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

Friday 23 February 2024

WSS: More Bavarian Cuirassiers Ready for Action

 I showed a glimpse of these chaps in the Refurb Box a week or so ago. I finished the painting a couple of nights back - they are now based and flagged, ready for duty

These are ex-Eric Knowles figures, repainted and with new command. The officers and standard bearers are SHQ ECW castings, modded a little, the trumpeters are from the Irregular Marlburian range, the troopers and all the horses are by Les Higgins. They've been in the Refurb Queue since Nov 2019, though, since they were rather battered, they've been back down the queue a bit until recently.

I'm glad they are finished; this has been a fiddly refurb job, and on a few occasions I heartily wished I'd stripped them and started again, rather than trying to preserve their original (1970s) provenance. Happy with them now, anyway. They can go into the French OOB for my campaign, where they'll be balanced by the arrival of 2 new Hessian infantry battalions in the Allied line-up.

Tuesday 20 February 2024

Hooptedoodle #457: A Stuffed Lion in Yorkshire

 A tale from long ago, prompted because I was discussing it with my wife recently, and I had some difficulty believing that it actually happened.

In the late 1970s, I was busily collecting information about the Napoleonic Portuguese army (as one does). I chanced upon some excellent contacts - in particular the very supportive curator at the Lisbon Museum, and a splendid old chap named Herbert, of São Paulo, who became my penfriend, and who had almost unlimited access to the old colonial archives in Brasilia, thanks to his son, Norbert, who worked there. Altogether, I stockpiled some great material on uniforms and flags, including some sumptuous watercolours by Old Herbert, who was a splendid artist; for a while I shared information and sources with Terry Wise (another splendid and generous chap), and he published some things for Osprey, sometimes working with Otto Von Pivka.

The name dropping stops at this point. For reasons I can't really remember now, I wrote a booklet on Portuguese uniforms for the Napoleonic Association. I gained nothing from the experience, apart from an invitation to their Annual Dinner in 1980, which was held at the Dower House Hotel, in Knaresborough. I drove down from Edinburgh (in my Mk.III Cortina - the worst car I ever had...) with my first wife and our 3 sons, the youngest of whom must have been 4 years old, now I come to think of it.

The Dower House Hotel (now the Knaresborough Inn, I believe)

The Dower House was a bit pricey for our family budget in those days, so we stayed just one night. I recall that the manager at the Dower House was a perfect doppelganger for Basil Fawlty. The dinner was loud and boozy, and the sound of axes grinding was very distinct. The re-enactment section despised the wargame section, and the main mission for the entire Association seemed to be to mock, and otherwise irritate, the deities of the wargaming establishment of the day.

To be honest, the dinner was not very memorable - I was, in any case, a total outsider, since I wasn't even a member of the wargaming section. My most vivid recollection of the night, beyond the forced laughter and the cigar smoke, was of Tim Pickles in the full - and I mean very full - dress uniform of an officer of Napoleon's Guard Chasseurs à Cheval, including sword, pelisse and fantastic plumed colpack. A spectacular production, and the quality was faultless. I recall that I and another drunken guest studied Tim's magnificent uniform in some detail, and the gold lace piping on his breeches gave rise to a fleeting joke about the Order of the Golden Haemorrhoid, which was promptly awarded to all and sundry, with copious toasts.

My wife and the kids had nothing to do with the dinner, and had very sensibly gone out on the Saturday. I promised that on the Sunday we should have a look around Knaresborough before the drive back up north.

It was suggested that we might visit the zoo. Not many people know that there was a zoo in Knaresborough; as far as I can deduce, not many people knew about it at the time, either. If you can be bothered, I recommend that you check it out in Wikipedia, which will reveal that its short history was so odd that I am confident that the story would not be believed if I told it here. 

We arrived at the zoo at about 10:30am on Sunday, and found the entrance booth closed. It said "please ring" on the door, so that is what we did. A rather harrassed-looking lady appeared, quite friendly, and she said:

"He's not here at present, he's busy somewhere. Just come in and look around - if he is here when you leave you can pay him then."

Fair enough, we went in and it was, to be sure, a small and very dilapidated zoo. The layout was confusing. There were small reptiles, and some rat-like things. There may have been a monkey. There was a lion and, in the same enclosure, there was also a stuffed lion - apparently a former resident. It seems that the previous owner had studied taxidermy as a hobby, which maybe explains why it was stuffed, but not why it was still on display. I would rather not think what psychological damage this could potentially do to the live one.

