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

Monday 29 May 2023

Goya Also Does Vitoria

 Once again, I am delighted to piggy-back on Count Goya's travels. On his recent Spanish campaign, in addition to looking around the battlefield at Salamanca, he also visited part of the field of Vitoria. The scope of what he could attempt in the time available was obviously limited, but I very much appreciate his sending me some photos, and I thought they were interesting enough to share here.

The next voice you hear will be Goya's...


It was much more difficult to get an overall view of this battle as it is more spread out, and the local transport wasn’t ideal. I only got to see the south-west corner.

Here’s the bridge at Puebla del Arganzon where Hill crossed the Zadorra

I walked to Nanclares with a slight detour up the Puebla heights. The striking points are that the gorge is narrow, the heights are high and the vegetation is thick. The visibility is 5 yards in places and there is no way that troops could do anything other than skirmish.

Looking north east

From Nanclares
Bridge at Nanclares where D’Urban crossed

 After this, things went a bit awry and I only just managed to get to Villodas in time to catch the last bus. 

Here’s another bridge and general views

What is striking is how much greener and steeper it is than Salamanca

Here’s the monument in the city of Vitoria


Friday 26 May 2023

WSS: Ça Marche!

"Corporal John" looks like a success!

My new WSS rules seem to work very nicely, about which I am delighted! I enjoyed a test game with the Jolly Broom Man via [International] Zoom yesterday evening, and it went really well.

[artwork in my new rule book is by my good friend PaK, who is a pro, so this stuff is seriously copyrighted, and I must request that you do not copy it!]

I have to acknowledge JBM's generosity and industry in helping to proof-read and sanity-check my efforts on Corporal John over recent weeks - including making up the 2 decks of cards required at his end for the game! - and his preparedness to work with me yesterday in reading carefully through the odd rules point we only half-remembered. The only problems we had, really, were to do with certain aspects of my scenario, and the rather hurried final prep; I had the trusty notebook and pencil laid out to record things which arose in our game requiring fixes and/or further thought, and really there is nothing worth mentioning.

Our pace last night was not especially rapid, but familiarity will undoubtedly help a lot - there was a lot of double checking, and some discussion of how certain points should be interpreted, and the game runs rather slower than my past experience of Commands & Colors type rules, because of the extra Rally Check step involved in Combat.

Though it is a hefty re-write, CJ uses the core systems of Richard Borg's Tricorne game, which is designed for the AWI, and it is to be expected that that game, as sold, would have most of the wrinkles smoothed out. Anyway, I have to say that I am well pleased. The limits of solo playtesting are well summed up by my gradual realisation that the author will interpret his rules as he intended the game to go, so you really don't know what you've got until you let a stranger loose on it!

Thanks again, JBM - yesterday's bash was very valuable for me!

I'll give a sketchy overview of the actual game. I had the Austro-British Allied army, and JBM's Franco-Bavarian boys beat me in the end, though it was a see-saw for long periods. For brevity (and lack of patience), I shall refer to the armies as Allies and French, but you'll know what I mean. The French had a rather larger army, and the Allies were defending a ridge position which looked pretty formidable. The scoring was standard C&C, with some bonus VPs available for some objectives on the field. If anyone feels that the battlefield looks somehow familiar, let me hasten to assure you that you must be mistaken. Our battle was that of Marschfeld, in 1703, in the Rhineland, the two prominent advanced posts held by the Allies were the farmhouses of Hugenberg and Heilige Hecke, so this is a different story altogether!

The Allies had 3 Generals present, the French had 4. Each commander had a hand of 4 Command Cards and an initial allocation of 3 Combat Cards. 9 VPs required for the win.

