Monday, 22 August 2016

Northampton at Newark

So Sunday saw a trip to The Other Partizan at Newark with "Northampton in 15 minutes", or as it is going to be called "Northampton 1460" or "N1460" for short.

I went with Phil, who had a boot full of display materials for the Society of Ancients, Battlefield Trust and the Northampton Battlefields Society including models of Naseby & Northampton, swords, helmets, a cannon ball, banners, display boards, books and games for sale and loads of other stuff. Oh, and some nicely painted tents to go in my fortified camp.

Sterling work from Phil, there, as he'd been up doing the Bosworth show the day before.

My main concerns were to make sure I'd got all of the bits for the game and they were transportable in a secure fashion. As I wrote in my blog in May the new Partizan venue has its pluses and minuses so I won't repeat them here. We were in the "History Zone" again and I'm still not convinced it does us any favours getting people along to play the game.

We had a couple of helpers on site when we got there so we were soon unpacked and setting up.

I seem to have got the dimensions for the tables at Partizan just perfect, as you can just get the cards and the board on the table with millimetres to spare.

Due to my relentless blogging and use of Facebook the WD boys from Sheffield were soon across and having a go. Jerry liked it so much he took over running it for a while, even though he had a perfectly good game of his own to be running elsewhere.

This was all important. The game is designed to be played without an umpire and in fact without me there at all. It seemed to pass that test quite quickly. The other question is whether it is balanced in any way, so running it with lots of members of the general wargaming public was important too.

According to my record sheet it was played at least 16 times. I don't know if all the results when I was off shopping were recorded. The outcomes were:

Win by:
Winning players
Jerry x 2

So not too bad a spread between Yorkist & Lancastrian victories, although it seems to favour the more extreme results for both sides. The historical outcome is a Yorkist +5 victory, which only happened once. A lot of +4s, as Margaret of Anjou succeeded in spiriting her husband away from under the noses of the rampaging Yorkists on a number of occasions.

Most of all, however, people seemed to enjoy Scrope sacking Northampton and setting fire to it. Especially the locals.

I had a lot of good feedback from wargamers whose opinions matter to me (ie they design games I like), so that was pleasing. The historical fiction writer* Harry Sidebottom who was at the show signing books was impressed and wants to buy a copy when it's published.

Now back home I have a bit of work to do. My thinking crystallised rapidly over the last few days and I'm no longer happy with Grey of Ruthin having a battle to command. He's going to be demoted to just a banner (although a very treacherous banner) under Talbot's command. Margaret of Anjou needs her own flag to be flown in the Abbey. What's more I got Buckingham's standard completely wrong (it's Beauforts...) and Edward of March's is his AFTER he becomes King. So they need swapping over.

And Jerry remarked that it'd help if the blocks had the names on both sides as the cards instruct you to attack a named opponent.

So, a very satisfactory day all round, with good results and good feedback. The game will be revised and sorted in time for Derby (1/2 October) at the latest and I'd like to get in another show or two before then as well. Hopefully see more blog followers at them.

Finally I never got round to saying thank you to Nigel Drury, follower of this blog, who pointed me in the direction of the excellent Leven Miniatures. They really make nice features on the board, and saved me a lot of scratch building.

* I do him a disservice with this description. Dr Harry Sidebottom of Corpus Christie College Oxford has published books on ancient warfare for the OUP as well as his historical fiction.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Northampton in 15 minutes (5)

I dropped a line to Mick at Leven Miniatures and told him I really needed some buildings, like, really quick so I could get them done for Newark. And some tents too. Top bloke. In the post first thing Monday, on my doorstep Tuesday morning.

There's been lots to do in the last couple of days, including the check to see if the board will go in Phil's car (we often go to shows together and there's no point in taking two cars. If we're in the same car we arrive at the same time) and to do a final play test.

I've finished the "new" Northampton which now has a stand to hold it upright, and I breathed a sign of relief when it was clear the "abbey" buildings would fit in the corner, as would the tents in the camp.

The camp just needs the interior done at this point, but the view down the hill looks just how I wanted it too in my head.

