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

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Sieges: A Small Matter of Supplies (and Mining, Just a Bit)

I’m pleased to say that my elderly mother is now safely moved to a care home, which is the best outcome all round – it has been a very difficult and distressing time. Also, we have now sold her house, which was quicker and far easier than it might have been, so, with a bit of luck, my life should be returning to something a bit nearer a state of normality in the next few weeks.

Without  wishing to jump the gun, I thought it would be good to plan a celebratory wargame – a proper, social wargame – for the first time in ages. And it also seemed like an opportunity to try out the siege game again, after my brief but unsustained spell of progress in April. When I come to think about it, though, there is a bit of a problem. It’s all very well running a solo siege, correcting (frequently inventing) rules as I go along, and glossing over the incomplete bits (such as supply – and then there’s mining…), but playing this as an actual game with real people requires a rather more polished show. Thus I am proposing to get the rules typed up in a sensible form (sort of), and fill in the more obvious holes in the game. If some motivational soul ever points out to me that a problem is really an opportunity, my instinct is normally to give them the opportunity of removing my cup of coffee from their shirt front, but it does seem a good idea to embrace this excuse for getting the rules written up. Yes – all right – before I forget them again – quite so. Thank you.

Let’s deal with mining very quickly, and I’ll return to it in some future post. In about 2010, Clive S came up here to help out with some siege testing, and it was pretty good fun, but one thing that was clearly wrong was the effectiveness of mining. Mining was so devastatingly successful in the test game that it made us wonder why anybody ever bothered with all that tedious bombardment stuff. As I frequently do, I shelved the problem, pending some great leap of inspiration or some further research. My shelves are overloaded with things like that. 

Trouble was that my mining rules were so brilliantly clever that I had completely missed the point, and failed to check the dimensions of the problem. Clive and I had our mining parties tunnelling at speeds which would have left the machines which dug the Channel Tunnel miles behind. I will not give details of just how fast our miners could dig – it’s too embarrassing – but if such speeds had been possible then it is clear that mining would definitely have been the standard approach – in fact the whole history of fortification  (and everything else) would have been vastly different. Just put it down as a misunderstanding.

I did a fair amount of reading of late – the most useful source was a nice little booklet published by the Shire people, Siege Mines and Underground Warfare, by Kenneth Wiggins. He actually discusses digging and tunnelling techniques, but the main thing I took from all this scholarship is that miners who had no bad luck and knew what they were doing would do well to average 3 paces a day for the progress of a tunnel.

Ah – right. 3 paces a day is about 20 paces a week, which is one tenth of the way across one of my terrain hexes. This is a very small nibble indeed in one of our battlefields, and requires a whole new look at the matter. Hmmm. This also explains why mining was something of a secondary activity – though useful on its day, of course. I’ll think about this.

Just before I leave the subject of mining – does anyone know where they keep those Channel Tunnel digging machines when they are not using them? Just wondered. It doesn’t seem like the sort of thing you would throw on the back of a low-loader and off to the next job – interesting…

So – supplies.

I am looking for some dead-easy approach to supplies which does not lead to either insanity or a crippling bookkeeping industry, yet prevents the matter being forgotten completely. My rule of thumb (it may be one of Foy’s Laws, but I can’t remember which one) is that the cleverer and more realistic you make your add-on rules (command, morale, supply, whatever), the more fiddly they become and the more likely they are to be dropped during an otherwise exciting game. In other words, if you really wish to exclude all consideration of command and activation from your wargame (for example), spend a few weeks developing the cleverest rule system the world has ever seen to cover this, and the players will just abandon it on the day. [This may have some parallels in the world of Brexit legislation, but let us not go there.]

I started off with provender – I’ll leave ammunition for the moment. Starting place, obviously, is Bruce Quarrie. Interesting, but far too much information, man. Can’t see the wood for the flipping trees. From the classic Siege of Dendermonde I picked up the useful idea of 2 lbs of bread plus 1 lb of meat per man per day. Ron Miles had a lot of detail in there about how many portions of meat you get from slaughtering a cow (1000) or a sheep (80) or even a cat (1.5), so I decided the simplest way to do this is add the whole lot together as food rations – not to worry what the recipe of the day was. The important bit is that a soldier needs 3 lbs of food a day. A magazine will contain a weight of food, and I’ll formulate some rules on how much this needs to be. As a quick aside, this is an aspect of warfare I have always studiously avoided – so I was interested to see what amounts are involved here.

My unit of strength for my ECW forces is the base – 6 figs per base for foot (200 men), 3 per base for horse (100). It occurred to me that it might be a nice additional convenience to add fodder into the food stores as well, and assume that 100 horsemen consume the same amount as 200 foot – let us stop short of whether the men can eat hay or the horses like their beef well cooked – I’m looking for the simplest-ever supply system.

This is a detailed depiction of 4 lbs of food - that's all you need to know

Thus a base of foot will require 200 x 7 x 3 lbs per week, which is, near enough, 2 tonnes, if you add in the drink. That is a lot – thus a regiment of 3 bases of foot will eat their way through 6 tonnes a week, and (by dint of my bovine assumption of equivalence) a unit of 4 bases of horse will require 8 tonnes. On the basis of no science at all, I’ll assume that an artillery unit needs 4 tonnes a week – they have few personnel but a great many draught animals.

The poor old citizenry do not get to eat as heartily as the soldiers. I’ll assume that 1 tonne will feed 500 civilians for a week. OK – that gives me a basis to get started. I’ll add a rule about rations – military and civilian personnel may get full, ¾, ½, ¼ or no rations – which will affect the health and vigour and general happiness of all parties. Oh yes – about the civilians…

In the absence of factual historical data, the population of a township or conurbation can be generated by the formula nD6 x k, where n has the following values:

Major City – 15
Provincial City – 10
Market Town – 6
Village or fortress – 3

My first assumption is that k should be 250 (I may change my mind later) – thus a market town turning up 6 4 4 3 3 1 with its 6 dice has a population of 21 x 250 = 5250.

Standard split is 50% females; for both sexes, one quarter are children and infants, one quarter old or infirm, thus one half able-bodied. Overall split then is
Females – children 12.5%, able bodied 25%, old/infirm 12.5% and the same for Males, so our market town of 5250 might yield 25% able-bodied men = 1315 approx.

Now I need to check how much you can get in a wagon, how much on a mule. I bet Bruce Quarrie has something on this…

Next I need to develop this a bit, and work out some dice algorithms for the relationship between diet and vigour, vigour and susceptibility to outbreaks of fever; I also need to work out some rules for how the effective strength of a garrison is affected by the need to police the population, and how the attitude and loyalty of the population is affected by things like food supply, sustained bombardment. Lots to think about – that’s OK, I have some more free time and a bit more spare brainpower than I had a week or two ago, so I’ll enjoy the challenge!


  1. http://www.answers.com/Q/What_happened_to_the_boring_machines_used_to_build_the_Chunnel?#slide=10

    The 'English' machine, as referred to here,was actually entombed. The French one is probably livng here illegally, right Nigel?

  2. Ah - so. Presumably the trains don't have to drive around the thing, so it must be shunted up a special dead end somewhere (another Nigel reference?). I like the idea of boring machines. My son goes on endlessly about boring machines - some of them are made by Nokia, some by Samsung, but they are all suffocatingly boring.

    Thank you for this, sir.