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News from a wargamer with a special interest in the military history of the Balkans. It mainly covers my current reading and wargaming projects. For more detail you can visit the web sites I edit - Balkan Military History and Glasgow & District Wargaming Society. Or follow me on Twitter @Balkan_Dave
or on Mastodon @balkandave@mastodon.scot, or Threads @davewatson1683

Tuesday 27 September 2016

Waterloo - The French Perspective

My latest reading has been Andrew Field’s book ‘Waterloo: The French Perspective’.

It’s an old adage that history is written by the winners and that is certainly true for Waterloo. It is even alleged that Wellington supported a smear campaign against Siborne because his research questioned parts of the Duke’s version of events. The author of that allegation, Peter Hofschroer, also wrote a book on the Waterloo campaign, the second volume of which is called ‘The German Victory’. The Duke really would have turned in his grave at that!

Waterloo was of course a massive battle in terms of the men involved, even if the battlefield wasn’t that large. However, even walking it 200 years later, I was struck by how difficult it was see all parts of the battlefield - there was no Lion monument in 1815! Added to which you have the general’s curse on any black powder battlefield, smoke.

For this reason, even the memoirs of those present, can only cover a relatively small part of the battlefield. And that’s before any historical revisionism comes in.

Andrew Field has done a wonderful job pulling together French perspectives of the battle. It gives a very different picture of the battle and questions what those of us brought up on the classic British histories have come to believe about the battle. He doesn’t claim to have discovered radically different ‘truths’, but he does offer some very different explanations.

For example, I always understood that the action at Hougoumont, drew in greater numbers of French troops from Reille’s Corps, almost to Blenheim proportions. In this book it is argued that many more Allied troops were engaged in the vicinity of the farm, bringing each side up to similar numbers. There also appears to have been two, if not three, break ins.

Field also discusses the type of column d’Erlon used in his attack, suggesting that the wide formation was influenced by his experience of fighting the British in Spain. They certainly did not come on ‘in the same old way’. This still leaves open the wisdom of experimenting in such a crucial battle, but he does explain the problems in coordinating the classic cavalry, artillery and infantry combined arms assault. Similarly, the great cavalry charges were not entirely without precedent and may have been forced on Napoleon by the arrival of the Prussians. 

Field goes on to examine the other key elements of the battle - La Haye Sainte, the sunken road, Planchenoit and the commitment and formation of the Guard. Liberally quoting from French and Allied sources. 

This is a fascinating book and an absolute must for the Waterloo collection.

Sunday 25 September 2016

The Men Who Would Be Kings

First try yesterday of the latest Osprey Wargames rules, 'The Men Who Would Be Kings'. These are written by Daniel Mersey, the author of Lion Rampant and have a number of design similarities.

These are quick play skirmish rules for the colonial period - roughly Sikh Wars to the Boer Wars. Skirmish in this context means 40-50 figures a side, more for the native armies, although there is 'skirmish kings' options to play with half sized units. There is also a very useful solo gaming chapter called 'Playing against Mr Babbage'.

A Field Force consists of a around five units, each of which has a leader, the competency of which is diced for in each game. A European force might consist of regular infantry and irregular auxiliaries. Infantry units have 12 figures, cavalry 8 - while tribal units are 16 for foot and 10 for horse. There are rules for artillery, but they are assumed to be light mountain guns or machine guns.

Each unit is diced for in the activation phase, needing to equal or exceed the leader's command factor. If passed, the unit can take one action - move, double, skirmish, shoot, attack etc. Some are free actions, like regulars can always fire without dicing - tribal units can always attack. Shooting and combat are straightforward rolls for each figure, having to equal or exceed the units firing factor. Cover and other factors are accounted for in the number of hits needed to kill e.g. long range and soft cover needs two hits. If a unit suffers casualties it takes a pinning test. Pinned units have to rally next move rather than take an active action.

For my trial game, I decided on a more obscure colonial conflict. The Ottomans occupied the Middle East from the 16th Century until the 20th Century. Egypt strayed in and out of the Empire, but the core lands in Palestine, Syria, Lebanon and modern Iraq had Ottoman garrisons throughout. The Arabian Peninsular was also garrisoned, although control of the interior was patchy at best. There were major wars with the Saudis and lower scale conflicts with the Kurds and Bedouins. Policing actions were commonplace, very much at the scale these rules are aimed at.

The army lists are set out below for the Ottomans and an Arab field force of the standard 24 point size.

The game was a simple encounter game around a a small village. The Ottoman regulars held off the Arabs on the left, but the Arab right wing swept around the village rolling up the Ottoman line.

The rules played very well and like Lion Rampant they are simple mechanisms, yet subtle in their application. This was perhaps an unusual game given the number of tribal cavalry on the table. Cavalry are possibly a bit strong, with infantry needing two hits per figure. I am not sure what the justification is for this and it certainly made the Bedouin and Arab cavalry very difficult to beat. Other than that, the rules provided a quick game, with plenty of colonial flavour. It's certainly faster play than Sharp Practice 2. I will be playing more of this.

