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

Saturday 31 March 2012

ECW - The Welsh Campaign

Now that is a wargames room...

Just back from two very enjoyable days in North Wales, as a guest of John (he of 20mm Nostalgic Revival) and Cynthia, whom I must thank once again for their wonderful kindness and hospitality.

Apart from collecting an order of Les Higgins ECW figures, one big attraction for me was the opportunity to get some experience of ECW gaming. Accordingly, we played a full game on each of the two days. I'll pass quickly over the fact that I lost both games, mumbling feebly that at one stage I thought I was winning each battle. John has an unnervingly vigorous style of generalship, which includes a fondness for sacrificing his cavalry as quickly as possible! The first game looked a tad ambitious for introducing a rookie to the period - around 1000 castings, and a battlefield which was scenically pretty complex, but it worked out fine - we deliberately used simple rules. Charles F Wesencraft's Pike & Shot period rules from his Practical Wargaming (back in print - a recommended book for those who have missed it - Wesencraft was never as fashionable as some of his contemporaries). We deliberately did not use the later rules from CFW's With Pike & Musket, which had been improved rather in the direction of contemporary WRG practice. So the rules we used are functionally very simple - for example, missile fire - you are either in range or not. The game does not bother with niceties such as short range or anything like that. The only change we made was to halve all movement rates - they are very generous in the original. I thought this might mean we had to halve the missile ranges, too, but leaving them unaltered still gave the same sort of balance you will find in other mainstream ECW rules.

The battle lasted all day, but the overall story is quickly told. Both armies were successful early on their respective right flanks, and the Royalist infantry successfully held the line of a hedged road across the middle of the table, but gradually they were worn down, and brought up their reserves, who in turn were eventually driven back and off the field. End of battle - Parliamentary victory, but a very expensive one, I have to say!

My Royalist foot hold the road, before it all turned to rat-droppings

For the second day, we fought a rather smaller action, using the Victory without Quarter rules. Our implementation of the game was definitely on the rough-and-ready side, with a partial deck of playing cards for activation and cardboard chits to identify the units and commanders on the field. Apart from the fact that early successes were on the left flanks this time, the game played out surprisingly similarly to the previous one - even down to my losing...

VwQ is a good, fun game. Considering how short the rule "book" is, we took a little time to get the hang of what is quite a different style of game from what we (well, certainly I) have been used to. Once we got into it, however, it has it's own kind of logic and swing, it becomes a simple matter to carry in your head everything you need to know, and it went well. I am still intending to make it my ECW game of choice for the time being (well - once I have armies to fight with...) , but a couple of observations might be of interest here:

(1) From the generalship point of view, we should have allocated more brigadiers in our game. Units may be given an order when their card is drawn, but when a general officer's card is drawn, all of his units within a certain distance may be given orders, which is a big help. Outlying formations on a flank can become pretty well stranded if there is no brigadier with them - this point is duly noted for the future.

(2) If the armies start off some distance from each other, and have to march into contact, it would be useful to have some kind of bulk-order cards available for a few turns, to get things moving and keep the armies in decent shape - I'm thinking about this.

(3) The rules are not claimed to be complete, but we found a couple of things which we thought need to be covered more fully. Melees involving artillery are dealt with very sketchily - I think I would like to allow artillery to stand and fire if attacked, but to have zero capability if the enemy makes contact - that seems to accord with the spirit of the rules, but is less vague. Also, flank and rear attacks needed some extra rules - certainly for morale tests, and probably for fighting the actual melees also.

There is a great deal which works well, and gives a pleasingly sensible game. Given the possible need for a couple of tweaks, then, the rules passed the test pretty well. It would benefit from a properly prepared set of unit cards, though, and some nice-looking tokens to denote casualties, the need to reload and "shaken" would be good. We used laid-down single figures as casualty markers, and this gave rise to the hilarious sight of units charging around, dragging dead men along behind them. Given a proper level of preparation, then, this is a very enjoyable game - suitable for maybe a dozen-and-a-half units a side - and well worth checking out.

Thanks again, John!

Saturday 24 March 2012

ECW - Victory Without Quarter

I've been very busy this last week reading and comparing English Civil War rules. I've read a lot of rules, and some are very good, but I keep finding things which I don't fancy. If you like some or all of these things, then good for you - my main priority in starting this period is to keep myself happy, so if you disagree with anything that I say here then you are probably right...

I was surprised how many of the rules use singly-based figures - I don't like this system at the best of times, so the prospect of figures armed with dirty great pikes on single bases fills me with dread. I can see the advantages for flexibility of unit organisation and formations that this might offer, but don't want to go that way. A "best of all worlds" arrangement might be achieved by mounting single bases with magnetic sheet on collective sabots faced with steel paper. Thus far, my experiments with this approach indicate that it is good for keeping the little bases in order, but I have problems when I fail to remember to pick the stands up by the stand itself. Pick the stands up by the figures and they will tip towards each other, things fall apart...

