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

Tuesday 31 January 2012

Hooptedoodle #42 - Working Definition of a Crock

The plan for this evening is to get on with assembling some more siege guns, while listening to the Wolves vs Liverpool football match. Because of the very strange contractual arrangements which exist in England for the broadcasting of football, the only way I can achieve this tonight is to take my little netbook computer through to the living room, set it up next to my workdesk and listen to the live audio commentary provided by Liverpool FC's own website. I have my earphones ready, so as not to disturb my lady wife's viewing of more mainstream TV entertainment. Neat plan, eh?

Only in theory. My netbook is a humble little thing, and it only gets used a couple of times a month, which means that, when it gets switched on, the first thing that happens is that a fortnight's backlog of Windows updates and McAfee antivirus updates and Adobe updates and Java upgrades all get jammed in the revolving door. Given the sparse broadband service we get here, this is all enough to prevent anything sensible being available online for quite a long time - sometimes longer than the battery capacity of the computer. Yes, yes - you are right - I should have set everything up an hour or two earlier, but - you know what? - in this age of supposed digital convenience it's kind of infuriating that I should have to do that. Anyway, I attempt to get the commentary for the game, and wait a very, very long time. A quick squint at Windows Task Manager shows me that Internet Explorer is getting no processor time at all, because it's behind McAfee in the bloody queue - a situation which persists for another 10 minutes, at which point I shut the stupid thing down.

Death by security. Muttering gently, I give up on the siege guns for tonight, and retire to the trusty desktop computer in my office to listen to the match online. I wonder, in my unfocused way, what kind of a cataclysmic virus attack would be required to waste more time and cause more annoyance in total than McAfee does, drip by drip, every single day. Yes, I have to be grateful that my internet service provider gives me free use of McAfee's wonderful product, but sometimes it's hard to remember what a blessing this is. The one bright note is that at least I don't have Norton any more.

Like riding a bicycle through porridge.

Sunday 29 January 2012

Solo Campaign - Battle of Corrales - 24th Jan 1812

Cazadores de Castilla in the village - they did well until the ammunition ran out

Marshal Marmont sent General Clauzel ahead to engage the Conde de España’s little force. Clauzel had his own (Second) Divn of the Armée de Portugal (10 battalions of infantry and a battery of 8pdr guns) – and was supported by Cavrois’ Division of 4 regiments of dragoons plus 2 foot batteries from Tirlet’s reserve artillery (a total of 10360 men with 24 guns).

España had 5 line infantry regiments,  with 2 battalions of volontarios (militia), Sanchez’s 2 regiments of irregular lancers, and 2 field batteries (a total of 6140 men with 12 guns).

The Spanish troops took up position on a line of low hills behind the stream of Valparaiso,  which was fordable but difficult to negotiate because of its position in a gully. Clauzel set his artillery on the highest ground he had available, and sent Berlier’s brigade forward over the bridge which carries the Salamanca-Zamora road over the stream, close to the small hamlet of Peleas de Arriba. His second brigade, with Barbot commanding, were committed to a feint against the stream on the French right. The dragoons were held in reserve behind the flanks.

A theme for the day was the desultory performance of the French artillery. Clauzel’s intention was to demoralise the Spanish infantry by sustained fire from his batteries. Some blamed problems with the quality of the powder, but – whatever the cause – the French guns caused very little damage throughout the action. If the banjo had existed  in 1812, the French gunners could not have hit a cow on the backside with one on that day. The Spanish infantry kept up a surprisingly brisk and effective fire, especially around the bridge, and Berlier’s men were repeatedly driven back with heavy losses. Because the attack around the bridge gained so little ground, Barbot’s diversionary attack was switched to become the main assault, but with no better success. At one point the 2nd Princesa and the 1st Sevilla regiments made a bayonet charge – supported by the plucky volunteers of the Defensores de Fernando VII – and swept a large portion of Barbot’s command back into the arroyo in confusion. Eventually Clauzel broke off his attack and withdrew, but his losses were heavy, with many men missing or taken prisoner.

España won a remarkable and unexpected victory – his total loss by the end of the action was 1080 men, of whom many were expected to rejoin the colours, while the French lost over 4000, plus the eagle of the 2nd Bn of the 25e Leger. The Junta de Castilla had been so pessimistic about España’s chances prior to the action that they had been very reluctant to attach a militia battery to his force, since that would simply be another 6 guns lost if the French prevailed.

Marmont’s Chief of Staff, La Martinière, was given the challenging job of writing up his report of the battle in terms which would avoid bringing the wrath of the Minister of War down on their heads.

The French fell back in good order, and with all their guns, towards Salamanca, since the Spanish cavalry were not in a position to do them further damage.

Orders of Battle

Spanish 3rd Army (part) – Conde de España

2nd Princesa, 1st Sevilla, 2nd Jaen, Tiradores de Castilla, Cazadores de Castilla
1st & 2nd Lanceros de Castilla
2nd Loyales de Zamora, Defensores de Fernando VII
2 companies of foot artillery

French force (from Armée de Portugal ) – Gen de Divn Bertrand Clauzel

2nd Divn:
Berlier’s Bde – 25e Leger (3 Bns), 27e Ligne (2)
Barbot’s Bde – 50e Ligne (3), 59e Ligne (2)
15/3e Art à Pied

Dragoon Divn (Cavrois)
Picquet’s Bde – 6e & 11e Dragons
Boudinhon-Valdec’s Bde – 15e & 25e Dragons

Reserve artillery (Tirlet)
10/3e & 19/3e Art à Pied

Spanish position at the start

French starting position, from their left flank

Some of Espana's volunteer troops

French right flank - the quiet side

Berlier's attack - all they have to do is cross that bridge and keep marching...

