Tuesday 27 November 2018

Battle of Vallesa - July 1812

Yesterday the Rejects got together to welcome back an old member who moved away a couple of years ago. He was back down south for a couple of days and of course he wanted a game in the shed-o-war. Postie put on an excellent Napoleonic game that challenged everyone, was a tough fight from beginning to end but ultimately ended with a satisfyingly definitive outcome. I think the mark of a good wargame is when both winners and losers can came away saying they had a great time. 

The Setup
This is a fictional Peninsular War encounter set just a few days before the Battle of Salamanca. Wellington has just set camp for his army when the French appear and begin to advance. Spanish reinforcements have been sent for but the British position looks precarious from the beginning. The French have two Divisions of Cavalry poised on each flank and a lot of columns lined up to advance against the thin red line of the British positions. The Spanish reinforcements are marching quickly towards their allies but they could arrive too late to make a difference. 

Order of Battle
British c/o Earl of Wellington (Ray & Lee)
1st Division c/o Campbell 
    1st Brigade c/o Fermor
       1/2nd Coldstream, 1/3rd Guards, 5/60th Line and 1 Medium Gun
    2nd Brigade c/o Van Lowe
       1st, 2nd, 5th Line KGL and 1 Medium Gun
    3rd Brigade c/o Wheatley
       2/24th, 1/42nd, 2/58th, 1/79th and 5/60th
    4th Brigade c/o Pocks (Portuguese) 
       1st (2), 16th (2) Portuguese Line, 4th Cacadores
Cavalry Division c/o Stapleton-Cotto
    5th Brigade c/o Alter
       14th Light Dragoons, 1st Hussars KGL and Horse Artillery
    6th Brigade c/o Bock
       1st, 2nd Dragoons KGL

French c/o Marshal Marmont (John and Mark)
1st Division c/o Foy
    1st Brigade c/o Chemineau
       6th Leger (2), 69th Line (2), Medium Gun Battery
    2nd Brigade co/ Berthelot
       39th Line (2), 76th Line (2)
2nd Division c/o Clousel
    3rd Brigade c/o Berlier
       25th Leger (3), 27th Line (2) and Medium Gun Battery 
    4th Brigade c/o Barbot
       50th Line (2), 59th Line (2) and Medium Gun Battery 
Heavy Cavalry Division c/o Boyers
    5th Brigade
       6th Dragoons, 11th Dragoons
    6th Brigade
       15th Dragoons, 25th Dragoons and Horse Artillery
Light Cavalry Division c/o Curtos
    7th Brigade 
       3rd Hussars, 13th Chasseurs a cheval 
    8th Brigade
       26th Chasseurs a cheval, 28th Chasseurs a cheval

Deployment at start of game (click to enlarge)

The Action
From the British perspective the enemy's plan looked fairly predictable. Their cavalry divisions would sweep around to attack our flanks while the Infantry columns would head straight for the thin line of infantry on the hill. The only question was would the French try to avoid our Guard (between the hill and the wood) or combine their attack on the hill? Meanwhile our plan (in blue) was to hold the ridge line, using my elite infantry to hold off the cavalry attack on the left flank. On the right flank our cavalry would try to see off the French cavalry to protect the Portuguese reinforcements who are marching along the road towards the centre where we think we will need them in the latter half of the battle. 

Postie explaining the game before the action starts and both sides had ten minutes to study the table and formulate a plan. 

The British position looks very vulnerable...especially looking across at the French columns! I'm particularity worried about the extreme left of our line and how on earth I am going to see off the French Heavy Cavalry which I can see across the valley. 

The French deployment is perfectly poised to attack both flanks of our position with cavalry. My end of the line is held by the 2nd and 3rd Brigades facing a potential threat from the French heavy cavalry Division. We look and feel outnumbered, especially as our 'reinforcements' (the 4th brigade) consists of relatively small units Portuguese Line infantry. 

Another view of the starting positions. The British plan is to hold the ridge and use our Cavalry Division (on the right) to counter the French Cavalry on that flank. Meanwhile my 2nd Brigade (including some Elite) is the only thing standing against the possibility of a french heavy cavalry attack on that flank

Meanwhile our Portuguese reinforcements race towards where we think they will be needed later in the battle. Here you can see the 6th Brigade (KGL) Cavalry crossing the road to support our flank. 