I have been strongly tempted to go back to my Old School Charlie Wesencraft rules - I was a big fan of his Horse & Musket rules years ago, but I've never used his Pike & Musket rules, and it seems likely that I'm going to try these out in anger (perhaps that's the wrong phrase?) next week. In fact I'm starting to cool on this idea - the 36-inch light cavalry charge move seems remarkably spritely - I've seen aerial dog fight games with smaller moves than this. We've agreed that next week we will reduce Wesencraft's moves and ranges by half, or maybe use centimetres instead of inches, but I find another thing I am not enthusiastic about is the casualty table - I really dislike pieces of paper on the battlefield, and I prefer casualty calcs which are understandable and intuitive. I have considered Terry Wise's ECW rules, but there is a touch too much tactical detail in there for me. Forlorn Hope is obviously a quality product, but I don't care for the Vintage-WRG style casualty tables - the historic stuff and the organisational and uniform material are first rate, however.

And so it goes on. Overall, the rule set I have found most appealing on most counts is "Victory Without Quarter", by Clarence Harrison, which until recently was available as a free download from Quindia Studios. I like the multiple-figure bases, the absence of rosters and record keeping, the stand-level calcs, the non-removal of casualties, the simple mechanisms and general logic and flow of the game. I have not actually played the game so far, you understand, and I have had a few problems with getting a full understanding of the rules. They are well written, and everything is there, but sometimes you have to look for the bits. To understand how melees work, for example, you have to assemble a collection of elements from each of the sections on The Order Deck, Commanders, Unit Status, Melees (not unreasonably) and Morale. I am gradually getting the hang of where everything is, and I am reluctant to criticise, but things could have been structured more helpfully. I've had a go at reducing the rules to a short Quick-Ref sheet, and it is not straightforward.

Main issue, and the reason for the hours I've committed this week, is the card system for activation. This is absolutely central to the game - there is a card for each unit and general officer, plus some additional cards which allow universal reloading, artillery fire and so on. The card system looks to me like both a strength and an area for some concern. The player is required to make up his own pack of cards, which will be specific to each game being played. I really don't fancy the idea of spoiling the game by my sloppy card shuffling, or even of having the game based around nasty-looking handwritten cards. I have a feeling that an automated version would be smoother and less clunky for me - I'm going to give it a try, anyway. I've been writing a program to automate the game. If I am to rely on being told what to do next, I am just as happy for a computer to do the telling - it cuts down on the bits of cardboard, and I know for a fact that there can be no doubts about the computer's ability to shuffle. I'm also looking at the viability of having an option to have the game based on hexes - thus far, it looks like a goer. I am keeping the program so that it is switchable - at any point in the game, you can switch to hexes or back to inches, so all bets are carefully hedged.

That is really all I want to say about this at the moment. I won't have any ECW figures ready for fighting for a month or two, so I have some time to finalise my choice and implementation of rules.

Elsewhere, Week 9 of the Solo Peninsular War Campaign produced very little action worth noting - having had bad experience of the effects of trying to march in Winter conditions, both armies are consolidating and pretty much sitting tight, waiting for April and the better campaigning weather. I'll include Week 9 with Week 10 in my report in week or so.

Monday 19 March 2012

Falcata - Back in Business

This may be old news for you, but it's new to me. Falcata are officially back, and have a new blog site, which is well worth checking out. They offer 20mm white metal Peninsular War figures, Isabelinos, Carlistas...

Very tasty. You can get the figures direct from Falcata, details available on the blog link above, or from Goyo at La Flecha Negra,

Friday 16 March 2012

Hooptedoodle #46 - Banks - Why?

Banks are an easy target these days - bank executives are right up there with serial killers in the public affection. Not much of a challenge, then, to stir up some bile about banks, so why bother, apart from the chance to generate some hate mail from indignant serial killers?

I was in my local bank branch this morning. I stood in a longish queue for about 15 minutes while the only girl on the customer desk attempted to explain to an 80-year-old the differences between two equally uninteresting savings accounts - and I do mean uninteresting, as in little or no interest. I amused myself by recalling an ancient story from my former working life - so, to get things off to a really pointless start, let's get the digression in early...

Back in the 1970s, for a while I was involved in managing pension schemes for an insurance office. One of our high-profile customers was a very large shipyard - I cannot remember how much the executives of this firm paid themselves by way of pension, but the workers in the yard got a princely £6 for each year of service - so if someone was a paid up member of the scheme throughout a 40-year-working life, with no interruptions, he would rack up a staggering £240 per annum. That's £20 a month, folks. Even in the 1970s that was peanuts. Anyway, the point of this story is that one old guy coming up to retirement was outraged that this pension scheme insisted that he open a bank account, so that his pension could be paid into it on a regular basis by means of whatever passed for automation in those days. His family had never had a bank account - only toffs had bank accounts - he really was very put out about this. His employers and my own company made this a show case - they put a lot of trouble into winning him over. He was introduced to the bank manager, and there were photographs and a lot of hand-shaking, and he was given a personal guarantee by the manager that his money would be well looked after, and he could come in whenever he liked to check that everything was OK.

Great. Much self-congratulation all around, and the shipyard prepared to use this new convert to help persuade his mates to perform similar acts of class betrayal. After a few weeks, he did in fact turn up at the bank, who took photographs of him being shown his money. Then a few weeks later it all went disastrously wrong when he came in and asked again. They managed easily to find enough cash to show him, but he had taken a note of the serial numbers on the previous occasion, and this patently was not his money. What had happened to his money - what had they done with it? Appropriately outraged, at one point he said that this proved everything he had always suspected about banks, and that it just went to show that he'd be safer keeping his money behind the clock.