Growing concern on the French left

Clauzel wants to be alone for a while

Espana (right edge of picture) played a conspicuous part in pushing back Barbot's attack

Getting desperate - bring up another reserve unit...

Thursday 26 January 2012

Solo Peninsular Campaign - Week 1

All right, I know I said I wasn't going to do this, but here is a summary of activity during the first week of the campaign. I have no intention of doing this for each week – this is just to show how I’m going about it. This was an easy week, since there are no Demoralisation issues, no Replacements to worry about, no Sieges to progress and everyone is In Supply (since the LoCs are all open).

The Allies rolled better activation dice, so got first move.

We have a battle! The French have attacked the force of the Conde de Espana (who is unable to withdraw, since he has a severe cavalry disadvantage) in the area of Zamora, and the action is large enough to justify a proper tabletop battle with the CCN rules. I’ll have to fight this battle before I can complete the week’s returns (obviously). I will write up the battle in a posting in due course.

Elsewhere, the Allies are calling in outlying cavalry, and their siege train has begun the slow plod from Lisbon. Mostly this week I have been developing clerical procedures to keep tabs on everything. Thank goodness for Excel spreadsheets. What follows is copied and pasted directly from my own campaign notes, so it may lack something in style and readability...

It is probably obvious, but single capital letters refer to Combat Groups, which can just about be seen on the map photo in the previous post.

Week 01

To help get things moving, both CinCs get a rating of 3. The 3D3 activation throws give Allies 7 Orders, French 4, so Allies move first. Because the armies have been sitting in Winter quarters for some months, it is assumed that they are pretty well aware of who is in adjacent Areas, so for the moment the optional Intelligence rule is suspended.


1 – D (Framlingham with Eng + Siege train + escorts) march 1 step from Lisbon to Peniche (expected to take about 3 weeks to get up to Elvas)
2 – Sp B (Espana with Spanish 3rd Army) at Zamora concerned that they are about to be attacked from Salamanca, thus Sp C (Sanchez with 2nd Lancers) move from Leon to support Sp B at Zamora
3 – F (11 Lt Dgns) move 2 steps from Porto via Coimbra to Abrantes...
4 – ...where they join A (Wellington), and are attached to Anson’s Bde
5 – E (Von Bock’s KGL heavy cavalry) move (along rough road) 1 step from Braga to Almeida to join B (Hope). This is conditional move, so must be tested
2D3 = 5 +2 (Bock’s rating) –1 (rough road) –1 (winter conditions) = 5   which is OK...
6 – ...and they are absorbed into Group B
1 – U (St Paul’s Italian bde) move 1 step from Segovia to Valladolid
2 – Split R (Guye at Madrid) – detach Merlin with the King’s Guard and Treillard’s cavalry, which become Q (Guye commands, Casapalacios assumes command of R)...
3 – ...and march the new Group Q 1 step from Madrid to Segovia
4 – N (Marmont, with Clauzel’s Divn + Cavrois’ dragoon divn + reserve art) march north 1 step from Salamanca into Zamora, where they attack Sp B + C (Espana)

All Groups on both sides are In Supply – French keep Segovia open by moving Q (Guye) in to replace U (St Paul), so protecting supply route from Madrid north to Valladolid; French supply route from Bayonne is protected by troops stationed at Pamplona, San Sebastian, thence via Vitoria, and there is a garrison at Burgos, covering the routes south to Salamanca and Madrid. 

Even with his extra lancers called in, Espana is outnumbered in cavalry by 2:1, so he is unable to withdraw. The Junta de Castilla is able to add 2 bns of volontarios to his force (they rank as militia). Espana takes a defensive position on the road from Salamanca to Zamora, on a low ridge runnig SW-NE behind the rugged little stream of Valparaiso, close to Peleas de Arriba, which is a few miles – about an hour’s march – south of the village of Corrales del Vino. The terrain is fairly open, rolling, lightly wooded – Espana is concerned that it will suit the French cavalry.

The so-called Battle of Corrales takes place on Friday 24th January, on a cold, windy day.

Tuesday 24 January 2012

Solo Campaign - Start-Up at 19th Jan 1812

A few days late for a strict 200th anniversary, but the armies are now on the map for the start of my solo Peninsular War (type) campaign. It is 19th January 1812, the armies are emerging from their Winter quarters, apart from Montbrun's force, which is returning from an extended forced march to assist Suchet in the East. The Allies have Ciudad Rodrigo, which has a Spanish garrison, but the French still hold Badajoz.

Galicia, Cataluna, Valencia and all of Andalucia apart from Badajoz, Zafra and Huelva are regarded as self-contained and off-limits. There is no way that Suchet or Soult are going to help anyone else, thank you. The supply depots are not yet marked on the map, but are, initially, French: Bayonne and Madrid - Allied: Lisbon and Porto. Spanish irregulars do not need supply depots.

Initial positions indicate that the cavalry needs to be spread out among the field armies, and the Allies had better start thinking about controlling Badajoz, so should get the siege train on the road.

Objectives? If the French capture Lisbon, they win. If the Allies control Castilla they win. Anything else is how you write it up.

