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


Monday, 30 March 2020

WSS - French Books and That

Progress with my Henry Ford-style production of a big refurb batch has been pretty good - never since the golden days of my purchase of Peter Welsh's Napoleonic collection has anything as mind-numbing as this taken place here. All being well, I should have 4 more battalions based and flagged by Wednesday (famous last words).

Before I started this latest batch - two battalions each of Bavarian IR Bettendorf and IR Kurprinz, to be retouched and freshened up. The ultimate Henry Ford touch would be to spray them all black, but I'll try not to do that
Assuming I don't destroy my morale completely in the next few days, the plan would be to do two further, similarly-sized batches, this time Imperialists, over the coming weeks. They may be rather more fiddly, since there are more replacement figures needed, and my research into flags is - how do you say? - doing my head in.

Anyway, all good. Since I will certainly become very peculiar if I paint all day, I am deliberately setting aside non-painting times, so some suitable reading is going on too.

I also have some British troops to refurbish, and I've been dipping a toe into the subject of the French army for the WSS. I have the CS Grant paperbacks on the period, and I've been very kindly sent some copies of uniform plates and old magazine articles, but I thought I should get something just a little heavier, to give me some good background and some reliable detail. My French forces will be starting from zero, so it would be useful to build up a small army for 1703 which can sensibly grow (God willing) into a rather larger army without too much disruption and too many U-turns.



I intend to buy Mark Allen's book, which gets some criticism because it is not The Bible, but it looks very useful anyway. Rene Chartrand is also an obvious source, but I start to get into problems with potential overlap between different publishers (primarily Osprey and Helion), and also there are a lot of books with similar sounding titles.

This is a period for which it is possible to spend money very quickly and find that what you have bought isn't quite what you were looking for. I have obtained titles by Robert Hall and Bruno Mugnai on the Austrian army, but I'm aware that trying to doing anything like this for the French is risky and potentially ruinous. Thus I am starting out at a gentle stroll.

I identified the following as books I could get easily and without huge expense - I'm still dithering about this, so would welcome any comments.

This last title is potentially interesting but, looking at the contents summary, am I to gather that this covers the Line Cavalry etc only up to 1697? Hmmm.

Unless there's a good reason to do otherwise, I might start with a few French units that would be OK at Schellenberg (for example), but could grow into a larger presence. My War of the Spanish Succession is very likely to be almost an imagi-nations set-up, with long-winded and largely imaginary campaigns between Bavaria and Austria to start with. [To quote from the Gallacher Book of Axioms, "If actual history is useful on a particular occasion, then use it, otherwise it's just a luxury (like the sick-bag on an aeroplane journey)".]

Anyway, British and French are a little over the horizon, but could come into sight fairly soon. Thinking and reading about them can't do any harm.

After a late rush of maniacs last weekend, the beach here at the farm has now been closed to the public (well, closed to their cars, which is effectively the same thing), so here's a sort of post-apocalyptic photo - by 9am on Saturday, the only footprints are mine.


Look after yourselves - please keep well. I'm also intrigued by the reported huge demand for dried chick-peas - is this recommended stuff for the fallout shelter? Any good recipes will be welcome.

Thursday, 26 March 2020

WSS - I Ain't Got Nothing but the Blues

Today I have started on the re-furbing of a big batch of Bavarian infantry - this one is four battalions. Yes, matron, you are right - I must be crazy, but it is only a heavy touch-up job, and I have a few days to get it done.

One slight complication I have here is that Eric painted the Regiment Kurprinz (2 bns of this) with black facings - I wish to have the facings light blue, as per the regs, so I must overpaint the cuffs and coat turnovers. This sounds simple enough - first issue is that whatever I do is going to be a compromise, since the coats of the chaps in the regiment are painted in slightly differing shades of blue - I'm not worried about this, since I can always claim that the uniforms would vary, not to mention fade, and I'm sure those big fancy cuffs weren't made of the same material as the main bit of the coat. OK - good, that's Bluff #1. The next challenge is to choose a decent shade of blue to do the job. It doesn't have to perfect, but should not be ridiculous - if I can't find a suitable shade for the cuffs, one of the alternatives might be to paint the coats as well, which doesn't strike me as an attractive idea.

Illustration borrowed from WSS Bavarians blog, which, in turn, borrowed it from Anton Hoffman's book
Next slight problem is that my colour vision has never been such that I would bet the farm on it, so I decided to involve the Contesse in the decision making.

I find that I have 22 different shades of blue, and that's without getting to the enamels and the model railway colours. A great many could be rejected out of hand, since they were obviously too dark - some others had congealed, of course, which is always a risk. I roughed out a short list, and painted some blotches on clean white photographic paper. Since I rather enjoyed painting the big blue blobs, I have included a scan of the sample sheet.


