is made of real Coastal Command personnel, so the acting is fairly lumpy, but it's OK - some good shots of a Sunderland in action, and there are Catalinas and other planes later on. Some of the action shots were filmed on actual missions.




Sunday, 17 May 2020

Action on the Coa - 24th July 1810 - Prep

With luck - broadband and domestic problems permitting - we should have our first Zoom-based video-conference wargame at the end of this week - probably Friday. We've chosen a Commands & Colors game, because the gridded table should be easy to work with, a small action, for obvious reasons, we'll use the house's Ramekin activation system in place of the Command Cards, because it simplifies things, the host will be the umpire and will do all the running around.

Sounds fine - as umpire and host, I am packing in the vitamins and the glucose drinks, in preparation.

I have set up the table - my esteemed colleagues will help decide what tweaking we need, then I'll probably put the figures out of the way until Friday. I thought I'd give a preliminary view here of what I've done so far. The scenario is not the one from the C&CN book - though obviously it has historical similarities. The whole thing will look better when the chairs are cleared out of the way and I've tidied up a bit for the (virtual) TV crew. Oh yes - I emphasise that this is a provisional set-up - we may adjust the OOBs and the starting positions before the game.

Battlefield from the southern corner, French to our right in this view.
The French, from their left flank. These are the troops Ney has sent forward to deal with Crawfurd. Loison, the division commander, has the white border; from this end, you see Ferey's brigade, then the 15e Chasseurs à Cheval, then Simon's brigade, then more cavalry. They also have 1 field battery, 1 horse battery and a small unit of élite voltigeurs - the Chasseurs de Siège - hand-picked from the whole of VI Corps.
And here are the Allies, from their right. Crawfurd is on the hill opposite, with the white border to his base, staring in dismay at the baggage train which he somehow has to evacuate over the bridge. From this end, you see Col Beckwith's brigade, Col Barclay's brigade, then George Anson's cavalry and Ross's Troop, RHA. At the far end you can see the south-west corner of the fortress of Almeida - there are some more troops in there.
And now the whole table from the other end - French on the left here (the 3eme Hussards look a bit close to the Rifles and the RHA, so that may be an early tweak). The supporting cavalry just coming onto the field on the road from Vale da Mula are Gardanne's dragoon brigade.
The French from their right - you get the idea...
...and now the Allies from their left - this is more interesting - there are Portuguese guns in the fort, which can fire on the French right wing (just about) - there are also Portuguese infantry in the fortress. We probably won't see them - they can't be fired on if they don't climb up on the walls or the covered way, and (as is only fair) they cannot themselves fire unless they expose themselves in this way. Note that there are some dry-stone enclosures, the remains of old vineyards, we are told, which will be useful for some shelter for the outnumbered Allies.
Here, hiding off the table, are the Portuguese garrison of Almeida - or all of them we get to hear about, anyway. Here you see Colonel Cox, the fortress commander (who is English, of course, though he is in the Portuguese army) with a couple of battalions - the chaps with the white flag are militia. What could go wrong? In fact, attacking the fortress itself would be a remarkably stupid thing to do, so we'll outlaw that, to be on the safe side. I have no idea whose ox-cart that is - that isn't supposed to be there.
Reading about Crawfurd's Big Adventure has been interesting - I consulted a lot of books, and found a lot of very partial reports - he may have been anything from a hero to an idiot. The version I liked best was in Donald Horward's Napoleon and Iberia, which is a great book anyway. Horward makes a lot of reference to the memoirs of Colonel Emmanuel-Frédéric Sprünglin, a Swiss national who was Ney's ADC in Spain. I got quite excited about these memoirs, and investigated getting a copy. Ouch - very expensive.

Crawfurd himself is a mystery man - it's hard to avoid the impression that he behaved rather wildly during this little mini-campaign. He's a difficult man to get a handle on anyway. We understand that Wellington was an admirer of his abilities, and used to defend him against detractors, that Black Bob was a tough disciplinarian, but very highly principled and much loved by his men, yet there is also a strong impression that no-one could stand the blighter. I shall read further, of course - perhaps everyone was jealous?

