Friday, 31 January 2014

Prizes for Persistance

So we did another game in Will's ACW project. This one was Greenbrier River (I think) which took place in 1861. It was a fairly bloodless encounter, historically, a situation unlikely to persist once the Monday Night Group got their hands on it.

The scenario is that Johnny Reb is defending the river line (woods are impassable, BTW), and Billy Yank is coming up the road in the top right hand corner, early in the morning. This apparently was a surprise to the Confederates.

Will's 20mm plastics with fluttering flags look lovely, don't they? We're using RFCM's, "Civil War Battles", but amended. More on this later, probably.

Yes, all the Rebs seems to be lining hedges or fortifications. A nasty looking prospect.

Richard and I took the Yankees, and Will ran the Rebs until more players arrived. On reflection I think this was a mistake, as it would have been easier to feed players in as it went along, rather than Will having to play and umpire.

So we stormed up the road (hah! when movement is dice controlled), and split our forces either side of the road. I took the right of the road with a few battalions of foot. Richard took the left, and had all the guns and some foot.

We went for it in bold strokes. A Yankee column rushed the bridge, on its way to storm the farmhouse, and as you can see below I forced the River line.

With my Zouaves over the river it would surely quickly be up for the Rebs.

Alas the Rebs inflicted a hit or two, and I was held up by minor morale failures.

With our guns deployed in the middle, and troops occupying the central building we were feeling pretty good about things. The Rebs blazed away with everything they had as Richard started to send columns across the river.

Meanwhile I had finally overrun the Rebs on my flank, and then gone to provide support to the troops in the house, who were being subjected to close range artillery fire.

My Zouave charge was "bounced" and we were ready to go again when we stopped.

It is fair to say that the fixes Will had put in to fix the moans we had a Bull Run just made things worse the other way. Phil arrived half way through and by the end of the game said in exasperation "Will, you know what outcomes you want. When are we going to see fast play rules written by you giving the results you want".

Or something like that.

In the post game discussion on our Yahoo group Will announced that he is going to write some ACW rules.

Excellent. I look forward to giving this battle another go when that's done.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Remembering Battles Past

I was talking to Tim Gow of Megablitz fame last night. On the phone, you know, as he lives just outside Sheffield and I don't.

The conversation turned to commemoration of the Great War and we went over ground previously covered in this blog. Tim remarked that so many games at shows this year will be based on 1914 and he was pleased to have got his in last year. Here we are, one month into centenary year, Paxo's done his first programme, and we're seven months before the actual anniversary of the outbreak. Are we getting commemoration fatigue already?

I mean this will be a big deal for wargames manufacturers. I haven't been paying that close attention to what's being manufactured, but I'm sure there's loads of stuff in the pipeline. I don't know whether any release schedules are being done to coincide with the development of the war or whether you'd release the whole lot all at once from BEF to New Army to Grizzled Veterans.

Next year, however, will be an interesting one, with a significant other military anniversary. I'm talking about the bi-centenary of the Battle of Waterloo. An iconic battle if ever there was one, so much so that Airfix never released Napoleonics, but "Waterloo" figures.

We have a chance to do a proper job of it this time. The centenary must have been a shade awkward back in 1915, commemorating a battle in which the British & Prussians defeated the French. In Belgium. I accept I might be a little behind the curve on this one. "Waterloo 200" is up and running, and David Cameron is backing it. We're even coughing up money to restore Hougomont.

The Battle was commemorated in 1915. At least I assume so. The Royal Artillery Regiment published a book in 1916 recording how they had marked the centenary the previous year, and I have no reason to believe they'd make something like that up. Wills, on the other hand, produced a set of cigarette cards in anticipation of the event and apparently never issued them.

Waterloo, as I said above, is one of "those" battles, and it loomed large over my early wargaming career. The release of the film in 1970 when I was still at primary school was a major event. Derek & I were allowed to go on our own, and we both bought programmes (still got mine somewhere). The cinema was the Granada in Rugby, later a bingo hall and now defunct. I think we were in the front row of the upper circle.

Airfix must have released their Highlanders in anticipation of the film, followed by the French Cavalry. Those Highlanders were the main stay of so many armies. Three years we had to wait for the release of the British infantry! What a frustrating range as figures were released in drips and drabs, but central to my early wargaming life.

I had quite large British forces. Derek collected the French, mostly. We augmented the battalions with command figures bought from Minifigs, and added other units to fill in the gaps (Polish Lancers and Heavy Dragoons and Riflemen).

I eventually dropped out of Napoleonics and let Derek have my metal figures. The plastics got modified and passed on. Some (the French Cavalry) were head swapped into my WSS armies. Others were turned into a Prussian Division, which I think my brother has now.

So here's the thing. I have no Napoleonics left. No one in our group has the late period figures (Phil has some early Bonapartist stuff). I don't even know where my copy of  SPI's "Napoleon at Waterloo" is.

How am I going to mark this bi-centenary? Even with my ninja level project completion skills I'm never going to finish two armies in the time required.