There were a few further weirdnesses about the place, but our visit was cut short. At one point, my youngest son laughed loudly at the antics of one of the small animals, and a furious lady with a clip-board appeared, and said we would have to leave at once, quietly. For a moment I thought we had finally met the Enjoyment Police, but in fact the zoo was in use that day as a set for a TV crew. There were cameras, masses of young ladies with tight sweaters and clipboards, director-type people and hangers-on, and there were even a few actors. It seems that Knaresborough was doubling for the day as Prague Zoo, for a very short scene from a contemporary British TV drama series (which, predictably, I had never heard of, though my wife at that time knew all about it). [A friend, all these years later, suggests that the scene might have been for The Sandbaggers, which was a Yorkshire TV series from this period, but I can't find sufficient clues to form an opinion!]

We were duly escorted from the premises. Since the entrance kiosk was still closed, we did not disturb the owner, or our budget, any further. [If you do look at Wiki, you may learn that the owner was also a little strange.] 

Apart from the Twilight Zone zoo, Knaresborough was a fine little town, and I am reminded now that I always promised myself a return visit, but never got around to it. We didn't have a lot of time that day, since we had to get on with our journey, to see if the Cortina could make it all the way to Scotland without boiling or forgetting how to charge its battery.

Passengers travel at their own risk...

I subsequently left the Napoleonic Association to get on with their squabbles. I met and liked a few of the guys who did the uniform booklets (well-intentioned amateurs, just like me). Howard Giles and Rob Mantle were very pleasant fellows, as was Peter Hofschroer (whom I'm not allowed to mention these days).

My remaining, abiding memory of the trip is that stuffed lion, pretending to be alive. There are official denials that it ever existed; I am here to tell you, my friends, that I saw it.

Saturday 17 February 2024

WSS: Battle of Waremme - Test (Solo) Campaign

 The days were accomplished, and on Thursday evening it was time for my Zoom game with JBM. I posted a description with an initial photo a few days ago. Subsequent discussion confirmed that we should switch from my extended table (17 x 9 hexes) to the standard size (13 x 9); the big disadvantages of having an oversize table for a Commands & Colors type game are:

* There is a temptation for both generals to stretch out their forces to fit the space, which is historically inappropriate for horse and musket warfare, and 

* The Command Cards and the Centre/Flank table sectors don't work properly if the armies are grouped in the centre, leaving the flanks empty!

Scenario? Well, this action was triggered by my (beta-test) campaign system, the vehicle for a try-out campaign, with which the Jolly Broom Man is very kindly giving me a hand. The game generator indicated that this particular event was to be a "medium-sized" set-piece attack & defence situation, with a Franco-Bavarian force under Marshal Marsin attacking an Austro-British Alliance force commanded by the Duke of Marlborough. Preliminary dice-rolling gave Marsin 4 Divisions, while Marlborough had 3; since the defending force was outnumbered, some further dice-rolling allowed the Allies to bolster their defensive position by spending the night before the action digging some modest breastworks on their right flank.

Start of the day's action; one of the Bavarian guns engaged in the preliminary artillery bombardment

The action took place at the farm of Oude Wieg, in open country outside the Wallonian town of Borgworm (Waremme in French).

I've posted the OOB previously, but here it is again. Some form of narrative should emerge from the photos.

Victory required 10 Victory Points (there are no bonus VPs for strategic objectives). 

Right at the start the French advanced all along their line; here you see them on the left of the picture and the Allies on the right, racing to occupy the central farm. Marsin has the French Division of La Bonne at this end, Lützelburg's Bavarians in the centre and Maffei's Bavarians extending into the distance; he kept his reserve Division (that of Bassinet), off the table at the start. On the Allied side you see Handschuh's Austrians in the foreground, with Charles Churchill's British at the farm and Lord Orkney's British holding the earthworks at the far end.

Early fighting was mostly around the farm. The Bavarians gained an early foothold, but were driven out fairly quickly, and from that point, though there were repeated attacks by Marsin's forces, the British held the farm for the rest of the day.
Attempts to take the farm and its fields cost the French army a lot of casualties; in very little time there was a large gap in that early French line. At this stage the Allies have accumulated 4 VPs, as indicated by the counters at the end of the table!

