Sunday, 5 November 2017

Black Powder - Wagram Practice!



Today we had our first practice game for our Battle of Wagram mega-game project, planned to be fought over a weekend late in 2018...I first blogged about the concept of the project and called for volunteers here: Wagram - Call for Volunteers



I was very lucky and privileged in that well over a dozen wargamers from all over Australia responded to my megalomaniacal call for a massive game. But as you can imagine, few are going to travel inter-state for a mere practice game - so today it was simply, L-R: Victor, Philip, Terry, Vic, Caesar and Alejandro.



For a practice game I merely asked for a single 12 x 6 table, so we fudged a representative part of the Marchfeld and plateau, bordered by the Russbach brook, with Baumersdorf in the centre, today only represented by a single building. On the day the table will be 3 times this size, and dotted with far more impressive villages!



We have been struggling to paint up sufficient numbers of Austrians, and we are still well behind the curve. But I was still impressed with the size of the Austro-Hungarian army's infantry component we were able to assemble so far- six infantry brigades of 4 large Infantry Regiments :



We also had 6 Regiments of Cavalry in reserve off table - unfortunately they did not deploy in this game. Amongst us we have unlimited numbers of French models, but for today, to give the French something of a challenge, they had a mere 4 brigades of infantry. However they had all their reserve cavalry either on table or in reserve - 2 light regiments, 8 Cuirassier Regiments, and 2 Dragoon Regiments!


Just the first Division of Cuirassiers!
This mass of French Cavalry were all Terry's to command for the day, and he made the most of the opportunity, even if his arms weren't always long enough!
 

I was rather vague about the scenario - On the whole, the French were encouraged to try and push the Austrians off their plateau...I just wanted plenty of action in order to thoroughly play test the new rules that have been recently published in the latest Black Powder supplement, Clash of Eagles and give us all some data to mull over. Whilst the supplement addresses the 1812 campaign, it gives comprehensive rules and stats for Austrians, and we wanted to assess which of these we would adopt for our game. As it turns out, they are all well thought out and useful, but we will need to select carefully in order not to slow our huge game down too much.

Alejandro and his son Victor - these guys held the Austrian centre...
These were the rules we would check out for the Austrian army, which for us is characterised by well trained and brave Regiments...

A large Regiment in Division Mass - Has no flanks or rear, but can still move...
with a charismatic and brave leader in Archduke Charles, but with a slow and undistinguished middle command tier at the Brigade and Divisional level:
Some of the new rule supplements apply to all armies and easily and quickly give a much more Napoleonic feel...



and remove some of the room for interpretation so beloved of rules lawyers:




There are also some interesting new rules that make cavalry much more interesting:

As it happened in the excitement we only tried the Cavalry Deep Formation, but it worked really well for the French, and allowed much more involvement on a crowded battlefield:



So to the game itself, and how we found these new rules. Naturally Vic, on the far left, made full use of the excellent French C2, certainly compared to the Austrians, to move his infantry division right up close and personal without bothering with too much in the way of preliminary bombardment or skirmishing:


Whereas Philip, in the French centre, put in a virtuoso performance of sending in the voltigeurs and artillery to soften up Baumersdorf before any thought of an assault:



On my flank over on the right, Terry had command of the French cavalry, only about half of which was on table. But it was enough - he didn't muck around either!


The effect of the Russbach brook, by the way, was only to disorder any actual charge moves made across it. Terry took that risk, and, because my infantry was in Division Mass instead of square, could make his cavalry charge home,  rather than having to bounce back.


But was this a good thing? At this stage neither of us knew!


As is usual with Black Powder, pretty soon we were in action right along the table...


And we soon found that the large Austrian infantry units, with the benefit of their extra Flintenkartasch fifth dice...



were bouncing the French columns back most of the time.



Philip soon managed to take Baumersdorf, as his combined arms tactics deserved, but otherwise the Austrian line, with our big units, was holding pretty well against the outnumbered French:



However, against Terry's Cuirassiers, it wasn't quite so easy to hold the line!


And gaps soon started to appear!



Which allowed him to launch well ordered attacks from the right side of the brook...


After a few blunders, the French Reserve cavalry hove into view...


But look in vain for pictures of the lovely Austro-Hungarian cavalry, because our poor command ratings left it all well out of battle!


No, instead my infantry had to withstand successive heavy cavalry charges! With the new rules, they were able to stand for the duration of this short game, but probably wouldn't have lasted too many more moves!


So now we will all ponder how the new rules worked, how they will affect our scenario, and which to adopt. Given that the Austrians were in a pre-positioned, static defence, their C2 shortcomings weren't as much of a problem as I had feared, and it was the French team who were up against it in this scenario, and they did well to challenge us the way they did!

You can almost hear the cogs turning...
But for the big 2 day game, it may be more of a factor!

Monday, 30 October 2017

Beersheba 100!



The 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Beersheba, 1917, falls on the 31st October. Today we replayed the battle using 28mm figures and Bolt Action rules. But should we have bothered? How well did we recreate history? Bryan had set the scene with a few blow ups from the Australian Memorial, and Doug brought in a family heirloom, an engraving of the battle:



The original battle is famous for the epic 'last cavalry charge in history' delivered by the Aussie Lighthorsemen. Just a couple of issues though - they weren't cavalrymen, and it wasn't the last cavalry charge in history! But the action by those gallant mounted infantrymen certainly qualifies as a famous, and decisive, charge - basically it locked up the entire Palestinian campaign in a few hours desperate fighting.



Now by 1917 no-one was in any doubt that charging horseback across flat, open ground against barbed wire and trenches defended by machine-guns and artillery was insane. But here's the thing - the Turks hadn't wired up their defences, and they had set their MG and artillery ranges for long range firing, on the assumption that the Light Horse Men would sensibly dismount well before entering action - as they had done every time previously in the campaign...