Over the years I've had a few chuckles at that old story, but recently I find that I'm starting to come around to his viewpoint. What advantages, I ask myself, does a bank account offer over keeping the old green stuff behind the clock? I spent a little time looking around the internet this morning, to see how the banks themselves try to present this anti-clock argument, and I picked up a few fairly traditional one-liners. Let's have a look at a few.

(1) Security - the bank is much safer. Erm - only to a point. The chances of a ruinous hold-up are minimal, true, but the fund managers themselves have shown a remarkable tendency to drop the ball recently, and the external guarantees which are underwritten by third parties are limited in scope. Watch the small print. Hmmm.

(2) Investment - they pay you interest - give you a share of the gain they make from the use of your money. You have to be joking. They pay nothing at all unless you are a new customer, or an existing customer who is patient and involved enough to spot the optimal time to switch money into a new account (and how much of the admin budget does that waste, quite apart from the customer's own time?). For the elderly, or the confused, or the uninformed, or the non-online this is a shameless scam. Thank you for the business you have given us for all these years - you mug.

(3) They can use their expertise to make modern life so much simpler. Really? I recently spent an unrewarding few weeks trying to set up a discretionary trust to provide security for a disabled relative, and no-one in my bank knew very much about it. I had to do my own research, pretty much, and had to pay my own lawyer to provide legal services that the bank felt unable to offer. The legendary girl-on-the-desk knows little about the products which she services, though she is just itching to arrange a meeting for you with the resident financial adviser, who comes in only on Thursdays, and appears to be half way through the banking exams. You want to ask about your business account? - I'm sorry, you'll have to ring this number. You want to send money overseas? - I'm sorry, it will be cheaper and less infuriating if you do it yourself, online.

(4) They can help out in more difficult times - with advice or a loan. Do not, under any circumstances, overdraw your account or we will take your children hostage. There may not be much interest going out, but by gum there's plenty coming in. If you want a loan, you have no chance at all unless you can clearly demonstrate that you don't need the money.

(5) They are nice, helpful people to deal with. "And what are you up to today, then?" asks the girl at the end of my 15-minute wait, while she is sorting out my transfer. I feel my blood pressure rising. I breathe slowly. "Oh, I thought I'd spend the morning standing in a queue in the bank," I say, "how about you?"

She sits there, several metres below my rapier-like thrust, and blinks charmingly. "Oh, I work here," she says. So that explains it. If I wish to discuss anything more intricate than my immediate tactical plans for this morning, I will have to phone up another young lady, in New Delhi, and if I do not follow exactly the script which she has in front of her then we will get hopelessly confused. Best not to ask - just keep your head down and be grateful. As for the petty chat from the girl in the branch, I do realise they are trained to do this. It is a mistake. I do not want my bank to be my bloody friend. It kind of adds insult to injury.

(6) It is good for one's own credibility to share in the corporate image of a well-known bank. Yeah - right. During the setting-up of the aforementioned trust, I went through the customary contortions to satisfy the anti-Money-Laundering regulations (which I do realise are necessary, thank you), and also had to pay my lawyer for the time he took going though the same process, since he is one of the trustees. A less respectful punter than I might easily stop and say, "Just a minute - it's you that is the bank - based on recent performance, which of us should be satisfying the other of our credentials and trustworthiness?".

Thursday 15 March 2012

Solo Campaign - Week 8

Wellington's Logistics Train in trouble on the retreat from Benavente

Week 08

Random Events
Nothing new. There was a scare about a potential typhus outbreak in the French force at Burgos, but it came to nothing.  

The 3D3 activation throws give Allies 5, French 4 – Allies elect to move first.


Allies (5 allowed)
1 – A (Wellington) holds position at Lugo, to allow the troops to rest – Group is still Out of Supply, and thus is not allowed monthly reinforcement phase, but they lose their Tired status – since still Demoralised (see last week), this Group will again require to be tested for desertion and sickness (see below)...
2 – Sp B (Espana) marches over the rough road from Zamora to Orense, this requires a test...
2D3 = 4 +2 (Espana’s rating) -1 (winter conditions) -1 (brown road) = 4    - this result means that the Group completes the march but is Tired
3 – E (Cotton) also marches over the rough road from Zamora to Orense, test is as follows:
2D3 = 2 +2 (Cotton’s rating) -1 (winter conditions) -1 (brown road) = 2   - this result means that the Group has to abandon the march, and is Demoralised (see below for sickness & desertion)
4 – Fortress of Elvas is garrisoned with a force (F) of 4000 Portuguese militia with artillery
5 – Fortress of Almeida is garrisoned with a force (G) of 4000 Portuguese militia with artillery
[Intelligence step –
  • Nothing new – no scouting orders]
French (4 allowed)
1 – H (Clauzel, with his own Divn, Piquet’s dragoons and the reserve artillery) marches 1 step from Valladolid to Salamanca
 [Intelligence step -
  • No scouting orders]

Supplies and Demoralisation
Anglo-Portuguese Group A (Wellington, at Lugo) is Demoralised since he is Out of Supply until Week 09.
Demoralisation tests result in a block/base being lost to sickness and desertion for the following units:
2/24th Ft, 2/58th Ft, Combined Lt Coys of Blantyre’s Bde, 1st Line Bn KGL, 74th Ft, 1/88th Ft, 1/9th Ptgse, 2/21st Ptgse, 2nd Lt Bn KGL, 51st Ft, 1st Dgns KGL, 2nd Dgns KGL. Wellington’s force thus lost a further 1935 infantry and 240 cavalry.
Anglo-Portuguese Group E (Cotton) was forced to abandon the march through the hills to Orense, and as a consequence are Demoralised. Losses through desertion and sickness are relatively light – 1 block/base lost by each of 1/8th Ptgse, 2/12th Ptgse, 11th Ptgse cavalry – a total of 400 infantry, 120 cavalry.