Answers, please, on a postcard.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Adwalton Moor or Less

Due to a last minute domestic commitment Will was unable to bring along his latest ACW refight, so I had to find a stop gap.

Long ago I threatened to refight all the Battles of the English Civil War, and I've done a few, including Edgehill, Lansdown and Cheriton (I think) plus a Bishop's War battle as well, so I returned to the project.

The Bible for this project is Richard Brook's book on the Battles of Britain & Ireland. Flicking through it to find a suitable battle (has to be big enough to use most of a 5' x 3' playing area with c5,000 or more troops aside) I alighted upon Adwalton Moor. This is the battle that secured the North for the King until Marston Moor over turned it. About 15,000 men took part, 10,000 Royalists under the Marquis of Newcastle and 5,000 Parliamentarians under the Fairfaxes (Pere et fils).

The evidence for the battle is a bit weak and not entirely clear. Brooks does a decent job, and has a map, but it is still hard to follow and turn into a viable game. Especially if the Parliamentarians aren't going to be just blown away.

The background is an abortive attack on the Royalist camp to stop them marching on Bradford. They leave it too late and end up fighting an encounter battle on Adwalton Moor. The Royalists have to fight a defensive battle with their advance guard to enable their superior forces to deploy and counter attack.

The figures are Peter Pig, the rules "Victory Without Squares" which are available as a download, top right of the blog. A smaller turnout compared to last week, with Chris K taking Parliament and me running the Royalists until Phil arrived. Neither player knew the battle being fought before we started.

Above is the table as set out. The area in the middle with the brown templates is Adwalton Moor. They represent rough ground made up of coal workings and coarse vegetation. I removed them before the game to create a bit of a surprise for the players.

This is about move 2. The Royalists, near the camera, have started to push up the road and are moving more cavalry up on to the Moor. Chris has decided to send his cavalry off on a long flanking march to his left (you can see them under his arm at the back), and has moved his right hand flanking infantry unit towards the centre. Historically this unit occupied the enclosure on the left of the Moor as we look at it and gave the Royalist cavalry some issues.

We are starting to exchange fire across the lane with minimal effect initially.

By now Phil has arrived, his attempt to move his cavalry across the Moor revealing the rough ground. He took this very well, all things considered. The fire fight near the camera has reduced both sides to "Unsteady" status, as you can see from the labels.

The Royalists are now arriving in force, marching through the village. There are no pictures of this, but Chris picked up some Unsteady markers from artillery fire and was unlucky trying to get rid of them. I think he had missed his main chance already, by not using his cavalry to force the middle of the table. The flank march never came to anything, and he had lost the one window of opportunity he had where he had parity in the mounted arm.

Phil started to attack aggressively in the middle (when does he ever not?) and threw back Chris from the wall. Chris' central infantry unit was a bit tentative in its advance, and picked up an Unsteady marker which he just couldn''t get rid of.

In fact he dropped back in the middle to reform out of range of Phil's advancing infantry. This gave Phil the chance to deploy in the lane and dominate the middle of the board. An attempt by Chris to flank the position by passing his cavalry up the cross table road was too late and encountered a number of problems, - such as infantry lining the walls to volley them.

The Unsteady marker behind the cavalry is because of their attempt to cross the rough ground.

Phil has now launched two successful charges across the lane, and forced back the Parliamentarian infantry on the edge of the enclosures. His growing forces marching on table emboldened him as his losses could be absorbed. Chris was not so lucky.

By this point Chris has tried his best, - he has counterattacked Phil's infantry with his right hand most unit, but that in turn has been hit by the Royalist cavalry. The Parliamentarian cavalry on this flank has retired behind the church having been roughed up a bit by musketry.

So he took the decision to retire from the field, at which point I called the game closed with a clear Royalist win, looking a bit like the historical outcome.

It is hard to see how the Fairfaxes are going to win this one. The historical decision is a high risk gamble, and they needed to get into the village to have any chance of fighting the Royalists off. Looking at the game the only chance you have is too throw everything at the Royalists from turn one at high speed in order to achieve some local superiority, but it's a very thin chance.

Thanks to Phil & Chris for helping me cross off another battle on the list.

Back to the ACW next week.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Some Closure

We sold my parents house on Monday. Money has changed hands, new owners in residence. I dropped the last set of keys off on the way home from work in the dark and chill of a cold winter's evening. The new residents were shuffling boxes round in the garage. I didn't go in the house. That's probably best.

I lived there from the age of 8 until I left home at the age of 23. So, 15 years, during which time I did three years at University. Years when you're at school seem so much longer than when you're older, so those 15 years are packed to the gunnels with lots and lots of memories.

It's the house where I started wargaming. I'd played with toy soldiers before, of course, but not with any form or structure. Here, in the garden, my older brother and his friends started games with airfix figures and rules that became more sophisticated over time. Being four years younger I was allowed to join in on sufferance. The garden went on to host large scale naval games with the big airfix ships and the occasional American ringer. My brother's friend Nigel turned up with the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier once. Enormous. And no arguments about it not being contemporary with the Bismark or the Hood.