Initial view from behind the Allies' right flank; the puffs of Boots' own-brand cannon smoke indicate that we took the optional step of having an Initial Bombardment, and it is ongoing here. The Allies scored a rather lucky hit on the battery on the French right, but, disappointingly, my Aufseß Dragoons (dismounted) decided to vacate their forward position defending Hugenberg - you can see them in the picture, wondering what to do next
The Aufseß boys were persuaded to return to their defensive duties, but the French had begun an advance on their left. The regiment in pale blue on the end are the (elite) Bavarian Leibgrenadieren, who were eventually the outstanding performers of the day. The pattern of the action was that the French chose to ignore the strong ridge position, and attacked on the left. You may be able to see some black counters on the far edge of the table. Because of some misunderstandings in pre-battle orders, some of the French right wing units were delayed, leaving that flank a bit thin at the outset, so the counters mark the positions of their eventual arrival!
In very short order, the Aufseß Dragoons were dislodged again, but this time were sufficiently discouraged to fail the requisite Rally Check, and they disappeared into the distance. The new occupants were the Régiment de Languedoc - one VP changed hands on the spot as the farmhouse was captured, and of course another VP was allocated for the vanishing dragoons.
On the opposite flank, encouraged by the lack of numbers opposing him, Earl Cadogan took a cavalry brigade forward to harrass some isolated battalions on the French right, and had a couple of notable successes. Here he attacks the 1st battalion of Béarn (the 2nd battalion was expected any time soon), who are supported and encouraged by Marshal De Villars himself (French CinC). Things did not go well here for the French, and 1/Béarn was routed from the table. This also forced us to study the bit of the rules which explains what happens when a General is attached to a unit which fails its Rally Check - De Villars was swept away as well! This spread a panic among neighbouring French units that witnessed the event, and a few more Rally Checks were required before things calmed down. Note Cadogan's dog, which faithfully followed him throughout the day, and in fact the dog is probably runner-up in the man of the match nominations
Back on the French left, the Leibgrenadiers and Régt de Toulouse advance, with cavalry support
The Leibgrenadiers eventually made a real nuisance of themselves among the Austrian infantry on the Allies' right. Here they make their last stand in a wood, having wrecked the enemy units all around
Better late than never, French reserves arrive to support the right flank - these are the 2nd battalions of Poitou, Béarn and Navarre, and their arrival stabilised things greatly
With the Allied centre still waiting for an assault which never came, their right was running out of troops. Late in the day, with the game still pretty much in the balance, the French cavalry made a frontal attack on this flank 
A more general view shows the result - the 2nd battalion of the Austrian Gschwind regiment, on the end of the line, was defeated and eliminated, and the cavalry gained a position on the ridge itself, for the first time. 1 VP for the eliminated Austrians, plus a bonus VP for getting a unit onto the ridge, was enough. The French had won 10-7
General Jean-Artège Bineau, with the Régt La Baume, gains a position on the ridge and scores the bonus VP needed to win the game

Footnote: our token Bavarian general officer in the French army yesterday was Alessandro Scipione, Marquis de Maffei (yes, he's an Italian). JBM's spell checker corrected this in the OOB to "Maggie", which, given the state of his wig, seems a far better name. Thus are historical reputations destroyed forever in an instant... 




Thursday 25 May 2023

Goya Does Salamanca

 The man is a marvel - he's at it again. Having visited Waterloo earlier this month, and also (let it be said) Vitoria, Count Goya was at the Salamanca battlefield this week, and he very kindly sent me a couple of very interesting little movies. He did not have the full film crew with him on this occasion, but has done wonderfully well on his own, armed only with his compass, his field glasses, a cocoa tin, a piece of string and a box of matches.

(1) The first clip is a quick panorama from the monument at the top of the Gran Arapil. It starts looking north to Chico Arapil, then scans clockwise east, south and west back to Chico Arapil, and you can see it by clicking here.

(2) The second is a similar panorama from Wellington’s command point, on the Tesa San Miguel. The view starts looking NW then goes clockwise past the Arapiles, then the village. You can see this one by clicking here.

He also sent a couple of snapshots of the diorama of the battle in the interpretation centre in Arapiles village. 15mm figures; it represents the period just before Le Marchant’s charge.

Monday 22 May 2023

Hooptedoodle #441 - Merlin Bird ID app

 I'm not a dedicated installer of apps for my phone, but my wife recommended this one, and I've been very pleased and impressed with it thus far.