The French start their movement forwards and it looks like our assessment of their plan is bang on the money. The Heavy Cavalry begin moving round to attack our flank and the columns roll relentlessly forwards towards our very thin line n the hill. 

French infantry columns, a formidable sight and seemingly unstoppable. 

It soon becomes clear that the french are heading towards our Guards between the hill and the woods. We consider that a mistake (the guards are seriously hard!) but it does mean we can't afford to move them to support the infantry on the hill. Our original idea of racing the Portuguese to the centre will have to suffice. 

Meanwhile the cavalry of our 5th Brigade charge the lead elements of the French light cavalry Division. The resultant melee is a spectacular success for the British. Our Dragoons sweep one whole brigade clear from the field and follow through into the Brigade behind. Suddenly this flank doesn't look as vulnerable as it did just a few minutes before.

The 7th Brigade of the French Light Cavalry Division are routed and in their panic crash through their comrades behind them. The British immediately pursue and slam into the now disorganised Chasseurs of the 8th Brigade. 

This second melee is also a resounding British victory with Mark only inflicting two casualties on each of the British units throughout this whole mad charge. 

Both French Brigades are fleeing for their lives! This is a stunning result for the British and with our cavalry still largely intact we now have the possibility of turning the French flank. 

To add insult to injury Marks 7th Brigade fail a Moral check and flee the field of battle!

Success on the right flank has improved our moral but the game is not over yet and my part of the line has yet to be tested. Despite training my artillery on the advancing French columns they continue to advance en mass. 

The French Heavy Cavalry Division has taken its time getting into position but they are poised now to begin an attack on my flank. 

Meanwhile the Guard hold their nerve (and their fire) and calmly watch Marks columns advance. 

Crunch time is coming...

The French columns are only a turn away from charge range and tighten up my line now that I know where the attack is likely land. Ray and I discuss our flank and we make a calculated risk deciding not to put our Elite infantry into square. We can get two turns of fire into the charging french cavalry, weakening it before it charges in... lets hope we haven't made a terrible mistake. 

With the French Light Cavalry Division swept aside we are starting to turn the flank of the French. The Cavalry of the 6th Brigade - now free of the obligation to support the triumphant 5th Brigade - turn to threaten the french infantry. 

Musketry begins to be exchanged as the lines converge and our gun batteries hammer the advancing french.

Disaster!! One of my line units on the hill see the advancing columns heading for them and their resolve crumbles. I fail a moral check and the regiment falls back disordered! And of course the French, being utter cad's, take full advantage and swarm onto the hill. 

The Portuguese are still marching down the road towards the centre but they may arrive too late to steady the line. Meanwhile the first brigade of the French Heavy Cavalry has reach my line and charged in. 

On the other flank (Rays troops) the Guard have started to advance, and what an impressive sight they are! 

Decisions, decisions... To charge Square's or not to charge , that is the question. Both French units have taken casualties and look a tempting target. Rays chooses to charge! 
The resulting Melee is brutal. The Squares get four extra dice for being in square but don't get the usual defensive fire before the Cavalry hit. One square survives with nearly half casualties, but the other square is routed! Its not all one sides though as both British units have taken a mauling and one falls back routed. Despite the losses the French flank here has been broken down and cannot expect to stand against the Guards who continue to advance towards them. 

In addition Ray's Cavalry of the 5th Brigade, having seen off the French Light Cavalry Division earlier, are now behind the French line. 

Now for the mess that is my command. My line infantry have been pushed off most of the hill but stubbornly refuse to give up. I turn some units towards the new front (behind my original positions!) and at last the Portuguese are starting to come into action. Meanwhile my Elite infantry in the flank have defeated the first french heavy cavalry Brigade and sent them packing!!! Our decision not to form square here seems to have worked. 

Determined to repeat the strategy and get a different result the French 5th Heavy Cavalry Brigade now hit my weakened infantry on the flank. The melee is bloody for both sides but once again the French fail to break my brave boys!  