This is the weekend nearest to 15th March, so potential replacements and troops returning to duty from hospitals are rolled for:
Spanish Group B (Espana) gained no extra troops.
French Group N (Marmont) gained blocks/bases as follows:
2/69e (+2), 1e Leg Esp (Castilla), 1/2e Esp (Toledo), 2/2e Esp (Toledo), Regt Royal-Etranger (+1 each), 1/3e Italien (+2), 2/3e Italien, 1/5e Italien, 2/5e Italien, Lanciers de la Vistule (+1 each) – total addition is 2200 infantry, 120 cavalry.
French Group H (Clauzel) – 3/25e Leger and 2/50e each +1 = +400 infantry
French Group S (Jourdan) – 1/2e Nassau, 2/2e Nassau and Regt de Francfort each +1 = +600 infantry


Resting at Lugo after their defeat at Benavente and the harsh retreat over the hills in difficult winter conditions, Wellington’s force, being in very short supply until wagons could reach them from the new depot at Vigo, lost a further 2175 men to sickness and desertion. To make matters worse, since they were Out of Supply, they were not in a position to receive the monthly intake of recoveries and replacements.

The Spanish 3rd Army (Espana) and Cotton (with the Allied 6th Division and about half the Anglo-Portuguese cavalry) had a very severe march from Zamora to Orense, through bad weather on poor roads. Espana’s men made it with some difficulty (arriving Tired), but Cotton’s force were forced to abandon the march and return to Zamora, arriving demoralised and lucky to lose only 520 men on the road – the Portuguese troops were most badly affected. Cotton’s force was unable to receive any recoveries or replacements for the month, as a result of being demoralised and disordered on the march.

Clauzel, with his own division of the Armee de Portugal plus a brigade of dragoons, advanced across the Duero from Valladolid to Salamanca, thus cutting the Allied forces under Espana and Cotton off from Ciudad Rodrigo.

The French army received replacement troops and returns from hospital as follows:

Marmont (at Leon) – 2200 infantry, 120 cavalry

Clauzel (now at Salamanca) – 400 infantry

Jourdan (at Madrid) – 600 infantry

There are rumours that Wellington may be recalled to Britain, and replaced – a number of successors have been mentioned. As official 2-i-c, Beresford would expect to assume command, but there is talk of Sir Henry Paget...

A suggestion that Marmont be created Prince de Benavente for his victory was not well received by the Emperor – his exact words are not recorded, but something to the effect that he might be able to overlook one of Marmont’s past errors in consequence of this isolated success...

Wednesday 14 March 2012

There Was a Little Man

The Diversification - so where was I?

Spring is rolling in here, longer days, brighter outlook, busy busy...

Big change for me this year, as I've mentioned recently, is the start of an involvement in English Civil War gaming (which is a new area), and my decision to put a final scoping in place for my Peninsular War - i.e. optimise the game, and keep involved with it, but stop the pointless, endless growth of the armies.

First development has been a pleasant surprise - starting to clean out the Napoleonic spares boxes via eBay has certainly not made me wealthy, but it has gone better than I expected - far better - and funds raised to date will more than pay for my first batch of ECW soldiers - I should get my hands on my first shipment of Les Higgins figures in a couple of weeks. I hasten to add that this eBay seam of pay-dirt will not cover getting the soldiers painted, or all the books I've suddenly become interested in, or the whole world of 15mm English Rural buildings and scenery which are now attracting my attention, but it is still an unexpected bonus.

I was intrigued to find how pleased I have been to have some unexpected cross-subsidy to offset the ECW expense. I mean the whole idea of a hobby is that it's a waste, right? It's something you don't need to do, and it absorbs funds and time that you could usefully use for something more productive. What would be the point otherwise?

And yet there is still a little inner angst. My dad's family came from what I suppose used to be called provincial working-class roots in the North of England, and there are traditions of hardship and real struggle in there, however outdated they may be now, which do not sit comfortably with anything as self-indulgent or unnecessary as a hobby. My father was always very keen on his gardens and allotments, and they were always immaculate and a source of great pleasure for him. Yet he would invariably point out the amount of hard work they represented, and justify his gardening pastime by telling you how much money he saved by growing his own potatoes - there had to be a little Calvinist balance-sheet in there to show that this was not really about having fun. You could challenge this argument if you had a mind to - for example, not everyone would choose to purchase a hundredweight of Purple Sprouting Broccoli all in one go from the greengrocer if they hadn't grown it themselves - especially in the days before freezers, so the economic case didn't always stand up. Similarly the annual production of barrow-loads of beetroot, and enough rhubarb to cure the constipation of a small town - I think he grew some of this stuff because he liked to grow it, don't you? And what about all those flowers - did we actually need them? I am not mocking - this is an entirely affectionate reminiscence, and that spirit is still alive in the relief I feel when the cost of my new ECW activities does not all have to come out of the same piggy-bank as the family holiday.

And finally...

