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


Thursday, 31 October 2013

Solo Campaign - Weeks 35 & 36

Dragging a gun to France - and you'd better not scratch it
Week 35

Random Events and Strategic Notes
King Joseph, at Burgos, has received a long letter with radical new orders from Minister of War Clarke, which confirm that the Emperor wishes to withdraw many of the troops from Spain to bolster his depleted forces in Russia and provide a veteran cadre for a new army on the Rhine to defend against an expected offensive from Prussia and (probably) Austria. Joseph himself is to prepare to end his time as King of Spain, and is to return to Paris immediately, to take up new and important duties which will better serve the interests of the Empire.

More details will follow about how power is to be handed over (there is a rumour that Marshal Soult may be appointed Viceroy on an interim basis). The original instruction was that Marshal Jourdan should assume overall military command in Northern Spain, but Joseph has been granted his request that Jourdan should go with him to Paris as his Chief of Staff. Thus Marmont will take over as head of a consolidated Army of the Pyrenees, with its headquarters initially at Vitoria. This new army will be reduced by the immediate return to Bayonne of the following formations:
  • General Bonet’s French division, from Galicia and the coastal forts
  • All remaining troops of the Confederation of the Rhine and the former Vistula Legion
  • All troops of the Kingdom of Italy
  • All Garde Nationale units in garrison in Spain

Spanish line units in the French service and the King’s Guard will remain with Marmont, but these detachments will reduce Marmont’s total force by some 40,000 men.

All civil governors in the area are to pack up their operations, destroying anything that they do not wish to leave behind. Until Marshal Soult publishes details of new arrangements for the government of Spain, the army has complete authority in the northern theatre. It is important that units returning to France should be over the Pyrenees by November, so all such units should be on the march by the end of September. All artillery and other military materiel is to be preserved and returned to Bayonne in good order – anything else (especially officers’ baggage) will not be allowed to utilise draught animals or wagons, and must not slow down the march. Officers may take with them only what they can carry themselves. Any lack of discipline or inappropriate looting to be treated with considerable severity.

News of this development has reached Tarleton, at Salamanca, very speedily but in a rather confused form, thus the Allies are trying to clarify what is happening. All orders are directed to scouting this week, and spies and information sources are working hard to gain more details.

Housekeeping
The 3D3 activation throws give the Allies 5 and the French 8. The French choose to move first.

Moves

French (8 allowed)
1 – K (Jourdan/Joseph, at Aranda) detaches all German and Italian troops, and they are to march for Bayonne within the week – all troops marching to France are removed from the army returns
2 – K – Jourdan & King Joseph also set out for Paris – command of Force K is assumed by General Maupoint, who is left with only a single brigade of French cavalry
3 – A (Gautier, with a brigade of Bonet’s Divn at Santander) to set off for Bayonne – removed from returns
4 – B (Col Bouthmy, at Oviedo) similarly
5 – E (Abbe, at Zaragoza) to detach 4e Vistule, who will march for Bayonne
6 – Clauzel (at Valladolid) to return his Confederation, Italian and Vistula units to Bayonne
7 – L, P, Q, R & S (Garde Nationale garrisons at San Sebastian, Burgos, Jaca, Tudela and Pamplona) to march for Bayonne
8 – K (Maupoint, with the cavalry which was attached to the Army of the Centre) to march from Aranda to Burgos
 [Intelligence step –
  • No new information.]
 Allies (5 allowed)
1 – A (Aigburth, at Salamanca) to scout into Valladolid
2 – B (Graham, at Zamora) to scout into Leon
3 – Sp E (Mira, with irregulars at Madrid) to scout northwards into Aranda
4 – Sp B (Giron, at Madrid) to rest to allow the remains of the Third Army to recover
 [Intelligence step -
  • Many communications intercepted – much of information is conflicting, but obvious that big changes taking place
  • Mira, at Madrid, reports that Jourdan’s Army of the Centre has abandoned Aranda, and the roads are littered with rubbish and documents.]
Supplies and Demoralisation
Strictly, the French no longer occupy Pamplona, which – since it is a “brown” area – means that it can fall into Spanish hands and thus break the French supply route. Since the road is solid with French troops marching to Bayonne, the fortress at Pamplona will be assumed to be French held for a period of 3 weeks without the tedium of plotting the progress of each force headed for Bayonne.