The 1/79th Highlanders in particular put up an amazing fight and rout the French Dragoons with heavy casualties. 
This was the last turn of the battle and all that remained was for the final Moral checks to be made for Brigades that fell below 50%. Having fought so hard to gain the hill the French 2nd Division had taken heavy casualties. The 3rd Brigade has taken a particular mauling, especially when they had the audacity to move a unit under the barrel of one of my batteries (canister shot really stings!) forcing a moral check. The French fail the test and the whole Division had to retreat a full move, effectively returning the hill to British control.

With Moral checks done Postie totted up the points. While the British positions looked bad we had lost relatively few units. The French however had multiple units routing and or retired by the end of the game, ceding significant points to the British. They had also lost several flags and commanders during the fighting so more points to the Brits. The end result was a convincing victory for Ray and myself.  French 11 Points - British 31 Points

This game was a gripping encounter from the very beginning. Ray and I had our share of good fortune to be sure (his Cavalry charge for example)  but I think we also read the battlefield well and were able to plan accordingly. We took some calculated risks which mostly paid off and in the end each was another nail in the French coffin.

The French columns are a terrifying and powerful weapon, and very hard to stop, but in the end this game came down to casualties and moral. 

Tuesday 20 November 2018

Planning for the Challenge

I've been feeling a little bit 'unfocused' for a while. Not quite between projects so much as struggling to bring several to a conclusion. I have a number quite usable armies for different periods that I want to expand and I have some vague ideas for future projects that I don't want to rush into. In short this particular wargames butterfly has become stuck in a web of his own making! Don't get me wrong, I'm not in a 'slump', I'm not struggling with time (any more than usual), I've just allowed myself to become distracted by multiple projects to the point where I have ground to a halt unable to make any clear decisions. So this week I have been giving some serious thought on how break the deadlock and I'm using the upcoming Analogue Hobbies Painting Challenge to drag myself out of this stalemate. 

In previous years I have gone into the painting challenge with a very clear 'project' as my goal. One time it was painting 6mm armies for the 2nd Punic War; The year before last I focused on a  Pyrrhic army and last year I painted thousands of Zulu's for an Anglo Zulu War campaign. I'm glad I did these projects but it has to be said some were difficult to keep up with. In every case I completed my painting list but said to myself, I want to come back to this and expand at a later date. That date has finally come. Unlike previous years I'm not heading into the Winter Painting Challenge with a huge target list, rather I have a series of small additions to each of the previous projects that I wan't to work on. In short I'm finally getting around to the fun stuff after the hard slog of building the core of several armies. 

2nd Punic War
The biggest additions are a long overdue expansion of my 6mm Polybian Romans. I've ordered enough figures to double my existing Hastati, Principes and Triarii as well as some more Generals and Hero figures. I'm also considering expanding some of the Allied units that go with this army but for now I have left them off my order. The biggest challenge I think I am going to have with these will be getting them to look like the units I already have painted. Thankfully I keep detailed notes when painting new figures so I should be able to keep the painting consistent with those I did three years ago. I'll also need to pay special attention the the basing so they match what I already have. 

For my Carthaginian army I have ordered some more African war elephants. The plan is to re-base my existing pachyderms on bases of three per base rather than the two per base I have now. I'm not doing this for any game purposes, this is purely an aesthetic issue for me. I just think the completed elephant units will look more intimidating than they do now, especially when they are moving towards your troops!

I have also bought more Celts to add to Hannibal's army. These are large deep units with a lot of figures per base and particularly scary when deployed. They will make a very useful (and very colourful) addition to the Carthaginian forces that I already have. 

Pyrrhic Army
I'm not planning on a massive change to this army at the moment. I have some more Generals and Hero models to complete, and I think I have some additional heavy Cavalry to add to the army. To be honest, I love my Pike units, but I almost reached a point (pun intended!) where I wanted to chuck the whole lot in the bin. I wish I had bought the cast pikes rather than open handed figures I went with because the pins I used were not only incredibly difficult to attach but are also very painful when trying to move a unit on the table. The units may look spectacular, but they are a nightmare to store safely and are very difficult to game with. These puppies have drawn more blood than any models I have ever owned or painted before!

