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

Friday 29 September 2023

WSS: Battle of Oberglauheim - 1704

 I posted a note about setting up the field for this game (click here). Subsequently I spent an evening experimenting with some tweaks to the solo version of my rules (which went moderately well), and then had the pleasure of a Zoom game with Mark, the Jolly Broom Man.

This is a screenshot from Zoom; you can't count the buttons, but you can see enough to get an idea what's happening

As discussed previously, this is very closely based on the Battle of Blenheim, but it is definitely not the actual B of B, since the world is full of knowledgeable students of this very battle, and I would very justifiably be taken to task for my ham-fisted effort if it were.

First comment is that I was surprised by the number of units on such a compact front, and by the fact that both armies used so much cavalry in their front lines; I double-checked, and it seems that this is correct. This may have much to do with the fact that the French originally did not intend to contest the field, and the Allied army arrived in a set of parallel columns, some of which were cavalry. Anyway, I left it as it was, and decided just to go for it. Because of the size of the game, we spread the action over two evening sessions.

Again, because the action is so dense, there was little scope for exciting strategic manoeuvres or surprise attacks, so we expected a lot of attritional fighting, with the occasional significant morale collapse to enliven things. The outline of the action is quickly described, so let's start off with a complete spoiler:

On the Allied left, Lord Cutts' infantry assault on the (fortified) village of Blindheim made little progress, the French had huge reserves behind this position, so both sides took massive casualties in this area, but the French held on. There were 2 Victory Points available to the Allies if they took the entire village, but there was no chance. Charles Churchill's regiment (The Buffs) briefly fought their way into the place, but were promptly chased out again.

In the centre, both sides put together a mighty cavalry conflict. Initially the Bavarian cuirassiers rather battered their Austrian equivalents, but the Austrians pulled back to recover, the Bavarians were reinforced by French cavalry, the Austrians by British, and this action surged backwards and forwards throughout the day.

On the Allied right, the Austrian foot advanced, after some delay, against the Bavarians, who were established in some woods. This never really developed into anything decisive.

The armies ground each other down - there were a few surprises; amazingly, no General officers were lost on either side. The final surprise was that the Gendarmérie de France (King Louis' elite cavalry) were heavily repulsed by the Hessen-Kassel regiment Erbprinz, and were so shaken by the experience that they decided not to bother returning to the action. We do not know just what effect this episode had on the overall French morale, but it secured the 14th VP needed for an Allied victory.

Notional awards for outstanding unit and/or Leader? The performance of the French infantry at Blindheim was excellent, considering the tricky situation they started from. Bavarian cavalry was also very good, and their General Arco was always in the thick of the action, encouraging his troopers and steadying them in moments of stress. If we had an award for the outstanding name of the day, I would nominate the Furst von Holstein-Beck, whose family was obviously named after two bottles of beer.

This view is borrowed from the "set-up" post, to show the initial positions

The French got busy, pushing forward in the area around Blindheim, not least to clear some space for all the reserves they had crammed in behind the village

Bavarian cavalry (this side) have early involvement with their Austrian opposite numbers, and had the edge initially

Lord Cutts was surprised to have the French pushing forward out of the earthworks at Blindheim, very aggressive

Austrian cavalry wait for some support from the British - they look outmatched as things stand

Generals Cutts and Chas Churchill push forward to the breastwork at Blindheim; the unit nearest the camera is the Foot Guards - they were very disappointed to have so little success against the battered unit of dismounted dragoons who were holding the redoubt at this time

The Elector's Bavarian infantry hold the flank in the woods

So the Austrians across the table advance to meet them

The bloodbath continues at Blindheim

The struggle between Blindheim and Unterglauheim continued, and spaces were appearing as units were eliminated

Delays in the centre, as both sides work to bring up reinforcements

The swans are still on their pond; perhaps they are deaf? Whatever, they probably are now

A collector's item - the Elector brings forward some of his infantry

Now the cavalry reserves are arriving in the centre; British behind the Austrian cuirassiers on the far side, French behind the Bavarians near the camera

General view at the end of the first evening session. Things were starting to fizzle out around Blindheim, the cavalry action in the centre was building up again, and Bavarian and Austrian infantry were scrapping indecisively in the woods at  the far end of the table. The score at this point was 9-7 to the Allies, with 14 required for the win.