Saturday 17 September 2016

Sharp Practice 2 - Jacobite Rebellions

I do enjoy an alternative history, and my latest reading has been Year of the Prince by George Kearton. 

As he says in the introduction, for over 50 years at the beginning of the eighteenth century, thousands of Britons would not drink to the health of their regnant Royal Family. Instead, after passing an open hand surreptitiously over their glass, they would drink a toast to “The King over the Water”; a reference to the heirs of the exiled House of Stuart. The final Stuart attempt to regain the throne failed in 1745. But what if history had turned out differently?

I won't ruin the book for you, but it's a good short read and not too fanciful. Like many events in history, it only takes a small a bit of luck, bad weather etc to create a very different outcome.

As I am exploring Sharp Practice 2 at present, this was an opportunity to dust down the forces I did last year for the 300th anniversary of the battle of Sherrifmuir 1715. This was an earlier Jacobite rebellion and involved the legendary Rob Roy, an ideal character for Sharp Practice. I also fancied trying the rules out in a town setting.

We start with some preliminary baiting. A bare arsed highlander taunting the lowland Scots militia. Should they hold their first fire for a bigger target?

Rob Roy is getting a little frustrated here with these Jacobite gentlemen, who are not rushing to support his clansmen's charge. Too many tiffin breaks!

Here we have the highland charge from both angles. The tomahawk rule works well.

And finally, a celebratory drink for Rob and his men. Job done!

Sunday 11 September 2016

Game of Thrones - The Riverlands

Time to return to other painting projects after doing little other than Pancho Villa.

For Game of Thrones, I have switched from Saga to Lion Rampant rules. That means six figure cavalry units. I had some spare Lord of the Rings figures to bulk out the Lannister's and the Stark's.

Next stop is some allies. The Riverlands went both ways and looking at the last episodes of the TV series, I was struck by how so many of the cavalry looked like Border Reivers. So I picked up some Foundry Reivers at a recent show. The pistols had to be shaved off, but otherwise fine. A (sort of) Tully flag from Battle Flags finishes them off. Next stop some infantry.

Sunday 4 September 2016

Matters 19th Century

I was listening to one of the highly recommended History Network podcasts on my Sunday morning walk. This one covered the history of the torpedo and briefly mentioned that the first successful torpedo attack in history was during the Russo-Turkish War. The naval aspects of this conflict have largely passed me by.

On January 25, 1878, two Russian steam cutters “Chesma” and “Sinop”, successfully sank the Turkish ship “Intibach”. The steam cutters belonged to the steamboat “Grand Prince Konstantin”, the fastest Russian ship of the Black Sea Fleet. The commander of the steamboat, Lieutenant Stepan Makarov, was genuinely interested in new technologies and new weapons, having already completed a number of operations against the Turkish fleet. More on this clash here.

On the subject of 19th Century conflicts, SteveBarber Models have brought out a new range of 28mm figures for the 1848 revolutionary wars. Needless to say the Hungarian figures caught my eye, they look fabulous. Austrian's are on the way.

I was tempted to try this when Ralf Weaver brought out his book on the subject (Hungarian Army 1848-49 from Partizan Press), but couldn't settle on a figure range to convert. This new range settles that problem when you consider that it will be perfect for Sharp Practice 2.

While on this subject I should also give a mention to Outpost Miniatures, Russo-Turkish War range. They have added Romanians to the range, again very nice.

Thursday 1 September 2016

A Wounded Realm

This is the second book in the 'Blood of Kings' series by K.M.Ashman. I reviewed the first one, 'A Land Divided', in June. The setting is post-Norman conquest Wales.

The second book takes up the story some 12 years later. The 'Hero' of the first book, Gruffydd ap Cyan still languishes in the prison of Hugh the Fat, a Norman marcher lord. An opportunistic escape, allowed him to flee to Ireland where he recovered, and in an alliance with the Vikings, captures Ynys Mon (Anglesey).

This book takes in more of the English power struggles of the time. The link is a Welsh princess who becomes the mistress of William II's brother Henry, who takes the throne on William's death in a hunting accident, or maybe not so accidental - the author unsurprisingly plumps for the latter.

We have a good siege at Pembroke, one of the castles the Normans built to consolidate their lands. And finally, the dramatic rescue of another Welsh prince, Hywel ap Rhys from the Norman castle at Hen Domen.

The storyline in this book is bittier than the epic struggles of the first, but the author captures well the complex power struggles between squabbling Welsh kingdoms, the marcher lords and the English crown. It has all you could want in historical fiction, while keeping pretty close to the historical record, such as it is.

Really enjoyed this again and looking forward the the third book when it is published.

Here is a photo of a Lion Rampant clash I played out when I finished the book with Welsh spearmen facing up to the dreaded charge of Norman knights.