Proper army returns will be resumed next week, once the French have worked out what they have left.

Contacts
None.


Blow this for a game of soldiers
Week 36

Random Events and Strategic Notes
Nothing new since the bombshell of last week. Marmont is forced to protect his supply roads, and is planning to withdraw further towards the French border. There is chaos at Burgos, as gendarmes attempt to keep the soldiers away from Joseph’s abandoned baggage train – a great deal of Joseph’s treasure trove has disappeared into the knapsacks of the army. Thiebault, military governor of the fortress at Burgos, has made brave efforts with the authority and men available to him, but there are major problems in maintaining any kind of discipline in this area.

Joseph and his immediate entourage are gone – moved on to another chapter of history. Soult has not communicated with his northern colleagues…

Housekeeping
The 3D3 activation throws give the Allies 5 and the French 5. Since they had the initiative last week, the French again opt to move first.

Moves
French (5 allowed) 
1 – F (Barbot, with garrison of Bilbao) march to San Sebastian
2 – E (Abbé, with garrison of Zaragoza) march to Tudela
3 – I (Clauzel) marches from Valladolid to Burgos…
4 – … where he absorbs K (Maupoint’s cavalry)
5 – N (Marmont) marches from Leon to Sahagun
[Intelligence step –
  • No scouting orders, no new information.]
 Allies (5 allowed)
1 – Sp E (Mira, with irregulars from Junta de Castilla) marches from Madrid to Aranda
2 – A (Aigburth) advances from Salamanca to Valladolid
3 – B (Graham) advances from Zamora to Leon
4 – Work commences on setting up a new British supply depot at the port of Oviedo
5 – B (Graham, now at Leon) to scout towards Sahagun
[Intelligence step -
  • Mira and Graham both find plentiful evidence of the French retreat
  • Surprisingly small number of stragglers taken – French soldiers keen to avoid falling into the hands of Spanish irregulars or civilian population]
Supplies and Demoralisation
The French now have a secure supply route from Bayonne, through San Sebastian to Vitoria, and thence to Sahagun and Burgos. All units in all armies are in supply.

Contacts

None.



Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Solo Campaign – A New Role for Joseph Bonaparte


With all due credit to a number of excellent and imaginative ideas received (thank you, John, Francis, Louis and others), I think I have a plan…



Joseph, with grateful thanks from the French nation for his valiant work in successfully removing the Spanish threat from our borders and furthering the glory of the Empire, is to be appointed King of the new state of Germania, an important and challenging new role which he will carry out with the energy and humanity with which [… and blah blah blah].

Germania will contain a number of regions, some of which will retain their current, traditional rulers, all now to be subjects of the King. Since details are not complete we do not yet have a map, but a view of the current version of the Rheinbund is included here, for reference.


The new Kingdom will stretch from the River Ems in the west to Vorpommern in the east, bordered by Schleswig-Holstein in the north and Westfalia to the south, and will contain the following territories:
  • The recently-created French Departments of Bouches du Weser, Bouches de l'Elbe, Ems Oriental and Ems Superieur (formerly Lower Saxony, Bremen, Oldenburg, Hamburg)
  • The duchies of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and Mecklenburg-Schwerin.
  • The grand-duchy of Stralsund-Rügen (formerly Swedish Pommerania) 

Politically and strategically, this will:
  • Put more direct French control over the weaker (and less committed) Confederation states adjacent to Prussia.
  • Give back a German identity to areas which were included in the expanded French nation in 1810 – an event which has caused simmering resentment ever since.
  • Pre-empt independent efforts to divide the allegiances of the Confederation states by a growing pan-Germanic movement promoted by Austria, championed by German academics and – as ever – sponsored by the accursed British.

Germania will be a key member of a new, stronger, redrafted Confederation, though whether it will absorb the armies of its constituent regions into a unified army is uncertain. The capital will probably be Hamburg.

And that’s really all we need to say about that for the moment, other than to note that Joseph will now disappear from the solo campaign, taking Jourdan with him as his military Chief of Staff. Perhaps he will return to my table some time in campaigns associated with a Prusso-Swedish invasion of Vorpommern, or a French move to absorb Holstein – I’ll need someone to provide some new armies if it happens…


Now I need to get on with re-organising the French army in Spain – what’s left of it – and arrange for someone to take all Joseph’s empty bottles to the dump.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Löttorp


Pardon?

