Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Why the English Civil War?

This post concerns two interlinked questions:
  • Why do I wargame the English Civil War? 
  • Why do I refer to the 'English Civil War'?

I deliberately use the old school term here, and not the Wars of the Three Kingdoms or the British Civil War(s). I do wonder if the 'BCW' as a bit of a misnomer as there wasn't really a polity referred to as Britain at that time and the inclusion of Ireland stretches the point even further. I have nothing against the term the Wars of the Three Kingdoms - this is more accurate than BCW if we're considering the wider series of conflicts that occurred in these islands in the period 1639-1651. I'm not one of those people who says things like 'It's political correctness gone mad'. It's just that I have restricted myself to action in England (and Wales!). That's not to say I won't, in gaming terms, venture north of the border at some point, though it's less likely my gaming will take me across the Irish Sea.

Technically, I'm even more restricted to gaming the First English Civil War, and mostly pre-New Model Army. Despite the narrow temporal and geographical scope, there is still plenty of variety to go for. Pitched battles range from a couple of thousand aside, to monsters like Marston Moor. There are raids, ambuscades, leaguers and assaults. Sieges against re-inforced castles, and medieval city walls augmented by earthern work artillery fortifications. There is a lot of scope for focussing in on particular regions or even counties (supported by a wealth of literature). Campaigns could be at the national, regional or local level. Thanks to its geology, England has a wide variety of landscape in a relatively small area, so lots of scope for different topography on a campaign map if not on a single table.

There are several reasons for me personally to get into the English Civil War, after decades of interest in the Seven Years War. For a start the primary and secondary sources are almost exclusively in English! This is different from the SYW where a good level of literacy in French and German are necessary if we are to go beyond Duffy, Showalter and Szabo.

Secondly, it is easier to visit places of interest and battlefields. Within a ten minute drive of here is Surbiton where there was a skirmish in 1648. Within a 30 minute drive of here there are Syon House, Brentford and Turnham Green. In under 90 minutes I can get to Newbury, Oxford, Cheriton, Portsmouth, Basing House. Not much longer and I could be at Edgehill or Cropredy.

I've already mentioned the variety of scenarios open to the ECW wargamer, and the varied landscapes that games could be played out on. The ECW is also rich in 'uniform', if this term could be used at all pre-New Model Army.  Gone are regiment after regiment in Prussian Blue, or Imperial White, instead we have red, white, blue, grey, green, yellow and even purple. On both sides! If you really want variety you can have different hat types (broad brimmed, Monteros, Monmouth caps), helmets (Morions and lobster pots in all their divers types). With or without breastplates. And a lack of consistency within any unit if you wish.

At a more 'worthy' level, what happened in the 1640s still matters today. Whilst no one seriously still holds to the traditional Whig view, the principle that the war was fought over still holds. Parliament rules - even if it took a second ovethrow of the Stuarts to re-establish. The wars also opened up the possibility of tolerance of other (protestant) sects, democracy and a sort of socialism (though the war was not fought for these reasons). The wars also had the first large cross-border military collaboration. The alliance between Covenenters and Parliamentarians (indeed the Committee of the Two Kingdoms) reflected the common interests that led to the Act of Union 60 years later. It's also a cliche, but still one that holds some truth, that people can be characterised as Roundhead or Cavalier in their approach to life. Personally speaking, whilst having a somewhat cavalier attitude in some respects, I have a great deal of sympathy for the Levellers and their ilk (one of the great 'what ifs' of history).

Lastly, there's the aesthetics. Not just the colour, but the style of dress. The look of the thing. And the florid language used.

For once,  judging by the amount of ECW gaming in the blogosphere, I’m in tune with the wargaming zeitgeist.

Monday, 20 May 2019

Boxing and Basing, or ‘Ambassador, you are spoiling us’

Ever since I switched to the Polemos basing convention, I've been on the search for the Holy Grail. The perfect sized storage box. Whilst there is no set size for bases under Polemos rules (at least the Napoleonic sets of rules, 'Maréchal de l'Empire' and 'Général de Division'), the standard size adopted seems to be 60mm wide for cavalry and infantry and 30mm wide for artillery. Depths are usually 30mm (60mm for brigade sized horse and foot units in Maréchal de l'Empire). I have all my SYW and Napoleonics (both periods in 6mm) on bases 60x30mm for infantry and cavalry and 30x30mm for guns. Containers that were sized in multiples of 60 or 30mm were therefore what I was ideally looking for. Height was of secondary importance, though not to be ignored if I wanted to disguise how big my toy collection was!

Out on shopping trips I'd be pouring over the 'storage solutions' section of hardware stores, pound shops, or in that well-known Swedish shop. Often cursing myself for not having brought a tape measure. Family members would ask why I needed a tape measure when the containers dimensions were on display. In case you are not already on the same page, I should point out that it's the internal dimensions that are the critical feature. Are the internal dimensions in multiples of 30mm? Very few of them are.