Anlgo Zulu War
My Zulu War project last year was by far the biggest I have undertaken so far. I painted a LOT of Zulu's and redcoats last year but they represented only small portion of the troops I wanted to complete. In particular I didn't paint any Natal Native Contingent so I have now bought some and will be working on these soon. I'm hoping to add four or five companies to my existing British forces. A lot will depend on how enthusiastic I get for this but I have also bought some Natal Native Horse and some Boar units to compliment my existing troop options. 

One thing that has been a huge distraction (but but a thoroughly enjoyable one) in recent months, has been a renewed attempt to write my own set of rules for the period. Its been a difficult process but I think I have a working framework in place, although I am still trying to flesh this out in detail. I'm in no hurry to complete this though and when the Challenge kicks off again I probably won't have time for more work on it. I think that putting the project aside for a few months will actually be a good thing because it will give me time to ponder several ideas that haven't been included yet. This is definitely a long term project and one that I will be revisiting again in the new year.

What a Tanker!... in Two Theatres
Earlier this year I started building up a collection of vehicles to play What a Tanker! My main focus has been the war in the Western Desert between the British and Italians during Operation Compass. I have therefore ordered a few  more vehicles and some terrain to continue and expand this project.

I have also been revisiting the idea of playing some Normandy Campaign games using this rule-set. I already have a selection of Tanks from the period and quite a lot of terrain but both need expansion. Some of this featured in my first play-test of the rules but I need to add some terrain if I hope to run a large game for the Rejects. The first additions in terms of armour have been ordered along with some pre-painted terrain to expand my current collection. I'm even considering some ideas for more scratch built terrain (more Boccage!?). A lot will depend on how much progress I make during the Challenge and how motivated I am! Watch this space.

So have I come to any conclusions?
Today I have spent a couple of hours working on my plan for the Challenge and I feel much more focused as a result. At the very least I now have a clear to-do list down on paper rather than vaguely tucked away in a corner of my brain (a scary place with lots of cobwebs). I have a lot of prep to do before the Challenge starts but I feel confident I'll be able to hit the ground running when the starting pistol fires. 

Tuesday 13 November 2018

Battle of the Poppy Field

On Sunday I joined the Rejects for a very special commemorative game. Stuart called me about this a couple of weeks ago and I immediately said I was available. Most  of the guys were able to make it for this game and Postie asked me to make the arrangements for us to participate in the silent reflection scheduled for 11am. A full write up of the game with pictures is below but as this was a commemorative game I would like to start with a couple of dedications. 

Stuart in particular dedicated this game to the memory of his Great Grandfather, Private James Till of the Royal West Kent Regiment. Private Till died at the young age of 30 somewhere on the Western Front in France in July 1917 and Stuart is very fortunate to have some family memento's that provide a very direct link to the war that ended exactly 100 years earlier. 

Embroidered silk postcards were one of the most popular ways for soldiers to send their love back home. Originally hand-embroidered by women in France and Belgium, the postcards provided not only much needed income for local civilians but also a beloved keepsake for troops and their families. Postie has several examples sent by his Great Grandfather to family back home in England, all with penciled messages written on the reverse.  

Possibly Private Till's wife or maybe his mother, the message on the reverse is unclear. 

Condolence cards like this were common at this period and Stuarts family have kept the card for Private Till in amazing condition. 
These were an amazing and very touching reminder of a young man who gave everything fighting for his country. I think we were all very humbled to have seen and handled these, particularly on the 100th anniversary of the Armistice. We spent a considerable time talking about the ceremonies taking place across the country that day and sharing stories of our own families from that time.

I'd also like to add a dedication to my Great Grandfather, Private George Henry Woodward, Royal Army Service Corp. He died 10th October 1917 at the Kalamaria Supply Depot in Greece. Georges death certificate revealed that he was not killed in action, nor did he die of wounds. Instead he fell ill with Dysentery which eventually killed him. For me this is all the more tragic and I know that his loss still effected my Nan many years later when she asked me to look up any information about him. She knew he died in Greece but the details of his death and the site of his burial were unknown. Thanks to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website we now know that George is buried in the Mikra British Cemetery south of Thessaloniki, in the municipality of Kalamaria, Greece. Not far from where he was stationed.