You would think that Foundry's Bavarian Cornflower Blue would be a good shout, and that is what I've used for my Napoleonic Bavarians, but in the early 1700s it seems that the uniform colour was much paler. I'm delighted to announce that the Contesse and I - independently! - both chose Coat d'Arms #206 Light Blue, which should be close enough - so that's something I don't need to worry about any further. Mission accomplished.

*************

To restate the theme of this post, here's the excellent Robben Ford, when he was much younger than he is today, playing live on Italian TV, a very slow version of his interpretation of Mose Allison's arrangement of Duke Ellington's classic song (are you following this?), I Ain't Got Nothing but the Blues. You may not like his ponytail, but I think it's hard to find fault with the music.


Take that.

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

WSS - Another Two Battalions Ready

Maffei at the front, Luetzelburg at the rear. All ready to be hidden away in the boxes. I've smartened them up a bit, but these are still identifiable as from the original 1970s army, which is what I intended, so I'm pleased with that! 
I finished off the Bavarian battalions I was working on - this morning I painted the bases, fitted the magnetic sheet, added the flags. The boys are now safely away in their box. Good. Next up could be another two Bavarian units of foot, or I could knuckle down to scraping the flock off the Austrians who are in the foot-bath. What I'll do, I think, is tidy up a bit, have a coffee and do a little reading - I have Mark Allen's old magazine articles about the French army of the WSS - I have no idea when or where they were published, but they are a very good source for a novice like me.

I was going to arrange a group photo of all the Bavarians I have ready for action, but decided against it - I'll get to that another time - the gaps still irritate me! For a while I was sorting out the boxes, crawling around on the attic floor in a way that I would have found extremely natural when I was eleven or thereabout - the knees must be in better shape than I thought!

When I do the Bavarian group picture, maybe the attic floor would be a good setting - shades of HG Wells, too.

For the Bavarians, I have now completed the following:

IR D'Octfort
IR Tattenbach
Leibregt (2 Bns)
IR Spilberg
IR Haxthausen (2 Bns)
IR Maffei
IR Luetzelburg
Monasterol Dragoons
Arco Cuirassiers
Weichel Cuirassiers
4 guns & crews

I have to complete refurbishment of:

IR Kurprinz (2 Bns)
IR Bettendorf (2 Bns)
Garde Karabinere
Santini Dragoons

And I have yet to start:

Leibregt Grenadier Bn
Boismorel Grenadiers
All the General Staff

 Set out like that, somehow it looks like progress is being made!

I think I have made something of a decision this morning - I may change my mind, of course! While sorting through the various units in the WSS boxes, I got confused a couple of times by the fact that the Bavarian and Austrian cavalry look very similar. The units are all fitted with 5mm dice frames, to carry status scores in my new rules. They have white dice fitted at present, but I also have red and blue mini-dice of the same size, so I think I'll issue the Bavarians with blue dice, to avoid any embarrassing mistakes! Stryker can tell you about such mistakes.



Sunday, 22 March 2020

WSS - A Trickle of Bavarians

Up early this morning - I went for a walk down to the beach, when it would be quiet, I reckoned. Quiet? - deserted is more like it. Haven't seen the place as quiet as this since the Foot & Mouth epidemic of 2001, when the farm was closed to the public.

The farm company have fixed the road up from the beach, past the old ruin of Adam Otterburn's Auldhame Tower - peaceful up there


I made good progress yesterday with finishing some odds and ends for the WSS project (a gun that never got varnished, a few colonels who have now been painted and can join their regiments - stuff like that), then I put about 8 battalions-worth of Austrian Foot into (appropriately) the foot-bath, to soak off the old bases and clean them up, and set to work to refurbish 2 more of the Bavarian battalions. Nothing arduous, just gently working away at them, drinking plenty of coffee and water and listening to Dominic Miller. The Austrians can chill out for a couple days.

These old troops are Les Higgins figures, from Eric Knowles' old collection - they will not take a huge amount of work to get ready to fight, but there are a lot of them, and refurbishment is always subject to creeping scope, as I have discussed many times before - when you start with the brushes, you suddenly decide that there's more to do than you planned for. Eric's WSS Bavarians were in pretty good shape, considering they must have been painted in the 1970s. My work, apart from freshening the paint, is to change the organisation (I use rather smaller units, apply nice, toy-soldier gloss varnish and rebase). Eric's army shows obvious evidence of having used CS Grant's From Pike to Shot as his prime source, and he has faithfully reproduced the odd howler and spelling mistake! Many of the glitches in CSG's book look like transcription errors - someone in the reference chain misread someone else's handwriting, or (as I do) had problems with German print.

