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

Wednesday 30 January 2019

Hooptedoodle #322 - Where Are Heroes When You Need Them?

I have lived through the twitterings and the pantomime protocols of our useless, deluded Parliament for too long. A room full of over-inflated, would-be celebrities, who confuse loyalty to their pals and their wretched, outmoded political parties with the job they were elected to do.

They could not run a bath.

I am ashamed - of course I'm angry, but I'm also embarrassed to think how pathetic we must appear to other nations. This, mark you, is the very same Mother of Parliaments we are determined to keep sacrosanct, to protect from the influence of evil foreigners. The bus to Beachy Head is now warmed up, and there are seats for all. We have not yet decided whether the window blinds will be open or closed for the final descent - we'll have a vote on that next Tuesday, after the Bingo.

Tuesday 29 January 2019

Bavarians - Where I'm at, and What's Next

The next thing to do is to get the 3rd Divn of Lefebvre's (Bavarian) VII Corps of 1809 finished off. I still need two infantry brigadiers, a brigade of cavalry (2 regts - one of dragoons, one of chevauxlegers - plus a brigadier) and two artillery batteries (including one of Light Artillery). That will be the main components - I can add sappers/engineers and limber teams as time permits.

I may have posted pictures of some of this stuff already. Here are the raw materials for the next steps. The cavalry will all be Hinton Hunt based, and the artillery equipment will be Franznap - for gunners I have a choice of SHQ or Franznap.

The cavalry figures set out here are (L to R) an original HH Chevauxlegers trooper, then conversions produced by Wellington Man of a Chevauxlegers officer and trumpeter, and a dragoon trooper (different-shaped shabraque). I am still doing some experimentation for the command figures for the dragoon unit, but the most likely solution at present is SHQ French line lancer command figures, with HH heads and with the uniform detail re-carved as necessary, mounted on 20mm Garrison horses - we'll see how that goes.

The artillery figures are (L to R) two SHQ figures and three Franznap. Though a good height match, you can see that the Franznap figures are slimmer, and I'll avoid mixing the two breeds in any one unit, though the different makes can co-exist on the table in separate units, I think.

Interestingly, Franznap only make gun crews for the Light Artillery, which brought me back with a bump to the small matter of how the Light and Heavy(?) artillery differed. I have not had a great deal of help on this from the better known modern sources, but in fact it's all OK. The Bavarians did eventually have horse artillery, in the French style, but in 1809 the Light Artillery was simply artillery who were equipped with - erm - lighter guns (6pdrs), and the gunners had a tendency to ride around on those splendid Wurstwagen things. Uniforms? - no real difference, as far as I can tell. So that simplifies matters a bit - I might think about getting a Franznap Wurstwagen - sounds like Phase 1(c) to me.

At risk of sounding like the Golden Globes, I thought I'd mention a few people without whose help I couldn't have made the progress I managed to date - not even close, in fact. Flipping back through this blog, I see a first mention of a possible Bavarian contingent in my State of the Union report in August 2017. By 2nd April last year I was experimenting with preparing some Der Kriegsspieler castings for the first infantry. This week I have 10 battalions ready to fight - I'm really pleased with that. For help with sourcing figures, painting, encouragement, consultancy, charitable donations of effort and castings I have to acknowledge sincere thanks to Evan, Stryker, Ian P, Aulus Grammaticus, Goya, David M, David Y, Old John, Matthew, Uwe and Andreas (die Spielzeugmacher, or Brothers Grimm) and to Chuck Gibke in the US for his knowledge of the old DK ranges. If I've forgotten to mention you, then you know I'm grateful anyway - in particular Jonathan, Lee, Peter A, Ray, Aly, Ross and those others who have egged me on by making encouraging comments as the troops appeared.

Thanks very much!

Monday 28 January 2019

Bavarians - 3rd Divn Infantry now complete

Bavarian 10. LIR "Junker"
The infantry for the 3rd Divn of VII Corps of 1809 are now finished. Both battalions of the 10th line regiment were based and provided with flags and sabots this morning, and photos taken for the Catalogue.