Things definitely fairly quiet around Blindheim, with the French in control there

The centre - heating up, but some of the units are below strength (4 white counters and you're out)

Not to be outdone, Prince Eugene is in the action too, bringing up the Austrian foot

Holstein-Beck with the Hessian contingent. Same again, please, barman

British infantry on their last legs at Blindheim, but the French are almost fought to a standstill here, too

The clincher; the Allies played a "Give Them the Cold Steel" card, which gives units a bonus dice in action this turn, and one result was that these little chaps routed and eliminated the Gendarmérie de France, a fine effort which made the score 14-12 to the Allies, and the game was over.

A lot of soldiers have been lost - a hard day's fighting

Over on the French left, there is still very little happening, apart from the Elector and Eugene posing for the official artists. Having said which, Marlborough kept a good distance between himself and the fighting all day.

It wasn't visible on either Zoom camera, but the faithful scoreboard keeps the tally, so it's official

My affectionate thanks to the JBM for his stamina and courage throughout the two sessions. It was a bit of a marathon, which we expected, but it was a test after all, and I am very pleased to record that the rules handled the big battle with no problems (apart from the occasional memory failure on my part).



Tuesday 26 September 2023

Hooptedoodle #447 - Levelling-Down - A Word of Comfort from Tommy

 A couple of days ago I was having a beer with my friend Tommy, and, inevitably, conversation moved on to Gloom and Doom, which must eventually replace the Lion and the Unicorn as national symbols in British heraldry.

Topic in question was the (predictable) demise of HS2, the wonderful hi-tech new railway link to be built connecting London and the North of England. [There are claims that part of the infrastructure development for the North is so that people who are stupid enough to live in those parts can travel more quickly and reliably between, say, Manchester and Leeds; this is completely incorrect - if there is any objective at all, apart from personal glory and wealth for the champions, it is to enable Northerners to travel more efficiently to London, which is really all that matters.]

We drifted smoothly on to the fraught topic of Levelling-Up, which is something loosely associated with a government commitment to Northerners who unexpectedly voted Tory in 2019, to invest in the North and try to drag it at least a little bit out of the 19th Century. I knew I should have put a bet on it, but it seems that we can't afford it after all. 


Bad break.

Theories about why this could have happened are numerous and of varying quality, but it seems that Geography and Economics may not feature strongly on the syllabus at Eton after all, and private enterprise finds it very hard to say no when public money is mentioned.

Tommy did have one positive thought to add. He reckons that there is a ray of hope; Levelling-Up is still a viable possibilility, though it will now be known as Levelling-Down. It is becoming clear that it is going to be easier and cheaper to trash the South East than try to develop the North. That should be a vote winner, I would guess. 

I shall follow this with interest.

Sunday 24 September 2023

WSS: Battle of Oberglauheim - set up

 Over the next few days I am going to fight the battle of Oberglauheim. Today and tomorrow the intention is that I should use it as a scenario to work on my beta-test solo version of Corporal John. On Tuesday (if I'm spared) the plan is to engage an actual opponent via the wonders of Zoom. Exciting.

Enthusiasts will observe that this is very similar to Blenheim - not quite, but similar. I mean, you know I have to attempt this. It is specifically not Blenheim, to keep the I-Think-You'll-Find Brigade at arm's length. I have reduced the ground scale to about 2/3 and the numbers of units to 1/4. If it were Blenheim, the big blue section of the terrain would be a bend in the Danube.

Yes, I realise this is a log jam; my understanding is that this was a feature of the actual battle [of Oberglauheim, naturally], and I wish to see what happens. There will be more on this topic shortly.