Those familiar with Swedish geography will know that this is a place in Borgholm, while IKEA regulars may know that it is also the name of a very small, simple digital clock, suitable for kitchens, kids’ bedrooms or for use as a travel alarm.

We bought one – I think it might have been about £3 – and then we left it in its box for a while, we were so underwhelmed by the thing. Eventually, in a slack moment, I unpacked it, put in a battery and checked it out.

Useful, inexpensive little gizmo for my wargames
Hey! – what a find. As it happens, I have occasional need of a timer for Commands & Colors games, not because I wish to introduce an element of stress into them but because one of the great attractions of C&C is that it can be relied upon to finish in a couple of hours, but I have one or two occasional visiting players who like to have a lengthy think while they work out how to play their cards, and sometimes the games become overlong and lose a little as a result – rapid play is one of the strengths of the C&C system, after all. It has occurred to me that setting a gentle time limit for choosing and playing a Command Card – maybe 3 minutes – would keep us all focused and keep things moving along without hassling anyone.

So for this reason I’ve been keeping an eye open for secondhand chess clocks – haven’t found one, and to be honest I don’t think a chess clock is what is needed – too formal, and too fiddly.

Well, the little IKEA clock solves the problem very nicely. It is a cunning design – as you rotate it and sit it on the different sides, it switches to 4 separate functions – clock, thermometer, alarm clock and countdown timer (putting the hourglass symbol at the top switches in the timer). The way this works is ideal. If you set the countdown timer to your regulation 3 minutes (or whatever), then every time you turn the device so that the hourglass is uppermost it starts to countdown from the 3 minutes. If you invert it, it switches back to the clock function, and next time you turn it over to the hourglass the timer will start counting down from the full 3 minutes again. Magic – it’s simple, non-threatening and no sort of extra hassle to use – when you’ve played your card, turn the clock over. Easy.

You can even keep an eye on the temperature in the wargames room. What more could you want?

I hasten to add that I am sure that similar devices can be bought (I am not a complete IKEA enthusiast) from other stores, but this one is a little winner – great. Ours is green, by the way, but – as you see – you can get any colour you want. 

Solo Campaign – Strategy Time-Out




When I started the campaign, and the kick-off date appears to have been 24th January last year, I hoped to play it through a single game year, ending around November 1812. I didn’t expect to keep up with the 200-years-ahead time schedule, so never seriously adopted that as an approach (though it would have been nice). I tried to avoid committing myself to anything which I was unlikely to be able to keep going. The game has slipped, of course, and the rules have sometimes caused me less delight than I had hoped, but I have kept at it (with gaps) and am very pleased that it has gone as well as it has. The delays were partly due to a couple of major family problems this year and partly (of course) self inflicted – viz. the accumulation of a pair of English Civil War armies from scratch during the same period.

I have no regrets – in truth it has gone far better than it might have, but recent developments in the game have left me with cause to ponder carefully what happens next. The Allied side are now in a strong position – the French have abandoned Madrid, have taken but then lost Ciudad Rodrigo and have almost been pushed out of Castile, but any further progress towards the Pyrenees looks unlikely. The possibility of the Spanish army cutting north behind Burgos and cutting the French supply routes has been removed with the disaster at Vinuesa, and, with about 6 weeks left before the Winter weather returns – which affects both the roads and the ability of any force of greater than divisional size to move away from the established wagon train routes – I have something of an impasse.

One of my clearest objectives in the time that is left (for the campaign – not for me!) is not to mess it up by doing something silly – fun though that might be. The Allied position, with large armies in Zamora and Salamanca, is solid enough. If they optimize the supply arragements from Porto and Lisbon, and if they get provisions from the Spanish, then the Earl of Aigburth can probably just about set up his winter quarters now, in mid-September, without retiring to Portugal. His position could be turned by a French army coming round from Galicia into Northern Portugal, but such an army would be isolated and almost certainly doomed.

The French have three fair-sized armies at Leon (Marmont), Valladolid (Clauzel) and Aranda (Jourdan), and the area between this line (roughly the Duero River) and the French border is stiff with a lattice-work of fortresses held by second line troops. With the (temporary?) removal of the Spanish threat, it appears that the French are best placed to make the next step – if there is to be one.