There is a well-known nursery rhyme which appears at the top of this post. We had a discussion here recently about a slightly different, old children's rhyme which was, I think, a girl's skipping song when I was a kid in Liverpool. You might know it, or some regional variation on it - I offer advance apologies to anyone who is offended by it's forthright style, but this is street culture, and it's Trad, Dad.

There was a little man,
And he had a little gun,
And up yon hill he did so run.
With an oilskin hat
And a belly full of fat,
And a pancake tied to his bum.

Ho ho, how we laughed. Now, this might just be a child's rude parody of the duck-shooting rhyme, but I have come to understand that children's rhymes - and I mean real, folk-lore children's rhymes - usually have their origins in some political or historical theme, and often it is pretty strong stuff - e.g. nursery rhymes which are allegories for the Black Death, the burning of Catholics and other fun topics. I don't believe that the little man with his little gun is as sinister as that, but it has been suggested to me that the skipping song is a military satire based on the duck-hunter, and may come from the Boer War or some other British Colonial War. I have no idea, but since I know of no more erudite bunch than the readers of this blog, I'd be delighted if anyone can shed a little light. If it helps, the illustration at the top dates from 1912 or so, so the duck-hunter rhyme has been around for as long as you like. Who was the little man, and what was he doing?

I don't really wish to have details about the pancake, if there's a choice.

Wednesday 7 March 2012

Solo Campaign - Week 7

In short supply in Wellington's army
[Hard-tack biscuit, in Army (L) and Navy (R) styles]

After all the fighting last week, this has been mostly a week of rest for the French, and of marching on very short rations for Wellington's force heading towards Lugo.

Week 07

Random Events
Nothing new. There will be some mutterings in the British Parliament, but nothing official.  

The 3D3 activation throws give Allies 7, French 7 – since French had initiative in last week, they continue to have it – they choose to allow Allies to move first.


Allies (7 allowed)
1 – A (Wellington) completes retreat over rough roads to Lugo after defeat at Benavente. This requires a test:
2D3 = 4 +3 (Wellington’s rating -1 (army is tired) -1 (winter conditions) -1 (brown road) = 4    - this result means that the army completes the march but is Tired  - since the Army is already Tired it becomes Demoralised (see below)...
2 – having marched away from his supply route through Zamora, Wellington is now Out of Supply. One Order this week is to arrange for the Navy to ship supplies to Vigo....
3 – ...and one is for a new Supply Base to be set up at Vigo. [It will be 2 weeks – Week 09 – before supplies start to arrive by this route. This means that Force A will be Out of Supply in Week 8 also, and since this is the second such week, the Group will be Demoralised again next week.
4 – Sp B (Espana) marches from Salamanca to Zamora
5 – Similarly Ang-Port E (Cotton) makes the same march
6 – Sp D (Maceta, at Avila) rests
 [Intelligence step –
  • Nothing new – no scouting orders]
French (7 allowed)
1 – N (Marmont) holds position at Leon, allowing Tired troops to recover
2 – L (Montfort’s brigade, at Talavera) marches 1 step to Caceres...
3 – ...and Group L is joined to K, at Caceres, all under Maucune.
4 – S (Jourdan, at Madrid) rests – thus Neuenstein’s brigade recovers.
[Intelligence step -
  • No scouting orders]

Supplies and Demoralisation
Anglo-Portuguese Group A (Wellington, at Lugo) is Out of Supply until Week 09. This will cause Demoralisation next week, but the force is Demoralised this week already because of rough retreat after Benavente.
Demoralisation tests result in a further block/base being lost to sickness and desertion for the following units:
1/Coldstream Gds, 1/79th Ft, 1/88th Ft, Combined Lt Coys of Wallace’s Bde, 2/83rd Ft, 2/9th Ptgse, 1/21st Ptgse, 2/21st Ptgse, 11th LD, 14th LD, 16th LD, 1st Dgns KGL, 2nd Dgns KGL, and Gardiner’s battery RA abandoned their remaining guns.
Wellington’s force thus lost a further 1500 infantry, 550 cavalry and 2 guns on the retreat, and demoralisation will continue next week..


Wellington’s defeated force suffered further during the retreat over the poor roads to Lugo. The cavalry and the artillery did particularly badly – many horses lost – and desertion, sickness and men becoming separated from their units and falling behind resulted in a further 2050 men lost in total. Gardiner’s battery, attached to the First Divn, were already in poor shape after Benavente, and had to abandon their 2 remaining guns on the road. Third Divn is temporarily commanded by Col. Wallace of the 88th Foot in Picton’s absence – Picton has a shell splinter in his shoulder, and is expected to be fit in a few weeks. Portuguese brigade in the Third Divn and KGL brigade in the First Divn are now very much reduced in strength.

The commands of Espana (Spanish troops) and Cotton (Anglo-Portuguese 6th Divn + much of the cavalry) marched from Salamance to Zamora, the intention being to support Wellington at Lugo.

Wellington’s force is temporarily Out of Supply, and the Navy has been ordered to ship supplies to Vigo, which becomes new Supply Base. Wellington will not receive supplies by this new arrangement until Week 9, so will continue to be Demoralised next week.

French army mostly recovering from previous exertions, though Maucune’s Divn at Caceres has called in its detached brigade and is now combined to full strength.