It's called Merlin Bird ID, it's produced by Cornell Labs, and it's FREE*.

For anyone with an interest in wild birds, it's really useful. You can read about a bird you are interested in, you can identify a bird you don't know by a systematic analysis of its appearance and - wonder of wonders! - you can identify a bird by its song. One routine (though mind-blowing) feature is that you may start a recording on your phone, and as individual types of bird are identified by the software their names are listed.

The weather hasn't been great since I installed it, but my next mini-project is to take it for a walk down to the beach, because I really do need to understand more about the seabirds we have here. This reads like an advert, but it isn't - anyone out there who shares my enthusiasm for wild birds should maybe think about having a look.

When you first install the app, you are invited to download one of the available libraries of bird data and songs. I chose UK and Northern Europe - good choice. Only quibble so far is that there is no record of the Nightingale in that library - not that it matters a lot, since our chances of hearing a nightingale here are approximately nil, but it is a British resident. Maybe I can download more than one library? - no idea. Must check this out.

My wife has the Android version, I have the iPhone one - all very good and easy to use.


* the App Store, when asked to search for Merlin, came back with a different app with a very similar name and function, which - if you read carefully - is free for 7 days and then you will be billed about $30 a month. Presumably someone, somewhere was bunged to perform this sleight of hand, but in this age of Post-Truth marketing I guess we just have to remain alert. Whatever - watch your step.

Monday 15 May 2023

WSS: More on Sabots and Storage, and a Trappist Safari

 Having magnetised and repainted my WSS one-size-fits-all sabots, I was so pleased with them that I decided it would be safer and more sensible to keep all cavalry and infantry units on their sabots, in the storage boxes.

Righto. One slight downside is that my previous system allowed 8 units plus a couple of odd bases in each Really Useful Box (4 litre size). With units mounted on their sabots, each box will only take 6 units, with no oddments. So I had to order up another couple of RUBs, and sit down and write a serious plan of what should go in each box, allowing for units that haven't arrived yet. Good. I even printed out some labels - the joy of OCD.

Then a small "Doh!" moment; I assumed that I had plenty of sabots, but I had only provided enough for units that were likely to be on the battlefield at the same time. If all cavalry and infantry are to be stored on the sabots, then I need some more. No problems - last time I ordered the MDF sabot blanks they came from Tony Barr, whose business, of course, is no more, so I ordered some extras from my new friends at Warbases, and I have enough paint and ferro-sheet to finish them off.

So they are now boxed correctly, awaiting the extra supplies, with a key-sheet to identify who goes in which box, and stored away in the Office Cupboard.

Boxes filled and labelled
Here's box Bav3 with the lid off, showing the 6-sabots per box organisation
Boxes are Fra1 to 4, Bri1 to 3, Bav1 to 3, Aus1 to 3, Hes1, Odds (which is everybody's general officers, dismounted dragoons, battalion guns), Art1 (which is all the field guns, plus the generic limber teams), Overs (which currently contains extra units which wouldn't fit in Bav3 and Aus3) and an empty box for future expansion (which may mean engineering and siege train stuff in the short term). 18 boxes in all ...and here they are, safely stacked away, around the corner in the Office Cupboard...

Topic 2 - A Trappist Safari

On my recent trip to Belgium, I met up with Chimay Bleue, a Trappist beer I last enjoyed circa 1989 (I estimate), which is not yesterday.

I was sufficiently impressed to promise myself that I would track some down when I got home, so I've been working at that. Interesting; none around these parts; post-Brexit, this is a Trappist desert. Eventually I found that the excellent Cornelius Beer and Wines in Easter Road, Edinburgh, stock the stuff, so I ordered a case, and drove through to our Mighty Metrollopus to collect it on Saturday.

Now I just need an excuse to open a bottle - this stuff clocks in at 9% alcohol by volume, so it's not to be guzzled as a thirst-quencher while mowing the lawns.

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

This in response to JBM's comment below...