That’s the issue – the next step. My rules include a series of external random influences which can crop up as the result of one of the weekly dice checks, or they can also crop up if I think things are flagging a bit – this can also be termed “cheating”, but why else would one run a solo campaign? These influences have worked well, without too much unseemly scripting – Joseph’s dithering between his instructions to take a more aggressive stance and his fear for his capital at Madrid, for example, has had the French marching back and forwards a few times, and resulted in the main field army now being split into three, rather than two.

So I decided that I would write down a number of options which the French might go for, attach rough probabilities to them, keeping in view some recent external directives such as the need to preserve the armies in case they are needed for Russia, and stage some Great Ritual Dice Roll.

Appropriately formal proceedings
I am not so comfortable with the idea of a GRDR, to be honest. It could result in a quick and undignified ending to something that has occupied part of my brain for the last 20 months – something which I would hope to read the notes for, years from now, without embarrassment and with fond memories. The other bit of GRDRs which doesn’t seem right is the ease with which one can choose to reject an unpopular result and declare another roll – OK, OK - this next one is definitely it…

So I took it all seriously – no messing about. I wrote out a list of possibilities for the French, which included fairly dull options such as settling down for the Winter immediately, some pretty crazy ones such as sending Marmont in a loop into Portugal to turn the Allied left, some gallant-but-foolhardy ones such as collecting the armies into bigger lumps, ignoring the exposure of the supply routes, and attacking one of the Allied armies opposing them (that would be exciting, but I can’t see why the French would do that, so it got a lowish probability), and some extreme ones like a complete withdrawal from Spain – give the thing up as a bad job. There were all sorts of mix-and-match compromises on the list as well. Once the list and the odds were finalized, I got out one of the posh dice trays, poured myself a celebratory brandy (not sure how that fits in, but it seemed to add to the formality), decided against dressing for the occasion and got on with it.

If you’re still reading this ramble, you’re probably wondering why I have taken so long to come to the point. What unspeakable cataclysm has befallen the campaign? If I’m embarrassed about it, why didn’t I just quietly re-roll and cheat in the time-honoured manner?

All right – I’ve camped this up and apologized for it too much already. It is not good news.

The orders will be cloaked in Napoleon-speak when they come, but Joseph has been advised that a strategic withdrawal from Spain is ultimately inevitable. The place has turned out to be more trouble than it is worth anyway, but the thing that clinches it is that events in Russia are going much worse than they did in actual history. As a first stage, a proportion of the troops are to pack up their stuff and start marching for Bayonne as soon as possible – if they start now they should make it over the Pyrenees before the end of November. The troops to be withdrawn are:
  1. Bonet’s French division (which is mainly deployed in the coastal fortress towns on the Bay of Biscay)
  2. All the Italians
  3. All the contingents of the Confederation of the Rhine (and there are a lot of them)
  4. The remaining troops from the Vistula Legion
  5. All Garde Nationale units in garrisons (who are destined to be converted to regulars)

Nassauers - going home soon? - well, not exactly...
This has the immediate effect of reducing the total French force in Northern Spain from about 81000 to about 41000 – which is pretty much a cataclysm, right enough. In particular, Jourdan’s Armée du Centre is left with no infantry at all, so at the very least a major reshuffle will be required. It is difficult to see how the general withdrawal can be delayed much after that.

There you are – I’ve done it. I’ve even drunk the brandy, so I can’t just re-roll the dice now. There will be appropriate formal announcements in the normal campaign reports shortly, once Minister of War Clarke has thought how to break the news to the Marshals – a major challenge for the Imperial spin doctors.

I guess this means that the Allies are going to win after all. I haven’t felt much euphoria yet myself, but Wellington will be as sick as a parrot.

Wellington?

Late edit: I would welcome suggestions as to what job King Joseph can be offered next, to present this in a good light, to preserve the dignity of the Imperial family and to offer the poor beggar a little consolation. He has already been forced to give up a rather idyllic career as King of Naples to take this Spanish gig, so his feelings are not to be ignored - though it will be OK if he takes a little blame. It doesn't seem likely that the job of Tsar of Russia is likely to be an available opening, but something of that sort of stature would be good...