Also, there was an area of dead ground between the first line of Turkish defences, and the town - a wide dried up river bed, the Wadi Sabah, its edges delineated on our table by some hills, a rock, palm trees and some sparse vegetation. This dead ground might offer a covered line of approach with which to outflank the town...


And, its possible that the native stout-hearted NSW bred 'Walers', the Lighthorsemen's beloved mounts, without water for several days already, smelt the water in Beersheba and took matters into their own, erm, hooves?



This was a particularly special wargame, not simply in commemoration of an epic battle, but also remembering our mate Mark Rowles, who's original idea this game was. Doug invited several mates down from his informal wargaming circle in the northern (posh) part of the Illawarra, so what with it being their first time at the uni club, we were all on our best behaviour! L to R: Doug, Simon, Ian and Brett: Gentlemen all!



Doug had put together a lovely set of building to recreate the town of Beersheba:


Whilst our mate Greg, who originally commissioned the range of 28mm figures we played with, had written a specific set of rules for this campaign, I felt we might get more interest if we adapted the popular Bolt Action WW2 set of rules for the game.



After all, Bolt Action does recognise the role of cavalry even in WW2, although it would be stretching the envelope somewhat. I couldn't resist the temptation to add some house rules:

The tough Turkish troops of the Ottoman Empire garrisoning Beersheba were split into 2 commands, each with 5 dice:


The same for the Aussie Lighthorsemen:




To be perfectly honest, in designing the scenario, I was concerned by our lack of Australian figures, and I thought they had a hard ask - the initial objectives were to take the two wells within the town, which would require clearing at least one building. Hence I was probably unfair to the skill and motivation of the Turkish army. Ill equipped they may have been, and possibly not as well trained as 4 ALH, but there was nothing lacking in their tenacity and fighting spirit, as had been amply demonstrated throughout the campaign, indeed the war.




To also help out the Aussies, I included 5 lots of off table medium gun fire, which as Umpire I would use to moderate the game - if the Aussies were struggling, the observer would be quite active - but if the Turks were in early strife, he might well go smoko!



Doug and Simon opted to lead the Turkish defence, and debated their knavish plans. They argued over several options, but eventually, influenced by the old saw; He who defends everything defends nothing, they opted to leave the first line of trenches, and the wadi, completely bare of troops! They had better win, because this would be hard to explain in the post-battle despatch to the Grand Vizier... 


Since I had made it clear that the Allied fire support would not be allowed to fire into the town, they decided to play it safe and cram the entire force in the town!



Clearly they were totally in awe of the skill, accuracy and destructive firepower of the Royal Artillery! And who dares say they were wrong? Not I! As newcomers to the club, they were unaware of my poor relationship with the Dice Gods!


However, the bickering of what tactics to employ also left Doug a little uneasy about Simon's decision to emplace a machine gun in the Beersheba Mosque - this wouldn't look good when whispered in the Grand Vizier's ear, either...


Once the Turks had deployed their defence, in what can only be described as a pedestrian and unadventourous manner, it was Brett and Ian's turn to deploy the Light Horse...now this was an unconventional deployment...


They placed all their forces down one side of the table, with the intention of outflanking the defences..



So they carefully deployed, out of range of the Turkish guns pulled back well into the town:



And off they raced into the dusk, the thirsty, hearty walers giving it their last reserves of strength...


The machine-guns sections plodding in the rear to eventually bring up some direct fire support...


Until, inevitably, they came within range of the Turkish guns...





Now while my self imposed ROE prevented me from dropping indirect fire on the Turks in the town, who were shredding the gallant Light horsemen, I had a bit of an idea! No-one had said anything about not firing smoke rounds in front of the Turkish MGs and guns, so this I promptly did - but it wasn't enough to suppress the Turkish defensive fire entirely, and the Aussie assault foundered under its fire...The first game was a clear victory to the Turkish team. And so to luncheon....Which Doug laid on in true Ottoman style...


With Baklava and dates for afters...During lunch we pondered the scenario, and made a few changes to make things a little easier for the attackers, and to encourage the Turks to actually man the trenches! Only one of the wells was now an objective, the other the bridge over the wadi, and the Aussie start line was a foot further into the table.


This time Brett and Ian obliged, with a layered defence that spread their defense fairly deep, with an initial outpost in the trenchline...



but with the main line of resistance in the shelter of the wadi...


but still well supported by the guns in the town. Similarly, Doug and Simon adopted completely different tactics to the previous Aussie team, this time apparently attacking both the right flank ....


but also going for the centre. Well, that's were the first objective was...


Doug's centre assault on the trenches was the first one in...


Seemed well supported and didn't suffer too many casualties from fire on the approach...


But the doughty Turks fought back equally ferociously in the ensuing melee, and the Aussies were forced back...


Meanwhile the Turks defending the Wadi against Simon's more measured advance were receiving a truly dreadful pasting from the British 18 Pounders...


They then shifted target onto the dogged defenders in the trenches, and, thoroughly suppressed, they fell victim to a second assault from Doug's Lighthorsemen.


The situation in the wadi now looked dire for the Turks - they were caught in a potential pincer movement from Doug to their front...


and Simon's command working their way onto their right flank down the wadi...


And so it proved - with one objective taken, but little prospect of advancing on the town with the forces available, the second game was drawn.


All in all, a great day's wargaming which Mark would have loved, and a fun way of learning more about the horror, glory and sacrifice of the Battle of Beersheba, 31st October 1917.  Ironically, whilst our small battles only vaguely resembled what actually happened, it did lead us to appreciate the real scale of achievement of those Australian Light Horsemen 100 years ago.

Lest we Forget.