Phil attacked with the Yorkists. He opened up with his artillery and blew some lumps off me, so it didn't look good. He then had me excommunicated and went in for the kill.

Alas his attacks with hand to hand weapons were less successful than with gunpowder, and Grey of Ruthin decided to stay put. Oh dear.

In a hard fought contest on the Lancastrian right Fauconberg was eventually forced to retire (first time in the game) and Warwick and Edward were unable to fight their way in before their army lost hope and called for Quarter, which was given. The result of this was that Warwick and Fauconberg got the chop, although Edward, Coppini and Bourchier were spared.

Under the game results system this gave the following outcome:

"Major Lancastrian victory. Buckingham faction tighten hold on Government. Fortified camp tactics totally vindicated. Such battles dominate the remaining battles of the Wars of the Roses, if any."

This was quite a relief as the Lancastrians hadn't made much headway in a lot of the games, the best results being not losing as badly as their historical counterparts had done.

It was then back to the painting desk to finish the abbey (thanks to Phil for working out the best configuration for the buildings).

The final result has an abbey/convent building in Northamptonshire ironstone and half timbering for the rest of the cloister buildings. The buildings from Leven are very nice and not, in my mind, very expensive. Excellent value.

The tents were a glue-on-a-stick job.....

...which sit quite nicely in the finished camp area. That now has a (removable) banner for Henry VI.

And finally for the day's work I had to cut down the spare board and paint it white. It now has the name plate and the morale trackers on it. Casualty tracking to be added later, - after Sunday, probably.

What next? Ah - a rules re-write and a banner each for Coppini and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

It's never done, is it?

Monday, 15 August 2016

Northampton in 15 minutes (4)

I have to admit preparation is taking more than 15 minutes. However I'm making good progress and have only made a couple of mistakes so far. One was easily recovered, the other will require some more work.

The next step after the end of the last blog was to cut out the waterways (marked in blue chalk on the previous picture) and define the area of the camp. Then I could glue it all down to the base board.

Here you can see the streams cut and the site of the camp removed. I've glued everything down at this point, including the bottom right corner where Delapre Abbey will go. This was a mistake as I think I want to cut out the middle where the Abbey will be so the model is removable to make transportation easier. The same will apply to the camp, which I didn't glue down. The white lines are strips of "No More Nails" and they're to represent the ridge and furrow field systems that were in place at the time.

Once this had all dried I gave it a coat of my trade mark textured paint. This seals it all in and gives a really robust finish that you can dry brush to give a bit of texture to the battle field. You have to be careful as you can graze your knuckles on it when it has dried.

Textured paint also takes paint well and fills in all the little cracks. A quick coat of my table green and some brown dry brushing round the ridges gives a bit more depth to it all. I agonised a bit over the colour of the streams. Blue isn't very realistic but every wargamer knows rivers and water is blue, so I went for blue in the end. It also meant it's less hard to confuse them with the road at the top of the board.

I was a bit concerned about the famous landmark in the top corner of the board. No one makes an Eleanor Cross in any scale as far as I can see. My ersatz version is made up of matchsticks with a paper wrapper and it stands on concentric mounting board octagons. I drew these in Drawplus then spray mounted them onto the mounting board before cutting them out. Surprisingly easy.

I think it'll pass muster until I can get something more permanent. It's currently sitting on the painting desk whilst I try to suggest the niches and carvings with a very fine brush and some black ink.

The camp defences are made from matchsticks clued to ice lolly sticks and then held in place with "No More Nails". They've been mostly dyed with a GW Flesh Wash to keep the grain effect. Near disaster two happened at this point as I didn't build it in situ and put the gun ports at the back. This became obvious when I put it in place. Luckily the glue hadn't dried so I was able to swap them round.

Looking quite impressive. I can't finish it until my order of tents and nick-nacks arrives from Leven Miniatures (hopefully tomorrow). Then I'll texture the interior and drill some peg holes that'll keep it from moving about once it has finished.

Here's a picture with the Lancastrian blocks in place, just checking I've got the gun ports and so on where needed. Unlike Phil's more sophisticated 15mm model I haven't put in any gabions nor do my gun ports open and close.