I'll not bombard the blog with weekly reports - times will slip a bit anyway - this is a fairly relaxed campaign! The rules are sort of complete but do not exist in a form I would wish to publish yet. I'll put out an update occasionally if there is something to say - battles would be appropriate! If you wish to see detailed OOBs they are here and here, and there have been various posts discussing elements of the rules and philosophy. On the map, blue counters are French, white are Anglo-Portuguese, black are Spanish - the strengths and exact locations of partisan forces are deliberately a bit vague...

Monday 23 January 2012

Hooptedoodle #41 - The Tale of the Eucalyptus

What a laugh - this weekend's farce here at the Nature Park was me trying to get the biggest bits of our old eucalypus tree split into stove-sized logs. We've burnt all the small stuff now. I had a go with a big axe a week or two ago - depressing - I could hardly make a mark on the wood. This weekend I meant business, and borrowed a pneumatic splitter capable of 8 tons pressure. Wouldn't look at the eucalyptus, thank you very much. Didn't mark the stuff any more than my efforts with the axe (which doesn't help, but is a slight comfort).

Eucalyptus is obviously special. You may cut it, though not easily, but it will not split. Today I am going to negotiate with the farm to see if they can hire me a tractor-mounted hydraulic splitter, which will produce 20 tons. If that doesn't work either then I'll see if they can hire me a young man with a chainsaw.

So what is/was a eucalyptus doing here in Scotland, the Land of Mud? When I bought this house, nearly 12 years ago now, there were two hefty eucalyptus trees, one either side of the garden. I know they were planted in the early 1980s, because I have an aerial photo from 1985 or so, with some little, wispy trees just visible, but by 2000 they were big and beautiful. The more northerly of the two had a bad accident in my first winter here. Because it had grown in the shade behind the building, it was spindly - what tree-specialists call "pencilling". In a gale one night it split, and about half of it fell across the garden. Maybe a couple of tons of timber - if it had fallen in another direction it would have altered the house substantially.

I had it sawn up, and the remaining section taken down, and I spent the years afterwards looking sideways at the survivor. This, however, was a much more robust specimen. Growing in what passes for full sunlight here, it grew to about 70 feet high, but it used to alarm me waving about in high winds. In addition:

* it kept having to be cut back to clear the power cables

* it overshadowed the patio, and provided a very popular pigeons' toilet in the same spot

* its roots kept getting into the village drains, an expensive nuisance and a source of potential unrest

* its leaves fell all year round, blocked up gutters, cluttered flower beds, stained paintwork and never, ever showed any signs of rotting

* as it grew larger it sucked all the water out of the garden - it became hard to keep the lawn alive, no plants would grow within 40 feet of it

* its roots were beginning to crack the garage floor, and ruin the paving

* most importantly, one day it was going to break and fall over - if we were lucky, it would hit the garage and the power lines, otherwise the house was under threat

On the other hand, it was an absolutely lovely tree. After some years of footling about, not making a decision, eventually we realised that it had to go, so we hired in a contractor and had a very entertaining day watching the circus act that is required for tree removal. Fantastic. It was cut into logs, but the biggest pieces were just stacked at the deep end of the woodshed, for future reference.

The large, dark green object to the right of the electricity pole is the longer-lived of our eucalyptus trees - this picture was taken about 5 years before it was taken down, so it still had a good way to grow...

After the tree was gone - and it came down in about June 2010, I think - we went into a strange period when we didn't like the garden any more. The heart had gone out of it - though, of course, it was now safer and more practical and less maintenance and we could actually use more of it. We've now put in some baby fruit trees, and made a feature of shifting our bird feeders to where the big tree used to be, and we are sort of getting the hang of it, but it hasn't been easy. This Winter I've been working my way through our stock of eucalyptus wood for the stove, and very good it is, but we have now reached the point where the big pieces are going to have to be cut up - this, of course, is where we came in.

The one really bright spot from the weekend is that I might have bought an 8-ton log splitter if it had turned out to be cheaper than a full load of logs, and then I would really have been very upset indeed.

Sunday 22 January 2012

Falcata - Carlist Wars

I got a few emails and some comments asking me for more details of the new Falcata Carlist Wars range.

I have to emphasise that I know very little about them, other than the fact that they appear very attractive! If you want to know more, or to purchase some, please contact Gregorio at La Flecha Negra, the Madrid model and hobby shop.

I managed to find a picture of some painted samples of the Carlist figures, a picture which I was sent by the shop but had managed to misfile. Here they are - apologies for the delay.

Saturday 21 January 2012

Falcata - a Package from Madrid

Gregorio at La Flecha Negra has sent me some samples of the new 1/72 Falcata white metal Napoleonics, which look very good. He also included a couple of samples of the new Carlist Wars, which are also excellent.

Top, left to right are Spanish infantry in campaign dress, a couple of Grenadiers and a line infrantryman in full dress, while below are the Carlist samples. Figures are nicely sculpted and animated, as you would expect, and stand about 24mm from soles of feet to scalp.

Gregorio also got hold of a couple of boxes of set FE-1808-07 for me, the guerrilleros from the old boxed Falcata series. I was very keen to get these, partly because I wants them (my precious...), but also because as far as I knew these never made it into production, and I had never even seen pictures of them. Here are some samples from these boxes - you get 34 castings in a box, with a wide variety of poses (especially suitable for irregulars). 1 box has 3 commanders, 3 standard bearers, 2 musicians (a drummer and a bagpipe player), a couple of dead guys and a whole bunch of fighting figures, including a female partisan.