Initial situation, seen from behind the Allied left flank

...from behind the Allied right...

...from behind the French left...

...and from behind the French right, with a bit of Danube and the village of Blindheim in the foreground

One of my favourite terrain features - please do not disturb the swans

Although they are the defending side, the French have a small advantage in numbers; they have also been busy digging some defences around the villages of Blindheim...

...and Oberglauheim [note that Anne Hathaway's cottage has been imported into Bavaria for the delight of the British troops]. Marshal Marsin is on the pale horse.
The French defensive position looks as though they will take some beating, but there are flaws - for a start, they have a big infantry reserve crammed in behind Blindheim - this will be tricky to bring into action

Lord Cutts ready with the big British infantry attack on the left flank

Here's a rare sighting of some blue-unformed Hessen-Kassel troops, in the Allied centre

Tuesday 19 September 2023

Hooptedoodle #446 - Onus and the Telephone Box

 Another worthless tale from my distant youth - this one at least has the slight compensations of a whiff of crime and some vintage technology.

Despite my efforts to unsubscribe, I still receive issues of a newsletter for ex-pupils of my old grammar school in Liverpool. This month's edition informs me that a former classmate of mine, Ray Burden, has passed away. That's OK - he obviously had a long and full life, and I haven't met him or thought about him for something like 60 years, so I can only send mental best wishes to his friends and family, whoever they may be.

Ray was a very large boy for his age, which made him a natural to get involved in the school's rugby-playing activities when he was 15 or so - his main attribute on the rugby field was that he might usefully fall on one of the opposition in a moment of stress; certainly he was unlikely to catch anyone in open play. He was known universally as "Onus", since our first-year Latin primer made it clear (in about chapter 2) that this was the Latin word for a burden, and therefore he obviously had to be called this, since we were all desperate to grasp any excuse to avoid the embarrassment of addressing each other by our given first names. A boys' school, it goes without saying.

In passing, I have some faint concerns about that first year Latin book, which was full of translation exercises involving the daughters of the gods hastening to the woods to meet the sailors. No matter.

In our second year, Onus suddenly approached me to ask if I would be interested in helping him with a new hobby, which was finding out the special engineers' codes which would enable anyone who had them to make free local calls from any public call-box in Liverpool.

Classic 1950s UK phone-box

I'd better insert a brief explanation of the technology of the day. In those days the public telephones were attached to large black boxes. If you wished to make a call via the operator (which might be a long-distance call, meaning outside Liverpool area) then you dialled "100", the operator would tell you the cost of the call, and you would place coins to this value in the appropriate slots on the black box. The operator would hear the coins going in, different value coins making a different noise (in fact anyone within about 50 metres outside the phone-box could probably have heard this) and would connect the call. If it was answered, you pressed Button A (which required a fair amount of strength) and the money fell through into a strong box at the bottom) and you could then speak to the recipient. If the call was not answered you pressed the equally mighty Button B, which, with a bit of luck, would return your coins into a little tray. All of this was big, clunky, mechanical stuff vaguely reminiscent of Steam Punk now. Lots of girders and grease.

OK - I'm sure this was the same throughout the UK at the time. Our telephones were connected to a local exchange - our number at home was LAR 1125, attached to Lark Lane exchange, in Aigburth. Other exchanges were CHIldwall, WAVertree, ALLerton, STOneycroft and a pile more. If you wished to call a local number from a Liverpool phone-box, you placed 4d (that's 4 old pennies, 4 x 1/240 of a Pound) in the slot, dialled the number and then pressed either Button A or B depending on whether it was answered or not. The recipient could not hear you unless you pressed Button A.

If this seems of very minor interest, I have to explain that Onus's new hobby stemmed from the fact that he had got hold of a brief instruction note, normally issued to GPO telephone engineers, which allowed them to make free calls. To put this into perspective, 4d was not a great deal of money, even for 12-year-olds, and none of us had anyone to call anyway, but it was something we were not supposed to know, and that was enough to get Onus fired up.

