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


Saturday, 12 December 2020

A Little WSS Painting, and Some Light Reading Matter on Peninsular Sieges...

 Even by my standards, this is probably going to be a fairly shambolic post as far as structure goes. If you're up for it, here goes.


First off, I have finally painted up the dismounted contingent of my first unit of Imperial dragoons for the WSS - nothing remarkable, in any sense, but they have been hanging around, unpainted, getting on my nerves, for some months. The figures are 20mm Irregular castings. The unit is the Aufseß Dragoons, who were not Austrian, but from the Frankischer Kreis. The mounted chaps came from the Eric Knowles hoard, so my task was merely to paint the dismounted element to look fairly similar to Eric's brushwork. OK - good - all based and magnetised and in the official Very Useful Boxes.

Otherwise, I have mostly been continuing my work on preparing for some serious testing and rehearsing of some siege games. The big recent change, of course, has been the eventual publication of Eric Burgess's Vauban's Wars. All very good - I am on my third read-through and I have copious notes, getting ready to go. At this point it gets just a little complicated...

The obvious starting point would be some actual Vauban-style warfare, for which my new WSS armies would be ideal, except that, as yet, I do not have any proper siege artillery for them (though, of course, I soon shall). They could borrow some ECW units to help out, I guess, but that would be a disappointingly shabby compromise for a first effort. Therefore, by default, I shall start off with some Peninsular War actions, for which I have more than enough troops - even the specialists.

In preparation for this magnificent stage in my wargaming development, I have been collecting bits of fortresses, and mortars, and engineers, and all sorts, for ages, and have spent years reading about the sieges in the Peninsular War. The immediate issue arising here is that most of what I have read has been a collection of heavily British narratives about Ciudad Rodrigo (though only the successful Anglo-Portuguese siege, of course), and Badajoz (same qualifier), and Burgos, and San Sebastian - plus snippets about the Salamanca forts and so on.

Nothing wrong with any of this, of course, but two points come straight out of the woodwork:

(1) There were a great many sieges in the Guerra de la Independencia, of which only a few involved the British army. Having read more widely, and given a free choice, I would dearly love to follow the adventures of Marshal Suchet, conquering all those exotic Spanish-held towns in the North East - Tarragona, Tortosa, all that. There were the French assaults on Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz, as well, not to mention Sarragossa and some real biggies. OK - that's all excellent - plenty of variety.

(2) Spain and Portugal were relatively poor countries, and never had the resources (or priority) to carry out major programmes of modernisation of their fortresses. If you are looking for something like a modern, Vauban-approved style of fort, then there were very few - Almeida is one passable example. The range of defensive architecture involved was remarkable - which, again, is good for the student and the gamer because of the variety and because of the exotic places involved. Astorga was basically a Roman fortress in 1809, and there were medieval and Moorish-style castles all over the place, with greater or lesser degrees of improvement. 

Here you go - Vauban himself might have recognised Almeida as a viable fortress, though not when the magazines blew up...

Ciudad Rodrigo, as an example, had been modernised (a bit) in 1776 - the old, high, masonry walls were masked by the placement of fausse-braies in front of them - which served to give some protection from siege guns in the plains surrounding the town, but did not achieve the same amount of security from guns placed up on the Teson heights. Gradual patching-up of old fortresses to cope with the increasing power and potential of modern cannon was always going to be difficult, and these botched-together forts were not wonderful - that is why the style of the sieges tended to be "quick and dirty" - Vauban would have been surprised at the rushed timescales and the relative lack of science.

One other thing to think about is that the fausse-braie add-ons were usually made of earth. That's pretty crude, on the face of it, but the great thing about earthworks is that you can fire cannonballs at them all day without knocking them down, so additional tricks of the trade were developed - if you really wanted a hole in the enemy's earth banks, explosive howitzer shells were a necessary part of the assault. If you wanted to dig parallels in the dead of night, you had to use big parties of infantry to get the work done.


That's enough of this sketchy walk-through, I think. I've been doing a lot of reading (I seem to have acquired quite a lot of books over the years), and have enjoyed it thoroughly. One thing for sure is that it would be a bad idea for me to put a huge effort into tweaking Eric Burgess's excellent game right at the outset to cope with the local weirdnesses of the Peninsula, and thus I plan to move onto some proper Vauban-type gaming as early as possible. On the other hand, I have been very interested in the Peninsular War's sieges for a long time, and I am delighted to gain a little more understanding of how they worked.

Many of my English-language books consist extensively of quotes from each other. The most valuable original source (if you are happy to read French) is JV Belmas' Journaux des Siéges Faits ou Soutenus par les Français dans la Péninsule, de 1807 à 1814, published in 4 volumes in 1836. This is (or recently was) available as a set of pdf files from Google Books; if you are really interested and can't find a downloadable copy, get in touch and I may be able to provide some extra information. There are copious tables of equipment, ammunition consumed, losses, materials captured, OOBs and so on. Sadly there are no maps, though Lipscombe's atlas can provide some useful back-up.