I also realised I haven't put in a gate or draw bridge. Place looks like a death trap.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Northampton in 15 minutes (3)

So as I mentioned previously I took the prototype game to the Northampton Battlefields Society Committee Meeting and got our Chairman Mike Ingram (who wrote THE book on the subject) to play it a couple of times, once as Yorkist and once as Lancastrian against Phil and me respectively.

Both games had a Yorkist win, but with King Henry VI escaping with his missus as the Yorkists stormed through the camp. Mike was impressed and liked the historical feel of it. Phil liked the improvements I'd made since the last playtest and so I agreed to build a full show version for unveiling at second Partizan on the 21st of August.  We also tentatively agreed to try to develop a version for sale to the public.

So today I had to size the game board and so on.

The blocks are sorted now, although I might change one of the Lancastrians. It's currently in the colours of Thomas Percy, Lord Egremont and it should probably be Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury. The unit/action cards are close to finalised as well. I think they look rather spiffy, although I'm having an issue back printing them (they're double sided). My printer slipped ever so slightly so I was out by c5mm. I tried to do them as two different sheets and gluing then laminating but they're not quite right. Probably good enough for the first show however.

This picture shows the blocks on the base board so I can draw the outlines of what I need to do.

The base board will be built on a sheet of mdf with a layer of hardboard then plywood for the contours. That way I can cut into them to make the streams - Fulbrook and Battle Dyke - that we believe were incorporated into the Lancastrian defences. That'll give me depth when I glue them to the mdf.

My board is based on the one Phil uses for the display model. He described how he built in in one of his blogs. The terrain is taken from a combination of a map of the field system from the 18th century and the Ordnance Survey map of the area. Using Serif Draw Plus I was able to load these both as layers in the same document and overlay a grid on top of them as you can see above. DrawPlus lets you hide and reveal layers in combination so I was a able to put the grid on the OS map and trace the contour lines. I could also mark the Eleanor Cross and Delapre Abbey and then using them as a key I could line up the 18th century field map to get the line of Fulbrook and Battle Dyke as well as the London Road.

The grid squares are scale 3" as the final board playing area will be 2' x 3'.

Hope that's clear.

Then onto Grown Up stuff. As I said when I started this blog many years ago being a grown up wargamer is great as you have access to power tools. One of my favourites is my Black and Decker jigsaw as it enables me to cut out curvy shapes such as I need for the contours.

I've got 5 contour layers and the drop isn't quite enough for the ground scale probably. That rise in the top corner is where the Eleanor Cross will go. Where I'm going to get a 6mm scale Eleanor Cross from I'm not sure yet. Any suggestions most welcome, otherwise I'll bodge something up.

I then was able to cut the hardboard down to size. The mdf is actually 2' x 4' so that gives me a 2' x 1' area to put a name plate and morale/casualty tracks. After that I could mark in chalk where the water courses will go, the outline of the camp and the London Road. I will admit to taking liberties with the lowest contour level to make it easier to build the camp. Once everything is glued to the hardboard and set overnight I can use the jigsaw to cut the water courses out. I can then glue everything to the mdf and trim it to fit, before building up the stream beds so they don't look like a ravine.

I'm going to mark out the ridge & furrow fields with something like No More Nails using a narrow cut tip. Once that's all dry I'll give it a coat of textured paint before finishing off with my favourite Dulux green.

I'm still thinking about exactly how to do the camp. I'm thinking it'll be a removable piece so it doesn't get damaged in transport. Same with the Abbey, although I'm not sure how to do that yet.

Oh, and I have to sort out how to represent Northampton as well. That's currently a paper cutout in the top right corner.

So, feeling a bit chuffed to be honest. A good day tomorrow on it and I should be well on schedule for Partizan.

Doing some revision

My recent piece on Zuber’s book on the Battle of Mons mentioned that I’m inclined to be open to revisionist interpretations of history. I thought it might be useful to discuss this further and explain why.

I’m not a sucker for new and shiny stuff really, but new approaches to historical subjects are valuable, as long as they’re conducted using a proper historical method and not made up of a rag-bag of bits and pieces stuck together for effect. In this context I’m thinking of that appalling book about China “discovering” the world for example that is complete gibberish, and others that rely heavily on the word “if” to prove a point.