Eric's Austrians are a bit further from what I have in mind for them, since he appears to have aimed at a sort of middle-ground army that would sort of fit the WAS, and the uniforms are a bit wild in places. All shaping up - I have a plan! In the short term, the clock will be frozen at 1703-4, and Bavaria and the Empire will fight an extended and little-known campaign against each other. With luck, some Dutch, British and French troops should join them in due course.

Maffei at the far end (with the yellow ochre regimentals) and Lutzelburg at this end (dark red). Now then - do I really need to freshen up the white trim round the hats? I guess I'd better, eh?
Yesterday's Bavarians were a single battalion each for the regiments Maffei and Lutzelburg - I am always intrigued by the Maffei name - it is often mistakenly written as Mappei, or various other variants. It doesn't look like a German name, and I wondered how it should be pronounced. I did a bit of Googling, and it turns out that the regiment was founded by General Alessandro Scipione, Marchese de Maffei, who was a native of Verona, though a commander in the Bavarian army. So it's not a German name (which I guess would be pronounced "maff-eye", with the accent on the first syllable) but an Italian name (which, again, I guess would be pronounced as "maff-ay-ee" with the accent on the second of three implied syllables). Lord knows what his soldiers called him. What is really rather odd is that the family was originally German, and Maffei was an Italianisation of the German Matthaeus. This is a recurrent theme in Bavarian military history, I think - I was surprised how many of the Bavarian generals and regimental colonels in Napoleonic times were from Italian families.

In the unlikely event that you might wish to check out the Marchese, you will find that his presence on the Internet is pretty much swamped by his brother Francesco Scipione, who was a famous scholar, writer and art-critic.

That's quite enough about that. Here's a bit of Dominic Miller - an echo of my painting session yesterday.


 

Friday, 20 March 2020

Preparations for the Lock Down

We await further announcements and restrictions at any moment - at present there is a feeling of "Phoney War" here, which in itself is ominous. This is a very rural area, and things are pretty much unaffected so far, apart from the pubs and the cafes being shut down, and the schools. There is a great shortage of groceries, of course, and I am now not allowed to visit my mother in the local care home.

So far this week I have cancelled a visit to the dental hygienist and the chiropractor, but I did go for what could be my last ever haircut!

Since I am an old chap, and my youngest son is still at school (until tonight, I think - he attends a school across the border, in Northumberland, otherwise he would already have been at home for a week), I am required to self-isolate. Interesting - we are not yet under full plague conditions, but it seems only a matter of time until such isolation will be a matter of legislation. Whatever, we decided we should have a go at this - at worst I should develop a few good habits, and see what it involves. I have moved into the attic here at Chateau Foy - there is a decent bedroom, and another room, officially titled the Dressing Room, which will serve me as a working and reading area - I have now installed a proper writing desk up there, for working and soldier-painting. I may have a lot of time on my hands, so I'll shift my activities upstairs as far as possible - let's see how this develops.



The desk is not much of a beauty, but it's solid, has a good working surface and plenty of storage for my paints and knick-knacks. It's carved oak, and I understand it dates from the 1930s.

Last night I watched one of my French DVDs up here - I've seen it before, but it's a goody. L'Homme du Train, starring Jean Rochefort and Johnny Hallyday. The film is supposed to be wryly comedic, I think, but its dominant theme seems to be failure, and the complicated pointlessness of life in general. Recommended for all that. One thing that seemed very odd - and it shows what a deep impression the COVID-19 publicity has made - was all the embracing and hand-shaking that goes on in the film - I kept thinking, "That's not a very good idea...", and then I would give myself a gentle slap (having washed my hands first, of course).


Anyway, I enjoyed it - thought-provoking.

I've received my WSS mounted colonels back from a re-paint after the varnish went horribly wrong last time, and they look very good, so I'll get them finished off and they can join their regiments - that will give me a first painting task for the new station up here in the roof!

A strange time. An exchange of emails with a friend produced some dark thoughts, wondering which of our friends and contemporaries might not make it through what is to come, but I prefer not to dwell on that. Things in the cities must be far worse, of course. Unusually, two apparent suicides near here yesterday - someone walked under a train at Prestonpans, and an Edinburgh restaurateur has gone missing - he may have jumped off the cliffs into the sea here - the Police are looking for him. That does bring it home - a lot of people must be in a desperate situation.