Tuesday 6 March 2012

Trouble Next Door

Tantallon Castle today

After Cromwell's victory at the Battle of Dunbar, in 1650, raiding groups of Scottish horsemen known as the Moss Troopers and the Desperado Gallants continued to operate against the English army, and they were based at the East Lothian castles of Innerwick, Dirleton and Tantallon. Innerwick was soon abandoned, but Dirleton and Tantallon required formal sieges before they were suppressed. Tantallon is of particular interest to me since it is near to my house - right next door in rural terms - and, while I know it well as a local ruin and tourist site, in the 12 years I have lived here I have never got round to finding out much about it, a situation which may seem as strange as it is lamentable.

I am currently reading a lot about the English Civil Wars, and, of course, I now have the opportunity to make good a little of my lack of knowledge. One valuable advantage of living in Scotland is that you can't move for history - it sort of drips off the walls. There are a great many fantastic sites worth visiting, and many of them are well-maintained and accessible - the National Trust for Scotland is a fine institution. Good so far - you can get there and you can look around - but the history itself is not so straightforward. It depends who you ask...

I am not a native of Scotland. I have lived here most of my life, but I did not have the advantage of learning the history and the traditions as part of my upbringing and education. I've made a couple of brave attempts to get to grips with the history, but I didn't do awfully well. I got halfway through Prof JD Mackie's standard work and realised I would have to start again - I had literally lost the plot. Second time through I was taking notes and everything, but it was still very heavy going, and I was very glad there was no exam at the end. Convoluted. Scotland has had periods when there were several kings on the go at the same time. Some of them were Danes, some were Picts, some of them may even have been Scots. The constant conflicts that went on are confused by the superimposition of family, religious and political divisions, and the fact that half of them seem to have been called David doesn't help. And then, of course, they intermarried, and murdered each other, and the French and the accursed English kept getting involved. Even when formal warfare was not current, something very like it would be carried on by the main families.

I apologise wholeheartedly if this seems dismissive or in any other way disrespectful - it is not intended to be so - it is just a summary of the struggle that I, as a relative outsider, have had to understand what went on here - and we are speaking of matters which people have lived and died and fought for over centuries, and from which many of the factions and the grievances are still around today, so I really do have to watch what I say.

Anyway - back to Tantallon. There have been a number of sieges there over the years, but the last was in 1651. It was severely damaged by General Monk's men, and I believe that the Desperado Gallants were granted surrender terms which were much more generous than they expected. Subsequently the castle was substantially demolished to prevent its future use as a military base. The account of the 1651 siege also relates that the walled community of Castletown adjacent to Tantallon had to be fought over first. These days Castleton is merely a farm, with a steading and a Victorian house and a line of 4 cottages - it doesn't look like a military objective. Obviously it was a thriving little town in the 17th Century.

There is some good material and some enthusiastic artwork on a website here. Mostly I am reminded that I am overdue another visit to the castle - it is one of my son's favourite days out, but you have to pick your day carefully. If the weather is not completely favourable, it is potentially the windiest, most wretched place you can find around here. Anyway, I have some more reading to do before I'm ready.

The Siege of Tantallon 1651

A more traditional moody view of the castle, this one painted by Thomas Moran about a hundred years ago. This picture is of personal interest to us since it is obviously viewed from a location we know as 'Our Secret Beach', which is only accessible at low tide - and it's hairy enough then. Either Moran was a quick painter or else he took sandwiches and blankets and toughed it out for the duration

Monday 5 March 2012

Hooptedoodle #45 - Pragmatism, and the Marino Festival

This has the makings of one of my more pointless posts, so please move on if you're not in the mood. Recently I was involved in the pub in a good-going discussion about Europe, and we touched on reasons why Britain was never going to be a comfortable inner member of the EU (or whatever set of letters is now correct). For a start, Europe is just stuffed with foreigners, which is always going to be a problem. For another thing, the British instinct to obey regulations and then whinge about them makes us bad material for such a role. And then there's our attitude. Given that our preferred stance is to stand on the fringes and sneer, it would hardly be surprising if eventually someone were to ask us to go away.

Some years ago, the makers of a world-famous blue cheese in Yorkshire were obliged to clean up their act in accordance with EU regulations, and they did so, and whatever microbes were responsible for their famous blue cheese just curled up and died. The cheese is no more. Oh my God - another terrible affront from the faceless bureaucrats in Brussels. Harrumph etc.

Round about the same time, a friend of mine who manufactures Camembert cheese in Normandy was given the same set of regulations. He is still in business. His cheese is, literally, alive and well. How can this be?

Well. to be frank about it, he did exactly what the bureaucrats expected him to do. Nothing. He ignored the regs. He said "Yes, sir, three bags full, sir." but realised that his livelihood depended on the bugs in his factory, so he did - well, sort of nothing. That's how proper Europe works. The regulators would have expected nothing else.

Also some years ago, I had a very lazy, overfed holiday in a rarified part of Tuscany, and got friendly with the Maitre D in the local restaurant (as one does). One day my wife-of-the-day and I ordered a Florentine steak, and I was astonished. The flavour was unmistakeable. I have eaten steak in the USA - I understand about maturing prime beef. I grabbed the Maitre D - "That is a wonderful steak," I said, "but I know perfectly well that it has been matured for far longer than is legal in Europe - can you talk me through this?" He laughed. "We are practical people in Italy - if we need to hang a steak for 36 or 40 days we'll do it. If we need to say something different on the certificate to keep the regulators happy, we'll do that too - why make them miserable?"

I love that. Someone might suggest that it is dishonest, but excellent steaks and excellent compliance can both exist in the same world if you work at it.