1st Battalion - that'll be Oberstleutnant Von Poellnitz on the cuddy
2nd Battalion
The cavalry are still to be painted, as are the artillery, but I now have the figures in stock. I'll put some photos of the artillery castings up here in a day or so. I still need to paint some brigadiers, and some sappers would be nice. It's all gone rather well thus far - I'm not sure when (or if) the 2nd Divn is likely to get started, but I have figures ready for that as well. One project at a time, if you don't mind.

And because it seemed a suitable occasion, here's a picture of all the finished infantry - here you see General Deroy, with the 5th (Buttler) and 7th (Gunther) Light Bns, and the 9th (Ysenburg), 10th (Junker), 5th (Von Preysing) and 14th Line Regts, all the line units being of two battalions.

Deroy with the infantry of 3rd Divn, VII Corps, all ready for the Danube campaign

Wednesday 16 January 2019

Battle of Aspern-Essling (Day 1) - 21 May 1809

Wargaming yesterday - early start to get to Schloss Goya for 10am kick-off. My idea that it would be amusing to arrive with fresh custard tarts was stillborn, since I couldn't obtain any. No matter, in fact, since our host laid on the customary excellent food and refreshments.

View over the battlefield, early on, from behind the Austrian left flank
Our game was the Commands & Colors: Napoleonics official scenario for Day 1 of the Battle of Aspern-Essling, which I guess is just the Battle of Aspern, when Massena attempted to hang on to the town, waiting for the bulk of Napoleon's army to hurry up and cross the Danube; thus the French have IV Corps plus some of the reserve cavalry. Lannes and all that stuff belongs to the second day. One big advantage of Day 1 is that it is small enough to make a good-sized game, though the number of built-up areas promised to give the beta-test Ramekin rules [I'm up to version 1.7] a decent workout and sanity-check.

I was Massena, while Goya and Stryker shared the Austrian forces, their overall commander being Archduke Charles. I took along my own French troops, and the Austrian forces were Goya's. We followed the published scenario very closely - the only (insignificant) amendment was that we replaced the mystery French "Guard Heavy Cavalry" unit with a third Cuirassier regiment - it has been suggested to me that whoever designed the scenario identified the Carabiniers as a guard unit - no matter.

Because we stuck to the published set-up, my artillery was mostly stuck in the wrong places. What I should have done was get busy right away with the double-moves which Ramekin allows, to get my artillery better placed. Didn't happen, of course, because I was immediately up to my neck in muck and bullets as the Kaiserliks set about the village.

The big Austrian line units have a scary amount of firepower, and they performed well - their only disadvantages are that they are slow, and are not allowed double moves, though they can certainly get a shift on when they are retiring, since they get double retreats for the C&CN flag symbol rolls. Their distinctive battaillon-masse tactic also proved to be a major discouragement to my late cavalry attack - without horse artillery (or aerial support) there was not much I could do against them.

The Austrians made excellent use, throughout, of the Combined Arms Attack rule, using artillery (including one particularly effective Grand Battery on the little hill north of the village) very effectively to support infantry attacks on the various bits of the town. I took heavy casualties very quickly, and was steadily pushed out of the town - I hung on to the extreme east end of the place, and I held the church for a while, until, again, the Austrians brought up a foot battery and blew me out of there.

So the French were very quickly well behind on Victory Points, including extra ones for possession of the majority of the town, and I only made the margin of defeat anything like respectable with a grand charge of cavalry (historically authentic, by the way) which took out the pesky Grand Battery and wrecked the Austrian cavalry. With everyone beginning to show signs of fatigue, Bellegarde's troops eventually claimed the necessary 12th VP, and the French were beaten [but only until the following day!].

Yes, it was pretty decisive. Once again, my sincere thanks to my colleagues/opponents for their company and good humour, and to Goya for all his hard work organising and setting up, and for slaving in the galley.

Austrian High Command caught in the act of setting up the Grand Battery on the ridge. On the left edge of the photo is visible Massena [that's me] in a rather snazzy little [S-Range] carriage - yes, that's only correct for Wagram, but the thing would never get a run out at all if it weren't for a little historical licence...
Already some casualties, but the Archduke isn't hanging about here
The French left was protected by the church and some woods, and some impassable marshes. I put some crack light infantry in there - the boys in the church seem to have lit enough candles to hold out for a while, but the fellows in the wood were shot to bits very quickly
Grenzer troops and Jaegers - good shooting...

