Wednesday 30 November 2016

Calm before the Storm

Sorry the blog has gone a bit quite for a while, but its not because I haven't been busy. Like many of my fellow wargame bloggers I am entering this years Analogue Painting Challenge. Preparation has been underway for some time and the net result is that although I seem to have been very busy for weeks, I haven't got a lot to show for it.

Prep work is nearly finished, at lest on the models I have at the moment. I've already broken my first rule of (this years) challenge which was to get through it without recourse to points from the bonus rounds... but the siren call of some of the categories was just too much to resist. And if I didn't enter the 'Armour' round I couldn't legitimately call myself a tread-head any more!

More models are en route to Castello del Hadley and I have what passes for a strategy (it'll probably go to pot in week one, but I live in hope). I have also put together a spreadsheet to keep track of my progress and measure it against last years performance and against my target for this year. Either I have too much time on my hands or (my preferred explanation) I have been inspired by the statistical antics of fellow challengers like MilesR. His stats are a wonder to behold.

My Phalangites now all have very sharp pikes in their hands. I have also increased the number being painted from four to five bases of 48 figures per base....that's 240 opportunities for me to puncture my fingers! Painting this lot will take a lot of patience and quite a bit of care but hopefully they will look awesome when they are finished. The only minor problem I have encountered is that I have run out of the spray primer I like for my 6mm figures. I use a brown primer which I find works really well as it means if I miss something on a model it looks like I did it on purpose! Brown also makes it a little easier to see the details than using a black primer. The brown I like was English Uniform from Bolt Action, but as far as I can see its no longer available and I need to find a similar alternative.

Hopefully all this prep will be finished by the end of the weekend and that will give me a couple of weeks to finish off some terrain projects before the Challenge starts in earnest. 

Monday 21 November 2016

The Battle of Pampilhosa - Portugal 1810

On Sunday some of Posties Rejects gathered in the shed-o-war to play a neat little Napoleonic, Peninsular War game. This was a fictional battle set with historical forces pitting French forces against a mixed force of British and Portuguese in a strong position. The French had managed to hook around the allied forces and get behind them resulting in a harried defence with the troops at hand. The Allied army is a mixed bag in terms of quality but their General has taken full advantage of a string defensive arc of hills. The French are numerically superior but can they smash their way through without taking serious casualties in the process. 

Order of Battle
French c/o General Junot (Lee)
  1st Division - c/o Clausel
     1st Brigade - Monard
        4/19th, 4/25th, 4/28th, 4/34th + Medium Gun Battery
     2nd Brigade - Tavein
        4/15th Legare, 4/46th, 4/75th + Light Gun Battery
     3rd Brigade - Godart
        22nd Line (4)
  2nd Division - c/o Solgnae
      1st Brigade - Gratien
         15th (3) & 86th (3) + Medium Gun Battery
      2nd Brigade Tomieres
         65th (4), Irlandais Rgt (1), Regt de Prusse (1)
   Cavalry Division c/o Seinte-Croix
      1st Brigade
         1st Dragoons, 2nd Dragoons
      2nd Brigade
         4th Dragoons, 9th Dragoons
      3rd Bridage
         14th Dragoons, 26th Dragoons + Horse Artillery Battery
      4th (Reserve) Brigade - Ornans
         15th Dragoons, 25th Dragoons

British - c/o Maj-Gen Cole (Ian)
    4th Division - Maj-Gen Cole
       1st Brigade - Campbell
          2/7th, 1/11th, 2/53rd, 5/69th (1 Company) + 1 Medium Gun Battery
       2nd Brigade - Kemmis 
          2/27th, 1/40th, 1/97th, 5/60th (1 Comp)
       3rd Brigade - Collin (Portuguese)
          11th (2), 23rd (2) + Light Gun Battery
    5th Division - Gen Leith
       1st Brigade - Barnes
          3/1st, 1/9th, 2/38th + Light Gun Battery
       2nd Brigade - Spry (Portuguese)
          3rd (2), 15th (2), Tomar Militia
       3rd Brigade - Eben (Portuguese)
          8th (2), Loyal Lusitanian Legion (3)
    Cavalry Division
       1st Brigade - De Grey
          3rd Dragoon Guards, 4th Dragoons
       2nd Brigade - Slade
          1st Dragoons, 14th Light Dragoons
       3rd Brigade - Anson
          16th Light Dragoons, 1st Hussars KGL + Horse Artillery Battery

The Action
Initial Setup - The British and Portuguese hold a strong defensive position on an arc of hills with rough ground and fields to the front.  I was the Commander of the French but relied heavily on Ray as my 2iC as Napoleonic games are not my strongest period! The plan we developed was to hit the weaker Portuguese Division facing our right flank. Rays division would also press in the centre to stop the British from reinforcing the Portuguese and on our left the Cavalry division would protect the flank from attack by the British Cavalry. 

The French advance in attack column to the beat if drums. The British and Portuguese move their troops up onto the hills and spend a couple of turns shuffling units around in a vain attempt to convince themselves they can defend the line!