Now it was time to begin our commemorative game. 

The Setup
The British map - Grossly Inaccurate is the only
way I can describe this!
Stuart set our game right towards the end of the war when the fighting and the killing were still happening, despite the knowledge that the end was clearly in sight. Fighting continued right up to the 11am ceasefire and these are even tales of last minute assaults by over eager commanders determined for a last dash of glory before everything came to an end. 

Ray and I were to play the British side with Mark and Surjit on the German side. As expected this meant they were defending a hastily built trench line while we were attacking with mass tanks supported by an inadequate number of infantry. Both sides were given maps of the battlefield indicating objectives and the game started with a heavy smokescreen having been laid down by the British to cover the advance of the tanks. This meant they started the game in an advanced position (anywhere from 18 to 36 inches in the table) determined by dice roll for each vehicle. Thereafter they would crawl towards the enemy lines at an agonising 4" per turn for the Mk IV's and 6" for the Whippets... if they didn't break down or were destroyed by enemy guns. 

The Order of Battle
British (C/O Lee, 2iC Ray)
13 Male/Female MkIV Tanks
5 Whippet Medium Tanks
1 Field Gun
2 Battalions Infantry
1 Staff Car and Commander
1 Flamethrower
1 Rolls Royce Armoured Car
1 Sopwith Camel Biplane

German (C/O Mark, 2iC Surjit)
1 A7V Heavy Tank
2 Captured British Mk IV Tanks (1 Male, 1 Female)
1 Lorry with AA Gun
2 Trench Mortars
2 Field Guns
2 Battalions Infantry
1 Unit Stormtroopers
1 Brigade Commander
2 Flamethrowers
1 Fokker DR1 Triplane 

The initial moves were performed with screens down to hide the other sides dispositions. This represented the smokescreen and meant that both sides had to rely on the maps provided by Postie.

We had completed this initial stage and raised the screens just before 11 am and were now ready to start the game. 

At 11 am precisely a Bugle began playing the Last Post* and we all stopped what we were doing and prepared to pay our respects. After the Last Post, Stuart read out the Exhortation:

"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"

We then remained head bowed for the traditional Two Minutes Silence, ended by the playing of the Reverie and Stuart reading 

"When you go home tell them of us and say - For your tomorrow we gave our today"

We may have been just a bunch of silly, aging wargamers standing in a shed but I can honestly say it was one of the most moving remembrance ceremonies I have every taken part in. I had a lump in my throat and the hairs stood up on the back of my neck as the last post began, and the two minute silence was reverently and solemnly observed by everyone present.  

(*The British Legion have a 4 minute MP3 download specifically for use at remembrance ceremonies. It times the Last Post, Exhortation, Silence and Reverie perfectly and I used it as an alarm on my phone so we were able to take part in the national commemorations precisely in line with the rest of the country).

The Game
With the remembrance ceremony concluded we were now ready to start our game. As already indicated the British side (Myself and Ray) started almost half way across the table having advanced under cover of smoke. As the smoke cleared however we were dismayed to find that the maps we had been given before the game were less then accurate.  

A wave of British Tanks trundle slowly across the open fields
before the hastily dug German trenches. Breakdowns and
lack of reliability has already thinned the armoured attack. 

The French town that was the primary focus of my assault by a mixed force of heavy and medium tanks, an armoured car and a Battalion of infantry. The town is significantly larger and more ominous looking than it was on our maps. This may prove a tough objective...especially as the Germans have a captured British Mk IV 'Male' tank! 

Although the Germans produced their own tank (the A7V) they relied heavily on captured and repaired British tanks. Repainted with the German Cross and driven by novice crews they were none the less effective, especially in a static defensive role like this where mechanical reliability would be less of an issue. 

And to prove the point the very first shot from the German hits and destroys my only 'male' tank on this side of the table. This is a disaster and not only do I now not have any artillery here, the wreck is also blocking the road. My infantry will have to advance in the open now. 

Turn two and our Sopwith Camel arrives in the sky above the battle. It's still too high to effect any ground troops but one of our victory objectives is 'Mastery of the Sky' so all we have to do is keep this plane flying. 