The Italians are wonderfully pragmatic people. I love Italy, and I greatly admire the Italians' ability to focus most of their attention on things that really matter - food, wine, music, sex, happiness. I'll end this post with a story which has no merit at all except that I like it as an example of exactly this sort of pragmatism. My friend Tom is half Italian - his mother was Italian, though he grew up in Scotland. When he finished his university degree, he went to live in Italy for a while, and worked as a teacher, teaching English as a foreign language in Rome. While he was there, he married a local girl, and brought her back to Scotland. So Tom has many relatives in Italy. On one of his first visits to meet his new extended family, he found that he was required to help at the wine festival in Marino, Lazio. A feature of this festival is that, every year on 1st October, there is a miracle - the fountains in the centre of the town suddenly stop producing water and start to produce the local white wine. Now I think you may admit that this is a very useful kind of miracle indeed. Tom realised very quickly that this supernatural event coincided with a tanker-lorry full of wine being connected to the fountain with plastic hoses, but the festival is still played out each year, with priests and townspeople openly celebrating the miracle, in full knowledge that it is, in fact, a sham. Tom spoke to the local priest - "How is this a miracle?". "But of course it's a miracle," came the answer, "the very fact that we are able to make wonderful wine here is a miracle - what more do you want?". Tom couldn't think of anything else, in fact.

Tom's recollection of his first Marino festival is hazy. At one point, since he was related to some local worthy, he was put in charge of the fountain for a few hours. He was armed with a large carton of paper cups, and was required to make sure that anyone who wanted a drink from the fountain could have one. For some reason he cannot recall, Tom became very tired after a while, and had to be relieved. He still hopes that the townspeople and the priests were not too disappointed in his lack of stamina.

Sunday 4 March 2012

What if.....?

Sir David Baird? - nah...

My previous post gives the details on a fairly substantial defeat for the Allied army in the Peninsula in my solo campaign, and Ross's appended comment to that post raises the question of comeback - poor old Arthur Wellesley, for all his changing titles and honours, lived constantly under the threat of being replaced if things went against him, or even if Parliament took a dislike to the manner in which they went in his favour.

I reproduce here a couple of relevant pages of the British Army List for January 1812. In all innocence, I ask the question - because I really have no idea - if Wellington had been pulled from the Peninsular in 1812 (or any time, really), who would have replaced him?

Most of his peers in the Army were geriatric and/or useless, his subordinates in Spain were maybe not the required material, either by talent or by seniority or by influence. Any suggestions? If Wellesley had been removed, who, of the available people, would have been

(1) a likely replacement, or

(2) a good replacement?

Just a bit of fun. I can't get past the David Bairds and the Dalrymples and the other aged good chaps, but there must have been someone. Graham was a good subordinate, but I'm not sure he could have handled the top job, and in any case his health was uncertain. Hill was healthier, but maybe typecast in the same way. Beresford was hated by most of the British General Staff (for whatever reason), and was basically an administrator. Cotton was strictly Wellington's second in command around this time, but he would have made an awkward supremo...

Any ideas? I was going to run a poll, but I thought that listing candidates would distort the results, and anyway I don't know how to do it! Here's the pages from the Army List for top guys in Jan 1812...

Solo Campaign - Battle of Benavente – 28th February 1812

It took a few days to get round to fighting this battle, so I've fallen behind the real-time calendar, not that it matters, and in any case I should be able to make up time during non-fighting weeks.

[Preamble – rules and suchlike. Even with detached forces, for this action the French army would require over 40 leaders and units in a conventional CCN game, and the Allies not much less. It is clear (to me, anyway) that such a game would be unplayable, so I used my own Grand Tactical tweaked version of CCN – first time in anger. It worked well enough, though initially it feels conceptually strange, and there are still points to be cleared up concerning the use of artillery batteries attached to infantry or cavalry brigades. Nothing arose which could not be decided as I went along, though I took a couple of notes for possible future changes – again, details only. In this amended form, the big differences in the game are that the “units” in the game become brigades, and there is no musketry fire – the game scale is reduced (increased?) to the point where musketry becomes part of melee combat. The only “ranged combat” is thus artillery fire, and the effect is greatly reduced, with batteries smaller and ranges reduced to fit the ground scale.

5 Command Cards each side, French move first throughout, 8 Victory Banners for the win.]

Narrative: Wellington, having left the Sixth Divn and much of his cavalry to cover the crossings on the Duero, marched the remainder of his army into the Leon area, to threaten Marmont’s flank and his communications through Burgos. Marmont, still with his hand forced by orders from Paris to take an aggressive stance rather than leave Castile, moved to intercept the Anglo-Portuguese army. He also left behind part of his force, under Clauzel, to cover the Duero. The pickets of the two armies made contact on the road from Salamanca to Leon, some miles north of Benavente, during the night of 27th February.

In the early morning of the 28th, Marmont found that the Allies had a fairly strong defensive position near the village of Villa Quejida, with their left flank in woods, on the bank of the (unfordable) River Esla.

Marmont had Foy’s Division from the Armee de Portugal, part of D’Armagnac’s Division from the Armee du Centre (comprising Chasse’s German brigade and St Paul’s Italians) and Guye’s Division, also from the Armee du Centre (comprising Merlin’s brigade of King Joseph’s Guard and Casapalacios’ brigade of King Joseph’s Spanish line troops). His cavalry was organised into 4 strong brigades under Montbrun, the heavy cavalry brigades commended by Pierre Boyer and Treillard, and the light by Maupoint and Curto.