Tuesday 9 May 2023

WSS: The Baby Has a Name, and Other Stuff

 Thanks to everyone who sent suggestions for the name of my new (replacement) WSS rules. There was a good variety, ranging from the whimsically amusing to the deeply philosophical. I eventually chose one which initially I had doubts about, because, I had thought, it might be a bit obvious. 

Well, I warmed to it. For a start, it was the most popular suggestion, by far (so it's not all my fault), it is not excessively weird, it refers to the early war period which I am targeting, and I am confident it passes the Hairdresser's Telephone Test.

I'd better explain. It is possible to give something a name which seems magnificently cute and trendy at the beginning, but the novelty wears off quickly and fatally. You will be able to think of your own examples; it can apply to the names of businesses, bands, even babies (I wonder how it feels to be called Moon Unit when you are 55 years old?). My own personal favourite was a hairdresser in (I think) Dumfries, called Curl Up and Dye. Clever, eh? Catchy too. The problem came after a couple of years, when the new receptionist was too embarrassed to answer the phone with the name of the establishment, because it had become Seriously Not Funny. This is the Hairdresser's Telephone Test.

 Enough of this avoiding the moment - the rules will be called "Corporal John" - it took me a while, but I'm comfortable with the choice. Thanks to everyone who got involved.


Still on the subject of the WSS, the new rules will require hardly any tactical manoeuvre, therefore I can safely add a magnetic surface to my sabots, so that the soldiers may be securely displayed in line. The other (non-magnetic) side of my sabots will still be available if required.

My friend Clive Smithers, the philosopher's wargamer, reckoned that the beauty of the sabot is that you can drop your soldiers in complete units, rather than fiddling about doing it one figure at a time. I have to say this is less true with magnetic sabots.

I seem to have used up most of my sabot jokes when I painted the first side of these fellows, not so long ago, really, so I can save myself the effort now. They are the same sabots, and the technique is unchanged. I have slapped a first coat of paint on them, leaving an unpainted bit that I was holding. The second coat, which will go on after I have allowed 5 hours for drying, will be applied during the phase which is technically described as "t'other end, and touch-up". With luck, a third pass will not be needed. Here are a couple of pictures after the first coat - you will note the black ferro-sheet patches, cut to size by the lovely Paula at Magnetic Displays, peeking out of the paint. 

In passing, I must explain that the sabots are laid out to dry on pieces of firewood kindling which my wife brought back from Portsoy on the Moray Firth a couple of weeks ago. No particular point to be made - I just felt the need to explain. When the sabots are firm and dry and ready to go, and the kindling is safely back in the log box, I probably have no more reasons to delay, so a game will be required.

A game of Corporal John, in fact.


Monday 8 May 2023

Waterloo Trip: Day 3

 For our last full day, the objective was to go into Waterloo itself, a few miles north of the battlefield, to check out the Wellington Museum and the church opposite. Getting there was easy - we scrounged a lift, which was very useful!

After our military investigations, we had an excellent lunch in a terrace cafe in Waterloo, then caught the bus back to Braine l'Alleud and walked past the Lion and La Haye Sainte, along the Allied line, to have a look at the farm at Papelotte.

As in the previous instalments, I'll try to build an outline narrative in the captions to the pictures.

The Wellington Museum in Waterloo; Wellington made his HQ in the hotel in the village. I believe this photo shows his bedroom, and his bed, in which his ADC, Alexander Gordon, died after the battle. The soldier is an officer of the 42nd Foot; what he's doing there is unknown to me

