Sunday, 25 January 2015

Talavera North

On Thursday we met up at the Hall of Heroes for a monster session of Black Powder Napoleonic gaming - all afternoon and evening - enough for two games!

I had quickly worked up a quick scenario around the action at Talavera 28th July 1809, based solely around the Northern third of the battlefield, the slopes of the Cerro de Medellin leading West up from the Portina brook. Some excerpts from the scenario may help set the scene:

Ground. The Northern section of the battlefield, the valley of the Portina brook. Dominated on the West by the Cerro de Medellin ridge, which provides Wellington with a classic defensive ridge, and was recognized by both sides as the ground of key significance.
The table terrain will be set out to represent the area within the Red rectangle as far as is possible, but concentrating from the North down to encompass all of the Eastern slopes of the Cerro de Medellin.

Situation. Through Allied disunity, the French forces under Marshal Victor (46, 000) have arrived at a situation where they can eliminate Wellington (20,000) and Cuesta’s Spanish forces (32,000). Victor knows he can simply ignore the passive Spanish and concentrate with 2:1 superiority over the Anglo-Portuguese. But in order to achieve a crushing victory and dominate the area he must seize the well defended Cerro heights. This game will focus on the Northern half of the action whereby Victor’s own I Corps attempt to seize the ridge.

Mission. French – Clear the Cerro of British Forces (Destroy/shake half the line units).
Allies – Defend the ridge.

Allied Orbat: (Wellesley CV10) (15 Line Battalions, 3 Skirmish Battalions, 2 Batteries)

British Cav – Fane CV7 Heavy Bde - 2 x Heavy Dragoon. Cotton CV8 Light Brigade 3 x Lt Dragoons/Hussars.
2nd Div Hill (CV8) 5 Line, 1 Skirmish, 1 Battery (from 3rd, 29th, 2 Bns 48th, 66th, 1st Detachments, Det. 5/60th Rifles)
3rd Div Mackenzie (CV7) 5 Line, 1 Skirmish (from 24th, 31st, 45th, 87th, 88th, Det. 5/60th Rifles)
1st Div Sherbrooke (CV7) 5 Line, 1 Skirmish (from 1st Coldstream Guards, 1/3rd Regt. Foot Guards, 1st, 2nd, 5th, 7th KGL, 61st, 83rd, KGL Lights)
1 x 9 Pdr Foot Battery, 1 x 9 Pdr RHA Battery.

French Orbat: I Corps (Victor CV9) (18 Line Battalions, 3 Skirmish Battalions, 4 Batteries)

French Cav – Milhaud CV8 (Heavy Bde) Beamont CV9 (Light Bde). 2 x Dragoons, 5 x Lancers/Hussars/Chasseurs.
1st Division Ruffin (CV8) 6 Battalions Line/Legere, 1 x Skirmish unit.
2nd Division Lapisse (CV8) 6 Battalions Line/Legere, 1 x Skirmish unit.
3rd Division Villatte (CV8) 6 Battalions Line/Legere, 1 x Skirmish unit.
Artillery – 3 x 6 Pdr Foot battery, 1 x 12 Pdr Battery

In the first game the Brits deployed well forward, to make best use of the slight delaying factor of the Portina brook - it didn't disorder crossing, but it did slow things down by 6 inches.

The French went forward a lóutrance, in a combination of column and line, closely supported by skirmishers and guns. Since the British had moved forward off the reverse slope, the guns were useful for once! Indeed they facilitated an initial breakthrough...

Which was duly plugged by some smart British manoeuvring...

However for the French team it made a pleasant change to actually have the enemy's table edge in sight - things seemed to be going well...

When the British cavalry made an unwelcome appearance:

However the pressure was kept up all around the Cerro - something had to give somewhere...

And eventually enough of a gap appeared that the French were able to pour through an entire Light cavalry brigade around the flank of the hill...

And in the centre a small gap enabled a couple of Battalions of infantry to break through the British line.

Hardly meeting the victory conditions, but we felt that two small breakthroughs would allow us to call it a draw.

For the second game, the Brits, suitably fortified by plenty of tea, decided to concentrate their defence around the key height itself:

Giving them the traditional benefits of the reverse slope:

After a lacklustre performance as French CinC I relinquished the role to Terry, who briefed us that we would exploit the space we had to manoeuver to attempt a left-flanking 'hammer and anvil' strategy to come at the hill from both front and flank. Additionally, we would lead the attack on the British Infantry with our cavalry, to force them into square...

Whilst it seemed odd to me, my way hadn't worked, so I did as I was told...