Tragedy for the British, quite early in the day; General Charles Churchill, the brother of the Duke of Marlborough, was mortally wounded by a musket ball at the farm, while encouraging his own regiment (the Buffs). The fatal dice are shown here...

Still contesting possession of the farm, the Boismorel Regiment (Bavarian "Red Grenadiers", who were mostly Frenchmen) are here hanging on to the kale field in the foreground. It was certainly vicious while it lasted.

General view from the Allied right gives a clear view of the earthwork.

After a couple of hours, it was revealed that Marsin, who was concerned about the extended Bavarian division on his left, had committed Bassinet's reserve Division to appear on that flank. Here they are just starting to arrive, while Bavarian dragoons nearer the camera have a good look at the British earthworks, and wonder what to do about them.
And still the scrap at the farm goes on, but is just about decided. The Boismorels have been driven out of the kale field by Ferguson's Foot (Cameronians).

Concerned that he might have to shift troops to his right to oppose the French reserves coming on, Marlborough deployed his limited cavalry to threaten the infantry on the French right, to buy a little time while the other flank developed.

A general view after about two and a half hours shows that the French had done very little with their right flank, had suffered heavy losses at the the farm, and had avoided the fortified flank at the far end, though the reserve troops coming on Marsin's left were worrying Marlborough.

Around the same time, here is a better view of the other flank.

Bassinet's reserve troops now clearly visible reaching the battlefield on the French left, but this part of the field was relatively quiet throughout.

With the VP score now 7-5 to the Allies, Marsin began an offensive on his right, against Handschuh's Imperial troops.
Then it became 9-5.

And still Orkney's little redoubt is under very little pressure.

The attack by Marsin's right late in the day once more got Marlborough anxious, as the VP gap started to close. In a lengthy game, the luck is always likely to swing at some time, but the game ran out with a 10-8 victory for the defenders.

I feel that my account maybe doesn't do justice to what was really an exciting little game. JBM (Marsin) and I had a productive discussion at the end; we agreed, I think (entirely with the advantage of hindsight on my part!), that he had probably been over-cautious around the earthworks, and that if he had committed the reserve troops to appear on his right, instead of the left, he might have had the weight to drive the Austrians from the field.

The campaign will continue in a week or so. Great fun - thanks again JBM.

We came up with a few slight wrinkles in the rules covering how artillery are handled if they come under attack, and one or two areas where the problem was that I didn't quite remember the details of the rules. All fine - a little pondering and some further discussion should sort things out nicely. 

No problems. Nice game.

Wednesday 14 February 2024

WSS: Solo Campaign Test - ready for Waremme

 My Assisted Solo Campaign is trotting along quietly in the background. I have benefited a lot from the Jolly Broom Man's preparedness to help me through this - the testing of a home-written solo game cannot possibly be carried out solo, or I can convince myself that anything at all is OK. I was about to make a resounding statement about JBM bringing the sanity to the party, but then I remembered that the man himself would make some joke about this being a measure of how desperate things are.

The facts, then, are that we have already had one small(ish) encounter battle, which the Allies won (just), and there has been a small siege, in which the French captured a Dutch-held town with very little effort. Next step is set for tomorrow night, when we are to fight a set-piece battle, in which the Allied force (that's me, folks) will be attacked by the French (who are led by JBM). 

I have set up my army; I have a day to prepare for the arrival of a rather larger Franco-Bavarian force. Because the scenario gives me something of a disadvantage numerically, I am allowed to do a little digging, and some breastworks have been thrown up on our right flank.

Here you see my chaps, all ready for tomorrow evening, in the open countryside near the small town of Waremme, not far from Liege. I have the British Divisions of Lord Orkney and Charles Churchill, with the Imperial Division of Graf Eberwald Handschuh on our left. We have a total of about 10000 infantry and about 1000 horse and, as you see, our field artillery is deployed out front, ready for the preliminary bombardment phase allowed by this scenario.

Marshal Marsin will arrive tomorrow evening.   

Tuesday 13 February 2024

WSS: Back in the Toils of Refurb Work Again!

 ...and enjoying it enormously, to be honest!