The lounge hosted all manner of games. We started firing nails out of spring loaded cannon at Timpo figures (matches are for wimps), and moved on to games with Charles Grant's battle, the "Bayonet" Napoleonic rules, and many more. I think Old Western gunfights were in there too. When the lounge floor was off limits we used the landing or a bedroom, or that cupboard at the back of the bathroom under the eaves.

Other games were played at friends' houses, but this was my wargaming home where the earliest, the most original, the best games were played. I have no recollection of the last game there. I suspect it was something before I went to university with my Middle Earth armies from the old Minifig range. If RPGs count, it'll have been a game of Tunnels and Trolls in the dining room.

The house has so many more memories, so many more "firsts" but this is a wargaming blog. So farewell to the time my brother tipped hundreds of pine cones on the lounge floor to make a forest. Farewell to the garage where Derek & I stretched sprue, melted models, covered everything in black soot and probably gave ourselves cancer. Farewell to my room, stinking of white spirit and model glue. Farewell to it all.

And farewell to Mum & Dad. You never really understood my hobby, I think, but you tolerated it, and encouraged me when needed, and took me to shows.

My final hope is the new owners are happy there. They have great plans to extend and refit and do loads of things. Why not. It was built in the early 1960s and the world has moved on.

There are still a few things to sort out. The estate has the last remants to clear up and you can never be sure you're done with HMRC.

And then, when the weather clears up, we'll go and scatter the ashes. But I don't know if I can ever really say good bye.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

A Mexican Taster

Richard's first game in Shedquarters, and we're off to Latin America for another game in his American/Mexican campaign. This one was part of the Vera Cruz campaign. For battlefield resolution Richard is using Arty Conliffe's "Shako". I've said before that after a few games I had concluded that I wasn't a fan. This battle didn't do much to change my mind. The fact that I enjoyed it enormously all the way through, even when it looked like I was going to get clobbered, shows that a good scenario, well written briefings (Richard had even written a newspaper announcing the campaign in the US press) and sympathetic umpiring win out every time. Perhaps we over obsess about rules.

We had a good turnout, with all six coffee mugs being required for the first time in ages. There was me (as Santa Anna) Chris W & Will as the US imperialists, and Chris K and Phil as my two side kicks.

After some manoeuvrings and various shenanigans the Americans captured Vera Cruz and thrust into the interior. There were two routes they could take and I covered one with a small force and deployed most of my strength to the most likely line of attack. Most of it got together at the battle site, but I lost a gun battery that didn't make it. Effectively we were re-fighting the Battle of Sierra Gordo, which historically the Yankees won by finding a secret mountain pass round the position.

This time they were not so lucky and so they were forced to attack a strong position with a defile. I put my regular infantry on the crest to the right, held the cavalry in reserve and blocked the defile with the Guards division.

The Yankees suffered from over confidence throughout the entire evening. Below you see them charging my emplaced artillery battery, - an action which inflicted considerable damage on them. In fact the gunners played a blinder all night, consistently rolling high numbers.

Stunned by the excellence of my deployments the Yankees were reduced to making a general assault all along the line.

This caused some issues on the right as they out ranged my men slightly with their rifle skirmishers. I made my one mistake here, and conceded to my lieutenant on this flank his request to retire from the crest line. This meant he lost his uphill advantage when the melee finally came.

As the Yankees pressed and my line wavered I ordered Phil forward with the cavalry reserve with orders to charge everything in front of him.

This is the sort of order Phil likes and he did me proud. I'm not sure what the total win/loss balance was, but he seriously disrupted the Yankees for the small loss of all of his units.

In the defile the Yankees broke my initial line, but my counterattack with massed columns was a stunning success and the right hand Yankee brigade was soon either annihilated or routed, their commander fleeing ignominiously to the rear.

Elsewhere it hotted up even more. The main concern was the Texas Rangers turning my right flank as under Shako they are armed with both blasters and light sabres.

We were able to prepare some reception for them, with a cavalry unit and a gun battery, but having them behind the line which was being pressed from the front was not a pleasant prospect.

I was able to swing the remaining Guards to the right to shore up flank, but the Yankees just kept coming.

But in the end we prevailed. The Texas Rangers finally took too many hits and were broken, and the rest of the Yankees stumbled back up the road they came down.

So, a TRIUMPH for the forces of Mexico and that tactical genius Santa Anna.

A vastly enjoyable romp, played in the right spirit by a group of friends. Just what wargaming is all about.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Who is this going to annoy?

Well, clearly the BBC was waiting for my piece in MWBG.

Lions & Donkeys: 10 Big Myths De-bunked

Okay, it's written by Dan Snow who some would probably say wasn't a proper historian, but even so.

The Beeb also has these "iWonder" guides on the Great War. There will be 25 of them, with 8 published so far. Looking at the text on the website, I think this one might be very interesting and perhaps more controversial than you might think:

Has war poetry distorted our view of World War One?