Gregorio hopes that he may have a supply of the old boxed Falcatas in a month or two - whether that means that they are being reissued or if it is old stock I do not know. In the meantime, if you are interested in the new ranges (12 infantry or 3 cavalry or a gun + crew in a bag), please contact Gregorio at LFN - they have stock available now, and they are very nice, helpful people to deal with - they do not take PayPal, but international money transfers are very easy now - even from Britain!

I am a happy bunny today - nice job, Postie.

Wednesday 18 January 2012

British Artillery Caissons, and Some Very Big Guns

Delayed by a late decision to strip the limbers, here are two examples of what Carl Franklin, in his lovely book, describes as the British Two-Wheeled Ammunition Car. A quick glance, of course, will confirm that the car is hooked up behind a standard limber, so it is in fact a four-wheeled vehicle, but articulated, which was regarded as a big advance over the earlier rigid 4-wheeler. These are the carts which accompanied the individual batteries into action, to provide an immediate reserve of ammunition.

The models are Lamming throughout - equipment and horses, and also the drivers, as evidenced by their Easter Island profiles and the trademark Lamming elephant whip. My thanks and compliments to Clive and to Dave Watson, who somehow came up with yet more supplies of extinct artillery kit.

Since I am deep in the artillery projects box at present, I think I may take the opportunity to make up and paint some more siege guns. As these may be of some interest, here are a couple I prepared earlier. I included a more normal 9pdr gun to give an idea of scale, and you will see that these siege guns are very bad boys indeed. These are 18pdrs from Hinchliffe's (current) 25mm scale range, which should make them way too big for the Minifigs gunners. Before you laugh (and I laughed myself before I checked the sizes), be assured that I have measured these castings and they are spot-on for 1/72 of the official weapon dimensions for an iron 18pdr. Further, Clive and I once put these same Hinch 25 castings alongside a Finescale Factory model of an 18pdr, and they were exactly the same size - I am not even prepared to consider that FSF would ever make anything which was not perfect 1/72, so let's just assume this is what they were like.


Anyway, I have 2 or 3 more of these to prepare, and a 10" howitzer, so I may take a short break from painting vehicles. Note also that my Allied Siege Train and associated engineering chaps have their bases painted a fetching shade of mud brown. It seemed a good idea at the time.

Sunday 15 January 2012

Royal Horse Artillery - Limber Teams

More vehicles ready - in this case, they are well overdue. I sold my old (Airfix) limbers around 7 years ago, and they'd been kind of decommissioned for a while prior to that. Since then I've been hoarding the bits for the replacements in my spares boxes, and systematically playing leapfrog with the painting queue so that they never actually got done.

Well, no longer - here are three RHA limbers, ready to go. Although I like to use 2 model guns for a battery, I use only a single limber when they are travelling, so this group represents all my three horse artillery troops on the road. I used to like the idea of having loose, "deployable" guns, so that I could actually move the ordnance pieces between the limber and the gun crew, but I have decided it is not one of my greatest ideas. I have dropped more cannons than enough, so I've saved up enough extra guns to be able to have some permanently attached to the limbers, and everything is now safely glued in place.

The horses and riders are all S-Range Minifigs, the limbers are Hinchliffe 20mm, and one of the guns is also Hinch 20, while the other two are (I think) Rose Miniatures. It stands to reason that the actual gunners get first choice of the Hinch 20 artillery...

British caissons will be along next, in a day or two - a couple of the limbers allocated to them are in the bleach at the moment.

Saturday 14 January 2012

British Ammunition Carts

On a vehicle-painting kick again this weekend, all British stuff. Two ammo carts finished last night - they have just to get the mag sheet on the underside of the bases for storage in the official Artillery Boxes.

The carts are S-Range Minifigs, horses and drivers are by Lamming. There will/should be some caissons in a day or so, and three 4-horse RHA limber teams.

Good fun. I wouldn't like to be hit by one of those whips, though.

Thursday 12 January 2012

New in The Cupboard

For me, the personalities in my wargames armies are important. It is always a source of extra satisfaction if there is a customised drummer in this regiment, or an odd figure with a bit of history in that one. One of my French infantry battalions, for example, has - completely out of context - a mounted officer from the first box of Airfix Waterloo French I ever bought. After a period when I have systematically cleared out and replaced all the figures which were substandard, and bought in all sorts of prestigious castings from Jorg Schmaeling and so on, I deliberately retained that one Airfix officer as a memorial to the early days of my armies, when Airfix formed most of what I had.

Non-regulation hat

In a similar vein, I am always on the lookout for unusual staff figures - it is not so easy to believe in your generals if they are all very obviously identical brothers, from the same mould. Here's a new chap - a French General de Brigade wearing an infantry shako - form your own explanation why he chooses to wear his lucky hat (or whatever) - this is clearly Hinton Hunt FN224 with a new head. I am reluctant to hack up old HH figures myself, but am always pleased to buy in conversions which someone else has done, to add variety - I like this little chap.

Late edit, to oblige Louis - as requested, here is the old Airfix mounted officer in the 2/27e Ligne. This entire brigade used to be Airfix - the officer must date from the very early 1970s - you will note that in those days I was keen enough to replace sword-blades with dressmaking pins. To heighten the contrast, I see that the Les Higgins rank and file are now augmented by distinctly up-market eagle-bearer and drummer from Art Miniaturen.

Not a THIRD Battalion, Surely?