Discouraged French troops falling back after being routed from the first bit of the town; the strange circular base is my version of one of C&CN's new-fangled "Garrison Counters" which we re-named "Detachments" since it seemed more appropriate. These are a useful little addition to the game, and I might say some more about these some time. Yesterday we used unpainted MDF, with the soldiers attached with BluTack,  but they are to be smartened up a bit. They are a most excellent way of finding a job for some of your substandard figures - give me your battle-worn, your bayonetless, your OOP misfits, your oddments from the Spares Box, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free... 
Austrians well-established in Aspern

French cavalry getting moving on the right flank
General Legrand brings up some fresh troops from his division (not easy to find) to try to take back part of the village; they failed, and he himself became a casualty in the attempt
Massena still hasn't moved, but he can see that the village is a lost cause - he gets the cavalry advancing on his right flank (far right of the table)
Looking from the Austrian right, round about the same stage of the battle
D'Espagne mops up the rest of the Grand Battery (half of it has already gone) with the 2nd Cuirassiers. Archduke Charles looks a bit close to the action in the background. Note the impressive row of white VP counters...
But the heavy cavalry had no answer to the battaillon-masse tactics of the Austrian line infantry, so concentrated their attention on the cavalry - this went far better...
As D'Espagne's French cuirassiers attack the mounted Austrians, Marulaz brings up the French light cavalry to attack the uhlans on the hill
Some things can just be relied on - like death and taxes, the 15eme Chasseurs are always around somewhere
The battle is more or less lost, but Molitor attempts to take back part of the village - borrowing the successful Austrian tactic of supporting the infantry with artillery in a Combined Arms attack
Situation at the end - the French cavalry have pulled back to avoid the fire of the Austrian infantry. Massena is running out of friends, but he knows Lannes is coming to sort things out tomorrow!
Special mention - Goya's new Landwehr unit are plastic (gasp) - very nice too - they did well. Goya is reluctant to spend too much on figures for the Landwehr or militia, since he is uneasy about making much of an effort to arm the masses.

***** Late Edit *****

Since the only reaction to this post thus far today has been a couple of emails which indicated that at least two of my readers are confused, I must offer my apologies for a very poor bit of editorial work here. Having thought further about the matter, I confess that I am now a bit confused myself. 

To clarify: this is not a description of the first day of a 2-day wargame (I wish it was!), it is a description of a wargame based on the first day of Aspern-Essling, which was a real battle which lasted two days, and my suggestion here that the French might go on to win after two days is not based on history, it merely expresses the French commander's expectation after wargaming the first day's action. After all, the French would probably not have chosen to fight on if they had expected to lose, I guess.

Which brings me to the second point. Was Essling actually a French defeat? I have always believed it to be so - famously so, in fact. Yet Prof De Vries points out (correctly) that Essling was a battle-honour on French Napoleonic battle flags - the 1812 issue of flags showed this honour for a great many regiments. The Professor reckons that the French (like everyone else, he says) only awarded battle honours for victories - the later example of La Moskowa (Borodino) being explained since the French regard it as a victory. Thus, says he, Essling must be another disputed result.

I confess I have always been sort of aware of this apparent paradox, but had managed to avoid thinking it through. I did a quick bit of reading today, and it seems that battle honours were awarded to regiments which performed well at battles commanded by Napoleon himself (which is why you will not find Tarragona, for example). The small matter of whether or not he won was not normally an issue, as we know.

All fine - looks like I learned something I should already have known, and if it turns out that the Professor is mistaken (an event rarer than a Napoleonic defeat) then that is indeed icing on the cake.



Saturday 12 January 2019

Hooptedoodle #321 - Paint Pots and Pies

Today I went into Edinburgh to visit a family member who is in hospital - he's had a long spell in there thus far, and it is likely to continue for a while. I took the train in (which means they were running today, obviously) and, since I was a bit early for 2pm visiting, I decided to go via the Tollcross area, and visit the Wonderland model shop. It was a decent sort of day, if a bit cold, so I walked fairly briskly from Waverley Station to Tollcross. Better and better. Makes it feel a bit less self-indulgent.