This is written by the poet Ian McMillan and makes the surprising claims that "Although Dulce et Decorum Est is written from the poet’s point of view, it's important to remember it is a work of fiction" and "A select group of well-educated soldier officers, including Wilfred Owen, came to view the war as one of pity and horror. This was a minority view but expressed through powerful and well-written poetry. In the 1960s a literary elite decided this was the most authentic view of the conflict because it chimed with their own anti-war feelings."

I suggest we now all write up Barnsley's favourite son as a right wing officer class stooge.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Assyrians Assemble!

Okay, getting enough finished stuff to make it look like I might have an army.

Flank view, with cavalry closest to camera

The massed heavy infantry, screen by slingers

The chariots. Managed to carve out unsightly blob of plastic between the arms on left hand vehicle

All set up and raring to go. Just about.
I've now painted one of every troop type in the boxes, I think, although there are more variations to be had with different shield types. I set my sights on churning out more chariots for the next stage, before reverting to the heavy infantry.

Thursday, 16 January 2014


Oh flippity-flippty flip. And other such phrases and epithets.

We are part way into Shedquarters' second winter. Last year (2012-13) I had a slight damp problem caused by the ground being wet after the atrocious summer. The ground couldn't absorb the run-off from the roof quickly enough. It quickly dried out. Not a problem (although I should probably put in guttering and a soak away).

This winter I have a different problem. I have rain soaking through the gable end, opposite the door. It's half way up the wall and has spread inside and along the bottom of the wall, through two incehes of insulation and plywood lining, and under the carpet.

As I said, flippity-flippity-flip.

The problem has been that the direction of the prevailing wind has been different this year. And it's been really strong. the rain has literally forced its way through the joins between the gable end panels and just soaked everything. It's not a problem for the shed walls as they're tannalised and will dry out. It's just a damn nuisance. Lucky for me all the power cables and points are on different walls. The problem was made worse as the fence behind Shedquarters, which belongs to my neighbour, has been down for pretty much all of the winter so far. Consequently there's been nothing to shelter the gable end at all.

Apparently this has been a real problem this year, - the change in the prevailing wind. Some people in my village have had their garage flooded by the rain soaking through the brick work.

As with many things I try to look on the bright side. I live on a hill so my damp problems are as nothing compared to the residents of Tewkesbury.

Still blooming annoying tho'.

And I've got the builder coming in again.


Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Not all Quiet on the Western Front

Much as I didn't really want to return to this subject I feel I have to. Most recently Guy Halsall has suggested that I'm actually a nom-de-plume for Michael Gove, and that my historical views are fairly summed up by a satirical piece in the Daily Mash. Ha ha. Very funny. But not in my view a true representation of what I wrote and think. The subject has also got a lot hotter in the last week and is now way out of my pay grade. However I think there are some issues I should also return to as Guy has imputed certain views to me in a disparaging fashion.

So, for what it is worth, this is what someone who trained as a historian in the early 1980s and has read a lot of history ever since, thinks about some key issues.

Left, Not Left and some thoughts on Blackadder
I get the feeling that Guy, and to some extent left wing satirists such as Mark Steel (see Mark Steel - Independent article), have been looking for an opportunity to have this fight with the likes of Michael Gove. I can understand that, - I find his policies as a Secretary of State for Education to be illogical and dangerous. He's not a complete ignoramus (see the debate on Start the Week between him, Simon Sharma, Tom Holland and Margaret MacMillan about teaching history) but he is a politician with a penchant for controversy. His accusations of "leftie bias" in the historiography of the Great War show an astonishing lack of understanding of the debate (do I need to reiterate the point re Alan Clark & Winston Churchill, which I believe was also made  by Dr Lucy Worsley on BBC news when this first came up?) . His point on the influence of Blackadder is more difficult to dismiss than Mark Steel implies.

Steel satirises Gove's view thus:

"Gove insists it is time to reverse the “myths” spread about the war by relentless left-wing propaganda. The evidence he gives for this tide of pacifist mythology is an episode of Blackadder. And it is hard to see how anyone can counter a constant barrage of brainwashing such as a half-hour of situation comedy broadcast 25 years ago."

Now Mark Steele is exaggerating to make a point and get laughs. However Blackadder wasn't only shown 25 years ago. It has been on almost constant repeat ever since it was broadcast on some digital channel somewhere. It still comes over as fresh and funny. As to its effect on modern understanding of the Great War....well I have had conversations with people who think it portrays the Great War accurately. I don't think it is unreasonable to say to such people "go read a history book". Interestingly enough, if you read Ben Elton's novel "The First Casualty" you'll find a much more authentic portrayal of the Western Front.

I also heard over the weekend a suggestion that you wouldn't try to understand WW2 by watching "Dad's Army", so why single out Blackadder.My father was in the Home Guard, and if he still was with us he would confirm that it's not a bad portrayal of both the Home Guard and the Home Front in the Second World War. "Dad's Army" does not intend to be satire. Blackadder does. They are different types of programme.