The French columns press on. In the Centre the 2nd Division (under Ray) aims itself at the gaps between rough ground. They have the toughest job as they will be facing British troops on the hill. Meanwhile my 1st Division advances either side of the cornfield. On the right flank I shield my Columns as best I can from artillery and skirmish fire with my own skirmish line.

My Legare regiment advances in skirmish line and while they take casualties the Portuguese fire is thankfully ineffectual at best. Maybe Johns dice rolling will improve later in the game?

In the Centre the 2nd Division also come under fire...but so far very little damage.  

Meanwhile on our left flank all is strangely quiet... The British Cavalry clearly doesn't like the look of our Dragoons and Surjit holds back from attacking. That's fine by us because we don't need to defeat the Cavalry to win the game, we just need to stop them from interfering with out infantry assault. 

Looking down the table as the French columns march onwards to glory or defeat. 

Ray quite rightly advised me to sweep the skirmishers from the cornfield. They duly evaded and fell back while my unit consolidated and prepared for another charge a few turns later. 

That British and Portuguese line looks quite formidable on the hill...but its a thin red line and the French columns continue to advance. 

Now the nitty gritty begins. With most of the enemy skirmishers pushed out of the way my leading columns begin to line up for the assault. I never expected these to still be intact at this point (marching as they were down the sights of an enemy medium gun) but here they are ready to launch a first wave assault up the hill. 

Meanwhile two units of Dragoons have inserted themselves into a gap in the centre of our line and may just have an opportunity to cause some havoc in a couple of turns. The British on the hill have still yet to shoot, they are holding their fire until it can be most effective. 

My Dragoons are now in position for a charge next turn. Meanwhile one of my columns has charged a Portuguese unit and it has run away! My column take the position without a fight, ready to exploit its good fortune next turn. Meanwhile just down the hill I have managed to get one of my units stuck behind a hedge! It takes me a turn to back it up and realign it for a charge. On the extreme right flank my skirmishers continue to shield the columns from the enemy gun and my leading columns are ready to charge the Portuguese on the hill next turn. We (the French players) think the other side have made a tactical error because they have placed the Portuguese Militia here. This is the weak point we have been aiming at from the very beginning of the game. 

Over on the left flank still nothing is happening! Surjit tries to tempt us to attack by removing his light gun from the line, but he has failed to realise we have absolutely no reason or desire to attack here. 

Meanwhile our columns have advance unmolested almost to within charge range of the British lines. 

Possibly the most amazing turn of action in any game I have played in my entire wargaming career! Ray and I win the initiative for the French and declare 9 simultaneous charges across the whole of the right flank. Unfortunately Rays three columns (far left in this picture) are a fraction of an inch out of range...but my six columns rush towards the enemy. As each charge takes place the Portuguese commander (John) has to make a Moral check to see if they stand and fight. He has to roll 4 or lower on a d6...and he proceeds to roll 5,6,5,6,5,6. !!! Every single Portuguese unit I charge falls back disordered off the hill and into a haphazard mess in the valley behind! My columns take the entire ridge line without a single casualty. 

This is game over...even if some of the British players wouldn't believe it. Their entire flank has fallen back disordered and my columns are still fighting fit, virtually undamaged and crucially within charge range of the enemy. Oh, and I have four more columns, spare heading to consolidate the gains.  

The final positions show the British lines in disarray and the French still in good order. 

I can't recall a plan ever working quite so well as this game. Ray and I had a clear plan of attack from the first turn and we didn't really need to change it at all. The saying goes that no plan survives first contact with the enemy...unless, it seems, your enemy is Surjit, Ian and John! (Sorry guys!)

Friday 18 November 2016

Pre Challenge Prep

A Macadonian Pike Phalanx
Over the last week I have been making a start on my preparation for this years Analogue Painting Challenge. I want to go into the competition as ready as possible this time around and that means getting as much of the cleaning and base coating done as possible before things kick off in December. This time I have a clear plan of what I want to achieve and for me its not really about the points but the outcome...i.e. two complete armies for two different periods. 

By far the hardest part of this process has been the building of the pike Phalanxes. I bought 'open handed' models meaning the pikes are not cast with the pike. Instead these must be added manually and in my case I have opted to use 25mm dressmakers pins as these are just about the right size. Of course adding them one by one seemed far easier (and less painful) in my head than in reality! 

I'll glue these figure strips onto wooden mounts like all my other models to make painting them easier. I can see this construction job will take some time to complete but better now than during the challenge itself. I know that I am going to have even less time for painting this year than I did last year so setting myself realistic targets will be essential to keep things moving. But I also recognize that the Analogue Challenge is a massive motivator and my output during the three months of the competition will be several times more than my regular snails pace. 

Some of my Challenge models ready for primer. This represents about two thirds of the total, the rest (including the pike units) have yet to be mounted. 
I quite enjoy this stage of the process because its the first time I get to really look at the models in detail. I'm already considering how to paint them, what colours to use and what I need to research. I have started a new project notebook - something I do with every new period - just for the Challenge. This already has details of the army lists I am working on, a calendar and a work timetable. Later (when they are published) I'll record the points available, details of special rules and the bonus rounds. Then I'll be adding painting notes and pictures for each of the units in an attempt to be as ready as possible before I even break out the brushes.