There’s a real danger in the “everybody knows” school of history. If we just take the accepted view uncritically we can collectively be lead into error. Up until 10 years ago “everybody knew” that the Battle of Northampton was fought under what is now a railway yard. Without serious revisionist work the actual site would now be under a carpark and sports pavilion. The same is true of the Richard III burial. Until recently “everybody knew” that he was hacked up and chucked in the river, body lost for ever. Right up until he was found under the car park.

The important thing for me is that we need to teach the facts, not just the story. And once we have the facts we should check them and re-examine them so that we know them to be facts. Nothing in history should be accepted as an act of faith. If it is it can’t be challenged even if it is wrong. What then makes it worse is that these matters then move from matters of belief to matters of opinion. Thus with the Holocaust. It is only possible to deny it if you deny the facts. If it is an article of faith then it can be challenged by those who don’t share your faith. Every generation needs to be taught how we know what we know. If you understand the evidence it is harder for you to be lied to and manipulated.

Revisionist thoughts and views do move into the mainstream. Verbruggen’s work on medieval warfare means we now don’t take at face value the size of armies in the descriptions of battles. The sources for the Battle of Northampton and the historians who have taken them at face value (and those who have taken those historians at face value) would have you believe 100,000 men fought in the battle. As Mike Ingram’s book shows a simple check on the size of an encampment required to take the 40,000 Lancastrians shows the numbers can’t possibly be right. They just don’t fit in the space available. You can find similar calculations in Richard Brook’s works as well. Armies of 20,000+ end up being about 2,500 in practice.

For the First World War the “Lions Lead By Donkeys” rubbish peddled by Alan Clark and still believed by many continues to give a lie to the achievements of our ancestors. The work done by Paddy Griffiths, Gary Sheffield and others has moved our understanding on considerably in respect of the post-Somme British Army, rehabilitating not just commanders but those who served in our largest ever citizen army.

What we need is a level headed properly trained historian to go over the ground turned over by Zuber and build upon what is ground breaking research. There may be value in what he says, however the book can’t be relied upon. If there truly is a Mons Myth then it needs to be disposed of. When legend becomes fact we can’t continue to print the legend. This book just leaves the accusation hanging in the air like a bad smell. I didn’t mention it in the previous blog on the subject, but Zuber also makes great play of (uncorroborated German) reports that British troops pretended to surrender and then shot the trusting, unsuspecting, noble Germans when they stood up to take the surrender. So much so that they had to threaten to shoot prisoners to stop it happening again. Make of that what you will.

There of course does need to be an element of caution. In my university days one of my lecturers on American history, Richard Carwardine, used to put up a cartoon of a slave being punished. Another slave is saying to him “Don’t worry. In time a revisionist historian will prove this never happened”.

So, not revisionism for the sake of it. Revisionism to improve our understanding.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Northampton in 15 minutes (2)

Last weekend saw me move into full build mode for the Northampton 1460 game.

Last Thursday I did a couple of test games with Phil which solidified some ideas. Phil has been thinking we (the Northampton Battlefields Society) need a game “product” for a while and has been feeding me hints & ideas to help me get into a place where I can get something that works on a repeatable basis. Sort of like the games I put together as the Society of Ancients incentives.
Our vision is close but not identical. I think Phil’s more wanting to produce something really close to W1815, with wooden blocks and an old looking map. I want something with more flags and a sculpted terrain board. Something smaller & more simplified than Phil’s battlefield model, that’s robust enough to be chucked in the boot of a car.

I was thinking about using 6mm figures. I had some Baccus review samples from their really nice Late Medieval range, and these painted up nicely. However as we discussed the options I started to lean heavily towards wooden blocks with removable flags to mark casualties.  Possibly on a sculpted board that uses 6mm terrain features.