***** Late Edit - 18th May *****

As of this post - possibly started for part of the last one - Blogger seems to have evolved yet further; previously there were some users for whom I did not receive notification if they left a comment. As from now, it seems I don't get any notifications at all. Not to worry - I just have to keep myself organised and check the pending folders - the other possibility is that I remove the approval check, but I don't fancy that - I still get some very strange stuff from political sites in Bangladesh, Ukrainian porn sites and assorted crap advertising portals worldwide, so I'll keep that step in.

If I miss any comments, or am slow getting to them, please bear with me - and sincere thanks, once again, to anyone who reads my blog!

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Saturday, 16 May 2020

Hooptedoodle #365 - Got to Get Ourselves Back to the Garden

Inspired by Jon's very fine photos, I went out to check on our white lilac, which is coming along nicely.

Syringa vulgaris "Madame Lemoine" - regular as clockwork, but blink and you miss it. Some way to go yet, but if the rain stays off it should be good.
I also observe that we have an unusually good show of blossom on the whitebeam trees, in the wood behind our house. Not very spectacular, to be sure, but pleasing, and I usually manage to fail to notice them altogether. The whitebeam (sorbus aria) is a relative of the rowan tree, and produces red berries which are much prized by our local wood-pigeons; I understand these berries can be eaten by humans as well, but the pink pebbledashing of my car each Autumn by the pigeons rather puts me off the idea.

This, of course, is really a photo to show off our clothes dryer, but in the background you might just make out the whitebeam trees in the wood, swamped by the big sycamores behind, but bravely showing off their blossom. Two years ago they produced a remarkable crop of red berries in September, so maybe we'll get that again.
I enjoyed my afternoon in the sunshine - I must work on that (mental note). I can manage to keep busy during lockdown with no problem at all, but sometimes whole days go past and I hardly notice.

Looks like the Spring is unaware of the problems we are having!

 

Friday, 15 May 2020

Hooptedoodle #364 - R-Nowt


I promised myself that I wouldn't upset anyone by airing my petty little thoughts on the global pandemic - after all, everyone is trying hard, doing their best, and some people are really performing absolute heroics in the public interest. And, of course, we have the top brains in the world concentrating on the problem, and surely we can be confident of the wisdom and the organising abilities of our elected leaders?

You may harbour some concerns about whether the leaders can actually hear the top brains, but I would hesitate to be unconstructive about the state of play.

Since I am starting to believe there is a very good chance that I may not survive this episode of world history, I'm beginning to lose touch with the reasons why I should keep quiet about it, but I shall avoid being rude about anyone in particular. This note is merely the musings of the sad little soul of an old mathematician, and I don't expect anyone to agree with me, nor be concerned about what I have to say - it's OK.

When something bad happens, reaction to it calls upon a lot of things. Some of these things will have needed some kind of investment of funds and effort before the event - preventative stuff. Identifying potential risks, putting in place rules and regulations to minimise the likelihood of a disaster; if we focus loosely on catastrophic building fires, as an obvious example, we might have implemented strict control of design and construction standards, of the safety of materials used, sufficiency of emergency exits and lighting, documented procedures for  using all these - and I mean maintained, tested procedures. We need to ensure that people who are at risk know what they need to do, or at the very least know where to find out quickly. There should be a good level of awareness of how to cope with an emergency, plenty of guidance information, and sufficient investment in rescue services and equipment is essential, obviously. The plans should be as complete as they can be, and should, if possible, be reviewed as part of the normal routine of making changes, and - if at all possible - they should be tested periodically. There's lots of this - far more than I can think of off the top of my head - things that have to be done in advance, just in case, procedures that have to be followed, if it happens, and trained, fully equipped rescuers who will turn up promptly and do the business in the regrettable circumstance of the bad thing happening.

All pretty obvious, really. I believe that in the UK we tend to concentrate on the end of the chain - we pride ourselves on our ability to perform well in an emergency, rather than in our talent for planning in advance to avoid problems happening at all, which is traditionally seen as rather unrewarding and maybe a bit negative. If the disaster comes, we film the heroes from the rescue services in action, we have a victory parade, we award medals, we may have a day of national mourning if we really have to. It's cheaper that way.