Wellington, inferior in both cavalry and artillery, took a reverse slope position on the hill which dominated the area, with the Foot Guards brigade placed on an outlying hill on the right, with the artillery of the First Division. The centre was held by the brigades of Blantyre and Low from First Division, and by Halkett’s and Bernewitz’ brigades from Seventh Divn, these last two brigades being his only available designated light infantry. The lower ground near the river was held by Picton’s Third Division. The two small cavalry brigades were placed in the rear of the right flank (Anson’s light dragoons) and the centre (Bock’s KGL dragoons).

The fighting was hectic and possession of the ridge swung back and forth a few times, but the story of the battle is simply told; Marmont made early use of a Bayonet Charge Command card, and made a massive attack in the centre. The Italian brigade suffered severe losses and broke fairly quickly, but Foy’s two brigades forced their way onto the higher ground. General Picton himself brought Palmeirim’s Portuguese brigade up, after they had been delayed by Command card difficulties, and succeeded in pushing Foy’s troops back. At this point Foy received a bayonet wound in his thigh while leading the 6eme Leger, of Chemineau’s brigade, and was taken to the rear.

By this stage, the Allied infantry on the ridge were exhausted, and Foy’s men took a measure of revenge for the loss of their leader, rallying and regaining the ridge. A critical moment came when the valiant Portuguese finally gave way, Picton being seriously wounded as he attempted to rally them. On the Allied right, things were also going badly, as the Foot Guards, though in square, were broken by Treillard’s heavy cavalry, led with great courage and extraordinarily lucky dice rolls by Montbrun (in his new “Lasalle” guise). Treillard’s men, encouraged (not to say surprised) by this success, rushed on to press home a Bonus Combat (as defined in CCN), swept away Anson’s light dragoons and overran Gardiner’s foot battery. With the loss of Picton, the French now had a margin in Victory Banners of 9-4, and the day was won, the margin being officially Decisive.


French Army – Marshal Auguste Marmont, Duc de Raguse

Gen de Divn MS Foy (w)
Brigade Chemineau – 6e leger & 69e ligne (5 bns in total)
Brigade Desgraviers – 39e & 76e Ligne (4 bns)
1 horse battery
1 foot battery

Gen de Divn D’Armagnac
Brigade Chasse – Regt de Prusse, 3e Berg, 4e Hesse-Darmstadt (4 bns)
Brigade St Paul (Italians) – 2e leger, 3e & 5e ligne (5 bns)
1 Italian foot battery

Gen de Divn N Guye
Brigade Merlin (King’s Guard) – Grenadiers, Fusiliers & Voltigeurs (5 bns)
Brigade Casapacios (Spanish) – Castilla, Toledo, Royal Etranger (4 bns)
1 horse battery (King’s Guard)

Gen de Divn Montbrun
Brigade Boyer – 15e & 25 Dragons
Brigade Curto – 3e Hussards, 13e, 22e & 26e Chasseurs a Cheval
Brigade Treillard – 13e Cuirassiers, 4e Dgns, Dragoni Napoleone, Vistula Lancers
Brigade Maupoint – 1st & 2nd Pommerian ChevauxLegers, 5e Chev-Lanciers
1 horse battery

Total 28240 men with 34 guns – loss approx 6040 men and 2 guns

Allied Army – Earl of Wellington

First Divn (Sir Thomas Graham)
Henry Campbell’s brigade – Coldstream & 3rd Foot Guards
Blantyre’s brigade – 2/24th, 1/42nd, 2/58th & 1/79th Foot
Von Low’s brigade – 1st, 2nd & 5th Bns KGL
1 foot battery

Third Divn (Sir Thomas Picton (w))
Wallace’s brigade – 1/45th, 74th & 88th Foot
John Campbell’s brigade – 2/5th, 2/83rd & 94th Foot
Palmeirim’s (Portuguese) bde – 9th & 21st Regts (2 bns each) & 11th Cacadores
1 foot battery

Seventh Divn (part) (Sir John Hope)
Halkett’s brigade – 1st & 2nd Light bns, KGL & Brunswick-Oels jaegers
Bernewitz’s brigade – 51st & 68th Foot & Chasseurs Britanniques
1 horse battery

Cavalry (George Anson)
Anson’s brigade – 11th, 14th & 16th Light Dgns
Von Bock’s brigade – 1st & 2nd dragoons, KGL

Total 23300 men with 18 guns – loss approx 7490 men and 4 guns

Both armies heavily disorganised by the action – Allies retreated towards Lugo (which is a rough road) – French remained on the field to look after their wounded and reorganise. The Allied retreat may give rise to Demoralisation, since the roads are bad, weather is still wintery, and the army is defeated and tired to start with. Will assess this in next week’s returns.

Allied position at the start, seen from their right

...and the French, from their left

Nicolas Guye, with King Joseph's Guard - the small brigades took a bit of getting used to 

Foy leads the main attack in the centre

The French attack, seen from behind the Allied position

The French move quickly to seize the initiative, thanks to favourable Command cards

Montbrun sets about the British Foot Guards on the hillock

The Allies' last hope - Picton brings in the Portuguese brigade (right side of picture)

Ouch! - MS Foy is wounded - still brings tears to my eyes thinking of it