I can only wish everyone all the best, and hope that the situation becomes clearer. One thing I really don't know, for example, is how long it takes for an unknown package to cease being potentially infectious. I read somewhere that the virus in water droplets will only live for 12 hours without a new host, but I have no idea whether that is true. My parcel of WSS officers arrived this morning - I had a feeling I should leave it for a day before I opened it - in the end I opened it and washed my hands thoroughly, binning the packaging.

That's the sort of thing that would be helpful to know. If we don't get official information, the dreaded social media will come up with something more exciting - recent scares about the potentially lethal hazards of ibuprofen were fake news, apparently. There's a good opportunity for people to behave sensibly for a change - that would be useful.




Sunday, 15 March 2020

Sieges: The Doofer and the Scale Paradox

It would be fatuous - probably even very irritating - to come up with some kind of useful personal spin-off from the current corona-virus situation, but it is a fact that, since quite a lot of things that I had planned to do are not going to be possible, then I am going to be forced to do something else instead. In the interests of preserving the tiny, ragged edges of what is left of my sanity I have an enforced opportunity to revisit things which have been shelved or passed over, and there will be any amount of time (if, of course, I am spared) to think about stuff.

Therefore it cannot be a complete coincidence that today's post returns to what used to be a tradition on this blog a few years ago - I shall begin with a lengthy digression. I, at least, will probably enjoy it, and it serves a useful secondary purpose in filtering out any unfortunate readers who arrived here by accident, and who are beginning to see what a huge mistake that was.


I always assumed that "a doofer" was just a saying used in my own family. My grandmother (the one from Preston) used the phrase to refer to any object whose real name she had forgotten, or simply didn't know. There was also a faint edge of intolerance in there - in my grandmother's world, which mostly was built around Dickens, Mozart, cats and Rich Tea biscuits, anything which had overtones of technology was an overhead - the sort of thing that some (common) technical person would know about. Thus, though the thing itself might be useful, the idea of actually understanding it was well beneath contempt. She had a doofer with which she lit the gas stove, and doofers which secured the stair carpet. Her life was filled with them.

Stove-lighting Doofer



Stair-carpet Doofers

Her brother, Alf, worked for many years in the tram (later bus) workshops at Edge Lane, Liverpool, and he also spoke of doofers. Originally, I believe, the term may come from the army - possibly WW1 - to describe something which was improvised, or fixed, or botched, and which would "do for now". [I checked my etymological dictionary, since that is the sort of thing for which I now have more time, and I see that the likely origins of doofer are pretty much as I thought, though the date is felt to be 1930s. That would surprise me if it were true, since Great Uncle Alf would never have adopted any phrase which appeared as late as the 1930s. Yes, this was a digression within a digression - we have nested digressions].


Gradually this evolved into a general term for something whose proper name you didn't know, and I am surprised at how widespread this became. It is bound to be out of fashion now, of course, but I recall that as my grandmother became older and more dotty there were more and more doofers around the place. In more recent years, my mother started calling almost everything "the thing-io"; it is a great comfort to be able to forget the real names of everyday objects - I can see this.

What were we talking about, again?

Oh yes - doofers. Well, you will be excited to read that I have taken delivery of a new doofer - it arrived on Saturday. I have been waiting for this doofer for nearly two years, and to be more accurate it is a prototype doofer.

Some time ago I commissioned the manufacture of some rather similar doofers for my medieval/ECW sieges. They worked well - they were, to be specific about it, firing platforms which could be stood behind fortress walls, to give standing room for guns or bodies of musketeers. I got my friend Michael at SLD to design and laser-cut them from MDF, enhanced a little with masonry-style engraving, and I made them up and painted and matt-varnished them, and they were good. They were doofers to help with problems arising from the eternal Scale Paradox in tabletop wargames (which, for reasons which I shall attempt to explain, reach their zenith in the arcane world of miniature sieges). At the time, I was also very surprised at the amount of criticism they generated.

Doofer to facilitate sieges on Medieval Walls - shades of "2001: Space Odyssey"?
And in action - a bit crude, but effective
The problem is, you see, that if you had attended a real medieval or Renaissance siege with your digital camera handy, you would not have seen any of my doofers in action. They are not part of the model-railway-style facsimile of a real siege, and quite a few readers reacted badly to this. I called them "gun platforms" or sometimes "buttresses", but really they were just add-on doofers to solve a problem arising from the Scale Paradox.

Before I get buried even further in this effort, let me insert a spoiler here, to explain that the new doofer I have received is a prototype of the same sort of device, but designed to work with Vauban-period walls. After adding the first-generation doofers to my ECW sieges, I realised that progress with my 18th-19th Century sieges would require the Mark II Siege Doofer. The walkways behind the parapets on my model Vauban walls are only 30mm wide, which is not nearly enough to mount a gun up there, without some form of extra support. I shall, I promise, come back to this after I have burbled on about the Scale Paradox for a bit. If you are still with me, you have my heartfelt admiration and gratitude.