German War Guilt
The extent to which German guilt for the war is greater than the other Great Powers of the time is still the matter of heated historical debate. I should have made this clear in my piece in MWBG. This controversy has raged for over 50 years since a German historian, Fritz Fischer, published  "Griff nach der Weltmacht" published in English as "Germany’s Aims in the First World War". His thesis is that Germany (actually, I should say "The German Government", - most of the German population didn't get a say) had aggressive war aims and should bear more of the blame for the war. This is still debated by historians (see this summary of a conference organised by the Open University in 2011: Fischer OU Conference), but I think it has the upper hand in explaining what happened. I'm convinced by Fischer's thesis. Others aren't.

What I do know is that Great Britain really did not want to get involved in a continental land war, and had no plans to invade other European nations. Whilst a colonially belligerent nation when it needed to be for its own self-interest, the British Government had no interest in a European conflict and with a pathetically small army could never have any amibitions of European conquest.

Just War or Not?
Was it a "Just War"? Great Britain had treaty obligations to protect Belgian neutrality. These were internationally known and were non-aggressive. Given that situation the British casus belli was just.

Did the British Army out fight the German Army?
Yes. The British Army developed an all arms tactical methodology that at the end of the War was superior to that of the German Army and did not require the creation of wasteful specialist "Stormtrooper" units. All the modern research shows that the British army was at the forefront of developing the all-arms battle and in evolving infantry tactics. It was an early adopter of the LMG, with the Lewis Gun, and deployed them in large numbers by the end of the war, considerably enhancing section firepower. It achieved full mastery of all aspects of the Artillery War. It won the Air War. And for wargamers it had tanks and worked out how to use them properly.

This is not to say that the British Army did not take awful casualties throughout the war, all the armies did. The Generals did not have a monopoly on common sense, nor did they have a monopoly on idiocy.

The other point that is being bundled up with the attack on the revisionist historians (and people like me) is that they are trying to "sanitise" what happened, and pretend that it was all jolly fun in the trenches. That isn't the case if you read what has been written in recent years. It was an awful way of making war, although being in a trench is better than camping out in the open if the enemy has modern weapons. Mistakes were made. The First Day on the Somme was a national disaster, but we are horrified by it because it is uniquely awful. There were serious miscalculations in what happened and lessons were learnt (that's the point of Paddy's original book on the Great War. It effectively starts on the second day of the Somme battle). Haig was lucky not to have been sacked. Other Generals were. Gary Sheffield's book "Forgotten Victory" doesn't hide the losses, - they're clearly reported throughout.

There seems to be a view that you can't rehabilitate the British Army's tactical methodology without at the same time denying that people died. It's not a logical connection. When wars are fought, people die. If you don't want that to happen then politicians need to find a way of not starting wars.

Was it all futile? This is said so glibly that its another issue where it is difficult to know where to start. If you say that the entire British war effort was futile then you are saying it would have been better for us to have let the Germans walk through Belgium, roll the French Army up and win the war. To say that you then have to have a view on what Europe would have looked like under the Second Reich. You can't say "We fought the war and what we got was Communism and Nazism". Those are historical facts but weren't historical inevitabilities at the start of the war, or even in anyone's eye-line (I'd say "on anyone's radar" but that would be anachronistic).

I've taken the view that we can see what Europe would have been like based on what was done in the occupied areas. I accept that extending this to all of Europe is stretching what we know. Prof Richard J Evans (no relation) says that we can't know that is what would have happened, but he can't say what would have happened instead. So I think what I've said is the best guess we can make. If you are going to make a value judgement about whether the War was futile you have to have a view of what the world would have been like if it hadn't been fought.

You then have to ask yourself if the cost was worth it.

As an island nation if we'd kept out of it lots of people would have been alive who were otherwise killed. Germany could not have invaded us behind the steel wall of the Royal Navy, nor probably wanted to.We would not have nearly bankrupted ourselves getting funding from the Americans and building an armaments industry we didn't need. I suspect if we had known the cost and longevity of the war we'd have kept out of it. But then so would Germany and France.

I don't know if the blood price of beating Germany was worth it. But that's not the same as saying all the deaths were futile.

Finally you might find this link interesting: Dealing with the Blackadder view of history.

I shall be returning to this subject again, briefly, to discuss how military history is written and brought to us, as this may go partly towards explaining why there's a fair amount of heat being generated in an unexpected way.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Some more Assyrian Stuff.

Starting work again has reduced the speed of production on the Assyrian assembly line, but I’ve finished off a couple of auxiliary type units, from the “Assyrian Auxiliary Infantry” box produced by Hat.

These are variously described as Elamites or Chaldeans. In summary this means no body armour, slight different styling on the tunics, different helmets and wicker work shields.

It also means three figures to a base, which is a shade annoying when a box has four identical sprues in it. I bulked out a couple of bases with some standard bearers to reduce wastage.

I was quite excited by these figures as they have a nice look and feel to them, and the wicker work shields are nicely realised. The different costume style with the broad colour banding and the plumed helmets also make a change from the regular Assyrian heavies.

