Saturday, 31 December 2016

Back to the Peninsula

It has been over three years since I last ran a Spanish Civil War game, so it was about time I did something to use my recently painted Republican and Nationalist air forces. This meant going back to the table with the "If You Tolerate This" rules.

The inspiration for the game was the Saragossa/Belchite Republican offensive in late summer 1937. In lieu of finding a good map of the Battle of Belchite I set up the table to create the sort of conditions that gave the Republicans problems and also gave them ample opportunity to make the mistakes they made historically.

I seem not to have taken a picture of the general view of the table, - unusual I know, but you'll just have to work with me on this one. The table had a cross roads with a small town occupied by Guardia Civilia and Fascist Militias in the centre of the table with an anti-tank gun in support. To their right was a small pueblo with a couple of battalions of Regular Army in them. On the other flank was an olive grove, similarly occupied, but also with some field guns. In support was three sections of Condor Legion Panzers and a couple of howitzers.

The Republicans had one Division with four International Brigade battalions, one Popular Army Division of similar size and another  mixed Division of Popular Army supported by a couple of workers militia battalions. They had a few T-26 sections  and also a couple of BT-5s as well as quite a few field guns to help out.

Will was the first to arrive and took over the Republicans. I ran the Nationalists to get the game started, and focused on defending the main town. In the initial moves there was a bit of rules checking and re-checking as memory is failing, alas, plus when we last played rules all the players knew them quite well and also understood what I was trying to achieve. Even I'm not sure now, and in any event all of my rule sets are a work in progress.

I did manage to put Will's artillery under bombardment to hamper their effectiveness, but then Phil turned up and took over the Nationalists.

As Will tried to move across the open he took some fire from the town's defenders. He's suffering here from typical Republican problems. His armour is in the wrong place, - it needs to be further forward, shielding his infantry.

However, he is not being distracted by the village on his left, and is also supporting his attack with the BT-5 sections.

Combined tank and artillery fire puts a lot of hits into the edge of the town, occupied by one of the Guardia Civile units and their associated anti-tank gun.

Slightly fewer hits on the Falange unit next to them.

You can see more clearly from this wider shot the overall position. There's lots of fire going in on both sides. From this position a double activation (you get two per unit in a turn if it is the open) enables one of the IB battalions to double forward and close assault the Guardia Civile unit. Alas they do this without armour support.

This doesn't matter, however, as the Guardia Civile panic (i.e. roll about 3 on two dice) despite emerging from the barrage fire fairly unscathed and are evicted from their position and drop back a square and become Pinned in place. The anti-tank gun is overrun and lost. This is the high water mark for the Republicans, much to everyone's surprise (BTW I later realised I worked this melee out wrong, and ignored the supporting effect of the anti-tank gun).

The other Guardia Civile unit pours fire into the newly emplaced IBs, then close assaults them.

Despite only being in makeshift defences due to their recent occupation the IBs repel the GCs and they fall back to their starting position in Disorder.

At last some air support arrives (Will has been trying to get his bomber wing on to no avail since turn one) and a couple of Nationalist FIATs turn up and strafe the BT-5s. Can you guess how effective they were from the dive on the table?

Meanwhile the Condor Legion tanks have motored round the back edge of the town and got hull down in the sunken road, denoted by the hedges. Shame for them they're only armed with HMGs, which mostly bounce off the T-26s.

Over on the Republican left their infantry finally emerge at the edge of the olive grove to be met by heavy fire from the village.

The town is now surrounded by masses of Republican forces who commence a series of futile assaults on the Falange. It is funny how, in some games, a unit just gets lucky and nothing you can do is effective against them. Attacks by IBs or Popular Army, both with and without armour support were all equally repelled, steadily degrading the attacking forces.

Some Republican units had had enough and started to stream to the rear, their spirit broken.

The remaining IB units tried to work round the other side of the town, alas even the initially successful IB unit is unable to force the Falange out, and end up disordered.

The MG fire from the Panzers is also having a serious effect on the other Republican infantry trapped in the open.

The second wave of Nationalise fighter bombers turn up, but are seen off by Republican interceptors.

The final turn of the game saw the Republicans launch an attack on the Nationalist gun lines and capture one of their howitzer batteries. Alas, for them,  it wasn't really enough. The rest of the Republican forces had been worn out by repeated attacks on the centre.

On reflection not a bad recreation of an SCW battle. The Republicans, despite initial successes, stalled as they tried to take on too many objectives. Poor infantry and armour co-operation at the start of the game weakened their strength in advancing and then stubborn Nationalist defences proved impossible to break at an acceptable cost. The Republican aim of breaking through up the main road was a complete failure.

I took a few notes during the game, so the rules will be revised. I have no major project on the go, so revisiting the SCW might be interesting. The air rules are rubbish, too, so I need to work on them.

An interesting end to the year.

Monday, 26 December 2016

Coutras, Part 2

So, the last game being over so quickly we swapped sides and did it again. And this time we used the rules correctly. This mainly improved the effectiveness of the Huguenot pistol armed cavalry against the gendarmes.

We adjusted the starting positions slightly, too, but nothing significant

Playing the Catholics did mean that I could take some pictures from behind their lines.