My games usually take place on a hex-gridded table, which I have found helps greatly and keeps things simple. There is still an implied groundscale - my hexes are 7 inches across the flats, which is near enough 180mm. My default horizontal scale is (approx) 1mm = 1 yard/metre. This obviously varies for big battles scaled down, but that default is (approx) 200 paces = 1 hex, which is a useful round number.

I use 20mm or 1/72 scale soldiers, and for infantry and cavalry I use an age-old ratio of 3 figures = 100 men, so that my battalions normally have about 2 dozen men. The basing is designed to give frontages compatible with the 1/1000 groundscale, and it also tries to make the spacing of the miniature soldiers look about right for the kind of troops and the kind of warfare they represent. [Though please try to remember, Claude, that this is not the same as visual "realism" - a 24-man battalion is not at all realistic, however much the photos out of Charles Grant and Don Featherstone have come to shape our understanding].

Just to be awkward - another personal compromise - I have yet another scale on the go at the same time. My buildings are usually 15mm scale, which is about 1/100 - this is similar to the old TT model railway scale. The underscale buildings have a few advantages - they are cheaper, they have a smaller footprint, and they can be grouped into what seem to me to be more convincing villages. You can also, with time, get used to the look of the thing - the fact that a soldier would get stuck in the door of the church is a relatively unimportant matter when you are fighting Leipzig. I work on the assumption that a smallish village is marked by a representative cluster of slightly undersized houses - they are usually placed around the edges of a hex, so that a unit may be placed among them, and the houses themselves can be shunted about as necessary to make room for what is going on - the individual model buildings do not represent real individual buildings, and you can't take roofs off or put people inside. In the games I play, that is not necessary or useful. The important things about a village are its outline (and in a hex-based game that is an obvious concept, though non-hex players will still have a requirement to define the edges of the built-up area) and who is in it.

Anyway, you get the idea. On occasions I may choose to use 20mm-scale walls and hedges for my soldiers to stand behind, just for the look of the thing, but by and large this odd mish-mash of scales is now tried and tested and works well. Let's remind ourselves, that's

* 1/1000 horizontal scale, for ranges, moves, frontages, table layout.
* 1/72 (visual) vertical scale for the model soldiers - which is a given.
* 1/100  vertical scale for the buildings - which is simply a convenient compromise.

Now then. When we consider sieges this suddenly becomes more of a problem. The layout of a fort is not just a matter of appearance or convention - the lengths of the walls, the positioning and dimensions of the bastions and so on are set by rules which relate to the effective range of a musket (or whatever), and a representative model is no longer going to be fit for purpose unless it has about the right footprint. We now bump our noses quite firmly against the "look of the thing" problem - we can use 15mm buildings if we wish, but the big issue here is the Scale Paradox - our toy soldiers live in a world where a man is about 22mm tall, but the distances and the ground plan require a world where 1mm is 1 metre (or 2mm = 1 toise, if you insist). There - did you feel that bump on your nose? That's because the groundscale is one tenth of the visual scale. It always was, but it just became a problem.

For reasons which I really don't understand - I can only assume that the model designers had been through all this same reasoning before - the old Terrain Warehouse 15mm Vauban pieces that I use look OK with the soldiers, but the footprint of the various bits also makes sense in the groundscale I use. So it works in both senses (though obviously this must be a pretty silly-looking fort from the point of view of proportions, but it is silly in the same way as the soldiers themselves, so maybe that's what matters).

I've now reminded myself (again) that I don't really understand why this works, but it does. Further, it may not actually work at all - it might just be that I think it does. There you go - full circle - you set your games up to suit you, and I'll suit myself. That's probably where we came in. Before I finally put this note out of its misery, here's some photos of the new doofer. Since I am pleased that it is what I designed, that it works and is what I wanted, I shall get Michael to make me some more, and I'll make them up and store them away in the Sieges boxes. 

The new prototype Mk II Siege Doofer - assembled, painted and varnished
In position on the Terrain Warehouse 15mm scale Vauban wall

And here demonstrating how some big French guns may be deployed





Thursday, 12 March 2020

Hooptedoodle #357a - The Third World (contd)

Maybe this is a more general problem - here's the trailer for another of my very favourite films (if you've never seen this, I recommend it) - a French postal worker is traumatised by learning that he is to be transferred to Le Nord....


This movie, by the way, is the biggest laugh ever...