23 comments:

  1. Good to see you’ve been busy. I quite liked the Irregular 20mm WSS - good for the core troops and building forces.
    That’s a lot of books, you will be well versed now on the sieges in Spain, I find the whole Peninsular war a fascinating conflict - far more interesting than the campaigns of Europe. I shall look forward to your first game with the rules, other than a cursory read through I haven’t had the time for any in depth reading so I aim to learn from your experiences 😁
    Keep that momentum going and all the best for the festive season

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    1. Thanks Graham - all the best to you and yours also!

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  2. Like Graham, I shall be interested to read your report of a game with Vauban's War. It's publication reawakened my interest is that sort of game and I have played one. I found they worked very well - particularly for a solo player like myself - but, as is sadly the case these days, I overlooked or forgot little points. The only slight drawback for a solo player is that the opportunities for using the spy are more limited. But that is a minor point. Best wishes. JIm

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    1. Jim - that's heroic - well done with the solo game; mostly I have been marching on the spot, coming up with complicated reasons why this is a bad place to start from. If I'm to be brutally honest, I think it has something to do with fear of screwing up - the big effort required to set a game up would add a lot to the potential disappointment level!

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  3. Just a thought. Couldn’t some old guns from the 1640s be still in use 60 years later?

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    1. Yes indeed - it's the attached blokes with woolly caps etc that would look out of place and generate the shabby compromise mentioned! For the WSS, I may well have generic siege pieces, with crews on separate bases.

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    2. Ah! I didn’t realise that the gunners were glued on your gun bases.

      I’m also guilty of looking at it through the lens of someone whose models are small enough to get away with the ‘well you expect the gunners to be scruffier’ line.

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  4. Looking forward to seeing some of that fantastic vauban stuff of yours out on the table. Watching with interest!

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    1. Hi JBM - it promises to be interesting - recommend you don't hold your breath, but it will happen!

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  5. Magnicent idea, however long it takes to come to fruition.

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    1. Thanks Ross - all the very best for the Festive Season.

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  6. A most interesting read Tony. You are a man after my own heart; I really enjoy going through all the books that I have, taking notes so as to get the best possible scenario together that I can. Thanks for the tip about Belmas' tomes. I have found them (at least some) on the wonderful archive.org.
    Those Imperial dragoons look great too!
    Regards, James

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    1. Thanks James - I'll email you in a day or two.

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  7. You have some interesting terrain to contend with in recreating Peninsular sieges as well. You think of classic Vauban as a fortress parked in the flat, damp countryside of Flanders and such. I understand Spain is the second most mountainous country in Europe and they did have a habit of sticking fortresses on top of rocky outcrops. Putting San Sebastian on the tabletop will be challenging.

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    1. A Full Vauban on top of a bluff would be incongruous, though I am sure they must have had such things.

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    2. Looks like in some cases they 'vauban-ised' the most practicable approaches to the hilltop fortresses and trusted to mediaeval walls and steep drops to protect the rest. No reason the rules wouldn't work as it cuts down the options of where you can attack from to the newly fortified sides anyway. I was reading about Tortosa recently and that was the impression I got.

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    3. Yes, there was all sorts - one of Suchet's sieges he was attacking a "fortified camp" dug around an ancient castle. Tortosa interesting.

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  8. Tony, we attack scenario design similarly and with great gusto. I often have a stack of books, notes, games, etc. laying about as I sort through it all. Don't know much about siege warfare, however, so will be following with interest.

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    1. Excellent - I've always regarded the planning, the research and the design as a big part of the fun!

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  9. It's always fun to do the background reading for scenario design. There were an astounding number of sieges during the many years of the Peninsular War, far more than the rest of the Napoleonic WEars combined!

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    1. Very true about the sieges - it wasn't until I had a read of Belmas that I started to get some idea of the quantity!

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  10. Some of the Irregular 20mm stuff is quite nice... these guys certainly look the part...

    I am looking forward to seeing your engagement into siege warfare... It’s not something I’ve read a lot about... unless you count The Great War of course... the Western Front was in many ways a gigantic siege .

    All the best. Aly

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    1. Hi Aly - since I have bought in a load of old Les Higgins soldiers, I'm a bit stuck for in-scale alternatives. Higgins' Malburian range were small 20mm - smaller even than their ECW figures. When I was building up my ECW armies, I could use Hinton Hunt and SHQ as a good size match, though I standardised on SHQ horses to help with the scale thing. For the Malburians this is not possible - I can use Irregular figures (though the bases need building up a bit if I field mixed units) and I can use Lancer guns and vehicles, and that's about it. Plastics are well overscale - these Higgins boys are tiddlers. I guess that if Newline did a suitable range they might match, but they don't really. I am happy with my armies, of course, but at times I think that only a madman would have gone for this scale...

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