Duly hurling my fine Polish lancers against the British squares...

And then following up with the gravel bellies...

Whilst it worked in some cases, one of the British Regiments concerned was the 18th Foot (The Royal Irish Regiment). Those Micks weren't going anywhere...

But, apart further along the line, the rest of the team were making good progress around the flanks of the hill...

But in the centre, thanks to the stubborn resistance of the Royal Irish, by the time they finally broke, the Brits had ample time to set up a viable second line of defence further up on the hill...

So a clear British win. Two outstanding games, and lots of new tactics tried to provide food for thought for our Waterloo 200 project, about which more anon...

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Zulus! 'Farsands of 'em!

'Why us, Colours, Why us?'
'Cos we're here, son, because we're here...'

Yesterday, Sunday, at the Hall of Heroes Campbelltown, we played a Black Powder game based around the Defence of Rorke's Drift, 22 January 1879.

The scenario was based around the Zulu Wars supplement, using figures and terrain from a variety of collections, Mark, Terry, Vic and, of course, the Great White Zulu himself, Dave, who unfortunately couldn't leave his kraal to join us in the action, but as always was generous with his figures and terrain, as was the FLGS itself. The scenario was interpreted and umpired by Philip with his customary wisdom as befits one who is the father of his people and the owner of cattle without number. He made a few modifications, uplifting the number of Zulu Brigades to 4 from 3, and allowing half the Zulu force to come on table on the other side of the Drift. Play as always was gentlemanly, but he still needed to resort to plenty of tea...
Half the Zulu impis appeared out of the ulu across the Drift - could they coordinate an attack on both sides of the garrison?

The Zulu Regiments were lead by Prince Dabulamanzi kaMapande, who had a command rating of 7, as did his 4 subcommanders, who were played by Gary 'Ground Shaker' of the UTulwana; Max 'Bloody Assegai' of the UDloko, Mark the 'Widowmaker' of the INdlondo, and yours truly, Sparker 'Seven Bellies' of the INdluyengwe. 

Lieutenants JRM Chard RE, and G Bromhead, 24th Foot, each had a command rating of 10. They were also 'inspiring commanders', giving every unit within 6 inches of one of them an extra shooting or combat dice. These were played by Vic and Cameron, who made up for a conspicuous lack of facial hair with bags of truly Victorian confidence and brio...

A quiet backwater station - yer typical cushty billet...From the Warlord Games Rorkes Drift set.
So making full use of the scenario tweaks, the Zulus split into two 'horns of the buffalo', one striking from the NE across the shallow drift, the other coming from the South to assault the hospital. Of the latter horn, one Brigade would strike the rear of the hospital, the other the side. Or at least that was the plan...

Needless to say the dice gods scorned to favour the Zulu commanders with their mere 7 command value, and the assaults went in an uncoordinated fashion - fatal when meeting Messrs Martini and Henry!

However to their credit the brave warriors led by Max and Mark, despite having to cross the drift with an attendant delay of 6 inches, managed to penetrate into the NE corner of the compound...

And I daresay the British players would have been forced to twirl their moustaches or tug on their mutton-chop whiskers in a slightly agitated manner - that is if they had any of course. Instead they made do with a few minor tactical adjustments within the compound to set up an internal redoubt, which eliminated the slightly unwelcome incursion with a few devastating volleys:

'Front Rank - Fire! Second Rank - Fire!'
However all was not entirely quiet on the Southern Front: 

Gary and I eventually gave up trying to coordinate a simultaneous attack on the hospital and instead went in 'first in best dressed' - although not before we had frittered away the Zulu initial morale advantage in the first two moves of the game...

And I flatter myself our brave warriors gave the occupants sweaty palms for a few moments:
But in the face of overwhelming firepower and stubbornness of the South Wales Borderers, and the other distinguished contingents of the garrison, the Northern penetration marked the high tide of the offense. A thoroughly entertaining and exciting game all round. In a subsequent game, which I was unable to remain for as I had been recalled to King Cetawayo's Royal Kraal to explain myself, Philip experimented with increasing the Zulu Command Values to 8, which I think might improve the balance of the game. It would certainly give the Zulus commanders worthy of the courage they displayed!
On a personal note, as a youngster having served 'briefly on attachment in 1984 as Platoon Commander, 6 Platoon, 'B' Company, 4th Bn Royal Regiment of Wales, I would like to dedicate this blog post to Corporal Barter, the platoon's historian, who inspired me with his tales of the glory days of the South Wales Borderers...

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Jutland madness!