My Peninsular War Allied army has two battalions of the 95th, 6 companies of the 5/60th and two KGL light battalions, so I already have more little green men than you could shake a ramrod at. This last year, in fact, I have sold, given away and otherwise disposed of some dozens of unpainted Les Higgins riflemen from the spares department, since only a madman could possibly need any more than I already have.


Unexpectedly, from various sources I have now obtained enough of the excellent Qualiticast Rifles figures to make up another of my small rifle units, so here, gentlemen, we have the 3rd Battalion of the 95th, some of them wearing the very cool forage cap, in appropriately Sharpesque style. Of course, I might have used them to replace one of my existing Higgins units, but I couldn't bring myself to do this, so three battalions it is - which is historically correct for the late Peninsular War anyway, I hasten to add.

Tuesday 10 January 2012

Tree Blight

For the scenic aspects of my wargaming I use - pretty much exclusively - very old Merit trees. These were made by J & L Randall Ltd, whose range of HO/OO railway accessories is legendary, and I have a lot of them, in the three known varieties, some dating back to the late 1950s, I would guess. Some of my oldest fir trees of this type were among the very earliest trackside scenic add-ons for my first model railway (if anyone cares, my first loco was the Hornby Dublo LMS "Duchess of Atholl", which was prehistoric even when I first got it).

The definitive posting on Merit is in Clive's wonderful Hinton Hunter blog, here. I love these trees. I'm not completely sure why - they don't look especially realistic, to be sure, but they are part of that old black-and-white tradition in Terry Wise's early books and elsewhere, they are clean and practical, and I have come to take them for granted as part of my own arrangements. I have also owned much more expensive and exotic trees from all sorts of specialist makers, and they have come and gone - literally - like the withering leaves. Storage is never satisfactory with the de-luxe jobs, and I have a lifelong hatred of foliage flock detritus - no doubt a symptom of a heavily anal upbringing, but also of the permanent need to have wargaming co-exist pleasantly and harmoniously with the other activities of formal dining-rooms etc. So all the fancy stuff has passed on, yet I still have the Merit trees, augmented now and then by finds on eBay and elsewhere. The prices have become a bit silly - especially for someone like me who doesn't even keep the original boxes.

Shock horror. My world is now threatened by the gradual deterioration of my trees. The plastic, over all this time, has started to change. The rot is uneven, but some of them now have the structural properties of spun sugar, and are extremely delicate. I try to glue damage as it occurs, but I can see that my HO/OO plastic ecosphere is showing signs of sliding into history. This is not a trivial matter - I really don't know what I shall do if I have to replace them. No-one has ever made a direct equivalent and - very sadly indeed - the re-issue of almost the entire Merit range by Modelscene has specifically excluded the trees. I gather that the moulds were beyond redemption, and it has been suggested to me that they are unlikely to reappear, since modern flocked trees are so good now, and only a crazed nostalgist would want the Merit items.

I can almost feel the tears welling up as I write this. I shall continue to look after the trees I have left, but this is beginning to feel like a real ecological issue - does no-one care if, along with the red squirrel, my silly old trees disappear? I have to stop now - can't go on...

Monday 9 January 2012

CCN Practice Game - Supplementary

After the bird feeders were back in action, what Nick really wanted to do was design his own battlefield, of course, and - being 9 - he got a bit carried away, and built a monster town in the middle of the table, using just about all of of my available buildings.

Eventually, when the Theme Park was complete, we had to have another (small) CCN fight in it. Somewhat wearily, I set up about 6 infantry units a side, knowing full well that the game was going to be a disaster - unplayable.

I have news - it worked - it was not very interesting, but CCN can handle this without problems, which is a surprise to me. There are a few no-brainer things to remember - in particular, since the rule for fighting into a town/village hex requires deduction of 2 combat dice, units having (or having been reduced to) an entitlement of 2 dice or less are no use at all in street fighting, and have to be pulled out and replaced with a bigger hammer, but otherwise it works.

Since I am never likely to have a town of this size set up again for a CCN game, I took a couple of pics.

Santiago de los Infantes - CCN Practice Game

Since it is the last day of the school holidays, I agreed with my son (who is 9) that he could help me with a Napoleonic battle - partly to keep us both entertained, and partly to keep my hand in with the Commands & Colors rules. Nick is a useful participant, since he is enthusiastic (sometimes about rather obscure aspects of the game), and goes about commanding his army in the manner of a 9-year-old, which can produce some interesting situations which you wouldn't normally try out - we all know a suicide attack is not likely to work, for example, but you don't often get to see one.

The place is crawling with them

Clauzel bringing his boys forward (Art Miniaturen)

French tirailleurs (Falcata & Art Miniaturen)

Morschauser or what?

Our battle was deliberately a big one - towards the upper end of what I think the normal CCN rules will handle. I won't attempt to dignify the game with any kind of report, but a few things and thoughts cropped up which I thought were worth noting.

(1) The action had 30-odd French units (mostly infantry) attacking a similar force of 20-odd Anglo-Portuguese - Bertrand Clauzel, with his own and Maucune's divisions of the Armée de Portugal and some cavalry support, attacking Picton's Allied 3rd Division, again with a little cavalry added. This is a fair old table-load, and again I am struck by the fact that lots of units lined up on a gridded table always looks like Morschauser.

(2) Mostly because I would normally avoid the situation, we placed a fordable river across half the middle ground to see what happens. Man, what a pain. Trying to shift a largish infantry force to stage a proper attack needs some very favourable Command cards at the best of times, and the additional delay caused by the stream makes it awful slow going. The French attack across the stream never got any momentum at all.