I think they’ve come out okay, although I made the mistake of gluing the shields on before I painted the figures which made some areas difficult to get at. I don’t know how that happened, as I didn’t do it with all the other stuff. The error meant that it was awkward to paint the horizontal stripes on the tunics, and I’m not happy with the results. I tried to pull the shields off, but (wouldn’t you know it) they just won’t shift. In this case the glue was truly super.

Unusually for me with these I also gave the wicker shields an ink wash before varnishing. Normally I just rely on the Ronseal, but this time round I thought I’d try to get a bit more definition .

In summary, okay, but not as much fun to paint as I thought they would be. It seems that I’m really starting to love all the little fiddly detailed bits on the Assyrian tunics.

Now I need to get on with some chariots.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Battle of Combover Down

After the last posting's surprise revelations and controversy, it's back to the normal sort of stuff and a battle report.

Due to unusual circumstances the Monday Night Group was forced to meet on Monday this week. For this week's entertainment I dusted off some figures we haven't used for a few years and put on a Wars of the Roses battle, using my "Trial by Battle rules". These are based round a core of AMW, but with quite a bit of chrome added. And some fundamental mechanism additions too. These were last played at CoW 2009. How time flies.

The scenario was based a bit on the Battle of Barnet. That meant the Lancastrians were on a ridge and the Yorkists were going to attack them. The rules are for 15mm figures (mine are from Peter Pig) and were written pre-Shedquarters. Consequently they're intended for a smaller table size. Another chance to show off the flexibility of the Shedquarters' table arrangement.

 A simple 5' x 3' table, with the other pieces available for holding spare figures. The two extension boards are leant up against the picture of Tom Fairfax on the far wall. The figures are based as DBx elements, mostly 4 figures to a 40mm x 20mm base. The white strip at the back is a sticky label with details of the retinue including unit quality (Noble, Yeoman or Levy) and Armour type (full harness, harness, jacketed, unprotected).

The Lancastrian role was fairly passive, - mostly waiting to be attacked - as I wasn't sure how many players I'd get and thought I might end up laying them. As it was there were three of us including new bug Chris W, with Phil turning up later to make four.

Will took the Yorkists and initiated a straight forward attack all along the line.

Will had a reserve of cavalry just behind his line. Chris had a reserve of billmen in the village. Will also had a floating unit of Burgundian handgunners who were trying to flank the position on Chris' right.

The way the game normally works (and is designed to do so) is that the two battle lines move into bow range and shoot at one another until one side runs out of ammunition. They then close the ground as soon as possible. Will eschewed these measly types of tactics and decided that the curved bit of wood held by half of his army was for hitting people over the head and just charged straight across the board.

In the picture above the arrow heads are ammunition expenditure markers. You get one each time you shoot and have to roll more than the number in order to be able to shoot next turn. Leaders can then go and try to get the units re-supplied by a similar mechanism.

I had a fairly poor evening with the camera, so the game isn't that well documented. Chris, as befits a newcomer to the group, threw poor dice when it really counted, failing saving rolls and discovering that several of his leaders didn't have the right stuff. A few turns in and one of them had already slipped off to the rear as it looks too dangerous for him. Off to protect his family estate, probably shouting "All is lost" all the way home.

Will succeeded in giving Chris a fright on his right flank as his extreme right wing archery unit went out of supply (signified by the markers being face down) whilst engaged in a firefight with the Burgundians. Will's men struggled forwards, undaunted by the arrow storm falling on them, so Chris pushed forward his reserve to plug the hole in his line.

Eventually Will got up the slope and got to grips with Chris' men. The other flank was a turn behind, but soon everyone was at it, hammer and tongs, and Will's men-at arms were starting to prevail.

Elsewhere there was much skull-duggery going on, with leaders being stabbed in the back by  treacherous retainers, and dying needlessly pulling their childhood friends out of danger. It really was a jolly romp worthy of a Shakespear history play.

Sensing the battle was reaching its critical point, Will sent his reserve pell-mell towards the road way, and a potential gap in Chris' line.

In the end they were never required. Chris' levy collapsed in the face of Will's heavy weight up hill assault, and he conceded the game. A clear victory for the Yorkists, but at a heavy, heavy, cost.

Part way through the final phases Phil arrived, took some pictures and shared in the post game de-brief. Although the rules have been in cold storage for nearly five years we were soon back in the swing of things, and although there's a lot of dice rolling, they play pretty well with a good period feel. The only annoyance is that I put the leadership incidents on a deck of cards which I now can't find* so I had to resort to rolling them off a table.

Phil had spent the day painting flats which used to belong to Deryck Guyler and Tony Bath. He brought them along to show us his progress, so I took a picture.

He had some others on a diorama base, but I didn't get any pictures of them. They really are very nice. I can see why the wargaming pioneers loved them.

* Actually, the second I typed that I remembered where they were. Typical.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Another fine mess....

Like Batman, I have an alter ego or secret identity. By night (and day, if I'm not working) I'm a fearless blogger on all manner of wargames subjects. By day I'm just a normal member of the community.