With the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Jutland appearing on the edge of the long-range radar, my thoughts have been turning to recreating or commemorating this iconic battle on the table top. All to be done in the 'Grand manner', of course!

WTJ 1:1500 model of HMS Lion - tone and balance of photo adjusted to show detail.
So I was intrigued to discover that the good folks at the 'War Times Journal' are working on a series of what they call 'rapid prototyped plastic' ship models in a variety of scales - including the largest, so far as I am aware; cheap and commercially available scale for WW1 Dreadnoughts, 1:1500 scale!
WTJ 1:1500 model of SMS Seydlitz
As something of an experiment, I ordered up 2 from their range, both Battlecruisers, HMS Lion and SMS Seydlitz, to get a feel for their quality, durability and paintability.

HMS Lion now masted and painted
Now when it comes to wargaming scales, I am a firm adherent of the 'big is beautiful' school of thought - I think table top game models should have some presence to assist in the depiction of the alternative 'play' reality, and impart a 'sense of occasion' to one's gaming - otherwise, why not just wargame on a map or chart?
SMS Seydlitz - note the darker deck colour.
So of course I went for the largest scale they do - their 3D printers allow WTJ to produce their products in any of 4 scales: 1/3000, 1/2400, 1/1800, 1/1500.

Now when I said 'cheap', of course that's a relative concept. These two models together cost me $54AUD, which seems fine, particularly in comparison to existing models from German companies such as Navis who don't seem to scale their prices down from the real thing to the same extent as their models! But being shipped across from the States seems relatively expensive, $13.15AUD for these two very light and small models. And playing around with the WTJ shopping cart, the postage doesn't seem to come down if you bulk buy....

On the other hand, that's an inducement to build up my fleets slowly and carefully in time for 2016...

So what's my opinion of the models? Overall, I'm very impressed. WTJ took a good deal of care with the packing so that the models arrived completely undamaged. The detail is extraordinary, and crisp and proud so that its easy to paint. There are even guide holes drilled should you wish to fit masts, which I did using commercially available 28mm size lance/spear rods. The models come in a translucent pale white colour, as show in the heading photo, but do bear a good soaking and light brushing in warm soapy water prior to being painted.

They can be ordered without boats if desired, but the detail on the whalers and Chevertons has to be seem to be believed!

I haven't made up my mind about basing yet, the models seem to me to be pretty tough and internally braced sufficient to withstand warping, so I shall probably leave as is...

Now I know what you are all thinking - deranged and megalomaniacal though he may be, surely even Sparker isn't going to try to do Jutland in 1/1500 scale!

SMS Seydlitz - detail 01Deck amidships - I hope the Boats Officer and the Top Part O Ship King get on well!
No - I'm going to confine myself to the Battlecruiser engagement that started the fun, so that drastically limits the scale of the action. More that a few moments feverish excited thought, though, made even me realise that even so the two scouting groups, much less the Queen Elizabeths, still won't all fit on the same table!

HMS Lion - detail Focsle afterpart - note bollards, secondary batteries, and focsle breakwater. Any FX king would be proud!
So the idea - it doesn't yet deserve elevation to 'plan' - is to devise or adapt a set of rules whereby each fleet sits on its own table, and the relative movement of the two fleets is plotted on a third chart table. All movement on each fleet table will be restricted to show relative position and formation on the Guide, within the fleet, and showing the fall of shot, ships heaving out of line, and so on. I will have to work on some home grown rules that will scale and replicate the relative distance and bearing of the two fleets, attitude to sun, wind and smoke, and so on. Thus I am aspiring to still give a thrilling and exciting duel that can be historically and tactically challenging, whilst still presenting something of a visual spectacle, which is after all the point of wargaming with miniatures!

The real HMS Lion

So why did I start off with these two ships? Well they were both protagonists at the Battle of Dogger Bank, where Seydlitz narrowly survived a shell hit from the Lion on one of her magazines - resulting in valuable lessons being learnt about flash safety in the Imperial, if not the Royal, Navy. HMS Lion was of course Admiral Beatty's flagship at Jutland, and the ship upon which Major Harvey RM earnt his VC - mortally wounded and lying in the 'X' turret magazine which was being approached by propellant fire, he had the presence of mind to order the compartment flooded.

SMS Seydlitz

SMS Seydlitz was no less a witness to heroism and stoicism at this battle, shrugging off an incredible amount of damage, surviving 21 large calibre shells hits and a torpedo strike, and shipping over 5000 tonnes of seawater. She could dish it out of course, being largely responsible for the loss of the Queen Mary, Lion's sister ship.