I'm also working out how many points I'm likely to earn by painting all these figures and I have come to a startling conclusion...Its not enough! I need more models!! When I told my wife she just looked at me for several seconds, quietly shook her head and wandered off muttered something under her breath. I'm not sure she thinks I am operating on the same planet as the rest of the human race... and of course, she 's probably right. 

Monday 14 November 2016

Cisalpine Gauls - Allies of Hannibal

The latest addition to my 6mm Ancients collection are three large units of Cisalpine Gauls. These will be added to my Carthaginian army as allies. Hannibal built a complex and varied alliance of troops from North Africa, Spain, Northern Italy and further afield in his invasion of the Roman Republic. His Celtic allies - in particular the Boii and Insubres of the Po River valley - were particularly important after the long and costly march across the Alps. These Celtic tribes chafed at their recent subjugation by Rome and Hannibal was able to convince them that an alliance would bring a chance for revenge, plunder and freedom. 

I originally had enough figures to make four bases but these have sat around on my desk for several weeks and several models got damaged. When I finally returned to the project I realised that some figures had broken weapons and a couple broke off at the legs because they had been bent. In the end I decided to take the best strips of figures and make three bases rather than four, which is ample for my games anyway.

These will probably be the last figures I paint until the Analogue Challenge starts in December. I have a lot of figures to clean, prep and prime and this will keep me quite busy until then. One of the things I want to do plan out a proper schedule of work and calculate an accurate target score this year. I got a lot done last year (despite entering the race rather late) but I was very haphazard in my approach. I have even less free time going into this winter than I did last year so careful planning is absolutely essential if I am to hit a meaningful target. 

Friday 11 November 2016

Remembering Private Job Henry Charles Drain VC

This remembrance day I will be thinking about all the men and women who have served their country and given their lives. But I will also be remembering those that came home and had to live with what they experienced. One man in particular has caught my attention more than most recently, a local lad who's statue stands just around the corner from where I now work. I walk past the statue of Private Job Drain almost every day and a few weeks ago I stopped and read the inscription on the plinth.

Job was born in Barking in 1895 and joined the army in 1912, so when war broke out just two years later he was part of the BEF. He was just 18 years old when he won his VC while as a Driver in the 37th Battery, Royal Field Artillery.

His citation leaves in no doubt this young man's bravery. "On 26 August 1914 at Le Cateau, France, when a captain (Douglas Reynolds) of the same battery was trying to recapture two guns, Driver Drain and another driver (Frederick Luke) volunteered to help and gave great assistance in the eventual saving of one of the guns. At the time they were under heavy artillery and infantry fire from the enemy who were only 100 yards away." [London Gazette, 24th Nov 1924]

He later achieved the rank of Sergeant and unlike so many of his comrades survived the war. He married in 1919 and was part of the honor guard for the Unknown Warrior in 1920. He died on 26 July 1975.


They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Wednesday 2 November 2016

Sting of the Scorpion

The story of the Long Range Desert Group has been written many times, often from a single perspective but rarely from the viewpoint of so many of its veterans. Sting of the Scorpion by Mike Morgan brings together the stories and recollections of dozens of former members of the LRDG that takes the reader from the units unlikely conception through to the end of the war.

Despite being a collection of many voices and many different styles the author has managed to bring them all together in a clear narrative that tells the inside story of the LRDG. This is not just the story as seen and narrated by the commanders but by the men of all ranks from Private upwards and is therefore a uniquely frank and complete tale of life as kings of the desert and beyond. This has been made possible by the incredibly strong bonds of comradeship that existed long after the war ended between the men of this elite unit.

“'The Long Range Desert Group caused us more damage than any other unit of their size" 
[Erwin Rommel]

Some of the stories are funny and irreverent truly reflecting the outward appearance of a lack of discipline that no doubt horrified officers from regular units. But these stories show that this impression was completely superficial and underneath the Arab headgear, dirty faces and beards were some of the toughest, most resourceful, highly trained and independent soldiers in the allied forces.

For me one of the attractions of this unit is the incredible glamour and romance of their private desert war. These soldiers were part explorer, part warrior and were literally venturing into the unknown with every mission. There are elements of the glamour of T.E.Lawrence in their desert exploits [a man who was an inspiration to some of the men who joined the unit in its early days] but this book also looks past North Africa into the units redeployment to Yugoslavia, Albania and Italy in the latter years of the war. Within months men who were desert specialists were accomplished mountaineers. The unit suffered heavy losses in the Dodecanese in an abortive attempt by British forces to take the Island of Leros. To their credit many of the LRDG men captured managed to escape and some went on to link up with local resistance fighters and continue a private war against the Germans until liberation in 1945.

This particular paperback edition crams in hundreds of individual tales of triumph, adventure, hardship and adversity and is a truly gripping read from cover to cover. I can give a whole hearted recommendation for this book for anyone interested in this unit.

Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: The History Press; New Ed edition (9 Dec. 2003)
Language: English
Rating:      ★★★★★