And, of course, I am laughing at myself as yet again I make the amazing discovery that a simple refurb job expands beyond belief as you work on it. What started out as a 3-session touch-up job on some figures which were quite nicely painted (albeit 50-odd years ago) has grown before my eyes; after a week of evening sessions, I reckon I still have about 4 sessions to go to complete them.

Just freshen up the white paint, fix the chips, tidy up the horses, change facing colours, humanise the faces, varnish, rebase - fit new flags. Easy-peasy.

Yeah, right. I've gradually rejected almost all of the original work - it has become a re-paint, and as such is in many ways more laborious than a fresh-metal job from scratch. I have spent a lot of time working round existing paintwork that I subsequently replaced. All good fun, of course; in the time-honoured principle of the executioner's axe, these will still be Old Eric's original figures (Gawd bless 'em), though the laboratory would struggle to find any trace of Eric's 1970s paint.

So - one week in - here's a work-in-progress shot which is actually more satisfactory than it might look. I am now halfway through the black, which will be followed by white, blue officers' sashes, lots of leather straps and harness, gold, silver, a touch-up of the edges of the coat colour, then varnish. Maybe 3 more sessions, say 4, for traditions of Estimate Creep.

When they are based and ready I'll post a proper photo. These will be the Bavarian cuirassier units of Wolframsdorf and Costa. Figures are mostly Les Higgins, vintage 1970 or thereabouts, the officers and standard bearers are SHQ figures with some small tweaks, the trumpeters from Irregular's Malburian range; all the horses are Higgins. I did some work with Plastic Putty to add neckties, to try to update the ECW figures by half a century or so.

All good fun. I know all about diminishing returns, and how there is a very definite limit to how good a job I can do on these, but I also have this growing conviction that in a few years I will not remember how quickly I got them finished; the important criterion, in the end, is how much I like them. I'm working on it.

Thursday 8 February 2024

Guest Spot - More of Steve Cooney's 20mm ECW Collection

 Steve Cooney occasionally shares photos of his fine 20mm ECW collection. This week there are some shots of the artillery. All sorts of goodies on view, featuring Steve's legendary conversion work; from great big demi-Culverins to little Scottish frames and horse teams. I particularly like the fellows loading a big mortar grenadoe with a shoulder-yoke.

Steve writes:

Attached photos of ECW artillery , figures are Hinton Hunt with a few Les Higgins conversions and Demi-culverin cannon are mostly Hinchliffe 20mm range .

Hope you like them
 Thanks very much Steve; I like them very much!

Friday 2 February 2024

WSS: More Hessians - eventually!

 Two fresh battalions, ready for the duty boxes. As mentioned previously, these have been marooned on the painting bottletops for about a year, so they are as relieved as I am.

Hessen-Kassel. These gentlemen are the Leibregiment zu Fuß (red cuffs, at front) and the IR Prinz Wilhelm (blue cuffs, at rear). As usual, they are mostly Les Higgins/PMD castings from the 1970s, with a few Irregular friends to fill out the command roles.

I was reading about Hessen-Kassel this week. The first and most important thing to know about the history of the army of that state is that it was complicated. My own WSS armies started life when I acquired the relevant 20mm bit of Eric Knowles' collection, so I was off to a flying start with Bavarians and Austrians, and there were also some French. The other nations in Eric's collection had been in different scales, so I spent the next few years hunting down compatible figures to bulk up the French army and build a British one. When I reached the "Phase Two" stage, at which I planned to decide which was to be my fifth army, the Dutch were an obvious choice, but the prospect of another mass of grey infantry caused me to think again. I eventually plumped for Hessen-Kassel, as a nice colour contrast, and maybe some Hanoverians. My subsequent reading reveals that this has not necessarily been a major change of plan, since there were plenty of Hessians and Hanoverians in Dutch pay after 1702.

Hessen-Kassel was one of a number of nations at that time which hired out their regiments to other armies. For example, Prinz Wilhelm was the colonel of two regiments bearing his name, the first of which (which had yellow facings) was formed for the Venetian service. The second was the one which appeared at Blenheim, possibly in Dutch pay, possibly British. Anyway, as long as they were paid, that's the main thing.

This morning's heroic rescue came when I realised I had mounted one of the flags upside down (I've only done this once before), but, miraculously, the glue was still wet enough to allow me to slide it off and refit it. That is probably all my good fortune for the next month used up in one dose. I refuse to say which flag it was, to avoid everybody looking for traces of damage. [There isn't any].