The phone-boxes had to cope with free emergency calls (999) and free operator calls (100), so the mechanism allowed the digits 1, 9 and zero to be dialled without charge, but as soon as the call number involved any other digit then the call could not be connected without money being paid. What Onus had found out was that the engineers used a system whereby they could tap in any digits which were not 1, 9 or zero on the receiver rest - and when I say "tap" I mean bang them in, quickly and evenly - thus "three" would be entered as "bang-bang-bang", etc. This took some skill, and I imagine telephone engineers would be likely to suffer from RSI.

There was a secret three digit code which should be tapped in (let us say it was 147), followed by a 2-digit number for the target exchange, followed by the phone number. Throughout this, free digits could be dialled, but other digits had to be tapped. The normal 3-letter exchange codes didn't work in this system, so Onus had set about collecting the details of the 2-digit exchanges.

So for a few weeks he and I would spend a lot of our lunch-hour in a very quiet phone-box in Green Lane, Childwall, about half a mile from school, banging the living daylights out of the receiver rest. Onus would do the banging and the talking, I would be in charge of writing down the results in his homework jotter and providing moral support. It goes without saying that we would have been promptly expelled from school if we had been caught doing this.

Onus would call up a number - let us say he dialled and tapped "147-14-2001". If the phone was answered, he would ask to speak to Mr Barrington (an unusual name was advisable, after some early flukes when he asked for "John", and the recipient said, "Speaking" - panic stations).

When it transpired that Mr Barrington did not live there, Onus would say, "I'm very sorry, I must have the wrong number - is that Garston 2001?"

and the recipient might say, "No - this is Aintree 2001."

And we would have scored a new code, 14 = Aintree, which I would write in the jotter.

Onus found out that if he varied the 147 code, we could get further afield, and we started to collect exchange codes for far-off, exotic places such as Colwyn Bay, Ashton-in-Makerfield, Burscough, some of which may have been as much as 20 miles away. We were giddy with excitement, though there was nothing practical we could possibly have used this knowledge for.

One wet lunchtime, about 3 weeks into this strange research project, our bangings were interrupted by the door of the phone-box being yanked open, and a police constable in full uniform - plant-pot helmet and everything - demanded to know what we were doing. I think Onus may have wet himself - he certainly didn't say anything. From some dark corner of self-preservation, I came up with, "We're trying to get his money back out of the phone...".

'Ello, 'ello?

The policeman reached in and pressed Button B, and, by some freak chance, 4 pence dropped into the tray. "Come on, lads - if you don't mind, I have to make an urgent call."

We ran back to school, pale and shaking. About halfway back, Onus announced that we had left his homework jotter behind in the phone-box, and it contained not only our recorded results for the exchange codes, but also his address (right down to which bit of the galaxy he lived in, and his phone number) and which class he was in, at which school. He was convinced that we were now doomed. 

I ran back to the phone-box, to find the policeman emerging. He had the homework jotter in his hand.

"Did you lads leave this? Here you are - you'd better be more careful, or you won't know what homework to do!"

I took it and ran all the way. Onus and I never mentioned the subject again. Since we were never sent to prison or expelled, I assume that the policeman had not spent any time watching us rattling out numbers on the receiver rest. In fact Onus and I were never such close friends thereafter. He eventually did biology and chemistry, while I did mathematics and physics, so we saw less and less of each other. I believe he became a science teacher and moved to Derbyshire - I only know this from reading his obit in the newsletter.

Newfangled STD phone - 1960s

Within a very short time after this adventure, maybe a year, the entire UK telephone system was upgraded to the new STD (Subscriber Trunk Dialling) system, which involved a complete nation-wide technology change and was, as far as I know, incapable of being cheated. I have never thought about hacking phone-boxes since then until this very morning.  

Honest, Your Honour.