Wellington at his desk, writing his report of the victory. The decor of the room includes a portrait of himself, over the fire, which seems like vanity, and in the window there is a bust of him about 30 years later, which is downright weird
The Museum has all sorts of exhibits - here are some Allied soldiers
I assume this is genuine, and they pinched it off the wall of the Belle Alliance inn, later night club
Back in the weird department; this is one of Lord Uxbridge's prosthetic legs, which obviously postdates the battle. Unless, of course, the correct quote was, "My God, sir, I've lost my wooden leg..."
For those with uneasy memories of wobbling up the Mound, here it is in Lego - there is no escape
Directly opposite the Museum is the church. The domed structure at the front was built later than the battle. In 1815, most of the main street of the village appears to have been wooded
Inside the church is a remarkable collection of British memorials; these are worth a study in themselves
In passing, I observe the memorial to Alexander Hay, of Nunraw, which place is up in the hills above the East Lothian village of Garvald, about 10 miles from where I am sitting typing this

My last picture of Waterloo, the town, is a view of the Wellington Museum, taken from the church steps 
OK - after our lunch, and a bus ride back to the battlefield, we set off along the ridge line, east towards Papelotte. Here we have just started; we are a short distance along from the crossroads, La Haye Sainte is just the other side of the clump of trees on the right, which are close to the site of the sandpit. At this point the crest of the ridge is just in front of us, but you can see how much undulation there is in the valley ahead. The grand battery is somewhere on the green ridge in the distance

Another French monument; if you can make out the text, it becomes apparent the word "héroiquement" is one of a series of euphemisms which mean "unsuccessfully"
We are looking across towards Plancenoit here
This is Papelotte Farm. The present buildings are all later than 1815 (I think the place was destroyed); we are south of the farm buildings, and the lane is sloping back up towards the main Allied ridge line
More of Papelotte - again, we are on the French side of the buildings
From this point, the view south towards Plancenoit has an uphill slope, and the terrain to the east changes abruptly into something like bocage - hills, twisty lanes with steep banks - very different to the main battlefield

We followed the lane south from Papelotte, the Chemin de Marache. We were trying to get to the battlefield locations of La Haye and Fichermont, which are marked on the old maps, to the south-east of Papelotte, and close to it. 

First interesting fact was that we read that the chateau of Fichermont was destroyed years ago, and its remains have been buried under the roots of a wood. OK - we'll just look for evidence of the name, then. Second interesting fact was that it turns out that Marache is the modern name of Smohain, which place is definitely on the old battlefield maps. The next few photos, then, are of the village which used to be Smohain

Fichermont may not exist, but here's a lane that used to go there!
Now we have turned west, on the Route de Marache, and are leaving the village, which should take us past La Haye (wherever that is) and back to the end of the lane up to Papelotte
We pass a serious looking farm, which is too modern for 1815, and is on the wrong side of the lane to be La Haye...'s the big house and the front gate...
...but here, opposite, on the other side of the lane, is a house which is also too modern, and is now a Gingko Centre or something - but this building appears to be on the site of La Haye, so we (sort of) found it! Continuing along the lane to the west, in about 50m we came back to the lane end at Papelotte, so we had completed our loop
 That is all my photos for this trip. The following day we were fully engaged in travelling to Brussels and catching a plane home - Brussels Airways this time - so my camera was safely locked away in my luggage.

A couple of thoughts. 
We spent a lot of time during our stay discussing the detail of the terrain. There has been much surmise and legend over the years about the significance of the ground conditions at Mont St Jean. We observed, even in the fine weather which blessed our visit, that the fields at the bottom of the shallow valley between the French and Allied positions were distinctly marshy in places, you could see it to the east of the main road, near La Belle Alliance. In really wet weather, it looks as though it might have been a problem for moving artillery, and D'Erlon's boys would be fairly squelching along in the low ground.

The Archduke, looking at the diorama in the Battlefield Museum, asked a very interesting question. It does seem odd that the French army committed so much time and effort to banging their heads against Hougoumont. If Napoleon really wanted to "tease" the Allied right, why didn't he just bypass Hougoumont and swing around it? It would be interesting to know how Wellington would have reacted, in view of the implied threat of a push towards Hal, and maybe Ghent, jeopardising the British line of retreat to Ostende.
For me, Hougoumont is a puzzling bit of the battle anyway; did Napoleon simply give the order to attack, and forgot to tell them when to stop? Quite a lot of the French strategy on the big day looks very like wishful thinking.