I enjoyed my visit to Wonderland, of course, though I didn't buy anything while I was there. I am rather annoyed to admit that I couldn't remember what it was I'd wanted to get! This must be an age thing, I guess - regularly, when I'm painting, I suddenly realise I could do with a pot of such-and-such a colour, and since Wonderland is my only local Vallejo stockist, I add the required shade to my mental shopping list. Well, chaps, the bad news is that mental shopping lists are no longer enough - for the second such visit in the last few months I found myself staring at the Vallejo racks with no recollection of what it was I'd wanted. Yes - agreed - written lists from now on.

On the way up to the hospital (still walking) I decided to get some small offering of biscuits or similar. The relative in question would really not appreciate grapes or anything healthy, in fact he might even throw them at me. So I found myself looking in the window of what I would term a "traditional" baker's shop. There, in the front, they had a tray of individual custard tarts, such as I have neither seen nor thought about in maybe 30 years. I am very partial to all sorts of cakes and buns, I must admit, but my all-time favourites are probably a bit poncey - I'm very fond of religieuses, sachertorte - stuff like that. Custard tarts do not normally feature in my hit parade.

However, there they were. A British Standard custard tart is a pretty solid fellow - egg custard in a soggy shortcrust case - the filling is commonly topped with grated nutmeg (probably to make it taste of something), though this is less popular in Scotland. I must have eaten quite a few in my time, but none of them was great, I think, and they were all a long time ago. Maybe they are still around, and in great demand, but my perception is that cakes from the supermarket these days tend to be packets of individually wrapped brioche buns with chocolate chips, or 5-in-pack "fresh-baked" cookies with embedded white chocolate bits, made with so much cheap sugar and palm oil that your face feels hot and your breathing gets muffled. Something has shifted - the global village does not seem to offer much in the way of a proper custard tart. This must be progress.

I bought a bag of doughnuts and went off for my visit.

It was only on the train later, coming home, that I started thinking about custard tarts. Hmmm....

I never really liked them, and I'm sure I still don't, but I'm going to have to get some just to prove it. You know how these things gnaw at you?

Monday 7 January 2019

Spiritual Support

In my search for 15mm scenery which would suit the Danube campaign, I was disappointed to find that all known previous resin buildings are now OOP - JR Miniatures used to do the Essling Granary and the Aspern Church, as I recall, but no more.

After asking around after a suitable church, I found the best option was an HO model railway church made by Faller, which I obtained online from a supplier in Kiel. I reasoned that a 1/87 model of a small church might just about pass for a 1/100 model of a larger church. When I saw the kit the old heart sank (lots of fiddly bits, optional parts, minimal instructions, glue-in-place stained glass windows, and a general assumption that the user has done this before), but Goya very kindly built it for me, and here it is, with 20mm figures to give a sense of proportion.

There is a plan for a trip up north next week, to fight Day 1 of Aspern, so the church will travel with me. I never go anywhere without a church.

Thanks again, Goya - nice job.

Saturday 5 January 2019

Hooptedoodle #320 - The Unlikely Tale of Malcolm

I've been thinking about sharing the story of Uncle Malcolm for a while. I've been hesitant because it's potentially a little more hazardous than most of the silly yarns you will find here, and also there are some parts of the story of which I wasn't certain. This last point is a recurrent problem with the histories of my mother's family, since the inevitable distortions caused by retelling over the years are supplemented by the entirely deliberate distortions arising from overstating the achievements and importance of various family members, and by misrepresenting a lot of stuff in the interests of the Official Received Family Editions; by mother's family has more skeletons in cupboards than most. Well, of course, I'm guessing here - maybe everyone's family is the same?

Prompted by recent sight of an ancient wedding photo amongst my mum's acccumulated junk (sorry, archives), I decided to have a bash. Now then - Terms & Conditions:

* Some of the family members involved are still alive, and I would not like to upset or libel anyone

* Some of what follows will reflect family traditions and (especially) what I heard from my grandmother, who always preferred embroidered versions in which she emerged blameless and, if possible, martyred yet again

* A lot of this is a matter of public record, though it was a long time ago - if anyone managed to work out, despite the changed names and dates, the historical version of the story, then they would almost certainly be mistaken. If necessary, we may take comfort in the fact that I probably made the whole thing up, to fill a space in my stupid blog.