L-R Some cavalry, Egremont's battle & some artillery
We played the game two or three times. After much consideration Phil went for the full historical approach as the Yorkists in his first game – negotiate, excommunicate, attack. This gave him a sweeping victory, although with heavy casualties in Fauconberg’s battle. This game featured my newly added cavalry option (you’ll recall that in the previous update on the game I wasn’t sure what to do about the cavalry) and he was able to drive off my cavalry screen and sack Northampton as we now believe happened. I have some ideas about how to represent the sacking on the game board using scans from medieval manuscripts that I think will look quite striking.

I was also trialling the Weather mechanism for the first time. This gives the Lancastrians a slim chance that the ground will dry out and increase the chance that they can fire their guns effectively. It’s a fairly thin chance, but I think it is important to give them hope and to cast some doubt into the Yorkist minds about what happens if the guns do fire as they attack the defences. In this case we got close to the sun coming out, but never quite got there. Bit like our summer so far.

We had a quick discussion before resetting the game. Phil thinks we need to have a surrender/quarter phase. I had some ideas at the time and have developed them since. Clearly for the Nevilles if they round up any Percy present he’s going to have a short life expectancy and the same for other political opponents too. If the boot is on the other foot there aren’t many Percies who would baulk at lopping the heads off a few Nevilles. Of course, if March gets to the Neville’s enemies first and offers them quarter it would then be a serious matter to have them killed.

This means what I probably need is a scale of wins to see if players can do better than their historical predecessors. We did this very successfully with “Call it Qids”. In this case if the Lancastrians don’t get beaten they’ve done better, but the scale of their win will be greater if the Yorkist Lords can’t escape. For the Yorkists if they capture Queen Margaret and Prince Edward as well as King Henry then it’s a really big win.

For the next game Phil went for the full-on wargamer solution, dispensing with all that shilly-shallying around associated with negotiations and so on. He just charged forwards with everything. On this occasion he got a couple of lucky die rolls (whilst I under performed on this front), Grey flipped sides and the Lancastrians collapsed. Again.

The game seems to favour the Yorkists as long as they can get Grey to switch sides. If he doesn’t then it becomes more attritional and the Lancastrians have a better chance to get something out of it.
Of course for the players to win the game they have to do better than their historical antecedents. That’s actually not difficult for the Lancastrians. If Henry VI escapes together with any of the major anti-Yorkist/Neville lords then they’ve done better and sort of win the game, even if they’ve got hordes of followers streaming off the battlefield to a bloody death at Sandyford Mill.

So I have some work to do there as well calibrating the possible outcomes and ranking them. The important thing, however, is not to stray too far from the historical narrative. I want there to be distinct branches where the narrative can go in a different direction but it needs to be clear which is the real history and which is the alternative.

In any event I have enough of a working prototype, and I hope to finish the blocks in the next couple of evenings. If I can then mock up a map and tidy up the play cards I’ll have something I can take to the Battlefields Society committee meeting on Thursday where I can playtest it with people who know the battle but don’t do wargaming.

That should be interesting.

Friday, 5 August 2016

The Mons Myth Myth

I'm a little bit behind the rest of the world here. I've just finished Terence Zuber's book "The Mons Myth" that I acquired at COW this year.

When it was published in 2010 it caused quite a stir as its central thesis was that the BEF at Mons & Le Cateau were comprehensibly beaten by German troops who were better trained and better lead at all levels, (except at 1st Army Level where Kluck & Kuhl miss a clear and obvious opportunity to destroy the BEF completely). It also asserted that the story of the Germans mistaking rapid rifle fire for MGs is a complete fabrication not supported by the evidence.

Zuber's basis for saying this is that he has looked at the German sources, - many more German sources than have been used in traditional "Anglophone" histories.

Zuber has the perfect qualifications for this type of work. He rose to the rank of Major in the US Army before taking a degree in history from Wurzburg University. He therefore not only speaks both English and German but has military experience and has a history qualification.

The amount of work that has gone into this is impressive. He has tracked down a large number of Imperial German Histories for the units involved and created a coherent narrative from them all. He has also had a good dip into the English language sources, - not just the Official History, but also regimental histories. From these he generally concludes that the narrative from the German sources is more comprehensive and reliable. I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised. The BEF was going backwards for most of the 1914 campaign in considerable confusion, not helped by having to liaise with a French Army that was doing likewise at the same time. Lots of equipment was lost along with records and reputations.