So why the secret identity or nom-de-plume? Partly it's to keep my working life and hobby life separate. But a large part of it is that I share my real name with another wargamer who is likewise reasonably well known. He's been world ancient champion more than once, I believe, so it is only fair to try to keep us both readily identifiable as unique individuals. Hence the creation of Trebian, who is a lot like me but also holds views that are like mine but possible slightly more extreme.

I have written and published under my real name, and continue to do so. Mostly stuff in Slingshot and for the Society of Ancients, where I used to foot note my name with "The other one, not the one from Pinner" so people could tell us apart should the other chap ever write anything.

My most recent published piece was in "Miniature Wargaming with Battlegames" #369. It was a one pager on how we should think about the Great War. Quite near the back as you can see from the contents list. It's now more than a single side of paper, and it isn't foot noted in proper, historical, fashion, but perhaps in retrospect it should have been.

You never know when you write these things - well anything in a magazine - what people think about what you've said. On this occasion I did get some feedback through blogs.

Firstly it got a response from Big Andy over at Glorious Little Soldiers. This was really favourable (although he can't spell my name) and explained exactly why he liked it. Andy follows this blog, so thanks to him for the kind words.

The other response was less positive and was written by Prof Guy Halsall of York University aka Historian on the Edge. This short, two line piece, name checks me and describes what I wrote as "officer-class right-wing twaddle". Guy has then followed this up with a longer rebuttle posting, which is considerably longer than the piece in MWBG.

Deciding to respond to this hasn't been easy, - some of what is said is personal, and friends have suggested I "rise above it". I think, however, that I need to make a few points as the implication is that I'm otherwise a stooge for a right-wing conspiracy, an ill-informed swallower of other's opinions. And the sort of person that cold-heartedly sent soldiers to their deaths, as well as being a historical ignoramus.

So, let me deal with some of the issues:

Being right wing & political writing: Because I'm a wargamer and have written in defence of the British Army in the Great War does not make me "right wing". It has nothing to do with my voting intentions or my views on the rights of workers or common ownership of the means of production. To leap to that conclusion in ignorance of who I am based on an A4's worth of writing is, to put it mildly, unwise. One of my dearest wargaming friends, Paddy Griffith, was a Great War revisionist. To describe him as being in anyway right wing would certainly mark you out as someone who never knew him. On the other hand, Alan Clark, author of "The Donkeys", the most damning indictment of British Generalship in the Great War, was once considered to be too right wing for the Tory Party. Applying simple labels as insults doesn't help the debate. Whilst everything someone writes is inevitably influenced by their background and upbringing that doesn't make all history political. 

Officer class: The previous four generations of my family fought in the British Army as volunteers. The highest rank ever achieved was CSM. We, as a family, are decidedly not officer class. I'm not entirely sure what it tells us anyway. I have my grandfather's memoirs from his service on the Western Front. I can tell you that the anecdotal stuff in them is very interesting, but that there are places where his memory played him false, where he did not understand what had happened, and also where his thinking was influenced by subsequent writing on the subject (a Reader's Digest article based on Clark's "The Donkeys" being prime amongst them).

Being a historian: Guy Halsall is a professional paid historian. He makes the point that he is still seeking truth. The implication is that he understands historical method and I do not. I hold History qualifications at "O", "A" and degree level. I seriously discussed doing a doctorate when I graduated and becoming an academic historian as a career choice. In the end I opted not to (money out in the non-academic world is much, much better), although I continue to read widely across both military and non-military subjects. There is also a very nasty side swipe in the piece where Guy says: "to be frank, there are few decent historians among the ‘revisionists’ and, among that group, proportionately not many writers who qualify as historians of any sort". This I think is potentially libellous. Paddy Griffith was a very fine historian (history degree from Oxford) and Gary Sheffield (history degree from Leeds) most definitely is as well. Steve Badsey,  another very good historian of the period, has a history degree is from Cambridge. All of them, of course, have doctorates, and have worked as professional historians at academic institutions as well as writing freelance. I assume Guy is talking about Corrigan and Paxman when referring to ex-soldiers and journalists. I'd like to see Guy debate with Paxo as to whether his book on the Great War is proper history or not.

The Second Reich as Proto-Nazis: I didn't actually say that. I said that their methods pre-figured Nazi methods. They Germans forcibly moved workers from Belgium and France to work in labour camps. That's not revisionist spin. That's fact. They asset stripped the bits of the Russian Empire they held after Brest Litovsk. That's fact. Whilst we cannot know how the Germans would have dealt with Europe if they had won we've got some pretty good clues based on what they did in the areas they occupied.

Me, Michael Gove and Blackadder: I didn't dismiss Blackadder as poppycock, and I am aware it is satire. It is, however, also fiction. As is Birdsong. And Regeneration Road. My point was that you shouldn't form your view on the Great War based on fiction. Go and read some history. You wouldn't want people to understand the Second World War by watching "Allo, Allo" would you? I realise what I wrote sounds like what Michael Gove said. It doesn't mean I share his political agenda (far from it - my daughter is a teacher!) and I've already indicated above that he's wrong. Revisionists are not all "right wing" and "conventionalists" are not all "left wing".