The German A7V is an ungainly looking vehicle and wasn't very good over rough ground but it bristles with guns and has a crew of at least 18 men. It was an early priority target for us and fortunately Ray takes it out in the second turn. 

Meanwhile my assault on the town is a disaster, My objective is to get a British unit off the table via the road down the right in this picture but I have lost three of my four vehicles before they even reach the barbed wire. To make matters worse a hidden sniper is picking away at my infantry and I can' locate his position to fire back at him. 

Our Sopwith Camel heads towards the German lines. Our pilot is a novice but the few hours training he received should be enough, shouldn't it? 

I turn my second tank group toward the less guarded side of the French town. I'm hoping to provide some much needed support to my troops attacking front on. Unfortunately the sneaky Germans have put an artillery piece inside a concrete bunker and start firing at my tanks as they move slowly (oh so slowly) across its field of fire. 

Meanwhile in the town the Germans reveal an AA truck and begin trying to shoot down our aircraft. Fortunately their aim is terrible and most of their shells are duds! 

I get an 18 pounder Artillery piece come on to support my attack on the town and immediately open fire on the captured Mk IV that has been playing havoc with my tanks. I destroy it with my first fire and I breath a deep sigh of relief. 

Now the Germans bring on an aircraft. This time a Fokker DR1 and it is piloted by an Ace. However Surjit decides he'd rather not risk the plane in a dogfight and ignores our Sopwith in favour of strafing my infantry. 

Having destroyed one captured Mk IV the Germans now bring forward another! Fortunately this one is 'just' a Female tank but its multiple machine guns could play havoc with my infantry once it gets clear of the french streets. 

The Fokker DR1 drops in altitude and strafes my infantry. As an Ace he can fire three bursts per turn but has a limited number of bursts per game. He's using up his ammo fast but is also doing a lot of damage. 

Turning towards my artillery he kills some of the crew, but
not enough to put the gun out of action. With his ammo gone
Surjit turns his plane for home and safety. 

Meanwhile our novice pilot is getting through his ammo more
slowly and we realise all we have to do is keep him in their air
to achieve one of our objectives 'Mastery of the Sky'

Elsewhere Ray's tanks have breached the German wire and one 
of his Whippet Tanks is making a dash for the back edge of the 
Table. If it can avoid being destroyed by the German Artillery 
in the nearby bunker we may achieve another of our objectives!

Victory may be in sight but our infantry have taken heavy casualties and many of our tanks have either broken down or been destroyed. The casualty clearing stations are busy today. 

Another one of Ray's tanks has reached the wire. If we can reach the trench line we will have three of our four objectives secured. All this time the German troops in the trenches have kept their heads down. We know there are a lot in the trenches, even after out Sopwith staffed them. The battle is not over yet. 

Amazingly one of my tanks has reached the wire and begins to rube through it. A burst of gunfire from the German MkIV kills the driver and brings my tank to a temporary halt. 

The German captured MkIV female is out of the town. However my now nearly all my infantry have fallen. 

Ray's Mk IV gets bogged trying to cross the German trench but its reached its objective. Infantry poor down into the German Trench and begin trading fire with the defenders. 

The Dead driver is replaced and my Mk IV moves forward again smashing through the barbed wire and rubble. 

Meanwhile another of my tanks has cross the wire to the left of the town. They don't have any infantry support but there is little left that the Germans can throw at them now. 

With British troops in the German Trenches the games comes to a close.

The British achieved three of their four objectives which was a solid British win. However with the massive loss of tanks and infantry it felt like a hollow victory, particularly as this battle was set less than two weeks from the end of the war. Sadly fighting in WWI continued right up to the eleventh hour. The Armistice documents had been signed shortly after 5am but the ceasefire was set for 11am to allow time for the news to reach front line units. This delay is estimated to have cost the lives of nearly 3,000 soldiers in the final hours of war. Some commanders saw the terms of the Armistice as soft on the Germans and still believed that they had to be severely defeated at a military level to effectively ‘teach them a lesson’. Consequently many attacks planned for the 11th went ahead, even when their commanders knew about the 11am ceasefire. One last act of madness in a war that few today can truly comprehend.