Zuber’s main conclusions are that the BEF was poorly lead at senior level, poorly trained and prepared for a European war and mostly unaware of what was going on around it and what the Germans were trying to do. I think many of us would agree that is fair. A reluctance to appear aggressive and upset relations with the Germans meant that the BEF never undertook manoeuvres on the Continent together with its French Allies before the outbreak of war. It had only developed a proper Staff in the previous decade and was still an army mostly intended and prepared for Colonial Warfare.

The more contentious claim is that the British ability to produce the “mad minute” of rifle fire had no tactical importance in European warfare and the Germans hardly noticed it, let alone mistake it for MG fire. Given this analysis the Battles of Mons & Le Cateau are re-evaluated as British defeats where the BEF is pushed about out of its positions by a technically superior German Army that suffers considerably fewer casualties despite attacking broadly speaking with equal numbers in most cases. German superiority in numbers arises as they could get more men to the point of action rather than have them spread out.

It’s a devastating analysis and a big kick to the British ego. He may be right, and I find a lot of it convincing. I'm not one of those who appear to worship the 1914 BEF in all its perfection. I find the citizen army of 1916 onwards much more interesting, so I'm receptive to this type of revisionism.  However he gets a bit too excited and his historical method starts to fall apart. In the event of any dispute between sources he sides with the German accounts. He denies the BEF shot down German troops attacking in mass as they were trained to fight in skirmish order. This may be true (and it must be borne in mind that training of German units was down to the commanding officer so may differ from unit to unit) but there are several independent eye witness accounts that say virtually the same thing. You can’t just ignore them without explaining them. He is also scathing about where units are, - units can’t be where some sources say they are because it fits his story to have them elsewhere. Of course the same could be said the other way round. He also likes to take potshots at the anglophone sources and takes many swipes at the Osprey book on Mons. He needs to be taken aside and told that it's an Osprey. It isn't proper history.

However, this isn’t my biggest problem with the book. In his desperate attempt to produce a more balanced British/German account he topples over at times into uncomfortable views in respect of German policy and the actions of German troops.

I have to put my hand up here and say a couple of things. It is my view that the blame for the Great War falls disproportionately on the Kaiser’s Germany. They were the one power that could have stopped the whole thing (viz the “blank cheque” to Austria-Hungary). They reacted to a crisis in the East by attacking in the West, and invaded a neutral country. If Germany had not invaded Belgium Britain would have not joined the War.

However Germany, in Zuber’s view, is fighting a defensive war. His misuse of the timings of the various mobilizations in support of this view is criminal from a serious historian.

His keenness to praise the German army becomes distinctly unpleasant in handling what happened in Belgium. Now, just to re-iterate, Belgium was neutral and her neutrality was guaranteed by the major powers (including Prussia). Belgium was invaded by Germany with no causus belli at all except that the German army wanted to march through it. Germany’s beef was with the Franco-Russian entente. That’s the only justification for attacking in the West. Belgium had  made clear it was neutral and set its defences and deployments and undertook any exercises to deal with threats from both Germany and France/Britain.

So, having invaded Belgium German troops found themselves attacked by locals, the “francs tireurs”. Their reaction was out of proportion to the damage inflicted, and whilst it may have been justified against people not in uniform (depending on the Hague Conventions) the Civil Guard were uniformed and entitled to bear arms. German troops therefore effectively shot prisoners of war. They also committed other atrocities, - the “rape of Belgium” is not made up – and throughout the war exported Belgians as slave labour to Germany as well as asset stripped the country. That’s a neutral country, remember. 

If he tried to do the same whitewash job on the Second World War this would be completely beyond the pale.

So, would I recommend this book? Well, only if you know the subject and can identify when it gets ahead of itself. And whilst it has some valuable information on German training methods and what happened in the various battles it is very poorly let down by some of the most useless maps you can imagine.

I'm glad I didn't pay full price for it, and I shall be more circumspect in using his book on the Alsace/Lorraine campaign in future. I suspect that isn't entirely even handed either.