(1) it probably won't happen - let's hope not

(2) if it does, we'll make a huge splash about the heroics of the rescuers (quite rightly so, by the way - absolutely right on) - that's better politically and for uniting public support. The Daily Express loves that stuff.

(3) if there's a public enquiry afterwards, with a bit of luck we will no longer be in office to be held accountable or have to stump up with the money, or we may be able to spin it somehow to get off the hook

OK - that's all theory, and there's nothing particularly clever about it. That should be reassuring - we don't know for sure, of course, but we would certainly expect that things will be handled as well as possible by the people in charge.

I follow the daily bulletins in the UK media about the progress of our pandemic lockdown. It's been very harrowing, but thus far the course of action has been pretty much forced by events. We have been reacting - that's the bit we think we are good at. The next bit is going to be scaling the thing back, which will require decisions to get life going again, being careful not to have a new wave of infections as a result. This will take judgement - at which point my confidence in the leaders starts to leak - and, let's face it, we haven't done this before, so there is no manifesto to act out.


Like everyone else, I have to watch all this with as much hope as I can muster. A lot of faith seems now to be pinned on the Reproduction Number - R0, as it is termed, as an indicator. Sometimes, I find, mathematics can be reassuring - if you can measure something you can understand it - maybe even control it - so I spent a little time reading about this. Crudely speaking, as you will certainly know, it is a number which compares the number of new infections in a unit time with the number of people in the population who were already infected during the same interval. If you can get the value to less than unity, then that's good. We're not exactly sure what the consequences of R0 = 1 would be, but they would sure as hell be better than R0 = 10.

OK - it's not quite like this - we are considering rates of change here, so there is some calculus in there, and since we are considering variations in exponential growth functions there are a few natural logarithms too, but the spirit of the thing is that we have to divide one number by another, and try to get as small an answer as possible. This is obviously important, so I am paying attention.

The number on the top of this fraction - the new infections - is it known, then? How accurate is it?

Well, we only started widespread testing some weeks into the pandemic. We know about people who are in hospital, and we now know more about other categories - health workers, some other key workers, we are starting on residents and staff in care homes for the elderly (at this point I know more about the current situation in Scotland rather than the entire UK, but Scotland is normally the same as the rest of the country, maybe a few weeks behind). There are a whole pile of other people of whom we have no record at all:

* people who caught the virus and, as is very common, never knew - showed no symptoms at all, though they might well still be a source of infection to others
* people who became ill, and thought they might have Covid-19, but did not become sufficiently unwell to contact their doctor or go into hospital - they just quietly recovered, and thought they might have had it

The total of these two categories is certainly considerably larger than the people who have tested positive, so we have, at best, a measure of the size of the very small tip of an unknown iceberg.

Righto - what about the divisor, the number on the bottom of the fraction? - do we know how many people were already infected during the study period? Well no - of course we don't - given the tiny coverage provided by general testing, and the lack of understanding of how this virus behaves - how long are affected individuals infectious? - what is the true nature of the immunity which comes from recovery? We don't really know.

There are other details about what statistics we have on people who leave the infected population by either recovering or dying, but that is, once again, going to be a small number compared with people we can't identify and don't count. Let's not fuss about the details - the truth is that R0 is based on a mathematical function involving the comparison of one number we do not really know and another number which we also do not know. I do not find that comforting. We will be able to see if the number of people who die in hospital drops, and we can make some estimates of what has contributed to any change in that, but R0 looks like a dead duck to me, unless we know a whole lot more than we possibly can at present.

Overall, I'd be happier if someone would admit that R0 is no real help to us at the moment, and explain what else we can use. Next time the day's government spokesman makes a big deal about R0 dropping I shall be quietly confident that he is bluffing - there may be some number that he and his colleagues refer to as R0, but I don't believe it is anything which is of any real application to the public at large.

How about the entrails of a goat?