(3) Light infantry ducking in and out of woods are handy chaps, and they can fight as soon as they get in there, unlike the line, who have to spend a turn organising before they can carry out any combat when entering a wood.

(4) At one stage, I wasted a serious lot of time trying to defeat a single Portuguese battalion in square - I had two dragoon units nagging away at them, and it was pretty much a stalemate. Some horse artillery would have been a real boon.

(5) The amazing Flying Foot Artillery - at one point, Nick played the dreaded Grande Manoeuvre card, which allows you to move a bunch of units a long way in a hurry, and he took the mad step of advancing a battery of foot artillery onto a bridge over the stream. I wouldn't have done that, but it has to be said that they blew away allcomers for the rest of the battle, and were still there at the end. The point is duly noted.

(6) The main lesson of the session was probably that this size of a battle results in large clusters of units trying to get into action. Unless you are very lucky with the cards, or spend a long time collecting a good hand, the attacker can spend a long, frustrating while trying to trickle everyone into position by twos and threes. Defending becomes a much easier choice. An option, short of switching to my Grand Tactical variant (which would produce a very small game in this case), is maybe to inflate the numbers of units allowed to be ordered by the cards - double would be interesting.

(7) It was still very good fun. Nick enjoyed the CD of Napoleonic marches in the background, which the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children may be surprised to learn, and we finished comfortably in a little over 2 hours, which is remarkable considering the size of the action and the need to explain everything (no - it was me doing the explaining...).

We have to go and fill the bird-feeders now, and then we'll tidy up the battle, and Nick wants to try another one. Good so far.

Saturday 7 January 2012

Hooptedoodle #40a – Napoleon’s Last Words

Definitely not tonight, Josephine

Well, with thanks to super-sleuth Metal Detector, I revisited the death-bed scene in the Clavier film, this time with the Danish subtitles switched on. I still can’t make out what he says but, according to the subtitles, he says “Helvedet... Arméen...”, which Google Translate reckons means something like “Hell... army...”, which might be a nice reference to Jean Lanne’s earlier dying words, in which he maintained that he was going to Hell, because that is what happens to people like him, and that he would meet Napoleon there.

I was sort of comfortable with that, but I find that a more official record of Napoleon’s last words says that he said “tête d’armée...” and then “Josephine...”. I guess he just mumbled, and no-one really knows. Please feel free to make up your own version. That is my own Last Word on the subject.

In the wider world of last words and epitaphs, there are some great classics, of course. Two of my personal favourites are Spike Milligan’s proposed epitaph, “I TOLD YOU I WAS ILL”, and the reported last words of Buddy Rich, the noted jazz drummer and psychopath – as he went in for his final (unsuccessful) heart operation, he was asked if he was allergic to anything, and replied “Country & Western music”.

Friday 6 January 2012

Hooptedoodle #40 - The Maxims of Ernie's Dad

Now this really is a silly one. I had another go at trying to hear what Napoleon's last words are in the Christian Clavier film, and I still can't make it out. For a moment I thought how weird it would be if he said "Rosebud", and then I remembered Ernie's dad. The connection is, at best, tenuous - all right - there is no connection - it's just something to do with the humour implicit in trying to find deep philosophical meaning in something which is actually meaningless. Analysts of Beatles' lyrics used to excel in this field.

My old friend Ernie - alas no longer with us - was Welsh, and his dad was a fearsome ex-miner with a devotion to Chapel and to strong drink. When Ernie left home at 16 to become a naval cadet, his father made one of the longest speeches of his life. He said, "Always remember to trust in the Lord, Ernie, and never forget that what you keep in your pocket will strike no sparks".

Ernie promised that he would remember it, and for years afterwards he wondered what on earth it meant. When his dad became old and infirm and went into a nursing home, Ernie went to visit him, and decided to ask him about it. His dad said, "Did I say that? Can't remember anything about it - it makes no sense at all to me", and the subject was never mentioned again. Having fretted about it for years, Ernie was understandably disappointed.

If you were hoping that, in spite of everything, there might be some point to this story, you have my apologies.

Thursday 5 January 2012

History as Farce [3] – And It All Ended in Tears

And I knew it would. The first slightly uncomfortable moment came when the Imperial Headquarters were making themselves at home in Moscow. I was a bit worried about Napoleon riding his horse up the stairs, but the real shock came when someone burst into the room, shouting that Moscow was in flames, and when they drew the curtains back, sure enough, the whole city was an inferno. You'd think they'd have got some inkling of this a little earlier, but never mind - it was a great shot. The way home from Russia, of course, is very harrowing indeed - in fact this worked better than most of the film, since small groups of wretched stragglers looked more appropriate in this context. Then Napoleon is terribly rude to Metternich, who has come to Paris to tell him that it is all very well for him to declare peace, but the Allies would like to insist on a few conditions, and the subsequent unpleasantness of 1813 blends seamlessly into 1814 without any mention of Leipzig or anything significant like that. Next minute Paris surrenders and we're off to Elba. I am personally pleased to note that the surrender is blamed on brother Joseph, not on Marmont, for a refreshing change.