Also, I followed the Catholic original tactics more closely. This meant advancing with my left to clear out The Warren and disperse the lighter cavalry in the Huguenot right centre.

This started well, as my stradiots broke Chris' argoulets. I didn't take a breakthrough move here, as my initiative only gave me two divisional splits, and I thought I'd need them later.

I was soon up at The Warren, forcing my pike men over the hedge line.

Then it was time for the big boys to get involved. Chris was more flexible in his use of his central enfants perdues as he seemed more worried about the threat to his left from my infantry.

The conflict around The Warren was hard fought, with BPs being exchanged.

However, I was able to break Chris' extreme left wing infantry unit. Things were looking up.

In the middle our cavalry locked horns, with the Huguenots putting up a much better fight this time.

In The Warren I took a divisional split, and broke into the position.

Having finally dealt with the rest of Chris' lighter horse, he wheeled round a couple of units of arquebusiers to rough me up a bit with flanking fire.

Meanwhile, things were going even better for me in The Warren. Alas this was just a side show.

Over in the marsh, Chris was able to get stuck into one of my infantry regiments on even terms, and broke it.

But the main battle was in the centre, where the day would be won or lost. Henri's Millers (in white) had finally broken the gendarmes in front of them, and the others followed soon after. Closer than the first game, but a Huguenot win.

So, a win to each side, but also two wins to Chris, so that may tell you more about us as wargamers rather than the game balance.

Still, a good enough way to spend the afternoon.

Comment Moderation

Due to the excessive number of spam comments received over the last week I have turned comment moderation on.

Hopefully this won't deter any real people out there, just the robots.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Battle of Coutras, 20th October 1587

As previously advertised, here's my go at refighting Coutras.

Coutras is one of those battles that pops up in books about fighting pike & shot battles or in similar magazine articles. The reason is simple. It appears in Oman's seminal "Art of War in the Sixteenth Century" where there's a pretty good orbat and a good map that ties up with the battle description. Mostly.

For me I've been wargaming the late period of the French Wars of Religion since University, so this is a return to basics for me. The battle itself is pivotal for a number of reasons. It shifts the military tide from the Catholics to the Protestants and puts Henri de Navarre's footsteps on the road to the throne of France. Tactically he demonstrates the strength of ordered, deep, pistol armed armoured cavalry who can charge home against traditional lance armed gendarmes as opposed to caracoling. He also makes an early use of volley fire in the way his enfants perdues are deployed and ordered to fire. Interspersing of fire-armed infantry amongst horse is a tactic that re-appears amongst Rupert's cavalry during the ECW. So, lots to consider here then.

It's actually not a large battle, - no more than 10,000 a side, and probably much less. The real business end of both armies is the horse in any event, with the infantry a side show. Literally. Both armies used their infantry to secure their flanks whilst the matter was settled by the mounted chaps in the centre.

Due to other people's Christmas commitments there was just two of us, and my opponent was Chris A on this occasion. He took the Catholics, and I took the Huguenots.

So here is the set up. Huguenots to the left, Catholics to the right. Bottom right is a walled park area known as The Warren. Top of the picture is the River Dronne and a marshy area which reaches up to the road. The village of Coutras is top left.

This isn't a subtle battle, so in a couple of moves our cavalry lines had hit one another. My enfants perdues had inflicted one of two hits, but my pistol fire was ineffective (because we were playing the rules wrong).

My outer units of reiters were completely overwhelmed by the opposing Gendarmes. At this point my initial thoughts that gendarmes in this period were over powered in the army list was being born out.

A little behind where the game clock should be the Catholic infantry started to march on the Huguenots in The Warren.

As remarked above I was a little under-gunned in the middle on the factor front, not helped by some dreadful die rolling, exhibit A being above.

I had one small opening, which was the opportunity to blow away the gendarmes top right. I only needed one hit out of three shots and missed with all of them (I needed to win one of three opposed die rolls, - failed on all of them).

So my flanking reiters were swept away, and the Millers then failed routed into tests, so the game was over, but we played through the rest of the turn.

To rub it in Chris charged my artillery, and killed that too.

I did a little better with a couple of skirmishing arquebusiers against some sizeable infantry regiments struggling through the marshy ground.

So the middle of my army has disappeared. Can I salvage anything from the flanks?

Well, no. An infantry unit on my extreme right wing breaks too, so I'm well through my breakpoint level and it is all over.

Well, that was rubbish. Completely one-sided game. And then we realised we'd been playing the rules slightly wrong. The game had only taken an hour, so we reset it and swapped sides.

More of which in the next blog.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Army lists and stuff like that

I have an odd relationship with Army Lists. When I was a young rebel back in the 70s & 80s I wouldn't have any truck with them. Wargamers should do their own research, I thought, and be able to justify their armies, rather than just get it all ready done for them off the shelf. Wargamers who didn't properly understand their armies were like Scrabble players who know what words get high scores but have no idea what they mean.

Of course I wasn't playing in tournaments and even back then I was mostly writing my own rules and was already in the position of painting both sides of a conflict. I was intrigued by the idea of randomly generating historical armies (you can see some of the ideas I worked on with Pete Berry in "Forlorn Hope") but generally I didn't get it.