A decade ago in said Swedish interiors store, I came across the boxes below which were then retailing for a few quid each.
Overall measurements are 320x250x65mm, but more importantly the internal dimensions are a shade over 300x240x60mm. Enough for 40 bases. Because of the depth, I decided to store the figures double height (using bubble-wrap and newspaper bewteen layers). In 7 boxes I have an Anglo-Spanish Napoleonic army and Austrian and Prussian SYW armies. I knew at the time I should have bought more but thought 'don't be greedy, it's enough for now, you can always come back when you need more'. No prizes for guessing that when I did eventually go back the line had been discontinued.

In the succeeding years I found that boxes from Macbooks and i-Pads have reasonable dimensions, but the buggers keep changing the sizes and there's only so many devices of that price that a household of four can justify. And as with the Ikea boxes, these are on the deep side for 6mm or 10mm figures. For a few years this didn't matter as my collection didn't expand in size.

When I finally took the plunge and ordered some Pendraken ECW figures, the hunt for the ideal box was resurrected. It had never quite gone away - I was forever examining the range of boxes in Clas Ohlson (another outlet with Scandinavian origins!). Then that Christmas (2017) one of the wife's friends gave her a box of chocolates. It was a fairly simple looking, clear plastic box about 8 inches square and 1 1/2 inches high. Hmmmm! As soon as the chocolates had been finished, out came the tape measure. One of the best presents I got that Christmas! 210x210x35mm. Even allowing for cavalry standards and upright pikes they were perfect for my new toys!

On the third picture you can see the sticky-backed 'metallic paper' I line the boxes with. I stick magnetic paper underneath the MDF bases the figures are mounted on to stop them moving.

Incidentally, horse are based on 30x30mm bases, foot and dragoons on 40x30mm. Pike in the 'charge' position are on 40x60mm bases. The charging pike are mainly conversions from Pendraken musketeers firing, since no one really does figures in this pose (Irregular do pike in the receiving cavalry position).  Guns are mounted 1 per base, 30mm wide by 40mm deep, with about four gunners in attendance.

There are generally 3 ranks of four foot on each base of pike and shot (or should that be 'shotte'?) and 1 rank of 3 horse on each base. Horse bases are placed in 2 rows of bases to represent 'Dutch' style tactics and 1 deep for 'Swedish' tactics. Command figures are 3 to a base for horse (officer, trumpeter, standard-bearer) or 4 for foot (officer, drummer, 2 standrd bearers). As I mentioned in a previous entry, hose can be any number of bases to a regiment, with one base being a troop. Naturally, there is one pike base plus two of shot for each foot unit. Command stands are supernumeray but are used as markers to indicate what's going on in the unit. At 1mm to the yard, the figure scale is about 1:20.

Getting back to the boxes, UK readers of a certain age will remember this advert.

You are really spoiling us

Standing request now for me with my kids is, if in doubt about presents, get Dad a box of Ferrero Rocher chocolates (but not the dinky little ones with two tiers, they're totally the wrong dimensions!). My storage solution of choice retails at around £6-7 and it comes with free chocolates!

Thursday, 16 May 2019

The Last Battle

This is the first in an occasional series (i.e. when the mood takes me) of little musical interludes. Now and again there's a military history link. Often there'll be a Nordic* aspect. Sometimes both together, as in this song about the last battle in the Russo-Swedish War of 1808-09, when the final nail was hammered into the coffin of the Swedish empire. I've tinkered with the idea of wargaming this war, but haven't got beyond some vague ideas, let alone acquiring any suitable lead. I do have plenty of trees though!

The singer, Elina Järventaus Johansson, has a beautiful voice and the song has a haunting melody. I'm yet to find the lyrics and translation. Oh, and there's some atmospheric visuals to go with this. You can practically smell the black powder. Gå På!

* Carefully chosen word, as there will probably be a fair bit of Finnish content at some point, and, as every fellow pedant will tell you, Finland is not Scandinavian.

Monday, 6 May 2019

The Civil War

The American Civil War that is. PBS America (on 'Freeview' TV in the UK) are showing Ken Burns documentary series. The whole series in one day by the looks of it. Fabulous programme what I've seen so far (I missed the episodes covering 1861-63).

I have a fascination for, but only a relative passing aquaintance with, the ACW.  Something about it resonates with this Englishman. The fact there's so much material available in English helps (and what language they had in those days!), but it goes beyond that. Some of the photography is so sharp even after 150 years it seems so contemporary. It's real in a way that most previous wars do not seem real (the Crimean War being the obvious exception in the Anglo-centric sphere). Like our own civil war two and a bit centuries before, it was a struggle sparked by a constitutional clash and was infused with religious feeling, and had the highest proportionate death toll in any of the nation's wars. In fact the ACW death toll was absolutely higher than any other US war. Staggering.

I'm not sure I can take 9 one and a half hour episodes in one sitting though. So I searched for lighter relief. Scanning through the schedules I came across a programme entitled 'British Sporting Greats' on a channel called Together. Closer inspection revealed this list of 'British' sporting heroes:
Arsene Wenger (French), Manuel Neuer (German), Bastian Schweinsteiger (German), and Frank Lampard (English - yes a real Brit!).  Now I'm not doubting the sporting credentials of these gentlemen but Britain is not so short of sporting greats that it needs to co-opt them from other countries. Hmmmm! 🤔