According to Gallo's script (apparently), Napoleon's decision to return to France is primarily triggered by his learning of Josephine's death, which seems a surprisingly oblique piece of whimsy, and when he gets there he is intercepted by the 5eme Ligne, commanded in person by Marshal Ney - an OOB which only ever existed in the screenplay for the Bondarchuk movie - I believe that in reality Ney turned up some days later. Waterloo is pretty much what you'd expect - a brave effort with sparse resources - but there is a strange moment when Grouchy has his classic argument with Gerard about whether their detached force should march towards the sound of battle. I’ve always envisaged this force plugging along muddy roads, but the artistic director prefers to have them arranged scenically around the countryside as though they were already in battle. Also, because of the obvious manpower shortages, battalions are seen marching about very smartly in what looks like about 33:1 figure scale - the units are 6 men wide by about 5 deep. It looks like a wargame played with real men - like giant chess.

There are some interesting bits while Napoleon considers a series of mad schemes to go to America (to become a scientist), to be smuggled through the British blockade in a barrel (which he rejects as inappropriate for the Emperor of the French) or to give himself up to the English and request a nice house near London with a few rose bushes. Of course, it's all baloney, and he ends up in St Helena, trying hard to re-establish some credibility as a nice guy. Hudson-Lowe, the governor, is brilliantly cast - the perfect Wicked Stepfather. As Napoleon's health worsens he has a series of flashbacks about his days at the military academy, where he was told that he would never amount to anything, and - infuriatingly - in his death-bed scene I didn't hear his last words, so will have to watch that bit again.

The scrolling text at the end explains that his ashes were eventually returned to France, where he now rests in Paris, and the splendid shot of Napoleon's tomb brought me a bit of a personal lump in the throat, since this is the exact spot where my grandfather introduced me to Napoleon and his adventures when I was 12 or so - and compromised the rest of my life! There is a family story that, years earlier, my grandfather, who moved to Paris in his early twenties, took his own father to the Invalides and the old man, who had a proverbially blunt turn of phrase, pondered the tomb for a while, and said, "Well, they certainly didn't want the bugger to get out of that again, did they?"

And on that note of appropriate bathos I shall leave Napoleon to the tender mercies of history, but I thought I'd mention a couple of points that came up in my reading this week - in the Campagnes du Capitaine Marcel, and in the autobiographical account of the Peninsular War by Lemonnier-Delafosse, I found two separate references to organisation of voltigeurs at brigade level, which I was pleased about because I have my wargames armies organised in this way, so all supportive evidence is welcome! Marcel was captain in charge of the voltigeur company of the 3rd battalion of the 69e Ligne, in the VI Corps in Spain, and he refers to a major of the 6e Leger who commanded the combined light troops of his brigade in action. Lemonnier-Delafosse was captain of the 4th chasseur company of the 1st battalion of the 31e Leger (who were, as it happens, Piedmontese) who were part of Ferrey's Division at Salamanca, which formed the reserve and covered the retreat of the French army - he describes the combined "battalions" of voltigeurs from each brigade being sent out en tirailleur to skirmish, with excellent effect.

That'll do nicely.

Wednesday 4 January 2012

History as Farce [2] - Eylau, Tilsit, Spain...

Never buy a used car from this man, or any of his relatives

Very pleased to get back to the DVD of the French TV mini-series of the pantomime history of the Napoleonic Wars. Last night there were a lot of dealings with the Tsar (seems a nice man, but there's going to be real trouble over Poland, I think), and the Spanish royal family (despicable - Ferdinand VII even speaks with his mouth full, which is a dreadful thing to witness - at least as horrifying as the battle scenes). And then Murat and half a dozen cavalrymen rode through Spain setting fire to thatched cottages - thatched cottages being one of the things Spain is famous for, of course. Tilsit was excellent - much embracing by Napoleon and Alexander on the barge, while the extras of both armies stood on the shore and shouted "Hurrah" on the count of three.

Throughout, the infertility of Josephine and the very apparent fertility of Maria Valewska and a number of other spectacular young ladies kept us all gripped, and Fouché and Talleyrand skulked around and explained the subplots - boo, hiss! About an hour into my session last night, Jean Lannes died, and in his death scene made a very impressive speech about his love for the Emperor, and his fears concerning the long term implications of His Majesty's foreign policy. All authentically quoted from Max Gallo's novel. At this point I was starting to doze off, but I'll be getting back to it to see what happens next.

Napoleon is definitely not a man to trust too much - I'm beginning to have real misgivings about him - but he is certainly more trustworthy than his immediate family, especially that Mme Murat. Very entertaining - I would not recommend it as educational material, but it's excellent fun throughout. The interior sets are really stunning - at one point Talleyrand is summoned to Napoleon's study, which is about the same size as the Parc des Princes, and has to look around to find him. Maybe 25mm scale buildings would not be oversized on the tabletop after all?

More soon.

Tuesday 3 January 2012

Hooptedoodle #39 - Do Not Anger the Gods

Bit stormy last night - Britain is a gentle place as far as weather goes, normally, but it's definitely been windy recently.

Being of a nervous disposition, I have safely stored away the garden furniture in the garage for the Winter, but we have a dirty great teak 6-seater table which is so heavy that we can hardly shift it, so I had pushed that to a sheltered part of the garden. This morning I find that the wind has flung it right across the terrace into a stone wall, and it is, as you see, looking a bit secondhand. Distressed, even.

I am very pleased that the wind did not decide to throw it through the French windows, but it is still a sobering thing to witness. The table has a slatted top, which you would expect to cut down on wind-lift, and is designed to be heavy enough to be left out in all weathers - I would struggle to overturn it unaided, and it would take a sledgehammer to do that kind of damage.

The photo is for the insurers, but it seemed a pity not to share it.