As time has gone on I've mellowed I suppose. In any event as research has improved army lists have become less contentious and have become an accepted part of the rules. I really got that message when I first started with Armati as the rules really don't work without the army lists. You might say the same for DBA as well.

One of the things that really wound me up in the early days was that the lists, even when well researched, lost the specific in the search for the general. At one point I knew as much about Henry VIII's armies as anyone. Like, seriously, I did know everything. In detail. I had, - still have - Henry VIII armies from the 1513 Flodden Field/Battle of the Spurs period.

When I first came to Northampton I went to a local club and put on a few games. One chap, who was a die hard ancient wargamer, badgered me into giving him a game with my Henry VIII army using Sixth Edition as "they're nearly in period". He had Teutonic Knights, I think. He loaned me the army lists (plus, I think, I had access to the George Gush Renaissance lists too). Try as I might I couldn't pick an army from them. It was impossible to pick a Flodden Field or Battle of the Spurs army, and my figures only let me field these. So I had to tell my potential opponent that I'd field an army but it wasn't list compliant and told him what it would be. He said that was okay. When we turned up for the game he informed me that he hadn't used the lists either as I hadn't, and had hand picked a killer army to take mine apart. Which he duly did.

Now I don't really blame him for that. The lists at the time said something like "these aren't compulsory but if your opponent doesn't use them, then you don't have to either and you can use your flaming pigs etc, etc..". What annoyed me was that although the lists had all the troop types you might expect in not unreasonable quantities they did not allow you to pick the only historically provable armies from the time.

Of course what I realise now is that this was never the purpose. The lists were to allow the user to create armies that had a chance on the table top without having to resort to complete fantasy. Occasional fantasy, perhaps, but not total. You only have to look at articles in Slingshot about new army types. The list always has enough of the necessary troop types to make it viable, and troops where we have names but no descriptions are perfect to be allocated the light infantry role or whatever that is otherwise missing.

Call me a cynic if you want, it's just the way it looks to me.

So what has prompted this piece of introspection? Well I was putting together a pre-Christmas game for Friday afternoon and I had the same old problems. I'm doing Coutras 1587, Henri de Navarre & the Huguenots first field victory in the interminable French Wars of Religion. This is the battle where Henri first forms up his cavalry in dense blocks and punches a hole through the Catholic Gendarmes en haye. And where he uses groups of enfants perdues in between his units of horse.

I'm going to be using the Renaissance rules in the original Armati, so the first port of call was the army lists to see if they would do. Honestly they are as bad as could be, adopting a one-size-fits-all for the entire period of nearly 40 years for the Huguenots. That means they perform the stunning trick of not being suitable for either the early or the late period. Plus no skirmishing arquebusiers, a noted Huguenot tactic. The Catholic list is a bit better, but not much. It's a shame we never got to re-do these when Armati II was issued. The promised standalone Renaissance set is still awaited.

So into the bin with them. Along with the army ratings too. I hope my opponent likes what I've done instead. In any event we'll get to push around a lot of big shiny figures.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

El Cid BBDBA revisited

So previous attempts to make this work have lead to walk over victories for the Spanish every time. However, usually I'm commanding the Arabs and Moors and I'm rubbish with light horse. The true test would be to reverse the situation and have someone who knows what he is doing with light horse have a go with the Almorvids and Andalusians.

This time I didn't have my SLR with me so these pictures were taken on my smart phone.

Couple of eye-candy shots to get  the camera aligned properly.

Clearly a waste of time as this is not a brilliant picture. Looks a bit blurry. It is a bit blurry. Serious camera shake. This experiment is looking like it won't be repeated. Spanish at the bottom, Muslim invaders at the top. I started with a general advance. Unlike the last game I had increased the number of camels in the Arab armies to give them some backbone.

Phil is already using his light horse to pull the game wider. Problem is that although we have 3 DBA armies on each side the table width is only doubled. This congestion favours the Spanish.

First contacts in the middle go all my way, and Phil is soon a couple of elements down in this command. Think he's lost the camels in this command already.

On the left flank it's a bit more even, and we're trading elements. However better pip dice for me means I have better field position.

The centre is going even better, and I punch a hole through the middle. There's not a lot Phil seems to be able to do against my rampaging knights.

On my right I'm winning the fight out there too mainly through good dice rolling not superior troop types. Pictures seem to be getting into focus at last.

On my left Phil has succeeded in getting a couple of light horse free to get round my rear. Doesn't really help as I'm whipping him elsewhere.

Bit to more blurriness in the middle. By this time the centre is demoralised, as it the Arab left. Or was it right? Anyway, I'd won comfortably.

So, it looks like the Spanish are unstoppable. Post game discussion revolved Phil pointing out the lack of terrain and how adding more, rougher areas (eg ploughed fields) would even things up as they reduce the knights ability to "quick kill". I admit to not using all the DBA terrain deployment rules (and we didn't have camps)  so that's something for next time.

Plus I've finished more knights, so the Arabs will be boosted by some Christian Mercenaries.

But the big learning point is to use a proper camera.