I have read and accept the Terms & Conditions

Righto - back to some form of beginning. From the mid 1930s on, my maternal grandmother lived in the same house in Liverpool, initially with her four daughters. She and her husband had separated, and the five of them were a close-knit family, one guiding principle of which was the untrustworthy and despicable nature of men. In fact, all the daughters eventually overcame this prejudice long enough to get married, but my Nan and her cat lived on and nurtured their faith. The only one of her sons-in-law that she had any time for at all was Barbara's husband, Les, who had the misfortune (maybe the decency?) to die when he was in his early 40s, and he was thus himself elevated to the role of tragic martyr, for which Nan always had a fondness (having suffered herself, of course).

The youngest of the daughters was Belle (really Anabel). I never really knew her very well - when I was a kiddywink she sometimes used to come to our house to babysit when my parents went to the cinema - she was about 12 years older than me, I think. Her early academic achievements were the pride of the family, and she was certainly a very clever girl, though the factual history, inevitably, was a bit less prestigious than the received version. I subsequently learned that she did not, in fact, win a special scholarship to the best school in Liverpool, though she did sit the exam for it; she eventually left school to go to Art College, and she was expected to become a very successful commercial artist. I rather lost sight of what happened after that, but some years later she was working as an assistant librarian in a Liverpool Council public library, and suddenly there was a huge row (of which I was mostly unaware at the time) and she had to get married in a big hurry to a colleague from work, Malcolm. Which brings us to Malcolm.

Malcolm was a very smart young chap - he was also very tall, and handsome in a slightly beatnik style (big jumpers, longish hair, goatee beard). He and Belle had an impoverished start to their married life - I identify my 11-year-old self in their wedding photo - the next thing I remember is going round to their rather grotty apartment on my bicycle. Malc was always sarcastic and condescending towards me, so mostly I went to visit during my school holidays when he was at work. By this time Belle had one baby and another on the way, and it didn't take long for me to realise that I was a bit of a nuisance, so the visits stopped.

During a short space of time, Malc had a number of jobs - in a later age he would have been seen as possessing ambition and energy, but at the time he was simply regarded as "shiftless" by my Nan - my youthful taste for irony was spiked by the thought that he seemed to do more shifting than most, but no matter.

1. He left the library service, allegedly over some irregularity in the petty cash

2. He worked for a while as a barman in a pub in Liverpool city centre, but left following some (alleged) misunderstanding involving the till receipts.

3. He applied for a job as a news-reader/announcer with Granada TV (Manchester), but did not get the job - his own version of this was that it was felt he was too attractive and charismatic, and this would have impacted upon whether people paid attention to what he was saying. Right.

4. For a little while he did door-to-door selling for a firm who published popular encyclopedias (a period of history commemorated by Nan under the title "Gullible's Travels") - I have no idea why or how this ended.

At this point I lost touch with Belle and Malc, but they appeared to me just once more, when I was home on holiday from university.

Malcolm had taken a bold step. If you were a young man, with decent intelligence but a lack of resolve, and a tad questionable in the honesty department, what would you have tried for, back in the 1960s? Correct - the Diplomatic Service of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Well done - good guess.

Malc sailed the exams, no problems at all, and got a job. To gloat a little, he hired a very large car, bought himself and his family new clothes of a quality such as we very rarely saw in those days, and toured the family members, rubbing our noses in the fact that he was going to work in a glamorous new post in the British Embassy in Brussels. It was, to be fair, quite an exit. I never saw Belle or Malc again. After this time I moved into my own hectic days of professional career and young family, and thoughts of my globetrotting relatives occupied very little of my waking hours. Then, one day, my mum phoned to say that she couldn't say much about it, but Malcolm appeared to be in a lot of trouble, so if any people from the Press contacted me I was to deny all knowledge.

Pardon? The Press?