Monday 2 January 2012

Hooptedoodle #38 - Shoot the Messenger

I tell this tale without anger or malice. I feel that the attention to detail and level of customer service I describe here should be more widely known.

I live on a farm, miles from the nearest street light, and I've become aware recently that the steps at the bottom of our front path are potentially pretty dangerous when it gets dark. We have had some elderly visitors over the holiday period and, naturally, I am concerned that someone might fall and hurt themselves. It could even be me, for goodness sake. Our solution was to order up some solar-powered spot lights, which should be bright enough, even with the limited charge they get during the short days, to help make the steps visible. I ordered them online and, since we were getting close to New Year, paid the extra whack for guaranteed next day courier delivery.

It all looked very promising. I got a series of emails from the courier, DPD, which gradually built up the story of the progress of my package. I could see when it arrived at DPD's Birmingham "hub", then the following morning when it reached their Edinburgh depot. Then a note to say that the package was on the van, and would be delivered between 14:25 and 16:25, and could we please make sure someone would be in to sign for it.

Then around 14:10 there was an additional note which said they had attempted to deliver the parcel, got no answer, and left a "You Were Out" card - would I please contact them to arrange to collect the package from their depot (40 miles away) or to arrange re-delivery. It goes without saying that they had not been here - you can see a good way down the farm lane toward the public road from our windows, and there had been no sign of a courier. I phoned the seller of the lights - they were very sympathetic, said that there had been a number of similar complaints, and that they would chase it up and someone would phone me back. They did. The card had been left "at a brown door" and DPD would contact me to arrange delivery. No brown doors here, I said, and - since we were likely to be out the following day, could the driver please leave the package in the woodshed behind the garage?

We heard nothing from DPD. Next day, I came home in torrential rain to find the box had been left on the front doorstep and was rapidly dissolving. No damage done, these are outside lights and weatherproof, but it might have been a delivery of books, and we might have gone to Florida for the Winter. Anyway, I have my lamps, with which I am pleased, and I have abandoned any hope of getting a refund of the extra shipping charge, but it wasn't very much, and they probably need the money, poor souls. It is a bit depressing though, isn't it?

In keeping with this general theme of the convenience of home delivery, here is a celebrated CCTV clip from YouTube of a FedEx driver delivering/breaking a computer monitor. Heart-warming.

Sunday 1 January 2012

The Stripper

All right - calm down, calm down. During odd moments over the last month or so I have been doing a stock-take of what is still to be painted, and found 3 battalions which I bought in via eBay, supposedly painted to a fairly decent standard. I reckoned that retouching them a little and adding the odd missing command figure would be an ideal, lightweight painting project to get me started off in January.

Well, actually, when I sat down with the bright light and the magnifying specs I was in for a disappointment. Not only was the painting worse than I remembered, but there was a variety of other minor irritations such as base-flock in the varnish, some shades I cannot match properly, and evidence of original casting flash which had never been removed before painting. One thing I have learned is that you never get happier about a paint job you don't like much to start with. I see no point in investing effort into painting up a unit which is never going to be very pleasing, so I decided to strip the entire 3 battalions and start again.

As luck would have it, we just had enough thick bleach to do the job, so I did the whole lot over a single night - laid them out carefully in one of my trusty ice cream tubs, covered them up in bleach, put the top on the tub and left them overnight.

I am a bit of a born-again bleach user. I came to believe in it only fairly recently, and I owe everything I know to a very useful post in Ian's Hinton Hunt blog [thanks again, Captain]. The secret is to get the soak time just right. Too short and it's not effective - too long and you get some kind of deterioration of the surface of the casting metal. My current "best practice" guideline is 12 hours.

The figures came up well. Toothbrushing and picking off the remaining shreds of paint wth a penknife is a messy, long-winded business, so I set myself up in the kitchen with appropriate amounts of coffee and the Celtic vs Rangers game on BBC Radio 5, and just fussed away at it. One final rinse to make sure everything was clean and chemically inert and things were ready for the next stage. When I take a look at the castings, I realise that this will involve removal of 30-year-old flash and filing bases flat and then I'll ship them off to David the Painter. So it's time and expense I hadn't planned for, but I'm comfortable that it's the right way to go. There will, of course, be a bit of an extra delay before the units are ready for The Cupboard, but hey.

A couple of final thoughts

(1) It sometimes surprises me how poorly some figures are painted - this is not snobbery, or because my own standards are unusually high, it is simply that it is only a bit more effort to make a decent job of it, metal wargame figures have never been cheap and it hardly seems worth the work involved in doing something half-baked.

(2) Interesting things happen in the bleach - some colours and some paints are much more resistant than others. Gold metallic paint seems to be tough, and flesh-colour is notoriously stubborn for some reason. Black gloss is also hard to shift, and this time I had some figures which had their shako pompoms finished in a sky blue paint which came out of the bleach almost exactly as it went in! I must find out what that paint was, and do my shed with it.

(3) You have to be very careful that any resident midnight ice cream fanciers do not get a nasty surprise. My tub usually has a skull and cross-bones post-it in place, though I can see that this might still cause problems for pirates who like ice cream.

Anyway, they're all done now and will go for painting once I've cleaned the castings up. Happy New Year to anyone reading this - I hope to get some more posts on the forthcoming campaign over the next few weeks. I also note - in passing - that the rules for Commands & Colors: Napoleonics new Spanish expansion include some things which I had already improvised for my own Spanish armies - double retreats for a start - so I am pleased that GMT got it right!