Me right, everyone else wrong: Guy said "(the) article in the last Miniature Wargames, urging wargamers to tell people who don’t share his particular interpretation of the First World War that their reading is ‘wrong’..." . Actually what I said was "when you start to hear someone spouting the same old lines about how futile the whole War was, fuelled by nothing except reading some poems and watching some sitcoms, tell them it isn’t so". I think that's a fair comment. I'm not saying I'm right and you are wrong. What I'm saying is don't take your view on one of the most important events of the 20th century from fiction. At least listen to someone who has read a history book on it.

There's much more in Guy's posting I could take issue with. If he submits it to MWBG, I'll write an full rebuttle if Henry lets me. For now, as someone who has very little spare time to spend on the hobby as I have a new job, I'll leave it.

Just don't take mine or Guy's word for it. Go and read some history. 

Thursday, 2 January 2014

2014 - Game One

Let us start the year as we mean to go on. 1st January, first game in Shedquarters.

A return to the Sumerian grid based game which I first wrote about back in October: Sumerians on Squares. I had made a few notes following that game and found them whilst tidying up during the Christmas period. I also wanted to have a look at the Sumerian campaigns in the hill regions, suppressing uppity tribesmen., and I had worked out how I was going to do the hills. A morning in Shedquarters with some unwanted shelving and an electric jigsaw solved that problem (although at this time of year the paint takes a long time to dry).

Monday Night regulars Will and Phil were both available so we were all set for an evening's entertainment.

Will got the role of the Akkadian punitive expedition intent on burning some villages and teaching the tribesmen a lesson. Phil got to be the freedom loving hill people. The board looked like this:

That's the Akkadians on the table. I just realised I didn't take a picture of Will's actual deployment, - he was more towards his left wing, intending to rough up the small hill first whilst refusing the other flank.

The hills are 6" blocks of painted chip board. Each block has  two sides, one with a cross in the middle. This means they can be overlapped and still show clearly where the square is. If a square has two overlapping tiles it has a contour and is steeper than if it's just one square on its own. Hopefully that is clear.

Phil was allowed to deploy concealed in the woods/reverse slopes if he wanted to. Which he did.

End of turn 1 (ish):

Will's massed light infantry enter the great unknown, whilst his battle carts try to exploit the open terrain, forcing Phil to reveal some heavy troops near the village at the top of the picture. Will also decided to press into the far hills and woods with some heavy troops. This proved to be a frustrating decision for him, and gave him issues for the whole game. He was heard to say at one point "I see why the SS hated fighting partisans". (Under the rule modifications all troop types roll one d6 per base in woods. Heavy infantry have better saving rolls, but they can't manoeuvre very easily, unlike light infantry which can nibble away at the flanks).

As Will advanced into the wooded slopes near the camera Phil revealed his defending light infantry and an exchange of missiles started. The battle carts stuttered forward unpredictably, as might be expected.

On the far wing the action in the woods hotted up,with the defenders proving quite slippery. The battle carts started to wheel to envelope the defending heavy infantry, and attack the village.

Will really was on the rough end of it in the far woods. His Heavy Infantry were constantly out manoeuvred by Phil's lights and were taking a real pasting. Those light infantry in the middle have just finished off their heavier opponents, chasing them out of the wood.

Will's battle carts finally swung round behind Phil's infantry, which had enough time to turn to face (although they lost a base in a "terror test" as the carts rolled up). Phil sort of formed a square to hold off this attack, and we still have problems about how effective the carts should be. They have the best morale and saving roll so this let them take on the infantry fairly effectively from the front, which wasn't my intention. I need to look at the odds and potential outcomes for this type of combat again to see if I've got it right or if Phil just rolled rubbish dice.

After some hard fighting Will fought his way across the smaller hill, and set fire to the village. Phil had voluntarily pulled out to play tag with one of Will's battle cart units.

Taken from behind, the light infantry suffered mightily, being reduced to half strength. However.... an unbelievable turnaround in the next turn the infantry turned on their tormentors. They inflicted a hit, causing a base to be lost (see in the earlier picture the rear most cart has three rings on it) and then failed the ensuing morale test. Ooo-errr...

Phil's general now intervened  on the other flank, leading one of his infantry units in a charge on the middle of Will's line.

In a series of stunning rounds of combat Phil punched through Will's centre, causing mayhem.

As the game ended Will had succeeded in getting into the far village with his battle carts, but he had taken a lot of casualties, and the dead pile on the edge of the board was looking uncomfortable for him.

We ended at this point in what was probably a draw. Will has achieved half of his victory conditions, (although not quite - his carts can't get at the buildings in the hills, so he destroyed two out of three village squares) but hasn't inflicted more damage on the hill tribes than he has suffered.

A good, fun, game. Some issues for me to fix on how the squares work and on those battle carts, but other wise very pleased with how it went and the look of it.