After some years in Brussels, Malc had been transferred to Khartoum. Apparently the Russians (boo!) had either planted a young female employee in the UK's Khartoum embassy, or else they "acquired" an existing staff member - whatever, this young lady's mission was to get involved with some member of the embassy staff, with a view to blackmail and all that. If they were looking for a vain, senseless prospect as a dupe, it is just possible that Malc may have been visible as far away as Moscow, who knows? It doesn't pay to be sanctimonious - these were real people, and they got themselves into real trouble. It isn't funny - well, maybe a little...

Eventually the sting was made, Malcolm had to meet an intermediary, known as André, in the Blue Nile café in Khartoum [come on - give me a break - if I were making this up I'd have tried a bit harder than that, for goodness' sake. As a side issue, we may discuss how this scene would be filmed, and which actors should play the roles.]

Malc was told that someone would tell his wife and his employers about his indiscretions if he didn't co-operate by handing over some information of strategic value. Next, I imagine, there followed a rather embarrassing conversation, as they came to understand that Malcolm was really a very junior under-secretary, who did not actually know anything very interesting at all. He provided them with some details of the security arrangements in the Brussels office - building access, wiring diagrams, stuff like that, I am told. To make it respectable, they may have paid him some money as well - opinions vary.

Poor old Malcolm fell apart. It seems his wife already knew about his affair, which is a bit humiliating, maybe, and he went to his boss and admitted the whole episode.

Things moved very quickly. He was arrested, and the aforementioned Press made the mistake of knocking on my Nan's door. Barbara was there when the man from the Express turned up: had Nan known that her son-in-law was a communist spy? Before Nan slammed the door in his face, according to Barbara, she suggested that he should go and get himself a decent job, "such as shovelling shit". More seriously, my dad was about 3 years into a senior engineering job with Reactor Group at the UK Atomic Energy Authority (or Ukulele, as they were colloquially known). He was an electrical man, not nuclear, and he worked on power-station projects, not weapons stuff, but his job involved a lot of heavy security anyway. As you might expect, the news of his brother-in-law's adventures went down like the proverbial lead balloon at the Ukulele, and for a while our mooted film project takes on a comedic twist. The Government had his house watched. No - honestly, they did. Presumably this was to see if he received visits from foreign-looking chaps with big furry hats. At first a man (in a trilby hat, with a newspaper) stationed himself nonchalantly on the other side of the street, until he was relieved by another such man. In a quiet suburban street this was ridiculous - the secret service man became a celebrity locally, the kids threw stones and abuse, and at various times mischievous neighbours offered him cups of tea, and on one occasion reported to the police that there was a dodgy-looking character hanging around, obviously up to no good. The surveillance was now switched to pairs of men sitting all day, very conspicuously, in a Ford Zephyr, the only parked car in the street.

Again, it wasn't funny at the time, since my dad could easily have lost his job and his pension. Whatever, the matter was dropped and the surveillance ended (or did it? - maybe they just got better at it - I'll take a peek out of the window now...). Probably a combination of the lack of direct involvement on my dad's part and the obvious ineptitude of the spying effort convinced them to give up.

Malc went to court, and got 10 years in Parkhurst, which was probably the minimum sentence. Typically, he missed out on his last chance for fame, since his trial was pretty cut-and-dried, and there was a much higher-profile and more interesting espionage case on at the time, which pushed Malc's charismatic good looks off the newspapers once and for all. His wife was set up with a good job in London, the kids were placed in a good private boarding school (at the tax payers' expense) and I never really heard any more. My mother lost contact with Belle, which is sad, really, but the problems over my dad's job had damaged things for ever.

Malcolm and Belle have both been dead for some years now - I met up with two of their kids - a son whom I had met when he was a toddler, and a daughter who was born after my time. I met them at Barbara's funeral, in Liverpool, in 2013. My new-found cousins snubbed me pretty severely - there is clearly a lot of heavy baggage there, so I did not persist in establishing any kind of entente. To be fair, Malc and Belle and their children might justifiably have felt that her family did not try very hard to help or stand by them when they really were having desperately bad times. It was nothing to do with me, of course, but maybe that's just another instance of distancing ourselves from a problem. I only have the excuse that I was somewhere else at the time.

Another skeleton in another cupboard, but an unusual one, maybe? As I say, if anyone tracks this story down to its facts then I know nothing about it - my grandmother just told me one of her rambling stories, long ago, and I may even have remembered it imperfectly.